Friday, October 30, 2009

Why do I want to serve God? - An old diary entry

Thumbing through some old posts I found this article (which was actually taken from an old diary of mine from several years ago, before I entered the ministry).
"Today I purchased "Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic". An old, but fascinating little book. I am sure we will become good friends, and perhaps will become a much needed mentor (though one dare not trust Niebuhr to guide through theological waters).

As I begin to float the resumes out, I fear my motivation for the pastorate may not be pure. Certainly I feel a passion in my soul to make a difference for the Kingdom. But why am I concerned with making a difference? This seems to be driven more by my existentialist desire for personal meaning, or perhaps by a psychological desire for significance. Should I not be content with the all-consuming pursuit of God?

It seems that this pursuit of the presence of God is perhaps the most radical idea of all. It makes my 'attempts to change the world' (or even the realization of this dream) a child's pastime. While making a difference for the Kingdom is indeed a wonderful thing, experiencing God each moment is beyond comparison. Perhaps what I seek is the effect, not the cause. Has my desire for meaning and significance become my idol?

Yet, what irks me beyond measure is the arrogant and naive claim that a young man's desire to make a difference stems from his immaturity. This ignorant claim stems from the incorrect belief that passion is somehow equated with youth. What a wretched heresy this is. It seems clear that all healthy persons, regardless of age, have this desire. Only sickness deep within produces a passionless person. Now, there is such a thing as immaturity - this shouldn't be denied. No doubt it affects the youth's desire in this matter. It seems to me the only real problem here is that passion is misplaced. Passion is taken away from from God (the cause) and is placed on the desire to make a difference (the effect). Make no mistake - misplaced passion is just as much an idol as is worship of Baal or Astoreth. The youth misplaces his passion; the older cynic, however, has simply lost it. Yet both have fallen short of the beautiful pursuit of the majestic God. The youth worships an idol. The cynic worships his mind which sees (perceived) . Both fail to worship the Triune God."
I find the emphasis on youth a bit humorous now, but I suppose I still agree with the main thrust of what I wrote back then.

Podcast 001 (Friday, Oct 30, 2009)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Soothing some, but helping nobody

"If we do not preach about sin and God's judgment on it, we cannot present Christ as Saviour from sin and the wrath of God. And if we are silent about these things, and preach a Christ who saves only from self and the sorrows of this world, we are not preaching the Christ of the Bible . . . Such preaching may soothe some, but it will help nobody; for a Christ who is not seen and sought as a Saviour from sin will not be found to save from self or from anything else."
J. I. Packer

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Membership matters--but not in the way you think

On the issue of church membership read what J. Gresham Machen wrote back in 1926.

"Last week it was reported that the churches of America increased their membership by 690,000. Are you encouraged by these figures? I for my part am not encouraged a bit. I have indeed my own grounds for encouragement. . . . But these figures have no place among them. How many of these 690,000 names do you think are really written in the Lamb's book of life? A small proportion, I fear. Church membership today often means nothing more, as has well been said, than a vague admiration for the moral character of Jesus; the Church in countless communities is little more than a Rotary Club. . . . It will be hard; it will seem impious to timid souls; many will be hurt. But in God's name let us get rid of shams and have reality at last."


Friday, October 23, 2009

Help me remember a book title

I can't seem to remember a title of a book I had planned on purchasing. It dealt with the issues of the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture and offered a defense of that doctrine by demonstrating how the historical church has always held to this position.

If I recall, it was a rather scholarly treatment. I think it was published within the last few years (but I could be wrong about this). I also seem to recall hearing D.A. Carson say this was one of the best treatments that he has read on this issue.

I know this is really vague, but any help would be appreciated.

UPDATE: The title has been discovered, thanks to private correspondence from Micah Gelatt (my brother) and Justin Taylor (blogger par excellence). I should also note the efforts of Arthur Sido. FYI, the book is titled "Biblical Authority: A Critique of the Rogers/McKim Proposal".

Kimball speaks out on the Emergent movement

It seems I am on an Emergent theme lately. Over at the Christian Post Dan Kimball has spoken out against the changes that have occurred in the Emergent movement since its inception. He writes:
"My entry into the emerging church world was because of the reality of the increasing amount of people who aren't Christians and weren't experiencing the joy of salvation and knowing Jesus in this life and the reality of eternal heaven and eternal hell in the life-to-come is a reality."
Kimball has historically represented a branch of (what came to be known as) the Emergent church that emphasized personal evangelism of the non-churched and de-churched culture. Recognizing the anger and angst many feel regarding the traditional church, Kimball (et al) were attempting to provide a platform in which the message of Christ would be brought to these people groups in a way they could understand and relate to. In a very real sense, the movement that Kimball represents is simply a trendier, hipper version of Willow Creek (or, perhaps better stated, "the Willow Creek for 20-somethings").

In the article, which oddly seems to have been gleaned from blog posts, Kimball defended the original intention of the movement--or at least what he believed what was supposed to be its intention. He writes,

"If you were to have asked me about what the core of the emerging church is, I would have responded with 'evangelism and mission in our emerging cultre to emerging generations.' And from that, other things were of course included, alternative worship, discussions on ecclesiology etc. as a means for fruitful growth of disciples of Jesus. Underneath, the reasons for desiring change was an outright passion and desire for seeing emerging generations ... experience His grace, forgiveness and joy of following and knowing Him.

However, Kimball believes this emphasis on Jesus, salvation and the reality of heaven/hell no longer seem to find a place in the Emerging movement. He goes on to say,
"Today, I certainly sense if you asked someone what is 'the emerging church' it would mean a whole lot of different things than that. In fact, I don't even think the word 'evangelism' comes up when I start hearing about 'the emerging church' for the most part anymore."
For those of us who have been sharp to criticize the emergent movement it is important that we understand there are various sub-groups within the movement. Driscoll, for example, though he has reputiated the movement theologically nevertheless still fits within it methodologically. Kimball and those of his guild also represent a version of the movement that is much more in line with historic Christianity (though perhaps still open to the same criticisms that can be leveled against the broader seeker-sensitive movement).

I appreciate Dan and his willingness to affirm historic truth as well as to distance himself from those who refuse to do so. Though we have never met, I've always liked Dan (at least as I know him from messages and books). While I do tend to think of his methodology as "silly", (and even some of his presuppositions and methods unbeneficial to the cause of Christ) I do sense in him an honest desire to see people come to know Jesus as Savior and Lord. Despite our differences, I thank God for Dan Kimball.

You can also follow Pastor Josh on Twitter:

Parents Beware: This will kill your children

I stumbled across this excellent quote by William Farely (HT: Chris Brauns):
"Moralism – - the idea that we merit God’s favor by being good – - is the deadly enemy of Christian parenting. Moralism trusts in its own goodness, virtue, and principled intentions to get a “not guilty” verdict from God on the day of judgment. It is deceptive. A cloak of morality over an unregenerate heart can make it difficult to discern the child’s true spiritual condition." William P. Farley, page 42
You can also follow Pastor Josh on Twitter:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I thought it was all about conversation

Here is a video from one of the "emergent" malcontents. Notice what he claims will breathe new life into the church. The Gospel? Oh goodness no! The only chance the church has is for traditional church folk to "shut up" and for emergents to "stand up and speak the truth as they see it" (sadly, those last 4 italicized words are original--forget about God's truth, all that matters is what emergents happen to think at the moment).

Oddly, I thought the mantra of the emergent movement was "dialogue" and "conversation". Hmmm.

After all, all this talk for centuries about salvation, Jesus, and doctrine has been burning "a hole in God's head"--or so says our young malcontent. BTW, there is a bad word (a synonym of donkey) in the middle. I guess cussing is part of the truth as they see it.

Update on Oct 22, 2009: You can watch the rest of the "Spark House" videos here. In each video they ask the individual "how can we spark new life into the church?" I just watched about 75% of the videos (including the ones by Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt), and have yet to see one where someone references the Gospel. Think about that for a minute. The discussion is about how to spark new life, and the Lord of Life isn't even mentioned.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Good words dying from a lack of care

The newest buzz in evangelical blogdom is the creation of a new group blog over at First Things dedicated to Evangelicals. Several familiar names are part of the team, and I have enjoyed the first several posts that have been listed. For the moment, they seem to be centered on trying to define Evangelicalism (or at least explain it).

In one of them I stumbled upon this quote by B.B. Warfield:
“The religious terrain is full of the graves of good words which have died from lack of care –they stand as close in it as do the graves today in the flats of Flanders or among the hills of northern France. And those good words are still dying all around us. There is that good word ‘Evangelical.’ It is certainly moribund, if not already dead. Nobody any longer seems to know what it means. Even our Dictionaries no longer know.” –B. B. Warfield, “Redeemer and Redemption, 1916”
You can also follow Pastor Josh on Twitter:

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Videos on Justification

MacArthur explains justification in 25 seconds:

R.C. Sproul's masterful explanation on the subject:

A beautiful and moving discussion by John Piper on the importance of justification:

Piper again, this time offering one of the clearest and most concrete explanations of justification I've ever heard:

John Gerstner's explains Justification & contrasts it with Roman Catholicism's view:

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Have you ever made a dumb comment?

Have you ever made a dumb comment? I mean the kind that once it comes out is nonsensical and makes you look like an idiot? I certainly have. I remember once driving home from church and talking to my wife about the sermon I just preached. I told her "By God's grace everything just seemed to connect this morning. The sermon was well prepared and I seemed to deliver it well. People were really engaged. This may have been one of my better ones." My wife simply asked, "Was your sermon about Noah?" "Yes", I replied. She looked at me smiling and said, "Well, in that case you should know that you said 'Moses' instead every single time!"

For all of you who feel like you've blown it verbally, perhaps the following quotes below will make you feel better.

[HT Mike M].

Question: If you could live forever, would you and why?

Answer: "I would not live forever, because we should not live forever, because if we were supposed to live forever, then we would live forever, but we cannot live forever, which is why I would not live forever,"

--Miss Alabama in the 1994 Miss USA contest.


"Whenever I watch TV and see those poor starving kids all over the world, I can't help but cry. I mean I'd love to be skinny like that, but not with all those flies and death and stuff."

--Mariah Carey


"Smoking kills.. If you're killed, you've lost a very important part of your life,"

-- Brooke Shields, during an interview to become spokesperson for federal anti-smoking campaign .


"I've never had major knee surgery on any other part of my body,"

--Winston Bennett, University of Kentucky basketball forward.


"Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country,"

--Mayor Marion Barry, Washington , DC .


"That lowdown scoundrel deserves to be kicked to death by a jackass, and I'm just the one to do it,"

--A congressional candidate in Texas .


"Half this game is ninety percent mental."

--Philadelphia Phillies manager, Danny Ozark


"It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it."

--Al Gore, Vice President


"I love California . I practically grew up in Phoenix ."

-- Dan Quayle


"We've got to pause and ask ourselves: How much clean air do we need?"

--Lee Iacocca


"The word "genius" isn't applicable in football. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein."

--Joe Theisman, NFL football quarterback & sports analyst.


"We don't necessarily discriminate. We simply exclude certain types of people."

-- Colonel Gerald Wellman, ROTC Instructor.


"Your food stamps will be stopped effective March 1992 because we received notice that you passed away. May God bless you. You may reapply if there is a change in your circumstances."

--Department of Social Services, Greenville, South Carolina


"Traditionally, most of Australia 's imports come from overseas."

--Keppel Enderbery


"If somebody has a bad heart, they can plug this jack in at night as they go to bed and it will monitor their heart throughout the night. And the next morning, when they wake up dead, there'll be a record."

--Mark S. Fowler, FCC Chairman

Sharper Iron - Younger faces, but is it the same old legalism?

Aaron Blumer wrote an interesting, if not troubling, article over on Sharper Iron titled Are Rules Dangerous: Part 1. In the article he notices the newer tendency to oppose man-made rules and encourages "younger fundamentalists" to see the value of such rules in ministry settings.

Near the beginning he asks, "should we conclude that "man-made rules" do not contribute at all to walking in a manner worthy of our calling? Is it accurate to say that rules contribute nothing to sanctification? Should we even believe that they are—as some suggest—inherently dangerous and often hostile to growth in grace?"

He goes on to say, "Perhaps some confusion on this point is due to binary thinking about the relationship between the inner man—the heart and mind—and outward behavior. Is it true that a believer either obeys with faith and love or sins? What if he obeys without faith and love or—as is more often the case, obeys with incomplete faith (and understanding) and less than pure love? Is this "sin"? Even if it is, is it no better than the sin the rule is intended to prevent?

I believe the dynamic between inner man and outward conduct is far from binary (all or nothing) and looks more like this:

  • Best: do right out of faith and love
  • Good: do right to avoid punishment, etc. (lacking in faith and love)
  • Bad: do right with some evil motive
  • Worst: do wrong"
Notice how he defines "Good" in the list above. It is "doing the right thing to avoid punishment--although lacking in faith and love". Compare that with Paul's words in Romans 14:23 ("...whatever does not come from faith is sin"). One also thinks of Hebrews 11:6 ("Without faith it is impossible to please God"). Blumer's defintion of good is pagan moralism at best, and it is not only incompatible with the Gospel--it is antithetical to it. When God called His creation "good" do we really believe He had this definition in mind? It is the Gospel itself that demands there are only two ways: the way of life or the way of death, the way of hope or the way of hopelessness, the way of holiness or the way of sin. Noting this clear teaching in Scripture, the Early Church document titled the Didache begins with this statement: "There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways." Yet here Blumer dismisses this type of thinking as "binary". Would Blumer really have us believe that Cain's sacrifice was "good" in some sense? He did, after all, obey God by bringing a sacrifice--yet God passed over Cain's offering because it was not given with a right heart. There is nothing good about obeying God's rules without the right motive. If Scripture is clear about anything it is this.

In what is a startling undermining of the Gospel, Blumer writes, "obedience is so helpful that increasing it by means of rules is a genuine spiritual blessing to believers even when their faith is incomplete and love is not their primary motivation." Actually, it is precisely this type of behavior, when applied to the spiritual mission of the Church, that Scripture calls sin. This is the thinking that led Paul to write Galatians. It is the grosteque specter of human religiousity from which Christ freed us and the watered-down moralism that has proven powerless to effect change. Faithless Israel begged to return to slavery in Egypt, and now Blumer offers us a taxi-cab ride back to Goshen. The belief that we must add man-made rules to the Church is an abandonment of the Gospel.

After I commented on his article, Blumer replied: "I am confused. Christ's church does have rules all over the NT. And breaking them without repentance leads to being disciplined out of the church in order to protect the gospel. So how can you say that adding them abandons the gospel?"

If "younger fundamentalism" cannot see the difference between Jesus giving rules and humans adding them, then we are destined to repeat the egregious errors of our fathers. Either the Cross (with the Grace it brings) is everything, or it is nothing.

You can also follow Pastor Josh on Twitter:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

McClaren denies Hell

This video has been around for a while, but I just stumbled across it. Interesting enough, I clearly remember hearing Brian McClaren affirm belief in Hell about three years ago at a conference held at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. It seems, however, that he does what so many other emergent types do---use traditional terminology but secretly give it radically different definitions.

The audio below is one of those rare moments where he is actually honest with his true beliefs.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Unhealthy Faith

J.I. Packer on Faith:

"One of the unhealthiest features of Protestant theology today is its preoccupation with faith: faith, that is, viewed man-centeredly as a state of existential commitment. Inevitably, this preoccupation diverts thought away from faith's object, even when this is clearly conceived—as too often in modern theology it is not. Though the Reformers said much about faith, even to the point of calling their message of justification "the doctrine of faith," their interest was not of the modern kind. It was not subject-centered but object-centered, not psychological but theological, not anthropocentric but Christocentric. The Reformers saw faith as a relationship, not to oneself, as did Tillich, but to the living Christ of the Bible, and they fed faith in themselves and in others by concentrating on that Christ as the Saviour and Lord by whom our whole life must be determined."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Tremble and Weep

Early this morning I came across a quote by Richard Baxter. I had read this before, but now in the pre-dawn hours God has used this quote to both awaken and humble me.

Baxter writes, "I am ashamed of every sermon I preach; when I think what I have been speaking of, and who sent me, and that men's salvation or damnation is so much concerned by it, I am ready to tremble lest God should judge me as a slighter of His truths and the souls of men."

This morning, after reading this quote, I listened to a sermon I preached just four years ago. Just ten minutes into listening I began to weep at its lack of depth. What I, at the time, called relevance was merely an exercise in the trivial and superficial.

Fellow pastors and teachers of God's Word, He has called us to deliver His truths and lead His people deeply into the well of His word. Lord, forgive us for having failed to do so and grant us the zeal to follow You anew.

You can also follow Pastor Josh on Twitter:

Monday, October 5, 2009

Gary Meadors - New Book Published

A former seminary professor of mine has contributed to a book that has just been released (Dr. Gary Meadors). If the relation of hermeneutics to theology is the kind of subject that floats your boat (as it does mine), then check out the video.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Philosophy, Purpose, & Plan for the Sunday Evening Service

The following document is something our church leadership is currently discussing. This may be a way forward for those of you who are beleaguered both by the Sunday Evening service antagonists and protagonists.

Purpose and Philosophy of Sunday Evening Service

Calling all Pastors

OK, one of the main tasks of a pastor is to faithfully preach the Word of God. Yet as I meet more and more pastors I also encounter a lot of men with limited resources, limited time, and a profound sense of isolation. Many of these men look backward to the joyous time of Seminary when they where able to be sharpened by dialogue with other godly men, and still others never had this opportunity at any point. Most yearn for something like it now.

I would like to collaborate with as many pastors as I can on an upcoming sermon project. The basic idea is that we would pick a passage of scripture, independently study it, and then dialogue with one another as we shape it into a sermon series. This would help sharpen our skills in breaking a passage or biblical book into manageable sizes, as well as developing skills in exegesis and application. We could even expand the idea and share resources, etc.

Frankly, this would also help some of you guys do some more long term planning (it always scares me when pastors don't know what they will be preaching two Sundays down the road----but perhaps I'm overkill at having things planned out 24 months in advance).

Any takers? Shoot me an email if your interested in joining the group.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Does anyone else find this troubling?

The following is from a September 27th interview of Rob Bell that was published in the Boston Globe. Note the clear absence of anything about Jesus--which the interviewer wisely picks up on [note: I put some of his key sentences in bold and italics]:

10/1/2009 Update: A fuller version of the interview can be found by following this link. Thanks Travis for pointing me to it. Sadly, even though this is twice as long the Gospel is just as absent.
Rob Bell is one of the hottest names in contemporary evangelical life. He is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., but is better known for his books, and especially, for his road show, which combines preaching with performance art. He is much talk about among folks trying to discern what’s next for American evangelicalism. Bell is currently touring in conjunction with a book, “Drops Like Stars: A Few Thoughts on Creativity and Suffering,’’ and last weekend he appeared at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston. I caught up with Bell by telephone in Ottawa to ask him what he’s up to.

Q. What does it mean to you to be an evangelical?

A. I take issue with the word to a certain degree, so I make a distinction between a capital E and a small e. I was in the Caribbean in 2004, watching the election returns with a group of friends, and when Fox News, in a state of delirious joy, announced that evangelicals had helped sway the election, I realized this word has really been hijacked. I find the word troubling, because it has come in America to mean politically to the right, almost, at times, anti-intellectual. For many, the word has nothing to do with a spiritual context.

Q. OK, how would you describe what it is that you believe?

A. I embrace the term evangelical, if by that we mean a belief that we together can actually work for change in the world, caring for the environment, extending to the poor generosity and kindness, a hopeful outlook. That’s a beautiful sort of thing.

Q. Do you preach, or perform?

A. I came up through your standard go-to-seminary path, served as an apprentice pastor, did weddings and funerals and hospital visits, but I always veered toward creating things. I was always setting stuff on fire, building things, bringing in piles of dirt. And I started to realize that there’s a dimension to the sermon in which it’s a kind of performance art. Over the years, I’ve realized that I have as much in common with the performance artist, the standup comedian, the screenwriter, as I do with the theologian. I’m in an odd world where I make things and share them with people.

Q. I’m struck by the fact that I don’t hear a lot of explicitly religious language, or mentions of Jesus, from you.

A. I think we have enough religious people who are going around trying to convert people. My guard is up when somebody is trying to convert me to their thing. Are you talking to me because you actually are interested in this subject, because you care about me as a human, or am I one more possible conversion that will make you feel good about your religiosity? I don’t have any embarrassment about my religion, and it’s not that I’m too cool, but I would hope that the Jesus message would come through, hopefully through a full humanity.

So, no Jesus, no conversion, no sin, no salvation, no heaven, no hell----but at least we are going to try to save the planet! What, exactly, makes this man's teachings discernibly Christian?