Friday, March 19, 2010

Beck, Wallis, & Social Justice

Glen Beck and Jim Wallis are polar opposites who are now in a public cat-fight, yet they share a common trait: both men fail to grasp biblical Christianity and its teachings on social justice.The war of words between the two men started when Beck, on his radio show, said, "I beg you, look for the words 'social justice' or 'economic justice' on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. ... Am I advising people to leave their church? Yes! If I am going to Jeremiah Wright's church. If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish. Go alert your bishop."

Wallis fired back in a post, saying: "Beck says Christians should leave their social justice churches, so I say Christians should leave Glenn Beck. I don't know if Beck is just strange, just trying to be controversial, or just trying to make money. But in any case, what he has said attacks the very heart of our Christian faith, and Christians should no longer watch his show. His show should now be in the same category as Howard Stern." Wallis went on to accuse Beck of having that political philosophy that "consistently favors the rich over the poor."

Yet it seems neither man truly understands Christ's teachings.  For one, neither man holds to an historic understanding of the Christian faith.  Beck is a Mormon and Wallis has a faith system that is reminiscent of classical Liberalism. It seems odd, then, that each of these men would claim to speak on what constitutes the "true" Christian perspective.

Beck's version of Christianity appears cold and heartless. It is a rugged, 'pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps' religion that seems to have more faith in the political idea of free enterprise than in the historic Christ. To deny that the Church is to advocate for the justice and well-being of the poor and oppressed is to deny key teachings of Christ, not to mention a clear element of Old Testament Mosaic law. James 1:27 tells us that part of "pure Christianity" is looking after "orphans and widows in their trouble".

Wallis, conversely, confuses the pursuit of justice with extreme left-wing ideaology. Wallis's version of social justice would keep abortion legal and force the nation to recognize the 'rights' of married gay couples.  With one breath he condones the rampant and often brutal Communism in Central and South America (which strips people of justice), and with the next breath condemns American military intervention overseas (which seeks to bring justice to the people). It is one thing to have faith in the cross of Christ, it is another thing entirely to have faith in an expansive totalitarian government program.

Christians must not retreat from the political arena.  The myth that politics should be 'religiously neutral' is one of the main tenants of secular humanism--a philosophical system that has declared a cold war on all perspectives but its own.  In that respect, we should be glad that Beck and Wallis are bringing faith into the public square.  The only problem is that what they are bringing isn't the Christian faith. We are still waiting for our modern day William Wilberforce.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Phil Johnson on being 'sissified'

Phil makes an excellent point in the following video, though leave it to Phil to say a needed truth in the most offensive way possible (I do sometimes tire of the needless offense he brings, but there is a truth in his message that should not be missed)

Pulpit Highlights - Phil Johnson from Grace Community Church on Vimeo.

Disclaimer: There are certainly elements to his message that I would strongly disagree with.  I didn't like the fact that he equated "womanly" with "weak" (I've witnessed my wife give birth three times--nothing weak about that). Furthermore, it troubled me to see an entire auditorium of pastors laugh when Phil sarcastically said "but we are hurting".  While it is no good to constantly dwell on our hurt (which seems to have been Phil's point), there is something seriously wrong when the idea of pain and emotional hurt is funny to men that call themselves shepherds of Christ's flock.  If this is masculinity, many bible-believing Christians  (I among them) would prefer the 'womanly' version of Christianity Phil depises. I don't like what the Evangelical church has become, but I don't like Phil's version either.  Let's keep searching for something in the middle.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tebow saves a life

The following letter came into the Focus on the Family offices.  It is profoundly moving and touching:
I need to thank you so much. It's not like me to reach out to strangers or agencies for help. I was truly feeling lost. I saw the ad during the Super Bowl and it stuck in my head. I feel like that commercial was made to reach out to me.

Later that week I googled it and watched the ad over and over. Then I went to your website and watched the related interview. I felt drawn to reach out to you and I am so glad that I did. You may think that all you did was email me back, but you did so much more than that!!! You gave me hope and encouragement. You let me know that if I need help it's out there. (I went to the related website you suggested in your email.) You reminded me that I can't be perfect, but God loves me.

You also gave me a wake up call. Why was I worrying about what the baby's father wanted me to do? I am always trying to make other people happy. I kept thinking that unless I have an abortion, he won't be happy. Well, you put the focus back where it belongs. It doesn't matter what makes him happy, or me happy for that matter. It's about what will make God happy.

I tried to convince the father of this and he wouldn't listen. I just kept telling myself what you said about how I can't control how others feel about my pregnancy. Once I made the decision that it didn't matter what he says or thinks, I'm keeping the baby, I felt so much better! I am excited. I do want to be a mom and I will do my best (although we know I'll be far from perfect) for this baby. I mean I'm scared, too. I have a lot to figure out, especially financially, but I will put my trust in God.

I think I was partly afraid that God was mad at me for getting pregnant out of wedlock. While I know he isn't proud of me for it, thank you for reminding me that he still loves me. I didn't need to compound one sin with another. My mistake can't be erased, but I can ask for forgiveness. The father is mad at me and says I'm ruining his life. That's OK. I can not control him or his feelings. I can only protect the baby.

I can not thank you enough for putting me back on the right track and reminding me what actually matters in life. I don't know how I forgot something so important, but I did. Your organization, through the Super Bowl ad and your thoughtful email, saved this baby's life. I have no doubt about that. And in the process maybe you saved my soul. Words just can not express my gratitude, but thank you, thank you, thank you!
HT: Justin Taylor and Ted Slater

Monday, March 15, 2010

C.S. Lewis on Love, Joy, and Pain

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket-safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

- C.S. Lewis

New Statement of Faith & Constitution

Quick Update: Last night our church voted to accept the new statement of faith and constitution. Both of these were major overhauls.  By God's grace, it was a 100% yes vote! More important than the percentage, the discussion and conversation was marked by gentleness, trust, and wisdom.

After the meeting, someone asked me why I thought things went so well.  This individual had been at the church during a time when it was marked by in-fighting & bitterness, and he was overwhelmed by the grace-filled spirit of last night's meeting. Ultimately, I think it comes down to a trust issue.

Trust God: Do we really believe that God is in control, or do we try to control the situations we find ourselves in?  The moment we begin to think success or failure depends on our ability to control a situation is the moment we cease trusting God--which only brings about anger, bitterness, and fear.  Only by trusting in His goodness and sovereignty can we experience His joy and peace.

Trust the elected Leadership: This is a group much larger than the Pastor. God has called and equipped godly men to serve as pastors/elders and deacons.  He has gifted and equipped other men and women to serve in many other roles within the body.  There is a joy in being able to recognize the godliness in others, and a wonderful peace that comes when we lovingly submit to these faithful leaders & servants.

Trust the Body: I firmly and passionately believe that the Spirit also leads through the entire Body.  Sadly, though most Baptist churches are "technically" Congregational in terms of church polity, in actuality few Baptist pastors fully embrace the priesthood of all believers. Ultimately, who cares if a new constitution is passed? The bigger issue is that the congregation has gathered together in prayer and discernment in order to bring glory and honor to God. When that happens, the outcome is always joyous (regardless of whether the proposal passes).  Pastors, if you cannot be as joyous with a 'no' as you are with a 'yes', then you don't trust your Body.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Resident Aliens - Devo for Wed, March 10, 2010

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20).

As a native of India, my wife carries in her purse something referred to as a "Green Card". This card officially declares her status as a 'resident alien', meaning though she has all the rights associated with living in this country, ultimately this isn't her 'home'. Though she is legally welcome to stay here for life, the government recognizes her identity and sense of belonging are connected with a foreign country.

Paul is saying something very similar in Philippians 3:20, but with a slight difference.  His focus is on the community of believers, not the life of an individual believer.  The word citizenship would actually be more literally translated as "colony" or "state". In ancient times it often designated an official colony of foreigners or relocated military veterans. Paul is reminding the believers in Philippi that their home is in heaven, and here on earth they are to be a colony of heavenly citizens.

Our churches, as well as our individuals lives, are supposed to consciously model the cultural values of Heaven--not earth. To redo an old phrase, far too many churches are too earthly-minded to be of any heavenly good. Our time on earth is but a few years, but our time in Heaven lasts forever. Isn't it time we began living that future reality now?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The 5 Gallon Bucket - Devo for Tues, March 9, 2010

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9)

Over the years we've tried our hand at raising a few backyard animals---(chickens, geese, etc). One of my customs is to save food scraps in a few 5-gallon buckets. I use these to feed the scraps to the animals, or to store them to eventually throw on the compost pile.

Yet for the past several months I've also been busy finishing off our basement.  I've accumulated a lot more buckets---paint, drywall mud, primer.  Somehow, in the confusion of all these projects, one of the food buckets ended up in the contstruction supplies.  All was well and good--at least until I opened it in the house.  The smell of that bucket--now containing several months worth of rotted food--immediately filled the house.

That food bucket is something like the human heart.  All might look well and good on the outside, but on the inside it is horribly rotten. C.H. Spurgeon captured the true condition of our hearts when he wrote the following:
"There is nothing one half so worthy of abhorrence as the human heart. God spares all eyes but His own that awful sight, a human heart; and could you and I but see our heart, we should be driven mad, so horrible would be the sight."
Jeremiah 17:9 isn't just talking about our evil deeds.  It is highlighting the general condition of our heart apart from Christ.  Of course, this does mean that we are prone towards evil thoughts and deeds.  But it also means that even the "good" things we do are considered evil in the eyes of the Lord. Isaiah 64:6 tells us "all our righteous acts are like filthy rags".  Everything is rotten, down to our very core.

The Christian does not stand before God because he or she has achieved some degree of righteousness by having lived a good life.  The true Christian, instead, is one who recognizes he or she is a rebel and villian--but one who has been redeemed and changed by Christ. With David, we cry out "create in me a pure heart, O God" (Psalm 51:10).

Monday, March 8, 2010

Unholy Weeds - Devo for Monday, March 8, 2010

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12, ESV).

Several years ago I spoke at a youth retreat where I struck up a conversation with a small group of youth leaders, one of whom flatly informed me that they had acheived "sinless perfection". They were alarmed because the youth group had not yet acquired this status.

"Oh, your problem is much bigger than that", I replied.

"What do you mean?", they asked.

"You're bigger problem is that your speaker hasn't achieved it yet, and has no real plans of doing so anytime soon".

That ended the conversation.

I've never understood the logic of those claiming to have acheived a sinless existence. If there ever was a modern day spirit of Pharisee'ism this would certainly be it.  Certainly I believe God grants us victory over sin, but I also firmly believe Scripture teaches we will continue to struggle with sin throughout this life. Scripture commands us to "fight the good fight" (1 Tim 6:12), to "walk by the Spirit" so that we "will not gratify the desires of the flesh" (Gal 5:16), and to "take care, lest there be in you an evil heart leading you away from the living God" (Hebrews 3:12-13). It urges us "as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul" (1 Peter 2:11). Believers continue to struggle with sin. To deny this is to deny both the Word of God and current reality.

We are only able to deny sin when we have redefined it.  Many view sin simply as the external acts of things like murder, adultery, or lying. Yet sin goes much deeper than that. Like a weed it wraps itself around even good and healthy things, slowly and silently chocking out holiness. It springs up from the depths of our heart, attitude, and will. Do we really think we can be free, in this life, from lust, selfishness, pride, or resentment? Romans 14:23 goes so far as to say that "whatever does not proceed from faith is sin".

Until our Lord returns, we are in the awkward state of being sinful beings redeemed by a holy Lord. Yet the great promise of Scripture is "that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil 1:6). Did you know when this work would be completed?  Not until His return.  We need him--not only for our salvation, but for our continued growth.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Brainerd, Spurgeon, & Lewis on Evangelism

David Brainerd (1718-1747):
"I care not where I go, or how I live, or what I endure so that I may save souls. When I sleep I dream of them; when I awake they are first in my thoughts…no amount of scholastic attainment, of able and profound exposition of brilliant and stirring eloquence can atone for the absence of a deep impassioned sympathetic love for human souls."
Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892):
"If sinners be dammed, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. If they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees. Let no one GO there UNWARNED and UNPRAYED for."
C.S. Lewis (1898-1963):
“The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose.”

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Reformed Red Flags

Within the Southern Baptist Church the Calvinist/Arminian debate is heating up.  A group in Tennessee is advocating what appears to be little more than a witch-hunt to expose and remove pastors who have calvinistic leanings. One document that has circulated advises churches about "Reformed Red Flags" to watch for in their pastors.
"Reformed Red Flags"
  • Lack of passion in the public invitation for the lost to repent and receive Jesus as Lord and Savior, or no Gospel invitation is extended.
  • Lack of salvation sermons or evangelistic (revival) preaching.
  • Use of the ESV Study Bible.
  • Lack of participation with other churches in evangelistic campaigns in their city, county, region.
  • Adding other belief statements or confessions to what their church believes, such as 1st London Baptist Confession, New Hampshire Confession, Abstract of Principles.
  • Moving the Church to elder rule.
  • Focused on creating the "true" church.
  • Strict Church discipline is sought to grow the church down to the "true" church.
  • Members of the Founders movement and attend their annual meetings.
  • In their sermons they quote from men such as John Piper, R.C. Sproul, James White, Jonathan Edwards and others.
  • They will call other Calvinists to join them on their church staff.
  • They will methodically employ a strategy of "converting" members to the Doctrines of Grace. As the circle widens, the movement grows bolder within the fellowship.
  • Tendency towards a highly logical systematic theology where all the questions about life and God have answers and fit neatly and nicely into a theological box.
  • The love to write and blog about their reformed theology.
  • Tendency to use their pastoral authority against any member that questions their reformed theology or direction.
  • Tendency to be evasive about their theology during the pastoral search process.
Much of these are obviously silly and many are little more than nonsensical distortions of the Calvinistic/Reformed positions. One wonders of the author of this list has ever even read Hodge, Warfield, or Edwards.  Who could honestly accuse Bavinck, who wrote extensively about the absolute sovereignty of God, of putting God in "a neat little box"? Who could honestly accuse Edwards or Spurgeon of lacking in zeal to see the conversion of sinners? And didn't the Baptist church movement begin with a passionate desire to have a regenerate, New Testament, "true" church?

Another document  is called the "Pastor's Pledge". The pastor is asked to sign a statement that reads, in part:
"I wish to state that I do not hold to a reformed or Calvinistic doctrine and the Pastor Search Committee has questioned me comprehensively in this area. With integrity of the heart, I have heard the statements of the Pastor Search Committee and can say with certainty that if my theology ever changes to a Calvinistic doctrine, I will share with the Deacons my new beliefs and work with them and the personel committee in transitioning me and my family to a new place of ministry that is more in line with my new theological stance."
Blowback against good biblical teaching is, of course, to be expected. Jonathan Edward noted that during his time Calvinist theology was generally despised. Little has changed.  Yet what alarms me the most is that many Calvinistic pastors will simply dismiss this list as the writings of a poorly-read, uneducated Arminian-zealot. But to do so only allows the document to have a seed of credibility.  Rightly or wrongly, distortion or partial-fact, this is how Calvinistic are seen.  Now is not the time for a point-by-point theological response.  Shouldn't we instead simply get busy doing Christ's business?  Evangelizing the lost, preaching the Gospel, loving the Body?
Calvinists must be the most loving, the most patient, the most evangelistic, and the most joyous of all Christians. Anything less, and we will only see more of these letters.

HT: Tom Ascol

Thursday, March 4, 2010

MacArthur Study Bible in ESV

Though I do not own a MacArthur Study Bible, I've used one in the past and quite enjoyed it. Now it has been released in the English Standard Version. MacArthur has long used the New King James Version, though this probably had more to do with the limited choices available at the time. The NKJV, while a product of wonderful scholarship, is severely limited by its manuscript base (it uses only the textus receptus, the same as the KJV, which is rather poor). Still, I have used the NKJV in my pulpit ministry for the past 3 years and found little difficulty in working around the occasional manuscript problems. For public readings, it reads fairly well (perhaps a tad too awkward and archaic at times, but still understood), and its translations can be trusted.

Frankly, I would have little difficulty using a number of translations. The NIV, NKJV, NASB, and now the ESV, are all excellent options for Evangelical churches. As I've already mentioned strengths/weaknesses of the NKJV above, here are my thoughts on the others:

NIV: The NIV is a tad loosey-goosey at times, as it strives for greater readability. But it has often been falsely called a "dynamic equivalent translation". That is simply not true. More accurately, it is almost exactly half way between a dymanic equivalent and literal translation style--with all the blessings and curses that brings. All in all its a good "middle of the road" translation. The worry is what it is going to become in the future, as Zondervan has gathered a new translation team to completely redo it. The last time they did this it resulted in a disastrous gender neutral version, which almost tanked the NIV in the States until they withdrew it.

NASB: Good, solid, excellent scholarship--and at one time was a favorite among conservative bible schools (and some seminaries). In the 1980's it was fast becoming the de facto translations at these institutions, and every young graduate proudly introduced it to their churches. It is a favorite (or at least was) with Greek professors because it sticks closer to the word order of the original Greek. The only problem here is that it sometimes make the sentence harder to understand than if it had been in KJV English. So, it gets a high score on accuracy---but a low score on readability.

ESV: I've been very pleased with this version, which I have used in my personal Bible study for the past 2 years. It beats the NASB and NKJV both on readability and accuracy, its manuscript base is superior to that of the NKJV, and for public reading it sounds more 'majestic' than the NASB . Negatively, it doesn't match the NIV's readability. Our family has chosen the ESV for our bible memory, personal study, and family devotions.

But, as the old saying goes, the best translation is the one you will actually read. Find one you like and just get into the Word. In the video below, MacArthur discusses the new publication of his study Bible in the ESV:

MacArthur ESV Study Bible Promo from Crossway on Vimeo.

Machen on Defining Terms

If you were to ask my children what is the first rule of logical discourse, they would immediately reply "to define your terms" (I admit, we are the kind of family that around the dinner table talks about things like logical fallacies).

Read this quote from J. Gresham Machen:
"Nothing makes a man more unpopular in the controversies of the present day than
an insistence upon definition of terms. Anything, it seems, may be forgiven more
readily than that. Men discourse very eloquently today upon such subjects as
God, religion, Christianity, atonement, redemption, faith; but are greatly
incensed when they are asked in simple language what they mean by these terms.
They do not like to have the flow of their eloquence checked by so vulgar a
thing as a definition."

What is Faith?"; Pg. 14; Machen

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Northern Michigan Reformation Society

Mark the following date on your calendars. On Saturday, March 27 (10:00 a.m.) the Northern Michigan Reformation Society will be hosting another gathering. The purpose of these meetings to to explore a portion of Scripture (this time its Mark 10:17-27). The format includes 3 speakers, followed by a Q&A session (questions asked by the audience). Both speakers and audience are asked to thoroughly study the passage beforehand. We will host the event at Indian River Baptist Church, in Indian River Michigan.

Speakers: Mike Stark (Curtis Baptist Church), Jeff Peterson (Indian River Baptist Church), Jeff Ryan (Calvary Bible Church of Rogers City)

Moderator: Josh Gelatt (Indian River Baptist Church)

Please mark your calendar and pass on this invitation to other individuals and pastors you know who might be interested. We are meeting in Indian River as a central location with the desire that God will use us to encourage pastors and churches all over the northern part of Michigan along I-75—and into the eastern U.P.

The main purpose of our meeting will be fellowship and mutual encouragement around the Word of God, but we will also be discussing what is entailed in forming our northern group as its own Reformation Society.