Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"Survey Says..."

Came across an article detailing the results of an international survey on Biblical literacy. While the survey was sponsored by the Catholic Biblical Federation (no, I don't think that is necessarily an oxymoron), it shows some interesting results. Here are a few summarized points from the article.

  • The United States has by far the highest level of its adult population that claims to have read at least one passage from the Bible in the last year (75%) and to have a Bible at home (93%), but it doesn’t score better than anyone else on tests of basic Biblical literacy. For example, large numbers of Americans, just like people in the other eight countries surveyed, mistakenly thought that Jesus had authored a book of the Bible, and couldn't correctly distinguish between Paul and Moses in terms of which figure belongs to the Old Testament.
  • Even within highly secularized nations such as France, the U.K. and Holland, broad majorities report a positive attitude towards the Bible, describing it as “interesting” and expressing a desire to know more about it.
  • Broad majorities also describe the Bible as “difficult” and express a need for help in understanding it – suggesting, according to the authors of the study, a “teaching moment” for the churches.
  • Fundamentalists, or those who take a literal view of Scripture, do not know more about the Bible than anyone else. In fact, researchers said, it’s readers whose attitudes they described as “critical,” meaning that they see the Bible as the word of God but in need of interpretation, who are over-represented at the highest levels of Biblical literacy. In other words, fundamentalists actually score lower on basic Biblical awareness.
  • In virtually every country surveyed, those who take a “critical” view of the Bible represent a larger share of the population than either “fundamentalists” or “reductionists,” meaning those who see the Bible simply as literature or a collection of myths and legends. In the United States, “fundamentalists” are 27 percent of the population, “critics” 51 percent, and “reductionists” 20 percent. Interestingly, both Poland and Russia have a similar share of “fundamentalists,” despite lacking the strong Evangelical Protestant tradition familiar in the U.S.
  • There is no apparent correlation between reading the Bible and any particular political orientation. In other words, it’s not the case that the more someone reads the Bible, the more likely they are to be a political conservative or liberal.
  • Aside from the United States, there’s broad support in most nations for teaching the Bible in public schools, suggesting that large numbers of people attach cultural importance to the Bible even if it’s not part of their personal belief system. (The different result in the United States, according to researchers, flows from America’s unique tradition of church/state separation, in which families and churches rather than public schools have been the primary carriers of religious instruction).
  • There no longer appear to be major differences in Biblical reading patterns and Biblical familiarity between countries with Catholic majorities and those with Protestant majorities, suggesting that, in the words of Bishop Vincenzo Paglia of Terni, Italy, the president of the Catholic Biblical Federation, the Bible has become “the ecumenical book of all believers.”
I really don't know what to make of all this, but it is interesting fodder for consideration.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How to Succeed in Slavery

In responding to a post by Dan Phillips today over at TeamPyro, I got to thinking about an underlying question in his post. That being, how do we evaluate successfully living the Christian life? Or better stated, what does successful Christian living look like? Of course, there are all the obvious wrong answers to this, like health and wealth, name and claim, God-wants-to-bless-you silliness and the like. We know that Biblically speaking, success as a follower of Jesus Christ is not evaluated or measured in these terms. Indeed, linking these signs of earthly success to a faithful Christian walk seems absurd - and is.

But how then do we determine success in our life and walk with Jesus Christ? Is it even an appropriate question to ask? Is "success" a category that even makes sense combined with "Christian"? To be honest, I don't really have good, solid, Biblical answers to these questions.

While considering this, it occurred to me that the Bible frequently refers to believers in Christ as slaves. A key component of our identity as a Christian is that of a slave to God. For example, Paul uses this terminology all through his epistles, even applying the label to himself in Romans 1:1 where he says that he is "a bond-slave (Greek doulos) of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God." In Romans 6:18 he says that our identity has changed from being a slave to sin to a slave of righteousness. In many of Jesus' parables illustrating the relationship between God and His people, the people are pictured as slaves. There are, obviously, many other aspects to our identity in relationship to Christ beyond just that of slaves. We are adopted as children of God, we are joint heirs with Christ, we are a holy nation and a chosen people. But the very fact that we are called to refer to Jesus as Lord indicates a position of a slave, subject to our Master.

So in this context, let's consider the questions above. What does a successful slave look like? If we are slaves of God, what are the marks of being a successful slave? This sounds like a paradoxical question, but I don't think it really is. For a slave's role is to do his master's bidding. The most successful slave, therefore, will be the one who is most obedient to his master's will. A slave who always seeks to please his master will be the one who is most successful at fulfilling his identity.

So as slaves to God through faith in Christ, it would seem that the same principle applies. The most successful slave of Jesus Christ would be the person who seeks in all things to please his or her Master. To do his Master's bidding most fully and obediently. To know what it is that pleases the heart of his Master, Christ, and to do these things.

How does this work itself out? Well, we are not lacking in knowledge of what pleases our Master, God. He has clearly revealed to us in His word what the things are that He loves, that He rejoices in, the things that He is pleased to see His people doing. I could spend the next several hours surveying the entire OT and NT examples of these God-pleasing actions and attitudes, but I'll leave that for you to investigate and work out. Character traits like mercy, justice, humility. Actions like faith and faithfulness. Attitudes like love, especially for brothers and sisters in Christ. And on and on. We certainly have no lack of knowledge of what pleases our Master. So why then does it seem that so few of us are as "successful" in our Christian life, in pleasing our Master, as we should be?

It may be that most of us don't see ourselves in the position of slaves to God. We would rather subscribe to the more prevalent and politically correct translation of the Greek doulos as servant, not slave. Servant sounds much more dignified, much less subservient. So what's the difference between a slave and a servant? Simple. A slave is property, owned by the master and completely ruled and sustained by the master. While a servant is an employee, a hired helper who is paid to do a job. So unless we rightly understand that we really are God's slaves, owned by Him, for His purposes and not ours, deserving of nothing but His grace, dependent on Him for even our daily breath and food, how can we ever be motivated to live for our Master's pleasure? How will we ever rightly relate to God as our eternal Good Master who withholds nothing from His slaves, graciously providing all we need and more, including the gracious provision of eternal life in Christ? If we see ourselves as servants rather than slaves, we will be expecting compensation for those things we do for our Master, seeking to earn His favor. Instead of understanding that God's economy toward His slaves operates purely on grace and mercy. Once we understand this, we can't help but be driven to do that which will please the heart of of great and gracious Master. For our good, and for His glory. That's what a successful slave of Christ looks like.

One who will hear, on that last day, his Master say to him, "Well done, good and faithful slave."

Monday, May 26, 2008

A "Must Read" - Really!

Why We're Not EmergentI've just finished reading Why We're Not Emergent by Kevin De Young and Ted Kluck. Without a doubt, this is the best, clearest, most readable and most practical book to date examining the emerging/emergent church movement and pointing out it's flaws and problems. If someone today came to me and asked what book I would recommend reading first to get a grip on this "conversation", this is the book I'd recommend. In so many places I found myself saying almost out loud "Yes! That's exactly what I was thinking!" And in others getting angry as I read the quotes from the leading emerging/emergent authors like Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Stephen Chalke, Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt, Donald Miller, Stanley Grenz, Spencer Burke, Dave Tomlinson and others of their ilk. And this is one of the strongest points of the book. They quote frequently and widely from self-identified emergent authors and examine what they claim to believe - or not to believe. Of course, pointing any of these quotes out to those in the emergent "conversation" will get the usual "he doesn't speak for all of us" response. Which is frustrating in and of itself, since as the authors of this book point out, the emergent movement intentionally lacks and in fact rejects structures like leadership and boundaries. But the authors do a good job of getting as broad a cross section of emergent thought leaders as possible, and the theme is the same across all of them.

I could go into a number of points that DeYoung and Kluck bring to light regarding the problems with the emergent movement, but I really don't know where to start. The bottom line is that they do a great job of exposing the emergent church's lack of any real connection to anything that resembles the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And in its place are erecting a liberal, social welfare moralism that we've seen before in mainstream Protestantism over the past 100 years. Only this time with cooler words and a hipper image. But still really saying nothing new.

After reading this book, I have come to the conclusion that the emergent movement cannot last. It is likely a fad that will be die out in another ten or twenty years. Because it leads nowhere, and people who are excited about it now will find that there's nothing there to sustain spiritual life or spiritual reality. But I am concerned about this movement because today it is leading people away from the true church and the truth of Christ. And there are eternal consequences to this. And I'm also concerned because the evangelical church of today is lacking in the Biblical and historical discernment to see the emergent movement for the heresy that it is. Therefore it is slipping into many churches unawares, through the side doors of youth or student ministries or other efforts to be hip and cool and "relevant" to the youth culture at large. And individual undiscerning Christians are being influenced by emergent books such as Blue Like Jazz, Velvet Elvis, A New Kind of Christian and many others. Case in point - when I open up the latest version of the CBD catalog that came in the mail a few months ago and see books by John MacArthur alongside books by Brian McLaren, the emerging/emergent heresy is more mainstream than we may think. And make no mistake about it - the things these authors are saying and pointing toward are heretical.

So wherever you may be in your level of familiarity with the emerging/emergent church movement, get a copy of this book and read it. Even if you've never heard of the emerging church or any of these authors or books I've mentioned, get a copy of this book and read it. If you consider yourself a believer in Jesus Christ and have a love for His church, His word and His people, get a copy of this book and read it. Even if you somewhat identify with the emerging church, have read some Bell and McLaren and Miller and much of it has resonated with you - get a copy of this book and read it. I firmly believe that the emerging/emergent movement is the biggest single threat to Biblical evangelical Christianity now and for the next ten or twenty years. We cannot afford to be uninformed as to what it really is. DeYoung and Kluck bring great clarity in this book. Did I mention that you should get a copy and read it?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorials & Ebenezers

It seems that God has converged a number of thoughts in my head today. This being Memorial Day weekend, the day when we remember those men and women who have fought and died in service to our country. And as I considered this, in preparation for doing the Scripture reading for worship services this morning, what came to my mind was the practice recorded repeatedly in the OT of the Israelites setting up "stones of remembrance." When God would do some great work on behalf of His people, they would often commemorate the event by erecting a standing stone, or a pile of stones. As a means of remembering what God had done for future generations. For example, in 1 Samuel 7:12 we read what Samuel did after God had helped the Israelites to defeat the Philistine army:

Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, "Thus far the LORD has helped us."

The stone and the place was named Ebenezer, in Hebrew 'eben hâ‛êzer, meaning "stone of the help." It was a memorial to the help that God had provided. A place and a stone of remembrance. A reminder to future generations of the work of Yahweh in the midst of His people.

As I thought on this, the words to one of my favorite hymns came to mind. "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing", which contains a reference to this Ebenezer stone, in the second verse:

Here I raise my Ebenezer; Hither by Thy help I'm come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger, Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger, Interposed His precious blood.

A reminder of God's help, His enablement to come and to trust in Christ for eternal life. And His sustaining grace which will bring the believer safely to home with Him. A memorial that Christ Himself pursued me and rescued me with His own blood. Something we must never forget.

So as we prepared for worship this morning, guess what one of the music selections was? Yep, "Come Thy Fount." And on top of that, today's subject in the Sunday Bible School class I've been teaching on developing a Biblical worldview was history. Taking a Biblical view of history - past, present and future - with God as the author. Considering that Christianity is firmly rooted in history, as the Bible contains great truths of theology and philosophy which are presented in the context of God's acting in human history. Again, looking back at what He has done and remembering, learning from it, being impacted by it.

So maybe this all seems to be sort of disconnected rambling to you. If so, sorry, that's where my head is at today. But the takeaway for me from this convergence of thoughts is - remember. Take the time to remember and mark out the great works that our great God has done in our lives. Point those standing stones out to our children and to others. And not just one day a year, but every day. By His grace and for His glory.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Reading Level Warning

Came across a tool on the web which analyzes a blog's level of writing and gives a "reading level" based on that analysis. According to this analysis, The Doulos' Den is at a College (Undergraduate) reading level. That's probably about the level I try to write at, and hopefully the right level to communicate clearly to you, my few readers, and yet challenge you to think.

So I decided to run the analyzer on a few of my favorite blogs to see how they fared. Results:

  • Pyromaniacs: High School
  • Between Two Worlds (Justin Taylor): Elementary School
  • Challies.com (Tim Challies): High School
  • Centurion (Frank Turk): Jr. High School
  • Pulpit Magazine Blog (John MacArthur, et al): College (Postgraduate)
  • Biblical Christianity (Dan Phillips): Elementary School
  • Reformed Mafia: College (Postgraduate)
  • Dr. Albert Mohler: College (Undergraduate)
  • Monergism.com: High School
Interesting, to say the least. Although I have to say that the writers who challenge me to think the most seem to do so using language that is at a lower reading level. maybe that's because I can grasp more of what they're actually saying. Whatever.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"Why I'm Not Emergent..."

Interesting. I'm sitting here this morning in my hotel room in Chicago packing up to head home today and I have the radio on, tuned to the Moody station. And they are interviewing the two authors of Why We're Not Emergent (by Two Guys Who Should Be), Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. A great interview, these guys have some great perspectives on the problems at the root of the emerging/emergent movement and have been there and done that and found it lacking in depth and reality. And they aren't afraid of naming names in the movement that they have issues with either. One is a senior pastor, the other is a sports writer in his church, both around 30 years old. They are pretty clear that their issues with the emergent movement isn't related to styles or approaches to ministry and mission, but rather with the core theology and doctrinal uncertainty that marks the emerging/emergent movement. And the movement away from the truth of the Gospel of Christ.

This is a book that's on my shelf, I think I need to move it closer to the top of my "next read" stack. Based on what I've heard from these two men and other reviews of the book, I'd recommend it to you as well.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes...

OK, so how many of you thought this post was going to be about old David Bowie music from that title? Well, it's not. It just seemed an appropriate title due to the fact that there are a lot of changes happening at our house and in our lives these days. To wit:

  • Oldest son Mike arrived back at the ranch last weekend after finishing his junior year working on his degree in Bible Exposition at The Master's College in Santa Clarita, CA. He's spending the summer with us as he does another internship at Highland Park Church. And end of summer he'll be heading for Jerusalem to spend the semester studying in Israel with Master's IBEX program. Click here for a video that gives a taste of what he'll be experiencing there. Yep, I'm jealous. In a godly way, of course.
  • This is the last week of school for younger ones Matt and Hannah. In a couple weeks, Matt the almost-15 year old will be off to Timberlake Ranch Camp to spend two weeks serving as a junior cabin leader (JCL), working with young kids. He really likes little kids, and this will be a real adventure for him. Then will come good old seed corn detasseling in July. Ah, the mud and the corn rash. Real character building work. Better him than me.
  • Hannah's summer will be full of softball games (starting next week), attending Timberlake (as a camper), and generally being an almost-12 year old.
  • Lovely wife Tammie of course is facing the change of the school year ending and her admin job at Columbus Christian School on "vacation" for the summer. And the change to riding herd on the three amigos at home for the summer.
  • And me, well I've changed location as I'm in Chicago for work the first part of this week. Trying to learn some new things. After one day of lectures my brain is full. But I brought along some great books to read to fill in the hotel time. I've almost finished Al Mohler's new book Culture Shift, which is a must read. It dovetails so well with all the things we've been studying in my Biblical Worldview class. And it's very readable for a Mohler book. I'm also doing some work on the next class I'll be teaching in a couple of weeks focused on the fruit of the Spirit. An old study I wrote and taught several years ago, doing some updating and the like.

I guess that's all the changes I can handle at one time. As I get older I find that change is much harder to accept and deal with. But thankfully I have a Lord and Savior who changes not, even as He takes me and my family through many changes. For our good and His glory.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

"Such Were Some Of You"

Had a great class session Friday morning at the Rescue Mission with a couple of new folks in the New Life discipleship program. A man and a woman who reached bottom in their lives due to sinful addictions, and have now received new, eternal life in Jesus Christ. They are both a joy to work with as they discover truths from God's word regarding their new identity in Christ. The man, James, is especially eager to learn. He's really intelligent, having had a successful career in professional sales and management, only to have it all destroyed by sin and alcohol. But now he's been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and is learning how to live this new life.

So we were looking at one of the greatest "before and after" passages in the New Testament as we were studying this incredible change of identity that comes with being born again in Christ. The passage is:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Paul here lists a set of identities based on the outworking of the sinful nature of the unredeemed person, and states clearly that those identified as such are not inheritors of the kingdom of God. Not because they engage in these behaviors, but because their identity is that of a sinner and the behaviors simply express that identity. In fact, the terms used here are terms of identity. Not just those who engage in idolatry or fornication, but idolaters and fornicators.

But then we come to verse 11, where Paul reminds us that many of us who have come to faith in Christ had the same identity as this list. "Such were some of you." But for those of us who believe in the name of Christ and by the power of His Spirit we are not anymore. We have been and are washed clean from our sin. We have been and are made holy and set apart for God's own possession and purposes. We have been and are justified and declared righteous in His sight. A complete and total change of identity. From who we were, to who God has made us. Incredible.

As we read this, James looked at me with wonder. Having been raised Roman Catholic, he said that he had heard verses 9 and 10 before. But then he said, "Nobody ever went on to read verse 11." The legalistic teaching of Catholicism had no room for the complete and permanent redemption in Christ that is described in the last verse of this passage. So the first two verses were used as a hammer to condemn, rather than as they were intended to be used in context. I saw James understanding in a new and deeper way the glorious grace of God in the change that He has wrought in him as he grasped these truths. I saw working in James the words of Christ in John 8:32 - "And you will know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

Once again I am amazed at the sovereign grace of God, and the power of His word. Truth indeed.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Psalm 4: God's Grace in Prayer

"Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have relieved me in my distress; Be gracious to me and hear my prayer. " - Psalm 4:1

What a great expression of trust in the Lord God we find in Psalm 4. Reading it this morning, I was drawn to verse 1, especially the last phrase. David asks God to show His grace and hear his prayer. Such a simple statement, a simple plea, but so full of meaning. It is an act of God's grace that He hears our prayers and responds to them. It's an expression of His gracious character that He inclines His ear to our feeble supplications, and then responds to them.

What an amazing thought, that He would even hear or listen or answer the requests and whining and arrogant demands of sinful people such as us. It had never occurred to me before that the access we have to God in prayer is based on His extravagant grace. God hears our prayers because he is gracious. Yet how often do we presume on this grace. How often do we take for granted this privilege of beseeching and addressing the Sovereign of the universe in prayer. And because we presume on His grace and take for granted our access to His throne in prayer, we fail to engage in it. I know this is the case for me. Maybe that's why this verse made me stop and think so hard. Because I have treated His gracious provision of prayer as a thing to be taken lightly and exercised when I feel like it, which is far too rarely.

Let's strive, as God's people through His grace in Jesus Christ, to be responders to His grace in prayer. Let's let our cry be the same as David's: "be gracious to me and hear my prayer."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Einstein's Theory of Spiritual Relativity

I saw today that a letter written by Albert Einstein shortly before his death is being auctioned off. In this letter, the genius of quantum physics and originator of the theory of relativity expresses some of his views on religion and spiritual things. Here's a quote:

"The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish....For me, the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions."

Sounds pretty familiar, doesn't it? Einstein certainly was a brilliant man, with a mind that could grasp and process knowledge and logic and equations far beyond the capacity of most human beings. He was absolutely certain about the laws and facts and operations of the physical universe that he observed and studied and hypothesized on how it behaves. In fact, he stated earlier in his life the following:

"I do not believe in the God of theology who rewards good and punishes evil. My God created laws that take care of that. His universe is not ruled by wishful thinking, but by immutable laws."

Here we see Einstein's perspective more clearly. Not so much totally rejecting the reality of God, but certainly rejecting the moral reality of God. His observations of the creation led him to an understanding of the fact of unchanging and absolute physical laws that govern the universe's behavior. But seeing also the moral realm as simply an expression of that physical universe, and not as anything spiritual in and of itself. As he stated above, the spiritual or religious realm is just a set of superstitions invented by mankind out of weakness.

I dare say that the good Dr. Einstein knows without doubt the real truth today, given that he has passed from the purely physical realm into that which is ultimately real, the eternal spiritual realm. He has met the God of immutable laws face to face. And he has realized that this God not only instituted unchanging physical laws, but also absolute moral laws. And Einstein has also come face to face with the fact of his lack of attaining to those immutable moral laws and standards. He has come to know the truth of 1 Corinthians 1:18 which states, "For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing..." The words of Einstein's letter are an incredible proof of what we see in 1 Corinthians 1:21 - "For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe."

Einstein may have brilliantly discovered and described the relative relationships between energy and matter. But he certainly failed to apprehend the relative relationship between the One True God and His moral reality, and the moral aspects of us as His created beings.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Psalm 2: Fearful Joy / Joyful Fear

Reading thru Psalm 2 today, one statement seemed to jump out at me. Verse 11, a part of the warning to the kings and leaders of the world to not oppose the God of Israel, which states:

Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. (Psalm 2:11 ESV)

On the surface, my first reaction to these commands was that they are paradoxes or oxymorons. Serve with fear? Rejoice with trembling? How does that work? So I went to look at the Hebrew behind these terms to get some better perspective. And I also went to the NASB to see how it rendered the words. Instead of serve, the NAS has worship. OK, works for me. To serve is a form of worship, and the Hebrew עבד (abad) has a root meaning of working or serving, or even being enslaved. So the ESV's serve is probably a better translation. The NAS also does not use fear, but rather reverence. Here again I think the ESV is much closer to the mark. The Hebrew being יראה (yirah), which is most frequently translated fear in the NAS, and almost always used to refer to the fear of the Lord.

OK, so I'm still back to the basic questions. How does one worship or serve or minister to God with fear, and rejoice in that fear as a cause for trembling? If these are given as warning imperatives, set in contrast to opposing God and His Anointed in the context of Psalm 2, then how does this work itself out? Let's look at each individually.

First, serve or worship the Lord with fear. Should there not be an aspect of fear in worshipping our God? Jesus said that the Father is seeking those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). If we are worshipping and serving Him in truth, that means that we will have true understanding of Him, His character, His person and His nature. And a true understanding of the person of God will always result in a healthy fear of Him. If it doesn't, then we really don't know Him as He is or as He has revealed Himself. So worshipping and serving the Lord in truth means that we will approach Him with a sense of fear. Not paralyzing fear, but a healthy fear of His immense power, holiness and majesty. A true fear of God will result in a true worship and a true service to Him.

Second, rejoice with trembling. Again, this seems to be an outcome of the first command. If I have a true knowledge of the one true God, I will respond with fear and trembling. And I will also respond with joy, knowing that the same Sovereign Ruler of the universe is the God who is gracious and merciful toward His people. He is a fearsome God, but He is also a good and just and merciful God. And this true knowledge will lead to a trembling joy. An exhilaration like no other in the universe or human experience.

So do these express your approach to God and your experience of Him? In your service to and worship of the Lord, is there a fear of Him? And in your experience of service and worship, is there a joyful trembling? Perhaps if these are not present in your walk with Christ, it is because you are not worshipping and serving Him "in spirit and in truth." We can only do so as we deepen our knowledge and understanding of the Holy One. Both intellectually, theologically and experientially. Let's be sure to heed the warning of the psalmist here. Know your God truly. Worship and serve Him fearfully. And rejoice in Him with trembling. To His glory.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Violence vs. Moral Truth

It's been interesting listening to the commentary from all fronts regarding the release of the new best-selling video game of all time, Grand Theft Auto IV. This latest release takes the game to a new level of graphical clarity, as well as a new level of death and destruction. For the first time, players can see the fear and the pain in the expressions on the faces of those they are running down and killing with their cars. Sounds like great fun for little Jimmy and Susie.

But my point is not about the appropriateness of Grand Theft Auto, but rather about the comments and reactions to its release that have been in the media. Most of the secular pundits are decrying the violence in the game and the effect this will have on the people playing the game. The term that keeps echoing over and over is violence. But this is just the latest round of this constant reaction we keep hearing against violence. When school or university shootings have occurred, the term most used to denounce them in the media is violence. When terrorists attack and set off bombs or other forms of mayhem, the violence of these attacks is condemned. When the US military goes on the offensive against the perpetrators of these acts, their response is referred to in terms of violence. When kids in the schoolyard get in fights and bully one another, it is referred to as violence. When domestic squabbles between husband and wife get ugly, it is described as domestic violence. When drive-by shootings occur on a daily basis in our largest cities, we are reminded of the violent nature of these acts. When heinous criminals are executed by the criminal justice system, the executions are referred to as violence. In short and in summary, we are given a constant message: we must stop the violence.

Now, I don't support violent behavior any more than anyone else. We live in an increasingly violent society. But all of these examples I've given have a moral aspect to them, don't they? The violence that is part of these situations has a moral component of either being motivated by evil, or being motivated by good, that is completely left out of the secular view. The focus become the violence itself, and not the moral rightness or wrongness behind the violent acts. Acts of violence done by terrorists and criminals and domestic abusers are morally wrong, evil and sinful. But by the same token, violent acts done by police in restraining crime, or the military in preserving justice and freedom, or by the state in punishing murderers, are motivated by moral rightness.

But our postmodern secular society is so unwilling, indeed unable, to see and refer to these or any other acts in moral terms. The concepts of evil and righteousness have been abandoned in our public discourse. In fact, those are moral categories that most of our society don't even hold to or believe exist. So when we cast off absolute moral judgements of what is right and good and what is wrong and evil, what are we left with? Only negotiable virtues or preferences. Only personal or preferred "values", as recently pointed out by Al Mohler. We lose the ability and the will to speak in moral terms, and in place of the language of right and wrong we get the kind of values-based drivel that we hear all the time. And in the case of acts of violence, since they are given no moral framework to be evaluated in, they are all equivalent based on the value judgments of the media and the secular elite.

But they forget that the reason we in fact do live in such a violent world is that we have set ourselves adrift from the moral moorings that are inherent in the world and in the nature of man. The moral absolutes that are a reflection of the character of God, that we all still retain in our consciences because we are created in His image, the moral standards revealed in His word and expressed personally in His Son. Even though we are fallen and depraved apart from Christ, we are as Paul says in Romans 2:14-15, "For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them." But rather than respond to this innate understanding of moral categories, we instead suppress it. And the result is the same as expressed in Judges 21:25, where "everyone did what was right in his own eyes." This is precisely the situation we have today. In the place of thinking and speaking in categories of what is morally and absolutely right and wrong, we have loosed ourselves from these eternal and fixed points of truth and are left with nothing but negotiable and pragmatic values. Not what's right, but what seems best, what works best.

But how can secular values proponents make even these kind of judgments apart from some moral framework? Stating that one value, for example non-violence, is "best" is in itself a moral judgment. Even those who reject categorically absolute moral standards still have a sense of rightness and wrongness. It's built into the fabric of all of us, even those who suppress this knowledge of righteousness that God has built into us. I find it ironic that these secular cultural elites are attempting to build consensus on what values are best, for example avoiding violence. In doing so, they are guilty of the same thing they accuse Christians of doing - imposing their "values" on others. But doing so without a basis of moral truth is an exercise in futility.

We of all people as those who have trusted in the One who is Truth, Jesus Christ, are the only ones even remotely equipped to speak moral truth into this chaos. Indeed, when we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that's precisely what we're doing. The Gospel cuts to the heart of false value systems and exposes the realities of sin and righteousness, of good and evil. It shows us that the God who created us is infinitely righteous, and that we as fallen creatures are infinitely sinful. It speaks the truth of the justice that God demanded being satisfied in Christ on the cross, a horrific act of violence that was in fact the most morally right thing in eternal history. And it speaks of the restoration of personal righteousness for all who trust in Him. Which then gives us a basis for understanding real ethical and moral truth. Not founded on pragmatic values, but rather on eternal truths. We are the bearers of moral truth to a morally confused world. One morally confused and eternally lost person at a time.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

"Synergies" World Premiere

Last night I had the great pleasure of attending a world premiere. My 14 year old son Matt plays alto sax in the Columbus (Nebraska) Middle School 8th grade band. The band director and school commissioned Robert Sheldon to compose a piece of music for the band that would reflect the school and the city. And last night, Mr. Sheldon was here to direct the band in the first public performance of this composition, entitled "Synergies". Take a look and listen at the world premiere video below, introduced by the band director, Mr. Peabody.

video

I am extremely proud of son Matt. He's a very gifted musician, and although he prefers the keyboard, piano and synthesizer, he's also a very good saxophone player. Well done, Matt and all the other CMS 8th grade band members.

UPDATE: You can also view a video of the entire concert (about 25 min) here.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

No Fear?

We had a great sermon this morning looking at King Ahaz in 2 Chronicles chapter 28. What a rebellious and unfaithful king of Judah this man Ahaz was. He did everything he could to not just ignore the Lord God of Israel, but to anger Him. Even when God continued over and over to show Ahaz grace by sending multiple armies to attack and harass him, he would not turn to God for help. In fact, he turned everywhere else. To the king of Assyria, even to the pagan idols of Damascus. Even to the point of robbing the temple of God and closing it down. And the result was that he "provoked the LORD, the God of his fathers, to anger." And why did Ahaz reject God and do everything to anger Him? Because he had no fear of the One True God. In contrast to even the sons of Ephraim who feared God's wrath on their sin (2 Chronicles 28:12-13), Ahaz had no fear of God or His anger. He would not repent, when God continued to extend mercy to him. He didn't fear God, therefore he had no motivation for repentance. His heart was hardened against God.

This really got me thinking about the whole subject of the fear of the Lord. We find references to fearing God as a positive thing all over the Bible. We're told in Proverbs 1:7 that it is the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of real knowledge and wisdom. God says in Proverbs 1:28-29 that "they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently but they will not find me, Because they hated knowledge And did not choose the fear of the LORD." Jesus said in Matthew 10:28 to "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." Fear of God is a healthy thing, according to God's word. It means that we rightly understand who He is, the sovereign and righteous and holy King of the Universe. Fear of God's person, His holiness and purity which exposes our lack of the same, is a necessary motivation for holy living. And we find in Romans 3:18 a description of the state of every human heart apart from Christ, lost in sin and depravity: "There is no fear of God before their eyes."

So if the word is so clear regarding the healthy aspects of fearing God, why do we seem to hear so little about it in the evangelical church today? Why do we hear so much talk of God's love and grace and mercy, but so little talk of His wrath and the need to fear Him? When the terms used in the Bible for fearing God are so unambiguous, presenting the proper fear of God as being in the same league as the terror of being attacked by a lion, why then do we so often hear the fear of God referred to in today's church as "reverential awe"? Why are we so afraid of fearing God?

Indeed, I think much of the lack of passion for God's holiness we see in today's church, as well as a lack of appreciation for His grace and mercy, is due to this loss of a healthy fear of Him. How can I appreciate the depth of God's incredible grace towards me in salvation if I don't have a sense of fear of Him and His righteous anger and punishment for sin that He has saved me from? We talk so much about salvation, but what is it in fact that we have been saved from? God Himself. Could it be that we really don't like the idea of the fear of God? We love to wear those t-shirts that say "No Fear". Could it be that attitude of self-sufficiency and defiance carries over into our view of God?

The people of God, saved from His fierce wrath against our sin by the blood of His Son Jesus Christ, should be people of healthy fear. We should know our God so well that we understand His nature, His power, His holiness. And so well that we understand and value even more deeply His grace, His mercy and His love. Let's not be people that claim the motto "No Fear", but instead that proclaim, "Know Fear."

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Psalm 1: A Warning for Emergents

I decided to start a slow read and study through the Psalms, haven't spent time in the Psalmody in many years. So I started today reading through one of my favorites, Psalm 1. And maybe it's because of where my mind is recently, but it's as if I read the words with a new perspective or a fresh set of eyes. Verse 1 screamed out to me:

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
Here we are told what kinds of things the one who is to be blessed by God avoids. First, walking in the counsel of the wicked. In other words, following the advice of the unregenerate world. Adopting their attitudes and values. Next, standing in the path of sinners. In other words, following not just the advice of the fallen world and adopting their attitudes, but engaging in their behaviors. Finally, sitting in the seat of the scoffer. In other words, identifying yourself with those who mock and scoff at the word of God and the truths of God.

Now, tell me this doesn't sound like a description of the emerging church's recipe for "engaging the culture." This is exactly what so many are doing today in the name and cause of trying to make Christ "relevant" to a sinful world. So many will gladly engage in conversation with the wicked, instead of proclaiming the truth of the Gospel to them. Many will take on the attitudes and behaviors of this world in the cause of "contextualization." And many who have bought into the postmodern skepticism that is rampant in our culture are seeking to self-identify with that culture, which mocks the truth claims at the core of Christian faith and scoffs at the historic faith of the church at large.

The Psalmist goes on to describe then the characteristics of the one who is the recipient of God's favor and blessing:

But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.
In contrast to the ways and paths and seats of sinners and scoffers, the man of God delights in something else. He delights in the law of God, the words of Yahweh, the Scriptures. He does not find delight in the culture around him, or in some set of religious practices, or even in being "missional" and "following the way of Jesus." No, instead he finds delight and complete pleasure in God's revealed word. In the truth that word contains and points to. And what's his response to that delight? Meditation. Reading, thinking on, struggling with, putting into practice the truth found in the word. And not on Sundays, but rather 24x7.

So compare this with the low view of Scripture that marks those in the emergent movement these days. Many emergent authors seem almost embarrassed by the Bible. Or at best they are like Rob Bell and his wife, who claim that they really don't even know what it means anymore. How can you delight in something that you don't even value? How can you meditate on something and apply it when you are skeptical of the truth claims it contains? This is what you get when you try to merge the postmodern rejection of absolutes and certainty with the exclusivity and eternal truths at the core of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

But let's go on with the Psalm. Look at the result of the one who delights in and meditates on the word of God:

He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.
What a statement of the blessings of God on a life that values and is centered on His truth. A firm foundation, rooted and grounded in truth and the character of the Truth Giver. A life that is sustained, that bears fruit and weathers the dry seasons. A life that is prosperous in God's economy. Do you see any signs of the postmodern angst and uncertainty here that the emergents seem to value so much? None, whatsoever. In fact just the opposite.

But then there is the warning for those who would not be like this. The Psalm provides a picture of the result of those who would reject this life founded on God's truth.

The wicked are not so, But they are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked will perish.
It's really easy to dismiss these statements as applying to "the wicked", those who have no part in God's kingdom, those outside the church. And that is certainly the point here, referring to those who are not righteous through faith in Christ. But the context seems to indicate that these also include those who simply are the opposite of the one who is blessed by God because of their love for His truth. And look at the result. Again, just the opposite. Instead of being firmly grounded and sustained, they are like chaff that blows any which way the wind takes them. No foundational truth to hold to, only absolute uncertainty. This is the ultimate outcome for those postmodern people, even those in the emerging church, who reject and scoff at the truth claims of the word of God. Just blowin' in the wind of every cultural wave that comes by. I'm not saying that anyone who identifies with the emergent movement is not believer in Christ. But I am saying that one can't be true to the Gospel of Christ and to the tenets of the emergent church and postmodernism at the same time.

So be warned, you emergents who hold the word of God and the doctrines it contains in low esteem or even in contempt. Be afraid, you postmodern lovers of uncertainty and haters of absolute truth. When you try to blend postmodern philosophy with eternal the truth claims of Christ, you end up with something. But it definitely isn't Christianity. And it most assuredly isn't something you can base a life on. And you will surely reap what you sow.