Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Context Isn't Everything

I've been reading David Wells' new book, The Courage to be Protestant. It's a bit of a summary and update of his four previous works examining the evangelical landscape and the culture at large. I have to say that this book is a much easier read than his other books. And as I am reading it I find myself with varying reactions, both encouraged and frustrated. His observations are spot on as he discusses what he calls the marketers - those who have embraced a seeker-driven, doctrinally lite approach to church. And as he discusses the emergents - those who are attempting to co-opt the postmodern deconstruction of truth claims and thereby gut the Christian faith of its theological center.

And Wells makes a great point about the methodology of these two groups - they both are seeking to accommodate the cultural context we all live in. The marketers by adopting the consumer-driven approach of surveying their constituency and determining what will draw the most numbers and meet their perceived needs. The emergents by adopting the postmodern cultural ethos and trying to blend it with some form of Christian belief. In both cases, as Wells points out, the movements have drifted from the historic Christian position of sola Scriptura - Scripture alone as the authoritative rule and revelation of God for His church. In it's place they have substituted sola cultura - raising the cultural context to a level of authority above that of the word of God.

Much has and is being said and written these days about culture and Christianity, about various views on "contextualization" of the Gospel and the church. I think both the marketers and the emergents have got it wrong on this point. In fact, Wells sums up this problem better than anyone I've seen as he says this:

The desire of marketers and emergents to engage the culture is commendable. Engaging it, though, is not the same thing as capitulating to it. Missionaries know the difference. They
know they can adapt to local dress and blend in by learning the language and by fitting in with the accepted rhythms of daily life. They can understand the fears and hopes of those they serve without actually embracing those hopes and fears themselves. However, the day they accept the worldview of those they work among, it is time to go home. They have nothing to say anymore. If the evangelical church does not want to lose its voice, it will have to ensure that its engagement with postmodern culture is done biblically, thoughtfully, and conscientiously.

Here is where I think these movements make their fatal error. By not just engaging the cultural context that we all live and minister in and to, but crossing that line and adopting the values and beliefs and underlying worldview assumptions that the unbelieving world around us clings to. A direct violation of the Scriptural command to be "in the world, but not of it." It is impossible to blend historic Christian faith, which by nature is a truth-based worldview and belief system, with a cultural context that rejects outright any claims to truth. It is impossible to adapt the body of biblical Christian theology and doctrine that reveals Jesus Christ as the ultimate reality and Lord who demands submission, to a cultural context that exalts the self as the center of all reality. In both of these attempts to contextualize Christian faith, the line is crossed between recognizing and adapting to the culture, and adopting it's core beliefs and presuppositions. And the result is the same in both cases - something other than real Christian faith.

When it comes to understanding and interpreting the word of God, one rule rises to the top: context is everything. We have to understand the Bible in its original context so as to rightly understand the original meaning. But when it comes to ministering the Gospel of Christ in our (post) modern world, that rule cannot be allowed to rise to the top. Cultural context is not everything. Only the enduring truth of the faith once for all delivered to the saints is everything.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

T4G Reflections - Substitutionary Atonement

I've been thinking more about Al Mohler's lecture last week at T4G and its implications. The subject of his message was "Why Do They Hate It So?", referring to the objections and opposition that many have to the doctrine of Christ's penal substitutionary atonement. Mohler's message was probably the toughest to absorb of the whole conference, since it was really more of a seminary lecture than a sermon, and was extremely full of content as most of Mohler's messages are. It was also the last session of a long day. Most of the people I was with had a hard time understanding and processing what was being said. I did as well, but at least was able to track with the main points. So I've gone back now a few times and listened again to the lecture, trying to glean as much from it as possible. Here's a few thoughts as I've done so.

First, Mohler made it clear that the focus was not on those in the unbelieving world who would despise the bloody cross of Christ, but rather on those who would claim to be Christians. He outlined the long history of opposition to the doctrine, going back to Socinus and his followers who as a result of their denial of the Trinity also denied the atonement of Christ. He noted how this doctrine of penal substitution was in the middle of the battle in the late 19th-early 20th century of liberal vs. fundamentalist theologians. And he also touched on the more contemporary objectors to the doctrine, including such writers as Clark Pinnock, Steve Chalke and Brian McLaren. The latter emergent authors have referred to penal substitutionary atonement as "divine child abuse" and reject it on this basis. The perspective Mohler gave showed that while this central doctrine of Christian theology and faith has always been controversial among some, it is even more so in our day as postmodern thought systems make their way into evangelicalism.

It should go without saying to any Biblical Christian that the doctrine of Christ's penal substitutionary atonement is a core and non-negotiable component of the Gospel, and of the entire Christian faith. God's word is clear that "without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness." (Hebrews 9:22). There can be no remission of our sin apart from a bloody sacrifice, who Christ Himself was. As stated in 1 Peter 2:24, "...He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed." This deals with the penal aspect of the atonement, that being the payment of the penalty that God's justice demands for sin. And also it presents the substitutionary aspect of Christ's death as well, referring to Christ bearing our sins on the cross. One of my favorite passages indicating this is 2 Corinthians 5:21, which states that "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." Over and over we see this doctrine of penal substitution presented in the Bible. It was foreshadowed in the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, and is explicitly stated repeatedly in the New Testament. It is stated by Jesus Himself in Mark 10:45 when He says that He came " give His life a ransom for many." It would seem that to deny the truth of this doctrine would require applying some corrupted kind of hermeneutic to the plain statements of Scripture. And of course, that's exactly the case.

What I found most interesting about Mohler's lecture was the response to these things by many of my brothers and sisters in Christ who I had travelled with and listened to this with. It was pretty obvious that most of them had never heard of these objections to the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement before. One of my friends sitting next to me, when Mohler was quoting Clark Pinnock, asked me, "Do some people actually believe this stuff?" In discussing as a group later, that was the consensus of most others as well. Now, I'm not a Biblical scholar or theologian, but I have read and heard enough of these objections to at least be familiar with the subject. But I saw this as a wake-up call to those in the church who may have very sound and Biblical views and doctrines, and may teach and preach them, but be virtually unaware of the battle for sound theology in the church at large. If we are to contend for the faith, we not only have to know what that faith is, we also have to be able to identify those who are trying to redefine it and what their arguments are. The battles for Christian truth and orthodoxy have always and ever will be fought within the ranks of the self-identified Christian community. I care not that the unbelieving world and scholars and the like have no understanding of or use for the central doctrines of Christian faith. Why should we expect them to? They are unregenerate, dead in their sin and unable to rightly comprehend any spiritual truth. What I am passionate about, however, is the defense of the Gospel against attacks from those who would wear the label of Christian but who deny or corrupt the very central doctrines that define Christian truth and belief. And in our postmodern age of suspicion toward truth claims and rejection of absolutes, this defense is needed more than ever before. And unfortunately, much of the church is less equipped to deal with it than ever before. Or, as I observed with my friends, well equipped but oblivious to the attacks. Either way, the truth is not well defended.

My charge, to myself and to you, is the same as Paul gave to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:14. We must "Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Loving Depravity

Spent some time today listening again to John MacArthur's message from T4G last week. The topic was focused on the doctrine of total depravity, especially the total inability and unwillingness of sinful people to repent and trust Christ apart from the sovereign grace of God in regeneration. As I listened I really noticed Dr. MacArthur's tone, which was different than his usual powerful proclamation. He sounded much more fatherly, more meek and understated than normal. Given the topic and his audience, his heart for the Gospel and for pastors really came through.

As I heard him go over Biblical passage after passage and systematically describe the dreadful state of fallen humans, I found myself trying to listen from the perspective of the unbelieving world. What would those in the secular media or academia or even liberal mainline churches make of this seeming diatribe against humanity? Surely the response from believers in the innate goodness of man would be repulsed by this message to the utmost. Most definitely it would be seen and heard as a terrible thing, expressing hopelessness and hatred for mankind. How else could such a message be received by those apart from Christ? It is after all a damning message.

This made me think further - why do we Reformed Christians love this doctrine so? What is it about the total lack of righteousness and the complete corruption of human mind and will and emotion that is so glorious? Is it in fact unloving toward our fellow man to embrace and hold forth this teaching? No, not at all. In fact, it would be patently unloving to not hold fast and hold forth this truth to the world that is enslaved by it. For it's only in the darkness of understanding the depth of one's true sinful state that the light of the cross and the Gospel of Christ shine like a beacon. No one has any reason to trust Jesus Christ unless they first realize the depth of their depravity. We hold this doctrine dear because it is the first step on the road to eternal life in Christ.

But it is also the most God-glorifying doctrine imaginable, when viewed in light of the grace of God in sovereignly granting repentance and salvation to those who are utterly unable and unwilling to believe on their own. It's this doctrine of total depravity that removes any and all claim that we as His people might have regarding our contribution to our salvation. It affirms, in fact requires, that salvation is wholly a work of God. From first to last, from beginning to end. It's this doctrine of depravity and inability that forms the basis for the other great doctrines of grace. It necessitates God's irresistible grace in bringing me to faith in Christ. It glory's in the truth of God's redemption of a particular people for Himself, apart from any merit they may think they have. It requires that God's power is what will keep me in righteous relationship with Him for eternity. This is why I find myself not repulsed by teaching on the depraved nature of man, but rather drawn to praise and worship Him. A right understanding of man's inability, and especially my own inability before He called me forth to new life, leads to a right understanding of the awesome grace of God. That's why I love depravity.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Balls in the Air

I have no idea how this guy does this. Other than maybe using lots of video tape until he gets it right...

More Books!

For those of you who weren't able to attend Together for the Gospel last week, you missed out on not just some great speakers and a great event, but also on a stack of great free books. Here's a picture of the books that everyone attending got to take home. Some classic works, some brand new ones, all good and selected by Dever, Duncan, Mohler and Mahaney. A couple of these I already have, so will be passing them on to others. Likely to one of the guys in the disciple program at the Rescue Mission.

And since I also went to the Band of Bloggers gathering, I got an additional eight free books. I already am reading one of them - Young, Restless and Reformed by Collin Hansen. A great look at the new resurgence of interest in Reformed theology and practice by the next generation. I'd highly recommend this book to anyone who works in student ministries, especially high school and college ages.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Contending for the Faith?

We were at our small group gathering last evening at some friends' house, where we've been studying through the book of Acts. We were in chapter 15, just beginning to look at the account of the Jerusalem council. I had just read the first half of the chapter, where we see some Judeans coming to Antioch and teaching that circumcision according to the law of Moses was a necessary condition for salvation in addition to faith in Christ. And Paul and Silas of course "had great dissension and debate with them", and were sent to take the matter up with the other apostles in Jerusalem. And Peter makes that great statement about attempting to be justified by keeping the Law: "Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?" This was a critical point in the life of the early church, one of the first occasions of having to define orthodoxy and defend it publicly.

So right in the midst of reading this passage, the doorbell rings. It's our senior pastor and his adult daughter. As they come in they seem very agitated. The daughter tells us that she and her father have been arguing about a doctrinal issue all afternoon and they needed to bring it to someone's attention in the church. So our pastor proceeds to tell us that he's come to the conclusion that water baptism is a necessary condition for salvation, and presents a couple of Scriptural references for support. The room was dead still, and as I looked around at the people gathered for the small group, there were all kinds of confused and uncomfortable looks on their faces. I could almost read their minds: "Is this really happening?" "What is he thinking?" "Oh, this is gonna split the church to pieces!"

Now, I've ministered with this pastor for over ten years, served as an elder with him, been through some extremely difficult personal and ministry situations with him. He's a friend and a brother who would die for the truth of the Gospel. I knew something wasn't right here. As I sat in the silence I realized that this was an act, planned by the small group leader with our pastor to illustrate the situation we'd just been reading in Acts. He's a great homiletician, but his act in this role wasn't convincing me. So I sat for a few moments and waited to see how the other group members would respond. It was pretty obvious that most of them thought this was real. One man tentatively tried to dissuade the pastor by pointing out the Biblical meaning of the Greek term for baptism. But he wasn't persuaded. I waited a few more moments. Still no response from anyone else.

So I decided to call his bluff. I told him flat out that he was wrong, that he was determining to teach a wrong doctrine that could not be supported by the whole counsel of Scripture. And with that the ruse was over. The small group leader assured everyone that the whole thing was a put on, an attempt to bring the situation in Acts 15 into our own church and time. You could hear the sighs of relief around the room.

We went on to do some further study and discussion based on the passage, but never really came back to the situation we had been faced with. Now obviously the Acts 15 situation is not the same as a pastor who decides to teach heresy today. But I've been thinking about this all day. What if it had been real? What if our senior pastor had truly decided to publicly declare his support for such a teaching? How would we respond? How should we respond? Everyone in the group knew that this was wrong teaching. Everyone knew that if this was real it would destroy our pastor, possibly our church. But what was the response? I mean, after all, this was our senior pastor! We couldn't just tell him he's wrong, could we?

My response is - yes, we can and we must. When the truth of the Gospel is so clearly at stake, when heresy is being proposed to be put forth by anyone in a teaching or leadership role, our response has to be to contend for the faith. To do otherwise is to fail to love our Savior and His truth, to fail to love His Church, to fail to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. My mind goes to Paul's words in Galatians 2:11, where he says that he "opposed him [Peter]to his face" for hypocritically denying the truth of the Gospel by his actions.

But how many real situations like this in many churches are instead dealt with by ignoring the issue, hoping it will go away, not wanting to cause dissension or division, and finally perhaps just quietly leaving the church in question? How committed are we, every one of us that fill the pews each week and call ourselves members of the church, to speaking truth when faced with a situation like this? I pray that most of us never have to. But I further pray that if we do, we do as Jude says and "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints." As I was reminded more deeply last week at T4G, we have no other hope. As R. C. Sproul said, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only hope we have. But it is enough!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

More Thoughts on T4G

I'm still processing a lot of what I heard and saw and experienced this past week at T4G. One of the things that was interesting for me to observe was the widely varied responses and reactions of the group of people from our church that were at the event together. As we talked, both as a group and individually, there was great diversity in the points that each speaker made that had most impacted each of us.

An example of this was a conversation I had with my worship pastor, Trav. As I noted in a previous post, I was probably least connected with the messages from Piper and Mahaney. But for Trav, these were the highlights of the conference, since God has wired him to connect with the passion and message of these two men. Whereas for me, I was most affected by the messages from Sproul, MacArthur and Duncan, since God has wired me differently. He has also equipped and placed the two of us in much different ministry areas of focus. And I am glad for that, as it takes this diversity of gifts and ministries to glorify Christ in service to Him and His Body. One of the takeaways from the conference for me personally is a deeper appreciation for this diversity, a deeper love for the glory of Christ expressed in this diversity, and a sense of humility in correction to the sense of pride that I sometimes tend towards in my teaching ministry when compared to other areas of service.

As an illustration of that diversity, here's a few pictures of most of the group from Highland Park EFC that travelled together to the conference.

Derek, Kevin, Trav, Dianne, Dan, Bill, Mark and Matt listening to one of the other group member's insights.

Cindy, Rachel, Jeff and Derek as Rachel talks about the day's events.

Mark, Matt, Darin, Cindy and Louise doing the same.

Like I said, diversity. But in that diversity as unity that transcends all else. The Gospel of Jesus Christ. In that, we truly are together for the Gospel.

Friday, April 18, 2008

T4G in the Rear View Mirror

I'm sitting here at the kitchen table at home this morning, after the long trip back to Columbus, NE from Louisville, KY and Together For the Gospel. The bunch of us loaded up the vans and pulled out of the Galt House Hotel at about 12:45PM EDT yesterday afternoon, and I think I got to my house a little past 1:30AM CDT. Drove through parts of Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska. And much of it in the dark and rain. I did a fair amount of the driving in one of the vans, including through St. Louis during rush hour traffic. My apologies to a couple brothers in the back of the van who suffered through my heavy right foot on the accelerator and brake in all the stop and go. It's good to have that trip over.

I wasn't able to post anything for yesterday morning's T4G happenings since I didn't have a network connection, and our group was occupied with getting checked out of the hotel and ready to hit the road. I have to admit I wasn't fully engaged in listening to John Piper and C. J. Mahaney's messages in the morning due at least partly to these distractions. And also to be honest, while I love these two pastors and have gained greatly from reading their books and other works, I don't connect strongly with either of these men in their preaching. But I do have some insights from their messages and will share those along with others in the coming days.

For me personally, the most impacting moment of the whole conference was during R. C. Sproul's message on the curse motif of the atonement. Maybe it was due to just having preached two weeks ago on 2 Corinthians 5:21 and the amazing grace of God in making Christ become sin on our behalf that prepared me for this. But as R. C. explored Galatians 3:10 and following, where Paul states that Christ also became the curse of God on our behalf, these two truths converged and I realized in a deeper and more significant way the immensity of the grace of God in the cross of Christ. It affected me deeply, and I hope and pray that it will continue to do so in my own teaching and preaching.

I also found that my first attempt at blogging a conference like this was much more difficult than I thought it might be. This was partly due to the fact that I was with and part of a large group, and necessarily needed time to spend with them. Also I found myself listening to messages and thinking more of what I wanted to communicate on my blog, and less of what God wanted me personally to learn and discover. I guess this comes with the territory, of being part of a community of friends and co-laborers in the Gospel from my local church, as well as being part of a virtual community of brothers and sisters in Christ in the Christian blogosphere. I'm still learning how to balance these.

So stay tuned in the next week as I attempt to post my summaries and insights from each of the messages, panel discussions and overall conference. For now, it's time to unpack and try to get back to the real world.

UPDATE - All the audio of the T4G '08 messages are already available for listening or free download here. Highly recommended, if you weren't there or if you were.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

T4G - Day 3 (Wednesday)

12:30 - An even earlier start today with the first session beginning at 8:00AM. I was up and around and at the convention center by a little after 7:00, waiting for the doors to open to get some good seats. Then heard a message from Dr. John MacArthur on the doctrine of depravity and the total inability and unwillingness of the sinner to believer the Gospel. It was a great call to hold fast to that which we already know to be true from the Word. I really felt Dr. MacArthur's heart for the Gospel and for pastors as he spoke.

This was followed by a break and then a message from Mark Dever regarding the need to keep the Gospel clear and not allow it to become confused or changed. He outlined five attempts to "improve" the Gospel that call out to the church today and that we must resist. First, the call to make the Gospel public. In other words, to turn it into a social good news rather than a redemptive good news. Second, the call to make the Gospel larger, by expanding what is included in the Gospel to other things that are in fact implications of the Gospel. This would be things like political influence, cultural influence and the like. Which in and of themselves may be good, but they are not the Gospel of Christ. Third, the call to make the Gospel relevant, to contextualize the message beyond recognition. Fourth, to make the Gospel personal, focused on individuals at the expense of their inclusion in and involvement with the local church. And lastly, the call to make the Gospel kinder, to remove the offensive aspects of the Gospel of Christ to improve its acceptability.

Here's a few of the HPEFC gang waiting for one of the sessions to start.
9:30PM, just got back to the hotel after this evenings last session. This afternoon we heard R. C. Sproul give an extraordinarily moving message regarding the curse motif of the cross of Christ. I was moved to tears as Sproul so passionately described the truth of Christ becoming a curse for us. I have to say that I think this was the best message I have ever heard from R. C.

This evening's session featured Al Mohler speaking on the topic of why so many hate the doctrine of the cross, specifically penal substitutionary atonement. As usual, Dr. Mohler was brilliant, although I think he included so much material that many of us went into brain overload as he cited many theologians and the like and their reasons for rejection of these doctrines. As he pointed out, we expect those in the unbelieving world to despise the cross, but the objections he spoke of are coming from those who would call themselves Christian. And he also made it clear that a rejection of the atonement is a rejection of all the other core tenets of the Gospel.

Everyone is gathered in our room for the evening debrief time. Yes, picture 18 people in a hotel room. Having a great time listening to what God's been teaching each of us the past few days. Here's a few of today's pictures:

Up early Thursday morning to get ready for the final sessions and the long trip home.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

T4G - Day 2 (Tuesday)

10:45AM - Up bright and early this morning to help Tim Brister and company with bagging books and setup for the Band of Bloggers. Then went over to the conference center to check in for T4G, met Tim Challies who was in the check in line in front of me. Sitting here right now in the lounge of the hotel with a couple of my compadres while they have some breakfast, looking out over the Ohio river. Will be heading down to the Band of Bloggers gathering in a few minutes.

5:05PM - Taking a short break in the hotel room before we all go out to dinner together this evening. The Band of Bloggers was a great get together, got to meet a number of fellow Gospel bloggers whom I have encountered online but never met face to face. Found that networking with the 150 people there was hard though, since I didn't know who to look for. Most of these people I have never seen before and have no idea what they look like. Some I don't even know their names. But did get to meet and talk with all the Team Pyro guys. In fact, here's proof:

Just finished the first session with Ligon Duncan speaking on the need for sound doctrine and theology in pastoral ministry. Some great points, need a little time to think and digest and summarize. I'm sure we'll be doing that later tonite as a group, will post some thoughts then.

9:30PM - Got back to the hotel room a few minutes ago after the last session for the evening. Thabiti Anyabwile spoke regarding how Biblical identity transcends any ethnicities that we allow or use to divide us, even within the church. Anyabwile made a Biblical case for the lack of any biological basis for race, but rather a unity due to our common ancestry in Adam. And as Christians, our unity in identity with Christ. He ended with several challenging application points that impacted me as I consider the future of Latino ministry at Highland Park.

Gathered with the rest of the gang to talk about what we've heard and learned and taken away from today's events. It's great to hear how God has impacted each person who came today. Looking forward to what He will do tomorrow. In the meantime, here's a few pictures from the day:

Trav and Kevin enjoying breakfast with the river in the background:

The panel discussion group at the Band of Bloggers gathering this morning:
The panel discussion group after Ligon Duncan's message this morning.

Bill and Matt before the first session.

Getting tired, it's been a long day and tomorrow morning will come early. John MacArthur at 8:00 AM. Stay tuned for tomorrow's updates.

Monday, April 14, 2008

T4G - Day One

Today was travel day to Louisville for Together for the Gospel. We pulled out of Columbus at around 6:00 AM this morning after picking up all the travelers. Two gold 15-passenger vans with eight of us in each. A pretty uneventful travel day all in all, arrived in Louisville tonight at the Galt House Hotel at about 9:45 tonight. Darin driving the lead van had a close encounter with a trio of deer in the dark in eastern Indiana, but no collision and no damage. Getting ready to crash for the night, going to help Timmy Brister and the Band of Blogger guys first thing in the morning packing the goodie bags with books for the BoB's. Then lunch with the BoB's and the panel discussion, followed by the first session of T4G in the afternoon, Ligon Duncan.

Here's a few pics of the trip today. Sleepy time on the road for Bill & Rachel:

Unless you're the lead dog (or van) the view never changes:

A deep theological discussion, regarding television show theme songs...

Will try to post some summaries of the sessions and highlights of tomorrow. Stay tuned...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Readership in the 1000's!

I just noticed this morning that the hit counter on this blog passed 1000. That's since middle of February when I started counting. Kind of a big deal for an obscure blogger like me. Sort of like that magic moment when your car odometer rolls over 100,000. Well, not exactly. But it does show me that there are actually readers out there, even though few commenters.

Interestingly, the hit rate increased noticeably with the post I did last week regarding Oprah's new spiritualist cult. Lots and lots of Google searches related to that hitting my post. SO I guess I have Oprah to thank for my increased popularity. Or not...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Pictorial View of The Doctrines of Grace

I came across this diagram on, and really like the way it presents the five points of the Doctrines of Grace as they relate to each other, and as they completely focus on the glory of Christ and are under girded by the sovereignty of God. It's a reminder to me, and hopefully to others, that we must view these great Christ-centered doctrines as a whole, that relate to and are dependent on each other, to fully express the grace of God in His redemptive work on our behalf.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Preaching the Gospel to the Church?

We were discussing some of the feedback we got from our team preaching on the essentials of the Gospel last Sunday, in conjunction with celebrating the Lord's Table. Most of the responses were positive. Like those who said they liked the way that each of us brought our own style and focus to the facet of the Gospel that we preached. Matt was passionate about the holiness of God and His demands for us to be holy. Darin brought a terrifically appropriate somber tone to his message on our depravity and its results. I was told my message on 2 Corinthians 5:21 pointing to Christ as the solution to our need reminded several people of John MacArthur's preaching (I take that as high praise!) And Bill was solid as always in tying all these pieces together in talking about what our response as God's people should be. Overall the feedback was that it was a very fitting and God-glorifying preparation for taking Communion.

But there were a few confused responses as well. Mostly because we preached the essential truths of the Gospel of Christ, but we didn't do an "altar call" or anything overtly evangelistic towards unbelievers. The messages we preached were intended to be directed at the Church, as a reminder of the central truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we as His people celebrate when we take the cup and the bread. The response we were calling for was primarily to remember Christ's sacrifice, to understand more deeply and savor the grace of God in His calling and saving of His people, to worship Him more fully and truly in light of this knowledge, and to follow Him more obediently as a result. But this seemed strange to a number of people. Their unspoken question seemed to be, "Why preach the Gospel to the Church? What's the point, we're already saved, right? The Gospel is for unbelievers."

Bottom line in this is I think the Church as a whole today is not used to having the Gospel presented and taught and preached, apart from evangelism. The Church seems to have put the Gospel into a box that is only to be brought out for converting the unsaved. Now of course, there can be no evangelism without the Evangel, the Gospel of Christ. It is this Gospel that God has ordained as the means and basis of gathering His Church. But I think we have failed to appreciate that it's also the Gospel of Christ that God uses to sustain and strengthen His Church. Even as redeemed sinners, we still fall into a lack of appreciation for His grace and forget who we were before He saved us. We need to be constantly reminded of these core truths that the entirety of Christian belief and doctrine and faith is based on. Not just in the context of evangelism, but in the context of the proclamation of the Word of God to His people, on a regular basis.

We always need to be refreshed in and by the basics, the foundational truths. Kind of like coach Vince Lombardi's words to his team after a humiliating loss: "Gentlemen, this is a football." We must be taken back to the place where we are reminded, "Christian, this is the Gospel." When we fail to have this regular Gospel diet, we as the Church become weak, ineffective, self-sufficient and self-absorbed.

I'm hoping that we as a team of leaders will be reinforced in these central truths next week through the messages and the interaction with each other at T4G. Because we as leaders of Christ's Church, of all people, need to be constantly immersed in the greatness of the Gospel of Christ as well.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Anticipating T4G...

We're approaching final countdown to launch for our trip to Together for the Gospel next week. It amazes me that there are a total of 19 of us from lil' old Highland Park Evangelical Free Church in Columbus, Nebraska heading for Louisville next week. Bright and early at 6:00AM Monday morning we'll hit the road in a pair of 15-passenger starships and make the 13-hour trek to T4G. You know how they say that the joy is in the journey? Somehow I'm thinking not so much in this one. But I may be surprised.

We had a BBQ get-together last weekend with all of us that are going, to sort of get primed. Talked about how we need to be focused not so much on what we individually can gain from attending the conference, but more so on what we can bring back and invest into others. We at HPEFC are a pretty Gospel-centered, Christ-centered and word-centered ministry already. But I'm hoping that we all each gain new insights into the glory, the wonder, the significance of the Gospel and continue to build our ministry and the disciples that are being developed deeper into Christ and His Gospel.
Also very much anticipating the Band of Bloggers gathering on Tuesday. I'm starting to see my blogging as less of a hobby and more of a ministry. Looking forward to see how God may reinforce that through the time spent with fellow Gospel-bloggers.
And I'm still a little up in the air on blogging the whole event. At a minimum I want to try to at least post a daily summary of the things that impacted me, and maybe some of the shared insights we gang of 19 have together. Also want to get a few pictures and post for posterity sake. Especially one with me and the Team Pyro guys. My heros...

T minus a few days and counting...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Who's the Sheep??

I try to avoid commenting on non-theologically significant things (is that a category?) here, but this one just irritates me and I have to vent it. So the conventional wisdom today is that we in America are in an economic crisis, right? That the dreaded "recession" monster is at our throats. People are in dire straits financially left and right, losing their jobs, losing their homes, can't afford medical care or gas or food or Milk Bones for Fido. At least, to listen to the mantra of the mainstream media that would be the case.

So then read this article that attempts to bring a few real facts to the table. For example, here are a few quotes:

  • The average unemployment rate during President Clinton was 5.2 percent. The average under President George W. Bush is just slightly below 5.2. The current unemployment rate is 4.8 percent, almost half a percentage point lower than these averages.
  • The average inflation rate under Clinton was 2.6 percent, under Bush it is 2.7 percent. Indeed, one has to go back to the Kennedy administration to find a lower average rate. True the inflation rate over the last year has gone up to 4 percent, but that is still lower than the average inflation rate under all the presidents from Nixon through Bush’s father.
  • Gas prices are indeed up 33 percent over the last year, but to get an average of 4 percent means that lots of other prices must have stayed the same or gone down. On other fronts, seasonally adjusted civilian employment is 650,000 people greater than it was a year ago. Personal income grew at a strong half of one percent in just February.
So by every measure that means anything, the American economy today is in better shape than it's been for years. Those great days of supposed prosperity under Clinton turn out to be not so great. But then, the mainstream media wasn't beating the economic crisis drum when wild Willie was in the Oval office, were they?

As far as the term "recession" goes, here's some interesting info.

...last week, Barack Obama proclaimed “As most experts know, our economy is in a recession.” Hillary Clinton made similar statements last fall. Yet, as any economist knows, a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative growth, and we haven’t even had one single quarter of negative growth reported. The economy slowed down significantly during the end of last year, but that was after a sizzling annual GDP growth rate of 4.9 percent in the third quarter.
Don't you get tired of being basically lied to by the media, political hacks, pundits and the like? It seems more and more that we Americans are just a bunch of sheep, blindly being led around by whatever fills the TV screens and captures our attention for a few minutes. We don't think and question, we just accept. This is the only way you can reconcile the fact that the majority of people in the US think the economy is in a crisis and getting worse, but that their personal financial well-being is very good. If I'm doing good, but the news guys keep telling me we're all going broke, then I guess it must be all those other people out there. Hmmm...

And the liberals say that we Christians are the ones that are easily led. Not so much, looks like to me.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What's Your Handle?

Tim Challies has an interesting post today about the use of the term "evangelical", and whether it may be time to retire the term due to the amount of baggage that's come to be attached to it. He quotes David Wells in a forthcoming book who says:

Those who still think of themselves as being in the tradition of historic Christian faith, as I do, may therefore want to consider whether the term “evangelical” has not outlived its usefulness. Despite its honorable pedigree, despite its many outstanding leaders both past and some in the present, and despite the many genuine and upright believers who still think of themselves as evangelical, it may now have to be abandoned.

If the word “evangelical” has outlived its usefulness, what is the alternative? Here, I am flummoxed. My own labels are too ponderous to be used widely. I am reaching out for help. I am advertising for a new label!

Here's my response to Tim's post, thought I'd share it here:

I think I have to agree with Wells here. While I understand the heritage of the term “evangelical” and value that heritage greatly, I’m afraid that in postmodern America the term has taken on so many other meanings and connotations that it doesn’t clearly identify much of anything. Depending on the context where the term is used, it can be viewed as a political affiliation, a narrow and bigoted religious community, a cultural phenomenon, a market segment for exploitation, or any combination of the above.

Here’s a real-life example that’s kind of humorous, but not really. I am a member of an Evangelical Free Church (EFCA), and a few years ago someone came to our church to check it out because they thought the name meant we were “free” of any of those right-wing gospel-preaching Bible-thumping “evangelicals.” Boy, were they disappointed when they got there!

Wells makes a point in the intro to his book “No Place For Truth” regarding
evangelicalism. He states that there never really was an evangelical movement, since there never was a central body of truth and doctrine that everyone who
used the label subscribed to. I think this is correct, and even more so today. When the term is applied to leaders ranging from Joel Osteen to T D Jakes to John MacArthur, there is very little common definition of evangelical truth amongst them. I, like Wells, prefer to call myself something more like a Biblical Christian. At least that might prompt questions to help further define what I mean.

What do you think? Is the term "evangelical" meaningless in today's world, needing to be jettisoned? Does it even matter?

The Worldwide Church/Cult of Oprah

You've probably already heard about Oprah Winfrey's big new spiritual endeavor, launching a movement from her bully pulpit of daytime women's television based on the writings of obscure New Age spiritualist Eckhart Tolle. Take a look at this video and then think with me about a few things:

One of the first things that struck me in all of the clips of Oprah speaking is that she speaks as one with authority. She never says "I think" or "I believe" but rather makes statements as if they are true and factual. Especially in the first exchange when she is talking about many ways to "what you call god", and the blunt assertion that "there can't possibly be only one way!" She has assumed the role of a teacher of spiritual truth, not just a counselor. In this she has crossed a line from going astray, to leading many others astray.

Note also how she responds when asked by a caller about how she reconciles this spiritual teaching with her Christian upbringing. She goes into a long discussion of a childhood experience in church, but then says she had a problem when the preacher said God is a jealous God. Of course this is followed by a complete misquoting and corruption of Scripture by Tolle, twisting Jesus' words to glorify us rather than Him. But listen to her overall response to this question. She never "reconciled" this teaching with Christianity. She simply abandoned Christianity. At the point where she met a hard truth in the Word that conflicted with her view of God, she chose to turn aside to myths and fables. And of course eventually she found a willing spiritual mentor in Tolle to help her down the path to heresy. And now she's leading millions of hapless women (and men too) down that broad way with her. Many of whom are likely church-going nominal Christians, who like Oprah will abandon even their superficial Christian religion and follow her.

I could comment more on all that's wrong with Oprah's movement, but that's pretty obvious. I'm sure there's enough hand-wringing and lamenting the gospel according to Oprah in the Christian culture already. That's not my purpose here. In fact, I'd call us all to remember the spiritual reality behind Oprah, and every other false prophet who ever was or will be. Oprah is simply the latest pawn in the evil one's battle against truth. She's blinded by the god of this age and being used for his purposes. Our battle is not against flesh and blood Oprah, but against the spiritual deceiver behind her. She's not the first apostate, and won't be the last.

But let's think for a minute. Is the Gospel of Christ diminished by this teaching, this movement? Is the power of God unto salvation weakened or put to no effect by the Ophrah/Tolle unholy alliance? Hardly. In fact, I think the incredible grace and truth of the Gospel shines that much brighter against the dark and muddled backdrop of this kind of teaching. Many of those following Oprah down this path will eventually come to see the futility that results from it, and will then see the cross shining in all its glory as God quickens them to it.

This leads to another point. Is God not sovereign over even a cultural cultist like Oprah? Is not even this whole movement in some way sovereignly ordained by God to serve His ultimate purposes and glory? Obviously, yes. I see here yet another example of what Jude refers to when he says that "certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." While Oprah and Tolle haven't crept into the church directly, and certainly they aren't unnoticed, they still seem to fit this description of denying our Lord and Master. And note the purpose - they were long beforehand marked for destruction. Vessels of wrath for God to show His power upon, in His timing. For even abominable spiritualists like Oprah are to God's glory. Not that He uses them for His glory, but that He causes them and does what he will with them for His glory.

And I think this perspective that comes from Biblical reformed doctrine must shape our view of this and any similar movement. We must speak truth against it, that is our calling as ambassadors for Christ. We must pray for release from bondage for those who are caught in the snare of this cult, asking God to free them and call His elect out from among them. But we must also recognize His ultimate control and perfect plan for even this false movement, and worship Him for His perfect and righteous plan.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Gospel: The Solution - Jesus Christ

As I mentioned in a previous post, I and three others are preaching tomorrow for our communion service. As preparation for the Lord's Table we are each highlighting key aspects of the Gospel of Christ. First, the fact of God's holiness and demand for us to be holy. Second, the reality of our sinfulness and depravity. Third (my part), the solution to our problem provided in Christ. And fourth, a call for a response to these truths.

I've chosen to do a brief exposition of 2 Corinthians 5:21 for my portion on the solution to our problem. This has to be one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture, as it so succinctly and powerfully outlines the Great Exchange of our sin for God's righteousness in Christ. Every time I teach on this passage I am filled with amazement at the depth of the grace so plainly spoken there. I pray that God uses this time to share that amazement with those in our church tomorrow. For His glory.

You can view a transcript of my small part of this service here.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Creative College Tests

A friend sent me these examples of some college students' exam answers. All of you with children in college, enjoy.

I have to give these students high marks for creativity.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Living Digitally

Al Mohler has an interesting post at his blog discussing Digital Nomads and Digital Natives. The term Digital Nomads refers to the ever-growing population who live and work virtually, connecting as needed to their workplaces via wifi hot spots and the like. And Digital Natives are the generation of mostly young people who express themselves most fully through the Internet. Some fascinating observations in this post.

I have to say that as I travel around on business I am seeing more and more of this phenomenon. In fact, I sometimes feel like a bit of a digital nomad with my laptop and my Blackberry, seeking access to wireless networks and tapping away at the tiny keyboard on my phone to keep in constant email conversation. And as I see even my own kids using Messenger and email and MySpace to converse with their friends every day, I see a whole transforming in the way the next generation relates to each other and the world.

Technology is a wonderful thing, in fact it's how I make my living. But I sometimes wonder if the stage we're at and the way we use these technologies (or they use us) is becoming a virtual reality that is slowly insulating and isolating us from each other and real reality. In one way a sense of community is being developed, but a community that never deals with each other on a person to person level, face to face. There are many these days whose only connection with others beyond the superficial is via the web. This can't be healthy.

God created us for community and relationship. First and foremost for relationship with Him. As an expression of His own community within His triune nature. But also for community with each other. Expressed most fully within the community of His people, the Body of Christ, the church. The church is the community where the many "one another" commands of Christ are to be carried out. So how can this happen in a virtual, technologically-sustained community? Not well, to be sure.

We in the church need to be aware of this developing digital demographic in the larger world around us, as well as within the people of God.