Sunday, April 26, 2009

Living Out Judges 3

Now these are the nations which the LORD left, to test Israel by them (that is, all who had not experienced any of the wars of Canaan; only in order that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war, those who had not experienced it formerly). These nations are: the five lords of the Philistines and all the Canaanites and the Sidonians and the Hivites who lived in Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon as far as Lebo-hamath. They were for testing Israel, to find out if they would obey the commandments of the LORD, which He had commanded their fathers through Moses. The sons of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and they took their daughters for themselves as wives, and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods. - Judges 3:1-6

Reading this passage, it struck me the parallels between the situation that God put the Israelites in (and their response to it) and the situation the Church is in today and our response to it. First, look at the purpose given for God allowing the other nations to remain in the land: to test His people, to examine them to see if they will obey Him, and to teach them warfare. The Lord expressly says He didn't drive out all those *-ites so that His chosen people would have to learn how to fight, and to test their obedience and devotion to Him. Of course, the rest of the book of Judges is an up and down account of how the people repeatedly failed this test, then remembered the Lord their God and cried out to Him, and He raised up a man (or in one case a woman) through whom He would rescue them.

But look here in this introductory passage at what the immediate response of the Israelite people were to these foreign, pagan tribes they were dwelling amongst. In a word, accommodation. Or perhaps better, assimilation. They failed the first purpose that God put them into the situation for - to learn warfare - because the didn't see these nations as their enemies, as being opposed to their God. So rather than engage in battle with these pagan nations, they embraced them. They did what was expressly forbidden by God - intermarrying with them, becoming of one flesh with them. And ultimately abandoning the worship of the One True God and serving the pagan gods of the nations. In other words, failing both purposes that God had for the situation.

So consider the parallels with the Church today. We are God's chosen, covenant people, dwelling in lands alongside any number of pagan nations. We called and commanded to be separate from the unbelieving peoples around us, to be "in the world, but not of the world." This has been the struggle of the church of Jesus Christ for 2000 years. And I daresay, God's purposes haven't changed. But what is our response, especially in postmodern America? The same as the Israelites was. We aren't learning the art of spiritual warfare, since we fail to see the pagan influences in our culture as contrary to the holiness and righteousness of our God. So rather than engaging in opposition in obedience to our Lord, we engage in accommodation in obedience to our culture. We embrace the pagan culture and peoples around us, become unequally yoked with them in so many ways, we even bring their influences into the church. And we unwittingly serve their gods, the gods of materialism and tolerance and selfism. In short, we fail the test.

Now, I'm not saying we are to take up arms against the unbelieving people around us, that's clearly forbidden by Christ. Nor are we to live in cloistered communities behind high walls, completely disengaged from the world around us. We are rather commanded to love those people and pray for them and be a witness unto them of the glory and greatness and holiness of our Lord, and of His grace and mercy in Christ. But when we accommodate and assimilate, we completely lose our ability to do this. We become as them, we are indistinguishable from the world around us, we have nothing to say to them. The Gospel of Christ becomes just another alternate lifestyle choice to be taken or discarded. And especially when we begin to tailor our understanding of God, His revelation to us in His word, and the doctrines of our faith to accommodate the pagans around us, we not only have nothing new to say, we are in effect saying the same thing the pagan culture says. And we are worshipping their gods.

It's time that we reclaimed our purpose as God's people. For we are "A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." - 1 Peter 2:9

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Where's the Moral Vision?

Reading David Wells' Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover its Moral Vision, and came across this passage. Read, think, and pray for the Church to return to being the Church.

It is one thing to know the Gospel; it is quite another to see it lived...The evangelical church today, with some exceptions, is not very inspiring in this regard. It is not being heroic. It is exhibiting too little of the moral splendor that Christ calls it to exhibit. Much of it, instead, is replete with tricks, gadgets, gimmicks and marketing ploys as it shamelessly adapts itself to our emptied-out, blinded, post-modern world. It is supporting a massive commercial enterprise of Christian products, it is filling the airways and stuffing postal boxes, and it is always begging for money to fuel one entrepreneurial scheme after another, but it is not morally resplendent. It is mostly empty of real moral vision, and without a recovery of that vision its faith will soon disintegrate. There is too little about it that bespeaks the holiness of God. And without the reality of this holiness, the Gospel becomes trivialized, life loses its depth, God becomes transformed into a product to be sold, faith into a recreational activity to be done, and the Church into a club for the like-minded.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ten Lessons from Ten Great Christian Thinkers

From philosophy prof James Spiegel, a summary of ten lessons from ten brilliant Christian minds of the past and present. Some great truths and perspectives to be reminded of here.

  1. Augustine (5th century): Remember that you are a citizen of another kingdom.
  2. Martin Luther (16th century): Expect politicians to be corrupt.
  3. Thomas Aquinas (13th century): God has made himself known in nature.
  4. John Calvin (16th century): God is sovereign over all, including our suffering.
  5. Jonathan Edwards (18th century): God is beautiful, and all beauty is divine.
  6. Thomas a’Kempis (15th century): Practice self-denial with a passion.
  7. John Wesley (18th century): Be disciplined and make the best use of your time.
  8. Fyodor Dostoevsky (19th century): God’s grace can reach anyone.
  9. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (20th century): Beware of cheap grace.
  10. Alvin Plantinga (21st century): Moral virtue is crucial for intellectual health.

Read the whole post here. HT to Justin Taylor.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Significance of the Resurrection of Christ

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:12-22)

It is impossible to understate the significance of Christ's resurrection. The Apostle Paul knew this, the early church knew this, but even so needed to be reminded as in the letter to the church at Corinth. And how much more then do we in the church today need to be reminded of the consequences of taking lightly the doctrine and historical fact of the resurrection, and the implications it has for us.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Thank God for the Atonement of Christ

On this Good Friday my mind has been repeatedly drawn to one word: atonement. Or more specifically, one event: The Atonement. Of course I mean the atoning death of Jesus Christ, whose crucifixion and death we celebrate on this day. I believe in that gracious, wonderful and amazing doctrine known as the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ. The entire Biblical story, starting from Genesis in the distant past and proceeding on through Revelation looking to the future, testifies to this truth. The truth that God the Father poured out His just and righteous wrath and punishment for sin - my sin - on His Son Jesus Christ on the cross, in my place, as a substitute for me. And for all who will trust in Him for justification and righteousness. This is the historic - and Biblical - understanding of Good Friday. Penal, referring to a penalty that must be paid to satisfy God's justice. Substitutionary, referring to the vicarious death of the sinless Son of God in the place of the elect. And atonement, referring to the complete covering of and payment for sin. Indeed, without these three elements, how can Good Friday be good?

Of course, there always have been and always will be those, even within the nominal ranks of Christianity, who find this doctrine unpleasant, grotesque, revolting, and seek to develop an alternative view of the cross of Christ. Just today I read an article by emergent/emerging leader Tony Jones, who seeks to do just that. Here's a snippet:

Some people today may find it compelling that some Great Cosmic Transaction
took place on that day 1,980 years ago, that God's wrath burned against his son
instead of against me. I find that version of atonement theory neither
intellectually compelling, spiritually compelling, nor in keeping with the
biblical narrative. Instead, Jesus death offers life because in Christianity,
and in Christianity alone, the God and Creator of the universe deigned to become
human, to be tempted, to reach out to those who had been de-humanized and
restore their humanity, and ultimately to die in solidarity with every one of
us. Yes, he was a sacrifice. Yes, he was "sinless." But thank God, Jesus was
also human.

To die in solidarity with every one of us? First off, what does that mean? And secondly, how is that good news? Of course, there's a bit of truth in what Jones says here. But it's an adventure in missing the point, if you ask me. And it's also completely and intentionally misunderstanding the clear Biblical narrative.

But then, what would I expect from someone like Jones from the emerg*** movement. A movement that features such popular heretics like Steve Chalke and Brian McLaren, who have both referred to the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement as "cosmic child abuse".

No, rather than attempt to redefine the cross of Christ in some humanistic terms like this, and in the process redefine Christianity and the Gospel of Christ, I'll stick with what God has already revealed to us in His word and in His Son. "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Need for Expositional Listening

As I've been pondering the points outlined in Thabiti Anyabwile's excellent little book, What is a Healthy Church Member?, it occurs to me that the key and cornerstone to being a healthy church member is the first point - being an expositional listener. Perhaps that's why Anyabwile places this at the beginning of his list of marks of a healthy church member. Expositional listening is defined as "listening for the meaning of a passage of Scripture and accepting that meaning as the main idea to be grasped for our personal and corporate lives as Christians." Or as he further states it, "listening primarily for the voice and message of God as revealed in His word."

So why is this so important? What makes this the foundation for all other marks of church member and corporate church health? First and foremost, this is our only connection to the power of the Gospel of Christ and the power of God contained in His word. Apart from looking for and dealing with God's intended meaning of His word, what are we left with? We are left only with a Bible that is like the pirate's code, sort of a guideline, but devoid of its power and authority over us. The Scriptures become a tool to be used to say whatever we want them to say. And the church, individually and corporately, becomes sick and weak.

It seems to me that there's a direct correlation, as well, between so many of us failing to be expositional listeners, and the famine in today's church of pastors who are expositional preachers. The faithful pastor who struggles with exegeting the text, exposing its original intended meaning, developing clear application of that meaning and crafting engaging communication of all these points is a rare commodity in the evangelical pulpit of our time. Could part of the reason for that be due to our lack of expecting, even demanding that our shepherds be this sort of man? We are far too willing to settle for far too little when it comes to the preaching and teaching of the word of God in our churches. We tend to be much more like those described in 2 Timothy 4:3, "wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires." This passage refers directly to the connection between what we as the flock desire from our pastors, and the results we will get.

So how does this non-expositional listening and preaching express itself? I have seen several ways that less-than-expositional preachers have sought to fulfill our less-than-expositional listening desires. Like taking a passage of Scripture and using it a a framework to hang all kinds of points and applications on it that have little or nothing to do with the meaning of the text. I call this faux-expository preaching, since to the non-expository listener it seems like actual preaching from the text, when in fact it's using the text as a pretext for spiritualized or therapeutic points. Of course there's the thinly disguised and popularly labeled "topical" preaching method, which is a legitimate form of preaching when done in an expository manner - submitting to and basing the topic on the primary meaning of the texts involved. But the non-expositional listener will never notice when the non-expositional preacher simply has a set of points to be made about a topic and strings together a series of verses free from their context and meaning to support those points, and fills the missing content with stories and anecdotes. And then there's the "sermons" that are not sermons at all, but rather pep talks, psychological self-focused therapy lessons or pragmatic how-to-live self-help sessions that masquerade as preaching to the non-expository listener because they might have a Bible verse or two sprinkled in. I've seen and heard all of these types of non-expository preaching many times, and unfortunately even in my own local church as I recently posted about.

But the expository listener will not suffer these kind of preachers and teachers long. He or she will have ears that seek not to be tickled by superficial or banal stories and word-less preaching, but will itch instead for the clear and solid expository preaching of the true God-intended meaning of His word.

This is my heart's desire for all who would claim the name of Christ - that we would be so focused on hearing from God through His word faithfully preached that it would be a strong encouragement to those pastors who do so, and a strong corrective to those who do not. With the end result that His church is built up and healthy, with every pulpit filled by an expositional preacher who brings the word of God regularly to a flock of expositional listeners. For our good, and His glory.