August 5, 2015
I recently finished reading D.A.Carson‘s excellent book, Intolerance of Tolerance. It was a long time coming, with several starts and stops and re-starts along the way, but in the end it was well worthwhile. The stops and starts were in no way reflective of the readability of the book. It had more to do with my time, and demands requiring the reading of other things. The book itself is a fascinating consideration of one of the most volatile foundations of our present cultural hostilities. At its essence, this book explores the radical difference of a very subtle shift in the definition and practice of the word tolerance. As Carson points out, the tolerance has traditionally been understood to mean:
“accepting the existence of different views”
“recognizing and respecting others’ right to beliefs and practices without necessarily agreeing or sympathizing with them”
Pretty basic stuff in a free and pluralistic society, right? It is this kind of understanding that causes a statement usually attributed to Voltaire to resonate with our sensibilities:
“I don’t agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Carson notes that the newer, active, definition presently employed by the majority of our culture, or at least by the cultural elite and the ivory towers is slightly different:
“the accepting of different views”
Given just a simple glance, this newer definition seems to be just a shortened version of the more traditional understanding. But given adequate consideration we quickly see that there is a vast difference. Taken as is, this newer definition of tolerance assumes that all views are equal, equally valid, and should thus be equally embraced. That is what “accepting” a view is, as opposed to accepting that people have a right to hold a view. This “acceptance” is rooted in the postmodern notion that there is no truth; or at least that there is no true Truth; as Truth varies with individual experience. But this idea is absurd; and those who claim to hold to it are hypocritical.
First the absurdity. Certainly our experiences effect the way we perceive the world, and even the the way we experience the verifiable truths of this world. But the truths transcend mere experience. Green is green, whether I am color blind or not. Day is day; Summer is summer; 2 plus 2 is always four. I have heard it said that What I experience is my Reality, but Truth is what IS regardless of how I relate to it. Of course there are also complexities that effect the way we experience Truth, but Truth is … well, it just IS. And since Truth just IS, then it is not possible for ALL ideas to be equally valid. Sometimes we are just wrong. The fact that we have a right to be wrong in no way validates our wrongness.
Second, any attempt to embrace this new definition will inevitably lead to hypocrisy. For example, to maintain that all views are equally valid would require one to embrace the philosophies of the KKK and the Nazi’s. Any thinking person would obviously reject the core beliefs of these groups, as well as most of the the subsidiary views. And rightly so. Further, to assert that all views are in themselves equally valid would require a level of cognitive dissonance that allows the embracing of mutually exclusive views, as certainly there are many examples of conflicting beliefs. The reality is that no one is capable of living out what this new definition of tolerance demands. And those who claim to do so, in practice show their hypocrisy in their (right) rejection of some views (such as those of racists, etc.), and at the very least in their disdain for those who do not embrace their definition of tolerance.
Intolerance of Tolerance is a worthwhile read for anyone who wants to understand the roots of our present cultural hostilities. In the above video, Carson offers a lecture from the substance of the book. Also of interest may be an an article excerpted from the book, Contemporary Tolerance is Intrinsically Intolerant.
July 13, 2015
Sociologist Christian Smith introduced the phrase Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in his book Soul Searching:The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Smith, and his colleagues, assert that, from their research, this would be a fitting description of the spirituality of the typical American teenager – a spirituality they gained from watching and listening to their Baby Boomer parents.
Alt Mohler, in a post titled Moralistic Therapeutic Deism – the New American Religion, describes Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as consisting of beliefs like these:
- “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.”
- “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.”
- “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.”
- “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.”
- “Good people go to heaven when they die.”That, in sum, is the creed to which much adolescent faith can be reduced.
What is perverse about these statements is that none of them is entirely wrong. But it is the subtle errors that erode genuine faith, especially when the propositions fit together to form a worldview. Together they create a warped perspective that, while borrowing the language of Christianity, is not actually Christianity.
July 11, 2015
OK. A little snarky. I do not want this blog to number among those that are nothing but negative – ranting, complaining, etc. Those are just downright wearying. And while some of those negative bloggers may be striving for the purity of God’s people, I am of opinion that most of them are missing that mark, and are rather bringing more dishonor to Christ than honor, simply because of their shrillness.
That said, this was just too funny to pass up!
I have no idea whether Joel Osteen is a good guy or not. He seems like he might be. I also have no idea whether Joel Osteen is a Christian or not. He claims to be. But the message he preaches is far more humanist than Biblical. Thus if what he preaches is a reflection of all he believes, it seems troubling.
Again, I post the photo for simple amusement. But if you are curious about what is troubling about Joel Osteen and his message, (and what makes this satire on target,) you may want to check out the August 2013 article by Rick Henderson for Huffington Post: The False Promise of the Prosperity Gospel: Why I Called Out Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer.
The Elders of the church where I serve as pastor met, as usual. Part of our discussion, however, was anything but usual. While it is not uncommon for this group to discuss subjects to help us more effectively minister, even setting aside occasional Saturday mornings to delve into variant viewpoints of issues that affect peoples’ lives, this is the first time our discussions involved anything that approached the edges of civil laws. In the end, what was requested at this point was a a handful of resources for our mutual consideration, some things that might prove helpful as we seek to remain faithful – in all respects – in this new cultural “reality” concerning marriage.
It seems to me that there are two aspects we – and other churches like ours – need to navigate: first, how to defend the biblical design for marriage with wisdom and in truth; second, how to wisely, sensitively, and effectively minister to individuals struggling with same-sex-attractions, as well as to individuals and families for whom this is a real and personal issue, and not just a theoretic and/or political hot potato.
What we do not want to do:
- We do not want to over-react to the new legal definition of marriage, which we believe to be at odds with the biblical definition that directs us.
- We do not want to act and speak in ways that are insensitive, and/or unnecessarily offensive to those who struggle with, or who are impacted with, issues related to same-sex attraction.
- We do not want to alienate people we are called to love – some of whom we already love, and who number among our friends.
- At the same time we do not want to – we cannot – capitulate to the culture, forsake God’s Word as our only ultimate authority, or compromise the gospel in any way.
While it is somewhat cliche, I have long asserted that our goal should be to live and minister in such a way that the gospel be our only offense. Of course this is not possible, since my sin, and the sin of every other person associated with our church, is real, and our sin is often offensive to those around us. But I think the phrase nevertheless has merit, as an aspiration, perhaps especially now, as we seek to navigate these new waters.
The resources I am providing here probably help more with the first issue, how to defend and teach our position; offering less help concerning the second, how to effectively love and minister to those with same-sex attractions, and how to effectively love and encourage those who love someone struggling with same-sex attractions and who may be in a same-sex relationship. This is new ground for pretty much everyone, so I will be exploring to find all I can find, as I expect we will see an increase of people impacted – or at least more people coming forward with both questions and concerns.
Here is an annotated list of resources I have found helpful:
Making Sense of Scriptures “Inconsistencies” by Tim Keller
This is a very good, relatively short, and easily understandable response to those who suggest that by opposing or by not supporting homosexuality Christians are picking and choosing from the Bible. Keller offers a short primer course on the relationship between the OT & NT, and why that matters in our current climate.
40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags by Kevin DeYoung
DeYoung poses some thoughtful questions for those sitting on the fence on this issue, or who while being Christians are adopting the cultural narrative over the biblical narrative. These questions could be misused, and become tools for confrontation; or they can be used thoughtfully to encourage honest reflection in a process to renew our minds toward biblical conformity.
This is a fairly extensive resource list, with links to articles related to a variety of questions many Christians are asking.
The Bible and Same Sex Relationships by Tim Keller
A thorough and practical review of two of the primary books supporting same-sex marriage. In this review Keller outlines six categories that virtually all arguments favoring same-sex relationships fall into, and then Keller addresses each argument. While this might seem merely academic, my experience is that any dialogue with proponents of same-sex marriage will inevitably involve one or more of these argument categories. Therefore, Keller’s reflections prove to be highly practical.
What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung
This is a short book, comprehensive, yet readable. It is essentially a Readers’ Digest version of a more technical academic book that is on the market. DeYoung explores the issue from a number of angles, mining the Bible for its authoritative guidance.
Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill
Written by an Evangelical who struggles with SSA, this is an absolutely helpful little book for those of us who do not struggle with this particular issue. Hill helps the reader understand the heart & mind of those who experience SSA. He is clear about homosexuality being sin, yet he also exposes some of the hurtful, insensitive, and unhelpful things that those of us in the church have done – and are prone to do – toward those who do have this inclination. This is a tool that can help us minister to those struggling homosexuality.
Harvest USA is a ministry that works with people struggling with all forms of sexual brokenness. On their site they have a variety of articles, many of which could be of help and interest. What Harvest USA’s resources also can do is remind us that homosexualiuty is but one issue, and that there is a wide range of sexual brokenness that the people in our pews experience. Homosexuality and SSA is but one expression of brokenness, no worse, and no better than any other expression. What sets it apart now is that it is the only government sanctioned and culturally acceptable expression. We must be careful to not over-react to this, nor to under-react.
This is a lot of stuff, but it is also not enough stuff. I hope those who are concerned about the faithfulness of the church – both to purity and to our mission – will find at least some of these helpful. But please keep in mind that while this issue has new status in our culture, that our mission and purity have always been held in tension. We are called and sent into a broken world, a world which has been broken and corrupt in various ways for millenia. We ourselves are no better than the broken world, but rather redeemed from it by God’s grace, through the sacrificial death of Jesus. When we were called, we were as corrupt and broken as whoever we may be tempted to see as the worst of humanity. But in Christ we have found mercy and hope. (1 Corinthians 1.26-31; Romans 5.6-8; Matthew 9.13; 1 Timothy 1.15)
July 8, 2015
What is the gospel? My first semester at seminary I showed up feeling called by God to become a pastor and I couldn’t say what the gospel was. Sure I had an idea. Isn’t the gospel that we’re “saved by faith” or that “Jesus rose again”? The word gospel comes from the Greek word that means “good news.” Mark 1:1 tells us the gospel is “the good news about Jesus the Messiah.” So what about Jesus’ life and ministry is good news for us?
Just about every Christian I know has trouble answering this question. Usually someone will bring up Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection (something I like to call the three days gospel) and how through them God gives us eternal life. That is absolutely true and so beautiful. But what about the other thirty-three years of Jesus’ estimated lifespan? Do those years matter for us too? This is why I break down the gospel into three days and thirty-three years.
THE THREE DAYS GOSPEL
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
Day 1 – Friday: “Christ died for our sins”
This is a great starting point for defining what the gospel is. Jesus died for our sins. That’s a huge statement and is summed up in the fancy theological term “atonement.” The Day of Atonement described in Leviticus 16 was the day the High Priest of Israel slaughtered a goat and sprinkled its blood in the Most Holy Place of the temple before God. This sacrifice atoned for the sins of the people for another year. On Good Friday, Jesus atoned for our sins when he became the final sacrifice. He died an innocent victim in the place of guilty sinners.
Day 2 – Saturday: “He was buried”
True, Jesus was buried in the tomb on Friday, but he stayed dead on Saturday. Friday and Sunday of Easter weekend get all the credit, but Saturday played an important part too. Saturday proved Jesus was really dead. He wasn’t just passed out or dying. He was locked away in a tomb with no breath in him. Hebrews 2:9 tells us Jesus “suffered” or “tasted” death. He went through all the pain of Friday so he could be dead on Saturday. This is the same death you and I face for all eternity if Sunday’s miracle never comes.
Day 3 – Sunday: “He was raised”
Jesus rose from the grave conquering sin and death on Sunday morning. Resurrection! He returned to the living in his old yet newly glorified body. This is what we who trust in Jesus will experience at the final resurrection when Jesus returns. Christ will call us forth from our graves to spend eternity with him in a whole new creation. We who trust in Jesus die spiritually with him on Friday. One day our bodies will really be dead, like Saturday. But our hope is in what Jesus did on Sunday so we too will rise again. The resurrection is good news!
The last three days of Jesus’ life matter for you and for me. Those three days are what most people think of when they think of the gospel. We turn to them first because they’re what drive us to put our faith in Christ. Jesus offers forgiveness for our sins through his sacrifice on the cross on Friday, through our fear of death on Saturday, and through the hope we have for eternity on Sunday. We turn to them because they matter for us when we die. Even in our last days, we still have hope.
THE THIRTY-THREE YEARS GOSPEL
So what about the rest of Jesus’ life? How are they the gospel? How does how he lived matter for our lives right now? Usually when I ask this question, everyone goes quiet. It’s because we don’t usually think about the gospel from this angle. We love our hope in eternal life, but haven’t considered what Jesus may have done for our present life.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Jesus lived a perfect life: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin,”
Jesus was born, and then he lived. But he didn’t live like you and I live. He lived a life of perfect obedience to God, his Father. He “knew no sin.” That means he never lied to his parents, stole from his employer, cheated on a test, lusted in his heart, drank too much alcohol, or got angry for the wrong reasons. He lived without sin through all life’s stages. Jesus was a toddler, but he wasn’t terrible. He was a teenager, but he wasn’t angsty. He was a man, but he wasn’t prideful. He was on his deathbed made of wood, and he died with grace.
Not only did Jesus never sin, he also lived a holy life. This means he always did the right thing. He prayed enough, fasted enough, read the Scriptures enough, and gave enough to the poor. He did all those right things and more. Luke 2:52 gives us a glimpse of Jesus’ godly character. “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Jesus was a person like us in his experience, yet unique from us in his perfection. Don’t you wish your everyday was more like Jesus’ everyday? Don’t you wish that you weren’t the sinner you are? Don’t you wish you are as holy and good as Jesus? Here’s the good news . . . you already are!
We get credit for Jesus’ perfect life: “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Jesus trades his righteousness for our sin. This is the great exchange. Through Jesus’ perfect life and substitutionary death, God has taken your sinful life and placed it on Jesus and taken his holy life and placed it on you. That’s what grace does. When God looks at you, he sees the life of his Son! God has permanently credited the righteousness of Jesus to your account. This truth is as old as Abraham trusting Yahweh in Genesis 15:6 and as fresh as Paul writing to the early church in Romans 3:21-26. The gospel is for every believer every day.
This means that when you wake up and blow it sometime this morning, afternoon, or evening—you are holy. This means that when you cuss out the driver in front of you for driving too slow and the driver behind you for driving too fast—you are holy. This means you don’t have to regret your teen years, or your college years—you are holy. This means when you forget to be polite and you don’t help your neighbor because it’s inconvenient—you are holy. This means that the hidden sin you don’t want anyone to know about are forgiven in God’s eyes,—you are holy. This means your worst offense is completely forgiven at Christ’s expense.
Not only does the gospel forgive our outward acts of sin, it cleanses our inward rebellion. Ezekiel 36:26-27 tells us the gospel has changed our very hearts. God takes your old hard heart and gives you a new soft one filled with the Holy Spirit. Where your life was empty, now your life is full. You are awash in righteousness where you once were lost in unrighteousness. When you sin today, remember that God sees you as he sees his son, forgiven and holy. One day your sin will be completely gone, and God’s righteousness will become intrinsic to who you are, but until then God has credited us with a spotless record that you may enjoy today. Thank you, Jesus.
Jesus has traded his thirty-three years of perfection for your whole life of disobedience and sin. This means you no longer have to wallow in despair, guilt, and doubt, because you are seen through the lens of Christ. One day soon our sin nature will go away, but until then we hope in Jesus and enjoy his righteousness. As one friend said when he finally understood the gospel, “That’s so unfair!” My dirty record is gone. Jesus’ fresh record is mine.
SO WHAT IS THE GOSPEL?
The gospel is the good news that Jesus lived a perfect life, died an innocent death, rose again so that we may spend eternity with him, and now credits us with his holy record so that we may enjoy a guilt-free life today. We make disciples by helping the lost believe the three days gospel and we mature those disciples by helping them live every day in appreciation for the thirty-three years gospel. We need the full gospel message to truly make, mature, and multiply disciples of Jesus.
July 7, 2015
Is is essential to keep together these two complementary ways of looking at the cross. On the human level, Judas gave him up to the priests, who gave him up to Pilate, who gave him up to the soldiers, who crucified him. But on the divine level, the Father gave him up, and he gave himself up, to die for us. As we face the cross, then, we can say to ourselves both, “I did it, my sins sent him there,” and “He did it, his love took him there.” The apostle Peter brought the two truths together in his remarkable statement on the Day of Pentecost, both that “this man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge” and that “you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” Peter thus attributed Jesus’ death simultaneously to the plan of God and to the wickedness of men. For the cross which, as we have particularly considered in this chapter, is an exposure of human evil, is at the same time a revelation of the divine purpose to overcome the human evil thus exposed.
~ John Stott
July 6, 2015
The late great John Stott was asked: “What are the top three needs of the church today?” Here is Stott’s prophetic three-fold response:
The church’s most basic need is to remember what kind of community it is, and in particular its double identity. For God calls his people out of the world to belong to him and sends them back into the world to serve and to witness. The first calling is to ‘holiness’ and the second to ‘worldliness,’ using the word as the opposite of ‘other worldliness,’ and meaning ‘involved in the life of the world.’ So the church is called to ‘holy worldliness’, for this is its double identity. It needs constantly to ensure that neither identity smothers the other.
The church’s second need is to be what it claims to be, and so to allow no dichotomy or conflict between its profession and its practice. Without this the church lacks authenticity and so credibility.
In response to the challenge of pluralism, the church needs to be faithful in defending and proclaiming the uniqueness and finality of Jesus Christ. If it does so, it will certainly suffer for its faithfulness. If we compromised less, we would undoubtedly suffer more.