Friday, May 30, 2008
David Wells spends the first half of this chapter showing how people have become terribly disconnected in our postmodern world. Although we have achieved lightning-fast communication, new technologies for social networking, and unprecedented choices and material comforts, we have somehow lost our "transcendent point of reference" (p. 61). All sense of tradition, virtue, and value has been lost. The essential roles of craft, community, and family, in shaping a person have been replaced by mass production, urbanization, and empty individualism.
This is what David Myers calls the "American paradox" - that we have so much, and yet so little. People are wealthy, but all alone. And this "self into which all reality has contracted is now empty and insubstantial but tinged with the sacred" (p. 69). In other words, people are searching for something spiritual and sacred within themselves, but have lost all sense of absolute truth.
Rather than confronting this situation and offering a real alternative, many churches have exacerbated the problem. Pastors are now saying things like "We need to be more modest" (p. 77) and "Christianity is about the search, not about the discovery (p. 77). [Similarly, I heard Rick Warren say in an interview that a "fundamentalist is somebody who stops listening." That sounds very much like the idea that absolute truth is arrogant and extremist, and that we should always remain "open" to the validity of other beliefs and perspectives].
The common thread among many academic scholars and emergent church leaders is that "Scripture cannot be fully authoritative at the level of its functioning in the life of the church today. We are in fact autonomous, freed from its language and constraints as we shape our own understanding, in our own way, in the postmodern world" (p. 87). Wells says that most people treat truth like the speed limit. It is somewhat arbitrary and bendable (p. 79).
The Bible, on the other hand, gives a far different perspective on truth. God Himself is utterly true and pure, and thus His self-revelation is entirely truthful (p. 75). The message of the gospel was "a proclamation about truth for all. The gospel, which is the same gospel for all people, in all ages, and at all times, is 'the word of truth' " (p. 76). "Christianity, in short, is from first to last all about truth! It is about he who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (p. 76). We should engage the culture, but never capitulate our claim to truth (p. 92). After all, the church is the very "pillar and support of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15).
So, far from ignoring or denying or being embarrassed by truth, the church of God should boldly stand up and proclaim the truth. "What truth?," you may ask. Truth about God, Self, and Christ, the very topics that Wells will address in coming chapters. We will look at chapter four together next week.
This chapter is a critical one. I cannot think of a more important subject than what Wells is addressing here. It really becomes the foundation for everything else that he will say. Please take a moment now to click on the "comments" link and share your own thoughts of the chapter. Don't feel obligated to write something long or profound. Just a quick impression or short quote is sufficient. I look forward to hearing from you.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
John and his family are currently in language school in Costa Rica, but because of his dad's poor health, John made a quick trip to California to spend a few days with his dad and sisters. This morning and afternoon, I had the privilege of visiting and praying with John and his family, and just fellowshipping with John.
Our church first met and "adopted" the Phams a little over a year ago, at the Missions Appointment Service at Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland. Since that time, it's been a privilege to grow better acquainted. Through their blog, phone, email correspondence, we've been able to vicariously experience many of the joys and trials of missionary life. It's especially been good for our church to partner together and pray more specifically for some of the needs of our Southern Baptist missionaries.
Today was the most time I've ever spent with John, and I really felt a kinship with him. It was great to be able to talk about family and ministry and missions strategies. I'm so thankful the Lord brought us together in His kind providence, and I look forward to seeing their ministry in South America blossom in the years ahead.
Monday, May 26, 2008
It fluttered in the breeze.
A young Marine saluted it,
And then he stood at ease.
I looked at him in uniform
So young, so tall, so proud,
With hair cut square and eyes alert
He'd stand out in any crowd.
I thought how many men like him
Had fallen through the years.
How many died on foreign soil?
How many mothers' tears?
How many pilots' planes shot down?
How many died at sea?
How many foxholes were soldiers' graves?
No, freedom isn't free.
I heard the sound of taps one night,
When everything was still
I listened to the bugler play
And felt a sudden chill.
I wondered just how many times
That taps had meant "Amen,"
When a flag had draped a coffin
Of a brother or a friend.
I thought of all the children,
Of the mothers and the wives,
Of fathers, sons and husbands
With interrupted lives.
I thought about a graveyard
At the bottom of the sea
Of unmarked graves in Arlington.
No, freedom isn't free.
On this Memorial Day, I'm thankful for the many heroic soldiers who gave their lives for us to enjoy peace and freedom in America. They paid the ultimate price. But I'm also thankful for Jesus Christ who was willing to suffer and bleed and die on the cross to purchase my peace with God and freedom from sin.
"Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).
Friday, May 23, 2008
I'm mostly interested in the program for biblical research and teaching. I would love to be able to create professional-looking timelines for handouts or PowerPoint, without spending a ton of time. Mnemograph has a lot of potential, but after spending almost two hours on the program, I would say it needs a lot more development and bugs worked out before it would really be useful to the average teacher.
You can view the timeline I created of Ezra & Nehemiah by clicking here.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Wells says that marketers try to operate the church much like a corporation runs its business. In this case, the church is the supplier, attenders are the consumers, and the gospel is the product for sale. Traditional ways of "doing church" are proving to be no longer effective, so like any other business, we must be willing to adapt our image and repackage our product to regain consumer confidence. In a rapidly-changing, image-driven culture, that means adopting new methods like upbeat music, entertaining videos, therapeutic chats, inspiring drama, relaxing coffee houses, slick advertisements, and an open and affirming atmosphere to reach a whole new generation. Some of the more bizarre examples Wells gives are a pastor's Superman costume (p. 23-24), sacred graffiti (p. 29), and play-doh sculptures to express one's feelings (p. 29).
Wells pauses his critique briefly on pp. 42-44 to identify two good motives that guide some marketers. First, many churches are rightly concerned that the evangelical faith has stagnated, if not declined, in America over the past thirty years. Many surveys by Gallup and Barna confirm this. (As does the 2007 ACP.) Second, churches are called by God to engage their culture; it would be insensitive to disregard the felt needs and perceptions of first-time visitors. But after this short "cease-fire," Wells reloads his weapon and says "despite these two main virtues," the seeker-church model is built on "naivete" that is "breathtakingly unrealistic and untrue" (p. 44).
It seems to me there are two great problems with the market-driven church:
- First, this model gives authority to the consumer rather than to Holy Scripture. Wells says, "All consumers, we need to remember, are sovereign, and the consuming impulse, once it enters a church, makes individual preferences the deciding factor, the driving factor in what that church becomes. These preferences become the standard by which the church is measured" (p. 38). No longer is success measured by God's Word. No longer are decisions made by a plurality of wise and godly leaders. Everything is dictated by the felt needs and fickle demands of the people in the pew. This is the exact opposite of what Paul instructed Timothy in 2 Tim. 4:2-3.
- Second, this model de-emphasizes the importance of doctrinal truth and a biblical worldview. "What we have here are churches reconfigured around evangelism that abandon much of the fabric of biblical faith to succeed...Here is a methodology for success that can succeed with very little truth; indeed, its success seems to depend on not showing much truth" (pp. 51-52). And why is this such a problem? Because the gospel is not a product to be consumed, but a command to be obeyed. "The gospel calls us not to use it but to submit to the God of the universe through his Son. A methodology for success that circumvents issues of truth is one that will rapidly emancipate itself from biblical Christianity or, to put it differently, will rapidly eviscerate biblical faith" (p. 52). We cannot downplay doctrine without compromising the gospel message itself.
I've been very impressed by Matthias Media as I've gotten to know them better over the last year. Our church has started using their evangelistic method called Two Ways to Live, and I've enjoyed reading their new blog, the Sola Panel. I'm sure their magazine will continue their reputation for sound biblical teaching.
Monday, May 19, 2008
- A cricket team with a vitamin C deficiency — The Rickety Crickets
- A team of spendthrifts who like to max out their credit cards — The Sans Dinero Chargers
- Texan hot air balloon racers — The Ballast Cowboys
- A team of cooks from Kansas — The Kansas City Chefs
- A team of sluggards from Wisconsin — The Green Bay Slackers
- A team of forest navigators — The Oak Land Radars
- A team who uses second-hand uniforms — The Old Jersey Nets
- A team of barbers from LA — The Los Angeles Clippers
- A racecar team of drug junkies — The Speed Racers
- A basketball team of stock market investors — The Chicago Bulls and Bears
- A fishing team of geometricians — The Right Anglers
- An olympic team of Polish athletes — The Pole Vaulters
- A skating team who lives dangerously — The Thin Ice Skaters
- An olympic team of small golfers — The Short Putters
- An equistrian team of underwear models — The Jockeys
- A body building team of lewd and vulgar musclemen — The Bawdy Builders
- A boardgame team of oriental inspectors — The Chinese Checkers
- A darts team of star wars fans — the Dart Vaders
- A Czechoslovakian basketball team for fraud artists — The Czech Bouncers
- A baseball team of Ohio communists — The Cincinnati Reds
- A debating team of entomologists — The Tick Talkers
- A bowling team of fast, accurate bowlers – The Lightning Strikes
- A football team for East Coast comedians — The New York Jests
- A baseball team of landscapers — The Houston Astro-turfs
- A baseball team for oil well owners — The San Antonio Spurts
- A football team for crazy people — The Baltimore Raven-Maniacs
- A Bicycle club for old maids — The Spinsters
- Hang Gliding for Pedicurists — The Hang Nail Gliders
Friday, May 16, 2008
This is very disappointing. At the same time, we can be thankful that ProtectMarriage.com has worked diligently this spring to gather over a million petition signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would define once-and-for-all that marriage is between one man and one woman in California.
The California Supreme Court overturned a ban on gay marriage Thursday, calling such a prohibition unconstitutional and paving the way for California to become the second state where gay and lesbian residents can marry.
In the 4-3 decision, Chief Justice Ron George wrote for the majority that domestic partnerships are not a good enough substitute for marriage.
In striking down the ban, the court said, "In contrast to earlier times, our state now recognizes that an individual's capacity to establish a loving and long-term committed relationship with another person and responsibly to care for and raise children does not depend upon the individual's sexual orientation, and, more generally, that an individual's sexual orientation — like a person's race or gender — does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights."
I've already shared my convictions about gay marriage here, here, and here, so I won't cover that territory again. However, I do want to point out two problems with Chief Justice George's reasoning:
- First, he puts homosexuality on the same plane as gender and race. But this is a misnomer. Gender is a matter of human identity, and race is a matter of ethnicity. Homosexuality, on the other hand, is a matter of morality. Homosexuality is a desire that, if not restrained, will develop into sinful thinking, which can lead to sinful behavior, and will eventually become a sinful lifestyle. It's not a matter of predetermined orientation nor of mere sexual preference; the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin (1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:9-10). But like all humans created in God's image (Gen. 1:26-27), we must show respect and compassion toward homosexuals. And most importantly, we must share God's loving invitation to freedom and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
- Second, the Supreme Court says they do not want to "deny or withhold legal rights." But in what sense is marriage a "legal right"? Marriage is a legal and spiritual union between one man and one woman. It's an institution that carries with it great privileges. But it's not a constitutional "right" promised to anyone, anywhere, in any context. Marriage is freely available to all people who are willing to abide by the rules, which have been defined both biblically and historically as one man + one woman. But by calling gay marriage a "legal right," the California Supreme Court has arbitrarily changed the rules. They have brazenly ignored the will of the people, taken the law into their own hands, and created a "right" that never existed in the first place.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
My first comment is actually about the dust jacket. Does anyone know what this is a picture of? Is it a set of ladders pointing into the sky, symbolizing our vain attempts to reach God? Is it a piece of postmodern art, representing the postmodern worldview of our age? Am I reading way too much into this? Oh well, let's get into the book...
Chapter one is called "The Lay of the Evangelical Land," and Wells' opening statement is really a summary of the whole book: "It takes no courage to sign up as a Protestant. After all, millions have done so throughout the West. They are not in any peril. To live by the truths of historical Protestantism, however, is an entirely different matter. That takes courage in today's context" (p. 1). How interesting. We're told right away that the label of a professing Protestant and the lifestyle of a true Protestant are sometimes two very different things.
In this first chapter, Wells is giving a big picture of the modern evangelical church. Over the last 75 years, he says the church has split into three different groups or "constituencies":
- Classic evangelicals, who are marked by doctrinal seriousness. Their two core theological beliefs are "the full authority of the inspired Scripture and the necessity and centrality of Christ's penal substitution" (p. 5). Leaders over the decades have included Harold Ockenga, Billy Graham, John Stott, and Francis Schaeffer. They have produced many fine publications and institutions, but as the centrality of doctrine and the church have diminished, so has their influence.
- Marketers, who have tried to re-package the old evangelical message in new ways. Attempting to reach new people and grow the church, they have borrowed many marketing techniques and entertainment formats (music, drama, video, etc.) from the world. This movement appeals to the boomer generation and has been led by Bill Hybels at Willow Creek Community Church. The problem here is that "form greatly modifies the content...the form, put together to be pleasing, actually undercuts the seriousness of faith" (p. 14). I hope Wells will talk more about this later in the book.
- Emergents, who acknowledge the failures of modernity, preferring instead a spiritual "community" and "conversation." They are more open to other faith traditions and unorthodox worship styles. They are skeptical of power and its structures, and often see truth claims as "pretentious, fraudulent, and arrogant" (p. 16). Despite these dangers, emergents are attracting many in the Gen X and millennial crowd.
I'm very interested to hear what else Wells has to say about the emergent church in this book. His last book, Above All Earthly Pow'rs, was published in 2005. It did a great job defining postmodernism, but did not interact much with the emergent church, per se. So, I'm eager to hear more of his critique of emergents in coming chapters.
Wells closes out the chapter by saying our only hope in a postmodern world is a return to the solas of the Protestant Reformation: that Scripture alone is God's authoritative truth; and that salvation is found by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone. "This will take some courage," Wells admits, but "the key to the future is not the capitulation that we see in both the marketers and the emergents. It is courage. The courage to be faithful to what Christianity in its biblical forms has always stood for across the ages" (p. 20-21).
For next Wednesday, please read chapter two, "Christianity for Sale." But right now, it's your turn. What do you like or dislike about the book so far? What have you learned? Did you have a favorite quote from the chapter? A book club isn't any fun unless there's some participation, so click on the "comments" link below, and write your thoughts!
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
"The ESV Study Bible was created to help people understand the Bible in a deeper way—to understand the timeless truth of God’s Word as a powerful, compelling, life-changing reality. To accomplish this, the ESV Study Bible combines the best and most recent evangelical Christian scholarship with the highly regarded ESV Bible text. The result is the most comprehensive study Bible ever published—with more than 2,750 pages of extensive, accessible Bible resources.
With completely new notes, maps, illustrations, charts, timelines, and articles, the ESV Study Bible was created by an outstanding team of 93 evangelical Christian scholars and teachers. In addition to the 757,000 words of the ESV Bible itself, the notes and resources of the ESV Study Bible comprise an additional 1.1 million words of insightful explanation and teaching."This study Bible looks terrific. I already like the MacArthur Study Bible, but I expect every Christian would really benefit by adding one of these ESV Study Bibles to their library.
The publishers are offering a 35% discount now through Thursday, May 15. The starting price for the hardcover is $32.49. You can click here to pre-order. Shipping will begin in mid-October. As an added bonus, the online edition will be available free to all who purchase a copy of the print edition.
Monday, May 12, 2008
As the weather has gotten warmer, many flowers have already withered. It's a dramatic reminder that "All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord endures forever" (1 Pet. 1:24-25).
Thankfully, before the flowers died, I was able to get some good photos for this slideshow. Two of these shots were taken by my Aunt Shay, two by Natalie, and the rest I took myself. If anyone knows the identity of the untitled yellow bush, I would love to know.
Friday, May 9, 2008
The book of Proverbs says, "An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels" (Prov. 31:10). The same applies to mothers as well. Moms might be worth $117,000 from a strictly economic perspective, but spiritually, they are priceless.
Moms are incredible. I'm thankful first of all for my own mom, who helped raise me in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 4:4). And more recently, I've been thankful for my wonderful wife, who is an awesome mommy to our children. It's a job I don't envy, but one I appreciate and benefit from every day.
Happy Mothers Day!
Update: My dad pointed out that, using Ric Edelman's calculation method, the job-market value of a mom is now $803,000. You can read the article here.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
How’s your prayer life? Mine can be pretty pathetic. I have good days, and I have bad days – probably more bad ones that good ones. Why? Because I lack self-discipline. Because I have misplaced priorities. Because I care more about the approval of man than the approval of God. Because my heart is often cold and apathetic. Because I feel overwhelmed by the seemingly urgent demands of life and ministry. Because in the prayer closet I suddenly struggle with “attention deficit.” Because I have much indwelling sin in my heart. Because I have an Adversary who is committed to prayer prevention. Because I can think of a thousand reasons to procrastinate.
More than likely, many of you struggle with prayer, too. D. A. Carson writes, “What is both surprising and depressing is the sheer prayerlessness that characterizes so much of the Western church. It is surprising, because it is out of step with the Bible that portrays what Christian living should be; it is depressing, because it frequently coexists with abounding Christian activity that somehow seems hollow, frivolous, and superficial. (D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, p. 9)
Over the past several months, our church has been studying through Ezra & Nehemiah on Sunday nights. One thing that we immediately noticed about Nehemiah is that he was a man of prayer. In chapter one, after hearing about the disgraceful condition of
In chapter two, four months have passed, and Nehemiah finds himself in the presence of King Artaxerxes. The king notices he is distraught and asks him what he would propose to do. But before Nehemiah replies, it says, “I prayed to the God of heaven” (Neh. 2:4).
These two passages provide a study in contrasts. They illustrate the power and variety that should characterize our prayer lives.
Nehemiah’s prayer in chapter one is lengthy and emotional. It includes all the main ingredients of a healthy prayer life: praise, confession, Scripture saturation, intercession, and personal request. Nehemiah humbles his body by fasting from food and assuming a seated posture. He humbles his soul by speaking with great reverence and submission.
On the other hand, Nehemiah’s prayer in chapter two is brief and urgent. It is undoubtedly silent, for he is standing in the royal court, while the king awaits an answer. It’s related to his immediate situation, and demands an immediate response. If chapter one is a “letter” to God, chapter two is an “instant message.”
Both kinds of prayers should find a regular place in the life of the believer. We should have seasons of extended prayer, when we enjoy silence, solitude, and communion with our Lord. Sometimes, this will be private; sometimes with our family or church body. But we can't always pray long prayers. We should also have a continual attitude of prayer and offer short prayers throughout our day. As Paul said, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18).
Why not start this week by praying at least five or ten minutes per day? Surely, a small step of obedience is better than nothing at all. And you just might find yourself wanting to pray even longer.
May God help us learn to pray like Nehemiah - with great faith, reverence, variety, and urgency. We cannot expect God to bless our lives and our churches if we’re not seeking Him more passionately in prayer.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
I know that several people from our church are planning to read the book, and I ordered some copies from Amazon. They shipped last week and should arrive any day. So, I think we are finally ready to begin. Anyone else reading this blog is welcome to participate in our online "book club" as well. The book is divided into seven chapters, and we will read one chapter per week.
For next Wednesday (May 14), please read the Preface and Chapter One: "The Lay of the Evangelical Land." I will post a blog that day giving a short summary and a few of my thoughts on the chapter. Then, you will be encouraged to share in the comments section a favorite quote or something that struck you.
Here are a couple endorsements of the book to whet your appetite:
"This book has profound and far reaching implications for the church. It helps us understand the roots and differences of the seeker-sensitive, the emergent and the Reformed branches of 'evangelicalism' ... and then points to the biblical Christ and His grace as the only road to recovery of the gospel." - www.monergism.com
"Every page is important and every chapter is packed with fascinating content. Rare is the page in my copy of the book that is not stained with substantial amounts of highlighter." - Tim Challies
Monday, May 5, 2008
You can read the whole thing here.
I remember a time when I thought any accommodation was equal to compromise. I don’t mean preaching a soft Gospel. Rather, I was worried about third and fourth tier theological issues ...
This attitude would be bad enough if I were an apologist, but when the context for ministry is the church it could get ugly fast. Yes, churches need brave pastors who will stand up for the truth. But without love, I’d only be making noise or burning without profit. (I Cor. 13:1, 3)
For an in-depth study on the importance of love in church leadership, I highly recommend Leading with Love, by Alexander Strauch. This is one of the best books I've ever read, and should be required reading for every church leader. In fact, I wish every Christian would read and apply this book. What a difference it would make in the church.
Friday, May 2, 2008
But with economic stimulus checks in the mail, many of our hearts will be getting an extra test in the next few weeks. Will we spend this money on a new toy? Will it be saved? Used to pay off a loan? To build some family memories? Given to church or charity? Wow. There are a lot of options. Suddenly my check doesn't sound so big after all.
On Thursday, Tim Challies posted an interview with David Kotter about the stimulus checks. It discusses the purpose of the stimulus package, the likely results, and some biblical guidelines on spending the extra money. I highly recommend it.
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