Saturday, October 15, 2011

Religion and Mitt Romney

In the very few times I have written blogs on here, I usually write them on something I think would benefit others. But this one is mostly selfish. I'm writing it because I have something I want to say and it's too long for a tweet or facebook status update.

What I'd like to say is that the conversation surrounding Mitt Romney's mormonism has bothered me. About a week ago some pastor in Dallas said Mitt Romney, as a Mormon, was part of a cult. He went on to suggest that Christians should vote for a real Christian (in this case Rick Perry) over a cult member (Romney).

Since then almost every person who has commented on it has repudiated this pastor, conservatives included. I just watched a video with Karl Rove where he basically suggests we shouldn't even talk about this. I've been similarly dissapointed that Herman Cain seems unwilling to deal with the issue, suggesting he's not running for "theologian-in-chief" when asked about it.

Here's what bothers me about all this:

  1. The suggestion that a candidates religious perspective doesn't matter or shouldn't be an issue we are allowed to ask about is incredibly naieve. Everybody is religious. What I mean by that is everyone has a certain view of God, man, and the world. Some people haven't thought about theirs, but they all have one. As President of the United States, you make decisions based on your views of God, man, and the world. So your view of these things, i.e. your religious perspective or worldview, is of utmost importance. To say "I'm not running for theologian-in-chief" or the like is essentially to say "I'm not going to talk about how my religious views affect my decision making." But they necessarily do affect your decision making! So either a.) you're just not thinking about it, in which case you're making decisions based on something, but it's not God's truth, or b.) you know you actually make your decisions on some worldview other than the Christian one but don't want to admit that because it would alienate evangelical votes you're hoping to keep.

  2. This pastor has done nothing wrong by suggesting that mormonism is a theological cult. Agree with him or not, it's not inappropriate for a pastor to boldly express his convictions, even if it steps on toes.

  3. Mormonism is not Christianity. This is a necessary distinction. Mormonism does not preach the gospel. Everyone in this discussion seems to make it sound like we shouldn't even be allowed to make a judgment on that. The fact that Herman Cain, a professed Christian, doesn't seem to have the balls or discernment to be clear on this is troubling to me.

  4. Everyone around this discussion, partly because of the pastor's own comments, seems to be assuming that if I have questions about a candidate's faith it means I'd vote for Joe Shmoe Christian over Mitt Romney. So any questions about religion are written off as "irrelevant." That's simply not true, and assuming so precludes us from asking important questions about how worldview impacts a candidate's decision making. Personally I'd vote for Mitt Romney over a Christian with no political experience or expertise. But that doesn't mean religion is irrelevant, it just means it's not the only relevant data point.

  5. It reveals to me that what so many conservatives really care about is winning. Shut up about religion, it doesn't win, is the attitude. Let me just tell people I'm a Christian so I can corner the evangelical voting block, but if you ask me to really spell out how that affects my life you're irrelevant or something.

Such an attitude is killing the possibility for intelligent discussion about how religion should affect policy, since we know that religious views already do. But when those religious views that necessarily exist in many of these decisions go unstated, they are assumed and unproven, and often may not be in line with God's truth. Grudem's Politics According to the Bible is a good example of making these implicit religious assumptions explicit and bringing them in line with what God says is truth.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

God told me _____ (Part 4 of 4)

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending the wedding of Brett and Janelle Bauer. While there I was inspired to start blogging again by two of the three or four people who actually read this blog. In the day that followed the wedding I also was hit with some ideas of stuff I want to write again about, primarily on the joy of discipleship and sadness. But, I try to be a person who finishes what he starts. I started this "God told me _____" series a long time ago and I finally want to finish it. In the last part my intention was simply to make some brief comments on how the content from the first 3 parts plays out practically.

Before I start this section, I need to post a quick tidbit and define some important terms from Vern Poythress' excellent article on charismatic gifts Modern Spiritual Gifts as Analogous to Apostolic Gifts: Affirming Extraordinary Works of the Spirit within Cessationist Theology

"A key distinction here is the distinction between rationally explicit processes, such as those involved when Luke wrote his Gospel, and intuitive processes, such as those involved with the Book of Revelation. One type of process is not inherently more “spiritual” than the other. Both the Gospel of Luke and Revelation were inspired."

In the article, Poythress defines the rationally explicit process as a discursive process (in his example, to write his gospel Luke actually sits down and thinks and reasons through his gospel), and the more intuitive process as a non-discursive process (in his example, John didn't sit down and think "now, logically, what will the end be like? I see 7 horns on 7 beasts etc. John was led more through intuition and just recorded that). I use these terms this way throughout the post. Read the article, especially the first few paragraphs under point (3) if this is still unclear. Now that that's out of the way...

What I essentially argued in the first 3 parts of this blog series was that decisions we make that aren't explicitly spelled out for us in scripture are made through wisdom, i.e. a logical process that uses our minds. So attempts to arrive at decisions from subjective impressions of "God told me ______" are inadequate.

But here's the question we now have to ask: in the wisdom process, where does wisdom ultimately come from? As I showed in James 1:5-6 and 3:17 in earlier posts, wisdom comes from God Himself. Therefore, when we make decisions we are not to see ourselves as rationally reasoning through everything independent of God. We are dependent on God for the wisdom process. This is what the Bible often calls guidance (e.g. Psalm 48:14).

In the New Testament, it seems the Holy Spirit is identified as the member of the trinity who performs this guiding function. Romans 8:14 is the clearest example in my opinion:

"For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God."

There we have the idea that the Holy Spirit leads God's children. So as Christians we aren't mere rationalists. We are utterly dependent on the Holy Spirit to guide us, but He guides us through the wisdom He gives from above (see James 1:5-6, 3:17 again).

This doesn't mean we never get subjective impressions of the Spirit's leading in our lives, but it does mean those our sense of those leadings alone are inadequate. They should be subject to wisdom, because the wisdom from above is "open to reason" (James 3:17). That wisdom should be derived from God's Word (this is explained more in parts 1-3). Let's look at two examples of how this plays out:

1. Jesus commands me to love my neighbors. I think to myself "how could I apply this?" I ask God to give me wisdom to do that. As I'm thinking about it I realize: well, I have literal neighbords who I've never met. As a way to love them, I will host a cookout and serve them a meal and seek to get to know them. That was a thinking process. No subjective impressions, just straightforward logic. It is what Vern Poythress would call a "discursive" process in the article I referenced above.

2. For some reason I wake up one more morning with a burden for one of my neighbors. I feel an impression that God wants me to engage them relationally. I feel like a cookout would be a good way to do that. That is a very subjective impression, or what Poythress calls a non-discursive process. I would argue that at this point I should test my subjective impression against wisdom. When I do, I realize Jesus has called me to love my neighbors and this would be a good way to do it.

In the way most of us today talk about decisions 1 & 2, people in situation 2 will say "God told me to reach my neighbors" while people in 1 will say "I decided to reach my neighbors." I think both terminologies should be dropped, and I would rather say that both were "led by the Spirit." I also don't think one is inherently better or more spiritual than the other. I see this in the first case through a discursive process and the second through a non-discursive process (see the Poythress article). In both cases we are dependent on the Holy Spirit and in both cases He deserves the glory for our decisions, not autonomous reason or mere feelings. I would perfer to speak of the Spirit's leading however because I think it's the terminology the Bible uses and I want to gaurd "the Lord saith ______" and "God told me _____" for things we actually know God said, which for us means only the words of scripture.

I would further add that when it comes to making decisions that go past what scripture has explicitly commanded the primary means God calls us to pursue is a discursive process. We are commanded to ask for wisdom, not "the still small voice of God." That could quickly become another blog article, but also hear me say that I'm open to the Spirit leading through subjective impressions, I just don't think it's the primary means we're called to seek when making decisions, i.e. God initiates it and it's still subject to wisdom.

In summary: When faced with decisions that fall outside of what scripture explicitly commands, we are called to pray for and exercise wisdom. That wisdom comes from above, specifically through the Spirit's leading in our lives, which can start either through discursive or non-discursive processes but in either case should be subject to wisdom, which is "open to reason." Therefore in all of our decisions we are to be led by the Spirit, but we should expect that leading to come primarily through our thinking and to always be subject to wisdom. For the practical concern of maintaing the uniqueness of the words of God that we know for a fact are God's words, it is my opinion that we should refrain from calling this leading of the Spirit "God's words." So while I affirm that many instances of "God told me _____" experiences could be legitimate, I also maintain in this series that some are not inasmuch as they fall short of biblical standards of wisdom, and that those which are would be better referred to as examples of the Spirit's leading.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Pushing Another Book

For the 2-3 of you who are actually waiting for a substantive blog post, you may have to wait a little longer. I'm just posting this to push the 25th anniversary edition of Piper's Desiring God. Interestingly enough, though I've listened to about 1000 of his sermons, I don't own nor have I ever read Desiring God. So I ordered my 25th anniversary copy today.

Check it out. Also I do plan to post the last part of the God told me ______ series within the week.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

God told me _____ (Part 3)

In part 2 I talked about how our wisdom needs to be open to reason. The main two ways that will happen is through personal study of scripture and the counsel of others. It's open to reason, meaning if the scriptures provide reason to believe our decision is unwise, we change it. It also means others can ask questions and provide reason as to why we may be faulty in our thinking. If your thinking is "God told me" that's not open to reason.

Another thing I now feel compelled to say about this is that seeking God's will should not happen on a merely case-by-case basis. Romans 12:2 says this:

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

This describes an ongoing process of the renewal of our minds, so that when the time comes to make a decision, we may discern God's will. That means we're consistently reshaping the way we think so that it accords with God's thoughts. We start to value what He values and hate what He hates, and then we engage in reasonable decision making with his priorities.

Alot more can be said about God's will. It's not my purpose to write the whole book on it. I merely wanted to show that the process involves wisdom, which is by its very nature a reasonable process. We are called to engage in a continual process of the renewal of our minds, pray for wisdom, and make a decision that applies God's general will as revealed in the scriptures to our specific situation. Sometimes that decision is not very clear (where to live) and sometimes it is (whether to steal). For the less clear decisions, there will be more searching of the scriptures, more praying, more seeking counsel, etc. But in either case, the process is the same as to what we are to do.

In the concluding part, I'll talk about how we should communicate this and what role the Holy Spirit has in "leading" or "speaking" in this process. I'll also briefly touch the Biblical examples of people receiving direct revelation of God's will (e.g. Abraham when commanded to sacrifice his son).

Sunday, November 28, 2010

God told me _______ (Part 2)

I think when I finished Part 1 I said I'd discuss why we seem to jettison wisdom when it comes to decisions the Bible hasn't clearly spoken on. On the one hand, I said it always requires wisdom to apply the Bible to our unique circumstances. So even this bifurcation of "things the Bible has clearly spoken on" is purely pedagogical. If by things the Bible has clearly spoken on we mean things the Bible has told us how to handle without any steps of wisdom on our part, I'm inclined to say it actually hasn't spoken clearly on anything. I obviously don't think that. I'd rather say the Bible speaks clearly on everything, but that some things just require a few more steps of wisdom. The level of deicison making in these things therefore takes on a different quantity (we have to think more, pray more, etc.) but not a different quality (we leave wisdom and move to "hearing God's voice").

What we should do when coming to a deicison then is ask what God wants us to do as He's revealed His general will in scripture. If that answer is clear to us, we simply make that choice. Now here's where the rubber meets the road: if it's not clear. In other words, in this situation, we lack wisdom. What we to do when we lack wisdom? God tells us:

"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind." - James 1:5-6

We are to pray, and ask God for wisdom in faith that He will give it. We don't ask for Him to speak new words to us, we ask Him for wisdom. If we ask in faith, God gives it. James further describes this wisdom:

"For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere." - James 3:16-17

The contrast here is between decisions influenced by our sinful motives, and the wisdom from above. So that should be part of the decision process and one of the things wisdom will reveal: sinful motives vs. wisdom from above. Again this is all logical wisdom grounded in God's revealed will in scripture. The wisdom from above is even described as "open to reason." That means it's testable and open to correction as opposed to "God told me ____." Who can argue with that? In Part 3 we'll look more at how our wisdom can be "open to reason."

Read This Blog Post

From Tullian whats-his-name: Counterfeit Gospels I found Biblicism and social-ism most convicting. In each of these I can say "I can control my life apart from God, i.e. save myself, by just knowing everything and having everything right so no claim can be brought against me" or "I can control my life apart from God, i.e. save myself, by developing a network of like-minded friends who make me feel good about myself." The latter has been a particular temptation as I move to a new city and get involved with a new church that honestly contains alot of like-minded people who I'm developing friendships with. I find I tend to feel like I need them all to like me and affirm me, so it leads me to be less willing to serve anyone, especially those who aren't "in" at the church and aren't as like me as others. Good stuff from Tullian.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What I'm Learning From the Puritans

Today I finished reading A Quest For Godliness by J.I. Packer. The subtitle of the book is "The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life." In it Packer basically gives an overview of the Puritans. While the book started slow for me, I eventually found myself learning alot from it. I've always heard reformed guys talking about the puritans but never really delved into them myself, mostly because they always seemed like such difficult reads. I found this book to be a great middle ground that exposed me to the puritans without requiring me to actually read an entire book written by a puritan. I want to share with you some of the big takeaways I got from it. First, specific chapters:

  • Chapter 7: The Puritan Conscience - I was really impacted by this chapter, especially since I think I rarely explicitly consider the role our conscience should play in our Christian lives. The Puritans saw the conscience as "a witness, declaring facts (Romans 2:15; 9:1; 2 Cor. 1:12), a mentor, prohibiting evil (Acts 24:16; Rom 13:5), and a judge, assessing desert (Rom 2:15; cf 1 Jn 3:20f)" (p. 110). This means we should make sure our consciences are in line with what God actually requires and prohibits. It also means we should not sin against our consciences, doing what we believe God does not want us to do or vice versa. I think alot of times I pay no attention to this. Sometimes Christians whose conscience condemns them even feel like that's just satan bothering them and they should not respond. But our conscience is a gift from God, and we should consider when we feel guilty whether we have sinned against God. We should examine ourselves. Then we rest ultimately in Christ's death to purify us from a guilty conscience (Heb. 9:14)
  • Chapter 8: 'Saved by His Precious Blood': An Introduction to John Owen's The Death of Death - Everyone should read this chapter. It's available online here. It's one of the most succint and compelling statements/defenses of calvinism I've read.
  • Chapter 15: The Puritan Approach to Worship - In this chapter Packer goes through some of the commonalities the puritans held, not their difference. The commonality is a general approach to worship. That approach is essentialy an approach to God. That's what we're doing in worship: approaching God. Thus they held that this should be done joyfully. We should delight in God and in the worship of Him. They also emphasized that God is actually more glorified in public worship than private, because the church shows a gathering of God's people in unity and diversity, which is to His glory. A part of the chapter that really struck me was their emphasis on preparation for worship. Often I stumble into church fresh out of bed, my heart not at all ready to sing God's praises or receive His Word. The puritans emphasized the need on saturday night and Sunday morning for disciplined time of confession, prayer, and meditation...asking God to prepare one's heart to worship Him. I tried this this past Sunday and indeed saw the fruit of a much more focused time of worship.
  • Chapter 17: Puritan Preaching - The basic structure of Puritan preaching was doctrine, defense, application. I think this provides a helpful grid for preaching. What are we to believe, why are we to believe it, and how should it change our lives? The Puritans are known for hour long sermons where they would go to great pains to apply the text as specifically as possible to their audience. In my own teaching and in some that I hear application is very general and lacking in practicality. The puritans offer even a grid for how to make specific application. This is needed, because if we only have general notions of repentance we will too easily say things like "I'm working to love people better" without it actually changing any of our actions. (as a sidenote, one thing I really appreciate about my current church, Redeemer, is the precision of application).
  • Chapter 18: Puritan Evangelism - My main appreciation here is of the sovereignty of God. The Puritans preached every sermon evangelistically, meaning every sermon was rooted in God's grace in Christ and calling everyone to faith and reptentance on the grounds of it. They knew nothing of the "evangelistic meetings" of today or of the special "evangelistic sermons." Every sermon was a call on sinners to repent. Believers and non-believers both need to hear the gospel and be called to the right response: faith and repentance. They would preach in this manner and press on the consciences of their hearers, then leave the rest to God. No altar call, no call for immediate decisions, just a trust in the Spirit of God to work. Now that doesn't mean they didn't do evangelism relationally, in fact in this chapter there are examples of puritans saying the best way to do evangelism is to follow up the broad preaching with individual conversation. However, their preaching of the gospel to non-believers was not done in a manipulative way, forcing a decision, but with an attitude of trust in God to be the one at work. Often as I'm reaching out to non-believers I can get impatient with them and try to force them into a decision, all the while not remember that non-believers are powerless to make such a decision unless God gives them a new heart. This encourages me to patience in sowing the gospel.
  • Chapter 19: Jonathan Edwards on Revival - Edwards saw a revival in his ministry, and prayed for the Holy Spirit to be poured out afresh among his people. Revival is a large scale renewal of true religion among people that results in a renewed passion and joy in Christ and good works. I was just convicted of how I really don't pray this way and almost don't think God could do such a thing. I've begun praying this way for the Texas Tech campus, that God would pour out His spirit among the students and create in them a passion and joy in Christ.

Well, those are some of the specifics. But in general in this book I saw men who were captivated by God's grace, resulting in a deep joy and satisfaction in Jesus. This led them to lives of holiness and pursuit of God's glory in all the earth. It's motivated me to try to read next year Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections and at least one biography of a puritan (I'm leaning towards Lloyd-Jones, who is more of a modern day Puritan). I highly recommend A Quest For Godliness.