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.

Monday, November 22, 2010

God told me _______

I've been thinking alot lately about the idea of guidance. I'm sure most of you have yourself said or at least encountered someone who's said something to the effect of "I really feel like God's telling me to do _______" (e.g. share my faith with my friend, move to China, drop out of college, etc.). The question that most people inevitably grapple with in this is, "how do you know that's God telling you?" Stated other ways it sounds like: "how can I know what God's will is in this situation?" or "how can I hear God's voice?" or "how can I be sensitive to the Spirit's leading?" You may have even received such teaching from Christians you respect: "you need to be seeking God's will in everything you do," "you need to be listening for God's voice," "you need to be sensitive to the Spirit's leading," "have you really asked God if He wants you doing this?" In my experience, most Christians are simply confused about this whole process. I'm one of them. However, I feel like lately the Lord is growing me in understanding in this area.

Questions like these become relevant any time we are faced with a decision that the Bible hasn't clearly spoken one way or the other on. In some ways, this includes every situation we encounter in our actual lives. This is simply called application: taking God's general will as revealed in the Bible and applying it to our specific situations. For instance, should I steal my favorite candy bar from the store or not? Well, if we consider the Bible in its narrowest sense, it hasn't directly addressed that question. There's no passage on Mike Anderson in a convenience store with a candy bar. However, the Bible has spoken generally about theft, and in fact prohibited it. But for me to apply that to my life, I use wisdom, i.e. a rational thought process. It goes something like this: "To steal or not to steal the candy bar? The Bible prohibits stealing, to steal the candy bar from the store would be stealing, therefore I will not steal the candy bar." Often times in an obvious case such as this the thought process I've just described goes on subconsciously, but it happens nonetheless.

Now can you imagine me asking someone for counsel on my decision (whether to steal the candy bar) and them saying "well you should pray and ask the Lord if He wants you to steal the candy bar, and then wait to see what He says," or "follow how you feel His spirit leading"? Absolutely not. Such counsel would be superfluous at best and misleading at worst (e.g. if I really want to steal and still feel like stealing after praying, now I feel like that's justified because it's "how the Spirit is leading." I can almost hear the Christian rationalization now: "I just felt the Lord telling me He wanted me to really live out of my freedom in Christ"). Now I assume everyone agrees with my line of reasoning so far, however it seems to me when we get to more complicated issues we jettison such reasoning. The counsel we've just shot down in the case of stealing suddenly seems to be garden variety when it comes to issues like where one should live or who one should marry. Why is that the case? We'll look into it in part 2...

Monday, November 15, 2010

More on Politics According to the Bible

Well, Brett convinced me to get another entry up here by requesting it on my facebook wall. As it turns out I've been thinking/talking more about Grudem's book Politics According to the Bible since my last post. Alot of this got worked out on a comment thread over at TGC reviews, but I'll repost my thoughts here in a more formulated, drawn out manner (sounds exciting, right?).

As I said before, in general I've really enjoyed the book. It's contained great biblical insight and the chapters on specific issues have been very helpful introductions to the issues facing our nation today from a Christian perspective. That said, he didn't answer my questions (the nerve!). On the one hand, who am I to think Wayne Grudem should set aside time to answer my questions? For alot of people, the book will probably do a fine job of presenting a Biblical view of government. Insofar as that's true, I applaud the book and I can't say I'm mad at him or something because he didn't answer my questions. Nonetheless, in my mind these questions are substantive and worthy of attention:

1. Where is the NT imperative for Christians to change government? I talked about this alot in my earlier post on Politics, so I won't rehash it all here. In his book Grudem gives 2 NT narrative examples of Christian engagement in politics that I found to be exegetically weak. In fact, NT imperative with respect to politics seems to be entirely about Christians submitting to government, not trying to change it.

2. In Grudem's criticism of the "do evangelism, not politics" view in chapter 1, he accuses them of having too narrow an understanding of "the gospel" (p. 45-47). Basically he says the gospel doesn't just apply to individual salvation, but also includes a transformation of society (his words). The "what is the gospel?" conversation is a hot one these days (I'm thinking of Carson's essay in For the Fame of God's Name and Greg Gilbert's What is the Gospel?) but it seems to me at least (for what that's worth) that the growing evangelical consensus is that the gospel broadly conceived (as sometimes it is in scripture) includes a cosmic redemption, not just the redemption of individual lives. I completely agree with that, but it doesn't answer the question of what role we play in that redemption. Why is it that because the good news includes a cosmic redemption (i.e. transformation of society) that the acitivity of people in this age is the means through which that redemption happens? I think many Christians would agree that the good news includes a cosmic redemption, but would still see a progressive decline in this age until Jesus returns and establishes the transformed society unilateraly (for a brief statement of this view see this blog post, especially point #9). I'm not saying that's necessarily right, but is it not worthy of at least some response from Grudem (I mean come on, Mark Dever's no fool)?

3. As I think about this point more that I made over at the TGC comment thread, it makes sense to me that if the church's role is to preach the Word, and God's Word contains His moral will for governments, and we are all involved in government in the U.S., then pastors should teach us how to submit to God's moral will as we all participate in the political process. So I wouldn't state my objection as strongly as I originally did. I do wish he'd be more clear in the book as to what things apply to the U.S. and what things apply to government as a whole. It seems like in the first 4 chapters of his book his goal is to discuss God's will for all governments, not just the U.S. government, yet some of it only makes sense to me if we're all part of the government. If it's God's will for all Christians to be involved in changing government, not just those in a democracy, then we'd expect to find that somewhere in scripture (see question #1 above).

4. His main passages in support of alot of his view of government are Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:14-15, which both describe government as punishing evil and rewarding good. But those passages seem to do just that, describe. They simply say "this is how it is; submit." They don't say "this is how it should be, and if it's not you better try to change it." Grudem takes these descriptive passages to be God's moral will for all governments, and then concludes that we should be actively making sure that governments conform to that. Maybe that's the case, but he doesn't actually argue that it is. He appears to take it for granted.

5. If the role of government is to punish evil and reward good (as he says it is), then why shouldn't governments punish idolatry? Isn't that evil? Or are we now appealing to some other standard (natural law?) than the Bible for our definition of good and evil? Grudem seems to be against that approach throughout the book since he consistently appeals to the Bible on moral issues. So if the Bible is our standard for good and evil, and the Bible says idolatry is evil, why shouldn't governments punish idolatry? I know he doesn't think they should (he says he's not a theonomist, and he argues for a distinction between church and state due to Jesus' "render unto ceasar" sentiment). But I fail to see how his position doesn't logically lead to government punishing idolatry, which is equivalent to "government compelling religion," one of his wrong views of chapter 1! Grudem again doesn't even address this question.

As I said before, I don't think Wayne Grudem should in any way feel like he needs to answer my questions. However, at least questions 1, 2, and 5 are questions anyone who's thought about the 2 kingdoms/Kuyperian debate wonders. For Grudem not even to address them in his 4 chapters that are supposed to set forth God's will for government is a major oversight in my mind.

Well, it's been fun posting again. I hope to follow up this post with some of the positives I've taken from Grudem and the resulting thinking/dialogue on Christians and politics. I highly recommend reading his book, especially the first four chapters. I'd definitely say anyone reading Trueman's new book or the Gerson/Wehner book needs to read Grudem's first 4 chapters since what I'm hearing about those book is that they don't give any detailed theological description of God's will for government. And come on, if you're reading this and thinking about politics as a Christian, drop me a comment!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A New Book Recommendation

In this post I want to embark on a first for my blog and for my life: I'm going to recommend a book I've never read. In the mail today I got my copy of For the Fame of God's Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper. Sam Storms and Justin Taylor edited this collection of essays from renowned scholars and pastors in honor of John Piper. They cite Phillippians 2:29 where Paul commands the Philippians to "honor such men" as Epaphroditus. Basically they're thanking John Piper for his years of service to the body of Christ, but more fundamentally they're praising God for His work through Piper's life and ministry.

When I heard that, I thought to myself "man, I want do to that too!" I benefit from alot of different Bible teachers through their online ministries (thank God for the internet!), but probably none has been so formative in my life and thinking as John Piper. His talk from the 2006 Desiring God Conference changed my view of the Bible and in many ways the direction my life took from that point on. His teaching on the supremacy of God in all things, true joy, and the sovereignty of God opened my eyes to see God as He has really revealed Himself in the Bible. I love God more today and I am happier in Him as a result of this.

If your life has been similarly impacted even in smaller ways by Piper, I'd recommend buying this book as a way of saying "Thanks" to John Piper, but moreso as a celebration of God's ability to use whoever He pleases to spread a passion for His glory.

A few other new/upcoming books I'd buy if wise financial stewardship didn't prevent it:

City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era - Michael Gerson & Peter Wehner
Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative - Carl Trueman
40 Questions about Christians and Biblical Law - Tom Schreiner
Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes us Just - Tim Keller

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Shadow of Christ in Braveheart

Ok, I admit that I get a little tired of "Finding God in _____" books. As a sidenote, I recently saw there are two of those books out on The Shack. Seeing as The Shack is supposed to clearly be about God, it's probably a bad sign that you need some other book to help you find Him in it. While all of its supporters were touting The Shack as a modern day pilgrim's progress, can you imagine a book called "Find God in The Pilgrim's Progress"? Of course you can't, because anyone who's read Pilgrim's Progress has no problem seeing God in it on their own (I did search amazon for a book of this sort for Pilgrim's Progress; didn't return any results). Anyway, I digress.

Even though these types of connections can be trite, as I watched braveheart for the 700th time today (rough estimate), I was struck with the many connections between William Wallace and Christ. This is particularly evident to me in the mini-redemption of Robert the Bruce. Robert the Bruce starts out a slave to others, mainly his father. This is in stark contrast to William Wallace, who because of his commitment to a principle (freedom), is a slave to no one.

Ultimately Wallace's commitment to a principle, a principle that also committed him to a people (the Scottish), cost him his life. He never backed down from suffering, but willingly accepted his death on behalf of his cause. Yet in his death he was victorious. I think two things impact Robert the Bruce about the suffering and death of Wallace: 1. That he himself betrayed a great man in Wallace 2. That Wallace loved a principle and a people enough to die for them. Robert the Bruce knew that wasn't him. He realized he was rather a selfish man, only after his own crown. But in Wallace he saw the emptiness of such a hope and was empowered to die to his selfish desires, that he might truly live. His heart was captivated by what Wallace did on behalf of his people, so Robert the Bruce was changed in such a way that he now wanted to live, and possibly die, for freedom. He wanted to be like Wallace.

Now don't get me wrong here, I don't think we get a full blown gospel parallel in Braveheart. Even Chronicles of Narnia couldn't deliver that. But I think there are some definite parallels. To name a few:
  • Wallace suffered and died for a principle and a people. Jesus suffered and died for God's glory (Jn. 12:27-33, 17:5) and for the redemption of all who would trust Him (Heb. 10:14).
  • Wallace suffered and died to set the Scottish free from British oppression. Jesus suffered and died to set us free from our slavery to sin under the law (Gal. 3:10-13, 5:1).
  • Robert the Bruce realized he betrayed a great man. The centurion present at Jesus' crucifixion realized that they crucified the Son of God (Mark. 15:39)
  • Wallace was victorious in death. Jesus was victorious in death (Col. 2:14-15)
  • Robert the Bruce is drawn to Wallace because Wallace was willing to die for his cause and people. Jesus drew people to himself when He was crucified (Jn. 12:32)
  • Wallace did not resist his punishment once he was caught. Jesus likewise did not answer back to those who sought to kill Him, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23)
  • Wallace finally dies on a cross, before which he yells out "FREEDOM!" Jesus also died on a cross, and in a similar fashion yelled a victorious "IT IS FINISHED!" (Jn. 19:30)
  • The result of Wallace's death is that Robert the Bruce is now committed to his cause and wants to be like him (freedom). The result of Jesus' death is that His people are now committed to His cause (God's glory) and want to be like Him (Titus 2:14, Phil. 2:12-13, 1 Cor. 10:31).
  • In order to follow Wallace, Robert the Bruce had to deny himself (his desire for the crown, glory from men, etc.). Jesus similarly calls us to deny ourselves and follow Him (Luke 9:23)
  • The result of Robert the Bruce's change and allegiance to Wallace is his joy (as is so clear in the final scene when he leads the Scots in battle). The result of allegiance to Christ is fullness of joy (Jn. 15:11, 17:13, Ps. 16:11)

Nonethless, the gospel is much better than Braveheart. Wallace himself wasn't perfect (having sex with another man's wife, albeit a poor excuse for a man, is still sinful). Wallace never makes provision for the guilt of his own sin or Robert the Bruce's for that matter. He also dies permanently, so he can't rule anymore. Therefore the freedom he purchases is temporary, and the kingdom he leads is temporary as well. But Christ was sinless (Heb. 4:15), bore the curse our sin incurred (Gal. 3:13), and rose again (1 Cor. 15:3-4). He therefore purchased us eternal freedom (Heb. 4:9-11, Gal. 5:1) in an eternal kingdom (Isa. 9:7, Eph. 2:6, Rev. 21-22) if we place our trust in Him alone. And in Him there is truly fullness of joy.

Friday, September 24, 2010

I Love This Article

Today I was surfing Desiring God looking for a sermon to listen to to do something different in my time with my God. As I was doing it I stumbled across this article. It drove me to tears and confession before God. I want to pass it along to you:

What Is That To You? You Follow Me!


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Some Initial Reactions to Wayne Grudem's "Politics According to the Bible"

If you catch my sidebar on the books I'm reading you may have noticed that I've recently been going through Wayne Grudem's newest book entitled Politics According to the Bible. I've finished the first 4 chapters. These all fall under the first part of the book, which is entitled "basic principles." This is the part of the book I was most excited to read. I've been frustrated in the past when I hear other Christians debating individual political issues. The reason that can be hard for me is because I find myself unsure of how to even approach politics. How involved should we as Christians be? Should we legislate morality or leave freedom? Should we feed the poor via government or leave that to the people? Should we care for the environment via government sanctions or the will of the people?

Christians fall down on either side of these issues, especially younger Christians who are fed up with the politicizing tendencies of the Christian right. However I think myself and most of my peers also forget the politicizing tendencies of the Christian left (generally seen in the more liberal, mainline churches). The difficulty for me in sorting through these arguments is that I feel I don't know how to even approach them. What constitutes a "correct" view on a given issue? What does God want politics to look like? So, I got Grudem's book and was excited to read it. Here are some initial reactions 4 chapters in:

1. Grudem is an excellent communicator of biblical truth. He writes with such clarity and in general his reasoning flows clearly from the scriptures. He calls error error and truth truth. I really appreciate this about him.

2. In his second chapter Grudem puts forth the idea of "significant Christian influence on government." This is in his view the Biblical position. In support of this he offers a number of OT texts where governments in general, not just Israel, are condemned for their failure to obey God's law in their governance. From this we see God has a moral will for government. He then cites two stories in the NT where Christians confront rulers about their sin. John the Baptist confronts Herod (Matt. 14, Luke 3) and Paul confronts Felix (Acts 24).

The interesting thing to me about these NT texts is the text itself doesn't specify what John the Baptist and Paul confront their counterparts about. It says they call them to repentence, but it doesn't say that has anything to do with their political positions. In fact, in the case of John the Baptist he confronts Herod about his personal sexual immorality. Grudem simply assumes that political advice or calls to repentence in their policies were also there. Thus he finds NT precedent for believers engaging in policy issues. I find this suspect at best. We have no evidence that this is what John the Baptist and Paul were doing, yet these are the only examples Grudem gives of NT people "engaging in politics."

I don't think any evangelical denies that God as a moral will for governments. The question is what we as Christians are to do about it. Should we simply evangelize and disciple everyone, including politicians, such that as they are progressively sanctified by the Spirit they grow in holiness that then overflows to their vocation? Grudem says no, this is not enough. He calls this the wrong view of "do evangelism, not politics." But this seems to be all we know the NT church to be doing. Where is the imperative for the church to be engaged in politics? It seems what we see more of the NT church actually doing and being commanded to do is to submit to the government and to reach the people in it with the gospel, not try to fix the system itself. All he has to counter this are 2 suspect examples.

I'm still not totally convinced one way or the other, but it's the kind of question I wish Grudem had addressed more thoroughly. He speaks of the gospel as God's "good news for all areas of life." I'm fine with that, but it leaves so much unanswered. If the gospel includes the redemption of governments, does that automatically mean it's a redemption we bring about progressively? Is this a post-millenial view where we bring about the millenium by redeeming all areas of life? (But then again Grudem is pre-mil). These theological underpinnings of our view of governments were exactly the thing I was hoping Grudem would have addressed more adequately.

3. This ended up being longer than I thought. More to come.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I'm Still Here

Hey everyone, not much to say in this post, just mostly wanted anyone still reading this blog to know that I am in fact still alive. Haha, I know it's been over a month since my last post and I do want to get back into it. I'm working through alot of good books right now (see right) so hopefully there will be some things the Lord teaches me through them that I could share with you all.

I've started working full-time with The Navigators as a campus missionary at Texas Tech University. The move and getting started have been excited but have also kept me busy, hence my absence from blogging. Keep your eyes peeled though; more to come shortly.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

DeYoung on Homosexuality

Kevin DeYoung has a very helpful blog post today in light of Prop 8 being struck down. In it he goes through specifics of what Christians should do in response to this. I appreciated his candor and specificity. I think he's right to point out that many times our advice in dealing with homosexuality is vague and not ultimately helpful. I'd encourage anyone to check out this article. One point I really appreciated:

3. We should assume that there are people in our churches right now struggling with same gender attraction. Leaders need to verbalize this (not specific names obviously) in sermon application and in pastoral prayers. We need to convey that the church is a safe place for those fighting this temptation. Second to Jesus Christ and his gospel, those struggling with same gender attraction need gospel community more than anything else.

And actually one more good measure (this one particularly convicting for me):

9. No gay jokes. None. It doesn’t help our witness and they’re not funny. Plus, the more we laugh at sin the more it gets normalized

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Applying God's Sovereignty and Means

My church recently went through 1 and 2 Samuel and I've recently been going through 1 Chronicles in my personal time with God. As the Lord has been teaching me through these portions of scripture, I've noticed something that the Spirit has recently brought conviction about.

My observation is that there are a number of stories where people act in such a way as to bring about a certain result. That result then comes, i.e. the people are successful. Then the text does something perhaps unexpected: it says that God did it. It doesn't say "so such and such happened because the people planned well, tried hard, etc." It just says "such and such happened because God did it." Let me give a few examples:

"And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” For the Lord had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the Lord might bring harm upon Absalom." - 2 Sam. 17:14

"and Jehozadak went into exile when the Lord sent Judah and Jerusalem into exile by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar." - 1 Chron. 6:15

"But he took his stand in the midst of the plot and defended it and killed the Philistines. And the Lord saved them by a great victory." - 1 Chron. 11:14

"And the fame of David went out into all lands, and the Lord brought the fear of him upon all nations." - 1 Chron. 14:17

In each of these cases, something happens that we could explain without God. We could say Absalom perferred Ahithophel's counsel because Ahithophel was a wise guy and Absalom was prideful. We could say Judah and Jerusalem went into exile because King Nebuchadnezzar was a powerful, dominating, king. We could say Israel defeated the Philistines because they had a better army. We could say the nations feared David because he was killing a bunch of their surrounding nations.

But God does not choose to reveal Himself in that way in scripture. He inspires the writers of scripture to instead ascribe these various events as being done by the Lord Himself. They don't say "God allowed such and such to happen," they say that God Himself did it. How are we to understand this? Another text from 2 Chronicles is helpful here.

"But it was ordained by God that the downfall of Ahaziah should come about through his going to visit Joram. For when he came there, he went out with Jehoram to meet Jehu the son of Nimshi, whom the Lord had anointed to destroy the house of Ahab." - 2 Chron. 22:7

Here God ordains both the downfall of Ahaziah and the means through which it happens. God uses means, but is just as sovereign and in control of those as He is the ends. As a result, in any situation we would be right to say that if it happened, God ordained it to happen.

So what does this have to do with real life? Well for me I experienced conviction in the fact that I rarely if ever speak of events in this way. I especially see this come out in the successes of others. For instance, beats me in a sport, has more people in a Bible study, raises more money than I have for their ministry, I'm quick to explain it by "well you know they play more, they're more extroverted, they know more Christians." I'm not saying those things aren't true, it just seems the scriptures might choose to emphasize it differently. I find I hesitate to do so because I don't want to believe that God's plan for my life might not include the same level of "success" as others.

But the fact that everything in my life happens according to God's will is good news, because His will is to conform me to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:28-29), and this is the best thing for me!

Friday, August 6, 2010

What is A Stumbling Block?

If you've been around Christian circles long enough you've undoubtebly heard the term "stumbling block." On the surface the meaning of this term is fairly clear: acting in such a way that you temp another person to sin. Probably the most common example is women dressing modestly in order to not be a "stumbling block" to their Christian brothers. This is certainly a legitimate application of the term and I'm personally thankful to women who observe it as such.

However, I think there is some confusion on how this principle applies in other situations, specifically as it deals with those who have differing convictions. What I mean by that is, one person thinks something is permissible for a Christian and the other doesn't. I've seen this come up in a number of scenarios: drinking, gambling, what movies one watches, what constitutes profane language, the extent of our observance of the law of the land (e.g. speed limit, downloading music), and the list continues. In Biblical times food practices and feast days fell into these categories.

As always the question that should guide our thinking and practice here is "what has God said about it in His Word"? Probably the clearest passage answering the present question is Romans 14. I'd encourage you to read the whole thing or at least have it in front of you as you read my comments on it.

First let's identify the stronger and weaker brothers. Notice the passage is talking about brothers, so we are here discussing relationships between Christians. In verse 2 we see that the weaker brother is the one with stronger, or more strict, convictions (in the case of Romans 14, the one who abstains from meat). This brother could be called weaker either because he has not fully embraced his freedom in the gospel to eat whatever he wants or because actions might cause him to stumble that don't cause others to stumble. So if someone is choosing to abstain from something we are not required to abstain from in scripture, they are the weaker brother.

What then should be our attitude towards one another? To put the matter simply, the one who feels freedom to engage in something that the other is abstaining in should not despise the one who abstains, and the one who abstains should not judge the one who doesn't (v. 3). This is because we've both been accepted by God and He is our judge (v. 4). We should each do what we do because we are convinced in our minds it is right, and we should do it as unto the Lord (v. 5-6). We shouldn't abstain or not abstain to please others, but because we feel it is what God has called us to do.

If that describes our attitude, what should our actions look like towards one another? In this section of the passage (v. 13ff), Paul addresses mainly the "stronger" brother. He is the one Paul associates himself with (since Paul feels the freedom to eat any food), and he is the one at risk of being a stumbling block. Paul basically says they should not partake of the thing the weaker brother is abstaining from if they are in close contact with the weaker brother (v. 15-16, 19-20).
The reasons given are:
  • so that our conduct will not be spoken of as evil (v. 16)
  • the kingdom of God isn't in it (i.e. loving people is a bigger deal than abstaining from these things) (v. 17)
  • it is the peaceful and mutually upbuilding option (v. 19)
  • if we cause a brother to be tempted towards doing the thing he feels God has called him not do, we are tempting him to act out of step with faith, and anything that does not proceed from faith is sin (v. 23, in other words to do the thing he is abstaining from is "unclean for him" (v. 14))

To my mind this text gives us very clear guidelines in how to approach these issues: For those with the more strict convictions (the abstainers), don't judge those who don't abstain. For those with the looser convictions, don't despise those who do abstain. Futher, don't carry out the action the other abstains from in such a way that they might be tempted to go against their convictions.

A quick example of what I mean: I drink. I believe drunkenness is a sin (cf. Eph. 5:18), but I think God gave alcohol for a good purpose (cf. Psalm 104:15) and when used in moderation it is ok. Hardcore Southern Baptists disagree with me. When I am around them or influencing them in some way scripture commands me to abstain from alcohol so as not to be a stumbling block to them.

A note in closing: I want to be very clear that I don't think everyone in the Christian community agrees with what I've just summarized. I hear much more of something to this effect: "If you abstain from the thing the other person is abstaining from, what you're saying is that we don't have freedom in the gospel. This either supports legalism or at least looks legalistic to non-believers. It is therefore a barrier to the gospel." Given the clarity of Paul's thought in Romans 14, the case is just the opposite. Paul sees NOT abstaining when around an abstainer as the real barrier to the gospel, and Paul is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Quick Reflection on God's Sovereignty

I was hiking/camping the other day and also attended a church where one of the people speaking shared about his love for the outdoors. I can relate to that. I love being outside and seeing God's creation. I feel like many Christians share this passion. It makes sense, especially when you consider the various places in scripture where God is praised for his creation (e.g. Ps 8, 19, 104). There is even some sense in which creation reveals who God is (Rom. 1:19-20).

In many cases this love for the outdoors and seeing God's glory in creation is viewed over against something like a city. There we see buildings, cars, computers etc. but not the beauty of a mountain. As I was thinking about this I started to wonder why we make this distinction.

It's probably because we see the earth (the "natural" parts of it) as created by God and buildings as created by man. However I don't know how significant this distinction is. Everything that exists exists because God willed it to exist. God then brings about His desired ends through the use of means. In creating what we see today and call beautiful (for instance, a mountain) it seems God used the means of erosion, weather, soil science, etc. This is what makes science intelligible.

Now what about a skyscraper in New York? Well, God must have willed its existence or else it wouldn't be there. This time the means he used were people. The difference here is that people are ethical agents, and sometimes their motives for building can be wrong, whereas erosion doesn't have a motive. So there are buildings that God doesn't like (e.g. tower of Bable, cf. Gen. 11), but on the other hand I think we should see beautiful buildings as a product of God's will and should still be able to look at it and see that it too sings of God's glory (Ps. 19:1-2). I think a skyscraper shows God's creativity and power as well as a mountain, for if God were not creative where would man (created in God's image) have gotten the capacity to make such a thing?

A few questions still remain in my mind. 1. Did God really use means when he created the world? In Genesis 1 it seems He just spoke and things were. It seems creation was miraculous in that sense, whereas buildings are not. But if God did not use means then seeing mountains as a result of erosion etc. doesn't make sense, yet that's what science tells us. I may be wading into deeper water here (e.g. evolution, age of the earth, etc.)

I'd love any comments on this one.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Three Song Recommendations

It was cool for me in college that I had the chance to be lead in worship well by both The Navigators worship band and at my church, Grace Fellowship. I've tried to introduce my church to two Navigators favorites (contemporary renditions of Rock of Ages and Holy Hands). I wanted to take this opportunity to recommend three songs to my readers that I was exposed to through Grace Fellowship Chuch:

1. Psalm 130 (From the Depths of Woe) - Christopher Miner. This is a contemporary version of a hymn written by Martin Luther based heavily on Psalm 130. It's similar to Holy Hands in that there aren't really any good recorded versions available unless you buy the CD it's on. There is however this one youtube video with the best version of it I've found available online. Also leadsheets and lyrics here.

2. Jesus, Thank You - Sovereign Grace Music. Available on iTunes etc. Also on youtube.

3. I Will Glory in My Redeemer - Sovereign Grace Music. Also available on iTunes etc. The version I listen to most is from Bob Kauflin's CD Upward. There is also a version on youtube.

These songs are theologically rich and musically moving. To give you just a little taste I've included the lyrics to Psalm 130 (From the Depths of Woe) below:

1. From the depths of woe I raise to Thee
The voice of lamentation;
Lord, turn a gracious ear to me
And hear my supplication;
If Thou iniquities dost mark,
Our secret sins and misdeeds dark,

O who shall stand before Thee?
(Who shall stand before Thee?)
O who shall stand before Thee?
(Who shall stand before Thee?)

2. To wash away the crimson stain,
Grace, grace alone availeth;
Our works, alas! Are all in vain;
In much the best life faileth;
No man can glory in Thy sight,
All must alike confess Thy might,

And live alone by mercy
(Live alone by mercy)
And live alone by mercy
(Live alone by mercy)

3. Therefore my trust is in the Lord,
And not in mine own merit;
On Him my soul shall rest, His word
Upholds my fainting spirit;
His promised mercy is my fort,
My comfort and my sweet support;

I wait for it with patience
(Wait for it with patience)
I wait for it with patience
(Wait for it with patience)

4. What though I wait the live-long night,
And ’til the dawn appeareth,
My heart still trusteth in His might;
It doubteth not nor feareth;
Do thus, O ye of Israel’s seed,
Ye of the Spirit born indeed;

And wait ’til God appeareth
(Wait ’til God appeareth)
And wait ’til God appeareth
(Wait ’til God appeareth)

5. Though great our sins and sore our woes
His grace much more aboundeth;
His helping love no limit knows,
Our upmost need it soundeth.
Our Shepherd good and true is He,
Who will at last His Israel free

From all their sin and sorrow
(All their sin and sorrow)
From all their sin and sorrow
(All their sin and sorrow)

©1997 Christopher Miner Music.

Monday, July 19, 2010

One of the Best Chapters I've Ever Read

If you pay attention to my sidebar on "books I'm currently reading" you know I'm currently reading a book by Greg Bahnsen entitled Presuppositional Apologetics: State and Defended. Today I finished what I consider one of the best chapters I've ever read in a book. It's the third chapter of the book and is entitled "Neutrality and Autonomy Relinquished."

I would not do justice to this chapter to try to summarize it here. Suffice it to say that for anyone desiring to think seriously about apologetics and philosophy from a Christian perspective this chapter is a must read. In it Bahnsen masterfully calls all of us to submit to Christ's Lordship over all areas of life, even our apologetic and intellectual endeavors. He do so with stunning clarity and persuasion. While the rest of the book has also been great, this chapter alone is worth the price of the book.

A sample from Bahnsen's own words as he summarizes much of the chapter:

"The foregoing articles have been given to demonstrating this presuppositional position from epistemological considerations. We have noted the unavoidable interdependence of metaphysics and epistemology (or method), the fact that all argumentation appeals to an ultimate (and unproved) authority, and the impossibility of neutrality. We have discussed the possibility of a man being ignorant of items of which he really has knowledge (but will not acknowledge). We have contrasted the necessity of revelational epistemology with the hopelessness of autonomous epistemology. It has been observed that the unbeliever's intellectual schizophrenia makes a presuppositional approach to him legitimate, just as the possibility of a meaningful argument makes a presuppositional approach necessary. Moreover, an analysis of language usage and informal logic shows presuppositional apologetics to be the only workable and promising approach to the non-Christian." - Greg Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended, pg. 124-125

P.S. This made me think of other chapters I really like from other books. I'd like to post on these eventually as the come to mind.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Doubts About Whether what God's Word Says is True

In my previous post on thinking about doubt I introduced three types of doubt. This is the second of those. In the first type of doubt, our main goal is to find out what God's Word says on a given subject. Until we find out, it is legitimate if not necessary to doubt the truth of something. However, once we find out what God's Word says on a given subject, sometimes we still doubt.

This type of doubt is sinful. The fall of man began with this sin when Eve doubted God's Word in the garden (Gen. 3:1-6). What we are essentially saying at this point is: "I know God says this is true, but I doubt it is true." To do so is to doubt God's knowledge or God's truthfulness. We're saying either God doesn't know correctly or that He is deceiving us in His Word. It is an attack on the very nature and character of God, and as such it is sin.

If that is the case, then why do we do it? I think there are two main reasons I observe in myself and others: either we don't understand it, or we don't like it. Take God's sovereignty over salvation (a.k.a. predestination, unconditional election) for instance, the example I used in the first post. Let's say you've heard about it and doubted it at first (which is fine), but after examining the scriptures you've concluded the Bible teaches the doctrine of predestination.

Now you still have to decide whether you yourself will believe it or not. At this point originally I responded by saying "well I don't see how this doctrine coud be true, and evangelism still matter, man still be free, God still be good, etc. Therefore I won't accept it." That is a sinful response. It is saying "I don't understand, therefore I don't believe." It is trusting in myself and leaning on my own understanding as the ultimate standard of truth rather than God and His Word (cf. Proverbs 3:5-6). What's particularly sad about this kind of doubt is that in many Christian circles it is condoned and encouraged. "Good, doubt it, God can handle your doubts, He's a big boy." "Question everything." Certainly it's true that God is not shaken by your doubts, but it is also true that your doubt in this area is sinful and needs to be repented of. God's Word is never to be doubted or called into question.

The second reason I mentioned was we simply don't like what God's Word says. Most people won't come out and say "I choose not to believe this because I don't like it," but I would argue many of us operate in this realm. When studying the charismatic gifts of the Spirit I would often doubt their validity simply because I thought speaking in tongues was weird, not because God said it had ceased. This doubt is obviously sinful and needs to be likewise repented of.

Now, let me make myself clear: I am not saying we should not talk about such doubts. I am not saying we need to pretend we believe perfectly when in fact we don't. This is just compounding sin. First we sin by doubting the truthfulness of God's Word, then we sin by hiding and lying about it. We should seek to create a gracious community where we can confess this sin to one another (Jas. 5:16), but still call it sin and encourage one another in repentance, not acceptance or encouragement of this sin (cf. Rom. 1:32).

God's Word is perfect because Godknows all and never lies (Num. 23:19, Titus 1:2). Once we know what it says, our only legitimate response is faithful acceptance of its content. But the reality is we may still not understand it or like it. While these are not valid reasons to reject it, they still need to be discussed. I hope to do so in a future post.

Friday, July 16, 2010

More Good Stuff on Doctrine

Just this week upon the heels of my last post on how we should handle doctrine John Piper gave some quick advice to the "new reformed" movement.

His advice boils down to the same thing Keller and Lloyd-Jones were saying in my previous post. As we grow to love theology and right thinking about God, we are in danger of loving thinking about God more than we love God. On the other hand, the pendulum too often swings the other way to the point where we disregard doctrine. In this case we end up worshipping a God of our imagine, rather than the true God as He has revealed Himself in scripture.

I'd encourage you to watch Piper's video and continue to grow with me in knowing God, not just knowing about God.

HT: Justin Taylor

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How Should We Think of Doubt?

Doubt is a real experience in the life of any honest Christian. However, I think it can be hard to know how we should think about our doubt. Is it good or bad? Necessary or sinful? What do we do about it? Should we embrace it or repent of it? Should we talk to God/others about it or hide it? Should we question God or just submit? Doubt has played a major part in my Christian life, so I'd like to add some clarity to this topic from the Scriptures and my experience.

I think we can group doubt for the Christian into three broad categories: 1.) doubts about what God's Word says, 2.) doubts about whether what God's Word says is true, and 3.) doubts about how what God's Word says can be true.

1. Doubts about what God's Word says - This is an ok kind of doubt. Someone like me comes to you and says "God is in control of everything, even individual salvation." You say: "I'm not sure about that" That's ok. You shouldn't just take my word or anyone else's on things. An example of this is the Bereans. The Bible says this of them:

"Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so" - Acts 17:11

They are called noble because they received the word with eagerness and examined the scriptures daily to evalute whether what they were hearing is true. Notice here what they do with their uncertainties: they test them against the inerrant words of scripture. This is what we need to do with any truth claim. We examine the scriptures to see if its true. Until we have decided what God's Word says about the truth claim, we can say we "doubt" its truth, and in fact we should. But once we see what God's Word says about the claim, either affirming or falsifying it, that should settle the matter. That brings us to a second type of doubt, which I'll take up in Part 2.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Keller (and Lloyd-Jones) on Doctrine

Tim Keller recently blogged about the place of doctrine in the Christian life by quoting Martin Lloyd-Jones. I would recommend just reading that post, but I'll offer some of my own comments on it here. He started by responding to churches who tend to de-emphasize doctrine. This can come out in alot of ways: "deeds not creeds" is probably the most popular tagline of today. As I've been involved with campus ministry I see it come out in Bible study when the application of the text for some is always something to the effect of: "I feel like the church today is so judgmental and divisive. Why do we debate stupid meaningless stuff like predestination? We just keep majoring in the minors and minoring in the majors. We just need to get along and get back to what Jesus was really all about." I'll simply add Lloyd-Jones' rebuke:

"Whether you like it or not, to speak like that is, in and of itself, to speak in a doctrinal manner. To make statements along that line is, in actual practice, to commit yourself to a particular doctrine… the doctrine of works and, in a sense, of justification by works. ‘Ah,’ but they reply, ‘we are not interested in such a term as ‘justification by works.’ But whether they are interested in such terminology of not, that is exactly what they are saying… In other words, whether we like it or not, we cannot avoid doctrine. … There is no such thing as an irreligious person; everyone has his or her religion, if you mean by religion that ultimate philosophy or view of life by which people live."

There is no avoiding doctrine. To say that it doesn't matter is a doctrinal statement, and the doctrine it teaches is that all God is concerned about is whether we are rightly motivated to seek Him or something like that, which is works righteousness. As Christians we should oppose such a sentiment. However, Keller makes sure to point out Lloyd-Jones' teaching on how we can handle doctrine wrongly in the other extreme:

"[Lloyd-Jones] speaks of some Christians and says, 'There is nothing they delight in more than arguing about theology' and they do this in 'a party spirit.' One of the signs of this group is that they are either dry and theoretical in their preaching, or they can be caustic and angry. They have 'lost their tempers, forgetting that by so doing they were denying the very doctrine which they claimed to believe.' In short, ministers who go to this extreme destroy the effectiveness of their preaching. What is the cause of this? Lloyd-Jones answers that they have made accurate doctrine an end in itself, instead of a means to honor God and grow in Christ-likeness. 'Doctrine must never be considered in and of itself. Scripture must never be divorced from life.'"

Man, that cuts right to my heart. I must confess that "I am the man" (2 Sam. 12:7) whom Lloyd-Jones is rebuking here. Often arguing theology and proving someone else wrong is where I can get my jollies. I often find myself angry and judgmental of those who don't accept things like the inerrancy of scripture, substitutionary atonement, and calvinism. In doing so I am making doctrine an end rather than God's glory. To add to Lloyd-Jones, I think I also do this so I can feel better about myself as I put others down. It is my own works righteousness: I feel right before God because my doctrine is right, and I get assurance of this salvation every time I put someone else down. To do so is to nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained by right doctrine, Christ died for nothing (Gal. 2:21).

I need to hear this as I start a series on dispensationalism, a system of doctrine I disagree with. I also know I'm not alone. Would you join me in repentance so that we don't disregard doctrine, but hold it in its proper place, as means to God's glory and Christ's likeness in our own lives?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Tribute to the Albert Mohler Show

Aaron tells me my blog posts are generally too long for most people to actually read. I tend to agree with him. The length of the posts also prevents me from doing them as often because they're such a time commitment. So rather than always writing an article with a more obvious analytical theological bent, I'd like to start including a few short blurbs as well.

One blurb for today is on the Albert Mohler Show. The Albert Mohler Show is a radio program that's been on air for the last 9 years, until this past week when it aired its final episode. Dr. Mohler, the host of the show, is President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I started listening to the show a couple years ago online and since getting my iPod touch and finding podcasts I've been a subscriber on there as well.

The tagline of the show is "intelligent Christian conversation" and I can say that I have certainly had the privilege of listening in on much of that as I've listened to Dr. Mohler's show. I consider Dr. Mohler one of the leading theologians of our time, especially when it comes to developing a Biblical worldview. His analysis of current events and cultural commentary from a Biblical perspective have been instructive and edifying for me and many others. It is a true encouragement and challenge to me to see such an intelligent, public figure taking a stand for the gospel.

So here's to you Dr. Mohler! Thank you for your service to the body of Christ; I look forward to continuing to benefit from your teaching ministry through other mediums.

P.S.: you can listen to the final episode by clicking here. I'd also recommend Dr. Mohler's website

Thursday, July 1, 2010

What is Dispensationalism? (Introduction)

Lately for whatever reason I feel like I've had alot of conversations with people where the theological system known as Dispensationalism comes up. Dispensationalism is a system of doctrine. There are alot of facets to this system, so I must admit I lack the time/energy/blogspace and the expertise to fully address it. I'm not that well read on it, but I've interacted with it enough that I feel I can at least make some introductory remarks on it to help others recognize it. I think this is somewhat significant because it is the majority view in the evangelical world, and because I find it largely unbiblical.

Now I don't think it's unbiblical like liberal theology or the prosperity gospel. Dispensationalists are Christian brothers and sisters. They hold to the inerrancy of scripture and the basics of the gospel. The early founders believed in the sovereignty of God (e.g. John Nelson Darby), though I don't think that's as widespread now. In this series of posts I will try to answer the question of "What is Dispensationalism?" by discussing what I consider its most distinctive features, why I disagree with them, and what I see as the practical impact. In this post I'll simply give a brief historical introduction, but in future posts we'll look at the Dispensational view of:
  1. The Church and Israel
  2. Grace and law
  3. The Bible
  4. Salvation/sanctification
  5. The end times

The historical roots of dispensationalism as a system can probably be most reasonably traced back to the early 1800's in the Plymouth Brethren movement and the aforementioned J.N. Darby. In the United States the movement gained steam with adherents such as D.L. Moody and C.I. Scofield. With the publishing of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909, Dispensationalism found a wide audience in America.

Dispensationalism has institutional support at a number of major Bible colleges and seminaries, most notably Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS), which is really the epicenter of Dispensational teaching in America (so if you're one of the many people who's told me to go there, this is one of the main reasons I won't). Other institutions include Biola University, Moody Bible Institute, Philadelphia Biblical University, Baptist Bible Seminary, Liberty University, and Word of Life Bible Institute. Influential dispensational Bible teachers other than those already mentioned include Lewis Sperry Chafer, John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie, Chuck Swindoll, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Tim LaHaye, Darrel Bock, Daniel Wallace, and Norm Geisler. While denominational influence is harder to track it tends to have influence in some Baptist, E-Free, churches that end with "Bible church," and many pentecostal/charismatic circles (though hardcore dispensationalists tend to be cessationists as well).

So dispensationalism is alive and well in American Evangelicalism today. Though its proponents vary in a number of places, especially recently with the advent of Progressive Dispensationalism (e.g. Bock, Wallace, much of DTS today), there are a number of unifying features. I won't be dealing with all the variations, but I hope we can get a look at the things that tie them together in this series of blog posts.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

An Eisegetical Interpretation of the Lost Series Finale

Eisegesis (the process of interpretation whereby we simply read our ideas into a text rather than actually seeking to interpret the author's intended meaning) is generally bad. It's especially bad when it happens with the Bible, because at that point we are wrongly interpreting God's words to suit our own agendas. In my previous post I tried to engage in exegesis (correct interpretation) of the writers' intent in the season finale of LOST. I basically concluded the writers represented a pluralistic supernaturalism in the finale, obviously antithetical to biblical Christianity. I'll now engage in some eisegesis to argue that you could interpret the finale as supportive of a Reformed Christian worldview.


In the LOST finale the hero of the show, Jack, embraces his ordained role in life and willingly offers his life as a sacrifice to save others. After he willingly offers his life, the next scene in the show switches to the flash-sideways timeline and displays a statue of Christ with His arms spread out, signifying His crucifixion. The message is clear: Jack sacrificed himself to save his friends and defeat evil, embodied in Easu/MiB/Fake Locke. Sound familiar? Similarly, Jesus laid down His life for His friends (Jn. 15:13) and in doing so defeated evil, embodied in satan (Col. 2:14-15). Not only that, but in some sense Jack was resurrected, as was Christ (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

This gospel parallel takes on a distinctly reformed flavor when you consider that Jack really does only seem to be laying his life down for his friends. In the final church scene the whole world is not represented there entering paradise, only a chosen few. Esau/MiB/Fake Locke is not there, in fact there are a number of other characters from the seasons of the show that weren't there. Despite the stained glass, the redemption Jack accomplishes does not seem to be universal. Doesn't this suggest Jack's work is less valuable, as Arminians often charge? Well, is that how you felt in watching the final church scene? Absolutely not. And why not? Why weren't we so angry that Fake Locke wasn't there? Because we know Fake Locke got what he deserved. We were amazed at the redemption for those who were there, and understood the need for justice to be carried out on Fake Locke. And it's not like the people in the church were more worthy of redemption; plenty of them had been Jack's enemies and the island's as well (think Sawyer). They didn't choose to come to the island, the island chose them. Because the island chose them and the island's purpose for Jack was to redeem those the island had chosen, they end up in paradise.

In the same way, Jesus laid down His life for the sheep (Jn. 10:11), not the goats. When we understand that all of us deserve divine wrath because of our sin (Eph. 2:1-3), we see that there is no injustice in Jesus not dying for everyone. We rather are amazed that He laid down His life for anyone. And who are those He died to save? Those that deserve it? None deserve it, rather, it is those His father had chosen, who it was His purpose in His life on earth to redeem (Jn. 6:35-45). He will raise them up on the last day.

Obviously I'm not naieve enough to think the writers intended to communicate this message. However in writing the story in this way I do think they acknowledge (sub-consciously or consciously) certain truths of reformed theology:

1. In order to be saved we need someone to die for us. We can't do it, we need someone else. The LOST characters couldn't save themselves, they needed Jack to do it for them.
2. It is not unjust of God to choose some and not others since none deserve to be chosen in the first place.
3. Jesus' sacrifice is not devalued because He only intended it to redeem some.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Finally Back

Hey everyone, sorry for the big delay between blog posts. I'm adjusting to a new schedule and still figuring out where blogging will fit into it. I still want to do it though, so keep your eyes peeled.

Contrary to some resistance, I am going to return with a post on the LOST series finale. Let me start by saying I was very satisfied with the finale. They didn't answer all the questions, but they did wrap up the storyline in a satisfying way. The show was about the characters, not the island, and each character's story concluded in a reasonable fashion. I loved watching the show for the years I was able to, and I'll miss it for sure. That said, I do want to level a fairly significant criticism.


One of the great things about LOST has always been that the show is not only entertaining and addictive, but intellecutally stimulating. The writers have always been interacting with real philisophical questions (the nature of man as good or evil, free-will vs. determinism, naturalism vs. supernaturalism etc.). However they would often not show their cards as to where they stood on these issues. For instance, sometimes the island seemed to support naturalism, i.e. all the crazy stuff that happens there is really just the result of a concentrated pocket of electromagnetic energy. On the other hand, sometimes the island seemed to support supernaturalism, i.e. the island can "will" certain things or favor one person over another. The characters of Jack (man of science) and Locke (man of faith) epitomize this conflict.

While I think it's still hard for me at least to pin the writers down to one philosophy, I think the finale does reveal alot about where they stand on these questions. The trajectory of Jack's character is from the man of science to the man of faith. By the end of the show he sees himself as having some supernatural purpose in life and when he fulfills it he saves everyone. Then there's the fact that the flash-sideways turns out to be some kind of middle-ground until the characters walk into the light of paradise/nirvana/heaven. I think it is safe to conclude that the writers are communicating a supernatural worldview.

That said, they are certainly not trying to communicate a Christian supernatural worldview. They seem to be much more like universalists. Throughout the show they always borrowed from Christian traditions, but alongside Egyptian mythology, eastern religions, and so on. In the end I think they meet in a Unitarian Universalist church, where the symbols of all the major world religions are displayed in stain glass ala the popular "coexist" bumper stickers. All the characters had their own unique lives and "paths," but all ended up moving onto paradise in due time. I think this is why the writers don't take a hard line on alot of the other philisophical questions they bring up throughout the show. They present each of the characters on a journey to discover their purpose, and on the island we see various religious traditions' attempt to navigate this journey. The big philisophical questions come up, but in the end everyone goes to whatever paradise is.

I obviously did not like this aspect of the show, and in fact found it rather dissatsifying. The value of art is not only measured in its form but in what it communicates. A good painting is good not only because the artist moves the brush in a controlled fashion, but because he or she communicates something good through the painting. I'm afraid what the LOST writers communicated through the show represents a false optimism. The god of LOST (whatever it is, again the writers don't commit themselves one way or another, probably because they see all religions as various attempts to explain the same reality) seems nice because everyone goes to paradise, but the god of LOST is not good. The god of LOST seems to have no regard for the presence of sin. Maybe people are good, maybe people are evil, maybe all the characters have done wrong, but who cares? One must be left wondering just how good a paradise ruled by a god who has no concern for righteousness would really be. I for one am holding out for a better inheritance.

So I think that's what the LOST writers were communicating. It's their show, they're certainly free to communicate what they want. I really enjoyed the show, but suffice it to say the gospel is far better. While I think the LOST writers represent the pluralistic supernaturalism common throughout the world today, I think in the hero of the show, Jack, we do see something of Christ. I'll share more of my thoughts on that in a later post.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Blind Side

I finally saw The Blind Side! I had heard so much about this movie from many others but hadn't gotten around to seeing it until a few nights ago. For those of you who haven't seen it (I can't imagine there are many left), the movie is about a boy, Michael, who grows up with absent parents in a rough neighborhood in Memphis, TN. Eventually he is accepted to a private Christian school partially because he is massive and athletic, thus making him a likely star on the football team. While attending school there he is taken in and adopted by a wealthy Christian family, the Tuohys. The mother of the family, Leigh Anne, played by Sandra Bullock, takes the lead role at least in the movie in caring for Michael. She gives him a place to sleep, food to eat, and clothes to wear. Largely because of this family's influence, Michael is able to graduate high school and earn a D-1 football athletic scholarship. He now plays in the NFL for the Baltimore Ravens.

The Touhys and particularly Leigh Anne in this movie are followers of Christ and do an amazing job of demonstrating the love of Christ to Michael. The giving of shelter, food, and clothing certainly reminds me of Matt. 25, particularly verses 34-35: "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me." This is to be characteristic of Christian love. But one thing kept nagging me as I was watching the movie.

The Touhys are rich. It was no problem for Leigh Anne to buy all this extra stuff for Michael because the family had so much disposable income. Surely if these acts weren't there the picture of God's love would not have been as magnificent, so it made me wonder if their riches cheapen the expression of love we see in the movie.

I don't think they do. Any love we show is ultimately virtuous insofar as it is an expression of God's love. The reality is that God is really really rich. He's not rich in the sense that He has alot of money, but He is rich in His glory. God is able to love us because He is so rich. It is because God is so rich in mercy that He can save people who are by nature children of wrath:

"among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—" - Eph. 2:3-5 (emphasis mine)

Because God is rich in mercy, He has spent lavishly on us to save us. In fact when Christ comes to save us He humbles Himself to take on the form of a servant and die (Phil. 2:7-8). In this way, although Christ was rich with glory in heaven, He made himself poor for us:

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich." - 2 Cor. 8:9

The Touhys thus demonstrate God's love to Michael by using their riches to spend lavishly on him. It is an awesome picture of God's love that really touched me through watching the movie. But the Touhys don't spend to the point of becoming poor. They don't die in Michael's place. Their love is a mere sign; it points us to a far greater love. God not only spends His riches on us: He becomes poor for us! He spends the largest price possible to win us: the death of His only Son! And what is the end goal? That we by His poverty might become rich, rich in the joy that comes from knowing God (Ps. 16:11, Phil. 3:7-9).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Freshmen

I've recently been enjoying rediscovering an old hit by The Verve Pipe called The Freshmen. I remember liking the song when I was younger but I don't think I ever really caught the lyrics. As I've been listening to it more this time around I think it really presents a vivid picture of the experience of guilt.

According to the band website FAQ and an interview with lead singer Brian Vander Ark this song is about the guilt Vander Ark experienced when his ex-girlfriend had an abortion. Though the song also tells the story of a suicide, Vander Ark suggested this was poetic license. The first verse goes:

"When I was young I knew everything
She a punk who rarely ever took advice
Now I'm guilt stricken,
Sobbing with my head on the floor
Stop a baby's breath and a shoe full of rice"

The last line is a reference to the abortion and potential marriage that never happened. Right from the beginning of the song we see the theme develop: at a younger age he thought he knew what he was doing, and now he's stuck with the guilt of his/his ex's actions. In some sense the whole human race is like this. When the human race was young in the form of Adam, we thought we knew everything and chose to disobey God (cf. Gen. 3, Rom. 5:12-19). Now each of us is born guilty as a result. Not only that, but we experience this guilt in our lives as well.

The Bible testifies that we are all born children of wrath (Eph. 2:3), foolish (Pr. 22:15, 29:15), and in sin (Ps. 51:5). Our hearts are deceitful (Jer. 17:9). There is a way that seems right to us, but in the end it leads to death (Pr. 14:12). Therefore Paul instructs us to flee youthful passions (2 Tim. 2:22). As far as I can tell from what I've read of Vander Ark, he is not a Christian. Yet it seems he has described in this song exactly what the Bible teaches is true of man: in our pride we think we can determine what's best apart from God, but it only leads to death. Vander Ark further shares in the chorus:

"for the life of me, I could not believe we'd ever die for these sins, we were merely freshmen."

When making the choices he made, he could not believe his actions would have real consquences. He could not imagine the way he was choosing could lead to death. He was a foolish kid. Now he finds himself guilt-stricken and sobbing with his head on the floor. I've experienced this so many times in my life. Throughout my life there have been a number of instances where I sinned in ways that had significant consequences. When deciding to engage in these actions I never felt like they would be that big of a deal, but afterwards I often felt this same guilt that Vander Ark discusses. I don't think Vander Ark and I are alone either. Especially poignant in the Bible is the example of David:

"Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your a steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!" - Psalm 25:7

What David expresses here is essentially the need of my heart and of Vander Ark's, even if Vander Ark doesn't express it in a prayer to God. We now feel the guilt of our sins and we want to be free from it! So how do we deal with it? Vander Ark in the bridge:

"I can't be held responsible
She was touching her face
I won't be held responsible
She fell in love in the first place"

We try to convince ourselves its not our fault. We try to find some way to rationalize what happened. We try to keep telling ourselves we won't be held responsible. We try to blame shift (Gen. 3:12). But that doesn't really work does it? I can almost sense as I listen to this song that Vander Ark is yelling this at himself because even he knows it's not the case. It's as if he wishes it were true but he knows it is not. Our sin is our fault. Another way we try to deal with it, verse 3 from Vander Ark:

"We've tried to wash our hands of all this
We never talk of our lacking relationships
And how we're guilt stricken sobbing with our
Heads on the floor"

We try to wash our hands of it, we try not to talk about it. We simply try to avoid and hide the guilt and shame we feel. And yet the result is the same: we're guilt stricken and sobbing with our heads on the floor. We waste away hiding our sin (Ps. 32:3-4). This is basically how the song ends. It presents a vivid depiction of the feeling of guilt and the unsatisfying ways in which we try to deal with it. The picture of guilt it presents and our attitudes in it have significant overlap with what the Bible says is true about man and what we experience. Then the song ends. But the story of the Bible does not end there. What hope do we have? What is the answer to the heart need for forgiveness and freedom from guilt expressed by Brian, David, and myself?

"how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God." - Heb. 9:14 (emphasis mine)

The only hope we have is for someone else to bare that guilt and condemnation in our place. How amazing is the love of God, that when He heard the guilty cry of humanity He did not sit back in heaven waiting for us to fix it, but instead took the iniatitive to enter into our mess and bare the guilt of it Himself by dying on the cross and being numbered among the transgressors. Trying to convince ourselves we won't be held responsible or simply avoiding the issue won't purify our consciences: only the blood of Christ can do that. If we've placed our faith in Christ and His sacrifie we no longer need to avoid our sin but can freely confess it in full confidence of God's forgiveness (Ps. 32:5).

I love this song. It is so true to our shared experience as sinful humans. I love Vander Ark's honesty and vulnerability to pour out his heart in this song. But the gospel of Jesus Christ is SO MUCH BETTER!!! Would you join me in praying that Brian and others whose hearts feels the same things his does in this song would take refuge in Christ and have their consciences truly purified?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Seeing Christ in Amos

For those of you who actually read my sidebar on this blog, you may know that I've been reading through Amos in my personal time with the Lord. When you saw that you may have thought, "why read Amos? Isn't that just another one of those weird judgment prophets? The New Testament is way better."

I must admit this has been my perspective on much of the Old Testament throughout my Christian life. However, as I studied more of the New Testament, I came to see that really the Old Testament is about Christ. While this idea is littered throughout the NT in the way the authors approach OT texts, two poignant examples came to me in John and Luke's gospels.

When Jesus condemns the pharisees in John he says this: "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.." - Jn. 5:39-40 (emphasis mine) Jesus' charge against the pharisees is that although they read the Bible, they don't see Him in it. Jesus affirms that the OT scriptures bear witness about him, so to read them and not come to Christ is inconsistent. Further, in Luke's gospel: "Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures," - Lk. 24:44-45. Jesus says everything written of Him must be fulfilled, and he opens his disciples' minds to understand and see that the scriptures all speak of Him (cf. Lk. 24:27).

As we read the OT then, I think we can be excited to find that they bear witness about Christ. We can also pray that Jesus would open our minds to see Him in the scriptures. I've been praying this as I've been reading through Amos and I believe God answered that prayer in helping me to see Christ in chapter 8. In Amos God has been prophesying judgment against Israel largely for their oppression of the poor, idolatry, and pride. This theme continues in chapter 8 as God describes what punishment will look like for these sins:

  • God will never forget their sins (v. 7)
  • The sun will go black and the earth will darken at noon (v. 9)
  • The mourning on that day will be like one mourning the loss of an only son (v. 10)
  • God will not speak to them (v. 11)
  • They will faint for thirst (v. 13)
Now right off the bat in verse 7 we have a big problem. If God will not forget our sins, what hope do we have? We've all engaged in sins no worse than Israel's (Jas. 2:10), so what hope is there for us? Well, God does actually also tell us of a day where He will remember our transgressions no longer: "And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” - Jer. 31:34 (emphasis mine)

So how is this possible? How is it that God can say He will never forget our sins and then choose to forget our sins? Our only hope is for someone else to actually bare this judgment described in Amos 8. The judgment must occur because of our sin, but if we bare it the Lord will never forget our sins. Who will then bare this judgment in our place? In Hebrews 8 we learn that Christ is the mediator of this new covenant where our sins are forgotten. Christ took the curse of Amos 8 so God could remember our sins no more. I was amazed when I considered the ways in which Christ fulfilled each of these judgments:

  • God will never forget their sins (v. 7) - On the cross Jesus is punished for our sins (Gal 3:13). God essentially "remembers" our sin when He punishes Christ for them, so that He can forget our sins when looking at us (Jer. 31:34)
  • The sun will go black and the earth will darken at non (v. 9) - When Christ is on the cross the sky turns black at noon, signifying God's judgment (Matt. 27:45). Though this darkness of judgment was what we deserved, Jesus takes it on the cross so that we can step into God's light (1 Pet. 2:9).
  • The mourning on that day will be like one mourning the loss of an only son (v. 10) - When Jesus died, God's only true son (Jn. 5:19) died. Though mourning as though one had lost their only son was a punishment we deserved, here we see God taking that punishment on Himself and mourning as His only son dies so that we will be free from mourning (Rev. 21:4).
  • God will not speak to them (v. 11) - When Christ is on the cross, God does not speak to Him. Jesus is forsaken (Matt 27:46). Though the famine from God's words was a punishment we deserved, Jesus takes that punishment on Himself so that now we can hear from God (Jn. 10:27)
  • They will faint for thirst (v. 13) - When on the cross, Jesus thirsts (Jn. 19:28). Though even physical ailment was the punishment we deserved, Jesus suffers that as well in our place so that one day we could be free from such physical pain (1 Cor. 15:50-53).
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Barbarian Way: A Review (Part 3)

It feels like a while since I last blogged what with finals and everything. Nonetheless, I do want to finish the last part in my series on the book The Barbarian Way. In Parts 1 and 2 I discussed what I liked and didn't like about the book. In the final estimation what I didn't like outweighed what I did like. In this post then I'd like to address those who had the opposite experience with the book. Among their number are some friends I respect, so I don't just want to write them off. Instead I'd like to offer some agreement, warning, and encouragement.

The people I talked to who liked the book emphasized that they felt challenged to move outside of their comfort zone and join Christ in His sufferings. I agree! I felt challenged in the same direction, and I thank the Lord for using the book in this way in my life and in the lives of others. I think these challenging parts are a big reason why many like the book.

That said, I want to offer a warning to those who liked the book: pursue discernment. I think it can be tempting for all of us when we like parts of a book to then swallow it whole. It can also be temping to assume the writer is saying certain things when he or she isn't. In the case of this book while I found sections challenging, I think the overall approach is flawed (I went over why in Part 2). Therefore I think swallowing the book whole could lead to a vague sense that we need to "be the barbarian" without knowing what that means, could cause us to look to our own inner barbarian rather than God's gospel and promises for transformation, could distract our attention from God's written Word to our own sense of the "voice of God," and give us a smug self-righteous attitude towards the "civilized" religions, among other things.

While not presuming to know anyone's heart, I feel I must include that I'm sure some liked the book for these reasons rather than the good reasons I mentioned previously. Some part of us likes looking to the inner barbarian rather than to what God has done in the gospel or having to place faith in His promises. Some part of us likes doing whatever our senses tell us to do and being able to look down our nose at "civilized" others. I think some who read the book probably liked it for the good reasons mentioned above, but I wouldn't want to suggest those are the only possible reasons someone might like it. Without discernment, I fear these bad reasons get missed. As with any book other than the Bible, we must be both teachable (Pr. 2:2-4) and discerning (Acts 17:11, 1 Thess. 5:19-21) as we approach it, lest we be led astray (Col. 2:4-8, Eph. 4:14-15). As we are teachable we can take in and praise God for the good and as we are discerning we can recognize and reject the bad.

The encouraging news is that God does call us to suffer, but not because it's the barbarian way. Instead he calls us to suffer because (to give only a few examples):

  • In doing so, we share in Christ's sufferings (1 Pet. 4:12-13)
  • It grows us in hope (Rom. 5:3-5)
  • It grows our character (Jas. 1:2-4)
  • We learn God's statutes (Ps. 119:71)
  • God works it for good (Rom. 8:28-29)
  • He suffered the ultimate penalty in Christ on our behalf! (Isa. 53, 1 Pet. 2:21-25)

I hope these reviews were helpful. I plan to continue doing them for other popular books I've read or for ones I'm currently working on. Let me know if there's anything that would make them better or if you have any more thoughts on The Barbarian Way.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Barbarian Way: A Review (Part 2)

I'm doing a little miniseries on Erwin McManus' book The Barbarian Way. In Part 1 I introduced my thoughts on the book and elaborated on what I liked about it. Now, onto what I found detrimental:

1. It is vague and therefore difficult to apply. So what actually is the barbarian way? I'm afraid after reading the book I still don't know. What does it mean to have a civilized faith vs. a barbarian faith? Does it simply mean that if I do office work rather than climb mountains that I'm civilized? Does it mean anything wild is good? Certainly the Bible would be against such a system (see places where self-control = good (Titus 2:12), and wild = bad (Isa. 56:11-12)), but I don't know if from the book I can conclude that McManus is. Throughout the book the continual emphasis is on the simplicity of the barbarian way. From the back cover:

"This is the barbarian way: to give your heart to the only One who can make you fully alive. To love Him with simplicity and intensity. To unleash the untamed faith within. To be consumed by the presence of a passionate and compassionate God. To go where He sends you, no matter what the cost."

Again, from page 6:

"This is the simplicity of the barbarian way. If you are a follower of Christ, then you are called to fight for the heart of your King. It is a life fueled by passion--a passion for God and a passion for people."

That all sounds nice, but what does it actually look like to live that way? How should my actions look different if I am living the Barbarian way? How do I give my heart to the One who can make me alive? How do I love Him? How do I unleash my faith? How do I know where God is sending me? How do I fight for His heart? What does a life fueled by passion look like?

McManus leaves these questions, the ones of any practical importance, largely unanswered. The closest I could come to some answers was helping people develop their creativity and innovation, raising your kids to be wild, and listening for the voice of God. The last of these is still vague and I fail to see how the first two are at all an application of scripture. What I found this to leave me with was a nagging tension: I now feel like I'm supposed to be more barbaric, but I have no idea how or what that would even look like.

2. McManus' use of terminology ("civilized," "barbarian") does not seem to correspond to Biblical categories and therefore ends up muddying the waters. I've got no problem with using terms the Bible doesn't use. We do this every time we speak in English. However, these terms are only helpful if they effectively communicate what the original authors of Scripture were trying to communicate in their terminology. McManus' favorite target of civilized religion besides the Christian church of today is the Judaism of Jesus' time. On page 111:

"[The Jews of Jesus' time] had become so good at religion that they had no need for God. They were so full of themselves that they had no room for God. When it came down to it, they loved their civilized religion far more than they longed to know the God who created them. " (emphasis mine)

McManus sees the civility as the fundamental problem of the Judaism of Jesus' time. He doesn't really define what he means by that, which goes back to the vagueness of (1). At this point we must ask if this is the Bible's objection to the Judaism of Jesus' time. The answer is most certainly no. The Bible's objection to the Judaism of Jesus' time was its legalism, not its civility. Jesus didn't condemn the pharisees for wearing normal clothes, he condemned them for their legalism and self-righteousness (e.g. Luke 18:11-14). Paul doesn't suggest that the Jews failed to be declared righteous because they were too civil, but because they sought righteousness by their works (Rom. 10:2-3).

Likewise for us, our problem is not that we are civilized and instead need to become barbaric, but that we seek righteousness by works because of our pride and instead need to look to Christ in humility for His righteousness, received by faith (see again Luke 18:11-14 and Romans 10:4). McManus' whole civilized/barbarian paradigm is thus not connected to actual Biblical categories and therefore only confuses and distracts us from the actual problem the Bible says we face.

3. He tends to go from narrative to normative. I won't spend much time on this, but suffice it to say this is just bad Bible study. Pretty much every scripture text he shares in his book to make his points is some story. The argument is basically "it happened this way to this guy, so you should live this way." Sometimes the text warrants this; we can certainly learn from the examples of others. However just because John the Baptist dressed crazy doesn't mean all true "barbarians" should too. For instance, he suggests that because God spoke directly to people in the Bible we should also expect the same level and frequency of communication (pg. 83). Although Biblical narratives are certainly authoritative over our lives, if he's going to make normative statements on how we are to live, he should provide at least some normative statements of scripture in support or be more careful to explain how he is going about making normative conclusions from narrative texts.

4. His emphasis on the voice of God undermines the authority of the written Word of God (preface: this is a bigger issue that I won't address the nuances of here. I'll try to restrict myself to the practical problems presented by McManus' presentation rather than a theology of the Word of God). The whole chapter "The Barbarian Tribe" is basically an argument that we are called to live the way God has made us and what God has called us to, and we find these things out by hearing the voice of God. He argues for this over against what he perceives as attempts at conformity and an emphasis only on what we should not do, not what we should do.

These arguments are ok to a point. Certainly we should not try to conform everyone into one personality type or only forbid people from doing certain things. But all conforming is not bad: God is working to conform us to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). This certainly includes some level of uniformity in our behavior (e.g. love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, cf. Gal. 5:22-23). Further, where are we to obtain guidance in what not to do and what to do? Where are we to obtain guidance in how to interpret our various feelings and passions? The Bible consistently points to itself in these matters (e.g. Ps. 119:105). So what does McManus view as the relationship between study of the Bible and hearing the voice of God? On page 84:

"To study the Bible is important, but it is not a primal evidence that you belong to God. Anyone can study the Bible, but only those who know Him can hear His voice and are taught by Him...Jesus expected that those who were His followers would hear His voice, know His voice, and follow only His voice, even as He calls us out by name and leads us on the barbarian way."

Let me make myself clear: I believe McManus thinks studying the Bible is important. My concern is one of emphasis. You see it in his quote there. Bible study is what gets the "yes, but..." treatment. I agree with his statement actually if we just look at it on the surface (certainly non-believers and even unteachable Christians can read the Bible), but my curiosity is why this mystical experience of hearing "the voice of God" has no "yes, but..." attached to it. Allow me: I believe God can speak to us outside the Bible, but I think between our sin and the influence of satan we often muff it up. The Bible is the only place we can go and know what we are reading is true. McManus of all people with his emphasis on the war we're in should know this. However he provides no practical advice on how to discern the voice of God. The practical outworking of his teaching is something like this: "Go ahead, study the Bible, that's nice, but really listen for God's voice, and whatever you sense He is telling you to do, do it!" There is no value placed on searching the scriptures (Acts 17:11) or testing everything and holding onto what is good (1 Thess. 5:21). It is for this reason I would even caution against calling such senses the "voice of God."

I fear in the barbarian way the Bible takes a backseat to our own senses. This is fairly explicit on page 14:

"If He has won your heart, then to follow your heart will always lead you to follow the heart of God."

One has to wonder from quotes like these if Proverbs 3:5-6, 14:12 remain true for a believer, or really whether the believer has any sin remaining that could deceive him or her (Jer. 17:9, Heb. 3:13, 1 Jn. 1:8).

5. Sin and grace (i.e. the gospel) are utterly absent from the book. This is one of the most glaring problems with the whole book. I agree that we are called to suffer and to fight as part of the war between the kingdoms of God and satan, but here's the problem: I fail to do so. I know I should move into suffering, but I want comfort. I know I should be courageous, but I'm a coward. McManus has no problem condemning the church for such things, but he never seems to deal with the sin in the heart of each individual that causes it, and therefore he never applies God's grace to it. All McManus has to say to me is basically: "try harder." Unleash the untamed faith, stop being so civilized, etc. Is this really my only hope? Is this really all McManus has for me when faced with the reality of my failure? I'm afraid I can't find anything else in his book. There were a few times when I felt like I was going to hear the gospel from McManus, like on page 32:

"So what is this good news? The refined and civilized version goes something like this:...if you'll simply believe in Jesus, you'll be saved from the torment of hellfire, then go to heaven when you die." This is actually a true statement of the Biblical gospel, but I would tend to agree with McManus that it's reductionistic. His alternative (still page 32):

"The call of Jesus is far more barbaric than either of these. It is a call to live in this world as citizens of an entirely different kingdom."

How is that good news? I don't hear any news in that statement. Certainly the call to repent is part of the gospel, but the gospel primarily contains news of something that's happened (e.g. Jesus lived a perfect life, Jesus died for your sins, Jesus rose again). Where is the grace in this message? I don't see it, it just sounds like repackaged moralism to me: instead of "obey these rules," it's "live barbarically." Neither consists of news and both point to something we do as the crux of the gospel. Thankfully, later in the book he does talk about the death of Jesus and the gospel (pg. 112, 115, 116). That said, he's never really clear on the content of the gospel. He mostly concludes that it is a demonstration of God's love (Amen!) and an example of barbaric living. Jesus certainly is not less than an example to us, but He's more than that: He's the savior. If we only have an example of love and barbaric living, we still haven't really dealt with our failure to live up to that example.

McManus does not seem to acknowledge our personal failure to live up to Jesus' example (sin), and therefore does not clearly present the grace of God in the gospel. This leaves me either discouraged in my failure or motivated in my own self-righteousness to go be a barbarian!

6. The promises of God are utterly absent from the book. This is related to (5) so I'll keep it short. The good things McManus is calling us to do are entirely counter to our nature: suffering and war against evil. He's calling us into uncertainty and risk. What hope do I have moving into these things? Is the answer simply "there's nothing you can stand on, but this is what God wants us to do, so go do it."? That's not the way the Bible presents it. The Bible says God is in control and working all of our suffering for good, conforming us into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:28-29). The Bible says such trials refine us (1 Pet. 1:6-7), cause us to share in the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13), produce steadfastness (Jas. 1:3), and grow us in hope (Rom. 5:3-5). These are promises we can stand on in the midst of our risk and uncertainty, but they are strangely absent from McManus' book. This does not come as a major surprise since McManus doesn't seem to believe such suffering and war are counter to our nature: he instead presents it as really what the untamed faith inside of us wants to do (pg. 82). If we already want to be wild and suffer and go to war, we don't really need faith in the promises of God to stand on (or the gospel for that matter), we just need to be exhorted. As in (5), an ignorance of sin leads to mere exhortation without the accompanying grace and promises the Bible offers.

7. His approach in general lacks humility. This is more an objection of style than of content. In like 18:9-14 when Jesus shares the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector the pharisee thanks God that he's not like the tax collector while the tax collector simply says "be merciful to me, a sinner." The tax collector goes away justified, the pharisee did not. Notice the tax collector did not say "God, I thank you that I am not like the pharisee." This is the perspective I find in the way McManus writes this book. He presents civilized religion as the bad guy and then basically talks about how his whole life he's been living another way, the right way, the barbarian way. He talks about how he did this right in his approach to his relationship with God (pg. 11), his "community" (pg. 102-105), and his parenting (pg. 117-119). The whole book is pervaded with how wrong the rest of the church is (e.g. pg. 17) but seems to lack any humble admission of McManus' own contribution to the wongs of the church. Paul definitely told others to follow his example as well (1 Cor. 11:1), but at the same time he acknowledged that he had not arrived (Phil. 3:12) and actually identified himself as the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). I don't know Erwin McManus personally; he may very well be a humble man. But in this book at least the problem seems to originate "out there" rather than in his own heart.

While McManus offers a few helpful and challenging insights, the book has far too many negatives for me to recommend it to anyone. Although McManus rightly calls Christians to suffering and war against evil, he does so in a vague, extra or un-biblical manner that lacks humility and neglects key aspects of the gospel. I now have some understanding as to why Phil Johnson, Justin Taylor, and others have leveled such criticisms against McManus. The question still in my mind is why friends I respect like the book. I don't think it's because they like vague generalities and extra or un-biblical content or because they dislike humility and the gospel. So what is the reason? Part 3...