Wednesday, December 13, 2006

"We Preach Culture When We Should Be Preaching Christ."

Today I started listening for the umpteenth time (but the first time in a long time) to a message preached by Tim Jordan at the 2003 Heart Conference at Northland Baptist Bible College. Jordan is the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church and chancellor of Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. His message wrestles with the appropriate methods for speaking and applying biblical truth to contemporary culture (contextualization).

While addressing the prevailing mindset in fundamentalism, he made the statement quoted in the title of this post. Jordan explicitly opposes the seeker mindset, which hands over control of the church's worship to unregenerate people, but he speaks boldly to the culture of fundamentalism with statements like these:
We need to begin a process of exegeting our beliefs, because some of what we believe, God didn't say. . . . A lot of the stuff isn't against what God said. It's just not what God said. So is that valueless? It might have great value. That's not the point. The point is, it's not what God said. . . . We are afraid of the truth.

We think if we can get people to live like the Cleavers, then they will be holy.

We [pastors] are really not mad that our people are different from Christ. We're mad that they're different from us.

We somehow glorify error to the right like it's better than error to the left.
If you can order this message from Northland, it will be well worth the investment.

67 comments:

Ryan Martin said...

Did God ever 'say', ΄ομοούσιον τωι πατρί? Should I believe that?

Ben said...

As His words are revealed in Scripture, no, He did not. However, if you were to resist the homoousios formula, but 1) never asserted homoiousios and 2) affirmed the Deity of Christ, I wouldn't anathematize you. I'm not sure I can protect you from the papacy or the emperor though.

Ryan Martin said...

Yes, but here Jordan is criticizing those who affirm something when "it's not what God said." Do you agree with this? Do you agree with this in the context of ΄ομοούσιον τωι πατρί? If not (on the latter question), how is it different?

Ben said...

My opinion is that there is far more biblical evidence for homoousios as a valid expression of the nature of Christ than there is for the kinds of elements of fundamentalist culture that are presented as objective and authoritative.

You might say that's a quantitative, not qualitative difference. But I'd say that the problem isn't that we hold our opinions and convictions that are derived from Scripture, but that we impose them on others.

I guess what I'm suggesting is that if someone comes to a different formulation of doctrine or standard of practice from me, my question is "How do you get there?" If it's a matter of semantics or expression, that's one thing. If the difference is too great to be resolved, then I've got to figure out how the difference limits fellowship. What I can't do is have the attitude that my opinion or conviction that is at best derived from Scripture is the only possible valid expression of biblical truth. I think that's the point Jordan's making.

Ryan Martin said...

Ben, when you say that the problem is when we "impose [our opinions and convictions] on others," should I not insist that others embrace ΄ομοούσιον τωι πατρί, and denounce all those who deny it? Note that I am not talking about those who do not affirm it because they are new in the faith, but those who, having heard what it means, still deny it.

Do you disagree with this point of the Orthodox (Baptist) Creed, which seems to "have the attitude that my opinion or conviction that is at best derived from Scripture is the only possible valid expression of biblical truth"?

Again, this (the homoousios formula) is something that God did not say, but something that the catholic (note the small 'c') church, including Greek Orthodox, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, the Puritans (such as Owen and Edwards), the early Baptists, and Spurgeon all insisted was the orthodox teaching of the Bible, and would have greatly doubted the faith of someone who did not affirm it, wihtout a great deal of concern for "why" the refused.

Should we be upset with all these men who insisted on something that "God did not say"?

Ben said...

Ryan,

What if I resisted the term homoousious, but affirmed wholeheartedly that I believe Christ is God, begotten of the Father, and one with the Father? Would you anathematize me?

Ryan Martin said...

Yes.

Dave said...

I could be wrong here, but I wonder if you haven't taken this quote in a direction other than what Tim intended. He was specifically addressing the question of cultural applications, so I believe it would be closer to his meaning to think along those lines.

His point seems to be that certain cultural applications have been treated as if they were the biblical statement (vs. its application). And example might be assuming that Deut 22:5 prohibits women from wearing pants. This may or may not be a valid application of that text, but it clearly does not say "pants" but says "man's clothing" (which in Moses' day probably did not include pants).

To carry his point over to theological summaries does not seem valid in that it uses them for something which was not intended (since this was a discussion of culture and holiness).

Ben said...

Dave,

I actually agree with you, particularly about Jordan's intent, but I don't expect Ryan's going to buy it.

Ryan Martin said...

What is the difference between the two? I sympathize with the abuses Jordan is decrying. Yet I see many taking Sola Scripture to a whole new twisted level, where we now have to accept "those who resist homoousios." How is affirming a cultural application that "God did not say" any different than affirming a theological axiom that "God did not say"? What is the difference between the two? I am not sure that one is as easily distinguishable as it at first seem.

And I want to be very clear here, I am advocating wreckless abandon in the realm of affirming things "God did not say," as if there are no restraints or things governing us. My main point is that it is admissable to do it. Consider church covenants, for example. Is it wrong to affirm the cultural elements found therein? For example, the covenant of Inter-City Baptist Church (who thankfully provides theirs on-line; something not many churches are good enough to do) says,

"We also engage to maintain family and secret devotions; to educate our children
religiously; to seek the salvation of our kindred and acquaintances; to walk circumspectly
in the world; to be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements and exemplary in our
deportment; to avoid all gossip, backbiting and excessive anger; to abstain from the sale
and use of intoxicating drinks and to be zealous in our efforts to advance the Kingdom of
our Savior."


How much of that is "what God said"? "Family and secret devotions"? "Abstain from the sale
and use of intoxicating drinks"? My main point throughout here has been and continues to be that affirming things that "God did not say" is permissible, and even virtuous. It can be done wrong, but I want to affirm that it can and even must be done.

Ryan Martin said...

Heh.

Sorry, that should read, "And I want to be very clear here, I am not advocating wreckless abandon . . ."

How's that for "very clear"?

Dave said...

Ryan,

I understand and share your concern (particularly since you added the missing word). I do believe, however, that theological formulations are different than cultural applications.

For sake of argument, I would say that any good theological formulation actually is what the Bible says (and that's way I don't agree with taking Tim's words in the direction they have been taken). I will grant that some aren't as comfortable with my statement as I think they should be (e.g., people who make a hard dichotomy between "biblical" and "systematic" theology), but I think most of their theological distinctions on this poitn amount to word games.

This, however, is different than wrestling through the process of application in terms of culture. I regret that anyone might use what I am about to say to embrace some kind of reductionist approach to biblical ethics, but I am convinced that we need to note the difference between principles and their application. (Just to be clear, I do not use principles and commands/imperatives as synonyms.) I believe that principles are timeless, but applications are time-related (sometimes time-bound).

A theological affirmation related to God's triune existence does not involve cultural actions and forms that change in significance over time. Biblical principles about appropriate attire do interact with cultural expressions that change over time. The principles do not change, but their application do (of necessity).

Perhaps this is an invalid distinction, and, if so, needs critique that will expose that.

Joel said...

Perhaps you have the wrong categories for dealing with application. I'm just wondering, but let me wonder on.

Maybe you should consider calling them proper and improper applications. If the principle is Biblical, then there has to be a proper application of it or knowing the principle is useless. The thing that this does, though, is to make statements like Jordan's pretty useless. But maybe it would expose that the real issue is not people getting stuck over applications, but misapplying Scripture.

We are all against misapplying Scripture.

What Ryan is saying is that the doctrine of the consubstantial nature of the Son is an application of what Scripture teaches. And not to apply Scripture is simply to ignore it. (And if Ben would study Historical Theology a bit more, he would realize that doctrinal formulations are more about excluding what isn't said, than about coming up with one of many valid formulations. Just look at how evangelicals nowadays like to finesse inerrancy :) In the same way, the application of what Scripture teaches about reverence demands an application. To dismiss the application as cultural might dismiss a proper application.

I think what bothers Ryan, and what bothers me, is that the term 'cultural' is used to mean 'optional' or 'disposable' when really, a proper application of anything Scripture teaches is never optional and never disposable.

Ben said...

You are both well past my ability to interact intelligently, and since I don't know how to do the cool Greek font thing I had no hope of winning the argument in the first place. In any case, I'm benefiting from listening in.

Ryan,

I am not opposed to systematic formulations. I do think we should permit some distinction between imposed standards that are closely connected to contemporary (or 1950s) culture and an articulation of Christology that has been acknowledged over the vast majority of the history of the Church.

My target is not logic or systematization. My target is a new law. Nicea intended to synthesize the teaching of Scripture. Jordan is talking about how fundamentalists apply biblical principles. I think there is a difference.

Nevertheless, I am unwilling to concede that we have a right to demand that everyone affirm a specific extra-biblical formula if they are perfectly willing to affirm everything that Scripture explicitly teaches about a given theological issue.

I'm more than willing to be flogged and/or convinced.

Ben said...

Joel wrote:
"And if Ben would study Historical Theology a bit more, he would realize that doctrinal formulations are more about excluding what isn't said, than about coming up with one of many valid formulations."

I lost you at "what isn't said." Are doctrinal formulations not about excluding what is said, but is incompatible with Scripture? Perhaps you mean that there were individuals who specifically refused to teach certain explicit teachings of Scripture about Christ. They may not have openly denied them, but they tacitly denied them by omission. If that's your connection to inerrancy, I get that.

But that's not what I've been talking about. If you trace the comments, I think you'll see that I'm talking about people who resist the synthetic term, but affirm everything Scripture teaches. If I didn't say that well, it was my intent.

Dave said...

Joel,

I disagree with your definition of application (at least as it seems in this post) and your approach to biblical ethics. Regarding the former, I don't believe implication and application are best used as identical in meaning. Theological statements in Scripture have necessary implications. I frankly don't see how the statements about Christ's nature fit the term application, but I may be missing something here.

Much of OT law was case study that established principles and precedents that would then need to be applied to different cases. I agree that there is either proper or improper application, but that doesn't really change the point I made. If something applies in a certain case, but then the nature of the case changes, it may no longer apply. The principle never changed. Its appropriate application did.

A problem in our day is that applications often become fixed in the minds of people and then begin to be equated with the principle itself. To tie this back to the quote under discussion, I believe this is Tim Jordan's point.

If I may risk being blunt, I think perhaps Tim's point isn't being heard because you think it is going somewhere and want to head it off.

Joel said...

The blunt part made sense. That is what is going on.

Ryan Martin said...

Well, now we're discussing several different things.

Ben said, "Nevertheless, I am unwilling to concede that we have a right to demand that everyone affirm a specific extra-biblical formula if they are perfectly willing to affirm everything that Scripture explicitly teaches about a given theological issue."

I'd like to notes that churches are voluntary organizations in Baptist ecclesiology. Your views on this are remarkably similar to those of Alexander Campbell. Everybody says they believe the Bible. The question is what do you believe the Bible says? I hope you will reconsider your view, Ben.

Dave, I want to reiterate that I sympathize with the abuses Dr. Jordan's is preaching against. I just want to be able to say that God did forbid modern abortion, even though he never explicitly condemned the version we know now. I can forbid mind-altering drugs, even though God did not say that mind-altering drugs may be taken. If he is saying that we should realize that our applications of the Biblical text are not the text itself, that they are a "step beyond Scripture," I am fine with that. But if he is saying that we should affirm with conviction these applications solely because "God did not say it," (which is the way I read the post, for better or worse) I think he is misdiagnosing the problem. If we eliminate from our list of prohibitions all the things "God did not say," we cannot address print pornography, any manifestation of immodesty, any kind of irreverent worship, any mind-altering drugs, or euthanasia.

So if I am misreading Tim Jordan, I offer my deepest regrets. I suppose that is the risk of clipping out a part of a sermon, something I myself like to do on my blog. But I want to reaffirm that just because "God did not say it," an application may still be right and even authoritative.

Ryan Martin said...

Can I try that middle paragraph again (sorry)?

Dave, I want to reiterate that I sympathize with Dr. Jordan's critique of the abuses he is preaching against. I just want to be able to say that God did forbid modern abortion, even though he never in Scripture explicitly condemned the version we know now. I can forbid mind-altering drugs, even though God did not say that mind-altering drugs may not be taken. If he is saying that we should realize that our applications of the Biblical text are not the text itself, that they are a "step beyond Scripture," I wholeheartedly agree. But if he is saying that we should not affirm with conviction certain applications solely because "God did not say it," (which is the way I read the post, for better or worse) I think he is misdiagnosing the problem. If we eliminate from our list of prohibitions all the things "God did not say," we cannot address print pornography, any manifestation of immodesty, any kind of irreverent worship, any mind-altering drugs, or euthanasia.

By the way, I currently lean toward the belief that theological statements too are culturally-colored interpretations (yet true) of the Scriptures, and when I say that, I do not mean in any way to diminish their authority. Of course, that is a path of discussion we probably do not want to go down.

Dave said...

Ryan,

Thanks for the clarifications. I would agree with your concerns, but I am not convinced that they are actually reflected in his statement as it stands. I certainly don't think they logically follow from it anymore than the interpretation of his statement with which you agreed.

Joel,

For the sake of helping me be clear on something, was there an intended implication in your comment regarding the rest of what I wrote in your statement? No need to elaborate since a simple confirmation or denial will work. Thanks.

Joel said...

Dave,

Do I agree with you on more than that we are trying to head something off? No.

Dave said...

Joel,

Actually, that's not quite the question I asked, but I think you know that and this answer says enough for me get the point. Thanks for the clarification.

Ben said...

Ok, tons of stuff going on here, and there's no way to respond to all of it, but I'll try to clarify the high points.

Dave wrote:
"For sake of argument, I would say that any good theological formulation actually is what the Bible says . . . This, however, is different than wrestling through the process of application in terms of culture.

I agree with this distinction.

Joel wrote:
"If the principle is Biblical, then there has to be a proper application of it or knowing the principle is useless."

As much as I agree with Joel and Ryan on many matters and have benefited from some of the drums they beat (in a very serious manner, of course), I think that this statement and the general tenor of their ideas creates a new law. When they (you) say that there is A proper application for every principle, I understand it to mean that there is ONE acceptable application that is the only application appropriate to any believer.

Perhaps I'm misreading you, but I don't know how you can sustain that line of thinking very far. First of all, in my mind it radically diminishes the sanctifying work of the Spirit in the lives of individual believers. The outcome of that work is going to look differently in each believer (pending its completion), and I see those differences as part of his sovereign plan. Second, I do not understand how your one application can apply to the infinite number of distinct cultural settings. No two situations or choices are precisely alike.

Now, I'm sure you guys have thought all this stuff through, so I look forward to your explanations before you begin to flog me publicly.

Now I'm going to be really stupid and go one step further. As I understand living under grace (as opposed to living under law) it doesn't mean that you can do whatever you want or that anything goes. I do understand it to mean that God has written his law in our hearts so that by His ongoing enabling we are transformed into the kind of people who live in a way that is consistent with what we believe.

Ben said...

Ryan wrote:
"I'd like to notes that churches are voluntary organizations in Baptist ecclesiology."

Valid distinction, Ryan. I'm speaking on some level broader than the local church. We have every right and responsibility to keep people accountable to any covenant or formulation they've affirmed through the voluntary association of church membership.

Ryan also wrote:
"By the way, I currently lean toward the belief that theological statements too are culturally-colored interpretations (yet true) of the Scriptures, and when I say that, I do not mean in any way to diminish their authority."

Can you clarify what you mean by "their authority"?

Joel said...

I don't think that saying there is a proper application for everything the Bible teaches works out to saying there is only one application ever.

Isn't there a way to tell if the application is right or not? If there is, wouldn't it stand to reason that the application was proper or improper? And if you have a proper application of Scripture, isn't it something God expects you to do or believe? Maybe even preach about it every once in a while? To borrow a phrase, a good application is actually what the Bible means.

Ryan Martin said...

I suppose if I were rewriting it I would better have said, "validity," not "authority." But if theological axioms are valid, they are authoritative, for they are true and accurate representations (or summaries) of what the Bible says.

Didn't I say I didn't want to get into that one?

One more note, in an effort of clarifying myself, the main thing I have been striving to articulae here is that we may make applications from the Biblical text, with the authority of the text itself (assuming we understand the text and the matter to which we are applying the text accurately). In other words, I can preach that euthanasia is sin even though "God did not say that." Without a doubt, people misapply Biblical texts. I am against that. But that does not mean that I am against the application of Biblical texts.

Ryan Martin said...

I think my New Year's Resolution is going to be to proof read everything before posting it.

The proofreading after thing just isn't working for me.

Ben said...

Joel,

What you're articulating sounds like a functional moralism.

When you say, "a good application is actually what the Bible means," you imply that the application is at the same functional level as Scripture. Even if you do not intend it, the application appears to be as authoritative and as universal as the Biblical statements, or principles, if you will.

I believe that diminishes the role of the Holy Spirit in transforming believers from the inside out so that they are motivated to yield with a spirit of worship. The outworking of that yielding in the application of a principle might look radically different between different believers at different stages of sanctifications and in different cultural contexts. But I do not believe that difference negates the fact that their application of the principle is an act of submission, obedience, and worship.

Ben said...

Ryan,

I think we need to realize that not all applications of biblical truth are equally clear. It seems to me that the connection between biblical statements about personhood, life, and death are far more defined than the connections between Scripture and, say, the theatre.

That doesn't mean I'm arguing for anything goes. Far from it. At the very least, there must be some process of engaged thought that evaluates the less clear matters in light of Scripture. I'm arguing that the further we get from the direct statements of Scripture, the more we must be prepared for the fact that different believers who are living repentant, submitted lives of faith are going to come to different conclusions and convictions as the process of sanctification advances.

Ryan Martin said...

So we can say something, even though God has not said it? (I would really appreciate an answer to this question.)

Also, are you arguing that some given activity, all other things being equal, can be right for one believer and not for another? It seems like, to hear you talk about it, that God has some kind of shifting ethical standard.

Ryan Martin said...

Please let me rephrase that. You do not necessarily need to be read in the way I suggested. Rereading you, I think I get the essence of what you are saying. I would still like to hear you address both questions, though.

Ben said...

Ryan,

1. Sure, I think you can say things God didn't say in so many words. I do think you need to be clear in differentiating what God said from synthetic formulations of what God said and even more from personal convictions. The authority or validity of the synthetic formulations is only reduced if you can't defend them. Frankly, I'm not convinced sharing personal convictions is helpful, but I do think those levels of application can be addressed appropriately in such a way that rejects antinomianism.

2. I think you imply a false dichotomy. The Bible is not a book of ethics. The New Covenant is not a system of ethics. Both contain ethical norms to be sure. I simply believe God created man to worship and obey. Sometimes the choice between obedience is directly defined by Scripture. Sometimes not.

As Joel said, "I don't think that saying there is a proper application for everything the Bible teaches works out to saying there is only one application ever."

Here's my point. Worship and obedience doesn't look the same for everyone in every situation. For a guy who's been struggling with porn, watching "Napoleon Dynamite" on a Friday night after an internal battle with sin might be an act of worship. For RM and JZ, it might not. For a drunkard who's just been saved, cutting his alcohol consumption down to a beer a night might be an act of worship. For you or me to have a beer a night (even apart from any church or employer regulations) might not.

Dave said...

I drifted away from the discussion for a while, but tried to catch up quickly. Looks to me like there is a lot on the table. If I may simply poke my head in for two quick comments:

1. Joel's statement about application seems similar to the position set forth by Frame in "The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God" (e.g., p. 83 "There is, in fact, no important distinction to be made at all between 'meaning' and 'application.'). Joel, am I right here?

2. While not completely comfortable, yet, with the way Frame states it (probably a problem on my part, not his), I am even more uncomfortable with the way Ben has stated his view of moralism. Freedom from the Mosaic Law is not the equivalent of free from all law, cf. 1 Cor 9:21; Jas 1:25; 2:8. NT believers are clearly obligated to obey NT commands. While I am not sure exactly what "moralism" means, it certainly can't mean that there is no external moral authority for believers, can it? Ben, I am confused here and would love some clarification.

Ben said...

Dave,

I had hoped that this statement in my above post would head off the concerns you express:

"The Bible is not a book of ethics. The New Covenant is not a system of ethics. Both contain ethical norms to be sure. I simply believe God created man to worship and obey. Sometimes the choice between obedience is directly defined by Scripture. Sometimes not."

Is there a particular deficiency you see in this statement that led you to conclude that I believe we are free from all law or not obligated to keep NT commands?

I raise the issue of functional moralism because I think Joel's statement that I cited, "a good application is actually what the Bible means," creates a law--even a system of law--that extends beyond what the Bible actually says. But then, either I'm misunderstanding Joel or he's being inconsistent, because I don't see how this statement can be reconciled with the one I quoted in my most recent post.

My understanding of moralism, at least within the context of this discussion, is the rush to equate specific behaviors with holiness and worship. Where direct commands exist, holiness is impossible without obedience, but it also requires the right internal spirit and motivation.

Where direct commands do not exist, I'm not suggesting that anything goes. But I do believe that our preaching needs to focus on helping people make difficult choices for the right reasons--worship, submission, holiness, etc. In some sense, I think the process in which the decision is made is as important or more so than what the actual decision reals. The process reveals the condition of the heart.

Dave said...

The part that caused my concern came mainly in the earlier portion of your previous post that seemed to pit the internal work of the Spirit against the role of Scripture as properly applied. But I also take exception to your statements about ethics in realtion to the Bible--what exactly does 2 Tim 3:16 mean when it says "for correction, for training in righteousness"? (I won't touch the New Covenant comment because we would open up a whole new can of worms.)

Perhaps I am misunderstanding what you mean by a "book of ethics." Surely the Bible teaches us how to live, doesn't it? Isn't that ethical/moral instruction?

I will tip my hand that I find most of the modern talk about moralism to be very unconvincing and hard to understand. In fact, I was very encouraged when Ligon Duncan took a shot at it at the Louisville conference in April. I don't think you are intending to do this, but it seems like that label is too often used as a pejorative against applying the Bible.

Joel said...

"watching "Napoleon Dynamite" on a Friday night after an internal battle with sin might be an act of worship"

Dave,

See where it gets him? I may be inconsistent, I may be less than subtle, but this is what I'm trying to head off.

Watching a goofy movie works out to the chief end for which God created man? The cordial concord and entire devotion of worship is reduced to doing something other than spending an evening . . . ? Ben has way too many variations on the principle of worship. Why would the gratitude and love of a saint for the Almighty God who delivers him from the snare of sin be properly expressed in watching a goofy movie?

Is this cultural? Can we get him a culture worth having where he can actually mean something in his response to God? If he's got the principle, that is a really bare principle.

I don't really want to argue with you, it was never my intention to argue. I wondered when you asked about a more nuanced approach. Probably what I offered was not nuanced, fine.

I've never developed any sort of respect for Frame, especially the more I read of him (not much). It could be we are agreed on that, however. I do think the application, as Ben's example shows, shows what the principle of worship means for people, don't you?

Ben, I am not trying to be a jerk or anything. That is not by any stretch of the imagination, and act of worship. Where is the object of worship? I understand that the guy isn't doing other things worse, and maybe he's even feeling grateful, but worship is the expression of something, isn't it? Even silence expresses awe and reverence, but I can't see how watching a movie expresses anything but an appetite for distraction.

Ryan Martin said...

Ben said, “The authority or validity of the synthetic formulations is only reduced if you can't defend them.”

I would clarify that this is only the perceived validity (and thus authority) of the formulations in the minds of those hearing you. The actual authority or validity is based to an external norm of right and wrong, independent of our ability to demonstrate that norm convincingly.

As far as your statement that the Bible not being a book of ethics, I think Dave has addressed this adequately, but I would simply add an observation from the book of 1 Timothy.

After telling Timothy to admonish the people “not to teach any different doctrine,” he explains what these so-called “teachers of the law” were missing: “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” So doctrine is quite related to ethics. Notice vv 8-11, where after Paul explains those for whom the Law was given (a list of those who violate God’s ethical standards) expands on that list that the Law is also to be used against “and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.” Sound doctrine is again connected with right living.

The connection is again seen at the end of the chapter, where Paul reminds Timothy of the charge Paul is giving to him—to “fight the good fight,” and oppose the false teachers (harkening back to vs 5). He is to do this “holding faith and a good conscience.” Notice again the connection of right doctrine (faith) with right living (good conscience). How did Hymenaeus and Alexander make shipwreck of their faith? By turning from a good conscience.

What kind of obedience does Paul demand of Christians? Pretty specific obedience, it would seem. He calls the man who will not care for his own family “worse than an infidel” (1 Tim 5:8). [Parenthetical note: I wonder if that man got a little upset at Paul for demanding this when there was no specific “Bible verse” for caring for one’s family in the exact way he demanded (I realize Paul was an Apostle with authority stemming from that position; please bare with my slight diversion for the sake of rhetoric).]

Ben said, “Here's my point. Worship and obedience doesn't look the same for everyone in every situation. For a guy who's been struggling with porn, watching "Napoleon Dynamite" on a Friday night after an internal battle with sin might be an act of worship. For RM and JZ, it might not. For a drunkard who's just been saved, cutting his alcohol consumption down to a beer a night might be an act of worship. For you or me to have a beer a night (even apart from any church or employer regulations) might not.”

Again, to be clear, your post here assumes that God has no problem with either movies or alcohol. That is something that Christians debate, but that does not mean that both are right. And this is an important matter in this discussion. Let us assume that the consumption of a strong alcoholic beverage (including beer) displeases God. Then under no circumstances will that drunkard’s consumption of that beverage please the Lord. You assume that the matter is open. Perhaps it is. But if God in fact views the consumption of strongly fermented drink as sinful, his action is still wrong. You make the same assumption with “Napoleon Dynamite.” You assume God does not forbid the theatrical arts. If you are right, then your illustration has no problem. If you are wrong, then your illustration does not work, for someone cannot worship while sinning. That simply cannot be done. Your illustration will not work if the example of pornography in used.

Ben said, “My understanding of moralism, at least within the context of this discussion, is the rush to equate specific behaviors with holiness and worship. Where direct commands exist, holiness is impossible without obedience, but it also requires the right internal spirit and motivation.”

This simply adds confusion to the entire discussion, Ben. We, of course, are not in any way diminishing that all ethical conduct must stem from love for God and be done with the right motivation. In fact, I would insist upon it. Any moral action done without love for God and out of a heart of worship to Him could be rightly called hypocrisy. Yet it is a non sequitur (I don’t think you are saying this, but I am going to throw it in nonetheless) to say that because the right love for God must be behind the right actions that any actions done “out of love” are right before God. Who can know this? What good does it do me? In fact, I think I have a right to doubt the sincerity of someone’s love if they do not live righteously. On a related note, I was reading an article yesterday where someone said he still loved God and was an evangelical despite his being outwardly and openly practicing sodomy. As if!

Ben said, “I . . . believe that our preaching needs to focus on helping people make difficult choices for the right reasons--worship, submission, holiness, etc.”

With that I agree.

Ben said...

I know there are points in this discussion I'm skipping, but I wan't to address a point Joel made. He wrote:

"That is not by any stretch of the imagination, and act of worship. Where is the object of worship?"

Joel,

I don't take the fact that you believe I'm off my rocker makes you a jerk. This is a serious matter, and if you trivialized it, that would be bad.

But I absolutely think a porn addict making a decision not to indulge his lust in a way that Scripture directly forbids is an act of worship, even if he replaces it with something that doesn't seem to either of us to be intrinsically Christ-honoring. He is yielding his lust to the revealed will of God by a work of the Spirit in him.

The act of worship may not directly be watching ND, but the exercise of his volition to submit the desires of his flesh to the revealed will of God that he comprehends.

Ben said...

I hate to hit and run again, but I'm wondering where you guys end up. It seems to me as though the implication of your convictions is that any time someone's not living a lifestyle like Jonathan Edwards, he's not worshiping. If that's not the logical end of your approach, please help me understand the middle ground.

Ryan Martin said...

God's demands for righteousness and holiness are so great that we are more sinful than we can even know.

Jonathan Edwards was depraved too.

Joel said...

I'm ok with that. I'd be very happy if I had a lifestyle like Edwards. I think he was a holy man and I would like to be holy, as he was, as he imitated Jesus.

And it would not be a bad thing for us to be dissatisfied if we did not live a life as holy as Edwards. In fact, we should be dissatisfied even if we lived exactly like Edwards because he was not perfectly holy, although he certainly was more holy than I am.

Ben said...

I completely agree that the guy who's watching ND should NOT be satisfied. I could not be more on board with what you both just said. But at the same time, I'm convinced that his repentant spirit that results in a different lifestyle is an act of worship. I do believe that it's worship even if it is not the ultimate ideal.

I do not believe that a person only begins to worship when he attains complete holiness. Can a person not be worshioping even while he is demonstrating his present state of spiritual immaturity?

Joel said...

But the point is not the person's immaturity. The point is whether the worship corresponds to the object of worship - whether is is appropriate.

Remember Heb 12.28 - worship has to be acceptable. And it is further qualified in ways that involve a proper culture (culture is how you understand what reverence and awe mean). But leaving this aside, my issue is not whether the guy is perfect, it is whether the expression is acceptable. This I deny. Do you think that Heb 12.28 supports your definition?

"I'm convinced that his repentant spirit that results in a different lifestyle is an act of worship."

Quite apart from reverence or awe? Do you think God accepts watching goofy movies as worship worthy of him? If you say yes, then I hope you will catch a glimmer of why I say no, because I don't think there is anything left to say.

Ben said...

Joel,

Yes, I catch a glimmer of why you say no. Yes, I see how Hebrews 12:28 is relevant. But I also see how an immature believer is demonstrating reverence and awe in exchanging a prohibited action from one that he will learn to reject as his mind is transformed from conformity to the world to spiritual renewal.

You wrote:
"The point is whether the worship corresponds to the object of worship - whether is is appropriate."

Can you see a glimmer of how a person with very little spiritual wisdom or discernment would be worshipful in acknowledging the lordship of Christ over his thought life, even if it is demonstrated in an immature, childish, shallow behavior?

Ryan Martin said...

I have a hard enough time getting the sense of what "reverence and awe" means to allow it to be applied to someone watching Napoleon Dynamite.

Sorry, Ben. No way.

Next thing you know people are going to tell me that Mark Driscoll is reverent while he is cussing from the pulpit.

I am not sure which is more implausible.

We should speak clearly. What is honoring to God is the act of refusing to fornicate. What he puts in its place may or may not legitimately be done "in the name of Christ."

Joel said...

"Can you see a glimmer of how a person with very little spiritual wisdom or discernment would be worshipful in acknowledging the lordship of Christ over his thought life, even if it is demonstrated in an immature, childish, shallow behavior?"

Because not thinking about God (watching something neutral like ND) but not thinking about some other sin together work out to an intelligent and appropriate response to the Lord?

Because immature + childish + shallow behavior balanced against good intentions = worship?

There are tons of people not watching porn. God is not looking for people that aren't watching porn and watching Napoleon Dynamite instead. He's seeking those who will worship in Spirit and in Truth.

Ben said...

Guys,

Despite Ryan's valid distinction between the act of fornication and what is put in its place, I fear that you are denying progressive sanctification.

You put yourselves in the difficult position of saying that even though God is pleased with his decision not to rent porn, nothing has been accomplished since watching ND is just as much unacceptable to God as worship as the porn was. Since he goes from one sinful (incompatible with worship) pattern to another equivalent sinful (incompatible with worship) action with a brief instant of repentance in between, he is back in the same place he was an hour or a day or a week before.

I don't see how you leave any room for ongoing transformation caused renewing of the mind as he resists sin and yields to the work of the Spirit within him. Pastorally, if I'm counseling a guy who just gained victory over wickedness, I want to rejoice with him in the work of God that has been accomplished. I don't want to imply that he ought to be satisfied with where he is, but I want him to give praise to God for another step toward holiness. I don't see how your approach, ideal though it may be, allows you to do that.

Ben said...

caused by the renewing of the mind

Ben said...

By the way, if you are going to make the case that any form of entertainment is incompatible with worship, I'll enjoy considering it. But if you say watching Ohio State-Michigan is unacceptable, then Dave may not be on my side, but he's also not going to be on yours.

Joel said...

I don't really think Dave is on my side.

Dave said...

I think Joel is right.

Dave said...

But that doesn't mean I am on your side either Ben. On the particular point at hand, watching ND as worship, I would say, however, that I am closer to Joel and Ryan.

I think the two sides are defining worship differently, hence Ben's appeal to progressive sanctification. It seems as if everything is worship to Ben, so it operates on a sliding scale between completely unacceptable to varying degrees of better worship. My hunch is that Ryan and Joel are using worship more narrowly, but would prefer for them to make that clear.

I know that I would use worship more narrowly and distinguish it from the more general doxological purpose for all things. The latter seems to be too all encompassing to help the more specific discussion of worship.

Ryan Martin said...

Funny, funny.

Joel and I were trying to hash out how exactly to think about this "all of life worship" last night. What is clear is that there is, generally speaking, a lack of clarity on the subject. For example, does "with reverence and awe" apply to "all of life worship"? Is there not a difference between worship, be it private, family, or corporate, and this "all of life worship"? And what constitutes all of life worship? What does it look like 'to do all things for the glory of God' (1 Cor 10:31), or 'in the name of Christ Jesus giving thanks to God the Father through him' (Col 3:17)?

The point I most want to stress here is that one cannot watch ND "with reverence and awe." So yes, I (at least) am saying that activities (be they private or corporate) set aside as worship offered to God (the activities God prescribes as worship such as Scripture reading and meditation, prayer, singing, the proclamation of the Word, offerings) must be done "with reverence and awe," and whatever this "all of life worship" is (something that sounds really good to talk about, but is often left ambiguous), the reverence and awe is not necessarily required. If it is, it is not in the events themselves (such as watching ND, assuming for the moment that such watching can be done in the name of the Lord Jesus).

You know, it might even help for us in this discussion to define what worship is. Tozer may help us here: "To worship is to feel in the heart and express in some appropriate manner…a humbling but delightful sense of admiring awe and astonished wonder and overwhelming love in the presence of that most ancient mystery that unspeakable majesty, which philosophers have called the mysterium tremendum, but which the prophets call the Lord our God."

So, Ben, you mischaracterize us as saying, "watching ND is just as much unacceptable to God as worship as the porn was." You also get us wrong when you summarize our beliefs as being, "he goes from one sinful (incompatible with worship) pattern to another equivalent sinful (incompatible with worship) action." I do not believe that these activities are equivalent, even if they are both sin.

I in no way deny progressive sanctification. But that does not mean I bless anyone's given state as a whole, even though God has been working their life. You want to look at the entire package of sanctification. I want to look at the individual parts. I praise the Lord if someone is progressing sanctification. Perhaps a better example would serve us here. I would say that an abortion is an abomination to God, more of an abomination than, say, drunkeness. Let's say a woman after great deliberation decides not to have an abortion. This decision was so traumatic for her that having concluded to forego the abortion goes out and gets drunk. Should I rejoice in her not getting the abortion? Yes. Should I rejoice in getting drunk? Never. The one right decision does not justify the other wrong one.

Ben said...

Two questions:
1. At what point(s) in our lives are we permitted not to be worshiping?

2. To what degree to you agree or disagree with this article by John Piper?

Three points:
1. I do not suggest that "whatever this 'all of life worship' is . . . the reverence and awe is not necessarily required. I acknowledge that it will not fit your definition of reverence and awe, but I continue to contend that the choice to replace porn with ND is an act of repentance and subjugation of one's will to God's will, even though this individual's understanding of God's will may be limited and defective. I do not expect us to resolve this difference, so we might as well leave it.

2. You wrote: "But that does not mean I bless anyone's given state as a whole, even though God has been working their life." Neither do I. If I have said something that suggests such, please tell me so I can clarify.

3. You wrote: "Should I rejoice in her not getting the abortion? Yes. Should I rejoice in getting drunk? Never." It's impossible to disagree with this, and I do appreciate your clarification. But you've introduced an example that I would not accept as parallel to what we're talking about, unless, of course, you are suggesting that drunkenness is no more clearly prohibited by Scripture than watching ND. Still, I do get your point about comparative moral reprehensability.

Ben said...

Dave,

Ligon Duncan was really speaking your language then, what with his statements on moralism and his affirmation of the need for the recognition of discontinuity between the church and Israel!

You wrote:
"I also take exception to your statements about ethics in realtion to the Bible--what exactly does 2 Tim 3:16 mean when it says "for correction, for training in righteousness"? . . . Surely the Bible teaches us how to live, doesn't it? Isn't that ethical/moral instruction?

I do believe the Bible teaches us how to live. But I believe that much of that instruction falls short of (or perhaps extends beyond) simple, straightforward statements of what to do or what not to do. Within the context of progressive sanctification, I believe that the process of repentance, submission, and renewal is in some ways and in many situations more important than the immediate outcome.

Perhaps you would say that is by definition a system of ethics, but I do think it's different from the prevalent connotation of ethics in the religious vernacular. So to clarify my meaning, I'm arguing that the Bible is not merely a book of things we're supposed to do and not do. It is primarily, in my understanding, a book of God's self-revelation, specifically in the person of His Son. It also contains profound implications of that self-revelation for me and my life.

Is there something in particular that I've said that contradicts the 2 Timothy 3 passage?

Dave said...

Ben,

Help me understand what "training in righteousness" within the statement you have made. My question is not a counterpoint to yours. It is an effort to understand the disjunction you appear to be making between the Bible as a "book of ethics" and the Bible as "a book of God's self-revelation." I genuinely am not getting your point.

While Duncan and I would no doubt have different views on the continuity of the Mosaic Law, my hunch is we would both agree it was never a system of mere do's and dont's. And he and I would probably agree that OT sanctification was never an external issue (your moralism?).

Come to think of it, he and I might agree with each other about this subject more than you and I. Isn't that ironic.

P.S. I thought Ryan's illustration about abortion and drunkeness helped frame his point well. You don't make a valid point in counter. I was thinking through a similar illustration with the infamous dance team from Saddleback. To use you starting point, what if one of these dancers formerly had done more graphic dances for lewd purposes, but now exchanged the former way for "performing" in the Saddleback squad. Should we rejoice in that as an acceptable act of worship?

Dave said...

Correction..the following line "You don't make a valid point in counter" should have the "don't" removed.

I think I need to adopt Ryan's proofing resolution as well.

Ben said...

Dave,

1. "training in righteousness": I'm wrestling with whether this is teaching about imputed righteousness by faith, the obedience that results from faith, or both. Exegetically, I do not have an answer, but my first inclination would be towards the last. What I'm attempting (but failing) to articulate is compatible with any of those three options, however. I'm not intending to impose a disjunction. My conviction is that the self-revelation ultimately motivates and empowers the implications. "The imperatives are grounded in the indicatives," as I was taught was Paul's approach in Romans. I do think that makes the indicatives the foundational purpose of the Bible, but I want to avoid minimizing the implications, even on those matters in Scripture concerning which I do not believe those implications (or imperatives) are specific, direct, or even universal.

2. Your point about Mosaic Law is well-taken. I would agree with both of you that it was not a system of do's and don't's. I was forgetting the immediate context of his comments, which may have contributed to the confusion. My allusions to moralism are grounded in the prevalent moralistic readings of the OT narratives and principial readings of many OT laws for this dispensation. Maybe we've not been talking about the same thing.

3. Re: Saddleback
I must've missed this spectacle. I would be reticent to affirm that anything that takes place at Saddleback is worship. But lest I be accused of dodging the question, I'll attempt an answer even though I don't understand the context, because I can probably imagine what happened in their weekly theater masquerading as an assembly of believers. Here's my answer. I would rejoice that the individual believer (I guess we're assuming genuine conversion for sake of the argument) has exchanged rebellion against God for (deficient) submission to Him. That makes him a worshiper, but not a good or mature one. I would be sickened by the fact that wolves in sheep's clothing who are not qualified for pastoral ministry are presiding over a church, permitting such foolishness, and leading the flock astray rather than toward spiritual depth and maturity.

Ryan Martin said...

I think we're nearly done now.

I am familiar with Piper's article on how to drink orange juice to the glory of God, and I agree with him, but that does not answer every question I had. I am sure that my questions have been answered by good Christian teachers, probably in our all too forgotten past. When I said the questions were not being address, I was thinking of and critiquing my own concepts, and those I have read on other Christian blogs.

Ben said...

Ryan,

I didn't expect it to answer everything, but I wondered if we were in the same ballpark. I'm not going to pretend that we are yet close, but I think you're trying to repudiate what you think I believe more than what I actually believe. I still have some pretty substantial problems with what you guys are denying, even if not what you affirm.

Ryan Martin said...

I was satisfied when this was "conceded" (I am going to use that word with a 'wink,' even though it may not be entirely accurate): "Sure, I think you can say things God didn't say in so many words."

I think we disagree (at least) over how to treat people who resist the idea that Christ Jesus was of one substance with the Father.

Ben said...

Ryan,

I'm also surprised that you seem perplexed by the "all of life worship" concept. I don't think what I'm suggesting is novel. I just bumped into it in Timothy George's Theology of the Reformers today.

I think I've addressed your direct questions. I'd love to see your answer to this one, which I posed earlier:

"1. At what point(s) in our lives are we permitted not to be worshiping?"

Dave said...

Ben,

I don't think you are couching the question correctly. In all of the talk about "total life worship" the word "worship" is being used differently than we speak about God's people assemblying to worship. I think we all know this intuitively, but we struggle to define the difference.

Is it true that doing everything to the God's glory is an act of worship? Yes. Is that the same as when gather to obey John 4:23-24; 1 Tim 2:1-8; 4:13; and Col 3:16? I don't believe so.

Some of us are familiar with the line, "All ground is holy ground." While I agree with the sentiment, the fact is that if everything is holy, then by definition nothing is. I fear the worship discussion often borders on this. The term has become so large it has become undefined and isn't very helpful. It can extend from drinking orange juice to the assembly gathered around God's Word.

We could probably toss this around till the cows come home (whatever that means), so allow me to suggest that we might be better to describe the normal acts of life as being done for God's glory (ala 1 Cor 10:31) and leave the term worship for those times when either a believer or group of believers are seeking to dear near to God by the means which He has appointed to do so.

I am not completely satisfied with my own suggestion, but I think it sums up the difference to me.

Ben said...

Dave,

I share your concern that worship not be cheapened and would like to achieve. I'm not convinced that introducing the distinction you suggest is the best way to accomplish that end.

Making a biblical case for or against that distinction may be difficult since the epistles use "worship" so rarely in the context of Christian worship. Except for John 4, the passages you cite don't specifically refer to worship, although I do not in any way deny that they describe corporate worship.

What causes you to limit John 4 to corporate worship? I think that may be the beginning of our differences. Or maybe it is in Genesis 2:15, which I'm inclined to read as "worship and obey" rather than "cultivate it and keep it" (Sailhamer, Genesis, EBC).

Ben said...

P.S. I'll be back tonight. I'm about to embark on the remainder of my journey to the land of milk and honey . . . and BCS bowl victories.

Ryan Martin said...

I in every way believe that we were created to worship God at all times. This is the reason of our existence. But affirming this does not answer my questions (!).

I think Dave is articulating (not demonstrating) the confusion I see.

For example, if I don't think about those things Piper mentioned with the orange juice, can I still call it worship? Does it need to be a cognizant awareness in my mind? Do I need to have an explicit thought of God (and other things Piper mentions, for example) for it to count as worship? Do I need to live all of life "with reverence and awe"? You say No. Why? If all of life is worship, why is not required in all of our lives? I do not disagree with you here, but I am trying to show that you, Ben, in fact, have NOT answered all the questions! Is there a difference between corporate worship and "all of life" worship"? The Reformers made those distinctions (i.e., in the Westminster Confession, etc). For those who shy away from those distinctions, I hear mostly confusion. These questions are not unanswerable, and I assume that they have been answered by competent theologians and preachers.

I'm not saying that the "all of life" idea is wrong. I'm not saying it's novel. I'm saying that it is mostly offered in confusing and ambiguous platitudes. I'm sure there are exceptions to this, but I've already communicated those whom I have in mind.

Dave said...

Ben,

I take John 4 in the way I do because of the question that Jesus is answering. He isn't answering a question about drinking orange juice, but about worship practices. I do not take His answer to mean something like, "Previously, worship was about time and place, but now it is about all of life" (as if in the OT it wasn't about all of life).

Further, I think this statement by you ("the passages you cite don't specifically refer to worship, although I do not in any way deny that they describe corporate worship") is somewhat self-contradictory. How can both parts of that be true? If you "do not in anyway deny that the describe corporate worship" than how can you conclude that they "don't specifically refer to worship"? I'm lost there.

As we open another side road for this discussion, I would contend that you do not have to have the word "worship" used in a text for the concept of worship to be presented. If Paul is telling Timothy how to "conduct himself in household of God, the church of the living God" and, in the midst of it, speaks about prayer (2:1-8), the role of women (2:9-15), officers (3:1-13), and the ministry of the Word (4:6, 11, 13, 16), then I take these to have some bearing on what we think about worship when the assembly gathers.

You are correct about the use of the word worship in the NT, and that is probably where I differ from all the others in this discussion. I am not inclined to think that the traditional understanding of congregational worship is most consistent with the NT presentation of it. But that's a subject for another time.

I am leaving the world of web access for the next week+, so I will have to bow out and leave you all to figure out what it all means. For me, I am going to content myself with drinking orange juice to God's glory, while using the term worship more narrowly (at least when I don't slip in casual conversation).