Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Assorted Gospel Issues

Item #1: Greg Gilbert warns of the pitfalls of talking about the kingdom without talking about how individuals gain access to the kingdom. Listen to his 9Marks interview or his T4G talk (clip below) with the same title as his new book, What Is the Gospel?:
[B]y all means, preach about the kingdom, talk about Jesus’ conquest of evil, write about his coming reign. But don’t pretend that all those things are glorious good news all by themselves. They’re not. The bare fact that Jesus is going to rule the world with perfect righteousness is not good news to me; it’s terrifying news, because I am not righteous! I’m one of the enemies he’s coming to crush! The coming kingdom becomes good news only when I’m told that the coming King is also a Savior who forgives sin and makes people righteous—and he does that through his death on the cross. [transcript via Justin Taylor]
Item #2: I'm not sure Bobby Jamieson's historical survey of the redefinition of evangelism in the 20th century got a lot of play, but it's a provocative and insightful read. His conclusion:
Through John Stott's leadership, Lausanne certainly reasserted several foundational evangelical doctrines, but insofar as it adopted the ecumenical redefinition of mission, it inserted an alien, inconsistent element into evangelical theology. On the crucial question of the church's mission, the trajectories converged, and the echoes of that convergence continue to reverberate through evangelicalism:

"Incarnational ministry." "Holistic evangelism." "Proclaiming the whole gospel to the whole person." "Doing justice and preaching grace." "Bringing God's shalom to the earth."
Item #3: "Imperatives – Indicatives = Impossibilities." This post is a bit old, but it's dead on:
The problem with the typical evangelical motivation toward radical or sacrificial living is that “imperatives divorced from indicatives become impossibilities” (to quote Tullian Tchividjian). Or another way that Tullian puts it: “gospel obligations must be based on gospel declarations.”

This “become what you are” way of speaking is strange for many us us. It seems precisely backward. But we must adjust our mental compass in order to walk this biblical path and recalibrate in order to speak this biblical language.
Item #4: Meanwhile, this is really helpful [mp3]. Really, seriously. Listen to it. (More audio selections here.) And I hadn't intended to make this comment, but as I started posting these links I've been compiling, a thought struck me . . .

A certain slice of evangelicalism seems absorbed by addressing real threats to the gospel. (See above.) Fundamentalists, on the other hand, are absorbed with talking, not about the gospel, but about that slice of evangelicalism—why it's "ecumenical" and why it's seducing the young people with its music. And they seem very serious about it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I Don't Usually Push the Book Sales, But . . .

. . . this one's just really, really good.

Just bought some Starr Meade stuff for family use. The Trellis and the Vine is the most practical book I've read in the past year. (Probably the one book I'd encourage pastors to move to the top of their reading list.) We're using Growth Groups right now to strengthen and encourage our small group leadership. Our staff has been greatly edified in understanding the relationship between prayer and the gospel as we've been working through A Praying Life.

And I don't know who this Don Carson guy is, but, shoooweeeee, he seems kinda smart.

In other words, these are some great deals on some good stuff.

Friday, July 16, 2010

On the "Older Forms of Christian Expression" That Don't Work Anymore

BJU's working on a new feature film:
[Unusual Films'] primary mission is to produce high-quality films that clearly present the Christian message.

"In many cases, older forms of Christian expression aren't as effective any more," Lawson says. "[Unusual Films'] primary mission is to produce high-quality films that clearly present the Christian message. [With film,] we're able to get a message out to a much wider audience than we would be able to in Greenville, South Carolina."
Newspapers misquote and quote out of context. We all know that. Or maybe Lawson was talking about "older forms" like John W. Peterson cantatas. But I'm just going to go out on a limb and suggest ever so timidly that God has pretty well laid out in the text of Scripture all the forms of Christian expression we really need.

Read the Bible. Sing the Bible. Pray the Bible. Preach the Bible. Observe the Lord's Supper and believer's baptism.

Or have we concocted better ways to vanquish idolatry and depravity from human hearts?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Does the Old Testament Teach the Gospel?

I'd argue that Peter thought so, based on his sermon in Acts 10:34-43. Here's the final verse:
To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

Friday, July 09, 2010

Evangelical Best-Seller Now a Drug Cartel Favorite

The Washington Post is quite effectively exposing Evangelicalism's dirty laundry and soft underbelly. Fresh off it's coverage of the Ergun Caner debacle, we now learn that evangelical best-seller Wild at Heart (advocating for "muscular Christianity") has become a recruitment and training tool for a drug cartel.

You just can't make this stuff up.

Eldredge is delighted. He hopes his book brings change to the cult. Clearly, the power of the gospel is capable of such change. Perhaps a reader can speak to the presence and clarity of the gospel in the book. I'm wholly unaware.

And here's Phil Johnson's critique of the muscular Christianity mindset, with particular attention to WaH.


Bob Bixby discusses functional charismaticism masquerading as fundamentalist cessationism. As critiques of moderated forms of contemporary continuationism continue to multiply among preservationist fundamentalists, I have to wonder why fundamentalists have for so long tolerated the sort of stories Bob alludes to and the sort of claims that fit the same mold (God spoke to/told me . . .).

Are these critiques really about preserving a theology, or are they about circling the wagons and perpetuating a culture? As long as the guns are pointed at enemies on the outside and not the inside, the evidence for the former seems minimal.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

A Follow-Up on Repentance, Guilt, and Justification

If you're interested in thinking more about the implications of the post on "getting right with God" and the gospel, here are some recent posts that develop the conversation a bit more.

Kevin DeYoung on guilt:
Christians tend to motivate each other by guilt rather than grace. Instead of urging our fellow believers to be who they are in Christ, we command them to do more for Christ.
More DeYoung, this time on confession and repentance:
The cleansing, mind you, is not like the expunging of a guilty record before the judge. That’s already been accomplished. This cleansing is more like the scraping of barnacles off the hull of a ship so it can move freely again. We need confession of sin before God like a child needs to own up to her mistakes before Mom and Dad, not to earn God’s love, but to rest in it and know it more fully.
And Darryl Hart on Calvin, guilt, and conscience:
[T]he significance of conscience in the life of every person means that justification can in no way be merely a book keeping matter, as if our account is credited with Christ’s righteousness way over there but then we need to have a moral transformation way deep down over here inside us for salvation to play out. Justification solves the guilty conscience problem. It’s a remedy for what is basic and deep down in each human being.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Preaching "Get Right with God" Is a Gospel-Killing Heresy [or] How Some Fundamentalists Are Functionally Medieval Roman Catholics

Mark Farnham makes that point quite effectively here, though perhaps less abrasively. Some quotes:
[T]o those within legalistic systems, legalism is a refuge from the insecurities of life and the uncertainties of our world.

This is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to talk someone out of a legalistic church. There is so much “certainty” and comfort in knowing exactly what one must do to remain in “right with God.” Legalism requires so little faith, because every aspect of life is defined and mandated. In contrast, the concept of grace and Christian liberty is a scary wilderness of uncertainty. Better to stay in the fortress (or prison). . . .

For anyone who has ever lived in a legalistic system, this sounds all too familiar. The Fundamentalist variety of today would never deny that salvation is all by grace, but the not so subtle message is that to be “right with God” requires the keeping of the rules.
This sort of preaching "get right with God" misunderstands justification, sanctification, substitutionary atonement, and the finished work of Christ. It often creates a false system of worship—a set of standards that depraved humans are capable of reaching. Even more scandalously, this system necessitates a new god—a god small enough to be satisfied by it.

Seems to me that a heresy doesn't get much more fundamental than that.

Pagans, Charismatics, and the Transformation of Worship

I've found J. Matthew Pinson's introduction to his edited volume, Perspectives on Christian Worship, to be quite helpful. He supplies a concise, provocative analysis of the transformation of Christian worship over the past 20 centuries and a single-paragraph summary of the five views represented in the book.

When I say provocative, I'm talking about two passages in particular. First, a description of how and why formal liturgy took hold:
Most of the liturgical change in the fourth century [coinciding with the rule of Constantine and the establishment of Christianity as the state religion] resulted from pagan influences on the church, both secular and religious. Pagan society had less impact on Christian worship and practice prior to the fourth century, owing to the resolve of the early Christians to mark themselves off as distinct from the pagan world around them.

Calvin R. Stapert shows, for example, how the church fathers uniformly opposed most pagan music in both form and content. Clement of Alexandria, for instance, eschewed pagan music, the "old song," which he described as "licentious, voluptuous, frenzied, frantic, inebriating, titillating, scurrilous, turbulent, immodest, and meretricious" (A New Song for an Old World, 54). Instead, he argued, the church should set itself apart from the world's music, singing the "new song," which Clement believed reflects the "melodious order" and "harmonious arrangement" of the universe and is "sober, pure, decorous, modest, temperate, grave, and soothing. Clement wished to "banish [pagan music] far away, and let our songs be hymns to God. . . . For temperate harmonies are to be admitted" (3-4).
And second, from the back end of the story of the Church:
Contemporary evangelical worship emerged from the Pentecostal-charismatic end of the post-Reformation worship spectrum. For example, the vast majority of publishers of the contemporary praise-and-worship genre from the last two decades of the twentieth century had charismatic roots. . . . Thus, the radical end of the spectrum, embodied in the Pentecostal-charismatic strain of evangelicalism, became mainstream in the contemporary worship movement, influencing large segments of evangelicalism beyond Pentecostals and charismatics (12).
These two nuggets from history strike at the heart of the questions Christian leaders are wrestling with (or aren't but should be) today:
  1. How do we communicate the gospel to people in contemporary culture in terms they can understand without polluting the gospel by importing the pagan affections that are intrinsic to contemporary culture?
  2. To what degree (even assuming sound lyrics) can we employ musical forms that emerge from a theological tradition that identifies the presence of the Spirit with a subjective experience, and attempts to create forms which conjure that experience. (For that matter, how do we know when a particular form makes that attempt?)