Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"Nothing draws a crowd like end times preaching"

Promotional advertising for churches, from the B.D. (Before Driscoll) era. IOW, before sexually explicit sermon series describing visions of assaults:

Makes you wonder what's the next big thing coming down the pike.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Those Who Fail to Learn from History . . .

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones' nine conclusions, following extensive examination of the key texts, reproduced from his address, "The Basis of Christian Unity":

1. Unity must never be isolated, or regarded as something in and of itself.

2. The question of unity must never be put first. We must never start with it, always bearing in mind the order stated so clearly in Acts 2:42, where fellowship follows doctrine.

3. We must never start with the visible church or with an institution, but rather with the truth, which alone creates unity.

4. The starting point in considering the question of unity must always be regeneration and belief of the truth.

5. An appearance or a facade of unity based on anything else, and at the expense of these two criteria, or ignoring them, is clearly a fraud and a lie.

6. To do anything which supports or encourages such an impression or appearance of unity is surely dishonest and sinful.
The world will not be impressed by a mere coming together in externals while there is central disagreement about the fundamentals of the faith. It will interpret it as an attempt on the part of the church authorities to save their institution in much the same way as it as it sees business men forming combines and amalgamations with the same object and intention. The question the world is asking is, What is Christianity? What is your teaching? Have you anything authoritative and powerful to offer us? It is interested in this rather than in organizational matters, and rightly so. It is also ready to respond to it.
In other words, MLJ believed that Christian unity in the fundamental doctrines is "missional."

7. To regard a church, or a council of churches, as a forum in which fundamental matters can be debated and discussed, or as an opportunity for witness-bearing, is sheer confusion and muddled thinking.

8. Unity must obviously never be thought of primarily in numerical terms, but always in terms of life. Nothing is so opposed to the biblical teaching as the modern idea that numbers and powerful organization alone count.

9. The greatest need of the hour is a new baptism and outpouring of the Holy Spirit in renewal and revival. [I'm quite sure I'd disagree with MLJ's understanding of the baptism of the Spirit, but I suspect I'd agree with the main thrust of his point.]

I do wonder how the last few decades of church history, perhaps even the last few weeks, might have been different if we took the Doctor's proposals seriously.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Practical Reading: Episode IV

Counterfeit Gods, by Tim Keller
Keller certainly didn't invent the idea that idolatry is at the root of all sorts of sin (see this really old and really excellent sermon [PDF]), but I think he's more responsible than any other living human for reintroducing the concept to contemporary sermons and our everyday conversations. This book doesn't chase every thread of idolatry, but it makes the point rather well that we all ought to do that in our own hearts, and it gives us a paradigm to use as we do.
Our contemporary society is not fundamentally different from these ancient ones. Each culture is dominated by its own set of idols. Each has its "priesthoods," its totems and rituals. Each one has its shrines—whether office towers, spas and gyms, studios, or stadiums—where sacrifices must be made in order to procure the blessings of the good life and ward off disaster. What are the gods of beauty, power, money, and achievement but these same things that have assumed mythic proportions in our individual lives and in our society? (xi-xii)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Practical Reading: Episode III

Reverberation, by Jonathan Leeman
Anybody else grow up with the song, "Read your Bible, pray every day, and you'll grow, grow, grow"? I wonder if it's not representative of a reductionistic, perhaps even mystical, view of God's Word. But Leeman does an outstanding job rebuilding a biblical theology of the Bible—"how God's Word brings light, freedom, and action to His people" as people bring their lives into contact with the Word and with one another:
[T]he "ministry of the Word indeed begins in the pulpit, but then it must continue through the life of the church as members echo God's Word back and forth to one another. The word reverberates, as in an echo chamber. In a real echo chamber, sound reverberates off walls. In the church, it's the hearts of people that both absorb and project the sounds of His effectual Word. (24)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Practical Reading: Episode II

The God Who Is There, by D.A. Carson
I'm not sure if Carson has said exactly why he wrote this book, but it has the feel of someone explaining the basic message of the Bible to someone who's never heard it. I wonder if it might not also be useful for young people who grew up hearing all the stories, but never heard how they point to Christ. Those who argue that people doing biblical theology tend towards allegory will also find less to criticize in Carson's work. Here's one representative portion:
[W]hen Paul here in Romans 3 commends faith, what he is wanting from us is a God-given ability to perceive what God has done by hanging Jesus on the cross, reconciling us to himself, setting aside his own just wrath, demonstrating his love, and declaring us just even though we are not, because the righteousness of Christ Jesus is now counted as ours and our sin is now counted as his. And he has anchored this in God's gracious self-disclosure across enormous tracts of time, across the Bible's entire storyline, climaxing in the shattering reality that the God who made us, the God who is our Judge, bled and died for us and rose again. (184-185)

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Practical Reading: Episode I

I'm a nerd. I know that. Kind of embrace it. I'm particularly a reading nerd, including stuff like this and this and this and this in my recreational reading. The most "fun" book I've read recently is Soccernomics. So I think that ought to establish the point.

But I also try to organize my reading to include titles that might have a bit of a broader appeal—titles that are useful in discipleship, for evangelism, towards personal sanctification, and for pastoral insight. I want to tell you about four that I've finished fairly recently, taking a couple sentences to make the case why you should read it, and providing a representative quote. Maybe a long one. We'll go one at a time, so more posts coming over the next few days, but we'll start with my favorite.

A Sure Guide to Heaven, by Joseph Alleine

This is basically an evangelistic tract, before the gospel had to fit on a 6-panel leaflet, targeted to people who assumed they were Christians because of their baptism and their religiosity. Punchy and quotable, this is one of the most readable and enjoyable of the Puritan Paperbacks. Alleine just brutalizes the non-lordship view of "conversion"—what a friend of mine used to call the "Not So Great Salvation" view. In other words, this isn't a gospel John MacArthur made up:
The unsound convert takes Christ by halves. He is all for the salvation of Christ, but he is not for sanctification. He is for the privileges, but does not appropriate the person of Christ. He divides the offices and benefits of Christ. This is an error in the foundation.

Whoever loves life, let him beware here. It is an undoing mistake, of which you have been often warned, and yet none is more common. Jesus is a sweet Name, but men do not love the Lord Jesus in sincerity. They will not have Him as God offers, "to be a Prince and a Saviour" (Acts v 31). They divide what God has joined, the King and the Priest. They will not accept the salvation of Christ as He intends it; they divide it here. Every man's vote is for salvation from suffering, but they do not desire to be saved from sinning. They would have their lives saved, but still would have their lusts.

Indeed, many divide here again; they would be content to have some of their sins destroyed, but they cannot leave the lap of Delilah, or divorce the beloved Herodias. They cannot be cruel to the right eye or right hand. O be infinitely careful here; your soul depends upon it.

The sound convert takes a whole Christ, and takes Him for all intents and purposes, without exceptions, without limitations, without reserve. He is willing to have Christ upon any terms; he is willing to have the dominion of christ as well as deliverance by Christ. He says with Paul, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" Anything, Lord. He sends the blank for Christ to set down His own conditions. (45-46)

Thursday, February 02, 2012

If It's True for Dogs . . .

My hopes were never particularly high for the first Elephant Room, let alone the second. From the beginning of its promotion, I felt vibes that raised some concerns, which I believe have proven to be justifiable, without exception.

To put it simply, the format of the conversations, exacerbated by the personas of the leading figures, made the nature of the conversation pretty predictable, and not in a good way. I mean, we've seen this movie before, haven't we? On top of that—with no disrespect intended to a couple participants–the supporting cast of characters offered minimal hope for elevating the conversation, particularly since ministry size seems more closely related to the criteria for inclusion than a relentless commitment to biblical fidelity.

Dare I say, that's maybe not quite the right format for public conversations about theology and their implications for pastoral ministry? Maybe I was naïve to think that's what it was supposed to be about, or maybe I'm just a hater. (After all, I am a blogger.)

ER2 introduced new concerns. I don't have anything new to say about them that hasn't already been said quite sufficiently, and of course we all know how things turned out.

Before I get to my main point, I do want to say that I'm convinced there's real value in building relationships outside our "tribe" and talking to people we disagree with. I've argued pretty regularly and vociferously that it hasn't happened enough. But I'm just old-fashioned enough to think that a nation-wide simulcast with tix at $99 a pop isn't the way to get that difficult work done, particularly when matters as complex and fundamental as the Trinity are at stake.

Now having gotten all that out of the way, I think something Justin Taylor wrote calls for a response. Addressing TGC's minimal comments on these recent events, he said:
Most of us do not know all that was said to T.D. Jakes before and after the event. Most of us do not know all of the conversations between the Gospel Coalition and James MacDonald prior to the event—or how he responded. But some critics have assumed that since they haven’t read a public statement on the web about X, then there are not hours of conversations—some winsome and careful, and some neither of those—happening behind the scenes.
Here's the deal. As a para-church ministry, TGC intends to be a help to churches. Right?:
Our desire is to serve the church we love by inviting all our brothers and sisters to join us in an effort to renew the contemporary church in the ancient gospel of Christ so that we truly speak and live for him in a way that clearly communicates to our age.
As a pastor in a church in which members and their families have been scarred by the disastrous teaching of the prosperity gospel movement, I don't feel particularly served when a present TGC council member and a now-resigned member prop up one of its most well-known proponents.

TGC needs to clean up the mess its elephant made on our lawn. "[W]e wish [MacDonald] well in his far-reaching endeavors" doesn't cut it. We don't know why JM resigned. We don't know how TGC feels about its leadership being pervaded by people who don't possess the prudence to perceive the pitfalls of participation in this parley. We don't know whether this video that implies several TGC Council members are guilty of "white idolization" is among the "far-reaching endeavors" in which TGC wishes JM well. We don't know what sort of gospel is being coalesced for when the gospel we believe is undermined, and the only sound is silence. We don't know these things, because TGC, which purports to speak on behalf of the gospel in a myriad of ways, has conspicuously avoided speaking unambiguously to this matter.

The Gospel Coalition just reminded us of the Francis Schaeffer's 100th birthday. I wonder if his words to a General Assembly of the PCA [PDF] might be a useful reminder to all of us:
[L]et us not allow any place for confusing Christian love with compromise, latitudinarianism and accommodation! The spirit of our age is syncretism in all the areas of life, in all the areas of thought. The spirit of our age is syncretism, and thus accommodation is the rule. The spirit of our age is the age of syncretism in contrast in truth versus error; and this being so, accommodation is the common mentality.

Those in the churches who said they were practicing love but who confused this with compromise and accommodation have not been static in their error. Compromise is never static. It always progresses. Thus what began as ecclesiastical compromise has become the acceptance of a series of tragedies, a series of things which deny truth as truth. A series of tragedies which rest in the loss of the realization that truth as truth demands differentiation. Accomodation progresses and it is increasingly forgotten that truth, if it is really truth and not just subjective truth inside of our own head, demands confrontation, loving confrontation, but confrontation. If I lose the concept of confrontation it must be asked, do I believe that truth is truth.