Thursday, January 31, 2013


One of my favorite paraprosdokians is "You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice." Which reminds me of an old post on freedom:
I've told the parachute analogy many times before. Two guys jump out of an airplane; one has a parachute and one does not. The one without the parachute mocks to the other bragging that he is free from the encumbrance of the parachute. Which man is really free? Which one understands the laws of gravity and physics? Which one is truly free to enjoy the event with the assuredness of safety in the end?

The point of course is disciplines and constraints actually liberate us when (and only when) they fit with the reality of our nature and capacities.

So I enjoyed reading Tim Keller's fish story. A fish, because it absorbs oxygen from the water rather than the air, is only free if it is restricted and limited to water. If we put it out on the grass, its freedom to move and even live is not enhanced, but destroyed. The fish dies if we do not honor the reality of its nature.

"Freedom is not so much the absence of restrictions as finding the right ones, the liberating restrictions. Those that fit with the reality of our nature and the world produce greater power and scope for our abilities and a deeper joy and fulfillment." Keller concludes, "Instead of insisting on freedom to create spiritual reality, shouldn't we be seeking to discover it and disciplining ourselves to live according to it?"

It is the love of Christ that constrains us (2 Cor 5.14).
Which is really to say I agree with the following post by Tim Challies When Freedom is Captivity:

It is the theme of so many movies, so many novels, so many classroom presentations and political discourses: Freedom comes in pursuing your deepest desires, whatever those desires may be. Be true to yourself, be unashamed in who you are, and you will find joy and fulfillment.

Not too long ago I read the bestselling book Anticancer, written by David Servan-Schreiber. In this book he talks about the importance of a healthy immune system for battling against disease and lists several factors that may cause an immune system to decrease rather than strengthen. One of those factors, he insists, is denying or ignoring one’s natural homosexuality. If you are homosexual, the best thing for your body and soul is to pursue your homosexuality. True freedom, he implies, freedom of both body and spirit, will be found in pursuing homosexuality; captivity will come by ignoring what he believes to be natural and good.

And yet the Bible tells us a very different story. True freedom, the Bible insists, comes when we obey God. We do not find freedom outside of the revealed will of God but within it. It is within the boundaries he gives us that we find freedom and joy and fulfillment. What looks like captivity is freedom, and what looks like freedom is captivity. We are terrible assessors of what brings the truest joy. It is a daily battle to take God at his word.

Think of a child who is told by his parents not to touch the glass in front of the fireplace. He finds freedom in obeying the boundaries his parents set for him and he ignores those boundaries at his own peril. His parents are not being arbitrary or cruel. Rather, they are using their superior knowledge and their love for him to tell him what is in his own best interests. Their love for him compels them to create rules, to create boundaries.

Similarly, God gives us boundaries and he does so out of love and mercy. He tells us that we will find joy and freedom not outside of such boundaries but within them. Within the limits he gives us, we are able to find much greater joy and pleasure and fulfillment. Adam and Eve, living within the simple boundary God gave them (do not eat the fruit of that one tree) were able to live a sinless existence fully in the presence of God. But they were also able to choose not to obey and as soon as they did that, they found that their disobedience made them slaves. No longer free to serve God in every moment of every day, they became slaves to their sinful natures. The promise of freedom brought them only the pain of captivity.

It is just so much better to take God at his word and to live within the boundaries he gives us! As Christians we have the promised Holy Spirit who works in and through and with us to deliver us from sin. As we put away what formerly delighted us, we find a whole new kind of freedom in obeying God. We find that he becomes our delight and that we find great joy in living in obedience to him. And he grants us the freedom to be free—free from sin, freedom from our enslavement to it, freedom to see what is truly delightful.

No sin is worth the captivity it brings us. Sin enslaves, but God delivers. We find our freedom not apart from him and the boundaries he gives us, but with him and within those boundaries he has graciously given to us. Here is true fulfillment and true freedom.

dealing with sin

As I've posted a number of times, the post-modern innovator has redefined love and subsequently redefined God in the image created by that incomplete and/or incorrect definition. Here Doug Wilson do a superior job writing on how to think about a loving God and His dealing with sin.

I recently received a letter from a student who was struggling in his faith, and the crux of the struggle was how the love of God, as described in the Bible, could be reconciled with some of the choices of God, as described in the Bible.

There are many examples of this problem, so let me pick just several representative ones. God is a loving God, and yet He is the one who commanded the slaughter of entire nations, and He is the one who declares the one who has done nothing but "not hear about Jesus" as reprobate and condemned.

With this question, and all others like it, everything rides on unspoken assumptions. What do we believe mankind is actually like? If we believe that God does to us what the Bible says He does to us, but we don't believe what the Bible says we are like, then of course the result will be injustice. We will have a problem because we try to combine one part of the biblical narrative with our rosy evaluation of ourselves, and we can't do it. But combining the entire biblical narrative with itself is easy.

To return to the two issues above, God tells Abraham that his descendants will not be given the land yet because "the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full" (Gen. 15:16) In other words, the judgment of God in these matter was not a blind rage, but rather exquisitely just. And the other nations that were wiped out -- what were they actually like? We have a controversy with God, and so we assume that they were all peaceful little Cananites, flowers in their hair, dancing in meadows with pan flutes. But that is not what they were like at all. And as for the reprobate who does not believe in Jesus, we must remember that he is not condemned for "not knowing about Jesus." He is condemned for violating the standards of his own conscience in fundamental ways, and for doing so every day of his life.

If a judge sentences a man to hang, this is of course unjust if we leave out of the picture the crime that the man was convicted of. But what is our basis for leaving this out? That crime is only "irrelevant" if our dedicated aim is to condemn the judge.

The Bible says that if we don't believe in Christ, the wrath of God remains on us. But the wrath of God does not rest on us arbitarily or capriciously, as though we were a planet filled with innocent, doe-eyed smurfs. No, the Bible removes the inconsistency by reminding us that we are by nature objects of wrath.

If you start with the assumption that humans "don't deserve it" then of course you will come to the conclusion that we don't deserve it. And if the Bible insists we catch it anyway, then the assumption collides with our conceited faith in ourselves -- and we will think that the Bible is advocating a fundamental injustice.

But what if we are flattering ourselves? What if the doctrine of a final judgment is not a doctrine of raging injustice, but rather raging justice? We may come to realize that our problem was not really with the justice/injustice part, but rather with the raging part. If everlasting Hell were unjust, then it would be possible for some to console themselves there. But the everlasting Hell is just, and that means there is no consolation.

If we were race of innocents, and some god were flipping coins to determine who would be lost and who saved, then there might be something to talk about. But we are not a race of innocents. Look around. As Chesterton says somewhere, the doctrine of original sin is the one foundational doctrine of the Christian faith which can be demonstrated and empirically shown.

If there are ten innocent citizens rounded up, and five of them are shot by a despot, there is a gross injustice. But if there are ten inmates on death row, and the governor pardons three of them, there is no injustice done at all to the remaining seven. The only question of possible injustice arises with regard to the three who were pardoned. In other words, the question of justice does not arise when we are talking about Hell. It does arise when we are talking about Heaven.

The question is not "how can a just God send people to Hell?" The question concerns how a just God can allow sinners into Heaven. A God-centered concern about justice would worry far more about Heaven than Hell. A self-flattering, man-centered approach would worry aloud, and does worry aloud, about the purported justice of Hell. But we needn't worry. The Scriptures teach plainly that at the point of judgment, every mouth will be stopped. The Bible tells us that when it comes down to it, there will be nothing to say. The debates will be over.

The real problem, the problem of justice and Heaven, is resolved in the cross. Christ died as a blood atonement so that God could be both just and the one who justifies. God could be just and send us all to Hell. He could be the one who justifies and let us all into Heaven on a boy-will-be-boys basis. But in order to be both just and the one who justifies, Christ had to bleed.

And that is our final theodicy. Christ is the one who bled.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

theology and the cross

No theology is genuinely Christian which does not arise from and focus on the cross. ~ John Stott in The Cross of Christ


knowing but not fully

The farther a science penetrates its object, the more it approaches mystery. Even if on its journey it encountered no other object it would still always be faced with the mystery of being. Where comprehension ceases, however, there remains room for knowledge and wonder. And so things stand in theology. Disclosed to us in revelation is “the mystery of our religion”: the mystery of God’s grace [1 Time. 3:16]. We see it; it comes out to meet us as a reality in history and in our own life. But we do not fathom it. In that sense Christian theology always has to do with mysteries that it knows and marvels at but does not comprehend and fathom.

don't be afraid

John Piper on why Christians need not be afraid:
  1. We will not die apart from God’s gracious decree for his children. James 4:14-15; Matthew 10:29-30; Deuteronomy 32:39
  2. Curses and divination do not hold sway against God’s people. Numbers 23:23
  3. The plans of terrorists and hostile nations do not succeed apart from our gracious God. Psalm 33:10; Isaiah 8:9-10
  4. Man cannot harm us beyond God’s gracious will for us. Psalm 118:6; Psalm 56:11
  5. God promises to protect his own from all that is not finally good for them. Psalm 91:14
  6. God promises to give us all we need to obey, enjoy, and honor him forever. Matthew 6:31; Philippians 4:19
  7. God is never taken off guard. Psalm 121:4
  8. God will be with us, help us, and uphold us in trouble. Isaiah 41:10, 13
  9. Terrors will come, some of us will die, but not a hair of our heads will perish. Luke 21:10–11, 18
  10. Nothing befalls God’s own but in its appointed hour. John 7:30
  11. When God Almighty is your helper, none can harm you beyond what he decrees. Hebrews 13:6; Romans 8:31
  12. God’s faithfulness is based on the firm value of his name, not the fickle measure of our obedience. 1 Samuel 12:20–22
  13. The Lord, our protector, is great and awesome. Nehemiah 4:14

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

more faith

JC Ryle in Faith in Christ on how to have more faith:

Reader, would you have more faith? Then seek to become more acquainted with Jesus Christ. Study your blessed Savior more and more, and strive to know more of the length and breadth and height of His love. Study Him in all His offices, as the Priest, the Physician, the Redeemer, the Advocate, the Friend, the Teacher, the Shepherd of His believing people.

Study Him as one who not only died for you—but is also living for you at the right hand of God; as one who not only shed His blood for you—but daily intercedes for you at the right hand of God; as one who is soon coming again for you, and will stand once more on this earth.

The miner who is fully persuaded that the rope which draws him up from the pit will not break, is drawn up without anxiety and alarm. The believer who is thoroughly acquainted with the fullness of Jesus Christ, is the believer who travels from grace to glory with the greatest comfort and peace.

sex and culture

Another great post by Doug Wilson dealing with a complex issue nearly impossible to properly communicate well in the blogsphere. Here's the money quote:
For the political activists, we must confront the realization that there is no political solution for the challenge we face. Laws won't do it. For the gospel-firsters, those who keep the gospel sealed off away from our public dilemmas and challenges, we must realize that while politics is no savior, politics desperately needs to be saved.
And here's the post:

What I have been calling pomosexuality is both a normal and abnormal state of affairs, and I should probably explain.
Scripture teaches that there are two humanities, one broken and the other . . . broken, but in the process of repait. One humanity resides in Adam, and is in complete bondage to what Paul calls the flesh. The other humanity resides in Christ, and is progressively being liberated from that old bondage. This happens through a process of both individual and cultural sanctification.
We should not be surprised that each humanity, being a humanity, expresses its nature in sexual ways. So in this sense, homosexuality, promiscuity, pornography, and so forth, are all "normal." A broken creation, a broken humanity, mean a broken sexuality.
This affronts our deep-seated Pelagianism (which is also normal for unregenerate man), which wants to say that if we can't help doing something, we can't be held responsible for it. Obligation implies ability, and since we have no ability to stop being so universally horny, we must not have the obligation to do so, or so the thinking goes.
Trouble develops when a culture dominated by the old humanity in Adam finds itself saddled with laws, customs and mores, all inherited from a time when the new humanity in Christ had much more influence than it does now. This residuum does nothing but chafe. Someone like Nietszche shows up in a Europe that is spiritually dead, but with "fussy" biblical customs, assumptions, and laws extending in every direction, and what happens is the only possible thing that could happen. What happens is revolt.
Perversion is perversion when compared to the creational norm that God first established, and also when compared to the design that God has set out for us in regenerate humanity. But it is undeniably biblical to affirm that adultery, fornication, uncleanness, and so on, are natural to the natural man (Gal. 5:19). Apart from Christ these lust clusters are normal, and they are so connected to our members which are on the earth that we as believers must still deal with them (Col. 3:5).
Patterns and customs and expectations and laws which are conducive to the new humanity cannot be laid on top of the old humanity. It will not work. But I do not say this as a prelude to an exhortation to "give up." No, we must not give up. We were told to teach all the nations how to obey every word that Jesus left to us, and this requirement includes Massachusetts. But before that can happen, we must baptize them, and baptizing them means baptizing them into His death (Rom. 6:3). That death is a death to sin, and this cannot happen without a Spirit-anointed proclamation of the gospel, such that the nation turns en masse, and bows down before the Lord in true humility. There is no other way to save our nation. No salvation without a Savior, and there is only one Savior. His name is Jesus. But before we can get America to confess that Jesus is the only Savior, we must get the Church to do so.
In his very fine book, Dangerous Calling, Paul Tripp points out the neglected context of a very famous verse. That context identifies for us what the need of the hour is. What Israel needed in the days of Isaiah, we need now. And, pressing the point further, what that is can be summed up with four Rs -- repentance, regeneration, reformation and revival.
For the political activists, we must confront the realization that there is no political solution for the challenge we face. Laws won't do it. For the gospel-firsters, those who keep the gospel sealed off away from our public dilemmas and challenges, we must realize that while politics is no savior, politics desperately needs to be saved.
"Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, 

        Call ye upon him while he is near: 
Let the wicked forsake his way, 
        And the unrighteous man his thoughts: 
        And let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; 
        And to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, 
        Neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. 
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, 
        So are my ways higher than your ways, 
        And my thoughts than your thoughts. 
For as the rain cometh down, 
        And the snow from heaven, 
        And returneth not thither, 
        But watereth the earth, 
        And maketh it bring forth and bud, 
        That it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: 
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: 
        It shall not return unto me void, 
        But it shall accomplish that which I please, 
        And it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. 
For ye shall go out with joy, 
        And be led forth with peace: 
        The mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, 
        And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 
Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, 
        And instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: 
        And it shall be to the Lord for a name, 
        For an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off" (Isa 55:6).

God's Word goes out and it accomplishes its purpose. It does not return void. But, as Tripp asks, what is that purpose? It is clearly the regeneration of mankind.
It has to do with seeking the Lord, calling on Him (v. 6). It has to do with wicked men forsaking their way, and unrighteous men forsaking their way of thinking (v. 7). God's way is to pardon (vv. 7-8), and it is in this sense that we may say that God's thoughts and ways are far above our own -- pardon, mercy, and forgiveness are not comprehensible to the natural man. When we talk about God's thoughts being higher than ours, we are not talking about the kind of calculus that God can perform compared to what we can do. We are talking about genuine love, which unconverted men cannot grasp. But God's ways are much higher than ours, which means that His plans for a new humanity will be realized (vv. 8-9). As rain and snow water the earth and are efficacious in bringing forth growth (v. 10), so also God's Word functions (v. 11). Just as precipitation does not water the earth in vain, neither does the rain of God's Word come in vain. The result will be great joy (v. 12). But there is one remarkable difference. God's Word does not result in us getting more of what we have now, only greener and lusher. God's rain transforms the nature of what is growing. This is why we must have regeneration.
When God's rain falls, fir trees will grow up instead of thorns. When God's rain falls, myrtle trees will replace all the briars. This is why we must have the new birth.
God's regenerative Word, the gospel, does not make the old humanity bigger. We do not get thicker briars and thorns. God's Word is transformative. If it did not transform, it would not be gospel.

that guy in class

Speaking of charts - here's a great chart for helping one avoid being "that guy" in a class/lecture setting ...

kings of israel

So you don't know one king of Israel from another? Here's a helpful guide from Josh Byers.

Monday, January 28, 2013

alex bershadsky

Butterfly Trap played by Alex Bershadsky - very cool.

offered and finished

JI Packer in his Concise Theology:

There is no inconsistency or incoherence in the teaching of the New Testament about, on the one hand, the offer of Christ in the gospel, which Christians are told to make known everywhere, and, on the other hand, the fact that Christ achieved a totally efficacious redemption for God’s elect on the cross.

It is a certain truth that all who come to Christ in faith will find mercy (John 6:35, 47–51, 54–57; Rom. 1:16; 10:8–13). The elect hear Christ’s offer, and through hearing it are effectually called by the Holy Spirit. Both the invitation and the effectual calling flow from Christ’s sin-bearing death. Those who reject the offer of Christ do so of their own free will (i.e., because they choose to, Mat 22:1–7; John 3:18), so that their final perishing is their own fault. Those who receive Christ learn to thank him for the cross as the centerpiece of God’s plan of sovereign saving grace.

we will worship

Mike Wilkerson in Redemption on worship:

You can’t turn off worship. It’s your basic human wiring. To not worship is to not live. It’s like a garden hose stuck on full blast. You can aim it at the grass, the car, or the shrubs, but you cannot stop its flow. Or you might imagine yourself as a sort of human billboard, always advertising what you find to be important, valuable, worthy. What you pay attention to, how you spend your time, the way you work, how you relate to others in your life—all these things broadcast your heart’s worship, making visible and advertising what is most important to you ...

Sunday, January 27, 2013

coming to the end of oneself

Mark A. Noll in Turning Points:

For [Martin] Luther it was also a pivotal axiom that the cross reveals the all-loving God as also the all-mysterious God. At the cross the creation itself took hold of the Creator; the creation entombed the Creator. At the cross the loftiest heights came down to the deepest depths; at the cross the hands of men pierced the hands that made humankind. There could be no greater mystery.

Thus, as Luther constantly repeated, the cross must always remain utterly scandalous. It was a scandal for Jews, and all who sought God through moral exertion; it was a scandal for Greeks, and all who sought God through the exercise of the mind. The cross, for Luther, revealed the judgment of God that no amount of human work could make humanity successful; no amount of diligent study could make humanity truly wise; no amount of human exertion could provide enduring joy. The cross, in sum, was God’s everlasting “no” to the most fundamental human idolatry of regarding the self as a god. It was God’s final word of condemnation for all efforts to enshrine humanity at the center of existence.

Luther’s “evangelical breakthrough” was an excruciatingly long time in coming for himself, but it also had a remarkable effect once announced, because these denunciations of a theology of glory seemed so fanatical, so excessive, or what we might today call so counterintuitive. But for those who could follow Luther’s chain of reasoning or, as was more often the case, who recognized the pilgrimage of their own hearts in what he wrote, there was great reward. A theology of the cross did not only destroy, it also opened up. And what it opened up was God’s everlasting “yes” to those who had come to the end of themselves. Here is how Luther put it:
For where man’s strength ends, God’s strength begins, provided faith is present and waits on him. And when the oppression comes to an end, it becomes manifest what great strength was hidden under the weakness. Even so, Christ was powerless on the cross; and yet there he performed his mightiest work and conquered sin, death, world, hell, devil, and all evil. Thus all the martyrs were strong and overcame. Thus, too, all who suffer and are oppressed overcome.
With these words, Luther echoed what the apostle Paul had said to the Corinthians. If humans embrace the cross, they may be scorned as spineless and foolish. But that is not the last word, for to embrace the cross is also to embrace the world as it actually is in its most essential reality. We also come to know “the mystery of God . .  . Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2: 2– 3). To embrace the scandalous cross is to be embraced in turn by Jesus. The blood-streaked figure enfolds those who come to him and ushers them into the kingdom of God. The theology of the cross shows how to become a child of God.

secret to ministry

Paul Tripp in Dangerous Calling on the secret to ministry:

I am more and more convinced that what gives a ministry its motivations, perseverance, humility, joy, tenderness, passion, and grace is the devotional life of the one doing ministry. When I daily admit how needy I am, daily meditate on the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and daily feed on the restorative wisdom of his Word, I am propelled to share with others the grace that I am daily receiving at the hands of my Savior. There simply is no set of exegetical, homiletical, or leadership skills that can compensate for the absence of this in the life of a pastor. It is my worship that enables me to lead others to worship. It is my sense of need that leads me to tenderly pastor those in need of grace. It is my joy in my identity in Christ that leads me to want to help others live in the middle of what it means to be “in Christ.” In fact, one of the things that makes a sermon compelling is that the preacher is worshiping his way through his own sermon.

what is charismatic anyway

I value Michael Patton's ability to clarify the imprecise. He helps us see gradients in our language and doesn't drive us to a dogmatic precision but helps us with language for better discussion and understanding. If you are one wrestling with understanding others and desiring honest discussion as opposed to simply repeating your position with inadequate word, you should subscribe to his blog. With that, here is his Will The Real Charismatic Please Stand Up?

It is difficult to know who is and who is not a charismatic these days. In fact, it seems to be quite a theological novelty to call oneself charismatic. However, when one person says he is “charismatic” it may not mean what you think it means.
When I associate the term “charismatic” with Christians, there are six primary things that come to mind. Any or all of these could be present in my thinking, when I use the word:
1. Unusual attention given to the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer
2. The tendency to seek and expect miraculous healings
3. The tendency to seek and expect God’s direct communication (dreams, visions, experiences, personal encounters, etc.)
4. Unusual attention given to the presence of demonic activity in the world
5. Very  expressive worship
6. Belief in the continuation of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit
I am going to briefly explain each of these. Please pay special attention to the graphs,(Yes, my mind works in graphs!) since I am going to attempt to show how, with all of these, the designation “charismatic” works on a sliding scale. Here is the model:
Please notice that the scale is not black and white (well, it is not red and white, but you know what I mean!). There is a gradation shown here, indicating that one can be more or lesscharismatic, depending on the issue in question. Better, I consider myself more or less charismatic, depending on the issue. The line in the middle represents that subjective place, beyond which the designation “charismatic” is likely to be made. I don’t always know where it is, but I think it is safe to say that the line is there somewhere.
Below, I am going to briefly explain each of these options by speaking to the extremes. Please humor me. I think I know where I am going.
1. Unusual attention given to the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer
There are certain Christians who give unusual attention to the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. Conversely, there are Christians who rarely, if ever, recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit at all. For those on the non-charismatic side of the scale, the Holy Trinity could be best described as the Father, Son, and Holy Bible! For the charismatic, the centrality of Christ’s person and work is replaced with the centrality of the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
2. The tendency to seek and expect miraculous healings
Many Christians believe that God’s benevolent healing power is available for all who have enough faith. That would be the far right extreme. Other Christians, on the far left, never hope in God’s miraculous intervention in any way (Unfortunately, I tend  to lean toward the left).
3. The tendency to seek and expect God’s direct communication (dreams, visions, experiences, personal encounters, etc.)
Some people believe God communicates with them directly. They have little use for the Bible, since from their perspective God’s answers are available immediately upon request through direct means. Every dream, vision, or unexplained sound is God trying to tell them something. On the other hand, some believers do not seek God’s guidance in any way other than through the Bible. These often misunderstand the idea of sola Scriptura to mean that the Bible is ouronly authority and source for guidance, not (as it should be understood) as our final and only infallible authority in matters of faith.
4. Unusual attention given to the presence of demonic activity in the world
There are those who believe that demons are the cause of every problem we face. If someone is depressed, it is never a chemical imbalance, but demonic oppression. If someone is sick, medicine is not the answer, exorcism is. They have “deliverance ministries” in which all problems are solved (including being overweight!) by finding and breaking the demonic stronghold. On the other side of the fence are those who, while maybe giving lip service to spiritual warfare, don’t really engage in battle against the forces of darkness in any way. In fact, they are quite embarrassed to acknowledge the reality of Satan and his demons at all.
5. Expressive worship
And, yes, there are the “expressive worship” people. You know, the ones who not only raise, and/or clap, their hands during worship, but weep, scream, dance, and sometimes go into convulsions during their time of worship. And there are the others who lip-sync the songs, have their hands in their pockets, and . . . wait . . . let’s get real: There are those who “accidentally” show up twenty-five minutes late to the service every week, just in time to catch the sermon and (oops!) miss worship time. The latter is me.
6. Belief in the continuation of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit
In the New Testament, we are told that God has gifted the church and individuals with gifts (charisma) and offices that are for the mutual edification of the church. On the far charismatic end of the scale, there are those who not only believe that all gifts are still in operation, but whose life and ministry is centered around the practice of the more extravagant gifts. For them, the gift of tongues is a sign of maturity and the presence of the Spirit in their life. Every church service is chaos, as people are uncontrollably “led by the Spirit” to prophesy, speak in tongues, and/or pronounce a word of wisdom or knowledge. On the non-charismatic end of the scale, we have those who don’t believe in the gifts at all. Some believe that all gifts of the Spirit ceased in the first century. Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself. I know of a very large network of churches which believes the gifts of teaching, giving, evangelism, tongues, healing, prophecy, and every other gift mentioned in the New Testament ceased in the first century. However, I don’t want to limit this category to just those who build extreme cessationism into their theology, because I would leave a lot of others out! While some would never openly affirm this theological stance, practically speaking, they might as well do so. In many churches, if you are not the pastor, an usher, or on the worship team, there is no need for you in the church other than to fill a seat Sunday morning and to pay your dues as the offering plate is passed around. For these, the mass majority of Christians are non-essential, non-contributing members of the body of Christ.
It should go without saying that both extremes are not only unhealthy, but potentially destructive to the body of Christ due to their imbalance. There is a healthy middle which represents an orthodox position in all of these areas. Take a look at this modified version of my chart.
In these types of discussions it is easy to create a caricature of one side by immediately associating them with the extremes of their positions. This is called a “straw man argument”, an unfair assertion, which honors neither the issue, nor the people involved, much less the Lord. Though I am not a charismatic, this does not mean that I am on the far left. At least, I try not to be. Similarly, I suspect most charismatics don’t want their perspectives to be caricatured with those on the far right.
Concerning these six options, I propose that a true charismatic in a theological sense is not necessarily one who holds their hands high during worship. Neither is it accurately characterized as someone who believes very strongly in the presence of demonic forces. In fact, I believe that a real charismatic is associated with the sixth option alone, believing that all (or at least most of) the gifts of the Spirit are still in operation today; and, who is personally seeking them.
However, with all six issues, I would say that I am to the left of the charismatic line. On some, I am pretty far to the left. On others, I hug the midline. For example, as I alluded to just a moment ago, I am not expressive in my worship at all. Yet when it comes to the reality of the presence and activity of Satan and his demons, I find myself moving further and further to the right all the time. Because of this, and because the line between being charismatic and non-charismatic is somewhat subjective, I imagine in many people’s eyes I would be labeled charismatic with regard to the issue of demonic activity. While I recognize that these issues are somewhat connected, I am nevertheless persuaded that  none of these with the exception of number six is the linchpin of whether or not one is truly a charismatic.
Gifts of the Spirit across the Spectrum
Having laid some basic groundwork, here are the four positions (generally speaking) that one can take with regard to the charismatic issue:
1. Hard Cessationist: The term “cessationist” is taken from the word “cease.” The hard cessationist believes that particular gifts, such as tongues, prophecy, miracles, healings, and the like, necessarily ceased in the first century due to an exhaustion of purpose. The hard cessationist would distinguish between what are called “sign gifts” and all other gifts. “Sign gifts” are the gifts that are evidently miraculous, and therefore provide a sign to the witnesses that the message of the one who performed these gifts was truly from God. According to the hard cessationist, once the New Testament was completed, there was no longer a need for these gifts to be given to the church, since the Gospel message had been firmly established. They would be considered “hard” cessationists, since they believe that both the Bible and biblical theology necessitates their cessation.
2. Soft Cessationist: The soft cessationist would agree with most of the arguments of the hard cessationist, except they would be open to God’s use of the sign gifts in areas that are unevangelized. Therefore, the “ceasing” of the gifts has less to do with the completion of the Bible and more to do with God’s missional purpose. For the soft cessationist, it may very well be that God continues to use these gifts to establish the Gospel message in areas of the world that have yet to be penetrated with the Gospel. Once the Gospel is established, the gifts would cease.
3. Continuationist: The term “continuationist” is taken from the word “continue.” Continuationists, simply put, believe that all the gifts of the Spirit have continued throughout the church age. For the continuationist, while many of these gifts would have indeed served as signs to the outside world, their primary function is not to evangelize of the lost, but to ensure the health of the church. In other words, God gives them out of his benevolence. The continuationist sees no biblical evidence that these gifts would ever cease; on the contrary, he believes the Bible teaches that these gifts are normative for the church age.
4. Charismatic: Every charismatic is a continuationist, but not every continuationist is a charismatic. I think this is an important distinction to make. The charismatic would agree with all of the continuationist’s positions; the primary difference is in their pursuit of all the gifts for the church. I would like to propose this as a formal working definition of a charismatic for our purposes:
A charismatic is one who believes that all of the gifts of the Spirit have continued, are normative, and should be sought out by the church.
The last phrase “and should be sought out” is the key difference between a continuationist and a charismatic. In other words, the theology of the charismatic is not simply a passive academic argument, but one that should be practiced and affect the life of the church. If you believe that all of the gifts have continued, but neither practice them yourself nor belong to a church which seeks them, then you are not really charismatic.
Here is what my chart would look like now:
For the record, I think I would be best placed somewhere between a soft cessationist and a continuationist, most days leaning my back against the door of the soft cessationist. I don’t like the word “ceased” with regard to the gifts (too definite) but I don’t like the word “normative” either.
I hope that this helps a bit to clarify what the word “charismatic” means in theological context. I think with such a definition, it would be easier to tell who the real charismatics are and who are those who are just more charismatic than others.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

how much should i give

Tim Challies fields the question, how much money am I supposed to give away?

It is a question every pastor faces on a regular basis. It is a question every conference speaker faces in panel discussions or Q&A sessions: How much of my money do I give to the church? How much should I give to the church?

My answer is short: Enough that it matters. Let me explain what I mean by that.

In Corinthians 16:2 Paul instructs the church to take a weekly collection in which each person is to give “as he may prosper.” This tells us that there will be different levels of giving. Some will give more and some will give less. God has prospered us differently—he has given us all different levels of income and wealth and with it different amounts to give back to him.

(Aside: For various reasons I do not believe that we are instructed or obligated to give the tithe, the flat 10% that was a minimal expectation in the Old Testament. Those who demand tithing today usually fail to understand the Old Testament context where the tithe was a tax as much as a donation; it was a means of providing for the civil and religious structures in that society. Since we are no longer a theocracy, the tithe is no longer operational. It may be a helpful bit of information to include in a discussion but it’s not the place to begin.)

When I say we are to give enough that it matters, I mean that we should give enough that it makes a difference to our lives, to our lifestyles. Erwin Lutzer says it well: “Those who give much without sacrifice are reckoned as having given little.” We are meant to give enough that there are things we cannot do and cannot have because of our dedication to the Lord’s work. Let me be clear that I do not mean that we should do without food or we should do without paying our bills. The sacrifice is to be ours and not the bank’s or the landlord’s. Giving “as he may prosper” is not calling us to give beyond the ways the Lord has prospered us. There are theological traditions that insist that going into debt in order to “plant a seed” will ensure God’s provision in return. God may choose to do that, but wisdom dictates that we ensure that we are able to pay our bills and feed our children. We are to be generous, but we are to be wise as well.

For some people, giving away 10% may mean they are giving enough that it matters. Maybe they cannot have quite the vacation they would otherwise have; maybe they are buying a used car instead of a new one; maybe they are saving for an extra couple of years before fixing up the kitchen or putting the down payment on that home. For other people this may come when they are giving 2% of their income. For others it may come when they are giving 75%. My encouragement is to keep raising the amount you give until you feel it, until it matters.

Giving that does not impact our lives at all is not sacrificial and, therefore, not enough. C.S. Lewis expresses this in a helpful way: “If our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot because our charitable expenditure excludes them.”

How much am I to give? Enough that it matters. Enough that I am sacrificing some comforts and some experiences I would otherwise enjoy. What the Lord teaches those who give this way is that the joy of giving, both now and eternally, for outweighs what we could have had instead. We don’t give because God needs our money; we give to show our gratitude and our dependence, and in return he returns joy. So many Christians can attest that there is a powerful, humbling kind of delight in tallying up the giving for a previous year and thanking the Lord for allowing so much to be given away. That car or kitchen or house pales in comparison to the joy of making so small a sacrifice to the One who sacrificed all for us.

churches to watch

If you're into this sort of thing ... or just curious as I am, here's a list of U.S. Churches To Watch. I'm sure it's not scientific but to me, interesting nonetheless. The list is classifies them in the following categories:

  • Gr = churches known for fast growth
  • If = churches known for influence with other churches
  • In = churches known for innovation
  • Pl = churches known for church planting
  • Sz = churches known for large attendance

what will save you?

Paul David Tripp in Dangerous Calling:

If you are ... not reminding yourself again and again of the ... right-here, right-now benefits of the grace of Christ, you will be looking elsewhere to get what can be found only in Jesus. If you are not feeding your soul on the realities of the presence, promises, and provisions of Christ, you will ask the people, situations, and things around you to be the messiah that they can never be. If you are not attaching your identity to the unshakable love of your Savior, you will ask the things in your life to be your Savior, and it will never happen. If you are not requiring yourself to get your deepest sense of well-being vertically, you will shop for it horizontally, and you will always come up empty. If you are not resting in the one true gospel, preaching it to yourself over and over again, you will look to another gospel to meet the needs of your unsettled heart.

Friday, January 25, 2013

authority and submission

A husband's authority over his wife and a wife's particular submission to her husband are a subset of this broader Christian duty for all believers to be filled with the Spirit and to be mutually submissive to one another.

from knowledge to praise

John Calvin in The Institutes on knowledge leading to praise:

What help is it, in short, to know a God with whom we have nothing to do? Rather, our knowledge should serve first to teach us fear and reverence; secondly, with it as our guide and teacher, we should learn to seek every good from him, and, having received it, to credit it to his account. For how can the thought of God penetrate your mind without your realizing immediately that, since you are his handiwork, you have been made over and bound to his command by right of creation, that you owe your life to him?–that whatever you undertake, whatever you do, ought to be ascribed to him?

grace fire

Speaking of Law and Gospel, [Paul] Zahl [in Who Will Deliver Us? The Present Power of the Death of Christ] paints a vivid picture that reveals our helplessness before the devastation and comprehensiveness of Divine expectation and how that helplessness creates the space for God’s amazing grace and the freedom it produces:
I’m a little like the duck hunter who was hunting with his friend in a wide-open barren of land in southeastern Georgia. Far away on the horizon he noticed a cloud of smoke. Soon, he could hear the sound of crackling. A wind came up and he realized the terrible truth: a brush-fire was advancing his way. It was moving so fast that he and his friend could not outrun it. The hunter began to rifle through his pockets. Then he emptied all the contents of his knapsack. He soon found what he was looking for-a book of matches. To his friend’s amazement, he pulled out a match and struck it. He lit a small fire around the two of them. Soon they were standing in a circle of blackened earth, waiting for the brush fire to come. They did not have to wait long. They covered their mouths with their handkerchiefs and braced themselves. The fire came near-and swept over them. But they were completely unhurt. They weren’t even touched. Fire would not burn the place where fire had already burned.

The law is like the brush-fire. I cannot escape it. But if I stand in the burned-over place, where law has already burned its way through, then I will not get hurt. Not a hair of my head will be singed. The death of Christ is the burned-over place. There I huddle, hardly believing yet relieved. Christ’s death has disarmed the law. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Thursday, January 24, 2013

who is jane roe?

Today is the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the controversial Supreme Court ruling that progressives want to enshrine and conservatives want to overturn. Few rulings have been more consequential. According to Planned Parenthood’s Guttmacher Institute, 22% of all pregnancies now end in abortion, with 3 in 10 women terminating their pregnancy by the age of 45. There have been approximately 57 million legally induced abortions in the U.S. since 1973—nearly the current population of California and Texas combined. Yet a recent Pew study found that 4 in 10 “Millennials” don’t even know that Roe v. Wade has to do with abortion. And even fewer today know the true story of the woman who started it all, the pseudonymous plaintiff “Jane Roe.” Here are five things you may not know about her, culled from interviews and profiles along with her sworn congressional testimony and memoirs.

(1) The name “Jane Roe” was created over beer and pizza.

In 1969 Norma was 21 years old, divorced, and pregnant for the third time. (The first two children were placed for adoption.) After seeking an abortion but finding out it was illegal, and then driving to an illegal clinic only to find it closed, adoption attorney Henry McCluskey referred her to two young lawyers in Dallas, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee. Weddington (who had traveled to Mexico a couple of years earlier to have an abortion) was seeking a class-action lawsuit against the state of Texas in order to legalize abortion. It was an unlikely party at the corner booth of Columbo’s pizza parlor in Dallas: two recent law-school grads in business suits sitting across the table from a rough and uneducated homeless woman. The lawyers needed a representative for all women seeking abortions—one who was young, poor, and white. They just didn’t want her to cross state lines to get a legal abortion, or the case would be considered moot and dismissed. Without money and five months pregnant, Norma was the ideal candidate. After downing several pitchers of beer, they agreed on using the pseudonym “Jane Roe.” (“Wade” referred to Henry B. Wade, the attorney general of Dallas.)

(2) Jane Roe didn’t know the meaning of “abortion.”

Weddington and Coffee told Norma that abortion just dealt with a piece of tissue, and that it was like passing a period rather than the termination of a distinct, living, and whole human organism. Abortion was a taboo topic in 1970, and Norma had dropped out of school at the age of 14. She knew that John Wayne movies talked about “aborting the mission,” so she thought it meant to “go back”—as in, going back to not being pregnant. She honestly believed “abortion” meant a child was prevented from coming into existence.

(3) Jane Roe never appeared in court.

Her lawyers drafted a one-page legal affidavit, which she signed but did not read. (Even today, she has not read it.) This was only the second time she would meet with her lawyers—and it turned out to be the last. She would not be called to testify and attended none of the trial. She found out about the Supreme Court ruling from the newspaper on January 23, 1973, just like the rest of the nation. Few on that day understood the implications of Justice Blackmun’s instruction that Roe v. Wade was to be read in conjunction with its companion case Doe v. Bolton, which effectively made abortion legal at any stage of pregnancy for any reason. As a result, the United States (with Canada) became the only Western country offering no legal protection for the unborn at any stage of the pregnancy.

(4) Jane Roe never had an abortion.

Norma had already given birth and placed the baby for adoption before the three-judge Texas panel ruled against her in May of 1970, long before the Supreme Court decision in January of 1973. She was in a committed lesbian relationship and would not become pregnant again. Abortion continued to be a part of her life, however. She went on to work in abortion clinics, holding the hands of women and offering reassurance as they terminated their pregnancies, and making appearances on the Roe anniversaries.

(5) Jane Roe became pro-life.

In 1995, while working at the clinic, Norma became haunted by the sight and sound of empty playgrounds in her neighborhood. Once teeming with kids, they now seemed deserted. And she began to see it was the result of what she once called “my law.” But the decisive change happened when she met Emily Mackey, a seven-year-old girl whose parents were protesting at the clinic where “Miss Norma” worked. Emily, who had almost been aborted herself, befriended Norma, showing genuine interest and love, giving her hugs and inviting her to church. Through the influence this young girl’s combination of truth and grace, along with those who shared the gospel of Jesus with her, Norma not only became convinced of the pro-life position but also converted to Christianity.

* * *

Norma McCorvey now says that “Jane Roe has been laid to rest.” Both sides in America’s most contentious debate have claimed her at one point, and both have had reason to be disappointed. But for evangelicals—the demographic most committed to overturning Roe—the case for protecting the smallest and most defenseless members of the human race does not rest with the testimony of a single individual. It does not even rest on biblical revelation; moral philosophers have pointed out that the differences between a fetus in utero and an infant outside the womb—size, location, degree of dependency, and level of development—are morally irrelevant when determining a person’s right to life.

On this fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, evangelicals would do well to remember that we must not only labor to protect the unborn, but to continue reaching out with assistance and love and the good news of grace to the Norma McCorveys of the world—broken women who feel they have no other place to turn.

greatest sports photos

Really amazing shots at Sports Illustrated's 100 Greatest Sports Photos of All Time.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

christian boycotts

RC Sproul Jr. gives an interesting response to: do Christians have a moral obligation to boycott companies that support unbiblical causes?

No. Christians, of course disagree on this. And when we disagree we can usually expect someone to trot out the whole “meat offered to idols” and weaker brother texts discussion in I Corinthians and Romans respectively. Neither of these texts, however, were given to us to squelch discussion nor to leave us blind to moral absolutes. There are things that the Bible forbids. There are things the Bible doesn’t forbid. And there are things that fall into neither category. The key is wisdom to discern what goes in which category. If you say, “Adultery is a sin” and I say, “Whoa there. I think in certain circumstances adultery can actually be a good thing” I cannot accuse you of being a legalist. Neither can we agree to disagree by considering adultery a meat offered to idols issue, wrong for you, but fine for me. In like manner, if I say, “It’s a sin to read any Bible translation other than the King James version” and you say, “There are other acceptable translations” I cannot accuse you of being an antinomian. Neither can we agree to disagree by considering the ESV to be meat offered to idols. What the Bible calls sin is sin, whatever others might say. What it allows it allows, whatever others might say.

So where do boycotts fit in? Rightly they belong right in the middle of the meat offered to idol category. There are two objections that might come up for eating meat offered to idols. The first is that it might be bad for you, spiritually speaking. It might have demon cooties, so to speak. Paul rejects this out of hand. The mature, he argues, know that “an idol is nothing in the world” (I Corinthians 8:4). Meat is meat and foolish incantations spoken over it won’t change that.

The second objection might be this- am I not supporting the work of idolaters by buying meat from them? And here is where we get to the issue of boycotts. Paul, however, still has no objection to buying the meat offered for sale by idolaters. Why? Because we are buying meat, not idolatry. We are not guilty for what they do with the money we give them. When we trade our money for meat, the meat is ours and the money is not. In like manner, if the Home Store supports gay causes, or Red Crawfish restaurant supports Planned Parenthood, I am not guilty of supporting either if I buy some plywood, or a steamed lobster. I am buying wood and seafood.

May you boycott such companies? Of course you may. Feel free. The trouble is, however, that boycotts are most effective when they are widely practiced. Which will likely give you the temptation to move from “may” to “must.” You will be tempted to accuse your brother of sin for not joining you in your boycott, which is just like accusing your brother of sin if he buys meat that had been offered to idols, which Paul says you must not do. Buy from whomever you please. Sell to whomever you please. Or boycott whomever you please. But always remember- “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand” Romans 14:4.

a different kind of kingdom

Ray Ortlund posts:

“They asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, . . . ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.’” Acts 1:6, 8

The disciples could have made a biblical case for their kingdom scenario. But their question “must have filled Jesus with dismay” (Stott, Acts, page 41). They wanted to regain something they had lost (note “restore”), probably a projection of their own self-idealization. But God’s purpose was to give them something better. His true kingdom had always been spiritual, and the Holy Spirit was about to come down upon them in unprecedented power.

We long for our kingdoms. We see them in the Bible and enthuse over them as God’s kingdom. But he has a better way — the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s plan for you is not to restore a lost ideal you of your own imagining. God’s plan is the real you clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:48).

The you that you are by creation and redemption is not fundamentally a problem you have to work around, but fundamentally a strategy God can work through.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

let freedom ring

Interesting call to let freedom ring by Kevin DeYoung.

On Thursday we learned that an evangelical pastor cannot say a benediction at the Presidential Inauguration because 15 years ago he affirmed the Bible’s prohibition of homosexual behavior. It was a sad day for evangelical Christians. A hard day. A frustrating day.

But let it also be our Independence Day.

Let us be free from the false hope that heroic deeds and quiet agreeableness can atone for the sin of orthodox conviction.

Let us be free from the wishful thinking that good works and good manners can appease the Great God Tolerance.

Let us be free from the misplaced assumption that faithfulness to God can go hand in hand with worldly congratulation.

If it is “anti-gay” to believe that the normativity of male-female sexual union is taught by nature and nature’s God then let us wear a Scarlet Letter around our necks. Christ bore much worse.

If the culture of free love is going to hate those who believe marriage was made with God-given limits then let the opprobrium fall on us. We will despise the shame.

If henceforth we shall be considered the scum of the earth for believing what the Church has taught for 2000 years then let us be the scent of death to some. We shall be the aroma of life to others.

And lest anyone think this is a call to arms or a manifesto of malediction, it is not. If we are reviled, we shall not revile in return. If we are hated we shall pray to God for more love. If we are excluded from polite society, we will still include all Christ-exalting, Bible-believing, broken hearted sinners in the fellowship of the redeemed. And if we are esteemed by some as better off dead, we will not cease to offer the words of life.

We will not stop serving where we can. We will not stop repenting when we sin. We will not stop speaking the truth about our Lord and about his law.

There are likely far bigger disappointments to come than the one that dropped last Thursday. We did not choose this culture war and it is not about to leave us alone. The media, the academy, the government, the libertine elite–they may sully our reputation and shame our convictions, but they cannot steal our joy. We can pray more, sing more, and smile more than any of the party-goers making mud pies in the slums. We do not have to fit in down here so long as we fit in up there. We do not need a president’s approval if we have the affection of our King. Our hearts and our Bibles are wide open. Our salvation is firm. Let freedom ring.