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A Not So Generous Orthodoxy

ge-truth.jpg“Heretics are rarely excommunicated these days. Instead, they go on book tours.”

 

That is an excerpt from Mohler’s latest blog dealing with Bishop John Shelby Spong. Spong has recently flown to Australia only to be denied access to the pulpits under the authority of Archbishop Peter Jensen, who oversees the Sydney diocese! Sadly, Australia’s Anglican Primate Phillip Aspinall of Brisbane has invited him to speak two sermons in Brisbane’s St John’s Cathedral.

 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Spong and his venom-laced bile, go here, here, and here. I encourage you to read through a few of the articles you may find. In my opinion, Spong is one of the first architects of many of the foundational rhetorical tricks one finds in emerging circles. He manages to question central Christian doctrines by means of ad hominum attacks on Sola Scriptura, Sola Christo “conservative” Christians (such as myself) who have allegedly ruined Christianity.

Nowadays, Rob “discovering the Bible as a human product” Bell, N.T. “the ultimate enemy, death itself” Wright, and Brian “disagreeing agreeably (about sin)” Mclaren have managed to position themselves much more successfully within Evangelical circles, while making similar and, perhaps, more subtle distortions of Scripture. These men often take the clearest possible statements from the Bible and convolute them, all the while making you feel guilty because it seemed pretty simple to you when you first read it.

It’s not that all Scripture can be understood simplistically; it’s that the basic truths of Scripture are clear merely by reading it and understanding it within its own context. You don’t have to have to be a scholar of Jewish culture, church history, or postmodernism in order to know the most important things in this life: you just need to see, “that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3) If you want to learn that, be a humble student of the Word of God.

Deal bountifully with Your servant, that I may live and keep Your word.
Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law.
I am a stranger in the earth; do not hide Your commandments from me.
My soul is crushed with longing after Your ordinances at all times.
You rebuke the arrogant, the cursed, who wander from Your commandments.
Take away reproach and contempt from me, for I observe Your testimonies.
Even though princes sit and talk against me, Your servant meditates on Your statutes.
Your testimonies also are my delight; they are my counselors.

Psalm 119:17-24

David’s Rules for Dating

Perhaps no area of my life is more confusing or dramatic than dating. Questions like “Does she like me?”. “Do I really like her?”, “What did she mean by that?”, and most importantly, “How am I trusting God in this situation?” will likely continue to be big issues until I find the upcoming Mrs. Robinson. But while this area of life can often be confusing, there are some ground-rules I’ve established that make everything much simpler and less dramatic. Furthermore, while these ground-rules do not prevent all sinning, they set certain parameters that act as a shield against common pitfalls in dating.

Here are some of the main ones:

442px-1885-proposal-caricature.gif1. No romantic interaction, insinuation, or even contemplation of dating girls who do not have an exemplary walk with Jesus Christ. If there’s a possibility of marrying this girl, I would be violating both God’s word and Henry Scougal’s wise maxim about how we become conformed to the things which we love. This leads well into rule #2…

2. Dating relationships (aka Romantic Dating) exist as a means of determining marital possibility, not merely for “having fun”. While going on one date with a girl does not constitute a dating relationship, or romantic dating – continuous, regular, one-on-one interaction will happen only between me and someone I am thinking seriously about pursuing unto marriage.
This leads well into rule #3…

3. No dating girls who have boyfriends. To many girls in the 21st century, this apparently seems like an obsolete rule. More than once, this rule has been called into question under the grounds of, “If my boyfriend and I are both ok with hanging out with other people…why do you have a problem with it?” The truth of the matter is, my principles in dating are fairly inflexible, and they are not based on other people’s principles. I know if I had a girlfriend and she were hanging out one-on-one with another guy, I’d likely be jealous, a bit nervous, and perhaps even suspicious of him. This is a good thing, since we’re talking about relationships of loving commitment. The fact that some guys don’t make a big deal about it with their girlfriends doesn’t lend me any necessary consolation about their relationship.

4. Almost no physical interaction outside of short hugs and side hugs with girls with whom I’m not in a dating relationship. Sometimes I even hesitate to hug some girls based on this same precept. In the past, I think some people mistakenly assume I’m a very un-physical person who doesn’t enjoy physical expression in a relationship. Quite to the contrary, I enjoy physical expression very much. So much, in fact, that I realize I how important it is for me to err on the side of caution. I have very deep-seated desires for physical interaction with a woman, and I limit my physical interaction because I want to guard my own heart from false satisfaction and sinful indulgence of the flesh. Even in small things, this can be a temptation.

5. Very little physical interaction with the girl I choose to date. Specifics? No kissing. If I’m going to be with this woman the rest of my life, I’ll have plenty of time to kiss her. Limited cuddling. Basically a prolonged side hug whilst sitting next to each other watching a movie. Holding hands? Yes. Does this seem boring? Even to me it does; but I think it’s very wise. If the relationship is everything it should be, anything more than this is unnecessary as long as we’re just dating. If the relationship doesn’t work out, I don’t think there’s any room for feeling guilty about doing any of this with someone I was sincerely interested in.

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As I continue to study through the book of Ezekiel with the rest of my Sunday School class, the Lord continues to open my eyes to this man and the book he wrote. I think I’m pretty similar to most Christians in recognizing prophets as special men who called Israel back to God’s righteous standard and were also righteous men themselves. In modern vernacular, they were hard-core. Or as I would say of late, they “kept it real”. They were true to their word.

 

 

 

Prophets hold an special honor in Scripture. In Hebrews, we read,

They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated men of whom the world was not worthy, wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. (Heb. 11:37-38)

Though I wholeheartedly admire these men, my ignorance of them has made it difficult for me to see them three-dimensionally. That is, I don’t think of them as flesh and blood. I can’t tell you much of how they developed as people throughout their years of prophecy. I can’t tell you much of their failures or insecurities, other than vague generalizations. But today, I became more sympathetic with the prophet Ezekiel than I expected. In chapter three, we see a striking description of him which reveals to me both the depth of his character as well as the reality of his frailty.

A lot of us are familiar with the famous “wheel within a wheel” vision of God Ezekiel has in the first chapter. We gather it was some sort of brilliant, overwhelming, machine-like appearance of God similar to Isaiah’s vision in the sixth chapter of his book.

In the second chapter, we read of his calling, summed up verse 8, “But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” Then God continues,

But the house of Israel is not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for the whole house of Israel is hardened and obstinate. But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are…Go now to your countrymen in exile and speak to them. Say to them, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says,” whether they listen or fail to listen.

The first action we see from Ezekiel after his vision of God is far different from what we see from Isaiah. After Isaiah sees God in all his glory, he goes boldly to Ahaz, saying, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of God also?” (7:13)

But we see Ezekiel virtually incapacitated after his own vision.

Consider this,

The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the LORD upon me. I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Abib near the Kebar River. And there, where the were living, I sat among them for seven days – overwhelmed. (Ezekiel 3:14-15)

~

One of my passions is to find the dirty details in Scripture. Oh, I love the fiery rebukes from the prophets, but it doesn’t seem like we spend enough time examining the less “preachy-sounding” details of the word of God.

Consider Psalm 22. While it is certainly best understood in terms of its prophetic value, do we ever read it as David’s personal plea to a God whom he feels has abandoned him? Or do we only care about it inasmuch as we can see its ultimate fulfillment in Christ’s death? I’m not suggesting we should neglect an ultimate focus on Christ as we study God’s word, but we get more spiritual food when we are willing to see the immediate meaning of the text as well as its ultimate significance.

I had a double-take when I read through all of this. Going through this section a second time, words like “bitterness”, “anger of my spirit”, and “overwhelmed” stuck out to me. Though my life on this earth is nothing compared with Ezekiel’s (at least in the last 24 years of my life), I realized I was reading about someone a lot like me.

Now think about Ezekiel’s condition at this point in his life:

In the first chapter we read that he had just turned 30. While I don’t know really anything about his hopes and ambitions at this point, I think its safe to assume that Ezekiel had different plans than becoming a marked man of God to a rebellious people. Not only was he bitter, he was overwhelmed. I imagine he must’ve felt something like post-traumatic stress syndrome, having seen a powerful vision of a wrathful, holy God who was prepared to exact judgment on backsliding Israel. If you can fully understand his vision, you’ve done more than any other reader of the Bible. Over and over, Ezekiel must resort to similes as normal human experiences are quite inadequate to convey the full magnificence and terror he observed.

So Ezekiel, the mighty prophet, had a very understandable response: he was shocked and upset.

Despite this, he did not lash out at God.

All we know he did was sit “among his people”, waiting for God to reveal whatever happened next.

Are you willing to wait in times of hardship? Do you understand God has a plan, even if you do not know it?

Consider the words of Jeremiah:

The LORD is good to those who wait for Him,
To the person who seeks Him.
It is good that he waits silently For the salvation of the LORD.
It is good for a man that he should bear The yoke in his youth.
Let him sit alone and be silent Since He has laid it on him.
Let him put his mouth in the dust,
Perhaps there is hope.
Let him give his cheek to the smiter,
Let him be filled with reproach.
For the Lord will not reject forever,
For if He causes grief,
Then He will have compassion According to His abundant lovingkindness.
For He does not afflict willingly
Or grieve the sons of men.
To crush under His feet all the prisoners of the land,
To deprive a man of justice In the presence of the Most High,
To defraud a man in his lawsuit–
Of these things the Lord does not approve.

Lamentations 3:25-36

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As we examine the sermon “The Indispensable Duty of Loving Our Enemies”, we see that, after Scougal makes a thorough exposition of the Luke 6:27, he then tells us how to love our enemies. He writes, “the nature and measures of this love will more fully appear, if we consider what it does exclude, and what it does imply.” This excerpt is the first of five excluded qualities.


As I read this, the deception of my own heart began to unfold. I realized how often
I sin in my heart against people whom I wouldn’t even classify as “enemies”. I deeply appreciate how Scougal uses his keen understanding of the human condition alongside his encyclopedic knowledge of God’s word to apply a simple passage in a very convicting way.

~

Luke VI. 27.

But I say unto you which hear, love your enemies.

First, then, it excludes all harsh thoughts and groundless suspicions. The Apostle telleth us, that charity thinketh no evil; that it hopeth all things, believeth all things. To entertain, with pleasure, every bad report of those who have offended us, and to put the worst construction on their doubtful actions, is both a clear evidence of our hatred, and an unhappy method to continue it. Were once the love we recommend seated in the soul, it would soon cast out those restless jealousies, sour suspicions, harsh surmises, and embittered thoughts; and display itself in a more candid and gentle disposition; in fair glosses, and friendly censures; in a favourable extenuation of greater faults, and covering of lesser. It would make a man interpret all things in the best meaning they are capable of; and choose rather to be mistaken to his own prejudice, by a too favourable opinion, than to his neighbour’s, by a groundless jealousy. And even in this sense, it may be, that charity covereth a multitude of sins.

“God, look at my boat!”

Ironically, I’ve been telling my friends lately how much I’d like to have a sailboat…maybe I’ll put that on hold.

How (not) to Respond

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Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will also be like him.

Answer a fool as his folly deserves, that he not be wise in his own eyes.

Proverbs 26:4-5

 

 

 

 

It’s so easy to respond, but so difficult to respond the right way.

Over the past few months, I have gravitated toward several blogs written by profound men of the faith. Most of them regularly focus on current issues which have generated controversy in the evangelical world. What encourages me is that the writers have learned how not to let their theological opponents define the core assumptions of the argument.

Most notable is Doug Wilson, in his excellent debate with Christopher Hitchens. As I read through this debate, I kept retracing Wilson’s steps as he carefully navigated to the core assumptions of Hitchens’ points and questioned their validity. The written debate is far superior to the spoken one, because it is much more difficult to wield text in a deceptive way than it is the spoken word. Wilson went through Hitchens’ arguments methodically in a way that made sense to his reader.

It takes courage, no doubt, to embark upon such a debate. But I appreciated how biblical Wilson’s approach was. He did not seek to embarrass Hitchens, condescend, or write merely in a way Christians the would get Christians to agree with him. His responses answered Hitchens’ folly as his folly deserved. In short, Hitchens argued from a naturalistic world-view that Christianity corrupts human activity. Wilson responded by showing that a naturalistic world-view carries no certain condemnation of anything, so Hitchens’ attack on Christianity (or even on hypocritical Christians) carries no weight other than Hitchens’ own moral prejudices, which have no authoritative basis.

~

In the realm of ideological battle, it takes skill to argue like Wilson does. But I believe it takes even more skill to practice Proverbs 26:4-5 in day-to-day human relationships. How should you respond when someone criticizes your character or conduct? How should you voice such criticisms when you see folly in other people?

A few verses come to mind:

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1) If you’re going to respond to either someone’s offense or criticism (or offensive criticism), God would have you be gentle. This is difficult for me because I’m very quick to vindicate myself with passion. But oftentimes the truth is veiled by such enthusiasm for one’s own cause. It is much more likely that if you’re right, someone will see that if you present your case gently.

Another verse which speaks to this matter is Proverbs 15:28: “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.” It bears a close similarity to James 1:19-20 “…But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” A biblical response ponders, but this pondering is not aimless, thoughtless, or insincere; rather, the man or woman of God ponders how to answer. Take some time, weigh the different viewpoints in your mind. Examine them carefully and slowly. Even when things seem clear, your audience will appreciate this more than a quick retort.

How about Proverbs 23:9: “Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words.” Ever thought of silence as an option? If you think the person you’re talking to is a fool…

One thing to not do: “He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, therefore do not associate with a gossip.” (Proverbs 20:19) Gossiping is condemned in five different epistles in the NT. The Bible teaches that those juicy nuggets are the product of slanderous people. If you see folly in someone else, the first thing you should do is take it to them personally; you should never tell others who would have their perception of that person lowered by learning about it (James 4:11). Jesus said, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” (Matthew 18:15) Only after that fails are we to tell someone else (v. 16) and try to resolve the matter. Finally, if that fails, we should notify the church (v. 17).

I think Galations 5:25-6:5 aptly summarizes the main principles in Scripture about responding to folly:

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load.

How he Ran

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Sometimes I don’t want to cite verses. The numbers we use to order Scripture often have a way of distancing us from the text. Paul wrote some letters to a really disobedient church. You’re reading a section a little more than halfway through the second letter. Each word of this is the breath of God, as well as the writing of Paul.

 

 

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.

Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.

Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.

~

We finished our last softball game yesterday. It was a loss, but only by about 11 this time.

Sometimes we lose really hard (20+ runs). When people try to play well, I verbalize my appreciation; when our play is lackluster, someone who is tuned-in to my body-language would likely detect my frustration. Today, I didn’t even feel bad, I had a fun time playing shortstop and singing “Don’t Worry Baby” with our second baseman.

Ultimately, all I want is for people to hustle…and yeah…have fun. But I can’t have fun without hustling.

Forgetting my rationalization for my feelings about softball, let me just say that if there’s one game you can never take too seriously, it’s the race that God has for every believer. If Paul were writing to me about this game, I know he wouldn’t say that I cared too much about it; he’d exhort me to care much more than I do.

When was the last time I hung my head because of my failure to place God first?

Have I turned my head to the sky wondering when I’ll ever care enough for my friends who haven’t experienced the grace and forgiveness of the Savior?

Do I encourage my friends to run hard as they struggle to do righteousness?

Does their overcoming become my victory?

I think we could all stand to re-evaluate our seriousness about running the race of faith.