Sunday, December 26, 2010

Mormon America

I've been doing a little light Christmas reading, so as part of this I picked up a book that reads quickly called Mormon America. The work is by authors Richard Ostling and Joan Ostling. Richard spent three decades with Time Magazine in various key roles and was working with the Associated Press as a religion writer according to the back cover. Joan was an editor and writer with the US Information Agency in Wash., DC and a reporter with Press Publications in Chicago. Their goal is to provide a nonpolemical overview of Mormonism as it grows rapidly around the world and to some extent in the US (though from the book one may assume not as quickly as overseas). The book covers everything from what a Celestial Room is in a Mormon temple (page 190) to the fact that Mitt Romney is a Mormon bishop who was invited to speak at Pat Robertson's school in a surprising situation. I have to admit coming from a Methodist-Baptist-Community church background that the book was fascinating. I've had friends in Mormon wards and of course talked to Mormons at length about some certain issues. But a large picture of their background, struggles, weaknesses, bragging points, and such was very useful for understanding. Theologically I don't see how they can put it all together. Mormonism appears to be wrought with convenience theology, given enough US government pressure or cultural pressure they change doctrine like the wind (one of many examples given in the book includes baptism for the dead which excluded people of certain races until the US Congress and NAACP threatened a lawsuit over use of Census records). But the LDS'ers are shown in the book to be WELL organized, interested in persistence like one would not believe, and very actively out seeking people to join their group in ways one would not suspect. They are planners and administrators like you would not believe (a compliment). So while I have no sympathy for the non-orthodox doctrine they hold, still I'm impressed by some of their 20th century organization. They have a large number of PR campaigns going on at any one time. This book is not pro Mormon or anti Mormon. It does point out that image is VERY important to them, and has been since at least the turn of the last century. Large amounts of effort go into their image in each area (stake/region) and even the wards (local). The book covers issues such as racism prior to 1978 against African Americans in Mormon theology and the question everyone immediately raises, the history of polygamy. The claims before Congress and the press that polygamy was no longer being offered as a church practice after 1890 are contrasted with then presidents like Joseph Smith (same name, different than original one) being fully aware of and encouraging them in secret (contra US law). The book handles these contrasts fairly (almost understatement at times). It also addresses their non-New Testament theology every so many pages, such as mentioning how the temple building is rooted in their own ideas outside of a NT church model (the book of Hebrews shows Christ is sufficient, we no longer need temples). The life of the original President of the LDS Joseph Smith, has the good the bad and the ugly covered off and on every so many pages. As far as I can tell, he was charismatic in personality which explains his ability to lead a large number of people. The book calls him 'creative' a lot. Clearly Smith was a leader, but from a Christian standpoint a heretic. He also claimed revelations were completely binding when he made them, yet they often contradicted what is revealed in the Bible. Though you get the distinct impression that he was somewhat likeable in his early years (except for his treasure hunting with seer stones). As time went on, he started adding controverstial doctines as he got more power. He started endorsing polygamy, against his first wife's wishes for decades (she later agreed to it, then changed her mind, then agreed again). Smith started making up at the end of his life a belief in a multiplicity of Gods in the heavens all with bodies. A lot of people ditched his weird teachings or ran afoul of him and were "excommunicated" for convenience of peace in their group identity. He had an interest in protecting those who were with him very much though. But he didn't tolerate any diversity of opinion too well. Smith tried to take care of people in Nauvoo, IL and Kirtland, OH. Out of his efforts though he got into troubles, including banking fraud. He ran afoul of the MO state government, and may have let his opinions known to people, who then tried to assasinate the MO governor back then. Of course,that didn't go over too well regardless of how that went down. They were driven out of MO to IL. Lack of knowledge of economic policy that works, and how money is created, drove several of these early settlements to near insolvency. This aspect is covered largely in the work. Early Utah under his successor Young had similar problems, but Young was a clever administrator who did better with the large group. Another interesting fact, many Mormons early on were recruited in Europe (like the UK) with the promise of free land, many flocks of animals, and easy peaceful lives. Droves came to the US for the express offer, and it is unclear to me from the book if this was the only reason they came or not. The traffic from Europe dried up when economic times over there improved the authors add though.

Some of the controversial things a Mormon "elder" would never tell you stood out. Mormons conducted some return fire against settlers on their way West, killing many basically innocent people. Though of course the persecution was against Mormons before this. But it is important to realize, in their early history, they were very militarized, having a militia, guns, and a willingness to shoot back or evade the US government at other times (leaving Salt Lake when fed troops came near to make a point, of protest). Also the strange view that the US Constitution is divinely inspired is mentioned in the book. It is even such an obsession of Mormon leadership that they have gone beyond the Constitution immediately and baptized post-humously US Presidents and Signers of the Declaration of Independence in their temples. This explains why many Mormon leaders are so zealous for USA political arguing around the consitution (a la Glenn Beck style). [It should go without saying, but an orthodox Christian, contrary to Mormonism, does not view anything as divinely inspired except the original 66 books of the Bible.] The reader also learns that the LDS thinks the term "Mormon" is acceptable, but not preferred by the LDS church. Even some unexpected issues, such as the behind the scenes problems and then impressive fix to the Salt Lake City Olympic games work is included in this research book. I won't try to cover any more, but leave the decision to read the book in more context up to you.

There's so much in this book that its hard to just blog about it. I'd recommend the book to mature Christians to learn more about who it is that is trying to convert them. Probably it's not the best work for a new Christian to try and take in so many conflicting use of religious terms (temple as already mentioned is redefined, whereas in biblical theology it was strictly fitted into the Old Testament background and context contra Mormonism). However, it is not written in a lofty way as such, but I enjoyed reading it with some categories to think things through with in the background.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Communicating for a Change

Andy Stanley and Lane Jones have written a book with the above name, that compares preaching to truck driving, literally. The book is also written in a conversational format. Those two things alone may cause you to doubt its usefulness to you thinking through communication theory. Perhaps they went too basic. The redeeming quality though, because it is a great teaching book, is a series of gold nuggets throughout the long dialogues between an alleged pastor and the truck driving individual. If you can press ahead, you will find useful speaking tips and principles for the Christian communicator. The book really can only be appreciated by a veteran preacher in whatever area they happen to be of church life or speaking engagements. The backing for points about the one idea sermon depend upon this. In addition, one may get glazed eyes reading it if there was not a strong felt need of the speaking reader to communicate better than an informational session about a Bible passage. If you speak a lot, you'll be hooked though. There is a Me (who you are and what you're about), GOD where His truth is brought into a conversational style preaching, You (what are you going to do about a truth), We (a shared vision of the future of a person's life or the churches and the present feeling/thinking common ground). This is summarized by the authors as talking about application first, then what God thinks info wise, and then personal application for each person so that we can celebrate together. The whole thing hinges on one idea per message. The character's style is back and forth, but reinforces the points made in the work page by page. Based on what I've discovered so far, this book is recommended for anyone lay or on staff at a church or parachurch ministry seeking to communicate a message well.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Roger Nicole Passing

I heard tonight that famous 20th century Christian theologian Roger Nicole has passed away at 95 years old. He was a past evangelical leader, being president of the Evangelical Theological Society, and having taught at Reformed Theological Seminary. He wrote over 100 articles, and contributed to 50 plus books, and helped set up the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (inerrancy generally meaning each word of Scripture is inspired of God). It is sad to hear about this figure passing as he has influenced so many of us in evangelical church life when it comes to theology. I know that I personally benefited from his work on inerrancy and how that influences the rest of theology. One person on twitter put it rightly, at least now he is beholding the face of Jesus Christ. As far as I can see, he ran the race, fought the fight, and persevered by faith. Well done.

For brief info about his life's work you may look at these links current when this blog was posted:
Here.
Here.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Foundation Repair as a Case Study

I was at an apartment complex today where they had someone go around to all of the buildings to inspect their foundations. They were built in the late 1980's, so that the buildings could have been structurally sound still. However, they did not have initial piers attached to the concrete slab to prevent movement (which would have been relatively less expensive than adding them later). To make matters worse, the management (not sure who it was then) years and years ago, had a cheapo pier company come out and work around the buildings. The pier company told them nice things, but sold them an inadequate product. You can see these later concrete cut outs along the side and in other places. These cheapo piers are poured concrete and eventually shift easily.

Several of these apartment buildings are on a downward slope, which means the building moves over time. This little fix makes the problem worse, because the ineffective piers are in the places where an effective one should be. At that point, the working around the wrong fix doubles the cost of fixing the problem by working around those virtually faux piers.

A foundation placed on the wrong supports is like a Texas home placed upon clay like soil. When the summer and winter bring shifting, and the ground has a slope the pressure causes problems. These apartments are also near a major railway, where the set of engines with a long train shifts the ground of some of the buildings. The need for a solid foundation could not be more real.

In the same way, self-created religion as an attempt to reach right standing with the eternal and all powerful Lord God is an attempt to fix things. People resort to it in their soul, heart, and mind thinking what they'be built on themselves is enough for what will come. Still the problem remains ultimately unsolved with self-made solutions. Why? Over time the fault lines are revealed in lives, since the supports are highly limited apart from the work of the Sovereign God by the Holy Spirit changing our hearts and minds towards Christlikeness (i.e. with what we'll face before God it is not enough to make something up.).

Using cheapo piers as the foundation to your very house is like adding religion to your life to prop up something with a core root problem (such as a big, water stealing tree near your pad). Just put something in there that sounds good and see how it turns out. Sure enough, later on, the unapproved fix is going to be even more expensive to get out of. Ultimately, we needed Jesus to come as the Savior and Lord so as to restore us, by removing our false supports (man made religion) and installing sure piers (Himself as the rock of our life). Turning to Jesus is like setting your life on something immovable. When time passes, your faith will remain. The alternative structures made by people will pass away over time.

Ephesians 2:19-21 says in part: "you are... fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his own household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself being as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord." It is through Jesus Christ that we are right before God, and free to live today without shifting, massive cracks, and then a cave in....

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fall Allergies and the Glory of God

Have you ever wondered what the point of allergies is? They drag a lot of people into a fog in Texas during the Fall. Allergies would seem to fit into the category of Genesis 3:17-19. What do you think, are allergens part of the Genesis three curse? The affliction of allergies then would be a sign of God's glory in that His absence from keeping things smoothly running as well as they could because the Fall has effects in the present. However, the thorns and thistles idea in Genesis is very much tied to work. This is an interesting concept, since allergies affect more than those working. Perhaps then they are not involved with hardship in work as much as they are situated in the fallenness of the world, not working as it should, before the restoration of all things later in history.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Culture and Theology in Church Starting

Ed Stetzer has an article challenging the focus on relevance to the exclusion of gospel theology. This is probably a good warning for many on the edge of planting. However, on the other hand, there are many who are not very relevant to the culture. In fact, if I had to guess most churches, and church starts, probably are far from relevant in either music style, music language, language of the sermons, and presentation (of gospel, order of service, etc). Still because the enemy works cleverly to deceive all of us, we must stick with the gospel's whole content (such as Jesus' substitionary death, in our place on the cross for our sins) in every planting effort around the country. We must as planters not forget to challenge persons to believe the gospel in a personal decision. Thank you for the good warning for all of us Stetzer.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Church Planting

In a major book on church planting in evangelical life, there is this objection to forming churches in an area in the US: 'another church ... will impede the growth of our church.' This is simply false the authors say, as "when Jesus said "I will build my church," he was not referring to the numerical growth of a particular congregation." In other words, reproduction of congregations following Jesus is the way that the church universal leads more -individuals- "to spiritual maturation." In addition, new churches are not competition but rather instruments to extend the "rule and reign of God" among a people group or city. It is nearly impossible for one church or even several really good churches to reach a whole city, let alone a corridor (several cities). Simply put: people are not doing the same things, they are not in the same place at the same time. This means new churches have an opportunity to branch out into those arenas.

Another objection some raise to church planting is that it "costs too much." The authors of this work counter that there are many ways to finance a new church. It doesn't have to be one church giving all of the effort. Several possible connecting methods of churches are available to help new churches and thus to join up with Matthew 28:19-20 in individual's lives for their joy and God's glory.

One more objection that is heard among pastors at times: it will be more important to "keep daddy healthy." You should protect the status quo, so that the daddy church in an area has plenty of resources. Home churches do not have to look at it this way though. If they are a church with "reproductive DNA" there will be benefits of that which overflow into the home churches. They will have members more zealous about witnessing, it will bring about a kingdom focus rather than something else being the focus, and most church starting help does not "require an excessive expenditure" of resources, but a minor contribution from time to time from the overall blessings of God. One might add, God will also send along more workers to a group that has a heart to start new churches for His glory. This is along the same principle as trusting God with your finances, so that you honor Him and He blesses the obedience even more greatly. There are a hundred principles that could be drawn from this, but that's enough for now.

In short, church planting is not a burden to churches that work together to reach their society better. Especially when one considers the sheer size of suburbs and cities in the USA, there will need to be more than a few churches reaching each corridor for Christ.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

1st Timothy 4:16

Scripture tells followers of Jesus: Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (NIV).

I have heard more and more about the debate over Christianity and Yoga via Albert Mohler's comments, which were engaged with by the Associated Press.

One of Mohler's comments stands out above even the debate among people on Christian faith and Yoga's spiritual background. It is this: "Not one–not a single one–has addressed the theological and biblical issues. There is not even a single protest communication offering a theological argument." (Mohler, Oct. 7th) This is a clear indicator about the type of responses he got (now at 100 respones per hour via his email), no one offered a theological argument. People say "oh it's no big deal." I can think of years and years of being in various churches and hearing little response to engaging with things Christians dabble in. Most of the time in an evangelical type church you will hear persons talk about Jehovah's Witnesses or some such group. You rarely have people critically think through their own activities though. It is that personal watching of one's own doctrine that Mohler is to be commended for, and his detractors need to reevaluate what it means to be an informed follower of Jesus. If what we say is just correct, merely because we are saved, is that not arrogant? Mohler is correct in challenging Christians to think through things with a broad view of Scripture's teachings, rather than "I feel" or "It seems good to me." One always wants to ask in the back of the mind: "how does it seem to God?" Christianity is not merely a religion, just a great religion for suburban or inner ring suburban peoples in the US. It is a system of thought that helps us to serve God in a pure and worthwhile way. Thank you for the challenge to the status quo "religion" with a challenge by faith Dr. Mohler.

More about the debate if it interests you:
Here.
Here.
Here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

God's Guiding Action

It is interesting how we fret and worry in light of how God has plans to work things out His way. In life we so easily forget the pointlessness of worry, since not even a sparrow falls apart from the Father's plan. We are far more valuable than that as humans carry the imago Dei, the image of God, through how He created us. How much more then, will things like changes in a job, moving from place to place, connections we all have changing, or the way finances turn out be used of God for good. The wonderful thing about how God works is it is subtle enough that it requires faith, but looking back at what He has done we can strengthen our faith for tomorrow.

Nehemiah was ridiculed, but God got him through it (Nehemiah 4). Joseph was cruely treated by those closest to him in a way meant for evil result (Genesis 45:5). Yet God had a plan in that.

Looking at this devotionally, there are so often hidden dangers we miss when looking at and planning our futures. Yet as Romans 8:38 says "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to seperate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." There is no created power, no fallen into sin human, no persistently wicked person wearing sheeps clothing, no financial crisis, and no political scenario that can prevent God from accomplishing plans He has for the relationship we each need with Him to come about. Praise God for His infinite wisdom!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Florida "Dove World Outreach"'

The situation in the news with "Dove World Outreach" (ironic name) has become a hot topic of conversation. It has been hyped up by the media that a pastor at that small (24 year old, nondenominational) church is doing a Qur'an burning. Apparently he says the bonfire they are going to build will go on this week as planned desipte attention drawing widespread criticism.

Now to the point here, it seems that one would be hard pressed to find any endorsement of the reaons that Terry Jones their pastor is doing this in the New Testament pages. It would take some non-existent example such as Paul burning a bunch of books on a Roman Caesar's life or Timothy burning copies of the Artmesian worship manual. No such example exists, and reading the reports that I've seen in several places (here and here and here) I don't see any clear biblical church reasoning for Jones' motivation. It seems that Terry Jones is following a political motive. This motive is to point out the potential danger of a pluralistic view towards other religions. In our present context, acceptance of anything anyone does is considered fashionable. (Except ironically not this guy [though I'm not a pluralist]). It is unclear since Jones fails to offer biblical reasoning why his church then would be the location of this burning. This seems dangerous to me. Perhaps if he is inclined to this, he should borrow someone's field, or go to some rented land, and use that instead if his motives are political commentary. He has the right to, even if it is not especially wise.
One of the things that strikes me is how he calls it "International Qur'an Burning Day." That is obviously meant to draw attention to his own personal message. It's clear he is not just trying to get a message to just his own area.
A thought that comes to mind as well is this: if Terry Jones is following the New Testament model, he should be seeking ways to reach out to Muslims with the gospel of reconciliation to the LORD God (Yahweh) through Jesus' atoning sacrifice on the cross. Instead the attention seems to be on his own goals for our time and place. I would not normally reference this writer, but Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard, made the comment that this action does not bode well for that kind of bridging relations for the purpose of outreach in the name of Christ. How then is his place an "outreach" center for Christ? It seems Barnes is correct on this one.
In the NT, there is an example of a book burning. However it is not done the way Jones is doing this. In fact, the burning is done with a significant amount of magic/divination books by those who converted out of the magic they had practiced. This was a way of saying we who have converted out put behind us our own --personal-- temptation to sin by using the magic books again. It was NOT a going out and buying magic books, or PR campaign, to drive home personal political views. It was a witnessing tool to say those books are false. If Terry Jones wants to have a Qur'an burning, it should NOT be him doing it. The New Testament church did have a book burning that eliminated personal idols. Therefore, if Jones struggles with some personal idol, perhaps it is addiction to too much television, let him burn up his own television so that he will not fall back into his own sin struggle. But since (to my knowledge) Jones never was a follower of Islam, he should not be burning Qur'ans. It simply doesn't accomplish the goals he is called to in his life and situation.
Nevertheless, I am wondering if any Christians out there have any thoughts on this person. It seems that Terry Jones has the right to do this as a freedom of speech issue, but what about as a Christian? If he is doing this, isn't it better that he do this as a way of expressing his own personal political views rather on some personal property rather than on a church property and as a pastor? What do you think the reprucussions may be with his doing this from a Christian perspective?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Christianity and Meditation

Dr. David Powlinson of CCEF, a Christian Counseling association, speaks on the issue of what Christian meditation is in contrast to other forms of the world.

This is worth the time to watch, click here to watch: here.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Christian Theism as a Unit

I was reading the unfortunate news about Clark Pinnock. He passed away recently having displayed the danger of shedding doctrines which are unpalatable to one's own liking. While Pinnock was a staunch defender of Christian theology, still he managed step by step to move in the direction of the world's influence (give up things that are "too" difficult for the ears of the age).
Click here to read more.

Pinnock did have a huge influence in Southern Baptist life years ago. His biography as a whole shows us that we all are to pursue Christ, including all of His teachings, rather than what is easy to defend.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Humility

This week I was reading from the book called Humility by C.J. Mahaney (2005 Multnomah). One of the best statements from this book is an overlooked aspect of what Jesus teaches the disciples in Mark 10:42 and following. The disciples James and John are talking about what it means to be "great." They request to sit at Jesus' right and left in glory. Unfortunately, they were thinking from a worldly perspective. Then, as Mahaney points out, "the Person [of Christ Jesus who owns all things, Col. 1.] standing there" is "making this statement": "whoever would be first among you must be slave to all" (vv 43-44).

Mahaney mentions the word "must" in verse 44; that it implies a thing which is required/indispensable. Mahaney emphasizes there is nothing wrong with striving to be great. That is, so long as greatness comes from what pleases the eyes of the Son (rather than our own view of what great is). Jesus says "whoever would be great among you must be your servant...." The part that is missed: "Jesus does not categorically criticize or forbid the desire and ambition to be great." Instead it is radically changed so that greatness means something completely opposite to the world's view.

In light of this a few things can be drawn out for contemporary American church. These are not what Mahaney mentions to my knowledge. First of all, servant evangelism is extremely reasonable for kingdom greatness. Second, when it comes to denying self and making your church an attractive and comfortable place rather than a place to dump your leftover sofas and old tvs; service opportunities abound. Third, the church should engage an ambitious American culture with the greater ambition that Christ calls us to in pursuing His kingdom (this will connect). Fourth, removal of false humility among spiritual looking people in churches. Pretending to be ineffectual and ill planned as a Christian does not mean anything good. I've met so many Christians who act like they don't know how Christ would have us to live with a changed heart towards others. Rather make wise plans that humbly acknowledge good work and admit the effectiveness of what Christ calls us to. This allows you to challenge unbelief and unbelieving lifestyles by means of speaking up about what is really great, rather than cowering to the world's greatness like so many and say "I am just a Christian, what do I know about how the world ought to be." Fifth, showing people the glory of God is more important than showing them your glory. If you can deny self and pride by the Holy Spirit's power as a Christian, then you can melt or break through ice packs in people's hearts.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Spirit at Work in Community Settings

Recently, I had an opportunity to take a seminar under Dr. JD Payne at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. He has a book out on Missional House Churches, which essentially studies what by one definition would be successful house church groups. On his blog, he recently posted a link to some major news articles on their movement. Here is a link. Here is another. The goal of Dr. Payne's book is to isolate a certain kind of church: house churches. Furthermore, he wants to find ones which are growing in a healthy way and see what they are doing right, and Scripturally. This in turn would benefit those in the house church movements with ways to improve their ministry. Payne provides some helpful advice for change in those movements, including better supports of missions and associational work. He endorses having pastors (whereas most house church people seem anti-pastor (though they would predictably deny this claim)). My main goal is not to endorse house churches here. Personally I am more of a regular (i.e. read 'weekly') both corporate and small group balance type of leader. The large and small settings go hand in hand to match the NT model. While some house churches come together or associate, many honestly do not. This is a weakness as the New Testament presents both elements, the large gathering and the small intimate one (Acts 2). Both represent church ministry.

What I do want to bring out is the element of community that is genuine, rather than sterile and boring like a classroom. The home setting / apartment setting that these gatherings offer is stellar, in that with less than 15 or so believers, much real ministry (real accountability more than a typical Sunday morning, 'how are you doing?') can take place. This is just how people are, they open up in a smaller setting, to encouragement, admonishment, helps, etc. Moreover, those who are reticient to join a larger group at first, or who would not open up in a larger group about a sin struggle; may do just that in a setting with people they know. This is a huge doorway for the church to evangelize and to see the gospel break into lives it would otherwise not meaningfully touch. When people speak truth into each other's lives at that level ( open up in a gathering of ideally 12 or less), they gain much more spiritual strength to fulfill OT models and wisdom, and NT commands to grow in just that manner. Iron sharpens iron. This does not only happen between individuals in a smaller setting (it could in theory happen in an impersonal larger setting off to the side or among friends after 'church'), but without a smaller setting it is a near certain fact that not much spiritual maturity will be added to Christian believers. In light of this, there is a lesson from that movement: smaller settings of 12 or less are also part of the church. Persons will grow in greater Christlikeness as they are related to in that way, bringing the Word of God to bear in each other's lives.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What Happened Back in the Garden?

There is an interesting article on some of the nuance to Adam and Eve's sinning in the Garden of Eden. You might take a look for your own Bible knowledge to be sharpened:

http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2008/03/14/feedback-first-sin

Let me know what you think.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Dividing Wall of Hostility Down

It is somewhat unexpected, but the spiritual truth is present about the dividing wall being broken down between Jew and Gentile in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 15. While it may not be as clear as the Apostle Paul later makes it, it is certainly at the least foreshadowed. Jesus in Matthew 15:22 begins to dialogue with a Gentile woman who requests Jesus to have mercy on her, because her daughter is cruely demon possessed. After clarifying her motives in a 1st century way (to make sure she knew the Messiah's mission), he agrees to set her daughter free because of the request asked in faith. Then after this, Jesus is healing people in a large crowd on a mountaintop that includes both large numbers of Jews and Gentiles. And after three days of being with these crowds, he provides for the 12000-16000 people there with a miracle of multiplying. In each of these cases, the gospel of Matthew which often traces Jewish audiences need to see things about Jesus, shows that Jesus is Lord even over the nations/peoples. This is a clear message of how the Lord Jesus broke down the dividing wall so that even Jews and Gentiles could eat together, when they were focused on Him. Even a Gentile could express great faith in Jesus as "Son of David," ie Jewish Messiah, and have deliverance for her daughter. Even great multitudes of Jews and Gentiles could go out to meet Jesus where He was working to see healing of the sick, blind, lame. What a great picture of the peace He restores through the power of the kingdom of God unfolding among men and women!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

What is a Baptist Association?

Criswell radio in the Dallas/Fort Worth area today had guest host Jeff Campbell, Pastor of Bethany Baptist Church. Jeff is a biblically minded leader, an evangelical. He brought up the issue of Christian associations among churches/ministers. In the area of evangelical life and Baptist life, an association offers the fellowship among pastors and the support of local missions every church should want to celebrate. Beyond this we might add that local Baptist associations or similar associations pool their resources into one, so as to rejuvinate ministries, help ministries and churches find land which they may not otherwise be able to do, provide a means to help the poor in more efficient ways, and a whole host of other things. One caller to that radio program on 90.9 FM said that he doesn't believe in associations and proceeded to call them a number of things that were inappropriate. Rightly, he was challenged on that by Jeff and by a local director of missions. Associations assist with churches working in the world to glorify the Son and thus the Father as a result. Associations in Baptist life are not over the church but augment and support it. They encourage pastors. The goal is to do more when we are together than we could do if we all stayed isolated. It facilitates children's camps, youth camps, and disaster relief efforts (especially in LA and TX in recent years). These are all made possible by believers working together to do something more efficiently or better with combined resources and gifts. Praise the Lord for the associational ministry we have in the fellowship (by willing partnership) among gospel teaching churches in the US.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Church as Community

Christianity Today came out with an article on the value of a true community in a church. It points out how in American culture, the danger of a "me-centered" individual works against the dignity of the whole. As a working thesis, the author holds that the New Testament and Old Testament lay out a model of church that involves community. In the Old Testament, the family unit was so important that you deferred to their needs. (He doesn't go into depth, but there are many OT texts that say just this kind of self-denial in the Law of Moses). In the New Testament, a Mediterranean family model is emphasized (brother, sister, Father, child, inheritance). Culture has hijacked Christ today so that he is a divine therapist aiding --the individual-- Christian to seek their own spiritual quest. This is evident in church hoping, when an individual Christian never stays at a church very long in our day. Persons who are involved in one church for long enough will see this. After a year or months, the church hopper is gone off to the next church for a year or months. That is because the faith is all about them says the writer of the article. It is about self-fullfilment rather than what a strong group of Christians needs. The article gives some evidence in addition to the Bible that there was more of a family connection (not easily broken then) in the OT and NT. Josephus is quoted regarding the Jewish Temple situation, where worshippers were interested in the "welfare of the community" and "are born for fellowship." He also quotes a church father, Cyprian, who says the "Master of unity did not wish prayer to be offered individually" in the Lord's Prayer. "Our prayer is public and common, and when we pray, we pray not for one but for the whole people, because we, the whole people, are one." Interesting truths. I think the article overall is very solid. There are a few weak points in it. There must always be an emphasis upon the individual response to Christ (which should not be left out or minimized either), but the community of Christ is what one joins not just a bunch of people standing in the same place with no real connections once a week. [Joseph Hellerman was the article author, Professor of NT at Talbot Sch. of Theol. He has published with B&H Academic.]

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Matthew 13

The Lord Jesus teaches people who hear the Word of God have one of several outcomes. The first is they are led to forget the Word of God. The second is people receive the Word of God with joy, but then when persecutions come they turn away from it. The third possibility he lists is a falling away when concerns of the world choke out the Word of God. The fourth response is the Word takes root in the heart via understanding --and-- a return comes out of the change.

It is always an encouragement when doing outreach to understand that spiritual warfare is real. We must pray for those we are trying to reach with the gospel. Further, as much as is possible, we should make those who profess Jesus aware that persecutions do come, and that Jesus was not a millionaire while he was on earth. If possible, this encounter through the Word with a more accurate view of Jesus may save them from destruction as they are spiritually changed in the heart. The last option is the most encouraging. When evangelizing, be aware that people will believe and make the effort worth it. We must never forget this truth as Christians.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Antony Flew Passes

The philosopher Antony Flew died on April 8th, 2010. He had been a lifelong atheist, but recently decided arguments for God's existence were compelling. He adopted something like a deistic creator view of God as a result. He had dialogues with persons such as NT Wright over the resurrection, but to my knowledge Flew did not become a Christ follower in any meaningful sense. This is a sad thing. It is a reminder to us all that we must make sure of our salvation and our calling today. There is never a promise of how long we have and our life must be one that is not fearful, but certain that we know a great Savior Jesus Christ.
An article on his death is here:

http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-antony-flew15-2010apr15,0,4059881.story

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Speaking and Writing

For academic researchers in US and Canadian circles or those heralding the gospel in the same, there are two great resources for quality writing. One of the works is called Elements of Style by Strunk and the other is Style by Joseph Williams. These two books are short, to the point, and offer significant checks on our writing style. They are equally relevant to the goal of speaking in a clear way with an English audience. Elements of Style could be read in one afternoon. Style is something you could read in three settings (if you made a good effort of it). The work by Williams takes into account cultural trends in the USA as far as assumptions people hold when writing and reading. The way that a sentence is heard is also explored by Williams. Neither book will break your bank account and will be rewarding for clarity in reviews, essays, research papers, sermons, and newsletters.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Antony Flew's There Is A God

Antony Flew was a self-admitted leading atheist in the West for decades. His article (done early in his career) on 'theology and falsification' was one of the most sought after articles in the 2nd half of the 20th century. He rejected cosmological arguments for God's existence. Yes, and, at one time he found David Hume's arguments convincing for a closed universe system. Even while growing up as a teenage, he admits feeling in his heart uncomfortable with the Problem of Evil in the world. This was compounded by his childhood teachers and peers having no thoughtful explanations for such a situation (should be a clarion call to the church to answer this question). However, through reading various philosophers later in life, Flew came to believe there were powerful arguments for God's existence and for explaining the so-called 'Problem of Evil.' In the book, Flew provides examples of such argument as the work of Terrence Penelhum that critiques assumptions Hume made which were unproven. As one point states, a "purely Humean story" would not offer meanings of 'cause' and 'law of nature' fitting the picture of reality we deal with ourselves day-to-day. Furthermore, the challenge of genetic messaging in DNA and the additional step of how complex the replicating process is served as a new empirical broadside to his former atheism. Flew asks the question based on a legitimate concern: 'can the origins of a system of coded chemistry be explained in a way that makes no appeal whatever to the kinds of facts that we otherwise invoke to explain codes and languages, systems of communication, the impress of ordinary words on the world of matter?' The existence of such coding is a conundrum as to why the 'mechanism of translation is what it is.' The origins of life are questions as to the origin of such a code and a translation system intact. Processing this knowledge/information in a machine like way with a highly 'precise recipe' raises questions about mindless molecules being able to form such a code and small scale complex factory. Even the symbol processing in the code is a mixture of chemicals that is far from explanable in a random fashion. Flew in his previous days also used to base his "Presumption of Atheism" on the existence of a universe. It is said to be with its laws the 'ultimate' point. But all such systems talk has 'some fundamentals [of assummed truths] that are not themselves explained.' (It is interesting he admits this, which so many people hide or don't realize.) Since the 1980's he says he had doubts about the universe just existing, due to contemporary cosmological consensus. It seems that the big bang theory provided a demanded conclusion: there was a beginning. And others saw the same matter of a beginning as a threat to their secularism or atheism; so that the result was they postulated a 'multiverse, numerous universes generated by endless vacuum fluctuation events, and Stephen Hawking's notion of a self-contained universe.' Their solution was to keep God out. This however creates a problem, contra Ockham, which is that a multiverse goes from a previously simple and better explanation over to a more complex one. And this for no evidential reason, except theoretical disagreement. Even Hawking acknowledges according to Flew that his system does not rule out God. Most cosmologists acknowledge they can't rule out God. But those who posit multiverses often by assumption rule God out. Flew says this secularist or atheist multiverse solution is like a schoolboy whose teacher doesn't believe a dog ate his homework, and as a result he posits the first version with a story that a pack of dogs---too many to count--ate his homework.' Richard Swinburne also argues against an eternal or non-beginning universe, by pointing out that appealing to 'empty space,' a something that is already there, essentially would never have an explanation. It would be 'inexplicable' forever. David Conway adds, per Flew, that a good example is a software virus 'capable of replicating itself on computers connected by a network. The fact that a million computers have been infected by the virus does not itself explain the existence of the self-replicating virus.'

More of the book could be mentioned, but I am more or less wanting to review it here. I highly recommend the book to see what is out there if you are curious as far as other philosophers working against eternal matter conceptions of reality. There are also references to good authorial works on the origin of life. Flew's account is personal and engaging at times and makes one think about how interactions we have with those who aren't theists or Christian theists may have personal doubts they don't mention. Those persons want to hear an answer that is thought out, so we should be prepared to answer in that sense too. Flew in the end rejects the Christian theist view (saving faith in Jesus Christ) due to his not wanting to settle on a certain brand of theism at this point. He entertains an argument for the resurrection by NT Wright and acknowledges that an omnipotent God like he now accepts must be out there, could definatley reveal Himself in the world if He wanted to. However, Flew is non-commital. This goes to show that one can only go so far in worldview without accepting Jesus Christ as Lord, over truth and reality, and Savior, of self admitting humbly our sin and need for His work. A theist is not a born again Christian. While we can be glad for Flew's realizing atheism isn't intellectually satisfying for him, yet we still must admit that he isn't serving Christ as Lord. Many believing Christians make this mistake of confusing theism with Christian theism. There is a difference, and it is whether one personally knows Jesus. However, as far as argumentation goes in thinking through our world and how we might talk about it, Flew's work is useful and interesting reading. It is highly endorsed by a number of relatively solid scholars from around the world as well. Flew does show that he has thought seriously about the position of theism and joined it. One may hope that he will be inclined to accept the Christ who redeems all things too.

While it is not addressed to my memory in the book, the chemical side of DNA and RNA bears more mention. The byproducts of some amino acids being formed into an order is often tar, which destroys productive adaptation. The sea is made of salt, which hampers such positive development of a primitive cell. There are also concerns of the right temperature and pressure for ideal conditions for a cell to form. Having the right and having pure chemicals (like what we get in a clean lab) are required to get even the needed situation. The open nature situation does not give production of a cell for many reasons. A lab is not exactly a fair comparison for the right chemicals being in one place. On top of this, the coding requires information added to the picture on long long lengths of manufacturing in the cell. These are at some point irreducibly complex, where they can't get any more simple without failure or lacking a key part. Thus life could not form on its own. It is not only improbably, but also the environments we see are simply not prone to that situation. And nature doesn't give information. Especially in the limited time the universe and the earth have been around. Yet in the end, this is an issue where a hardened heart will not accept evidence against its view, but will tell a story, a narrative, to explain away a God who convicts people about sin, so that they might see and repent. Something we may add, that most people don't want to do.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Moral Darwinism by Wiker

I thought I would share some of this very useful book. Wiker brings out how Christians unknowingly accepted from some who claimed to be Christians an Epicurean worldview in the 1600's and 1700's. Instead of keeping the discoveries of science as part of a Christian rooted worldview or outlook, and just accepting this as evidence for it; some came along persuading the culture to accept beliefs like this: that matter has always existed and the universe is infinite in size. (Both of which are claims that are highly dubious as far as evidence 'fit' and not accepted by many varied stripes of cosmologists. Apparently even 'father' Epicurus of the materialist worldview admitted a need for a Creator/Starter against his hope otherwise). The resulting idea of chance, infinite worlds, possible worlds, and matter with no limits ended up creating a sort of comfort for some to abandon a unique Incarnation of Christ. One creature, one planet. Wiker's argument (in an un-fairly broad summary I admit) in the book is that the moral chaos in the West is the result of thinking all is chance and no one is right about morality for others. The thinking of Epicurus was such that it wasn't based on research of the world/worlds/mathematical infinity, but rather it was based on his moral desire to be able to sin without any fear of judgment; something he essentially admits at points. We should probably be suspicious of claims of never ending chances for life to form from someone: why? When the detail of that evolutionary and materialist world happening pro life forming as we know it, is considered there exists a sheer complexity of cosmology. This complexity is accepted by serious scholars in that field, as well as the obvious view that there was a beginning to it all which is accepted. This looked less like Epicurus and 17th century so-called science had wanted, and hence less like Darwin's view and less like public school biology mythos. Biological research has shown a like picture of extreme complexity at the cell level and in the formation of systems that would die apart from a full function up front. The result is that evolution as Darwin saw it is not possible (some have obviously attempted adjustments, but the problems glare on when planning and intelligence is required to order such systems (they are systems at that level, highly complex)). You can see how theories of men and women in our day are given god-like attitudes/authority, even contrary to findings about cosmology and biology in this book. There is an effort, not unlike the scandal of climate researcher emails, to try and manipulate the evidence to fit an evolutionary scheme for the sake of having moral freedom to sin without judgment ever coming from God. In our day, evolution is a prop used to keep a sort of secular so called neutrality, which really has its own religious opinions (ie is a religion itself while playing 'neutrality'). Maybe more on this later, just some early thoughts...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Thomas Morris - The Logic of God Incarnate

I came across this book lately which attempts to defend an orthodox understanding of Jesus as having two natures, but also the unity of his person. The author was a professor at Notre Dame for fifteen years in philosophy, and now is involved in practical ethics in workplaces it seems, if I understand correctly. And he delves into removing the charge against Christian theists that the incarnation is not coherent (divine and human). Some important distinctions are made on Jesus as God (being God), but not God 'simpliciter,' according to Chalcedonian historic orthodoxy. What does that mean? That is to say I am guessing from this, that when you talk of God, we also mean the Father, and Holy Spirit as well. So God is not exhausted by only one person of the Trinity, but all three persons are God. One God, three persons; though he doesn't spell this out. He also explores the use of the 'indiscernability principle' to talk of how to distinguish divine and human properties of a nature. There are good answers on how to discuss such a topic, though I didn't follow his argument entirely or agree entirely at points with how he approaches this (heavy philosophy can at times make you want to stick closer to Scripture than men's 'solutions' lol). However, Morris profitably eliminates a series of mistakes that have been made in church history by those who didn't understand the Trinity very well, including the mistakes of a one nature Son (made by Leigh in Morris' view who argues that there is a plausible new one nature). Then he deals with mistakes made by those who see problems with Jesus having said to have existed before Herod's day. Morris considers and rejects process theology (thankfully), but also considers that the Anselmian arguments for God's existence are useful for pointing out a way to explain the Doctrine of how the Incarnation of the Son could take place. This book was a serious read, and includes use of logic. I'm not sure if everyone reading would enjoy such a book or want to navigate its waters. However, it is a good thought experiment and helped me to be a more aware reader when it comes to issues related to current discussion on the Incarnation in contemporary challenges of our culture. He seems to also like/support a social Trinity view, but holds that one need not be a social Trinity committed person to agree with points he makes in defending orthodoxy. I agree that the book does that well at times, but then other times, I wondered if he capitulates too much to worldly philsophical or cultural assumptions. It must be remembered that the church need not bow down to the world's philosophical ideas that are 'popular' in one day or another. One more minor thought in passing, if its of use to anyone who might happen to read such a book as this, I personally found his discussion of psychological explanations for epistemic (how we know what we know) possibility of Jesus being tempted weren't all that helpful or certain. It seemed like uncharted territory, so that I would be hestitant to agree with some statements. However, at other times he is clearer that historic views on Jesus are the way to go. And that is true, philosophy can only get us so far on such an issue where we must stick close to Scripture. And one final thought, I wouldn't recommend the book to the average reader. The biggest issue I had with it was his multiple incarnation talk related to possible worlds (a popular idea in philosophy, but not my view at all). He doesn't say they exist, but leaves the door open, seemingly because science has shown that man isn't the center of God's creation in his opinion. But that is hardly an argument against one Incarnation, as the earth could be anywhere God wants it in the universe and still God's crowning creation is humankind. To delve into discussions of possible worlds beyond seemed too sci fi for my tastes. Not to mention that Colossians 1 seems to indicate clearly there is one Christ over all creation, and verse 19 there refers to one cross. Hence as I heard someone say recently, we serve a Christ who is over the cosmos (he used the phrase 'cosmic' Christ, i.e. not just for us, but over all the universe). But still, I am glad I'm more aware of what I might encounter out there in discussions on the street, especially with avid readers, college, graduate students or professors.

Friday, January 15, 2010

B.B. Warfield on how heresy happens

I was reading BB Warfield researching another topic. I came across a very good chapter that touches on apologetic method that is called "Heresy and Concession." (672, Selected Shorter) It describes how the world comes at us very confident, never admitting its views are "opinion" or asking us to use the "touchstone" of the Word of God for input. Rather it calls its views scholarship, prestige, and right. But we must always be confident upon the Word of God. We must realize the definition of heresy that Warfield, that classic preacher and teacher, said: "the very essence of 'heresy' is that the modes of thought and tenets originating elsewhere than in the Scriptures of God are given decisive weight when they clash with the teachings of God's Word, and those are followed to the neglect or modification or rejection of these." (677, Selected Shorter) He says that apologetics (defense of the faith) often takes the attitude that we "suppose that the minimum is all, or all that is worth defending, or all that is capable of defense. Yet it is undeniable that some recent apologetics has left on the minds of men some such impression." (677) Warfield gives several reasons why that won't work. One of them is that the person who defends the minimum will undervalue the undefended maximum. How true. Let us all learn to take God's revelation to mankind in the Bible as our touchstone, rather than shifting sand as such. Tomorrow present opinion will change, God's Word will stand.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

DA Carson's Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church

Well, I have pressed ahead through Carson's Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church. It is a worthwhile read. I highly recommend it. Basically what Carson does is bring biblical considerations to bear, biblical themes, that don't fit in the framework of the major "hard postmodernists" books or articles. If we are to take Scripture as our authority, then there has to be a change, we need to go with what God has revealed rather than culture. Carson is right. He approaches two authors, one major US postmodern-emergent author and one from the United Kingdom. And then examines their beliefs so as to show that they don't match major biblical themes. He then has sections of Scripture where he lists things like knowing and certainty from the Bible, and shows how overwhelming these ideas are. Scripture portrays us with the ability to know for certain on doctrines of Christian truth. Whereas some (some, not all!) authors in the emerging church tend to abandon absolute truth or fully certain truth knowing.

Now in fairness, there are times that Carson uses and acknowledges the heard work of studying a text, by what preaching/hermeneutics professors call a hermeneutical spiral towards the text. He is using a qualification on our ability. That is to say, as we read the Bible more, and ask ourselves questions about what God is saying, and as we study that second, third, fourth time more, we get the intention more clearly from it. This means we may increase in our knowledge or certainty of things God has revealed. Carson gives the example of the deity of Christ as something that as he has studied it (rightly) he has come to certain knowledge on. And this qualification is good so as to avoid a trap he may fall into of claiming that he just knows without appeal to Scripture. We are all, admittedly, pursuing Christ daily, to know Him more fully. However, we can indeed know, certainly, things that have been revealed and we have been able to see these from Scripture. A doctrine of the Bible is that it is itself clear. Indeed, God's Word promises to us that the Spirit will illumine us so that we may know with certainty actual truth of God and the world. What we are not promised is that the Spirit will absolutize our experience. One of the emerging churches great insights is that many churches have adopted cultural (American, French, UK, etc, etc) traditions and claimed they were biblical; when in fact, they were nothing of the sort. Many local church traditions have nothing to do with the Bible, but with the social click that meets there. This is the healthy insight in my view from the emerging church movement. There are also as Carson points out, healthy emergent's, who in fact hold to absolute truth ability on Christian doctrine. This is good. So I can appreciate the heavy lifting Carson has done to show how the Bible and emergent tenets may or may not mesh up. It at least has given me a broader and deeper perspective on the whole picture. Carson is very careful and backs up his references very well. He also gets into some interesting side issues on church polity for a page or two at times. These actually just made me want to read some of his other articles more, however, and they were interesting.

I think the strength of the book is that it doesn't let a major contemporary church movement go uncritiqued. Carson aims to be faithful to good reading of the Scripture. The weakness of the book is that it is often modernistically limited. At times you sense that to take what he says as true you would have to go backwards and sort of agree with past modernistic theologians. It could be more powerful if it was more often said that there should be new theologians who will press ahead in the future, but will not become postmodern as far as truth claims on Christian doctrine. By that I mean, there are times that Carson sounds like a complaining modernist more than just a biblical Christian acknowledging the future will come. I would suspect that we all have our weaknesses though, and I was able to keep reading without much problem, as there ought to be good theologians from every age we appreciate and learn from in our lives as believers. One minor thing that just troubled me that he had some of his own 'tradition' church views against younger people (18-40 presumably) here and there. But they are lightly peppered and hardly affect much of the book at all. In these ways, I just wonder if Carson wants to hold on to old ways of doing the outward forms of church at the expense of an otherwise good critique work which he has written. But again, no one is perfect. And Carson has strength when it comes to talking about how missions has taught us to recognize that the gospel which never changes can take and use culture forms such as music so as to convey Truth, absolute truth. (He doesn't say it in exactly those words.)

I think Carson is very charitable towards the emerging church for the most part. I'll have to read more to know for sure, but he seemed even handed in a build up sort of way.

This book really pointed out to me Brian McLaren's pluralism (there are many ways to heaven). I was saddened to find out that McLaren is a pluralist. Ironically, I have met some people in various seminaries who think Brian McLaren is just great all around. That's a scary thought given he has already sold the whole house spiritually. I don't believe that Scripture allows for us to worship another god in any way, nor to reverence other gods. That is idolatry, and if a person never repents of idolatry they will be judged for it.

And I agree with Carson that there is a distinction between the idolatry involved in people's sins such as coveting versus idolatry straight up as defined in Scripture. Why mention this? Apparently some emergent persons (not by any means all) say if people in churches commit an attitude of coveting things, then that is just as bad. But the truth is, there is no grace (unmerited favor of God to salvation) apart from knowing Christ alone as Savior and Lord. It is impossible to also never repent of coveting, but celebrate it as correct, and be blessed of God. Sure. But here's the difference: God will -make sure- that those who truly believe on and trust Him, and aren't idolaters, will repent of things like coveting and even when they fall, repent and pursue the right God again. The Holy Spirit and the Word read or heard guarantee true believers will continue on believing. But if you start with the wrong God to begin with, then there is no way to get help to overcome coveting. This is true inside a visible church or in some foreign land. Coveting obviously is not right, but without the Right God First there is no hope of repenting of coveting. There are some differences. Now of course, there are professing Christian people to fall into all kinds of sins, including doubt which might rival idolatry. But they turn from it, because they have trusted a God who is jealous to see His Word bring changes in them. So this is the difference. I wonder if Carson could have brought this out more, but he choose not to for whatever reason.

In the end, the book is recommended. It does discuss epistemology which I wanted to delve into, but I don't plan on tackling that so much at this moment. That is for a graduate paper and in more depth, later. Perhaps I'll share some thoughts on that later in 2010.