Christianity 201

February 15, 2017

Flexible Methodology; Fixed Message

For the last few days we’ve been reconnecting with writers with whom it’s been many years — in this case five — since they last appeared at C201. It’s great to go back and find people are being faithful to Bible study and devotion online. Dave Bish at the Blue Fish Project website is one of those. He’s doing a series on Galatians and at the end of this article, we’ll link you to another in the series.

Trampolines and Brick Walls: Don’t flex on the gospel, do flex on everything else to love the church and advance the gospel.

In his 2005 book Velvet Elvis Rob Bell argued that the church has a problem because we think of theology as like a brick wall – rigid and systematic, whereas we should look at our theology as being more of a trampoline – flexible and in which some of the springs can be safely removed. The analogy seems really attractive, though it’s pretty flawed – not least because you could removed more bricks from a wall than springs from a trampoline before everything would fall apart… but beyond that it’s also woefully ignorant.

In writing to Galatians Paul wont have any of this anti-doctrinal faith. He tackle gospel denial and says it’s Father-desertion… he speak of gospel truth and it’s about the Father’s revelation of the Son. It’s life-filled, relational, and write-down-able. And accuracy matters – because it’s curse-worthy to believe a different gospel, and to teach others to hope in something contrary to Christ. Theology is about the knowledge of the Father and his Son by the Spirit – it’s not cold and rigid, but without accuracy we’re not talking about the same God, just a similar one. Or in Galatian language a different gospel that is no gospel at all… a perversion of the gospel.” 

But, some things are flexible and some things aren’t. The gospel can’t be up for grabs, a lot of other stuff must be – at least when it comes to ministry practice.

In Galatians 2 Paul tells one of three stories to his Father-deserting friends that build his case that they should get back to where they began rather than heading off in a different direction. He tells that he went to Jerusalem to preserve the gospel for them (2v5). It’s worth a big detour upstream to Jerusalem to preserve the gospel in Turkey – just as later it’s worth a big detour to to Jerusalem to maintain the unity of the Jew and Gentile churches in Rome.

Though there were false brothers in Galatian – counterfeit-christians – the church itself hadn’t lost the plot and they recognize that God who was at work in Peter… was also at work in Pauland they recognized the grace given…to both Paul and the Jerusalem church. One gospel.

What’s curious is the test for finding out whether Jerusalem is true to the gospel.

  • Paul takes Titus in the expectation that gospel loss would mean he’d be compelled to be circumcised (v3). Meanwhile, in Acts 16v3 (possibly around the same time, depending on how you date Galatians), Paul gets Timothy circumcised so he can take him with him.  To be clear: If the Jerusalem church compels Titus to be circumcised that’s evidence that the gospel has been lost, but when Paul gets Timothy circumcised that’s the gospel advancing.
  • Likewise, in Paul’s next story – Peter stands condemned for putting himself back under food laws, and in effect saying to his Gentile brothers and sisters in Antioch that they’re not welcome unless they take on the food laws too. But in Romans 14v21 Paul says it’s best not to eat if that’ll cause problems for your brother or sister from a Jewish background.

Context and motive call for different practices. It’s a recipe for inconsistency but necessary for the inclusion of diverse peoples and for taking the gospel diverse peoples. And it works because, the gospel isn’t a matter of out conformity. Habits, festivals, food laws and bodily markings aren’t the issue. Loving the church and reaching new people require different approaches at different times and in different places. What would we need to flex to ensure that the only obstacle is the gospel?

Paul embodies this by being prepared to become all things to all people to win some… and by his substantial detours – twice to Jerusalem – to demonstrate bond between the Gentile and Jewish churches.

The real mark of the gospel isn’t what we wear, eat or celebrate. It’s the Spirit of the Son indwelling the believer by faith and enacting our adoption. All else is flexible. Sadly churches fall out over loads of things, but a true gospel priority should mean most of those things – important as they are – are matter over which we’re more than happy to flex, to serve other believers and to reach those who aren’t yet believers. Sadly, we tend to hold on to things for the sake of having church how we want it to be.

If I get this then I’ll be radically committed to welcoming any other believer and removing things that are obstacles for their conscience out of the way, and to welcoming those who don’t believe by changing anything at all – apart from the gospel. If I get this I’ll be incredibly flexible and inconsistent in my view of almost everything in church life… though that’ll look messy, I suspect the gospel shines brighter against that messy backdrop.


Continue reading Dave’s writings on Galatians with this article, What’s GOOD in this foreign country?

February 22, 2014

Truth, Relatively Speaking

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:59 pm
Tags: , , ,

Today’s devotional is from the website http://www.cfdevotionals.org or Christian Fellowship Devotionals,  and was written by Mike Hoskins.  Click to read Relative Truth at source.

2 Tim 3:3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?”, scoffing.

The problem we see today has been around for a very long time. The Pharisees wanted to get rid of Jesus so they lied to have Him executed. Unknowingly they where the tools that fulfilled Jesus’ purpose for taking on mortal flesh and being born into this world. Jesus was an enemy to their truth, so they justified their actions. The idea that deity would come and die for mankind is also scoffed at by many today. What is truth? The question is asked because those asking have given up on authoritative, unchanging truth. The idea of a fixed right and wrong today is being trampled under foot by the culture. And we allow it.

absolute truthI saw a recording of a few minutes of a talk show where the host and a guest were talking about how we all must ascend and become like gods, improving as we go until we achieve this god-like state. When a Christian in the audience stood and quoted scripture and presented the truth of the Gospel, the discussion that followed clearly divided the audience. It didn’t get hostile, but there were lines clearly drawn. The truth was defended well that day.

Paul, as a Roman citizen, appealed to Caesar during his discussion with Festus. Paul felt his calling to go to Rome and possibly speak the Gospel before the Roman Emperor. Since the Emperor was considered a deity Paul would be speaking heretical words punishable by death, but Paul felt the call to go and preach. It is believed that Paul either died of old age under house arrest speaking to anyone who would hear him tell about Christ, or that he was executed in Rome. Either way he spoke the truth of Jesus Christ.

What is true today depends very much upon with whom you speaking. But none of that changes truth. Truth is the source of everything that is true. Two plus two equals four is true, but its veracity is founded in truth. Jesus told us that He is the way, the truth and the life. He is the source of all these things. All these things hold together, math for example can be used to accurately describe the physical world and the behavior of objects and forces like gravity, because God is the unifying source of Truth.

The unchanging truth is becoming unpopular these days. Unless we, the church, are willing to stand up for the truth the light we are suppose to be to the world will grow very dim, and the world will become even darker than it is. (Read Rev. chps 2-3)

How willing are we to stand up for the truth? Are we prepared to defend the truth?

“The further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it.” George Orwell

December 17, 2013

Grace Arrives on the Scene

It was just three months ago that we featured the writing of Paul Tautges at the blog Counseling One Another. Normally, we wait six months to return to particular source here, but I want you to be sure to check out some of his other writing, not to mention how much I enjoyed today’s featured post, which is appropriate to the season.  Click to read Grace Has Arrived on the Scene.

Grace is the gift of God brought to sinners through the giving of His Son who willingly humbled Himself, dwelt among us, died a cruel death in our place, and was raised from the dead to give us life. This is the gospel. Romans 1:1-7 is a one-sentence, 126-word, announcement of good news from God. Alva McClain writes, “The literary construction of this sentence is very beautiful, and the unfolding of the ideas exquisite! It is almost like the unfolding of a flower—first the stalk, then the bud, then the full bloom, then the heart of it!” (p. 34). The author of this text is Paul, formerly Saul the persecutor of the church.

  • Paul was a servant of Jesus Christ: Six different words could have been chosen by Paul to explain his servitude, but he chose the strongest, the most absolute servitude. Doulos = slave, one purchased from the slave market of sin.
  • Paul was called to be an apostle: To be an apostle, by New Testament definition, two things had to be true of the man. He had to have seen the Lord (Paul did when Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus). He had to have received his call directly from the Lord, which Paul was at the same time (both described in Acts 9).
  • Paul was separated unto the gospel: Paul was chosen by God to be an apostle. Galatians 1:15 indicates that God separated Paul out for this ministry while still in his mother’s womb. God called him to salvation (Acts 9), set him apart for the work of the gospel (Acts 13) for the purpose of spending his life announcing the Good News that God loves and saves sinners through repentance and faith in His Son. It is that gospel that is the very heart and soul of the message of these seven verses. Here we see three simple, foundational truths concerning the gospel.

The Gospel Is Good News from God (vv. 1-2). Paul calls this good news the “gospel of God.” It is God’s gospel. This gospel was “promised beforehand by the prophets.” So many Scriptures were perfectly fulfilled in the first advent of our Lord (see this encouraging article from Answers in Genesis)! Perhaps the greatest Old Testament prophecy fulfilled in our Savior’s death, burial, and resurrection is Isaiah 53. This good news from God was also “recorded in the Scriptures.” Paul stresses the importance of this truth in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5.

 

The Gospel Is Good News about Jesus (vv. 3-4). The gospel concerns God’s Son. This sounds very simple, but it is very significant. The gospel is not about you; the gospel is not about me. The gospel is about Jesus Christ. He is the center of it all. Jesus was born of “a descendant of David” according to the flesh. Matthew’s genealogy, in particular, traces the lineage of Jesus back to King David. He began, “The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David” (Matthew 1:1). This was to establish the fact that Jesus is the rightful heir to the throne of David. He is the long, promised King of Israel. Jesus was born “according to the flesh.” Jesus is fully human. He is the God-man who broke into earth’s history to rescue us from our sin, and He did this in accordance with God’s perfect timing (Galatians 4:4-5). Jesus was declared the Son of God by His resurrection. The first advent of Jesus, as a descendant of David according to the flesh, presents his humanity. The resurrection of Jesus was a declaration of His deity. He is God in the flesh. He was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. And it is because of His resurrection that we may have new life. Four names and titles are used of Jesus in these verses.

  • Son = defines His relationship to the Father
  • Jesus = speaks of His humanity, He is “the salvation of Jehovah”
  • Christ = His office as the Messiah
  • Lord = His exalted position. He is the Lord Jehovah.

The Gospel Is Good News for Sinners (vv. 5-7). The good news is that the gospel turns sinners into saints. Here believers are described in three ways:

  • Believers are called of [by] Jesus Christ. By means of the gospel, Jesus Christ calls sinners to Himself. He offers us forgiveness, new life, and peace (Matthew 11:28-30).
  • Believers are loved by God. Isn’t this an amazing description?! We are sinners loved by God (John 3:16)! It is true that we are—right now, this very minute—children of God! (1 John 3:2).
  • Believers are called to be saints. Believers are saints by calling, not by deed. When God saves us from our sin He, at the same time, calls us to Himself. He sets us apart. Alva McClain: “God never goes to a sinner and tells him to try to attain to sainthood. He picks us out of the mud, and He says, ‘You are a saint.’”

God has given us good news. The good news is that grace has arrived on the scene. Grace has been given to desperate, fallen humanity. The gospel is the message of grace, which saves us when we first become a Christian., but the gospel continues to preach to us—day after day—that God’s grace is enough for us. God loves sinners. What a wonder that is!! There is no greater news. There is no greater message. God’s grace has arrived. And it is found in His Son, the Lord Jesus.

February 26, 2013

Where Accusation and Conviction Meet

NLT Ps. 51:3 For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.

KJV Ps. 51:3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

ESV Revelation 12:10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.

NIV I Thess. 1:4 For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.

NIV I Tim. 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…

Sometimes you just know when you’ve messed up.  You need neither the devil’s accusation nor the Holy Spirit’s conviction. It’s black and white. You missed the mark. You weren’t even aiming for the target. You recognize that the border between the righteousness and holiness that people in your church think you live out, and the propensity to sin of weaker brothers is a border only micro-millimeters thick.

How did I think that? What made me say that? Why did I look at her/him the way I did? Why did I charge that customer for two hours’ labor when I did the job in one? Why did I click on that website? Where did that anger come from when they mentioned that person’s name? Why did I say I’d be there when I have no intention of attending?

Yikes! I’m no different than anyone else! Here I thought — and everybody else thought — that I was super spiritual, when in fact I’m … human.

That’s the moment to confess.

This is often referred to as “keeping short accounts with God.”  The blog Amazing Grace Bible Studies explains:

…let’s consider the phrase as it is used in accounting acumen. To keep your accounts payable on a “short basis” simply means to keep them “paid up”, or rather, not to let them become extended. An example of this would be to pay off your credit card balance every month.

In the spiritual sense, when looking at the theology that prescribes this practice, it always refers to confession of sin(s) (the equivalent of a liability or debt in accounting terms), and requesting to be forgiven of sins on a daily basis.1 When you hear believers say that they are “prayed up” this invariably means that they’ve got all their sins “confessed up.”

Rick Warren adds,

“Clean hands” simply means a clear conscious. Does that mean we’re perfect? No. None of us is perfect. But we can keep short accounts with God. 1 John 1:9 (TLB) says, “But if we confess our sins to him, he can be depended on to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.” So when we sin, we just say, “God, I was wrong. I confess it.” There is no power without a clear conscience.

Classic writer A. B. Simpson wrote:

  It is a good thing to keep short accounts with God. I was very much struck some years ago with an interpretation of the verse: So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God (Romans 14:12). The thought it conveys is that of accounting to God daily. For us judgment is passed as we lay down on our pillows each night. This is surely the true way to live. It is the secret of great peace. It will be a delightful comfort when life is closing or at the Master’s coming, to know that our account is settled and our judgment over. For us, then, there is only the waiting to hear the glad Well done, good and faithful servant; . . . enter thou into the joy of thy Lord (Matthew 25:21).

But sometimes we feel a sense of a nagging in our heads and hearts either because (a) we haven’t confessed yet, or (b) we have but something about our sin is such that our brain won’t let go of it — or at least that would be a superficial explanation to what is going on.

But what’s really going one?  In either case above, it has to be either:

  • the conviction of the Holy Spirit (or you might read the I Thess. passage above as ‘the conviction of the gospel’ or in I Tim., the rebuke of God’s Word); or,
  • the accusation of Satan who is described (in the Rev. passage above) as the accuser of the brethren (and, as some translations add, the sistren.) (Yes, I know that’s not a word.)

Conviction or accusation?

So when you find yourself in the situation of unconfessed sin, or of sin you feel you did indeed confess, then is what you are experiencing conviction or accusation?

Does it really matter?

No, I mean that question. We looked at a tough passage a few days ago where David took the census, and the two Old Testaments account differed in terms of whether the idea for David to do this came from Satan or from God.  Theologians still aren’t sure; the jury is still out on how to interpret this passage.

Conviction of sin

So here’s what I think. And remember this is just one guy’s opinion.

I believe that, to use a train analogy, sometimes conviction and accusation arrive on parallel tracks. Both will lead you in the same direction. One is very negative: “So I guess we’re not so spiritual after all, are we?” But the other comes from a heart of love, “Let’s get that confessed, so that we can spend the rest of the day walking in grace and forgiveness.”

One will beat you over the head. Actually, you don’t need to be a Christ-follower to have that experience. All humans have some degree of guilt-reflex.

But the other will free you, provided you act on that conviction, confess and move on.

PW

December 24, 2012

Thoughts on Incarnation for Christmas

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:01 pm
Tags: , , ,

Christmas Banner 2



My expanded paraphrase/commentary on Philippians 2.

The mark of being a Christ-follower isn’t going to be measured in external, visible things as much it’s evident in an attitude.  That mindset should be the same as Christ’s.

Even though he was 100% God, he didn’t consider his fellowship in what we call the trinity something to be leveraged, a status update to be posted every five minutes, a trump card to play. Instead he came in a spirit of humility.

Any one of the following four would have been significant but he came in humility insofar as he (a) entered the world exactly as one of us, with all the physical ramifications of being human, (b) generally tended to play his role as that of a servant, doing the things which we would not expect of either an earthly or heavenly king, (c) experienced exactly what we would in leaving the world, through death, (d) not dying of natural causes or illness but in a cruel, violent, painful execution of one counted as a criminal, even though he had not sinned.

Upon completing all of this, God the Father lifted him up to the highest place in heaven, and gave him a title and a position which exceeds any other,  so that ultimately every knee will bow and every mouth confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of all people, all places, all things; with God the Father also glorified in this.


Thanks to all of you who make Christianity 201 part of your routine. As it happens, this is also post #1000. It has been a real blessing to see the growth of this particular blog. Thanks for reading, your comments and sharing info about the site with others. I wish our worldwide readership a Merry Christmas and pray for God’s best in the year to come.
~Paul.

November 20, 2012

We’re Outsiders on the Inside

This weekend we were reading Romans 11, especially the passage that talks about being “grafted in.”

Ingrafted Branches
11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!

13 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry 14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.

17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. 23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!

We’re not going to delve into that today, that’s just a bonus reading for what I discovered about 30 minutes later in John Fischer’s blog, The Catch in a post titled Outsiders.

“He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God”(John 1:11-13).

We owe so much to the Jewish forefathers of the faith, and in a strange way, even to their rejection of Christ, because that has made it possible for us Gentiles to be included. And I believe we need to be on guard against thinking now we have an inside track on God, lest the same thing happen to us.

It’s a theme repeated throughout the Old and New Testament: those on the inside rebel, get hard hearts and reject the truth; those on the outside receive it gladly. Jesus told parable after parable about the invited guests and those at the front of the line being usurped by “outsiders” – latecomers if you will. Of course this is all a part of God’s long-range plan for both Jews and Gentiles to be saved, but I do believed there is something to becoming stodgy, smug and self-important in our faith.

It might be good for us to think of ourselves as outsiders – as uninvited guests who got in on the party only because the invited guests had other things to do. It might be good for us to identify more with prostitutes and sinners (“ragamuffins” according to Brennan Manning) than with the religious, lest we too become like the Scribes and Pharisees (“beware the leaven of the Pharisees” Matthew 16:6).

It might be good for us to be eternally grateful for the grace of God that has somehow found us when we are so undeserving. No background. No pedigree. We’re like a bunch of mutts who got picked up at the pound one day short of our doom by a generous master who bought up the whole place – adopted us all.

Why do I suggest we think like this? Because it is necessary to the Gospel of Welcome for us to offer the good news to other undeserving folks like us. If we ever think of ourselves as above anyone, then we are closing someone off to the gospel.

Stay an outsider. Stay a sinner (don’t sin, but see yourself as one). Stay grateful. Stay amazed that you got “in.” And stay close to the door, so you can welcome in other vagabonds and ruffians like yourself.

Like that grand lady still shining her light over those coming to America: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” (Emma Lazarus, from her sonnet, “The New Colossus” now bronzed inside the Statue of Liberty.)

Lest we forget who we are.

~John Fischer

July 6, 2012

Four Myths Attacking God’s Word and the Church

Today’s thoughts are from James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel and host of Walk in the Word.  Click through to read this at source, and learn more about Harvest, Walk in the Word, and the upcoming Vertical Church tour of North America.

2 Timothy 4:3-5
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Let’s grow in our capacity to discern. Make a note of these four myths attacking the church today. Some you might be aware of, others maybe not at all. They are messages crafted for itching ears that damn the souls of men.

1: The Word of God is not sufficient. The Word of God does not have all of the answers that people need for the complex problems of the twenty-first century man. Instead of the message of the Word of God, we need psychology—literally, the study of the soul.

Almighty God has already written a book on the soul. Any contributions from psychology have not seriously upgraded what God calls “all things pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). If you have a problem, a burden, or a struggle, the answer is not found by running away from God’s Word and going to a counselor, month after month, who never opens the Word of God, who never prays with you, or who is not ministering in the power of God’s Spirit. If the answer to your problem doesn’t leave you closer to God, it wasn’t God’s answer for you. I don’t judge those who don’t know the Lord for doing the best they can and finding relief along the broad road, but the people of God should not be clamoring for the world to solve what God, in His Word and in the power of His Holy Spirit, wants to give. God help us to love the truth and pursue the truth for the answers to the burdens we carry and the issues we face.

2: The Word of God is not sophisticated. If you really want to reach people—boomers, GenX’ers, post-moderns—you need a more sophisticated hook than the Word of God.

Listen to what some church sites are posting in their attempts to reach people. “Our church is growing large and strong with an emphasis on the importance of every individual.” “Our church is not just a church; it’s an adventure.” “We’ll make sure that the first face you see when you approach our church has a smile on it.” “We will give you the resources and the opportunity to reflect upon yourself, to develop a balanced lifestyle and discover the healthy whole person God designed you to be.” Those are not the answer to anyone’s problems.

How much different does the promise of this church sound?  “A people who desire to know Christ and to raise the Cross over Hollywood.” Do you see the difference, see the vertical focus upon Christ Himself as the answer for searching souls? But these myths, tragically posing as the ministry of Christ, claim the Word is not sufficient nor sophisticated. And tragically, when they fail, people feel the Lord has failed them, when He has not been truly involved at all.

3: The Word of God is not settled. The Word is still emerging—the message is still changing.

My brother sent me an e-mail about a church that’s attempting to adjust the biblical teaching on the role of women. The rationale they give for explaining away the clear teaching of Scripture is that folks like us take a static approach to God’s Word, “but we take a redemptive approach,” they say. My brother wondered what that meant. In essence, they are claiming: “Don’t think the Bible always means the same thing through all of the centuries. We believe that the Bible means different things to different people. Centuries ago it meant one thing, but now to modern, more sophisticated culture it means this.”

As soon as I hear that, I want to throw up, because that message confirms people in their sin and gives them misguided authority to sin against their own conscience.  All around us are those that have adopted the “redemptive” approach to studying the Bible. My greatest concern isn’t even about the role of women—we celebrate women leaders in our church in every area except those restricted by Scripture. My burden, however, is not women preachers, but the perversities in society that are standing in line behind that comparatively innocent issue, waiting to say, “Oh beautiful! We get to take the parts of the Scripture that are an affront to our perversity and dismiss them as no longer relevant.” It’s the idea that the Word of God is not settled, when it is—that the Bible needs updating, when it doesn’t.

4: The Word of God is not sure or reliable. Christ is not unique, and His unique message is to be rejected in a world of pluralism.

We live in a day where the name that is not welcomed is the Name that is above every name. As the God of this age heightens His attack upon this world in these last days, the dividing lines are becoming incredibly clear. I believe with all of my heart that in the days to come, to cross that finish line, it is going to cost us more than it has ever cost us before. It is going to cost us relationships when we continue to proclaim, “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). We trumpet the message of Jesus, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me” (John 14:6). To those who do not have the Spirit of God within them, the Scripture says, we are the aroma of death, 2 Corinthians 2:16.  People are not kind to those who become a stench in their nostrils.

What should we do! Spend all of our time attacking error? Some of that is needed, no doubt. But Paul’s exhortation to Timothy [above] has a lot more to do with actually continuing in his own biblical ministry and being deterred by others.

“…be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

~James MacDonald

Christianity 201 is a repository of some of the best devotional and Bible Study material in the Christian blogosphere. Selections come from a variety of doctrinal and theological viewpoints. You’re encouraged to read articles at source, and if you like what you read, click that blog’s header to discover more about the writer/ministry and consider subscribing.

December 24, 2011

The Outrage of the Gospel of Light

At the Saturday morning Christmas Eve service today at North Point, Andy Stanley noted that when you attend an afternoon showing at a movie theater, and then walk out into the day light, the brightness hurts.  It offends the senses.  We tend to think of  “seeing the light” as a good thing; but initially it is an affront to one’s body.

At this classic post from the late Michael Spencer at Internet Monk, he begins with a quotation from Sam Harris — who experiences what Andy Stanley is talking about — and suggests this is a barometer of whether or not we’ve got the gospel right.  If you read it here, be sure to click the “more” tag — grab a coffee or hot chocolate, this is a longer one — otherwise read it at Internet Monk.

There is, in fact, no worldview more reprehensible in its arrogance than that of a religious believer: the creator of the universe takes an interest in me, approves of me, loves me, and will reward me after death; my current beliefs, drawn from scripture, will remain the best statement of the truth until the end of the world; everyone who disagrees with me will spend an eternity in hell. An average Christian, in an average church, listening to an average Sunday sermon has achieved a level of arrogance simply unimaginable in scientific discourse and there have been some extraordinarily arrogant scientists

Sam Harris, Letters To A Christian Nation


The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.
(Isaiah 9:2)

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. …And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:9-18)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9)


 


Christians in America have a preference for people like themselves. In this, we’re not unlike most human beings, but that’s exactly the problem. Most 4th graders would be able to give the correct answer to the question “Who is my neighbor As obvious as the answer would be, most of us would still like to be surrounded with people from our tribe, culture, language group, income level and, of course, worldview.

Christians like to participate in the fantasy that ours is a Christian nation in what is becoming a Christian world. Muslims, atheists, occultists and others occupying the planet get the requisite dose of rhetoric saying we love our neighbors who are unlike us, but if we’re honest, especially about our evangelicalism, we’d have to admit a strong bias toward familiar surroundings and familiar people.

Those radically, fundamentally different from ourselves make us uneasy, as if we were somehow under attack from different cultures and beliefs. The sound of the culture war is the sound of Christians- largely- declaring that they are in some way at war with their neighbors. The rumblings of culture expansion and population shifts in Europe and the American southwest brings out a kind of paranoia in some Christians remarkably similar to what one might have heard from white South Africans in the waning days of apartheid.

I am blessed to live in one of the most diverse communities in America, a place where various races, cultures and religions live and work together in the pursuit of education. For those of us who are part of the Christian mission and identity of our school, the command to love our neighbor takes on flesh and blood every day as students from Muslim, Buddhist, Communist and secularist cultures come into our classrooms and lives.

It is not unusual to watch Christians at our school struggle with the feelings this kind of diversity creates. I might find myself surrounded by Koreans speaking their language, and I am assaulted by a temptation toward resentment that they aren’t speaking English. A table of inner-city African-Americans seem too loud and their hip-hop culture seems alien and disrespectful to me. The hostile questions of an atheistic student cross the invisible boundaries I’ve set up; boundaries that demand he not find my worldview oppressive or ridiculous.

These experiences are common enough that our school might lose a staff family each year primarily to the stress and strain of relating to those different from us. The familiar rhetoric of “I thought this was a Christian school” often comes along with that resignation, insisting that a “real” Christian school would, of course, be populated by Christians in agreement on everything from politics to worship music.

Sam Harris’s description of the arrogance of the Christian faith is the kind of bold atheism that rankles many Christians. Despite the Tom Paines of our history, our belief that we live in a Christian culture inclines us to believe that unbelievers should be, at least, humble. If they want to have their little meetings and make the occasional speech, we can handle it. But when they write confident New York Times bestsellers lecturing all of us as if the nation really belongs to the secularists, it makes us mad.

Harris, however, has a better grasp of the Gospel than most Christians. Evangelicals have almost totally lost the outrage that lies at the heart of the Gospel. We believe that everyone ought to believe what we believe because it’s obvious that its the truth. We have big churches, media stars and books explaining everything so persuasively that it shows just how stubborn and hostile unbelievers really are. If they would just listen to our pastor answer all the questions, it would make sense. (more…)

November 2, 2011

The Occupy Protests: Don’t Store Up Treasure

This devotional thought by Shane Claiborne appeared last week at Out of Ur, a Christianity Today website.   You’re encouraged to read it there; but whether you stay there or here, it reads better if you’ve heard Shane and can imagine his voice speaking…

A reporter recently asked me, “As a Christian leader, does your faith have anything to say about Wall Street?” I said, “How much time do you have?”

Theologian Karl Barth said, “We have to read the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other.” For too long we Christians have used our faith as a ticket out of this world rather than fuel to engage it.

In his parables, Jesus wasn’t offering pie-in-the-sky theology… he was talking about the real stuff of earth. He talks about wages, debt, widows and orphans, unjust business owners and bad politicians. In fact Woody Guthrie breaks it all down in his song “Jesus Christ.” The song ends with Woody singing, “This song was written in New York City. If Jesus were to preach what he preached in Galilee, they would lay him in his grave again.”

The more I read the Gospels, the more they seem to confront the very patterns of the world we live in. At one point Mary, pregnant with Jesus cries out: “God casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly… God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty…”. You can’t help but think if she were alive in contemporary America some folks would try to accuse the Virgin Mother of being Marxist or promoting class warfare. But all through Scripture we see this–over 2000 verses about how God cares for the poor and most vulnerable.

What would Jesus say about Wall Street?

It doesn’t get much better than Luke chapter 12. Jesus begins by saying, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And then, as per usual, he tells a story. The story is about a rich man whose business makes it big. He has so much stuff he doesn’t know where to put it all. So he decides, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones… and I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’” But Jesus says God looks down and is not happy.

God says to the rich man, “You fool! This very night you will die–and what will happen to all your stuff?” And Jesus ends the teaching by saying this is how things will be for folks who store up stuff for themselves.

It does make you wonder what to do about 401k’s and pensions. But it seems pretty clear that Jesus isn’t a big fan of stockpiling stuff in barns and banks, especially when folks are dying of starvation and preventable diseases.

One of the constant threads of Scripture is “Give us this day our daily bread.” Nothing more, nothing less. Underneath this admonition is the assumption that the more we store up for tomorrow the less people will have for today. And in a world where 1% of the world owns half the world’s stuff, we are beginning to realize that there is enough for everyone’s need, but there is not enough for everyone’s greed. Lots of folks are beginning to say, “Maybe God has a different dream for the world than the Wall Street dream.”

Maybe God’s dream is for us to live simply so that others may simply live. Maybe God’s dream is for the bankers to empty their banks and barns so folks have enough food for today.

Woody Guthrie may be right. If Jesus came to Wall Street preaching the same message that he preached in Galilee… he might land himself on a cross again.

~Shane Claiborne

September 26, 2011

The Meaning of “Spreading the Gospel”

An interesting examination into a phrase that was quoted like scripture in the church where I grew up: “Why should anyone hear the gospel twice before everyone has heard it once?”  Eddie Arthur looks at this more  closely:

No one has the right to hear the Gospel twice while there remains someone who has not heard it once. (Oswald J. Smith)

This is the second post in what may become a series on famous sayings about Christian mission (the first one is here). This quote by Smith is one that turns up in lots of missionary writing and at first glance it seems to make sense, but like many things that make sense at first glance, it is actually rather problematic.

On the positive side, this quote encourages us to reflect on the importance of taking the Gospel to places where there are, as yet, no Christians. This is something which is absolutely key to the work of Wycliffe Bible Translators and something which motivated St. Paul, too.

My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else. (Romans 15:20)

That being said, this quote raises an awful lot of questions.

“No one has a right to hear the Gospel twice”; I’m not sure where the language of rights comes from – it certainly isn’t in the Bible. Scripture talks about the responsibility of Christians to bear witness to Christ all around the world, but it is silent on the rights of people to hear the message. Surely, hearing the Gospel, once, twice or a hundred times is all about God’s grace in reaching out to His creation, not about our rights to hear.

So, what about this notion that people should only hear the Gospel once while others have not heard?

The first thing to say is that this is not how Paul operated. Despite his desire to preach in new situations, he spent serious amounts of time in some cities, building up and encouraging the Church and on more than one occasion he went back to visit a city where he had previously planted a Church.

This phrase comes from the sort of thinking which I addressed at a number of points in my series on the Great Commission. It stems from the idea that mission is nothing more than announcing the Good News of Jesus and moving on, it ignores the Biblical injunction to make disciples (Matthew 28:19,20) and fails to take Jesus commands to love and care for people seriously. Are we only supposed to give thirsty people one drink? Or should we visit prisoners once and then move on? (Matthew 25:38-40) Of course we wouldn’t limit these commands in this way; but there is nothing about the command to teach the Gospel that would allow us to limit that either.

Christian mission is about long-term engagement with people. It involves building relationships, serving people and telling them the Good News about Jesus. It takes time, often lots of time, for people to move from not knowing Christ to becoming his disciples. They may need to hear the Gospel many times.

However, the main problem with this phrase, and the sort of missiology that it represents, is that it places us and our strategy in the lead position in mission, rather than having us follow the Spirit and joining in where he is at work.

Phrases like this one are powerful, all the more so because they contain a grain of truth, but they can shape our thinking in ways that are not helpful. Sadly, it can be a lot easier to use sayings like this to shape our mission strategy rather than being guided by the complex and sometimes confusing narrative of Scripture.

If you want to look at this quote in more detail, take a look at what Ernest Goodman has to say (and follow the comments), here is a taste of his thoughts:

I cannot accept a missiology that essentially puts us on “auto-pilot” in terms of to whom we should go. The second we assume where and in whom God is going to work, we get ahead of Him and disqualify ourselves from full participation in what He’s doing. This missiology is essentially either/or; missions is either relating to those people that God leads us to, or it is targeting the next “lostest” people group according to our statistics and research. It cannot be both, because the second assumes a monopoly on the first. How else can we explain so many of our workers feeling called to work among “reached” peoples?

God is at work redeeming humankind to Himself. I believe that missions is crossing cultural barriers to be part of that. Until we seriously rethink our missiology, we will continue to build our strategies on a broken foundation.

July 21, 2011

Evangelism and Your Role

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:42 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

From Brian Jones in his book, Hell Is Real (But I Hate to Admit It) publishing next month from David C. Cook.

…God has done His part and has now passed on to us the responsibility to reach every single person in our circles of influence.  As the great missionary Robert E. Speer once wrote:

Jesus Christ alone can save the world but even Jesus Christ cannot save the world alone. He has no feet with which to go to the world but human feet; no lips with which to speak to the world but human lips; no eyes with which to look out upon the world but human eyes.  The abounding needs of the world can only be met by the abounding sufficiency of Christ as men and women offer themselves as the channels of His grace to the world that is waiting for the light it is to bring.

But evangelism isn’t just about responsibility though that’s a large part of it.  The ministry of reconciliation is also a tremendous privilege. 

In II Cor. 5:17 Paul wrote, “If anyone is in Christ the new creation has come.”  In the English translation you miss the force of the original Greek. The phrase literally reads, “If anyone is in Christ, new creation” There is no verb; it’s just a noun and an adjective and it’s written as if it’s a loud proclamation.  “New Creation!” You can feel a sense of awe even in Paul’s simple phrasing.

Every time we help someone walk across the line of faith we get a front row seat to watch an astonishing act of creation. But unlike the acts of creation detailed in Genesis, this creation happens in the heart unseen by human eyes. But it’s just as miraculous nonetheless.

That’s why evangelism is a privilege; it’s not just a have to, but a get to

Brian Jones pp. 166-7

Read a review of the book at Thinking Out Loud

June 8, 2011

He Died for Our Life: John Calvin

One of the joys of putting this together everyday is being able to mix on one site some of the best writing from both Reformed and Arminian perspectives.  This particular item by Calvin appeared on Tullian Tchividjian’s blog, the pastor of Coral Ridge Church in Florida and grandson of Billy Graham.  He called it Gospel Gold from John Calvin.  Pay particular attention to the detail in the paragraph beginning “He died for our life…” which details things outside the usual list accomplished through Christ’s suffering and resurrection.

A while back, a friend of mine sent me this nugget of gospel gold from John Calvin. It comes from a stunning preface to Pierre Robert Olivétan’s French translation of the New Testament (1534). Another friend, Justin Taylor, added line breaks to make it easier to read.

Calvin wrote:

Without the gospel

everything is useless and vain;

without the gospel

we are not Christians;

without the gospel

all riches is poverty,
all wisdom folly before God;
strength is weakness,
and all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God.

But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made

children of God,
brothers of Jesus Christ,
fellow townsmen with the saints,
citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven,
heirs of God with Jesus Christ, by whom

the poor are made rich,
the weak strong,
the fools wise,
the sinner justified,
the desolate comforted,
the doubting sure,
and slaves free.

It is the power of God for the salvation of all those who believe.

It follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone.

For, he was

sold, to buy us back;
captive, to deliver us;
condemned, to absolve us;

he was

made a curse for our blessing,
[a] sin offering for our righteousness;
marred that we may be made fair;

he died for our life; so that by him

fury is made gentle,
wrath appeased,
darkness turned into light,
fear reassured,
despisal despised,
debt canceled,
labor lightened,
sadness made merry,
misfortune made fortunate,
difficulty easy,
disorder ordered,
division united,
ignominy ennobled,
rebellion subjected,
intimidation intimidated,
ambush uncovered,
assaults assailed,
force forced back,
combat combated,
war warred against,
vengeance avenged,
torment tormented,
damnation damned,
the abyss sunk into the abyss,
hell transfixed,
death dead,
mortality made immortal.

In short,

mercy has swallowed up all misery,
and goodness all misfortune.

For all these things which were to be the weapons of the devil in his battle against us, and the sting of death to pierce us, are turned for us into exercises which we can turn to our profit.

If we are able to boast with the apostle, saying, O hell, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? it is because by the Spirit of Christ promised to the elect, we live no longer, but Christ lives in us; and we are by the same Spirit seated among those who are in heaven, so that for us the world is no more, even while our conversation is in it; but we are content in all things, whether country, place, condition, clothing, meat, and all such things.

And we are

comforted in tribulation,
joyful in sorrow,
glorying under vituperation,
abounding in poverty,
warmed in our nakedness,
patient amongst evils,
living in death.

This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father.

Do yourself a favor and read this over and over and over. It’s nutritious!

February 28, 2011

Christ-Centered Accountability

Sometimes I think I need to try harder to make this blog live up to its name. Then there are topics like this one, where I feel maybe this is more like Christianity 301 for some people. Stay with me here…

Tullian Tchividjian, who, not that it matters, is a grandson of Billy Graham; and who, it does matter, is the pastor of Florida’s prestigious Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, has a couple of articles I want you to link to today.

The first one, on the surface of it anyway, looks at “accountability groups;” the kind of small group thing that Tullian says end up more focused on our sin than on our Savior.  In so doing, he says, they actually may be making people feel worse.

All the “good stuff” that is ours already in Christ settles at the bottom when we focus on ourselves more than Jesus (after all, Peter only began to sink when he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on his performance). John Owen said, “Holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing, and realizing of the gospel in our souls.” And what is the gospel? Not my work for Jesus, but Jesus’ work for me…

He says that we need reminders, not rebukes; and we need to get away from the mentality that says we need to fix people.

What Paul did for the Colossians is what we all need our Christian brothers and sisters to do for us as well: remind me first of what’s been done, not what I must do. So, while rebukes are sometimes necessary, reminders are far more effective in the long run.

Take 3-4 minutes to read that article, in its entirety here.

Now, I’m sure that someone reading this is going to say, “But I’m a part of an accountability group, and it has been most helpful to us; and I’ve encouraged others to do the same.”

Tullian wasn’t knocking the groups per se, but rather the tendancy of some to move in a specific direction. But it caused quite a stir, and in the comments section he offered this clarification:

…It’s not accountability in general (I mention the friends and family that continue to help me grow) but the kind of accountability groups like the ones I specifically mentioned (believe it or not, these are much more commonplace than you may realize!) that end up being more of a hindrance to our growth, than they are a help. These groups foster the kind of guilt, legalism, narcissism and morbid introspection that are antithetical to growth in the gospel. It’s very telling, for instance, that in Galatians 5:4-5 the Apostle Paul describes falling from grace, not in terms of immorality or godless living, but legalism.

I call for accountability in this post, but a certain kind of accountability–the kind that forces us to reckon with the scandalous nature of God’s unconditional love for us because of Christ’s finished work on our behalf. I believe in the need to repent and to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16).

I can personally attest to the tendency of certain groups to get off their original focus and away form their primary design.

Take 2-3 minutes to read the follow-up article on his blog.

Here’s a parallel observation that didn’t form part of his article, but which I believe applies here:

Lots of men (and some women) struggle with online addiction to websites with sexual content. Many groups work very hard to try to help such people wrestle themselves away from such internet locations. It’s not easy. But some take another approach and stress the character of God, in particular his omnipresence. The idea is that if you really, really, really believe that God is with you; that he is right next to you as you sit at your computer; you won’t go to those sites. This approach is effective for many people.

Even here it’s easy to remember the illustration and miss the point: That remembering the character and attributes of God is possibly more effective than simply calling on God’s power to help us break free of a controlling habit. The latter will work in many cases, but remembering the character of God gives us a greater reason to want to make a rapid life change.