11/20/2014

Which Kind of Baptist Are You?

It is simply not true that Reformed and Baptist can’t go together.  There is a significant stream of Baptist history in line with the magisterial Reformation.  It runs from the Westminster divines to the English Baptists known as ‘Particular Baptists’ who adopted a revised form of the Westminster Confession called the Second London Confession (1689).  This stream was the dominant one feeding the early Baptist movement in America.

 

However, it is true that not all Baptists are Reformed.  Some in fact, are downright heretical.  It’s true today.  It was true at the beginning of the Baptist movement.  There is a polluted stream that runs through the English Baptists known as ‘General Baptists’ and finds its headwaters at a man named John Smyth (1570-1612).  Timothy George writes in Baptist Confessions, Covenants, and Catechisms (Nashville: B&H, 1999), p. 6:

[Smyth] rejected the classic Reformation doctrines of original sin, election, and justification.  Article Ten of his Short Confession is a clear denial of the doctrine of justification by faith alone.  Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find anything in this article which could not have satisfied the Roman Catholic theologians at the Council of Trent!

 

That article reads:

10. That the justification of man before the Divine tribunal (which is both the throne of justice and of mercy), consists partly of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ apprehended by faith, and partly of inherent righteousness, in the holy themselves, by the operation of the Holy Spirit, which is called regeneration or sanctification; since any one is righteous, who doeth righteousness.

 

Don’t be that kind of Baptist!

11/18/2014

A Non-Institutional Church? Why Are We So Dumb?

Yesterday was the PLANT Chicago quarterly.  We’ve had some outstanding speakers on important topics this year.  I was really looking forward to hearing Jared Wilson speak on the exclusivity of Christ and I was not disappointed.  I’ve appreciated his clear and compelling points in writing (The Pastor’s Justification is a must read for pastors!) and now I have a taste of his humble and genuine demeanor in person.

 

Here are a couple of the great quotes Wilson gave us yesterday:

This is why most southerners go to church and most northerners do not – because they’re ‘good’ people.

To reject the church is to reject the gospel because the church is something the gospel has made.

And then going along with that last one he read a longer quote from Eugene Peterson about the institutional church:

What other church is there besides institutional? There’s nobody who doesn’t have problems with the church, because there’s sin in the church. But there’s no other place to be a Christian except the church. There’s sin in the local bank. There’s sin in the grocery stores. I really don’t understand this naive criticism of the institution. I really don’t get it.

Frederick von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree. There’s no life in the bark. It’s dead wood. But it protects the life of the tree within. And the tree grows and grows and grows and grows. If you take the bark off, it’s prone to disease, dehydration, death.

So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive. And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn’t last long. It disappears, gets sick, and it’s prone to all kinds of disease, heresy, and narcissism.

In my writing, I hope to recover a sense of the reality of congregation — what it is. It’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. Why are we always idealizing what the Holy Spirit doesn’t idealize? There’s no idealization of the church in the Bible — none. We’ve got two thousand years of history now. Why are we so dumb?

In all our desire to see a movement of rapid church planting, let us not lose sight of the fact that we’re trying to plant institutional churches, because there really is no other kind.

11/04/2014

Lucas, Law, and Gospel

Recently George Lucas was in Chicago for Ideas Week and was interviewed by Charlie Rose. At one point (starting at 32:14) he shares his thoughts on religion:

If you really look at it and you say, ‘Well, most people say: well what’s the difference between a Shi’a and a Sunni? What’s the difference between a Catholic and a Protestant?’ Well, there isn’t any difference. Or, ‘We all believe in the Jewish god.’ But what about the Jewish god and the gods that came before? And the, you know, Buddha’s a little bit different, but in the end if you think of it as one god you say, ‘Well everybody expresses it differently, but it’s still, you know, basically don’t kill people and be compassionate and love people.’

He’s right that all religions are very similar on the law, but how can we do a better job of getting the message out that only Christianity has genuinely good news for those who can’t keep the law perfectly?

2014 Edison Talks: George Lucas from Chicago Ideas Week on Vimeo.

11/03/2014

Starvation Diet of Community

If you haven’t read or heard Rosaria Butterfield’s testimony of going from a lesbian professor to pastor’s wife, this is an amazing story of God’s grace, the power of the gospel, and the loving witness of a church.  Check it out here.

 

Recently I saw an interview where she calls out the church on it’s practice of community.  Very convicting. [especially 2:22 to 3:23]

10/22/2014

The Ways of God

Twentieth-Century Southern Baptist Pastor Vance Havner wrote these words after his wife died:

Whoever thinks he has the ways of God conveniently tabulated, analyzed, and correlated with convenient, glib answers to ease every question from aching hearts has not been far in this maze of mystery we call life and death…  [God has] no stereotyped way of doing what He does.  He delivered Peter from prison but left John the Baptist in a dungeon to die….  I accepted whatever He does, however He does it.

Vance Havner, Though I Walk Through the Valley (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1974), 66-67.

10/20/2014

Everybody Has A Liturgy

James K.A. Smith has shown that there are even such things as secular liturgies (see Desiring the Kingdom).

But it’s also true that every church has a liturgy, even the ones that think they’re non-liturgical.

In Chapter 7 of Rhythms of Grace: How the Church’s Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel Mike Cosper gives an insightful historical overview of different church tradition’s approach to gathered, corporate worship.  His treatment of the negative impact of Revivalism (think Charles Finney) on public worship was helpful:

Rather than worship being a formational process in the lives and hearts of believers over years of gathering and learning, it became an ecstatic experience driven by emotive preaching and decorated with music.  The goal was a catalytic, life-changing moment.

He cites Kent Hughes who outlined the changes:

The structure of corporate worship became: (1) the preliminaries, (2) the sermon, and (3) the invitation….  Singing and musical selections were made in regard to their effect rather than their content.  Gospel songs (celebrating experience) often supplanted hymns to God.  Scripture reading was reduced so as not to prolong the ‘preliminaries.’  Prayers were shortened or even deleted for the same reason.  As to the sermon, the careful interaction with the biblical text so treasured by the Puritans was in many instances replaced with a freewheeling extemporaneous discourse.

More recently according to Cosper,

Many have embraced what’s sometimes called the Temple Model (or the Wimber model, given its usual attribution to John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard movement of churches).  This model likens the journey of worship to a pilgrim’s journey to the temple in Jerusalem.  As one worship leader [Vicky Beeching] describes it, ‘We see the “Temple journey” of worship from every day life, walking towards Jerusalem, into the Temple courts and finally into the deepest place of God’s presence.’

The journey begins in the ‘outer gates,’ where the crowd assembles rambunctiously, with celebrative and energetic music.  As worship continues into the inner gates and into the temple, music becomes more intimate and the presence of God becomes more immanent.  The goal of worship is to enter the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence is most profoundly known and experienced.  Once there, we sing only ballads and hymns, with tears streaming down our collective face.

Directly and indirectly, much of the church has embraced this model….  It’s… present in the way we talk about worship experiences, saying of worship leaders and teams, ‘They really led us to the throne room,’ or, ‘They ushered [us] into God’s presence.’

The problem with this model is twofold.  First, it’s developed backwards.  The theology of the Temple Model is a theological interpretation of an experience, and it is divorced from any kind of historical perspective on the gathered church.  Second, it ignores most of what the New Testament teaches us about worship, the presence of God, and the temple.  Instead of being led by Jesus through the inner curtain, we’re led there by a worship leader or a pastor – a pseudo-priest.

So it’s clear that every church is operating on some form of a liturgy.  The question is, Which one is theologically correct and will make the healthiest disciples over time?

10/14/2014

The (Christian?) Hedonist Paradox

Happiness is like a cat. If you try to coax it or call it, it will avoid you; it will never come. But if you pay no attention to it and go about your business, you’ll find it rubbing against your legs and jumping into your lap.

- William Bennett, as qtd. in Michael Horton, Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 57.

Joy comes as we look at Jesus, not into ourselves in an attempt to conjure up joy.

09/23/2014

Jonathan Edwards and Helping the Poor

In 1733, aware of growing poverty and increasing social stratification in Northampton, Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon entitled, “The Duty of Charity to the Poor.” Tim Keller summarizes:

The heart of the sermon is a set of answers to a series of common objections Edwards always heard whenever he preached or spoke about the duty of sharing money and good with the poor. All of the questions sought to put limits on the Biblical injunction to love their neighbor.

One of the objections was ‘Though they be needy, yet they are not in extremity. [They are not destitute.]‘ I remember one of my parishioners responding to one of my sermons in a similar manner. ‘All the poor people in my part of town have nice TV sets. They aren’t starving,’ he said. But Edwards says that this hardheartedness is not in accord with the Biblical command to love your neighbor as yourself. We don’t wait until we are in ‘extremity’ before doing something about our condition, he argued, so why should we wait until our neighbor is literally starving before we help? Edwards goes further, and asks if Christians who say this remember that we are to love others as Christ loved us. ‘The Christian spirit will make us apt to sympathize with our neighbor when we see him under any difficulty… we ought to have such a spirit of love to him that we should be afflicted with him in his affliction.’ Christ literally walked in our shoes and entered into our affliction. Those who will not help others until they are destitute reveal that Christ’s love has not yet turned them into sympathetic persons the gospel should make them.

Another objection comes from people who say they ‘have nothing to spare’ and that they barely have enough for their own needs. But one of the main lessons of the Good Samaritan parable is that real love entails risk and sacrifice. Edwards responds that when you say, ‘I can’t help anyone,’ you usually mean, ‘I can’t help anyone without burdening myself, cutting in to how I live my life.’ But, Edwards argues, that’s exactly what Biblical love requires. He writes:

We in many cases may, by the rule of the gospel, be obliged to give to others when we can’t without suffering ourselves…. If our neighbor’s difficulties and necessities are much greater than ours and we see that they are not like to be relieved, we should be willing to suffer withy them and to take part of their burden upon ourselves. Or else how is that rule fulfilled of bearing one another’s burdens? If we are never obliged to relieve others’ burdens but only when we can do it without burdening ourselves, then how do we bear our neighbor’s burdens, when we bear no burden at all?

Two other objections Edwards takes on are that the poor person ‘is of a very ill temper; he is of an ungrateful spirit’ and ‘he has brought himself to his [poverty] by his own fault.’ These are both abiding problems with helping the poor…. We all want to help kind-hearted, upright people, whose poverty came upon them through no foolishness or contribution of their own, and who will respond to our aid with gratitude and joy. However, almost no one like that exists… The causes of poverty are complex and intertwined. And while it is important that our aid to the poor really helps them and doesn’t create dependency, Edwards makes short work of these objections by, again, appealing to the gospel itself.

In dealing with the objection that many of the poor do not have upright, moral characters, he counters that we did not either, and yet Christ put himself out for us:

Christ loved us, and was kind to us, and was willing to relieve us, though we were very hateful persons, of an evil disposition, not deserving of any good… so we should be willing to be kind to those who are… very undeserving.

When answering the objection that the poor have often contributed to their condition, Edwards is remarkably balanced yet insistently generous. He points out that it is possible some people simply do not have ‘a natural faculty to manage affairs to advantage.’ In other words, some people persistently make sincere but very bad decisions about money and possessions. Edwards says we should consider the lack of this faculty to be almost like being born with impaired eyesight:

Such a faculty is a gift that God bestows on some, and not on others. And it is not owing to themselves…. This is as reasonable as that he to whom Providence has imparted sight should be willing to help him to whom sight is denied, and that he should have the benefit of the sight of others, who has none of his own….

But what if their economic plight is more directly the result of selfish, indolent, or violent behavior? As Edwards puts it in the language of his time, what if ‘they are come to want by a vicious idleness and prodigality’? He counters that ‘we are not thereby excused from all obligation to relieve them, unless they continue in those vices.’ Then he explains why. Christ found us in the same condition. Our spiritual bankruptcy was due to our own sin, yet he came and gave us what we needed.

The rules of the gospel direct us to forgive them… [for] Christ hath loved us, pitied us, and greatly laid out himself to relieve us from that want and misery which we brought on ourselves by our own folly and wickedness. We foolishly and perversely threw away those riches with which we were provided, upon which we might have lived and been happy to all eternity.

Tim Keller, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just (New York: Dutton, 2010), 69-73.

09/11/2014

Joy IS Circumstantial

Joy is deeper than happiness, but like happiness, joy is always circumstantial.  Because the gospel is true, then, even when we aren’t happy we can know the deeper joy because of the circumstances of God’s goodness and love.  On the permanent condition of God’s unrelenting grace, joy is a permanent possibility.

- Jared Wilson, Gospel Deeps: Reveling in the Excellencies of Jesus (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 83.

08/29/2014

Which Bible Translation?

I’ve preached from the NIV for 10 years.  It was the Bible of my youth, so I have sentimental attachments to it.  I’ve generally been happy with its balance of accuracy and readability.

But the NIV I knew is no more.  And we will have a decision to make.

In 2011 an update to the NIV was released.  All previous versions are no longer available.  The changes were not minor.

A recent event at our church illustrates this well.  Last Sunday the Scripture reading was from Romans 3:21-28.  I was following along in my NIV (1984).  The reader was reading from the NIV that he found on http://www.biblegateway.com.  Look at the differences:

NIV (1984)

21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. 27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

NIV (2011)

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in[a] Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,[b] through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.  27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

I won’t delve into the translation choices here.  My main point is just that these are two very different translations!

One major difference in the update is the shift to gender inclusive language.  I’m not entirely opposed to this across the board.  Two weeks ago I wanted to quote 2 Timothy 3:16-17.  In this famous passage on the inspiration of Scripture the ESV and HCSB and the NIV (1984) all say the Scriptures are useful so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped.  The word is anthropos, which is referring to humankind in general and not one specific gender.  So I checked out the new NIV to see what it did.  It had – “…so that the servant of God might be thoroughly equipped.”  It introduced into the inspired text a completely new word!  The Greek language had a word for servant, if that was what Paul wanted to use.  But, inspired by the Holy Spirit, he chose a different word – anthropos.  There are no textual variants that I am aware of.  The NIV translators, in an attempt to avoid the generic use of man replaced it with a word that’s not there!  This is a big problem.

I recently read the helpful book Which Bible Translation Should I Use?.  It compares the ESV, NIV, HCSB, and NLT.  None of these popular modern versions are perfect.  The NLT is definitely the weakest of the four.  Of the other three I believe that the ESV wins out.

But I wish the NIV (1984) was still an option.

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