Monday, December 31, 2007

From the Cutting Room Floor: Boice on Genesis 20:1-19

Rarely can a preacher prepare a sermon and not find himself leaving on the "cutting room floor" a substantial thought or quote found useful during preparation. We consult commentaries, sermons, and a host of other things that help us explain, illustrate and clarify our points. And often we read things and go, "man, I wish I had thought of that or seen that." And, yet, sometimes we're already looking for ways to shorten a sermon or we're needing to make an entirely different application for our church and setting. So, good stuff gets left out... perhaps for another time.

It's been a great privilege and joy to preach through Genesis over the past few weeks, considering Abraham's life, faith, and God's work of redemption. This past Sunday, we meditated on Genesis 19:30-21:21. During the prep, I enjoyed reading some of Jim Boice's sermons in this area. Here's something that helped me personally but was left on the cutting room floor Sunday morning.
The cause of Abraham's sin was lack of faith in God. He did not believe that God could take care of him in this new situation. But of primary interest in this episode are the consequences of his lack of faith--first, in regard to Abraham, and second, in regard to God.

So far as Abraham is concerned, the lack of faith disturbed everything. We sometimes think of our lives as existing in separate, watertight compartments, so that a sin in one area does not necessarily affect another. But life in not like that, and the situation of Abraham shows what is actually the case. When Abraham began to doubt God, thinking less of him than he should have thought, his view of himself was also altered, for he began to think more of himself than was proper. It was the old principle of the seesaw in theology. So long as our view of God is up, our view of ourselves will be down. God will be sovereign, wise, and holy. We will see ourselves as weak, foolish, and sinful. But if our view of God goes down, so that he becomes less than sovereign in our thinking, then our view of ourselves will go up and we will begin to imagine that we are generally quite able to take care of ourselves. This is what Abraham imagined. Thinking the God could not take care of him, he assumed that he would have to take care of himself, and this got him into the foolish predicament of this episode.

More than this, as his opinion of himself rose, his sensitivity to other people declined, and he began to look down on them when he did not have any reason to do so. We see this in his attitude to Abimelech. When Abimelech caught him in his deception, Abraham replied, "I said to myself, 'There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife'" (v. 11). this was a slander on Abimelech. Abimelech had a great deal of reverential fear for God and a very commendable sense of right and wrong. Abraham was blind to this because of his own foolish pride and disobedience.

Abraham's lack of faith disturbed everything so far as he was concerned. Yet--this is a glorious point on which I end--Abraham's lack of faith disturbed nothing so far as God was concerned. Abraham may have doubted God's ability to take care of him, but God's ability to do so was not altered in the slightest. He may have doubted God's grace, but God remained as gracious as he had ever been.

I am especially impressed by the way God showed his grace to Abraham. God did so when he spoke to Abimelelch. When Abimelech learned the truth about Sarah, he must have thought of Abraham as a cowardly, hypocritical, two-faced charlatan--or worse. He had cause to. but this is not the way God spoke of Abraham to Abimelech. God said, "Return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live" (v. 7). God was not indifferent to Abraham's sin. He would deal with it as he had on the occasion of its appearance in Egypt. But the sin did not change God's view of Abraham. Abraham was still "a prophet." He was still God's man.

Moreover, in all the references to Abraham that we have in the remainder of the Bible, never does God bring up this incident as if to highlight Abraham's failure--not in Romans, not in Galatians, not in Hebrews 11 (where the faith of Abraham is discussed at great length). In that last passage, Abraham is praised for the faith he showed in four situations: (1) leaving Ur for an unknown, promised land, (2) staying in the land even in times of great deprivation and danger, (3) believing that God could give him a son when he and Sarah were past the age of having children, and (4) being willing to offer up Isaac, counting that God could raise him from the dead. Not once in all this great survey of Abraham's progress in the life of faith does God refer to his past sin as if to shame him by a remembrance of it. It was forgiven and gone. It was forgotten.

It is good to serve a God like that, a God who remains sovereign even when we doubt his ability to care for us, a God who remains gracious even when we sin. to serve a God like that is this world's greatest joy and opportunity. To know that he is like that is the greatest incentive you will ever have to keep from sinning.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Pretty, Superficial Preachers

Here's another gem the Lord blessed me with over at Christ Is Deeper Still. This one is from John Wesley.
What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear, to this day, is want of reading. I scarce ever knew a preacher who read so little. And perhaps, by neglecting it, you have lost the taste for it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. It is just the same as it was seven years ago. It is lively, but not deep; there is little variety; there is no compass of thought. Reading only can supply this, with meditation and daily prayer. You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this. You can never be a deep preacher without it, any more than a thorough Christian. Oh begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercises. You may acquire the taste which you have not; what is tedious at first will afterwards be pleasant. Whether you like it or no, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days, and a pretty, superficial preacher. Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer. Take up your cross and be a Christian altogether. Then will all the children of God rejoice (not grieve) over you; and in particular yours.

Cut to the Soul at Blasphemy

I pray you all had a wonderful Christmas celebration--indeed, that you are still celebrating in a conscious and intentional way the incarnation of the Savior Christ Jesus.

I was planning to take this week off from blogging, and likely will. But while out skimming a lot of worthwhile blogs, I came across this at Ray Ortlund, Jr's blog, Christ Is Deeper Still. It's well worth pondering... and I can feel something of this man's anguish at the thought!

Henry Martyn (1781-1812), Anglican missionary, was the guest of a muslim friend for dinner. His host described for him a painting he had seen of Jesus bowing down before Muhammad. Martyn tells us what happened next:"I was cut to the soul at this blasphemy. Mirza Seid Ali perceived that I was considerably disordered and asked what it was that was so offensive? I told him 'I could not endure existence if Jesus was not glorified; it would be hell to me if He were to be always thus dishonored.' He was astonished and again asked 'Why?' 'If anyone pluck out your eyes,' I replied, 'there is no saying why you feel pain; it is feeling. It is because I am one with Christ that I am thus dreadfully wounded.'"

Quoted in Constance E. Padwick, Henry Martyn: Confessor Of The Faith, page 265.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Compelling Case for Church-Based Pastor Internship Programs

Here's a hilarious look at the CHBC Internship program. I'm sure this will make you want to start one in your church!

Radio Interviews

On Monday, the Lord granted the privilege of discussing The Decline on The Paul Edwards Show, God and Culture. Paul is always an engaging and provocative host. If interested, I pray the interview is edifying.

Last week, it was also a joy to join Pilgrim Radio's "His People" to discuss the book as well.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Men Who Do Not Bow the Knee to Baal

Todd Pruitt linked to this pastor's explanation of why he is breaking away from the emergent church movement. I'm thankful for his concern for theological integrity and the witness of the gospel. I'm thankful that he understands that the stakes are high. Bad theology, abandonment of the gospel, is not a victimless crime.
I’m all for a healthy theological debate…however I will not even begin to entertain a discussion into the integrity and validity of God’s Word. The truth is that not everyone will see the gates of Heaven…and Hell is real. Our repentance of sin and acceptance of Christ our Savior…by the grace of God…is the only way out of eternal damnation. Any teachings to the contrary is…heresy.

Preparing to Die

A couple days ago, I posted Baxter's advice for spending the day with God. In it, he drew our attention to the end of our lives. Here's Baxter's bedtime routine:

Before returning to sleep, it is wise to review the actions and mercies of the day past, so that you may be thankful for all the special mercies and humbled for all your sins. This is necessary in order that you might renew your repentance as well as your resolve for obedience, and in order that you may examine yourself to see whether your soul grew better or worse, and whether you are better prepared for suffering, death, and eternity.
Or consider young Edwards' 10th resolution:
10. Resolved, When I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom and of hell.

The saints of old seemed to spend far more time preparing for eternity than we do today. And it seems to me that we're the poorer for our neglect of final and great things.

Today, Piper offers an excellent meditation on suffering, rest and the final hour. May we live this day in light of that day.

Down with Santa Claus!

Over the past couple weeks, several people have asked me what I think about children "celebrating" Santa Claus during the Christmas season. Usually the questioner is a parent of a young child with some angst about whether or not they are doing the right thing this time of year.

As is the case with many cultural issues, advocates line up on both sides of the issue. Those who are for the typical Christmas celebrations replete with the big jolly fella and his companions, generally offer the following reasons:

1. "There is nothing wrong with Santa Claus. It's harmless."
2. "Children need myth and story like this to exercise or develop their imaginations."
3. "Children should have fun during the season. They should have something to look forward to."
4. "It's part of our tradition (whether family tradition, cultural tradition, etc.)."

Well, for the almost ten years we have been parents, my wife and I have been on the opposing side of this question. We have endured through years of pressure from our parents--the children's grandparents--to "let them have a Christmas," meaning a tree, Santa Claus, many gifts and the like. Sometimes it was personal--"You had a Christmas! Why can't the baby have a Christmas?" And other times it was solidly defiant. "Well, I don't care what you say. I'm gonna give that baby a Christmas."

Nevertheless, we weathered the grandparent wrath and we have managed to have quiet, reflective Christmas celebrations without ol' Saint Nick. And here is why I think Christmas without Santa is a better way to go for Christians.

1. Imagination. The argument that children need the myths of Christmas in order to fuel their imagination has generally baffled me on two counts. First, they don't seem to need the aid of Father Christmas any other time of the year. Their imaginations are active as they play with dolls, dig in the dirt, imagine themselves to be kings of the realm. For 11 months of the year, the imagination organ works just fine. So, it's curious to me that they should need an aid in the 12th month. But second, and more important, the argument from imagination seems to me to be an admission that Christian parents may have lost the ability to stand in awe of the most wondrous events in all of history. And if the parents have lost that awe, it's little wonder that they don't expect their children to stand amazed at the coming of Christ. I mean Christmas is the time we celebrate the Infinite Creator God, sending His Eternal Son down from eternity into space and time. God entered His creation, indeed, took nine months residence in the womb of a virgin. One fully God and fully man was born, clothed in the likeness of sinful man, lived a perfect life in obedience to the Father, died a scandalous death in love for sinners, and rose from the grave in glory! Imagine that. This is what our children's minds should be fired with. And it's all true! In the end, there is nothing as inspiring as the truth about Jesus!

2. Having Fun. A fair number of parents have, almost in panic, expressed concern that should there be no Santa Claus their children would not have fun at Christmas. And children, they say, need to have fun at Christmas. Generally, the "fun" in mind is the passing pleasure of visiting crowded malls, waiting in long lines to sit on Santa's knees, waiting days and weeks until Christmas morn, and gleefully opening gifts. Only to be bored with it all within a couple days, sometimes hours, after waking to the festival of paper shredding. No doubt Christmas is fun. Even as parents, we get great delight from seeing our children's faces as they rummage through the boxes and gifts. But the implication here is that Christmas without the trappings, Christmas exclusively focused on the birth of the Savior, is boring. The argument implies that there is no anticipation associated with awaiting the celebration of Jesus' incarnation.

But that's surely false where children are instructed in the true meaning of the celebration. My wife and I once had the painful experience of preparing our daughters for "Jesus' birthday." My oldest girl, about four at the time, was greatly looking forward to it. The year before we'd had a small neighborhood gathering for the children where we read the Christmas story, baked a cake, discussed the gospel in celebration of Jesus' birth. She'd had great fun and looked forward to it the following year. The year came around and we decided to spend it with a grandparent, replete with the customary trappings and focus. The day came. So, too, did family and visitors. Presents were opened. Parades paraded. A great dinner eaten. Children played and adults talked. The day came and went. The following morning our daughter asked, "So, when do we celebrate Jesus' birthday? What day is Christmas this year?" The look of deep disappointment--a look that communicated she felt robbed and ashamed--washed over her face as we told her in our most sympathetic voices, "Sweetie, yesterday was Christmas." For our daughter, the day had no fun equal to that of focusing on the Savior and celebrating His birth and mission to save sinners. That was our goal, and we'd abandon it. We felt like wearing bags with "World's Last Spiritual Christian Parents" written on them. Christmas is fun--great fun in the truth--when our children are taught its meaning.

3. "There's nothing wrong with Santa Claus, etc. It's part of our tradition." Sometimes I hear this and think, "My, you doth protest too much." There's a palpable admission in the strenuous way this defense is offered. When I've had this conversation with folks who've taken this defense, it sometimes seems they are troubled by what is perhaps missing in their celebration, but they're perhaps seeking to comfort themselves. And the statement is sometimes more about the parent's desires than it is about the needs of children.

But is there anything "wrong" with a Santa-inspired Christmas? There are possibly three things wrong. When we lived in the Washington, D.C. area, there was a lawsuit over Christmas/holiday decorations filed against a local city council. The filers of the suit specifically targeted the town's use of Santa Claus in the city parade and in other decorations as religious symbolism that violated church and state. The folks filing the suit won. What's wrong with that picture?

What's wrong with that picture is that the non-Christians in the suit, and probably many others, thought Santa Claus was somehow connected with the Christian faith. Christ Jesus and the Christian gospel were shrouded in mythology. What may be wrong with Christian participation in holiday myth is that the Truth is lost beneath pagan ideas or light clichés. It's hard to know "He's the reason for the season" if the folks who purportedly follow Him don't publicly and joyously celebrate Him during the season. So, the first possible wrong is that we may miss gospel opportunities with our neighbors and friends.

The second possible wrong is we may indeed be cultural syncretists, blending our faith in the Lord with the celebration of myth and the material festivals of our day. We may raise children who come to find both Santa Claus and Jesus Christ incredulous. For after all, children "grow up." And if "growing up" involves the putting away of childish things, and we've somehow lumped Christ in with childish things, then it's not surprising that some become "too grown up" or "too intelligent" or "too scientific" to really consider the Lord of glory. Turning the hearts of our children to a myth when the glorious Lord is available to them may be to eventually turn their hearts to worldliness in its 1,000 flavors. That's what is wrong with good ol' St. Nick.

A third thing that may be wrong, in many ways associated with the issue above. Is it right and what effects might we expect from raising our children to participate long-term in a lie? I've been calling Santa Claus a "myth." But the other word we could use is "lie" or "deception." We sometimes put this in the "little white lie" category, the harmless tall tale. But, it seems to me that there people are sometimes so commitment to this "myth" or "lie" that it's anything but the little white variety. And though children may grow up beyond such fibs (though not without first experiencing the mild trauma and pain of finding out he is not real), what do we teach them about the nature of truth, commitment to and pursuit of it, and ethical behavior with Santa Claus? Is the not so subtle message, "It's okay to believe a lie when it favors or advantages you in some way." Or, "It's okay to tell a lie if we think it will make someone happy." If our children grow up and apply that reasoning to dating, the workplace, marriages, or most any other area of life the results will be painful and sometimes disastrous. If we do the Santa Claus thing with our children, do we take the time to "back fill" their understanding of the nature of truth and morality? Do we honestly think our children at four, five, etc. are able to comprehend moral nuance? Any parent who has told their child to do one thing, only later to be called on the carpet by that child's black-and-white observation of the parent's own failure in that area, knows that nuance is not something children do well. The thing is black or white, true or false. And that should be used to parenting advantage when it comes to raising our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.

Our children have grown up to have a wonderful, imagination-engaging, fun Christmas without Santa Claus. And scores of children whose parents make Santa Claus a part of their Christmas celebration have also grown up to have wonderful memories of Christmas and to serve the Lord faithfully. And there are tons of children in both camps that have not had great celebrations.

I'm not arguing a dogmatic causality here. I'm simply asking the question, "Why include Santa Claus at all?" Is the imagined upside of following the culture here worth what we think it's worth? And are our justifications helping us to point our children to Christ or masking the reality that we may be pointing our children away from Him? Personally, I doubt Santa Claus is worth it, and pointing our kids away from Jesus at Christmas may be the worst form of child neglect I can imagine.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

How to Spend a Day with God

In our staff meetings, we customarily read some brief materials as a time of reflection and discussion. Yesterday, we had the privilege of reading a short article by Richard Baxter, reprinted in the publication Heartcry! A Journal on Revival and Spiritual Awakening.
There were such good, brief counsel and reminders in the article, I thought I'd post it here and refer to Baxter's Spiritual Directory.

How to Spend a Day with God

A holy life is inclined to be made easier when we know the usual sequence and method of our duties--with everything falling into its proper place. Therefore, I shall give some brief directions for spending the day in a holy manner:

1. Sleep. Measure the time of your sleep appropriately so that you do not waste your precious morning hours sluggishly in your bed. Let the time of your sleep be matched to your health and labor, and not to slothful posture.

2. First Thoughts. Let God have your first awaking thoughts. Lift up your heart to Him reverently and thankfully for the rest enjoyed the night before, and cast yourself on Him for the day which follows. Think of the mercy of a night's rest and of how many have spent that night in hell; how many in prison; how many in cold, hard lodgings; how many suffering from agonizing pains and sickness, weary of their beds and of their lives. Think of how quickly days and nights are rolling on--how speedily your last night and day will come! Observe that which is lacking in the preparedness of your soul for such a time, and seek it without delay.

3. Prayer. Let prayer by yourself alone (or with your partner) take place before the collective prayer of the family. If possible, let it be first, before any work of the day.

4. Family Worship. Let family worship be performed consistently and at a time when it is most likely for the family to be free of interruptions.

5. Purpose. Remember your ultimate purpose, and when you set yourself to your day's work or approach any activity in the world, let holiness to the Lord be written on your heart in all that you do. Do nothing in the world for any other ultimate purpose than to please, glorify, and enjoy Him. "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31).
6. Diligence. Show that you are not sluggish and servant to ease. Keep out idle thoughts from your mind. Do not waste precious time. Diligently carry out occupation.

7. Temptation. Be thoroughly acquainted with your temptations and the things that may corrupt you. Watch against the master sins of unbelief: hypocrisy, selfishness, pride, flesh-pleasing, and the excessive love of earthly things. Take care against being drawn into earthly mindedness, excessive cares, or covetous designs for rising in the world. Maintain that modesty and cleanness of speech that the laws of purity require. Strengthen yourself against impatient, revengeful pride.

8. Meditation. When alone in your occupations, improve the time in practical and beneficial meditations. Meditate on the infinite goodness and perfections of God; Christ and redemption; heaven and how you deserve eternal misery in hell.

9. Time. Place a high value on your time; guard it more zealously than you guard your money. Do not let worthless recreations, idle talk, unprofitable company, or sleep rob you of your precious time. Make sure that you are not merely never idle, but rather that you are using your time in the most profitable way.

10. Eating and Drinking. Eat and drink with moderation and thankfulness for health. Never please your appetite in food or drink when it is prone to be detrimental to your health. The Apostle Paul wept when he mentioned those who "are enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame--who set their minds on earthly things" (Phil. 3:18-19).

11. Sin. If any temptation prevails against you and you fall into any sins, repent quickly, whatever the cost. It will certainly cost you more if you continue in sin and remain unrepentant. Do not make light of your habitual failures, but confess them and daily strive against them.

12. Relationships. Remember every day the special duties of various relationships: whether as spouse, child, employer, employee, pastor, leader, follower.

13. Bedtime. Before returning to sleep, it is wise to review the actions and mercies of the day past, so that you may be thankful for all the special mercies and humbled for all your sins. This is necessary in order that you might renew your repentance as well as your resolve for obedience, and in order that you may examine yourself to see whether your soul grew better or worse, and whether you are better prepared for suffering, death, and eternity.

May these directions be engraved on your mind and be made the daily practice of your life. If sincerely adhered to, these will be conducive to the holiness, fruitfulness, and quietness of your life, and add to you a comfortable and peaceful death.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Sen. Obama, Race, Faith and Elections

Dear reader, please let me offer two apologies from the start. First, this is a long post. I don’t know if it’s worth your read, but I at least want to tip you to the length. Second, it’s a post that discusses (on some level) politics, a subject I largely dislike and try to avoid at PureChurch. There are other places that do politics, and do it better. So, you’ve been forewarned :-).

Andrew Sullivan in the December issue of The Atlantic offers his take on Sen. Barrack Obama’s presidency bid and its meaning for America. He styles Sen. Obama as the “potentially transformational” candidate, who unlike any of the other candidates “could take America—finally—past the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation that has long engulfed all of us.”

For Sullivan:

At its best, the Obama candidacy is about ending a war—not so much the war in Iraq, which now has a momentum that will propel the occupation into the next decade—but the war within America that has prevailed since Vietnam and that shows dangerous signs of intensifying, a nonviolent civil war that has crippled America at the very time the world needs it most. It is a war about war—and about culture and about religion and about race. And in that war, Obama—and Obama alone—offers the possibility of a truce.

I was struck by the article’s rather interesting re-casting of identity politics, faith, and elections.

Sen. Obama, Black Face and Foreign Policy
Sullivan argues that none of the major contentious issues that characterized the last few elections are really that central to this election. He contends that the only real differences between the candidates on foreign policy are nuanced differences over how to achieve essentially the same long-term outcomes in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. On the domestic side, there is hardly any substantive disagreement that the primary issue is health care, again with nuances in ideology. For Sullivan, even the polarizing issues of abortion and gay marriage are all but settled into a consensus, even if achieved by fatigue on the one hand or state action in the case of gay marriage on the other. What the country needs “given this quiet, evolving consensus on policy” is someone who can bridge the huge gulf between various Boomer camps—“those who fought in Vietnam and those who didn’t… those who fought and dissented and those who never fought at all.” In Sullivan’s opinion, Boomer politics—entrenched, professionalized, and embittered—have been the driving force of politics over the last 40 years and represent the most persistently divisive political reality that must be overcome if America will thrive in the years ahead.

While the country is undergoing this identity crisis, Sullivan proposes that only one who escapes all the typical identity entanglements is the only viable option for a new day in American politics and policy. Enter Sen. Obama.

Obama’s reach outside his own ranks remains striking. Why? It’s a good question: How has a black, urban liberal gained far stronger support among Republicans than the made-over moderate Clinton or the southern charmer Edwards? … It isn’t about his policies as such; it is about his person. They are prepared to set their own ideological preferences to one side in favor of what Obama offers America in a critical moment in our dealings with the rest of the world. The war today matters enormously. The war of the last generation? Not so much. If you are an American who yearns to finally get beyond the symbolic battles of the Boomer generation and face today’s actual problems, Obama may be your man.

But just when I thought Sullivan had turned some corner onto new ground I was stopped cold at his first reason for pointing to Sen. Obama.

“What does he offer? First and foremost: his face” What?! “First and foremost” his face. According to Sullivan, “The next president has to create a sophisticated and supple blend of soft and hard power” in order to neutralize radical Muslim antipathy toward America. Sullivan daydreams about young Pakistani Muslims watching a President Barack Hussein Obama on TV and being disarmed by “one simple image,” his face. I can only wonder if Sullivan is ignorant of radical Islam’s opinion of apostate Muslims. That hypothetical young Pakistani will find Sen. Obama’s departure from Islam and the Muslim school he attended as a boy far more problematic than his face.

In an era where people of almost every variety are trying to escape the shallow end of the racial profiling pool, Sullivan actually sun bathes in it by commending Sen. Obama precisely because of… “his face.” I’m certain Sullivan is highlighting this as a positive, an irreplaceable and unreproducible asset. But the willingness to trumpet “race” or making happy about a president in black face only when it conveniences us is as wickedly pernicious as violently and overtly oppressing others on the same basis. It’s insidious, and Sen. Obama ought to be insulted. This isn’t Amos and Andy.

Sen. Obama, Faith and the Church
But Sullivan doesn’t stop with the race card. He moves on to tout what he sees as Sen. Obama’s advantage in the area of faith. He writes quite perceptively about the internalized fear of most Democrats: “They suspect that the majority is not with them, and so some quotient of discretion, fear, or plan deception is required if they are to advance their objectives.” He continues, “There are few areas where this Democratic fear is more intense than religion.”

Enter Sen. Obama:

Here again, Obama, by virtue of generation and accident, bridges this deepening divide. He was brought up in a nonreligious home and converted to Christianity as an adult. But—critically—he is not born-again. His faith—at once real and measured, hot and cool—lives at the center of the American religious experience. It is a modern, intellectual Christianity. ‘I didn’t have an epiphany,’ he explained to me. ‘What I really did was to take a set of values and ideals that were first instilled in me from my mother, who was, as I have called her in my book, the last of the secular humanists—you know, belief in kindness and empathy and discipline, responsibility—those kinds of values. And I found in the Church a vessel or a repository for those values and a way to connect those values to a larger community and a belief in God and a belief in redemption and mercy and justice…I guess the point is, it continues to be both a spiritual, but also intellectual, journey for me, this issue of faith.'

Sullivan swoons over Sen. Obama’s description of his faith.

To deploy the rhetoric of Evangelicalism while eschewing its occasional anti-intellectualism and hubristic certainty is as rare as it is exhilarating. It is both an intellectual achievement, because Obama has clearly attempted to wrestle a modern Christianity from the encumbrances and anachronisms of its past, and an American achievement, because it was forged in the only American institution where conservative theology and the Democratic Party still communicate: the black church.

Hmmm…. Let me understand this. A man who is not “born again”—which in Sullivan’s understanding is “critical”—who describes himself as taking a set of secular humanist values and ideals and finding a home for them in the church, who is in Sullivan’s words not like the rest of Evangelicalism (“occasional anti-intellectual and hubristic certainty”), who wrestles modern Christianity from encumbrances and anachronisms (I assume he means being “born again” and “hubristic certainty” typically manifested as something like believing the Bible is true and relevant for certain social issues)… is supposed to be “rare” and “exhilarating.”

How about old and proven false? I don’t know Sen. Obama personally; I’ve not read his books; and I certainly am not making any judgments about where he is spiritually. But, there’s nothing new about this brand of “faith” that Sullivan is describing. It’s theological liberalism. It’s unbelief. And the only thing that is as disturbing as this view of faith… is the fact that Sen. Obama found a comfortable home for it inside the church.

It’s an indication of how unhealthy Evangelicalism can be. No doubt we are at times anti-intellectual. And it’s not the absence but the presence of folks inside the Evangelical church who hold to weak intellectual and doctrinal positions that is evidence for our anti-intellectualism. That Sen. Obama or a million unnamed pastors, elders, and deacons can take the high ground of being “intellectuals” and so make unbelief respectable indicates that we’re not thinking. For we should be able to engage such cloudy thinking with the light of God’s word, if we indeed love God with all our mind.

The most interesting paragraph in Sullivan’s article was this:

There are times when Obama’s experience feels more like an immigrant story than a black memoir. His autobiography navigates anew and strange world of an American racial legacy that never quite defined him at his core. He therefore speaks to a complicated and mixed identity—not a simple and alienated one. This may hurt him among some African Americans, who may fail to identify with this fellow with an odd name. Black conservatives, like Shelby Steele, fear he is too deferential to the black establishment. Black leftists worry that he is not beholden at all. But there is no reason why African Americans cannot see the logic of Americanism that Obama also represents, a legacy that is ultimately theirs as well. To be black and white, to have belonged to a nonreligious home and a Christian church, to have attended a majority-Muslim school in Indonesia and a black church in urban Chicago, to be more than one thing and sometimes not fully anything—this is an increasingly common experience for Americans, including many racial minorities. Obama expresses such a conflicted but resilient identity before he even utters a word. And this complexity, with its internal tensions, contradictions, and moods, may increasingly be the main thing all Americans have in common.

An America where all people are given the freedom to live complex identities, not reduced to simplistic notions of “race,” that sounds like the America we need. Would that Obama could help on this score. But I'm afraid he won't do it by appealing to the new-styled politics of race and faith that Sullivan is proposing.

Bob Kauflin Says It's Okay to Sing with Lig Duncan

I remember the first time I was in a public worship service with Lig Duncan. Lig is always a joy to be around--a walking trivia book of all things Scottish Presbyterian and soul music! But this first encounter with Lig in a worship service was striking for me. We were singing great hymns and I noticed that Lig was singing with a big smile and looking all around at people.

My first response was nervously avoiding eye contact. "What's he doing looking at people when we sing?! Is that natural? Is it allowed? Does the regulative principle apply?"

Then he fixed on me with that big gentlemanly smile, nodded through a couple lines, and turned joyfully to look at someone way in the back in the balcony. My second reaction... I thought would be relief. But actually it was joy, encouragement... you might say enheartened. Lig had just sang to me--and everyone else in the church--and I was encouraged. I thought of Lig when I read Bob Kaughlin's thoughtful and helpful reflection "Addressing One Another in Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs." Enjoy this post and help Lig in his mission to address all the saints in the truth of song!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Former Racists

I am a former racist.

The word "former" is key. It exalts the decisive and glorious power of God to deliver men from the death-grip of depraved minds by the gospel of Jesus Christ. As a former racists, I am encouraged every time I see that effect of the gospel manifest in my own life and in the lives of others.

Through email correspondence, I've had the privilege of getting to know a brother named Jeff Fuller, who blogs over at The Reformed Evangelist. Jeff shared his testimony with me in one of our exchanges. I print it below with his permission and I pray you're built up as you read of God's gracious work in Jeff's life.

Since my conversion at age 19, I have had many opportunities to share my testimony. The story of how my hatred toward other men was broken by the power of God has been featured on a couple television shows including the 700 Club. My testimony was once printed in The Messianic Times which is distributed in the United States and throughout Israel. And I’ve share it briefly on this website, in churches, and on the streets with people I have witnessed to.

What is often overlooked is how I was also (and primarily) a God-hater and a blasphemer! For much of my teenage life I hated God and glorified His enemies. All things evil and wicked were my desires. Being involved as a neo-nazi skinhead who hated certain groups of men was just a drop in the bucket compared to the intensity of my enmity toward God. Scarring my flesh with racist tattoos was a small thing compared to my lust for sin.

When I look at the present state of my sanctification, I often forget what it was like when I loved myself so much that I despised God. I give myself a hard time over little things while not too long ago I was happily headed to hell and joyously celebrating my depravity. Psalm 103:12 tells me, “…as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.” I am so grateful for the Lord’s mercy, working righteousness and justice for those who, like I once was, are oppressed!

A few Sundays ago, I took a moment to be transparent with the men in cell block C-200 of Ware County Jail. I’ve been preaching through the book of 1 John and got on a discussion of dealing with sin. I used myself as an example. I told them of my racist past and steps I had to take as an infant Christian to combat sin. I discussed 3 ways Christians deal with sin: Attack Sin, Avoid Sin, and Attend Church.

While speaking of attacking sin, I told them of how I took time to learn a little bit of the Hebrew language and to associate myself with ethnically Jewish customs. And I told them that even today I still make steps to realize that Christianity isn’t a religion of White, American People like me — keeping fresh on my mind and in my actions the ethnicity of the Church and the diversity of culture.

An example of avoiding sin in my life, is staying clear of the discussion of american politics of immigration. It’s far too easy for me to generalize a group of people much in the same way I did before I was converted. Basically, all “us/them” discussions usually end with me elevating myself in pride and later taking a knee in repentance.

While my third strategy for dealing with sin was labelled “Attend Church”, my point was less about actually attending a church building for church functions than being actively involved in fellowship with others in the Body of Christ. My personal example was that I can truthfully state, “I’m not a racist anymore!” as much as I want, but without involvement in the multi-ethnic Body of Christ that statement means very little. It cannot be tested and found true without having brothers and sisters in Christ to display the reality of it.

Furthermore, bearing Spiritual fruit requires someone to love, someone to be patient with, someone to be kind to, some conflict or struggle to maintain peaceful through, and someone to be good to. As well, Spirit-led self-control isn’t selfish. We are sanctified, through the Holy Spirit, in the company of others.

As I stood there, laying out my life as an example of growing in Christ… He was glorified yet again in my weakness.


Friday, December 07, 2007

Blogspotting The Decline

I just wanted to give a word of thanks to the many friends and fellow-laborers, brothers and sisters in Christ, who have made some mention of The Decline of African-American Theology. I am grateful for your encouragements and support of this work.

Tim Challies offered a review at Discerning Reader.

Anthony Carter has been posting quotes and comments as he reads. See here and here.

Eric Redmond, that Man from Issachar, made some very generous comments about the book and posted a critique of Word-of-Faith churches and issues of social justice.

Lionel Woods at Black and Reformed Ministries writes, "I pray that this book will bring the Lord Jesus the glory He deserves in this world. He took on the wrath stored up for us, so that we can live in harmony with the creator. God is awesome and He has given us another nugget in this book. "

Jeff Fuller, one of the Reformed Evangelist team bloggers, has added The Decline to his list of reads for 2008.

TheoSource included a brief review of the book.

Lance Lewis plugged the book with these lines, "After reading it if you feel it’s worthwhile recommend it to friends, family, church members, Sunday school teachers, ministry leaders, assistant pastors and anyone else you think would benefit. While reading it please pray for the black church that the Lord will use this and other means to bring about a reformation for the sake of His savior and the praise of His glory."

Ronjour Locke at magnifyGOD mentioned The Decline in his reflections on reform in the African American church. A sample: "I long for my people to come to the Savior. But I fear that with liberation theology, prosperity theology, black Islam, and countless other ideologies, many blacks in America do not know the God of the Bible, nor do they know that Savior that has come to redeem them. God has uniquely designed the events of black history so that Christ would be exalted and the Gospel would spread. I long that the truth of the Gospel would be heard in black churches and spread throughout communities for the glory of God."

Thank you BaldJim for putting the book on your wish list.

Thanks Justin for mentioning the book.

The brothers at Grace Church Memphis call all to learn more about African American Christianity. They plug Carter's On Being Black and Reformed--which if you haven't read, you should do so immediately.

Laura hears the rumblings of reformation. I hear them, too, Laura!

If I missed giving you a shout, blame it on Google and Technorati :-). Actually, charge it to my head and not my heart. I am grateful to God for all of you who have given any thought or mention to The Decline. I pray the Lord uses your labors for His unceasing glory!

More from Carson on Preaching

When the pressure to 'contextualize' the gospel jeopardizes the message of the cross by inflating human egos, the cultural pressures must be ignored. (p. 34)

Done properly, preaching is simply the re-presentation of God's gospel, God's good news, by which men and women come to know him. Thus preaching mediates God himself. (p. 37)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

D.A. Carson on the Foolishness of the Cross

"What the world dismisses as sheer foolishness, the foolishness of God, proves 'wiser than man's wisdom' (1 Cor. 1:25). What the world writes off as hopeless weakness, the weakness of God, proves 'stronger than man's strength' (1:25). This is much more radical than saying that God has more wisdom than human beings, or that he is stronger than human beings--as if we are dealing with mere degrees of wisdom and power. Now, we are dealing with polar opposites. Human 'wisdom' and 'strength' are, from God's perspective, rebellious folly and moral weakness. And the moment when God most dramatically discloses his own wisdom and strength, the moment when his own dear Son is crucified--although it is laughed out of court by the tawdry 'wisdom' of this rebellious world, by the pathetic 'strength' of the self-deceived--is nevertheless the moment of divine wisdom and divine power. 'For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength' (1:25).

"For those of us in any form of Christian ministry, this lesson must constantly be reappropriated. Western evangelicalism tends to run through cycles of fads. At the moment, books are pouring off the presses telling us how to plan for success, how 'vision' consists in clearly articulating 'ministry goals,' how the knowledge of detailed profiles of our communities constitutes the keys to successful outreach. I am not for a moment suggesting that there is nothing to be learned from such studies. But after a while one may perhaps be excused for marveling how many churches were planted by Paul and Whitefield and Wesley and Stanway and Judson without enjoying these advantages. Of course all of us need to understand the people to whom we minister, and all of us can benefit from small doses of such literature. But massive doses sooner or later dilute the gospel. Ever so subtly, we start to think that success more critically depends on thoughtful sociological analysis than on the gospel; Barna becomes more important than the Bible. We depend on plans, programs, vision statements--but somewhere along the way we have succumbed to the temptation to displace the foolishness of the cross with the wisdom of strategic planning. Again, I insist, my position is not a thinly veiled plea for obscurantism, for seat-of-the-pants ministry that plans nothing. Rather, I fear that the cross, without ever being disowned, is constantly in danger of being dismissed from the central place it must enjoy, by relatively peripheral insights that take on far too much weight. Whenever the periphery is in danger of displacing the center, we are not far removed from idolatry."

From D.A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, pp. 25-26).

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Nagging Question

The brothers over at The Council of Reforming Churches have just started a new conversation that will surely be edifying and helpful. The constant nagging question for pastors and those involved in reform is, "What does reform look like?" And if you're in a predominantly-ethnic church, the question couples itself with questions about ethnic identity and expression. Eric Redmond leads off the discussion with a round of really helpful questions. Check it out "Culture Clash" and comment.

"I'm Embarrassed to Be White"

Read this three times and tell me what you think. (HT: Thirsty Theologian)

Monday, December 03, 2007


Last week I had the privilege of listening to a sermon by Dan Cruver on adoption. Dan works at Carolina Hope Christian Adoption Agency and blogs at eucatastrophe. He's looked at this glorious doctrine as foundational to our understanding for adopting orphans. It's an excellent address. Enjoy!

New 9Marks Interview

I received in the mail a couple days ago a new 9Marks interview featuring Eric Redmond, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Temple Hills, MD. It is one of the most useful and encouraging interviews I've heard for a while--and that's saying a lot given the quality of the 9Marks interviews. It's full of pastoral wisdom, insight, and helps for shaping our people in the word. I'll listen to this one several times. I don't think it's on the website yet, so keep an eye out for this one.

In the meantime, you can check Eric out at his blog, A Man from Issachar.

Around the Blog in 80 Seconds

On Biblical Manhood
"You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. ... Similarly, eoncourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good" (Titus 2:1-2, 6-7).

Thus, Paul instructs Timothy to make men out of men, to make them Christian men with exemplary character and faith. Two recent interviews (HT: JT) may be helpful to all us Timothys out there:

Shepherd's Scrapbook posts an interview between Steve Shank and C.J. Mahaney on biblical masculinity.

Ray Van Neste addresses the topic of manhood with some college students here.

Voddie Baucham on manhood and other issues at Charleston Southern University (Audio and video links at the bottom of the page).

Justin Buzzard puts together a good reading list for the twenty-somethings at his church.

On Church Membership
The folks at NA gave me the privilege of addressing the universal church and local church membership. I pray it's helpful.

Justin's piece, The Church: Who and Why, is an excellent Christ-centered case for the church. Must reading.