Sunday, July 13, 2014

Diet and Discernment

One simple step we can take to drastically clean up evangelicalism is to take how much we care about what we eat, and start caring about how we feed our souls at least a quarter as much.

But first, a word. Taking care of your body is good, idolatry is not. Burdening people with extrabiblical law is abominable. If you think the devastating effects of gluten are worse than the effects of sin, or that diet/exercise can overcome the curse of Genesis 3, you've got a huge problem.

Anyway, maybe you've seen this play out. Someone posts on Facebook about his latest dietary hobby horse, then not long after shares some 'inspirational' babble from Joyce Meyer or Tony Jones. Point out the foolish inconsistency of caring so much about what he eats while so casually imbibing spiritual poison at your own risk.

I'm not calling for everyone to give up eating well - though for some this is no doubt an idol requiring repentance. Nor am I suggesting everyone become discernment bloggers with the word "heretic" always at the ready. All I'm suggesting is, if you wouldn't eat an Arsenic Bar (now with real hemlock!), you shouldn't fill your mind with the spiritual equivalent. For example:

If you won't eat any food with artificial colors, but read and share the artificial Jesus quotes from Jesus Calling, you've got a problem.

If you throw a conniption over a picogram of gluten, but swallow prosperity teaching by the bucketful, there's a problem.

If you judge people who take their kids to McDonalds, but go to a church where the Biblical teaching is shallower than VeggieTales, you have seriously skewed priorities.

If you make fun of someone else's poor diet, while attending a church that serves up a weekly dose of cotton candy (think "life tips" with a verse or two to 'sanctify' it), it's time to grow up, on both counts, actually.

If you won't dare eat anything that isn't certified 100% pure organic all-natural, but gladly consume and promote a foreign gospel, like the modalist/prosperity sludge of TD Jakes, the word-faith tyranny of Joel Osteen, the "it's all about ME!" narcissism of Steven Furtick, or, well, pretty much anything on TBN, there's an issue. And you have no one to blame but yourself.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The one where Bekah burned her hand

Last Sunday after church, we had a 10-year celebration for our pastor. Being good Baptists, that of course meant lunch. Since this was a little more than your typical potluck, the really important dishes (meats) were kept over sterno heat.

While I was immersed in conversation, Bekah, our 4-year-old, headed to the buffet line with some older yoots. It didn't take too long before the cry rang out - not a typical 4-year-old whiny/drama cry, but THE cry, the one that happens when they're actually hurt. It wasn't easy deciphering what she was saying through the tears and screams and terror, but I was able to pick out a strained "I burned my hand!"

A little first aid, some Neosporin and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle band-aids and a week to heal, and everything's all right. She just had a burn on one finger, and the remnants of that ("I have a hole in my finger!") will soon be completely healed. She's all better now, but when her hand was on that hot dish, it HURT.

As her father, I'm so glad it did. I'm glad she felt the pain.

Now don't get me wrong, I'd obviously much rather not have her burn herself. But getting burned and feeling the intense pain is much, much better than getting burned and not feeling it. Just think how much damage would be done if she didn't feel pain, and just left her hand there while it cooked! So no, I'm not happy she got hurt - but I am so thankful that when she did, she could feel the appropriate pain, pull back from the danger, learn her lesson with minimal damage, and heal.

So let's talk about shame.

The best of all possible scenarios is to not sin, to be righteous, so you have no cause for shame. But this being reality and us all being sinners by birth, we're going to sin. When we sin, when we do what should not be done, we should feel shame. As pain is your body warning you to pull back from greater danger, so shame for sin is a warning of greater danger, a call to repentance. As Paul described the shame he caused the church in Corinth by confronting their sin:

"For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter." 2 Cor 7:7-11

So we do not rejoice in shame in and of itself, but in how conviction leads to repentance and salvation.

Unfortunately, there is another way to deal with these warnings. Rather than pulling your hand back from the fire, you can believe that having your hand in the fire is good, and take pain meds or sever nerves to allow it to stay there. And with shame, we can pretend the sin is actually good, and try to deaden the conscience and silence those who warn us of the danger.

And so the Bible warns of those whose consciences are seared, who seek to enslave others in their sin. We hear of those whose god is their belly, who glory in their shame, for example holding a parade to celebrate their sin. Or as Paul sums up our depravity in Romans 1:32, "Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them." You can guess what God thinks of this, and the destination that way leads.

There is something worse than feeling shame - not feeling shame when you should. When that conviction for sin comes, repent. The worst thing you can possibly do is suppress it. Instead, turn to Jesus, who alone can save.

Friday, May 2, 2014

It's a Girl!

When Lydia was born a few weeks ago, the doctor held her up, I saw her and said, "It's a girl!" The doctor proclaimed, "Congratulations, it's a girl!" The medical records all identified her as "Machel, Baby Girl".

When we called our families to let them know the good news, all of them heard "it's a girl". Our two older daughters were excited to hear they have a little sister. When they got to meet her, they probably said "Baby Lydia is a girl" about twelve thousand times (roughly).


It was incredibly refreshing, dealing with honesty and sanity. Just as there are no atheists in hospitals, there are no gender-queer theorists in delivery rooms.

Could you imagine an excited father saying "It's a girl!", only to have some reprobate say "Actually, we may not know for decades what its gender will be. The outdated male/female model is an ignorant social construct. We now have identified at least 58 gender possibilities, and more are certainly possible. Your child may choose to be a womyn, but it may also be Androgyne, Neutrois, Two-Spirit, Gender Variant, or anything else it may manifest as."

Aside from the unlikelihood of being able to spout that much idiocy at that moment without being punched, nobody would say anything like that because nobody actually believes it. There are just boys and girls, and everyone knows it, and at that moment nobody bothers to pretend otherwise. Any talk of a child developing its unique gender identity expression is nonsensical tripe ("but is the tripe local?" - TGC), an utter absurdity that thankfully vanishes in those moments of clarity, when everyone acknowledges the patently obvious.

But if it's so incomprehensibly stupid and nobody actually believes it, why is it so prevalent and popular? Simple. The absurdity of a create-your-own-gender society pales next to the absurdity of rebelling against your own creator. Because we fully intend to do the stupidest thing imaginable, no excuse can be too flimsy, no justification too ridiculous, for us to incorporate.

Romans 1 describes our predicament. We know there is a God, yet we want to be god for ourselves, so we suppress the truth in unrighteousness. We rebel against our Creator, and His created order. And so we have an advanced society in which "boys and girls are different" and "everything didn't spontaneously come from nothing" rank among the most controversial things you can say.

But there are those blessed moments of clarity - the birth of a child, the nature documentaries where atheists can't go five minutes without using creation language - when the truth is too obvious, and it's clear that we all know it.

Though we try to deny it, everybody knows that we were created, that we continually rebel against our Creator, and that God's wrath rightly is coming against our rebellion.

What we need to know is the solution - repentance and faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God. Preach that.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lydia Joy


Lydia Joy, born this morning, 7 lb 11 oz. She and her mom are healthy and doing well.

And now we switch from man-to-man to zone.

This is pretty easily the best birthday present ever.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Quick Thoughts on the World Vision Kerfuffle

You may have heard a little about World Vision's big announcement. The organization, known as a Christian humanitarian group which has contributed ridiculous amounts of aid to needy countries through the past several decades, announced that they will start hiring practicing homosexuals, as long as they're in relationships a state calls marriage and they consider themselves to be Christians.

The response from Christians has been swift and refreshingly lacking in 'nuance'. Some good responses have come from Kevin DeYoung, Al Mohler, Denny Burk, Russell Moore, Trevin Wax, and John Piper. I find little to nothing to disagree with in any of those, and commend them to you. Since there's no need for me to rehash their points, I'll just make a few corollaries and respond to some objections.

I would be more likely to support World Vision if they stopped claiming to be a Christian organization altogether.

This may require some explanation. I don't necessarily have a problem with a Christian donating to a charitable cause that's not explicitly Christian - research to cure a disease, feeding the poor, etc. If World Vision dropped pretense of Christian mission and just became about feeding the poor, digging wells, and all the other top-notch humanitarian work they do, they might be a secular charity worth considering donating to. Maybe, I guess, if you really want to.

But... they're not a secular group. They claim to be a Christian group, doing "kingdom work" for the spread of the gospel. Once you claim that, the question of what 'gospel' your missionaries actually teach is of paramount importance. Just as you'd be shocked to find your missionaries spreading the prosperity anti-gospel or Arianism, the faux-gospel espoused by World Vision leadership is appalling.

This announcement says that open defiance of Christ is totally fine (so long as Caesar says it's OK), Jesus is Lord only so long as He doesn't mess with your lust, repentance is unnecessary, and what is possibly the most obvious, clearest, least-contestable teaching of scripture is unclear and no big deal anyway. "Do whatever you want with Caesar's approval, and Jesus will honor you for it!" Is that the message you want proclaimed in the name of Christ? Better that they preach nothing.

But they're not a church! Without delving too deeply into the church vs parachurch question, I'll just say that if you're claiming to do 'kingdom work', it needs to align with the declared will of the King. If you teach that kingdom workers can openly rebel against the King - without fear of consequences, and even expecting a reward! - that's more than a tad problematic.

It reminds me of the annoying conversations about The Shack years ago. Someone would say how much the book was teaching him about God, you'd point out that what is was teaching was entirely false and extremely dangerous, and they'd inevitably counter with "It's just a novel, not a theological treatise!" But you said it's teaching you about God, so...

Similarly, you can't have it both ways with World Vision. Once they claim to do 'kingdom work', it's perfectly cromulent to ask whether their work aligns with the mission of the church. "We're not a church" is a worthless defense when you're claiming the work and blessing of the church.

What about James 1:26-27? The suggestion here is "they feed orphans and widows, so does it really matter..." And really, who could be against caring for the physical needs of the poor? The problem, of course, is that this passage is being isolated and forced to say something it doesn't say, and call into question what is clearly said elsewhere.

Is James really claiming that the only thing that matters is feeding/clothing/protecting orphans and widows? Is he suggesting that God will be thrilled if they are never called to repentance and faith, are never told of the forgiveness of sin which can only be found in Christ, and face eternal suffering, but they were well-fed while continuing in sinful rebellion on earth? Nowhere in scripture (including here!) does it ever suggest that our goal is to keep people well-fed and happy on their way to hell!

For example, how does this view square with Matthew 18:5-6? Imagine someone caring for an orphan, providing a home, food, clothing, medicine, etc, but also teaching him to worship Molech. What does Jesus think of that guy's "true religion"? So why shouldn't it matter that WV's official stance is that Jesus is not really lord, and will rubber-stamp whatever your heart desires?

Let's face it, Mormons can do some pretty sweet charity work. Muslims give alms. Atheists can act against their religion and care for the weak and oppressed. They can do this while rebelling against God and teaching others to do the same. And they will face the wrath of God for doing so.

What makes charity truly charitable is something only Christians can offer - forgiveness of sin through faith in Jesus Christ. If the gospel is not faithfully proclaimed, the charity work is nice, but it's not "Kingdom Work". There's something a whole lot worse than dying - remaining dead in sin and facing judgment from He who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Mat 10:28).

Benevolence ministry is both a means and a result of the church's mission (Mat 28:18-20), but it is not the mission. Our mandate is to make disciples, which only happens through gospel proclamation (Romans 10:14ff). To abandon gospel preaching is dereliction of duty. To substitute a false gospel is even worse. And God's wrath at false teachers won't be tempered by how much 'good' they did.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Emotegesis

The Christian view of our relation to scripture goes a little something like this. Because we are sinners, our faculties are corrupted and we by nature oppose the truth. Part of the sanctification process, whereby those who are born again are progressively transformed to maturity, conforming ever more into the image of Christ, is to have our mind set straight by God's word. We understand that God's word is true, and seek to understand what it truly says. Where we disagree with it, we know that we are wrong, and seek to change our minds, and ultimately our behaviors, to what scripture teaches. The truth of scripture molds what we think and guides what we feel, which determines how we will act. See Romans 12:2 or Colossians 1:9-10, for example.

The process of determining what scripture actually says is called exegesis, or drawing the meaning out of the text. What Christians strive to avoid is eisegesis, or reading presuppositions into the text. To name just one example, consider paedobaptists finding support in Acts 16:15; the idea that those baptized included unbelieving infants is supplied by the reader's theological system, not from the text itself. Examples abound and the temptation to slant a passage to meet your system is ever-present. The Christian must always fight this, and make every effort to let the text determine our thoughts and systems, not vice versa.

Lately I've been more aware of a special class of eisegesis. These presuppositions are not a result of coherent thought, but pure emoting, so I call it "emotegesis". When you emotegete, all scriptural interpretation is subject to how it makes you feel - and if the plain meaning makes you feel bad enough, the text is pretty much thrown out completely. There's really no limit to how far a passage can be twisted, or how utterly scripture can be ignored, in service of what you just want it to say.

A typical conversation with someone emotegeting goes something like this.
You: The Bible clearly says [clear teaching]
Emotegete: Yeah, but I want this, and I feel that, and it just can't be wrong.
You: Well, QED, I guess.

Some prominent examples of emotegesis include...

Female pastors. Sure, scripture may be perfectly clear on this. But I really wanna be a pastor, and I feel called to it, and I'd be really good at it, and it's just not fair, so... Then you might get something about kephale meaning "source" and not "head" (as though that makes it less convincing somehow??) and garbage about gender roles being a result of the Fall, or how we just know better now. But ultimately it will come back to "I really really want it, and I can't possibly be wrong".

Homosexuals. The next time you meet someone who thinks God is OK with homosexuality based on textual studies alone, and not because (a) he is subject to homosexual desires himself or (b) someone close to him is a homosexual and so it just can't be wrong, it will be the first time in human history.

Charismatics. Scripture says X about the revelatory/attesting gifts. Their experience is Y. At this point you can either say "Well, Y is not the actual gift", or just redefine scripture to make it include Y. Which do you think will win out, almost every time? (See for example the DA Carson quote here, and his laughable solution here - and note that this is often considered the best defense of modern tongues!)

We are much better off when our feelings are subject to God's Word, and we don't pretend it's the other way around.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Guilt By Association - False Prophets

Scripture contains several tests for prophets in passages such as Deuteronomy 13 and 18, and Jeremiah 14. The people were to evaluate the prophecy for accuracy (did it come true?) and fidelity (was he directing them to false gods?), as well as the character of the prophet (would he speak presumptuously in God's name, while contemptuously disregarding previous revelation?). Any prophet who failed these tests was to be rejected, the evil purged from their midst.

As Michael Beasley points out, the part that is easy to miss is that these tests were for the people every bit as much as for the prophet, if not more so. "For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut 13:3b). Will they love God enough to purge the evil and follow Him wholeheartedly, or will they despise God and allow the false prophet to remain and lead people astray?

"In the end, fallible prophecy relabels false prophecy under the pretense of a genuine gift. By redefining prophecy as that which includes both truth and error, one must wonder how any of this communicates the supremacy of Christ and the New Covenant in His blood. In all of this, a very crucial message begins to emerge: those who declare themselves to be a prophet of God are making an extremely serious claim. Not only was it important that such a claimant be evaluated via God's prescribed tests, but the congregation was to be tested by means of their action or inaction. In the case of their inaction, they were counted as accomplices of the false prophets, worthy of the anathema of God."
From The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism by Michael Beasley, Kindle location 653

The test is no less relevant for us today. There is no shortage of false prophets today, people claiming "thus saith the Lord" when the Lord most definitely hath not saith. Do we love God enough to purge them from our midst (via excommunication and warning the flock), or do we allow their false prophecy to metastasize and lead people astray?

Make no mistake - if we do nothing and let them stay, we invite the judgment due to them onto our own heads. God has made it clear that He enforces guilt by association. If we choose to allow the continued presence and influence of those God says to remove and silence, we become accomplices and share in their wickedness. But if we love God, we will purge false prophets from the church.