Monday, September 29, 2014

Find the Baby in this Bathwater

In the most recent edition of Hither and Thither 2.0, Dan Phillips linked to two articles from Charisma magazine online. Morbidly curious, I checked them out and - wow. Have a look for yourself:

Zechariah 1 Holds a Key to a Third Great Awakening, where the author mangles Zechariah before telling about the time he supposedly spent six hours with God in his sanctuary.

Prophecy: Posture Your Hearts to Receive Power at 5:55, which is written by a faux-apostle, features a mix of dreams, numerology, awful word study, sappy Disney movies, utter nonsense, and false prophecy. It's a real tour-de-force.

The sidebar of each article has links to other featured content at the site, and it all looked pretty special, too. But I wasn't sure if that was really representative of what was at this site, so I went to the front page, spun the mouse wheel to scroll down a random amount, and this is what I saw:


Three articles, three examples of utter unbiblical nonsense. How to Command Your Angels? An interview on Practical Strategies to Defeat the Devil? Both were garbage. But the sheer stupidity of What the Python Spirit Really Wants stands apart as witchcraft with a thin veneer of Christian language (do read Lyndon Unger's comments, the term "Wiccangelicalism" needs to catch on).

Look, all through the run-up to the Strange Fire conference, the main complaint was about throwing the baby out with the bathwater, of attacking the "fringe" at the expense of the sane, actually-Christian mainstream. I have to ask, is Charisma Magazine part of the fringe, and somehow not mainstream? Because at Charisma, there's no baby, there's not even bathwater, there's just a big tub of toxic sludge.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Awesome Power of The Word

Not long ago I heard an entertainer-type give his testimony, telling his story of how he was brought to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. He had almost zero exposure to Christianity or scripture until he was 30-ish, when a friend suggested he should read some of the Bible. He chose at random, and read Ecclesiastes. Then he read it again, and again. Solomon's writings cut him to the core, laying low his pride and self-righteousness, and exposing his absolute need for a savior.

RC Sproul has half-joked that he may be the only person in history who was saved through the preaching of Ecclesiastes 11:3: "Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there will it lie." Read more of the story of his conversion here.

I was a freshman in college, thinking I was saved because I went to church a lot when I was a kid, but completely lost. I was hypocritically involved in a Christian group on campus, because hey, what better way to soothe my conscience after a week of wanton sin? I was reading the Bible for some reason, got to Ephesians 4:17ff, and was crushed. This passage describes the night-and-day difference between those who are reborn in Christ and those who remain dead in sin, and there was absolutely no doubt which group's description I fit. At that point the choice was to repent and come to faith in Christ, or walk away entirely; either way, continuing to pretend was not an option. Thankfully, God raised me and brought me to faith.

What do all these vignettes have in common? In each case, someone was brought to repentance and faith through scripture that will never be described as evangelistic. I mean, Fred Butler will write Jar Jar Binks fan fic before someone puts Ecclesiastes 11:3 in an evangelistic presentation. Every evangelism class will have you learn Ephesians 2:8-9, but I can't imagine one having you learn Ephesians 4:19. Yet these passages, being the Word of God, are fully capable of convicting of sin and the need for Jesus, the only Savior.

"All Scripture is breathed out by God" (2 Tim 3:16) - and as our Arminian friends uncritically say, all means all. And this scripture, as Paul says, is "the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim 3:15).

The Word of God is powerful. Preach it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Prediction I Hope Will Be Wrong

Sometimes I really, really hope I'm wrong. Now, for instance.

Big news came from Seattle this week: Mark Driscoll is stepping down as pastor of Mars Hill. Well, for six weeks, anyway. Serious charges have been brought against him, and he will go on vacation or something while the Mars Hill elders weigh the charges.

Now it should go without saying that we all hope this is a true church discipline process resulting in his repentance. Unfortunately, I suspect the whole thing is a traveshamockery. My prediction I seriously hope is wrong is this: no positive change will come out of this, and in fact I believe this will only make things worse.

Why do I think that? Start with his positively Clintonian statement, carefully crafted to give a fa├žade of faux-repentance without actually repenting, twisting the facts, and making sure everyone knows the real villains are the people who have an issue with him.

Now consider the upcoming process and who will be administering it. Over the last few years, Driscoll has systematically eliminated elders who dare to disagree with him, smeared them as "divisive" per Titus 3:10-11, and stacked the elder board with personally-chosen sycophants. Now this collection of yes-men will choose between these "divisive" former brothers and their meal ticket. Pardon me for being a wee bit skeptical of the legitimacy of this process.

My prediction is that they will function like a "Blue Ribbon Panel" in Washington. Their primary job is to look like the issue is being taken seriously, give the aggrieved a chance to vent and 'be heard', and make sure no real consequences hit anyone important. They will issue a report vaguely acknowledging "mistakes were made", assuring us all that Pastor Mark is really, really sorry and truly, madly, deeply repentant for his minor imperfections (but reminding us again that those who said anything publicly are a million times worse), making vague claims of continued efforts towards restitution, and then reinstating him without consequence.

But it won't just be without consequence, you see. Now there will be cover as well. When the same things keep happening, and we go through this yet again, the Kool-Aid drinkers will point to this as indisputable, brave, humble repentance, and scold those who dare doubt it. Already instead of thanking those who warned them, the "don't you dare question him now!" scoldings and selective amnesia about their own culpability have flown freely. Next time we go through this, the chorus shouting that we have to pretend nothing before September 2014 ever happened will be deafening.

Again, I hope I'm completely wrong on every part of this. I hope there is genuine repentance, that elders hand-picked specifically for their ability to be spineless yes-men will suddenly become vertebrates and rule justly, and that true restitution is made. But nothing we've seen so far in over a decade of Driscoll makes any of that remotely likely.

Friday, August 22, 2014

I'm a Christian. Should I join a local church?

Since I don't have a ton of time to breathe write lately, I might start a really-occasional series where I give obvious answers to questions that for some reason people feel the need to ask. Up first, the question of whether a Christian should commit to a local church.

Now there are many ways to answer this matter, but I'll just break it down into 4 logical steps and let you take it from there. Here we go.

1) The first and most basic tenet of the Christian faith is "Jesus is Lord".
2) The New Testament is chock full of "one-another" commands which are impossible to obey apart from commitment to a local church.
3) By remaining uninvolved in a church, you declare that you have absolutely no intent of obeying these numerous commands.
4) Which is, shall we say, incompatible with the statement that Jesus is Lord.

And that's all you need to know my thoughts on this matter.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On Acts 29's blessed subtraction

If you're the type to follow the happenings of greater evangelicalism, you've no doubt heard that sorta-famous sorta-pastor Mark Driscoll received the boot of disfellowship to the hindquarters of his association with Acts 29, a church-planting parachurch group he helped start and until recently ran as its chief prophet-king or something. You might say Acts 29 engaged in blessed subtraction, and that he got run over by the bus, joining the mountain of bodies (by God's grace) - if you're the sort of person to make such jokes, and I most certainly am.

This story has been all over the Christian and pretend-Christian corner of the interwebs, so I won't rehash the whole thing. Here I'll just offer a few quick thoughts on the whole affair.

1) Before listening to Driscoll's horrendous "blessed subtraction" message again, I had forgotten it had been a speech to an Acts 29 conference. Am I a bad man for laughing?

2) It can't be easy to oust your group's founder, especially after sticking behind him for so long. As easy as it is to question the move - and we will - it still took some level of courage and/or conviction. On the other hand...

3) When Krusty the Klown announced his retirement, a reporter asked the pertinent question: "Why now? Why not twenty years ago?" Similarly, why was this move made now instead of five or ten years ago? What exactly has changed? Are these issues actually new, or are they just now too public to ignore?

4) To reiterate - there is very little new here. Nearly all of these issues have been knowable for years, for anyone who didn't actively try to not know. See for example here, here, and the multitude here. So again, what has changed? Why do Acts 29 and James MacDonald and Lifeway suddenly have to bail right now, when these sins and shortcomings have been obvious for around a decade?

5) Carl Trueman asks an important question: what did the major evangelical leaders who've been promoting Driscoll for a decade know and when did they know it? I would add, if they didn't know, what could explain that other than deliberate ignorance?

6) With all this happening in Driscoll's extracurriculars, don't forget he's still the sorta-pastor of a church with thousands of people. Having gone through a similar period a few years ago (when my pastor decided little things like "the Trinity" and "the gospel" are insignificant compared to "the Harvest brand" and his personal enrichment), I can tell you how easy it isn't. Disillusionment, confusion, "how could we have been so wrong?" - or the "how dare they attack our hero!" mentality of the personality cult. Pray for them, especially that they can break away and find an actual church.

7) As for Driscoll, he still has 'his' church, and now a bunch of extra fuel for his martyr complex. His two choices are to repent or double down (see Phillips' Axiom #2); early indications do not look good for repentance. I can't pretend to know how this will end, but without genuine repentance, more disaster is coming.

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.