Saturday, January 31, 2009

Judging a Book By Its Cover

Over the years I've built up a decent collection of books, primarily of a theological nature. Many of them have incredibly deep insights from scholars who have devoted their lives to digging deep into the scriptures and knowing as much about God as he has revealed. Quite a few have been life-shapers, challenging my worldview, changing the way I understand the truth about God and people. These books are well worth the effort to dig into them and mine the valuable truths contained within - classics from Calvin and Edwards and Luther and Charnock, modern titles from Piper and Packer and MacArthur and White. These books have so much good material in them, being so thoroughly scripture-soaked, I never regret cracking one open, reading, meditating, and letting the truth of scripture as explained by these godly men change my life.

But this isn't about any of the deep truths found in any of those books. I started a new book this week, and the first big challenge came before I'd even opened it up. Right on the front cover, the title of the book: Discovering The God Who Is. It's a new edition of an old book by RC Sproul (a tremendous author - you simply can't go wrong reading his stuff), and the title just captured my attention.

Perhaps more than at any other time in history, our age is a spiritual smorgassbord. With so much knowledge of the world's religions readily available, and with postmodern "whatever you believe is true" nonsense being crammed down our throats and taught as "enlightenment", it's no wonder that so many people believe (as evidenced by the way they talk about God and how they act) that God is whoever they want him to be. Don't like the part about hell? It's optional. Don't like being subject to an absolute sovereign? Invent limits for his sovereignty, or pretend he doesn't know the future, or just don't bother thinking about it. Generally in favor of God's judgment, but have a pet sin you want to remain a slave to? Take a big ol' plate of condemnation for other sins, and ignore the serving of justice for your favorite sin. Maybe all people go to heaven, or a lot do and the rest just go into soul sleep, or almost everyone goes to heaven and hell is reserved for the Hitlers and Stalins and Urkels, or maybe salvation is found only in Jesus and all who remain in open rebellion against God go to hell. Whatever works for you is fine (well, except the last one - if you believe that, you're just a hater), and we can't really know what's true anyway, right?

Well, that's where this book title gets it exactly right. See, if there's a God - and there absolutely is - then he is who he is. What we believe about him and about what he does has no effect on who he is or what he does. God is objective reality. Our thoughts, musings, desires, hopes, and fears about who we want God to be simply don't make it so. We may all mentally create our own idols, but that doesn't make God conform to our expectations. He is who he is, and it is our imperative to know him as he is. My mental image of God may be nice, logically consistent, and comforting to me - but if it doesn't accord with who God actually is, it doesn't amount to a hill of beans.

There are things God has clearly revealed about himself that offend us to the core of our beings - his sovereignty over all, his righteousness in judgment. But though we may enshrine our own ideas, invent a God of our many understandings, imagine a God who is not sovereign and who doesn't judge - at the end of the day, who wins? If God is sovereign, he is sovereign no matter how much we object. If God judges, he judges no matter how much we ignore or oppose it. Let God be true and every man a liar.

So when we come to study God as he has revealed himself in scripture, we need to remember this first and foremost. We are not creating the God we would like. We are learning about the God who actually is. And the time will come when those who form God in their own image will discover the truth and be sorely disappointed - actually, horrified and aghast. Besides, God is most certainly better in every way than the best we could ever hope to imagine. Let us press on to know God - the real God, the one who is.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Why I love James MacDonald

Tricia and I are members of Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows, IL, which is pastored by James MacDonald. I'm an unabashed fan - the guy's just awesome. You can hear his messages through his Walk in the Word radio ministry, or check out some of his books, or maybe read up at his blog. I thought I would also occasionally post on random bits of MacDonald awesomeness. First up:

So we were on the Sea of Galilee, taking a little boat ride. Lots o' cool stuff happened there, but one thing in particular made me laugh. At some point the conversation turned to false doctrines and weak watered-down churches, and I mentioned something about the emergent church. At which point Pastor James said, "If I ever join an emerging church, I want to be Pastor of Candles."

Now THAT is comedy. Unfortunately, it's funny because it's pretty much true. For the record, I would want to be Pastor of Inventing New Ancient Traditions.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Relevance! Catch the fever!

When a church is looking to be "relevant", there are few ways it can better accomplish this than through its music. Many such churches believe the ultimate in relevance is achieved by singing secular songs as praise, but others choose a different route: taking the same songs but changing a word here or there to "Christian them up". When the latter method is chosen, you often get a true masterpiece of 'worship'.

As you might expect, I have a few comments on this.

1) If you're going to take an atrocity and pretend it's worship, at least don't imitate the exact plot of a South Park episode ridiculing the practice (and since this church is clearly hyper-relevant, certainly someone on the 'worship' team has seen this episode - come to think of it, maybe that's where they got the idea). According to one plot synopsis, Cartman forms a Christian band that "rocketed to the top of the Christian rock charts, with Cartman simply tweaking the lyrics of love ballads, changing words such as "Baby" to "Jesus". While effective, the band eventually comes under some scrutiny when one of the songs involves more passionate lyrics. Cartman manages to manipulate his way out and the band continues in its success."

If you're familiar with the original tune by Dead or Alive, you'll note that there was exactly one lyric change - from Baby to Jesus. Yeesh. Also, you no doubt see that the changed lyrics make this song a lot of things - sickening, sacrilege, disgusting, creepy, disturbing, and blasphemous come to mind - but worship is not one of them.

2) What was the deal with the socks? Spinning socks = praise? Alllllrighty then. I did think of one potential use for the spinning, though. If you were to place a heavy object in the sock - say, a cue ball, or a big rock, or maybe a stadium or quarry - you could spin it, release it, and hit one of the people responsible for this atrocity.

3) It can often be difficult to know when exactly to walk out of a church. When in doubt, you can't go wrong leaving at the first mention of the "Holy Spirit Hoedown". Although I think Spurgeon might've used that phrase a time or two, and John MacArthur uses that as a sermon title every other week, so maybe I'm jumping the gun here.

4) Isn't the point of "relevance" to make the gospel "more appealing" to the lost? Who, exactly, is this going to appeal to? Dead or Alive plus a square dance plus the O'Jays, all with swirling footwear? Sounds great! I'm so impressed, I need to hear more about Jesus!

HT: Luke MacDonald, who is one of our worship leaders at Harvest. Thankfully, we can be certain he'll never subject us to anything like this.