Monday, December 15, 2014

What Downgrade Looks Like

Early 2008, we had just moved to the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Once we realized that it wouldn't be feasible to stay with our church downtown, we decided to check out the large church about three blocks away, Harvest Bible Chapel, pastored by James MacDonald, whose teaching I was somewhat familiar with from the Walk in the Word radio broadcasts and some small group material. Long story short, we stayed for a few years, until the pachyderms moved in.

Around that time, the local "Christian" TV station started broadcasting Walk in the Word, just some simple video recordings of his sermons. Maybe a few months later, the station put up a bunch of billboards around town advertising their lineup. Imagine my surprise when I was driving past O'Hare airport to see my pastor looking over I-90, sandwiched between Joyce Meyer and (I think) Kenneth Copeland! Other billboards around town featured the likes of Creflo Dollar, Joseph Prince, and someone you may have heard of named TD Jakes.

That Sunday during the sermon, there was a brief aside about the billboards. Essentially, James said that we were pulling Walk in the Word off that station immediately. He said that he and the elders had agreed to go on that station because they had determined to preach the gospel anytime, anywhere - but they had a condition for the station. They were not supposed to use him or the church to make it look like we endorsed the other preachers. Why? He made it very clear that they all - everyone featured on those billboards except Greg Laurie - preached a false, damnable heresy called the prosperity gospel, or some other heresy such as antinomianism. And he wanted nothing to do with that sort of preaching, or even looking like he endorsed its adherents.

Fast-forward to 2014, and we get this:

(Or see it here if the embed didn't work)

Fun fact: that TV studio was acquired shortly before we left (without our catapult ride, unfortunately). When it was announced, aside from lying to us about our financial status, James claimed the purpose was to make movies/shows/broadcasts to counter the poison that typically fills supposedly-Christian TV. Now he's handed it over to the chief distributor of spiritual ricin.

All that to say, this is another knife twist, and it's gut-wrenching to see someone fall so far so fast dive headfirst into the abyss.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Theology? Ain't Nobody Got Time For That!

Over the weekend I saw numerous reports of the death of Myles Munroe. At first I thought they were talking about this guy:

...which is odd, since I thought he died before the 138th episode spectacular, but I digress. Myles Munroe was a prosperity shill and heretic extraordinaire; your soul would probably have been in better hands with the incompetent Simpsons psychiatrist.

One of the clips making the rounds in the wake of Munroe's death puts the heretical focus of his prosperity teaching on full display:

Pure evil. This is prosperity teaching showing its true wickedness: Christ is at best a bit player in your quest for kingdom authority and blessing. Reprehensible.

Now that we have that out there, let me ask: just how different is that from the ministry philosophy of many churches in America today? This isn't an issue just in the extreme fringe that comprises 99.44% of Charismania; a (milder?) form of this problem hits even ostensibly orthodox churches all around us.

Preaching about "felt needs" at the expense of doctrine. The Willow Creek model of saccharine bare-minimum (aiming down to the lowest denominator, and often overshooting) sermons on Sunday, withholding any imitation of doctrine for mid-week services for the super-spiritual. The Saddleback model wherein everything is about you finding your special purpose, where somehow the book of Daniel is about dieting.

Youth ministries where scripture, if taught at all, takes a backseat to games and fluff messages 'to help them get through school this week'. Churches that never preach anything but how to have a better life - better friendships, a better marriage, doing better at work, better sex, better sleep, better breathing, better fitness, better whatever.

If I remember correctly, I was once told not to bother teaching about the doctrine of providence because people don't care about that, they just want to know how they're going to make it through the week.

So yeah, this Munroe character was a reprehensible heretic, and his idea that we shouldn't tell people about Christ and the cross is poison from the deepest pits of hell. But don't be fooled into thinking he was alone, or that his heresy died with him. That same wicked attitude permeates the church all around us.

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 façade 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.

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


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.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Magnet of God's Word

Our Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever and He takes His revelation very seriously. Throughout history, God's prophetic revelation has been central to this precious matter of revealing the glory of Christ. Additionally, God's gift of prophetic revelation has been central to the salvation, sanctification, and confirmation of His people within this fallen world. Those who cherish and obey His word reveal themselves to be His children, but those who pursue other voices reveal a different spiritual pedigree. In this sense, God's word is like a magnet; it draws and attracts God's children, while repelling those who are not His. It is in this sense that God's word supplies a crucial, polarizing test among those who claim to be the followers of God.

(From The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism: An Analysis, Critique, and Exhortation Concerning the Contemporary Doctrine of "Fallible Prophecy", by Michael Beasley; Kindle location 476-485)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Apostasy and the Church

The book of Hebrews contains what is probably the most-quoted exhortation to church membership:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25)

Familiar verses, no doubt. But did you ever notice the reason for this exhortation? The verses that follow explain why it is so vital to meet together and encourage each other. Why is being part of a church such an urgent need?

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:23-31)

Meet together, because apostasy is horrible. Encourage one another, because the judgment brought on by apostasy is too terrifying for words.

This is not the only place in Hebrews where this pattern is seen. The same thing is clearly taught in 3:12-19, and 12:15-17 strongly suggests it as well. We are to watch out for each other, exhort each other, do everything possible to keep each other out of sin and strong in the faith, because God will judge the unrepentant apostate with the eternal fires of hell.

If you separate yourself from Christ's people, ultimate apostasy will not be far behind.

If you claim to be Christ's, yet are not part of a church, you are a liar and a fool playing a fool's game. Get in a church - a real church - now. Before it's too late, and you find that, like Esau, you have become so hardened you are incapable of repentance.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Heart of the Matter

This was brought to my attention today. It's a prophecy delivered by Kenneth Copeland back in October, complete with "saith the LORD" attribution. I'll put two links here, and a screenshot at the end of the post in case they try to make it disappear.

Here are some simple questions about this prophecy and the prophet who proclaimed it. These questions are especially vital for the "cautious continuationist" crowd.

Does this prophecy have the same authority as Scripture?

If not, why not? On what basis could we exclude it from the Bible, or consider it sub-scriptural?

If someone disbelieves this prophecy, is that a sin worthy of an eternity in hell? Was Christ's sacrifice necessary to atone for the sin of doubting this prophecy, or refusing to obey it?

What can we say about Kenneth Copeland on the basis of this prophecy alone?

If this prophecy does not come true, with whom does the fault lie? Was God wrong (shudder!)? What then should be done with the prophet who declared it?

Can we say anything about the veracity of this prophecy now, or do we have to wait until January 1, 2015, and examine it in hindsight?

I know how I would answer these questions. How would you? More to the point, how would a 'cautious continuationist' like Grudem or Piper or Carson, or a redefinitionist like Poythress, or a full-out charismatic like Storms or Brown?

If your theology doesn't allow you to condemn this false prophet and this obviously false prophecy immediately - if you have to wait and see because you never know, it might be from God, and we don't want to quench the Spirit - you've got something seriously wrong, and it's incredibly dangerous.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Trouble at Wheaton

Last week, I posted this. Later that day, I saw the news about a demonstration at Wheaton College, a Christian college in the greater Chicago area. I mentioned it in a tweet, thanking Wheaton for proving my point so quickly, and urging repentance before any further harm could be done. I was asked for some clarification, so here's my attempt to explain what I think the real problem is.

[I should note that this was written days ago but, providentially, computer problems and other issues delayed the posting. I've had a chance to re-think what I originally wrote; I'll leave that intact, and put an addendum at the end to address some possible questions.]

Rosaria Butterfield was going to Wheaton to talk about the gospel and its effects in her life. She was a lesbian, atheist, virulent God-hater. But she was convicted of her sin and brought to faith in Jesus Christ. She now knows that she is a sinner, fully deserving to receive the wrath of holy God. But Jesus took her sin on himself on the cross, bearing the wrath of God, and having made atonement for sin was raised to life and seated at the right hand of God. Through repentance and faith, her sin is forgiven, and she is credited with the very righteousness of Christ, and will inherit eternal life. More than that, she is being sanctified - transformed ever-increasingly into the image of Christ while she is still alive here, as sin is being put to death and replaced with righteousness. In her case, the most visible transformation has been the redemption of her sexuality - her former sinful lust has been mortified, and a holy marital love has arisen.

While her story may be spectacular, it's important to note that it's not unique or even rare. It's the same story as every Christian past, present, and future. Born in sin. Brought to conviction, repentance, and faith in Jesus Christ. Forgiven of sin, counted righteous in Christ, and sanctified in his image. The particular sins may vary, but the outline is the same. Old sins are put to death, and holiness is brought forth in their place. We cease to be slaves to sin, and are instead slaves to righteousness.

Which brings us to the first group in need of repentance: the student protestors. They are claiming that there is one special class of sin from which repentance is impossible, one sin which places a person beyond sanctification - homosexual lust. They object to the idea that slavery to sin and submission to the lordship of Christ are "oppositional"; they apparently see Christ and their lust as co-lords, or more likely, their lust is lord, and Christ can have the rest. They want to claim the status of Christian, while openly defying Christ, refusing to repent of this sin, and despising the power of Christ, as though the sovereign lord of all creation isn't able to sanctify them.

In effect, they are protesting the gospel, the most basic declaration of Christianity: Jesus is Lord.
It would be one thing if they wanted to make this tragic choice for themselves. But they want to spread the anti-gospel of unrepentable, unsanctifiable sin to others. They want to present this tragic, hopeless message as at least the equal of the actual gospel, the only hope for any man anywhere. That is to say, they are not just lost in their sin and denying Christ, they are false teachers as well. They are trying to deny people the grace that can save them and keep them enslaved to sin, which is the most hateful thing one person can do to another.

Which brings me to the second group in need of repentance - the administrators at Wheaton. While it's a college and not a church, a large part of their purpose is to prepare Christians for life, and particularly for ministry. So while they are not elders per se, surely part of their mandate is to put down false teaching. Instead of silencing the false teachers, however, they are giving them an ever-larger platform. Consider how bad things there must be that a group can come out to protest *the gospel* without fear of discipline or even the slightest disapproval (let's just say it's not surprising this happened at Wheaton). How negligent in their duty must they have been, that an anti-gospel is allowed to flourish under their watch, and the students promulgating it have no fear of being confronted; when they get louder and more aggressive, the administration invites them to talk about it more!

They should be calling these students to repentance, but instead they're affirming them in their sin, and giving them platform to spread their despising of Christ and hatred of people.

So that's it. The students need to repent of their denial of the power of Christ and their false teaching, and the administration needs to repent of their dereliction of duty in allowing such a destructive teaching to flourish.


The first thought upon re-reading is, was that too harsh? Specifically, the assessment of the student protestors as having denied Christ - am I saying that every student who protested is a reprobate? Not necessarily - but the ratio of wolves to confused sheep in that group is likely much higher than anyone would like to admit.

No doubt some of the student protestors are 'homosexual Christians' - those who have fallen prey to the sin, have come to faith, and are now struggling to eradicate the sin. The key there is that they are struggling - they are fighting, and though the sanctification from this sin will be a lifelong battle (as it is for all Christians and whatever sins have befallen them), they will not be slaves to sin. These people are Christians, and they need the same grace and support in their struggles as any of us.

But there are others who are 'homosexual Christians' in that they have completely given up the fight. They wish to take comfort in the name of Christ, while being at peace with their sin. Their attitude can be summed up as "This is the way I am, and God's just going to have to get used to it". It's impossible to stay in this group for long; either the sin or Christ has to go. Sadly, for many the choice has already been made, and they have chosen poorly. The time will come when they can no longer pretend to serve two masters, and then their apostasy will be revealed in full.

While there are most likely representatives of the first group, the latter is the driving force behind this protest. They want people to know that there's another way besides repentance - you can be a Christian, and keep your pet sin, too! There may be naïve, struggling, confused Christians mixed in with this crowd, but the main point of the group is anti-gospel. So while the message may appear harsh, I don't believe it's unnecessarily so. Some need to be helped to maturity, but more need to be called to repentance and faith.

Now a second point - when I mentioned this story to someone at church, he was surprised it happened at Wheaton, given the good reputation of Phil Ryken. Ryken is the recently-installed president, and from what I gather he was a welcome choice. I had forgotten about the recent change, so maybe that answers some of the post. In calling Wheaton to repent of their fostering of this anti-Christian atmosphere, maybe Ryken's presidency is part of the answer. What is apparent is that if he intends to clean things up, he has his work cut out for him. If he intends to make this college one that truly honors Christ again, he will need prayer and support, probably for years to come. If this is the plan, may God bless his endeavors and give him perseverance. Because one thing is for certain - this is but the tip of the iceberg, and it's not going to get any less ugly if he leads a crackdown on the heretics and false teachers among them.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Why is this one so special?

In his gospel, Matthew summarizes John the Baptist's message as "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mat 3:2). Then he summarizes Jesus' message the same way: From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mat 4:17). The apostles continued the gospel message of repentance and forgiveness of sins, including both Peter (Acts 2:32) and Paul (Acts 17:30). So repentance must be a pretty significant part of the gospel message.

In Christ we are given new birth, and our repentance is fitting for our new godly nature. Christian repentance involves a change of action - the thief must no longer steal, but work diligently to have more to give (Eph 4:28). But the change is not merely of the external actions, but of the inner desires and attitudes that drive them. The Christian former thief will not only repent of stealing, but of covetousness and dishonesty, to be replaced with ever-increasing diligence and generosity. You may be inclined by nature towards anger, wrath, or malice (Col 3:8), but they are to be repented of, replaced with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (3:12).

Repentance is not just for actions, but for character, attitudes, desires, inclinations. Jesus illustrates this with murder (Mat 5:21-26); the act is sinful, but so is the inner hatred which produces it, even the thought of demeaning him as a fool. And Jesus makes it abundantly clear that this is true for sexuality as well. Adultery is sin, and so is the inner lust which produces it (5:27-30). It doesn't matter how strong your sexual desire is by nature; lust is sin, and sin must be dealt with through repentance. Even thoughts and attitudes, even those of a sexual nature, even if you were born that way.

Yet for some reason we are supposed to believe that there is one special sin for which repentance is not to be encouraged or pursued - the sin of homosexuality. The assertions span the spectrum from "the desires are OK as long as you don't act on them" to "there's nothing wrong with it at all", but all of them share a common assumption, that this particular sin is so deeply ingrained in a person's nature that repentance is impossible, if not undesirable.

He can't repent. He shouldn't even try to repent. He was born that way.

At this point I can't help but wonder how anyone, especially a professing Christian, could say something so hateful. We would be aghast at a doctor lying to a patient, denying that he needs the one medicine which could (and would be guaranteed to) save his life. How much more reprehensible is it to deny a man the sure and only hope for his soul!

The biggest problem with the "born this way" exemption from repentance is that we are all "born that way". That is, we are all born sinners, dead in our trespasses and sins, children of wrath. Our sinfulness may manifest in different acts or lusts in each of us, but we all have the same core problem - we are vile sinners who will be judged by a holy God. And the only hope - the only hope - any of us has is the atoning work of Jesus Christ, who was put forth as a propitiation by his blood, who was delivered up for our sins and raised for our justification, who became sin on our behalf so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. In his great mercy God saves those who have faith in Christ, raising them to newness of life, forgiving their sin, sanctifying them, granting them repentance. To deny this possibility to anyone - to lie to them and tell them they don't need it - is beyond cruel.

Brothers, let us have faith that the atoning work of Christ is strong enough to redeem the vilest sinners. Even homosexuals. Even you. Even me. Let us not deny anyone the glorious hope held out by 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Common Word Between Christians and Sabellians

Friends, it's time for something I rarely participate in - some hardcore, full-throttle ecumenism.

A big stink is being raised - yet again - over a Trinitarian church group mixing with Sabellian (or modalist, or oneness pentacostal, whichever you prefer) pastors. This time the group Phillips, Craig, and Dean, consisting of three modalist pastors, has been invited to lead worship at a Southern Baptist event. By now you can probably predict the arguments being made on both sides, from the "we shouldn't be led in worship by pastors who preach damnable heresy and worship a god who is different from the actually-existing God" to the "come on, aren't they Trinitarian enough?!?".

Enough already! All this divisiveness is just so... divisive? Anyway, I think we can all agree that this bickering over things like "should we extend the right hand of fellowship to rank heretics and false teachers in gross violation of scriptural commands" just needs to end. What we need is a solid middle ground, somewhere we can stand with one foot firmly planted in both camps. Here is my modest proposal for an awesome solution which should make everyone happy:

One God, two persons.

Genius. It's so incredibly brilliant, I'm surprised the team writing for the sock puppet known as the 'Mark Driscoll' didn't propose it sooner.

I suggest we all agree to this immediately, and work out the fine details later. Does God eternally exist as two persons, or manifest himself in two forms at various times? I guess we need to pass it to find out what's in it!

Just think of the alternative! We'd have to go on carefully considering scripture, practicing discernment, learning from church history, parsing statements designed to deceive to reveal the true intent, putting up with whining and accusation when we warn that someone's favorite teacher/musician is a wolf trying to lead astray God's people with destructive heresy, and worst of all, thinking. It's just so... so... so... HARD. Ain't nobody got time for that!

No friends, this is clearly the way forward. You're welcome.