Friday, May 30, 2008

Wolf-Spotting - Part Two

"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world." 1 John 4:1

What are the marks of a false teacher and false teaching? These are issues that are a bit complex, which is why I believe God gave us the context of the local church to grow under teaching. The qualifications for pastors/elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 can only be identified in a man's life through a whole life commitment to the community of believers. So, one way to steer clear of false and destructive teaching is to not put yourself under the ministry of teachers and pastors that you fundamentally do not know. There is a real blessing available to us through the ministries of various teachers and leaders that are outside our local churches and denominational affiliations. My ipod is full of John Piper, R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Mark Dever, CJ Mahaney, Mark Driscoll, Tim Bayly, Ray Stedman, Lloyd-Jones, etc. (not necessarily in that order!). But there is a real danger in the current 'cult of personality' and celebrity ministry ethos of evangelicalism. So, as we discern who and how we might wade through these waters, here are a few important guidelines for spotting the good from the bad.

1. Godly and wise teachers are those who are committed to the full authority and inerrancy of God's Word. If you are listening to a teacher who equivocates on this issue, or simply denies the authority and inerrancy of the Scriptures, watch out!

2. Godly teachers are those who are committed to historic and orthodox Christianity. Teachers of God's people must not add to, wander outside, or denigrate the doctrines of God's word established and affirmed by his saints throughout history. (So, when Brian McLaren questions the doctrine of hell and judgment- watch out; when Rob Bell questions the necessity of the doctrine of the virgin birth- watch out; when a revival preacher is an absolute kook, charlatan, and heretic- watch out!)

3. A godly teacher is accountable and submitted to a plurality of qualified men of integrity and wisdom. This accountability is to be local, consistent, and easily observed. For example, believers at Four Oaks are able see the elders of our church who I am submitted to actively involved in my life and ministry. You'll notice that most of the men who have a teaching influence in my life are those who are pastors who minister in local church contexts. This doesn't have to be the case necessarily, but it is the normative pattern for teaching accountability.

4. Be careful in submitting to teachers who hold doctrinal convictions that differ from those of your pastors and leaders. Understand the nature of these differences, as well as the differences between what might be called first, second, and third order doctrinal convictions. Be especially careful if a ministry or teacher encourages divisiveness, disloyalty, and dissatisfaction with those who serve you as pastors and elders.

5. In all these matters it is crucial for us to be discerning and exercise godly judgment. The spirit of the age is a blanket acceptance or indifference in the name of some sort of postmodern or sentimental notion of tolerance. This is not in keeping with the teaching of Christ and the full counsel of God's Word.

Let me close this post with the quote from Chesterton that I read last Sunday regarding humility and doctrinal conviction. We must maintain humility and uncertainty with regard to ourselves, our ambitions, and any personal aggrandizement. But we must never mistake lack of conviction in matters of critical doctrinal importance for humility. We must maintain love, grace, and peace in our relationships and our posture towards one another and the world- yet, this posture is never to replace doctrinal conviction and certainty with regard to the truth of God's Word.

"What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert - himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt - the Divine Reason. . . . The new skeptic is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn. . . . There is a real humility typical of our time; but it so happens that it's practically a more poisonous humility than the wildest prostrations of the ascetic. . . . The old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which makes him stop working altogether. . . . We are on the road to producing a race of man too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table." (Orthodoxy [Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1957], pp. 31-32)

Friday, May 16, 2008

More Bell-Ringing

Must I harp on this poor servant? Several have voiced concern that I am being unfair in my criticism of Rob Bell.

First, let me give you the full quotation from Bell's first book where he challenges the necessity of the virgin birth of Christ, the possibility of doctrinal certainty, and the importance of orthodox convictions (as well as the sufficiency of Scripture, the trustworthy testimony of the Gospel writers and Apostles, and the development of the canon...):

“What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archeologists find Larry’s tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births? But what if, as you study the origin of the word ‘virgin’ you discover that the word ‘virgin’ in the gospel of Matthew actually comes from the book of Isaiah, and then you find out that in the Hebrew language at that time, the word ‘virgin’ could mean several things. And what if you discover that in the first century being ‘born of a virgin’ also referred to a child whose mother became pregnant the first time she had intercourse? What if that spring were seriously questioned? Could a person keep on jumping? Could a person still love God? Could you still be a Christian? Is the way of Jesus still the best possible way to live? Or does the whole thing fall apart?”

I could say so many things about this disturbing quote. First, Bell, and all who have read his book, need to read some J. Gresham Machen. As well, you need to read Al Mohler's answer to the last couple questions posed above, "Could you still be a Christian? Or does the whole thing fall apart?"

Secondly, remember that this is uttered by the pastor of one of the fastest growing, largest, and influential churches in America. Second, he is touted as a leading voice in evangelicalism (the Chicago Sun Times offered him to us as the next Billy Graham). Third, he is a best selling Christian author. Fourth, he tours the country (world?) promoting his books, packing out churches, nightclubs, and other venues spreading his gospel. Fifth, he has great appeal to the pomo twenty/thirty something generation- a generation that I have the privilege of ministering amongst in a college town. For all these reasons, I challenge believers to watch out for his teachings, which are not in accordance with sound doctrine and the truth of the gospel.

Mind you, Bell does insist that he believes in the literal virgin birth of Christ. His point is 'hypothetical'- he is trying to demonstrate that doctrinal truths are like the springs on a trampoline, and we can remove them willy nilly and keep on jumping. He claims that modernity has set up doctrinal biblical truth like a brick wall, and when a brick is removed- the entire edifice comes crashing. The problem with this is that Bell has set up a false dichotomy (and a straw man- his caricature of modern evangelicalism as a doctrinal brick wall is unhelpful, though I don't necessarily disagree). Either doctrinal truth is like a trampoline or a brick wall. Must we see biblical truth as either/or in the way Bell has set up the discussion?

As I have often said, doctrinal truth, actually all truth, is a web of multiple reciprocities (a term I got from my trusted OT prof, Richard Pratt). The affirmation of the truth of the virgin birth has direct and crucial implications to the affirmation of Christ as truly God. The affirmation of the absolute truth and inerrancy of Scripture has direct bearing upon our affirmation of the virgin birth of Christ. We could go on and on. This is exactly why Paul labored to present to the Ephesians 'the whole counsel of God's Word' when he was with. This is why we are so strongly exhorted toward the preservation of sound doctrine. The denial of plain biblical teaching (which is certainly the case regarding the virgin birth) brings destruction to our churches and our souls.

Let me say as well that I could really care less that Bell personally believes in the virgin birth. This is not the important thing here. What is important is that we proclaim that such a thing is TRUE and why it is true. Bell places belief and truth in the realm of personal preference. I want to know what is true, not just for Bell, not just for me in Tallahassee- but for all men everywhere, for all time. It would be helpful if at this point in his book he explained for us why he believes in the virgin birth? On what basis? To what end? In reality, why should I believe that Bell affirm's historic Christian orthodoxy as he claims? His claim to such an affirmation is contradicted by his rejection of sola scriptura, his embrace of narrative theology, and the web of fallacious and foolish statements offered in the quote above. Bell is very McLaren-esque here- "I love the Bible- even when it's wrong!"

Let's look real quick at Bell's statement about the virgin birth:

1. What if someone digs up definitive proof (beyond a shadow of a doubt) about the real, earthly, biological father of Jesus? Oh, how dreadfully modern of Pastor Bell! Is his trust in DNA evidence? Beyond a shadow of a doubt? But Bell has built a church and a popular ministry around the idea that there is no such thing as proof beyond a shadow of a doubt. Ooops. These sort of horribly modern commitments always seem to creep in somewhere- for many emergents it often happens when the discussion turns to the truth of global warming and economics. I don't get it. I thought Bell had emerged from such enlightenment shackles.

2. Let's consider implication #1- Mary was indeed an adulteress and a liar. Joseph was a liar. And both of them built a whole life around this lie. And in this lie they fabricated angelic visitations. Elizabeth somewhere was dupped, or entered into the conspiracy.

3. Implication #2 - The gospel writers are liars.(in fact, Bell plainly asserts this as entirely plausible and not a problem whatever) Bell says that if such a thing were true (that Jesus had a dad named Larry) then maybe the testimony of Scripture is just a myth to appeal to some rank pagans. But, remember what Luke tells us, "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught." (Luke 1:1-4)

4. Implication #3 - Jesus was a liar. Matthew 16:16; 26:63-64...and many others.

5. Implication #4 - Jesus was not the Son of God. "And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God." (Luke 1:35)

6. Implication #5 - Jesus was not the Messiah, sent as the Son of God to redeem a people for himself. Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins." (Matt. 1:20-21)

7. Implication #6 - Jesus was merely a man. A teacher (who lied about his claim to deity, and so was a megalomaniacal tyrant who demanded total loyalty from his followers). He simply came to show us 'the best way to live'. We are left with human righteousness as our only hope.

I went through that little walk from one reciprocity to the next- to show you exactly where Bell's point leads us in this whole hypothetical discussion. He says, "Is the way of Jesus still the best possible way to live?" We are left with a pragmatic, works oriented, and redemption-less gospel that is no gospel at all. No, this would not be the best way to live. Paul tells us that this would be the very worst way to live. We would still be in our sins. We would be enemies of God. We would be trusting a lie. We would be lost in a sea of mindless platitudes with no power for holiness, no way to truth, and no hope beyond the grave.

Add this to Bell's rejection of sola scriptura and his heterodox (and mainly sentimentalist gospel-ish) views presented in the NOOMA videos, his social gospel agenda, his Arminian and man centered view of the atonement, his failure to preach the gospel... behold, we have good old fashioned liberalism with hipster glasses and a 'bible church' guise.

Like I said last Sunday, if you must read Miller, Bell, McLaren, et. al. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE go read some Puritans, some Calvin, some Luther, some Spurgeon, some Hodge, some Warfield, some M. Lloyd -Jones, some Packer, some Piper, some Sproul...

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Wolf-Spotting - Part One

It is the duty of pastors and the elders of the church to guard and promote sound doctrine. This is a source of life to believers because it promotes truth and righteousness and exalts the gospel- which is a collection of truthful, life changing propositions about God, Jesus, and salvation we call ‘good news’.

The New Testament is full of battles over truth and the preservation of the truth of the gospel. Paul fought the Judaizers in his letter to the Galatians. He fought the false apostles and the wisdom of this age with the power of the cross in his Corinthian correspondence. He fought the miasma of secular and pagan philosophy in Colossae. The writer of Hebrews battled apostasy and the return to old covenant shadows in the face of new covenant realities found in Christ. The Apostle John fought proto-gnosticism which attacked the nature and person of Christ and the truth of the Apostolic testimony. Peter devotes most of his second letter to warnings and judgments against false teachers and false teaching. And of course, there are the strong warnings and exhortations of our Savior himself to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3.

The sweetness and light of the American megachurch and emergent therapeutic gospel simply ignores this biblical reality, as they ignore the battle for truth and belief that is being waged all about us (as it always has been and shall be till Christ returns). This duty to ‘fight the good fight’ and ‘demolish strongholds’ and ‘wage spiritual warfare’ will cause- actually compel - wise leaders to jump into the fray. It means we will have to fight. It will get ugly. As any good shepherd will tell you fighting wolves , bears, and lions (oh my!) is a messy, bloody business. But then, not fighting gets a whole lot messier and bloodier. So, praise Jesus and pass me the sling shot.

Consider some passages of Scripture:

Matthew 7:14 "For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it. 15 "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 "You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they?
Luke 10:3 "Go your ways; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.
Acts 20:28 "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;
Mark 13:22 for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order, if possible, to lead the elect astray. 23 "But take heed; behold, I have told you everything in advance.
Galatians 1:6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed.
2 Corinthians 11:12 But what I am doing, I will continue to do, that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting. 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
1 Timothy 1:3 As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus, in order that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, 4 nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. 5 But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, 7 wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.
1 Timothy 4:16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
1 Timothy 6:3 If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, 4 he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.
1 Timothy 6:20 O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called "knowledge "-- 21 which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith. Grace be with you.
2 Timothy 3:1 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; 5 holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; and avoid such men as these. 6 For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, 7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.
2 Peter 2:1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.
1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
2 John 1:9 Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; 11 for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.

Of course we should recognize the call to humility, grace, patience, and love in the midst of the fight. It seems contradictory to speak of such virtues in the same breath that we call each other into battle. But the battle is lost before we begin if we don't fight with the fruit of the Spirit. The exhortation to love and patience should not keep us from the fight, but temper our hearts in the fighting. We do well to heed Paul's command to oppose false teaching in 1 Timothy 1:3 and always hold before us the goal and purpose of his command- 'love which comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith' (1 Timothy 1:5). The sentimental excuse, "I'm a lover, not a fighter" will not do for pastors today. Our shepherds must be lovers and fighters. They must be fighters because they are lovers. Lovers of God, lovers of the truth, and lovers of the flock they serve.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Of Elvis and Jazz...some further thoughts

Last Sunday I spoke of Rob Bell and Donald Miller in my sermon. Dangerous stuff that. Maligning the pomo pop-evangeliheroes in a college town. Oddly, I had several college students thank me for these words of warning, them having been intoxicated with postmodern foolishness and needing a word of caution. It was several of our 'older folk' (read: forty/fifty sumthin) that voiced their affections for these younger evangelicals, especially herr Miller.

Now, I think that Miller seeks to stay within the pale of evangelical faith- at least, that's what I hear. But to try and pin an emergent down one point of doctrinal commitment or another can be a frustrating gig. We are commended in Scripture as leaders to 'watch our life and doctrine closely, in so doing we will save ourselves and others'. As teachers we will 'be judged more strictly'. This is serious business, and doctrinal clarity, at least clarity even in what we do not believe- is important for those who have the influence that many of the new emergent school do.
In my less than humble assesment, Blue Like Jazz is more silliness and triviality than outright wrong- mostly. Any book that seeks to make serious statements about spirituality (it is a book of non-religious thoughts about spirituality- it says so on the cover) yet commits several pages to inscrutable and mostly useless cartoons featuring the author as a bunny...well, this speaks for itself. I'm not amazed that people like the book, but I am amazed that believers see it as an important and worthwhile book in terms of edification and wisdom. Miller is just plain wrong in some places. I know that his quiet and easy style really touches many a reader; and his experiences resonate with many of us. But, this shouldn't call us to swallow the postmodern, emerging ethos hook, line, and sinker (as so many seem to have).

My main concern for Miller is that much of his work is just a collection of musings, some with a certain degree of biblical warrant, the others not so much. There are a lot of interesting anecdotes from his life that may be more or less true depending on the context. But there is little examination of God's Word on all of these matters of 'dialogue' in Blue Like Jazz, precious little. This is ultimately not helpful, even harmful, when one is speaking critically of the church, and influencing thousands with their assesment.

I'm also concerned with the fact that many emerging guys- but mainly Rob Bell and Brian McLaren (A New Kind of Christian, A Generous Orthodoxy) as the most popular and influential voices in the movement (there are other more dangerous emergents who don't seek to speak so directly in the evangelical circle), refuse to accept responsibility for what they are actually doing. They sell hundreds of thousands of books, making hundreds of thousands of dollars, influencing multitudes. They have very hard words (yes, even the gentle Miller) for their former pastors and all those modernity shackled evangelicals of decades past; they ask us to listen to their critique of the church and Bell explicitly seeks to 'repaint' the faith. If they are to have such a prophetic voice and have such influence- they must be accountable. This means they must be held to a doctrinal, biblical standard. At this point, though- a grin comes over their faces along with a shrug of the shoulders and little jab to the shoulder. C'mon, don't be so linear! We're just having a 'conversation'- this is just a dialogue! LOL! (insert Smiley face emoticon here) But, in reality- this is more than just a friendly conversation. This is a major movement- and much of it is a movement in a dangerous, unhealthy and spiritually destructive direction.

What direction is this? Why all the fuss?

My main concern, as usual, is that many of these influential emergent voices have a low view of Scripture. Miller tacitly so with his failure to substantiate much of his work biblically as well as a host of nods to a post-foundational understanding of truth and meaning (especially in Miller's chapter 'Belief' in Blue Like Jazz). From what I gather, Miller is a committed believer in a healthy and biblically grounded church (with a high view of Scripture). I wish that there was more evidence of the genuine commitment to theological conviction evidenced in his work. I can't do a better job of laying out the problems with Miller's approach than Doug Groothuis does in this review of Blue Like Jazz.

Bell is a different story. I can find no overt commitment to the infallibility of Scripture on his church's website (his church's doctrinal commitment- or lack thereof, is found here). Bell's church affirms 'inspiration' and does admit that the Scriptures are authoritative- yet, this has come to mean a lot of things in the new postmodern project. It is interesting and duly noted that neither infallibility nor inerrancy are affirmed. This is not helpful when one places terms like inspiration and authoritative in a document extolling narrative theology. This places a community squarely outside the commitments of evangelical orthodoxy in my view. I can think of no reason for anyone to continue to listen seriously to such a pastor or teacher ruminate about repainting the faith when there is not a wholehearted affirmation of the reformed principle of Sola Scriptura (Bell rejects sola scriptura- Velvet Elvis, pp. 67). We can assume that with such a vague commitment to 'narrative' theology and (post) liberalism, whatever that might be, our emerging faith 'artists' will re-paint faith and 'truth' in their own image.

The emergent view of doctrinal conviction, knowledge, and truth is on the whole unhelpful, and in many places plainly unbiblical. The Scriptures are full of exhortations to embrace, know, and obey the truth of God's Word. We truly know things revealed, even if such knowledge is not comprehensive. Without a distinctly biblical epistemology, we are lost in a sea of skepticism and, well, uncertainty and doctrinal ignorance. D.A. Carson goes through scores of biblical passages exhorting us to doctrinal certainty in his excellent analysis of the emerging church, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church (pages 193-199). He notes well that this is merely a sampling of the full weight and force of the whole counsel of God's Word calling us to know, trust, and obey the truth of God's Word with whole hearted conviction.

In Velvet Elvis, Bell's lays out the 'foundation' of all else he seeks to establish in his work: "The Christian faith is mysterious to the core. It is about things and beings that ultimately can't be put into words. Language fails. And if we do definitively put God into words, we have at that very moment made God something God is not. . . the mystery is the truth" (Velvet Elvis, pp. 32-33).

This is a sentiment and assertion that is outside the testimony of Scripture- Rev. 19:9, 21:5, 22:6; 2 Cor. 1:18-20; Titus 1:9; Eph. 3:8-10 (the mystery is said by Paul to be revealed and it is to be made known to the world- with words, with preaching, with a pattern of sound teaching- see also 1 Cor. 2:7-13), and outside the witness of the church for the past four hundred years.

Bell denigrates the glorious and essential truth of the virgin birth and so the deity of Christ, and the trustworthy message of the gospel writers- supplanting it with a pragmatic doctrine of works righteousness (Velvet Elvis, pp. 26-27). Bell moves toward universalism with his utilitarian theology as well, "Jesus was not making claims about one religion being better than all other religions. That completely misses the point, the depth, and the truth. Rather, he was telling those who were following him that his way is the way to the depth of reality...Perhaps a better question than who's right, is who's living rightly?" (VE, pp. 21).

He continues further down this road in his musings on hell. Of course, Bell puts everything as a question. He is just asking, poking, prodding. But I think this sort of tact is dangerous when one recognizes that Bell is poking and prodding at the core truths of God's Word, even at the underlying epistemological foundation of the Christian faith- that truth may be known with a real certainty and conviction.

Bell says, "When people use the word hell, what do they mean? They mean a place, an even, a situation absent of how God desires things to be...As a Christian, I want to do what I can to resist hell coming to earth. Poverty, injustice, suffering -they are all hells on earth, and as Christians we oppose them with all our energies. Jesus told us to." (VE, pg. 148) This approach puts orthodoxy at a disadvantage for it is a false dichotomy. A belief in hell as a literal place of judgment and eternal punishment need not lead us away from compassion and alleviation of suffering in the here and now. Yes, Jesus told us to love and care for others- but he also spoke (more than any other voice in Scripture) of the reality of God's judgment upon sin in a literal hell after this life. (Check out a great piece by Keller on preaching hell in a pomo culture. Also, here's a helpful work on the reality of hell from the truth of God's Word.)

Ah, well. Enough on that for now. I thought it important to provide a bit more background to my words of warning from Sunday. It is my job to guard sound doctrine, warn against false and destructive teachings and influences, and promote biblical teaching and thinking. Hopefully, many will read these emerging voices with more discernment and a greater zeal for God's Word and the truth of the gospel.

Here are a couple of helpful resources and further reads on the Emerging Church:

Why We're Not Emergent by DeYoung and Kluck (easy read, winsome and enjoyable- very even handed).

Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church by D.A. Carson (Carson can tend to be a bit boring and pedantic- but he provides a much needed analysis and assesment of the movement).

Above All Earthly Powers by David Wells (much heavier than the first two- but a great look at the present condition of evangelicalism).

Desiring God looked at many of these trends, issues, and the whole movement in their annual conference a couple years back. The video and audio can be found here.

Here is a helpful pamphlet in PDF form that looks in greater detail at Bell's Velvet Elvis.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Doctrinal Journey

In the family of God there is to be a wonderful, adventurous, and wholehearted pursuit of the Word of the Father. It seems strange that I must push such a point. Sadly, though, there is an emerging ethos in the church calling believers away from truth and doctrine in the pursuit of some more vague and mystical postmodern journey. Such postmodern sirens usually employ a false dichotomy between truth and experience to woo folks into the postmodern abyss. But we need not, indeed must not, divorce truth from experience. Nor may we allow our experiences and 'journey' be uninformed and unguided by the truth of God revealed in his Word.

Doctrine, sound teaching, theological truth is often characterized as joyless, dry, devoid of any practical use in daily life. This may very well characterize some church, or some postmodern twenty something's experience. But, that is all it is- an experience and a caricature. The Word of God itself describes the pursuit of the truth of God's Word and the teaching and applying of sound doctrine as essential to the believer's experience and the body life of the church.

This pursuit of truth and revealed doctrine from the Word of God is not only a wonderful conversation, to use the overused pomo word, but a glorious adventure. By conversation I mean listening to the Father and talking with brothers and sisters as to how we might best heed and obey Him. By adventure I do not mean that the journey is about the journey and not about the destination and all that nonsense (all great adventures and journey's have a destination). There is a great adventure in searching the Scriptures, in applying their truth and power to my life and the life of the body that I serve. There is a great adventure in seeing the truth and power of God at work in the hearts of new believers, the discovery of God's truth in new ways in the hearts of 'old' believers, the thrilling (and sometimes terrible) experience of the Spirit's sword (Ephesians 6: 17) doing its work in our hearts, lives, churches, and families.

Just today, Josh (F'Oaks worship pastor) and I were talking about the Apostle Paul's exhortation in Colossians 3:16, "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God." We talked about what Paul meant by using these three different terms. How is a hymn different than a spiritual song? Did Paul even intend for us to draw distinctions from this verse, or was he using generally synonymous terms for impact and illustrative power in pressing home his main point? We looked into the meaning of the original terms in the Greek. We looked at the whole counsel of God and how this passage might be understood in relationship to the rest of Scripture. What can we learn from the first century context from which and into which Paul spoke? We asked about what this exhortation means in the context of our particular body- where can we grow, mature, and apply such a passage in a more meaningful helpful way?

We were enjoying the 'doctrinal journey' of being challenged and transformed by the Word of God and looking forward to its transformational work in our church body as we submit to it. I praise God that I am part of a body that loves the Word and loves the journey. Each week we look to the unchanging, propositional, historic truths of the faith revealed in God's Word. We experience it. We respond to it. We obey it. We wrestle with it. We submit to it. We argue about it. We repent where we have neglected it. But, make no mistake, along this journey we never forget that IT is there. God has spoken. His Word is true. His teachings are clear and understandable. His voice is real and to be heeded. What a great doctrinal journey our church family is on. We look forward to the destination when we we see him face to face, when we know fully even as we are fully known.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Questions about Tongues and Prophecy

One of the constant questions I get regarding my recent series of sermons on 1 Corinthians 14 has to do with the more 'practical' issues surrounding the gift of prophecy.

Let me remind you of my basic take on this gift and Paul's teaching on it from this passage in 1 Corinthians before further discussion of the way it might look in our contemporary context, and specifically at Four Oaks Church.

My definition of prophecy is, "revelation from God under the authority of the Scriptures and in submission to the local church". Folks tend to get a bit weirded out with my use of the word 'revelation' in this definition. This uneasiness mostly comes from a high view of Scripture- it's authority and sufficiency. I applaud and agree with this uneasiness, as it also comes from the very real abuses and misuses of the gift of prophecy in certain quarters. But, it is my view of Scripture, and my understanding of its sufficiency which leads me to specifically use the word 'revelation' (apokalupto) in my definition. This is the word that Paul uses throughout this passage in referring to the application of this gift in the context of the local church: 14:6, 26, 30. Paul uses this word in Ephesians 1:17, "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better." Paul's use of the word 'revelation' here is not a reference to the revelation of God to his prophets and apostles as contained in the Scriptures, but to an ongoing spiritual work in the heart of the believer as they pursue a knowledge and understanding of God through his Word. it would not accord with Scripture to use another term that does not communicate the same sense and force of the word which Paul uses (however qualified our use must be- hence, this post!).

The second part of my definition has to do with the relationship between such 'revelation' via the gift of prophecy and the final and unique authority of God's Word. We must maintain a proper emphasis upon the authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures in our corporate gatherings. Some maintain that prophecy is synonymous with preaching. This would mean that these 'revelations' via prophecy come mainly through the time of exposition and extolling of God's Word. There is some truth to this. I do believe that I have the gift of prophecy, and this gift is expressed mainly through my pulpit ministry of preaching and teaching. Yet, while this might be part of the practical application and embracing of prophecy, this cannot be the sum total of it's function in the corporate gathering of the church. Paul could've explicitly used the word 'preaching' or 'teaching' when discussing this gift- but he doesn't. And, it seems that in this passage there are others functioning with this gift, not just the pastor-teacher-preacher. Fundamentally though- it must be maintained that prophecy (God's direction, leading, 'revelation') comes through an overarching corporate emphasis upon God's Word - teaching it, reading it, meditating upon it, encouraging others with it, praying it, etc.

The third part of the definition has to do with the application of this gift in the context of the local church. First, it is clear from this passage that it is in the context of the one's local church that this gift (and all others) is to be normally pursued. The charismatic emphasis upon conferences, revivals and healing ministries, and charismatic leaders and prophets outside one's church often leads to abuses, a lack of accountability, and a general disdain for normal week to week submission to God's pattern of spiritual growth and leadership for the believer. Paul tells us that these 'revelations' and words of knowledge, etc. are to 'weighed' (discerned, judged, sifted). How is this to be done?

My view is that the first step in 'eagerly pursuing prophecy' is through embracing and establishing biblical patterns of authority and leadership in the local church- something not common in the standard evangelical fellowship. We must have godly, wise, theological and biblically astute leaders. They must be gentle in reproof, yet bold in their protection of the sheep as all good shepherds are. As we speak and exhort one another, as we open our mouths corporately, there must be a willingness to be corrected, or to be restrained by leadership for the overall good of the body. This is another thing sadly lacking in many churches who embrace these more controversial gifts. I have had many who claim to be prophets and speak prophetically, yet are generally unsubmissive in their use of such gifts. If we are to use our gifts it must be under in the normative context of spiritual growth and ministry- the local church; it must be with a heart to build the church and not magnify self; and it must be humbly submitted and open to correction and growth.