Friday, April 28, 2006

The penultimate authority

Is the Bible authoritative? Certainly. Is it the measure by which we judge all faith and practice? Yes. But its authority is not absolute. It is derivative of the One who is the absolute authority.

Deadly conformity

Jim Martin, reflecting on a book by Erwin Raphael McManus, considers how the church suffers when we move from radical to respectable:
Instead of being a tribe of renegades, we too often become conformists. For many of us, "forward" is not our word. For many of us, "conform" is our word. Think about how often this is played out among us:
Jim gives examples, and they're not pretty. Once again, Jim has written a post worth reading.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

More on the evils of television

Douglas Groothuis has written more on what's wrong with television.

Thoughts on what really matters

It may be a little late from a seasonal perspective to link to an Easter essay, but new White House Press Secretary Tony Snow's essay on the resurrection is good reading any time of year. Here's a sample:

Such is the challenge of faith in a roiled world. Easter is the most extraordinary of religious holidays because it dares believers to step up and embrace the impossible: the declaration that Jesus of Nazareth died, was buried and rose on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.

This proclamation admits of no middle ground. You can't argue, as have some theologians and Gnostics, that Jesus died "metaphorically" or that his death merely served to liberate his spirit from the coarse confines of the material world.

Jesus shut off those lines when he predicted his own death and resurrection -- a fact that prompted G.K. Chesterton to observe that the Christ was either a liar, a lunatic or the Lord. It may be possible to half-believe in some creeds, but not this one: Either you're in or out; either Easter changed history, or Jesus was just another dust-coated Levantine huckster.

Such a stark challenge has a delicious way of pinning Modernity to the wall. If there is a defining characteristic to the age, it is petulant hubris. We believe in miracle diets, but not miracles; politicians declare their faith in the perfectibility of government, but not the perfection of the Almighty.

Delicious indeed (Hat tip:

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Alice Cooper on God and the devil

You couldn't believe in God without believing in the Devil. I always tell bands that the most dangerous thing you can do is to believe in the concept of the Devil or the concept of God, because you're not giving them full credit. When you believe in God, you've got to believe in the all-powerful God. He's not just God, He's the all-powerful God and He has total control over everyone's life. The Devil, on the other hand, is a real character that's trying his hardest to tear your life apart. If you believe that this is just mythology, you're a prime target because you know that's exactly what Satan wants: To be a myth. But he's not a myth, of this I'm totally convinced. More than anything in the world, I'm convinced of that.

Consumerism and the church.

Amy Scott, reflecting on the work of Rod Dreher, writes about consumerism and the church:
What does rejecting modern consumerism have to do with living Biblically? Just this: it is impossible to live a Biblical life while being “captives to the consumer culture.” It’s that easy– once you consider that Christians are called to be slaves to only one Master. It’s about being thoughtful, aware, and deliberate about our decisions. It’s about thinking through the consequences of our everyday choices. It’s about choosing how to live life, instead of just allowing “them” to tell you how to do it or just doing it because that is what we do. It is about fulfilling your purpose to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.
HT: Adrian Warnock.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Blessings of suffering

Is suffering really a gift to Christians? Kirk Wellum makes a strong case that it is:
Generally speaking, Christians understand that faith is a gift of God. It is something that we exercise, God does not do it for us, but we only do so by his grace and mercy. If left to ourselves we would never believe, not because we are missing some kind of faith gene but because we are morally and spiritual averse to God unless he touches our minds and hearts.

But how many Christians have thought seriously about the fact that suffering is also a gift of his grace! Today in some circles grace equals blessing upon blessing, pressed down, shaken together... you know the rest! Some even say that if Abraham and the children of Israel were blessed materially in Old Testament times how much more should us kids of the King be blessed now that we share in a new and better covenant.

But all of this is to grossly misunderstand the Scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments. Material blessings may be gifts of God but they may also be God's way of testing us or preparing those who are disobedience for a fall from which they will not recover.
Suffering as a gift? Seems like I've heard that somewhere before.

The problem with being a nice guy

Today's Christian Woman recently ran an interview with Paul Coughlin, author of No More Christian Nice Guy. So what's the problem with being a nice guy?
If by "nice" you mean a person who's gentle and patient, then there's nothing wrong with that. Those attributes are fruits of the Spirit. But oftentimes when someone is described as a "nice guy," it's not as it appears. Nice people are often passive; they're hiding behind that "niceness." Nice Guys figure, If I live small, my troubles will be few. They often go with the flow—not because they agree with you, but because they're afraid of conflict.

But as followers of Christ, we're supposed to be honest with others. We're supposed to be salt and light to those who don't know Jesus (Matthew 5:13-16). It's difficult to be salt and light when you think you've got to be agreeable all the time.

Amen. And Mr. Coughlin's thoughts tie in . . . uh, nicely with this post at Jollyblogger. The Coughlin interview is full of good stuff; so is the No More Christian Nice Guy web site.

Monday, April 24, 2006

More than "your own personal Jesus"

Paul Littleton is trying to find a deeper level of discipleship than "your own personal Jesus:"
Even Jesus' call to his disciples was not so much to have a "personal relationship" with Him - at least not in the sense that we think of "personal relationships" today. While He was calling them to be friends, He was calling them to learn from him. They were not being called as equals in the relationship. They weren't friends who shared equally in the friendship roles (though no doubt they were friends). All along they understood that Jesus had something to offer them and they had very little to offer in return.
True. And isn't that what grace is all about?

In the eyes of men or of God?

What should we do about churches full of hypocrites, especially when many of those hypocrites work in pulpits? Mark Lauterbach has written a hard-hitting post about hypocrisy and the Gospel:
Jesus spoke severely against hypocrisy. I think there is one reason -- we cannot be committed to creating a false impression of our goodness with others and simultaneously admit we are sinners before God. The Gospel destroys hypocrisy and frees us from the burden of being phony.
Mark shows how easily hypocrisy inflitrates the church and gives simple but deep-digging advice on killing hypocrisy (Thanks to both Eucatastrophe and Out of the Bloo for pointing me to Mark's article).

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Illustrations and the primacy of the text

Some of the most memorable preachers tell the best stories; Bob Russell and Will Willimon come to mind, for example. For me, though, extra-textual illustrations don't come easily. For years I struggled each week to come up with fresh illustrations. Lately I've been leaning toward "letting the text speak for itself," although I sometimes wonder if that approach doesn't come as much from laziness as a desire for textual primacy. With that it mind, I was pleased to find these words from Chuck Sackett in the April 18, 2006, issue of Preaching Now:
Our experience is that people tend to remember the images and stories we use to illustrate our 'points,' but rarely remember the point itself. Those writing about preaching have argued for the past several years that we should 'let the text win' in the dominant thought (big idea, point) and structure -- at least then people can come back to something of substance, even when they don't remember our sermon per se.

I'm suggesting that if the very images, metaphors and illustrations we use are driven by the text, what people remember will draw them closer to that substantive message than if they simply remember our stories. Nothing benefits the listener more than having their hearts and minds anchored in a Biblical text.

I'm not entirely convinced, but those ideas sound good to me. Care to share your thoughts?

Friday, April 21, 2006

Groothius on television and truth decay

Douglas Groothuis has posted a long excerpt about television from his book Truth Decay. It's strong stuff:
Television is an unreality appliance that dominates our mentality. We then take this unreality mentality and impose it on the rest of the real world. That is, we (mis)understand the world in terms of the mentality inherent to the form of communication that is television.
The excerpt is long (4400 words), but hard-hitting and highly engaging. Doug explains how television leads to truth decay and points out the relationship of images to idolatry. He also suggests ways to overcome the truth-decaying effects of television.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Praise God for the most unnatural of things

The resurrection is unlike anything in Nature. It is the most un-natural of events. If God is a great iconoclast then God wants to undo all of our idolatry. The resurrection is the [ultimate] inconoclastic event. Jesus makes a mess of all our categories, all our thinking, all our boxes of the way things are. He is new creation, new humanity, new life. Whatever we want Him to be like is an idol or an icon, merely an image. Our destiny, like Israel's, was "to be turned away from likenesses to the thing itself." Here is real life. Jesus' resurrected life is no mere patch on an old problem. He is not a fix. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one will come to the Father but through Him. Thank God that he is the Way and has provided a Way for all humanity to live. The most natural of things is death. May we embrace the Miraculous event of Jesus and be transformed in Him.

Ever see this?

Rick Davis asks, "Did you ever see an apple tree eat an apple?" The answer and its implications are worth a look.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

"Deed and state and consequences"

One of my long-term efforts in ministry is learning how to see the gospel in more than simply individualistic terms. Scot McKnight addresses that very issue in his recent blog post on sin and the Atonement. I haven't read enough of Scot's thoughts to know whether or not I agree with his atonement theory, but it's good to see him exploring the idea of sin as more than simply an individual problem.

Who's got the whole world in his hands?

Jim Martin has written a very readable post on control freaks and trusting God.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Idolatry of the suburbs

Drawing on the writing of David Matzko McCarthy, David Fitch blogs about the idolatry of the suburbs:
By idolizing the family, suburbanites may become focused on consuming more stuff to create the perfect home and family. There is nothing but contrived affection left to keep the home together. And children who learn they are the center of this universe from parents actually develop characters that believe they really are the center of the universe.

After decades of this suburban lifestyle America is left with families split by divorce, kids leaving in rebellion, and millions on various drugs to relieve the emptiness as the idolized family turns out to be a myth. Apart from the personal destruction the suburbs can bring, suburban isolation also poses a real problem for the spreading of the gospel.

How can Christians in the suburbs rise above that kind of idolatry? By practicing hospitality as "a central way of life for the spreading of the gospel."

More on Christ-centered preaching.

Although I don't like making mistakes, I'm happy to say I spoke too soon about Dan Cruver completing his series on Christ-centered preaching. Dan's still going strong with Part nine.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Unity, uniformity, and love

Mike Russell is one of the rare Christian bloggers who doesn't often color his writing with a favorite flavor of doctrine (unless, of course, pro-Middle-Earth is a theological camp). That's part of the reason he's worth paying attention to when he writes about John 13:35 and doctrinal divisiveness in the church:
We seldom have trouble loving those who subscribe to the same set of beliefs as we; we are challenged, though, when we encounter Christians who not only hold to different doctrines but seem to be able to defend and support them biblically. We can argue with their hermeneutics, perhaps, but these less-than-truth-knowing believers are difficult to love. Doctrines and beliefs contrary to our own can be unsettling and unnerving; we do not like them and do not like those who espouse them.

But Jesus calls us to love them just the same. This is no easy calling: I want to evaluate others according to my standards of truth, first judging whether or not they are worthy of my love. You know, the “pearls before swine” test.

Amen. By the way, another reason he's worth paying attention to is that Mike's an excellent writer with valuable ideas on uniformity, unity, and love.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Preaching with humility

Jim Wallis shares some honest thoughts on how difficult humility is for preachers or those involved in the "prophetic vocation" (free registration required for link access):
When we're always calling other people to repent and change, it's not always easy to hear that message for ourselves.

I want to suggest that there is a real and very deep tension between humility and the prophetic vocation. And most prophetic Christians I have known - present company and preacher included - are really not very good at humility. . . .

How do we preach like Amos - "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty river!" - without becoming self-righteous ourselves? I think that is very difficult. Perhaps Micah had it right: "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"
The answer? Grace.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

A key to real transformation

Earlier this year Rick Warren wrote on preaching as it relates to my favorite verses in the NT. Here are a couple of highlights:
Behind every sin is a lie I believe
At the moment you sin, you’re doing what you think is the best thing for you. You say, “I know God says to do that, but I'm going to do this.” What are you doing? You believe a lie. Behind every sin is a lie. Start looking for the lies behind why people in your church act the way they do. When you start dealing with those, you’ll start seeing change.

If you want to change people radically and permanently, you have to do it the New Testament way. You have to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Just telling people, “You need to stop smoking … You need to stop doing this … You need to stop doing that …” isn’t going to work. You’ve got to help them change their belief pattern.
I struggle in my preaching to help members of the congregation not only to behave themselves, but to be transformed. Changing our beliefs--so that we really believe what God says about himself and us--is a critical step of that transformation.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Christ-centered preaching links

Dan Cruver has completed his series on Christ-centered preaching. You can access all eight installments on this page.

The power of authoritative preaching

Here's another worthwhile post from Jollyblogger, wherein David shows that "authoritative preaching can and does connect with emerging generations. And it produces wonderful results."

The orthodoxy of niceness

David Wayne, looking at a recent online doctrinal debate, observes that in some circles, at least, being nice is more important than being orthodox. David is concerned that the "reigning orthodoxy of niceness" is discouraging healthy doctrinal debate within the church.

In this month's Gospel Adocate (available in hardcopy only), Charles Hodge shares similar ideas:
Jesus is the greatest person who ever lived. Our culture does everything it can to make Him nice. But they cannot rope Him in. Nice people do not get themselves crucified! Jesus called Pharisees snakes, hypocrites, whited sepulchres full of dead men's bones. Those don't sound nice! Jesus did not behave!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

God the iconoclast

A prayer (and an essay) from Craig Williams: "Come and deliver us from our stayed and contrived opinions of You."

Practical article on expository preaching

More and more I value expository preaching over topical sermons. Here's a fine little article by John Samson on the hows and whys of expository sermons (HT: Stronger Church).

Monday, April 10, 2006

Series on Christ-centered preaching

Dan Cruver is doing a series at eucatastrophe on Christ-centered preaching. The posts are brief but full of wisdom. Here's a sample, in which Dan quotes from Todd Wilken's A Listener's Guide to the Pulpit (link to .pdf file):

"A sermon that mentions Jesus but still has you driving the verbs is still about you, not Jesus. The Gospel is all about what Jesus does for you. A sermon about what you do for Jesus isn’t the Gospel. For the Gospel to be preached, Jesus must be driving the verbs.”

"The Gospel isn’t Jesus your example, educator, life-coach or therapist. The Gospel is Jesus, your crucified and risen Savior from sin and death. So, listen for the Scriptural verbs of salvation: The Jesus Who lived for you, suffered for yu, was crucified for you, died for you, and rose again for you. The Jesus Who forgives you, redeems you, reconciles you and has mercy on you.”

Amen. You can find posts in the series here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

That's a keeper

Today I found these words of wisdom at Brad Hightower's blog:
Finding fault is like looking for sand at the beach.
Maybe you've run across that simile before, but I hadn't.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Discipleship is not an individual matter

Dan Edelen reminds us that there is 'No "I" in "Church"':
Almost all the language of the NT books following the Gospels accounts for a group, rather than individuals. Paul writes primarily to churches, and when he does write to individuals (such as Timothy), it's mostly on how to care for a group of people. In Revelation, the Lord addresses churches when He reveals His praise and His correction. Consistently, the language of the NT possesses a bent toward the group.
In Western culture, I think, it's hard to overstate the importance of understanding the corporate nature of NT language for accurately interpreting the Scriptures. Yet Christians, especially those of us in the United States, seem to overlook this fact, as Dan points out:
Built on the idea of the power of the individual, America has fashioned an ideal lifestyle that says, "I can have what I want as long as I work for it." The American Dream has little place for others, though, just my dream at the expense of anyone who should get in my way. Sadly, this American rugged individualism is at the core of everything we do. We abide by that unwritten rule, living with an understanding that cooperation will get us our basic needs, but if we truly want the best stuff, it's every man for himself.
Dan's article is rather long, but it's worth reading.

Addendum: This post was already in the queue when I read Dan's latest post, about my current situation. I haven't yet responded to Dan (other than here). I simply don't know what to say, other than to weep and give thanks to God. I'm in the process of doing a post on God's wonderful provision. I hope to share it soon. All glory to God.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

"This is the best place in the world"

Addressing preachers, Ray Pritchard shares some lessons learned along the way (HT: Stronger Church). Among them are these gems:
An earnest, godly young man shared with me his displeasure over the church politics he had observed first hand. "Why would anyone want to go into the ministry when you see how churches treat people?"

My answer was simple. You go into the ministry because God called you, and you stay there because the joy of seeing lives changed by the power of God outweighs the trouble you will inevitably face. It's a matter of relative values. I am not "down" on the local church in any way, shape or form. The church of Jesus Christ is still the best hope of the world. Though filled with fallible men and women who make many mistakes (leaders included), the church is the body of Christ on earth, the temple of the Holy Spirit, the pillar and ground of the truth, and the guardian of the Good News of Jesus. The church (not the building or the organization, but the people as the redeemed children of God) is the place where sinners are saved, broken people are made whole, and the life of Jesus is made visible to the watching world.

If you focus on the problems of the local church, you'll probably stop going and you'll certainly resign from the ministry. But if you look at what God is doing, you'll smile and say, "This is the best place in the world."
I agree with Ray that the joy of seeing lives changed outweighs the grief that comes with the job of congregational preaching. It might also be good to add that we keep preaching because we would be disobeying God if we didn't.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Readings on biblical authority

Paul Littleton has gathered a list of links to articles on inerrancy, infallibility, and biblical authority. I haven't followed all the links yet, but the ones I did look strong.

Dangers of believing in a "Christian nation"

Out of Ur has published an excerpt of Gregory Boyd's book, Myth of a Christian Nation, and it sounds outstanding. Here's an excerpt from the excerpt:
The myth of America as a Christian nation, with the church as its guardian, has been, and continues to be, damaging both to the church and to the advancement of God’s kingdom. Among other things, this nationalistic myth blinds us to the way in which our most basic and most cherished cultural assumptions are diametrically opposed to the kingdom way of life taught by Jesus and his disciples.

Instead of living out the radically countercultural mandate of the kingdom of God, this myth has inclined us to Christianize many pagan aspects of our culture. Instead of providing the culture with a radically alternative way of life, we largely present it with a religious version of what it already is. The myth clouds our vision of God’s distinctly beautiful kingdom and thereby undermines our motivation to live as set-apart (holy) disciples of this kingdom

Even more fundamentally, because this myth links the kingdom of God with certain political stances within American politics, it has greatly compromised the holy beauty of the kingdom of God to non-Christians. This myth harms the church’s primary mission.
Amen, amen and amen.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Word, not the world

In his latest Daily Encouragement, John Telfer Brown shares some ideas on the power of example in Christian leadership:
I was reading through the book of Acts last week, and I realised that Paul was brilliant when it came to picking leaders for his Church plants. He was the perfect example to each and every one of them. He didn’t ask them to go to Bible College or seminary to get trained, he didn’t ask them to get a diploma or a degree, he simply asked them to imitate him, as he imitated Christ! . . . .

Paul looked for Godly men and put them into positions of leadership, and then gave them the whole counsel of God, with tears in his eyes. It’s time to get the world out of our Churches, and start looking to the word of God, for our examples in training leaders. Just thinking about it, didn’t Jesus do the same thing?
That's a good distinction: the Word, not the world. If we have any experience with Christian leaders, haven't we seen leadership based more on the world (viz., business practices) than the Word? Let's remember that our calling is not to be conformed, but transformed.

Ten books for preachers, part two

Claude Mariottini has posted the rest of his list of Ten Books Pastors Should Read. It reflects both Dr. Mariottini's academic eye and his practical heart for the church. Before reading the second part, please have a look at part one, along with an earlier post on pastors and their libraries.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Meditations on love

God’s wisdom often comes unexpectedly. Some of that wisdom recently came my way in Frederick Buechner’s little book, Wishful Thinking. The book is easy to read with its half-page, lexical entries on matters of faith. As I was preparing this week’s morning sermon, Buechner’s words on love really hit home:
In the Christian sense, love is not primarily an emotion, but an act of the will. When Jesus tells us to love our neighbors, he is not telling us to love them in the sense of responding to them with a cozy emotional feeling. You can as easily produce a cozy emotional feeling on demand as you can a yawn or a sneeze. On the contrary, he is telling us to love our neighbors in the sense of being willing to work for their well-being even if it means sacrificing our own well-being to that end, even if it means sometimes just leaving them alone. Thus in Jesus’ terms, we can love our neighbors without necessarily liking them. In fact liking them may stand in the way of loving them by making us overprotective sentimentalists instead of reasonably honest friends.

When Jesus talked to the Pharisees, he didn’t say, “There, there. Everything’s going to be all right.” He said, “You brood of vipers! how can you speak good when you are evil!” (Matthew 12:34). And he said that to them because he loved them.

This does not mean that liking may not be a part of loving, only that it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes liking follows on the heels of loving. It is hard to work for people’s well-being very long without coming in the end to rather like them too.

Excerpt from Wishful Thinking by Frederich Buechner, used by permission