Mocking the Toilet Habits of the Progressive gods

Such a good article!

Stephen McAlpine

…27 At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”28 And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them.29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention. 

…36 And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word.37 Answer me, O Lord

View original post 1,316 more words

The Mighty Hand of God

   jesushand_thumb[1]            Two Hollywood movies came out this year depicting God’s mighty hand. I haven’t seen either  one, but I know the storylines. The first was Noah. We know how God showed his mighty hand in that era of history. The second is Exodus: Gods and Kings. It’s not Charleton Heston, but Christian Bale. We know how this turned out too. The intriguing thing about “God’s mighty hand” is that in both episodes of redemptive history, God’s hand has two sides to it: one in judgment; the other in salvation.

            The phrase itself appears seventeen times: sixteen in the Old Testament but only once in the New Testament. Peter used the phrase in his first letter to the exiles (i.e., Christians) to exhort his audience to fulfill their high calling in Christ even under the pressures of suffering and persecution. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (5:6, 7).

Usually, especially as far as Hollywood is concerned, God’s mighty hand makes for some spectacular storytelling and some jaw-dropping computer generated graphics. But an examination of the biblical uses of the phrase show what “he cares for you” has to do with “the mighty hand of God.”

Yes, God’s mighty hand was at work pouring down rain for forty days and sending water up from the great depths. But God’s mighty hand was strengthening Noah to build that massive ark of safety. Yes, God’s mighty hand brought ten plagues on Egypt, defeated her ten most powerful gods and drowned the Egyptian army in the Red Sea. But God took the children of Israel by their hand and by his mighty hand led them from slavery into freedom and a new relationship with the God.

That’s the amazing thing about God’s mighty hand for the humble – we get his face, too. God’s mighty hand reveals many things about God. First, his uniqueness; there is no other god like him (Deut 4:34).

Second, his hand only begins to show his greatness implying there is more of himself to reveal and do (Deut 3:24).

Third, his mighty hand is the subject matter of spiritual instruction in the home (Deut 6:21).

Fourth, it reveals his mercy, pure and simple (Deut 7:8).

Fifth, it is a means of comfort in times of fear of the future (Deut 7:19).

Sixth, it is motivation for love and obedience (Deut 11:2).

Seventh, it is the basis of tithing and generosity (Deut 26:1-11).

Eighth, it will affect non-believers who hear about it to seek God’s help furthering God’s reputation in the world (1 Kgs 8:42; 2 Chron 6:32).

Ninth, God’s mighty hand shapes his people into his image. God delivers, gathers and judges his people to remove idolatry from their hearts, and afterwards he renews them in a deeper relationship with God.

Tenth, God’s mighty hand is a reason to worship God (Deut 5:15). This is the only mention of God’s mighty hand in the Ten Commandments.

Have you considered how God’s mighty hand has been at work in your life? (See Eph 2:10!)

 

Jeremiah’s School of Preaching for Preachers

foolishness-of-preaching[1]

John Newton wrote a letter to a minister who was about to publish an article criticizing a fellow minister for “lack of orthodoxy.” The minister asked Newton’s advice about the article. Newton gave his friend three pieces of advice. The writer should consider the opponent and deal with him gently for the Lord’s sake, if he was a believer (2 Sam 18:5). If an unbeliever to deal with him graciously so that God might “give him repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth” (2 Tim 2:25).

Next, Newton recommended taking into consideration the various segments of the public who might read the article. There will be Christians and unbelievers; both will respond differently and not always kindly.

Finally, Newton wanted the writer to consider himself in the battle. He wanted to keep his friend from being hurt by the very thing he thought a remedy. He warned of how Satan might try to resist, obstruct and harm his own communion with God.

The basic message of Newton to his friend was to write in such as way as to bring glory to God. “If we act in a wrong spirit, we shall bring little glory to God, do little good to ur fellow creatures and procure neither honor nor comfort to ourselves . . . Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may he give you a witness in many hearts that you are taught of God, and favored with the unction of his Holy Spirit.”

Confrontational pastors (sometimes called polemic preachers) have a weighty spiritual responsibility. By nature, they will cause controversy. In our day of religious tolerance, the only intolerable thing left is to accuse anyone of having or delivering a false message. Down through the history of the church, pastors who have confronted false teachers and their teachings have sometimes done so in a harsh tone. Think of Luther or Calvin and you get the picture. Men passionate about the gospel and upholding biblical truth did so because the stakes of God’s glory were central and man’s final destiny decisive.

Granted, at times their diatribes were just that. However, they made significant points in their arguments defending the truth against those who despised it. Their target audience was believers vulnerable to deception. The tradition goes a long way back to both Old and New Testaments. Take Jude:

 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (v. 4) . . . just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire (v.7) . . . But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively (v. 10) . . . Woe to them! (v. 11).

I love Jude’s sustained intolerance of false teachers as he identifies their character traits:

 These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever . . . These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage. (vv. 12-13, 16)

Probably not the thing you’d hear from the pastor of your church on Sunday as he warns about a nationally known false teacher!

Why did they do it? Because they loved God’s people who were vulnerable to deception. They also loved those who were not God’s people because they needed to hear the truth about the Living God whose words are life. Since it is that God who speaks “holy words,” there’s no place else to go that one could hear them.[1]

One thing you can learn from those who confront false teachers and teaching is what they value. It’s the flipside of the coin. As they denounce one thing, they uphold a noble commitment to another thing.

The OT prophet Jeremiah was like that. God called him to denounce the false prophets in his day who failed in their obligations to God and his people. Instead of preaching that would turn them away from sin and toward God in faith, they soothed the worried conscience that sinned with comforting words: “peace, peace” they’d say when God was clearly angry with his people for ignoring him.

This passage in Jeremiah 23 reminded me how important preachers are in the life of a church. The weekly exposition of God’s word may seem routine to some, but it is how God speaks to his people through his holy words handled faithfully by a faithful servant. Jeremiah’s opposition to the message of the false prophets reveals God’s approval for true shepherds. God’s people grow into Christlikness by his word preached, taught, read, listened to, discussed, memorized and meditated upon. There is no other way to be transformed except through the word’s Spirit illuminated and empowered word. It’s faithful preaching is central to the spiritual faithfulness of a local church.

In the next few blogs, I want to unpack at least ten preaching lessons from Jeremiah’s school for preachers and preaching.

Stay tuned. And pray for your pastor, his study time and his preaching!

 

[1]Jeremiah 23:9-40; 6:68, 69

 

 

‘Tis Wonderful to Me

When you read through the Gospel of John the next time, stop and reflect on the scene at the cross. In that painful, lonely, abandoned moment, the Son of God, is drinking deeply the cup of God’s wrath against our sin. Who can possibly imagine the hellish torment that Jesus suffered? It seems that words to describe that event might even be presumptuous.

Then pause for a moment longer to meditate on the brief scene between Jesus and the few who are present with him in his death. His mother is there with her sister, grieving as they watch Jesus die. Mary Magdalene is there and John — what might they be thinking? Probably about their loss; their grief; their empty futures.

In the middle of this cosmic battle for the redemption of souls, Jesus finds the strength to care for his mother’s future circumstances. He knows that the world is about to be flooded with mercy and the eternal destinies of millions of millions weighs on Jesus’ mind and shoulders. Yet, he finds the need of his mother and her friends too important to overlook.

In a commentary by Bruce Milne, a former pastor, was included this poem by Amy Carmichael (1867-1951), missionary to India, who might very well have lingered at this scene when she penned these words:

Lord of the brooding blue

Of pleasant summer skies,

Lord of each little bird that through

The clear air flies,

‘Tis wonderful to me

That I am loved by Thee.

 

Lord of the blinding heat,

Of mighty wind and rain,

The city’s crowded street,

Desert and peopled plain,

‘Tis wonderful to me

That I am loved by Thee.

 

Lord of night’s jeweled roof,

Day’s various tapestry,

Lord of the warp and woof

Of all that yet shall be,

‘Tis wonderful to me

That I am loved by Thee. 

 

Lord of my merry cheers,

My grey that turns to gold,

And my most private tears

And comforts manifold,

‘Tis wonderful to me

That I am loved by Thee.

As Milne points out, at the supreme moment of all history, Jesus revealed the heart of his Father in very personal ways.

Be of good cheer! ‘Tis wonderful news that he loves you!

 

Verifying the Mission of the Church

imagesCAEHGGQL

Two handed gospel proclamation

Lately, I’ve been wondering about the “thing” that authenticates the mission of the church. I want to know what the church I serve can do to reach our community with the message of Christ. Was there some method we were missing? Some program to “bring them in”? What events might we do to attract people to our church. We have a beautiful building in a spectacular location with a view of ht Rocky Mountains.

Well, I thought an answer shouldn’t be too hard to determine because Jesus said it and prayed for it — unity among Christians who really love the way Jesus loved.

Then while studying John 17, the great “high priestly prayer” of Jesus, I came across this comment by pastor Bruce Milne and author of the Message of John (from The Bible Speaks Today series edited by the late John Stott). Milne’s comment quite literally “wowed” me.

[The mission] of the gospel has two hands. The ‘first hand’ is that of proclamation, the communicating to the world of the revelation of the FAther in the Son, climaxed by his self-sacrifice for the world’s sin . . . . But the mission has a ‘second hand.’ It is visible as well as verbal, relational as well as audible.

Evangelism is a community act. It is the proclamation of the church’s relationships as well as its convictions. The preacher is only the spokesperson of the community. The gospel proclaimed from the pulpit is either confirmed, and hence immeasurably enhanced, or it is contradicted, and hence immeasurably weakened, by the quality of the relationships in the pews. In this sense every Christian is a witness. Every time we gather together we either strengthen or weaken the evangelistic appeal of our church by the quality of our relationships with our fellow church members.

The biggest barriers to effective evangelism according to the prayer of Jesus are not so much outdated methods, or inadequate presentations of the gospel, as realities like gossip, insensitivity, negative criticism, jealousy, backbiting, an unforgivng spirit, a ‘root of bitterness,’ failure to appreciate others, self-preoccupation, greed, selfishness and every other form of lovelessness. These are the squalid enemies of effective evangelism which render the gospel fruitless and send countless thousands into eternity without a Saviour. ‘The glorious gospel of the blessed God,’ which is committed to our trust, is being openly contradicted and veiled by the sinful relationships within the community which is commissioned to communicate it. We need look no further to understand why the church’s impact on the community is frequently so minimal in spite of the greatness of our message. We are fighting with only one hand! (pages 250-51).

Like I said, Wow!

How Important are Christian Words?

"Words, words, words."

“Words, words, words.”

The email came back with four words that jumped off the page: “Nothing preachy; nothing churchy.”

The email was from a church to our church. The content had to do with a consortium of churches organizing for an outreach to the city. The outreach was an Easter egg hunt for children at a local park.

An Easter outreach.

Easter.

The distinctive claim of Christianity, indeed the absolute center of the gospel, is that Christ has risen from the grave, overruling death, hell, sin and the grave. Without this miraculous blessing, we would be the most miserable people on the planet. We wouldn’t have Easter without Christmas, but the point of Christmas is Easter. The point of the Incarnation is the Resurrection.

The words “incarnation,” and “resurrection” aren’t just words to mark the seasons of the year. They represent massive doctrinal truths on which Christianity stands. They are as important as “predestination,” “redemption,” “justification,” “sanctification,” “glorification,” “repentance,” and “faith.” Can you imagine a conversation about the gospel without intelligently using such words?

Why are words so important to the church? Recently, I read this from a David Mathis blog:

Before printing it and binding it and covering it with leather, consider the concept of God’s word. That God speaks. He reveals himself to us. He communicates himself for us. His word, as John Frame says, is ‘his powerful, authoritative self-expression.’ Just as the words of a friend are central in revealing his person to us, so it is with God.

When God speaks, he uses words to tell us what’s on his mind (Heb 1:1-4). He sustains us, and all things, by his word. Everything began with words, and everything will culminate in God speaking. His words surround us all day long: “Day to day pours out speech . . . There is no speech, nor are there words whose voice is not heart. Their voice goes out through all the earth and their words to the end of the world.” (Ps 19:2, 3). That’s a good thing because we are flooded by unimportant, trivial and meaningless words all day long, too. Your radio station’s four minute commercial break speaks those words.

Christians are people who read the word. We have Bibles that tells us what was on God’s mind at various points in salvation history. The Bible’s greatest word is Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. The words that Jesus spoke were and are “life and spirit.” The words that we speak can build up, tear down, give life or death, be a tree of life or a poison to the soul.

No doubt, we live in a digital visual age. Yet, as I look at this screen, I see words. These words originated in my heart in sometimes inarticulate or confusing ways, travel “up” to my brain where one side (I’m never sure if it’s the right or left) formulated words to give expression to (one hopes) articulate thoughts and arguments. Out came words. Sometimes they poured out; sometimes they failed me.

Words communicate more than information. They convey meaning. We are meaning-making people and we explain the meaning of our worlds with words. Words influence others and shape cultures. If you live in Minnesota, you know the meaning of “Uff-da” when uttered by an exasperated mom of four toddlers. If you’re in the bowels of Manhattan and you overhear someone say “fuggedaboutit,” you know it’s time to move on. If you ever had a Jewish friend say “Oy gevalt” you know you are about to be the recipient of some nasty kvetching.

These words, like many others, arise from a culture, a worldview and the words sustain both.

So, when I read that our church people had to avoid “preachy” or “churchy” words, I pondered a larger question: what might happen to our distinctive worldview and particular culture; and the church is a peculiar people, isn’t it? “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9).

That is not to say that we should talk to each other or unbelievers in KJVese. After all, we have newer translations that make the Bible more accessible than Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Yet, even in the new translations, you will still find words like “predestination” or “redemption.”

Distinctly Christian words rescue people from darkness and bring them into light (a distinctive and useful Christian metaphor for salvation), and shape a distinctly Christian culture and the unique people of that culture. The church has conversations about sanctification and holiness and sin and repentance because we really live in the meanings of these words every day. They are a necessary part of our common experience as God’s people.

So, when I hear that Christians are invited to join an outreach effort prompted by the most distinctive event in salvation history, but are to “stifle it” (in the words of the late Archie Bunker), I wonder what we might have left to say? Surely, the word “Easter” is not a biblical word, but resurrection is; substitutionary sacrifice is; atonement is. Are not these important words to explain the meaning of Easter? Yes, they need further explanation to unbelievers (and sometimes to believers!). But the further explanations open up the privilege of unpacking (in words) the gospel that saves precious souls.

 

“Using religion to dictate legislation is un-American”

Silverman

Do you remember the song, “One of Us?” by Joan Osborne. In it she sang, “What if God was one of us; Just a slob like one of us; Just a stranger on the bus; Trying to make His way home?” I suppose we’d have to answer, “Whew that was close. I thought he was great. Guess he’s not great” (to borrow a phrase from the late Christopher Hitchens).

Sarah Silverman is the latest “gone viral” actress/singer to reduce Jesus Christ to “just a slob like one of us.” Her video goal is to convince us that Jesus is “on her side” in the keep abortion legal, safe and prolific debate. Jesus appears to her one night and asks her to carry his message of love to the world. Then they just hang out, eat some popcorn and watch a marathon of NCIS episodes. (Jesus is played by NCIS actor Michael Weatherly).

Sarah, in a contemplative metaphysical moment asks Jesus when life begins. He cleverly replies, “At forty.” But seriously he point out that a fetus is not a person; people are people but people who believe that a fetus is a person are people who need to be loved too. Sarah is sobered. She thanks him for the reminder. Then goes on a viral rant about the closing of abortion clinics in Texas if Gov. Rick Perry “gets his way.”

There’s nothing new here. Same old the liberal hash.

But what struck me is that the video is a fresh reminder that we live in a day, just like Jesus’ day in the first century when people want to domesticate him. Not that Sarah Silverman or Michael Weatherly seem to believe in him as the Savior. He’s just a political prop to jab at those of us who do. The box people wanted for Jesus then and today is a small one marked “Safe.” Just a slob like one of us.

When Jesus ministered in Israel, he was the source of great consternation and division. People couldn’t figure him out and so were constantly trying to put him into one box or another. They built boxes labeled prophet, or miracle worker, or pretty good teacher, or at least a good man. Their boxes were much too small. Some even hinted (under their breath, of course) that he might just be the Messiah. But no one dared say it out loud because the consequences were just too costly (see John 12:42).

Jesus resisted all efforts to being boxed. He wanted to be known for who he is at his core, namely the Son of God who was sent by the Father to do his will. Period.

Jesus caused conflict and division then just as he does today. The human response is the same – tame him. As C. S. Lewis so famously said, he won’t be tamed because he is not safe. But he is good.

A New Year’s Resolution: Pray for your Pastor

large_praying_handsap-pre-ci-a-tion – n. 1. Recognition of the quality, value, significance, or magnitude of. 2. A judgment or opinion, esp. a favorable one. 3. An expression of gratitude. 4. Awareness or perceptions, esp. of aesthetic qualities or values. 5. An increase in value or price. (Webster’s II: New College Dictionary, Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1995).

October, known as Pastor’s Appreciation Month, is passed and you might be wondering what to “get” for your pastor this year? Here’s a suggestion: don’t get him anything, do something for him. Pray. Pray for him, his family and his ministry because it directly affects you. (If you don’t believe me read Hebrews 13:17).

Speaking candidly as a pastor who has received numerous cards and handwritten notes and email expressions of appreciation in October and generous gifts from grateful people at Christmas, it is becoming increasingly important to me that people spend time at the throne of grace for me.

If you are a church member and you want to appreciate your pastor for the next eleven months, and do yourself some good in the meantime, pray for him. Let me let you in on a little secret. Any pastor worth his salt (or salary) will tell you that prayer from those to whom he ministers is a great comfort.

What caused me to think of this was the biography of Charles Simeon (1750-1836) who was vehemently opposed by the church (Holy Trinity, Cambridge) to which he was assigned as a young man. He endured twelve years of opposition but never complained and remained steadfast in the ministry of the word. Some of the quotes below will give you insight into this remarkable pastor’s spiritual life. Use them to consider how to pray for your pastor from head to toe:

His mind

Your pastor’s mind is one of his “tools” for biblical exposition. But more than that, his mind is also in need of the Spirit’s renewal! His mind is the target of the enemy, too. Just like you, his mind needs renewing in the truths of Scripture (Rom 12:1-2).

Simeon wrote: “In the beginning of my inquiries I said to myself, ‘I am a fool; of that I am quite certain.’ One thing I know assuredly, that in religion of myself I know nothing. I do not therefore sit down to the perusal of Scripture in order to impose a sense on the inspired writers, but to receive one, as they give it me. I pretend (sc. claim) not to teach them, I wish like a child to be taught by them.”[1]

The life of the mind was important to Simeon: “There is nothing in the whole universe to be compared with the scriptures of truth, nothing that will so enrich the mind, nothing that will so benefit the soul. To treasure them up in our minds should be our daily and most delightful employment. Not a day should pass without adding to their blessed store and not only in memory and mind, but in heart and soul.”[2]

His eyes

There’s lots of things to see in this world, but his eyes need God’s protection from “worthless things” (Ps 101:3; 119:37). Pray for him that he will long to see God’s salvation (Ps 119:127).

His ears

Our world is filled with sounds. A pastor hears many things, both good and bad. Pray that he will have ears that hear the word of God carefully (Ps 44:1; 78:1). Pray that his ears never grow dull to biblical truth (Matt 13:15, 16; 11:15). Pray that God’s ear will be open to his cries (Ps 130:2).

His mouth

Pastors preach. They must think, create words and communicate them to you. Pray that God will use him as his mouthpiece of wisdom for your good (Ps 37:30). If your pastor can sing, pray that his mouth will be filled with a new song of praise (Ps 40:3; 51:15). Even if he can’t sing, pray that his heart will be filled with melodies to the Lord (Eph 5:19). Pray that God’s Word will taste like sweet honey to his mouth (Ps 119:103).

From Simeon: “Repentance is in every view so desirable, so necessary, so suited to honor God that I seek that above all. The tender heart, the broken and contrite spirit are to me far above all the joys that I could ever hope for in this vale of tears. I long to be in my proper place, my hand on my mouth, and my mouth in the dust . . . . I feel this to be safe ground. Here I cannot err . . . . I am sure that whatever God may despise (and I fear that there is much which passes under the notion of religious experience the will not stand very high in his estimation), he will not despise the broken and contrite heart. I love the picture of the heavenly hosts, both saints and angels: all of them are upon their faces before the throne. I love the Cherubim with their wings before the faces and their fee . . . .Go me I feel that this is the proper posture now, and will be to all eternity.”

His heart

Jesus said that out of the heart, the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). Pray that his heart will remain steadfast for the work given him by the Lord (Ps 57:7; 108:1). We all have experienced divided hearts, loving the Lord one day and far from him the next. Pray that your pastor, who also experiences these temptations, will be given a “united heart” (Ps 88:1). Pray that he will rejoice (Ps 19:8) and meditate in pleasing ways before the Lord (Ps 19:14).

Pray that your pastor will have the heart of a disciple. Simeon wrote: “The attainment of divine knowledge we are directed to combine a dependence on God’s Spirit with our own researches. Let us then not presume to separate what God has thus united.”[3]

His hands

Hands are for working. We use them every day, all day. Pray that your pastor’s hands are clean and his heart pure (Ps 24:4). Pray that he will take time for prayer and worship (Pss 28:2; 63:4; 143:6). Pray that God will give him courage and strength for his work (Luke 9:62). Pray that he clings to Christ (Ps 119:31).

Simeon wrote: “Standing as I do on the very brink and precipice of the eternal world, I desire nothing so much as a broken and contrite spirit. . . . I hang upon the Savior, as actually perishing without his unbounded mercy and unintermitted care. I look to him as the very chief of sinners; and in this frame of mind I find perfect peace . . . . this is ‘the religion of a sinner at the foot of the cross.’”[4]

His feet

Typically, biblical writers use feet as a metaphor for our conduct in the world. Your pastor needs prayer so that his feet won’t slip from faithfulness to God (Ps 17:5; 18:33, 36; 73:2). Pray that he is guarded and guided from evil (Ps 119:101). Pray that God’s word will be a lamp to his feet (Ps 119:105).

Merry Christmas!

 

 


[1]Charles Simeon, Evangelical Preaching (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1990), xxxii. John Stott, who is reported to have patterned his life and ministry after Simeon’s, wrote the “Introduction” to this volume of sermons.

[2]Simeon, Preaching, xxxvi

[3]Simeon, Preaching, xxxvi

[4]Simeon, Preaching, xl-xli.

What’s scarier than Halloween?

Scarier than halloweenThere is a bumper sticker that you may have seen on cars around your town. It’ something of a prayer that says, “Jesus save me from your followers.” Let’s be honest. The sad truth is that some of Jesus’ followers do reflect on him poorly. On the other hand, poor followers don’t mean Christianity is bunk. Let every man be a liar, God remains true – with a capital “T.”

And God’s Truth, if Susan Brooks Thistlewaite, Professor of Theology and past President of Chicago Theological Seminary, is scarier than All Hallow’s Eve (see her editorial at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/wp/2013/10/28/five-christian-theologies-scarier-than-halloween-2/). Ms. Thistlewaite, also a frequent editorialist for the Washington Post’s “On Faith” column, lists five Christian theologies that are more frightening than Halloween. She admits that Halloween isn’t scary now because it has been substantially tamed by “Gothic and horror literature like Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.” But if you “want to be frightened this week” take a look at some Christian teachings “that actually are scary.”

What scares Ms. Thistlewaite are these five “theological themes:” Christian dominionism, hell and damnation, women submitting to husbands, creation science, and God’s hatred of gays.

An appropriate sigh here.

In her view, these theologies are about power and manipulation, anti-science ignorance, male privilege and abuse, and (she suspects) the cause of the recent government shutdown.

Ms. Thistlewaite asserts that Christian dominionism was the theology behind the shutdown. Does she really expect us to believe that there are so many Christians in the House and the Senate that they arm-wrestled the government into a shutdown? Or that it wasn’t really a chasm-wide divide of ideologies and maneuvering for partisan power? No, she insists; it’s the ‘vast right-wing Christian theologian’s” conspiring together.

The actual theology to which she refers is called “Christian Reconstructionism.” Ms. Thistlewaite must have read Deborah Caldwell’s Huffington Post Religion page editorial that creates suspicions and conspiratorial theories of collusions between Tea Partiers, the GOP and a minority wing of the Protestant church intent on ruling America by laws from Leviticus. Ms. Caldwell uses the hackneyed tactic of guilt by association and then asks, “What are we to make of all this?” She answers later, “I don’t know.” So much for unbiased journalism. It’s enough to just throw some meat to the dogs. (See the Caldwell article at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deborah-caldwell/christian-dominionism-debt-default-_b_4097017.html).

Hell and damnation, with its fiery hot threats of demons waiting to catch sinners hung over an abyss is scary because it’s about the abusive use of ecclesiastical power as “a club to manipulate people, producing true horrors instead of faith journeys.” (She would despise Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” as a way to “create and sustain ‘hell on earth.’”) Hell contradicts God’s love and mercy. It’s chic to jettison any talk on hell these days. All people and dogs “go to heaven and look down on us approvingly.” I agree, the doctrine of hell is scary. God intended the place called hell for those who reject his Son. Therefore, hell has at least two purposes, both good news. One is that hell points us to the place of rescue from it. Trust in Jesus Christ is for anyone convinced that they deserve God’s rejection for rejecting God’s Son. Hell is also a place for the execution of God’s justice in the history of humankind. Who is really opposed to rescue and justice?

According to Ms. Thistlewaite, the submission of women to male authority always ends in physical abuse based on the “just battering” tradition of violence against women by their husbands. The “front door of such a ‘religious’ home becomes a doorway to violence.” I’ve been in plenty of those “religious” homes where strong and convinced women with sound Christian theological backbones gladly receive a worthy husband’s authority as a great joy. I actually live with such a woman. She is strong theologically and convinced of God’s truth and even when I fail to live up to my calling as a Christian husband, she respects as well as corrects me. And on top of that, by God’s grace we raised two daughters with the same backbone. It is a convenient target to say that Christian women have been battered into submission. The ones I know have not. They find God’s design for their function in marriage. The function of woman makes her no less important or equal before God as his image-bearer any more than the function of a janitorial engineer makes him or her less important or valuable than the company CEO. They are equal as people created in God’s image, functioning in different ways. The women I know see their functions as a way to fulfill God’s commands to them to serve with their husbands as the vice-regents God intended. The misguided notion of Ms. Thistlewaite is that battering and violence are the same thing as submission. I wonder if she thinks this way when she submits to the speed limit laws of her town.

Creation science is scary because it is theology not real science. While I have some quibbles with the way the Bible is used to prove science (the opening chapters of Genesis are not Moses’ scientific lecture about the creation of the universe but rather a revelation of the Who behind the what and the power of God to create something so massively wonderful.) My only question to Ms. Thistlewaite here would be this: “Is the theory of evolution real science or theory masquerading as a theological truth?” To my knowledge, “theory” still precedes “of evolution” because there has been no definitive proof of the origins of man as Darwin and subsequent Darwinians have taught.

And the biggie: “God hates gays.” This is the ultimate “scary dangerous” homophobic Christian theology. It is widely assumed that gay-bashing is a Christian thing. Christians are the intolerant ones, the unloving ones. After all, who should tell us who we are to love or what we are to do with our bodies? Well, the god that Ms. Thistlewaite cites is none other than the “State.” She writes, the “states are making progress on passing marriage equality.” Make no mistake, Ms. Thistlewaite has a god to which she bows and demands all others to worship – the State. The State defines marriage, not the God of the Bible.

At the end of her article, Ms. Thistlewaite writes, “What really scares me, not only this week but all year through, are the Christian theologies that prey on our legitimate fears of human finitude, physical suffering, economic uncertainty, environmental destruction, and the threat of war in order to accelerate anger and alienation . . . . There’s no treat in that, only being tricked.”

It is true that we humans fear infinitude: what happens after death? We are vulnerable to physical suffering and economic uncertainty. Evil can come through other humans as much as it can come from a tsunami. Anger is everywhere. I know plenty of people feeling the pain of alienation. But it is also true that Jesus addressed these very human fears and vulnerabilities by telling us to “take on his yoke” where we would find “rest for our souls” (Matt 11:29). If humanity could have solved these dangers by now, don’t you think we would have? After all, it’s been a few thousand years and the fears haven’t gone away even with the advance of our technologies and multiple gods.

It is also true that Christianity gets lumps from the sinful behaviors of some of its followers. Jesus said the unbelievers had the right to judge the authenticity of our faith (John 13:34, 35). Christians can be rightly judged to be unloving by those who are not Christians when our hypocrisy is blatant.

But more recently, an avalanche of criticism has been heaped on Christianity through a manipulative tactic. Christianity has been distorted so that it can be set up as a straw man for the angry left who also wants to find a convenient scapegoat to sacrifice for our social and cultural ills. The angry left isn’t getting its way, so it resorts to abusive tactics, too.

Why just Christians? No one seems to criticize fiery Muslim theologians calling for “death to the infidels.” No one seems to reference their extreme anti-life, warlike and violent policies that nearly conquered Europe; the roots of those dreamy gone-by days feeding the same angry rhetoric in Tehran’s mosques today. No one criticizes Darwin’s theories that fueled Nazi hatred and slaughter of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and Christians in the run-up to World War II.

It’s a good time to be a Christian. Why? Because, as our culture and society decay by departing from its moral moorings inherent in God’s creation (and resident in everyone’s conscience (see Romans 1:18-32)), the heart-hatred for God and the rejection of his Son Jesus Christ will become more blatant and obvious. True Christians (can there be any other kind?) will shine brighter for the gospel and the Son. Christians will continue to be vilified, increasingly scorned, rejected and some will be killed. It’s happening around the world today.

It happened in the most scandalous way in AD 33 when the Son of God received the same treatment.

Should we Call it a “De-vival”?

relevant church

No, it’s not a typo. It’s a word I coined.

Let’s start with a definition of “revival.” A revival is that event in the life of the church when God pours out the Holy Spirit in a “larger” way than normal. Iain Murray defines a revival this way: “A revival is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, brought about by the intercession of Christ, resulting in a new degree of life in the churches and a widespread movement of grace among the unconverted. It is an extraordinary communication of the Spirit of God, a superabundance of the Spirit’s operations, an enlargement of his manifest power.”[1] Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), who knew something of revivals first-hand, wrote that although the Lord blesses the church with the constant influence of the Spirit, there are “special seasons of mercy.”[2]

So, what is a “de-vival”? I am not using this word as a way of describing a church’s spiritual decay, like we might see among some of the churches in Revelation 1-3. In fact, I’m not applying this word to the church. Instead the word applies to our American and more broadly Western culture.

Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research and missiologist in residence at LifeWay Christian Resources (Nashville, TN), argues that the church in America is not in decline, “It is just being more clearly defined.”[3] His article is a response to the 2009 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) and the Pew Research Study (2012) that caused a stir. Even Newsweek got into the stirring mode, when it published a cover story entitled “The End of Christian American.”  However, Stetzer insists “the sky is not falling.”

What is happening? “The church in the West – the United States included – is in transition right now. But transitioning is not the same as dying.”

Not all who check the box marked “Christian” are defining themselves as the Bible defines the word Christian. According to Stetzer’s research, there are three categories of “Christians” in America.

  • Cultural Christians are those who “believe themselves to be Christians simply because their culture tells them they are. They are Christian by heritage.”
  • Congregational Christians are similar to the first group, except they have some connection to congregational life. They have a “home church” in which they grew and perhaps married. They might even visit occasionally.
  • Convictional Christians are those who are actually living according to their faith. “These are the people who would say that they have met Jesus, he changed their lives” and they are increasingly orienting their lives around faith in Christ.

It is this last group that is “not leaving the faith.” Yet, the number of people in America who self-identify as “none” (no religious or faith identification) continues to increase. Something is happening in the culture. In my words, a “de-vival” in the culture.

However, a “de-vival” (i.e., decay) in the culture affects the church in a positive way.

Stetzer points out some important implications for the church from his reading of the researched tea-leaves. First, as Christians find themselves marginalized by the decaying society around us, we will be forced to count the cost of being Christian. Since the label “Christian” is already polarizing, it will only be more so as the society “de-vives.”

Second, there will be difficult times ahead for the church. Jesus told us exactly the same thing and then added: “but take courage, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Third, Christians will likely lose the culture war. Paul told us exactly the same thing (2 Tim 3:1-7).

Fourth, distinctions between Christians and the “ever-growing post-Christian culture” will demand that Christians and the church “set aside any nominal belief system and become active agents of God’s Kingdom.” The apostle John told us exactly the same thing (1 John 2:15-17).

The church will become bright and distinct in a growing place of darkness as it takes on the character of God’s people, “changed by the power of the gospel and propelled by love, moving into the mission field as agents of gospel transformation.”[4]

A “de-vival” in the culture will be an advantage for the church in mission and clarity. Our gospel will have to be clear, powerful and un-tampered with! Attempts to “pacify” unbelievers with a watered-down message will become a non-starter. No one ever met the glory of Christ in a down-graded gospel.

The “de-vival” of society will work to clarify the meaning of “Christian.” This is where Murray enters the picture again. In his book on revival quoted above, Murray asserts that revivals produce six good things, one of which is “definiteness to the meaning of Christian.”[5] He writes, “When the line between the church and the world has been blurred, and ideas of salvation have become vague and inclusivist, a revival always reasserts the real meaning of being a Christian.”[6]

Could it be that a “de-vival” in our society will mean a “revival” of the biblical picture of a Christian, the follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, “who has received the free pardon of sin and a new life solely through faith” in him?

What will our churches look like then? They will have a different “taste.” They will confidently invite the decaying and “de-viving” world to “taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Ps 34:8).

 

 

 


[1]Iain H. Murray, Pentecost – Today? The Biblical Basis for Understanding Revival (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1998), 24.

[2]Murray, Pentecost, 24.

[3]Ed Stetzer, “The State of the Church in America: Hint: It’s not Dying” [on-line]; accessed 4 October 2013; available from  http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2013/october/state-of-american-church.html; Internet.

[4]Stetzer, “State.”

[5]Murray, Pentecost, 175-77.

[6]Murray, Pentecost, 177.