cent hits the T-fan

Because it's just not Christmas without a good bit of controversy here at the blog, and today's the last day of 2007, I'm going to comment on the comments a of a fella named Turretinfan (T-Fan for short) and his opinions about the celebration of Christmas, as summed up in his last comment on the subject here at the blog. He can have the last word in the meta after I give him the business here.

As we kick this off, let me say this: one is not a damned sinner if one doesn't celebrate Christmas. One is simply a killjoy – someone who is afraid of enjoying the Gospel because someone might confuse that with the sins of prostitutes, publicans or (in the case of T-Fan) Catholics.

Now, to contest that, he says this:
If your own weekly services are not really joyful, don't assume that the same is true for us.

I view your remarks on joy as base slander, though I'm sure you don't intend them that way.
No, I intend them to say that your view is top-heavy at best, and baseless at worst, seeing sin where there is none, and has stripped down the cultural implications of the Gospel to the place where every day is just its own thing – in spite of your protestations (below) to the contrary.

"Don't make me celebrate Christmas" is one of the most bizarre allegedly-theological conclusions that has come out of the so-called internet "puritan" movement.

However, in the spirit of giving T-Fan the last word, I offer him the opportunity to tell us how to make every day a celebration of the birth of Christ which is actually a "celebration" and not a "slogan".
I don't know from where you made up your list of other things we'd have to stop doing. Number 2 on your list (well, what would be number 2, if you numbered your list) is out, because (a) Rome itself no longer emphasizes Sunday worship, and (b) Scripture requires it.
For those who didn't follow the meta, I said this to T-Fan there:
Your post from Friday at 6:50 really stuns me. Here's a short list of things that we have to stop doing if we have to stop doing all the things "Rome" does to make sure we don't confuse people about what the Gospel is:

-- stop calling our list of holy books "the Bible"
-- stop worshipping on Sundays
-- eradicate all iconography of crosses from our architecture and art

Do those strike you are a little over the top? If so, why?
Now, in that, Rome authoritatively says this (esp. paragraphs 1166-1167) and this (esp. paragraph 1343) about worshipping on Sundays. And it is important to note that Rome views "Sunday" as beginning the night before, so services conducted anytime between Saturday evening and Sunday morning are wholly in-line with this catechetical teaching. That's half of his argument lost simply on misinformation.

As to his point of Scripture "requiring" Sunday worship, it does no such thing. Scripture underscores by repetition the relationship of the "first day" to Christ's resurrection repeatedly, but never mandates that the Christian assembly be made primarily on the first day. Moreover, Acts 5 indicates that the disciples were meeting "every day"; Acts 16 indicates that Paul and his traveling companions assembled on Saturday to pray (which you may dismiss as a remnant of their Judaism, but it speaks to when those first believers would join together as "not only on Sunday"); 1 Cor 11 makes no mention of how often the church is to come together for the Lord's supper, and certainly mentions no day on which to do so; likewise 1 Cor 14 does not name a day in which the church should assemble for preaching and edification.

Let me say this as carefully as possible: I am well aware that Dr. John MacArthur makes a very vigorous case for why we do assemble on Sundays for preaching and singing and "church" (to use short hand). But his argument there is anti-sabbatarian, and stands firmly on the ground that we are doing something in selecting the day which underscores what God has done and not because there is a scriptural command to meet on this day.

What this leaves T-Fan with is his affirmation and no evidence. Is it good to assemble on Sundays? I think it is – but since it is not commanded by Scripture, and it does lead to confusion with the Catholic rite which is conducted on the same day ever week, why do we not abandon that to avoid confusion with Catholicism?

I'd be interested in his explanation, if he has one.
As to Number 1, there is already a relatively clear notion in the public's mind that the "Protestant Bible" and the "Catholic Bible" are two different things. No real concern of confusion there.
I'd be willing to concede such a thing if that's what these different sets of books were called – on the cover or whatever. But that's not hardly the case.

Factually, I can tell you that Ingram Books (the #1 distributor of books to retail, and the largest distributor of Christian books through its subsidiary Spring Arbor) carries in-stock over 4100 distinct bibles. Of those, 244 are designated "catholic" by CPC category, but only 100 actually have the word "catholic" on the front cover.

Whatever the "public" believes is "clear", what is true is that to say that someone wants to read the "Bible" is somewhat open to misunderstanding – at least as much as celebrating with parties and presents can be misunderstood to be bending a knee to Roman pontifical edicts. This is the root of my question to T-Fan, and it seems that he thinks that saying, "well, I think most people know the difference" is satisfactory for the Bible – that is, whether or not one has an actual Bible, which is a critical notion for those who espouse sola scriptura – but not satisfactory when it comes to celebrating the incarnation of Christ.

It's an interesting opinion. It needs some work to be credible. Especially when you tack on this bit of speculation:
Also, there is a problem that there is not really a substitute word in English. We could use the term "Scriptures" but that word is also used by the Catholics.
One would think that if the problem of confusion is such a massive issue as to impose upon one's conscience for the sake of not getting the Gospel confused, one needs to be a little more innovative. "Bible" only means "Book", and its Latin name – Biblia Sancta – means "holy book". We could call it the "Holy Book" with absolutely no innovative energy being expended – and doing that would follow the same premise as T-Fan's logic for abandoning Christmas.

I wonder why he doesn’t advocate for something like that? Could it be that he sees how preposterous that example is, but he can't bring himself to admit that abandoning Christmas is frankly the same kind of error in judgment?

See: what's at stake in these two first examples is the question of "what are the mediums of culture which exist for us to say what we mean rather than just mutter on in Greek?" When we say "Bible", people hear "holy book"; when we say Christmas, T-Fan says they hear, "holy day of obligation mandated by the Pope for the sake of performing the Mass," when in fact they hear, "Good tidings to you and all of your kin" – and we know this because they are out there buying stuff for parties and gift-giving, not staying at home fasting to make sure they can take the host on an empty stomach.
As to Number 3, I don't see any particular problem eliminating the iconography of the cross from our architecture. Our art? I'm not sure what you mean there. Plenty of both Reformed and Fundamentalist non-Reformed Baptistic churches avoid the iconography of the cross.
Since you don't know "what I mean here", let me work it out for you.

What we could do is canvass all the small, unintentional churches we can find – the ones which have a rented building that is in a shopping strip, or are in a temporary building which they are borrowing until they can buy a plot of land to build a worship center, and we could use that to say, "wow – there are no crosses on 95% of these buildings!"

Or we could look at 100 intentional examples of protestant architecture – places where someone built a church building for the sake of putting a church in it for the assembly of the believers. Like these:

Shadow Hills Baptist

First Redeemer

Or on the smaller scale:

You know: the cross. Not a crucifix with a shattered man on it: the cross. The most ancient symbol of our faith. Should we remove it from the public eye by removing it from our churches in order to make sure no one confuses us with those pesky Catholics?

It is your answer to that question, and the ones above it, which leads me to accuse you of mopery. So when you say this:
Your assertion, sir, that: "You are, in fact, wanting mopery in order to avoid popery. You want no sign that we smile, and no opportunity by which we can show people something they can taste and see as goodness -- especially if it's a time when they would have been enjoying themselves."

is false. I repudiate that sentiment, and if you continue to repeat your assertion that such is my position, you are illustrating that you are not hearing what I'm saying.
That's very daunting language, I am sure – the problem is that you do advance mopery – you advance the elimination of all kinds of cultural and social means of interaction in order to do what Jesus told us to do.
I'd encourage you to reconsider putting words in my mouth, let alone avatars in my avatar window.
There's no need to put words in your mouth: you say everything that needs to be said in order to discredit your view. The clowning merely points out that you are unwilling to see how bad your logic works out in real time and space.

Happy New Year – unless the Catholics are having mandatory mass tomorrow, in which case forget I said anything. We don’t want to be confused with them, right?

On-going meta format issues

Here's the deal: technologically-useful browsers (Opera, Safari, Firefox) allow the web-designer to define a "div" element with a "minHeight" attribute, so if the "div" object has content that is, say, less than a certain number of characters, it doesn't collapse into wicked obsurity and devastate the layout. MSIE 6.x doesn't.

The way MSIE works around that is that the attribute "height" actually operates as a "height not less than" attribute, and if the content is larger than the height, the height exands. Problematically, no other modern browser is that lazy. "Height: 90px;" in firefox gives you a box which is 90px high, and if your content goes to 91px, it crunches your content.

This has nothing to do with the Gospel. This has to do with web design.

Anyway, it is now working in MSIE. The question is if it now works in other browsers. You be the judge.

...for example...

The world is watching, and a fist fight breaks out.

Nice. Good thing they were working on Christmas.

The Christmas thing

This topic just kills me – because it goes completely haywire! I mean, that's why I posted the Piper link: who's going to argue with Piper?

Well, obviously somebody. And this feels like explaining the punch line of a joke to me, so if I seem a little put out by this, I am.

[1] It is frankly bizarre to associate what happens these days on December 25th (and the 4-ish weeks prior to 12/25) in the English-speaking world with Roman Catholicism in the theological, ecclesiological, or worshipological senses. That is: there's nobody I know who's celebrating Christmas because the day itself turns out to be more holy – except, of course, some Catholics. The rest of us are considering that Christ, in order to die for our sins in accordance with Scripture, had to be born. Which leads me to ...

[2] ... the obvious objection that taking a day and setting it apart to reconsider the birth of Christ is making something holy which God does not – it's a sort of Regulative principle objection. But here's the problem: if one doesn’t read the whole Bible every day and think about the whole thing every day, one is doing by default what one is criticizing others for doing with intention.

You know: you can't mull over the whole of biblical and systematic theology in any kind of thorough or even careful way in the 14 hours you're awake one day and then repeat the process again tomorrow and (for example) hold down a job or take a bath. So breaking the particulars of Biblical and systematic theology up over time – for example, into 52 weeks like the Heidelberg Catechism, or into a "church year", or into a daily reading plan – makes practical sense.

Because you have a human brain with human constraints, you're going to cause each day to be different in some way because you really don’t have a choice. The question turns out to be whether or not you're going to have an intentional way of, as the Bible says, being transformed by the renewal of your mind, or if you're just going to sort of stumble through it.

[3] And then the question comes up, "well, are you saying I must celebrate Christmas? Isn’t that legalism and violating my Christian liberty?" I think the fair comparison – the clear-sighted comparison – is to evangelism, because ultimately that's what I am talking about here (which we will get to in a minute).

You know: when you're standing in the waiting line at the Olive Garden with your family or whatever, I have no qualms saying that you should talk to someone there and try to get the Gospel in as much as it is possible. You should. My guess – and you can argue about the statistics behind this guess if you're that kind of person – is that someone in that waiting line is a lost person who has a sin problem that ends up being a hell problem, and is someone the Gospel is given to be declared to. If you believe in hell and in the only savior of men, you should find a way to talk about the Gospel.

Should. Expresses obligation, propriety, or expediency. Disciples of Christ have an obligation to express the Gospel. Even at the Olive Garden, which may or may not have some historical association with the Roman Catholic church particularly by being an Italian restaurant [sic].

Now, if that's true – and I'd love to see the person who's willing to say that Christians do not have this kind of obligation – how much more obvious is this same obligation on a day which, in the English-speaking world, bears the name of Christ and the whole world is frankly stopped because of it. Last year I published a harmony of the Gospels here at the blog – what if we intentionally gathered as families with both the saved and the sinners and read something like that rather than treating the day as if it's just another day, just like every other day, even though Wall Street and the banks are closed and everyone is frankly looking for something to do?

Opportunities like that don’t just fall out of the sky, especially in a post-Christian culture.

[4] And to connect the dots here between [2] and [3], one might say, "well, cent, I actually do read the Heidelberg Catechism to my kids and we follow the three forms of unity, so my obligation to bringing up my children in the way they should go – evangelizing them, if you will – is taken care of, so your beat-down on me for not observing this day is uncalled for."

Yeah, no. And pay attention, because this is where you imaginary objectors really get my goat.

Paul said this:

    "All things are lawful," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.
and again:
    For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
I agree with you that one perfectly "lawful" means of doing your Christian life is the consideration (as in our example) of the Heidelberg Catechism. Where I part company with the imaginary objector is that you are straining out gnats and swallowing camels, and you have a really big problem if Rob Bell understands something which you do not.

I want you to imagine something: imagine that the whole English-speaking world stops for one day – and by "stops" I mean that there's not even any sports on the TV worth mentioning. Everybody stops working for one day. And for the most part, everyone has this yearning to be with family – even the most weird feel like this day bears some kind of meaning in that it would be good to be with family just this one day.

And on that day, the disciples of Christ get up in the morning, read Heidelberg Catechism Week 51 (ironically, "about the Lord's Day", speaking of holding one day above another), and wander off to work to show those idolatrous Catholics we don't bend a knee to the Pope, carn-sarn it.

Let me suggest to you that this is not only an avoidance of a right-minded "should" for a sort of smug and intellectually-selfish "ought", but it is completely tone-deaf to the real spirit of Christ who became flesh and took up residence among us, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, who has made God known.

Christmas is the opportunity to make God known, people – particularly, to make Christ known. You have the liberty to do that in an obscure or untranslatable way, and you have the liberty to do that in a public and sort of lavish and joyous way – one which reflects your personal response to this God who poured Himself out, took on the form of a servant, allowed himself to be laid in a feeding trough, and came to die for people who deserved themselves to be put to death.

You can play baseball when the sun is shining, or you can play your PSP in your basement and wonder why you don’t know any real people. What you can't do is pretend that your liberty is more valuable than spending your liberty on your responsibilities.

[5] And that leads to my last point (because this is page 3 in WORD), which is to make it clear that what's at stake here is the declaration of the Gospel of God to the lost by all means possible. That's the real "culture war". You have to consider what it means to have a public faith at some point in your travels through sanctification.

Some people want to tell you that the only meaningful way to have a public faith is by church-community and church-worship. That is: somehow the only way, or perhaps the most efficacious way, of demonstrating a public faith is in liturgy in community. And we have to grant something here: depending on what you mean by "liturgy" and "efficacious", and depending on how important you rate the Lord's table and baptism, they have a point.

But if our worship stops at the last pew in the chapel, so to speak, we're just fans. We're not playing the game: we're just watching it.

You are called to do more than watch the game, reader. You are called to run the race, and fight the good fight, and be someone who's not just shadow-boxing in vain. You are called to be a spectacle for the sake of the Gospel, and that doesn’t happened behind closed doors.

Merry Christmas.


The Meta is going to behave strangely for the next 24 hours or so as I try to fix the issues with the "PREVIEW" button. You will find that the meta alternates between a generic blank template and the one with the exciting comic art background.

Do not be alarmed. No comments will be injured.

Should Christians celebrate Christmas?

Piper on Christmas.

I sympathize with those who want to be rigorously and distinctly Christian, who want to be disentangled from the world and any pagan roots that might lie beneath our celebration of Christmas, but I don't go that route on this matter because I think there comes a point where the roots are so far gone that the present meaning doesn't carry the pagan connotation anymore. I'm more concerned about a new paganism that gets layered on top of Christian holidays.

Here's the example I use: All language has roots somewhere. Most of our days of the week—if not all—grew out of pagan names too. So should we stop using the word "Sunday" because it may have related to the worship of the sun once upon a time? In modern English "Sunday" doesn't carry that connotation, and that's the very nature of language. In a sense, holidays are like chronological language.

Christmas now means that we mark, in Christian ways, the birth of Jesus Christ. I think the birth, death and resurrection of Christ are the most important events in human history. Not to mark them in some way, by way of special celebration, would be folly it seems to me.

I remember I lived next door to somebody back in seminary who didn't celebrate birthdays for their kid. The idea was, partly, that all days were special for their kid. But if all days are special then it probably means that there are no special days. Yet some things are so good and precious—like anniversaries, birthdays, and even deaths—that they are worthy of being marked. How much more the birth and death of Jesus Christ!

It's really worth the risk, even if the date of December 25 was chosen because of its proximity to some kind of pagan festival. Let's just take it, sanctify it, and make the most of it, because Christ is worthy of being celebrated in his birth.

There is no point in choosing any other date. It won't work.

You oughta know better

So I'm in my bookstore on Christmas Eve day, and we're rockin'. I mean, best day before Christmas ever from a purely angels-get-their-wings standpoint, if you follow the cultural idiom. And I'm busy personally – helping people, encouraging them, being nice to them.

And as people are throw money at me and I'm throwing merchandise at them – in a nice way – these two women walk into the bookstore with a little girl. My help greets them, and I notice them because they don’t act like middle-class people. They burp when they talk, they talk too loud, that kind of stuff. You know: which happens in Arkansas (no offense to anybody).

Eventually, the wave of business subsides, and I catch a breather, and I take a walk around the store to check on the people who are still browsing – because people usually appreciate that. As I chat with the handful of people still in the store, I notice the two women and the little girl still browsing, and I ask them if they need any help. They don't, but as I trade service talk with them, I notice that they need a bath more than they need a book. They also prolly need to give up the half-pack of butts they smoked driving over here, but I ignore that and move on. I've come out in public when I've been no prize, either.

So I go about my business, and one of the women comes to the desk to ask for some help, the little girl in tow. We chat some more, and the more I talk to her, the less I am impressed with her social skills, and I start to get a little antsy about her parenting skills. She's not smacking the kid around or anything, but I'm pretty sure I have never talked to my kids that way unless they were on the verse of being crucified – which is an interesting word to use there, but it's the one that came to mind as I was sort of forced to eavesdrop on this slice of life. Not unless I was on the verge of crucifying them.

And I start to think to myself, "How can she not know better?" So she puts this book about Christmas on the counter along with a Bible and some other junk, and I look at the Christmas book, thinking about the Sunday School lessons I have been teaching the last 3 weeks.

Because the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father. We have all received from his fullness one gracious gift after another. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ.

No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known.

That is, God has made himself know to those of us who prolly need more than a bath and to give up a half-pack of cigarettes, and know better than to talk to our children as if we were about to crucify them. The One who did crucify His one and only son has made Himself known.

I'm the one who ought to know better. Especially at Christmas.

gingerbread man

This weekend as we were building up to the big thing tomorrow, my wife pulled out a bag of gingerbread mix (listen: if you add the eggs and milk and whatever, it's home made) and my kids started cheering. They love the gingerbread stuff -- the house, the people, the tree.

"So you're going to make the gingerbread this year?" I asked her, trying not to imply anything.

"Nobody'll care after we frost it," she said, trying not to concede anything, and I realized I had the headline for my Darrin Patrick post.

Now, don't get me wrong, OK? I liked all of his 3 talks at Covenant Seminary, and especially liked his talk which he called "the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" of the emergent church. But after listening to part 3 there, I sorta felt like he thought that if he layered on enough rhetorical frosting, nobody would care that he was really telling the radical edges of the ECM that they were preaching a different gospel, and that they needed to get over others pointing that out because that's the only way to resolve the differences.

I mean: that's how he pretty much ended that talk, and I was sort of blown away by how frank he was about it. And if you listened to only, say, the last 10 minutes of the talk (prior to the Q&A portion), you probably will get a very different impression of what he intimates about that movement than if you sit through all the "good" part, and even through the "bad" part. His description of the "ugly" is spot-on, even if it's covered in all kinds of other things to sweeten it up.

There where were moments in part 3 where I had to pull out a pen and scribble down a note or two. For example, it was a little sheepish (trying to avoid saying "coy") to use Justin Taylor as a cover for the "bad" segment of the talk. Sure: JT was plainly the source of that segment, and good on Pastor Darrin for citing his source. But it seemed to me that he was trying to avoid being the bad guy by pretty much reading what JT wrote on the subject of the ECM word for word.

Another moment was when Pastor Patrick followed a rabbit about what it means to preach to the culture -- you'll find it in the section where he says he wants to be preaching to "dudes", among other "cultures".

Here's what I don't disagree with: I think we have to context our churches in a way that the people to whom we are reaching out will give us a listen. You know: I'm the guy with the comic book blog, right? I don't think Fuller-brush door-to-door evangelism is useful today, and I think it is more useful to find social forms which people today can relate to in order to present the Gospel to them there.

But here's my problem with where I think Darrin's talk leads to: I think it leads to a place where we forget that the Gospel is (sing it with me) the solution to culture. That is: it's fine to get to the "dudes" and the "DINCs" and the farmers and so on by having some kind of way of talking with them and to them. It's another altogether when we avoid, because it is hard, the fact that the Gospel is supposed to reconcile races and cultures and all kinds of men not just to Christ but to each other -- that is, that all kinds of men are (not will be) reconciled to each other because they are reconciled to Christ.

I think that's the fundamental challenge to the current iteration of "missional" thinking -- failing to make reconciliation a real issue for people. It seems to me -- and people are welcome to knock this one down if they can -- that making "dude" churches (as one example) overlooks the fact in Scripture that "dudes" need older people to have a complete body of Christ, and vice versa. It's not enough just to say that your church is part of the greater, invisible church.

So that said, I enjoyed Darrin Patrick's impression of the gingerbread man. You may have a different opinion, and you now have the full-fledged version of haloscan into which to express it.

And have a napkin -- you have some frosting on your lip.

shepherd in the field

Our buddy johnMark interviewed these church plant pastors, and it's worth reading. Don't go out and get a tat for your new favorite doctrine, but think about supporting gospel workers among the poorest of the poor.

Christmas list

Yeah, you are waiting for a long list of stuff from Centu Claus:
  • the Darrin Patrick talk
  • Kent's subsequent merciless beating
  • I just got a preview copy of Driscoll's new book Vintage Jesus
There may be something else you want. This is all I'm going to have time for.

And maybe some 'nog and a cookie.

So you have something to comment on, 'k? I know you don't have anything else to do.

more Haloscan gibberish

One of the upsides of Premium Haloscan is that you can actually download your comments for archiving. For the record, this blog has accumulated over 12,120 comments since we implemented Haloscan. That means most of you have never left a comment.

I'm hurt.

haloscan -controversy-

Yes, it's Christmas, so we should be on about some kind of controversy, right?

Here's what I'm working on today: turns out the guys at Haloscan are getting bad-mouthed by users because -- get this now -- they aren't willing to maintain on-line tech support for free to people who never paid for haloscan in the first place.

Very evil stuff. I'd have a lot more concern about the complainers if even 10% of them were premium members.

Your 10,000 character opinion may differ. Express yourself.

True and false

read this, and then work out the ways in which it is true, and then the ways it is false.

It's a good little mind-bender on a Thursday morning.

haloscan magic

See: you pay $12 and you gain complete control over your haloscan comment template. And not only does it enable all you crazy people a 10K character limit, I have put a length counter for the input box so now you don't have to wonder whether you're about to get scalped or not.

No -- don't thank me. Link to me.

Oh wait -- the Scripturizer also works if you format your references right, but it doesn't pop up.

the radical question

My friend Phil Johnson linked me to this post at La Sabot Postmoderne (a blog which never can seem to die), and it reminded me of this post from the archive, earlier this year.

I like the joke. I'm not sure I like the implications of the joke in terms of pragmatics.

Here's what I mean: if the "answer" to the dilemma is that the Left likes the Islamists better because they have a habit of bombing the perceived common enemies of the Left, it seems like this is a call to fight fire with fire.

I am certain that Sabot does not mean this. But, as Instapundit was pointing out in the first half of this year, it doesn't take a very complicated syllogism to get to the place where we're in that scene in the Untouchables where Sean Connery is instructing Kevin Costner on what it's gonna take to stop the Mob.

Take one to know one

Dowd on Hillary's looks. The question of gravitas came up in the 2000 election -- and that's at least half about looks. Why's it suddenly a forbidden subject, I wonder?

Compare and save

James White, as usual, puts all the cards on the table for the budding apologist.

In case you forgot ...

... the world is overpopulated and running out of food.

Like we did when Hal Lindsey wrote The Late, Great Planet Earth. See: when the looney fringe of Christianity says stuff like this, it's a joke, but when the one-world-state grim-faced bilk squad at the UN says it, it must be true.

If all the rest of the stupidity surrounding global warming hysteria doesn't sway you at all, it's this kind of cyclical fear-mongering on the part of the UN which ought to tell you that they are simply in it for the money.

Haloscan Upgrade

I just sprung for the lousy $12 to upgrade HaloScan for a year to "PREMIUM" status, so you'll see some differences there. The most palatable change is that you comments are no longer limited to a measely 3000 characters -- you have a robust and quite breezy 10,000 characters with which to make your point.

If I can figure out how to make it warn you that you're at you limit, I will. I also have better control of the template itself now, so prepare for your eyes to pop out of your head.

Too Late for Christmas

You could pay for Premium shipping and get it by Christmas, but that's a massive waste of money. But it's always in style. Now at the Pawn Shop.

More on the record

I just read this summary of Bill Clinton's remarks on Charlie Rose vis a vis Obama, and because I have a faulty memory, I'll pose my comment in the form of a question:

Has any other ex-president in recent memory taken to making running negative commentary against someone in his own party running for president? Does it seem to anyone else that this campaign is going to cement Bill Clinton's legacy as a self-serving egomaniac in American politics?

I'll say it

I read this, thanks to alert reader Joel Griffith.

I'll say it here: this statement by the Pope is unintelligible. The words say something -- until you take them in the context of what words like "unity" mean in the Catechism and the formal teaching of Rome.

Nobody's going to like that, but that's where this discussion peters out. (heh).

Here's my brief thought: if the Pope is serious about dialog, let him repeal the anathemas of Trent -- not by inches, but as the result of a conciliar decree. Repeal the anathemas to prove that the happy talk in this announcement is serious. Then we can talk in a true spirit of ecumenical brotherhood.

on the churchless church

Let me start this rejoinder to Kent by noting that everyone has busy days, and I expected yesterday to be one for me, but it turned out it wasn't -- so I had some time to devote to this meta. Kent, as we shall see in his response, didn't have that luxury, so those who thought less of him for doing things other than come here to blog need to relax.

Thus we should accept Kent's explanation of himself at face value and cut him some slack:
If you don't mind, I'll explain why I didn't answer right away. I just read this, 8:44pm, California time. In addition to being a pastor of a church in the San Francisco Bay Area that we started 20 years ago with zero people in the most expensive housing market in the country and the most liberal population, just north of Berkeley; I teach in our Christian school, also working with the school program, which is tomorrow night, and, also, I coach my son's basketball team, and we left at 3pm for a 4:30pm game, after which we did the fast food stop on the way home and then waited for a few parents to arrive to pick up kids (deep breath), dropped off one boy, and then came home to greet my lovely wife and three beautiful daughters, before checking email, answering two, reading a little news, and then popping over to Pyro. Now it's 8:54pm.
And let me say, these are all honorable past-times -- all honorable pursuits. And they are also an interesting insight into Kent the real person rather than Kent the guy who comes to this blog to flog what he sees as the excesses of other Christians, but we will get back to that.
I'm still rejoicing in the Scriptural truths I wrote in my comment (which were also mainly formed in questions that were left unanswered, hmmmm), ...
Which, of course, is an interesting affirmation for a guy who asked only one non-rhetorical question in his comment, yes? The only non-rhetorical question in Kent's comment was this one:
Where in Scripture is that concept?
"That concept" meaning "music will 'help' the Gospel".

Now, here's the thing: my post was responding to Kent's overall failure to really grapple with the question of what church should look like. And I received his response in the context that he's the same guy who, when I posted the "of the Church" section of the LBCF, responded with a somewhat-point-missing criticism of that document as if that wasn't the historic baptist position on what the church is and ought to be. So when he starts decrying "music" and "greeters" and "slick marketing", there's context for reading him a little deeper than as if that was his first comment on this subject ever.

And, factually, the question "Where in Scripture is that concept?" is actually answered in the meta.
...and that joy hasn't waned after having read Frank's commentary. I then went to the comments and I saw that upon those not generally going in Frank's direction as much as he wished, he decided to try to smear me a little to help "frame" a post in a more favorable way for him, essentially to bias the opinions of what I wrote. I appreciate the opportunity for a defense now that some of you have pretty well prejudged me based upon what someone else has said about me, who truly doesn't even know me. I don't consider myself a fundamentalist, but what is it that Phil has said about fundamentalism in his Dead Right presentation? "The machinery of fundamentalist separatism has in effect established a form of excommunication without any due process. All someone has to do to ruin your ministry in fundamentalist circles is publish a negative story about you in one of the fundamentalist gossip rags, and if it gets enough circulation, you will be branded for life." I'm sure that Frank might say that he has allowed for some due process and doesn't like "branding," but he really doesn't know me at all. All of my interaction in the past with him has been on only a few issues, from which he could not possibly make all the conclusions that he makes. And I have always kept those discussions to the actual Scriptural topic at hand, not wandering off into my own interpretations of what I think that Frank thinks. I've always treated him nicely too.
Oddly, I didn't call Kent a "fundamentalist". I said:
Kent is the kind of guy who thinks it's not relevant (or perhaps orthodox) to speak of a "church universal". Kent is unable to agree that people owe some kind of obedience to God in their covenanting/fellowship with their own local church. Kent thinks that any evangelism that takes place apart from woodenly reading a narrow bad of acceptable translations (and citing the verse numbers) is corrupted evangelism.
And let's be honest -- Kent has openly argued against the idea of a church universal at TeamPyro; he has frankly criticized all exhortation that people should first love their churches before they try to judge or leave their churches; he is also -- however "scholarly" a spin he wants to put on it -- KJVO. There's no question about these things -- so to say I have "misrepresented" him is, in the best case, self-flattering.

As for treating me "nicely", I'm sure that's how he sees it. I don’t think I said otherwise.
And before I get into anything on the actual subject at hand, since we have already left it to move to my belief on the preservation of Scripture—I take an original language preservation position, the same as John Owen and Francis Turretin. It is a very similar position to that of Douglas Wilson of Blog and Mablog to put in a perspective you could grasp in a few words. If you think that ruins my credibility, then so be it.
Here's the rub, Kent -- you say you hold the same position as Doug Wilson on this matter, but let's think about that claim. Does Doug Wilson say that translations made from the eclectic text are "perversions"?

That would be the jumping-off place for me in comparing you two. Doug's version of "KJVO" is a function of his presbyterian view of the authority of the church. Since you simply can't and don't share that (you're a Baptist, dude, of a particularly non-presbyterian stripe) -- and you instead demand (as your blog plainly demonstrates) that preservation cannot be separated from inspiration -- your position looks a lot less like Doug's than you need to make your self-defense here work out.
I'd like to deal with what Frank wrote in three points. First, I will hopefully briefly examine his debriefing of my comment. Second, I want to treat a few of the comments (many of which are patently false). Third, I will explain of what I originally wrote in a comment to Phil's post. I'm going to get only to the first segment in this comment.

Frank writes:
"I think Kent is making the same mistake that the people he is criticizing are making, only on the "do nothing" side of the fence."

I answer: Scripture is sufficient and perspicuous. God didn't give us a Bible and expect us then to read between the lines for our methodology. God did give us a way to accomplish His work. Silence isn't permission (and I'm not talking about using computers or the like). A basic in NT methodology is "go," and I know that "go" in Mt. 28:19 and Mk. 16:15 is a participle, so that going is assumed in making disciples and preaching. Scripture presents this template: we gather for edification and we go for evangelization. I believe that the modern day church problems come foundationally because we have turned this around. That's essentially what I was pointing out. And then using unscriptural methods to get it done, or to think that somehow we can accentuate the gospel with a non-scriptural method.
What I really like about Kent is his willingness, on the surface, to open Scripture to start his thoughts. What leaves me a little flat is the way he handles the Scripture once it's open, and what he's willing to do to others with it as he goes. I am sure he believes that about me as well.

But that said, who would deny Kent's initial affirmation here? As in his original comment, it's completely a non-issue. We agree: the Great Commission says "go". We go.

But Kent tries to leverage this simple truth into a theology of worship -- when the passages he cites are not about worship, and especially not about post-temple completed-work-in-Christ NT community worship. But Kent does do something here which the reader ought to take note of: he says that what happens in community worship is not the same thing as evangelization. Keep that in mind as Kent tries to tag other epithets to my argument, below.

Our church and me don't "do nothing." We go to hundreds every week with the gospel and have many opportunities to preach it to them. Our people are salt and light in their offices, places of recreation, among family members, as they go out and let their light shine. I'm reporting to you Frank that the Gospel is being preached here by this galley slave. I don't know how I could be advocating a "do nothing" approach, when I'm simply saying that there is a way that it ought to be done, and not doing it that way can change the nature of the gospel. Phil's article dealt with the foolishness of preaching and he contended that "preaching" was the content. Keep reading into 1 Corinthians 2 and see what Paul says about methodology and the "accentuation" of the preaching. He makes much of that, as do I.
Let's point something out: I didn't say, "Kent's church is a bunch of frozen chosen who never do anything for Christ." I said, "I think Kent is making the same mistake that the people he is criticizing are making, only on the 'do nothing' side of the fence." That is, Kent, as he expresses himself at the blog. No mention of Kent's church here: active mention of Kent's post. As in, that's what I cited.

There's no way to judge Kent's church: only a way to weight what he has said here and elsewhere at TeamPyro -- and that's what I have criticized. Kent thinks that evangelicalism has jumped the shark and does all kinds of extra stuff? Yeah OK: I think Kent's counter-argument -- given what he actually says -- is that we should do nothing in community worship except sit and listen to preaching. From the King James.

And let's point something out here as well -- notice how Kent has now leaped into the accusation that doing more than that in community worship "can change the nature of the Gospel". As if singing to guitar accompaniment rather than piano has any effect on whether the Gospel is being preached -- where's the chapter and verse on that one, Kent?
Frank writes: "I think Kent operates under the assumption that either [a] preaching the Gospel mostly cannot be "successful" in terms of numbers exploding, or [b] preaching the Gospel does not really produce anything but saved people who will come to church and sit to listen to more."

I answer: We can see results from preaching, but it should be because of that content that Phil talked about, rather than some kind of anesthetizing that we do through the methods we use, so that the message can be more palatable to a lost world.
In my first draft here, I was going to let that one slide, but it's simply too obvious to ignore. Where did I say anything about "anesthetizing" anybody? Where did I say that was right? But what I said was, in fact, that there is a difference between adopting a method which makes the Gospel a side-dish and preaching the Gospel in such a way that people become greeters, and singers, and preachers, and lovers of people. Kent's original comment frankly condemned any of those things as superficial and falsifying of the Gospel – and that's complete hokum.
Jesus lovingly told us that the condition of the soil was the variable that determined "success." He also said that "narrow" is the road, and "few" there be that find it. Rocky soil often comes from wrong methods which ruin the soil and result in a lot of foliage, but little fruit. And I do believe that the gospel produces saved people, Frank (Romans 1:16). And I don't have to assume anything about preaching the gospel. I've been doing it faithfully for over twenty years in a place no one would mistake for the Bible belt.
Listen: I take at face value Kent's willingness to be a preacher in a lost city. What I object to is Kent's blanket condemnation of everyone who does it differently than he does. Decorating a comment with "Rom 1:16" doesn’t change the fact that what Kent has said in fact denies the power of the Gospel – it denies that the Gospel can be preached in a cultural idiom where people sing because they're happy, they sing because they're free because God's eye is on the sparrow and they know He watches … um, we – but maybe instead of singing it that way, they sing Chris Tomlin's "Forever".

Does Kent live differently than he argues here? I'd say "good on him" for doing it – but then we come back to his argument and have to ask ourselves if he's serious about it or not. I'd rather he ditch the bad arguments and live well – in fact, I'd congratulate him for it.

Here's the really bizarre thing about Kent's reply: he wants to make the evangelization/edification distinction in his initial remarks, but then to forget that's what he as already affirmed.

Kent: if you're right in the first place and we have to separate evangelization from edification, community worship is a place where we are speaking to the regenerate, for their sake. Your preaching on Sunday Morning, then, is not an evangelization process: it's edification. And in that, if you are underscoring what God hath said to the people God hath called, why is it wrong to do that using a song written last week rather than a song written last century?

You can't make the ev/ed distinction about worship -- expanding the right-minded view of a closed table into a wrong-minded view of a closed community experience -- and then go off about how "methods" are wrong in worship time. Well, you can -- you just contradict yourself.

Frank writes: "The evangelical mistake is this: if we make a community with attractive values, maybe we can then slip the Gospel in sideways and draw people to Christ. It makes the community consequences of the Gospel the objective rather than something which is caused by the objective."

I answer: I find nothing wrong with this statement. I think it is right on. This seems to be a major point and I haven't disagreed with it at all.

Frank writes: "Kent's mistake is that he thinks that somehow the right effects of the Gospel somehow condemn a preacher if they are manifest."

I answer: What?!? Where is that "mistake" found in my comment? I don't condemn church growth. I'm a full time pastor. How did that happen in the Berkeley area if we started with zero and didn't grow? We're presently helping get two other churches started and they're both growing.
What are the right effects of the Gospel, Kent? For example, is vigorous singing worship using a contemporary musical idiom a "right effect of the Gospel"?

If it's not, then what has happened here is that you have defined a narrow band of activity as "Gospel culture" in an anti-biblical way. How do we know? Because I am certain the apostle Paul never sang one verse of "Amazing Grace", and never used a piano or organ -- and you do.
Frank writes: "And let's face it: the right effects of preaching the Gospel in the New Testament include a growing church where there are some who are "in the church" but not "in the Gospel."

I answer: The tares in the wheat. OK. What have I said that disagrees with this?
Your ev/ed distinction does this, and it was implicit in your original remarks because it is implicit in your view of the church.
Frank writes: "as well as an "invitation methodolgy"

I answer: Where is the invitation methodology found in Scripture, Frank? Why would you assume that a growing church would also take that methodology? The wisdom from above that Jesus proclaimed surely is superior to our new fangled ideas. I'm not saying that it's wrong to invite people to church, but this has become the major method of evangelicalism and it isn't in the Bible. Look at John 6 to see what Jesus did with seekers, among many other places. He didn't try to make them feel comfortable with what He said. And this is the pattern of Jesus exclusively through the gospels. Salvation is a miracle, but we often want a strategy that we can "get" and techniques that will "work," that we have seen "succeed" (result in more people coming and staying). God is glorified when we do it like He said to do it, because when its done, then we know He did it.
Let's not let this one get by, either: I said "an invitation methodology" which Kent transposed into "the invitation methodology".

There is no question about one thing: the NT demonstrates to us plainly that we are not to leave people hanging after we have proclaimed to them that they should know for certain that Jesus is both Lord and Christ. Our job is to then instruct or invite them to repent, believe and be baptized – that's the end of Acts 2 if you need to check the work here. But it is also plain in the NT that we are ambassadors for Christ who plead of His behalf (2 Cor 5 for the fact-checkers). This implies an invitation -- that is, as Webster's says, "a formal request to be present or participate".

Do you need 75 verses of "Just As I Am" to do that? Yeah, prolly not. But when you proclaim the Gospel you also invite the lost to taste and see the goodness of the Lord. Even Kent does that – he simply doesn’t like the ways others do it. And that, frankly, is my beef: his narrow-band view of taking the Gospel to people.
Frank writes: "welcoming greeters for outsiders"

I answer: I didn't say I was against greeting. We're about as friendly a church as one could visit, but I'm talking about it as part of the church growth package and mainly as a part of the invitation methodology or philosophy.
So you do it – you have friendly people who greet visitors – you just think that doing it for the sake of preaching the Gospel and growing your church is wrong?

... um ... Do I need to unpack that?
Frank writes: "some obvious place of worship"

I answer: Look how much emphasis (lots) is put on this in our culture (something that I believe stems from the tradition of the cathedrals of the Byzantine Empire) and then what the Bible says about church buildings. Nadda.
I see. Worshipping in public is now the equivalent of Byzantine Orthodoxy. That, Kent, is the kind of statement you ought to think about a little more thoroughly before you post it as a public opinion.

I'd love to see your extended commentary on the propriety of Spurgeon preaching in Royal Surrey Gardens Hall or on the propriety of Grace Community Church's facilities.

Here's the thing Kent: on the one hand, you're the kind of guy who will (rightly) get on about how worship is to God alone for His glory alone – but after you get over that, you want to also say, "in a hovel which we didn’t spend a lot of money on. Clean, neat, orderly, inexpensive."

Either we are giving our best to God because He deserves it, or not, dude. That is: it's one thing to toss $5 million on a building in the hopes that it will attract more people and then forget the Gospel ought to be the centerpiece, and another to preach the Gospel until you have to run 7 services over 2 days to facilitate all the people who are coming, and then use the money they are giving to build a facility which will get them all in in 2 or 3 services. The latter is beautiful and an expression of how powerful the Gospel is; the former is crude and denies the power of the Gospel. The building is not the issue: whether the building is the objective or the consequence of the community is the issue. You miss that broadly.
Frank writes: "and psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (notice Paul's range there, btw: from "inspired praise and worship" to "didactic teaching in music" to "songs which merely edify or encourage" -- a distinction Kent will surely reject)."

I answer: Respectfully Frank, this is a poor exegesis of either Col. 3:16 and Eph. 5:19, especially considering what the rest of Scripture says about music. All church music is to be worshiping God. In the ninety plus times that Scripture mentions the direction of music, it is always "to God." Our concern is whether He likes it or not, not whether we do.
Holy Mackerel! We'll get to the rest of this in a minute, but this one is a real keeper, Kent – especially given your evangelism/edification paradigm.

Let's start with your proof-texts, and then work out only one standard deviation from there.

Col 3 looks like this in the KJV:
    12Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; 13Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. 14And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. 15And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.
Sure: Paul says "singing ... to the Lord" here without any doubt. But the context here is that they are singing to the Lord for the sake of each other. Its objective is to let the word of Christ dwell in everyone richly – not simply to give God His due.

But, as I said in my original post, you reject the idea that there are 3 kinds of musical expression here, and they are of different types, different degrees. What Paul is plainly –not- saying here is, "sing from the hymnal, only from the hymnal, and nothing but the hymnal". What he plainly –is- saying is that by all means necessary edify each other in the Lord – not just in v. 16 but in the sense of the whole passage.

And in that the object of worship is God, but we benefit from doing it: we receive something when we are doing the "by any means necessary" part. That's Paul's point in Col 3 – not to limit the scope of a hymnal which isn't even written yet in a language which isn’t even spoken yet.

As to Eph 5:
    17Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. 18And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; 19Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; 20Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; 21Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.
That issue of "speaking to yourselves" is almost wholly overlooked by Kent, as is the matter of what kind of heart it takes to "make melody".

See: in the world of Kent's argument – whether this is the world he lives in or not – when people sing for joy, sing out of thankfulness, and sing in a way which doesn’t just engage their mind and spirit but their heart and soul, these are somehow bad people – because, apparently, they have their own likes and dislikes in mind rather than only God's.

If Kent's point is that we shouldn't happy songs for the sake of attracting people with a back-beat, that'd be fine – but plainly he's taking it farther than that. His point is that any time we don't sing only the exalting hymns and psalms, we are out of the worship pocket – but what about Psalm 6? Sure: the Lord is the deliverer, but that Psalm is about David's troubled state. Can we not sing Psalm 6 in church?

If you say, "It's inspired: sing it," well – what about songs like Ps 6? What about songs that demonstrate our need in light of our Lord the deliverer? Blasphemy? Or like a psalm -- which is to say, a spiritual song.

There may be ten-thousand mentions of songs "to the Lord", but when we start looking at what those inspired versions of songs say, we have to have a little broader understanding of what it means to sing a new song, to sing to the Lord.
As a byproduct of offering God what He wants ("worship"), we get teaching and admonishing (those are supportive participles). We won't get the teaching and admonishing by changing this to the purpose of the music. And they are sung "among ourselves," among God's redeemed. Never ever in Scripture is music for evangelism. John MacArthur writes in his commentary on Ephesians, "That is not the intent for music, and when emotions are played on without a clear or complete presentation of Gods' truth, such music can be counterproductive by producing a feeling of well-being that is a counterfeit of God's peace and that serves to further insulate an unbeliever from the saving gospel."
Well, Kent, again you conveniently revert to your ev/ed distinction, but here's the problem: it says plainly in 1 Cor 14 that it is far more likely that if we are edifying the faithful, we are also evangelizing the unbeliever. You know: when Paul says to put a leash on the spiritual gifts and get serious about love and "prophecy", his point is clear that the objective of corporate worship is lifting up God in a way that edifies the believer with the hope of evangelizing the unbeliever. Can you only do the last part and hope to do what Paul says here? Certainly not. But can you only do the first part and not hope for, not intend, and indeed not expect the consequences that Paul says are right and good?

You may here say, "well, Paul isn’t talking about singing here." That's myopia - intentional near-sightedness - especially if you will defend the way you interpret the great commission. If you can interpolate the call to evangelize all people into a demand for closed worship, it is a far smaller and simpler rational jump to move from the use of spiritual gifts to the use of music.
Frank writes: "The evangelical error is to put the cart before the horse; the Kent error is to have no cart at all."

I answer: This is sheer slander. My comment said nothing of the kind and neither could someone read this from my comment. They could only read this into my comment.
Let's keep in mind, Kent, that even in defending you own position here you want to draw a false distinction between edification and evangelism in worship. Let's also remember that it's you who has lavished condemnation on anyone who doesn't do it your way.

You eliminate the cart of the church from the horse of the Gospel by eliminating any praxis which expresses relational Christian virtues in a way which you don't like. You go too far in your argument -- and I suggest that you probably can't live as you argue. It's not possible because you live in an English-speaking culture which is 100 times more economically and politically stable than the church Paul wrote to, and therefore inherently expresses itself differently than those churches.
I'll hopefully be able to read through the comments on this post. I'll look forward to it. I'd be glad to talk to anyone about any of my positions. I would assume that you here welcome that kind of due process, unlike, you know, fundamentalists. Thanks Jeff for sticking up in my absence.
I admire, at least, your ability to stay inside one theme, Kent. Look forward to your next response.

)yawn( big shock

Democrats want to raise taxes on the "wealthy".

I'll never get over it.

He reads my blog

Pope Benedict prods the Global Warming establishment.


It's because Carbon Offesets are biting into Indulgences.

Something you have to read ...

...by Mark Dever on the essential Gospel, and then you have to go back and read this post and this post (in that order) by me.

Then get somebody else on the bus.

Rick warren video?

Somebody e-mailed me and said Rick Warren was on CBS this morning about the church shootings. Anyone have video linkage?

DebateBlog Update

Turns out I failed to add the exchange with Jesse to the sidebar when we wrapped up the Charismatic Gifts exchange at D-Blog. That has been fixed.

Darrin Patrick is the shark

You've been waiting for Part 3 of Darrin Patrick's covenant seminary talk on the Emerging Church, and now you can find it here.

Listen. Enjoy. Talk amongst yourselves. Comments from me later, as I have a minute.

Because you can't like without them, dude.

Romney jumps the shark

This is AP coverage of the event. If you have a link to the full text of the speech, I'd oove to read it.

He just signed his own autopsy report for evangelicals.


There will your heart be also

I hope you're all following this story. Here's my favorite quote from this dispatch:
Bishop Eddie Long, who leads a megachurch and ministry in Lithonia, Ga., initially promised to "fully comply" with Grassley's request. But a few days later, Long told his congregation the request was "unjust," "intrusive," and "an attack on our religious freedom and privacy rights."
I just want to point out that there are no small churches with bivocational pastors under scrutiny here, and that to call what most of these people do "religion" is, at best, a sociological definition.

There also don't appear to be any questions about whether they are teaching one thing or another: there are questions about how money is being spent on luxury items. That's hardly religious persecution, unless wealth is a sacrament -- which might lead to some interesting thoughts about which God that is, but I'll pass tonight because I'm tired.

The one good environmentalist

Meet Bjoern Lomborg. He's the one quoted in the NY Times as saying we should actually do some good from the environment -- like defeating malaria and HIV in the 3rd world -- rather than just feeling good about ourselves. Nice Website, too.

It's funny who gets painted as a villain these days.


Wow. I haven't posted anything in December yet – and while I'm sure some of you are pleased with such a thing, I have a reputation to keep up.

Yes, I know: that's what you were afraid of.

Those of you who enjoyed my last post would enjoy this sermon by John Piper about the Prodigal son, and if you can't figure out how the two are related, let me sketch it out for you.

Last time, we were talking about this bus which is salvation from the wrecker, and how those of us on the bus have an obligation to stop the bus and get off from time to time to get other people who are broken down on the side of the road in busted jalopies which are only worthy of the trash-heap – we have to get off and tell them that this is the only bus which isn’t going to the scrap yard where the worm doesn't die and the fire is never quenched.

But on the one hand, we have the problem of sometimes getting off the bus dressed like we're not really able or willing to help, but our heart's in the right place. But on the other hand, some of us have another problem. A couple of us get off the bus, get a couple jalopy-drivers to get on the bus, and suddenly when we all go to get back on the bus, one among us will say something like this:

"Listen – I can't get back on that bus. I mean, I've been faithful for a long time to do everything that the bus driver requires of me – and I was grateful to do it, right? – but he's letting these people who don’t really appreciate how great this bus is sit in the same seat that I sit in. They get to sit next to the window, just like me. Their chairs really recline nicely and they get to pick which movie we're going to watch next – just like me. I can't get back on that bus until I'm sure those ingrates have shown me that they know exactly how good they have it, and they walk it off a little by doing some of the work around here."

Yes: sometimes we forget to wear working clothes for the work we're going to do, and at the same times, sometimes we expect everybody to be able and willing to do the work we're doing right now – that somehow they're not really Christians unless they are at least at the same place walking it off they we are.

But here's what the bus driver says about that:

    My child, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to be merry and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.
I want you to think about this carefully today, because I think the point is a sharp one: in the same way that the bus stops for the one who hasn’t gotten on yet, it also stops for you who got on a long time ago. That is, the driver is waiting for you to get on and rejoice with the other people, none of whom deserve their place there.

"None of whom" includes you, and it includes me. And at the place where we can't see how undeserving others are because we are so blinded instead by how undeserving we are, maybe then we'll really be on the bus rather than just thumbing our nose at a ride.

UPDATED: wow -- I almost forgot the reason I wrote this post. These guys are getting people on the bus, and they are a mission church. Support them if you are able and willing, especially at Christmas.