Classic Piper

on Abortion. He's the king of Protestant social theology. God willing we all catch his passion for ... well, God's glory.

Gone Fishin'

Gone fishin'. May see Dr. Moorhead while I'm away. Try be in the Lord's house on the Lord's day with the Lord's people this weekend.

art markers and oil paints

I know a lot of people wish I would shut up more often. For example, my wife would be very happy if I didn’t blog anymore because she thinks the whole thing is creepy. She’s probably right, as usual, but if I didn’t blog this stuff she’d have to talk to me about it, and I know factually she doesn’t like to read non-fiction, so talking about non-fiction is mostly out of the question.

Anyway, Phil Johnson linked to a very long and stimulating essay by N.T. Wright about the current British whoopla over the atonement, and I liked that essay pretty well. But, of course, what’s a blog if it is only gushing praise? The good Bishop said this at the beginning of his essay:
In any case, I am one of those who think it good that the church has never formally defined 'the atonement', partly because I firmly believe that when Jesus himself wanted to explain to his disciples what his forthcoming death was all about, he didn't give them a theory, he gave them a meal. Of course, the earliest exponent of that meal (Paul, in 1 Corinthians) insists that it matters quite a lot that you understand what you are about as you come to share in it; but still it is the meal, not the understanding, that is the primary vehicle of meaning. What is more, I happen to believe, as a reader of the New Testament, that all the great 'theories' about atonement do indeed have roots there, and that the better we understand the apostolic testimony the better we see how they fit together.
And let’s be honest: I usually steer clear of getting into the boat with N.T. Wright because he’s a lot more, um, esoteric than I tend to be. He paints with a variety of brushes, and he has an oil palate; I tend to have a fat black Sharpie and 16 very nice Pantone-numbered art markers because I’m doing this for a less-refined audience.

Before we begin with the comic book characters and the angry eyebrows, this essay by Wright has a lot to appreciate. For example, he makes a fine point about the caricatures of the atonement which many people reject rather than considering the actual atonement presented in Scripture – and as far as he goes here, I’d have to agree with him. His consideration of the very poorly constructed “is God a child abuser?” objection to the manner in which God deals with sin through Christ at the Cross has a lot of good in it. And his view that the atonement has more to do with love than wrath in an interesting perspective, even if I can’t wholly say, “that’s exactly what I’d say about that.”

So if you have two days to read this essay 2 or 3 times and think about what’s good in it and what’s bad, I recommend it for your information and intellectual physical fitness.

Which leads me to this statement I have cited, above. You know: I feel tortured sometimes when I read these really smart guys because (IMO) they frequently know exactly what they are saying, but they say it in terms which are intentionally controversial. That probably says something about me because a lot of you feel that way about what I do here. Anyway, when Bishop Wright says something like the above, it sort of makes me want to check all of his good work to see if the mistake he makes in this one piece of bad work isn’t there in some genetic mutation.

Here’s what I think: I think somehow N.T. Wright, who has an extraordinarily- robust view of the operation of covenant and teleology or purpose in the work of Jesus Christ, here suddenly becomes a one-note wonder – a guy who, after berating all kinds of people for being reductive or dismissive or careless, fumbles the NT in a sort of reductive way.

Listen: I can buy, in general theological terms, into the idea that the meal, the table, is the central act of worship – that it has some analogical rather than propositional value in promulgating what the NT repeatedly calls “the Gospel”. I think there’s no question to that at all. And I think that in any case, however we perceive the relationship of that analogy to ourselves, we are demonstrating our identity in Christ by doing that in memory of Him. Amen?

I can also stand next to, without feeling all weird, the idea that somehow God’s promise to Abraham is fulfilled in Christ because of, or perhaps in spite of, the fact that Israel failed to do what Christ was able and willing to do. I think that’s a good enough covenantal view as long as you don't start demanding that it is definitive or exclusive – but I think it also has some problems in that as far as the covenants go, Israel was willing to do the “temple” work of the covenant, but wasn’t willing to do the “circumcision” work of the covenant. That is, God’s complaint with Israel turned out to be that he didn’t want sacrifice so much as He wanted obedience, and right-heartedness. It’s funny how Israel was willing to do all kinds of religious observance except, as Jesus pointed out to the Pharisees, the “the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness”.

But I have a problem when Bishop Wright – or anyone – reduces the object of the Gospel to the Lord’s table, especially when he says, “when Jesus himself wanted to explain to his disciples what his forthcoming death was all about, he didn't give them a theory, he gave them a meal”. That’s a somewhat non-linear and non-comprehensive view of how Jesus spoke about being the Christ Himself.

For example – and I would agree with Bishop Wright that many people can’t find the Gospel in the Evangels, nor do they try – it is presented in Mark 8 and again in Luke 9 and Matthew 16 that when Jesus asked the Apostles, “who do you say that I am,” and Peter, prompted by the Holy Spirit, says, “you are the Messiah”, Jesus doesn’t say, “Now take this bread and eat it, and drink the cup of the new covenant.” Luke’s robust version of what comes next is

    And [Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly.
It was to that point which Peter, apparently not listening to the Spirit of God anymore, rebukes the Christ of God!

Why rebuke Jesus if Jesus isn’t expressing something – which I think is treated unjustly if we call it a “theory”, since it is God’s view of God and not some inductive piece of analysis – of a particular, propositional nature which is either offensive or confusing?

And that’s really not all there is to it. On the road to Emmaus, after the resurrection, Christ says this to Cleopas in Luke 24:
    O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?"

    And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
Think about that: Christ did, in fact, give them a “theory” about what just happened – and more than a “theory”, but in fact the interpretation of the Prophets and Moses as to what the work of the Messiah was to be.

And before this gets away from us in the meta or at someone else’s blog, the question of what happens at the end of this story of Cleopas is critical – because someone is going to pull a J.D. Crossan on us and say that only after the meal did they know Christ himself. Listen: when Cleopas comments to his companion about what Christ told them on the road as he interpreted Moses and all the Prophets, the question was not, “is this a parable about Jesus,” but “wasn’t this man about to tell us what God has promised to do and now has done?” It is not the meal which reveals to them Moses and the Prophets: it is the words of Christ, the explanation he gives them of the Scripture.

Christ was not just a performance artist. Christ was about being the Word of God. That means He was about doing what God set out to do, and, as He said explicitly in the sermon on the Mount, to fulfill the Law.

It is reductionistic to try to read the rest of the NT through the lens of one ordinance. That’s why it’s wrong to hang so much on baptism; that’s why it’s wrong to hang so much on the eucharist. Those things are consequential, not principle.

Maybe – just maybe – my problem is that I’m a comic book guy and Bishop Wright is painting frescos in a cathedral, or very nuanced portraits in a baroque style. But when we read things like this, I wonder if he’s really trying to represent the subject he’s painting at all.

Because I said so

Check this out and vote for me. Or nominate somebody who deserves to win more than Jimmy Akin.

Just Like me, redux

John MacArthur had a radio program on Friday which the DGM blog linked, and it's just stellar. I e-mailed Phil and I told him that it's easy to make a guy like Dr. mac look good -- because he's that good.



Question for Tim Enloe and/or Kevin Johnson:

Are Mormons Christians?

It's a simple question, I think, but let's find out whether I even understand how to ask it ...

And while you're at it ...

And listen to the intro of this podcast episode because it's beautiful and real. Somebody, please, have this kind of passion of the local church!

Yes, this one, too

5. God’s distribution of suffering is not equal, and one hard thing may prepare for another.

When Lisa was 15 her father suffered an aneurysm at work and died the next morning in the hospital. Lisa: "When my father died, faith wasn’t so easy anymore. . . . I spent five years asking why, expressing my anger saying it’s not fair, before God helped me realize that he is who he is all the time – in good circumstances and bad. He is all-powerful and all-loving, but that doesn’t mean that as a citizen of this fallen world he protects us from every ‘bad’ event." (Modern Reformation, 25)

What a witness to God’s goodness and sovereignty the world would be missing today if God had not prepared Lisa Beamer for this loss by the death of her dad!
Read that one, too. Shut up and read it.


Since I am going to be swamped today, I thought I'd get some filler in here from some pastor in Minnesota:

t is profoundly wrong to turn the cross into a proof that self-esteem is the root of mental health. If I stand before the love of God and do not feel a healthy, satisfying, freeing joy unless I turn that love into an echo of my self-esteem, then I am like a man who stands before the Grand Canyon and feels no satisfying wonder until he translates the canyon into a case for his own significance. That is not the presence of mental health, but bondage to self.
Think about that today: the cross is not a mental health program meant to build us up in our own eyes.

Read the rest. This definition of joy and worthiness is one we all need to consider.

Just like me

I wasn't sure I wanted to blog about this subject at all, but it came up at our men's study group this morning and I wanted to put something together here which, I think, many Christians today are going to miss.
    But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Think about this: every Christian will affirm these verses at least intellectually, or philosophically. We're all sinners, we say, and we are all sinful.

Then we see someone like , and we think, "my God: what makes a person do something like that?" And we have people of all kinds and all sorts of confessions or beliefs asking the very obvious question, "How can God let something like that happen?"

I mean, isn't this God's fault? That's what some people think Calvinists ought to say: God did it, and that's enough -- no more questions. Somehow some people will say that Calvinists take refuge in a God who is completely without interest in human life. And some who are really questioning the foundation of the faith at a more rudimentary level will ask whether God can be either good or powerful if something like this happens.

And their point, of course, is that this kind of thing happens all the time. There is always some kind of murder or rape or oppression going on -- always someone who is treating someone else like a disposable plastic icon meant for his own satisfaction. So the question of why God lets this go on seems pretty significant and in many ways demands an answer.

On the one hand, the consequences of that question are important. If God is not good enough or powerful enough (let alone all-powerful and all-good) to stop this kind of thing, what kind of God is that? Is he even God -- can't we say God doesn't exist if we can prove He's not what we, the Christians, say He is?

In that consequence lies the first part of the answer. Because look: if God doesn't exist, the only solution for these things -- the murders, the rapes, the kidnapping of daughters and sons, the long list of man's inhumanity against man -- is that man has to do better. We can all agree, I think, that murder and violence of this sort is on some kind of "thou shalt not" list, or at least a "you ought not to" list. But that means that if man has to stop this, man ought to have done so by now.

If it's that obvious to everyone that gunning down strangers is wrong, why does it still happen? Do we need more government to make it happen? Do we need more education to make it happen? How about more religion or maybe more freedom from religion -- is it religion that causes us to do these things?

Let me suggest something here that is not simply theology, proven by a first-grade Sunday school lesson in the book of Romans: let me suggest that man cannot stop doing this because these acts of violence are part of who we are.

"Cent, you're violating your better post today," says one person, "because now you're reading your theology into this situation and into all people rather than trying to get the facts together and then draw the conclusion."

No, I think not. When a disturbed kid guns down 30+ people and then takes his own life, we can see the extent to which men can be drawn to do what is wrong. But let's be clear about something: everybody is drawn to do what is wrong because we see them as viable and useful options. Everyone may not go out to buy weapons in a premeditated way in order to commit some act of community violence, but we all do things which treat people like disposable plastic icons.

We start dating sometimes because we need someone else to fill in our own personal need for attention; we break up when we think someone else will better suit that need, or will make us more socially acceptable. We manipulate situations at work in order to get promoted, or perhaps to simply avert being fired. We ignore people who are in need because we think they might latch on to us and cause us to lose some face in the community, and we despise people who do the same to us. We envy others who have what we want, and scorn others who can't have what we got. Yes: nobody dies most of the time, but once in a while some child gets aborted because we think our idea of a good time should include using another person's body for our own cheap thrills.

We don't want to admit it, but the truth is this: we are really like this disturbed kid who shot up his college campus in type, even if it is not in degree.

That's what "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" means. It means that we are all under judgment, and that (if we take our Calvinism seriously for a moment) it is really only because God intends to save at all that any of us don't wind up going farther and farther down the dark alley of our own desires until we don't have any choice but to mug or be mugged, to rape or be raped.

It means that I am just like Cho Seung-Hui -- not that I am unlike him and he's the one who did something God hates. I am like him. If I am honest, I can see in my own life the moments when I could have gone one step farther than I did in some sinful act and stepped into a life which would have meant that I was the one who would have killed 30 people who didn't even get a chance to be grown-ups yet. I'm the one who could have harbored that kind of rage. I'm the one who could have cut myself off from other people until they simply became targets in a shooting gallery. I'm the English major who could have written himself into a frenzy of confusion until I couldn't tell the difference between what's real and what's invented by my own distorted internal dialog.

He could have been me: I am a sinner, and I am the cause of sin.

So to ask the question, "Why does God allow?" has to go back to the issue of "What is God allowing?" The glib answer to the question is, "God is allowing evil deeds," but in fact God is allowing us to prove that we are what He has said we are. God tells us we are sinners -- and has provided the perfect Law to prove it to us. And in that, the solution God has on-tap is wrath against sin.

Think about that: the first solution in God's menu would rightfully be "wipe out all sinners" so that those who do wrong do not infect others with the wrongness, and so that God's own holiness is satisfied. But the problem is that God would have to wipe out everyone to get that done in a way that really solves the problem -- because if it's not Cho Seung-Hui, it's going to be Matt Gumm, or Phil Johnson, or Dan Phillips, or James White, or Pecadillo, or (most likely, in this list) me -- centuri0n.

What God is allowing now is the proof that we -- all of us -- cannot solve the problem of evil. But that is hardly the end of the story.

Because the next item of God's menu is "show love: be the one who is just and is the justifier". God can't abandon the question of evil -- He knows as well as you (and far better, since this is His work of Creation) that evil must be overcome and punished, but there is the question of whether He can punish and still love.

And in that, God has already loved the world so much that He gave us something which is precious to Him above all the rest of creation: His only Son. God gave His only son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life -- God didn't send the Son to judge this sick and sinful world in order to destroy it all, but in order to save it.

That is, to save it from our selfish relationships which violate the image of God in other men and women; to save it from the petty violence inherent in every lie, every theft, every murder; to save it from our cheap jealousy over cars and clothes and houses and lawns and clubs and herd-like solidarity; to save it from our dissatisfaction with our own spouses and from our imaginary fantasies that someone else's spouse would better satisfy us. And most of all, to save us from blaming God for the things we do willingly and consciously which other people recognize as shameful and sick but which we excuse ourselves from because we know we don't mean anything by it, really.

Why did God allow? Why does God allow you to do what you do, friend? Why does He allow you to harm other people -- or is that not what you meant?

God allows these things in order that a greater redemptive purpose can be manifest in Creation. So that nobody gets their nose out of joint more than I mean to put it, this purpose is God's purpose for God's own end and intention -- but it saves men.

A tragedy like this is about the essential, primary, necessary nature of the Gospel and the work of Jesus Christ to fulfill all the Law and all the Prophets. There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

Listen to the fear and the crushing sadness you hear in your own heart as you think about Cho Seung-Hui. It is not because he did something unspeakable: it is because he is just like you, and whatever the solution is for him, that solution is for you.

Brace yourselves

Partial Birth Abortion Ban upheld by 5-4 vote at SCOTUS.

I don't care what you call it

This will not turn into a rant or a six-page exposition of human frailty. I just have something burdening me after doing my daily skim of the blogosphere.

Listen: do you hate Calvinism? I'm OK with that, really -- you're allowed to be intellectually and even emotionally opposed to the idea that soteriology places man in a subordinate and mercy-needing position before God. That doesn't make you right, but you are within your rights to think that way.

Here's what I don't care for, really: I don't care for you being unable to be honest about Calvinism. That comes in two major brand names, so if you fall into one of them you can go ahead and start being offended:

[1] Hunt's Tomato Paste: "I hate Calvinism, but I can't accurately describe the Doctrines which constitute such a thing." Listen: read a book or something -- and I mean read the whole book, don;t skim it in hopes that you have picked out the useful bits by mistake. The Five Points of Calvinism, 2nd Ed., By D.N. Steele, C.C. Thomas & S.L. Quinn, would be a great and brief place for you to start.

[2] Caner's Spaghetti Noodles: "I hate Calvinism, and I will handle Scripture in any way that I need to in order to tell people how mad it makes me." See -- the thing is that there are some passages of Scripture that you have to admit make God look pretty sovereign and unthwartable. For example, Gen 50 makes it clear that God intends to work a saving end out of the evil intentions and actions of Joseph's brothers -- and whether there's a broader application to all things there or not, that's a really amazing piece of evidence that God's sovereignty is also over the ends and means of salvation. And John 6 -- dude, that may be the most wholly-abused passage of the whole Bible, with the remarkable fact that there are not two non-Calvinist perspectives on that passage which agree with each other. If you get serious about your hermeneutic, and you find a passage that teaches something about God you don't like, the answer is not to change your hermeneutic: it is to change your understanding about God.

Thanks. Back to work with you ...

CafePress: evil

CafePress just sent me an e-mail saying that they had some kind of catastrophic system failure and they lost a lot of the images at my cafePress store. That means the Pawn Shop will have some slow service as they and I try to restore all the images they lost.

That's what I pay $6 a month for: losing two years worth of graphic snark.

More about Love

This love of Christ is effective in protecting us from separation, and therefore is not a universal love for all, but a particular love for his people – those who, according to Romans 8:28, love God and are called according to his purpose.

This is the love of Ephesians 5:25, "Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her." It is Christ’s love for the church, his bride. Christ has a love for all, and he has a special, saving, preserving love for his bride. You know you are part of that bride if you trust Christ. Anyone – no exceptions – anyone who trusts Christ can say, I am part of his bride, his church, his called and chosen ones, the ones who verse 35 says are kept and protected forever no matter what.
You needed that, and the rest of that message, today. I know you did.

Some People ...

Go read this, and then ask yourself: which of the claims made on this page are verifiable? If none of them are, how pious is all this talk in fact? If any of them them are, and they are proven false, is there any kind of consequence for the person or people who are making these statements publicly?

And think on this, please: can you find the Gospel anyplace on that page? If you can, would you point me to it?

Blog This

In 4 parts, no less:

Worth talking about. I'm interested in seeing what you-all will say about this ...

Open Letter: Malkin

Dear Michelle --

I saw your blurb about Hanif Kureishi today, and I think it's an interesting opinion in the mix of the general atmosphere of our culture after the firing of Don Imus. For the record, I think Ann Coulter got the Imus thing exactly right, so that's my context for sending this along. What Imus did should not have been a career-ender, it was also not really very funny, but his target was a group not in a public conversation. They were not fair game, and that was his mistake. The "lesson learned" there is that we have to pick our targets of humor and/or scorn with an eye on what's right.

Your concern, I think, is that Kureishi's screenplay has a subject so reprehensible that there is no humor in it -- that finding anything laughable there is reprehensible. In one respect, I am sure you are right: the barbarism and the gruesome arrogance of the beheadings is an outrage against the idea of civilization. If we think about it for a second, I am sure that's exactly what the jihadists who did these things were thinking: they wanted to desecrate everything related to what you and I would call civilization, and they'd be proud to be seen as bloody enemies of everything we would consider reasonable and valuable.

The real irony, of course, is that Kureishi's story robs them of that. These men are certainly fair game. Yes: the situation is still not even scarred over yet in a historical sense, but to reduce those events to a sort of sit-com of dark comedy robs the Jihadists of their only real intellectual weapon -- which is seriousness, or credibility. There is a real value in confronting their vile disregard for human life with caricature, laughs, and dark sarcasm: it turns their cause -- in the same way cartoons of Hitler did during WWII -- into something beneath contempt and only worthy of derision.

The victims of these crimes are innocent casualties of war -- no question. /Their/ sacrifices cannot be short-changed. But we cannot allow ourselves to be so serious and obsessed with a military victory that we sacrifice all the things we hold dear -- including our intellectual freedoms -- in the prosecution of this global war. We must see all our allies in this fight as allies and not as enemies on other fronts. If Imus was wrong -- and he was -- then we ought to take the lesson there and apply it to this situation where the weapons of words are being used against an enemy who deserves it.

Just food for thought on a Monday.

Grace and Peace to you,


P.S. -- this version of this note is slightly different in the first paragraph, which is a little weird, so I apologize for that.

I just found out ...

... that my plan to attend this subversive event is a lock.

It looks like fun. More on this later ...

Soft Serve?

In case anyone has this feeling that I think we should make the Gospel into a sweet little drink which everyone likes the first time they taste it on a hot day, read this essay by Doug Wilson which is the right-minded demand for the hard words of the Gospel to make men with soft hearts.
We need men who wake up in the morning knowing what they believe. We need men committed to truth in principle, who are willing to be unpopular in some quarters. We must be committed to the authority of truth over us, and know that makes debate and discussion a moral imperative. In an age as compromised as ours, this will only serve to increase that unpopularity. But the authority of truth means that hard study is not just a matter of scholarship chasing its tail. Questions are to be raised for the sake of finding answers. Splitting the difference between the right answer and the wrong answer will only result in another wrong answer.
As they say in the reg'ler blogosphere, read the whole thing. What Doug is talking about here is not the missiology of the church: he's talking about whether or not we have a church at all. In spite of himself and his inclusive take on baptism, he's talking what the necessary menu ought to be, and that the menu is necessary if we are going to be what the franchise agreement says we must be.

Fries with that

[disclaimer: this is not a paid advertisement]

So there were a lot of e-mails flying around yesterday, and without violating any agreed confidences, I had this thought while trading bandwidth with a couple of people.

It starts, as is common in my world, with a cartoon:

The comment was made that this is the conservative view of orthodoxy -- it's a prison or a fortress meant to keep all kinds of people out. And, I guess, there's something to that -- but it gives the impression that the objective of the Gospel is to make the church into a bunker, and that somehow the church's primary task is to keep itself clearly separated from the world and that's it.

Listen: there's no question that James 1:27 says that Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to keep oneself unstained from the world. But it doesn't only say that. It says, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." That is, we have to be in the world but not of the world -- we have to be doing things which present the Gospel to the world. We are suppose to be a Light to the world (Mt 5:12; Phil 2:15).

So whatever orthodoxy is -- and it is something specific -- it cannot be something which causes us to be a bunker. And if I may propose this without being seen as condescending or disrespectful, I think this is what orthodoxy ought to turn us into:

Now, before you go insane and fill the meta with denunciations, hear me out. In the first place, Sonic is pretty limited, right? You can't get a steak at Sonic, and you can't get a pizza, and you can't get lobster tail or any of that stuff -- so someone who is looking for that can't pull up to the talking sign and demand a seafood platter and then be in a huff when the voice tells them, "I'm sorry, you can't get that here -- how about a Slush?" In fact, we would think that someone who did that to the talking sign would be somewhat of an egomaniac -- because everyone knows what Sonic is about.

In that, Sonic doesn't care what seafood lovers want. Sonic knows what's good for Sonic, and doesn't much listen to critics who think Sonic should also be Red Lobster or the Outback Steak House. Sonic's not going to add all kinds of bad ideas to its inventory because someone thinks their menu is too limited.

But on the other hand, Sonic is able to leverage its menu to be somewhat wildly popular -- and that, maybe based on one item: the Slush. Just a few flavors, but the slush is by a long shot Sonic's claim to fame -- especially since they did away with the Frito Chili Pie (a violation of orthodoxy which they will pay the price for in the long run, I am certain).

But my point is this: Sonic maintains a kind of regimented plan and creates itself not to be a defender of its plan so much as a promoter of its plan. That is, the plan is what it is, and people should know that this plan is full of good things. They don't have to change the plan. The Slush will always be Sonic's foundational matter -- because the Slush is good.

Think about it: Lemon Berry Slush. Just the words make you want to go get one. It makes the back of my throat dry to think about it. What Sonic has -- I want that. And it's not because Sonic has pandered to me: it is because I have tasted of what Sonic has, and it is good. And remember: Sonic doesn’t have any shame in asking you, once you’re hooked on the Slush, "You want fries with that?" They don't have any shame in asking you every time you come for the sweet, savory stuff if you will also take the up sell -- if you would be willing to go in for more while you are here.

I'd be willing to take for granted today that your church has an orthodox statement of faith -- that it has the Christian menu someplace in there. Here's my question: does your church treat the menu like it's something to be protected and defended, or does it treat the menu as the only reasonable thing which we must share? Is it serving up the Gospel, or is it hiding the Gospel? Is it a result of the Gospel, and an outlet for the Gospel or is it trying to hide the Gospel from harm and keep it safe from anyone who might touch it?

I realize this analogy has some pretty serious limits, but look: Christ wants to be lifted up. You can't lift Christ up very far if you live in a bunker -- the ceiling is too low.

Let's think about how we can leverage orthodoxy as something which is spiritually delicious today, something that if people taste and see, they will want it more and more.

Come and get it.

Lost tomb on life-support

Scholars jumping off sinking ship.

Fair is fair

I had some choice words for Teen Mania in a previous post, and so that none of those statements can be misunderestood, I am directing you to the CharityNavigator site for Teen mania.

Things that are relevant to that information:
  • It is interesting to note that, unlike some "evangelical" ministries, Ron Luce does not have multiple fronts for his organization. That is: BattleCry, Teen Mania, Honor Academy and all the rest are all under the top-line heading of "Teen Mania", and Mr. Luce doesn't draw multiple salaries. That may not seem like much, but it's what I would call a credibility builder for the guy's character. He may be wrong theologically, but he doesn't try to milk his ministry.
  • Principle salaries are listed at CharityNavigator, and it is clear that Katie Luce draws a secretary's salary. It's actually a secretary-sized salary and not some ridiculous cover for an addition 100-large to come into the Luce coffers. Again, that's a thumb's up for credibility.
  • CN also gives TM a 4-star rating, which is very good. It means that a large portion of the money coming in goes back directly into the charity's functions.
So as you think about what I said about the theology of Teen Mania, let's make sure we don't confuse that with the accounting practices or the operation of Teen Mania. They run a reputable ship and are not profiteering or funneling money to the top of the organization but are doing what they say they will do.

For the record, OK?

Catez hot tin roof

Catez emailed me to make sure I didn’t miss his her (sheesh!) reply at Dan Kimball’s blog – because, you know, Dan Kimball’s not going to respond to those kinds of questions – and I wanted to make sure I responded to him her in full.


I got this e-mail from Dan Kimball? And in it, Pastor Kimball pointed out my statement about "those kinds of questions", and my interpretation of his comment is that my statement comes across as a bit uncharitable toward him.

He's right. I apologize.

Wow - you really managed to mischaracterise me in your comment:

"What strikes me as interesting in the responses from catez (who is a reader of my blogging elsewhere) and Eric is that they don't see blogging as a valid form of dialog. It can only be a fight, or it can only be impersonal, or it can only be not enough. Geez, guys: why blog?"

I don't see what my reading of your blog has to do with this for starters.
For starters, Catez, it has to do with context. Pastor Kimball and his readers may have an excuse for thinking that I’m just a blogger itchin’ for a fight, but you should know better. In that, when your original reply to me was Do you think so Frank? That he should suddenly engage in public "rounds" with some-one to satisfy your curiosity? Would that be the best reason? I mean, having said what you've said, how could anyone not think an approach to dialogue was just contrived after that?, you should have some small insight into what exactly I’m asking for when Chamblee shows up looking for friends among anyone who will say I’m a bad guy.

I do think that engaging Chamblee would be an excellent place for Dan Kimball to test his “They Like Jesus” methodology out. Does it put Chamblee on the defensive? I’d be a liar if I said, “no,” but seriously: what statement of affirmation about evangelism would not put Chamblee on the defensive?
I wasn't commenting on your blog at all. Neither did I specify what I thought "rounds" meant - so you've read your own definition into that.
I like that – “I’ll put ‘rounds’ in quotes to make a point of repeating what seems to be a perspective in Frank’s comment, underscoring my perspective that Frank has some kind of excessive curiosity and is therefore making a spectacle of the event, but when Frank calls me on it, I’ll just say I was too vague for him to comment that way.”

If your point was not that blogging an interaction with a rank unbeliever like Chamblee is profitless and contrived, and should not be done for the sake of a spectacle, please tell me what it was. Tell me how you expressed that point of view in your comment.
My comment was asking - since you missed it - if the best reason for engaging in dialogue with some-one who is not a believer simply the satisfaction of your curiosity? - and given what you had already said wouldn't a sudden dialogue seem contrived? i.e. who is more important in the dialogue - you or the person being dialogued with?
It seems that I have not misread you at all, catez: you just don’t like hearing what you are saying come out of someone else’s keyboard.But since you asked, the best reason for engaging Chamblee with the “They Like Jesus” method is that he’s right there, and he’s an unbeliever. That is, we are allegedly talking about effective evangelism strategies, right? And Pastor Kimball is making a video series about how good this works, yes? And Zondervan is banking on this strategy to sell some books, right?

Well, golly: Chamblee says he likes Jesus but he can’t stand the people who worship Him. There ya go: that’s outside the bubble. Let’s get a dialog and an intelligent conversation and a non-polemic interaction which doesn’t just quote Bible verses at somebody going with Chamblee.

Why? Because that’s what Pastor Kimball says we ought to be doing.

I’d love that. I wouldn’t even comment on it – because it is possible that one of my greatest problems is that I am too polemical, and I am too loveless and that I do beat people over the head with the Bible.

Show me the better way. Teach me. Provide an example for me in this fellow who thinks he can garner your partnership against the fundies and Jesus-worshippers because he thinks they have done something wrong by you-all.

That’s all: teach me. What I got you don’t want, but if what you got does what I am actually trying to do, I’ll change. I’ll come across. The Gospel is not about one script for reaching the lost, and I want to win the lost. You know: because you have read my blog and know that’s my #1 concern.
It is a complete lie to say that I don't see blogging as a form of dialogue. Nothing in my comment here or anywhere else indicates that I believe that. I've been blogging for 3 1/2 years and have never said blogging cannot lead to dialogue. I've had many dialogues - some public and some private. I think you owe me an apology actually.
An apology for what exactly? I’m pretty ready to apologize to anybody when I shatter glass or even drop the ball. But in this case, between you and this fellow Eric, I’m fairly confident that what has happened is that I have asked some pointed questions to and about someone you value which he is not prepared to answer. In that, I have also responded to what I would call “knee-jerk objections” against fair questions. You and Eric both simply reacted against what you see as hostility toward Pastor Kimball – when in fact, in the thread he opened to field questions, he hasn’t answered one.

It is your view that, having pointed out that Chamblee is an unbeliever with whom this method could be tested out, the dialog would not be useless. Why? Because it is a blog format – one where (as Eric said) there is post/counterpost, or as you said, one which is “contrived”.
I do believe that my conversations and dialogues with those who are not Christians occurs as a set of responses between two people who want to engage in discussion - not as some sort of "proof" of method to some-one else bystanding.
Problematically, the video series Dan Kimball is producing with Zondervan says something else by the very nature of its production: that is, we teach this method by example.

In that, think through your complaint here, catez. I think you have over-reacted because I have asked Dan Kimball the same kinds of questions I have asked iMonk, and Steve Camp, and the atheist guys who have passed through, and whoever else we don’t mention out of a loathing to summon them. That is, I have been the same kind of guy to someone who some think is above being subjected to direct questions.

Dude: he opened up the comments and asked for questions. Mine were honest and made with the proper level of respect for a pastor. And Chamblee is still lost. I wonder why only people like me will bother to interact with him?

Must Read

Islam vs. Islamists, and PBS vs. the world.

Read it yourself, and then write to PBS and tell them that their waste of donor and federal money by scrapping this project is shameful and deserves criticism. You can't say more than that fairly until you get to see the documentary.

And I for one and dying to see that documentary.

Other Loudness

Joe Thorn gave us a link yesterday (it's about time, Joe), and I thought I'd clean up some loose ends regarding what I said there. Because the problem, really, is what we think we ought to be doing about culture. On the one hand, we have all kinds of people who want to view the internal church culture with an open hand, making the culture of the church somehow "like" the culture at large in order to get some people off their duff, so to speak, to come in and maybe hear about Jesus even though they really came for the coffee or the band.

And that sounds like a criticism of the "emergent" folks (and it is), but think about this: there are plenty of nondescript, nondenominational megachurches out there which fit this mold, so let's not pretend that the biggest problem here is the "innovators": the biggest problem is that our idea of innovation (if such a thing is rightly said about the preaching of the Gospel) is to get a new logo for "new Coke" in the hope that it's the logo people hate and not the crappy, too-sweet taste.

But on the other hand, we also have the view that somehow it's the culture we have to save. You know: this gets underscored in this week's Rolling Stone magazine as they do a little 3-pager on Ron Luce's Acquire the Fire empire. I always turn on a second light and get out my reading glasses whenever I see someone who graduated from Oral Roberts University, and I always break out the air fresheners whenever I see someone who is endorsed by Jerry Falwell, but look at what Rolling Stone reports about Luce's view of things -- which is reiterated, btw, at the Acquire the Fire website:

"This is a real war," Luce preaches. When he talks like that, he growls. "This is not a metaphor!" In Cleveland, he intercuts his sermons with videos of suicide bombers and marching Christian teens. One of the most popular, "Casualties of War," features an elegiac beat by a Christian rapper named KJ-52 laid over flickering pictures of kids holding signs declaring the collapse of Christendom: 1/2 OF US ARE NO LONGER VIRGINS, reads a poster board displayed by a pigtailed girl. 40% OF US HAVE INFLICTED SELF-INJURY, says a sign propped up over a sink in which we see the hands of a girl about to cut herself. 53% OF US BELIEVE JESUS SINNED, declares the placard of a young black man standing in a graffiti-filled alley.
Yes: all of the things listed here are bad -- some morally, some theologically. But the question is this: is it the secular culture we have to win? See: I thought that Jesus came to establish a new Heavens and a new Earth, not to try to make the one we have wrecked into one in which Victoria's Secret only sells stuff to married women, but doesn't target unmarried women because that would be profitable.

Jesus didn't come here, giving up His rightful place on the throne of Heaven and the active praise of creatures which will make you cry out in fear because they are flames of fire, and die on a cross so we can have a global America. Middle Class American culture is not the reason the Son of God spilled His own blood. He did not walk out of the tomb to hand you the keys to a new SUV or a house with a nice, flat sod yard.

Jesus came to die for sinners, and it wasn't because He was angry but because of Love. It is because God loved the world that He gave His only son -- you know: "for God so loved the world ...". "For" here means "because" or "on accout of". So the smack-talk about war and opposing cultural terrorists is just as stupid as capitulating to a passive-aggressive culture which will just not talk to you if you disagree with them. Because you're mean.

This Jesus is a crazy person by any normal standard. He thinks that if He dies, many will be saved -- He doesn't think that if he calls down 10,000 legions of angels and frees Himself anyone will be saved. He doesn't demand His rights -- which would be the rights of the King and Ruler of everything -- but gives them up to accomplish something else. And He calls us to be like Him.

He thinks that if we are obedient, the world will hate us, but those who are called will come. Think about that: Jesus doesn't want us to win an argument but to tell the truth and then accept the disdain of those who reject the truth. He doesn't want us to kill our enemies but to love them, and he doesn't want us to attack them but to die to sin daily. If we have seen the enemy, we know that he is Us -- and in that, the wrong thing to do is to call those like whom we once were the real enemies of the Gospel.

If there are enemies of the Gospel, they belong to a group who has access to and in some way posseses the Gospel. The single-mom stripper doesn't possess the Gospel. The Victoria's Secret district manager doesn't possess the Gospel. MTV not only does not possess the Gospel, but it couldn't trip over it if they were standing in the middle of it blindfolded and the Gospel was wrapped in concentric circles around them.

And if I can get this off my chest, there's something wrong with a guy who runs stadium events and lives like Tony Robbins in very nice hotels and has a staff of hundreds who tells kids that they are the ones who need to give up the materialistic luxuries of this world. Heh bub: when you fire your personal hair stylist, stop buying relevant updates to your wardrobe, establish a local church and some personal accountability for yourself among the people of God rather than appealing to phony authorities like James Dobson and Pat Robertson, then you can credibly start the organ music against secularism, materialism, idolatry and immorality and set the monkey to dancing.

So listen to me: this statement -- this thesis which my pastor has proposed and is working out in his own life and the life of our local church -- that "The Gospel is the solution to culture" is not just a slogan which you have to contemplate with some kind of zen-like objective of becoming nothing. This is the serious business of first being utterly humbled by the hands that were pierced through by the nails which we deserved, and the head which was mocked and slapped and crowned with thorns instead of the perfect diadem it deserved, and the side from which blood and water flowed to prove He had died from the punishment; then it is a matter of being that humble before people who aren't that humble, and who think you are stupid and weak for being humble -- until they either kill you for being like the firstborn of many brothers, or they finally see His loving face and feel His loving hands and hear His loving voice in your declaration that they know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus who was crucified.

That doesn't get us a republican majority in the House or the Senate, and it won't get us a pro-life President who will actually seek to protect the innocent and the oppressed: it gets us killed for the sake of our fellow men -- economically, socially, emotionally, professionally, in all the ways our heart and minds and souls can manifest this truth. It doesn't earn us the respect of those who say they like our Jesus but can't understand us: it makes us witnesses -- martyrs -- to truth.

Don't buy the t-shirt. Don't get the plastic symbol for your car. Don't pretend that you can join the club and once you have a membership card it's all good. Get real. Get serious about whether the death of Christ means something more than entertainment and personal gratification.

Thinking Out Loud

I've been thinking about some of the things people on the emergent side of the blogosphere have been saying lately about why people like Jesus but hate the church. Many of them sound suspiciously familiar, but let's admit a few things about the sociological group in the U.S. known and recognized as "Christian":

There is no effort to think about substantive differences inside the sociological loaf of bread. That is: when Pat Robertson says something stupid, everyone from Marginal Mike and Lukewarm Lisa to John MacArthur, John Piper and J. Ligon Duncan takes a credibility hit, and nobody comes out to say, "Pat, please shut up." The leadership of the church has to be more open and public about its repudiation of kooks -- whoever they are. In the American Christian loaf, there is a lot of bread, a lot of vacuous pockets, and enough whole-grain nuts to make the whole loaf full of, um, high fiber, if you see what I'm saying.

There is no effort to systematically and publicly underscore meaningful theological differences. You can prove this yourself by asking any nominal Christian or any non-believer this question: "Is there a substantive difference between what the Bible teaches and what the Koran teaches?" There's no way to approach even the Protestant/Catholic divide -- let alone the Presbyterian/Baptist divide -- when most people can't even identify the uniqueness and superiority of Christ.

There is no effort on the part of denominational leaders across the board to repudiate men who reject denominationalism for the sake of building private empires. The slogan, "I follow Jesus" (and its ugly brother, "I follow the Holy Spirit") ought to be treated in exactly the same way Paul told the Corinthians to treat that slogan -- which is, to reject it from people who use it to garner favor and position inside the church. The exact same thing ought to be true when men embrace denominationalism to raise their own personal capital.

There is also no attempt to distinguish between the actual stumbling block of the Gospel and phony stumbling blocks which people erect to protect themselves from evangelism. For example, it's a phony stumbling block -- a ruse, a red herring -- when someone says they think the church is "too judgmental". Too judgmental about what? When was the last time there was a book burning at a local church that you didn't have to hunt up via Google? How about a live protest against -- let alone public evangelism toward -- homosexuals which was meaningful? The church is not one-tenth as judgmental as the radical political left in this country, and that is to its shame.

And let me be clear about something, before I get misquoted: book burning and public picketing of objectionable events is judgmental. Yelling at homosexuals who are walking around at their version of public worship is judgmental and antithetical to the Gospel. Tearing up books and throwing them into a fire in front of TV cameras is ignorant and mean-spirited. But when does this happen, really? Who has personally witnessed such a thing? Nobody I know -- and I have lived both in large, metropolitan cities and now in the Bible belt.

[UPDATED: To be fair, James White experienced some really amazing stumbling blocks this weekend, so I do actually know somebody who has been a victim of "too judgmental". My suggestion, James, is to post old women in electric wheelchairs outside the church next week and let Lonnie see what kind of stuff he's made of.]

However, at the exact same time, the church is also not 10% as involved in influencing the culture as the radical political left. We live in a bunker, and we behave in public like people who live in a bunker -- which is to say, we have no idea how to act. We look away when people look us in the eye; we stammer, and don't understand the cadences of normal human speech. We act like we have never seen a person outside of our own family before. So on the one hand, we have no idea how to object to things we know are wrong, and on the other hand we don't even know how to treat other people like human beings because we live in the 21st century versions of caves.

I think these are true things -- this is how it really is in the world. And this is not to the church's credit by any leap of the imagination. But what concerns me about these things is that somehow they are used to leverage the good conscience of the church (irony: you'd think that a church like the one above doesn't have a good conscience) to listen to people who are not in or of the church to motivate some kind of change.

Listen: the reason to change is that we are being disobedient to God. There is a great side effect of doing that -- we will decimate the criticisms of those outside the church, and win people by our love rather than by our slogans or arguments. But the method for change is Gospel-centered reformation, and the motive for change which sticks is God-ward love and obedience. So if you have the complaints, above, you're right: those things are true. The question is whether becoming what the culture wants us to be is the answer, or will we be the solution to culture.

He asked ...

iMonk posted an addendum to his good post on Stupid Evangelical Tricks, and he asked "how do you like me now?"

Yeah, well, let's not go there. Let's deal with the opinions he has passed out.

To wit: he said evangelicals don't read enough Scripture in worship. Amen. The problem which might be worked out is whether he means "recite from the missal (or whatever cyclical coverage of Scripture one may use)" or "read and therefore exhort with teaching". If he means the latter, there's no questions to ask. If he means the former, how is that better than singing songs excessively? Just because it's Scripture and the words are passing over someone's eyes or ears or mouth doesn't mean it's being handled reverently and in the useful ways Scripture says it ought to be used. So maybe that needs some more fleshing out than his linked piece gives us.

And the other thing, of course, is where we start checking our wallets and such. The buzzword "liturgy" is supposed to get us back to a place where it's entiurely not about me and entirely about God Almighty -- but it seems to me that there is a catch here which the liturgists always overlook. There is no liturgy prescribed by Scripture. In that, all liturgy is man-made. So escaping the tyrrany of (and Michael Horton quaintly said in the last few weeks on WHI) "the discotheque" is fine, but escaping it for the tyrrany of another (dead) culture to prove we are not inflicting ourselves on God's space seems somewhat theologically luddite.

We aren't suppose to be the centerpieces of worship by any means, but we ought to be involved in some way, no? Otherwise we should just stick to the Latin mass with the offending bits about transubstantiation somehow toned down (as if we could understand the Latin invocations anyway), and tell outelves that we do this for God's sake entirely and we are nothing.

Or perhaps we could do what Paul says to do, for example, in 1 Corinthians and see to it that we do all things in proper order and worship God in a way which builds up the body -- meaning man gets something spiritual out of the practice while giving God all the real honor and glory He deserves.

Yes, I'm sure you disagree. Take it to the meta ...

Thinking like God

Jesus and his disciples went to the villages near the town of Caesarea Philippi. As they were walking along, he asked them, "What do people say about me?"

The disciples answered, "Some say you are John the Baptist or maybe Elijah. Others say you are one of the prophets."

Then Jesus asked them, "But who do you say I am?"

"You are the Messiah!" Peter replied.

Jesus warned the disciples not to tell anyone about him, and began telling his disciples what would happen to him. He said, "The nation's leaders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law of Moses will make the Son of Man suffer terribly. He will be rejected and killed, but three days later he will rise to life." Then Jesus explained clearly what he meant.

Peter took Jesus aside and told him to stop talking like that. But when Jesus turned and saw the disciples, he corrected Peter. He said to him, "Satan, get away from me! You are thinking like everyone else and not like God."

So when the time came, the chief priests and leaders took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), "I thirst." A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, "It is finished," and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

At the crack of dawn on Sunday, the women came to the tomb carrying the burial spices they had prepared. They found the entrance stone rolled back from the tomb, so they walked in. But once inside, they couldn't find the body of the Master Jesus.

They were puzzled, wondering what to make of this. Then, out of nowhere it seemed, two men, light cascading over them, stood there. The women were awestruck and bowed down in worship. The men said, "Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again." Then they remembered Jesus' words.

They left the tomb and broke the news of all this to the Eleven and the rest. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them kept telling these things to the apostles, but the apostles didn't believe a word of it, thought they were making it all up.

But Peter jumped to his feet and ran to the tomb. He stooped to look in and saw a few grave clothes, that's all. He walked away puzzled, shaking his head.

That same day two of the discples were walking to the village Emmaus, about seven miles out of Jerusalem. They were deep in conversation, going over all these things that had happened. In the middle of their talk and questions, Jesus came up and walked along with them. But they were not able to recognize who he was.

He asked, "What's this you're discussing so intently as you walk along?"

They just stood there, long-faced, like they had lost their best friend. Then one of them, his name was Cleopas, said, "Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn't heard what's happened during the last few days?"

He said, "What has happened?"

They said, "The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene. He was a man of God, a prophet, dynamic in work and word, blessed by both God and all the people. Then our high priests and leaders betrayed him, got him sentenced to death, and crucified him. And we had our hopes up that he was the One, the One about to deliver Israel. And it is now the third day since it happened. But now some of our women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and couldn't find his body. They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn't see Jesus."

Then he said to them, "So thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Why can't you simply believe all that the prophets said? Don't you see that these things had to happen, that the Messiah had to suffer and only then enter into his glory?" Then he started at the beginning, with the Books of Moses, and went on through all the Prophets, pointing out everything in the Scriptures that referred to him.

They came to the edge of the village where they were headed. He acted as if he were going on but they pressed him: "Stay and have supper with us. It's nearly evening; the day is done." So he went in with them. And here is what happened: He sat down at the table with them. Taking the bread, he blessed and broke and gave it to them. At that moment, open-eyed, wide-eyed, they recognized him. And then he disappeared.

Back and forth they talked. "Didn't we feel on fire as he conversed with us on the road, as he opened up the Scriptures for us?"

So they didn't waste a minute. They were up and on their way back to Jerusalem. They found the Eleven and their friends gathered together, talking away: "It's really happened! The Master has been raised up—Simon saw him!"

Then the two went over everything that happened on the road and how they recognized him when he broke the bread.

Easter Egg


UPDATED: What?! Twice in 48 hours? The words Eschaton somehow seemabout right ...

The other side of Christmas

Some of you will remember that at Christmas last year (2006) I wrote a 6-part series on Christmas and the wrath of God. And it turns out that we should be rejoicing at Christmas because of the wrath of God and what that child that no one seemed to be waiting for mean when you put them together.

Listen: in spite of neo-puritanical objections that Easter is a pagan holiday, this is where the filling gets put into that apple pie. This is where the real choice meat gets put into the stew. Because while the child who should have been served by angels allowed Himself to be made in the form of a servant is good news, what happens here on Good Friday is even better.

We could recount it from the Gospels, or watch Mel Gibson’s snuff picture on the subject, but I have a different idea. Paul says this in Col 2:
    See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him [that is, Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
Listen: this beautiful child who was born to a carpenter and his wife waited until the time was right. (Rom 5:6) He told men who God was, and what God wanted, and some thought that meant He [this Jesus] was going to establish the throne of David immediately and start handing down the Law, opening up the wine press where the grapes of wrath are stored, and da-da-da-dada-da-da His terrible swift sword (in the Aramaic original, of course, which didn’t rhyme like that).

But that’s not what Jesus came to do at all. Not that first time. Jesus came to do something necessary for that ultimate goal to be achieved: in Him, the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands was nailed to the cross. And in having that debt cancelled, Christ put the “rulers and principalities” to shame in a public way – by triumphing over them.

In a way, I wish I had started this earlier so that we could talk about why the matter of legal demands is relevant to us sophisticated TV-watchers and iPod listeners, but that would just bog down the point here.

On that feast day of the Jews, when Jesus hung on the Cross and died, something was happening which is unimaginable: the sins of men, item by item, were punished and paid in full by that one man who was innocent of any guilt.

But what seems to me to be the most serious aspect of the cross is this: Christ did not die just for Sin. That is, Christ did not die just to give us a new nature or a new attitude. Christ died for our sins. He died for the record of our trespasses. He died for that “slip of the tongue” yesterday when I said the F-word out of anger; he died for the furtive looks of lust; he died for every lie, one by one. He didn’t just die for a metaphysical state: He died for what is done, what really happens in this world.

Listen: Easter is not about eggs or bunnies or whether there’s a supernatural piece of the Trinity in your wafer. The death of Christ is about the things that we do which make us enemies with God, and the lengths to which God has already been willing to go to make a clear offer of forgiveness and then actually forgive those who repent and believe.

Stop pretending you “get” this stuff. You don’t get it. Personally, I confess: I don’t get it. If I did, I’d go out of my way more often to act like someone for whom God has spilled His own blood. Jesus bore the wrath of God not just for the state of the fallen world but for the sins of the world, the list of things which we all have done which is long and petty and sad and personal.

If you read this, and hear it today, Christ did this for those who will believe. Believe it – do better than I do with it and repent. Become a disciple not in some monastic or liturgical way: be baptized and proclaim His death, and then we can talk about what happens on Sunday in no uncertain or indecisive terms.

This weekend, if you have never done it before, be in the Lord’s house with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s day. And if you have done it before, welcome the strangers and tell them about the love you received when Christ died for your sins.

Do not be offended

iMonk has axed a question over at BHT:
So what’s going on here? With John. (And, yes, the rest of the chapter is applicable.)
    11:1 When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.

    2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers [1] are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
This is of course Matthew 11:1-6, for those who prefer the ESV popup. In the interest of promoting better Bible reading, here’s my answer:

[1] John’s in prison.

[2] John is dispatching his own disciples to Christ.

[3] John is a little put off by having to serve prison time while Christ is free to walk around all of Judea.

And why not? Which prophet didn’t give God a little sassy-mouth with a side of angry-eyebrow for having to suffer for the sake of being the divine messenger? Elijah sure did – and that was after seeing the prophets of Baal burned while their god was not listening in the potty. (1 Kings 18:27; 1 Kings 19:14) And let’s not bring up Jonah again, yes? So John here wants to know if the Christ is come – and, of course, that the captives will be delivered, starting with the one who was a voice crying out in the wilderness – or what.

And I think iMonk’s point in asking is this: if John is allowed a little doubt, isn’t everyone allowed a little doubt? That would make sense in the personal context of the barkeep. If he has a broader question, I’d be willing to field that, but here’s where I think that original thought goes.

The question has to be, “was John allowed a little doubt, or was John rebuked for having a little doubt?” Because Jesus doesn’t say to John, “Cousin, I’m sorry you are having a hard day and I’ll try to make it up to you.” What Jesus says – and I’d compare this to what Jesus says over and over to the Pharisees who keep demanding a sign, or that Jesus spell it out about this Messiah thing – is, “John, these are the signs of the times [with the implication that you know what they mean], and if you have to suffer a little for my sake, count it as a blessing and not as an offense.”

Jesus tells John that doubt is not warranted, and that his concerns – like the concerns of the Prophets before him – ought to be weighed against what he knows for certain to be true. And because John is John – who saw the spirit descend like a dove, and who called Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” – Jesus doesn’t pronounce the 7 woes upon him for being a malcontent and an unbeliever. But at the same time, Jesus also tells him flatly that he shouldn’t be doubting what God is about to do.

And I think that’s a great way to set up a Good Friday post, so I’ll leave it at that for the day.

Meme Awards

Big-time, fancy-schmancy blogger Rebecca from Rebecca Writes just tagged me with the award you see to the right, and apparently one is obliged to tag others with said award when one receives it.

Rebecca said this about me:
Okay, I’m going to give an award to Frank Turk of ...and his ministers a flame of fire, although he’s probably too fancy-schmancy big-time to play along or even pay this award any mind whatsoever. What can I say? His posts always cause me to think, even when my main thought is, “How long did it take him to come up with that turn of phrase?” And I really like that the gospel is front and center, right to left, top to bottom on his blog.
Which is very nice. For the record, Rebecca, I have a staff of apostate jesuits who spend 10 hours a day reading the Bible, Piper, and George Bernard Shaw, 5 hours a day watching 30 Rock and reruns of ST:Voyager, 5 hours a day reading blogs, one hour each writing and 3 hours sleeping. I read their daily output like some mad Johnny Carson and glean the best for my blog.

As for those who will get my nod for this thinker's award, here's my short list:
  • My good friend Dan Phillips who is a much better homilist than I am. He's far less scatter-brained and far more shrewd. You should read his blog more often.
  • Doug Wilson's blog, because you don't come across his brand of evil genius every day. I'll probably never make it to Idaho, but I'm going to enjoy singing presbyterian hymnody with Doug at the wedding feast of the lamb.
  • Mark Horne is a pretty good read, but his blog is so weaponized with links and advertisements, you had better protect yourself.
I'd list the sidekicks, but lately their blogs have been a little flat. And of course, I'd list Desiring God, but they don't need any awards and you're reading them already.

Don't be offended if I didn't list you. Very few things really start my wheels turning, and usually it's not people who agree with me so much that make me engage the cognitive engine.

Thanks Rebecca.

Even a Child ...

Al Mohler does more for biblical hermeneutics than most pastors have ever done by quoting the post modern icon Stanley Fish. It's amazing what you can learn when you read.

Gospel Bomb

Well, I left some comments on Kim Fabricius’ blog this morning, and he replied, and I have some stuff to say about what he said, so I’ll post it here:
I would hardly call, for example, the Civil Rights movement, at least the one led by King and co., or the Christian opposition to the war in Vietnam or Iraq, "theologically bankrupt".
Let’s first admit that KF’s comments here are, by his admission, “brief”, so beating him up for short hand would be a little ungracious. However, reducing the religious left’s lifetime achievements to the Civil Rights movement (which would be good) and political pacifism (which would be bad – and frankly untenable) is in the best case optimistically reductive. What about the broader results of religious liberalism – like the denigration of morality in the public square? See: it’s easy to be all sermon-on-the-mount when one wants to run off the racist or the sexist, but what about when one finds one’s self talking to the abortionist or the libertine?

So I say without any restraint that if the Civil Rights movement was the result of theological liberalism, nice work – now take the whole picture into consideration and ask yourself: was the devastation of the family unit and the end of public morality worth it? The right answer is that it ought to have been able to be achieved without the destruction of public morality, but unfortunately it was done the way it was done. Now we have to assess whether we can fix the tools which gave us one good things and a plethora of evils.
Which is not to deny that the church's most political activity is simply(!) being the church ...
Amen. To the (!) even.
...and thereby showing the world an alternative polis. But the church does not believe that the Sermon on the Mount is only an in-house ethic (Matthew certainly didn't think so: the disciples have a ring-side seat, but there are Gentiles in the arena of Galilee). As Yoder observes, "That there could be a distinction between ethics for Christians and ethics for the civil community had not been a constitutive part of Christian social thought since Augustine." And withdrawal or quietism is quite out of the question - and so too is not working with the "godless" (as you call them - in my view there is no such thing as a "godless" person)...
Which is interesting because the category of “godless” is repeated over and over in Paul – and is the basis for man’s need of the Gospel. Because man is without God, and opposed to God, man requires the love of God or else be damned.
...for parabolic social transformations.
This is actually one of my favorite objections of the theological liberal: that somehow the statement that the church has to mind the church first (that is, first and not only) is some kind of bunker-withdrawl from society – when what I would advocate is that the church not require the state to do what the church ought to be doing.

The irony is that while liberal political activism is clearly lauded by guys like KF, they look down their noses at conservative political activism – as if they were not simply the same thing. Listen: any time anyone wants to make the state the executor of the church’s mission, I think they have flopped off the page of the Bible and into the spittoon next to the desk. It was a mistake in the Medieval period, and it is a mistake today.
And I disagree that we should - not least because we can't - simply "change people first", the discredited strategy of a certain kind of evangelicalism, as if people were monads detached from social institutions and structures (cf. Paul's "principalities and powers"). Add up all the born-again Christians in the US and you don't approximate the kingdom of God; indeed it's more like the Other Place (and I don't mean Cambridge!).
That’s actually quite funny because KF simply says all “born-again Christians” are apparently not the “kingdom of God” – and yet he is calling for the “Kingdom of God” to take political action! Who’s he talking to, I wonder? Can he tell us?

Again, the problem is a reductionistic view of what he’s talking about which only credits his “side” with answers and only debits guys like me with “problems”. It’s classic partisan tunnel vision. Which really leads to the next point quite well ...
Regarding ecumenism, I believe that ultimately there can be no unity without truth - but also no truth without unity. But my main point is simply that discipleship trumps citizenship. I consider cross-and-flag Christianity an idolatrous oxymoron. That seems to me to be theologically indisputable, but it is more honoured in the breach than the observance, particularly in the US. If it weren't, I think it would make an enormous difference to the political scene. Interestingly (as I pointed out in "Ten Propositions on Ecumenism"), Martin Niemoller said that because he was an ecumenist he became a pacifist.
And somehow, Rom 13 never comes into it – which is because it is an inconvenient monkey wrench in these high ideas.

It is also important to note that the reflexive axioms KF tosses around here are not compatible. You cannot reconcile these two things – because truth is not dependent on unity; it comes ontologically first. First there is truth, then there may be unity. But to say that if there is unity there must be truth – that’s laughable. Someone take a look at the far left of the blogosphere and its reflexive unity against everything it is against, and tell me: do they have this reaction because they believe something true, or do they do that because they are united no matter what?
Your position sounds like a two-kingdoms theology (not Luther's own doctrine, which later Lutheranism misconstrued). There is the "world" and there is the "church", to be sure - the two are not the same - but Christ rules the latter as well as the former with truth and grace, and Christians should engage with the world accordingly.
Actually, I think there is the Gospel, and there are all other cultures. The Gospel stand opposed to all man-made cultures, seeking to overcome them and redeem them. What is at stake is exactly Paul’s idea of “principalities and powers”, but not in the vulgar sense which the political pragmatist would employ them.

The Gospel is not a bunker: it is a bomb. It enters in and takes people out. But the irony is that the Gospel takes people out of death and into life rather than destroying them.

Getting spanked

It's funny that, in our culture, we can say "not that there's anything wrong with that" to divorce, homosexuality, abortion, strident political activism, iMonk, etc., but when we come to spanking kids, somebody always wants to make it illegal.

Our friends over at SFPulpit have published this piece on a recent book which looks at one argument against spanking and finds it lacking. It's worth a read.


"TIWIHW" = "Things I Wish I Had Written".

The first entry in this category is this post by Mark Horne. He's not even Baptist anymore, and he gets it.

I can only add this: what's the purpose of the Southern Baptist Convention? Is it conformity to some allegedly-theological fundamentals which don't really produce anything but people with identical wardrobes, homiletically and clothing-wise? Or is it to open the inerrant Bible for the purpose of curing and redeeming all cultures that do not have Jesus as Lord and Christ?

The Gospel is the solution to SBC culture. Someday, those with an inerrant Bible will open it and find that out because they will have read the Bible rather than wave it around -- as if it was an AK-47 or a picture of Che or something.

Book Recommendation

There are a ton of books on hermeneutics in the marketplace, and most of them are so high-brow that you -- the person who has a life not revolving around a college classroom or your tenure maintenance -- can't really use it. The rest are frankly useless programs for passing your eyes over texts in the hopes that something will get past the back of your eyeball to your brain by some black box process.

Graeme Goldsworthy's Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics is frankly the first book written by someone with academic muscle on this topic which I would recommend to anyone who simply does not understand how to read the Bible.

Goldsworthy wields an intelligent yet understandable vocabulary to direct the reader through his theses which range from whether it is necessary to have a hermeneutic, to why other hermeneutics fail to deliver substantive and lasting results, to what a hermeneutic must deal with in the broad range of what kinds of literature occurs in the Biblical text.

It's brilliant. Buy one for yourself, one for your pastor, and one for the next person to whom you have to deliver the Good News of Jesus Christ. This book is required reading.