Tuesday, April 09, 2013
There is a great deal of personality dysfunction that is rooted in foolish heart-attitudes. Bitterness, for example, warps the personality. Arrogance leads to violence. Just taking a pill isn't going to cure these things. Only repentance will work. But what about the unseen world? Messing around with the occult opens the mind up to demons. Demons are real, and they cause distortions of the mind and of moral desires and choices. The Gerasene demoniac would not have cut himself, or lived among the tombs, or been maniacally violent, except for his demonic possession. As soon as Christ cast out the evil spirits, his bizarre behaviors ceased. But thirdly: as long as our minds (which are spiritual, and not caused by our brains) are bonded to our bodies, then the sickness of our bodies can impact our minds. The Biblical doctrine of the fallenness of nature, combined with the Biblical view of man as a single, unitary being, means that there is such a thing as mental illness. The skeptic H.L. Mencken once wrote that for every complicated problem there is a simple, easy solution that is invariably wrong. We pastors often fall into this trap. We need to remember there are three possible explanations for mental dysfunction, and possibly a combination of all three. Sinful heart attitudes are one. Spiritual warfare is a second. Biological breakdown is a third. All three are real, and it isn't easy to discern what's going on. We should beware thinking in a simple-minded way.
Saturday, March 30, 2013
I am reading a really good book on the life and ministry of Francis Schaeffer, but in the middle of it I felt convicted. There are Christian ministers I admire, and Schaeffer was one of them. But I can be so easily tempted to cross a line, from feeling inspired by someone else's example, to feeling jealous of their achievements. God created the scope of Schaeffer's work for him. I should not compare myself to the scope of his accomplishments, or anyone's accomplishments. Sometimes ministers are held up to young Christian men with the idea that we should drive to imitate them. Billy Graham, Francis Schaeffer, D.L. Moody, John Piper, it could be anyone. It is good to see what was admirable about other ministers, and try to imitate their virtues. It is not good to covet the scope of their influence or breadth of accomplishment. It just now occurs to me that some of those judges in the book of Judges -- the ones you learn almost nothing about, or who judged for only short periods of time -- might turn out to have been better judges than the well-known ones like Gideon.
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Expository Bible preaching grates against the consumer tastes of our age. The expository preacher presents God's Word in an orderly way, explains the meaning, and then applies. Bible exposition presents the Bible in this way: "Life is about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Bible is the only way God has given us so that we can savingly know Him. This book is God's unique Word. So, not only will this book give you answers, it will also challenge you to ask different questions." Bible exposition respects the authority of God's Word. The consumer mentality says, "No, life is about me. Life is about my issues, my questions, my needs. And I define my own needs. Don't tell me to stand before the Bible as if I will ever answer to it. It's job, and your job, is to please me. So I will go hear someone who will speak to my issues, with the entertainment factor I enjoy, giving me answers that I like.", And so our topical series are tailored to suit that spirit. As a result, our people are spiritually weak, sick, and many are unconverted. Topical preaching is sometimes good for pulpit counseling, or when there's been a crisis in the community. But the difference between expository preaching and typical topical preaching is like the difference between whole-grain bread and Pop-Tarts. People like Pop-Tarts. Yes, there is some nutrition in a Pop-Tart. But whole-grain bread is better, if long-term health and vitality is your goal. The apostle Paul said, "I have not withheld from you the whole counsel of God."
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
What I've chosen to do is trim out a lot of old repetitive, or poorly-written posts from over the years, but leave better ones in place. I like my writing less as I go backward in time, but some of the old posts have been helpful to people (judging by the number of hits, and feedback I've received over the years). I plan to start a new blog that will be devoted to Bible helps and commentary, in contrast to this one which tends to be topical and more dealing with controversies. So I'll leave this one up, and add to it from time to time. Once I have the new website going, I'll let people know. If you wait until you're perfect to do something, you'll never to do anything.
Tuesday, February 05, 2013
Don't make it your ambition to be an organizational gadfly! Gadflys zip around, looking for places to land so they can bite or sting. I remember an outdoor pool at a farmhouse where we once stayed for vacation when I was a kid. It was right next to a horse pasture, and when the horses were grazing nearby, these horrible looking, hairy black horse-flies would try to land on us and bite us. We had to duck underneath the water to avoid them. That's the gadfly -- the chronic critic. People duck to get away from you, if they see you coming. People who are bright and analytic can be tempted to become gadflys, because they can see problems before other people do, or at least verbalize the complaints that others just dully feel. This is a pride trap, because you can make yourself feel like you're really something by constantly catching other people in their foibles. Gadflys seldom have a well-thought-out plan for positive reform. They just sting away at the faults of others, and make themselves feel smarter because they point their fingers better. Criticism, not as an emotional attribute but as a function of reason, is a necessary part of clear thinking. If we can't compare and contrast between bad, good, better, and best, nothing improves. But criticizing simply because it delights us is a strange, offensive form of self-indulgence.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
There is an important difference between being a true church and being a mature church. The classic (and Biblical) definition of a church is the place where the Gospel is preached truly, the ordinances are celebrated truly, and spiritual-life training is happening. There are dozens of other problems that can plague a church, including indifference to the world, indifference to the poor, and indifference to local and global multiplication. And they are problems that all deserve fixing. But a true Christian church is just those three basic things. God has not given us the authority to add element upon element to the meaning of "true church" as a way of creating shame. That's no better than those who deliberately create shame and fear by preaching that only the totally-sold-out-to--Jesus are really born again.
Wednesday, January 09, 2013
Christianity is NOT "all grace, nothing but grace", used by worldly Christians as a justification for walking in sin. Titus 2:11-12 tells us that God's saving grace instructs us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires, and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in this present age. Godliness and righteousness in the Bible are defined by moral law. That means that God has imposed moral law -- commandments, not suggestions -- over us, governing our lives. Law-keeping is not legalism. Law-keeping for saving grace is legalism; law-keeping as the expression of love for God and neighbor is Christianity. The cure for religious legalism is not religious immorality!
Monday, January 07, 2013
http://theaquilareport.com/what-is-a-family-integrated-church/ This writer pinpoints the key problems I have with the movement.
Sunday, November 11, 2012
Older Christians are shocked by how permissive the younger-than-35 generation has become, as revealed by this latest presidential vote. I am convinced that one reason the younger generation has become OK with homosexuality, gay marriage, abortion, marijuana use, etc., is because of the rise of Libertarian philosophy. The further West you move in the U.S., the more Libertarian the country becomes. Secondly, the Christian churches have done almost nothing, in an orderly way, to persuade young people of the truth of the Bible or the need for faith. Our U.S. churches have wasted 30 years on idiocy like Pensacola Revivals, Brownsville Revivals, seeker-preaching, and other shallow fads. We preach Christ as the Great Facilitator of our lives as our lives already exist -- only the "Young, Restless, and Reformed" seem to be preaching for conversion. We need a new generation of Josh MacDowells, C.S. Lewises, Francis Scheffers, and Tim Kellers, who can build a persuasive pathway from where the <30 are, to where the Lord is; and others who will teach the Bible's absolute authority over every aspect of life, including social morals.
Monday, October 29, 2012
The verse which promises that God can do more than we can even think protects us from the nonsensical, New-Agey teaching that we must "visualize" our prayers. Thank the Lord that He can answer my prayers perfectly, even when my poor brain can't imagine what He'll do or how He'll do it! We do not control God's power. This is the greatest blasphemy of the Pentecostal word-of-power cult. God never subjects Himself to our thoughts or words. He is King, we serve and we make requests.
Friday, October 19, 2012
Here is a Calvinist's conflict. Reformed theology teaches that God can single-handedly convert anyone to Christ. This doctrine is called "monergism", from mono (one) + erg (work), one work as opposed to two or more working together. This implies that God could, if He chose to, convert the entire human race to Christ. But God has chosen not to do this. He does not convert everyone to Christ, thus leaving them in their state of condemnation. But then this means that God does not want everyone to be saved. This appears to contradict Scripture (e.g. John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:1-5.)
Calvinism has tried to reconcile this in a number of ways. One way has been to deny that any verses in which "all" or "world" appear mean "all/every person without exception", or that "world" doesn't mean, "all persons." A.W. Pink once infamously wrote that "world" in John 3:16 meant "world of the elect." I believe Baptist theologian John Gill once wrote the same idea. Pretty much everyone I have read, including Reformed theologians, consider that exegetically wrong.
Another way around the problem is to say that God has twin wills -- one will as stated in the Bible, and one will concealed in God's secret counsel. Calvinist authors (such as John Piper) promote this solution. Pharaoh is an illustration of this distinction. God told Pharaoh through Moses to let the Israelites go, but intended to harden Pharaoh's already wicked heart, in order to make an example out of him.
The Pharaoh example is a valid illustration of the principle. However, you might also be playing with fire, because this principle can raise doubts about God's sincerity. It would be necessary to limit this idea of two wills to God's dealings with reprobates -- sinners upon whom the Lord has already determined to vent his holy wrath. Also, in the case of Pharaoh, God was issuing a command, not making a promise.
A doctrine of two contradicting wills could run riot. For example, why not say that verses about God loving His people are also modified by two wills? Meaning, that the Bible might say that God loves us, but, because God has two wills, God does not love some of us? That would be horrible. It seems to me that an unlimited principle of two opposed wills in God solves a few issues, but could create more. It would undermine faith in the promises.
A third resolution is "paradox", which often seems to me to be a theological punt. I think of a paradox as a literary device, wordplay, not a thing that really exist.
I think I prefer a solution that a French theologian named Girardeau wrote many years ago, which is that God has a basic disposition to save, but that in regard to a wicked world God also chooses how and where to act on it. God's disposition is love, but we also know God judges (often very harshly, as you know if you have ever read the Old Testament). God is a loving, saving God and a choosing God at the same time.
So, rather than saying that God has two wills -- using a problematically ambiguous use of the word "will" -- isn't it better to say that God has a basic disposition to save? Then, at the same time, affirm that the Bible also says that God's basic disposition is righteous, and as a result He does not acquit the wicked. From that premise, one could equally argue that there is a "conflict" between verses that say God saves us, vs. verses that say that God does not acquit the wicked.
God, as Savior, issues a general call to everyone without exception that they should come to Christ. God, as chooser, foreknows and predestines a lesser number to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). This is not two equivalent wills, one saying "yes" and the other saying "no." Rather, this is how God, who already knows that the human race is wicked and won't listen to Him, vindicates His mercy by calling all to salvation.
His basic disposition to save is expressed in the Gospel call to everyone; His equally-real nature as the royal God of righteousness who chooses upon whom to bestow mercy is expressed through election. This is a distinction between God's different personal attributes, and how God as a voluntary being chooses to act, rather than a philosophical construct of two wills. Also, the Arminian still cannot explain how or why a world of evil people in bondage to their own wicked lusts can respond to the Gospel call apart from the effectual drawing work of the heavenly Father. This remains the Arminian's dilemma, regardless of how the Calvinist works to resolve tensions between different parts of his own beliefs
Monday, October 08, 2012
Because ministry to other people involves other people, and other people are unpredictable, you cannot connect practical success to whether someone has been empowered by the Holy Spirit for Christian service.
I don't mean utter failure. A "healer" who can't heal a sick headache isn't a healer, obviously. A preacher who consistently makes hash out of Bible texts, and whom people can't even understand, isn't anointed to preach. Paul said to the Corinthians that they were his certificate of ministry authenticity, in letters written by the Spirit on their hearts. So there needs to be some clear evidence of the Spirit's gifts.
But ministry to people isn't some sort of magic that just rolls. There can be a huge gap between Spirit-empowerment and human response. God supported Elijah with a mighty miracle of fire that consumed the carcass and licked up the water in the trench. The people shouted "Yahweh is Lord!" and killed the wicked prophets of Baal. But then Jezebel vowed to assassinate Elijah, Elijah had to flee and was so depressed he wanted to die, Ahab never did repent, Jezebel got thrown out a tower window to her death, and Babylon ended up invading Israel years later anyway.
God clearly anointed Jeremiah to be His prophet, and everybody in Jerusalem hated him. God anointed Ezekiel to be His prophet, and though the Jews in exile didn't try to kill him, they only pretended to like his preaching. Meanwhile, Ezekiel saw in visions that the priests back in Jerusalem were worshiping gods and committing sex-acts in the Temple.
Human beings are unpredictable and very subjective. This is why we should't judge the Holy Spirit's anointing by things like popularity, money, or numbers.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
A friend of mine recently learned of a website criticizing Focus On The Family's video series, The Truth Project. You can find this webs-site by Googlinmg "The Truth Problem." I was asked to give an opinion about the critical web-site. Below is the reply I wrote to my friend. I have not seen The Truth Project, so I could only respond to the internals of this criticizing website.
I have never watched The Truth Project, so I'm only responding to The Truth Problem web-site's various topical pages. I have to assume for the sake of response that this fellow's citations of Del Tackett, and other contributors to TTP, are correctly quoted.
I notice now that the writer conceals his name, which I think it unethical.
It sounds reasonable to criticize that it is too simple to stage everything in terms of only two alternatives (the "wicked, humanistic" view versus the "true view which you are now hearing from us here at TTP"), though it's a standard rhetorical device. This was a common, and fair, complaint against Francis Schaeffer, too. Schaeffer had a template that he stuffed all Europeans moderns into, and ignored most of the ways that they were different from each other.
The critic is right, that TTP's definition of "determinism" and "solipsism" are both wrong. But I don't know if the critic leaves out further clarifying explanations. If Tackett is coming out of a strong Wesleyan-Arminian viewpoint, then his prejudices against more Calvinistic ways of thinking about determinism may have distorted the way he defines these terms.
I agree with the critic that the Libertarian view of free-will is unbiblical, and psychologically impossible. Everything except God is caused, since that's part of what it means to be a created thing. Given the law of cause and effect, it is impossible to choose contrary to your most powerful desire. If you change your mind from a previous strong desire, then that which motivated you to change was the most-powerful desire. Jonathan Edwards made this principle famous, back in the 18th century. The only exception I can imagine is that of a demon-possessed person.
I'm not impressed with the quality of the web-site's reasoning over-all. Many of the critic's complaints seem fussy and technical. He admits that he is no more academically qualified to speak to these issues than Del Tackett, yet he (briefly) criticizes Del Tackett for being academically unqualified to speak. That seems like a wash as far as criticism goes.
The writer complains against TTP on the basis of debatable distinctions in terms that the average person wouldn't know and doesn't use. His imputes a formal, technical meaning to "intutitionism" that seems clear to me Tackett didn't intend --- then criticizes that. Now, Tackett shouldn't use a term that might already have an established meaning in philosophy. But it's just as possible that Tackett uses the term "intutionism" in a legitimate, colloquial way. "Intuition" in the "Spidey-Sense tingling" way. But the critic cites a scholastic definition of the term that, at least for me, I've never heard before, then beats Tackett on the head with it.
Same thing with moral relativism. Frankly, I thought the critic's long discussion of what R.C. Sproul said on the series about the historic Greek view of "ethos" vs. "morality" was irrelevant. He never explains why what Sproul says matters. The critic also seems to say that it is impossible to define good or evil apart from intent (he uses phrases like "referenceless" and "goalless", to deride the idea of absolute morality). But I don't know whether or not Tackett/TTP denies the role of heart-motive in matters of morality, so I don't know if this critic's criticism is fair or unfair.
This made me think of God's words to Abimelech, when Abimelech unknowingly took Sarah as a member of his harem. God knew that Abimelech had been deceived by Abraham, and so the Lord prevented Abimelech from sleeping with Sarah (i.e., protecting Abimelech from sin then a terrible judgment). But God also caused all of Abimelech's wives to suddenly go infertile, which was a judgment. Abimelech's taking of Sarah was still an objective moral wrong, even though God accorded him some mercy because of his ignorance. The "reference" of Abimelech's act, and the "goal" of his act, didn't change the fact that God considered him a wife-stealer, and threatened to kill him if he didn't immediately give Sarah back.
So this critic sounds like he's a moral relativist to a significant degree. His illustration about the red car winning the race was irrelevant, since it wasn't an illustration about morality, so, apples-2-oranges there.
The critic is a theistic evolutionist who believes the earth is millions of years old, and says that the world is self-propagating (his words, which pegs him to my thinking as some sort of Deist). He refuses to acknowledge that Tackett means naturalistic evolutionism when Tackett uses that term, even though it seems obvious from context that this is what tackett was getting at. The critic then claims that modern scientists are only methodologically naturalistic (which shows either extremely naivetie, or willful ignorance of the militant naturalism among scientists). The critic equivocates on the word "chaos", and takes an allegorical -- in other words, indefensible -- view of Genesis 1.
So my summary is that you have a liberal Christian complaining about The Truth Project. Some of his complaints might be valid, such as some inaccurate definitions of terms, or a simple-minded framework in which the material is presented. But even if The Truth Project deserves some searching critique, this man or woman hasn't provided it. He (or she) inflicts specialized word-definitions on Del Tackett, equivocates on words like "evolution", "chaos", and often fusses that Del Tackett doesn't use words the way he (the critic) would, without proving that his usages are better.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
I do not believe that God wants all Christian women to wear head-coverings today. I was discipled by the Plymouth Brethren early in my life. They still teach this, but I disagree. However, I see 1st Corinthians 11 as a perfect example of how the Biblical principle of male leadership translated into matters of Christian respectability and dress in a specific culture.
Paul compliments the Corinthian church for maintaining the doctrinal tradition he taught them (11:2, though apparently he was being generous, since they were shaky on resurrection, see ch. 15). But he wants them to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God (11:3).
By this verse we learn that kephale (head) does not mean "source" here, as is claimed by some. Though it's true that Adam was the source of Eve, Adam is the only man of whom that was ever true. He was unique. More importantly, God the Father is not the source of God the Son! Classic Christian orthodoxy has always taught that each member of the Trinity is God in Himself. Christ is not the source of the Spirit; the Father is not the source of the Son. This is because self-existence -- the "I Am That I Am-ness" of God -- is an essential quality of deity.
Note, too, that every man is not the head of every woman. The only authority-relationship of this type that a Christian woman needs to manage to is her own husband, not every man. Not even every Christian man. There are other authority-relationships that Christian women need to manage, such as to civil leaders or the elders of the church, but Paul is not talking about those here.
A very important fact to remember, when we read this portion of Scripture, is that the Old Testament never commands women to cover their heads. No such command exists in the Law. No such command exists in the four Gospels, nor in any of the epistles. It was a cultural practice, inspired by Biblical truths but lacking the force of a commandment.
The idea that head-covering was a cultural practice, not a Scriptural practice, is supported by Paul's various reasons for wearing a head-covering. He warns against dishonor, which has to do with other people's opinions (11:4-5). He speaks of the disgracefulness of women having short hair (6), but the Bible nowhere teaches that short hair on women is disgraceful in God's eyes. Paul says a head-covering symbolizes the man's being made in the image and glory of God (11:7), but this must have been a viewpoint held among God-fearing people at the time, since the Bible never says this. Paul further cites propriety (11:13), and nature (11:14). The churches all followed this rule (11:16), but this could be because the propriety of a respectable, God-fearing woman wearing a head-covering was society-wide.
In this passage we see Paul applying the principle of male headship to the culturally symbolic act of the head-covering. Apart from the principle of male headship, Paul's instructions make no sense. Even today, Christian women missionaries wear head-coverings in parts of the world where it still represents social propriety and respect for God. Even though head-coverings do not mean this in the West, the principle of male leadership remains the same, and may be applied in other ways.