Thursday, March 30, 2006

On Theological Curmudgeons

Curmudgeon (kuhr MUJ yuhn) n. A crusty irascible cantankerous old person full of stubborn ideas. I recently had a conversation with an individual that just made me think. Is it possible that some people get so set in their ways that change is impossible? More specifically, is it possible that some people get so theologically set that they cannot learn new ideas and change their beliefs? Even when the beliefs they ought to change to are more biblically faithful than their former beliefs? I was struck with abject sadness at the thought. I discussed this with my senior pastor before church Wednesday, and his reply was a resounding yes. Needless to say, this bothered me. He told me that with individuals like this, one would be best served to never discuss doctrine. These people don't want to learn something new. They have already decided what they believe and are not open to growth or to correction. They do not want to believe they could be wrong. He named this type of individual fundamentalist. I was very bothered at the idea I could not discuss doctrine with the individual in question. I was even more bothered that this individual, whom I know quite well, has little or no hope of growth in their faith. Do you folks have any similar stories, and hopefully some encouraging experiences to share?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Arguing Over Doctrine

Some thoughts I posted elsewhere regarding arguing over doctrine among Christians: I think the weariness expressed in the quoted statement, People are going to hell while you sit here and discuss meaningless doctrines, is pretty valid. How does sitting around getting upset at each other over [doctrine] help our witness? Not to say [doctrine] is meaningless; however I find it pretty embarrassing to see people get upset over doctrine when they could instead be using it to spread the Gospel. When do we simply say, "Look here, this is what I believe, and I believe it is what the Bible teaches, and by God, I'm gonna preach his Gospel whether you like it or not" and leave it at that? If we're being misrepresented and mocked (whichever our position) then further debate is certainly justified, but doesn't there come a point when one just has to say, "Enough is enough, grow up or shut up, and let me freakin' preach the Word?" Do you have any thoughts on this?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Reading Mark Driscoll and Other Updates

Well, here's an update on the weekend. First of all, Friday I just physically crashed after a long week. When I woke up, I tried to do some school reading and some doctrines of grace reading (in preparation for posting that night) and suddenly realized I wanted to lynch those books. Fed up, I decided I would take the entire weekend "off" from school and limited atonement. The result has been a very restful and refreshing weekend. I will return to class and work on Monday healthy and happy, and my mind will be ready to tackle limited atonement. Tricia and I decided not to adopt Flurry, the Golden Retriever puppy that was born deaf. I'm so sad. We also decided not to adopt our backup, a hearing beagle named Reba. I'm more sad. But now we can focus on the types of dogs I really wanted for later; namely chihuahuas and cocker spaniels. Yay! Once the disappointment had time to settle, Tricia got serious about the whole getting a dog thing and now has a short list of breeds she'd like to look at, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel has been added to my two-deep list. Not bad for someone who two years ago was afraid of dogs. We can thank her mother's Golden Retriever Ellie for bringing her into the wonderful world of barkdom. In the course of my resting, I decided I'd pick up Mark Driscoll's The Radical Reformission and read it over the weekend. I have almost finished, with a quarter of the book left to read as I write this. Here's a couple of thoughts on that. First, if Driscoll is the "godfather" of the emergent movement, so to speak, then the entire emergent movement (to the extent I have been able to read) has completely missed the point he was trying to make in this book. From Driscoll's own statements in the book, the emergent movement as it exists today is nothing more than heresy. Heresy! That seems a far cry from what he originally proposed. My buddy Shane said that from what I told him it sounded like emergents took Driscoll's ideas and "ran wild" with them. That's exactly what I think after reading through this book. Talk about an "adventure in missing the point!" Second, if Driscoll is correct in what he says, then we have to completely overhaul our ecclesiology. We've got to see if we've become so entrenched in our traditions that the Gospel becomes irrelevant, or if we've gotten so fancy in our innovations that we compromise the Gospel and again make it irrelevant. The second half of that statement is exactly why I think the emergent movement has completely missed the point. I'm not too sure what to think in this area, so I'm going to hold off on any further commentary until I've finished the book and had time to think more on this. Third, if what he says is true about me, I've got some further sanctification to get cracking on. I've been convicted by some of the things I've read in here, and roundly encouraged towards a goal by other things I've read in the book as well. Fourth, some of the guys who've recently reviewed the book need to get a life and grow a sense of humor. This guy is funny. Funny. I did not in the least feel his handling of Scripture was irreverent; then again maybe my sense of humor is different from most other people's. But I have never gotten such a knee-slapping laugh out of a book other than Christopher Moore's Lamb, and that one was a parody of the Gospel! Much less, I have never laughed while reading a serious book like Reformission. When you can thoroughly enjoy someone laying some serious sanctifying smackdown on you, you know the book is good. So, I'd recommend this book heavily to everyone who asks me about it. I'd recommend it over Brian McLaren any day. I still need to finish McLaren's other books, and as such I've assigned myself an additional summer reading project of reading the rest of McLaren's books (the New Kind of Christian series) and other Emergent publications as well. Until then I'm still going to withhold final judgment on the whole emergent deal. Well, that is the Sunday update. See you when I finally get around to limited atonement!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Friday Flounderings

Well, at work last night I had another intentionally evangelistic conversation with the aforeblogged "Short Stuff." In this conversation I learned how devious some people will get just to convince themselves they don't need your point of view. In particular, I mean that some will try to use your belief system against you in order to accuse you of hypocrisy. The look of hubris on Short Stuff's face as she thought she'd caught me was almost funny. But instead I found it sad. To justify her confused and illogical (and quite silly) worldview, she found it necessary to attempt to ensnare me. But fortunately I was able to present the Gospel to her for the first time; a clear affirmation that Jesus died so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. Sadly, this confused her even more than the straight path I took out of her attempt to trap me in her web. I think a meditation on two passages today is appropriate in light of today's conversation. Let's start with Romans 1:21-25 --
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
And again in 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 about how God deals with the lost:
Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
These are sobering passages to me this morning. My heart breaks that Short Stuff is fooling herself and is glorying in thinking she has others fooled too. Please pray with me that the Holy Spirit will work in her for salvation.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Wednesday Wonderings

A couple of things I had filed away over the past week. Blue Like Jazz Debate: Apparently there's been some hassling going on about Mark Coppenger's recent lecture about Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz. Timmy Brister and David Brandt posted two very different (though similar in some respects) reviews of the lecture, but both pointed at this review of the lecture, supposedly contributed to by Miller himself. Now, the biggest question for me is whether or not Miller actually did contribute to this article. It reads like some immature high school freshman's journal about how uncool and stupid he is compared to the glorious seniors. More disturbing is how Coppenger is caricatured by the author (authors?) and aspersions cast on his character. If Miller actually did write what's attributed to him, I'm not too sure I want to spend the time to read his book once the semester is over. Is this really the best that postmoderns can do? If all they can do when critiqued is throw mud, maybe they don't have as firm a foundation as they would have us think. Reminds me of the "Testimony Tussle" this blog recently experienced. Sad. Or as someone else said elsewhere in relation to Mark Driscoll, "if all you can take issue with is his tone rather than his content, why are you even bothering to argue?" These guys are real mature "Christians" if all they can do is throw mud at a seminary professor over a silly lecture. That brings me to a second thing I filed away: Emergent Movement: The boys at Fide-O have been looking at the Emergent Movement in this post and in others along the way. They presented a pretty good summary of what the Emergent Movement professes (according to Emergents themselves), and this sparked some volume of commentary. In the course of the meta, Jason Robertson recapped the points he listed as thus:
1. The emerging church phenomenon is exploring fresh ways to revamp and recontextualize the gospel message to postmodern people. The people are sovereign in the EC. They belive that we should edit (revamp) the message to match the people, rather than ask the people to change to match the message. 2. The emerging church phenomenon has placed a long-awaited emphasis on community and relational faith. The EC puts religion into Christianity, almost like cults rather than church. This is even evidenced in the way that they fight to protect their "personal beliefs." 3. The emerging church phenomenon has placed an emphasis on rethinking the modern church . . . its methods, its programs, its traditions, and its structure. The EC is very method-driven and steeped in pragmatism. 4. The emerging church phenomenon has placed a new emphasis on the Jesus of the Gospels opposed to the exclusive emphasis on the Jesus of Paul’s writings. The EC is anti-doctrine. 5. The emerging church phenomenon has placed a rightful emphasis on the importance of Body functioning. The EC is anti-authority. 6. The emerging church phenomenon has placed a new emphasis on the importance of narrative. The EC is filled with talk and no action. It is the Oprah generation who thinks just talking about it and telling your story heals the soul. *insert gag here* 7. The emerging church phenomenon has dumped the modern penchant to always be certain in answering every spiritual question under the sun. Instead, it has rested content to embrace mystery and paradox in our God. The EC is anti-intellectual. And the reason they do not like to answer questions because they do not like the answers. 8. The emerging church phenomenon has re-ignited a healthy interest in the Christian mystics who emphasized spiritual encounter over against mere academic knowledge of God and the Bible. Since objective truth is out of the question because of the anti-intellectualism, anti-authority, and anti-doctrine positions, the EC has turned to its only other option -- mysticism. Their religion is based upon their feelings. The people are sovereign and their feelings control them. And they will probably get really really mad at my comment and say that I just don't understand them. *insert group hug here*
That's a pretty strong indictment. While I might take issue with a couple of throwaway remarks in there, the more I read things from postmoderns, Emergents in particular, the more I find myself coming to the same conclusions Fide-O does here. Don't get me wrong, this movement is filled with good intentions and good people. But when Mark Driscoll (who has been pointed to as one of the originators of the "emergent conversation") distances himself from this movement, something isn't quite kosher. Now, I'm going to echo Brian McLaren's silly comment from a couple of months ago and say we need to seriously study this issue before making any pronouncements. I've deliberately withheld judgment on the whole Emergent issue for this reason--I've not read enough to know how I think one way or the other. But if what I have read is any indication, my final decision isn't going to be favorable. One More thing: Shane Morgan and I were talking at work last night, and he was telling me about Dr. Mohler being on TV last night to talk about comments by Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham about Islam being a "demonically inspired religion." I've been trying to find this show but can't think straight enough right now (I just got out of bed a couple hours ago) to find it. But the gist of the show (as Shane was telling me) was Dr. Mohler basically saying, "Um yeah, it's a demonic religion. You thought I was pluralist or something silly like that?" That was great. I wished I'd seen it. Dr. Mohler has been a staunchly consistent defender of the exclusivity of the Gospel, and it makes my heart warm to know that he's responsible for the high view of Scripture our school espouses the instrument God used to get a high view of Scripture here. Praise be to God. Anyway, just wanted to clear the brain of a couple of stray thoughts. Join me this weekend (hopefully Friday) as we delve into Limited Atonement!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Sunday Musings

Just a few random pre-church musings:
  • Tennessee officially declared my NCAA Tournament bracket busted with a loss to Wichita State yesterday. Those slackers. I had 'em going back to the Sweet 16 this year. But it is just the first year of the Bruce Pearl era, so I think I can cut them some slack.

  • In contrast, Alex Forrest says he went 15-1 on the first day. Alex, you bracketologist git, share some of that Ph.D. knowledge next March. Please!!!

  • Stephen Underkofler serves up another gem. Honestly, I don't know where he gets this stuff. If I could be half as creative (and on-target) as this guy, the 'Cron would be a funner read. But I digress; to each as the Spirit wills.

  • Mr. Frank "Centuri0n" Turk has two amazing posts on marriage and marriage counseling. I plan to deconstruct them here on the weekends and in-between doctrines of grace postings. Look Frank (hereafter "Mr. Turk"), I kept my promise to call you "Mr." from now on because of those two posts!

  • Tricia and I are thinking about adopting a deaf dog. No, not one of those service dogs, I mean a dog that actually is deaf. Flurry, a 3-month old Golden Retriever/Australian Shepherd mix, is totally deaf due to a lack of pigmentation in her ears. She only understands sign language. Since Tricia and I just happen to be deaf, and just happen to be fluent signers, we thought this would be nice. We visited Flurry yesterday and found her to be fascinating. She does have an attitude, though. We'll keep thinking and praying about her and wait until the home visit to make a decision. Oh, yeah, we found her through a Goldie rescue here in Louisville: GRRAND.

  • Cool Blog Shout-Out: Archaeoblog. This blog feeds the monster of an armchair archaeologist in me. These guys keep up with happenings in the archaeological world. It's almost as if they're the CNN of archaeology, or at the very least a "breaking news" scrollbar. Fascinating reads. Be warned, though: they aren't Christians (to my knowledge) and have derided Creationists. But don't let that detail deter you.

  • Wedding Update: Tricia and I are now entering the final 3 months until our impending nuptials. I've gotten the tuxes done and have only the limo to reserve, and a little extra work on honeymoon accomodatioins. After that my work will be done, and I get to supervise the rest. I say that tongue-in-cheek; we all know that due to the overimportance placed on the bride, the rest of this is Tricia's show. Come on now, if not for us grooms there wouldn't be a show to begin with! But I've been a very involved groom, making a lot of the decisions, so our wedding day will be something we are both extremely pleased with because we decided together. Just food for thought for all you other prospective brides and grooms out there--do it together, don't let the bride or her mother decide everything. It's your day too, guys!
And I think that should top off the tanks. I have a paper or two to write this week, so I think I will save my introductory post on Limited Atonement for Friday. I can't wait!

Friday, March 17, 2006

What a Testimony Is

Okay, today let's close this series by taking a look at what a testimony actually is. As most if not all of us know, the ultimate testimony was given by Paul in Acts chapter 22:
"Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you." And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. And he said: "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished. "As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?' And I answered, 'Who are you, Lord?' And he said to me, 'I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.' Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. And I said, 'What shall I do, Lord?' And the Lord said to me, 'Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.' And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus. "And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing by me said to me, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight.' And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. And he said, 'The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.'" (Acts 22:1-16)
And again we see in Acts chapter 26:
"My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead? "I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities. "In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' And I said, 'Who are you, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles--to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.' "Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles."
An examination of these two great testimonies reveal to us an age-old formula for constructing a testimony: 1) One's life before Christ; 2) One's acceptance of Christ; and 3) One's life since accepting Christ. It is very obvious on the first point that Paul's testimony consists of a simple acknowledgement that his condition without Christ was one of lostness and rebellion. He seems to state rather explicitly that he'd rested heavily on his upbringing, associations and deeds. Then dramatically, Paul meets Christ and all of these things are counted as loss compared to his newfound faith in Christ (Philippians 3:4-11). He then evidences the fruit of his newfound faith by surrendering in obedience to Christ and proclaiming Him to the Gentiles. "But wait," some of you might interject, "even here in these two testimonies Paul never says that Jesus died for him and that he accepted Christ by faith!" To that I say, that's a crock of rancid yak butter. Paul's letters are most certainly his greatest testimony of all to us, and these testify to Paul's fervent belief that Christ died for him. These testify that Paul placed his faith firmly in Christ and Him crucified. As such, we can be especially confident that when the resurrected Lord appeared to Paul, he placed his hope in Christ. Damascus road then becomes the event in which he placed that faith in Christ. What we as believers must do is simple. We must have a testimony that very clearly articulates our lostness without Christ, the placement of our faith in Christ, and the fruit of that faith in Christ. A testimony is not about how you grew up, who your family is, or who you know. It is not about how good or moral a person you are, or all the good deeds you do because you follow WWJD or listen to your pastor. It is not about what Christians have done "for" you or "to" you. It is most certainly not about "following Christ into what many people would call 'lordship' or formation." And that last one is malarkey. A testimony is about Christ, pure and simple. It is about how, in your lost and damned condition, Christ died for you. It is about how you placed your faith and trust in the One who died for you. It is about how, since that moment, Christ has completely changed your life and continues to change your life, to His praise and glory. And if your testimony looks nothing like that, it's not a real testimony. Furthermore, if you -cannot- give a testimony like this, it is all but certain that you are not a Christian. What does this mean for you and me? It means, quite simply, that we must conform our stories to that of Christ. We must seek to most accurately reflect what He has done for us when we give our testimony to others. It means that we must be honest with ourselves and with others, sometimes painfully honest, if our testimonies do not reflect Christ. We must be willing to submit ourselves to the corrective of Scripture to find the proper source of, and change, our testimonies. In conclusion, there are some among you that have been dreadfully offended that I dared put a big question mark beside such testimonies. To that, I unapologetically restate my premise: I utterly and totally reject the authenticity of any testimony that does not proclaim Christ and Him crucified. Until you tell me that you believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and that you accepted His work by faith, and that you have evidenced the fruit of regeneration since, I'm simply not going to back down in this assessment. The gospel and the testifying of the gospel is not inoffensive; it's the most offensive thing in the world. And if you claim to be bound by that gospel, you better come prepared to proclaim it. To God be the glory.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Sad Deaf News

Miss Deaf Texas Tara McAvoy was struck by a train and died Monday. The train conductor said that they blew the horn constantly right up until she was hit. This illustrates a sad but true danger Deaf people face every day just crossing the street. We may never hear you until it's too late. I personally have nearly been run over by speeders in SBTS's parking lots, all because I never heard them coming. And this happens to me several times per month. No, it doesn't always matter if you look both ways; if you never hear a car coming out of a blind spot, you can't protect yourself. It is one of the many challenges that Deaf individuals simply accept as a way of life. If you'd like some more information about the Miss Deaf Texas stuff, click on this link.

Monday, March 13, 2006

"An Elegant Smackdown"

It just had to be blogged... Albert Mohler uses the word "smackdown" in a sentence. Perhaps he's a lot less nerdy than he lets on? That would be awesome, watching Wrestlemania and discussing the finer points of Baptist distinctives with our estimable President!

What A Testimony Is Not (2)

All right, now that we've seen the three major examples of what a testimony is not, I'd like to take a look at someone who had every "right" to have that kind of testimony. His name is none other than the Apostle Paul. In Philippians 3 he remarks that he has the exact testimony that I am writing against:
For we are the real circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh--though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless.
That's a pretty powerful resume. Paul has a testimony about growing up "in church," about who his family is, and about his adherence to the teachings of the law. All in all, on the surface he looks like a righteous person. Surely this guy is going to heaven! But Paul flatly rejected his former testimony. Philippians 3 goes on to say:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith--that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
With this statement, Paul squarely places his testimony in the hands of Christ. His "story" is found in a righteousness that depends on faith in Christ--faith in his death and resurrection. One thing I have always found interesting about Paul is found in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5:
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
If he knew nothing among the Corinthians but Christ and him crucified, that heavily implies that his testimony could have been nothing else. Over the past year, I find myself more and more wanting to know exactly what it looks like to know nothing but Christ and him crucified. I want to know how to shape my own testimony, preaching and teaching to this concept. I don't want a 4.5 Calvinist testimony or a Gen-Xer testimony or a Southern alum testimony or even a Deaf testimony. I want a testimony that is nothing less than Christ and him crucified, period. Everything else is window dressing. Furthermore, in Colossians 2:8-15 Paul equates anything less than this with "philosophy and empty deceit." Any testimony that is "not according to Christ" is nothing more than empty deceit. Lip service. Fake. And the scary thing is that unless there is a validation of Christ and his atoning work, the testimonies of thousands of Christians in our churches have just been immediately disqualified. Okay, this is enough for the moment. Later this week we'll begin thinking about what a testimony actually is. Paul also has some very good examples of a testimony of Christ and him crucified, so I encourage you to take a look!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

What a Testimony is Not

Okay, now that (hopefully) everyone has recovered from the WTD (Weapon of Theological Destruction) I lobbed yesterday, let's take a deep, calming breath. ***Richard Simmons - "Inhale (sniiiifffff)...exhale (sheeeewwww)."*** Good, now that that is over with, let's look at what a testimony is not. 1. A testimony is not about growing up in a church or being a member of a church. Now, a testimony conceivably can and most often does include mention of growing up in a church environment and being a member. Mine does. I grew up in First Baptist Church, born and raised. Sunday School, Royal Ambassadors, Vacation Bible School, summer missions trips, youth evangelism conferences, handbells, choir (I was tolerated here), the whole nine yards. I even lived through times of friction within and without the church. And there were periods of time where my family didn't go to church regularly also. And I even got baptized and put on the membership roll without having a genuine testimony of salvation in the 7th grade. (For the record, I actually accepted Christ on Valentine's Day in my freshman year of high school. I'd previously asked to become a Christian after VBS in the 5th or 6th grade because it was the "popular" thing to do at the time. For what it's worth, my pastor there, when I asked, felt that I did not need to be baptized again.) But these things don't speak to being saved. They're merely groundwork. Worth mentioning is that some of the things I listed occurred before I believed in Christ and some happened after. But do any of these things really yell, "Steve is saved?" No. It just means I was blessed enough to be raised in a Christian environment to some degree. 2. A testimony is not about who your parents are. I get this one more often than anything else from my teenagers. "My dad is a deacon at church. My mom runs the nursery. My daddy's the assistant pastor. My mom teaches Sunday School. My dad started an outreach ministry." And so on and so forth. More common than the "Daddy Warbucks" answers are the "I was raised by my parents to be..." answers. You know these, people say they were raised to be good people, moral people, or what have you. And yes, these were responses to the question of how one knows one is saved. But again, do any of these things clearly say, "Jesus saved me?" No. 3. A testimony is not about "following the teachings of Christ." Anyone can do that! Come on. Joe Blow at Trixie's nudie bar can follow what Jesus taught, in principle. Though of course, he (and you and I for that matter) won't be able to follow the "be perfect" command, but I digress. This is the response I most often get from church members. "I follow the Bible. I follow what the pastor teaches me about Jesus. I study my Sunday School lesson. I try to live a Christian life. I always ask myself, 'What Would Jesus Do?'" This is where things tend to get cloudy for us. Obviously, if someone has really accepted Christ, these are the exact things we would look for. But do actions divorced from the saving work of Christ constitute a saving testimony? No. None of these things proclaim, "There's a saved person here!" Ephesians 2:10 ought to debunk any notion of a works-salvation: "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." Notice something here, the works come after we are "created in Christ Jesus." When are we "created in Christ Jesus?" When we are saved! WWJD is the result of salvation, not the cause. And as such it does not constitute a true testimony. I feel that, after having given these three points, I must repeat myself: I utterly and totally reject the authenticity of any testimony that does not proclaim Christ and Him crucified. Okay, I think that's enough for tonight. Let's meditate and pray over them, and examine ourselves to make sure our "spiritual resumes" are correct. More to follow.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Appalling State of Youth Testimonies

I am appalled. In the words of Waldo from the old show Family Matters, "I am shocked and dismayed." Our youth don't even testify of being saved by Christ anymore. Instead, they testify of being on "thrill rides" for Jesus (see Stephen Underkofler for more details) or of growing up church-hopping; or of joining churches just to save $5000 on college tuition; or of great church dinners and growing to like beer; or of following WWJD all their life; or of their parents being church leaders; and so on and so forth, ad nauseam. Where are the testimonies of being saved by Christ? Maybe I'm just old school, but I just don't get it. It used to be a testimony was about coming to Christ. Nowadays people don't even know what it means to come to Christ; all they can testify of is "becoming emergent" or of how they've "lived a moral life" or of how they "seek to follow the teachings of Jesus." I am throwing down the gauntlet. I don't care who this offends. In fact, people with testimonies like that NEED to be offended by this: I utterly and totally reject the authenticity of any testimony that does not proclaim Christ and Him crucified as the source of one's salvation. That's right, I'm questioning your salvation. Be offended all you like. Until you tell me that you believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and that you accepted His work by faith, and that you have evidenced the fruit of regeneration since, I'm going to take any testimony of yours with a grain of salt. I won't even consider you for leadership until you do so, much less church membership. And I'm appalled that some people like this have gotten into our seminaries. And I'm even more appalled that this generation of youth are being taught that this is okay. It is far, far, far from okay. What we need in our churches are members with a testimony that is of Christ alone, not of how one is trying to live a moral life following the teaching of Jesus in a variety of churches even though we disagree with some of those churches and whatever else you can think of to add to this ridiculous run-on sentence. No wonder some are predicting the decline of the evangelical church - we can't even get our young people to understand where their salvation comes from. Now, this post was merely to let off steam. Be warned--I'm just getting started. In between my Doctrines of Grace posts I'm going to start a mini-series on what a true testimony is. And I will pull no punches.

Holocron Book Club

Christian Book Distributors is having a sale on Donald Grey Barnhouse's 4-volume Romans commentary for $20. That's over $100 off the original $125 list price. Run out and get it; it will only last til next month, or so I'm told. For our inaugural Silent Holocron Book Club moment (which should have been my Valley of Vision post, but oh well), I want to share with you a jaw-dropping selection from the introduction to the first volume. I'll put the parts I want to emphasize in italics. (Italics looks like this, in case you didn't know.) "It should be realized also that these studies have been prepared for immediate delivery, and that I was never more than eight or ten studies in advance of the actual moment of broadcast. And, even as I write this preface to the first of several printed volumes, I am now working on the messages that cover the last ten verses of the fifth chapter of the epistle. As the nature of my conference work takes me out over the nation, and at times abroad, I am forced upon occasion to carry some of my material with me and write these messages far from my study, and with only twenty or thirty reference books with me. I have been forced, by this fact, to rely much more upon the Word of God itself, than upon any other commentaries. In all cases, I have read the thirty or forty leading commentaries, from those of the Reformation time and of the Puritans, to the modern commentaries, including those of unbelievers. In many cases, however, I had nothing more than a worksheet with the passage of Scripture in some twenty translations, in English, French, and German, my Greek testament, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, Thayer's Greek Lexicon, and the Englishman's Greek Concordance." First of all, the very idea of travelling with twenty or thirty books, especially reference books, is staggering to me. HOW would I get all that stuff on the plane? Or even compactly and comfortably in my car and still have room for necessities? Second of all, the staggering amount of reading this guy did just to prepare a message is astounding. I'm lucky if I go any further than one commentary and two or three expositions, in addition to about 30 minutes to an hour of Greek work, depending on how demanding the text is. Many times I'll just work directly out of the text. I also can't imagine reading Scripture commentary from unbelievers. That's just unreal. Third, look at the guy's worksheet. Is that not massive? 20 translations in three languages is nothing to sneeze at. He's got every conceivable version of his text sitting right in front of him. And that's in addition to his Greek tools. Dang. What this paragraph does is convict me of the necessity of "rightly handling the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)." Oftentimes I think we young-uns tend to pay attention to the single commentary or two on our shelves, something our former and current pastors preached, and a few books we've read and consider ourselves to have expounded Scripture. Barnhouse puts the lie to that. I'll never be content with any exposition I do from this point on, no matter how correct or thorough it may be, until I've reached the bar that he's just set. Therein lies the rub. We are seminary students, many of us working part-time or full-time outside of classes, and we really do not have the time to give ourselves that fully to the handling of Scripture. What can we do? I think the best we can do right now is understand that we may not be called to be that single-minded while we are in school. There's a reason seminary is a preparation ground - we're preparing for the day when we actually will have the time to do that. So maybe what we ought to do is before we begin preparing our messages and lessons, and especially before we preach and teach, we should just get down on our knees and pray: "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner, that I am unable now to go full-bore on Your word. But You have promised us that Your word will not return to You void. Do what You will through what I have done, and I pray that today is a stepping stone to that wonderful day when I can fully obey Your command. My ability is poor, but Yours is perfect, and in it I trust."

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Blog Redesign

It's Alex Forrest's fault. His and Joe Thorn's. I've been wanting to redesign this template for who knows how long, and along come Alex and Joe with an easy and gorgeous way to do it. Free pre-made templates. Whodathunkit? See the sidebar for the link to the template goodies. The only thing I don't like about this new design is that it doesn't have a comments link, nor does it tell you how many comments are on the post on the main page, so I had to add "& Comments" to the permalink line. The comments show up on the permalink. Eventually I'll figure out how to get the comments link back on the main page. But not tonight. Drop me a line and tell me how you like the new look. Meanwhile, amuse yourselves with my introduction to The Valley of Vision.

Discovering the Valley of Vision

Today I bit the bullet and got a copy of The Valley of Vision. Reading the very first selection very nearly undid me. It is such a timely prayer. I spent a good 30 minutes in prayer and contemplation after reading this one. Let me share it with you. I've edited it to take out the KJV-style language. The Valley of Vision Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, You have brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see you in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold your glory. Let me learn by paradox    that the way down is the way up,    that to be low is to be high,    that the broken heart is the healed heart,    that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,    that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,    that to have nothing is to possess all,    that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,    that to give is to receive,    that the valley is the place of vision. Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from the deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brigher your stars shine; Let me find your light in my darkness,    your life in my death,    your joy in my sorrow,    your grace in my sin,    your riches in my poverty    your glory in my valley.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Intentional Evangelism

I just had to share the joy. Tonight at work at UPS, I had an intentionally evangelistic conversation with one of the girls on the belt. And it centered around, of all things, theology! It all started when I was telling the girl (we'll call her Short Stuff) about the spectacularly crappy day I'd had (multiple things had gone disastrously wrong for no apparent reason) and how I could still be happy because of a single thing: I have a theology test today. It's one of my favorite subjects if not THE favorite. Yes, yes, I know--the Jock in me is going into seclusion and the Geek is taking over. Al Mohler would be proud. Anyway, Short Stuff kind of looked at me funny and asked me why that was. I told her that was because theology basically tells us how to be Christians. She gave me a quizzical look and asked me to explain that. I said, "well, theology helps us to understand what we believe about Jesus, for example." Not quite getting it, she asked for an example. "You know how these days most people say Jesus was just a great teacher? See, theology shows us that in the Bible, Jesus said that he and God were basically one and the same. If I understand Jesus in that way, and not in the way that says he was 'just a great teacher,' then it changes the way I look at Jesus and as a result it changes the way I think about what Jesus said in the Bible and what people said about Jesus in the Bible." She got very interested at that point and asked me about atheists. I told her that atheists for the most part don't even need theology since they don't believe in God. "But just suppose what if," she said. So I decided it was a bullet worth biting and replied, "Well, for an atheist, theology basically tells them that they are wrong about God; and theology tells them that they must believe or be miserable for the rest of their lives. Atheists don't want to hear that and spend a lot of time, no they WASTE a lot of their time trying to prove the Bible wrong, and they waste MY time because I have to answer them." She seemed satisfied with that answer. She started asking about other seminary students in the building (especially the illustrious Shane Morgan) and if we all believed the same. I told her that for the most part we were all on the same page. "Why study theology?" She asked. Now that was the question I had really been waiting for. "Because for the most part, Christians don't really know what they believe. They just want to go to church and let the preacher tell them what to believe and they're satisfied. They don't want anything more than that. And while that isn't all bad, people like me and Shane think there is so much more to being a Christian than that, and we believe that because we have studied theology! People like us want to teach Christians theology and help them become just as hungry for theology as we are if not more so!" That started a discussion about televangelists and morons like Pat Robertson. I have to admit I wasn't too nice in my assessment of those guys, but I affirmed to her that they are good examples of what I meant by that. I told her that I thought these guys had a bad understanding of theology which in turn made them think it was okay to take advantage of people in the ways that they did. Then she asked me a bombshell question: "Do you think the reason the Catholic Church had problems with the priests was because the priests had bad theology?" Dang. HOW do you answer a loaded question like that? "I think," I said, "that if those priests really believed what the Church teaches and really studied it, then there might have been a lot fewer problems than there were. But we don't know that for sure." She mulled over that for a minute, and then I interjected, "But see, that's why it's such a big deal to be a preacher, because the preacher's job is to teach people and help them grow as people. A preacher can't do that unless he cares for people, and it's hard for a preacher to care for people in the right way if he does not study theology! So, you see, people like me and Shane feel that we don't know how to care for people if we don't know theology!" Shane, I hope you don't mind that I kinda took it upon myself to speak for ya there, bro. *innocent look* She told me then that she'd never really had the chance to study theology, which was surprising to me because she was apparently raised Catholic. But she shared that she went to a school where they only went to Mass on Fridays, and when I asked she said there were no catechism classes or anything like that. She didn't even know what a catechism or a catechism class was until I explained it to her! Ah, that explains it. She is a Catholic, and she doesn't even have a basic understanding of her faith! How horrible! "That's why it's so important to study theology," I told her, "because when you do that, you learn what your faith is all about." She continued to think about that for a few minutes and then the conversation petered out as we started to get slammed with boxes. I only have one thing to say about this conversation: PRAISE GOD! Only He could have set the events of the day into motion in such a way as to culminate in this conversation. Let me ask you guys to pray that another such opportunity will come our way very soon!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Rock 'N' Roll Part 2

Now that I'm off work and somewhat more coherent (but not by much), I got another one for ya. This is truly old school. Reminds me of a time when faith was simpler and I didn't need all this theology (or so I thought). Sometimes it's nice to remember when all you knew was fluff. Soulmate by Audio Adrenaline There is a tremendous lover who would like to share His wondrous love story with all those who would care To listen to His still small voice He doesn't like to yell and if you stop and take a chance I know you'll hear him tell I...your soul's friend I...your soul's love I...your soul's hope I wanna be your soulmate, your soulmate The search it will continue leading you down many roads it seems very attractive but in truth you're very alone It's a trick of deception of clever placed distraction leaving your spirit earth bound, never to soar I...your soul's friend I...your soul's love I...your soul's hope I wanna be your soulmate, your soulmate There is a tremendous lover who would love to share His wondrous love story with all those who would care I...your soul's friend I...your soul's love I...your soul's hope I wanna be your soulmate, your soulmate

Friday, March 03, 2006

Tonight, I'm a Rock 'N' Roll Star

Was listening to Oasis' Definitely Maybe album before I hit the sack after class today, and really got into this one song, Rock 'N' Roll Star, so I started playing it over and over. I even got out the guitar and played it a few times. I got so into it because I was feeling pretty irritated at people outside of SBTS denigrating me and others simply because we go to school here, so the song just spoke to me loudly at that moment. When I woke up I was pretty quiet the rest of the day, especially through dinner. That was mostly because I still had this song on the brain, and I was trying to come up with a Christian version, thinking about how sometimes we're looked down upon and how we're driven by fads in our churches and personal walks. Here's what I came up with on what little sleep I had today. SBTS Star by Stephen Newell Lived my life at seminary There's no easy way out My class movin' just too fast for me I need some time with the Savior I've gotta slow it right down My class movin' just too fast for me I live my life for the Word that shines People say it's just a waste of time When they said I should feed my head That to me was just a day in bed I'll take this fad and trash it bad Cause you're not concerned about the faith I had In my heart my Lord is real Now you're concerned about the way I feel But tonight, I'm a Southern Seminary star Tonight, I'm a Southern Seminary star Live my life in the church house There's no easy way out The sermon is just too fast for me I need some time with the Savior I've gotta slow it right down The sermon is just too fast for me I live my life for the Word that shines People say it's just a waste of time When they said I should feed my head That to me was just a day in bed I'll take this fad and trash it bad Cause you're not concerned about the faith I had In my heart my Lord is real Now you're concerned about the way I feel But tonight, I'm a Southern Seminary star Tonight, I'm a Southern Seminary star Tonight, I'm a Southern star You're not down with who I am Look at you now, you're all in God's hands Tonight Tonight, I'm a Southern Seminary star Tonight, I'm a Southern Seminary star Tonight, I'm a Southern Seminary star Tonight, I'm a Southern star It's just SBTS It's just SBTS Get off your high horse, people It's just SBTS It's just SBTS Let's come to Him and worship It's just SBTS It's just SBTS Praise the glory of His grace

Thursday, March 02, 2006

A Question on Berkhof

I need a bit of help. I am currently trying to budget Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology, and while browsing the campus bookstore today I realized there are two versions on the shelves. On the one hand, there is the Banner of Truth edition (reprinted 2003), and on the other there is the Eerdmans edition (printed 1993). There seems to be no difference between the two other than cost (BoT edition is far cheaper) and the fact that the Eerdman's edition contains another of Berkhof's theology books, an introduction to theology, I believe. So my question to you guys and girls is this: which is the better buy? Which will do me more good in the long run? Discuss amongst yourselves.