Monday, April 16, 2012

Reminder: I've Moved

Just a reminder that I've moved! You can now find me at the new The Gospel-Driven Church at The Gospel Coalition.

I will keep this space live but all new posts have been and will be at the new place. Please remember to update your subscriptions, bookmarks, and/or blogrolls.

Monday, January 23, 2012

This Blog Has Moved!

As I teased early last week, there's a big change afoot for the future of The Gospel-Driven Church blog. As officially announced this morning, I am joining the ranks of the bloggers at The Gospel Coalition site. It is an incredible honor to be invited to blog alongside some of my favorite pastor-writers at one of the most widely-read online evangelical neighborhoods. You have probably already read that Trevin Wax is making the move as well.

You can now find me at the new The Gospel-Driven Church.

I will keep this space live but all new posts will be at the new place. Please remember to update your subscriptions, bookmarks, and/or blogrolls.

See ya over yonder!

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Gospel-Shaped Pro-Life Passion

If you put overturning Roe v. Wade to a popular vote, I'm in line early ready to vote in favor of protecting the approximately one million unborn babies killed each year, and if you're a politician, the best way to lose my vote is to align with the pro-choice agenda.

Nevertheless, I don't believe laws -- or the protests and petitions and politicking that seek to achieve them -- are the primary way we are going to eradicate abortion. Overturning Roe v. Wade is a win -- and it's a win we should work for, hard -- but in my way of thinking, it is not the win.

The emancipation of the slaves and ensuing civil rights legislation was necessary. But none of it ended racism.

I am not proposing an either/or. What I'm proposing is that evangelicals take the harder route, adopt the harder cause, that we pray for and aim for Spiritual change of hearts more than we aim for legal stay of hands.

Here are some thoughts on how we may do this:

1. Gospel-centered preaching. Here's the thing: Pastors who preach culture war receive Amens from the already convinced and almost nothing from everybody else. At its worst a steady dose of this creates an unhealthy "us vs. them" mentality that has us thinking of our enemies in ways the Sermon on the Mount strictly forbids. But pastors who proclaim the freedom from sin and abundant life in Christ lay groundwork for zeal for life, not just for winning political battles. A gospel-driven pro-life agenda means hating abortion because we love women and we love the unborn. That sounds like a no-brainer but so many of our evangelical countrymen just sound like they hate abortion. And preaching isn't just for pastors. In general, more evangelicals need to talk Jesus more than they talk politics, or else we unintentionally communicate that our greatest treasure is "getting our country back" and that our chief message is political. We are great with the good news of the kingdom of the founding fathers. Let's return to the good news of the kingdom of God.

2. Reframing the abortion discussion. Lots of others have said this better than I can, but I think we've dropped the ball on how we frame the abortion issue. It is a matter of human rights, of civil rights, which is a perspective I first heard from my deeply pro-life friend who voted for Barack Obama. (I know, figure that one out.) But this is how we will best win in the political arena, I think. In many cases, this involves merely shifting from arguing against selfish moms (or whatever) and arguing for an appropriate definition of when life begins and becoming advocates for the voiceless unborn, exploited and commoditized. We can steer the discussion into the same rhetoric of the abolitionist and civil rights movements and end up stirring more hearts, I think.

3. Creating cultures of adoption and rescue. Human trafficking is the emerging danger. It's been going for a long time, but the Church is recently (and awesomely) stepping up efforts to combat it, even here in America. My friend Justin Holcomb and his wife lead efforts of Mars Hill Church in Seattle to rescue sex workers, sex abuse victims, and runaways in their city. Others are working hard to rescue young girls from the sex trade. On the other front, the Church is exponentially embracing the beauty of adoption. It has become a bona fide movement, thank God. The reactive culture of rhetoric and protests must give way to these proactive missionary movements. We will begin changing hearts and minds on these matters of life and death as we create cultures of adoption and rescue. But only communities can create cultures, so churches have to buy in corporately. More families adopting, more families serving and taking in pregnant teens, more churches helping families do those things, more churches loving families and kids, more churches finding ways to minister to the exploited and marginalized and to support missions and organizations and crisis pregnancy centers that already are . . . these are the pro-active, missional steps to creating truly pro-life cultures.

4. Prophets, not pundits. I don't know how else to put this. We need an MLK for the pro-life movement, a unifying and prophetic voice. We need intellectually strong but charming, powerful, winsome statesmen. We need people who aren't just jockeying for time on FoxNews. I don't even know if this is possible today, given the nature of media exposure and the divide between political parties -- whites and blacks, Democrats and Republicans marched with King; I wonder if we haven't so aligned the pro-life cause with conservative Republicanism that that kind of unity would be impossible for our cause -- but we need a peacemaker with a powerful voice. We need prophets willing to speak truth and rebuke to power while able to speak peace and comfort to the powerless and broken.

5. Technology, technology, technology. The increasing advances in technology, particularly ultrasound technology, is catching up with the abortion industry. Women are seeing their babies. Technology is catching up with abortion. Smart churches will support their local crisis pregnancy centers, which are often frontlines on the struggle for the unborn, and help them get ultrasound equipment. No, they're not cheap. But life isn't either.

6. Love. I'm coming full circle, here, but if we were to outlaw abortion tomorrow, we'd still have 500,000 women a year who didn't want their babies. You have probably already had unwed teenage girls get pregnant in your church, and if you haven't you probably will at some point, and besides all that, there are plenty in your community and city. Before and in addition to removing abortion as a legal option for them, we have to love them, welcome them, teach them, serve them. Only the love of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ can change hearts. Let that be the ammunition of our war.

This is a slightly edited version of a post I ran last year at this time.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Shepherd the Flock that is Among You

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you . . .
-- 1 Peter 5:1-2

I have heard more than a few times that a preacher ought to preach for the crowd he wants. There's a grain of truth in that but it's mostly balderdash. Preach to the crowd you have. They're the ones who are there, listening.

Preach as their pastor, not merely as their preacher. (Let the reader understand.)

Shepherd the flock you've got, not the one you want.
Shepherd the flock among you, the one that's messy and real and immediate, not the one reducible to "likes" and re-tweets, not the one in Podcastopia.
Shepherd the flock, don't ignore them, order them around, nag them, demoralize them, treat them as pawns or puppets or inconveniences. Shepherd them to and in Jesus.

There's a lot more that can be said on this, and Peter says a lot more in the ensuing verses, but I suppose some pastors (like me) need to remember the call to "shepherd the flock of God that is among you" on a regular basis.

Our Adorable Conquering Redeemer

Great was the joy of Israel’s sons
when Egypt died upon the shore,
Far greater the joy
when the Redeemer’s foe lay crushed in the dust.
Jesus strides forth as the victor,
conqueror of death, hell, and all opposing might;
He bursts the bands of death,
tramples the powers of darkness down,
and lives for ever.
He, my gracious surety,
apprehended for payment of my debt,
comes forth from the prison house of the grave
free, and triumphant over sin, Satan, and death.
Show me herein the proof that his vicarious offering is accepted,
that the claims of justice are satisfied,
that the devil’s sceptre is shivered,
that his wrongful throne is levelled.
Give me the assurance that in Christ I died, in Him I rose,
in His life I live, in His victory I triumph,
in His ascension I shall be glorified.
Adorable Redeemer,
Thou who wast lifted up upon a cross
art ascended to highest heaven.
Thou, who as man of sorrows wast crowned with thorns,
art now as Lord of life wreathed with glory.
Once, no shame more deep than Thine,
no agony more bitter, no death more cruel.
Now, no exaltation more high,
no life more glorious, no advocate more effective.
Thou art in the triumph car leading captive Thine enemies behind Thee.
What more could be done than Thou hast done!
Thy death is my life, Thy resurrection my peace,
Thy ascension my hope, Thy prayers my comfort.

-- one of my favorite prayers from The Valley of Vision

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sensual Silliness a Failure of Doctrine

The soundest and safest Christian reflection consists in "what you have received, not what you have thought up; a matter not of ingenuity, but of doctrine; not of private acquisition, but of public Tradition; a matter brought to you, not put forth by you, in which you must not be the author but the guardian, not the founder but the sharer, not the leader, but the follower."

-- Vincent of Lerins, quoted in Christopher Hall, Learning Theology with the Church Fathers (Intervarsity, 2002), 27.
In Jude 3-4 we read the urging to resist the perverters of grace into sensuality by contending for the faith once for all delivered. In 1 Timothy 1:8-11 we learn that sensual sins, passions of the flesh, are contrary to "sound doctrine" and "the gospel of the glory of the blessed God."

What we learn in these passages and others is that bad doctrine doesn't just affect what we know, but what we do. A wonky theology leads inevitably to wonky behavior.

And so is it really a huge leap to note that the purveyors of so much sanctuary silliness and churchy tomfoolery aren't exactly known for their love of doctrine? They are known for their dynamic ways, their innovation, their spectacle, but not a one of them is known for being a strong proclaimer of God's Word.

The reliance on gimmicks and showmanship is a distrust of the gospel's power, which is condemnation. What does it profit a pastor to gain the best seller list but lose his soul?

Where I'll Be

Two upcoming events I'd like to tell you about.

Gospel Wakefulness Conference, March 3

I will be preaching the fourth Gospel Wakefulness Conference at Grace Church in Brockton, Massachusetts. Sponsored by the Gospel Alliance New England, cost is just $10 and includes lunch! Details at link above.

2012 PLNTD Conference, March 30-31

Steve Timmis and I will be speaking on Cultivating Gospel Community at this upcoming two-day conference in Fort Myers, Florida. If you register before January 23, the cost is just $29! More details at the link above.

Wrangling and Wondering: A (Brief) Response to Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson has provided an insightful interaction with my book Gospel Wakefulness over at Mere Orthodoxy. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

I fear I will not be doing Matthew's interest justice in that my response to his in-depth "caution" will be brief. I am grateful for the sharpening and the opportunity to revisit, clarify, and recommend the message(s) of Gospel Wakefulness, but one of Matthew's concerns is that the concept of gospel wakefulness (as I have framed it) does not allow for the reception of criticism. This hems me in a bit, gives me the same impression as the question "Have you stopped beating your wife?" If I do not respond at all, I prove him right. If I respond in rebuttal, I prove him right. The only way to prove him wrong is to say he's right. So you see my predicament.

So I'm going to let the chips fall where they may by protesting but hopefully without appearing that I "doth protest too much." :-)

Matthew bases this caution on the portion of my book where I offer a diagnostic outline of sorts. I say that inability to understand the concept of "gospel-centrality" is a sign one is not wakened to the gospel. Matthew bristles at that, perhaps for good reasons, as he later develops the fear of "gospel" as a Shibboleth and "gospel-centered" as a faddish buzzword that unhelpfully makes us designate some people are in and others are out. I offer two responses to this:

First, I stand by the list of signs there, but I ask that they be kept in the context of what else the book says about judging people as "in" or "out." I am grateful that Matthew refers to my response to Trevin Wax on this subject, something he had not done in his original draft (which he graciously sent me ahead of time). There are numerous passages throughout the book that speak directly to the issue of judging others, setting up tiers of Christianity, and the like. In fact, one of the built-in safeguards discussed in the book is that a person who pridefully operates like "I got this gospel wakefulness thing and you don't!" isn't gospel wakened.

I find it odd that Matthew has picked up on a few problematic passages that buttress his cautions but skips entirely over anything that might actually echo his cautions in the book itself. There is an entire chapter on Gospel Confidence that speaks within on the built-in humility of gospel wakefulness.

Secondly, the sign "The idea of gospel centrality makes no sense to you" is to "gospel un-wakefulness" as the symptom "chest pain" is to "heart attack." The former is indeed a symptom of the latter, but the presence of the former does not necessarily equate to the latter. That's why it's a list of signs to be considered, and I preface that list not by unequivocally saying "If this is you, you're off the team," but by saying "Let me like a doctor gently press on your assurance."

Matthew's other (larger?) concern is how the concept of gospel wakefulness as I outline it allows (or disallows) a faith that permeates political, cultural, and social endeavors. In this discussion, I would only refer back to my response to Trevin. It is indeed possible I didn't distinguish enough in the book between political activism and political idolatry, but that was not the focus of the book. I only maintain that I am not a quietist in the sense the book appears susceptible to being charged with.

Again, I find it odd that Matthew makes no reference at all to the portions of the book that would directly address gospel wakefulness' versatility in areas outside the explicitly "spiritual." I have an entire chapter on the tyranny of hyperspirituality that would speak directly to the ordinary effects of the gospel and the enjoyment of common graces, be they politics or pies (mud or otherwise). In my forthcoming book Gospel Deeps, I have a chapter on "gospel enjoyment" that seeks to expand this idea too.

The things Matthew wants addressed in order to provide cautions are actually in the book. In his published cautions he refers to my touching on the "gospel as catchphrase" in the Conclusion, but in his original draft he discussed the issue without any indication of knowing that part even existed. I had to refer him back to it.

The second to bottom line is this: I actually share Matthew's cautions. They obviously lay larger on his heart than mine, but they resonate with me. And they are in the book. But because the book is largely about exulting in the gospel and its implications, I did not give inordinate space to shoring up every philosophical fear that might arise.

And the very bottom line is this: My aim has not been to coin a concept but to hold up the gospel. As Augustine is said to have said: "Let others wrangle; I will wonder." That's where I'm at with this thing, where I've been at a long time, and I think this disinterest in peripheral wrangling has opened me up to some of the charges I have received. I do indeed find the gospel of Jesus more interesting than Harry Potter and politics, but in saying that I am not saying Harry Potter or politics are never to be discussed.

In any event, if "gospel wakefulness" must disappear into the dustbin of rhetorical nonsense for Christ's glory in the gospel to increase, so be it. And the quicker the better. I do not want "gospel wakefulness" to be counterproductive to the aim of gospel wakefulness.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Revival is Always Christ-Centered

He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
-- John 16:14
"In all companies, on other days, on whatever occasions persons met together, Christ was to be heard of, and seen in the midst of them. Our young people, when they met, were wont to spend the time in talking of the excellency and dying love of JESUS CHRIST, the glory of the way of salvation, the wonderful, free, and sovereign grace of God, his glorious work in the conversion of a soul, the truth and certainty of the great things of God's word, the sweetness of the views of his perfections, &c."

-- Jonathan Edwards, A Narrative of Surprising Conversions
It is the Spirit's raison d'etre to shine the light on Christ. The Spirit is often called the "shy" Person of the Trinity because of this. He is content -- no, zealous -- to minister to the Church the Father's blessings in the gospel of Jesus. He quickens us to desire Christ, illuminates the Scripture's revelation of Christ, empowers us to receive Christ, and imparts Christ to us even in his own indwelling. For this reason, then, any church or movement's claim of revival better have exaltation of Christ at its center, or it is not genuine revival.

At the front end of Paul's excursus to the Corinthians on the sign-gift charismata, he reminds us: "Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says 'Jesus is accursed!' and no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except in the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:3).

What we often see in false revivals is the exaltation of particular figures or the worship of a worship experience itself. You can turn on nearly any religious television programming and see this work in action. Christ is given lip service but exhilaration, personal revelation, warm fuzzies, and spectacular manifestations are the real objects of worship. Charlatans are at the helm, and they purport to wield the Holy Spirit as if He were pixie dust. In these cases and others, it is not the Spirit stirring, but the spirit of the antichrist.

Edwards writes elsewhere:
When the operation is such as to raise their esteem of that Jesus who was born of the Virgin, and was crucified without the gates of Jerusalem; and seems more to confirm and establish their minds in the truth of what the gospel declares to us of his being the Son of God, and the Saviour of men; is a sure sign that it is from the Spirit of God.
Revival given of the Spirit of the living God, places Christ always and ever at the center.

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.
-- John 4:2-3

Bearing with One Another: On the Giving and Receiving of Criticism

There is a lack of love when criticism amounts to complaining about "the other." My friend Bill calls this syndrome I Have Identified the Problem, and It Is You.

Remember, brothers -- all of us, conservative or liberal, young or old, MacArthur acolyte or Driscoll fanboy -- a prophet to the church speaks from the inside. Let us not shrink back from calling each other to repentance, to speaking the truth in love, but let's remember we speak prophetically to us.

And let us not shrink back from our brother's reproof if it is offered in sincerity. He may be wrong, he may be overzealous, but his energy merits consideration. Seeing criticism as never necessary is just as wrong as seeing it as always necessary. Seeing criticism as always evil, always wrong, always hateful and therefore not necessary is just as dangerous as the problem of self-elevating and insulating one's self from criticism.

Public judgment of public speech and actions is not condemnation. Test all things; cling to what is good. If the criticism is truly malicious or just wrong: dismiss it. But not before then. And certainly not with some self-glorifying notion that one is above the reproof of fellow Christians. Don't think strangers have the right to criticize you? Then don't post thoughts in public for strangers to read. It is no Christian virtue to expect privileges without responsibilities.
"We often think we have no need of anyone else's advice or reproof. Always remember, much grace does not imply much enlightenment. We may be wise but have little love, or we may have love with little wisdom. God has wisely joined us all together as the parts of a body so that we cannot say to another, 'I have no need of you.' "

- John Wesley
We critics ought to seek to read others through the lens of charity. Many times the ability to read someone's words in a bad light does not equal an imperative to do so. Instead of first asking our brother why they said or believe something we deem wrong, let's ask ourselves if perhaps we're reading him incorrectly or uncharitably.

We receivers of criticism ought to lend our critics the respect they may be denying us. Respond to questions or criticism in good faith, even if briefly. If our interlocutors prove malicious or disputationally vain, we can then move along. Yes, yes, by all means, don't feed the trolls. But seeking to clarify, elaborate, or winsomely rebut seems a decent way to rhetorically give your shirt to the guy asking for your coat.

But let's honor Christ by attempting to bear with one another. The gospel has identified the problem, and it is us.

We will commend the gospel when we can give and receive criticism with charity and humility.

"Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor."
-- Romans 12:10b

Friday, January 13, 2012

Jesus Was Religious

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully
-- 1 Timothy 1:8

It's important not to push back on Jefferson Bethke and his video simply to be contrarian or to avoid liking something because everybody else does. The heart displayed in the video is solid, and he says a lot of right things. But he says a few wrongs one too, and while they aren't wrong enough to overreact, they are wrong enough to note with some cautions.

First, I think using the word "religion" in a negative sense can be okay. Most of us have done it. I've done it. When delivered in a punchy way with a clear context, it makes sense. Most reasonable people understand what is meant by the claim that "Jesus ticked off religious people." Yes, he did. And while we can bring in all kinds of assumptions to what exactly constitutes "religious people," the statement makes sense on the surface.

But in belaboring the point there is much more opportunity for error. Some make a boogeyman out of the idea of "religious people," by which it becomes clear what they mean is "traditional people" or the uncool. My feeling is that the Bible-thumping, starched suit-wearing, hellfire and brimstone religious people taking the fun out of fundamentalism are becoming fewer and farther between, while the church is brimming with self-righteous hipsters and cooler-than-thous. The Pharisees look like Vampire Weekend now. I'm not saying Jefferson is one of those guys; I'm just saying he's offering them red meat.

The way the fellow in the video defines religion, he is right to hate it. But the more he goes on, the less justification he's got for using the word religion. It's not religion that does all those things. It's not even the Law that does all those things. The Law is good! (See Romans 7:12, for instance, or 1 Timothy 1:18.) It's self-righteousness that does all those things. Religion is not, as the fellow says, a man-made invention: legalism is. And even as the Scriptures tell us the harsh things the Law does, it never gives us license to hate it.

So it's not the Law or religion the Bible is against, but legalism and "self-made religion" (Colossians 2:23). There is no room in the video's belaboring of the point, apparently, for "pure and undefiled religion" (James 1:27). It's important to make the "do vs. done" distinction -- vitally important -- but "do" is not bad. Jesus did not come to abolish religion, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).

And the really controversial point we ought to make is this: Jesus did not hate religion. He was in fact a religious person. We are used to using the words Pharisee or Pharisaical in the pejorative senses, as labels, but in Jesus' day, the most faithful, biblical religion going, for all its problems, was the religion of the Pharisees. Between Zealots on one side and Sadducees on the other, the Pharisees had carved out a decent niche as the "evangelicals" of the day.

The great sin of the Pharisees was not, in the end, their religious dutifulness -- they sought to interpret the Scriptures literally, were conservative in doctrine and practice, believed in the resurrection to come, and thought God's Word had immediate application to every day life -- but their self-righteous rejection of Jesus. And Jesus, believe it or not, was closest in theology to the Pharisees.

Jesus was a good Jew. He attended synagogue faithfully, observed the feasts and festivals and religious holidays, kept the Law (better than anybody), and made it his mission to obey God perfectly. You better hope Jesus was super-religious, in fact, because it's his perfect religion we rely on for our righteousness.

So, again: Jefferson Bethke is on to something good and right. But we are on to something good and right to make the right distinctions, lest we put ourselves in the Pharisaical place of saying "I thank you God I'm not like those religious people."

And again: the Law is not bad! It is good. And it is not gospel-shaped to hate the Law but to delight in it (Psalm 40:8 and all over Psalm 119).

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Caption This - Win a Copy of the Seven Daily Sins Leader Kit

Provide a caption for this photo in the comments.

Funniest comment -- as judged purely subjectively by me -- wins a copy of the Seven Daily Sins Leader Kit which retails for $49.95 and includes a copy of the book, DVD with supplementary videos, leader guide, CD playlist (featuring Lecrae, Johnny Cash,, all in a sturdy cardboard case.

Rules and guidelines:

1. I have to think it's funny. Making fun of Tom Brady is fine and dandy, but remember, as a vocal Brady fan, I've heard every variation of the "he's a girl"/"he has a girl's hair" jokes out there, so surprise me.

2. You can enter as often as you like.

3. Leave an email address so I can contact you if you win OR make sure to check back at this post after the deadline:

4. I will pick the winner sometime Sunday and contact them by email (if I have it) and update this post as notification.

Winner of the kit is Kevin Copeland, whose caption was the best rendition of a repeated joke:
And the women sang to one another as they celebrated,
"Tebow has scored his thousands,
and Brady his ten thousands." (1 Pats 18:7)
But since Nic Ferguson had a similar joke posted before Kevin's, I'm gonna send him a kit too. Email me your shipping addresses at jared AT gospeldrivenchurch DOT com, guys, and I'll get them out asap.

Runner up was James Snare's caption:
Tom: I've really been struggling to understand the difference between Pre-millenialist Chiliasts and Pre-Millenial Dispensationalists. Any help?

Tim: I'm a virgin....
I have no idea what that even means, but it made me chuckle.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Finally, An Older Brother Worthy of the Honor

His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.
-- Genesis 37:8

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James
- Jude 1a

There is a lot wrapped up in this simple greeting, the opening line of Jude's epistle. Jude is the brother of James, by which he means the James, James the apostle, the brother of Jesus. So this Jude is the Jude who is the brother of Jesus. But he doesn't identify himself as such. He calls himself James's brother but Jesus' "servant."

Jesus' kid brother doesn't say, "I'm Jesus' kid brother," but "I'm Jesus' servant." Again, so much is there.

If you're familiar with the biblical narrative even cursorily, you are probably familiar with the younger brother/older brother dynamic that recurs throughout. According to Jewish custom, the oldest son is the honor-bearer of the family. His legacy has primacy. So we see this, as one example, in the law of levirate marriage, which says that if a man dies and leaves a widow, the next younger brother is obliged to marry the woman and thereby continue the lineage of his older brother. In fact, their firstborn would be considered the dead brother's firstborn. (This may be one reason why what's-his-name hands the kinsman redeemer dibs over to Boaz in the book of Ruth.) The older brother is the one owed the birthright.

But if you know your biblical narrative even cursorily, you also know that the honored older brothers throughout the Scripture are blithering idiots. Family after family shows us the younger brothers outwitting, outlasting, and outshining the older brothers. The failure of the older brother to live up to his honorable position begins with Cain, proceeds through Esau to Joseph's brothers and to David's brothers, and culminates in the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son.

What we see is a gospel template gleaming beneath the religious/custom template in each story. God routinely chooses the B-stringers, the scrubs, the alternates, the lowly, the foolish, the weak, and the unassuming to shame the all-stars (1 Cor. 1:27-28). Indeed, of Jacob and Esau, we read, "[T]he older shall serve the younger" (Gen. 25:23). Older brother after older brother offers failure after failure.

Then we get to the prodigal son story and the older brother is put in place not just to show us again the shameful self-righteousness of those whose own honor seeks the dishonor of others but to show us the desperate need for -- finally, for once in history -- a good older brother. In the accompanying parables -- lost coin and lost sheep -- somebody goes looking for the item lost. In the lost son parable, nobody goes, certainly not the older brother who is busy in his room writing that hit song, "Alone in My Principles." So who will go? Who will seek out the lost and rescue them?

The good older brother. The only good older brother. Jesus.

So Jude is perhaps looking at his older brother, the brother whose claims he apparently disbelieved until his brother returned from the grave with a glorified body, and says to himself, "Finally an older brother worthy of the name!" He is the only begotten Son of God (Jn. 3:16), the head and the beginning and the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent (Col. 1:18). Jesus' sheaf is elevated and his younger siblings' sheaves are bowing to it, the sun, moon, and stars encircle him in worship. Jude says of the one who is not ashamed to call us his brothers (Heb. 2:11), "I am not worthy to call my brother my brother. I am his servant!"

And we are his brothers if we will submissively acknowledge his birthright. Jesus is the older brother who does his job. Everybody else is the other guy.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Universal Cry Answered

What is it that we all want? Significance, yes. Worth, yes. Approval, yes. All of that and more. I think, though, that if we could sum up the varieties of expressions of human desire we would say "real love." I think the cry of every human heart is to be known totally, inside and out, and loved totally anyway. Everything we've done, everything we've said, everything we've thought, everything we are -- everything. And in response: belovedness.

So we test out this cry, to see if it will be answered in some way, in every relationship. We try it with our parents, our children, our spouses, our friends, our church. It frequently, if not always, goes haywire. Sin gets in the way, fear gets in the way, defensiveness gets in the way, stupidity gets in the way, finite capabilities get in the way.

We are not equipped to love each other perfectly, not yet anyway. We are not omnipotent. And we are not love. And we are not omniscient, so we can't know each other perfectly, inside and out, past present future.

But God is and can do all that. And the good news is that God knows every single stinking thing about us . . . and loves us totally, unabashedly, powerfully, savingly. I find this staggering.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Bloggedy Blog

Cool news on the future of my blog coming soon.

The Doctrinal Scandal of The Good Samaritan

The well-known parable from Luke 10:29-37:
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
What is the point of this story? The primary point is in answering the law-expert's question: "Who is my neighbor?" So when Jesus gets to the end, the moral imperative "Go, and do likewise" is a direct command not to be ignored by the inquisitor, or by us.

I also see what many others see in this parable: A God-loving Christianity, which is the only real kind of Christianity, is neighbor-loving Christianity, and the category of "neighbor" is not limited to those who look, think, and live like us. Our neighbors, in fact, include our enemies. So I too see the strains of kingdom-proclaiming social justice in the narrative.

But if Jesus just wanted us to know that we're supposed to care for people not like us, he could just have easily had "the man" be the hero and the Samaritan be the victim. That's in fact a more direct parallel to the flat moral imperative for Jewish lawyers to show mercy to Samaritans, or for Christians to show mercy to non-Christians. Instead, he makes the Samaritan the hero. Why?

There is a doctrinal point in the parable, an indicative accompanying the imperative. It's why we see in the context that the inquisitor is "desiring to justify himself." It's why, I think, we get the details of the priest and the Levite passing by. These plot points are a poke in the eye of the religious establishment, of course, but casting the Samaritan as "the good guy" is a five-finger exploding heart death punch.

Making the half-breed heretic the hero evens out the playing field. It makes it abundantly clear that justification cannot come from ethnicity or religion or any other earthly badge of honor. By making the bad guy good Jesus shows how any loser is ripe for righteousness because the ground is level at the foot of the cross.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
-- Romans 3:23

Who has loved his neighbor, who has shown mercy, more than Jesus?

So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
-- Romans 9:16

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Breaking: Confession Still Dangerous, Real Marriage Shows

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
-- Romans 8:1

I have not read the bulk of the new book from Mark and Grace Driscoll, Real Marriage, including the portions provoking the most controversy and criticism, so I can't comment on that (except to say I would probably share some of the less hyperbolic cautions). Here are some thoughtful reviews from varying perspectives by Tim Challies, Denny Burk, and Aaron Armstrong. (Aaron also has a more general review of the book at TGC.)

But I have read the sample chapters that have provoked the second most controversy and criticism, the ones featuring Mark's and Grace's recounting of sins personal and marital. And I have to confess I'm a little disturbed. But not by the Driscolls. As a pastor who has heard plenty of confessions, as a friend to some spectacular sinners, and as a first-class expert sinner myself, I'm pretty immune to the sin shock factor. No, it's some of the reactions that worry me.

Mark and Grace have done us the discomforting service of admitting their failures. And admitting them as sin. And what a lot of the criticism about them on these matters suggests is that the church still has a long way to go with this whole grace thing. I wonder if the people concerned about what young people might be warped by in the "Can We ______?" section of the book are also concerned that young people might be warped by realizing "Evangelicals are not safe people to confess sin to."

What too much of the criticism communicates is that if you will be faithful to confess your sins publicly, church culture will be faithful to throw them back in your face. Brothers and sisters, this should not be. Sin should not be safe in the church, but sinners should.

Mark and Grace, I doubt you're reading this, but may God's grace and peace multiply to you. Thank you for your courage in confession and know that this guy who once wrecked his own marriage appreciates it.

This man receives sinners and eats with them.
-- Luke 15:2

Wonder and Rationality in Calvinism

John Piper's recent piece The Sovereign God of "Elfland" (Why Chesterton's Anti-Calvinism Doesn't Put Me Off) puts so well into words something I've been trying to figure out how to write about for a while. A taste:
It is a great irony to me that Calvinists are stereotyped as logic-driven. For forty years my experience has been the opposite. The Calvinists I have known (English Puritans, Edwards, Newton, Spurgeon, Packer, Sproul) are not logic driven, but Bible-driven. It’s the challengers who bring their logic to the Bible and nullify text after text. Branches are lopped off by “logic,” not exegesis.

Who are the great enjoyers of paradox today? Who are the pastors and theologians who grab both horns of every biblical dilemma and swear to the God-Man: I will never let go of either.

Not the Calvinism-critics that I meet. They read of divine love, and say that predestination cannot be. They read of human choice and say the divine rule of all our steps cannot be. They read of human resistance, and say that irresistible grace cannot be. Who is logic-driven?

For forty years Calvinism has been, for me, a vision of life that embraces mystery more than any vision I know. It is not logic-driven. It is driven by a vision of the ineffable, galactic vastness of God’s Word.
It's not my aim to be redundant, especially when I couldn't say it half as well as Piper has, but this observation (and you should read his whole post because it's bigger than just that one point) resonates with me. For this reason:

When I first "converted" to a Reformed view of soteriology, much of the criticism I found myself receiving had to do with how hyper-logical Calvinism appeared to be. "Don't put God in your little theological box!" was the sort of thing I heard multiple times from multiple people. That always sounded strange to me, because I had discovered in Calvinism a God much, much bigger -- "ineffeable" and "galactically vast" to use Piper's words -- than the God I had known. Coming to a Calvinistic reading of the Scriptures opened up the box, as it were (for me, anyway).

Lately, though, the criticism seems to have shifted. I hear much more these days the charges that Calvinism doesn't make enough logical sense, that it's too illogical. "How can sovereign predestination and human freedom coexist?" they say. "It's self-refuting." Which is odd, again, since previously it appeared Calvinism didn't allow for enough mystery. Now it allows too much. Ironically enough, it's typically the proponents of the "generous orthodoxy," "wider mercy" type streams of thought, the emergent-type believers in a mysterious God who bristle at the irrationality of Calvinism. For some reason there is more concern now than before that that little theological box is empty.

Just some wondering and wandering thoughts.

Preaching: Once More, With Feeling

In that day the LORD with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.
In that day, "A pleasant vineyard, sing of it!"

-- Isaiah 27:1-2
The art of preaching the gospel falls not only within the category of Instruction but also Exultation. Worship in a "worship service" does not stop when the music is over; it continues in the sermon. The sermon is a music of its own. No matter the text, no matter the topic, the tune is the joyous anthem of God's slaying the dragon, a redemption song.

The Bible is about God; beginning to end, it is the ballad of God's exploits in vanquishing evil and restoring shalom through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Preaching rehearses this song. Each Sunday: Once more, with feeling!

Jesus is restoring all things. "A pleasant vineyard, sing of it!"

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

To Be Posted on the Door of Lakewood Church

Revisiting Luther's 95 Theses this morning and thinking theses 92-95 speak directly to the purveyors of the damnable "prosperity gospel." See if you don't agree.
92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, "Peace, peace," where in there is no peace. [Ezek. 13:10]

93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, "Cross, cross," where there is no cross!

94. Christians are to be exhorted that they be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hell;

95. And let them thus be more confident of entering heaven through many tribulations rather than through a false assurance of peace. [Acts 14:22]