Wednesday, November 7, 2012

In retrospect: thoughts following a big election

It has been interesting to read and hear the various comments of people regarding the conclusion of the presidential election, particularly from Christians. They have ranged from outright anger from those who had  high hopes for "real change" to a yawning antipathy from those who seemingly divorce Christian commitment from earthly responsibility. As I have considered what good could come from the election results (I still believe Romans 8:28) in terms of those who profess to be Christians, I would like to offer five things that may be beneficial to Christians as we continue to slide into a secular society. Of course, these are not exhaustive.

First, perhaps the election results will realign our priorities toward evangelism. It seems that the numbers of people who voted pales in comparison to 2008, and are significantly lower than what was expected for such a hotly contested presidential race. The early number indicate that there were approximately 14 million fewer votes cast this year than four years ago. This seems to indicate that, although the philosophical divide within our country is growing ever wider, the desire to act according to one's convictions is growing more shallow. Many people, including professed Christ, are willing to cling fervently to their most cherished convictions, unless those convictions become unpopular. 

Overshadowed by the presidential election, many have missed that two states, Colorado and Washington, legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Further, two additional states legalized homosexual marriage, bringing the total to nine states which now allow gay marriage. 

As this country continues to grow in her division and her actions betray her foundations, churches must once again evangelize in such a manner where convictions are manifested in actions. Confessing Christianity without living Christianity should no longer be an option for churches, as it has never been an option in Scripture. By the increasingly secularized society that is overtaking traditional American values, evangelism must call people, not to only responsible living, but to sacrificial dying. 

Second, perhaps the election results will renew our dependence on prayer. There have been many who have lamented the perception that evangelicals were sold out to the Republican party. Petitions have been signed, donations have been sought, and rallies have been organized. All in an attempt to swing the country to the political right. 

Yet as the gap between country and Christian continues to grow, some Christians may be tempted to turn toward political methods as the primary sustenance of a country instead of praying for God to bring revival through the consistent and disciplined preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

With the ever-shrinking influence of "Evangelicalism" comes an ever-growing need for prayer. Perhaps the continued drift of a nation into secularization will be the alarm for, not more petitions, rallies, or boycotts, but more prayer. 

Third, reflection upon the election should reorient the locus of where we place our faith. Our faith dare not lie at the feet of a political party or economic philosophy, for they shall be tried and found wanting. Neither should our faith be placed in the American spirit nor the humanity of a nation. For the believer, faith belongs only at the Cross of a crucified carpenter who punched a hole in a sealed tomb because the grave could not hold him. 

Fourth, perhaps the election results will reinvigorate us to preach the Gospel without wavering. As we continue to see the erosion of true religious liberty in favor of a state sponsored worship of self, the Gospel of Jesus Christ will grow ever more unpopular. May we regain the fervor of the ancient church to stand and say "we cannot help but speak of what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20).   

Finally, I would hope that the results of this election would summon Christians to remember once again that our citizenship is in Heaven. The kingdoms of this world will ebb and flow with the whims of fallen humanities' passion, desire, and pride. In fact, they will laugh in derision at those who speak of another Kingdom (Psalm 2). But when the kingdom's of this world fully give way to the Kingdom of our Lord and His Christ then there will be a great number who will realize that their allegiance has been to kings with clay feet.

Yet, upon that determined Day, the feet of clay will crumble beneath the weight of judgment bringing every person to their knees. The mouths that once laughed in derision will utter in confession "Jesus Christ is Lord."  

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A very brief look at Clark's "To Know and Love God"

Clark’s thesis in To Know and Love God is “evangelical theology is the science of God, anchored in the Bible, that awakens the wisdom of God within believers’ hearts and in Christian community,” (257). Clark argues from this thesis that good theology will serve to accomplish the transformation of believers into people who both intellectually know God and experientially love God.

Following a brief historical survey of various theological systems, including philosophical and scriptural models, Clark concludes that scientia is properly used to accomplish sapientia (215). Within this definition, Clark rightly recognizes that the theologian should not ignore the role of scientia in an effort to arrive at sapientia (216-217).

There are at least three admirable pursuits in Clark’s work. First, he desires for the work of the Christian academy to seek the transformation of people into Christ-likeness. Second, he desires the four subdisciplines of theology to correlate their efforts for the purpose of evangelism. Finally, he desires to seek new ways of contextualization for the sake of missions.

Though his goals are admirable the theologian must ask if his method is commensurate to his desired end. The role theology plays in sapientia requires further deliberation. Further, one must consider what dangers inflated expectations within theology poses to the life of the church.

Clark places a burden upon theology which it cannot bear when he states, “If a theology does not transform a Christian’s heart and her church, then it fails calamitously” (232). Correlated with his thesis stated above, Clark seems to elevate theology beyond its limits and unwillingly limits the role of Scripture. By making theology the agent of transformation and the Bible an anchor for theology, Scripture becomes concrete and theology becomes life-giving. This seems reversed.

 Theology does remain fluid, but not due to the needs of any given culture. This fluidity is due to the growth and maturity of the theologian individually and the church corporately. In other words, fluidity within theology is not inherent within itself, but is amendable by an outside force – the learning theologian and churchman. Clark’s argument inherently makes Scripture static as opposed to living (Hebrews 4:12) and theology redemptive instead of reflective.

Scripture is the living Word of God; its life is within itself. Theology is moved because it is passive. Scripture moves because it is active. Clark runs the risk of making Scripture static and theology life giving. Though he seeks to avoid perspectivalism and pragmatism, his argument simply does not follow.

Reiterating that the “transformation of lives and communities – sapientia – is the ultimate function of theology” (222) Clark posits a “centered set approach” whereby a Christian is defined as someone who is “moving toward full conviction of the doctrine of the triune God, full devotion to Jesus Christ, and full confidence in the Spirit. The key issue is the trajectory of a person’s life” (224). Though trajectory is important for defining maturity in Christ, it remains quite ambiguous for defining the fundamentals of Christianity.

Though Clark’s offering is thought provoking and at times, beneficial, fully embracing theology as the means to transformation will inevitably lead to overcontextualization of the Gospel. Theology should develop directly from Scripture and be amended only as reflection upon Scripture provides more understanding. With a full orbed theology the evangelist/missionary will be prepared to preach the living Word of God in ways that transcend cultural boundaries. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Chrysostom on Humility

John Chrysostom was no stranger to the attack of others who proclaimed the word of God, often out of selfish pretense. Thus it is fitting that his homily on Philippians 1:18 would be endued with the power of experience. In Concerning the Lowliness of Mind, Chrysostom argues that humility is the irreducible minimum in theological discourse among brothers and proclamation of the Word within the world.
"For humbleness of mind is the foundation of the love of wisdom which pertains to us. Even if thou shouldest have built a superstructure of things innumerable; even if almsgiving, even if prayer, even if fastings, even if all virute; unless this have first been laid as a foundation, all will be built upon it to no purpose and in vain; and it will fall down easily, like the building which had been placed in the sand." 
For Chrysostom, this form of humility will be manifest in the missionary endeavors of the ministry. A humble ministry will be evident, first, by the audience to whom the Gospel is proclaimed. In sum, the Gospel is to be proclaimed to all. Failure to proclaim the Gospel to any one person was the manifestation of pride demonstrated in a refusal to acknowledge the value of the individual to Christ as demonstrated in the Cross. 
"For do not tell me that this or that man is a runaway slave, or a robber, or a thief, or laden with countless faults, or that he is a mendicant and abject, or of low value and worthy of no account: but consider that for his sake the Christ died: and this sufficeth thee for a ground of solicitude. Consider what sort of person he must be, whom Christ valued at so high a price as not to have spared even His own blood." 
Not only is humility demonstrated through the broad proclamation of the Word, but humility is demonstrated by the means through which the Word is proclaimed; namely, the suffering one is willing to endure for the sake of the Word, both in propagation and discipleship.  
"For also Paul, dwelling in the whole world just as in one house, thus continually took thought for the salvation of all; and having dismissed every thing of his own; bonds and troubles and stripes and straits, watched over and inquired into each day, in what state the affairs of the disciples were." 
Chrysostom further argues that the means God used to bring such humility to Paul was the bonds which imprisoned him. "Hear at least what comes next, that thou mayest learn that the bonds not only proved no hindrance, but also a ground for greater freedom of speech."

These chains were not only beneficial to Paul because they caused him to realize that the enemies may "chain his body, but not his tongue," but they were also beneficial to his disciples. "For the leader of the army was bound, and the soldiers became forward in spirit; and the confidence with which they sprung upon their adversaries was greater: the shepherd was in confinement, and the sheep were not consumed, not even scattered."

Concluding with an admonition to prayer, the ultimate evidence of humility, the golden-mouthed preacher reminds the hearers
“For even if God at any time delay the giving, it is not in hatred and aversion, but from the desire by the deferring of the giving perpetually to retain thee with himself; just in the way also that affectionate fathers do; for they also adroitly manage the perpetual and assiduous attendance of children who are rather indolent by the delay of the giving.”
For Chrysostom, humility was demonstrated in the proclamation of the Word to all, suffering in the proclamation of the Word for all, and praying for the reception of the Word by all. This will result in the fulfillment of Chrysostom’s shortest sermon, “In all things, glory to God, Amen.”

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Andy Stanley and the problem of preaching

Andy Stanley’s message has once again placed churches into a situation that demands a time of needed self-inspection. Any preacher or public communicator could probably name occasions where his words were ambiguous, if not misleading. The humble preacher will recognize his error and quickly offer a correction.

At this point, it seems evident that Stanley’s silence is purposeful. Christianity Today writes that Andy has “declined repeated requests for comment.” Perhaps Stanley will eventually offer some clarification to his poorly used illustration, but to date, the silence is deafening.

This latest topic of twitter-chatter should be a summons for preachers to consider once again our authority in preaching. In 2009, Stanley was interviewed by Ed Stetzer regarding his practice of topical preaching in opposition to expositional preaching. In part of the interview, Stetzer asked Stanley, “What do you think about preaching verse-by-verse messages through books of the Bible?” Stanley’s answer is enlightening.

“All Scripture is equally inspired, but not all Scripture is equally applicable or relevant to every stage of life. My challenge is to read culture and to read an audience and ask: What is the felt need? Or perhaps what is more important, what is an unfelt need they need to feel that I can address? Because if they don't feel it, then they won't address it.”

Stetzer's question regarded one form of expositional preaching. Yet Stanley's answer was a dismissal of all forms of expositional preaching. 

When the fog is lifted from another ambiguous comment made by a best-selling author and sought after preacher, I believe this comment of Stanley’s may be quite revealing. The authority for the church to speak to certain issues, be they social or theological, is not found in discovering the felt-needs of a crowd and offering a relevant answer. 

Rather, the authority resides in the Word of God. Homosexuality is neither accepted nor rejected because of cultural moorings. It is rejected because the authority of Scripture demands it is to be so. Before the preacher can correctly answer the question “what will we do with the homosexual?" he must correctly answer the question “what will we do with the Bible?” It seems the latter question was ignored in favor of the former. 

If we neglect our authority, we will sacrifice our voice. Our pursuit of a manufactured relevance will seal the fate of our irrelevance. By all appearances, this situation is not a problem of a wandering illustration, it is a problem of neglecting exposition.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Father's Tribute

I suppose every boy remembers the days when he dreamed of being the hero. Whether it is the blanket and safety pin used to make the cape, or the front yard where the World Series was won numerous times by one swing of the bat. Every boy wants to be the hero.

There is something inspiring about wanting to be the cowboy who rescues the lady from the villain; or the knight who comes to the aid of the fair maiden; or the superhero who rescues the lady from the clutches of the villain. Every boy wants to be the hero.

I am not too sure the boy ever outgrows wanting to be hero. The boy may one day become a man, but he still wants to be the hero. The cape may become tattered and the baseball fantasies fade into oblivion. But he still wants to be the hero.

For most of us, heroics are not borne on a World Series size platform. Heroic credentials are not given through death-defying feats of superhuman strength. There are no spotlights and television crews as he receives his reward and recognition.  

Rather, a hero receives his credentials as he does the daily grind of being a father to his children.
 For me, that begun 23 years ago today. Not with an earthshattering event where I swept in to save the moment. But by simply being the first one to cradle a little girl in my arms.

Today, my mind is filled with memories of holding her hand while she received stiches following a skating accident. I had the privilege of quieting her cry as she suffered from yet another ear infection. I was the hug she desired when that boy broke her heart. We wept together following the death of my father – her Pappy. None of these contained spectacular moments of death-defying feats where buildings were leaped and bullets were stopped. Nonetheless, when the eyes of my little girl captured mine, hers were written with the words “you are my hero.”

So you can keep your mask. I don’t need an ‘S’ on my chest. I no longer desire webs to shoot out of my wrists or a bullet proof car. I have been a hero. Her eyes have confirmed it.

Kendall, today you turn 23. You are going to work, pursuing your nursing degree, and planning your wedding. Your love for the Lord is an example for all to follow. Your beauty and grace encourage all who are around you. Your smile is infectious. My little girl has become a beautiful young lady. I couldn’t be more proud.   

So you keep pressing on. Keep running the race. My coming to the rescue may be less needed now than before. You no longer have dolls to fix or berets that need to be reshaped with a pair of needle-nose pliers. The training wheels have been removed from the bicycle and you can get your own bowl out of the cabinet. But just so you know, I will keep my cape close – just in case you ever need a hero.

Happy birthday baby girl. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Unholiness and the Silence of God

For close to two years the Lord has been dealing in my heart about a return to the pursuit of holiness and the lack thereof in the life of Christians on the grand scale. Infighting, divisions, gossiping, slander, and power struggles are all fruits that reveal a root that could not be tapped for the commodity of holiness. Just as a diseased root is a silent creeper that quietly kills a tree, so our unholy root will eventually be the death of many churches and denominations.

As people clamor for more relevance in a younger generation and lament the loss of fellowship in the older, the personal calling we have been given to pursuing holiness has given way to the voice of those crying about the sky falling on our churches for a void of relevance. Seminars are offered, sermons are preached, lessons are taught, all for the purpose of seeking to revive that which has yet to have even had life.

Prayer has become a good luck charm seeking a material blessing instead of a holy pleading for the presence of God. Ministries have become territories to be protected instead of lives to be shared. As we gain more stuff we lose our sense of the God who in His nearness is quite distant (Jeremiah 23:23-34).

Recent days have seen a practice of ‘sex-talk’ from the pulpit in order to captivate a younger audience. Preacher’s have shed “holy jargon” and adopted “street talk” so that seekers can understand – all in an effort to get more to attend. Church divisions are at an all time high. Music wars (of whom both the young and the old are guilty) continue to rule the day and a generational clash of epoch proportion looms large at the intersection of yesteryear and tomorrow. All the while we fail to notice the One who is not present during our worship, a sure indicator of self-worship as opposed to God-worship, for worship can only occur if the One worshiped is the One known (John 4:21-24).

I suppose there are many reasons why this has occurred. I will mention two. First, the Pastor has become more interested in filling the Fellowship Hall with chatter instead of filling the Pulpit with vigor. He has abandoned the desk in the study for the coffee table in the living room, and in doing so, has allowed his heart to grow quite timid in the face of opposition instead of being flamed with passion and courage that is ignited by prayer and Scripture.

Second, the congregation has come to enjoy the desserts of the sweet anecdotes of therapy and abhor the main course of the exposition of Scripture. Therefore our churches have become quite obese and lazy instead of being equipped to run the race of ministry. That is both the fault of the one serving the meal and the one demanding the meal.

When a pursuit of holiness is regained and the root is restored to health, we will see the restored root through a healthy fruit. No longer will the 15 minutes between Bible Study and Worship be filled with complaining and lamenting, but there will be an awesome sense of the presence of God. When God is present in our worship, there will be a profound sense of the Holy One. In His presence, chatter will be stopped, gossip will be rejected, the sinner will feel quite uncomfortable, and the saved will still be awed. God often captures the attention of the masses not by a booming voice, but by His silence. Perhaps His silence is our lecture.

His is often a still-small voice that cannot be heard over the chatter of the mocker. Why does God use a still small voice with His children? So they will be close enough to hear. Where the voice of God is not heard, there is an indication of the distance between the mouth of God and the ear of a man. Whose voice will you seek this Sunday will determine whose voice you hear. My sheep hear my voice (John 10:27). Holiness is not so much of a practice, as it is an awareness of a presence: His.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Note from a Proud Father

God has blessed me beyond anything I have ever deserved. I have two beautiful girls and a beautiful wife. Though each one of them deserves special recognition, I had the honor of writing the following piece as my youngest daughter was recognized on "Ring Day" for her advancement to the Senior Class. These are the thoughts of a proud mother, father, and sissy of an ornery little girl who has grown to a beautiful young lady.

As is eluded to below, Lauren was born with an illness that almost took her life. By the grace of God and some amazing circumstances that only He could work out, her life was spared. For the first few years of her life there was concern whether or not she would ever walk. Last night her team won their first playoff softball game of the year. She's a pretty good catcher for a girl who was not supposed to walk!

My wife chose a ring for her that was a ribbon that has been formed into a cross. My thoughts on that are below.


There are no words to express the depths of gratitude that we feel for God’s favor upon us by allowing us to be your parents. Your strength, tenacity, and diligence have shone through in every area of your life.

Told as an infant that your continued life was questionable, you began a battle that you have fought for the entirety of your life. Told as a young toddler that you would never walk, you defied the odds and taught yourself to walk, even against doctor’s orders.

You have battled against disease, difficulties, and disappointments. In doing so, you have developed an infectious personality that does not know how to quit. You have grown to a young lady of beauty, admired by all. You have become a champion on the field because you have been a warrior in your heart. Indeed, the words of Romans 8:37 have often been poured into your life, and they have become true: In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

It is because of this tenacious and conquering spirit that we give our beautiful young lady this ring. The Eternal Ribbon Cross Ring is given to you because your life has become bound up in the Cross of our Savior. This ring symbolizes that you are a ribbon of beauty who has been joined to Christ for eternity because of His love for you.

Lauren, we continue to pray for your health, happiness, and holiness. We pray that you will continue to fight the battles with the measure of faith given by God. As you remember that He has made us more than conquerors, remember that he has done so only for His glory. As long as your life is bound up in Him, you can know that you will always continue to conquer the battles because there is neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything in all of creation that will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We Love You!!

Daddy and Mommy