Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I'm Still Here

For those of you who like to read my musings from time to time, I thought I should offer an explanation for why I have posted nothing for the last eight days. Our family left on Thanksgiving Day and traveled to Sooner Land for some time with my parents and siblings. It was a great time of fellowship. However, on Friday after Thanksgiving, my son Jared got very sick. After we returned on Saturday, he got sicker. We took him to the ER and he has been hospitalized since. He had pneumonitis (inflammation of the lungs) and was coughing up blood. Tests have been run and we are still awaiting a specific diagnosis.

We are hopeful that he will be released today. We thank God for His mercy and the love of our families, including our great church family at Country Acres Baptist Church. I hope to be back blogging on a regular basis soon.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Therapy or Theology? Thoughts on Conversion

Christine Rosen has written a thought-provoking piece on modern conversion stories. Here are some snippets to whet your appetite. You should read the whole article.

So who are the other writers manning the ramparts against atheism while espousing their new devotion to Christ? They are typically sappy types armed mostly with therapeutic bromides.

But the most enduring conversion stories in modern times don't offer tales of perky piety triumphing over personal malaise. They are far more ambiguous and attentive to the challenges of living a spiritual life in a secular world.

The Road to Damascus is paved with theology not therapy.

Of course God sometimes uses personal crises, family tragedies, and setbacks to awaken sinners to their spiritual bankruptcy. Genuine faith in Christ which is rooted in real biblical truth can arise from such struggles. However, it is all too common in our day to see people looking at Jesus as a coping mechanism to deal with emotional trauma instead of a Savior to deal with sin.

When one looks at the apostolic preaching of the gospel, it is clear that the primary problem is the plight of the sinner in relationship to a holy God. In other words, man has violated God's holy law and is in danger of God's holy wrath. These are theological categories, not therapeutic ones. Until this primary problem is resolved, it matters little how the Christian faith might improve ones marriage or ability to deal with stress in the workplace, etc. To borrow a phrase from Jesus, what does it profit a man if he have a great marriage, great kids, a great job, or great self-image if he lose his eternal soul.

I certainly would not deny the fact that Christianity has implications for all aspects of life. The gospel changes everything. But to suggest that the gospel is just a path to your best life now is a gross distortion of what the New Testament actually teaches about conversion.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Willow Creek, Youth Specialties, and Postmodernism

Phil Johnson has posted this insightful article about the recent admissions of Willow Creek. It appears that the findings of the Willow Creek study are going to result in some changes. However, those changes seem to be going in the wrong direction. In addition, Phil comments on the questionable alliance of Youth Specialties with some of the postmodern Emergent style ministries.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Dever on the Measure of Ministry Success

Dr. Mark Dever recently spoke at a forum at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Baptist Press reported on the forum. There are some excellent points made by Dever. Below is what he said about success in the ministry.

"The problem with the seeker-sensitive model, emerging church model and even the traditional model that say, 'Get as many people into a room as possible and share the Gospel with them,' is that they view success in light of visible fruit," he said. "All three of these approaches say, 'Change your techniques and let's get some numbers.'"Instead of being directed by [visible] success, we should be directed by faithfulness. We should say, 'If the Lord doesn't like our product, we will change the product.' We shouldn't take the idea that if we don't have X number of conversions in our church, then we must be doing something wrong. I am glad Jeremiah didn't think that. And I am glad that Jesus Christ didn't think that. Let us remember that we are following the One who was crucified as a revolutionary."

Thank you Dr. Dever for this important reminder of how success in ministry should be truly measured.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A Great Book about Missions



Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn't. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.



With those words, John Piper begins the book Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions. Like so much of what Piper writes, the opening words make us look at missions from a different angle than what we are accustomed to. The opening paragraph grabs hold of you and piques your interest. The remainder of the book doesn't disappoint. It is interesting and challenging through and through.

The opening chapter makes the case for the opening statement. Missions is the work of the church in bringing the gospel to all peoples so that they can become worshipers of the one true God through Jesus Christ. Missions is God's ordained method for carrying the gospel to the hidden peoples of the world so they too may see and savor the supremacy of God and become worshipers.

Chapter two focuses on the role of prayer in missions. Piper builds upon the idea that life is war. He states, "Prayer is primarily a wartime walkie-talkie for the mission of the church as it advances against the powers of darkness and unbelief. It is not surprising that prayer malfunctions when we try to make it a domestic intercom to call upstairs for more comforts in the den." Prayer recognizes the supremacy of God as the all-sufficient supply for the missionary task.

In the third chapter, Piper discusses the role of suffering in missions. He makes the case that the suffering associated with missions demonstrates the supreme worth of God. When people suffer in pursuit of the mission task, they show the value of God by what they are willing to suffer for His glory. Drawing upon the historical examples of Henry Martyn, Charles Simeon, John Paton, Raymond Lull and others, Piper shows how their suffering in the mission task demonstrated the glory of God. God appoints this suffering for His glory and our good.

Piper takes up a controversial issue in chapter four. He argues that conscious faith in Christ is absolutely necessary for salvation. Issues such as universalism, annihilationism, and pluralism are met head-on in this discussion. Piper argues exegetically for the existence of eternal, conscious punishment in hell. He argues for the necessity of Christ's atoning work. He argues for the necessity of conscious faith in Christ as the object of saving faith. Since Jesus came to earth, died on the cross, and rose again God now sets Him forth as the unique object of saving faith. To deny this truth is to "cut a nerve in missionary motivation."

How is the missionary task defined? Geographically? Ethnically? These questions are the focus of chapter five. Piper argues from extensive biblical exegesis that the missionary task is defined in terms of peoples. The use of the term "nations" indicates that the missionary task in not primarily geographic but ethnic in nature. God has determined to save individuals from every "tribe, language, people, and nation (Rev. 5:9)." These are ethnic and cultural terms rather than geographical terms. There is extensive discussion about the nature of a people group. Piper also concludes that the diversity of the nations serves to magnify the glory of God in salvation.

Chapter six deals with the compassion of the missionary in reaching the nations. Piper draws upon Jonathan Edwards to demonstrate the the supremacy of God and compassion for people are not competing but complementary goals. If satisfaction in Christ is the ultimate end of life (worship), then the most compassionate thing we can do is help others realize the glory of Christ and find their joy in Him.

The final chapter of the book deals with the issue of the inward nature of worship. When Piper says that God's goal in missions to have worshipers among all peoples, this does not imply outward form but inward affection. Piper argues that the New Testament downplays outward form and elevates inward affection. Worship is no longer attached to a place. It is the inward worship of the Person of Christ. This frees worship from being identified with any specific cultural expression or tradition. The peoples worship God outwardly with a variety of forms. The essence is the same inwardly.

I am a "johnny-come-lately" to this book. It was originally published in 1993. I read the updated 2003 version. I'm sorry I waited so long. It is a superb book which will whet your appetite for both God and missions. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Preachers Pledge

The folks over at SermonCentral.com are sponsoring a Preachers Pledge Campaign. Here is the pledge they are asking preachers to endorse.

I will make the Bible my primary resource in
sermon preparation and preaching.

I may use other resources such as commentaries and web sites to enhance, not replace, my personal interaction with Scripture.

As I study I will strive to accurately understand and honestly apply God's Word, allowing Him to uniquely proclaim His truth in a relevant way through me.
I have mixed feelings about the Preachers Pledge. One one hand, I certainly agree with the statement. Every preacher ought to agree with these things as a bare minimum. I applaud SermonCentral.com for reminding preachers of their primary responsibility to wrestle with the text of Scripture, prepare their own sermons, and preach those sermons to apply God's Word to their listeners.
On the other hand, it is sad that today's preachers are in such need of this reminder. I have posted in the past about the sermon plagiarism problems among preachers today. There are those who would suggest that preachers ought to preach the sermons of other, more gifted, preachers than themselves. One advocate of this approach even suggested that a preacher should not waste his time in study when he could use the sermon of a well-known minister who has proven his effectiveness in the pulpit. The state of preaching in some circles today is rather anemic.
Ironically, the Preachers Pledge is coming from a site which hosts a huge database of sermons from preachers all over the world. I think I even have a couple of sermons posted there. This is not wrong in itself. Many preachers publish their material as commentaries or books to be utilized by others in their study. Yet, it is dangerous ground. It is easy to become dependent on the thinking and struggle of others without thinking and struggling yourself. Such a short-cut approach is damaging to both the sermon and the preacher.
In a culture that is so accustomed to sound bites and summaries, there is a great temptation for preachers to take a "cliffs notes" approach to to preaching. We want to shorten the preparation process and snatch bites of usable material from others. We are tempted to shorten the sermon itself because we have convinced ourselves that people won't listen more than 20 minutes. We enthrone the impatience of spiritually immature listeners by catering to their shallowness. The problem is that anemic preaching produces anemic Christians and anemic churches. I don't mean that the length of the sermon is the only issue. I would rather hear a short bad sermon than a long one. I mean that our approach to preaching has been more shaped by cultural fancy than biblical urgency. I happen to believe that timely preaching can engage both the head and the heart without being shallow, cliched, and stunted.
Preaching really should involve a pledge. First and most importantly, it is a pledge to God to handle His Word with care and urgency as we declare the whole counsel of God. Then, it is a pledge to the congregation to feed their souls with the meat of the Word so they will grow and mature in Christ. It is a pledge to the lost that our preaching will be gospel-oriented so that the good news of Christ will be clear. It is a pledge to ourselves that we will not short-change the process of sermon preparation and delivery.