Monday, December 31, 2007

Osteen on Mitt and Mormonism

Mike Wallace recently interviewed Joel Osteen on Fox News Sunday. After talking with Osteen about his new book, the conversation turned to politics. Wallace asked Osteen about Mike Huckabee. Then he asked Osteen about Mitt Romney. Here is the transcript of that section of the interview.

(begin transcript)

WALLACE: And what about Mitt Romney? And I've got to ask you the question, because it is a question whether it should be or not in this campaign, is a Mormon a true Christian?

OSTEEN: Well, in my mind they are. Mitt Romney has said that he believes in Christ as his savior, and that's what I believe, so, you know, I'm not the one to judge the little details of it. So I believe they are.
And so, you know, Mitt Romney seems like a man of character and integrity to me, and I don't think he would — anything would stop me from voting for him if that's what I felt like.

WALLACE: So, for instance, when people start talking about Joseph Smith, the founder of the church, and the golden tablets in upstate New York, and God assumes the shape of a man, do you not get hung up in those theological issues?

OSTEEN: I probably don't get hung up in them because I haven't really studied them or thought about them. And you know, I just try to let God be the judge of that. I mean, I don't know.
I certainly can't say that I agree with everything that I've heard about it, but from what I've heard from Mitt, when he says that Christ is his savior, to me that's a common bond.

(end transcript)

Osteen continues his habit of equivocation and avoidance when it comes to taking a stand on tough theological issues. When asked whether a person had to believe in Jesus Christ as Savior to avoid going to hell, Osteen's answer was the same basic doublespeak - "that's what I believe for me but I can't judge others - I leave it up to God."

It is heartbreaking when a man heralded as "America's Most Popular Preacher" cannot speak clearly and directly on something as obvious as the fact that Mormonism is not Christianity. Doing so does not require a person to say that Mitt Romney is a bad person or a bad presidential candidate. It is a simple acknowledgment of the fact that Mormonism deviates from historic Christian orthodoxy on almost every theological point. This is well-attested by those who have compared the two religions.

I pray that Joel Osteen will use his formidable influence to declare to his vast audience a clear gospel that doesn't equivocate on issues that affect the eternal destinies of those who listen to him.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Whitefield on the Best New Years Gift

The following is an excerpt from George Whitefield's sermon entitled A Penitent Heart, the Best New Year's Gift. His text was Luke 13:3 - Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. You can read the entire sermon here.

O let the love of Jesus be in your thoughts continually. It was his dying that brought you life; it was his crucifixion that paid the satisfaction for your sins; his death, burial, and resurrection that completed the work; and he is now in heaven, interceding for you at the right hand of his Father. And can you do too much for the Lord Jesus Christ, who has done so much for you? His love to you is unfathomable. O the height, the depth, the length and breadth of this love, that brought the King of glory from his throne, to die for such rebels as we are, when we had acted so unkindly against him, and deserved nothing but eternal damnation. He came down and took our nature upon him; he was made of flesh and dwelt among us; he was put to death on our account; he paid our ransom: surely this should make us rejoice in him, and not do as too many do, and as we ourselves have too often, crucify this Jesus afresh. Let us do all we can, my dear brethren, to honor him.

Come, all of you, come, and behold him stretched out for you; see his hands and feet nailed to the cross. O come, come, my brethren, and nail your sins thereto; come, come and see his side pierced; there is a fountain open for sin, and for uncleanness: O wash, wash and be clean: come and see his head crowned with thorns, and all for you. Can you think of a panting, bleeding, dying Jesus, and not be filled with pity towards him? He underwent all this for you. Come unto him by faith; lay hold on him: there is mercy for every soul of you that will come unto him. Then do not delay; fly unto the arms of this Jesus, and you shall be made clean in his blood.

O what shall I say unto you to make you come to Jesus: I have showed you the dreadful consequence of not repenting of your sins: and if after all I have said, you are resolved to persist, your blood will be required at your own heads; but I hope better things of you, and things that accompany salvation. Let me beg of you to pray in good earnest for the grace of repentance. I may never see your faces again; but at the day of judgment I will meet you: there you will either bless God that ever you were moved to repentance; or else this sermon, though in a field, will be as a swift witness against you. Repent, repent therefore, my dear brethren, as John the Baptist, and as our blessed Redeemer himself earnestly exhorted, and turn from your evil ways, and the Lord will have mercy on you.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Importance of the Virgin Birth

Emergent church leader Rob Bell writes in his book Velvet Elvis:

What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archaeologists find Larry’s tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births?

But what if, as you study the origin of the word “virgin” you discover that the word “virgin” in the gospel of Matthew actually comes from the book of Isaiah, and then you find out that in the Hebrew language at that time, the word “virgin” could mean several things. And what if you discover that in the first century being “born of a virgin” also referred to a child whose mother became pregnant the first time she had intercourse?

What if that spring were seriously questioned? Could a person keep on jumping? Could a person still love God? Could you still be a Christian? Is the way of Jesus still the best possible way to live? Or does the whole thing fall apart? (026,027)

In the book Bell compares the Christian life to jumping on a trampoline. Doctrines are the springs of the trampoline. They are not the focus, the experience of jumping is the focus. Bell chides those who focus on doctrine for missing the real point which is living the life. The "springs" of doctrine can be examined and questioned without any threat to the experience of jumping.

Though Rob Bell affirms his personal belief in the virgin birth, it seems rather unconvincing in light of his rhetoric. Is the the virgin birth of Christ really a necessary doctrine for the Christian life? Can one really love God and be a real Christian if the virgin birth turned out to be a myth like those in many first century mystery cults?

In response to Bell's scenario, I give you a segment of an article from Dr. Albert Mohler entitled, Can a Christian Deny the Virgin Birth?

Can a true Christian deny the virgin birth? The answer to that question must be a decisive No. Those who deny the virgin birth reject the authority of Scripture, deny the supernatural birth of the Savior, undermine the very foundations of the Gospel, and have no way of explaining the deity of Christ.

Anyone who claims that the virgin birth can be discarded even as the deity of Christ is affirmed is either intellectually dishonest or theologically incompetent.

Christians must face the fact that a denial of the virgin birth is a denial of Jesus as the Christ. The Savior who died for our sins was none other than the baby who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, and born of a virgin. The virgin birth does not stand alone as a biblical doctrine, it is an irreducible part of the biblical revelation about the person and work of Jesus Christ. With it, the Gospel stands or falls.

"Everyone admits that the Bible represents Jesus as having been conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary. The only question is whether in making that representation the Bible is true or false." So declared J. Gresham Machen in his great work, The Virgin Birth of Christ. As Machen went on to argue, "if the Bible is regarded as being wrong in what it says about the birth of Christ, then obviously the authority of the Bible in any high sense, is gone."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Whitefield on Christmas

George Whitefield admonishes us about how to rightly observe Christmas in a sermon entitled, The Observation of the Birth of Christ, the Duty of all Christians; or the True Way of Keeping Christmas. These are the closing words of the sermon.

Let me now conclude, my dear brethren, with a few words of exhortation, beseeching you to think of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. Did Jesus come into the world to save us from death, and shall we spend no part of our time in conversing about our dear Jesus; shall we pay no regard to the birth of him, who came to redeem us from the worst of slavery, from that of sin, and the devil; and shall this Jesus not only be born on our account, but likewise die in our stead, and yet shall we be unmindful of him? Shall we spend our time in those things which are offensive to him? Shall we not rather do all we can to promote his glory, and act according to his command? O my dear brethren, be found in the ways of God; let us not disturb our dear Redeemer by any irregular proceedings; and let me beseech you to strive to love, fear, honor and obey him, more than ever you have done yet; let not the devil engross your time, and that dear Savior who came into the world on your accounts, have so little. O be not so ungrateful to him who has been so kind to you! What could the Lord Jesus Christ have done for you more than he has? Then do not abuse his mercy, but let your time be spent in thinking and talking of the love of Jesus, who was incarnate for us, who was born of a woman, and made under the law, to redeem us from the wrath to come.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Unplugged

Unplugged is a term familiar to those who follow popular music. It refers to performances in which musicians accustomed to using electronic amplifiers play their songs on acoustic instruments. It is an attempt to get to the pure, unaltered essence of the music by avoiding the distortions and effects caused by electronic equipment. Some of these performances have become quite cherished among music fans.

Building on the “unplugged” principle, I’d like to challenge you with some thoughts about Christmas. Layer upon layer of cultural influence has been added to the raw essence of Christmas. Many of these influences are not hostile to Christmas, but they are additions just the same. If you are like me, there are certain things associated with Christmas that are built into your psyche. For instance, trimming the tree, exchanging gifts, a turkey dinner, spending time at Grandma’s house, choir cantatas, and crisp cold weather are all part of my idealized Christmas. But what do any of those things have to do with the essence of Christmas? Nothing really. They are things I have associated with Christmas from years of family tradition.

If we unplug Christmas from all the customs and tradition which we have associated with it, what is Christmas? It is the shocking announcement to a young betrothed virgin that she is miraculously pregnant with the Son of God. It is the news that rocked the world for jealous king and set him on a murderous rampage. It was the hope that illuminated the night sky with angelic visitors for some shepherds on a Judean hillside. It was the long-awaited event that triggered the trek of some eastern wise men who observed a star announcing the birth of a king. It was the fulfillment of ancient prophecies uttered by Jewish prophets hundreds of years earlier. It was the climactic event which allowed an old man to go to his grave in peace after years of anticipating the fulfillment of a promise that he would see the Lord’s salvation. It is the unbelievable irony that the One who created the heavens and the earth could find no suitable accommodations for His birth. It is the unfathomable humility of the Eternal Son placed in the position to be suckled and nurtured by a woman who depended on Him for her very existence. It is an amazing love story that brought God to earth in the form a little Jewish baby so He could redeem His fallen creation from the eternal consequences of sin. This is the raw, incredible essence of Christmas.

I am not suggesting that you abandon your family traditions. These things can be wonderful blessings. I am suggesting that in the midst of your celebrations, you take the time to unplug Christmas from the non-essential and reflect on the real essence of Christmas. Allow the stark reality of the incarnation to shake you. Let the shock and awe of Christmas set in to your soul. Be amazed at the mystery of God becoming man without compromising the essence of either. Be moved by the depth of a love which spared no expense to redeem sinners. Be challenged by the humility of a divine Son who laid aside the glories of heaven for a life of suffering punctuated by the cruelty of a cross.

Only when we unplug Christmas can we really celebrate it properly. This year take time to hear the real music of Christmas without all the extra effects of culture. You won’t be disappointed.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Reserve Your Spot in Heaven for $12.79

Fox News reported on a Seattle-based company which is selling reservations for heaven. The company sells a travel kit which offers the "chance to enjoy your sin-filled life" without consequence while lowering the "risk of eternal damnation." The company is open about the fact that these are intended to be gag gifts. Since they began their online offerings, traffic has increased to a thousand visitors each day.

Though I believe this kind of humor is in poor taste, it does raise some interesting questions about our views of heaven and how a person gets there. Sadly, the way the gospel is represented in some circles renders results not much different from the company's tongue-in-cheek promise. I fear that many people who "prayed the prayer" or "walked the aisle" have an understanding of the gospel that promises, like the heavenly reservation brochure, the chance to enjoy a sin-filled life while lowering the risk of eternal damnation. To them the gospel is not much more than a fire insurance policy.

A biblical understanding of conversion must include more than just a formulaic "sinners prayer" or a physical act like walking an aisle or raising a hand. When our theology erodes to the point where such things are associated with true conversion, we find ourselves producing converts whose faith is misdirected. Rather than trusting in Christ, they are trusting in their "decision." True conversion includes repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ. It involves an awareness of our lost and helpless condition as sinners. It involves turning away from sin and self and trusting in Jesus Christ who died for sinners and rose again.

In addition, we must emphasize the fact that though faith alone saves, the faith that saves is never alone. It is always accompanied by works which give evidence of a changed life. To present a gospel which promises people a reservation in heaven without the evidence of a changed life is to present a false gospel. This is not salvation by works. It is merely emphasizing what the New Testament emphasizes about the life-changing results of true saving faith.

In 1 John 5:13, we read "These things have I written to you who believe on the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life." This verse is often quoted to emphasize that we may have assurance of salvation. Someone will say, "look, John said we may know we have eternal life if we believe." Fair enough. But don't forget the "these things" he mentions in the first phrase. The things he refers to there are the frequent tests presented throughout his letter intended to cause his readers to evaluate the genuineness of their profession of faith. These tests are things like obedience to Christ's commands, loving your brother, a life of holiness, embracing the truth, etc. John is not saying that these things win salvation. Rather, he is saying that if one truly has saving faith in Jesus, these are the kinds of things that faith will produce. To borrow a phrase from James, faith without works is dead.

Can a person have a "reservation in heaven?" Absolutely. Recognize your helplessness as a sinner, turn from your sin, believe that Jesus Christ died for sinners and rose from the dead, trust Him to save you. He will save you and change your life from the inside out. You will have a new heart. Things will change. It won't all happen overnight, but it will happen. The genuineness of your new life will be evidenced through holy attitudes and actions.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Abandoning Satisfaction with Self for Satisfaction with the Savior

Horatius Bonar, the great Scottish Preacher, gives us some good counsel in an age when we are preoccupied with our own feelings. He tells us not to trust in our feelings but in Christ alone. This quote is from God's Way of Peace.

In short, you are not satisfied with any of your religious feelings; and it is well that you are not; for, if you were, you must have a very high idea of yourself, and a very low idea of what both law and gospel expect of you. You are, I doubt not, right in not being satisfied with the state of your feelings; but what has this to do with the great duty of immediately believing on the Son of God? If the gospel is nothing to you till you have got your feelings all set right, it is no gospel for the sinner at all. But this is its special fitness and glory, that it takes you up at the very point where you are at this moment, and brings you glad tidings in spite of your feelings being altogether wrong.

All these difficulties of yours have their root in the self esteem of our natures, which makes us refuse to be counted altogether sinners, and which shrinks from going to God save with some personal recommendation to make acceptance likely. Utter want of goodness is what we are slow to acknowledge. Give up these attempts to be satisfied with yourself in anything, great or small, faith, feeling, or action. The Holy Spirit's work in convincing you of sin, is to make you dissatisfied with yourself; and will you pursue a course which can only grieve him away? God can never be satisfied with you on account of any goodness about you; and why should you attempt to be satisfied with anything which will not satisfy him? There is but one thing with which he is entirely satisfied, - the person and work of his only begotten Son. It is with Him that he wants you to be satisfied, not with yourself. How much better would it be to take God's way at once, and be satisfied with Christ? Then would pardon and peace be given without delay. Then would the favor of God rest upon you. For God has declared, that whoever is satisfied with Christ shall find favor with him. His desire is that you should come to be as one with him in this great thing. He asks nothing of you, save this. But with nothing else than this will he be content, nor will he receive you on any other footing, save that of one who has come to be satisfied with Christ, and with what Christ has done.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Baptists and Catholics Together?

The Catholic News Agency recently reported on a meeting between the Baptist World Alliance and Pope Benedict XVI in Vatican City. This meeting represented the second round of talks between the two groups on the theme "The Word of God in the Life of the Church: Scripture, Tradition and Koinonia." The Pope hailed this meeting as an opportunity to explore historically disputed issues in the hope of reconciliation and unity.

Back in 2004, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) voted to cut ties with the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) because of doctrinal differences. Messengers agreed with the commission which recommended the separation because of a theological leftward drift in the BWA. The recent news story from Vatican City confirms that the SBC made the right choice.

No one should think that Rome is going to move toward evangelicals on the key issues. The very theology of Roman Catholicism makes this next to impossible. When key church councils such as Trent anathematize those who believe in sola scriptura and sola fide, it doesn't seem likely that much common ground is going to be found on the gospel. To reverse such decisions would be to admit that the magisterium of the church got it wrong. Such an admission is highly unlikely. From my vantage point, it is the evangelicals who are inching toward Rome when such ecumenical meetings render documents like Evangelicals and Catholics Together (1994).

Some Southern Baptist leaders made a misstep on this issue when they signed the Evangelicals and Catholics Together accord back in 1994. Such documents flow from good intentions. We want to present a solid front on social ills. We want to join hands to speak out against abortion and gay marriage and the like. However, this kind of "togetherness" serves to cloud the deep divide between evangelicals (including the SBC) and Roman Catholics on the nature of the gospel itself. Such blurring of lines is not healthy.

Jesus did pray in John 17 that all His followers would be one. I don't think, however, that Jesus would have us surrender the very gospel itself in pursuit of that oneness. In that same prayer, Jesus prayed, "sanctify them with Your truth, Your word is truth." I am grateful that the SBC saw this kind of thing on the horizon and made the decision to cut ties with the BWA.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Hank Kimball School of Theology

Phil Johnson has written a fabulous post on the issue of uncertainty among many emerging church leaders like Brian McLaren. Phil says,

In other words, Emerging religion has canonized doubt. And—let's be candid here—many who say they prefer the label "missional" are making the very same mistake. In fact, even in supposedly conservative and fundamentalist venues where "Truth and Certainty" are formally affirmed, you'll find no shortage of Christian leaders willing to palliate their supposed "convictions" almost to death in order to sound more "relevant" to postmoderns. The result has been a dearth of vigorous theological conviction which makes the whole drift instantly irrelevant—because it's nothing but a thoughtless echo of what most of the world already believes (or disbelieves) about the knowability of objective truth anyway.

The emerging conversation has become the Hank Kimball of theological discourse. Remember Hank Kimball from the TV show Green Acres? He was the county agent who never could make up his mind. He would say things like, "Nice day isn't it? Well, not that nice if you consider..." Hank was always qualifying, self-correcting, and equivocating on things to the point of being ridiculous. He never could seem to make up his mind on anything. That kind of wishy-washy approach to spiritual things is not healthy.

Many of the most visible leaders of the Emerging Church movement (McLaren, Pagitt, Jones) talk a great deal about humility in theological discussion. Humility is one of the cardinal virtues of the movement, presumably because we cannot know things with certainty. If we cannot know with certainty, it is arrogant for us to speak as if we can. Therefore, we need to have proper humility.

Is there anything that can be certainly known about God? If so, what is the source of such knowledge? I would answer that there are things that can be certainly known about God and this knowledge comes from His Self-revelation in the pages of Scripture. We need not equivocate on such things which are abundantly clear in His Word. Granted, not all doctrines have equal clarity. But the things which have historically defined Christianity are quite clear. To equivocate on such doctrines is not humble but harmful.

I would be the first to admit that we do not have exhaustive knowledge of the mind of God. We cannot speak with absolute certainty on everything. But it does not follow that we cannot speak with absolute certainty on anything. If God has certainly revealed Himself and His mind to us in Scripture on some things, then it smacks of arrogance to undermine these certainties under the cloak of humility.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Romney, Mormonism, and the White House

Like many of you, I have been hearing and reading a lot about Mitt Romney's speech on his faith and his politics. It is indeed an interesting subject. I did not hear the speech (other than a few sound bites on TV). My purpose in this post is not to address the speech per se. Rather, I want to address the question of whether a Mormon makes a good candidate for President. Though we don't wax political here very often, I am going to through caution to the wind and share some of my opinions.

One of the issues being addressed is whether Mormonism should be considered a Christian religion. I answer emphatically no. I was pleased, by the way, to hear that Dr. Richard Land, the President of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission said as much on national TV. Mormons indeed use many of the same terms Christians use. However, the actual theology behind these terms is anything but historic Christianity. Mormonism redefines practically everything Christianity holds sacred including the Person and Work of Christ, the nature of God as Triune, the atonement, Scripture...need I go on? In spite of a huge PR campaign seeking to make Mormonism seem mainstream, it is a cult. It is not accurate in my opinion to consider Romney a Christian.

Though I would certainly prefer a President who is an evangelical Christian, I do not consider this to be an inviolable prerequisite for a President. From a policy standpoint, a Romney presidency would be much more attractive to me, though he is a Mormon, than say a Clinton presidency (either one) though they claim to be Christians (one even Southern Baptist). In my opinion, Romney's policies would be a closer reflection of my evangelical convictions on political issues than would either of the Clintons, despite the difference in formal religious affiliation.

When considering a presidential candidate, personal character, policy, experience, and even electability come into play. Religion definitely has a major influence on these issues, as it should. If given a choice between two candidates with similar qualifications one being a Mormon and the other an evangelical, I would choose the evangelical every time. However, if the choice comes down to a Mormon candidate who more closely reflects traditional, Judeo-Christian values and policies versus a professing Christian whose policies compromise these values, I would choose the candidate whose values and policies more closely align with my own.

Of course it is far too early to be making any judgments about whether Romney will be the candidate. I certainly am not endorsing Romney at this point in the game. There are better candidates still alive in the race at this point, in my opinion. As followers of Christ, we must continue to pray for the election, be informed on the issues, and vote our consciences.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Thinking About Leaving Your Church?

There are lots of places where you can get good counsel about finding a church. What about leaving a church? There isn't much available on this issue. Over at New Attitude, they posted some sound advice from Mark Dever. Dever has written some excellent things on ecclesiology in recent years. This advice comes from a book called What Is a Healthy Church?

As a pastor, I appreciate this advice. Many churches have revolving doors these days. If we take seriously the doctrine of the church, we need to exercise care not only in finding a church but, if the time comes, when we leave one as well. If you are looking for a biblically sound alternative to some of the more man-centered models for church, check out Dever's book The Deliberate Church. In addition, you can find some excellent resources on a biblical model for church at IX Marks Ministries.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Mohler on The Golden Compass

Dr. Al Mohler has written a review on the upcoming and controversial film The Golden Compass. This review is a must-read for anyone wanting to get a solid assessment of the film and the storyline of the series of books from which it is taken. Mohler offers some good insights on what should be the Christian response to the film.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Where Liberalism Leads

If you want to see a concrete example of where liberalism leads Baptist churches, read this article from the Dallas Morning News. The article speaks for itself. Every time I read one of these types of stories, I thank God for His providence in raising up a generation of Baptist leaders who recognized the slippery slope we were on and led our denomination to stand firm for Scripture.