Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Audio: Ephesians 3:14-21

Resuming the thought he interrupted in 3:1, Paul now prays for the Ephesian church. This prayer shows us how we can pray for what our church and every church needs most. Listen here (Click to stream, right-click to download).

Audio: Ephesians 3:8-13

In this text, Paul gives us a glimpse into his ministry ... which then helps us all to understand how God wants to use each of us. Listen to the message here (Click to stream, right-click to download).

Monday, August 24, 2009

Vintage Church: A Review

Mark Driscoll is one of the most polarizing figures in modern Christianity. Among my very small circle of friends, some think he is a dangerous person spreading toxic ideas about Jesus, the Church, and sex. Meanwhile, others hold him in near idolatrous reverence and cling to his every word and emulate his every practice. I don’t know Mark Driscoll, but something tells me that he would likely be the first to admit that both of these extremes are wrong. One thing is certain, and that is that we who do ministry in this generation need to be familiar with Driscoll, for he will certainly be remembered as one who shaped the Christian faith in this era. If we are to familiarize ourselves with Driscoll, we must resist the temptation to understand him by proxy, relying on the caricatures painted of him by his critics. They would have us to believe that Driscoll is a man whose sermons are filled with vulgarity and perversion and that he is out to ruin good churches with dangerous ideas. But if we do the intelligent thing, and read and listen to Driscoll for ourselves, I believe we will come to far different conclusions.

Having many friends who are planting churches under the umbrella of Driscoll’s Acts29 movement, I want to understand their philosophy of ministry and the convictions and assumptions they bring to their task. Having read Vintage Church (co-authored by Driscoll and Gerry Breshears), I have been helped and greatly encouraged. I picked the book up out of curiosity, suspicion, and fear. I put it down after reading it grateful to God for voices like Driscoll in our day.

Aside from its unquestionably tacky cover, Vintage Church ranks among the best overall books on ecclesiology I have come across. It is a wonderful blend of theory and practice, and thoroughly rooted in New Testament truth. Though I may “do church” differently from Driscoll, we agree wholeheartedly on what the church is and what the church should be doing. The book is immensely user-friendly. It is written in easy-to-understand language that is not ashamed of theological jargon, but defines it carefully. It is filled with biblical, historical, and theological insights, all of which are documented carefully in footnotes and indices. It is interspersed throughout with personal testimonies of Driscoll and Breshears about their own successes and failures. Each chapter concludes with a “FAQ-like” question and answer section about the common difficulties encountered in each of the areas addressed.

While each reader is likely to encounter something he or she doesn’t agree with along the way through Vintage Church, even this is profitable for challenging us about why we disagree, and whether our differences are based on biblical convictions or personal preferences. For example, I found Chapter 10 (dealing with Multi-Campus Churches) to be very questionable. As I wrestled with Driscoll’s argument, however, I had to ask myself if my objection to multi-site churches and video-preaching was based on something Scriptural, something assumed, something engrained, or some selfish motive. While I found Driscoll’s argument to based largely on silence and on deductive rather than inductive hermeneutics, I also found that my own position had its share of both as well. In the final analysis, though I remain unconvinced that multi-sites and preaching via satellite is ideal, I am convinced that this is more a personal preference than a biblical conviction and can appreciate my brother’s attempt to reach other through these methods with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Extremely refreshing were the chapters on the Christian Life, the Christian Church, Preaching, Discipline, and the final chapter which emphasizes the need for a focus on urban ministry in our generation. Many will undoubtedly object to some of the ideas found in chapters dealing with church leadership, multi-campus churches, technology, and a few statements made throughout the book about alcohol, it is good to see that even those we do not agree with on every point are striving to build their ministries on the foundation of God’s Word. We can agree to disagree out of regard for one another in humility and mutual submission to the Lordship of Jesus and the authority of His Word. Some of the most practical sections include those on preaching, discipline, love, unity, and technology. The appendix, which features the membership covenant of Mars Hill Church where Driscoll pastors, is helpful for church leaders thinking through what responsibilities ought to be required of their own church members.

Of the hundreds of books I own which have the word “Church” in the title, very few combine theory and practice as effectively as Vintage Church has. Most are either sterilized academic treatments of what the church ought to be (failing to take into account the reality that depraved human beings bring into the system) or are so man-centered that they fail to do justice to the biblical ideals of what Christ intends His church to be. Vintage Church wrestles with Scripture, theology, and church history honestly and practically, demonstrating through testimonies of success and failure how the principles contained within can be applied in each local church.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with all, most, or any of the conclusions drawn in Vintage Church, the book will undoubtedly help church leaders think through important issues that many others seem reluctant to even discuss today. It would be wrong to read this book in order to make one’s church to be a carbon copy of Mars Hill Church. Each pastor has to be himself (not try to be Mark Driscoll), and our churches are not Mars Hill, nor are cities Seattle. But we can glean from this book important truth as we seek to apply these insights into our own local contexts.

I would recommend the book to pastors and church leaders, teachers of church administration, pastoral ministry, and practical theology, and new Christians who are getting their first glimpse of what the church of Jesus Christ should be and do. I would also recommend the book to those who have only learned of Driscoll through critical caricatures. I believe their opinion of him as a person and a pastor will be challenged as they read his own words and see his love for Christ and the church in the pages of this book. I intend to challenge leaders in my own congregation to read the book with discernment in order to discover what we need to learn to be and do all to which God has called us. My hope is that soon it will be available in paperback to make it more affordable and accessible to the average reader. While it is certainly worth every cent of the $22 cover price, a cheaper edition would certainly increase its circulation to those for whom the price is an obstacle.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Prayer for Preachers

From The Making of the Minister by William H. Leach, 1938, Cokesbury Press:

"Our Father, we who pray for the health of others come to Thee now to ask for ourselves. We are glad that we heard Thy voice and accepted a call to Thy ministry. Make us conscious of the responsibility which is ours and give us strength for the obligations. Keep us from the temptations peculiar to our calling. If we have loved leadership and power more than service, rebuke us. If we have been too much engrossed in little things, forgive. If we have been more concerned with strong and rich than with shepherdless throngs, open our eyes to our delinquencies. If we have been more loyal to the Church of the past than to the vision of today, help us to a new attitude.

"O Master, we pray for humility and contrition. As we interpret Thy word to a hungry people may we give the bread which satisfies. Free us from the entanglements which may have hushed the prophetic voice. Give us personalities which radiate love and faith.

"Help us to view sin with intolerance but to always show compassion for the weak and frail. Teach us how to love our enemies. Make us faithful shepherds of Thy flock, true seers of God, and true followers of Jesus Christ. Amen."

Systematic Java: How do we know anything at all?


Here are some talking points from last night's Systematic Java discussion. Next time (9/23) we will talk about whether belief in God is a justified belief, and whether it can be known with any measure of certainty. We will meet at 7:30 at Tate Street Coffee. See the Facebook event page to RSVP.

TRUTH

· Truth used to be understood as a single circle, encompassing all knowledge.

· Around 1500 AD, the circle split, and there developed what we call “the two-circle concept of truth”.

o One circle is the realm of “religious truth,” or “faith.”

o The other is the realm of “reason” or “science.”

o The “two-circle” concept is what we call modernism.

§ Modernism dominated intellectual history for 500 years.

· In the middle of the 20th Century, people began to reject modernism in exchange for what has come to be known as postmodernism.

o Postmodernism recognized that by separating the “two circles” of faith and reason, modernism had made it impossible to have universal, absolute truth.

o Under postmodernism, truth becomes relative to the individual, the culture, the location, or the time period.

o In postmodernism, something can be “true for you, but not for me.”

o Postmodernism dominated for 50 years, and is still prevalent in the minds of most people, though it has fallen out of vogue in the intellectual academy, because it is an impossible system.

§ The hard sciences realized that there must be absolute truth.

· The collapse of postmodernism is good news/bad news for the church.

o The world is looking for a way to unite the “two circles” again, and to find a universal absolute.

o However, they want to find one that matches their atheistic, naturalistic, materialistic presumptions.

· Is knowledge important?

o The world we live in requires us to know some things for certain.

o Our beliefs are interconnected, like a web.

§ Hence, we refer to a “web of beliefs.”

o We live in an information age where we are bombarded with messages, and must have some means of discerning which is presenting accurate information.

· What is knowledge?

o A justified true belief.

§ It begins with belief.

· Something can be true and justified, but if it is not believed it cannot be said to be known.

· Belief can be true and not justified.

· Belief can be justified and not true.

· To be knowledge, a belief must be true and justified.

· What is truth?

o Is truth absolute?

§ Does it remain constant from knower to knower?

§ Truth is either absolute or it is not.

· To say that there is no absolute truth is to make an absolute statement that one intends to be received as true, yet which denies absolute truth.

o This is referred to as self-defeat, a fallacy, or just plain nonsense.

§ Truth must be absolute!

o Do all people think truth is absolute? No!

§ Skepticism

· You can either never know anything for certain, or never be justified in claiming to know anything for certain.

· Skeptics help us raise difficult questions, prevent naïveté, and provide sufficient justification.

§ Subjectivism

· I am the sole determiner of truth in my world.

· A statement is true if I like it or if it matches my adopted criteria for truth.

§ Relativism

· Truth is relative to person, place, time, etc.

· “True for you but not for me.”

· There are situations where truth is relative.

o “Hail fell from the sky yesterday.”

§ This is a relative truth. It did not hail everywhere.

§ For this statement to be absolute it must be indexed.

· Hail fell in some parts of Kernersville, NC around 4pm, June 7, 2005.

· There are other situations where truth is not relative.

o Human beings can jump off buildings and fly by flapping their arms.

o There is a God.

o I exist.

§ These statements are either universally true or false.

§ Coherence

· A statement is true if it fits in my web of beliefs, or if it fits with the beliefs of my community.

o But who says my web or my community is right?

§ This is a relativistic, subjective approach that may have no grounding in reality whatsoever.

§ What if I am mentally incompetent? What if my community is an asylum?

§ Pragmatism

· Truth is what is useful, helpful, or what works in a given situation.

o Again this is relativistic and subjective.

o The belief that murder is morally good may be useful or helpful in a given situation.

§ Correspondence

· The statement is true if it corresponds to, harmonizes with, resonates with reality, and rings with what is really there.

· “A statement is true if and only if it either says of what is that it is, or says of what is not that it is not.”

· What do we mean when we say we believe something?

o God, the Bible, Jesus Christ, Salvation, Heaven

§ Are we making statements of absolute truth?

§ Are we claiming that these are justified, true beliefs?

§ Are we claiming that these things correspond to reality?

§ Or are we making statements that we understand are skeptical, subjective, relativistic, coherent, or pragmatic?

Belief Formation

· We assert that knowledge is “justified true belief.”

· What is belief?

o As a noun, a belief is a statement that has some truth value.

§ “There is a God.”

· This is a belief.

o As a verb, belief is a state of mind concerning some proposition.

§ “I believe there is a God.”

o We have beliefs about beliefs, and we should be careful to believe our beliefs.

§ Sadly, many Christians know what their “beliefs” are, they just don’t believe them.

· Where do beliefs come from?

o Some seem to be “just there,” that is, they are innate.

§ A newborn seems to already hold the belief that the mother’s breast will provide nourishment.

o Some beliefs are adopted.

§ They are assumed because they are passed on to us from people we deem trustworthy and knowledgeable.

o Adopted beliefs will be challenged at some point.

§ At the point of challenge, one of three things will occur:

· The adopted belief will be abandoned in favor of the new information.

· The new information will be ignored.

· Effort will be made to synthesize the adopted belief and the new information.

o Can a person will themselves (make themselves) believe or disbelieve something?

§ Is there volitional control over belief formation?

§ There will always be other factors involved in belief formation.

§ I cannot just “decide to” or “make myself” believe something without already having been inclined to believe it on some other basis.

· A person who just “decides to” believe in God, or “makes him/herself” believe in God, is no more convinced of God than they were before.

§ Belief Happens!

· As information we deem credible influences us to think in a certain way about a certain matter, belief occurs within us.

o For beliefs to form, information must be processed by the mental faculties (“the belief factory”).

§ You can’t have beliefs “about nothing”; they must be based on information.

§ The “belief factory” must be in proper working order.

§ Information comes through experience, sense perception, and rational thought processes.

§ Information is evaluated on the basis of one’s web of beliefs and “cumulative force of life.”

· This includes age, maturity, personality, past experiences, personal choices, and the influence of the Holy Spirit.

§ Information can be accepted, rejected, or synthesized.

· How did we come to our beliefs about God, the Bible, Jesus Christ, Heaven, Hell, Salvation?

o Are these innate beliefs? No.

o Are they adopted beliefs? In most cases, yes.

o Have they been challenged?

o When the challenge occurs, what will happen?

o What do we expect to occur when we share these beliefs with others?

o How should this understanding affect our evangelism?

Justification of Beliefs

· In John 20:19-29, Thomas was looking for justification.

o He sought justification through sense experience (see, touch).

o Others would believe on different justification.

· How do we test the truth of beliefs?

o A balanced approach takes into consideration that sometimes different methods of justification are more appropriate or necessary than others.

o An understanding of the following is helpful as well:

§ First Principles

· Ideas that are innate, present from birth, either in the form of information or “categories” or information.

§ Adopted Beliefs

§ Belief Conservation

· The tendency to hold on to what we believe unless presented with strong evidence to the contrary.

§ Critical Realism

· We have the right to believe that things are what they seem, but we must recognize that we may not always see things perfectly or understand things correctly. So, we dialogue and exchange ideas with others in hopes of driving one another closer to the truth.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Ephesians 2:19-22 Pictures of God's People

In this passage, Paul uses three vivid images to describe the relationship Christians have with God and each other. Audio is available here.

Right click to download, click to stream.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Hypocrisy at the BWA?


According to the Associated Baptist Press story covering the annual meeting of the Baptist World Alliance, two new Baptist bodies have been admitted to the BWA in this year's session: "The Argentine Baptist Association and the Uganda Baptist Convention were accepted by unanimous vote. The Argentine association was formed in 2005 and includes 40 churches with about 5,000 members. The Uganda convention, organized in 2000, has more than 21,000 members in 366 churches." The inclusion of these groups brings the membership in BWA up to 216 bodies of Baptists.

What is especially interesting to me (and should be to all Southern Baptists) is that both the Argentine Association and the Uganda Convention "were formed following disagreements with older Baptist bodies in their respective countries, but Alistair Brown of Chicago, chair of the membership committee which recommended the two, said the conflicts have been resolved and that both older conventions recommended acceptance."

This is an interesting scenario, because it was on these grounds that Southern Baptists opposed the inclusion of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) into the BWA several years ago. As the largest Baptist body in the world and the largest financial contributor to the BWA, the leaders of the SBC felt that the BWA was not abiding by the governing principle of refusing membership to groups that had splintered from member-organizations. The CBF consists largely of churches who have abandoned the SBC since 1979 when the Conservative Resurgence began. In the case of the CBF, however, the BWA did not ensure that the conflicts with the SBC had been resolved nor did it seek the recommendation from the older convention (SBC) for acceptance of the CBF. Therefore, in a controversial, monumental, and largely unpopular move, the SBC withdrew from the BWA. As a messenger at that convention where the vote was taken to withdraw from BWA, I can attest that once all the relevant information was presented, the vote was overwhelming.

Why is it that the BWA seems more concerned about this governing principle of unity among members than it did some years ago when the issue of the CBF was under consideration? Might it be that some in BWA leadership at that time had an anti-SBC or pro-CBF (or both) bias? Perhaps. Might it be that the withdrawal of the SBC has left a gaping hole in the life of the BWA that now needs to be filled by other groups? Perhaps. Or it could be because of another turn of events. The ABP article which informs of the inclusion of these new groups also speaks of the desperate financial situation the BWA finds itself in. The 2010 budget of the BWA is exactly the same as the 2009 budget, which was a reduction of twenty-five percent over previous years. The article cites one cause for the financial hardship: "The worldwide economic recession has had a highly negative impact on BWA’s investments, which have lost about $1.5 million of their value." Missing from the article is any mention of the impact the SBC's withdrawal has had on the BWA.

In fairness, I must say that it is not as if the SBC has gone on to bigger and better things. While departure from the BWA was supposed to pave the way for new and greater global partnerships, messengers to the annual meeting have had little reason for rejoicing in this area of Baptist life in recent years. An unknown amount of money (unknown to me anyway) has been spent flying Dr. Bobby Welch all over the world to forge these partnerships, but little fruit is evident on the vine. Might it be that the SBC needs the BWA after all, and that the BWA needs the SBC? I think it is probably true. The bigger question is whether either or both will be humble enough to admit it.

What will it take for the SBC and BWA to reunite? I cannot say, for I am merely the pastor of a small SBC congregation. This decision would have to be made by the powers that be in both bodies. In my opinion, it must begin with the BWA demonstrating some consistency and humble repentance toward the SBC over the issues with the CBF. I do not think it is arrogant for the SBC to expect equal treatment with these other bodies. Perhaps the BWA should hold some talks with leaders of the SBC and CBF to determine what hindrances would prevent both from being partners in the BWA. Hopefully those issues could be prayerfully resolved and the SBC could return to the table of the BWA. Will it happen? I am sure I am not alone in having my doubts, but we can all hope and pray.