Check out: the Churchman.
"...for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints."
– Jude 3
I saw this article on Sojourners – a site that I don’t regularly visit – and thought it would be worthy of a comment or two. The idea of this article is that Christians shouldn’t say certain things (particularly when you’re speaking to non-Christians0 because they may or may not be true, and even if they are true – don’t say them because they don’t make sense.
I say that jokingly because the concept of God’s sovereignty is so prevalent throughout the Bible and it is so central to Paul’s writings, that it is difficult to think of any Christian – especially one who puts thought and energy into writing articles about and or for Christians – who would not quickly find Romans 8:28. “And we know that God causes 1all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
Granted, if you did a quick google word search for verses containing “everything” “happens” and “reason”, you might not find Rom 8:28 (at least not in every translation), but if you have even a small level of biblical literacy, you’d be able to find it with just a bit of looking. But even if you didn’t come to Romans 8:28 but you took the time to think of some of the more well known stories in the Bible, then you should remember a story where a young boy was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, abused, was sexually assaulted, falsely accused, imprisoned, forgotten about, and then rose to become the prime minister of Egypt. And in Joseph’s climactic conversation with his brothers, he says that while they meant him harm, God intended their actions for good so as to save many people, including their family, from the famine that was to come (Gen 50:20). And if you didn’t think of Joseph, what about Peter’s commentary about the crucifixion of Jesus where God’s purpose was to use sinful people in wicked acts to accomplish the greatest thing in the history of the universe (Acts 2:23)? This concept is very clearly taught in Scripture. To not be able to find it is to show your own blindness.
So now, I’m left with a question of how to interpret the rest of this list. Maybe there should be another option, but I can only think of two options for interpreting what Mr. Piatt is writing in this post:
A. He’s ignorant of what the Bible says, and therefore you can forget about him really understanding what he thinks it means.
B. He’s being deceptive and not dealing honestly with these objectionable phrases.
I’m going to proceed with the understanding that he’s ignorant, because it’s the option that puts him in the best light, and I have no reason currently to impugn his motives or honesty. Perhaps my judgment would change if I was more familiar with him, but for now – he just seems plain ignorant of the content of the Bible, and therefore I’m very skeptical about any attempt he makes at providing an understanding or interpretation for what it means.
Without going into much more discussion on this one point – Christians should not – for any reason – abandon the use of this truth. Phrase it how you’d like; personally I prefer quoting Romans 8:28. But whatever you do, don’t abandon God’s sovereignty. Use wisdom when to speak and when to be silent so that you can speak later, but don’t put aside this truth.
Finally, Mr. Piatt brings up the rape victim. To address this objection – yes, there is a reason that this horrible thing happened. God had a reason. But saying that there’s a reason doesn’t mean that I know what that exact reason is, nor should I try to tell you what I think His reason was. Job was never given the reason for what he went through. It is not the job of the Christian to pontificate as to the purpose of God specifically in this tragedy, but by using Scripture and the supreme example of the greatest tragedy of all time – the arrest, mock trial, beating, humiliation, and torturous death of the only truly innocent person who ever lived – and try to show that there is truth that God has purpose in tragedy. So weep with the rape victim. Listen to that person, and be careful of the words you interject into the conversation. But, when the question of ‘why’ is brought up – be very careful that you don’t ever say that God had no purpose or that He didn’t know about it or couldn’t stop it. There is a reason, but neither of you will know that reason fully until after this life is over.
But if I were talking to Christian Piatt personally, I’d ask him if the rapist he referred to in #1 deserves to be held accountable for what he did. And what happens to the untold numbers of horrible crimes (murder, rape, etc) that go unsolved even in today’s CSI society? Should the rapist and murder be let off the hook by God or get away totally because they were not caught by human justice? The only answer should be that the guilty need to be held accountable, and that is exactly what God does and will do because He is holy and demands righteousness and because He is loving and will punish the one who abuses and mistreats another. The ultimate source of justice for the rape victim is not vigilante justice or even the courts of justice in that land, but it is God Himself who will fully and finally deal with the offender.
So, does the rapist have an eternity ahead of him? If so, Mr. Piatt, what type of eternity is that? I hope that your answer for this isn’t as vacuous as it would need to be in order to be consistent with your objection to this phrase. The Bible paints a clear picture for what everyone is to expect after death – it is foolish and unloving to bastardize the Scripture to a point where there is no answer for this question or where the question itself is silly. Shame on you, Christian Piatt.
Don’t ever abandon this question. It is vital, and helps get to the central message of the gospel of Jesus Christ by exposing the problem (sin & death) and the solution (Christ Himself, and salvation in and through Him).
Tweak it, don’t throw it out.
Keep Christ and faith as priority one in any evangelistic conversation.
Never stop saying, believing, or preaching this one.
If Christian Piatt is a leader of a church (he’s listed as a co-founder of a church), then he should be ashamed of himself. His knowledge of the Bible (or lack thereof) as displayed in this article is utterly deficient. If the average Christian has this level of knowledge, it is an opportunity to teach and guide and help to understand things better. But when someone who teaches or leads in the church displays this same lack of biblical knowledge, he should be ashamed and should shut his mouth. Furthermore, because Christian Piatt is unable to even locate the primary biblical texts that describe something as widely written about (both in the Bible and in other writings) as God’s sovereignty, perhaps he should refrain from comments about other doctrinal matters like he bashed in #1 (obviously), but also in #2, #3, #4, #6, #7, and #9.
by EJ at 4:01 PM
Unlike the title, I hope that this will be brief.
I am a regular listener to Dr. White’s radio-ish program (I don’t think he’s on any actual radio stations, but it’s a radio talk-show type format), the Dividing Line and so I was very familiar with much of the content of Dr. White’s lectures. To be fair, of the four different times he spoke (a total of six sessions over three days), I was able to make it to the four sessions held on Monday and Tuesday morning. So if there was other content in the two evening sessions, I will be able to benefit from that when I can download and listen to them.
Because of my familiarity with Dr. White’s ministry, I was familiar with many of the individuals he cited or showed video of and so it was very easy for me to stick with him in his lecture. Even though much of his content wasn’t new to me, it was very beneficial to have it presented in the lecture format that it was because it was a streamlined presentation that allowed the hours of uninterrupted time to address one subject. And other than the many good reminders, re-enforcements, and encouragements that greatly blessed me, I was really struck with one illustration that Dr. White brought out.
One of the apologetic angles that he uses involves examining what the Qur’an says about Christianity – specifically the doctrines of the Trinity and the resurrection – and compares it to what Christians actually believe, both now and during the time when the Qur’an was written. His basic argument is that if the author of the Qur’an is God, then God should have no trouble correctly articulating and refuting what Christians actually believe. But since the Qur’an depicts the Christian doctrine of the Trinity as being composed of Allah, Jesus, and Mary, this shows that its author didn’t know what the doctrine of the Trinity is. And therefore, this should – at the very least – cause the contemplative Muslim to ask questions related to the inspiration of the Qur’an.
This part of the argument was not new, but again it was good to see and hear it in a fuller way. However, I’m not sure if this was an offhand reference or part of the normal presentation, but Dr. White made a comparison to a Biblical “here’s what they believe, but here’s why what we believe is better” argument. That is the argument found in the book of Hebrews. Hebrews is an argument for the supremecy of Jesus, His priesthood and His sacrifice, and a case for why Christians should not to revert back to the Jewish sacrificial system. Whether someone agrees with the conclusions that are found in Hebrews is not the point (at least right now in this article), the point is that the author of the book of Hebrews understood and accurately described the religious sacrificial and priestly system of Judaism. And if one holy book claiming to be from God can accurately represent a competing false religious system while another cannot. That makes the insufficient and inaccurate information about the Trinity that is found in the Qur’an more troubling for the thoughtful reader.
Over the course of my relatively short life, I’ve had the opportunity and privilege of being friends or having some level of positive relationship with both men and women who don’t always agree with me (shocking, I know). Almost all of my Christian friends and I would likely disagree on some aspect of doctrine or application. This sort of tolerable and brotherly disagreement is to be expected inside of close friendships and your own local church body, I suppose.
There are other Christian friends of mine whose doctrinal differences are so important, so far reaching to all areas of faith and life that church fellowship is all but impossible. In fact, my oldest and best friend and I likely could not handle going to one another’s home church for too long. He’s a dear brother in Christ, a trustworthy proponent of the gospel message, and a very good friend, but for better or worse, as men of conviction we could not be members of the same local church fellowship.
The above two scenarios are examples of Christian brethren disagreeing on things while still being Christian brothers and sisters. However, there is another scenario where this is not the case, and I have (or have had) several relationships where I would categorically describe my friend as a heretic, apostate, false teacher, or a combination of some or all of those labels. These same friends may make the same categorical characterizations of me too (that’s only fitting, and I’m not offended by that) if they have any room in their theological framework for someone to disagree to the point of being a heretic.
Usually when I have a close friend, or when I am otherwise closely connected to someone who falls into this final category, it has been my desire and obligation to seek to confront the other person with the hope of winning a brother/sister by “snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 23). Direct confrontation with the desire and goal of correction and restoration is the only truly loving action that one can take. As one who has actually confronted friends (who, like me, confesses faith in and salvation from Christ) on issues of such a foundational nature as those doctrines that literally define the Christian faith, I have a little experience and knowledge of what I am writing.
I can think of a few instances where I desired – almost to the point of feeling compelled – to confront someone regarding the core doctrines of the Christian faith. This was, again, not a Christian confronting a professing pagan, Hindu, Muslim or follower of some other world religion. I was confronting a professing Christian. But this same person’s confession of faith was, in my estimation, so sub-bibilcal that it was not actually a Christian faith. Denying doctrines on the same level as the exclusivity of Jesus Christ was what was to be the focus of our discussion. And therefore, I was genuinely concerned for the salvation of these individuals.
Working up to my meeting (usually I was able to have more than one face to face interaction), I attempted to prepare for all of the relevant issues that I wanted to address as well as any issues or rabbit trails that I thought would be brought up by my friend. In every instance, there were the pre-meeting jitters of nervousness – concerning both a desire to not go through with this confrontation as well as a desire to not make a complete fool of myself and so badly represent the faith that I was trying to defend. There were real stakes to these discussions. No quick quips or vacuous slogans would suffice. The friend I was going to meet was, in every instance, intelligent, thoughtful, deliberate, and well read enough to make me feel rather inadequate. Plus, regardless of where or how our relationship began (co-worker, family member, church member, or whatever), I genuinely liked or loved these people.
Shortly after the initial discussion with my friend (and this is the case for almost every time that I’m recalling), I can remember thinking to myself, “is the difference that we have really that significant?” Or I would think, “maybe I was wrong in my estimation of the severity of his/her error.” Or, more to the point, “maybe this isn’t enough to get bent out of shape over.” I believe that in every one of these initial meetings where both myself and my friend had remained convinced of our separate and mutually exclusive conclusions, I left the meeting with some doubt or downplaying of my own concerns.
Upon reflection and further counsel with other believers following these interchanges, the concerns that had initially brought me to the point of confrontation were re-validated and the answers or defenses given by my friend were still seen to be as hollow now as they had been during our meeting. I had not wavered on my concerns because of the argument given by my friend for his side of the argument, but I had still hesitated...for hours or days even…at least on the severity of the situation at hand.
This hesitation didn’t come because there was substantive clarity given to the issue at hand where we both were shown to be on the same page. Even if a cursory statement of belief was made that we both could agree to, that didn’t (or wouldn’t) help. With the larger issue at hand, that cursory statement of faith didn’t help at all to deal with the issue at hand. For instance, if the issue were one of the exclusivity of Jesus Christ for salvation, a simple affirmation by both parties that “Jesus saves” or “Jesus saves the repentant sinner who comes to Him in faith” does not put the issue to rest because it doesn’t address the other issues. For instance, one issue would need to be specifically addressed would be the validity of other methods or means of salvation in other religions (or whatever).
So what was the reason that I hesitated or wavered on my conviction of the eternal importance of our differences? Well, the major one (at least) is that I really, really liked this person. In every instance, I really liked the individual that I talked to. And the confrontation only did more to make me really like this person. He was very nice and friendly and not at all a fire-breathing anti-Christian raving lunatic. He was polite. He and I had a pleasant exchange. We laughed at different times in our conversation when one of us would say something funny. And we found that we agreed on various other important issues – philosophical, social, and theological.
This was dangerous. The danger was in liking my friend and theological combatant too much…or at least more than I valued the truth and integrity of the gospel of Jesus Christ and His revealed Word enough to press forward with a difficult, and often uncomfortable line of questions and discussion. Had I been around a dozen or more men who, like myself, liked my friend and could agree with him on so many other issues, laugh together at funny things, and express simple skin-deep affirmations about the issues at hand, then perhaps even today I would not count that conversation as one that falls into this extreme category where division is heresy.
And here is where maybe, just maybe, I can have an insight into why Mark Driscoll and James MacDonald (and others) gave T.D. Jakes the right hand of fellowship at the Elephant Room Conference and essentially said that the doctrine of the Trinity – while confession is required to have full access to our gathering – is really not definitional of the Christian faith so much so that a denial of it is to deny Christian faith and posses something that is entirely non-Christian. The conversation this surrounded the interchange between Driscoll, MacDonald, and Jakes left me with the distinct impression that oneness theology may be wrong, but it’s no more wrong and no more of a problem than disagreements about whether women can be elders or the method of baptism.
Furthermore, in many of the comments about the Elephant Room 2 written/spoken by the participants or panel members, there was a general attitude of “Man, Bishop Jakes is a really great guy.” He was nice, friendly, personable, and otherwise a person that you can get along with. And I wonder if that level of friendship skewed the opinion of Driscoll, MacDonald, and the rest of the men in the same way that I experienced during my interaction with my heretic friends.
Whether or not T.D. Jakes is a Trinitarian or not – I honestly don’t know. He said “yes” to Mark Driscoll’s line of questions, but even his clarifying comments left me wanting further clarification. I can tell you this, that if a former member (much less a leader, and much much less a Bishop) of an anti-Trinitarian church wanted to speak at or become a member at my local church, there would have been more pointed questions about affirmations of the Trinity and denials of the oneness understanding. Lovingly and firmly asked, to be sure. But they would have been asked.
Throw my 2 cents into the whole discussion…but that’s what it is.
“Establish Your Word to Your servant as that which produces reverence for You.” (Psalm 119:38)
“Oh, that my ways may be established to keep your statutes, then I will not be ashamed when I look upon all of Your commandments.” (Ps 119:5-6)
“I shall give thanks to You with uprightness of heart, when I learn Your righteous judgments. I will keep your statutes; do not forsake me utterly.” (Psalm 119:7-8)
We have been studying the gospel of John in the Sunday school class I teach, and this week we looked at John 15:19-27. In this text we are shown how the fallen world system and its people will relate to the disciples of Christ and that we can know what to expect because of the way that they treated Christ Himself. In my lesson preparation, I was struck by a few things that made this a very beneficial study for me.
The first thing that helped was outlining the passage according to the relationships between those in view. Now, this may not be the best outline, but it helped put things into perspective.
1. Disciples Relationship:
a. To the world (18-21)
b. To Christ (20-21,27)
2. Christ’s Relationship:
c. To the Father (21,23-24)
d. To the Spirit (26)
3. Unbeliever’s Relationship to the word and work of Christ (22,24-25)
a. Spoken to them (22)
b. Worked among them (24)
“1 Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” (1 Peter 2:1-3)
Praise the LORD, all nations; Laud Him, all peoples! For His lovingkindness is great toward us, And the truth of the LORD is everlasting. Praise the LORD! (Psalm 117)
relevant – as I understand the cultural/Christian working definition it is the assertion that for a church to be relevant the messages need to be sound-bitable and have catchy titles that relate to the people while using movies, TV shows, sports events, or current events as spring boards to communicate them.
Here are a few reasons for why I can’t imagine ever being able to be relevant like that:
1. Quite frankly – simply thinking about trying to keep up with all of the stuff that’s out there makes me tired. But I’d not only have to keep up with what’s out there, I’d have to do that and be able to craft a Bible study, sermon, or Sunday school lesson out of what was going on. With the time and effort that I (try to) put in to any given lesson for pre-school kids, college students, or whomever, I can’t imagine adding a whole other critical process into the mix.
2. $$$ Cha-ching $$$ - To be up on the culture like that, and to truly be relevant, I’d have to:
a. watch movies the week they come out (or at worst, in the first two weeks), and that’s $10 or so if I go by myself and don’t have any snacks
b. watch some (if not all) of the popular shows on TV, and to do that I’d need to have some high-end TV package…and they aren’t cheap
c. listen to the current most popular music in who knows how many genre’s (I’m sure that even my genre category titles are a decade out of date), and downloading songs gets expensive even at $0.99 or $1.99 each
d. read all of the books, papers, blogs, that come out on any number of subjects (tech, theology, philosophy, current events, etc). Even with a Kindle, that’s very pricey and time consuming.
e. listen/watch all of the popular to the talking heads (serious or satire) who keep me up to date with current events around the globe and what I should think about them
f. keep track of which celebrity was arrested for doing what, or which one yelled at their kids on a voice mail, or who is getting a divorce and why, or whatever…and that costs me ounces of sanity with each dumb story
I’m sure I missed some, but I couldn’t afford one or two of those, much less all of them.
3. Time? Who’s got the time? – I’m a husband, a father, a committed member of my church, a deacon, a (part-time) seminary student, and…oh yeah, I work full time too. And that’s just the stuff that I’m obligated to do – privileged to do too, yes, but if I don’t work hard on any one of those things up there, there are pretty serious consequences.
Now you may agree or disagree with the lists that I’ve given above, and you likely have things you could add to them. Some might say that I’m stretching ‘being relevant’ to an extreme, but I don’t think so. In order to be relevant in my ministry I would have to be very diverse in what I take in. There’s not just one stream of modern pop-culture in my world, country, city, or area. What’s relevant to the single-mom who’s a new Christian is different from what’s relevant to the 80-year-old widow who has been a Christian longer than I’ve been alive. What’s relevant to the out-of-work father is different than what’s relevant to his teen-age kids who always have their iPod headphones on. And not everyone is interested in or will watch every TV show or movie (or any TV show or movie), so I need to know what is going on in the romantic comedies, the sit coms, the adventure stories, the sci-fi epics, the family programming, and the sports events.
Because the moment I claim to be relevant but I miss where group A or person B is at or what they like – I’ve lost them. Or if I get them the next time, I’ve lost another group who could care less about this other thing.
The only way to be relevant to the hippie, the druggie, the church choir member, the pastor, the child, the father, the president of the United States, Ghengis Kahn, Stalin, Hitler, Mother Theresa, Ghandi, the Pope, or whoever is to get to the root that everyone has in common. And that’s not found in pop culture. That’s not the latest gadget. That’s not the latest book. That’s not the economic crisis or a natural disaster. It’s this: man is sinful and wretched, God completely holy and loving, and sinful man deserves God’s wrath, so the God Jesus lived and died as a sinless man and bore the wrath of God for sinners. And by repentance of sin and faith in Christ, a sinful man’s unrighteousness is replaced with the perfect righteousness of Christ Jesus, and now the redeemed sinner lives in light of God’s grace and love and imperfectly strives to honor the one who saved him.
Soli Deo Gloria.
by EJ at 4:07 PM