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Archive for the ‘Emerging Church’ Category


I predict ...

I predict ...

Lack of funding.  They need another $2.8 million to complete the project.

It’s actually a funny interview– what with Steve Taylor and Donald Miller involved.  The target audience of the movie doesn’t have the money to invest.  And those who do have the money have never heard of the book.

I like this part:

Both men say they won’t invest any of their own money into the project.

“Writers don’t make much money anyway,” laughs Miller. “Like Obama says, it’s above my pay grade.”

Angst Personified

Angst Personified

Taylor took out a sizeable loan against his home to help make The Second Chance a few years ago, and says he’ll never do it again.

“I should have called that move The Second Mortgage,” he says. “I made a deal with my wife back then that we’d only use that strategy once.”

Miller and Taylor both say they’re sure the film will get made.

“I’m convinced it’s going to happen,” says Miller.

Asked if there was any chance the project will die, Taylor quipped, “Not unless I die first.” But when pressed for a timetable, he added, “Are you pre- or post-millennial?”

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I’m continuing to work my way through McLaren’s book A New Kind of Christian.  I would sum it up as increasingly frustrating.  Neo keeps getting further and further out there.  And the strawmen he argues against are increasingly obscure.

This is an incredible nit-pick, but World Cup soccer is played by national teams.  DC United wouldn’t play, much less win, that competition.  Yep, this is fiction but try to keep the connections to reality there to make it believable and in the spirit of being missional- being ignorant of such matters means you lose street cred.  Okay, off the box.

Neo’s sermon contains a section from C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, one I have a particularly difficult time with.  But Neo uses it to teach truth, not illustrate truth.  This would be because the truth he’s trying to illustrate doesn’t exist.  Kind hearted muslims (or pick your religion) are not serving Jesus unknowingly.  In Scripture you find that people forsake their worthless idols to worship the true God.  That’s a bit different than what Neo is trying to encourage.

I’ll give McLaren the credit for reminding people that the church exists to expand the kingdom, benefiting the world.  How he and I understand that is a bit different.  Yes, some Christians reduce the gospel to personal salvation, ignoring the cosmic implications.  Is it possible to make too much of the cosmic implications?  Yes, if you minimize what Scripture maxamizes.  Scripture addresses the need for personal salvation far more than the cosmic implications of redemption.  Jesus and the Apostles do show a great deal of concern for the people’s fate.  His first “sermon”, “repent and believe for the kingdom is at hand.”  “Repent and believe” is conversion talk.  “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins” is conversion talk, and the point of Peter’s very first sermon.  So this notion that “it’s none of your business who goes to hell” is not in step with Scripture.  If modern evangelicals are to be chastized for importing  modern notions onto the Scripture (and they are at times), so should McLaren be chastized for importing notions foreign to Scripture and deny notions prevalent in Scripture.  He also takes some Scripture completely out of context to make his point.  He mentions Jesus’ words to Peter as though we should not be concerned with anyone else’s eternal destiny.  But Peter is asking how John will die.  THAT is of no concern to Peter.

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On the right, where he doesnt want to be!

On the right, where he doesn't want to be!

Feeling quite behind the times, I borrowed a friend’s copy of A New Kind of Christian.  I have been unable to get to it the last few weeks.  It was as if I just didn’t have the mental energy.  Oddly, I was able to make some significant headway today on the plane and relaxing in the backyard.

I am sympathetic to the concerns often raised by members of the emergent church movement.  I don’t often like their answers to the problems.  As I read Brian McLaren’s book, I experienced that same strange conflux of thoughts.

As I read the book I would be considered one of the modernist Christians McLaren is trying to ‘convert’.  I guess I feel like a non-Christian would feel when reading one of those poorly written novels intending to convert you to Christianity.  Not completely- I’m not angry with McLaren though I take exception with some of his conclusions.  Thus far anyway.

McLaren does point out that the extremes in popular American Christianity are problematic.  He comes off a bit reductionistic to me.  He does this by neglecting the good things that those modernistic American Christians have contributed to society.  He thinks we should do more than we preach- showing the gospel with our actions.  Yes, and many do this.  Many American evangelicals reach out to the poor and oppressed.  They are often very generous.  And it seems less than generous to ignore this in his gentle diatribe against enculturated modern Christians a.k.a. organized religion or the institutional church.

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In simplifying a few things, I am dropping the Book Reviews page since I use posts to do that now (they were reviews done on my first blog, which I didn’t want to lose).  So here are the old ones from there.  They are fairly short.  Enjoy!

The Doctrine of God: A Theology of Lordship by John Frame.  A few years in the reading.  This is a tome, not a book.  But it was well worth the investment of my time over that period.  Frame is not the most exciting author, but he is able to open my eyes to some of the more profound truths of Scripture. 

Particularly helpful is his exhaustive understanding of Lordship (presence, authority & control).  If this is all you get from the book, you have done well.  It really changes how you view Scripture, and seek to apply it to your life.

The section on the Trinity was probably the weakest- but that is because there is so much mystery surrounding it.  Our faith seeks understanding, but that exceeds our mental faculties.  Still, invest your mental faculties on this book, er.. tome.

Dark Night of the Soul by Gerald May.  May passed away recently.  He spent time looking at the works of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila.  He provides a flawed but helpful book.  First, John and Teresa seem to be complete Pelagians.  If May is accurate, they believed that we all are already united to God and people merely get themselves in the way of enjoying God’s delight.  I also have an issue with mysticism.  Since the Scriptures are my sole authority of faith and practice, I find no basis for the contemplative prayer as expressed by the mystics.  We meditate on God’s Word which reveals His character, works and promises.  This is very different from essentially emptying your mind to experience His love.

Despite the terminology, discussion of the 3 ’spirits’ of the Dark Night is helpful for us.  We struggle with the lack of pleasure we experience.  At times, all our attempts to find pleasure are thwarted.  We are then tempted to rage against God.  Lastly we experience great confusion.  We are uncertain what to do, and what lies next.  This is not a one-time experience, but often a continuous process that ebbs and flows.  This happens to wean us from our various idols that we might find our joy and hope in Christ and Him alone.  This section of the book, the last, is most helpful for the average Christian.

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I forgot Iain Murray’s book at home so my post on Revivalism will have to wait.  But while checking a few blogs I ran across this recent interview with Mark Driscoll.  In this section he addresses the question of revival and the remarkable growth experienced by Mars Hill and some other Acts 29 churches.

JV: Do you have a theology of revival? I guess many would see the rapid growth at Mars Hill (and some of the Acts 29 work) as taking on revival proportions. Is this how you would see it, or are you looking for something further (or do you even see revival as a helpful category)?

MD: I do. I have read both Jonathan Edwards and Iain Murray on this, for example. I have also studied many church movements such as the Methodists and Jesus Movement. I do believe that revival is akin to Nehemiah stacking the old stones that had lain unused for many generations. My city (Seattle) is still pre-Christian so technically I would say that we are more of a missions movement than a revival movement. But, as we spread through our campuses and church plants around the nation and world, I guess that is possible.

By God’s grace, we are multi-denominational and having what seems to be a positive and helpful influence on many churches, denominations and networks for which we praise God. In the end, we’ll see what God does. We’re off to an encouraging start but the game is far from over and maybe one day when I’m dead someone can write the report of what happened and see if it qualifies as something akin to a revival. For now, I’m just trying to follow Jesus, love my wife, enjoy my kids, pastor my church, preach my Bible, confess my sins, write my books and have my fun.

JV: Given your vantage point, what would you predict for the development of evangelicalism in the West over the coming 20 years?

MD: I would hope to see a robust gospel, love of church planting, and call for dudes to act dudely.

I appreciate his humility.  Unlike a revivalist, he’s not claiming he’s got a revival going on.  He is waiting for the test of time to reveal if what is happening is genuine.  It may be this humility that has opened the door for even more growth.  Earlier this year Mark publicly repented of the pride he saw charactizing his ministry, and by extension that of the church.  After the Resurgence conference he shared how Piper & C.J. Mahaney had a heart to heart with him.  And the gospel seems to make progress in this “missions” setting.

Adrian Warnock has Mark summing up Holy Week like this:

 “Something broke this weekend, spiritually. I’m not sure how to explain it, but God’s favor was evident everywhere. We had 8,070 people attend on Sunday, plus however many could not make it into the Eastside Campus or stand up outside the building to listen on speakers because there was no room in the parking lot or on the sidewalk. We had 3,648 for Good Friday services plus however many hundreds got turned away from the 7 p.m. service at Ballard. We had at least 11,718 people altogether this weekend, somewhere near 200 baptisms yesterday alone, and are still trying to figure out how many people got saved. . . .Yesterday, while singing with the congregation at each of the five services I preach live, I could not stop weeping. People were singing loudly with their hands in the air. They cheered all day as people came forward to give their lives to Jesus and be baptized. The pastors were up front laying hands on people, praying over them, and leading them to Christ by the dozens at every service. I stood off to the side during the singing to watch what God was doing, and multiple people walked up to me weeping and asked me to pray with them to become a Christian.”

Being a student of Edwards and Murray, I have a hard time thinking they are using the typical manipulative techniques advanced (but not invented) by Finney which fit in with his rejection of depravity, substitutionary atonement and other biblical teachings.  It will be interesting to follow this over time.  Hopefully Mark will remain humble, indeed increase in humility, as he watches God changes lives thru the gospel of His Son.

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No, I have not yet read this one.  Lots of people are.  I see it on people’s blogs.  Some rave about it, and others are less enthralled.  Peter Jones has a good critical review of Pagan Christianity at Reformation 21.  What seems to be the problem with the book?

First, Peter mentions that the book does not seek to explain paganism proper.  Viola seems to use it merely to describe a non-Christian influence that is to blame for everything he doesn’t like about the “modern” church in the West.

 “This unexamined term is used as a whip to drive out of the present temple all the money-changers and their godless activities. In addition to “dressing up for church” and Sunday School (“swelling the cranium” 199), such pagan activities include: the notion of a “personal savior” (190); the liturgy (even the hymn-prayer-hymn sandwich); the sermon, the ordained, salaried ministry or “pastoral office” (136); robes; youth pastors; elder directed communities; baptism; the Lord’s supper (“a strange pagan-like rite”197); taking an offering and tithing; denominations; Bible Colleges and seminaries; instruments; hymns and church buildings, and choirs. For its all-knowing pretentiousness, one statement is mind-boggling. (Alas, it characterizes so many of Viola’s generalizations.) Dismissing the place of the sermon in Christian worship, Viola reveals: “…the truth is that the contemporary sermon preached every week…is often impractical…[and] has little power to equip God’s people for spiritual service and functioning” (98-99). He also “knows” that “the Sunday morning service is shamefully boring” (76). How does he know? If these judgments have Barna polling data to support them, they are not mentioned!”

Second, Viola’s book is yet another that traces all the problems to the church back to Constantine making Christianity a legitimate religion.  Okay, it isn’t quite that reductionistic.  But it sounds like all those books that only talk about what is wrong with America (similar to Obama following the stichk of many college professors).  It flattens out reality.  I went through that phase briefly after the Iran-Contra scandal (I was disillusioned by the end of Reagan’s 2nd term).  What happens is you only see what is wrong, and don’t acknowledge what is right.  Yes, Americans have done some horrendous things.  But we hardly have a market on that.  And Americans have done some fantastic things (and are currently doing them in places like Africa).

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Finished up Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution by Jeffery, Ovey & Sach today.  Between being sick and adopting, I went slowly.

I covered the first main section of the book in a previous post.  The rest of the book focused on the objections that are being raised to penal substitution (Jesus suffered God’s wrath in our place).  It spelled them out, including various variations on a theme, and then responded to them.  Some were very easy to respond to- all you do is essentially point to the biblical data in an earlier chapter to show they objection has no merit in fact.  Some show gross misunderstandings or they are only concerned with setting up strawmen.  Some were much more difficult.  Here is some of the main objections, and answers.

Penal Substition is not the only model of the atonement.  I can’t ever remember reading a book that said it was.  The atonement is far more rich, and has many aspects (like a diamond in A.A. Hodges’ words).  But penal substitution is essential to any biblical and meaningful explanation of the atonement.

 Penal substitution diminishes the significane of Jesus’ life and resurrection.  Jesus entire life was part of his atoning work.  His perfect obedience was essential to his saving work.  His resurrection is also essential to his saving work, not just an add on.  It declares that he is the Son of God, and we were raised up in union with him.  He now enjoys the power of everlasting life so he lives forever to intercede for us.  Apart from his substitionary death, he could not rise as the firstfruit of the recreation.

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Pierced for Our Transgressions:Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution by Jeffery, Ovey & Sach is a book that seeks to defend the doctrine of penal substitutionary from contemporary challenges.  This is a much needed book, and I’m glad it was finally published here in the States.  Our British brothers got a head start on us since the authors are Brits.  This book is necessary because challenges old and new have moved out of academia and into more mainstream & popular books by church leaders.  This is not a book for the “choir”, it goes beyond stating what it is, but defends this doctrine from specific challenges and attacks.  It is, therefore, a polemical work.

So far I have read about 200 of the approximately 340 pages.  It has two things going for it immediately.  First, it is well footnoted (yes, not end notes which drive me crazy).  You can quickly see the original reference or any other comments they make that may be pertinent.  Second, there is a good index of biblical references to make this helpful when you are doing research on a topic or text.

I’ll assess the material I have read.  Their introduction summarizes why they felt the great need to write this book, and what they hope to accomplish.  They trace some of the history of academic challenges to this doctrine in the last 100 years or so.  They mention those conservative scholars like Leon Morris and Roger Nicole whose responses to those challenges have largely been ignored, most likely because their critiques of those challenges are so devastating.  Now that these challenges are taking popular form, a popular response is necessary.  This book attempts to be accessible to non-scholars.  I’m not sure if it succeeds in that regard, since I’m more intellectually inclined anyway.  It was accessible to me, but some lay leaders may still be intimidated.

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I haven’t finished The Great Exchange: My Sin for His Righteousness by Jerry Bridges & Bob Bevington yet.  But I’ve read enough to get this review out of my head and off my desk.

This book was “inspired” by George Smeaton’s classic work on the atonement, The Apostles’ Doctrine of the Atonement (or as my copy is titled, The Doctrine of the Atonement According to the Apostles).  They took the same general methodology tracing the doctrine of the atonement through the Scriptures (essentially biblical theology rather than systematic theology).  Smeaton’s book is one of Bridges’ favorite, most important books in addition to the Bible.  He wanted to make its teaching accessible to a new generation of Christians.  In doing so, they briefly covered the Old Testament background to give context to the New Testament’s use of the material.  In doing this Bridges and Bevington were a bit more brief (approximately 300 pages vs. approximately 540 pages). 

Their stated goals are to show the consistency of Scripture in this matter; clearly articulate the time-honored orthodox view of the atonement in an unembellished way (no illustrations or stories) that people might comprehend God’s great work and salvation, and therefore exult in God as a result.

This is a Great Book If…

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Out of Ur sort of enters the Rob Bell discussion with a summary of Rob’s Raleigh, NC stop on his “the gods aren’t angry” tour.  The summary is interesting, the comments are puzzling.  A quick comment about Mark Driscoll’s statements about Rob at the Convergent Conference sparked numerous attacks on Mark Driscoll.  He and his comments were called “irresponsible”, “quick to throw out the heretic label”, “dangerous- a rouge teacher with a serious lack of Christlikeness demonstrated in his conduct”, “needs to mind his own business” and so forth.  I’d been meaning to listen to it, so this drove me to listen to see if I was really missing something.  But first the summary of Rob Bell’s evening in Raleigh.

From the summary, it sounds like Rob, who loves to study and is quite bright, gave a basic study of anthropology and religion.  He interjects Scripture into this rather than using Scripture as the starting point.  Here is the crux of the matter:

“Bell said that big revelation number three came in Jesus. The sacrificial system outlined in Leviticus became corrupt and only led to more anxiety than it relieved. So at just the right time, God revealed that he never really needed our sacrifices anyway. Using quite a bit of humor, irony and pure wit, Bell painted a caricature god who is not complete without what people can provide or perform. Using various sayings from Psalms, Micah, Jesus, Paul’s letters and Hebrews, he drew an alternate picture of the divine: a God who is not dependent on what we do, but who freely loves and pours blessing on us.

“The problem, according to Bell, is not that God is angry with us, but that we think God is angry with us. Thus, Jesus’ purpose wasn’t to change God’s mind about us, but to change our mind about God: to notify us of God’s lack of anger and to free us from the prison of our misconceptions so that we can truly live well. The place of church and religious ritual is to remind us of our standing with God and freedom to live lives of sacrifice and service.”

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WTS Bookstore now has The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor available for $9.89 (34% off the list price).  This is the collection from the 2006 Desiring God Ministries National Conference.  As a reader who loves to mark up his books I’m looking forward to this one so I can better internalize messages like Tim Keller’s.  He’s given it in different forms over the years, but it will be great for me to have it in writing.  It also includes chapters by Mark Driscoll. D.A. Carson, David Wells and Voddie Baucham, Jr..

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I’ve been making my way through John Frame’s Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology.  It has been a good, readable introduction to systematic theology from a triperspectival perspective (say that 3 times fast).  Chapter 19 on the Task of the Church stood out to me this morning.

Frame begins by discussing the inter-relatedness of status (being) and tasks (doing) with regard to the church.  It is (exists) to do; if it isn’t doing, it is really a church.  As sinful people, we tend toward extremes so some stress being over doing with regard to the church.  Scripture, ever true, holds them both in tension.

After this he moves into a discussion of the kingdom which is sure to rankle a few people.  “The gospel, then, is the coming of the kingdom; that is, the coming of the King to make things right.  Incidentally, there is no dichotomy here between gospel and law.  The coming of the King means that he will enforce his law in the world, that he will bring righteousness.  That is the gospel, the good news.  It is important for us to distinguish between salvation by grace and salvation by works, but I don’t think Scripture justifies a sharp distinction between law and gospel.”

That’s a mouthful.  Jesus is subduing rebellious hearts by his grace.  Justified people are also sanctified people who are growing in obedience.  The Law is not null and void- but we aren’t justified by trying to keep the law.  This is important if we are to consider the tasks of the church.  Without law, there really is no place for doing but only being.

He then moves into the tasks of the church as revealed in the Mandates of the Church.  Frame addresses the Cultural, or Creation, Mandate.  It is broken into blessing (normative), filling (existential) and subduing (situational).  It is a good thing for people to multiply (contrary to the zero population growth people) and subdue the earth (not exploit it, but we do utilize it contrary to some environmentalists).  God empowers, or blesses, people to accomplish these tasks.  Frame notes that the creation mandate was given prior to the Fall.  The creation mandate is repeated in the covenants God made with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus.

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Doug Pagitt (author, pastor of Solomon’s Porch, part of Emergent Village, property manager and more) was recently interviewed on Way of the Master (it takes a few minutes to get there) by Tod Friel.  I was reminded of Cool Hand Luke: “What we have he-ya is a failure to communicate.”

One of the issues that I could see was that Doug is committed to biblical theology, and Tod is committed to systematic theology.  Richard Pratt used to tell us we needed both.  Tim Keller made the same point in a sermon I listened to the other day.  We need to look at Scripture diachronically (through time, as revelation progresses or biblical theology) and synchronically (summarizing the overall teaching in systematic theology).

It sounded like both Doug and Tod were ignoring that wisdom, focusing on how they did theology one way and couldn’t understand the other’s way.  Doug wanted to exegete particular passages, while Tod was summarizing the teaching of the Bible on particular subjects.

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I listened to Tim Keller on Being the Church in Our Culture from the 2006 Reform & Resurge Conference this weekend.  It was the second time through, and caught some excellent things.

Contextualization: God’s answers to the questions they’re asking in a form they can understand.”

We don’t ignore the questions of our audience or culture.  Those are the doors into ministry to them.  But the answer is two-fold.  First, it must be God’s answers, not our own or that of another culture.  Second, it must be understandable to them.  Obviously, Satan & unbelief blind people, but we must be careful to watch the form the answer takes so it is understandable to that culture.

In discussing 1 Corinthians 1 & 2, he focused on how Paul contextualized the message of the cross.  Jews wanted power/signs, and Greeks wanted wisdom.  Paul preached Christ crucified (God’s answer) to reveal God’s power to Jews, and God’s wisdom to Gentiles.  He expressed God’s answer to our condition in terms of the questions they asked, and a form they could understand.  But it remained God’s answer in Christ.

In discussing 1 Corinthians 9: “You can’t be all things to all people at the same time.  Ministry choices move us toward some people and away from others.”  Paul was of that particular culture- not a generic man.  He walked the line of contextualization between destructive enculturation (assimilation/apostasy) and protective enculturation (legalism/apostasy).

“Ministry is not adapting too much or too little to the people around you.  Adapting too much is to buy into their cultural idols.  Too little is buying into the idols of another culture.”

With regard to missions, if we have too much humility we become too much like the culture.  If we have too much pride we are too much like our culture of origin.  We need to remain in gospel humility & boast in Christ so we will disenculturate the gospel, and know we have something to say that a particular culture needs to hear.

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Argh!  Another nickname, title, movement or whatever.  I’m familiar with convergent worship (a term popularized by the late Robert Webber).  Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary hosted a conference on the Convergent Church- which if I get Denny Burk right, is the theologically conservative wing of the emerging church (basically Driscoll and Acts 29).  Anyway, Denny has the links to the MP3s by Driscoll, Ed Stetzer and others.

(HT: Between Two Worlds)

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I just finished the first chapter of Richard Lovelace’s Dynamics of Spiritual Life.  Lovelace has been influential on guys like Tim Keller and Jack Miller.  The rather lengthy and dense first chapter traces the history of revivals and renewal.  He is looking to see the common threads in history before moving into the biblical patterns.  He leans heavily on Jonathan Edwards’ works in this area during the First Great Awakening.  Here are some nuggets, and thoughts of mine in response.

From the preface:  (A.W. Boehm) “dismissed much activity in the church as a lifeless product of human conditioning.”  I never cease to be surprised at how complicated, and time-consuming, we have made church.  God intended it to be one of the threads in our lives.  It is the God-ordained community for evangelism, missions, spiritual development and worship.  But we have created churches that keep us (or distract us) from our mission in the world (vocation, family, and more) to maintain complex systems.  I think we are missing something here.

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Actually, we’ll be considering the CT Article on Mark Driscoll.  I read my copy a few weeks ago, and have meant to get to this.  But… I’ve been busy.  The author, Collin Hansen, tries to paint a picture of Driscoll that is honest, balancing his strengths and the criticisms laid against him.  I found the balance a bit off.  It seemed more negative than positive- typified by the reference to Driscoll’s appearance at the 2006 Desiring God Conference, placed under the heading Throwing Rocks: “John Piper says no other speaker at his Desiring God conference has caused such a stir.”  This, in my opinion, sets Mark in an unnecessarily negative light.  His message there was powerful and truthful.  I suspect Piper will have him back again- because John Piper loves the truth and Mark Driscoll does too.  Piper often speaks at Acts 29 and Resurgence conferences.  But this statement can be read to imply that Piper regrets inviting Driscoll.

All of us have blind spots.  Unfortunately for Mark, the whole evangelical world seems to know some of his need for growth.  Mark recognizes many of these sins and weaknesses in his character.  A pastor receives few commendations greater than this: “He asks forgiveness more than any pastor I have ever seen,” she said. “He publicly confesses sin. He’s such a great example to young, idealistic, confident, inexperienced, immature pastors that you have to say you’re wrong when you’re wrong. And he does it to women. I know. He has apologized in times when he has gotten things wrong, and I’m thankful he doesn’t apologize for the things he hasn’t said wrong.”

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David Fairchild (along with Drew Goodmanson) has been thinking about Frame’s triperspectivalism as it impacts ministry.  The diagram is his, from his post on the Transformissional Church.

If you take this from a Simple Church perspective, you see a great picture of what a church is supposed to do.  This also fits with what I wrote in my post on How Churches Change.  The means of all ministry is the Gospel.  All church problems are, somehow and someway, gospel problems.  There has been a breakdown of the gospel.  The norm for all church ministry is to be the gospel.

In the life of the believer, it is to continually produce grace renewal.  Existentially, we change and continue to change as by faith be believe and apply the gospel to our lives.

Another product in our lives is to change our circumstances from in-grown church life to missional church life (meaning we begin to live as missionaries to those around us).  We don’t keep the gospel to ourselves, but communicate it incarnationally and verbally in ways people might understand.

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This the end of Velvet Elvis.  The final chapter is called Good.  And the point is the church should be doing good in society.  Rob Bell wants nothing to do with Christians who retreat from society, focusing on getting to heaven and “saving souls.”  In some ways, Rob provides a good critique of much dispensational thinking.  As usual, Rob seems to provide an over-correction.

Rob does a great job of laying the groundwork for the fact that Jesus will be restoring creation (Romans 8).  Our personal salvation is a part of this cosmic renewal Jesus has begun, which will be completed when He returns.

What Rob neglects is that while we await His return, those who die in Christ are in heaven with Him.  And they shall return with Him to renew the heavens and earth, which shall be our dwelling place with God forever (Revelation 21-22).  He lays this out as the expectation of the prophets in the Old Testament.  Paul’s eschatology is not a departure from OT eschatology (2 peoples => 2 destinies).  Rather, we join true Israel (not replace) in receiving the promises.

There are some “interesting” statements made.  Things that would make the Scriptures unclear to most Christians, and lead some in unhealthy directions.

“Jewish writers like John did things like this all the time in their writings.  They record what seem to be random details, yet in these details we find all sorts of multiple layers of meaning.  There are even methods to help decipher all the hidden meanings in a text.”

Hidden meanings…. dangerous stuff in my mind.  His footnote brings us to Matthew’s genealogy.  There he develops this numerology deal with David’s name in Hebrew (the numbers add to 14, which is how many people make up each section of the genealogy which is supposed to shout “King, King, King” to us.  Most people will go “Cool, I didn’t see that.”

It is not hidden.  Matthew’s Gospel starts with saying Jesus is the son of Abraham and the son of David.  He is the fulfilment of the promises given to these 2 great men of faith.  He is the long awaited Seed who will be for the blessing of the nations, and the King to sit on David’s throne.  It is right there in plain sight, for all to see.  And those themes (expansion to the Gentiles and Jesus as King) run all the way through Matthew’s Gospel.  No secret knowledge necessary to understand some hidden meaning.

It is this promise to Abraham that is important in understanding some of the implications of election.  Problem is, Rob ignores the issue of election for salvation (which is the context of most of the statements concerning our election).  He majors on the minor theme of how we are to be for the blessing of the nations.  Christians need to hear that message too, so we don’t run and hide from society.  We seem to forget that the early church entered a very corrupt society and transformed it with the gospel.  The early Christians took care of the poor and abandoned (as Julian the Apostate noted and applauded).  They saw this as a function and picture of the Gospel.  They did not separate this from the Gospel of salvation.

Sadly, Rob would appear to do this (as the Social Gospel did years ago taking Sheldon’s In His Steps too far).

“And this is because the most powerful things happen when the church surrenders its desire to convert people and convince them to join.  It is when the church gives itself away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return, that the way of Jesus is most vividly put on display.  To do this, the church must stop thinking about everybody primarily in categories of in or out, saved or not, believer or nonbeliever.  … To treat people differently based on who believes what is to fail to respect the image of God in everyone.”

We are to love all- even our enemies.  But family ties being greater responsibilities.  We see this in Paul.  A person who calls themselves a Christian must provide for their family (1 Timothy 5:4-8).  We are to do good, especially to those in the family of believers (Galatians 6:10).  This is a function of our adoption into God’s family.  We should treat all people well, and our family in Christ better.  All people are made in the image of God, but some participate with us in the blessings of salvation.  This is the kind of neglect of God’s whole counsel that irritates me.  By flattening it out, Rob can mislead people just as much as those he is reacting against.  This is what I mean by over-correction.  If your plane is off course, you correct it so it arrives at the proper destination.  You don’t just yank the steering column hard in the other direction and pray for the best.  That is dangerous, not just for you but all those following you.

So ends a book that says some great things, and some really bad things.  Discerning people can identify both and benefit from the good things.  But Rob’s intended audience would appear to be people who don’t have the ability to discern those things.  And they will suffer for it.  And that is sad.

Repainting Mission from the Great Commission => Creation Mandate (reversing the progression of revelation)

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I read Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith’s sixth chapter, New, last night.  I nearly choked.  Rob Bell seems to have painted himself into a corner.  Any issues that popped up before are miniscule compared to what I read last night.  Any thoughts I might have that maybe I was being tough on Rob, well….. vanished.

It starts out okay.  He was weary of counseling a guy who got total depravity real well, but didn’t get the sanctifying grace part at all.  You know… worm theology- a corruption of Calvinism.

But Rob, like Robert Schuller, seems very concerned about what people think about themselves.  So he makes an over-correction to ‘worm theology’.

“Have you ever heard a Christian say, ‘I’m just a sinner’?  I can’t find one place in the teachings of Jesus, or the Bible for that matter, where we are to identify ourselves first and foremost as sinners.  Now this doesn’t mean we don’t sin; that’s obvious.”

A Christian, by definition, is not ‘just a sinner’ because of what Rob talks about next- we have been regenerated and given a new identity.  But, Paul still called himself a sinner, the foremost sinner, in 1 Timothy 1:15.  He did it in a way that he expected all of us to affirm that we are the biggest sinners we know.  BUT, that Jesus came to save sinners like us.  James 4 address Christians as sinners too.  So, while we needn’t beat ourselves up for our sin, since it accomplishes nothing, we shouldn’t avoid the fact we are sinners- not just that we sin.

“Beating others up about who they are and what they are doing is going in the wrong direction.  It is working against the purposes of God.  God is not interested in shaming people; God wants people to see who they really are.”

Now Rob starts to go down the wrong road.  He thinks that ministry is primarily telling people who they are now, not telling them to stop being who they were.  I have a hard time with this sentiment of his since much of the New Testament is filled with rebuke and admonishment.  Thankfully, the power to change comes to us from the crucified, resurrected and ascended Jesus through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  We have power to live differently, and a new identity as God’s adopted children.  These go together, always together.  But sometimes we need to be rebuked so we’ll repent.  God certainly shamed Israel to try and produce repentance (read those prophets like Ezekiel, Hosea and Jeremiah- that’s some serious shaming going on).

(more…)

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