Category Archives: sound doctrine

Reformed Theology and Southern Baptists: The Masses Don’t Care

English: Postage stamp depicting Martin Luther...

English: Postage stamp depicting Martin Luther, the initiator of the Protestant Reformation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many of my friends and associates work in churches and ministries.  Some of them talk quite a bit about being “reformed.”  They make it a point to bring this up often.  Some even go as far as to include the label on their blogs and websites.  Presently, there are debates among Southern Baptist leaders about who is the most reformed, or whether it is OK to breath the word in the context of their ministries.  Southern Baptists go as far as to offer conferences addressing reformed theology and to issue informal statements about their theological positions in an effort to garner support and approval from like-minded leaders.  Have we taken this discussion too far?  The Protestant Reformation occurred hundreds of years ago.

Can we not agree on whether God is sovereign over all things, that humanity is fallen, that the saved are elect, that salvation is in Christ alone, that sanctification leads to the transformation of persons and society?  Why is this still being debated?  Could it be that denominational leaders are so narcissistic that they want to continue the argument so that they draw attention to themselves and to their own glory for being in such a superior theological position than others?  Or are they afraid they are going to lose influence if they don’t line up with their cronies and continue to draw the unassuming masses to their churches?

I have a response for reformers.  My answer may sound a bit smug, but I don’t intend it to be that way.  My answer goes something like this, “One thing I am sure of—I seek to be conformed and transformed.”  I like these words.  Conformed and transformed.

By now you know that I am referring to a couple of passages in Scripture, Romans 8:29 and Romans 12:2.  Romans 8:29 refers to how God has called us “to be conformed to the image of His Son.”  In contrast to this type of conformity, Romans 12:2 tells us what not to be conformed to:  “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

It seems that all the reformed guys are more intent on being conformed to their reformed counterparts than they are on being conformed to the image of Christ.  I don’t hear much coming from these guys about the “conforming” that God works in us, the ultimate and complete sanctification.  This is the goal of our relationship with God through Christ Jesus.  Conformation implies that there is something already established that is the object of our conformation.  This is God’s will and it is a concept that we must grapple with in order to understand His will.

The act of transformation involves something in transition, namely ourselves and our constant act of turning our mind toward God in each thing we are confronted with in the world.  It is a metamorphosis, a total change from the inside out that is led by the mind.  My mind is transformed as I pray, as I read God’s Word, as I involve myself in fellowship with other believers.  This transformation is essential in discovering God’s will for our lives.

Be careful of the tendency to ignore conforming and transforming.  Sometimes the snare is the theological issue of the day, things that tend to puff up rather than to produce the humility and patience of being conformed to His image.  My prayer is that Christians would carefully examine their hearts to see if God is working in them in such a way that produces this image in them.

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Bonnaroo, Woodstock, and Cultural Messages to Consider

English: Richie Havens at the Woodstock Festival

English: Richie Havens at the Woodstock Festival (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bonnaroo 2012 just ended its 4-day camping festival near Manchester, Tennessee.  Great musical acts made new friends among the throngs of young searchers.  There were remnants from Woodstock as well, those baby boomers who decided life was all about rock ‘n roll and staying high.

I was only 11 at the time of Woodstock, so I look back on that event in modern history curiously.  My interests in music fuel this curiosity and I really enjoy some of the ground-breaking rock from that era.  Today, even my grown children take pleasure in listening to and emulating in their own music the rock of bands in the late 60s and early 70s.  It has been hailed perhaps as the greatest period of development in that genre.

But what about the cultural impact?  No doubt, if I had been a young college student at the time I may have participated in the revelry at Woodstock.  The event signaled a time when young people exerted their freedom over the lives given them by a previous generation.  This freedom energized all forms of revolution.

As put by Woodstock performer Richie Havens, we were “at the exact center of true freedom” during the festival.  Havens ended his set with the old spiritual “Motherless Child” and a mantra of one word shouted intensely by the crowd:  “Freedom!”

It is foreboding that this concert called Woodstock actually was held 42 miles away in the hamlet of “Bethel.”  In Scripture, Bethel marks the spot where Jacob dreamed of a stairway to heaven with angels going up and coming down the stairs.  Jacob slept with his head on a stone and that stone later memorialized this place of communion between God and man.

Was God present at the Woodstock festival, or even at the recent Bonnaroo?  Yes, His “omnipresence”  and “omniscience” tells us He was.  Nothing on this earth happens without His knowledge.  But the freedom shouted by Havens and the concertgoers could have really meant bondage to some way of life that did not come from a dream on a stone pillow, but from a stoned mirage promulgated among the yearning young people of the day.  That bondage perhaps remains evident among the aging hippies at Bonnaroo.

For the Woodstock age, this freedom of expression from so-called restraints placed on them by their parents and the gray flannel society of the day ultimately led to one of the most self-centered and confused generations in history.  Freedom led to bondage to drugs and diseases we still fight today.  Look at the musicians of the day.  Some died from overdoses, others so stoned and drunk they performed wretchedly on stage.  Yes, they were free but they did not seek the wisdom that could truly set them free.

Let’s be careful today to remember the lessons from Woodstock and even Bonnaroo.  Our exercise of freedom must consider our God and His plans.  Looking to Him will set us free.  You may never know this if you stay in the funk of a Woodstock-stained freedom.  Jesus said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

The Bible, Google It

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Is Google Making Us Stupid? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You all have felt it. It was just a matter of time. Years of surfing the internet has finally caught up with us. Yes, I am talking about the effect of spending massive, cumulative amounts of time online on our brains.

For me, I can think back into the 1990s at some point when the web enticed me into its massive reserve of available information. I had been a library junkie all my life, leafing through pages of information about places and things I enjoy for long periods of time between the stacks. Now thanks to the internet, I could search volumes of information with mere clicks. Pretty soon I got to be very good at this and could ramble through web page after web page without processing anything but key words from the pages. Now, I must confess, these days the web has become the conduit for lots of the information that flows into my mind.

I found a concern over this online information processing in a recent article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr, in the current issue of The Atlantic. Carr says that his past decade on the computer rendered him unable to concentrate, that perhaps the neural circuitry of his brain is remapped and his memory reprogrammed. Further, Carr says he used to be able to immerse himself in books and long articles, relishing the narratives of these talented authors; however, today he becomes fidgety and cannot endure any extended amounts of time reading. Huge amounts of research can be done in little time, a boon for writers like Carr, but this form of “power browsing” mimics a form of skimming, i.e., hopping from one source to another source and retaining only small snatches of information.

This may have implications for future generations of Christ followers. Young believers, and some not-so-young believers, today spend huge amounts of time plugged into something, whether it be the internet, cellphones, blue-tooth devices, all making some folks look like human cyborgs. Even text messaging is a hybrid, cyborg-ic form of communication with its short, pithy remarks and lack of care over spelling and form. Our imaginations can run with this stuff and cause us to worry over the technological advances that supposedly have made our lives easier and more advanced. The web has woven something, and I think it is our brains. There may be an appearance of wisdom, but something is lacking.

Is there any wonder that fewer today are reading their Bibles? (Check out the Barna polls). We know that God’s Word is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16), but how can it be if we are unable to meditate on it, dwell in it, and talk about it coherently. Have we been reduced to a mish-mash of gray matter that cannot process even one book of the Bible without losing focus? It is time to counter this trend and return to the tried and true methods of observation, interpretation, and application of God’s Word so that our faith, which is more precious than gold, will be refined and be our one constant in a day of rapid change. God’s Word is a lamp for our feet, and a light for our path—it is not merely a hyperlink to heaven in this cyber age. We may be just one step away from the New Revised Google Version of the Bible.

Preliminary Considerations When Studying Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual Gift Lists

Image via Wikipedia

Like Paul expressed in 1 Corinthians 12:1, “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.”

Have you ever studied what Scripture says about “spiritual gifts?”  The key passages are Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4.  From these passages we observe some overriding thoughts that should govern our study:

1.  The church is not merely a building or an agency, it is a living organism.  The church is the Body of Christ and Christ is the head of the body.

2.  The church cannot function properly without the operation of spiritual gifts among its members.

3.  The exercise of spiritual gifts within the church leads to unity, not division.

4.  Discovering our spiritual gifts involves offering ourselves up as living sacrifices to the Lord.  We yield, we present our bodies, we have no right to ourselves.

5.  There is a distribution of gifts in the body, so in a way we can say there is diversity in unity.

6.  Spiritual gifts are grace gifts and there is a measure of faith in exercising these gifts.

7.   When you exercise your spiritual gift, you will be fulfilled and others will be edified.  God will be glorified.

8.  The exercise of our spiritual gifts should make us less self-conscious and more others-conscious.

9.  We often have a central, motivating spiritual gift; however, more than one spiritual gift may be seen in one believer.

These are just a few points of emphasis as you begin a study of spiritual gifts.

Do you know your spiritual gift?  If not, begin by asking God to show you.

Be On Your Guard

Christ and The Pharisees

Image via Wikipedia

The situation in Northern Africa this week prompted thoughts on the common traits of corrupt leaders.  Typically these traits center on control.  Their leadership is coercive.  They rely on oppression and force to stay in power.

Along these lines and perhaps timely, Mitch Horowitz provided a short essay for the Wall Street Journal this week entitled, “When Does a Religion Become a Cult?”  Horowitz is editor in chief of Tarcher / Penguin in New York and the author of Occult America.  Through his studies and observations, Horowitz sees common threads among various religious groups that give them the stamp of a “cult.”  These criteria include:  behavior control, information control, thought control, emotional control, financial control, and extreme leadership.

Christians should learn much from these observations.  It should prompt us to “be on our guard.”  How do we guard ourselves?  What does Scripture teach?

Surely this is an important concept because our Lord Jesus instructed His followers often to be alert, take heed, be on your guard.  Paul uses this concept as well when writing the epistles.  For example, Jesus said in Luke 12:1, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees.”  Paul’s closing comments to the church at Corinth include the admonition to “be on your guard” (1 Cor. 16:13).

Take time to study a few more verses that deal with the concept.  I would suggest that Proverbs 22:5 be the basis for your study:  “In the paths of the wicked lie thorns and snares, but he who guards his soul stays far from them.”

Review passages surrounding these verses as well:  Acts 20:31 and I Timothy 6:20-21.  Also, Paul’s letter to the Colossian church provides a good study on this topic.

A Resurgence of Interest in Reading the Bible?

A collection of Bibles in Taiwanese.

Image via Wikipedia

A friend gave us a compilation of the writings of Gordon H. Clark and we have enjoyed thinking through some of the arguments for biblical authority.  “The Bible alone is the Word of God,” says Clark, underscoring his commitment to the hallmark of evangelical theology.  I like this other thought expressed so well by Clark, “The biblical doctrine of inspiration demands that we view language as a divinely-appointed tool for the communication of thought.”

Now on to the question, is there currently a resurging interest in reading the Bible?  Maybe.  Take for example the New York Times bestseller Radical by David Platt.  Radical reached as high as number 10 as a NYT bestseller back in May or June.  Platt talks a lot about areas around the world where believers gather to read and study God’s Word in secret church meetings.  He started a “secret church” at the church he pastors.  Then, at the end of the book, he challenges Christians to do 5 radical things for one year.  One of the radical things, number 2 on the list, is to systematically read through the Bible over the course of the next year.

Many ministries and pastors have encouraged plans to read through the Bible in a year.  But Platt combines it with other radical challenges in a formula that would stir the American churchgoers to consider more deeply what it means to follow Christ.  I do pray that this challenge does not go unnoticed, and that pastors from all pulpits in the U.S. would issue a similar challenge.  I believe God wants us to hear from Him and He gave us His Word for this purpose.

The other challenge I see that might indicate God’s people are being drawn back to His Word comes from The Seed Company, the Bible-translation wing of Wycliffe.  It’s called the Blank Bible Challenge.  For 353 million people in the world, the Bible is a blank book.  They have no Scriptures in their language.  On the flip side, 66% of American Christians never or rarely read their Bibles.  So the challenge is this: spend 28 days opening up God’s Word and reading.  Also, listen to Bible storytellers on The Seed Company website and other inspirational web videos.   Through this exercise, they hope to develop interest in funding the translation of the Bible into the final 2200 languages where the Bible is unavailable.

All of this encourages me.  There must be a resurgence in reading God’s Word so that we know and do God’s will.  We must pray for laborers to be sent into the harvest and maybe this resurgence in Bible reading will help encourage those who are being led in that direction.

Look around your day-to-day life and see if you need more of God’s Word in it.  Learn how to study it, to treasure it, and to make it a priority.  The Lord wants us to seek Him and being in His Word is a wonderful way to carry this out.

The Last American Evangelical

Look around and see if you can find one.  They used to carry some weight with their notions of redemption and righteous living that they wanted their American neighbors to embrace.  It was a few elections ago that their influence carried a President into office.  They supported missions, protected the unborn, and rejected liberal thought.  The books they read reflected the concerns of their modern Christian lives: books on family, raising strong-willed children, how to honor God with your money, keeping your life pure and clean, finding out your love language, men’s issues, women’s issues, teens issues, how to be happy, how to be happy at your job, how to be happy at home, how to have a happy family, etc.  Their Bibles provided a resource for answers, but the questions arose from selfish motives.  God’s Word conveniently supported their positions on issues and gave them brief devotional messages to start or end the day.  “This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it,” wowed them enough to want to be glad no matter what the day brought.

These were the American evangelicals.  They sought refuge with each other in their pursuit of the good things of life yet may have moved away from their purpose, or should I say God’s purpose for them, to evangelize.  Some may say this is indicative of the post-modern day we live, however the roots go deeper than we can imagine and may indicate some challenging days ahead for the evangelical churches in America.

Why the alarm? First look at Christian leaders.  They seem to be rejecting the label of evangelical in favor of other labels.  Probably the most popular label today is “reformed.”  We have so much emphasis placed on this particular issue today that even the most earnest pastors and Christian leaders want others to know first and foremost that they are reformed in their thinking and their theology.  You don’t have to go far to see this.  Just visit the blogs of some of these leaders like Al Mohler, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Mark Dever, C.J. Mahaney, and others to see that being reformed is trumpeted as their prime theological position.  It is hard to find these guys talk about being evangelical.  They even have conferences to help pastors understand that they are really reformed in their thinking.

Second, biblical literacy is perhaps at an all-time low among average American Christians.  Check out Barna on this.  Just engage in a conversation about doctrine and you’ll see that the average American Christian can’t tell you about the major doctrines of the faith even in layman’s terms.  Their small groups get into certain lifestyle topics and take a Christian slant by basing their discussions on one or two relevant Bible verses, but they have difficulty expressing thoughts about God, man, salvation, Jesus, the church to others.

Third, look at the decline in giving to missions in the mainline church and perhaps even decline in memberships at these churches.  This is especially evident if you look at giving over a period of time in constant dollars.  There is talk about the inability to send new missionaries to the field.  Those missionaries already on the field are concerned.

And what about declines in memberships at mainline churches?  Some of this may reflect the de-emphasis of what it means to be a part of the local church.  You see this particularly in the venues where pastors are referred to as “great speakers” and where music and worship receives major emphasis.  Yes, baptisms are down but we sure do know how worship!  Some of these churches don’t even keep lists of regular attenders.

I hope this is not beginning to sound too cynical, but I do think we are seeing a monumental shift in church life that is moving us away from the old ways of doing church.  And with this maybe we are seeing the term “evangelical” being shuffled back into a closet with all the old hymnals and choir robes.  One thing is for certain—we can reconcile evangelism and the sovereignty of God, remembering that we as Believers must bear the responsibility of evangelism while understanding God’s sovereign role in the salvation of man.   Let’s strive together to make sure we are not one of the last American evangelicals.