Pastoral Issues

James MacDonald’s Resignation – D. Phillips

I regard myself as pretty old school.  I don’t much care for the evangelicalism of the 21st Century.  I feel much more at home with D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones or J. C. Ryle than I do with John Piper and Wayne Grudem.  I know many people don’t see much of a difference, but I believe (like Peter Masters) that Lloyd-Jones and Ryle would.

For one thing there is the charismatic emphasis: something older evangelicals would have had no truck with.  Then there is the lack of discernment, the stress upon experience, the vulgarity of some YRR leaders, and the cult of personality and its horrid attendant, the publishing prostitute.  Then there is the seeming underhand Calvinizing going on in the SBC (I would find Arminianizing just as objectionable).

The problem has once again been highlighted with Reformed scholar Michael Sudduth’s defection to, of all things, Hare Krishna!  And still more telling of the state of much evangelicalism today is the kerfuffle surrounding the resignation of Pastor James MacDonald from The Gospel Coalition.

I regard myself as several removes away from MacDonald and his ministry, and I believe older evangelicals would too.  If you want a little insight into why I say that, you ought to read Dan Phillips’ thoughts on MacDonald’s resignation.  Dan has his own opinions and he does not necessarily agree with everything I’ve just said.  But I really like this piece.

Dan Phillips: Even Better Than The Race Card {tm}

Review: “Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites” by Bradley Wright

Review of Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told, by Bradley R. E. Wright, PhD, Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010, 249 pages, pbk

I am not one to read many books written by sociologists.  The occasional work by Os Guinness and the obligatory few by Peter Berger are about it.  I recall breezing through one of Barna’s books about ten years back.  Quite honestly, though such reading has been profitable, I have come away wondering just how much I could trust the work I had just read.

So when a friend gave me Bradley Wright’s book to read, I wondered whether I would ever get around to it.  Well, a gap in my schedule opened up and I cracked it open.  And I have to say, I’m glad I did.  I found the book at once diverting, encouraging and informative. Wright writes about statistics, but it’s not a big yawn.  There are a few good reasons for this.  Firstly, the author has a sense of humor.  This winsomeness is enhanced with many examples of self-deprecation, such as the inclusion of an 80′s photograph of himself with the comment: “There I am on the right, with a scowl, longish hair, and a disco-print shirt.  Now look closely at that picture – do you think the adults of that generation had any faith in the future based on teens like us?” (59-60).

The book is an agreeable conversation all the way through.  Yet it is more than that.  It is also a serious bit of scholarship by an expert in the field based upon the best sources.  No wonder it carries some impressive endorsements by Rodney Stark, Philip Jenkins and others.  Wright tells his readers something about good and bad statistics, and lets them know where he’s getting his information from.  He has some words of criticism for popular pollsters and certain Christian writers who paint a dreary outlook for evangelical Christianity based on less than stellar research.  His own research gives the lie to many of the common myths about Christian declension that have been doing the rounds.  He writes,

Essentially, people who associate themselves with Christianity, as compared to the religiously unaffiliated, are more likely to have faithful marriages, commit less crime, interact honestly with others, and get into as much trouble with drugs or alcohol.  What’s more, the more committed Christians are to their faith, as measured by church attendance, the greater the impact the church’s teachings seem to have on their lives. (152).

The chapters in the book address topics of interest and importance to believers.  They bear such titles as, “Is American Christianity on the Brink of Extinction?”; “Are Evangelicals All Poor, Uneducated, Southern Whites?”; and “What Do Non-Christians Think of Us?”  These questions are answered with historical and demographic data, which make it extremely helpful for pastors.  Add to this the fact that Wright sees no good reason, if his statistics mean anything, to sound the death-knell of evangelicalism, and the book may be a bit of a tonic for those in ministry who are feeling increasingly embattled by the onset of secularism and relativism.  The news is not as grim as we have been told.  

Another commendable thing about this author is that  he doesn’t go in for extrapolation.  He just repeats his findings.  But on the whole he believes the church is not doing too badly at all.  Indeed, even when it comes to the worrying question about the youth in the church, Wright gives evangelicalism a B- and not an F.  

An interesting factoid which emerged from Wright’s research is that the name “Evangelical” conjures up more negative vibe among unbelievers than, say, the word “Baptist.”  I’m not sure what one would do with a fact like that, but it might give some Christians pause if they are thinking of following the trend of taking the word “Baptist” out of their church name.

I shall not report on the author’s specific findings because I want you to buy the book and read it for yourself.  Perhaps it will encourage you as it did me.  I only wish I had picked the book up before giving some talks recently in which I dispensed some of the bad news about the demise of the church in America and the defection of our young people from their Christian upbringings!  We live and learn.

What he does confirm is that the most likely place to come across intolerance and animus against evangelical Christianity is among college and university faculty.  No surprise there, but it’s nice to have the feeling confirmed by the evidence.

This book will not stop me from bewailing the state of our churches and its shepherds: social science does not present us with the whole picture.  And Wright himself does not say that the picture is very rosy in some important areas such as our tolerance of others, and the  issue of race.  But at least I shall not feel as free to “prove” the general declension via poorly gathered research.  And I take comfort in Wright’s reportage of an evangelicalism that is not quite the imploding phenomenon I have been believing it was!

Four Talks on ‘The Family and the Church’

The first weekend of July I had the pleasure of being a guest speaker at the Family Retreat in Waxahachie, TX.  I had been given the broad title “The Family and the Church.”  Praise God, even though they were quite hard-hitting, the talks were well received.  Here is an outline of each presentation, which was given under the auspices of Veritas School of Theology:

First Presentation: All in the Family

This talk centered on the key institution of marriage in God’s structuring of society, and the very different definitions of “marriage” in the world and the Church.  I cited two worldly definitions; one from Psychology Today, and one from Wikipedia, to demonstrate the looseness of these views.  I noted that “love” in such definitions did not entail a full commitment to the other in the biblical sense, but that it referred more to a sentiment or feeling.  I also pointed out that according to these sources, marriage and family were human inventions and institutions, and hence were fixed by convention only.

Contrasting this with the Bible’s portrait I used an excellent definition of marriage from John Stott, noting that it was both specific and others-centered.  I also called the audiences attention to the fact that “love” was not in most sound definitions of marriage for the reason that it is liable to be grossly misconceived.  I closed with short expositions of Genesis 1:26-28a; 2:18-24, and Matthew 19:3-9, making sure to include a last slide addressing the issue of sex before marriage and its damaging affects.

Second Presentation: Divided Families and the Church

I began this talk with some reflections on the impact of secularization and its dehumanizing influence.  I then tied this to the Church’s lapses in not correctly reading this cultural turn, asking if the Church (and the individual believer) knows how and when to say “No!” to the cultural mores.

From there I launched into a study of “Love” in biblical perspective.  Understanding love is crucial to understanding our difference as Christian couples and Christian families.  From there I turned to the husbands and the commandment to “love your wives.”  I told the men (and myself) that “if there is no love in the home it is the husband’s fault.”  Then we studied Ephesians 5:22-33, first for men, and then for women.  I finished off with a quote from John Angel James: “If they would preserve love, let them be sure to study most accurately each others tastes and distastes, and most anxiously abstain from whatever, even in the minutest things, they know to be contrary to them.”

Third Presentation: The Concept of the Church

I took the opportunity here not to teach ecclesiology, but to to build upon what I had already said and highlight the fact that families make up the greater part of the Church, and thus, local churches ought to be expanded families.  I again reminded those present of the threat of our culture’s values and how they have seeped into the Church.  Then I studied briefly the meaning of the word ekklesia, defining it as “a summoned community in Christ.”

The next part of the presentation was a run through “What God wants to see” in the individual (from the Beatitudes), and then the local church (focusing on Romans 12).  The lecture ended with a contrast of the two last churches addressed by the Lord in Revelation 3.

Fourth Presentation: Church, Family and the Word

The final talk was given more extempore as I had been getting many different kinds of questions from different age groups who were there.  I wanted to anchor this talk on the importance of the life of faith for all Christians, no matter what there situation may be.  I grounded the talk in an exposition of Ecclesiastes 8:1-7, noting that I was deliberately taking some liberty with the passage by replacing the earthly king of the context with the King of kings.

Among the things I noted was the connection between wisdom and humility.  I asked husbands and wives and children if they were willing to be corrected by their spouse/parents.  I then tried to drive home the cruciality of not deserting God because of our misperception of His lack of interest in our condition.

From here I moved onto the subject of the awkwardness of change.  What I meant was the question of what others will think of me if I am not as selfish and absorbed as usual.  This was tied into the true meaning of love as service for another.  The presentation concluded with a mention of the truth that we need to recognize the structure which the Lord has built into the physical and moral world and move in accordance with it and not against it (this is the Dooyeweerdian stuff on “structure” and “direction” which I think is a keen insight, although I didn’t bother to reference the Dutchman himself in this context!).

The talks each ended with stimulating Q&A.  I thank God that the feedback has thus far been very positive.  now I need to practice more of what I preach!

Christian Dating: Yes or No?

I am off to give a series of talks on “The Church and the Family” this weekend, so here is an old post to fill the absence of something new this week.

I suppose every Pastor would say that the issue of dating is one of the most important for him to have a clear stance on. A number of practical, not to say emotive issues are involved. In this short paper I would like to give what I believe is the biblical perspective. Others might well disagree with me, but I firmly believe that the following view is both God-honoring and “ in-line” with the life of faith to which all Christians, of whatever age, are called (2 Cor. 5:7).
Speaking Personally

It may help if first I say a word or two about my own experience. I was married to Gina in 1997. I was 35 years old. Prior to meeting Gina I had courted only one other lady, and that was for two months at the beginning of 1996! (By the way, we were not meant for each other).

As strange as it may appear, I had not had a girlfriend before I was 33. Even before I was saved I believed there was something shallow and self-serving about most of the dating relationships I knew of. But that is beside the point. When I became a Christian at the age of 24, I decided that I wanted God’s choice for me. Yes, I looked around, but I did not find anyone who shared the same zeal for learning the truth as I had. Too many of the Christians I came into contact with were more superficial and selfish than the friends I had in the world. I felt no spiritual affinity with the girls I met; though of course there were physical and personal attractions.

For my part, I can say that I am very glad I waited for God’s timing. I was enabled to overcome a number of obstacles to faith by concentrating on four questions:

a) Does God know how I feel?
b) Has He forgotten about me?
c) Should I compromise the truth as I see it in order to get a girlfriend?
d) Am I prepared to be single if God does not answer my prayers affirmatively?

I think the answers I gave to these questions (and I think they can only be answered in one way by the child of faith–cf. Rom. 14:23) exclude any concept of Christian dating; I believe that this conclusion is scriptural.

Scripture, History, and Jeramy Clark

Everyone must admit that the Bible never mentions dating. At least, I do not know of any example that has been brought forward by those who approve of it.

A case in point is the new book by Jeramy Clark titled I Gave Dating a Chance. For example, Clark employs two OT stories as pro-dating illustrations; the story of Rebekah (pp. 57-58), and of Joseph (pp.79-80). He does this without realizing that neither Rebekah nor Joseph were ever asked on a date, nor ever went on one. In fact, Rebekah’s story is a perfect illustration of why dating is unwarranted for a man or woman of faith.

However, not to be confused by the facts, on page 22, Clark has a table of the world’s dating rules vs. God’s dating rules. God’s dating rules are:

1) Look at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7).
2) Live for God’s will (1 Pet. 4:2).
3) Look out for others (Phil. 2:3).
4) Be real and honest (Eph. 4:25).
5) Follow Him (Prov. 3:1-2).

Of course, none of these references are about dating! This procedure is what is called “proof-texting”, and Mr. Clark is a master craftsman. Another instance is found early in his book when, in order to show that dating is God’s will he produces Psalm 37:4 as proof. One might prove a lot of things with Psalm 37:4 used in this way. There is simply no interpretative control.

It is difficult to keep up with Clark’s logic, but in order to pursue our point, we shall try. On page 12, he equates dating with falling in love. But his definition of dating (p. 16) does not even include the idea of love, and this definition dictates much of what he says in the book.

Again, although he talks a lot about God’s will, he illustrates his arguments with tales that contradict his advice. A classic one is about meeting a stewardess on a flight (p. 76). Upon setting eyes on this woman he asks the Lord why he couldn’t meet a girl like that. Well, sure enough “…that prayer got answered”. After 3 months they discovered they had nothing in common. Presumably it was God’s will for Clark to meet the wrong person; and not once or twice either. The book is replete with personal examples; indeed, we submit that Clark’s title for his book is an understatement! So we were not at all surprised to discover that Clark got his inspiration for his philosophy for dating from a TV commercial (pp. 8-9).

When we take a historical view of dating, we discover that it is conspicuous by its absence in the history of the Church. It seems that the Christians in past centuries have not considered dating to be an option. The Puritans, for example, would not have entertained it for a moment. Commenting on their view of searching for a companion, J. I. Packer writes,

“The wise way to form an opinion about possible partners is to find out their reputation, watch how they act in company, how they dress and talk, and note whom they select as friends.” (A Quest for Godliness, p. 268) We agree entirely!

A Spiritually Inclement Climate

Something more that needs to be considered is the present spiritual climate. For example, Dr. Gary Burge recently complained that a majority of his freshman Bible students at Wheaton College did not have any real Bible knowledge at all, even though most “come from strong evangelical churches and possess a long history of personal devotion and Christian involvement.” (Christianity Today, Aug. 9, 1999, p. 45) In his analysis of the problem of Bible illiteracy, Burge concludes:

“The Bible does not provide us with the mental furniture of our lives anymore. And…this is as true in the church as it is for the secular culture.” (Ibid, p. 48)

To this opinion, I should like to add another:

“There is a yawning chasm between what evangelical faith was in the past and what it frequently is today,…between the former spirituality and the contemporary emptiness and accommodation.” (David Wells, No Place For Truth, p. 135)

In such a spiritual climate, where “feeling is rapid, but learning is slow” (Ibid, 173-174) are we now to give the green light to a concept of dating that is seen neither in the Bible nor in the history of the Church?

One final thought, the doctrine of Providence is surely at variance with the hit and miss view advocated by Clark and his ilk. Morton Smith writes, “The Biblical view of Providence is that God has not left His creation alone, but continues to preserve and sustain it, and also to govern and control all that takes place in it.” (Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, p. 209) Including life-partners? We think so!

Conclusion

In conclusion, we say that the terms “Christian” and “dating” are incompatible. We say this for the following reasons, not all of which we have had time to address.

· Scripture never mentions dating.
· Dating is a recent phenomenon.
· Dating contradicts the doctrine of Providence.
· Dating is not conducive to a life of faith and trust.
· The temptations are too great (as Clark, in his more lucid moments, seems to agree, see pp. 35, 109, 145, 157).
· The notion of experimental dating relationships has not restrained the scandalous rates of divorce within the Christian community, and stems more from pragmatism than from theology.
· Should Christians enter into relationships if they are not looking to marry (i.e. to court)? I am persuaded the answer is no.

Do we trust God? Does he know our desires? Then let us glorify Him by not looking for dates but waiting patiently for God to answer our prayers.

The Call to the Ministry: Further Thoughts

This post follows up an earlier one in which I  looked at the “desire” of First Timothy 3:1.

Again, what is the “Desire”?

We are looking into the subject of the Call to the Ministry.  Last time we considered the “desire” of 1 Timothy 3:1, and we saw that whichever way you cut it, this desire must be qualified in order to exclude carnal and fleshly impulses, overly romanticized fleeting impressions, the cocksure preenings of proud self-assuredness, or the recognition of persons in breach of biblical morality.  Thus, a true “desire” to preach and pastor boils down to something that is produced in a man by the influence of God Himself.

We are saying that the desire to be an overseer/elder/pastor (it’s the same office. Cf. 1 Pet. 5:1-3), must be placed there by the One who calls and sends.  If that assertion is right, then this kind of call to the ministry must be subject to testing over a sustained period of time to see if it is the right thing or not, and to mature the one involved. That is what John Newton and C. H. Spurgeon and many others held to be almost axiomatic in order for the wheat, as it were, to be separated from the chaff. And that is why Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote that whenever anyone told him he thought he was called to preach, he (MLJ) would see it as his duty to try to talk him out of it!

This understanding of the ministerial call was very decided in Lloyd-Jones.  In his lectures at Westminster Seminary in the late 1960’s he spoke thus:

“A preacher is not a Christian who decides to preach …he does not even decide to take up preaching as a calling… preaching is never something one decides to do.  What happens rather is that he becomes conscious of a ‘call.’ There must …be a sense of constraint.  This is surely the most crucial test….I would say that the only man who is called to preach is the man who cannot do anything else, in the sense that he is not satisfied with anything else.” – D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 103-105.

C. H. Spurgeon, of course, said something very similar.

Romans 10:14-15: Preachers Are Sent

Another important text which must be studied in this connection is in Paul’s Letter to the Romans, chapter 10.  In verse 14 and 15a of this chapter, the Apostle wrote:

“How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have never heard?  And how shall they hear without a preacher?  And how shall they preach unless they be sent?

There are a number of matters to be settled in relation to this text.  First, what does it mean to “be sent” and who does the sending?  Second, what rubric, if any, is Paul drawing on?  Finally, what alternatives are there to the common interpretation?

In answer to the first question, Douglas Moo observes,

“By repeating the verb from the end of one question at the beginning of the next, Paul creates a connected chain of steps that must be followed if a person is to be saved.”The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT, 663.

Further, the quotation of Isaiah 52:7 after the fourth and final question in v.15 fortifies the importance of God Himself sending out His heralds.  There is then something of an official air to this section.  It is worth reproducing a longish passage from F.F. Bruce in support of this:

“Men and women are urged to call on the name of the Lord and be saved; but they will not call on his name unless they have been moved to believe in him, they cannot believe in him unless they hear about him, they cannot hear about him unless someone brings them the news, and no-one can bring them the news unless he is commissioned to do so.  The preacher is an ‘apostle’ in the primary sense of the word: he is a herald or ambassador conveying from someone who has commissioned him to deliver it.”Romans, TNTC, 193-194.

The second question is also answered by the Apostle’s inclusion of the Isaiah passage.  The original context is clearly kingdom-oriented and eschatological.  Paul takes advantage of this context in his larger argument in chapters 9 through 11; which is that Israel still has a future in God’s plans.  Thus, the heralds are appointed by God to proclaim the good news to Israel too, in line with their future expectation. (more…)

The Assurance of New Life – Psa. 118:17

I’m a bit slammed right now.  I have several posts coming, but can’t finish any of them now.  Here’s a “devotional” filler from the past.

Intro.

Psalms 113 to 118 form what is known as the “Hallel”; a set of Psalms that have for millennia been sung at the Feast of the Passover and other festivals. At the Passover Psalms 113 and 114 were sung before the meal and Psalms 115 through 118 were sung after it. Thus, in the Gospels we read that at the Last Supper, “after they had sung a hymn they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Matt. 26:30). This means that this text was on the lips of our Lord just prior to His arrest and Passion!

1. The Testimony of a Child of God

At one time or another most Christians have dealt with folks who were quite indignant about the Christian claim to actually know their sins are forgiven and that they are safe for all eternity.

To make such a statement – to believe that one may have perfect assurance about going to heaven when we die, strikes some people as presumptuous in the extreme. Their experience of life tells them that nothing is for certain – not in this life, so how can we be sure of what will be in the next life (if there is one)? How could any rational person say with the Apostle Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”? “No” they say, “that is just in that old book, you can’t believe what that book says.”

Now, if their contention is true, or if it has any grounds, then I would have to admit that we Christians can’t really know what we profess to know. We cannot know for sure that when we die we shall enter into new life; that we shall, as it were, be released from the grip of death and shall step out of this life and into eternal bliss with our God and our Redeemer. If they are correct, they need not listen to the Gospel. The Gospel, in fact, would not be worth the preaching! (more…)

The Call to the Ministry: A Crucial Subject

I am busy trying to do too many things at once.  I have just assembled a desk only to find out that I have put on the draw rails the wrong way round.  I’m going to have to dis-assemble the thing to put it right.  So before doing that I thought I would at least post something.  I am nearly done with the second part of my oft interrupted “The Great Explanation – Atheist Style (2),” but perhaps this change of subject might fill a gap.

Giving attention to the Call

I would like to say something about what is called “the call to the ministry” or “the call to preach.”  In my opinion this is a crucial subject which has very often been misunderstood or else ignored.  Indeed, this matter ought to be constantly before us in these days of declension.  I believe there is much important truth to the old saying, “As the pulpit goes so goes the church. As the church goes so goes the community…” In looking out upon the state of the evangelical churches in America today, it is my personal view that we really are suffering from the effects of a lack of attention to the call to the ministry.

Definition: Before going on I need to define what I am talking about.  By the “call” I here mean “the particular effects of the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of some men to equip and to bring about in them an undying desire to preach and teach the Word of God to those to whom God would send them.”

This definition is more theological than textual.  That is, we might equally refer to it as a “sending” or a “longing”.  But the point is, it is a “calling” to a particular function within the Body of Christ.  This does not mean that there are not other “callings” – only that there is such a thing as a special call from God upon certain men whom He chooses to teach His Word.

In some quarters there has always been either a superficial view of this “call” into Christian ministry.  In some others, the whole concept of this call has been considered unbiblical.  There is no such thing as “the call to preach” so we are told.  Some men just have the ability and, if they choose to begin preaching and the churches support their desires that is really all there is to it.

Test All Things

Dealing with both of these opinions together we can say that there is one thing which they both pay little or no heed to: that one thing is the nature or source of the “desire” to preach.  Those holding a superficial view will not give much emphasis to the testing of the call or the maturity of the one professing to be under it.  They will often view the call in isolation from the person’s aptitude and, sadly, his spirituality.  The “desire” may well be seen as coming from God but it is still treated as if it could not arise from another, more carnal source.  Thus, the “call” is taken at face value without regard to personal pride, ambition, self-deception, or other forces acting on the will.  Often in such cases the native abilities of the person are seen as conclusive proof of a call.  And this is a snare which, time and again, the Church has fallen into.

An example of this superficial view is the case of Charles Templeton, an evangelist of the 1940’s and 50’s who was often compared with Billy Graham.  Templeton deserted the faith and became an ardent atheist.  He had the ability to speak, but his “calling” was shown to be a false one, not of God at all.  Similarly I can recall a well known preacher in Cambridge, England whom everyone thought was a great man of God.  This individual could certainly expound Scripture from the pulpit.  The present writer can testify to his ability.  But in 1999 this man shamefully left his wife and kids to enter into a homosexual relationship.  He continues to promote gay christianity via the Gay Christian Network today.  His abilities are beyond all doubt.  But was He ever really “called”?

It is easy to multiply such examples.  One thinks of the now atheist former pastors John Loftus and Dan Barber for instance.  What needs to be pondered by us is the credibility of their calling into Christian ministry in the first place.  Did God call these men to teach His Word knowing that they would abandon the faith they once preached?  Either we acknowledge such a situation or we conclude that grave mistakes were made in putting these men into pastorates.  The fault lies either with God and man or with man alone.  In the first case we bring a charge against God Himself!  In the second the fault lies much closer to home.  We, the Church, have thrust uncalled and unsent men into our pulpits.

This gives encouragement to those who deny any special call to the ministry, but it surely chastens those of us who believe such a call to exist!  On the one hand, if there is, in fact, no calling upon certain men to preach and/or pastor churches, it is hard to see how the Church can prevent the wrong sorts from getting churches and poisoning them from the inside.  On the other hand, if there is a true call to preach it must be both identifiable and verifiable.  We might add that it will also be falsifiable if it is an imposture.  In the case of the Cambridge preacher mentioned above, he has said himself that he confessed his homosexual tendencies before and while he was a missionary and before he became a pastor. (more…)

The Christian Mind and Its Ramifications

I’m having a spot of bother upgrading my blog.  This is either down to the incompetence of others or myself.  If I were a betting man I would bet the lot on me!  In the meantime here is something I sort of liked when I first wrote it in Sept. 07.

The New Testament is clear about the fact that believers are to adopt a “renewed mind” (Rom. 12:2), that they “walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having their understanding darkened…” (Eph. 4:17b-18a), but rather, that they are to “be renewed in the spirit of their mind” (Eph. 4:23), having “learned Christ” (Eph. 4:20b). Christians are to live by “every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).

Now, if this is such a clear teaching in the Bible, how come many Christian pastors, authors, and educators teach as if ‘the Christian mind’ is something that can only be used when one is thinking about “spiritual things”? It’s as if they believe that “the mind of Christ” which Paul speaks about at the end of the second chapter of First Corinthians, only functions well in that small subdivision of our lives we call the religious or spiritual life. What is the problem here?

I think the issue is that Christians have not allowed the ramifications of the New Testament doctrine of the Christian Mind to permeate their daily existence. They have not worked out and applied the consequences of “bringing every thought captive to Jesus Christ” as Paul says it in Second Corinthians 10:5. To put it plainly, many Christians split their thinking, and hence their lives, into the spiritual and the secular (or, the sacred and profane, or fact [for worldly affairs] and value [for spiritual things]). They do not acknowledge the fact that all of life is really enclosed within the spiritual. That is why God expects us to even eat and drink to His glory (1 Cor.10:31), so that “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to the Father through Him.” (Col. 3:17).

This false dichotomy, which is schizophrenic in its manifestations, is what allows Christians to be wrapped up in the materialist hedonism of Western culture. The missions fund at their church, or the paltry salary of their pastor are seen as trivial things, but their $750.00 a month car payment, and their boats and bikes and assemblage of stuff is excused because “everybody does it.” Again, this pigeon-holing of the spiritual part of life is what makes it easier for some believers to be edgy and even unscrupulous in their business dealings. It soothes the conscience to believe that God only watches over our church-life, and that He would not trespass our personal decisions and judge our priorities or delve too deeply into our motives.

On a still more crucial plain, this part-dependent, part-autonomous mindset is what lays behind much that is taught in seminary “Christian Ed.” courses and “Christian Counseling” curricula. It even permeates theological studies by allowing unaided reason (via natural theology) to prove whether God exists and whether He has actually spoken in the Bible. But what is a child of light who has been rescued from cognitive darkness doing in thinking this way? Does he or she think that their former unbelief was simply a matter of a lack of information? Do they not know that “the carnal mind is enmity against God” (Rom. 8:7)?

God is not glorified when one of His children backtracks into the darkness in order to run his business, settle marriage disputes, choose a church or college, or even witness to unbelievers. The angels are not impressed when a child of God brashly puts down “the Sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17) and tackles “this present evil world” with his own understanding (cf. Prov. 3:5-6)!

When Scripture declares that “Christ is all” (Col. 3:11b) and that we are “complete in Him” (Col. 2:10) it means just that! Let us not excuse ourselves when we run our affairs in direct opposition to it. Instead, let us strive to comprehend what it really means to have the privilege to be “in Christ Jesus.”

Paul Tripp and the Pastor’s “Dangerous Calling” (Part 2)

Paul David Tripp’s “Dangerous Calling” Seminar was an excellent example of what a parachurch speaking ministry ought to be.  In my last post I commented on two of Tripp’s perspectives on the temptations of pastoral ministry today.  Here are some more thoughts about his presentation:

3. Dr Tripp’s third perspective was a reminder that Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church, “everything else is body.”

He spoke about the dangers of confusing our personal kingdom with God’s kingdom.  This temptation may loom larger in popular, successful ministries, but I am not immune from mistaking my predispositions for God’s purpose for me.  Furthermore, we must be watchful of other well meaning friends.  “There are people who love you and who have a wonderful plan for your life.”   (more…)

Paul Tripp and the Pastor’s “Dangerous Calling” (Part 1)

Last week a small group of us from church attended a seminar by Paul David Tripp on the “Dangerous Calling” of the Christian ministry.

Those who know me know that I can be a skeptical old dog when it comes to these seminar speakers.  “Good technique/little real substance” has been my reaction on more than one occasion.  But I am glad to report that Dr Tripp exceeded my expectations with his materials, his theological acumen (and concern), and his ability to talk for 5 hours with only a lunch-break to give his constitution a rest.

Let me give you a precis of the seminar:

Tripp made a number of salient points (8-11 depending on how you reckoned them).  Each were brought home with good illustrations from life – usually the speaker’s), and preceded by a solid and authoritative exposition of a passage of Scripture. (more…)