Saturday, May 31, 2008

It's the Theology, Stupid

I was going to wait until November to write a political post, but I couldn’t resist. It came to me, so I wrote it down. Maybe I’ll re-post in November with some reaction to comments, assuming you’re out there somewhere.

I’ll let the cat out of the bag early. If you didn’t know, I’m a conservative and not a liberal. You’ll notice I didn’t post anything under Political Views on my facebook profile (if you go there) and you’ll hopefully understand why after you read this. I don’t like the terms conservative and liberal because I think they are horribly misunderstood and poorly used. As a conservative, when I hear someone say they are liberal, I unfairly judge them as being rebellious, and perhaps ignorant to the foundational values and structures that built our country. This may or may not be the case when someone says they are liberal. And this is really not the true definition of “liberal”. But that is what I, and perhaps most conservatives, initially think; so tolerant, so progressive, so willing for change, that they lose the core. Therefore my personal opinion is people should be very careful identifying themselves as liberal, especially if what they really mean is that they side with the Democratic Party on most political issues. All Democrats don’t have to be liberals, just like all Republicans don’t have to be conservatives (though most are). Stick with me here.

You see, I care very little about politics (though I follow them closely) and care much more about theology. That might sound strange so let me explain. What I basically mean is that I care much more about God, and specifically Jesus Christ, and much less about human political structures because I know that God is ultimate and political systems are not. So I think it is much more important what you think about God than what you think about politics. And when someone says they are liberal, theologically speaking, this pretty much is a bad thing. This means that they may deny, or rebel against, core theological beliefs that are essential to orthodox Christianity, and dare I say, essential to saving faith; i.e. authority and inerrancy of Scripture, exclusivity of Jesus Christ for salvation, God as Trinity, etc. To be liberal theologically, flirts with embracing heresy that may inevitability put you outside of the Christian faith. To be conservative theologically means you defend and embrace the traditional doctrines and teachings of Christianity and do not waver from them. So, when I hear the word “liberal” politically, I worry whether the person using that word to identify themselves really means how I would interpret it theologically: denying or rebelling against the traditional values and structures that our country was founded on.

I think in most cases, Democrats unfairly get identified as liberal when that is not what they really are. To be a Democrat does not mean you are rebellious against the principles our country was founded on, but just “on the left” of certain issues, that, let’s be honest, could go either way (immigration, health care, government spending, taxes). Very intelligent people, and good Presidents, have argued successfully on both sides.

Now, to show my hand, I believe the real problem is when theological issues get wrongly characterized as political issues. I will mention three. There could be others (stewardship of the environment), but I will focus on these three.

1. Sanctity of Life
2. Care for the Poor
3. Traditional Marriage

These are fundamentally theological issues and not political issues. In other words, the importance, priority, and implications of these things reveal the character and the interest of God Almighty, and so we do not have the liberty to let our opinions supersede His authority. God created us in His image, and to destroy His image-bearers in the womb, especially, is an abomination and “morally outrageous”. There has to be a better way than killing the babies, as John Piper would say. We should defend the unborn not because it is our political obligation, primarily, but because it is a command from Jesus. God has a special heart for the poor, as clearly seen in Scripture, and He measures the integrity of our faith by how we respond to the poor, as Ron Sider would say. If we are wealthy from oppressing the poor, or if we don’t share with the needy, we have a problem. We should fight poverty and injustice not because it is our political obligation, primarily, but because it is a command from Jesus. God ordained the concept of marriage as between one man and one woman and established it as a union that would, above all other things, be a representation to the world of Christ’s love for the Church. We should define and defend traditional marriage not because it is our political obligation, primarily, but because it is a sacred covenant established by the God of the universe.

Now these statements will no doubt frustrate, and potentially anger, certain women, staunch capitalists, or those who consider themselves homosexual. That is unfortunately unavoidable. But what I would say to those people is that I don’t want to debate about politics, but about theology. I don’t want to argue about what politicians care about (or what you may care about) but what God cares about. I don’t want to talk to you about Barack Obama or John McCain but about Jesus Christ. And if we get Him right, I believe good politics will follow from there. If we don’t get Him right, then we have much bigger problems.

I think the Democratic Party has been unfairly identified as the pro-choice, pro-gay marriage party, and the Republican Party has been unfairly identified as the party who doesn’t care about the poor (or the environment). But in reality those are theological issues – Republicans and Democrats should both defend the right of the unborn. Republicans and Democrats should both care about the poor and look out for them. Republicans and Democrats should both defend traditional marriage. No exceptions. In a country that was founded as one nation, under God, it is actually ridiculous that they don’t.

Alas, this is not a perfect world. But when we vote, we should try to think about what is important to God, and what the marks of His character are, and carve those issues out separately from what we consider our political affiliations. And then as we disagree on the economy, immigration, health care, defense, and many other political issues until Jesus comes back, we should trust our convictions and trust that God is sovereign and that in the fullness of time, America is a blip on the screen; the kingdom of God and the reign of Jesus Christ is everlasting.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Speak at Your Funeral

This is probably my most uncomfortable post yet. The reason is because I am not as experienced or courageous in this area as I would like, and because I am not as well-read or confident in my knowledge of the theological and practical components of this concept as I would like. But I didn't want to wait until I gained a lot of experience, or read a lot more books, before I at least broached the subject. The timing seemed right.


It is true that those who don't have saving faith in Jesus Christ will perish, and experience everlasting conscious torment in hell separated from God. I cringe at that truth. I did not choose it, and I don't like it. But no matter, it is true. And it is also true that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. How can someone believe unless they have heard? And how can they hear unless someone preaches to them? Thus the challenge and the call of all believers: to verbally share the Gospel with those who are unbelieving; to evangelize. And remember the Gospel is good news. It should be easy!

As you would expect, resources and tools, books, sermons, programs, and much more is available to guide and encourage us in this process. Billy Graham made the word "evangelism" known in our time, and many have followed and built on his ministry, and that of others since the early Church, to the glory of God. And as I usually do, I will pass along some resources that I have found, or am finding, to be the most helpful.

Before I do that though, I should relate another truth with which I am not particularly comfortable. If you've read much of this blog you know that the main purpose of it is to interpret the truth that God is sovereign in the context of a complex culture filled with confusion and detail. The inevitable implication of "God is sovereign" is that He is sovereign in salvation, or that he predestines, or elects, those who will believe and have saving faith in His name. And, less popular, that He predestines those who won't. The Bible clearly teaches this, and you can go on that journey yourself. See J.I. Packer, Mark Dever, John Piper, Will Metzger, and others, who articulate this in the context of evangelism better than I could. I won't attempt to resolve that debate here.

Suffice it to say that I believe that human responsibility, or "free will", exists within the context of God's sovereignty, or "predestination", and because the Bible teaches both, we don't have to choose (or be able to explain how they work together). And I also believe that the doctrine of election is great encouragement and hope for evangelism, and not justification to avoid it. Former President of InterVarsity John Alexander said at Urbana '67, "At the beginning of my missionary career I said that if predestination were true I could not be a missionary. Now after twenty some years of struggling with the hardness of the human heart, I say I could never be a missionary unless I believed in the doctrine of predestination."

Here are some things to check out:

Evangelism Challenge Urbana 2006 - York Moore

"I needed to be saved from the hell I was in and the hell to come and Jesus Christ can save us from them both."

Go Fish - Andy Stanley

"As you begin to understand God’s sovereignty and you wrestle through issues of predestination, if ever in that discussion you find yourself to be less motivated to serve with diligence and speak His word with boldness, then you don’t understand sovereignty."

Hell's Best Kept Secret - Ray Comfort

"Biblical evangelism is always, without exception, law to the proud and grace to the humble."

Pleasing Men or Pleasing God - Mark Cahill

"Take them through the Ten Commandments, leave them at the Cross, and let them decide what they want to do."

I'm not really sure if I can summarize all this, but I will try: Evangelism should not be a burden but a joy. Sharing your faith, the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, with unbelievers is the one thing you can't do in heaven, as Mark Cahill points out. So not only is it our duty, but also it should be our pleasure, as Christians, to do it at every opportunity possible; on an airplane, in the grocery line, in our neighborhood, with our friends, and within our family. The stakes are too high to be complacent. And in the sovereignty of God, we get the easy part: we speak truth in words, and He, by a power that can bring light where there is darkness, and life where there is death, will change the heart, and everything will work together for good for those who love Him.

There is more I could say. But in the meantime know that I will be asking the God of the universe to enable me to speak His Word with great boldness, and trust Him for the outcomes. I pray you will do the same and one day have the unique opportunity to speak at your funeral. As Mark Cahill would say, "As long as you spoke with your life, you can speak at your funeral". And may it be the words of the Gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation.

Friday, May 23, 2008

I Think I Can Dance

I had my dancing debut on FOX last night. If you didn't catch it, check this out. It's pretty much awesome. Be sure to watch the whole thing. I'll leave the theological interpretation to you.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Explaining Evangelicals

So I joined the anti-social revolution recently and joined Facebook. Shocking, I know. But it hasn’t been all bad. I have been fascinated by certain aspects of the profile page. For instance, I always look to see what someone indicates as their “Religious Views”. Some are general and say “Protestant” or “Catholic”. I like the ones that are unique or try to distinguish what their views or beliefs are from mainstream, generic, seemingly vague descriptions like “Christian” or “Evangelical”. For example, some indicate specific Bible verses or passages. One of my friends put, “However you look at it 1 billion people are wrong”. Fascinating! Of course, he is right. But don’t you wonder about this? What do they mean when they say they are a “Christian”? Do different people mean different things?

A very interesting document was released last week called An Evangelical Manifesto – a public statement declaring “Evangelical identity and public commitment”. It is 20 pages, but well worth the read. There also has been much media response from both within and outside the Church. I recommend reading the response by Dr. Albert Mohler. The document defined “Evangelical” in one sentence this way (with further explanation included): Christians who define themselves, their faith, and their lives according to the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth.

My summary or key take away from the Manifesto and responses to it, especially by Mohler, is that the term “Evangelical” must be defined theologically, and not socially, politically, or culturally, as so many in the media are quick to do (especially during an election year). That is to say, if we lose the core definition of “Evangelical” as those who have saving faith through the Gospel of Jesus Christ and who seek to proclaim and demonstrate that Gospel to lead others to faith; if we lose that theological definition at the hands of social and political ideologies or cultural trends, than we lose the term “Evangelical” altogether, and in turn do great damage to the effectiveness of our witness to the objective, eternal, Good News of Jesus Christ revealed to us through the Bible. This document, I think, shares this emphasis and advises well how to approach this identity dilemma in our time, specifically in America, with civility. In the meantime, stay tuned for a future post where I’ll attempt to articulate what it means for me to say I am a “Christian” or an “Evangelical”. My explanation didn’t fit under “Religious Views” on my Facebook profile.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

What is the "Black Church"?

So my friend Dave and I decided to step out of our comfort zone last weekend and attend Eastern Star Church, a congregation that is probably more than 90% African-American. And the experience was unforgettable. The markings on the wall in the back of the sanctuary, for all to see, read, “Where Jesus is exalted, and the Word of God is explained.” I read that as I took my seat and said, “Ok, I’m in. Let’s do this.”

There was a gospel choir, loud passionately singing, graceful interpretative dance (which made me feel like I was at a Christian version of the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics), bold and warm introductions to visitors (they made you stand, told you the vision of the Church, gave you an opportunity to put your faith in Christ, and had the people around you welcome you personally), and preaching. I mean preaching. I don’t mean “here are five ways to improve your life” preaching; I mean “God is sovereign and His Word has authority and offers hope even in disastrous circumstances” preaching.

Anyway, at the service, Senior Pastor Jeffrey Johnson made a challenge to his congregation to vote, and encouraged them not to be distracted by the media and the negative press Barack Obama is receiving because of his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. He said he had known Wright for 15 years, and Wright had been preaching the same way for 40 years and just now he was getting called out for it. He also said that presidential candidates should not be judged entirely by their pastor. He reminded them that it’s not like America had never contributed to the suffering of black people. And he said to vote your convictions.

Hmmm….I thought. Do I feel comfortable with what he just said? Well, I quickly forgot about all that when he got into his sermon, which was a creative and relevant exposition of 1 Kings 17 and the widow of Zarephath, relating it to current economic struggles. But then, as it appeared evident this week that Obama was going to clinch the Democratic nomination, I started to think about all the press, and Rev. Wright, and so on.

Two interesting articles I would direct you to:

In short, I would say that the “black church” is not the color of the building where people worship (see pictures), or the racial makeup of a particular congregation; it’s not really anything. It’s a misnomer, so to speak. But it is used to describe a group of Christians who have banded together with a common heritage to encourage and help each other seek Christ in the midst of a culture that still struggles with racism. They certainly don’t get everything right, as certain comments by Rev. Wright have revealed. But then neither does the “white church”. God willing, as we as a collective Body seek God’s help in breaking down our prejudice and sin, we will more effectively unite together for the Gospel, and “the Church”, as one unit, will exalt Christ and explain the Bible in a way that is pleasing to our Lord.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

It Shouldn't Take a Cyclone

I am overwhelmed with thoughts and feelings towards what happened in Myanmar, also know as Burma, and the people affected. My overall challenge to myself and whoever God leads to read this post is: don't ignore this disaster. Consider it a perfect opportunity to pray for and help people who are suffering loss and displacement in a way we can't possibly imagine. And think about yourself and others and realize that it shouldn't take a cyclone to provide an occasion to share and savor and the Gospel. Here are some links that help me through these types of things. The first is a mission organization (for whom the missionaries I worked with in Brazil work) who have a unique presence and opportunity to help in Myanmar, and would be a solid way to contribute.

New Mission Systems International

6 Ways to React to the Cyclone

Tsunami and Repentance

Luke 13:1-9

And for the record, whether or not the cyclone and other natural disasters are because of global warming should not be our focus right now. Our focus should be the people who are suffering and the God who is sovereign.

Monday, May 5, 2008

What in the Church is Going On?

I ask this not abruptly and with exclamation, like, “What in the church is going on!!?”, but more observationally and curiously like, “hmm…what in the church is going on?” Even though I don’t ask with exclamation, I attempt to answer or at least respond with a bit of urgency, because I believe the answer has implications towards serious things like life or death, heaven or hell, and truth or deception, and not just on minuscule things like Coke or Pepsi, Republican or Democrat, Apple or PC, and so on.

I originally wanted to consolidate numerous thoughts and insight from books, articles, sermons, conversations, recent experiences, etc. into one mammoth post that attempted to summarize the fascinating, shocking, and monumental things that I have noticed are going on in the world, specifically in America, and specifically as it relates to the Church, the Body of Jesus Christ, and our interaction with the culture, identified by some as “postmodern”. Alas, this I cannot do. But what I will do is give a synopsis of my thoughts, why it matters (or why I think you should be interested), and then give you an outline of some of these books, articles, sermons, conversations, recent experiences, etc. with links to help you seek more about all this if desired. And God willing, I will write more about these individual things as time and energy permit.

Synopsis: Young adults in America are incurably spiritual, which is to say that they react to spiritual things more than anyone will give them create for. But these days they are also more and more hostile to the concept of absolute truth, and so the Church is responding accordingly in an effort to reach those in this generation who are resistant to Christianity, while also mobilizing and building up those in this generation who have embraced Christianity and desire earnestly to effectively reach their peers.

Although a generalization, it seems that the Church is responding in two distinct ways: On the one hand you have those who would admirably prioritize engaging the culture of this generation, and take the message of Jesus and the concept of Christianity to those who need it, in a way that is loving, relevant, and tolerant; but who would also do all this at the risk of compromising the reality of absolute truth and losing or distorting the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. On the other hand, you have those who would passionately contend for this faith delivered once for all, and defend, promote and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but struggle to escape from stereotypes of intolerance or arrogance or an unloving lack of engagement with a complex culture for fear of compromising the Christian doctrines that are so precious to them. To generalize, if you spend any time on blogs, or read current books or articles on the topic, you would describe these two responses as, respectively:

1) the Emergent Movement

2) the resurgence of Reformed theology, or “New Calvinism”

Each side claims many names that might be familiar to you.

Truly, there is a lot of gray area in between and even much of the Church may not see this distinction or ever consider themselves in either camp, which for the record, probably would include the local church I attend. This is fine. Actually, this is great. My intention is not to present to you two sides of the Christian Church and make you feel like you have to choose. But something is happening, and the next generation of pastors, teachers, and leaders in the Church will no doubt be affected by one if not both of these “movements”, and the shape and nature of the Church will reflect that, for good or for bad. (Surely for good, as Romans 8:28 promises.)

Even regular Christians, who attend church and desire to seek and glorify God with their whole life, should practice spiritual discernment in this area as Scripture calls for, and heed such instruction so “we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” (Ephesians 4:14) Sadly, both of these movements may not lead to the same place, and lack of discernment could lead to such things talked about in the book of Jude (which is slightly terrifying) if we find ourselves blindly following a “movement” that may or may not center itself on the Supremacy of Christ.

Meanwhile, the potential of revival in the context of youth, college, and twentysomethings is being whispered about inside ministries, churches, universities, and communities around the country, and God doesn’t seem to want to be put in a box right now (not that He ever has). He wants to move, and perhaps affect eternity through our generation. And we should be willing and ready.

And personally, I find myself reading certain books, listening to certain sermons, having certain conversations, and developing a certain theological framework in my life that seems to favor one of these sides; not because I necessarily find the implications of one response more attractive than the other, but because I find the foundation and implications of one more true, and therefore more glorifying to God, and more loving to others.

This now, is an outline of resources I have encountered (over the course of several months) - maybe to launch you on a similar journey, or confuse and overwhelm you beyond measure, or at least introduce you to what in the Church is going on. More commentary to follow. I pray this will be helpful and enjoyable for you. If not, at least for me it got a lot of helpful information all in the same place.

  1. The Truth War - John MacArthur

  2. Why We're Not Emergent - Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck

  3. Young, Restless, and Reformed - Collin Hansen

  4. The Emerging Church - Dan Kimball

  5. The Reason for God - Tim Keller

  6. The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World - Justin Taylor (editor)

  7. Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches - Robert Webber (editor)


  1. How the World Sees ChUrch - Derek Duncan

  2. Improving the Gospel - Mark Dever

  3. Living with Jesus at the Center - Mark Vroegop

  4. How I Distinguish Between the Gospel and False Gospels - John Piper


  1. The Gospel of Jesus Christ - D.A. Carson

  2. Two Cheers for the Resurgence of Calvinism in Evangelicalism

  3. Christianity Today - great resource for what's going on among God's people politically, spiritually, denominationally, theologically, personally, ethically, financially, professionally, culturally, etc.


  1. Youth Revival - The ministry of Two:Eight recently witnessed 25% of a high school student body, at a public school, pray to receive Christ at a voluntary after-school event

  2. The Rising - Young Adult Ministry at East 91st Christian Church

  3. Proclamation and Demonstration of the Gospel - Urbana 2006 and York Moore challenge

  4. Hills to die on - I’m working on a post that articulates what I consider as the essentials to the Christian faith; to help me as I approach ministry in the local church

  5. The BIBLE