Tag Archives: gospel

The law of love

Here is a snippet from a comment series on a previous post that I thought was worth highlighting:

Incest was necessary given the nature of God’s creation of human lineage. And polygamy and concubines run rampant in the Old Testament among those deemed righteous.

Incest is not unnatural in the biological sense. One could, and rightly so, argue that it is a very bad idea today given the degree of genetic mutations. However such genetic factors are not a guarantee nor is our present revulsion at the notion a negation of the biological reality of procreation.

You are correct that polygamy and concubines run rampant in the OT. And many who participated in the practice were considered righteous. However none of them were considered righteous for their polygamy or marital indiscretions. In fact, it is abundantly clear that these men were deeply flawed individuals and only considered righteous through grace on God’s part. So to assume their righteousness incorporated all of their deeds is to commit the basic fallacy of assuming salvation or favor with God is merited through works and not through grace.

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Book review: Radical Together by David Platt

I have read a lot about David Platt’s first bestseller, Radical, so when I saw his latest book, Radical Together, on the list of books to review for booksneeze.com, I jumped at the chance.

Radical Together is meant to explain how to take what David wrote in his first book, Radical, and live them out. To do that David uses a lot of examples by way of illustration, mostly from his mega-church, Brook Hills.

David begins by telling how he and his family ended up at Brook Hills following the devastation wrought by hurricane Katrina. David uses this incident to introduce us to the notion that God sometimes does radical things to get our attention. Like flooding an entire city, destroying lives and property and displacing millions.

For us the flood depicts the radical call of Christ to Christians and the [local] church. When Jesus calls us to abandon everything we have and everything we are, it’s almost as if he is daring us to put ourselves in the flood plain. To put all our lives and all our [local] churches, all our property and all our possessions, all our plans and all our strategies, all our hopes and all our dreams in front of the levee and then ask God to break it. To ask God to sweep away whatever he wants, to leave standing whatever he desires, and to remake our lives and [local] churches according to his will.

David then talks about how he reluctantly came to be the pastor of Brook Hills. He was asked to preach one Sunday and the people there liked him. But he didn’t want to go because he didn’t think he was qualified. David uses this story to express a concept from Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God bible study, that God operates on a mystical plane and that we should expect to find God in whatever it is we don’t want and are (or think we are) wholly unqualified to do.

All of this is in the first chapter where David is describing a problem found in most churches where people are busy but their business is not necessarily geared towards productive ends.

I mostly agree with David’s assessment but he seems to equivocate a lot between church as the body of Christ and church as a particular 501c3 non-profit organization.

At the same time we were studying James, we were going through our church budgeting process. To be honest, I hate budget season. As a pastor, I believe this is when the church comes face to face with hoe prone we are to give our resources to good things while ignoring great need. Christians in North America give, on average, 2.5 percent of their income to their [local] church. Out of that 2.5 percent, churches in North America will give 2 percent of their budgeted monies to needs overseas. In other words, for every hundred dollars a North American Christian earns, he will give five cents through the church to a world with urgent spiritual and physical needs. This does not make sense.

From this David draws the conclusion, which appears to have formed a large part of his previous book, that American Christians are greedy and materialistic. Never mind the fact that Americans out-give all other nations on earth. Unfortunately David seems to think that Christians are required to tithe (exactly how does a charity “earn” anything?) and that local church businesses are the best, if not only, means of giving aid and comfort to the poor. Oh, and we are also told that the people we should be primarily concerned with are the poor in nations other than our own.

From here David begins building his case for what he considers a radical Christian life. Put simply, that life is spent asking the same question Charles Sheldon asked in his book In His Steps, “What Would Jesus Do?”

Throughout Radical Together what struck me the most was how ordinary the message was. While I respect David’s desire to call people to live lives that are more consistent with their stated Christian beliefs, what I kept thinking was how neurotic a person who actually takes David’s (or Sheldon’s for that matter) message seriously.

Through Radical Together it seems like the overall message is to go out and make big changes. That thinking about the problem and are fully planning and, as Jesus said, counting the cost are something we should avoid in favor of, basically, living in the moment.

The only bright part of David’s book was where he brought up and championed the home/small church model. It was refreshing, though somewhat perplexing considering the context, to read a mega-church pastor advocating the employment of all believers equally in the body of Christ and that meeting in a small intimate context is more conducive to the discipleship we are called to practice among the body of Christ.

In the end I wouldn’t recommend Radical Together to anyone to read. If you want to read a “get busy for Jesus” book you would do better to read Sheldon’s classic, In His Steps. Or better yet, throw off the existentialism inherent in the notion that in order to truly follow Christ one needs to be “radical”.

John Calvin on John 3:16

Here’s a gem I ran across recently while reading the excellent book, Whosoever Will.

And indeed our Lord Jesus was offered to the world. For it is not speaking of three or four when it says: “God so loved the world, that He spared not His only Son.” But yet we must notice what the Evangelist adds in this passage: “That whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but obtain to eternal life.” Our Lord Jesus suffered for all and there is neither great nor small who is not inexcusable today, for we can obtain salvation in Him. Unbelievers who turn away from Him and who deprive themselves of Him by their malice are today doubly culpable, for how will excuse their ingratitude in not receiving the blessing in which they could share by faith.
John Calvin, Sermons on Isaiah’s Prophecy of the Death and Passion of Christ (London: James Clark, [1559] 1956), 141

A couple of observations here:

Calvin did not feel the need to restrict “world” to “the world of the elect”. In fact, Calvin appears to take great pains to maximize the scope here since it is apparent that He believes that the scope of the atonement has a direct bearing on the scope of the Gospel message.

Calvin curiously cited unbelievers who reject the Gospel as “doubly culpable”. This is a clear indication that Calvin believed satisfaction for sins to have been made for all persons otherwise one could not be “doubly culpable”.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. -John 3:16, NIV

A brief exposition of John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. -John 3:16

World is not merely nations in this text. Such a distinction, while required in order to prop up the doctrine of limited atonement, is simply not found in the text. What the text does say, however, is that God loves the whole world (without distinction so that we understand God to love all men, as is his revealed character throughout Scripture) in such a way as to give his only begotten son for the same (that is, all men without distinction, elect and non-elect, chosen and non-chosen) and that whosoever will may believe in Jesus and be saved (indicating how one may go from being one of the not-saved to one of the saved or non-elect to elect “in Christ”).

The glory of God here is that God is both willing (so loved) and able (that he sent) to save all men without distinction so that there is hope (whosoever will) for all men.

Curiously this verse does not say that God only loved the elect, only died for the elect, and that only the elect will (through irresistible and forceful changing of a person’s will against their desires/wishes/choice) be saved.

Cultural illiteracy and the gospel

The following are ex-scripts from a conversation on Facebook regarding the contextualization of the Gospel. As a disclaimer I will say that while I agree that the gospel or good news of Jesus is eternal and requires no context but the one it brings of it’s own accord, I believe we have a responsibility as ambassadors of Christ to make an effort to provide as clear of a communication of that message in whatever cultural context we find ourselves in as possible.

“Do our folks really need all that much re-education in order to communicate with the lost?”

In many cases, I would say yes.

We have created a very noticeable Christian sub-culture. My atheist coworkers affectionately call it “Jesus-junk” (here’s an example) We have segregated ourselves in many respects. We’ve created a “Christian” version of almost everything.

We need to take a sober stock of what we’ve surrounded ourselves with. What is acceptable/beneficial to take part in. For example, social media. We missed the boat the first time around, but thankfully we were given a second chance when MySpace lost it’s foothold and Facebook took it’s place.

We also need to take into consideration what we need to stop taking part in. Like right-wing politics to the point we end up wrapping the Cross of Christ up in the flags of our fathers.

Finally, as Christians who are under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We should actually be in a better position to gauge and plot a course through the turbulent waters of our culture. Especially in a time when most people are simply carried away by any new fad, technology, etc.

Christians ought to serve as anchors even when the culture at large has no sense of moorings. And we should lead not just morally or ethically, but economically and technologically as well.

So yes, we need to be students of the culture we find ourselves in. Just as doctors don’t start prescribing medicine without examining a patient first, we can’t expect to sent culturally illiterate people into the world and expect them to have the best possible results.

“The state of a man’s heart is not dependent upon his culture.”

No, but the state of the culture a man finds himself in does determine how and if that man’s heart may be reached by varying means.

While I agree that the gospel transcends culture, I believe we are clearly tasked with figuring out the best ways to communicate the truth of the gospel in varying contexts.

Just like we can’t ignore context when interpreting Scripture, we also can’t ignore it in relation to the lives of the people we seek to reach and expect to be efficient communicators.

“I do not share your appraisal of illiterate evangelists. Success of the gospel does not depend upon the education, class, background, training, or experience of the messenger.”

True. Baalem shows us that God can apparently use even an ass to get His message across. But do we really want to make Him? Isn’t part of being a good ambassador knowing one’s cultural context?

Yes, God can use any means he wants. However he has chosen to use us and he has charged us with seeking after the wisdom provided by the Holy Spirit.

I believe Francis Schaeffer’s predictions regarding a fundamental epistemic shift in our culture has largely come true. Sadly, our present discussion about whether (rather than how) to understand the culture shows we still largely simply haven’t gotten the message.