Thursday, December 20, 2007

Integrity Crisis

I recently read an old book; The Integrity Crisis that’s been on my shelf, boxed up and moved through 4 zip codes, and reshelved in the last 3 years without ever being read. It was written in 1988 right after the Jim and Tammy Faye Baker PTL scandal and the Christian/financial controversy that ensued. I found it odd that 20 years later the author’s words speak to a new generation of Christians making the same mistakes. Take a look:

“I certainly have no case against learning from the other fellow. After all, why reinvent the wheel? But I do have a case against any philosophy that turns ministry into mechanics and hands me a book of formulas that are guaranteed to succeed. I also have a problem with publishers that sign up “famous men” to write these books but don’t first find out whether or not these surefire methods are based on good theology. If the medical profession followed this approach, we’d all be dead!” pg. 46

If only Christian publishers operated with the integrity the author speaks of, books like The Purpose Driven Church wouldn’t be on shelves today. Theology has become second to statistics and methods in many churches, and by spilling into the publishing industry has contaminated even more churches.

“God has every right to pronounce judgment on those who preach a false gospel, because the message of the gospel cost Him His Son! Jesus shed His blood to satisfy the holy law of God so that lost sinners might be forgiven and reconciled to God. Jesus didn’t die to make us healthy, wealthy, and happy; He died to make us holy. To turn Calvary into a sanctified credit card that gives us the privilege of a hedonistic shopping spree is to cheapen the most costly thing God ever did.” Pg. 53

Exactly. The Word of God is too precious to mess with, or impose our worldviews on, like the postmodern, egalitarian, liberal worldview many emergents like Brian McLaren view scripture through, or the carnel, materialistic, worldly success driven worldviews of Robert Schuller and Joel Osteen. ANY Gospel that takes the emphasis off of God’s Holiness and His work to make sinners holy more than misses the mark.

Later in the book the author compared the walls of Jerusalem (that the prophet Nehemiah set out to rebuild before anything else) to the church’s nonconformity to the world as its “walls” of defense; he had this to say:

“When the church, trying to reach the world, became like the world; she lost her impact on the world. How tragic that we cooperated with the enemy in breaking down our own walls! We lost our own distinctiveness and destroyed our own defenses.” Pg. 81

What strikes me the most is that this book was written practically 20 years ago!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Getting the Gospel Right

I recently finished reading R.C. Sproul’s Getting The Gospel Right, in which he examines the statements Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT it’s now known as) and The Gift of Salvation. The overall focus of his investigation is “Has the Roman Catholic Church finally bowed to the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone (sola fide), or have Protestants conceded their own hard fought battle for the doctrine of sola fide from the Reformation to the Roman Catholic position?” Sproul’s consensus: neither party actually forfeited their doctrinal views, though Protestants conceded some ground due to vague wording.

Here is how:

Sproul notes that when speaking on Justification (article 7); the “Gift of Salvation” certainly SEEMS to point toward a Reformed view of Justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ: “…God, on the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone, declares us to be no longer his rebellious enemies but his forgiven friends…”

But sadly it falls short as a result of the RCC’s view of Justification, which it believes is on the grounds of “infused righteousness” at baptism (rather than being imputed to man from Christ by faith alone as the Reformers demanded it). So it still enables Roman Catholics to consider Justification as based on the righteousness of Christ, all the while still believing the congruent MERIT OF MAN is involved in maintaining this “infusion” of righteousness which is necessary for Justification before God. Basically the RC signers of this declaration could in good conscience subscribe to what the statement said as long as the nature of Christ’s righteousness (imputed or infused) is left unspecified. Tricky, tricky.

When speaking on Faith (article 8) the statement declares that justification is “received through faith”, is “a gift of God”, and “issues in a changed life” but as Sproul adeptly notices that “received through faith” does not equal “received by faith alone” and thus sola fide is not accomplished. The framers of the statement have completely sidestepped the issue altogether of “justification by faith alone” vs. “Justification = Faith + Merit”

When speaking on An Assured Hope, the statement falls short of declaring a person capable of having assurance of their salvation, but only being able to “….have assured hope for the eternal life promised to us in Christ.’ An “assured hope” is not the same as actual assurance at all as Sproul notes, but rather a “hope or desire without actual assurance of the outcome”. The RCC has not departed at all from its historic position from Council of Trent that declares that ”no one can know with the CERTAINTY OF FAITH, which cannot be subject to error, that he has obtained the grace of God”.

Its a very good book, I definitely recommend it. R.C. Sproul trudges through both statements “Evangelicals and Catholics Together”, and “The Gift of Salvation” with a fine-toothed comb and an eye for what each party was actually willing to “put on the table”, so to speak theologically, shows the emptiness of the "unity" that was believed to be reached,and wraps it up with a solid articulation for what the Gospel IS, and summed up some key points:

  • Justification is by faith alone, but never by a faith that is alone.
  • Justification requires mental understanding of Christ’s vicarious atonement, but never merely mental assent to this fact. (cheap grace)
  • Doctrine does not save, but essential elements of the gospel cannot be rejected without harm.
  • Sanctification must be distinguished from justification, but never divorced from it, as neither exist or can stand apart from the other.

    With the exception of some advanced theological terms some newbies would need clarification of; this book would be a great read for even the immature Christian, especially since R.C. spells out everything he says so succinctly and to the point. A lot of the book would probably be redundant if you have already read Sprouls Faith Alone though, thats the only negative I can think of. His closing remark sums up the thrust of the whole book; "To be faithful to the Great Commission," Sproul concludes, "we must get the gospel right." Hopefully we can all say amen to that.
  • Saturday, December 8, 2007

    Puritan Prayers and the Valley of Vision

    I just received a copy of this in the mail; Valley of Vision: Songs for worship inspired by the classic book of Puritan prayers. It was a birthday gift from my mom that I had opened early. I've been geeking out over this cd since I had read portions of the prayer book "Valley of Vision" and found out some people had gotten together to write music inspired by the prayers. I had to have it. Its a good mix of understated electric-guitar and full band type tunes, to piano-driven ballad type songs heavy with strings such as violin and cello. I'm a sucker for string sections in any kind of music. Some of my favorites musically are "Let Your Kingdon Come", "Only Jesus", and lyrically one of the best is "Thy Precious Blood"

    Before the cross I kneel and see
    The measure of my sin
    How You became a curse for me
    Though You were innocent
    The magnitude of Your great love
    Was shown in full degree
    When righteous blood, the crimson spill
    Rained down from Calvary

    Seriously, if there were ever an era or group of Christians to admire, it was the Puritans, the Calvanist Separatists from England who settled here in America and strived to create their "'city on a hill', a productive, morally exemplary colony far from the corruption of the Church of England."(wikipedia's word, not mine) . All Amish-like stereotypes aside, they were a people that truly did everything, from the great to the most mundane task; unto the Glory of God and applied the Bible to every aspect of life sincerely. They spawned some of the greatest religious thinkers this side of the Atlantic including John Owen, reknowned Bible commentator Matthew Henry, Jeremiah Burroughs, and Great Awakening preacher Jonathon Edwards as a later heir.
    If you want to know more about the cd project, check out:

    Friday, December 7, 2007

    Matthew Smith

    There was an interesting article this month in ByFaith magazine. Read it here:

    I can definitely identify with Matt's experiences, because I grew up Southern Baptist in churches that often seemed to sing hymns out of obligation and avoided most of the most classic hymns. I later visited Pentacostal churches that focused on performance and approached worship with great emotionalism, seeking to "stir something up" within the audience. It was there where I saw the downfall of worship being largely focused on "I" and "me", and neglecting the character of God and the intimate person of Christ the Lord. If we spend more time in worship singing songs about our Christian experience, and how "I" feel, then we are neglecting the most important aspect of what worship really is; which is affirming what God is and His character, what He's done, praising Him for it, and meditating on how he has reconciled ourselves to Him through Christ the Son.

    If we allow our worship services to be purely subjective and personal, we are neglecting the fact that while salvation is always deeply personal, it is never individualistic. The same faith and hope we have; is the same faith and hope thats been given by God to other believers. We need to share it, commune with each other in it, and not seclude ourselves in our own little world within corporate worship while singing songs about "me" and "I".

    If unbelievers walked into your church on any given Sunday, are they going to take notice of the faith and love that worshippers claim to possess through the words of the songs, or are they going to marvel at the incredible God your worship music seeks to reflect, describe, praise, and lift up, and possibly want to know more about Him?

    Wednesday, November 28, 2007

    C.S. Lewis on Pride

    "How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves as very religious? I am afraid it means they are worshipping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the prescence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how He approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people: that is, they pay a pennyworth of imaginary humility to Him and get out of it a pound's worth of Pride towards their fellow-man. I suppose it was of those people Christ was thinking when He said that some would preach about Him and cast out devils in His name, only to be told at the end of the world that He had never known them. And any of us may at any moment be in this death-trap."
    -C.S. Lewis in "Mere Christianity"

    Reading this today hit me like a brick in the face. How often have I credited to myself by being Prideful what I should be paying to God in humility, all the while not being the wiser that I was in error? Some scriptures to add to this:

    "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Better it is to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud" Proverbs 16:18-19

    "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world."
    1 John 2:16

    I admit, I think I realized why I like C.S. Lewis so much. Its not what he says so much as how he actually says it. The man had no theological education after all and quotes no scripture through 191 pages of an apologetic for Christianity, which would normally irk me. But, as I have to remind myself; this book arose from a series of radio broadcasts that were reaching a largely unchurched audience, and Lewis has a firm grasp of Christianity from a philisophical point of view. Since he was a professor of Literature his command of the English language and colorful use of metaphor and analogy is outstanding and always enjoyable to read.

    Sunday, November 25, 2007

    worship, feminism, and evangelicism

    The TV was on in the background today while I was working on the computer, when a broadcast of a particular megachurch's church service came on and I begun half-watching it at first and then it took my attention completely when......

    their worship leader SANG THE LORD'S PRAYER as a SOLO, and did it like he was Whitney Houston singing at the Super Bowl at halftime or like most singers do when they butcher the National Anthem before sporting events trying to hit every note within their range. And I guess it would not have been complete without the breathy, molest-the-microphone vocal technique, some super effeminate hand gestures and operatic body language to boot as well!
    Is this what church leadership wants out of music leaders these days? It kinda gave me the creeps watching it, to be honest. Somehow, I imagine even David "dancing in the spirit" (Psalm 30) probably appeared much more manly than this did. When did worship in the evangelical church become so ...FEMININE?
    To contrast with this image I like to imagine Martin Luther over 400 years ago, as he paraphrased the 46th Psalm and wrote "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" probably furiously scrawling the words by hand which would become what has been called the "Battle Hymn of The Protestant Reformation".

    And though this world, with devils filled, Should threaten to undo us, We will not fear, for God hath willed, His truth to triumph through us! A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing!

    I imagine people singing that song hundreds of years ago in Whittenburg, set to an even older common German tune, singing with passion and strength; renewing their faith in the power of God. Well, fast forward 400 years and travel across the pond, and in American Evangelicism we have taken worship and turned it into sentimental music for the sake of entertaining the masses, music thats more about giving us a cathartic experience or garnering an emotional response than truly illuminating God's Word and submitting our hearts to a humble attitude of worship and singing of the character of God.

  • We've traded classic hymnody for feel-good contemporary worship
  • We've traded "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" for "Shout to the Lord" and other songs that scarcely even mention the person of Christ or our sin and need of grace and supplication
  • We've traded "Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace" for "He has made me Glad, I will rejoice for he has made me glad"

    and along the way I fear we have also......

  • Traded powerful expository preaching for visually appealling power point presentations because out attention span has dimished, psuedo-Christian psycological mumbo jumbo and sentimental slogans to bolster confidence among worshipers.
  • We've traded applying the Bible to real life issues for underminding the scripture in the name of tolerance and diversity, as in the Emergent Church Movement and those who look to postmodernism for their worldview rather than scripture.
  • We've traded engaging and defining the culture for running from it and its "evils", or merely replicating it and slapping a Christian logo on it for our own censored consumption, as in much of Fundamentalism and much of the American "Youth Group" culture.
  • Worst of all we've traded the often offensive Truth of Christ's message for the illusive goal of not turning anyone away from the Gospel, in those who creep further and further down the slippery slope of Liberalism toward Universalism.

  • I only hope that the ecclesiastical slump that we are in now brings about a turn towards a thirst and hunger for something more substantial.

    Saturday, November 24, 2007


    This past year I've been overjoyed to discover Reformed University Fellowship's hymn project called Indelible Grace where they re-work old hymns, some by writing completely new tunes or just by giving it a fresh sound with contemporary instruments. Their third cd "For All The Saints" contained a song by hymnwriter Thomas Pollock that I liked so much that I looked him up and found the only other hymn he ever had published., and sadly these days about the only place to find it is the old Presbyterian Trinity Hymnal.
    I'm currently working on a new tune for it. Here's the words:

    "We Have Not Known Thee as We Ought" Thomas Pollock 1889
    We have not known Thee as we ought,
    Nor learned Thy wisdom, grace and power;
    The things of earth have filled our thought,
    And trifles of the passing hour.
    Lord, give us light Thy truth to see,
    And make us wise in knowing Thee.

    We have not feared Thee as we ought,
    Nor bowed beneath Thine awful eye,
    Nor guarded deed and word and thought,
    Remembering that God was nigh.
    Lord, give us faith to know Thee near,
    And grant the grace of holy fear.

    We have not loved Thee as we ought,
    Nor cared that we are loved by Thee;
    Thy presence we have coldly sought,
    And feebly longed Thy face to see.
    Lord, give a pure and loving heart
    To feel and know the love Thou art.

    We have not served Thee as we ought,
    Alas, the duties left undone,
    The work with little fervor wrought,
    The battles lost or scarcely won!
    Lord, give the zeal, and give the might,
    For Thee to toil, for Thee to fight.

    When shall we know Thee as we ought,
    And fear and love and serve aright?
    When shall we, out of trial brought,
    Be perfect in the land of light?
    Lord, may we day by day prepare
    To see Thy face and serve Thee there.

    Friday, November 23, 2007

    My First Post

    Well this is my first post and first of all, with no small amount of thought involved, would like to explain my intent and purposes for having a blog. After all, I don't fancy my life or experiences (as contented as it may be at times) as exciting and worth writing about for others to read. People have their own lives and I do not wish to provide a window into personal details of my daily life or my family's. Frankly I have never had a page for that very reason. But from time to time I find myself with no outlet as to my thoughts, as well examined or random as they might be. Hence this blog, for better or worse. It is my hopes someone might find it interesting.