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?