Sunday, June 28, 2009

Why We Choose What Parts of the Bible We Want to Believe and Obey

As Christians, we all have a tendency to pick and choose which parts of the bible we like the best, which parts we want to interpret literally, and which parts we are going to obey. We also inconsistently follow some things that are modeled in scripture, but not others. We all tend to have a blind eye, liking what makes us comfortable rather than accepting the full truth of God's word.

This tendency to pick and choose what we want to believe has led to numerous denominations, debates, arguments, and and splinterings among Christian brothers and sisters. We all seem to be sure that we are right and others are wrong. We don't strive for unity as described by Jesus in John 17.

We pick and choose what we want to believe about:

bible versions
the Lord's Supper
women's role in ministry
church government
family integration
youth ministry
pastoral ministry
etc., etc., etc., and etc.

We disagree on all these things relating to God and church because (at least much of the time) we interpret scripture the way we want to instead of letting the text speak plainly. Certainly there are times when we disagree based on an honest reading of the biblical text; however, much of the time we make the bible say what we want it to instead of giving it a fair reading.

Why do we do this?

We do it because we are sinful. We are fallen creatures with imperfect spiritual discernment. Although redeemed, we still have remaining sin that clouds both our judgment and interpretation of the bible. This sin causes us to care about self first. Therefore, we sometimes see what we want to see instead of what is in the scriptures.

What I am referring to above generally does not pertain to what we might call "first-order doctrines." These are beliefs that the bible indicates we must hold in order to be saved (such as the divinity of Jesus Christ, the sinfulness of man, and the substitutionary atonement of Christ). Instead, we tend to separate over non-salvation related issues (both beliefs and practices).

We tend to be quick to say that we are correct and other Christians are incorrect. Simply put, we are certain that we are right, and they are wrong.

We could all use a healthy dose of humility concerning the issues we disagree upon. For example, I ought to be humble about my belief in believer's baptism. Why? There are many wise, godly Christians who hold to infant baptism.

Another example is my belief in God's absolute sovereignty over salvation. I must show humility in this belief. Why? I know many mature Christians who believe man has free will in his choice for or against God.

I both should be and need to be humble, remembering that I am sinful. This directly affects my ability to interpret scripture correctly. The Holy Spirit does illuminate scripture for us, but we sometimes allow our own sinful desires and motives to cloud our understanding.

Let's all remember that we are imperfect beings who, despite being made new creations, continue to want what we want. This includes how we read the bible.

Let's be careful in how quick we are to say others are wrong and we are right. Instead, let's be quick to unite with other Christians and slow to point out our differences.

We pick and choose because we are sinners. Let us all drink a healthy glass of humility each day as we approach the bible.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Study Shows One-in-Six Americans Are Baptist

I didn't realize that there are so many Baptists in the USA. The Pew Forum has found, however, that about 17% of our country claims to be Baptist. The chart below helps us see how the numbers break down (click directly on the image to make it larger).

To read the full article, click here.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

This Week in Blogdom - June 18, 2009

Read the correct interpretation of, "Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock." (Rev. 3:20)

Are religious beliefs just biochemical in nature?

Take a look at the 5 points of Reformed Baptist Churches. In case you are wondering, I agree with the author of this post.

Sinclair Ferguson discusses The Gospel According to Calvin. Hint: it's all about Jesus.

Who attends a mega-church?


The Sky is Falling! We know better.

Click here for (ha-ha) government-funded salvation.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"The Jesus Paradigm" - Discipleship

Dave Black's The Jesus Paradigm is a call to radical discipleship.

Although the bedrock for this book is consistent biblical hermeneutics (interpretation), the main desire of the author is that Christians look to the bible for how to live out the Christian life in all areas. This pertains directly to discipleship.

Black believes that following after Jesus Christ is not something we should do because it is the easy thing to do culturally. Rather, he calls the reader to self-sacrificial following that often includes suffering. On page 17, Black says of the church, "We are to be a people committed to mutual service, even costly service."

Of serving others, Black says on page 23, "Jesus invites us to be poor, and that is much harder than serving the poor. The downward path of Jesus is a way of spiritual poverty - a consistent lifestyle of sacrificial service rather than occasional acts of solidarity with people who cannot give us anything."

Employing a consistent hermeneutic, Black makes the case that followers of Jesus should try to emulate the life of Jesus Christ. This involves rejecting the world's values, seeking to glorify God, thinking of others before self, rejecting comfort and ease, and being willing to suffer so that others will believe. The author rejects wholesale the current American view of cultural Christianity.

As I have already said, this book makes me uncomfortable. This is because Black does not waver in what he is saying. He does not "pull any punches." He leaves no loopholes. What he does is point to scripture, point to what we are doing today, and ask why there is a difference.

Black's conclusion is that we must restore the church (and personal discipleship) to what it was in the early church. If we are to be Christ-followers, we must be radical followers who are willing to give up all for the cause of the gospel.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"The Jesus Paradigm" - Hermeneutics

I have just completed Dr. Dave Black's latest book - The Jesus Paradigm. As I expected, it made me uncomfortable. The reason for my discomfort is that Dr. Black makes every effort to be as biblical as he can and does not mind ruffling feathers as he does so.

Rather than give a chapter-by-chapter review, I've chosen to interact with four primary issues that came to mind as I was reading this text: hermeneutics, discipleship, ecclesiology, and politics. Since Dr. Black deals extensively with these issues, I'll discuss them one-by-one.

Although some readers may think differently, I believe the bedrock issue Dr. Black addresses in this book is biblical hermeneutics, or interpretation. The reason I say this is that Dr. Black (while writing about issues such as discipleship, ecclesiology, and politics) believes that what we read in the New Testament is not just descriptive, but is also prescriptive. In other words, when we see individuals - in particular Jesus - or the church as a whole in action, what is described is how we should function. To put it another way, as Christians we are to follow not just the commands of the bible, but also what is modeled for us in the bible.

On page 33 of this book, Dr. Black quotes Steve Atkerson, who is the director of New Testament Restoration Foundation. Atkerson says, "...we believe that the patterns for church life evident in the New Testament are not merely descriptive, but are actually prescriptive." Dr. Black seems to agree completely with Atkerson.

I commend Dr. Black for being consistent in the way he interprets the bible. He gives no ground in assuming that the New Testament is prescriptive in the way it describes the life of the church. This applies to all areas of church life (suffering, teaching, gatherings, political involvement or lack of it, giving, etc.).

There is a reason that Dr. Black's consistency makes me uncomfortable. The reason is that it points out to me my own inconsistency regarding biblical interpretation. I, like most Christians, seem to pick-and-choose which sections of the New Testament we want to be descriptive and which we want to be prescriptive. We do this quite frequently with regard to the book of Acts. Luke spends a good deal of time in Acts describing the early church. As we read Acts, we tend to interpret the places where the early church matches our current church practices as prescriptive. However, when the early church functions differently than we do, we call it simply descriptive. At best, this is ignorant on our part. At worst, it is downright dishonest.

Dr. Black has shown how important it is to be consistent when interpreting the scriptures. If we are not going to treat everything in the early church as prescriptive, then we should reject all descriptions and only feel a need to follow what is commanded. It seems, however, that it would be better to simply try to emulate the life of Christ and the life of the early church as closely as possible.

Thank you, Dr. Black, for the reminder that the way we interpret the bible has a radical impact on how we live our lives and function as the church.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Sunday Sermon on Wordle - Matthew 6:5-15

Yesterday I preached on Matthew 6:5-15. This is the passage where Jesus deals with authentic worship versus hypocrisy as it relates to prayer. Verses 9-13 are often referred to as The Lord's Prayer.

The sermon Wordled looks like this. Click directly on the image to see the words.

Wordle: Matthew 6:5-15

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Let's Know Church History

Baptists (myself included) in general have little knowledge of those who have gone before us. This is not a good thing. We should be aware of who the Baptists were, where they lived, what they believed, when they lived, and why they are worthy of remembrance.

I encourage you to visit the Baptist Cameos page at The Reformed Reader. You will find numerous short, biographical sketches of Baptists from the past. These include theologians, pastors, missionaries, and historians.

For example, the first paragraph about Charles Spurgeon says, "Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-92) was England's best-known preacher for most of the second half of the nineteenth century. In 1854, just four years after his conversion, Spurgeon, then only 20, became pastor of London's famed New Park Street Church (formerly pastored by the famous Baptist theologian John Gill). The congregation quickly outgrew their building, moved to Exeter Hall, then to Surrey Music Hall. In these venues Spurgeon frequently preached to audiences numbering more than 10,000—all in the days before electronic amplification. In 1861 the congregation moved permanently to the newly constructed Metropolitan Tabernacle."

As another example, the sketch on William Carey reads, "Father of modern missions. He was the author of An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens (1792); preacher of the sermon at the Baptist associational meeting in Nottingham, May 31, 1792, on text of Isaiah 54:2-3 and the theme, 'Expect great thing from God; attempt great things for God'; and leader in founding The Particular Baptist Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen (later named the Baptist Missionary Society) at Kettering on Oct. 2, 1792, which in turn launched the "society method" of missionary support and direction, and the whole modern evangelical missionary endeavor. With physician John Thomas he went to India under the appointment of the Baptist Missionary Society, devoting 41 of his 73 years to India without a return to his homeland. He was an able linguist and translator; a botanist of considerable reputation; and a missionary statesman par excellence."

Let's know our history and be thankful to God for the service of those before us.

Friday, June 12, 2009

What Atheists Really Think

Although small in number, atheism is growing in our country. This is an understandable consequence of the secular/atheistic environment in which most children today are educated.

Quite frankly, I find atheists difficult to talk to and/or read because they tend to have a superior air about themselves. The reason for this is that they believe it is obvious that God does not exist, and that those who do believe in God are, in general, mental simpletons.

The main problem with the argument for atheism (besides the fact that it is incorrect) is that it depends on an a priori belief that God does not exist. Once that is stated as a fact, all the other atheistic arguments fall into place.

Atheists assume that this natural world is all that exists. They deny the supernatural, and often mock any discussion of God as simply silliness and ignorance. Atheists also tend to view themselves as significantly more intelligent than those who believe in God. Atheists look to the scientific method as the absolute determiner of truth and fact. They frequently make fun of religion in general and Christianity in particular. Many will not engage in fair debate.

Because of these things, most atheistic websites are not worth looking at. They are often insulting, demeaning, and crude.

I have found one atheistic website, however, that is worth taking a look at. As expected, the site makes fun of Christians and depends on an entirely secular worldview. Despite this, the author tends to write in a fair manner without being overly insulting. If you are wondering what atheists really think, go to Friendly Atheist.

It is important to know what the other side thinks and how they think. This will help us as we try to share the gospel with them.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

This Week in Blogdom - June 11, 2009

Excellent posts from around blogdom this week:

R.C. Sproul on grace, "What Reformed theology teaches is that it is true the believer makes the right response and the non-believer makes the wrong response. But the reason the believer makes the good response is because God in His sovereign election changes the disposition of the heart of the elect to effect a good response. I can take no credit for the response that I made for Christ."

Dr. Albert Mohler discusses Moral Reasoning in Light of Wichita.

Are you a disciplined reader?

The Thirsty Theologian writes about The Heart of True Calvinism.

What did early church meetings look like? Click here to read what Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones had to say about this. This sounds quite different from what we see in most evangelical churches today.

Take a look at 10 Reminders about Gospel faithfulness.

Could this be coming to your church?


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"The Jesus Paradigm"

I'm not sure I want to read this book. It may make me very uncomfortable.

The Jesus Paradigm is a new book authored by Dr. David Alan Black. I trust Dr. Black because he was my professor at seminary, I have enjoyed other books he has written, and he is trying to live out what he believes.

I received an advance copy of the text and will be blogging about it as I make my way through it.

In this book, Dr. Black calls upon Christians to live lives of radical, sacrificial discipleship. He calls for a restoration of the church to what it was in its early years. Because of this, the author is challenging many of the ways we "do church." This will cause the readers (including me) to squirm as we are forced to look at our own lives and the lives of our churches.

To provide a flavor of what Dr. Black has to say, here are some quotes from the book's preface:

"I now realize I exist for one reason: to live for Jesus by serving others in his name. I was raised to think that the world exists for me. Now I realize that I exist for the world."

"(Christianity) is a new society living out the ethics of the kingdom of God. It is a radical, Christ-centered, martyr movement."

"Orthodoxy is incomplete - a disastrous aberration even - without orthopraxy."

"Theologically, the only commitment Christians are to have is to be Christ's witnesses, to proclaim his kingdom, and to preach the life-changing Gospel to all who will listen."

This is going to be a difficult book for me to read. In fact, the only reason I'm doing it is because of my great respect for Dr. Black. I may end up a bit black-and-blue by the end of the book, but I'm sure it will be worth it.

If you are interested in ordering this book, click here.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

This Week in Blogdom - June 4, 2009

Inspired by this series of blog posts, I'm going to begin a series of my own entitled This Week in Blogdom. The purpose of this weekly series is to list a number of excellent blog posts that I have read during the past week. Instead of mentioning them here-and-there, now I'll have them all in one place. I plan to post this series each Thursday.

To start off, here are some good posts from the last week:

AIG tells about Large-Brained Apes graduating from Penn State. What??

Al Mohler on homeschooling.

The Rebelution talks about the danger of a wasted life.

At Miscellanies, read 15 Tools for Exegetical Research.

Les Puryear discusses Casting Vision in the Small Church.

Sacred Sandwich has fun with Frogs in Sunday School.

Update: Providence

Yesterday I blogged about God's act of providence in bringing a new friend, Julie Anne Osterhus, into our lives. It turns out that Julie Anne has a blog of her own. To read about her take on staying with us in Savannah, click here.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Beauty of God's Providence in Action

The longer I live, the more convinced I am that everything that happens to us is an act of God's providence. The last few days further confirmed this.

Last Thursday my wife called to tell me that a daughter (Julie Anne Osterhus, age 19) of some old friends of ours was having car trouble. Julie Anne was traveling from Raleigh, NC to Miami to spend the summer assisting a church in its music ministry. Her car began having transmission trouble near Savannah. Through a series of phone calls, Julie Anne got in touch wife my wife, and then ended up at our home.

It was a joy to get to know her, although we felt a little bad about it because she was going to have to leave on Friday morning to make it the rest of the way to Miami. That didn't happen.

Julie Anne made it south of here about 100 miles on Friday morning - then her transmission burned up (smoke, etc.). She managed to get to a repair shop. They told her the car would not be ready until Monday. While we felt bad about the transmission, this also meant that Julie Anne would need a place to stay for a few days. Alice, therefore, drove to get Julie Anne and bring her back to our home.

We all had a great time getting to know one another over the next few days. We went to the community pool, walked River Street, toured the historic district, and enjoyed the Compline Service at historic Christ Church Savannah. We also did a lot of hanging out.

Julie Anne blessed us all by playing and singing a song she wrote herself. This was very edifying for our church family as we gathered on Sunday morning.

Alas, Julie Anne's car was finally repaired yesterday (Tuesday). Alice drove her to where it was, and Julie Anne is now safely in Miami.

This whole episode that began badly (transmission problems) ended up as a great blessing to our family and (I hope) to Julie Anne. We were blessed with a new friend who helped build us up in Christ.

This is just another example of God's providence in action. We deserve nothing but the Lake of Fire, but the Lord blesses us greatly every day.

R. C. Sproul on Seeking After God

R. C. Sproul writes an excellent post on seeking after God. Sproul says, "People do not seek God. They seek after the benefits that only God can give them. The sin of fallen man is this: Man seeks the benefits of God while fleeing from God Himself. We are, by nature, fugitives."

To read the entire post, click here.

A Nice Piece on Homeschooling

Our family is a homeschooling family. Because of this, it is always encouraging to read positive things about home education on the internet. I was excited this morning to read Dr. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, say some very positive things about homeschooling. To read his post, click here.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

World's Population Cartogram: This Should Affect How We Plan for Missions

Acts 1:8, along with various other bible passages, make it clear that we are to be reaching out to the rest of the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Maps like the one below ought to inform us as we think and pray about where to go.

Click on the image to enlarge.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Registered for T4G 2010

I just registered for the 2010 Together for the Gospel Conference. I know it's almost a year away, but I'm already looking forward to it.

This conference is entitled The Unadjusted Gospel. The T4G website says of the conference, "The good news does not adjust. It’s always the same and it’s always good. Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, proclaims a message that’s the same yesterday, today, and forever. So should we."

I'm anticipating each of the conference presenters. The lineup is Thabiti Anyabwile, Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, John MacArthur, C. J. Mahaney, Albert Mohler, John Piper, and R. C. Sproul.

I'm also looking forward to riding to the conference (in Louisville, KY) with a few other Savannah pastors of the Reformed Baptist persuasion.

If you are interested in learning more about T4G in general or this conference in particular, click here.

Interesting Map

This map is not "news," but I still find it interesting. Click on the image to see it in detail.