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Insider Movements: Why Should I Care?

Jul 22, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

If you care about the church and care about missions, you can’t afford to be ignorant about Insider Movements.

That’s why I’m happy to introduce Dave Garner as today’s guest blogger. Besides being a friend and a man I greatly respect, Dave is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary and Pastor of Teaching at Proclamation Presbyterian Church (Bryn Mawr, PA). With a keen theological mind and overseas ministry experience, Dave has been a strong voice in the PCA warning about the dangers of the Insider Movement Paradigm in missions.

The issues are complex, but Dave has provided an outstanding summary of the main concerns. Take a few minutes to read the post, and consider passing it along to your pastor, missionaries, or missions committee. Be sure to look into the links and the resources for further study.

—Guest Post by Dave Garner—

Introduction: The Real Work Begins

Because missions belongs to Christ, missions belongs to the Church. Under Christ’s loving headship, members of Christ’s Church must bear faithful witness to the Lord and Savior. In keeping with that calling, ignorance about missions we supply and support is both dangerous and culpable.

Taking a commendable step forward to greater effectiveness and accountability in worldwide missions, the 42nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, overwhelmingly endorsed the recommendations of the Study Committee on Insider Movements (SCIM). The most critical recommendation calls the Church to study the report on Insider Movements, “SCIM Part 2,”[1] so that congregations can ensure faithful gospel witness.

Now the real work begins. But, some may ask, what is the big deal? Why should we care about Insider Movements (IM) and the Insider Movement Paradigm (IMP) in missions? And what, if anything, should we do?

To fix the problem, we must understand the problem. IM theology and method are admittedly complex, and not all IM looks the same. However, certain shared features consistently bubble to the surface, airing IM’s true character. The following five points expose prevailing problems inside IM theology and method, and should help us to respond wisely to its practice and practitioners.[2]

1. IM calls believers to stay in. God’s Word calls believers to come out.

The goal of impacting one’s network of relationships is surely noble and even biblical. Jesus, after all, did call his followers to powerful influence: “You are the light of the world,” Jesus says. “Let your light shine before others” (Matt 5:14, 16).

Following the trail blazed by twentieth century Fuller Seminary church growth and mission mavericks, many today accuse missionaries of isolating new believers from their families and communities. Not all (not even most) of these gatherings of new believers deserve the ardent criticism. However, wherever ill-conceived insulation into so-called Christian “ghettos” occurs, such practices should stop. Monasticism and enclaving will not produce faithful disciples.

But the IM medicine becomes is worse than disease it diagnoses. IM responds to alleged extrication (withdrawal from one’s familial and social network to join a new community: the visible church) by validating peoples and their religions, and encouraging new Christ followers to stay right where they are – relationships, norms, religious practices, and all. These social and relational spheres of reference are seen as spiritually neutral and locally proprietary.

For IM, whatever impact the gospel produces ought not involve social, relational, or religious changes—or at least not visibly so. IM disciple-making encourages blend-in-and-keep-your-religion. Human diversity in its cultural and religious practices, it is claimed, needs preservation, not repudiation.[3]

Does such blanket affirmation of diversity do justice to the lordship of Christ and his call to his sheep? Is the Christian faith chameleon-like, so that it should blend into its surroundings? Besides the practical questions of its effectiveness, the IM insistence upon staying in meets with powerful biblical resistance. Scripture presents an extraction model of conversion that upholds the comprehensive scope of Christ’s lordship, renounces idolatry in all forms (mind, heart, and practice), and provides outsider apologetic witness for the gospel.

Following Jesus blazes with distinction and consecration. And it is in this out-ness of the faith that the Church grows and effective evangelism takes place.

Yet the IM model of influence combats such outing. In IM, it is more important to stay in—to remain wholly identified with your network and family—than nearly anything else. This stay-in orientation encourages several practices. To name a few,

  • Hide your faith so that you can stay in relationship with your family. Woo them with silence and kindness; do not offend them by your trust in Christ.
  • Avoid participation in visible churches because such participation will alienate you from your family and will be misunderstood by your community.
  • Continue your existing religious practices. Jesus is not concerned with where or how you worship him, but that you worship and trust him.[4]

Such decisions beg the question of how IM faith encourages becoming wholly identified with the Master, and jeopardize any viable meaning of Christ’s resurrected lordship (Eph 1:15-23).

For those who think such a socially alienating demand works at odds with gospel influence, let us not forget that the success of God’s kingdom rides on the shoulders of its King, who is Head of his Church. He neither needs nor solicits “better” ideas, including those of IM-ers. The Church, in fact, has always grown by its radical otherness, not by accommodation.

Accommodation and contextualization are not the same. Faithful contextualization begins with the gospel and then addresses the culture; accommodation starts with the culture and seeks to fit in the gospel. When this critically important orientation gets muddled or reversed, contextualization quickly turns to compromise.[5] Such a modification often goes unnoticed and usually goes unchecked.

Distinction, identity, and even suffering serve as the greatest apologetic for the gospel! Open discipleship creates the gospel’s in-roads. When the Church looks like the world around it, it becomes anemic and shrinks. When the Church looks like her Christ, it suffers and grows.

Demands for localized social and religious retention are completely at odds not only with the message of the gospel, but the expansion of the gospel. Only when the Church stands out can it effect change inside every people and culture.

2. IM makes the old trump the new. God’s Word makes the new trump the old.

IM proponents find certain conclusions of the soft sciences—cultural anthropology and sociology—irresistible and foundational. No matter the theological or practical issue involved, the IM compass stubbornly turns to its own true north: cultural diversity and local autonomy. IM-ers view pre-existing cultural and religious distinctions as the key to gospel diversity, and upholding this diversity ensures that the kingdom of God will prevail.[6]

Whatever the gospel does among peoples around the world then, it does with a view to keeping these people where they were and who they were. If a Jew, always a Jew. If a Muslim, always a Muslim. If a Christian, always a Christian.[7]

To see why this is so, we must drill down to IM’s theological footings. Its anchor-bolts fasten to a theological foundation of cultural and religious immovability. People do not change their identity; they stay who they are. It is impossible to change people in this way and immoral to try. Structured in this way, the Insider Movement suffers insider inertia; in this deeply critical (and spiritual!) sense, the Insider “movement” most ironically stands motionless.

The gospel, so construed by IM, does not call us out from our loves and our lives, making all things new; it adapts to, and then gradually—though imperceptibly to the outsider—transforms what I already know, believe, and practice. Surely aspects of religious habits will (and likely should) change in time, but irrespective of those changes, the shape of the gospel in my life is predetermined by my prior socio-religious context.

Even if we grant any credence to this anemic conception of sanctification, the IM die is cast. The old trumps the new.

By contrast, Scripture absolutizes the new creation, the new community of faith. The starting point for consideration of all thought, speech, and lifestyle changes begins with the comprehensive newness of life in Christ. His voice (John 10), his Headship (Eph 2; 1 Cor 11;), and his resurrection power (Eph 1) redefine everything. The new is not seen in light of the old; the old must be seen in light of the new. Christ’s resurrection authority demands it!

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). Herman Ridderbos captures well the new life in Christ: “The believer has put on Christ (Gal. 3:27), and thus participates in the nullification in Christ of the old mode of existence and in the new creation of God revealed in him.”[8]

The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come (2 Cor 5:17).

3. IM claims that identity is a personal decision. God’s Word claims that identity is a divine determination.

Who am I and how do I see myself? The question of personal identity runs front and center in IM conceptions. Hardly an essay exists in IM literature that does not attempt to shed new light on identity questions. Despite the diverse interpretations concerning identity and identity categories, unquestioned in IM literature is the source of authority for such identity questions. Identity (personal, familial, social, professional, etc.) belongs to the human subject. I am who I say I am.

This rebellious commitment is fatally flawed and registers a jarring concern. God determines and declares who I am, even if I reject his Word. In unbelief, I assert the right to choose and relish my identity. In Christ, I discover the lie of such an idolatrous formulation.

Illumined by the Holy Spirit, I discover that I am not bound by my self-perceptions, but am now able to understand the Word of God and what it says about me. The blessed discovery? I am who God says I am. That I was fallen in Adam is a divinely revealed fact; that I am now redeemed in Christ is a divinely revealed fact and gift. This understanding completely and sweetly changes everything.

Muslim converts who reject the self-centered IM paradigm treasure God-given identity. Many refer to themselves as BMBs (Believers of Muslim Background) or CMBs (Christians of Muslim Background) rather than MBBs (Muslim Background Believers). Why? Because the BMB and CMB acronyms put Christ first. The Muslim convert is no longer known by what he was, but what he is. BMB and CMB put up front the new faith, the new identity, the new creation! It makes explicit the comprehensively new nature of the gospel and its grace-filled identity.

According to Scripture, our identity does not derive from what we were, but from what we are now. Our identity does not derive from who we think we are, but who God says we are. God has spoken. God in Christ has worked. He tells us who we were, and he tells us who we are.

Once dead in Adam, now we walk in Christ in newness of life (Rom. 6:4). We are in Christ. So Paul assures believers, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. [4] When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:3-4).

God defines identity. God graciously gives new identity in Christ. To borrow from a sweet gospel line in hymnody, “I am his, and he is mine.”

4. IM extricates the Church from the kingdom of God. God’s Word integrates the Church and the kingdom of God.

IM advocates have no tolerance for extrication. For followers of Christ to identify with a new community and to remove themselves or even distance themselves from their existing network is anathematized (see point #1 above). The problem, according to IM, is that in such a model of missions, evangelism and “salt and light” impact are removed. To be sure, we could find examples of inappropriate extrication, when for comfortsake or other illegitimate reasons, new believers have abandoned homes and relationships.

But IM advocates are guilty of a more sinister form of extrication – a systematic one, which rends the Church from the kingdom of God. Let me explain. Taking on an imaginative reading of Scripture, IM insists that what God is doing extends beyond the Church. Jesus does not turn people to Christianity, so to speak, but to an invisible kingdom. The kingdom of God delivers internal change rather than relational, cultural, and religious change.[9]

In other words, God does not call us to become Christians or to become members of a church; he simply wants our hearts. IM faith is personal and local, not corporate and universal. The kingdom of Christ, so configured, reigns in my socio-religious context and the organized, visible Church becomes optional and unnecessary. IM opens wide its indiscriminate Churchless doors, as it extricates the Church from the kingdom.

Herein lies the theological rub. God’s Word distinguishes Church and kingdom, but it never separates them. There is no gospel or kingdom work of God that is not also churchly work.[10]There is no true faith and no faithful work of missions that separates the believer from the visible Church. There is no biblical salvation that excludes the Church and its means of grace (preaching, sacraments, and prayer); or to put it in theological language, soteriology and ecclesiology function indivisibly. Jesus came and died for his Church.

As Paul states in Col 1:13, “we have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” This transfer moves us from unbelief and disobedience to redeeming faith and obedience; this transfer moves us from the realm of darkness to the realm of light and grace. What is that realm? The body of Christ, the kingdom of Christ, the Church of Christ. Jesus’ kingdom is exhaustively churchly.

So the Westminster Confession of Faith 26.3 reads, “The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion;(1) and of their children:(2) and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, (3) the house and family of God,(4) out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” (emphasis added)

Jesus is King “over all things to the church” (Eph. 1:22). The Church manifests the kingdom of Christ. Kingdom ministry is Church ministry. There is no other kind.

5. IM calls the established Church to stay out. God’s Word calls the established Church to go in.

Few would be brazen enough to demand expressly, “Church, stay out!” But what is not stated overtly appears implicitly nearly everywhere in IM literature. Churches and their historic confessions are intrusions at best, impediments at worst. In any case, the established Church is not welcome to the IM table. Why not?

As leaven in the dough (IM’s most popular metaphor), how the “gospel” grows in one culture will necessarily differ from how it does in any other culture. Theology and practice must grow from within, not be imposed. Theological understanding and confession ought to come from the bottom up and from the inside out. They must never come from the top down or the outside in.

IM “discipleship” effectively substitutes evangelism, preaching and teaching with facilitation (read, “passivity”). The risks of theological/cultural imperialism warrant a hands-off policy in missions, wherein the established Church should stay away and to let the Spirit do what he is doing on the inside. The established Church should not act as a big sister, but as a distant cousin twice removed: the greater the distance, the more effective the Spirit’s “ministry.”

The logic comes with warning. Imposing ecclesial dependence upon insider groups will squelch the Jesus followers from developing their own theology in their own way. Better to let them stumble in unbelieving error than to demand they look like the worldwide confessing Church. Put otherwise, it is better to let those in IM perpetuate idolatry and syncretism, than it is for the established Church to intrude by preaching and teaching biblical truth.

Not a hardy endorsement of the Church for whom Christ died and in which he has enacted his loving purposes! The resounding teaching of Scripture is that the universal Church is one under Christ. Intentional neglect by the established Church or defiant rejection of the established Church by the fledgling groups of believers: both fail to obey Jesus.

When the Church lies in the shadows, it militates against the Spirit of Christ. Why? Because the Spirit works freely by the ordinary means of grace he has given the Church. Rather than nebulous “facilitation,” bold preaching and teaching by the Church advance the gospel around the world. That is Jesus’ and the Spirit’s way.

The Church called out of the world is the Church that goes into the world with the Gospel.

Conclusion: Christianity is an Outsider Movement

The book of Hebrews puts the Church on notice: confess Christ boldly, openly, and uncompromisingly (Heb 4:14; 10:23)! Hebrews 13:13-14 points to the outside character of following Christ in most graphic terms: “So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.”

Lip service does not constitute confessing Christ. Faithful confession involves going “outside the camp” and bearing Christ’s “reproach.” True believers are not insiders; they are outsiders. How does such reproach come? By following him outside, and identifying with him sincerely and openly.

So goes Philip Hughes:

For the Christian there must be a real identification with Christ and his shame; he must enter into a genuine ‘fellowship of Christ’s sufferings’ (Phil 3:10), and be willing even, like the first martyr Stephen, to lay down his life for his Lord and Savior ‘outside the city’ (Acts 7:58). The recipients of this letter had gone forth ‘outside the camp’ to associate themselves with Christ and his cross; but now their resolve is weakening and they are being tempted to turn back in the hope of finding an easier and more respectable existence ‘inside the camp.’[11]

The context is clear. Jewish believers in Christ were not to return to the old religious forms, because of the completed work of Jesus, whose perfect finish is attested by his passing through the heavens.[12] To put it more clearly, if the gospel called Jews away from old Temple practices, it surely did not allow Gentile believers to carry on in their religious practices and exercise faith inside their own religions.

Not unlike the tensions in the early Church, the problems with IM are not just theological and methodological, but imminently practical. Let me name some contemporary kerfuffles. Will IM-ers have a Muslim wedding or a Christian one? Whom do the children of IM-ers marry? Muslims or Christians? To my knowledge, the track record indicates that IM-ers’ children marry Muslims. What type of funeral and which burial ground will IM-ers choose? The choices in many contexts are binary – Muslim and Christian. Unlike in the pluralistic west, in many such places, open syncretism has no chapels, chaplains or burial grounds.

Biblical Christianity is an outsider movement. Sincere faith very practically and poignantly calls believers out from the world, repudiates any clinging to the old, celebrates God’s gift of new identity in Christ, relishes the Church as the center of all gospel ministry, and calls the Church to shine boldly from the outside in.

Anything else is not pure gospel and dishonors the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church. Anything else produces colossal chaos, and concocts syncretistic soup. Anything else leads people down their wide roads of unbelief.

Now What?

The Insider Movement rejects core tenets of biblical Christianity and must not be ignored. The “what” of the PCA’s recent actions, therefore, begs the “now what?” How should churches and missions committees address IM? Several steps are necessary.

  1. Get sufficiently educated on the Insider Movement (IM) and the Insider Movement Paradigm (IMP). Read SCIM Part 2 (http://www.pcaac.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/2101-SCIM-2014-ALL-with-MRs-4-30-14.pdf), pp. 2101-2294. Read additional materials from “References for Further Study.”
  2. Create questions for missionaries and mission agencies concerning the theology and practice of Insider Movements. For starters, see SCIM Part 2, p. 2258 and the Affirmations and Denials, pp. 2126-2131.
  3. Pursue these theological and methodological questions with missionaries, who are serving in Muslim contexts or other contexts where the gospel is openly opposed.
  4. Pursue these theological and methodological questions with mission organizations, which serve in contexts hostile to the gospel.
  5. As churches and missionary supporters, make prayerful and careful decisions about any necessary follow up steps.

 

References for Further Study

Garner, David B. “High Stakes: Insider Movement Hermeneutics and the Gospel,” Themelios 37:2 (July 2012): 249-74; http://legacy.thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/article/high_stakes_insider_movement_hermeneutics_and_the_gospel. [This article provides extensive footnoting for reference to original sources by IM advocates.]

Jennings, Nelson and Garner, David B. “Jennings and Garner on the PCA’s Response to Insider Movements, ” Reformation21 (June 2014), http://www.reformation21.org/articles/jennings-and-garner-debate-the-insider-movement.php.

. “Jennings and Garner: First Rejoinders,” Reformation21 (June 2014), http://www.reformation21.org/articles/jennings-and-garner-first-rejoinders.php.

. “Jennings and Garner Final Responses, Reformation21 (June 2014),http://www.reformation21.org/articles/jennings-and-garner-final-responses.php.

Mark, Philip. “Insider Movements Defined . . . Biblically,” Reformation21, http://www.reformation21.org/articles/insider-movements-definedbiblically.php.

Nikides, Bill. “The Emergence of Insider Movements,” World Reformed Fellowship (April 27, 2011), http://wrfnet.org/resources/2011/05/wrf-member-bill-nikides-emergence-insider-movements. [This article helpfully shows the affinity between emergent church theology and IM.]

Schweitzer, Bill. “Is the Insider Movement That Bad?”, Reformation21 (June 2014), http://www.reformation21.org/articles/is-the-insider-movement-really-that-bad.php. [While Medearis, the figure whom Schweitzer's article addresses is not technically a part of Insider Movements, his theological paradigm and missions methods are largely indistinguishable from IM. Schweitzer's article is useful in showing how the IM paradigm exceeds self-identified IM.]

 

Footnotes

[1] The actual recommendation from the Study Committee on Insider Movements (SCIM) states, “That the 42nd General Assembly make available and recommend for study ‘A Call to Faithful Witness, Part Two: Theology, Gospel Missions, and Insider Movements” to its presbyteries, sessions, and missions committees.’” We will label this report, “SCIM Part 2.”

[2] In order to streamline these five points, only essential quotations and footnotes appear. However, each of these summary points is demonstrated in various ways throughout IM literature and published critiques. See a list of “References for Further Study” at the end of this article.

[3] For IM advocates, such retention of social and religious networks is not merely an option, but the only pure manifestation of the gospel. For fuller discussion of this matter, see David B. Garner, “High Stakes: Insider Movement Hermeneutics and the Gospel,” Themelios (July 2012), 253-255. In addition, because following Jesus requires maintainingeach person’s own socio-religious identity and customs, one is hard pressed to find IM confrontation of unbelieving and idolatrous practices.

[4] Of course, this perspective raises several questions. Which “Jesus” do you believe if it is not the One that has called you to reject father, mother, sister and brother on account of him? What is faith in the revealed Christ if it does not demand open allegiance? Didn’t James teach us that faith without visible works is dead? Even the demons believe (James 2:14-26, esp. v. 19)!

[5] See SCIM Part 2, pp. 2156-2181, 2280.

[6] IM, in fact, claims that we only uphold the gospel with integrity by preserving cultural and religious diversity. See Rebecca Lewis, “The Integrity of the Gospel and Insider Movements,” International Journal of Foreign Missiology 27:1 (2010): 41-48, available at http://www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/27_1_PDFs/27_1_Lewis.pdf (accessed July 7, 2014). In response, see Garner, “High Stakes,” 249-274.

[7] To IM advocates and other students of missions (missiologists), the term “Christian” is a socio-religious category, not an essentially spiritual one. Thus, in a “Christian” culture, a person is a “Christian” whether or not he has believed in Christ for forgiveness of sin.

[8]Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, trans. John Richard De Witt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975),212-13.

[9] For IM argument on kingdom, see, for example, Rebecca Lewis, “Insider Movements: Honoring God-given Identity and Community,” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 26:1 (Spring 2009): 19 (http://www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/26_1_PDFs/26_1_Lewis.pdf); Rick Brown, “The Kingdom of God and the Mission of God: Part 1,” IJFM 28:1 (Spring 2011): 5-12 (http://www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/28_1_PDFs/IJFM%2028%201_Brown.pdf); Rick Brown, “The Kingdom of God and the Mission of God: Part 2,” IJFM 28:2 (Summer 2011): 49-59 (http://www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/28_2_PDFs/IJFM_28_2-BrownPt2.pdf). For popular level resources, encouraging “Muslim followers of Jesus,” see Kingdom Circles (http://kingdomcircles.net/#) and Jesus and the Quran (http://jaq.org/).

[10] IM advocate and author Rick Brown formally makes this point, calling kingdom communities ecclesiae (“churches”). However, Brown’s seemingly acceptable treatment of church and kingdom gets comprehensively compromised by his theology of religions, in which he equalizes Christian and non-Christian “religions” and pits church polity against the kingdom of God. His lack of clarity on the visible church is equally troubling. See SCIM Part 2:2216-2220.

[11] Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 580.

[12] The approach taken here confronts simplistic parallelism drawn between first century Jews/Gentiles and contemporary Christians/Muslim, which IM advocates regularly assume and advance. The author of Hebrews rebukes Christians for returning to the old and familiar is precisely because those old religious and cultural forms have come to an end in the arrival of Christ. Forms of worship and practice are now defined by the lordship of the risen Christ. If return to Jewish practices, as revealed and commanded by God, is disobedient, then perpetuating other non-revealed worship practices could hardly be justified. Jesus does not accommodate himself to former—even God-ordained—religious practices, but replaces them with the explicit means of grace he has given to the Church. The Gospel does not offer adjustments to one’s religious commitments, but presents a comprehensive replacement of them. We will never apply the gospel properly to our lives when we insist upon norms and customs and seek to lay the gospel over them. We only address personal and cultural norms when we begin with the comprehensive demands of the gospel – in our hearts and our practices. Properly employed, J. H. Bavinck’s conception of possessio presupposes and applies the comprehensive lordship of Christ as a confrontation and capture of heart, mind, and life practices before it seeks to take appropriate any familiar habits into Christian living. See J. H. Bavinck, An Introduction to the Science of Missions (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1960), 178-179.

 

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Monday Morning Humor

Jul 21, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Jason Helopoulos suggested we celebrate the church remodel with a real special music number performed by the pastors. Maybe something like this. We still have a few weeks to practice.

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Books, Bio, and Such: Mark Dever

Jul 18, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

During the summer I’ll be posting micro interviews on Fridays (mostly). I’ve asked some of my friends in ministry–friends you probably already know–to answer questions about “bio, books, and such.” My hope is that you’ll enjoy getting a few more facts about these folks and getting a few good book recommendations.

Today’s interview is with Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC and president of 9Marks.

1. Where were you born? Madisonville, KY

2. When did you become a Christian? In high school

3. Who is one well known pastor/author/leader who has shaped you as a Christian and teacher? Richard Sibbes

4. Who is one lesser known pastor/friend/mentor who has shaped you? Larry Trotter

5. What’s one hymn you want sung at your funeral? The Sands of Time Are Sinking

6. What kind of nonfiction do you enjoy reading when you aren’t reading about theology, the Bible, or church history? American history

7. Other than Calvin’s Institutes, what systematic theology have you found most helpful? Berkhof (I love its concision!)

8. What are one or two of your favorite fiction authors or fiction books? Tolkien and Twain come to mind (as well other authors one might encounter in the public schools of Kentucky in the 1960s)

9. What is one of your favorite non-Christian biographies? Grant’s Memoirs

10. What is one of your favorite books on preaching? David Helm’s Expositional Preaching

11. What is one of your favorite books on evangelism? Mack Stiles’ Evangelism

12. What is one of your favorite books on apologetics? Stanley Jaki, The Savior of Science

13. What is one of your favorite books on prayer? R.C. Sproul’s book on the Lord’s Prayer, Paul Tautgus’s book Teach Them to Pray

14. What is one of your favorite books on marriage? Not exactly a marriage book, but The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes has helped regard my wife as Christ would.

15. What is one of your favorite books on parenting? Tedd Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart

16. What music do you keep coming back to on your iPhone (or CD player, or tape deck, or gramophone)? I have extremely eclectic tastes. I better leave it there.

17. Favorite food? Southern milk chocolate ice cream

18. After the Bible, a hymnal, and a shipbuilding guide, what book would you want with you on a desert island? Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit

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Disillusionment with the Church

Jul 17, 2014 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

I would contend that many of our disillusions with the church are based upon a wrong ethic. We misunderstand the true nature of fellowship in the gospel community. And therefore, we wrongly apply the ethic of other communities to the church.

The foundation of our fellowship is not the feelings we have for one another, as important as they may be. Neither is the foundation of our fellowship based upon the fact that we live in the same geographic place, educate our children in the same way, hold similar political views, or are the same ethnicity. No. It is the gospel that is the foundation of our fellowship. Nothing else. It is truth rooted and founded in the person and work of Christ that lays the structure, creates the realm, and the reality of our union with one another. The key to understanding biblical fellowship is that it is rooted in a spiritual reality, rather than something that is physical. The basis of our fellowship is spiritual.

Because our bond is spiritual, in Christ, in the gospel, the way we are related to each other is drastically different than any other entity on the face of the earth. Deitrich Bonhoeffer pointed out in his little book, Life Together, that because the Christian community is spiritual there is never any “immediate” relationship between its members. This is unlike every other community. Individuals in the Christian community never have direct contact. We are always related to each other through Christ. I am not bound to you because we share common things or you to me because we have similar interests. Our contact, our relationship, is always through and in Christ as He is revealed in the gospel.

This means that we don’t love one another for our own sake. The love we have for one another is for Christ’s sake, because it is always through Him. Bonhoeffer said, “human love seeks direct contact with the other person; it loves him not as a free person but as one whom it binds to itself. It wants to gain…Human love desires the other person, his company, his answering love, but it does not serve him. On the contrary, it continues to desire even when it seems to be serving.” Human love looks for something in return. But Christian fellowship is wholly something else.

We can live sacrificially for each other, because we are bound together in Christ, who meets our every need. I don’t need you to fill my cup, because Christ does. You don’t need me to fill your cup, because Christ already has. I can serve you truly sacrificially and you can serve me sacrificially, because we come to one another in Christ who is our all in all.

Many of our disappointments in the local church are rooted, founded, and based upon the ethic of other communities. We are disappointed and critical of our brothers and sisters in Christ, because they are not giving us what we want or what we think we need. But true fellowship isn’t grounded in what others can give us. Rather, it is grounded in what we have already received.

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The Eight Steps of Sin

Jul 16, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Sin nibbles at our soul in small steps.

Eight steps, to be precise, according to John Witherspoon in his sermon on Hebrews 3:13 entitled “The Deceitfulness of Sin”:

1. Men enter and initiate themselves in a vicious practice by small sins.

2. Having once begun in the ways of sin, he ventures upon something great and more daring; his courage grows with his experience; and he gives himself more liberty to walk in the ways of his own heart, and the sight of his own eyes.

3. Open sins soon throw a man into the hands of ungodly companions.

4. In the next stage, the sinner begins to feel the force of habit and inveterate custom.

5. The next stage in a sinner’s course is to lose the sense of shame; and sin openly and boldly.

6. Another stage in the sinner’s progress is to harden himself so far, as to sin without remorse of conscience.

7. Improved sinners often come to boast and glory of their wickedness. It is something to be above shame; but it is more still to glory in wickedness and esteem it honorable.

8. Not to be content with being wicked themselves, but to use all their art and influence to make others so too. This is to be zealous in sinning, and industriously to promote the interest of the infernal cause. How often do we find those who have no fear of God before their own eyes, use their utmost endeavors to extinguish it before others, to laugh down qualms of their consciences, and break any reluctance they may seem to have at running to same excess of riot with themselves? (Works, 2:61-69)

From small sins to bigger sins, to bad friends and bad habits, to loss of shame and loss of conscience, to boasting in what is evil and being zealous for others to do the same–that is the devilish nature of sin’s grip on the human heart.

Was true in Scotland in the eighteenth century. Is true in America now. And everywhere else for that matter.

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Keep Singing the Doxology

Jul 15, 2014 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

Let me say from the beginning of this post, I am in favor of new Christian music. I have the Gettys on my Iphone. I regularly hum RUF hymns. I came to saving faith listening to Vineyard music. My kids love to blast Matt Redmon’s 10,000 Reasons. I am not opposed to new Christian music. In fact, I like much of it (don’t tell my Presbyterian friends). However, I am concerned that we are losing some of our old, tried, tested, and true music. And that is not good.

This hit me with force this past December. URC co-sponsored a conference in Lansing called Sola. This was a conference that focused on the five Solas of the Reformation and it was filled with 3,000 people, most under the age of thirty!

As someone who was helping to coordinate the event, I was sitting in the sectioned off speakers’ area. Two young men came in underneath the rope and sheepishly sat at the end of the row. They weren’t supposed to be there and they knew it. What was I to do? After a moment of debating whether to apply the law or grace, I saw the excitement upon their faces and extended grace through my silence. They just wanted to be close to the podium while the night’s final speaker, John Piper, preached. I couldn’t help but watch them. I watched as they sang the new songs leading up to the sermon with great enthusiasm. I watched as they sat upon the literal edge of their seat as John Piper delivered a masterful sermon. Their heads nodded in agreement and they would often look at each other with a smile of delight as they heard biblical truth proclaimed. I confess to being distracted. I couldn’t help it. I was just so encouraged to see young people this engaged with our God and His Word. I thoroughly loved watching this young, zealous, joy-filled, heart-delighting, focused faith. It warmed my soul.

After John Piper finished preaching, Kevin DeYoung came upon the platform and said, “Let’s sing the Doxology to close our conference.” And the room began to be filled with, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…” I stole a glance over to the two young men again. And I watched as they turned to each other, shrugged their shoulders, and gave one another a dumbfounded glance. They didn’t know the doxology. They had never heard it.

Now, let’s be clear. The Doxology is not necessary for our Christian faith. It is not an essential component of Christian worship. It is not indispensable to the Christian church. But it is old. It is good. It is true. The people of God have been singing it for close to 500 years for a reason. And we lose something when we lose it.

I pray that the Church keeps creating new, musically beautiful, theologically rich, biblically sound music. However, I also hope we don’t lose the old tried and tested music of the Church. It can happen. Who would have guessed two hundred years ago that very few churches would be singing the Psalms today? It is the song-book of the Bible for goodness sakes! And yet, it has been mostly lost in our churches. As it has happened with the Psalms (though I hope they will make a comeback), so it could happen with the great hymns and songs of our faith.

How sad it would be if this new generation of the church didn’t know the profound simplicity of the Gloria Patri, which has been sung since the second century. We lose something if we can’t comfort ourselves with Horatio Spafford’s It is Well with My Soul, can’t find strength in Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress is Our God, or lose the ability to ruminate upon the rich theology of Wesley’s And Can It Be.

There are hymns and songs that we need to keep singing for the good of our souls. There is a benefit to joining our voices with the saints that have preceded us. There is a blessing in keeping alive the rich theology, pastoral wisdom, and comforting truths that many of our old hymns, psalms, and songs convey. By God’s grace let’s keep creating new and good Christian songs and hymns. However, let’s not throw out the old for the new. New friends don’t require us to jettison old friends. I don’t want to be the generation that loses the hymnal as the previous generation lost the Psalter. We don’t have to be. Sing the new and sing the old. There are benefits that accompany both.

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Monday Morning Humor

Jul 14, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Amen and amen.

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Books, Bio, and Such: Michael Horton

Jul 11, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

During the summer I’ll be posting micro interviews on Fridays (mostly). I’ve asked some of my friends in ministry–friends you probably already know–to answer questions about “bio, books, and such.” My hope is that you’ll enjoy getting a few more facts about these folks and getting a few good book recommendations.

Today’s interview is with Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, Editor-in-Chief of Modern Reformation (MR) magazine, and President and host of the The White Horse Inn radio broadcast.

1. Where were you born? Los Angeles, California

2. When did you become a Christian? I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t.

3. Who is one well known pastor/author/leader who has shaped you as a Christian and teacher? James M. Boice

4. Who is one lesser known pastor/friend/mentor who has shaped you? Kim Riddlebarger

5. What’s one hymn you want sung at your funeral? Psalm 23—or, if by then there are no Psalters in the Western world, How Sweet And Awful

6. What kind of nonfiction do you enjoy reading when you aren’t reading about theology, the Bible, or church history? Various histories (of technology, the role of hermeticism in the founding of modernity, etc.) and books on secularization theory (pro and con).

7. Other than Calvin’s Institutes, what systematic theology have you found most helpful? It’s a toss-up between Bavinck, Berkhof and Hodge. But since Berkhof’s ST is a summary of Bavinck’s work, I’ll go with Bavinck.

8. What are one or two of your favorite fiction authors or fiction books? John Updike (especially the Rabbit series) and Umberto Eco (especially Foucault’s Pendulum)

9. What is one of your favorite non-Christian biographies? Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom.

10. What is one of your favorite books on preaching? Dennis Johnson’s Him We Proclaim. Another colleague, Julius Kim, has just written one for Zondervan that I’m excited about.

11. What is one of your favorite books on evangelism? Bruce Milne, Know the Truth

12. What is one of your favorite books on apologetics? Michael Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge (not a Christian, much less an apologist, but essential reading for apologetics). Also, Esther Lightcap Meek does a good job of summarizing the book and showing its apologetic significance in Longing to Know.

13. What is one of your favorite books on prayer? John Calvin’s Commentary on the Psalms and the Book of Common Prayer (1662 ed.)

14. What is one of your favorite books on marriage? Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

15. What is one of your favorite books on parenting? Tedd Tripp’s Shepherding a Child’s Heart

16. What music do you keep coming back to on your iPhone (or CD player, or tape deck, or gramophone)? I deeply resent the gramophone remark. I squandered my youth on 8-tracks. Like everyone, I’m eclectic (with an aversion to Country). Mainly classical and anything in the Mumford and Sons vein.

17. Favorite food? Tandoori. And ice cream, of course.

18. After the Bible, a hymnal, and a shipbuilding guide, what book would you want with you on a desert island? Some book on positive self-talk to manage my self-loathing at having lost control of the ship.

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What Makes for a Good Elder?

Jul 10, 2014 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

This past week one of the best elders I ever served with went home to glory. I lost a dear friend. This has led me to reflect on what makes for a good elder. Of course, a good elder will fulfill the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. That is foundational. He must be a man of character, the Word, and prayer. He should be hospitable, not a lover of money, rule his own household well, and the husband of one wife. These are just some of the biblical qualifications. However, there are also qualities that make for a good elder beyond the actual biblical requirements for service. Here are some that I have noticed over the years:

Theological, but Fiercely Practical: He will know the scriptures and revel in the doctrine and theology of God’s holy Word. And at the same time, he will know how to apply those truths of Scripture to the lives he is privileged to serve. As this man ministers, those under his care do not receive platitudes. Neither do they need to have a PhD in theology to sort through his advice and counsel. He is theologically minded and fiercely practical in applying that theology.

Leader, but a Willing Follower: People look to him. He doesn’t wear a sign that announces he is a leader. He isn’t loud and demands that people follow, they just do. His character and life in Christ almost demand it. However, he is also willing to follow the pastors and his fellow elders in the church. He does not always need to be in the front. It is not a matter ego with him. It is not a necessity.

Dignified, but Wonderfully Approachable: An elder should have an air of dignity about him. He is serious about the Christian faith. He knows that life is short and he does not waste it. However, this air of dignity does not drive people from him, but rather compels people to him. All find him approachable. He is the type of man that one naturally feels as though they should sit at his feet, look up, and say, “Talk to me about the things of God.”

Listener, but Wisely Vocal: He is slow to speak and quick to listen. He has a discerning ear that can sort the important from the mundane. Others are encouraged by his careful listening. However, he is also willing to voice an opinion if it is needed. He is not silent. And when he speaks, men listen. When his voice is exercised, he does not dominate by force. Rather, he persuades through wisdom.

Courageous, but Pastorally Winsome: The pastors of the church know that this elder will “have their backs.” Every elder in the church knows that this is “a brother in arms.” He does not shy away from the hard discussions, the difficult conflicts, or the trying personalities of the church. He is a man that stands in the gap. But not with bravado. He is not a reluctant engager, but he is winsome. He isn’t looking for conflict, but he also won’t run from it.

Dogmatic, but Flexible: He is a rock on the non-negotiables. He will not be moved from the teaching of the Scriptures. However, he is flexible and able to concede points to others when he is proven wrong or the issue is not of extreme importance. He does not always demand or insist upon his own way. He is willing to compromise and even happy to do so if the subject is not central.

Gifted, but Knowingly Humble: His gifts are readily used to serve the body. He is aware of how the Lord has gifted him for service in the church. In turn, he is also keenly aware of the gifts which he does not possess. He happily yields to other pastors and elders more gifted than him in whatever realm of service that may be.

Officer, but Servant First: He recognizes that the office of elder is an office. He has a mantle upon his shoulders. There is responsibility and privilege. However, this is not a position by which he seeks to lord over others. He recognizes that the office of elder is first and foremost an office of service.

Churchly, but a Lover of Men: He loves the church as a body. This leads him to weigh-in on big decisions and think through methodological and practical issues in the church. They concern him. However, this is always driven by a love for men. He loves the church, because he loves its people. He is able to echo the sentiment of Paul when he said to the Philippian church, “my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown…” (Phil. 4:1).

Loyal, but a Thoughtful Exhorter: There is a natural willingness to lend support to his pastors. He is inclined that way. He does not have a gate checker mentality. He is not a fault finder. However, when it is necessary, he is willing to challenge his pastors and fellow elders appropriately. He does not follow blindly.

Thank God for the elders he has called to serve in the church. I have had the distinct privilege of laboring alongside of some of the best men I have ever known. They have challenged, exhorted, encouraged, and shaped me. My friend was one of the best at doing so. Let us treasure them while we have them.

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Was Hobby Lobby All Wrong About Emergency Contraceptives?

Jul 09, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Pills-570x433The Supreme Court’s decision in favor of Hobby Lobby had nothing to do with the rights or wrongs of contraceptives. The morality of abortion and abortifacient drugs was not the issue. Neither was the scientific debate about how emergency contraceptives prevent pregnancy. The Supreme Court came down in support of Hobby Lobby, Conestoga, and Mandel because it concluded they were protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed unanimously by the House, 97-3 by the Senate, and signed into law by President Clinton in 1993. The Greens could be mistaken in their beliefs about emergency contraceptives and still have the legal right not to be forced to violate their consciences and give up their religious liberty.

But, of course, the debate about contraception–what it does and how it works–matters a great deal in the court public opinion. So it’s not surprising that many media outlets are suggesting Hobby Lobby had its “facts” all wrong about how emergency contraceptives actually prevent pregnancy.

In the New Republic piece “The Medical Facts About Birth Control and Hobby Lobby–From an OB/GYN”, Dr. Jen Gunter argues, “There is no evidence that Plan B, Ella, or the Mirena cause abortion by any definition.” She acknowledges that under a “religious” definition of pregnancy, anything that prevents implantation or terminates an implanted embryo constitutes a form of abortion. But in her “summary of the best available medical evidence” she concludes that of the four contraceptives objected to by Hobby Lobby, three (Plan B, Ella, Mirena) definitely do not prevent implantation and the fourth (Copper IUD) most likely does not. Thus, if conservatives would only look at the scientific facts, they would see that there is no “rational basis for refusing to pay for these contraceptives.”

But what do the contraceptives say about themselves? Each of the four pills or devices in question have their own websites full of medical information provided by the manufacturer and/or the Food and Drug Administration.

Plan B

Although Plan B is the most widespread of the four contraceptives, its website provides the least amount of precise medical information. In the “About” section, we find that Plan B “is a backup plan that helps prevent pregnancy,” but is not an abortion pill like RU-486 and will not affect an existing pregnancy. There is no detailed scientific information on the website about how Plan B works. Instead, there are links to several external websites for further information.

The paucity of information is probably intentional. In 2012, the New York Times ran an extensive article about the efforts of the maker of Plan B to have the FDA remove from the Plan B label the implantation effect as one of the possible means of preventing pregnancy. To be fair, the article presents several pieces of evidence suggesting that Plan B may not adversely affect the chances of implantation. But it also notes the FDA’s continuing refusal to remove the implantation language from Plan B’s label, which reads in section 12.1 “Mechanism of Action”:

Emergency contraceptive pills are not effective if a woman is already pregnant.Plan B One-Step is believed to act as an emergency contraceptive principally by preventing ovulation or fertilization (by altering tubal transport of sperm and/or ova). In addition, it may inhibit implantation (by altering the endometrium). It is not effective once the process of implantation has begun. (emphasis added).

Some have argued that the implantation language is based on inferior science and should be removed. But considering the maker of Plan B has been lobbying since the drug’s approval in 1999 to have the language removed, it’s not too hard to imagine that at least part of the effort to change the label is to boost sales and remove possible objections religious persons may have about using Plan B. There’s a reason the Plan B website does not link to its own label.

Ella

Ulipristal acetate (or Ella, actually ella with a lowercase “e”) is a progesterone receptor modulator, which means it fools the women’s body into thinking its pregnant. It works differently than Plan B and has been shown (section 8.1) to cause “embryofetal loss” in pregnant rats and pregnant rabbits. In 12.1 of the Ella label, in the section entitled “Mechanism of Action,” we read:

When taken immediately before ovulation is to occur, ella postpones follicular rupture. The likely primary mechanism of action of ulipristal acetate for emergency contraception is therefore inhibition or delay of ovulation; however, alterations to the endometrium that may affect implantation may also contribute to efficacy. (emphasis added)

According to its own information, Ella should not be used by nursing or pregnant women and it may prevent pregnancy by adversely affecting the implantation of a fertilized egg (see also “Does the Drug ‘ella’ Cause Abortions?”).

Mirena

Mirena is an intrauterine device (IUD) designed to prevent pregnancy for up to five years. According to its own website, Mirena “prevents pregnancy, most likely in several ways:”

  • Thickens cervical mucus to prevent sperm from entering your uterus
  • Inhibits sperm from reaching or fertilizing your egg
  • Thins the lining of your uterus

Immediately following these bullet points, we read:

Mirena may stop the release of your egg from your ovary, but this is not the way it works in most cases. While there’s no single explanation for how Mirena works, most likely, the above actions work together to prevent pregnancy for up to 5 years. (emphasis added)

By its own admission, Mirena does not normally work by preventing ovulation, but from a combination of three factors, one of which is making the uterus inhospitable for a fertilized egg.

Paragard (Copper IUD)

Paragard is a copper intrauterine device designed to prevent pregnancy for up to ten years. On the Paragard website, the first sentence under “How Does It Work?” reads:

The copper in Paragard® (intrauterine copper contraceptive) interferes with sperm movement and egg fertilization. Paragard® may prevent implantation. (emphasis added)

Again, the implantation language is up front and explicit.

Conclusion

Some may argue that the FDA labels should be changed, or that recent tests suggest none of these pills/devices work as abortifacients. And yet, that’s not what the contraceptives say about themselves. At best, the way in which these pills and devices work is disputed and uncertain. But if all four contraceptives, in their official information, are explicitly said to adversely affect implantation, how can Hobby Lobby’s objections to providing these contraceptives be considered unscientific or irrational? If one has a moral objection to providing pills and devices which may terminate nascent life, the contraceptives themselves do nothing to allay these fears. In fact, a careful reading of their medical information suggests the concerns are well founded.

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