Monthly Archives: March 2011

 

Mar

31

2011

Trevin Wax|5:08 pm CT

Live-Blog Notes from The Elephant Room Conference

Today in Chicago, seven pastors gathered together to participate in blunt conversations about their different approaches to ministry. No keynotes. No canned messages. These are “the conversations you never thought you’d hear.” Audio and video is not yet available, but there have been several people live-blogging the event.

Luke MacDonald provides some general observations. Here is James MacDonald’s take.

Below are quick rundowns of each session. I’ll be updating this page as more become available. At the bottom, I’ve included my 12 favorite tweets from the #elephantroom Twitter feed.

Session 1: Preaching to Build the Attendance vs. Preaching to Build the Attendees
- Matt Chandler & Steven Furtick
Summary & Quotes from Chris Vacher and Jake Johnson

Session 2: Culture in the Church vs. Church in the Culture
- Mark Driscoll & Perry Noble
Summary & Quotes from Chris Vacher and Jake Johnson

Session 3: Compassion Amplifies the Gospel vs. Compassion Distorts the Gospel
- Greg Laurie & David Platt
Summary & Quotes from Chris Vacher and Jake Johnson

Session 4: Unity: Can’t We All Get Along? vs. Discernment: My Way or the Highway
- Steven Furtick & James MacDonald
Summary & Quotes from Chris Vacher and Jake Johnson

Session 5: Multi-Site: Personality Cult vs. God’s Greater Glory
- Perry Noble & Matt Chandler
Summary and Quotes from Chris Vacher and Jake Johnson

Session 6: Money?
- David Platt & James MacDonald
Summary and Quotes from Jake Johnson

Session 7: Love the Gospel vs. Share the Gospel
- Greg Laurie & Mark Driscoll
Summary and Quotes from Chris Vacher and Jake Johnson

Conclusion: Lightning Roundtable
Summary and Quotes from Jake Johnson

TOP TWELVE TWEETS

12. James MacDonald: Churches have “selfish shepherds, shallow services, and starving sheep.”

11. Matt Chandler: “Depth is not the enemy of conversion.”

10. Steven Furtick: ”It’s easy to say, “shoot the wolf” until people start calling you the wolf.”

9. People are fake online, not more honest. We decided it doesn’t work. - Perry Noble on internet campus churches

8. James MacDonald: “God’s plan A is humility, God’s plan B is humiliation….to be proud is to pick a fight with God.”

7. David Platt: ”When your wages rise, don’t raise your standard of living, raise your standard of giving.”

6. DashHouse: Loving #elephantroom but I’m very uncomfortable with our fascination with celebrity pastors

5. Mark Driscoll: “It’s a Shepherd’s job to be unloving towards the wolves, OUT OF LOVE for the sheep.”

4. James MacDonald: “If you want only enough of Christ to save yourself, then you probably don’t have enough to do even that.”

3. Greg Laurie: If a church doesnt evangelize, it will fossilize.

2. David Platt: ”I think the best way to reach people is to exalt the glory of God.”

1. Mark Driscoll to Steve Furtick: “You like listening to Piper and Osteen? That’s like saying I’m a meat eating vegetarian.”

 
 

Mar

31

2011

Trevin Wax|3:17 am CT

Counterfeit Gospels in 1 Minute

Thanks to Moody for helping me put together this little video that explains the core concept of Counterfeit Gospels in one minute. (Actually, it’s 1 minute and 26 seconds, but who’s counting?)

The official release date is tomorrow. (Yes, I know the humor in having a book come out on April Fool’s Day, but then again, when you’re writing about counterfeits, it only makes sense!) Online stores now have the book in stock and are shipping them out. The Kindle Edition will be auto-delivered tomorrow.

In other book news, the first blog review has been posted. The always-thoughtful Aaron Armstrong provides an extensive summary of the chapters. Aaron also asked me some follow up questions about the book, including:

  • How do these counterfeits get started?
  • What were the most rewarding and most challenging parts of writing this book for you?
  • You write that you find your “heart is constantly sliding back into a moralistic framework of
    understanding of the gospel” (p. 119).  Why do you think that is?
  • Your chapter on the judgmentless gospel is very timely (and although I’m hesitant to say it,
    borderline prophetic). Did you ever anticipate this counterfeit getting so much attention on so grand
    a scale? Why is this counterfeit in particular so alluring?

Aaron is giving away three copies of the book today (contest ends at 5 p.m.). See details here.

Joel Lindsey has been posting some quotes from the book. (See here and here.)

For the past few weeks, I’ve been posting related content about the book on average of once a week. In the upcoming months, I plan on posting less frequently about Counterfeit Gospels, although I do hope to participate in online discussions about the book as people read it and respond.

My prayer as I wrote the book is now my prayer as people read it. And for those of you who have the responsibility of teaching and preaching the gospel, I hope it will be your prayer as well:

God our Father,
Creator of all things,
true source of light and wisdom,
origin of all that is:

Thank you for calling me to faith,
for planting your Word in my heart,
and for delivering me from my sin.

Thank you for calling me to your service,
for giving me the ability to teach your Word
and share this good news with others.

I am overwhelmed at the thought of teaching on the gospel.
I feel so inadequate to deliver something of value about news that is priceless.
I am unworthy to be given the privilege of thinking deeply
about news too marvelous for angels to comprehend.

Be ever gracious to me.
Let a ray of your light penetrate the darkness of my understanding.
Give me confidence in the power of your gospel.
Grant me clarity in understanding and proclaiming the truths of your Word.
Edify your church through this work.

Father Almighty,
empower your people to tell the gospel story,
to recount your wondrous deeds
which shine light on your glorious and holy character.

Lord Jesus Christ,
empower your people to announce the good news
that you have brought to earth the life of heaven,
that you have sacrificed yourself for sinners,
that you have been raised from the dead
and exalted as Lord over all creation.

Holy Spirit,
empower us to live in light of the gospel,
declaring its truth with our words,
and embodying this truth through our actions.
Give us love for you and love for one another.
Amen.

 
 

Mar

31

2011

Trevin Wax|2:34 am CT

Worth a Look 3.31.11

Jim Hamilton – “Why I Believe the Bible”

I think that my belief that the Bible is the word of God was probably most strongly challenged during the PhD program. It wasn’t challenged, though, by arguments so much as by the “peer pressure” of the academic guild. That is, the initiates in the guild weren’t producing evidence, logic, and an overwhelming case against the Bible. It was more like an unspoken entrance requirement: if you want to join the ranks of the real scholars, you can’t believe that the Bible is inerrant, and you can’t hold that the attributions of authorship are accurate. Those ideas aren’t allowed here.

Mark Rogers reviews A God-Sized Vision, a helpful new book on revival:

In addition to being a history of revivals, this book is also an argument for revival. The authors seem to write with one eye on those within the church who criticize the benefits of past awakenings and wisdom of seeking more.

Peter Berger answers the question, “Who are the Copts?”

Today the great majority of Egyptian Christians are Copts. They can rightly claim to have the most ancient roots in the country. While their spoken language is now Arabic, their liturgical language is the vernacular version of ancient Egyptian as it was spoken around the time of Chalcedon—a remarkable cultural survival.

Before buying the next inspirational best-seller, ask this question:

I think it is worth reminding our church family and other readers that a very basic question we should ask when considering an inspirational or Christian book is this, “To what source of authority does this book appeal?” Does the authority to which the author appeals reside in the Bible?

 
 

Mar

30

2011

Trevin Wax|3:16 am CT

The Promise and Peril of Being "Gospel-Centered": A Conversation with Mitch Chase

Today, I’m happy to introduce Kingdom People readers to Mitch Chase, author of The Gospel Is For Christians. A few months ago, I wrote this about the book:

“In The Gospel Is For Christians, Mitch Chase demonstrates not merely a love for theology, but a love for the Savior to which all good theology points. Mitch reminds us that the good news of Jesus Christ is not a peripheral matter for the Christian. The gospel must remain at the center of our spiritual life in order to bear the fruits of ongoing repentance and faith.”

The following is a conversation between me and Mitch about what it means to be “gospel-centered” and mission-focused.

Trevin Wax: Mitch, the title of your book would have seemed strange to most of us a few years ago: “The Gospel Is For Christians“. And yet, we’re seeing a gospel-centered movement in our day that is making this very claim, that Christians need the gospel for sanctification just like we need the gospel for salvation. Why do you think this message has grown in popularity? What is the gospel-centered emphasis a reaction to?

Mitch Chase: Thanks for this conversation, Trevin, and what a great way to start!  The notion of gospel-centeredness indeed seems to be growing in popularity, and hopefully the ultimate reason for this is the nature of the gospel itself, which should still be compelling and powerful for believers to hear.  In one sense, this gospel-centered movement has gained momentum from the books and sermons of Tim Keller, Jerry Bridges, Mark Dever, Sinclair Ferguson, J. I. Packer, C. J. Mahaney, John Piper, and others.  These contemporaries have faithfully proclaimed the gospel and helped countless others – like myself – see that its power is central for Christian living.

The prevalence of “gospel-centered” language is a reaction to the kind of failed discipleship methods that many of us once thought would sustain our Christian faith.  Church leaders haven’t always rooted discipleship in the gospel, so for many Christians the biblical mandate to grow in faith has led to continual frustration.  What’s been proclaimed is an endless array of steps, secret formulas, or studies that lead to deeper truth.  Therefore, many of us once considered the gospel as essential for believing in Jesus but unimportant for actually following Jesus.  So what’s crucial in this gospel-centered movement is its fresh emphasis on Christ’s work for our growth and obedience.

Gospel-centeredness is a critique of our consumeristic culture, in which new is better and the latest is greatest.  Contrary to this mindset, Christians don’t grow in faith by discovering the latest formula or completing the program with the newest “truth.”  Human growth methods have no power to conform sinners to Christ for the glory of God.  What Christians need isn’t something new but something old – the Old Story of Christ Crucified and Risen.  So the gospel-centered movement certainly appeals to believers who recognize the spiritual bankruptcy of “Christian” consumerism.  There is no greater news, no deeper teaching, than the gospel.

Trevin Wax: It’s interesting you bring up discipleship materials. There are always people asking for “deeper Bible study” or for a “deeper walk” with Christ. But what people mean by “depth” is not often clear. Some people think in terms of information. They want to know more facts, whether they come from history or theology. Information dump. Others think “deep” means a practical tidbit for my life tomorrow. They think in terms of immediate application. But this can turn the Bible into a self-help manual.

The gospel-centered movement has the opportunity to redefine what “depth” means. We shouldn’t see depth as “more info” or “life insights” but gospel-centrality. Going deep means we immerse ourselves in the truth that Jesus Christ bled and died to save helpless sinners like you and me. We’ve got to see the depth of our sin and the depth of God’s grace in such a way that it is clear we can do nothing to make ourselves more acceptable to God. Depth means going deeper into the gospel until it confronts the idols of our hearts.

You’ve got a chapter called “Preaching the Gospel to Yourself.” I’m hearing this phrase more and more nowadays. What do you mean by “preaching the gospel to yourself” and why should Christians be doing this?

Mitch Chase: “Preaching the gospel to yourself” refers to the practice of speaking to our hearts about Christ’s redemptive work: on our behalf Christ has broken the power of sin and paid the penalty for sin. Essentially the idea is to dwell on the meaning and accomplishment of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  C. J. Mahaney says that preaching the gospel to yourself is the most important daily habit a Christian can establish.

In my book, I give two main reasons for preaching the gospel to our hearts.  First, we are sinners – redeemed ones, to be sure, but sinners still.  While believers are new creations in Christ, we face constant temptations to return to the flesh and fulfill its desires which war against the Spirit (Gal 5).  The gospel is necessary for the pursuit of holiness, because salvation doesn’t produce morally perfect people.  The power of the gospel saves sinners by grace and then sustains and empowers them in that grace.  In order to obey God, our hearts must dwell on the perfect obedience of Christ on our behalf, becoming a curse for us and satisfying His Father’s wrath.

Second, we need to preach the gospel to ourselves because we are prone to forgetfulness.  In this culture, we can be so bombarded with information that we don’t know what to retain or reject.  These cultural messages seek to define our lives, our priorities, our ambitions.  So we need the gospel because of our wandering hearts.  We sing, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”  The Old Testament also testifies to this tendency, for the Israelites constantly forgot the Lord and forsook his commandments.  It can happen easily, subtly, in times of blessing or trial.  Our blessings can become our idols, and our trials can become deterrents to relentless trust in God.  In running the race set before us, we must keep our eyes on the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2).

Preaching the gospel to ourselves, then, is a biblical and practical strategy that goads us onto the path of remembrance and obedience.  A key aspect of discipleship and Christian growth is learning what to remember, what to return to again and again.

Trevin Wax: I think the idea of preaching the gospel to yourself is great. We certainly need to have the truths of the gospel massaged deep into our hearts.

I wonder though how preaching the gospel to ourselves relates to our preaching the gospel to others. I worry that we might take something great – like this idea of gospel-centrality – and invert it into something self-centered and self-focused. Take a daily quiet time in prayer and Bible study for example. Such times are a great gift from God, but if they become the standard of evangelical activity, they can lead to a rather lopsided view of Christianity. In other words, we always face the temptation to confuse make means the end.

So, how do we guard against doing this with self-preaching? God’s purposes are much bigger than Christians walking around reminding themselves of the gospel. How do we connect gospel-centeredness with Christian mission?

Mitch Chase: You point out a great danger.  How tragic if our flesh used gospel-centeredness for self-centeredness!

In a sense, the answer to such a danger is not less of the gospel but more.  The gospel is crucial in God’s overarching plan for the world.  He blessed the nations through Abraham’s seed, who is ultimately Christ Himself (Gal 3).  In Revelation, we see multitudes of every nation, tribe, and tongue, people bought by the blood of the Lamb who was slain.  In Colossians 1, Paul spoke about the gospel bearing fruit all over the world.  These Scriptural examples show that the gospel has a global perspective that should correct extreme individualism.

The key, therefore, is to connect the truth of the gospel to God’s unfolding purposes for the world.  Jesus died for individuals who compose the Church (1 Cor 12), and through the proclamation of the gospel by His people Jesus is drawing sinners from the nations.  This perspective challenges our individualism and reminds us of the global nature of the Christian mission.  Christians need to be immersed in this global perspective.  The mission of the church is to make disciples of the nations (Matt 28:19-20).  Jesus is the Light of the world (John 8:12).  Christians must also be aware that our salvation is a work of new creation that will culminate in God renewing the whole world and uniting heaven and earth (Rom 8; Rev 21).

Biblically speaking, then, gospel-centeredness is inseparable from Christian mission and God’s unfolding purposes.  If Christians seek to separate the two, then they become self-centered (rather than gospel-centered) and disobedient to the Lord’s commission to His Church.

I’m curious, Trevin, whether your upcoming book Counterfeit Gospels addresses the question you posed to me.  What wisdom would you share in connecting a believer’s gospel-centeredness to God’s mission in the world?

Trevin Wax: I do address this subject in Counterfeit Gospels, albeit from a different angle. My concern with a self-centered view of “gospel-centered” goes back to the nature of the gospel announcement. If the announcement of Jesus Christ crucified and raised is public news that is about the actions of our missionary God to rescue us from sin and death, then it follows that this gospel will create a community of people who put on display that kind of missionary heart.

If we think we are “gospel-centered” and are not compelled to share our faith, love the community of faith, help the poor, give to the needy, and so on, then my question is: what kind of gospel are we preaching? And what kind of disciples are we making? If our idea of “gospel-centered” is a large number of people in a church on Sunday grateful for personal salvation but unaware or uninvolved in the brokenness and lostness around them, then I wonder how gospel-centered we really are.

Being gospel-centered doesn’t mean we are obsessed with a factual truth. It means we are smitten with a beautiful Savior. And the more we love Jesus, the more we will look like Him.

Mitch Chase: I completely agree!  The nature of the gospel announcement must be the starting place.  If the gospel announcement is defined entirely individualistically (and thus incorrectly), then the inevitable result will be self-centered “disciples.”  True gospel-centrality should actually stir missionary zeal, not stifle it.  One mark of a gospel-centered church, then, is a global mentality.  A small church of 30 people should think globally, because the gospel is global and because the Christ of the gospel is Lord of the world.

I hope that one of the effects of the gospel-centered movement is to spur on the Church to obey the Great Commission with even more faithfulness, perseverance, and willing sacrifice.  And this effect should surely be driven by an even greater desire: to see the nations praise our God who is worthy of worldwide adoration.  As true gospel-centrality empowers churches to proclaim and live out the gospel in the world, we will see the truth of John Piper’s statement from Let the Nations Be Glad!, “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church.  Worship is.”  Believers should want to be gospel-centered people because we want the nations to exalt the world’s true Lord.

Trevin Wax: May all of our passion for the gospel be directed to that end! Thank you for the conversation, Mitch.

 
 

Mar

30

2011

Trevin Wax|2:33 am CT

Worth a Look 3.30.11

The tragedy left in the wake of sexting:

Around the country, law enforcement officials and educators are struggling with how to confront minors who “sext,” an imprecise term that refers to sending sexual photos, videos or texts from one cellphone to another.

The End of Soap Oprah:

Whether Oprah is a cause, a symptom, or something of both, there is no doubt that she is a sign of the times and of the wider culture. The gospel of redemption through therapeutic public self-disclosure is her stock in trade.

The Real World:

When my daughter was young, she would often be asked, not usually by fellow homeschoolers, why she kept reading The Lord of the Rings. I told her to reply, “Because I want to know what’s going on in the world.”

That came to my mind today after a discussion I had with a Catholic men’s group at our school.  One of the young fellows told me that his professor in Introduction to Sociology — a typical course assigned during orientation to unsuspecting freshmen — expressed her disdain for our twenty-credit Development of Western Civilization Program, required of all students.  “You should be studying something that will be of use to you in the Real World,” she said, “like feminist sociology.”

Pause here to allow the laughter to die down.

Awesome infographic showing the history of web browsers. Anyone else remember Netscape? I use Google Chrome today.

 
 

Mar

29

2011

Trevin Wax|4:18 am CT

Reflections on Leaving Pastoral Ministry (Temporarily!)

“Has it been hard to leave pastoral ministry?”

I’ve been asked this question by friends, family members, and readers of this blog ever since I left local church ministry a few months ago to begin a new role as an editor at LifeWay. The question itself is hard to answer. I immediately want to say “yes” and “no.” After a little probing, I discover that certain assumptions hide behind the question.

Some people think of God’s calling as a fixed vocational role for one’s life. If God calls you to serve on a foreign mission field, you go there for the rest of your life. If God calls you to be a pastor, that’s what you do until you retire. When people conceive of God’s role in terms of a fixed vocation, they don’t easily understand how a person might move from one ministry role to another. It seems to be a rejection of one’s initial calling.

I have no doubt that God does call people to fixed vocational roles. However, for me, God’s call to ministry was general. When I packed my bags and moved to Romania for five years, I was careful to tell people, I don’t sense a call to Romania for the rest of my life. I don’t know where this journey will lead me. All I know is that God wants me to do this task right now. The same was true when I served as associate pastor in a Baptist church in the South. The same is true for my time at LifeWay. I have not given up my calling to preach and teach. I’ve answered the call of God at this time and in this place to help launch a new curriculum for small groups that I hope will point people to Jesus.

Thoughts on Temporarily Leaving Pastoral Ministry

It’s been five months now since I left pastoral ministry to come to LifeWay. I’ve been making some notes about how this transition has affected us.

1. Relief

The initial feeling was a wave of relief. I felt released from stress I didn’t know I had been carrying. The initial relief felt similar to my brother’s return from Iraq. During the months he was overseas, even though I prayed for him often, I tried to avoid thinking about him being in a combat zone. Upon his return, I wept tears of joy and felt as if a major burden was lifted. Life suddenly became less stressful.

Leaving church ministry felt that way, even though our church experience had been wonderful. I realize now that serving in a pastoral role in a local church is inherently stressful. Even when the church situation is healthy and desirable, pastors bear the unique burden of shepherding the flock. An underlying level of stress is omnipresent. You’re never really “off.” You’re never really “unavailable.” Your family is always in the spotlight. Your work bleeds into all areas of your life. And when you have a passionate desire to teach the Word faithfully, care for the sheep, share each other’s burdens, and evangelize the lost… well, you can imagine the stress that accompanies this position, as the work is never-ending. I wasn’t even aware of the stress I was carrying until I was out from under it.

If you are a church member reading this, please – love your pastors. They need support. Discipling people can be painfully discouraging at times. So encourage them. Pray for them. Strengthen them. Love them.

2. Renewed Worship

After we moved, we began looking for a local church. As a former staff member, I felt disoriented to suddenly be searching for a church. It felt strange to be on the outside looking in, to be the stranger in the parking lot, or the visitor at the welcome center.

My wife and I didn’t have any particular preferences that we wanted to see enshrined anywhere. Our biggest desire was to find a place where the gospel was preached consistently and faithfully. Most encouraging to me was the fact that – even with stylistic differences – we heard the gospel proclaimed clearly in each church we visited. It was comforting to know that there is more than one Bible-believing, gospel-preaching church in the town we live in. But we didn’t just want a church that preaches the gospel; we wanted a church that makes the gospel the focus of celebration each week. We eventually settled on this kind of church, with the added blessing that this church is close to our home.

Corporate worship in another church was particularly refreshing. When you’re on staff, it’s difficult to focus on Christ during worship because there are dozens of things demanding your attention. In a new church setting, it was refreshing to sing, hear the Word preached, and enjoy the service. (This need for refreshment is another reason why pastors and staff members benefit from time away every now and then.)

3. Renewed Passion for Teaching

For the first few months, I didn’t miss teaching and preaching. In fact, it was energizing to not be teaching every week. After about two months, though, I began to get the itch to teach again. Thankfully, the Lord has provided preaching and teaching opportunities in recent months.

My wife reminded me that I never really stopped teaching. I have the privilege to work LifeWay, where I help create discipleship materials to assist local churches fulfill their mission. What a blessing! The day-to-day job of editing a new curriculum has been very enjoyable. I get to work with great people every day. I’m thankful that I get to be in on this new curriculum and see it launch.

4. From the Front Lines to the Supply Tent

Pastors and church leaders are on the front lines of ministry. The local church is the place where the glory of Christ is displayed in fullest measure here on earth. Seminaries, providers of church resources, para-church ministries – all of these are necessary and helpful institutions designed to assist the local church in fulfilling her mission. But they are not on the front lines.

We need people in both places. I miss front-line ministry, particularly when it comes to getting a front-row seat to what God is doing in His church. Salvations, baptisms, discipleship, mercy ministry… I get to see and take part in all of these as a local church member. But church leaders are in the middle of it all, every day of the week. The local church is the vanguard of the kingdom of God. Because I am back in the supply tent now, I miss the front-line intensity.

At the same time, I have the opportunity to see what God is doing on a bigger scale. When you’re on the front line, you’re so engaged in the current battle that you sometimes miss the big picture of what’s going on all around you. Those of us in the supply tent get a bird’s eye view of the gospel’s advance. It’s encouraging to see God working all over the place in all sorts of ways.

His Church

Leaving pastoral ministry, even temporarily, has been a challenging step for me and my family. But we have been blessed beyond measure in taking this step.

When I think back on the years we spent in our church, I am reminded that it was never my church. It was always Christ’s. God gets all the glory for anything good that came out of our time there. He is the One who is faithful. He is the One who promises to preserve the people who will glorify His name. And that song of praise was resounding from the church long before I got there and it will continue long after I’m gone. Praise to the King!

 
 

Mar

29

2011

Trevin Wax|2:55 am CT

Worth a Look 3.29.11

Bob Glenn: “Brothers, We Are Professionals!”

When John Piper said the opposite of this in his book, he did not mean that it’s okay for pastors to be sloppy and slothful in the work of gospel ministry. He meant that we should not be mercenary in the work of the ministry…

Doug Wilson on the inescapably political nature of the gospel:

The Christian faith is inescapably political, but must not allow itself to be coopted by secular and unbelieving partisanship. But to reject partisanship is to reject compromises with secularists who want to hook up with an evangelical voting block. The necessary rejection of partisanship is not a rejection of particularity.

Overcoming the Monday Morning “Preacher’s Hangover”:

There is no easy remedy, medication, or quick fix that can prevent it.  There are, however, several practical efforts I make every Monday that are tremendously helpful to fight through the fog.  Here are 4 for your consideration…

Insightful review of Miroslav Volf’s Allah: A Christian Response:

“Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? Does the answer to that question have significant implications for how Christians and Muslims engage each other in the world today?”

 
 

Mar

28

2011

Trevin Wax|3:52 am CT

9Marks, Forged, Him We Proclaim, Love Wins: Book Discussion #6

Every now and then, I meet with some guys here at LifeWay and we discuss the books we’ve been reading. Our sixth meeting took place a couple weeks ago with Jed Coppenger, Michael Kelley,  Devin Maddox, and myself. Here’s what we discussed:

Nine Marks of a Healthy Church
Mark Dever
Crossway, 2004

Michael Kelley kicked off the discussion by telling us he had (finally!) read Mark Dever’s signature work, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Michael found the book to be immersed in biblical teaching. In a postmodern era in which doubt is celebrated, it is is refreshing to read an author who believes that truth matters and that God has clearly revealed His will in His Word concerning His church. This is a book of answers, not questions.

Michael had a couple of quibbles with the book. First, he said the writing style felt a bit textbookish at times, which may keep it from reaching more people who could benefit from it. Secondly, he thought Dever drew the lines too narrowly at times. For example, is it true that a church must close its small groups to unbelievers and leave corporate worship as the only open door to the lost in order to be “healthy?”

Using Dever’s book as a springboard, our group discussed the 9Marks movement and the benefits that have come with it. We all agreed that the greatest contribution of 9Marks  has been the emphasis on meaningful membership. The 9Marks view of church membership provides a healthy corrective to the lackadaisical approach to membership in many evangelical churches today. Not all of the guys in our group are convinced that every church must have a plurality of elders, or that church discipline must be exercised in the precise manner laid out in this book. Still, we all appreciate the overall vision of 9Marks and the efforts of men like Mark Dever to put important ecclesiological issues back on the table.

Forged: Writing in the Name of God
Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

Bart Ehrman
HarperOne, 2011

Why read a book by Bart Ehrman? Here’s a former evangelical who attended Moody and Princeton before becoming the apologist against the Christian faith in our day. Every book Ehrman writes is intended to diminish a Christian’s trust in the reliability of the New Testament documents. Forged is no exception. But surprisingly, there are aspects of this book that are helpful to conservative evangelicals.

First off, it should be said that Ehrman owes his outlook to his fundamentalist upbringing. He is relentlessly committed to the notion of objective truth. No wishy-washy, “truth can mean contradictory things.” Ehrman isn’t anything if not logical. That’s the reason he is so provocative.

Secondly, Ehrman is absolutely right to castigate post-conservative scholars for claiming that “pseudonymous (i.e., falsely named) writing in the ancient world was not thought to be lying and was not meant to be deceitful.” A forgery is a forgery. What’s the point of saying that 2 Peter was written by someone other than Peter, but that the true author wasn’t lying or deceiving? Ehrman convincingly shows the intellectual bankruptcy of such a view.

But that’s all I can commend about this book. Ehrman is right to show that the Gnostic Gospels and later letters were forgeries. He’s wrong when he tries to read forgeries back into the New Testament. He takes a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” approach. If there aren’t enough personal anecdotes, then it can’t be a letter from Paul, who was always personal. If there are too many personal anecdotes, then it proves it’s a forgery, since the forger is just trying to fool the reader.

The suspicion with which Ehrman approaches the biblical text is detrimental to his case and shows how one-sided his view is. He flattens out theological distinctions into easy-to-spot contradictions, when simple concepts like “already/not yet” theology could clear up a lot of the mess he sees. When he goes on the rampage against fabrications within the canonical stories (like the details surrounding Jesus’ birth), he presupposes the Bible can’t be trusted as history before making his case.

Him We Proclaim:
Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures

Dennis Johnson
P&R, 2007

Jed Coppenger brought a book on Christ-centered preaching. Him We Proclaim enables us see Christ as the center of all Scripture. This book includes a helpful interview with Tim Keller, and it also examines the preaching method of the apostles, primarily in Hebrews, and the sermons of Peter and Paul.

Overall, Jed agrees with the theory of this book. He believes that Johnson persuasively makes the case for seeing Christ at the center of all of the Scriptures. But he wished the book provided more focus on how Christ-centered preaching is effectively connected to hearers. Good preaching does more than just point to Christ. It takes that Christ-connection to the person in the pews in a memorable and effective way. Preaching Christ from all the Scriptures in a way that connects well with listeners is a subject that needs further exploration.

Love Wins:
A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived

Rob Bell
HarperOne, 2011

This book deserves a post of its own. Devin began by pointing out the gifted, talented communication skills of Rob Bell. There is an attraction to Rob’s style, which makes the book all the more dangerous. As far as the argumentation goes, inconsistencies abound in Love Wins. Rob sums up his view of the afterlife by appealing to omnipotence. God can and will win everyone. But Devin thought his appeal to omnipotence is self-defeating. Why can’t God do something other than what Rob says? Furthermore, Bell also isn’t very loving toward religious people. He doesn’t seem to mind if love were to not win over his theological opponents.

Love Wins turned our conversation toward the need for beautiful truth. Bell’s vision of Christianity is appealing, not only because it is more palatable to our culture today, but also because it’s presented in a way that goes for the heart. Most of the reviews of Bell’s book take apart his argumentation and show its logical contradictions. Good and well. But it’s not the strength of Bell’s intellectual argumentation that wins over his readers; it’s the artful way he presents his point of view. Bell goes for the heart, while many of us Baptist and Reformed types go only for the mind. We need to develop a vibrant, orthodox Christian imagination – the kind of imagination that demonstrates not only the truthfulness of truth, but the inherent beauty of truth.

 
 

Mar

28

2011

Trevin Wax|3:04 am CT

Worth a Look 3.28.11

Who’s Afraid of the Little Ole Gehenna?

When Jesus used that word He was thinking about Moloch. He was envisioning little children roasting in honor of a demon-god and of implacably cruel priests pounding drums to cover up the sounds of the shrieks. He was seeing in His mind’s eye glib prophets assuring His people that by offering their innocent babies they would gain the favor of the god. And when He added the words “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (seven times), maybe He was not thinking about dogs chewing on human limbs. Perhaps what Jesus was recalling was the response of parents watching their infants writhing in pain on glowing red arms.

This is how Jesus depicted Hell.

It is not a dump.

It is a place to run away from as fast and as hard as you possibly can.

A Recently Discovered Letter of Critique to the Apostle Paul:

We find your tone and resorting to harsh language not in keeping with the love of Christ. “Foolish Galatians.” “Let him be accursed.” “Emasculate themselves.” Really? Can you not hear yourself? You think this is Christlike? Does this sound like something our Lord would say? Do you think this flippant, outrageous, personal, vindictive manner of speech speaks well of God’s love or the church? It is clear you are taking this way too personally. Indeed, you ask the Galatians if you are now their enemy. Does everything have to be so black and white to you?

The New York Times Paywall is Destined for Failure:

The relaxed nature of the paywall is the very reason that it won’t work. It boils down to the old adage: You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. In this case, the Times seems to want both the traffic and advertising dollars from casual browsers as well as the subscription-driven revenue from more serious readers.

LOL! Online abbreviations make the Oxford Dictionary:

Although the new abbreviations are associated with modern electronic communications, some are surprisingly old. The first confirmed use of OMG was in a 1917 letter by a British admiral. ”Things people think are new words normally have a longer history,” Diamond said.

 
 

Mar

27

2011

Trevin Wax|3:58 am CT

Ravish Me, That I Might Be Free

Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you
as yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
that I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
your force to break, blow, burn and make me new.

I, like an usurped town, to another due,
labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
but is captived, and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
but am betrothed unto your enemy:
divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
take me to you, imprison me, for I
except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

John Donne, 1573-1631