Monthly Archives: March 2012

 

Mar

31

2012

Trevin Wax|3:40 am CT

The Bible is Not a Magic Book

Some who go by the name of ‘Evangelical’ view the Bible in such scrappy atomistic bits that they can find moralising lessons here and there, but cannot see how the Bible gives us the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But the Bible is not a magic book, as in: ‘A verse a day keeps the devil away’. It is a book that points us to Jesus, and this Jesus saves and transforms. This Jesus by his death and resurrection constitutes the good news that men and women may be reconciled to the living God.

Here in this book there is instruction on what God has done in Christ Jesus; here there is the message of Christ dying for sinners, of whom I am chief; here there is the promise of the Holy Spirit given in down payment of the ultimate inheritance; here there is transformation. These Scriptures make you ‘wise for salvation’.

- D. A. Carson

 
 

Mar

30

2012

Trevin Wax|3:15 am CT

Friday Funny: Russia’s Top Group for Eurovision 2012

For my American friends who may not have heard of Eurovision, it’s the world’s biggest musical contest. Each country votes to send their top act to compete. This year, Russia surprised everyone with their choice – “Party for Everybody.” (And when they say for everybody, they mean it!)

 
 

Mar

30

2012

 
 

Mar

29

2012

Trevin Wax|3:45 am CT

The Black Church and the Black Community: A Conversation with Anthony Bradley

You ought to read this book: Keep Your Head Up: America’s New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation (Crossway, 2012).

If you’re like me, you’ve got a heart to see churches reflecting the multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-national kingdom of God, but you don’t know where to start. Concerning the black community, I feel like a newcomer to an ongoing conversation about major issues.

Anthony Bradley has brought together a group of pastors, leaders, and scholars to talk about the state of black families, the role of hip-hop, the Cosby/Poussaint discussion, and the effects of the prosperity gospel. After I read this book, I sought Anthony out and asked him for an interview. There was so much helpful information in this book that I don’t even know where to start in reviewing it. Better to hear from the editor himself.

Trevin Wax: Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint started an important conversation about the state of black communities all over America. How would you sum up the significance of their work?

Anthony Bradley: Cosby and Poussaint catalyzed a needed conversation within the black community between those of the civil-rights generation and those of us born after 1970. For those who suffered under Jim Crow era discrimination, fought through the civil-rights movement, suffered to become the first generation of African Americans to hold many positions in this country, and so on, it has been very painful to look back at the pathologies of many black communities and ask, “Where did we go wrong?” or “What happened?”

What happened to the social and economic gains that were made in the 1960s?

What happened to the hoped progress?

Today, many blacks are now asking, “Where’s the church in all this?” That is, “Is the black church dead, and what is her response to these new realities?” This is one reason we wrote the book. We are making the case that as long as God’s church has a presence in broken communities, there is hope because the church is where people discover the gospel.

Trevin Wax: What should the role of the black church be in addressing the social pathologies that continue to plague many black communities?

Anthony Bradley: Since slavery, the black church has served as a primary place for moral and social formation in the black community. The black church provided a refuge from suffering and a place to hear the hope of God’s plan to redeem all things because of what was finalized at the cross. We believe that her role is still important as the Scriptures teach us about the cosmic scope of redemption (Rom. 8; Col. 1).

If we want black families restored, virtues developed, and so on, that comes through the preaching and teaching of the work and person of Christ and the applications of redemption accomplished on the cross in our communities as God’s people seek first the Kingdom. This is what union with Christ is all about.

God intends to use His people, formed by the means of grace in His church, to be His agents of doing His will in the world wherever the curse is found (Matt. 5:13-20). As Reformed theologians, like Abraham Kuyper, remind us, the church is to continue preaching against sin in the lives of individuals and the errors in social institutions that do not reflect God’s intention for human life.

Trevin Wax: How has the prosperity gospel’s message of individual empowerment affected many black churches? 

Anthony Bradley: Sadly, the prosperity gospel has taken the already individualistic, consumeristic American understanding of what it means to follow Christ to a new destructive level. This is why we included a chapter on this movement. Its theologically poisonous tentacles have found their way into many black churches, and it is now a major force in the black expression of Christianity in America, Latin America, and Africa.

Black pastors who are faithful to the Bible’s theology and faithful to the gospel of Christ are burdened to regularly preach against the prosperity gospel because of its presence in so many black churches as well as its emergence in contemporary gospel music. Prosperity theology is so bad that even black liberation theologians attack it.

Trevin Wax: Is gangsta rap a reflection of problematic issues within the black community or a cause of many social ills?

Anthony Bradley: It’s actually both. I am no fan of behavioral determinism because people who listen to gangsta rap still make their own moral choices. Gangsta rap is a complicated medium because it is primarily purchased by white suburban pre-teens and teens. The market drives so much of the content these days that some rappers are told what to rap about by producers because of what is known to sell. If there were a causal relationship between the music and moral action, middle-class culture would have similar outward pathologies in multiple areas.

In fact, gangsta rap serves as a signal and an enabler. You can think of gangsta rap as a reflection of the ways in which some people reflect on the narratives they encounter in their lived experiences. It serves as a signal to alert those in ministry to discern the “why” behind the music and to apply the gospel to it. It also serves to enable the mal-formed morals of those who already have certain presuppositions about the nature of the world.

The root cause of social ills in the black community is not gangsta rap but that men and women suffer from loving the wrong things in the wrong way. The music reflects that reality and, in some cases, encourages disordered love. This is why preachers need to preach the gospel to those who love gangsta rap because those men and women need to be transformed and liberated to love God and love neighbor (Matt. 22:36-40). This is what the gospel does—it frees us to love in the way God created people to love.

Sadly, the market will respond to the demands of consumers. When consumers are loving as God desires, it will be reflected in the music people want to hear—for those in the suburbs and inner-cities alike. As long as people are not loving the things that God loves, we will have music that does not reflect virtue (Phil. 4:8).

Trevin Wax: How can a pastor of a predominantly white church serve alongside black pastors in meeting the spiritual and social needs of the community?

Anthony Bradley: The best way for a white church to serve alongside black pastors is to first think of themselves in a subordinate role—to first listen to what black pastors say the needs are and then to submit to black pastoral leadership. Far too often white churches approach black pastors assuming they know what is best for communities in which they do not live and for people they do not know. It is the same posture that is needed in international missions: Americans go to other countries and follow the lead of people who are there on the ground. Cross-cultural relationships in America are not different. This posture of humility will yield amazing dividends for the Kingdom.

Second, one of the reasons I wanted to do this book with Crossway was to give resources to white evangelicals, for them to use the book as a point of contact with black churches with whom they would like to serve and partner in order to say, “Here’s a book we picked up and would like to discuss with you all for the purposes of you telling us how we can help further the cause of Christ with your church in your community.”

Keep Your Head Up is a wonderful opportunity for white churches to begin new relationships with black churches to begin a fruitful dialogue. Sometimes in new relationships, you don’t know what to talk about. We want this book to serve as a national conversation starter not only within the black community but among white and urban pastors. We simply wanted to provide content for needed conversations. The truth is that we are all in this together as God’s people, and seeking the Kingdom calls for greater unity and solidarity. We wrote the book to help bridge the gap between the urban and the suburban (John 17).

 
 

Mar

29

2012

Trevin Wax|2:20 am CT

Worth a Look 3.29.12

Lots of transitions this week: Mark Driscoll is stepping down from the helm of Acts 29 and leaving The Gospel Coalition. Matt Chandler is taking the reins of A29.

Jason Meyer is the candidate to succeed John Piper at Bethlehem Baptist Church.

Thank God for Smaller Churches and Their Leaders

So to all of you who labor and serve faithfully, please accept my deepest gratitude for all that you do for His glory. You have chosen to pour your life into a ministry that receives little earthly recognition. And though your ministry is not always easy, you know that your greatest reward comes from the One who has said emphatically that the last will be first.

Women Need Support and the Truth, Not Abortion

Recently a Texas judge upheld a law that requires a woman to be shown an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion. His decision was discussed on The View and Joy Behar and Barbara Walters made the following stunning statements…

 
 

Mar

28

2012

Trevin Wax|3:45 am CT

Jefferson Bethke on Student Ministry

After the Gospel Project webcast a few weeks ago, I had a video conversation with Jefferson Bethke (author of the street poem “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus”) about student ministry. I thoroughly enjoyed spending some time with Jeff and sensing his contagious passion for Jesus and for people.

Jeff has been speaking to youth groups, high school students and college students for several years now. His advice to student ministers is to preach hard against sin and then preach the beauty of grace. My favorite quote from the video:

Why kids think God isn’t relevant or why they think they don’t need Him is because we’re not making sin big and we’re not making God big. And when you do that [make sin big], the cross is huge. But when you make sin small, then the cross has to be small, and God is automatically small.

Check out the 7-minute video here. If you’d like to sample The Gospel Project for Students for free, join the pilot project here.

 
 

Mar

28

2012

Trevin Wax|2:09 am CT

Worth a Look 3.28.12

If you don’t read anything else today, read this - Easter: Echoes from the Tomb:

Leaning forward, you strain to hear. The fresh, cool breeze of the garden morning brushes your cheek. Bending, you look into that open, black-dark mouth of the tomb, its only light the sun’s thin finger reaching past your shoulder to touch the corner of a bone box. But the bones for which it waits have changed, gotten up and walked away. No smell of death; only the sweet scent of burial spices hanging in the air.

What is Love? Here is a list of actions between husband and wife:

  • Love is being willing to have your life complicated by the needs and struggles of your husband or wife without impatience or anger.
  • Love is actively fighting the temptation to be critical and judgmental toward your spouse, while looking for ways to encourage and praise.
  • Love is the daily commitment to resist the needless moments of conflict that come from pointing out and responding to minor offenses. (Continue reading…)

A Counterfeiting Conspiracy - A Philadelphia shopkeeper causes problems for the Confederacy:

Over the next 18 months he built the most notorious counterfeiting enterprise of the Civil War — one that also happened to be perfectly legal. His forgeries flooded the South, undermining the value of the Confederate dollar and provoking enraged responses from Southern leaders. He waged war on the enemy’s currency, serving his pocketbook and his country at the same time.

David Hesselgrave on holistic mission:

I believe that, at its heart, evangelicalism overall is prioritistic and believes that its fundamental task is to evangelize a world that has clearly lost both its way and its compass. As a prioritist, I am optimistic at that point. But only mildly so.

The confusion over Trayvon Martin FaceBook photos:

Whether or not these images were shared out of ignorance, the results have been horrifying, but also revealing about a few ugly truths about race and public discourse in an Internet Age.

 
 

Mar

27

2012

Trevin Wax|3:30 am CT

Are You Equipped to Respond to the Prosperity Gospel?

I recall a class discussion in seminary about the prosperity gospel and its popularity in North American churches today. The conversation jumped from Benny Hinn to TBN to Joyce Meyer in just a couple of minutes. The class consensus was that hardcore prosperity teachings were so “out there” that they would easily be dismissed by the church members we would be serving. Our professor pushed back: “You’d be surprised at how much prosperity-tainted teaching is in conservative churches.” He was right.

EQUIPPING PASTORS TO RESPOND TO THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL

David Jones and Russell Woodbridge teach at Southeastern Seminary and are the authors of Health, Wealth & Happiness: Has the Prosperity Gospel Overshadowed the Gospel of Christ? They admit their surprise at the pervasiveness of prosperity theology, even among conservative Southern Baptists. They write in the preface, “The prosperity gospel has tremendous appeal, and it is growing both in the United States and internationally. Millions of people follow famous prosperity teachers, and their souls are at stake” (10).

It would be easy for young, theologically minded pastors to think of prosperity teaching as so obviously misguided that we don’t consider it worthy of attention. This would be a terrible mistake. As pastors and church leaders, we have an obligation to preach the biblical gospel in a way that takes into consideration our current context, a setting that unfortunately is heavily influenced by the idea that God’s blessing is financial and deserved.

Prosperity teaching is the antithesis of grace. Preachers and teachers of the gospel should be able and willing to point out the flaws in the prosperity gospel and equip others to do the same. Health, Wealth & Happiness is designed to aid pastors in that pursuit. “We want to inform you about the prosperity gospel movement and equip you to help those who have let the prosperity gospel replace the gospel of Christ” (20).

A SURVEY, CRITIQUE, AND RESPONSE TO THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL

The book begins with a survey of the historical foundations and growth of the movement. Following this, the authors point out the doctrinal errors of prosperity teaching. And the final third of the book lays out a biblical theology of some of the key themes that are denied or neglected in prosperity teaching.

Along the way, the authors take care to show how prosperity teaching is essentially gospel-less. They write: “This new gospel is perplexing—it omits Jesus and neglects the cross. Instead of promising Christ…this new gospel claims that God desires and even promises that believers will live a healthy and financially prosperous life” (14-15). Then, after laying out the biblical gospel, they show how woefully deficient is the preaching that takes place in prosperity churches:

Advocates of the prosperity gospel marginalize key components of the biblical gospel, such as Jesus, the cross, God’s judgment, and the sinful estate of humanity. If Jesus is left out of the gospel, then there is no gospel. If the cross is left out of the gospel, then there is no gospel. If God’s judgment against sin is left out of the gospel, then there is no gospel. If humanity’s sin is left out of the gospel, then there is no gospel. (86)

TWO ESPECIALLY BENEFICIAL SECTIONS

Two sections of this book are especially beneficial for pastors.

Historical Survey

The first is the historical survey that traces the roots of prosperity teaching back to “New Thought philosophy” and its advocates Emanuel Swedenborg, Phineas Quimby, and Ralph Waldo Trine. Though the authors are unable to establish a firm line of descent from “New Thought” to the origins of prosperity teaching in the mid-20th century, they show striking similarities between these two movements.

Biblical Theology of Suffering, Possessions, and Giving

The second particularly helpful section is the constructive turn the book takes in the final chapters. Instead of merely exposing and condemning prosperity teaching, the authors offer a robust biblical theology of suffering, possessions, and giving, three themes that are especially mangled by prosperity teaching.

A SUCCESSFUL CRITIQUE OF AND COUNTER TO PROSPERITY TEACHING

Overall, pastors will find Health, Wealth & Happiness to be a worthy addition to their library. It succeeds at exposing the foundational errors of prosperity teaching as well as offering insight into how prosperity teaching can be countered by having a firm grasp on the only gospel that saves. Pastors will want to have not merely one copy on their bookshelf, but multiple copies to hand out to church members.

- This review was first published as part of the 9Marks eJournal, Jan-Feb 2012

 
 

Mar

27

2012

Trevin Wax|2:16 am CT

Worth a Look 3.27.12

Should Christians Boycott Starbucks?

It’s not that I’m saying a boycott in and of itself is always evil or wrong. It’s just that, in this case (and in many like it) a boycott exposes us to all of our worst tendencies. Christians are tempted, again and again, to fight like the devil to please the Lord.

Humility is Compatible with Certainty:

The old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which makes him stop working altogether. . . . We are on the road to producing a race of man too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table.

Al Mohler’s conversation with President Jimmy Carter:

Jimmy Carter served as the thirty-ninth president of the United States. In 2002, he won the Nobel Peace Prize, the only US president to have received that prize after leaving office. He’s the author of many books, including the most recent, The Lessons from Life Bible. And it’s the Bible we’re going to talk about.

Nothing is Wasted with God:

Be encouraged today, Christian – God is no waster of time. He is no waster of experiences. And perhaps today, in the back of His mind, is a future moment when what you are doing today will be called forth in redemption to once again remind others of a God who desires to be immeasurably close to His people.

 

 
 

Mar

26

2012

Trevin Wax|3:17 am CT

4 Things to Remember While in Seminary

Not too long ago, I enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate with a friend from seminary. He graduated not long after I did, and he was telling me about how involved he was in his local church. As we were reminiscing about our seminary days, he said something that stunned me:

“I regret seminary.”

Come again? I asked him to explain.

“I don’t regret going to seminary. I regret how I went to seminary. The very things I should have prioritized, I didn’t. If I had it to do over again, I’d take a different track.”

In talking with my friend, I realized that his regrets were largely the result of his lackluster church involvement during his seminary years. I have another friend who told me that seminary was a particularly “dry” time spiritually. He admitted the tendency to substitute theology for passion.

These conversations have led me to reflect on four things every seminary student should remember:

1. Remember Your Youth

Too many seminary students act like they’ve arrived rather than they’ve been sent.

Most evangelical institutions will not accept students unless they are recommended by their church and pastor. It’s true that you may choose the seminary you want to attend, but make no mistake – you’ve been sent there. Your church has expressed confidence in your gifts, abilities, and calling. Otherwise, you’d be somewhere else.

All this means that other Christians – likely older, wiser, more mature in the faith – have sent you on this journey. You are the youngster starting this new path. Remember that. Remember that you’ve been sent by older, wiser Christians to older, wiser teachers. You have not arrived. You’ve been sent.

But some seminary students are older, right? In age, yes. But all students are younger in learning, perhaps in experience, etc. You may even be older than the person teaching you, but you are certainly younger with respect to knowledge of the subject.

So remember your youth. Whether it’s your youthfulness in age, learning, or experience, don’t forget that you’re there to learn. 

2. Remember Your Heritage

Along the lines of remembering your youth, you ought to remember your church heritage. Most people don’t get saved at seminary. They trust Christ as children in godly homes. Or maybe as teenagers in a vibrant student ministry. Or as the result of faithful preaching and teaching from a biblical expositor.

In other words, someone else somewhere else has shaped you into the man or woman of God you are. Don’t forget that.

It’s easy for students to go to seminary, fill their heads with knowledge, and come back to their home church with a superior attitude. They mock the simplistic traditions, the (seemingly) mindless activities, and the perceived shallowness of the teaching. For a moment, they forget their roots, their heritage, and their upbringing.

Seminaries don’t have to intentionally foster this attitude; knowledge can do this to you by itself. But the arrogance of forgetting one’s heritage makes for a sad seminary experience.

Don’t forget those who loved you, raised you, and cared for you. You would not be where you are apart from their influence.

3. Remember Your Soul

There’s also the temptation in seminary to feed your mind and not your soul. Now, before we make too sharp a distinction, let me further say - the way we feed our soul is often through our mind. Learning precious truths can be a thrilling and affection-stirring experience, and it should be.

But at some point, there is a tiny curve in the road – a barely noticeable turn where you replace your passion for God with passion for knowledge about God. See the subtle difference?

Now, anyone who has a passion for God should also want to have knowledge about God. But there’s a point where your theological study is no longer in service to your knowing God. It’s theology for its own sake. It’s theology in service of your grades, in service of your reputation, in service of your own intellectual curiosity. Whatever the case, if your learning about God is not driven by your desire to know God personally, your mind will expand but your soul will shrink. You’ll be consumed with ideas about God instead of God Himself.

Nothing like the local church will help you remember your soul. Stay involved. And spend some time sitting at the feet of saints who don’t have a Ph.D.

4. Remember Your Mission

Seminary is not a time for taking a break from mission. Don’t let the seminary lifestyle lead to apathy for evangelism and missions.

Education and mission go together. Why? Because theological reflection is missionary reflection. The apostle Paul did not hammer out the theology of Romans while sitting in an ivory tower. He wrote his letters as a missionary on the move. He wrote with Christians in mind – guiding and shaping their mission too.

Don’t forget your calling. You are not called to seminary. You’re called to mission, and seminary is only a step in helping you fulfill your mission.

Conclusion

The biggest danger in seminary is that in the increase of knowledge, you lose sight of the most important things. The more you know, the more you are likely to forget.

Satan would love nothing more than to transform your joy of attending seminary into an intellectual snobbery that renders you ineffective in ministry. Guard your heart against this paralyzing pride. Weeds grow next to the flowers. The flowers are blooming at seminary. The question is: will you choke out the weeds of pride in your heart or will the weeds choke out a lifetime of fruitfulness?

So don’t forget. Fight to remember. And don’t be the guy who wishes he could do seminary differently.

 

[This article was written at the request of my friends at Desiring God, in connection with this series.]