Since some of these misinterpretations are more damaging than others, Eric doesn’t recommend we run to correct people who innocently mis-apply the passages. He does recommend, however, that pastors and teachers take special care to avoid the common mistakes that lead to misuse.
I should note that pastors and scholars don’t always agree on the meaning and application of some of these passages. Personally, I found myself appreciating Eric’s analysis of some of the more rampant misunderstandings that come from these verses without necessarily agreeing with all the particulars of Eric’s interpretation. Still, the book is a helpful tool that resembles F. F. Bruce’s Hard Sayings of Jesus.
Here’s a look at the “most misused verses” Eric writes about in his book:
While some Christians may be called to speak to one group in particular, we must keep in mind that in this technological day and age anyone from any group may be listening in. This means that we will often be misunderstood. It also means we should make some broad basic commitments to each other and to our friends and foes in speaking about homosexuality.
Here are ten commitments I hope Christians and churches will consider making in their heads and hearts, before God and before a watching world.
This is not some esoteric debate reserved for theologians or technical Bible scholars. Faithful obedience to Jesus Christ is our goal, and that applies to all who call him Lord. Such obedience must begin with clear thinking about what Jesus calls us to be and do.
Somewhere in the span of local church history, we have turned our focus to activities, programs, and even entertainment as the unstated purposes of the church. In doing so, we have yielded our right to speak with authority about that which brings true joy. The consequence is that the church is being replaced with a new secular religion that is defining happiness for us.
A gospel-centered curriculum should be driven by the character of our missionary God seen most clearly in the Person of Jesus Christ. Our weekly gatherings are not the goal of the mission; they are the means by which we connect with one another and learn God’s Word in order that we might be equipped to love God and neighbor while spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.
The goal is not to fill our heads with theological truth but to fuel our hearts with passion to join God on His mission to bring people to Himself. Keeping a focus on how the gospel leads us to mission is a crucial aspect of how we apply the Bible to our lives.
In this video, Ed Stetzer (general editor) and I talk about our approach to theology and mission in The Gospel Project.
Trevin Wax: Ed, anytime I’ve ever listened to you preach or teach, you have emphasized that we are sent - God’s people are a sent people. Why is that so important for churches, for Christians to understand – our sent nature?
Ed Stetzer: One of the things that we often under-emphasize in all different kinds of churches is actually the fact that we have been sent as ambassadors. Agents of reconciliation. We join Jesus in His mission. So that’s really been a theme of my ministry. That’s why I did my focus on missiology.
At the end of the day, what I don’t want is for us to help people go deep and at the same time not encourage them to go out. That’s part of just what it means to not miss the commissions of Jesus. We can’t miss this theme of sentness throughout the Scriptures.
People have talked about it a lot in terms of mission, missional, mission-driven. Those are all good and important things. I don’t care if you use the word. I do care deeply that God’s people would actually act a little less like they’ve arrived and a little more like God has sent them on mission.
Trevin Wax: Now, you were talking about the role of small communities, life-on-life, and so you see small groups, Sunday School classes, community groups, home groups, all different kinds of groups. And one of the things that most small groups will do is they want to bring in people who are not yet believers into their community. So one of the questions you get when it comes to curriculum is if you go deep with them, how are you going to be accessible, relevant to that non-Christian?
Ed Stetzer: I was doing an interview with Craig Groeschel a couple years ago and I asked him what are ways his preaching has changed over the last few years. He said even non-Christians are asking deeper questions. And I think that’s part of the reality. So even churches from different kinds of movements are saying, We’ve got to now move into more depth.
When you teach in an environment like that, like using The Gospel Project curriculum, at the end of the day, it doesn’t mean that you say words that people don’t know. I try to preach in biblically driven ways, but when I use a term, I try to explain that term. But I do believe that if you can learn to order coffee at Starbucks, you can learn theological language at church. There’s some language that has to be known. The Gospel Project seeks to ramp people on and ramp people in by being able to explain. It doesn’t mean we have to go to the lowest common denominator.
I lead a small group in my neighborhood, and I have a neighbor who occasionally comes who has never been to church before. So when I said turn to Matthew, chapter 4, verse 11, his question was who’s Matthew? Why does he have two numbers after his name? We start there. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have to teach something deep. But I explain and I “on ramp” that. And that’s what we’re going to try, we are trying to do in The Gospel Project.
Trevin Wax: How do we connect to missional application? We talked about how depth is not just information, not just immediate application, but The Gospel Project does have both.
Ed Stetzer: When we understand what God has done for us in Christ, it causes us…that those who live should no longer live for themselves, 2 Corinthians says, right? It says He died for all of those who live should no longer live for themselves but for the One who died for them and was raised. So when people understand the enormity of the gospel, when you teach it in your church or I teach it in my church, the enormity of what God has done in Christ changes us so that people then ultimately need to live, churches need to be structured around, God’s glory and His mission.
So if it’s not my agenda, it’s God’s glory. So I live for God’s glory. And I live ultimately to be sent on mission. That’s why Jesus left us here rather than calling us into eternity right at the moment of our conversion. So how do we live? To give God glory and to live on mission. So I don’t think it’s a hard thing to do. And again, it’s not a forced thing. I think we need to be hermeneutically, exegetically responsible in all these kinds of situations. But at the end of the day, throughout the Bible God’s people are sent and are called to live as His representation and His agents of His mission and His grace. We see that throughout the Scriptures. So it’s not hard to make this case. As a matter of fact, I think the question would have to be ”Why haven’t we been making this case all along?”
Trevin Wax: One of the questions we ask every writer with The Gospel Project is: How does this passage or this theological topic equip God’s people to live on mission? Because we believe all the Bible is ultimately there to equip us to be about God’s mission.
Ed Stetzer: Exactly. If the Bible’s ultimately, if the big theme is what God has done in Christ, if the Old Testament leads up to it, the New Testament flows out of it – if that’s true, then what did Jesus tell us to do? It’s not simply to say, “Oh, the awesomeness of the gospel,” but because of the gospel, Jesus says all authority has been given to Me in heaven and earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded. And then He promises His presence always. So again, to think on the glories of the gospel and not live as an agent of mission is a disconnect that too often we see and we need to overcome.
The Bible presents sanctification in a twofold way: (1) as an objective, positional reality; and (2) as a subjective, ongoing experience. At conversion, God positionally sets the believer apart as holy, and the Christian experiences the liberating power of his sanctification when by faith he lives by this truth. We can experience the relative perfection of a progressing maturity while striving for the ideal perfection modeled for us by our Lord (Phil 3:12-16).
Lila Rose and Live Action have exposed the dark underbelly of Planned Parenthood once again. In the video above, the undercover cameras catch Planned Parenthood helping a woman who says she wants to kill her unborn child if it’s a girl but to keep it if it’s a boy. The Planned Parenthood worker even informs the mother how she can manipulate the system to get Medicaid to pay for her ultrasound.
Why don’t people learn from history and the experiences of others? Greed is listed among the “seven deadly sins” for a reason. In the case of those who poured a lot of money into Facebook stock seeking instant wealth, only to see the price plummet, their greed did them in.
Once again, I’m confronted with the fact that at some level, I am convinced that I know what is best for me. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be so offended at the quality of God’s provision. Like a child who begs for a snack and then turns his nose up at the carrots put in front of me, I am impressed with God’s power but offended at His wisdom in exercising it.
If there’s one thing Norris knew how to do well, it was how to attract publicity. By 1924, he had the largest Protestant church in America. His weekly newspaper was delivered to 50,000 homes. And his radio station broadcasted his messages to millions.
The outlandishness of Norris’ preaching would be merely a footnote in history today if not for the fact that on July 17, 1926, Norris shot and killed an unarmed man in his office. In 1927, he stood trial for murder and was acquitted.
I grew up hearing about Norris. He achieved a sort of legendary status in independent Baptist circles but usually not in a good way. So I found the story of his meteoric rise and disastrous fall interesting on a number of levels. Most intriguing was the progression of Norris’ downward spiral into unhealthy patterns of leadership.
Can we learn some things from J. Frank Norris? Yes. His ministry can serve as a cautionary tale in these ways:
1. Recognize the Difference Between Strong Preaching and Sensationalistic Preaching
[Norris] said, “The question of sensational preaching was a serious one with me. I knew that with a great many people it was taboo, especially among the so-called conservatives.” But he knew that he wasn’t making headway with what he called “the present, dull, dead, dry method.” And many years later, “Norris recalled that he switched to this extraordinary style of preaching because he had noticed that those preachers who engaged in it were the ones most successful in winning converts.”
Norris was an entertaining preacher no one would label as “soft.” He spoke forcefully against all kinds of sin and immorality (unfortunately, racial prejudice was not included). He wasn’t afraid to name names. Local ones even. One sermon was titled “Should a Prominent Fort Worth Banker Buy the High-Priced Silk Hose for Another Man’s Wife?”
It’s important to keep in mind, however, the difference between strong preaching and sensationalistic preaching. Strong preaching is grounded in the text of Scripture and reiterates forcefully what the text says plainly. Sensationalistic preaching is motivated by what will draw attention. It may use the text as a launching pad, but the bulk of the message is the pastor’s forceful delivery of his own personal opinions.
One way to tickle ears is never to preach against sin. Another way is to preach hard against everyone and everything else.
2. Results Do Not Equal Fruitfulness
The church had received a record 479 new members in 1911, more than twice as many additions as in any previous year. Norris certainly saw this as vindication of his new way. Converts were the bottom line.
When criticized for his sensationalism, Norris appealed to his church’s growth. His defense was pragmatic to the core. It allowed good results to vindicate questionable methods.
Even today, we tend to look at a pastor with a large following and immediately assume the numbers are a sign of God’s blessing. But Norris’ example should warn us against allowing certain results (number of converts, new members, big buildings, etc.) to justify any and every means to getting there.
3. Listen to Your Friends’ Rebukes
A popular poem among Baptist clergymen of the day ran: And what to do with Norris was a question broad and deep. He was too big to banish, and he smelled too bad to keep.
Norris left the Southern Baptist Convention loudly. He claimed it was because of the SBC’s decline into liberalism. But the truth of the matter was most Southern Baptist leaders had lost respect for Norris and Norris had lost his influence.
Over the years, Norris consistently refused to listen to his friends’ rebukes. Whenever his sensationalistic preaching was challenged, he appealed to his number of converts. When pastor friends warned that his ministry was losing credibility, he no longer believed they were credible critics. He walled himself off from criticism, surrounding himself only with friends who were fans, which sped up his descent into extremism.
4. Remember the Ministry is Not About You.
Wilke listened as [Norris] talked about receiving “hundreds of telegrams from all over the country.” His telephone, he said, had not stopped ringing, adding “I think the congregation showed it was still with me and believed in me.” It was, in his thinking, all about him.
Though his stated goal was to promote the ministry, the effort, like almost everything Norris did, was about him.
The format was simple: Norris would give a homily, in effect the lesson that all teachers in the Sunday school would teach the following Sunday. Then there would be a time of prayer. It was a weekly motivational session during which the preacher inspired his followers to go out and, as noted by one of the faithful, “sell J. Frank Norris to the masses.”
It’s easy for the pastor of any church (large or small) to think that the ministry is all about them. A pastor’s heart can become so entangled with his ministry that if the ministry suffers, the pastor’s identity suffers. Such was the case with Norris.
In all the transcripts and testimonies about Norris after he killed the man in his office, the most disturbing trend is to see the visible self-centeredness that kept Norris from reckoning with the enormity of his actions. Instead of the trial being about justice for a grieving family, it became a referendum about a controversial pastor on a crusade against those who would persecute him.
I wonder how often this is the case with us. We want to see results in ministry because it makes us look good, not God. It’s trading self-denial for self-deification.
5. Don’t Use Others to Do Your Dirty Work
[Norris] had so polarized the denomination with his constant attacks on perceptions of modernism that he and his church had been shut out of the movement many times. Yet he would persist in trying to come back in order to be heard on this or that matter… Often when Norris wanted to petition for reentry and acceptance, he would use agents to carry his message. J.T. Pemberton was one of his “go to” guys when it came to Baptist politics.
As Norris lost influence, he sought to maintain his power by manipulating from behind the scenes in order to bring about his own desired outcomes. This manipulation always involved people. If he didn’t have the influence he once had, he would utilize those who did. This gave him a way to maintain the illusion of power and control while appearing above the fray.
What’s the lesson for us? Don’t use others to accomplish your personal ambitions and goals. How we treat people matters.
For all his talk about courage and steadfastness, Norris was remarkably shady in his back-room dealings. The ends always seemed to justify the means, even if that included at least some measure of deception.
I don’t believe same-sex marriage is inevitable, but I like Mike Bird’s remarks on an “ecclesiology of exile.”
As we construct a Christian response to gay marriage, the evangelical and apostolic churches (not the liberals churches who are little more than chaplains for Nero) need to do from an ecclesiology of exile, not from an ecclesiology of christendom. We are on the periphery of society, not in its privileged position. We do it recognizing we are the outsiders, we are not the respected authority we once were.
Join a church if you haven’t yet. Be a brush stroke in the portrait of Jesus God is painting in your corner of the world. You can’t see this portrait on TV. You have to get with Christians living together.
Weirdly, it’s a myth perpetuated especially by evangelicals themselves: We’re just as bad as everyone else, we feel (or ought to feel) terrible about that, and now here’s what we’ll do. The classic American sermon style known as the “jeremiad” never goes out of date, it seems. But in this case, its basis is just wrong.
One of the questions on the paper was, ‘Are you an anarchist?’
To which a detached philosopher would naturally feel inclined to answer, ‘What the devil has that to do with you? Are you an atheist?’ along with some playful efforts to cross-examine the official about what constitutes an arche.
Then there was the question, ‘Are you in favour of subverting the government of the United States by force?’
Against this I should write, ‘I prefer to answer that question at the end of my tour and not the beginning.’
The inquisitor, in his more than morbid curiosity, had then written down, ‘Are you a polygamist?’
The answer to this is, ‘No such luck’ or ‘Not such a fool,’ according to our experience of the other sex. But perhaps a better answer would be that given to W. T. Stead when he circulated the rhetorical question, ‘Shall I slay my brother Boer?’—the answer that ran, ‘Never interfere in family matters.’
But among many things that amused me almost to the point of treating the form thus disrespectfully, the most amusing was the thought of the ruthless outlaw who should feel compelled to treat it respectfully. I like to think of the foreign desperado, seeking to slip into America with official papers under official protection, and sitting down to write with a beautiful gravity, ‘I am an anarchist. I hate you all and wish to destroy you.’
Or, ‘I intend to subvert by force the government of the United States as soon as possible, sticking the long sheath-knife in my left trouser-pocket into President Harding at the earliest opportunity.’
Or again, ‘Yes, I am a polygamist all right, and my forty-seven wives are accompanying me on the voyage disguised as secretaries.’
There seems to be a certain simplicity of mind about these answers; and it is reassuring to know that anarchists and polygamists are so pure and good that the police have only to ask them questions and they are certain to tell no lies.
Our picture of “Heaven” is wrong because we’re looking in the wrong place. Rather than gazing up in the clouds trying to picture what heaven will be like, look down at your feet. Take your shoes off and dig your toes into the damp soil. Reach down and tip the little pill bug over on its back. Watch its squiggly legs kick in the air. Then, turn it over again and let it scurry away. Nearby, see the earthworm wriggling deeper into the freshly turned earth. Look closer and examine the tiny grains of dirt, each a different shape and color, yet combining to form the lush hue of fertile soil. It even smells brown. Turn over the small rocks and explore the exquisite glories that hide in even the most innocuous crevices of creation. I can’t tell you what the new earth will be like. The Bible gives us very little detail. But I can say that this one’s pretty amazing. And, whatever God has in mind for our future, it will not be any less than this.
My children are my neighbors and thus deserve grace and conversation about truth and belief. In their early years this is a more one-sided conversation but, it must become a two-way flow of ideas in time. I do not rule their hearts, so to attempt to wield authority over them is a vain and angst inducing effort. I shepherd them, but I do not convert them. I teach and influence them, but I do not make them. And so I should emphasize evangelizing them not indoctrinating them.
One of my all-time favorite prayers! This one just overflows with praise…
You are God: we praise You;
You are the Lord: we acclaim You;
You are the eternal Father:
All creation worships you.
To You all angels, all the powers of heaven,
Cherubim and Seraphim, sing in endless praise:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
The glorious company of apostles praise You.
The noble fellowship of prophets praise You.
The white-robed army of martyrs praise You.
Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims You;
Father, of majesty unbounded,
and Your true and only Son, worthy of all worship,
and the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide.
You, Christ, are the King of glory,
the eternal Son of the Father.
When You became man to set us free
You did not shun the Virgin’s womb.
You overcame the sting of death
and opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.
You are seated at God’s right hand in glory.
We believe that You will come and be our judge.
Come then, Lord, and help Your people,
bought with the price of Your own blood,
and bring us with your saints
to glory everlasting.