White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

The Opiate of the Slightly Concerned

David Zahl is the executive director of Mockingbird Ministries, whose “The Gospel According to Pixar,” we recently featured on the blog.  We like to say that in addition to his work for Mockingbird, David is also a Modern Reformation writer (though we’re sure David has other appellations that might bump us from second billing!). David’s article for us will appear in the March/April 2011 issue and we hope to get him in at least one other time in 2011.

Over at the MockingbirdNYC blog, David has condensed and commented upon a brilliant piece in The New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell. The thesis? Social media provides wide access but weak ties. So, for the socially conscious, it can be a great boon to a campaign that doesn’t require much effort on the part of those who have some desire to help. But it can hinder real, systemic change from occuring because it lulls people into thinking that clicking “like” on a facebook page actually amounts to something.

You can read the whole thing here.

Lausanne III & the New Reformation

The third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, held in Cape Town, South Africa, has concluded, but its influence will be felt for years to come. Chris Wright, who heads the theology committee, brought difficult but salutary words to the representatives of global evangelicalism. Wright is the author of The Mission of God, from which I have profited immensely. He also heads the Langham Partnership and is a minister at All Soul’s Church in London. His call for a new reformation was greeted with applause from the thousands of international delegates. I wanted to draw your attention to his speech and also to one of the key Lausanne statements that he helped draft for the Congress.

In his paper (available at the Lausanne Congress website), Chris Wright called for reformation involving repentance, renewed humility, integrity, and simplicity.

What struck Wright was the fact that many of the same weaknesses in the global evangelical movement that were noted at Lausanne II in 1974 are even more evident today. While there is much to praise God for, there is much to confess. The answer is to be neither conformed to the world nor to withdraw from it, but to embrace the gospel and the costly call to discipleship. The church is called not only to proclaim the cross but to exhibit a spirituality of the cross. Nevertheless, the worldly values of dominance, pride, and dishonesty are widespread in our churches.

The church has been identified with particular ethnic, cultural, social, political, and economic systems. Affluence in the developed world often numbs us to the reality of suffering and poverty, undermining the simplicity of lifestyle that is enjoined in Scripture on believers. “We crave for success and recognition. But this easily leads to distortion of the truth and manipulation of people.” There is a crisis of leadership, he adds. “There are megachurch pastors lording it over churches, with unaccountable power and phenomenal wealth.” This power-mongering sometimes involves racial or cultural domination. Wright asks,

Can we trust all the inflated statistics thrown around the world of Christian mission? What are they there for? What do they prove? Whom do they flatter? Whom do they diminnish? What damage can they do? Exaggeration or sheer invention are common admitted to (in private if not in public) by those who have to produce reports on the ‘success’ of their mission, sometimes under pressure from those who demand them as a condition of funding. Are there methods of evangelism that are simply unbiblical and unethical, driven by ‘success’ and ‘speed,’ rather than by obedience to all that Jesus commanded?

The “prosperity gospel” comes in for special mention at this point. Yet broader criticism is offered concerning manipulative methods, competitive pride, and the tendency to measure success in terms of numbers rather than depth.

The Whole Church Taking the Whole Gospel to the Whole World
Wright also chaired the committee that drafted for the Congress several statements, including “The Whole Church Taking the Whole Gospel to the Whole World.” This statement begins with “the whole gospel,” the committee explains, because the church is produced by the gospel. The gospel itself is refreshingly defined by appeal to Scripture itself as, “above all else the historical facts about Jesus of Nazareth through whom God has accomplished salvation.” It is a message that is already proclaimed in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New. “Drawing our understanding of the whole gospel from the whole Bible will protect us from a reductionism that shrinks the gospel to a few formulae for ease of communication and ‘marketing.’” The gospel is richer than a sales pitch. Given the diversity of cultural contexts, there are many different entry points, but they all lead to that central message of “the living God and his saving work in Christ.” Included in this gospel is the “peace-making” work of the cross in uniting Jews and Gentiles as one new humanity in Christ, from every race and tongue. Furthermore, “The church, as the community of those reonciled to one another and to God, is therefore the embodiment of the gospel.” There is therefore no justification for racial or cultural prejudice or domination in the churches.

The gospel declares that in the combined work of the cross and resurrection of Christ, God comprehensively took upon himself the judgment our sin deserves, and accomplished the defeat and eventual destruction of satan, death and all evil powers, the reconciliation of believers with God and one another across all boundaries and enmities, and the final redemption of all creation. The gospel then assures us that, solely through trusting in Christ alone, we are united with Christ through the Holy Spirit and are counted righteous in Christ before God; we receive the forgiveness of our sins, are born again into his new and risen life, adopted in his family, and have full assurance of salvation and eternal life.

The statement adds,

The cross was the supreme act of self-giving by God. It is thus utterly contrary to the message of the cross when the gospel is commercialized, or its benefits are sold for profit. The gross abuse of indulgences in the pre-Reformation church lives on in some forms of Prosperity teaching, and in the practice of paying for anointings, for holy oil, or any other means of gaining blessing, healing, success or miracles. These are sheer exploitation of the poor and gullible for private gain, and stand condemned in Scripture (Acts 8:9-25).

At the same time, “the gospel produces ethical transformation,” genuine repentance: putting off the old self and putting on the new self, renewed in the likeness of Christ. Saving faith yields the fruit of good works. “Although we may perceive the distinction that classical systematic theology makes between the event or moment of justification and the process of sanctification, we should not drive a wedge between them. Nor should we press the distinction between evangelism and discipling. Both are essential components of gospel ministry – as Paul’s missionary life and team-work demonstrate.”

The committee’s statement also highlights the important—and often neglected—role of the Holy Spirit in the history of redemption and mission.

At the same time we are well aware of the many abuses that masquerade under the name of the Holy Spirit, the many ways in which (as the New Testament also exemplifies) all kinds of phenomena are practised and praised which bear the marks of other spirits than the Holy Spirit. There is great need for more profound discernment, for the detection of blind-spots and delusion, for the exposure of fraudulent and self-serving manipulators who abuse spiritual power for their own ends.  Above all there is a great need for sustained biblical teaching and preaching that will equip ordinary believers to understand and rejoice in the true gospel and to recognize and reject false gospels when they are exposed to them.

Part Two—“The Whole Church”—begins with the words, “The starting point for our ecclesiology must be the same as for our theology of mission and for our understanding of the world. Salvation, the church, and the world all belong to God.” The church is the result of God’s mission.

The statement affirms the connection between the gospel and the church: “It is vital that we strongly affirm, therefore, that while there are multiple ethnicities within the one church by God’s clear intention, no single ethnic group holds privileged place in God’s economy of salvation or God’s eschatological purpose. For this reason, we strongly believe that the separate and privileged place given to Jewish people today or to the modern Israeli state in certain forms of dispensationalism or Christian Zionism, should be challenged, inasmuch as they deny the essential oneness of the people of God in Christ.” While challenging all forms of ethnocentricity and rejoicing in the remarkable growth of the church in the global south, the statement adds, “However, we strongly discourage the further use of this term, for two reasons. First, Christianity has no centre but Jesus Christ.” Therefore, “mission is from everywhere, to everywhere.”

Furthermore, the church is called to be and to do, to live out who we are in Christ; to proclaim the gospel and to witness to its truth in deeds of love and service. A church that mirrors the selfishness of its pagan environment undermines rather than exhibits the plausibility of its claims concerning the redeeming and renewing work of the Spirit in Christ through the Word. Consequently, Lausanne III renews the commitment of earlier congresses to the integral relationship between evangelism and social action in the church’s mission.

The third part—“The Whole World” focuses on the world as interpreted in Scripture, especially as God’s creation that requires our stewardship rather than exploitation. It also examines the globalized world of religions (as well as a secularized public square), and religious violence as well as poverty and injustice. A constant challenge, negotiating the relationship between our dual citizenship is crucial. It is always easier for members of one culture to see the log in the eye of another. An American evangelical may easily discern where a brother or sister gives too much loyalty to a social caste system, inter-ethnic violence, or polygamy, while failing to see how militarism and materialism warp his or her own faith. We need discernment to know when we are encountering cultural bridges or obstacles to the gospel. Belonging to Christ means that all other loyalties must be critiqued. This is God’s world and yet it is fallen. “We have hope, not in the eventual success of what we can do to fix the world, but in the accomplished victory of God through Christ, guaranteeing the new creation in which all that is broken will be made anew.

The church as the people of the creator and redeemer God, therefore, also lives with the ambiguity that we ourselves are fallen people who share in, and often contribute to, the brokenness of the world;  and yet we are redeemed to live redemptively within the world. We bear witness to the accomplished fact of redemption (in the message of the cross);  we bear witness to the ongoing redemptive power of God through his Spirit constantly at work in our own day;  we bear witness to the hope of ultimate redemption of all creation.

Evaluating the Statement
From my summary above it should be clear that I am in sympathy with much of this document. In its rich grounding in Scripture and discernment, the statement proves the enduring leadership of the Lausanne Committee for the evangelical movement. Those of us from the churches of the Reformation have much to learn from our brothers and sisters and especially Chris Wright’s emphases (see his book The Mission of God) which resonate throughout this draft. The world is God’s (Ps 24:1). It does not belong to us, or to trans-national corporations, or to national interests. Furthermore, it is a world for which God has an all-encompassing plan. God is the sovereign missionary and his redeemed people have the privilege of proclaiming his love and grace to the world and of living out their heavenly calling through their earthly callings to their neighbors.

My chief concern, however, is “message creep” that inevitably leads to “mission creep.” After defining the gospel so well by appealing to a number of key passages, the meaning of “the gospel” expands with each section. The committee was careful to state that the gospel is the message concerning God’s saving work in Christ and yields transforming effects in us and therefore in the world.

However, there is a tendency later on to blur this distinction: “The gospel that is intrinsically verbal is just as intrinsically ethical. There is no gospel where there is no change.” There is the potential for “message creep.” “Furthermore, greater attention to the biblical integration of faith and ethics within the nature of the whole gospel itself would help greatly in resolving the ongoing disagreement over the so-called relationship between evangelism and social engagement.” There is the potential for “mission creep.” I know what the statement is trying to affirm: Faith without works is dead. There can be no justification without sanctification. However, we can affirm this without saying that the gospel is “intrinsically ethical” or that “there is no gospel where there is no change.” The gospel is intrinsically verbal and not intrinsically ethical! Christ is the gospel, my ethical transformation is its effect. As the statement said earlier, it is the Good News concerning God’s saving work in Christ.

We cannot do the gospel, live the gospel, or be the gospel. We can only hear and receive the gospel (see 1 Cor 15:1-6 , Rom 10:13-17). When we receive it, we are justified and also transformed, but this transformation is the fruit of the gospel rather than the gospel itself. In fact, when our experience or transformation is confused with the gospel itself, we eventually lose both in the bargain. And even where there is no change in a given instance, there is still a gospel. The gospel is objectively true and present, even if no one believes or embraces it or bears its fruit. By the last part of the statement, we read of “The work of the gospel, then, in all its dimensions including evangelism, discipling, peace-making, social engagement, ethical transformation, bearing witness to the truth, caring for creation, overcoming evil powers, suffering and enduring under persecution, etc.,…”

Expanding the meaning of the gospel, the statement fails to appeal to God’s law as that Word that calls us to love and serve our neighbors, to respect God’s creation, and to steward resources he has entrusted to us. God’s law is meant to be proclaimed to the whole world, so that every mouth is shut. It is also meant to be proclaimed to Christians so that they know how to live honorably and lovingly in this world. Of course, the gospel is always front-and-center. As God’s word of salvation—not only of individuals but of the whole creation—the gospel directs us to Christ’s completed work in the past and his return in glory. So we have a horizon, a frame of reference, for orienting our lives in the present.

However, when it comes to specific commands, the law rather than the gospel is the word that God speaks to the world and to us as believers. Too much in the latter half of the statement uses the gospel to do the law’s work. Yet besides blurring this crucial distinction, this widespread tendency also reduces the scope of authority with which the church is called properly to announce God’s claim on the whole world. When we announce God’s judgment on the fourishing slave-trafficing industry, environmental irresponsibility, and other evils, we are bringing God’s law to bear on society as well as the church. And Christians in their daily lives—as consumers and voters as well as economists, lawyers, CEO’s and political leaders—are especially obligated to hear and obey God’s commands as that “reasonable service” in the light of God’s saving mercies in Christ.

“Message creep” and “mission creep” are further enabled by a weak doctrine of the church. Under the sub-heading “church and para-church,” the statement says, “We wonder if there is more argument about this distinction among mission agencies and church bodies than exists in the mind of God, or in biblical concepts. While recognizing that there are valid pragmatic or functional distinctions that may be made for the sake of good order and administration, we need to affirm the biblical truth that ‘where two or three are gathered’ in the name of Christ, he is there, and the church is there – one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” Erasing the fundamental distinction between the church as gathered (in fact, explicitly denying that the church is an institution) and the church as scattered, the statement gives the impression that the visible church is called to do everything that individual Christians are called to do in their various callings in the world.

When the church’s calling to proclaim the gospel and administer the sacraments (identified in the Great Commission) is expanded to include social transformation, it exceeds the boundaries of its authority and competence. If Christian economists can disagree over tax structures or the best way of creating and circulating wealth, then can we really expect ministers and elders to develop concrete solutions to global crises? Should we not expect our members, shaped by God’s law and gospel, to bring their faith to bear on these questions alongside their non-Christian colleagues? The statement illustrates the problem. For example, it says, “Trans-national corporations (TNCs) ‘patent’ nature, negatively impacting possibilities of subsistence at the local level, and damaging God’s creation in the process. While some of the world’s poor have benefited from globalization the poorest of the poor are now even more destitute.” This is a well-crafted and stirring statement. But is it accurate? Perhaps. However, some trans-national corporations are the major funders of environmental research and infrastructure improvement in areas of the globe with systemic poverty and disease. Is a gathering of church leaders qualified to adjudicate these complex questions of globalization? The statement is on far firmer ground (both in terms of competence and biblical authority) when it says, “The simple affirmation ‘Jesus is Lord’ points to the idolatry of any one nation, trans-national corporation, school of thought, or church that presumes to speak or act on behalf of the whole world.” There are things that churches can say, with the clear authority of Christ’s Word, but many other things that Christians must negotiate among themselves and with their non-Christian neighbors in the public square. Similarly, the statement addresses violence in sweeping terms. “Special attention should also be paid to the astronomical expense of military build-up, totaling $1.464 trillion USD in 2008.” Again, I sympathize with this concern. However, what does “special attention” involve and who is authorized to provide the biblical answer to that question? What would an acceptable military build-up be? On poverty, the statement repeats the tragic statistics we have often heard: “In God’s world of plenty and God-given human creativity, 20% of the world”s population consumes 80% of the world’s resources. Meanwhile 1/3 of the world”s population can barely feed and clothe itself adequately and 1/6 is daily on the verge of death. Poverty is not the result of lack of resources but a product of personal and institutionalized injustice and greed, ethnic prejudice and consumerism.” Along with non-Christian neighbors, we can feel the indictment, but paths diverge sharply over the best solutions. These are complex issues. That is not to throw up our hands and wash them of responsibility. In fact, it’s just the opposite; it’s to acknowledge that they are so important that the careful work of Christians (and non-Christians) at all levels, from citizens to heads of state, is required.

These concerns I have raised are important. Nevertheless, they are offered humbly as “corrections” of a statement that is in many ways useful and urgently needed. We need a clearer proclamation of the gospel. We also need a more authentic encounter with the law, calling us to repentance and driving us to cling to Christ in his gospel for justification and sanctification. It is too easy for us to separate the benefits of Christ, as if forgiveness of sins could be divorced from the way we actually live, work, and relate to others in the world. There is a new creation and we belong to it, so our lives should be characterized by its “solid joys and lasting treasures” even now. The distinctions between law and gospel, the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, the church as institution and the church as the saints scattered in their callings, remain crucial. The important—and difficult—art is to distinguish them without separating them.

Justified: the new book from Modern Reformation

You’ve seen the cover and read a little bit about it. Here’s the table of contents.

Justified: Modern Reformation Essays on The Doctrine of Justification

List of Contributors 1

Introduction—Getting Perspective 3
RYAN GLOMSRUD

COVENANT AND JUSTIFICATION

1 Engaging N.T. Wright and John Piper 11
MICHAEL S. HORTON

LAW AND FAITH

2 Confusion about the Law in Paul 33
T. DAVID GORDON

3 Does Faith Mean Faithfulness? 40
SIMON GATHERCOLE

4 The Nature of Justifying Faith 47
DAVID VANDRUNEN

5 An American Tragedy: Jonathan Edwards on Justification 53
GEORGE HUNSINGER

SHALL WE STILL PROTEST? THE DEBATE WITH ROME

6 Not by Faith Alone: The Roman Catholic Doctrine of Justification 58
AN INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT SUNGENIS

7 What “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” Ignores: The Inseparable Link Between Imputation and the Gospel 65
R. C. SPROUL

8 Ten Propositions on Faith and Salvation 72
EDITED BY MICHAEL S. HORTON

9 The Doctrine of Justification: The Article on which the Church Stands or Falls 74
J. A. O. PREUS III

UNION AND PEACE WITH GOD

10 A More Perfect Union? Justification and Union with Christ 78
JOHN V. FESKO

11 Christ at the Center: The Legacy of the Reformed Tradition 85
DENNIS TAMBURELLO

12 The Discomfort of the Justified Life 91
JERRY BRIDGES

13 Holiness: God’s Work or Ours? 95
HAROLD L. SENKBEIL

Conclusion—Does Justification Still Matter? 102
MICHAEL S. HORTON

Stay tuned for a an excerpt and a video interview with Mike Horton talking about the book and why we’re releasing it at this year’s Evangelical Theological Society.

WHI-1020 | The Parables of Jesus (Part 3)

On this program, the hosts will discuss the parable of the Prodigal Son and other similar narratives. Through each of these tales, the point Jesus makes is that something lost is suddenly found. In fact, Jesus taught that his mission was “to seek and save that which was lost.” But in the Prodigal Son story, we find that Jesus’ primary point is to show that the religious leaders of his day, represented by the older brother in the parable, were the ones who were truly lost.

RECOMMENDED BOOKS

The Prodigal God
Timothy Keller
The Prodigal God Discussion Guide
Tim Keller
The Parables of Jesus
Terry Johnson

PROGRAM AUDIO

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MUSIC SELECTION

Dave Hlebo

Days of Disappointment

The Colorado Springs Gazette reported last July that a local woman had placed ads on ten bus-stop benches alerting passersby that Jesus Christ will return to earth on May 21, 2011. The woman is a believer in the eschatological calculations of one Harold Camping, the 89-year-old preacher behind “worldwide Christian ministry” Family Radio, whose analysis of the Bible further proposes that the end of the world will follow five months after Christ’s return, on October 21, 2011—one year from [yesterday].

Camping is hardly the first Christian to fixate on predicting the end of time, but his designation of precise dates in the near future does put him in a special class. Countless Christian figures beginning with Jesus have said that the world as we know it would end “soon.” Some have given vague predictions in the more or less distant future, such as Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of Mormonism, recorded in his thirties that a seemingly annoyed God had told him that the end would not come before his 85th year and so to quit asking. But only a brave few have called out specific dates in the near term. In the American context, the most well-known of these is William Miller, who in the spring of 1832 began spreading the word that Christ would return around 1843. Intrigued audiences pushed Miller to be more specific, and he eventually pinpointed the year between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. When March of 1844 passed without incident, a follower of Miller’s went back to the drawing board and came up with October 22, 1844, the date that became famous as the “Day of Disappointment.”

Stephen O’Leary insists in his Arguing the Apocalypse that while the logic of apocalyptic rhetoric might be hard to follow, there is a logic to it. Camping’s method is no exception, on both counts. He cuts a caper across the bible and the human history of its interpretation, gleaning data points from archaeology and philology and inserting them into dizzying numerological and typological formulas. For instance, combining the year of Solomon’s death calculated by Old Testament scholar Edwin R. Thiele with his own reading of the generations of biblical kings and patriarchs, Camping dates the flood to 4,990 B.C., 7,000 years ago next year. Camping settles on 2011 as the end of time because in Gen 7:4, God warns Noah that the flood will begin in seven days, and he posits that this warning applies to the beginning of The End as well as to the beginning of the flood, and further that a day is a thousand years to God,.

Camping’s methods share some features with those of the Millerites, accounting for the shared fixation on the twenty-first day of the month. Also like the Millerites, public-relations innovators in the early 1840s, Camping’s followers are using the latest communications strategies to get the word out. Websites have sprung up to promote Camping’s predictions, offering streaming media content, a Twitter feed, and a downloadable browser toolbar which keeps the countdown to Christ’s return. The convinced can order free bumper stickers to warn the ungodly, although these come with an admonition about their use somewhat out of sync with the urgency of the task: “Bumper stickers are only offered for their intended purpose. In most cases it is illegal to put these stickers anywhere but on your own property. Please respect the laws and rights of others while warning about May 21, 2011 Judgment Day!”

Those unconvinced by Camping’s math must presume that, come next year, his predictions will share another feature with Miller’s: they will be proven wrong. However, having attracted even a small number of committed followers, Camping’s work is unlikely to be completely forgotten. While date-setting is obviously a high-risk enterprise, history shows that disappointment is rarely, if ever, absolute. Groups given a specific date on which to fixate have shown deep reluctance to let go of it even as it passes like any other day.

A remnant of Miller’s followers coalesced into the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, developing an eschatology that maintains that momentous events began in heaven when Miller said they would, regardless of our ability to perceive them. Camping himself has already been off once—in 1992 he published a book titled 1994? That eyebrow-arch of a question mark may have served him well, but so will his definitive stand on May 21, 2011. Turning a mere date into Doomsday changes that day by forcing an event most of us imagine as theoretical onto the calendar. The bus ads feature clip art of a hand marking May 21 in a date book, emphasizing just this mundane quality; it is written in right there, we imagine, with doctor’s appointments and soccer practices. In part because of that presence on the calendar, Doomsday becomes as inexorable as any other scheduled event, and so if we all wake up on May 22 as usual, at least some of Camping’s followers will not be wondering why nothing happened, but rather trying to understand what must have happened.

by Seth Perry

Seth Perry is a PhD candidate in History of Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Originally published in Sightings, from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Used with permission.

References

Mark Barna, “The end is not just nigh, it’s in May 2011: Springs woman touts Armageddon’s date ,” Colorado Springs Gazette, July 26, 2010.

Stephen D. O’Leary, Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric (Oxford University Press, 1998).

Ronald L. Numbers and Jonathan M. Butler, eds., The Disappointed: Millerism and Millenarianism in the Nineteenth Century (University of Tennessee Press, 1993).

[For more on Harold Camping's false prophecies and dangerous teaching, see Should We Leave Our Churches?]

Dad Rod Thursdays – 2010 Mockingbird Conference

Dr. Rod RosenbladtLast April, Dr. Rosenbladt joined C. FitzSimons Allison, David Zahl and others to speak at the 3rd Annual Mockingbird Conference, titled Guilt, Forgiveness and Freedom. You may know the crew over at the Mockingbird Blog from some of our prior blog posts. They offer a unique and fascinating take on contemporary media and icons through the perspective of the Christian faith and we always recommend you take a look.

Here is a short description they offer about their 2010 Conference:

Guilt, Forgiveness and Freedom are three words which carry enormous weight and power. They color our relationships (to put it mildly), they drive our decision-making, they inform many/most of our problems. And that’s just a start. This Spring in NYC we explored what Christianity has to say about these three deeply important realities, their dynamics and their implications. In other words, we looked at the mechanics of change (and the lack thereof) – personally, culturally and most crucial, theologically.

In this case, their 2010 Conference produced another great resource of Christ-centered preaching and teaching. They have made the recordings from their conference available for free on their website. On this “Dad Rod Thursday” we can’t help but recommend this free resource to you.

Finally, last week, we recommended that you listen to or read Dr. Rosenbladt’s The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church, now available for FREE. Don’t miss it!

The Cult of Personality

The following is by Rev. Kevin Efflandt, pastor of Zion URC in Ripon, CA and is used with his permission.  Rev. Efflandt blogs at Confessions of a Confessional Rev.


This morning, I came across something on Facebook that caught my attention. It was a Christian radio station in a place that I formerly lived, asking people what they appreciated most about their pastor. Here are some of the responses…

“He believes in us and our gifts! He and his wife (our worship Pastor) love getting to know everyone; we’re more like family than just a congregation. They love to plan potlucks, family community outreaches, and just ‘hanging out’ on a casual level.”

“My pastor is the funniest dude I know! So weird, and filled with energy when he’s teaching a sermon, it’s so easy to learn because he’s so weird!”

“We have a new pastor and we learn more about him every day! One Sunday he sang a solo! Who knew?? Then, last week, he played guitar too! And his wife was on keyboard!”

“All the pastors out at _______ Church are just amazing. They know how to relate the day’s sermon to our understanding and make us laugh the whole way through.”

“My pastor has the most amazing sense of humor.”

“I appreciate his transparency…he shares his own struggles with us and also that he is energetic and shares what the Holy Spirit tells him spontaneously.”

“Two things come to mind–1st: He has upgraded our sound system and brought our sound system into the current century! 2nd: His wife Lily has done a lot for our Youth group.”

He’s hilarious!”

So apparently, what people most appreciate in their pastor is a sense of humor, musical gifts, authenticity, and the ability to just “hang out.” Very simply, this is the cult of personality. If we like the guy, if he’s funny, hip, cool, then he’s a great pastor. The problem with this, of course, is that it has no correlation whatsoever to Scripture. For example, as I read the New Testament, I don’t see any of these characteristics in the apostle Paul. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 2, Paul says this…

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

May God give us a greater desire to have pastors who preach Christ, rather than pastors who are funny and hip.


Editor’s Note: You might be interested in also reading W. Robert Godfrey’s article in Modern Reformation “The Myth of Influence”.

With God on Our Side

A new documentary looking at the relationship of American evangelicals to the modern State of Israel is being screened several nights this week in southern California.

With God On Our Side – Trailer 2 from Porter Speakman Jr on Vimeo.

For more on problems with Christian Zionism, you can read this “Open Letter” from 2002, signed by many evangelical and Reformed pastors and theologians including our own Mike Horton.

WHI-1019 | The Parables of Jesus (Part 2)

What is the point of the parables? Is there a moral to the story that we should all look for and attempt to follow? Is the point of the wicked tenants parable that we should all try to be good tenants, or is there something else going on here? On this broadcast, the hosts will discuss these questions as they unpack the parable of the wicked tenants and others related to it. And as they will show, Jesus and his forthcoming crucifixion at the hands of Israel’s unfaithful shepherds is really what these messages are all about.

RECOMMENDED BOOKS

Kingdom, Grace, Judgment
Robert F. Capon
Knowing Scripture
R.C. Sproul
The Parables
Simon Kistemaker

PROGRAM AUDIO

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MUSIC SELECTION

David Helbo

Coming Soon! Justified, the MR book

“God justifies the ungodly”: Paul’s statement in Romans 4:5 has brought comfort and provoked controversy throughout the history of the church. Historically, most Protestants have seen the Reformation as a rediscovery of this gospel truth–indeed, justification as “the article by which the church stands or falls.” In our day, however, neither the Reformers’ account of the doctrine nor their appraisal of its significance can be taken for granted. Through various movements within Protestant theology and biblical studies, fresh (and not so fresh) challenges have made it imperative for us to reevaluate the Scriptures and the systematic as well as historical arguments that have been persuasive for so many Christians in previous eras.

Scheduled to be released at next month’s Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meeting, this book joins that contemporary conversation, bringing together voices from the pages of Modern Reformation magazine over the years. Like the magazine, this collection connects Lutheran, Reformed, and Baptist theologians, historians, and biblical scholars who are able to unpack important issues for thoughtful nonspecialists.

This collection covers a lot of ground: the relationship of justification to covenant (especially recent discussions between N. T. Wright and John Piper), the law, union with Christ, as well as sanctification. A final chapter considers the contemporary relevance of justification. If theology is for the church, then the gospel is surely a matter for all of God’s people to wrestle with together.

Each Friday until the ETS meeting in Atlanta, Georgia (November 17-19, 2010), we’ll post more information about this new book. Stay tuned!

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