Monthly Archives: September 2010

An Improvement-Proof Gospel

And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. – Galatians 2:6

Oh, how I love Paul! He is hilarious. He is so cheeky. “Sure, sure. Peter, James, and John, those pillars, they seemed like somebodies, I guess.” Love it!

But is he being as disparaging as he appears? Not really, but sort of. Here’s Luther on this verse:

Paul disparages the authority and dignity of the true apostles. He says of them, “Which seemed to be somewhat.” The authority of the apostles was indeed great in all the churches. Paul did not want to detract from their authority, but he had to speak disparagingly of their authority in order to conserve the truth of the Gospel . . .What they say has no bearing on the argument. If the apostles were angels from heaven, that would not impress me. We are not now discussing the excellency of the apostles. We are talking about the Word of God now, and the truth of the Gospel. That Gospel is more excellent than all apostles.

“The gospel is more excellent than all apostles.” Yes!

You know what? Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, John Piper, Mark Dever, Will Willimon, David Platt. These guys and more are (probably) better preachers than you and me. But if your gospel is the Bible’s gospel, their gospel isn’t better than yours. Same gospel. They can’t improve on it any more than you can …

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Photo Contest: Win a Copy of Your Jesus is Too Safe

(Blog reader/commenter Spencer wins a copy of my book Abide: Practicing Kingdom Rhythms in a Consumer Culture for his winning idea for this contest to give away a copy of my book Your Jesus is Too Safe.)

How to enter:

Take a picture of a place or area where Jesus is portrayed as “safe” or not like Christ at all. Show me your found safe Jesuses.

You can either submit your photo by posting at your blog or Twitpic or Flickr or what-have-you and providing a link in the comments,ORYou can submit your photo by emailing it to me at the address you see in the upper right sidebar profile.Rules, etc.

Don’t pass off photos you find online as yours. You must take the pic yourself. C’mon, that’s not that hard.Yes, you could probably successfully cheat by passing off a found photo online as your own, but don’t do that.If you’re related to me, you can’t play. Sorry.


Contest will end in roughly a week, or whenever I remember to end it.

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10 Reasons for the Institutional Church

“What other church is there besides institutional?” – Eugene Peterson

Entire books have been written on the subject of “the institutional church,” both pro and con, so I don’t propose to offer anything new or comprehensive with a blog post. But the urging to ditch the “institution” of the church just seems so plainly misguided I thought I’d offer some reasons for the good of the institution.

None of this is to say that institutionalization is good, of course, or bureaucracy or professionalization; the church is not essentially an organization but a people called out by God, saved by Christ into his kingdom and image, and powered by the Spirit. The institutionalization of the church is what happens when the Spiritual reality of what the church is disappears and all that’s left is the “local” expression/form. But local expressions/forms are important. Here’s, I think, why:

1. The New Testament presumes church governance2. The New Testament commands church discipline3. The New Testament designates insiders and outsiders in relation to the church4. The image of “the body” presumes unified order5. The New Testament churches had recognizable structures. The apostles sent their letters to somebody6. “Spirit-filled community or institutional organization” is a false dichotomy that presumes the Spirit is powerless against institution7. Logically speaking, there is no such thing as “no institution” except chaos or anarchy. Every community made up of people is institutional to some degree8. That institution is not eternal is not grounds for jettisoning it. Marriage isn’t eternal either.9. The subjection of kings …

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Even to the Uttermost Farthing

‘Would I know the fullness and completeness of the salvation God has provided for sinners? Where shall I see it most distinctly? Shall I go to the general declarations in the Bible about God’s mercy? Shall I rest in the general truth that God is a God of love?

Oh, no! I will look at the crucifixion at Calvary. I find no evidence like that: I find no balm for a sore conscience and a troubled heart like the sight of Jesus dying for me on the accursed tree. There I see that a full payment has been made for all my enormous debts. The curse of that law which I have broken, has come down on One who there suffered in my stead; the demands of that law are all satisfied: payment has been made for me even to the uttermost farthing. It will not be required twice over.

Ah, I might sometimes imagine I was too bad to be forgiven; my own heart sometimes whispers that I am too wicked to be saved. But I know in my better moments this is all my foolish unbelief; I read an answer to my doubts in the blood shed on Calvary. I feel sure that there is a way to heaven for the very vilest of men, when I look at the cross.”

—J.C. Ryle, “Calvary”


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A Thick, Thick Heaven

Wim Wenders created a now-classic foreign film, Wings of Desire, several years ago in which an angel renounces his angel-ness to experience human romance with the woman he’d fallen in love with. (Wings of Desire was remade a few years later in the American film City of Angels, with Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan.) One of the major conceits of Wings of Desire was that, when an angel, our lover saw the world — and we saw the film — in black and white and shades of gray. When he gave up his “wings” and became human, the film turns to color to reflect his now fully-realized vision.

This is bass ackwards.

Only in the mind whose treasure is set on earth are the heavenlies seen as drab and the earth seen as glorious (by comparison). Our world is glorious, of course, because the skies declare the glory of God, the mountains and trees declare his majesty, and as Calvin reminds us, every blade of grass is meant to make us rejoice. But heaven is far, far better.

Our problem, then, is probably not that this fallen world is seen too beautiful (I could argue it’s not seen as beautiful enough, actually), but that we have a deficient view of heaven. It is more colorful than this world, not less. It is, as CS Lewis depicts it in The Great Divorce, thicker than our world.

Do you realize that Christ’s glorified body is in the heavenly space? His is a body that is tangible, …

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How to Carry the Death of Jesus in Our Bodies When We Suffer

2 Corinthians 4:6-12

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

This is a beautiful, confounding passage. The image at work is the frailty of a clay vessel concealing a priceless treasure (“the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”). It is something eternally valuable placed inside something with an expiration date. We are dime store piggy banks holding within us the Hope Diamond. What Paul is getting at with this imagery is that when the jar is broken, as in suffering, the treasure becomes visible.

When we suffer, we show what we’re really made of.

The purpose of suffering for the believer, then, is to reveal this light of Christ, to reveal the image …

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Quick Hits #10

#1 Zach Nielsen links to and reflects on a New York Times piece about why we don’t see as many people with Down’s Syndrome these days. The reason? Prenatal screening results in the murder of 9 out of 10 Down’s Syndrome babies in the womb.

#2 I don’t believe there is a “gay gene,” but supposing one is discovered — and while I doubt it’s existence, I also wouldn’t be inordinately surprised if “they” find one — I wonder if we may suddenly have some allies in the fight for the right to life of unborn children. Or, being the cynical poopyhead I am, I wonder if we might see hypocrisy on both sides, as previously pro-choice gay rights advocates become horrified at the thought of snuffing out “homosexual” fetuses while at the same time many professing Christians might be among those who would screen for this gene and secretly terminate their pregnancy to spare themselves potential heartache. Just thinking aloud here.

#3 Andree Seu of WORLD Magazine is a writer whose work I have enjoyed immensely in the past. Recently Seu has declared that Glenn Beck is a new creation in Christ and that he articulates the gospel more clearly than anyone she’s ever heard in any church. I’ve taken a lot of heat from fellow Christians and fellow conservatives for harping on the danger and the sin of this syncretism of evangelical faith with American patriotism, and I hate to say I told you so, but this …

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Much More Rational, but Much Less Like a Ball

Miss Bingley: “Would not conversation be much more rational than dancing?”

Mr. Bingley: “Much more rational. But much less like a ball.”

– via Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge.– Proverbs 22:17

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Sowing Justice

At church on Sunday my friend Dan put Sarah Vowell’s humorous history of the Puritans The Wordy Shipmates into my hands and told me he thought I’d like it. I started it Monday afternoon and couldn’t put it down until late. One of my favorite passages so far is this:

When John Cotton’s grandson, Cotton Mather, wrote his Ecclesiastical History of New England in 1702, he told a story about [John] Winthrop that I would like to believe is true. In the middle of winter, Boston was low on fuel and a man came to the governor complaining that a “needy person” was stealing from his woodpile. Winthrop mustered the appropriate outrage and requested that the thief come see him, presumably for punishment. According to Mather, Winthrop tells the man,

“Friend, it is a severe winter, and I doubt you are but meanly provided for wood; wherefore I would have you supply yourself at my woodpile till this cold season be over.” And Winthrop then merrily asked his friends whether he had not effectually cured this man of stealing his wood.

I loved that. And it was fresh on my mind when my daily reading found me at Proverbs 22:8: “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail.”

I think the reverse can be true as well. “Doing unto others” is most certainly a way to sow justice. Winthrop here did not fail the measure of justice. Perhaps the thief deserved punishment, but Winthrop put a stop to …

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Quick Hits #9

#1 I carved out a couple of days two weeks ago to finish up my manuscript for Gospel Wakefulness. Then I got sick. Hoping to find another spot in my schedule soon to finish this thing up. I eager to get it to the publisher. If you’re so inclined, I’d appreciate your prayers in this regard. I am really hoping this book will be a blessing to many and I am grateful for Crossway’s enthusiasm about it.

#2 Scot McKnight asks Gospel Coalition/Together 4 the Gospel -type people if complementarianism is essential to the gospel. It’s a good question. He suggests the answer he’d like to hear. I find it interesting that 3 comments in — and several more thereafter — somebody’s already saying complementarianism is incompatible with the gospel. So I suppose the conversation’s kinda going the other way.

#3 Seen on Facebook: Instead of calling ourselves “pro-life,” how about “fetal-rights advocates”? I like it.

#4 Forget burning Korans. Let’s burn Ikea catalogs and 401K statements.

#5 Here’s a really good post from Bob Thune called “Maybe You Shouldn’t Plant a Church“. Very good words here. Bob himself makes allowance for exceptions, but I would just throw out that just because something is hard, doesn’t mean someone’s not called. Isaiah said “Here am I; send me!” and got sent to people who didn’t care and didn’t listen. To some extent, hardship is part of the package. But that’s a nuance and a caveat that doesn’t take away from Bob’s words of …

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