Monthly Archives: January 2012

A Gospel-Shaped Pro-Life Passion

If you put overturning Roe v. Wade to a popular vote, I’m in line early ready to vote in favor of protecting the approximately one million unborn babies killed each year, and if you’re a politician, the best way to lose my vote is to align with the pro-choice agenda.

Nevertheless, I don’t believe laws — or the protests and petitions and politicking that seek to achieve them — are the primary way we are going to eradicate abortion. Overturning Roe v. Wade is a win — and it’s a win we should work for, hard — but in my way of thinking, it is not the win.

The emancipation of the slaves and ensuing civil rights legislation was necessary. But none of it ended racism.

I am not proposing an either/or. What I’m proposing is that evangelicals take the harder route, adopt the harder cause, that we pray for and aim for Spiritual change of hearts more than we aim for legal stay of hands.

Here are some thoughts on how we may do this:

1. Gospel-centered preaching. Here’s the thing: Pastors who preach culture war receive Amens from the already convinced and almost nothing from everybody else. At its worst a steady dose of this creates an unhealthy “us vs. them” mentality that has us thinking of our enemies in ways the Sermon on the Mount strictly forbids. But pastors who proclaim the freedom from sin and abundant life in Christ lay groundwork for zeal for life, not just for winning political battles. …

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Shepherd the Flock that is Among You

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you . . .
– 1 Peter 5:1-2

I have heard more than a few times that a preacher ought to preach for the crowd he wants. There’s a grain of truth in that but it’s mostly balderdash. Preach to the crowd you have. They’re the ones who are there, listening.

Preach as their pastor, not merely as their preacher. (Let the reader understand.)

Shepherd the flock you’ve got, not the one you want.
Shepherd the flock among you, the one that’s messy and real and immediate, not the one reducible to “likes” and re-tweets, not the one in Podcastopia.
Shepherd the flock, don’t ignore them, order them around, nag them, demoralize them, treat them as pawns or puppets or inconveniences. Shepherd them to and in Jesus.

There’s a lot more that can be said on this, and Peter says a lot more in the ensuing verses, but I suppose some pastors (like me) need to remember the call to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” on a regular basis.

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Our Adorable Conquering Redeemer

Great was the joy of Israel’s sons
when Egypt died upon the shore,
Far greater the joy
when the Redeemer’s foe lay crushed in the dust.
Jesus strides forth as the victor,
conqueror of death, hell, and all opposing might;
He bursts the bands of death,
tramples the powers of darkness down,
and lives for ever.
He, my gracious surety,
apprehended for payment of my debt,
comes forth from the prison house of the grave
free, and triumphant over sin, Satan, and death.
Show me herein the proof that his vicarious offering is accepted,
that the claims of justice are satisfied,
that the devil’s sceptre is shivered,
that his wrongful throne is levelled.
Give me the assurance that in Christ I died, in Him I rose,
in His life I live, in His victory I triumph,
in His ascension I shall be glorified.
Adorable Redeemer,
Thou who wast lifted up upon a cross
art ascended to highest heaven.
Thou, who as man of sorrows wast crowned with thorns,
art now as Lord of life wreathed with glory.
Once, no shame more deep than Thine,
no agony more bitter, no death more cruel.
Now, no exaltation more high,
no life more glorious, no advocate more effective.
Thou art in the triumph car leading captive Thine enemies behind Thee.
What more could be done than Thou hast done!
Thy death is my life, Thy resurrection my peace,
Thy ascension my hope, Thy prayers my comfort.

– one of my favorite prayers from The Valley of Vision

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Sensual Silliness a Failure of Doctrine

The soundest and safest Christian reflection consists in “what you have received, not what you have thought up; a matter not of ingenuity, but of doctrine; not of private acquisition, but of public Tradition; a matter brought to you, not put forth by you, in which you must not be the author but the guardian, not the founder but the sharer, not the leader, but the follower.”

— Vincent of Lerins, quoted in Christopher Hall, Learning Theology with the Church Fathers (Intervarsity, 2002), 27.

In Jude 3-4 we read the urging to resist the perverters of grace into sensuality by contending for the faith once for all delivered. In 1 Timothy 1:8-11 we learn that sensual sins, passions of the flesh, are contrary to “sound doctrine” and “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God.”

What we learn in these passages and others is that bad doctrine doesn’t just affect what we know, but what we do. A wonky theology leads inevitably to wonky behavior.

And so is it really a huge leap to note that the purveyors of so much sanctuary silliness and churchy tomfoolery aren’t exactly known for their love of doctrine? They are known for their dynamic ways, their innovation, their spectacle, but not a one of them is known for being a strong proclaimer of God’s Word.

The reliance on gimmicks and showmanship is a distrust of the gospel’s power, which is condemnation. What does it profit a pastor to gain the best seller list but lose his soul?

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Where I’ll Be

Two upcoming events I’d like to tell you about.

Gospel Wakefulness Conference, March 3

I will be preaching the fourth Gospel Wakefulness Conference at Grace Church in Brockton, Massachusetts. Sponsored by the Gospel Alliance New England, cost is just $10 and includes lunch! Details at link above.

2012 PLNTD Conference, March 30-31

Steve Timmis and I will be speaking on Cultivating Gospel Community at this upcoming two-day conference in Fort Myers, Florida. If you register before January 23, the cost is just $29! More details at the link above.

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Wrangling and Wondering: A (Brief) Response to Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson has provided an insightful interaction with my book Gospel Wakefulness over at Mere Orthodoxy. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

I fear I will not be doing Matthew’s interest justice in that my response to his in-depth “caution” will be brief. I am grateful for the sharpening and the opportunity to revisit, clarify, and recommend the message(s) of Gospel Wakefulness, but one of Matthew’s concerns is that the concept of gospel wakefulness (as I have framed it) does not allow for the reception of criticism. This hems me in a bit, gives me the same impression as the question “Have you stopped beating your wife?” If I do not respond at all, I prove him right. If I respond in rebuttal, I prove him right. The only way to prove him wrong is to say he’s right. So you see my predicament.

So I’m going to let the chips fall where they may by protesting but hopefully without appearing that I “doth protest too much.”

Matthew bases this caution on the portion of my book where I offer a diagnostic outline of sorts. I say that inability to understand the concept of “gospel-centrality” is a sign one is not wakened to the gospel. Matthew bristles at that, perhaps for good reasons, as he later develops the fear of “gospel” as a Shibboleth and “gospel-centered” as a faddish buzzword that unhelpfully makes us designate some people are in and others are out. I offer …

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Bearing with One Another: On the Giving and Receiving of Criticism

There is a lack of love when criticism amounts to complaining about “the other.” My friend Bill calls this syndrome I Have Identified the Problem, and It Is You.

Remember, brothers — all of us, conservative or liberal, young or old, MacArthur acolyte or Driscoll fanboy — a prophet to the church speaks from the inside. Let us not shrink back from calling each other to repentance, to speaking the truth in love, but let’s remember we speak prophetically to us.

And let us not shrink back from our brother’s reproof if it is offered in sincerity. He may be wrong, he may be overzealous, but his energy merits consideration. Seeing criticism as never necessary is just as wrong as seeing it as always necessary. Seeing criticism as always evil, always wrong, always hateful and therefore not necessary is just as dangerous as the problem of self-elevating and insulating one’s self from criticism.

Public judgment of public speech and actions is not condemnation. Test all things; cling to what is good. If the criticism is truly malicious or just wrong: dismiss it. But not before then. And certainly not with some self-glorifying notion that one is above the reproof of fellow Christians. Don’t think strangers have the right to criticize you? Then don’t post thoughts in public for strangers to read. It is no Christian virtue to expect privileges without responsibilities.

“We often think we have no need of anyone else’s advice or reproof. Always remember, much grace does not imply much enlightenment. …

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Revival is Always Christ-Centered

He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
— John 16:14

“In all companies, on other days, on whatever occasions persons met together, Christ was to be heard of, and seen in the midst of them. Our young people, when they met, were wont to spend the time in talking of the excellency and dying love of JESUS CHRIST, the glory of the way of salvation, the wonderful, free, and sovereign grace of God, his glorious work in the conversion of a soul, the truth and certainty of the great things of God’s word, the sweetness of the views of his perfections, &c.”

— Jonathan Edwards, A Narrative of Surprising Conversions

It is the Spirit’s raison d’etre to shine the light on Christ. The Spirit is often called the “shy” Person of the Trinity because of this. He is content — no, zealous — to minister to the Church the Father’s blessings in the gospel of Jesus. He quickens us to desire Christ, illuminates the Scripture’s revelation of Christ, empowers us to receive Christ, and imparts Christ to us even in his own indwelling. For this reason, then, any church or movement’s claim of revival better have exaltation of Christ at its center, or it is not genuine revival.

At the front end of Paul’s excursus to the Corinthians on the sign-gift charismata, he reminds us: “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever …

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Jesus Was Religious

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully– 1 Timothy 1:8

It’s important not to push back on Jefferson Bethke and his video simply to be contrarian or to avoid liking something because everybody else does. The heart displayed in the video is solid, and he says a lot of right things. But he says a few wrongs one too, and while they aren’t wrong enough to overreact, they are wrong enough to note with some cautions.

First, I think using the word “religion” in a negative sense can be okay. Most of us have done it. I’ve done it. When delivered in a punchy way with a clear context, it makes sense. Most reasonable people understand what is meant by the claim that “Jesus ticked off religious people.” Yes, he did. And while we can bring in all kinds of assumptions to what exactly constitutes “religious people,” the statement makes sense on the surface.

But in belaboring the point there is much more opportunity for error. Some make a boogeyman out of the idea of “religious people,” by which it becomes clear what they mean is “traditional people” or the uncool. My feeling is that the Bible-thumping, starched suit-wearing, hellfire and brimstone religious people taking the fun out of fundamentalism are becoming fewer and farther between, while the church is brimming with self-righteous hipsters and cooler-than-thous. The Pharisees look like Vampire Weekend now. I’m not saying Jefferson is one of those guys; I’m just …

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Caption This – Win a Copy of the Seven Daily Sins Leader Kit

Provide a caption for this photo in the comments.

Funniest comment — as judged purely subjectively by me — wins a copy of the Seven Daily Sins Leader Kit which retails for $49.95 and includes a copy of the book, DVD with supplementary videos, leader guide, CD playlist (featuring Lecrae, Johnny Cash,, all in a sturdy cardboard case.

Rules and guidelines:

1. I have to think it’s funny. Making fun of Tom Brady is fine and dandy, but remember, as a vocal Brady fan, I’ve heard every variation of the “he’s a girl”/”he has a girl’s hair” jokes out there, so surprise me.

2. You can enter as often as you like.

3. Leave an email address so I can contact you if you win OR make sure to check back at this post after the deadline:

4. I will pick the winner sometime Sunday and contact them by email (if I have it) and update this post as notification.

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