Monthly Archives: October 2012

Why She’s a Complementarian

While you’re pulling up a seat for what will likely ensue after Kathy Keller’s important review of Rachel Held Evans’s exegetical fumble posted this morning, take some time to read Lore Ferguson’s explanation for why she is a complementarian. An excerpt:

It seems to me that on a very base level the problem of the feminist movement and the patriarchy movement, and indeed sin itself, is principally a lack of trust. We have, from the very beginning, been attempting to wrench what was not given in the search of what was labeled off limits.

The whole garden, every tree and plant, the dominion over the whole earth was ours—everything but this one tree, and yet this one tree is the one Eve took the fruit from and gave it to Adam to share.

From the start we are in search of what is not within our grasp. And if we feel powerless holding onto what does not belong to us, we grasp, we cajole, we plead, and finally in an act of spirited defiance, we take it. We reach high into the branches and we twist that fruit until what looked so good is now so bad, and we eat of it—we dominate in the name of righteousness.

And what happens is not satisfaction. It is not completion. It is not godlike presence or perfection. What happens is that we are immediately found wanting for more and nothing covers us fully enough. We need something more to satisfy.

This, to me, is the …

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“Much More”: The Gospel as Middle and Better Way

And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
— Matthew 5:41

These are polar opposites: legalism and license, Pharisaism and hedonism, religion and anarchy, self-righteousness and unrighteousness. They are each more alike in essence than they appear, but between these polarities lies the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the middle and better way.

The gospel is the middle way because it provides the centering of God’s powerful grace, freeing us from the condemnation of works righteousness on the one hand and the condemnation of disobedience on the other.

But the gospel is the better way because it takes the excesses of the hedonistic polarity and applies them in Spiritual power to the aims of the religious polarity. Here’s what I mean:

Jesus posits that disciples may be required to go with someone for a mile. License would have us disobey the command altogether — running in the other direction. Legalism would have us obey what is required — going one mile. The grace in the gospel, however, trains us (Titus 2:11-12) to do the minimum and more. A second mile. They want your coat? Give ‘em your shirt too.

Similarly, think of the marriage relationship. If we simply followed the law, we would treat our spouses fairly, kindly, well. But captured by Christ in his gracious gospel, husbands don’t just avoid being mean to their wives, they cherish them, loving them sacrificially, selflessly. Wives don’t just respect their husbands, they submit to them. The affectionate excess of licentiousness is …

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The Gospel’s Antidote for Envy

The antidote for the self-justification and the self-sovereignty driving envy is rootedness in justification by faith and the supremacy of Christ. Like all other sins, envy is fundamentally a sin of pride, and the only way to kill pride is to confess our sin, repent of it, and believe in the forgiveness given to us by God’s free grace in Jesus.

Flashing back to Genesis 4, why do you think Abel’s sacrifice was accepted and Cain’s was not. Did God just like Abel better? Did Abel know the right religious words or jump through the right religious hoops?

No, Abel’s sacrifice was accepted first because it was the sort of offering God had commanded, but also because his offering of sacrificed livestock best reflected the stakes of making us right with God. After the fall, one of the first things Adam and Eve did to cover their shame was clothe themselves with plants. But they had brought death into the world and bloodshed; only bloodshed could cover their shame. So God replaced their leafy garments with animal skins. This is how serious sin is; this is how serious envy is. Something has to die. “[W]ithout the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).

God required an offering and Abel brought real sacrifices. Cain brought the fruit of his hard work. We cannot and will not satisfy the debt of envy through the fruit of our hard work any more than Cain could. If we want to kill envy, it …

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Heretics Are Usually Nice Guys

Romans 16:18: “For such persons [that is, the persons who depart from the doctrine] do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.”

Let’s take the second one first. Verse 18b: “By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.” The word for flattery is simply blessing. And smooth talk doesn’t necessarily mean manifestly slippery. It just means pleasant and plausible. So the reason we must be so vigilant over biblical doctrine is that those who depart from it take simple people with them by pleasant, plausible speech that presents itself as a blessing. False teachers don’t get a following by being rough and harsh. They get a following by being nice.

Just take two examples from history: Arius (d. 336) and Socinus (d. 1604)—both of whom denied the deity of Christ. Parker Williamson describes Arius like this:

Here was a bright, energetic, attractive fellow, the kind of citizen whom any Rotary Club would welcome. Singing sea chanties in dockside pubs and teaching Bible stories to the Wednesday night faithful, this was an immensely popular man. His story reminds us that heresy does not bludgeon us into belief. We are seduced. (Parker T. Williamson, Standing Firm: Reclaiming the Chastain Faith in Times of Controversy [Lenoir, North Carolina: PLC Publications, 1996], p. 31.)

And another writer describes Socinus like this:

He was a gentleman. His morals were above reproach and he distinguished himself by his unfailing courtesy. Unfailing courtesy …

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The Church in a Politicized World

Are these our options? Political idolatry on the one hand and political silence on the other? Shall we presume to protect the gospel’s relevance by cordoning it off from certain areas of our life? The Church all over the world — not just in the West — has real problems figuring out how to press the gospel into every corner of the cultural room, as it were, without it getting walked all over. I do think the Word of God helps us navigate these things.

Peter offers help:

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

— 1 Peter 2:11-17

What basic outline does this passage offer us for seeing the Church’s place in the politicized world? I see three …

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Too Earthly Minded to Be Any Heavenly Good?

“A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in': aim at earth and you will get neither.”

— C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

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Keep Your Heart

One of my favorite chapters in Joe Thorn‘s invaluable little book Note to Self is this one on “keeping your heart”:

Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.

— Proverbs 4:23

Dear Self,

You work at keeping your conduct in line, and you work at maintaining a good reputation, but you don’t work enough on keeping your heart. The problem with this is unless you learn to keep your heart, your conduct and reputation will be of little value and may come crashing down in times of weakness.

The call to keep your heart is a call to work on your life internally, not merely externally. The latter is easy; the former is much harder and more complicated. The religious or moral person will focus on the external and maintain good appearances, but it may have little to nothing to do with the heart. God is first and foremost concerned with your heart, for when you are keeping your heart, the rest of life follows.

To keep your heart means that your focus and work is on maintaining communion with God and pursuing the transformation that only God can accomplish in you. It is not performance-based religion, nor the moral improvement of your life, but the ongoing work of cultivating love for God and hatred for sin. It is the unending effort of guarding ourselves against idols while resting in the promises of the gospel.

To keep your heart is your primary business as a Christian, …

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His Righteousness Will Find You Out

. . . be sure your sin will find you out.
— Numbers 32:23

In the news lately is the report from Kennebunkport, Maine that a fitness trainer has turned her business into an underground prostitution ring. I am not clear on whether there were multiple prostitutes available or just her, but the primary focus has been on the “johns,” a variety of local men whose names were listed in the newspapers. The ensuing debate is over whether such a practice is appropriate. Won’t it ruin these men’s lives and devastate their families? The public shaming is part of the attempt to crack down on prostitution in the area.

I confess I’m not sure how I feel about the publishing of the names. I feel similar in my reaction to those who hang out in the parking lots of adult bookstores and strip clubs, snapping photos of the patrons as they come and go, to print their pics in the local paper, “outing” them. It’s an effort to “take back” neighborhoods, which I certainly sympathize with. In the latter example, nothing illegal (theoretically) is taking place, while of course in the former case, it is. And I guess I can also see the logic in publicizing the names of those soliciting prostitution as way of creating parity with other crimes, whose suspects are regularly named in the media.

And I suppose this is essentially a modern fulfillment of the biblical principle: “your sins will find you out.”

Your sins will find you out. You …

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Attractional Church: All Bait, No Switch

A few days ago I tweeted the following: “At our church we want our music to be as good as it can be without having people come to our church because of it.” Some of the responses were rather telling, some folks reading what I didn’t write, asking me why I want to promote bad music and why I’m against people finding music attractive. For the record, I’m not a fan of bad music (in lyric or tune or style), and I’m not against people being attracted to music (and the arts in general).

Taking a step back, though, I find a lot of the leaping to hearing what I didn’t say indicative of the fundamental problem. It happens whenever one decries pragmatism and is asked why they want to be impractical. But pragmatism and practicality aren’t the same thing. And neither is the attractional paradigm of “doing church” identical to wanting an attractive church.

There is something fundamentally wrong with the attractional church paradigm — biblically and therefore theologically — but these days I think there is a very real practical dysfunction in the “fog and lasers” and silly movie tie-ins and all the rest that people discipled within the system don’t even notice (any more). At its beginning, the attractional church (or “seeker church” or whatever you want to call it) was about getting people in the doors to then hear the gospel of Christ’s finished work. It was what we might call “the ol’ bait and switch.” Only, …

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A Divine and Supernatural Light

Look ye blind, that ye may see
— Isaiah 42:18

I come now . . . to show the truth of the doctrine; that is, to show that there is such a thing as that spiritual light that has been described, thus immediately let into the mind by God. And here I would show briefly, that this doctrine is both scriptural and rational . . .

First, It is scriptural. My text is not only full to the purpose, but it is a doctrine that the Scripture abounds in. We are there abundantly taught, that the saints differ from the ungodly in this, that they have the knowledge of God, and a sight of God, and of Jesus Christ. I shall mention but few texts of many. 1 John 3:6, “Whosoever sinneth, has not seen him, nor known him.” 3 John 11, “He that doth good, is of God: but he that doth evil, hath not seen God.” John 14:19, “The world seeth me no more; but ye see me.” John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” This knowledge, or sight of God and Christ, cannot be a mere speculative knowledge; because it is spoken of as a seeing and knowing, wherein they differ from the ungodly. And by these Scriptures it must not only be a different knowledge in degree and circumstances, and different in its effects; but it must be entirely different in nature and …

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