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Worth a Look 3.23.15

Mar 23, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth4Kindle Deal of the Day: Romans (Hippo / Africa Bible Commentary Series)$0.99.

The landmark Africa Bible Commentary compiled the wisdom of over seventy African scholars in one volume. Now the Africa Bible Commentary Series provides deeper insights into each biblical book.

In The Week, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry reflects on World Down Syndrome Day and the declining number of people with trisomy 21 in the West:

In my parents’ or grandparents’ generation, seeing a child with trisomy 21 on the street was a frequent occurrence and totally unremarkable. Today, seeing a child with trisomy 21 is no longer ordinary (that is, except in some churches on Sunday morning) — despite the fact that modern medicine has expanded the life expectancy of trisomy 21 sufferers by 20 or 30 years, and has made the everyday drawbacks of the disease much easier on them and those close to them.

Charlene Nelson’s cleverly titled post – “The Desolation of Smug” – unmasks the reality behind a Christian’s smugness and what it really means to be secure in Christ:

The smug believer thinks he doesn’t do those thing because he simply couldn’t do those things. He is too good a Christian in fact. It would be impossible for him because he has climbed too high for such a heinous, ignorant, and disgraceful stoop. He knows too much truth and has too pure of motives. His reasons for coming to Jesus were right; he follows Christ for Christ alone, and nothing else that might be gained. Take the world but give him Jesus, and he will be just fine. He is sure.

Here is an infographic with all the “one another” commands in the New Testament:

These commands come from Jesus, Peter, John, Paul, and James, and they’re scattered across the New Testament. Don’t just stop at this list: dig into these passages to see what the author was talking about.

In what seems to be a common-sense ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that Catholic schools cannot be forced to teach contrary to their beliefs:

In an important victory for religious liberty in Canada, the country’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that the government cannot force a private Catholic high school to teach a government-mandated ethics and religion course that includes teaching contrary to Catholic belief.

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Make Me Full of Devotion to You

Mar 22, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Let no riches make me ever forget myself,
no poverty make me to forget You:
Let no hope or fear,
no pleasure or pain,
no accident without,
no weakness within,
hinder or discompose my duty,
or turn me from the ways of Your commandments.
O let Your Spirit dwell with me forever,
and make my soul just and charitable,
full of honesty,
full of devotion to You.

- Jeremy Taylor, 1613-67

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Gathering in Gratitude for Our Substitute Sacrifice

Mar 21, 2015 | Trevin Wax

sacrificial-lamb-better1

Mark Dever:

Christian brothers and sisters, do you climb up the church steps every Sunday burdened with guilt, as if there’s some way you need to perform on a Sunday morning in order for God to once again be sufficiently pleased with you to allow you to go on for another week? That’s not the gospel; that’s not the good news of Jesus Christ.

Do you feel that there is something you still need to do to gain God’s favor? There isn’t. There is nothing else you need to do in order to gain God’s favor. God has done that for you in Christ.

God has provided a substitute to bear His correct punishment of us for our sins, to bear His wrath for us, and because of that we are left in the incredible state of freedom and acceptance. Indeed, for us to think there is something else we need to do is to take away from the sufficiency of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice.

Friends, we don’t gather on Sunday mornings in order to gain God’s favor. We do so because Christ has saved us.

– from It Is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement

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Trevin’s Seven

Mar 20, 2015 | Trevin Wax

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Book Notes: Apostles of Reason / Grassroots Asian Theology / 3 Views on the Extent of the Atonement

Mar 19, 2015 | Trevin Wax

41-xe2IErwL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_APOSTLES OF REASON
The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism
Molly Worthen

Here is a critical examination of American evangelicalism that urges secular intellectuals to recognize the seriousness with which evangelicals take ideas. Worthen seeks to explain the irony of anti-intellectual strains within a community that believes so strongly in the power of ideas.

The secular reader who believes evangelicalism is built on authoritarian personalities will be challenged by Worthen’s thesis: it’s an “ongoing crisis of authority—their struggle to reconcile reason with revelation, heart with head, and private piety with the public square—that best explains their anxiety and their animosity toward intellectual life.” The evangelical reader will receive a critique from someone outside of the movement, a talented writer who offers us a brief overview of our history while seeking to understand what motivates evangelical belief and action.

In some places, Worthen is spot on. In others, way off. Regardless, this is an author who has her finger on the pulse of a “thriving” and “embattled” movement. (I’ll be interacting with Worthen’s book in more detail soon.)

513YBnRm-uL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_GRASSROOTS ASIAN THEOLOGY
Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up
Simon Chan

If you want to see what Asian believers across the world believe, you might have to bypass some of the “elitist” theologies that have come from the academy in recent decades (and bear a strange resemblance to Western liberalism) and go to the grassroots pastors, teachers, and writers. Chan believes “theology is first a lived experience of the church before it is a set of ideas formulated by church theologians.” As such, it is important to watch how believers in China, India, and other Asian contexts are worshipping.

What are their questions? Why are so many adopting Pentecostal beliefs and practices? What do these believers have in common with the rest of the global church? What role does the church play? How do other Christians engage in intra-religious dialogue? Chan works through a series of theological questions, showing how these believers at the grassroots level are experiencing the faith in ways that challenge both Western evangelicalism and classic liberalism.

51tiaThhEhL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_PERSPECTIVES ON THE EXTENT OF THE ATONEMENT
3 Views
Carl Trueman, Grant Osborne, John Hammett

For centuries, Christians have debated the extent of the atonement. This book, part of the Perspectives series, stands out to me because of the excellent case each author makes for their view. Trueman argues for definite atonement (that Christ came to die only for the elect), Osborne for general atonement (that Christ came to die for all), and Hammett for the multiple-intentions view (that Christ had three intentions: universal, particular, and cosmic).

If you wonder what the debate over the extent of the atonement is all about, you can’t go wrong with this book. This is a charitable, forthright, and accessible volume that shows how the Calvinist and Arminian frameworks (and positions in between) interpret the relevant biblical texts on Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

 

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Worth a Look 3.19.15

Mar 19, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth a Look MagnifyingKindle Deal of the Day: The Disciple-Making Church: Leading a Body of Believers on the Journey of Faith by Bill Hull. $1.99.

In this update of his groundbreaking book, Bill Hull explains why disciple making must be the focus of the church and shows us our part in making it happen. With practical examples drawn from vast ministry experience, Hull helps the church deepen and enrich the lives of believers as they learn to truly follow Christ.

This is a fantastic post from Chris Martin – The Millennial “Adulthood” Delusion:

Millennials are often labeled as the self-centered, “Me” generation, and I’ve always hated that stereotype because I didn’t really see it.

Now I do.

Millennials think adulthood is more self-empowerment than self-sacrifice. This explains everything.

Pastors, you may want to avoid saying these ten things if you’re in a building program:

In over thirty years of involvement with church building projects, I have heard a few statements that always make me cringe when I hear them. I have seen many projects stopped dead in their tracks because of some of these very statements. Things usually work out, but often the project would have gone much smoother if these words had never been spoken. Watch what you say and try to avoid these in your conversation and in public pronouncements.

Sad, but not surprising. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has changed its constitution to allow for gay marriage, thus severing itself from the global Church and Jesus’ teaching. A century ago, apostasy was the denial of Christian miracles. Today, it is the denial of Christian morality.

The vote comes amid a larger debate over whether gay marriage conflicts with Scripture and would cause more Presbyterian churches to break relations with the PCUSA. The church has lost 37 percent of its membership since 1992. Most of the congregations that depart opt to affiliate with either the Evangelical Presbyterian Church or a newer body called Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians. The formality of Tuesday’s decision could accelerate more departures.

Andrew Fuller, important Baptist pastor and theologian in the 18th century, believed in Christ-centered preaching. Here are his suggestions for students, dating back to 1801:

One of his central assertions is that all doctrine, ministry, and preaching must center on Christ and him crucified to have divine approval. In the sermon he responds to what evidently were common objections to his central assertion, and they are the same objections that I face every semester in my classroom.

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Helping Believers Be “Firmly Planted”

Mar 18, 2015 | Trevin Wax

robby-gallatyLast year, I moderated a panel discussion on groups ministry in the local church. We talked with pastors and leaders who are passionate about discipleship: Daniel Montgomery, Eric Geiger, and Robby Gallaty, the Senior Pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN.

Robby is the founder of Replicate Ministries, an organization that provides resources for educating, equipping, and empowering disciples to make disciples. He holds a M.Div., Th.M., and Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and he is the author of Growing Up: How to be a Disciple Who Makes Disciples and Firmly Planted: How To Cultivate a Faith Rooted in Christ. Earlier this month, I read Firmly Planted and asked Robby to discuss the new book here on the blog.

Trevin Wax: Robby, you’re a pastor who is burdened by the fact so many churches have long-time attenders who have not matured spiritually. What are the signs you see that many churchgoers lack spiritual maturity?

Robby Gallaty: I believe a return to disciple-making is the reformation of the 21st century. Similar to Martin Luther’s belief in the priesthood of the believer, discipleship empowers the laity to carry out the work of the ministry. It bridges the chasm between the pulpit and the pews and expects believers to take ownership of their faith, some for the first time.

One sign of spiritual maturity is the lack of discipleship in the local church. The church is populated with a vast amount of undiscipled believers who have never taken ownership of their faith.

We would never visit a new church with our newborn child and drop them off in a room by themselves without supervision, and as we are leaving toss in a bottle saying, “Feed yourself. We’ll be back in an hour.” We’d never do that with our children. Sadly, most do it every week with newborn believers. Many churches are filled with infant Christians who are unable to feed themselves. Dr. Herschel Hobbs said,

“The work of evangelism is never complete until the one evangelized becomes an evangelizer.”

Discipleship is essential for this to happen.

Firmly-Planted-Book-Cover-Mockup-v3-SubtitleTrevin Wax: It’s interesting that your book devotes the first two chapters to the question of assurance of salvation. You write: “Fruit is not the saving measure of salvation, but rather it is the evidence of a healthy, firmly planted believer.” Why do you see assurance of salvation as so important to the Christian’s growth and maturity? What happens when our assurance is lacking?

Robby Gallaty: First, failing to understand that salvation is wholly by grace potentially robs sincere believers of the joy of knowing they are kept by the power of God (1 Peter 1:5). Your relationship with Christ is not based on your individual performance, but on Christ’s finished work on the cross.

Second, if we are convinced that every sin we commit causes us to lose our salvation, our service to God will be hindered by a mentality of self-preservation. That is, if we are constantly consumed with our own spiritual standing before God, our attention will be diverted from God’s glory and His kingdom. What I hope to accomplish in Firmly Planted is to share a prescriptive way to know that one’s Christian faith is properly, Scripturally grounded so that its roots run deep and may receive proper nourishment to bear excellent fruit.

Trevin Wax: When you write about holiness, you start with Jesus and how we are united to Him through faith. How does understanding our union with Christ help us become more like Him?

Robby Gallaty: When Christ saved you, everything changed, including your way of thinking. Again, the word “repentance,” which means changing one’s direction, also involves adopting a new mindset—the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5). Remember, belief drives behavior; a change of mind leads to a change of actions. When you begin to think like Jesus, you will soon begin to live like Jesus.

Holiness is something we tend to overlook as believers. Christ freed us from sin not to serve ourselves but to be enslaved to Him. For the Christian under grace, obedience is not the means for salvation, it is the measure of salvation. Obedience to the law doesn’t perfect our salvation, it proves our salvation.

We seek holiness because we are commanded by God to do so. The road that leads to the promised land runs through Mt. Sinai. God delivered the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt (Redemption) before giving them the Torah (Instruction) on the mountain. In essence, he says, “This is what I did for you. Now, here is how you are to live before me.” Understanding as a believer whose you are and who you are in Christ affects every area of our spiritual growth.

Trevin Wax: The latter half of Firmly Planted relies heavily on battle and warfare metaphors to help Christians understand how we fight sin and follow Christ through the power of the Spirit. Why do the New Testament authors use battle imagery when describing the Christian life, and how does this imagery help us understand the nature of discipleship?

Robby Gallaty: At the end of every G.I. Joe cartoon was a public service announcement that resounded with the exclamation: “Now you know, and knowing is half the battle!” The creators of the series wanted to teach children that in life, just as in battle, awareness and understanding of one’s culture and surroundings is essential when devising a plan for success.

Likewise, to live a victorious Christian life, you must know the spiritual landscape in which you reside. This entails recognizing who your adversary is in order to create a strategy of resistance. By developing a profile of our nemesis and the schemes of his minions, we grow as a disciple and wield our God-empowered weapons to withstand his attacks.

Before engaging in spiritual warfare, we believers must know that we’re in a battle—not against flesh and blood, as Paul states in Ephesians, but against the enemy and his minions. The devil works indirectly through both the world and human flesh. Understand that the world, the flesh, and the devil are not three unrelated enemies of the Christian. Each work is a concerted effort to kill, steal, and destroy. He works through the corrupt world system and the flesh to exploit the sinful nature that is at war within us.

Without Christ and His weapons of war, our struggle is an exercise in futility. In our own strength we are incapable of victory. Humans engaged in a superhuman battle will not prevail with mainstream tactics. John Calvin writes, “He [Paul] means that our difficulties are far greater than if we had to fight against men. Where we resist human strength, sword is opposed to sword, man contends with man, force is met by force, and skill by skill; but here the case is very different, for our enemies are such as no human power can withstand.”

Trevin Wax: The appendix to Firmly Planted includes a “Faith Declaration” that lays out everything in Ephesians 1-3 that God declares is true of His children, and then walks through everything we are called to do (in Ephesians 4-6) based in that initial declaration. The way this appendix is formed gives us a good overview of how you see the spiritual life and the power we need to live as Christ as called us. Why is it important that we see ourselves and our obedience in light of God’s grace?

Robby Gallaty: The book of Ephesians can be broken down into two sections: orthodoxy (belief) and orthopraxy (behavior). Paul devotes three chapters on what we should believe, then spends the final three chapters on how we should live, showing us that our belief drives our behavior. When one’s will is changed, right behavior follows.

The Faith Declaration, based on the book of Ephesians, was created to address misconceptions of one’s identity and assurance of salvation. By reciting Scripture to ourselves, we drowned out the spiritually-crippling influences in our lives. Three negative voices—the world, the flesh, and the devil—disparage us every day. Therefore, we must constantly preach to ourselves the promises of God. Remind yourself daily, even repeatedly throughout the day, whose you are and who you are in Christ.

Robby is giving away free discipleship resources when you purchase his new book Firmly Planted before March 31st. Go here for more details.

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Worth a Look 3.18.15

Mar 18, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth5Kindle Deal of the Day: Why the Church Needs Bioethics: A Guide to Wise Engagement with Life’s Challenges by John Kilner. $1.99.

Three rich and true-to-life case studies illustrate the urgency of such bioethical issues as reproductive and genetic technologies, abortion, forgoing treatment, assisted suicide, stem cell research, and human enhancement technologies.

This is a fascinating article that gives an inside-look at the kind of cultish groupthink that can take over discourse. The author is deep in the dark, political world of queer activism (and it’s frightening to me that she doesn’t even feel safe to sign her name), but the four features she mentions can be found on both the right and left:

There is something dark and vaguely cultish about this particular brand of politics. I’ve thought a lot about what exactly that is. I’ve pinned down four core features that make it so disturbing: dogmatism, groupthink, a crusader mentality, and anti-intellectualism. I’ll go into detail about each one of these. The following is as much a confession as it is an admonishment. I will not mention a single sin that I have not been fully and damnably guilty of in my time.

Tim Challies has some good counsel for considering what you should do with all your Facebook pictures of your kids once they’re a little older and don’t find their baby pictures as “cute” and flattering as you do:

It’s not just the photos, either. It’s the things your children say and the things they do. It’s the adorable words they mouth, the words and phrases they butcher. It’s the streaking and the temper tantrums and the unintentionally brutal insults that are hilariously exasperating parts of childhood. You love to capture or describe these and share them with the world. So do I.

But I wonder: What is your exit plan? Do you have one?

Selma Wilson writes about the benefits of taking a “leadership pause:”

It is our job as leaders to lead with a view of the future.  We make decisions everyday that have implications for the future. We have a responsibility to hand off the organizations we lead healthy and strong. My COO would often say “I care more about tomorrow than today” and this kept us from making shortsighted decisions.

FactChecker: Are All Christian Denominations in Decline?

When tracking changes to gauge the overall health of a denomination, it makes more sense to look at long-term trends. If we look back 50 years (to 1965) we can see a clear and unequivocal trendline: liberal denominations have declined sharply while conservative denominations have increased or remained the same.

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An Update on The Gospel Project Chronological

Mar 17, 2015 | Trevin Wax

tgpchron_699x270

Blogging daily is both a burden and a blessing. A burden because I am ever conscious of the gift of your time and I hope to write in ways that edify and challenge you. A blessing because the last eight years have given me the opportunity to grow spiritually and intellectually through interactions with blog readers and other authors — in the comments, through interviews, book reviews, and blog links.

However much I enjoy blogging, I don’t consider it my primary focus of work. My primary vocational calling at this stage in life is serving as managing editor of The Gospel Project. In the four years I’ve been at LifeWay, my role has shifted and expanded in many ways, but it’s The Gospel Project that I was commissioned to help launch and, that’s why my work with the contributors on this curriculum takes up most of my time.

A Brief History of The Gospel Project

We developed plans for The Gospel Project in 2010-11. In the beginning, the plan focused primarily on Bible studies for adults that would cover the grand narrative of Scripture and the basics of biblical and systematic theology. We developed various study plans and eventually settled on a three-year scope and sequence.

By the beginning of 2012, we had expanded the plan to include students and kids. In hindsight, I believe this was the decision that ushered in a wave of momentum and an unprecedented launch. For some perspective, our initial hopes were that 20 to 30,000 participants would help us kick off the curriculum. By summer of 2012 (just three months before the launch), we realized we had significantly underestimated the interest in this curriculum. When The Gospel Project debuted that fall, we were serving more than 400,000 participants across all ages. (Try to imagine the headache of figuring out additional print runs and inventory.)

Since its launch, the number of people using The Gospel Project has swelled to more than 750,000. Whenever someone asks me about the surprising success of the curriculum, I freely admit to being just as astonished as anyone else. The scope of the project leads me to gratitude for God blessing our efforts in ways that surpassed our initial projections, but also evokes a measure of fear and trepidation: you’re helping craft Bible study materials for a lot of people. How we guide people in their study of Scripture matters immensely. That’s a weighty responsibility.

What’s Next for The Gospel Project

So, what’s next for The Gospel Project? As we’ve listened to testimonials and invited feedback from users, we’ve discovered interest in seeing all ages journey through the Bible chronologically. The kids’ materials have always been chronological, but students and adults have shifted back and forth between tracing themes through the storyline of Scripture (atonement, kingdom, etc.) and studying systematic theology topics (doctrine of humanity, the Law of God, sin and salvation, etc.).

Beginning in Fall 2015, The Gospel Project will be chronological for all ages. We will spend 18 months in the Old Testament and 18 months in the New, with almost every study session aligned so that churches that want to make this journey together can unite all ages around study of one central story per week. (See the study plan here.)

Uniting all ages around a common story each week was a challenge for us. We needed to find a way to fulfill our promise to reinforce basic Bible doctrines while, at the same time, we didn’t want to skip over portions of Scripture that are less “storied” in their presentation (such as the wisdom literature, or the letters of the New Testament). So, for kids, we turned some of the New Testament letters into stories by explaining what prompted them. For example, our study of the Thessalonian literature is about “the church that lost its hope,” Galatians about “when Paul stood up and rebuked Peter,” and Philippians about Paul’s imprisonment. For adults and students, we developed 99 Essential Christian Doctrines that are featured throughout the material.

In the end, the study plan will guide all ages through the biblical narrative, showing how Old Testament stories point forward to their fulfillment in Christ, and showing how all the theological themes of the Bible impact our living on mission in the world in which God has placed us. We want every session to point participants to the gospel of Jesus Christ as the source of life transformation and the foundation for spiritual growth.

What You Can Do

If you read this blog regularly, would you commit to praying for me and our team as we continue our work on The Gospel Project?

If you pastor a church or lead a small group, would you consider downloading a free preview of The Gospel Project Chronological?

If you already use The Gospel Project or want to help us get the word out, would you share this brief video that shows how all the Bible points to Christ?

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Worth a Look 3.17.15

Mar 17, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth6Kindle Deal of the Day: Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels by Tullian Tchividjian. $1.99.

God’s compassion and pardon are utterly shocking in their lavish abundance—that’s a lesson God himself pounded into the epic life-story of one man who kept resisting in whatever way he could. Surprised by Grace retells that man’s true story—in a gripping presentation that will open readers’ eyes wider than ever to God’s relentless, purposeful, and inexhaustible grace.

I don’t see anything that will stop this trend. Cable services may wind up becoming like the landline phone (something I’ve never owned): Americans moving faster than ever away from traditional TV

Traditional television watching is declining faster than ever as streaming services become a mainstream feature in American homes, according to new research by Nielsen.

Italian fashion designers Dolce and Gabbana (who both identify as gay) have created a firestorm by backing traditional marriage:

Creators of the luxury Italian fashion brand Dolce & Gabbana sparked global controversy over the weekend after coming out in defense of marriage, saying that children have the right to a mother and a father. ”The family is not a fad,” said co-founder of the fashion empire, Stefano Gabbana, in an interview with the Italian Magazine Panorama. “In it there is a supernatural sense of belonging.”

A good review from Gina Dalfonzo of Dianna Anderson’s new book critiquing the “purity culture” of evangelicalism:

Anderson believes that the purity culture taught her to pride herself on living a celibate life and to look down on others who failed to live up to her high standards. Today, she regrets that prideful and contemptuous attitude and feels compassion for those who were hurt by it.

The church benefits from such course-correction and calls for healing in the wake of false teachings and unhealthy emphases in its teachings on sexuality. However, Damaged Goods goes further than that, conflating the misguided portions of purity culture—a relatively recent and proscribed phenomenon—with the Scripture-based beliefs about sexuality that the church has taught since its founding.

Excellent article from Bart Barber on the many ways racism hides and manifests itself, and the one solution found in the gospel that creates the people of God:

Bystanders tell themselves that they are not racists. But maybe they are racists. Maybe they are just racists with a more passive disposition than that held by the most vocal bullies. The oppressed tell themselves that they are not racists, and the Liberation Theologians encourage them in this belief. But maybe they are racists. Maybe they are just racists who momentarily lack sufficient opportunity to act upon it. The Hebrew children like to remember what Pharaoh did to Moses; they like to forget what Abraham and Sarah did to Hagar when the shoe was on the other foot. So long as we can exonerate ourselves easily, racism has room to survive.

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