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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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The Hidden Compliment From Critics of Christian Hypocrisy

Mar 16, 2015 | Trevin Wax

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Those narrow-minded Christians with their high ideals are really just hypocrites in disguise!

So goes the stereotype, which may be why people savor a juicy story that exposes a “holier-than-thou’s” terrible sins and indiscretions: the family-values warrior picked up by the police for picking up a prostitute, the financial stewardship guru jailed for embezzlement, or the snobby Christian coworker who announces her divorce.

Nothing unites the opponents of Christianity more than hatred of hypocrisy. And words from Jesus (“Judge not”) and Ghandi (“I like your Christ, but not your Christians”) fill the banners of the anti-hypocrite parade.

The smell of hypocrisy is often strong in the Christian church. If we’re honest, we can sniff out hypocrisy everywhere, including our own hearts. We talk a good talk when it comes to evangelism, but don’t follow through with talking about Jesus with others. We applaud the importance of strong marriages and families, but behind closed doors we battle the cold-shouldered spouse or the defiance of our kids. Even in “good” families and churches where Christ is exalted, our homes and churches are a mess – a mix of good and bad, with our journey of holiness taking place all too slowly, in fitful stops and starts.

The criticism is true. At some level, we’re all hypocrites. We know how to put on a show. And since we follow a Savior who said secrets would be exposed and whispered words would be made known, we shouldn’t be surprised when our hypocrisy becomes as public as our ideals.

So there’s a sense in which outrage against Christian hypocrisy is understandable, for the outrage is, in a twist of irony, Christian. You don’t find a greater critic of religious folks than Jesus Himself. He saved His severest words for the Pharisees – not because they had failures and flaws but because they wouldn’t acknowledge their sin and repent.

Hypocrisy among Christians is real, but hypocrisy isn’t something you find only among Christians. Here’s where the critics of hypocrisy need to stop pretending to be Judge Jesus and take a seat in the dock. Because everyone is a hypocrite.

Who lives up to their ideals 100% of the time? Where are the progressives who always live up to their ideal of fair-mindedness? Where are the Buddhists who have never stumbled on the eight-fold path? Where are the humanists who have never uttered an inhumane word?

Don’t we all fail in various ways to be what we want to be? To live up to the ideals we say should guide our lives?

Why then the focus on Christian hypocrisy?

That is the question that reveals how the charge against Christian hypocrisy, though exceptionally fierce, harbors a hidden compliment. Outrage over Christian hypocrisy says: We expect more from Christians.

Christians worship a King whose standard was, by all measures, “unreasonable” and idealistic. Reading the Sermon on the Mount is like getting hit by a two-by-four, and then in the daze that follows, being filled with inexplicable hope: There’s a kingdom like this?

The Christian experiment – the ideals we put forth and inevitably fail to achieve – are so grand that one can’t help but feel judged by their excessiveness. Our Jesus condemned hypocrisy, but He also lifted high the intent of God’s Law.

So what is the solution? Pretending to love our enemies when we don’t? Pretending to tell the truth at all times? Deceiving people by hiding our lust and anger?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, Jesus said at the beginning. The entry into this kingdom is repentance. Striving has its place, but only among the penitent, not the self-righteous. The same King who called us to perfection is the King who saved His verbal lashings for the unrepentant hypocrites among the religious, not the worst of the sinners who came to His table.

The world holds Christians to a higher standard because Jesus Himself holds His people to a higher standard. The solution is not to point out the world’s hypocrisy for focusing only on Christian hypocrites, but instead to douse our hypocritical hearts with tears of repentance.

The hypocrites we hate are those who cling steadfastly to their self-righteousness and their good intentions. The hypocrites Jesus loves are those whose hands are open to His grace and His forgiveness.

Repentance has a fragrance; hypocrisy, a stench.

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Worth a Look 3.16.15

Mar 16, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth4Kindle Deal of the Day: Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke. $1.99.

Whether reading is your addiction or your phobia, this book is for you. A practical guide built on the gospel, Lit! models the skills needed to build a balanced reading diet of Scripture, theology, and devotional books, but without overlooking important how-to books, great stories, and books meant to be enjoyed for pleasure.

I just finished reading John Gray’s book, Enlightenment’s WakeHere is a lengthy article he recently contributed to The Guardian, in which he challenges the assumptions of the new atheist movement. What’s interesting is to see how he does this from his own non-religious perspective. What Scares the New Atheists:

Evangelical atheists at the present time are missionaries for their own values. If an earlier generation promoted the racial prejudices of their time as scientific truths, ours aims to give the illusions of contemporary liberalism a similar basis in science. It’s possible to envision different varieties of atheism developing – atheisms more like those of Freud, which didn’t replace God with a flattering image of humanity. But atheisms of this kind are unlikely to be popular. More than anything else, our unbelievers seek relief from the panic that grips them when they realise their values are rejected by much of humankind. What today’s freethinkers want is freedom from doubt, and the prevailing version of atheism is well suited to give it to them.

I look forward to watching some of these soon – The 20 Most Popular TED Talks:

Are schools killing creativity? What makes a great leader? How can I find happiness? These 20 talks are the ones that you and your fellow TED fans just can’t stop sharing.

Ever wish you could visit the most beautiful libraries of the world? Well, here are some pictures to whet your appetite:

French photographer Franck Bohbot has taken it upon himself to travel the world in search of some of the most beautiful book havens out there and so far has visited Paris and Rome.  He plans to travel to Europe and South America, North America and Asia next. His on-going project, House of Books, is just beginning, but he aims to “offer a new approach in terms of atmosphere, colours and composition”.

Here’s a way to see the implications of justification by faith, explained in Romans 5-8, in graphical form:

The next three chapters (5-8) of Romans unpack rich implications of justification by faith. The structure of those chapters is outlined and illustrated below, and serve to give the big picture argument of Romans 5-8.

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Make Us Instruments of Your Peace

Mar 15, 2015 | Trevin Wax

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Make Your ways upon earth, Lord God,
Your saving power among all peoples.

Renew Your church in holiness
and help us to serve You with joy.

Guide the leaders of all nations,
that justice may prevail throughout the world.

Let not the needy be forgotten,
nor the hope of the poor be taken away.

Make us instruments of Your peace
and let Your glory be over all the earth.

- from Our Common Prayer by Winfield Bevins

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The Disciples’ First Assignment: Do Nothing

Mar 14, 2015 | Trevin Wax

dscf0009J. D. Greear in Jesus Continued:

Let’s go back to that moment when Jesus first laid the Great Commission on the disciples. He said: “First assignment, do nothing but wait.” (Luke 24:49, my paraphrase). Think about how hard (and humiliating) that instruction must have been! Every person on earth needed to hear the gospel, and these are the only guys who know anything about it. Some of the disciples had to be type-A. Can’t you just hear them murmuring under their breaths: “Uhh … wait? But there’s a world of great need out there, getting more lost by the moment! We need to raise money, now! Matthew, take up an offering! Peter, write some sermons! John, write a book! James, organize a pastors’ conference! Thomas, get to work on an apologetics manual!”

Regardless of what they might have thought, however, they did just what Jesus told them to do. They waited. For ten days, they did absolutely nothing about thousands of unreached people groups languishing without the gospel, millions of people in slavery, and thousands of orphans in need of adoption.

They waited. For the Holy Spirit.

Why did Jesus make them wait for the Holy Spirit—why not give the Spirit immediately and have them get on with it?

Probably because he wanted them (and us) to learn that the Great Commission was not something they could accomplish for him. It was something he must do through them. “I will build my church,” Jesus had said, “and the gates of hell will not prevail against it;” not, “You will build my church, and the gates of hell will admire it.” He is the architect, we merely the unskilled laborers. We are conduits, not “co-Messiahs.” Ironically, we will do more when we realize that the weight of the matter rests on him, not us.

Let this sink in: The weight of responsibility for the mission does not rest on our shoulders, but on Jesus’ shoulders.

  • He leads; we follow.
  • He commands; we obey.
  • He supplies; we steward.
  • He delivers; we worship.

At our best, we are only unprofitable servants, costing God the blood of his Son. In other words, our contribution to the kingdom has been net-negative. And for that reason, he gets all the glory.

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Trevin’s Seven

Mar 13, 2015 | Trevin Wax

TrevinSeven1webKindle Deal: Biblical Words and Their Meaning: An Introduction to Lexical Semantics by Moises Silva. $0.99.

1. David Mathis – You Can’t Arrest the Gospel

2. How in the World Can We Pray for Our World?

3. Alan Jacobs responds to Rachel Marie Stone’s post in Christianity Today on contraception and Margaret Sanger

4. Dan Darling – The Surprising Advice Max Lucado Gives to Young Pastors

5. Andrew Wilson – One Bible, Many Interpretations: Making Sense of the Clarity of Scripture

6. Amber Van Schooneveld – The Fairytale of Friendship

7. Daniel Im – Four Church Planting Tips with Lesslie Newbigin

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Know Your Southern Baptists: Dennis Kim

Mar 13, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Dennis KimName: Dennis Kim

Why you’ve heard of him: He is the pastor of a megachurch near Washington D.C. and was a nominee for president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Position: The first Christian in his family, Kim has been the senior pastor of Global Mission Church of Greater Washington for more than 20 years. The predominately Korean congregation is the largest SBC church in Maryland and Delaware.

Previous: He has been a pastor and professor in both the U.S. and South Korea. Kim has also served on staff for Evangelism Explosion in both countries.

Education: Kim graduated from Chong-Shin University in Seoul, South Korea with his Bachelor’s and Chong-Shin Theological Seminary with his M. Div. In the U.S., he earned his M.A. in pastoral counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a Th.D. in pastoral psychology from Boston University, and an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Books: Among others, he is the author of Pulpit Counseling, Self-Image Make-Over, and Answer With the Bible!. He has also translated over 60 books from English to Korean.

Why he’s important: Not only has Kim has led Global Mission Church to become the largest church in the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, he has led the congregation to plant churches in Baltimore; Seattle; Fairfax, VA; Cary, NC; and Bun-dang, South Korea. The congregation has also produced more than 50 International Mission Board career missionaries.

Among Kim’s leadership roles in the SBC, he is a member of the Pastors’ Task Force on Evangelistic Impact and Declining Baptisms, a national task force convened by the North American Mission Board to address the continued decrease in baptisms among Southern Baptist churches. He also served on the SBC Resolutions Committee in 2012 and 2013 and has taught courses at Southern, New Orleans and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminaries.

Notable Quotes:

My vision is to challenge and train the next generation of Southern Baptist leaders so that they can truly mobilize the whole church for the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

Whereas Christians generally agree that it is imperative for all believers to share the Gospel, only few Christians actually evangelize in their daily lives.

Christ, the Head of the church, has commissioned all believers to make disciples of all nations with all authority in heaven and earth.

Religious pluralism is one of the greatest epidemics of our day that erodes Judeo-Christian values in America.

I indeed believe that only the Word of God provides the ultimate standard and guideline for our lives.

Others in the “Know Your Southern Baptists” Series:

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“Is This Where Easter Lives?”

Mar 12, 2015 | Trevin Wax

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Last week, The Gospel Project launched a redesigned website in preparation for the Gospel Project Chronological (which begins this fall). The following article is one I contributed for the Gospel Project blog. I hope it encourages you as we journey toward Resurrection Sunday!

“Is this where Easter lives?” The question came from a preschooler standing by the door, just outside the church sanctuary on Palm Sunday. The preschool teacher had told the group about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, and how He died on the cross for our sins. But she’d told them that the story wasn’t over yet and that next week they would be celebrating Easter, when Jesus was raised from the dead. The preschool girl was in awe of the voices coming from the sanctuary, united in praise to King Jesus. It’s only natural she would wonder, “Is Easter alive? And is it in here?

Continue Reading…

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Worth a Look 3.12.15

Mar 12, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth a Look MagnifyingKindle Deal of the Day: Intellectuals Don’t Need God and Other Modern Myths: Building Bridges to Faith Through Apologetics by Alister McGrath. $0.99.

Reason is only one of many possible points of contact between the non-Christian and the gospel. In today’s world, nonrational concerns — such as a sense that life lacks focus, an unconscious fear of death, a deep sense of longing for something unknown we don’t have but know we need — are much more effective points of contact for apologetics.

Kevin Halloran from Leadership Resources recently interviewed me about my workshop at TGC next month: “Discipleship in the Age of Richard Dawkins, Lady Gaga, and Amazon.com”. Here are the two parts of that interview:

I appreciated the wisdom in Jared Wilson’s counsel on how to use sermon illustrations:

You shouldn’t trust your illustration to do what only God’s word can. And that’s where many of us often go wrong with illustrations. Here is more on that though, and some other wrong ways preachers often use illustrations in their sermons.

One of my favorite New Testament scholars, Craig Blomberg, gives three good responses to those who criticize the term “inerrancy:”

Blomberg says that inerrancy, then, actually has far less qualifications than most major doctrines like the Trinity or various schools within soteriology and eschatology. Feinberg’s definition has only four qualifications, all of which are left to hermeneutical and exegetical debate within these caveats.

Ed Stetzer shows the connection between doctrine and missional living:

When it comes to teaching and learning doctrine, it’s important to remember that doctrine is not an end in-and-of-itself. We don’t love doctrine for doctrine’s sake. We love doctrine for God’s sake and his mission. A right understanding of God and his gospel moves the Christian to missional living.

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The Gospel According to N. T. Wright: A Review of “Simply Good News”

Mar 11, 2015 | Trevin Wax

9780062334343What Wright writes, Wax reads. (Say that three times fast. I dare you.)

In all seriousness, N. T. Wright has been a favorite author of mine for more than a decade now. His work always challenges me to take a step back and analyze my overall approach to interpreting Scripture, and his ”big picture view” usually reveals things I’ve missed. That said, when I get back into the nitty gritty of textual study, I discover aspects of the biblical story Wright doesn’t do justice to — emphases and themes prominent in the storyline that are sparsely treated in Wright’s work. In the end, I go to Wright for the forest, but to others for the trees.

Part of the challenge of reading Wright is that one can hardly keep up with his output. I am still plodding through Paul and the Faithfulness of GodWright’s massive book on the apostle’s theology and worldview. (My take so far: While the “old / new perspective” on justification may get the lion’s share of attention, the lasting contribution of this volume may be Wright’s defense of Paul’s high Christology. He makes a persuasive historical case that, from the beginning, the early Christians saw Jesus as Yahweh come to His people. What Wright did to bolster our historical confidence in Christ’s bodily resurrection, he has now done for early Christianity’s high Christology.)

I took a break from the big book(s) on Paul to read through Wright’s newest popular-level work, Simply Good News: Why the Gospel is News and What Makes it Goodwhich could have also been titled The Gospel according to N. T. Wright. Long-time readers won’t find much new here, but that’s only because Wright has been writing on issues related to the New Testament, the historical Jesus, and Pauline studies for so many decades now that there’s no way to miss these themes in his previous works.

An Eschatological Gospel

In a Christianity Today article in 2009, I summarized the contrasting views of Wright and John Piper in regards to Pauline theology. In that article, Wright summed up the gospel this way:

“The gospel is the royal announcement that the crucified and risen Jesus, who died for our sins and rose again according to the Scriptures, has been enthroned as the true Lord of the world. When this gospel is preached, God calls people to salvation, out of sheer grace, leading them to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as the risen Lord.”

In Simply Good NewsWright builds on that definition, but here he emphasizes the gospel’s triple pattern:

  1. Something happened.
  2. Something will happen.
  3. Something is happening now among those who believe.

This is a thoroughly eschatological presentation of the gospel, and I find it helpful on two fronts. First, it helps prevent the de-historicizing of the gospel announcement that reduces the message to a personal message about spirituality. Secondly, it inoculates us to the strangely persistent idea that the historicity of the cross and resurrection doesn’t matter (the ghost of Bultmann is never far from Wright’s sharp critique).

A Gospel about Jesus, For Us

Gospel-centered folks like myself read Simply Good News and are glad to see Wright offering such a strong contrast between “good advice” and “good news.” In a society awash in what sociologist Christian Smith dubbed “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” this clarification between advice and news is essential. At the same time, it’s frustrating to see Wright put ”how to get saved” into the “good advice” category, as if focusing on how the gospel becomes good news to us is somehow missing how the gospel is good news, period. (Parts of the book reminded me of the “soterian” / “story” conversation I’ve had with Scot McKnight.)

Likewise, Wright believes atonement is “at the heart of the good news of God” (139), and that forgetting “the forgiveness of sins” means we’ve lost the gospel (158), but he doesn’t devote much space to explaining how the atonement works or why it is necessary, an omission that, to me, fails to give the personal aspect of forgiveness and faith the weight the New Testament does. Wright assumes his religious readers already understand the gospel of “repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” and so he focuses his attention elsewhere, perhaps to fill out a sometimes-truncated version of the gospel. But what if Wright is wrong to make this assumption? And what if holistic gospel approaches that give short shrift to what was once “assumed” wind up being truncated in other ways?

Wright’s treatment of the Reformers is also perplexing. At times, the Reformers are the ones who’ve rescued us from the medieval distortions of salvation. Other times, they’re the ones from whom we’ve inherited caricatures of God’s love and justice.

What’s Good about Simply Good News

So, what did I like most about Simply Good News?

Wright is at his best when he is puncturing the Western myth of progress (see the chapter “Wrong Future, Wrong Present”). Some readers may be surprised to see an emphasis on Christianity and culture take up space in a book about the gospel, but we should remember that, according to Wright, the gospel is historical and brings about public ramifications, not just private transformation. Wright sounds a lot like Lesslie Newbigin here, although his cultural analysis doesn’t always take the same shape as Newbigin’s.

If you read Simply Good News, make sure to savor the final chapter: it’s the dessert that sweetens the whole project. In “Praying the Good News,” Wright returns to the Lord’s Prayer, giving it his most extensive treatment since his little book, The Lord and His Prayer came out in the 1990’s. This is where Wright the lively theologian sits down and as a pastor says, “Let me show you who God is and why He is good.” As he works his way backwards through the Lord’s prayer, he leads us inward and upward into the heights of the good news:

The good news is primarily that God – the generous God, the loving God – is being honored, will be honored, has been utterly and supremely honored, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (166).

Conclusion

Simply Good News serves as a potent reminder that the gospel is an announcement of a past event, and the reality of this event ensures the future and transforms the present. In a world of competing allegiances and rivals for cultural dominance, Wright steps in to say, “Jesus is Lord.”

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