November, 2013 Archive

SolaWednesdayFinal

1) Calvinism and Robots

As we meditate upon these dignities and blessings, the image of the robot becomes less and less appropriate, not because God’s control over us appears less complete, but because one doesn’t treat robots with such love and honor.

2) Ted Turner Wants to Go To Heaven

He revised the Ten Commandments, which he considered outdated, coming up instead with his Eleven Voluntary Initiatives, which he printed on cards small enough to carry in a wallet. He tossed out the commandments that struck him as outdated — a host of the “thou shalt nots,” particularly the one banning adultery. “People have had a lot of fun breaking that one. I know I did.”

3) Why You Can’t Push Your Kids Into the Kingdom

Children are a divine stewardship. They are not for us to own, but for us to love, carefully guide, and then release to God’s provident care. We cannot pressure, bully or force them into faith.

We parent, not with anticipation of some promised outcome, but out of faithfulness to Jesus, leaving the outcome to him.

4) Broken Vows, Broken World

Divorce is a third-rail topic, one about which there are a variety of opinions within evangelical circles. Gospel-centered people who love Jesus and his Word can draw markedly different conclusions on the issue based on the same biblical texts. While everyone would agree marriage is a good gift from God that should be upheld—defended from the inside by a husband and wife and protected from the outside by the local church and the broader Christian community—we’re often unsure how to proceed when the brokenness of this world infects a marriage and it succumbs to the disease. Disparaging the existence of the morgue won’t raise the dead, and it certainly won’t bring comfort to those who mourn.

5) Is New York on the Brink of a Great Awakening?

Since New York City is a center of influence in terms of media and entertainment, Metaxas also asserts that a spiritual change inside of New York would have a ripple effect outside of New York: “If we could see changes in places like New York and Los Angeles, we could see changes across the whole country.”

As someone shaping the next generation of believers, Thornbury is eager to see young Christians continuing the work in New York City: “I see the Church in New York City becoming a prophetic witness that seeks the welfare of the community. I also envision more young believers relocating here, doing a work in the city, and having a heart for metropolis.”

He continued, “Historians will be able to tell us a generation from now whether or not—technically speaking—this era in New York City fits what missiologists and sociologists would call a ‘revival.’ But, it’s clear that God is on the move here.”

6) The Word of the Year

The selfie isn’t bad. It just is. It’s a fact of life in this digital world. But amidst the selfie’s ubiquity, don’t miss what it tells us about ourselves and about the way we present ourselves to the world. The selfie is not a photo of your face as much as it is a snapshot of your heart.

Some time ago I was talking to my friend about historical evidences for what the events in the New Testament. One of his biggest challenges was that of the account in Matthew in regards to Christ’s death. In Matthew’s account, he records there was a great earthquake that damaged the temple and that the temple curtain was torn in two. My friends objection was that such a significant event should have some sort of secular, extra-biblical accounts backing it up. So, accepting his challenge I went off and did my research.

What I came across is striking. Of course, there is hardly any physical evidence that would actually entirely prove the entirety of the Bible. Nor can I say that this one piece of evidence completely supports all of the Gospels – that would be jumping to unjustifiable conclusions. Take a look at the evidence for yourself, however. I bolded what is particularly shocking about my research. It is either another huge coincidence – or Biblically accurate – that there was an earthquake that damaged the temple in 33 A.D (the same year we believe Jesus was crucified), is it not?

Below you will find the original text, a leading commentary on the text, and the research it led me to (with that research’s citations).

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The text

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. 54 When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mt 27:51–54.

The Commentary

Matthew’s characteristic And look (see on 1:20) makes for a vivid introduction to what follows, as the Evangelist goes on to speak of some unusual happenings that accompanied the death of Jesus. He starts with the temple and speaks of the curtain, which appears to mean the curtain that separated the holy of holies, into which even the priests might not go (except the high priest, and he only one day in the year), from the holy place, into which only the priests might go (most interpreters accept this view, for the meaning is surely that by the death of Jesus the way into the holiest has been opened). Alternatively it might signify the curtain that separated the holy place to which priests had access from the adjoining court to which lay Israelite men were admitted (McNeile favors this view on the grounds that it must have been visible to people in general and not only to the priests; Ridderbos also thinks of this curtain). Either way the thought is of judgment on the temple, and Matthew is indicating that symbolically the way into the holy place was opened by the death of Jesus (cf. Heb. 10:19–20). He emphasizes this truth by saying that the curtain was torn in two from top to bottom, which indicates more than a minor tear. He is speaking of a bisected curtain, a curtain that no longer functioned to keep what lay on the other side of it a secret from all those outside. Religion was never to be the same now that Jesus the Messiah had died for sinners. This phenomenon, Matthew says, was accompanied by an earthquake, the earth being shaken and the rocks split. He leaves his readers in no doubt that what had happened was no minor event, but, in the literal sense of the word, earth-shaking.

Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 724.

The footnote for this commentary reads:

For earthquakes in the Jerusalem area see ISBE, II, pp. 4–5; this article refers to an earthquake that damaged the temple in A.D. 33. In the Talmud we read that the doors of the temple opened by themselves forty years before the destruction of the city (Yoma 39b). Allen cites this passage and others from Josephus and Jerome, and says, “A cleavage in the masonry of the porch, which rent the outer veil and left the Holy Place open to view, would account for the language of the Gospels, of Josephus, and of the Talmud.”

Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992).

The Encyclopedia (the ISBE mentioned in the above footnote), with Seismology and Geography citations

EARTHQUAKE [Heb ra˓aš; Gk seismós]; AV, NEB, also RUSHING. A shaking of the earth’s crust, usually a tectonic activity of variable intensity. Egypt is relatively free from this hazard, but the area from Greece to Iran is especially vulnerable, as many catastrophes in the area indicate: a quake in Iran in the spring of 1972 took four thousand lives, and two decades earlier Greece suffered severely. Palestine is at the edge of this quake-prone area, the center of which lies in Turkey.

In the past two millennia Palestine has had seventeen recorded quakes of major proportions, an average of slightly less than one in each century. Amos alluded to one in his day (ca 760 B.C.): “two years before the earthquake” (Am. 1:1). Josephus (Ant. xv.5.2) reported the loss of ten thousand lives in a quake in 31 B.C., the effects of which may still be seen in the steps of a cistern constructed by the Qumrân community near the Dead Sea. On Jan. 1, 1837, an earthquake centered in Safat took nearly five thousand lives. Another, centered in Nâblus, resulted in the loss of 350 lives in 1927. The Ludd-Ramla area is also subject to earthquakes.

It is believed that the source of the major quakes is the Jordan or rift-valley. Antioch in Syria has often been an epicenter. Jerusalem is relatively free from severe quakes (though it seems to have been hit more frequently by small ones). A quake in 64 B.C. damaged the temple in Jerusalem, as did another in A.D. 33. This may have coincided with the disturbance mentioned at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion (Mt. 27:54; 28:2).

In addition to the major quakes reported above, seismic activity has been recorded in many places since NT times. A severe quake hit central Palestine in A.D. 130, and in 365 the fortress at Kerak in Transjordan was severely damaged. Severe shocks were experienced at Imwas in 498, at Acco in 502, in Galilee in 551, and at Jerusalem in 746. In 1016 the cupola of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem collapsed. The quake in 1033 was very severe and widespread. In 1546 and again in 1834 severe damage was done to the domes of both the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome of the Rock. Earthquakes dammed the Jordan River (as perhaps in the time of Joshua) at Damiya in 1546 and again in 1927; the latter shock left 860 dead.

The number of casualties normally depends not so much on the severity of the quake as on its location; when populated areas are hit, as at Safat in 1837, the loss of life is far more extensive than if the quake occurs in open country. Obviously buildings constructed of earth or stone are much more liable to damage than structures of wood, steel, or reinforced concrete.

The Bible sometimes refers to earthquakes as accompanying divine revelation (Ex. 19:18; 1 K. 19:11f; Isa. 6:4) or demonstrating God’s power (Job 9:6) and presence (Ps. 68:8 [MT 9]) or divine judgments (Ps. 18:7 [MT 8]; Nah. 1:5; Isa. 13:13; 29:6; Am. 9:1; Ezk. 38:19f; cf. Zec. 14:5). An earth tremor sufficed to free Paul and Silas at a very opportune time (Acts 16:26). Earthquakes are predicted to precede the end of the age (Mt. 24:7; Mk. 13:8; Lk. 21:11; Rev. 6:12; 8:5; 11:13, 19; 16:18).

Bibliography.—D. H. K. Amiran, IEJ, 1 (1950/51), 223–246; C. F. Richter, Elementary Seismology (1958); E. J. Arieh, Geological Survey of Israel, 43 (1967), 1–14; Encyclopedia Judaica, VI, sv; D. P. McKenzie, Nature (London), 226 (1970), 237–243.

last_supper

I want you to put on your imagination caps for a minute and imagine this scenario with me: its Sunday of play-off season and your favorite NFL team is about to take the field. Prior to the opening kickoff, the head referee takes the field with a basketball, a full set of hockey sticks and a bucket of paint. He announces that the game of American Football is now to be played on a field one-third the size of the current field, and in order to score points you have to hit the basketball with your stick over the field goal posts. How would you react in this scenario? Would you tell the referee he is completely out of his mind? Would this still be American Football?

This scenario sounds ridiculous, but it is exactly the sort of thing pastors and teachers are doing in the realm of Christianity and theology. We are living in an age where leaders are increasingly creating and encouraging new theologies that completely contradict and undermine the very essence of Christianity and what makes it unique in the first place.

Christianity lives or dies on the substitutionary death and atonement of Jesus Christ. Since I am unable to go into a full excursus here on what substitutionary atonement is, I will attempt to briefly define it. Substitutionary atonement is the doctrine within Christianity that teaches Christ took on the penalty of sin for his people. The Bible teaches that we are all dead in our sins, and that in order for us to be made right with God blood must be shed. It is a theme and idea that is prevalent throughout all of scripture. It shows us that God is a merciful and mighty redeemer who doesn’t abandon us to the consqeuences of our actions. Instead, he comes down from his throne and becomes like us so that he can save us and make all things new. Christ lived the perfect life we couldn’t live, and offered up a perfect sacrifice that we couldn’t offer. He was and is the only one who could and can do it. Christ turns away the wrath of God out of his deep love for us. Without this component, Christianity is no different than any other faith that provides good morals, a way of living, and a way to work ourselves to death (see what I did there?) earning God’s favor. The Apostle Paul himself says that the ACTUAL, HISTORICAL death and resurrection is of “first importance” and without it, our faith is absolutely worthless and we are still dead in our sins (1 Cor. 15:1-18).

Unfortunately, despite the Bible’s clear teaching on Christ’s substitutionary death for sinners, entire denominations are being led away by a different belief. It pains me to write these things about the denomination of my youth, but unfortunately the ELCA denomination is leading the way on this very front. Please understand that I am not picking on any one denomination or person, I am simply citing some of the loudest voices of this movement. They just happen to be localized under one denomination. I also don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water, as I’m sure there are some ELCA churches today that reject these ideas. I desire to point these things out lovingly and graciously, such that people might be warned and see the error of popular teachings today. I don’t just want to be “another one of those bloggers” who picks on small issues; the issue of substitutionary atonement is crucial and necessary to defend.

Nadia Bolz-Weber is an increasingly popular ELCA pastor who likes to use a lot of “F bombs” and describes the 12 Apostles as “a bunch of F* ups” in her new book Pastrix (apparently someone hasn’t read James 3:1-12…). She is one of the leaders on this “new” theology (Which actually means it is an old heresy. In fact, one of the reasons why there are lines in the creeds articulating Christ’s sacrifice for our sin is because it was a public defending of similar heresies at the time.). According to Bolz-Weber,

And just to be clear: The cross is not about God as divine child abuser sadly sending his little boy off to be killed because we were bad and well, somebody had to pay. Because the irony about viewing the cross this way is that the whole thing was about God saying pay attention – don’t avert your eyes from the cross. This this is the logical end of your value system. Here is where it will always end. In the suffering of God.

*To all my credal friends, she would also deny the beloved creeds: “oh my god, nobody believes every line of the creed.”

The sad thing about Bolz-Webers mistaken theology is this: if Christ was not our substitute at the cross because “we were bad” and “somebody had to pay”, then it is THAT god which she has constructed that is merciless, malevolent and unforgiving. If Christ did not willingly and sacrificially lay down his life so that we could be called us friends (John 15:13), then God has officially left us to our own devices. He cannot relate to us (Hebrews 4:15), he does not love us, and he leaves us all to punishment. As much as I would like to say Bolz-Weber is an isolated incident, the fact remains that her teaching is being promoted throughout the entire denomination. Former ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson has this to say about Bolz-Webers teaching:

Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber speaks the truth of our humanity that we too often want to deny.

And, just to emphasize that it is not only coming from leading pastors but also seminary professors, Luther Theological Seminary Professor David Lull says this:

” . . .I can’t get past the idea that God had a thirst for innocent blood that had to be quenched, or that God’s justice required a death-penalty for sinners until Jesus’ death satisfied God’s wrath. Even if Bible passages can be made to support these ideas, I can’t get past the idea that God had been unforgiving before Jesus died. That’s not the God I find in the Bible.”

*I want to note with this above quote that Professor Lull has a severe misunderstanding of the atonement if he believes it teaches that God was unforgiving before Jesus. But that is a subject for another time.

There are numerous errors with these dangerous theologies, too many to discuss in this post. The fact remains, if Christ did not die for the atonement of sinners – then there is no forgiveness of sins. To be clear, if…

…he was not pierced for our transgressions (Isaiah 53:5)

…he did not come to heal sick sinners (Mark 2:17)

…he did not seek and save that which is lost (Luke 19:10)

…he did not die and was not raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15:1-18)

…he did not die for us while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8)

…he did not die for the forgiveness of sins (Apostles Creed)

…he did not suffer us men for our salvation (Nicene Creed)

Then…

…our sins are not forgiven (Hebrews 9:22)

…we are left to die in our sin (Rom. 6:23)

…we are still whoring after prostitutes and eating from pig troughs (Luke 15:11-16)

…our faith is in vain and we are left in our sins (1 Cor. 15:1-18)

…we have no ability to approach the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16)

…there is no once-and-for-all sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 7:27)

…we will die to sin and stay dead to it (1 Pet. 2:24)

What do we do with these kinds of statements? What do we do when an entire denomination or popular teachers lead countless hundreds of thousands of people down a path that no longer looks or sounds like Christianity? What does it look like to say that the substitutionary atonement of Christ is nothing more than the evidence of a cosmic child abuser?

It is my conviction that these things need to be exposed and publicized. The Rob Bells, Bolz-Webers, Osteens, and false teachings of entire denominations need to be made public so people know the truth and danger of what they are teaching. We should pray for those who are being led astray, that they might know the great mercy of their Savior. We contend for the faith, as Jude says in his letter:

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. – Jude 1:3

I leave you with a final plea: please, PLEASE, whenever you hear an idea that sounds new or intriguing about Christianity, PLEASE see if it first-of-all lines up with the Word of God and the history of the faith. PLEASE be careful of what you read and digest. PLEASE ask your pastor if something sounds sketchy. Protect yourself, stand on guard. Stay strong in the faith. Watch out for lions in sheep’s clothing. They are everywhere.

SolaWednesdayFinal

1) How to Become a Church Planting Church

How can a church that has never been involved in church planting become a church-planting church? Many churches aren’t sure where to even begin this journey. Some churches dive right into church planting by sending out one of their own. This process usually involves investing a significant amount of resources into the planter and rallying behind him. But this effort often ends poorly as the existing church frequently ends up disillusioned with church planting altogether when their ill-equipped church planter fails.

2) The Punches I Never Saw Coming

Every statistic tells us that most pastors don’t make it over the long haul in vocational ministry. I almost got knocked out because I didn’t know where the punches would come from. Serving the Lord in vocational ministry is a crown. Being an elder is a noble calling. Being entrusted to shepherd the flock is a gift and a grace. See the danger and pray over it. Prepare for it, so that you will persevere in carrying this grace to completion.

3) 6 Reasons Not to Abandon Expository Preaching

I’m not suggesting we organize ourselves exactly the same way. But if we are to preach the whole counsel of God, we must teach the whole Bible. Other sermonic structures have their merits, but none offers our congregations more, week after week, than careful, faithful exposition of the Word of God.

4) A Pentecostal in General Support of the Strange Fire Conference

But an overly broad condemnation of real problems is better than no condemnation of the problems at all. We Pentecostals and Charismatics needed to be offended, I’m afraid it may be the only thing that will make us think critically and Biblically about ourselves as a movement. And for this offense I want to thank John MacArthur and the participants in the Strange Fire Conference. The most hurtful thing about that conference is not the broad generalizations, sweeping condemnations, or lack of distinctions. For me as a Pentecostal the most hurtful thing about the Strange Fire Conference is my knowledge that far too many of the criticisms are true.

5) Would I have Been a Pharisee?

Lord, I pray that you would keep my heart from descending into legalism that focuses on actions. Cut away any part of me that looks like the Pharisees. May I be more concerned about the state of my heart than my actions. For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks (Luke 6:25). If my heart is purely devoted to honoring You, my actions will follow. If I only focus on my actions, my heart will never be clean. Even if no one else can see it, you look at my heart. May it reflect and glorify you.

6) Modesty Matters

According to this definition, only a Christian can truly be modest because only a Christian can deliberately pursue God’s glory. Whether we realize it or not, we are always attempting to bring glory to someone. Through our clothing we may be drawing attention to ourselves or we may be drawing attention to God. The heart of modesty is dressing in such a way that you show love to others and bring glory to God. The heart of immodesty is dressing in such a way that you show self-love and claim the glory for yourself. Immodesty is wanting to be noticed by others and being willing to do whatever that takes to make that happen.

7) How to Soak the Next Generation in God’s Word

Oh, let’s become women who value and pass on God’s Word! Let’s be more concerned with the spiritual food we are feeding our children than we are even with their physical food. May we raise a generation who can say—in the midst of everything life brings them—”Your words were found and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jer. 15:16).

8) Resolving Apparent Contradictions in Scripture

In this excerpt from a message at our 2010 National Conference, Derek Thomas gives two examples of how to resolve apparent contradictions in Scripture.