Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Unbelief of Brian McLaren

For many years now I have observed and read Brian McLaren with great concern that he is just way off mark with even a basic understanding of the Gospel. He has I think been just like the liberal academics found in liberal German schools of the 19th Century and much of McLaren's teachings reminded me of just their teachings.

I'm not suggesting that Christian's should not be able to ask worthwhile and deep questions about the Christian faith, rather they need to understand that some questions are not only nonsense but have no proper framework on which to understand a correct answer when they get one or not. If you start with some autonomous human authority as your standard of Truth, ie yourself, or even a claim that Reason is the standard of truth, and not the Scriptures as the revelation of God Himself, then you will stray into the muck of liberalism and unbelief or even heresy very quickly. This is not to say that the Christian faith is unreasonable, far from it, rather it is when man takes Reason as his Standard of Truth instead of reason as a tool, with the Standard being God and his Revealed word that problems begin.

To see where the slippery slope leads, one just needs to consider McLaren's book 'Everything must change', but be careful, one must read with the same attitude the Berean's had towards the preaching of Paul.

See Don Veinot who writes very powerfully on this issue. Please take time to read it.
We ourselves need to ask: "Is it not loving to point out someone's error and call them to repentance"? And not merly that, but all Christians are called to defend the faith once for all given. Jude 3.

God Bless

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Who are the true Greenies?

Christians are the true “Greenies

What do you talk about as a Christian with a Greenie, someone whose passion is the environment, who spends their life campaigning for protection and preservation of the environment and wildlife and so on?

I would first ask them on what basis they justify their stance on the environment? Is it purely pragmatic? Is it for their personal benefit? In which case we’d point out that others disagree so it’s merely a matter of preference or “taste” on their part.
What I mean is that we need to ask why what matters to them should matter to anybody else and an answer like “I think that this effects everybody else” is not an adequate reply. Why does what they think mean they can impose on others their standards or views?

And that gets to the crux of the matter - it’s about standards, who determines what is right and wrong, what is of value or not.

We must check out their worldview, and get them to reflect upon their worldview. How does their worldview answer What is man? What is reality, What is true and right? Who if anything or anyone is God? We need to point out they have no basis upon which to ground their beliefs about the environment. That they are merely being selective and stating their own preference or taste.

Then after that has been done we can turn and say that the Christian worldview gives us a true basis for looking after our environment. The Christian worldview as laid out in the Bible tells us that God created this world. And then we can point out that it was good, declared good by it’s Creator, the Lord God before it was determined by man as useful for something, Genesis 1:12, 21, 25. Before man decided he could use a tree for shelter or for heating or as a bonfire for a romantic evening with his wife, the Lord God declared it good.

That’s the start, that at Creation God said it was good and then after the creation of man he declared that particular creation of man very good. Man is made from the dust of the earth, he is part of God’s creation, and yet he is also apart from it in that he has life breathed into him by God and he is made in the image of God. And he is given to care for the creation, Genesis 2:15. To not abuse it, whilst still using it for his benefit and others.
That is a true basis for our actions of caring for this world we live in.

In Christ,


Christmas reverberations

At the time of Christmas you will no doubt hear in one avenue or another the basic Christmas story. You might get a commercial version from television where they throw together the story from all four gospels and if we are fortunate there might be some truth given.
And no doubt in the paper or on the Internet you will see some pseudo intellectual agnostic claiming that the Christian faith is a lot of bunkum. That it's on par with the stork delivering babies or with fairies at the bottom of the garden.

However, even given the availability of the Biblical Christmas story it so easy to miss what each Gospel writer is trying to teach, and therefore what God is saying!

In Luke's Gospel the lead up to the birth of Jesus, had been prepared with fan fare that no Hollywood director could match, and that's not unsurprising is it? We tend to think that the arrival of the birth of the Lord Jesus in some insignificant town in Israel was a quiet affair, that the rest of Israel went on about their normal daily routine without too much awareness of whether God was about to do something big.
But Luke's preamble to the birth of Jesus, his talking about the birth of John the baptist isn't just preparing the historical scene for Jesus or telling us that the great john the baptist was actually related to Jesus, it's far more than that.
See how Luke tells us that Zechariah was a Priest chosen at that time to burn incense in the Temple. This isn't just some irrelevant bit of information telling you of the importance of Zechariah. What we need to understand is what David Guzik so aptly speaks of in his commentary on the passage.
The incense Priest had a special duty to perform once he appeared on the steps of the Temple. He would "raise his hands and bless the people with the blessing from Numbers 6:24-26." The people would respond by saying, "Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting." After this had been done the Levites would perform their duty, that of singing praises to God which would start with a blast from silver trumpets, then a priest would strike a cymbals and the choir of Levites would begin the Psalm of the day.

Given this background, can you for a moment imagine the scene when Zechariah appears and is unable to speak, unable to declare the Aaronic blessing from Numbers 6?

All the people could get out of Zechariah was that he had seen a vision whilst in the Temple and Zechariah remained unable to speak. Do you think that this dramatic event would have not have been the discussion over the dinner tables that night, or in the Temple courts and between friends and travellers alike? Of course this is front page news, the sort we reserve for tragedies such as Sept 11.

As Luke tells us in 1:66 "Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, "What then is this child going to be?" For the Lord's hand was with him.

After 400 years of silence from God, of no prophet from God for Israel, suddenly a Priest in the Temple has a vision and is struck speechless. And he remains speechless until the birth of his son, John the Baptist. John who appears like an Old Testament Prophet! Who calls Israel to repentance!

So don't let anybody tell you that the events around Jesus' birth were insignificant. They are anything but. God gave plenty of warnings about the significance of the coming of Jesus, of the Messiah long awaited, who as John the Baptist pointed to, is truly the lamb of God, whom we know dies as a sacrifice for sin.

God bless all my brothers and sisters in Christ, at this special time of rejoicing our Saviour's birth.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

What is Worship? Part 1

Today if you ask a group of Christian people what worship is, it won’t be long before you hear someone say that music and singing are worship. They don’t qualify that statement in anyway, they just say this is what worship is. Indeed some churches put aside a special period before the service called praise worship meaning a time of singing before the service begins. If you go into a Christian bookstore or look at a Christian book store catalogue what do you find under the section called worship but “Christian” CD’s and music. These are subtle influences in our lives that we sometimes ignore the impact of and yet they are the things that tend to mould our thoughts about certain subjects. Has this influenced you and me into what we understand as worship?
Think about it bit. Does your church have Praise and Worship "Teams" that are an integral part of the "services"?

Those who play musical instruments are sometimes tempted into thinking that music and singing is what worship is all about. What we need to realise is that it’s a means of worship. So that some don’t think I have a gripe against musicians let me say my wife teaches piano and keyboard and all my children play and my wife and daughter also play in the music team at church. It is just that there is an avenue of temptation for anyone being out the front of the congregation to think that what they alone are doing is what worship is. And that’s not even considering the problem that some are even tempted to become a performer or even an entertainer [ some preachers already act this way with their actions and words moulded to entertain their listeners instead of faithfully teach the Word of God ].

Of course it’s not hard to identify with the person who wrote into Christianpost.com and said
“I know I'm supposed to worship God when I go to church, but I can't say I always do. My thoughts wander, or I get to thinking about the people around me and I come away disappointed in myself for not really worshipping. How can I keep from being distracted? - D.H.”

That experience is not all that uncommon, and it can depend upon a lot of things, it can be that the person is that day weighed down with a lot of worldly cares, or their Church may itself not be showing the love for the brethren that works out in brotherly fellowship. It’s so common that even some pastors have at times not felt the urge on a Sunday morning to drag their feet out of bed and go to church. For them it could have been because satan is attacking them at that point in time or that there are so many “problems” happening in the church that they just don’t want to deal with, or even that bed is so warm and comfy on a cold winters day! [ which of course could be satan tempting them again :) ]

Still whilst at times there’s a temptation not to worship or of being distracted, we still need to be clear about what the Bible says Worship is.

I recently read a helpful article by Steven Shephard which referred to how the wise men came to Jesus at his birth and worshipped him. As we read about it in Matthew 2:1-2
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying ‘Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him’” (Matt. 2:1-2)

Then in Matthew 2:11 we read about having found Jesus they “fell down and worshiped Him.” The Greek word here translated "worship" means to prostrate oneself. But biblical worship implies more than the bowing down of our body. You don’t get very far in merely doing a word study of Hebrew and Greek words used in the Bible and translated as “worship” in our English translation. We need to do that, but a fruitful result requires us to do more.
Here in Matthew’s Gospel we see first that the wise men came to worship Jesus and they clearly prostrate themselves before him, Matt 2:11 but is that the end of the story in Matthew 2 about worship? Is worship merely a physical prostrating of oneself before Jesus?
That’s what we shall consider next time.

In Christ

Saturday, December 20, 2008

God's Sovereignty and our action

A While ago, before the Presidential election in the U.S.A Brannon Howse made the following comment about John MacArthur. "John MacArthur says he does not spend 5 seconds thinking about the fall 2008 election. John is not concerned at all about Obama winning. MacArthur has a view of the world that only involves the Church. I think John has forgotten that God created family government, civil government and church government and Christians are to care about all three and all three are to be in harmony."
Now I think that's not exactly true, listening to John's sermons and reading his books reveal John has a view of the world that does involve more than the Church. His view on end times and Israel show this as does his Biblical exposition on the end times.
While there are some in the world, and specifically in America who think this world will get better and better - namely post-millennialist's, that doesn't seem to be the clear teaching of the Bible, and John himself takes a firm stand against that teaching. Now we can be gracious a little and say that MacArthur may be saying his calling is to serve the Church, to teach and pastor and protect the church, and that is indeed true, yet Christians are to be salt on the earth whilst still able to be.
The issue that sprang to my mind is the balance between acknowledging the Sovereignty of God on the one hand, and our involvement in the world on the other. We are to trust the Lord God no matter what the circumstances around us, whether we have a good government or a bad one. We need to balance that - no matter what government we have. In a sense what government we do have is irrelevant in that we are to be faithful witnesses and salt in our culture, and if that means our persecution, or even death so be it. After all that's one of the beautiful lessons of the book of Daniel isn't it? Have we Christians forgotten that Christianity is truly radical, truly counter culture in that it is counter the world's culture? Our values and standards are God's standards, not those made up by rebellious mankind.
Yet balanced with that is to impact our society with the truth of the gospel, as Wilberforce did in England against slavery. Where we are with the influence we have we are to be God's faithful people, standing against injustice and caring for the abused and poor and so on.
That for some will mean being an "activist" against abortion, which may take the form of caring for those who have had an abortion, for others it may mean writing to government representatives against homosexuality, or supporting a group that ministers to those that have turned from homosexual behaviour and on it goes.
Does this mean I am proposing a social gospel? No way, doing "good works" in society does not convict people of sin or righteousness or judgment, rather it is our declaring the gospel message and the Holy Spirit taking that and His working that transforms people.

The Bible declares God as Sovereign, and we are to take heart in that, no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, and it also calls us to pray, not to cop out and do nothing just because God is Sovereign. It's that balance we need in our world when declaring the Gospel and doing things that are clearly needing to be done in our tragically fallen world, all along being motivated by compassion for those who are made in the image of God.
In short the balance seems to me that Christians are so transformed by God and by His Love and Mercy that they reflect his character more and more in all that they do and say.
And this is what our team going to Kenya is doing, and we uphold them in prayer as they do that.
May God bless your endeavours.

In Christ,

Friday, December 12, 2008

Getting the Bible right

Isn't that a real gotcha. It's so easy to misread the Bible, to forget to consider the context before putting forward some great pearl of wisdom :)
I was so pleased a while back when a young man who was attending to the sound system at church, remarked on a persons treatment of Matthew 18:20. They had made the common mistake of thinking of Matthew 18:20 as a definition of church. It had really irked him that they took made such a basic error.
Lest you think I am a little harsh about someone being mistaken about a passage of Scripture, let me just say I myself had made that very same mistake about Matt 18:20, and held it until corrected some 3 years later. I am thankful indeed to the person who pointed it out. It maybe of course that I am therefore particularly sensitive when this passage is interpreted incorrectly and that may be so, but it can still stand as a helpful warning to deal carefully with God's Word as read it.

What the passage is speaking about is that of a brother sinning against you and refusing to repent, first in the personal one on one intervention, and then if he refuses to listen to you and two others, or even the "church" as the NIV puts it. Mt 18:17.
First of all, this word church is 'ekklesia' for which we later on derived the word church but it's basic meaning here is 'called out ones', used by the Greeks for an assembly or body of citizens gathered to discuss the affairs of state. At this point in the New Testament the Church in our common sense of Ephesians 3 which was a mystery in past ages, is not explicit, rather in the Gospels it is a gathered assembly around our Lord Jesus as his disciples. We must refrain from reading back into the Gospels what is later found in the epistles unless we have good warrant to do so.
This is why as Christians now, we take the epistles as our guide for what Church is and how it is to be ordered. What is the failure here is to take the Gospels seriously on their own account, failing to see what the Lord is teaching us through the Gospels. But more on that another time.

The second thing here is that Jesus is saying that he "Jesus will be with them" 18:20. Apart from the worthwhile inquiry as to Jesus association of himself and the reference about the Father in verse 19, what is primary here is that Jesus is saying that in context of judgment of a sinning brother he is involved! As Carson points out the "about anything" in verse 19 is better taken as "about any judicial matter" which fits with the argument of Matt 18. Then the point being made is that Jesus will be with the Judges who are here acting in the community of believers to deal properly with those that sin and refuse to repent.

God Bless

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The importance of our worldview

We must start any discussion of our worldview with clearly describing or defining what a worldview is.

All of us hold things, beliefs and values which would take an incredible experience to rock and challenge them and make us change those beliefs and values. These core beliefs and values which we hold so tightly make up what we would call our worldview, the way we interpret reality, what we think of as important, what things we value, what gives our life meaning, what view we have of God, our world and our relation to God and the world.

James Sire puts it so clearly by asking 7 important questions:

1. What is prime reality - the really real?

2. What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?

3. What is a human being?

4. What happens to a person at death?

5. Why is it possible to know anything at all?

6. How do we know what is right and wrong?

7. What is the meaning of human history?

See James Sire page 20 'The Universe next door'

Sire goes on to say "even refusing to adopt an explicit worldview will turn out to be itself a worldview, or at least a philosophical position." pg 21.

I would point out for example that even to say there is no God or to say you don't know if there is a God or not are part of a specific worldviews. A worldview, in the first case where you say there is no God is one in which you have set yourself up as the ultimate authority on what can and cannot exist. Where you have set yourself up as the one who knows everything, and thus have made yourself omniscient and in one sense, omnipresent since no part of reality is hid from you ! In other words, made yourself God by definition. Now of course very few people put them in such a ridiculous position although I once heard Bertrand Russell in a talk say "one thing I know is that there is no god." If I remember rightly and this was 25 odd years ago, I think the context was where he was saying there are no absolutes, but I may be wrong.

The second position of the one saying he doesn't know whether there's a God or not is what we call an agnostic, though certain Philosophers quibble over this and say there's different sorts of agnostics such as hard and soft agnostics, but really that's a bit like a hard boiled and a soft boiled egg, they are still eggs!

In the West there are only a small number of worldviews that really concern us, again as Sire lists them in relevant chapters,

*Christian Theism





*Eastern Pantheistic Monism

*The New Age


The way most of us encounter these worldviews is when a particular worldview is claimed by someone we are talking to or reading about. It's then that specific worldviews such as Buddhism, or Secular humanism and Marxism or Hinduism become important and relevant. Still in dealing with them what we need is to have understood each of the above types of worldviews and where their weaknesses lie and how the particular worldview is covered by one of the above types.

Another author that has written well on this topic is David A. Noebel in his book 'The Battle for Truth'.

He says about The Christian Worldview that "Christianity is the only worldview that provides a consistent explanation of all the facts of reality with regard to theology, philosophy, ethics, economics, or anything else. As Carl F.H. Henry says, "The Christian belief system, which the Christian knows to be grounded in Divine revelation, is relevant to all of life."" pg 3. Noebel

Let me for a moment reflect upon that statement by Carl F.H Henry. It's easily passed over but it's a gem.

He says "The Christian belief system, which the Christian knows to be.." How does he know? because the Holy Spirit has convicted him of this truth. I don't believe you can seperate speaking of worldviews with others without really understanding that you are involved in apologetics, apologetics as spoken of in the Bible, eg. 1 Peter3. and Contending for the faith with others, Jude 3 et al.

If you haven't thought about this very deeply you will very soon upon saying that you know these things hear a person cry out, "but your reasoning is circular." "You come here claiming your worldview, Christianity is true and then point to the fact that your worldview says that - ie the bible says that." But my worldview says xyz .. How do we not end up just disagreeing?"

Many in the last century have because of this problem argued that we need first to find some common ground with the unbeliever, something that we both agree about in order to then be able to sort out whose worldview is the true one. But for a Christian this is to give the game away right at the start. We need to realise that the only reason we are in this discussion with the unbeliever is because God has convicted us of our rebellion against Him, transformed us, and filled us with His Holy Spirit. So being changed by God and filled by His Spirit we recognise He alone is the Authority, He is the Standard before which all things stand or fall, and before whom all must give an account. That, and that alone is the only reason by which we can claim that Chrisitanity is True.

So how then can we speak to the unbeliever in a meaningful way? It takes a twofold approach. First of all you reason from within the unbeliever's worldview and point out how it collaspses into nonsense. That it cannot give an account for meaning, or rationality or reason, or value, or right and wrong, indeed it cannot even account for nonsense! This is called an internal critique of a worldview.

But this is not the end of the discussion, because then you explain to them the Christian worldview which is able to account for meaning and value and reason and the like. That the claims of the Christian worldview are true and that God, the God of the Bible calls upon them to stop their rebellion and repent and submit to Him.

Now of course many postmoderns will rise up in protest at what I am saying here for they despise metanarratives, the big story. They don't like metanarritives because they find them culturally manipulative. But all I would say here today is that their own postmodern worldview is incoherent itself. For postmodernism is itself a metanarrative. Of course that's probably why many today say they have moved beyond postmodernism, but that won't get them out of their problem because they still hold a specific worldview.

I want to end by just pointing out the most important thing about Christianity, that the Worldview of Christianity is actually the revelation of God, the Bible.

As Henry said in the quote above, "the Christian belief system is gounded in Divine revelation". The Bible from Genesis to Revelation gives us the answers to Who is God, who we are, and how we relate to humans, and what gives us meaning and value and where the standards of right and wrong are found.

We do not come to God's revelation the Bible with an independant standard by which to judge it. For we are not an autonomous authority. Rather God declares to us that his ways are right, that this is right and that is wrong, that this is True and that is false.

Something worth pondering upon.


Who is building the Church?

There is no doubt there is much we can learn from others about better ways to communicate with unbelievers and reach out to them with the Gospel. Over the years I have benefited from the stimulation of godly men about finding ways to impact the culure, all the time making sure that we presuppose that it was Jesus who said he would build his church.

Hindsight as they say is 100% reliable, and we need to reflect upon history and the methods of man as he sought, sometimes from very honorable motives of seeking to see the Lord's Church both grow and impact our culture. However the dangers are very real as we readily see the distortion that happened with the market driven approach to Church, replacing the pastor / elder with a CEO.

Accompanying this market approach has been the replacing of expositional preaching with stories and "entertainment". Anyone, well almost anyone :) can keep a crowd and attract people if they make sure they are tolerant of everything and don't offend them and tickle their ears with positive sermonettes.

Yesterday I read an article on SermonCentral.com by Hal Seed. It was called "Seven Keys to a great Church-Wide Campaign". He opens with "Successful campaigns all start in one place: the heart of the pastor, If he's excited, the church will get excited."Sorry, I would have thought that the one place it begins is being convicted of God to have His concern for the lost and that this is what engenders excitement and enthusiasm in his outlook.Seed does tell us some practical things to consider in organising a Church-wide campaign, however the tenor of the article is troublesome in that it leaves out prayer and devotion to the Word.

Have we too readily opted for man made solutions for getting people in the door of the Church and in so doing effectively made the church assembly primarily a place of evangelism instead of one of edifying and building up the saints for the work of ministry?
What are your thoughts?