Monthly Archives: April 2013

HOMER SIMPSON’S INNER ATHEIST (PART 1)

Homer Simpson

I am grateful to Scot McKnight for bringing my attention to Daniel Taylor’s wonderful book, The Skeptical Believer.

The title is terrific, but I like the subtitle even better: Telling Stories to Your Inner Atheist.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Skeptical-Believer-Telling-Stories/dp/0970651155/ref=tmm_pap_title_0

There are far too many things I like about Dan’s book to do one post, so I am going to do several in the weeks ahead.  Those who know me best understand why I would find so much resonance with The Skeptical Believer.  You could say I am a “serial doubter.”

Before we embark on Dan’s terrific book, let me say something about its design.  Dan’s son, Matthew, designed the book.  It is exquisitely and creatively put together.  Even though it is beautifully done and almost 400 pages in length, the cost is only $14.95!

Here then are a few things from the first section of Dan’s book (or about 70 pages):
*The quotes Dan provides at the beginning of each chapter are wisely selected.  The book starts off with this gem by Miguel de Unamuno:
“Those who believe that they believe in God, but without any passion in their heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, without an element of despair even in their consolation, believe only in the idea of God, not in God Himself.”

 

*Many Christians feel the compulsion to act like the life of faith is easy and struggle minimal.  Dan provides loads of wisdom and breathing room to be more honest with our nagging questions and doubts.  And Dan offers humor throughout his book!

*In his inimitable way, Dan does a great job of describing how the old faith v. reason conundrum is bogus.  Others have demonstrated this as well, but Dan the literature professor and gifted writer offers us a fresh perspective.

*The Skeptical Believer has one of the best explanations of the power of “story” that I have ever read.

*Daniel Taylor isn’t interested in simply offering witty and well-written words about skepticism.  He wants to help us.  His section (I won’t tell you the page numbers because I want you to buy the book) on dealing with what he likes to call “clutter” rather than busyness is one of my favorite parts in the first section.

 

 

FAVORITE PLACES TO READ (#2)

During the summer of 1986, it was my great privilege to study at L’Abri in Switzerland.  Francis Schaeffer had died two years earlier, but his wife Edith, was there.  Not only did I get to hear Edith Schaeffer lecture, but one of the Schaeffer’s son-in-laws, Ranald, was my mentor.  Ranald Macaulay co-authored a book with Jerram Barrs which had a big influence on me.  The book was Being Human: the Nature of Spiritual Experience.

It is hard to describe the beauty of lush green rolling hills surrounded by the awesome Alps of Switzerland, but it is definitely one of my favorite places to read!

 

 

DEATH TO SHARING!

Rosalie de Rosset

“My name is Rosalie de Rosset,” she told the class. “Isn’t that a fabulously feminine name? Clearly, my parents filled out the birth certificate before they met me. I assure you, that is the only womanly thing about me…

“I have one rule for this class,” de Rosset continued without smiling, “If you use the word ‘share,’ I will fail you. On the spot. I don’t want to hear one woman stand up here telling us that you ‘wanna share a bit of your heart.’ If you do, you will get an ‘F’ in my class.” I looked around and saw many women, smiling broadly, shaking their heads. “I want you to preach. You’re not schoolgirls sharing your dolls. You have a voice. You have something to say. And I want you to proclaim it.”

(“Preaching Lessons at a Fundamentalist Bible School,” by Carol Howard Merritt, Christian Century, Dec. 8, 2012)

MAKING AN IMPRESSION

My thought from reading the Psalms today:

We take note of people who we think are impressive.  God takes note of us even though we are truly unimpressive!

“O Lord, what is man, that You take knowledge of him?
Or the son of man, that You think of him?
Man is like a mere breath;
His days are like a passing shadow.”

Ps. 144:3,4

 

SPECULATION IS FUN

Speculation, rather than relying on God’s revelation, is the very real temptation for all of us.  It is fun to bend, twist, imagine, and come up with some new and sexy interpretation of Scripture.  Some things in the Bible do involve the struggle of careful interpretation.  Many other things are clear, but we just don’t like them.  So off we go speculating about other options.

Popular books on “spiritual warfare” contain a great deal of speculation.  Here are a few things I found in one such book:

*Demonic Transference
This is a popular belief among several contemporary writers on spiritual warfare. It is not the interpretation you find among the best modern or ancient commentators of Scripture. In fact, noted scholars of Christian missions say it owes more to paganism than Christianity. Here is what I wrote on it for an article I coauthored in the theological journal, Bibliotheca Sacra:
“Though the doctrine of generational transference is widely held, it lacks biblical support. In Ex. 20:4-5 the reference there to ‘visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and fourth generations’ should be understood as a description of severe judgment in which an individual’s line is cut off, not a transference (demonic or otherwise) of particular sins to the next generation. Actually even the idea of judgment is overshadowed by the grace of God when this formula is repeated elsewhere. Ex. 34:6-7 and Deut. 7:9 demonstrate that God may bring judgment for three or four generations, but His covenant faithfulness extends for a thousand. This promise, coupled with the focus on individual responsibility in Ez. 18:18-22, seems incompatible with the idea of inherited demonic affliction.”

Also, note what is specifically said in the text “of those who hate me” which would not apply to a Christian, and note what is not said: mention of demons.

*Lots of speculation, little revelation
Throughout this book, the author makes many assertions, but gives little or no biblical support. He utilizes the “trust me, I know what I am talking about” approach. When he does cite Scripture as with the “14 spirits” his interpretation is truly unique…not the kind of thing you want anyone saying about the way you handle Scripture!

There are cruel speculations about demons being involved where women have struggles with barrenness, arthritis, etc. Living in a fallen world with a fallen body gets little (I don’t remember any in the book) credit for such challenges.

*The desire for victory makes people vulnerable to spiritual fads.
There is a strong attraction to these kinds of books among those who yearn for much greater victory over their past and present struggles. This vulnerability coupled with a superficial understanding of Christian theology makes for a lethal combination.

*It is not just the Devil!
Our struggle is clearly with demonic powers, but there is also the world and our own sinfulness. Charles Spurgeon said if you took away Satan’s attacks he would still have plenty to battle with his own sin. Paul understood this as well (I Tim. 1:15).

If one looks through the history of the church one will commonly find statements which underscore the ongoing problem of personal sin.  Here is John Owen, a Puritan. Owen believed in demons and their ability to discourage believers, but he also appreciated the condition of the human heart: “The man that understands the evil of his own heart, how vile it is, is the only useful, fruitful, and solid believing and obedient person.”

Could too much focus on demons actually be a subtle tactic of Satan’s to get us to believe our problems are mainly external?

*Body, soul, and spirit
Most popular teachers on the Christian life believe we are made up of three parts (=trichotomy), but a word study in the OT and NT reveals that the spirit and the soul are pretty much the same. The three part view is used as justification that we are perfect in our spirit, but fallen in our soul. The more we can realize “who we really are” the less our struggle with sin. Perseverance and struggling in the power of the Holy Spirit (emphases throughout the history of Christianity) tend to get little or no attention from writers of popular books on “spiritual warfare.”

*Citing lots of verses does not mean one is being biblical
Throughout this book we find verses slung out left and right with very little context or explanation.

SERMONS…HOW I EVALUATE THEM

 

I have preached many times in different places, and over the years wanted a memorable way to evaluate my own sermon preparation.  I developed the acrostic I CARE to remind myself of what is most important.  The order is a memory aid, not what is most important to least.

Introduction should be strong and grab the attention of the listeners.

Christ-centered.  Christ is the focus of the Bible, so it should be the focus of the sermon.

Authentically touches the preacher.  When people ask me what is the most difficult aspect of preaching preparation, I find no difficulty answering: making sure that what I am preaching has genuinely touched me.  This is the “preach to yourself before preaching to others” counsel of the Puritans. Finding good illustrations, understanding the flow of the biblical argument, though involving many hours, is a cake walk compared to the exposure of my own sin and subsequent repentance which happens before I ever get to the pulpit.

Redemptive.  All sermons need to instill hope and encourage confidence in a God who can redeem any situation no matter how bleak and hopeless it may seem.

Ending should have a “so what?” which lingers through the week.  Applications are crucial, yet I find two common errors preachers make with them: giving more than one application (one pastor I heard gave five!), and an emphasis on merely changing behavior rather than appealing to one’s loves, hopes, aspirations, and idols.  In other words, the heart or inner motivations must be touched.  I have a bias that some specificity of what to do is necessary, but again many preachers err by offering too much. At times, it seems the application is more the preacher’s own takeaway for his own life rather than being sensitive to the myriad of ways different people will actually seek to live out the central truth.  So yes, broad principle should be stated, but leave room for the Holy Spirit to press the many ways He will move people to make specific application to their own lives.

MOORE’S LAW OF LEADERSHIP

“As the number of books on leadership skills and strategies increase, the number of available leaders decrease.”

I say this, of course, with my tongue firmly in cheek.  

There is a very serious point that must be made: leaders don’t become that way by reading books on steps and strategies or simple formulas for success.  Leadership can be messy which is not the sort of thing that is easily reducible to cleverly laid out principles.

What is one quality you respect the most in the best leaders you have seen?

 

WHY CITIES MATTER

WHY CITIES MATTER?

Confession time, but before I do a few words…

I love the emphasis of getting Christians to consider the importance of living out the gospel in the city.  I love big cities.  I have spent much time in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston.  Overseas I have enjoyed Paris, London, Belgrade, Vienna, Zagreb, Venice, and Salzburg.  Growing up, I spent many happy days in Detroit.

My confession of sorts is that I also love rural America.  In fact, I have been privileged these past three years to serve as an interim pastor at a terrific, rural church.

The push toward planting churches in cities is a wonderful thing indeed, but I wonder if it is now getting too much attention.  All this made me both excited and somewhat reluctant to read Why Cities Matter? by Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard.  Would this “big city” pastor duo be imbalanced in their love for the city, or would they help me navigate this issue more intelligently?  To my delight, I found the latter.

Why Cities Matter? is not a long read at about 150 pages (not including the notes which are worth reading!)  It is more than I expected: solid research mixed with accessibility, engaging writing style, and lots of stuff to stew over.  I recommend it highly.

As somewhat of a “book cover snob,” let my add my kudos on the design.  It is simple, elegant, and creative.  Well done Mr. or Mrs. Graphic Designer!

DALLAS SEMINARY GRADUATES DON’T PREACH THE BIBLE

First, let me say that I know a number of Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) graduates who are careful students of the Bible.  Among the faithful, I have recently been blessed to meet Jon Davies, the new teaching pastor at Brenham Bible Church.  Jon handles the Word with reverence and diligently applies himself in the study.  Last, and certainly least, is the fact that I myself am a graduate of DTS.  Though I am “agnostic” on certain, secondary doctrines other DTS graduates hold, I remain grateful to God for the indelible impact of both professors and students.

Back to the subject line of this post…That is what I overheard from a theologian who some would say holds to a less than “conservative” position of the Bible.

I was in the bookstore of the seminary where this particular theologian teaches and could not help but eavesdrop on the conversation.  The theologian said to her friend, “I was just on vacation and so we went to the church my in-laws attend.  A Dallas Seminary guy was preaching.  It is amazing how poorly he handled the Scriptures even though he believes in the inerrancy of the Bible.  I don’t believe in inerrancy, but I treat the text of the Bible much more carefully than him.”

Holding to inerrancy is no safeguard against handling the Word of God in a sloppy manner.  Holding to inerrancy also won’t keep you out of bed with another man’s wife as the evangelical landscape makes painfully clear.

Do you hold to inerrancy?  For a few brave souls out there, you may want to declare that you don’t even know what it is, but you have heard it is important!

MEETING JOHN PIPER…IN MY PAJAMAS!

Where did you first meet John Piper?

Outside my apartment door at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1992.

How did you run into him?

He was retuning a chair he borrowed from some of our neighbors who were gone.

What time was it?

About nine in the morning.

What was Piper like?

Friendly and full of energy.  “Bouncy” probably captures it pretty well.

What were you like?

Tired and quickly in disbelief to run into him that way.

What was Piper wearing?

Nice, casual clothes.

What were you wearing?

My favorite pajamas.