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Category Archives: evangelicalism

The Evangelical Exchange: The Gospel for Life Coaching

The Evangelical Exchange: The Gospel for Life Coaching

I was reminded today that … well, the fastest growing churches in our land are producing guilt-ridden workaholics rather than a community of men and women who believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of [their] faith, the salvation of [their] souls!” (1 Pet. 1:9). Rather than the celebration of peace with God, I fear we promote a spiritual anxiety in people who feel like, if they are following God the way they should, their lives should be fixed by now. 

LCoachI was reminded of this tension as I read this Facebook post today. It’s from an old friend, talking about his church’s upcoming weekend services. Needless to say, the names are fictitious:

Tomorrow is going to be an epic day at our Midtown Campus! John Doe, Jim Doe and Josh Doe combining on a message about Lazarus. Jessie Doe narrating. Jen Doe communicating. Jeremy Doe leading music. Our bulletins to take notes on… they are toe tags that read: Deceased: Lazarus. Physician: Jesus. Funeral Director: Martha. Case #: John 11. We’ll be looking at overcoming obstacles, trusting for miracles, and removing entanglements. I’m so excited for how God is going to use this in my life and in the lives of others.

It sounds like quite a production. There was a day when I would have been proud to be a part of such an “epic day”.

Now, there are a few things about this enterprise that make me squirm a bit, but aren’t that big a deal. All of the terminology is strikingly not-church (campus, communicating, leading music, bulletins). Jesus being termed as “physician” (only?). Playing into our culture’s CSI-enflamed media passion for crime dramas. It’s obvious that this service has been designed with seekers in mind … so the gathering seems produced to capture the fancy of non-Christians, more than to engage its own membership in the Biblically-prescribed worship of God through Christ.

LAZWhat I find most disheartening, though, is the hermeneutic of the “message”. The story of Lazarus is a narrative story that speaks of the grandness and glory of God, the power of resurrection, and the beauty-for-ashes reality of salvation! It’s about how great God is, and how we should praise Him, be assured by Him, and believe in Him. That’s why “these things were written” (John 20:31).

But, in true contemporary Evangelical fashion (and I say this with great warmth, since I, too, have been an Evangelical for so many decades), they’ve taken this glorious story, and turned it into a self-help seminar. Jesus is the one who can help us overcome obstacles and remove entanglements … perhaps even perform a miracle if we trust in Him correctly. The “gospel” behind this version of the story is: Incorporate Jesus into your life, and He will make it run more smoothly. Your life is what matters, and Jesus is here to help.

Again, I have to admit that I would probably have taken the same tack on this passage a few years ago. That’s before I was introduced to the classical hermeneutic of “law and gospel”. Preaching the law (telling people what they should do to be pleasing to God) is a painful-yet-necessary word for those who aren’t Christians. They need to know why they should repent of their sins, and seek to be forgiven by God. But, for the truly repentant, broken soul – the Christian – what’s needed is not the law, the but comforting assuranceget to work of the gospel: God’s love overwhelms your sin, so that you are at absolute peace with God. This gospel also serves as the greatest motivator to righteous conduct.

John 11 is, as much as any passage in the New Testament, a celebration of the completed work of Jesus – the gospel! To turn this around and use this text to instruct people how they should do their faith (appropriate the life-helps offered by Jesus … not in this passage, but perhaps elsewhere) lays burdens on the lives of believers from which Jesus came to alleviate! And, as we baptize our services in the trappings of contemporary culture, affirming to our world that you aren’t supposed to be like God, but that we and God want to be just like them … we fail to tell unbelievers that what they need most is a repentant heart, not the instructions of a life coach.

I’m so thankful for those who have recently nurtured me in classical understandings of the gospel. I wish I had known these things earlier. I am genuinely sad for the lives I’ve stressed out over the years of overemphasizing “practical application” (the “so what” and “now what”). Lord, in Your mercy, hear my prayer of repentance, and continue to lead me to an authentically redemptive proclamation of the gospel.

– EO

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Christianity and Patriotism

Christianity and Patriotism

The 4th of July is coming. In the life of the church, there is often tension associated with the holiday.

In the U.S.A., most in our congregations are citizens (though there are also immigrants, aliens and sojourners among us). Most of these are proud of their country. In many churches, the expression of that national pride has become a part of Sunday worship celebrations, and even special programming centered around our pride in, love for, and allegiance to the U.S.A.

Some cry foul. Others are ready to tar-and-feather you if you don’t enter in.

Recently, John Piper shared his thoughts about Christianity and Patriotism in an online podcast. I’d like to share my thoughts in relation to Piper’s in an attempt to set an appropriate course for churches.*

Piper points out that, in many churches, our Fourth of July celebrations seem “uninformed, unshaped by the radical nature of the gospel, and out of proportion to the relationship between America and the kingdom of Christ.” This is our big question: What is that relationship?

Piper: “We are pilgrims, sojourners, refugees, exiles in all of those. Our first identity is with the King of the universe, not any country or nationality or political party or governmental regime. America is emphatically not our primary home or primary identity. That should be spoken.”

So far, so good. Unfortunately, for many church goers, it is their primary identity.  The Word of God does need to be spoken clearly into these idolatrous hearts, and a call to absolute allegiance to God needs to made. Still, being citizens of the U.S.A. is part of our identity. (I appreciate Piper using the the words “first” and “primary” above.)

Where I would veer away from Piper’s thinking is in his choosing to make such a vigorous demarcation between allegiance to God and allegiance to the state. “We swear absolute allegiance to him and to no one and nothing else. All other commitments are relativized … All of those authorities are subordinate and secondary to the authority of Christ and, therefore, all submission is qualified.” Piper draws a bold line between Christ as Lord and all other lordships.

ref-luthertours.jpgBut this approach and this rhetoric fails to give weight to the Biblical truth that the Kingdoms of this world are a divinely ordained extension of the rule and reign of God. For kingship belongs to the Lordand he rules over the nations” (Ps. 22:28). “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ” (Rev. 11:15). And, the extension of God’s rule on the planet is delivered through human governments. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God … he is God’s servant for your good … he is the servant of God … the authorities are ministers of God … Pay to all what is owed to them … respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Rom. 13:1-7).

In short we have the tendency to pit God’s rule against the rule of governments — when the reality is that the state is an extension of God’s rule. This governance can and should be respected and honored by the church.

(I think it’s obvious, but I’ll say it anyway — this is true not just for the U.S.A., but for any believer in any country. This can be especially difficult when a government is plagued by dysfunction and injustice. Nonetheless, it is truth that calls all Christians to appropriate, faith-filled, disciple-like action.)

So, if I might take the liberty of reshaping Piper’s previous paragraph: “We swear absolute allegiance to him, and our allegiance to our country is an extension of our acknowledgement of His rule. All other commitments are contained in this over-arching commitment to God … All of those authorities, though subordinate, needn’t be considered “secondary” to the authority of Christ, but part of it. Therefore, all submission needn’t be qualified, except in instances when disobedience to Christ is mandated.

As to the question of patriotism in worship, I agree with Piper when he says “any pledge of allegiance –  like the one to the American flag – does not belong in a worship service.” But I disagree with his assessment that, when these emphases on country take place, “what is being highlighted and foregrounded is an earthly allegiance.” Again, this doesn’t need to be the case, and this hard line doesn’t need to be drawn. God’s rule through the Spirit/Word/gospel and His rule through governments can be celebrated together. But it’s God’s rule. And because it’s God we celebrate, the emblem of a particular state should not be the icon for our worship.

I had the privilege of serving as a pastor in The Netherlands. Needless to say, we didn’t celebrate the Fourth of July! More to the point, we didn’t celebrate specific national governances, not even that of the Dutch. You see, it was a strikingly international community. To celebrate one sister’s nation would make us feel obliged us to celebrate the nation of every brother and sister in the church. (Churches in the Southwest, where I live now, would probably not think of having a special September 16th service to celebrate Mexican Independence Day — even though many aliens and immigrants are a part of our number.)

Instead, we can take a day to focus on and celebrate the Lordship of Christ, which He exercises through all nations, including our own.

– EO

These thoughts are influenced by Martin Luther’s theology of the two realms/kingdoms, and by a desire to see these ideas once again fleshed out in the life of local churches, particularly Lutheran churches.

 

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The Day the Republican Party Lost Me

MarqueeI was bemoaning U.S. politics with some old friends, one of whom has been a pastor and mentor in my life for years. He made the comment that, perhaps, the current political environment may prompt Evangelical Christians in the United States to finally disassociate themselves with party politics, and assume our Biblical posture as “aliens and strangers” in this land (1 Pet. 2:11). His idea sounded pure, freeing, liberating.

I’m not sure about anyone else, but I’ve made the leap.

I have been a registered republican for decades, with varying levels of loyalty. The main reason I identify with Republicans has been the issue of abortion. I continue to believe that our culture’s practice of removing vital fetuses is a colossal holocaust. I don’t think anyone, including a mother, should be granted the choice to terminate their innocent, vulnerable lives. I will always vote for pro-life legislation.

I also have always championed bigger freedoms, and smaller government. I want federal and state government to make as few decisions about my personal life as possible. I get tense when values are inflicted on me by politicians, especially in a land that claims to applaud individual liberties. Less legislation, less manipulation.politicsI’ve voted Republican for a long time. The primary

But something has always attracted me to the Democrats. It seems that they really want to make life better for people. I seldom think they’re answers are good ones — but I appreciate the heart. The Bernie Sanders campaign is a good example: Sanders wants to see problems fixed, and wants to take our collective wealth and redistribute it for a broader common good. Again, I like the heart … but the policy?

Republicans seldom have policy-related answers to the struggles of our American human condition – because they are committed to have as few policy-related initiatives as possible. Democrats scream, “where are your answers, Republicans?” Republicans just don’t like the assumption behind the question – that government needs to answer questions. Their primary policy MO is no policy. Freedom … the free market, the free will of the benevolent, the free thinking of people free of unnecessary tax burdens … free Cronkitepeople will choose to advance economics, care for their neighbors, and, in general, live well.

But, I just don’t believe this anymore. As a Christian, I have always believed that man is broken. Our inclination isn’t good, but rather “the wickedness of man [is] great in the earth …every intention of the thoughts of his heart [is] only evil continually” (Gen. 6:6). Man, left to himself, murders his brother, builds the Tower of Babel, breaks the laws of God, and crucifies Jesus. For our race to bank on freedom as our panacea for all of our problems … well, let’s just say it is Biblically unwise.

LoweryOur country is also less God-informed than ever. Faith in God, whether is has been genuine or just legalistic ethicism, had provided a moral center for our culture in decades past. But that is clearly eroding. The freedom we practice now is increasingly godless  … on both sides of the aisle.

So … a profoundly secular, progressive Democratic party wants to “fix” things on the basis of its own, collective, godless wisdom. I don’t like those Babel-like prospects. But an increasingly worldly Republican party  (including masses of poorly-discipled church attenders who have cashed in a robust Christian theology for two-dimensional talk-radio tweets) appears to me to be cloaking its selfishness in flags and eagles. I never hear a Republican clamoring for lower taxes so that we can give more to the poor. No, it’s about me – my freedom, my money, my guns, my health care, my license.

As God has always said, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but that way leads to death” (Prov. 14:12). Democrats say “we know the way we should all live.” I don’t share their confidence. Republicans say, “left alone, we’ll choose good.” I don’t believe that for a second.

1902345-Godless-America-0Issue by issue? Sometimes I think we need government intervention. At other times, I think the best thing is for government to get out of the way. But, regarding the great issue facing our country, I’m afraid it cannot be answered by either party. It’s our godlessness. Though more than two thirds of our population believe in god, (s)he has become a side dish, no longer central to the ways we think or live.

Then, bring in the current election phenomena. Any party that could possibly let Hillary Clinton be its nominee? I wouldn’t go there. Any party that could possibly let Donald Trump secure its nomination? I couldn’t go there.

I will still care about politics. I will still vote. But labels … well, they haven’t fit for a long time, but current circumstances have disqualified them all. I guess that makes me “an independent.” A pro-life, small government, bleeding heart independent, praying that my country will somehow miraculously find its way back into the blessing of God in the years ahead.

– EO

 

 

 

 

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Meet J. Gresham Machen

Meet John Gresham Machenjgmpaint

– by Joel Sienkiewicz
John Gresham Machen was an influential theologian who lived during the eve of modernism. He not only made a significant impact during his time against many of the “heresies” of his day, but his work also has had lasting significance even to this day. Machen is most famous for his book Christianity and Liberalism. and the establishment of Westminster Seminary.

He was born to Arthur Machen and Mary Gresham in Baltimore in the year of 1881. Both of his parents were religious but differed in their expression – his father was an Episcopalian, and his mother a Presbyterian. Throughout John’s upbringing he was the recipient of significant religious influence. His mother taught him the Westminster Catechism as he was growing up, and his family regularly attended Franklin Street Presbyterian Church together.

jgmMachen had a somewhat privileged upbringing. His father was an influential lawyer, and secured for him a quality, private education at Johns Hopkins University. In 1902, after graduating from Johns Hopkins, he chose to attend Princeton Seminary, where he simultaneously pursued a Master of Divinity and a masters degree in Philosophy.

Upon graduating, Machen joined the Princeton Seminary staff as a scholar and lecturer. He was hesitant, but agreed to join the staff on the condition that he would not have to sign a statement of faith. Throughout Machen’s theological education he was heavily influenced by B. B. Warfield, whom he called “the greatest man he had ever met.”

While teaching at Princeton the First World War broke out. Instead of serving as a soldier, Machen chose to serve in an unconventional way – by volunteering with the YMCA.

x and LAfter the war, he returned to Princeton Seminary and continued his work. By this time, he began to gain a reputation for being one of the few theologians who was able to debate the rising modernist ideas within the Christian world. In doing this, Machen composed two of his most famous works. The first one was called The Origin of Paul’s Religion, composed in order to combat the idea of modernist theologians that Paul the Apostle had fundamentally changed the religion that was handed down to him by Jesus. His other work, Christianity and Liberalism, aimed at critiquing the basic ideas of theological liberalism and showing the vast distance this theology had traversed from true Christianity.

While at Princeton Seminary there was a big controversy between the Modernists and the Fundamentalists. This controversy occurred not only in academic institutions, but also in most denominations, including his own Presbyterian church. The Modernists were trying to reinterpret and reshape many of Christianity’s foundational doctines in order to reconcile them with modern practices and the modern world view. The Fundamentalists were the more conservative thinkers who were standing up for more traditional views of Christian doctrine. Machen fell within the camp of the Fundamentalists.

Photo opposite page 30 in the Catalogue of Westminster Theological Seminary, 1929-30.

In the end, the conflict proved to be irreconcilable, resulting in Machen and several other Fundamentalists leaving the Presbyterian denomination and starting the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Machen also left Princeton Seminary and founded Westminster Seminary, a school that is still functioning to this day.

In the end, Machn is best known for his engagement within the Fundamentalist/Modernist controvery. His legacy lives on through his writings, as well has through the flourishing of Westminster Seminary.

 

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Meet G. K. Chesterton

Meet G.K. Chesterton

– by Shane Fuller

GK 3“He said something about everything and he said it better than anyone else.”

Gilbert Keith Chesterton, who is commonly and most often referred to as G. K. Chesterton, was born in 1874 and lived until 1936. He would go down as one of the best writers in the 20th Century.

He was born in London and educated at St. Paul’s. Surprisingly, Chesterton never attended college, but went to art school instead. He began writing when, as an art student, he was asked to contribute a few articles to an art magazine where he critiqued some new pieces. From those humble beginnings, Chesterton would go on to write over 100 of his own books, while contributing to over 200 more. He also wrote hundreds of poems, five plays, five novels, nearly 200 short stories. Chesterton, who considered himself more of a journalist than a writer, also wrote weekly columns for 43 years of his life. Few in history have been such prolific authors…and he didn’t start publishing until 1900.

Chesterton had a spouse who anchored his personality, writing, lifestyle, diet, and many other things. His wife, Frances, seems to have single-handedly kept G. K. on track with his personal schedule. One letter even has Chesterton writing to his wife about where he was, and asking her where he ought to be instead.

He was as amazing a character as any of his fictional creations. G. K. was over six feet tall, and weighed nearly 300 pounds. He wore a cape and a crumpled top hat. Almost every picture that exists of G. K. has him sporting a mustache and glasses. He
Quotation-G-K-Chesterton-religion-thankful-Meetville-Quotes-139598would commonly walk with a cane, and nearly always kept a cigar in his mouth. He was incredibly large, loud and friendly, often was bellowing out laughs through his cigar and mustache.

Chesterton continues to have the same type of impact on his world as he did with his contemporaries. For example, C.S. Lewis, who was a staunch atheist, was brought to faith through the reading of Chesterton’s little book The Everlasting Man. Another example has a man living in British-ruled India, who became inspired by a Chesteron writing, and through it was led to start a movement, which eventually ended British rule in India The man: Mohandas Gandhi. And if these accounts are not amazing enough, one can simply read the praises that came from other intellectuals of his day: George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Elliot,Dorothy Sayers, and H. G. Welles. Shaw, who had a friendly rivalry with G. K., once described him as “a man of colossal genius”. Elliot affirmed that “Chesterton deserves a permanent claim on our loyalty.”

Perhaps you’re wondering, “why have I not heard much of this Chesterton figure?” One reason may be that he has always been hard to label – either as a man of faith, or a politician. Another may be that he often put forth challenging ideas about controversial topics. For example, Chesterton is famous for arguing the cause of the common man. He was fond of defending the poor, and the family. Chesterton, always a lover of the arts, would also write often of the beauty he found in things that society would not find so beautiful. He defended Christian thought and morals in a day of growting secularism, and championed the Roman Catholic faith in the land of the Church of England. He also wrote regularly against such GK 9things as materialism, scientific determinism, moral relativism, and agnosticism. Since all of these have grown stronger since his day, it makes sense that G. K. and his arguments may have lost favor over the years.

Where does Chesterton fit in the narrative of Church history?

Chesterton began his faith journey in the High Anglican Church. We can certainly be pleased with his role in the conversion of C. S. Lewis. But, well beyond that single instance, Chesterton was publicly bold in his defense of Christian thought. Chesterton began his faith journey in the High Anglican Church, but ultimately converted to Roman Catholicism. But, he preferred to be called “orthodox” (His most widely read book to this day is Orthodoxy, in which Chesterton defends “orthodox” Christian views). From this platform of defending a traditional Christian understanding of truth, Chesteron would argue against the pride and willfulness of modernistic thought. For example, he stated that “the worship of will is the negation of will”. When one lifts up one’s own will as supreme, then one must respond to another’s will with a like deference, saying “do as you will”. This means that “I have no will in the matter” of another — meaning one’s will is acutally negated, and doesn’t matter.

GK 9aHe also defended Christian ideals like fighting for a Biblical anthropology. A popular topic in London during his time was eugenics. Eugenics proposed the termination or sterilization of people with limited mental capacity. Also, leading thinkers in London had begun to think of the poor as a race of people that had failed to produce good offspring. Chesterton was vehemently opposed to these ideas, writing books, essays, and poems in defense of those who were challenged mentally and economically.

GK 8 cathG. K. also wove himself into Christian history through his work as a biographer. In his personal study of Thomas Aquinas, Chesterton skimmed through one book … and then penned what is perhaps the greatest biography written on the man.

As for his conversion to Catholicism, Chesterton’s main reason was the church’s catholicity: He very much enjoyed being a part of something that felt bigger than him, and his country, and his century. Chesterton didn’t consider himself a child of his age, but instead a product of the truths and traditions that had survived the centuries before him.

As for this sort of thinking, who can blame him?

 

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