Archive | November, 2011

Mike Licona and RisenJesus.com

Ed Komoszewski introduced me to Mike Licona a few years ago. Since then, I have been a Liconaite. His passion for and defense of the central truths of the Christian faith are exemplified not only by his passion for the issue, a love for Christ, and his scholarship, but a committment to honesty and integrity. Below is an ad for Mike’s ministry Risen Jesus. This is a great way to invest in the Kingdom. Here is his ministry plan.

BTW: I have been talking with Mike about blogging with Parchment and Pen. Expect to see more of him really soon!

The First Christmas: Myths and Realities

I. A Reality Check

Here’s a true-false quiz:

1. Mary and Joseph had to travel as quickly as possible to Bethlehem because Mary could have given birth at any moment.
2. The Bethlehem innkeeper was fully booked, and so Mary had to give birth to Jesus in the barn/stall nearby/behind the inn.
3. Initially, this experience must have been frightening and lonely for Mary and Joseph.
4. “The little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.”
5. The angels who appeared to the shepherds had wings.

How’d you do on the quiz? Check your answers below. (Some of these thoughts are taken from a talk I gave on what really happened that first Christmas.)

Marcus Borg, a member of the liberal Jesus Seminar, claims that the Gospels are in serious conflict: Jesus was born “in a stable” in Luke but in a home in Matthew (Marcus Borg [and N.T. Wright], The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions [San Francisco: HarperSF, 1999], 180). As it turns out, this isn’t really a conflict at all. Contrary to the traditional Christmas story, Jesus was indeed born in a home! Borg’s claim is based on the notable King James Version’s mistranslation of Luke 2:7: “there was no room for them in the inn.” But the KJV rendering goes against Luke’s in(n)tention.

Over the centuries, the Christmas story has been re-cast and romanticized into a kind of Christian “mythology.” But what do the Scriptures really tell us about Jesus’ birth?

1. There would have been no inns in a backwater town like Bethlehem. They would be found along main roads or in cities.

2. The word for inn (katalyma) is the same one as the “guest room (of a private home)” mentioned in Mk. 14:14 and Lk. 22:11—the room where the last supper was eaten.

Mark 14:13-15: “Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him; and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is My *guest room* [katalyma] in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”’ And he himself will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; prepare for us there.” Continue Reading →

Our Daily Truth: Stop Trying to be Someone Else

I know of the head of a particular ministry who spends all his time looking at what others are doing. If he finds someone who is successfully doing something new, he seeks to replicate it. There is no sense of celebration for the other’s success and no way he is going to point his audience to another ministry. His only thought is on what he can do to replicate the ideas of “his rival” in hopes of gaining a portion of their success.

“This person has a blog. I need a blog.”

“This person no longer wears a coat and tie. I am no longer going to wear a coat and tie.”

“This person writes books. I better write a book.”

“This person has a Ph.D. I guess I need one. ”

“This person got a tattoo. I need a tattoo.”

“This person spoke about sex during the sermon. I guess I had better speak on the subject.”

“This person tweets and has a podcast. I don’t know what either of these are, but I suppose I better tweet and podcast too.”

Simply put, there are people who are born, bred, and gifted to stay on the bleeding edge of things, always cutting new grain and finding an audience along the way. But most of us are not like that. Most of us are going to fumble the ball every time we try to catch others’ passes.

Chuck Swindoll once told me to be myself. “Don’t waste your time trying to be someone who you are not. I did it for years and regret it all. It took me a long time to quit imitating others and allow the Lord to work through me, the way he made me.”

(Ironically, I have spent a lot of time trying to be like Chuck Swindoll!)

I think so many of us waste so much time trying to be someone we are not. We try to mimic the success of others. Our eyes are continually on what others are doing, not on what God has for us to do. It is easy to do. It is easy to justify. It is easy to be envious of others, even in ministry – especially in ministry.

Sometimes we look to other churches. Jealousy wells up within us as “success” is seen. At this point, we often go one of two ways, both of them wrong. We either try to do exactly what they are doing and mimic their success, or we spend our time criticizing their methods. Rarely do we celebrate with them. Rarely do we congratulate them. Rarely are we content where God has us.

Why do we do this? Why can’t we just be ourselves?

You are in no better place than when you are spending your time being yourself. Sure, there are many things that you can do to improve and make your ministry more effective. But when your effectiveness is determined by a comparison to others, you have dropped the ball. When your imitation of others is forced and unnatural, you are denying the unique way that God made you. God wants to use you, not you as a clone of someone else.

Remember, the body of Christ is made up of many parts. The eye is not the ear. The hand is not the foot. And you are not someone else. Believe it or not, this is intentional.

Can Heretics Be Saved? Or “Aren’t We All Saved Heretics?”

I remember in seminary, sitting under Dr. John Hannah. He was out of this world (although some would say, “No, Michael, you mean ‘out to lunch’!”). Students would purchase a special “Hannah quote book” just to write down the “Hannahisms.” There were so many. The things he would say… The paradigms he would cause you to question… The language he would use! Let’s just say this: everything was unexpected. One day during class, we were talking about a certain heretic in church history. As a green student of theology, all I knew was that I hated heretics. Whoever was the “heretic” of the day, he was the anti-hero. The self-righteous theologian in me was glad that he was burning in hell. However, Hannah said something that did not fit in my puzzle. He suggested (even implied?) that this certain heretic would be in heaven. A heretic in heaven? He said that this heretic was “just doing the best he could.” He said he loved Jesus! What? Quickly, the students raised their hands. “Ummm…do you mean that this heretic was saved?”

Believe it or not, I have been called a heretic many times. The charges vary. One time it was simply because I did not believe someone else was a heretic! (In this case, I think it was Rick Warren). Don’t worry too much. I have about twelve more layers of skin than I used to have. Whether it has been my view of Bible, the Trinity, my stance on Roman Catholics and their eternal destiny, or my understanding of Christian freedom, I get in trouble with someone. To someone, I am always a heretic. Don’t get smug. So are you! Sometimes it will be because people think you are too liberal. Sometimes they will think you are too conservative. I have even had my orthodoxy questioned because of my sympathy for those who doubt their faith. There are always going to be people to the left of you and to the right of you. There are always going to be those people who think your beliefs and teachings are destructive. There are always going to be people who believe you are doing more harm than good. There are always going to be people who think you are a heretic.

But here is my question today: How does one determine if someone is a heretic? What is a heretic anyway? And, most importantly, can a heretic be saved?

The word “heretic” comes from the Greek hairetikos. It speaks of causing divisions. It is used in Titus 3:10 for those who divisively fracture the church. Throughout church history, it became a word used to describe those who divided the church due to doctrinal departures.

Here is a definition of heretic/heresy that I have used elsewhere: “A taught opinion, belief, or doctrine that is in variance to an established cardinal Christian belief. In Christianity, a heresy can have a historic value (more serious) or traditional value (less serious). In other words, a belief can be considered heretical to Baptists (e.g. paedeobaptism), but it is not heretical in the historic sense. To be a historic heresy, it would have to be in variance to that which has been believed by the majority of Christians of all places and all times and touch on a cardinal issue (e.g. the deity of Christ).”

And a heresy is not just an error. It is more serious than that. The puritan writer Thomas Adams distinguishes between mere error and heresy: Continue Reading →

Theology Unplugged: Why I Am/Not Charismatic, Part 17

Join C. Michael Patton, Tim Kimberley, Sam Storms and J.J. Seid as they discuss issues surrounding spiritual gifts.

Why Do We Love C.S. Lewis and Hate Rob Bell?

Here at the Credo House in Edmond Oklahoma, Tim Kimberley (@pastortimk) and I are teaching a series on the top theologians of church history on Tuesday nights. I have insisted that C.S. Lewis be part of the mix due to his abiding theological influence on so many people today. Though he is called a “lay” theologian by many, in my mind, he is nothing less than a theological giant due to his contributions to apologetics at the academic and popular levels. (After all, apologetics is a subset of theology and C.S. Lewis, though a professor of literature, did teach philosophy for two years at Oxford!) We taught to a packed house with people sitting on the floor. Why? Because they all love C.S. Lewis. When asked how many had read C.S. Lewis, just about every hand in Credo went up. He is an evangelical hero who, theologically speaking, may not make the cut of evangelicalism today. Truthfully, I don’t think he ever liked the label himself. But he is loved by evangelicals nonetheless. In fact, he is loved across denominational and traditional lines. Christianity Today named Lewis’ Mere Christianity as the most influential book of the 20th century. Another evangelical magazine, Christian History, named him among the top ten most influential Christians of the 20th century. Whether you are an emerger or an evangelical, Baptist or Presbyterian, a cessationist or continuationist, a Calvinist or an Arminian (not that all of these are mutually exclusive), C.S. Lewis is not only kosher, but staple. In fact, even Pope John Paul II said that Lewis’ The Four Loves was one of his favorite books!

However, C.S. Lewis was not without “issues” that cause many to scratch their heads. Practically, he liked to smoke a pipe and cigarettes, and frequently enjoyed a beer at his bi-weekly “Inklings” meetings (and you know how bent out of shape people can get over those things!). Theologically, there is some stuff people try to sweep under the rug as well. In fact, though I say C.S. Lewis is loved by all, I do remember walking into church one day years ago. They were giving away a bunch of the “overstock” books from the library. I saw a church elder throwing away a lot of books as well. They were all C.S. Lewis! When I inquired about his odd blasphemous actions, he said that C.S. Lewis was a heretic because he did not believe in inerrancy. While this is something of an extreme example, I think it is important to realize that not everyone likes C.S. Lewis. Almost everyone, but not all. Why? Because he had some “non-evangelical” leanings. Besides not believing in inerrancy, he also believed in the theory of evolution, denied substitutionary atonement in favor of a “ransom to Satan,” bordered on a Pelagian idea of human freedom, seemed to advocate baptismal regeneration, and regularly prayed for the dead. To top it all off, he held out hope for the destiny of the unevangelized, believing that Christ might save them outside of direct knowledge of him (inclusivism). With all of these foibles, I seriously doubt any evangelical church would take a second look at his resume were he to apply for a pastorate at their church today. In fact, this list alone would be enough for many to call him a heretic. However, we still love him. We still read him. We still defend him. We still hand out his books by the dozens to friends and family who are struggling with their faith. This man who had his Christianity affirmed by Dr. Bob Jones but questioned by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is beloved by just about everyone, making him off-limits for serious criticism. Why?

Consider another man: Rob Bell. From what I have read and seen, he seems to have far fewer theological problems than C.S. Lewis. In fact, on paper, he is probably more evangelical than C.S. Lewis. He might even make it through the interview process at most evangelical churches. He, like Lewis, has written many works about the Christian faith. His latest book, Love Wins, is a runaway bestseller. However, evangelicals don’t like Rob Bell. He is not beloved. His writings are not handed out like tracts, except for in niche groups. He does not have broad Christian appeal. In fact, he may be the most hated Christian author alive (at least in some circles). Why? Well, on the tip of your tongue is this: because he believes in universalism (the idea that all will be saved). Well, maybe not “believes,” but he does hold out hope for such. Rob Bell supporters often appeal to C.S. Lewis, stating that he believed similar stuff as Rob Bell (in as far as holding out hope for unbelievers relates to inclusivism). In fact, Rob Bell seems to love and be inspired by C.S. Lewis in his thoughts and ideas. Continue Reading →

Yes, We Should Follow ‘Man’…But ‘Man’ With Understanding

(Lisa Robinson)

I have encountered an expression on a number of occasions that goes something like this…”I don’t follow man, only God”  Sometimes there might be “denominations” thrown in, to emphasize that following God does not mean following denominations.  Of course, that is the sentiment behind not following ‘man’.  By man, I don’t mean male but anyone that represents Christianity.  I believe the idea behind this thought, is that people have opinions about Christianity or about what the bible says.  It does seem more spiritual to say that one does not follow such opinions but only relies on what the bible says.  Not only is this thought counterproductive to real learning,  it is antithetical to Christianity.

Throughout the pages of scripture, God placed people in positions from which His people should take cues, instruction and learn from.  There was Moses and Joshua, the judges, the kings and the prophets.  Jesus Himself, instructed his disciples to make disciples and teach them everything He commanded.  We see a beautiful portrait of this in the early kernels of the Church as new converts sat under the apostles teaching (Acts 2:42).  Paul commended Christians under his tutelage to follow him as he followed Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).   He gave instruction for leadership to carry on the apostolic witness in the teaching of Christ.  This necessarily comes with the expectation that Christians must follow man in order to understand Christ.

To say that we don’t follow man, is the same as indicating we don’t need teachers and we can arbitrarily decide what is best for ourselves.   It is an attitude that we learn according to our own private interpretations, that says I only need me and my bible since the Holy Spirit will give the interpretation.  However, this contradicts the fact that God has always given his word to His people, organized to learn from each other.  An examination of Ephesians 4, indicates that the body of Christ, united by Spirit baptism, contribute to each other’s growth under the tutelage of leaders.  The same goes for 1 Corinthians 12.  We must rely on others as each one contributes, and learning from others is a part of the package.

The reality is that unless we live in complete isolation, it is a false statement to say that we follow no one.  There is usually someone or a group of someone’s influencing our bible interpretations.  I actually find it ironic when the ones who insist on not following ‘man’, are being influenced by like-minded thinkers who have listened to their brand of interpretation.  The danger here is that private interpretations, and particularly ones that have rejected the historic witness of the faith for something “new”, can create interpretations and biases in such away that removes Christian faith from its very foundation Continue Reading →