Archive | October, 2013

Elder Questions: Miscarriage

I’m currently in a six month eldership process at my local church. This series is taken from questions asked during the process.

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How would you respond to a couple at your church that just miscarried 9 weeks into pregnancy? What scriptures would you take them to?

I don’t know exactly what I would do or say until I’m in the moment and hopefully being led by the Holy Spirit. More than likely, however, I would say very little and there’s a good chance I might not read any scripture if the moment is really fresh. I would start by simply telling them that I’m so sorry this has happened. I would let them know that I love them and I’m so sorry. I’d ask them if there’s anything I can do to help them out during this time. Since a DNC can be expensive I’d probably try to come up with some money to give them in a simple card. If it seems right I’d ask them if I could pray a simple prayer for God’s hand to carry them through this time. That’s it. I think very rarely do people want to “be taken to certain scriptures.” If I did happen to go to scripture it would probably be one of the Psalms of lamentation.

If they do start asking biblical questions then I’d try to find out what they’re thinking before going in any pre-determined direction. They could be wondering if their child is in heaven. They could be wondering if God is punishing them for living together before they were married. They could be wondering if God is a good God. The sky is the limit in a situation like this but I would hopefully be able to direct them to the loving heart of God, their security in Christ (if they are in Him), all trying to be careful not to cut short the rightful time to mourn. In situations like this I try to say less and focus most on just being there and being available over the coming days, weeks and months where thoughts and feelings can go in many directions including anger and even struggling to stay close to your spouse as you grieve differently.

I would hope to be prepared to go with them down any biblical path they would like to discuss but I think a lot of pain can be caused if I go into that conversation with any pre-arranged group of verses I want to communicate. I want to serve them and hopefully I will be sensitive to the Spirit regarding how to best love them in such a sad time.

How would you respond to the same question? Please comment below to be of help to the Body of Christ.

Basic Hermeneutical Principles

It is both the privilege and responsibility of every Christian to interpret the Bible for himself/herself. This principle of private interpretation, based on the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, was articulated by Martin Luther in the 16th century. The response of the Roman Catholic Church was as follows:

“To check unbridled spirits it [the Council of Trent] decrees that no one, relying on his own judgment shall in matters of faith and morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, distorting the Holy Scriptures in accordance with his own conceptions presume to interpret them contrary to that sense which Holy Mother Church to whom it belongs to judge of their true sense and interpretation has held or holds or even contrary to the unanimous teaching of the Fathers, even though such interpretations should never at any time be published.”

According to the RCC, it is neither the right nor the responsibility of any individual Christian to interpret the Bible and declare its meaning. That right ultimately rests with the teaching office (the Magisterium) of the RCC.

The above quotation, however, reflects several misconceptions concerning the Protestant principle of private interpretation:

  1. Private interpretation does not mean that we should rely solely on our own judgments, ignoring the insights and research of others;
  2. Private interpretation does not mean that we have the right to “distort” the Bible in accordance with our own conceptions;
  3. Private interpretation does not mean that we can ignore the history of interpretation in the church.

At the same time as we exercise our God-given responsibility to interpret the Scriptures, we must be aware of the element of subjectivity that influences all interpretation. Interpreting the Bible is not to be compared to a man looking into a fishbowl, but to a fish in his own fishbowl looking at another fish in his! Some of the factors that affect our objectivity in studying the Bible are:

a. personal prejudice

b. hidden agendas (personal and theological)

c. cultural conditioning

d. historical circumstances

e. socio-economic factors

f. unconscious expectations

g. educational background (the “wet cement” syndrome)

h. personality distinctives

i. occupational pressures

j. pride

k. interpersonal relational background

As we seek to interpret the Scriptures, we must also keep in mind the contributions of the past. Fee and Stuart remind us that,

“Interpretation that aims at, or thrives on, uniqueness, can usually be attributed to pride (an attempt to ‘out clever’ the rest of the world), a false understanding of spirituality (wherein the Bible is full of deep truths waiting to be mined by the spiritually sensitive person with special insight), or vested interests (the need to support a theological bias, especially in dealing with texts that seem to go against that bias). Unique interpretations are usually wrong. This is not to say that the correct understanding of a text may not often seem unique to someone who hears it for the first time. But it is to say that uniqueness is not the aim of our task.”

Our approach to interpretation is called the Grammatical-Historical method. According to the G-H method, the student seeks to ascertain the meaning of a text by an analysis of the simple, direct, ordinary sense of grammatical constructions, with special attention paid to the facts of history, cultural milieu, and literary context.
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Let this Strange Firestorm be a Lesson

Controversy is like a social hemorrhoid that will flare up on a regular basis & need to be cooled and soothed (I almost used the term strange anal fire but I thought better of it).  Some controversies are uglier than others. The worst kind of ugly controversy is the kind that might have been avoided because it wasn’t entirely necessary. Usually the culprit is misunderstanding, failure to define terms, or generally sloppy reactionism. When the internet was set ablaze with the anointing flame of controversy last week over the “Strange Fire” Conference in So-Cal, I had to wonder if this had the makings of one of those misunderstandings and failures to make responsible distinctions.

And in large measure I fear that this was just the case. As the smoke from the temple clears, I think there is a lesson to learn from this. The controversy was not just a quiet charismatic-cessationist stare-down. It was at times noisy and contentious. Names were dropped, reputations put on the line, and personal feelings bruised. Unfortunately there will likely remain some rifts between prominent persons and between prominent churches over the affair. And it may have been avoidable.

The biblical and theological debate about the gifts aside, wisdom demands something from us when it comes to a big public cyber-spat like this one. In this case I humbly submit that discernment requires distinctions. Some distinctions were not made that should have been made. Going forward, here are three things that must be clarified and made distinct on this subject.

 

1. The meaning of “charismatic”

Quick word association: I say “charismatic” you say …

Maybe you think of Robert Tilton with eyes shut tightly and hand raised, asking viewers who need a financial miracle to place their hands on their TV screens. Is that what we mean by that word? For some people it’s anyone who ever lifted a hand during worship. Maybe it’s belief in Holy Spirit baptism (aka “Second Blessing”). Or is it merely non-cessationism?

One thing is for sure, you’d better make clear the meaning you have in mind, and if you’re debating someone about it, you’d better agree between the two of you what precisely you both mean when you use the term. It has been painfully obvious to me in the brief eruption of attention on this issue that people are using the term differently. Some of them mean merely those whose theological position is not cessationism. Others seem to mean Todd Bentley, Kenneth Copeland, and people spending hours “Holy Ghost glued” to the floor.

Often usage determines meaning, and common or shared usage of a word can alter how we perceive it. Since this word is biblical, it seems most appropriate to recapture, as best we can, its early etymology as at least a starting place for defining it properly. As first year Greek students learn and as footnotes in your Bible may tell you, the word is essentially the word “grace” (“charis”) used in such a way (charisma or charismata) as to denote gracious acts or gifts. The specific use of the word to describe spiritual gifts (mostly in I Cor. 12 and Eph. 4) – and particularly the more extraordinary and supernatural gifts, like miracles, healings, tongues, prophetic words – is responsible for it being used to describe Christians who emphasize those kinds of supernatural gifts of the Spirit.

So far so good, but this still doesn’t help me know whether or not I should use the word only to describe those who believe that the supernatural gifts did not cease (as opposed to “cessationists” who believe that those gifts were for the messianic and apostolic eras and not normative for the church all-time), or whether I should use the word to include things like the prosperity movement, the strange semi-Eastern doctrines about how your words create spiritual realities (the so-called “Word of Faith” movement), and the outlandish “outpourings” that have people spending hours gyrating, fainting, laughing then growling, freezing and seizing.

Like many people, I have seen both the good and the utterly bizarre under this umbrella of “charismatic.” I have attended churches and have known ministers (even in my own family) who are charismatic by identification, of whom I would never say the sorts of things I say about certain televangelists. I’ve met old-school Southern Baptists overseas serving as missionaries who, though they were raised in a non-charismatic church setting, are convinced of supernatural spiritual activity based upon years of experience.

Then again, I’ve attended a charismatic service where the so-called preacher reads one verse from Isaiah (31:4 in case you need an idea for Sunday) about how God speaks as a “roaring lion” and then proceeds to lead the congregation in 45 minutes of “roaring in the Spirit.” A simplistic approach won’t do. There are charismatic Roman Catholics whose language and church life bears little resemblance to what you would find at the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church (as it used to be called). When debates on cessationism broke out in the seminary classes I attended long ago, the mostly Southern Baptist students were very much split on the issue.

It may well be that we cannot presume to know what another person hears in the word “charismatic”, which means that we have to make the minimal effort of finding out and negotiating a definition that we can all understand. Even if I and an opponent agree to define the word differently, each of us will at least know what the other person is meaning when he or she uses the word.

2. “Charismatic” vs. the Prosperity and/or Word-Faith & Otherwise Whack-job Televangelists

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What Does it Mean to Be Charismatic?

Many within evangelical circles seem to have failed to recognize how influential and growing the charismatic movement is these days among the most theologically astute. By “theologically astute,” I mean that this new breed of charismatics is thoroughly evangelical, orthodox, and Christ-centered. They hold Scripture as the final authority and do not allow the controversial gifts such as tongues, healings, and prophecy to steal their focus. When these gifts are practiced, they are done so with order and intentionality – or not at all.  I call this the “fourth wave” of charismatics and not only are these charismatics biblically and theologically driven, a large portion of them are Reformed Calvinists. Agree with them or not, all one has to do is look at the Acts 29 Network – a transdenominational, church-planting network – and see what an impact they are having.

Though I am not charismatic, I am excited about the popularity of this “fourth wave.” Why? Because they have brought so much balance. They have caused many of us (who formerly wrote off all charismatics as Christianity’s “nut jobs”) to seriously consider, for the first time, the continuationist theology and biblical exegesis that provide the backbone to the movement. Credit pastors like John Piper, Matt Chandler, Mark Driscoll, and Sam Storms, along with scholars such as J.P. Moreland, Craig Keener, Wayne Grudem, and D.A. Carson for so much of this. And, like it or not, most of these men are far more well-known and popular than the fading “cessationists” (non-charismatics) who went before them (Chuck Swindoll, R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Hank Hanegraaff, etc.), especially among the younger generation of evangelicals. It is hard to ignore such a growing movement within evangelicalism. It seems now that just about every scholar I talk to is either a continuationist or a wannabe continuationist. Hardly ever do I connect with those who find the old-line cessationists’ arguments persuasive anymore (just in the last few months I have talked to Gary Habermas, Craig Blomberg, Mike Licona, and Paul Copan, who all shared the same thoughts). And Dan Wallace, while not a continuationist, has not been silent about his beliefs that cessationists’ arguments can and have led to bad places. Things have indeed changed.

Nevertheless, it is still difficult to know who is and who is not a charismatic due to the fact that most of us don’t know what the term means. We use words like cessationism, continuationism, and charismatic. When I associate the term “charismatic” with Christians, six primary things come to mind. Any or all of these could be present in my thinking:

1. Unusual attention given to the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer

2. The tendency to seek and expect miraculous healings

3. The tendency to seek and expect direct prophetic communication from God (dreams, visions, experiences, personal encounters, etc.)

4. Unusual attention given to the presence of demonic activity in the world

5. Very  expressive worship

6. Belief in the continuation of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit Continue Reading →

Theology Unplugged: Church (Part 2) – Local vs. Universal

Join Michael Patton, Tim Kimberley, JJ Seid and Sam Storms as they continue their new series on the Church. This is a topic hotly debated today. What really does it take to be a church? Can three people meet at a coffee shop and call themselves a church? Do churches need to have elders? What about an online church?

There are so many questions being asked today about the Church in the 21st century. This series seeks to dive into the prominent issues of Ecclesiology (the study of the Church).

Theology Unplugged: Video Edition is available for the first time to Credo House Members. You can now listen AND WATCH as Michael, Tim, Sam and JJ dive into issues of theology. Grow in your faith, learn theology, and have a good time. Try Membership risk free! If you don’t love it as much as us you can cancel at any time

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What if My Children Are Not Elect?

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An email came into the Credo House today containing this question:

I’m wrestling with Calvin right now and as a parent I have hit a wall…What if my kids aren’t elect? The idea sickens me but it has to be possible. I have a hard time just shrugging that off and saying that it is to God’s glory.

What follows is my response for the sake of processing the topic for yourself:

Thanks for contacting the Credo House. I have 3 precious children and I am personally a Calvinist so please know that I’m not responding to you from a purely intellectual standpoint.

Taking a step back from this particular issue, I think we would all agree with the popular saying that, “God has no grandchildren.” God only has children. No one gets into heaven because they were related to people who were Christians. Even the most ardent Calvinist and the most ardent Arminian would agree that each individual must come to Jesus on their own. So there cannot be any absolute guarantee that all children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, etc… of all Christians will go to heaven. If this were true then the entire world would probably be a Christian. The Bible is full of statements where every person must consciously believe in Jesus to have eternal life (John 3:16).

If someone tries to defend the “all children of Christians go to heaven” position there aren’t too many verses along these lines. One verse they could point to is the Proverb of training up a child and they won’t depart. This verse, however, needs to be kept in the Genre of Proverbs. Proverbs are statements to make us wise. Proverbs are generally true but shouldn’t be considered an absolute certainty.

For example, if I put 20% of my paycheck in savings and I’m careful to spend less than I make it is wise to think that I should be financially stable. It is a generally true statement. My car could break down, my house could flood in a way that insurance refuses to pay and I could have someone steal my identity and ruin my credit scores. The Proverb is still true. Although I perfectly followed the accurate Proverb, I can still be in financial shambles. So pointing to a proverb as a magical formula is violating the rules for interpreting the Genre. The Bible is made up of many Genres. Poetry is interpreted very differently from narrative (i.e., a woman’s neck being a mighty tower). We have to keep Proverbs inside it’s Genre.

Getting back to the issue at hand, how does a Calvinist cope with kids who might not love Jesus? First, I pray for them until I am blue in the face. Or at least that is my desire. I pray they would come to love Jesus as authentically and passionately as my wife and I do. My wife started praying for the salvation of our kids before they were even a twinkle in her eye.

For instance, when pastor Matt Chandler thought he was dying from a cancerous brain tumor, he realized the greatest thing he could do for his infant daughter is to devote the remaining energy he has to praying for her salvation and her future walk with Jesus.

Secondly, my wife and I are always trying to tell our kids about Jesus and hopefully build in them an authentic love for and desire for Jesus. Although Calvinists believe that no one comes to the Father unless they are drawn, Calvinists never know who those people are. Calvinists don’t have a copy of the book of Life. As Spurgeon said we pray knowing it depends fully on God, but we share as if it depends fully on us.
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Beware of Images that Make You Look More Pathetic than Cool

zoolanderquoteWhen did we make it our obsession to be liked by everyone so that we go out of our way to project images that will please them? I speak not of the youngsters here. I’m talking about grown people who, like shallow adolescents with feeble self-esteem, take special pains to present images of themselves (their views, priorities, attitudes) that conform slavishly to the latest trends of a fickle culture. The nervous pressure to “fit in” or belong to the right crowd has always been a rite of passage and to some extent to be expected in young people. It becomes astronomically more pathetic in adults.

What do I mean? Well we can start with the wider view and then narrow it down to the confines of the Church. In my lifetime thus far a massive ongoing revolution in technology has fueled the advent of a kind of new world. In this world, unlike the one of your grandparents, everybody is easily and readily connected, can communicate at once in real time from any place, and thus is more transparent to the world than ever before.  Cameras catch what we do and say, billions of pieces of our correspondence are recorded minute by minute. The saying that “image is everything” has new meaning now. It’s not just the famous who project and maintain an image. Everybody has some kind of online image, culled from all of their photos, likes, tweets, friends, reports of their daily activities, etc.

This new world has also seen the growth of an unfortunate trend that has usually gone by the name of “political correctness,” referring to heightened sensitivity about what you say and whom it might offend. With image being so important, and every word being recorded, the landscape has become a dangerous minefield. Public persons – esp. politicians – say less than ever, just to avoid stepping on a mine & seeing their reputations blown apart in the instant it takes for the report of it to travel across the world.

What this has to do with being “cool” may not be immediately apparent. You may think of “cool” in more specific ways that date back through the years. I’m being more general about it. Don’t think of “cool” the way the Fonz used it on Happy Days (for those old enough).  Ideas of what is hip or cool (or whatever other word you choose to employ) are usually associated with images, from archetypal images like James Dean to farcical ones like the fictional Zoolander character. But I’m referring to an image we present that is not so much about appearance and style of dress. Think of being cool or hip more simply as being in the flow of current ways of thinking, as not in any way standing out or going against the present prevailing views of things. It is subscribing to or agreeing with all of the positions that all the “cool kids” take on the questions or issues of the day.

This kind of pressure causes people who come from more conservative social backgrounds to repudiate the ways of their upbringing once they’ve entered a social climate in which those ways are deemed old fashioned (or worse). The fear of uncoolness in this regard makes some people fall all over themselves in the desperate attempt to seem like they’re on the right side of things. Witness the regular parade of self-flagellating public figures in the last several years, doing penance by way of a public statement or press conference, forced to undergo the pitiful walk of shame because of something they said in passing, a joke made in poor taste, something overheard by somebody twenty years ago. Imagine what an incredible force of nature is required to cause people of such towering arrogance to humiliate themselves in this way, whether their penance is sincere or not. Alas, the terrifying risk of falling out of favor with the cool crowd is a fate worse than the public shame they are willing to endure.

People in entertainment are especially susceptible to these forces. Notoriously anxious about their images, usually deriving their insatiable drive for success in large part from a vacuous deficit of self-esteem, entertainers are generally the kinds of personality-types with the highest sensitivity for the perception of cool and the degree to which they are measuring up to the standard. Any time I learn of a prominent entertainer (in television, movies, the music industry, etc.) whose views do not square with those of the majority cool crowd, I take note. I typically assume that those individuals, as exceptions to the rule, possess a kind of self-assurance that is rare in their circles.

But why should it be rare? Isn’t part of maturity just the very sort of self-actualization that allows a person to begin to perceive things for him/herself, to make judgments and decisions based on reasons of better substance than social pressure, and to bear the responsibility and consequences for those judgments and decisions, regardless of what social pressure or cultural flack it brings? The great social reformers that command so much respect and nostalgia were of just this sort. They were confident enough in their positions to withstand the withering heat of public backlash. Most of them were completely uncool by the majority opinions of their time.

This should tell us something. The neurosis to be accepted by our culture and to maintain an image that keeps up with current coolness standards is a sign of weakness. It shows us to be people who are not comfortable in our own skin, who cannot make up our own minds and maintain convictions based on the truth or rightness of those convictions (rather than based on social pressures to conform).
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Why John MacArthur May Be Losing His Voice

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It is awfully hard to write a blog expressing disagreement. I particularly have trouble when it comes to naming names. I am not saying it is necessarily wrong, I am just saying I don’t do it well. I would rather keep things generic. On top of all this, it is really hard to write criticism about someone whom I respect so much. John MacArthur, the pastor, teacher, author, and Christian spokesman, is a man of God who has brought so much growth in my life in so many ways. He is an incredible Bible teacher who has changed many people’s lives for the better.

(Of course, when something starts this way, nothing before the “but” really matters, does it?)

But . . .

In his “Strange Fire” conference (that starts today), book (upcoming), and ensuing promotions, John MacArthur has, I believe, acted very irresponsibly and is doing incredible damage to the body of Christ.

It is no secret that John MacArthur pushes the polemic line and causes many of us to be uncomfortable. This is just who he is and I don’t really expect him to change. But this conference is an excessively eristic and unnecessarily divisive crusade against charismatics. And, to be frank, it is even over the top for him.

Now, let me make sure you know: I have not seen the conference or read his book. But I have been reading reviews of the book and viewing the promotional videos, created by John MacArthur, for this anti-charismatic campaign. You can see some of the videos here. It is quite the production. And this is not some passing slip of the tongue that may be excused (as is sometimes the case). This is a full-blown, all-out war he has declared.

Please understand that I am not charismatic. I have often expressed myself as the most “wannabe charismatic” non-charismatic you will ever meet. As well, I used to be as anti-charismatic as anyone you would ever meet. Frankly, charismatics made me angry. I attributed all that went on in charismatic circles to the work of Satan. I called, pleaded, and prayed that charismatics would “convert” to cessationism. And my arguments were, at least to me, persuasive.

However, I changed. God put way too many flies in my ointment for me to remain in this excessively polemic position. I suppose the first fly was “what’s his name” that sat next to me in undergrad. He was a charismatic. Worse than that, he spoke in tongues. I practically had a demon next to me! However, all semester long I observed this guy. I came to realize that though he knew everything I knew, he was still charismatic. What gave? I thought the right answers dispatched would bring home the booty of change. But he remained charismatic and continued to speak in tongues (though not in front of me). On top of this, he seemed to love the same Jesus I loved. On top of that, he seemed to follow the Lord better than me. I came to realize he was a better, more devoted Christian than I was. How could that be, if he had a demon? He was the first fly and this fly worked me over. Continue Reading →