Thinking Out Loud

April 2, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Irresistible Grace

After falling for an April Fool’s Day prank yesterday — hope you enjoyed yesterday’s here — you may be overly cautious today, but as far as we know, everything below is legit.

Despite a submission guide at PARSE that allows writers to post additionally at their own sites, our Leadership Today overlords want you clicking from their site, thereby depriving me of stats. So if you see something you liked, leave a comment here or there; it’s the only way I know. Clicking anything below will take you first to PARSE.

While leaving no Christian internet news stone unturned, Paul Wilkinson also writes at Thinking Out Loud, Christianity 201, and Twitter.

Devouring God's Word

March 16, 2014

When Did Jesus Experience Grace?

coffee time

A conversation joined in progress…

“…she never brings anything to a potluck dinner, they just show up. He never comes to a church work day. They don’t attend Bible studies or prayer meetings.”

“But what’s that to you?”

“I think we’d all like to know if they’re all in.”

“Why do you need to know that?”

“Because it would be nice to have a conversation with them that wasn’t superficial; that wasn’t just all about the weather and the school their kids go to. It would be nice to know where they stand.”

“Why don’t you just ask them? Say, ‘So what’s God been doing in your life lately?’ Or, ‘What’s God been teaching you lately?”

“You can’t just start a conversation cold like that.”

“Maybe not at the grocery store, or with a relative stranger, but this is church, you sit in the row behind them every single week.”

“It would be awkward.”

“So here’s a question for you: Was Jesus ever the recipient of grace?”

“Wait. What?”

“Was Jesus ever the recipient of grace?”

“That’s just wrong.”

“Did Jesus ever experience grace?”

“Grace is for sinners. Jesus was without sin.”

“Are you a sinner?”

“I was a sinner; but now I’ve passed from death into life.”

“Have you ever sinned since? Maybe even this week?”

“Yes. Absolutely. So have you.”

“Does the grace of God meet you in that place?”

“Yes. But that’s different; second Corinthians 5:21 says, ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ He had no sin, or some translations say he knew no sin.”

“You just happen to know that verse?”

“It was on a Christian radio on Friday while I was driving to work.”

“And you memorized the reference?”

“My sister’s birthday is 5/21 so that helped. So when did Jesus experience the grace of God?”

“What is grace?”

“Grace is unmerited favor with God.”

“So the answer is, ‘At his baptism.’ A voice from heaven, the voice of God, says, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”1

“And…”

“He experienced the favor of God even though he hadn’t done anything yet. This was the outset2 of his public ministry. He hadn’t taught anything, he hadn’t called disciples, he hadn’t healed anyone. It was unmerited in the sense that he hadn’t commenced his spiritual work.”

“But he had been alive for 30 years at that point. He always had the favor of God. Luke 2:52 says, ‘Jesus grew…in favor with God and man,’ so this was something he had earned over time.”

“But the people at the Jordan River didn’t know all that. To them, he was simply one of many being baptized for the forgiveness of sin and then God says he is ‘well pleased’ with him. We tend to think of that as more of an end-of-life pronouncement from God, as in ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ 3 In other words, he has already been made a recipient of the favor of God.”

“But that has nothing to do with works, he was well-pleasing to God because of who he was, not according to anything he did. It’s the same with us, like that verse that says, ‘Not by works of righteousness that we have done…but because of his mercy.’4 There’s nothing that we do that ultimately earns us the grace of God. It’s who we are not what we do.”

“Exactly. So maybe it wasn’t grace in the sense of being freed from punishment because Jesus was, as you said, without sin. But it was a favor with God that preceded everything he was about to do over the next three years.”

“Okay. You could think of that way I suppose, but how did we get on this topic again?”

“The family that sits the row in front of you at church…”

“…Oh…yeah…”

“Could it be the grace of God is working and operative in their lives in ways you just don’t realize?”

“…Hmm…Maybe we need to get to know them a little better…”


1 Matthew 3:17

2Harmonization of the Life of Jesus

3Matthew 25:23

4 Titus 3:5

May 31, 2013

Friday Link List

Yesterday we celebrated my birthday, though thankfully not one of those of ’0′ or ’5′ birthdays that make you feel old, today I simply feel older. Summer is much shorter here in the frozen north, but I was able to take a brief swim in two different lakes, though it would be tough to call those short dips swimming. I also spent about six hours of my birthday in the car, though thankfully I didn’t have to drive a single mile of it.  Helps having three licensed drivers in the family, even if two of them are only semi-licensed.

So nothing original today, you’ll have to settle for a few links:

That will have to satisfy for today, and I hope you don’t mind some repeat cartoons.  Incidentally, you may note that some of the blogspot links here are blogspot.ca not blogspot.com; if your blog is one of them, yes you have a different address in Canada, though we’re not sure why; nobody else does this. But then, can anyone fathom anything Google does?  Let me know if ever any of those links don’t work. Also don’t forget, there’s always more happening on my Twitter page.

October 7, 2012

Max Lucado on Grace

“No other religion or philosophy makes such a claim. No other movement implies the living presence of its founder in his followers. Muhammad does not indwell Muslims. Buddha does not inhabit Buddhists. Hugh Hefner does not inhabit the pleasure-seeking hedonist. Influence? Instruct? Entice? Yes. But occupy? No.”

Max Lucado is certainly one of the best loved and most prolific Evangelical authors and storytellers. He moves freely from children’s fiction to adult non-fiction; and from the pages of a book to behind the microphone for his daily 5-minute radio program. Like a perfect photograph with not a hair out of place, he leaves not a word out of place, providing just the right amount of emphasis so you cannot possibly miss the point.

His new book, Grace: More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine (Thomas Nelson) will cover territory familiar to more seasoned Christ-followers, but with Christmas rapidly approaching, it also makes the perfect gift for that member of your extended family, that guy at your workplace, or that neighbor who has been so helpful throughout the year.

This is not a treatise on the doctrine of grace, nor does it probe as deeply as Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace.  Rather, Lucado’s Grace is a celebration of the grace we’ve received; all that Jesus Christ has done for us. It also implicitly challenges us to be agents of grace, to be agents of generosity.  There are no Greek words, no textual criticism, no instances of doctrinal tension, and no complicated charts or diagrams. This is a simple, straight forward panorama of the Christian life which always paint Jesus Christ right into the center of the landscape.

All that said, this is a book that is very light on actual content. Each chapter begins with a full-page title page, followed by a blank page, followed by a page containing three or four short quotations, followed by another page that is mostly blank except for a one paragraph excerpt of the chapter. On top of that, once you reach just past the tw0-thirds mark, you discover that the book has ended, and the balance is a group discussion guide penned by a different author. I’m not a speed-reader, but I finished this book in record time.

One surprise however was Lucado’s transparency in a couple of places. He confesses a love of drinking beer that ended at age 21, only to resurface years later; but because of his rather high profile, he found himself enjoying a nightly cold one in a convenience store parking lot for about a week. So it was the hypocrisy, not the drinking itself, to which he quickly called a halt. In a later chapter though, he admits to attempting to bribe an airline clerk so he can get on to a sold out flight. Sorry if he was your idol; I guess we’re all human, and that’s why we need grace. You can decide if such transparency is an asset or a liability.

So the book is a bit of a conundrum.

Read an excerpt here at Christianity 201.

A copy of  Grace was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Thomas Nelson and Graf-Martin. Available at your local Christian bookstore from Thomas Nelson.

June 2, 2012

Southern Baptists Affirm Non-Calvinist Distinctives

Apparently, this blogger isn’t the only one concerned with the way New Calvinist media — especially books and blogs — are dominating mainstream Evangelicalism.  On Thursday,

“A group of current and former Southern Baptist leaders has signed a statement affirming what they call the “traditional Southern Baptist” understanding of the doctrine of salvation, with the goal of drawing a distinction with the beliefs of “New Calvinism.”

“The statement was posted May 31 at SBCToday.com and includes a preamble and 10 articles…”

The suggestion is that New Calvinism — or what I’ve referred to on this blog as militant Calvinism –  is aggressively infiltrating Baptist thought in order to become the default doctrine.  On a personal level, I’ve seen it happen here in Canada where Baptist bloggers have so strongly identified with the writings of YRR (Young, Restless and Reformed) authors that it defies understanding why they haven’t left their Baptist denomination in favor of the Christian Reformed Church.

The document further asserts that the “vast majority of Southern Baptists are not Calvinists and that they do not want Calvinism to become the standard view in Southern Baptist life.”

“We believe it is time to move beyond Calvinism as a reference point for Baptist soteriology,” the statement reads. Soteriology is the study of the doctrine of salvation.

Each of the 10 articles includes a statement of what the signers affirm and what they deny. For instance, on the article about the Grace of God, the document says:

“We affirm that grace is God’s generous decision to provide salvation for any person by taking all of the initiative in providing atonement, in freely offering the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in uniting the believer to Christ through the Holy Spirit by faith.”

The statement then adds:

“We deny that grace negates the necessity of a free response of faith or that it cannot be resisted. We deny that the response of faith is in any way a meritorious work that earns salvation.”

To read this statement in full, along with a reprint of the original ten-point statement, click here.

For the most part, the Reformed-dominated blogosphere has been somewhat silent on this, with most responses coming from within the Baptist movement where the SBC Today web page is more closely monitored.

Tom Ascol at Founder’s Ministries Blog disagrees with the document and has published three blog posts (so far, more to follow)  to respond. Before expressing concerns in part three however, he does provide a charitable, concise summary:

In essence, I believe that those who have published it are concerned by the rise of Calvinism among Southern Baptists at all levels of convention life, from local churches all the way down to various institutions and agencies. They think that Calvinism represents the views of only a small minority  while their own views represent the vast majority of Southern Baptists. They are concerned to be identified positively by what they do believe rather than negatively by what they do not believe (“non-Calvinist”). They have offered this document as a testimony to their beliefs and invite other Southern Baptists to sign it to show just how many agree with their views. By doing so, they do not want to intimidate or exclude Southern Baptist Calvinists, but rather are interested in asserting what they are convinced that most Southern Baptists believe on the doctrine of salvation.

[above link for this article, also available: Part One and Part Two]

At Pulpit and Pen, Jordan Hall writes:

…For example, consider the irony of articulating the “historic, traditional beliefs of Southern Baptists” by creating a new document. The premise itself is laughable. Could it just be our historic confessions and creeds do not suffice because they are, inherently, Calvinistic?

At the site BaptistTwentyOne, Jon Akin writes,

The statement is divisive for three reasons:

  • It inaccurately and unfairly describes the theology of the “New Calvinists.”
  • It implies that “New Calvinists” are having a detrimental impact on “contemporary mission and ministry” in the SBC without a shred of proof to back that up. It claims that the SBC has reached around the world with the Gospel “without ascribing to Calvinism,” and therefore fails to properly recognize that many godly Calvinists have contributed to the spread of the gospel through SBC cooperation in our history.
  • It is trying to unite a segment of Southern Baptist around a new theological statement, when the BFM2000 is enough to unite us in theology and mission.

and also

  • I could be wrong, and would be happy to admit it, but I don’t know any Calvinist who is arguing in print or sermon to make “Calvinism the central Southern Baptist position on God’s plan of salvation, “ or “the standard view in Southern Baptist life.”
  • The statement consistently responds to double predestination, therefore implying that this is the standard position of “New Calvinists,” when in reality it is a minority position, almost certainly an extreme minority. The statement only argues against double predestination and never really addresses what the biblical word “predestination” actually means in the text. The authors make it sound like the “New Calvinism” is fighting for double predestination, and that is simply not accurate.

Josh Buice at Delivered by Grace writes:

… As we move forward, do we want to be considered the “Fightin’ Baptists” or the “Religious version of the Hatifelds and McCoys?”…

…Furthermore, when SBC pastors, leaders, and professors sign this letter, it’s almost as if a line is being drawn in the sand and a request is being made for action.  What should the action be? …

… Have we forgotten our history as Southern Baptists where we had Calvinists such as Lottie Moon, James P. Boyce, John L. Dagg, A.T. Robertson, John A. Broadus, and many others who served in our convention along with those who were less Calvinistic (Reformed) in their doctrine?  They didn’t fight over it, throw mud, and pull out the heresy sword to use on one another.  In recent history we have had Albert Mohler serving together with Adrian Rogers.  Why are we headed down the broken road of schism over Calvinism today?…

There is more available online, and there will be even more as you’re reading this.  William F. Leonhart III, provides some historical context; apparently this isn’t the first time.

We’ll give Jordan Hall the last word on this:

Perhaps most offensive is [David] Hankins’ appeal to consensus. He says multiple times that “the majority of Southern Baptists do not embrace Calvinism.” He may be right. Statistics show that the majority of Southern Baptists do not embrace Christianity, let alone Calvinism. The majority of Southern Baptists can’t be found on Sunday morning. The majority of Southern Baptists are on Synergist church-rolls and are either dead or apostate because of the watered-down and anemic, shallow theology of Finney-style revivalism and easy-believism, decision-regeration that has eaten away at the SBC like a cancer. But Hankins is right; the majority of Southern Baptists are not Calvinists.

But c’mon Jordan, tell us what you really think.

May 4, 2012

Why Albert Mohler Should Retire

…It’s a much more polite post title than the one I originally considered…

Another Evangelical leader has proven this week that when Evangelical leaders reach a certain age they seem to go a little bit off, not unlike bakery products that have a best before date, or as they say in the UK, a sell-by date.  And the manner in which they go a little bit off is to attack their own.

We have already mentioned here the travesty of Jack Van Impe insisting that Rick Warren has bedded down with Muslims to fuse some new brand of faith he calls Chrislam.

This time it’s SBC theological president Albert Mohler, Jr. on his blog accusing Andy Stanley as supporting gay marriage.

Well, first let me qualify that. Albert Mohler’s blog is not a blog in the sense most people use that term. There is no place for comments, for dialogue, for interaction. True, he gives an email address, but…

We begin with Christianity Today:

Stanley’s message was from the book of John, and he spoke about how messy and seemingly inconsistent Jesus’ love was. “At times [Jesus] seems to be forgiving, and at other times he seems to be holding everybody accountable,” Stanley said in the sermon. “At times he points out sin and at times it’s like he ignores sin altogether.”

That tension can be seen at North Point after sermons on remarriage after divorce, which people hate to hear but are glad they did, he said. It also exists for gay members, who have left predominantly gay churches for North Point because they want more Bible teaching, but are nervous about how welcome they’ll be, he said.

In trying to love like Jesus does, the church can also seem inconsistent and leave people wondering what they’re really about, Stanley said.

You can watch the sermon in question here, select part five (April 15th).

This is a good place to mention that Andy Stanley is considered one of the finest communicators in the United States.  He chooses his words very carefully, and he is what I consider a very wise man. He obviously wants to continue to living in the tension(s) he described that Sunday.

But while Mohler has Stanley in his sites from the very beginning, he couches his rhetoric with a vague academic church history lesson about megachurches in America. Apparently size matters, and not in a good way. Megachurches breed liberalism in Mohler’s view. Logically then, smaller churches should be fertile ground for orthodoxy. In some bizarre parallel universe, perhaps.

The Christian Post quotes Rick Warren demanding an apology from Mohler on this front:

A prominent evangelical’s recent blog headline – “Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism?” – has irked Pastor Rick Warren, who is calling for an apology for the “sensational” title.

Warren, founder of Saddleback Church, sent a tweet to Dr. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on Tuesday, saying: “A TITLE questioning1000s of churches’ orthodoxy due to size is unChristlike.U need to apologize to pastors Al.” …

…Taking issue with the title of the blog, Warren commented: “@albertmohler Would a sensational blog title ‘Are THE Seminaries the New Liberals?’ be fair if 1 seminary pres. messed up?”

In response, Mohler tweeted back: “@RickWarren Glad to hear from you, Rick. I would certainly not be offended by that title … In fact, I might use it. Megathanks.”

Where does Mohler derive such arrogance?

But church size is a red herring in this story.  As a somewhat biased fan of Andy Stanley, I had to weigh in at the CT piece:

I had been a consumer of Andy’s video teachings for at least five years prior to becoming a regular follower of NorthPointOnline about three years ago, and was watching live when this illustration happened. I think anyone who has had this type of exposure knows Andy’s heart and and tenor of his ministry.

Just as we’re told that Jesus’ parables should be interpreted only to say ‘one thing,’ so also should this illustration only be evaluated in terms of its primary purpose. You can’t condemn a sermon for what it did not say, or every sermon preached would have to contain a compendium of Christian doctrine and ethics.

Mohler described the resolution of the story Andy Stanley told his congregation. 

…He later told of the former wife’s decision not to live in bitterness, and of her initiative to bring the whole new family structure to a Christmas service. This included the woman, her daughter, her former husband, his gay partner, and his daughter. Stanley celebrated this new “modern family” as an expression of forgiveness.

Note Mohler’s use of the word “celebrated.” This is where you see most clearly that you cannot trust what this man is writing. “Celebrated” is a calculated value-laden word which simply doesn’t describe the proper context.  At CT, I continued:

The reference to the TV show “Modern Family” was not giving endorsement to that type of family dynamic; the family in the illustration is simply reflective of the times, and the television reference immediately connected with the audience. That family is also a work in progress, an unfinished story in which the operation of grace and truth will hopefully continue to unfold.

Dan White, Jr. was another CT respondent who felt that Stanley was deliberately walking a fine line on this issue:

…Currently in our political culture of communication the non-negotiable’s are:  1. Define what camp you fall into,  2. Demonize anybody who does not fit squarely into your camp,  3.  Apply debate techniques not active listening and 4. Defend/clarify your position at all costs.  I believe this style of discourse is more secularism than it is biblical. 

I listened to Andy Stanley’s message.  He taught the principle that the tension of Grace and Truth sometimes makes things unclear, ambiguous and complicated.  Stanley’s message was from the book of John, and he spoke about how messy and seemingly inconsistent Jesus’ love was. “At times Jesus seems to be forgiving, and at other times he seems to be holding everybody accountable,” Stanley said in the sermon. “At times he points out sin and at times it’s like he ignores sin altogether.”   Listening to Stanley’s conservative critics, I’m not sure they see Jesus this way.  I’m not sure they’ve dealt with the way Jesus was perceived by his listeners. 

Jesus spoke in parables and in Matthew 13:34 he makes the point that “Jesus did not say anything without using parables.”   Why would Jesus indulge in short artistic fictional stories to convey such essential messages? Each parable would often end with the refrain “whoever has ears let him hear.” Each parable would often include a hidden message that would be accessible to some and confusing to others.  At one point the disciples share their frustration “Why do you speak in parables?” As if to say “Jesus why are you doing this? Your telling stories but nobody is getting your point, can you find a clearer more obvious approach?”   What the disciples did not understand was Jesus was intentionally enticing people into new territory.

Jesus was not offering easy answers and doctrinal points, he was inviting people into an interactive relationship. He said listen with your ears which meant listen to the deeper meaning.  Don’t listen for the literal meaning, seek deeper for meaning that requires a sincere effort of your imagination and a personal investment.

Is it ever Ok to be ambiguous?  I believe it is because Jesus sometimes was.  Is it ever O.K. to come across unclear in order to lay the trust-bricks that relationships require?  I believe it is because Jesus sometimes did.  Is it ever O.K. to not give a Yes or No to the “is it a sin” question because the history of the question is so convoluted with agendas?  I believe Jesus sometimes did for the sake of the larger mission and the loaded context of religiosity.  Sure this tension is a harder tightrope to walk.  Some call it the slipper-slope; I call it fighting for balance  This is the very reason why many are not comfortable with the third way of navigating through culture.  It’s much easier to just park firmly in an ideological camp and harp on your doctrinal talking points over and over.  Instead Jesus often models a way of being that is beyond what sin issue is served up to Him.

 Much of the conservative backlash to Andy Stanley’s presentation seems to be intoxicated with anxiety by whatever the hot sin issue is at this time…

There is one redemptive paragraph in Mohler’s conclusions:

Given their size and influence, the megachurches have an outsize responsibility. I am a member and a teaching pastor in a megachurch, and I am thankful for its faithfulness. I know a host of faithful megachurch pastors who are prepared to pay whatever cost may come for the sake of the Gospel…

On that, at least we agree. Where we differ is that I know of one faithful megachurch pastor who fails to make Mohler’s list. And we differ more violently on the need to make such unwarranted pronouncements.  Some opinions are best kept to oneself.

…I spoke with a pastor about this a few months ago who expressed his concerns about people whose ministry seems to be going along well and then they, in his words, “start losing it.” That’s when I wrote this piece about knowing when to quit.

One sure sign is when we start shooting at our own soldiers. If Mohler isn’t ready to enjoy retirement in Palm Springs, he should at the very least quit the blog that isn’t a blog.  The CT article concluded:

Stanley declined repeated requests for comment.

That’s the type of wisdom Albert Mohler, Jr. should have employed from the very beginning.


Update: Missed this one yesterday: For some additional commentary on the tension between grace and truth as it relates to this story, be sure to check out the article by Jeff Dunn at Internet Monk, and the 150 (so far) comments.

…What an incredible illustration of God’s scandalous grace in action. Yet Mohler misses this entirely. He misses grace in his headlong race to be sure that Andy Stanley understands right and wrong. Mohler writes,

…We desperately want all persons to feel welcome to hear the Gospel and, responding in faith and repentance, to join with us in mutual obedience to Christ. But we cannot allow anyone, ourselves included, to come to Christ — or to church — on our own terms.

No, it seems we must come on Al Mohler’s terms….

[HT: Clark.]

February 7, 2012

Ten Commandments for Pharisees

…plus, in keeping with the Pharisees’ penchant for adding to the law, one extra!  This is from Grace Guy and appeared on his blog as The Pharisees’ 10 (+1) Commandments.

  1. Thou shalt believe that your truth is THE only valid truth.
  2. Thou shalt interpret and judge a man’s heart through those actions you see. Nothing else is to be considered.
  3. Thou shalt use your vast knowledge of God to be right in any and all arguments, especially if others think you should apologize. Use favorite Scripture pieces at will.
  4. Thou shalt debate this vast knowledge vigorously with others. They must understand your truth at all costs. All costs.
  5. Thou shalt seek the approval and admiration of others above all else. They must see you as you think God sees you.
  6. Thou shalt not develop unholy relationships. They cannot love you if they do not agree with your truth.
  7. Thou shalt seek to make others holy through your truth at every occasion. It is your duty as the protector of your truth.
  8. Thou shalt use grace to show the largesse of your heart. Make sure everyone sees it.
  9. Thou shalt exhort others by telling them what you know God wants to tell them. He speaks through you. Make sure they listen and understand. This is especially important during their times of intense suffering.
  10. Thou shalt never question any intent, thought or action you have. Fight mightily or flee swiftly those who do.
  11. Thou shalt never doubt the First Commandment. It is your only rock in a very shifting world.

August 28, 2011

Seeing and Hearing Grace for the First Time

You could call it “elder brother syndrome.”  It doesn’t matter what you call it; I just keep thinking that those of us who’ve been around church for a longer period of time are sometimes working from a distinct disadvantage. I don’t mean to minimize the years of things God saved us from, but I’ve had two experiences within about two hours of each other:

  • The first one was sitting in the morning service behind a couple who are new to our church having started coming about a year ago. The worship leader chose some pieces which we haven’t sung in awhile, and the thought struck me, they’re hearing some of these choruses for the first time. I imagined the freshness of the music and lyrics to their ears and compared it to when I heard some of them initially.
  • The second impression was just an hour ago. I’m reading a manuscript for a counselor who is writing to other counselors on dealing with issues like forgiveness and healing, and twice in four pages he noted that people who have amassed a head knowledge of God over the years will find it will actually prevent them from hearing directly from God; hearing a message that reaches into their hearts.

This is why I believe it’s so important to invite friends, neighbors and co-workers to weekend services; so we can see what we do through fresh eyes.  It’s also good to get connected with people who are new to faith, so we can rejoice with them at the discovery of the different aspects of God’s grace as He reveals it. Finally, we need to constantly “come as a child,” with the sense of awe and wonder that happens when people “taste and see that the Lord is good” for the first time.

August 20, 2011

Of Course I’m a Christian; I Keep The Ten Commandments

This is a joint post today between Thinking out Loud and Christianity 201.  Readers at C201 were introduced to a book by Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock last Friday and Saturday.   This weekend we return to the book for a look at keeping “the big ten” and ask if that’s a prerequisite for earning God’s favor, or is it the natural of fruit having already received his grace…
 
More from the book, Look to The Rock, by Alec Motyer (p.41)…

…Nevertheless, law is really and truly law. The terrors of [Mount] Sinai were real and palpable (Ex 20: 18-21, Heb 12: 18-21). This was no contrived display of religious fireworks designed merely to cow and awe. The cause of the whole manifestation of fire and cloud, earthquake, thunder and lightning was simply this: that “the Lord descended in fire.” (Ex 19:18). This is what he is like. His holiness is not a passive attribute but an active force such as can only be symbolized by fire, a force of destruction of all that is unholy. At Sinai this holy God came to declare His holy law.

It is at this point that the sequence of events in the great historical visual aid bears its distinctive fruit: In the Old Testament as in the whole Bible, the law of the Holy God is not a ladder of merit whereby sinners seek to come to God to win His favor and climb “into His good books;” His holy law is rather His appointed and required pattern of life for those who by redemption have been brought to Him already who already belong to Him, and are already “in His good books.” The Law of God is the lifestyle of the redeemed.

Somewhere in the middle of reading that section, I started thinking about the difference between law and grace in terms of the “How Do You Spell Religion?” presentation which I’ve outlined here. I see this as another way of looking at man’s attempts in more of a chronological method:

If each of the checkmarks below represents the keeping of one or several commandments and the cross represents acceptance by God, many people feel that their story should unravel something like this:

In fact, what the Bible teaches is that living “a ten commandments lifestyle” is more of the fruit of experiencing the grace of God. The commandments were never requested of Israel’s neighbors, they were the cadence of a life lived in fellowship and communion with God. While they are phrased in a “Don’t do this” manner, they could be interpreted — or lived out — in more of a I Cor 13 way: “Doesn’t kill, doesn’t steal…” etc. That’s also in keeping with a “before and after” way of looking at life that incorporates life transformation. So it looks like:

Of course, there is always the issue that most of the general population can’t name all ten commandments, and if they do, they tend to focus on the “second tablet,” the ones having to do with interpersonal relationships, and neglect the first four, having to do with our relationship with God.

February 11, 2011

Andy Stanley: Err on the Side of Grace

This blog post first appeared at Christianity 201

In addition to having my feet firmly planted in two local churches, I’ve also been “attending” Andy Stanley’s church online every Sunday at 6:00 PM for the past six months. This week, Andy preached from Acts 15:

12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. 14 Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

16 “‘After this I will return
and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild,
and I will restore it,
17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
even all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things’–
18 things known from long ago.

19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.

Verse 19, the last verse is one that Andy says he has posted on the wall of his office. In typical Andy Stanley style — you should listen to the podcast* if possible — he contrasted verse 19 with churches and organizations that try to put people in a box, or try to line people up with a specific church policy or regulation.

Or ask people to “clean up” first.

This is easy to say, but harder to do. Most of us are Pharisees at heart.

The Message Bible renders verse 19 as:

We’re not going to unnecessarily burden non-Jewish people who turn to the Master.

Do I agree with Andy’s take in this particular sermon?

I think this is an issue where, like so many other things in scripture, there is a balance point to be found somewhere in the middle. There is an equally compelling argument for calling people to weigh the price and launch out into something that is costly, or difficult. Consider John 6:

56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e] and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

In Matthew 16, Mark 8 and Luke 9 we read these familiar words:

Luke 9: 23 (NLT) Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.

And yet we are often so quickly reminded of Matthew 11:30

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Can both sets of verses be true at the same time? Or is each referring to something different?


One of the best articles I’ve ever seen that summarizes the contrast is a little booklet by Stuart Briscoe titled This is Impossible. If anyone knows where the text is uploaded I’d love to link to it here. In the meantime, here’s a short summary by Adrian Rogers.

UPDATE: The booklet is available as a free .pdf download from Stuart’s ministry, Telling the Truth.

*The Andy Stanley sermon is currently here as a free download for a few more days, it’s the February 6th message, which I think is part four or five of the “Big Church” series.

Verses cited are NIV2011 unless otherwise indicated.

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