Thinking Out Loud

January 14, 2013

What Motivates The Haters?

Watchdog ministries. Lighthouse ministries. Appraisal ministries. They go by many names. They are full-time Christian snipers. Let me back up. There are certain ministries that exist to find and expose false teaching. I have no problem with exposing false teaching. Indeed, it is part of what we are to do as teachers…correct false doctrine. However, it is very rare to find a ministry or a person who does this well. Most of the ministries and people who do this are arrogant, ungracious, and counter-productive and themselves need to be exposed. I have worked for one of these ministries (a long time ago). After a while, the ministry becomes obsessed, concerning itself with nothing else other than beating someone up in the name of the Lord. When there is no controversy, like a drug addict in withdrawals, they begin to create controversy ex nihilo or go back to dead horses and kick them. Their goal soon loses the priority of truth, learning, and understanding. I think that many people would have nothing to talk about if there was not someone to kick.  ~C. Michael Patton, Parchment and Pen.

I’m continuing the thread of posts here on Friday and yesterday.

After listening to the sermon of a popular pastor, speaker and author on the weekend, I decided to see what else by him YouTube had to offer.  I quickly noticed a dissenting one-hour piece by the proprietor of a self-styled “discernment ministry,” but decided to pass. I didn’t need that. But then curiosity got the better of me.

The upload was the audio-only of a podcast in which the perpetrator in question plays brief snippets of copied sermon or conference material and then frequently stops the playback in order to insert their criticisms.

There ought to be law.  Specifically: There ought to be a law preventing this kind of misuse, but in the U.S. it would never fly given free speech, etc. That constitution keeps coming back to bite us, doesn’t it?  In an ideal world, a pastor’s sermon audio would be treated with a bit more respect, if not out of respect for the man, out of respect for the office he holds.

Try this yourself. After church next Sunday, buy the CD of your pastor’s sermon, put it in the machine and each time he makes a significant point, pause it and say, “That’s a complete perversion of scripture.”  Do it enough times and you might even convince yourself. You’ll certainly sound like an authority as you interrupt the pastor each time.

Then again, don’t try that.

Browsing this podcaster’s blog, the thing that immediately strikes you is his hair-trigger reaction to anyone who feels that God spoke to them or that God has been impressing something on them. This type of extreme cessationist view has the effect of greatly elevating the printed, Biblical text, while at the same time ignoring some of what it teaches; not unlike the Biblical scholars in Jesus’ day who “searched the scriptures” diligently, but failed to see that they pointed to Him.  (Ref: John 5:39)

So I gave the guy nine minutes. Just as the Bible college address by the pastor in question had resonated with me so well, the podcaster’s critiques were slowly raising my blood pressure. I realized that this type of thing is toxic, and when I finally shut it off, my wife basically asked, “What took you so long?”

For the rest of the weekend, I contemplated the question, “What motivates a person to dedicate all their energies to tearing down the ministry of others?” I’m not talking here about ministry watch organizations that report items about clergy that appear in mainstream media. Somewhere, someplace, the family of faith needs to make notation of these moral failures or financial scandals. This is about self-styled watchdogs who feel it necessary to do their own doctrinal investigative reporting; who go looking for problems where there are none. 

Why would a person get up in the morning and start downloading the sermon content from major authors and megachurch pastors with the aim of looking for doctrinal nits to pick? Who does this?

The answer came last night when I was brushing my teeth. While the subjects of this essay would quickly dismiss this type of revelation, I have no problem putting forward the main motivational factor:

Jealousy.

This is ministry envy in its highest form. ‘I didn’t get my books published by a company with a major distributor, and I never got to be a pastor of a major church, therefore I will tear down those who did and those who do.’ Or, ‘I never had that measure of platform at that early an age, nor did we have that type of media proliferation.’

The question you can’t ask is, “Who called you to do this?” Or, “Who trained you to do this?” Or, “To whom are you accountable?” Because in each case the individual in question would have to concede that they felt that God was leading them into this type of ‘ministry’ and in so doing, they fall into the very pattern they accuse others of: Having received a call or revelation directly from God.

The thing I would fear the most would be waking up one morning and realizing you don’t know how to do anything else. And today, with the internet, the discernment crowd has access to a never-ending world of sermon audio and video.

They aren’t going away. But you can stay away. Keep your distance. This sort of thing is toxic. If you start to hear multiple reports about the ministry integrity of an individual or organization, that’s one thing; you should take that seriously.  But don’t let a discernment ministry undo the good that God is doing in your life through a particular Bible teacher.

I watched them tearing a building down,
A gang of men in a busy town.
With a ho, heave, ho and a lusty yell
They swung a beam and a wall fell.

I asked the foreman, “Are these men skilled?
Like the men you’d hire if you had to build?”
He laughed as he replied, “No, indeed,
Just common labor is all I need.

I can easily wreck in a day or two
What builders have taken years to do.”
I asked myself as I went away
Which of these roles have I tried to play?

Am I a builder who works with care,
Measuring life by rule and square?
Or am I a wrecker who walks the town
Content with the labor of tearing down?

Oh Lord, let my life and labors be
That which build for eternity.

December 1, 2011

Keeping Discernment Ministry People Off The Streets

I’m a huge fan of discernment.  I believe that, moving forward, it’s the supernatural gift to be praying for.  But regular readers know I’m not a fan of those who feel that God specifically called them to a ministry of critiquing and nit-picking their fellow believers.  However, if they feel they must, here are some things to keep them busy; some term paper assignments I would hand out if I had the opportunity to keep them off the streets internet for awhile.  This first appeared here exactly two years plus a day here on November 30, 2009.

term paperWow! The first semester of college is ending sooner than it began, so it’s time to hand out the topics for your term paper assignments. You’ve proved yourself more than adept at finding fault with Rob Bell, The Shack, Dan Kimball, Brian McLaren, “New Monasticism,” Rick Warren, “Emergent Church,” anything Willow Creek-related, “spiritual formation,” Donald Miller, and hundreds of others. (But never Joyce Meyer… that’s odd… ) But the topics listed below are things which, strangely, you never cover, even though their impact on Christian culture is huge.

You guys at CRI did really good term work so you’re exempt from the final essay. For the rest of you…

You say you’re a discernment ministry so let’s see some discerning; only let’s give all your existing targets a rest. Choose your topic:

  1. Twenty years ago your equivalents would be railing against Christian rock music. So let’s take a run at it, 2011-style. Check out the latest stuff and the complete back catalog from Switchfoot, Skillet, Hawk Nelson, TobyMac, Tenth Avenue North and Kutless and apply the same critical faculties you use with modern preachers and authors to some in-depth analysis of the lyrics Christian youth are listening to. To avoid distraction, use headphones and turn the volume really, really loud so you don’t miss any backward masking. Bonus marks for dissecting the worship songs of Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, David Crowder and Hillsong United.
  2. You’re concerned about a whole new generation of authors and speakers who are speaking into the lives of Christians, but completely ignoring a huge genre. Pour yourself a chai and curl up on the divan with the complete works of Karen Kingsbury, Beverly Lewis, Randy Singer, Randy Alcorn (fiction only), Melody Carlson, Lynn Austin and of course, Ted Dekker. Don’t skip a single page. Bonus marks for a study of the Max Lucado Wemmicks series and all the Steeple Hill/Love Inspired pocket books released since 2006. Remember, it says ‘complete works.’ Let us know what you find.
  3. Every Evangelical will tell you that the deuterocanonical books don’t belong in the Bible, but how we do know this for sure? Without resorting to the historical decisions that led to their inclusion or exclusion from the Bibles of different faith groups, and relying entirely on the text and related commentaries, explore the Apocryphal books verse by verse highlighting such things as the possible inherent dangers in Methodists reading Bel and the Dragon. Be sure to spend at least a month on this, doing no other writing nor taking any phone calls during this period of intense study.
  4. What are we really teaching our children? Not one of the discernment ministries with any profile has noted any examination of what’s really being conveyed through the curriculum of Gospel Light, Scripture Press, David C. Cook, Standard Publishing, Regular Baptist Press, and Augsburg Fortress. Part one of this involves study of the publishers listed above; part two involves a more intense study of Group’s Hands-On Active Bible Curriculum by actually teaching a Sunday School class of elementary grade children for the next six weeks. After all, who better to teach kids than the head of a ministry that encourages kids to study God’s Word. (Note: With the kids, you must stick to the curriculum itself; your paper will be disqualified if you get into a rant with the Grade 3 class about Benny Hinn or Joel Osteen.) Bonus marks for all the theological errors you can uncover in the Veggie Tales series.
  5. The “study abroad” question: You’ll purchase airplane tickets to connect you with about fifty different venues between now and Christmas to study what’s really going on with Christian comedy. The comedians themselves are quite accustomed to having hecklers in the audience, so they won’t mind a few discernment ministry folk sitting in the front row shouting out, “I think that last joke was built on a flawed doctrinal premise.” A few of our Christian brothers do their comedy shtick in clubs with liquor licenses, so to not miss the ambiance of the whole show, be sure to order a drink or two before the first set. If you’re Baptist and haven’t touched alcohol before in your life, just give the bartender that information with the coded signal, “Make it a double.” Compare and contrast male and female comedians, and those working within the youth ministry paradigm. Just think Mr. Discernment Minister, you might be a redneck!

Your finished paper should be 650,000 words or more. That should keep you off the streets, and more importantly, off the airwaves and off the internet for at least 30 days. This is the kind of hard-hitting analysis you were born for.

September 26, 2011

Do “Apologetics” and “Protest” Belong in the same Breath?

I am a person captivated by the study of Christian apologetics.  I’m not saying I’m very good at it, but my personal library, and the collection at the bookstore I manage are somewhat saturated with apologetics titles.  Of course, when you hear that, some think Norman Geisler, some will assume Ravi Zacharias, some think I mean Hank Hanegraaff, others will be reminded of Josh McDowell, while some will automatically think Ray Comfort.  I don’t care.  I think they all have something to offer, though I prefer some approaches over others.

The reason I like apologetics is that I believe there are a number of questions seekers have that we should have answers to, rather than looking clueless like the proverbial deer caught in the proverbial headlights.  I’ve always thought that, “Because our pastor said so;” was a bit weak when dealing with people who are needing to overcome serious barriers to faith.

But I think that part of the “Always be ready to give an account,” concept has to been seen in the context of someone  who is asking us a question.  It doesn’t mean that we get out in the streets and start picketing people we disagree with.  Especially picketing other members of the body, which, if the “body” analogy is taken correctly, means we’re picketing ourselves.   It’s a defense of the faith, which is implied; a defensive posture not an offensive posture; and shouldn’t be confused with evangelism.  So I was particular distressed to read this report at Chad Estes’ blog:

President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, Matt Slick, spent the evening protesting W. Paul Young’s (the author of The Shack) speech at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho.

He missed an incredible night of stories of God’s intimate and loving involvement in our lives while standing on the street corner letting people [know] they shouldn’t be attending what he thought would be a heretical discussion.

He tried to get into a discussion with me about universalism when I went out to take his picture. He asked me if I thought everybody was forgiven. I told him I thought that was Jesus’ point on the cross – “Forgive them, Papa, they are clueless what they are doing.” I thought it was a slick answer but Slick didn’t seem to think so.

Now again, remember, I have a link to CARM on this blog.  I support people doing apologetics. Real apologetics.  I’m not so strong on in your face discernment ministry. Especially in a public forum.  Most especially in a public forum. I may question the doctrine at my local Roman Catholic Church, but I’m not going to stand outside and picket the place; especially if it may represent a small first step on a journey to faith for someone who is truly seeking after God. 

And I’m not writing this out of a loyalty to The Shack.  The book is flawed. But the book is good. And it’s done a lot of good.

Sorry; I gotta repeat Chad’s second paragraph here with some added emphasis:

He missed an incredible night of stories of God’s intimate and loving involvement in our lives while standing [outside] on the street corner letting people [know] they shouldn’t be attending what he thought would be a heretical discussion.

There is so much of this that goes on within Kingdom borders, and it is so very sad.

September 3, 2011

A Christianity Based on Condemnation

Yesterday’s second post here — about the Southern Baptists collective condemnation of a new Bible translation — was a reminder how some people are so quick to tell you what they don’t approve of. Criticism of other ministries, worship styles and individuals flows like the water at Niagara Falls. There are dozens of websites — like this one — that wouldn’t know how to write something encouraging or comforting or celebratory even if you offered the author large sums of money. No wonder that some well-intentioned pastors are frustrated by the Christian blogosphere and wish it were, well, like this:

Oh show me a home, where the buffalo roam
And the deer and the antelope play
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

But an idyllic “home on the range” isn’t going to materialize anytime soon, as long as there are a gazillion things to nitpick about. The game being played works like this: If I put you down, I elevate myself. I am a better person if I can show everyone that you are severely flawed.

All this, even more so if I am standing for truth or preventing the dilution of core doctrine.

But really, it all comes across as a doctrine of hate. There’s no difference between many of these writers/pastors/spokespersons and the guy who pickets at funerals; name deliberately omitted.  It’s not attractive, and it’s not attracting anyone to God’s Kingdom.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.  (Phil 4:8 NLT)

There is so much to celebrate. Each month, one blogger, Brad Lomenick notes the “Young Influencers” who are making a difference in ministry, music, media, sports, and other arenas of life. The rest of the tone of Brad’s blog is equally upbeat; it’s truly a breath of fresh air, especially when so many — and at times I fall into this as well — have “the gift of criticism.” In fact, I created Christianity 201 so that I’d have a place to stay Christ-focused and Bible-focused even as this blog sometimes delves into Christian news stories and current events.

Imagine the emptiness you might feel at the end of your life knowing you had dedicated yourself to be a guardian of doctrine and truth — regularly trashing people in the process — and then realizing you could have spent your time instead doing something like Stephen & Brooksyne Weber do at Daily Encouragement, such as offering people, well, daily encouragement. A much, much higher calling which begs the question: What do you really want to be remembered for?

And so, we leave you with Steven Furtick’s rant. Yes, rant. And a rant by a guy who has been the target of much criticism himself. And whose recent pulpit presence at one prominent church has brought that pastor under fire. It’s here because he accurately captures the spirit of the people who seem to have nothing good to say. About anything. Ever. 

Appropriately, some people hate this video.  But I say he got an incredible number of things in it 100% correct.

June 3, 2011

Elephant Room Conference: The DVD

If you missed the Woodstock music festival in 1969, you had to wait a full year for the movie; but just weeks after James MacDonald convened the Elephant Room one day seminar which was simulcast to two dozen cities, the DVD is already available for purchase, so we decided to jump in and bought one for ourselves and a couple of extras.

The phrase, “the elephant in the room” is used to denote the thing that is hovering over a discussion, but is never mentioned.   The idea here is that pastors have things they wrestle with that are discussed backstage when they meet up at major events, but are never shared with a larger audience.  The goal was to bring those subjects into open discussion.

The seven pastors were MacDonald, Mark Driscoll, Greg Laurie, Perry Noble, David Platt, Mark Chandler and Steven Furtick who was cast as a bit of a newcomer to this “big league” group.  Actually, Furtick came across very well, presenting some very timely insights into the subjects, and the very nature of the debates themselves.  Topics included:

  • Building numerically versus building depth
  • Responding to culture
  • Compassion and social justice
  • Unity and discernment
  • The multi-site church trend
  • Money issues
  • Loving the doctrine of the gospel but not sharing the gospel

An eighth session dealt with questions that had been texted in during the conference and was actually the most interesting in many ways. 

Over the past few years we’ve seen a growing interest in ecclesiology — the study of what constitutes ‘church’ —  among what would have been traditionally called “the laity.”  Books that would have formerly been written for the exclusive reading of pastors and church staff are now being purchased and discussed by the widest range of Evangelicals, many of whom are forging ahead with startups of home churches or alternative churches.  In a sense, the things the pastors discuss quietly backstage at conferences are being discussed in church lobbies, living rooms and over kitchen tables back home. This DVD set, and the topics it discusses are thereby of interest to everyone.

But it’s not the major takeaway from watching the seminar.

What is most striking is the camaraderie that exists between the pastors themselves.  While they do disagree on some minor points, there is a genuine agreement on the things that matter; what Driscoll well-defines as the difference between national borders (which wars are fought over) and state borders (for which wars are not fought.) 

There were some highlights and lowlights in the video.  One highlight was the overall production quality.  Another was the way they kept the discussion moving, with a moderator and two rotating key opponents followed by a more open forum that allowed the other four pastors to contribute.   Another highlight was seeing that with issues such as multi-site — so much on the minds of people as changes take place quickly — the pastors themselves do not undertake moves lightly, but truly agonize over the ramifications of growth.   A lowlight — and it really has to be said — is the way James MacDonald dominates every discussion, rolling over everyone else like a freight train at times.  I guess it was his party, so he got to call the tune.

I do love the concept, however.  This was a great series of conversations and I would hope that either MacDonald’s crew, or somebody else, would put something like this together this time next year, perhaps with a different mix of pastors and church leaders.  Rather than attempting to describe it further, you can watch a few sample clips here and here

What we call church really matters, and you don’t have to be among the ‘professional’ clergy to care.


Read another review of the conference here.

Link here to an index Trevin Wax provided of participants who live-blogged the event.

February 4, 2011

Why are Non-Trinitarians Included Among “Christians?”

In Wednesday’s Link List there was a form at the end which gave people the opportunity to leave a message for my eyes only, without it appearing as a public comment.  I want to thank those of you who used this feature, and those who are still using it even today.

One of the comments was from a longtime reader who raised an issue that I want to bring forward here, not to be divisive, but because it is something that can always use discussion.  While it affects all of us, it involves a very small, but still significant number of people who belong to one or two denominations; including some who read this blog, and I hope that any comments will be made in the spirit of Christian love.

Here was the comment:

If the Trinity is such an important tenet of Christian belief (the Apostle’s Creed), why do we venerate singers like Phillips, Craig & Dean and preachers like T. D. Jakes who are non-trinitarian as though they are “one of us”?  If a singer or preacher didn’t believe that Jesus was truly God and man would we welcome him/her the same way?  What if they didn’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ?

Every time I hear a Phillips, Craig & Dean song on Christian radio it makes me squirm.  Am I being judgmental?

Yes, you are being judgmental.

The next question was… okay, just kidding; let’s look at this issue.

Again, this is not to debate the particular doctrine.   I’ve heard some of the arguments and yes, I know that the word “trinity” does not appear in the Bible, but for most of us, our “statement of faith” — either our personal one or the one for the faith family to which we belong — is the reduction to seven or eight (or twelve) sentences concerning the things we consider to be core beliefs.  These are the things that people would consider non-negotiables.

It’s about the importance we place on doctrine.

Here are four of the seven statements in the National Association of Evangelicals Statement of Faith which specifically refer to God, Jesus and Holy Spirit, of which the first is primary for this discussion:

  • We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
  • We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
  • We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.

(For my Canadian readers, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada Statement of Faith is identical.)

These summary statements are based on something similar that we refer to as creeds.

The Apostles Creed, originally written in Latin but translated into modern English, says in part,

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit…

…He ascended into heaven,
He is seated at the right hand of the Father

I believe in the Holy Spirit

These statements are intact in all of the creed’s denominational variants.

The Nicene Creed is similar, and just in case those two are insufficient, the Athanasian Creed, which reads as though it was written by a Philadelphia lawyer, goes to even greater lengths to try to spell out the mystery of  what the hymn-writer termed “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”   (While waiting for Athanasian Creed readers to return, we’ll put some music on hold in here…)

So we agree.  At least most of us.  We don’t understand it fully.  We have a number of weak analogies to try to explain it to Sunday School and VBS pupils, but when we worship on the weekends, our services speak of God, speak of Jesus and speak of The Holy Spirit.

So the question my reader is asking is simply, ‘Are people who reject the trinitarian doctrinal view truly one of us?’

Personally, I think there is one, and only one way to answer that.  If we value the creeds and what they say then either those who believe differently cannot be included among those we call “Christian” or the creeds have to go.  I say that simply because the creeds don’t relegate this to the realm of secondary issues or tertiary issues.  The creeds make the trinity a primary issue.

This isn’t about modes of baptism; it’s not concerned with the appropriate musical style for weekend worship; it’s not discussion about whether women should wear hats in church; it’s not interested in seven-day creation versus theistic evolution; and, believe it or not, it’s not about any of the 57 varieties of debate over homosexuality.

It’s more important than all that.

Still, there are those who feel that this is all semantics; that the case against Jakes is overstated and that he is just expressing his understanding of God in different words.   Here’s an excerpt from an online discernment ministry article:

When being interviewed on the radio Jakes in responding to the questioner on the orthodox view of the trinity said “The Trinity, the term Trinity, is not a biblical term, to begin with. It’s a theological description for something that is so beyond human comprehension that I’m not sure that we can totally hold God to a numerical system. The Lord said, “Behold, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one, and beside Him there is no other.” When God got ready to make a man that looked like Him, He didn’t make three. He made one man. However, that one man had three parts. He was body, soul and spirit. We have one God, but He is Father in creation, Son in redemption, and Holy Spirit in regeneration. It’s very important that we understand that, but I think that the first thing that every believer needs to do is to approach God by faith, and then having approached Him by faith, then they need to sit up under good teaching so that they can begin to understand who the God is that they have believed upon.” (“Living by the Word” on KKLA, hosted by John Coleman, Aug. 23, 1998)  …continue here…

What you’re seeing take shape here is a doctrine known as ‘modalism.’  Another online apologetics ministry, CARM,  identifies this more clearly:

At the Potter House’s website, under their statement of faith regarding God, they state, “There is one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in three manifestations: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” The keywords here are “three manifestations.”  If Jakes believed in the Trinity he should use words like “simultaneous,” “coeternal,” or “coequal” when referring to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’s relationship to one another.  T.D. Jakes’s view on the nature of God is known as modalism.  Modalism is a heresy that teaches the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do not simultaneously exist as distinct persons…   …read the whole article here…

(A much more exhaustive article on this subject appears at The Forgotten Word.)

So to restate my reader’s comment another way, ‘Is all this a dealbreaker?’

If it’s a dealbreaker with Jakes, to be consistent, you have to apply the same standard to contemporary Christian musicians Phillips, Craig and Dean.  But here it gets trickier, since CCM tends to break down denominational walls to the point where PC&D have appeared at the very theologically conservative Moody Church in Chicago and at Promise Keepers rallies.

But the three not only attend church at one of the largest “oneness” denominations, the UPC or United Pentecostal Church; they are — all three of them — on pastoral staff:

Randy Phillips serves as Pastor at his home church in Austin, Texas. Randy’s responsibilities include preaching, counseling, leading worship…

For more than 18 years, Shawn [Craig] has served as Music Pastor at his home church in St. Louis, MO. There he leads music, worship, and the New Members Disciple class.

Dan [Dean] is the Senior Pastor at his home church in Irving. TX. There Dan’s responsibilities include preaching, casting the vision for the church, oversight of day to day operations, and hiring and placement of all staff members.

The above is from a very exhaustive article on this subject at Dr. James White’s website, written by Erik Nielsen.  (Even if you’ve never heard of PC&D, this is a great introduction to UPC beliefs for those unfamiliar.  They go so far as to say that if you were baptized “in the name of the Father, the Son and The Holy Spirit,” that was ineffective.)   On the other hand, the article concludes with a letter from PC&D in which they affirm the very Apostles Creed with which we began this discussion.  Can both positions be true at the same time?

There are many other webpages as well, typing “Phillips Craig Dean trinity” into Google came up as an auto-complete with about 76,000 pages dedicated to this discussion.  Even the Wikipedia article on the band has a subheading for “theological criticism” including the quotation: “[w]e believe in one God who is eternal in His existence, Triune in His manifestation…” with manifestation again being the key word here.  At a Baptist discussion board, there is the suggestion that the band recorded “You Are God Alone” as a specific denial of the trinity.

Again, I’m not interested in attacking PC&D here.  Kelly Powers, writing at The Berean Perspective Online, has correspondence from the band’s handlers saying that they avoid discussion like this because they don’t want to be divisive.  But she notes — correctly, I believe — that “the gospel divides folks plain and simple. If they truly were following what the Word teaches they would not be so worried about offending people for the cause of truth.”

The situation with Phillips Craig and Dean is more complicated than that of Jakes.  With Jakes, Christian bookstores, which serve as the frontline or “gatekeepers” of what Christian people read can simply not carry his books.  And by extension, those same stores (or online equivalents) can not carry PC&D CDs.  But with PC&D, you’re introduced to another very influencial party: Christian radio.  Combine the airwave-friendly sound the band has with the willingness of many program directors to play anything that fits that format, the endorsement of the record label (EMI Christian Group), and the band’s propensity to record cover tunes by other Christian songwriters, and the issues get very, very fuzzy.

I know from past experience that this blog post is going to attract the usual comments from people in the UPC denomination and similar churches.  I take it as a given that such people most certainly consider themselves Christians and don’t consider modalism a dealbreaker.

It’s everyone else I want to hear from.

Related posts on this blog:

April 2008 — God in Three Persons — What if instead of trying to explain the “three persons” of the Trinity, we looked at one pair and then the other?

June 2009 — Trinity — Some of the “trinitarian” verses including a few that are problematic for those believing in modalism.

April 21, 2010

Wednesday Think Links

Here’s the list for Wednesday the 21st: That means spring is one-third gone already!   (Or autumn for all our mates down under.)

  • Gotta love the new style of church names, right?   Okay, maybe not all of them. The blog Out of Ur has put them all in this collection.
  • What’s the worst thing a Methodist preacher can do?   Re-baptize someone, according to this piece by Talbot Davis at The Heart of the Matter.   Mind you, I can think of worse things!
  • Cornerstone Church without Francis Chan?  Tell me he’s just testing his congregation again.  Here’s the 11-minute video at Resurgence.  Or listen to the message on 4/18 here.
  • David Kenney went to church on Good Friday and Easter, only Jesus never died at the one, and never rose again at the other.   In this piece, he suggests that it’s all about life.
  • Tom Datema sets the bar low enough on church “purpose statements” that any local church can attain, in this piece at Brain Twitch.
  • Can you handle one more Jennifer Knapp post.  “…Let’s assume that it is a sin.  Then my question is: Can a sinful person love Jesus?  Oh! We’ve got to be so careful how we answer that question.  To me, the answer is an obvious “yes”.  It is obvious to me because my own life testifies to it.  In every season of my life, I have struggled with different sins. But in all of those seasons I have still loved Jesus.”  Read in full at Upwrite.
  • All those progressive Christian radio stations can keep playing Owl City, now that Adam Young has hit the online pages of Christianity Today.
  • Colin at the blog simply titled Words has an analogy on the subject of “constructive reconstruction” of faith with the piece, My Brother the Bike Mechanic.
  • Jon Acuff from Stuff Christians Like finally gets around to doing a book promo video, but you might draw more from this CNN clip of a piece he appeared in.  (Canadian readers:  Does John Roberts hint at the end that he attends North Point?)
  • Allen Flemming, who claims an intimate knowledge of the family says that Canadian David DiSabatino’s DVD documentary on Larry Norman has got it all wrong, setting up a website refuting Fallen Angel called Failed Angle.
  • Pastor Craig Groeschel of Lifechurch.tv re-establishes his church’s purposes in The Code, a series of 13 statements spread out over three blog posts at Swerve.   You’ll have to click here and then head for April 14, 15 and 16 posts; but they’re good reading.  (Or see them all in the comments section here.)
  • Andrew Jones aka Tall Skinny Kiwi, has a balanced look at discernment ministries in 10 Ways to Keep Watchdogs from Barking.
  • Jason Wert is thankful for Anne Jackson drawing attention to the issue of human trafficking in Moldova, but suggests this event has been going on for a long while, even in the United States.
  • Adrienne at the blog, Contemplative Life, has a short post here introducing a piece by Ann Voskamp about Ann’s daughter’s baptism.   Start here, and then click the link to Ann’s piece.
  • Bill at the blog, A New Language for Christians, puts a more modern spin on the story of the good Samaritan.
  • This week’s cartoon is from Thom Tapp at Baptist Press:

March 23, 2010

Quote of the Day: Discernment Ministries

This is from C. Michael Patton at the theology blog, Parchment and Pen.

Watchdog ministries. Lighthouse ministries. Appraisal ministries. They go by many names. They are full-time Christian snipers. Let me back up. There are certain ministries that exist to find and expose false teaching. I have no problem with exposing false teaching. Indeed, it is part of what we are to do as teachers…correct false doctrine. However, it is very rare to find a ministry or a person who does this well. Most of the ministries and people who do this are arrogant, ungracious, and counter-productive and themselves need to be exposed. I have worked for one of these ministries (a long time ago). After a while, the ministry becomes obsessed, concerning itself with nothing else other than beating someone up in the name of the Lord. When there is no controversy, like a drug addict in withdrawals, they begin to create controversy ex nihilo or go back to dead horses and kick them. Their goal soon loses the priority of truth, learning, and understanding. I think that many people would have nothing to talk about if there was not someone to kick.

November 10, 2009

Term Paper Topics for Discernment Ministries

term paperWow!  The first semester of college is ending sooner than it began, so it’s time to hand out the topics for your term paper assignments.   You’ve proved yourself more than adept at finding fault with Rob Bell, The Shack, Dan Kimball, Brian McLaren, “New Monasticism,” Rick Warren, “Emergent Church,” anything Willow Creek-related, “spiritual formation,” Donald Miller, and hundreds of others.   (But never Joyce Meyer… that’s odd… )

You guys at CRI did really good term work so you’re exempt from the final essay.   For the rest of you…

You say you’re a discernment ministry so let’s see some discerning; only let’s give all your existing targets a rest.  Choose your topic:

  1. Twenty years ago your equivalents would be railing against Christian rock music.   So let’s take a run at it, 2009-style.   Check out the latest stuff and the complete back catalog from Switchfoot, Skillet, Hawk Nelson, TobyMac, Tenth Avenue North and Kutless and apply the same critical faculties to some in-depth analysis of the lyrics Christian youth are listening to.   To avoid distraction, use headphones and turn the volume really, really loud so you don’t miss any backward masking.   Bonus marks for dissecting the worship songs of Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, David Crowder and Hillsong United.
  2. You’re concerned about a whole new generation of authors and speakers who are speaking into the lives of Christians, but completely ignoring a huge genre.   Pour yourself a chai and curl up on the divan with the complete works of Karen Kingsbury, Beverly Lewis, Randy Singer, Randy Alcorn (fiction only), Melody Carlson, Lynn Austin and of course, Ted Dekker.   Don’t skip a single page.  Bonus marks for a study of the Max Lucado Wemmicks series and all the Steeple Hill/Love Inspired pocket books released since 2006.     Let us know what you find.
  3. Every Evangelical will tell you that the deuterocanonical books don’t belong in the Bible, but how we do know this for sure?   Without resorting to the historical decisions that led to their inclusion or exclusion from the Bibles of different faith groups, and relying entirely on the text and related commentaries, explore the Apocryphal books verse by verse highlighting such things as the inherent dangers in Methodists reading Bel and the Dragon.   Be sure to spend at least a month on this, doing no other writing nor taking any phone calls during this period of intense study.
  4. What are we really teaching our children?   Not one of the discernment ministries with any profile has noted any examination of what’s really being conveyed through the curriculum of Gospel Light, Scripture Press, David C. Cook, Standard Publishing, Regular Baptist Press,  and Augsburg Fortress.   Part one of this involves study of the publishers listed above; part two involves a more intense study of Group’s Hands-On Active Bible Curriculum by actually teaching a Sunday School class of elementary grade children for the next six weeks.   After all, who better to teach kids than the head of a ministry that encourages kids to study God’s Word.   (Note:  With the kids, you must stick to the curriculum itself; your paper will be disqualified if you get into a rant with the Grade 3 class about Benny Hinn or Joel Osteen.)  Bonus marks for all the theological errors you can uncover in the Veggie Tales series.
  5. The “study abroad” question:   You’ll purchase airplane tickets to connect you with about fifty different venues between now and Christmas to study what’s really going on with Christian comedy.   The comedians themselves are quite accustomed to having hecklers in the audience, so they won’t mind a few discernment ministry folk sitting in the front row shouting out, “I think that last joke was built on a flawed doctrinal premise.”   A few of our Christian brothers do their comedy shtick in clubs with liquor licenses, so to not miss the ambiance of the whole show, be sure to order a drink or two before the first set.   If you’re Baptist and haven’t touched alcohol before in your life, just give the bartender that information with the coded signal, “Make it a double.”   Compare and contrast male and female comedians, and those working within the youth ministry paradigm.   Just think Mr. Discernment Minister, you might be a redneck!

Your finished paper should be 650,000 words or more.  That should keep you off the streets, and more importantly, off the airwaves and off the internet for at least 30 days.  This is the kind of hard-hitting analysis you were born for.

October 26, 2009

A Guide to Christian Bloggers

So how was church yesterday?    If you’re like the majority of Evangelicals in North America (and increasingly, the UK) it probably went down something like this:

  • you were casually dressed
  • there was an opportunity to have coffee either before or after the service, or in some cases, during the service
  • either at the outset, or part-way through the service your kids were dismissed to enjoy their own worship “experience” in a kid-friendly “environment”
  • you sang a number of modern worship choruses, perhaps with a hymn or two added for flavor
  • your pastor — equally casually dressed — preached a message from a topical series he is working through with key points and texts projected on a large screen at the front
  • after the service you had a couple of brief conversations with people from your small group who you will see later in the week at someone’s home

Such is Christian worship in 2009.

EZGtoons - Erin Gillespie 11409But now you’re sitting at your computer and you’re surfing for some good Christian blogs to read, but finding yourself in a kind of spiritual twilight zone.     The people you’re reading — in many cases anyway — don’t look or talk like the people you meet on Sunday mornings. You ask yourself, “Why can’t I find a blog by someone online who looks like me?”  So you keep searching.

Why is this?

It’s largely because the Christian internet is dominated by a number of people who have a particular axe to grind.    Once you’ve been doing this for awhile, you’ll recognize them — “By their links ye shall know them” — but until then, here’s a primer on what you’re finding on your computer screen…

Militant Calvinist Soldiers

There’s nothing objectively wrong with being Calvinist.   Most people are either Calvinist or Arminian in terms of their core doctrines, so you’re going to end up as more one or the other eventually.   The problem is that these people are consuming vast amounts of bandwidth engaging all kinds of deep debates which, while they might prove valuable in terms of Bible study on obscure points of doctrine, no one can remember how they got started.

The other problem is that they tend to use the word “Calvinism” or “Calvinist” ten times more often than they use words like “Christian” or “Jesus.”    Or worse, they use words like “Monergism.”   Believe me, if you think you’re coming down with a case of Monergism, you might want to get it checked.

Personally, I want my ticket to Eternity to be based on Christ’s finished work on the cross for my sin, and not that I stood for a particular organization, denomination or doctrine; or that I could recite all the proof-texts for a particular viewpoint.

King James Onlyites

Somewhere along the line, the joy of their salvation got sucked out and replaced with a mission:  That all Bibles everywhere on earth be eliminated save for their one copy of the King James Version in black leather.   With a red ribbon marker.   And a zipper.

Which, is fine if that’s what you like.   Goodness knows one part of my Zondervan Bible software is still set up to do keyword searches in good ol’ KJV, though it displays the results in something more readable.    But Onlyites aren’t allowed to have preferences.   They have to spiritualize everything, and if they can’t find enough external evidence supporting the supremacy of one particular translation, then they make stuff up.

Never get in an argument with these people because there is nothing — absolutely nothing — you can say that will sway them.   Yea, verily, their mind hath been firmly fix-ed, neither shall anyone dissuade them.  Thus spake I.

The Law and The Gospel Litigists

The fact is, we’re all sinners in God’s eyes.   We’ve all missed the mark in various ways at various times.   Our attempts at righteousness are as far from “pure white” as the paint rags I used during our last kitchen reno.   So yes, nobody is going to get on God’s heaven registration list just by trying to live a good life and be a good person.

On the other hand, this approach, as true as it is,  while it works well if you’re doing somewhat random “witnessing” to strangers, is about as far from lifestyle evangelism as you want to be; especially with friends, neighbors, relatives, co-workers, fellow-students, etc., that you want to see cross the line of faith over the long-term.   Plus, at least you’ve earned the right to be heard, instead of spouting volcanic eruptions of guilt and condemnation.

So while it’s true that there aren’t many roads to God, there are many ways to introduce someone to Jesus.   L&G people tend to get upset if you’re not doing it their way, or winning as many people as they are, or feel called to do street ministry.

Discernmentalists

Years ago, a rather cool guy named Walter Martin figured out that with all the cults and “isms” out there, it would be good for someone to track the beliefs of different writers and organizations whose beliefs bear a strong external similarity to Christianity, but also hold to other ideas that are somewhat off the wall.   He started what is often called a discernment ministry.

With some of the excesses sometimes found in the Charismatic movement, that investigation started hitting closer to home.   Which may be justified.   Especially when you have a research staff documenting everything so that your end product isn’t just a load of innuendo and veiled accusations.

Today however, it seems like there is a Walter Martin wannabe around every corner.   And they don’t trust anyone under 40.   Which means they can — and probably will — show up at your church on Sunday morning and nitpick over the use of words and phrases and pronounce you apostate, cultic or — even worse — Emergent.     (Note:  Emergents who quote Charles Spurgeon and Jonathan Edwards totally confuse them.)   And you don’t want to know their views on music.

Sermon Scribes

These people never actually blog anything original but simply cut and paste vast amounts of sermon texts, often completely omitting to include anything resembling paragraph breaks.

Like the Hindu temple priests who believe there’s something in the incense that rises up to God,  these Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V bloggers believe that there’s something of value in posting these vast and usually impossible-to-follow sermons online, that apparently can only be perceived by God Himself and other Sermon Scribe bloggers.

Personally, I’ll take a podcast over text.   You get the inflection of the speaker who, if they are tech-savvy enough to post a podcast, usually has a communication style that’s less 1910 and more 2010.   Plus you get the audio equivalent of paragraph breaks:  Deep breaths.

Ecclesiastical Elite

There are some good leadership blogs out there.   I even link to some of them in my blogroll.  But if you’re a new Christian, you need to know these aren’t for you so much as they’re for pastors to communicate with other pastors.

Frankly, pastors have different issues than the rest of us.   They live in a world that is vocationally as far removed from you are as the east is from the west.  They work odd hours.  They drink a lot of coffee.  They read books that even the staff at your local Christian bookstore don’t know how to find.

I have great respect for these men, and 99.44% of them are men.   But their blogs should exist on some kind of private blogging network that only other pastors can access.   One of my favorites is actually not on my blogroll for just that reason.    I started thinking about how frustrated and confused I would be if he were my pastor.    It’s good stuff, it’s just not good for everyone.

Conference Crowd

Some people think the big money to be made off Christianity these days is in running conferences and seminars.    I disagree.   The big money is actually in the airline business and the hotel business.   And those lanyard name tag things.

This crowd devotes at least 66.7% of the blog postings in anticipation of a forthcoming conference and another 66.7% coming down from the conference high.   The remaining 66.7% is spent live blogging from the conference itself.   (Hey, it’s arithmatic license, okay?)

There is an saying among modern Evangelicals:  “Send a man to a conference and you’ve recharged his spiritual batteries for a day.  Teach him how to organize and run his own conference and you’ve kept him run off his feet for life.”

Narcissistic Marketers

With this category, we’ll end this this theme, and since you’ve all been patient enough to get this far, you can read more about this in my latest book, which, while you’re ordering it online, you can actually pre-order my next book which is coming out next month.

Plus, we just got in a skid of my first book, and if you’re interested in buying these in case lots (only 72 copies to a case) to give away to all your friends, we can ship them to you free freight if you order them by Friday.   Christmas is coming, and you don’t want to be without a gift to give that unenlightened pagan who lives next door.

Also below you’ll find a link to my latest video promoting all four of my books, plus a PayPal donation button if you really enjoy the great insights I post here daily.   On the sidebar, you’ll also find a link to a story about me in the New York Times and a picture of me receiving CBA Book-of-the-year in the category “Christian non-fiction miscellaneous;” as well as all the details of our “Holy Land of the West” 14-day tour of Wheaton, Illinois (with optional day trips to Barrington, Elgin and a two-day side trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota.)  Did I mention my book?

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