Thinking Out Loud

August 10, 2018

Man-Made Lights in the Nighttime Sky

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:39 am

Some of you know that while I’m not writing on a number of online platforms, I spend a few days a week at a Christian bookstore which we own. The shop is named “Searchlight” and it’s registered as a business although we don’t draw a salary. Some years it makes money, and some years it loses.

So what was I thinking when I named the company?

On one level, I was probably thinking of a song by Christian artist Nancy Honeytree from the 1970s. (It’s posted below.)

On a higher level however, I had in mind the two definitions of the word.

The first type of searchlight is the type you see mounted on the back of a large truck. The lens is at least a meter across and the light pivots, pointed to the nighttime sky to attract people from a wide area to see what’s happening, whether it’s the opening of a new store or restaurant or the premiere of a new movie.

It’s saying, “There’s something happening here.”

The Apostle Paul is standing before Governor Festus…

At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”
“I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.
Acts 26:24-26 NIV

The Passion Translation states the last phrase as, “After all, it’s not like it was a secret! while The Message renders it as, “You must realize that this wasn’t done behind the scenes.

There’s something happening here. The Good News is changing hearts and lives. The message of Jesus is raising people to new life.

The prophet Habakkuk is told to write God’s message in a way that no one can miss it:

And the Lord answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. – Habakkuk 2:2 ESV

I love how The Living Bible (the predecessor of today’s NLT) renders this:

And the Lord said to me, “Write my answer on a billboard, large and clear, so that anyone can read it at a glance and rush to tell the others.

The word of the Lord is larger than life; not done in a remote corner, and certainly not about something distant, or ‘a long time ago in a galaxy far away.’

This is the best news ever.

The second type of searchlight is smaller, but much more important. It’s the type of light is mounted on a vehicle, a boat or a small plane.

It’s saying, “Someone out there is lost.”

It’s meant not to draw people in to a location, but rather to go out from a location to look for a missing person or persons.

Jesus is concluding his meeting with Zacchaeus:

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:9-10 NIV

(Jesus says the same words in Matthew 18:11, in a different context.)

This mirrors Ezekiel 34:11-12:

“For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. – NLT

This has led many to refer to “The God who pursues.”

Part one of the Gospel is “come and see” and part two is “go and tell.”

Something is happening that compels us; draws us; then like Andrew (who on meeting Jesus went to get his brother Peter) we go out and search out more who need to hear.


It turns out I mentioned Searchlight once before at Christianity 201 in this August, 2015 article.


The meaning of Searchlight in the Honeytree song is different yet again, asking God to shine his light into our hearts and souls.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. – Psalm 139: 23-24 NLT

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April 21, 2016

Visual Theology: Part of a New Generation of Reading Materials for Non-Readers

And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end…
Ecclesiastes 12:12a KJV

If Solomon were alive today he might well be more accurate to say that of the writing of Facebook posts, blog articles and Tweets there is no end. Literacy is waning, attention spans are decreased and the time and money available for purchasing reading materials is being diverted to tech-based pastimes.

Rather than abandon ship, a number of people are producing materials aimed at keeping us interested in what’s on the printed page. As you’re reading more recently produced resources you’re likely to see a greater use of colors, varied fonts, sub-headers and sub-sub-headers and call-outs, those little boxes of reiterated text at the side of the page intended to draw attention to particular sentences (sometimes referred to as pull-quotes).

In the world of Christian publishing we find for example, Rose Publications providing what I call “fast facts for a bullet-point world” — they’re welcome to use that phrase — in a series of about a hundred laminated pamphlets, not dissimilar to the laminated charts you used in college science courses when there wasn’t time to read the textbook. Church history, The Temple, The Feasts, The Prophets, teachings on Baptism, translation comparison, the Fruit of the Spirit, the Armor of God and the Names of God are just a few of the many titles that condense information for those who just want the Cliffs Notes on a given topic.

Another way information is communicated online is through info-graphics, and we’ve seen this break into mainstream Christian publishing through products such as The Quickview Bible which we reviewed here a few years back. If I had a nickel for everyone I know who in the past twelve months who has used the phrase, “I’m a visual learner…”

Visual Theology coverInto this arena steps Visual Theology: Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God by Tim Challies and Josh Byers (Zondervan, 2016). Because you’re reading this on your computer or phone, the Challies brand should be familiar to you. Despite originating in Canada, challies.com ranks in the top ten on many U.S. lists of the top Christian blogs, spurred on greatly by the predilection of his neo-Reformed, New Calvinist tribe to be among the most active online. Publishers pay real money to run “sponsored posts” on his blog; his Amazon referrer income is probably the envy of thousands of other bloggers; and as we found out one time, a simple mention on his à la carte daily link list can send daily reader stats skyrocketing. It’s no surprise that as a result of his blog, subtitled “Informing the Reforming,” he is now able to write full-time.

Never one to be content with past accomplishments, Tim Challies continues to re-invent the blog with a now daily quotation graphic, and a few years back introduced a number of info-graphics by Iowa communications pastor Josh Byers. While these form the distinctive element of Visual Theology and were certainly the backbone of the book’s elevator pitch, it’s the ones done as flowcharts that I think are most engaging, especially the two-pager (pp 96-7) on How To Put Sin to Death.

In terms of overall organization, the book is divided into four sections:

  • Grow Close to Christ
  • Understand the Work of Christ
  • Become Like Christ
  • Live for Christ.

with two or three chapters for each. The actual text sections — and despite the liberal use of color there’s more text here than I may be describing — are written in fairly plain language including some helpful illustrations from the author’s experiences. This is a book that non-readers — a group especially encompassing teens, twenty-somethings and males of all ages — would find very accessible.

Visual Theology

Additionally, Visual Theology is a great resource for either the person wondering, ‘What does it mean to be a Christian?’ or the person whose current status is more of, ‘I’ve just made a commitment to become a Christian, so what do I need to know or do next?’ In terms of elementary things the Christ-follower needs to know, the book is no doubt indebted to Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem (who also writes the foreword) and other books of that genre, but without the dryness or clinical treatment that sometimes accompanies Christian academic or reference works.

Remarkably, the book is mostly denominationally neutral. Though the footnoted sources betray Challies’ roots and preferences (Tim Keller, Dane Ortland, R. C. Sproul,  C. J. Mahaney, John Owen, etc.) I was impressed by the doctrinal evenhandedness the book presents. True, my Anglican friends would cringe at the suggestion that ordinances means the same as sacraments, but I actually appreciated the inclusion of both terms.

In the author’s hometown, there is a congregation that advertises themselves as, “a church for people who aren’t into church.” Well, this is a book for people who aren’t into books. A gospel primer for adults, if you will.

Considering the graphic design and printing process that went into creating this book, the 156 page paperback is a steal at $17.99 US; and for the nerd in the family, the books of the Bible listed in the style of The Periodic Table of Elements is worth the price of admission.


Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for much-appreciated copy of Visual Theology which, if I loan it out to friends, I will probably not get back!

 

January 30, 2015

Getting the Gospel Right

Christianity in a single sentence

Four years ago I ran a piece here that began with Dane Ortland, a senior editor at Crossway Books, who asked some people in his Rolodex to summarize the gospel in a single sentence. (Does he still use a Rolodex?) At the time, I was reading all Christian bloggers somewhat equally, but today with the dominance of Calvinist/Reformed voices at Crossway, I probably would have tempered my introduction with a warning that many of the responses probably emanate from people in the same doctrinal stream.

To be fair, the question asked was to summarize The Bible in a single sentence. But it’s a re-hash of a familiar theme among certain blogs were repeating over and over and over and over and over and over and over again: What is the gospel?

I remain perplexed by this preoccupation, this obsession that certain people in the Reformed tradition have with trying to formulate the ultimate definition of the evangel; the good news. Without being flippant, I think that, like pornography, you know it when you see it; or in this case hear it or read it.

Mylon LeFevre, the musician from the early days of CCM put it this way, “If it didn’t sound like good news, you haven’t heard the gospel.”

I also think that, when considered in the light of the Jewish appreciation of the scriptures as a great jewel that reflects and refracts the light in infinite ways each time we look at it, the idea of trying to formulate a precis of the Bible is to venture into an endless and perhaps even frustrating mission. What would Jesus think of trying to consolidate something so great, so wide, so high, so deep into a finite number of words?  Concision is great, but maybe it doesn’t work here.

That God loves us and cares for us enough to intervene — that incarnation should ever take place at all — is such a mystery. Why mess it up with over-analysis? Instead of reading about the gospel, and writing about the gospel, and — oh my goodness! — blogging endlessly about the gospel; would it not be better to get out into the streets and be living the gospel? I said at the time that my answer would simply be:

  • It’s the story of the history between God and humankind.

Is that not sufficient?  Maybe today I would add, ‘and God’s workings to repair that relationship where it has been broken.’ But already I’m making it longer where I think such a statement needs to be concise.

But why? Why? Why? Would someone from within the Reformed tradition be so kind as to give me a reasonable solution to this riddle: Why so much time, so much energy, so much angst over trying to answer a question that never seems to be answered to everyone’s satisfaction?

Nonetheless, here are few answers to Dane’s question:

  • God is in the process of recreating the universe which has been corrupted by sin and has made it possible for all those and only those who follow Jesus to be a part of the magnificent, eternal community that will result. (Craig Bloomberg)
  • The movement in history from creation to new creation through the redemptive work of Father, Son, and Spirit who saves and changes corrupted people and places for his glory and their good. (Paul House)
  • The message of the Bible is twofold: to show how people can be saved from their sins through faith in Christ’s atonement AND how to live all of life as a follower of God. (Leland Ryken)
  • God reigns over all things for his glory, but we will only enjoy his saving reign in the new heavens and the new earth if we repent and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the crucified and risen Lord and who gave himself on the cross for our salvation. (Tom Schreiner)
  • God made it, we broke it, Jesus fixes it! (Jay Sklar attributed to Michael D. Williams)

Two of the authors merely paraphrased a familiar verse in John 3:

  • God created mankind in order to love them, but we all rejected his love, so God sent His Son to bear our sins on the cross in order that by believing in His sacrificial atonement, we might have life. (Grant Osborne)
  • God was so covenantally committed to the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him may have eternal life! (Dan Block)

I thought there was actually more life in the answers given in the comments section:

  • God chose one man (Abraham) in order to make of him one great nation (Israel) so that through it He might bring forth the one great Savior (Jesus) and through Him demonstrate God’s glory and extend God’s grace to all creation. (John Kitchen)
  • The good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that provides full and free deliverance from the penalty and power of sin, by the grace of God alone, through faith in Christ alone, plus nothing – all to the praise of His glorious name. (Seth from Lynchburg)
  • Jesus, God’s promised Rescuer and Ruler, lived our life, died our death and rose again in triumphant vindication as the first fruits of the new creation to bring forgiven sinners together under his gracious reign. (attributed to Steve Timmis)
  • Why try and better John the Baptist? He succintly summarizes the Bible: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”(John 1:29). It’s all there – epiphany, sin, sacrifice, salvation, redemption, justification, forgiveness, release, freedom and victory. (Michael Zarling)
  • The Triune God of Eternity restoring the demonstration of His glory in that which He has created by the redemption of creation through God-man, Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rick from Dallas)

But at the end of the day — if you haven’t already spotted the pattern here — my favorite item in the comment section is this one:

  • Why didn’t you ask any women to contribute? (Gillian)

To read many of the other featured definitions; and dozens of other comments; click over to the original article at Strawberry Rhubarb

Looking back four years later… In an environment where so many churches spend so much time and energy trying to draft mission statements and tag lines to put under the church logo, it’s interesting that our perspectives vary enough that we don’t emerge with something more common to all.  However, we do have a common symbol, the cross

Maybe we should start there and work backwards to a core statement.

July 22, 2014

Guest Post: Carlo Raponi — Sudden Urgency

Carlo Raponi is Evangelism Outreach Director with Kawartha Youth Unlimited, a Youth for Christ chapter in Peterborough, a city about 75 minutes northeast of Toronto, Canada. This is his second time at Thinking Out Loud.


There is not a day that I can remember where I’ve woken up alone in the world. Literally. I have no memory of any day of my life where I spent a whole day without ever encountering a single person. I think that if this ever happened it would carry with it a strange unfamiliar feeling that only gets seen in post-apocalyptic horror films. Instead, I, like all of us, am surrounded by people every day.

Most of the people we see are people we don’t know, many are people that we do; and some we only get to see on occasion. However they are all people that come into our spheres of influence. They are people with whom we have a chance to share the message of Jesus. Some of these encounters afford us time to develop His narrative slowly; other encounters require a faster and more succinct explanation of His hope. Either way, they all pass before us with a ‘best before’ date invisibly stamped upon them.

Last weekend one of the youth that attends The Bridge Youth Center told me that she’s moved to Toronto. She was only in town to deal with some court issues and then she would be returning back to the city. She is a girl that I have known for a few years now. When she first began coming in to the youth center she was a walking terror. Loud, boisterous and with a stubbornness that seemed incorrigible…she reminded me a little of myself. Perhaps that’s why we connected so well. But now she would be leaving, possibly for good. And so I apologized to her.

She asked me why I needed to apologize and I told her that in the years we have known each other I have approached the subject of our need for Jesus and who He is, but I never sat her down and REALLY challenged her. The ‘time’ never seemed right or the ’occasion’ didn’t present itself. There always seemed to be a reason that trumped the moment. Now she was leaving and I felt that I had done her wrong by not introducing her to the greatest thing she could ever possess – a relationship with the one who could change everything she knew about everything she knows.

I told her about a friend who’s younger brother had asked him the awkward question. He asked if he thought that the young brother would go to hell for not believing in Jesus. When the awkward reply came out as a ‘yes’ the younger brother’s response was, “…then if you love me, why haven’t you sat me down to tell me about Jesus?”

I told her that I owed her an apology because I wasn’t intentional enough to prove that I care by sharing this truth with her. The conversation that ensued was beautiful and honest, on both our behalves. It ended with her making a promise to find a church that she likes and to attend it 3 times. After that she could do as she pleases. With a smile she made me a pinky-promised that turned into a weird handshake of sorts (then I took this picture of it for proof).

the handshake

Now I must entrust her faith into the hands of God and the actions of others who I hope will do a better and more proactive job than I did. But I won’t forget this lesson. People pass in front of us every day. We’re surrounded by people all the time. There is a reason for this.

 ~ Carlo Raponi

 


 

Previously at Thinking out Loud: Three Conversations and a Wedding (March 2012)

June 3, 2012

Two Audiences, Two Responses

If you spend any amount of time in the Christian blogosphere, by the time Christmas rolls around, you are going to have had enough of the discussion of Christianity and Homosexuality. This blog is no exception.  Some of you are glazing over even as you read this, and a few of you have already clicked away.  Bye, bye. Try again tomorrow…

However, I was very impressed with an exercise that took place at Team Pyro (aka Pyromaniacs) (Gasp, yes, a reformed blog) over the past week, where readers were asked by Frank Turk to compare and contrast two different approaches to this problem, one from John Piper, who is speaking largely to a very loyal Christian following, and second from Timothy Keller, who attracts secularists, skeptics and seekers in rather refreshing numbers; people who, as Team Pyro pointed out, will never venture into the Christian blogosphere.

I decided the videos were worth posting here as well, but you need to (a) read Frank’s introductions and (b) read some of the comments.  So here are the links to part one and part two.  As huge as this issue is, it’s a microcosm of how we deal with similar issues within and outside the church. Jesus was rather rough on the Pharisees, but had a great deal of grace for sinners. I like what Keller did here especially and think it’s worth watching a few times. (And don’t remind me about Joel Osteen’s response.) 

Please remember if you decide to comment here, that this is about the nature of the response depending on who is the audience. Comments here (and at Pyromaniacs) should be limited to this particular focus or will otherwise be deleted.

December 27, 2011

So How Would You Respond?

First, someone who subscribes to some faith-focused view of things decided that this was an appropriate response to atheism:

But then, as often happens in these situations, someone subscribing to atheism decided to fire back across the bow with this:

At this, the majority of Christ-following blog readers here are expected to be offended.  However, for some reason, I’m not.  I rather like the rather quaint way of putting the story because it highlights that this is indeed a story of “foolish things that confound the wise.”

Cosmic?  Yes, in the sense of ‘out of this world.’  In fact, I would think it very important to begin the story with the premise that the intersection of God and mankind is very much the intersection of different dimensions.

Jewish?  Yes.  Christianity is birthed out of and is very much the fulfillment of the promise given to Abraham, even the promise given to Adam.

Zombie?  Well, that’s a little extreme, but it fits.  Personally, I always viewed Zombie-ism as a kinda a lifestyle thing, so for me it could describe both Jesus and John the Baptist in their respective wilderness days.

Live forever?  Indeed!  Eternal life starts now.

Eat his flesh?  No self-respecting Christian I know has ever denied that this is a “Top 5” entry in the category, “Hard Sayings of the Gospel.”   But non-Catholics would say the language is figurative inasmuch as we partake of his sufferings on the cross; Catholics would claim a more literal experience of actually eating his flesh.

Telepathically tell him you accept him?  I’d say the person who wrote this has a better understanding of the gospel than the average church-attender, because at least he/she grasps that the centrality of crossing the line of faith has more to do with an act of believing faith than it does with trying to earn acceptance on the basis of helping little old ladies across the street.  Apologies to elderly females reading this.

…As your master?  Again, bullseye!  There are references in the New Testament to Jesus as Savior, but they outnumbered by references to Jesus as Lord by a ratio of 215:1.  Besides, if you’ve bought in to this point — if you’ve gotten past flesh-eating and zombies and telepathy — you probably feel you’re on to something that you’re going to dedicate yourself to, right?  In for a penny, in for a pound.

So he can remove an evil force?  Sorta.  The Apostle Paul acknowledged the ongoing presence of sin and temptation in the life of the Christ-follower.  I’d refine that one to read, “So he can give you the power to conquer an evil force” on the basis of the conviction that he already conquered it.

A rib woman was convinced by a talking snake…?  God created beings with totally free will including the ability to both reject his authority and to reject his love and desire for community with mankind.  But that had to both be tested out, and also be demonstrated for the man and woman to see for themselves.  There might be dozens of ways to do this, but if you’re looking for a good story, you really can’t make this stuff up. In the first chapter of The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey quotes Walter Wink as saying, “If Jesus had never lived, we never would have been able to invent him.”  That’s how I feel about this.

Makes perfect sense?  Depends to whom you’re speaking.  “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” II Cor. 4:4 (NIV) On the other hand, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. ”  John 1:12 (NLT)

Thanks for reading today.  If you’ll excuse me now, I’ve got to spend some time in telepathic communication, and then me and the rib-woman are gonna have some breakfast.

January 14, 2011

The Gospel In a Single Sentence

When Dane Ortland, a senior editor at Crossway Books asked some people in his Rolodex to summarize the gospel in a single sentence, below are some of the responses he got.  Actually, to be fair, the question asked was to summarize The Bible in a single sentence.  But it’s a re-hash of a familiar theme among certain blogs repeated over and over and over and over and over and over and over again: What is the gospel?

I remain perplexed by this preoccupation, this obsession that certain people in the Reformed tradition have with trying to formulate the ultimate definition of the evangel; the good news. Without being flippant, I think that, like pornography, you know it when you see it; or in this case hear it or read it.

Mylon LeFevre, the musician from the early days of CCM put it this way, “If it didn’t sound like good news, you haven’t heard the gospel.”

I also think that, when considered in the light of the Jewish appreciation of the scriptures as a great jewel that reflects and refracts the light in infinite ways each time we look at it, the idea of trying to formulate a precis of the Bible is to venture into an endless and perhaps even frustrating mission. What would Jesus think of trying to consolidate something so great, so wide, so high, so deep into a finite number of words?

That God loves us and cares for us enough to intervene — that incarnation should ever take place at all — is such a mystery.  Why mess it up with over-analysis? Instead of reading about the gospel, and writing about the gospel, and — oh my goodness! — blogging endlessly about the gospel; would it not be better to get out into the streets and be living the gospel?  My answer would simply be:

  • It’s the story of the history between God and humankind.

Is that not sufficient?

Why? Why? Why? Would someone from within the Reformed tradition be so kind as to give me a reasonable solution to this riddle: Why so much time, so much energy, so much angst over trying to answer a question that never seems to be answered to everyone’s satisfaction?

Nonetheless, here are few answers to Dane’s question:

  • God is in the process of recreating the universe which has been corrupted by sin and has made it possible for all those and only those who follow Jesus to be a part of the magnificent, eternal community that will result.  (Craig Bloomberg)
  • The movement in history from creation to new creation through the redemptive work of Father, Son, and Spirit who saves and changes corrupted people and places for his glory and their good. (Paul House)
  • The message of the Bible is twofold: to show how people can be saved from their sins through faith in Christ’s atonement AND how to live all of life as a follower of God. (Leland Ryken)
  • God reigns over all things for his glory, but we will only enjoy his saving reign in the new heavens and the new earth if we repent and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the crucified and risen Lord and who gave himself on the cross for our salvation.  (Tom Schreiner)
  • God made it, we broke it, Jesus fixes it! (Jay Sklar attributed to Michael D. Williams)

Two of the authors merely paraphrased a familiar verse in John 3:

  • God created mankind in order to love them, but we all rejected his love, so God sent His Son to bear our sins on the cross in order that by believing in His sacrificial atonement, we might have life.  (Grant Osborne)
  • God was so covenantally committed to the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him may have eternal life! (Dan Block)

I thought there was actually more life in the answers given in the comments section:

  • God chose one man (Abraham) in order to make of him one great nation (Israel) so that through it He might bring forth the one great Savior (Jesus) and through Him demonstrate God’s glory and extend God’s grace to all creation.  (John Kitchen)
  • The good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that provides full and free deliverance from the penalty and power of sin, by the grace of God alone, through faith in Christ alone, plus nothing – all to the praise of His glorious name.  (Seth from Lynchburg)
  • Jesus, God’s promised Rescuer and Ruler, lived our life, died our death and rose again in triumphant vindication as the first fruits of the new creation to bring forgiven sinners together under his gracious reign.  (attributed to Steve Timmis)
  • Why try and better John the Baptist? He succintly summarizes the Bible: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”(John 1:29). It’s all there – epiphany, sin, sacrifice, salvation, redemption, justification, forgiveness, release, freedom and victory. (Michael Zarling)
  • The Triune God of Eternity restoring the demonstration of His glory in that which He has created by the redemption of creation through God-man, Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rick from Dallas)

But at the end of the day — if you haven’t already spotted the pattern here — my favorite item in the comment section is this one:

  • Why didn’t you ask any women to contribute?  (Gillian)

To read many of the other featured definitions; and dozens of other comments; or to add your comments to the mix; click over to Dane’s blog, Strawberry Rhubarb.

November 10, 2010

Wednesday Link List

One of the more interesting lists of lynx links I’ve posted in a long time…

  • Starting out, here’s the ultimate list of stats comparing the NIV 2011 with previous NIV editions.    Lots of changes in Ruth, Ezra, Amos and Jonah.  And III John.   But nothing like the 32% new content in Galatians.   The least renovated is Song of Solomon, with other low change rates in II Kings and Esther.
  • Very shocked to learn recently about the accident involving Ruth Graham’s husband Greg, who was in a major automobile accident.  (Ruth is a daughter of Ruth Bell Graham and Billy Graham.)   Pray for Ruth, Greg and their three sons.  You can follow some of the story by clicking on the ministry website, selecting Ruth’s blog, and scrolling back to September 30th’s entry.   Really, really try to remember to pray for this family.
  • Barry Simmons has embedded a film clip dramatizing a critical moment in Martin Luther’s trial before the Diet of Worms, where he is given a chance to renounce his beliefs.     Where would we be today if Luther hadn’t stood up the doctrinal corruption that was taking place at the time?  (No, this Diet isn’t a weight-loss program.   Click here and here to learn more.)
  • Speaking of film clips, a regular reader — and one-time guest contributor to this blog — Simon Fraser University film student Nathan Douglas scored an opportunity to do a film review for Christianity Today magazine of a Finnish movie releasing on DVD in February, Letters to Father Jacob.
  • Here’s a link to last night’s story on ABC World News about pastors who have lost their faith but can’t afford to lose their jobs. “…When speaking to parishioners, they tried to stick to the sections of the Bible that they still believed in — the parts about being a good person. Both said that they would like to leave their jobs though they can’t afford to.
  • Timmy Brister at the blog, Provocations and Paintings has been busy reading AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, and highlights two videos that were used to open the AND Conference.   I really like these videos, which help make the point of encouraging the blending the missional and the attractional approaches to church.
  • And speaking of Calvinist bloggers, Phil Johnson at Pyromaniacs seems to take great delight in pouring gasoline on this fire, in a post entitled The Problem For Arminians.    I’m not 100% sure what — other than intense pain — this particular line of discussion is serving, but I’m not alone, as the 200-odd comments clearly indicate.
  • Mike Gilbart-Smith posts some fairly extensive notes from a lecture by Stuart Townend on Leading Corporate Worship.    He also summarizes them here at 9 Marks.    Don’t know who Townend is?  Then click here.
  • The author of Heaven almost got there at an earlier stage of life.  Randy Alcorn talks about working at a 7-11 and being robbed at gunpoint.  Well, actually he kinda glosses over it.
  • Adam Young aka Owl City performs In Christ Alone with a couple of interesting key changes.   He ends the blog post related to the song with this:  “When He comes for His own, He will have no trouble recognizing me… because my banner will be clear.”
  • And then, at the other end of the musical spectrum, we have the bluegrass sounds of The Franz Family kicking off the Christmas season early with O Come, O Come Emmanuel.     I’ve always like this song; I like the simple harmonies on this, but I was really struck by the production of the video itself.
  • Guess I’m going nuts with video links this week.   If you were part of the Jesus Music scene in the late ’70s and early ’80s; you’ll remember an early worship song from the Maranatha! Five album by Bill Sprouse and the Road Home based on Psalm 5.
  • Our cartoon this week is a bit of a mystery.  I clicked on Church People at Baptist Press by Frank Lengel and ended up with a string of Friends cartoons by Franko.  Same person?  Beats me.  I haven’t seen this one before among the seven different cartoons available there.  The way I see it, the “news” value of telling that story makes up for my ignoring the copyright notice.

June 3, 2010

The Difference Between Religion and Christ

At least once a week, I have the opportunity to share a simple overview of the difference between religion and Christianity with someone.   I wrote about it in September, 2008, but the essence of it is:

Q. How do you spell religion?

A. D-O — Do this, do that, do the other thing. Your standing before God is/will be based on what you do.

Q. How do you spell Christianity?

A. D-O-N-E — It’s all been done for us. There is nothing we can do to earn it, it is the gift of God.

The response I’ve had to this over the years has always been positive — it shatters many false perceptions — and I’m grateful to the former YFC staff worker who introduced it to me over a decade ago.

Justin Buzzard, who blogs from California, has taken a look at Tim Keller‘s The Gospel in Life curriculum, and has extracted more detail on the contrast between religion and the Good News, and has put it in chart form on Buzzard Blog.  (Check out the whole blog!)   Here it is for your consideration:

April 12, 2010

Sorting Out Rick Warren’s Invite from John Piper

When I started this blog it was with the determination to be different.   Although it has the usual “about” page, plus an extra one called “Behind the Scenes,” the real mandate to do this is found on a page titled “Life in the Blogosphere” which is no longer available here.

In that page is a list of six or seven things I wanted to do here, and they’re all fairly general one except for one.   It said, “I don’t really get the whole John Piper thing…”   (I’m actually breaking one of my own blog rules by getting into this!)

When I started reading Christian blogs many years ago, and also when I started writing one over two years ago, it seemed like Piper was ubiquitous.  People were searching online for everything the man had ever said; waiting with bated breath for the lasted video upload from Desiring God; tripping over themselves to cut-and-paste his latest take on some hot-button theological (or not so theological) issue from someone else’s blog to their own; and quoting his words in articles and opinion pieces as though they were the Word of God itself.

That continues to this day — it’s no wonder the guy is taking a few months off; who could live with that pressure? — but I’ve since learned to keep my bookmarks and published blogroll more balanced, so I only see a small percentage of what persists from the reformed (or in some cases neo-reformed) sector of the internet.

People often ask, “Who will be the next Billy Graham?”   Honestly, I’m glad that we are living in a time when no single non-Catholic Christian leader speaks for all of us.  (I think it helps direct the focus to Jesus!)   I’m glad that this particular type of leadership role is somewhat fragmented.    There’s some good and bad in this, as I mentioned in my post, Top Trends Affecting Your Church in 2009 over a year ago:

Trend #10: Conflicting Spokesmen — Who will be the next Billy Graham? It probably won’t happen that the future will see the focus on a single individual who speaks for all Christians or all Protestants or all Evangelicals.  Since many key spokespeople disagree on secondary and tertiary issues, it will sometimes appear to that there is a lack of consensus.

You see this most clearly in the present teapot tempest over Piper’s decision to invite Rick Warren to the Desiring God conference.  (Over 40,000 posts and web articles served on this topic to date. Would you like fries with that?)    People who like Piper don’t like Warren.   (I was going to put a qualifying phrase in there to temper the generalization, but decided to let it stand.)    Take Phil Johnson for example:

I can’t think of anyone who would make a finer poster-boy for the pragmatic, spiritually impoverished, gospel-deprived message of modern and postmodern evangelicalism than Rick Warren. He is shallow, pragmatic, and chameleonic. He is a spiritual changeling who will say whatever his audience wants to hear. He wants desperately to be liked and accepted by Muslims, evangelicals, and everyone in between.

Too bad Phil doesn’t tell us what he really thinks.

Some feel that Warren is well-chosen as the man to fill Graham’s shoes in civic affairs such as the inauguration of a President and see him as the spokesman for the Evangelical church.  (A feeling, I might add, that sits better with me than the choice of T. D. Jakes or Joel Osteen.)

But — recent events notwithstanding — Piper’s followers, who are extremely well represented here in blog-land still see him as the man who has the final word on doctrinal matters.   Warren can offer public prayers and say grace at prayer breakfasts, but it’s Piper they really need to give them direction.   So they aren’t quite sure what Piper is up to inviting Warren, though Scot McKnight is one of many who endorses the decision.

Personally, I think I have a good idea what he’s up to; and I think the invitation and the decision to take a sabbatical are better understood when seen in the context of each other.  (The blog, Black Calvinist presents some excellent insights, as well. while blogger Stephen Macasil thought perhaps it was an early April Fool’s prank!)

But here’s my point:

  • 100 years from now it won’t matter

And here’s my other point:

  • 100 days after the conference it won’t matter, either; perhaps even 10 days later

These things preoccupy bloggers — many blogs thrive on controversy and division — and a handful of Christian periodical writers, but they disappear in the dust very quickly.    Plus there’s this, from I Cor. 3: 4, 5, and 7 —

When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I prefer Apollos,” aren’t you acting like those who are not Christians? Who is Apollos, and who is Paul, that we should be the cause of such quarrels? Why, we’re only servants. Through us God caused you to believe. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. The ones who do the planting or watering aren’t important, but God is important because he is the one who makes the seed grow. (NLT)

You would that the upcoming conference will change Christianity forever to read the passion of bloggers and those leaving comments on their blogs.   It won’t.

The world will continue.  This will neither usher in a new reformation nor a new apostasy.  The gospel will continue to be preached in all the world for the witness.   Wait and see.   (What’s that verse in I Cor. say?  Love believes the best.)  Speculation just isn’t helpful at this time.

On the weekend, blogger Tim Challies was interviewed during the final hour of The Drew Marshall show.   I didn’t realize that Tim’s background includes time spent in both Warren-type and Piper-type churches, and the subject of the conference was covered.   The April 10th interview will be posted online on Friday, April 16th and you can catch it here.

Video embed of Piper’s response to the critics.

Photos:  The two were sitting side-by-side at the June, 2009 funeral of Rev. Ralph Winter.  (Christian Post)

No “chameleonic” is not a word.   “Chameleon-like” is what he wanted.

By “neo-reformed” I mean to infer not an extremeism (though this does happen) but rather — largely due to the internet —  people who have been recently swept into Calvinism because of various ‘appeals’ who will later, as they work out the nature of God in scripture, find themselves not tethered to Reform doctrine and will gravitate to some other position.   But there’s also Scot McKnight’s definition.  (And Roger Olson’s supplemental piece.)

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