Thinking Out Loud

October 21, 2013

Which Comes First? Conforming to Spiritual Requirements or Receiving Grace?

From the book, Look to The Rock, by Alec Motyer (p.41)…

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

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

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

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

Keeping the commands to earn God's favor


…and many church people force people to conform to this pattern.

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

Keeping the commands in gratitude for grace received

…that’s mercy; that’s grace.

When we have been the recipients of such love, we will of course want to respond; we will want to offer something back to please the One who gave Himself to redeem us.  If we understand that, we understand the good news of the Gospel.

Of course, there is always the issue that most of the general population can’t name all ten commandments, and if they do, they tend to focus on the “second tablet,” the ones having to do with interpersonal relationships, and neglect the first four, having to do with our relationship with God. In either model people will strive to make God happy through various means relating to that second group of commands and will forget that what makes God happiest is when we put Him first, honor Him with with our worship, honor His name, and honor His day.


September 26, 2010

Frontline Ministry

I was going to just casually include this in one of the Wednesday link lists here, but I realized it needed a longer setup.

Tony Miano has a blog, The Lawman Chronicles, which gets its name from the years Tony spent in law enforcement, which I’ve been reading for a long time.   He does a lot of street preaching, and seems to strongly subscribe to the Ray Comfort school of evangelism, sometimes referred to as “The Law and The Gospel” approach to what is termed “soul winning.”

Now right away, I know there are people reading this who I have immediately alienated because that whole methodology is about 180-degrees different from what you believe in.   But you know, I think you need to give the dozen or so minutes it takes to watch the related video because I think we all need to see ministry on the frontlines.

I’m not doing this blog post today because I necessarily agree that this is the best approach, or that everybody should be called to evangelism, or that other methodologies are not as good.   Nor do I do this solely so that we can sit on the sidelines and critique the process like Statler and Waldorf, the two guys in the upper balcony on The Muppet Show.

I admire guys like Tony.   They are doing something, something they believe in with great passion, while other people are doing nothing.   In fact, I would want to disqualify anyone from commenting on this unless they have shared a verbal witness with at least one person in the past fortnight.

Of course, where we might differ is what constitutes “sharing a verbal witness.”    For some, like William Booth, that meant putting a uniform to distinguish himself from the surrounding culture; to take his turf with him so that everyone was meeting him on his turf.    Then, a step or two down from that type of identification there are contemporary street preachers like Tony.   And then there’s people who prefer “witness lite.”

The trouble with “witness lite” is that it’s often neither Biblio-centric or Christo-centric.    It neither draws directly on the source (the Word) nor the object (the Savior) of its intent.

I don’t necessarily agree with “The Law and the Gospel” approach as an all-purpose template.   It seems very formulaic.   Eric, the guy in the video in this link, is coming from a Roman Catholic background, and I think there are ways of identifying and connecting with that personal history and ‘tweaking’ the approach accordingly.

But again, if you’re reading this and you’re not doing anything, you’ve got to have something to fall back on.   The “Roman Road;” the “Four Spiritual Laws;” the “Bridge Illustration;” etc., are all examples of materials you want to always have, at least figuratively, in your back pocket.  Scripture tells us to always be prepared to give a response for the hope that we have.

I also realize that someone will want to note that the video linked here documents a somewhat artificial example of one-to-one street ministry, since Eric was fully aware of the camera; fully aware that he was being filmed.   I thought about that in the first three or four minutes, but I’m not sure it really distorted or affected his responses.   I do question the presence of cameras on this type of outing, though I suppose if this serves as a model for others, it has some validity.

It doesn’t always though.   Some of the other videos of this ilk include some rather tense exchanges involving street preaching to larger crowds.   Occasionally, someone versed in less confrontational approaches will question whether or not this more traditional approach conveys Christian love and compassion.    Sadly, it’s at that point some polarization takes place with the street preachers suggesting the post-modern Christians are “false converts.”

Knowing many genuinely-converted, Spirit-indwelled Christ-followers on both sides of this divide, I can say honestly that at this point it becomes a battle that nobody will win.    The “Law and Gospel” people feel that more modern approaches neither produce an acknowledgment of sin nor do they convey the essence of the hope of the gospel.    The new “Missional” believers are committed to outreach, but know too many statistics proving that guilt and fear produce short-term decisions but not long-term disciples; and showing that many a hasty conversion just doesn’t ‘stick’ over time.

What is the solution?

I don’t believe in formulas or templates.   I believe you should know a basic plan for conveying the essence of the following: (a) that we are sinners in need of forgiveness; (b) that such forgiveness is offered in Christ’s work on Calvary; and (c) how a person avails themselves of this forgiveness and moves, as the older Bibles put it, “from death to life.”   But it should be unique to your personality and flexible to the situation you’re in.   Jesus healed one blind man in an instant, but with another, it was a more tentative, two-step process.

But not everybody has the gift of “closing the sale.”   You may be a major influence in someone’s life, but it may be God’s choice that someone else is the chosen instrument to help that person “cross the line of faith.”   Bill Hybels devotes a chapter — and a moving example — to this in Just Walk Across The Room; and Mark Mittelberg and Lee Strobel bring no less than 42 different examples of varying forms of witness in The Unexpected Adventure.

My bias is a little toward Hybels, Strobel and Mittelberg; but I raise this whole topic today because I think you’ve really got to watch the video and look at the other things people are doing; not to armchair quarterback their approach or critique them, but to allow it to inspire you to do more.

Here is the link to the video, and also embedded in the comments section of this very post.   But if you link to Tony’s blog, take some time to click over to other posts and get a feel for what he is doing, because the major take-away from all this is that he is, in fact, doing.

You can also click through from the video itself (see comments) or from this direct video link to more than two dozen other videos the group that filmed this have posted at YouTube.

Related post on this blog:  Considering Deborah Drapper (May 15, 2009)

August 25, 2010

Wednesday Link List

I was scrolling back through previous link lists, and I do miss the more creative titles.  I’d forgotten about “(B)link and You’ll Miss It.”   That was gold.   I’m available for copywriting your next brochure, and for children’s birthday parties.

  • Our upper and lower cartoons this week are from a source I only recently discovered.   Steve Wall is a Canadian living in British Columbia and his comic series is titled Trees of the Field.
  • Continuing our Canadian theme, this week CNN’s belief blog picked up on a self-published book by Calgary pastor of New Hope Church, John Van Sloten with the creative title The Day Metallica Came to Church. Also tracked down more information on his church website.
  • One more item of Canadian interest:  This week — nearly four months later — Christianity Today picked up on the Christians Horizons case involving lifestyle requirements for employees.   [You can read my version here,  as well as my original 2008 report.]
  • Take the scenes from the family-friendly movie Mary Poppins and re-edit them so it looks like a horror film.   Then, take the faux-movie-trailer and use it as an analogy for how some people re-edit Christianity to suit their purposes.   Check out this article by Dan Kimball.    [HT: Scott Shirley]
  • There’s much talk these days about “earning the right to be heard,” and needing to get to know someone before you can “speak into their life.”  But Dan Phillips contends that if he meets someone who is not a follower of Christ, there are fifteen things he already knows about them.
  • Here’s a t-shirt design (at right) I found on a tumblr blog, Churchy Design.   The shirt, of course, is called King of Kings.
  • OK.  I know some of you want to dig into something a little lengthier.  Here’s a piece from Catholic World Report on the implications of the current shortage of organs for organ transplantation.   It involves biomedical ethics, including our definition of death.
  • In another longer piece, Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk traces the life journey of the pioneer of the blended worship concept aka Ancient-Future worship, Robert Webber.
  • For most readers of this blog, the phrase “Prodigal God” refers to a book by Tim Keller.   But it’s also the name of a musical by Brian Doerksen featuring guests including Ron Kenoly and Colin Janz.   Find out more about the double-CD releasing October 12th, and enjoy listening to a preview of five songs.
  • A Sunday School teacher walks into a Christian bookstore looking to buy some novelty items like pencils or stickers for her young class.   But the clerk suggests that’s not what they need.
  • Theology professor Roger Olsen says that for his students — not to mention other theologians — the issue of Biblical inerrancy is as much a stumbling block as anything else.  He prefers to use a different word that’s close, but better suited.
  • Darrin Patrick calls them “bans.”  Neither boys nor men.   They play a lot of video games and watch a lot of pornography.   Their need to learn how to be men is, in his terms, a cultural crisis.   Read more at Resurgence.   [HT: Dwight Wagner]
  • Darryl Dash provides a pastor’s perspective on visiting other churches while on sabbatical.   Only this time they embedded themselves as a family in a single church-home-away-from-home.
  • Darryl also had a link in his weekly Saturday list this week to Justin Taylor’s piece which is an “interview” with the Apostle Paul to try to bring a different form to Paul’s discussion of the law in Romans 7.
  • Simon Sweetman takes the proverbial discussion of “Christian” music as a genre to the streets with a blog post at the award-winning New Zealand news site,
  • Here’s that other comic from Trees of the Field (click on either image to link) …That’s it for this week; today marks only 4 months to Christmas, so I’m off to do my shopping!

August 18, 2010

Wednesday Link List

This was a week for reconstructing the blogroll here.   “Oh, Oh, The Places You’ll Go” lists all the things that are NOT blogs, along with, for a limited time, a description of each one on-screen — you don’t even have to mouse hover — which for some strange reason Made Every Word Start With A Capital Letter.

The actual blogs are now found further down in a new section called “Blog Stops.”

And now on to this week:

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.


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?

October 10, 2009

Your Weekend Links

linksSome of these are really, really good.  We got the hunting dogs out this week to track down some things online you might not otherwise find.  So…take a few minutes, okay?

  • A long, long time ago — Monday really, which is forever in blog time — John Shore wrote an excellent piece on the Roman Polanski story which is making headlines around the world.   While it’s more of a general news item, I’m linking to it here because of something John wrote at the end: ” Hey, if you like this piece, do me a favor, please, and do what you can to help get it read… I don’t usually say this sort of thing for my stuff—in fact, in 2.5 years I’ve never said anything like this on any of my posts—but I hate to have this one just disappear in 15 min., the way all posts do.”    You can read John’s article here.
  • While perhaps it’s not as well known as “Footprints,” blogger John Leake links to Linda Ellis’ poem (and heavily merchandised website) as well as reprinting “The Dash Poem” in full.  It’s the dash between our birth-date and death-date that matters.   Also, if your pastor is the “three points and a poem” kind of guy you can send him to Jeff’s blog, The Launch Pad.
  • Counterfeit GodsAuthor Tim Keller is blogging.   Well, sort of.   I’m not sure if this is going to be a regular thing or if it’s just a one-off; but he discusses his recent visit to speak at the Willow Creek Leadership Conference.   Well, actually it’s only four paragraphs.  You can read this at the Redeemer Church Planting Center.    And watch for Tim’s new book, Counterfeit Gods, releasing at the end of this month.
  • She’s a pastor’s daughter, and as she walked by the group that had set up microphones for a rather confrontational afternoon of evangelism, something didn’t sit right.   Was it their attitude?   Was it all law and condemnation without any love?   So she spoke up the best she could.   The result is posted on YouTube.   If the comments seem a bit one-sided it’s because the clip was linked from a popular “Law and Gospel” blog that sees this type of verbal witness as the only way to go about this.   Check out “Pastor’s Daughter” here.
  • Jerry in New Mexico blogs at Minor Mutterings and noted the anniversary earlier this week of the martyrdom of William Tyndale.  Said Tyndale, “I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, I will cause the boy that drives the plow in England to know more of the Scriptures than the Pope himself!”  The anniversary was Tuesday, October 6th.
  • Paul Dixon blogs at Youth Worship and notes his personal discovery of 143 instructional videos on You Tube that are part of the Discovering Worship channel, which are also posted on a Discovering Worship website.   Read his blog for more details.
  • The website, Who is Jesus Really is basically a rewrite of the Four Spiritual Laws presentation, but allows you to click on a wide variety of languages for translation of the material.   Ideal if you connect with someone who speaks a different language but wants to understand the meaning of the cross.
  • Not enough links here for ya?  Maybe you’re spending too much time in front of your computer.   However, if it’s pouring rain where you live and you must stay inside, here’s almost 100 more links for you to Christian blogs you’ve probably never seen, on the auxiliary or “friends” list of My Christian Blogs.

Blog at