Tag Archives: Christianity

‘God Gives No Empty Titles’

Thomas Boston said, “God gives no empty titles, nor will empty titles answer the necessities of believers. As his name, so is his nature; the name truly expresses what he is. He manifests himself to be what the name bears. What he is called, he is found to be in the experience of saints.”

I quote Boston in a devotional on living in Jesus’ glorious name, which has been posted on Midwestern Seminary’s For the Church website.

A Season of Harvest from Ruth

A new devotional on the life of Ruth will be released tomorrow, one that I had the joy to work on. Kevin Foster, a Bible student and teacher who has been a missionary of one kind or another almost his entire life, wrote a remarkable book on the ideas, culture, and themes found in the book of Ruth. He calls it The Gospel According to Ruth and broke it into 121 devotionals with many quotations from the KJV and NKJV.

From Ruth 1:2, he drew this insight. “Elimelech placed a great burden upon his family fleeing Judah for Moab from the correction of God. The famine was not for the nation only, but also for the man himself. Famine is a calling card of God, calling the man to repentance.”

The book is worth sampling, and Kevin has given readers a large sheath of options  in both written and audio excerpts. The Gospel According to Ruth touches on ancient Hebrew feasts, harvest seasons, God’s blessing on Bethlehem, Christ’s foreshadowing in Boaz and other characters, and other enlightening points.

“Christ is our protector, our covering, and our shield. ‘He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler’ (Psalm 91:4 KJV).”

The Lord blessed me deeply by allowing me to edit this book and advise Kevin on getting it published. He has been a great man to work with. He has the kind of pastoral spirit you hope to see in every gospel minister.

Again, from the book:

In-Gods-Eyes

Undercurrents of Conflict in Nigeria

A hundred years ago, it seemed obvious that the whole region was naturally destined to be Muslim, and little attention needed to be paid to the uncivilized and illiterate animists of the south and east. History was clearly moving in an Islamic direction. By the end of the 20th century, though, growth, progress, and wealth were badges of the emerging Christian Nigeria, and aggressive evangelism even threatened to make inroads into the Islamic heartland. Muslims still dominated the government and especially the armed forces—another legacy of the British colonial preference for that faith. But how long could that political dominance continue?

Philip Jenkins reviews the book Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Islamist Insurgency by Virginia Comolli.

“In her introduction,” he writes, “Comolli makes the telling point that the social contract on which government is based is thoroughly broken in Nigeria. People give up certain rights to governments in exchange for protection and security, gifts that have been so obviously lacking for decades.”

While there are religious undercurrents throughout the country, Boko Haram is gaining both religious and civil ground in some ways, losing it in others. Nigeria hasn’t yet seen a civil war grounded in religious conflict, but much of the conflict it has seen has been helped along by spiritual hopes and fears.

On the Road to Abuja

Handling Ministry Failure

Pastor Joshua Wilson writes about losing a church plant. “I believe the Spirit prepared me for the church’s demise, and gave great comfort as this season in our lives came to an end. However, I was already plagued by a thought that would not be easy to erase: I had failed.

What do you do when, despite your best efforts, your ministry fails? “What happens when you put your hand to the plow,” he asks, “but the visible outcome of what you do is meager or nonexistent?”

Empty Pews

Evangelicalism in America

Ed Stetzer writes, “For Evangelicalism, the Sky Is Not Falling but the Ground Is Shifting.” It’s one in a series on Evangelicalism in America.

Stetzer says, “Recently, I interviewed Rodney Stark, one of the nation’s leading sociologists, and asked him about the state of Evangelicalism today. He was perfectly blunt. ‘I think the notion that they’re shrinking is stupid. And it’s fiddling with the data in quite malicious ways. I see no such evidence.'”

In his article, Carl Trueman explains, “Conservative Evangelicalism may be more robust in terms of recruitment than other Christian alternatives at this point but it looks singularly ill-equipped to face the challenges of the coming days. It simply lacks the identity and the resources that come with historic rootedness, a point which makes it perennially vulnerable to becoming simply American culture in a Christian idiom.”

91 New Theses Opposing Modern Heresy

Earlier this year, I was going over Martin Luther’s 95 theses, and it occurred to me that many of them apply to the teachings we call the prosperity gospel. The comparison isn’t exact, of course. Prosperity teachers may be popular, but they aren’t part of the majority church as were the teachers Luther opposed. And if you remember from reading Luther’s list, he gives the Pope all due respect, suggesting that he is being misrepresented, not that he is teaching heresy himself. We can’t say that for the preachers of the prosperity gospel.

Here’s my list, taken from and based on Luther’s original–and four theses short. You see today’s Wittenberg doors on the right. They’re bronze, so we’ll have to post new theses with sticky tack. You’ll also see that several of the theses here are Luther’s own statements, taken from this translation.

No doubt, the spirit of Luther will pull me out of bed tonight, knock me in the head, and rebuke me until daybreak for pulling this stunt. I hope it doesn’t offend you and bore only some of you. Hope you continue to have a good and holy All Saint’s Day.

91 New Theses for the Modern Church

  1. When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
  2. The word cannot be properly understood as referring to living your best life now, i.e. positive thinking, as taught by some preachers.
  3. Yet its meaning is not restricted to repentance in one’s heart; for such repentance is null unless it produces outward signs in various mortifications of the flesh.
  4. As long as hatred of sinful self abides (i.e. true inward repentance) the penalty of sin abides, viz., until we enter the kingdom of heaven.
  5. Preachers of “kingdom prosperity” have neither the will nor the power to remit the penalty of sin.
  6. They cannot remit guilt, but only ignore or excuse it because original sin and Christ’s atoning work are not in their view.
  7. God never remits guilt to anyone without, at the same time, making him humbly submissive to Christ.
  8. The promises of God apply only to followers of Christ Jesus, those who have been raised to life from a spiritual stillbirth.
  9. Mere fandom for a church or preacher does not qualify anyone to be particularly blessed by the Lord of Hosts.
  10. It is a wrongful act, due to ignorance, when mere fans of a church claim statements from the Word of God as particular promises for their personal lives.
  11. When preachers encourage their followers to claim particular promises, instead of repentance, surely it would seem that tares were sown among their congregations.
  12. Continue reading 91 New Theses Opposing Modern Heresy

Let Christ Pay Your Sin: Brideshead Revisited

“Praise the grace whose threats alarmed thee,

Roused thee from thy fatal ease.”

These words from the old Key/Wilcox hymn adequately summarize the theme of Brideshead Revisited. Perhaps they even spoil the plot a bit, but this isn’t a plot-driven story. It’s relationship-driven—maybe faith-driven. Waugh draws out the fatal ease of his characters so that we can see what God’s grace does to them in the end.

Madresfield House

(Madresfield Court, the home of the Lygon family, Worcestershire.)

The narrator, Charles Ryder, is in the British army when the book opens. His unit relocates to the Bridehead estate, which provokes the sad memories of the rest of the novel. They don’t seem sad at first. When Charles begins his studies at Oxford, he meets Sebastian Flyte, a very friendly young man whose eccentricities seem only to endear him to almost everyone near him, especially Charles, who falls in love with him. Sebastian, a year ahead of Charles, has collected a handful of homosexually inclined friends, the worst of whom is Anthony Blanche.

While Blanche is brazenly queer (I can’t recall that he described himself with that term, but I’m confident he would have approved of it), the others are not, and Ryder suggests to his readers that we are sufficiently worldly enough to understand these relationships without delving into them. Much later in the book, he describes a monk as being naïve to not see the nature of companionship Sebastian held with a young German loaf, but all of this is subtle, perhaps because homosexuality was against the law. (Here’s a remarkable article on the autobiographical nature of Waugh’s novel, which mentions high society’s attitude on sexual matters.)

What isn’t subtle is the Catholicism of Lady Marchmain, Sebastian’s mother. The entire Flyte/Brideshead family is at least nominally Catholic. Half the family hates it; the other half embraces it. Sebastian hates his mother apparently for her ardent faith. In fact, she seems to be a representation of the Catholic Church as a whole, certainly flawed but honest and devout. You might see each of the faithful Catholics of the Flyte family as different categories of the church: Lady Marchmain representing the institution, Brideshead, the elder brother, representing typical laity, and Cordelia, the younger sister, representing the missionary. Each of them is disliked to some degree. Cordelia gives us a reason on page 221 of my edition:

“[Lady Marchmain] was saintly, but she wasn’t a saint. No one could really hate a saint, could they? They can’t really hate God either. When they want to hate Him, and His saints they have to find something like themselves and pretend it’s God and hate that.”

So some of the characters distain God, regardless what they say of Him, and Waugh intends to show us how God responds. He shows us unmerited favor and lifelong mercy. Christ ignored the grief and insult of our sin, taking it to the cross for atonement once for all. Christ offers us grace, having paid for our hatred personally. Without Him, we live in sin. Waugh draws out a picture of this with one character (pg 287):

“Living with sin, with sin, by sin, for sin, every hour, every day, year in, year out. Waking up with sin in the morning, seeing the curtains drawn on sin, bathing it, dressing it, clipping diamonds to it, feeding it, showing it round, giving it a good time…”

Without Christ, we have our sin, no matter how we dress it up. If we do not let Him pay for it, we will. If we do not end our lives as holy (“no one is ever holy without suffering”), we will end them in torment, having succumbed to life’s fatal ease.

Can Anyone Return from Heaven?

Very Steep Cliffs in Heaven's Gate MountainsPhil Johnson has an article on the recent rash of supposedly eyewitness accounts of heaven. He says it’s nothing new:

Various survivors of near-death experiences have been publishing gnostic insights about the afterlife for at least two decades. Betty Eadie’s Embraced by the Light was number one on the New York Times Bestseller List exactly 20 years ago. The success of that book unleashed an onslaught of similar tales, nearly all of them with strong New Age and occult overtones. So psychics and new-agers have been making hay with stories like these for at least two decades.

Johnson points to an upcoming book by John MacArthur on heaven and these books. He argues that the Bible forbids the possibility that anyone can return from beyond the grave. “All the accounts of heaven in Scripture are visions, not journeys taken by dead people,” MacArthur writes. “And even visions of heaven are very, very rare in Scripture. You can count them all on one hand.” Moreover, the biblical accounts focus on God’s overwhelming glory, not all the fun junk we might do in heaven.

In his excellent book Gospel Deeps: Reveling in the Excellencies of Jesus, Jared Wilson touches on this in a paragraph near the end.

Can I tell you one of the problems with books like Heaven Is for Real? Aside from the obvious honesty issues, they very often demote Jesus to a Character in heaven like one of the costumed players at Disney World. He is Santa Claus, an attraction of some kind. Continue reading Can Anyone Return from Heaven?

Blue Like Jazz Movie

Donald Miller’s book, Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality has been praised by a variety of folks for years, and Steve Taylor has adapted it for the big screen. It opens this weekend, though not in my area. It may gain a wider release next weekend. World Magazine as a good review here. Tiffany Owens writes:

While the movie successfully explores themes of forgiveness, authenticity, and the question of God’s existence as it follows one man’s journey to find God, it struggles to offer a clear explanation of the gospel.

I’m sure Blue Like Jazz is funny, and it’s probably uncomfortable. Hopefully, it’s also rewarding. Here’s the trailer.

Donald Miller talks about the themes of the movie and the criticism he’ll probably get on his blog. He says, “I get it. Criticism is hard. And not only this, churches get criticized for stuff that happened hundreds of years ago. I’d venture to say most criticism is unfounded and ill-informed. It can also be spiteful and hateful. So, I don’t want to be lumped in with the haters.”

Thomas McKenzie does One Minutes Reviews (which usually aren’t one minute, but hey!) and he talks lightly about the movie. This puts a positive spin on it for me.

Sufjan Stevens and the Popularity of God’s Mystery

Musician Sufjan Stevens has draw much fanfare for a couple new album releases and his return to the concert circuit. I learned of this interview via Jeffrey Overstreet’s blog, and I was encouraged to see Stevens labeled as a Christian. Then I came to this:

Q. Do you believe that God can be reached through other faiths? John 14:6 categorically states Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life” and nobody can get to the Father expect through him. A lot of people take that very literally and don’t believe you can find spirituality through Buddhism or Islam or whatever…

Stevens: Yeah, I mean who can know the mind of God and who can be his counselor? It’s not man’s decision, you know. If God is infinite and he’s in all of us and he created the world then I feel there is truth in every corner. There’s a kind of imprint of his life and his breath and his word and everything. You know, I’m no religious expert, and I don’t make any claims about the faith. All I can account for is myself and my own belief and that’s a pretty tall order just to take account of myself. I can’t make any claims about other religions. There’s no condemnation in Christ, that’s one of the fundamentals of Christianity.

Do you mind if I make a few observations? Continue reading Sufjan Stevens and the Popularity of God’s Mystery

Pastor Burns Bibles for Halloween

A misguided pastor from North Carolina plans to burn “satanic” books this Halloween, including recent translations of the Bible.

“I believe the King James version is God’s preserved, inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God… for English-speaking people,” the pastor said.

Of the non-biblical books to be burned, they have works by Billy Graham, Rick Warren, John Piper, John MacArthur, Mother Teresa and many others. You can read a list here. (Maybe a Christian bookstore closed recently.)

I guess my impulse is to laugh off such foolishness, but I can’t do it this time. I’m grieved. This man and his congregation are deceived about the nature of God’s holy word in English and the mercy or gracious freedom he gives to his people. I’m even more bothered by his claim to have studied at a Christian college in my town. He says he left because they were too liberal, which is a little funny. Fundamentalists are known by the way they divide up believers and separate themselves from others. The plain meaning of the text is all they need to know God’s will, and by “plain meaning” they mean their interpretation alone. They have gone to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses, and the voice they hear is Jesus’ voice, so how could they misinterpret anything?

I’m not too bothered, of course, because there isn’t anything I can do about it. Still, having heard stories of religious abuse, I can’t laugh when those who appear to be clanging cymbals like this hit the news. I’m not a satirist, I guess–which brings to mind this video of a panel discussion from a Ligonier Ministries conference. Doug Wilson gets into acting like Jesus acted, saying we throw some heavy interpretation into our answers when asking what Jesus would do. We almost never think that Jesus would give a satiric or biting answer, like calling some religious leaders a brood of vipers. Piper, Sproul, and Mohler all comment on that idea.

The Friday Fight: Good Friday

(Isaiah 53) Who has believed what he has heard from us?

And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

For he grew up before him like a young plant,

and like a root out of dry ground;

he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,

and no beauty that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men;

a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;

and as one from whom men hide their faces

he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs

and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken,

smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;

we have turned—every one—to his own way;

and the LORD has laid on him

the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,

yet he opened not his mouth;

like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,

and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,

so he opened not his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away;

and as for his generation, who considered

that he was cut off out of the land of the living,

stricken for the transgression of my people?

And they made his grave with the wicked

and with a rich man in his death,

although he had done no violence,

and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;

he has put him to grief;

when his soul makes an offering for guilt,

he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;

the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;

by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,

make many to be accounted righteous,

and he shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,

and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,

because he poured out his soul to death

and was numbered with the transgressors;

yet he bore the sin of many,

and makes intercession for the transgressors.

The Friday Fight: Apollyon

“Whilst Christian is among his godly friends,

Their golden mouths make him sufficient mends

For all his griefs; and when they let him go,

He’s clad with northern steel from top to toe.”

But now, in this valley of Humiliation, poor Christian was hard put to it; for he had gone but a little way before he espied a foul fiend coming over the field to meet him: his name is Apollyon.

(Artist Justin Gerard did some fantastic work on Pilgrim’s Progress, but the illustrations are no longer online. You can view his work on his website, Gallery Gerard.)

Then did Christian begin to be afraid, and to cast in his mind whether to go back, or to stand his ground. But he considered again, that he had no armor for his back, and therefore thought that to turn the back to him might give him greater advantage with ease to pierce him with his darts; therefore he resolved to venture and stand his ground: for, thought he, had I no more in mine eye than the saving of my life, it would be the best way to stand.

So he went on, and Apollyon met him. Now the monster was hideous to behold: he was clothed with scales like a fish, and they are his pride; he had wings like a dragon, and feet like a bear, and out of his belly came fire and smoke; and his mouth was as the mouth of a lion. When he was come up to Christian, he beheld him with a disdainful countenance, and thus began to question him. Continue reading The Friday Fight: Apollyon