29 April 2011

Video Friday

Arrested for reading the Bible in public...in California:


The power of God on display:

28 April 2011

Thursday's Spurgeon

The following can be found in Spurgeon's work Around the Wicket Gate:
To Those Who Have Believed 
Friends, if now you have begun to trust the Lord, trust him out and out. Let your faith be the most real and practical thing in your whole life. Don’t trust the Lord in mere sentiment about a few great spiritual things; but trust him for everything, for ever, both for time and eternity, for body and for soul. See how the Lord hangeth the world upon nothing but his own word! It has neither prop nor pillar. Yon great arch of heaven stands without a buttress or a wooden centre. The Lord can and will bear all the strain that faith can ever put upon him. The greatest troubles are easy to his power, and the darkest mysteries are clear to his wisdom. Trust God up to the hilt. Lean, and lean hard; yes, lean all your weight, and every other weight upon the Mighty God of Jacob.


The future you can safely leave with the Lord, who ever liveth and never changeth. The past is now in your Saviour’s hand, and you shall never be condemned for it, whatever it may have been, for the Lord has cast your iniquities into the midst of the sea. Believe at this moment in your present privileges. YOU ARE SAVED. If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus, you have passed from death unto life, and YOU ARE SAVED. [...] So you are not now merely hoping for eternal life, but “He that believeth in him hath everlasting life.” Accept this as a fact revealed in the sacred Word, and begin to rejoice accordingly. Do not reason about it, or call it in question; believe it, and leap for joy.

Spurgeon, C. H. (2009). Around the Wicket Gate (94–95). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

27 April 2011

Preach the Word - Psalm 119 Partial Recap, Part 4

It's hard to believe that it's been almost 3 weeks since the Psalm 119 conference, and I still haven't finished recapping it! See, like I said, it really would be so much easier if all of my readers would simply attend one of the conferences! Reviewing and transcribing my notes, though, is probably benefitting me more than my readers, as it allows me to really ponder all of this information, and to subsequently apply it rightly in my life. So I thank you for humoring me!

Thus far I have recapped the sermons delivered by Todd Friel, James White, and Milton Vincent. Three down, two to go! Today I'd like to review Phil Johnson's talks. If you aren't familiar with Johnson (seriously, what is wrong with you?!) he is the Executive Director of Grace to You, one of the Pyromaniacs of Team Pyro, and shall I say "curator" of the Spurgeon Archive. He's also a wonderful expositor of God's Word whose teachings have been a blessing in my life. To hear him speak in person was an honor for me, as was having the opportunity to meet him and his wife, and to thank him personally for his ministry. In fact, the opportunity to meet all of the speakers at Psalm 119 and to offer my heartfelt thanks for their dedication to God's Word and truth was a great privilege for me. But I digress...

Phil's first talk centered largely around 2 Timothy 4:1-5. I believe this message was adapted from this year's Shepherd's Conference, which I actually really appreciated. Though this passage of Scripture is first and foremost directed at Timothy and pastors, hearing it taught reiterated how applicable these verses are for all Christians in their ministries. And trust me--even if you don't preach, or teach Sunday School, or lead a Bible study, you do have a ministry. Do you have an unbelieving spouse, or children whom you are raising in the faith? Do you have coworkers, neighbors, friends? Then you have a ministry, dear Christian. First, a look at the text:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1-5)
This letter was the last that Paul wrote before he was martyred, which I think helps drive his words home even more strongly. Here was a man who had surrendered his entire life to the preaching of God's Word and who was about to die for doing so...why wouldn't we take his words dearly and carefully to heart? Johnson spoke about the truth of this passage not just for preachers from the pulpit, but for all of us. Paul is telling us how to live. Nine points:
  • Preach the WordPreach the Word. Isn't that what we are called to do? Preach God's Word. Faithfully. Boldly. Unashamedly. You don't have to fancy it up or make it more exciting or palatable. You don't even have to worry about being convincing enough to save anybody (because it's not our job to save)! You just have to preach the Word. 
For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. (2 Corinthians 4:5) 
For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)
  •  Be ready in season & out of season: The language here is that of being on "standby" as well as to "take a stand." We preach the Word whether it is popular or not (and honestly, has it ever been popular?). Here I think we can even turn to the words of Peter in 1 Peter 3:15, and say that we should always be ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within us! In season and out of season...notice that Paul does not give instruction to Timothy that, when the Truth is unpopular, he should go ahead and dress it up in the world's clothing in order to make it more appealing? 
  • Reprove: Refute falsehood. When people are wrong, tell them (in Christian love, of course). Do not sacrifice truth at the expense of "unity." Jesus didn't, so why do we?
  • Rebuke: This goes one step further. This is strong disapproval and even denunciation of falsehood.
He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:9)
  • Exhort: Do so with complete patience and teaching. Exhortation includes giving comfort. Preach for the good of the hearers. While we do not "dumb down" the message of the Gospel, we also must realize that people will not be won to the Truth by constant scolding. Even a firm rebuke can be given in gentleness. 
This point about exhortation hit home for me, because I know that I err heavily on the side of "constant scolding," although I usually prefer to call it "snarkiness." Does the truth need to be proclaimed in the face of error? Yes. Does error need to be strongly spoken out against without apology? Absolutely. But can that still be done in a firm, yet gentle and even loving manner? Yes. After all, if we are exposing falsehood, are we not doing so in the hope that those who have been deceived by it, and even those doing the deceiving, will come to repent of their false teaching and turn to Christ in true faith? So how will a deliberately "snarky" attitude help people to come to that point? It won't. If anything, it will drive them further into their deception because the truth has not been proclaimed in its appropriate beauty. I'm not saying there can't be a time and a place for sarcasm (if there isn't then I should just shut down right now!) but to be truly faithful to the Word of God, there needs to be an element of exhortation even as we expose the false. I am definitely praying for God to soften my heart and my words in this direction.

2 Timothy 4:3-4 takes a quick break from the list of imperatives as Paul warns Timothy that a time is coming when people will desire deceptive teachings. The language in these verses offers a recurring theme of mythology; these are man-made narratives. People will have "itching ears," or a lust for novelty that overrides truth and results in an intolerance for sound doctrine. I think it's really interesting that this warning immediately follows Paul's order to rebuke and reprove, but to also exhort. There is false teaching...an overabundance of it! And it must be refuted, but Christians still must maintain an air of exhortation even, or perhaps especially, because they are defending the Gospel. In the end, we must be devoted to the sound doctrine; the faith delivered once for all to the saints (Jude 3). Back to the list:
  • Be sober-minded: Always. Be alert, be serious (this may mean that silly string and Transformers in church aren't a wise idea), and be watchful.
  • Endure suffering: This is an inevitable and inescapable aspect of every Christian's duty. If we are living in light of these imperatives, then we are undoubtedly living and proclaiming boldly for Christ. And if we are living and proclaiming Christ boldly, then we will be persecuted. In many countries Christians are arrested or murdered. In America, we lose friends. Or maybe we miss out on a deserved promotion. Or, more and more, we do face the possibility of arrest. Embrace it. Paul endured many persecutions and trials and warned that all Christians would (2 Timothy 3:12). Paul and the other apostles and the early church considered it a great honor to be persecuted for the name of Christ, so why should we shirk from it? It will come to you, I promise, in one form or another. If you are suffering for Christ's sake, embrace it and thank God for it.
and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (Acts 5:40-42)
  • Do the work of an evangelist: This one's simple: Preach the Gospel!
  • Fulfill your ministry: We do this when we preach and proclaim the word as Paul has just described in the previous imperatives. 
The remedy for "itchy ears" is the faithful, forceful preaching of the truth. Amen to that!

Well I see that, true to form, I've gotten long-winded again! I'll keep this review of Phil Johnson's second sermon brief. In the last session, Johnson focused on Acts 17 and a discussion of culture, conversation, and contextualization.

Culture: In Acts 17:16, it's pretty clear that Paul was repulsed by the culture of Athens, as his spirit was "provoked" within him. He was exasperated by the display of idolatry and paganism and confronted it by proclaiming Christ. When Paul did this, he did so by declaring the truths that most people (both then and now, both there and here) would reject. In this discourse, Paul does not engage the culture by affirming any aspect of it. Instead, he uses their own admission of ignorance (Acts 17:23) in order to launch into his proclamation of the true God. This moves us into a look at the conversation...

Conversation: Paul is very clearly not there to exchange ideas, he is there to declare the truth plainly and simply. Yet today, what do we see churches everywhere doing? Entering into "conversations" in order to arrive at, what? Some sort of agreement? To agree to disagree? Why are we having conversations with Muslims and Buddhists and atheists? In order to affirm some of what they believe? How is that boldly proclaiming the whole truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? And where do all of these "conversations" lead? Have any of them resulted in true conversion? Or have they merely succeeded in confusing those who were already living as nominal Christians and false converts, driving them further into whatever deception has enveloped them?

Finally, contextualization: If you read Paul's discourse in Acts 17, he did not adapt his message to the culture! What he did, in fact, was challenge their most precious presuppositions. He took their supposed religion to task and he capped it all off with a call to repent in Acts 17:30.

In today's gray postmodern world, those who appear with a message of black and white aren't very popular. If we follow the example of Paul, however, we see that he simply proclaimed the message he was called to preach. And what was the response? Most people mocked him. Some decided they wanted to hear more, and others, the minority, believed.

The good news is that we don't have to learn a vast array of speeches and material. We have one message to proclaim and that is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have one strategy, one approach, and that is to unpack that amazing story of Christ. The bad news is that, if you do that, you won't be very popular. You'll be mocked. You'll be whispered about. But hey, who cares? Jesus Christ was beaten, spit upon, bloodied, and abused beyond recognition and then He was nailed to a cross and died for my wicked rebellion and sin against God. I think I can handle a few sideways glances in return!

SEE ALSO:

25 April 2011

Yale Prof Declares Oprah a Religious Icon

Apparently teaching at Yale isn't time-consuming enough, or maybe this professor was actually paid to do the following research. I really hope it isn't the latter:
Eat, Pray, Love Oprah
A Yale professor who claims to have studied nearly every episode of her show from the last 12 years says the talk show queen's success is due to one thing -- she has transformed herself into the equivalent of a religious icon.
By using the techniques of a preacher, Oprah has been able to create a new "gospel" that goes beyond just being a simple daytime TV show, Yale religion professor Kathryn Lofton writes in her new book.
"Gospel is a word that means 'good news,' " Lofton says. "Oprah says that the good news is 'you.'"
After poring over 1,560 show transcripts, 105 issues of O magazine, 17 issues of O at Home, 68 Book Club selections and 52 Spirit Newsletters, Lofton believes she can pinpoint the moment Oprah went from being a successful talk-show host to a religious icon in 1994. 
The message of her shows became what Lofton calls a consistent gospel, The Gospel of You.
"It is your discovery of yourself as the source for change -- in yourself and in the world," she says.
The gospel of Oprah was perfectly suited for the beginning of a new century, the professor says.
"Women are asked to be perfect in many roles," Lofton says. "Oprah says, first, you don't have to be perfect; and second, she gives endless advice so you might try to be [perfect]."
And that, in a nutshell, says the professor, is the formula for a working religion.
The double whammy of being forgiven for your shortcomings and simultaneously being shown what you ought to be doing -- reading books, giving to charity, etc. -- is the secret of Oprah's success, she says.
Read the entire article here.
Now, to be fair, the article doesn't indicate whether or not this Yale professor thinks Oprah's religious status is a good thing. To determine that I suppose one would have to read the book. And, honestly, I cannot argue with the conclusions she has reached. Oprah is a religious symbol and she does preach a "Gospel of You" of sorts. She's like Joel Osteen without the woefully twisted Scripture from Proverbs. I would add, though, that Oprah throws in a New Age twist, as she is a blatant proponent of eastern mysticism and meditation, which makes her influence even more dangerous.

I found this quote interesting:  "Oprah says, first, you don't have to be perfect; and second, she gives endless advice so you might try to be [perfect]. And that, in a nutshell [...] is the formula for a working religion." Well, working your way to success--or even to Heaven--may be a "formula for a working religion" but it certainly isn't a formula for a religion that works! "Endless advice" about everything I need to do to be good, to be better, is really lousy news! But the Gospel message--that Jesus Christ did everything because I can do nothing of merit...now that's good news! I'd much rather secure my salvation on the work that Jesus Christ did than on anything I ever have or ever will strive to do; it's a far stronger foundation! Repentance of sin and faith in Christ, now there is a winning "formula!"

On another note, is anyone else disturbed by the fact that this so-called research was performed by a professor at Yale? Certainly Yale is no pinnacle of conservatism, but one would like to think that its professors have better ways to spend their time than "poring over" Oprah episodes and magazines!

Pray For...

Please continue to pray for persecuted Christians in China. And when I say Christians, I am (largely) referring to those who are a part of the unregistered church, because these are those who are persecuted by the government. I hear often how wonderful it is that the Chinese government is now accepting of Christianity, but the truth is, it is only accepting of those who belong to the registered church. Because if you want to follow Jesus, you need to register with the government first...? That caveat must be in a lost book of the New Testament.

I suspect, though I obviously cannot speak from experience, that the registered church in China is failing to preach the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. If they were not, then it would make far more sense for these persecuted Christians to simply attend one of the government churches. Yet they insist on continuing to meet on their own, at the risk of arrest and who knows what else. A recent AFP report states:

Chinese Christians held at Easter service: church
(AFP) – 1 day ago
BEIJING — Up to 30 members of a Chinese evangelical church were arrested on Sunday for trying to hold an Easter service in defiance of the officially atheist government, a member of the clergy said.
A large number of police began to gather early Sunday in the Zhongguancun area of Beijing where the Shouwang Church had said it would hold an outdoor service to mark the holiest day of the Christian calendar.
"Between 20 and 30 followers were taken away by police," senior pastor Jin Tianming told AFP by telephone from his home, where he is under house arrest. He said there were several police officers posted outside the building.
He added that the members of the congregation who were arrested had been taken to different police stations and that none had so far been released.
Jin had said before the planned gathering that the church considered Easter an important occasion and would stick to its decision to hold a service.
"This is our uncompromising position and a matter of faith. If they arrest our followers, this is the price we are willing to pay," he had said. (emphasis mine)
Continue reading here.
I wonder how many "evangelicals" in America would take such a courageous and bold stance if faced with the same persecution? I fear that most would instead opt for whatever compromise was necessary, and would do so in the name of "Christian unity" and with a desire to be "unoffensive."

For myself, I pray that God would help me to be as faithful and trusting as my persecuted brethren in China. But until that time arrives for us here in America, let us pray diligently for these men and women who so faithfully lean on the strength of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

24 April 2011

Resurrection Sunday Morning Praise

Jesus Christ is risen! He is alive!




"And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins." (1 Corinthians 15:17)



"But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ." (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)

22 April 2011

Mega Church "Easter" Extravaganzas

Do you have your tickets? No, not for that music tour that's coming to town. No, not for the ball game. I'm wondering if you have your tickets yet for church on Sunday? After all, that's how we "do Easter" these days, isn't it?

Okay, I'm not saying there's anything inherently wrong with distributing free tickets for your "Easter" services (and I say "Easter" because, while I prefer the phrase "Resurrection Sunday," these churches that are putting on shows for the event opt for "Easter"), I'm just saying that tickets for church is a little bit...creepy. But hey, I'm kind of a prude so what do I know?

That being said, do you have your tickets? I hope so, because otherwise you're going to get stuck in one of those seats way up in the balcony on the far side and you'll barely even be able to see the bass player rocking out during the opening song! I know you wouldn't want to miss that.

In this earlier post, I included an audio clip from the Fighting for the Faith radio show that was a satire of mega-church Easter services. That satire was disturbingly and sadly close to the truth. So, let's take a look at some of America's most popular mega-churches and how they will be celebrating the resurrected Christ this weekend:

Down in Charlotte, Steven Furtick will be hosting "3D Easter." I'm still not sure what that's supposed to mean, but the website has a countdown clock so it must be amazing!

Not far away, Perry Noble and Newspring's website is a little more subdued. It will be interesting to see how Noble tops his antics of two years ago, when he opened the service with the worship band playing AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" (you can view that video here). Based on this video advertising this year's Easter service, it sounds a little bit like Sunday at Newspring may be more about...well, me, rather than the resurrected Christ:


Across the country in Southern California, Rick Warren has big shoes to fill this Easter...his own! After all, how can one possibly outdo last year's service at Angels Stadium with the Jonas Brothers headlining?! Well, this year Rick had to settle for one of the rescued Chilean miners and a corresponding theme: Speaking of stadiums, Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church are holding their Easter service at Qwest Field in Seattle. I wonder if they serve refreshments during the service?


Finally, we come back to the Midwest and World Harvest Church and Pastor Goat-herder Rod Parsley. I think this is where I will be spending Easter morning, because so far it's the only service that is offering the chance to leave with something tangible and material. That's right, Parsley is holding "The Ultimate Giveaway" for Easter! Just being present this weekend (and, of course, sowing your "Resurrection Seed offering") will qualify you to win a genuine used 2008 Honda Civic, an iPad, a Nintendo Wii, and more! Better dig out your Easter bonnet, because this is one church service you won't want to miss!


Honestly, sometimes I don't know whether to laugh, cry, or just be angry. All I know is the circus church of today has made a mockery of the greatest cause for celebration that Christians have. It is profoundly disturbing and disheartening. And yet, it is not a surprise, as those who seek to look just like the world and who seek to attract the world, not with the Gospel, but with flashy lights and loud music, are showing themselves to be absolutely no different than the world. But true Christians do have great cause for celebration this weekend, and every day! JESUS CHRIST IS ALIVE! Praise Him, thank Him, worship Him. No ticket required.
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. (Luke 24:1-9)

Wounded for Our Transgressions

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.




And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:33-39)

John MacArthur on "Bell's Inferno"

Pastor John MacArthur wrapped up his series about Rob Bell yesterday. My assessment of this last article? I believe the proper terms are: Whoa, and, Amen. As usual, MacArthur uses strong words to address this incredibly serious situation. What he is saying absolutely needed to be declared loudly and boldly. Similar words should be said about multiple other false teachers as well, and I pray that Christian leaders will begin to stand up and warn their flocks about these dangerous men and women rather than keeping silent in the name of "peace" and "unity." Peace and unity among the brethren, yes, but never at the expense of the truth.
No one in all the Scriptures had more to say about hell than Jesus. No stern messenger of doom from the era of the Judges, no fiery Old Testament prophet, no writer of imprecatory psalms, and no impassioned apostle (including the Boanerges brothers)—not even all of them combined—mentioned hell more frequently or described it in more terrifying terms than Jesus.
And the hell Jesus spoke of was not merely some earthly ordeal, some sour state of mind, or some temporary purgatorial prison. Jesus described hell as a “place of torment” in the afterlife (Luke 16:28)—a place of “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43), “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (v. 48). It is a “place [where] there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30)—a place of “eternal punishment” (v. 46).
Rob Bell is clearly unhappy with Jesus’ teaching about hell. He finds the very idea of hell morally repugnant and believes it is one of the main reasons “why lots of people want nothing to do with the Christian faith.” He scoffs at the idea that divine justice requires endless punishment for unrepentant sinners. In direct opposition to what Jesus Himself taught in Matthew 25:46, Bell insinuates that it would be a gross, cosmic atrocity if the doom of the reprobate is everlasting in the same sense that heaven’s blessings for the redeemed are everlasting.
Bell’s notion of sin seems to be that its main evil consists in the hurt it causes to the sinner rather than the offense it causes to a righteous and almighty God. His concept of “justice” makes the punishment of sin wholly optional. His idea of mercy falsely holds forth a false promise of automatic leniency and a second chance after death to people already inclined to take divine clemency for granted anyway.
Rob Bell’s god is clearly no one to be feared.
[...]
The sad reality is that if Rob Bell does not confess the truth in this life, one day he will realize how wrong his understanding of hell really is. His view of hell will be painfully altered forever when he receives the more severe punishment reserved for those who with a Bible in their hands mock God and trample the blood of Christ underfoot (Hebrews 10:29; cf. 2 Peter 2:21).
Continue reading here.
We must be praying for Rob Bell to come to repentance and faith in the true Jesus Christ, not the one that he has fabricated in his own mind. And we must pray for the thousands, if not millions, who have been deceived by this man. Finally, we must be praying for the true Church, that her members would be bold to speak Truth, and unashamed to stand upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17)
SEE ALSO:
Rob Bell's Universalism
More Thoughts on Rob Bell's Thoughts on Hell
Obligatory Rob Bell Update
Kevin DeYoung Reviews "Love Wins"
John MacArthur Speaks Out Against Rob Bell
Is Rob Bell "Evangelical and Orthodox to the Bone?" Hardly.
Rob Bell's Unbelief in His Own Words
A Conversation with Rob Bell

Video Friday

A brief promo for the soon-to-be released book Already Compromised by Ken Ham and Greg Hall. Do you have a high school student who is looking at colleges? You may want to read this book...


Where will you attend church on Resurrection Sunday?

2011 Guide to Mega Church Easter Entertainment from FBCJax Watchdog on Vimeo.

21 April 2011

Thursday's Spurgeon

The following is the April 20 entry found in Spurgeon's daily devotional, Faith's Checkbook:
By Faith Not Feeling
"The just shall live by faith"   (Romans 1:17).
I shall not die, I can, I do, believe in the LORD my God, and this faith will keep me alive. I would be numbered among those who in their lives are just; but even if I were perfect I would not try to live by my righteousness; I would cling to the work of the LORD Jesus and still live by faith in Him and by nothing else. If I were able to give my body to be burned for my LORD Jesus, yet I would not trust in my own courage and constancy, but still would live by faith.

Were I a martyr at the stake
I'd plead my Saviour's name;
Intreat a pardon for His sake,
And urge no other claim.

To live by faith is a far surer and happier thing than to live by feelings or by works, The branch, by living in the vine, lives a better life than it would live by itself, even if it were possible for it to live at all apart from the stem. To live by clinging to Jesus, by deriving all from Him, is a sweet and sacred thing. If even the most just must live in this fashion, how much more must I who am a poor sinner! LORD, I believe. I must trust Thee wholly. What else can I do? Trusting Thee is my life....

20 April 2011

A Conversation with Rob Bell

From his very first emergence (pun intended) into mainstream Christianity, Rob Bell has been a rock star. Naturally, then, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to hear him speak live when he rolled into town last week. I opted to record the event (or parts of it), because I knew that note-taking would be out of the question. With the way Rob Bell speaks, it's impossible to take coherent notes and, just as I suspected, I spent last Thursday evening feeling as though I was watching a very talented, well-practiced tap-dancer. The irony was that Bell's crowd was largely amenable to his aberrant teaching, so the dodging and dancing was probably not very necessary. Nevertheless, I think Rob is used to it by now!

Words and phrases like "love" and "God is for us" dominated the evening. He spoke often of a "tension" that he claims exists between the exclusivity of Christ and the wideness of God's love and mercy. Of course, the only Bible verses he offered in defense of that so-called tension were misused and misapplied. Honestly, I heard very little that I haven't already heard Bell say on television interviews, which was interesting considering the format of the evening.

We sat down and I noticed that the "stage" was set up in true Emergent church form: with a stool, a cup of water, and a music stand instead of a pulpit (you know, because the pastor is more believable if they aren't dominated by the pulpit). Then Bell and one of the church pastors entered. Bell sat down on the stool and the "pastor," a female, stood behind the music stand and introduced him. Oh yes, we were basically witnessing a cliche' come to life! But then Rob Bell got a little crazy and "mixed things up." After he was introduced, he leapt up from his stool and hurried down the stairs to stand among us, the little people. "Who has a question?" he asked, and thus the evening began.

It was a conversational evening consisting entirely of questions from the audience. Yet over and over again, even though the questions were not by any means challenging Bell's heretical claims, he seemed to dodge the actual question and somehow get himself back to the same scripted answers that he has been delivering all over the country. It was kind of bizarre. But it was sad, too. It was sad because, as I looked around, people were buying it. They were mesmerized by this man who, in their minds, is a walking example of Jesus Christ.

So let's get into some of the videos I took. First off, I apologize for the shakiness of some of these. Turns out that holding a tiny digital camcorder up high enough to catch the action can be tiring! Second, I apologize for the audio. This was held in a church and, with Bell's microphone he's easy to hear, though with a bit of an echo, but the questions from the audience are almost impossible to discern. Like I said, though, Bell rarely actually answered the questions, so I'm not sure it matters that they can't be heard very well!

This first video is interesting. I didn't capture the question at all but I remember it vividly. A young man, covered in tattoos, rose and began by thanking Bell and praising him for his work. Bell apparently helped inspire this young man to attend Bible college among other things. But then, his question was something along the lines of (and this is not an exact quote), "I read what you're saying and it sounds really good, but then I was reading in Matthew and I keep seeing Jesus say over and over that we have to repent and believe only in Him to be saved and...I can't reconcile it with what you're saying..." This was Rob Bell's response:
video

Did you catch that? It's almost as if Bell wants to say, "Yes, Jesus saves...BUT." So he affirms over and over that "Jesus saves." Saves from what? What does Jesus save us from, Rob? What I cut out of the beginning of this video (because I was whispering over the audio and it was difficult to hear) was Rob rattling off a long list of things we need to be "saved" from: greed, bitterness, anger...um, hey, Rob, is the word you're looking for SIN? But, ultimately, what does Jesus save us from? The wrath of God. Yet, Rob Bell can't talk about that because it makes people uneasy. The only time he speaks to the wrath of God is when he is mocking the idea of this God who is "for us" punishing someone in eternal fire and torment. I felt bad for the young man asking the questions because I saw someone who was genuinely seeking. Someone who perhaps was being nudged by the Holy Spirit through the reading of God's Word and who was rightly questioning Bell in regard to how his teaching aligns with Christ's. And yet, Rob Bell led this man through a confusing maze of gibberish and who knows where he will end up. I don't recall the name of this man, but God does, so please pray for him, that God would reveal the Truth to him and that he would come to see the error of Rob Bell's teaching.

In this next clip, Bell twists John 10:16, when Jesus says "I have sheep who are not of this fold..." You'll see that he twists other passages as well, but this one stood out to me. A reading of this verse in context and a proper, literal approach to interpreting Scripture reveals that Jesus is explaining that He has come to save Gentiles as well as Jews, and that some non-Jews would also come to "know His voice." This has absolutely nothing to do with people of different religions coming to be saved after death. And yet, doesn't Bell give the allusion that Jesus is so very wide in His acceptance of everyone?

video

Why does believing in the exclusivity of Christ necessitate that we leave a wide open space for everything else? What do you think Jesus meant, exactly, when He said:
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)
Seems to me that leaving things wide open is a little bit dangerous...

I won't comment much on this next clip except to say that this is where Rob Bell told the story of the impact that the Catholic church has had on his life. You'll notice he has nothing but good things to say. You'll also notice key names mentioned, such as Richard Rohr (a well-known Christian Universalist). Can you say, "red flag?"

video

Finally, I'll leave you with the last story Rob told and his final words of the evening. Based upon what I had already heard about his appearance in Minnesota a few days earlier, I'm well aware that the telling of this story was scripted. I like to call this "Rob Bell's Witnessing Encounter" where he speaks of sharing Jesus with rocker Sammy Hagar. This is incredibly telling, especially since these were Bell's last words of the evening. Censor warning: there is a cuss word used by Bell at the end of this clip. I tried my best to cover it with a "bleep," but I'm pretty new at this video editing thing, so I know that it isn't quite as effective as I'd hoped it would be.

video

Isn't that nice that the "Christian pastor" ends his speaking engagement by swearing? And yet it sure did draw cheers and claps from the crowd, didn't it?

I walked away from this event with mixed emotions. The first was absolute anger at the twisting of God's holy Word. The second was more anger at the deception that I had witnessed. The third was absolute grieving. Grieving over that same deception, grieving over a church full of people who are searching and who believe in something, but do not believe in the only TRUE thing...Jesus Christ, and who are being told that the truth is a lie and a lie is the truth. And grieving over Rob Bell, a man who is seemingly quite friendly and charming and nice and yet who is, whether knowingly or unknowingly, leading countless souls straight to the Hell he claims does not exist. I left humbled at my lack of prayer for people deceived by men like Bell, and even more humbled by my lack of prayer for Rob Bell himself. I've prayed for him, oh yes, but not to an appropriate extent. This man needs our prayers desperately. Look at his influence and now imagine if he got saved. Wow. Hey, God can save anybody (after all, He saved you and me!), so don't give up praying!

SEE ALSO:
Rob Bell's Universalism
More Thoughts on Rob Bell's Thoughts on Hell
Obligatory Rob Bell Update
Kevin DeYoung Reviews "Love Wins"
John MacArthur Speaks Out Against Rob Bell
Is Rob Bell "Evangelical and Orthodox to the Bone?" Hardly.
Rob Bell's Unbelief in His Own Words

19 April 2011

Some Concerns About Keller

About a week ago, this article was posted over at the Freedom Torch blog. In it the author, a 20 year attendee of Tim Keller's Redeemer Presbyterian Church, reviews Keller's latest book Generous Justice. The author exposes some incredibly concerning information that, in summary, reveals Keller's affinity toward the liberal social justice movement.
The Christian media is fond of telling us that Tim Keller is an Evangelical Christian… just like us, they seem to imply.  So one thing Christians need to know about Tim’s teachings is that they are really anything but what we have come to know as “Evangelical” Christianity.   To sum it up most succinctly, you should know that Keller says "the primary purpose of salvation is – cultural renewal – to make this world a better place."  Whether you agree or disagree with that statement – it’s certainly not an “Evangelical” or conservative Christian belief.

As if to prove the point that he is in fact not an Evangelical Christian, Keller goes on from there to actually attack traditional Evangelicals for what he believes is their wrong emphasis on helping people see their need for a way out of their sin by introducing them to Christ as the only way to personal salvation.  He suggests that Christians need to put a lot less emphasis on that - because as he says derisively, Evangelicals with all their emphasis on evangelizing are just "building up their own tribe."  He says this is not doing any good for people who aren't in the "tribe", (like secularists, Buddhists and atheists).

In 2006 at an "Entrepreneur's Forum" sponsored by Redeemer, Keller said:

"Conservative churches say 'this world is not our home -- it's gonna burn up eventually and what really matters is saving souls... so evangelism and discipleship and saving souls is what's important'.  And we try to say that it's the other way around almost. That the purpose of salvation is to renew creation. That this world is a good in itself. ... And if you see it that way, then the old paradigm if you're going to put your money and your time and your effort as a Christian into doing God's work in the world, you wanna save souls which means the only purpose of your ministry and your effort is to increase the tribe, increase the number of Christians.  ...
[...]
His book, “Generous Justice” is literally dripping in the language of the Left.  Although Keller apparently perceives himself as one who is neither Left nor Right.  But his words reveal something quite different.  The book will leave you with a definite distaste for America - because of all the evil that has come from America.  Another very leftist man who calls himself an Evangelical Christian, Jim Wallis would be very pleased with Keller's work.
Continue reading...
This, of course, is not the first time that concerns have been raised about Tim Keller. In this post, I shared with readers an article from Sola Sisters which revealed how mysticism was being touted at Redeemer Presbyterian. Ken Silva of Apprising Ministries also exposed that Keller's church was at one time holding "Way of the Monk" classes. So Keller, who is often touted as a great conservative leader in the reformed movement, has demonstrated more than once that he, his writings, and his talks need to be approached with caution and great discernment.

And yet, most leaders who run in these same reformed, evangelical circles are largely silent about these areas of concern. In fact, you'll be hard-pressed to find a respectable pastor who hasn't quoted Keller or recommended his books at one time. I attribute this to two factors. The first is a failure of these leaders to properly discern the ministry of Timothy Keller. To be sure, pastors are very busy men and they don't have time to keep up with these discernment issues they way that others can. Perhaps this would be an excellent argument for the need to have a small committee of individuals in your church or ministry who do keep apprised of these types of issues and raise them to the pastor when necessary.

A second factor may possibly be Keller's ability to tiptoe around his liberal leanings, whether it means disguising them in softer, more "Christian" garb or it is another tactic, I'm not sure. But perhaps up until now his books and his more public lectures have been far more reformed sounding than his weekly sermons. Hey, if Rick Warren can do it, why not Keller? Honestly, I have not followed Keller that much myself, and so I cannot speak to this as fully as I wish I could at this time.

Regardless of why or how he has slipped past the radar of notable Christian pastors and leaders, it seems to me that he must be exposed sooner rather than later. This newest book, Generous Justice, is screaming "social gospel" simply from the title. From the above referenced article, the contents of this book are indeed true to that assessment. But let's look to some additional disconcerting choices Keller has made of late.

Here is a headline posted today at Christianity Today:
Keller, Jakes Among Obama's Prayer Breakfast Guests

President Obama spoke of the “grace” demonstrated by the resurrection at the Easter prayer breakfast Tuesday morning in the East Room of the White House.
Pastor Tim Keller of New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church and Bishop T. D. Jakes of The Potter’s House in Texas also spoke at the event. The breakfast is a “good excuse to bring together people who have been such extraordinary influences in my life and such great friends,” the president said in his opening remarks. Keller’s attendance was his first visit to the White House.
Continue reading here.
How do you like that? Keller is considered to be an "extraordinary influence" to Obama right along with modalist heretic T.D. Jakes! A quick look at some other invited guests brings further concern as Joel Hunter, Andy Stanley, and Leith Anderson were also in attendance. If you read this article, you'll also notice that the opening prayers were led by Episcopal Bishop Vashti McKenzie and Reverend Sharon Watkins.That's right, two female "pastors" were leading the "Easter Prayer Breakfast." Personally, I see one's acceptance of this invitation and attendance at this event as a show of approval of such things. A truly conservative, truly Biblical pastor should be condemning such a display of irreverence to God and His Word. But then again, who am I?

On both Friday's and yesterday's episodes of Worldview Weekend, Brannon Howse addressed some of these concerns regarding Tim Keller. Most notably, on yesterday's program he spoke to the fact that Keller last year wrote an article for Biologos entitled "Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople." The show description reads as follows:
Popular evangelical Pastor Tim Keller writes a pro-theistic evolution paper for the liberal Biologos Foundation. Keller promotes social justice, theistic evolution, and mysticism. Yet, because Keller has written books and preaches sermons defending essential Christian doctrines, many evangelicals may well be lured into these dangerous and unbiblical philosophies. Jan Johnson is teaching Lectio Divina, meditation at Keller’s Redeemer Church and on Keller’s church website. Johnson also promotes mystic Richard Foster and Catholic, mystic Ignatius Loyola on Keller’s church website. Brannon makes the case that Pastor Tim Keller may actually be more dangerous to true Christians than someone like Pastor Tony Campolo because many conservative evangelicals will reject the worldview of Campolo but embrace the worldview of Keller because of his theological resume.
You can listen to yesterday's episode of Worldview Weekend by clicking here. Friday's program may be accessed by clicking here.

In this article for Biologos, Keller states, among other things:
"The conclusion—we may read the order of events as literal in Genesis 2 but not in Genesis 1, or (much, much more unlikely) we may read them as literal in Genesis 1 but not in Genesis 2. But in any case, you can’t read them both as straightforward accounts of historical events. [...] So what does this mean? It means Genesis 1 does not teach that God made the world in six twenty- four hour days."
and
"It could be that Adam and Eve were given conditional immortality and, in the Garden, a foretaste of what life in the world would be like with humans in the image of God living in perfect harmony with God and his creation. It was offered to them to work with God to ‘subdue’ the earth (Genesis 1:28.) On any view, the idea of ‘having dominion’ and ‘subduing’ the earth meant that creation was at least highly undeveloped. Even before the Fall, the world was not yet in the shape God wanted it to be. Human beings were to work with God to cultivate and develop it." (emphasis mine)
Okay, so if the world was not just as God desired it to be before the Fall, then what does Keller do with Genesis 2:1-2?
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. (Genesis 2:1-2)
"The heavens and the earth were finished...And on the seventh day God finished his work..." Hmm, sounds to me like after 6 days of creation God was...finished. I see no place in the text that indicates that God needed man's help to shape the earth into what "God wanted it to be." Seems to me God took care of that on His own! This skeptical view of Scripture is extremely unsettling coming from a Christian pastor.

Why am I raising this deep concern over Tim Keller? Because he does have a high influence in the evangelical community. During and following last week's meeting of The Gospel Coalition, it was almost impossible to look at my Twitter feed without seeing multiple quotes from one of Keller's lectures. Yet, as long as Keller adheres to liberal Christianity and a social gospel, and as long as he is promoting mysticism and allowing it to be taught in his church, the alarm needs to be sounded. Loudly. I'm not suggesting we stop listening to our favorite pastor or teacher just because he quotes Tim Keller. I am suggesting, however, that if it is a common occurrence, that we seek to share with that pastor some of theses concerns. As I said, I believe it is largely out of ignorance that so many continue to laud Tim Keller.

So, as usual, please be discerning. Social justice sounds good; it gives us those warm-fuzzies and makes us feel like we're earning our way to Heaven. But it is not the Gospel. Contrary to what Tim Keller has said, "cultural renewal" is not the purpose of salvation. Salvation is individual and it is the work of God on a depraved soul to bring a person back into right relationship with Him. Salvation has nothing to do with making this temporary earth a better place, but it has everything to do with dead men and women being given new life through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Salvation of souls brings glory to God, and that is its ultimate and amazing purpose.

SEE ALSO:
"Pint Night" and Redeemer Presbyterian NYC
Redeemer Presbyterian (Tim Keller) Teaching Mysticism
Evangelical Leaders Pushing Mysticism

18 April 2011

Rob Bell's Unbelief in His Own Words

At the Grace To You blog, Dr. John MacArthur is continuing his series about the dangerous teachings of Rob Bell. This post is full of quotes directly from Bell's own books and teachings, illustrating his erroneous view of the doctrine of Hell, and, I would argue, subsequently revealing Bell's dangerous and deceptive understanding of soteriology. I'll post a few excerpts here from MacArthur's article, but as always I urge you to visit the Grace to You blog to read the article in its entirety.
Rob Bell's Unbelief in His Own Words
Rob Bell’s denial of eternal punishment goes hand in hand with a warped view of the gospel. No wonder. Each error fuels and exacerbates the other. Eliminate every hint of punishment for sin; ignore the wrath of an offended deity; dismiss the demands of divine justice, and you abolish any need for the gospel.
The only hell that exists in Bell’s theology is a state of mind or an earthly experience of suffering that Bell says God wants eliminated. But it’s up to us to live rightly in order to end whatever hell on earth we might suffer. By living the right way we can exchange our earthly hell for a strikingly earthbound sort of heaven.
Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, 148: "When people use the word hell, what do they mean? They mean a place, an event, a situation absent of how God desires things to be. Famine, debt, oppression, loneliness, despair, death, slaughter--they are all hell on earth. Jesus' desire for his followers is that they live in such a way that they bring heaven to earth.
In that same paragraph, Bell ridicules the notion that the anguish of eternal hell is a greater and ultimately more serious problem than the afflictions of this present life.
What's disturbing is when people talk more about hell after this life than they do about Hell here and now. As a Christian, I want to do what I can to resist hell coming to earth."
Side note: As I mentioned in a previous post, last week I heard Rob Bell speak live and I was astounded at his ability to shift any questions about Hell (meaning, as an eternal conscious punishment and actual place), and twist them so that he could respond with his idea of Hell in view, and that is "hell on earth" via pain, suffering, and plain old mean people (my words, not Bell's). If Rob Bell knew the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, he would not be suffering from such a misunderstanding. That of course leads us to one of the first points made by MacArthur in this series of articles: this debate about Hell (or the lack thereof) is only confusing if you think that Rob Bell is a Christian. Back to the article:
In Bell’s view, the reason eternal hell is nothing to be concerned about is because full reconciliation is already accomplished for everyone. Again, all people have to do is live accordingly:
Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, 83: This reality, this forgiveness, this reconciliation, is true for everybody. Paul insisted that when Jesus died on the cross he was reconciling ‘all things, in heaven and on earth, to God. This reality then isn’t something we make true about ourselves by doing something. It is already true. Our choice is to live in this new reality or cling to a reality of our own making.”
In other words, the only remedy for Bell’s hell is something like the power of positive thinking. First of all, we must stop thinking of ourselves as sinners:
Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, 130: “I can’t find one place in the teachings of Jesus, or the Bible for that matter, where we are to identify ourselves first and foremost as sinners.”
[...]
He turns faith on its head:
Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, 124–25: “Who does Peter lose faith in? Not Jesus; he is doing fine. Peter loses faith in himself. Peter loses faith that he can do what his rabbi is doing. If the rabbi calls you to be his disciple, then he believes that you can actually be like him. As we read the stories of Jesus’ life with his talmidim, his disciples, what do we find frustrates him to no end? When his disciples lose faith in themselves…. God has an amazingly high view of people. God believes that people are capable of amazing things. I’ve been told I need to believe in Jesus. Which is a good thing. But what I’m learning is that Jesus believes in me. I have been told that I need to have faith in God. Which is a good thing. But what I am learning is that God has faith in me.”
All those quotations are from sources that have been in print for years. These are not new opinions being floated by Bell for the first time. So when Love Wins denies the heart of the gospel message, as Kevin DeYoung points out below, why should we be surprised?
Kevin DeYoung, “God Is Still Holy and What You Learned in Sunday School Is Still True: A Review of Love Wins”: Bell categorically rejects any notion of penal substitution. It simply does not work in his system or with his view of God. “Let’s be very clear, then,” Bell states, “we do not need to be rescued from God. God is the one who rescues us from death, sin, and destruction. God is the rescuer” (182). I see no place in Bell’s theology for Christ the curse-bearer (Gal. 3:13), or Christ wounded for our transgressions and crushed by God for our iniquities (Isa. 53:5, 10), no place for the Son of Man who gave his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), no place for the Savior who was made sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21), no place for the sorrowful suffering Servant who drank the bitter cup of God’s wrath for our sake (Mark 14:36).
Ultimately, all of this goes back to Bell’s view of the Bible. Having rejected biblical authority, Bell has set himself up as his own authority.
[...]
...Rob Bell’s gospel is completely antithetical to the true gospel of historic Christianity.
Why would we be surprised at the stance he takes in Love Wins?
Read this article in its entirety here.
"Having rejected biblical authority, Bell has set himself up as his own authority." This is the key, the crux of the issue. Rob Bell's theology has no place for the true God of the universe, or for the true Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, or for the holy Bible as given to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Rob Bell's gospel is not good news for anybody because it is a lie. Period.

What makes this story even more sad is that, in the midst of this "debate" (which is really not a debate at all unless you are wavering between believing God or believing man), we are approaching our celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet, with Rob Bell's gospel, there is no need for the cross or the resurrection! If everyone will ultimately be reconciled to God, then Jesus Christ died in vain, leaving the crucifixion to be nothing but a weak, powerless display of...what? Bad timing? Poor choices?

The good news is that Jesus Christ did not suffer and die in vain. The good news is that He did so out of obedience to His Father so that "whosoever will believe in Him will not perish but will have eternal life" (John 3:16). But perhaps Rob Bell has never read further, to verse 18 of that same chapter of John:
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
The good news is that Christ died the death that we deserve. He bore the full wrath of God for every sin ever committed by those who come to Him in repentance and faith. Better still, He rose three days later, overcoming sin and death and securing for us the promise that those who are saved by Him will be with Him for eternity.

SEE ALSO:
Is Rob Bell "Evangelical and Orthodox to the Bone?" Hardly.
John MacArthur Speaks Out Against Rob Bell

Obligatory Rob Bell Update
Kevin DeYoung Reviews "Love Wins"