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March 07, 2008

Chuck Colson has begun a blog tour to support his new book, The Faith (and interestingly, this blog tour is actually modeled on the one I put together with the publicity team at Crossway after the release of my book). I was asked to participate in this tour and agreed to do so because I wanted to ask a question that would really get to the heart of this book. And while I had Colson’s ear, I wanted to ask a question that I’ve often struggled with as I’ve considered Christians who pursue greater unity with the Roman Catholic Church. It’s a question I would ask Colson if he and I were standing face-to-face. Here is my question and Colson’s response.

Protestants have traditionally held that justification by grace alone through faith alone is at the heart of the Christian faith and thus a non-negotiable doctrine for anyone who considers himself a Christian. Yet this is anathema within the Roman Catholic Church. This would seem to be an unbridgeable divide when seeking communion between the two traditions. Is justification by grace alone through faith alone a doctrine fundamental to the faith? What theological distinctives are non-negotiable in determining who belongs to the Body of Jesus Christ?

It is true that Protestants have traditionally believed that justification by grace alone through faith alone through Christ alone (sola fide) is at the heart of the Christian faith, the doctrine on which the church stands or falls. It was also true that the Roman Catholic Church in Trent anathemized this position. This has been an unbridgeable divide.

In 1992, an informal group of Catholic and evangelical scholars began to meet in New York under the co-chairmanship of Richard Neuhaus and I. One of the items taken up in our consultation was justification by faith alone. And in 1997 we issued a document called “The Gift of Salvation.” You will find it referenced on page 113 of The Faith. It is a remarkable document in which both confessions agreed that we can now affirm what the Reformers meant by sola fide or faith alone.

Admittedly, this was an informal consultation; but Cardinal Cassidy from the Vatican took part in our final discussions, approved the document, and took it back to Rome where it was taught to the bishops in the synods prior to the millennium. Significantly, in the Lutheran-Catholic dialogues, similar agreements were reached, although not quite as explicitly tied to the Reformation. There is an historic shift taking place.

Simply because of its structure, the Roman Catholic Church moves much more slowly than evangelicals do. It will take a generation for these kinds of changes to be reflected in the Catholic catechism. But more and more Catholics are embracing the very doctrine that was at the heart of the Reformation.

Do not be misled here; there are many fundamental differences in how we view the church, methods of worship, baptism, the Eucharist, etc. We’re a long way from having unanimity of belief. We may never achieve it. But, the point of The Faith is that we can agree on the fundamentals laid out in the Nicene Creed, and as we work together and seek unity in a spirit of charity towards one another, it’s amazing how much genuine progress we can make, which eliminates some of the great barriers to the unity Jesus prayed for in John 17.

At some point I would like to respond to this. But not today!

Here is where this blog tour has gone and is going…

March 5 - Acton Institute PowerBlog

March 5 - The Dawn Treader

March 6 - Reasoned Audacity

March 7 - Challies.com

March 10 - Adrian Warnock

March 11 - Tall Skinny Kiwi

March 12 - Mark D. Roberts

March 13 - Rebecca Writes

March 14 - Jolly Blogger

March 06, 2008

Last Sunday, at Mars Hill Church, Mark Driscoll preached a sermon on the Regulative Principle. For a few minutes, just at the end of the sermon, he discussed some “behind-the-scenes” time he has spent with both C.J. Mahaney and John Piper. In this brief audio excerpt, posted below, he explains to his congregation some of the ways he has failed to serve them and how he hopes to grow in and by God’s grace. This is in light of some private brotherly correction and feedback he received from John Piper and C.J. Mahaney at the recent Resurgence conference.

When I hear things like this, I am filled with gratitude for this incredible, unique body called the church. I love to see Christians serving, challenging, exhorting and blessing other Christians in this way. I thank God for Piper and Mahaney and their ministry to Mark Driscoll and, through him, to the church at large. Listen and be encouraged.

(click here to listen)

March 03, 2008

Easter is fast approaching and is now less than three weeks away. As Christians begin to turn their gaze towards the death and resurrection of the Savior, it seems appropriate that we should look for resources that will help us meditate on the cross and that will help prepare our hearts. To that end I’d like to suggest five books you may wish to read as Easter approaches. Each of these titles deals with the cross. Each will benefit you immensely as you prepare to remember the Lord. In each case I’ve provided my thoughts on the book and have listed a couple of representative endorsements.

The first three titles are short, meditative, inexpensive and easy-to-read for any Christian. All three are appropriate for devotional or study settings and are ideal for giving away to others. All three will guide your gaze to the cross and to the great work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. The next two are longer and a little bit more difficult to read, but are certainly no less valuable.

The Cross He Bore by Frederick Leahy

There are few books I’ve recommended more highly and more often than this one. An absolute gem, this book contains a series of beautiful, stirring meditations on the cross. Here is how I concluded my review of the book. “Perhaps part of the beauty and significance of this book, was that it came unannounced. There was no lofty position for it to attain to. And perhaps it is best that way. And so I will leave it with merely my wholehearted recommendation and the knowledge that I will return to it often. This short book is an invaluable treasure and I am certain that the reflections it contains will stay with me and come to heart and mind whenever I meditate upon the cross of Christ.”

I found myself more than once compelled by emotion to stop—and then to worship. I cannot help feeling that this is exactly how they were written and that the author’s chief desire is that each of us who reads should be brought to gaze in fresh understanding and gratitude upon ‘the Son of God,’ who loved me and give himself for me.”
-Edward Donnelly

Living the Cross Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney

From my review: “Mahaney delights in the cross. The reader will only be able to conclude that the cross is what motivates his life and his ministry. His enthusiasm, his desire, his love for the gospel message in infectious. Always focused on the truths of Scripture, Mahaney draws the reader back to the very center and focus of the Christian faith. The reader will be given much grounds for rejoicing and much grounds for deeper, prayerful reflection. The reader will be led near to the cross where he can experience the power of the Son of God. He will learn the need for the cross, the power of the cross and the wonderful benefits that have been extended to us because of the cross. He will learn why this cross stands at the center of our faith and why we must always hold it there.”

Every Timothy needs a Paul. C.J. Mahaney is mine…and this book contains his life-message. Read it yourself, and let God realign your life.”
—Joshua Harris

With tenderness and power, C.J. illustrates the critical difference between snacking on the benefits of the cross and surveying the wonders of the cross. This is a must and magisterial read!”
—Scotty Smith

The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul

From my review: “Is this the best book on the cross I’ve ever read? Perhaps. I don’t know that I would recommend this in place of The Cross He Bore but it certainly would make a wonderful complement to Leahy’s title. Less reflective and meditative, but with a greater emphasis on teaching theology, The Truth of the Cross will be a great addition to any library. This and The Cross He Bore could be read together every year and would undoubtedly bring great blessing with each reading. It is good to remember the cross and to come to a greater understanding of what it means and why it matters. The Truth of the Cross will center your thoughts upon the cross and upon the One Who went there willingly so that we could have life.”

The Truth of the Cross is the best book on the cross I have read. It is a ‘must’ for every church library and a book that I will give away many times to friends. This is so because it is sober (i.e., it contains historically informed reflections on salient biblical texts), sensible (i.e., it is well-argued), simple (i.e., it holds the reader’s attention through grabbing illustrations and even a seventh-grader can its substance), and spiritual (i.e., it comes from a heart set ablaze by the Spirit).”
—Dr. Bruce K. Waltke, Professor RTS

The cross stands at the very center of our Christian lives. Still, many Christians are confused about the heart of the gospel, for many deviant views are in the air. R.C. Sproul blows the fog away in this wonderfully clear, theologically profound, and pastorally rich work. Learn afresh or anew what God has accomplished in the cross, so that you will boast only in the cross of Jesus Christ.”
—Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner, Professor SBTS

The remaining books are ones that are a little bit longer and perhaps a little bit less meditative in style. Yet they are profoundly important and deal well with some of the most wondrous theology we could ever study.

The Cross of Christ by John Stott

Though I have read much of this book, I have never read it from cover-to-cover. I will remedy that in the coming days and will read it as Easter approaches. Regarded as a classic and now in its twentieth-anniversary edition, this book is likely to be regarded as Stott’s finest work. It is foundational to many of the other titles I’ve listed and is probably the most-widely referenced book on the subject.

This, more than any book he has written, is his masterpiece.”
-J. I. Packer

There are not many ‘must read’ books—books that belong on every minister’s shelf and on the shelves of thoughtful laypersons who want a better grasp of what is central in Scripture—but this is one of them.”
-D.A. Carson

Pierced for Our Transgressions by Jeffery, Ovey & Sach

Endorsed by a veritable who’s who of conservative evangelicals, this book is a strong and biblical defense of the historic Protestant doctrine of the penal substitution of Jesus Christ. It deserves to be widely read, widely studied and widely influential. Jeffery, Ovey and Sach have done the church a service with this volume. I’m grateful for it and commend it to you.

This book deserves the widespread circulation achieved by … the contributions of Leon Morris, Jim Packer, and John Stott.”
-D. A. Carson

It is difficult to imagine a more important book than Pierced for our Transgressions, or a more helpful one.”
-C. J. Mahaney

If you would like to purchase any of these titles, here are links to retailers I partner with:

The Cross He Bore - Amazon | Westminster Books | Monergism Books

Living the Cross Centered Life - Amazon | Westminster Books | Monergism Books

The Truth of the Cross - Amazon | Westminster Books | Monergism Books

The Cross of Christ - Amazon | Westminster Books | Monergism Books

Pierced for Our Transgressions - Amazon | Westminster Books | Monergism Books

February 28, 2008

Roy Halladay is the kind of athlete that other players just want to be around. For many years now he has served as the ace of the Toronto Blue Jays’ pitching staff and he is consistently one of the top players in the game. He has achieved his success not only by having innate talent, but also (and primarily, I’m sure!) by working very, very hard. He drives himself relentlessly, training both his body and his mind so he can do his absolute best all the time. He expects no less. Other players on the team love to spend time with him. Just being near him and observing how he trains himself is valuable for other players. Many of the Jays would testify that being near him, watching him and copying him has made them better athletes. That’s often the way it is, isn’t it? Solomon knew this and said, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” We become like those around us.

I’ve been asked to speak a couple of times in the next few weeks on the book of Acts and I’ve been reading the book in my times of Bible study. Acts has long been my favorite New Testament book. I love it for its history, describing the earliest days of the church, and its theology, showing how early Christians began to work out Christian theology. There is something pure and inspiring in the early church and its something we’ve been trying to recapture ever since.

Whenever I read through Acts there are certain stories, passages or phrases that stop me every time. One of these is in the fourth chapter. Acts 4:13 reads like this: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” Hauled before the Jewish Council, John and Peter were asked by what power they had healed a lame beggar. Peter, though only a fisherman in a time of great rhetoric, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and went straight to the cross and to the gospel, speaking boldly and confidently. This left the religious authorities perplexed. How was it that ordinary, uneducated, common men could know so much and do so many great things. How could they speak with such authority? It seems it was right here that one of them had a little burst of inspiration and suddenly recognized that these men were two of Jesus’ disciples. They had gotten rid of Jesus, but now here were His followers, healing in His name and teaching men about their Master. Here they were speaking on behalf of Jesus. Matthew Henry says, “When they understood that they had been with Jesus, had been conversant with him, attendant on him, and trained up under him, they knew what to impute their boldness to; nay, their boldness in divine things was enough to show with whom they had had their education.” The authorities looked at these men and realized they had been with Jesus. This explained their behavior. Suddenly it all made sense. They weren’t happy.

I find that phrase such a challenge and such an inspiration. “They had been with Jesus.” It is inspiring to know that the source of the disciples’ boldness and confidence was not anything in themselves, but was a direct result of the time they had spent with Jesus. By living with Him and communing with Him, they became like Him. It was inevitable. For three years they sat at His feet, followed Him from town to town, and acted as His deputies. For three years He trained them and for three years they became increasingly like Him. They walked with the wise and became wise.

It is easy to be jealous of those disciples. There isn’t much most Christians wouldn’t give to be able to spend three years with Jesus. We can only imagine how that would change us, mold us, shape us. But there is reason to rejoice, nonetheless. God has given us His Word that we might learn to live as He would have us live. The Bible is perfectly sufficient for all matters of the Christian life. We, too, can be with Jesus by communing with Him in the Word. And this is the challenge for us. If we wish to be like Jesus, we need first to be with Jesus. Listen to Matthew Henry once more. “Those that have been with Jesus, in converse and communion with him, have been attending on his word, praying in his name, and celebrating the memorials of his death and resurrection, should conduct themselves, in every thing, so that those who converse with them may take knowledge of them that they have been with Jesus; and this makes them so holy, and heavenly, and spiritual, and cheerful; this has raised them so much above this world, and filled them with another. One may know that they have been in the mount by the shining of their faces.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones says something similar. “May we all learn the lesson of this old incident. Let us meet with this Jesus and listen to Him, and soon we, too, will become phenomena. We will become men and women who are enigmas to everybody else.”

Have you met with Jesus? This is the challenge for us. We are to study the Word and to learn from it, immersing ourselves in it, so that people will look at us and hear us speak and see and hear something other-worldly. They will only be able to conclude, “They have been with Jesus!”

February 25, 2008

It’s no secret around here that I love the book of Proverbs and consider it my “home page” in the Bible. I read through Proverbs at least once a year and, whenever I’m not sure what else to read, I turn to it. And while I love Proverbs and envy the wisdom of Solomon I find something really sobering about his life. Whenever I consider Solomon, I am faced with the question of how a man of such great wisdom and discernment could end his life so far from the Lord. How did such a wise man become so foolish? How did such a discerning man stray so far?

I’m far from the only person who has wondered this. Just last week I received an email from a friend and reader of this site who had just finished reading The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment. He asked a question that went something like this: If Solomon was the most discerning man who ever lived (besides Jesus, of course), and discernment is the application of wisdom, then how do we account for his spiritual digression? How can a truly discerning man be disobedient?” I’ve written about this a little bit in the past but it seemed like a good chance to say something more. How did Solomon, who was so wise and so discerning, end up so far from the Lord?

Solomon’s wisdom is unparalleled by any other human. The Bible tells us that the Queen of Sheba once came to Solomon, having heard of his great wisdom, and “told him all that was on her mind.” There was nothing she asked that he could not answer, for “Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king that he could not explain to her.” We know that “God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all other men…” In the history of mankind, there was no one like Solomon. He was extraordinarily gifted by God.

Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. And the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind.” He was richly blessed, with wealth and power beyond measure. “He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen, whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem. And the king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar as plentiful as the sycamore of the Shephelah. And Solomon’s import of horses was from Egypt and Kue, and the king’s traders received them from Kue at a price. A chariot could be imported from Egypt for 600 shekels of silver and a horse for 150, and so through the king’s traders they were exported to all the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Syria.”

When the Queen of Sheba witnessed Solomon’s wisdom and gazed at all his wealth, the Bible tells us that there was no more breath in her. She was completely overwhelmed. I have felt the same as I’ve read about his life and have read his proverbs. The man’s wisdom and discernment is clearly unsurpassed (except by Jesus). And yet there is more to the story.

It is always a shock to turn to the tenth chapter of 1 Kings and to read about Solomon’s downfall. It is awful to hear how a man with such wisdom strayed so far from God. “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, ‘You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.’ Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart.” I find the next verse instructive. “For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father.” His wives turned away his heart so that it was not wholly true to the Lord his God. Solomon’s heart was at first divided between women and God, but it soon turned away altogether. He allowed the lust of his heart to overcome and overwhelm his love for God.

This is sobering, is it not? A man with the wisdom of Solomon, a man who had had the Lord appear to him twice and who had heard the Lord directly command him not to turn after other gods, turned away nonetheless. Though a wise man, the Lord told him “you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you.” How could this happen?

Ironically, I believe that we can find the key to Solomon’s downfall in one of his own proverbs. In Proverbs 19:27 we read “Cease to hear instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge.” There are some proverbs that are multi-layered and which require great thought. This is not that kind. That meaning of this one is plain. Those who cease to listen to wise instruction, instruction based on the fear of the Lord, will quickly stray. While we cannot know for certain, I am increasingly convinced that this is what happened to Solomon. While he was young, he was visited by God and was endowed with great wisdom and discernment. When he was only a young man, but still a king, he called out to God in what seems to be a healthy apprehension of the difficulties he would face as king:

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”

God was pleased with Solomon’s request, replying “I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.” Solomon knew his weakness and, in humility, cried out to God and asked for His strength. As a little child cries to his father for help Solomon cried out in dependence on God. God was pleased to hear, pleased to answer, and pleased to give to Solomon far more than he asked. Solomon asked for discernment, but was also given great wisdom, great wealth, and great power. God lavished gifts upon him.

But as Solomon grew older, he began to depend less on God. I believe he began to depend on his own wisdom and to stray ever-further from God’s instruction. Where there was once humble dependence on God, there was now dependence on himself. In so doing, he strayed from words of knowledge, and strayed from God Himself. John Anderson once preached a sermon in which he said, “Erring from the words of knowledge is direct rebellion against the authority of God, whose law binds us to believe whatever he reveals. The language of obstinate error is, I prefer my own wisdom and my own will in such a particular to the wisdom and will of God himself.” Solomon preferred his wisdom to God’s wisdom, his ways to God’s ways. The whole earth once “sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind.” But I believe Solomon soon allowed his own earthly wisdom to overtake his mind. He ceased hearing instruction and strayed from words of knowledge. He strayed from wisdom. He strayed from God.

Wisdom and discernment, then, are character traits that, like the moon, can wax and wane. They are gifts of God, but gifts that we can throw away. They are gifts that need to be nurtured and maintained. We cannot take them for granted, taking refuge in the fact that we may be wise and discerning right now. We need to continue to strive after them and to seek them. We need to learn from Solomon that even the wisest man today may be the greatest fool tomorrow. We depend on grace, even to sustain our wisdom and discernment.

If Solomon could stray so far from the Lord, I know that I can too. This is a sobering thought. This is a terrifying thought, even. But the solution to avoiding the folly of Solomon is clear. I need to take care that I never cease to hear instruction. I must live with an intense focus on God’s Word, never believing that I have learned enough, never believing that I’ve arrived. I must know that from this day to the day I die, I need to maintain a humble dependence on God. I must trust that His words of instruction will continue to edify and strengthen me, protecting me from straying from the words of knowledge. I will never outgrow my need for His sustaining grace.

February 20, 2008

How do you solve a problem like Mark Driscoll? Is he a darling, a demon, a lamb? He’d out pester any pest; drive a hornet from it’s nest. He could throw a whirling dervish out of whirl. He is gentle; he is wild. He’s a riddle; he’s a child. He’s a headache. He’s an angel. He’s a…

Never mind. Forgive me for the introduction. Just a couple of days ago my mother-in-law and I were discussing The Sound of Music and somehow this came to mind. I post it with apologies to Maria Julie Andrews. May she sing forever.

Yesterday I posted a review of Mark Driscoll’s new book, Vintage Jesus. Were I to summarize the review I’d say that I was “hesitantly positive” towards it. I liked 99.9% of it but was troubled by a couple of mis-steps that I judged to be quite serious. These involved Driscoll’s use of phrases that I’d consider inappropriate. If you’d like to know more, you can read the review.

The review generated quite a reaction. The post quickly generated almost 70 comments before I realized the discussion was really not progressing and I opted to close it down. I was not surprised at the reaction. Love him or hate him, everyone has an opinion about Mark Driscoll. As has been proven when I’ve written about his other books, writing reviews is a lose-lose proposition. Some will react with anger that I even saw fit to mention the phrases that troubled me while others will react with disgust that, despite those things, I did not condemn the book and its author. Of course there were many who appreciated and I received some kind emails from people, many of whom known and love Driscoll, thanking me for taking a balanced approach. I hope the review communicated both my respect for him and this book and my hesitance based on his occasional use of rough language.

So how are we to think about Mark Driscoll? I’ve had to work through this in my mind and I thought I’d share just a few of the things that have rattled around my brain in the past years, weeks, months, days. I do this not to convince you but rather to explain why I could dislike certain references within Driscoll’s work, and yet not allow that to form the basis of a blanket condemnation of the book, the man, and his ministry. Maybe (and hopefully) this will explain to you why I reviewed the book as I did.

He’s a Real Guy

Not too long after I started blogging, I wrote a review that, in retrospect, may have been too harsh and perhaps even unfair (you may know of the author but have probably not read the book). As I read through that review today, I sometimes feel a twinge of conscience. Other times I feel that it was a legitimate criticism. In either case, several months after writing the review I had the opportunity to meet the author and was rather surprised to see that he was a real man. He wasn’t some cleverly programmed computer who just happened to write a book, but a real guy with a wife and kids and friends and family. Somehow that hadn’t occurred to me. It came as a shock and I believe it changed the way I review books and the way I address other people on this site.

Mark Driscoll may have a larger-than-life personality, but he is still a real guy who not only offends others but is no doubt offended by them. I’m sure his bravado on the stage is matched by times of sober reflection in private. We need to be certain that in our critiques we do not say things that we’d never say to him face-to-face and that we do not treat him as a guy that, since he is so remote from us, is somehow less human than we are. It’s an obvious point, I know, but in this depersonalized online world it’s worth reminding ourselves of it quite often.

This should go without saying, but I think it is sometimes easy to forget that people with big personalities are still people. Driscoll is a guy who, at the end of the day, goes home to a family not too different than yours or mine. He has children who love and and a wife, who, if she’s anything like mine, probably takes criticism of him harder than he does. He’s a real guy. Maybe he even cries at the end of chick flicks. Probably not. But he’s still a real guy.

Major on the Majors

Last weekend I had the privilege of spending a fair bit of time with D.A. Carson and he said something about Driscoll that I found interesting and meaningful. Because he has said this to others, I don’t think I’m violating any kind of trust in mentioning it. There is no doubt that people have had difficulty knowing what to do with Driscoll and knowing how to think about him. But Carson said he finds it helpful to look not just at where Driscoll is, but at the trajectory he is on. I took that to mean that if we look at where he has come from and then plot a course by where he is now, we’ll see that he is growing and maturing as a Christian and that he is continually emphasizing better and more biblical theology. We are all works in progress. This is not to say that we should hope that Mark Driscoll grows up to become John MacArthur or R.C. Sproul. Rather, it simply means that it is sometimes wise to look at the wider picture.

When we look to that wider picture we see that Driscoll clearly believes in and teaches the gospel. He has proven that he has a very good grasp on Christian doctrine and that he is no theological light-weight. He has proven that he’s unashamed to preach the gospel in contexts adamantly opposed to it. Thus any of our criticisms of him are dealing with, at best, secondary matters. This is an important matter of perspective.

By Their Fruit…

Matthew 7:16 is a well-known passage and one that is important to this kind of discussion. In a passage dealing with false prophets (a title many are willing to assign to Driscoll) Jesus says, “You will recognize them by their fruits.” And when we look at Driscoll’s ministry, there is no doubt that it is bearing fruit. While I have not traveled to Mars Hill and have not spent a lot of time in Acts 29 churches, I’ve spoken to many people who have. And it seems beyond dispute that the church and the movement are seeing a huge number of genuine, gospel conversions. These are not people who are coming forward at a crusade and later returning home and wondering just what they’ve done, but people who are seeing their hearts and their lives transformed by the gospel. There are multitudes being saved among the most difficult-to-reach demographic in the most difficult cultural settings in America. They are not being saved to a gospel of easy-believism or self-esteem, but to the true gospel built upon true, biblical theology.

If we are to judge Mark Driscoll, his church and its church planting movement by its fruits, we will have to conclude that God is choosing to bless them and to bless them in abundance. Like it or not (and for some reason I think too many “discerning” people don’t like it and refuse to admit it!), God is using this guy for His glory.

Because of…or Despite?

This may be a seemingly-silly distinction, but it is one that I’ve found helpful. It is true of any Christian that there are times God uses us because of who He has made us to be. He has given us all certain talents and gifts and He often uses us because of these things. God blessed Charles Spurgeon with a towering intellect, an incredible memory, and an amazing ability to communicate and through these God-given means He used Spurgeon. Yet it is equally true that God uses people despite certain aspects of their lives of personalities. All of us are blinded to certain sins and failings and all of us continue to provoke God on a daily basis. But God uses us despite these things.

When it comes to Mark Driscoll, some Christians would say that God uses him despite his use of sometimes-vulgar language while others would say that God uses him because of such cultural relevance. Of course there are others, some of whom seem to fancy themselves the church’s conscience, who would say that Driscoll is not and will not be used by God because of these things, but I’d suggest they are simply ignoring clear evidence to the contrary. The basis for this “because of / despite” distinction will come down to a Christian’s understanding of certain biblical exhortations about language and to a person’s biblically-informed conscience. In either case, we need to acknowledge that Christians differ on certain issues and what is vulgar to one person may not be to another. We need to allow room for conscience to speak where biblically-submitted Christians differ. So you will need to respect my hesitance when it comes to phrases I understand to be vulgar while I’ll have to tolerate your freedom to disagree. This is true tolerance—a respect on the basis of differences.


I have never met Mark Driscoll. I don’t think he and I have ever exchanged emails or text messages or instant messages or anything else (or not that I remember, anyways). So I have no personal connection to him. But I love the guy as a brother in Christ. Whatever you feel about Mark Driscoll, you’ll need to agree that God is using him in an unusually powerful way. You’ll need to affirm that he is a brother. This is a reason for rejoicing, and I do rejoice. I pray for Mark Driscoll, that God would continue to bless his ministry and continue to do amazing things through him. I do not agree with some of the ways he chooses to communicate, but neither do I need to. He is doing the Lord’s work in a tough place. And I love him in Christ and support him in that work.

February 18, 2008

I got to bed just a little bit later than usual last night. But when I settled into bed, I felt that kind of comforting fatigue—the kind that is not so overbearing that I’m exhausted, but the kind that means I’m really looking forward to a good night’s rest. You know the kind, I’m sure. It’s the kind of tired that makes stretching out between the sheets a real pleasure.

There was one false start before I got to sleep. I was just drifting off when I heard the bedroom door rattle and Abby walked in. She told us that she couldn’t sleep. Aileen got up and tucked her back in, turning on a light to make sure she wouldn’t be scared. A few minutes later we were all asleep. But then, probably around 1 AM, I heard Abby calling for me. She was scared again and was crying. I have no memory of what happened next, but I guess I must have tucked her back into bed, convinced her that everything was fine, and crawled back into bed. A couple of hours later it was Nick’s turn. He marched into our room and woke me up, telling me that his ear was hurting so badly he couldn’t sleep. All things pain-related are Aileen’s department, so she dosed him with some kind of medication, put some hot cloths on his ear, and we went back to sleep. An hour later Michaela was awake, scared by the sound of the strong winds blowing through the trees outside our window. We awoke to her cries of “Mommy!” She ended up in bed with us—all twenty five hot, pointy, fuzzy pounds of her. At this point I turned off my alarm and figured I’d just have to let myself sleep in so I wouldn’t be completely comatose all day. And so the night went. I awoke at seven in the morning (which is sleeping late for me) feeling not the nice kind of tired, but the exhausted kind of tired that comes from too little rest; too little sleep. It’s the kind of tired that leaves circles under my eyes and requires an extra kick of caffeine to be able to go about the usual routine. It just wasn’t a very good night, even if it did begin with promise.

A few weeks after Nick was born, our first child, Aileen and I were facing the exhaustion that comes with a newborn baby. We were just learning to be parents and still assumed that every cough and every sigh meant he was dying. He was a restless baby and didn’t settle into good sleep patterns for a long time. Aileen and I both spent many nights pacing the floors with him. I remember talking to my mother around this time and the words she said stuck with me: “The next time you feel well-rested, you’ll be in heaven.” They may not have been particularly comforting words, but they were realistic. Mom said that, by the time the kids really settled into good sleep patterns, I’d be too old to sleep well anymore. When we had that first child I guess I threw away any hope of really feeling well-rested.

It’s worth it, of course. I wouldn’t trade my children for any number of good night’s sleeps or any amount of rest. But as I lay in bed last night, in those moments where I was just too tired to get to sleep, I began to wonder about heaven. What will it be like to feel really, really well-rested? What will it be like to be able to feel one hundred percent? Will there be fatigue in heaven? Will there be rest? Heaven will, of course, be rest…but will there be sleep?

As I tend to do when I’ve got questions about heaven, I opened Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven this morning and, sure enough, he had some things to say about this. He says:

Our lives in Heaven will include rest (Hebrews 4:1-11). …

Eden is a picture of rest—work that’s meaningful and enjoyable, abundant food, a beautiful environment, unhindered friendship with God and with other people and animals. Even with Eden’s restful perfection, one day was set aside for special rest and worship, Work will be refreshing on the New Earth, yet regular rest will be built into our lives.

To be honest, I am a little skeptical when it comes to Alcorn’s reasoning here, but he does make an interesting case. But what really stood out to me were his next words:

Part of our inability to appreciate Heaven as a place of rest relate to our failure to enter into a weekly day of rest now. By rarely turning attention from our responsibilities, we fail to anticipate our coming deliverance from the Curse to a full rest.

Make every effort to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:11). It’s ironic that it takes such effort to set aside time for rest, but it does. For me, and for many of us, it’s difficult to guard our schedules, but it’s worth it. The day of rest points us to Heaven and to Jesus, who said, “Come to me, all you who are weary … and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Rest is innately good. God Himself rested after completing His work of creation—a perfect being resting after completing the perfect work of creating a perfect world. God built rest into this world. And God gave us one day to practice rest—to learn how to rest. How good it is to set that day aside and to use it just to rest. But beyond that day, God also gives us little glimpses of the rest that is to come. When we used to own a cottage, one of my favorite things to do was to head out alone over the lake in the canoe. And halfway across the lake I would just sit back with a Coke in one hand, a book in the other, and the sun shining on my face. And I’d just relax and let the water take me where it wanted. It was such a beautiful time of peace and rest. And maybe it was a foretaste of the rest that is to come. Today a similar feeling comes as I kick back on a Sunday afternoon with a cold Coke, a good book, a comfortable couch, and a ballgame on TV. It is rest and it is good.

I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that only rarely will I really feel anywhere close to one hundred percent while on this earth. To be an adult, to be a parent, is to be tired. But as life goes on, I begin to look to those moments of rest as more than just a chance to rejuvenate. I see them also as a glimpse of what is to come. I see them as opportunities to learn how to rest—to learn how to enjoy the rest that will come with the new heavens and the new earth. They are a taste, even if only a faint one, of the true rest.

February 15, 2008

Some time ago I promised an article on the subject of conditional versus unconditional forgiveness. I’ve had many false starts and have been largely unsatisfied with anything I’ve written on the subject. So I decided to simplify and to provide only an outline of my thoughts on the subject. I am, perhaps, a little less than perfectly confident in my beliefs on this subject which is why I do not wish to be too dogmatic. Instead, take this article this as my understanding of why forgiveness is to be conditional, not unconditional. I’ll just trace the progression of my position as I’ve looked to Scripture to seek to understand forgiveness. Much of my recent thought has been influenced by Chris Braun and his forthcoming volume Unpacking Forgiveness.