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September 29, 2005

Last night was a rough night. My daughter woke up at 11:30, terrified about something. My wife eventually surrendered and brought her into bed with us. When my daughter climbs into our bed I always end up with her pointy end (her toes) jabbing into me, so I soon gave up and went to sleep in her bed. No sooner had I gotten back to sleep than my son woke me up complaining that he was having bad dreams about aliens. And so on. It was one of those nights parents just have to deal with. My efforts at creativity this morning fell flat, so I peered into the archives of this site to find an article that discusses a topic I have been thinking about a little bit recently. I have made several changes to the article, which I first published a couple of years ago, and am publishing it again.

I recently read an article (which alas I can no longer find) that described a search the BBC made for the Loch Ness Monster. The corporation hired a team of experts to sweep Loch Ness from end to end, back and forth for several days using some of the world’s most sophisticated sonar equipment. After a complete, thorough search they concluded that there is no evidence to indicate that a monster lives in the Loch. To prove a theory as to how the myth of the Loch Ness Monster continues to grow despite the mounting evidence that Nessie does not exist the team performed a devious little experiment. They rigged up a system which allowed them to raise an object from under the water far out into the Loch. They would then interview the inevitable crowd of tourists standing by the shore to ask them what they had seen. They elected to use a section of fencing as the decoy, deliberately choosing an object that looks absolutely nothing like an ancient aquatic creature. They waited until a busload of tourists had arrived on the shores of the Loch and once the bus was unloaded they raised the fence a few feet out of the water. There was great excitement on the shore and sure enough, when they interviewed people after the fact, the majority of them described seeing something that looked just like the traditional depiction of the Loch Ness Monster.

The people who led this study concluded that this was a type of “pareidolia.” Pareidolia is “a type of illusion or misperception involving a vague or obscure stimulus being perceived as something clear and distinct.” (Skeptics Dictionary) Other examples of this are seeing the face of Mother Teresa in a cinnamon bun or seeing the face of a man on the moon. In the case of the people gathered at Loch Ness, they saw something vague and yet were able to describe it in detail. The detail was fabricated by their minds based on what they already imagined the Loch Ness Monster to look like.

Certainly the people who saw a section of fence being raised from the water did not expect to see a fence – they expected to see a monster. Many of them had traveled from other countries for the expressed purpose of visiting Loch Ness to see if this monster is real or mere myth. So when the object came up from the water their minds allowed them to see what they wanted to see. Had they been expecting to see a Volkswagen Bug emerging from the water I have little doubt that their minds would have allowed them to believe that is what rose from the depths.

What we see in this rather extreme example is the value of objectivity. Had the people visiting Loch Ness been objective they would have seen nothing but a section of wet fencing material. They would have seen the reality in all its simplicity.

This article made me ask myself how often I approach the Bible with the wrong attitude. How often do I approach it with my own agenda in mind? Homosexuals approach the Bible determined to find proof that their lifestyle is not only acceptable but condoned by Scripture. So when they read that John was the apostle that Jesus loved, they see support for their lifestyle. When they read about the love between Jonathan and David they see them as homosexual and allow it give license to their own immorality. Often people on both sides of various debates misuse Scripture in this way. Take, for example, the issue of women in positions of leadership in the church. Proponents of both sides will eschew objectivity, approaching the Scriptures determined to prove their point. When we approach the Bible determined to prove what we already believe we will more often than not find enough proof to satisfy ourselves, even if we are taking passages far beyond their real meaning.

Several days ago reviewed Invitation to Silence and Solitude by Ruth Haley Barton and she provided a clear example of this type of misreading. She was clearly determined to find some Scriptural license for the silent prayer she advocates and so read into the story of Elijah a complex system of theology that goes far beyond what Scripture teaches. So was so determined to see silent prayer that she saw it in a story where it clearly does not exist.

The lesson to me is that I need to approach the Bible objectively, asking God to reveal His truth to me through His Word. I need to lay aside my presuppositions and biases so, if necessary, I can allow God to change and mold me. I need to allow the Bible to show me what a given passage really means, not merely cast onto it what I want it to say.

John Calvin once warned against treating the Bible like a ball that we bounce around at will. The Bible is the very Word of God and its teachings can be rightly learned only by the most impartial and objective study of the text. And that means being impartial and objective even about the parts we may not like, for often God’s ways are at odds with our far-too-human agendas.

September 28, 2005

I grew up in a Christian culture in which very little evangelism took place. How little? Well, the first adult I ever witnessed getting baptized was my wife (she was my girlfriend at the time) and that was when we were nineteen or so. I believe it was also the first time our church had ever baptized an adult. And what’s more, it was the first time most of the people who attended that church had ever seen an adult get baptized. While it is not necessarily so, it seems that there is bound to be something amiss with the evangelistic focus of churches that never, ever see any outside converts through their ministry.

A few years after my wife’s baptism we moved away from the town we had grown up in so we could be closer to my place of business. After several months of visiting different churches around the area, we found ourselves a home at the church we attend now. It is a church that, while it is not seeker-friendly, is very outward focused. We have seen many, many people come to faith, including several who are now our closest friends. We have seen lives be altered dramatically and have seen more baptisms than we can count - baptisms in rivers, pools, hot tubs and a really big, ugly aluminum tank. Of course I will have to grant that this is a Baptist church and they insist on baptizing people who were baptized as children or, as in my wife’s case, were not immersed but sprinkled when baptized as adults. So some of the baptisms we have witnessed would be considered “re-baptisms” in a standard Reformed or Presbyterian setting. But the fact is that we have seen a vast number of people get saved in one of the most unchurched parts of North American through this church’s ministry.

Over the years I began to reflect (and I’ve been using that word quite a bit lately, I believe) on what made the churches I attended as a child and teenager so ineffective at evangelism. I have to be careful here because I know several people from the churches of my youth who read this site and I want to be careful that I accurately characterize these churches. While there are several reasons I could provide, and they are of varying importance, there is one that I believe stands at the foundation of the rest: These churches regarded the unbeliever as the enemy. Of course the church would never have articulated that belief, but it seemed to be deeply rooted.

This attitude manifested itself in many ways. One of the clearest ways was among the children of church members. They would rarely, if ever, be allowed or encouraged to play with the unsaved children in the neighbourhood. I knew a man who was an “urban missionary” whose children were confined to their backyard and were never, ever allowed to play with the other children in the area. My father used to joke that a man could become rich by selling fencing supplies to people in these churches. The churched children were not allowed to play with other children lest they become corrupted by their worldliness.

My observation was that this approach failed badly. First, the church was not faithful to its calling to take the gospel throughout the world (and the world begins just outside the front door). Second, the children developed a fascination with worldliness simply because any access to the world had been denied to them and they had never seen the pain and heartbreak that are the inevitable result of forsaking God. The world looks awfully attractive until a person sees the results of giving himself over to it. Third, the parents ignored worldliness in their own children. I know that I saw more drugs, more drinking, more disrespect and more awful behavior in the Christian schools I attended than I did in the public schools. This isolation simply did not work.

The attitude that was modeled to me was far different. My family took the opposite approach and we were always encouraged to make friends with the children in the neighbourhoods we lived in. My parents saw this as a stepping-stone to meeting the parents and having opportunity to share the gospel with them. And we saw many children and parents come to faith in this way. Many others may not have become believers, but they received a clear presentation of the gospel so that they are now without excuse. Mom and dad did not do this because they regarded the folks in the neighbourhood as a project, but out of a genuine love, concern and appreciation for these people. The person next door was not an enemy, but a person who was as unsaved as they were not too many years before, and was thus someone in desperate need of a Savior. And they intended to give everyone the opportunity to meet the Savior through them.

Sometimes worlds clashed. There were a couple of times when my sisters brought friends to church, friends who were unsaved but were showing interest in the gospel, only to have them mocked or scorned. One little girl was scolded and had her ear “flicked” by the woman in the pew behind her because she was not able to sit still throughout the service. A friend my sister brought to church was openly mocked by the children in the church (children who later had a surprise “encounter” with myself behind the church, but I digress) because he had dyed-blond hair and an earing. He never returned, and as far as I know, never expressed any openness to the gospel after that time.

I truly believe, after many years of reflection, that the real problem in these churches was in their attitude towards the unbeliever. The person next door was the enemy, a person to be feared for what he might do to the family, and the children in particular, and thus someone to be regarded with distrust and suspicion rather than with love.

Sometimes I think it is little wonder that the Emerging Church crowd rebels against evangelism metaphors that make the unbeliever sound like an enemy. Perhaps these metaphors do cause us to regard unbelievers as a rebel army that we need to fear. It occurs to me that when we sing “Onward Christian Soliders” we are not singing a battlecry that will lead us out to battle against the unbeliever next door. No, we are not waging war “against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

The real enemy is not next door. He is not human flesh and blood. The real enemy has been given temporary rule over this world and seeks to destroy us by leading us to rebel against the Creator. And he extends his rule when he convinces us that rather than battling against him, we battle against the enemy next door.

September 27, 2005

You all remember, I’m sure, the story of Ashley Smith and Brian Nichols. Nichols, of course, is the man who overpowered a deputy escorting him to a rape trial, assaulted her and then killed a judge, court reporter, and a deputy in and outside the Fulton County courthouse. Later that night he fatally shot a federal agent at his home in Buckhead. Nichols took Smith hostage in her home before surrendering to authorities. Smith later told reporters how she had read Nicholas chapters from The Purpose Driven Life and she became an instant Christian celebrity. She quickly cashed in with a book and movie deal. She is also on the speaking circuit.

Smith’s book will be released next week and will disclose that during the ordeal she gave him more than purpose. She also gave him methamphetamines. He initially asked her for marijuana, but since she was out of that drug, she supplied him with another. You can read more here. “Smith, who has been in a mental hospital and has flunked out of drug rehabilitation programs, says the seven-hour hostage ordeal led her to stop using drugs. She says she has not touched drugs since the night before she was taken hostage.”

It seems to me that there was likely some spin on this story right from the beginning, ignoring the bad (that she provided him drugs and may even have known him previously) and focusing instead on her supposed heroism in reading him The Purpose Driven Life. What a mess!

In related news, Nichols, has converted to Islam while in prison.

September 24, 2005

I received the following news from Nancy Pearcey. I have had opportunity to browse through the Study Guide Edition of Total Truth and it looks great. I will have a thorough review of it next month.

World Journalism Institute is happy to announce that the study guide edition of Total Truth:Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity is now in bookstores. Total Truth is an award-winning book on Christian worldview by Nancy Pearcey, WJI’s Francis A. Schaeffer Scholar.

The new study guide edition is a great resource for Sunday School classes and study groups. It goes far beyond the typical guide by offering 30 pages of significant new content—fresh stories, examples, and illustrations to bring the book’s themes to life. Each chapter also suggests on-going activities to guide readers in detecting worldview themes in their work and daily experience.

Nancy Pearcey has “road-tested” the material with students in WJI’s journalism courses and their feedback has been highly enthusiastic. Many say it greatly enhanced their reading of the book.

“Virtually every day I get emails from readers who want to know if there is a study guide available for Total Truth,” Pearcey told WJI. “The book is being used by churches, schools, and study groups around the country—even by reading groups among Capitol Hill staffers.”

The study guide edition is an outstanding tool to help readers dig deeper into the text and learn how to be equipped with a Christian worldview. It is available from your local Christian bookstore or Borders, or online from Amazon, Christianbook.com, Barnes & Noble, and other bookstores. Total Truth won the Award of Merit in the Christianity & Culture category in the Christianity Today Book Awards for 2005, and the ECPA Gold Medallion Award for best book of the year in the Christianity & Society category.

September 22, 2005

One of my long-time favorite shows on television is The Antiques Roadshow. It is a show that has been a staple on PBS for many years and on British television for longer than that. Recently they have even begun a Canadian version which I have not yet had opportunity to watch. The show affords people the opportunity to bring their antique possessions, whether furniture, paintings, toys or anything else, and have them appraised by some of the world’s foremost experts in antiquities. Every show the producers single out ten or fifteen items and show an expert providing a detailed description and valuation of the item. Each section closes with the expert telling the owner just what the item is worth. It is always fun to see eyes pop out or to see people jump up and down with excitement as they realize that they have in their possession an item worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Every episode the viewer has opportunity to see junk transformed to treasure.

I suppose my attraction to the show probably stems from my love for history (which I did, after all, spend my college-years studying). I often marvel at the knowledge the antique experts display as they describe the history of a piece of furniture, the man who made it, how much it cost 200 years ago and what it is worth today. I love to watch the expert’s excitement as they see items they know are rare and valuable. I stand in amazement not so much at what some of the items are worth but that people are actually willing to pay that price for some of them. After all, an item is only worth what someone will pay for it.

There is one episode that stands out in my mind, because it featured the most valuable item they have ever shown on The Antiques Roadshow (there was one item they appraised that was more valuable but the owner wished to remain anonymous). The story was wonderful.

An elderly gentleman from Tuscon, Arizona brought in an old blanket he had inherited several years before. He knew it was old and believed it had a little bit of value – perhaps a few hundred or even a couple of thousand dollars. After inheriting this blanket he threw it over the back of a rocking chair in his bedroom and had not often thought about it until presented with opportunity to take it to the Raodshow.

With the blanket hanging on a rack behind them, the expert appraiser told the old man that his heart had stopped when he first saw it. Watching the show I could see the excitement written all over the expert’s face and extending throughout his body, for he just could not stand still. He began to explain just what the blanket was. It was a Navajo chief’s blanket that had been woven in the 1840’s. Surviving in wonderful condition, it was one of the oldest intact Navajo weaves to survive to the twenty-first century, and certainly one of only a tiny handful to exist outside of museum collections. He showed the fine detail of the weaving and even showed where it had been torn and repaired shortly after it was first made. I could see the excitement in his eyes as he looked at something he knew was extremely valuable. He knew that sitting before him was more than a blanket – it was a rare national treasure of incredible value.

The appraiser seemed to have trouble even beginning to tell the audience just how important this blanket was. He left no doubt, though, when he told of its value. Because of its rarity and historical significance, he had no trouble assigning a value of somewhere between $350,000 and $500,000. Yes, this elderly gentleman had come to the show carrying a blanket worth almost a half million dollars. He simply could not believe what he was hearing. Choked up and with tears pouring from his eyes he asked to hear the amount again. I honestly thought he might just pass out then and there.

It is safe to say that the blanket the man had cavalierly carried in with him was cradled carefully in his arms as he walked out. In fact, he walked out of the building with security guards on either side of him, drove straight to a bank, and placed the blanket in a safety deposit box. What had been junk, a mere accent to an old rocking chair, had been immediately transformed to a precious treasure.

The blanket had not changed any – it was exactly the same blanket after the show as it had been an hour before while the man waited in line, yet something had changed. It was not the blanket, but the man who had changed. What he had seen as a blanket of no extraordinary value he now realized was an extremely rare and valuable national treasure. What he had in his arms was the envy of every Indian collector in the world and of the thousands of people watching the show. What he had overlooked before, he now loved and treasured.

I remember a day, not too long ago, when I sat in my little office reading my Bible. Now I have had many Bibles in my lifetime and have been reading the Word with some degree of faithfulness since I was just a child. I am sure I have read the entire book several times through (except, probably, for some of those Minor Prophets!). On this particular morning I came across Hebrews 4 where I read the words “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” I had read those words many times, had heard people preach about them and had read books which sought to exposit them. But that morning, as I read those words, something stirred in my soul. It was as if an appraiser had stood beside me and told me just exactly what it was I was holding in my hands. I began to look up other similar passages – Psalm 119, 2 Timothy 4 and more. As I looked back down at my Bible, it was as if the book had been transformed from a blanket draped casually over my chair to one that was a priceless treasure. The book was the same, but suddenly I had a deep appreciation for its value. Chills ran down my spine as I appreciated for the first time what a treasure I held before me.

The Bible has never been the same to me since that day. I have not been the same since that day. Rather than being just another book on a rather busy bookshelf, my Bible now stands out as a treasure. More than just words, the Bible is the very Word of God! More than ink on a page, the Bible is alive and active. It contains exactly what God wants me to know about Him and about myself. It is the awesome, amazing, living revelation of an awesome, amazing, powerful God to His created beings.

That day, as I stood in awe of the blessing I have in this book, I asked God to continue to impress its value on me and He has been faithful in doing so. I do not presume to have a full understanding of the Bible’s importance and value, but I do believe I know far more than I did before. My love and respect for the Word continue to grow. The more I learn of the Word, the more I praise God for bestowing this treasure upon me and the more I stand in awe of His wisdom for revealing Himself to us in this way.

Just as millions of people have dusted off their antiques and hauled them to stadiums or arenas around North America to have them appraised by the experts, I would encourage you to dust off your Bible and ask the Appraiser to impress on you its worth. If you approach Him humbly and with a thirst for wisdom, He will show you the incredible value of the treasure He has given you.

Note: I first posted an article similar to this a couple of years ago. Recent reflection on Scripture led me to rewrite it and post it again.

September 19, 2005

John Calvin is a man loved and respected by some, despised and reviled by others. Those who dislike Calvin and his theology are likely to protest on many grounds, but the most common are his view of predestination and an understanding of Calvin as something of a dictator over the town of Geneva. It is not unusual to find people who villify Calvin as nothing short of tyrannical - a despot who let no one and nothing stand in his way. Calvin is most notorious for the situation regarding Servetus, a man who was found guilty of heresy and executed for this belief. Here are a few quotes I found regarding Servetus:

  • “On October 27, 1553 John Calvin, the founder of Calvinism, had Michael Servetus, the Spanish physician, burned at the stake just outside of Geneva for his doctrinal heresies!”
  • “He was seized the day after his arrival, condemned as a heretic when he refused to recant, and burned in 1553 with the apparent tacit approval of Calvin.” [Do note that this is taken from the same article as the first quote. I’m not sure how the author reconciles his assertion that Calvin had Servetus burned at the stake with his second assertion that Calvin merely gave tacit approval!]
  • “Calvin had him [Servetus] arrested as a heretic. Convicted and burned to death.”
  • “Calvin killed Servetus because he disagreed with him.”

In speaking to people about the doctrines of grace I have often had to address their assertions, usually made without any real understanding of the situation, that John Calvin was a heartless dictator. So today I would like to address the Servetus problem.

Michael Servetus

Michael Servetus was a Spanish theologian and physician who lived from 1511-1553. In his early years he came into contact with many leading Reformers and while he broke with the Roman Catholic Church and became at least nominally Protestant, he adopted a particularly heretical belief, denying that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. He also denied paedo-baptism, a belief which further alienated him from Protestant and Catholic alike. His books on Christian doctrine were read and examined by the Catholic Church and he was condemned as a heretic. He was arrested, tried and sentenced to death, but managed to escape from his captors. He fled towards Italy, but for an unknown reason decided to pass through Geneva.

Geneva, of course, was the home of John Calvin and the very center of Reformed doctrine. Servetus’ decision to stop in Geneva was in no way innocent. Some have suggested that he arrived in Geneva almost by accident, but this is not true. He was clearly hoping to exert influence over Calvin and to convert him to his errant understanding of the Trinity. It seems that Servetus was a strange combination of genius and lunatic.

Servetus’ reputation preceded him and Calvin and the other Reformers knew of his heresies. Calvin had earlier written a now infamous letter to Farel, dated February 13th, 1546, where he said, “Servetus wrote to me a short time ago, and sent a huge volume of his dreamings and pompous triflings with his letter. I was to find among them wonderful things, and such as I had never before seen; and if I wished, he would himself come. But I am by no means inclined to be responsible for him; and if he come, I will never allow him, supposing my influence worth anything, to depart alive.” When Servetus, at last, arrived in the city, Calvin was left with the unenviable position of having to decide whether to allow the heretic to continue his teaching in Geneva, which would inevitably lead people to believe that the Reformed church was lenient towards heresy (softer even that the Roman Catholic Church that had already condemned this man to death), or to attempt to take action.

Calvin found that he had little choice but to ask the civil authorities to intervene. Historian Francis Higman correctly says “there was a sort of horrid inevitability about the whole thing.” Calvin had no political authority whatsoever, and was not even a citizen of Geneva until six years later. Calvin did what he could, which was to ask the civil authorities to investigate the matter and to take action. They consulted churches in Geneva and elsewhere in Switzerland and found that this was a matter worthy of trial. The trial was lengthy and deliberate. Servetus was eventually found guilty and was condemned to be burned at the stake, despite Calvin’s request that he be executed painlessly by being beheaded. Michael Servetus was put to death on October 27, 1553. Several months later the Catholic Inquisition in France executed him once more, this time in effigy.

Answering the Critics

Here are several pointers you may wish to consider when answering critics.

  • Motives - Some non-Reformed Christians hail Servetus almost as a hero, for no other reason than he casts a shadow over John Calvin. They would do well to remember, though, that Servetus was a heretic who denied a doctrine of absolute foundational importance. There can be no salvation for one who denies that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. We must ensure that people are researching Servetus out of pure motives and not merely in an attempt to villify Calvin.
  • Historical Context - Do remember that we are not dealing here with modern day Western nations where there was a clear separation between church and state. Religion was inseperable from politics. Church and state were mingled and both rulers and the common man felt that a common religion was absolutely critical to the maintenance of order. In the sixteenth century heresy was a common charge and heresy of the magnitude expressed by Michael Servetus was almost always punishable by death. It may be helpful to draw people’s attention to the Old Testament where God not only approved of, but commanded, the destruction of entire nations. Surely this would seem atrocious to modern readers, and surely God would no longer command it today, yet at the time it happened it was common practice. The times change. We see evidence of this as well in the New and Old Testaments where believers owned slaves, another practice we would consider abominable and unfitting for Christians.

    Paul Henry, a notable historian, writes: “Calvin here appears in his real character; and a nearer consideration of the proceeding, examined from the point of view furnished by the age in which he lived, will completely exonerate him from all blame. His conduct was not determined by personal feeling; it was the consequence of a struggle which this great man had carried on for years against tendencies to a corruption of doctrine which threatened the church with ruin. Every age must be judged according to its prevailing laws; and Calvin cannot be fairly accused of any greater offence than that with which we may be charged for punishing certain crimes with death.” Calvin was right to take action. The horrid inevitability was that in this time and place heresy was a civil offense and one punishable by death.

  • Calvin’s Authority - Critics of John Calvin like to suggest that John Calvin ordered the execution and that he murdered Servetus. Remember the quotes from the beginning of this article. It is important to note that John Calvin had no authority in the town of Geneva. He was not even a citizen until six years after this happened! Those who would have us believe that Calvin had the authority to have this man murdered would do well to note that he did not have the power to lessen the sentence. Calvin requested action and testified at Servertus’ trial, but it was the civil courts that sentenced the man to death.
  • Calvin’s Compassion - Calvin’s critics have often suggested that Calvin delighted in the death of Servetus. This is difficult, and likely impossible, to prove. It should be noted that Calvin was the only person who suggested a lighter sentence, asking the court to allow Servetus to die painlessly by beheading. Calvin prayed with and for Servetus and earlier in his life had sent Servetus a copy of his Institutes. Interestingly, Servetus returned the book with many abusive and insulting comments written in the margins. Despite this offense, Calvin showed clear pastoral concern for this man’s soul. But Servetus died clinging to his heretical beliefs.
  • Expiation - Three hundred and fifty years after the death of Servetus, a monument of expiation was erected at the place where Servetus was executed. On one side of this monument are recorded the dates of the birth and death of Servetus. On the opposite side is this inscription:

    “Dutiful and grateful followers of Calvin our great Reformer, yet condemning an error which was that of his age, and strongly attached to liberty of conscience, according to the true principles of the Reformation and of the Gospel, we have erected this expiatory monument. October 27th, 1903.”

    While such a monument can hardly atone for the death of a man, it does express a post-Reformation understanding that such an act was unacceptable and an unfortunate product of the times.

Conclusion

Perhaps it is also helpful to note that while Calvinists are called after John Calvin, they identify more with his theology than with the man himself. Many, and no doubt most Calvinists have never read a word of John Calvin. Instead they reluctantly call themselves Calvinists because they feel John Calvin was gifted by God to understand and interpret the Scriptures and that he restored to the church doctrine that had been lost for hundreds of years. His gift to the church was not himself, but the doctrines of grace illumined to him by the Holy Spirit. The death of Servetus, and the role played by John Calvin, stand as proof that he was in no way perfect and was as much in need of grace as any of us.

September 16, 2005

This is the sixth article in a series about Mark Driscoll’s book The Radical Reformission. You can find the first article here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here and the fifth here. We are reaching the end of the book; all that remains is today’s chapter and then the conclusion.

This chapter is an attempt to explain postmodernism. As anyone can attest who has attempted to define such a monster, arriving at a satisfactory explanation is no small feat. But Driscoll does quite a good job. He prefaces the chapter by reiterating the importance of the cultural mandate, though he provides no Scriptural support for this. “While we are here [on earth],” he writes, “we are supposed to be cultivating a culture like the kingdom…Culture is not something that God’s reformission people are merely to participate in; it is also something we are to cultivate, to plow, by living for the kindgom of heaven among the cultures of earth” (page 160).

Driscoll goes on to define postmodernism, at least as far as such a definition is possible. He begins by making four important points. First, postmodernism is basically a philosophical junk drawer into which people toss everything they can not make sense of. Ask four people for a definition and you’ll receive five answers. Second, postmodernity is not new, but was already being examined as a relic of the past as early as the 80’s. Third, postmodernity is simply another philosophy that is destined to pass away. And fourth, postmodern culture is not something that should be ignored, opposed or embraced; rather, it is simply another culture that Christians should seek to redeem.

The heart of the chapter is Driscoll’s list of seven demons that have entered the American church through what has been dubbed the emerging church. He warns that these are traps that must be avoided if we are to remain faithful to Scripture.

demon one: the Sky Fairy - Some church leaders see God as little more than an emasculated Sky Fairy who would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell. “As we work among cultures that value trendiness, we must not forget that the kingdom values timeless truths like sin, repentance, and faith that leads to good works” (page 167).

demon two: keeping it real…sinful - While emerging churches have placed emphasis on being real and genuine, many have taken this too far. “Because we are sinners, simply encouraging people to be who they are in the name of authenticity is dangerous because it can easily be taken as license to sin without repentance” (page 167). We must not forget that the Scriptures value repentance much higher than being real or authentic.

demon three: hermeneutics of the Dragon - Postmodernity poses a challenge to the church because it changes the rules of hermeneutics. Too many postmodern leaders keep the Bible but do away with its authority, choosing to play with the interpretation and meaning of particular texts. Driscoll states, correctly I believe (in fact, this is something I’ve often mentioned in articles on this site), that while the battle of previous decades was for the Bible’s inerrancy, the battle for our day is over the Bible’s authority and meaning.

demon four: from creation back to ex nihilo - Postmodernism is a philosophy dealing with deconstruction. Too much deconstruction, without a building plan, leads to homelessness. “This sense of homelessness pervades those who have undertaken to deconstruct God, Scripture, gender, sin, the meaning of life, and anything else they can find” (page 169). The danger to postmodern churches is that, like fundamentalist churches, they become known more for what they are against, or what they are not, than for what they are.

demon five: the custom is always evil - We live in a gluttonous, spoiled culture where everyone is a customer and everything is a product to be marketed. This applies as much to the church as to a box of cereal. Many postmodern Christians have accepted a consumeristic mindset where they expect a church to cater to them and to meet their felt needs. “But as we cultivate a counterculture, we must not forget that what people need most is to die to themselves and live for God. If we simply give people what they want, we will not be giving them what they need” (page 172).

demon six: the photocopy heresy - Deeply embedded in our culture is the myth of egalitarianism, that everyone is equal in every way. This denies the obvious: that God has created people with different skills, roles and abilities. A postmodern church that is addicted to egalitarianism will be confused over many issues, including those dealing with sexuality and gender. It may also refuse to acknowledge any authority, including that of pastor or elder. In advanced forms this may even diminsh God (through open theism, for example), to make Him more equal to us. As Christians we must remember the duly-appointed authority structures God has seen fit to give us.

demon seven: the hyphenated Christian - Postmoderns reject any authority beyond themselves and reject any claim to truth other than the claim that there is no valid truth claim. Postmodernism has rejected truth and settled instead on the idea of multiple truths, none of which is in any way absolute. The Bible, though, claims to be truth and to reveal truth. It claims to hold total authority over the life of believers. “As we work among cultures, we must never proclaim Jesus as God merely from our limited and biased perspective but rather as God and the King who rules over a kingdom that includes the cultures of the earth. And the view from his throne is not simply one of the many equally valid perspectives but truth” (page 176).

Driscoll’s purpose in addressing these issues is to show that all of them will bring a rapid and inevitable end to reformission. He also warns of them so that believers can avoid being mired in these pitfalls as they seek to build a kingdom culture. He promises that “in the final chapter, I will share with you what this looks like at our church and will try to inspire you to pursue the dreams that God has given you for the place in which you live” (page 176).

Reflections

I began my reflection on the previous chapter by noting, “This was probably the shortest and lightest chapter in the book thus far. I agree with the majority of what Driscoll teaches here.” While this chapter was not nearly as light, I would have to echo the second sentence once more. I found myself saying “amen!” each time Driscoll discussed one of the demons that plague the emerging church. As he addressed each pitfall I could immediately think of examples of people or churches who have fallen into exactly that error. It seems clear that Driscoll has spent a great deal of time studying the emerging churches throughout American and reflecting on what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. I was especially pleased to hear his affirmation of the authority of Scripture, for if one has a biblical view of the authority of Scripture it seems likely that many other pieces of theology must necessarily fall into place.

I look forward to reading the final chapter and look forward to being able to reflect on the complete argument Driscoll presents in The Radical Reformission.

September 15, 2005

Some time ago I wrote an article entitled Purposeful Interference in which I claimed that Rick Warren and his representatives within the Purpose Driven organization had suppressed the publication of the book Pyromarketing: The Four Step Strategy to Ignite Customer Evangelists and Keep them For Life by Greg Stielstra. The article coincided with another brief article dealing with the same subject that was published by Publishers Weekly. The article was widely-read and talked about within other blogs.

Here is a quote which summarizes the article:

“Following the success of The Purpose Driven Life and other phenomena that displayed the value of PyroMarketing, Stielstra decided the time was right to publish a book explaining his philosophy of marketing. Without claiming credit for its success, he sought to explain the success of the book through the principles of his marketing philosophy. HarperCollins Publishers agreed to publish the book, which was to be titled PyroMarketing : The Four-Step Strategy to Ignite Customer Evangelists and Keep Them for Life and was expected to reach store shelves by mid-2005…Not long afterward, it appears that Rick Warren contacted Zondervan’s President, Doug Lockhart, and demanded that all references to The Purpose Driven Life be removed from PyroMarketing. Apparently this demand stemmed from a concern that this book would make a clear connection in the mind of the reader between The Purpose Driven Life and marketing technique. Lockhart returned to Stielstra, suggesting that he remove all references to Warren’s book and that he find examples of his marketing principles from the 2004 Presidential campaign. He declined. To this day Stielstra has refused to edit those portions of his book. HarperCollins has not published PyroMarketing and will give no indication as to when or even if they will do so.”

I later posted an update to say that HarperCollins had suddenly decided to proceed with publication with no reason provided as to the change of heart.

Since Then…

When I first published the story, it was conservative Christians who were most interested. Many of the conservative (and perhaps fundamentalist) blogs and information sites commented on the story. In the past few days the story has seen a resurgence of interest, but this time the epicenter seems to be the Emerging Church blogs. And this makes sense, doesn’t it? The Emerging Church is as opposed to “corporate Christianity” as are conservative Christians.

At the time I published the article Rick Warren had not commented on the situation. But in the middle of last month Rick Warren sent a letter to Christian Retailing in which he addressed the situation. It was only recently published. Here is the full text of his statement:

Statement by Dr. Rick Warren Regarding “Pyromarketing”

NOTE: I approve the use of this statement by “Christian Retailing” as long as it is printed in its entirety, and not edited. Rick Warren

I was serving in Africa, in the middle of a 35 day road trip with no opportunity to respond, when “Publisher’s Weekly” mistakenly reported that I oppose the publication of a book by Greg Stielstra. That is flatly untrue.

My only concern was that no one, neither Zondervan Publishing nor myself, claim credit for the astounding success of “The Purpose Driven Life” (PDL) book. The worldwide spread of the purpose driven message had nothing to do with marketing or merchandizing. Instead it was the result of God’s supernatural and sovereign plan, which no one anticipated.

Both Zondervan and Purpose Driven will confirm this. None of us feel we are smart enough to figure out how to make a devotional book by a pastor sell 25,000,000 copies — especially since there’s not a single idea in PDL that hasn’t already been stated repeatedly in historic Christianity over the past 2000 years!

I usually sign books with Proverbs 19:21 (NCV): “People can make all kinds of plans, but only the Lord’s plan will happen.” Or as Proverbs 16:1 (TEV) says “We may make our plans, but God has the last word.”

In fact, my plan for a 40-chapter book, a 40 Days of Purpose program, and my request to sell the book at a discount to participating purpose driven congregations was initially rejected and denied by the Zondervan marketing team due to fears that it would dampen CBA sales. Our friends at Zondervan acknowledge that they had nothing to do with creating the format of the book, the 40 day program, or enlisting the churches involved.

After the success of the first 40 Days of Purpose, Zondervan did offer to help our church with the logistics of serving thousands of more churches. We declined that gracious offer explaining that we wanted the 40 day program to remain ministry-focused, and not appear to be a publisher’s marketing ploy for a book in any way. The leadership of Zondervan agreed wholeheartedly with us and did nothing to enlist the 30,000+ churches that have used the program so far. We built a wall between the congregations and the publisher to maintain credibility as a local church-to-church program.

My request to Harper Collins was simply that Greg’s forthcoming book not use “The Purpose Driven Life” as example of “pyromarketing,” since that would be inaccurate. The effectiveness of 40 Days of Purpose spread from one pastor to another through word-of-mouth endorsement, not through anyone’s marketing plan. That doesn’t mean “pyromarketing” doesn’t work. It just means that it didn’t create the PDL worldwide phenomena!

In all of this I’ve had two overriding concerns; first, that everyone involved would humbly admit that we could never have planned or organized a phenomena of this size. We are all just small cogs in the giant wheel of God’s purposes. “For promotion comes neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. God is the sovereign judge: he puts down one, and sets up another,” Psalm 75:6-7 (KJV). When you write a book that begins with the sentence “It’s not about you,” you want to be careful to not attribute the work of God to human methods, marketing, or plans.

My second concern is that skeptics would attribute the amazing miracle God has done to mere techniques or gimmicks. Newspapers and magazines do this all the time because they don’t understand the power of a life transformed by God’s grace so they look for naturalistic explanations such as advertising or marketing. God warns us of this tendency, “I feared that others would grab the chance to take credit for all of it, Crowing, “Look what we did! God had nothing to do with this.” Deut. 32:27 (Mes)

God will not share his glory with others. So my prayer is that all us involved will say, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory,” Psalm 115:1 (NIV).

Rick Warren

August 16, 2005

Coincidentally (or perhaps not), Malcolm Gladwell, columnist for The New Yorker published an article about Warren in last week’s issue of the magazine. While I have been able to find only excerpts of the article, from what I have read it makes many of the same points as Stielstra makes in PyroMarketing.

The accounts I have read seem to show Warren at his most typical, acting as humble as he knows how, all the while dropping as many big names he can muster. “ ‘I had dinner with Jack Welch last Sunday night,’ he said. ‘He came to church, and we had dinner. I’ve been kind of mentoring him on his spiritual journey. And he said to me, ‘Rick, you are the biggest thinker I have ever met in my life. The only other person I know who thinks globally like you is Rupert Murdoch.’ And I said, ‘That’s interesting. I’m Rupert’s pastor! Rupert published my book!’” (see here). The article states as well that prior to its publication Warren predicted the book would sell one hundred million copies.

Flatly Untrue?

In his letter to Christian Retailing, Rick Warren flatly denies that he opposed the publication of PyroMarketing. “ ‘Publisher’s Weekly’ mistakenly reported that I oppose the publication of a book by Greg Stielstra. That is flatly untrue,” he said. Yet he goes on to say, “My request to Harper Collins was simply that Greg’s forthcoming book not use “The Purpose Driven Life” as example of “pyromarketing,” since that would be inaccurate.” It seems to me that Warren says, “I did not oppose the publication of the book. But the reason I opposed the publication of the book was…” Little wonder that people are beginning to accuse Warren of Clintonesque speech.

It is clear that Warren opposed the publication of the book because it contained material he felt was going to prejudice people against The Purpose Driven Life. His motives may have been pure. He may have genuinely desired that all the glory go to God. But no matter the motives, it is beyond dispute that he and the people within his organization opposed the publication of PyroMarketing.

It is painfully obvious that the success of The Purpose Driven Life did come, at least in part, because of marketing. This is beyond dispute. It is documented fact. While word-of-mouth marketing may have been the key to the book’s success, this word-of-mouth advertising was carefully manufactured by the marketing minds at Zondervan and Purpose Driven. Viral marketing is still marketing! “The effectiveness of 40 Days of Purpose spread from one pastor to another through word-of-mouth endorsement, not through anyone’s marketing plan.” That is untrue. The effectiveness of 40 Days of Purpose spread from one pastor to another because of a word-of-mouth marketing campaign engineered by Purpose Driven.

God Will Not Share His Glory

I find it strange that Warren refuses to admit that marketing played a key role in the success of The Purpose Driven Life. I do not see that this is anything to be ashamed of. As a Christian I see nothing inherently wrong with marketing. It can be an honorable pursuit, like most other pursuits, provided that it is done to God’s glory and in a way that brings honor to Him. Anyone who has been part of a church plant knows that God blesses advertising or marketing ventures, whether that be door-to-door visits or advertising in a local newspaper. We give our best to God, that He might be glorified through what we do.

Warren is correct when he says that God will not share his glory with others. But the presence of marketing does not negate the ability to give God the glory. We give God the glory when He blesses our efforts, whether or not they include advertising.

Links

Here are a few of the sites that linked to the story in the past few days.

djword.blogspot.com
www.jordoncooper.com
www.blog4icthus.com/
www.e-church.com
www.kinnon.tv
www.aaron.monts.cc

September 14, 2005

Care to share advice?

I am thinking of cosolidating my various RSS feeds (there are currently three per blog) and only publicizing a single RSS feed (through Feedburner) for each of the blogs. Is there anything I need to know about Feedburner before I do this?

September 14, 2005

Twelve Extraordinary Women.jpgJohn MacArthur wears a lot of hats. He is a pastor, theologian, author, teacher and president of a seminary. He also speaks at conferences and hosts a daily radio program. I assume he also finds time to spend with his wife and family. While he clearly excels at all of these roles, the one for which most of us know him best is simply as teacher of the Bible. And honestly, I cannot think of any man of this generation who does a better job of expositing the Scriptures. MacArthur has the amazing, God-given ability to make what is difficult seem simple. His years of passionate, careful, deliberate study of the Scripture have served to bring untold blessings to the body of Christ.

John MacArthur is one of my favorite teachers and his books have had a profound influence on my life and have done much to shape my theology. I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to preview his upcoming book, Twelve Extraordinary Women, which is due for publication later this year.

Preview

Twelve Ordinary Men, John MacArthur’s book on the apostles, was a surprise hit. After the book stayed on the bestseller lists for over a year, Thomas Nelson suggested publishing a second volume, this one dealing with some of the best-known women of the Bible. MacArthur accepted the challenge and drew up a long list of possible subjects. “I admit that I chose the twelve women featured here by a completely unscientific process: I weighed their relative importance in biblical history alongside the amount of material I had already developed on each of them as I have taught through various passages of Scripture. Then I chose the twelve women who were most familiar to me.” Twelve Extraordinary Women is not exactly a sequel to MacArthur’s Twelve Ordinary Men, yet it bears many similarities. Like its predecessor (and unlike the majority of MacArthur’s books), Twelve Extraordinary Women is not primarily expository. Instead, it is a series of brief character studies. Like Twelve Ordinary Men, it is ideally suited for personal or group study, and is intensely practical.

The women MacArthur chose as subjects for this book are: Eve, Sarah, Rahab, Ruth, Hannah, Mary, Anna, The Samaritan Woman, Martha and Mary, Mary Magdalene and Lydia. “My prayer for you is that as you read this book you will share their faith, imitate their faithfulness, and learn to love the Savior whose work in their lives made them truly extraordinary. Your life can be extraordinary, too, by His wonderful grace.”

The format of the book will be familiar to those who have read Twelve Ordinary Men. MacArthur spends a chapter discussing each of the women (though Martha and Mary share a single chapter) and shows that what made each of these women extraordinary was nothing they brought to God, but the work of the Savior in their lives. Each of them had a deep reverence towards God and trusted His promises, whether they looked forward to a time when the Savior would come, or whether they looked back at his death and resurrection. Some of them stood between the New and Old Testament eras, even witnessing with their own eyes the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

By way of introduction, MacArthur writes about the high position given to women within Scripture. Women are never relegated to a secondary status and, unlike so many other religions, are never degraded and considered less important than men. From the beginning of the New Testament era to the close of the canon of Scripture we see God granting extraordinary privilege to women. There are countless women in the Bible who stand as examples of faithfulness, integrity, hospitality and every other admirable virtue. “The faithfulness of these women is their true, lasting legacy. I hope as you meet them in Scripture and get to know more about their lives and characters, they will challenge you, motivate you, encourage you, and inspire you with love for the God whom they trusted and served. May your heart be set ablaze with the very same faith, may your life be characterized by a similar faithfulness, and may your soul be overwhelmed with love for the extraordinary God they worshiped.”

Each of the subsequent eleven chapters is a study of a particular woman, with MacArthur shining light on the Scriptural accounts of each subject. Each chapter is practical, showing how the virtues exemplified in the lives of the women can be applied to the life of the reader. The reader is show how he, too, can be extraordinary through the power of God.

What Others Are Saying

At this point I have not been able to find any endorsements for this book. It seems to me that with John MacArthur’s long track-record of successful, biblical books he hardly needs endorsements!

Content

Preface
 Introduction

1. Eve: Mother of All Living
2. Sarah: Hoping Against Hope
3. Rahab: A Horrible Life Redeemed
4. Ruth: Loyalty and Love
5. Hannah: A Portrait of Feminine Grace
6. Mary: Blessed Among Women
7. Anna: The Faithful Witness
8. The Samaritan Woman: Finding the Water of Life
9. Martha and Mary: Working and Worshiping
10. Mary Magdalene: Delivered from Darkness
11. Lydia: A Hospitable Heart Opened

Epilogue

Conclusion

Twelve Extraordinary Women is a worthy successor to Twelve Ordinary Men. This book is both informative and inspiring. It will lead the reader to understand what each of these twelve women surely knew, that God was the truly extraordinary one, as He conformed such ordinary women to the likeness of their Savior. I highly recommend this book for both personal and group study.

Availability

Twelve Extraordinary Women is being published by Nelson Books and according to Amazon will be available on the 1st of November, 2005. It is already available for pre-order:

It appears that in addition to the book, Thomas Nelson is publishing:

  • A Study Guide (which is not yet available at Amazon). For future reference, the SKU for the guide is 1418505579. The guide will contain “Insightful Questions for In-Depth Study, Places to Journal and Guided Prayers.”
  • An Audio CD. You can pre-order it from Amazon here.

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