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December 21, 2005

Every believer carries a measure of the guilt for Jesus’ death. If it were not for our willful disobedience to God’s perfect Law, we would have no need of a Savior. We acknowledge in song that it was our hands that drove the spikes into His’ and sometimes speak about driving the nails into Jesus’ hands every time we sin. We speak figuratively, of course, knowing that although we were not present at the time of His death, we bear the guilt of providing the need for His death.

In the Bible we are given a brief glimpse of a man who was present while Jesus was nailed to the tree. This man was a Roman centurion, a commander over 100 soldiers of the Roman army. We know little about the man except that he was probably a hardened solider and commanded a detachment of what were most likely Syrian-born soldiers. He had, in all likelihood, presided over the crucifixion of hundreds or even thousands of men and must have become hardened to the agony these men endured.

It is likely that this man was present from the time Jesus was brought before Pilate right until the Lord’s body was lowered from the cross and given to Joseph of Arimathea. He may even have been present with the detachment of soldiers that aided in Jesus’ arrest the night before His crucifixion. This man would have accompanied Jesus from the time the Jewish leaders brought him to the Praetorium. He would have ordered his men to beat Him, caring little for who He was, knowing Him only to be another in a long line of people he was commanded to execute. He would have been nearby when his men dressed Jesus in a robe, pressed a crown of thorns onto His head and walked Him to Golgotha. He would have given the order to proceed with the crucifixion.

The centurion is mentioned in three of the four gospel accounts. He is mentioned not for his cruelty, ruthlessness or ability as a soldier. He is mentioned for something far more important, for a marvelous transformation that occurred immediately after the death of one of his prisoners.

Having seen so many crucifixions, the centurion knew what to expect from prisoners. Most people who were sentenced to be crucified were criminals, brigands, thieves and murderers. He had heard countless men scream in agony while being whipped and plead for their lives before Pilate. From their crosses he had heard them shout curses to men below and blasphemies to God above. The behavior of the thieves on either side of Jesus was all too common, as they mocked and ridiculed Jesus as he hung between them.

Perhaps it was during this time that the centurion began to notice that there was something different about Jesus. Where most men cursed and swore, Jesus, as His hands were nailed to the wood, cried out for God to forgive those who were causing His suffering. Or maybe He noticed the tender mercy in Jesus’ voice when He spoke to the penitent thief beside Him, promising that the same day he would be with Jesus in paradise. Perhaps he was amazed that during such suffering Jesus could look down at His mother and ensure that her future was secure by telling John to take care of her. Certainly the three hours of darkness that accompanied Jesus’ suffering would have marked this as an execution unlike any other.

We can only guess when the centurion began to realize that perhaps, just perhaps, Jesus was exactly who He claimed to be. What we do know is exactly when He knew with full certainty.

Just before He died, Jesus cried out “It is finished.” Immediately after that He said “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” At that very moment Jesus died. At that same moment a violent earthquake shook the land with such ferocity that rocks were split. Matthew tells us “when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!” Luke expands on this saying “when the centurion saw what had happened, he glorified God, saying, “Certainly this was a righteous Man!”

And just like that, the man who presided over Jesus’ execution, the man who ordered the nails to be driven into His hands and feet, became the first person to become a believer after Jesus’ death.

What an awesome, exciting testament this is to God’s divine grace! God was willing and eager to save one of those primarily responsible for the murder of His Son. A man who watched Jesus be scourged, who watched his soldiers mock and abuse Him and who probably enjoyed every minute of it, suddenly cries out in terror, realizing that He has killed an innocent man. His cry of terror is also an expression of faith as he confesses his new-found knowledge that Jesus was the Son of God.

I am certain that this story served as a great encouragement to many people in the early church. Though many of them carried the guilt for having killed the Lord, the realization that God could save even those who held the nails, would have proven that He is a God of love and forgiveness. It would have reassured them that, like this centurion, they could gain God’s favor through Jesus’ sacrifice.

This centurion’s miraculous conversion continues to serve as an encouragement today. Just as we share the centurion’s guilt for driving the nails into Jesus, so we can share the victory He won that day. As with this soldier who lived and died almost 2000 years ago, we need only have faith to believe that “truly this was the Son of God” and we, too, can be forgiven for the part we played in this terrible, unjust execution.

December 20, 2005

King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers. Every week I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to the left sidebar of my site. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to give honor where I feel honor is due.

This week’s King for a Week is Cerulean Sanctum, owned and operated by Dan Edelen. According to his blog, “Dan writes from his nascent farm while he labors on The Great American Novel and seeks to walk humbly with Christ.” The motto of Dan’s blog is “Cerulean Sanctum: Looking for the 1st century Church in 21st century America.” And that is exactly what Dan seeks to do - to challenge the church to model itself after the Biblical example.

One thing I can say about Dan, and something that is rare in the blogosphere, is that he actually finishes the series he begins. My friend Doug and I have laughed together about how many series we have begun only to have them fizzle and die. Dan begins ambitious series and actually seems to finish them. He writes articles that are biblical, challenging and occasionally infuriating.

And so I am glad to commend this site to you. For the next week you will be able to see the most recent headlines from Cerulean Sanctum in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over to the site and look around.

I continue to accept nominations for King of the Week. If you have a site you would like to nominate, feel free to do so by clicking on the “suggest” button below the King of the Week box. Thanks to those of you who nominated this week’s honoree.

December 13, 2005

King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers. Every week I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to the left sidebar of my site. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to give honor where I feel honor is due.

This week’s King for a Week is Common Grounds Online, a group blog founded by Glenn Lucke, author of Common Grounds which I have reviewed here. The site seeks to continue the exploration begun in the book, though a person certainly does not have to read the book before he can enjoy the site. Glenn has gathered a good group of authors and there is always lots to read at the site.

And so I am glad to commend to you Glenn’s book, ministry and web site. For the next week you will be able to see the most recent headlines from Common Grounds Online in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over to the site and look around.

I continue to accept nominations for King of the Week. If you have a site you would like to nominate, feel free to do so by clicking on the “suggest” button below the King of the Week box. Thanks to those of you who nominated this week’s honoree.

December 09, 2005

Wow.

I’m really not easy to please when it comes to movies. Film is not my medium of choice and I almost always prefer a good book to a good movie. Rarely does a movie captivate me in the way a book does. As with most people I almost always find a movie to be less enjoyable than the book it is based upon.

When it comes to The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe I have little to compare the book to. I have not read the book for many years and in recent weeks could not bring myself to go and buy it lest I appear to be someone just trying to keep up with the latest fad. So there is little I can say about the faithfulness of the movie as it compares to the book.

But as a movie it is simply excellent.

Now, I am terrible at writing movie reviews. In fact, I am so bad at it that I rarely bother. And really this isn’t even a review as much as some discombobulated thoughts from a movie I returned from only a few minutes ago. To be more fair I should probably give myself a few hours to digest it, or perhaps I should even see it again. Nah.

A lot of reviews I’ve read have compared The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe with The Passion of the Christ and Lord of the Rings. While inevitable, this is unfortunate, I think, as I believe a movie should stand or fall on its own merits (or lack thereof). The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe did not have the budget of Lord of the Rings or another mega-blockbuster and this shows on occasion, especially with the special effects. But on the whole the movie is brilliantly done and absolutely pregnant with deeper meaning. There is clearly a story behind the story that is just waiting to be discovered. And even then I feel like I have only scratched the surface of the deeper meaning.

While the friend I watched the film with found it a little bit slow, especially at the beginning, I enjoyed every moment of it and thought it moved quite well. I know that today’s children demand a fast pace but I do believe most will be able to enjoy this nonetheless. There is a real innocence to the mythology of the story, an innocence that seems almost out of place in this age of Harry Potter and PG-13 fairy tales. And behind the innocence is a certain truth that is so much greater than what we find in comparable films.

There were three things that I feel could have sunk this movie. First, the producers could have removed the Christian metaphor that lies behind the film. Thankfully, and intelligently, they did not. All of the parallels to the gospel story are starkly present in this movie. Second, the effects people could have done a poor job on Aslan. Again, they did not. Aslan is well-voiced and moves with grace, power and credibility. Finally, they could have relied on substandard child actors. I am glad to say that the children do a wonderful job in playing their roles both naturally and skillfully.

If I had one disappointment that stood out about the others it is that Edmund, who had betrayed his family, never asks Aslan for forgiveness. I believe that this was a critical aspect of Lewis’ story and, while we see Edmund talking to Aslan, and later hear Aslan telling the other children not to talk about the past anymore, we never hear that plea for forgiveness. This is not, by any means, a fatal flaw, but I suspect it was a concession made to avoid the Christian theme from coming across too strongly. It is disappointing in its absence. In its place the filmmakers substitute an epic battle that was largely foreign to the book.

I am thrilled to have seen the movie and do hope to see it at least once more. I am glad to be able to recommend the film. It is not without its flaws, but as one reviewer said, there is certainly nothing to cringe at. As with the Lord of the Rings series, the filmmakers stayed true to the story and have created an excellent film. I look forward to hearing your impressions.

PS - Don’t leave until the lights come on. You’ll want to stick around for a short while because there is an important scene halfway through the credits.

December 06, 2005

I’ll be the first to admit that this week’s King for a Week is not a site that is geared primarily towards a person like me - a married male. However, this does not mean that the site is without value to me. Solo Femininity is the home of author (Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?), blogger, speaker and all around nice person Carolyn McCulley. Carolyn is part of the Sovereign Grace family and works with C.J. Mahaney and Josh Harris. Her site provides “Godward encouragement for Christian single women (and others who visit here).” I am proud to be one of those “others” who visit the site and I have often benefitted from Carolyn’s ministry and encouragement.

For the next week you will be able to see the five most recent headlines from Solo Femininity in the sidebar of my site. I encourage you to visit her site and read those articles. I have no doubt that you will benefit from them as I have.

I continue to accept nominations for King of the Week. If you have a site you would like to nominate, feel free to do so by clicking on the “suggest” button below the King of the Week box.

December 01, 2005

I want to take a little break today from our regularly-scheduled programming (a series about profanity) to discuss something that has been on my mind a lot over the past few days. It stems from a few things I’ve read and a few discussions I’ve had, so I wanted to write about it while it is still fresh in my mind. Be warned that I am writing this by way of stream-of-consciousness so it may wander a little bit!

The Westminister Shorter Catechism asks the question, “What is the chief end of man?” Many of us know the answer. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” While this is not a phrase drawn directly from Scripture, the wisdom behind it surely is. The Bible tells us with great clarity that man was created in order to bring glory to God. Thus the chief end of Christians and of the church is to bring glory to God. There is no higher calling. And as John Piper has told us repeatedly in his books and teaching ministry, we do so by enjoying Him forever. “The great business of life is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.”

I believe, though, that many evangelical churches would disagree with this. They might not say so, but their actions would prove that they feel man has a higher calling. It seems to me that many churches would say, “Man’s chief end is to evangelize the lost.” For many Christians and for many local churches there is no higher aim than to bring others to the Lord.

Before I continue I will affirm that I place great value in evangelism and regard it as a Christian duty. A church that does not care to evangelize cannot be a healthy church and likewise, a Christian who never shares his faith is, in all likelihood, spiritually ill. Evangelism is a privilege and an honor and I admire those who have dedicated their lives to sharing the good news with others.

But I do not believe that evangelism should be our highest goal.

A few years ago I spoke to a pastor of a small church that had been formed largely on the basis of Purpose Driven principles. I asked what their discipleship process involved. I was shocked when the pastor told me, without any remorse, that “if you are really looking to grow as a Christian this isn’t the church for you.” He went on to explain that his church was geared almost entirely towards evangelism. The Sunday morning services were stripped of almost anything that might offend: congregational prayer, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and so on. The music was done in the style of what was most popular in the town and the preaching always presupposed almost no knowledge of biblical principles. There was a small amount of discipleship training, but only on a very basic level. In other words, this church was driven by unbelievers. Their tastes, their likes and dislikes and their desires were considered the foundation for all the church was and did.

My current church likes to use the motif of a journey to describe the Christian life. The journey begins somewhere and ends somewhere and along the way there should be continual growth. But according to the pastor I spoke to, he would lead people into the fledgling stages of this Christian life and then abandon them in order to focus on people who were still on the other side of that starting line. He would lovingly take people from point 0 to point 1, but then turn his back on them to look for others. This pastor showed that, in his opinion, there was nothing greater than evangelism. He could not honor God more than if he was leading people to recite a sinner’s prayer.

A person like this pastor tends to interpret everything in the Christian life through this false assumption of man’s chief end and applies guilt to those who do not constantly evangelize. He may regard theology as something evil - something that detracts from the ability to witness. I have often had discussions with people who feel that theology is actually opposed to evangelism. If we are learning theology, they might say, we are missing opportunities to evangelize.

I believe that, to a great extent, this belief is based on Arminian assumption - that *we* are ultimately responsible for the spiritual state of our fellow man. It fits well with the oft-repeated warning that “there are people in hell right now who are there because you did not preach to them.” It assumes too much of our responsibility and our ability (and the ability of the one who hears). It speaks too little to the work of God in predestining some to eternal life and certainly speaks too little to the fact that until the Spirit opens hearts, every person is blind. “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

Theology, if it is an end in itself, can be bad. It sounds strange but it is true. Theology is not intended to be an end in itself. Rather, our theology should drive and motivate our lives. Our theology informs our evangelism. I have little doubt that, having studied theology over the past couple of years, I am better equipped to evangelize now than I was two years ago. I know more of God, more of His character and more of His Word. I have come to see the mistakes I used to make when I evangelized and know how to correct them in the future.

In speaking to people like the aforementioned pastor I have often been told, implicitly at least, that God holds a giant clipboard on which he takes notes on the amount of time we spend learning about Him and compares it to the amount of time we spend teaching others about Him. If we do not maintain the proper balance (as defined by these people) God is displeased with us. I have come to realize that this is simply not the case. We are responsible to take opportunities presented to us in which to evangelize and are even responsible to work towards creating such opportunities, but I see no reason to believe that these need to be equal pursuits in terms of time and attention. Our primary responsibility is to ensure that we are bringing glory to God through our lives as we use the gifts and talents God has given us and that we constantly submit our time and our talents to Him.

November 30, 2005

Over the weekend I posted a brief review of the film To End All Wars and indicated that, while it was quite a good movie, I would hesitate to recommend it because of the amount of swearing it contains. That comment led to some discussion over at Boars Head Tavern and another blog or two. Joe Carter also wrote a lengthy article entitled “What the @*&#…? A Christian Critique of Swearing” in which he discussed my position among others. As I read critiques of my Puritanical outlook on swearing I realized that I have an underdeveloped “theology of profanity” - I know what I believe about the issue, but not why I beleve it. And so, as I usually do, I began to research and write. This article and one which I hope will follow tomorrow will be the fruits of my effort.

Judging by what I have read on this topic it seems to be a prerequisite that the person writing affirm his ability to swear. So let me assure you that I can swear as well (or as poorly, depending on your perspective) as anyone. Being raised in a Christian home and attending a Christian school, though certainly great blessings, did not negate the desire to learn and use the rich, vulgar vocabulary so prevelant in society. One does not have to be a Marine or a member of the Air Force to swear. So while I am perfectly capable of doing so, like most Christians, I have found that as I have grown in holiness, my swearing has slowed accordingly. Or, as Joe Carter said, “that the further along I tread on the path to sanctification the less I feel the need to use such language myself.”

Too many people, when discussing this issue, approach from what I feel is the wrong perspective. When we examine any issue of morality, ethics or Christian living we should not approach from the perspective of “what can I get away with?” but of “how Christ-like can I be.” So let’s approach from that perspective, not seeking license but seeking absolute purity and conformity to God’s perfect standards.

A common argument against limiting vocabulary is that God did not include in the Bible a list of forbidden words. This, of course, would not have been possible as words, along with their meanings, change from culture-to-culture and from language-to-language. My purpose is not to provide a list of words that a Christian can say with a clear conscience and another that, when uttered, will require repentance and forgiveness. That would be satisfyingly legalistic, but would also be both unrealistic and unbiblical.

We should also note that words are deemed profane not on the basis of something intrinsic to a combination of letters or sounds but on the basis of their cultural understanding. You have probably heard, as I have, of people with names that, in one society would be considered profane while in others they have an entirely different meaning (by way of example, “Fuk” is, I believe, an acceptable Korean name). Words, then, have a meaning that is extrinsic to their combination of letters or sounds. Meaning is assigned within a language and even within a society. That the letter combination s-h-i-t spells a word that is considered profane while the letters p-o-o-p do not, is societal convention. We may be tempted to decide that this is ludicrous and declare emancipation from such societal silliness, but the fact is that words carry with them meaning, in both denotation and connotation. We cannot seperate these two. While words have only extrinsic meaning, it cannot be denied that they do have meaning and they are used to communicate ideas or sentiments. Thus the extrinisic meaning is what determines whether a word is acceptable or profane.

Before we begin, I feel it is important that we realize that the tongue is not an isolated instrument in the body. The tongue or the mouth speaks for the heart. Said otherwise, what proceeds from the mouth is a sure indication of what is in the heart. If a mouth pours forth filth, it is a sure indication that there is also a filthy heart. If a tongue spews forth rebellion, there is rebellion in the heart. If the tongue pours out praise, there is godly joy in the heart. We see this most clearly in the books of Proverbs and James. “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth” (Proverbs 10:20). Note the parallel between the tongue and the heart. ” So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” (James 3:5). So while in this brief article we may be examining words, the issue strikes deeper - as deep as the heart.

We will not discuss swearing at another person, nor will we discuss using blasphemous words, for those are both clearly forbidden in the greatest and the second greatest commandments. Using a profane word to describe another person is wrong on a deeper level than merely the words used for it shows that there is anger and hatred towards that person. Thus these words are merely a sympton of a far deeper problem. The same is true of blasphemous words uttered against God. What we will discuss, then, is the idle or flippant use of words that society has deemed to be profane. These are the words you might use to describe defecatory activities or the words you might scream when you stub your toe. We all know them far too well.

As with all matters of morality we must begin with the Bible, since, as Protestants, we believe it to be our only infallible guide for matters of life and faith. We need to look at this from two angles: from the angle of what is forbidden in Scripture and from the angle of what is commanded. We will turn to that discussion in our next article.

November 29, 2005

This week’s King for a Week award goes to Laura who blogs at A Practice in Belief and is also a member of the Intellectuelle crew. Laura is one of the very few teen bloggers I read and certainly the one that has edified me the most. She is also the first recipient of the King for a Week award to be nominated by one of my readers. The person who nominated Laura commended her with the words, “She shows that youth does not equal a lack of knowledge and wisdom.” I could not agree more.

I continue to accept nominations for King of the Week. If you have a site you would like to nominate, feel free to do so by clicking on the “suggest” button below the King of the Week box.

November 29, 2005

Last week I was made aware of a family in Chattanooga that I feel could desperately use the prayers of other believers. This is a family that has come under a time of intense pain the likes of which few people will ever experience. As I read their story, I found the faith of this family absolutely inspiring and I just pray to the Lord that, if I come under a time of such pain and torment, my faith will hold up as theirs has.

Andy Mendonsa is the director of Widow’s Harvest Ministries, a ministry based on the biblical mandate found in James 1:27 for “pure and undefiled” worship of God by “visiting the widow in their distress.” The ministry assists widows in their spiritual and physical needs. “Widows Harvest Ministries meets many of these needs by trying to form lasting friendships with all of the widows we come into contact with as well as providing home maintenance and repair services on their homes including: plumbing, roofing, painting, electrical and lawn care.” Andy is married with two teenage children, Asher and Hadrienne.

On May 24, 2005 Asher Mendonsa, Andy’s son, a seventeen year old boy, fell through a hole at the top of the abandoned Parkway Towers in Chattanooga. He had been taking photographs of the building when he fell more than five stories. He suffered a compound fracture of the right femur, bruised lungs, trauma on the front of his brain and two fractured vertebrae around his neck. He fell into a deep coma.

The day after Asher’s accident his father wrote the following on a website dedicated to his son:

after i went home that night and cried and cried and tried to pray and to get God to heal my son, i fell asleep and woke up the next morning feeling like i was standing back down at the foot of mt everest and had to start climbing back up all over again. before i went to bed that night, though, i had climbed back up to the top, but instead of looking down at my feet, like i had been for most of the day, i was suddenly looking out over a great expanse and i realized that everything that is happening to us is somehow fitting into this great expanse. God has a much greater purpose and, for whatever the reason, this horrible and excruciating pain that we are all in is helping us all to reach the mountain top so that we can all share in our understanding for this great expanse that God wants us to behold.

Through the following days Asher underwent multiple surgeries to try to repair various parts of his body. On the 2nd of June his father wrote:

I love my son and if any amount of money could be paid to fix him, or to relieve my family from this suffering I would. For the past 2 nights as we have prayed with asher and told him goodnight, Gloria has left him broken and in tears. The thought of leaving him alone by himself all night with neither one of us to hold his hand, and neither one of us to be there if he were to wake up, is just more than she can bare. I find it very hard to bare myself. But the amazing thing that I have just realized tonight is that with every step that we take away from asher, each night, we actually take a step closer in our trust of God.

Asher slowly awoke from his coma and entered a long, difficult period of rehabilitation. The family moved, temporarily, to Atlanta to be near Asher through his long recovery.

On July 11 the Mendonsa family suffered another setback, though one far less serious. An oak tree, one of the largest in the city, fell on their home in the midst of a serious storm that swept through the area. The house suffered serious damage to the roof and to much of the interior. Andy had an optimistic perspective:

it actually could have been so much worse. a chimney on the front of the house, that crumbled above the roof line when the tree landed on it, also kept the tree from sinking down any deeper into the house, because below the roof line the chimney remained intact all the way to the dirt floor in the basement below the house. if the chimney had not held the tree up, given it’s excessive weight, it would have most likely gone all the way through to the first floor where our house and dog sitter, kayb, was sleeping. we all just have so much to be thankful for, even in the midst of the realization that we are, in a very real sense, homeless. actually, we are beginning to feel more like refugees than homeless people.

You can see pictures of the damage here.

On November 12, Andy posted a short entry entitled “More Family Crisis” in which he shared that his step-father had fallen and broken his hip. By the 17th he was posting thanks for the prayers and saying that the family crisis had stabilized. His step-father had undergone a successful surgery and was on the road to recovery.

But then, on November 19th Andy posted the following:

i just recieved word my daughter, hadrienne has been in a car accident in chattanooga and is in critical condition at erlanger hospital. please pray. i am on my way there and gloria and asher are staying here. please pray for all of us.

According to a newspaper article in the Chattanoogan, “Friends said Hadrienne and her two friends were leaving to go to the midnight showing of the Harry Potter movie. They said their vehicle was partly out onto Mountain Creek Road when they spotted a vehicle coming at them. They tried to back up, but could not avoid being hit.”

The next morning, under the heading of “IN ALL THINGS GIVE THANKS TO OUR HEAVENLY FATHER IN CHRIST JESUS NAME,” Andy broke the news that Hadrienne had died. “We loved our daughter so much. we miss her so much and the pain is so great that it is unbearable. there is so much that needs to be done now, and we don’t even know where to begin… a conversation i had with hadrienne some months ago after tommy haymes passed away keeps going through my mind. she expressed some half joking and half serious concern to me about wondering whether she might be next. i assured her that she wouldn’t. oh dear lord have mercy on us.”

Hadrienne, a beautiful nineteen year old girl, was laid to rest on the 23rd of November following a service at Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga. Reflecting on the death of his daughter, Andy wrote the following: “Since asher has been out of his coma and regained so much of his cognitive abilities he has expressed much anger and disbelief in god. he now tells us since hadrienne is gone his faith and trust in god has been restored. without hadrienne he says that he does not have the strength by himself to go on. it was hadrienne, he said, that had been giving him that strength.” God has already worked good from evil.

Andy has not updated the web site since the funeral. I trust that the family is undergoing a time of great difficulty now as they surely wonder why another tragedy has befallen them. I cannot imagine having to make sense of what must seem so senseless. I would ask that we - as the church, and even as people who live hundreds or thousands of miles away from these people - surround this family with prayer. We know that God is their only hope for finding meaning and comfort. I pray that He will comfort them with His sure promise that He is in control and that nothing happens outside of His will. So let’s hold them up in prayer as is our privilege as members of the same body.

If you are interested in learning more about the Mendonsa family, you can read Andy’s blog. It contains a chronological listing of posts going back to the day of Asher’s accident. You may also wish to read about Widow’s Harvest Ministries.

November 28, 2005

In the past couple of years there have been a few books written specifically to challenge the teachings and assumptions of Rick Warren’s mega-seller The Purpose Driven Life. Some of these have also discussed other Purpose Driven material and the man who has produced this successful franchise. These books have sometimes been criticized for being alarmist or for providing an unfair treatment of the subject matter. While I, having read all of that material, generally do not agree with the criticisms, I am quite sure no one could lodge those complaints against Bob DeWaay’s new book, Redefining Christianity.

Redefining Christianity is a book that has much to say on the topics of Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life and other aspects of the Purpose Driven paradigm. Despite that focus it would not be correct to say that this is a book about Rick Warren or about anything he has written or dreamed up. This is, plain and simply, a book about the gospel of Jesus Christ. The underlying message of DeWaay’s book, as might be deduced from the title, is that Rick Warren, despite all his popularity and success, has redefined many critical aspects of the Christian faith. He has redefined church, vision, Christian commitment, God’s wisdom, church health and even the gospel itself. This book, then, is primarily focused not on Rick Warren but on his treatment of the gospel.

Here is a concise summary of DeWaay’s thesis:

The version of Christianity that Rick Warren presents to world leaders redefines the message of the first century apostles. The key difference is that the Biblical version did not appeal to the world; it appealed only to those who were converted. Warren’s version is popular with the world. Rick Warren has designed a message that appeals to religious consumers whether or not the Holy Spirit has convicted them of their sins. He has devised a business system to mass-market this message to the world. Through his system, he has created a way for pastors to share his success. The sheer effectiveness of this system is rapidly transforming evangelicalism. This transformation is not just a transformation of practice; it is a transformation of message. The change in the practice makes it transferable across a wide spectrum of denominational and theological affiliations. The change in the message makes it acceptable to a wide range of religious consumers.

In this statement, and indeed in the book, he captures the essence of what has made the Purpose Driven paradigm so popular and the foremost ways in which this paradigm diverges from Scripture. Through ten chapters and just over 200 pages, DeWaay provides strong evidence to support his claims. Allow me to provide a brief overview of each of the ten chapters. While I rarely employ this technique in book reviews, I believe that in this case it will be instructive and will allow the reader to understand the systematic way in which the author builds his case.

  1. Rick Warren’s Ministry Philosophy. DeWaay begins by examining the men who influenced Rick Warren, and in particular, Donald McGavran who, as the founder of the discipline that came to be known as “missiology” is considered the father of the Church Growth Movement. He shows the shaky and unbiblical assumptions that form the foundation for this philosophy including the concepts of people movements and felt needs. Ultimately, the Church Growth Movement allows the unbeliever to determine the message of the church and even the mode used to deliver it. “The key idea is very simple: change the Sunday Morning church service so that non-Christians will not only attend it, but enjoy it and keep coming back.” What becomes lost in such an approach is, of course, what people most need to hear but least want to hear and that is the full gospel message. One cannot preach that message in completeness and with boldness and remain seeker-friendly.

  2. Redefining the Church. The second chapter wades into the issue of redefinitions. “Rather than clearly preaching the Gospel to all, knowing that God promised to use it in spite of its inherent offense to call forth His sheep from the midst of the world, Warren would like to change the nature of the church and its message so it appears attractive to people as they are in their unregenerate state.” Church Growth succeeds admirably in growing the visible church (those who at least appear to be believers) but, by stopping short of proclaiming the full message of the gospel, cannot do much to grow the invisible church (those who actually are believers). In this chapter DeWaay also discusses unity, showing that the type of unity called for by Rick Warren is not the same as the Bible’s concept of unity. “The redefined church of the Church Growth Movement has mostly ignored the matter of the invisible church. They use the best means available based on pragmatic tests to make the visible church as big as possible… If happy religious consumers living better lives than they had outside of the church is the test of validity, then these huge and rapidly growing churches must be right. I do not believe, however, there is anything in the New Testament that validates seeking to maximize the visible church by means that tend to strangle the invisible one.”

  3. Redefining Vision. Not only has Rick Warren redefined the church but he has also redefined the biblical concept of vision. Vision is a crucial aspect of Warren’s strategy yet, despite providing supposed biblical proof to the contrary, the way he uses this term is different than the way it is used in Scripture where it refers to a type of true or false special revelation. Within the Purpose Driven paradigm, vision is used in a business sense in which a person plans for a future he hopes to implement. Yet those who do not catch the vision of the leadership within a Purpose Driven church are considered dissenters and are often driven from the ranks.

  4. Redefining Christian Commitment. “In the Bible, Christian commitment is based on faith in Christ, and dependence on Him for grace to walk obediently in His ways… Now we have Rick Warren bringing back the hyper piety of pre-Reformation Rome through nothing less than religious oaths, touting this as a ‘reformation.’” Much of the commitment of members of Purpose Driven churches is based on covenants some of which are even declared irrevocable. DeWaay teaches in this chapter that oaths and covenants are forbidden within a New Testament context. To write such covenants and to demand them as a display of solidarity is an egregious offense against the members of a church. He highlights the irony that exists between the Reformation, where Protestants came to see that oaths were forbidden in the Scriptures, and Warren’s supposed second reformation where they are once more required.

  5. The “Gospel” According to The Purpose Driven Life. In fifth chapter the author shows how Warren continually changes or obscures the key issues of the biblical gospel. He shows that God’s purposes do not need to be discovered, for those that God wished to make available to us have already been clearly revealed in His Word. He also points out the difficulties inherent in The Purpose Driven Life which makes little in the way of distinction between believer and unbeliever, extending the same claims and promises to both groups. The offense of the gospel, for which so many Christians have suffered, has largely been removed from Rick Warren’s teachings. An incomplete gospel, one that denies key aspects such as God’s wrath or Jesus’ resurrection, is no gospel at all.

  6. How Misused Bible Translations Support a Journey of Self-discovery. Rick Warren makes much of the two thousand references to Scripture in his book. Yet it takes more than citations from Scripture to make a book biblical for it must also present the Word of God accurately and unashamedly. “Warren’s solution to the problem [of an offensive gospel] is to use his marketing acumen to circumvent the resistance of the target audience. His plan is to draw from dozens of translations (including loose paraphrases), to choose the ones that will support the motif of a journey of self-discovery (already proven to be popular with the world), mix these various Bible citations with citations of popular worldly writers that seem to be saying the same thing, and make a seamless, religious product that speaks the world’s language but appears to come right out of the Bible. Genius! The result is The Purpose Driven Life. This is the product for the Purpose Driven Church to market to religious consumers.” As has been shown by many reviewers since the publication of the book, The Purpose Driven Life is replete with Scripture used out of context or passages provided in translations that bear no resemblance to the original text. In a clear case of giving credit where credit is due, but still highlighting problems, DeWaay says the following: “One could conclude that Rick Warren is unable to do solid Biblical exegesis, and that the cases highlighted above, and many others, are caused by a simple preacher trying his best, but lacking scholarly tools, but this is not the case. On pages 195 and 196 he offers solid, well reasoned, and accurate exegesis of Romans 8:28-29.27 I was surprised when I found this quality of Biblical interpretation in a book filled with just the opposite. This proves that Warren is capable of sound Biblical interpretation and teaching when he sees fit. My question is, ‘If he is capable of expounding the truth of a passage accurately, what excuse does he have for not doing so with hundreds of other passages?’”

  7. Redefining God’s Wisdom. Rick Warren has defined God’s wisdom by making it appear to be little more than human wisdom. He often makes grandiose claims that are unsupported by Scripture and may even stand opposed to Scripture. In doing so he provides a message that is little different than the message of popular psychology and human self-discovery. He goes so far as to quote wholly unreliable sources of spiritual wisdom such as George Bernard Shaw and Anais Nin, not to mention several Roman Catholic sources. DeWaay goes so far as to provide an extensive list of instances of “Warren’s practice of combining human wisdom with poor translations or out of context Scripture that promotes his human wisdom as if it were God’s wisdom, which it is not.” Some of these include: Paul’s “secret” was a focused life; How you define life determines your destiny; There are “secrets” to friendship with God; The truth is-you are as close to God as you choose to be; You are only as sick as your secrets. “According to his own public statements, Rick Warren’s message has broad appeal, even to members of other religions. Part of the secret of his success is his ability to integrate his own aphorisms with statements from people the world admires, combining these with partial Biblical passages taken out of context, to create a hybrid message that is simultaneously marketed to the world and the evangelical church. Everyone gets something they like.”

  8. The Problem with Private Confession. In this chapter the author wrestles with a question that has often perplexed myself and many others. “Rick Warren believes the orthodox truths of the Christian faith. He has documents that say so. Insiders at Saddleback Church say that they know Warren is orthodox. However, when I read The Purpose Driven Life I saw many teachings that are very different from historical orthodoxy. How can this be?” How is it that what Rick Warren confesses when among Christians is so different from what we hear from him when given a public venue in which to speak? DeWaay teaches, with great sensitivity towards a difficult topic, that true profession must be public and consistent. It is what is publically stated, not privately confessed, that is taught by the Bible as being grounds for knowing a person’s faith. This consistency is lacking in Warren’s ministry and this has been shown in his media appearances and in much of his writing. Rick Warren “presents a disjunction between what he confesses privately to evangelical Christians, and what he confesses publicly to a worldly audience.” DeWaay provides, in this regard, the example of Peter who was rebuked by Paul for publically denying in action what he privately knew to be true - that there was equality between Jew and Gentile. A partial denial, as shown in Peter’s earlier denial of Jesus, is as good as a complete denial.

  9. The Purpose Driven Brand. The book now turns to a discussion of the Purpose Driven brand. The author shows that Purpose Driven, like the franchising models so popular in the world of business, allows a pastor of limited means, skills and capabilities, to enjoy all the success of Rick Warren. Purpose Driven is “church-in-a-box” much as McDonald’s is “burger-in-a-box.” He shows how leverage is applied to maximize the impact of the paradigm and also discusses the importance of vision casting and mission statements. I believe the following is one of the most important points made in this book: “I hope my readers see what is going on. These change agents make all the definitions, compare us to the church as they define it, declare us failures, then offer us “success” if we join their programs. Dear fellow Christians and specifically church leaders, this is American marketing pure and simple: define a problem so that you convince nearly everyone they have it, then sell them the solution. In this case the goal may not be to make money. In Rick Warren’s case, I do not think he wants money for his own benefit; I think he wants his “reformation” to succeed and go down in history as a reformer like Martin Luther. He wants to create a version of Christianity that the world loves.” “What he ‘invented’ was how to harness the latest technology, marketing strategies, management systems; couple those with a message that appeals to the unregenerate mind; then put the whole thing ‘in-a-box’ and replicate it around the world. This revival bears no resemblance to what happened in Acts. What happened in Acts was a work of the Holy Spirit through the means of uncompromised Gospel preaching. The P.E.A.C.E. plan does not depend on the Holy Spirit but on the wisdom of man.”

  10. Who Determines “Church Health,” Jesus Christ or Rick Warren? The final chapter compares Rick Warren’s definition of church health with that of Jesus Christ. Using seven churches in Revelation, DeWaay shows just how little resemblance there is. “The key Purpose Driven principles and protocols are very different from those in the New Testament that describe a church pleasing to Jesus Christ. If those of the New Testament prevail, the result is a church that is pleasing to Christ. If those of Rick Warren prevail, the result is a church popular with religious consumers in the world, but which is much different from Jesus’ ‘little flock.’”

    All of this leads DeWaay to warn:

    “Warren has so redefined the major issues (the Gospel, the Bible, the church, fellowship, worship, discipleship, evangelism, and missions), he has effectively re-defined Christianity. The new version of Christianity is popular with the world. This version has avoided the outcome that Jesus predicted to His disciples: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). The world loves a P.E.A.C.E. plan which promises to solve the problems they want solved. The problem is that the world hates the Gospel of Jesus Christ. May we boldly proclaim that Gospel so that God will use it to save some from His coming wrath. May we shun the lure of popularity and success offered by Warren’s redefined Christianity. It is so much better to be pleasing to Jesus Christ.”

    There will be some who will doubt the author’s motivations in writing such a book. Some will accuse him of jealousy or of nitpicking. Others will no doubt label him a troublemaker. Those who find that they doubt his intentions or motivations may wish to begin at the end, as it were, with “A Loving Appeal to Rick Warren.” The book concludes with what is clearly a sincere, heartfelt plea for Rick Warren to return to the full message of the gospel, a message he surely knows but chooses to ignore. This appeal shows the heart of a pastor. The gospel is never far from the heart and mind of a godly pastor and this is clearly the case with Pastor DeWaay. His concern is with the gospel, and well should it be. Jesus Christ has not entrused the church with a message of purpose but with an offensive gospel message of sin, wrath, punishment, death, resurrection and forgiveness. If we leave this message we have nothing to offer. If we become ashamed of the full message or deem it somehow embarrassing we have become little more than clanging gongs and clashing cymbals. The central message of this book is not Rick Warren and neither is it The Purpose Driven Life. The central focus of Redefining Christianity is the gloriously good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    I believe that there is no more complete a resource available to Christians to understand how Rick Warren is changing the church through his Purpose Driven paradigm. Redefining Christianity is well-researched, meticulously-documented and overflowing with the gospel message. I commend it to you and trust that God, in His grace, will use it to convict many to stand firm in or return to the simple, offensive, powerful gospel delivered to us by the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures.

    I am not entirely certain when the book will be available for purchase, but assume it will be early in 2006. I will let you know when it becomes available.

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