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August 23, 2006

driscoll-cover.jpgMark Driscoll is a bestselling and highly-regarded author. He is pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, a popular speaker at conferences, and is founder of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network. But is there more to this man than meets the eye? According to a shocking new article in Preaching Illustrated, there may be.

In a bizarre turn of events, Mark Driscoll has become embroiled in a theological doping scandal. Random testing, conducted immediately following the sermon he delivered in his church on Sunday August 20, revealed the presence of unusual and inconsistent teachings. While no official statement has been released, investigators have hinted they suspect Driscoll has been using theobolic steroids. Like the sport of professional cycling, those under investigation are considered guilty until proven innocent. This could prove to be a serious blight on an otherwise surefire hall of fame career.

“This is becoming increasingly common,” said David Pullman, lead investigator in the case. “This guy has no seminary degree, no Calvinistic background. He writes books, preaches sermons, runs a church planting network and has a whole brood of children. Somehow he finds time to do all of this and to maintain theology that is consistently biblical and Reformed. It doesn’t add up.” Theobolic steroids, consumed in small amounts, can increase a pastor’s understanding of theology and his theological output, giving him a decisive edge over competitors.

“It’s little wonder his church has grown so quickly,” said another investigator who spoke under condition of anonymity. “What chance does anyone else have against a guy who is willing to shoot up with theobolic steroids? It is a despicable crime!” Rumors are circulating that discarded syringes containing traces of Reformed theology have been discovered scattered around the pulpit at Mars Hill.

The side effects to theobolic steroids can be serious, ranging from the eventual shrinking of a pastor’s discernment to the complete undermining of his faith. George Wright, a former theobolic steroid user, was recently interviewed about his years of steroid abuse. “It seems so harmless, but soon you become addicted. You set a standard while on the steroids you can’t hope to match without them. Your sermons are great, your theology is sound and people are convicted.” After many years of abuse, Wright found his faith and discernment lessening. Now a decade removed from that abuse, he currently serves as pastor of a PCUSA church and spends his mornings watching preachers on BET and TBN. “Last week I heard Joel Osteen preach a sermon on the importance of eating a healthy breakfast. It was so convicting to me! Joel Osteen is my hero!”

A source close to the investigation hinted that Driscoll will also be investigated for blood doping. This is the process of artificially increasing the amount of theology infused in the bloodstream in an attempt to improve theological performance. Preachers have been known to “donate” a unit of blood following a particularly edifying conference or immediately after reading a good book. This blood is stored and transfused back into the body immediately before a big preaching or speaking engagement. This effectively increases theological output because of the extra theology contained in the blood. Investigators were tipped off to the possibility of blood doping shortly after Driscoll attended a Chris Rock show. “We suspect he mistakenly ‘donated’ blood immediately after the show and returned it to his body several weeks later, immediately before writing Confessions of a Reformission Rev. That will explain a thing or two!”

At the time this article went to print, there had been no statement from Mark Driscoll or Mars Hill Church. Investigators are expected to report on their findings in the coming weeks.

August 20, 2006

Not too long ago, I was faced with the question of whether God is active in sending people to hell, or if he is passive, choosing instead to allow unbelievers to send themselves their through their free will. “God does not send people to hell,” the common saying goes. “They choose to go there themselves.” When reading The Great Work of the Gospel by John Ensor I found that he has also faced this question. Here is his explanation. I found it very convincing.

Several years ago I attended an evangelistic crusade. The preacher wanted to affirm the loving-kindness of Christ and at the same time affirm the reality of hell. The two appeared incompatible to him. So he explained, “God does not send people to hell. They choose to go there.” This statement has a certain attractiveness to it. It affirms the reality of hell but appears to take God off the hook in terms of being personally accountable for the actual damnation involved. But is this a biblically accurate explanation of the tension? I think not. The statement is distorted in several ways.

First, it uses the term people in reference to God’s final judgment. The Bible does not generally use the term people with reference to God’s judgment. The term people is used to describe what we have in common with each other as created beings, without any reference to our moral character. We talk of the people in our neighborhood. Our coworkers are people. People make up a crowd gathered in a football stadium, or an entire city or nation—the Chinese people, for example. No moral distinctions are made. Nothing is known or stated about any individual’s moral goodness. It is people we see dying of starvation. We are moved because we see them as fellow human beings made in the image of God.

When speaking of God’s final judgment, the Bible uses a variety of terms that reflects the substance and foundation of or moral nature. We are called the “righteous” or the “wicked.” God’s judgment is not on people but on the wicked. So we read, “The wicked will be cut off from the land” (Proverbs 2:22) and “The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blessed the dwelling of the righteous” (Proverbs 3:33)…

When we hear about a planeload of people dying in a crash, without knowing any of them personally, we grieve. We think of their pain, the sorrow of their families. Suppose, however, that we know what young twelve-year-old Susan knows—that her father, the man in seat 23C, has been molesting her for two years and plans to do so that evening when he gets home. If we did know this, we might weep in relief that a wicked man is no longer alive to destroy an innocent young life. Our ability to sympathize or grieve over someone’s death and judgment is largely guided by this judicial sentiment.

When we speak of God’s wrath coming on people rather than on the wicked, we invariably sense a oneness with them rather than with God. But this puts us in opposition to God and the righteousness of his ways. Therefore, this difference in the language we use is important. We ought to take our cue from the moral and judicial language of Scripture; that God loves the humble but opposes the proud (James 4:6), that he honors the tearful (Isaiah 38:5) but warns the obstinate (Isaiah 30:1), and so forth. The judgments of the Lord are right, true, and truly praiseworthy. The people of God will rejoice when God brings an end to the wicked. This is not beyond our current judicial sentiment. Law-abiding, peace-loving people rejoice when the corrupt are judged and removed from power or the violent are judged and removed from the presence of the community. How much more will we say of the perfect Judge, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty…for rewarding your servants, … and for destroying the destroyers of the earth” (Revelation 11:17-18).

The wicked do not choose hell. It may be more accurate to say they choose to reject heaven. If we reject God and his supremacy, if we live to deface his glory, then heaven is the last place we would enjoy. But the wicked never choose hell. They go there against their will, “weeping and gnashing [their] teeth” (Matthew 25:30). In all of his judgment, God, boldly and without apology, takes an active role, not a passive one…The wicked do not leap or fall into the lake of fire. They are thrown into it, on purpose, according to the perfect righteousness of God. “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). Sobering, to be sure. May it also be motivating.

August 18, 2006

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 (or so) I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to my left sidebar. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to encourage and support other bloggers while making my readers aware of other good sites.

This week’s King For A Week is Pure Church, the blog of Thabiti Anyabwile. Until recently Thabiti served as an elder with Capitol Hill Baptist Church, but he has just been called to pastor a church in Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands. He describes his blog as “A contemplation of all things church… and a desire for an increasingly pure church reformed by the word of God.” Among the excellent articles Thabiti has written is a series on “Things I Learned While at Capitol Hill Baptist Church.” An ex-Muslim himself, he is currently in the midst of writing a series dealing with how to witness to Muslims.

In the coming days you will be able to see the most recent headlines from this blog in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over 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. Thanks to those of you who nominated this week’s honoree.

August 17, 2006

A few weeks before last Christmas, we had my son and daughter compile a list of the gifts they most desired. Topping my son’s list was a Playmobil castle—a huge, grey castle that looks like the kind of toy every boy dreams about. He asked for this with some hesitation, though, because he knew that it was expensive. We told him several times leading up to Christmas that we did not think we would be able to afford such a toy. Neither Aileen or I were raised in families that celebrated Christmas or birthdays with hundreds of dollars worth of presents, so the pricetag of the castle would be quite a stretch for us. In the end, we settled on a smaller castle, still Playmobil, but one that was the “bad guy” castle instead of the “good guy” castle.

When my son opened this gift on Christmas morning we could tell that he was both thrilled and disappointed. He had so badly wanted that big castle but knew it was unlikely that he would receive it. When he saw a big box on Christmas morning he thought that maybe, just maybe, we had splurged and bought it for him. But when he opened it, he saw that it was almost what he had wanted, but not quite. Still, he was happy with the gift and put a brave face on it. If he was exceedingly disappointed, he masked it well for a five-year old. We were proud of him.

When his birthday rolled around in March, the Playmobil castle was still at the top of his list. Knowing now that his desire for this castle was not just a passing fancy, we decided that we would break form and buy it for him. We shopped around a little bit, found the best price, and bought it. When the day of his birthday arrived we hid the box and had him open all his other gifts first. When he had opened a couple of gifts from us, and gifts from other family members, he seemed truly pleased. It was then that I went downstairs and returned with that huge box. His eyes went wide and he exclaimed, “You didn’t! No, you didn’t!” We put the box before him and he made short work of the wrapping paper. His eyes lit up and I think I saw a tear in his eye as he saw that long-awaited castle. I think it was made sweeter by the waiting. We built the castle for him that afternoon (I did half before falling asleep and Aileen had to finish it off. I had just returned that morning, via the red-eye, from the Shepherd’s Conference in California!) and it has given him countless hours of pleasure in the months since then. It remains his favorite toy.

One little event struck me later that afternoon. The castle had been built and my son had already been playing with it for a few hours. After I woke from a short nap I went downstairs to watch him enjoying his toy. When he saw me, he ran up to his room and returned clutching something in his little hand. He walked up to me and handed me a loonie, a one dollar coin. He explained that he knew the castle was very expensive and that we could not really afford it. He wanted to give me a dollar to help with the expense. It was a touching moment, really, and one that showed a sweet innocence, for of course his one dollar coin could hardly repay the castle. I explained to him that it was my privilege to give him the castle as a gift and that he could show me gratitude not by attempting to pay me back, something he could not do despite his best efforts, but by playing with the castle and receiving from it a great deal of joy. That seemed to satisfy him, so he put his money in his pocket and continued to play with his new toys.

I think there is a lesson in my son’s behavior, though one that did not register in my mind and in my heart until I read The Great Work of the Gospel by John Ensor. So often, I realize, I have been just like my son, attempting to repay God for His gifts. I attempt to provide good works as repayment for mercy. God gives us grace as a gift and does not expect us to repay Him for it. As with myself when looking at my son, God’s satisfaction is not in our attempts to repay Him, but in seeing our heartfelt delight as we rejoice in His free gift. The gift is cheapened when we attempt to repay it. John Ensor writes, “His reward as a gift giver is in the gladness of heart that we experience in receiving his gift as a gift.” Ensor points out another reason we cannot pay for our sins by doing good works as a tradeoff for God’s mercy. “Anything we do with a motive of adding to the work of Christ so as to win the forgiveness of God becomes the ground of self-satisfaction in our own goodness, rather than trust in God’s grace.” In receiving this gift from me, my son was unable to boast. Had he saved his money and paid me back, he could have led his friends to the playroom and said, “Here is a castle I earned.” But with the gift I gave him, all he can boast in is in having a father who loves him and who knows how to give him good gifts.

My son’s motives were pure. He felt some measure of guilt in receiving a gift he felt we could not afford. And so he tried to repay me, but in a way that was inadequate, impossible and in denial of the very fact that what I gave him was intended to be a gift. I expected no repayment and took my joy in my son’s delight. And there is the lesson for me. God wants me to receive mercy and grace as a gift. Even my best efforts at repaying Him merit me nothing. What God desires is that I receive His gift as a gift and that I return to Him all the praise and the glory through enjoying what He has so graciously given me.

August 14, 2006

I am travelling today so thought I’d take the opportunity to post an article from just over a year ago.

I used to watch a lot of the show “King of the Hill.” For those who don’t know it, it is an animated show targeted at adults (like The Simpsons and any number of other shows these days, most of which are not worth watching). The main character is Hank Hill, a proud, Republican Texan who has dedicated his life to selling propane and propane accessories. He loves country music, football, Willie Nelson, Sweet Lady Propane, and of course, God. His love for God is presented as real, but somewhat inconsistent, as we might expect for a Texan who has lived his life amidst one of the strongholds of institutionalized religion. While it is a fun and usually innocent show, I stopped watching it a few years ago.

One episode from a few years ago caught my attention. It was called “Reborn to be Wild” and was nominated for an award by The Writers Guild of America. This episode continues to come to my mind these days, especially as I read Phil Johnson’s posts about the Fad Driven Church and Steve Camp’s articles about “God is my Girlfriend Songs.”

While my memory of the show is getting hazy, I found a substantial number of quotes from the show at various web sites, enough to provide a good summary of the episode. In this particular episode Bobby (Hank’s son who must be twelve or thirteen) becomes involved with a youth group and the far-too-cool youth pastor, Pastor K. Hank is reluctant to have Bobby involved in this type of group, where all the kids skateboard, listen to loud music and generally try to make God cool. Bobby becomes captivated by the group and seeks to impress his parents with his new friends.

BOBBY: These are my friends from the youth group. They’re cool and they’re totally Christian.

Bobby begins to absorb the message of this youth leader and begins to wear a “Satan Sucks” t-shirt.

PASTOR K: To be tight with the Lord, you gotta take your faith to the limit. You know what I’m talking about?
KID: The power!
PASTOR K: That’s right! Nothing runs without power. Your amp is useless unless it gets that juice, and so are we. So you gotta test all things to find the good.
BOBBY: But how do you know what’s good?
PASTOR K: It’s whatever sticks to your spirit, man, whatever God tattoos on your soul. We’re all searching for that eternal ink.

Bobby begins to show the influence of the pastor and the other kids.

BOBBY: And then Cain was all like “I ain’t s’posed to be lookin’ out for my bro, yo.”
LUANNE (Bobby’s Cousin): I didn’t know that was in Genesis.

Hank expresses his concern to Pastor K.

PASTOR K: Dude, you don’t have to act or dress a certain way for God. You can hang with him any way, anywhere. Don’t you think Jesus is right here in this half-pipe?
HANK: I’m sure he’s a lot of places he doesn’t want to be.

Meanwhile, Bobby has started collecting all the Jesus Junk that seems to be part-and-parcel of this little Christian subculture. His mother tries out one of his video games.

PEGGY (playing an “Exodus” video game): Whoo! I’m out of Egypt! And look at Moses dance!

Hank and Peggy talk to Bobby and express their concern with what he is learning and how he is acting. He pulls the “you just don’t understand” card that is always popular with teens.

BOBBY: You guys just don’t understand how I feel about Jesus!

A few days later Bobby ends up on stage, leading the crowd at a wild Christian rock concert.

BOBBY: I’ll say holy, you say ghost! Holy!
CROWD: Ghost!
BOBBY: Holy!
CROWD: Ghost!
PASTOR K: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want! He make me lie down in green pastures!
BOBBY: They’re green, y’all!

Hank confronts Pastor K one more time, expressing his disgust with the music, the look and the lifestyle.

HANK: Can’t you see you’re not making Christianity better, you’re just making rock n’ roll worse.
PASTOR K: You people are all alike. You look at us and think we’re freaks. Come on, even Jesus had long hair.
HANK: Only because I wasn’t his dad.

Jessie (I cannot recall her relationship to Pastor K) encourages Pastor K.

JESSIE: Never come between a kid and his dad. If the man doesn’t want his boy praising like you, that’s cool.
PASTOR K: Yeah, but —
JESSIE: Now go finish the show before they start moshing out of anger instead of jubilation.

The show wraps up with Hank teaching Bobby an important lesson.

BOBBY: When I turn 18, I’m going to do whatever I want for the Lord. Tattoos, piercings, you name it.
HANK: Well, I’ll take that chance. Come here, there’s something I want you to see. (Hank takes down a box from the shelf and opens it up) Remember this?
BOBBY: My beanbag buddy? Oh, man, I can’t believe I collected those things. They’re so lame.
HANK: You didn’t think so five years ago. And how about your virtual pet? You used to carry this thing everywhere. Then you got tired of it, forgot to feed it, and it died.
BOBBY (looks at a photo of himself in a Ninja Turtles costume): I look like such a dork.
HANK: I know how you feel. I never thought that “Members Only” jacket would go out of style, but it did. I know you think stuff you’re doing now is cool, but in a few years you’re going to think it’s lame. And I don’t want the Lord to end up in this box.
BOBBY: Hey, what’s this picture? Mom used to have blonde hair?
HANK: Farrah Fawcett was very popular back then.

This particular episode was written by Tony Gama-Lobo & Rebecca May. I don’t know if they are believers, or merely outside observers, but they made some astute observations. Hank’s concern is one I share when I look at the way some Christian kids are encouraged to behave. Too often it seems that God is treated as just another product. Children are unable to seperate Him from the other fads that sweep through their lives when they are young. Beanie Babies and Ninja Turtles come and go. For too many children, God does the same. As long as God is all the rage they are happy to acknowledge Him, but as soon as He goes out of style, they put him in a box like all the other fads. He ends up on the top shelf, along with the Revolve Bible-zines, the “Got Jesus?” shirts, the purity rings and the WWJD bracelets. God is thrown aside as just another fad.

Just a short time ago, someone sent me a clip from a more recent episode of the show. Hank and his family are seeking a new church and have tried church after church. Peggy recommends the local megachurch as a great alternative and goes on to describe all the amenities the church has to offer. Hank’s response is classic: “If I wanted to go that route, I could just walk around the mall and think about Jesus!”

These episodes reveal to me that the world, the people outside the church who are looking in, are increasingly amused by what they see in Christianity. They see the fads, the trends and the kitsch and the laugh. Contemporary evangelicalism has become the butt of far too many jokes.

August 13, 2006

I returned home from Gaithersburg last night after a rather uneventful flight. Airport security was, thankfully, anticlimactic. It turns out that the airline we were flying, Air Canada, shares a terminal with only Air Iceland and British Airways. Neither of those airlines seemed to be awfully busy, so we had the terminal nearly to ourselves. There was no lineup at security and it seemed no different than usual. We weren’t even asked whether we were carrying liquids, though plenty of signs warned us against committing such an offense. As always, it is good to be home and to be back to my wife and children. I miss them terribly when I am away.

I hope in the coming days to offer some thoughts and reflections on the Conference. And truthfully, there is much to think about! My initial and general impression is almost uniformily favorable. Still, there were a few situations that stretched my beliefs and my understanding of other believers, so these will require some thought before I commit them to writing.

One element of attending conferences that amuses my little mind is the opportunity it provides to eavesdrop on the faith and spiritual expressions of other believers. Rarely am I privileged, as I was this week, to be in the presence of such a wide and diverse number of believers. For that reason I enjoyed watching the way other Christians worship, hearing how they read Scripture and listening to the way they prayed. With a thousand Christians gathered together, there are a thousand ways of praying to God and a thousand ways of expressing worship to God. I enjoyed hearing the way others prayed—some expressing themselves in simple ways with a childlike faith and others expressing themselves verbosely and with big words. But whether using many words or few, big words or small, it was wonderful to hear the expressions of hearts that love the Savior. In worship there are some who sing quietly and reflectively while others throw their hands in the air, sing the songs at the top of their lungs, and jump up and down. But as with prayer, the hearts may both be filled with a love for Jesus, though the expressions of that love may vary. It is always educational and challenging when I eavesdrop on the spiritual expressions of other Christians.

Enjoy the remaining hours of your Lord’s Day!

August 08, 2006

At some point in my youth I got it into my head that conferences are a colossal waste of time. I somehow came to believe that they are not a good use of a Christian’s time. I have since had to rethink this position. Having now attended many wonderful conferences, I’ve come to see that, contrary to my former beliefs, they can be a tremendous blessing. Already they have blessed me immeasurably. While good conferences provide edifying teaching, they are also a time of spiritual refreshment. They are a brief time away from the ordinary and a time of focusing on God.

As you know, tomorrow I’ll be heading to Gaithersburg, Maryland for the WorshipGod06 Conference. I’ve wondered how I should pray to prepare my heart and to ask God to prepare the hearts of others who will attend. As I so often do, I decided to try writing down some thoughts. They became a prayer. Here, then, is my prayer prior to this conference.

Our gracious God and Father. I approach your throne today, knowing that it is only through the name of Jesus that I can stand before you. I thank and praise you for your goodness in allowing me to do so. I am unworthy of this honor, this privilege.

I come before you to seek your blessing on the WorshipGod conference.

Grant that the men who will bring your Word to us this week may do so with power and with great freedom. Be near to Bob Kauflin, Jeff Purswell, Mark Mullery, Craig Cabaniss and Randy Alcorn. Grant them humility before your Word as they finish their preparations and grant that they may be filled with a holy dread and gravity as they stand before your people. May they know what it is to be filled with the Spirit. May we know what it is to sit under the preaching of the Word. Speak to us, we pray. Speak to our hearts through the words of these men. May we never be the same.

Be with the men and women who will lead us in worship. Be near to Bob Kauflin, Keith and Kristyn Getty and all others who will sing or play instruments. Grant that in all things they may seek to serve you. May they select songs that will bring glory and honor to Your name. May they lead us in singing songs that celebrate the beauty of the Savior. May they lead us in songs that sing of your wonders, your glory, your triumphs, your holiness, your majesty. Let everything that has breath in that place praise the Lord together. May our worship be a sweet and fragrant offering to you. Accept it Lord, though we know it is poor and imperfect. Accept it through Your grace.

Be with the men and women who are responsible for organizing the conference. We thank you for the servant’s hearts you have given to them. We ask that you will allow them to be a blessing to many of your people this week. We ask that the conference will run smoothly and that Your hand will be evident in all that transpires.

Would you help all who attend to come to this conference as true worshippers—as those who worship you in spirit and in truth. Grant that we may not come before you as frauds, standing in Your presence filled with unconfessed sin. Give us the strength and wisdom to reconcile ourselves to our brothers and sisters before we come before You in worship. Give us discerning hearts that we may see and confess our sin before you. Open our eyes to see and to know you in a new way. Help us to worship you only with our lips, but with our hearts, our souls, and all that we are. Accept the gift of worship we will bring to you. May it please you.

Be with your servant Pastor Josh as he prepares to preach your Word on Sunday. Grant that his time of preparation will be fruitful and that you will stir His heart with the great news of the gospel, that he may preach with power and with passion on Sunday morning.

Be with me Lord. I confess that already my heart is polluted with sin. As I think about worshipping you, already I wonder how other men may perceive me. Already I sin against you. Extend your gracious forgiveness to me that I may come before you with a clean heart. Renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, but allow me to stand before you in worship. Keep before me that to obey is better than sacrifice. Help me to be obedient to you in all things. Fill me with your spirit. Grant that I may serve you by serving others.

Grant travelling mercies as men and women from around the world converge tomorrow on Gaithersburg. Keep us safe in car, plane and train. Speed us on our way as we gather together in Your name.

We pray for peace and unity while we gather together. We ask that there will be mercy and understanding. We ask that there will be a great outpouring of your Spirit. We ask that you will bless us in Jesus name and for His sake.

I ask these things humbly and in the name that is above all names. I ask trusting that You hear this prayer. Grant that I may be expectant and observant in seeking answers to this prayer so that I may praise You for Your goodness. May we all seek Your presence and glory in it together as we worship you this week.

August 06, 2006

I have been reading John Ensor’s The Great Work of the Gospel and came across an interesting section I thought I’d share with you today. Ensor is reflecting upon what motivates God to forgive sinful human beings. I was particularly interested in the quote he provides from his friend Dana Olson, who suggests the reason God decided to allow sin in this world: so that He might be able to show mercy, an attribute he could not otherwise display. What follows is excerpted from the first chapter of Ensor’s book.

There is one question that rises above all others, one question I did not think to ask until I was in seminary and took a course on the writings of Jonathan Edwards. Edwards, an eighteenth-century Puritan preacher and philosopher, has been called America’s greatest thinker. He wrote a treatise titled The End for Which God Created the World (published 1765). It asks why God does what he does. What motivates God to do one thing and not another? The reason this is important is that it gets to the very heart of the issue before us. What motivates God to want to forgive?

The fuller answer will develop as we go, but for now, let me summarize what I think the answer is. Why should we take God’s invitation and promise to heart? Because God’s own great passion is to glorify himself in our knowing him and enjoying him. More particularly, he wants to show us his grace; more particularly still, he wants to show us his infinite mercy, to the praise and glory of his own name. In other words, God desires to make his mercy the apex of his own glory in the eyes of all creation. It is the ultimate reason for the creation of the world and the plan of redemption. It is the ultimate reason we should believe he is ready to do a great work of grace in us!

Dana Olson, a pastor friend of mine, opened my eyes to this. He wrote:

Prior to creation God had no means of revealing one pinnacle attribute of his glory, mercy. While he could within the fellowship of the Trinity express love and maintain justice, mercy inherently requires some injustice or inadequacy before loving-kindness can be expressed in forgiveness. For this reason God set in motion redemptive history—to manifest his glory by revealing this very capacity to redeem, mercy.

God wants to do a work “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:6). God wants to show us his grace so that we “might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:9). This is precisely the reasoning of Romans 9:22-23: “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory … ” In his final judgment God will display the power of his wrath. But God could not demonstrate his capacity for mercy apart from ordaining a world of sin and a way for redemption. He endures with great patience the impenitent, so that he can magnify his all-glorious mercy in the eyes of those who put their hope in him!

My question is whether or not you agree with Olson, and hence with Ensor. Do you feel it is likely that God set redemptive history in motion particulary so he could display mercy, an attribute he could not otherwise display?

August 05, 2006

It was announced on Thursday that Multnomah Publishers has been purchased by Random House, Inc. In a press release, Random House says:

The Oregon-based Multnomah publishes more than 100 new titles annually by such popular authors as Randy Alcorn, Shaunti Feldhahn, Robin Jones Gunn, and Andy Stanley. Its active backlist of more than 600 works of fiction and nonfiction includes classic books of faith by Dr. James Dobson, Francine Rivers, and Joshua Harris, and THE PRAYER OF JABEZ by Bruce Wilkinson, the eight-million-copy #1 New York Times bestseller and the bestselling book published in the U.S. in 2001.

Multnomah will become Random House, Inc.’s second evangelical Christian imprint, following the creation of WaterBrook Press in 1996. WaterBrook is an editorially autonomous division of Random House’s Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group. Multnomah will be integrated operationally with WaterBrook, relocating to WaterBrook’s offices in Colorado Springs. Together they will form the new WaterBrook Multnomah division within Doubleday Broadway, with each imprint maintaining its distinct editorial identity.

This is further evidence of a disturbing trend in Christian publishing in which we see secular companies purchasing and assimilating Christian imprints. As the press release indicates, Random House now has two Christian imprints, Multnomah and WaterBrook Press. Similarly, Zondervan was recently purchased by Harper Collins. The Christian music industry has seen similar patterns. This proves that Christian products, whether books, music or trinkets, are becoming an increasingly lucrative market and one that is ripe for exploitation by big companies.

The acquisition of Multnomah makes for some strange dynamics. For instance, books like The Cross Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney and Stop Dating the Church by Josh Harris, both gospel-centered books written by godly, gospel-focused men, are published by a gospel-free secular company. It is fair to ask how this will impact the company’s long-term dedication to these books and to the authors. And I wonder how these authors and others will regard the company now that it is in new hands. The time may soon be coming when many of the most popular versions of the Bible are owned and printed by non-Christian companies. We an only guess what the ramifications of such a situation might be.

In recent months I have heard any number of stories about publishers and their sometimes shocking attitudes toward their authors and books. Too often it seems publishers, and big publishers in particular, are driven by the bottom line more than anything else. There are exceptions, of course, and many publishers (especially smaller ones) have maintained their integrity. P&R Publishing, Crossway, Evangelical Press and others seem to truly desire to honor God through the business of publishing books. But too many others have become captives to the bottom line, publishing books primarily on the basis of what will sell the most copies. And in an age when almost anything can pass for “Christian,” these popular books often bear little resemblance to the Christianity of the Bible. It is little wonder that ministries like Ligonier have created their own small publishing branches. With increasing ease of distribution in today’s world and Sproul’s name to provide credibility, this publishing venture may just succeed. I’m sure many other ministries will follow suit.

Can Sovereign Grace Books or Grace To You Publishing be far behind?

August 04, 2006

I always carry my cell phone when I travel. Because I work from home, I rarely use this phone and have often thought of cancelling the service. But, because I like to have it when I’m out of the house, and especially when I am away at conferences, I have held onto it. Yesterday afternoon was one of the rare occasions that I’ve travelled without it. The charger disappeared a few days ago and the battery soon went flat. I had to drive across town (about one hour each way) to visit a car dealer and have him put a price on my van. And so I set off without my phone.

As I was making my way home, zipping along the area’s busiest highway, I heard a strange sound and thought to myself, “I hope that’s not my car.” I looked around and couldn’t see any other vehicles close enough to me that it could be anything but my car. Within a couple of seconds the car began to shake and then it began to vibrate so strongly that it became a chore to hold it straight. It did not take long to realize that I had blown a tire. It just so happened that I was on a bridge at the time and one that had no shoulder. I threw on the hazard lights and crept along, driving one three tires and one rim. Trucks, cars and buses were honking and swerving to avoid me on the slick, rainy pavement. But finally the bridge ended and I was able to pull over. While it was really my only choice, I could hardly have picked a worse place to stop. I ended up parked in the middle of a triangular area right where two major highways converged. Cars were tearing by on the right and the left, joining the flow of mid-afternoon traffic. I had no phone, it was pouring rain, and this was definitely no place to attempt to change the tire. I knew no passerby would stop, for there simply was not a good place to do so.

And so I did the obvious thing. I said, “God, I’m kind of stuck here. I’d really appreciate it if you’d send along a police car or a tow truck. It would be a long, dangerous, wet walk to a phone, so I’m just going to stay here and wait for you to send help.” And that’s what I did. With cars hurtling by on both sides, I sat and looked expectantly out the back window. Sure enough, it took only ten or fifteen minutes for a tow truck to show up. Handily, it was a flat bed truck, for it would have been very difficult for him to get behind my van to tow from the rear. Equally handily, it was a CAA truck (CAA is the Canadian chapter of the American Automobile Club) and, since I am a CAA member, the towing would not cost me anything. Within five minutes he had hoisted the van onto his truck, secured it, and pulled back into traffic. He had a good laugh at me, saying that I really could not have picked a worse spot to break down. He even took the opportunity to call his manager and laugh about it.

I asked him if anyone had called him or if he had just happened by. “No,” he said. “I just dropped someone off in Georgetown and decided to take the side roads back. But then I changed my mind and figured I’d take the highway just to see if anyone out here needed a tow.” Imagine that.

This really isn’t much of a story. I was never in great danger and really only suffered a couple of hours of inconvenience while waiting for the tires to be changed. But as I was sitting in Wal-Mart, munching on a McDonald’s burger and wondering what the tires would cost, I thought back to my reaction when the tow truck showed up. I realized I had blurted out, naturally enough, “Thank you, God” as I saw the truck turn on his lights and pull in just ahead of me. I was not the least bit surprised that the truck had shown up and had shown up quickly, for God knew I was in a tight spot and I had asked Him to provide for me. He seemed glad enough to do so. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

It soon occurred to me that it is really only the privilege of the Christian to be thankful. I spoke about this with a friend of mine who is ambivalent about the possibility of God’s existence. I asked her how she would feel in a similar situation. Would she be thankful? And if so, to whom would she express thanks? Without God we can only believe in fate or karma. No one offers thanks to fate. Fate is nothing. It is impersonal, directionless. No one asks anything of fate and no one thanks fate. I could be thankful to the driver of the tow truck, and I was of course, but who was it that so ordered things that he was returning from Georgetown just at that moment? And how was it that he changed his mind and decided to take the highway home rather than the faster back roads? Surely not fate, chance or karma. The God who knows the number of hairs on my head is the same God who took care of me yesterday. And I am thankful.

My expression of thanks was natural. It was really just an outpouring of the faith God has given to me. It was an expression of worship to the God who proved again yesterday that He is in control. Where there was faith-based expectation, thankfulness naturally followed. I was filled with thanksgiving for thanksgiving. I was filled with thanks for the ability and the privilege of giving thanks. God is good to provide and is good to allow us to thank Him for His provision.

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