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Christian Living

July 14, 2011

This is not a book review. I will be discussing a book—a rather popular book, at that—but I will not actually review it. Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages is a perpetual bestseller, one that is a near-constant presence on theNew York Times list as well as the Christian lists. And, like so many bestselling Christian books, it is one in which I see some genuine strengths combined with some appalling weaknesses. It is a book that demands that we heed the old cliche to chew the meat while spitting out the bones. What I want to do today is offer a critique of the whole idea of love languages and then show how I have found them to be useful.

The Basics

The heart of the book is a description of 5 ways in which people tend to be wired or ways in which they tend to want to have love expressed to them: affirming words, gift-giving, physical touch, quality time and acts of service. Chapman believes that each of us has tendencies toward some of these and away from others. Each of us can probably take a look at the list and order them from 1 to 5. Some of us love being served while others of us love receiving gifts. But for others acts of service and receiving gifts are nearly meaningless. In his wisdom and kindness, God has made us to be very different even in the ways we give love and receive love.

There is no doubt that Chapman touches upon something real here. I need only look to my own marriage to see that Aileen and I both have our own “language.” The ways I can best express love to her are through quality time and acts of service while the way I love to receive love from her is through physical affection and quality time. Chapman’s idea, of course, is that I find out from Aileen how she likes to be loved and then begin to love her just like that. If quality time is at the top of her list, I will be sure to give her a lot of quality time. Implicit in this is that she will return the favor—she will learn my love language and love me that way in return. When we follow the model, a happy marriage will ensue. In this way, then, Chapman gives us a helpful way to describe the different ways we are wired and gives a realistic way of putting these love languages into action.

July 11, 2011

There was a time when Christians used militaristic language without shame. Only one or two generations ago, Christians often spoke of being part of an army fighting against the forces of darkness. Hymns like “Onward Christian Soldiers” were sung often and were sung proudly. But in recent years, this type of language has fallen out of favor in the church. Many feel that this language serves to deter the unchurched from responding to the gospel. Unbelievers, it seems, do not respond well to the idea that they are to be conquered by an army.

Brian McLaren discusses this metaphor in his book A Generous Orthodoxy: “The human race has been conquered by an alien power or powers (Sin, the Devil, and Death are the most common antagonists, although Paul’s more ambiguous ‘principalities and powers’ could also be included). Jesus goes to battle with the alien power(s), and appears to be defeated in death, but his death turns out to be the undoing of the antagonist. In this metaphor, military terms such as battle, defeat, and conquering are predominant.” McLaren advocates rejecting this type of language and replacing it with something more appropriate for our culture. Such language, he argues, is contextual, which means that Christians are under no obligation to use it.

But other people believe that we need to rediscover this kind of military language. Stanley Gale, author of Warfare Witness: Contending with Spiritual Opposition in Everyday Evangelism, is one of these. Warfare Witness is a book dealing with spiritual warfare, a topic that has received surprisingly little attention in Reformed circles. Gale seeks to remedy this.

He believes that it is beneficial for Christians to have a militaristic understanding of the spiritual battle that rages around us. He bases his argument on the fact that this is exactly the kind of language God chose to use in the Bible. He writes, “Some might not feel comfortable with the military concept and terminology. Yet…this is exactly the way our King and Commander would have us understand the nature of evangelism and approach to the work of witness…All of us enfolded into the king of God, as children of God and heirs of life, are servants of the Most High and soldiers of the cross.”

July 07, 2011

This is now the third article in this series on homeschooling and public schooling. In the first article I offered a small glimpse at the changing Christian landscape when it comes to education and then placed education in the category of secondary doctrines or disputable matters. This brought us to Romans 14 where Paul writes about weaker and stronger Christians. In the second article I looked at how people who disagree on disputable matters ought to relate to one another and how each will be particularly prone to sin against the other.

Today we come to the tricky and unavoidable question: When we consider education, who is weak and who is strong? In certain ways I think this question has been answered along the way. Over the past 2 days I’ve seen quite a few ugly comments both here on the blog and on Facebook. The comments bear all the marks of temptations particular to the weak or the strong. And that is part of the reason that I wanted to wait until today to suggest who are the weak and the strong. A friend wrote me to say that by the end of the article he was already longing to be considered strong and already despising the weak. This gave him a good moment to examine his heart. It has certainly done the same for me.

Who Is Weak? Who Is Strong?

I think my answer is going to be disappointing. To be honest, I am a bit disappointed with it! I have thought about it a great deal and have changed my mind several times. Like most of you, I have wanted to believe that I am strong; I haven’t wanted to admit weakness. And yet someone must be weak and someone must be strong. Where there is disagreement on secondary issues there must be someone who has worked out more of the implications of being justified by grace through faith. So who is it? It is a surprisingly difficult question to answer.

Maybe I can illustrate the tension by thinking back to the early days of homeschooling. Here we had public schooling as the norm in most Christian contexts. But then a few families pioneered what would soon turn into a powerful movement. As I understand strength in its Romans 14 context, these people were strong. They understood that God gave them freedom to go against the mainstream and to educate their children as they felt the Lord was leading them. Today, though, there may be a family in a church in which everyone else homeschools. Yet this one family feels the freedom to enroll their children in the public schools. In this context this family is strong, understanding that they have the freedom to educate their children in the way they have been convicted. In one case the homeschooler is strong and in the other the public schooler is strong. Please note that I have not said in either case that all of the other people in the church are weak.

July 06, 2011

Yesterday I began a short series on homeschooling, public schooling, and the ways in which we educate our children. I provided a small glimpse at the changing Christian landscape when it comes to education and then placed education in the category of secondary doctrines or disputable matters. Today’s article will be a little bit longer, so I’ll ask your patience as you read through it. In this article we will look at how people who disagree on disputable matters ought to relate to one another and how each will be particularly prone to sin against the other.

A Text

As Christians we are called by God to live in gospel community, to live with one another as family. We are to do so despite differences in what we believe, not at the core of the faith, but in matters that are of some dispute. Bound together by the gospel and sharing a common belief in the pillars of our faith, we are to love one another even through considerable diversity. This diversity extends not only to those of different races or colors or creeds, but also to those who understand Scripture in a way that is different than we do and, hence, to those who apply Scripture in a different way.

The fourteenth chapter of the book of Romans is a great gift to the church as it instructs us in how we are to live together even with different beliefs on secondary matters. In this passage the Apostle Paul distinguishes between 2 types of Christians, the strong and the weak, and tells them how they are to not only tolerate one another but how they are to love and accept one another. While Paul looks specifically to just 2 issues—vegetarianism and the observance of holy days—what he teaches is applicable to any other secondary issue within the church. As we look to the issues of public schooling and homeschooling, we will find great value in turning to this text and applying it to ourselves.

Important to the context of the chapter is that everyone Paul speaks about here is a Christian. He is not discussing issues in which a non-Christian disagrees with a Christian, but issues in which Christians disagree with one another. What we see is that Paul does not tell these people that they have to come to a common agreement. Rather, he allows them to hold differing views and instructs them on how to love one another even with those differences. What we learn is that being of the same mind in Christ and being part of the same family in Christ does not require that we think the same things about secondary matters.

Also important to the context of the chapter is that the people Paul writes to are not relying on their vegetarianism or on their observance of holy days to merit salvation. What they believe on these issues they believe only after affirming that they are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This is not an issue of how anyone is saved. Instead, it concerns one of the implications of living as one who has already been saved; it concerns living out of that faith.

With that in mind, let’s see what Paul has to say to the people in Rome and, by extension, to all of us who want to think rightly about homeschooling and public schooling.

July 05, 2011

Several years ago I wrote a series of articles in which I sought to explain why my wife and I have chosen to educate our children as we have. Since then I have often wanted to revisit the subject but have held back, largely because of the concern that whatever I write will inevitably offend people I love. I know people on both sides of the debate who have been badly wounded. This debate is so personal and so urgent that it is nearly impossible to discuss it without offending someone; I do not want to be a cause of unnecessary offense.

And yet this is an important matter and a matter of growing concern within the church. It is with some trepidation that I begin to take it up once more. I plan to take an approach that I hope will speak equally to people who are on either side of the debate and even to those who may be undecided. Primarily I want to talk about how the Lord calls us to relate to one another—how homeschoolers are to relate to public schoolers and how public schoolers are to relate to homeschoolers. I’ll leave the Christian schoolers among you to decide which group you most closely line up with; for sake of ease and clarity I will largely leave you out of this one.

Here is how I am going to proceed. Today I will take a brief look at the contemporary landscape within the church and make a couple of assumptions about the nature and importance of the debate over education. In the next article I will turn to the Bible to find guidance on how we will be prone to relate to one another over an issue like this one. From there we will see how the Bible can guide us as we seek to make wise decisions concerning education and how we can then relate to those who make a very different decision. What I want to do is get past the debate and to the heart—your heart and my heart.

The Landscape

Some people reading this article will have little context for the debate. In some parts of the Christian world homeschooling is almost unheard of while in other parts the public schools have long since been abandoned. But for many of us, perhaps even most of us, this is a very important and timely discussion. In my travels I have observed that the conservative Christian world, and the Reformed world at least, has begun a great migration away from the public schools so that today the majority of families in many churches, perhaps even most churches, are defaulting to homeschooling. Even those who do not homeschool continue to consider it and debate its merits. In most good-sized churches it is likely that you will find a mix of public and homeschooled families (and probably some Christian school families as well). Many families have or have had children in a combination of all 3. My own church seems typical with about two-thirds of the church homeschooled with the other one-third mostly in public school (there are a couple of children in Christian schools as well).

This represents a massive shift. When I was a child, homeschooling was a fringe option. I knew only a handful of people who were homeschooled. In those days the homeschoolers felt the weight of mockery and condemnation for stepping outside the mainstream. Today the situation is very nearly reversed. If you visit a conservative church and speak to those who have their children in public schools, you may well find that they now feel the weight of condemnation, or perceived condemnation, and that they feel as if they are the ones outside the church’s mainstream.

June 27, 2011

I grew up in a Christian culture in which very little evangelism took place. How little? The first believer’s baptism I ever witnessed was my wife (she was my girlfriend at the time) and that was when we were eighteen or nineteen. It was the first time our church had ever baptized an adult. And what’s more, it was the first time most of the people who attended that church had ever seen an adult get baptized.

A few years after my wife’s baptism we moved away from the town we had grown up in so we could be closer to my place of business. In the past decade we have been members of two different churches that place much greater emphasis on reaching the lost. We have seen many, many people come to faith, including several who are now close friends. We have seen lives altered dramatically and have seen more baptisms than we can count—baptisms in churches, rivers, pools, and a really big, ugly aluminum tank. We have shared in the joy of seeing people profess their faith by being baptized. It truly is one of the greatest joys of any church.

Over the years I’ve had to reflect on what made the churches I attended as a child and teenager so ineffective at evangelism. While there are several reasons I could provide, and they are of varying importance, there is one that I believe stands at the foundation of the rest: These churches often regarded the unbeliever as the enemy. Of course the church would never have articulated that belief, but it seemed to be deeply rooted.

This attitude manifested itself in many ways. One of the clearest ways was among the children of church members. They would rarely, if ever, be allowed or encouraged to play or even interact with the unsaved children in the neighborhood. I knew an “urban missionary” whose children were confined to their backyard and were forbidden from playing with the other children. The churched children were not allowed to play with other children lest they become corrupted by their worldliness.

My observation was that this approach failed and failed badly. First, the church was not faithful in its calling to take the gospel throughout the world. They preferred to exist in an enclave, safe from outside influences. Second, and ironically, the children developed a fascination with the world. I believe this was, in large part, because access to the outside world had been denied to them and they had never seen the pain and heartbreak that are the inevitable results of forsaking God. The world can look awfully attractive until a person sees the results of giving himself over to it. Third, the parents were prone to ignoring worldliness in their own children. I know that I saw more drugs, more drinking, more disrespect and more awful behavior in the Christian schools I attended than I did in the public schools. This isolation simply did not work. What I saw was that we do not need the world to teach us worldliness. Worldliness arises from within.

June 23, 2011

Yesterday I offered 3 statements on assurance of salvation. Today I’d like to follow that up with a brief word on the right basis for assurance of salvation. After that, I will offer a few book recommendations for those who struggle with this issue.

It is a sad but undeniable fact that many people who think they are Christians are not. At the final judgment many will approach Jesus convinced that they are saved only to be told that Jesus never knew them (and hence that they never knew him). The fact is that many people ultimately depend upon themselves for assurance of their salvation. This applies to believers and unbelievers. A person may be truly saved yet look to himself for assurance of this salvation. This is dangerous ground to tread; when a person experiences a time of doubt his misplaced assurance can drive him to despair. When our assurance rests on something we have done, a promise we have made or a prayer we have prayed, we have placed our assurance on shaky ground.

Let’s turn to the Bible to discover the true basis for our assurance.

Assurance Rests on God’s Character

In the last article I quoted the words of the Apostle Paul as we find them in 2 Timothy 1:12 “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.” What was the basis of Paul’s assurance? He rested in the character of God. He knew whom he had believed and trusted that God was good and would preserve him. He trusted in the goodness of God and in God’s desire to save his people. He rested in the words of Jesus that “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” He knew that Jesus will never reject anyone who comes to truly comes to him, who rests in him for salvation.

Assurance Rests on God’s Promises

If our assurance of salvation rests on God’s good character, then we can also trust in his good promises. Here are a few of the promises of God regarding salvation.

June 22, 2011

Today I would like to make 3 statements about a subject that is always relevant to Christians: assurance of salvation. This is an area of great confusion for many believers and an area that can lead to great discouragement. I am going to make 3 statements about assurance and then, Lord willing, follow up tomorrow with a word about the true basis for assurance.

1It is possible and even normal for the Christian to experience assurance of salvation.

John MacArthur calls assurance of salvation “the birthright and privilege of every true believer in Christ.” This assurance is not only possible but should be the normal experience for any believer in Christ. Romans 8:16 teaches that assurance of salvation is part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…” Hear what Matthew Henry says about this verse: “Those that are sanctified have God’s Spirit witnessing with their spirits, which is to be understood not of any immediate extraordinary revelation, but an ordinary work of the Spirit, in and by the means of comfort, speaking peace to the soul. This testimony is always agreeable to the written word, and is therefore always grounded upon sanctification; for the Spirit in the heart cannot contradict the Spirit in the word.” 2 Peter 1:10 goes so far as to command us to pursue this assurance. “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”

Yet even more clear than these verses is 1 John 5:13. As John wraps up this epistle he reveals his purpose in writing it. “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” God has seen fit to provide us an entire book in the Bible that will teach us to know that we have eternal life. Surely, then, we can agree that God intends that we have assurance that we are his children.

Having seen that it is both possible and normal for the Christian to experience assurance of salvation, we now turn to a second point which seems very nearly contradictory:

May 30, 2011

Desert
Every soul thirsts. This thirst may not be obvious in every moment, but at some point and to some degree every soul thirsts after something, something it does not have. We are rarely content in our current condition, rarely content just the way we are. But while we all thirst, we do not all thirst in the same way. Donald Whitney’s book Ten Questions To Diagnose Your Spiritual Health has much to say about this. Whitney identifies 3 ways in which our souls thirst.

The Thirst of the Empty Soul

The soul of the unbeliever is empty toward the things of God. Until the Spirit fills the soul with his presence, it is devoid of any love for God. Without God, the unbeliever is constantly looking for something, anything. But he is unable to fill the emptiness. This is something many people do not understand, but something the Bible teaches clearly: While the believer’s soul is empty because he does not know God, he does not and cannot seek to fill it with God. Many people believe that unbelievers are truly seeking after God but unable to find him. The Bible tells us, though, that the empty soul is unable to understand or satisfy this thirst. Not only that, but the empty soul does not want to understand this thirst, and would not, even if it were possible. The empty soul is completely and fully opposed to God; it is deceitful and desperately wicked. As Paul writes in Romans 3:11, quoting David, “no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Psalm 14:2).

Thus the empty soul is left seeking to be satisfied by other things, fleeting things, good things and bad things. It seeks satisfaction in work, family, love, sex, money and everything else the world has to offer. It may seek satisfaction in religion and even the Christian faith, but it never truly seeks God and thus never truly finds him. Until the Holy Spirit enables that soul to understand the source of his thirst and enables him to see the One who can satisfy, he will continue to look in vain. “Just because a man longs for something that can be found in God alone doesn’t mean he’s looking for God,” says Whitney, “Many who claim they are questing for God are not thirsting for God as he has revealed himself in Scripture, but only for God as they want him to be, or a God who will give them what they want.”

The Thirst of the Dry Soul

May 26, 2011

Beauty?A short time ago blogger and author Rachel Held Evans wrote an article she titled “Thou Shalt Not Let Thyself Go?” She began it this way: “In my quest for biblical womanhood, I’ve found that sometimes there’s as much to learn from what the Bible doesn’t say as there is to learn from what it does say.” Her article, she suggested, reflected something the Bible doesn’t say. She looked to Mark Driscoll, Dorothy Patterson and Martha Peace and pointed out how each one of them has at one time suggested that a woman has to be careful that she does not “let herself go” after having children or after being married for some time.

“The message is as clear as it is ominous,” she concludes. “Stay beautiful or your husband might leave you. And if he does, it’s partially your fault.” She spent a month “studying everything the Bible says about women and beauty.” She “turned the Bible inside out, combed through dozens of commentaries, conducted word searches and topic studies and extensive research” and at the end of it all “found nothing in the Bible to suggest that God requires women to be beautiful.”

It is an interesting question: Does God want a woman to seek to remain attractive to her husband even while she grows older? Is there any significance to her doing this, or not doing this? Evans believes that emphasizing physical beauty, even as a woman ages (or perhaps especially as a woman ages) points to a new kind of misogyny. But after long reflection, I am not convinced. Hear me out here.

The Inner and the Outer

I agree that when the Bible speaks of beauty it largely downplays physical beauty in favor of inner beauty. According to the Bible, a beautiful woman is not one who is perfectly proportioned (by whatever society determines to be perfect) or one whose face is stunning. Rather, a beautiful woman is one who is genuinely godly, who reflects “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” The beauty the Bible commends is a beauty of character more than a beauty of appearance.

But. You knew there had to be a but. I think Evans may draw something of a false distinction between the inner and the outer as if these things are entirely disconnected. I would suggest that these two things are actually inexorably connected: the outer is a reflection of the inner. And this means that the outer person matters too. What a person wears has spiritual significance because what a person wears or how a person treats her body reflects her heart. This is contra the Gnostics who believe that what is spirit is inherently superior to what is physical. The Bible allows no such tension. Though only one is immortal, both were created by God and deemed very good. Our responsibility extends to both.

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