Wednesday, April 30, 2008 

The Gospel and Jeremiah Wright

I have avoided speaking about Barack Obama's former pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, for about as long as possible. There are a number of reasons for this. Foremost among them is the irritation I have felt in seeing political pundits and news personalities (most of them unbelievers), attacking a pastor for view he expressed from a pulpit in a church. Now, don't get me wrong. I disagree heartily with what the man said, whether or not it was taken out of context. But I am very uncomfortable with a pastor being criticized publicly for his views by those outside of the faith. And yet, this has become the norm in the U.S. these days - and that worries me a great deal.

I recently wrote a comment on another man's blog about the criticism being heaped upon Wright (and consequently, Barack Obama), and pointed out that, while I am disgusted by the media's treatment of Rev. Wright, I do believe there are some upsides to the controversy, namely that it puts a spotlight on the inherent problems of Liberation Theology and its influence in the African-American church. I don't have the time, nor the patience (or really the education) to dive deeply into Liberation Theology, so let me offer a few links for further study:

An article, "What is Liberation Theology?" at GotQuestions.org
An interview with Eric Redmond, an African American Pastor in Maryland, by Albert Mohler
A partial transcript of that interview at Townhall.com entitled, "Is Jeremiah Wright Mainstream?"
Eric Redmond's post, "Jeremiah Wright’s BLT" (Black Liberation Theology), on his blog, A Man From Issachar

Suffice to say, the problems of Liberation Theology are vast, and they are a stumbling block to the gospel. As one commenter at Townhall.com wrote:
Liberation theology creates further division.
Liberation theology counters racism with racism.
Liberation theology is man-made and runs perpendicular to the gospel.
Liberation theology is no gospel at all.
I would agree with this assessment. And since Rev. Wright resurfaced a few days ago and today was blasted by Barack Obama for remarks he made at
the National Press Club Monday in Washington, I have been thinking even more about Wright and his theology. As I was considering this, I stumbled across Warren Kelly's post on Wright at his blog View From The Pew. Kelly discusses Wright's answer to a question posed to him by a moderator after his speech at the National Press Club on Monday. The moderator stated, "Jesus said, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the father but through me.'" Then the moderator asked, "Do you believe this? And do you think Islam is a way to salvation?" Wright replied simply, "Jesus also said, 'Other sheep have I who are not of this fold,'" seeming to indicate that indeed Muslims and those of other religions would inherit eternal life apart from a personal relationship with Christ. Sadly, applause followed his comment. Kelly noted,
Wright had what I call an Osteen moment. He had the chance to share the Gospel in front of millions. Not only that, but he had the chance to calm the fears of evangelical Christians that his church was somehow not really a Christian church. He could have done so much, but he decided not to.
He then wisely observed that, "Jeremiah Wright did to Jesus exactly what the news media have been doing to him -- taken [sic] a part of a sermon, quoted it out of context, and made it sound like something that wasn't intended."

Denny Burk, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Criswell College in Dallas, Texas. and blogger extraordinaire picked up on the story as well and explains what Jesus was actually referring to in John chapter 10:
When Jesus says that he has “other sheep who are not of this fold,” it’s likely that he is referring to Gentiles who would later come to faith in Christ. The sheep that are following Him at that point in the narrative are Jews, but Jesus aims to have followers from among the Gentiles as well. Whoever the “other sheep” are understood to be, they nevertheless have the characteristics of “sheep.” They listen to and follow Christ, and they are saved only by Him.
Additionally, he points out that, "To say that 'other sheep' refers to unbelievers (or followers of Islam in Reverend Wright’s case) simply runs roughshod over the plain meaning of the passage."

So, as I noted to the other blogger in my comments referred to at the start of this post, Jeremiah Wright's pulpit rhetoric doesn't really bother me - it's his misunderstanding of the Gospel and disregard for the fundamentals of the faith that worry me.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008 

Another Inappropriate Response to Earth Day

In my last post, I noted two inappropriate ways to respond to Earth Day. Ethics Daily yesterday gave us yet another inappropriate way to respond to the environment - TheGreenBible.org. This is from the article announcing it:
The site, from Baptist Center for Ethics and EthicsDaily.com, is a warehouse of information on the biblical mandate to care for the environment--and what people of faith can and should do.
More:
"The Bible is God's green book," Parham said. "The green Bible gives us the responsibility to guard the garden. The green Bible calls us to love our neighbors. And my friends the only way we can love our neighbors across time is to leave them a decent place to live."
Did you catch that last sentence? "[T]he only way can love our neighbors across time is to leave them a decent place to live." I beg to differ. The way we love our neighbors across time is not by refocusing all of the Gospel on a social directive aimed at combating the supposed effects of "global warming." It is by making sure that we hand off the Gospel to each generation - by being dilligent to preach the same Gospel that the apostles, the Early Church Fathers, and men like Wycliffe, Hus, Knox, Luther, Calvin, Owen, Fuller, Spurgeon, and Graham preached. For in that way, we truly love our neighbor. Seriously? What does it profit a generation to save the planet, yet not preserve the very thing that could save men's souls? Our goal is ultimately not to save a dying planet, but to glorify God through preaching the glorious Gospel that Christ came in human flesh, died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and was raised on the third day. That, my friends, is how we love our neighbors across time.

HT: the big daddy weave

Tuesday, April 22, 2008 

A Christian Response to Earth Day

Since today is Earth Day 2008, I felt compelled to post to post a response from a Christian worldview. After all, the original purpose of this blog was to respond to a post-Christian world with a uniquely Christian viewpoint. And it seems that nothing dominates this culture's attention these days than does the phenomenon of Green. Environmentalism has become a new religion, a new way for individuals to feel as though they are a part of something larger than themselves and thus inflict change upon a society that seems stagnant at times.

I want to begin, however, not with how I believe Christians should respond to Earth Day, but rather how they should not. There are two extremes which clearly should be avoided.

1) We must avoid becoming obsessed with environmental aims. Not long ago I saw an article praising a youth Disciple Now weekend in which the theme was "Go Green." The author (a speaker at the event) noted that "the curriculum allows students to explore why the environment is important and what they can (and should) do about it." Disciple Now events often have a huge impact on a youth group and many result in revivals in the lives of the youth who participate. Yet, this church chose to focus not on the Gospel, but on the environment. This is a tragedy and an inappropriate response to environmental concerns. We have to remember that this world we live in, while it is under our charge, is ultimately passing away. We should expect that it will deteriorate and ultimately be destroyed. Romans 8:19-23 speaks to this reality.
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
2) The opposite response, while not as dangerous, is also inappropriate. That response is apathy, or even contempt, for environmental issues. A friend recently told me of his mega-church pastor who declared before his congregation - in response to the idea of global warming - that because such was false, we should gleefully turn on every light in our household and to be as wasteful as we desire. He claimed that Jesus was coming back soon anyway, so why worry about the environment? After all, a new heaven and a new earth is soon to appear! There are many problems with this response. Besides the fact that it is built upon a false eschatological view, the greater problem is that it does not take seriously our God-given responsibility to rule and reign over the Earth. We are called to be good stewards of all that is within our realm of responsibility. And certainly the Earth is one of those things. Another problem is that our excesses often causes others' insufficiency. I believe we are beginning to see the fruit of that in current food shortages.

So what should our response be?

1) We should reject the cult of environmentalism and not be swayed by the so-called "science" that seems to change daily. We should not place our faith in charts, weather patterns, or biofuels. Our faith firmly rests on Jesus Christ. He is not surprised by what has happened in our world. In fact, He is sovereignly in control. He alone controls the weather, the amount of radiation emanating from the sun (which actually was determined thousands of years ago), and technologies which either alleviate or add to our sufferings. Additionally, we must remember that our stewardship of this earth is not our ultimate command, nor even our penultimate one. No, we are called to be like Christ, who said nothing of taking care of the earth. His concern was that we glorify Him by being holy, loving His children, and pointing others to Him. To the extent that caring for the environment does these things, we should be involved. When it distracts us from our central message we should refrain from emphasizing it.

2) We should do what we can to insure we are indeed fulfilling our duty to attend to the creation placed in our care. That involves conservation by using our recycling bins and reducing our use of resources. We must be mindful that overuse causes a burden on others. I can't imagine that mega-church pastor preaching to the people of my congregation in Georgia that they should use as much water as they want and not worry - after all Jesus is coming soon! (For those who do not know, last year Georgia had a drought so severe that some places were forced to ration water so the supply did not completely run out.) In such cases, it is the poor who suffer the worst, since they have less resources from which to draw help. Imagine if this country experienced a famine, or energy crisis, or widespread water shortage. The impact would be massive on the poor. As the people of God we are charged to remember the poor - alleviate their suffering and prevent them from being burden.

Thus, by watching our lifestyles and taking steps to protect our world, we can fulfill God's call without losing our focus and hindering the work of the Gospel. So here are five practical ways we can make an impact on the Earth while being fixated on Christ:

1) Replace your incandescent bulbs with CFL's. This will not only lower your electricity bills, it will also lessen the load on your power grid. If whole churches did this, they could save thousands a year and make a huge impact on our energy needs.
2) Recycle. This is an easy one for most of you. All it takes is placing your recyclable items in a specific bin and placing it outside of your home with the rest of your garbage. For others, it may mean driving a short distance. But, if more did this we could lower the cost of oil-based products, and possibly oil itself, which would lessen strain on families struggling with the current fuel costs.
3) Adjust your water heater or replace it. Lowering your water heater setting to "warm" can save hundreds of dollars a year. Also, consider wrapping your heater with an insulated blanket. For more savings, replace your gas water heater with a tankless one. These cost upwards of $2000, but a federal tax credit is available for it. Finally, for the truly adventurous, you can build your own solar water heater for a few hundred dollars. Not only will you save money, but you may help alleviate the current oil shortage (which may last a long time).
4) Weather-proof your home. This is a practical, inexpensive solution that can save you hundreds of dollars a year. Weather-stripping is relatively cheap and there are plenty of guides on the internet as to how and where to apply it.
5) Purchase and use a programmable thermostat. Costs range from $40-200, but the Energy Star website claims that when properly used you can save up to $150 a year. And again, by using less energy you can lessen the burden on others.


Hopefully, this was helpful and challenged you as a Christian to take care of creation and alleviate suffering without feeling as though you have to accept the theory of global warming (which I, by the way, do not), or worship at the altar of environmentalism.

Friday, April 18, 2008 

Together for the Gospel Reflections

Words cannot express how grateful I am that I could be a part of the Together for the Gospel 2008 Conference (Listen to all the messages here). It was truly a life-changing experience. And that's not because of some sort of spiritual high I felt, nor was it due to some commitment I made or remade. No, it was because through T4G, God touched not only my heart, but especially my head. There are so many things I came to understand intellectually during the conference that it would be hard to write them all down, or even to understand their significance at this time. But what I want to do is highlight just a few things that I came to conclude during this conference and why these things are important and will continue to be so in my life and ministry. Bear in mind that these thoughts are in no particular order (I'm not sure that I could place any measure of priority on them even if I tried).
  1. Theology changes and shapes men's hearts. Reading and understanding theology has always brought me into a closer relationship with God, but I always felt as though I was unique in that way. Now, that's not to say that I believed I was the only one like this, but rather that there just weren't many of us. After worshipping with over 5,000 other believers and seeing the difference in the passions displayed in corporate musical expression before the messages of the speakers and then afterwards, it seems crystal clear that the idea that theological truth stirs the affections is much more universal that I had once thought. Thus, it leads me to conclude that the more deep theological truth is conveyed in the pulpit, the more likely our churches are going to have believers in them whose hearts are stirred, who minds are altered, and whose lives are changed.

  2. Worship should seek to connect the heart with what the mind has just encountered. This builds upon my first observation and acknowledges that when men and women properly understand God they naturally desire to express their appreciation to Him. After the proclamation of the Word of God at T4G, it was evident that those men and women gathered there were mentally affected and had a desire to express it. I think this is a highly neglected arena of worship. While I was a member of Pontchartrain Baptist Church in New Orleans we revamped the worship services and placed the preaching of the Word early on in the service. Then at the point of the invitation, the call was expanded to everyone to respond to the Word that had been preached. That doesn't sound all that groundbreaking (and in reality it wasn't), but it did have a profound effect on how I viewed the invitation time, and I think it allowed those in attendance to express themselves in worship in ways that couldn't have been done otherwise. After all, once the Word has been preached on most occasions (if we are honest), we simply start thinking about lunch, not more about God.

  3. Where the emphasis is on Christ, fellowship with believers is sweet, refreshing, and necessary. Being a shy individual and often an introvert, I was a bit intimidated going to T4G by myself. Sure, I had friends I would be meeting there, but that's an awful lot of people gathered in one place, especially when you consider that a great many of them are larger than life figures whom I greatly respect as men of God. That said, it was interesting to see how the emphasis wasn't on big personalities, but rather on our Big God. Conversations didn't center on how good the messages were, but rather on the importance of the doctrines presented to our churches. And I didn't leave being impressed by great men, but rather with the impression that I am a part of a great revival of theology and Biblical studies that threatens to renew our churches in a way that goes far beyond current fads that ebb and flow every few years. I feel refreshed knowing that so many others believe like me, preach like me, and have the same desire I do to teach their flock the deep things of God.

  4. Like other pastors, I need other pastors to minister to me. During panel discussions it was evident that those who spoke clearly ministered to those who organized the conference. This was never more clear than in the discussion after John Piper spoke. The panel, as usual, included Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Al Mohler, and C.J. Mahaney - all pastors and leaders who bear ultimate responsibility over other individuals. Yet when Piper sat among them, it was clear that they saw him as their pastor at that moment. I needed to see that. I needed to remember that no matter what a pastor, teacher, theologian, or whoever accomplishes through the Holy Spirit, nor how intimate their relationship with Christ seems to be, they need others to minister to them. They, too, need to hear Biblical preaching. To that end, I plan to listen to no less than 2 sermons by other ministers each week.
So there you have it, my reflections on T4G 2008. I am sure that there are many more things I could say about what God taught me during the conference, but suffice to say that I cannot wait until T4G 2010.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008 

More Changes

Over the past few months (o.k. the past year), I have neglected my blog. I have had plenty of things to say (as most of you know), but unfortunately, I have been lazy in my writing. However, I hope to once again begin to blog soon.

Just to update those of you who still visit the blog or who subscribe by RSS, I have recently accepted a position as Pastor at a church just outside of Athens, GA - Cleveland Road Baptist Church. My wife and I will be moving there in the next couple of weeks and my first Sunday is tentatively set for May 4th. We are thrilled to have been led by the Lord to serve this congregation.

Because of that, I believe I should get back in the habit of blogging, not just for myself, but for those in my congregation, and those considering attending Cleveland Road in the Athens area. Currently we do not have a church website, but I hope to eventually put one together and link my blog to it. And I am considering a second blog, specifically for the congregation, which would be a 5-day devotional reading related to the Sunday morning sermon.

To those ends, tomorrow I will be attending the Band of Bloggers fellowship, which coincides with the Together for the Gospel Conference, which I will also be attending this week. Hopefully, I will be able to fellowship with fellow bloggers and possibly get some ideas about how to make my site better and more pointed. One of the things I have struggled with over the past year is what I should or shouldn't post on my blog. Having the title of "Christ and Culture" seems like it allows a great deal of flexibility, but in reality I believe that I want narrow the focus to issues which Christians should consider in the public square. I think other points of interest, such as liberal theological positions and Scriptural interpretation are important, but often so wide that my blog ends up being about everything instead of anything in particular. Thus, my ideas are too plentiful to create a true niche in the Christian blogosphere.

So, be patient and watch for future posts. And pray for the new chapter of our life to unfold with wonder and awe and that it would be glorifying to God.

About me

Paul was not interested merely in the ethical principles of religion or of ethics. On the contrary, he was interested in the redeeming work of Christ and its effect upon us. His primary interest was in Christian doctrine, and Christian doctrine not merely in its presuppositions but at its centre. -- J. Greshem Machen.

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