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Two handed Doctrine

Posted: April 10, 2011 in Church, Theology
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Christians need to know what's worth fighting for...

Mark Driscoll once preached a sermon in which he described a “two-handed” approach to Doctrine. As a young guy with training wheels on his theology, I’m exceedingly thankful for having heard that sermon about a year and a half ago. God continues to use it to this day as I try to sort through what His Word says and how I can be faithful to that in current and future service to Him.

Although this is probably true for all men, I’ve noticed us young guys in particular tend to go one of two directions regarding theological conviction…we either come across as an arrogant, critical, self-righteous jerk who is defined more by what we’re against than what we’re for, or we come across as passive, cowardly, sweet little church boys who won’t fight for anything and who everyone loves but no one respects. Neither approach is fitting for a Kingdom servant.

And I think Driscoll’s insights have proven time and again to be very clarifying and well balanced in truth and humility. His basic view is that there are certain doctrines that we hold in the closed hand (essential, non-negotiable) and there are those that we hold in the open hand (we can lovingly agree to disagree). In other words, there are doctrines that need to divide us and those that need not divide us. The key is to know what to hold in which hand.

For the Christian, there are core, foundational beliefs that simply can’t be compromised. The Bible is God’s Word, God is one God in three persons, we’re sinners, Jesus died on the cross in our place for our sins, Jesus rose from death on the 3rd day, apart from Jesus you will go to Hell, etc. These are close handed, non-negotiable beliefs that should be defended and held dear as points of unity amongst Christians no matter what their tribe.

Other issues concerning God’s foreknowledge, eschatology, spiritual gifts, etc, are things that should be held in humility in the open hand. That doesn’t mean we don’t have convictions on such secondary issues, but to me there’s no reason that Christians need to divide over these kind of issues. Too many Christians make their theology a prison and not a home…a place they can’t escape to serve alongside other brothers and sisters in Christ. Somewhere in between the fundamentalist who wants to fight over everything and the liberal who won’t fight for anything is a loyal, humble, Kingdom servant that seeks to proclaim the Gospel and make the invisible God visible through His Church. My prayer is that God will continue to move us all in that direction.

The bottom line is that Christians are in a war. This isn’t a game. And to make war on the powers of darkness, we need soldiers who care less about themselves and more about Jesus and those who don’t yet know Him. And Doctrine is mission critical to the advancement of the Gospel, especially for the young men who will serve our local churches. As Paul told young Timothy:

“16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” 1 Tim 4:16

Men of character and men of sound doctrine lead Christ’s church. And in doing so, we need to be very careful to know what goes in the closed hand and what goes in the open hand. Cowards have no place in Kingdom service. Neither do arrogant jerks. Jesus was neither. And if we’re truly to be His body, shouldn’t we follow Him?  

 

“Hell Wins”

Posted: April 6, 2011 in Uncategorized
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A great post from my buddy Dave Dorr:

http://www.davidpauldorr.com/hell-wins/

Title stolen from a book by Ed Welch (great book BTW).

As of late, the proverbial lines in the sand are being drawn across the evangelical landscape regarding the Gospel. One of the most common questions regarding the God of the Bible is again being raised…”How could a loving God send anyone to Hell?” Overarchingly, that seems to be the primary issue at hand. Some would say that the idea of a literal, conscious, eternal Hell is incongruent with our understanding of love. And I can come alongside them in that because I’ve wrestled with the same issue. However, I think the fundamental question to be asked is not how a loving God could send anyone to Hell, but rather who gets to define love? Us? Or…God?

The general position of those who question the doctrine of Hell seems to be rooted in a problem that is first introduced in Genesis 3…sin. Or put another way, pride. The Mother that is pregnant with all the other sins and the sin that got Satan kicked out of heaven. Rather than allowing God to define love, many are taking it upon themselves to define love and then attempting to impart that attribute onto God. Essentially, they are trying to make God in their image…a reversal of the creative order. We are not God. And to assign attributes to God that we’ve created is to fall in line with Satan’s first temptation in the garden:

“For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.” – Gen 3:5

You will be like God. To me, that temptation and resulting sin is at the core of any effort to water down or change the Gospel message. The beating heart of all false doctrine is pride.

Consider what those are saying who deny doctrines such as the adequacy and inerrancy of Scripture, penal substitutionary atonement, and eternal separation from God in Hell. They are essentially saying that the gap between us and God isn’t really that wide. Scripture’s teaching that Jesus’ bloody, brutal death was in our place for our sins to reconcile us to a Holy God doesn’t resonate with them because in their mind and heart, they’re “good people”…good enough even for God. Good people don’t need a Savior. They don’t see a need for it. Though they’d likely never say it, their prideful heart says “I’m not God, but I’m really not that far off.” Good people justify themselves before God. And inevitably, good people (who are very convincing because they feed our sinful nature) will try to change what Scripture says in order to accommodate their self-justification. Since good people don’t need a Savior, they alter the meaning of Christ’s death on the cross away from penal substitutionary atonement. Since good people don’t deserve Hell, they become annihilationists or universalists. And since lies never match up well with truth, inevitably the slippery slope is to change the entire message of Christianity to suit the man-made doctrines (i.e. Jesus’ true message is simply “the Kingdom”). False doctrines and false teachers always hold a very high view of people (particularly themselves…) And not in a good way. People are big, and God is small.

Recently I was having a conversation with someone who I truly love and appreciate. Although I left the church movement that he’s currently still a part of, we still stay in touch and try to catch up regularly. In discussing the recent death of someone whom we both knew, my friend emphatically stated “If everyone were like her, there would be no more problems in this world! None!”

He was dead serious. I felt my heart break.

To me, this speaks to the tragic result of being led astray by man-centered teaching. When a person, a mere human, could ever be regarded as a functional savior of this world, something has gone terribly wrong. I loved the deceased woman as well, but she was not God. Not even close. And my friend’s mouth was simply speaking out of the desire of his heart…he’s looking for a Savior. A Savior that he once knew, but has been largely lost in a watered down, works driven, man centered theology.

So who gets to define love? God does. And Paul gives us a succinct summary of what that looks like…

8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Rom 5:8

Good people don’t need a Savior. But sinners do. Sinners, convicted by their violation of God’s law written on their hearts as revealed by Scripture, see a chasm so vast between them and God that the only way they can be reconciled to Him is for Him to do it for them. Sin is independence from God, humility is dependence on God. Sinners need a Savior that, of all the adjectives the Bible uses to describe Him (including “loving”), “Holy” (Heb “Set apart”) is most frequent. He is “other than” us. A massive God that is so good, so righteous, so perfect that he cannot allow sin into His presence. Is so just that He will not allow sin to go unpunished. And so loving that He would send His only Son to take our punishment so that we could be with Him forever.

”   16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – Jn 3:16

That’s really, really Good News. It’s the news that will always remind me that people are small…and God is big. That’s worship, rightly aimed. And ultimately, Scripture is God’s revelation of Himself to us…and we have a choice in that. We can trust revelation (the Word of God) or speculation (the word of men).

Speculation leads to death. Jesus saves. Let us never forgot who’s God. And let us never forget that love…has a face.

“Trampling upon human hearts”

Posted: March 27, 2011 in Church, Gospel
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A great post from Kevin DeYoung.

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/03/23/trampling-upon-human-hearts/

Whine or…war?

Posted: March 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

Perseverance

Posted: February 14, 2011 in Life
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(In honor of the dawning of the Aaron Rogers era…)

By the grace of God, perseverance is something I’m learning about right now. My less than earth shattering take away: perseverance is much more do-able in humility.

I hate pride. I mean, hate it. It’s ugly, disgusting, debilitating, imprisoning, etc. It’s the mother that is pregnant with all other sins (Augustine). It separates me from God, from other people, and has had devastating effects on the body of Christ as a whole. 

And with that said, as much as I know I hate pride, I also know that a lot of fruit in my life indicates I still have way too much of it. Count me among the prideful. Among those on a journey of pursuing humility by the grace of God, but will never reach a destination until I go to be with Jesus. In other words, humility seems to be a paradox in that I desire to grow in humility but could never say that I’ve actually achieved it…because that would be a proud thing to say.

And in the midst of trial, hardship, or when I just don’t feel like I’m getting any traction in a particular area of life, humility seems all that much more important. During times when perseverance is difficult, it’s very tempting for me to turn inward and languish in pride and self-pity. And then to eventually become aware of that and say “I need to focus on humility”…which I’ve come to realize recently is still prideful. Because it’s still about me. As my Pastor recently said “Humility is not thinking low of yourself. It’s not thinking of yourself.”

Fail.

I guess the fundamental question is “Who (or what) do I worship?” The Gospel itself is a message rooted in humility. With the Gospel at my center, I realize I don’t “deserve better” than my circumstances. That frankly, all I deserve is hell…everything else is grace. It’s a shift from individualistic entitlement regarding anything and everything to focusing on one thing: Jesus.

That’s amazing. That’s freedom. Freedom from the self-imposed prison of pride and self-will.

“24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”  – Acts 20:24

Perseverance looks a lot different in light of the Gospel. And so does everything else.  

Disturbing Theology

Posted: February 2, 2011 in Theology
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Dave Draiman

Recently I heard a song I hadn’t heard in a while by metal giants “Disturbed”. In addition to various social and political themes, Disturbed’s music often contains spiritual overtones which seem to stem largely from lead singer Dave Draiman’s upbringing as an orthodox Jew. Draiman has since essentially walked away from Judaism and embraced what appears to be some sort of universalistic worldview (Disturbed’s 2002 album entitled “Believe” featured a cover with every major religious symbol rolled into one…) Listening to the laments offered up in Disturbed’s 2005 track “Overburdened”, I’m reminded how Draiman, like all of us, have wrestled with questions surrounding eternal security and what it is that ultimately sets us right with God.

The first few verses of “Overburdened” read as such:

 Hell is still overburdened
I must stand and wait in line
I may never know for certain
When will be my time
How was I considered evil?
Pleasures taken in this life
Someone granted me reprieval
Decades spent in strife

Led to nothing
Repeated in my mind
Led to nothing
If only I was born another time

Hell is still overburdened
I must stand and wait in line
Hell is still overburdened
How have I been so determined malign?

Draiman goes on to say:

Seems I have committed treason
All I’ve sacrificed

Led to nothing

All I hear in listening to this track is summed up in one word: justification. John Calvin once said that justification is the “foundation of all religion”. Every world religion or philosophy seems to have its own take on justification; that is, what puts us into right relationship with God. The doctrine that ultimately split Christianity and served as the catalyst for the Protestant reformation is still as central an issue today as its ever been (truth is timeless isn’t it?). As Martin Luther rightly said, the issue of justification is the issue on which the church “stands or falls.”

Essentially, every man-made religion seems to have designed justification the same way…it’s all about me and what I do. So if I live the right way, make the right sacrifices, do the right things, then God will be pleased with me. I will be set right with God. I will have earned my salvation by my performance.

It’s all about what I do. The Gospel on the other hand, the good news, is the brilliant diamond in the rough of works based theology. It’s the news that changes everything.

The Gospel says it’s not about me. The Gospel says it’s not about what I do. The Gospel says it’s not about my life, my obedience, my sacrifice, or my performance (thank God…). The Gospel says it’s about Jesus’ life, Jesus’ obedience, and Jesus’ sacrifice. The Gospel says I haven’t earned anything but hell; that everything else is by God’s grace. That all who come to trust in the finished work of Christ will be made clean, reconciled to God, and will inherit eternal life.

Christianity is a complete inversion of man-made religion. Every man-made religion involves, not coincidentally, man at its center trying to manipulate himself back to God through white knuckle effort, feats of morality, a spiritual experience, etc. All are a self-salvation project marked by pride and good works.

8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” – Eph 2:8-9

Grace really levels the playing field. There isn’t a human being alive that is going to stand before God and be justified by his or her resume (Rom 3:20).

And praise God that we don’t have to. That the triune, Holy God came into human history and did for us what we could never do for ourselves.

Decades spent in strife

Led to nothing

All I’ve sacrificed

Led to nothing

I have good news for Dave Draiman. There’s an answer for all who are overburdened by religion…

 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30

 Freedom awaits…

Progress, not perfection…

Posted: January 24, 2011 in Uncategorized

About 3 months ago God saved my Dad and he became a Christian at 57 years old.  The other day we spent about a half hour reading the Bible together.

Both of these events are miracles that frankly, defy words.

Anyway, on the lighter side, today I get this voicemail from my Dad who was a non-practicing Catholic prior to his conversion:

” Joe. It’s Dad. Hey, something’s bothering me that I need to know about. I know that Catholics use a different Bible than the one Protestants use…I’m not sure what’s different…I should…but you could probably tell me. Anyway, this Bible you got me, is this one of those Martin Luther King Jr. Bibles?  I want to make sure I’m using the right one.”

Part of me wanted to talk church history with him. Part of me wanted to skip it and be there to watch him ask for that translation at the Christian bookstore. I think I need to repent…