Posts Tagged ‘Doctrine’

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?  



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

A great post from Kevin DeYoung.

Good News vs. good advice

Posted: January 9, 2011 in Gospel

Over the last few months as I’ve been re-introduced to the Gospel, I’ve come to realize that the implications of this message reach far beyond my ability to digest (let alone articulate…) all of them. So I often find myself “nibbling” on certain aspects and end up equally floored.

The morsel I’m nibbling on right now is the portion of the Gospel that has most eluded me throughout my walk with Jesus. And that is that not only did Jesus die the death I should have died, but He also lived the life I should have lived.

I recently watched a lecture given by Tim Keller in which he described the difference between “news” and “advice”. In the Gospel, we claim to have “good news”. News, as Keller points out, is an account of something that has happened. When we read the news, we read of events that have already occurred. And we receive this news from messengers. Advice on the other hand tells of things that can happen. If you do this, xy&z will occur.

The Gospel is good news. Unfortunately, it’s often presented as good advice. The distinction, though subtle, can mean the difference between a life that overflows with joy and gratitude or one that is full of pride and despair. And perhaps, the security of someone’s soul.

I think back to how I’ve heard the Gospel presented at times throughout my walk with Jesus and it’s easy to see why I and others lost sight of what truly makes Christianity different from every other world religion or philosophy. I often hear people say things such as “Jesus changed my life and He can change yours too. I made a mess of myself and He made me a new person. So just say this simple prayer…”. While in some ways that may be true, it’s not the Gospel. And when that becomes the basis for a person’s belief in Jesus, it’s setting them up for disaster.

Say, hypothetically, said person responds to such advice and “gives their life to Christ”, expecting radical life transformation. The foundation then for their relationship to Jesus is what He can do for them. But maybe it doesn’t happen quite as they were hoping. So they’re confused. Frustrated. And are now faced with basically two options: Try harder, or walk away. The person will try harder to live in such a way that somehow “earns” God’s blessing. If they think they get it, they’ll become prideful and arrogant because in their mind, they must have tried harder than others and received God’s favor as a result. If they don’t, they’ll become exhausted from all of their “trying” and feel that there must be something wrong with them. That God must not love them. And they may just walk away entirely. And the real tragedy lies in the fact that since repentence of sin and trust in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus never took place, neither did conversion. So the end result is either an unsaved person within the church who is arrogant and religious or an unsaved person who is frustrated with God and has walked away from the church.

Contrast this to the “news” of the Gospel and the distinction is startling. In sharing the good news of the Gospel, we share the news that although we have all sinned and are separated from God as a result, God lovingly came into human history as Jesus Christ to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. In doing so, God lived the life we should have lived, died the death we should have died, and conquered death in victory over Satan and hell. God substituted Himself for us, and His work was complete. As Jesus said, “It is finished.” (Jn 19:30) The foundation for our faith is not what Jesus can do for us, but what He’s already done.

That news is amazing. That salvation is a free gift from a loving God who has been pursuing a wayward people since the beginning of time. That we don’t have to do anything but repent and respond to the good news by trusting in the person and work of Jesus.

Now, for me, I’ve understood since I became a Christian that Jesus died for my sins and rose for my salvation. But what I never truly grasped until recently was that in His sinless life, He also lived the life I should have lived. The Christian is not only free from the power of sin and death but also free from having to “get it right with God” by living as if we’re undertaking some kind of salvation maintenance project through our good works. The Gospel offers freedom. Freedom in that there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves or commend ourselves to God, but that He did it all for us. God’s work on our behalf lacks nothing. It is perfectly, lovingly, and totally…complete. Jesus took care of everything.

That is good news. And it’s vastly different from good advice.   


Journey home

Posted: January 1, 2011 in Church

About 6 months ago I left what had been the only church family I’ve ever known. At the time, the only answer I could provide as to why was that I felt as though God was leading me somewhere else. For some folks, such a reason wasn’t reason at all. After 4 years of building relationships, holding various leadership roles, learning and growing under many gifted pastors, and graduating from this particular movement’s version of seminary, “God is leading me somewhere else” didn’t really seem to cut it. And I get that. As a highly analytical, introverted, internal processor, my decisions often seem abrupt and perhaps even inconsiderate to those who are affected by them. It’s definitely something that I need to be more aware of. There were people who deserved to be better informed of what I felt God was putting on my heart so as not to have the proverbial rug pulled out from underneath them. To be fair, part of my thinking was that I wanted to leave quietly. I had begun to question a lot of things and I felt the best thing for the church was that I say little and walk away until I had the answers I needed. Still, there were probably some things that needed to be said or said differently. By God’s grace, I hope to learn from that.

The months that followed have undoubtedly been the most introspective and doctrinally shaping of my life. Many of the questions I had have been answered (which for me, has only led to more questions, but nevertheless…) and the ones that haven’t been answered are beginning to slowly unwind by the grace of God. I believe what was started in my heart and mind 6 months ago has now altered the course for my entire life in ministry. So yeah, needless to say…kind of a big deal.

That would be the good side. The bad side would be that the last 6 months have also been marked by a sense of “loss”,  periods of confusion, repeated bouts of what appeared to be spiritual warfare, and occasional loneliness. I had never truly been a part of a church so I had never known what it was like to leave one. My summation would simply be this: Christian community is not optional in the life of a Jesus follower. It’s essential. If I didn’t fully get that before, I certainly do now.

And by the grace of God I think I may have found my new home. At least I hope I have. And I also hope that God will continue to bless, protect, guide, and provide for my old home. Although there are things we disagree on, they are and always will be my family. I’d do anything for them and I’m grateful for all they’ve done for me. It’s just best that I move on.

And so the journey continues. While I’ll never tell anyone that following Jesus is easy, I can say that it’s never boring. My path has taken turns that I never would have anticipated. But realistically, many have sacrificed and left behind much more than I have to pursue God’s call. I’m just trying as best I can to be available. Where it leads is ultimately up to Him.

But for now, it seems to have led me home. We’ll see.