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Lewis’ Screwtape Letters

So I finally had the privilege this week to read an old classic that I have wanted to read for so long; “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis.

This book is meant to give the reader a little glimpse into the realm of the demonic and how they go about trying to deceive the human race. While it is delivers this idea in a comical way, it also serves to teach ways in which we can see people being drawn away from, or blinded to, the truth. Here is what C.S. Lewis said in the intro to his book…

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

The book is made up of thirty-one letters from the devil Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood in which he instructs him on how he should go about corrupting the young man that he was assigned to. And instead of doing a formal book review, I thought that it might be good to simply share with you some of my favorite quotes.

I highly recommend this book both for your amusement and for instruction about what does or does not help in your growth as a Christian.

My dear Wormwood,

  • “Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to having a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily “true” or “false,” but as “academic” or “practical,” “outworn” or “contemporary,” “conventional” or “ruthless.” Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church.”
  • “What he says, even on his knees, about his own sinfulness is all parrot talk. At bottom, he still believes he has run up a very favourable credit balance in the Enemy’s ledger by allowing himself to be converted, and thinks that he is showing great humility and condensation in going to church with these “smug,” commonplace neighbours at all. Keep him in that state of mind as long as you can.”
  • “If this fails, you must fall back on a subtler misdirection of his intention. Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves. Keep the watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by action of their own wills… When they say they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven.”
  • “If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy; it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it.”
  • “I see only one thing to do at the moment. Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to that fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble,” and almost immediately pride – pride at his own humility – will appear.”
  • “You mentioned casually in your last letter that the patient has continued to attend one church, and one only, since he was converted, and that he is not wholly pleased with it. May I ask what you are about? Why have I had no report on the causes of his fidelity to thee parish church? Do you realize that unless it is due to indifference it is a very bad thing? Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that “suits” him until he becomes a taster and connoisseur of churches.”
  • [Here the MS. Breaks off and is resumed in a different hand] In the heat of composition I find that I have inadvertently allowed myself to assume the form of a large centipede. I am accordingly dictating the rest to my secretary.”
  • “The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart – an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship.”
  • “But since your patient has contracted the terrible habit of obedience, he will probably continue such “crude” prayers whatever you do. But you can worry him with the haunting suspicion that the practice is absurd and can have no objective result.”
  • “And since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another. But, thanks be to Our Father and the Historical Point of View, great scholars are now as little nourished by the past as the most ignorant mechanic who holds that “history is bunk.””
  • “If, on the other hand, the middle years prove prosperous, our position is even stronger. Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is finding he is “finding a place in it,” while really it is finding its place in him.

Your affectionate uncle
Screwtape

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The Duck Dynasty Controversy

What is the real issue behind the fact that Phil Robertson has been suspended by A&E for his remarks about homosexuality? If we should be getting upset about this, then where should our focus be?

Some have approached this controversy from the point of view that it simply isn’t worth getting upset about it. We need to pick our battles, and this is not one of them. They also bring up the fact that all of this controversy is acting as free advertising for the show and that by suspending Phil Robertson, A&E have put themselves in a good financial position. Furthermore, any discussion we have only goes to promote their agenda.

While this may be true, this shouldn’t prevent us from, at the very least, discussing these issues. There are some issues that are underlying this specific controversy that should cause us some great concern as Christians; especially as we consider history.

The real issue with this controversy is the fact that the homosexual advocates will not tolerate anything that contradicts the status quo that they are working to create. They demand that not only must everyone tolerate homosexuals, but they must give approval to the idea of homosexuality. The punishment for not giving your approval is that you are no longer permitted to participate in society as seen by the suspension of Phil Robertson.

Does this remind you of anything in the past?

In the Roman Empire, you were required to pay homage to Caesar by burning a bit of incense and saying “Caesar is Lord”. By doing this, you were then permitted to participate in society and in the market place. By refusing to pay homage, at the very least, you were prevented from participating in the market and at worst, you were executed.

The fact that simply sharing your Christian beliefs could result in being banned from participation in the market place of commerce and/or ideas should cause every Christian to consider this present controversy very carefully.

If this continues down the same path, it should not surprise us to see our culture end up in the same position, where if we refuse to acknowledge the inherent goodness of homosexuality, we will be unable to participate in commerce and generally be persecuted for hate speech.

In the paraphrased words of Dr. James White, “The homosexual agenda will not rest until they are surrounded by mandatory and universal applause.”

As for whether or not we should be seeing this as a battle worth fighting, I would ask you to consider a quote from a homosexual, Wilson Cruz….

“There was a time in our history where we couldn’t actually speak up and say something about how we were being characterized. That is no longer today. When someone speaks about us in these ways, we will rise up and we will speak out.”

This is clearly seen as an issue worth fighting about from the homosexual point of view. These people are going to use everything they can in this controversy to promote their agenda. They see this as a golden opportunity and for that and many other reasons; it doesn’t seem wise for us to remain silent.

The way in which we are to speak up, however, should be thought through very carefully. We need to be people who don’t shy from speaking the truth of Scripture but we should never forget to offer the forgiveness that the Gospel brings to any and all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and repent of their sins.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Albert Mohler and Wilson Cruz on CNN discussing the same controversy…
http://newsroom.blogs.cnn.com/2013/12/19/duck-debate-bigotry-vs-belief/

 

James White reviews Pier Morgan’s show with Dr. Michael Brown

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQMqjJN10xU

Crazy Love: Francis Chan review

The goal of the post is simple; to attempt to do an honest review of Francis Chan by comparing what he has to say to the Word of God. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that is obsessed with subjective feelings and whatever makes people feel good. The plan is to walk you through the substance of what Francis Chan teaches apart from all of the emotionalism that too often clouds our minds.

This isn’t a very easy task because the easiest thing in the world is to take a very small selection and use it to misrepresent Chan rather than providing an accurate picture of him. On the other hand, it would take hundreds of pages in order to evaluate everything Chan has every taught or wrote. In order to attempt to be as fair as possible, this review will be based off of two sources which I feel are consistent with the other times that I have heard him teach. The first will be his well-loved book “Crazy Love” and the other will be an article that he wrote called “Failure to Help the Poor Could Send You to Hell”.

Let’s begin with a simple overview of the book.

Crazy Love

Francis Chan makes the purpose of his book pretty clear right from the beginning; this book was prompted by a serious problem that Chan sees in the mainstream of American Christianity. In his words in the preface, people are saying that they “believe in God, just not in organized religion” and he thinks that people wouldn’t say that “if the church truly lived like we are called to live.”(pgs 21-22) His call is that we should think about how the Bible calls us to live so we stop giving people excuses to reject God.

He starts off on the right track. It should be noted that it is not enough to simply see the correct problem but you also need to have the right solution. In the first chapter of this book, Chan argues that the main problem with American Christianity is that it doesn’t have an accurate view of God; therefore the solution is that we need to have a right view of God.

The next chapter is spent on stressing the fleeting mortality of humanity and that our own fragileness should cause us to cling to and trust God for everything in life. One of the problems of American Christianity is that many people experience worry and stress. We experience worry because “we don’t quite trust that God is big enough, powerful enough, or loving enough to take care of what is happening in our lives.” And we experience stress because “the things we are involved in are important enough to merit our impatience, our lack of grace towards others, or our tight grip of control.”(pg 42) The solution? To remember God and to have faith in who He is and what He has promised us.

Chan made it clear in the preface that the first three chapters were the foundation for the entire book and so to sum up the foundation, he begins to speak about the love of God. In order to clarify the problem, Chan utilizes his own relationship with his earthly father as an example of how we all grow up and have trouble relating to God as our father. We don’t truly understand what that kind of relationship looks like due to the damage that our human father has wrought on our lives. His solution is that we should realize that God both wants us and pursues us, so we should be willing to trust that He does, in fact, love us.

In the rest of the book, Chan calls his readers to examine themselves. To do this he speaks of being lukewarm, what loving God really looks like, and what should motivate us to live a life “obsessed” with Christ. He ends the book by giving us some stories from people that he sees great examples of the type of life that he is calling for.

A Critique

All I have attempted to do so far is to give you a fair overview of Chan’s book and the thoughts that he is trying to convey through his book. However, I need to actually take some of what Chan says and begin to pull it apart and compare it to scripture to see if it holds up under scrutiny.

One of the things that I will readily grant to Francis Chan is that his motivation behind this book seems to be a good one. However, no matter how great the motivation, what was actually said matters. Not what might have been meant by the author or how we might be able to portray it in a good light but the actual meaning that he is conveying to his readers.

Twisting Scripture

One of the things that should always be evaluated when reading Christian authors is how well they handle scripture and if they do so consistently. One of the big problems in this book (and in the subsequent article) is the mishandling of God’s Word.

Probably one of the biggest examples of how Francis Chan twists Scripture is seen in his handling of Matthew 25 and the Great White Throne Judgment. Both in chapter 7 of his book and in the article “Failure To Help The Poor Could Send You To Hell”, the twisting of this passage seems to be central to the problem behind his theology.

“Christ condemns people to eternal punishment because they did not care for him during their lives on this earth. “I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” (pgs 117-118)

“Put simply, failing to help the poor could damn you to hell.” 1

These are very bold, clear statements on how Francis Chan views how one goes to Hell and how one avoids it. I have to ask the question, if failing to help the poor sends you to hell, could you prevent that from happening by helping the poor? Can you get Christ to send you to heaven by feeding, clothing and looking after the poor? Here is more of what Chan said in his article…

“Let’s keep the teeth of both truths. There’s a literal hell, and helping the poor is essential. Not only did Jesus teach both of these truths, He saw them as necessary and interrelated.” 2

It is pretty clear from Chan’s writing that he sees helping the poor as an essential element and that it is connected directly to the issue of Hell. He mentions in his article about how people try to qualify this and to “fix Jesus’ shaky theology” but his push is to take Jesus at His word.

This simply is a twisting and a misunderstanding of what Jesus is talking about in the parable in Matthew 25. Because I am trying to keep this review as short as possible, I won’t take the time to walk through the entire passage but will limit myself to making two points from the text.

1) The first question is, on what basis do some go to eternal life and others go to eternal punishment? If we were to simply read Francis Chan’s treatment of this text, we would have to assume that it is on the basis of works. Clearly the ones who go to heaven have done those things that are worthy of commendation while those going to hell are those who have done those things which are worth of condemnation. If the goats on the left had simply done the things that the sheep on Jesus’ right had done, then perhaps they too could have escaped eternal punishment.

What many people miss is a little verse right at the beginning of the parable where the judgment actually takes place. “Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Mat 25:32) The basis for separation here in the beginning is not on the basis of what each of these have done but what they are. If you follow the progression of the story, those who are ontologically sheep do good works, are commended and go to eternal life. Those who are ontologically goats do not do good works, are condemned and go to eternal punishment. Since we know that only those of faith can please God, we can easily see that this judgment is an issue of faith and not of works. This of course is consistent with how Jesus uses the term “sheep”. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)
People don’t become sheep because they follow Christ; rather they follow because they are sheep. What they are proceeds what they do and in the same way, the sheep in Matthew 25 do not become sheep by helping the poor; rather they help the poor because they are Christ’s sheep. Dogs bark, ducks quack, and sheep do good works.

If you need more proof that these action by the sheep flow out of their nature then I would ask you to consider the fact that the sheep are surprised when Christ commends them of doing good works. Sheep don’t keep track of how many good works they do because it flows from them naturally.

2) The other important thing we need to consider in this passage is, who are the poor that Jesus refers to?

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:40). So we see here that Jesus isn’t talking about the poor in general. Instead He makes it clear that He is speaking about a very specific group of individuals and we must ask, who does Jesus consider to be His brothers?

And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:49-50) It is very clear that Jesus is speaking of how sheep have natural love, affection and care for their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who are poor. The goats on the other hand, have no love for the followers and disciples of Christ.

The reason I think that it is important to mention this last fact is because Francis Chan makes no mention of this in his book or in the body of his article. I do need to mention that there is a note at the bottom of the article in fine print that makes mention of the fact that Jesus is “talking about impoverished Christians, not any poor person”. The question is, why doesn’t he make mention of this in his article and why does his article imply the opposite of what he admits in the “fine print”? In fact, in his book on page 118, the application he makes is that our lives would look very different if we took these words seriously and we thought of “each person I came into contact with as Christ.” It is seems that he understands what the passage says and yet contradicts that understanding because it doesn’t help the point that he is trying to make.

“If we believe that, as Jesus said, the two greatest commands are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind” and to “love your neighbor as yourself,” then this passage has a lot to teach us. Basically, Christ is connecting the command to “love God” with the command to “love your neighbor.” By loving the “least of these”, we are loving God Himself.” (pg 118)

This is in the same context of Chan’s discussion of Matthew 25, where Chan brings in the two greatest commandments. What is clear is that Chan is connecting the “helping the poor” in Matthew 25 to “loving God” in Matthew 22:37. What he seems to be missing is that loving God is the fulfillment of the Law. Chan suggests that if we love “the least of these” (with no discussion about who these actually are) than we will be Loving God and fulfilling the greatest commandment. If this is the case, how can he not be telling us that salvation comes through obedience to the Law and not by Grace?

This seems to be Chan’s consistent argument inside and outside of his book. If you help the poor, you are loving God, therefore you have eternal life. You refuse to help the poor, you do not truly love God, and therefore you get eternal punishment.

Now, I don’t think that Chan believes he is teaching works righteousness. He realizes the radical nature of what he is saying and clarifies what he believes by saying…

“Perhaps it sounds as though I believe you have to work your way to Jesus. I don’t. I fully believe that we are saved by grace, through faith, by the gift of God, and that faith manifests itself through our actions.” (pg 95)

and

“The fact is that I need God to help me love God.” (pg 104)

Every once in a while, Chan comes back in a tries to make it clear that his goal is not to teach works righteousness. The problem with this is that many of his comments and major points in his book are centered around what you must do in order to gain God’s favor or to keep from falling on His bad side. While I am glad he says that he believes it is all by grace and that he needs God’s help, these statements only act to confuse the reader. In both of these places, these wonderful, biblical statements directly contradict everything else that he teaches in those chapters.

 “God wants our best, deserves our best, and demands our best. From the beginning of time, He has been clear that some offerings are acceptable and others are not. Just ask Cain, upon whose offering God “did not look with favor.” (Genesis 4:5) (pgs 90-91)

This particular quote is from Chapter 5 where Chan argues that Jesus wants “all or nothing” from his followers. (pg 85) You really have to wonder at this point if Chan understands the concept of the imputed righteousness of Christ. Paul talks in Philippians 3 about having being righteous through faith and not anything that he has done. Chan, however, seems to think that the only way we can offer something to God is if it is our absolute best. The example that he uses is that of Cain and Abel. We all know the story right? Abel brought the very best, therefore God accepted him but Cain didn’t bring the best, therefore God rejected him; right?

One of the nice things about the New Testament is that it helps us to interpret events that happened in the Old Testament. Take Hebrews 11:4 for example. “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.” According to the clear testimony of Scripture, Abel offering was more acceptable than Cain’s for only one reason, Faith. Faith is the determining factor between our offerings (of service) being acceptable to God or not.

Sure, we give effort and seek to do our best for God but it isn’t our effort that God approves of; it’s our faith that God looks to.

Other passages that are mishandled are Ephesians 2 and Jeremiah 1 (page 59) and Ephesians 1 (page 61) as well as others but in the spirit of brevity, I will move on.

A Religion of Works?

“If life is a river, then pursuing Christ requires swimming upstream. When we stop swimming, or actively following Him, we automatically begin to be swept downstream.” (pg 95)

In light of some of the others stuff that I have been talking about, I thought that it might be good for me to quickly point out one more thing before moving on. This isn’t in the same category of twisting Scripture and yet I think that it explains why Chan looks at Scripture the way that he does. Clearly Chan sees the Christian life as one of working hard to swim against the current. Doesn’t just reading the quote not only make you tired, but also bring about a little bit of despair? If that is the Christian life, then who will have the willpower to survive until the end? And will not the person who makes it, whoever he might be, be able to boast that he was strong enough and willful enough to push on when everyone else around him was giving up?

Now, it is absolutely true that we are moving upstream and that when we stop moving toward God, we begin to move away. The problem with Chan’s analogy is that we don’t move upstream under our own power. First we have to have our hearts changed so that we even want to go upstream, then we are given the power of the Holy Spirit to do so. Maybe a better analogy would be that of a motorized boat. When we try paddling against the stream (under our own power) we fail but when we let the power of the Holy Spirit help direct our lives, the motor, we are freed up to move towards God and we don’t have to fall into despair because of our own inability.

Strange Love

One of the things that struck me the most as I read through this book was the discussion (or lack thereof) of the topic of Love. Now, when I read the title “Crazy Love” with the understanding that it was a Christian who wrote this book, what I assume to have presented to me in a large portion of the book is the doctrine of the atonement. I expect to hear about the incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection of God on the behalf of sinful man. The kind of Love that would drive the Creator of the universe to humble himself by becoming a man is a Crazy kind of Love. But this was the one thing not talked about in this book.

Now you can find mention of the Gospel but that is not the same as the proclamation of the Gospel. You can find “Gospel nuggets” in this book but not Gospel chapters. In fact, many of the mentions of the Gospel are absolutely lost in Chan’s conversation about how we need to totally surrendered to God or helping the poor.

But what about the times that he does talk about Love? What is he trying to convey to his readers about the topic of Love?

In his chapter titled “when you’re in love”, Chan spends some time talking about how his wife’s mother, Clara, loved God. Based on how he saw Clara loved God, Francis Chan suggests that we act “toward God the way we act toward people we’re madly in love with.” (pg 100)

Now the first problem that I have with this is that when we discuss love, what we need to have discussed is God’s love for His people and not our love for Him. Our love is shallow, finite, and flawed and can be at best a response to God’s love. God’s love, on the other hand, is rich, infinite, perfect, and full of Grace. The only thing truly worth spending our time on is God’s love and yet Francis Chan focuses on our love for God.

The second problem that I have is that Jesus is not my girlfriend. If my love ever degrades to the kind of love that I have for a loved one, then I would do well to have my mind once more transformed by the Word of God. The love that we have for God should always contain within it the element of a finite, created being returning love to an Eternal, Almighty Creator. We show our love by devotion and worship, not by holding hands and chatting while gazing into each other’s eyes.

The type of love that Chan puts forth in this book is that of two giddy teenagers. He ignores the categories of the Creator and the creature, which are categories that must enter into any discussion of theology.

Abusing Love

Because the book promotes itself as a book on love simply by the title that it was given, I think that it would be good to continue to look at the way that the topic was treated throughout the rest of the book.

“Would you describe yourself as totally in Love with Jesus Christ?” (pg 68)

This again is an example of how the topic of love is continually introduced throughout this book. Not only does this fail to get to the real heart of love in Christianity, but it continues to portray the girlfriend/boyfriend type love that we saw just a little bit ago.

The point that I need to make, and have made before, is that Love is the sum of the Law. We are not called to be “totally in Love with Jesus”; we are called to have faith in Jesus. The result of faith is then the Fruit of the Spirit, which would include love for God and man. Even then, our love is imperfect and we will only have total and complete love for Christ when he returns in glory or He calls us home.

 “Lukewarm people love God, but they do not love Him with all the heart, soul, and strength. They would be quick to assure you that they try to love God that much, but that sort of total devotion isn’t really possible for the average person; it’s only for pastors and missionaries and radicals.” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38) (pg 73)

Chan spent an entire chapter in his book where he discusses what would be a “Lukewarm” Christian. This fit with the general call of the book, namely to evaluate yourself to see if you are living in the way that God has called His people to live. While it is good to seek some self-reflection, quotes like the one above demonstrate once again that Chan is somewhat confused about how the bible speaks of a believer.

According to Chan, if you do not love God with all your heart, soul, and strength, then you are lukewarm. What he doesn’t seem to understand is that this command from Matthew 22:37-38 is the summary of the entire Law. In order for someone to be able to claim that they love God in this way, they would have to equally be able to claim that they have perfectly obeyed every single aspect of the Law of God, which no man can do. What Chan is really saying is that unless you can claim to be utterly sinless, you are lukewarm. The problem is only compounded a few pages later.

To put it plainly, churchgoers who are “lukewarm” are not Christians. We will not see them in heaven.” (pg 84)

Chan is making it absolutely clear to his readers that for someone to be lukewarm is a serious matter; indeed it is even a matter of salvation. Now I do not disagree with his statement that lukewarm people are not actually Christians; I think that Revelation 3 is pretty clear on that point. What I do disagree with is Chan’s definition of what makes someone lukewarm. The lukewarm person in Scripture is someone who is self-sufficient and they “need nothing” from God or anyone else. (Revelation 3:15-18) Chan’s definition, on the other hand, is that a lukewarm Christian is one who doesn’t perfectly obey the Law. There is no discussion in this chapter about the idea that it is a matter of Faith in Christ that distinguishes the true believer from the lukewarm.

Chan spends a great deal of time calling his readers to self-reflection on the Law but he never offers them the Gospel as the solution for our shortcomings. What is “Crazy Love” all about? How we need to simply obey God by loving our neighbor, because if we don’t, not only will we fail to reach the world around us, but we won’t be saved.

“Jesus’ call to commitment is clear: He wants all or nothing.” (pg 85)

Proceeding this quote, Chan spends a great deal of time in discussing the “lukewarm” and after this statement, he moves into a discussion about the parable of the soils.

The question you must ask yourself is, have you given everything? Do you sin? Do you love God perfectly? No fallen son or daughter of Adam has ever given all they are to God. While we live on this earth and no matter how hard we try, we will never be able to obtain to the level of commitment that Chan seems to be calling us to. Where is the discussion about how God loved the ungodly and sent them a Savior? This book seems to settle on commanding Christians to do what the bible says no one can do and avoiding the Gospel and any real discussion of the topic of Love.

“Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). And our question quickly becomes even more unthinkable: “Can I go to heaven without truly and faithfully loving Jesus?”” (pg 86)

This again is how Francis Chan discusses love and again I ask you, have you obeyed the commands that Jesus gave? “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:10) None of us has perfectly obeyed Jesus’ commands so none of us can say that we have been true and faithful in our love for Jesus. Chan seems to be demanding some sense of moral perfection from us without recognizing that the bible clearly teaches that we can do no such thing. We do not go to heaven based on the faithfulness of our love for Christ, but rather based on Christ’s love for us. We go to heaven because “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

 “God’s definition of what matters is pretty straightforward. He measures our lives by how we love.” (pg 93)

“… God assesses our lives based on how we love.” (pg 94)

This again misses the fact that time and again, the thing that is set forth as most important in the New Testament is FAITH in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and flows from faith. He doesn’t measure our lives based on how well we are able to fulfill the Law through love of God and neighbor. This is a common problem that runs throughout this book; namely, that Francis Chan continually confuses the Gospel with the implications of the Gospel and faith with the fruit of faith.

Radical Faith

Another major problem in this book is the way that Francis Chan speaks about faith. Throughout this book, he promotes the idea of “radical faith” or “radical Christian living” that speaks of giving extravagantly and living dangerously.

“God put me in Simi Valley, California, to lead a church of comfortable people into lives of risk and adventure.” (pg 21)

Francis Chan opens his book by mentioning how God called him to lead his church to extremes in helping others through time, money and our abilities. It is extremely unfortunate that none if this is actually connected to the proclamation of the Gospel. We should be willing to go to extremes to proclaim the truth to a dying world and yet it seems as though Chan’s church is focused on humanitarian efforts that while good, are missing the main point of Jesus’ teachings.

Secondly, it should be noted that nowhere does Jesus call us to live lives full of risk and adventure. While we are warned that we might face persecution and that our belief in Christ might cause separation from our loved ones, nowhere does the bible talk about risk and adventure.

“But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.(1 Thessalonians 4:10-12)

Paul very clearly is leading the Church to live in a way that totally contradicts how Chan talks about the Christian life in this book.

“If life were stable, I’d never need God’s help.” (pg 45)

This is in the context of willing to step out and take risks rather than being ruled by the fear of not have everything under control. According to Francis Chan, the only times that we really can say that we are relying God and His power in our lives in when we are trying to do something that is impossible for us to accomplish.

I would readily admit that there are many things that are impossible for us to do and we are utterly dependent upon God for those things. Salvation, regeneration, and even faith are impossible for us to accomplish and we need God’s help. However, there are many things that we do in our daily lives that are ‘humanly’ possible and yet we should be willing to realize that we need God to help us do those things. One of the best examples I heard was from a preacher named Paul Washer. He was talking to a young man once and reminded him that unless God granted him the strength, he would be utterly incapable of doing something as simple as tying his own shoes; or taking his next breath for that matter.

Francis Chan is an open advocate of this new type of “radical Christianity” that seems to think that unless you are selling everything you own, moving to a foreign nation, or doing something ‘radical’ then we aren’t really living the Christian life. There is no room in this theology for the father who goes to the same job every day and works a simple job in order to provide for his family. What about Paul’s exhortation to work quietly with your hands?

“Luke warm people are continually concerned with playing it safe; they are slaves to the god of control. This focus on safe living keeps them from sacrificing and risking for God.” (pg 77)

I would again point out the fact that the type of life that Francis Chan condemns, Paul says is the type of life we should strive for. The type of life of risk, adventure, and ‘not playing it safe’ is nowhere commended or commanded in scripture.

Conclusion

While I am extremely glad that Francis Chan affirms that we are “saved by grace, through faith, by the gift of God, and that faith manifests itself through our actions”, my concern is that this view isn’t carried across to everything else that he discusses. The majority of his conclusions do nothing more than display a fundamental confusion of Law and Gospel and the implications of the Gospel. While his desire for helping the poor is commendable, his exhortation is based off of a misreading of Matthew 25 and not from a heart changed by the Gospel.

One of the most disappointing things about this book is its lack of a true discussion of Love. The Love of God revealed in the incarnation is one of the greatest displays of God’s Love and yet it is the one topic that Chan avoids. Instead, Chan spends his time in exhorting people to obey the Law of God. All you need to do is Love, which is the fulfillment of the Law. God wants your best, deserves your best, and demands your best; so get busy. Do these things or God will consider you to be lukewarm and you will not enter heaven.

Interspersed between all of these harsh commands, Chan gives us sappy stories and shallow theology which tends to attract the youthful side of American Evangelicalism. The talk of ‘radical’ living captures the hearts and imaginations of young people but unfortunately has no basis in Scripture.

While this last quote borders on being harsh, I think that it is in general, a fair overview of this book, and indeed much of Francis Chan’s theology. I also think that I have provided enough evidence in this review to support some of the claims made in this quote.

Crazy Love lacks balance, solid arguments and careful exegesis, draws bad conclusions, is poorly written and redundant, skips from topic to topic with little explanation, is inconsistent and contradictory, comes across arrogantly, motivates by fear and guilt, and offers outlandish and in some cases clearly unbelievable stories.  Chan apparently ministers among people who do not or cannot challenge his pronouncements (see his response to criticism on p. 136).  Too bad, for I sense that Chan truly loves Christ and wants others to have the same enthusiasm.  But his approach lacks grace, is too close to legalism and is frequently unbiblical. 3

I am afraid that I cannot recommend this book as either an accurate discussion of Love or as being beneficial to Christian life. The best that could come out of this book is some honest self-reflection but even in this, the convoluted, contradictory statements that Chan makes causes more confusion then it does clarity.

Notes

  1. Francis Chan “Failure to help the poor could send you to Hell” http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/156101-francis-chan-on-hell-hatred-tongues-of-fire-and-racism.html
  2. Ibid, (The emphasis here is mine) This is from the same argument as the first quote where he points out that some try to reject a literal hell while the other side ignores what sends people there.
  3. http://www.svchapel.org/resources/book-reviews/4-christian-living/663-crazy-love-by-francis-chan

Jeremiah 29:11 and Good Hermeneutics

One of my posts that has received the most views is the one about Jeremiah 29:11. Due to the fact that there were so many people interested in this and the fact that many people have concerns and questions about my post, I thought it would be good to make another argument for my position as well as answering some of the objections people had. If you haven’t already, it will probably help if you read the first post here.

My argument is simply this; good hermeneutics demand that we read the bible (or any literature for that matter) in a very particular way. Simply put, we must have rules (and obey them) in order to be able to communicate to others through the use of language. If everyone who reads this blog has a different set of rules that they use to understand what I am saying, then this was just one gigantic waste of my time; and you wouldn’t even be able to understand that I feel that way…

Let me give you an example. Let us suppose that you have children at home and you are planning on being gone all day long. In order to insure that they complete their chores and homework prior to sitting down and watching a movie, you write them a note in which you leave explicit instructions about what their day should look like. In this note you make very sure that they know what you expect out of them but you come home to find out that they didn’t follow any of your instructions.

Of course you then ask them why they didn’t listen to what you had told them. They in turn tell you that when they read your note that they saw that you told them that they could watch a movie. While it is technically true, what you had tried to communicate was lost simply because your kids refused to follow simple grammatical rules.

So we must ask ourselves, what was the Holy Spirit trying to communicate to us when He had Jeremiah write chapter 29 and verse 11? The passage can’t mean what it never meant so it is important to understand what it meant when he wrote it (pretty simple concept I think). In order to understand what is being said, we need to use basic rules of language and ask some basic questions about the text.

What do I see?  The first thing that you must do is simple observation. This is where a lot of people go wrong because they read a text and immediately try to figure out how it applies to them. What we need to do before anything else is to simply gather the “data” together and see how a passage fits into its immediate context.

What does it mean? This is simple Interpretation. In this step, we seek to understand what the author was trying to say. In other words, what did the author intend his hearers to understand in light of what he wrote.

How does it relate? In this step, we seek to understand the implications and principles in the text. This cannot be done apart from a correct understanding (or interpretation) of the text and the purpose of this step is to see how it relates to us since we are not the original audience.

What do I do? This is the step that people often jump to first rather than waiting until last. You cannot know how the text applies to you until you have an understanding of what the text actually says.

So how does this relate to Jeremiah 29:11 and what I said in my first post? Simply put, if you read this passage from a standpoint that the author was trying to convey a particular message and that we can understand what that message is, you will not come to the conclusion that this promise is about you.

“For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Jeremiah 29:10-11

What was God trying to communicate? He was trying to tell His people that after a period of seventy years in exile that He will come for them. He claims that He can make this promise because He knows what plans He has for them. God planned to give the Israelites a future by bringing them back to Jerusalem and establishing them as a nation.

So how does this relate to us? First you must understand the nature of what is being said. This is a promise made to a certain people for a very specific time and from history we see that God has perfectly fulfilled this promise to His people.

So if this promise was fulfilled then it would be logical to say that it could not be a promise made to us… that is assuming that we can read the bible with the presupposition that it actually has the ability to convey meaning…

Because we can see that the promise itself doesn’t directly apply to us, we must dig a little deeper in order to see how it applies to us. We must look for the “Timeless Truth” that this passage conveys to us. Here are five that I used before but that people seemed to ignore….

  1. God is Just. We see in Jeremiah 29 that the Israelites were sent into exile because they committed idolatry. God said of Himself, “I am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:5) and the judgment seen in Jeremiah 29 is the display of God’s Just judgment. We can learn from Jeremiah 29 that God Does not take sin lightly and He will punish sinners.

    Jeremiah 22:8-9 “And many nations will pass by this city, and every man will say to his neighbor, “Why has the LORD dealt thus with this great city?” And they will answer, “Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD their God and worshiped other gods and served them.”

  2. God is merciful and full of grace. In spite of the fact that the Israelites sinned grievously against God, He still gave them hope by promising to bring them back to Jerusalem. He promised that in spite of their rebellion, He would still prosper them in Babylon.
  3. God is Sovereign over Kings, and Nations. We see that God used the King and the army of Babylon as a means of punishing His people for their sin. Proverbs 16:9 The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.
  4. God is Sovereign over History. The fact that God did not simply wipe out the Jews for their idolatry is a gracious in and of itself but we also see an ulterior motive. God, throughout history, is preserving the line that leads to Christ. He promised Adam and Eve that a seed would come who would crush the head of the serpent and he chose to bring the seed through the Israelites.
  5. God keeps His promises. We see from history that God fulfilled His promise to the Israelites by bringing them out of Babylon. We can trust that God will keep the promises that he makes to us. What promise has he made to us? That we can receive the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of eternal life through the work of Christ on the cross.

Common Objections

Here are some common objections that people have given that I just don’t think hold any water and I will try to explain why…

“This is the purpose of Scripture, to reveal the heart of God to his children and to the world. Are we not God’s children? Are we not in his care? Are we not to declare to the world by way of the Gospel that God will keep his promises?”

All I would ask is that if people are going to use this hermeneutic that they be consistent with it. So many people who use this argument are quick to create a double standard with other passages that exist even in the same book.

“For thus says the Lord concerning the sons and daughters who are born in this place, and concerning the mothers who bore them and the fathers who fathered them in this land: They shall die of deadly diseases. They shall not be lamented, nor shall they be buried. They shall be as dung on the surface of the ground. They shall perish by the sword and by famine, and their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth.”
Jeremiah 16:3-4

So here we read a promise that God made to His children, the Israelites. Are we not God’s children? Will God not keep the promises that He made to His children? If we are consistent with that hermeneutic, shouldn’t we expect that God will cause us to perish by the sword and famine?

This type of hermeneutic sounds good and pious as long as it isn’t applied consistently to the bible. This simply doesn’t hold up under scrutiny…

The Ten Commandments were given to the Israelites and therefore (using your hermeneutic) those commands only apply to the Jews who were given the Law.

Again, this is a misunderstanding of the argument that I am trying to make. This is a category error because we are talking about the difference between a promise that God has already fulfilled and the moral Law that applies to all of humanity because of God’s very nature. To say that one is like the other is simply a straw man argument that really doesn’t address the argument that I was making.

“If the bible is not applicable to us today then you can as well tear off all its pages.”

This is a common argument that I get all the time but really doesn’t make any sense because I have never made the argument that the bible isn’t applicable to us today. Just because I have said that Jeremiah 29:11 isn’t about us and isn’t for us doesn’t mean that we can’t draw application from it. In fact, if you carefully read what I have written, you will see that I in fact did make application.

Our Christian walk isn’t helped when we misuse scripture. We grow and are changed by the Truth when the Word of God is rightly divided. We do not have the freedom to make the bible say whatever we would wish but rather we are to submit ourselves to the scripture and seek to rightly understand what God would reveal to us.

The Law and Its Uses

Sorry about the long delay between posts; life happens… Hopefully this is the beginning of regularly posting articles as well as answering some of your questions in greater length. Thanks for checking my blog out and feel free to leave your opinions/thought behind.

How do you view the Law?

All throughout scripture, we see The Law being presented in many different ways and I want to spend a little time discussing how the Law is supposed to be used and viewed.

So what do I mean by The Law? When we see references to “The Law” in scripture, we understand that it can be referring to several things; it can refer to the 600 or so laws given to Moses (the Pentateuch) or the whole of the Old Testament. I am going to be talking about a very broad view of the Law, in other words, any command given by Scripture that tells you what you must do.

There are certain questions that we must ask and answer in order to achieve a balanced view of the Law; like “how are we to view the Law” and “what is its relation to mankind”.

We also need to keep in mind that the central theme of Christianity is Salvation by Grace through Faith Alone (Romans 3:27-31) and the scriptures clearly tell us that “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight” (Romans 3:20, Galatians 3:11).

There have been many who have seen this central doctrine of Christianity as a logical gateway to Antinomianism. Antinomianism assumes that since salvation is by grace and the Law cannot justify, therefore, the moral Law is no longer of use to the Christian. This is why we must have a balanced view of the Law because both Antinomianism and Licentiousness spring out of an unbalanced view of the Law.

The 3 uses of the Law were first articulated as such during the Reformation; beginning with the reformer Martin Luther. These 3 uses of the Law give use a good foundation on which to think about the relationship between Salvation by Grace and the Holy, Good Law of God.

1st Use of the Law: Curb

According to the Formula of Concord, the Law was given to men so that “thereby outward discipline might be maintained against wild, disobedient men [and that wild and intractable men might be restrained, as though by certain bars]”

This is the use of the Law that you experience daily but don’t give much thought about it. It is the use of the Law you experience if you are speeding when you pass a fancy car with those little blue lights. This is the use that has been given to the government in order to restrain the evil hearts, minds, and desires of mankind. You can imagine why this use of the Law is called “The Curb”. It provides incentive to stay “on the road” and consequences for those who run foul of this first use of the Law.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.
Romans 13:1-5

We already see in this first use of the Law that the Law still has some implications for the Christian. We see that the authorities provide even for us, a curb to restrain our sinful flesh. When we trust in the Gospel of Grace and display the fruits of the Spirit, we are free from the Law but if we exercise our fleshly desires we bump up against that curb.

2nd Use of the Law: Mirror

According to the Formula of Concord, the Law was given to men so that “men thereby may be led to the knowledge of their sins”

This 2nd use is generally considered the primary use of the Law because of Paul’s letters to the Romans and the Galatians. This use acts as a Mirror that shows humanity where they stand in relation to the righteousness and holiness of God. The Law stops the mouths of men, holds the whole world accountable to Christ, and brings the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19-20). It is considered primary because it “brings the knowledge of sin” and therefore shows all mankind their need for forgiveness and their need for a righteousness not their own (Romans 3:21-22, Philippians 3:8-10).

This use acts in very similar ways with all people but there are some nuanced differences between the Christian and the unbeliever. Whenever we read a command in scripture, the first thing that should come to mind is not “how can I obey this law” but rather “I haven’t obeyed and therefore deserve God’s wrath”. The nuance is that an unbeliever is condemned by the Law and will either accept the Gospel by the Grace of God or will harden their heart and remain in their sin. Christians, when confronted with the Mirror of the Law, are reminded that they are “in Christ Jesus” and are no longer under condemnation (Romans 8:1).

The Mirror of the Law can’t help but point all people back to the Gospel and call all men to repent and receive the forgiveness found in Christ (Luke 24:46-47). The primary point of the Law is not for you to have 5 points to a better marriage or a better life; rather it is to point people to their need for Christ and their hopeless condition if left to themselves.

3rd Use of the Law: Rule

According to the Formula of Concord, the Law was given to men so that “after they are regenerate. . .they might. . .have a fixed rule according to which they are to regulate and direct their whole life”

So what is this 3rd use? This use acts as a rule or a measuring stick by which we know what a good work is and how God expects us to direct our lives.

It is also important to note that this use of the Law is only for Christians. Why? Because the bible clearly teaches us that only those with faith can do good works. You could have two people doing the exact same act and one is doing a good work and the other is not. The difference is Faith.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Hebrews 11:6 

Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Romans 8:8 

A good example of this is the book of Proverbs. In the beginning of this book, it is clear that there are only two types of people; foolish and wise. The wise are the ones who fear God (or have faith) and the foolish are those who do not (Romans 1:18-22; Proverbs 1:7). While many nonbelievers can appreciate the wisdom of the Proverbs and can seek to apply it to their lives, all they are doing is seeking to accomplish the demands of the Law apart from the Grace of God given to us in Christ Jesus. Christians, on the other hand, approach the Proverbs from the point of desiring to know what good work God would have them do so that they may honor and glorify God with their lives.

This use of the Law is important to keep in mind because it keeps us from falling into the error of Antinomianism (lawlessness). The bible tells us that we have died to the Law and are now free from the Law

Free from the Law

I do want to quickly explain “freedom from the Law”. I have heard people say that Christian freedom is found when we place ourselves under guidelines; i.e. the Law. Scripture, however, tells us a different story. Galatians 3:23-26, Romans 7:1-6, and Romans 8:1-4 speak about being set free from the Law and not having the Law “rule” over us. This talk about being “free from the Law” scares many people because they assume that “freedom from the Law” means licentiousness. However, this couldn’t be further from the description given by scripture.

We see that disobedience to the Law (licentiousness) is slavery and not freedom. We also see that obedience to the Law is freedom from the Law.

But if freedom requires obedience, aren’t we still bound by the Law and therefore not truly free from it? That is a very good, logical question. The bible teaches that the only way to truly obey the Law and to please God is through faith (John 6:29, Hebrews 11:6). We find that through the new birth, the old man is put to death and the new man is resurrected. The heart of stone is replaced with a heart of flesh and the man dead in sin is made alive in Christ. The reason why we are free from the Law is because we have been regenerated by Grace through the powerful working of the Holy Spirit and we have the fruits of the Holy Spirit. We obey the law (imperfectly while still on this earth) because it is in our nature to do it. Dogs bark, ducks quack, and Christ’s sheep seek to obey the Law; not because they are bound to do it but because they are free to work out of their new natures.

When we take this view of the Law, we can say along with David, “the law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.” (Psalms 119:72). We see that the Law is something that is good, despite the fact that it shows us all of our shortcomings.

So how do you view the Law? Do you see it as only belonging to the Old Testament and not really important for Christians today? Do you simply see it as the taskmaster that brought you to Christ but now you must move on to other things? Or do you see it as the mirror by which your sin is made clear and the standard by which to live your life out by faith in Christ Jesus?

“At an earlier time there was no pleasure in the law for me. But now I find that the law is good and tasty, that it has been given to me so that I might live, and now I find my pleasure in it. Earlier, it told me what I ought to do. Now I begin to adapt myself to it. And for this I worship, praise, and serve God”
― Martin Luther

Encouragement For The ‘Pew’ed

There are many articles that have been written in the attempt to provide encouragement to pastors. And, of course, pastors need to be encouraged due to the amount of things they have to face in any given week in counseling, studying, and praying for their flock. However it doesn’t seem that much encouragement is given to the people that sit in the pews every Sunday.

Now, I am not talking about being encouraged to look to Christ and to desire a more holy life; that should be happening as a part of the sermon. I am talking about being encouraged about the difficult job of sitting in a pew for 1 or 2 hours (depending on the length of your service).

And no, I am not being sarcastic about the fact that it is a hard job. First you have a tail bone that doesn’t wait too long before it begins protesting its uncomfortable position. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:26 “If one member suffers, all suffer together” and while that is a spiritual truth about the body of Christ, the “Pewed” know the physical truth very well.

Besides the physical strain, there is a mental strain. Within the first 5 minutes of a sermon, we find that our minds begin to drift to other things and we have to exert our will in order to think through what is being preached. And besides this, it is our duty to take what the pastor says and to compare it to the Word of God in order to discern if the saying is true (Acts 17:11).

The church that I attend begins its worship service at 10:30. We have some singing, praying, and then the sermon. Overall, a fairly normal American church service. The one thing that is kind of up in the air is that there is no set time at which we end. Sometimes the sermon only lasts 30 min and the service is over by 11:30 but sometimes a long sermon and a long worship service keeps us until noon or later. To the “Pewed” this can sometimes be a distressing thing. A long sermon can give us the feeling of mental exhaustion and our stomachs begin to growl and we just aren’t sure how much longer this thing is going to last.

I want to encourage you…. with a true story 🙂

Last Sunday, we began at our normal time but it ended up being one of those long services and we didn’t get out until noon. That was what most of the congregation experienced. I assume that the majority of people left, went home, had a nice dinner, and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing. What most people don’t know is that this wasn’t the case with everyone. There were at least dozen young people (and a few slightly older than young) who meet together by 1:30. They then spent the next 5 hours in an intense study of hermeneutics and biblical doctrine (with the help of lots of coffee). After this was over, many of these same people went to the Sunday evening service where they sat through various lectures for the next hour.

So, there were several people who gave seven hours of their time while many of us find ourselves complaining if the sermon lasts more than a half an hour. It makes us seem rather petty and weak doesn’t it? But I want to encourage you. I want to provide you with reasons that might lead you to desire the service to last longer and maybe even be disappointed at its shortness.

The Privilege Pew(ed)

I think that one reason we are so quickly inclined to get impatient about the length of the service is that we fail to realize our privileged position. In some churches, people think themselves “privileged” because they sit under a “celebrity” pastor; I am not referring to that. I am referring to the privilege of sitting under the proclamation of God’s Holy, inspired Word. We should consider it a great honor to be in our position and to be able to hear the Word; The Life-Giving, Perfect, Empowering, Encouraging, Up-lifting, Healing, Ever-Living Word of God. This indeed is a grand privilege and one that we should not take lightly. Hearing the Word “exposed” to us by the preacher in such a way that we are hearing and seeing the mind and thoughts of God is something that is so exciting that it should keep us on the edge of our seats, whether the sermon lasts 30 or 90 minutes…

That Same Sweet Story

Have you ever read a kid his favorite story? The kid has heard the story hundreds of times and could probably recite the thing to you, and yet he wants you to read it again. He could read it for himself; instead he asks you to read it to him. So you do it. You open the book and begin reading. The kid knows what is coming and yet he is there, in the present, hanging on to every word, evaluating every precious detail, and getting lost in the story as you tell it to him. You can see the thrill in his face as you tell him a story that he already knows by heart, as if he is hearing it for the very first time. And then you finish. “Again, again! Tell me the story again!”

It’s Sunday morning. The preacher gets up in the pulpit and tells you a story that you already know; one that you could read for yourself. A preacher, if he is truly engaging in exposition, will show you not only the meaning of the text, but how it points you to Christ and the story of Redemption. He will show you that Same Sweet Story again.

How will you respond to it when you hear it? Are you trusting in it? Do you believe it? Do you see it as Sweet?

Allow your heart to well up with joy at its first sounds and follow the line of God’s Grace as if it were taking place in the present; because it is. Hang on to Every Word, and Every Detail. Get lost in the beauty of the story and allow it to wash over you as if it were the first time. Feel the thrill of a God who has given His own Son out of His Love for you. And when the preacher is done, let your response be “Again, again! Tell me that same sweet story again!”

Why do you come to church on Sunday morning anyways? Is it to gain more “principles” to apply to your life? I don’t need more principles because I (and you) have yet to keep the most simple of commands perfectly. We still struggle with our inability to obey 10 little commands, why would you come to hear more?

We come to “hear what our great God and Savior has done on behalf of sinful man”. We come to receive the promise of the forgiveness of a past week full of sin and to receive strength to face another. We come to hear that story that restores our souls and renews our minds. We come to praise and worship God with brothers and sisters and together receive the proclamation of God’s Word.

This isn’t an activity that we should be looking to get through as fast as we can. It is humanly possible to endure a service that lasts longer than an hour.

And be encouraged. Find joy in God, in His Word and in the Gospel and you will find yourself desiring to hear more, not less…

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.
Jeremiah 15:16

The 10 Plagues of THE BIBLE Mini-Series

the-bible-history-channel

From time to time, I want to feature other writers who I have enjoyed and this is one of them. This is an blog post that I ran across that it Genius when it come to rightly understanding the issues in the mini-series “THE BIBLE”. I would like to emphasis his point that this series misses the central point of all scripture; i.e. Christ, the Gospel, the grievous nature of sin, the need for repentance, and the promise of salvation. If you want the original post, you can find it here.

Call me a skeptic, but when The History Channel started it’s advertising campaign weeks ago for their latest debut mini-series THE BIBLE (which premiered on 3.3.13 – ooh spooky!), I knew right away what was going to happen. Either they would hire some two-bit historians, the usual parade of higher-critical, liberal scholar hall-of-famers, or they would fill their theological glass full of the best and brightest in American pop-Christianity. In the end the result is really the same however. The former destroys any objective claim Christians can (and should) make for the historicity of the events in the Bible by writing them off as myths, fairy tales or legends. The latter destroys any hope for an objective preaching of the Gospel by gutting the very essence of the Biblical salvation story (a true one we must add) from every key person event in the Old and New Testament. Now of course, many who support this mini-series project will say, “How could you be such a nay-sayer? It gets the Bible out in the public eye. Isn’t it good that people hear the story of the Bible, even if it is on TV?” That would all be well and good if in fact the Biblical teachings were the primary focus of the mini-series and if the central message of the Bible actually was the central message of THE BIBLE, namely repentance and forgiveness of sins in the Name of Jesus. So far, I’ve heard nothing of sin or forgiveness in any of the pre-broadcast media. The same is true for the actual debut itself.

To be fair, I’ll hold out judgment for the New Testament segments of THE BIBLE until they are released. But for now, there is plenty to discuss even in the mini-series premier this last Sunday evening, including the previews of the New Testament episodes, which hold little hope. As one of my good friends observed yesterday, it would be easier (and shorter by far) to list the things THE BIBLE got right. The question is, how much will survive Mark Burnett’s History Channel island?  In any regard, after watching Sunday’s episode I’ve come up with a list of top ten plagues found in this first installment:

10. Follow the Source:

If you haven’t seen THE BIBLE TV show yet, you don’t even need to in order to discern what theological direction it will be headed in. A brief glance at the board of advisors and theologians reveals where the prevailing theological winds will take this ship. Of note are three names in particular, Joel Osteen (the smooth talking voice of Christless Christianity), T.D. Jakes (the well-known anti-trinitarian), and Rick Warren (everyone’s favorite player at the Bible context game of Twister).  As Chris Rosebrough said on Pirate Christian Radio yesterday, “It’s all about the theology.” And the theology of this thing stinks from the start. A bad tree produces bad apples. If the water you’re drinking is poisoned, all you have to do is look up stream to find out who or what plopped into the water.

9. The “Spirit” of the Book:

In the opening credits, the producers acknowledge the fact that they will take creative license with this series followed by a not-so-reassuring statement that says “We’ve attempted to stay true to the spirit of the book.” What exactly is the “spirit” of this book? For that we have clear words, Jesus’ words: “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24). The “everything” that Jesus refers to there is his life, death and resurrection in order to save the world from sin, death and the devil. Test the spirit of this show to see if it’s declaring the same message and the same Jesus.

8. The Devil is in the Details:

As I watched the program Sunday night, and again last night on DVR, I was struck by the sheer quantity of missing historical and narrative details in the story telling (from the seemingly small and unimportant to the rather large and glaring ones). We’re first introduced to Abraham not as Abram. We’re never told about his name change or why YHWH made such a big deal about that. His call and the first promise are smashed into an answer blowing in the wind making Abraham look more like a side-walk freak on Hollywood Blvd. than a trustworthy prophet.  No mention was made of the covenant YHWH made with Abraham, which by the way, happened when he was sleeping and was entirely the Lord’s work. Pharaoh didn’t die in the Red Sea as Exodus records and Moses must have been a better character single and lonely. Where was YHWH’s pillar of cloud and fire at the Red Sea? Not to mention YHWH’s presence with in the Tabernacle. One simply doesn’t walk into the Holy of holies – such as Joshua was depicted doing – without some heads rolling. And what’s with those ninja-Jason-Bourne-like angels in Sodom?

I know there’s such a thing as creative and artistic license, that’s fine. But the entire reason a theological advisory board was brought on was to ensure that Biblical details were accurate. And they’re not. I’m not saying I’m surprised. I’m saying this reveals that the theologians involved either knew the details and did not tell them (or production changed them, in which case why bother with advisors) or they didn’t think them important enough to include in the stories. Either way – ignorance or seclusion – reflects poorly on the Christian faith.  Historic Christianity is founded upon these kinds of seemingly small details; they matter, each and every one of them. We expect Hollywood to get it wrong. We should demand that Christians working in Hollywood get it right. It makes Christians look historically foolish.

7. Theism:

I heard lots of “God-talk” in the opening segment but nothing whatsoever of Christ. Nothing was even so much as hinted at about a Messiah or a Savior or a future hope such as YHWH delivered to his people starting already with Adam and Eve.  Theism is popular these days. But it’s not Christianity. There will be plenty of good theists in hell. Thankfully the only way we know God is because of Jesus: “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” And it is Christ who makes him known to us in his death and resurrection.

6. Passing over the Passover:

Given the amount of time and detail the historical accounts of the Exodus (not to mention the attention the Psalms and prophets give to it), you would expect the Passover sacrifice to be well-narrated and given a bit of exposure. This, however, was not the case. They showed the lamb, the blood and the doorposts. But there was no meal. No explanation why Israel had to eat the bitter herbs and the lamb and the unleavened bread. No atonement mentioned. No forgiveness of sins even hinted at. “The blood of on the doorposts marked them as God’s people,” the narrator said. Yes, but what does this mean?

5. Promises, Promises:

As I mentioned already, THE BIBLE severely botched the Abraham covenant account. In fact it skipped over it all together. Kind of shocking, really, considering how important this covenant was for YHWH’s people. Again, it was a unilateral, one-sided covenant between YHWH and Abraham and his descendants. Instead it was described as God’s covenant that Abraham and his descendants had to keep, as if it were entirely up to them to do the 40 years of purpose-driven, every-day-a-Friday kind of living in the wilderness before they could get to their best promised land ever and be the better “yous” God had planned for them to be. There’s just one problem, “purpose driven” anything isn’t a promise; it’s simply more commands and duties disguised as promises; it’s simply the Law presented as Gospel. No wonder Moses says to Aaron, “Now we get to fulfill Abraham’s covenant with God.”  Wow.

And then there was that little statement at the end of the flood chapter where the narrator calmly and quickly said, “Noah and his family could now begin restoring the relationship between God and man.”  Noah’s name may have meant rest, but neither he nor his children were capable of restoring the broken relationship of the Fall.  That only comes in the New Testament with the true Man of Sabbath Rest, Jesus. And that rest is won by his death and rest in the tomb and his resurrection from the dead to give us an eternal Sabbath.

4. The Long Arm of the Law Cut Short:

Mark Burnett was successful in one thing: he made me appreciate Cecil B. DeMille’s version of the 10 Commandments. I had heretofore not enjoyed that movie. But that movie at least listed the 10 commandments and why they were given. The Law was dulled and its teeth yanked out in THE BIBLE. And if the long arm of the law is cut short, we’re reduced to people having made “bad choices and bad decisions” and behavioral problems instead of an outright rebellion against YHWH almighty that leads to death at every turn.

3. A Famine of the Gospel:

When the Law is dulled, so is the Gospel. When a sinless Bible is presented it’s no wonder that it is also a Christ-less story in the end.  If sin is merely a behavioral problem, a bad habit in need of improvement, then there’s really no need for a Savior from sin, death and hell. The Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions repeatedly remind us that it is only the sick who need a physician and that we cannot come to know the cross without knowing how great an evil sin truly is. THE BIBLE mini-series has presented little to no Gospel so far. And what is there has been lost in a computer graphic theology of glory.

2. Computer Graphics are Cool, but They’re Not the Gospel:

If the producers and advisors would have put as much into the presentation of the substance of this movie as they did the style (cinematography, etc.) this would have been a far more accurate presentation of the real Bible they are trying so hard to portray. The Church – as the Scriptures – stands or falls on the article of justification, that God was reconciling the world unto himself in Christ, not counting their sins against them. So far this central message has been noticeably absent. Perhaps it is assumed, but the Gospel assumed is the Gospel denied. Pretty pictures don’t get us one step closer to Jesus, and in this case, they appear to be leading us in the opposite direction.

1. THE BIBLE is not The Bible:

Let the reader understand. Of course THE BIBLE is claiming to tell the Biblical story from Genesis to Revelation.  Christians who know and read their Bible and who attend Bible study and Divine Service regularly will see the movie for what it is: another attempt by Christians (even if well motivated, although motives are hard to guess) to present the Bible in a way that is friendly to the outsider and popular to the insider that falls far short of the mark of Biblical accuracy and fidelity.  I worry far more about the people who will take their theology and Biblical knowledge from this movie. That would be entirely dangerous. The theology in this mini-series is anything but faithful to the historic Christian faith. And the Bible presented by THE BIBLE is anything but a good story, even if it’s visually stimulating. In this case, the book – as is always the case – is better than the movie. One good thing that could come of this whole event is that people might actually ask their pastors about the bible and its teaching, or, Lord willing, pick it up and read it themselves from the source instead of the knock-off brand. Instead of drawing from the sinking sands of THE BIBLE as our source of doctrine and comfort, let’s return to the bedrock of the Scriptures, to Christ’s sure and certain Word in all of it’s life-giving, effective, faith-producing, sin-forgiving, faithful-confession-working power. This is the sure foundation for Lutheran Confessions and for all who are called by Christ.

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