Friday, January 30, 2009

As If You Needed Another Reason To Love Etsy

By: Jenny Bruce

I love Etsy. Not only does it contain the coolest handmade goods (check out a winning collection of John Golden's prints, some beautiful art-deco bookplates, and nifty Two Trick Pony notecards), but it's also home to sparkling political wit.

Ok, this Etsy member actually just reposted an old Dave Barry column about last year's attempts at reviving our economy, but I thought it was appropriate in light of the House passing the $819 billion stimulus package.

If you're in the mood for more serious fare about the aforementioned package, check out the following links:

Big government champion Ron Paul LOVES the economic stimulus package!

Do you know what's even more exciting than listening to the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer? Reading a transcript of the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer! Seriously, this interview with economists James Galbraith and Martin Feldstein is worth a read.

Would you believe that economists hold a variety of opinions on the stimulus package? Read a smattering of them here.

The Good and the Bad from Ted Haggard on Oprah

By Andrew Faris

Click here for the link to the first video. It is broken down into four videos total and I didn't feel like posting them all here. Follow the links on the right on YouTube.

I really don't have a lot to say about this series of videos because most of the good and the bad of it is obvious. But to recap:

The Good:
  • Haggard is honest about his struggles (not that he has a choice anymore).
  • He admits that fasting and praying and reading your Bible aren't enough to win battles against such deep sin issues. We need the community for that, and apparently his community rejected him or just didn't know how to handle it when he needed the help.
  • Gayle Haggard shines, as she has through the whole process. She is an amazingly strong, supportive wife while being honest about the difficulties. When Oprah keeps insisting that Haggard just embrace his homosexuality because it is his inclination, Gayle retorts that of course we shouldn't just follow all of our inclinations. Oprah, of course, isn't convinced, but she never actually addresses Gayle's counter-argument.
  • Ted Haggard appears to have experienced some legitimate healing. I'm glad to see that, as he is, after all, my brother (he's yours too, of course).
The Bad:
  • Most obviously, Haggard obviously thinks his homosexual behavior was sinful, but he just won't come out and say it. He needed to combine his honesty with a clear, "I was sinning because homosexual behavior is sinful." Here is the transcript from two particularly troubling exchanges:
Oprah: "Do you believe that Christ accepts homosexuals?"
Ted: "I believe that Christ accepts everybody."
and later...
Oprah: "Are you cured?"
Ted: "I don't think I'm cured because I don't think I was ever sick. I think those things are a part of life."
  • Obviously the first of those questions is difficult on t.v.: the correct answer is, "No, but then he doesn't accept anybody else who is a sinner, accept on the basis of Christ's righteousness. So yes, he accepts homosexuals, but only repentant homosexuals, and homosexuality is a sin." There is more explanation there than Oprah would likely give him time for. The second time is even worse. Of course he was sick! Ted Haggard he was blatantly living a double-life, and Jesus has done healing work in his life, no matter the means. He isn't totally healed, because that won't happen for anyone until the Kingdom is consummated. But he is more healed than he was, and he was sicker now than he is.
  • Haggard gets up and high fives Oprah because she "gets it" (her words). But she doesn't get it at all from a biblical perspective! Haggard affirms her comments when they are blatantly unbiblical too many times.
  • I wish one of them would have pushed Oprah to actually respond to Gayle's objection to the ridiculous "follow your sexual inclinations" slippery (and STD-inducing) slope.
There is probably more to say about all of this, but those are some initial responses. The interview is frustrating, but probably worth a look.

Also, I haven't seen Alexandra Pelosi's HBO documentary yet, but this write-up on it makes it sound impressively fair. Check out this comment:
By the way, it's not just the church who Pelosi views as being unnecessarily harsh towards her unlikely friend. "I hate how the gays want Ted to say, 'I'm gay and I'm out and I'm proud,'" [Pelosi] says. "He's not. He's conflicted. I think there’s more than 'I'm gay,' 'I'm straight.' I'm satisfied with him saying, 'I'm confused, I have a wife and five kids but I struggle with my sexuality, I have these attractions, these urges.' I feel like that's sort of honest. And his wife and his kids are the only things he has left."
Surprisingly good listening from the daughter of, yes, that Pelosi!

(HT: Teresa Angier)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fred Sanders Hears the Echoes

By Andrew Faris

Once again, great stuff from Fred Sanders on the use of the work of dead Christians in his church's Sunday service.

Here's the intro:
This week in church we prayed Psalm 130 together: “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sin, O Lord, who would stand?” Well, actually, we prayed together through an extended paraphrase of it written by John Owen, the 17th-century Puritan theologian who wrote a great big book on that one little psalm that was important in his conversion.

And in between passages of the Owen-paraphrased Psalm 130, we heard words from Martin Luther (16th century), sang hymns by Isaac Watts (18th century), Reginald Heber (19th century), and heard a quotation from Martin Lloyd-Jones (20th century). Furthermore, we read together a confession of sin from the Book of Common Prayer (16th century), which is itself a tour-de-force of Cranmerian biblical allusion.

You really should read the whole thing.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

An Exhortation for the Casual Continuationist/Practical Cessationist

By Andrew Faris

While we're on the subject...

My Dad is and has been a Vineyard pastor for the 24 years I've been his son. Until college, I was a charismatic by default- I hardly knew non-charismatics existed (let alone cessationists).

Right around my sophomore year at Biola, as a Biblical Studies major I began to reconsider the charismatic church emphasis on the gifts. I never was a cessationist, but I started to think, "You know, even though the Spirit still gives words of wisdom, prophecy, and tongues today, perhaps we should just give them less prominence in our Sunday services."

That didn't last long. If charismaticism was an assumption before college, it became a conviction by the end of it. After spending some time thinking through the issue seriously, I came to the following quasi-syllogistic conclusions:

1. Cessationism is dead wrong, and it's obvious.
2. If cessationism is dead wrong, the only Biblical option is full-fledged but non-Pentecostal charismaticism.

Yet it appears to me that many evangelicals affirm step 1 but don't bother with step 2, and it is not because they are all reading Robert Saucy's "Open But Cautious" essay in the counterpoints book (as an aside, what am I not "open but cautious" about in evangelical theology...other than cessationism anyway?). A small fraction might have thought through the issue and arrived with Saucy. But most, I am convinced, simply don't address it. "Sure," they think, "the Spirit still works in the 1 Cor. 12-14 ways today." But after that mental affirmation, nothing.

This troubles me, for at least the following reasons:

1. If the Holy Spirit (i.e. God Himself dwelling among His people for the sake of their sanctification and perseverance, in case you forgot) really does give us gifts, why would we not unwrap them, so to speak? Affirming the continuation of the so-called "miraculous" gifts but not pursuing them is about as logical as affirming that I will die if I don't eat but refusing to eat the food that is right in front of me. I need what the Holy Spirit has to offer. The Church needs what the Holy Spirit has to offer. Why not pursue it?

2. If spiritual gifts (no matter how we conceive of them, but think "ministries"), are given to the church for the sake of its edification, why would we not pursue them? This is the same as saying that we do not think we need to be edified the way that the Holy Spirit thinks that we need to be edified.

3. 1 Cor. 14:1 explicitly says that we should earnestly seek to prophesy. Simple enough.

4. Every Christian, not just the leadership, is supposed to serve the body of Christ. Few if any ministries that believers experience together actually expect every believer to actively participate like spending time seeking the miraculous gifts. Seriously, when has your church ever had the problem that too many people are speaking at the same time and thus making your service disorderly (you know, because they all have edifying hymns, prophecies, and words from Scripture to share; cf. 1 Cor. 14:26ff)?

And yet Christians don't pursue these gifts, and I'm just not sure why. Wait, actually, scratch that; I know of a few reasons why we do not do this:

1. We haven't been trained how to seek spiritual gifts. Like anything with following Christ, someone godly, mature, and experienced needs to help us along with the things in which we are not experienced. Folks like my Dad come into play here.

2. We don't think that we have the gift of prophecy, tongues, or whatever other miraculous spiritual gift we shrug off. But then, if we conceive of these as ministries that God gives us (not the ability to do them), then this problem is gone. We all seek to edify the church however God leads, according to the Scriptures, according to wisdom, and according to the Spirit's subjective guidance.

3. We don't make space in our services for the Spirit to work extemporaneously. In the name of tightly run, nicely packaged services (or in the name of a million other excuses), we simply do not give space when we meet together for people to seek prophecy to edify the church with. Seriously- if I was sitting in your church and suddenly received a prophecy to share with the congregation, when would I be able to do it? For most churches, it would be nearly impossible.

4. Our churches are too big. This sort of thing would pretty easy in a house church and in my experiences has flourished in the small Vineyard churches I have been in. But when 2,000 people are sitting in the same room, it is difficult to manage any orderliness while participating in these spiritual ministries.

5. We associate the "charismatic" gifts with truly unbiblical excesses. This is a big one, and it's a shame; but it's an understandable shame. So few charismatic churches do this well, and I just don't get it. 1 Cor. 12-14 is clear as day: tongues and prophecy are meant for the building up of the body. So if everyone is going crazy with tongues at the same time with no semblance of congregational edification, it all looks wacky, pointless, and unbiblical. That's because at that point, it is. But we can and should be biblical charismatics. At my Dad's Vineyard I only ever knew of two instances where someone spoke in a tongue publicly, and both times it was followed immediately by an interpretation. That is the biblical use of tongues in the congregation.

6. Most importantly, the "charismatic" gifts are weird and messy. I think this is the biggest one. Western evangelicals act like materialistic atheists. Sure, we pray, but we don't expect that God will do anything right away. But if we are going to pursue these gifts, then we have to start recognizing that God does things that to us seem strange. Yes, it is weird when people speak in what sounds like jibber-jabber. Yes, it is weird that people sometimes are shaking and crying on the ground. But as my Dad always said, if it really is the Holy Spirit working, then the real wonder isn't that there is a physical response, but that the frail little human receiving the ministry and presence of the Almighty God doesn't explode on the spot.

Thing is, Christianity is weird through and through. We follow a Lord who we claim died for all of our sins, then rose from the dead three days later, and we celebrate that by symbolically eating his flesh and blood. That's weird, but we're used to it.

It's time we puruse the gifts that the Bible says God wants to give us for our good. Get over the strangeness and listen to the Bible. It tells us to do it, and it tells us how and how not to do it. It's simply an issue of taking God's Word seriously.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How Shall We Then Live (Given a Redefined Understanding of the Spiritual Gifts)?

By Jeff Bruce

N.B. you might want to read this, this and this before reading this post (if you haven't already).

Assuming Andrew's take on the spiritual gifts is correct (and I think it is), what are we to do? How does a redefined view of the gifts work its way into the nooks and crannies of church praxis? Some implications/applications stemming from said view are readily apparent. E.g., this understanding of the gifts reveals that the use inventories/tests/quizzes/boardgames/et al. to discern one's latent spiritual powers is at best unhelpful, and potentially misleading. However, there's a tad more to glean from this new perspective. Here are three applications I think to be significant.

(1) Focus on Getting People to Serve; Don't Focus on Getting People to Discover What They're Good at.
Pastors have a monumental task. God calls them to equip the saints so that each and every last member of the church ministers. This is how the body of Christ grows to maturity (Eph 4:11-16). Further, since the church is a living organism, each member is either contributing to the life or death of the entire body. I remember sitting in a class on ecclesiology with the sagacious Dr. Saucy. He asked us, "how would your body be affected if, say, %20 of it failed to function properly? Now, how many churches out there are functioning at a far lower level?" That's a sobering thought. The body dies when people aren't ministering, and a redefined understanding of the gifts helps us remember this. God has granted each and every person a function (Rom 12:4). The conventional view can erect barriers to ministry, since it fosters the need to find some elusive gift before ministry can begin. The New Testament imperative is not, "please perform a lengthy assessment of your abilities to determine which ones are/are not spiritual so that you can serve." Rather, the repeated injunction is, "serve!"

(2) Focus on Needs in the Church; Ministry is More than Doing What You Like.
I have ministered in a number of areas in which I did not feel particularly "gifted." For instance, I was a Junior High director for two years. I didn't feel uniquely gifted for youth ministry then, and I don't feel that way now. However, God did profound refining work in my life through the experience. I don't tell the story to toot my own horn. It took a rebuke from God (through some good mentors) for me to accept the position. My point is that a redefined view of the gifts instructs us to look outward; to look for opportunities to serve. The conventional view instructs us to look inward, and it can lead to endless contemplation of one's gift-mix. If needs in the church are to be met, members must do things they don't feel peculiarly inclined to do, which leads me to my third point...

(3) Focus on Serving in Weakness, Not Just Strength.
Serving in weakness is a rather conspicuous theme in the New Testament (cf. the book of 2 Corinthians). As Ken Berding points out in his book, this fact is difficult to account for under the conventional view of spiritual gifts. Conversely, if one adopts the redefined view, serving in weakness is eminently understandable. God calls us to do all sorts of things that we feel remarkably incapable of carrying out. Yet, we trust that if our Lord gives us a ministry, He will empower us by his Spirit to do it. If I consistently play to my strengths in ministry, I severely curtail what God wants to do through me. However, if I have a redefined view of the gifts, my chances of suffering from such ministry myopia diminish, and I am more useful to Jesus.

Monday, January 26, 2009

John Owen, a quote.

By Damian Romano

Nothing shall be lost that is done for God or in obedience to Him

This short yet power-packed quote from John Owen really enriched my soul this afternoon so I thought I would share. I have since printed it and placed it at my desk at work and plan to do the same at my home. I can't count the times in which I've reconsidered doing what is right simply for convenience sake.

Let this serve as a reminder of our eternal reward(s) in heaven.

Do You Believe? Then Clap Your Hands!

Somewhere along the way of attempting to teach preschoolers about praising God this past Sunday, I was sidetracked by 3 year old Veronica's sudden proclamation of her love for candy. And of course her comment then caused the entire class to erupt in praise of candy.

In a feeble attempt to bring us back to the point of our lesson, I said, "Yes, candy is sooo good! And do you know who gave us tongues so we can enjoy candy?"

Another little 3 year old confidently replied, "Fairies!"


Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Winter Of Our Discontent

By: Jenny Bruce

There are two things I've been pondering this week.

First: Discontentment. Because if there ever was a breeding ground for discontentment, winter would be it. The four hours of sunlight, the endless parade of lousy movies, soaked and muddy jeans, the complete lack of decently priced Granny Smith apples - I could go on for pages.

Second: The United Kingdom of Israel. Last Sunday I taught the elementary schoolers about the circumstances that drove the Israelites to demand a human king (we also played "Unite the Kingdom" - which was basically an attempt to turn "Blob" into a teachable moment.) The point of the lesson was that the Israelites' problems of oppression by other nations and turmoil between tribes could have been solved if they had simply chosen to obey God and submit to Him as Lord. Instead, they tried to solve these problems by adopting the practices of the surrounding nations and asking for a human king.

These two unrelated thoughts went about their lives until the day they met, went out on a few dates, fell in love, got married and had the baby that is this post.

Just like Israel's problems, the problem of discontentment can be solved by simply obeying God and submitting to Him as King. But just like Israel's demand for a human king, I use other means to attempt to fix this problem.

Over the next few Saturdays, I'm going to examine my own (unbiblical) solutions for the problem of discontentment with the hope that if I recognize what I'm doing, I'll see the futility of my actions and choose to trust God instead. Perhaps you'll relate to some of my solutions. Or perhaps you'll think, "Wow, Jenny's really messed up. I'm a better person than I thought I was." Either way, I hope it's helpful.

Jenny's Unbiblical Solution #1: I'll Be Content If I'm As Happy/Happier Than Everyone Else In The World

Sometimes I think that comparing myself with others will solve my discontentment problem. This solution shows up in two little games that I like to play.

The first game is called, "Well, At Least You're Married" and I often find myself playing it when married friends are sharing prayer requests. For instance, a friend might say, "I just lost my job and I'm worried about how we're going to make ends meet. Plus our roof is leaking, our water heater needs to be replaced, and our dog needs to be put down." While I genuinely feel bad for her and nod my head sympathetically, a snarky little voice in the back of my head says, "Well, at least you're married. Your life isn't as hard as mine." Because according to solution #1, I will not be content until I have everything that my friends have.

The second game is called, "Well, At Least I'm Funnier Than You" and I like to play it when I'm surrounded by people who have things that I want. For instance, I might meet a gorgeous 28 year old who runs every morning, enjoys eating 5-8 vegetables a day, is loving her successful career as a freelance writer/children's clothing designer, just finished a graduate degree in philosophy, got engaged last weekend, and volunteers with both her church's middle and high school groups. While I smile and make conversation, that snarky little voice in the back of my head says, "Well, at least I'm funnier than you. Which makes me better than you in at least one arena." Because according to solution #1, I will not be content unless I'm equally skilled/better at something than every person I meet.

Not surprisingly, solution #1 isn't very effective. First, it's utterly sinful, narcissistic, and covetous. Second, it ruins every party you attend. Third, it turns life into one big competition. Fourth, it's completely ineffective. I'll never be satisfied if I base my contentment on what others do/do not have because I will inevitably meet someone who has something I don't. No matter where I go, someone will always be funnier, smarter, prettier, richer, godlier, nicer, thinner, more insightful, more talented, wittier, more well read, or loved by children than me.

Now I know this all reads like a lesson from the Teen Girls' NIV Study Bible, but I'm still figuring it out in my late twenties.

Next Saturday I'll write about solution #2 and discuss why Dario Marianelli's score for "Pride and Prejudice" is a lie. Until then, does anyone know where you can find Granny Smith apples for under $2 a pound?

Friday, January 23, 2009

One More on Spiritual Gifts - Tying Up Some Loose Ends

By Andrew Faris

I have been really pleased with the interaction about spiritual gifts in the comments and over email from my posts last week on spiritual gifts (both the interview with Ken Berding regard What Are Spiritual Gifts? and my review of that book). A few related issues have come up in that time that I thought were worth discussing. If you have not read those posts (especially the interview), some of this will not make sense, so go read those first.

Isn't it unfair to separate the ability from the ministry at all?

No. The question at hand is this: according to the New Testament, what is a spiritual gift? The answer, I am convinced, is that what we call spiritual gifts are the actual ministries that God gives us to edify the body of Christ, not the abilities to do those ministries. So strictly speaking, if that is the issue at hand in the Pauline list passages (found in Eph. 4, Rom. 12, and two of them in 1 Cor. 12), then it is not unreasonable to separate them, because that is what Paul meant to talk about. I for one think it best to take him at his word as best as possible!

Further, while it is true that God sometimes must give us special abilities to carry out those ministries (esp. tongues, healing, and prophecy), it is not true that God always must give us a special ability (e.g. ministries of mercy, administration, or evangelism). On that note, one of the things that led me towards the spiritual ministries view is that it seems to me that most non-Christians could take a spiritual gifts inventory and discover their spiritual gifts. That's because some gifts don't require extra empowering, outside of the Holy Spirit being given us more generally.

Berding includes in his book the provocative charge that the conventional view of spiritual gifts leaves no room for Paul's theology of ministering out of our weaknesses as a way for God to show His strength. The conventional view is all about ministering out of strengths. This problem is eliminated when the gift is the ministry, and I do think it is a significant problem for the conventional view.

Does that mean that God never empowers our ministries?

No. Of course He does. Nothing in the spiritual ministries view suggests that this is a necessary corollary.

Can't we just eliminate the spiritual gifts tests but keep the conventional view?

I suppose you could, but I don't know why you would. Frankly, spiritual gifts tests make plenty of sense if spiritual gifts are conceived of as latent abilities. If I have special spiritual powers (and that is what the conventional view says they are), why would I not want to discover them? I certainly wouldn't want to find out that I don't have the gift of teaching by forcing congregations to sit through bad sermons, if that is indeed how the gifts work.

Thing is, it's easy to say, "Yeah, the gifts tests are dumb." But if you operate within the conventional view, why?

What about tongues and prophecy in particular?

Put simply, the actual prophesying (not the ability to prophesy) and the speaking in tongues and interpretation of those tongues (not the ability to speak in or interpret tongues) is the spiritual gift. God graciously gives His church messages for its edification.

The term "ministry" then does not have to denote something ongoing and long term. A ministry could be the 5 seconds it takes me to prophesy in the congregation.

What about the Greek words and their contribution?

Charisma is the Greek word that most associate with spiritual gifts. Thus the "charismatic" movement. Often we assume that charisma is Paul's technical term for what we call "spiritual gifts."

There a number of problems with that, both in terms of the semantic range of charisma in the NT generally and more direct contextual issues within the list passages. But what I really want to point out is the term's absence from Eph. 3-4.

The word translated "gift" in those two chapters is dorea. The important thing here is that most of the rest of the language in Eph. 3-4 is the same as the language in the other list passages, which raises a question: does the use of dorea instead of charisma mean that Paul is talking about something different?

Of course not. What it means is that we need to let the context decide the meaning of the words, not a supposed technical definition of one of them. If charisma alone means "spiritual gift as latent ability," then we would be hard-pressed to figure out how Eph. 3-4 could be talking about the same thing without using the term. Generally then, we are reminded to look at the context to define our words.

What about the fact that we seem to see people who have latent spiritual abilities?

Who's to say they aren't natural abilities? Or perhaps a special empowering that God has added to their ministry? Lee Strobel was apparently a great public speaker before he became a Christian. Does that mean he always had the spiritual gift of preaching? No. It means that he always was a good communicator.

Further, if a spiritual gift is an ability, you'd think some pastors (who apparently are supposed to be teaching weekly) would be better preachers, wouldn't you? The NT seems clear enough that elders (and I think this is the main biblical term for what we call pastors) are supposed to be teaching/preaching - check the qualifications list in 1 Timothy. Then does that mean that an elder has the spiritual gift of teaching? If so, apparently the Holy Spirit isn't that good of a preacher, because I've heard some good pastors preach some real bad sermons.

God works through natural abilities. But that does not make them spiritual abilities, per se.

What about church history? Haven't we always done it this way?

Nope. Berding noted in the interview that the conventional view appears to have arisen in the 70's, and that most older pastors he knows had never heard so much talk about spiritual gifts as abilities until then.

Check some older commentaries and systematic theologies: the abilities theology does not even appear to be in the authors' minds. Admittedly, some are vague on what a gift actually is, but they do not appear to assume an abilities theology.

Then how have we done it?

I'm not sure exactly, but I noticed something interesting in the Institutes recently. Calvin interprets the list passages as describes church offices (no reference to ability whatsoever). These passages that we so often correctly use to reinforce the priesthood of all believers, whether in official roles or not, he used to describe official roles.

Like I said, I think we're right and Calvin is wrong on this. But I bring it up because I got to thinking about Calvin's view, and figure that the only reason he did this, so far as I can tell, is because his ecclesiastical framework made it the obvious choice. Put another way, it looked that way on Sundays for him, and that's what he knew, so it was natural.

To those who question the ministries view on the basis of the exceptionally widespread abilities view I ask this: is it possible that we are committing the same fundamental error applied to a different aspect of spiritual gifts? We have gone to church and grown up with the preaching and teaching of the abilities view. It just seems so natural.

I suggest we take a fresh look at the passages.

One last thing...

I wrote a 30 page paper for my last class for my M. A. in the NT at Talbot and it was on this subject. If you'd like to read it, shoot me an email ( and I'll send it to you.

It relies heavily on Berding's book, but most certainly interacts with other sources as well. As Berding said in the interview, his work has been to synthesize the individual contributions on various passages of many scholars, and in that sense he certainly didn't come up with it all out of nowhere.

But what you really should do is read Berding's book. It's not a difficult read and it's a lot better than my paper.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Carl F. H. Henry on Inerrancy

By Andrew Faris

Another good post by Fred Sanders today at Scriptorium on anniversary days in church history. Today would be Carl Henry's birthday, and Sanders notes that Henry, an inerrantist who helped draft the Chicago Statement, warned about elevating the doctrine too much:
“The New Testament supplies no basis for elevating scriptural inerrancy to kerygmatic superprominence. The apostolic core-message does not inject inerrancy into every proclamation of Christ’s incarnation and resurrection, and into the Bible’s proffered alternatives of repentance or judgment. Still less reason exists to revise the Apostle’s Creed by inserting inerrancy as its first article.”
Read the whole thing, and subscribe to Scriptorium- Sanders' series in this vein really has been great.

Better Safe than Sorry

I suppose this was necessary.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Andrew Breitbart on the Hypocrisy of Hollywood's Obama-ism

By Andrew Faris

It's a rare triple post day at CiC, but only because we really think it's worth it.

Check out this truly excellent post by Andrew Breitbart of Big Hollywood on the ridiculous celebrity attitudes toward the Obama administration. In particular, Breitbart is (un)inspired by a video (embedded in his post) of celebrities pledging to do a bunch of good, pro-American stuff now that Obama is president, such as generally being a better person, ending 21st century slavery, and turning the lights off when you aren't in a room to conserve energy.

You know, stuff it was impossible to do when Bush was president. I for one got sick of W always showing up at my house and turning on the lights every time I'd leave. It's nice to have a president who won't do stuff like that anymore.

(HT: Mark Stump)

What if Starbucks Marketed Like a Church?

by Damian Romano

Norm forwarded this to me the other day and I simply could not resist posting. This little "parable" of how the modern church is marketing themselves I think reveals some of the most oblique tendencies typical amongst churches these days.

We've touched on this topic a couple of time on Christians in Context. I'll be interested to hear your thoughts on this video.

(HT: Norm Jeune)

What I'm Looking Forward to Most in the Obama Administration

By Andrew Faris
  • The return of financial stability in America.
  • Clean American politics.
  • Less abortion even without illegalizing it.
  • The end of worldwide violence, including the Iraq war and the threat of Iran, simply through diplomacy.
  • Easily accessible, quality health care for all in a cost-effective and efficient system.
  • The end of American poverty.
  • The discovery of the cure for cancer (surely among many other diseases).
  • The end of AIDS in Africa.
  • World peace.
  • The eschaton.
  • When folks finally readjust their expectations for President Obama's administration, so that they actually have some semblance of being realistic.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Finding the Holy Spirit on the Internet

By Andrew Faris

So a reader named Dom and I were having an email discussion about my spiritual gifts posts from last week, and he included this:
Side comment: When I was reading your email, I noticed that GMail had put the following ad next to it, and it made me laugh in light of what we've been discussing:
'Holy Spirit
Looking for Holy Spirit? Find exactly what you want today.'
Right there on Yahoo- who knew?

A Shameless Attempt to Network

By Jeff Bruce

My wife and I have been afforded the chance to attend Innovation3, a gynormous ministry conference put on by Leadership Network (currently, the bandwidth on the conference website has been exceeded...but perhaps you'll have better luck getting on). There are around a hundred speakers, and it's a two day conference; two facts that make it ostensibly impossible to ingest the amount of information which will be on offer. The conference has everyone from Keller to Driscoll to Neil Cole. I'll attempt to disseminate some of what I've learned next week here on CIC.

Since this conference is (in part) about networking, I figured I'd start early by seeing if any of our readers are going. So if you are, let me know!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Beating Around The Bush

By: Jenny Bruce

Is it just me, or has the media coverage of George W. Bush's final days in office been just a teensy bit on the negative side? Here are a few articles that offer a slightly different perspective. If you like Bush, hopefully they'll be encouraging. If you have mixed feelings about Bush, hopefully they'll be thought provoking. And if you hate Bush, you can take comfort in the fact that this is probably the last time I'll post about him.

David Frum points out three areas Where Bush Was Right.

Barack Obama: Bush revisionist? That's what Charles Krauthammer thinks in Exit Bush, Shoes Flying.

How will history judge George W. Bush? Debra Saunders shares her thoughts in Bush Showed U.S. Is No Paper Tiger.

Greg Sheridan writes, "In his first term, Bush tripled US aid to sub-Saharan Africa. That's right, the US under Bush was giving three times more to Africa than it was under Clinton. And the increases kept coming during Bush's second term, so that if Obama continues the rate of increase, US aid will again be doubled by 2010." He elaborates on this and much more in What Went Right For Bush.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

It's No Pharaoh, Pharaoh, But It's Still A Pretty Great Song

By: Jenny Bruce

I love Christian kids' music. I grew up listening to Psalty the Singing Songbook and the Kids' Praise tapes and most of the scripture I have memorized is a direct result of listening to Psalty. (I still get the songs stuck in my head when I read those passages of the Bible.) I remember wearing dress-up clothes and standing in front of the full length mirror in my room (probably not the best way to reflect on God's character) and belting out "Jesus Put The Song In My Heart," with Charity Churchmouse.

Now that I work with kids, I'm always trying to find fun songs with good scriptural content. So you can imagine how excited I was to discover "Young Men and Maidens Raise," a Charles Wesley hymn written especially for kids! Well, excited and humbled. While my kids sing one Bible verse followed by five minutes of "Na, na, na," the children of Wesley's day sang, "Him Three in One and One in Three, extol to all eternity." Sheesh.

You know, this song might be a little over the heads of the kids I work with, but if we changed the tune to something like, "Yellow Submarine" and added a couple choruses of na, na, na or maybe a dance break, this could be the hit of camp this summer. You never know.

Young men and maidens, raise
Your tuneful voices high;
Old men and children, praise
The Lord of earth and sky;
Him Three in One and One in Three,
Extol to all eternity.

The universal King
Let all the world proclaim;
Let every creature sing
His attributes and Name!
Him Three in One and One in Three,
Extol to all eternity.

In His great Name alone
All excellencies meet,
Who sits upon the throne,
And shall forever sit;
Him Three in One and One in Three,
Extol to all eternity.

Glory to God belongs;
Glory to God be given,
Above the noblest songs
Of all in earth or heaven!
Him Three in One and One in Three,
Extol to all eternity.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Review of What Are Spiritual Gifts? by Ken Berding

By Andrew Faris

On Wednesday I posted an interview that I conducted with Dr. Ken Berding about his 2006 book, What Are Spiritual Gifts? and I now turn to review that book. I will not bother re-summarizing his thesis here, as he has done that succinctly in the interview, and he is, after all, the book's author! Hopefully these two posts will get you on the subject matter and encourage you to get the book.

Which leads me to my first point: if you are in church leadership you should read this book. Especially if you are a pastor. Especially if you are a pastor who assumes or teaches what Berding calls the "conventional view" of spiritual gifts, i.e. that spiritual gifts are latent abilities that each believer should seek to discover as a basis for his ministry.

And I say that for this reason: Berding's thesis (i.e. that what we call "spiritual gifts" are actually the ministries that God gives us, not the ability to carry out those ministries) is near bulletproof. And please note that I use such strong language sparingly.

The book develops in three main stages. First, there is a fictional conference on spiritual gifts where the keynote speaker introduces the problems with the conventional view and begins to propose a solution (which of course is Berding's thesis). Second, the bulk of the book is the exegetical defense of the thesis, including discussions of Paul's use of lists generally, the Greek terms charisma and pneumatikon, and the major "spiritual gifts" passages in question (including 1 Cor. 12, Eph. 4, and Rom. 12). Berding concludes with other implications and applications, which is helpful considering how practical of an issue this is.

What becomes clear from the beginning is that the conventional view is almost always assumed and almost never defended. The anecdotal evidence alone is compelling: for as often as you have read the passages, taken the spiritual gifts tests, and heard the preaching and teaching on the subject, when have you ever heard anyone actually say, "This is why I think that a spiritual gift is an ability." I never have, and in my own reading on the subject outside of What Are Spiritual Gifts? (which is fairly considerable, if I may say so), the same is true.

And indeed it only takes a quick look at the texts to realize that there are problems. Aside from the fact that charisma alone simply cannot carry the weight of the "latent ability" theology (its occurences in Rom. 5:15-16; 11:29; and 2 Cor. 1:11 are proof positive), the term does not even occur in Eph. 4:11-12 (or anywhere in its context). Further, how can "the one who leads" (one of a number of easy examples) in Rom. 12:8 be a latent ability when it clearly describes a person in his function? For that matter, Eph. 4:11-12 lists people in roles, not abilities to do those roles. The only way that one comes to a different conclusion is if he imports an assumed abilities theology into the text- the text itself simply does not suggest it.

I will not argue the position any further here as this is already longer than I first expected, though I hope that you are beginning to see some of the issues. It is worth noting also that the book certainly does have faults. For one, the writing often feels clunky, probably owing to the difficulty of simplifying arguments for a broad audience. Adding to this clunkiness is its division into 22 chapters despite only being 205 pages (plus 3 appendices). Worst of all, it is formatted with Satan's greatest attack on theological writing: endnotes. For some writers this would not be so bad, but Berding often uses his endnotes for detailed discussion. The amount of page turning is painful.

Regarding the content more specifically, there is little to take issue with exegetically. The most difficult passage for Berding is 1 Tim. 4:14, where Paul says that the charisma is "in" (Gk. en) Timothy. That said, his solution is reasonable (he appeals to the "laying on of hands" which appears to be a ministry anointing and the incredibly broad range of the Greek preposition en) and there is no major problem.

Finally, a section on the historical development of the conventional view would have really helped: since the conventional view really is not argued, how in the heck did we get to such a confused modern state?

However we did, it is time we got away from it. God has graciously saved us into a body- a body that cannot function properly if its members aren't doing what they are supposed to. How do we serve that body? We learn how we can best serve the church wisely and biblically, then we serve it and trust that God's Holy Spirit will empower us as needed. Throw out your spiritual gifts tests and take on your role as a gift to the church for the sake of its edification. Berding has done a great service to the church with this excellent book.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Pastors: Take Private Time for the Good of your Soul (A Word from J. C. Ryle)

By Andrew Faris

From Expository Thoughts on Luke, Bishop Ryle reflects on Lk. 9:10 ("On their return the apostles told [Jesus] all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida."):
Let us mark, secondly, the importance to Christians of occasional privacy and retirement. We are told, that when the apostles returned from their first ministerial work, our Lord 'took them and went aside privately into a desert place.' We cannot doubt that this was done with a deep meaning. It was meant to teach the great lesson that those who do public work for the souls of others, must be careful to make time for being alone with God.

The lesson is one which many Christians would do well to remember. Occasional retirment, self-inquiry, meditation, and secret communion with God, are absolutely essential to spiritual health. The man who neglects them is in great danger of a fall. To be always preaching, teaching, speaking, writing, and working public works, is, unquestionably, a sign of zeal. But it is not always a sign of zeal according to knowledge. it often leads to untoward consequences. We must take time occasionally for sitting down and calmly looking within, and examining how matters stand between our own selves and Christ. The omission of the practice is the true account of many a backsliding which shocks the Church, and gives occasion in the world to blaspheme.
J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke, vol. 1 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1986) 297.

Midweek Perusings in the Blogosphere

Andy Naselli, Ben Peays, and Ryan James have compiled a ridiculous amount of D.A. Carson's teaching.

Some good stuff on art and culture by my good friend A.J. from awhile back.

Trevin Wax interviews N.T. Wright.

Paul Helm tries to correct some modern conceptions of the new creation and environmentalism.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

An Interview with Ken Berding about What Are Spiritual Gifts?

A few weeks ago I interviewed Dr. Ken Berding and Dr. Jon Lunde (both are associate NT profs at Biola University) on the book they co-edited, Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. I am pleased to share here another interview I have conducted with Dr. Berding, this time on his, What Are Spiritual Gifts?

I will also be following this interview with a review of the book on Friday. The book is a couple years old now (published by Kregel in Oct. 2006), but its contents are so relevant to church life as to be well worth serious consideration, especially if you are in ministry.

So without further delay...

Thanks for coming around for another interview on CiC Dr. Berding.

The title of your book is “What Are Spiritual Gifts?” To most of us who have been around evangelical churches, this seems like an easy question to answer. Maybe you could start then by introducing us to the issue and summarizing your major thesis.

Thanks for inviting me to CiC again. The subtitle of the book is “Rethinking the Conventional View.” Though many people think they know what spiritual gifts are, there are good biblical reasons to rethink their assumptions. The conventional view claims that the so called “spiritual gifts” (those items listed in Ephesians 4:11-12, Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 and 28-30) are special abilities (what one of my colleagues refers to tongue-in-cheek as “super-powers”) possessed by every Christian that have to be discovered and used in ministry. The book “What Are Spiritual Gifts” vigorously argues that both charismatics and non-charismatics have misunderstood Paul’s basic intention in the lists he drew up and the contexts that surround them. Paul’s lists are lists of ministry-assignments that are given by the Holy Spirit. The “spiritual gifts” should not be thought of as fundamentally the abilities to do ministry; they should be thought of as the ministries themselves.

One way to grasp what I’m trying to say is this: Suppose the Apostle Paul visited your church. While chatting with you after a church service he asks: “What ministries are you involved in at this church?” You reply, “Well, I teach a weekly youth Bible study, regularly deliver meals to our elderly shut-ins, and participate in the evangelism ministry in our church.” Paul then would probably respond, “That’s great! Those are the ministries God has given you to do at this point in your life. Those are the types of ministries I was listing in Ephesians 4, Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 12.”

It would come as a huge surprise to Paul if you came back with, “But, I thought those items you wrote about were special abilities that I had that I had to discover and use.” Paul, I’m convinced, would look at you quizzically and reply, “Whatever gave you that idea? Just read the passages. I was listing the ministry roles that build up the body of Christ.”

Could you summarize some of the reasons you think the spiritual ministries approach is correct—as opposed to the special abilities approach?

Yes, let me limit my response to ten reasons. If you want to see these explained more fully (along with other key arguments), you will need to take a look at the book. But these will get you started.

1. Many people assume that the Greek word charisma means special ability. This is a misunderstanding of how words work and confuses the discussion.

2. Paul’s central concern in Ephesians 4, Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 12-14—the “spiritual gifts passages”—is that every believer fulfills his or her role in building up the community of faith. That’s what he’s writing about; that’s what he cares about. The Corinthians, not Paul, were the ones who were interested in special abilities.

3. Paul doesn’t use any ability concepts in his extended metaphor of the body in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. His illustration is all about the roles—or the ministries—of the various members of the body.

4. The actual activities that Paul lists in Ephesians 4, Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 12 can all be described as ministries, but they cannot all be described as abilities.

5. The idea of ministry assignments is a common thread that weaves its way through Paul’s letters. The theme of special abilities is not an important theme in his writings.

6. In approximately 80 percent of Paul’s one hundred or so lists, he places a word or phrase that indicates the nature of the list in the immediate context. There are such indicators in all four of Paul’s lists. This is significant because indicators such as the words appointed, functions, and equipping instruct us that we must read these lists as ministries.

7. When Paul uses the words grace and given together, he’s discussing ministry assignments—either his own or those of others—in the immediate context. This combination appears in two of the three chapters that include ministry lists.

8. Paul talks in detail about his own ministry assignments and suggests that, just as he had received ministry, all believers have also received ministry assignments.

9. The spiritual-abilities view suggests that service should flow out of our strengths; Paul says that sometimes—though not always—we’re called to minister out of weakness. The weakness theme in Paul’s letters does not work with the idea of spiritual gifts as strengths.

10. Neither Paul nor any other New Testament author ever encourages people to try to discover their special abilities; nor is there any example of any New Testament character who embarked on such a quest.

You mentioned the notorious Greek word “charisma.” A lot of people seem to assume that the word charisma is pretty important in this discussion. How important is it?

Monolingual speakers of English often assume that individual words on their own—like the word charisma in Greek—are technical theological words that carry the entire weight of a theological idea. As any linguist will tell you, this is not the way words work. Meaning is communicated at the sentence and paragraph level. Sentences and paragraphs are set in broad literary contexts framed by particular literary genres. You can read Moises Silva’s Biblical Words and Their Meaning if you want to study this issue more. But anyone—even if he or she cannot read biblical Greek—can open up an exhaustive concordance or use Bible search software and search out the verses where the Greek word charisma appears in the New Testament. A person doing such a search will discover that 16 out of 17 uses of the word in the New Testament are by Paul, and that many of his uses of this word cannot possibly mean “special ability.” (Just look up 2 Cor 1:11, Rom 6:23, and Rom 11:29 if you doubt me here.) My point is that the words on their own (such as charisma) are not going to resolve the issue of what Paul is listing in his “list passages.” You will figure out what Paul is getting at in these passages by reading all the words together in the contexts in which they are found.

Your book mentions in a few places that English translations confuse this issue for us some. I know that you probably don’t have space for an especially detailed discussion here, but it’s an interesting point that I think begins to show us some of the problems. Any chance you could introduce our readers to that here?

Brian Asbill co-authored with me an appendix at the end of the book entitled: “How Bible Translations Influence Readers Toward the Conventional View.” In that chapter, we demonstrate in detail that modern translations (we evaluate twenty-two modern translations!) often translate passages ways that makes the special abilities view seem more plausible. Since many people don’t know the biblical languages and are dependent upon translations, they find themselves assuming that the special-abilities view is correct in a large part because the translations they are using nudge them in that direction. For example, many translators in an attempt to make things clear frequently add in the word “gift” when nothing corresponds to it in Greek. Or translators add in words such as “can,” “able,” “ability,” or “power” even when such words do not exist in Greek. They thereby subtly influence people to accept the conventional view. Now don’t misunderstand me…the way I just stated it sounds like they are intending to lead people astray(!); that is not the case. But translators themselves are sometimes under the influence of the paradigm I’ve called the “conventional view” and so can unconsciously read their assumptions into their translations even when the Greek doesn’t suggest such nuances.

How did you get started thinking about spiritual gifts and in particular your rejection of the “conventional view”?

This journey began during my sixth semester of Koine Greek at Multnomah Bible College (now Multnomah University) in Portland, Oregon. I was in class one day reading a verse in Greek that included the word charisma. I thought, “Wait a minute, I thought charisma meant ‘spiritual gift’ (which I at that time assumed to be a special Spirit-given ability). I continued my thought, “…but it cannot possibly mean that in this particular passage!” So, after class I looked up every use of charisma in the New Testament and studied it in context. Once I realized that charisma did not itself carry the theology of “spiritual gifts,” I was launched on a more than twenty year journey to understand Paul’s intended meaning in the passages he wrote. The result is that I came to understand that Paul’s central concern in these “list passages” was to write about the activities that build up the body of Christ, that is, the ministries given to each believer as an aspect of God’s grace. His central concern was not latent abilities that need to be discovered.

Who is this book written for?

This book is written for all thinking Christians. Though some of the topics involve the types of issues New Testament scholars wrestle with, I decided to write it at a level that anyone—not just NT scholars—could access. The issues discussed in the book influence everyone, not just NT scholars, so I decided to write the book for everyone.

Your book mentions only in passing something I’m quite curious about: historically speaking, how did we get started down the apparently wrong path of the conventional view of spiritual gifts?

This question is separate from what I was trying to do in the book, which was to get us back into the biblical text. Nor is historical theology my specialty. But as far as I can tell, the special-abilities view began to get traction with the flowering of Pentecostalism in the early 20th century. An emphasis on spiritual gifts as abilities that have to be discovered and used in ministry took deep root in non-Pentecostal churches in the 1970s, particularly with books like Body Life by pastor Ray Stedman. Since then the spiritual-gifts-as-abilities movement has been an unstoppable force in evangelical circles. But I have asked a number of people older than myself about when they started hearing preaching and teaching about spiritual gifts. Many of them do not remember ever hearing any teaching about this topic until the 1970s.

So why has the conventional view done so well?

There are doubtless a number of factors (sociological and otherwise), but here let me just focus on one issue concerning the English language. I think that one of the main reasons that the special-abilities view has done so well is that the English word “gift” is confusing. In English the word “gift” only means one of two things: either 1) something transferred from one person to another without cost (like a birthday gift), or 2) a special ability (like a “gift” for playing the piano). When translators use the word “gift” in our translations, they are intending the first, that is, something transferred to us by a gracious God. But it is difficult—well nigh to impossible—for English speakers to keep in mind that something is a gift from God (which could be anything that God gives—including the ministries he assigns) without their minds inadvertently gravitating toward the second meaning of special ability. In other words, the English language’s (and other related languages’) word “gift,” perhaps more than any other single influence, that makes the conventional view seem correct to people.

Does your approach to spiritual gifts have any bearing on the cessationism vs. continuationism debate? Or perhaps put another way, does it matter which of these positions I hold for my evaluation of your view?

Before I respond to this question, let me say that this isn’t really my view of spiritual gifts. Many—perhaps most—of the insights I draw upon have already been made by other biblical interpreters. Most of what I’ve done in the book is to pull them all together. In other words, if what biblical interpreters are saying is true here, and here, and here, then perhaps our overall understanding of spiritual gifts needs to be adjusted.

But in answer to your question, my understanding of this issue really does not have much bearing at all upon the cessationism vs. continuationism debate. Actually, the thesis I argue has been well received by many cessationist scholars (one of the positive reviews of the book was done by a professor at Moody Bible Institute) and by continuationist scholars (another positive assessment was given by a professor at Assembly of God Theological Seminary). Really, I am taking on the assumption of both charismatics and non-charismatics that the spiritual gifts are latent abilities that you have to discover so as to be able to do ministry. As a result, it can be adopted by charismatics or non-charismatics.

At this point the conventional view is so widespread that I’m curious how you think we should go about changing it if we agree with you. Any thoughts?

I think that we need to graciously express our disagreement with people who assume the conventional view by pointing them back to the Bible. In particular, we need to communicate that it is no longer acceptable for someone to assume that the conventional view is correct without producing positive biblical arguments for it. I have produced numerous, contextually-rooted arguments for the spiritual ministries position. If the conventional special-abilities view is going to continue to be used as a theological paradigm, someone out there is going to need to make a vigorous biblically-rooted case for it. But I have yet to see a sustained argument for the conventional view. It is rarely argued at all; in most cases it is merely assumed.

But whatever you do, approaching people with a contentious and quarrelsome attitude is not the right approach. You should gently but confidently point people back to the Bible, which is our source of authority. And those who are younger need to be careful how they relate to pastors and elders on this (and any other) subject. Pastors don’t always have enough time to read every new book that comes out as soon as it comes out! So, demonstrate that you are trying to be wise by discussing this issue in a gentle and humble manner. Still, interpreting the Bible correctly matters immensely, so it is not something that you can simply let fall by the wayside.

Anything else you’d like to add?

It is my hope that people who until now have been confused about spiritual gifts and will be helped by this study and find freedom to engage confidently the various ministries that God has assigned them as an aspect of his grace.

Many thanks again, Dr. Berding, for your time. I for one greatly appreciated this book.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Odds and Ends in the Blogosphere

By Andrew Faris

I'm hesitant to post on top of Jeff's excellent post today (this might sound like shameless back-patting between co-bloggers, but I for one think he's been on a roll recently), but I'm going to do it anyway.

A couple things I want to point out:

1. A number of bloggers have noted their being featured in the list of the top 100 theology blogs. Well, CiC got in there at #12, which we're excited about. Eat that Scot McKnight, Koinonia, Parchment in Pen and Ben Myers (who are all lower than us) and Tim Challies, Reformation21, Al Mohler, Pyromaniacs, and Scriptorium (who are all not mentioned).

Seriously- has anyone else questioned the validity of this list considering the ordering and omissions I just mentioned?

2. If you haven't seen the series that Fred Sanders has been writing commemorating various important theologians over the course of church history, you should go check it out. My favorite so far is today's post on Phillip Jakob Spener, the founder of pietism whose ideas on what the church needed in the late 17th century are still so remarkably relevant.

The series really is well worth reading. It is unique, readable, and all-around helpful for those like me whose knowledge of church history is so painfully poor.

3. I'm not kidding- Jeff's post from earlier today (the one right below this one) is awesome. Go read it thoroughly if you skimmed it.

Viewing the Present in Light of the Future

By Jeff Bruce

Indeed, the church is an eschatological community not only because it witnesses to God's future victory but because its mission is to display the life of the eschatological Kingdom in the present evil age. The very existence of the church is designed to be a witness to the world of the triumph of God's kingdom accomplished in Jesus.

- George E. Ladd, The Presence of the Future: The Eschatology of Biblical Realism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974); 337-338.

I am easily intimidated by the world. As I look around my city, I see bureaucratic corruption, rampant crime, and a host of other societal ills. I observe problems with the infrastructure. Receptivity to the gospel seems non-existent. All these problems stoke my emotions. If I ponder them too long, I can become despondent. It seems incredibly naive to think that people will confess Jesus as Lord, or that justice will prevail.


focusing on sin and evil is a dead-end street. Until Christ returns, the present evil age will always appear...well...present and evil. Which is precisely why a good dose of inaugurated eschatology is necessary to cure spiritual depression.

Optimism is not foolishness for the believer, because hope has invaded history. The future has apocalyptically erupted in the present in the death and resurrection of the Messiah. The new creation has been propelled forward, as a man has been raised from the dead. Furthermore, a community of people have been incorporated into this risen man, and share in his future-present life. The church is thus the signpost of new creation; the gathering of people whose existence points to the way things will be.

And this city, corrupt and broken, is not as it one day will be. God will make all things new, including the created order. Justice will prevail, Jesus will be king, and all will kneel to him as Lord. Reconciliation will be universal and eternal.

The future will not be an endless repetition of the present. The future has already arrived in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and in the constitution of his church. And these events remind us that all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.

I want to view the present through the grid of God's future. If I know that God's righteousness will ultimately and inevitably be demonstrated, then despair is needless and foolish.

And therefore... beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
(1 Cor 15:58)

Monday, January 12, 2009

If I Could Live My Life Over . . .

By: Jenny Bruce

. . . I'd take a graphic design class as a college student.

I'm my church's webmaster (or if you'd like, webservant) and am cursed with very strong opinions on how websites should look but very little skill in how they should be constructed (I'm starting to believe that all Bible major course curriculum should include several graphic design classes.) Every few years I begin to loathe our current site, wonder how in the world I could have designed something so ugly, turn my back on it, create something completely new, and feel peace about it. Then the cycle of trouble, repentance, salvation, and peace starts again. It's sort of like the book of Judges, minus the idol worship and concubine dismembering.

Anyways, I'm currently wading through the mire that is version 4.0 and have been pondering the whole concept of church marketing. I'm personally not a huge fan of logos, branding, and the like, so I very much enjoyed Tyler Wigg Stevenson's take on the subject in his article Jesus Is Not A Brand in the latest Christianity Today.

To be fair, wrote a thoughtful and fair response to the article.

Read them and let me know what you think. Oh and if you have any website navigation hover color preferences, let me know them as well.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Get With The Program

By: Jenny Bruce

You've probably noticed that this blog is full of avid readers. Take Jeff's deep devotion to the works of N.T. Wright. Or Norm's desire to read through Calvin's Institutes. Or my love of Lucky: The Magazine About Shopping.

I was reading said magazine the other day when I stumbled upon a shocking fact. According to the article "Major Looks, Minor Prices," people are apparently keeping close watch on how they spend their money. Intrigued, I did a little research and discovered that this country is currently in what economists call a recession. Who knew? And I guess these recessions can sometimes stick around for awhile, so people are becoming more frugal.

As it often does, reading Lucky got me thinking about the local church and I began to ponder how ministries can best spend their budgets in these financially trying times. It seems that in many cases (mine included), a percentage of a ministry budget is allotted for outreach events and programs (camps, concerts, after school clubs, etc.) I've got no guff with outreach programs generally, but I do think we need to be wise in what types of programs we schedule. Thus, in order to be a better steward of this year's childrens' ministry budget, I plan to follow this criteria:

1. All outreach programs will meet a practical need in the community.
I love my city. I want to see it thrive. And I want my neighbors to know that my church deeply cares about the welfare of the city. One way we can show our devotion is to invest in programs that help the city, like free arts education or theatre, free ESL classes, health clinics, etc. I believe we further God's kingdom and He is glorified when we show compassion to our neighbors.

2. The success of an outreach event will not be measured by church attendance.
We let our light shine before men so they will see our good works and glorify God. The goal of good works isn't increased church attendance. The goal is that God will be glorified. I want each event to practically demonstrate what God is like to the community and to be deemed successful even if no one ever shows up on Sunday. I don't want people to feel like we have ulterior motives in serving them and are primarily concerned with promoting our particular church.

3. We won't reinvent the wheel.
My city has an amazing swimming program. Almost every kid I know is on a summer team and they have an incredible experience. Our church does not need to provide another community swim program. The city already has a great one and our church kids should join and get to know their neighbors. However, our city doesn't have a free theatre program for elementary schoolers and our church has the resources to provide one. These are the types of programs in which I want to invest.

4. Programs should be accessible to everyone.
All programs will be free or as cheap as possible and offer scholarships for those who can't afford that price. We'll fund them by cutting costs in other areas or finding creative ways to raise money.

So that's my criteria. Hmm, I think it's time to curl up with a hot chocolate and a good book. Luckily, there's a copy of Martha Stewart Living nearby.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Principle vs. Pragmatism

By Damian Romano

I read this article this morning and found this particular quote (and article) intriguing.

...No nation (or Christian institution, for that matter) can survive when its leaders are driven by a spirit of pragmatism or make their decisions according to political expediency. Expediency is an obscene word. It is the word that is ever and always at war with principle. A person who is a Christian is called of God to live by biblical principles.
R. C. Sproul, TableTalk Magazine, January 2009 issue.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Pray for Oakland

By Jeff Bruce

Protests over BART shooting turn violent

A protest over the fatal shooting by a BART police officer of an unarmed man mushroomed into a violent confrontation tonight, as a faction of protesters smashed a police car and storefronts, set a car on fire and blocked streets in downtown Oakland.

The protest started peacefully shortly after 3 p.m. at the Fruitvale Station in Oakland, where BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle shot 22-year-old Oscar Grant of Hayward to death early New Year's Day. BART shut down the station well into the evening commute, although the demonstration there was peaceful.

However, shortly after nightfall, a group of roughly 200 protesters split off and head toward downtown Oakland, prompting the transit agency to close the Lake Merritt station.

Oakland Police Officer Michael Cardoza parked his car across the intersection of Eighth and Madison streets, to prevent traffic from flowing toward Broadway and into the protest. But he told The Chronicle that a group of 30 to 40 protesters quickly surrounded his car and started smashing it with bottles and rocks.

Cardoza jumped out of the car and said some protesters tried to set the car on fire, while others jumped on top of the hood - incidents repeatedly shown on television. Cardoza said the protesters "were trying to entice us into doing something."

A group of protesters also set a trash bin aflame, moving it adjacent to the police car.

Police threw tear gas into the group to disperse it, Sgt. Mark MacAulay said. There were no immediate reports of injuries or arrests.

"When you get that mob mentality, it can be dangerous," MacAulay said.

Other protesters marched on BART's 12th Street Station about 7 p.m., prompting the transit agency to close the downtown hub station even as it was reopening the Lake Merritt and Fruitvale stations.

Protesters blocked the intersection of 14th and Broadway, near the downtown BART station entrance. As police put on helmets and gas masks and stood in a line formation, protesters held signs that read, "Your idea of justice?" and "Jail Killer Cops."

One man lay in the intersection with his face down and his hands behind his back - seemingly evoking the position that Grant was in when he was shot.

Some protesters wore masks over their faces as they yelled at police. Roughly a dozen stood just a few feet away from police as they screamed at them. Chants included "pigs go home," "the fascist police, no justice, no peace" and "we are all Oscar Grant."

Mandingo Hayes said he went to the protest because "we're tired of all these police agencies getting away with shooting unarmed black and Latino males."

Hayes, 36, downplayed the attack on the police car.

"For a police car to get abused, and for a person to get shot and killed, which would you rather be?" said Hayes, a construction worker from San Pablo.

The core group of protesters was about 40 people, several of whom were with Revolution Books, a Berkeley bookstore. A man distributing "The Revolution" newspaper shouted "This whole damn system is guilty!"

Police were largely passive and didn't arrest anyone. But at around 7:54 p.m., they began to push the crowd toward Lake Merritt. One officer shouted "Get Back! Get Back! Get Back!" As they forced demonstrators back, protesters smashed windows, cars and threw objects at police.

They smashed the storefront of a store called Creative African Braids and Oakland Yoon's Pharmacy. Cars along their path of retreat on 14th street were being smashed, and a Honda CRV was engulfed in flames.

A woman walked out of Creative African Braids holding a baby in her arms.

"This is our business," she shouted. "This is our shop. This is what you call a protest?"

The video of the shooting has already gone viral on the internet, and the officer's action appears to be completely unwarranted. Please pray for the victim's family, and for the officer and his family. Please pray for justice. Moreover, pray that God would use the church powerfully to bring healing in this tragedy.

HT: SF Chronicle.

Had some trouble with the link, here's what I found.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Is Arminianism Semi-Pelagian?

By Andrew Faris


I am convinced Arminianism is wrong. I am not convinced it is semi-Pelagian (or "works-based" in any biblical sense of the term).

But I hear it all the time: if humans make a free decision to follow Christ, then they have contributed to their salvation meritoriously. I barely feel the need to cite this anti-Arminian charge because Calvinists so commonly make it, but I will note that it was brought up recently in a comment on my post on Rick Warren's semi-pelagian gaffe, and again in Sam Storms' book, Chosen for Life, who argues it constantly.

Here are my problems with the charge:

1. Evangelical Arminians believe that accepting the gospel means recognizing one's own sin-induced inability to save oneself and thus one's total dependance on Christ for righteousness. That is, Arminians affirm their inability to contribute to their own salvation. This is relevant in two ways. First, Arminians do not affirm any form of Pelagianism. Second, what they do affirm is in fact the opposite of Pelagianism, i.e. their total need for Christ's righteousness.

2. Invoking the name of one of the most famous heretics in Christian history, even with the modifier "semi" in front of it, is pretty harsh rhetoric. Of course, harsh rhetoric is sometimes deserved, but not in this case considering the affirmations mentioned above.

3. Most importantly, I am not convinced that a free decision to accept the gospel constitutes what Paul calls a "work," even from a Reformed understanding of that term. Reformed folks think that when Paul condemns works, he condemns those actions by which humans think they can tip the scales of righteousness meritoriously in their favor. Paul famously (and gloriously!) says that our salvation is not as a result of works, but is a result of grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9). If I freely recognize that I am unable to gain any favor with God by my actions because sin has disqualified me from that possibility, I am not working- at least not in the sense that Paul uses the term. Put simply, I cannot see how even the volitionally free affirmation that I am unable to work toward my salvation counts as a work toward my salvation.

An illustration may help. A professor of mine has been known to hold up a five dollar bill in class and say to his students, "Someone come take this from me- you can have it for free." A student walks up, takes the five, then sits down. The professor then asks, "Did that student's walk from his seat to grab the bill constitute him working for that bill?" The answer he expects is "no." And I think he is right. Of course one could say, "Yes Dr. Williams- the student had to get up from his chair, walk to the front of the class, and take it from your hand. Those were all works." But that is not the point. The point is that he has done nothing to earn the five dollars. He has simply taken it for free. It was given to him. Just like my Christmas presents were given to me freely even though I had to walk to the tree, pick them up, and unwrap them myself. I didn't earn my presents. I did nothing to merit them whatsoever. They were given to me.

My suggestion then is that Paul condemns the "earning" idea when he pronounces the soteriological worthlessness of our works.

All that said, insofar as Arminianism is wrong, it still distorts something about grace. This is a necessary corollary of being wrong. I think Calvinism views depravity and grace more biblically than does Arminianism. But that does not mean Arminians are semi-Pelagians.

In fact I think Pelagius might be a little angry that his name was used as an identifier for a system so high on grace...