Celebrity Preachers and Secondary Separation

Cody Libolt, who helps run the Christian Intellectual website, asks some questions of the organizers of three major Reformed conferences, G3, Shepherd’s Conference, and Ligonier.

The questions pertain to the ongoing battle with social justice warriors who are injecting their social justice ideology into the blood stream of the Christian church. A few men who have been labelled supporters for the social justice viewpoint have either been, or will be, speakers at those three conferences.

The main point of contention is between anti-SJW folks who wonder if those men should be uninvited from those conference. Allowing them to speak, even if their message is not related to social justice, devalues any argument against the social justice philosophy, say for example the statement on social justice. They should not be given a platform only for the sake of maintaining unity with celebrity preachers. Cody’s questions are an attempt to flesh out the thinking of those conference organizers in light of the social justice affirmations from those men. I’ll provide my personal answers, so I do not speak for everyone.

Questions for G3, ShepCon, and Ligonier:

1. On the topic of social justice, who are the ones you know are being divisive and should be receiving direct, public correction – by name? Do they exist?

Yes, those individuals do exist. I would add that I believe they are a menace to the Christian church. (This was discussed, by the way, at the G3 pre-conference hosted by Sovereign Nations). The folks coming immediately to mind who are flagrantly promoting social justice (which really amounts to cultural Marxism) are such individuals as Tim Keller, Jamar Tisby, Thabiti Anyabwile, Russell Moore, Matt Chandler, Dwight Mckissic, Eric Mason, David Platt and lesser known personalities like Kyle Howard and Brad Mason who sow discord among the brethren on social media.

2. Do you want to be publicly associated with those divisive people? In what way? Is there a principle here or not?

No. I personally would not want to be publicly associated with those divisive individuals I named above. I would imagine they wouldn’t want to be publicly associated with me, either. However, most of those men, at least to my knowledge, have never been associated with the conferences in question. David Platt is the only person I know who preached at G3. His message was on missions, not social justice; and as far as I know, the issue was not raised with him nor did he mention it when he spoke.

3. If there is someone known for repeatedly promoting those divisive people—someone who speaks as if the divisive ones were right and does not speak as if the truth were the truth (on a matter such as social justice that you say you consider primary), would you endorse them as being a trustworthy teacher?

I believe Cody is looking for someone to say, “Oh yes, but Al Mohler promotes Russell Moore,” or “Ligon Duncan wrote the forward to Eric Mason’s book on wokeness.” The question then turns to whether or not Al Mohler or Ligon Duncan can be trusted because they promote those problematic individuals.

Here we begin crossing the border into the area of secondary separation. This one, otherwise solid guy is associated with a person who has troubling orthopraxy, (not orthodoxy, which is a key distinction). Should Christians break fellowship, or in this case, uninvite the solid guy from the Reformed conference circuit because of his association with the troubling woke person? I would say no, it is not necessary, and only comes across as petty, as I will explain momentarily.

4. Do you believe that inviting them to speak at your conference constitutes a tacit endorsement of their trustworthiness?

Of course. As it pertains to the topic of the conference and the initial reason they were invited. For example, the 2019 G3 conference was focused upon missions and the Shepherd’s Conference will focus upon faithfulness. If those men are staying true to the topic at hand and are faithful to exegete the Scriptures, they are trustworthy. We can maybe discuss their odd association with the woke social justice warriors at some other point.

The Solution:

Cody then moves to providing a solution to our fraternal dilemma. How should we treat solid guys who mess around with troubling guys? His suggestions are a worthy effort, but I disagree on the finer points.

Despite the strawmen being burnt by some, the point of all this is not to excommunicate Mohler, Duncan, Platt, Dever, etc. Who said anything about that?

Excommunicate is a rather strong term. We must exercise care when employing it. Excommunication is an action reserved for those individuals who have abandoned the Christian faith and who teach contrary to Scripture. The men in question, Mohler, Duncan, Dever, even Platt, have done nothing worthy of excommunication.

However, it is not entirely inaccurate or burning a strawman to point out that critics of those men wish to excommunicate them. While it is true that those critics are not using the terminology of excommunication as if those men are now apostate because they entertain woke ideas, they are insisting that conference organizers must now uninvite them to speak at G3, Shepherd’s Conference, or Ligoneir, or any other similar conference, or they partake in their sinful deeds of wokeness and expose countless thousands of unwashed laymen to cultural Marxism. I’m sorry, but that is ridiculously absurd.

The point is this: You ought to be thoughtful about whether you will tacitly endorse their teaching.

I am assuming by “endorsing their teaching” you mean their overall personal ministry apart from a conference. Dever’s 9 Marks material or Al Mohler’s podcast, for example. As the person’s teaching pertains to the conference at hand where he is speaking, if he stays on point, I can endorse his teaching. But like with any ministry, regardless as to who that ministry may have endorsed or partnered with in other venues, I would exercise discernment with everything they present. That is not a compromised position.

There is a good solution. You can still bring them on your stage, if that is what you want.

Simply warn viewers at the event that there are major disagreements about social justice in discussion right now, and not all people on the stage agree about the answers or even about the relative importance of the questions.

There are a couple of problems I have with this approach. First, we are underestimating the conference attendees, assuming that they are uninformed as to those men’s woke affiliations. Why tell them something they already know and have laid aside for this unrelated conference? But then secondly, and more importantly, it is petty and unnecessarily humiliating to call out individuals before the entire conference audience that you have invited to speak regarding a disagreement that is unrelated to the conference. That just tosses an awkward wet blanket over the event and not only dishonors your guests, but insults them.

While I understand the need to take a stand against the social justice movement within the church, we still need to carefully distinguish between those individuals we certainly would not associate with from those faithful men that we have called friends, but who have offered encouragement to that other group. Of course separation from compromise is vital, but what we have determined is “compromise” needs to be expertly weighed. The last thing we need to do is become so consumed with the purity of our alliances that we inflict an equal amount of damage to the church as those we are separating from.

 

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May I Exhort You, Dear Christian, to Invest in a Well Made Bible?

bibleI remember, after the Lord saved me, receiving my first official Bible as a brand new Christian. Sure, I had a stubby, little gift KJV Bible my mom bought me when I was in 6th grade after I completed my confirmation classes at my old United Methodist Church, but receiving a new Bible after I came to know the Lord was extra special.

It was a Ryrie Study Bible (I still have it), black, genuine leather in the King James. It is filled with my hand written notes and yellow marker hi-lights I made on verses as I began to fully understand biblical truth for the first time. I am sure readers may be familiar with what I am talking about because you probably have the same kind of Bible somewhere in your house.

A couple of years later, my mom asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I requested a KJV super wide margin Bible.  At the time, those Bibles were packaged in cheap, bonded leather, (the new versions come in Moroccan leather), but it was thin and carried nicely in my hand. The interior was awesome with the massive wide margins where I wrote copious study notes (and lots of KJVO apologetic stuff). That Bible looked sweet at first. It even had Authorized Version 1611 on the spine (though it was a 1769 text). However, within a few years of use, the edges began rubbing off and the backing starting coming loose. The bonded leather was slowly deteriorating and it started to look ugly. I still have that Bible as well.

By 1997, I was in California attending seminary and working at Grace to You. That was the year the John MacArthur study Bible, in the NKJV, was published. I secured a copy of it in a nice leather version, but within a few years, it too began to look worn. Later, I was able to get the ESV MacArthur study Bible, as well as find a slightly damaged NASB edition I rescued from a give-away bin. The Crossway ESV edition of the MSB is fantastic, by the way. Excellent craftsmanship for a mass produced Bible.

I have pretty much used those two Mac Study Bibles as my primary reading/studying/carrying to church Bibles for the last 5 years or so. Recently, I began taking up only the NASB edition and reading it. I like the translation of the NASB, even though the ESV is the go-to translation these days. Yet once again, that Bible is showing the signs of wearing out with use. It is only a matter of maybe a year before it begins to fall apart, too.

My first thought was to mail it into a place that specialized in rebinding old books and Bibles, like ACE Book Binding, to put on a new cover. They did my wife’s first edition MacArthur Study Bible, and they did a tremendous job. They even have a large selection of colored leathers and orange appeals to me.

Then, in the last year or so, I heard Mike Abendroth mention on his podcast about him getting a really good Bible from Evangelical Bibles. He said it was a handcrafted NASB Schuyler Quentel edition. I texted him for the details and he sent me the links. I was immediately overcome with awe of those Bibles. The 220 buck asking price, however, was steep. I fluctuated between weighing spending the money to do the rebinding on the old Bible, which would had been a bit cheaper, against adding an extra 50 dollars or so and getting a new Schulyer.  I finally landed on the Schuyler.  I began to save my money by selling off commentaries and books in my library that I now had on Logos. It took me a number of months, but I was finally able to secure one, and it is absolutely gorgeous.

As one can tell by the picture at the top, I picked up the firebrick red version. Everybody I know carries a black, tan, or burgundy leather Bible, so I wanted one that stood out. As soon as I unpacked it and breathed in that new Bible smell that came wafting up from the box, I knew I had a thing of elegance in my possession. Picking it up, I can just feel the quality in my hands: supple, natural grain goat leather, the stitching around the edges and the spine, the way it lays open on the table, it is a piece of art in Bible making.

While the exterior of the Bible is breath-taking, it is the interior that is truly amazing.

When I was weighing my options between getting my old MSB rebound and spending a bit more to purchase a Schuyler, I was telling an acquaintance of my choices. He told me that most folks only consider the exterior of a Bible, what it looks like and whether or not it is covered in a good leather. Rarely do folks think about the interior of the Bible, what kind of paper its printed on and the way the text looks and is laid out on the page.

We just so happened to be standing in the church’s book store when we were discussing Bibles and the guy grabs a cheap edition off the shelf and opened it up. He held a single page against the light of the store. “A Bible printed on cheap paper will have what are like little pin pricks all over the page, like this one here.” Sure enough, I saw the little pin pricks on the page. He went on to explain that the bulk of mass produced Bibles that folks pick up in their local bookstores are printed on that low quality paper. A really good Bible paper will not have any of those pricks or maybe just a few here and there on a page.

The first thing I did when I unpacked my new Bible was to hold a page up to the light. There wasn’t a prick one anywhere to be found.

But even more wonderful is the way the page actually looks.

biblepageThe font is 11 point, and the letters crisp and bold and easily read without my reading glasses. Also, each chapter is a red number matching the exterior color of the Bible itself. And it is not a “Words of Christ” red letter edition, another feature I insisted upon.

And the one fun perk is the edge of the Bible. If you close the Bible and look at the paper edge, there is the standard gold tinting. Once you open it and fan the pages, the edges turn firebrick red.

edgeI cannot be more thrilled with this Bible. I actually get excited anticipating studying the Scripture. That is why I would encourage all believers to consider making a worthy investment in a good, well-made Bible. Evangelical Bibles have more than just this version, though I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. Check out their page and look over their ESVs, KJVs, and the NKJVs. There are a number of excellent choices.

Men and women have bled and died to preserve God’s Word for us. We hear it preached every Sunday, and we are supposed to do our daily reading from one. While I am grateful for the mass production of relatively inexpensive Bibles of all shapes and sizes and editions because God’s Word is spread far and wide, if we really maintain a high view of Scripture, why not get a really good one that is worthy of the God who gave us His Word? It may take saving a little every couple of weeks from a year’s worth of paychecks, but I think it would only serve to elevate your love for God and Scripture.

Plagiarism Hunters

plagiarismThe latest evangelical “scandal” in recent weeks has been the discovery of plagiarism on the part of New Testament scholar, Peter O’Brien.

O’Brien, who is the professor emeritus at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia, has written a number of popular evangelical commentaries. The first one I ever secured was a handsome copy of his fabulous work on Colossians from the Word series which I picked up used for like 10 bucks. He has also written on Ephesians, Philippians, and Hebrews for the Pillar NT commentary series.

His works are extremely well-done; being both well researched and crafted in a readable style that even lay-level individuals can benefit from, not to mention that he is conservative, an increasing rarity for commentary writers these days. The charge of plagiarism is almost laughable considering that O’Brien has the reputation of being an expert scholar in his field of NT studies.

According to this article, the story began over in Korea when a NT scholar published 22 commentaries in less than 7 years. Such an amazing accomplishment obviously raised red flags of suspicion. His work was challenged, and he was taken to court over the matter of plagiarism. When egregious examples were uncovered, in his defense, the Korean fellow pulled O’Brien’s commentary on Hebrews as proof that commentators often cite other commentators without attribution. In the case of O’Brien, he allegedly cited William Lane’s commentary on Hebrews in a number of places without noting it.

I agree with Stanley Porter’s take on the issue that he lays out in his article, that given the demand for Christian publishers to produce commentaries, the lack of competent scholars to write them, and the glut of commentaries already in print, a failure to properly cite sources is a real possibility among commentators. The question is whether or not it was intentional, as if the guy is a lazy, glory seeking slob, or accidental, which happens to everyone at some time or another.

In regards to O’Brien, I happen to side with the accidental conclusion. He’s gone on record insisting that any plagiarism was completely unintentional and seeks to correct it. I happen to take him at his word.

That being said, however, there is a squad of truthers who inhabit social media and the bloggosphere who insist any hint of plagiarism in any person’s work only reveals the dark heart of a cheating scumball. It doesn’t matter how small the alleged plagiarism may be or the explanation of how such horrific malfeasance could have crept in under the nose of the writer, nothing can be done except to savage the person publicly and burn his or her career to ash.

mobDoug Wilson is one who has come under the rancorous scrutiny of a particular blogger who has made destroying his ministry a white whale. Charges of being a serial plagiarist have been leveled against him. No matter how he tries to explain himself (see HERE for instance), he is considered such a villain, that his accuser is to be unquestioningly believed even though it has been soundly documented she is making stuff up against him.

Now I don’t want people to misunderstand me. I think plagiarism is bad. Even as a low level internet blogger, I do my best to cite my sources and provide link backs to individuals who may have influenced my thinking on some issue. In fact, I had an anonymous avatar plagiarize me once. The faceless entity cut and pasted an article I wrote answering a particular point of apologetics and posted it to a web forum in response to an atheist he was haggling with about the existence of God. I wouldn’t have even known about it if it wasn’t for another atheist who recognized it as my writing and alerted me to it.

I expect everyone who is a serious writer/researcher/publisher to take plagiarism seriously, primarily for the reason we should guard against any sloppy laziness on the part of writers, and to have the backs of those clever individuals who were clearly plagiarized.

But I think we need to keep in mind that when it comes to theological writing, especially commentary publishing, if there are dozens and dozens of commentaries on the book of John (and this can be over the course of centuries), how many ways can a scholar comment upon John 3:16 before he begins to repeat what others have already stated? If a scholar ever reaches a place where he is attempting to be fresh and novel with his theological commenting for the fear of a plagiarism scandal brewing around him, he is beginning to wander into dangerous territory.  The idea of “fresh” and “novel” usually gets us N.T. Wright’s views on justification and the cranks over at Biologos.

Additionally, should our immediate response to any and all instances of alleged plagiarism be to conclude that it is truly the work of a sinister scoundrel? Can no one be extended the benefit of the doubt? If they are apologetic and equally embarrassed can we just say, “Go back and fix it and be more careful the next time?”

Sadly, the one area where I believe plagiarism is an uncontained wild fire is among Bible preachers and teachers. That is because it is really easy for overworked, beleaguered pastors who don’t manage their time well to scour the online sermon prep sites in order to pull their message together. Study time is finished in a snap and the pastor can return to the more important things like hospital visitations and organizing the local shelter outreach.

I am familiar with a pastor who preached mediocre messages that felt like he hurriedly tossed them together on a Saturday afternoon. However, one Sunday the message was coherent and somewhat heartwarming. It even had an alliterated outline and a powerpoint presentation to go along with it. Soon it became noticeable to everyone when he started preaching these well crafted sermons every week both Sunday morning and evening.

Knowing what the guy’s preaching was like for a number of years before this marvelous change caused people to wonder how he found the time to spend on study, especially to add an accompanying powerpoint presentation. It wasn’t until one thoughtful congregant bothered to Google his outline and quickly uncovered the website from where he was copying his sermon.

Now discerning people, at least discerning people who have a deep, abiding love for integrity, would be aghast at such a revelation. I’ve spoken with some folks from my orbit of friends about this situation and they would insist on the pastor’s immediate dismissal for basically being an embezzling thief. Harsh.

Instead of him being confronted for thieving other people’s intellectual property, however, the greater majority of the church saw his copy-catting sermon notes as an inventive way to invest wisely in his sermon prep. He didn’t have to spend valuable time sitting at a desk all day slaving over a Bible lesson. What a tragic way for a pastor to think about ministering God’s Word.

Unfortunately, the internet, with its never ending sermon prep websites are never going away, and it will forever be a welcoming temptation. Logos is also another big culprit that adds to this problem as well. Pastors and teachers need to rediscover the seriousness of study and the impact their labor in the Word of God has in their pulpit and among the people they shepherd. That passion is only stirred when churches see the importance of sound, doctrinal preaching drawn from the exegesis of Scripture. Encourage your pastors and Sunday school teachers along those lines.

And of course, the plagiarism witch hunters aren’t helping either with their life destroying crusades. If they could take it down a notch, that’d be better for everyone all around.

Where Faith Journey Theology Takes Us

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A Rant

I’m gonna probably set off all sorts of “trigger warnings” with the pearl clutchers, but so be it.

During the last couple of weeks, it has been revealed that Hillsong Church, NYC, has a festering community of sodomites actively participating in their congregation.

While church officials state that no homosexuals serve or have served on their pastoral staff, the two men at the center of the Hillsong controversy claim to have an active “ministry” at the church including opening their apartment to host Connect groups, which I take to mean the Hillsong version of home Bible studies or small fellowship groups.

A day or so after I had tweeted a few stories about those revelations, I got into a bit of a back and forth with a fellow who says he attends Hillsong NYC. He had responded to something I had tweeted affirming that no homosexuals held any leadership positions at the church. I responded by asking him for clarification

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I then asked him specifically about homosexuals actively participating at the church, and his responses I thought were rather troubling, especially when he mentions Hillsong’s view of church membership and salvation in general:

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I shouldn’t really be surprised with his responses. They demonstrate how a diseased theology has infected the Christian church in America to the degree that would allow outrageous perversion like sodomy and same-sex marriage to be considered a “journey” and Christians willing to tolerate it for the sake of loving others.

As I was pondering that whole twitter exchange, I thought of at least three major problem areas that would lead believers to tolerating faith journeying sodomites actively involving themselves in a local church.

First is what really amounts to a default Arminianism that has saturated red-state Evangelical churches. Jesus died for ALL men without exception, what would be the idea of the grace of God already paying for their sins past, present, and future. That autosoteriology bubbles about in nearly every church across the land and permeates what really amounts to our pseudo-evangelistic efforts. Jesus has died for everyone and it is left up for the person to appropriate Christ’s death. Hence, churches should be welcoming to sinful individuals of all shapes and sizes and vices because they need to hear about Jesus.

Everyone is a sinner, so pushing away any visiting sinners from churches because Christians are all smugly self-righteous and don’t want filthy sinners around blocks their opportunity to encounter the Gospel.

It is an extremely man-centered, atheological philosophy.

Secondly is the mush-minded belief that mass popularity, bustling activity, and big crowds means there is a move of God afoot. Activity and big crowds never equates spiritual things. Those characteristics equate a championship football game, not an awesome church service. Churches should seek godly holiness among the members. Not large, writhing crowds of youth undulating to sappy pop rock music and blinding light shows.

A side effect to that mindset is an unquestioned, ready acceptance of any new person who begins attending the church and showing interest in “helping out.” A person who is hardly known is allowed to lead worship, host Bible studies, direct small discipleship groups. Church leadership could not be any more foolish.

Thirdly is what would be a mere Christianity apologetics that attempts to skin down the Christian faith to the bare bones of some heart warming mental assent regarding Jesus of Nazareth. It is a technique designed to be absolutely unoffensive to sinners so as to at least win them over to hearing your life story about what Jesus means to you. In order to be unoffensive, awkward topics like a person’s sinful habits and wrong-head life choices and God-treasonous, self-destructive worldview are often avoided at all costs lest the sinner shuts down and turns off.

Though it is true that not all apologetic-minded believers go as far as Hillsong with allowing open homosexuals free reign to participate in church activities, taking a mere Christianity approach to defending the faith and evangelism more times that naught leaves sinners in a worse state than when the began attending church. They are now under the impression their sin is not that big a deal with God and there is no hurry to make any attempt to change. If no one around them at church seems the least bit alarmed, why should they be?

Now Hillsong NYC insists they affirm the biblical teaching of marriage and do not in any way affirm same-sex marriage. At the same time, however, the gay couple at the center of all this controversy state rather emphatically, at this point anyways, that they plan to stay at HNYC and fight those backward, fingerwaggers who are attempting to wreck their faith journeying experience.

But I’m actually of the opinion that a more insidious plan may be at play here. I think the underground gay culture at HNYC have it in their minds to change the church for the better. Into a so-called “conservative” but gay-affirming church. That could very well happen because all three of those factors I noted above are present: low view of man’s sin, excitement equals God’s spirit, and the tolerant, mere Christianity evangelism. The homosexuals will exploit those factors to eventually pull that church away from God and into apostasy, and Hillsong’s misguided toleration seems content to let them.

The Real Reasons Why Youth Are Leaving Church

youthI hadn’t planned writing a follow up to my previous post, but I started thinking about what I wrote and I thought I should offer a more comprehensive reason why I believe people are leaving church.

I say just people, rather than “young people,” because currently, alarmist types want us to believe it is college aged young people freshly set free from the concentration camps of their stifling and non-thinking fundamentalist churches and rigid homeschooled families who are running away from Christianity in vast numbers. But people of all ages leave church on a regular basis. In fact, generations of “young people,” upon leaving home for college or moving away from their parents after getting married stop attending church, so it’s not like this is a recent epidemic or something.

There were a ton of kids in my youth group at the church I attended when I was in high school. They were all actively involved, because simply put, mama and daddy made them go, and I am sure the food and games had an appeal as well. Most of them were phony anyways, because when they weren’t at church participating in puppet shows or singing in the youth choir, they were throwing down at the weekend kegger party and engaging in various forms of teenage debauchery.

If I had to guess, I would say maybe just a handful of my high school youth group peers acted the least bit “Christianly” throughout their high school experience. Of the 20 or 25 friends at my group, I’d imagine just 2 or 3 still attend church today in any serious manner. A few more may have returned once they had kids, but for the most part, while they may live externally clean lives, they are practically irreligious and remain unchurched.

So what are the real reasons the so-called Christian youth are leaving Christianity? Contrary to the polls of self-appointed experts on American youth culture, their departure really has nothing to do with those typical tropes like coming from a sheltered home-schooled family, or not having the right apologetic thinking, or the church being “anti-science,” or Christians rejecting gay teens.

Let me lay out 7 thoughts to show you what I mean:

1. The kids aren’t saved. It’s too simple, I know; but that’s reality. They are not regenerated, and thus do no possess saving faith. Hence, when they are confronted by the culturally brutal and harsh world, their non-existent faith is exposed as just that, non-existent.

No amount of feeding them the right apologetic answers to skeptical critics of Christianity will help that at all. If the kid isn’t saved, it doesn’t matter if he knows all the proofs of God’s existence, or can defend the historical Gospels, or shoot down the Zeitgeist youtube movie. He has no love for Christ; and when sin confronts him, he may resist at first, but will eventually give in and it’s all down hill from there.

But is it more than just saying the kid isn’t saved? Certainly. There could be a number of factors that have converged to have driven the kid away from church.

2. The kid comes from a moralistic family. In other words, the family may indeed attend church, perhaps be involved to a degree, but the faith of the parents and the kids is no more than a set of conservative morals untethered from Scripture and the worship of God. Morals alone are not enough to keep a young person faithful to Christ. Only a regenerated heart can do that.

3. The parents are self-righteous hypocrites. By that I mean they pretend to be spirit-filled, serious-minded Christians at church, but at home, it’s an entirely different matter. Mom and dad bicker and snip at each other, they complain about everything, maybe are dishonest with their dealings with others, gossip about people and situations at church. They basically instill an attitude of disrespect in the hearts of their children toward not only church, but even themselves.

4. Church leadership intentionally avoids difficult subjects. They won’t talk about those subjects that supposedly clothesline the young person when he gets out in the real world. They mistakenly believe young people would be bored with their discussion, or perhaps the subjects are way over their heads and raise too many hard questions their little minds can’t handle right now.

Instead, they focus on teaching simplistic things like keeping your virginity before marriage, figuring out God’s will for your life, and what spiritual gifts you may have. Any difficult topics they leave for the occasional expert to handle. That expert who usually comes in the form of a prepackaged DVD message on Wednesday nights. Many times those experts are really unlearned and inexperienced, and hardly know what they are talking about.

5. Church leadership is lazy. If they don’t intentionally avoid difficult subjects, they won’t even take the time to educate themselves on those topics that will challenge their young people. Paul told Timothy that godly men must prove themselves workman (2 Tim. 2:15). The important word in workman is work. Studying the Scriptures, exegeting the Scriptures, applying the Scriptures, teaching the Scriptures takes hard work.

Today’s youth need leaders who will do the hard work of shepherding them, confronting them, teaching them the Word of God, especially when it comes to those difficult subjects they encounter or will encounter. They don’t need leaders who will only put forth minimal effort feeding them pablum, while providing them soft beds to cozy up in. They need to come face to face with the holy God of Scripture who will rock their world, but will also save them through the blood of Christ. That experience only comes when leaders shake off the stupor of laziness and do the hard work of lifting high the God of Scripture by taking the time to handle it rightly.

6. The youth pastor is basically a young, inexperienced and spiritually immature guy. All my life as a churched kid, practically every youth director has been an early 20s something post-graduate. He’s probably no more than 5 or 6 years older than the oldest kid in the youth group. Not to disparage a person’s youth, or even youth groups for that matter, because I happen to know a number of mature thinking young guys in their early 20s, and there are churches with great youth groups teaching their kids to think biblically. Regrettably those are the rare exception and sadly not the rule.

The vast majority of youth pastors are placed in the positions because the church, as well as parents, mistakenly believe only a young guy can “relate” with their kids; plus they are expecting nothing more than sanctified baby-sitting. The youth pastor is merely required to create an atmosphere of wholesomeness that includes directing fun activities, so they are not necessarily known for being theological giants. In fact, the youth pastors are notorious for being the gateway for introducing wack-a-doodle heresy into the church, along with immature behavior on the part of the kids, and that is due primarily because he is a spiritually immature and unlearned novice.

preciousAdditionally, if the youth director happens to be a mature young man who wants to bring substance to the youth group, when the teenage goats begin leaving because they hate the teaching of God’s Word, the parents freak out and accuse the young man of quenching the Spirit. He’s then kicked out and replaced by a more pliable hireling.

I remember once at my college church when our youth pastor had a guest speaker come in to preach at the high school group. That evening, they were particularly rambunctious and rowdy, and the guest speaker told them that he believed most of them were lost because they had no respect for the teaching of God’s Word. He was absolutely correct with his assessment. Now guess what happened? Did the kids become gripped with conviction upon hearing those words, repent of their sins, and beg to be saved? Do you think their moms and dads were mortified as to what happened and dealt firmly with their teens? Of course not! Don’t be silly! The next week, the poor youth pastor was deluged with mobs of angry parents demanding a reason why he let such a horrible man tell their precious hellions that they were lost, because they know their little devils asked Jesus into their hearts after they walked the aisle when they were four.

7. The Church leadership and youth pastor doesn’t evangelize the kids. Oh, don’t get me wrong. They “evangelize” them in the sense that they preach to them an anemic, “God has a wonderful plan for your life, Jesus wants to be your buddy and make school great for you” false gospel, or a gut-wrenching “Red Asphalt, kids die in car wreck after a drinking party and get dragged straight to hell” presentation that is designed to emotionally manipulate an aisle full of sobbing teenage girls to pray a prayer to accept Jesus into their hearts. Decisions are certainly made after those evangelistic presentations, but they are theologically vapid, empty of any serious biblical content, and not empowered by the Holy Spirit to save souls.

Now.

Having said all of that, can a kid come from a household of hypocrites, attend a church with lazy leadership who coddle the youth group with a 20-something rock climber guy as the pastor who preaches a lame Gospel message? Yes. God is great and transcends all of those problems. However, if we consider those reasons, I think a case can be made that what college age kids are leaving isn’t necessarily biblical Christianity, but some syrupy sentimental version of the Christian faith. That would only mean that the vast numbers of college age kids never really left Christianity and church to begin with.

Those Dastardly Young People Leaving Church

hipsterThe last few years have seen a crush of hand-wringing, panicked stricken articles and books bemoaning how today’s youth are abandoning traditional churches and Christianity altogether once they reach college age.

The authors of these garment rending laments are often self-appointed pop cultural analysts who believe they are on the front lines of the modern culture war assailing Christians everywhere. They are anyone from parachurch apologists to popular youth personalities, and they are sounding the alarm about the exodus of young people from Christianity who were raised in loving Christian homes whose parents took them to church regularly, taught them the Bible, and in many cases enrolled them in Christian schools or homeschooled them.

Once they leave home for the first time, those fresh young people are genuinely exposed to the “real world” and their naivete is dashed up against the rocks of secularism. They come to recognize the folly of religious faith and rapidly become embarrassed by their parents devotion to their sad traditional Christianity.

As our cultural crusaders rightly point out, the phenomena of Christian kids leaving the faith is certainly something to notice; and I would add, the church needs to consider why that is happening. A number of explanations have been offered, but the reasons suggested, I believe, are wildly off target.

With that stated, I want to respond to this article posted recently at CharismaNews Online. (BTW, CharismaNews is swiftly becoming a gold mine for quality crazy stuff on the internet that makes for excellent blog fodder, but I digress).

6 Reasons Young Christians Abandon Church

The article is a summary of a book written in 2011 by a guy named David Kinnaman called You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church. I’ll let you search it out on Amazon.  According to the article, Kinnaman, who oversees the research arm of the Barna Group, identifies six significant themes that explains why millennial hipsters are dropping traditional churches faster than a cup of Maxwell House instant coffee. The article then proceeds to lay out those themes and offer commentary as to why Kinnaman’s analysis is so revolutionary and cutting-edge, and why we old dinosaurish Christians need to take him seriously.

Because I believe the good bulk of such scaremongering commentary is vapid and needlessly hysterical, along with being misdirected, I thought it would offer my rejoinder.

It is important that we begin by considering who it is who wrote the article. There isn’t one individual person named, but apparently, it’s an anonymous theological hack from the group called Biologos.

The folks at Biologos are in essence evangelical atheists. They exist for no other reason than to push anti-supernaturalism, theistic evolution, and to be a hub for where bitter, cranky anti-creationists gather daily to hurl insults at Answers in Genesis and ICR.

The one truly bizarre thing about this article is it is published on Charisma’s website. The fact that a charismatic driven website, where the claims of God’s miracle power are posted everyday, would publish an article by a freakish religio-secular hybrid like Biologos, only continues to affirm to me the profound lack of spiritual discernment at Charisma’s editing board.

But heaven forbid I be accused of “ad hom.” I certainly wouldn’t want that. I mean, I should just ignore the source of this article. What matters are the arguments put forth, right? Who cares about those pesky presupposition filters?

Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective. It is suggested that churches are “hiding” the truth of the world from their youth. That they are only concerned about rock music, R rated movies, and pre-marital sex. So that when the little simpletons leave home, the secularist eat them for breakfast the first day of community college class.

If by protective, they mean to say churches don’t expose their young people to every whim of doctrine, crackpot theology, and wack-a-doodle idea out there, well, I certainly want a church to protect their young people from foolishness.  They should be taught to be suspicious of seducing spirits and they should be trained with the ability to properly discern, even if the scold writing this article thinks it keeps them out-of-touch.

Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow. I actually agree with the point here. Regrettably, the modern experience of Christianity for not only young people, but nearly everybody across the red state, evangelical spectrum is shallowness that is the proverbial mile wide and foot deep. That includes the lame worship services led by a knock-off of the local coffee shop folk band, pre-fab Sunday school lessons that teach a Scripturaless morality, and the preaching, which amounts to nothing more than a life coach giving his congregation a spiritualized TED talk.

This point captures the primary reason Christians are leaving church: the church has become the equivalent of a Vegas show and that gets boring real quick.

Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science. The idea of “antagonistic to science” is Biologos codeword for, “Christians believing in a literal, historical Genesis, a real, historical Adam and Eve, and a young earth.”

I’ll admit right now that I love science. I love my car, my ipod, my computer, my wifi, my air conditioning, my cough syrup, and the many other uncountable areas where my life is greatly improved by “science.”

But this point is deceptive. Contrary to our dishonest author, I can affirm a historical Genesis, a real, historical Adam and Eve, and an Earth under 10,000 years of age, and still do science. One cannot, however, deny a historical Adam and the historicity of Genesis only for the purpose of accommodating Darwinianism with the Bible and remain an orthodox Christian.

One humorous note about this point is how it is posted on a website that in the side bar there is a link to an article talking about a guy raising people from the dead and trumpet sounds in the sky being indicators of Christ’s soon return.

Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental. In other words, young people don’t like being told they have to be married to have sex, and specifically to a person of the opposite sex, and they have embraced the empty headed histrionics of homosexual advocates defending same sex marriage.

Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity. Under this point, one of the reasons young people struggle with the exclusivity of Christianity is that “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths.” Why would young people wrestle with a concept of exclusivity? Jesus made some rather strong, exclusive statements about Himself, about God, and a number of other issues that are clearly delineated in Scripture. How exactly is that a problem?

Why would young people be troubled that their churches uphold the biblical claims of exclusivity? Are they completely oblivious to the intellectual disconnect they’ve created? On one hand they’re complaining about how shallow church is (see #2), but on the other, if the church just so happens to be deep with their affirmation of biblical Christian orthodoxy, they wrestle with that because it’s supposedly a bad thing? I don’t get it.

It seems like to me they have fallen prey to the folly of postmodern, relativistic thinking. Affirming one’s faith as exclusive is something orthodox Christianity has historically maintained and is hardly something to wrestle over. Even the progressive Christians makes claims of exclusivity when they abandon an exclusive understanding of the Christian faith and then proclaim that it is stupid.

doubtReason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt. Honestly, the reason why a church may feel unfriendly to those who doubt, is because those who doubt are generally insincere about their so-called “doubt.” If a young person begins to express his “doubt,” more than likely he was already at a personal place of hostility with the church leadership. When any effort is giving to offer answers, the kid doesn’t want those answers, and then turns around and claims no one answered his questions. Such a person either becomes a radical skeptic, or a militant gay activist, or some other smug malcontent who complains how the church is unfriendly.

Now. I don’t want to dismiss all of those points entirely. There is some truth lurking behind them. But rather than concluding that local churches have failed in meeting the false expectations of young people that only in turn pushes them out the door and into secular irreligiousity, the primary reason they abandon the faith and leave church is that they didn’t have faith to begin with. They were never regenerated and never believed savingly upon the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. It really has nothing to do with them being overly protected or a church being anti-science. They never had faith, and college only reveals that fact.

That is not to say churches didn’t have a hand in their abandonment. The second point above rings true: If a church manufactures a shallow, atheological, abiblical, moralistic atmosphere, hardly anyone is going to be saved. Any preaching, teaching, and activities geared only towards moralistic entertainment, will only beget entertained moralists who will be exposed as fake Christians when they encounter the world.

A Good Ole’ Fashion Passion Play

I like to occasionally repost this old article I wrote back during the early days of my blogging career. I’ve added a fun video at the bottom that demonstrates the perils of passion plays. It will probably raise the ire of my strict, 2nd commandment friends and incite Puritan lynch mobs against me.
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Easter season is upon us once again, and each year it arrives I am reminded of all the various churches putting on passion plays in many little towns across the mid-west.

I have a fondness in my heart for respectfully produced and tastefully performed passion plays. My fondness for them sets me apart from the vast majority of my Reformed-minded acquaintances who either see passion plays (and movies, also) as blasphemous displays of idolatry in direct violation of the second commandment, or a cheap theatrical stunt disguised as “ministry” which trivializes the redemptive work of Christ and is designed only to bolster denominational attendance records. I am sympathetic with the complaint about how passion plays can be a self-serving stunt, but I’m not convinced they violate the second commandment.

I was once in an email debate with a Presbyterian gentleman insistent that any so-called portrayal of Jesus in any play or movie was a violation of the second commandment forbidding the construction of any image to represent God. But, if you recall, the prohibition is against the making of any carved image (man-made idol) for the purpose of bowing down to or serving in any capacity. In other words, worshiping the idol instead of the true and living God.

My argument to my email challenger was that passion plays and any movies depicting the life of Christ is simply the recreation of a real, historical event: the final week of Christ’s life, His death, burial and Resurrection. In my mind, as long as the production strives for historical and biblical accuracy with the retelling of Jesus, no one is violating the second commandment. But I digress.

My first experience with a passion play was as a kid at my grandmother’s church in Arkansas. Her church would always have what is called a sunrise service. Basically, in keeping with the biblical record of the women arriving before sunrise to the tomb of Jesus, my grandma’s church thought it would be extra special to perform their play at 5:00 AM Easter morning, and then afterward eat scrambled eggs, sausage, and biscuits. That means we had to get up at the ungodly hour of 4:00 AM. At that time in my life, I had no idea there was a 4 o’clock in the morning.

I don’t remember too much about the actual plays, but I do recall how every performance was tape recorded by the actors the previous Friday evening. I am not entirely sure why the folks believed they needed to record their performance, but it did provide for an amusing 20 minute audio presentation.

Pretty much all the actors read their lines in a monotone with as much emotion as a person reading a telephone book. Additionally, the recording would be punctuated with the ruffling of script pages, the occasional cough and throat clearing by other performers waiting to read their lines, and the constant drone of the fellowship hall refrigerator.

But that wasn’t the best part.

Because they recorded the play in the fellowship hall, the linoleum and cinder block walls produced a slight echo with each line read. Coupled with the monotone performance, the final recording made the actors sound as if they were emotionless alien pod  people from some Twilight Zone episode.

Beholdbeholdbehold,
He
HeHe
hashashas
RisenRisen …. Risen.

Thankfully, the fine folks eventually improved their passion play performances  by acting their lines live and in person. They have also added the presence of livestock, including a donkey for the Jesus character to ride down the center aisle of the sanctuary during the triumphal entrance scene.

Of course, that assumes the donkey will cooperate and not relieve itself on stage, or take “Jesus” on a wild ride through the auditorium. Nothing can stir panic in a crowd of people faster than an out of control ass galloping among the pews.

With any passion play, casting Jesus is vitally important. Depending upon the size of the congregation, there is generally a slender built guy with the ability to grow a decent beard who does the Jesus part.

If the pickings are slim, then sometimes the Jesus may be slightly husky. A smart thinking actor who is going to play Jesus is wise to go on a diet months before the passion play is going to happen, even starting right after the Christmas season. A slight tummy can detract from the crucifixion scene and it is even worse when the guy playing Jesus is sucking-in the whole time like Charlton Heston in Ben Hur.

One thing I have noticed in recent years since Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ was released is how some passion plays have become increasingly graphic in the portrayal of Christ on the cross. It use to be that the actor would have some fake Halloween vampire blood dribbled on his back, but now the guy will be drenched in fake stage blood as if they are recreating the prom scene out of Carrie.

I believe Christ’s crucifixion and death should be a sobering reminder of what our Lord suffered as a penalty for our sin, but some church productions have taken the graphic aspect of Christ’s passion up too many notches. I can only hope that trend will reverse in the years to come, because if the production is well done, the story of Christ’s passion for His people speaks for itself.

And, if you are planning an Ascension scene at the end, you may wish to take some pointers on how NOT to do it from these folks.

My Top Blogs Christian Leaders Should Be Reading in 2015

So Ed “15 Angry Calvinists” Stetzer plug an article that listed the Top 30 Blogs Christian Leaders Need to Read in 2015. I clicked the link and scanned the suggestions. Nearly all of them I had never heard of, and of the ones I had heard of, like Rick Warren’s Pastors.com, I would never recommend to anyone as a resource being afraid that folks would be led into a spiritual slough of despond if they did so.

The author wrote up a list of criteria he thinks makes the kind of blog a Christian leader needs to read.

He lays out 6 points that identifies a “great” blog.

  • Great blogs provide solutions to the issues Christian leaders face.
  • Great blogs provide inspiration for Christian leaders to keep paying the price to move forward.  A great blog tells you you can and will make it.
  • Great blogs have credibility from being written by proven experts.
  • Great blogs have consistently new content and are worth re-visiting on a regular basis.
  • Great blogs have great content.  It rarely, if ever, disappoints.
  • There are also some bloggers listed below who may be well-known yet but should be on your radar.

Again, none of the blogs listed really match the criteria he lays out here. In fact, he list’s Perry Noble’s blog under those criteria and people would only get stupider if they read it on a regular basis.

With that list in mind, I thought I would offer up my own suggestions of blogs I think would be of greater benefit for Christian leaders to read than any of the ones mentioned. Furthermore, I think my list matches, if not excels over, the stated criteria for a “great” blog. They are all an inspiration, are written by proven experts, and have consistently new content that is worth revisiting. In fact, the content is actually helpful in that it addresses issues and makes a statement of committed, biblical clarity rather than some lame, wishy-washy “let’s build a consensus” conclusion.

Probably the only thing different about my list is the last item in the criteria. None of the bloggers are particularly “well-known.” There are a few, maybe; but even they are marginalized or ignored. If they happen to blog in some prescient fashion on a subject that makes them unpopular, say like the disaster that was Mark Driscoll, and when their warnings come to fruition, their detractors wonder why no one previously ever wrote about those problems. If they raise their hand and say, “we did,” then they are accused of gloating.

My list is in no particular order and may not be entirely comprehensive. Meaning, I may miss a few good ones here and there.

Pyromaniacs Originally started by Phil Johnson who is the executive director of Grace to You radio ministries. Now maintained by Dan Phillips and Frank Turk and the occasional reposts of the best of Phil, who retired from blogging a couple years ago. The writing is engaging, pithy, biblical.

The blog always has great content, never disappoints, should be a must read for any biblical leader.

The Cripplegate A consortium of writers, most of who are students and graduates of the Master’s Seminary. A number of them currently pastor full-time. They cover a full range of subjects of interest to the average pastor, like problematic doctrinal issues, book reviews, and even once an article about shaving.

Alpha and Omega Ministries The blog showcasing the ministry of apologist James White, who has written a number of important books that every leader should read or at least have ready access in their library when they are confronted by apologetic issues like engaging Muslims with the Gospel or interacting with fanatical King James Only advocates.

His twice-weekly Dividing Line podcast ought to be on the rotation play list of all serious-minded believers.

Canon Fodder The blog of Michael J. Kruger who is swiftly becoming one of the leading scholars on early NT textual studies. His books are top notch and must reads for all Christian leaders.

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary The blog where the profs and grads of DBTS provide excellent articles on a variety of topics from a fundamental, evangelical Baptist perspective. Their journal is outstanding, also.

Domain of Truth Ran by Jimmy Lee, a TMS grad and pastor in SoCal. He and the contributors he has assembled provide a number of excellent apologetic resources, including his weekly links highlighting the better blog articles addressing presuppositional apologetics. You will also find insightful reviews of books and links to wonderful, but otherwise unknown theological sermons, lectures, and series.

Shadow to Light I just recently started reading this blog around Christmas time. Not sure who the author is, but the emphasis is upon interacting with and exposing the “new atheism” of such notables as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. There is lots of good stuff here. A tremendous resource for the youth pastor or pastor who may have some youth apostate and become angry church haters after attending their first semester at state college.

Dr. Reluctant The blog of Paul Henebury, who is a masterful writer on various theological subjects. He also runs Telos Ministries, where folks can find lots of excellent resources in print and audio.

MennoKnight The blog where you will find the insightful, witty, and always fun writing of Lyndon Unger. He also blogs at Cripplegate.

Gatestone Institute It is more of a website, but the writers/reporters talk about the state of the world outside of the US. Their particular focus is Europe. A great site for us soft Americans who tend to live in a bubble when it comes to events in the world.

Answers in Genesis and Creation Ministries International Sister ministries with the focus upon the worldviews of creationism and evolution. Not only do they keep the crucial issue of origins in the forefront, but both ministries consistently address it with clarity, fact, and Scripture. Some of the best apologetic material you can get when confronting skepticism in the church.

Triablogue I have had my tussles over the last year or so with Steve Hays, the principle writer at Triablogue, but in spite of our profound disagreements with each other, he and his team consistently put out good material that is challenging and polemic in defense of biblical Christianity. His atheist take downs are always worth visiting.

The Hounds of Discernment

uglydogLyndon and I are preparing our chapter reviews of Michael Brown’s Authentic Fire for a possible ebook of our own. The material will be updated a bit and greatly expanded, particularly Lyndon’s stuff. Not sure when it will be available. We have both finished our principle reedit of our posts, and we just recently exchanged our chapters with each other. I am working through Lyndon’s material, offering my insights and suggestions.

One of Michael Brown’s complaints he levels in his book against cessationists is their meanness and vitriol they express when they go after what they perceive is heresy. That attitude is really witnessed among those cessationists who run online “discernment” ministries. I don’t necessarily disagree with Dr. Brown on that point. So-called discernment ministries can be downright nasty at times.

As I was reviewing one of Lyndon’s chapters yesterday, I came across this wonderful rant he offered in response to Dr. Brown’s complaint. I thought it was well stated and worth bringing out for others to consider.

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The “conspicuous lack of love” manifest in cessationist circles is something that I both recognize and condemn openly.  I have, and do, urge cessationists to never hound anyone on Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media (especially if you’ve never had previous contact with them at all).  Some cessationists are absolutely shameful jerks (and far too frequently are even socially handicapped) and that should not be the case.

What’s more, there’s the “discernment ministry” folks out there who somehow think that it’s the business of a person without any sort of biblical office to “call out” heretics on the internet.   Calling for the repentance of random strangers when they don’t know them, aren’t in any of their circles of contact, and aren’t holding any sort of biblical office (namely, an elder in a church) reveals a profound lack of discernment.

What’s worse is that, in my experience, the “discernment ministry” folks (often the most aggressive of the cessationists) who like to hop on social media or their own websites and “call out” random or infamous charismatics tend to respond to criticism far worse than the charismatics they go after.  When those “discernment ministry” folks are faced with something stupid or sinful that they do, they’re frequently violently resistant to correction and attack those who attempt to confront their foolishness/sin.

Yet, they somehow expect people who likely get wheelbarrows of hate mail (i.e. any popular personality in Christendom) to somehow read a few tweets from a random agitator, and then overthrow what’s likely decades of tradition/commitment to a theological position, and repent.  Even worse, more than a few of the “discernment ministry” folks appear to think their duty is done as long as they’ve pointed to any unbiblical idea that someone has ever been associated with and demanded repentance.  Once heretics have been informed of their error, the “discernment ministry” folks appear to feel like their job is done.  In case I’ve been unclear, too many “discernment ministry” folks do far more harm than good.  On this point, I agree with Michael Brown and wish I had the power to teach a cabal of specific individuals some basic social etiquette.

Discernment is one of the things that they claim to have, but more often than not it’s simply a neurotic fascination with people who are in theological error.  It may seem obvious, but 1 Pet. 5:2 is a commission strictly given to the elders in 1 Pet. 5:1.  Titus 1:9 is a directive given to the overseers who are mentioned in Titus 1:7.  1 Tim. 6:20 is a command specifically addressed to Timothy, as is the command in 2 Tim. 1:14 and 2:2 (and basically all the other go-to texts that “discernment ministry” folks use to justify their existence).  More often than not, the passages that do directly apply to them (i.e. Titus. 2:3-5) are being habitually and systematically disobeyed.