Assurance is not Insurance

edit: Cleaned up and reformatted 4/18/17.

I told a story when I was teaching Sunday School once that I heard in Systematic Theology class: A girl said that when she was on an airplane, she was talking to a guy next to her who informed her that he was a Bible teacher.  The conversation went something like this:

“Oh, so you’re a Christian.”

“Nope.”

“Uh… what?”

“Unfortunately, the Holy Spirit told me that I am not elect.  So I’m not saved and I’m going to Hell.”

“Uh… so why are you a Bible teacher?”

“I want to help other people find out if they’re elect, even though I am not.”

“????”

While there is something rather noble about his attitude (“Well, stinks for me, but I’ll try to help other people”), it’s also terribly misguided.  I told the students in Sunday School about the danger of emphasizing some speculative, mysterious, and secret election by God in eternity past over faith and repentance.  And as much fun as it sometimes is to needle overly sensitive Calvinists, I know that most Calvinists would readily agree that the man above was sorely mistaken because, in their view, faith is evidence of one’s prior election.

Scripture says that whosoever believes will have eternal life, not whosoever is secretly elected by God (John 3:16), and it also says that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and has resurrected, you are saved (Romans 10:9).  The reason I told this story was to show the primacy of faith and how it assures a believer of inheritance.  In other words, faith and election should never be separated, and the former should never be demoted to satisfy our human systems.  The fellow above, if he truly believes that Christ is Lord, will be pleasantly surprised when he dies and finds Jesus waiting for him but face-palming at his wacky theology.

However, apparently some students identified more with the man in the story than the surprise of the girl, and several of them, due to some cursory introductions to Calvinism that they have gotten elsewhere, were struggling a bit about the genuineness of their faith.  Basically, it was the exact opposite of what I wanted to convey.

That said, I will not sit here and just blame what I believe to be problematic issues within Calvinism.  This is a question that is difficult for all Christians, even those Christians who ultimately reject “once saved, always saved” (their biblical case is more robust than people give them credit for).  I personally believe in assurance, but I also do not think that it is taught in a way that encourages an easy believism.  There is always a stress on the works and righteous life that follows faith, because if it is true faith, there should be a general turning away from sin.

In essence, assurance is not fire insurance; you don’t just sign your name on a dotted line and you’re good to go after that.  Assurance, in an almost paradoxical way, should be tested by the life of a believer.  Thus, Scripture itself seems to intentionally teach a live tension within the idea of assurance. Continue reading

The Historicity of Adam: A “Gospel” Issue?

I should be doing schoolwork, but where’s the fun in that?  Let’s blog.

Recently, Kevin DeYoung wrote an article titled, “10 reasons to Believe in a Historical Adam,” in which he, well, lists ten reasons to believe in a historical Adam.  Go figure.  In it, he shows his great displeasure towards those Christians who do not believe so or are accepting of those who don’t believe so, calling them “self-proclaimed evangelicals,” and he claims that the subject is a “gospel issue.”  He quotes Tim Keller, who essentially says that the gospel story falls apart if one does not hold that Adam was a real dude and that to do so denies the core of Paul’s teaching.

In response, a more liberal Christian, Dr. James McGrath, professor in New Testament language and literature at Butler University, wrote a scathing piece blasting all of DeYoung’s reasons, calling him a fundamentalist who may even be idolatrous by treating the Bible as completely infallible when only God is.  He goes on to say how the issue can be a stumbling block to more scientifically-minded people if Christians like DeYoung insist on treating Adam as historical.

When it comes to viewing the Bible’s overall authority, I would obviously side with DeYoung; I do believe in inerrancy, unlike McGrath.  However, this does not mean that I agree with everything DeYoung says or disagree with everything McGrath says.  Like McGrath, I will quote DeYoung’s reasons and write a brief comment on each because, well, I’m bored.

On the outset, I will say this:  While I require much more reading on this topic to review all the different arguments, I affirm the historicity of Adam, primarily because the New Testament seems to treat him that way.  That’s not me trying to supplant New Testament theology over Old (calm down, OT scholars), but simply that I am trying to use Scripture to interpret Scripture.  Anyway, let’s move on to DeYoung’s list:

1. The Bible does not put an artificial wedge between history and theology. Of course, Genesis is not a history textbook or a science textbook, but that is far from saying we ought to separate the theological wheat from the historical chaff. Such a division owes to the Enlightenment more than the Bible.

He’s right that the Bible doesn’t do this, but it also isn’t a book written with our modern historical or scientific standards in mind, nor does it preclude the use of other genres to communicate God’s truth.  None of this denies that the Bible is inerrant but only that it needs to be read in its ancient context and with its purpose in mind.  I’m honestly a bit puzzled about where DeYoung is going with this. Continue reading

Reflections on My First Sermon at Church

When I decided to go to seminary, there was one thing I knew:  I had no desire to become a senior pastor at a church.  This was more influenced by the fact that I know senior pastors have to deal with a plethora of annoying and often superfluous people problems (I’m a PK so I saw a lot of that), but it was also because I didn’t think preaching was my thing.  I enjoy teaching:  I’m okay in a classroom setting, but my real preference is in a chill atmosphere, eating a meal or ice cream and having discussions while everyone is sitting down.  Preaching, however, seemed too much like formal public speaking to me.  Most churches are set up such that the pastors are standing above everyone, in a pulpit, and with this large air of authority, and all that felt weird.  I also tend to make dark sarcastic jokes whenever I teach, which I felt probably wouldn’t go over well with old people sitting in a congregation.  Don’t get me wrong; I deeply respect pulpit preaching, knowing it to be both difficult and time-consuming (when done well, anyway), and I believe that strong, biblical preaching is a necessity in a healthy church.  It is in fact this respect that made me think that it wasn’t for me because God has gifted other men to do it better.  This is also why I try to refrain from ripping a pastor too much for mistakes in a sermon; it’s tough to do, especially if it must be done weekly, and it carries with it enormous responsibility to communicate the Word of God.

Thus, two of the classes I was not particularly looking forward to taking were my preaching courses.  On the one hand, I did want to learn more about how to approach preaching in a biblically-centered manner, so I enjoyed that part of it, but I didn’t really want to, well, actually preach.  However, when I preached my first real sermon in class last semester over Romans 12:3-8, I found that I enjoyed much of the process.  I enjoyed going through the text, breaking it down, and studying it, although I still wasn’t particularly fascinated with delivering the sermon with cheesy illustrations and applications.  Still, it was a good experience; the Holy Spirit taught me a lot, even though I still think that I am far better with the written word than public speaking.  Maybe I should start a blogging sermons instead?  Then my illustrations can consist of funny demotivational pictures and Youtube clips rather than corny stories.

Anyway, that was just for class:  My first sermon at church on a Sunday morning came this past weekend.  When our senior pastor scheduled me and a couple of other seminarians to preach this semester, I thought, “Well, this is probably a bad idea, but I have to do this for class.”  In Advanced Preaching, we have a practicum component that requires at least two sermons preached outside of class, so it’s not like I had much choice.  I shrugged my shoulders and just accepted, although I prayed to God that I wouldn’t say anything, uh, overly offensive when I preached.

The theme for our church right now is stewardship, and for the month of January, it was “Stewardship over your relationship with God;” basically, growing deeper in your relationship with God.  This was the prompt I was given for my sermon, and it is obviously very broad.  On the one hand, it was nice because I could almost preach on anything, but on the other hand, it didn’t exactly narrow down a whole lot of biblical texts for me.  I briefly thought of doing an Old Testament narrative or a parable, because I have to preach both of those in class anyway (sermon recycling!), but since I am still far more adept at dissecting epistles or Gospel narratives, I decided to look at those instead.  After combing through the New Testament, I settled on Ephesians 6:10-20, the passage over the armor of God.  I broke one of the “rules” we were taught in preaching: Typically, for an epistle, our professors advised us not to tackle more than ten verses, and I was going to do eleven.  There’s a lot of wisdom in that; it’s hard to go through that many verses with any appreciable depth in a short period of time, and it did expand my workload in terms of studying the passage. Continue reading

Church Discipline: Andrew, Mars Hill, and a bunch of biblical ignorance

Update:  Mars Hill addressed what happened and acknowledged that the leaders involved overstepped their bounds.  And I’m going to defend Driscoll here:  He’s pastoring a freaking large church.  It’s unlikely he’s personally involved in the vast majority of these cases.

http://marshill.com/2012/02/13/a-response-regarding-church-discipline

The relevant text:

The church is made up of sinners, leadership included. The result is that sometimes things are handled poorly by leaders in a church discipline process and sometimes those who are under church discipline respond poorly. In such instances, it is the responsibility of the church leadership to protect our members, and when we hear of leaders overstepping their authority through the church discipline process we are quick to act to rectify the situation.

In both cases that have been brought to light, things did not go as they should have, and well before they were ever written about in a public setting by bloggers and journalists, Mars Hill leadership stepped in to investigate. As a result of those investigations, it was determined that the leaders involved had a pattern of overstepping their authority. As such, they were released and are no longer on paid staff or in formal leadership in any capacity at Mars Hill Church. Again, these actions were taken months ago, prior to any public exposure.

……………………………………………………..

A popular story flashed all over the Internet last week regarding a story of church discipline enacted by Mars Hill upon an individual identified as Andrew.  According to his version of the events, Andrew got physical with a girl who was not his fiance, confessed to her and his leaders about his sin, but was then forced to jump through hoop after hoop of confessions before being whacked with an overly harsh form of church discipline (including a contract that he needed to sign, agreeing to multiple predetermined steps).  When he felt that Mars Hill was no longer the church for him due to this treatment, they warned him that he was leaving as a member not in good standing and that they would inform any church he tried to attend about his sin.  He told his story to a blogger, Matthew Paul Turner, who then wrote about it and caused quite the firestorm.

That was just a summary, obviously.  Turner has two posts on this (Part 1 and Part 2), and Mars Hill put up on article on general church discipline here, although they did not address this matter directly.  Apparently, Andrew’s brother, Stephen, has written general thoughts of the ordeal here.

Before I talk about church discipline and this story in particular, I’m just going to… well, be mean, in general, towards many Internet commenters.  Naturally, when a story like this hits the Internet, we are gifted with massive amounts of stupidity.  If you ever want to rid yourself of the illusion that human beings are essentially smart, read comments on Youtube, ESPN, CNN, and the like, especially since these comment sections are largely not moderated.  The amount of poor argumentation, ignorance, and willful blindness is astounding, and it never ceases to amaze me.  The majority of comments on Turner’s blog are no exception.

Allow me to zero this in on many professing Christians.  I would expect stories like this to bring out the bitter agnostic or atheist who talks about the Bible and Jesus as if he knows anything (he doesn’t) and gleefully denounces religion, but to see incredible amounts of biblical ignorance from Christians is downright sad.  Stuff like, “Jesus would never excommunicate anyone” (apparently they are not familiar with Matthew 18), “There should only be LOVE!” (as if God’s love precludes holiness and justice), and “Where’s the grace?” (It’s in the blood of Jesus, who died for something called SIN), among others, makes me want to bang my head against a wall.  This kind of hippy bullcrap does not show a lick of biblical knowledge or sound reasoning, and frankly, Christians who use such sloppy catchphrases should be embarrassed.  Such an attitude does not show love because it is not grounded in God’s truth, who is love.

Some might be thinking, “Just another one of Mark Driscoll’s fanboys trying to defend him.”  Nope.  I am not a big fan of Driscoll and I’ve criticized him many times before.  I ripped him for his careless review of The Shack (even though I didn’t particularly like the book myself) as well as his bonehead use of the phrase “false gospel” to describe different interpretations of the righteousness of Noah, which was made even worse because his interpretation completely ignored Gen. 6:9.  Whenever I hear him preach the Gospel, I affirm it, but if I hear Reformed theology, I disagree, and when I hear him say really dumb stuff, I laugh at him.  I am not weighing in on this because I feel the need to defend Driscoll or his church, who may have indeed screwed up here.  I am weighing in to talk about why church discipline is both biblical and necessary. Continue reading