Worth Repeating

“…if the death of Christ on the cross is the true meaning of the Incarnation, then there is no gospel without the cross. Christmas by itself is no gospel. The life of Christ is no gospel. Even the resurrection, important as it is in the total scheme of things, is no gospel by itself. For the good news is not just that God became man, nor that God has spoken to reveal a proper way of life for us, or even that death, the great enemy, is conquered. Rather, the good news is that sin has been dealt with (of which the resurrection is a proof); that Jesus has suffered its penalty for us as our representative, so that we might never have to suffer it; and that therefore all who believe in him can look forward to heaven. …Emulation of Christ’s life and teaching is possible only to those who enter into a new relationship with God through faith in Jesus as their substitute. The resurrection is not merely a victory over death (though it is that) but a proof that the atonement was a satisfactory atonement in the sight of the Father; and that death, the result of sin, is abolished on that basis.

Any gospel that talks merely of the Christ-event, meaning the Incarnation without the atonement, is a false gospel. Any gospel that talks about the love of God without pointing out that his love led him to pay the ultimate price for sin in the person of his Son on the cross is a false gospel. The only true gospel is of the ‘one mediator’, who gave himself for us.”

James Montgomery Boice, The Centrality of the Cross

Book Review : History, Law, and Christianity

historylawandchristianity-1Apologetic resources abound. No shortage of books that defend the validity of the Christian faith exists. Many of these resources often set Christianity alongside other belief systems and use the Bible to demonstrate the truthfulness and validity of Christianity. I have no problem with this. For I believe as Herschel Hobbs did when he wrote that the Bible is “truth without any mixture of error”. I am comfortable with using the Bible as the beginning of any apologetic discussion. However, there are many who are not willing and able to begin with the Bible itself as a starting point. Fewer apologetic resources begin the defense of the Christian message at somewhere other than the Bible. In his new book, “History, Law, and Christianity; How Does the Historic Evidence for the Christian Message Hold Up Against Cross-Examination”, Dr. John Warwick Montgomery approaches the defense of the Christian message from a strictly historical and legal perspective.

Montgomery’s book breaks into two major parts: Historical Evidence and Legal Evidence. In the first section, the author builds a case for the Christian message from a historian’s standpoint. He began by asking the question, “Are the New Testament documents historically trustworthy?” He answers by offering four tests. Test One, the Biographical Test, answers the question, “Can we arrive at a stable, reliable textual foundation for the claims of Jesus as set out in these records? Test Two, the Internal Evidence, deals with antiquity’s standard that the benefit of the doubt goes to the document itself unless under discussion the author disqualifies himself through fraud or contradiction. Test Three, External Evidence, answers the question, “Do other historical materials confirm or deny the internal testimony provided by the documents themselves?” Test Four, Form Criticism, which seeks to determine a literary work’s original form and the historical context of the literary tradition.

In the second section, Montgomery gives the reason for reasoning the Christian message from a legal perspective. He writes, “Here we shall use legal reasoning and the laws of evidence. The advantage of a jurisprudential approach lies in the difficulty of jettisoning it: legal standards of evidence develop as essential means of resolving the most intractable disputes in society. Thus one cannot very well throw out legal reasoning merely because its application to Christianity results in a verdict for the Christian faith”. Montgomery sets forth to answer the question, “What are the pertinent questions about faith?” He does so by asking and answering four key questions from the jurisprudential standpoint. Those questions are:

1. Are the historical records of Jesus solid enough to rely upon?

2. Is the testimony in these records concerning his life and ministry sufficiently reliable to know what he claimed about himself?

3. Do the accounts of his resurrection from the dead, offered as proof of his divine claims, in fact establish those claims?

4. If Jesus’ deity is established in the foregoing manner, does he place a divine stamp of approval on the Bible so as to render its pronouncements apodictically certain?

In the course of answering these legal questions, Montgomery puts the witnesses to Jesus’ ministry, death, burial, and the resurrected Christ “on trial” by utilizing the legal means of deeming a witness truthful and their testimony reliable. Montgomery writes, “In a court of law, admissible testimony is considered truthful unless impeached or otherwise rendered doubtful. The burden, then, is on those who would show that the New Testament testimony to Jesus is not worthy of belief.” It is here that Montgomery excels. He applies the criteria for credible testimony in the legal arena to the New Testament witnesses. He looks internal defects with the witnesses, external motives to falsify their testimony, internal defects in their testimony, and the external defects in their testimony. He then goes to share his conclusions that evidence for the Christian message in valid, reliable, and trustworthy. A tremendous work.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from CrossFocused Reviews as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review : Churchless

churchlessI have been in the pastoral ministry for sixteen years. I have seen a lot of things in those years; some good and some not so good. One of the disturbing trends that I have seen is the lack of church attendance by professing Christians. For whatever reason, people are choosing to not attend organized religious services. The reasons are many. There are some who would say that attending church is not worth their time. There are some who would say that they can worship God apart from organized religion. There are some who would say that they will attend a church service if they can fit it into their already busy schedule. David Kinnaman and George Barna tackle this phenomenon in their latest book, “Churchless; Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect With Them.”

The content of this book is the compilation of a five year study which surveyed 20,000 unchurched and churched adults. As a result of this study, Kinnaman and Barna demonstrate that Americans fall into one of four categories as it relates to their relationship to the church.

1. The Actively Churched are those who attend church on a regular basis, meaning one a month or more.

2. The Minimally Churched are those who attend church services several times a year and whose attendance patterns are unpredictable.

3. The de-Churched are those who have been “churched” in the past but are now taking a break from the church. The authors discovered that this group is the fastest growing segment.

4. The Purely Unchurched are those who never attend a Christian worship service.

Kinnaman and Barna utilize eleven chapters to give their readers an in-depth look at those who made up their survey. They include topics such as demographics and self-descriptions of churchless people, what the unchurched think about religion, religious behaviors of churchless people, religious beliefs that define unchurched people’s faith, the paradox of trusting Christ but not the local church, understanding why people leave the church, family life among unchurched people, and goals, morals, and values of churchless adults.

Churchless has more positive notes than negative. The book does a great job of highlighting a sobering reality that the church is facing today. The authors also link to their website where their readers can gain access to color slides for further presentation. The greatest negative I would say is that the book left me asking “What do I do with this information?” It’s kind of like a doctor telling you that you are sick but not offering any medication to make you well. All in all Churchless is a great work. Church leaders would benefit greatly from reading this work.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Tyndale House Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review : A Call to Resurgence – Will Christianity Have a Funeral or a Future?

acalltoresurgenceAccording to Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA and author of the new book, “A Call to Resurgence; Will Christianity Have a Funeral or a Future?”, Christendom is dead. Christendom, a culture of religious influence and acceptance, found its beginning in America through the Christian faith of the founding fathers who governed by those same Christian values. As a result, Judeo-Christian values have influenced legal systems, social ministries, educational systems, and even the vocabulary of today. In short, Driscoll argues that the world in which we live no longer is influenced by the Christian faith. Throughout chapter one of this book, Driscoll’s plea to churches, pastors, and Christians today is to be more concerned with authentic Christianity and the advancement of the gospel than simply a religious culture that doesn’t clearly point the individual to Jesus Christ. It is a call, as Driscoll writes, “not of retreat but of resurgence”.

In chapter two, Driscoll asserts that the Christian church today is suffering from a standing knockout. This is a boxing term in which a boxer is literally unconscious after multiple blows but is still standing. Driscoll names the series of blows that have left the church dazed and confused. As he sees it, New Paganism, Homosexuality, Pornography, Intolerant Tolerance, bad Dads, and Cheap Christians are hindering Christianity’s witness today. Chapter three speaks of an identity shift among Christians from denominations to tribes. Driscoll quotes Seth Godin here, “A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and way to communicate”. Consider this example to tribalism today. A Baptist pastor who is reformed in his theology and is influenced by the teachings of John Piper and J.I. Packer may choose to relate to and network with other like-minded pastors whether they are Methodist, Church of God, or Presbyterian, rather than his national denomination. Tribes today, as Driscoll suggests, are centered on key issues such as Reformed vs. Armenianism (the sovereignty of God and salvation), Complementarian vs. Egalitarianism (roles of women and men in the church), Continuationist vs. Cessationist (spiritual gifts), and Fundamentalist vs. Missional (the purpose of the church today).

In chapter four, Driscoll introduces the concept of understanding borders. He writes, “Primary border issues are points of division between Christians and non-Christians. Secondary border issues are points of distinction among Christians. These issues merit discussion, debate, and distinction among tribes, but they should not be a point of division of we are to see a resurgence of real Christianity.” He then lists thirteen primary border issues with a description of each, as well a few of the second-tier issues. Driscoll gives chapter five to the Holy Spirit. He offers a theology on the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit in the church today. He also gives attention to the Holy Spirit‘s role in the gift of tongues, which is a prominent tribal division. Chapter six, which Driscoll has entitled, “Repentance”, brings back the six blows from chapter two that Christianity has taken in the recent decades and lays out the need to repent of these in order to make a lasting change going forward. Finally in chapter seven, Driscoll proposes seven principles for resurgence that he believes will help the church go forward in the future. The principles are:

1. Preach the Word. Churches must make the preaching of God’s Word the central activity of the church.

2. Love the Church. The local New Testament church is at the heart of God’s plan.

3. Contend and Contextualize. Without compromising the truth of God’s Word, we must be willing to change its delivery.

4. Be Attractional and Missional. Balance is needed throughout church ministry.

5. Receive, Reject, and Redeem. Keep what is profitable and let go of what is not.

6. Consider the Common Good. Everything the church does is for the good of others.

7. Evangelize Through Suffering. The church is to be prepared to suffer as the gospel message is shared.

This is the first book that I have read that was written by Mark Driscoll. Contrary to the “shock-jock pastor” label he is often given, I found “A Call to Resurgence” to be well-written, passionate, and true to God’s Word. Although we are not part of the same tribe, his love and concern for the church and the gospel is something that I as a pastor can relate to and get behind. I believe chapters 1-2 and 5-7 are the strongest. Driscoll presents the problems facing the church today and offers solid suggestions on how to recover from our standing knockout. If I had to say anything negative, it would be that chapters 3- are 4 are just a little too broad. I appreciate his tribal vs. denominational discussion and enjoyed it very much. I simply believe his tribal lines could have been a bit more definitive. That being said, this is a book that Christian leaders need to read. His effective use of Scripture, personal experiences (family and church) and outside quotes and data make this book work very well.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Tyndale House Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review : Apostate; The Men Who Destroyed The Christian West

apostateEvery so often a book comes along which forces the reader to come to terms with how mediums such as print, lecture, and music have become satanically influenced. Such books leave one saying, “I had no idea” and asking questions such as “How did that happen?” One such book is Pastor Kevin Swanson’s “Apostate; The Men Who Destroyed the Christian West”. Swanson writes of a battle. Methodically, he shows how western civilization’s foundations have shifted from that of certain definitive Christian values towards a godless, self-satisfying, and humanistic value system. Swanson’s book shines a spotlight on the men that he believes are at least partly responsible for the demise and downfall of the Christian west. In his own words, Swanson describes the battle through the following description. “The crux of the worldview conflict which has ravaged the culture and entered the foyer of the Christian church in the third millennium A.D. is the denial of God’s right to be God, and the usurpation of that right by man. In a word, it is a life and death struggle over sovereignty. Who will be sovereign—man or God?”

It is important to understand the point of view from which Apostate was written. Swanson refers to the men who “destroyed the Christian West” as apostates. An apostate is defined as a person who forsakes or departs from their religion, principles, or cause. Swanson’s book deals with the religious departure of these men. Swanson’s approaches these men and their departure from the perspective that these men possessed a Christian upbringing and point of view that they later walked away from. Swanson, throughout his book, refers to these men as Nephilim, a reference to the tribe of pre-diluvian men who come from the ungodly union of the sons of God and daughters of men referenced in Genesis 6. He says of the Nephilim, “These were men with tremendous character, but with an evil twist. The strength of a godly heritage was used for foul ends.” As the book unfolds, this statement takes on a prophetic importance. Swanson describes the process of Western civilization’s devolution that in essence becomes the outline for his book. He says that intellectual philosophers developed humanistic ideas that were revolutionary to their time period and began make them a part of their own lives. Swanson then goes on to say that the great writers and authors pulled these revolutionary humanistic ideas into their literary works which in turn were taught in classrooms from high schools to major universities. He writes, “there is no better way to radicalize nations with new ideas that by infiltrating the educational systems.” The final step in this process is today’s mass media propagating the revolutionary humanistic philosophies. Again, Swanson writes, “much of present day perspectives and attitudes, culture, media, family life, and education are rooted in the destructive ideologies of the 18th and 19th centuries”.

In part one, Swanson defines gives his definition of apostasy. He also explains the terminology that will use throughout the book. He defines terms such as epistemology, ethics, metaphysics, and truth. He introduces the reader to the Philosophical Nephilim and reveals their humanistic contributions. These men are Thomas Aquinas (Forming the Humanist Synthesis), Rene Descartes (Forming the Humanist Philosopher), John Locke (Forming the Humanist Theologian), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Forming the Humanist Society), Jeremy Bentham (Forming the Humanist Ethic), Ralph Waldo Emerson (Forming the Humanist Person), Karl Marx (Forming the Humanist Political State), Charles Darwin (Forming the Humanist Scientist), Friedrich Nietzsche (Forming the Humanist Psychology), John Dewey (Forming the Humanist Education), and Jean-Paul Sartre (Forming the Humanist Culture). In part two, Literary Nephilim, Swanson gives the reader a look into the lives of the “great” writers and their works to show how the revolutionary humanistic ideas made their way into the classrooms. He writes of William Shakespeare, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and John Steinbeck. I must admit that I had read these authors and their major works before coming to Christ and had thought nothing of their humanistic and at times atheistic viewpoints. After reading Apostate, it is clear, as well, as disappointing to see their departure from the Christian faith. In the final part, Swanson looks at how mass media has given a powerful voice and relevance to humanistic thinking. He speaks of the cultural Nephilim as being, for example, Madonna, Eminem, the Beatles, Marilyn Manson, Frank Sinatra, Led Zeppelin, Lady Gaga, Mick Jaggar, and John Lennon as just as a few who are beating the humanist drum today in front of an ever-increasing audience of impressionable minds.

Apostate is a powerfully-written and eye-opening work. Swanson has made a way for the reader to connect the dots between the philosophers of antiquity and the major problems our world faces today as a result of their humanistic leaning and teachings. Unless we fully understand where we have come from a society we will never be able to right the ship or moral collapse. Swanson’s book also highlights man’s total depravity and natural proclivity for self-satisfaction and self-elevation. He highlights man’s need for a Savior and for the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit on our lives. He also brings to the surface the need for our faith to be our own, not our parent’s and not our pastor’s. There is an underlying challenge to pursue Christ above all else. Powerful. Sobering. Insightful. Apostate is well researched and incredibly timely. Without a doubt this book should be a must read for all church leadership and seminary students. Swanson sums up the West’s attitude in the midst of this shift toward humanistic thought when he says, “they play their video games while Rome burns.” I enthusiastically recommend.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from CrossFocused Reviews as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Missional Monday–What is Missional?

Today’s post is the first in a new Monday series entitled “Missional Monday”. I would like to begin by defining and giving some attention to the word “missional”. Missional is a word that has come of use over the past eight or ten years in evangelical churches and denominational research. The term missional has a somewhat fluid definition and is more of a descriptor than an event or activity. While missiology is the study about missions and its methodologies, missional is a mindset. Missional is a way of thinking. In its simplest terms, missional thinking focuses the believer and the church on doing missions everywhere. It is holistic rather than programmic.

By the very definition of the word, it is impossible for the church to do missional. Instead, it is critical for the church today to be missional. Missional thinking causes the church to take a hard and prayerful look at how missions is viewed. A church with a missions program usually sees missions as one activity alongside other activities in the church. A missional church focuses all of its activities around its participation in God’s vision in the world. Instead of viewing missions as crossing sea as something that we go and do, missional thinking leads us to see the cross and to live as sent people; right where we are. This leads to a question that will help us gauge where we are individually and as the body of Christ. Do you see yourself as a participant in a mission program or as a missionary living within your own mission field? In his book, Breaking the Missional Code, Ed Stetzer wrote, “If we are going to join God on his mission, we have to recognize that we are missionaries…wherever he places us – just like the first disciples”.

Book Review : Reason For Belief

reasonsIn our day and time, the need for solid Christian apologetics is great. With the continued rise of false religion, it is becoming more and more necessary for a clearly articulated and straight-forward defense of God’s Word to be put before this false teaching. In their new book, “Reasons for Belief; Easy to Understand Answers to 10 Essential Questions”, authors Norman Geisler and Patty Tunnicliffe have written such a book. In tackling these ten questions, they are in essence, dealing with the ten “straw-man” arguments that non-believers give as their “reasons” for unbelief. The ten challenges are:

1. “Real truth does not exist. ‘Truth’ is just truth to you.” 2. “God does not exist.” 3. If God exists, he isn’t necessarily the God of the Bible.” 4. “Miracles don’t happen.” 5. The New Testament’s many errors make it unreliable. It’s more like a collection of myths and legends.” 6. “Jesus never claimed to be God.” 7. “Jesus didn’t prove he is God.” 8. “Jesus did not rise from the dead.” 9. “The Bible isn’t the only true religious book.” 10. “Christianity is too narrow. There are many ways to God besides Jesus.”

From the beginning, the writers share how they will approach these challenges. They write, “We’ll approach this as a defense attorney would when seeking to prove a defendant innocent of a charge. They’d present solid evidence. They’d establish a fact-based alibi. To prove innocence beyond a reasonable doubt, they might appeal to fibers, prints, marks, tracks, even DNA. We’ll look at many facts. We’ll examine eyewitness accounts. We’ll appeal to science, to history and archaeology, and to prophecy. We’ll appeal to manuscript evidence and more.” Their chart on p.13 shows, in reverse order, this case-building process. Their responses to the ten challenges are, in order:

1. Truth exists and we can know it. 2. God exists 3. He is the God of the Bible. 4. Miracles are possible. 5. The New Testament is reliable. 6. Jesus claimed to be God. 7. Jesus proved to be God. 8. Jesus rose from the dead. 9. The Bible is the only true holy book. 10. Jesus is the only way to God.

The design of this book is beautiful. In each chapter, the argument against belief is presented, given in the form of a potential problem. Then, the writers lay out arguments; theological, scientific that refutes the problem at hand. At the end of the chapter, the natural and logical conclusions are drawn from the evidence. Throughout the book, the writers focus on four major worldviews: Pantheism, Atheism, Deism, and Theism. They filter all the evidence through these worldviews and allow the reader to see the only accurate biblical worldview is Theism. The most help tool in this book is the multiple charts that are included. The charts cover topics such as prophecies, religious comparisons, miracles, truth claims, and may others. Although written by a scholar, it is not written over the head of the average Christian wanting to know more on how to defend their faith. Smart. Informative. Sharp. Go read it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”