Daily Archives: November 21, 2012

The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview, Monday, November 21, 2012

Church’s Final No to Women Bishops, The Telegraph (John Bingham)

Church of England Rejects Women Bishops, Washington Post (Trevor Grundy)

Gaza Hospital’s Morning Respite Is Shattered by Rockets and Sirens, New York Times (Jodi Rudoren)

Bernanke to Congress: Don’t Flub the Austerity Crisis, Washington Post (Neil Irwin)

Hurricane Sandy Reveals a Life Unplugged, New York Times (Aimee Lee Ball)

Public Nudity Ban Eyed in Fed-Up San Francisco, Associated Press (Lisa Leff)

Elmo Puppeteer Resigns Amid Underage-Sex Allegations, Washington Post (David Bauder)

The Conservative Future, New York Times (David Brooks)

Was Thanksgiving a Religious Holiday? USA Today (Daniel Burke)

An Atheist at the Thanksgiving Table, Washington Post (Hemant Mehta)

It’s Time to Ban Christmas Presents, The Telegraph (Martin Lewis)

Nativity Donkeys and Cattle are a Myth, Says Pope, The Telegraph (Nick Squires)


Challies Dot Com – Informing the Reforming – A La Carte 11/21/12

Why Are You Afraid? – Cornell, who writes from Kenya, grapples with the kind of fear few of us have had to experience—the threat of violence and terrorism that chases people from their homes and makes them fear for their lives.

A Visual Guide to the Unborn – Science and technology are always on the side of life. STR highlights a new iBook that sounds remarkable.

The Dirtiest Place in Your Home – Is the toilet seat the dirtiest place in your home? Turns out there are things far worse. “It’s one of the cleanest things you’ll run across in terms of micro-organisms,” he says. “It’s our gold standard – there are not many things cleaner than a toilet seat when it comes to germs.”

Areas of Neglect – Brian Croft points to three common areas of neglect in the life of the pastor. It’s often the seemingly small things that make such a difference.

So Long as You Rejoice – Mark Altrogge says that you don’t have to like what is happening to you, as long as you rejoice through it.

Teach me that if I do not live a life that satisfies Thee, I shall not have a life that satisfies myself. —Unknown Author (from The Valley of Vision)


The Hell-Raiser

The current issue of The New Yorker has a long and unsettling feature on Rob Bell (that, unfortunately, I cannot link to as it is available to subscribers only). Written by Kelefa Sanneh and titled “The Hell-Raiser,” the article portrays Bell as a Christian leader who found himself searching for a “more forgiving faith.” Russell Moore has aptly summarized the article and some of the more salient observations of its author, including this one: “Throughout American history, the most successful church movements have not been the ones that kept up with contemporary culture, but the ones that were confident enough to tug hard against it.”

I always find myself alarmed when I read about Christian leaders who destroy their ministries through gross moral failure or gross theological failure. When I read of men whose lives and families and ministries have been shattered by either kind of disaster, I always wonder how they got there. Neither kind of failure arises in a moment or without a long history of small sins and unwise choices, with so many sins of comission and sins of omission.

The leader who is caught in a hotel room with the woman who is not his wife, the theologian who is found trolling the Internet trying to arrange a sexual encounter with a minor, the pastor who is arrested for soliciting the services of a prostitute—each of these men once loved his wife. Each of these men once promised to himself and to others that he would remain faithful to her and prayed for God to still his wandering eyes and heart. Each of them was sincere. And still they fell.

Did it begin with an unresolved argument? Did it begin with working hours that were too long and neglecting just the small tokens of love and appreciation? Somehow, over months and years, he drifted away from his wife, he fell out of love with her and into love with himself and his own lusts and passions. And then he followed those lusts and broke her heart and destroyed his ministry.

In the same way, gross theological failure does not rush upon a man. The man who apostacizes, who rejects the central doctrines of the faith—doctrines he once affirmed and celebrated—has also made a long series of sinful choices. The leader who denies the doctrine of the Trinity, the theologian who determines that Jesus Christ could not possibly have been born of a virgin, the pastor who denies the existence of hell—each of these men once held fast to these very doctrines. There was a time when they believed each of these things and were convinced that they would die for them. Each of them was sincere. And still they fell.

Did it begin with becoming a professional Christian instead of a man who communed with God day-by-day? Did it begin with allowing doubt to become a virtue and belief to become a liability? Did it begin with a desire to read the wrong books, to listen to the wrong preachers? Somehow, over months and years, he drifted away from the truth, he began to believe and then teach the lies. And then he followed those lies and celebrated them and destroyed his ministry.

I find myself reflecting on the words of Jesus from Matthew 7: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” The path to a marriage that remains strong and vital, the path to a faith that remains true and pure—each of these is a narrow path and the way is hard. Every kind of temptation lines that path—temptations of lust and ease and pleasure and popularity and adulation. They are all there, all crying for attention, all promising life and peace, all looking so attractive, so easy.

Little wonder, then, that the Bible so often portrays the Christian life as one of warfare, of one of buckling on the full armor of God, “that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13). This life is a battleground. Only the foolish Christian, the foolish leader, refuses to take full advantage of the armor God supplies.


The Missing Ingredient of Today’s Gospel Preaching

In the small book, Today’s Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic? Walter Chantry uses the story of the rich, young ruler as told in Mark 10:17—27 to illustrate the idea that evangelism today often presents a deficient gospel message. Originally written in 1970, Chantry’s work and the concerns set forth within it unfortunately still ring true today. The excerpt below is taken from the chapter entitled, “Preaching Repentance Toward God,” wherein Chantry emphasizes the great need of sharing with lost sinners the absolute necessity of repentance of sin before a holy God.

Our ears have grown accustomed to hearing men told to ‘accept Jesus as your personal Saviour,’ a form of words which is not found in Scripture. It has become an empty phrase. These may be precious words to the Christian—’personal Saviour.’ But they are wholly inadequate to instruct a sinner in the way to eternal life. They wholly ignore an essential element of the gospel, namely repentance. And that necessary ingredient of gospel preaching is swiftly fading from evangelical pulpits, though the New Testament is filled with it.

When Jesus began his public ministry, his message was, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel’ (Mark 1:15). As he met the woman at the well, his gospel insisted that she turn from adultery. Encountering Zacchaeus, Jesus turned him from thievery to philanthropy. Now the demand to the ruler is, ‘Turn from your lust for riches. Repent!’

The apostles preached the same message. Those who were closest to Christ and understood his evangelism ‘went out and preached that men should repent’ (Mark 6:12)….

Today men are properly told to confess their sins and to ask forgiveness. But evangelists and pastors are forgetting to tell sinners to repent. Consequently this misinformed age imagines that it can continue in its old ways of life while adding Jesus as a personal hell insurance for the world to come. Treasures on earth and treasures in heaven. Who could turn down that bargain! Pleasures of sin and joys of eternity. That is a good deal! Sinners are not being saddened, as was the young ruler, to learn that they must turn from sin to have eternal life. Yet it is the sine qua non of the gospel promises. Scripture always joins repentance and remission of sins (cf. Acts 3:19, Luke 24:47, Acts 26:18). Repentance is necessary to forgiveness.

Confession of sin is not enough. There must also be a full purpose of heart to turn from the former life of sin to a new walk in righteousness. No man can serve God and mammon (Matt. 6:24). Neither will God save any man who continues to serve mammon. To confess, ‘I have sinned in loving riches,’ while intending to pursue those same riches with continued relish is not repentance. For salvation the ruler must be determined to forsake as well as confess.

‘He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy’ (Prov. 28:13, emphasis added). Though sorrowful confession is an essential part of repentance, it is not the whole of it. The change of mind which issues in definite turning away from sin is the heart and soul of true repentance.



How to Deal with Holiday Family Tensions

We tend to idealize holidays, but human depravity doesn’t go into hibernation between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. One thing that will hit most Christians, sooner or later, are tensions within extended families at holiday time.Some of you will be visiting family members who are contemptuous of the Christian faith and downright hostile to the whole thing.

Others are empty nest couples who now have sons- or daughters-in-law to get adjusted to, maybe even grandchildren who are being reared, well, not exactly the way the grandparents would do it. Still others are young couples who are figuring out how to keep from offending family members who are watching the calendar, to see which side of the family gets more time on the ledger. And others are new parents, trying to figure out how to parent their child when it’s Mammonpalooza at Aunt Judie’s house this year.

And, of course, there’s just always the kind of thing that happens when sinful people come into contact with one another. Somebody asks “When is the baby due?” to an unpregnant woman or somebody blasts your favorite political figure or…well, you know.

Here are a few quick thoughts on what followers of Jesus ought to remember, especially if you’ve got a difficult extended family situation.

1.) Peace. Yes, Jesus tells us that his gospel brings a sword of division, and that sometimes this splits up families (Matt. 10:34-37). But there’s a difference between gospel division and carnal division (see 1 Cor. 1, e.g.). The Spirit brings peace (Gal. 5:22), and the sons of God are peacemakers (Matt. 5:9). Since that’s so, we ought to “strive for peace with everyone” (Heb. 12:14).

Often, the divisiveness that happens at extended family dinner tables is not because an unbelieving family member decides to persecute a Christian. It’s instead because a Christian decides to go ahead and sort the wheat from the weeds right now, rather than waiting for Judgment Day (Matt. 13:29-30). Yes, the gospel exposes sin, but the gospel does so strategically, in order to point to Christ. Antagonizing unbelievers at a family dinner table because they think or feel like unbelievers isn’t the way of Christ.

Some Christians think their belligerence is actually a sign of holiness. They leave the Christmas table saying, “See, if you’re not being opposed, then you’re not with Christ!” Sometimes, of course, divisions must come. But think of the qualifications Jesus gives for his church’s pastors. They must not be “quarrelsome” and they must be “well thought of by outsiders” (1 Tim. 3:3,7). That’s in the same list as not being a heretic or a drunk.

Your presence should be one of peace and tranquility. The gospel you believe ought to be what disrupts. There’s a big difference.

2.) Honor. The Scripture tells us to fear God, to obey the king, and to honor (notice this) everyone (1 Pet. 2:17). If your parents are high-priests in the Church of Satan, they are still your parents. If cousin Betty V. does Jello shots in her car, just to take the edge off the cocaine, well, she still bears the imprint of the God you adore.

You cannot do the will of God by opposing the will of God. That is, you can’t evangelize by dishonoring father and mother, or by disrespecting the image-bearers of God. Pray for God to show you the ways those in your life are worthy of honor, and teach your children to follow you in showing respect and gratitude.

3.) Humility. Part of the reason some Christians have such difficulty with unbelieving or nominally believing extended family members is right at this point. They see differences over Jesus as being of the same kind (just of a different degree) as our differences over, say, the war in Afghanistan or the future of Sarah Palin or the Saints’ winning streak this year.

Often the frustration comes not because of how much Christians love their family members as much as how much these Christians want to be right. The professional Left and Right cable-TV and talk-radio pontificators may value the last word, but we can’t.

Jesus never, not once, seeks to prove he is right, and he was accused of being everything from a wino to a demoniac. He rejects Satan’s temptation to force a visible vindication, waiting instead for God to vindicate him at the empty tomb.

Often Christians veer toward Satanism at holiday time because we, deep down, pride ourselves on knowing the truth of the gospel. The rage you feel when Uncle Happy says why “many roads lead to God” might be more about the fact that you want to be right than that you want him to be resurrected.

Plus, we often forget just how it is that we came to be in Christ in the first place. This wasn’t some act of brilliance, like being accepted into Harvard or some exertion of the will, like learning to put a Rubik’s cube together in 20 seconds. “What do you have that you did not receive,” the Apostle Paul asks us, “And if you received it, then why do you boast as though you didn’t receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:6-7)

Satan wants to destroy you through his primal flaw, pride (1 Pet. 5:7-9; 1 Tim. 3:6). He doesn’t care if that pride comes through looking around the family table and figuring out how much more money you make than your second cousin-in-law or whether it comes by your looking around the table and saying, “Thank you Lord that I am not like these publicans.” The end result is the same (Prov. 29:23).

Unless you’re in an exceptionally sanctified family, you’re going to see failing marriages, parenting crises, and a thousand other shards of the curse. If your response is to puff up as you look at your own situation, there’s a Satanist at your family gathering, and you’re it.

4.) Maturity. The Scripture tells us that if we follow Jesus we’ll follow the path he took: that’s through temptation, to suffering, and ultimately to glory. Often we think these testings are big, monumental things, but they rarely are.

God will allow you to be tested. He’ll refine you, bring you to the fullness of maturity in Christ. He probably won’t do it by your fighting lions before the emperor or standing with a John 3:16 sign before a tank in the streets of Beijing. More likely, it will be through those seemingly little places of temptation—like whether you’ll love the belching brother-in-law at the other end of the table who wants to talk about how the Cubans killed JFK and how to make $100,000 a year selling herbal laxatives on the Internet.

Some of the tensions Christians face at holiday time have nothing to do with outside oppression as much as internal immaturity on the part of the Christians themselves.

I’ve had young men who tell me they feel treated like children when they go home to see their extended families. Their parents or parents-in-law are dictating to them where to go, when, and for how much time. Their parents or parent-in-law are hijacking the rearing of their children (”Oh, come on! He can watch Die Harder! Don’t be so strict!”). Some of these men just give in, and then seethe in frustration.

Sometimes that’s because the extended family is particularly obstinate. But sometimes the extended family treats the young man like a child because that’s how he acts the rest of the year. Don’t live financially and emotionally dependent on your parents or in-laws, passively dithering in your decisions about your family’s future, and then expect them to see you as the head of your house.

Be a man (if you are one). Make decisions (including decisions about where, and for how long, you’ll spend the holidays). Teach and discipline your children.Your extended family might not like it at first, but they’ll come to respect the fact that you’re leaving and cleaving, taking responsibility for that which has been entrusted to you.

5.) Perspective. Remember that you’ll give an account at the resurrection for every idle (that means seemingly tiny, insignificant, unmemorable) thought, word, and deed. At the Judgment Seat of the Lord Christ, you’ll be responsible for living out the gospel in every arena to which the Spirit has led you… including Aunt Flossie’s dining room table.

A version of this article originally ran on November 21, 2011.