Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Regarding leaders who claim to keep the law

Because we have an election coming up next year, we hear many politicians claim to uphold the law and criticize those who do not keep the law. Thinking on this, the following verses came to mind:

"For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.
- Jesus in Matthew 23:3-4 (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Good News Publishers/Crossway Books)

"Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?"
- The Apostle Peter in Acts 15:10 (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Good News Publishers/Crossway Books).

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Offspring of Racists

Racism breeds racism, and the recipients are subject to be tempted to become the offspring of such racists unless they believe all people are created in the image of God. In fact, one silent purpose of a racist is to create more people like him.

Therefore, those who have been the targets of racism may not realize the goal is to make them believe that race is the core problem of humankind. For such people, when they die, they may see God in the form of the race they hate.

Do you believe God is white? He may appear to you as a person of color. Do you believe God is black? He may appear to you white. Why? Because all people are created in His image.

Ultimately, our core problem is always with God. As the Apostle John wrote in 1st John 4:20-21 (ESV):

"If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother."

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Christians Deceived v. Christians on a Mission

Molly Worthen has written an excellent article for The New York Times entitled, "Donald Trump and the Rise of the Moral Minority." My main critique of her analysis is that I do not like being called a member of the "Moral Minority" because I do not consider myself moral. I want to be moral, but find that I need God's forgiveness daily. Still, the bulk of the article is excellent.

In the article, Worthen writes: "In books titled “Radical” and “Counter Culture,” Dr. Platt urges evangelicals to reject Christian nationalism, “cap” their materialistic lifestyles and give more to charity....“We’ve chosen to be passionate about issues that have been the least costly to us,” he told me. “Countering culture” means recognizing the ways American Christians have mistaken both material and social comfort for spiritual rewards."
"Who are the heroes of these countercultural warriors? They have assembled a selective genealogy that omits evangelicals who once used the language of martyrdom and resistance to defend white supremacy. They trace their heritage from Paul and the Apostles (contemporary America reminds Dr. Platt of the fleshpots of first-century Corinth, “a city filled with sexual immorality”) to the Christian reformers of the 18th and 19th centuries, especially William Wilberforce, the evangelical politician who helped end slavery in the British Empire."

My view: Too many Christians are telling themselves stories of how we will "take back" America, as if we had it in the first place. This attitude opens up Christians to being deceived.

For example, I am baffled how so many Evangelical Christians can be so deceived by men such as Donald Trump and others in politics who obviously use them for their own purposes. Then, when I think of how many Evangelical churches see evangelism as a form of marketing and sales, I realize I should not be baffled. Salesmanship Christianity defends the easy life of America, and tells itself stories that all we need is more marketing and sales to bring in converts and win elections. Given this disposition, men like Trump and other in politics use marketing and sales tactics to win their support, and unfortunately often succeed.

Being a Christian is not the result of marketing or sales tactics, and being wealthy is not necessarily a reward for being spiritual. See Revelation 3:14-22. In this passage we see a good description in many ways of so many contemporary Evangelical churches.

You see, God is still in charge, just as He was in the early days of Christianity in a very immoral world. Furthermore, He is also in charge of a person's salvation because in our natural state, we cannot choose Him. He must choose us. See what Jesus told His disciples in John 15:16-17. No marketing or sales tactics can bring a person to Christ. "We love because he first loved us" (I John 4:19 ESV).

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Christians Suffering from Collective Amnesia

The following quote by Craig L. Blomberg is very insightful:

"Every time things take a turn for the worse in the Middle East, some enterprising Christian publishes the latest unabashed analysis of  how end-times prophecies are being fulfilled and believers will soon be escaping from this world. And a frightening percentage of the evangelical Christian public seems always to suffer a collective amnesia, forgetting how the same kinds of publications just a decade or two earlier turned out to include a considerable amount of false prophecy. The one statistic that remains unvarying is that to date, 100 percent of all such scenarios have proven wrong. This alone should inspire a certain amount of reluctance to pin our hopes on the next round of speculation. Perhaps we ought actively to look in a different direction altogether."
- Craig L. Blomberg, "The Posttribulationism of the New Testament: Leaving "Left Behind" Behind," in A Case for Historic Premillennialism: An Alternative to "Left Behind" Eschatology, edited by Craig L. Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung (2009, Baker Academic Publishing Group), p. 70.

Likewise, I have found such so-called prophetic teaching to be more like divination and interpreting omens. This is clearly prohibited in Deuteronomy 18:10: "There shall not be found among you anyone...who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens..."

Likewise, Jesus instructed us not to waste our time predicting the end times, but rather be engaged in the work of the Church: "So when they [the apostles] had come together, they asked him, 'Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?' He [Jesus] said to then, 'It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.'" (Acts 1:6-8).

Craig L. Blomberg noted that many councilors and therapists say that the present generation of Christians "may be the least theologically equipped generation in church history when it comes to dealing with personal and collective suffering and evil" (p. 70). Yet, Jesus warned His disciples, ""See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name , saying, 'I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray...Then they will deliver you up to tribulations and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved..." (Matthew 24:4-5 & 9-12).

Indeed, Jesus is coming again. In the last chapter of the last book in the Bible, Jesus said, "'And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.'" (Revelation 22:7).

Therefore, we must beware of contemporary false prophets who reduce Biblical prophecy to divining world events and omens, and false prophets who reduce Biblical prophecy to entertainment and fortune-telling.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Cheating in and Disdain for Higher Education

As a professor who has graded many papers, I have done my best to evaluate the work of each of my students. Most of my students are honest, but unfortunately there are too many students trying to buy papers or copy other sources and have these accepted as their own work. The Chronicle of Higher Education has an excellent article, "The Shadow Scholar," published in 2010, which describes one process for cheating written by "Ed Dante," a pseudonym for a person who writes papers for students.

Some, perhaps most students cheat simply because they panic or have bad character. However, I have also encountered students who cheat because they disdain their professors and therefore feel justified to cheat in order to pass a class. This disdain for higher education is encouraged by many political commentators, and I have found most of these commentators to be political conservatives.

The effect of such attitudes towards higher education are disturbing. For example, I often read about so-called "scholars" in the popular media who claim to be scholars in politics and history, and yet have no academic training in these fields. They are usually dealing with politics and history, but I have also found such people to be in theology. They do not claim to be commentators, which would be honest and valid, but as scholars. This implies that they have completed formal training in a field in an accredited university. However, such men refuse to pay the price to go through the discipline of an academic program and complete a degree, and they succeed by preying on their readers and listeners (the Apostle Paul warned us about such men in I Timothy 4:3). The disdain these commentators have for higher education can encourage students to disdain their professors in college.

This is troubling because I take my profession as a calling from God, and therefore do not cheat or try to deceive people, and I do not try to claim to be a scholar in areas in which I have no expertise. Each degree I earned was from an accredited university. Furthermore, I wrote every paper for my undergraduate and graduate classes, and I always strove to give credit to authors by citing their works in my papers. Likewise, my wife edited my dissertation for grammar, and my dissertation committee (the professors who guided my research) also edited my dissertation for content. However, the work was original, which means I extensively researched the topic and wrote the book-sized dissertation (which took years to complete). As I went through my doctoral program, it seemed at times as if I did more things wrong than right given the amount of criticism I received on my papers, but I persisted. Eventually, I came to appreciate the criticism each professor offered because I realized they were helping me become a better scholar. It was a long and hard process, and very humbling, but it was worth it.

Yet, I find that pseudo-scholars have poisoned the hearts and minds of well meaning people to the point that I have had both family and friends openly show contempt for my profession. This is sad because there are many Christians who have paid the price by completing a challenging academic program in an accredited university, and thus, earning their respective degrees. Some are politically conservative, too, which means the issue is not about being politically conservative or liberal. The issue concerns disdain for higher education.

Is it no wonder, then, that many students cheat when they are taught to disdain the their professors?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Political, Ethnic, Socio-economic, Intellectual, and Moral Identities

"If we get our very identity, our sense of worth, from our political position, then politics is not really about politics, it is about us. Through our cause we are getting a self, our worth. That means we must despise and demonize the opposition. If we get our identity from our ethnicity or socioeconomic status, then we have to feel superior to those of other classes and races. If you are profoundly around of being an open-minded, tolerant soul, you will be extremely indignant toward people you think are bigots. If you are a very moral person, you will feel very superior to people you think are licentious.

"...Whatever you base your life on -- you have to live up to that. Jesus is the one Lord you can live for who died for you -- who breathed his last breath for you. Does that sound oppressive?"

- Tim Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.

Friday, July 31, 2015

What future is real to you?

"Isaiah, Amos, and many of the prophets wrote about what God wants to bring about in the future--the kingdom of God, the new heaven and new earth, a healed material creation......When John the Baptist sends a messenger from prison who says to Jesus in Matthew 11: 'Are you really the Messiah? Are you the one who is bringing the kingdom of God?' Jesus answers: 'The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor' (Matthew 11:5). That is the kingdom of God--shalom--complete healing of all the relationships in the creation. We will be reconciled to God; to nature; to one another; and to ourselves.
     "And to the extent that that future is real to you, it will change everything about how you live in the present."
- Tim Keller, King's Cross​: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus, (Dutton, 2011), p. 221-222.

Only God the Son can redeem the world, and only God can bring us into fellowship with Him. Any other pseudo-Jesus is an anti-Christ (I John 2:22). Jesus is the "I AM," YHWH in the Old Testament (Exodus 3: 13-15 and John 8:58).

The future can be hopeful if we place our hope in Jesus. Putting our hope in anything else is only a phantom wish. Such idols will only disappoint us. This is something I need to remind myself over and over.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Do Not Allow Hate To Win


These families are hurting real bad. Yet, they extend God's offer of love and forgiveness to the killer.

That is Christianity in practice!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

"Letter from Birmingham Jail"; Complete Text aand Outline

If you have not read this, Justin Taylor has posted Dr. Martin Luther King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail" with an outline over at The Gospel Coaliton. I highly recommend reading this letter.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. not only wrote intelligently and on a foundation of Christian love, he wrote prophetically reaching the reader's conscience. It is an excellent work.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Praying doctrine...

"Doctrine cannot be understood unless it is prayed...And doctrine, if it is to be prayed, must also be lived..."
- Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, new edition, Penguin Books, 1997, page207.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

That Dangerous "Slippery Slope": It runs both ways...

Recently, I have found the "slippery slope" argument being used quite a bit among conservative Evangelical Christians to argue that holding certain beliefs will inevitably lead to belief in a number of bad things, usually theological liberalism. Do you believe in: women in ministry; continuation of the spiritual gifts; or, a different interpretation of any passage in the Bible that threatens the status quo? Then, as the argument goes, you may be on the "slippery slope" towards liberalism.

Yet, there are several problems in using the "slippery slope" argument. For example, today's comic by Scott Adams (June 06th, 2015) shows how Dilbert's boss uses a "slippery slope" argument as a way to stop a conversation and avoid solving a problem at work. You can access this comic here. As seen in this comic, a "slippery slope" argument does not answer questions, resolve arguments, or provide solutions to problems.

Given this, why do people invoke this argument? It can be used to shut down debate. It is a conversation stopper! In using this argument, a person conveys the message that it is more important to control the argument than to answer questions or debate important concepts. 

A few other problems include:

1. The misuse of the truth is a slippery slope, itself. I have noticed that people invoking the slippery slope argument only see one slippery slope that leads to liberal doctrine and diluting the Gospel message. They do not see how their refusal to debate an issue on its own merits can be a slippery slope towards legalism and intellectual rigidity, even if they are doctrinally correct.

2. Those who invoke the "slippery slope" argument do not see how this argument can be used against them, as well. For example, I once had a Roman Catholic friend who argued that the Reformation was wrong because it put the Church on the "slippery slope" to disunity and opened the door to doctrinal heresy. Ironically, many of my friends today who invoke the "slippery slope" argument are Protestants who do not see how this argument can be used against them.

3. Invoking the "slippery slope" argument does not prove or disprove a proposition. Much like an ad hominem argument, if you cannot win with logic and facts, attack the man. That is, if you cannot win an argument, resort to the "slippery slope" to shut down debate. 

Indeed, I find it hard to refute "slippery slope" arguments because it shuts down the discussion. It suggests that no matter how correct my proposition may be, it must be wrong because it inevitably leads to something worse. This is why it is so important to understand that "slippery slopes" go both ways: they not only can lead to false doctrine and a dilution of the Gospel, "Slippery slopes" can also lead to legalism and rigidity.

One way to avoid the temptation to use the "slippery slope" argument is to check one's motives. Paul wrote, "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person" (Colossians 4:6 ESV). Are you trying to provide a proper answer, or are you trying to control the argument and control the other person?

Again, one can avoid the “slippery slope” argument by addressing issues each on their own merit. If something is true (for example, that salvation is by faith in Christ alone, and not by works - Ephesians 2:8-10), then we must argue for this truth and not be swayed that such beliefs may be "slippery slopes" towards Church disunity. Can you argue for a doctrine on its own merits?

Certainly, if a belief or doctrine is wrong, then one must persuade others of its error. In doing so, we must be like the Jews of Berea who “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11 ESV). This is necessary because, as John Locke wrote,

All the Life and Power of true Religion consists in the inward and full perswasion of the mind: and Faith is not Faith without believing…true and saving Religion consists in the inward perswasion of the Mind, without which nothing can be acceptable to God.
- A Letter Concerning Toleration, edited by James H. Tully, 1983, Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., p. 26-27.

Using the "slippery slope" argument does not effectively persuade someone about the truth of a belief or proposition. At best, this argument installs an unhealthy fear in a person rather than nurturing a living faith. At worse, it fails to refute bad doctrine or promote the message of Christ. It is an argument based on fear, and is motivated by fear. Therefore, Christians must seek to persuade others of the truth of a doctrine with the help of the Holy Spirit rather than shut the argument down with fear.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Where is Moral Decay Found: Government or Business?

"In this growing -- we fear it must be said rapid -- decay of virtue and integrity in legislative halls, in some quarters even in courts of justice, and in leading financial circles, the most portentous evils are opening before us. Can they be arrested? The answer to this question depends upon another. Have we vital Christianity enough among us to check the progress of moral decay? Is there that fear of God and love of truth and right among our countrymen, which will insist on honesty and integrity in the administration of public affairs and in the conduct of financial corporations and commercial enterprises?"
- William Henry Green, Conflict and Triumph: The Argument of the Book of Job Unfolded (1999, Banner of Truth Trust), p. 17. William Henry Green (1825-1900), a linguist and Old Testament scholar, and was the chair of Biblical and Oriental Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1851 to 1900.

I like in this quote because Dr. Green applies the need to have virtue and integrity in both government ("the administration of public affairs") and business ("the conduct of financial corporations and commercial enterprises"). It has been rightly said before that politics is downstream from culture, and Dr. Green notes the need for vital Christianity in our culture.

Too often, contemporary politics distorts the Christian message, such that conservatives decry big government and liberals decry big business. Each is a biased view. Dr. Green properly applies the standards of honesty and integrity to both government and business, and notes that all individuals need the eternal foundation of authentic faith in Christ.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Church's Destructive Power

"God has put into his church, when he is in it, a most wonderful, destructive power as against spiritual wickedness. A healthy church kills error, and tears in pieces evil. Not so very long ago our nation tolerated slavery in our colonies. Philanthropists endeavored to 
destroy slavery; but when was it utterly abolished? It was when Wilberforce roused the church of God, and when the church of God addressed herself to the conflict, then she tore the evil thing to pieces. I have been amused with what Wilberforce said the day after they passed the Act of Emancipation. He merrily said to a friend when it was all done, “Is there not something else we can abolish?” That was said playfully, but it shows the spirit of the church of God. She lives in conflict and victory; her mission is to destroy everything that is bad in the land."
- Charles Spurgeon, "The Best War Cry."

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Who was Seth's Wife?

Conservative theologians believe Moses wrote the Pentateuch, or at least someone wrote his words down in these first five books of the Bible. This means Genesis had the same author as Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Therefore, whatever is written in these books came from the same human being, Moses, who was inspired by the Holy Spirit (see I Timothy 3:16).

This means Moses wrote both about the sons of Adam and Eve, and also about the law contained in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. What was written? Specifically, “Cain knew his wife…” (Genesis 4:17), and “Seth…fathered Enosh… (Genesis 5:6). Cain and Seth were the sons of Adam and Eve. Who were the women they married if Adam and Eve were the first and only human beings created? I was taught these men each married one of their sisters, respectively.

Yet, Moses also wrote the following about marrying one’s sister:
Leviticus 18:9 – 11 “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your sister, your father's daughter or your mother's daughter, whether brought up in the family or in another home. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your son's daughter or of your daughter's daughter, for their nakedness is your own nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's wife's daughter, brought up in your father's family, since she is your sister.”
Leviticus 20:17 “If a man takes his sister, a daughter of his father or a daughter of his mother, and sees her nakedness, and she sees his nakedness, it is a disgrace, and they shall be cut off in the sight of the children of their people. He has uncovered his sister's nakedness, and he shall bear his iniquity.
And finally,
Deuteronomy 27:22 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his sister, whether the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’”

Now, I was taught that brothers and sisters marrying was ok until human DNA was corrupted, and then it was prohibited. Notice, however, that the same author who wrote about Cain and Seth being married did not indicate that each man married his sister. This is adding something to scripture that is not implied. Rather, the same author made it clear sexual relations between a brother and sister was prohibited. Likewise, nothing is mentioned about a brother’s and sister’s offspring bearing the iniquity. Review the above scriptures and you will see that the man who commits this act bears the iniquity. Nothing is mentioned about the children being cursed.

Also, nothing is mentioned in these passages that while men at one time could marry their respective sisters, now God is prohibiting such practices. Indeed, Leviticus chapter 18:1-6 begins as follows:
“And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the LORD your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.
“None of you shall approach any one of his close relatives to uncover nakedness. I am the LORD.”

From this passage we see that marriage between brothers and sisters had been ongoing in the lands around Israel. From the sense of these passages, God always prohibited this act.

So, who was the woman Seth married? She cannot be Seth’s sister because Moses, the author of Genesis, noted in Leviticus and Deuteronomy that this was prohibited. We do know that God created her. Likewise, I do not conclude that Genesis contradicts Leviticus and Deuteronomy, as is implied by some theologians and clergy.

Rather, these must have been other people created by God, as were Adam and Eve, for Moses wrote,
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
“So God created man in his own image,    
in the image of God he created him;    
male and female he created them.”
- Genesis 1:26-27

God creating “them” may have a plural meaning going beyond one man and one woman. Clearly, to claim that God later changed his mind about brothers and sisters marrying goes against the clear intent of scripture, and is reading into scripture words and meaning that are not there. Clearly, Adam and Eve are real people, as were Seth and his wife. Clearly, God is the Creator.

Much more could be written, but that is enough to think about for now. May the Holy Spirit guide our understanding of scripture.

(Scripture passages, above, are quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition).

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Police are NOT the Authority in the Bible.

As an Evangelical Christian, I am very concerned with a trend I see among politically conservative Christians in the United States. I see many such Christians supporting right-wing authoritarian policies, and claiming the Bible supports such policies. This can be seen in their various responses to several shootings of African-American men by police officers recently.

Today, many of us saw a video of an ugly scene where a police officer shot an African-American man, Walter Scott, as he ran away. As noted in a CNN article:

"Regardless of why Walter Scott ran, "running from an officer doesn't result in the death penalty," family attorney Chris Stewart said." Well said!

Over the past year, I have read many comments by politically conservative Christians supporting the police in other cases where the police have shot African-Americans. Such politically conservative Christians give unqualified support for the police, and they base this upon the idea the police are the authority and must be obeyed. Yet, the Bible does not teach that police officers are the authority.

Rather, the ultimate authority the police must answer to is God (See Romans 13:1). After than, they are under the authority of the US Constitution, the legal sovereign of the United States of America. In civil societies, the rule of law is practiced. Police are NOT the ultimate authority as many conservative Christians claim.

This idea that police are not the authority is seen in the Gospel of Luke. There, we read of a Roman centurion who sent word to Jesus requesting He heal his servant. When Jesus went to the centurion, he sent his friends to Jesus with a message saying he was unworthy to receive Jesus. However, he had faith that Jesus could heal his servant. The centurion said:

"For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me...." (Luke 7:8 ESV).

Note, he did not claim to be the authority, but a man "set under authority." So it is with our military personnel and with our police. They are set under the authority of our sovereign, the US Constitution, and ultimately under the authority of God. This means they must act within the bounds of the law.

Indeed, I truly support honest police and sympathize with the pressures they must face day to day. It is a most difficult, and needed profession in a civil society. Therefore, when an officer goes beyond the law in his actions, he is no longer acting under the authority of the US Constitution or God.

Now, think of a few consequences of the police officer shooting Walter Scott:
- the family of Walter Scott grieves over his death. He cannot be replaced.
- respect and support for the law diminishes in such communities.
- honest police officers are viewed through the lens of this action by many citizens. Corrupt police officers stain the reputations of honest police officers and make it harder for them to enforce the law.

When I lived in Los Angeles, California, I read of cases where men were routinely beat up and women routinely raped by corrupt police officers in an anti-gang unit. So, I ask my conservative brothers and sisters in Christ to think of your son or daughter in such a situation. Would you support the police? Would you tell your sons and daughters to submit to beatings and rape?

Again, think of your sons in the situation Walter Scott was in: would you support the police shooting your son if he ran away?

It is time Christians stand up for justice instead of trusting human power. Psalm 20:7 says, "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God" (ESV). Christians giving unqualified support to corrupt police officers show that they trust force rather than justice and the rule of law.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

God's presence is our cover, our hiding place

God's presence is our cover, a hiding place:

Psalms 32:7 (ESV)
You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah

Psalms 119:114 (ESV)
You are my hiding place and my shield;
I hope in your word.

Psalms 27:5 (ESV)
For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will lift me high upon a rock.

Psalms 31:20 (ESV)
In the cover of your presence you hide them
from the plots of men;
you store them in your shelter
from the strife of tongues.

Revelation 21:3-4 (ESV)
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place [literally "tent"] of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

God's presence is our hiding place, His cover, and one day will be openly shown in the New Heaven and New Earth. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Loving God with the Mind...

"Theology is a form of loving God with the mind."

- Hendrikus Berkhof,
  Christ The Meaning of History (1966, Wipf & Stock Publishers).

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Christian Clergy: Managers & Leaders v. Pastors

     This month I have written two articles about managers and leaders. One is under my blog, Dr. Rob's Podium, and takes a secular approach to this topic. Here in the second article, I am extending that post to the local church. So, it would behoove the reader to first read my article, "Managers and Leaders."
     In this present blog, my basic argument is this: Churches today have too many clergy that are managers and leaders, but not pastors. That is, we have many clergy that are managers who see their job primarily in terms of running a religious organization with a here-and-now focus on church issues. At the same time, there are a fewer number of clergy who are leaders and builders who take a future orientation on the organization, while at the same time have developed management skills in running a large church. Such men often have built up a church into a mega-church.
     The problem arises when such pastors take a managerial and leadership perspective that neglects the pastoral role needed in all churches. In a previous blog, "Pastors: an endangered species," I wrote about the need for more pastors in our churches. I argued that,
"Most clergy I know are preachers, builders, managers, and some are scholars, but few are pastors. A pastor is one who shepherds a people. ...Pastoring is personal, while preaching, building, and managing are all personal at best only to a few in the church who work with the pastor in these endeavors."
     What happens when we include a clergy's orientation towards the future? Those that do not have a future orientation and do not include the personal element in their ministry can be regarded as managers. They work very hard, but their ministry is mostly formal. I have known quite a few such clergy, and suspect they may be in the majority of clergy in evangelical churches in the United States today.
     Clergy who have a future orientation can be either leaders/builders or transformers. One might ask, "Aren't leaders those who transform their organization or society?" The answer is that they, indeed, can be transformers, but more often are not. Transformers are rare.
     Those clergy who are leaders, but not transformers, have a future orientation towards their organization, and seek to become professionals in order to grow their organization. However, the focus of such a leader is often on growing their respective church organizations in order to transform society, not on transforming society by way of discipling individuals. Indeed, such leaders may have discipleship and mentoring programs as a means to grow their churches, but take an impersonal approach to such endeavors. They have such a big-picture orientation that church members, as individuals, are left out of their focus. Although such individuals are a minority among clergy, they are more numerous, I suspect, than clergy who are transformers.  
     Indeed, clergy who are transformers have traits of managers, leaders, pastors and scholars. As managers, they have learned to manage their churches or rely on others to manage such organizations. As leaders, such clergy have a vision of their organizations and strategically work to achieve its mission. However, as transformers, they do not view success in terms of becoming a "big church." Why? It is because as pastors, they understand both the need for a strong personal element in discipleship, and that big organizations lose that element by the nature of being big. Max Weber, the German sociologist, noted that large organizations must be governed by impersonal rules enforced by individuals holding impersonal offices.
     To counter this problem, clergy often try to grow big organizations made up of small groups. Their goal is to build mega-churches with a personal touch. The problem is that such small-groups often lack real pastoring because they either lack the personal element needed in pastoring, or they lack other elements needed in pastoring such as theological training, interpersonal skills, etc. Thus, such small groups are sheep without a personal shepherd (Mark 6:34).
     I believe in the role of lay pastors in a church and think such positions need to be expanded. However, such callings cannot be made through organizational systems made up of impersonal rules, which are the very characteristics of large organizations. Such lay pastors must have extensive theological and interpersonal training beyond that provided by most churches. People qualified for such positions are rare because it requires both an intellectual and interpersonal orientation, as well as extensive mentoring by a pastor. Furthermore, the Apostle Paul noted that individual Christians do not possess all of the spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit in the Church (see I Corinthians chapter 12), which means God has not called everyone to such roles.
     So, evangelical churches have many clergy who are managers. They do not have a future orientation towards their congregations or their organizations. Often, they have a strong internal focus without a true evangelical focus on preaching the gospel and making disciples outside their congregation.
     Although fewer in number than managers, there are many evangelical clergy who are leaders building large organizations governed by impersonal rules. Such churches have discipleship and mentoring programs run by lay leaders in the church who have inadequate theological and interpersonal training needed to make such programs spiritually successful.
     Still rarer are clergy who are transformers. These are the pastor-theologians who have elements of managers and leaders, but retain the personal element throughout their ministry along with a strong theological orientation. Such people see how people, ideas, and organization all go together. They do not shy away from the intellectual element of theology, but rather, seek to explain theological ideas in language accessible to their congregation. They also do not shy away from the personal element because they understand that discipleship cannot be accomplished through large impersonal organizations. Finally, they do not shy away from management because they realize that people need organization in order to support the mission our Lord Jesus gave us to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Sprit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV). If they do not have the gift of administration, they value and rely on others in their organization who have such skills (maybe deacons?). They certainly must have a future orientation to their ministry, seeing the mission of the church as a prophetic certainty (Matthew 16:18-19).
     Because clergy who are transformers do not focus on the size of their church, they often focus on building networks among churches within and between denominations, and as such are missionary-pastors who seek to expand the Kingdom of God on earth until Jesus returns.
     Clergy who are transformers are not simply managers and leaders. God calls clergy to be transformers. They transform their organizations and society through personal relationships on a small level. They are pastors and missionaries at the same time. Because of this, they develop managerial and leadership skills, but such skills do not define their mission. They are more defined by their roles as pastors.
     We need more pastors in our churches.

     A book I recommend written by a member of the clergy is John Piper's, Brothers, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry, Updated and Expanded Edition. My recommendation in no way implies an endorsement of my views by Rev. Piper.