“We’ve All Been Indoctrinated”

Currently, I am working through Kevin Vanhoozer’s newest book, Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine. Only three chapters in, and already I recognize that this will be a book to which I will return again and again in my own ministry. In fact, since I have been engaged in the job search as of late, I have had a number of people ask me: “What is your philosophy of ministry?” In the future, my answer (at least in part) will be: “Read Vanhoozer’s, Faith Speaking Understanding.”

At one point in the book, Vanhoozer rightly says: “Doctrine is inevitable. We’ve all been indoctrinated: everyone has absorbed some system of beliefs and values” (53). He then proceeds to summarize Christian Smith’s work, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Vanhoozer writes:

[Smith] discovered that the majority of American teenagers are still religious, believers active in their churches. However, they are ‘incredibly inarticulate about their faith, their religious beliefs and practices, and its meaning or place in their lives.’ This does not mean that they do not hold to certain doctrines. On the contrary, Smith says they have an implicit theology: ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,’ or MTD for short (an apt acronym for a socially transmitted disease). Adherents to MTD are often affiliated with traditional faith communities, unaware that they are practicing something very different from their historic faith communities. It has also infected people who no longer go to church, so much so that it may be ‘the new mainstream American religious faith for our culturally post-Christian, individualistic, mass-consumer capitalist society.’ If those who hold this faith could articulate it as a creed, it might go something like this:

I believe in a creator God who orders and watches over life on earth. I believe that God wants people to be good: to act nice to one another [the ‘moralistic’ tenet]. I believe that the central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about oneself [the ‘therapeutic’ tenet]. I believe that God is not involved in my life except when I need God to solve a problem. I believe that good people go to heaven. Virtual worlds without end. Amen.

This, too, is doctrine, but alas: it expresses an unbiblical, non-Trinitarian faith (54-55).

The Path of Death is the Only Way to Healing

J. Todd Billings is quickly becoming one of my favorite theologians. His book on theological interpretation of Scripture is outstanding, and I’ve recently finished reading his book, Union with Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church, which likewise is excellent. In a recent article, Billings writes of his battle with cancer. I highly recommend the article. It’s short, yet powerful. Here is an excerpt:

As I lived through my ordeal, my eyes were opened anew to what it means for sinners like us to receive deep healing from God. We don’t just need a vitamin; we don’t just need a bandage to cover a flesh wound. We need strong medicine—we need death and new life united to Christ in order to be healed. Far too often, I have acted as if the gospel were a self-improvement plan to strengthen a muscle, to heal a small wound, to enhance my success. But the gospel is about losing our lives for the sake of Jesus Christ, tasting death to the old self in order to experience true life and healing. “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11). Our hope is not in ourselves, but in our engraftment—our union with Christ. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom. 6:4). There is no way to healing apart from death. This is a reality for all of us. God’s gospel medicine is not a light massage or an energizing pill. We cannot have only resurrection, skipping over our union with Christ in his death, our death to the old self. We desperately need healing. And the Great Physician provides this in mysterious ways.

An Interview with Mark Dever

Here is an excellent interview with Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church and president of 9Marks Ministries. At one point, Dever is asked about the importance of expositional preaching. He responds:

A lot of preaching in America is cruddy. It’s terrible in liberal churches because they don’t understand God or the Bible, and terrible in conservative churches because they take it for granted and just want people to have good families. Whether a preacher is a hipster church planter or an overconfident revitalizer who’s going to take care of the last cruddy guy’s ministry, the main work is to open the Bible and tell the people what God’s Word says.

Couldn’t agree more! I encourage you to read the full interview.

Sport and Christianity

As a graduate of Beeson Divinity School, I regularly listen to the Beeson podcast. Recently, Dr. Douglas Webster, a good friend and former professor, talked about sports and Christianity. You can listen to the conversation between Dr. Webster and Dr. Timothy George here. Dr. Webster is part of a team of Christian coaches, administrators, and academics who have been working on the Declaration on Sport and the Christian Life, a statement designed to encourage dialogue and invite action from Christians, leaders of Christian institutions, and Christian influencers in the sports world. The Declaration has twelve parts:

1. Sport has a legitimate place in the Christian life.

Sport has its basis in a divinely-given impulse to play and deserves a rightful place in Christian living. People play sport primarily for the love of the game, the thrill of competition, and the sense of community that comes from participation. When played and watched in faithfulness to God sport occupies a legitimate place as part of the created world and helps express our relationship to God and to one another. When passion for sport exceeds passion for Christ or the work of His church, or when sport becomes all-consuming and commitments such as worship, service, and family are diminished, sport poses a challenge to the consecrated life. In light of who God is and who He calls us to be, we must examine and order our affections and priorities regarding sport.

2. Sport touches all dimensions of human life.

God created humans as holistic, unified creatures. Sport engages us, not only bodily, but mind and spirit as well. It can powerfully affect our emotions, mental states, and spiritual lives. Our experiences in sport can, at times, uplift as well as disappoint us. When sport is viewed only as a physical activity, participants miss important transcendent moments that engage one’s entire being.

3. Sport can be a means of spiritual formation.

Christians acknowledge the bodily dimension of spirituality and practice faith in and through sport as embodied people. Like aesthetic endeavors, sport can remind us that God is the source of all strength, grace, and beauty of movement. Sport can help focus our attention on the reality of God and our humanness in special ways offering formative experiences in which God communes with us. When sport is approached self-indulgently and apart from the wisdom of God, spiritual growth is thwarted, hindering our formation.

4. Sport can glorify God.

To glorify God is to reflect the will and way of Christ in everything. Thus, the quality of the Christian’s play and participation should be distinctive, marked by Spirit-informed virtues including love, hope, faith, patience, kindness, humility, self-control and other fruit of God’s Spirit. Success in sport competition can help garner public acclaim for oneself, one’s team, one’s community, or one’s country. These forms of glory should not be confused with bringing glory to God.

5. Competition is an essential element of sport.

In competition, players test their skills and strategies in an environment of uncertainty and drama. Competition provides opportunities for personal growth, friendship and enjoyment, and can lead to maximum athletic performance. During games, relationships are characterized by a playful antagonism in which competitors elevate their own interests above those of their opponents. This playful antagonism is central to the concept of sport. However, when winning becomes an end in itself it can breed resentment and may dishonor God. Tactics and environments that persuade players, coaches and fans to supplant playful antagonism with mean-spiritedness have no place in a Christian approach to sport.

6. The true value of sport is inherent in the experience itself.

We can delight in our role as Christ-followers in the world of sport and understand that our behavior in contests is a form of witness to the kingdom of God. Our experience in sport reveals our playfulness, our desire to be excellent, and our desire to belong. When the human experience of sport is subverted to other ends, for example, as a means of commerce, a way to achieve fame, publicity, money, or personal glory, attention is diverted from the importance of the sport experience itself.

7. Sport has many benefits but they are conditional.

When we do sport well it has the potential to improve health, develop social and familial relationships, strengthen moral character, foster positive life habits and civic engagement, and act as a vehicle for peace, reconciliation, and the witness of the good news of Jesus Christ. But these effects are conditional. Their realization depends upon the moral and symbolic meanings we give to sport as well as the motivations of the participants. It should not be assumed that sport, irrespective of these considerations, will have its intended beneficial effects.

8. God created our bodies for His service and our enjoyment.

Sport can promote physical health and well-being and encourage the stewardship of our bodies. At the same time, sport entails a risk of injury and the potential for abuse. Sometimes sport encourages violence as part of a competitive strategy and elevates the probability of injury beyond a reasonable level. An unhealthy pursuit of excellence can encourage the use of questionable training habits and harmful performance-enhancing practices. The human body is a reflection of the image of God and such practices should not be condoned.

9. We do not control whether God favors one player or team over another.

In a Christian view of sport God is acknowledged as Father of all who compete. God shows no favoritism.   All players, coaches, and fans – regardless of team affiliation – are created in the image of God and are deserving of Christian goodwill, kindness, and love. God should not be portrayed as favoring one competitor over another, and Christians should not think of opponents as less than human, less honorable, less deserving of Christian love, or less loved by God than ourselves.  We thank God for good moments in sports, yet we also thank him for apparently bad moments – all for His purposes.

10. Christian virtues are revealed in behaviors that go beyond obeying the rules.

Rule governing sport define how games are to be played and ensure a measure of fairness in competition. By joining the game, players implicitly agree to follow the rules. Therefore, Christians should not seek ways to circumvent the rules governing sport contests. Yet, Christians are bound by a higher calling, not only to obey the rules, but to apply self-imposed behaviors upholding the witness of Christ even when such acts might work to their competitive disadvantage.

11. Sport programs are a vital component of Christian education.

Sport is an effective complement to classroom knowledge when wisely integrated into Christian schools and universities. Participating in sport can lead students to truth and assist them in developing a mature faith. This requires careful thought and planning with an eye toward educational outcomes. When institutions disproportionately emphasize sport or yield the purpose and practice of sport programs to those interested only in winning, they undermine the educational promise of sport.

12. Sport is powerful.

Sport inspires us with displays of grit and grace. Competitive drama moves us in ways that few other forms of entertainment do. Watching sport can be a means of celebrating God’s creation and goodness, leading to a spirit of hope and joy. Left unchecked, passion can lead to obsession. The power of sport has the potential to cloud spiritual discernment and invite both idolatry and the neglect of self, family, and church.

The Sport and Christianity Group is calling for Christians to stand with them by endorsing these principles. Check out the website here and consider signing the Declaration.


Mark Driscoll Resigns: What Can We Learn?

On Tuesday, October 14th, Mark Driscoll submitted his resignation as lead pastor of Mars Hill Church. The story has been covered by CNN, Huffington Post, Christianity Today, and the list goes on. One of the best things I have read is the sagacious little piece by Trevin Wax, in which he focuses on what churches can learn from Driscoll and the Mars Hill mess. Here are the four excellent points he raises:

1) What we can learn: Leadership matters. Church members need to know what spiritual abuse of leadership looks like, and church leaders need to be trained well, enthusiastically supported when they walk in line with Scripture, and held accountable when they abuse their position of authority.
2) What we can learn: Polity matters. Know your church’s structure of authority well and do your best to empower godly people to lead well through times of crisis.
3) What we can learn: Don’t dismiss people outside your theological circles who exhibit the fruit of a vibrant walk with Christ. Also, don’t overlook or excuse character flaws from leaders inside your theological circles, as if doctrine matters more than life.
4) What we can learn: Look for wisdom and maturity more than glitz and glamor. Be willing to ask tough questions of the popular leader no one wants to challenge.
You can read the full piece here.

There and Back Again

10641040_10152732384471972_5921206948559689171_nTomorrow we bid farewell to the beautiful land of the long white cloud. Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, we will arrive in Birmingham, AL on Wednesday night. Below is our itinerary and a few prayer requests. We are excited to see family and friends very soon. And heaps of thanks for the prayers!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014   

Out of Dunedin 6:00pm (Tuesday 1:00am Birmingham time)

Arrive in Auckland 7:45pm (Tuesday 2:45am Birmingham time)

Out of Auckland 9:30pm (Tuesday 4:30am Birmingham time)

Arrive in Los Angeles 2:45pm (Tuesday 4:45pm Birmingham time)

Tuesday Night, September 16, 2014

Holiday Inn Express Los Angeles International Airport

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Out of Los Angeles 1:35pm (3:35pm Birmingham time)

Arrive in Houston 6:55pm (Same in Birmingham)

Out of Houston 7:30pm

Arrive in Birmingham 9:05pm

Prayer Requests

Please pray for Dillon and his wife, Jamie. Specifically, ask the Lord to give them patience, kindness, and gentleness as they endure the long journey with two wee boys.

Please pray for Aidan (age 5) and Cullen (age 3). Especially, pray that they will be able to sleep (for a long, long time) on the flight from Auckland to LA.

Please ask God to place polite people at key points of the Thornton’s journey, people who will help them get six checked bags, four carry-on bags, and two children through the numerous check points and across the various airports.

Please pray that the Thornton family will arrive safely in Birmingham, with suitcases and sanity intact.

Port Chalmers: The Place We Have Called Home

Insiders Dunedin has put together a great little video on Port Chalmers, the place we have called home for the past three years or so.

Port Chalmers is a vibrant community with a population of 3,000. The village lies around 15 kilometres northeast from Dunedin’s city centre. Port Chalmers has a strong cultural scene and is home to a number of artists, potters, musicians, jewellers, designers and sculptors. The people who call Port Chalmers home come from all walks of life; from Port workers, creatives, teachers, farmers, business owners and more. This diverse community coupled with the area’s natural beauty and historic buildings makes Port a particularly interesting place.

The video has some beautiful aerial shots of Port. Check it out.


God’s Grace is Greater Than All Our Sins

Lyle Dorsett, Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism at Beeson Divinity School, has written an excellent article for Christianity Today. In the article, Dorsett celebrates the “unbroken chain of God’s grace” in his life. In short, Dorsett shares his testimony. It’s powerful. At one point, he writes:

During the first six years of our marriage, I taught full-time and pursued research. Promotions came quickly, as did publications and grants. But despite the blessings of a lovely wife, two children, and professional success, no rest came to my soul. To fill the void I began to drink heavily. Although most people didn’t know it, I became an alcoholic. I never missed classes and seldom drank during the week, but I often binged on weekends.

Mary continued to pray. And one of my favorite students spent money he couldn’t afford to buy me a copy of G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, then challenged to me read C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. Simul­taneously, my car radio malfunctioned and stuck on a gospel station. I kept the radio on because I needed noise. Gradually the programs began to warm my soul.

Still doubting, I received a year’s leave to write a book. When I finished it early, I rewarded myself with a binge. One evening when Mary implored me not to drink around the children, I stomped out, found a bar, and drank until closing time. I left armed with a six-pack, drove up a winding mountain road, stopped at an overlook, and blacked out. The next morning I found myself on a dirt road next to the old Pioneer Cemetery in Boulder with no memory of the drive down.

Despite the hangover, I realized I had experienced a miracle. In utter desperation I cried out, “Lord, if you are there, please help me.”

You can read the article here. Or, if you prefer, you can watch Dr. Dorsett share his story here.

Teaching My Boys the Apostles’ Creed

We have devoted part of our family worship time in recent months to learning the Apostles’ Creed. If you are unfamiliar with the Apostles’ Creed, I recommend Alister McGrath’s book, “I Believe”: Exploring the Apostles’ Creed. McGrath writes: “[The Apostles’ Creed] is the oldest and simplest creed of the church. All Christian traditions recognize its authority and its importance as a standard of doctrine. To study the Apostles’ Creed is to investigate a central element of our common Christian heritage. It is an affirmation of the basic beliefs that unite Christians throughout the world and across the centuries” (14). Here is a video of my sons reciting the Creed (with only the slightest bit of coaching from dad).




A Lesson from Jesus’ Use of Illustrations

In his Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon compares illustrations in preaching to windows in a house—they “let in light.” A house made of windows is unstable. A house with no windows is just plain dull. Somewhere between these two extremes is where I try to live.

I recently listened to Richard Bauckham give a lecture on becoming “fishers of people” (Matt 4:19; Mark 1:17). Toward the end of the lecture, Bauckham made the interesting point that, though Jesus was a carpenter, we find no carpentry illustrations in Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels. He went on to suggest that this is precisely because Jesus made an effort to find illustrations in the lives of the people he was trying to teach. I think there is an important point for preachers and teachers here. It’s easy for me to think of an illustration about running, because I like to run, and I know a decent amount about the subject. But do I have any other runners in my congregation? In a rural church, would I “let in [more] light” by using an occasional farming illustration? If I have a number of architects in my congregation, would an illustration from their domain be more effective? I might not know anything about farming or architecture. It might require a bit of research, a little more effort on my part, to craft a quality illustration that comes from an area of life with which I am fairly unfamiliar. But it seems to me it would be worth it. We pastors probably should spend more time thinking about the people we are trying to teach when crafting our illustrations.

And if I’m right about all of this, if some of the best illustrations come from the lives of the people in our own congregations, then this is one reason why we pastors should not—not even for all of Spurgeon’s cigars!—use a book of generic illustrations.

Just a thought for your Saturday morning.

Challies Says “Character is King”; He’s Right

I have a lot of respect for Tim Challies. Without a doubt, his post is the best thing I have read on the events that have transpired recently within the young, restless, and Reformed crowd (i.e., Driscoll, Acts 29, etc.). I commend the post to all the young guns in ministry out there. Challies writes:

When the Bible lays out qualifications to ministry, it is character that rules every time. The Bible says little about skill and less still about results. It heralds character. And from the early days, Mark Driscoll showed outstanding natural abilities which led to amazing results. He knew and proclaimed sound theology. But he also showed an absence of so many of the marks of godly character. A hundred testimonies from a hundred hurt friends and former church members shows that what we saw from the outside was only a dim reflection of what was happening on the inside. The signposts were there, but we ignored them.

The entire post is worth reading; you can find it here. And concerning the biblical qualifications for ministry, see my post here.

Remember Jesus Christ

Today was a sad day for me, Jamie, and the boys. It was our last Sunday at our church, Owaka Grace Fellowship. Our time in New Zealand is quickly coming to an end. We will greatly miss this beautiful country, and especially those caring and generous folk in Owaka. They have made New Zealand feel like home for us. It has been a tremendous blessing serving alongside each of them.

For those who are interested, I have provided a copy of my sermon manuscript below. What does a pastor do on his last Sunday? He points the people to Jesus one last time.

Remember Jesus Christ (2 Tim 2:8-13) – August 17, 2014




Is ISIS Beheading Children?

This article by TGC editor Joe Carter is worth reading. He concludes that, while there is no doubt ISIS is persecuting Christians in Mosul and in other parts of Iraq, there are good reasons to question the claim about ISIS “systematically beheading children.” Carter writes:

As Christians, we have a duty to champion the truth. We should avoid spreading unsubstantiated claims and inflaming dread and panic by playing on people’s natural disgust of harm to children. ISIS is an organization that has committed heinous acts of violence and violated the human rights of many of our fellow believers. But we must not partake in the spreading of lies, even if it is against our enemies.

And the C.S. Lewis quote at the end of the article is worth its weight in gold!

Hopefully, the situation is not as bad as we have been led to believe. But our brothers and sisters in Iraq still need prayer. Pray with me for the persecuted church.

Acts 29 Removes Mark Driscoll

I’m sure I don’t know the full story, but based on what I’ve read and heard from Driscoll over the past few years, I think this is the right move.

Hoping that “the name of Christ will not continue to be dishonored,” the Acts 29 church planting network founded by Mark Driscoll has removed the Seattle pastor and his Mars Hill megachurch from membership.

“It is our conviction that the nature of the accusations against Mark, most of which have been confirmed by him, make it untenable and unhelpful to keep Mark and Mars Hill in our network,” said Acts 29 in an online statement signed by Matt Chandler and other board members of the network of 500 churches.

Acts 29 came to the drastic decision “with deep sorrow,” according to the statement. “In taking this action, our prayer is that it will encourage the leadership of Mars Hill to respond in a distinctive and godly manner so that the name of Christ will not continue to be dishonored.”

Mars Hill is no longer listed on the Acts 29 church directory page for Washington state. Acts 29 declined to comment further to CT.

In an expanded letter reportedly sent to Driscoll and Acts 29 pastors and obtained by Driscoll critic Warren Throckmorton, board members explain that the church planting network has received “countless shots and dozens of fires” over the past three years for Driscoll’s “ungodly and disqualifying behavior.”

Thus, even though Acts 29 remains “eternally thankful for what [Driscoll] as a man and Mars Hill as a church have meant to our network,” board members decided to remove Mars Hill churches from the network because the association “discredits the network and is a major distraction.”

“Based on the totality of the circumstances, we are now asking you to please step down from ministry for an extended time and seek help,” board members told Driscoll.

You can read the full Christianity Today article here.

“Back to school, back to school, so my dad won’t think I’m a fool…” –Billy Madison

It’s the start of a new school year in the States, so here’s some helpful reading. First, for parents: “Educating Our Kids: Exploring the Options.” Second, for college students: “10 Things to Do in College (Probably) More Important Than Going to Class.” And a hearty “Yes!” to numbers 1, 4, 7, and 10. Here’s number 10:

10. This is the single greatest piece of advice I’m going to give you: Go to Office Hours.
This is time that faculty has (to) set aside to meet one-on-one with students, and you should take advantage of it. Go early and go often: Form relationships with your teacher, ask questions about difficult material, prime them for that moment when you’ll ask for a letter of recommendation, and show them that you care — not just about your grade, but about your education. Do this whether your instructor is a TA barely older than yourself, or a world-famous professor once interviewed on The Daily Show. Just don’t be surprised if that hilarious, engaging lecturer acts, in office hours, like you’ve just walked in on him in the toilet. Academics are some of the most socially awkward people on the planet.

I hope I don’t fit the stereotype…