Why I’m Preaching Through 1 Peter

I created a brief “bumper video” for our new sermon series looking at 1 Peter. After it had shown for a couple weeks I got a couple questions about it, so thought I’d share some of my reasoning for why I addressed what I did in the video below.

First, everything I mentioned in the video is something that is a bit of a “hot button” issue in our cultural climate today. I specifically mention: whites vs blacks, men vs women, democrat vs republican, masks vs anti-maskers, and faith vs science as things the world uses to say Christians are wrong and can’t speak in to what is really truth. Part of the difficulty is there’s people on both sides of pretty much all those issues in every church. That’s where a book like 1 Peter is so helpful because he doesn’t allow us to divide into our various factions and groups, instead the gospel compels us to break down all these dividing markers and keep our focus on the primary realities that Jesus died for our sins and now reigns on high in heaven from where He will someday return to judge the living and the dead, right every wrong, and bring about perfect justice and peace (that’s where I talked about shalom – true and lasting peace a couple weeks ago in my sermon). 

Second, specifically referring to the race issue, I believe the organization Black Lives Matter is an abhorrent group that is being used to attempt to subvert many of the things God’s kingdom seeks to bring about. Interestingly, they recently took down their statement of beliefs because it is so controversial (pushing to get rid of the nuclear family, being driven by transgender rights and seeking the marginalization of both males and whites). 

Thirdly, I will say that despite the BLM organization being horrendous, there is still a history of oppression and marginalization of non-whites in the United States that serve as reminders of the fact that we are not yet home, but long for the day when Christ returns to bring perfect peace and reconciliation (as Paul reminds us to pursue in 2 Corinthians 5:16-21). There’s a couple at church who have 5 kids, 3 of whom are black and they have some very interesting stories of how their kids are treated differently, I’d encourage you to talk to them about their experience! There’s also some great resources out there on the history of race in America. One of which is a short video Phil Vischer (creator of Veggie Tales) put together here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGUwcs9qJXY&pp=QAA%3D where he brings up historic laws like Jim Crow laws and Redlining that sought to marginalize non-whites from specific rights or opportunities. It’s also important to note that this isn’t just true of us today as there’s a history of racism throughout the history of the church. Peter wouldn’t associate with Gentiles when Jews were around (Galatians 2:11-14), Martin Luther wrote a treatise titled ’On the Jews and Their Lies’ and Jonathan Edwards, one of my favorite American theologians owned slaves (of which you can read a couple responses HEREHERE and you can hear a lecture on this issue from the EFCA Theology Conference HERE). As a brief aside, the EFCA did an entire conference devoted to this issue in 2018 entitled ’The Gospel, Compassion and Justice, and the EFCA,’ you can see all the resources from that conference HERE. Another helpful resource is done by Andrew Wilson, a pastor from England, writing on ‘A Short History of Racism’ and ‘On Structural Racism’ in which he links to the Phil Vischer video listed above.

Fourthly, part of the issue in our current climate stems from critical race theory, the idea that the only categorizations that matter are those who have and wield power and those who do not (or those who are the oppressors and those who are the oppressed). This is one of those ideas that stems from Marxism and has gained increasing traction in the past decade as the means by which we engage in any conversation. In this category, white males are deemed the primary oppressors, meaning that because I am a white, middle class, educated male I am inevitably the oppressor, thus anything I say is deemed as not true so I must cede any ideas to those who are more marginalized than myself. This is completely false within a biblical worldview because there is an objective source of truth that is not rooted in someone’s experience. (We’ll be studying in the new year the 7 “I Am” statements Jesus uses throughout John’s Gospel, one of which is where He says “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” So to get the foundation of truth we need to go to Jesus!) There is objective truth and it’s ultimately found in God himself, and captured in His Word, the Scriptures, which is why we preach, teach, and study the Bible every week together at church. We must be shaped and formed by God’s Word not the culture in which we live. Tim Keller has written a series of VERY helpful articles on this very issue which are all linked to at THIS WEBSITE, just to warn you these 4 articles are really long, but well worth the time it takes to read through them.

Fifthly, although there is objective truth and one standard of truth, we all have different experiences which shape, inform, and influence the way we view and interact with the world around us. The difficulty becomes when one’s experiences become their defining characteristic instead of looking at the broader way in which their story interacts with the world as a whole. What we all need to do is bring our experiences back to the Bible and view our experiences through a biblical lens instead of viewing the Bible through our experiential lens. This is where Grant Osborne’s idea of a Hermeneutical Spiral  is so helpful as our experience shapes and informs our views, but then through study, mediation and sanctification we slowly become more and more what Christ has called us to be, that is holy (as we’ll be studying together this coming Sunday in 1 Peter 1:15). This is where it’s very helpful to talk to people about their background and story, because the gospel will cut against some aspect of every culture on this side of heaven, so we should look to see ways in which the gospel can encourage parts of any culture, and ways that we need to use the gospel to fight against bad parts of culture (Tim Keller is incredibly helpful on this issue, particularly in his book Center Church, and so is D.A. Carson’s book ‘Christ & Culture Revisited‘ in which he look at Richard Neibuhr’s five Christ and culture options from his book ‘Christ and Culture’).

Lastly, this entire discussion is where we need to be so saturated in God’s Word that we can gain an eternal perspective on any issue, and bring the truth of the Bible to bear on it. As we’ll be studying this coming Sunday from 1 Peter 1:23-25  God’s Word is the one thing that will last forever, nothing else will. This is where it is imperative for us as Christians to live as ambassadors of a different kingdom who serve a different king. We cannot be held captive by any political agenda, any cultural agenda, any racial agenda, or any agenda other than the one Jesus called us to: to make disciples of His Kingdom. This is where we all come together as God’s people from various backgrounds (be that different socioeconomic, cultural, racial, gender, or generational) and are eager to “love another another…from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22). That doesn’t mean unanimity or groupthink, what it does mean is dying to ourselves for the sake of each other. So my hope and prayer with this series is that it cuts against the grain of any political agenda people are bringing to Sunday mornings, and brings us back to truth, the truth of the gospel message, that Jesus saves and we can place our hope entirely in Him, and that this message will be made visible in our lives as an adornment of the gospel message we preach.

Singing to Teach

Whenever I’m asked why we spend so much time singing during a church service, there are two passages I cite. The first is Ephesians 5:18-21 where Paul says,

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

The second is also by Paul in Colossians 3:15-17 where he says,

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

In the first passage, Paul writes about one of the purposes of singing “addressing one another.” He words it similarly in Colossians when he says, “teaching and admonishing one another.” That means that we need to spend time singing to each other, and also means that the congregation needs to be able to hear each other! Mike Cosper, a worship pastor in Louisville, KY says, “we sing so that we can teach and admonish one another.” (Rhythms of Grace, 156)  Harold Best, a music professor at Wheaton college, words this even more strongly in his book Music Through the Eyes of Faith where he writes, “a congregation is just as responsible to sing the gospel as the preachers are to preach it.” (192)

The common thought among many Christians today is that the church is run by the pastors and leaders, which leads to a passive approach to church. People come to church to be fed instead of coming to serve those around them. This also is manifested when people refuse to sing during our corporate times of worship. Earlier in Ephesians, Paul writes that the job of the teachers is “to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.” (4:12) This also applies to music as it is done to equip those in the church to carry out the mission and ministry of Jesus. Therefore, singing plays an essential part to the ministry of the church. We must not neglect singing together, as some are in the habit of doing, instead let us continue to sing to build one another up and help teach each other the richness of the gospel message through the power of God to the ends of the earth.

Songs Are Like Sermons

One of the most common phrases I hear about contemporary worship songs is that they lack the depth and richness of hymns. While I would strongly disagree with that statement, I don’t hear the same argument being made for the sermons that are preached or (for most people) the Bible translations we use. When David penned the words, “Sing to the Lord a new song” did he actually mean it, or was it just a cute phrase he penned to mean something else?

One of the things I’ve been reminded about God recently is that we will never fully understand him. His ways are so much superior to ours that we need an eternity with him to be able to adequately understand him (Isaiah 55:8-9). That means that while the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God, it isn’t complete. If God can never be fully grasped, then all the ink and paper in the world could never adequately describe him (John 21:25). Every book about God will fall short in some area. This is one of the many reasons we continue to meet together on a weekly basis in the church: each week we’re reminded of who God is and what he’s about: redemption. The focal point of our time together on Sundays is generally the preaching of the Word which is, hopefully, an explanation of what the Bible is saying and how that applies to our lives today. While the preacher should preach Christ alone, he will still preach through the lens of his own life experiences and understandings, and no two preachers will sound the same. If they don’t preach exactly the same way through the texts of Scripture, can both still be right and faithful to the words of the Bible? I think, and really hope, so! Until Christ returns or we are called home our ideas of God will be skewed and will need to continually be honed and sharpened. We need the church and our family in Christ to continually point us back to God and to the glorious riches offered to us through Christ. We need a new word preached in a new way every week so our hearts of stone can be turned into hearts of flesh. Yet I don’t see the same logic applied to music.

Because God is completely superior to us, all the songs in the world would never be able to adequately describe him. That means we need new songs to be written that can help us to be reminded of who God is and what he is like. As we continue to be made more like Christ through the songs we sing, new understandings of God’s character will emerge and we’ll be able to relate to him in new ways that require new words. I would hope that our faith is an ever growing faith that moves us on to depth and maturity in faith. Yes, we cling to the words of Scripture as the primary source of truth, the norma normans (the rule that rules) while the songs we sing are the norma normata (the rule that is ruled).

So why don’t we hear people say, “These new sermons aren’t like they used to be,” or “These new sermons are so lacking in depth,” or “If only he would preach more like John Calvin”? Yet so many people will say these things about the songs we sing. No-I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater and never sing hymns – there is a legacy there and helps to keep us grounded in the tradition of our faith (just as a side note, that’s why I think reciting creeds as a church is helpful). But that doesn’t mean we need to demonize new songs or new styles within music. God is a God of innovation as he calls each new day into being. Instead of harkening back to a “golden age” of music or church (which I don’t think existed), be grateful for new ways to worship the God who can never be grasped. And in all that we do, whether in word or deed, may we do it all to the glory of God.

Worship Wars

After a week away in Chicago and some time with other EFCA pastors, I got to come back home on Friday night and prepare for meeting with the body on Sunday. Some of my discussions with friends at the conference lead to thinking through some issues related to music and church on Sunday (someone mentioned the book “When the Church Was a Family” which lead to a discussion on this issue). As an introduction to this issue, think through the question: when was the last time you viewed your family through a consumeristic lens? Does your family exist to serve you or to be served by you?

1. We live in a consumeristic world. 

The “i-everything” mindset has permeated into all our thinking. We’re able to enjoy whatever we want with a touch of our finger. We don’t like being inconvenienced or to have anything but our perfect ideas served to us. I can listen to whatever type of music I want on my phone or listen to whomever I want to listen to preach a sermon. This all leads us to draw into ourselves instead of looking for ways we can serve our brothers and sisters around us.

Unfortunately, so many people look for a church to see where they can “be fed” or where they enjoy the music or where they have their friends. There’s no looking around to see how you can serve or get involved and pour out your life for those around you. However, when everyone is looking to see what they can get out of church no one is going to grow or be made more like Christ. The pastor’s job isn’t to feed you, it’s to grow you. Growing sometimes hurts. Growing sometimes means being pushed outside your comfort zone and being forced to wrestle with deep seeded issues that take a lot of time and energy to work through.

This mentality isn’t just for the younger generation. I see many retired people who are convinced church should be all about them. They’ve put in their time and energies during their younger years to give up when they’re getting close to the finish line. Instead of continuing to pour into those younger than themselves, they draw into their own groups and similar ages friends to remember the “good old days” and wish things were the way they used to be. I need and am so grateful for older people who aren’t giving up, but are continuing to faithfully serve the church and equip the next generation to rise up and lead the charge for the next generation. My best youth worker is a retired high school principal who teaches the youth group Sunday School class and checks up on me to help me better pour into the students that attend the youth group. That’s how older Christians are to live with the next generation.

2. We are too focused on ourselves.

This is often done at the expense of those in the church we’ve been called to serve. Because we’re some consumer minded we don’t encourage those around us like we’re called to in Ephesians 5. Yes, Ephesians 5 tells us a number of different types of songs we’re to sing (psalms, hymns and spiritual songs) but at the end, Paul says as we do it we are, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” That means we must look beyond ourselves to the betterment of the body laying down our interests and passions so the church can grow.

I also think this is the primary reason people don’t sing in church. They’re either too embarrassed by their “bad voice” or they don’t want others to know how their voice sounds. It’s still too focused on yourself instead of encouraging those around you by praising God with your voice.

3. We all have unique and individual preferences.

We are all called to be a part of a body. That means we all have unique contributions to give to the church and all have a job to contribute to the betterment of the body. This means that we need to sacrifice our own wants and desires for the better growth of the gospel in our lives and the lives of those around us. I have a unique style of music I enjoy listening to and a specific style of preaching I best relate to, and I have yet to find a church that has everything I like, including the one I currently serve in. What I’ve looked for in a church is a place that I can serve. As I’ve heard said before (and I don’t remember where, so I’m sorry for not giving the credit where credit is due), “worship is a war, but it’s a war against myself.” Any time I come to worship God I need to fight against my fleshly impulses and selfish desires and wants for the good of the church I’m in.

4. We don’t love.

Francis Schaeffer wrote a book titled, “The Mark of the Christian.” What is that mark? Jesus in John 13 says it’s love. Not our definition of love where there is no calling out for wrongs, but God’s definition as laid out in 1 Corinthians 13. We’re called a family, a new family that runs deeper than just flesh and blood.

I naively thought that the “worship wars” that I’d read so much about were done and gone, and it so often to me feels like some people in the church have missed the memo that worship is about so much more than a style of music and is about God. It’s almost like the story of people who lived for decades without hearing that WWII had ended, and had been living in fear most of their lives. I pray that the church can move beyond individualistic preference and on to a family mindset.

“Solutions” for a Church That Won’t Sing

I’m starting to feel more and more like a cynic, I’m not sure if it’s because I’m getting older (I sure hope not) or that the new wave of blogs and people who think they’re experts on a variety of topics has grown. Probably some of both! Whatever it is, I stumbled across a blog today titled ‘13 Solutions for a Church That Just Won’t Sing‘ and initially got excited because this is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. What can I do as a music leader to help the people in the church I serve participate in our corporate times of singing? Then I read the article.

  1. The first point I whole heartedly agree with. We must begin with education. If someone doesn’t feel comfortable singing or know the songs very well they won’t be able to participate.
  2. This is where I started to sense I wouldn’t agree with this article. Most churches I’ve attended recently don’t even HAVE an organ in the building! And what makes an organ the most effective tool of worship songs? I would argue the opposite and the few churches I’ve attended that have an organ fewer people sing. Part of the reason the guitar is so easy to use to lead people in worship is because it’s an easy instrument to learn that allows others to easily join in and quickly help lead the congregation. Some of the most fun times I’ve had singing along with others are at “rock” shows where the primary instrument is a guitar.
  3. Once again, the answer to every question isn’t to go back to the way things used to be. Like it or not, contemporary-guitar led music looks like it’s going to be sticking around for a while, and I would argue that it’s good!
  4. I wholeheartedly disagree that the music team should “stand still.” Throughout Scripture we have accounts of people dancing whole heartedly before the Lord. Why should today be any different? We cannot and should not divorce the mind from the heart, and moving can and should be used as an expression of praise. That’s why we have the phrase “jump for joy!” We should be so excited that God has redeemed us through Christ, as I’ve told the congregation I serve “we above all other people in the world have a reason to celebrate.”
  5. Once again (if you couldn’t tell) I disagree that the “soloist” is the problem. I’ve seen a greater problem when there’s been a choir up front. People in the pews tend to sit back and try to enjoy the performance of the choir instead of actively participating in the singing. I would hope that the leader would be humble and use their platform to point the Christ, but to imply that the soloist is the reason people aren’t singing is a false assumption.
  6. Can we sing too much? I see so many more commands throughout the Bible to sing than to have an expository sermon. I don’t think we should do away with the sermon at all, in fact I enjoy preaching and listening to sermons on a regular basis, but how many sermons do you have memorized? How many songs do you have memorized? Songs allow us to (hopefully) easily remember Gospel truths.
  7. Finally! Another one I can agree with. This is the reason I’ve created a spotify playlist for people to learn and sing the songs we sing at church at home.
  8. This is one I half way agree with. Our spaces should be different because they are used as a sacred and set apart space. BUT God isn’t confined to a specific place or type of building. And many times we can’t change the buildings of the church we attend, but are simply stuck with a building that was there 30-40 or even 100 years ago. We are in the midst of picking out new carpet for our sanctuary, and I hope the space becomes more inviting and conducive to the worship of God. But that can be done in any, or no space.
  9. Once again, I agree. I hope Christians can do a better job of supporting arts and do music well and to the best of their ability.
  10. I think children singing begins at home, not the church. I have many fond memories of my family singing together, or listening to music with my sisters, or riding in my dad’s car singing our hearts out. This carried on o church. I thought singing was a normal thing for people to do!
  11. I think the words we sing matter much more than the music that accompanies them. The only person on my music team that has the printed music is the pianist because she’s the only instrument that plays the melody. When the “soloist” (I prefer the term leader) is capable and mixed well enough to be heard, people will learn the songs by singing. I think a majority of people today can’t read music anyway, so printing the music wouldn’t be worth the time.
  12. Once again, I agree with this. As I’ve said before, the words we sing matter much more than how we sing them. We should sing a wide variety of songs that deal with a wide variety of issues. Everyone comes to church with different experiences, backgrounds and expectations. I pray every week that the congregation is able to focus on Christ and be encouraged in their pursuit of him regardless of what issues they come to church with.
  13. I’m not sure how one goes about “placing strong voices strategically in the congregation.” In my experience people sit where they would like to sit and refuse to sit anywhere else. But I also try to sing songs repeatedly so people can learn and sing them! I don’t do them too much, but have a list of songs we sing regularly and will regularly add new ones and take older ones away.

I’ve talked a lot about my problems with this list, but what is my answer to the problem of congregations not singing? I’ve got a condensed list of 3 things:

  1. Educate. Why do we sing? Why do we sings specific songs? Why do we repeat phrases? Why do we stand when we sing? Letting the people know that singing is a command in Scripture is incredibly important. It doesn’t matter if one likes the music, the Bible doesn’t command us to. BUT we are commanded to sing to one another as a form of encouragement which is why we sing so much on a Sunday. It’s also helpful to explain why we sing specific songs, or help reveal confusing phrases or imagery in songs. There’s a reason for why we do what we do and it’s helpful to let everyone else in on those reasons. It may mean having a sermon series or Sunday school class working through books like Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin, or Doxology & Theology edited by Matt Boswell, or Rhythms of Grace by Mike Cosper.
  2. Model. If the leaders in the church aren’t modeling singing then the rest of the congregation will not be willing to sing either. This is also shown in physical expression. We are to worship God with our bodies, minds and souls. This is part of the reason we stand when we sing, to help engage our bodies in the worship of God.
  3. Persevere. It seems that the loudest voices are those who don’t enjoy the music at a church. Despite the complaints, continue to persevere with the help and support of the senior pastor. It’s exhausting hearing the various things you do wrong or the problems people perennially have with the music the church sings, but lean in to Christ and do not respond in kind. When I was in college I was told that there would always be people who would complain and I should either out-love them or out-last them.

On this side of heaven there will be no perfect congregation that always joins in the corporate singing, but that doesn’t mean we should give up trying! Continue to stand firm against those who would argue against music and trust that God can and will work in the lives of those who seem unchanged by the gospel message.

For a good laugh on the issue of contemporary music, see this article ‘Why Contemporary Worship Music is Dead and Decaying

Dealing with the “Gray Matters”

I was first introduced to Brett McCracken during my time at Taylor University when he came to speak about his first book “Hipster Christianity.” My time in college was right in the middle of the emergence of the “cool Christianity” taking off where many my age were dealing with the issues raise by the Emergent Church and doing our best to reconcile these new issues with our generally conservative Evangelical upbringing. I quickly found myself spending time with those of the more reformed persuasion popularized by Collin Hansen’s “Young, Restless and Reformed.” Along with our questions of faith came the questions of the legalistic upbringing we experienced including, but not limited to: no drinking, no dancing, no smoking, no R rated movies (unless it’s about Jesus), no swearing and no cards. (Ok, the no cards rule was my grandma’s when my dad and I took them out to play some Rook). As my friends and I grew during college we were also expected to sign an agreement saying we would continue to uphold these things during our time in college (Taylor recently lifted their ban on dancing, but I was already gone). 4 years after I heard Brett speak, I finally got around to reading his newer book “Grey Matters.” In it, Brett wrestles with 4 areas that have been divisive among Christians for many years: food, movies, music and alcohol, the latter being the most divisive in recent years (see John McArthur’s letter to the Young, Restless and Reformed).

Throughout the book Brett doesn’t shy away from recognizing that these areas can be divisive for people and does a fantastic job of acknowledging problems on both sides of these issues. The most surprising one for me was the section on food. How many of spend any time thinking about what we’re eating and why? Or why some foods taste so good and others don’t (those that don’t seem to always be the healthy ones. What’s the deal with that!?). Yet through all 4 of these areas discussed, they offer opportunities for us to worship God as we’re commanded to do in 1 Corinthians 10:31.

One of the keys that emerged from the book for me was how community changes all these areas. I really enjoy cooking-thinking through the spices and different ingredients can be combined together to form something that doesn’t taste anything like the separate ingredients on their own. And even better: pairing said meal with a good wine or beer. Yet when I cook a big meal and sit down to eat by myself, it’s never as enjoyable. I generally try to invite someone or someone’s over to enjoy it with me. There’s something even better about eating within the context of a community. And this is true of the other areas discussed as well.

All of us have a favorite band that we could listen to on repeat all day (or bands). How many people have you told about your favorite bands by giving them a CD or having them listen with you? And the same thing is said about movies. They’re so much more enjoyable when you can discuss the movie with someone later. And finally, the four letter word in some Christian circles: alcohol. Being able to discuss the different flavors accented by a beer or wine is a very enjoyable community experience that allows us to learn from each other (as long as everyone is legally able to partake, if you’re in the US and under the age of 21, this shouldn’t take place).

So I’m grateful that I finally took the time to read this book, it’s very helpful in thinking through a number of the ramifications that come from dealing with these gray areas in life, and all of them can either help or hinder our worship of God. How do you think you can use gray areas as an opportunity to worship God within the context of community?

Can A Conservative Evangelical Millennial Still Have A Voice?

If there’s anything the recent World Vision issue has taught me, is that I am increasingly going to be on the short end of the stick. I am someone who sponsors a child through World Vision and was concerned when they changed their employees stance on same-sex marriage. No, I wasn’t going to abandon the child I sponsored, but I was uneasy about identifying with an organization that I cannot agree with theologically, especially when there are other organizations that do the same thing World Vision does without compromising their beliefs. This issue isn’t simply about marriage, but about the authority of Scripture. Yes, there is room for different interpretations of Scripture, but not for questioning what God has clearly commanded. And despite what many have tried to argue, the Bible is clear that homosexual acts are a sin (not the only sin, mind you, but still a sin).

As these issues begin to become more frequent, I am continually seeing that people don’t want to listen to or agree with me because I am a conservative Evangelical who looks to Scripture as my final authority and look back to church history to help me understand the issues of today. As soon as Scripture begins to be questioned the rest of the Christian worldview falls apart. So what do we do when, as a writer at Desiring God put, the Bible is the controversy?

I know that there are a number of Millennials who are in the same boat as me. After all, the “Young, Restless, Reformed” movement is still on the rise among many of the people I talk to. There’s a growing awareness of the need for biblical authority and understanding to help us deal with issues like what happened with World Vision. People are willing to change the message of the Gospel in an attempt to make it more palatable. But the Gospel isn’t palatable. It’s offensive. Jesus said things that got him in a lot of trouble. He said things that were incredibly offensive, like “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Our whole faith hinges upon the brutal execution of an innocent man. This is how God showed his love to the world. By hanging his one and only Son on the cross in our place. How can you soften that blow? How can you being a sinner sound rosy and cheerful? And it’s not a one time event, it’s not saying a sinner’s prayer and having fire insurance, it’s a daily act. I think Luther said it best when he said, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.”

With all this concern that Evangelicals are shooting themselves in the foot by being too controversial, I think it’s necessary to look back at Jesus’ ministry to see just how offensive the Gospel really is. And I hope that drives people away! I’ve been saying for a while that I hope I offend people regularly. Not because of the things I do, but for the sake of the Gospel and Jesus being lived out in my life. I know I’m not always going to take the popular road, or the easy road, but I know that I will do my best to continue to follow the Lord’s leading and guiding in my life as I continue to live as a saved sinner in a sinful and broken world. I eagerly look forward to the day when Jesus will make everything right with the world and there won’t be controversy like this, but until that day, I will continue on.

For another look at this issue, see Trevin Wax’s article on this issue, it’s very helpful.

EFCA Theology Conference 2014

I’ve decided to do things a little differently this year and just continually updating this page with the new sessions in order. Would love to hear any questions or comments you might have!

A World Absorbing Text or a Text Absorbed by the World?

Dr. Richard Lints

Introduction – Cultural Saturation

Interpreting Overlapping Realities: Gospel and Culture

Misconceptions

Micro and Macro Stories

The Gospel as Theological Framework and Theological Vision

Culture as Macro and Micro Stories

Pre and Post – Modernity

Defining Narratives

Democratic Consumerism

Technological Rationalism

Social Pluralism

The Great Irony

Reading Our Times

Beginning Clues

Reading the Scriptures as a Canon

Being Read by the Scriptures

Christian Faithfulness in the Face of Ancient Cultural Challenges

Dr. D. Jeffry Bingham

  1. Christian Faithfulness in the Face of Persecution
    1. The Accusations of the Culture

1. Christians were being accused by a culture that was very religious, the culture saw Christians as atheists. This was the main motivation for Roman persecution.

2. Christians didn’t make good Roman citizens.

3. Romans viewed Christians as incestuous

4. Communion is viewed as cannibalistic

  1. The Faithful Responses of the Christians

1. They explained in literature and conversation. Showed how monotheism was something allowed even among the Romans, pointing to poets and scholars (Plato in particular) to show that monotheism was already accepted.

2. Pointed to their care for others (orphans, neighbors, hungry) as their appeal to how they were good citizens.

3. They said they were a family and that’s just the way they refer to themselves.

4. Eucharist was the reason they came together. They explained to the community what they were doing and why.

Christianity is a very gory religion, characterized by the sloppiness of blood.

  1. Christian Faithfulness in the Process of Scriptural Definition
    1. The Proposed, Erroneous Models of Scripture

On the one hand you had Marcion who cut most things out of the Bible, and then the other hand had add everything.

  1. The Faithful Responses of the Christians

The sacred text, if nothing else, included the Old Testament Hebrew Bible.

So they said nothing gets into the Bible unless it’s in harmony with the OT. And if they are universally embraced by Christians throughout the world. We don’t accept any text that doesn’t put the slaughter of Jesus as its’ focus.

Where is the Lord’s supper in your meetings?

The Opportunity to Learn from the Challenge of Race

Dr. Vincent Bacote

Mandela’s Death and movies like 12 Years a Slave show us the problem of apartheid and puts the legacy of racism right in front of us. Thought it may be in front of us, we may be tempted to avert our gaze.

  1. “Our” Issue and Our Mission: A commitment to Bible and the obligations of the gospel

Using the issue of race to enslave people is completely missing the idea of the greatest commandment: love God and love others. The Bible talks about it.

  1. Dancing with history: facing the world and society we have inherited in the modern West; why race remains a challenge for all of us in spite of improvements

These issues don’t simply disappear.

  1. Considering the Experience of Minorities: What can the church learn…and perhaps anticipate in the future.

The question of a lack of power. People become accustomed to accepting the fact that they are lacking in power. There’s also the question of hope.

  1. Considering Some Core Beliefs: How does our Christology, Soteriology and Ecclesiology lead us toward persistent and patient progress on the lingering question of race and the prospect of the evangelical church as a cultural minority?

Theology and ethics need to be seen together. Which Jesus do you emphasize? Which text do you go to when talking about Jesus? What do people experience at your church that helps deal with the issue of race?

If you’re going to be people of the book, are you considering all the book teaching us? Or are we just pragmatists?

  1. What Posture Should We Take: Faithful Presence, or something else?

Your context makes a huge influence as to what your suggestions can be.

  1. To Consider: What vision might we have for the future?

At one level, Christians out to be a counter-cultural people practicing a counter-cultural reality. People will notice this because it’s not typical for people to live with other people who are not like them.
Need to have a disposition of massive patience.

Regression happens within the church as well (the crisis of marriage is also taking place within the church)

A commitment to public engagement without messianic ideas.

Understanding the Times and Understanding the Places: Theological Localism

Dr. Fred Sanders

  1. Theology with a local accent

It’s just a matter of fitting in – the message of the cross should offend, not our way of talking about it (i.e. sports)

  1. Two methods: correlation and proclamation

Correlation: identified in Paul Tillick – philosophy raises the questions, theology answers them. Explains the contents of Christian faith using questions.

Proclamation: identified in Carl Barth

I suggest using theological localism.

  1. Taking action: Men of Issachar in every place

See 1 Chronicles 12:32. Seen in Augustine’s City of God.

  1. “Theological Engagement with California Culture”

 

Evangelicals in 21st Century American Culture

Dr. Leith Anderson

Introduction

  1. Living in challenging times

We get caught up in our time and forget about previous times issues

  1. Theology of Culture

Do you consider culture to be the friend, or the enemy of Christ?

  1. Matthew 13:24-30 – parable of the weeds

Looking back – where we came from

  1. Liberalism & Fundamentalism

Scopes vs Monkey trial in 1925, fundamentalists increasingly marginalized. Most of the world didn’t even think of fundamentalists, then along came Billy Graham

  1. Billy Graham & today

Evangelicals are now ¼-1/3 of all people in the US, so what do we do with that?

Looking around – where we are

  1. Globalization of Christianity

Now the largest & fastest growing religion. 20,000 new believers in China every day

  1. Evangelicals in America

We are the dominate Christian force

  1. Demographics

Segregation in America remains strong

  1. Theology

Homosexuality and the exclusivity of Christ

  1. Church in adversarial circumstances

Conclusion: How then shall we live?

Speak the truth, but always in love

Don’t be quick to come to conclusions

TRUST GOD

As long as people have the Bible and the Holy Spirit they’ll be ok.

Why I Don’t Often Have Solos in Church

One of the things that seems to not be fading away with some of the people I’ve talked to in my church is a desire to “be blessed” by people singing solos in church. The funny thing is every time I ask them when they would like to sing a solo I get the same response of, “Oh not me! I just want to listen to someone else!” Even when I invite them to join the Christmas choir they’re either too busy or want a much more passive role in the worship service. So today I’m going to talk about why I’m not a big fan of solos in church.

First, I don’t enjoy or encourage solos in church because they have a tendency to distract attention from God instead of giving him the glory. This has happened to me on the rare occasion that I lead worship through music on piano. Many people tell me they just “love” hearing me play piano. While I appreciate the sentiment and encouragement, I worry that the piano playing may be getting in the way of the sole attention and focus being on God!

Tied in to this, solos tend to generally end up being about the person and their gifts than the whole body. I know this is a temptation for anyone in a visible leadership position, and I’ve found it to be especially true of those involved in music.

Second, I don’t encourage solos in church because I can’t find a good biblical basis for it. I see many instances of corporate singing within the whole body (Exodus 15:1, 1 Chronicles 16:23, Psalm 21;13, Psalm 30:4, Matthew 26:30, Acts 16:25, Ephesians 5:19, Hebrews 2:12, Revelation 15:3) but I can’t find anything about using solos during our corporate gatherings.

Wait a minute, you may say, what about a sermon? That is in a completely different category! We have many examples in Scripture of someone getting up in front of people to teach and/or preach, yet I still can’t find an example of a person getting up to sing for people to passively listen.

Third, while I think solos could be used and could be beneficial and encouraging to the body, I don’t encourage them because I have never seen them done well. It generally begins with the person telling about why they chose this song and what it means to them, whether or not it fits with the theme of the service that day, or if the song is biblically sound, or even relevant to the congregation today.

Thus far at church, I’ve been content to do our annual Christmas choir, perhaps a special song during our Christmas Eve service and one during our Easter service. At this point I don’t see a need to extend beyond that, and am going to try to continue encouraging the congregation to join us in singing praises to God. I know I need the reminder on a daily basis that God alone deserves all my praise, honor and glory.

The Real Worship Wars

One thing that seems to be a continual point of contention among the church is what type of music we sing. Everyone, whether they are musical or not, seems to be the expert critic who can instinctively tell when people are putting on a show or if they are truly worshipping God. But how often are those people the ones who are putting on a show by distracting others from their worship of God with their stoic bodies and frowns on their faces? How many of us need to fight the worship war inside our own heart instead the the “war” of which music we prefer? Ultimately this idea of a “worship war” should be such a foreign concept to the church who is called to live in unity (Ephesians 4, Philippians 2, John 13:35). Relevant magazine has a great article about these worship wars we should be waging and says,

Worship is war. But it is not to be fought over our own preferences. We must turn our energy towards killing the selective, prideful nature within us. We must fight to put to death anything in us that would hinder us from pursuing Christ with all we are. We must fight to worship him with a joyful adoration that cannot be contained.

What things do you need to make war against in order to, “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment”?