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Archive for May 12th, 2008

If you have read a newspaper in the last week or so, you may have seen an article or two about “The Evangelical Manifesto.” I have appreciated Os Guiness, the chief architect of the document, and his insight throughout the years. I have read some of this manifesto and have been monitoring reaction to it.  All in all, there is some good in this document, but I would not sign it myself because of some ambiguity and some things it doesn’t say.  I am inherently skeptical whenever a broad spectrum of evangelicals get together and try to draft a document such as this and I must say this one has done nothing to change that sense of caution.

So here is a roundup of some reactions to the Manifesto.

Al Mohler [see his lengthy response here] thinks:

n the end, I must judge “An Evangelical Manifesto” to be too expansive in terms of public relations and too thin in terms of theology.  I admire so much of what this document states and represents, but I cannot accept it as a whole.  I want it to be even more theological, and to be far more specific about the Gospel,  I agree with the framers that Evangelicals should be defined theologically, rather than politically, culturally, or socially.  This document will have to be much more theological for it to accomplish its own stated purpose.

Alan Jacobs, writing in the Wall Street Journal:

I respect all of those [i.e., signers of the Manifesto] I know and count some as friends. But I found this document puzzling. I had read much of it — it runs to 20 pages — before I began to understand what it’s all about. If Lausanne was an international document based on international concerns, the Manifesto is a very American document, the product of an election year, and a strong reaction against a quarter-century of evangelical identification with the Republican Party

. . . . it turns out that the chief goal of this document is to establish the differences between evangelicalism and fundamentalism. . . .

Once all the self-description is out of the way, it turns out that the heart of the document is a kind of urgent appeal: Please don’t call us fundamentalists or confuse us with them. This strikes me as a regrettable tack, for two reasons. First, it is defensive, and manifestos should never be defensive. Second, it suggests a concern for labels and public perception that is not attractive in Christians. Besides, people who make the kinds of theological statements found in this document — for instance, “We believe that the only ground for our acceptance by God is our trust in Jesus Christ” — are going to be called fundamentalists no matter what else they say.

Jacobs offers more thoughts here.

Denny Burk:

it is precisely the Manifesto’s recipe for “reforming our own behavior” that becomes problematic. The Manifesto calls for “an expansion of our concern beyond single-issue politics, such as abortion and marriage” (p. 13). The blanket dismissal of “single-issue politics” is what concerns me. Yes, the Manifesto says that “we cannot back away from our biblically rooted commitment to the sanctity of every human life, . . . nor can we deny the holiness of marriage as instituted by God between one man and one woman” (p. 13). But the document also seeks to raise other “public square” issues as if they have the same moral urgency as abortion and marriage. I for one am unwilling to tell evangelicals that they should treat the Kyoto Protocols with the same moral urgency with which we address the abortion issue—especially when it comes to evangelical engagement in electoral politics. Abortion and marriage are transcendent moral issues, and evangelicals should treat them as such.

And finally Jesse Johnson offers this helpful analysis:

Last week, a group of evangelical leaders released “An Evangelical Manifesto: The Washington Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment.” The most prominent names to sign it have been Max Lucado, Jack Hayford, Os Guinness, and Mark Noll. The document is 20 pages long, and is worth the read (click here to read the manifesto, or a summary can be found here).

I must confess that my initial response to manifestos and public declarations is usually one of skepticism followed by indifference. However, I enjoyed reading this one, was challenged by it, and found myself agreeing with much of it. It contains a description of what it means to be an evangelical, and a seven-part statement of faith that I would consider a good summary of what I believe.

There is much in this self-described manifesto that is excellent. Mostly it is a call to allow Christians into the public square—the market place of ideas, politics and culture—on the same terms as that of the secular world. There is a very thoughtful and helpful description of religion’s roll in shaping politics and culture. The manifesto warns that the public square is being dominated by liberal elitists who try and drive religion out, and thus alienate most real cultural and political conversation, while capitulating to a militant form of atheism.

Beyond that, this statement is a clear denunciation of the fads that seem to most threaten the Gospel’s clarity from inside Christian circles. The seeker-sensitive movement, Olsteen-esqe churches, prosperity churches, and churches that embrace post-modern values are all clearly repudiated. Consider this section:

“All too often we have trumpeted the gospel of Jesus, but we have replaced biblical truths with therapeutic techniques, worship with entertainment, discipleship with growth in human potential, church growth with business entrepreneurialism, concern for the local congregation with expressions of the faith that are churchless and little better than vapid spirituality, meeting real needs with pandering to felt needs, and mission principles with marketing precepts. In the process we have become known for commercial diluted, and feel-good gospels of health, wealth, human potential, and religious happy talk…”

I felt like I was reading John MacArthur’s The Truth War.

This document also clearly says that Jesus is the only way to heaven, and that his followers become his servants, and spend their lives in submission to Scripture. But there is some ambiguity. For example there are a few sentences that seem to call Evangelicals to be involved with stewardship of the earth, which I guess I agree with, but also don’t understand quite what it means. Do they want churches to start recycling programs, replace busses with hybrids and grass with xeriscape? They don’t really say. There is a another sentence that implies, in PEACE plan fashion, that Jesus was involved with fighting illiteracy. I would have liked a verse for that one.

Also, the manifesto distinguishes between liberal Christians and Evangelicals on the one hand, and between Fundamentalists and Evangelicals on the other hand. I’m not sure quite what they had in mind, and this is why the document in my mind ultimately falls short. Their description of Fundamentalists is not really clear, and I’m not sure if they were not talking about me. They defined Fundamentalists as those content not to be engaged with the culture, but did not really define “culture” or “engaged,” and I’m probably on the fence of that description anyway.

I must agree with Wheaton’s Alan Jacob’s when he asked why the document was written and structured like it is.  It is unclear what the main thrust is. If I had to guess, I would say its main call is for Christians to simultaneously distance themselves from both political parties, to continue their work for social change through loving the poor and fighting injustice in the world, while keeping that work and fight subservient to the Gospel itself.

Because this is a call that I would agree with, I would not have viewed signing this document negatively. But because of the ambiguity surrounding “Fundamentalism” I will not add my name to the growing list.

I also can’t help but wonder what the point of such a document is. I understand that it is healthy to recognize that the body of Christ is larger than my particular statement of faith, and that it is helpful to clarify how wide of a circle can be drawn. However, I also can’t help but see public manifestos unveiled at the National Press Club as some form of grandstanding. Who is the target audience? What is the goal of this document? Because that is not clear, I am not entirely sure how much impact this manifesto will ultimately have.

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Today, there are “seeker-friendly” or “seeker-sensitive” churches all over this country. The largest association of these churches are called Willow Creek churches and their de facto leader is Bill Hybels in Chicago, IL. Many of these seeker churches feature all sorts of “wares” on their campuses. One church sells McDonald hambugers, many feature Starbucks coffee, some have sidewalk bistros and others feature a full menu selection with a “splash of Chardonnay” to top off the experience.

You can visit churches today that offer saunas after the sermon. Some of a business relationship with other fast-food restaurants where the burger place offers free advertising of the church’s concerts and plays in exchange for free commercial time on the church’s radio station. Other seeker churches feature skating rinks and fully equipped fitness centers.

According to David Wells, in Florida, The Potter’s House Christian Fellowship opened an entire mall in 1996 as part of its church operations. The mall features a bookstore, dry cleaners, a bus terminal, a cafe, a game room, and a hair salon called “Angel’s Hair” with the motto ‘You’ve got to get the ‘do’ done if your gonna look good for the Lord.’  Also the mall boasts a balloon ship, a school, law offices, and an even an art shop.

David Wells in Above All Earthly Powers, “The fact is that across a broad spectrum of church life, enormous effort is now being invested in making the Church seem desirable for reasons that have nothing to do with worship,  biblical knowledge, or service.”  Buying and selling has definitely invaded the church today.

Oh, may the true church of Jesus Christ return to its roots of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and disentangle itself from its current condition of selling its wares to the world.

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Writing about the fact that we are living in a world that has “no center” any longer of meaning and purpose because this culture rejects Christ, David Wells (in Above All Earthly Powers: Christ in the Postmodern World) quotes William Donnelly’s book The Confetti Generation.

Having been nurtured in an Autonomy Generation, the Confetti citizen consumer will be inundated by experience and ungrounded in any cultural discipline for arriving at any reality but the self. We will witness an aggravated version of today wen all ideas are equal, when all religions, life-styles, and perceptions are equally valid, equally indifferent, and equally undifferentiated in every way until given value by the choice of a specific individual. This will be the Confetti Era, when all events, ideas, and values are the same size and weight–just pale pink and green, punched-out, die-cut wafers without distinction.

What an apt metaphor of our culture. We are all like pieces of confetti, seemingly disjointed and we live in a time “when everything seems roiled by change, when permanence has evaporated, where nothing remains unchanged, and there is no center in which anything inheres. Nothing hangs together, but events, products, and experiences simply succeed each other without having connections. This is a perception which seems to be beyond dispute,” Wells notes. There is a sense of discontinuity that pervades human relationships as a result of all this.

Living in world that is no longer God-acknowledging or Christ-centered leave us with a “cacophony of opinions, the coercion of fashion, and the confusions of a broken world. The once, grand, majestic purposes of God have slipped from our sight. Now, what we see are only the blind workings of nature with their tragedies, the impersonal forces of the economy which often seem so callous, the malice of evil people, and the peculiar anxieties of those adrift on a sea of affluence. . . .We are but pieces of confetti that flutter down, each on its own erratic course, none joined to the others, but each making its own solitary way through the air,” Wells so picturesquely remarks.

Wells concludes that thus we live in a world that has “two diametrically opposed visions of life. In the one, there is no center; in the other there is and it is Christ. In the one, life is but a succession of random events; in the other, life is lived out under the sovereign rule of Christ. In the one, we are alone in the cosmos; in the other, we are not. In the one, salvation is humanly managed; in the other, it is divinely given. Christianity best flourishes when the sharpness of these opposing visions is preserved, and it becomes sickened when it is not.”

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The purpose of comfort

” Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” (Isaiah 40:1, ESV).

“Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted.” (Isaiah 49:13, ESV).

“For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.” (Isaiah 51:3, ESV).

God’s Servant, Christ came “to comfort all who mourn;” (Isaiah 61:2, ESV).

Paul extolled, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, ESV).

From these passages we learn first that God comforts His children! Amen!

But in 2 Corinthians 1, we learn that the ultimately purpose of comfort isn’t just to make us feel better. God’s comfort isn’t to end in our own cul-de-sac of existence. We are to receive that comfort so that one day we can channel that comfort from God to others who are distressed and afflicted.

So, what’s the point of comfort? Not only your good, but the good of others.

Has God comforted you? Praise Him. . .and don’t waste your comfort! Pass it on to others!

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There are two pitfalls of parenting: thinking a child’s spirituality is up to us which results in parenting out of fear. The other pitfall is to minimize our God-given role to train our children.

Scripture affirms a sowing and reaping principle: a direct correlation between the time and energy we invest in our children and the reward we can anticipate. This should not be pitted against God’s sovereignty as if they are opposed to each other. They are both necessary . “Whoever pampers his servant from childhood will in the end find him his heir.” (Proverbs 29:21)

Only God’s grace can change a child’s heart and give the child an eternal perspective. But we are the primary means of that grace. John MacArthur wisely addresses this issue,

“If we measure our success as parents solely by what our kids become, there is no inviolable guarantee in Scripture that we experience success on those terms. Sometimes children raised in fine Christian families grow up to abandon the faith. On the other hand, the Lord graciously redeems many children whose parents are utter failures.

“Success in parenting is measured by what the parents do, not by what the child does. To the degree that we have followed God’s design for parenting, we have succeeded as parents before the Lord…Having said that, I want to stress that sometimes – I should say often – parents are partly to blame for their wayward children’s rebellion. And it is my observation over the years that parents are generally more to blame for wayward kids than society, or peers, or any of the other influences parents tend to blame.”

“God has designed it so that parents have a tremendous amount of influence over the lives of their children. What do they see us emphasizing? What we correct, and the topics we spend the majority of time talking to them about, the things that excite us the most, communicates a lot about what is important to us. “

Here’s just a few ways this can show up in our parenting:

* If I weigh in strongly, and spend significant time when it comes to addressing laziness with their school work, but I am lax when it comes to seeing that they establish a consistent devotional life, I should not be surprised when I have a kid who gets good grades but is less than passionate about his relationship with God.
* If I make it a priority to be at my son’s ball games, but have difficulty finding the time to attend church with him, then I should not be surprised if he grows up with a zeal for sports but a nominal love for the local church.

In other words, there is often a connection between what we love and what our children learn to love. Here is an application for you moms and dads, “Ask your child what he or she thinks you are passionate about.”

Are we setting a compelling example that is reflecting the priorities that God wants instilled in his children? Do you and I have the resolve to see to it that our homes are marked by a training for the purpose of godliness? Such resolve doesn’t come naturally. Most often, we must pray much for this.

With all of his wonderful qualities, this is where David failed the most. He lacked a resolve with his children. He appears negligent when it came to training his sons. Speaking of his son Adonijah, 1 Kings records, “His father had never interfered with him by asking, ‘Why do you behave as you do?’” Are you interfering in your children’s lives, moms? Faithful mothers—and dads–will.

“The issue is not whether our children will disobey; the issue is to what degree are we interfering? The goal is not to have perfect children. On the other hand, if we embrace our calling to diligently train, there will be fruit that wouldn’t be there otherwise. This is God’s plan for bringing about change, it’s not that he can’t do it miraculously; it’s just that he has chosen us to be the primary agents of change.”

Are you more aware of your shortcomings as a parent than you are your faithfulness? We are prone to condemnation here. But please don’t be discouraged. God’s grace is bigger than your child’s sin. God’s grace is bigger than your sin and my sin. Turn to Him. Trust Him. That pleases God. When we are weak and we turn to God in our weakness, this pleases God.

Charles Bridges gives these wise words,

“Unbelief looks at the difficulty. Faith regards the promises. It is faith that enlivens our work with perpetual cheerfulness. It commits every part of it to God in the hope that even mistakes shall be overruled for His glory and thus relieves us from an oppressive anxiety often attendant on a sense of deep responsibility. The shortest way to peace will be casting our selves upon God for daily pardon of deficiencies and supplies of grace without looking too eagerly for present fruit.”

God calls you to be a faithful parent. God will do His work. But we must do ours as well.

If you have had faithful parents, thank God for them and thank them today if they are still living.

All of these points have reference to our souls in a larger way. Just as God calls children to obey their parents, so God calls us to submit to His lordship and authority over our lives. We all have failed to do that as we all have rebelled against God by sinning and breaking His revealed law. The penalty of such rebellion is eternal damnation and separation from the presence of God. Yet, God in his grace provides a way of escape and a way of restoration of joy and reconciliation with our Maker. How so? By acknowledging in our hearts that Jesus is Lord and that He paid the penalty for sinners like us on the cross. He rose from the dead which was the affirmation of the Father to the deity of Jesus Christ. We must faithfully submit to God by repenting of our sin and believing in the finished work and Person of Jesus Christ.

Faith in Christ means that we begin with the end. Is that the way you are living your life today? It is appointed to man once to die and after that each faces judgment day. Are you making it your goal to please God. Can you honestly say today that death will be gain for you? That is possible. But most people don’t spend but a fleeting moment thinking about the end of their life and eternity in our culture. If you don’t begin with the end, you will spend eternity in hell.

But there is every reason to hope if you trust Christ. For if Christ is in you, you have the hope of glory. Christ offers hope when he said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24). If you cherish, treasure, and savor Jesus Christ, you can say, ” Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” (1 Peter 1:3)

And if you have this hope, it motivates us to live for God wholly. “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:3). Such hope moves us to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, as we realize it is God who works in us both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).

May the Lord be pleased to continue bless His church with faithful mothers who display these characteristics more and more to the glory of God!

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