Archive for October, 2010

Review of Listen Up!

October 18, 2010

Listen Up! A practical guide to listening to sermons
©2009 by Christopher Ash
Published by The Good Book Company
30 pages

Over the last few years, I have been blessed to discover biblically solid materials being published by ministries outside of the United States. Matthias Media, Day One and The Good Book Company (for example) have all recently opened up offices stateside. When searching for resources, I have increasingly looked to these publishers first. Of course, we Americans must be able to put up with the British spellings and the occasion odd phrase (“listening is like eating a very heavy pudding with nothing to cut through the stodge”).

From The Good Book Company comes a wonderful booklet (30 pages), Listen Up! A practical guide to listening to sermons. The booklet itself (measuring about 8.5 x 6 inches) is colorful, the artwork is entertaining and the layout is engaging. However, the content is better yet. The Director of the Cornhill Training Course in London, England, Christopher Ash has done congregations and preachers a great service. I wish everyone who listens to me preach would read this booklet (I am making them available for free to my listeners).

The author gives “seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening.” These include: Expect God to speak, Admit God knows better than you, Check the preacher says what the passage say, Hear the sermon in church, Be there week by week, Do what the Bible says, Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!

Each of the seven starts by introducing us to two different listeners and their approach to listening and why one profits from the sermon and why the other doesn’t. Each of the seven concludes with practical steps to take. In between is very good advice on listening. This advice is also good for the preacher to remember as he prepares his sermon.

Ash’s counsel is solidly based on the belief that the Bible is the Word of God. “However, when the Bible is faithfully opened up, we are to listen to the preacher’s voice as the voice of God Himself. The preacher stands in the great tradition of prophets and apostles who spoke the word of God” (p 4). He makes it clear that the preacher’s authority is borrowed and it is only as the preacher sticks to the truth of the text that he should be taken seriously. He advises the listeners to constantly ask themselves “where did the preacher get that from?” (p 10). He insightfully spells out why sermons should be listened to in person at church. He cautions against a steady diet of “celebrity preachers” (p 18).

The booklet concludes with advice on how to listen to bad sermons and suggestions for encouraging good preaching. Both preacher and listener will benefit from this booklet.

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Review of Homosexuality and the Christian

October 7, 2010

Homosexuality and the Christian
©2010 by Mark A. Yarhouse
Published by Bethany House Publishers
239 pages

Albert Mohler asks a “haunting question” concerning the tragic suicide of the college freshman who was the victim a roommates’ webcast of his homosexual encounter. “Was there no one who could have stood between that boy and that bridge?” (http://www.albertmohler.com/2010/10/04/between-the-boy-and-the-bridge-a-haunting-question/)

All of us struggle with the affects of the fall. The sin nature is as universal as are the ways it manifests itself. However, the vast majority of us cannot imagine what it is like for those who struggle with same-sex attraction. Conservative churches in general and fundamentalists in particular have been slow to develop a biblical response towards this issue. Professor of Psychology Mark A. Yarhouse has written a book that can at least help get the conversation started. Homosexuality and the Christian: A guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends is a must read for anyone who has found themselves conflicted over a biblical response to the ever increasing acceptance of homosexual behavior.

Chapter One asks “What does God think of Homosexuality?” Yarhouse suggests that rather “than looking at Bible verses related only to homosexuality, it is important to take a broader look at how God’s Word deals with sexuality as a whole. A Christian understanding of sex is best understood through the four stages of redemptive history in the Bible: creation, the fall, redemption, and glorification” (p 19).

Chapter Two (“Why is Sexual Identity the Heart of the Matter?) is the most important of the book. The key principle is that “experiencing same-sex attraction is not the same thing as having a gay identity or being gay” (p 105). The author delineates the differences between attraction, orientation and identity (pp 41-43). The problem as he sees it is that we have allowed homosexual advocates to hijack the discussion.

“In our culture today, experiences of same-sex attraction are typically treated as synonymous with gay identity, and a gay identity carries with it many connotations; e.g., if you are attracted to the same sex, then you are gay. However, being gay means not only are you attracted to the same sex, but you are personally fulfilled through engagement in same-sex behavior” (p 48)

They have done this by supplying the “gay” script. Yarhouse suggests this “script” reads like this
• Same –sex attractions signal a naturally occurring or “intended by God” distinction between homosexuality, heterosexuality, and bisexuality.
• Same-sex attractions are the way you know who you “really are” as a person (emphasis on discovery).
• Same-sex attractions are at the core of who you are as a person.
• Same-sex behavior is an extension of that core.
• Self-actualization (behavior that matches who you “really are”) of your sexual identity is crucial for your fulfillment (p 49).

He suggests another script for Christians however. Instead of allowing their attractions to determine their identity, a believer should develop an identity in Christ. They choose to identify with their beliefs and values. The “identity in Christ script” looks like this
• Same-sex attraction does not signal a categorical distinction among types of person, but is one of many human experiences that are “not the way it’s supposed to be.”
• Same-sex attractions may be part of your experience, but they are not the defining element of you identity.
• You can choose to integrate your experiences of attraction to the same sex into a gay identity.
• On the other hand, you can choose to center your identity on other aspects of your experience, including your biological sex, gender identity, and so on.
• The most compelling aspect of personhood for the Christian is one’s identity in Christ, a central and defining aspect of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. (p 51)

Rather than “discover” who you are, a Christian should “integrate” who they are into their sanctification. It’s not who are you, but who are you in Christ? In other words, a believer’s sanctification process is a battle against whatever sin it is that so easy besets him or her. It is not just giving into one’s particular temptation. There is a great different between same-sex attraction and homosexual behavior. Struggling with one’s “affections” and giving into sin is not the same thing. The sin of homosexuality is committing homosexual acts, not having same-sex attractions. “A person’s attractions or orientation is not something they choose. They find themselves being attracted to the same sex. This is an important point for parents and the church to recognize. But people do have choices to make – choices about their behavior and their identity. They can choose whether or not they engage in same-sex behavior, and they can choose whether or not they integrate their attraction to the same sex into a gay identity” (p 78).

What about First Corinthians 6:11?
“After all, isn’t Paul saying that some of the people in Corinth were homosexual at one time and are now heterosexual? I don’t think we can draw this conclusion from the text. What I think we can say with greater confidence is that people had engaged in patterns of behavior that fell outside of God’s revealed will. Perhaps the pattern of behavior also reflected in some way a condition of the heart. But with the change in behavior came a change in identity, a change in heart. You were this type of person (a person who engaged in this pattern of behavior), but now you are not. This is similar to what Paul is saying about those who committed adultery. Such were some of you. Some of you were adulterers. People ceased to be adulterers when they ceased a pattern of behavior (sex with someone other than their spouse) that characterized them and reflected a condition of their heart” (p 192).

Other topics dealt with include a discussion of causes of homosexuality, the possibility of changing orientation, how parents should respond, how spouses should respond and questions for the church to ponder. The conclusions and the “take home” bullet points at the end of each chapter are excellent.

I do not recommend this book to those, especially young people, who are struggling personally with this issue. As the title says, it is for parents, pastors and friends. Because of its brutal honesty about the difficulty of change, the material needs to be filtered through the loving encouragement of those trying to help someone else. But I do highly recommend it to the target audience. It is certainly not the last word on the subject, but it is an excellent start.

To answer Mohler’s question, I want to be that someone. I want individuals in the congregation I pastor to be that someone. I want you to be that someone.

Bethany House Publishers freely provided this book for review and there was no expectation of a positive review.

Sola Scriptura

October 5, 2010

Our culture has a bias for the recent. “New & Improved” “Cutting edge” “Updated” “Version 2.0”. This even affects Christians. There was a time when I thought Christianity started in the 20th century. Being a direct descendant of the fundamentalist movement of early 1900s, I felt any predating theology belonged in the dustbin of history. Only in the last half of my life I have come to realize that church history and dead theologians have a lot to offer the contemporary church.

Although rooted in the past, this is more than a history lesson. These doctrines define what it means to be a Christian. We ignore these teachings at our peril. Properly understood, they change our lives. They impact our relationships, jobs, families, church and society. Just as they did almost 500 years ago.

Introduction to the Reformation
In the early 1500s, although the Dark Ages were ended and the Renaissance was in full swing, most of the population of Europe still lived in bondage to superstition and under the thumb of the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Church was the most powerful entity in Western Europe. It controlled government, the court system, banking, education and most importantly the key to heaven (or so it claimed). And it had become corrupt.

All that was about to change. On October 31, 1517 a 33-year-old monk stood up against the Catholic machine. The Protestant Reformation was born. The world would never be the same. Martin Luther was not trying to destroy the Catholic Church, he was trying to “reform” it. He was “protesting” the Catholic selling of indulgences.

He wrote 95 theses and nailed them to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg Germany. A relatively new invention called the printing press helped to quickly spread this protest throughout Germany, then the rest of Europe.

The reformation in Switzerland started over a Sausage Supper. Ulrich Zwingli had been reading the recently published Greek New Testament. He could not find any mention of the Catholic tradition of lent. So one Friday during lent, instead of eating Fish, they ate Sausage. The next Sunday, he preached that lent was not found in scripture and the reformation came to Zurich. Besides Germany and Switzerland, it came to England, Scotland and France.

Luther was the original man against machine, but there were others. However it was his willingness to die for the sake of his conscious that infected society. Other reformers built upon his original protests. Eventually these reforms brought public education, the dignity of vocation, the freedom to marry or not, free enterprise, the puritans and the pilgrims.

What are the Five Solas?
• Sola is the Latin word for alone (solo)
• You could also call them the five slogans of the reformation
• They developed over time, they came to express specifically what Protestants believed as opposed to what the Catholic Church believes
• They were the five great rallying cries of those who were reforming Christianity to reflect Biblical truth
• Against specific perversions of the truth that were taught by the corrupt Catholic Church

Scripture alone (sola Scriputra)
Christ alone (solus Christus)
Grace alone (sola gratia)
Faith alone (sola fide)
Glory to God alone (soli Deo gloria)

Our source of authority is Scripture Alone
Sola Scriptura was probably the main battle cry of the reformation. One of the big questions Christians must ask is “What is the final, infallible authority to determine what I believe?” The Catholic church teaches it is a combination of the scriptures, sacred tradition and the teachings of the church and the pope. The Reformers said, “No our source of authority is scripture alone” Not denying there are other authorities, just that they must be tested by scripture. The Bible is the infallible authority. Nothing else is infallible (incapable of being wrong).
• Man’s reason, our experience, new revelations, popes and church councils can all be wrong
• Therefore we must know the word and preach the word
• The Bible is infallible

Lastly, Scripture alone is sufficient
The Catholic Church taught the Scripture was infallible, just not sufficient. The Catholic church forbade private individuals from reading the Bible (Latin), they taught you could not understand the Bible apart from the pope or the church tradition and teaching. Now we’ve put science, psychology, scholarship above the scriptures. Do you want God to speak to you? Read the scriptures! God has give us what we need in the Bible. While other books may inform us, only one book can transform us. It transforms us by conforming us to the image of Christ. It is sufficient for evangelism, for sanctification and for guidance. Is your conscience captive to the Word of God?