Sunday, January 25, 2009

For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible.

Matthew 24:24

"If that were possible"

Those are comforting words for today as I listen to Christians talking about being offended when Jesus' name is spoken in prayer at the inauguration ("Separation of church and state" and "It would offend nonChristians")

Those are reassuring words when I hear Christians talk about the "rights" of homosexuals to marry, the "rights" of women to choose when they will give birth (and therefore should have access to abortion).

According to the Lord Jesus the elect will not be deceived about who their Lord is, and from where salvation comes. But, Jesus did warn that His "little ones" CAN be led astray, Matthew 18:6But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

It seems there will be some answering to do for those who convinced many of God's "little ones" that Barack Obama would be the agent of godly change.

Here is a recent post from a brother in Christ who has been watching closely:

"For those say they are Christian, the test has now come regarding how you view your God. Is your God a passive bearded grandpa who has no involvement in the affairs of men? Or is your God one Who, as He is invited, will actively bless a nation, and set that nation apart from others? And will the same God, when He is actively dis-invited, let that nation descend into self obliteration?

"Is being 'Christian' supposed to be the key to national prosperity because of our active relationship being submitted to the God of the Bible? Or is being "Christian" just an opinion of life morality, and life philosophy?"

God continues to be Who He has always been: the righteous judge of nations. Time and again, God has allowed the sin of a nation to "reach its fullness," and then sent another nation to as a "scourge" and a judgement.

What sins has God deemed so "depraved," so "unclean" that they "profane the Name of Your God"? What sins has God called "abomination" and "perversion"?

What sins has God become so passionate about as to say this?

"Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants...For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people."
(Leviticus 18:24-25, 29)
Essentially, there are only two sins. The first comes under the category of sexual perversion: incest, homosexuality and bestiality. The second comes under the category of killing children by sacrificing them to Molech.
Sexual perversion and killing one's own children. Homosexual marriage and abortion. And incest, if you are following the news, is on the rise world wide.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Matt Barber, Columnist
Change We Never Imagined (excerpts)
"...Literally within minutes after [Barack Obama] took the oath of office, the official White House webpage was updated – under the heading of "The Agenda: Civil Rights" – to detail his wholesale "support f or the LGBT (homosexual activist) community." His stated plans include the following:
"* Defeating all state and federal constitutional efforts to defend the millennia-old definition of natural marriage from attacks by "gay marriage" activists.
"* Repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1996. This is the only line of defense keeping all 50 states from being forced to recognize so-called 'same-sex marriages' from extremely liberal states like Massachusetts and Connecticut.
"* Repealing the military's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy despite the fact that the vast majority of military commanders and personnel say it will dangerously disrupt unit cohesion and troop morale.
"* Passing constitutionally dubious and discriminatory 'hate crimes' legislation, granting homosexuals and cross-dressers exclusive rights – denied other Americans – based on sexual behaviors that are deviant, changeable, and widely regarded both here and around the world as immoral.
"* Passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) which would force business owners (religious and otherwise) to abandon traditional values relative to sexual morality under penalty of law.
"* Creating intentionally motherless and fatherless homes and sexually confusing untold thousands of children by expanding gay adoption."
I could not be more heavy hearted.

In just three days our new president has set into motion

1) The rapid unraveling of what little is left in terms of societal fabric in African nations (what a betrayal, considering Obama’s heritage) by giving Planned Parenthood the support Bush denied them

2) The transfer of suspected terrorists to American soil, and the release of suspected terrorists to lead new Al Qaeda cells (Check last week's New York Times headlines)

3) Goals to be translated into laws which will render every evangelical church as illegal (re: homosexual “rights.”) The first punishment will be to revoke tax exempt status. The next will be to dismantle that church’s leadership structure. The third will be to dismantle that particular denomination.

Soon enough American believers will get what they have been praying for – believers full of the Spirit, living by faith, and many who will now finally come to personally know the Lord Jesus Christ and be known by Him. We will have the revival we longed for. Because the only conditions that foster revival are a broken spirit and a contrite heart. Now we will truly be brothers with our Chinese brethren.

Brace yourselves!!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

What Is Right Doctrine

What is "right" doctrine? Would it be possible that the list of "right" doctrines would be very, very short? After all, Paul did not stay for very long in some towns, but he left believers behind him (pagans, untaught in Jewish scriptures) who were expected to carry on with not much to go on.

I came across a really neat phrase which is probably well known to all of you, but was actually brand new to me until not that long ago: "generous orthodoxy." The concept is to have "in the essentials, unity; in the non-essentials, liberty; in all things charity."

But still, what would be the essentials? My friend gave me a short list that her church, thirty years ago and more, felt was necessary to understand the gospel in its wholeness:

1) The inspiration of the Scriptures.
2) The virgin birth of Jesus.
3) The substitutionary death of Jesus.
4) The bodily resurrection of Jesus.
5) The second coming of Jesus.

It came to mind recently that on That Day Jesus will ask only one question: Do I know you?
That has really given me pause the last couple of weeks. Not "Do you know Me?" But "Do I know you?" He told the goats, "I never knew you." He told the foolish virgins "I don't know you."

That seems to put weight on the idea of "generous orthodxy." If it becomes clear that a person is known by Christ, has His indwelling Spirit, is, in fact, born again, then that person has been accepted by God into the community of believers. We will do well if we welcome that person too.

What's more, since every part of the body has something of worth to contribute to the body, there must be something this person will have too, even in spite of grave differences in doctrinal convictions. We would do well to receive what that person has for us, as well as share what we have for that person.

Monday, January 12, 2009

a response to Mark Driscoll's blog site ReSurgence's review of "The Shack"

To read Mark Driscoll's full review, please go to He starts out with the disclaimer that there is much to like in "The Shack," but ultimately his review is not very heartening.

Below are excerpts from the negative part of his review and my rebuttal:

Things that Concern [Scott Lindsey, as written for ReSurgence]

  • “You will learn to hear my thoughts in yours”, says Sarayu, the Holy Spirit (195). “You might see me in a piece of art, or music, or silence, or through people, or in Creation, or in your joy and sorrow. My ability to communicate is limitless, living and transforming, and it will always be tuned to Papa’s goodness and love. And you will hear and see me in the Bible in fresh ways. Just don’t look for rules and principles; look for relationship—a way of coming to be with us” (198).
At times I felt the book doesn’t teach the sufficiency of Scripture as God’s primary revelation. Yes, I agree that God speaks through flowers and animals and people and art. But I wish the Bible was, even in the above quote from the book, not simply put alongside them, but clearly put on a higher level. I wish the Holy Spirit (Sarayu) showed more enthusiasm for the Book that is Holy Spirit-inspired.

I wish The Shack had an Acts 17:11 tone: “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

With the book’s repeated message that the Bible has been twisted by churches and pastors and seminaries (and yes, sometimes it has), I wonder whether readers will walk away from The Shack with a greater love for Scripture and more of a desire to study it, and more of a desire to get involved in their churches and submit to their leaders, as Hebrews 13 commands us to. Sadly, I’m afraid some readers will feel justified in further distancing themselves from both the Scriptures and the church. And some may read meanings into Scripture that the biblical text itself contradicts.

-- My own take: I agree with Scott. The Shack does little to endorse the Bible, which is a weakness in an otherwise excellent novel. I wish Sarayu had explained that God's words in the Bible are not the same thing as the interpretations various churches teach. I wish Sarayu had urged Mack to listen to God's voice speaking to him through the Bible.

However, I wouldn't, as Scott does, link the Bible and church together as though they must go together. Institutional church is its own category. A believer may chose to worship and gather with other believers in an entirely different venue/paradigm than the institutional church and remain within the heart of God, and His word.

  • While any book that portrays the Trinity in physical form is going to be subject to criticism, given the premise, I thought it was fine that the Holy Spirit was portrayed as female. I was somewhat concerned that “Papa” was also a female; but the reason for this is later explained in the text, in terms of Mack not being able to accept God as Father because of his bad relationship with his human father. Later Papa is depicted as a male.
    In real life, though God certainly reveals himself through any number of godly women, I don’t see biblical examples of God the Father portraying himself as female to people simply because their fathers are absent or aren’t good role models. Because I had a very poor relationship with my earthly father when I came to Christ (later that was redeemed), the Fatherhood of God meant all the more to me.

I certainly believe that God transcends human gender, and I would not discredit the book on this basis. Still, in a New Age culture that is trying to elevate goddess-worship, portraying two of the three members of the triune God in female form for most of the book may not be entirely healthy.

Though I can understand Scott's concern, I think it hardly bears mentioning. It isn't the New Age culture that this book is speaking to, but to a Christian culture which has traditionally relegated women to a lower, lesser role in the church. The book seeks to do for the feminine what the apostle Paul did for women: give them a place at the table with men.

  • Is God as tolerant and easy-going as The Shack portrays Him? If He were, I’m not sure it would have been necessary for Christ to go to the cross for us. And if the response is that, since Christ did go to the cross, God is now tolerant and easy-going, I would suggest re-reading the New Testament where God calls us to a life of joyful yet serious holiness.

One reviewer said “Systematic theology was never this good.” This concerns me. While to some readers God will seem bigger, in certain respects God seemed more amusing and friendly, but also somewhat smaller, more manageable, less threatening--someone not to be feared. If the picture of God in The Shack is radically different from the impression people get from just reading the Bible, this raises an obvious question.

Read Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1 and ask yourself if this is the “Papa” of The Shack. Chuck Colson suggests that this book fails to portray God’s person in his awesome greatness Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, also expressed this same concern, and pointed out what he considers “undiluted heresy” in The Shack, on his April 11, 2008 radio program:
Where is the Great God of Holiness and Transcendence?In Tim Challies’ booklet on the Shack he says,

One of the most disturbing aspects of The Shack is the behavior of Mack when he is in the presence of God. When we read in the Bible about those who were given glimpses of God, these people were overwhelmed by His glory. In Isaiah 6 the prophet is allowed to see “the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up” (Isaiah 6:1). Isaiah reacts by crying out “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5)! Isaiah declares a curse upon himself for being a man whose lips are willing to utter unclean words even in a world created by a God of such glory and perfection.

When Moses encountered God in the burning bush, he hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God's glory (Exodus 3:6). In Exodus 33 Moses is given just a glimpse of God's glory, but God will show only His back, saying, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Genesis 33:20). Examples abound. When we look to the Bible's descriptions of heaven we find that any creatures who are in the presence of God are overwhelmed and overjoyed, crying out about God’s glory day and night. But in The Shack we find a man who stands in the very presence of God and uses foul language (“damn” (140) and “son of a bitch” (224)), who expresses anger to God (which in turn makes God cry) (92), and who snaps at God in his anger (96). This is not a man who is in the presence of One who is far superior to Him, but a man who is in the presence of a peer. This portrayal of the relationship of man to God and God to man is a far cry from the Bible's portrayal.

And indeed it must be because the God of The Shack is only a vague resemblance to the God of the Bible. There is no sense of awe as we, through Mack, come into the presence of God. Gone is the majesty of God when men stand in His holy presence and profane His name. Should God allow in His presence the very sins for which He sent His Son to die? Would a man stand before the Creator of the Universe and curse? What kind of God is the God of The Shack?

Frankly, I find it amusing that a review from ReSurgence would fault the main character for using one or two "bad words" while talking with God. Mark Driscoll has a reputation for rough language in spite of Paul's repeated injunctions that coarse talking is unfitting to a believer (Eph 4:29, 5:4,) Unless Mark Driscoll does not believe in the indwelling Holy Spirit (and I know he does), then he is always in the very presence of God.

But what do we do about the many scriptures Scott Lindsey has gathered to show his point?What should be gathered are the even many more verses that describe what it was like for those who had the privilege of speaking with God "face to face, as with a friend." We are astonished at how emboldened these individuals were (Abraham, Moses, David). They ranted; they demanded; they spoke with breath taking frankness. Just as the main character did in "The Shack."

  • I do think that the name Papa is appropriate, as in Romans 8, “Abba, Father.” The paradox of God’s nature involves both transcendence and immanence. But only immanence is apparent in The Shack.

True, it could be argued that only God’s transcendence has been taught in some churches and families, and we can’t expect a book swinging the pendulum back to the middle to avoid going too far to the other extreme. Okay, but imbalance in one place doesn’t justify the opposite imbalance.

Actually, in terms of Jesus, I believe that God was very much swinging the pendulum of understanding in the other direction. Jesus came to make the Father accessible to all, approachable, plain.

  • It’s not just about the Father. Read the life and words of Jesus and ask if this is the Son portrayed in The Shack. Since Jesus spoke more about hell than anyone in Scripture, wouldn’t you have expected him to say something or even hint at its reality in this story?Miscellaneous doctrinal issues Paul Young, through his purposeful use of words, (sometimes for shock value) speaks in such a way as to imply or suggest some unbiblical teachings, and doesn't make sufficient efforts to distance himself from false doctrine.

Actually, Scott is demanding the rigors of systematic theology from a novel that was written in the style of narrative theology. The beauty of the narrative is that it does not give the chemical structure and physical properties of water. It allows the reader to experience the refreshment and delicious cleanness of being washed in water.

Paul Young is giving the reader an experience of the loving God, the forgiving God, and is not writing a theological treatise on the attributes of God. You may wish that he had applied systematic theology more liberally. But he is writing to Christians who presumably already are familiar with their particular church's statement of faith (chemical structure and physical properties) and are now ready -- indeed panting as a deer for water -- to experience the God Who loves them.

  • In The Shack, God the father says of Jesus on the cross, ““Regardless of what he felt at that moment, I never left him” (96).

But Mark 15 says, “At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

It is an historic doctrine of the Christian faith that Jesus didn’t just feel forsaken (as did David who spoke the words in Psalm 22) but that he actually was forsaken by the Father. David never became sin for humanity, but Jesus actually did (2 Corinthians 5:21). And in becoming sin for us, he had to be punished, and the Father had to turn away from Him, forsaking Him on the cross as the darkness descended in mid-day. This is why Isaiah 53:10 says those harrowing words, “But the LORD was pleased to crush Him [Messiah], putting Him to grief.”

Historic doctrine, for all its value, is not the same thing as scripture itself. It may be the very sage interpretation of scripture given by very wise men. But it is not scripture itself. So long as we have the very words of God which, remember, is living and active, and so long as we have the Holy Spirit Himself Who, remember, indwells every believer, then we have the ability to approach God's word and discover the truth; go deeper with the truth; find new understanding of the truth.

I am not one to throw the baby out with the bath water. Historic doctrine settles many questions. But God's word is not static in the way that historic doctrine is static. Be careful that you do not elevate man's interpretations above the Word.

  • On another subject, The Shack has God say, “I don’t create institutions—never have, never will.”

But Romans 13 says, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

Similarly, God created the institution of marriage and family, and the institution of the church, which is his bride.

God created marriage, but He did not create the institution of marriage. God created the church, but God did not create the institutional church.

The key word here is "institution" and it is a buzz word among those who are seeking to move into a new paradigm of gathering together as believers, worshiping and serving the Lord in community.

Yes, God sets up every government, every authority, but God does not equally countenance those authorities and governments with His blessing and approval.

  • God is portrayed in the book as saying, “Guilt will never help you find freedom in me.”
    In contrast, Christ says of the Holy Spirit, “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).

Paul writes, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Cor. 7:10). Astonishingly, this is the very verse that should clear up any confusion about what the author was trying to say. But Scott Lindsey takes this in a puzzlingly different direction

Guilt alone will not bring freedom, of course, but responding in repentance to God-inspired guilt will bring us great freedom. I would say God-inspired conviction which causes the pain of guilt that is called conviction by the Holy Spirit, and not the blanket guilt and false guilt that many Christians labor under.

  • No Hierarchy in the Triune God?There are several problematic statements about the Trinity. For instance, Papa says,“When we three spoke ourselves into human existence as the Son of God we became painfully human.” He goes on to say, “We became flesh and blood.”

But in the historic Christian understanding of Scripture, the Trinity did not become human. Only Jesus the Son became human. Scripture reveals that the Father sent the Son, but the Father did not leave Heaven and become human.

All I can say is: tread carefully. No finite person can nail down the trinity. God is three Persons, one Being. We do our God, our one God, a great injury if we insist on division in His oneness that go deeper than what has been revealed. Jesus speaks of us receiving the Holy Spirit. He also speaks of the Father and the Son making their home in every believer. There is room to explore what that means.

  • Papa says that Jesus is fully human and “has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything.” But don’t we see repeated examples in the gospels of Jesus doing this very thing, showing his divine nature through his miracles, including raising the dead?

No Scott, we never do. Jesus made it very, very clear that He did nothing on His own, but only as the Father gave it to Him. He therefore is the perfect example, and the forerunner, the first born, of those who would live by faith, filled with the Spirit.

The Shack has God the Father say, “Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command or 'great chain of being' as your ancestors termed it. What you're seeing here is relationship without any overlay of power. We don't need power over the other because we are always looking out for the best. Hierarchy would make no sense among us.” He also says, “Papa is as much submitted to me as I am to Him.”

In contrast, Scripture says, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3).
In John 6:38 Jesus says “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.”
In John 8:28 he says, “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.”

Consider Christ in Gethsemane. Scripture says: Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. "Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."

And Christ was not just subject to the Father when he walked the earth. He will be subject to Him forever: “When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:28).

The book portrays all hierarchy as a result of sin, but the Bible shows there is an eternal benevolent hierarchy within the triune God.

Well, not really. Just as the Son exalts the Father, so the Father exalts the Son. Just as the Spirit exalts the Son, so the Son calls the Spirit "One Who is greater than Me, and also "One Who is another Me." (Phil 2:9, Eph 1:19-23, John 14, 16) Jesus said to see Him was to see the Father (John 6). Who raised Jesus from the dead? The Bible says it was the Father Who did it...and the Bible says it was Jesus Who did it...and the Bible says it happened by the power of the Holy Spirit. Who is the judge of the world? The Bible says God...the Father...the Son.

Where is there the top down heirarchy in all this? For a point in time Hebrews says that Jesus was perfected in His humanness. During that point in time Jesus modeled what it was to be a man, to be humbled before the Father, to live in complete and total union with (and therefore in submisison to the will of) the Father, so that we may follow in His steps and be perfected in the same way. It is our destiny, and the Lord Jesus Christ has paved the way in Himself (Hebrews 2:10, 5:9)

  • The Shack depicts Jesus as saying, “In fact, we are submitted to you in the same way [as we are to each other].”

Where does Scripture ever say that the Father submits to the Son or the Spirit? Even if Scripture did say that, in what sense does God submit to us? Yes, He serves us, washes our feet, but that is not submission, which in its normal sense is a placement under the authority of another, to do their will.

Jesus came to serve, but God does not place himself under our authority and will. That is a false doctrine that some health and wealth preachers advocate, that when we speak a word God is obligated to fulfill it. Now, I don’t believe that is Paul Young’s intention, but his statement that God submits to us is not true to Scripture.

This is a willful obtuseness in refusing to see what the Lord Jesus did while here on earth. In fact Jesus most certainly did submit Himself to every authority -- He kept the Law perfectly. He even paid His temple tax when He is the Lord of the Temple. Jesus allowed Himself to be arrested, beaten and crucified though there were legions of angels straining at their posts to fight for the God of the Universe.

This is the incredible story of the whole Bible. God desires relationship with us and has thus made HIsmelf available, approachable and even vulnerable to us -- vulnerable to grief, sorrow, pain and even death. For us.

Now I know it is popular to translate submit into the very narrow definition of putting ourselves under someone's authority, but what, then, exactly does Paul mean when he wrote that all believers should submit to each other in Ephesians 5:21? Are we all to have authority over each other, then? Or perhaps a broader, gentler, more beautiful understanding of "submit" is intended. And if this is true, it will have amazing implications for wives.

  • Universalism? Are All Forgiven?God says in The Shack that He has already reconciled the whole world. He quotes 2 Cor. 5, “God was in Christ reconciling the world.”

Paul Young’s position is that the world has been redeemed from God’s side, but we must embrace it from ours. Okay, in a sense that might be true, but if taken too far it sounds like everybody’s going to Heaven.

The fuller context of 2 Corinthians 5 says this: All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.

Notice that the apostle Paul is imploring people to be reconciled to God, which means they are not yet reconciled to God. You would not call upon a saved person to become saved, since he already is. So, yes, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, but in another sense this reconciliation is not and never will be experienced by the whole world. If it were, then contrary to Christ’s words in Matthew 7, the way would not be narrow and there would not be few who find it. Most or all would find it. And the road to eternal death would not be broad or even narrow--it would be nonexistent, since everyone is already reconciled to God.

In The Shack, Mack is understandably confused by the notion that the whole world is already reconciled. He asks, “The whole world—you mean those who believe in you right?”
God replies, correcting him, “The whole world Mack.”

It would be nice if the whole world were saved, that all were going to Heaven, and that there was no hell. But according to the Bible, that’s not the case.

Papa says in The Shack: “In Jesus I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me.”
If we were already forgiven, Scripture would not say things like this:
“All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (Acts 10:43).
God says that not all have been forgiven or will be:
“Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart” (Acts 8:22).
"I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven” (Luke 12:8-10).

Universalist Tone -- There are at least two kinds of universalism. One maintains that people can be saved apart from the person and work of Christ. Another claims that people can only be saved on the basis of what Christ has done, and eventually must come to recognize that, but that recognition may come after they die and are given a second chance. Then, when given that second chance, all people will choose Christ and be saved.

What is Paul Young’s position here? Does he believe all people will be saved or at least have the opportunity to be saved after death?

Paul wrote an interesting article that may give some insight on this question called "The Beauty of Ambiguity(Mystery).”

James DeYoung, a professor from Western seminary, has written a lengthy critique of The Shack in which he argues that Paul Young is a universalist, and that The Shack reflects this. See

Dr. DeYoung, who knows Paul Young personally, shares other concerns too.

I have to say, I agree with Scott on this one. However, tread carefully. Many, many of our brothers and sisters in Christ, born again believers, filled with the Spirit and living by faith, hold to an Arminian view of theology.

This does not make Arminianism right or wrong, it is simply a statement of caution that though we may not like where each other's theological paradigms may lead (if taken to their utmost logical conclusions, because remember, theological paradigms like Arminianism and Calvinism are human constructs devised with human logic), whether to universalism, or a capricious and arbitrary God who saves two grapes off of a bunch and throws the rest away for no discernible reason, we need to respect each other's views in the Lord, for we all are His body.

  • When I read it without any preconceived notions, I noticed things in The Shack that hint at universalism. E.g., in the passage where “Papa,” God the Father, says—speaking of Buddhists and Muslims—that he doesn’t desire to make them “Christian.” What the author means by Christian is obviously critical. Some could argue that “Christian” is a cultural designation, that all Americans are Christian, Saudis are Muslim, etc., and that Christian is not a helpful term.

There is some truth to that, but Acts 11 says the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch. That wasn’t cultural; it referred to true followers of Christ. So since this is in the Word of God, I don’t think it’s wise to portray God as disregarding the term Christian to the point that he would say he doesn’t want to make people Christian.

Okay, wait. In "The Shack" the word "Christian" is used to denote what we westerners have made it to be today, imbued with all the negative cultural baggage it has in unbelievers' eyes. In Antioch, the word "Christian" was not God's word for His people, but unbelievers' derisive epithet leveled against a people they thought very poorly of. If you ask me, the word "Christian" has really only come full circle, and we can call ourselves something else if we like.

Some understand Papa to be saying that He makes Muslims his children without them needing to become Christians. This is one reason why a number of readers believe the book teaches universalism. Dan Lockwood, president of Multnomah Bible College, in his review of The Shack in a recent school publication, commended some aspects of the book, while expressing his regret that it advocates universalism.

The problem is compounded because Paul Young has God quoting a phrase coined by Buckminster Fuller, a Unitarian-Universalist who wrote a book entitled I Am a Verb. In The Shack, Papa says to Mack, “I am a verb. I am that I am. I will be who I will be. I am a verb! I am alive, dynamic, ever active, and moving. I am a verb.” It’s hard not to link this emphatic statement, put in God’s mouth, to the heretical theological persuasions of the man who coined the term.

Yeah, I had trouble with this too

Jesus says to Mack that he is the “best way” any human can relate to Papa. But this has a different feel from John 14:6, in which Jesus says “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by Me.” I would probably not make anything of that if I didn’t feel the tones of universalism in a number of the book’s statements.

The other day I saw someone who calls himself a "Christian universalist" defending his position that all will be saved. This universalist recommended a book that everybody should read: The Shack. Now, I don't believe in guilt by association. I'm just saying that since this guy was defending universalism when he recommended The Shack, he, at least, presumably understood it to be on his side.

It would have been very easy for Paul Young, by changing the wording of a few sentences here and there, to shut the door on universalism. He could have had God articulate the biblical and orthodox viewpoint of historic Christianity, that salvation comes in believing in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross on our behalf, and that to not accept God’s gift of eternal life in Christ is to invite an eternity in Hell. Paul didn’t choose to make that clear.

Again, I think Scott ahs a good point here, and I too was disappointed in "The Shack" on this score.

  • Accuracy and Precision in LanguageGod tells Mack that he never disappoints him.

Scripture tells a different story, for instance about Jesus and his response to others: “He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts….” (Mark 3:5).
To believers Scripture says “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30).

1 John 2:28 encourages believers not to do anything to make Christ ashamed of us (meaning it is possible to do so): “Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.”

Disappointment comes from unmet expectations. God can certainly never suffer from unmet expectations because He is all-knowing, and outside of time. Being distressed is entirely different from being disappointed.

In The Shack, God says "the word responsibility isn't in the Bible.” Of course, no other English word appears in the Bible either, but he is obviously talking about “responsibility” not being in English translations. But this is inaccurate, as I found “responsibility” in five major English translations, which is every one I checked except the KJV. This is the danger of putting words in God’s mouth—when you can show they’re not true it doesn’t look good.

But even apart from having God make this misstatement, what impression is left? That responsibility isn't a biblical concept. Yet isn’t it hard to find something that is more of a biblical concept than responsibility?

A hundred passages demonstrating responsibility could be cited. Here’s one:
"That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

You sense in The Shack that the author is against man-imposed rules and regulations and legalism. Well, okay. But is this what the word “responsibility” means? Do we have the freedom to turn a good word into a bad one without explaining what we mean?

Scott Lindsey answered his own question. We have already turned the word "responsibility" into a heavily loaded code-word to guilt people into doing what we think is culturally holy, into following all the man-made (read Pharisaical) laws that have been building up over the centuries to load down Christians who want to be good. This was never God's intention for us. But as He freed us from the heavy burden of the Pharisaical laws, and the Mosaic Law, we just piled on a new load of laws. We call it legalism, and the apostle Paul speaks against it.

In context there is a possible explanation, because God says, “I’m omniscient—so I have no expectations.”

Well, God is omniscient, but He nonetheless has expectations of us in the normal sense of the word. For instance, look at these passages:

Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful (1 Cor. 4:2).
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).
But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken (Matt. 12:36).

Nope, this can't fly. God says "be holy becasue I AM holy." That's setting the bar. But we cannot say that God experiences disappointment when the bar is not met in the sense that God already knew the bar would not be met. Nothing catches God by surprise or rips the rug out from under His feet.

  • God’s transcendence, justice, holiness, and wrathIn theology there is a paradoxical mix of God’s attributes. There is God’s transcendence and his immanence, his Holy Otherness and his intimate Familiarity. God’s attributes are sometimes described as being of two kinds, hard and soft. Hard ones are holiness, justice, wrath. Soft ones are grace, mercy and love. Whether or not you like the terminology, you get the point. A full and accurate picture of God requires both be included.

Well, The Shack is magnificent on the soft attributes of God. It is virtually silent on the hard attributes of God. So if you come to the book well-schooled in God’s holiness, justice and wrath, you will benefit from the exposure to his grace, mercy and love. But if you come without a knowledge of and an appreciation for his “hard” attributes, you will end up seeing half of God, not the whole of God.

Is a half-picture of the true God a false picture of God? If that’s all you have, I’d say yes. I don’t mean it’s fair to expect one book to be fifty/fifty on the hard and soft attributes of God. If I were reading a book on the holiness and justice of God and someone said “there’s not much here on his grace,” I’d say, “Of course not, it’s a book on holiness.” However, if there was virtually no mention of grace and mercy that would be problematic. Similarly, the fact that there is virtually no mention of God’s holiness, justice, and wrath in The Shack is problematic to me.

I’m not expecting complete balance. But I do think it’s fair to expect some clear affirmation of the transcendence of God. If the book is about his immanence, I can understand why 90% of it is on that. But if 10% affirmed his transcendence, it would make for a far more biblically accurate picture of God.

Holiness and fearing God warrant at least a few sentences.

When Mack says something about "I thought you would have more wrath," what an opportunity to briefly but clearly affirm God's holiness and wrath. Papa could say, "Mack, I am holy beyond your comprehension, and wrathful against sin to the degree that I will separate all sin from myself for eternity; that is hell." That's just one sentence. Then he could say, "But you've heard only about my holiness and wrath, and you need to see a different side of me." Then, great, he can go on for page after page and chapter after chapter about grace and forgiveness and acceptance, which is beautiful and right on.

Pastors who are obeying Scripture by teaching true doctrine and correcting false doctrine could then say, "The author affirms God's holiness and wrath, so I can trust that he's not distorting or rejecting Scripture, and resorting to a New Age feel-good redefine-God-however-I-want approach."

Paul originally wrote the book for his children, and perhaps they understand what he means, since they grew up in his home. But a million readers haven’t, and many of them will believe that the words used in the book really mean what they appear to. True, some will misunderstand no matter what. But a lot of people would be greatly helped by more careful word usage, and not be put off by or sucked into biblically incorrect thinking.

I can agree with Scott on this issue with "The Shack," although I will reiterate that the wrath of God is not preached in the vein where it would be best understood. God is love and light, and His wrath flows from His love. His wrath is against sin, and will purge all sin from the beautiful universe He made. God's mission is to cleanse His creation by His wrath.

God's wrath is not the kind of "I hate you" rage and fury that humans experience. It is not a selfish, vindictive, poisonous venom that we would be prone to think of since that's the only kind of wrath we get to see around us.

Jake Colsen has done the best job I have ever, ever seen in correctly teaching God's wrath, and he is friends with Paul Young.
  • In The Shack Papa says, in the context of Mack bringing up God pouring out bowls of wrath on people, “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it” (120).

It is certainly His joy to cure it. But does that mean God does not actually punish sin? Of course he does, and not exclusively through its natural consequences. Scripture speaks of God’s direct judgment via the flood, on Sodom and Gomorrah, on Dathan and the rebels. In New Testament, he strikes down Ananias and Sapphira for their sin, and judges the sin unto death. He says that some are weak and sick in Corinth because of their abuse of the Lord's Supper, meaning He has punished them.

Countless Scriptures deal with God punishing sin, but here are just a few: But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God will give to each person according to what he has done (Romans 2:5-6).
They called to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?" (Rev. 6:16-17).

You have to go no farther than Romans 1 to discover how God punishes sin -- God gives the sinners up to sin's natural consequences (Rom 1:24, 26, 28) Are you curious how such wild prophecies, found in Revelation, ould possibly be fulfilled ? Will it be like science fiction? Will it be very bizarre and freakish? Well, take a look at the news headlines for the last couple of years. We humans will bring on our own apacolypse. God simply is giving us over to our own sin so that we ourselves will kill all the life in our oceans, and turn a third of our plante's water into poison. We ourselves will burn down all our trees. We're doing it right now.

  • The Local ChurchOne major point of disagreement I have with Paul Young is on the importance of the local church. Without the church, there is no accountability to others, no context for confrontation and discipline among an assembly of God’s people where there is submission to those in authority, as Hebrews 10 and 13 require of us.

'Before I knew anything about the author, as I read the book I kept saying to myself, “Wow, he’s had really bad church experiences.” Organized religion, by which he means churches, is portrayed unfavorably.

Hebrews 10 says we are not to forsake the church assembly, and Hebrews 13:17 says this:
“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

We need to be in submission to church leaders and other authorities in our life; we shouldn’t think we are qualified to hold ourselves accountable, or to pick and choose our spiritual guides. That structure implies I am my own authority.

We're back to this narrow definition of the Greek word that is translated into the English word "submit." For a better treatise on this issue, I would urge a close reading of Frank Viola's "Straight Talk To Pastors" and "Reimagining Church"

The whole heirarchy of church authority is based on the Roman heirarchy of royalty, not the Bible. But in order to make it work, a heirarchical structure of the trinity had to be presented in order to draw parallels from the trinity to human power structures. Erase the heirarchical model of the trinity, and the rest of this paradigm falls apart.

It might be time to revisit the concept of the institutional church.....

I loved "The Shack," in spite of its weaknesses because this book gives the reader the glorious experience of God's love, His nearness and His grace.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

What Is "Missional"?

I am getting a real education.

I am learning, or at least reading about, what it means to be "missional." It is a compelling concept, from what I can understand, but....the more I read the less I think I understand.

What do you think "missional" means?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Guest Book Review by Katie Phillips

I should know better than to read a book recommended by my pastor friend--I should know it'd involve way too much thinking.

Recently I finished "The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is" by NT Wright. I almost quit about 4 chapters in. I don't mind my understanding of what Scripture says being challenged-that can cause growth. But I wasn't sure I could go where Mr. Wright went.

He speaks of Jesus fulfilling the role of the Temple for Israel, and Israel being called to come to Him to meet with God instead. I get that. But what I struggled with was interpretations of passages that I always interpreted to refer to the Second Coming--Matthew 24 and Mark 13 for example.

Wright says they "denote major political or social upheaval..the son of man coming on the clouds would not be read, by a first century Jew as referring to a human being 'coming' downwards toward the earth riding on an actual cloud. It would be seen as predicting great events in and through which God would be vindicating his true people after their suffering."

Wright puts Jesus in the proper first century context and addresses how Jews of His day would've understood His words. He speaks of Israel still being in exile in Jesus' day and Jesus being the one to bring them back out of exile. Evidently what a first century Jew understood "messiah" to mean is different than a 21st century Christian. Probably not surprising, but it was interesting nonetheless.

Anyway, I'm glad I stayed the course and finished the book. Perhaps I have a better grasp on Jesus' role as a Jew. Although I had to reread several paragraphs more than once, and probably don't understand much of it, getting more of a feel for the Jewish culture into which Jesus was born was fascinating. And gray-matter stretching.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Book Reviews

What book are you currently reading? Why not share your thoughts on it -- give the page sand your ideas, or give your overall impressions, and see if anyone else has read that book too, or is thinking about the same things you are.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

"Free Will" or "Sovereign Will"?

" question is: Am I correct in saying His sovereignty always wins out in the end, despite our mishaps? Our 'free will' sounds pretty scary in comparison to God's perfect omniscience. "

This is the question that Christians from the Apostle Paul's day to our own day have been wrestling with. The Bible places both paradigms side by side in a puzzling acceptance of both "wills" -- our own and Almighty God's.

For example, listen to this passage in Judges 2 (These are excerpts. To get the full impact of this passage, please read chapters 1 and 2)

"Now the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, "I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, 'I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.' But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become (thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you." (Judges 2:1-3)

"So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he said, "Because this people has transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the LORD as their fathers did, or not." So the LORD left those nations, not driving them out quickly, and he did not give them into the hand of Joshua." (Judges 2:20-23)

Did you see it? Apparently, Joshua and all his stalwart warriors were doing their utmost to rid the land as God commanded. But God "...did not give them into the hand of Joshua." God was both angry with His people for not completing the mission (God allowing their free will to not completely obey) AND God intended to test His people, so He therefore prevented Joshua from succeeding in completing the mission of ridding Canaan of all Canaanites (God sovereignly intervening).

Free will or Sovereign will?

Martin Luther suggested that God's will has actually three facets: Declared will , Desired will and Determinate will.

God’s Word, what He has declared in scripture, is not always obeyed even though God commanded it. God's desires are not always realized, such as that no one would perish, but all would find eternal life, even though it would please Him. But God's determined ends always come to pass.

1) Declared will – Though God’s sovereign will is hidden until it happens, God’s declared will is always available for us to see. God has declared His will through His word, the Bible. Jesus declared God’s will when He gave His instructions to the apostles. When we talk about being "led" by the Holy Spirit, we discover the Spirit is always in tune with God’s word in Scripture, so we must think about God’s word every day, and live by it.

2) Desired Will – There is tension between what pleases God and what God sovereignly wills to do. If not a sparrow falls from the sky without God caring, then how much more deeply is God concerned with what happens to His people. Sin, persecution and opposition grieve Him in ways you and I can not even imagine (Genesis 6:5-6 "Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart" ).

3) Determinate (Sovereign) Will – God is never thwarted, never frustrated or delayed or interfered with in moving forward with what He decides to do. Even when we talk about God permitting, or allowing, something – like sin, rebellion, opposition or persecution – to happen, God chooses to permit. God always has the power to intervene, to prevent actions and events.

Because God permits events, we can say, in a certain sense, that He has willed them.

God’s laws, whether written in Scripture, or written on our hearts, is binding and we have no authority to rebel against it. But God has allowed us the power, or the ability, to defy His declared will.

You and I have no excuse for our sin, there is no hiding behind the explanation that God’s sovereign will permits us to sin. It is wrong to say "What I did must be God’s will since He is in control of everything." To permit is not God’s permission.

God is not surprised by evil and God does not approve of evil. But God has sovereignly decreed that people exercise their ability to make moral choices – choosing between good and evil. Sin is proof that God does not control people the way you and I can control a puppet. But God is all-knowing and all-powerful. God gives real choices and works out His will within them from the infinite possibilities that are raised.

God says for you and I are to make every effort to work out in our lives what He has worked into us, and His promise is to "in all things work together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." He is able to work in, around and through people to insure the outworking of His purposes. If God were any less sovereign He would not be able to give people moral freedom because He would not be able to guarantee that His will would be done.

Understanding that God is sovereign, that ultimately He is the First Cause of all things, that nothing is out of His control, is what gives comfort and security when the going gets tough. It is God's all-powerful and all-sovereign attributes that gives the guarantee that you will endure to the end, for those who believe, for He indwells every believer.

There are many who dispute that last paragraph. In tomorrow's blog I'll lay out the basic differences between Arminian thinking and Calvinist thinking, as I understand them (and with the help of many other resources I visited to research this subject).

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Thoughts On Attending Church

One of the valuable lists that is included in "Reimagining Church," is a description of the different kind of church meetings that occurred in the New Testament. In brief, here is the list:

1) Apostolic Meetings were special meetings where the apostles ("Reimagining Church" calls them apostolic workers) preached to an interactive audience. They were either planting a church or encouraging an existing one. Reference: Acts 5:40-42, 19:9-10, 20:27, 31. These were never permanent arrangements, the apostles came for a time, then left, with the purpose of equipping the local body of believers to function under the headship of the Lord Jesus Christ, and not a human head reference: Ephesians 4:11-16, 1 Corinthians 14:26.

2) Evangelistic Meetings happened outside the church during the first century. The apostles preached the gospels to unbelievers wherever they gathered: synagogue or marketplace. The idea was to plant a church, or add numbers to an existing local body of believers, reference Acts 14:1, 17:1-33, 18:4, 19.

3) Decision-Making Meetings were called together whenever a big decision needed to be made, reference Acts 15. The elders and apostles played a helpful role, but the decision was made by everyone.

4) Church Meetings were regular gatherings of the local body of believers, reference i Corinthians 11-14. Certainly unbelievers were present from time to time, but the purpose of the gathering was for believers to worship and fellowship together.

Beginning on page 51, "Reimagining Church" describes the differences between a typical church service of today, and the worship time of the ancients.

After reading "Reimagining Church" I realized that the Lord had given me much and now expected much of me. Our family is still weighing the implications of this book. One of the ways I have made peace with attending our church is to remind myself that we are really attending an apostolic meeting. Sometimes evangelism is included.

Our church services are not like the worship services the New Testament describes, but I imagine they are similar to when Apollos came to preach, or one of the apostles. An Apostolic Meeting. Our church encourages the regular meeting of small groups (some churches call them home groups) and perhaps that is where the more New Testamental worship can take place (though our family is not involved with such a group).

We love the people in our church, and we love the pastors. God's Holy Spirit is at work among the people, and He is blessing work that He is enabling among many of our people. There are a few ministries represented in our church which God has just about opened the floodgates of heaven to bless (I am involved in one of them, a teaching ministry that is a "parachurch" organization, but has several key members who also are members of our church).

By this, it seems to me, God is at work through institutional churches, though it may very well deeply grieve Him that we have greatly limited ourselves with this construct. My fervent hope is that God will bring the "Revolution" into institutional church and change us from the inside.

On the other hand, considering what's happened to the seven main mainline denominations in our country, and considering the turning of the political tide away from Christianity, perhaps God is allowing the emptying of our institutional churches (by a million members a year) for the purpose of our survival. Perhaps, in years to come, it will be safer for God's people, and there will be more liberty to live by faith, if we are decentralized....

Thoughts on the second half of "Reimagining Church"

Most of the second half of this book resonates so harmonically with my own spirit that I began to have that experience A.W. Tozer says will happen with a good book – it all sounds familiar, though I’d never read anything like it before. It’s just….right. It’s true. I did stumble a couple of times over some comments.

1) On page 189 the book claims that there was no other form of leadership than a shared form. Except I kind of get the feeling that Paul somehow did have some kind of sway??

Otherwise how is it possible that when Barnabas (who was at that time a seasoned elder, and Paul was still kind of new) tried to get Paul to accept Mark, Paul refused; but Paul could rebuke Peter (who was also a seasoned elder), and Peter backed down? It reads like Paul pretty much ran everything and had the last say on what was right and wrong?

2) On page 237 the book admits that “Historic Christian teaching on the essential doctrines of the faith plays a crucial role in keeping a church on scriptural track.”

My comment is….so there ARE unifying doctrines!! This is in response to page 126, where the book says that doctrinal unity devolves into a quest for doctrinal purity which only serves to further splinter the church.

Since the epistles are pretty much teaching doctrine, and Romans is a whole treatise on the essential doctrines of our faith, I have to believe that doctrinal unity is important, and teaching false doctrine is bad.

3) 251 at the bottom, I said to myself, ”Well, God can do anything He wants to do.” So I decided to rephrase the sentence to read “If they leave God some ground,” rather than “If God can find some ground,” because right now I have become super sensitive to this mind set that we’re just bumbling along, and it’s everybody else’s fault, especially God’s, if something isn’t right.

4) I read “Straight Talk To Pastors” in about a day and found that two of the things “Pagan Christianity” did not state in a definitive way (to my recollection) were spelled out perfectly in “Straight Talk” (tithing and clergy salaries).

That got me to thinking about our own family's giving. I figured out that our family of five should be paying $200 a week to attend a typical church, because the budget divided by the number of people who attend a typical church (which counts adults and children) equals roughly $40 a person a week.

I realized that exactly none of the church budget is usually spent on the one and only budget item the early church had – feeding and caring for widows and orphans.

Wow. Just knowing that one fact makes me feel uncomfortable.

(Church budgets are most often spent on the mortgage, salaries and benefits, utilities, office costs, and program costs. Some is set aside for missions -- check that in your own church. How much of your church's budget is set aside for missions? Churches will also sometimes have a separate fund to help people within the church. Check your own church: how much money is set aside for that?).

These books have answered a whole raft of questions for me, why people are so passive, why we say it’s a worship service, but it feels like a performance, why those of us who are “on stage” (yes, we really call it a stage, and we face the audience), have to struggle so, every week, to remember that this is for the Lord, that we are “leading in worship,” that we’re “lead worshipers,” that this is not “for show.” Yet we have rehearsals, we polish our song set, we coordinate ahead of time where we stand, when we sit, and even that we’ll smile and make eye contact.

I always told myself I’d never go to a big church that paid people to put on services. But even without a salary, it's still a performance, at some level, no matter how high minded and pure hearted.

"Reimagining Church" helped me to see that insitutional churches often encourage passivity in the people who attend. The pastor and elders and deacons, the paid staff do all the cool stuff. For them Sunday morning is full participation.

But everyone else simply needs to show up, sit in their chair, and put money in the offering to keep it all going. For the worship service itself very little real participation is happening.

Code word "real."

To sing, to pray the words printed in the bulletin, to shake hands when prompted, to listen to the sermon and write down notes, to give money are all scripted, not spontaneous, "as the Spirit inspires" (I understand that Charismatic services are more free-flowing but...who is directing the meeting? Is it really the Lord Jesus Christ alone, or is it the pastor(s) up there on the dais?)

The kind of worship and church life described in "Reimagining Church" is radically different and deeply compelling.

I think God is “graduating” a million people a year out of institutional church and offering them a chance to enter into His real life of living by faith and regularly meeting together with other lovers of Jesus to “one another” with each other as the Lord Jesus Christ personally inspires: a "body" acting in coordination with the Lord as the living Head.

This is what I stumbled over in "Reimagining Church"

"Pagan Christianity" and "Reimagining Church" are well worth the read. Read them in that order. Pioneers are not the ones that bring in the pavers and tree trimmers to make beautiful, cultured avenues. Pioneers blaze trails. It's not a tidy business. It involves hacking a way through the jungle, or through the forest, canoeing through alligator infested swamps; piranha swarming rivers; being ready to deal with the unexpected, and bringing out the heretofore never-been-seen.

I consider "Reimagining Church" this kind of pioneering work. The second half of the book is far more polished than the first half since it represents Fran Viola's twenty plus years of living by faith in the new way he describes and has been writing about. The following remarks apply only to the first half of "Reimagining Church:"

1) I looked up Genie, the feral child, because of the provocative assertion that her DNA had somehow been altered by her environment (pg 47) – and this idea in itself was quite a disputed theory in genetics before it was considered disproven a century ago. If her DNA had been altered, then had she given birth to children of her own, they would have inherited her altered DNA. I didn’t make it an exhaustive research, but the impression I got was that though her environment severely twisted her, her DNA remains intact. If she were to bear a child it would have the same potential to be a normal human.

This is actually a stronger statement for the book. It would be scientifically correct, and it would illustrate the hope that though the church construct is far from the potential of the church’s spiritual DNA, each new gathering of believers has the same potential as the first gathering in Jerusalem, A.D. 33.

2) On page 58 the book talks about mutual exhortation, but I’m thinking that without someone that both sides of an issue are willing to accept as an “authority” (such as the apostles were), then there is the risk of no resolution. This was happening in the earliest church, and Paul ended up pleading with both sides to “make up.” Paul himself split with Barnabas over the issue of taking John Mark with them on a second mission trip. I am sure both of these men of God exhorted each other, on scriptural and spiritual stands, but to no avail. Creating two mission teams was apparently the only answer. So somehow there has to be some kind of a go-to person.

3) On page 60 there is this phrase: “…the Lord will be limited in His self revelation.” I’ve been making quite a study of how we talk about God and how that reveals and also affects how we think about God. I’ve noticed that talk about God often includes this core idea that God actually is limited, thwarted, hampered, frustrated and so on, by human activity. I am finding in myself this growing passion to “stick up for God.”

It seems to me there is a preponderance of scriptural statements that say quite the opposite and that instead put the onus on people. So I crossed out that phrase and instead wrote, in my own copy of Reimagining Church, “…the revelation of the Lord will be limited.” That, to me, is a neutral and true statement. God is not limited in His self-revelation, but we put limits on ourselves by how much we will be the display of His revelation, and will be able to see, receive and understand His revelation.

Actually, Paul seems to indicate that God has always from the beginning given us the magnificent and perfectly adequate revelation of Himself already but people have been spending their energies in suppressing the truth, not reveling in the truth (Romans 1).

4) On page 62 the book begins a discourse on the conditions that will either invite or repel the presence of the Holy Spirit. I really have always thought that wherever there were two Christians there would be a gathering of God’s people and there Jesus would be, too. End of story.

So if a church service, no matter how wide of the mark it is, has at least two people in its gathering who have come in the name of Jesus, I’m thinking the Spirit is there. Maybe the rest of the congregation is busy suppressing the truth. But for those two, the Holy Spirit is present among them. In fact, if only one is there, the Spirit is there, for He indwells that believer.

That made me wonder about the churches Jesus said would have their lamp stand removed. It must be that the believers, one by one, would leave that particular church till none were left but those who did not believe. The Spirit’s presence does not necessarily mean the Spirit’s blessing, or the pouring out of His power, or the imparting of His gifts according to His generosity, or any of those things. It’s a detail, but it really stumbled me.

5) On page 64 the book claimed that it was “simply not true” that the church meeting would become a “free-for-all.” I was glad that the book eventually came back round to that provocative statement because my mind instantly leapt to 1 Corinthians 12-14 and wondered how that situation could have been called anything but a “free-for-all.”

6) I wanted to add to page 77 that even to this day among the Mediterranean and Arabic cultures, eating together is heavy with meaning. In our own country even families hardly eat together. Preparing and cleaning up after food is considered an odious burden and we Americans, it seems, tend to do everything we can to minimize the daily grind of dealing with food and nutrition.

7) On page 90 the book asserts that Christian somehow proactively decided to meet in homes for the purpose of expressing the “unique character of church life.”

I posit that it sort of just happened. They had upwards of seven thousand people in Jerusalem in a matter of weeks. Every day these people went to the temple to worship and celebrate, and probably to evangelize right along with all the other rabbis who were there who had their disciples gathered around them.

They met in each others’ homes – as they had already been doing for the holy feast of Pentecost – to share their new life in Christ. After the diasporas converts headed back to their home towns, taking the gospel with them, the native Jerusalemites settled down to a more normal schedule that included, as I think it always had, friends and family meeting in each others’ houses, as well as synagogue worship – until they got kicked out.

The new twist was their entering into this sort of Jubilee of sharing their inheritances with each other so that all would be blessed in the Year of the Lord’s Favor. Because I think it just happened, instead of being a proactive, purposeful choice, the remodeling of homes which later became the building of meeting halls, laid the foundation for happy acceptance of Constantine’s edict to makeover pagan temples into Christian temples.

Why not? The was no reason not to accept a solution that eased this problem of trying to find a place for the growing church to meet together, and it made it easier to get everyone together to hear what the leaders had to say.

8) It seemed on page 106 that a clarification would be helpful, that “growth” does not necessarily mean “increase in size.” A gathering of Christians may grow spiritually, and through them others may come to a saving faith, but the actually numbers in that gathering may not increase. God may not intend that gathering to increase in numbers, or He may. But I believe that to not increase in numbers should not be considered to bear a direct correlation to not being healthy, or not being alive, or not being in God’s will, or whatever.

9) And on page 107, I have to say, I have met many young Christians whose bodies are pretty old, and many seasoned Christians whose bodies are still quite young. It seems that though it would be nice to have the tidiness of elders actually being aged, it may not always be like that.

10) On page 122 the book offers the evolution of clergy/laity as the source of denominations. I really don’t think so at all. I think that the root cause of denominations finds its source in the New Testament accounts of Paul correcting the Judaizers, the anti-nomianists, the ecstatic worshipers, correcting Peter, and Corinthian church for favoring Apollos or an apostle, and for John correcting Agnosticism.

All but one of these were on doctrinal issues. What resolved them all was the recognition of an apostle as the final authority and really, of PAUL being the final authority (except in John’s case who, at the time he wrote his letters, was the last surviving apostle).

Clearly Paul trumped everybody, even Barnabas who otherwise appears to have been an elder everyone respected and honored; even the apostle Jesus seemed to have placed as lead to the other apostles – Peter, who seemed to have come under the influence of the Judaizers (and the Judaizers seemed to have claimed to be from James, Jesus’ brother, a recognized leader in the Jerusalem church).

What’s more, it appears the council in Jerusalem established radical new doctrine that erased thousands of years of Jewish obedience to God’s commands concerning cleanliness. The council was not a quorum of all believers, but a gathering of leaders.

It seems not all believers accepted the council’s word, but continued to press circumcision and abstinence from unclean food. This seems to be the pattern in the early centuries of the church: a council of leaders would get together to decide on a doctrinal issue, the church worldwide heard the decision and was expected to obey, but not everyone liked it, so they broke off from the main body.

I posit that it is doctrinal issues that have, from the very first day, created tension among groups of believers.

11) So on page 127 I don’t think that dismissing doctrine that could unite us is a very good idea. Paul introduces doctrine that could unite us in Ephesians and I think we should hang onto that – in fact even Reimagining Church offers the doctrine of the indwelling Holy Spirit as a uniting belief (and rightly so, Paul stated that one too, in Ephesians).

There really are some deal breakers that the Bible states as deal breakers – heck, read 1 Corinthians 15 for one of the really big ones!!

I agree that nitpicking is no good, but what would be considered nitpicking?

Maybe one would be the battle between what is referred to as Arminianism and Calvinism. It is a very important issue, because the foundation of each mind set rests on how powerful God is as compared with how powerful people are. Each mind set profoundly affects how confident a believer can be in how he or she lives by faith in God, and in union with Christ.

I agree with the book that such issues should not divide the fellowship of believers. But I do not agree that such issues are not important. An interesting aside: “The Heavenly Man” describes the rejection of the Chinese house churches of all denominations because the infiltration of western Bibles came also with western tracts promoting one or another denomination and their particular doctrines. Westerners were asked to please send Bibles, but no more tracts.

12) I wondered on page 129 if the idea is that God may work through but does not approve of divisions, or may work through but does not approve of His people who are involved in these divisions (i.e., are members of a denominational church).

13) This is just a detail, and something I’ve been thinking about a lot – on page 145 the word “adam” in the Genesis 2 is apparently a neuter word, meaning not male / not female.

It wasn’t until the female was created from this human creature that the original creature identified itself as male. Apparently Hebrew theologians have been all over this one from the very beginning, but western theologians have stuck with the idea that this creature was created male – what’s up with that?

It makes deeper sense to stick with the original meaning of a human being that is sexless yet contains both sexes, who is then pulled apart to create two beings, male and female, who then yearn for each other and become one (again) in their marriage.

14) Finally, on page 146, I didn’t know evangelicals discounted 2 Peter 3, and others like it, where the old earth and old heavens will be destroyed and a new heavens and earth will be created where all people will dwell.

I consider myself an evangelical, at least of sorts, and I’ve been teaching that for years. All my friends teach and believe the same thing. In fact the Apostles’ Creed rejoices over the resurrection of the body. Do evangelicals really believe that the earth will be no more and there will only be heaven?

The second half of the book shows up in the next post

How could church be different

In my last post I was searching for answers about why a million people are leaving church a year without joining another church. Are they leaving God? Are they just not into Christianity anymore?

The overwhelming majority of Americans seems to consider themselves to be spiritual, though there is a significant and growing minority of atheists. So are they changing to a different religion, maybe?

The answer, according to recent research, is that many, many church-goers are simply getting worn out with church. To boil it down, church has become a place where more and more people are feeling obligated to attend, watch a show, pay your money, shake some hands, pitch in with volunteering, and -- whew -- go home. More subgroups of people are feeling isolated and alienated; women, particularly educated and professional women. Young men. In fact, singles of all varieties. Divorced people, people without children, people in unusual circumstances, people with less than perfect lives, or life styles....In our packed lives, this unfulfilling, and often meaningless, ritual has become easier and easier to let fall away.

But that doesn't mean that all one million of these people -- a year, remember, a million a year -- are becoming worn out with the Lord. No, far from it!!! Many church leavers are not Jesus leavers, they are (yeah, couldn't help myself) totally Jesus lovers.

Enter the amazing book, "Reimagining Church," written by Frank Viola; preceded by "Pagan Christianity," written by Frank Viola and Geroge Barna, and to be read with "Straight Talk To Pastors," also written by Frank Viola (which is actually my favorite of these three books).The following are some musings on "Reimagining Church," which I will post in sections, since I spent a lot of time thinking....

Here's the big, big question: One bishop rule began very early in the church’s life – a mere one hundred years. Why? What was more attractive about one bishop rule than the more organic (to use Frank Viola's word) life of the church up until then?

The answer can be found in the doctrinal battles the apostles faced from the very first day, practically. Paul battled the Judaizers (and poor Peter got caught in the middle), the pagan-influenced antinomianists and the pagan-influenced ecstatic worshippers. John battled the Gnostics. Once these mighty men of faith had died, their protégés were the go-to guys for these issues.

One bishop rule must have been inevitable after that.The sheer growth of the church must have presented meeting-together issues. Once they were banned from synagogues and the temple, where would they go? In real life wealthy people opened their homes, and medium wealthy people had their homes remodeled to handle the size of the congregations. Christians were building meeting halls long before Constantine.

The next blog will talk about those issues I stumbled over in "Reimagining Church."

Why are a million people a year leaving their churches and not looking back?

Where are they going? Who are they? What are they like?

After reading a recent article published by The Barna Group, I began to look for some answers, and began with a book that George Barna was recommending -- which he had incidentally written: "Revolution."

Of course the title would immediately appeal to those who still hear John Lennon singing "Gotta be a revolution..." in their heads, and who discovered Karl Marx in college (the new revolutionaries are Marxian, not Marxist).

Is there a revolution? After reading Geroge Barna's book and experiencing that strange sensation that he must know me (because he is describing my thoughts uncannily well) I decided that the Spirit must be on the move.

But what is God doing right now? Why would He be emptying His churches?

"Pagan Christianity," written by George Barna with his friend Frank Viola, offered some ideas. Perhaps, they posited, the institutional church, founded in 325 by Constantine, and reformed five hundred years ago by Martin Luther, John Calvin and a few others, was in need of more than an overhaul. Perhaps the institutional church model has run its course, and the new way is really a return to the original way.

Reformers have been yearning after a return to the church of Acts, the "first church," the "original church," for a long time. there have been revivals, Dissenters of even the first protestants (clear back in the sixteen hundreds the Quakers and Anabaptists were dissenting the mainstream reform movement. Didja know the Quakers included both men and women prophets and teachers?). There have been reformers of the reformers, Disciples of Christ, the Plymouth Brethren.

How is this new "revolution" not a replay of all these other "revolutions"?

We had to wait a full year for the next installment, this time written solely by Frank Viola, but clearly covering twenty years and more of in-the-field research and experience. "Reimagining Church." The first half of the book is still pretty rough (in my opinion); the last half of the book has been distilled to the tincture of purity in inspiration, truth and revelation.

My next blog will be my own review of that book, beginning with some observations about "Pagan Christianity."