Tuesday, October 27, 2009

An Example of Why Pray for the Gospel to (re)Appear at Mainline Churches

This is a portion of a letter that arrived at our church from one of our neighboring churches:

I'm writing to ask if you would mind announcing that (our) church is having its annual "Blessing of the Animals" service on _______.

The service includes a blessing for each animal and care-giver. There is also a "table of remembrance," so people are encouraged to bring along pictures of all the animals with whom they've shared their lives over the years.

Yours in Christ,

The following week, this service received front-page coverage in our local newspaper, with a picture of a dog sitting in the church pew with it's owner.

This letter is sad on many levels, not the least of which is that the closing of the letter affirms a common union with Christ. Yet I wonder if the Christ the author professes has been ushered to a 'back seat' in the church he leads.

Monday, October 26, 2009

How the Gospel Applied Leads to Care for the Poor

This quote from Milton Vincent's, A Christian Gospel Primer, better articulates what I tried to say in my sermon from Amos last Lord's Day.

When I see persons who are materially poor, I instantly feel a kinship to them, for they are physically what I was spiritually when my heart was closed to Christ. Perhpas some of them are in their condition because of sin, but so was I. Perhaps they are unkind when I try to help them; but I too have been spiteful to God when He has sought to help me. Perhaps they are thankless and even abuse the kindness I show them, but how many times have I been thankless and used what God has given me to serve selfish ends?

Perhaps a poverty-stricken person will be helped and changed as a result of some kindness I show him. If so, God be praised for His grace through me. But as the person walks away unchanged by my kindness, then I still rejoice over the opportunity to love as God loves. Perhaps the person will repent in time; but
for now, my heart is chastened and made wiser by the tangible depiction of what I myself have done to God on numerous occasions.

The Gospel reminds me daily of the spiritual poverty into which I was born and also of the staggering generosity of Christ toward me. Such reminders instill in me both a felt connection to the poor and
a desire to show them the same generosity that has been lavished on me. When ministering to the poor with these motivations, I not only preach the Gospel to them through word and deed, but I reenact the Gospel to my own benefit as well.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Our Role in the Conversion of Others

John Piper covers lots of biblical territory in this article - Should Christians Say That Their Aim Is to Convert Others to Faith in Christ? He points to the dual and non-competing truths that God is the decisive Cause in converting people, and we are His commissioned agents, appealing for the unregenerate to be converted.

The Gospel is Better than Unconditional Love

JT recently alerted me to a 1995 article written by David Powlison in the Journal of Biblical Counseling entitled, Idols of the Heart and "Vanity Fair." The entire article is worth reading as it persuasively identifies heart idolatry as the root of all human rebellion.

Near the end of the article, Dr. Powlison addresses the tendency among some Christian counselors to psychologize when making a diagnosis. In the course of doing that, Powlison puts words to what, in my observation, is the default pop-evangelical Gospel presentation.

The logic of therapy coheres with the logic of diagnosis: "I accept you, and God really accepts you. Your needs can be met, and you can start to change how you feel and act." Behavioral responsibility is muted, and the process of change becomes a matter of need-meeting than conscious repentance/metanoia and renewal of mind unto Christ.
He continues,

What happens to the Gospel when idolatry themes are not grasped? "God loves you" typically becomes a tool to meet a need for self-esteem in people who feel like failures. The particular content of the Gospel of Jesus Christ - "grace for sinners and deliverance for the sinned-against" - is down-played or even twisted into "unconditional acceptance for the victims of others' lack of acceptance." Where "the Gospel" is shared, it comes across something like this: "God accepts you as you are. God has unconditional love for you." That is not the biblical Gospel, however...

The Gospel is better than unconditional love. The Gospel says, "God accepts you just as Christ is. God has 'contraconditional' love for you. Christ bears the curse you deserve. Christ is fully pleasing to the Father and gives you His own perfect goodness. Christ reigns in power, making you the Father's child and coming close to you to begin to change what is unacceptable to God about you. God never accepts me "as I am." He accepts me "as I am in Christ."

I always have the 'this-doesn't-sound-right' feeling when I hear the line "God accepts you as you are." But I've never been able respond to my own satisfaction. When I read this part of the article, I wrote in the margin, "Yes. That's it." Exactly."