When have we sufficiently read the Bible?: on individualism and community

I came across this article the other day on The Gospel Coalition, Let’s Be Honest: Reasons Why We Don’t Read Our Bibles. Erik Raymond suggests 5 reasons:

1) It makes us uncomfortable

2) It’s too hard

3) We are undisciplined

4) We think it’s stale and lifeless

5) We have a dysfunctional relationship with God

He gets to the crux of the matter with this statement;

Let’s be honest: if you don’t read your Bible it is because you don’t want to read your Bible. And to bottom line this further, this is indicative or your relationship with God. We cannot separate a love for the Word of God and the God of the Word.

person holding bibleNow, a lot of this really resonated with me since I’ve written similar prescriptions of why we might find Bible reading boring. Anyone who has followed this blog for any amount of time knows my passion for believers being serious about Bible reading and comprehension. In fact, I would expand on his 2nd point about the Bible being too hard in that Christians really need a framework to understand how the 66 books fit together as God’s complete story of redemption. When I consider my own trajectory in Bible reading, my comprehension of the holistic Christ-centered nature of Scripture has evolved and is evolving over time because of the direction of others. But especially because of how it is emphasized in the preaching and teaching of the Word at my church. Over the past decade, I have been increasingly exposed to preaching that considers the holistic nature of Scripture not just cherry picked verses to support whatever instruction the preacher wants to provide so that I do x, y and z. Continue reading

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Should we call the prosperity gospel something else?: a subtle deception

money on the altarThe Gospel Coalition posted the first article in a series on the prosperity gospel. As I read through, 5 Errors of the Prosperity Gospel, and I’ll get to these points in a minute, I couldn’t help but think that calling it prosperity might be a bit misleading. Why do I say that? Because in reality, proponents of prosperity teaching don’t refer to it as such. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that many proponents of prosperity teaching would reject the notion that the aim of our Christian existence is to get rich and would be quick to label the Creflo Dollars of TV fame as charlatans. So I think by labeling it “prosperity gospel” might have the impact of turning a deaf ear to it’s troubling foundation.

Herein lies the subtle deception of prosperity teaching. The premise of what is called a prosperity gospel is simply put: material blessings are a sign of God’s acceptance and favor. One does not necessarily have to believe that riches are the goal to buy into prosperity teaching. This is evident in looking at the five points outlined in the article. More than anything, I think that many people who buy into prosperity teaching are well intentioned about the Christian faith and strive earnestly to live that faith out. But I believe the main contributor to prosperity promotion is a lack comprehension of what material blessings meant in the Old Testament. It is evident in the teaching (which I myself embraced for many years, that prosperity teaching fail to consider that the whole theme of Scripture is rooted in God’s redemption of his creation in an elaborate scheme that involved calling out a people called Israel as his own. This only serves as the basis of how he will unite Jew and Gentile as equal heirs to his promises fulfilled in Christ.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll highlight a couple of the five points in relation to point I’m making that prosperity teaching is more about the material blessings as the basis of genuine faith. But I encourage you to read all 5 points; Continue reading

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About that day I stood on a stage OR what is church commitment?

Multicultural groupI stood on a stage in June 2013. Well, it was more like a platform where they pulpit resides. I stood with several other people in front of the congregation. We were reciting vows. No, not saying “I do” in matrimony but definitely making a commitment to the local church  We professed faith in Jesus Christ. We agreed to be involved in the life of the church. And, wait for it…we agreed to be submitted to it’s leadership and including, should the need arise, agreeing to church discipline.

“Wait, whoa, what? You actually agreed to THAT? That’s what cults do!” I might be the reaction of the reader. Of course, this came after a 12 week class on basic Christian doctrine, the definition and role of the church and Presbyterian specifics. We each met the pastor and one of the elders to give our testimony and share with them where we are spiritually. This does give one the opportunity to see if this is something they want to be committed to. (On a side note, I have made similar commitments before. But prior to joining the PCA, I came from a place with very loose commitments and little accountability and it showed.)

But given the reaction to the recent social media explosion over The Village Church, I can bet that this scenario immediately inspires thoughts of control, abuse, and squashing love for members. Now granted, there was some fumbling on their part especially considering the highly sensitive and painful nature of circumstances. They did apologize for the careless and insensitive way in which is was handled (not that it will ever be enough for public outrage calling for their pound of flesh). Nonetheless, I’m not writing about that specific incident because there’s been enough ink spilled already. Rather, I want to address the mass response that I saw that by and large rejected any type of commitments to pastoral intervention in the lives of its members. It made me question what exactly do we consider being part of the life of the local church.

J.D. Hall of Pulpit and Pen delivered what I thought to be a fitting and poignant commentary regarding the situation and specifically the reaction against making any kind of covenant with the local church as unwarranted, unbiblical and otherwise unnecessary. In this post here, he states, Continue reading

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Acceptable worldliness in the Church

contemporary church service2Well, I’m going to say upfront that I might say some things that will rub some Christians the wrong way, especially those in the non-denominational world. I’m just putting it out there. In fact, it’s safe to say that this post might get a bit ranty. But I have observed a kind of worldliness that has been brought into much of contemporary evangelicalism that gets a pass.

No, it’s not having a hot band playing secular music or what some might associate with secular music with Jesus lyrics. Nor am I referring to sexual immorality with fornication and adultery going, although of course that can definitely be classified as worldliness worthy of some serious discipline.

I’m referring to the way we do church. And by that I mean, structuring church according to the philosophies of this world including borrowing leadership principles and techniques in the name of church governance. I’m talking about creating corporations with the senior pastor as CEO, elders as the board of directors, staff as the implementers of whatever vision was cast by “leadership” so the church achieves its outcomes for the consumers called the congregation.

I don’t know where it started. I don’t know when pastors/elders turned from being shepherds of Gods people with qualifications specified in 1 Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:7-9  into Jesus PR marketers, thought leaders, transformational strategists and vision casters. I don’t know when this informed the qualifications of leadership, with pastors being dismissed for ‘not being a good fit’ or ‘carrying out the strategies of the organization.’ I don’t know when it became acceptable to abandon the care of the visible church according to the vision Jesus already gave to come up with innovative techniques to run the company and franchising it out through satellite churches. I don’t know when pragmatism ran all over liturgy and kicked it out the door. I don’t know when the apostle’s teaching as specified in the NT, turned into storied, life principles and other cute methods to attract people, instead of boldly proclaiming the whole counsel of Scripture. Continue reading

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On fear, Islam and a better way

muslims prayingI confess I’ve not studied a lot on Islam. But these days am investing more time to understand for reasons I’ll get to in the post. Islam seems to be gaining more of a presence, not just globally, but locally as well. To be sure, there are growing concerns and quite amount of fear lingering in Christian circles because of the rise of ISIS and other attacks perpetrated under the name of Islam. I’ve observed that this fear has caused strong reactions among Christians against Muslims and the desire to repel them from out midst.

But there is a reality Christians cannot afford to overlook. Islam continues to grow. According to this article, Muslims are projected to be the 2nd largest U.S. religious group behind Christians. The Pew Forum indicates that Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion. By 2050, this religious group will equal that of Christians in size. Now we can advocate for the U.S. to remove all Muslims as I have heard many Christians decry. Yes, I’ve actually heard Christians say this!

Qureshi_Seeking Allah coverConcerns are valid but I question if our fearful reactions aren’t counterproductive to people who are to be salt and light. There is disagreement on whether these extreme groups actually represent authentic Islam. The short answer is yes and no and it depends on who you ask. I’ve been reading through Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity. Nabeel Qureshi recounts his journey from Ahmadi Islam to his conversion to Christ, explaining Islam and distinction among groups along the way. I found this excerpt compelling, from his thoughts about what happened after 9-11;

In the twelve years since that day, I have learned that the question is far more complex than it first appears. The most important consideration is the definition of Islam. If by Islam we mean the beliefs of Muslims, then Islam can be a relition of peace or a religion of terror, depending on how it is taught.

In the West, Muslims are generally taught a very pacific version of Islam. Just like Baji and I, Western Muslims are taught that Muhammad fought only defensive battles and that violent verses in the Quran refer to specific, defensive contexts. Jihad is here defined as primarily a peaceful endeavor, an internal struggle against one’s baser desires. When asked about their religion, Western Muslims honestly report what they believe; Islam is a religion of peace.

In the East, though, Muslims often have a less docile view of Islam. They are taught that Islam is superior to all other religions and ways of life and that Allah wishes to see it established throughout the world. They often define jihad as a primarily physical endeavor, a struggle against the enemies of Islam. When asked about their religion, these Muslims will honestly report what they believe; Islam will dominate the world.

So if we define Islam by the beliefs of its adherents, it may or may not be a religion of peace. But if we define Islam more traditionally, as the system of beliefs and practices taught by Muhammad, then the answer is less ambiguous.

The earliest historical records show that Muhammad launched offensive military campaigns and used violence at times to accomplish his purposes. He used the term jihad in both spiritual and physical contexts, but the physical jihad is the one Muhammad strongly emphasizes. The peaceful practice of Islam hinges on later, often Western, interpretations of Muhammad’s teachings, whereas the more violent variations of Islam are deeply rooted in orthodoxy and history.

Of course, like all people, Muslims in the East and the West generally just believe what they are taught. Rarely is there much critical investigation into historical events, and the few that invest the effort usually do the same thing I had done in TOK class: attempt to defend what is already believed, potentially ignoring or underestimating evidence that points to the contrary. This is only natural, since it is extremely difficult to change beliefs that are dear to the heart.

Continue reading

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