So you think you believe the gospel, huh?

Despite the increasing opposition to Christianity, let’s face it, in western civilization it’s pretty easy to proclaim Christianity as one’s established religion.

What is the gospel? It is God’s rescuing his creation from the ownership of sin that happened at the fall through his work in the Son. It is recognizing the fact that something went terribly wrong in Genesis 3 that disconnected all mankind from eternal communion with God and subjected creation to futility (Romans 8:19-21). The gospel is the good news of redemption, forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with the Father and hope of enjoying him forever (See Eph 1:3-14). The gospel is sourced in God’s work through the Son, whose sacrificial atonement on the cross nailed the debt of sin for those who believe and whose resurrection forever expunged the condemnation associated with that required payment. (The first 8 chapters of Romans pretty much sums this up.)

I think its safe to say that if you’re a Christian, you might automatically nod or even get a little smug since you probably would rattle off different iterations of this description. You wouldn’t hesitate to say, yes I believe the gospel because I believe that Jesus died for my sins.

arrogance1-2But do you really believe the gospel? See it’s one thing to know facts about God’s work through Christ in rescuing what was lost. But it’s quite another to live as if that is true. It’s one thing to say that it took the work of God by the Holy Spirit to bring us into union with Christ completely on his work, but quite another to put assurance in that work and not on ourselves. It’s one thing to verbalize that you were dead in your trespasses and sins, cut off, unable to even respond to God without his intervention, it’s something else all together when we act like we can qualify the gospel with our contributions.

Here’s a little test…

1) Do you feel like you’re a good Christian because you haven’t committed any egregious sins?

If you’re proud of yourself that you’re not like those who have fallen into error, chances are you believe that you had something to do with your righteousness. That’s not believing the gospel but our own works

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works so that no one my boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9) 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

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

Preaching the Gospel on Sundays

I came across this quote recently on Facebook

The church, when it’s not seduced by consumerist spirituality, is in the business of cultivating ordinary Christians, people who are united to Christ by faith and are in it for the long haul, like people in a good marriage. It transforms people, not by giving them life-changing experiences but by repetition, continually telling the story of Christ so that people may hear and take hold of him by faith. For we do not just receive Christ by faith once at the beginning of our Christian lives and then go on to do the real work of transformation through our good works. We keep needing Christ the way hungry people need bread, and we keep receiving him whenever we hear the gospel preached and believe it. So what transforms us over the long haul is not one or two great life-changing sermons (although these can be helpful from time to time) but the repeated teaching and preaching of Christ, Sunday after Sunday, so that we never cease receiving him into our hearts. -Phillip Cary, Good News for Anxious Christians

One comment to this was worth noting

So I have a serious question – if I am to take literally what this writer says, I have one of two pictures that I know are not just my imagination; the first picture is the literal Sunday after Sunday presentation of the good news message. I have met many Christian refugees over the years and I seriously mean many, who simply could not endure their church after years and years of hearing essentially the same gospel message Sunday after Sunday. And while I certainly understand personal responsibility of the Christian to study the Word, the obvious and stark reality of that is that it rarely happens to any significant degree. And since the Pastor’s primary duty I believe is proclamation of the Word meaning the whole counsel of God’s Word meaning 66 books of the Bible you either get what I have already described week after week with Christians drying on the vine or you get a sound bite gospel message quickly and shabbily tacked on at the end of each message doing the wonder of the good news a disservice.

On the road to Emmaus when Jesus wanted his disciples to know who he was The text said something rather profound:

“Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in ALL the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:27 NASB) Would it be totally unfair to assert that what the writer “seems” to be advocating may be part and parcel of the profound ignorance of the Scriptures in the church at large? Or am I pushing what he means too far?

pupit w bibleI think he’s on to something and why I can’t beat the drum loud enough about Christ-centered preaching. Sadly, it took a long time and a lot of exposure to all kinds of sermons before I actually realized what makes a sermon, Christ-centered. Just because you mention Jesus, does not mean he is at the center of the message. I’ve sat under all kinds of preaching. The topical sermon with made-up theology based on some innovative “spiritual” insight and cherry-picked, out-of-context verses. Continue reading

The Great Commission, Great Commandment, and our Humanity

Super ChristianAfter hearing a sermon on the Great Commission this past Sunday, it reminded me of these quotes from two books I’m reading and reinforced that being a witness does not require us to be super Christians, with big capes like we have it all together. You ever feel like you don’t measure up to be an effective witness for Christ, loving God and neighbor as you should? Well neither did the first disciples. And they were with Jesus!

“Matthew concludes his gospel with the Great Commission. To his worshipping, yet doubting, disciples, Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples” (vv. 18-19). The one who has all authority has chosen not to use it himself. The one who has all power has chosen to give it away. The one who has just conquered sin, death, and the grave has turned over the next stage of the kingdom to this group of fearful and doubting followers, who have demonstrated over and over again that they are more concerned about themselves than about Jesus, about their agendas than about the kingdom, about their reputations than about ‘the least of these,’ and about greatness than about servanthood. Yet it is to these men that Jesus gives the responsibility to make disciples. The gospel is entrusted to them. The mission of the church is given to them. The fate of the poor, the needy, and the oppressed is delegated to those followers who, even in the presence of the resurrected Jesus, continue to doubt. And that continues to be God’s plan. It is through the church that the kingdom grows and spreads over the earth.”  – Glenn Kreider, God With Us: Exploring God’s Personal Interactions with His People throughout the Bible. Continue reading