Live Eternally

Calling All Attention

In False Teaching, Trinity on February 24, 2012 at 11:36 am

The life of the mind—including the life of the theological mind—experiences rhythms in which attention waxes and wanes. At one moment a significant plurality of thinkers will be focused upon some particular topic, but at a later moment their focus will have shifted to a different theme. Those who work with their minds instead of their hands will find that these ebbs and flows determine at least a part of their task. Whatever one’s discipline, one constantly feels the pressure to respond to the questions that are being asked at the moment. For the most part, even theologians are not free simply to ignore the immediate in favor of more remote personal interests.

The present moment is especially propitious for theologians who wish to think about the Trinity. Through its brief history, American evangelicalism (including fundamentalism) has produced few minds that have given themselves to understanding Trinitarianism. More typical have been those who, like J. Oliver Buswell, were willing to jettison certain aspects of the traditional doctrine that they perceived as meaningless. For his part, Buswell tried to dispense with the eternal generation of the Son, even though he acknowledged that his proposal was “somewhat revolutionary” (Systematic Theology 1:111). One wonders at the “somewhat.”

While Buswell serves as a convenient illustration, he is hardly alone. During his generation, the greatest challenges to orthodox Trinitarianism came either from theological liberalism (which pantheized God and divinized humanity) or else the unreconstructed Arianism of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Both approaches represented a direct and immediate threat to the deity of Christ. In those days, reflection upon the Trinity occurred primarily in the context of defending the deity of Christ. Other Trinitarian questions tended to fade in importance.

Now, however, several currents are flowing together to focus attention upon the doctrine of the Trinity. The first and most obvious is the collision of Christianity with Islam. Believers who share their communities with Muslims are discovering that these neighbors understand monotheism and unitarianism to be virtually identical categories. Witnessing to Muslims involves explaining how biblical Trinitarianism is fully and unapologetically monotheistic. In order to offer such explanations, Christians must be prepared to articulate the doctrine of the Trinity so that it is clearly distinguished from tri-theism.

New interest in the doctrine of the Trinity is also being fueled by the debate between complementarianism and egalitarianism. Complementarians insist that men and women can be fully equal even though they are assigned distinct roles in which women must sometimes submit to men. They believe that they see a pattern for this submission-in-equality within the Trinity itself. Egalitarians, however, argue that if submission is grounded in ontology, then it necessarily implies inferiority. Consequently, any submission on the part of one Person to another within the Trinity must be simply an economic relationship worked out as part of the unfolding plan of redemption.

Resurgent Mormonism is also provoking new interest in careful articulations of the doctrine of the Trinity. Mormons very much wish to be recognized as mainstream Christians. They have mastered the technique of using orthodox Christian terminology. What they mean by that terminology, however, is poles apart from the Bible’s teaching about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. What Mormonism forces Christians to do is to pay attention, not merely to their terms, but to what they mean by those terms.

No influence has done more to reawaken interest in Trinitarian formulations than the re-emergence of Modalistic Monarchianism. Modalism is the ancient theory that reduces the Trinitarian distinctions to economic manifestations. Just as one man may manifest himself as a husband to his wife, a father to his children, and a professor to his students, God manifests Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Within Modalism these distinctions may be called persons, but the subject-object relationship between them collapses. Modalism shows up in at least two forms that have lately become rather public.

The first is an Asian import. The followers of Witness Lee have recently broadcast a series of publications in which they seek to vindicate themselves from the charge of Modalism. Once one wades through the personal skirmishing, however, their argument can be reduced to the following points: (1) the followers of Witness Lee refuse to employ traditional orthodox terminology in their description of the Trinity, and, in fact, believe that such terminology can be rightly charged with tri-theism; (2) the followers of Witness Lee insist that Jesus is the Father and that Jesus is the Holy Spirit, and they offer no qualification or interpretation of these assertions that might help to reconcile them with an orthodox understanding of the Trinity; (3) the followers of Witness Lee insist, however, that it is unfair to charge them with Modalism because they give their very solemn assurance that they are not Modalists. This appears to be a classic case of wishing to be recognized as orthodox while refusing to abandon, qualify, or even explain the formulations that give rise to accusations of heresy.

The second form in which Modalism has recently emerged is Oneness Pentecostalism, specifically as personified in T. D. Jakes. Also known for preaching the Prosperity Gospel, Jakes has become the most popular and public figure who has ever attempted to go mainstream from the Jesus Only Movement. For years, Oneness Pentecostalism hardly merited notice, but Jakes changed that.

Actually, Jakes is not personally responsible for raising the Trinitarian issue. It was really raised by mainstream evangelicals who wished to bask in the reflected glow of Jakes’s celebrity. Both the presence and treatment of Jakes in James McDonald’s so-called “Elephant Room” conversations have forced many to reflect upon their understanding of the Trinity.

Unfortunately, neither McDonald nor his fellow-interlocutor, Mark Driscoll, seems to have done much reflection. In their puppy-like slobbering over Jakes, they were only too eager to deliver him from the charge of heresy. They asked him a couple of questions that failed to get to the heart of the matter, and then McDonald began to effervesce: “I think you honor us and you humble us, a man of your stature and commitment to the gospel and fruitfulness would come and sit with us in this room, let you and me ask him what he believes.”

A man whose ordination is from a heretical church ought to be asked what he believes. He ought to be asked much more pointedly than Jakes was asked by McDonald and Driscoll. He ought to be asked the questions without any apology. When asked, such a man ought to be eager to give clear answers. If he is truly prepared to leave heresy, then he ought to covet instruction—the kind of instruction that McDonald and Driscoll never offered.

The Trinity is a doctrine that is essential to the faith. It is essential to the gospel. There is a reason that the church fathers thought carefully about terms like substanceperson, and nature. There is a reason that they crafted careful phrases like “begotten before all worlds” and “begotten not made.” There is a reason that they debated the meaning of terms like generation and procession. There is even a reason that they devoted serious attention to obscure formulations like filioque.

The hour has come for renewed reflection upon the Trinity. We cannot claim to be gospel-centered while we are trifling with an important doctrine upon which the gospel depends. We are responsible to articulate the faith for at least the next generation of Christians. The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most vital aspects of that articulation. We must not leave it to dilettantes.


This article by Kevin Bauder was found here

Give Up the Gimmicks, Youth Pastors

In Pastor(s), Youth on February 22, 2012 at 12:51 pm

It’s amazing what youth will eat. I love sushi, but it’s quite different than eating a live goldfish. I sat near the back of the crowd and watched with a curious sea-sickness—gazing at the teenage wonder while keeping one eye on the nearest trash can! A loud unified chant shook the entire room: “Mar-cus, Mar-cus.” And down it went, to the praise of cheering youth. He was the envy of every guy and the disgust of every girl. The champion collected his prizes and walked off the stage with a hero-notch on his belt.

“So what can we do next week,” I thought to myself.“There’s no way I can top eating a live goldfish.” I was helping out with the youth program at the time, and we had been gradually escalating the “shock factor” to attract more youth. And, for all intents and purposes, it seemed to work. Every week, we saw new youth, who occasionally seemed to embody a little of the “shock factor” themselves.

Over time, though, we began to run out of ideas and started getting desperate. The youth seemed bored, and we had to think of something fast. We didn’t have much money in our youth budget, so we decided to be good stewards and spend the rest of it on bringing a “Christian” rock band to the church (though nobody had ever heard of the group). The band arrived, set up, and did a sound check from a stage in the church gym—and topped the show with choreographed dancing. I was pumped! “The youth are going to love this,” I thought out loud.

To my great horror and disbelief, only eight youth came. They stood lined up in a row with folded arms, listening to the thumping noise echoing around the vacant gym. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was burned out of youth ministry, and I had just begun. There had to be something deeper, richer, and more satisfying than this. There had to be something that nourished the youth more than a wiggling goldfish and a high-priced band.

We Can Do Better

The absolutely amazing truth is that God has already supplied us with the means to nourish his people, and we find ourselves thinking we can do better.  These include the historic “means of grace”—especially the Word of God, prayer, and the sacraments. Other ordinances of Christ, such as gospel-motivated service and grace-centered community—may also appropriately be included in this category (cf. Acts 2:42-47).

All too often, youth programs have turned to entertainment-driven models of ministry in order to bring in youth. Success has become the name of the church-growth game. The devastating effects, however, are not only seen in the number of youth leaving the church after high school, but also in a spiritually and theologically shallow worldview among many American teenagers. The irony is that these same teens actually want to grow and learn hard truths. They want to know how to think about suffering, how to pray, and why Jesus had to die.

If there’s anything a youth pastor knows—even after only a few months in ministry—it’s that fatigue and feelings of burnout come with the task. The constant pressure from parents, youth, church leadership, the senior pastor, and even his own family can wear a minister out very quickly.

Added to this stress is the continual expectations to meet certain numerical standards. The most frequent question that I get is, “How many?” It sometimes becomes a plague and burden—tempting you with pride (wow, I attracted a ton of youth tonight!) or despair(nobody came . . . and nobody will come next week either). It’s no wonder that the average youth minister stays in one location less than 18 months!

But as ministers in Christ’s church, our task is to be faithful to the Lord in the ministry means that he has given us and look to him to provide the increase. We are to plant and water the gospel of Jesus Christ—while God gives the growth (1 Cor. 3:7). It is easy to become numbers-driven because it makes a minister “look good” (if a lot of youth come, of course). But God’s not after looks; he’s after hearts.

Our Task

When you realize that our task is to simply be faithful, you will have an overwhelming sense of freedom and joy. But this begs the question: What does it look like to be faithful to God in youth ministry? I maintain that the “how to” of being faithful in youth ministry—indeed, in all ministry—is demonstrated through the means of God’s transformative grace.

Youth need the means of grace that God has provided his church—the local, intergenerational, community of sinner-saints—to supply both the content and themethod of ministry. This is the biblical model given by Christ and witnessed in the early church, and remains, I believe, the most faithful and Christ-centered approach to youth ministry today.

Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Apart from the Spirit taking the finished work of Christ and applying it to our lives, we can do nothingthat would please or honor God. Here, Jesus calls us to a singular calling and focus—“abide in me.” As youth workers, our task is to guide youth to the true Vine, where they will find grace, salvation, and the Lordship of Christ. The means of grace are instruments and gifts that God has given his church for the increase of faith, hope, love, and joy in him. Youth ministry should always direct youth toward God, not man. It should always concern itself with bearing fruit as an effect of abiding in the Vine.

With all my heart, I plead with you to not be tempted with “success,” professionalism, or the fading fads of our entertainment-driven culture. Rather, pursue Jesus as the all-satisfying Treasure that he is and feed his young sheep with the means God has provided.


This article was found here

The President, the Pill, and Religious Liberty in Peril

In Abortion, Christian Worldview on February 7, 2012 at 4:24 pm

In 1808, President Thomas Jefferson stated the matter bluntly: “I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises.”

Fast forward 204 years and President Barack Obama has reversed that logic, ordering religious institutions to provide insurance coverage for employees that must include contraceptives, including those that may induce an abortion.

Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of the Department of Health and Human Services made the announcement January 20, stating: “Today the department is announcing that the final rule on preventive health services will ensure that women with health insurance coverage will have access to the full range of the Institute of Medicine’s recommended preventive services, including all FDA-approved forms of contraception.”

The ruling had been much anticipated as a consequence of President Obama’s health care reform. The new law required the administration to determine what elements would be included in the mandated coverage. The administration first determined that the preventative care provision would include coverage of contraceptives. The second step was determining that this coverage would include, as Secretary Sebelius restated it, “all FDA-approved forms of contraception.” These include drugs known as Plan B, which is taken after the possibility of fertilization, thus functioning as an inducer of abortion. The plans must also provide sterilization procedures for women without deductibles or co-payments.

The final step in the process was the decision to require all employers to provide this coverage, including church-affiliated institutions and organizations. The only exemption is offered to churches and religious bodies that neither employ nor serve any significant number of people who do not share their faith. As one church leader commented, this would not allow an exemption even for the ministry of Jesus and his disciples, who ministered to those outside the faith.

Nonetheless, Secretary Sebelius had the temerity to claim, in her statement: “This decision was made after very careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty. I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services. The administration remains fully committed to its partnerships with faith-based organizations, which promote healthy communities and serve the common good.”

In actuality, the Obama Administration trampled religious liberty under the feet of the leviathan state, forcing religious employers to do what conscience will not allow. Religious organizations such as schools, colleges, and hospitals will be required to pay for services that they believe to be immoral and disobedient to God.

In a final insult, the administration allowed that religious employers could, if qualified, have an extra year to comply with the decision. As Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah made clear, this intentionally evades the point. “The problem is not that religious institutions do not have time enough to comply,” he said, “It’s that they are forced to comply at all.”

Roman Catholic authorities were among the first to respond with outrage. Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York City, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who had personally made the case to President Obama for a broader exemption, said simply: “We are unable to live with this.”

This last Sunday, Catholics around the nation heard letters from their local bishops with the same message. The Bishop of Marquette, for example, put the matter with severe simplicity: “We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law.”

In other words, the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops have signaled their clear intention to defy the law rather than to violate their conscience. Will evangelical Christians demonstrate the same courage and conviction?

The Roman Catholic Church teaches against the use of any artificial birth control and considers these to be assaults upon the dignity of all human life. In more recent years, evangelicals have had to rethink the contraception issue. At the very least, the issue of abortion has required evangelicals to realize that any form of birth control is a matter of great moral significance and thus of moral conscience.

The inclusion of Plan B and other forms of “emergency contraception” raises the stakes considerably, since the issue of abortion is now unavoidable. Will evangelical colleges and institutions now comply with a law we know to be both unjust and unconscionable?

The National Association of Evangelicals made a statement that described the situation well, but promised no particular action: “Employers with religious objections to contraception will be forced to pay for services and procedures they believe are morally wrong.”

The Obama Administration knew exactly what it was doing. It had received no shortage of advice on this question, and advocates for a broader exemption were vocal even within the Administration. Members of the President’s own party shared the disappointment in the decision. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania lamented the administration’s “bad decision.”

Others wondered aloud why President Obama had, in the words of Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, thrown those with religious objections “under the bus.” The editors of that paper made their own disappointment clear as well:

“The best approach would have been for HHS to stick to its original conclusion that contraception coverage should generally be required but to expand the scope of its proposed exemption for religiously affiliated employers who claim covering contraception would violate their religious views. The administration’s feint at a compromise — giving such employers another year to figure out how to comply with the requirement — is unproductive can-kicking that fails to address the fundamental problem of requiring religiously affiliated entities to spend their own money in a way that contradicts the tenets of their faith.”

The one-year extension is indeed “unproductive can-kicking,” but the far larger issue is “the fundamental problem of requiring religiously affiliated entities to spend their own money in a way that contradicts the tenets of their faith.”

Every president faces decisions that test his character and principles. President Obama has failed this test, and the results will be tragic. He has trampled religious liberty underfoot and has announced his intention to force religious institutions to violate their consciences or go out of business.

This decision will lead to nothing less than the secularization of the good work undertaken by these religious institutions. Faith-based adoption agencies, hospitals, and educational institutions are being forced to secularize or cease operations already. This decision will add tragic momentum to that process.

Religious organizations are being told to comply with the government’s order, or face the consequences. A Roman Catholic college in North Carolina has challenged the Obama Administration in court, an action now also taken by Colorado Christian University, an evangelical college. Concerted calls for a legislative rescue from Congress are being made.

And yet, the decision of the Obama Administration is clear. The edict from President Obama to religious institutions is this — violate conscience and bend the knee to the government, or face the consequences.

We will soon learn just how much faith is left in faith-based institutions.


This article was found here.


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