Monthly Archives: May 2014

A Year of Biblical Doubting #1

Rachel Held Evans first book.  She's young, church-going.... and not very sure about her faith.   Does she represent the future of "evangelical Christianity"?

Rachel Held Evans first book. She’s young, church-going…. and not very sure about her faith. Does she represent the future of “evangelical Christianity”?

How do you handle doubt? Some want to shove it under the rug. Some, frankly, never really go through serious periods of doubt. Others wallow in their confusion. Some simply rebel as an escape mechanism. Others are driven to God’s Word, study, prayer, and fellowship to find answers. Where do you go when you begin to second guess everything, if you ever do?

Part of what we are trying to do with Veracity is to provide tools to help folks to get into God’s Word so that God’s Word can get into us. What resources are available that can equip us to better understand our faith so that we can better serve the Lord in our worship and witness? However, there are times where doubt can plague us in our spiritual journey and threaten to derail us spiritually. Perhaps an explanation about the Bible we once heard no longer makes sense anymore. Or is there some assumption that we have made about the Christian life that no longer appears to be working? Perhaps we expected God to do something and things did not turn out the way we think it should.

Doubt is an enormous topic to tackle in a single blog posting. So I will be content for now to give you a partial case study.
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Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the Human Condition

Let us be honest. None of us really likes to talk about sin.

But when we talk about the great and glorious news of the Gospel, that in Jesus Christ we have been forgiven of our sin, it would behoove us to fully understand what the sin problem really is. If we fail to do that, it would be like a doctor trying to give a prescription to a patient for their healing without fully grasping the proper diagnosis of the condition.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was perhaps the greatest evangelical preacher in 20th century Britain, only rivaled by perhaps one of my favorite expository British teachers, John R. W. Stott (who teaches on the subject of human sin as found in Ephesians 2:1-3 in a commentary found here). Formerly a doctor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones went onto preach as a minister for 30 years. Jones was a great admirer of the Puritans, thoroughly immersed in the Reformed tradition.

I have been spending several weeks reading Romans 5:12-21 in preparing some discussions for our small group Bible study. Of everything I have read in Romans, this passage of Scripture is probably the most compact, dense, liberating, and enriching text in the entire letter. It is nevertheless controversial within the church as to how it has been interpreted. Just ask any Roman Catholic, Protestant or Eastern Orthodox Christian familiar with the discussion. For starters, consider verse 12:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned——

The Apostle Paul simply breaks off his thought within mid-sentence.  It is as though Paul had to pause there, anticipating the objections that would be raised to the concept of human as sinners that would chafe against the rational mind for the next 21 centuries. What does Paul mean by this phrase all sinned?   I have been reading this over and over again, looking at commentaries like this one, only to be further drawn into the Apostle Paul’s famous pause at the point. What was Paul getting at?

It is as breath-taking as it is challenging.

In the following video, Martyn Lloyd-Jones gets to the heart of why so many people have such difficulties with Paul’s message in Romans 5.

Also, if you want to hear some of the best Reformed, expository Bible preaching ever recorded, you will be pleased to know that over 1,600 of Martyn-Lloyd Jones sermons are now available for free on the Internet (though you can donate to make sure that those sermons remain freely available).

In the meantime, you can get the flavor of his approach to the Bible and why it is so important to understand the proper diagnosis of the human condition. This interview was conducted by journalist Joan Bakewell in December, 1970:

Rob Bell and Don Draper – The Ad Man’s Gospel

As I was finishing up my blog post comparing songwriter Mark Heard to popular evangelical author Donald Miller, I was trying to figure out how to handle Rob Bell. Bell has been the most explosive figure in progressive evangelicalism today, though within the past few years he has gone out even further than many of his progressive evangelical colleagues are willing to endorse. Theologically speaking in my view, a confused ecclesiology is what unites the contemporary triune fellowship of Bell, Miller, and Brian McLaren. It is difficult for me to say this, because while I still know that these folks love Jesus and I can still learn some things from them, there have just been some other things there that continue to bug me. However, there could be more to the analysis. I think I have stumbled onto an idea, but I had to look “across the pond” to find it.

While some evangelicals in the U.S. still puzzle over the Rob Bell storm in recent years, a fire is currently raging in Britain. Recently, a debate between progressive evangelical Steve Chalke and more classic evangelical Andrew Wilson has intensely engaged thoughtful Christians. In reflecting on the debate, Andrew Wilson pointed to a specific problem in Steve Chalke’s argumentative method. In a nutshell, Wilson claims that Chalke sets up a type of “straw man” noting some extreme case, and therefore reacting to it with a different extreme case as THE solution, without acknowledging that there might be more moderate and alternative solutions that are being sidestepped. Wilson likens this to what Rob Bell is doing as a communicator of the “Ad Man’s Gospel”. Strangely, however, I do not think Rob Bell is alone in this. You can find folks equally on the more “fundamentalist” side of the evangelical movement who do EXACTLY the same thing in reverse. Wilson cites this post by Alastair Roberts as evidence. It says it better than I can.

On the downside, it does make me seriously question how viable the Internet; e.g. blogging, serves as an effective vehicle for thoughtful communication and dialogue. I am still doing it, but I have my doubts. Veracity readers: Are Andrew Wilson and Alastair Roberts right?

If you follow the whole line of thought, you will never think about Oldsmobiles the same way again….

Alastair's Adversaria

I find Rob Bell fascinating.

Sure, I disagree with his theology, but when it comes to engaging communication, the man is virtually without peer.

If you want to see a masterpiece in clever communication, look no further than a promotional video for a Rob Bell book.

This is Bell in his element.


Take, for instance, this recent offering:

The dislocated camera shots.
The fractured statements.
It’s all there.

You start with the evocative image of the Velvet Elvis, reminding you of that summer you read through that book as a teen.

How that book resonated with you at the time!

Rob begins by telling us that a lot of people in our culture ‘can’t do the God-sort of belief system or idea.’ A ‘very, very popular movement’ tells us that this is all that there is. However, lots and lots of people, when they experience vaguely defined…

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Following the Emerging (Jazzy Blue) Heard

Back some years ago, one of my favorite singer-songwriters was (and still is) a guy named Mark Heard. Long before “Contemporary Christian Music” became an industry, Mark Heard was with his guitar singing folk songs about life and Jesus. But Mark was out there on the edge. In those days, his style of music was not as acceptable in the mainstream of evangelical Christianity as it is today. Yet neither was he welcome that much in the secular world of music.

From his 1981 album, Stop the Dominoes, you can get a flavor of his existential angst in the song “Stuck in the Middle“:

Well my brothers criticize me
Say I’m just too strange to believe
And the others just avoid me
They say my faith is so naive
I’m too sacred for the sinners
And the saints wish I would leave

Here is one of my favorite Mark Heard songs, “Dry Bones Dance“, harkening back to the vision of the prophet Ezekiel. Someone has put together a collection of all of Mark Heard’s lyrics, including Dry Bones Dance if you want to read along as he sings.

From time to time, I love to spin up one of Mark Heard’s albums, but over the years I have come to see also a darker side to Mark Heard’s spirituality. And I think a brief look at his story can show us how often stories like his can get repeated today and relatively few seem to notice.
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Irreplaceable: A Focus on the Family Film

Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family (FOTF) is promoting a special one-night viewing of a new film, Irreplaceable, at select movie theaters on Tuesday, May 6th. The film follows Tim Sisarich, FOTF’s New Zealand director, on a documentary quest to explore the nature of the traditional family and its current status in postmodern society. Even if you have missed the effective barrage of Christian-themed movies in the Spring of 2014, you might be surprised that this one-night showing has provoked some controversy.

Some in the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community have been working hard to effectively ban Irreplaceable from being shown in mainstream movie theaters. Why all of the fuss? Well, Focus on the Family has historically been outspokenly supportive of what some call “reparative” or “conversion” therapy, which represents types of psychological treatments intended to alter someone’s sexual orientation. In recent years, various groups have become vocally opposed to the use of such treatments describing them as abusive and causing more harm than good. Even some evangelical Christian ministries, notably the former Exodus International in 2013, have now distanced themselves from the use of such therapies.

My understanding is that very little if anything in the film will address reparative therapy, as my guess is that the main focus is on issues like fatherlessness, out-of-wedlock births, and divorce.  If the film is successful, it will help people realize that while the “crisis of the family” does have an impact on society at large, the real challenges are complex and very personal and they begin within our own families. Focus on the Family is following up the release of this film with a DVD-based study curriculum developed for churches and small groups, The Family Project, to be released in the U.S. later in the year, modeled after their popular “The Truth Project” from several years ago. The Truth Project itself became controversial within the evangelical church for taking on a whole set of complex worldview issues and oversimplifying them, as suggested by this friendly critic linked here.

In the Williamsburg, Virginia area, the film Irreplaceable will be showing at the Movie Tavern at High Street, at 7:30pm on Tuesday, May 6. If you are planning on seeing the film, we would love to know of your thoughts on it.

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