Monthly Archives: May 2016

Who is a “True” Jew?

Who is a "true" Jew, according to the New Testament?

Who is a “true” Jew, according to the New Testament?

Throughout the Old Testament, generally speaking, a “Jew” is someone who is a member of God’s covenant people, bound together by the Law of Moses given on Mount Sinai, as defined by the first five books of the Bible. In contrast, a “Gentile” is someone who is not a Jew[1]. For example, Jews keep the requirement of male circumcision, whereas Gentiles do not. Historically however, those who can trace their ancestral lineage back to this special nation of people, Israel, are still considered to be “Jewish,” even if they do not keep all of the rules associated with Moses.  I have known a number of  Jewish people who would consider themselves to be agnostics or atheists. These people are “ethnically Jewish,” though not “religiously Jewish.” But this distinction often causes confusion.

So, when we think of someone who is a “Jew,” do we mean someone who is ethnically Jewish? Or do we mean someone who is a practicing or believing Jew, someone who really believes in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Does the New Testament help us out here?
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Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes

Islamic Center in Williamsburg, Virginia

Islamic Center in Williamsburg, Virginia

Everyday on my drive home from work, I pass by a house that always catches my curiosity: There is an Islamic mosque off to the side. I have often wondered, who really goes to that mosque? Why do they go? What goes on inside?

Over the past few years, I have had the privilege to make friends with some young men who attend that mosque. They are a nice bunch of guys. How much do they really know about Jesus? I am not sure yet.

Before I met these guys, I never knew that much about the history of Islam. So I thought it might be best to take some time to learn. What is the bigger story behind how a group of young men from the Islamic world ended up in my town? That is how I stumbled upon an audiobook by Tamim Ansary, Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes.
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On Disputable Matters

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.(Romans 14:1 NIV, photo credit: Anglicans Ablaze)

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.(Romans 14:1 NIV, photo credit: Anglicans Ablaze)

In Romans 14 through the first half of Romans 15, the Apostle Paul is encouraging the church in Roman not to quarrel over “disputable matters.” The church in Rome was divided between the Jewish Christians, who emphasized adherence to the Law of Moses, and the Gentile Christians, who emphasized greater liberty. Here, Paul gives us an excellent model of how to work through differences that come up in the Christian community, seeking to love one another, even when we do not agree.

However, the “elephant in the room” about this concerns defining what is a “disputable matter.” It seems that everyone has a different list of what they think is disputable and what is indisputable. So how is this fundamental question resolved?

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Why Liberal Christianity is a Dead End

dead-endI appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. (Roman 16:17)

Back when I was in high school, I was a member of a “service club.” The service club provided assistance to the poor, cared for the needy, and fought hunger in our community. This was great stuff.

But to my knowledge, this group had no spiritual component to it. It appeared to function well without spirituality, so what was the point of mixing “God” up into the whole business?

So it was a really strange thing, when my church youth group back then decided that they wanted to become like this “service club.” The church group would no longer study the Bible or talk about Jesus. They wanted instead to focus on social service work, just like my service club.

My time was valuable, and so I simply could not justify being a member of two social service clubs that were doing the exact same thing. So I left the church group. If there was nothing distinctively “Christian” going on in the church group, what was the point?

I ran into a long time friend of mine this week at the hardware store, and this person had a similar story to tell me. My friend had started working for a church a few years ago, in a ministry that was doing great work caring for a needy group of folks in our community. But just recently, some of my friend’s colleagues in the ministry were offended by my friend’s sharing of “Jesus” as “the Son of God” with recipients of the church’s ministry. As the story unfolded, it turns out the church had also recently hired some people to work in the ministry, who did not believe in the classic doctrine of the Triune nature of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  To deal with the division, my friend was asked by the church staff not to talk about “Jesus” anymore.

Keep in mind, this is not a government agency or a school we are talking about. This is a church.

Rightly disturbed, my friend asked to see the church’s statement faith.

“We have a vision statement that you can look at.”

“No, I want to see the statement of faith.”

Sadly, the church had no statement of faith. After my conversation, I checked the church’s website. And sure enough, there was not a single statement online as to what the church believed.

When a church begins to drift away from the “doctrine that you have been taught,” as the Apostle Paul puts it, what typically goes with it is the church’s statement of faith. I know that historically, the denomination associated with this church has for several hundred years taught the doctrine of the Triune nature of God. But like a lot of churches that tend to identify with “liberal Christianity,” communities like these put Bible doctrine off to the side. Instead, these churches put their focus on social type of ministries. These social ministries do great things for our community. These efforts must be commended.

But in the long run, the mission of such a church leads to a dead end. It becomes extremely difficult to “watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles,” when your community lacks a clear understanding of what is being taught. Sadly, “liberal Christianity” provides no moral or spiritual basis for why it is doing its work.

My friend learned a valuable lesson. Check out the church’s statement of faith before you sign up for the job. But my friend’s story is far from unique. It happens over and over again, hundreds of times in liberal churches across the globe. The Pew Research Center published a report last year, showing that Protestant mainline churches, which constitutes the bulk of “liberal Christianity,” is continuing to rapidly shrink year after year in America, with no sign of reversing.

Liberal Christianity is ultimately a dead end because there is effectively nothing different in this movement than what you would find in fully functioning social service clubs and organizations elsewhere in the community that make no mention of God. What is the point of a church disposing the “doctrine that you have been taught,” only to replicate what the rest of the world is doing? It just causes divisions and creates obstacles.

It is a dead end.

Hugh Ross

There are some really gifted people doing great work in ministry these days. Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, Andy Stanley, J. Warner Wallace, Daniel B. Wallace, Darrell Bock, and Craig Blomberg come to mind. And this guy.

I’ve studied Hugh Ross’ material for quite some time. I’ve seen him challenged and attacked, and have been impressed by his ability to respond with love instead of anger. He runs Reasons To Believe with great integrity, and his thought-provoking and original material is always brilliantly researched and lovingly delivered. Here’s a recent interview that gets very personal.

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