1/30/2008

What Is The Gospel Message?

What Is the Gospel Message?

My last post on Mark Dever’s book The Gospel and Personal Evangelism expressed the requirement for a clear understanding of the gospel in order for us to be able to communicate it effectively. Dever does not leave us in the dark on his opinion. We have his short summary below.

“…Here’s what I understand the good news to be: the good news is that the one and only God, who is holy, made us in his image to know him. But we sinned and cut ourselves off from him. In his great love, God became a man in Jesus, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law himself and taking on himself the punishment for the sins of all those who would ever turn and trust in him. He rose again from the dead, showing that God accepted Christ’s sacrifice and that God’s wrath against us had been exhausted. He now calls us to repent of our sins and to trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness. If we repent of our sin and trust in Christ, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God.” - Mark Dever in The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, Crossway Books: Wheaton, Illinois, 2007, p.
43.

That’s a message I can communicate to someone in less than five minutes, depending of course on their familiarity with basic Christian concepts and the questions they have. Does this summary express all of the details that one can know about the gospel message? Of course not. I have never quite learning about what Christ has done for me since I became a Christian. I believe that if I applied myself full-time for the rest of my life I would still have only begun to scratch the surface.

The church will always need serious, engaging Bible studies to give believers and non-believers alike the opportunity to explore the details. That’s part of how we grow. It’s a primary part of the process of “…being transformed by the renewing of [our minds]…” (Romans 12:2)

But it does leave us with a message that has enough content to interest the lost. It leaves us with a way to give the basics, and I have found that the basics can be used by God to convert sinners.

I have seen the light sparkle in people’s eyes when they grasp the simple idea of God’s free gift of eternal life earned for us by Christ. I have seen the smile spread across the lips when they turn from their own efforts to try to earn God’s friendship and embrace God’s reconciliation through Christ’s life and sufferings. I have seen the life transformation that only this simple message can bring when it is brought to bear by the Holy Spirit.

I would not trade the looks on those faces for a million dollars. I pray that I would have the chance to have more faces like those embedded in my memory. I am glad we have good news to share that even a little child can understand.

1/29/2008

Gospel Clarity

This is a first of several posts on Mark Dever’s new book, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism. I found this book to be clearly written, easy to understand, and extremely helpful. He addresses several key issues with respect to evangelism’s how and why. One of the best quotes follows.

“None of us ever has a complete understanding of the gospel, but we must have a clear idea of the basics of our message, and we must be clear in our expression of them. If there is a likely misunderstanding, we should address it. We should speak in such a way as to be understood. Contextualization is the big theological word for this.” – Mark Dever in The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, Crossway Books: Wheaton, Illinois, 2007, p. 63. (Emphasis his.)

Emergent

“Contextualization” is one of those hot-button words these days, and the idea figures greatly in debates over the emergent church conversation. It’s really not as complicated as many think; it’s just common sense. Different people from different cultures and backgrounds view the world differently. We need to communicate the gospel to them in a clear way. This requires a conversation with them, or at least a familiarity with their view of the world.

Other Implications

This idea also has implications for the current debate on N. T. Wright’s idea of justification and evangelism. In comments on another post on this blog, a friend of mine mentioned that N. T. Wright’s basic approach to evangelism would be to read through the gospels and ask a person if they wanted to follow Jesus. This approach could lead to a contextualization issue.

The gospels were written to a particular audience with a particular background. It takes some explaining to relate the gospels’ message to an audience made up of post-modern Americans. I assume N. T. Wright would be guiding a person(s) through the gospels with an idea to filling in the blanks, but I am not sure.

I cannot for the life of me understand what Wright means when he talks about justification, but of course I’m just a country-boy-engineering-major-layman whoe reads allot of books. I think his interpretation of “the righteousness of God” in Romans 10:3 and elsewhere is wrong, but that’s another post. He simply does not help me contextualize the gospel message.

Until someone convinces me otherwise, I will continue to summarize the gospel in an effort to clarify. We have a world to reach, and I plan to do my part.

1/28/2008

Disturbing Quotes

“I believe that all the world, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God. That’s what I believe.” – President George W. Bush in an October 4, 2007, interview with Al Arabiya, as quoted in “Modern Reformation,” Volume 17, Number 1, January / February 2008, p. 4.

“I have spoken clearly about my belief that -- I pray to the same God as a Muslim prays…” – President George W. Bush, White House News Release

My respect for George W. Bush’s intellect just went down several notches. Given the notable differences between Allah and Yahweh, not to mention the difference between Jesus as God or Jesus as an inferior prophet, I cannot see how a comment like that can be intellectually viable.

1/26/2008

Book Discussion - “The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South” by Philip Jenkins

Book Discussion - “The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South” by Philip Jenkins

I’m discussing the book “The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South” by Philip Jenkins with the ACFAR blog (see here). I find that book to be very encouraging so far. Here’s one of my comments from this post. We’d welcome your discussion.

Words in quotes are from the excellent chapter summary and commentary here.

“If we see the importance of apologetics in America and the West, then how much more important is it in the rapidly growing South?”

I don’t think the America church sees the importance of apologetics. We seem to be too busy trying to council everyone on their psychological issues, give them practical advice on how to live, playing the type of music the people in our area like, and promising people prosperity on the basis of their faith. At least it seems the Southern Hemisphere church is arguing about the right issues.

I pray we can have a return to solid apologetics and theology in our day for the church worldwide.

“But if Jenkins is correct in this difference, then the most pressing issues in the Global South are not dealing with doubt but with religious pluralism. How would apologetics change in this context?”

It might change in emphasis, but I doubt it will change in content. Here’s what I mean: make a positive case for Christianity is the bread and butter of apologetics. This positive case is equally at home battling doubt as it is battling false religions.

One quick example: an Muslim apologist name Al Haj. I spent allot of time responding to his concerns on his blog: Reminder to All Believers (I’d provide a link, but I can’t find the site anymore after changing computers.) His two main concerns and my approach:

We do not have the original words of Jesus in Aramaic, therefore the Bible is unreliable. The approach was similar to debating an atheist, provide a positive case for the authority of Scripture by discussing eyewitness testimony, manuscript evidence, and the Person and work of Christ.

The Trinity of “God, Jesus and Mary” is irrational and a shirk. The approach was to define the Trinity clearly, defend It’s rationality in that is at least not illogical, and point to the person of Christ. It could have applied to atheists, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, to name a few.

Did all of this work? It may have at least caused him to think. He began deleting his posts that I had commented on. He may have been fearful of their content. It may be that he just got board. After all, I am not that good.

Koran Quotes

Thanks to Infidels Are Cool for some interesting quotes of the Koran here.

Careful at this site though, it’s a political issue with it. The only way, in my opinion to confront Islam is to convert them to Christ and let Him worry about changing their lives.

1/21/2008

Thanks for the Help

Thanks to “Grace and Truth to You” for a wonderful post on Southern Baptist Missions.

Read it here.

God bless the faithful. My brother-in=law is one of them. He serves in a “closed country.” Please pray for him.

Today’s a Great Holiday

On Martin Luther King Junior’s birth day, I wanted to say that I share many of his dreams for America. That’s no small thing for someone my age raised in rural Tennessee. In fact, I would consider it a miracle of God’s grace. There is one specific dream of his that I would elevate above all others:

“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Amen!

1/19/2008

N. T. Wright is Wrong

Keith Mathison in this month’s TableTalk magazine weighs in on the controversy surrounding N. T. Wright’s interpretation of the atonement:

“…Wright argues that the church has misunderstood the doctrine of justification for centuries. Justification, he argues, does not deal with how one becomes a Christian. instead it is a declaration that one is already a Christian. Also, according to Wright, justification does not involve the imputation of Christ’s righteousness because such an idea is nonsensical. Furthermore, our future justification is based on our whole life, or as Wright says, on the basis of our “works.” This future verdict, based on works, is received in the present by faith. The reason for the controversy should be evident.” [“When Wright Is Wrong,” Keith A. Mathison, in Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries, January 2008, p. 74-75.]

He goes on to recommend a book by John Piper called The Future of Justification. I am working my way through it now, and I find it helpful. It applies Piper’s argument from Counted Righteous in Christ to the situation.

I am angered by the controversy. It’s a personal issue for me. If my inclusion in Christ’s family depends in any way on my works, I am in very deep, dark, trouble. It’s “Christ Alone,” being saved entirely by what Christ did for me as opposed to what I do for myself, or it is nothing. I am credited with Christ’s righteousness or I have no credit on account. Like the old hymn says, “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to thy cross I cling.”

[Added 2/27/08: please see John Piper's comments here.)

1/16/2008

Abortion

As we face a presidential election I wanted to post a weigh-in on the abortion rights issue. I will never vote for a pro-choice candidate.

It seems clear enough to me from common sense and from a passage of Scripture in Exodus 21:22-25:

When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman's husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.


An unborn baby is stated to have “life.” This life is protected by the same penalty imposed on a person who commits murder. That seems clear enough to solve the moral dilemma.

I have outlined an argument elsewhere that ethical issues become a matter of interpreting what the Bible says on a given issue. The short version is that Christ established the authority of the Bible by His words and actions. The verses above are clear enough. The argument is well made in the audio lectures here, and more material can be found here.

Let’s analyze a quote for an abortion rights advocate.

"Abortion should be legal; it is sometimes even necessary. Sometimes the mother must be able to decide that the fetus, in its full humanity, must die. But it is never right or necessary to minimize the value of the lives involved or the sacrifice incurred in letting them go. Only if we uphold abortion rights within a matrix of individual conscience, atonement and responsibility can we both correct the logical and ethical absurdity in our position and consolidate the support of the center.” - Naomi Wolf, staunch pro-abortion feminist in The New Republic

The quote above seems a startling admission to me. A fetus is given the status of “full humanity,” that, under certain circumstances, “must die.” The “ethical absurdity” of the moral position is admitted. An implication is made that abortion needs “atonement,” payment for a sin.

As an adoptive parent, I cannot stand the fact that my daughter would have been deemed by some as a necessary candidate for abortion. No unexpected pregnancy happens in anything like ideal circumstances. My daughter’s birth-mom made a difficult decision in a moral environment that in many ways did not support her. (One day when my daughter is old enough to understand her birth-mom’s situation she may decide to share those circumstances, but for now I’ll leave that to your imagination.)

My father was adopted. My grandmother on Mom’s side of the family was also adopted. I would not be here without the gift of adoption. My life as a son and as a father would not have been possible if any one of three decisions were made in favor of abortion.

It becomes a personal and passionate issue with me. I will not vote for or endorse or support in any way a candidate for office who is pro-choice. I just can’t do it.

1/15/2008

Take Time

I took a little time off from posting this past week or so in order to prepare for my upcoming “mission trip.”

I spent some time looking at my own life and left the exercise once again amazed at God’s grace to me in Christ. Reformed theology is good for the soul.

I’ll start posting again this week.

1/10/2008

Operation Christmas Child Short-term Trip - 1

“Nothing less than Christ will satisfy, and when you find him, nothing more could be desired.” – Stephen Charnock

I have a wonderful opportunity at the first of next month. I am going to Lima, Peru, with Operation Christmas Child to help give shoeboxes to children. Samaritan’s Purse did some relief work here after an 8.0 magnitude earthquake. Getting to go is a real honor.

Part of taking the honor seriously is to do some spiritual soul-searching before I leave. Is there anything in my life I desire more than I do Christ? Am I satisfied that my relationship with God depends on Him or am I striving to earn peace with God on my own?

Am I really growing in my walk with Christ? Am I sinning less, particularly in those areas where I struggle (anger, worry, lust, etc.)? Am I searching for areas of my sin that have escaped my awareness to this point?

What are my motives for this trip? Is it just a vacation in disguise? Am I expecting to “save the world” in my American grandiosity? Will I be motivated to serve others in my group and among those we are ministering to?

This kind of soul-searching can only be done under the reign of grace. I will never be honest with myself if I am truly worried about my performance with respect to God’s law. If my own works are the basis for my standing before God, I will inevitably try to cover up my sins, make the requirements less, or ignore the hard questions.

I must have a renewed perspective on what God has done for me in Christ. I have to meditate on grace, or, as the acrostic says, “God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.” This perspective is the only one that will let me find the truth and act on it.

Please take the time to pray that God would show me my sin and the path to improve.

I’ll post some more about the trip.

1/09/2008

Reasonable Faith

“Christianity is a rational religion. If it’s not rational, it’s not Christian.” – John Wesley

“That knowledge [knowledge of God] is at least rational knowledge.” – Francis Schaefer, commenting on John 17:3

According to one online service, something is rational when it is “consistent with or based on or using reason.” Examples of the word’s use are: "rational behavior"; "a process of rational inference"; "rational thought."

Christianity is the most reasonable of religions. In fact, I would call it the only reasonable position to take.

We have nothing to fear from the facts. Unbelievers have good questions, but I find that those questions are rarely, if ever, new questions. The answers have been around for a long time. Many of them were answered by the Apostle Paul, and he used answers given him by study and meditation on Old Testament texts.

There is another part of this. A part that does not reflect well on American Christianity.

Another definition of “rational” is “intellectual: of or associated with or requiring the use of the mind. Examples of this use are: "intellectual problems"; "the triumph of the rational over the animal side of man.”

A sober analysis of Christianity as it is practiced in America yields a different answer with this definition: Christianity is certainly not rational. We do not engage in the life of the mind, particularly as it relates to religion. We simply do not use our minds at church.

I wonder if we will get back to the intellectual “heavy lifting.” We desperately need careful application of Bible truth to all of life. It’s the only reasonable thing to do. I like John H. Gerstner’s use of tautology: “It stands to reason: it is not reasonable to avoid reason.”

1/05/2008

“I Am Legend”

I was snookered into watching a movie this last week. What I mean is I went to a movie with a ground of friends which was billed as an action adventure movie. It was much more like a horror movie instead.

“I Am Legend” with Will Smith was not what I expected. It truly was a horror film. But there is one thing I have always liked about horror films: there is always a bad guy. Not just bad, but evil.

Horror movies assume some standard of good or right behavior in order to make the villains look bad. From Jason to Freddie Kruger, we always know who the bad guys are when we watch horror.

It was no different in “I Am Legend.” The villains were the “dark ones,” people who had been transformed into rabid, wild beings by a virus. They behaved in terrible ways, showing no regard for those not infected with the virus, the world around them, or even for themselves.

Will Smith’s character makes a telling comment into his tape recorder at one point in the movie (pardon me for an inexact quote; I’m going from memory): “The dark ones have now shown that all aspects of human behavior have left them.”
The character assumes that there is some form of objective standard that can be used to judge what behavior is human vs. what behavior is not. Objective standards of right and wrong are at home only in a Christian view of the world. (See my comments here, and comments by others more qualified here and here.)

Was this an intentional element of the story? Some things in the movie suggest that it might well have been.

Would I recommend the movie? Only if you know exactly what you are going to get when you go to it.

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