Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Purpose Driven Church Review - Part 2

A while ago, I posted Part 1 of a review on The Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren. There are a few claims in the book worth close evaluation, and every idea needing review could not fit in one post.

A very important assertion made by Warren is worth reflection, where he states, "never criticize what God is blessing" (p62 and p157).

What Is Blessed?
In the context of church life, ministry and growth, how does one measure God's blessing? Heavily implied in the context of Rick Warren's statement is, "if my church is big--if I have a lot of people and resources--then it's obvious that God is blessing my ministry and you cannot speak critically against it." The problem is, big does not imply blessed.

Is Joel Osteen's church blessed? He has the largest congregation in America.

Our world is home to 1.6 billion Muslims. Does that mean God is blessing Islam? They certainly believe so, just as Rick Warren does of Saddleback.

If you research the idea of blessing in the Bible, not once in the New Testament is it applied to the Church collectively. Blessing is always of God, or Christ, or specific Christians. The only collective group who receives blessing are the nations through Abraham (Gal 3:8). Of course God blesses churches, but there is no biblical warrant to presume that large numbers implies God's blessing. In fact, if you were to read the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-11), you would understand that it is the unimpressive, the lowly, the meek and humble who are blessed. Braggadocio is never blessed.

The Ends Justify the Means?
Never criticize what God is blessing is simply another way of saying that the ends justify the means.

Ironically, Warren reminds his readers, "Albert Einstein once lamented that one of the great weaknesses of the twentieth century is that we habitually confuse the means with the end" (p72).

Yet, the statement that no one may criticize Warren's methods is communicating that by demonstrating ministry success (ends), the way he got there (means) is not open to debate.

An illustration by reductio ad absurdum is in order. Perhaps we should simply lie about Jesus, the gospel, the Bible and the way of salvation so that people regularly attend church and say they're Christians. Perhaps you could grow a substantial "church" doing this. It could be argued that throughout the world, many are doing exactly this. If it means accomplishing the growth goal, then according to Warren's statement, the deceit is justified? After all, the results demonstrate effectiveness and God's blessing.

The warning of Matthew 7:21-23 is appropriate in this context. Having the appearance of godliness and blessing is not sufficient. Following the will of God, even in the means, is quite necessary.

Where Is the Accountability?
Finally, the statement to never criticize what God is blessing is a means of deflecting accountability. Only permitting cheerleaders to give applause while barring critics from having a voice leads to abuse. Promoting that type of environment in the face of apparent success will not lead to a healthy church. It will not be healthy even while its leaders claim health and highlight God's apparent blessings. Mars Hill Church in Seattle was a victim of this exact culture.

In another irony, Warren promotes accountability for his church members in his first Pillar of ministry (p368).

No leader is above accountability (Heb 13:17, 1 Tim 5:19). However, saying, "never criticize what God is blessing" is a spiritual stiff-arm meant to stop any opponent dead in their tracks.

Looking at Sardis
Hear what Jesus said of this church in Revelation:
I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. [Revelation 3:2]
By all human accounts, Sardis looked blessed. They had a reputation of being alive. But Jesus could see that they were dead. Their works (their means) were incomplete in God's sight.


Stating that we should never criticize what God is blessing is incredibly dangerous and entirely false. For instance, the nation of Israel was blessed by God but deserving of criticism throughout her existence.

This type of terminology that Warren uses gives an air of authority to his book that it simply does not possess. His phrase sounds biblical and spiritual, but it's just a man-made proverb designed to justify his decisions.

In reading this book, exercise extreme caution with every assertion and test everything (1 Thess 5:21).

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Putting Feet to Theology

Putting Feet to Theology: Rallying the Troops

Today's Planned Parenthood protests were incredible, and hopefully this is the beginning of a new movement. Reports are coming back that over 60,000 people participated across the country. Aurora had a turnout of about 1,600. May God use these feet for life.

Putting Feet to Theology: Made in the Image of God

Theology means nothing if it does not change us. J.I. Packer says, "As [God] is the subject of our study, and our helper in it, so he must himself be the end of it. We must seek, in studying God, to be led to God." God says we are made in his image [Gen 1:26]--he is our Creator and human life is precious.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. 
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:13

Putting Feet to Theology: Let's Move

While our united voice is necessary, and today's protest was a powerful example of that, it will not be sufficient to save these children.

Proverbs 24:11-12 is a commonly used passage to encourage Christians toward the pro-life cause.

Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work? 

We cannot claim ignorance. We cannot even pretend not to know. If God will hold us accountable if we feign naïveté, how much more will we bear responsibility with our copious knowledge? [Luke 12:48]

In other words: we cannot stop. We must march on. The tides of life cannot wash away the progress we've made and the progress we need to make. We cannot rest until these tiny image-bearers are rescued from the slaughter.  God will hold us accountable for the fate of these children as much as he will hold Planned Parenthood accountable.

So let's be creative and make surgical strikes where we can. Let's apply pressure on every part of this industry. The abortion industry must be terminated.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Purpose Driven Church Review - Part 1

Over the next few posts, I intend to review several aspects of Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Church. Having read it recently with the ability to reflect on the book 19 years after it was written, there are many things about the book worth discussing in today's context.

How has the Purpose-Driven Model fared?

The most natural question to ask of a pragmatic book is, "Has it worked?" Saddleback Church has certainly grown* in the past twenty years, more than doubling its average weekly attendance (~10,000 to ~22,000), but that doesn't really answer the question. As much as Rick Warren would like to credit his Purpose Driven method to the growth Saddleback has seen, it is entirely possible that a personality as strong as Warren is the primary driver for what happens in his church.

The true way to test would be to look at the hundreds or thousands of churches through the country that have modeled their ministry after PDC. Unfortunately, there is no central database that keeps track of these statistics, but a few observations can be made:

1. There has been some success. Rick Warren is happy to point out examples of churches that have grown by hundreds in attendance because of his insights.
2. Not every church that subscribed to PDC has succeeded. Pastor John Dickau of First Baptist Church of Lakewood (Long Beach, CA) saw his congregation size drop from 700 to 550 between 1998 and 2006 while trying to model the Purpose Driven method. He was no longer the pastor in 2008. Surely this was not the only such congregation that struggled.
3. Trying to switch ministry methods to become Purpose Driven has caused many church splits in this country [Christianity Today Article].
4. No church has attainted to the status of Saddleback over these 19 years by using the PDC ideas. Saddleback stands alone in its implementation of Purpose.

Stepping back for a moment and observing that there is some success and some failure using the PDC model, it becomes evident that there is nothing inherently special about Rick Warren's methods. Several churches have flourished and failed using other ministry models, just like PDC.

This doesn't mean that we cannot learn from Rick Warren's book. There are many practical issues that Saddleback has thoughtfully worked through, and as long as a local church remembers to apply each method to the filter of God's Word and to their local context, The Purpose Driven Church can be a helpful guide.

However, nobody should pretend that it is the panacea for church growth. The brightest and most godly minds could work tirelessly for decades and see little observable fruit. On the other hand, the clumsiest and decidedly average pastor could witness explosive growth, if the Lord is with him. In the end, it's not our methods, our wisdom or even our effort that causes church growth--it is God himself [1 Cor 3:7]. The church is God's church, and he will build up and tear down according to his will.

*Caveats apply when talking about church success and failure. I personally do not believe that the health and success of a congregation is tied to its numbers. Revelation 2 and 3 make it clear that Jesus' definition of a church's success or failure is tied to their following him and remaining true to his Word. Yet the goal of Purpose Driven Church is numerical growth, so it will be evaluated on its own merits.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Music in the Church

There have been several wonderful blog posts recently that think through musical worship in the church. For those so inclined, these articles edify and help clarify much that's misunderstood (for leaders as much as anyone).

1. Five Ways to Improve Congregational Singing by Keith Getty
Everything Keith says has been on my heart for a while. If there is only one link you follow, I'd heartily recommend this one.
2. Annoying Things in Worship Songs by Jeremy Pierce (reposted by JT)
The Psalms shouldn't be abused as carte-blanche justification for any bad song, but this helpfully shows how we must be thoughtful in evaluating whether a song is good. One thing I can definitely say about any song written after 100 AD or so: it was not inspired quite the same way the Psalms were.
3. I Love a Church that Sings Badly by Tim Challies
I agree with everything Tim says but want to take it further: good or bad musicians, mature or young believers, old hymns or songs so contemporary they're not quite ripe, I would love to hear the church sing its heart out because they're singing unto the Lord. 
4. Nine Marks of a Healthy Worship Leader by Alex Duke
This is slightly more on the technical side, but it may open your eyes to the part music and the music leader play in the service. The church should hold the music leader to a high standard of character as much as it would hold him to a high standard of musical ability.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Doxological Dictionary

I've twice had the opportunity to teach on atonement recently, and I've found that many of the terms that pastors use in the course of preaching and teaching can be opaque for many Christians. Much of this vocabulary is biblical, but if you haven't attended Bible School or intentionally studied theology, words like propitiation can sound impressive but ring hollow.

So I attempted to create a relatively short list of definitions (one page) for words closely associated with atonement to help laypeople grasp their meaning. Brevity may be an enemy of precision here, but I've done my best to capture the essence of each term without launching into a full discourse. Perhaps that will lead to further conversation, which I would consider a positive outcome. Ultimately, I hope that as we more deeply understand what God planned and accomplished in the gospel that we will stand in greater awe of him and worship him all the more.

Atonement Vocabulary List

Atonement - A term used to describe all the means that God uses to accomplish our salvation--the way we become one with God again. Think of it as the way the gospel is applied to your life: you were estranged from God because of your sin, and God made a way to repair (atone for) that broken relationship. It’s an idea that centers on the cross. God chose to save us through the work of Jesus in his life and his death. It’s the way that God saves us that is entirely consistent with his character--fully satisfying his deep love and his perfect justice. {Lev 17:11; Rom 5:11; Eph 2}
Propitiation - The turning away of God’s wrath from us and the gain of his favor. This happens when God’s wrath is appeased through the sacrifice of Christ. This is the function of the atonement--the way it is accomplished. {Rom 3:21-25; Heb 2:17; 1 John 4:10}
Expiation - Sometimes it’s simply used as a synonym for atonement or propitiation, but it may also be used in the sense that more specifically describes the solution for sin. It means cleansing or purging from our sin, or the removal of our sin, or how our sin is covered over by Jesus’ blood. Expiation is the other side of the propitiation coin.
Salvation - The outcome of being spared from the wrath of God (eternal punishment, destruction, hell). A direct consequence of salvation is that the saved receive eternal life. {Matt 1:21; John 3:16}
Penal Substitution - Simply put, Jesus Christ took the punishment due our sin when he offered himself as a sacrifice on the cross, and we gain his perfect record (his righteousness) that he actually lived out. In a sense, in God’s mind, we trade places with Jesus. It is through penal substitution that we receive a legal declaration of “not guilty” when God judges our life (as Christ bore all of our guilt). {2 Cor 5:21}
Reconciliation - J.I. Packer calls this “the sum and substance of the gospel.” We broke our relationship with God by our sin, but God repairs that! As with the generic definition, reconciliation is the peacemaking restoration of a lost relationship, but here it happens by God’s initiative and efforts through atonement. {Rom 5:10-11}
Redemption - Our sin put us into slavery and debt, and the severity of that condition is great enough that we can never hope to get out. But God was willing to send his Son and pay the price to gain our freedom. Christ’s sacrifice satisfies our sin debt and frees us from bondage to sin and death. Christ is our Great Redeemer, giving his life to make us his. {Eph 1:7}
Ransom - This is actually a very similar concept to redemption (it’s the price of redemption), but it’s so easily confused because of modern connotation. Ransom has more to do with paying a debt to end slavery than paying a bribe to a hostage-holder. Christ was the ransom--paid to God the Father!--that secures our salvation. {Matt 20:28; 1 Tim 2:5-6}
Justification - Most commonly refers to our legal status with God. Salvation is possible because God declares us just or righteous (beyond “not guilty”). We are not actually righteous, but God accepts us because we are seen as justified when we put our faith in Christ. {Rom 3:20-30; Rom 5:1; Gal 2:16}
Sacrifice - The character of God (holiness and justice) requires that he separate himself from evil and punish sin. However, God allows that wrath to be directed to a substitute--a sacrifice. In the Old Testament, animal sacrifices were the means God provided to restore a person’s relationship with Him that was broken by sin. Jesus Christ was the final, once-for-all sacrifice who became our substitute in bearing God’s punishment for our sin. {Heb 9:24-28; Heb 10:12-14}

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Image of God

Our men's group is going through Multiply in Bible Study. It's a fantastic study and I would highly recommend it as a way to encourage discipleship growth in your church. We recently worked through the chapter on Creation [study guide pdf] and wrestled through what it means to be made in God's image.

Consider Genesis 1:26, "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.'"

On page 144, the Multiply book states:
There is something absolutely unique about humanity. On the one hand, we are utterly unlike God because, just like everything else in creation, He made us. But on the other hand, God specifically created us to be like Him. This is impossible to wrap our minds around, but God created us like Him in some respect and then set us in the midst of this world to represent Him!  There is a lot of debate about what exactly the “image of God” is. Everyone seems to agree that being created in God’s image is more than a physical resemblance—He is Spirit, after all (John 4:24). Suggestions as to what God’s image in humanity consists of are varied: our ability to reason, our ability to make moral decisions, our personalities, and our capacity for relationships are all leading views. Others suggest that the image of God relates to the dominion over the rest of creation that God gave to man (this ties Gen. 1:26–27 to Gen. 1:28). Perhaps it is best not to attach the image of God to any one faculty or attribute of humanity. In the New Testament, we are told  that Jesus Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). Jesus is said to be “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3). It seems that being the “image of God” is about reflecting God in some way. Jesus did this perfectly, but humanity has also been given a responsibility to show God to the world—His handiwork, nature, and attributes are displayed in us in a way that they are not displayed in the rest of the creation. (Of course, this image has been tainted by sin, but that comes later in the story.)
I would agree that it's impossible to precisely determine what being made in God's image means, but I also think it's possible to look at Scripture and understand it at a deeper level than mere speculation.

Look at how Genesis 1:24 describes the creation of the animal kingdom: "And God said, 'Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds--livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.' And it was so." These creatures were created like everything else, by God's word, and they were 'brought forth' from the earth. Beast and bug alike are made of earthly material--entirely terrestrial--nothing more and nothing less.

Genesis 2:7 gives a more detailed account of the creation of man: "then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature." Adam's creation is far more intimate. Yes, he too is made of the stuff of earth like the animals, but life is given him by the breath or the spirit of God. This is the foundational distinctive from which all the attributes of being made in the image of God come. Paired with our physical being is a soul from God that lives beyond the chaotic physics of this world.

From there, attributes of being made in God's image may be discerned. No one truth needs to be the definitive qualification for imaging God. Rather, it's all of these qualities (many of them listed in Multiply) that follow from the endowment of life by the Spirit of God.
  • We have a spirit that will endure through eternity
  • We can be in relationship with God
  • We share in God's communicable attributes
  • We are creative like our Maker
  • We are not bound by instinct--our reasoning and actions are based in morals
  • We [ought to] have dominion over this creation

Surely this list is not exhaustive. The point is to see that in many ways we're like the God who made us. We're corrupted, flawed versions of what that should be, but our hope is that one day we'll be perfected and represent the image of God purely as we dwell with him forever in his new creation. Thanks be to Jesus Christ, the image, the radiance and glory of God, who by his atoning sacrifice on the cross opened the way for us to be restored to this glorified image that Christ holds.

But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Cor 3:16-18).

Friday, October 25, 2013

Two Kinds of Love

Raising children both adopted and born to us gives our family plenty of opportunities to answer various adoption related questions. One common question relates to the nature or quality of our love toward our children: do we [or can we] love all of our children the same?

The surprising answer is no! However, what 'no' means may not be as offensive as it first sounds.

Just as marriage ought to help us better understand the deep theology of Christ's love and devotion to his bride, the Church, human adoption should grow our understanding of the Doctrine of Adoption. See Galatians 4:1-7, Romans 8:18-25, and Ephesians 1:3-14 if this doctrine is foreign to you.

Imagine God's love toward Adam and Eve after he created them. Adam was a son of God (Luke 3:38), and God showed him paternal love in the garden. Besides providing for Adam's needs, God also set the balance in freedom, responsibility and boundaries. Most importantly, God walked with Adam. The picture is one of tender care as the father sets life's tenor for his child. Parenting children born to a husband and wife feels this natural, and love pours out to the one made in your image.

However, this relationship didn't remain. Adam and Eve fell and lost their status as children of God. The point of showing this isn't to use that as part of any analogy, but rather to get to redemption. Because the fall happened and because God wanted to demonstrate his love (Rom 5:8), he sent his only begotten Son. The beauty of God's plan is that we can be restored--"But to all who did receive [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12).

What kind of love is this? It's the blood-soaked, tear-stained, brutally painful love of adoption. And because the cost was so high to God--the precious life of his Son--you can infer the value that God places on this relationship. "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" [Romans 8:38-39]. It is not easy love, but it is real love.

As a parent, there is no quantitative difference in my love for my children. I would trade my life for any of theirs in a heartbeat. There is a large qualitative difference in the love, however. The fear inherent in the question over whether my wife and I can love all our children the same is that we (or any adoptive parent) may love the children born to us more. But there is a reality here that the children born into the family may never understand: the sweat, blood and tears involved in adoption gives our adopted children a special status. We've all had to fight for love, and that ground is not easily surrendered.

Adoption helps me appreciate God's love in Christ for me. I hope all of my children grow to understand this in some way as they see adoption played out in the home or if they choose to adopt some day. Most of all, I hope they understand this love because they have it through their Savior, Jesus Christ. And I pray that they understand it--not simply intellectually--but in their souls as they cling to their Abba Father in faith.