Book Review: Jesus and Pacifism

Jesus and Pacifism: An Exegetical and Historical InvestigationJesus and Pacifism: An Exegetical and Historical Investigation by Andrew a Fulford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I rate a book based on its stated aim. I do not expect a book of 100 pages to accomplish what a book of 500 pages will. If the book is about Calvin, I do not critique it for failing to adequately discuss Luther or the Westminster Assembly. Fulford’s brief, but clear and precise critique of pacifism is excellent and accomplishes perfectly its stated aim. Three things stick out.

First, the initial chapter is a brief lesson on hermeneutics or how to read the Bible charitably. So many authors refuse to look at the Biblical, historical, and social context thus they end up reading Paul, Moses, and Jesus in ways that are directly at odds with how their contemporaries would have read them. Fulford begins by laying out the context in which Jesus spoke. Once this is done pacifistic readings of the Sermon on the Mount become less plausible.

Second, Fulford lists the six key arguments pacifists use and refers to these throughout the book. This is helpful in keeping up with the various arguments as well as his own refutation of them.

Third, he does a good job with his analogies between war, police work, excommunication, and even parenting. In other words, coercive force of various kinds is necessary and commanded by God in a world of sin. Once this premise is granted pacifism becomes untenable.

For a book of so few pages it does the job. The foundations on which pacifism are built slowly erode through careful exegesis and logical thought. I would highly recommend the book for those who are looking for a short introduction to the subject. He said he is writing a full length treatment. I am looking forward to that.

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Dangers of Confession

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Even though we are commanded to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16) this does not mean that confessing our sins automatically accomplishes the goal, which is forgiveness and transformation into Christ’s image.

Deitrich Bonhoeffer mentions three specific dangers of confessing our sins and I want to add one more. First, there is the danger of being too general in confessing our sins.

For the sake of this certainty [the forgiveness of sins] confession should deal with concrete sins. People are usually satisfied when they make general confession. But one experiences the utter perdition and corruption of the human nature…when one sees his own specific sins. Self-examination on the basis of all Ten Commandments will therefore be the right preparation for confession. Otherwise it might happen that one could still be a hypocrite even in confession to a brother and thus miss the good of confession.

When we confess to our brothers we need to be specific with the sin. Give it a place and time and a biblical name.

Second, he notes that there should not be one person that everyone else is confessing to. This will burden the person being confessed to and thus it will all become routine. Instead of being able to shepherd each individual through God’s grace the confessional will become a place for “the spiritual domination of souls.” He also says in this section that anyone who hears confessions should also himself be confessing to others.

Third, there is the danger of confession becoming a pious work, a source of pride. I confess my sins. Do you? Here is what he says about that.

For the salvation of his soul let him guard against ever making a pious work of his confession. If he does so, it will become the final, most abominable, vicious, and impure prostitution of the heart; the act becomes an idle, lustful babbling. Confession as a pious work is an invention of the devil.

To these three dangers, I would add the danger of confession becoming a substitute for repentance and change. Here is the problem with a lot of accountability groups. They confess their sins to each other and often in very great detail, but there is little change. Everyone leaves feeling better about themselves, but no one leaves ready to stop sinning. If confession is a substitute for real change it is a lie. I am not saying that once a person confesses they will never commit the sin again. But I am saying that after confession we should find ourselves climbing the mountain of holiness not sitting at the bottom feeling good about ourselves.

What Traditions to Avoid

TraditionIn chapter X of his Institutes John Calvin is explaining what types of human traditions and laws should be accepted and which ones should be rejected. In section 16 of that chapter he gives a nice summary of his thought.  He asks, “What are those human traditions of all times that should be repudiated by the church and by all godly men.” He then gives a list.  First, he says,

All laws apart from God’s Word, laws made by men [that]

  • either prescribe the manner of worshiping God
  • Or to bind consciences by scruples
  • As if they were making rules about things necessary for salvation.

In other words, the Bible must dictate our worship and what is necessary to be saved. Men cannot make up a laws about worship and make those mandatory or equate them with God’s Word. Nor can man add to God’s Word what is necessary to be saved. Obviously, there is a lot more that could be said about this. He then goes on to give other practical considerations when implementing traditions in the church. What if the tradition is not doing any of the above? Is it automatically okay? Calvin says no. He encourage us to ask the following questions:

  1. Do these rules “obscure by their multitude the clarity of the gospel?”
  2. Are “they in no sense constructive but are useless and trifling occupations rather than true exercises of piety?”
  3. Are “they calculated for sordid and base gain?”
  4. Are “they too difficult to observe?”
  5. Are “they befouled with shameful superstitions?”

Of course reading this list our mind runs straight to Roman Catholicism or perhaps mega church pastors who twist the Word for financial gain. But I want to apply to the reformed world. There has been a liturgical renewal among reformed folks over the last couple of decades. This has led to a closer examination of liturgical traditions, including the church year, robes, kneeling for communion, processionals, recessionals, etc. Many of these traditions have been implemented to various degrees in reformed churches. Those of us who have adopted or are moving toward a more liturgical worship style would be wise to keep Calvin’s list in mind.   The goal of any man made tradition is to make the gospel clear, to increase piety/holiness, to be functional, to avoid all manner of superstition, and to not line the pockets of the shepherds. Too many ministers do not consider things like this carefully enough.

Here is one example where I think liturgical churches are in danger. Many liturgical churches are too complicated. And they get more complicated as time goes on. In other words, they lack functionality.  Why do we need to keep adding things to our worship service? Since what I am talking about are not Biblical commands, but rather traditions we put in place to help people worship, they are contextually dictated. We don’t live in 500 or 1500 or 1800. Some of the traditions in our worship services need to be jettisoned in order to make our worship services more functional for 21st century Americans. This is not a cry to be relevant at the expense of truth. I am not encouraging polls of unbelievers to determine what we do and don’t do. Nor do I think a modern evangelical should walk into our worship and immediately get it. But I am encouraging to us to make sure our traditions are “not too difficult to observe.”

There are other ways we can encourage superstition with our baptismal or communion practices or simply have traditions that are of little value for holiness. I am grateful for the liturgical renewal of the last few years, but that renewal is not problem free. Without restraint, caution, and wisdom some might find themselves closer to 1450 than 1550 in their approach to tradition and worship.

Too Many Christian Misfires

One final set of quotes from David Wells’ book The Courage to Be Protestant before I put it back on the shelf. In this section of the book he is discussing the lack of discipleship in the church. He uses the parable of the seed and sower in Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23 to illustrate his point. Here is Matthew 13:18-23 for reference.

“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.

He notes that the different categories of “Christians” are always represented in the church, but in 21st century America

The first two [actually categories 2& 3]-the stone in the heart and the weeds that choke the seed-are so abundant and so disproportionately represented. They are the exemplars of “Christianity Lite” that so many evangelical churches are propagating. What catches our attention-and our breath-are the vast numbers of Christian misfires Almost half of America is claiming to be born again, but fewer than one in ten has even the foggiest notion of what it means to be a disciple of Christ in biblical terms.

Wells goes on to blame two things: the love of affluence and comfort and the business model that pervades evangelical Christianity. Here are two quotes that address both of these.

In the West we have not the slightest inkling that, in reveling in affluence as we do, we are playing with fire. This affluence so easily becomes an alternative Way, Truth, and Life, a counterfeit gospel in which to have is to be saved and to have not is to be damned. Unfortunately, la dolce vita, is not itself satisfying, not in an enduring way. It tends to make us shallow, self-absorbed people who give ourselves to chasing what is superficial by way of styles, fads, and what is pleasurable provided there are no demands for commitments. The styles quickly become obsolete, the fads are forgotten, and the pleasures fad like the morning mist so that this kind of life constantly has to be reinventing itself. Those who fashion their lives around these things die of emptiness. The pains that linger in the soul like  a bad headache stay for a long, long time.

Later:

The church has been like a shortsighted business CEO who goes for quick profit and puts off the long-term considerations of these business decisions.So it is in American evangelicalism today. Far too many leaders and churches are out for the quick kill, the instant success, the enviable limelight, the flattering numbers, the bulging auditoria,  the numbers to be boasted about-“my church went from ten to ten thousand once I arrived!”-the filled parking lots, the success story all dolled up for the pages of Christianity Today or Leadership. All of this is about the short-term interest  of the pastor(s), not the long-term health of the church. In Christianity, cut rate products bring a cut-rate future.

Our failure to disciple, love of numbers, love for affluence, adaptation of the business model of church, and general worldliness have left us impoverished and unable to pass on the faith in any substantial way to those sitting in the pews.

Paging Peter Enns

Perhaps there is no greater sin in our culture than certainty. You can be many things, but you can’t be certain and therefore you cannot judge my choices. I was pondering this idea when I found that Peter Enns, a liberal theologian who has abandoned much of the Christian faith, had written a book called The Sin of Certainty. It is certainly appropriate for our age. I have not read it, but I have read Enns and no doubt his drift towards apostasy continues.  I also recently read David Wells’ The Courage to Be Protestant. Here are some quotes from the chapter title “Truth.”

What we a hear from any of the emergent church leaders who are most aware of the (post)modern ethos, therefore is a studied uncertainty: “We do not know.” We cannot know for sure.” No one can know certainly.” “We should not make judgments.” “Knowing beyond doubt is not what Christianity is all about.” “We need to be more modest.” “We need to be more honest.” “Christianity is about the search, not about the discovery.” They forget that Scripture is divine revelation. It is not a collection of opinions about how different people see things that tells us more about the people than the things. No. It gives us God’s perfect knowledge of himself and of all reality. It is given to us in a form we can understand. The reason God gave it to us is that he wants us to know. Not to guess. Not to have vague impressions. And certainly not to be misled. He wants us to know. It is not immodest, nor arrogant, to claim that we know when what we know is what God has given us to know through his Word.

Later he says this:

The (post)modern mentality mistakenly assumes that “truth” is rather like the set of traffic rules our authorities have constructed. No one really thinks a serious moral breach has occurred when a thirty-five-mile-per-hour limit is exceeded by one mile per hour. The speed limit was, in the first place, just an approximation devised by someone who thought the posted speed would  be safe. It is somewhat arbitrary. There is no inherent reason why it should not have been forty miles per hour, or thirty. So it is with all truth statements, they contend. These statements are only approximations made up by someone else.  They are arbitrary rules that do not correspond to anything that is actually “there.”

Later Wells takes some well-earned shots at conservative Christians.

When we listen to the church today, at least in the West, we are often left with the impression that Christianity actually has very little to do with the truth. Christianity is only about feeling better about ourselves, about leaping over difficulties, about being more satisfied, about having better relationships, about getting on with our mothers-in-law, about understanding teenage rebellion, about coping with our unreasonable bosses, about finding greater sexual satisfaction, about getting rich, about receiving our own private miracles, and much else besides. It is about everything except truth. And yet this truth, personally embodied in Christ, gives us a place to stand in order to deal with the complexities of life, such as broken relationships, teenage rebellion, and job insecurities.

All in all the Western church has lost her way because she has rejected doctrine and in many quarters she has rejected truth/certainty all together. We strive for meaning divorced from any authority outside of ourselves and we strive for better lives, communities, and churches divorced from who Christ is, what the Scriptures teach, and all the theology that flows from Scripture.

David Wells on Marketing the Church

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David Wells has written five books addressing some of major issues in American evangelicalism over the last couple of decades. Naturally, I began with his last book, The Courage to be Protestant.  So far it has been helpful in addressing why we are where we are. Even where it is dated, Wells is still giving us a road map of the past several decades. Here is quote where he describes what happens when the church abandons the truth as the center of her life and mission and instead focuses on reaching customers.

A methodology for success that circumvents issues of truth is one that will rapidly emancipate itself from biblical Christianity or, to put it differently, will rapidly eviscerate biblical faith.

That, indeed, is what is happening because the marketing model it followed, empties the truth out of the gospel. First, the needs consumers have are the needs they identify for themselves. The needs sinners have are needs God identifies for us, and the way we see our needs is rather different from the way he sees them. We suppress the truth about God, holding it down in “unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). We are not subject to his moral law and in our fallenness are incapable of being obedient to it (Rom. 8:7), so how likely is it, outside of the intervention of God through the Holy Spirit, that we will identify our needs as those arising from rebellion against God? No, the product we will seek naturally will not be the gospel. It will be therapy of some kind, a technique for life, perhaps a way of connecting  more deeply with our own spiritual selves on our own terms, terms that require no repentance and no redemption. It will not be the gospel. The gospel cannot be a product that the church sells because there are no consumers for it. When we find customers, we will find that what they are interested in buying, on their own terms, is not the gospel.

Furthermore, when we buy a product, we buy it for our own use. When we accept Christ, he is not there for our use but we are there for his service. We commit ourselves to him in a way we do not commit ourselves to any product. There is a world of difference between the Lord of Glory, the incarnate second person of the Godhead, and a Lexus, a vacation home, or a trip to the Bahamas. The marketing analogy blurs all of this, reducing Christ simply to a product we buy to satisfy our needs. What is destroyed along the way are the biblical doctrines of sin, of the incarnation, and of the redemption. The marketing analogy is the wrong analogy. It is deeply harmful to the Christian faith.

What I find fascinating about this quote is that what was once the strategy of mega-churches and their CEO pastors has now become the strategy of virtually every church. We have drunk so deeply and for so long at the well of the market that most of our churches, denominations, para-church organizations, and coalitions function this way without even thinking about it.  Our gut instinct is to market our product. We are not preaching the truth. We are trying to gain new customers. These days most of us are selling Jesus, our church, our books, and our conferences.  It is not easy to disentangle ourselves from this method. We need websites and books. We want people to know about our churches and what they offer. Even conferences, despite their misuse and abuse today, can be helpful. But  marketing Jesus and the gospel is not a minor issue. It is antithetical to the faith which we proclaim, it leaves the sheep hungry, and does not evangelize the lost.  We must proclaim the gospel, write books and blog posts, record podcasts,  and be the church without selling the gospel like just another product.

Sexual Orientation or Sexual Temptation?

LGBTQ

I have been listening to Tim Bayly’s Shepherds’ Conference on ministering in a post-Obergefell World.  Tim has worked with homosexuals and lesbians in Bloomington for over 30 years. He is not speaking as someone who has read a book or two, watched a couple of Youtube videos, or had a homosexual friend in college. He speaks as a pastor who has prayed with and for sodomites, has loved them, preached to them, cried over them, and seen them repent. He has many stories about working with homosexuals as well as stories about compromise in evangelical circles. These add substance to what he is saying even if it makes him long winded at points.

He makes the suggestion that we drop the term “sexual orientation” and use sexual temptation instead.  So instead of saying “same-sex orientation” we would say, “same sex temptation.” I have thought about the term sexual orientation quite a bit lately as I read Preston Sprinkle’s book People to be Loved.  Terms and words matter. Sprinkle throughout his book nuances words to death. Every word is carefully chosen. He parses out why we shouldn’t use “homosexual,” “gay,” etc.  He knows words matter. Conservative Christians need to understand this as well. What words we use to describe things will often shape the entire discussion.  I like the suggestion of using temptation instead of orientation in connection with homosexuality for several reasons.

First, it will help us see sodomy as one type of the many sexual temptations we all face. Those who struggle with this sin are not worse than us nor better than us nor different than us. Tim talked about his own fornication and how when he got married his wife was pregnant. All of us struggle with sexual temptation of various kinds and to various degrees throughout our life. I saw my first porn magazine (yes real paper) when I was eleven years old. It lay beside the road. My friend from church said his dad, a deacon, had videos with more of that. We went back and watched porn on VHS. This struggled continued through Bible college and the early years of marriage until I was about 25 years old.  I am so grateful there was no Internet when I was young. Many of you I guess have similar stories. Some of you still watch porn on your phones during your lunch break or at night when your wife is asleep.  Some of you slept around in high school and don’t want any of your Christian friends to know. We could do this with any temptation not just sexual ones. The point here is if we label it temptation it puts that sin or the struggle with that sin on level with the sins all Christians struggle with. We are all sinners working, agonizing to fight the lusts which wage war against our souls (I Peter 2:11).  Continue reading