Combing the Net – 5/30/2012

Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall, Who’s the Biggest Spender of All? — An interesting CATO Institute analysis of the numbers behind a recent Wall Street Journal editorial which claimed that Obama is not the binge spender he’s often portrayed to be. Note that this is measuring the growth in annual spending, not the total amount spent.

The Pauls Build a Libertarian Machine — While it’s fun to watch the delegate counts in the GOP presidential primary season, it’s important to remember that there’s something bigger going on in our generation. Electing Ron Paul as president has never been the highest priority, which is why this election season won’t be a disappointment when (as is virtually guaranteed) Dr. Paul does not become our next Commander-in-Chief. All over the country, liberty-minded young people are becoming re-engaged in the political process, and many conservative-libertarian candidates are poised to win elections at the national, state, and local levels.

Dear Digital Son — A graduation message from an analog  father to his digital son, encouraging him to keep social media in its proper place, and to invest his time in things and relationships that last. Touching and witty!

How Al Mohler Uses Social Media — Social media isn’t all bad, though! Good insight here from a man whose Twitter feed, blog, and podcast have been very beneficial to me. “Leader, if you don’t engage social media in a responsible & credible way, for anyone under 29, you don’t exist.”

Piper and Meyer Talk Succession for the First Time — The way Bethlehem Baptist Church has implemented this succession plan to transition from John Piper’s pastorship to Jason Meyer’s is a great encouragement!

Connecting Theological Depth With Missional Passion — I’m very excited that our church is among the many that has signed up to help pilot The Gospel Project curriculum! Several of our classes (including the one in which I teach) will be using this curriculum during the month of June. At the above link, you’ll hear project editors Ed Stetzer and Trevin Wax discussing their approach to theology and missions that fueled the creation of this curriculum.

Is Pluto a planet? I vote yes!

Combing the Net – 5/10/2012

There’s pretty much just one story going on today, both in the national media and in the blogosphere. Barack Obama has announced his personal support for gay marriage, though it remains to be seen whether he will promote policy changes to make his preference the law of the land. So today’s “Combing the Net” is a roundup of some of the more interesting/provocative posts I’ve come across on the subject of gay marriage. These will come from a variety of perspectives; nobody (including me) will agree with everything said in all these posts, but I hope that they will challenge us all to consider the complexity of the issue rather than give in to the polarization it seems to cause. I have erased and re-written more times than I can count a post that I began many months ago in an effort to clarify my own feelings on the matter, but have not been able to find the right words. Perhaps I’ll be able to complete it soon.

A Challenge to Both Sides of the Amendment One Debate — Justin Lee, executive director of The Gay Christian Network and North Carolina resident, models the type of graciousness that I wish everyone could use as we talk through these issues, though I disagree with him in some very important ways on the interpretation of Scripture.

Yes, I voted against the amendment, as did many of my friends and hundreds of thousands of other NC residents. But I also know people who voted for it, and I know that they are not simply bigoted, homophobic, backwards people. It’s way more complicated than that.

How to Win a Culture War and Lose a Generation — Rachel Held Evans is another blogger with whom I have major theological differences, but she has her finger on the pulse of our generation, and many of her observations are very astute. Young people from all over the political and theological spectrum do feel that the Church has mishandled its response to homosexuality. Myself included.

Later research, documented in Kinnaman’s You Lost Me, reveals that one of the top reasons 59 percent of young adults with a Christian background have left the church is because they perceive the church to be too exclusive, particularly regarding their LGBT friends.  Eight million twenty-somethings have left the church, and this  is one reason why. In my experience, all the anecdotal evidence backs up the research… every single student I have spoken with believes that the Church has mishandled its response to homosexuality.

Three Lessons I Learned Through This Amendment Process — J.D. Greear, author of Gospel: Recovering the Power That Made Christianity Revolutionary, is the pastor of a church in North Carolina. Here he recounts some of the difficulties involved in keeping the Gospel as the central focus in a contentious political climate.

Godly people can disagree over the merits of this or that amendment and remain united in Christ. I heard very mature, godly and intelligent people explain why they approached this amendment differently than I did. I respect that. We can disagree, tell one another we disagree, and still remain united in Christ. Maturity is not simply knowing what to believe, but how much weight to place on particular aspects of what we believe.

What Is Better? — I won’t pretend to be able to know what it must be like to have an attraction I didn’t choose but which seems so central to who I am, and to be told that I must deny what seems natural to me in order to follow Christ… but this is exactly what the gospel demands of those with same-sex attraction. This post by Jared Wilson is something I can relate to, and helps me to empathize with those who, like me, have an orientation toward sin which must be overcome in order to pursue the greater promise of ultimate fulfillment in Christ. (For increased empathy, you might also be interested in Wesley Hill’s book Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality, which I reviewed last year.)

Don’t believe the lie that struggling always to obey God is a worse lot in life than disobeying him with peace. God did not make us to “feel good inside” (or outside) all the time this side of heaven; he made us to share in the sufferings of Christ, that we might share in his resurrection.

President Obama’s Scriptural Defense of Gay Marriage — Denny Burk takes issue with the President’s use of Scripture to support his affirmation of gay marriage.

President Obama’s scriptural defense of gay marriage is not just untenable; it’s also unchristian. Even though this is a contentious issue, the most loving thing to do would be to stand on the authority of scripture and on God’s definition of the good. Unfortunately, President Obama has fallen short of both today.

How to Win the Public on Homosexuality — Of all the posts I’ve shared, this one by Collin Hansen is probably the most helpful. If you only read one, choose this one.

These contributing factors tempt Christians to heap all the blame on crafty, malicious “others” for redefining the divine institution of marriage. But political strategy and tactics alone don’t explain such a pronounced shift in public sentiment, especially among younger generations of Americans. Indeed, regaining the ground Christians have lost on homosexuality will require widespread repentance, painful self-examination, and new resolve to pursue self-denying holiness. Most of all, we need the life-giving power that comes from Jesus alone.

How I Wish the Homosexuality Debate Would Go — While all the above posts are from the last three days, this was written last year. Still, I thought it was fitting to include here this mock interview written by Trevin Wax.

 I recognize that some people have mistreated homosexuals in the past. It’s a shame that anyone anywhere would mock, taunt, or bully another human being made in God’s image. That said, I think we need to make one thing clear in regard to civil discourse: To differ is not to hate. I hope we can still have a real conversation in this country about different points of view without casting one another in the worst possible light.

T4G 2012 – Book Giveaways

This will be the last of my T4G posts, and then it will be back to business as usual. I have completed a few more posts in the political series I began in March, and hope to wrap up the entire series soon. I also have some backlogged book reviews to publish… and, as you’ll see from this post, there will probably be a great many more to come!

One of my favorite parts of the T4G conference is the emphasis on equipping attendees for ministry by providing great resources. This year, this was accomplished via a “Zero Dollar Bookstore”, which is just about the best idea I’ve ever heard. Everyone who attended was given a pass to this bookstore… it was like Trick-or-Treating, only instead of cavities we get soul edification.

There were 18 books given away at T4G, along with another 17 at the “Band of Bloggers” lunch. In addition, many of the vendors with booths set up in the exhibit hall were giving away books, and the conference bookstore had GREAT prices on over 1800 books. I set myself a budget this year, and so came home with fewer total books than in 2010, but it was still quite a haul! Here’s the big list, which includes all the books I was given as well as the ones I purchased. As well as I can remember, I’ve listed whether I purchased them, or where they came from if I got them for free. For lack of a better system, they are ordered by subject:

Bible Study

The Church / Missions

The Gospel

Church History

Living as a Christian

Music / Worship

Prayer

Preaching

Theology

And that’s not all! I also received several assorted CD’s, including worship songs from Sovereign Grace Music and sermons from the Martyn Lloyd-Jones Audio Library. I also received several free issues of Tabletalk and Modern Reformation magazines, and the Galatians Study Kit from White Horse Inn. For a conference that costs less than $300, this would be incredible even without all the spectacular preaching I got to hear all week! I hope many more of you will join us for the next Together for the Gospel conference in two years. I’m already looking forward to it!

T.D. Jakes and the Elephant in the Room

I know that most readers of my blog don’t keep up with every theological controversy in contemporary evangelicalism. Lord knows we have enough of them! However, there is an important conversation going on right now, with the potential to have far-reaching consequences.

Here’s the CliffsNotes version:

Last year, a Chicago pastor named James McDonald hosted a conference called “The Elephant Room“, intended to model grace in disagreement by arranging a series of moderated discussions between influential pastors. These pastors (James McDonald, Mark Driscoll, David Platt, Matt Chandler, Greg Laurie, Perry Noble, and Steven Furtick) represented a wide spectrum of contemporary evangelicalism; while they largely were united on the essential doctrines of orthodox theology, they differed significantly in their methods and presentation of the Gospel. While there was some controversy involved, this conference was, by and large, seen as positive. Here is a good example of the type of discussions that took place:

The level of controversy was elevated for this year’s Elephant Room. When news broke that T.D. Jakes had been invited to participate, it stirred up a lot of criticism due to his association with Oneness Pentecostalism and his teaching of modalism (a heretical doctrine that denies the Trinity). Mark Dever, who had been announced as a speaker, backed out rather than participate in a conversation in which each man on stage would be assumed to be a brother. Pastors on all sides of the issue have weighed in over the last few months, ultimately leading to James McDonald’s resignation from the Gospel Coalition.

At the conference last week, T.D. Jakes gave at least a token affirmation of the orthodox understanding of the Trinity, but was not challenged on his “Word of Faith” preaching. Though McDonald and Driscoll embraced him as a brother, many were unconvinced.

Rather than adding my own thoughts to the fray (other than to simply concur with those who remain to be convinced that Jakes has repented from his false teaching), allow me to just point you to some of the responses which I feel are most measured, to save you the trouble of wading through much that has been published which is unhelpful. This ongoing discussion will be interesting to watch. Prosperity preaching is rampant in American churches, and I believe that Christians have a responsibility to be aware of the challenges to the Gospel and be able to address those challenges with Truth and grace.

  • Grace and Truth Beyond the Elephant Room — Trevin Wax attended and live-blogged the conference. All of his notes are worth reading, but this is his summary at the conclusion of the event. His conclusion is spot on: “We need charity and clarity. But civility is not a love-fest. We will disagree – strongly at times. Why? Because theology matters. The stakes are high. Bad theology hurts people.”
  • Bishop Jakes, 2nd Decisions, and Coming Home — James McDonald’s own wrap-up.
  • Reflections on James McDonald, TD Jakes, and the Trinity — Some of Mark Driscoll’s thoughts, including a lot of excellent teaching to help understand modalism and the doctrine of the Trinity.
  • The Elephant in the Room — An excellent article from Voddie Baucham, who turned down an invitation to ER2 because of Jakes, but planned to participate in a men’s conference at McDonald’s church scheduled for this past weekend. Because of  comments he made publicly criticizing Jakes and ER2, MacDonald challenged him upon his arrival in Chicago, and they agreed it was not a good idea to speak at the men’s conference.
  • Theological Sleight of Hand at the Elephant Room — Chris Rosebraugh (who was threatened with arrest upon his arrival at the ER2 conference) outlines exactly what Jakes said, and why many consider that an insufficient recantation of his previous positions.
  • The Problem With T.D. Jakes Goes Beyond Modalism — Here’s a local pastor’s take on the controversy. Jeff Wright is pastor of Midway Baptist Church in Cookeville.

Why You Need a Sitter on Friday Night

Many in Cookeville aren’t yet aware of the Humanitas Forum on Christianity and Culture, so I want to help spread the word. This forum brings speakers to town to address topics related to the question: What does it mean to follow Jesus in a post-Christian world?

The lectures — and the Q&A sessions which follow them — are always excellent, and provide a wonderful opportunity to engage in discussion on a wide range of important issues. My wife and I look forward to Humanitas night each month, usually making a date night out of it!

As much as I’ve enjoyed all of the lectures in the last couple years, I’m even more excited about the lineup of speakers for this Fall! I’ve read books and essays by all three, and have heard two of them speak before. I hope you’ll join us for the first one this Friday to hear Trevin Wax, whose blog Kingdom People is one of the very best on the Internet. This former pastor and missionary to Romania is also the author of Counterfeit Gospels and Holy Subversion (read my review here), and is currently editing a new small group curriculum for LifeWay Christian Resources. Here is the blurb for his talk, called “Retreat or Advance? How the Gospel Forms a Christian’s Role in Society”:

Why on earth are Christians here? Is evangelism to be our primary role? Or, are we to be salt and light in society? These options present twin dangers: (1) We can neglect our prophetic role in culture. (2) We can confuse our activism with the mission of the gospel itself. In this lecture, Trevin Wax will unpack the implications of the biblical gospel and challenge Christians to keep the message of the cross central, for the glory of God and for the good of our public witness in the world.

These events probably aren’t the best choice to bring young children, but that’s no reason not to come! Laurie and I are happy to help arrange babysitting for children… we know lots of great, responsible sitters, and by bringing children from multiple families together we can help share the cost as well. Let me know if you’re interested!

The lecture will be this Friday evening at 7:00 (doors open at 6:30) in Cody Hall, on the campus of Nashville State Community College. The address is 1000 Neal Street. Admission is free. They usually last between 90 minutes and 2 hours.