Theological Thoughts

Kevin Hart’s Desecration of the gods

Kevin Hart’s Desecration of the gods

To step outside of the politically correct sphere is becoming a gigantic threat to anyone who dares touch on the ideological latitudinous of celebrity culture. Whether one uses humor or shares his convictions about a topic, if he touches on the sacrament of ungodly sexuality, his career suffers a thousand deaths.

Actor and comedian Kevin Hart, who was invited to host the Oscars, and who considered this “the opportunity of a lifetime” suffered such death when a decade ago he tweeted:

“Yo if my son comes home & try’s 2 play with my
daughters doll house I’m going 2 break it over his head &
say n my voice ‘stop that’s gay.’”

He dared, as a comedian in his late 20’s, to desecrate the holy of holies of the gods of diversity. Hart has since declared he has evolved on the issue and no longer holds to such declarations. Still, the gods show no mercy; even though Hart has achieved the apex of financial success; even though he has already shown on many occasions his ability to play within the temple with other toleration citizens. But the celebrity culture knows no grace; their gods demand perfection ten years ago and ten years henceforth. R.I.P. Hart.

Don’t Jump into the Darkness

Don’t Jump into the Darkness

Many of us grew up in environments where extra-biblical requirements were given as a way to please God. Now, no one in their right minds would assert that these were meritorious, but the end result of not doing x, y, or z inevitably led to guilt and fear. “Did I read my Bible this morning? “Did I forget to pray?” “Is God angry with me?”

The long-term effect of this thinking has led many to abandon the faith. I don’t want to condemn the legalistic heritage that some of us grew up with (though it is worthy of criticism), but I do want to assert that there are alternative ways of contemplating Christian piety that does not leave you dry.

We don’t want piety that abandons traditional habits of grace; we want a piety that learns to cultivate these habits in a grace-saturated world. We want a piety that is rich, diverse, and capable of drawing from God’s vast resources of strength and encouragement. We need to forsake legalism, but not to the wells of liberalism or atheism, but to the fountain of grace where the Gospel is given through an encouraging word, a phone call, a note of thanks, a text that edifies, a book that moves us, a story that awakens us, a community that bears with our weaknesses and a Christ that communes with us. If you find yourself in that guilt-ridden Christianity, don’t jump into the darkness, seek the light in traditions and people that are immersed in a life of freedom and thanksgiving.

Parental Repetition

Parental Repetition

Christians, of whatever persuasion, ought to bring their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. All parents should have a covenant awareness of their tasks. They need to remember the promises of God to their children each day. They need to whisper those promises when they rise up and when they lie down to sleep. The covenant demands the art of repetition. We kiss only to be reminded that we will kiss again. We say, “I love you,” as a way of practicing for the next “I love you.” These affirmations serve to remind us of the persuasive nature of our God who throughout Scriptures repeated the same message through patriarchs, prophets, and priests. We need the covenant promises made known afresh. Admonishment and nurture must be grounded in solemn joys–a firm, but tender methodology. We exasperate children when we stop reminding them of these promises. The more repetitive you are the more covenantal you become. So repeat yourself. Give hugs again and again. Repeat God’s promises again and again. And when your child complains of your incessant loving, hugging, and story-telling, then know that you have done your job well.

Death and Resurrection

Psalm 16 adds this unique messianic prophecy: “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” The Father loves this theme of “death and resurrection.” What we experience as saints are little episodes of death and resurrection. Every act of repentance is an act of death on your part, and every act of forgiveness by God or someone else is an act of resurrection in your life. God promises in this psalm to raise Jesus from the dead; the Father will not allow the death of Jesus to be a source of mockery but of triumph. So also, every act of suffering we undergo is God’s display of his commitment to being with you always.

26 Strengths of the Evangelical Church

26 Strengths of the Evangelical Church

While negative aspects of evangelicalism emerge quite easily due to its diverse expressions, sometimes we are left with an image less than flattering and under the impression that evangelicalism is about to give up the ghost. The reality, however, is quite different. By “evangelical,” I include churches who affirm the authority of Scriptures and a belief in the classic Christian doctrines of the Creeds. In addition to my 26 weaknesses post, here are 26 strengths of the evangelical church:
 
a) It has a zeal for propagation. However opposed one may be to certain methods of evangelicalism, the evangelical church continues to thrive in our day and grow numerically.
b) It preserves ol’ time religion. It has no interest in following progressive agendas for the church but in preserving the free offer of the Gospel as articulated in the Scriptures.
c) It strongly opposes sexual visions that contradict God’s view of sexuality.
d) It promotes male leadership in the Church.
e) It is antagonistic towards Roman Catholic paradigms which elevate hierarchy and tradition above biblical authority and which adds unbiblical rituals to the church (see Philip Jenkins’ “The Next Christendom”).
f) It preaches about the blood of Jesus frequently.
g) It is not afraid to confront scientism and liberalism.
h) It produced one of the greatest evangelists in the history of Christendom, namely, Billy Graham, whose crusades drew thousands, if not millions of people to Christ.
i) It has a high view of the Spirit’s work in the life of the saint.
j) It produced one of the most prolific hymn writers in Christian history, namely, Fanny Crosby, whose hymns still bear witness to the life of Jesus and ministers to millions in church and is remembered and sung by the aged in nursing homes with greater frequency than any other hymn-writer.
k) It was bold to break from liberal mainline churches when many were encouraging them to stay (PCA in 1973).
l) It defends vehemently the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible.
m) It upholds classic Christian moral issues such as the dignity of life from conception to death.
n) It is driven by a vision of preservation or conservation of the Judeo-Christian heritage.
o) It cherishes personal piety and a life of devotion.
p) It encourages a personal relationship with Jesus.
q) The modern evangelical movement has also produced capable biblical expositors.
r) It has popularized classic Reformed doctrines like the sovereignty of God and his glory (see John Piper’s works).
s) It has, by and large, preserved a historical understanding of the creation account.
t) Seminaries like Southern (SBTS) are producing well-trained scholars as observed in the most recent ETS where there were 50 presentations from Southern faculty and student body. Truly astounding. Also, kudos to Jim Hamilton’s excellent scholarship. I am a fan.
u) Pertaining to Southern Baptists, they drink an enormous amount of sweet tea and hide their beer remarkably well from guests.
v) Evangelicals treasure experience. Perhaps they overemphasize this dimension while some underemphasize the existential perspective (to quote John Frame).
w) Evangelicals believe in the power of prayer to change things.
x) Evangelical preaching is story-oriented; narratival; intended to keep your attention, while much preaching in our day is overly technical and unrelatable.
y) To be evangelical is to be the people of Christ; a people given over to the Evangel in its pure and unadulterated form.
z) In sum, the strength of evangelicalism is its disposition towards truth.
26 Weaknesses of the Evangelical Church

26 Weaknesses of the Evangelical Church

The evangelical view of the church–my piece of the ecclesiastical pie–is weak on a number of levels. These weaknesses, in my estimation, lead to lesser and lesser influence in the modern world and a dysfunctional ecclesiology. Here are at least 26 weaknesses:

a) it views church as a funeral procession for Jesus rather than a triumphant resurrection procession,

b) it disincentivizes male participation,

c) it makes the Bible secondary and human creativity primary,

d) it views Jesus’ authority over the world in similar categories to Satans’ (a misunderstanding of II Cor. 4:4),

e) it treats the themes of worship as preferential (see letter c),

f) it belittles the sacraments,

g) it is not future-oriented, so it’s bound to do theology only for the present,

h) it is content to keep Christians at a basic mode of growth,

i) it forgets its origins, thus minimizing the lessons of history,

j) it doesn’t rejoice enough,

k) it fails to view the church with the war-like categories of Scriptures,

l) it begins in Matthew when it should begin in Genesis,

m) it forgets the little ones in the life of the church,

n) it doesn’t view catholicity in a positive light,

o) it doesn’t read broadly enough (see letter n),

p) it fails to encourage women to pursue good theology,

q) it doesn’t practice church discipline,

r) it doesn’t sing enough,

s) it doesn’t encourage hospitality,

t) it fails to pray for the kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven,

u) it would rather sacrifice at the altar of sports than the altar of God on Sundays,

v) it views food and fellowship primarily as consumption rather than communion,

w) it reads too little Bible,

x) it is inconsistent in applying the Gospel to society, education and culture.

y), it’s too casual or non-interested in Creeds; how many evangelical churches even recite the creeds?

z) it is incoherently trinitarian instead of intentionally so.

The Outrageousness of Outrage

The Outrageousness of Outrage

Outrage can be a useful prophetic gift when used rightly and timely. Elijah, for instance, reserved his outrage for the Ahabs and Jezebels of his world while bringing consolation to a widow and child. But if everyone and every issue is an “Ahab,” you have failed the qualification of biblical discernment and prioritization. The problem with unremitting outrage is that while bringing out the crazies to your defense–after all, crazies love’m some outrage–it limits the Gospel to self-righteous angry outbursts.

“I’ll have outburst over the weather for a $1,000, Alex!”

The reason Westboro Baptist and lesser known fundamentalist groups lose their soul in the process of their proclamation is that they want speedy results without the careful, deliberate method of engaging, persuading, praying, hosting, and loving others. Most modern outrage is a form of addiction accentuated by social media which needs to be carefully analyzed in our day. We used to chastise evangelical groups who make their mission to appeal to the masses through sexy ads and strategies fit for business but now we are amusing ourselves to death one outrage at a time treating our sins as more dignified than “theirs”.

Elder Jonathan Sutton’s Paper Against James B. Jordan on Halloween

Elder Jonathan Sutton’s Paper Against James B. Jordan on Halloween

While I do not agree with the conclusion of this article, at the request of Rev. Mickey Schneider and his bride Judy, I wanted to honor the late Jonathan Sutton who wrote this short paper against James Jordan’s position. Elder Sutton served as elder of Trinity Presbyterian and James B. Jordan was a resident scholar and musician who also served Trinity Presbyterian for many years. Both were good friends and Jim Jordan had much respect for Elder Sutton. I had the distinct priviliege of knowing Elder Sutton. He was one of the men who laid hands on me at my ordination.

What Are We To Do with Halloween?

Trinity Presbyterian Church

Pastoral Paper — April 2008

Jonathon Sutton

Halloween has long been a problem for Christians. It appears the most pagan of all celebrations, accompanied by an onslaught of horror films and stories of hauntings. Consequently, many will not let their children go “Trick or Treating,” thinking it better to “come out from among them, and be … separate.” Many, however, do let their children participate, seeing it as a harmless bit of costumed fun, with no more occult significance than the tooth fairy. But incidents (or rumors) of candy tampering, along with a continuing nagging discomfort with the imagery involved, have led more and more Christian parents to seek an alternative celebration for their children. They want their children to have joyful, festive lives, and are not willing to sit at home while the neighborhood children go merrily from door to door. What are we Christians to do with Halloween? If we give some thought to the original intent of this ancient holiday, we might celebrate the saints who have gone before us and purpose to reform our ways to better bring glory to our Lord.

What we know as Halloween is a far remove from the origins of All Saints’ Day. From early in the history of the Church, Christians have celebrated, on the day, the memory of the saints who have died and gone to be with the Lord. Costumes were later added as a dramatic element of the celebration. We still have the costumes, but the main purpose of the day has been all but forgotten, and we are left only with a play with a meaningless script.

Jim Jordan has commented on this old Christian custom of celebrating the victory of Christ over Satan on All Saints’ Eve and All Saints’ Day.[1] As he recounts, All Hallow’s Eve (Hallowe’en) observances once portrayed a triumphal mockery of Satan and his minions in celebration of his defeat at the hand of Jesus. Christians began dressing their children as grinning red Satans, complete with pitchfork, or as ugly old witches with pointed black hats, crooked noses, and flying brooms. By doing this, they were using mockery to proclaim Christ’s victory over Satan, pointedly allying themselves with God in holy derision.

He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. (Psalm 2:4)

The culture of those days was one of general acceptance of the spiritual realm of angels and demons. In that day, Satan and witches were acknowledged powers to be dealt with. When confronted with these ludicrous images of the principalities, powers, and rulers of the darkness of this world, the people would understood that much spiritual wrestling remained to be done before the enemy was run from the land. To such a people, the message of a Christ who had achieved victory over these wicked powers was a welcome one.

Ridicule may be an appropriate weapon for the Christian in any age. There is a case for ridicule, a time when one must confront spiritual poseurs by, as Charles Spurgeon said — “cheerfully bear(ing) the criticism of my more somber brethren. I am deeply in earnest, however playful my remarks may seem to be. These follies may be best shot at by the light arrows of ridicule, and therefore I employ them, not being of the same mind as those ‘who think all virtue lies in gravity/And smiles are symptoms of depravity.’”[2] When the ridiculous is accepted as received wisdom, this calls for a grand puncturing. But dressing up in Halloween costumes no longer affronts the ridiculous. In our culture, it buttresses it.

The times have changed. Today, many people scorn any mention of spiritual wickedness, thinking it rank superstition. Others entertain thoughts of the demons and dark powers because of the thrill of fear that they bring, without seriously anticipating any danger to themselves. Almost no one would view the appearance of children at the door, dressed as caricatures of Satan and other dark powers, as holy mockery of the defeated foes of Christ. They would instead think a) “Look at the cute little devil!”, b) “This one makes thirty — If this doesn’t stop soon, I’ll miss (name of favorite television program)”, or c) “Aren’t those the Smiths? I thought they were Christians.” A message of holy derision would be utterly lost in our culture.

For a message to be conveyed, it takes more than a speaker; it also takes a hearer. Biblical mockery leaves no doubt who is being mocked. The priests of Baal knew that Elijah was mocking them as he said “Cry aloud…peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked”(1 Kings 18:27). The modern parallel would be to “call the witches out.” But that is not what the Treat-or-Treaters are doing. Few now living would be able to decode this message of triumphant mockery. If there was an evident, Satan-worshipping element in our community that was seeking to present Satan as glorious and praiseworthy, we could target their message with pointed mockery — telling the community that, despite what they have heard, Satan has no power over God’s people. There is no blatant cult of Satan worship in our society. It is all masked as personal freedom.

Indeed, when we dress up our children as ghouls and goblins, the message our neighbors hear is that all this Satan stuff is no big deal; that the demonic realm is nothing but an uncomfortable joke with an exciting frisson of horror. But the swarm of horror movies and haunted house stories that come out every Halloween tells them a different story. This story says “There is a real demonic realm out there. Strange, unexplained things that you had better hope you don’t get mixed up with.” Many are hearing this story, and taking from it a message of fear. What was at one time mockery of Satan has gradually become mere ghoulish silliness and dabbling with fear. How can we show them that God is greater than Satan? By ridicule and mockery? Jesus ridiculed the Pharisees, calling them whited sepulchers, and revealing their efforts at appearing holy to sewing new patches onto old wineskins. Would he have approved of his disciples caricaturing and lampooning the Pharisees? God does not call us to mock Satan. There is a better way to celebrate Jesus’ triumph. How can we best counter the fear-orgy that is Halloween? How are we to confront the dark powers?

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour; whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. 1 Peter 5:8-9

We are called to be sober, vigilant, and steadfast in resistance, not triumphant and exultantly brash. Martin Luther did this on All Saints’ Day in 1517, by nailing his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. He saw the error that had crept into the Church, and revealed the error before the people, reproving the works of darkness (Eph 5:11). In so doing, he sought the purity of the faith for which so many had died. Luther made his stand in accordance with Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 6:12-20:

“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” Ephesians 6:12-20

Do we apply this passage about the Christian’s conflict with Satan to Halloween? Should this read “Wherefore take upon you masks and horns, noses and brooms, and mock the rulers of the darkness of this world”? No. We are to stand in faith and truth, and to pray, and to speak boldly, as Luther did.

One way we can do this is to honor those who have lived godly lives. Our American culture knows little of honor. Historical figures are shown to be flawed, present day leaders are all suspect, and there is little hope for the future. But we Christians live a different life. We can show honor to the past, take joy in the present, and have hope for the future. Our tradition can provide a different and better message for our neighbors — one of reflection and thankfulness for God’s continuing care for His people, instead of fear and cynicism. We can craft local celebrations that give honor to our fathers and mothers in the faith by both remembering what they have done and by giving them honor, in joyful obedience to the fifth commandment.

For Reformation Day to be seen by the community as something other than Christian “me-too-ism” — mimicking the world in a dorky fashion, without its native coolness — it must be characterized by distinctively Christian joy and power. Instead of mockery, there should be honor; instead of fear, faith. If we spend the evening at home and have young trick-or-treaters come to our door, we should treat them with loving compassion, not with cold disdain. If we celebrate the holiday together, we should do so with our might and main, planning costumery, games, music, food and whatever else to the glory of our Lord. A different era of Christendom might be celebrated each year, with children and adults dressed somewhat in the dress of the era, and food and games and music chosen to reflect the time. Activities could highlight the accomplishments of Christ in His Church during that era. All Saint’s Day could become for us a holiday of joyful celebration and of renewing our relation to the Church triumphant.

Halloween has lost its way, and is in need of reformation. Satan has indeed made inroads in our church, our families, ourselves. Rather than just saying that Satan has no power, we must take back ground that we have ceded to him by our neglect, rebellion, and lust. Call upon God to deliver us from the evil one (Matthew 6:13). “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Bring His light into the dark and spooky corners of your heart and the lives of those around you. Instead of being uncomfortable with the traditions of the world, we should forge our own. Let’s use the day to celebrate the work of God’s Holy Spirit in His people in every land, in every age.

[1] James B. Jordan, Open Book Newsletter Concerning Halloween, OPEN BOOK, Views and Reviews, No. 28, Biblical Horizons 1996.

[2] Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, 1875, pp. 289-290

James B. Jordan on Halloween

James B. Jordan on Halloween

Jim Jordan is a true genius. May God grant him a recovery of mind because I would love to watch him write and think again. It would be a miracle, but God works wonders like this all the time. If you have not read his masterpice on Halloween it’s worth 10 minutes. This is what he writes in his Halloween piece:

The concept, as dramatized in Christian custom, is quite simple: On October 31, the demonic realm tries one last time to achieve victory, but is banished by the joy of the Kingdom.

What is the means by which the demonic realm is vanquished? In a word: mockery. Satan’s great sin (and our great sin) is pride. Thus, to drive Satan from us we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub. Rather, the idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us.

 

The Dealer’s Prayer

The Dealer’s Prayer

Recently I had my first experience in a car dealership. The gentleman, kind enough, took us on a tour through the vast array of used cars. We had a budget in mind and we also had a fine mechanic whom we called if we had any questions (Thanks Eddie Hobbs in Pace) Our budget was conspicuously low in comparison to the 20-50K priced vehicles in the lot. But we were firm. We don’t believe in debt and we weren’t going to compromise our principle. Yet, the dealer was persistent. At one time when he pointed us to a vehicle with low mileage and in fine shape and ideal price. We called our mechanic and put the dealer on the phone with him. I couldn’t hear what the mechanic was saying to the dealer, but I could tell by the dealer’s face that we would run from the offer. And run we did.

The experienced wordsmith kept hinting at a certain car that may or may not have been sold. It was as if he was saying there is a hidden treasure in this cornfield and for the sake of the car gods I will find it just for you. And there it was. It was clean and charming. As the morning began to heat up so did his arguments; he wanted to close the deal. We were pleased with the hidden treasure–though wished he had revealed it an hour earlier. It was a fine car to suit our needs but we were not willing to pay for what he offered.

Still, my wife and I drove the vehicle while the dealer kept up with his well-tested pitches. “This is the vehicle for you. I know it.” “I’d buy this car if I could.” “This will fly out of this dealership in the next hour if you don’t buy it.” We walked into the dealership; happy with the vehicle, but still unhappy with the price and unwilling to compromise. So, the manager joins us. He doesn’t argue for the same vehicle. Maybe he sensed our unwillingness. “Would you all be comfortable with this car?” pointing to another vehicle in his inventory. It was in our price range. The dealer jumped up and acted rather surprised: “I had no idea this car was available.” It’s likely he didn’t–benefit of the doubt and all. We took a look at the offer, but when we sat inside the vehicle there were several immediate faults with the car. The dealer looked at us with evangelistic zeal and said: “All you have to do is say yes and this will be yours.” I’ve heard that line before somewhere. “Are you ready to take this home?” “Give us a few minutes to think,” I said. But at that stage, it didn’t take us long to conclude we were both exhausted from the three-hour altar call. We couldn’t go up and sign the dotted line. We couldn’t say the dealer’s prayer. I needed several hours to recover emotionally from that experience.