Friday, December 22, 2006

The Gospel is Such Good News

The Lord blessed me today with the opportunity to explain the gospel, at length, with one of my partners (co-workers) from Starbucks. We planned out a time to meet up and discuss (1) God, (2) the sinfulness of man, and (3) how sinners can have a right relationship with God. We were able to discuss the triunity of God, God's sovereign rulership over His creation, and right to do as He pleases (among many other things). I pounded home the deadness of man in sin, and were we all to receive justice would face death, judgment, and the flames of Hell for eternity. When I began making the transition to the purpose in the Messiah's coming, it really hit home how good the good news of the gospel is. I found myself tearing up at moments because I was amazed at the goodness of God in providing such a remarkable salvation. When we finished I exhorted my friend to examine herself and cry out to God for mercy.

She and I will be starting an on-going Bible study going over various Biblical topics and themes, starting with the basics: the Trinity, Justification by Faith Alone, personal holiness, evangelism, and other such topics.

If you have a moment, pray that God might grant to her faith and repentance unto life.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Questions relating to predestination

***The following is my response to an email I received through AOMin.

Hello Jennifer,

It sounds like you're asking three different questions: (1) Does the Bible teach that God fore-ordained to save a certain group of people? (2) Does God desire to save all men? (3) If God fore-ordained all those He would save, why preach the gospel?

Each of these are excellent questions.

Does the Bible teach that God fore-ordained to save a certain group of people? Yes, it does. Ephesians 1:3-15, "3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him 11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. 13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation-- having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory. 15 For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints," (NASB)

In verse 3 Paul informs us that God blessed "us" with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. Verse 4 explains that God chose the same "us" before the foundation of the world. Then in verse 5 we see that God predestined this same "us" to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ. If you follow the pronouns you discover that the "us" and "you" are referring to the same group of people throughout: God's elect people.

Your next question: Does God desire to save all men? I believe that God desires that all men repent from their sins, that is, that God demands that all men everywhere should obey His Law (Acts 17:30-31). I also believe that God desires to deliver only His elect people from their sins (2 Peter 3:1-9 - God is patient toward "you" which refers only to believers). This means that God desires the end-result of His own fore-ordained will. Reformed theologians describe this as the "two wills of God."

Finally, If God fore-ordained all those He would save, why preach the gospel? The foremost reason Christians preach the gospel is because we are commanded to preach the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20). Secondly, God has not only predestined the ends, but also the means to accomplish those ends. So just as God has determined to save some underserving sinners, He also determined to save those sinners through the proclamation of the gospel (Romans 10:14-15).

Please let me know if you have any other questions.

In Christ,
Casey Ryan

Monday, December 18, 2006

"It's a beaut Clark, it's a beaut!"

If you didn't know, the title of this entry is a famous quote from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

"Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease. Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, let all within us praise His holy name. Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we. Noel, Noel. O Night Divine."

This is my favorite time of year. I love everything about it - the music, the food, the lights, the gifts, spending time with family and friends. Our Christmas tree is up (now fully lit up, and with a star). I plan on putting up a few more strands of lights, though probably not until Wednesday.

To say that Starbucks is busy is the understatement of the year =). But it's fun. I have had more eggnog in the past few weeks than I have in my whole life combined thanks to Starbucks, lol.

Amy Grant is my favorite Christmas singing artist, hands down. Next is Vince Vaughn's Charlie Brown. Then Alvin and the Chipmunks =).

Above all, I enjoy celebrating the birth of the God the Son. It really does thrill my heart to think on the purpose of why the second Person of the Trinity came to earth. Christ, the God-Man came to save His people from their sins. I rejoice at the thought.

On a different note, Eragon was a great movie. The graphics were so-so. Overall, the acting was wonderful. The story though was truly fantastic. I wanna read the books. I also heard the Pursuit of Happiness was awesome. I wanna see that and The History Boys, The Holiday, and The Good Shepherd. So many movies!!!

Finally, I am having a Christmas party this Saturday at my apartment, 6pm. Let me know if you wanna come. Please call my cell to rsvp ya'll.

Case of Base

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Response to Isaac

The following is a response to Isaac's comment on the previous entry.

Hello Isaac,

You said, “I agree that pursuing holiness is far more important than pursuing relevance, but does one have to come at the expense of the other?”

No, one does not have to pursue holiness at the expense of being relevant. In fact, I believe that one becomes more relevant to the world as one increases in holiness. The problem John MacArthur and I have is not that we believe the Emergent Church Movement (ECM) over-emphasizes being relevant, but rather in how Emergents define “relevant.” The ECM proposes that the church adapt to the ever-emerging culture by incorporating the world’s culture so as to attract the unregenerate. In so doing, they argue that only then can the Church be truly relevant to the unbelieving world. I firmly disagree. I believe that the stylistic preferences of each local church should be decided by the elders of that church for the purpose of benefiting the Christians who attend.

For example, if Local Church A decides to sing hymns, that would be perfectly fine. Let’s say that Local Church B church decides to sing more contemporary styles with songs that strongly reinforce Biblical teaching. Again, perfectly fine. Neither of these churches is more likely than the other to attract unbelievers to the point of true conversion. The Holy Spirit doesn’t only save sinners who sing along with contemporary-style songs. But the ECM would have us believe that Local Church B is more likely to convert the unregenerate, and even they are not as “cool” as they should be. It’s almost as if the ECM forgets that God is sovereign over salvation by acting as though certain stylistic preferences might help convert a dead sinner.

So what does Biblical relevance look like? How does one effectively reach our sinful world? The Apostle Paul answers this for us in 1 Corinthians 1:21, “21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”

God is not pleased to save sinners through the world’s wisdom. God saves sinners through the foolishness of the message preached. O how foolish preaching seems to those who are perishing, but to God’s elect it is an amazing thing. Therefore, if a believer in Jesus Christ desires to truly be relevant to our dying world, he needs to uncompromisingly proclaim the gospel. There is no need to doctor it up with flashy styles, or with lame attempts to look cool. God saves, and He saves perfectly. All we must do is faithfully proclaim the gospel, or as Paul said, “1And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 2For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 3I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, 4and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

You said, “I've seen several examples of churches this year that take both righteousness and relevance very seriously, Rock Harbor in Costa Mesa, and Ecclesia in Los Angeles, to be specific.”

I cannot comment on either of these churches because I’ve never heard of them =).

You continued, “Both of these churches take the truth of the Bible and doctrine very seriously, while also being engaged in modern culture and having a reasonable understanding of the world outside of the church walls.”

What did you mean by: “…being engaged in modern culture and having a reasonable understanding of the world outside of the church walls” ? If you mean that you adapt the stylistic preferences of the local church to match the styles of worldly culture, I obviously disagree. Also, one can be well aware of the world’s culture without becoming a part of the sinful aspects of that culture. But the goal of the Christian is not to become an expert on worldly culture. His goal, with regards to evangelism, should be to clearly preach the gospel to those who are a part of worldly culture.

You said, “I agree that being 'cool' is a silly goal for the church. I cringe whenever I hear about the "awesome rock concert style services" or "multi-media presentations" at churches.”

Good to hear =). However, I believe the reason Mark Driscoll and other Emergent Church leaders are concerned with being “cool” in the eyes of the world, is a result of the Emergent philosophy that the local church needs to adopt worldly culture.

You continued, “It's not that the inclusion of these particular devices automatically means that truth is being compromised…”

Very true, except if you count the belief (incorporating the world’s culture) that led them to this behavior as a compromise.

You continued, “…but very often they accomplish the opposite of their intended goal and come off as embarrassingly out of touch and straight-up dorky.”

I completely agree with the first part of this statement: “but very often they accomplish the opposite of their intended goal.” In many Emergent Churches, they genuinely desire to see the lost come to know Christ, and that is wonderful. But my pastor has a saying: “What you win folks with is what you win folks to.” In other words, if you use post-modernism and worldliness, you’ve won them to post-modernism and worldliness.

About your second point: “and come off as embarrassingly out of touch and straight-up dorky.” This may be true, but honestly, who cares what the world thinks of you? If they think you’re a dork, so be it. The questions I would ask are: how was the preaching during church? Or: did you clearly preach the gospel to so-and-so?

You said, “It’s ridiculous for the church to try and dress up like modern culture,…”

This is exactly what the ECM movement does, including Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church.

You continued, “…but I think it's important to make an effort to understand the culture and be an active participant in it.”

I disagree. We do not need to participate in worldly culture. We need to preach to those who are involved in worldly culture. This is a monumental difference.

You said, “The point here is to keep the message of the Gospel from automatically being dismissed by a segment of Thai people that value a particular style of grooming.”

This scenario is a matter of preference really. If you want to grow a beard, I think that is acceptable. But let me use another example. Let’s say that there is an African tribe that prefers that you have ear-lobe extensions 3-feet long. Should a missionary do this so he can preach the gospel to these people? I think that would be a bit over the top. My point is that there are boundaries to our interaction with others. One of these boundaries is allowing the elders of a local church to decide which stylistic preferences their church should use that would benefit the believers of that congregation. Another boundary is not engaging in aspects of culture that are sinful. I don’t need to see every R-Rated or PG-13 movie so I can preach the gospel (not that every R-Rated or PG-13 movie is sinful, though some are). I don’t need to know who the coolest bands are. I don’t need to go clubbing so I can be relevant to partying college students. We already have so much in common: we are all born sinners. That puts us on an even playing field. Yes, definitely have an idea of the worldview people have, then present to them the Christian worldview.

You said, “Missionary groups are also quick to warn against forcing newly established churches in foreign countries to automatically engage in western-style worship music.”

We definitely agree here. So long as the songs reinforce Biblical doctrine, styles don’t matter.

You said, “My hope is that emerging churches that have gone overboard with a reactionary response can meet halfway with traditional churches that no longer live on the same planet as the people they’re trying to communicate with.”

My hope is that the ECM repents of incorporating Post-modernism and worldliness into the Church.

You ended by asking, “Can we make it a goal to be righteous and relevant at the same time?”

Christians who are righteous are relevant to the sinful world around them. As stated above, one does not become relevant by adapting to the world’s culture. Be the most relevant by appearing foolish to the world through preaching the message of Christ.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

John MacArthur on the Emerging Church and Mark Driscoll

It is about time that Pastor John MacArthur spoke up about the Emerging Church Movement and the infamous Mark Driscoll.

“We keep hearing from evangelical strategists and savvy church leaders that Christians need to be more tuned into contemporary culture. You have no doubt heard the arguments: We need to take the message out of the bottle. We can’t minister effectively if don’t speak the language of contemporary counterculture. If we don’t vernacularize the gospel, contextualize the church, and reimagine Christianity for each succeeding generation, how can we possibly reach young people? Above all else, we have got to stay in step with the times.”

I vividly remember hearing these arguments for the very first time. It was a horrifying experience to hear a friend of mine defend the idea that our churches should adopt postmodern so we can be more “relevant” in reaching the lost. Do you remember where you were when first confronted with Emergent arguments? I do. I was sitting at Bucks when I was given my first written work by Driscoll. How ironic that the first Emergent book I read was written by someone on the far end of the conservative spectrum.

“Those arguments have been stressed to the point that many evangelicals now seem to think unstylishness is just about the worst imaginable threat to the expansion of the gospel and the influence of the church. They don’t really care if they are worldly. They just don’t want to be thought uncool.”

Sadly, this is exactly what we see from most who claim to be Emergent. The primary concern is having the appearance of coolness, while the clarity of the gospel comes in second. My criticism is not simply that these priorities be reversed, but that coolness not even be a concern. Besides, as Pastor MacArthur later points out, if the world hates you, remember that they hated Christ first.

“Worldly preachers seem to go out of their way to put their carnal expertise on display—even in their sermons. In the name of connecting with “the culture” they want their people to know they have seen all the latest programs on MTV; familiarized themselves with all the key themes of “South Park”; learned the lyrics to countless tracks of gangsta rap and heavy metal music; and watched who-knows-how-many R-rated movies. They seem to know every fad top to bottom, back to front, and inside out. They’ve adopted both the style and the language of the world—including lavish use of language that used to be deemed inappropriate in polite society, much less in the pulpit. They want to fit right in with the world, and they seem to be making themselves quite comfortable there.

Mark Driscoll is one of the best-known representatives of that kind of thinking. He is a very effective communicator—a bright, witty, clever, funny, insightful, crude, profane, deliberately shocking, in-your-face kind of guy. His soteriology is exactly right, but that only makes his infatuation with the vulgar aspects of contemporary society more disturbing.

Driscoll ministers in Seattle, birthplace of “grunge” music and heart of the ever-changing subculture associated with that movement. Driscoll’s unique style and idiom might aptly be labeled “post-grunge.” His language—even in his sermons—is deliberately crude. He is so well known for using profane language that in Blue Like Jazz (p. 133), Donald Miller (popular author and icon of the “Emerging Church” movement, who speaks of Driscoll with the utmost admiration) nicknamed him “Mark the Cussing Pastor.”

I don’t know what Driscoll’s language is like in private conversation, but I listened to several of his sermons. To be fair, he didn’t use the sort of four-letter expletives most people think of as cuss words—nothing that might get bleeped on broadcast television these days. Still, it would certainly be accurate to describe both his vocabulary and his subject matter at times as tasteless, indecent, crude, and utterly inappropriate for a minister of Christ. In every message I listened to, at least once he veered into territory that ought to be clearly marked off limits for the pulpit.”

It is greatly encouraging to know that I am not alone in my assessment of Mark Driscoll. Right from the off I took a hard stance against his views at a time when he was uber popular, which was not easy. Thankfully, in my circle of friends right now, his popularity is at an all time low =). In fact, I knew that once folks began to realize the kinds of results the ECM produces, they wouldn’t take to it. Having said that, there will always be those who fall prey to a smooth presentation like Driscoll’s. But these folks were already susceptible to other spiritual dangers.

If you carefully read how MacArthur described Driscoll, it is along the same lines of what other incredibly gifted men of God have said: James White, Phil Johnson, Steve Camp and countless others. The only folks who disagree with the above description fall into one of two categories: (1) those who are not familiar with Driscoll’s books and sermons; (2) those who are themselves Emergent/Emerging.

Finally, I’ll end with MacArthur:

“I frankly wonder how any Christian who takes the Bible at face value could ever think that in order to be “culturally relevant” Christians should participate in society’s growing infatuation with vulgarity. Didn’t vulgarity and culture used to be considered polar opposites?”

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Terrible Day Showed Me How Blessed I Am

Today was the worse day of the semester. I was woken up at 8:56am by my cell phone. Normally I turn my cell on silent so that I’m not disturbed by any calls. But for some odd reason my phone started beeping at me … LOUD. Because this was so unusual I picked it up and saw that I had missed five calls and had two voicemails. The calls were all from Starbucks, so I knew something was wrong. I called my store straight away. The shift supervisor, James, picked up. He kindly explained to me that I was an hour late to work. Immediately I knew what had happened: the night before I stopped by the store to check what time I was working the following day. I read 8-12, and interpreted it to mean 8pm-midnight when in reality it was 8am-noon. Oh boy had I made a careless mistake! It is understandable why I interpreted it the way I did because I never ever work from 8am-noon. I either open or close. It is uber rare for me to work in the AM as a non-opener. Nevertheless, I felt HORRIBLE. As you can imagine, the moment I hung up the phone I was frantically getting dressed (no shower, no shave, no hair – I looked like a mess).

Then it happened. As I was about to walk out the door I noticed that my bathroom was flooded! For a moment (a brief moment) I considered whether I should let the floor get damaged and let the apartment management fix it with a property claim and get to work sooner, OOOR, if I should quickly dry it up and then get to work making myself even later. I decided to quickly dry it up – and now all of our towels are waiting to be washed, oy. I honestly could not believe how my morning was turning out.

So I rushed over to work, sped a little, and made it there fairly quickly.

There was a line from the moment I walked in until about 10:30am, the dishes were overflowing out of the sinks, hardly any of the prep had been done - which means it was a busy morning. Again, I felt terrible. I repeatedly apologized to James, my shift supervisor, and to my fellow Barista, Mike. Both were incredibly gracious towards me. James said up front, “Don’t worry about it bro. Everyone knows you have integrity. We understand that it happens sometimes.” That meant the world to me. I was a little disoriented throughout my shift, but it was doable.

I flew home to clean up my mess in the bathroom before work at American Family. I called my mom to ask if I could be a few minutes late. She could tell I was a little stressed, and offered to give me the afternoon off! I ended up going into AmFam anyways because I hate to miss work.

But the thing I realized today is how blessed I am. God has placed some truly amazing people in my life. Without every one of my partners at Bucks today, and my mom at AmFam, I don’t know how I could have made it. Of course through it all, I knew that this was all a part of God’s foreordained plan. God ordained these difficulties today, and it is for my benefit.

It is turning out to be not such a bad day after all. God has been so merciful to me, a sinner.