Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Is the Radical Jesus of Michael Moore and David Platt the Real Jesus?

David Platt is an admired, up and coming young Southern Baptist pastor and theologian. His new book Radical retails for $14.95 in Christian bookstores and has quickly become a bestseller. One reviewer praises the book by writing: "Pastors, if your people read and are not stirred, they are lost. If you read it, and are not convicted, you should be fired! If you choose not to read it, you will miss a blessing and are unqualified to lead anyone in anything involving the Kingdom."

The essence of Platt's Christian philosophy is found in this YouTube video. He argues that:

(1). The mantra of the American Dream is to advance yourself through hard work, ingenuity, and innovation, in order to "have it all."

(2). The frightening reality of the gospel is that "Jesus calls us to give up everything we have."

(3). If we form Jesus to look like us and be who we want him to be, then even when we gather together to sing our praises and lift our hands the reality is we are not worshiping the Jesus of the Bible, we are worshiping ourselves.

(4). We have a Master who demands radical obedience.

(5). The radical obedience demanded by Jesus for His followers is to sell everything we have to feed and clothe the poor people of this world and to proclaim Christ to the nations through missions and evangelism.

I disagree with David Platt's general premise, believing it to be unsupported by both the teachings of Jesus and the Scriptures. To be clear, I admire David Platt and believe he is living his life and guiding his church along the path the Spirit of God would have them go. David Platt's general premise, though, is that Jesus would have every Christian, every disciple, every follower radically obey Him by selling all of his or her possessions, giving the money to the poor or to missions, and then living a simple, frugal life on earth. This is where Platt errs. Jesus does not demand obedience to a call of radical wealth deinvestment from everyone because He doesn't issue that specific call to everyone.

Jesus Sometimes Calls His Followers to Radical Wealth

Michael Moore argues in his film Capitalism: A Love Story that "capitalism is the opposite of everything Jesus taught." When Michael Moore and leading evangelicals begin to say the same thing about what Jesus "taught," it is probably worth a look to see whether or not somebody is misreading Jesus.

Jesus clearly teaches that private ownership of property, capital and wealth is good (Matthew 25:14-30).  In the parable of the talents the businessman "entrusted to them his wealth"  so that his employees could cause his wealth to increase. Notice, the wealth was his, and the man's employees were instructed to increase it.  The man did not sell his wealth for the good of the community at large. He kept his wealth and sought to increase it. The capital used in this economic exchange came from his private, personal wealth. In addition, the businessman distributed his wealth "to each according to his ability." The notion that wealth should be dispensed "from each according to his ability" is completely contradicted by Jesus who said that wealth should be given "to each according to his ability." Prepositions do matter in the Bible.

Nowhere does Jesus ever teach that His followers are to reward or subsidize irresponsibility. The argument that poverty can be eradicated by Christian generosity contradicts Jesus statement that "the poor will always be among us" (Mark 14:7). Granted, there are times and occasions that God calls specific followers to the radical obedience of "selling everything" and giving to the poor, but those are rare times. Very rare.

The problem with the American dream is the love of wealth, not the abundance of wealth.  A radical Christian can be a multi-millionaire, fly in private jets, invest in the stock market, create new capital through innovation, hard work, and ingenuity and live in a nice home and possess nice things. Christ may never call this follower to sell it all. Christ asks His disciples to live in light of the following:

(1). The power to create wealth is a "gift" from God (Deuteronomy 8:18).
(2). There is no power on earth that has not been granted by God (John 19:11).
(3). God expects those given wealth to use it to create more wealth (Matthew 25:21).
(4). The follower of Christ is to love God more than the wealth he's been given (I Timothy 6:10).
(5). Christians should do with wealth what the Master says, and sometimes He calls for it to be sold and given away (Luke 18:18-23).
(6). God always calls us to be generous, but He always commends His people for the creation of new wealth through ingenuity, initiative, hard work (I Thessalonians 4:11-12).
(7). It is the love of money that leads to evil, and poor people are as susceptible to this sin as rich people.

Those in the know understand that the financial collapse in October 2007 was as much the result of the poor desiring to appear wealthy without hard work as it was Wall Street hedge fund managers desiring huge bonuses through bundling mortgage bonds. The poor obtained money through interest only loans, loans which the poor were able to refinance every two years because of rising home prices, homes which the poor should never have qualified to be able to purchase in the first place because of the basic economic principle that a borrower should always pay back loans not just the interest.  For example, it is documented that a Hispanic strawberry picker in Bakersfield, California, earning $14,000 annually was given every penny of a $724,000 home loan on which he only had to pay interest the first two years, and if the value of the house he purchased appreciated, then he would refinance with equity in the home. Taxpayers are now paying on that defaulted mortgage through TARP and the bailout of the banks deemed "too big to fail." Whose at fault? Wall Street? Sure. But what about the poor man's love of wealth? Can we not say that the poor struggle with greed as much, if not more, than the rich?

The poor's love of men has led many to a sense of entitlement. They bear as much guilt as Wall Street brokers. The problem is not the abundance of wealth or the absence of wealth. Neither is a sign of spiritual maturity. The problem is the love of wealth and the belief that everyone should be able to drive the same cars, live in the same kind of houses, enjoy the same kind of luxuries as everyone else. God didn't create the world this way. There will always be the poor, and there will always be the wealthy. We are called as Christians to be content with what we have been given, and through ingenuity and work hard to obtain more wealth, but to always have Christ preeminent in our lives. Nowhere do we find Jesus calling us to all live the same kind of life. Some Jesus calls to radically sell all and give to the poor, but not all. This is where David Platt's book radically errs.

I applaud Platt for writing on CNN's blog that his church gave away their financial surplus to poor churches in India, trimmed 1.5 million dollars from the church budget to drill water wells, and is adopting foster kids in the community. Our church has done some very similar things. We built a $250,000 water well drilling rig, shipped it to Niger, and are sending multiple teams to Niger to train the West Africans how to drill for water. We have also just helped build a hospital, school and mission training center in Niger to house the volunteer teams who come assist the people of Niger in learning how to farm and drill. We have helped build a 1,000 student Christian school in India and support an orphange in India that houses 300 street orphans, an orphanage run by our church members. We have begun an adoption program for foster kids in our community and are heavily invested in assisting the poor in our community through job training and financial assistance. We are working on church starts among Muslims in New York City, hispanics in Guatamala, and other regions of the world. In other words, our church is heavily invested in missions.

But the oil men in our church should continue to fly in their planes, invest in their companies, and make money through hard work and capitalistic ingenuity, unless Jesus specifically and personally calls them to sell out and give their assets and wealth away.  The Christian businessmen and businesswomen in our church should be wise as serpents and gentle as doves as they move among the wealthy in our state and nation, building relationships and companies to create more wealth to be used as God leads.  The wealthy in our church should not sell their large homes, or even their vacation homes, nor feel guilty for having them, but should be hospitable to the people God places around them. The abundance of wealth in the form of capital and assets is not inherently evil. Likewise, those with less wealth in our communities and our churches should not be envious of those with greater wealth, and should live within their means, realizing that God does not have the same financial destiny for everyone. The lack of wealth is neither evil nor a sign of spirituality, just as the abundance of wealth is neither evil nor a sign of spirituality.

In other words, what is radical about being a follower of Jesus Christ is the belief that God is the owner of everything we have in this life, and we will do with the wealth He's given us precisely as He leads us. However, His leading is not always the same for His people. Sometimes He calls His people to lifestyles of radical wealth in order to create more wealth so that His kingdom work can be financed.

One should admire the people who finance the ministries of the David Platt's of this world as much as the David Platt's of this world. They are both being used by God. Though it would be radically consistent for the publisher Ennis Pepper and author David Platt to give Radical away rather than charging $14.95, I applaud them both for ministering with the foresight and wisdom necessary to earn capital so that future ministry can occur through the wonderful writing skills of David Platt as they bring others into the kingdom of God.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Could God Have Come Up With a Better Way to Forgive Sinners? "Yes," says Richard Dawkins

The celebrated English atheist Richard Dawkins wrote on his blog some praise for the King James Bible in anticipation of the 400th anniversary of this translation (2011). In Dawkin's last paragraph in his post of praise for the KJV he writes:

"I have drawn a veil over the New Testament misogyny of Paul, the founder of Christianity: or the Pauline obscenity of every baby being born in sin, saved only by the divine scapegoat suffering on the cross because the Creator of the universe couldn’t think of a better way to forgive everybody."

I think the celebrated atheist's understanding of Paul's misogyny is false, misguided by mideival misogynysts who misinterpreted Paul. However, the purpose of this post is not to deal with Dawkin's incorrect assumptions of Paul's view of women, but rather to point out--and refute--the phrase that sinners are:

"...saved only by the divine scapegoat suffering on the cross because the Creator of the universe couldn't think of a better way to forgive anybody."


I would like to ask the venerable Dawkins how he thinks a capital criminal should be punished. Should a murderer be put to death? Should a pedophile be isolated? Should a thief be imprisoned? Should the envious, selfish, hateful and cruel person be praised instead of judged? What would you do with criminals if you were the perfectly righteous and holy Supreme Judge of the universe?

Methinks you are considering God all together like you think of yourself. You see Him as frail, weak, and impotent. You think He should forgive in the same manner we forgive others. We ignore the sin of others because we see our own sins. We justify the sins of others because we make excuses for our own sins. None of us love others enough to honestly and clearly identify sins, make no excuses or justifications for them, and then bear the just and righteous penalty due them. When is the last time you saw the brother of a murder victim go to the electric chair for the murderer? When is the last time you knew of the mother of a daughter who has been raped go to prison for the rapist and then spend the rest of her life behind bars arranging for the very real, emotional and spiritual healing in the life of that rapist? Who BOTH bears the penalty of sinner and loves that same sinner enough to bring him effectual change? I would propose you have never seen, nor will you ever see, such righteousness and love--except in the Creator of the universe.

"...saved only by the divine scapegoat suffering on the cross because the Creator of the universe couldn't think of a better way to forgive anybody."

My prayer for you is that your eyes may be opened to the holy and righteous nature of your Creator, the true nature of your sins against Him, and the remarkable love required to compel Him to pay for sins at the cross by bearing the righteous punishment due sinners. The teaching of the cross may be moronic (foolish) to you, but it is the only method and message of deliverance given to sinners by God.

Were I in your shoes, I may not understand it, I may not accept it, and I may even think it moronic ... but on the remote possibility that I may one day answer to the Creator who gave His Son for sinners, I would think twice before mocking Him by suggesting He could have come up "with a better way to forgive" sinners. By the way, Dr. Dawkins, you proposed no better way yourself.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Two Guarantees You Have In Life Have Nothing to Do With Health and Wealth

There is as much power in the testimony of a Christian man who dies of cancer while in love with Jesus as there is in the testimony of a Christian man who is healed of cancer and is in love with Jesus. There is no more of God's grace and favor on the life of a woman who is miraculously rescued from a sinking ship than there is on the life of another woman who drowns as a result of the sinking of that same ship. I have heard stories of Christian women who have been saved "by angels" from the wiles of rapists and murderers, but I also know wives of Christian missionaries and pastors who have been brutally raped and murdered. God's love, favor and acceptance reside upon the latter group of Christian women as much as the former group.

I recently heard a minister who says that God told him to "give away everything" and then God multiplied his wealth ten fold because of his obedience. That message is preached to the shouts and applause of thousands. I would love to hear a Christian minister say God told him to "give away everything" and when he did, he became materially poor and has remained so for years, but he possesses all the riches he needs in knowing Jesus Christ. I would also love to hear as much thunderous applause from those who hear that startling kind of message. Why? Because there is more power and substance in the latter testimony than in the former.

Why is it that we Western evangelicals put so much emphasis on "victory," success," and "material blessings?" The only guarantees any of us have in this life is that God loves us and He will never leave us. You may not be healed. You may not be materially blessed. You may not have a successful marriage. You may suffer at the hands of a brutal criminal. You may find out you are dying and there is no cure. You may receive bad news today. Yet our lives in Christ are built upon a much more of a solid rock than our perfect circumstances.

Some of us ought to go live in 10/40 window among radical Islamists, massive poverty, and barren wastelands of dry, dusty earth. It might help us realize that when our Christian messages of comfort revolve around material answers to our desparate prayers, the content of our message has been materially corrupted.

One of our church members received some difficult news the other day. I sat down and wrote a letter of encouragement. I felt impressed to send a poem with the letter and penned the following to lift the spirits of our church member. Maybe today God can use the poem to encourage those of you who may not be having  things happen in your life the way you want, or worse, the answer to your prayers are exactly opposite of what you have requested.

My Lord's Guarantee

There are days you’ll hear news that burdens your soul.
Words will come that cause you to feel less than whole.
Those times are planned by Me for a special reason,
To give you My comfort in your particularly dark season.

I may not make always make things perfect and secure,
But I will show you two things that are absolutely sure.
My unconditional love for you will never change or abate.
And your life is not in the hands of earthly chance or fate.

I have taken hold of you and supported you by My hand,
To ensure the evil around you will not forever stand.
Assurance of My love is found not in what you can see.
It is established in the personal faith you have in Me.

It may be that I designed this afflication to end with death.
For this reason you must trust Me with your every breath.
You came to this world with nothing but My love for you,
And it is this unfailing love that will see you through.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

When One's Definition of Sin Becomes Relevant, One's Dying to Sin Becomes Irrelevant

Our church hosts weekly meetings for people who are struggling to handle the pain their addictions to certain activities brings them. We are a host church that practices love and grace to all those who darken our doors, accepting the sinner wherever he or she is in life. We teach those who come to our recovery and restoration ministries how the greatest pleasures in this life come from our personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus. Jesus (a contraction of the Hebrew "Jehoshua" which means "He shall deliver") is the Messiah (Greek: Christ), the One anointed by God to deliver us from the bondage of our sins and the false belief that real pleasure comes from crossing boundaries God has drawn for our good.

Periodically we have hosted a ministry called Exodus International, a ministry of men and women who have struggled with homosexual sin, but are learning what it means to look to Jesus in faith that He will deliver them from their sins (Matthew 1:21: "You shall call His name Jesus, for He will deliver His people from their sins"). We open our arms to the people who come to conferences sponsored by Exodus, many of whom are not even sure that homosexuality is even sin. Ironically, many adulterers who come to our Celebrate Recovery meetings are not sure their sexual activity is wrong either ("How can something that feels so good with someone I love so much be considered 'sin'?").

Al Mohler published today an excellent article entitled So Why Is Incest Wrong? Mohler writes about David Epstein, a professor of political science at Columbia University. Dr. Eptein's wife also teaches at Columbia, and he previously taught on the faculties of Harvard and Stanford. Last week, Dr. Eptein was arraigned before a judge in Manhattan, charged with a single count of felony incest. According to authorities, Professor Epstein was for several years involved in a sexual relationship with his adult daughter, now age 24. Reading the statements by Dr. Epstein's attorney, arguing that Professor Epstein loves his daughter and that there is nothing unhealthy about a consensual, incestuous relationship between adults, I reflected back to something I had read earlier.

A little over three years ago three former leaders of the Christian ministry Exodus International, apologized for their involvement in Exodus and renounced their belief that homosexuality was "sin."  The three early leaders of this Christian ministry, Darlene Bogle, Michael Bussee, and Jeremy Marks, each explained what brought them to their change of heart. Darlene is very specific about the event that caused her to see that "what she had been teaching (i.e. "homosexual behavior is sin") was dead wrong." She writes:

As I was teaching at an Exodus Conference, a woman walked in and sat on the front row. She had long curly black hair and an infectious smile. Her eyes locked with mine, and although the books say there is no such thing as love at first sight, my heart knew better. Her name was Des. I walked to the other side of the room, recounting my journey of healing by rote, but my brain was whirling with thoughts and emotions that I thought were dead. Imagine, if you can, my shock and horror when I realized in that moment, that what I had been teaching was a lie!
I think Darlene has given us a prime example of the importance of everyone defining sin the way God defines it. The Apostle John writes "Sin is the transgression of the law" (I John 3:4). Since nobody but radical, orthodox Jews would argue that the ceremonial, sacrifical and and civil "laws" given by God for Israel to observe are still in force, the question becomes "To what law does God hold us?"

In other words, how do we know what "sin" is?

The young lawyer asked Jesus this same question, and Jesus responded that loving God and your fellow man are the two laws upon which all the law of God are built (Matthew 22:40). But that begs the question: "Are homosexuality, adultery, drunkenness, sexual immorality, stealing, incest, and other specific activities wrong?" Listen, again, to the Apostle John: "But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and sexually immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8). The New Testament Scriptures set forth the objective standard of God in about as clear a fashion as one could hope.

It would seem to me that the problem people in our culture and world have today is the unwillingness to define sin the way God defines it. The issue with people in evanglical churches is that we often wish to add to the law of God things that God never said ("don't put a woman in leadership," "don't drink," "don't dance," "don't go to movies," etc...)  but the problem with those outside the church is that they wish to take away from the law of God.

God has said homosexual behavior, adulterous behavior, drunken behavior, incestuous behavior, stealing, lying, idolatery, murder, sorcery, and other specific behaviors are outside the boundaries of moral behavior He has established His law for mankind. We all cross the line. He sent Jesus to deliver His people from the bondage, penalty and temporary pleasures our transgressions bring by opening up to us to an understanding of the eternal  pleasures we will find in our relationship with the Deliverer, Jesus Christ.

When a person's definition of sin becomes relevant (i.e. "the moment I saw my lesbian lover I knew that my teaching on homosexuality was wrong"), then one's dying to sin becomes irrelevant. Why die to sin when I can't even call it sin? The danger of allowing our definition of sin to become "relevant" is that we lose the power and pleasure of any relationship with the One whose name, title, and function is to deliver us from those very sins that put us in bondage in the first place.

Before, however, we condemn the homosexual, or the adulterer, or the drunkard, or the gambler, or all other "sinners" by pointing our proverbial finger, we might pause to consider this same Jesus has called our pride, our selfishness, our backbiting, and a host of other activities we seem to revel in sin. How can we who know the intrinsic worth of Jesus find fault in those who refuse to die to their sins when we struggle to die to our own?

My prayer is that today, like everyday, Jesus will convince me that I am the greatest of all sinners. My belief in the presence of sin in my life is the glue (faith) that ties me to the Person and work my Deliverer.

Friday, December 10, 2010

How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership by Dr. Alan Johnson

ALAN F. JOHNSON (PhD, Dallas Theological Seminary) is Emeritus Professor of New Testament and Christian Ethics and Emeritus Director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics (CACE) at Wheaton College. He is the author of commentaries on Paul's letter to the Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Revelation and co-author with Robert Webber of What Christians Believe. His latest book, pictured here, is entitled How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership.

This book features a number of autobiographical accounts as to how various persons have come to change their minds about women in leadership. Well-known evangelical leaders—individuals and couples, males and females from a broad range of denominational affiliation and ethnic diversity—share their surprising journeys from a more or less restrictive view to an open inclusive view that recognizes a full shared partnership of leadership in the home and in the church based on gifts not gender. How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership offers a positive vision for the future of women and men together as partners of equal worth without competitiveness in the work of equipping this and the next generation of Christian disciples for the 'work of ministry' and service in the Kingdom of God.

There have long been attempts by fundamentalists conservatives to paint liberal moderate anyone who believes that women can be as gifted as men, can lead or teach men, or can hold positions of "authority" over men. Aside from the fact it is nigh impossible to define authority the way Jesus defines it (servanthood) and have any objection to women in leadership, it is a breath of fresh air to read a book edited by a bona-fide evangelical inerrantist who is showing that it is not God who is changing His mind about women, but fallen, fallible men who must change theirs.

The next time I hear an evangelical conservative complain that evangelicals are "listening to culture" and "changing their views on women" because of the feminist movement, I very well may send them a free copy of this book that once again proves it is not the Bible that fails men, but men who fail the Bible.