Monday, October 1, 2018

Who Me? Admonish? (or should I say something?)

… Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ, (Colossians 1:27-28).

Have you ever been surprised or disheartened with the conduct or teaching of big shots, celebrities, pastors of mega churches or directors of large ministries? Are you discouraged by their rudeness, crudeness, anger, language, teaching, or lavish and ostentatious life style?

Most of us are intimidated and fearful to say anything. After all we may only be a pastor of a small church of 50, so who are we to confront (even graciously) a pastor of a church of 5000? How can we speak to the conduct of a famous Christian author when we’ve never written a book?

But should not all of us in the body of Christ encourage each in the body in our conduct and walk with God?

I spoke at a meeting of pastors and was seated next to a well-known pastor of a large church who was known for his crudeness in the pulpit. He spoke to no one at the table even when spoken to. When I sought to encourage and talk to him, he simply looked at me with an angry stare.

Was this a time to say something like, “Hey, brother, what do you think of Paul’s instruction to the church in Colossians chapter 3, when he says that as a Christian, we are to put on (so the world can see) a heart of compassion, kindness, and humility? Brother, as a pastor and teacher of the Word, is it possible to be a true believer without the evidence in our lives of things that clothe a follower of Christ?"
The reason most of us would not speak (even kindly) to a “big shot” church leader is because we are afraid they will answer, “Who do you think you are?”

Well, we do know (or should know) who we are; we are members of each other in Christ, in His body the Church!

So, don’t be a coward like me. Tactfully in love with gracious speech (or writing), speak to those who bring shame to Christ and discouragement to those in the church. Don’t be intimidated and fooled with statements like, “I know Pastor So and So is not perfect but look at the size of his church. He may be angry, uses crude language, has strange off-the-wall teaching, but look at all he does for the Kingdom.”

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity, (Colossians 3:12-14).

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear, (Ephesians 4:29).

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you, (Ephesians 4:31-32).

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come, (2 Corinthians 5:17).

For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf, (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

If our teaching, life style, and conduct do not glorify the Lord Jesus, what good is it having a large ministry or church?

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

We Must Care for Our Future -- Our Children

by Doug Nichols

[Appeared in the Journal American, March 18, 1995]

If 40,000 spotted owls were dying every day, there would be an outrage. But 40,000 children are dying, and it’s hardly noticed, said one representative to the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child.

One hundred million extremely underprivileged and street children struggle for existence in today’s cities. One hundred million! Are these children trash? Local businessmen in Brazil call them...Vermin, Garbage. If we let them grow up, they will be criminals, a blight on our society.

Therefore, some policemen (and others)moonlight by contracting to kill many of them. In 1992 an average of 400 of these children were killed monthly in Brazil.

Some of these children are young and cute. They can still smile. But most are older, have rotten teeth, and are scar-faced, disease-ridden, flea- and lice-infested, shifty-eyed, suspicious, and fearful. They are the poor, the outcast, the abandoned, the exploited—the children of the streets.

How do they exist on the streets? By begging, stealing, selling their bodies and eating out of garbage cans. The government of the Philippines estimates there are up to 100,000 children living on the streets of Manila. Fifteen thousand of these are child prostitutes between the ages of 9 and 12. In Thailand there are 800,000 prostitutes from 12 to 16 years of age.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil, another 800,000 children are living on the streets. Bogota, Colombia, has 8,000 to 10,000. Estimates in Mexico City are over one million underprivileged children, with 240,000 living on the streets.

Children don’t ask much

A veteran children’s worker with more than 30 years’ experience, asked Latin American street children what was the biggest wish of their entire lives:

Ramon drooled over a vivid description of a sumptuous dinner. Ten-year-old Leila pleaded for the chance to go to school. She longed to read and write.

Ricardo looked up from his shoe-shine box to whisper wearily that what he always wanted in his 12 years is a father. Maria’s aggressive retort was, To be left alone! from abuse and violence, and Nelson said that more than anything, he wants to play.

The biggest wish? Not new cars, fancy houses, property, exotic vacations, the desire to be prosperous and famous? No, the biggest wishes of street children are for things many take for granted: home, good food, family, school, the chance to play and work, the freedom from fear and violence. Really, they’re not asking much, are they?

Why is working with children, the smaller half of the world so important? First, God said of the Ten Commandments, “Impress them on your children” (Deut. 6:7); therefore, working with children is central to obedience to God. Second, it is important because of the bulk of the world’s population is children. Third, children play important roles in society, positively as well as negatively.

There are an estimated 40 million children on the streets of Latin America. The majority of them are becoming a plague to society; but by helping these children we can help society as a whole.

What can you do? You as an individual can have a large impact on one, two, or more street children throughout the world. For example, if you set aside just 25 cents per day to assist street children, this would total $30 in four months, which is all it costs to send a child to camp for one week in Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines or Africa.

How can you help the 100 million children of the world?

Christian Hedonism, Is It Right?

by Dr. Peter Masters

‘Christian Hedonism’ is a term adopted in the literature of Dr. John Piper to describe his scheme for sanctification and advance in the spiritual life. Certainly, it is a very strange term, because hedonism is, for Christians, a bad word. Hedonism means the pursuit of pleasure as the chief good, but in the case of this new scheme of spiritual living, it refers to the pursuit of pleasure in God.

Christian Hedonism says that the pursuit of happiness in God is the overruling source of power and energy for the life of the Christian. The proposer, Dr. John Piper, is a prominent evangelical preacher in the United States, who began to popularise his views in 1986 with the publication of his book, Desiring God. In this he maintains that delighting in God is the pivotal issue in the Christian walk; the central and the most important part of the life of faith.

Dr. Piper makes much use of the little sentence, ‘God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.’ Indeed, the pursuit of joy in God is held as being one and the same thing as glorifying God.

Why should this article set out to assess this teaching? The answer is that many pastors and people are being influenced by it, but very serious cautions need to be sounded.

It is not surprising that believers find Christian Hedonism or ‘delighting in God’ interesting and attractive. To delight in the Lord is a magnificent and biblical exercise. But Dr. Piper’s formula for its use undoubtedly alters the understanding of sanctification long held by believers in the Reformation tradition, because it elevates one Christian duty above all others.

Delighting in God, we repeat, is made the organising principle for every other spiritual experience and duty. It becomes the key formula for all spiritual vigour and development. Every other Christian duty is thought to depend on how well we obey this central duty of delighting in the Lord. The entire Christian life is simplified to rest upon a single quest, which is bound to distort one’s perception of the Christian life and how it must be lived.

Whatever the strengths of Dr. Piper’s ministry, and there are many, his attempt to oversimplify biblical sanctification is doomed to failure because the biblical method for sanctification and spiritual advance consists of a number of strands or pathways of action, and all must receive individual attention. As soon as you substitute a single ‘big idea’ or organising principle, and bundle all the strands into one, you alter God’s design and method. Vital aspects of Truth and conduct will go by the board to receive little or no attention. This is certainly the case with Dr. Piper’s method, as we will show.

The same goes for all the attempts at constructing a single-principle formula for sanctification that have been devised over the years. One thinks of the branches of the holiness movement, each of which has invented a single overriding principle, whereby one particular spiritual duty has been made superior to all others, these being made dependent upon it.

You cannot reorganise the Lord’s way of accomplishing the fruits of godliness without many duties being swept out of view. ‘Single-principle’ systems do not intend to cause harm, but, inevitably, they do. To borrow a piece of modern scientific jargon, biblical sanctification is a system of irreducible complexity. Not that it is too complicated - having only seven or eight well-known component virtues which must all be kept to the fore in ministry.

It may be helpful to refer here to the founder of this new ‘delighting in God’ method of Christian living. Dr. Piper, now in his mid-fifties, has for the last twenty or so years been the senior pastor of a very large church in Minneapolis. Prior to this, he was an academic, a seminary professor. Without doubt he is a Calvinist, and much of his written output is entirely admirable (although his presentation of the work of Christ and justification has been challenged).

Dr. Piper is particularly noted for passionate communication. Those who know him say that his entire heart is in what he teaches. He is clearly no mere ‘performer’. He writes and preaches with a distinctive and compelling style, achieving a popular ‘flow’ which everyone can follow, and yet without sacrificing depth of reasoning. He also produces many extremely powerful, expressive sentences (although these often mingle with others rather overloaded with superlatives). This reviewer must own that he finds Dr. Piper too keen on producing startlingly original ways of looking at everything, and seldom are these to be found in the Bible. He is a master of the oblique approach, but at times his rather contrived reasoning leaves one grateful that Scripture, by contrast, is so straightforward and free from philosophical gymnastics.

Dr. Piper’s main proposition - that we must delight in the Lord - commends itself to us all. It touches every conscience. It is scriptural. It is necessary. It is neglected. Accordingly this scheme for Christian living will naturally seize our attention and challenge us. The great problem arises from it being made the supreme issue of life, and the core of our obedience to God. Is the key aim to delight in God? Is the root of all righteousness to delight in God? Is delight in God the only true and worthy motivation for good deeds? In Dr. Piper’s scheme, every other Christian virtue, from love to temperance, is dependent on this. We cannot have either motivation or energy for the life of faith unless our prime aim is to be delighting in God. This, in a nutshell, is the method which is proposed.

At times in his books Dr. Piper wants us to see this as an old idea, but his claims are not convincing. It does tend to look no older than C S Lewis, whose famous book, Weight of Glory, had an explosive influence on Dr. Piper in his younger years. In the course of this book, C S Lewis criticised people who regard the self-interested pursuit of joy as something ugly and wrong, insisting that it is a Christian duty for everyone to be as happy as he can be. (This is characteristic of the mystical drift of C S Lewis.)

Dr. Piper tells us that while browsing in a bookshop as a young man, he found Weight of Glory, read the passage on the pursuit of joy, and was overwhelmed by a whole new view of the Christian life. From that moment he began to develop the determined and passionate pursuit of pleasure in God as the supreme and all-controlling principle of life.

Dr. Piper often quotes Jonathan Edwards, who said much about delighting in God and Christian joy. By reference to Jonathan Edwards, Dr. Piper effectively says, ‘Look, this is as old as the hills. This is the way our forebears thought.’ Certainly Jonathan Edwards provides choice passages about delighting in God, as did the English Puritan writers, but at no time does he frame a system in which this becomes the key principle of Christian living. Joy in God always sits alongside other equal duties.

Although Dr. Piper seeks to root his system in the past, he seems at the same time well aware that it is a brand new idea. Frequently, he virtually admits it by using the language of innovation, and saying, in so many words, ‘This is explosive’; ‘This is stunning’; ‘This is radical’; ‘This is dangerous’; ‘This is not safe’; ‘This is surprising’. Dr. Piper really knows that he is promoting something novel. He even uses the term, ‘my vision’, and that is what it is, for however well intended, it is Dr. Piper’s personal vision. He also calls it ‘my theology’.

Dr. Piper’s publisher calls his book a ‘paradigm-shattering work’, and bids the reader join Dr. Piper ‘as he stuns you again and again with life impacting truths you saw in the Bible, but never dared to believe.’ The reality is that no one ever saw them like this in the Bible until Dr. Piper pointed them out in the 1980s.

A special matter for concern is Dr. Piper’s use of Scripture, because his books appear to establish every point with a host of relevant quotations. He takes the reader through every step with biblical validation. This obviously commends his viewpoint to readers, but the Scriptures quoted never actually support the thesis Dr. Piper presents. I do not for a moment suggest that his use of Scripture is devious or manipulative, but he is clearly so carried along by his ‘vision’ that he sees corroboration where it is not to be seen. Here are some examples of this.

In Deuteronomy 28.47-48 we read - ‘Because thou servedst not the Lord thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things; therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies.’

This is quoted in support of the idea that the pursuit of enjoyment of God is the key motivating action for all other Christian virtues. However, the text does not actually say this. It is obvious that the force of the charge is that the Israelites had forgotten their privileges, and refused willing obedience to God.

The verses do not go further and charge them with failure to pursue delight and pleasure in God as their prime objective. Dr. Piper’s thesis injects itself into the text, rather than receiving support from it.

We may glance also at Psalm 16 as a typical example of Dr. Piper’s use of quotations.

‘Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore’ (Psalm 16.11).

A look at the context shows that David is speaking about eternity, about Heaven. Although there is wonderful joy even while on earth, this is mingled with trials. The psalm does not say anything to support the idea that delighting is the key to spiritual living. To the relaxed reader such texts may appear to be supportive, but in reality they are not.

A most significant quotation comes from Psalm 37, particularly verse 4 - ‘Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.’

This verse is seen by Dr. Piper as a powerful rock and foundation for delighting in God as the fundamental duty, the key step in living the Christian life. But if we examine the opening block of eight verses we see a very different and larger picture. Duty number one appears in the first verse - ‘fret not thyself.’ So does duty number two - ‘neither be thou envious.’ Then comes duty number three (in verse 3) - ‘trust in the Lord, and do good.’ Then comes duty number four (verse 4) - ‘delight thyself also in the Lord’, which actually means comfort yourself (the Hebrew means pamper yourself). Duty number five (verse 5) is ‘commit thy way.’ Number six is ‘rest in the Lord.’ Number seven is ‘wait patiently.’ Number eight is ‘cease from anger.’

There are at least eight distinct exhortations in this grouping of verses, and delighting is by no means the first. Clearly, what the psalmist has in mind is a set of distinguishable and relatively equal duties. He does not single out one saying, ‘If you get this right, the others will follow.’ David is inspired to provide a multiple-track method of sanctification in which attention must be given to a number of duties at the same time.

This is exactly what traditional evangelicalism presents. David describes the multi-track teaching taken up by the Reformers, the English Puritans, and the great Continental dogmaticians.

Thus, a psalm to which Dr. Piper appeals in order to justify his central organising principle, actually teaches the opposite, upholding a multi-track approach to sanctification.

It is therefore necessary to say - take great care with the Scriptures advanced by Dr. Piper. They are obviously quoted in all sincerity, with passion and conviction, but they never truly support his very singular scheme.

Dr. Piper quotes the Puritans for support, when plainly they take a very different view. Richard Baxter is quoted, as if to demonstrate that he placed delighting in God in the central place. But Richard Baxter in 1664-5 wrote A Christian Directory, the most comprehensive treatise on Christian conduct ever penned, and this follows the multiple-track approach throughout. Nearly 1,000 pages of small type provide (in Baxter’s words), ‘A sum of practical theology, and cases of conscience; directing Christians how to use their knowledge and faith; how to improve all helps and means, and to perform all duties; how to overcome temptations, and to escape or mortify every sin.’

Baxter nowhere suggests that any single element of the spiritual life can be singled out and made the basis of success in all the others.

Puritan divines characteristically took hold of each duty and virtue, defining it, listing the impediments to its accomplishment, and identifying the encouragements and helps. Each one received individual and careful attention.

Matthew Henry is also quoted in support of Dr. Piper’s scheme, but not realistically, because he also gives equally close attention to each Christian virtue, each problem, each sin tendency. In a work as large as Matthew Henry’s wonderful commentary it is not hard to find quotations which may seem to support the ‘joy-is-everything’ idea, but it is certainly not the great commentator’s position. All Christian duties overlap a little and help each other, and quotations to this effect are numerous.

As we have noted, the Puritans are multiple-track if they are nothing else. They focus on mortifying sin, enduring, obeying and praying (with agonising). They press upon us the duty of self-examination, including even self-humiliation. Then they extol the duties of praise, thanksgiving, reflection, yes and joy in the Lord. However, it is multi-track. All duties are as important as each other. If it is possible to see one duty lifted a little higher than the others in Puritan literature it is probably obedience, not the pursuit of joy, but this is no doubt endlessly debatable.

We remember also that the Puritans had a place for the child of light walking in darkness (Isaiah 50.10). They paid a great deal of attention to the problem-times of spiritual gloom. The great confessions, the Westminster and the Baptist confessions, ascribe two reasons for spiritual darkness, when the clouds roll across the heavens. Reason One is the possibility of sin. Reason Two is the possibility that God brings about this darkness Himself, in His grace, to bring out our faith and trust, and so cause us to deepen and advance. Besides these, the old writers also see the believer living out life as an alien in a hostile world, oppressed by the sin and unbelief around, and yearning for home.

These trials and tribulations must be borne. They cannot simply be anaesthetised away. They are part of the faith-building process. Disappointment and sorrow and grief are essential for self-examination by both individuals and churches, and also as the fuel of compassion to lost souls.

There is no adequate and balanced view of trials and heartaches in Dr. Piper’s system. In fact, as far as I can see, the only way he addresses spiritual heaviness is to urge repentance for coldness of heart. This is the kind of shallowness even a brilliant man will stumble into once he subsumes the whole range of biblical principles and virtues under one.

We may think again of Richard Baxter, noting how he once preached a great sermon entitled “The Causes and Cure of Melancholy for the Cripplegate Morning Exercises” at St Giles, in the City of London. How long that sermon lasted is anyone’s guess. This writer has estimated two hours. A friend insisted four hours. Whatever the length, Richard Baxter could never have assembled such a mass of priceless observations and counsels if he had been strait-jacketed within the ‘pursuit of joy in God’ system. He was, however, free to concentrate on depression and all its aggravating causes, then provide help, without the distraction of an artificial formula for the spiritual life.

Or take Dr. Piper’s quoting of Jonathan Edwards, when he wrote - ‘God is glorified not only by His glory being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it, delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it.’ Is Jonathan Edwards saying that delight in God is the channel and organising principle for all Christian activity and progress?

No, for we take account of the environment in which he ministered. His language was always influenced by the sickness of the society in which he lived. It was a church-going age. Practically everyone was theoretically a biblically enlightened, well-instructed Christian. Yet he was anxious to distinguish between those who had real spiritual life, and those who did not. His language here cuts between those two groups. It reflects the burden of his message: that you can be a merely theoretical Christian, or you can be a spiritually alive Christian. The former will only see, whereas the latter will be filled with passion. Equally, his words challenge a cold or backslidden believer to resume a fervent walk with the Lord. There is no implied endorsement of Dr. Piper’s unique system of sanctification.

At times Dr. Piper reflects a fear that his teaching could lead to a mystical serenity. His fear is well grounded, and this writer is sure that it does lead to this. He frequently uses the language of direct mystical communion. Although the joy pursued is derived from reflecting on the Lord, the end is still subjective, and this will lead to a self-conscious nurturing of happiness. This will become for many an unhealthy preoccupation, emotions being artificially ‘cranked up’ (a feature of other single-dominant-issue movements).

Dr. Piper also employs New Testament passages to support his thinking, but not appropriately. Take Acts 20.35 where Paul quotes the words of Christ, saying ‘I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Dr. Piper expounds this to mean that the delight and pleasure which we procure from reflecting on the Lord, is the essential motivation and energy for all good deeds. Christ is shown to be the authority for this.

However, Paul does not teach that we must fuel our generosity from the happiness derived from contemplation of the Lord and His blessings to us. This activity is precious, but it is not the vital driving force of our giving. Neither Christ nor Paul teach this - they simply state facts. If we give until it hurts, then we may derive comfort from the fact that it is more blessed to give than to receive. It is not a lesson in how we may motivate and energise ourselves for giving, as if our performance of compassionate deeds depended on our basking in the delights that are ours in Christ.

It may have been during the course of the Sermon on the Mount that Christ gave His words. If not, He certainly gave similar teaching there. In each of the Beatitudes, the Lord speaks of the outcome or reward for a trial borne or a duty performed. He does not set out to tell us how to motivate ourselves for the duty, but how we may be comforted and encouraged by the ultimate blessing. Our motive will be an inborn desire to obey Christ and please Him and live out His standards. We will also be motivated by compassion for others. These are our motives and longings. To fulfil duties only for reward is to diminish or cheapen Christian character, and to hinder any real personal advance. In other words, our appreciation of God is one matter, and our desire to obey Him is another. The two are linked, but one does not take care of the other.

Dr. Piper, however, says that even Christ motivated Himself by thinking about the future reward. He quotes Hebrews 12.2 where it is said of Christ - ‘who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross’.

Says Dr. Piper, in effect - this is wholesome, this is holy, this is righteous, this is what motivated Jesus Christ. He could go through with the cross, only because He could set it against the future joy.

But this is not right. The Lord Jesus Christ indeed could go through with Calvary because He saw the joy that was set before Him, but this joy refers not to bare emotion, but to the joyful accomplishment of a host of redeemed people in glory. It was not the anticipation of His own future joy that energised and motivated Christ, but the happy result of Calvary, namely our salvation and deliverance; including our joy. (Loosely speaking, ‘joy’ is a metonymn in this text.)

When the Lord went to Calvary it was an unselfish act. We repeat that in Hebrews 12.2 the word ‘joy’ represents the achievements of redemption. Christ’s strength came from His view of what would be accomplished. So great was His love and compassion, that the goal of millions of saved people moved Him to pay that unthinkable price.

No, the love of God must be seen here in all its wonder, quite apart from the joy of God. Similarly the love which is put into the heart of the Christian at conversion is a pure and wonderful quality that cries out to be expressed. It may be suppressed and tarnished for periods by sin, and it certainly needs to be nurtured, but at the same time, it is a wonderful quality in itself. It is unselfish and un-self-seeking (as in 1 Corinthians 13). It is a tiny, minute, microscopic fragment of an attribute of Almighty God. It is not right to reduce it to a neutral thing, dependent on the stimulation of pleasure - however sacred that pleasure may be. It is a love that endures, even when the faculty of emotional feeling is burdened by grief, or jaded.

Some degree of love is in everyone, even the unregenerate. Unconverted people can carry out some beautiful and entirely unselfish acts. Perhaps a small capability of love has been preserved in the heart of the ungodly, not because it is deserved, but to leave a language for the Gospel. People would be unable to understand the wonderful love of Christ, and His act on Calvary, if there was no recognition or concept of love left in the world.

The love which comes with the new nature at conversion is a much more wonderful quality. It may certainly be energised and stimulated to some extent by reflecting on the fact that God will be pleased with this, but it ideally acts naturally, out of Christ-likeness and compassion, and then out of duty and obedience to God. Christian Hedonism really reduces love to cause and effect. It sounds so spiritual and God-centred, but it is an emasculated love.

Dr. Piper reinforces his idea for strengthening love from Hebrews 10.34, where we read - ‘For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.’ Says Dr. Piper, the reason why the people of God could accept persecution, with loss of their goods, was that they had joy in God, and in the certainty of a future inheritance. But this idea is not the intention of the passage.

The word ‘joyfully’ is obviously selected to show how willingly the Hebrews accepted persecution, the price of helping the Lord’s servant. It is not intended to show that they laughed and leapt for joy as they were punished. Nor is it an insight into their mental processes.

Did they say to themselves, ‘Can I allow my home to be seized? Now let me do some spiritual calculations. Let me consider - what are my gains?’ On the contrary, the text tells us that the motivating factor was compassion for the servant of God in his bonds, so they identified with him, visited him, fed him, and all those other acts which brought fury upon their heads. Then, as they lost their goods and their homes, they fortified and comforted themselves with the thought of their heavenly wealth. The latter did not precede and give rise to their sacrificial behaviour. Their love of the Truth and compassion for an apostle gave rise to their behaviour.

Dr. Piper’s system of delighting in God goes too far in ascribing every spiritual act and desire to one factor, and depriving each virtue of its own value and power.

One of the great problems with this ‘delighting in God’ scheme of spiritual advance is that it unwittingly puts self-interest right at the heart of the Christian life. Dr. Piper clearly would not intend this, but it is inevitable. Pursuit of joy in God has always been embraced as a Christian duty, but it must never be elevated above others so as to detract from their inherent virtue, nor must it eclipse the negatives of the Christian life - the ‘thou shalt nots’.

We obey God because it is our duty, and, of course, because we love Him. We obey Him because He hates sin, and because it destroys and harms those around us. We obey Him because He is the One Who knows all things, and is infinitely wise. We serve Him and seek the spiritual good of others out of indebtedness and out of compassion. We must be multi-track in our pursuit of godliness, and not simplify the method of the Word.

Andrew Murray, who died in 1917, a powerful writer, and a man of immense compassion and evangelistic fervour, inspired thousands through his books to adopt a single-issue system of sanctification. But for all its lofty goals and many truths, it tampered with the full-orbed biblical method, and could never work well. In the event it also provided the snare of spiritual pride.

Thinking of a more recent single-issue writer, there is the case of a Christian psychologist, a sincere man, whose books are extremely popular today. He reduces the process of sanctification to the simple formula of ‘blocked goals’. In some ways this runs fairly close to Dr. Piper’s vision, but like all single-dominant-issue systems it cannot work. There are numerous such systems. In all cases, certain sins go untouched; certain problems never come under the spotlight.

What does the ‘delighting in God’ scheme have to say about some of the rampant ills of the present-day Christian scene? What does it say about the charismatic movement, and the abandonment of reverence through contemporary Christian music? What does it say about irreverent Bible translations, and other appalling trends? The answer is that Dr. Piper goes in exactly the wrong direction on such matters.

Why is this? Is there some intrinsic weakness in his scheme, causing him to show such poor discernment and concern? This writer believes that there is. All single-dominant-issue schemes tend to be blind to individual matters of deep concern. Their major preoccupation creates a kind of tunnel vision, and perception fails. Dr. Piper concentrates on seeing his delighting system in all the Bible, so that his recognition of the rules and principles which bear on other issues is seriously impaired.

In fact, Dr. Piper’s system runs so near to the mystical-emotional basis of charismatic experience that it is not surprising to find him endorsing it in large measure, and claiming great blessing from his own experience with the Toronto Blessing. We understand he advocates charismatics and non-charismatics in the same church, and encourages all the trappings of charismatic life. Hedonism is hardly protective of principle.

When delight is everything, doctrine suffers a setback. When subjective emotions are unduly elevated, the proving and testing of all things becomes impossible. On charismatic matters, and on modern worship matters also, Dr. Piper is - to put it gently - an unsafe shepherd, and the fault lies not in his Bible, nor in his capacities, but in his system. As the better aspects of his ministry earn respect from his readers, so the poor guidance on potentially disastrous issues will mislead them.

God’s Word does not provide a single organising principle to govern and drive all the component duties of the spiritual life. ‘Christian Hedonism’ is not drawn from the teaching of the Lord, nor of Paul. However, the Bible does provide a clear prescription for the Christian life, listing a number of spiritual and moral duties, all of which must be given direct and individual attention. We are given famous lists (such as the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount, and the lists of 1 Timothy 6.11-12 and Galatians 5.22-23 - see footnote 3) and we must set our minds to accepting a multiple-track righteousness. We will pay a high price for any kind of clever system that reduces biblical duties to an artificial formula, however sound and inspiring many of its elements may seem to be.

Dare we question the apostle when we read the list of 1 Timothy 6.11-12? Will we say, ‘But just a minute Paul, you have left out the organising principle. You have left out any wonderful simplifying factor. You have left off the formula which will make it all come together.’ Of course he has, because there is no such formula. It is multiple-track righteousness. Seeking happiness is certainly not our prime goal. This is the recipe for emotional self-indulgence, subjectivism, and self-centred mystical ‘communion’ with Christ.

How is it that some notable teachers have endorsed Dr. Piper’s books? Presumably they have appreciated the many fine sentiments, and have automatically and graciously passed over the author’s exaggerated emphasis on his big idea. Reviewers cannot always be expected to put themselves in the shoes of students and younger believers who are at risk of basing their entire approach to life on such material.


The Philippines has 1.8 million abandoned children. Here's what keeps many from adoption ...

by Jonathan Kaiman and Sunshine de Leon 

The Manila North Cemetery, where Michelle Sambalilo was abandoned as a young child, is a sprawling, trash-strewn squatter camp where thousands of people eat, sleep and play among acres of colorful crypts.

Rescued from life among the dead, Sambalilo then lived for years among the Philippine capital's notoriously negligent state-run shelters.

Throughout, she dreamed of someday belonging to a family of her own. But in the end, all it took was one document — one blow from the country's adoption authorities — to send her dreams crashing down to earth.

The Philippines has an abandoned children problem. About 1.8 million children in the country, more than 1% of its entire population, are "abandoned or neglected," according to the United Nations' Children's Rights & Emergency Relief Organization. Some are victims of extreme poverty; others of natural disasters and armed conflicts in the country's riven south.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development is responsible for ensuring that many of these children find homes. (Some end up overseas — American families adopted 1,350 Filipino children between 2009 and 2015, according to the U.S. State Department).

Yet the country's adoption bureaucracy is so forbidding that scores of aspiring adoptive parents are left in the cold, and abandoned children left to grow up without parents.

In 2014, a privately funded child care agency prepared to place Sambalilo with an American adoptive family. Then the country's Department of Social Welfare and Development determined that she was 15 years old, two years older than previously assumed -- and too old to be adopted. It denied her application.

"My dream was to be adopted, so that someone will love me," Sambalilo said on a sweltering morning in early May, staring down at her polka-dotted pajama bottoms and anxiously grasping her hands. She is now a slight 18-year-old with full cheeks and a shy smile. "When I found out I was too old to be adopted, I was really sad, because I really wanted to have a family."

Then she looked off to the side, wiped away her tears, and said nothing.

"I'm just continuously worried that the government feels these children are not the priority," said Eric Mallonga, a British-educated family lawyer and founder of Meritxell Children's Home, the agency that is sheltering Sambalilo.

"These children are not prioritized, they're always on the back burner, and so more children are lost to crime, to prostitution, to neglect, and a lot of street families are growing."

He said that orphanages in the Philippines are scarce and poorly staffed; that government agencies frequently demand documents that are impossible to procure; and that even with the necessary paperwork, simple procedures can drag on for months.

Many of the children who come into his care remain there for three to four years before they are legally cleared for adoption.

"It's ineptitude on the part of many, many social workers," he said. "Incompetence and ineptitude."

Alita C. De Ocampo, a social worker in charge of the Department of Social Welfare's Adoption Resource and Referral Section for Metropolitan Manila, said in a phone interview that she is one of two social workers in the area – a city of nearly 12 million people -- who can clear children for adoption.

She added that hiring more staff and establishing guidelines for different government agencies to share documents could speed up the adoption process.

"We are always working to make [the adoption process] as quick and as fast as possible," she said. "We are always innovating techniques or even asking suggestions or recommendations from child care agencies or [local governments] to make our system faster."

And those are the relatively lucky children. Many children still live at the Manila North Cemetery. During a reporter's recent visit, they wandered in packs, resting on the pavement between tombs and swinging from the frames of half-built mausoleums.

Sambalilo said she has no memory of her life at the cemetery. When asked about her time there, she just said she "feels sad."

According to her personal file at the Meritxell Children's Home, she was found there in May 2005.

Social workers could not determine Sambalilo's parents' identities — all she knew was her name — so they sent her to the Reception and Action Center, a government shelter for street children. Scores of children were packed into tiny rooms, with few toilets or baths. In 2014, pictures of a morbidly emaciated child there went viral on Filipino social media, drawing accusations of concentration camp-like conditions.

After about a week, social workers sent her to Boystown, a state-run institution that enrolled her in school but, according to her recollection, gave her little to eat. There, authorities administered a dental aging test and a psychological evaluation. When the Meritxell Children's Home gained custody of her five years later, its staff was told that she was 9 years old.

The following year, Meritxell began seeking government permission to put her up for adoption.

The hurdles were endless, Mallonga recalled. The authorities demanded documents that he could not procure, including Sambalilo's birth certificate and death certificates for her parents. "The DSWD said that we didn't have the complete, necessary paperwork," he said. "The term here is 'necessary' — that's their interpretation."

The authorities sat on the application for years. Then, in 2014, a Meritxell social worker made an unlikely discovery: She found Sambalilo's birth certificate hidden beneath a mound of papers at the Boystown orphanage.

Mallonga immediately knew that Sambalilo's future was at stake. He had assumed that she was 12; in fact, she was 14. According to Philippine law, children 15 and over cannot be adopted.

Meritxell had already found her willing adoptive parents — a couple from Louisiana who had previously adopted from the home — and she had been speaking with them by phone. He pleaded with the Department of Social Welfare to expedite her application but the agency never answered.

By the time Sambalilo was cleared for adoption, she had just turned 15. Her application was denied.

"The [Intercountry Adoption] Board just rejected her outright," Mallonga said. "It could have been easy, if the DSWD just cleared her immediately after receiving the birth certificate. … That was supposed to be the last document, after all that searching."

Sambalilo was heartbroken.

"It's unfair," she said. "Even if we're over 15, you should still adopt us, because we still need a family, and someone who will love us."

"A family," she said, means "no one is left alone."

Sambalilo now helps take care of younger children at the home, most of them less than half her age. It's summer vacation, and the days are long and hot.

A hair salon has offered to give her professional training, but she would prefer to finish school, which could take until her mid-20s.

"She's young for her age, not so mature," said Elizabeth de la Victoria, a Meritxell "house mother" who is currently looking after Sambalilo. "In her mind, she acts like a 14-year-old. It's hard for her to understand that all of a sudden she's almost an adult."

She is happiest, workers say, when she is distracted from her past. Trying to recall her time at the cemetery sends her into emotional spasms. "There were so many places [my parents] could have left me," she said. "Why in a cemetery?" And then she burst into tears.

De la Victoria said that she has grown distant since her application was denied. "She's not ready to understand or accept her new situation — her thoughts are far away now," she said, her speech trailing off. "It's like her thoughts are far away."


10 Things You Should Know About Open Theism

by Sam Storms
In recent years there has appeared a radical departure from traditional theism that has come to be known as the Openness of God theory or Open Theism. Although there are numerous components in this new view of God, in this article I only take note of ten of them. You should also know that what follows is not a critique of the openness theory, but simply an explanation of its basic ideas.

(1) Proponents of the openness doctrine believe that the classical view of God in which he is portrayed as knowing all future events is derived not from Scripture but from Greek philosophical concepts that corrupted Christian theology in the first few centuries of the church's existence. They also reject both the classical doctrine of divine immutability and divine timelessness, insisting that they, too, reflect more the emphasis of Greek philosophy than Scripture.

(2) Openness theologians argue that God does not know in advance everything humans will do. He knows human decisions only as they occur. He learns from what happens. God’s experience of the world is “open” in the sense that he becomes aware of developments in the world and responds to them as they unfold. He is “open” to new stimuli and new experiences. God is thus a risk-taker, for he neither knows nor controls the decisions and actions of humans (hence, the title to John Sanders’ book, The God Who Risks [IVP, 1998]).

In other words, the best that God can do with the future is guess at what might happen based on his wisdom and his vast experience of the past and what he has gleaned from his interaction with human nature and human behavior. God is like a chess grandmaster who is playing against novices. His understanding of the game and the possible moves enables him to win, but the outcome is not absolutely certain. According to their view, God is constantly having to change his plans, his mind, re-evaluate his purpose, alter his intentions, adapt to human decisions that he could not foresee or anticipate, etc.

(3) Proponents of this doctrine insist this “open” view of God is the only way that he can engage in both a meaningful and loving inter-personal relationship with his creatures. For this sort of interaction to occur, the future must be utterly contingent (non-fixed, uncertain) both for God and mankind. They contend that if God knows the future in exhaustive detail, the future is certain. And if the future is certain, there can be no genuine, loving, caring involvement of God with us in a give-and-take relationship in which we respond to God, God responds to us, and so on.

(4) Although all proponents of the openness theory are Arminians when it comes to the doctrine of election and salvation, they deviate significantly from the classical Arminian concept of God. Arminius himself, as well as John Wesley and others who stand in that tradition, have always affirmed divine foreknowledge of the future. Observe the following explanation of election given by Arminius:

“To these succeeds the fourth decree, by which God decreed to save and damn certain particular persons. This decree has its foundation in the foreknowledge of God, by which he knew from all eternity those individuals who would, through his preventing grace, believe, and, through his subsequent grace would persevere, according to the before described administration of those means which are suitable and proper for conversion and faith; and, by which foreknowledge he likewise knew those who would not believe and persevere” (Works, I:248).

(5) While explicitly denying divine foreknowledge, the openness theorists continue to affirm divine omniscience. Their argument goes like this: To say that God is omniscient is to say he knows all “things.” That is to say, God knows whatever can be known. But since the future has not yet happened, nothing in it is a “thing” that might be a proper object of knowledge. Therefore, the fact that God does not know the future does not mean he isn't omniscient, because the future is, by definition, unknowable (because uncertain). Or again, “the reason God does not know the future is because it is not yet there to be known. . . . It is less like a rug that is unrolled as time goes by than it is like a rug that is being woven” (M. Erickson, 73; be it noted that Erickson himself is not an open theist). This is how they affirm divine omniscience (and thus retain the appearance of orthodoxy) while denying that God has foreknowledge. Clark Pinnock put it this way:

“The future does not yet exist and therefore cannot be infallibly anticipated, even by God. Future decisions cannot in every way be foreknown, because they have not yet been made. God knows everything that can be known [and hence is “omniscient,” so he says], --- but God’s foreknowledge does not include the undecided” (The Openness of God, 123).

Greg Boyd agrees:

“In the Christian view God knows all of reality – everything there is to know. But to assume He knows ahead of time how every person is going to freely act assumes that each person’s free activity is already there to know – even before he freely does it! But it’s not. If we have been given freedom, we create the reality of our decisions by making them. And until we make them, they don’t exist. Thus, in my view at least, there simply isn’t anything to know until we make it there to know. So God can’t foreknow the good or bad decisions of the people He creates until He creates these people and they, in turn create their decisions” (Letters from a Skeptic [Scripture Press]).

(6) The reason open theists deny that the future (or events/decisions in it) is a “thing” that can be known is traceable to two arguments. First, openness theorists deny that God is timeless, that he in some way transcends the events and processes of temporal reality and thus is able to see all events in one eternal “now”. They argue, on the other hand, that God is both present in and a part of time and that he therefore sees and knows events only as they occur. [Be it noted, however, that one may reject the doctrine of timelessness and still affirm the doctrine of foreknowledge.] Secondly, they deny foreknowledge because it requires foreordination. That is to say, God knows the future precisely because he has foreordained what will occur in it. But this they deny, for if future events are foreordained they are certain to occur, and if they are certain to occur man has lost his freedom. For man to be truly free, the future must be truly “open”.

(7) Among the evidence they cite in defense of their view is the appeal to biblical statements that appear to affirm in one way or another that God is responsive to what happens in the world, that such events evoke emotions in him such as grief, sorrow, regret, anger, surprise, and even a change in his attitude, intentions, or plans (see, e.g., Gen. 6:5-7; 22:12; Ezek. 12:1-3; Jer. 26:2-3).

(8) Open theists also appeal to statements that assert human freedom. If God knows what I am going to do, it is certain that I will do it and not something else. If I were to do otherwise, then God’s knowledge would be in error. Thus, if God has infallible knowledge of all my future decisions, I am not truly free for all my future actions must already be certain to occur. But if I am truly free, nothing about my future is certain, for there is always the possibility that I will choose to do other than what I planned or what one might expect. Therefore, God cannot know what my future choices will be, since I don’t know what they will be. Even though I might “intend” or “plan” to do something, the possibility always exists that I will change my mind and choose another option. Thus God does not, indeed cannot, know the future.

(9) There may yet be another reason for the emergence of this view of God, something which openness proponents would no doubt deny. The majority of those who advocate open theism are professional philosophers. Why is this significant? Because, as Donald Bloesch has pointed out, “the predilection of philosophy is to overcome the polarities and ambiguities of life by arriving at a synthesis that perfects and crowns human reasoning. It cannot tolerate anything that defies rational comprehension, for this is to acknowledge a surd in human existence” (A Theology of Word and Spirit, 80). The mystery of compatibilism, according to which exhaustive divine foreknowledge (and therefore certainty) of the future and genuine human freedom coexist, is simply unacceptable to many philosophers. 

(10) Others have suggested that the theory is driven in some measure by a desire to maintain human autonomy in the presence of a sovereign God. Their solution: eliminate, or at least greatly reduce, God's sovereignty so that it no longer poses a threat to unfettered human liberty. Open theists simply cannot conceive how God can know the future and exercise providential control over it and yet humans retain moral responsibility for their actions (the doctrine known as compatibilism).
[In conclusion, there is a solid, Scriptural answer to every one of the arguments posed by open theists. 
[In conclusion, there is a solid, Scriptural answer to every one of the arguments posed by open theists.

If you are interested in pursuing this further, I highly recommend these excellent books:

Bruce Ware, God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism (Crossway).
Steven C. Roy, How Much Does God Foreknow? A Comprehensive Biblical Study (IVP).
John Piper, Justin Taylor, Paul Kjoss Helseth, Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity (Crossway).
John M. Frame, No Other God: A Response to Open Theism (Presbyterian & Reformed).]

Thursday, July 20, 2017

9 Steps for Planning a Mission Conference in Your Church

by Mike Pettengill

Church organized missions conferences are a valuable tool in raising awareness of global evangelism and in helping Christ’s disciples better understand the importance and urgency of reaching the lost. When done well a church-run mission conference can bring great glory to the Lord. When done poorly a missions conference can actually impede a church’s impact in participating in God’s Great Commission.

The concept of God’s disciples living out the spread of his gospel is a foundational issue of the Christian faith. The local church is biblically how God intends to train, support and send missionaries. A well done mission conferences can be a major factor in this process.

There are, however, just as many examples of mission conferences done poorly as there are examples of them done well. Read more ...

Four Reasons to Bring Your Bible to Church

by Mike Phay

It took me a while as a pastor, in the early days of iPads and smartphones, to get used to people staring at their screens during the sermon. “How rude,” I thought. “Do they seriously think I can’t see them? These are adults, acting like teenagers!” Not being the regular preacher at the time, I was appalled at the ever-increasing number of faces that I would see lit by glowing screens each time I filled the pulpit.

It took me a while to realize that these folks weren’t rude. They were just reading their Bibles! Read more ...