Why You Can’t Pit Jesus Against His Bible

Have you ever encountered a situation where someone tries to use Jesus’ commands about love against other portions of the Bible that have commands about holiness?  Or, how about the reverse, where someone uses Jesus’ words about radical discipleship against other Bible portions that talk about restoring someone with gentleness?  

In essence, have you encountered someone trying to pit the “red letters” against the “black letters” of the Bible, as though only the “red letters” are truly the Word of God?  If so, you have run into a situation where someone is trying to pit Jesus against His Bible.

If you have ever run into this situation, you may appreciate the short three points that Derek Rishmawy makes as to “Why you can’t pit Jesus against His Bible.”  

Why You Can’t Pit Jesus Against His Bible

By Derek Rishmawy

Every so often, the champions and foes of “Red Letter” Christianity break out their arguments, sharpen them up, and take to the internet. Champions say we’ve ignored the words of Jesus—highlighted in some modern Bibles with red lettering—for far too long…

redletters

Of course, there is a good sense in which we ought to give heightened priority to the words and deeds of Jesus. Unfortunately, some…self-described “Red Letter” Christians do more than give them priority. Instead, they contrast and even set in opposition the words of Jesus from the writings of Paul, or some other similarly ill-tempered and unprogressive disciple. While problematic, that approach is even less concerning than the tendency to pit Jesus against the Bible he grew up with: the Old Testament. Jesus’ words and character are contrasted with the Old Testament law, or the various commands of God scattered throughout the narrative sections of the Torah. So where Jesus and the Old Testament seem to conflict on violence, neighbor-love, sexuality, or some other hot topic, go with Jesus, they say. If you have to pick between red or black letters, go with red.

At the risk of kicking off another round of ‘robust dialogue’, here are three reasons why that approach doesn’t really work.

Red Letters Tell Us About the Black Ones

The first and most obvious problem is that the red letters tell us that the black ones are good. Jesus clearly affirms the authority of the Old Testament law in a number of places. For example, Jesus quotes three times from the law in Deuteronomy to silence the Devil’s accusations (Matt 4:1-11). Disputing with the Pharisees, Jesus frequently asks, “Have you not read?” In each case he assumes these are binding texts (Matt. 12:35 19:422:31Mark 12:1026).

Some might point to Jesus’ overturning of Old Testament principles in the Sermon on the Mount as evidence he sat lightly towards them. Aside from the fact that this argument ignores the clear statement in Matthew 5:17 (“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them”), a contrasting reading guts the force of Jesus’ statements. These antitheses are so radical because Jesus takes what might be called “authorial liberties” with the Old Testament law.

Matthew’s presentation of Jesus as the new and better Moses, who hands down the law from the mountain (Matt. 5-7), only has force if you assume Moses’ revelation was true. It is only powerful to say Jesus brings a new divine message that supersedes the Old Testament if the Old Testament had power in the first place. It would be an exceedingly odd way of honoring the “red letters” of Jesus, then, to repudiate what he says about the black ones.

Scripture Says = God Says

Without denying the human element in the inspiration of the Scriptures, B. B. Warfield argued that in apostolic usage, phrases like “it is written” or “Scripture says” (Gal. 3:8Rom. 9:17Heb. 1:63:7; etc.), make sense only when equated with “God has written” or “God, as recorded in Scripture, says.” Pressing further into Jesus’ view of the Old Testament, we can see that the apostles haven’t diverged from their Lord. In one key encounter Jesus clearly equates “the law” and the “Scripture” with the “Word of God.” Jesus answered them:

Is it not written in your Law, “I said, you are gods”? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming,” because I said, “I am the Son of God”? (John 10:34-36)

Not only does Jesus equate the Old Testament Scripture with the Word of God, he re-emphasizes their inviolability and authority by adding that they can’t be “broken.” The Greek word is luo, which can be translated “to destroy, to tear down, the break to pieces.” Essentially, the Old Testament can’t be ignored, released, explained away, or rendered null and void. Similarly, in a dispute with the Pharisees over the Sabbath, Jesus quotes the law (Exod. 20:4) and identifies it with God’s very Word: “So for the sake of your traditions you have made void the very word of God” (Matt. 15:6).

Jesus Quotes . . . Himself?

The Book of the Covenant given to us in Exodus 20:18-23:33 opens with the words, “The LORD said to Moses” (v. 22). The rest of the commands are addressed to the people as the voice of the LORD, spoken to Moses, who presents them to the people. Most of the law in the rest of the Torah is delivered in the same divine voice (cf. Leviticus 1:2Numbers 5:1-2;). So the law has authority because its author is “the LORD,” the great “I AM” who revealed himself to Moses (Exod. 3:14) and brought Israel out of Egypt (Exod. 20:2).

Paying attention to the Christological and trinitarian logic of the Scriptures, we see that Jesus identifies himself with the God of Israel through the Johannine “I AM” statements, (John 6:358:125810:91111:2514:615:1; esp. 8:58). So we must conclude that, as the eternal Word of the Father, Jesus himself is responsible for the Old Testament he quotes. We can emphasize the Spirit’s role in authorship and inspiration as the Westminster Confession does (“Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture,” WCF 1.10). Or we can credit the Father for this speech. But the outward works of the Trinity are undivided, even while the order of the persons is distinguished. So we must not think any kind of divine authorship excludes the Son.

In other words, unless we deny Jesus’ self-identification with the God of Israel, the Torah and law give us Jesus’ first Sermon on the Mount. These commands number among the “red letters” of the Old Testament.

The Old Testament Still Isn’t Easy

It’s okay to recognize the troubling nature of some passages in the Old Testament, especially some of the harsher commands of the law. Christians can say that in the Old Testament Jesus gave laws that were appropriate for the time and the place in redemptive history, and they no longer apply in the same way today. “The law came through Moses; but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).

Still, we err when we reject the words of our Lord in the Old Testament because we cannot reconcile them to the New Testament. Instead, as disciples we must strive to humble ourselves beneath the Word, not settling for cheap, easy answers, but wrestling with the text in faith. Trust that the Lord will eventually bless us through the truth, even in his most difficult words.

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Church Music Questions

worship risesOver the past week, there was a Greater Columbus Gospel Coalition meeting in which music liturgy was discussed.  The combination of pastors, worship leaders, and lay leaders from various churches and backgrounds had a gracious and thoughtful discussion.

From the two hour discussion, a number of questions and thoughts were tossed about that I found worth thinking about further.  Here they are for your thoughts as well:

  • In what way is your church gathering focused on helping one another reestablish our new center from “me” to “Thee”?
  • How do the songs that we sing help shape a culture and identity in Christ in the church?
  • How much do we believe the Word being sung in our songs?
  • How much do we struggle to encourage one another by our own singing side-by-side during the gathering of the church?
  • How do our songs carry the story of God each Sunday?
  • How do we help those who do not like to sing, open up sing unto the Lord for the sake of the others in the church?

Abuse Does Not Take Away Use

Over the past week I had been pondering a few facebook posts that pointed to the abuse of some very biblical doctrines as a reason to reject the doctrines all together.  One of the posts dealt with a sin that the Bible clearly calls sin; another post dealt with biblical relationships.  In both cases (yes, I am being vague, and it is on purpose) the biblical doctrine is very clear and would take some extensive word gymnastics to make the doctrines say the opposite of what they do..,but people have tried.  Also, both doctrines have been abused rather shamefully and in ways that the Bible clearly does not condone.

Yet, does the abuse of a doctrine negate its validity or use?  I do not believe so.  Nor do I believe that a person can logically and consistently hold the position that abuse takes away use.  All one has to do is find a doctrine that the person hold to be true and valid, point out its abuse, and ask if that abuse negates its use.  Even the cherished doctrine of love has been abused (all you have to do is be in a  relationship where boundaries are an issue, whether no boundaries or impenetrable boundaries, and you will know what I mean), so do we discard love?

Having been thinking along these lines, I was pleased to read a recent article in the Gospel Coalition that addresses the same subject:

Abuse Does Not Take Away Use

By Derek Rishmawy 

In my online forays, I’ve observed it’s increasingly common for people to explicitly reject a doctrine, or the notion of orthodox teaching in general, on the basis of its abuse. You’ll often read something along these lines: “I grew up in a church that had a heavy emphasis on doctrine X (depravity, judgment, sola scriptura, etc.). My pastors and elders used that doctrine to berate people, cow them into submission, or excuse horrible evils.” So now, whenever they hear doctrine X, they can’t accept it because they know (feel) it’s a tool being used to control them or bring about another harmful result. In fact, some will go further and elevate this reaction into a principle of theological methodology: if a doctrine could be or has been used to hurt or damage, it must be rejected out of hand.

I understand the impulse. For those who have been beat down with the Bible like it’s a weapon, or doctrines like they’re billy clubs, when they see someone pick them up—even as agents of healing—some post-traumatic stress makes sense. It can be hard to distance or differentiate a doctrine from its uses, especially if that’s all you’ve ever known. It doesn’t matter if someone’s trying to offer you an oxygen mask; if someone used one to choke you out in the first place, you’re going to flinch when you see it.

Everything Gets Twisted

Any doctrine can be distorted or misused to harm others. Tim Keller makes this point in The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism when speaking about the way Christianity has been distorted throughout church history. Many would look at the way Christianity has been used to justify horrible evils as evidence of its inherently flawed character. Keller points out, however, that even universally praised values like reason, freedom, and equality have been the battle-cry of unjust regimes like the reign of terror in revolutionary France. Instead of providing evidence of Christianity’s falsehood, maybe these abuses point to the (Christian) fact that something is so wrong with the human heart that we can take anything, no matter how good and true, and use it for wicked ends. This is true not only of doctrines we’re more culturally apt to reject (like judgment, original sin, or inerrancy), but also of those we typically find appealing.

For instance, we tend to like the idea of a gracious, nonjudgmental God. After all, a deity who loves and affirms us unconditionally, mess and all, seems kind and gentle, almost impossible to imagine as a tool of oppression or power. Yet criminals also use this doctrine to justify themselves. If God doesn’t judge, then how dare we? If God would never punish, then how can we punish oppressors? In the same vein, I’ve seen people excuse glaring character defects like pride, narcissism, harshness, and insensitivity on this premise: “It’s just my personality; God made me the way I am.” Well, your “personality” stinks because you’re a jerk.

Or take the classic teaching on forgiveness. Christians are told God is a forgiving God, having forgiven all our sins in Christ at the cross. We’re then told to forgive those who sin against us as Christ has commanded. Unfortunately some have taken this teaching on forgiveness and used it to force victims to “forgive” their abusers in ways that essentially brush over sin and ignore the reality of justice.

Pick almost any doctrine (creation, fall, grace, and so on) and you’ll find some way it has been abused and applied improperly. Given this reality, if our main criterion for accepting or rejecting a doctrine is whether it can be used to harm others, we’ll be left with a mere two-word creed: “I believe.”

Abusus Non Tollit Usum

One of the most important rules I’ve learned in my theological studies is abusus non tollit usum—”abuse does not take away use.” Basically, fire can destroy, but it’s also good for cooking or keeping your home warm; an oxygen mask can still save your life, even if someone choked you with one; scalpels still cut out cancer, even if someone got injured with one. In the same way, doctrines can still be good, true, beautiful, and helpful despite the ways they’ve been abused or misconstrued in the past.

As always, Jesus points the way forward. When correcting the Pharisees and Sadducees’ distortions of scriptural teaching, he didn’t do it by throwing away God’s Word. He quoted it and pointed to its true meaning (Matt. 9:12-1312:1-819:422:2941-45). In the Sabbath controversy, he didn’t deny the Sabbath command but brought relief with a renewed, deeper understanding of what the command was always about—human flourishing. Or take Paul, who didn’t reject Torah when he corrected the Judaizers who said Gentiles weren’t full members of the covenant by faith alone but needed the practice of Torah as well. Paul didn’t discard Torah; he went back to Torah to make his argument (Gal. 3-5).

Though difficult, Jesus teaches us that we must strive to distinguish true doctrines of the Christian faith from their distorted applications and expositions. You may end up rejecting some some bad theology as you hold firmly to precious truths. I’d encourage you to search the Scriptures, though, before rejecting something only on the basis of your negative experience. It may take some years of books, conversations, good churches, and perhaps a good biblical counselor, but it’s worth it not to reject some key truth of the gospel just because some wicked teacher ruined it for you.

Dear Pastor, Bring Your Bible to Church

A week ago, I wrote an article challenging people to be “Bible app free” for at least a week when in church, small groups, and while doing personal devotions.  This week, the Gospel Coalition posted an article (reprinted in full below) challenging pastors, in particular, to bring their “old school” printed Bible to church and up to the pulpit with them when they preach.  The writer, makes it clear that he is not anti-technology, anti-Bible apps, or against tablets in the pulpit (“for, say, sermon notes”).  Rather, the writer writes about five distinct dangers about replacing the physical Bible with a digital tablet.

Of the five reasons to keep a physical Bible as the text from which one preaches, instead of reading the Scriptures from one’s tablet, items one, two, and five speak the loudest to me as I can tell stories of my own about seeing individuals slide unconsciously into the realities of those dangers.  So, instead of quickly dismissing or arguing away the author’s concerns as being “old fashioned” or “technologically out of date,” take time to examine your own life and those in your small group and church to see if the dangers are becoming a reality in your life and world.

Dear Pastor, Bring Your Bible to Church

I enjoy using an iPad. It is, in my opinion, one of the most impressive devices yet invented. In one light-weight, travel-sized tablet the user has everything at his fingertips. That includes not only the typical social media apps that every user has on his smartphone, but also countless tools that have characterized the laptop or even the home television.

And yet I am finding that cutting-edge, 21st-century technology is subtly but quickly changing important, even indispensable aspects of Christianity. Consider just one example: the ever-growing tendency to substitute a physical, visible Bible (remember . . . the ones where you lick your finger and turn the pages) with a tablet in the pulpit.

To clarify, I am not against pastors using a tablet in the pulpit for, say, sermon notes. Rather, I’m concerned about replacing the physical Bible with a tablet in the pulpit. As the pastor enters the pulpit to bring the Word of God to the people of God, no hard copy of the Bible is to be found in his hand, gracing the top of the podium, visible to the entire congregation as the book at the center of attention. Instead, the congregation sees a tablet. While this may seem harmless enough, I believe there are several potential dangers this subtle shift generates.

Different Message

First, the tablet as a replacement for a hardcopy of the Bible sends an entirely different message to the congregation. Yes, this tablet contains the digital text of the Bible, but visually that tablet represents so much more. It is an icon of social media and a buffet of endless entertainment. Ask my children. The sight of an iPad screams instant access toSesame Street on Netflix. For the adult, the tablet is an immediate window into his or her social life. As advertised, the iPad is ESPN Magazine, a Visa card statement, decorating ideas on Pinterest, hotel reservations in Hawaii, the latest college football scores, Adele on iTunes, directions to the nearest Starbucks, instant tracking of the stock market, and, oh yes, the Bible, alongside thousands of your favorite e-books.

In contrast, how simple, and yet profound, is a hardcopy of the Bible, perhaps leather-bound and worn from constant use. Carried by Pastor Steve into the pulpit, this large, even cumbersome book, reveals he is ready to bring to the people a message from God himself. In short, a print copy of the Scriptures in the pulpit represents something far more focused and narrow: a visible symbol of God speaking to his people, the master Shepherd feeding his flock.

Biblical Illiteracy in the Pew

Second, the tablet may, oddly enough, unintentionally and indirectly encourage biblical illiteracy in the pew. This no doubt sounds shocking. After all, how could a tablet that provides us with gobs of biblical research tools, a digital manuscript of the Scriptures, and countless other resources create a culture of biblical illiteracy? One of the severe limitations of a digital text, as you sit there with your iPhone or smartphone, is the unnecessary task of passing by books of the Bible as you find the sermon text. When the preacher says, “Turn in your Bibles to . . . ,” the layperson simply clicks on a link or enters the text into a search box. As a result, I am increasingly discovering as a professor at a Christian university that students do not know where books in the Bible are located, let alone how the storyline of redemptive history develops. Many laypeople do not possess the ability to see the text in its context. Consequently, these old-fashioned, basic, Bible-learning skills are being lost.

Even secular scholars, such as Nicholas Carr (The Shallows) and Mark Bauerlein (The Dumbest Generation), get this when it comes to reading a book digitally. As John Bombaro explains, these authors, and many others, conclude that we have adopted a “truncated approach to texts, with no peripheral vision of what the next page holds or orientation to the linear progression of the entire text,” which only “trains the mind’s learning plasticity to think in pragmatic, detached, fragmented ways.” Therefore, when it comes to Scripture, we have lost by abandoning the printed text a “linear progression to the total story,” since “digital texts militate against a big-picture perspective and comprehension of the whole story of the Bible.”

Flesh and Blood

Third, the tablet may undermine the spatio-temporal nature of church. When a member stands before the congregation, reading the sermon text from a tablet, there is something missing, something lifeless at play. Again, John Bombaro observes, “Digital texts are ephemeral; they are ontologically diminished.” There’s no “there” there, Bombaro laments.

Surely this should rub us wrong, as physical beings who gather together as an assembly in a tangible place. We see with our own eyes a standing, breathing minister preach about a God who is, yes, invisible, but is really with us as Lord of space and time. This God has made himself known by sending his own Son in flesh and blood.

Visual Reminder

Fourth, when the spatio-temporal nature of Scripture is replaced with a digital, even ephemeral, cyberspace text, there is an awkward inconsistency at play given the physicality of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In the lineage of the Reformation, evangelicals have long affirmed at least three marks of the church and means of grace: the proclamation of God’s Word, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. Why not perform a baptism in private or take the Lord’s Supper alone? There is an essential corporate dimension to these somatic means of grace, as the church witnesses the gospel in the waters of baptism and together partakes of the flesh and blood of Christ represented in the elements. The materiality of these means visually remind us that we are accountable to this gospel and to one another.

Likewise with God’s Word. The Scriptures, preached and read, teach us, reprove us, and train us in righteousness so that we are equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). If baptism and the Lord’s table become lifeless when we disintegrate their materiality, do we not risk a similar danger when we remove the spatio-temporal presence of the Word of God for the people of God? And should an unbeliever walk in for the first time, would he know that we are a people of the book?

Nonverbal Communication

Fifth, when the smartphone or iPad (or name your mobile device) replaces a hardcopy of Scripture, something is missing in our nonverbal communication to unbelieving onlookers. When you walk to church, sit down on a bus, or discipline one another at a coffee shop, a hard copy of the Bible sends a loud and bold message to the nearest passersby about your identity as a Christ follower. It says, “Yes, I am a Christian and I believe this book is the Word of God telling us who we are and how we should live.”

If you don’t believe me, take a physical copy of the Bible with you on your next plane flight, and when you sit down next to your neighbors place the Bible on your lap for all to see. Notice the reactions; you might as well have shared your social security number with the whole plane. Typically, for the person on your left just the sight of the text makes them uncomfortable, defensive, and reclusive. But for the person on your right, it may instantaneously create a conversation that leads to the gospel. My point is simple: if we, as Christians, abandon the physical text in our own assembly, what is lost when this text does not warm our hands in front of a lost and dying world?

No doubt, my warning touches an uncomfortable and irritable nerve. To insult our use of technology is one of the seven deadly sins in the 21st century. Technology infiltrates and saturates everything we do, and therefore defines everything we are, for better or worse. But is this subtle shift changing the way we read the Scriptures? Is it ever-so-quietly removing the visual centerpiece of the local assembly? I think so. And while I never imagined I would have to say this, I close with the following admonition: Dear pastor, bring your Bible to church.

Matthew Barrett (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is assistant professor of Christian studies at California Baptist University (OPS), as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. He is the author of Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration (forthcoming, P&R) and co-editor of Four Views on the Historical Adam (forthcoming, Zondervan). He also editedWhomever He Wills: A Surprising Display of Sovereign Mercy.

Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church: A Response to Rachel Held Evans

Smile Jesus

“Truth be told, I don’t want a church that serves my preferences. I want a church that gives me Jesus and makes me want to serve His.”

The below article by Trevin Wax takes on a recently published article calling the church to change in order to keep the millennial generation.  What is excellent about the response is that Wax notes the areas in which he is in agreement with the critique of the church by Rachel Held Evans as well as pointing out where their views differ.  

Ultimately, the differences in views is highlighted by Wax’s call to a less “cultural Christianity” leading towards biblical discipleship while R.H.E. holds up a caricature (which some churches may indeed match) of the church and calls it to preach a Jesus that meets the millennial’s current sociopolitical desires.  It is not that the list of dreams offered by R.H.E. is “bad,” but rather the emphasis we are left with is a call to change the packaging and the substance of the church rather than a call to emphasizing the true substance of the church – Jesus Christ – while also considering contextualization (the packaging).  As Wax deftly points out, “[Millennials] have left the churches that most resemble the type of community described by Rachel at rates far greater than evangelical churches.”    

Can the Christian community as expressed by the local church learn and change without compromising the truth? Absolutely.  Are adaptations necessary, of course.  Different communities have different cultures, and the church should consider how best to adapt to their particular context, but in a way that does not compromise the gospel nor constantly ebb and flow with every popular trend or capitulate to the pressures of the spirit of the age.  

Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church:
A Response to Rachel Held Evans

By Trevin Wax

In a recent column for CNN, Rachel Held Evans offers some thoughts on “why millennials are leaving the church.” Her post struck a chord with readers. She is addressing a perennial topic of conversation among church leaders and church goers: what will happen to the next generation.

Like Rachel, I’m 32 – right on the border of the millennials, and many of the questions and doubts I hear from the millennial generation resonate with me too. But my analysis differs somewhat from Rachel’s.

Rachel’s Analysis

Rachel thinks millennials are leaving the church due to the perception that evangelicals are

“… too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”

She’s right to decry a vision of Christianity that reduces repentance to a list of do’s and don’ts. I too have noticed that many millennials desire to be involved in mercy ministry and support justice causes. And I couldn’t agree more when she says “we want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation.”

The Church’s Response

How has the church responded? Rachel sees church leaders trying to update their music or preaching style, and thereby running up against the “highly sensitive BS meters” we millennials have. We’re not fooled by consumerism or performances when churches cater to what they think we want.

Rachel writes:

“What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.”

I agree with that sentence for the most part, although I would tweak the last line to say “What millennials really want from the church is substance.” Not a change in substance, necessarily, just substance will do.

Too often, our churches have offered a sanitized, spiritualized version of self-help therapy, and Jesus has been missing. And that’s the problem. Like every generation, she says, “deep down we long for Jesus.”

Here’s where Rachel and I part ways – on what communities following Jesus look like in our culture.

The Biblical Jesus

When I read the Gospels, I’m confronted by a Jesus who explodes our categories of righteousness and sin, repentance and forgiveness, and power and purity.

I meet a Jesus who doesn’t do away with the Law of the Old Testament, but ramps up the demands in order to lead us to Himself – the One who calls us to life-altering repentance and faith.

I see a King who makes utterly exclusive claims, and doesn’t seem to care who is offended.

I see a King who didn’t hold back anything from His people, and who expects His people to hold back nothing from Him.

Is the Church Obsessed with Sex, or is it the Culture?

Following Jesus leaves no part of our life unchanged.

That’s why it strikes me as odd that Rachel sees “obsession with sex” as one of the biggest obstacles for contemporary Christianity to overcome. I visit lots of churches, and I find that sexuality is not a frequently discussed subject from most church platforms or Bible studies. In fact, one could make the case that Christians haven’t talked enough about Jesus’ radical zealousness when it comes to sexuality. The fact that cohabitation, premarital sex and pornography are often overlooked among our congregations betrays the vision of sexuality Jesus put forward – a vision of the sacredness of a man and woman’s covenant for life, one that excludes even lustful thoughts from God’s design.

When it comes to sexual obsession, we ought to take a look at pop culture. One can hardly watch a TV show or a popular movie without being assaulted with sexual innuendos, crude jokes, or overt displays of all kinds of sexuality. Pastors and church leaders go on news talk shows and are badgered about their views of sexuality, as if nothing else matters but that the church join in and celebrate our culture’s embrace of Aphrodite in all her warped splendor.

Challenged to Holiness

Rachel says millennials want to be “challenged to holiness,” but the challenge she appears to be advocating is one on our own terms and according to our own preferences. That’s why I find it ironic that she decries the catering churches that alert our “BS meters,” while simultaneously telling church leaders they should do a better job catering to our generation’s whims and wishes. (She has since clarified this as not a list of demands, but desires and dreams.)

Truth be told, I don’t want a church that serves my preferences. I want a church that gives me Jesus and makes me want to serve His

Counting the Cost

One sign of Jesus’ Spirit is He convicts the world of sin (John 16:8). The sign of the spirit of this age is that the world is coddled instead of convicted. And those who marry the spirit of this age will always be widowed in the next.

Perhaps that’s why millennials have left the churches that most resemble the type of community described by Rachel at rates far greater than evangelical churches. When the counter-cultural message of Jesus is softened or tweaked, or the raging idols of this age (such as money, sex, and power) are overlooked or ignored, the cost of Christianity disappears. Christianity without a cost is Christianity without the cross. And Christianity without the cross isn’t Christianity at all.

What Kind of Millennial Christian Will We Be?

Some millennials, like many from generations before us, want the church to become a mirror – a reflection of our particular preferences, desires, and dreams. But other millennials want a Christianity that shapes and changes our preferences, desires, and dreams.

We’re eager to pass the gospel on to the next generation, to live in ways that call into question the idolatries of our age, to stand in a long line of believers who have been out of the mainstream, constantly maligned and misrepresented, but who love Jesus, love people, and aren’t afraid to call everyone to repentance.

That’s a Christianity this millennial believes is worth dying for, but also one that’s worth living out in a local church with other believers from all generations.

The Boston Bombers Were Outside Their House

The Boston Bombers Were Outside Their House

By Matt Smethurst

In the early hours of Friday morning, Stephen and Emily McAlpin awoke to the sound of what they thought were fireworks. Within moments, however, it became clear what was happening outside was no celebration.

The story that gripped the nation was unfolding in their front yard.

In a hijacked Mercedes SUV, Boston Marathon bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were speeding through the streets of Watertown, Massachusetts, with as many as a dozen police cars in pursuit. Reports say the officers had to dodge homemade bombs hurled from the careening vehicle.

At roughly 12:50 a.m., the SUV screeched to a halt in front of the McAlpins’ house. The brothers opened fire, igniting a gun battle with police that involved more than 200 rounds of ammunition, additional makeshift bombs, and the death of the older Tsarnaev—”Suspect #1.”

With the sounds of terror—and even a couple of bullets—entering their home, Stephen and Emily huddled under a table and cried out to Christ. I corresponded with Stephen [Twitter | Blog], church planting resident at Hope Fellowship Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, about the night he and Emily will never forget.

****************

What happened? 

On Friday, my wife Emily and I witnessed firsthand the gunfight between police and terrorists in Watertown, Massachusetts, as it happened in our front yard. It was like nothing we’d ever experienced. We first heard the gunshots and an explosion from our bedroom and, after calling 911, crawled with our dog to safety under the kitchen table where we cried out to Jesus for help, and then later into the bathtub for better cover, where we continued praying. We spent a lot of time in fear of death, even after the gunfire ceased and the police checked on us. In fact, we were on lockdown almost the entire day, hiding under our kitchen table as police disarmed explosives around us and searched for the terrorist who had escaped them. We later discovered that during the gunfight seven bullets had hit our home, with one going through our living room wall into our TV and one striking our car. The whole experience was terrifying and utterly unexpected, like a nightmare. Now, we just feel blessed to be alive and safe, and we believe it’s only because God answered our prayers.

Listening to your interview with CNN, I was struck by the peace you seemed to experience amid the terror. Where did this come from, and what was it like?

I believe the peace we experienced came from the Holy Spirit, who was a guiding light to us in a terrifyingly dark time. We experienced the Spirit’s peace most fully while praying. It was a kind of peace that felt like someone else was sharing it with us. As I led my wife in prayer there was like a bright light that calmed my thoughts and helped me to feel that life is a gift and that it’s all about Jesus. In our hearts we felt calmness and even joy at the idea of us finally being with God together. And physically, it was like God’s arms were being wrapped around us to cover us. Altogether, the peace we experienced led us into worship and gave us real hope. It was otherworldly.

You reflected that, while hovering under the kitchen table and later in the bathtub, you just held your wife and prayed. What were you praying?

Under the table, after I told my wife that I loved her, my prayer was basically: “God, thank you for the life you’ve given us together. Thank you for your grace. Oh God, protect us. Jesus, save us! We need you, save us! You’re our only hope. God, please show us grace by giving us safety. Please cover over us and surround us with your angels. Please protect our neighbors, too, and show them your grace.” Then I was just quiet and every so often prayed, “Oh Jesus, save us!” as I held my wife and dog.

When we later moved to the bathtub, shock was starting to set in, and we were trying to figure out what was happening, but we kept holding one another and praying. That time is kind of a blur, but I remember we were thanking God for his grace in protecting us thus far and asking him to quickly bring it all to an end.

What would you say to those who find themselves in situations of fear?

Pray, worshipfully. In situations of fear, there are really only two ways you can respond: worshiping God or not worshiping God. When you’re fearing for your life, that choice becomes a lot simpler. You strangely crave a meaningful life, if only for a moment. Don’t let that moment pass you by. Remember that Jesus is our only hope for true, meaningful life. Express your faith in him. Enjoy him—who he is and what he does—in that moment. Ask him to do the things that only he does, like gracefully saving sinners for his glory. He is faithful to answer.

If he rescues you in that moment, that’s an amazing thing that will change you and others forever. If he doesn’t rescue you in that moment, at least you’ll have had one of the best, sweetest moments of your entire life as you worshiped him in the threat of evil and death. God can do incredible things through worshipful, Christ-centered prayer.

What has God been teaching you and your wife in the hours since the experience?

The hours since the experience have been surreal, like waking up from a nightmare. A lot of people are, like us, trying to figure out how to move on. We recognize we’re still healing, so we trust there’s still a lot for God to teach us. Yet as we’ve looked back so far, God has been teaching us to remember that you can die any moment, so life is exceedingly precious. We have life in this world only because of Jesus and only for Jesus. He’s our only hope for true life—and this is true for everyone else. We’ve been challenged to cultivate a living hope in Jesus all the time—not just during crises—and to share our hope with others still lost in the darkness and unsure of how to overcome it.

In the aftermath of the event, we’ve been humbly surprised by how simply sharing our hope in Jesus during this dark time is making an impact on our neighbors, our city, and even people all around the world. We think God answered our prayers so that others might know how he can enter into and redeem anyone’s story through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

9 Things You Should Know About Duck Dynasty

9 Things You Should Know About Duck Dynasty

By Joe Carter

Duck Dynasty is a series on A&E that shows the lives of the Robertson family, a Louisiana clan who became wealthy from their family-operated duck call business. Here are nine things you should know about reality television’s most gospel-centric family.

1. Long before he appeared on the hit A&E series, patriarch Phil Robertson was considered the “Billy Graham of duck hunting.” His first public-speaking opportunity came in the early 1990s when he was asked to give a duck-calling seminar at the Superdome in New Orleans before 1,000 people. After talking about duck calls and hunting, Robertson reached into his bag and pulled out his Bible. “Folks, while I’m here,” he said, “I think I’m gonna preach you a little sermon.” Afterwards, he received other opportunities to speak and preach and was soon booked years in advance to talk to churches and other organizations.

2. In 2012, Duck Dynasty topped Facebook’s list of most mentioned television shows. When the show returned this month for season three, the premiere was the most watched show of the night, beating out ratings giants American Idol and Modern Family.

3. Although the family is often shown praying at the end of each episode, Phil Robertson says that the show’s producers are frequently uncomfortable with the family’s strong Christian faith. “They pretty much cut out most of the spiritual things,” Robertson told The Christian Chronicle. “We say them, but they just don’t run them on the show.”

4. All of the members of the Robertson family, as well as series regulars John Godwin and Justin Martin, are active members of the White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ. Phil and his oldest son Al (who doesn’t appear on the show) serve as church elders.

5. Uncle Si says he always travels with three things: a gallon jug of iced tea, his plastic cup, and his Bible. (He probably also takes his wife. Although the show often gives the impression Si is single, he’s married to Christine. They too are active members of the White’s Ferry Road church.)

6. Friends and relatives estimate that Phil Robertson has baptized more than 300 people in the river near his home, the Ouachita River.

7. Jase Robertson on faith and family.

8. Willie Robertson on faith and ministry.

9. Phil Robertson’s testimony.