J.D. Greear and the Southern Baptist Identity

As is typical, I have somewhat neglected this blog in the past month or so. I do not wish to do that and I do not have a great excuse. I have been a bit busy writing about the World Cup on the sports blog I co-operate. I do have several things lined up that I want to talk about on this blog. I finished a couple of books that I think are important for me to review and, in one case, argue with on here. I listened to a great Reasonable Faith podcast about morality in naturalistic worldviews that I would like to respond to.

But the first thing I want to talk about is something that is near to my heart and fills me with hope. J.D. Greear was elected the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

I have been a Southern Baptist pretty much my entire life. I currently am a member of a Southern Baptist church, but my church does not have the traditional Southern Baptist culture. I grew up in a church that was the physical embodiment of Southern Baptist culture, so that is what I thought Southern Baptist meant. For a few years after moving away I did not attend Southern Baptist churches, I stuck to non-denominational churches. I found my current church and loved it. I did not know that it was technically a Southern Baptist church until I had been attending for about a year. The culture is not what I expected and not what I’m used to associating with Southern Baptist churches.

J.D. Greear, I think, is going to help the Southern Baptist convention with it’s image issues. Most people think of Southern Baptist churches like I used to: they are for older, white people who sing dated hymns (not even the good ones) and drone on about how you will burn in eternal fire. Hopefully, Greear will start working against that image. It seems like Southern Baptists are more of a cultural experience than a Theological belief system. I hope Greear can change that.

I do not have a large familiarity with Greear. I think his church planted my current church. I am pretty sure my current teaching pastor worked at JD’s church before planting ours. I could be wrong about that, but I’m about 90% confident in it. I spoke with a friend of mine, the administrator of my high school, who said that J.D. Greear is very intelligent and very Godly. I am committed to reading some of Greear’s books to have a better understanding of some of his beliefs.

I read his interview with The Gospel Coalition and I was very impressed. He did not shy away from the major issues that are threatening the church: racial reconciliation and the #metoo movement. These are big deals. These are long-standing, long-hurting sins the church has been readily supporting and involved with. It is unbelievably important that we as a church stand up against all sin and injustice, but especially against the sin within our own body. J.D. seems to be a leader dedicated to fighting injustice where he sees it.

Please join me in praying for J.D. Greear. Even if you aren’t Southern Baptist, he is the new president of the largest Protestant body of believers. It is important that he leads well and walks with God. In the same way, I should pray for the leaders of Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, etc. traditions.

I am very hopeful with this appointment and I’m excited to see what comes of it.


Casual Christianity

There are times when I am super jealous of the people who do not really care.

I live in the South, I grew up in the South. The Bible Belt is firmly wrapped around me. Because of this upbringing, I am and have constantly been surrounded by those whom I call “casual Christians” or “cultural Christians.” They are the people who do not take Christianity or God seriously at all but would definitely call themselves Christians if they were asked. Their parents were Christians, their family and friends have always been Christians, they would say they believe in God, but that is basically where it stops. They do not go to church. They do not try to live like Christ. They do not take righteousness or theology seriously at all. They are entirely unconcerned about God or anything associated with Him, but they would say they are.

It might seem like I’m getting ready to judge those people. I am not. In fact, I wish I was those people. My parents were those people until my brother and I found Jesus and started to take it seriously, they were content with going to church most Sundays and that’s where it stopped. People with that mindset have it so easy and I am jealous of them.

I am jealous of them because I honestly do not know if they are Christians. I am tempted to say that they actually aren’t, because they are not fully committed to serving God with everything they are. They have not committed in service to Him. But do I really know that makes them now a Christian? No. I can theorize and speculate, but, in complete honesty, I do not know. They could be just as much a Christian as I am or as my pastor is. I have not fully committed to serving God at all times, as evidenced by the amount of sin in my life. At times, they may be “better Christians” since their faith is pretty unshakeable and mine is prone to seasons of doubts and questionings. They have the faith of a child that Jesus recommended.

I wish I was a cultural Christian because being a committed Christian is hard. I do not think that is news to anyone, but it is tough. It requires sacrifice and so much discomfort. It requires joy in suffering and truly feeling the suffering of others. It requires being prepared to lay everything down for your community and your neighbors. I would so much rather do only what I want to do while still believing in God. I struggle with discomfort, I struggle with sacrifice. I would love to not feel those deficiencies in myself.

But, unfortunately, I can’t. I believe the Bible and what it says about God is true. Since that is the case, I believe that Jesus laid everything down for me. He left his Heavenly home, full of angels singing His praises day in and day out, full of splendor and wonder, to come to this Earth, live a life of poverty, and eventually be tortured and killed. For me. He did that for me. He did it willingly. He gave everything He had willingly for me. How then could I not give everything to Him? I deserve the cross, but He gave up everything so that I could live with Him. I cannot see that sacrifice, I cannot believe that sacrifice, and not have it affect every single thing I do.

And that is the challenge I now issue to my cultural Christianity brothers and sisters. Look, I don’t know if you truly are a Christian or not. That is between you and God. I cannot speak to that, no one can. But I can challenge you to look at the cross. Look at yourself, your sin, your rebellion. And then look to the perfect God dying the most torturous death just for you. Really look at that and then try to tell me it doesn’t change the way you live your day to day life.

God is Working Through Esther

There has, historically, been some controversy surrounding the book of Esther and whether or not it is Scriptural canon. The book does not mention God even a single time, it has no reference to prayer (unless you interpret Esther calling for people to “fast” as praying) and is seemingly devoid of any spiritual significance. It seems to be simply a, maybe fictional, story. Why did this make it into the Bible?

I am currently studying through the Old Testament and I’ve spent the last week in Esther. It has been incredibly encouraging to me. The book is actually about God working behind the scenes. Even though the characters do not mention Him, even though, a lot of the time, they are living outside of God’s commands and not following him righteously, He uses them and positions them for His good. It is the story of God working in ways that seem to be lucky coincidences to protect and preserve His people and His covenant.

If you have not read Esther or haven’t read it in a while, I would encourage you to pick it up again and read it with that frame of mind. I guarantee it will change the impactfulness of the book.

Currently, my life has been very stressful. There has been stress, frustration, and disappointment in a lot of different areas of my life. Those emotions and the seeming relentlessness of it can definitely work to push you away from God. At times lately, it has felt like God was incredibly distant or indifferent to my worries and cares. It has all felt a bit hopeless.

But reading through Esther I was reminded of God’s Sovereignty. I was reminded that He is always here and He is always working. I may not be able to see and understand what He is doing, but He is always working to bring about the redemption of His people and the coming of His kingdom on Earth. That does not mean that He is always working to make sure everything in my life will turn out amazing and I’ll be healthy, rich, and happy all my life. It does mean that I need to look at this Earth from a different perspective.

Often we look at this world temporally. We see it for how it is now and think that our lives on this Earth are ultimate. We fail to remember that we are eternal beings and this version of Earth is not where we end up. We end up on the restored Earth, in communion with God for all eternity. Having that eternal perspective is crucial to make it through the rough parts of this temporal time. We are eternal beings, not temporal. The book of Esther has helped me to realize that.

God is always working to bring us into the eternal. When we cannot see it, He is working.

BOOK REVIEW: The Apologies of Justin Martyr

Sometime between 155 and 157 a.d. Justin Martyr wrote his first “Apology” to Antoninus Pius. The significance of this work has been loudly touted and is hard to overstate. It is one of the first examples of a purely apologetic book and it has been very defining of the genre since it was written.

Justin was primarily arguing against the continued persecution of the early Christians simply because they were Christians. He argued that they were not atheists because they did not believe in the Roman gods, they simply worshiped a different God – a God that Justin would assert was the true God. This argument was ultimately unsuccessful, as his name would imply, and Justin was beheaded sometime between 164 and 167.

In his first apology, Justin also attempted to prove that the God of Christianity was the one true God and also gave brief pictures of the practices of the early truth, such as communion and baptism.

His second apology was similar to the first and meant to expound upon it, further defending Christians from the erroneous allegations heralded against them.

I completely understand and acknowledge the significance both of Justin Martyr and his apologies, but it is hard for me to appreciate them as arguments. A lot of that has to do with his audience. The people Justin wrote to in the second century had a drastically different philosophy than people in modern times. Justin’s primary argument for Christianity seems to rest on the fulfillment of prophecy. That argument would not be convincing today, but that has more to do with the anti-supernaturalism bias of today rather than the strength of his argument.

Looking strictly at Justin’s arguments for the deity of Christ and existence of the Christian God, I was left underwhelmed. I know he was one of the first, along with Thomas Aquinas, to fuse classical philosophy with Christianity. He took a lot from Plato. I was hoping that would make his arguments powerful. Maybe they were in his era, but now they are not. I was hoping for a predecessor of St. Anselm, but that is not what I got. Again, this was most likely due to the differences in our cultures, but it was disappointing none the less.

Also, I had a problem with Justin’s theology at points. It is difficult for me, who lives so far from the apostles and the “truest teaching” to criticise someone’s theology who met the second generation after the apostles. However, Justin consistently advocates a “works-based” salvation that is hard to ignore. It is prevalent in the opening pages of his apology and persists throughout. I understand that sola fide is a comparatively recent development in Christian theology, born out of the Reformation era, but it does seem the most Biblically accurate to me. I have been convinced of its truth, so I have to disagree with Justin.

This book is fantastic to get a picture of the practices of the early church and what they believed. I firmly believe we should know that information, so I do recommend reading this book. I would also recommend reading it because of the important stature it and Justin Martyr has in Christian Theology. However, I would encourage you to not be afraid to challenge it where you disagree. Just because Justin is a legendary figure in the church and in Theology doesn’t mean you have to agree with him.

Women Writing for Women?

A few months ago I read a book that was clearly intended for women. You can read a review of that book here (and, honestly, that review will say a lot of what I’m going to be saying here, I just thought the topic was important enough to warrant its own post). The problem with this book is that there was no indication, either in summaries or in advertisements, that this was a book intended for women. I was a little disappointed when I started reading it and found that out.

When I told my wife that this book was for women, but there was no indication of that, she said: “Well, it was written by women. That means it is probably intended for women.” Since she said that, I have started to realize more and more how true it is. I’ve started to realize how inadvertently sexist my reading habits have been. I have a bookshelf that is jam-packed with books I have read – ranging from Christian living to Theology to Fiction. Very, very few of them, if any besides this one, were written by women.

That is very far from intentional, though. I have absolutely no qualms about reading things written by women. I do not at all think that women have less to teach me than men. I by no means think that the only books worth my time are books written by men. I think it all comes down to what my wife said: women write for women.

This probably comes from the doctrine of women not being church-governing and teaching pastors. That is actually a doctrine I agree with – you can read where I fleshed that out here. However, we have pushed that way too far. We have taken that to mean that women cannot teach men anything. That is a gross and unjust characterization of that doctrine; it is a characterization that should be resisted at every turn.

I firmly believe that women have a lot to teach me. In my review of the book that sparked this discussion, you will see that I stated that pretty clearly. There are countless women who are way smarter than me and know way more Theology than me and have way more life experiences than I have had. It would be the height of folly and sexism for me to reject learning from them simply because they are women.

I would like to challenge men to read more books written by women. I have decided to consciously do that myself. I do not want to be a part of this stereotype – I want to know that I am completely open to women writing books for me. Unfortunately, this will mean reading books that were written with a female audience in mind. Don’t let that discourage you. You can still learn a great deal from those books.

I review every book I read on here. If you notice that I have not reviewed a book written by a woman in a long time, call me out on it. I want to read books that apply to what I am learning about in my life, and there is a good chance that books written by women may not fit into that. (For example, I am currently reading a lot about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and Cessationism. It is difficult to find great books written by women on that topic). Regardless, I want to be challenged to read more books by women. Help me with that challenge.

BOOK REVIEW: Jesus and Muhammad

A few years ago I had the incredible opportunity to minister to Muslims in London. It was truly an eye-opening experience to talk to people of that religion and culture. I had some great conversations with great people while I was there. Through that experience, and through preparing for that trip, God has broken my heart for Muslims. I was able to see first hand just how much they were searching for truth. A lot of them are wary of Islam after seeing so much violence done in its name, but leaving the religion means putting your life in danger, losing your family and friends, probably having to flee your home. That is a lot to risk. So many of them are desperately searching for truth and are so close to it, but cannot accept it.

Because of this passion for Muslims that I have had instilled in me the past few years, Mark Gabriel’s book, Jesus and Muhammad: Profound Differences, Surprising Similarities, was not written for me. It was written for people who do not know a lot about either religion. It was written for people who claim that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. It was for the people who say that Muhammad was actually a lot like Jesus and Allah is the same as God. I am not one of those people. I have studied each religion too much to believe that, so this book was not for me. It was more introductory than I was hoping.

For what this book is, an introduction to the leaders and founders of these two religions, it was fantastic. The set up of the book was brilliant. Gabriel would take a topic, Love for example, and examine it from the Muslim perspective, detailing what Muhammad taught it about it in the Quran and Hadith. Immediately after that, he would show what Jesus and the Bible taught about it. Seeing that contrast back to back was often times striking. It was an opportunity to directly compare the two religions in a way that I have never done before. Seeing the hopelessness and violence in a lot of the Islamic doctrine contrasted immediately against the free grace of Christianity was great.

This was a book that I wish all Muslims could read. I have recommended books like this to Muslimes before, but I am normally met with the criticism that these books were not written by Islamic scholars. This book cannot be met with that criticism. Gabriel was an Islamic scholar and teacher and makes the case for his credentials very convincingly. Because of the contrasting nature of this book and Gabriel’s credentials as a scholarly Muslim, this will probably become my go-to book when recommending reading to my Muslim friends.

If you do not know a lot about Islam, I would definitely recommend you read this book. It is a great introduction to some of the doctrines and ideas behind the religion.

I Won’t Raise My Hand

This is going to be more of a personal rant, but I think it might have something useful buried in it.

The worship leader of my local church is all about hand raising lately. Not just hand raising, but all kinds of physical expression for worship. I am totally on board with the heart behind it, but I hate the compulsory nature of it.

I completely understand where they are coming from. I know that worship is, a lot of the times, a physical expression of an emotion or attitude towards God. I understand the Biblical references to that physical expression. I understand that people are hesitant to put themselves out there and be expressive in that way, they need encouragement. I understand all of that and I do feel like my church and our worship leader’s heart is a truly admiral place.

That doesn’t stop me from disagreeing with it. A blog is not the best place to air out grievances and that is not exactly what I am doing. I respect and cherish the authority that my church leaders have over me, I willingly submit to that. I do not think this is a very serious issue at all, so it is not worth bringing up with church leadership. If you do have a serious Theological or personal problem with a leader of your church, talk to elders or church leadership about it, don’t just post about it online. That is not the heart of this post and it is not something I would ever encourage. I think this is an interesting conversation on a relevant topic of Christian culture, which is the spirit of this blog.

Even though I understand that worship often involves a physical expression of emotion, raising my hand in joy or surrender is not how I express emotions. Forcing me to express my emotions in a way that feels foreign to me does not do either of us any good. Allowing me to express my emotions in a way that feels natural to me, and even encouraging me to do that, will allow my expressions to be a natural outcropping of my worship experience. Compelling me into a way you think I should be physically expressing that experience will take me out of that experience.

That reasoning sounds very self-centered, and I get that. Worship is not about me, it is about God. I get that. And that is my second point against compulsory expressions of worship. In my head, raising my hand is associated with drawing attention to myself. You raise your hand to speak in school, you make yourself bigger to draw attention to yourself, etc. That is what my subconscious thinks is happening when I’m raising my hand. It thinks I’m trying to draw attention to myself, so it gives myself all of my attention. I am immediately focused on myself when I’m raising my hand. That is not an attitude I want in worship and encouraging me to do that is encouraging me to focus on myself in worship.

A lot of people raise their hands as a natural outpouring of an emotional response. I think that is awesome. Please, continue to do that. My wife is that way and I admire her for it. However, there are some of us who just are not that way. Saying “but they did it in the Bible, so we have to do it now” is ridiculous, in my opinion. They also wore sackcloth and dumped ashes on themselves to represent repentance. When was the last time we did that? The heart is the same: we should respond to God in joy, celebration, and physical expression. How we do that is, however, is not universal.