‘Do Not Work For That Which Is Not Bread’: A Biblical Theology of Work

workGod has given us everything we need for life and godliness, the apostle Peter said (2 Pet 1:3). This means Scripture gives us all we need to know about God, salvation, and good works. It doesn’t mean that Scripture tells us how to teach grammar or solve chemical equations, but it does have much to say about work.

In fact, no matter what you do for a living, what stage of life you are in, or what sort of position you have (or aspire to have), God has much to say to you about your work. In recent days, a number of helpful books on the subject have been written (e.g., The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Work by Greg Gilbert and Sebastian Traeger, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work by Tim Keller with Katherine Leary Alsdorf, and What’s Best Next?: How the Gospel Changes the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman).

If the intersection of faith and work interests you, or if you are a Christian who has not considered how God relates to your vocation, you should make it a priority to read at least one of these. For now though, let’s glean a few truths from Scripture, which can serve as a biblical foundation for thinking about work.

A Biblical Theology of Work

Starting with creation and moving to new creation, let’s consider seven points about work. Continue reading

What is Evangelical Feminism? And Where Did It Come From?

rolesEach week, I write a bulletin insert for our church. The topics have ranged from the structure of Genesis 1–11 to assisted suicide to discerning types in the Bible. They usually relate to the sermon or a hot topic in the culture. And though they do not exhaust the biblical, theological, or ethical considerations of any subject, they do help our church members “think Christianly” about many matters of faith.

This blog post is no different. It broaches a subject that requires far more historical, cultural, and ecclesial attention than I am able to give here. But it is a start. Addressing the matter of evangelical feminism is meant to remind us that none of live in a cultural vacuum, and that even most stalwart “bliblicist” inhabits a world where feminism is the norm.

As Robert Samuelson noted this week in the Washington Post, birth control pills, radical feminism as advocated by Betty Friedan (The Feminist Mystique, 1963), and no-fault divorce have changed the way Americans think about marriage. Family life has been radically altered by these three phenomena, and in many ways they have each contributed to the other. Therefore, witnesses for Christ must be aware of how their thinking has been (explicitly and/or implicitly) shaped by feminism and from where those presuppositions originate.

What is evangelical feminism? And where did it come from?

Feminism can be defined as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” Evangelical feminism is the related belief that men and women can and should exercise the same offices in the church (e.g., pastor, preaching) and that husbands and wives should mutually submit to one another in the home. Such a view is common among Christians today, but it wasn’t always that way. (This view has been defended in the book Discovering Biblical Equality; it is has been opposed by Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth). Continue reading

What is Jesus’s Evangelism Program?

churchEvangelism Explosion.

Sharing Jesus Without Fear.

F.A.I.T.H.

The Alpha Course.

Christianity Explored.

Over the last few decades, the church has had no shortage of evangelism programs. Each of these mentioned above have been used by the Lord to add to the eternal harvest. But as I recently learned, each of these programs has, at best, a seven-year shelf life. Since each was created for a particular cultural moment, new methods are constantly needed, because culture keeps changing.

With great appreciation for these programs and for the godly men who created them, I want to ask a very simple question: Does the Bible itself give us a program of evangelism? Or more personally, what is Jesus’s program of evangelism? Has he left us to devise our own, only to trade them in every seven years? Or has he given us something more long lasting? Continue reading

Patient Love and Compassionate Truth: Keys to Reaching the Unreachable

blimpDuring the 1950s Joseph Bayly, a Christian publisher and author, began writing modern-day parables. One of his parables was called The Gospel Blimp, which became a low-budget movie in 1967.

The story is a satirical look at evangelism; or more specifically, The Gospel Blimp portrays how Christians invent ridiculous ways of sharing Jesus, while ignoring the simple path of personal, consistent, hospitable witnessing. Here’s a summary (from IDMB).

George and Ethel are concerned about the salvation of their neighbors, but don’t know how to reach them with the gospel. During an evening get-together with George and Ethel’s Christian friends, everyone is captivated by the sight of a blimp flying overhead. Then Herm gets a bright idea: why not use a blimp to proclaim the Christian message to the unchurched citizens of Middletown?

The group incorporates, buys a used blimp, hires a pilot, then commences to evangelize their hometown by towing Bible-verse banners, ‘firebombing’ folks with gospel tracts, broadcasting Christian music and programs over loudspeakers. But a series of misadventures puts the blimp ministry in jeopardy. George becomes increasingly uneasy about the methods and business practices of International Gospel Blimps Incorporated and its “Commander”, Herm.

Running parallel to these good news messengers gone bad, are George and Ethel’s neighbors, fellow church members who are looked down upon for carousing with the unbelieving neighbors. In the end, however, it is these Christian carousers who win the neighbors to Christ.

The morale of The Gospel Blimp is simple: personal witnessing is more effective than elaborate schemes of gospel marketing.

Bayly’s parable came a couple decades before American Churches ‘de-churched’ themselves to accommodate the preferences of unbelieving seekers—what is known today as the “Seeker-Sensitive Movement.” But it also reflects the truth seen in Titus 2 that the best way for Christians to “adorn” the gospel is through humble, hospitable lives that regularly interact with unbelievers and introduce them to the message of grace and truth.

Reaching the Unreachable

This same truth was reiterated last week, as I listened to Rosaria Butterfield’s testimony at the ERLC National Conference. (If you haven’t listened to her interview with Russell Moore, you must). Rosaria is a former professor of English and lesbian, who came to faith when a local pastor (Ken Smith) and his wife befriended her, invited her into their home, regularly visited her home, and held a long-standing conversation about the claims of the Bible.

She tells her story in The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convertand she begins with these jarring words:

When I was 28 years old, I boldly declared myself lesbian. I was at the finish of a PhD in English Literature and Cultural Studies. I was a teaching associate in one of the first and strongest Woman’s Studies Departments in the nation. I was being recruited by universities to take on faculty and administrative roles in advancing radical leftist ideologies. I genuinely believed that I was helping to make the world a better place.

At the age of 36, I was one of the few tenured women at a large research university, a rising administrator, and a community activist. I had become one of the ‘tenured radicals.’ By all standards, I had made it. That same year, Christ claimed me for himself and the life that I had known and loved came to a humiliating end.

In so many ways, Rosaria’s testimony displays the power of the gospel, but it also displays how the gospel was brought to her by an old-fashioned pastor who thought the best way to reach the unreachable was by regular, fireside conversations in his home after a well-cooked meal by his wife.

Evangelism with a Personal Touch

This kind of evangelism flies in the face of modern market-driven evangelism: it doesn’t promise numeric results; it takes time, invites hard questions, and requires Christians to rub shoulders with the ones who are “ruining our country.” Sadly, Rosaria relates how many Christians condemned Ken Smith for spending time with her.

Nevertheless, it is this kind of evangelism that the church needs to grow in. It is the kind of evangelism need to grow in. It is the evangelism Jesus modeled when he dined with tax collectors and sinners (Mark 2:16). And it is the evangelism found in Titus 2. After rebuking the false teachers ungodliness (1:10–16), Paul commends true believers to adorn the gospel of God by means of living godly lives in the presence of unbelievers (2:1–10).

Paul assumes that Christians will live, move, and have their being around unconverted people. And in this context, their godliness will protect the Word of God (v. 5), silence opponents (v. 8), and display the beauty of Christ our Savior (v. 10). This is the normal way of Christian living. And when it happens, God reaches the unreachable through the twin efforts of gospel witnessing and patient, humble, attentive, loving Christian hospitality, friendship, and love.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

You Are What You Eat: A Lord’s Supper Meditation

lordsupper“You are what you eat,” couldn’t be more true than when talking about the Lord’s Supper. When we come to the Lord’s Table we are declaring our confidence in Jesus’s body and blood as our singular hope for salvation. At the same time, we are receiving through a complex and simple sugars a taste of who we are—redeemed sinners adopted into the family of God.

Identifying the New Covenant Meal

When Jesus transformed his last supper into the Lord’s Supper, he took bread and broke it saying, “This is my body, which is given for you.” Then he took the cup saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:17–19). In his words and actions, Jesus was passing down a tradition that would forever recall the meaning of his death.

Jesus’s death revealed God’s judgment upon human sin, but because Jesus died for the sins of his covenant people, his death substituted for the punishment of his covenant people. Jesus spoke of his death and the Lord’s Supper in covenantal terms, because his blood inaugurated a new kind of relationship between heaven and earth.

Speaking specifically about the promises of the new covenant, Hebrews 8 teaches the believer what God has done for them in Christ. First, the new covenant moves me to delight in the law that is written on their heart. Second, it gives me saving knowledge of God through Christ. Third, it invites me into a personal relationship with God. And finally, it forgives me for all of my sins. In short, what the law could not do, weak as it was; the new covenant does by means of Christ’s perfect obedience and the Spirit he sent to us as he sat down at God’s right hand.

For this reason, we do well to take the Lord’s Supper often. Even more, when we take it we need to remember what Jesus Christ did for us and what his death says about our new-found identity in him. Indeed, the Lord’s Supper is a meal that defines a people. Since only those who have trusted in Christ are permitted to the table, it makes a visible distinction between those who partake and those who don’t.

A Meal that Identifies Us

For those who don’t partake, it is a reminder that they remain outside of the covenant blessings of God. Like Gentiles in Ephesians 2:11–13, those who do not take the Lord’s Supper are strangers and aliens to the promises of God; they are without God and without hope in this world. Consequently, the Lord’s Supper invites unbelievers (children or adult) to consider their own need for grace. In a visible way, it shows them they are outside the gates of Christ, but that the invitation remains to come to dine at the table if they will but trust Christ and turn from sin.

At the same time, the covenant meal also marks out the believer. While the world defines us by our skin color, social standing, education, sexual orientation, or working profession, the Lord’s Supper defines us as blood-bought children of God. It identifies us as the Lord’s covenant people, and it calls us to stop identifying ourselves by our past history, our personal problems, or our sinful living.

Like the food eaten in any temple the Lord’s Supper offers food that identifies us with Christ. Of course, we don’t believe that the bread and juice become are the body and blood of Jesus (as in the Catholic view of transubstantiation). However, we do believe that eating the meal identifies us with Christ, and more than that it defines our own identity.

In this way, we are what we eat. And when we take the Lord’s Supper, we are once again identified as his beloved children. Simultaneously, we are called to examine our hearts to consider whether our lives affirm or deny this identify. As an identify-shaping meal, it is vital we take the Lord’s Supper with regularity and that when we take it we understand what we are doing, and what it is doing to us!

Holy Father,
You sent your Son to identify with us,
now let us identify with him.
Forgive us for feeding on the food of this world;
Feed us on your faithfulness,
on the grace and truth found in your gospel.

 As we put bread and cup to our mouths,
may our hearts be close to you and not just our lips.
Incline our hearts to identify ourselves with you,
And may this Lord’s Supper further impress on us
A sense of your presence, your holiness, and your grace.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

How Should Christians Engage Culture?

christandcultureIn 1951 Richard Niebuhr wrote a book called Christ and Culture. In it he listed five ways the authority of Christ relates to the ideas, influences, and authorities of the world—what might be called “culture.” These include Christ against culture (e.g., Amish and hyper-fundamentalists) on one side and the Christ of culture (e.g., “cultural Christianity,” be it conservative or progressive) on the other.

In between these poles, Niebuhr also observed places in Scripture and church history where Christians have put Christ above culture. He rightly remarks that this is where most Christians live, vacillating between various forms of synthesis and separation from culture.

Evaluating Christ and Culture

To this day, Niebuhr’s book remains the historic guide to thinking about Christ and culture. However, more recently and more biblically, D. A. Carson has updated the conversation by evaluating Niebuhr’s book and presenting his own “biblical theology” of culture (see his Christ and Culture Revisited). Carson shows that Niebuhr’s conclusions suffer from his own Protestant liberalism, that at times he forces Scripture into his mold, and sometimes Niebuhr includes in the wide-tent of Christianity things at are not (e.g., Gnosticism).

Nonetheless, Niebuhr’s five-fold taxonomy (or four-fold is “cultural Christianity” is excluded) helps us think about Christ and culture. As Christians, we must have a multi-pronged approach to the world: we must resist the world without retreating from it; we must love the world (John 3:16) without becoming friends with the world (James 4:4; 1 John 2:15); we must appreciate God’s common grace in the fallen world, even as we seek the conversion of the lost, such that these new creatures in Christ might go into the world as salt and light to better preserve, purify, and improve the world.

All in all, the Christian’s duty to be in the world but not of the world is perplexing. Like the Jews living in exile, we must seek the welfare of our secular city (Jeremiah 29), but in seeking the good of our neighbors, we must not seek the city of man more than we seek the city of God, the city whose architect and builder is God.

But how do we do that? Continue reading

Dying with Dignity: What Should We Think About Euthanasia?

deathOn November 1, surrounded by her family and friends, Brittany Maynard will take her final breath. Or so she intends.

Earlier this year, Brittany was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer at the age of 29. Living in California at that time, she and her husband moved to Oregon so that she could legally commit suicide. Oregon is one of five U.S. states that permit physician-assisted suicide, and so she relocated their to end her life before her cancer would take it.

Her decision has received great support from many, including her husband (Dan), as her viral YouTube video explains. Her story has also reignited the debate about whether terminal patients have the right to take their own life. And it has prompted many strong and compassionate responses.

For instance, Joni Eareckson Tada speaks about the societal impact of Brittany’s private decision. Mrs. Eareckson Tada also refers to many alternative options for people with life-threatening conditions.

Dr. R. Albert Mohler also responded to Brittany Maynard’s decision in his daily news program, The Briefing (audio, transcript). Considering a number facets of this sad situation, Mohler observes how our secular culture befriends death as a way of escaping the pain of life. In fact, he asserts that the support for Brittany is in large part an indication of how far removed our culture is from the Christian belief that God is sovereign over the days of our lives (Psalm 139).

Let me encourage you to read and listen to Mrs. Eareckson Tada and Dr. Mohler, but even more let me encourage you to pray for Brittany and her family.

Talking About Life in a Culture of Death

Even as we pray for Brittany and her family, we must also consider what God says about these matters. When it comes to matters of life and death, Christians are obligated to speak a word of hope for resurrection life after death. But we must also think clearly about euthanasia and wrongful ways our culture is permitting and pursuing death.

For that reason, I want to take note of three issues related to Brittany’s decision and then suggest five ways Christians must think about euthanasia. Continue reading

Do Not Underestimate Your Ministry of Presence

greeter

The Impact of One Greeter

When I think about God’s work in my life, I see a face without a name, a man whose identity I do not know, but whose inviting smile is etched on my heart.

Growing up in the suburbs of Virginia, church was not a priority, but when I moved in high school to the farmland of Southern Michigan, things began to change. At the request of a friend I began attending church.  I lingered in this unfamiliar place because the music and message interested me. But ultimately I stayed because I encountered the love of God in his Word and in the smiling faces of God’s people. And no one displayed that love more than the church greeter whose name has since left my memory.

The Lord’s steadfast love reflected in this man’s consistent presence. Every Sunday when I arrived this elderly man greeted me with hospitality and interest. He inquired of my school, sports, and life in general. Though our conversations were less than 60 seconds each Sunday, his ministry of presence left an indelible mark.

I look back on that man and wonder if he ever knew how much his “mundane ministry” impacted my young life. Probably not. Nevertheless, his inviting love played a significant part in my coming to faith in Christ.

Going to Church is Not Just About You

It is easy to think that our church attendance doesn’t matter. We convince ourselves that no one will miss us if we take a little extra time at the campground or if we go to the stadium instead of the sanctuary, but the truth is: Absent members are greatly missed.

Other church members suffer because your spiritual gifts are not being used for their edification (1 Cor 12:7).   Budding Christians miss your presence because they see your absence and begin to believe that it is normal for Christians to be part-timers. And wayward 17 year olds suffer, while they don’t even know it.

Church attendance is often downplayed because “going to church doesn’t save you.” And though that is technically true, such a sentiment is self-focused and short-sighted. While your church attendance may not “save” you, it very well may the means by which God saves someone else. For me, that anonymous doorman’s presence opened more to me than just a door; God used it as a means of opening my heart to receive eternal life in Jesus Christ. His ministry of presence is a lesson for all of us.

Do Not Underestimate Your Ministry of Presence

This Sunday, may we come to church as the Sons of Korah did, desiring to stand at the doorways of God’s temple serving all those who approached (Ps 84:10). May we cast off self-indulgence and indifference and find true joy by serving others with a ministry of presence.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

What Should Churches Do Who Have Elders?

churchTitus 1:5–9 and 1 Timothy 3:1–7 give a host of qualifications for potential elders. Additionally, they give indication as to what an elder is supposed to do—to instruct the flock in sound doctrine and protect the church from false teaching, immorality, and division.

Yet, what about the congregation? Does the Bible have anything to say to church members as to their relationship with the elders who shepherd them?

While no virtue list exists for congregations like that of potential elders, the New Testament does instruct church members to love, support, and even submit to their leaders. In fact, from the context of many passages related to church leadership we find at least a dozen ways Christians should relate to those who lead them.

Twelve Ways The Church Relates to its Leaders

Continue reading

What Makes a Divorce ‘Biblical’?

sufficiencyEarlier this week laid out a gospel-centered approach to understanding what Scripture says about divorce. Yesterday, I also listed eight points that the Bible makes about divorce. But today, I want to ask a practical question: What makes a divorce biblical?

That is to ask, if Jesus and Paul permit divorce in the cases of ongoing sexual immorality and/or abandonment, what should take place in the life of a believer and a church, if they come to the heart-breaking point of considering a divorce?

As a point of clarification, biblical does not mean the same thing as good or ideal. As with all relational strife, divorce is not good in itself. However, Scripture does give us commands, principles, and guidance on how to faithfully handle a divorce, so it is right to speak of divorce as “biblical” if it is in keeping with God’s Word. Likewise, a divorce pursued contrary to God’s Word makes it “unbiblical.”

Believing that Scripture has given us everything we need for understanding and pursuing a godly life, we should know what comprises a biblical divorce. Here is my attempt to begin to outline the steps of a “biblical” divorce. Continue reading