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Liturgy, Ministry

Our Liturgy: Confession of Faith

June 1, 2021

Liturgy is a loaded word. Liturgy can communicate a myriad of things to different people. For some, it conjures images of dusty pews, stuffy worship, and archaic language. For others, it brings comfort, knowing the order and structure pertaining to the worship gathering. For those coming to the church that I pastor (Coram Deo), many are confused or unaware of why we do various things in our worship services. In this short series, I want to break down the various parts of our liturgy, explain why we do them, why we do them in a particular order, and what the biblical grounds are for each liturgical component. This week we will focus on the fourth aspect of our liturgy: confession of faith.

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Liturgy, Ministry

Our Liturgy: Assurance of Pardon

May 27, 2021

Liturgy is a loaded word. Liturgy can communicate a myriad of things to different people. For some, it conjures images of dusty pews, stuffy worship, and archaic language. For others, it brings comfort, knowing the order and structure pertaining to the worship gathering. For those coming to the church that I pastor (Coram Deo), many are confused or unaware of why we do various things in our worship services. In this short series, I want to break down the various parts of our liturgy, explain why we do them, why we do them in a particular order, and what the biblical grounds are for each liturgical component. This week we will focus on the third aspect of our liturgy: assurance of pardon

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Book Review

Book Review: A Burning In My Bones

May 25, 2021

Throughout the last year of the pandemic, I have devoured the writings of Eugene Peterson. It all started when I picked up a copy of his memoir (The Pastor)—I was awakened to a vision of pastoring that was new and fresh. Peterson’s presence, his ability to be quiet and slow, and his attentiveness to prayer has shaped me as a pastor. When I saw that Winn Collier would be writing an authorized biography of Eugene Peterson, I knew it was a book that I couldn’t pass up.

At times, it can be hard to write a review of a biography. What do you include? How do you review a person’s life story? What do you highlight? How do you review a biography without including spoilers? In attempts to avoid spoilers, I would like to summarize Collier’s biography of Eugene Peterson in three ways: the life of Peterson, the pastoring of Peterson, and the personal impact of Peterson.

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Bible

Why “So” in John 3:16 Is Often Used Incorrectly

May 13, 2021

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

16 οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλʼ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.


John 3:16 may be the most famous Bible verse in modern times. The verse can be seen plastered on billboards, trucking companies, In-N-Out cups, and on the faces of football players. And this is for good reason: the verse highlights the love which God has for humanity, which is primarily demonstrated in the giving of the Son of God so that we may inherit eternal life. The verse is full of glory and should be championed from the hilltops.

At the same time, I have heard sermon upon sermon from preachers of all different stripes misuse one word from John 3:16 to communicate an aspect of God’s character that it simply not textually accurate. I do not believe these pastors are being malicious or deceitful—they are attempting to use the language of the Bible as we have it in English to call people to believe and trust in the love of God. The problem is that many pastors do not have adequate training in Greek and Hebrew and thus will occasionally use words in English that do not mean the same thing in the original languages. So, what exactly is the word that is often used wrongly?

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Liturgy, Ministry

Our Liturgy: Confession of Sin

May 11, 2021

Liturgy is a loaded word. Liturgy can communicate a myriad of things to different people. For some, it conjures images of dusty pews, stuffy worship, and archaic language. For others, it brings comfort, knowing the order and structure pertaining to the worship gathering. For those coming to the church that I pastor (Coram Deo), many are confused or unaware of why we do various things in our worship services. In this short series, I want to break down the various parts of our liturgy, explain why we do them, why we do them in a particular order, and what the biblical grounds are for each liturgical component. This week we will focus on the second aspect of our liturgy: confession of sin.

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Hymns, Liturgy, Ministry

Our Liturgy: Call To Worship

May 5, 2021

Liturgy is a loaded word. Liturgy can communicate a myriad of things to different people. For some, it conjures images of dusty pews, stuffy worship, and archaic language. For others, it brings comfort, knowing the order and structure pertaining to the worship gathering. For those coming to the church that I pastor (Coram Deo), many are confused or unaware of why we do various things in our worship services. In this short series, I want to break down the various parts of our liturgy, explain why we do them, why we do them in a particular order, and what the biblical grounds are for each liturgical component. This week we will focus on the first aspect of our liturgy: the call to worship.

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Hymns, Liturgy, Ministry

Our Liturgy: Why Do We Do That?

April 21, 2021

Liturgy is a loaded word. Liturgy can communicate a myriad of things to different people. For some, it conjures images of dusty pews, stuffy worship, and archaic language. For others, it brings comfort, knowing the order and structure pertaining to the worship gathering. For those coming to the church that I pastor (Coram Deo), many are confused or unaware of why we do various things in our worship services. In this short series, I want to break down the various parts of our liturgy, explain why we do them, why we do them in a particular order, and what the biblical grounds are for each liturgical component.

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Book Review

Book Review: One With Christ

April 8, 2021

What is the central premise of the Christian faith? For most Christians, a well-packaged presentation about sin and the death of Jesus providing forgiveness would be customary. Perhaps others would say that God has communicated to us in the Bible. Still, others would point to a biblical worldview that shapes morality. With so many streams of emphasis among Christians, what is the central doctrine of the Christian faith? In his latest book, One with Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation, Marcus Peter Johnson, professor of theology at Moody Bible Institute, proclaims with gusto the driving doctrine of the entire Bible and the Christian faith: union with Christ.

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Bible, Culture

What We Need Most This Easter

March 31, 2021

In the wake of a global pandemic, millions of Americans have been thrust into a storm-tossed world of trauma, uncertainty, and hopelessness. For many, life before the pandemic seems both like one year ago and five years ago. Even for those who profess the Christian message of resurrection hope, days and weeks have dragged on, leading to despair and hopelessness. While we lament the ongoing deaths of Covid-19 in the world at large, we must not forget that Covid-19 has also taken another drastic toll on American life: our mental well-being. In 2019, 11% of American adults reported struggling with some form of depression and/or anxiety; that figure jumped to an alarming rate of 41% in 2021. For young adults (ages 18-24), the figures are evening more staggering: 56% of young adults have struggled with either depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or suicidal ideation. When two weeks of shutdowns turns into months, and months into quarters, and quarters into a whole year—what do we need most this Easter season?

Theology in the Abstract

Many Pastors may be tempted to preach on the hope of the resurrection in such a way to deal with the diminishing hope that is present in our world. We could preach that the resurrection is the ultimate source of hope and healing for a world gone awry. Because Christ has conquered the grave, he too can conquer even the darkest days of hopelessness in the midst of a pandemic. While all these statements are true, at times, these messages echo the hollow proclamations of secular societies that proclaim, “Andrà tutto bene” (Everything is gonna be fine). We don’t need theology in the abstract—messages of an ethereal and theoretical resurrection. We need a living, breathing, vital hope—Jesus Christ, the Resurrected One. What we need is not merely the hope of resurrection, but the person of Jesus who is risen (remember the old Easter maxim: He is risen! He is risen indeed!).

Many times, in Christian circles, we have a tendency to speak of the resurrection as if it has no connection to our present lives. The resurrection provides the downpayment by which God will right every wrong, gives us hope that Jesus has conquered death, and provides a way for us to see glory even in the midst of pain. Again, all well and true, but still very distance from our day-to-day lives; and more importantly, distant from Jesus, the One in whom resurrection actually flows through. We don’t need a Christianized version of “we will get through this,” rather, we need to find our hope in the one person outside of us that can provide real, substantial hope to our broken world.

In other words, more than simply, “the resurrection is true,” we need, more than ever, “Jesus is alive.” Jesus is alive even now, ruling and reigning over every square inch of the cosmos. Jesus is alive right now, governing and sustaining the smallest molecule to the largest galaxy. Jesus is alive right now in his gathered church, proclaiming the good news through Word, deed, and sacrament. Too many times our message of hope in the resurrection is nothing more than a spiritualized version of Bob Marley, “Don’t worry. Be Happy.”

The New Testament knows nothing of an impersonal resurrection with an abstract hope—it knows the resurrected and conquering Savior who says, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Rev 1:17-18).” Again, our hope is not in an idea of resurrection but in the One in who actually resurrected. What a world starved for hope needs is not platitudes and cliches about the unpredictable possibility of hope (i.e. we will get through this) but a deep and abiding trust in Jesus who actually gives us his promise that one day he will return to renew, restore, and redeem all things. In this Easter season, anchor your lives to the resurrected Christ, not simply the hope of resurrection.

Culture

Modern Evangelicalism and the Trap of Binary Thinking

March 15, 2021

It seems that every week on my social media feeds, broader evangelical leaders are decrying some new doctrine, fad, or cultural ideology. Wielding their words as weapons of war, these denouncements are seen as heralding and defending the truth, as 2 Tim 2:15 exhorts pastors to do. My problem is not with leaders defending the truth but in the manner that they do so: primarily in the form of binary thinking. Rather than affirming various aspects that are true because of common grace, evangelical leaders decry the entire secular ideology because it does not fit within a conservative systematic theological textbook.

A famous church-history pastor/scholar once said, “All truth is from God; and consequently, if wicked men have said anything that is true and just, we ought not to reject it; for it has come from God.” No, church, this is not a Coexist bumper sticker where we simply live in some harmonious relationship with all beliefs and religions; this is simply affirming aspects of truth in a world full of evil because God is the ultimate source of truth. Even though the sinfulness of man is on display everywhere, common grace and the echoes of Eden break through the cracks of a secular society so that moments of truth will inevitably be a part of every secular theory. For those who are skeptical about the above statement, perhaps we should realize that the author was none other than the theological bulwark, John Calvin. In this respect, it is helpful to quote Calvin at length:

Therefore, in reading profane authors, the admirable light of truth displayed in them should remind us, that the human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator. If we reflect that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth, we will be careful, as we would avoid offering insult to him, not to reject or condemn truth wherever it appears 

Institutes of the Christian Religion, II.2.15.

Binary Thinking In Our Times

To put some skin on this theoretical skeleton, right now, presidents of the major Southern Baptist seminaries are decrying Critical Race Theory as inconsistent with the biblical narrative. Keep in mind, Southern Baptists still represent the majority of Protest Evangelical Christians in the United States and thus their leaders will naturally reflect and influence where the denomination lands. My question to such leaders is, “Does heralding the truth look like decrying cultural ideologies or would it be more helpful to find elements of truth that are consistent with the biblical narrative that helps you paint a better picture of humanity through the biblical worldview?”

Am I in total disagreement with these leaders? Absolutely not (again, binary thinking would push us to say, “These leaders are dumb!”). Are there aspects of Critical Race Theory that are frightening and wrong? Absolutely. I wholeheartedly disagree with Marx’s solution for the problem, that we simply need to replace the power structure between the oppressed and the oppressor. Because of human sin, those who are in power will inevitably oppress. The solution can not be found where the problem lies. At the same time, can we affirm some very valuable truths in this cultural theory? Can we agree that racism is an egregious act, one that violates the imago Dei? Can we agree that there are elements of oppression between classes, races, sexes, etc? Absolutely. Affirming such truths is not affirming the entire theory of Critical Race; rather, it is highlighting what Calvin notes, that we can read “profane authors” and find gems of truth hidden in the rubble of cultural brokenness.

Before we get hung up on the details of Critical Race Theory (which, for the sake of time and argumentation, I am overly simplifying), I am seeking to address the broader cultural trend among Protest Evangelicals to only reject rather than to affirm and approve on what has been written. Evangelicalism often falls into the trap of binary thinking: believing that we must wholeheartedly agree or disagree with a certain group or ideology. Binary thinking does not allow us to find elements of truth within the world, producing a system of “us-vs-them” thinking in the church.

A Way Forward

Perhaps one of the most compelling voices of non-binary thinking is Scott Sauls, a Presbyterian Pastor in Nashville, TN. During the tumultuous season of the election, Sauls wrote, “If I can find nothing to critique about the political party that I support, and nothing to affirm about the opposing political party, then it’s probably the case that I’m conflating my partisan politics with my Christianity.” Surely many Christians hav fallen into the political binary trap, believing that the “other side” is completely wrong and our party is right. Binary thinking produces Christians who cannot affirm any aspects of truth in the opposing view. How then should we approach such cultural topics in a world full of deceit and evil?

We should follow in the steps of men like Sauls and Calvin, who can affirm truths in “profane authors.” In order to do that, we must be grounded in the biblical story, finding ourselves as part of God’s great drama in the world. We need to understand who our God is, to understand what God has communicated very clearly in the Bible, and to have our lives saturated in the words of the Scriptures. When one can view the world through a biblical lens, we are able to parse through the junk to find the nuggets of truth that exist because of common grace in the world. Sadly, I believe that some Christians fall into the trap of binary thinking because they are unable to discern what is true and false due to their lack of biblical understanding.

When our lives are grounded in the biblical narrative, we will become people of nuance rather than binary thinking. Will we be able to affirm everything? Absolutely not. But we will be able to affirm some elements of truth, and we can use those as building blocks for telling a better story in God’s world. For example, in the discussion of racism, particularly in America, we can affirm various aspects of Critical Race Theory (such as the extent and damage of racism) while also casting a better vision of how one deals with racism in this world. Using the common grace truths found within a cultural ideology will allow you to affirm and point towards the ultimate resolution that is found in the cross, resurrection, ascension, and second return of Christ.