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Weekend Java Awards 02.13.16

Apologetics Award: Debunking Silly Statements About the Bible – Greg Gilbert does a bang-up job of explaining why textual discrepancies in ancient Biblical manuscripts help our case rather than hurt it.

Preaching Award: Preaching the Whole Christ – David Prince is doing an awesome job weaving Sinclair Ferguson’s new book into the task of preaching. Check out the second installment here.

Spiritual Life Award: 18 At-Home Date Ideas – Just in time for Valentine’s day on a budget.

Theology Award: FAQ on Scriptural Authority – If nothing else, this will whet your appetite to read D.A. Carson’s new theological tome.

Fun Award: The Geek Within – I thought you all might enjoy a glimpse of me in my college prime, so here’s a 5-minute video I wrote, directed, acted in, and edited as a film major…I’m the Geek.

A Glimpse of Truth Award: Jim and Pam’s Quiet Fidelity – If you enjoy The Office, you’ll enjoy this little piece.

Writing Award: The Rich Young Blogger – Youch.

Books and Lit Award: How to Read a Book a Week – HBR with a quick list of tips to reading non-fiction books in a quarter of the time.

Christians and Culture Award: How Calvinism Influenced Education – I’m really, really looking forward to this well-researched series by David Murray on how Calvin impacted our current culture.

Church Leadership Award: The Most Overlooked Secret to Influence – This is a post written for writers, but I believe it’s true for church leaders as well. We often have not because we ask not.

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Pharasaism is Not the Unforgivable Sin.

Some Christians have got it in their heads that all sins are forgivable, except the type of sin Christ condemned in the Pharisees. That is, it’s all right to do all the really deplorable sins of the Gentiles: squandering wealth; brazen, excessive sex; listening to Heavy Metal music.

But, they think, there is another type of sin which creates a kind of impenetrable wall between grace and our human condition, and that is the sin of the Pharisees, or, the sin of hypocrisy.

I want to show you how silly this is.

First, it should be obvious to us that all sins, including hypocrisy, derive from the same source. We are all egoists – there is not a humble kind of sin and a proud kind. Sin by its very nature is shaking our fist at God. And so all sin, be it disobedience to parents or praying aloud in the street, is a kind of usury – it is an attempt to abjure God of his throne, and place ourselves in His place.

The religious attempt to do this is more subtle, more political: the Pharisees handed Jesus over. The Gentile is more bald-faced: The Romans crucified him. But both stem from naked, high-handed pride.

Second, it is true that the Pharisaical sin is the more dangerous. But this is only because it is more difficult to detect. Stealing from the offering plate is an obvious sin. Being smug in my offering is more subtle. And it is for this reason, and this reason alone, that Jesus spent so much time deconstructing the Pharisee’s ideas about right and wrong.

If a cancer patient goes to the doctor looking or help, the doctor will give it in the form of chemo. If another patient goes to prove to his wife he’s perfectly healthy, then the physician’s obvious course is to help the man see the disease. Jesus spends his time showing the Pharisees’ disease precisely because this was the course of action best for them; not because he had some special vitriol for ‘that type’.

So when we catch ourselves being Pharisees – comparing our religion to others, or our generosity, or our intelligence – the last thing to do is self-flagellate: “Oh, I’m the worst of sinners! God can forgive the prostitutes, but how can he forgive me, a Pharisee?” No – that approach is fighting pride with pride. God did not ask us for groveling.

What did he ask of us? That is the question answered in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The whole aim of Jesus’ parable wasn’t to give Pharisees their comeuppance. It was to show them the right course of action. His aim was to move those listening from the tax collector: “God have mercy on me, a sinner,” to themselves: “God have mercy on me, a Pharisee.”

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Quill

Understanding the Artist in Your Life

At some point on life’s journey, you’re going to meet an artist.

If you’re an evangelical, this artist will confuse you, because the artist will not be interested in your theological answers to life’s dilemmas – they’re too simple, too neat, and too “propositional.”

That’s not necessarily right, it’s just true.

They will also be frustrated that, as you read their book, or listen to their music, or look at their work, you are trying to figure out their agenda.

That’s not to say artists don’t have an agenda. It’s simply to say that for the artist, the agenda is – at least in a postmodern context – largely about sharing an experience. To create isn’t to offer answers, but to extend a hand of friendship: “This is what life feels like/looks like/sounds like to me – how about you?”

Of course, the artist can use some hard-bound protestants to protect them from falling of the experiential cliff of insanity. But in order to understand, and thus to reach, the artist in your life, you need to first sit alongside them. Which means: you need to bring him or her to the Bible’s fleshiest places.

Bring them to the despair of Ecclesiastes.

Guide them to the question mark at the end of Job.

Show them the rawness of the Psalmist.

Let them stare at the depravity of Judges.

Read them through Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Evangelicals shy away from these verses, but artists need them. They need to see that the Bible is not a fairy-tale, or a Canterbury Tale, or a flippant collection of trite maxims for do-gooders. It’s not that the artist doesn’t need answers. But if you don’t show the artist the Bible’s honesty, they’ll never listen to the answers.

And that, of course, means you need to wrestle with that honesty first.

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Weekend Java Awards 02.06.16

Apologetics Award: C.S. Lewis Critiques the Liar, Lunatic, Lordship Argument – Well, he doesn’t. But someone else does, and he comes in for the alley-oop. That’s fun to picture, btw.

Preaching Award: The Thinking Pastor – A wonderful transcript of a sermon to preachers from a wonderful preacher himself. It’s less confusing than the way I described it just now.

Spiritual Life Award: Patient Parenting – Dr. David Murray with a few points of wonderful, wise, practical counsel for parents of all ages and stages.

Theology Award: 20 Quotes on Legalism, Antinomianism, and Assurance – From Sinclair Ferguson’s latest. You can’t go wrong.

Fun Award: McDonalds is Dead…And We Have Killed It – This is a very funny critique/case study on American culture as of late.

A Glimpse of Truth Award: I Can Tolerate Anything But the Outgroup – Here’s a rare bit of honest introspection from a secularist about the true intolerance of tolerant people. It’s actually a good bit of it, so you might want to take it a chunk at a time. Worth it.

Writing Award: Why Protestants Can’t Write – This article, and the one that follows, have started up a storm of reaction in the blogosphere, and I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed reading along.

Books and Lit Award: The Story Behind the Jesus Storybook Bible – This is a lovely interview with Sally-Lloyd Jones, in which she touches on writing, theology, and the publishing industry.

Christians and Culture Award: Trumped Up? – Here’s a lengthy but excellent article to help you understand the nuances behind the cultural phenomenon of Trumpism. Caution: this article is filled with black internet holes via link-mania. I think it took me about 2 hours to get through the whole thing.

Church Leadership Award: 5 Rookie Pastor Mistakes – Some great insight from Hershael York.

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8 Ways to Order Your Marriage.

As Brenna and I have been facing big decisions over the last few months, it’s been neat to see that way God has transformed our marriage from its fledgling stages to something a little more beautiful.

It’s also got me thinking about the whole complementarian/egalitarian debate, and how my views over the years – though still complementarian – have shifted from a kind of misogynistic immaturity to what Brenna and I both perceive to be a more Christ-like model.

It’s made me realize there aren’t just two positions on this: egalitarianism and complementarianism – and when people are arguing against one or the other, they’re normally arguing against a flawed diversion, rather than the real thing.

That being said, let me lay out a few different options:

Misogyny: The husband asserts his desires, the wife submits. Though this is what chiefly comes to mind to those in the egal. camp, this is the furthest thing from the biblical picture of complementarianism possible. Unfortunately many, wounded from a history of misogyny, reject all hierarchy within families whole-sale based on their experience.

If I’m honest, both my wife and I came into marriage with a subconscious commitment to this kind of relationship, and the results were not only personally devastating, but anti-gospel. Jesus never asserts his personal desires over and above his bride.

Matriarchy: The wife asserts her desires, the husband submits. Though I doubt any would publicly subscribe to this, it is, unfortunately, a settled pattern in many Christian homes. In this model, the husband mistakes weakness for meekness and, rather than honoring his wife, becomes bitter and distant (in effect dishonoring her).

Jesus was not weak, he was meek – he asserted his bride’s good, he didn’t passively give into it.

Pragmatism: We both assert our desires, and we both win. The reason this sounds so ideal is that it is so idealistic. The truth is, we don’t have the time, energy and resources to try and make ‘win-wins’ out of every minute situation in life. Nor, I might add, does this sound much like the Christ who called us to marriage.

It’s a hunch, but I doubt Jesus came to earth saying: “You get what you can out of this, and I’ll get what I can.” Pragmatism (a focus on what works), is a denial of the purpose of marriage – the point of marriage is not to do the greatest good to the greatest number (both of us, in this case), but to assert the image of Christ and the church to a watching world (Ephesians 5:23). So “work”, in this case, is contingent upon a definition of marriage’s purpose which goes little beyond realizing my own, personal desires.

Besides, if “work” means, “does what it’s meant to do”, then pragmatism, in that sense, doesn’t “work”.

Naivety: We’ll never disagree. Point 1: Okay, sure. Point 2: Jesus called us to be peacemakers, and that in the church. This assumes there will be conflict, and it assumes a non-passive approach. We’re not called to be peace-keepers, but makers, meaning: we have work to do.

A quick read through the New Testament ought to wash us clean of this one. Jesus had (has) conflict with his bride, and he’s perfect. So, to put it strangely – if there’s no conflict, something’s wrong.

Democracy: We both assert our desires, and someone wins. The truth will out, is the thought here. Except, there’s no real “truth” to whether we ought to go out for ice-cream or pizza. No argument can solve it. There’s no “right” answer to whether we should move to California or Timbuktu – these are morally neutral issues. In fact, let me be controversial: there’s no real truth as to whether the house should be clean or messy. We attach virtues to these things because we inherently view our personalities like good Pharisees – we make rules from them, and work outward.

Besides, this looks nothing like Christ and the church. Notice I’m not saying that we shouldn’t communicate our desires to one another: communicating our vulnerability is actually an investment, not a withdrawal. It’s a compliment to say, “I need you.” But saying, “Therefore, you must do this” is patently wrong on every account.

Coldness: Neither of us assert our desires, and no one submits. Clearly, when you’ve reached this point, there’s bitterness and the whole operation’s gone amuck. Jesus communicates his desires toward us, and he invites us to communicate our desires to him. So – this is radically anti-gospel as well. This is a roommate scenario, not a Song of Solomon one.

Absurdity: Both of us assert the others’ desire, and no one submits. This is the closest to true complementarianism, but it’s only flaw is that it’s absurd. I believe it is in The Four Loves that C.S. Lewis points out that two people sitting at a dining table insisting that they pour the others’ tea has less to do with love and more to do with absurd false-humility. The beautiful thing about complementarianism is that it’s just like this, without the absurdity, which leads us to…

Complementary: Both of us assert the others’ desire, and the wife submits. In a recent decision my wife and I made, it became clear that our desires were in conflict. The position being offered to us would have been a wonderful fit for one of us, and a terrible fit for the other. Sparing you the details, it became evident to both of us the beautiful irony of the situation: Brenna was insisting that we do things my way. And I was insisting we do things in a way that was best for her.

And because we are complementation, I “won out” in the end: I asserted her desires over mine.

That is a long and winding journey, but I think it’s good for many of us to hear, on every side of the debate. While we think we may be in one camp, we may actually be in some permutation of it that is actually unrecognizable from its original intent. The truth is, the real model is like two people leaning toward one another for balance – it’s a total act of trust on both parts, and it requires an “all in” approach, not something half-baked.

But when we both lean in – curiously – it forms something like a steeple.

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When the Muse Mutinies

Writers ought to be in touch with their subconscious, especially on first drafts. Just let your hands move – type, don’t think.

But after this, you need to take the muse off the throne. The first draft gives you an ingenious flood of creativity, but the second draft needs to make sense of it all.

Most writers live on one of either extreme:

1. They are not in touch with their muse. They don’t let creativity take over from time to time. They’re too tight, too rigid, too rule-bound. They need to let loose, and write a few sloppy pages, then pluck out the gems.

2. Their muse has mutinied. They have lots of interesting, wacky connections strung together in paragraphs, but they haven’t stepped back and drawn boundaries. The danger here is that writing becomes imprecise. It’s not enough to create interesting metaphors – the metaphors must also make sense. The muse needs to be disciplined, strapped back into some kind of sensible scheme.

Unfortunately, I think many of our best Protestant writers live in one of these two spheres.

The majority no doubt live in the first – there’s a kind of fear of breaking the evangelical rules that keeps them from freeing the muse.

The few, and the rest, are trapped in the second – their connections, logic and word choices are at times ingenious, but at other times they’re merely strange, off-kilter, and distracting. They could use stepping back and saying: “Is that profound, or is it just weird?”

The writer needs to be both creative and precise – in touch with both the analytical and the quirky. The Creative can make beautiful things, but they’re not always sensible. The Analytical can make sensible things, but they’re not typically beautiful.

The key is to be in touch with your muse, but to have him (or her) well-trained. The muse needs to be available:

“Go fetch me a word.”

“Show me what happens next.”

“Give me a metaphor.”

But interesting vocabulary can’t determine content; metaphors can’t usurp clarity; instinct can’t overwhelm structure. Neither should prescriptions choke the muse.

The subconscious is a good servant, and a terrible master.

The ideal is to keep the muse on speed-dial.

But never let the muse mutiny.

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Weekend Java Awards 01.30.16

Apologetics Award: The New Tolerance Must Crumble – D.A. Carson has been going around secular college campuses on lecturing on the intolerance of tolerance. He gives a few useful insights, and pointers into how to do the same.

Preaching Award: Preach for Holiness by Preaching Christ – A double-feature by Dr. Prince today. Just one more reason why you should consider having a sermon template.

Spiritual Life Award: Rethinking Our Relaxing – This one got me good. Real good. It’s an interview about a guy who specializes in the biblical theology of leisure. Go figure. I found these 75 manly hobbies to be a nice complement to the article. It reminded me that oh – I like things other than reading theology. I should do this stuff. And I should do it with my boys.

Theology Award: The Jesus Only Liberalism is Old News – Rishmawy nails it, here. Jesus as the replacement for all of scripture ultimately compromises Christ himself.

Fun Award: The Most Cringeworthy Christian T-Shirts – As pathetic as these are, one can’t help but be impressed by the effort.

A Glimpse of Truth Award: Aziz Ansari on Shallow Love – Secular comedian Aziz Ansari on how ridiculous is our American obsession with finding “the one”.

Writing Award: How to Be a Prolific Writer – Some good, realistic thoughts on crafting time for the craft.

Books and Lit Award: Which Roald Dahl Character Are You? Proud to be sporting the spirit-child of Matilda. How about you?

Christians and Culture Award: A Religious Alternative to American Politics – Bruce Ashford finishes up his series on Christians and politics with a very insightful finale. I’m still formulating my opinions on this. I’ve read a similar approach before, but it left me thinking: “That seems a bit naive – if we don’t share a basic worldview, how can we argue for/against any ethical issue?” Thoughts?

Church Leadership Award: Don’t Spiritualize Mediocrity in Ministry – Yes. “Where preaching is weak, anemic, unfaithful, and compromised in a church, everything else in congregational life, no matter how well done, is merely impotent ecclesial smoke and mirrors. That is where I stand. Period. But this post is designed to confront a different problem among those who agree with me on the primacy of preaching.”

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Truth

Knowing Bible Verses Isn’t the Same As Knowing Your Bible.

Hey folks – I apologize, especially to those who’ve written in your appreciative remarks – but I’m going to need to take a break from the Calvin series. I’m finishing up school this semester, as well as applying to jobs, with other responsibilities, so I simply don’t have time to make it what I’d like it to be. I hope to return to it in the future. I’ll still be posting regularly. That said, onto today’s post:

I spoke a couple of months ago with my wife and a friend about this article in the NY Times.

It’s about a woman who grew up in Westboro Baptist Church – the church that pickets funerals of soldiers and homosexuals carrying signs that promote God’s “hatred”.

One of the things my wife brought up was her surprise at how much scripture this woman knew – she could quote hundreds of verses from the Bible. The church claims that it treats God’s word as authoritative. The sermons were, allegedly, chock-full of dozens and dozens of quotes from scripture. So how could they go so wrong?

My initial response was this: “Knowing Bible verses isn’t the same as knowing the Bible.”

In fact, I said, I was willing to bet that if you went to the church website, you wouldn’t find a sermon series on Matthew, or Philippians, or the Psalms, or any book of the Bible. And so I checked the website, and, lo and behold – I was right.

How did I know? Because it was clear to me that this woman, and the people of WBC, didn’t/don’t know the Bible – nor do they want to know the Bible. WBC isn’t preaching the Bible. They’re preaching Bible verses – shaken around and smashed together into what appears to be one compelling message…unless you actually know the Bible. (Notice the irony, here – the so-called liberal churches whom WBC preaches hatred against employ the same method, and for the same reason.)

The sad truth is, anyone can “systematically” take a dozen passages of scripture, tie them up in a bow, and present them as an apparently compelling case for their own viewpoint. I was part of a church for several years that did this – easily 20 or 30 scripture passages were glued together each week to present the “clear truth of scripture”. Unfortunately, when read in their context, it became increasingly clear that the Bible did not say many of those things – the pastor did. And he used Bible verses to bolster his own agenda (side note: when the people of your church constantly begin their sentences with “Well, pastor says…” it’s time to bolt. This is a cult, not a church).

Fortunately, I’ve been blessed to be part of churches over the past several years that don’t preach Bible verses. Instead, they teach and preach through books of the Bible, verse by verse. In this way, they teach their congregants to understand scripture in its context – so that when people carrying picket signs with Bible snippets trollop into their pathway, they’re not deceived.

This isn’t an indictment against systematic theology, or even topical sermons. My point is: Bible verses cannot be the only diet of God’s people. If they are, we’re left susceptible to any wind of doctrine that passes our way. In order to be a discerning Christian, then, dear reader, I implore you: if possible, go to a church that isn’t content to teach you Bible verses. Go to a church that teaches you, verse by verse, the Bible.

And preachers – do you want your congregants to be discerning? Then I implore you – give your congregants a steady diet of the Bible, in context, verse by verse. Even if your topical sermons say true things, they aren’t the equipment your people need to discern truth from error. How we teach truth is as important as the truth we teach.

And yes, I realize that takes work, on both ends. But if it would help the church to be as far from WBC as possible, I’m all in.

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You Can’t Overemphasize Truth.

It’s impossible to overemphasize any truth.

It is possible to emphasize to the exclusion of something else.

It’s not possible to overemphasize God’s sovereignty. It is possible to emphasize it to the exclusion of human responsibility.

It’s not possible to overemphasize social justice. It is possible to emphasize it to the exclusion of evangelism.

It’s not possible to overemphasize the preached word. It is possible to emphasize it to the exclusion of community care.

It’s not possible to overemphasize religious affections. It is possible to emphasize them to the exclusion of doctrine.

It’s not possible to overemphasize anything, because no aspect of God or his law can be emphasized enough. It is all worthy of infinite exploration, and exposition.

The goal, then, is not to stay “balanced”, as though half-heartedly proclaiming one aspect of truth were doing another some favor. Downplaying any aspect of truth ultimately leads to the poverty of the rest. Paradox doesn’t deflate truth, it makes it more colorful, more full, more wonderful.

So we don’t believe 50% in justification, and 50% in sanctification. We believe 100% of both, and neither can be emphasized enough. Both make the other more beautiful.

But one might be emphasized to the exclusion of the other.

The goal, then, is not to “balance”, but to maximally emphasize all truth, all the time.

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Weekend Java Awards 01.23.16

Apologetics Award: “GK Chesterton Flips 4 Objections to Christianity Upside-Down” – This is a little piece of gold dug up by Trevin Wax.

Preaching Award: The Long and Short of Sermons – How long should a sermon be? Well, it depends how well you preach.

Spiritual Life Award: 7 Ways to Grow in the Art of Communication – This is about speaking gently and patiently with your children, not people in general. But it hit me like a Mack truck. Good stuff.

Theology Award: Romans 7 Does Describe Your Christian Experience – Piper’s follow up to the article I posted last week. He’s more difficult to follow than Schreiner, so take your time.

Fun Award: A Robot Writes and Episode of ‘Friends’ – This is pretty funny. And it proves that robots are people, too.

A Glimpse of Truth Award: The End of Small Talk – This article expresses on writer’s desire for deeper connection in a shallow world.

Writing Award: My Ethic of Blogging – My good friend Bryn T Clark fires up his blog again with a plethora of wonderful quotes and insights into the writing life. Enjoy.

Books and Lit Award: The Christian Reader’s Resource Guide – David Qaoud has rounded up 49 links to amazing book lists. You already have one of them, e-mail subscribers 😉

Christians and Culture Award: The Elusive Key to the Good Life – I’ve never posted a sermon here before, but these are worth posting. Steve is a brilliant expositor, and he’s taking his congregation through the book of Ecclesiastes. This series has been of great personal benefit to me, but it also has some of the most penetrating insights into our culture that I’ve heard. This is the second in the series, and you can get the first on the same site.

Church Leadership Award: The Secret of Spurgeon’s Success – This article on Spurgeon’s leadership through prayer inspired me to take some action this week. What a vivid, beautiful picture it paints.

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About Me.

Hi. I'm Nicholas McDonald, and I'm a student pastor, blogger, preacher and author of the forthcoming book, "Faker" (Good Book Company 2015). I've studied creative writing and mass communication at ONU and Oxford University, and am finishing up my M.Div at Gordon Conwell along with my lovely wife and two hearty boys. I write about all of the above.

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