Monthly Archives: November 2011

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Wise words on discipleship

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Categories: Blog, Devotional, Tags: , ,

discipleship This is something Sonya, my wife, posted on her Facebook this week. I thought it pretty profound, and thoroughly biblical.

(For those of you who do not know her, my wife is not in this picture.)

Discipleship is not easy. It is time-intensive. It is labor-intensive. It will cost you. it is not done in a day or a week. Throwing out spiritual platitudes is not the way to disciple someone. Criticizing their legitimate questions is not discipleship; it just drives those questions underground. Admitting you still have your own questions shows that you, also, are still a disciple and still in need of growth. Guess what? If you are still walking this earth, you haven’t arrived yet. In a good discipling relationship, there is no room for spiritual pride.

It rather reminds me of something else I read a while back from this missionary guy named Paul. Writing to believers in Thessolonica, Greece, he said,

Although we could have been a burden as Christ’s apostles, instead we were gentle among you, as a nursing mother nurtures her own children. We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. For you remember our labor and hardship, brothers. Working night and day so that we would not burden any of you, we preached God’s gospel to you…As you know, like a father with his own children, we encouraged, comforted, and implored each one of you to walk worthy of God, who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:7-9, 11-12, HCSB)

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When injustice is enough justice: Parsing theology into nothingness

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Categories: Blog, News, Opinion, Theology, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Part of this post deals with the terrible situation at Penn State University that broke in recent days. Because my website crashed and was down for several days I was unable to write a full post and was limited to expressing my outrage on Twitter and a few Facebook status updates. Suffice it to say that I am thoroughly disgusted with what happened to the boys involved and the cover-up that allowed former coach Jerry Sandusky to continue his pattern of child rape. That he used the auspices of a “benevolent” organization like the Second Mile Foundation to bring young boys into his sights is a most grotesque kind of evil.

Even with this in view I have friends who are utterly off the sports grid. Two of them had no idea who Joe Paterno was and had not heard this news at all even after Paterno was fired. My concerns as expressed here would not, as it will become clear, apply to such people.

In my last post I wrote a little about the current discussion as to whether justice is essential to the gospel, using a debate between Southern Seminary president Al Mohler and Sojourners president Jim Wallis as a launching point. That ongoing discussion, of which their debate is merely a microcosm, concerns the nature of the gospel itself. That is the reason why people on both sides tend to respond with such passion, and well it should be.

There is in the landscape of theological perspectives today a movement that is commonly referenced as “gospel-centered.” Many, if not most of the people in this movement, would align themselves with Mohler’s position, i.e., that justice issues are not essential to the gospel. These are opposed to any attempts to “add” anything to “the gospel” and define any kind of stand against injustice as works that spring from the gospel instead being integral to the gospel itself.

In the wake of the Penn State revelations I was looking to various people from the gospel-centered movement who would speak in defense of the victims, a need which took on growing importance when, following the firing of Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier, Penn State students rioted in support of Paterno (who was fired over potential complicity to the situation). For many of the students was the face of Penn State, and certainly of its football program. I thought of all the people online, of all who had an audience, the gospel-centered writers, bloggers and pastors would have been spearheading a call for justice for the victims. Or, a demand that well known people not be allowed to get away unscathed simply because they were famous or important to the financial position of Penn State. Or, given their strong and encouraging support of adoption, a defense of the defenseless, calling for a full and thorough investigation of those involved at Penn State for sure and The Second Mile if need be.

So, I waited. And waited. And waited.

Al Mohler wrote a piece that appeared on his website Thursday, November 10, 2011, as did Thom Rainer on his on the same date (but Rainer is not generally recognized as one of the “gospel-centered” bloggers). Then on Saturday, November 12, 2011, an article appeared on The Gospel Coalition blog entitled, Love Notices Wet Hair, which decried the Penn State abuses. The title came from a reported situation in which a young boy came home with wet hair after showering with Jerry Sandusky. His mother became suspicious, and, after confirming with her son what had happened, called the police. It was an important piece, but it wasn’t written by one of the big name bloggers at The Gospel Coalition website. It was written by Tim Henderson, the campus director for Cru at Penn State University.

I am not calling out a particular individual, because no blogger, writer or pastor can address every single issue that arises. But we are talking about the biggest American sports story of this year, and the most harmful story of any kind in the history of PSU. This was a story that dominated both sports channels and non-sports channels for days, and continues to do so with every new revelation. Counted among the gospel-centered heavy weights are rabid sports fans in general and college football fans in particular.

How is it that the most well known members of an entire movement have written almost nothing on their websites and blogs or have precious few tweets concerning it? I searched the terms “Penn State,” “Jerry Sandusky,” and “Joe Paterno” with every name or website I could remember, plus the term “gospel centered” and found, other than the two mentioned above, no quotes, articles or posts from the biggest most influential names in the movement. If I missed one it wasn’t for lack of trying.

I can only imagine how swift and thunderous would have been the response had Rob Bell suddenly endorsed NAMBLA as a legitimate expression of biblical love. Fifty-page pdf denunciations would have been published within hours. But why the near complete silence from this same group when pedophelia and child rape take place on the campus of a major university? It is this blanket of silence that is of concern. If those seeking to be gospel-centered are not motivated by that gospel to make their voices heard on such an issue, then one is forced to ask, “Why does this theology not, through the love of Christ, compel its adherents to speak out?” How in the world can adoption be a gospel issue, but the victims of pedophiles not be?

If gospel-centeredness does not lead to a vocal, biblical response to injustice of all kinds, then it has become perilously close an exercise in theological parsing. And, like water flowing downhill, extreme theological parsing leads to fundamentalism where the de facto result is striving to be more right than the next guy philosophically with no concern about it practically. If being gospel-centered creates a spiritual state in which adherents are not moved to speak out against such an atrocity as what we’ve seen at Penn State, then how could any serious follower of Jesus take seriously the gospel-centered position? If, as Al Mohler contends, justice is merely an expectation of the gospel, then, at least in the Penn State case, gospel-centered has proven to be a theological assemblage to which some issues of justice do not raise flags. When justice, which is a pronounced concern of God’s, becomes an optional expectation of the gospel in the real world then that theology, no matter how systematically astute, ignores the very gospel around which it purports to be centered.

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The gospel and the social

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Categories: Abortion, Blog, News, Opinion, Theology, Tags: , , , , ,

I recently spent a couple of hours watching the Al Mohler/Jim Wallis debate at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School’s Henry Center for Theological Understanding. The resolved was that social justice is integral to the gospel. Wallis took the affirmative, while Mohler, reluctantly in his own admission, took the “no” position.

Mohler rightly stated that the term social justice is not mentioned in the Bible. Neither, I might add, is economic justice, civic justice, or the Justice League of America. However, the word that these phrases share–justice–is mentioned. In fact the mentioned phrases are all more than implied in scripture, they are clearly addressed numerous times (well, not the last one). The Bible does address how God’s people are to relate to the poor, it does address how we are address the orphans and widows, it does address systems of economy that are unjust. About this most people do not argue. As a group the minor prophets rail against the disobedience to God that was so often demonstrated by injustice. Numerous of them specify mistreatment of the poor, the needy and the widows and children. Whenever a form of injustice is mentioned as happening “at the gate” or “in the gate” it refers to embedded, systemic abuse or oppression by those in power; i.e., legalized injustice.

social justiceNearing the time of His betrayal Jesus disciples expressed their desire to help the poor. When Jesus told them to stay near Him he reminded them, “The poor you have with you always, but me you do not have with you always.” In this Jesus isn’t saying it isn’t important to help the poor, but that once He was not longer with them they would have plenty of opportunity to fulfill those ministry opportunities. (Perhaps Jesus is referencing Deuteronomy 15:11, which states, “There will never cease to be poor people in the land; that is why I am commanding you, ‘You must willingly open your hand to your afflicted and poor brother in your land'” HCSB.)

The question, and an implication from it that I will further address in my next post, is “Does it matter whether these things are integral with the good news of Jesus Christ, and what is a practical effect of separating the two?” When Jesus came proclaiming the “good news of the Kingdom,” was seeking to right injustice part and parcel to His message, or were (and are) these things merely expectations of behaviors that would spring from that message? If it is the “good news” (gospel) of the Kingdom then does speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves, standing against admittedly fallen economic systems that oppress the poor, and working against tyrannical leaders who brutalize their own people for their own wicked, self-aggrandizement or monetary benefit constitute “good news”? If it is good news of “the Kingdom” what does the King Himself expect as the ethic of His reign? Can we hold to the King while disparaging or ignoring the realities of His kingdom? Put another way, “Can we parse the ‘good news’ into integral and additional?”

If justice is part of righteousness, how can it not be integral to the gospel? Does the righteousness of God include His justice? If it does, why does our imputed righteousness not include a call to seek justice as well? If justice is not a part of our righteousness in Christ, what is the point of “judging with righteous judgment” as Jesus instructed, or how can we even do that? It seems to me that justice is the activity of God’s being just. If so, then how can we be clothed in the righteousness of Christ and it not include the characteristic of being just like He is just with the integrated activity of seeking to overturn injustice in all its forms?

I’m not sure I know the answers to all those questions or any of them for that matter. While Wallis argued that social justice is integral to the gospel and Mohler said it wasn’t, Mohler was quick to note that even though it wasn’t it was certainly the responsibility to every believer. In my paraphrase, “It isn’t integral with the gospel, but it is so much a fruit of righteousness it might as well be.” His humorously expressed displeasure with taking the “no” position was because no Christian wants to be viewed as against injustice!

The question is not whether issues of social justice should be addressed by Christians; only from where that impulse should come?

Thoughts? Are justice issues–abortion, the sex trade, socio-economic oppression–part of the gospel itself?