How to Filter Everything with the Bible

Last Wednesday I had the privilege to preach at Ekklesia’s midweek service on the subject of the Christian mind, a subject I’m obviously passionate about. I ended the sermon talking about how we need to use the Bible to filter everything that comes our way, in order to find the truth and spit out the lies. I didn’t quite get to say everything I wanted to say on the matter, so I decided to discuss it here.

Elemaris_Cool_schwarz_300dpiI cannot overstate how important it is that believers try and filter everything through the lens of Scripture. Because the devil is constantly tempting us, the world is constantly preaching to us, and our flesh is constantly blinding us, we must use the Word of God to navigate through all of this. Our guide cannot be our intuition or our own logic. It cannot be our experiences. We are people of the Book and so all our arguments must come from the truth of this Book.

THE MARK OF MATURITY

We need to learn to discern between truth and error. Albert Mohler says, “The absence of consistent biblical worldview thinking is a key mark of spiritual immaturity.” What that means is that if you are unable to decipher through things happening around you and determine if it coincides with the Bible, then you are spiritually immature. Now, that doesn’t mean you are going to have all the answers, but that does mean you know how to find them, or at least the fact that you need one.

Hebrews 5:11-14 says:

“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

Who does he say is the spiritual child? The one who does not know how to handle the Word of God. The one who does not know how to discern between good and evil, right and wrong teaching. The one who does not know how to filter what they hear and see.

So it’s not only the super-Christian (as if they existed) who should know how to wade through the moral and ethical complexities of life. All Christians are called to grow up, just like all babies are called to become adults.

FILTER THE WORLD

We cannot be passive thinkers. If you’re watching TV, don’t just sit there and let your brains ooze out your ears. The world is constantly preaching sermons to us. Every movie, song, book, blog, and political speech, is preaching a message to you, inviting you to come and believe. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up agreeing with the lies and miss the truth.

As you go throughout your day, you shouldn’t just let any old thought pass in and out of your head. You have to be vigilant and aware, constantly. We are most vulnerable when we are most aloof.

I hate to break it to you but you’re actually going to have to work at this. I know this is hard. Sometimes I just want to zone out and let my mind wander. My mind can run off so badly that I sometimes don’t even realize what’s going on around me (which really annoys my wife). When that happens, I just have to remind myself, if you didn’t want to think hard then you should’ve never allowed yourself to graduate kindergarten.

FILTER BIBLE TEACHINGS

Along that same note, Ephesians 4:13-14 says:

“Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

Once again, it’s the spiritually immature who’s tossed to and fro by every kind of teaching they hear. They are helpless. My daughter Madeline is only ten weeks old, and her head is so big compared to the rest of her body that when she tries to sit up she just falls over. Imagine a baby like that in a sailboat, with waves tossing to and fro. Helpless. The baby is not in control, the ocean is.

It’s the same with a spiritually immature person. They hear something that sounds slightly spiritual and they think it’s so awesome and they put it up on Facebook. They think, Well a pastor said it, so it must be true!

Most Christians put down their guards when they hear vaguely spiritual language or they see the label “Christian.” It must be good because they mentioned God! This is why if you look at most of the best-selling books in Christian bookstores, they are written by authors who are peddling false teachings. And the Christians gobble them up like they’re Olive Garden breadsticks.

Don’t take in anything blindly. I don’t care if it’s a sermon, a song, or a book endorsed by Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant. It may make you feel good, but is it true? Search the Scriptures.

In Acts 17, Luke writes about the Bereans and their reactions to Paul’s teachings about Jesus. Instead of just accepting his word blindly, they searched the Scriptures to see if such things could be true. Luke says that they were more noble than the Thessalonians for their diligence.

I can’t do the thinking for you. Mark Driscoll, John Piper, or Tim Keller can’t do the thinking for you. You are free, no encouraged, to check everything we say with the Scriptures. You don’t have to agree everything said or written. If you’re confused or don’t understand, that’s okay. Search for the truth.

FILTER YOUR EXPERIENCES

Don’t even interpret your own experiences with a passive mind.

You may think that a certain worship experience was so mind-melting and heart-stopping, but 1 John 4:1 says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

If it does not coincide with Scripture and if it does not affirm Christ, then I don’t care if it gave you the biggest spiritual high you’ve ever experienced. False teachers don’t come from outside the church but inside, and they are deceiving many.

As I’ve written earlier  spiritual highs and experiences are not unique to Christianity. You can get the same high at a Coldplay concert. What’s unique to Christianity is the truth of the Gospel. Stick with that.

FILTER WITH QUESTIONS

You may say, but I’m not a theologian. I don’t think I am able to filter all this. What’s the point?

Everyone is a theologian. Theology literally means “words about God.” Everyone has some sort of idea about God, even atheists.

Everyone is a theologian. The question is whether or not you are a good one. A good one searches for the truth—for how God wants to be represented.

I want to encourage you to ask questions. When someone comes your way, don’t accept it blindly. Also, don’t reject it right away. Ask questions. Is this true? What does the Bible say about this? Are there actual verses (taken in context, of course) that would support this?

I don’t necessarily think questioning is a bad thing. Questions are good and fine if you have the right attitude. The best place to ask a serious question or voice a doubt should be church (sadly it’s often not). Where questions can go wrong is where you don’t like the answer you find in Scripture, so you go looking for something else to tickle your ears. That shows you are not concerned with the truth but with yourself.

The mark of a Christian is that they will uphold and defend the truth. 1 Timothy 3 calls the church the “pillar of the truth.” If we don’t stand for the truth of the Gospel, that Jesus is God who became a man to save sinners like you and me, that He died on a cross to take the punishment we deserved, and that He rose again to give us new life if we trust in His work, then no one will stand for it.

Let’s take back our minds and use them for Christ.

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Out of Context: Matthew 18:20 – Where Two or More Are Gathered

carpool_sign_500To continue our series looking at commonly taken out of context verses, I wanted to take aim at one of the most famous of them all, Matthew 18:20.

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Typically, I’ve heard it quoted in church services by pastors and worship leaders praying in front of the congregation: “Lord, thank you so much that You are here with us right now as we worship. Your Word says, ‘Where two or more are gathered, there I am also.’ We have at least three hundred here just to be safe, so we know for sure you’re here.” I’ve also heard it in small prayer meetings: “God we know you can hear our prayers right now because Sebastian and Helga are praying with me.”

It’s used as an encouragement to the others listening that God approves of their worship. We know something really extra-special and spiritual is going down because God is actually here with us.

I’m definitely not innocent in my use of this verse. This verse is so commonly used that it’s become another prayer-ism that people naturally say along with “Heavenly Father,” “Place a hedge of protection,” “Bless this food to our bodies” (Because you know, of course, nutrients only travel through your bloodstream if you pray—especially fast-food), and “In Jesus’ name.” Sometimes we don’t even think about it. We just say it.

This is a public service announcement to not take all our Christian-ese as given truth. We need to think through what we say and do in the Christian life, even if it’s been said or done by pastors, and see if what we’re doing is actually founded on the Bible. If it is, then that’s great! If not, then we need to reevaluate our spiritual habits.

(1 + 2 = God) is an equation we really don’t need.

THE CONTEXT

Here’s the context to Matthew 18:20. It’s a little long, but stick with me.

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Jesus here is teaching His disciples how things are to work in His kingdom, in His church. He has just finished teaching the disciples about true greatness (18:1-6), how to fight sin (18:7-9), and God’s heart for the lost (18:10-14). Then in verse 15 (our context), Jesus transitions to talk about how we deal with others who sin against us. Justice is not found in taking matters into our own hands but in an orderly system of checks and balances, and in restoration. Jesus gives the disciples four steps to follow in such a situation.

1. Talk about it

Jesus tells His disciples that if they’ve been wronged by someone else in the church, first and foremost they are supposed to confront that person one-on-one (18:15). Not gossip. Not put passive-aggressive statuses on Facebook. Lovingly face-to-face. The goal in all of this is restoration and redemption.

2. Take one or two witnesses with you

If for some reason the perpetrator does not believe you or is not sorry for their sin, you must take one or two people to again confront them (18:16). This shows the person proof that the accusations are not the result of a grudge but in reality seen by multiple people. Jesus says, “every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (18:16). Does that number sound familiar?

3. Have the leadership confront them

If the perpetrator again rejects your loving correction, Jesus says you and the witnesses are to bring it before the “church” (18:17). I don’t have time to explain it all, but I take this to mean the church leadership and not the entire congregation. Hopefully having all the pastors confront the person will make them see the severity of their sin.

4. Send them out of the church

If they still won’t repent, even after multiple confrontations, the church is to send the person out because they are willfully rebelling against God’s Word (18:17). They will bring others down if you don’t (1 Corinthians 5; 2 Timothy 2:16-19; Titus 3:10-11).

Then Jesus ends this sermonette with a reassurance, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (18:18-19). He’s saying, if you go through this process correctly then God agrees with you. This is encouraging because proper church discipline is not a fun deal for anyone.

As a part of His encouragement Jesus ends saying, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (18:20). Remember that number? It’s the same amount of witnesses needed to properly confront a person in sin. Jesus isn’t saying you need two or three people praying to Him to have Him present. Jesus is encouraging believers that if they go through this process of church discipline properly then He supports their decision.

It’s almost hilarious how different this is from the common misinterpretation of this verse.

IMPLICATIONS

So, is Jesus present when two or more gather in His name? Yes.

He is also present when only one gathers in His name. Or none. God is always with you (Psalm 139) and you can call out to Him at anytime or anyplace. He wants you to. He’s not waiting for a magical number of people to appear.

If that were the case, then what do you do if you have two people gathered but one secretly and nefariously has not gathered in Jesus’ name? Is fellowship broken? No.

Instead, we can come to Jesus at any time, knowing that He is ready and excited to hear from us.

Other Out of Context posts:
Philippians 4:13 – Can I do all things through Christ?
How to take a verse out of context

Theology vs. Experience: Which Should a Christian Focus on?

Worshipper

Is he supplicating or contemplating?

There’s a trend running around the American church that devalues theology’s place in an individual’s life. It holds that a relationship with God will produce all the truth needed. Theology may be for some people, (dusty academics hidden behind mountains of rotting books and pious pastors who have no people skills) but not for them. It says theology only engages the mind but not the heart. Because God is a relational God, He wants us to experience Him—He wants us to drown in His love like it’s a big love-ocean. They say you simply can’t get that kind of passion if you treat Christianity like the SAT’s.

While there may be some legitimate concerns underlying these sentiments, there is a subtle danger here.

They are right that what matters more is heart-transformation, not information infusion. What they don’t realize is that a Christianity entirely based on experience and feelings alone will lead people astray.

It’s a false dichotomy to think the mind and heart are exclusive. God created us to engage Him with our whole being. Focusing on one side can make the other suffer.

Here are a few warnings about focusing solely on spiritual experiences:

1. Spiritual Experiences are not unique to Christianity.

Buddhists fall into trances as they commune with the spirits. Through prayer, Mormons receive the “burning in the bosom,” a gut sensation that’s supposed to confirm the veracity of the Book of Mormon. Hindus and New Age experience tranquility through their yoga and meditation. The pagan Greeks experienced an “ecstasy” that would take over their body and mind, causing them to speak in tongues.

Those spiritual experiences are real, and they are real because the spirits behind them are real—and they’re definitely not of Christ. There is an enemy at work and they would love to distract people with real experiences that confirm lies. This is why John warns, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

He wouldn’t say that unless believers were already falling for it.

2. Experience is very individualistic.

Many times when experience is emphasized, it’s just individualism and consumerism wrapped up in spirituality. It’s all about experiencing God in your own personal way.

The customer is always right.

The problem is everyone experiences things in different ways. If one person experiences God as a mother figure, another hears God’s audible voice in the wind telling them words to write down in a journal, and another sees Jesus in bodily form at the local Denny’s every other Tuesday, how are we to decide whether or not these are accurate representations of God? Based on experience alone, there is no way. They have felt the emotions and cried the tears, so it must be true.

Following such logic, the aim of church then becomes about feeling God, not about gathering to know and praise Him. Inevitably such a perspective transforms from being about God into being about self.

3. Elevating experience can bring about a low view of Scripture.

A failure to anchor experience to the truth of the Word is why we have whole denominations throwing snakes at each other during church. They take one verse out of context and it’s reinforced by the intensity of their experience. Holding a rattlesnake may be one of the biggest adrenaline rushes you can feel, but that doesn’t mean your heart and God’s are hugging.

This goes beyond bizarre religious practices. If how I feel matters more than what is written, then it will affect how I live—how I view things like sin. A dating couple can justify sleeping together and co-habitating because they think they love each other. A person who was abused can justify their hate because they were hurt by an evil man. A husband can justify leaving his wife because he believes another woman is his soulmate.

When how you feel matters more than what is written, anything goes. This is why Jesus called us to “die to ourselves;” there’s something more important than how you feel. If you’re a Christian, it can’t be about you anymore.

A BETTER WAY TO GO

Theology is literally “the study of God.” If you want to have a vibrant relationship with God you must study Him—you must grow in theology—because what you believe about God will influence how you experience Him.

It really doesn’t matter if someone says they don’t “do” theology. Everyone is a theologian. The question is whether or not they are a good one.

A good theologian is not someone who has all the answers. A good theologian seeks to know God as He wants to be known, as revealed through His Word. A good theologian has a heartfelt faith and an intelligent one.

Filter everything through Scripture. God must be worshipped “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). It’s our duty to draw deeper into that truth, and allow it to transform our hearts.

Is It OK For A Christian to Doubt?

doubtI am hearing more and more Christians say, “I am struggling with doubts. Is that sin? Is it OK for me to doubt?”

My answer is always, “It depends.”

They ask because it’s a common thing to hear in the church that doubt is forbidden. They’ve heard that the second doubt about God or the Bible pops in your head you need to crush it like a pre-teen boy hunting Whack-a-Moles. In some ways, I understand why this was taught. It’s a lot easier to tell someone to just believe than to actually have to grapple with their thoughts. Or maybe they were afraid the doubt would transform into a foaming-at-the-mouth atheism. Better to squash it now. But the problem is when a genuine question about God comes along (Why would a loving God command killing all the Canaanites in the Old Testament? If Jesus was God, how could He die on the cross? What’s a holy kiss and where can I get one?), it is construed as rebellion against the faith. Why can’t you just believe?

Forbidding doubt will kill questions. Killing questions births a faith that doesn’t know why it exists. They “just” believe. But when an intellectual argument against their faith comes, they are left in the street naked without answers. Or when a horrific tragedy strikes their lives, they have no anchor to keep them from drifting. They always just believed. Now they see their faith for what it was—hollow. This is why so many Christians go off to college, get hit with every ideology under the sun, and walk away from their faith.

We need a new way to think about doubt and questions; one that acknowledges the dangers doubt can pose but also the benefits doubt can give.

DOUBT CAN BE BENEFICIAL

Doubt that’s beneficial is one that looks for answers—looks for truth. You know an answer is out there. You’re not trying to undermine two thousand years worth of prayer, scholarship, and theology. You just want to know.

This doubt is extremely beneficial because Christians aren’t supposed to “just” believe. The Christian faith is one that’s grounded in evidence—in facts. The Gospel is not just a collection of truths but it’s a description of a historical event. Real people in real places. There’s an abundance of evidence to support our faith. We shouldn’t be horrified of doubts, as if every time a young believer asks a question on hell an angel loses its wings. Instead, we should confidently answer their questions and help them through their doubts.

If you don’t know the answers, figure them out yourself. If you’re having doubts, answer the doubts with Scripture. We should know why we believe not just that we believe. “Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter. 3:15). If someone asks you why you believe what you believe, would you be able to answer them?

Doubt can be helpful but only if you desire the truth. Don’t doubt for doubt’s sake. Wrestle with your doubt so you can know God. Doubt can be the seed of faith. If we truly want the truth, our faith will be stronger for it.

DOUBT CAN BE HARMFUL

Doubt that’s harmful is one that looks for anything but the answer. The truth was given to you but you’re unwilling to accept it. So you go looking for something else or believe there is no answer at all.

If we’re truly seeking for truth, then we should be willing to accept the answer even if we don’t like it. But we humans are fickle beings. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:3). They didn’t like the truth because it didn’t hit their sweet spot, so they went searching for cheap substitutes.

You don’t like the idea that people who reject Christ go to hell? We’ll work something out.

You don’t like the idea that homosexuality (or any sexual expression outside traditional marriage) is a sin? I have just the thing for you.

You don’t like the idea that being a disciple of Christ means you have to die to yourself and your desires? You can have your best life now.

This kind of doubt isn’t a wrestling for truth. It’s unbelief. A refusal to believe the truth you see before you. This kind of doubt doesn’t strengthen faith—it undermines faith.

I do believe doubt and questions should have a place in the church. I love hearing people work through the Bible and wrestle with what it says. That means our brains are working. That means we’re trying to figure out what it means to love the Lord with all our mind. But in the middle of our doubting, remember Christ is standing there waiting for us to touch the holes in His hands. We just have to be willing to see Him.

Is Putting God in a Box a Bad Thing?

Sort of. It depends.

Usually when someone uses the phrase “putting God in a box,” it is used in a negative manner. As in, “Don’t put God in a box. You can’t figure out God.”

For the most part I don’t disagree with such a statement. Can I fully figure out how the Trinity works? Or the virgin birth? Or what it means to have no beginning and no end, but self-sufficiently exist?

No. I can never fully comprehend and wrap my mind around such mysteries because I am finite, mortal, and human. Those things about God are things I have never experienced and never could experience because of my nature. And that’s ok. If I could fully understand and comprehend everything about God, He would not be God, would He?

I can barely figure other humans out, let alone God. This is why David says, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6).

WORDS ARE NOT ENOUGH

But here’s the problem with the phrase, “putting God in a box.” It is not normally used to describe the profound nature of an all-powerful, everlasting, triune being, but is instead used to discredit any sort of categorization or description of God.

So if I were to say, “God’s character demands that He judge those who sin,” the other person would respond, “Don’t put God in a box, Kyle. God is so much bigger than your understanding. You can’t reduce God to mere descriptions with words.”

I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with any of the things that person said, but I would disagree with how it was said. Yes God is bigger than anyone’s understanding, but is using words to describe God, reducing Him to something less? How else am I supposed to communicate about God—interpretive dance?

No. Words are good. Words are powerful. This is why God chose to use words to reveal Himself to us through His Word. We can confidently say, “God is _____” because God has chosen to describe Himself in such a way. Yet at the same time I do somewhat agree, all of our words cannot do full justice to the majesty of God. This is because it is human words being received by human brains.

FIND THE RIGHT BOX

But here’s the funny thing. I think in some ways, putting God in a box is a good thing because boxes have boundaries. Things are either inside the box or they are not. The Bible doesn’t just tell us who and what God is but it also tells us who and what He is not.

  • “God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one” (James 1:12).
  • “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
  • “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:16).

God is wholly against sin and that is a definite box He is inside.

And so I think the issue ultimately comes down to what kind of a box you are putting God in. Let’s be honest, even the “don’t put God in a box” people are putting Him in one—it’s the box of their mind, which is a far smaller box than the Bible. Some put Him in the philosophy box. Some put Him in the consumer Christian box. Some put Him in the social gospel box. Some put Him in their own personal box of their making—custom découpage and all.

Instead, let us allow Scripture to be the box. Not because God can be fully explained or described through words, but because the Bible is how He has chosen to reveal Himself. And we must trust that His Word is more than sufficient to give us a deep relationship with Him.

Should Churches Encourage Singles to Use Contraceptives?

 

Consider the numbers. According to the National Association of Evangelical’s Generation Forum, 4 out of 5 Christians (18-29 years old) have had sex. 64% of those young Christians had sex within the last year. 30% of unmarried Christians are involved in an unintended pregnancy. And about 1 out of 3 of those unmarried Christian pregnancies end in abortion.

Obviously something needs to be done. Something needs to change.

Jenell Paris, writing in Christianity Today, believes that a solution is to have churches educate singles about contraceptives because “abstinence absolutism” hasn’t quite been cutting it (she was responding to this article). It’s not that Paris believes it is kosher to have premarital sex, but since singles are still sleeping around and getting pregnant, she thinks churches should “take a both-and approach to abortion reduction: both uphold premarital chastity as the biblical ideal, and encourage and educate unmarried singles about the effective use of contraception. Encouraging, not pushing. Educating, not affirming.” It’s a compromise, she admits, but a “sacred one”—one that will eventually save lives.

Will this work? Will encouraging the use of contraceptives actually curb unintended pregnancies, abortions, and hopefully along the way, premarital sex? Possibly. Maybe. Probably not.

The problem with Paris’ view is that she sees this issue as either/or. Either we teach abstinence only to our singles (hoping the whole way that the shame and guilt of defilement before the church will scare them into keeping their pants on) or we teach them that if they happen to have sex then at least use protection (better to fall into the littler sin of premarital sex than to commit a larger one via abortion). The problem with this understanding is that Paris reveals that she does not know what actually changes people.

I AM MY OWN DISEASE

Boundaries, fear of shame, guilt, and education cannot keep a person from having sex or from wanting sex. Those aren’t solutions. They are bandaids trying to cure a tumor. The problem is not sex but sin. Sex is a symptom of the diseased human heart and society’s conspiratorial rebellion against God.

Paris’ “sacred compromise” lessens the weight of sexual sin. It is less about obeying a holy God and more about being chaste and more importantly, being un-pregnant. There is no discussion of the heart. There is no acknowledgment that it was sin that put Jesus on the cross.

When you lessen the weight of sin, you devalue the horror of what Christ endured on the cross. When you devalue the cross, you begin to lose reasons to live for Him, to seek His face, to love Him above all things, and to find Him more pleasurable and worthy than even sexual pleasure itself.

Let us never lessen the weight of sin. Sin is serious. My sin and yours. God hates sin. It put the Son of God on the cross.

Part of moving forward from the sexual sin epidemic is recognizing that the problem is not what I do but what is in my heart. Sin.

THE GOOD NEWS

The problem of premarital sex in the church is found in the heart. Only the Gospel can change a person’s heart and we need a new one desperately.

In her article, Paris gives a passing nod to the Gospel—but only in part. She writes, “After all, ‘just saying no’ to premarital sex, important as it is, is not the heart of the gospel. The heart of the matter is saying yes to God. Maybe we often rely on shame and fear because it’s hard to believe that people would say no to something as tantalizing as sexual pleasure if they didn’t stand to lose something extremely valuable such as honor, the affection of family and church, or even eternal life.

I understand what Paris is trying to get at here, but “saying yes to God” is not the heart of the Gospel. The Gospel is, in Paul’s words, Christ dying on behalf of our sins, according to the Scriptures, and being raised again so we may have life (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). When we place our faith—our trust—in this message, we become “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17). We gain a new heart, a new mind, new desires, new values, new goals, a new Master.

This is what people need to hear to change. If too many Christians are having premarital sex and having abortions it is because they are not getting enough of the Gospel. It is the same if they are committing adultery, gossiping, being divisive, stealing, or addicted to pornography. They need more Gospel. This may seem like an impractical solution, but it is in the Gospel that God has placed His divine power to save and change (Romans 1:16). We should not over look that.

THE HOSPITAL

The solution to keep people from committing “bigger sins” is not to make it safer or more normal to commit “smaller sins” (although the Paul would argue that sexual sin is not a small sin; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20). Nor is the solution accountability groups, computer software, kissing dating goodbye, mission statements, or purity rings. Those things can all help and are sometimes the first step, but the solution is the Gospel. And by God’s grace, through Gospel-focused discipleship, Gospel-driven evangelism, and Gospel-saturated preaching, we will see less and less sexual promiscuity in the church.

Will there still be sin in the church, even one surrounded by the Gospel? Yes. Where there are humans there will always be sin. It follows us like stink on a hog. But hopefully, when people sin the church can be the first place they run to instead of the last, as Paris reports. The church is called to be a hospital for sinners, to bind up the broken and the hurting.

I know where Paris is coming from. I have seen the church self-righteously shun those it should be embracing with gracious tears. But I have also seen it done correctly. I have seen the lost get found. I have seen single mothers get accepted into the family. I have seen the unmarried repent of their sexual sin and save themselves for their future spouse. I have seen the dirty and the defiled be picked up and washed clean by the blood of the Lamb. I have seen it because it happened to me, along with so many others.

And it is all done through the powerful Gospel and the wonderful cross.

For further reading, see Trevin Wax’s article “Both Chastity and Contraception: A Scandalous Capitulation

Photo Credit: “Church/08/08/08” by lovstromp through CC 3.0 

The Life and Influence of Francis Schaeffer

Francis Schaeffer has been one of the most influential Christian thinkers in my life. I first encountered his work in seminary when I was assigned the task of writing a biographical critical evaluation of his person and work (if it sounds a little ridiculous, it’s because it was).

I was hooked to Schaeffer’s clear logic and engagement with culture. He predicted post-modernism before we were even post modern. His method of exegeting the climate of the age and filtering it through the Bible has been an inspiration for Endangered Minds.

Now I am slowly and slavishly making my way through The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer.

SHIFTY OLD MAN

It is a hard thing to ascribe a singular label to Francis Schaeffer.  He may be referred to as a philosopher, at times a theologian, a sectarian, an intellectual, an activist, a pastor, a man of God.  Michael Hamilton states, “perhaps no intellectual save C.S. Lewis affected the thinking of evangelicals more profoundly; perhaps no leader of the period save Billy Graham left a deeper stamp on the movement as a whole.”[1]  He was a mystery to the evangelical world, and remains somewhat of an enigma today.  He retained “strange bedfellows,” keeping company with:

“Jack Sparks; musicians Larry Norman and Mark Heard; political figures Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Jack Kemp, Chuck Colson, Randall Terry, C. Everett Koop, Cal Thomas, and Tim and Beverly LaHaye; and scholars Harold O. J. Brown, Os Guiness, Thomas Morris, Clark Pinnock, and Ronald Wells.”[2]

His impact can be felt today in the multiple L’Abris that scatter across the globe. His books are still widely read by many scholars today.  And he made the term, “Christian intellectual” not sound like an oxymoron or a punchline.

SCHAEFFER’S INFLUENCE

For a man who spent half of his entire life in residence in Europe, Francis Schaeffer had a profound impact upon Christianity in America.

He was a man who received much attention without much effort.  His appearance was—to borrow from the Prophet Isaiah—of “no beauty that we should desire him.”[3]  Instead of an expensive suit, clean-cut hair and face, Francis wore “knickers, knees socks, and walking shoes.”[4]  Added to the alpine persona and the weathered, wrinkled face was a white goatee, which “he wore later in life adding to his artistic, cultured appearance, far from the stereotype of the evangelical pastor.”[5]  He was short, around five feet and eight inches tall, and owned a screechy voice (kind of like a whiney bird), which at first notice sounded more humorous than authoritative.[6]

It is a difficult task to quantify the impact that Schaeffer had upon Christianity in America for Francis was many things to many people; critics might have even called Schaeffer a mercurial man—constantly shifting focus like a sugared-stoned five year old.  Yet it is this very quality of change and adaptation that perhaps facilitated the enormous influence Schaeffer had on American evangelical thinking.

His approach to the Christian life bridged the gap between two groups in American Christianity that usually clash with each other, the scholars and the activists.

Barry Hankins prefers to think of Francis as a sort of Christian hybrid who was, “part evangelical and part fundamentalist.”[7]  The range of Schaeffer’s impact changed and grew as Francis moved through different phases of his life, first beginning with the schisms in the Presbyterian denomination, following thereafter with the creation of L’Abri, then his growth in popularity in American evangelical culture, ending with a renewed passion for fundamentalism coupled with political activism.

Some viewed such changes as a flaw but others saw it as keeping up with the climate of the day.

SCHAEFFER’S CRITICS

As popular as Schaeffer was, he did receive a lot of criticism throughout the years.

Throughout his lectures and his descriptions of culture, Francis was accused of using too broad of strokes to interpret Western history and culture.  Hankins states that modern Christian scholars believe “his interpretation of the course of western intellectual history, what he called ‘the flow,’ was problematic in its details.”[8]  Earl Lee believes that Francis has “obvious failings as an art critic” and also as a historian.[9]  Lee also labeled the film series, How Should We Then Live?, a work that is “filled with his [Francis’s] patriarchal, high-handed pronouncements on art and philosophy.”[10]

Perhaps one of the strongest arguments made against Schaeffer by fellow Christians was that “he consistently over-emphasized the power of human reason to lead to correct conclusions about ultimate matters.”[11]  This belief seems to be in contradiction with Scripture that portrays mankind as completely lost and incapable of finding its way to the solution.[12]  1 Corinthians 2:14 states, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”[13]  Yet in spite of his shortfalls as a historian and art critic, and also his overestimation of the human intellect, Francis Schaeffer still remains one of the most influential Christian thinkers of the latter half of the twentieth century.

SCHAEFFER’S HEART

For all that Francis Schaeffer has been know for, his counter culture mindset, his faith in inerrancy, his staunch fundamentalism, it seems that his lasting legacy has not been by his mind but with his heart.

Fischer states, “Schaeffer’s work is ultimately not a call to arms, but a call to care.[14]

It was his evangelical shiftings that enabled him to reach such an influence.  He identified with the troubled youth, the elite intellectual, the middle-American worker, and the radical fundamentalist.

Francis taught Christianity how to think and feel.

Hamilton believes “clearly he was evangelicalism’s most important public intellectual in the 20 years before his death.”[15]  His secret was not to try and gather glory for his own self but to “put your feet in Jordan, and let God take care of you.”[16]  It was this reliance upon God that carried him throughout his life and to true greatness.

May we all learn from his example.


[1] Michael S. Hamilton. “The Dissatisfaction of Francis Schaeffer. (Cover story).” Christianity Today 41, no. 3 (March 3, 1997): 22. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed February 8, 2011).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Isaiah 53:2b, ESV.

[4] Hamilton, “The Dissatisfaction of Francis Schaeffer,” 22.

[5] Duriez, Francis Schaeffer, 9.

[6] Fischer, “LEARNING TO CRY FOR THE CULTURE,” 40.

[7] Barry Hankins, Francis Schaeffer And the Shaping of Evangelical America (Library of Religious Biography Series) (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), xii.

[8] Ibid, xiv.

[9] Lee. “Francis Schaeffer: Prophet of the Religious Right,” 28.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Hankins, Francis Schaeffer, 235.

[12] Romans 3:10-18.

[13] ESV.

[14] Fischer. “LEARNING TO CRY FOR THE CULTURE,” 40.

[15] Hamilton, “The Dissatisfaction of Francis Schaeffer,” 30.

[16] Hankins, Francis Schaeffer, 239.

Endangered Minds

Recently I had the opportunity to go to the world famous San Diego Zoo and visit some critters. Seeing live animals normally viewed on a TV screen was surreal—and smelly.

I noticed in front of every animal habitation a sign describing the specific species within the exhibit. Included on the sign was a rating system showing how endangered that species was.

An endangered species is that which is in danger of extinction. At any moment they could be wiped off the face of the earth

One of the species at the zoo in greatest danger of extinction was the panda. I presume it is because they are captured by pandacidal maniacs and forced to do Panda Express ads.

I know I do

It was really sad to see these cute and cuddly fur balls rolling around in the bamboo and imagine them as extinct. Who wants a world without pandas?

In light of the looming pandapocalypse, many people have gone to great lengths to save these lovable creatures. But they are not the only ones who are endangered.

Another creature has recently been faced with extinction—the Christian mind.

This is not to imply that Christians are losing their minds, although many would argue that some have, but instead that the mind Christians ought to have is endangered.

The Apostle Paul commands his recipients in Rome to offer their bodies “as a living sacrifice” to God (12:1). Most Christians would acknowledge this as a noble goal. Paul notes that this goal is only achieved through refusing to be “conformed to this world” and instead seeking to be “transformed by the renewal of your mind” (12:2).

Living for God is only accomplished with a renewed mind and a mind is renewed through knowledge of God’s Word (Colossians 3:10). All of God’s Word is profitable and capable of fully equipping a believer for “every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Sadly, the renewed mind is disappearing from Christian society. This is significant because if a believer’s mind is not being transformed then they will not be a living sacrifice for God. Instead, many believers are looking to other sources to shape their thinking, their values, their beliefs, their goals, and their decisions. These substitutes end up shaping their lives instead of God.

This blog is a whimsical attempt at pushing our endangered minds back towards the Bible.

Most posts will be spent interpreting culture, books, movies, TV, beliefs, lifestyle, and values all through the Bible.

My goal is not to create a bunch of little mini-me’s, which would only be helpful if I wanted to take over the world. My goal is to do the best I can to point our wandering minds to God’s revealed truth. Feel free to disagree with me because in the end I don’t really matter.

Included in the near future will be different kinds of posts throughout the weeks. Some will review books. Some will look at different movies and music and see what Christians can glean from them if anything. Some will examine current events in the world and church through a biblical lens. Some will be short studies through the Word of God. Others will be different observations, links, articles, and surprises.

Endangered Minds is about the constant Christian struggle to view the world through a biblical lens. We know the good we ought to do but obedience is a battle.

Let’s fight together.