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Many Christians today use human reason to determine the meaning of their personal experiences more than they use the Bible. Many who do so would deny that they are doing so, and often times they are aided in that claim by pastors and preachers who have torn some Bible verses out-of-context in order to “prove” that a certain experience should be validly interpreted in a certain way. In response to this trend towards forming beliefs based on experience rather than Scripture, some other Christians raise the cry of “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture Alone), harkening back to the return to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible which was championed at the time of the Protestant Reformation.
But sadly, this call to “Sola Scriptura” is often misunderstood to mean that experience has no place in the Christian life. That is blatantly false. Both today and in the Scripture, experience is an essential and valid part of the Christian life. But the value and meaning of experience all depends on what we use to interpret our experience.
This past month, we had the joy of having Caitlin baptized, welcoming her into the covenant community of the Christian church. Baby Molly, the daughter of our friends Chris and Paige was baptized at the same time. A fellow missionary videotaped the event and I include it below. The video is all in Thai and I am afraid that I haven't had time to add English subtitles.
Pastor Natee, who did the baptism, had some really helpful comments about the nature of baptism that got me thinking. First, people are baptized not because of what they have done but in recognition of what God has done. Therefore, in the case of people who come to Christ and are baptized as adults, they are baptized in recognition of God's work in their life, regenerating their heart and granting them faith and repentance. They are baptized because it is evident that God has chosen to bring them into the fold of the Christian church. Baptism welcomes them into the visible church because God has already brought them into the invisible church.
This past Sunday, we had Joshua baptized. It was wonderful to see Joshua formally recognized as a part of the covenant community of God's people at Grace Presbyterian Church. I know that Joshua will remember none of it, but he was as content as could be as I held him in my arms and Pastor Ron asked us the appropriate questions and sprinkled his little forehead. God has given his covenant promises to his people, both adults and children (Acts 2:39), and as Joshua grows up, he will be reminded that the waters of baptism signify God's promise to wash away the sins of all who trust in God, confessing Christ to be their Lord and Savior.
J.I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit: Finding Fullness in Our Walk with God, Second Revised Enlarged Edition. Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2005, 256 pp.
reviewed by Karl Dahlfred
There are a number of books that provide a theology of the work of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, there are also a number of books that critique the charismatic movement, pointing out its excesses and disputing its biblical foundation. However, it is rare to find a book that both affirms that God is at work in the charismatic movement and also rejects the major claims of that very same movement. But in “Keep in Step with the Spirit: Finding Fullness in our Walk with God”, J.I. Packer has done just that. In just 200 pages or so, Packer lays out a positive theology of the work of the Holy Spirit and issues challenges to both cessationists and charismatics. So what will you find inside? Let me give you an overview.
In his book, “The Altar Call,” author David Bennett looks at the ministries of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and John Wesley. All three are widely acknowledged as successful evangelists who saw many come to Christ, yet the first two were Calvinists and the third an Arminian. However, as Bennett documents, none of them used the altar call or any other form of public invitation to produce Christian conversions. While listeners would sometimes approach these preachers to inquire about salvation, these men did not issue public or private calls for people to indicate their conversion by an external response of some sort. These men preached about law and gospel, counseled people, and left the results to God.1
When Adoniram and Ann Judson set sail for India in 1812, they had no idea of the hardship that lay ahead of them. After being denied access to India, they sailed to Burma. On the way there, their first child was born on the ship. He was stillborn and buried at sea. Their second child, Roger, was born in Burma. He died before his second birthday. Their third child, Maria, was born while Adoniram was being held in a Burmese death prison under suspicion of being a British spy. After he was released to interpret between the British and the Burmese, his wife Ann died, and two months later baby Maria followed her to the grave. Adoniram poured himself into his translation work to drown the pain, but eventually fled to the jungle to live as a recluse, contemplating death. But he did not go over the brink. God returned him to useful service in Bible translation and itinerant evangelism, keeping him faithful to the end. What kept Adoniram and Ann going in the midst of such hardship and repeated devastating loss? Why did they not go crazy under the pressure and grief like Dorothy Carey did?
During the past couple months, I’ve had several long discussions in Facebook comment threads about a certain televangelist who was coming to Thailand to put on a big event in Bangkok. The brothers and sisters who commented on my posts had various different approaches, both as to their thoughts on this man and his ministry, and also in their tone and manner of discussion. Sometimes the comments were helpful and furthered meaningful discussion. But, as anyone who has spent much time on Facebook can tell you, some comments were not so helpful. But one thing became clear: the attitude you have towards others and the way you say something matter just as much as what you say.
In light of that, I found the following testimony about Asahel Nettleton’s attitude towards those with whom he differed to be rather instructive, and a good reminder. Nettleton, if you are not familiar with him, was an early nineteenth century evangelist whose Calvinistic preaching resulted in many revivals with lasting fruit as he itinerated throughout New England and the mid-atlantic states. His theology and methods came into direct conflict with those of Charles Finney and his followers. Biographers Bennet Tyler and Andrew Bonar, contemporaries of Nettleton, said this about him:
As a new believer, I learned that one of the major reasons the Pharisees opposed Jesus was because they were expecting a military and political Messiah who would conquer the Romans and physically set up the kingdom of God on earth. But Jesus came to set up a spiritual kingdom (“The kingdom of God is within you” Luke 17:21). And that’s why there was a lot of confusion and opposition on the part of the Pharisees and other people. At the time, that was a helpful explanation. However, as I have continued to read and study the Bible over the years, I came to see that maybe those folks who thought Jesus came to set up a physical kingdom were not so far off. If you read the Old Testament prophets, it often sounds like the Messiah will set up a physical kingdom where everyone will be healthy and happy.
One of the great strengths of Thai culture is the high value placed on maintaining the peace. Social harmony is very important to Thai people. You don’t get upset at bad drivers or pushy salesmen. You don’t have an argument in public. You avoid saying things that would embarrass other people or make them feel bad. In many ways, this value on maintaining social harmony and good relationships makes Thailand a wonderful place to live.
But there is also a downside. Feelings get hurt and people never forgive each other. Injustice, error, and corruption run rampant and are swept under the rug. Leaders at all levels abuse their power and no one says anything. Sin is winked at and everyone pretends that everything is okay when they know it isn’t. The need for holiness and reconciliation is one the great challenges facing the Thai church today.When the Prophet Comes to Town...
Into the midst of this cultural milieu come the traveling prophets. Teachers like Joyce Meyer and Cindy Jacobs parachute in to Thailand and receive huge venues to speak to the Thai church. They are big names in many evangelical and charismatic circles in America but are relatively unknown in Thailand. But they quickly become known as their big show event is promoted broadly in the small Christian community in Thailand. It is big. It is exciting. And it is “Christian.”
The Devil has never had an original idea in his life. Ever since before the creation of man, the Devil has been imitating God in a bid to be God himself. Even when it comes to the creative, life-giving power of God’s Word, the Devil tries to copy it.But what is that creative Word that the Devil imitates?The Word of God is creative in that it creates out of nothing. God’s Word is not merely powerful. It is power. When God says something, it just happens. If you or I say, “Let there be light”, nothing happens. But when God says it, light is created. When Jesus wanted to calm the storm (Mark 4:35-41), all he did was say a word, “Peace, be still!” and it was calm. In a certain sense, we might say that when God speaks a word, it is magic. The word itself has power to bring into being that which it signifies. But my words and your words are just signs that point to some other reality. They don’t create anything. The word of the Devil is the same.
I’ve recently been studying various passages of 1 and 2 Corinthians to better help me understand Paul’s theology of preaching. One passage that has particularly struck me is 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:5 for in it Paul argues that the message of Christ crucified (that is, the content) and preaching (that is, the form) go hand in hand – that they cannot be divided. Indeed, in this passage Paul actually argues for preaching.
In 1 Cor. 1:17 Paul is continuing to address the issue of divisions in the Corinthian church, by minimising his role of baptising, and stating that Christ’s commission to him was to “preach the gospel.” However, for Paul it matters how the gospel is proclaimed. Therefore, he refuses to preach with “eloquent wisdom” (ESV). Literally the Greek of this phrase is “the wisdom of a word,” and refers to the use of Greco-Roman rhetoric. (This was a particular form of oration popularised by Cicero and Quintillian, in which the aim of a speech was to “persuade an audience, the end is to persuade by speech” (Cicero, On Invention 1.6), that is, to create belief. To do this an orator would so adapt and craft his message (content, style and delivery), that it would bring about the desired end with a given audience. Therefore, Greco-Roman rhetoric is a form of speech or proclamation. It is a form that Paul rejects because it would render the cross of Christ void (1:17), since a person’s faith would rest on human skill in oration rather than on the Spirit’s power (2:4-5).
Rob Bell, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived” (New York, Harper One, 2011)
reviewed by Karl Dahlfred
When the controversy over Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins” exploded on the blogosphere prior to its release, I quickly realized two things, 1) This is going to be big, and 2) I need to read this for myself. A lot of what I heard about “Love Wins” made me concerned. But I wanted to make my own evaluation rather than rely solely on the judgment of others. So I read the book. My goal was to listen to what Bell is actually saying and make a balanced assessment of both the good and the bad. There are lots of other reviews out there, some of which give much more analysis than I do here. But for the sake of those who have not read the book, the goal of this brief review is twofold - to give a summary the most significant points, and provide a brief evaluation of those points.
In the middle of the classic Christmas hymn, “Away in the Manger”, there is this one line that doesn’t quite ring true. The second stanza tells us, “The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes, But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.” Did baby Jesus really not cry? The hymn author was likely thinking that Jesus did not cry because He was perfect and divine. But does a crying baby Jesus detract from Jesus’ divinity? I think not, but a non-crying baby Jesus detracts from his humanity.I see no inherent conflict between Jesus being God and Jesus crying as a baby. Crying is not necessarily sinful. If a child cries when it is hungry, tired, or just plain uncomfortable, is that wrong? No, that is just the way that God made us. However, there is also selfish, sinful crying, which does manifest itself from infanthood because we are sinful from birth (Psalm 51:5, Eph. 2:3).
Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture, by David VanDrunen (Crossway Books, 2010, 208pp.)----- reviewed by Karl DahlfredShould Christians be transforming the culture? Is there a specifically Christian way of being a teacher, politician, or businessman? Is there a difference between what individual Christians are called to do, and what the church is called to do as an institution? What is the “kingdom of God” and what does it mean to do “kingdom work”? These are some of the questions that drive David VanDrunen’s recent book on two kingdoms theology. The term “two kingdoms” is unfortunately not very well known outside Reformed and Lutheran circles. This is a real shame because I found the two kingdoms, as VanDrunen lays it out, to be a helpful and Biblical framework for understanding the relationship between Christianity and culture. And the world of evangelical Christianity certainly needs more thoughtful reflection on how to approach culture as a whole.
I knew my eyes were deceiving me but I wanted the deception to be true. I was standing before my father as he lay on a small raised platform, legs covered in a blanket. His chest was moving up and down, almost imperceptibly, as one breathes quietly when asleep. But there was no breathing. No motion. It was all in my mind. This was not the stillness of sleep, but of deathA week earlier I had learned that he was in the hospital. A few days after that I learned that this may be sickness unto death. And after hurrying to pack up our family, arrange our affairs, and get plane tickets, here I was with my father.
In response to my recent post on "Do You Need a Bible Degree to be a Long Term Missionary?", I received the following testimony of a theological student who found his training to be surprisingly relevant on a trip to the Muslim world. For those who are considering doing missions in the Muslim World (or elsewhere), and wondering whether their Western course of theological studies will really help them, Chris' experience should be a helpful encouragement:
"In June 2009, after one year of academic study on the "Theology and World Mission Course" at Oak Hill Theological College, London, I jetted off to a Muslim-majority country for a summer of overseas gospel ministry. As I sat on the 13-hour flight, it was easy to imagine the potential payback of classes I'd taken on Mark's Gospel and the Pentateuch. But, what of the other subjects: abstract, academic and arduous? Would trinitarian theology, critical modern scholarship, Hebrew and Greek pull their weight as well? Or would they turn out to be no more than expensive excess baggage?
I have been having conversations lately with a Thai Chinese fellow who is a real thinker. That’s hard to find around here. Many folks are happy to not think about (or at least not discuss) difficult or controversial issues. Thai culture places a high value on non-confrontation so it is tough to really engage people in discussion about any issues of significance. But not this guy.
Mr. Mon and his wife own a trucking business and one of their employees is a Christian lady whom my wife disciples (she does housework, not truck driving, if you wanted to know). One night as we were trying to get our kids into bed, I answer a call from her on my wife’s mobile phone. “You have to come over here right now. We’re watching the movie you lent us and he has all these questions and I don’t know the answers. You have to come now.” She was desperate and a bit impatient. “Well, okay” I replied, “Let me talk to my wife for a second. We’re putting the kids to bed.. hang on...” and before I could talk to my wife, the voice on the other end of the phone said, “Okay, I’m waiting for you. You’re coming now. Bye.” Twenty minutes later, after I made sure my wife had the kids under control, I was sitting down with Mr. Mon, his wife, and their Christian house helper who had called us.
“Why am I suffering?” and “How can I escape from suffering?” Those are the big questions that drive Buddhism. The answer provided is that suffering is caused by desire, and one can escape suffering by detaching oneself from the world through right thinking, right speech, and right action. It may sound fine in theory but in practice most Thai Buddhists find it very difficult. Many Thai Buddhists will admit that they find it a great challenge to keep even the Five Precepts, the most basic moral rules of Buddhism. Being a good person is really hard and even for the most moral of people, suffering still comes. And when it comes, how should we make sense of it? In our own lives? In the lives of others? How can we have hope in the midst of suffering? These are all important questions. But for most people, satisfying answers are elusive. Buddhism says, “Avoid suffering by trying to be good” or “Just suck it up because your suffering is caused by bad karma from a past life.” As the prosperity gospel gains a hearing in Thai churches, quick-fix preachers promise people, “If you have enough faith and do the right things, then God will make you healthy and wealthy.” Some are sucked in by these charlatans, but the promises of the prosperity gospel come up empty and in the end give people a warped and inaccurate impression of Christianity.
The title of this article may seem like an overstatement but it is not. Some may object, “But surely the sinner’s prayer has worked for some people. Even if many have fallen away after praying to receive Christ, not all have.” I happily concede the point that there are many Christians who continue to walk with the Lord and grow in their faith many years after having said the sinner’s prayer. But what I question is this, “Was it really the sinner’s prayer that converted them?” 19th century revival preacher Charles Finney, who is largely responsible for popularizing the use of the altar call and the sinner’s prayer, would probably have said yes.
In a number of Thai churches I have noticed that the type of worship songs selected fall into three general categories: 1) “I offer you my life” 2) “Pour out your Spirit” and, 3) “I want to be close to you”. This emphasis is hardly unique to Thailand as much of modern worship songs here are heavily influenced from the West. These type of songs have a time and place yet it seems that in some churches, these are almost the only type of songs that are played. As we sing the same basic things over and over again, I have begun to wonder, “Where is Christ? Where is the cross?”. It seems to be a glaring oversight to not have songs about Christ and his finished work on the cross as a mainstay of Christian worship. When I come into the weekly worship meeting, the first thing that my heart wants to sing is usually not “I offer my life to you” or “You are my every desire.” Why is that? Is it because I am not spiritual enough? Yes, in fact, that is exactly the reason. If I am honest to myself, my motivations are usually mixed and Christ is not my every desire. When songs come up that require me to sing lyrics like “You are all that I want”, I will often go silent or sing very quietly, praying in my heart, “Oh LORD, make me desire nothing but you. This song is not me. Change my heart God, and increase my love for you.” If I sing songs that say more than is really true, then I feel like I am lying to God and everyone around me.