In December I preached this sermon at FBC Jackson, AL at the invitation of the pastor (and my friend), Pastor Ben Stubblefield. I hope you are encouraged by the message of Christ, who tells us to be born again, and then dies our death in order that we might be. The God of the world dying for the sins of the world in order that we may have eternal life with him! What could be better than that?
I’ll never forget where I was the first time I heard of Bethel Church. I was at my own church. A few weeks before I had begun what would ultimately be a few months of preaching to our youth group while the church searched for a new youth pastor. One Wednesday night, I’m sitting in there and my buddy turns on this music video: “Walk In the Promise”, by Bethel Church. I remember thinking to myself, Who is that?!? I was stunned. I immediately fell for the music, and over the next few years regularly listened to music and musicians out of Bethel Church—Jeremy Riddle, Jesus Culture, Jenn Johnson, etc. I loved it. As I looked a little deeper, it became apparent to me that I had some real differences with the church itself. Good music is good music though, right? I pushed my concerns away. Then a friend sent me the video at the bottom of this page (and then troubling video after troubling video after that), and everything changed. I decided that, for better or worse, Bethel Church and I disagreed too much and too strongly for me to continue wholeheartedly endorsing their stuff. I was done. I’m still done.
For the most part, I’ve stayed away from Bethel, though many churches I have been a part of have sung and benefited from their songs. This week, however, I couldn’t stay silent any longer. I noticed this video popping up on my Facebook timeline over and over again, sometimes with angry comments and sometimes with wholehearted support. Too many people I love have liked it, shared it, or asked about it. In the video, children’s pastor Seth Dahl talks about coming to the point of forgiveness after a pastor deeply hurt him, but instead of forgiving the pastor, Dahl says that he had to forgive Jesus.
Watch it for yourself ( transcribed below):
“One time I was laying on the floor… and in a vision, an encounter with God, Jesus picks me up and holds me so close that I can’t see anything. And Jesus starts to weep. And he says, “Please forgive me. Please forgive me.” And I said, “What are you talking about, ‘please forgive you’?” He said, “When that pastor hurt you, it’s as if I hurt you because he is a member of my body. Please forgive me.” And when we hold onto pain from other believers or other leaders or old pastors or old Christians, look—the enemy is called the accuser of the brethren—any thought that accuses a brother had its origin with the devil. Any pain I hold onto from a believer, and unforgiveness that I hold onto from another believer, Jesus actually takes it. Think about the cross, what Jesus did: he did not sin but he paid for ours. He did not sin, but he let us kill him for our sin. He took the blame for us. He took our blame and let us punish him for our stuff. So why would he not look at you and say, “That pain you’re holding onto, that hurt you’re holding onto, that unforgiveness you’re holding onto, look—holding it against them is like you are holding it against me, because they are a member of my body.” And I wept when I realized that I had been in pain from God—from what I thought was God. I don’t know if that made sense. It wasn’t that God inflicted the pain. It’s that God took the blame for inflicting the pain, and holding it against my brother was like holding it against God. And I wept, and I wept, and I wept as I forgave Jesus for something he didn’t do but someone else did. And I didn’t realize until that moment that holding it against them, I was actually distancing myself from God. To distance myself from them, I was distancing myself from God.”
It’s easy to get riled up by a video like this. If we give him the benefit of the doubt, what Dahl is after is this: Jesus calls us to forgive those who sin against us, as we have been forgiven in Christ. Every pain, every grief that we hold in that becomes the root of bitterness for us is sin. When we refuse to forgive, we do not act like Christ—we deny the gospel by our actions.
At that level, Dahl is right. It cannot be ignored, though, how troubling what Dahl actually said is. Dahl reverses the logic of substitution of the cross, making Christ not just the bearer of sin but the sinner himself. Notices what “Jesus” says to him:
“Please forgive me. Please forgive me…”
Dahl goes on, “And I wept when I realized that I had been in pain from God—from what I thought was God. I don’t know if that made sense. It wasn’t that God inflicted the pain. It’s that God took the blame for inflicting the pain, and holding it against my brother was like holding it against God. And I wept, and I wept, and I wept as I forgave Jesus for something he didn’t do but someone else did.”
For Dahl then, who needs the forgiveness? Jesus does. Jesus becomes the offender. A video like this one is tough. Our gut reaction is to scream, “No!” or to be disgusted, but when we get down to it, it’s more problematic. “Jesus is the offender.” Isn’t that right? After all, doesn’t 2 Corinthians 5:21 say that , “…he who knew no sin became sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Didn’t Jesus become the “cursed” man (Gal. 3:13) for us? Of course he did. But that’s not what Dahl says.
To be fair, Dahl does say, “He did not sin.” That much is to his credit. But the way Dahl frames forgiveness here is deadly at worst and pastorally harmful at best. What kind of teaching is this? Who is God that he should need to be forgiven? 1 John 1:5 tells us, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” And yet Dahl says that Jesus himself told him that it was actually Him, Jesus, who did the misdeed. Because the one who sinned is in Christ, it is as if Christ himself sinned. Christ has become a sinner in need of forgiveness from his own creation.
Let’s get to the point: Dahl has totally subverted the truth of the gospel. He has flipped it on its head. Christ is our substitute, because he is without sin. It’s because Christ is not in need of forgiveness that he is a perfectly righteous substitute for us (2 Cor. 5:21) and advocate before God (1 John 2:1). Jesus is not empathetic with us because he becomes a sinner. Jesus is empathetic with us because he took on human flesh with all of its weakness and insufficiency and it was there, in the likeness of sinful flesh(Rom. 8:3) that he upheld the law completely. We “have a high priest who is not unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
I can not help but be reminded of Jesus touching the woman with an issue of blood in Luke 8:40-48. As Jesus traveled along his way, a crowd pressed in and a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years touched him. She was unclean. Under law, Jesus should have become unclean. But that’s not what happens. Instead, the woman is healed immediately (8:47). Likewise, when sinners in the church hurt people, it is not Jesus who is tainted. When sinners are in Christ, regardless of their sinfulness, it is they who are changed. Yes, Christ takes their sin away from them. But Christ has paid that penalty. He is a resurrected and glorified Lord, spotless and free from all sin. It is us who are changed by relationship with him; it is us who are cleansed.
At its best, Dahl’s message here misses the heart of the gospel message (and that’s not what you want to be best at), a message where the righteousness of God is revealed (Romans 1:17) and we see God as he is, as one who never needs forgiveness. At its worst, Dahl’s message is victim blaming. After all, Dahl does not merely encourage listeners to the imperative of the gospel (“forgive as the Lord has forgiven you”). Rather, he says that when we hold onto not just unforgiveness, but pain itself, we hold that very pain against God. It switches all of the responsibility off of the guilty party and on to the victim. He says, “Any thought that accuses a brother had its origin with the devil.” So now, if a victim does not immediately move from offense to forgiveness, what they are participating in is something demonic. This is just heaping on guilt, and shame, burdens too large to bear.
Everyone has a bad moment. I know as well as anyone that in the preaching moment, it is easy to mis-step. This, however, was no misspoken word. It’s clear that Dahl knew exactly what he was saying. He says that Jesus himself told him this in a vision. And it’s because of that, that claim to divine revelation, that I can’t help but look at what he’s teaching and look at how he says he got this message, and conclude that Dahl is teaching a lie. Worse still, he makes Jesus a liar, because he claims Jesus says something that so clearly contradicts the Scriptures. He’s saying thus says the Lord and the Lord has said no such thing. We should run from this. I probably wouldn’t say anything if this weren’t such a popular video, and such a regular occurrence out of Bethel Church. (For an even more egregious misrepresentation of the gospel, see the video below.)
I don’t take any joy in this. It isn’t fun to write a post like this—in fact, I never have before. A.W. Tozer is right, though: What comes to mind when we think about God is the most important about us. If we accept this sort of teaching, if we follow these sort of teachers, then we will come to worship a God who not only needs to forgive us, but who needs us to forgive him. A God like that is not only unworthy of the songs Bethel sings— He is unworthy of worship at all. A God who needs our forgiveness is a God who can not save. It is the God who is wholly righteous, the God of all grace, the God who has set Christ his Son as perfect head over the imperfect church, who is worthy of worship. Let’s listen to teachers that teach us about that God.
Is this what we want? More important, is this really what God has shown us in his word that He wants? Surely not.
In February of this year, I preached this sermon at Beeson Divinity School for my preaching practicum class with Dr. Robert Smith, Jr. Our class collectively preached in order through the book of Joshua. As I studied for my sermon, I was amazed by the faithfulness of Caleb throughout his appearances in the Exodus narrative, as well as here in Joshua. There’s a lot to be learned here from the faithfulness of Caleb. There is even more to be learned from the faithfulness of God. May we all be stirred up by this text to a life of long, steadfast faithfulness by our God.
The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
(1 Corinthians 7:32-35 ESV)
Tonight as I drove home from picking up my dinner, I heard a Valentine’s Day advertisement on the radio. This is a pretty typical night for me. If I’m not working, I get up from whatever school work I’m doing, drive to get dinner or make myself dinner at home, and then go back to what I’m doing.
These days I don’t have any dates to plan. I don’t have anyone special I’m coming home to, or I’m trying to find time to sneak away and see. So tonight as I drove home, alone, to an empty house I found myself jarred by this radio advertisement. Making your big plans?! Come on out to ____________ and have some drinks with your special someone! Sometimes it takes a stupid ad to remind you that there isn’t a special someone.
I remember hearing of people who had entered into their mid-20s as singles without any prospects of changing that and thinking, “Man, that life must be terrible.” Though I’ve known for a while that I’m living that life, it was just tonight that it hit me. It’s not that I haven’t been on dates—I have! It’s not even that I’m anti-social or that I’m some sort of recluse. If you ask anyone I know, they’d tell you that I’m one of the most social people that they know. Now that “terrible life” is my life.
I remember in year’s past not having dates on Valentine’s Day and being frustrated or angry. As I drove down the road, I heard that radio ad and the thoughts flooded into my mind. You’re still single. You’ll always be single. Everyone else has someone. You’ve failed at this part of your life. You haven’t had a date in months—something must be wrong with you.
A lot of singles take on hobbies, give themselves over to endless Netflix watching, become exercise fanatics, or any number of things to distract them from their singleness. It’s as if the moment we realize that we are single, we realize that this means that we are alone. Sometimes, one is the loneliest number. And so we push it deep down, and even though we congratulate our friends after every new engagement (seriously, do these things ever end? Can I at least ban them from my Facebook feed? Do you even remember what it feels like to change that status to In A Relationship?), we silently begrudge our friends. We become jealous of their happiness and angry at how our singleness has become a passing joke to them or, even worse, like the leper of conversation topics (Do Not Touch!). We quietly hate ourselves for failing to—to what? be attractive enough? find someone? fall in love?—do whatever we had to do to not be alone. And for many of us, if we are honest, have quietly fostered a nest egg of resentment towards God, who seems to be the parent who gives us everything we want except the thing we want the most. And when we begrudge our friends, hate ourselves and resent God, that is when we truly feel the weight of loneliness.
As the radio ad played and the frustrated thoughts flooded in, something else happened. Years of no Valentine’s Day dates, month after month of seeing friends find their match, and thousands of prayers prayed for God to send me someone came to mind. As they came to mind, they transformed. I found myself not caring that I don’t have a Valentine. For far too long in my life and the life of many other singles, Valentine’s Day has been a reminder of our singleness. Single’s Awareness Day. Not any more.
When it comes to an awareness of my singleness, you know what days stand out? Not Valentine’s Day. Not Christmas and its mistletoe. Not July 4 weekends when couples go to the lake, or New Years when lovers kiss as the ball drops, and not Halloween when the matching costumed couples come to the party.
It’s the small days that remind me I’m single.
I’m reminded I’m single when I plan out my week of 30+ hours of work and 15 hours of master’s degree classes.
I’m reminded I’m single when I have time to meet with a high school student only hours after he and his serious girlfriend broke up and he’s devastated.
I’m reminded I’m single when I meet with other single guys for times of confession, prayer, and then hanging out without a time limit or anyone I need to run back to.
I’m reminded I’m single on the weeks when every single night or every single lunch is booked with some sort of discipleship, counseling, or venting session.
I’m reminded I’m single when big opportunities come up and I consider uprooting my life on a moment’s notice.
I’m reminded I’m single, and have been single for some time, when I am able to walk with newly out of college guys through their struggles in singleness.
I’m reminded I’m single when I get to read on my night’s off for hours with little to no other distractions.
I’m reminded I’m single when I make decisions for others without much more than a second thought as to how it will require sacrifice from me.
The Apostle Paul calls this the undivided life. Too many of us have spent an unreasonable amount of time suppressing our devastation at the fact that we are still single. Our time would have been far better spent investing in others, and not creating a cycle of self-misery.
Dating is fun. Having someone is nice; it’s nice to have someone.
Marriage is a great and sacred thing. It is a picture of the gospel itself—a picture of self-sacrifice, servitude, and submission. We can not speak highly enough of marriage.
When I read the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, I can’t help but come away with the idea that singleness is not just an acceptable alternative to marriage for people who aren’t adequate marriage material. Instead, it seems that there is something about singleness that is better in some way. It’s the undivided life.
Sure, you may not have Valentine’s Day dates. But 24 years without a Valentine’s Day date is not a referendum on the quality of your life, nor a judgment of your likeability. It’s not a condemnation to a lifetime with Valentine’s Day dates, or a promise to remain single forever. No, singleness today is just a reminder that today and every other day that you are single is another day that you are able to live an undivided life.
If you’re single this Valentine’s Day, eat a whole pint of ice cream in your pajamas while marathoning Parks and Recreation.
Who’s to impress? You’re single.
More importantly, take Valentine’s Day and every other day and live it with your interests undividedly focused on the Lord.
After all, you’re single.
Introduction To Global Missions by Zane Pratt, M. David Sills, and Jeff K. Walters was provided to me by Broadman & Holman Publishing Group for review.
There are many great books on missions but few that are accessible, concise, and well-written. Introduction To Global Mission (ITGM)is such a book. Nothing less should be expected from Pratt, Sills, and Walters, each of whom currently are or previously have served as professors of missions at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. Pratt currently serves as the director of Global Theological Education for the International Mission Board. Sills heads up Reaching and Teaching. Walters leads the urban ministry training center at SBTS. These men have served on multiple different continents and in varied contexts. It’s the breadth of experience that gives the book a balanced, measured tone that avoids ethnocentrism or “my way or the highway” attitudes towards missions.
The book begins with a theological foundation for missions that includes a discussion of mission vs. missions (are they the same?), God’s missionary purposes in all of Scriptures, and a whole Bible overview of world evangelization. This section is incredibly helpful and concise. An entire series of books could be written on just this. It could be butchered and muddy prose, or it could be insufficient in proof. Instead, ITGM’s Biblical argument is lucid and clear.
Following this is a section on missions history. This section is incredibly brief, though helpful. If any section of the book is lacking, it would be this one though I admit that 2,000 years of church history can hardly be condensed into 45 pages. Such as it is, this section well serves its purpose in showing the primacy of missions in the history of the church, especially recently. Note: This section is less than generous to the medieval Catholic Church and is also heavy on Baptist mission work once it arrives at modern missions. With that said, I do not think that represents much of a loss for the author’s efforts.
The last two sections of the book deal with applied anthropology, worldview and world religions, and the practicalities of missionary efforts. This section is drenched in personal experience and wisdom from the authors. Their emphasis on the local church’s place in disciple-making is noble and worthy of praise.
I’ve read many books on missions. Some focused only on the Biblical basis of missions. Some were just about the practicalities. Some focused on only one perspective to missionary efforts. There are better books on particular subjects that are far more narrow than Introduction to Global Missions. With that said, I can think of no better book than this for precisely the purpose of the title: to introduce a person to global missions. At 270 pages with clear section divisions and an accessible writing style, this book is an excellent sourcebook for all missions minded people and should become the standard for seminaries, Sunday School classes, home groups, and individuals seeking to become educated in regards to missions.
We love lists, don’t we? We especially love lists about books. [Insert witty paragraph that shows I’m well-read and my opinion on this matters.] Without further adieu, the 5 best books I read in 2014 (in no particular order):
Handbook of Consolations: For the Fears and Trials That Oppress Us in the Struggle with Death
If nothing else, this one wins the award for best title.
This book is nearly 5oo years. Written by German Luther Johann Gerhard, this short volume is a balm for every Christian soul. Despite some reservations I have due to my being a Baptist and not a Lutheran, Johann Gerhard’s words were a great encouragement to me. Handbook of Consolations is part of a large, but nearly forgotten, type of literature known as ars moriendi. These books focused on the importance of how one dies. In this book in particular, Gerhard deals with the subjects of doubt, pain, suffering, sin, repentance, the sufficiency of the cross, the certainty of faith, the efficacy of the sacraments, and so on. I would recommend it to all Christians.
The Gateway Chronicles (Books 1-6)
K.B. Hoyle is a rising young star in fiction. To take a break from studying during the Spring 2014 semester, I read the her YA series The Gateway Chronicles. These books tell the story of a young girl named Darcy and five of her friends who are taken through a gateway into a land where they have been prophesied as the redeemers of that world, Alitheia. These books are an easy read, and the ending was a true surprise—which rarely happens to me when reading fiction. As a regular fantasy reader, I found Hoyle’s invention of a new mythical creature, called “narks”, to be one of the best and most creative features of any fictional book I have yet to come across. Hoyle’s understanding of narrative and redemption help shape these stories, and I was easily captured by them.
Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith
I hear that I’m about two years late on this one.In this book, Smith argues for a change to how we view education in the Christian life. The life of the mind, he says, is deeply shaped by the liturgies of our life as they shape our desires. He discussion of liturgy and the formative power thereof is so good that I can not overstate it. I think it could be helpfully appropriated by professors, pastors, and stay-at-home mothers. Though this book is not accessible to all (it requires a certain level of education already), I would recommend it to all who are willing to take it on. I read through this with my friends Collin and David, and found it was one of the best ‘book group’ experiences I have ever had because the book in question was excellent.
Strange Glory by Charles Marsh
Bonhoeffer was not C.S. Lewis. Heck, even C.S. Lewis wasn’t C.S. Lewis according to how some folks portray him. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a fascinating Christian leader who lived a great life. Perhaps better than any other Bonhoeffer biography, and certainly more so than any recent ones, Charles Marsh holds forth on the enigma that was Bonhoeffer, laying bare all of his idiosyncrasies (like his obsessive cataloging of his clothes) and peculiarities (such as his relationship with Eberhard Bethge). I was privileged be at a small book release for this work with Dr. Charles Marsh in Birmingham, AL. His love for Bonhoeffer and commitment to accurately represent his life struck me that night and led me to read this work. What I found was a masterpiece, a wonderful work, that is theologically and emotionally engaging at every turn.
Theology of the New Testament by Frank Thielman
This year for New Testament class, Frank Thielman’s NT textbook was our only text apart from a few articles and handouts. It was and remains to be one of the best books I have ever owned and read. Not only that, I can personally testify that Dr. Frank Thielman is among the godliest and humble men I have ever met in my life. This book is no different. Thielman exudes a quiet confidence in the Word of God in his confrontations of liberal theology while showing no fear of engaging in textual criticism himself. He likewise critiques the New Perspective on Paul while giving credit where credit is due to that crowd. Thielman is not afraid to borrow from someone at one moment and criticize them the next. He recognizes that all truth is God’s truth. Because of this, he draws from the best of all the traditions in Christianity. That, and more, makes this book excellent.
1 Corinthians by David Garland
[Part of the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament Series]
As part of a Greek exegesis class on 1 Corinthians with Dr. Frank Thielman (see above), I was required to read this entire commentary. I was worried, since 1 Corinthians has long been a great mystery to me. Food sacrificed to idols? Sleeping with step-moms? Few things have shaped me in seminary like my time in 1 Corinthians. Little did I know that Paul’s words on lawsuits would immediately apply to my life. Little did I know that God would use 2014 to teach me that weakness is how he prefers his people. As Garland points out, the foolishness of the cross is the primary message of 1 Corinthians. It ought also to be the primary message of our lives. This book is not a devotional. It is an exegetical commentary. If you don’t know a lick of greek, it will be incredibly challenging to read. Nonetheless, my time with this book was a time that I will never forget. Garland’s writing is lucid and concise. He explanation of difficulties in the text and explanations is helpful. I would recommend this book to all preachers, as well as all who wish to know 1 Corinthians better.
I hope you enjoyed this list. Yes, this post was a tad informal. I’m in seminary, and my reading list isn’t for most folks right now. But if anyone benefits from this, it will have been worth it.
[Caveat: I promise I’m not trying to make this blog about Mark Driscoll. Though I have also written about him here.]
A friend recently pointed me to the all-too-soon created website MarkDriscoll.org. At one time, Mark was influential in my life and fed me the truth of the Bible on a semi-regular basis through writings, podcasts, etc. After watching his downfall (resigning the church he founded, removed from Acts 29 Membership, publicly scorned for his abuses, exposed for crudeness in online interaction, plagiarism charges, and on and on), I was all at once surprised, appalled, and interested to see that he was starting up once more.
Pastor Mark, as his website describes him, is something of an enigma to me. Do men without pulpits call themselves pastor? Isn’t a time of retreat in order? Why start a new website now when the public eye has only recently been against you?
At the very least, it’s bad timing.
His website’s About page reads:
Pastor Mark Driscoll is a Jesus-following, mission-leading, church-serving, people-loving, Bible-preaching pastor. In 2010, Preaching magazine named him one of the 25 most influential pastors of the past 25 years. He’s grateful to be a nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody.
Pastor Mark is the author of many books, has written for CNN, Fox News, and The Washington Post, and has been featured as a columnist for The Seattle Times.
With a skillful mix of bold presentation, accessible teaching, and unrelenting compassion for those who are hurting the most—particularly women who are victims of sexual and physical abuse and assault—Pastor Mark has taken biblical Christianity into cultural corners rarely explored by evangelicals. He has been grilled by Whoopi Goldberg and Barbara Walters on The View, gone head-to-head with Piers Morgan on CNN, debated the existence of evil with Deepak Chopra on ABC’s Nightline, bantered with the gang on Fox and Friends, and explained biblical sexuality on Loveline with Dr. Drew.
The page goes on to describe his accomplishments at Mars Hill Church, which is dissolving this upcoming week, and Acts 29, which removed him from membership for unrepentant sin. Needless, to say, that’s troublesome.
I remember when I first listened to Mark in 2008. I remember hearing him say that line for the first time (though I’m sure he didn’t come up with it):
I’m just a nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody.
That’s all I wanted. Someone who would put themselves to the side and show me Christ.
It was the plagiarism, the power-hungry ministry structure, and the manipulation of best-seller lists that started the downfall of Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill Church. It seems to me that what follows the “just a nobody…” line in his new website’s About page is very telling.
I don’t know when, and I don’t know why it happened. What’s obvious, however, just reading through this page is that it did happen.
At some point Mark Driscoll become a Somebody trying to tell Everybody about Somebody. The problem is that when you have two Somebodies, the two tend to get confused. When the two get confused, glory can wrongly be given to the wrong Somebody.
In the current Evangelical celebrity culture, it’s really easy to get caught up in the dream of becoming Somebody. Of becoming a Voice. Of masses of Twitter followers. Of viral articles. Of sermon jams and sermon highlight clips. It can be easy to take the attitude that the greater we are for Jesus, the greater Jesus is glorified.
John the Baptist knew better when he said, “He must increase. I must decrease.”
Paul knew better when he said, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”
We must learn to know better than to say we will become greater for his sake. He doesn’t need us. He doesn’t need our impressive About Me sections. God lacks nothing.
Let us take heed, lest we also fall and think that it’s better that a Somebody tell Everybody, than a Nobody. If all goes well, it will be the name of Jesus upon us, not our own name. We will be nobodies, so that nobodies like us will know that Somebody cares about Everybody.
Blessed are the nobodies.