Recent articles showing the need for exegetical logic

I wanted to call attention to two recent articles that in different ways highlight one of this generation’s fundamental obstacles to ministry and mission. The first, “Let’s revive the lost art of Christian polemics” by Conrad Mbewe, says the church today is harmed by uncorrected error. He writes: We should respond to (theological error) by deliberately engaging in Christian polemics. What does the word “polemics” mean? Polemics means a strong verbal or written rebuttal of someone else’s belief. It is an argument that disputes another person’s opinion and shows that it is not true. Using the example of Christ, Mbewe argues for the recovery of Christian polemics that identify wrong teaching and correct it with strong language, logic, reasoning, and the clear statement of right teaching. The second, “The Art of Imperious Ignorance” by Michael J. Ovey in the recent Themelios, responds to the recent phenomena of dismissing passages of Scripture as “unclear”: Naturally (dismissing a passage as ‘unclear’) plays well with a

postmodern mood that tends to value scepticism, but more than that it can offer the attraction of not needing to have a reason for my position. At its worst, I can declare something unclear and then pursue my own line without needing to provide reasons for it—after all the issue is unclear. Declaring something unclear can maximise my freedom of action because it tends to remove an issue from the field of common debate. In its way, it is strongly individualist. More than that, some of the claims about unclarity or ignorance leave unspecified what counts as being clear enough for actions to proceed or decisions to be made. It is sometimes quite revealing to ask ‘how clear do things need to be?’ or ‘What would make things clearer for you?’ But without knowing what counts as ‘clear enough’ or what considerations would clarify, the task of discussing something with someone claiming ignorance or lack of clarity…

Eight theses about responding to the sin of a pastor

I’ve noticed a lot of Christians are confused about how to respond to the sin of pastors. Christians who love their pastor, as they ought, are hurt when the pastor faces consequences for his sinful behavior. Especially when there is no “smoking gun,” they hear charges and think “that doesn’t sound so bad.” Sometimes this impulse is turned against other members of the church leadership, “Aren’t you a sinner too? Then why are you making a big deal about his sin?!” Basically, they think their pastor never sins, at least in any way that calls for real consequences. On the other hand, some Christians hate authority of any kind, except their own. Any attempt to exhort or lead these Christians is met with accusations of “lording it over” and “pastoral abuse.” Basically, they think that all pastors only sin, unless they submit totally to the rule of the mob. While these situations are among the most

difficult and painful that any believer will face, they don’t have to be confusing. God’s word brings clarity into the mess. Here's eight theses on responding to the sin of a pastor; I commend the passages mentioned for your further study.   1. The pastor/elder is first and foremost a Christian, and in important ways his fight with sin is the same as that of other believers: He is a sinner who needs God’s grace through faith in Christ for salvation and forgiveness (John 3), and without this would be condemned (Rom 3:23). Though saved, he is not without sin in this life (1 John 1:5-10), and the battle with sin must be fought (Rom 6:12) and rages onward (Rom 7:7-25). Part of the battle with sin involves identifying patterns of sin, sometimes through self-examination (1 Cor 11:28; 2 Cor 13:5), or sometimes through the ministry of others (Mat 18:15; Heb 3:13) when self-deception has taken place (1 Cor 3:18; Heb 3:13; 1 John 1:8).…

Knowing what we celebrate on Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zechariah 9:9 In a time when hope was needed, the prophet had this to offer: the king is coming. A century earlier God’s wrath toward his people’s idolatry had driven them into exile, and the consequences endured long after the return. Twenty years later, it was clear: things would never be the same. Their kingdom, their culture, their relationship to God… all seemed unrecoverable. God told them to rebuild the temple, but they knew their meager resources could never replicate anything approaching their memory of Solomon’s Temple. So there was little energy for the task. In this context, Zechariah is sent by God to call the people to finish the temple. Why? Because the king is coming. Sin must be forsaken, God

must be obeyed, his word must be celebrated, the temple must be finished, because the king is coming. Many prophecies anticipate Messiah, the deliverer, the Savior, but none more clearly than Zechariah 9 reveal that this one who God would send would be king. And a certain kind of king, one who is righteous and humble, in contrast to the deprived rulers of Israel and Judah’s history. More importantly, the king is coming with salvation. This king is going to be a savior! A deliverer! He will fix what is broken. He will bring prosperity back. He will restore peace. The king is coming! What an encouragement to those who heard Zechariah’s words! The king is coming. In fact they did finish the temple. Then came 400 silent years, dark years, years of defeat and occupation. Many despaired. But others clung to that sliver of hope: the king is coming. Then, Jesus was born! Elizabeth and Mary hoped, Herod…

Following Jesus in his shame this Christmas season

“No room, we’re all sold out,” said the keeper of the Hampton Inn. It was 2 AM this past February 15. The borrowed Suburban was full of sleeping family, and snow was falling. Exhausted, we needed to crash for a few hours before continuing the roadshow west. Half an hour later, similar rejections had been offered by Holiday Inn Express, Holiday Inn (not Express), La Quinta, and a few suspicious mom-and-pops with "cornhusker" in the title. I had no choice but to get back on the interstate, shaking the dust off my feet, sipping Red Bull, and resolving that in the future I would 1) make reservations and 2) avoid college towns on Valentine’s. Perhaps my misfortune reminds you of Christmas pageants past, and if that’s the case I’m sorry to tell you that your pageant got it wrong. You're not alone. It’s a culture-wide problem that our misconception-ladled nativity portrayals obscure our vision of the Christmas story and thus addle our application of what God wants us to

see. -------------- We envision a Hollywood-style scene where Mary’s labor begins on the outskirts of Bethlehem, initiating a mad rush for a hotel room (in the absence of a hospital), but after being turned away by hostile innkeepers the couple finds a soft bed in the stable, just in the nick of time. But actually, there was no hurry. There was no innkeeper. In fact, there was no inn. And there probably wasn’t even a stable, as such. None of this is in the Bible. Only when we begin clearing these misunderstandings out of our Christmas picture can we see what is really there. And what we see is that Christmas isn't only an invitation to sovereignty, it's also an invitation to shame. Luke’s description of Christ’s birth is succinct: “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in…

Encouragement from God's sovereignty in the tyrants, gossipers, hopes, and fears of the Christmas story.

In the thick of this most wonderful time of the year as we are, it's easy to get overwhelmed with special foods, special music, special readings, special parties, special services, etc. But as we reflect on our theology of the nativity, all the accoutrements of Christmastime start pointing to God, and every bit of tinsel and tune begins to serve as an invitation to worship. An invitation that resonates throughout the Christmas story is an invitation to sovereignty; an invitation to see the mighty hand of God guiding the course of history and our lives too. Consider how Luke’s account begins: “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of

the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.” - Luke 2:1-5, ESV ----------- After 400 silent years, God suddenly is carrying out a new stage in his work. With angelic announcements to Zechariah and Mary, Luke 1 shows God preparing for a very special birth. Then, mentioning Caesar Augustus, Luke puts these events against the background of Roman history. In 44 BC, Julius Caesar is murdered and his nephew comes to power. Brilliant, prudent, and ruthlessly ambitious, Octavius uses his vast abilities to consolidate the power in himself, completing the dismantling of democracy begun by Julius. Under Octavius the Roman Republic becomes the Roman Empire. Octavius then becomes the first emperor of Rome, the ruler of all the known world, and is addressed as “Lord Caesar Augustus” – the emperor with the attributes of God. Emperor Augustus rules the entire known world, delegating to governors or client kings the management of individual territories.…

Applying the authority of God in exegetical ministry and theological training

Ministry begins with God himself, and the absolute authority belonging to him as creator of all things. Believing the Bible is the inerrant and authoritative word of this God, we must approach the Bible with the goal not of using it for our work, but submitting to it as God’s word. How can we practically submit to God’s word in various ministry contexts? And how can we train leaders for a ministry that is obedient to the authority of God? Imagine the various theological disciplines in a pyramid: Disciplinary Order The starting point is biblical exegesis, the task of carefully reading and discovering the intended meaning of biblical texts in their original language and contexts. Then we move to biblical theology, wherein we put together the results of our exegesis to understand the theological message of a given section of Scripture, or how a given theme is developed throughout Scripture. Then, and only then, we can develop a systematic theology,

based on our exegesis and biblical theology, that synthesizes logically the teaching of the entire Bible. Finally, we can apply our systematic theology, biblical theology, and exegesis by building a philosophy and practice of specific ministries, such as preaching or counseling. And by following all of these steps the result is a church life and mission that are thoroughly biblical, faithful, and operating in submission to God through his Word. To look at it from the other direction, we might ask - “why is expository preaching so important to the ministry of a church?” (level 5). The answer to that is found in our biblical philosophy of preaching (level 4), which is simply systematic theology (e.g. doctrines of Scripture, of man, of salvation) together with biblical imperatives about preaching (level 3), which is based on a biblical theology and story of a God who communicates and reveals himself through proclamation (level 2), which is based on the exegesis of individual…

What kind of leader do urban churches in the 10-40 Window need?

As we train pastors, we need to know what we're trying to do before we can do it very well. A couple weeks ago I shared some thoughts on the ideal church in our urban 10-40 Window context. The logical next question is "what kind of leader is needed for this kind of church?" Or, "what is an ideal pastor?" A Christian: An ideal pastor is first of all a Christian; he has himself believed and been transformed by the power of the gospel, and is continuing to grow in his Christian maturity and ongoing repentance. He displays the fruit of the spirit. He is a man of prayer. He is not a recent convert; he is among the most spiritually mature men of the congregation. He is passionate to know God and make him known. Committed to the Local Church: An ideal pastor loves the local church, serves the local church, and embraces the biblical priority of the local church in God’s mission.

He does not view ministry in the church as in any way inferior to other ministries one might do but is instead eager to invest his life as an under-shepherd of God’s people. Exemplary Character: An ideal pastor is holy and above reproach - he has a reputation that is a credit to the church, there is no valid accusation of wrongdoing that can be made against him. He is upright - he keeps his word; he can be counted on to make wise, fair, righteous judgments for the church. He is sober-minded and not arrogant - level-headed, restrained in his conduct, able to think clearly; humble, listens to others, accepts criticism and counsel, and is considerate. He is disciplined, self-controlled, and not a drunkard - keeping his physical desires in check by consistent self-restraint; does not engage in any activity to excess and is disciplined in his pursuit of spiritual things. He is not violent, but gentle…

How we lost exegetical logic and why we need it back.

Last week I mentioned "exegetical logic" as central to church ministry. Someone asked what I meant, so an explanatory word. When I say "exegetical logic," I'm talking about a way of using Scripture our fathers assumed but we have to explicate because of certain cultural trends: The abridgment of everything: We skim headlines and share 140-character snippets. Published books are the length newspaper articles used to be. Sprinting, we're not interested in the lines above the bottom one. Unwillingness to think: We are lazy. There is always a YouTube meme to distract. With a smartphone in every hand, thinking hard is passé. The exaltation of personality: Being lonely, we are attracted to personalities who seem cool to have a beer with. In a celebrity/social media culture, we follow leaders less for the quality of their ideas and more on the stickiness of their persona. The balancing impulse: Our beliefs in fairness and equality are so deeply ingrained that we find them

where we should not. The spirit of the age is, "you have some verses, he has some verses, let's agree to disagree." Ungodly humility: We are pressured to be uncertain, conditioned to believe that to claim a proposition as true and more reasonable than the alternative is an exercise of privilege or insensitive to someone's needs. These factors and more create a climate where we don't debate the reasons for ideas, to our great detriment. The solution is exegetical logic: an approach to talking about life, ministry, and ethics driven by interaction and debate about specific Biblical texts and their meaning. Exegetical logic means sharing not only the fruit of your exegetical process but how you reason your way from that text to get there. Some arguments are objectively better than others. The difference between Ruth's Chris and Sizzler is not in the eye of the beholder. Christians, we need exegetical logic. We need it in our sermons, in…

Believing the gospel, obeying the Savior, discipling the world, for the glory of God.

What are the goals of a church (any church)? What’s the ministry of that church seeking to accomplish in the lives of people? Here’s my answer: believing the gospel, obeying the Savior, discipling the world, for the glory of God You can get here pretty easily from the Great Commission (Mat 28:18-20): “Disciples… baptizing” → requires believing the gospel. “Obey all I commanded” → obeying the Savior. “Make disciples of all nations… teaching” → discipling the world Baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” → in other words, ministry is in and through and for the glory of the triune God. Looking at the big picture of Scripture, Jesus doesn’t highlight these goals in an isolated way, but as a summary of what all Scripture calls God’s people to. So how does this look in a church? Believing the gospel Without Christ, all people, as sinners, are in the desperate

situation of facing God’s just wrath (Rom 5:12; 3:23). But the amazing truth of the gospel is that God has sent his Son Jesus to deliver sinners. Only Jesus can rescue us, and he does it by taking God’s wrath on himself, dying in our place, and rising from the dead. The sins that should have condemned us, God laid on Jesus. So, the amazing exchange: Jesus endured what we deserved so that we might enjoy what he deserved: eternal life. We access this life by believing the gospel, which involves understanding these truths, turning away from sin, and trusting in Jesus as the one way of salvation (John 6:47, Luke 8:12, 2 Cor 5:21). Guiding people to belief in the gospel is the goal of all a church is and does. A church calls non‐Christians to believe and be saved. But a church must also emphasize believing the gospel to Christians. Why? Because even after saving us, the gospel is…