Monthly Archives: July 2013

Fruit

I’m re-reading Natural Church Development and thought I would share a quick quote:

“Just as the fruit of an apple tree is not an apple, but another tree; the fruit of a small group is not a new Christin, but another group; the fruit of a church is not a new group, but a new church; the fruit of a leader is not a follower, but another leader; the fruit of an evangelist is not a convert, but new evangelists.”

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Book Review: Reclaiming Love by Ajith Fernando

Reclaiming Love: Radical Relationships in a Complex World is essentially an exposition of 1 Corinthians 13. The book is a call to Christians to follow the way of decisive, dynamic, and self-giving love. It is a good corrective to those who understand love solely in terms of an emotional response.

Solidness: PlusPlus++

The book contains solid biblical and systematic theology on the topic of love. It is evident that Fernando did his homework putting together the book. It’s not exactly a commentary, but if I ever preach through 1 Corinthians 13 I will probably re-read at least portions of this book.

Freshness: Neutral

While Fernando’s work is not terribly original, the message is one that bears repeating. Of all the various aspects of spiritual formation and discipleship, the concept and command to love God and love neighbor is the most central, but it is often overlooked. It’s something “we already know,” or at least, we think we do, and so we skim past it. There is no “moving past” a decisive, enduring, and dynamic love. I originally wrote this review a few weeks ago but didn’t publish right away. I’m glad I didn’t, since within those few weeks I learned again and again (read: I failed again and again) the necessity of really being obedient in this area of life.

Recommendation

I would recommend this book in two instances. First, it’s a good read if you are preparing to teach on 1 Corinthians 13. Second, the first several chapters are an excellent primer on the Biblical understanding of love. If you are giving a general teaching on love, or are in general just interested in the topic, these first few chapters might be worth the price.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

MTD Conclusion: Jesus asks a question

I encountered Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in full force in a conversation in our church’s After School program. As I reflected further upon that conversation I came to realize that Jesus himself provides an excellent antidote to MTD kinds of thinking. In the gospels, he is recording as asking a probing question to the disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter’s answer, “you are the Messiah” is one of the key points of Scripture.

C.S. Lewis famously declared Jesus must be either be rejected or wholeheartedly accepted. Because of His claim that he could forgive sins he must have either been a self-deluded madman, pure evil, or really the Son of God. He does not give us the option of just viewing him as a wise teacher.

In rejecting the distinctive teachings of Christianity, MTD, at its heart, attempts to view Jesus as just another wise teacher who gives us some great advice on how to be moral and how to be happy. The role if Jesus is not to reconcile people to God through his shed blood, but to make some people feel pretty good about life and let generally good people go to heaven. But, the key distinctive of Christianity is that Jesus really was who he claimed to be. His call to discipleship is a real call. His demand that we repent and turn in faith holds us to account.

Everything hangs Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” You can dismiss him as a madman, reject him as evil, or accept him as Savior of the world. MTD tries to use Him for its own ends, as a means towards happiness and moralism. In doing so, it fails to take the words, actions, and teachings of Jesus seriously.

Can a rubber band help you overcome lust?

I read a negative review of Clean: A Proven Plan for Men Committed to Sexual Integrity (my review here) titled “Practical to a Fault.” The reviewer objected to Weiss’ strong psychological approach to overcoming lust. Weiss, a Christian psychologist who specializes in counseling men who struggle with sexual addictions, understands how the mind works.

Weiss notes that sex, or even just sexual images or fantasy, produces a powerful chemical effect on the brain. On the positive side this has the ability to form a powerful bond between husband and wife. On the negative side, when this occurs outside of marriage, it “programs” the male mind to have strong lustful desires for other women, or particular “types” of women. Weiss calls these misdirected imprints land mines.

Weiss suggests that, since we understand how the mind works, we can counteract the normal cycle of chemical re-enforcement when we need to using some form of negative re-enforcement. For instance, he gives this advice:

“Get a rubber band and place it around your wrist for at least thirty days. Every time you lust, objectify, double take, rubber neck, or have a past image hit your brain, snap the rubber band.”

In his counseling, this technique has proven very effective. He explains, “Men have told me over the years that this negative re-enforcement has shut down as much as 80 percent of their lust life and reduced the power of land mines within a month.”

I am not a psychologist so I will defer to Weiss and trust that this indeed does work, from the perspective of behavior modification. But, and the reviewer raised this question, does this kind of technique undermine the work of the Holy Spirit in character transformation?

I think the short answer is “No.” I have no problem with this kind of counsel and, in fact, I am grateful for it. Why? Because, while we are not only physical creatures with physical minds we are physical creatures with physical minds and we have been called to make every effort to obey God with every aspect of our beings, spiritual and physical.

That said, this kind of practical advice only works, from a Christian perspective, within a broader context. If this constituted the whole of Weiss’ work I would have objected. And so, if you are seeking and using this kind of psychological, counsel, I offer the following words of caution.

#1: Psychological advice that replaces the idea of sinfulness with sickness falls short. For Weiss, the reality of the sinfulness of lust causes him to find every solution available. Weiss has no problem using the term “sex addict” but, for him, that doesn’t remove the sinfulness of the addict’s behavior.

#2: Psychological advice that ignores the power of the Holy Spirit falls short. When God raises us to a new life, that is a supernatural event. Sanctification is a supernatural event. But, God can, and does, use natural means (smacking a rubber band) to produce supernatural results (sanctification).

#3: Psychological advice that only deals with behavior modification falls short. Behavioral modification without consideration of spiritual transformation is nothing more than legalism. We need to be transformed from the inside out, starting with our most fundamental beliefs. Modifications to behavior are the result, not the cause, of complete spiritual transformation and victory over sin.

Six signs you’re a Moralistic Therapeutic Deist

It’s always easy to point the finger at someone else and smack them with a label. “You are a Moralistic Therapeutic Deist” But, one of the main points of Soul Searching was that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is the dominant religious instinct in America today. If that’s that means I need to start the evaluation process, not with others, but with myself. If we’ve established that MTD represents a significant diversion from historical and biblical Christianity then the next question is this, “have we diverged from historical and biblical Christianity?”

Here are six signs you (or I) might be Moralistic Therapeutic Deists. Even if you don’t agree with any of these statements cognitively, ask whether you agree with them in action.

You might be a Moralistic Therapeutic Deist if you agree with the following statements:

1) Everyone decides for themselves what is right (i.e., “it’s right for her”).

2) All religions are basically the same because they help people be moral.

3) The best part of Christianity is that it makes me feel good.

4) You should choose a faith based on personal preferences. (4b: It’s generally not a good idea to try to convert someone to another faith).

5) God doesn’t really place any hard demands on my life, and it’s unlikely that he will.

6) Religion is only a part of my life when I am having a problem.

The biggest sign you’re a moralistic therapeutic deist is if, when you consider the role of God in your life, you see God as the servant and yourself as the Master. The question is this: Who is in charge? Who has authority? MTD says the autonomous self. Christianity says God.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and the warping of basic beliefs

In the last post I mentioned that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism emphasizes, and makes the whole of religion, the beliefs that (1) religion makes you moral, (2) religion makes you happy, and (3) God helps you when you need Him.

There is a kernel of truth in each of these statements and, when understood within the context of biblical Christianity, are profitable for believers to meditate on. However, in the hands of MTD, which is fundamentally self-oriented instead of God-oriented, the ideas are twister and warped so that the resulting doctrine doesn’t match that which arises out of orthodox faith. Let’s take a look at each of these in a little more detail.

(1) Religion makes you good:

Orthodox view: We are dead in our sins and fundamentally opposed to God. But God made a way for our salvation. Through the sacrifice of Jesus our sins are paid for if we respond to Him in faith. When this happens we are made alive in Christ. We are justified, made positionally righteous. We are renewed. God grants us His Holy Spirit so that God performs a work in us as we make every effort toward holiness. We are made progressively righteous by the supernatural work of God.

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4, 5)

MTD view: Religion provides a series of carrots and sticks which we, on our own, respond to. We don’t want to get in trouble and we want to make God happy. Sometimes, we just need some good advice, or a few tips on a Sunday morning. Religion helps us raise and “civilize” our children, regularly teaching generic platitudes about being nice and helping others. Moral absolutes are self-determined, not established by God.

(2) Religion makes you happy:

Orthodox view: God is our gracious Father and He desires our well being. We are most fulfilled when we are living in accordance with His will. He grants us the fruit of the Spirit which includes joy and peace (Galatians 5:22). When we cast our anxieties on God he grants us a peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7). There is significant reason to rejoice when we think of the promise of eternal life. We can rest in the promises of God. However, the path to peace and joy often follows a hard road, one of repentance, suffering, trials, and self-denial. In fact, a godly grief which leads to repentance is necessary for salvation. Additionally, happiness is an effect of salvation, not its aim.

MTD view: Happiness (or fulfillment) is the aim of religion. You don’t need repentance to be happy. You need feel-good religion. You don’t need faith that Jesus took away your sins. You just need faith that everything will eventually work out.

(3) God helps us when we need Him:

Orthodox view: God is intimately involved in every area of our lives. He is in charge of all of history. Nevertheless, we have the privilege to come to him in prayer (again, Philippians 4:7), which includes worship, thanksgiving, confession, and supplication (requests). In all things God’s will is done and, in all things, God acts as a gracious Father who knows how to respond to the requests of His children and give them good gifts. God’s goals are not always the same as our goals and what we think is good is not always the same as what God thinks is good.

MTD view: Usually God keeps at a safe distance. He monitors the world but is not usually very involved. Sometimes he steps in to help someone feel better or accomplish a life goal, win a football game, get a raise at work, etc. He doesn’t really place and hard demands on our lives. We can talk to him, and he is obliged to give us what we ask for. The worst this God can do is fail to fulfill our desires.

Wednesday: Six Signs You’re a Moralistic Therapeutic Deist

Modesty, Responsibility, and True and False Guilt

I’m a bit late to this conversation but a couple of weeks ago several of my friends posted links on Facebook regarding the issue of modesty. Being a man, I shy away from these discussions so I didn’t read any of those articles until I saw one written by Rachel Held Evans. I am often frustrated with her position on a broad range of issues but her articles are always interesting so I read it.

RHE describes how she grew up in an environment where the issue of modesty was framed like this: (paraphrasing) “If you wear clothes that are immodest you are responsible for the lust you incite in your brother.” Based on her upbringing it sounds like her experience was filled with quite a bit of false shame and legalism. She has (rightly) rejected that argument and now argues: “It’s not your responsibility to please men with either your sex appeal or your modesty… Find something that makes you comfortable. Find something that is ethically made … and revel in this body and this world God gave you to enjoy. ”

I agree with RHE for rejecting the initial way the issue of modesty was framed. I disagree with her conclusion or, at least, I think it is incomplete.

RHE is right when she rejects the premise that a woman bears responsibility (directly anyway) for a man’s lust. Each man is responsible for his own sin. If I see a woman dressed immodestly, or modestly for that matter, and lust, I bear the guilt for my sin, the woman does not. We as men have to hold firmly to the idea of personal responsibility and reject any attempt to pass off the responsibility of our sin on other people.

However, while a woman who dresses immodestly does not bear the guilt of a man’s lust she might, nevertheless, be guilty of sin.

As Christians we have a responsibility to avoid inciting others to temptation. A woman who intentionally dresses to tantalize is guilty of sin, not the sin of lust but of inciting temptation in those around her. A person, man or woman, who does not even consider how their dress might affect other people, be it through immodesty or just inappropriate attire, might be guilty of neglect and we, as believers, are simply not given that luxury.

Let me illustrate this by showing how the same principle applies to other areas of life.

In Romans Paul tells us that we ought to live at peace with others, as far as we are able. I am not responsible for someone else’s attitude towards me but I am responsible, as far as I am able, to live at peace with. I’m guilty if I don’t consider my brother’s feelings.

Parents are not responsible for the decisions made by their children, the child bears the responsibility for that, but the parents are responsible for the training and teaching of their children. A father is guilty if he neglects that responsibility.

As a Pastor I am not responsible for how people in the congregation respond to God’s Word. I am responsible for presenting that Word to the best of my ability. I am guilty if I fail preach God’s Word faithfully.

Throughout the New Testament believers are encouraged to consider the needs of others above their own desires or ambition (Col 2:4). We might be completely justified in our actions, as stand-alone decisions, but we do not live in a vacuum. We’re not responsible for other people’s sins and we shouldn’t be saddled with false guilt. But, we are responsible, in all things, for considering those around us and how our decisions affect others.

Update (7/24/2013)

In the comments below it was suggested that I have only applied the issue of modesty to women. In fact, this is not the case. As I said above, “A person, man or woman, who does not even consider how their dress might affect other people, be it through immodesty or just inappropriate attire, might be guilty of neglect and we, as believers, are simply not given that luxury.” 

It’s true the post starts with the particular topic of female modesty. This is simply because I was addressing an ongoing conversation (see RHE’s post above) on that particular topic. I then took pains to show how the two general principles (1) we are responsible for our own thoughts and actions and (2) we should consider how our actions impact other people, apply across several areas of life, beyond issues related to gender or modesty.

However, just in case I have been unclear, allow me to state emphatically: The issue of modesty relates to both men and women equally. The same two principles of (1) taking responsibility and (2) considering others applies across genders.