Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Curious Way God Made Ember Church Possible

This is a story I've been meaning to write for awhile. It's the story of how God used a blog (not mine) to make Ember Church a reality. Enjoy!

One of the best experiences I had while working at Heritage happened the weekend before Lent, 2010. We usually brought in a big-time guest speaker the weekend before Lent, and this year was no different, because we invited Scot McKnight to come speak to us about Mary. The responsibility fell to me to pick Scot and his wife Kris up from the airport, escort them to the hotel, and to and from church for the weekend. They could not have been nicer, more down-to-earth people; and Breena and I got to share lunch and dinner with them! (Thanks, Heritage!)

Scot has a very popular blog called the Jesus Creed, on which he (and others) makes many thought provoking posts every day. There is usually good, civil discussion in the comment threads. I enjoyed taking part in the discussions for the better part of 2010, and Scot was even gracious enough to post several of my book reviews there.

American Baptist Church - Westerville
Mark Farmer, Pastor
When I moved into full time church planting in early 2011, I stopped commenting at the Jesus Creed, but was still an active reader. One day, in the Spring if I remember correctly, Scot posted about a book he recommended to me over dinner, Introverts in the Church by Adam McHugh. It is an excellent book and, as an introvert, I resonated with so much of what he wrote. (You can read my review of the book here.) I left a brief comment on Scot's post about the book, saying something to the effect of, "You recommended this book to me when you were in Columbus, and I really enjoyed it!"

Later that day I got a comment on my own blog from someone going by the handle Pastor Mark. My first thought was, "Is Mark Driscoll commenting on my blog? Does he want to fight me?" As it turns out, it was Mark Farmer, a pastor in Columbus and fellow frequenter of the Jesus Creed blog. He contacted me because he had read my mention of Scot's trip to Columbus, and thought it would be great to get together to chat. I happily agreed, thinking this was a great chance to meet another pastor in the area. I am, after all, the world's worst networker, so whenever I get an opportunity to network with other pastors, I jump at it.

This is where things get God-level interesting. Mark and I both live in Westerville. In fact, we live in the same neighborhood. What is more, he pastors the church that is about a 2 minute drive from my house! We met up at Panera and had a wonderful conversation. He was a missionary and church-planter in France for a long time, and I was eager to hear his stories of ministry in what I perceived to be a difficult environment.

Our first Sunday evening at Ember
Meanwhile, Ember was still in the planning stages, but the summer was fast approaching, and that meant the fall, and our launch, was right around the corner. I had been looking into renting the local elementary school for our Sunday morning services, but the cost, along with the cost of storage, audio/visual equipment, and time to set-up and tear-down seemed prohibitive. We had some money, but not enough to get us off the ground in an elementary gymnasium.

So we turned our attention to renting space at a local church. But who would let us rent part of their building to hold a church service while they were having their own church service? It seemed like we would have to look into the possibility of meeting on Sunday nights.

The beautiful stained glass at ABC.
I had been against that from the beginning because I thought people would then perceive us as Junior Church, or Extra Church. In our culture, you go to church on Sunday morning, and everything else is extra credit. Fighting the culture over Jesus would be hard enough; I didn't want to have to fight the culture over what time you go to church, too.

But it didn't seem like we had many options. As we brainstormed the various churches we could contact, Mark popped into my head. I said to the team, "I just met the pastor of a church right down the road. I don't think they have anything in their building on Sunday nights. I'll talk to him." The following Monday I spoke with Mark, and he presented it to his deacons that night, and they approved it! So we drew up a rental agreement, and we found a home! And it's so much better than an elementary school gymnasium. The building is beautiful. We get to store our stuff on site. They even gave me an office! All for much less than it would have cost us to rent a public school facility.

God is full of surprises. You never know how he's going to provide for you, or make his mission possible. For Ember Church, it was a popular author, his blog, and a local pastor with a wide vision of the kingdom of God.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Telling the Truth

My wife wrote a post on her blog yesterday about a conversation we had with our kids at breakfast. The kids were talking about living to be 100 years old, and Breena told them that she would be dead when they were 100. That kind of freaked them out, so she reassured them that we would all be together in heaven if we love Jesus. Then she turned to me and asked, "Is that right?"

One of the things we value in our family is telling our kids the truth. That's why we don't do Santa Claus in our house at Christmas. Sure, he's a fun story, but he's portrayed as though he's real, and he most certainly overshadows Jesus during the Christmas season. It's not that we're opposed to fiction or fun stories, it's that we're opposed to fiction portrayed as truth to the point that the real truth is suppressed beneath the fiction. So what does that have to do with going to heaven?

I believe that the truth about heaven gets obscured by the fiction. The popular image is that we become angels when we die, playing harps on clouds and looking out for our loved ones who are still alive on the earth. This is not the biblical image.

So when Breena asked me, "Is that right?", I said, "Well, actually Jesus is going to come back here and reign on the earth." Of course, my little ones don't know what the word reign means, so Breena had me explain it.

"That means Jesus is going to come back and be the king over all the earth. And do you know what else, we are all going to be kings and queens with him!"

I have never seen my kids eyes light up so bright in my life. They could not have been more excited about becoming kings and queens with Jesus. This led into a much longer conversation about how we live on earth, but it was that spark in their eyes and voices that hit me with this epiphany: The truth is life-giving. We tell our kids the truth, not simply because it's the right thing to do, but because it breathes life into their souls. The truth is always better than fiction.

Jesus is better than Santa Claus.

Reigning with Jesus is better than the popular, saccharin picture of heaven.

The truth is better than fiction. Trust your kids. Tell them the truth. They can understand more than you probably realize.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

New Sermon Series

Okay, I'm really excited about this one! We're starting a new sermon series at Ember this Sunday on the book of Mark. It's called The Gospel (According to Mark). I know, I know. I'm so creative! But seriously, I'm stoked about preaching through Mark.

This series will take us all the way through Easter, which is April 8. I'm expecting God to show up in powerful ways in our community as we explore the Gospel through Mark's eyes. In fact, Mark's Gospel is probably Peter's Gospel. Many scholars believe that Mark wrote down the memoirs of Peter and turned them into the very first Gospel to be published.

We'll also be celebrating the new series, and the New Year, by having baptisms. If you have not yet been baptized, it's an important step to take as you follow Jesus. As we'll see on Sunday night, even Jesus was baptized! We are baptized as an act of obedience and as a public declaration that we belong to Christ. Baptism is the symbol of our identification with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We would love to baptize you at Ember this weekend. For more information, please send me an email. I'd love to talk with you about baptism!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Secret Blessings

After dinner last night Breena got a call from a Restricted number. She normally would not pick up the phone, but she did this time, and it was someone wishing her a Merry Christmas! This person also told her that there were some presents for us behind the van in our driveway. What?! So I went outside to take a look and, sure enough, there they were! And not just little bitty, "oh how sweet" presents. These were massive, "holy crap!" presents.

In typical Holt fashion, we opened them immediately. Bexley got diapers--they're her favorite. Zeke got a big Mater toy. Eisley got a Barbie doll. Cyrus got a massive Cars 2 play set. And Mom & Dad got a gift card to one of their favorite restaurants. Check out the video of the aftermath.

To whoever gave us these secret blessings, Thank you so much! Their value to us far exceeds their material worth. That you thought of us and wanted to bless us without recognition speaks volumes to us. You have truly blessed us. Thank you!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

God's Life

What sort of life are you pursuing? A life of pleasure? A life of purpose? A life of significance? A good life? A quiet life? A family life? What sort of life are you pursuing?

Or are you just sitting back and letting life come at you? Are you passively and blindly accepting your every circumstance? Are you just trying to get by? Are you keeping your head down, hoping to stay out of trouble? Are you trying to become invisible?

Those who follow Jesus, those who are his friends here on earth, have received a specific kind of life. God's life. That's right. In Jesus, you have received the life of the one who created life, and created it with no stain of sin or death. Now the question is: How do you live that life?

One of the least read books of the Bible is 2 Peter. Be honest. When was the last time you read 2 Peter? Did you even know there was a 2 Peter? Could you find it in your Bible in less than a minute? It's okay if you can't.

Here's a powerful statement from one of the least read books of the Bible: His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Everything we need. God has given it to us through his divine power.

You already have everything you need to live God's life. You don't need to be more spiritual, you just need to pay more attention to the Spirit that already lives within you. You don't need to be more mature, you just need to apply the wisdom of the Scriptures--which you already have access to--to the trials and failures of your life. You don't need to know more, you just need to press more deeply into the knowledge of God fully revealed through Jesus Christ.

You don't need more hit points. You don't need to level up. You don't need another heart-piece. You already have all you need to live God's life, the godly life in Christ Jesus. You have it through faith in Jesus. You have it because God called you to it, according to his own goodness and glory. You have it because the Holy Spirit lives within you, and he is talking to you all the time. You have it, because as Peter says in the very next verse, God has given you his very great and precious promises. What are those promises? They are Jesus himself!

As if this wasn't enough, Peter goes on: [God] has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. You can participate in the divine nature, right now, on earth, in the same clothes you're wearing today. That's the invitation of God through the fulfillment of his promises--to live his life, to escape the corruption of evil desires. And you don't need anything besides what God has already given you. That's the beauty and power of the Gospel. So go out and live God's life today, and live it without fear or insecurity. When you have Jesus, you have everything you need.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Ember Monday

Last night was our last service of 2011! It was also our shortest service ever. It was a very low-key service, as many of our friends from Otterbein were on Christmas break.

We celebrated the birth of Christ by singing some Christmas carols, and I preached a short sermon from Luke 1 and 2. The message was about God's surprising plan to overcome the powers of sin, evil, and death through a sneak attack, through subversion. He took out the ruler of this world, Satan, from the inside, and he did it through this child that was born to Mary & Joseph in Bethlehem.

God is quite daring, isn't he? He sent his Son to be born as a helpless baby into a culture where the child mortality rate approached 40%. The family into which he was born was not wealthy or powerful. They had no influence. They had no means to raise the child in a special way. What a risk God took in Jesus, and what a reward we all have gained! Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Book Review: Simply Jesus

N.T. Wright has written extensively about Jesus already, so why would he need another book? The truth is, Simply Jesus, is the summation of all that Wright has written about Jesus, from The New Testament & The People of God to Jesus and the Victory of God to The Challenge of Jesus, as well as the line of thought he began laying out with Simply Christian, Surprised by Hope, and After You Believe. All of that comes together in this eminently readable, concise tour de force called Simply Jesus.

If you're familiar with N.T. Wright, there isn't much that's new in this book. It's value, however, lies in that his whole career of thinking on Jesus comes together in this single volume. What is more, it is far more practical than much of his previous work, drawing especially on what he brilliantly laid out in After You Believe. If you're not familiar with N.T. Wright and his work, this would be an excellent place to start.

The foundation of Wright's work is history, particularly the first-century history of Roman-occupied Israel. "We have to make a real effort to see things from a first-century Jewish point of view, if we are to understand what Jesus was all about." (xii) To miss Jesus in his own context would be to miss him entirely. And so he works quickly through the historical material he painstakingly laid out in his Christian Origins and the Question of God series. From this work he draws the metaphor of the perfect storm--of three storm fronts colliding at one point at the same time. The three storm fronts of Jesus' day were the Roman Empire, the Jewish Hopes of Liberation, and the Work of God in the Person of Jesus. These three forces crashed into one another for the three years between the baptism of Jesus by John and his crucifixion by the Romans at the behest of the Jewish leaders.

These three years of Jesus' ministry were, as Wright puts it often in this book, "what it looks like when Israel's God becomes King on earth as he is in heaven." The sick are healed. The blind are given sight. The lame walk. The dead are raised. The demon-possessed are set free. This is how the world works when it's Creator God is King, and that's exactly what was happening in and through Jesus.

The tyrant that Jesus came to overthrow was not Rome, as everyone in Israel had hoped and expected to one day happen. The tyrant was "the Satan", the Accuser, and his weapons of sin and death.
Jesus came to believe that the only way one could defeat death itself, and thereby launch the new creation for which Israel and the world had longed, was to take on death itself, like David talking on Goliath in mortal combat, trusting that Israel's God, the creator of life itself, would enable victory to be won. And, since dath was seen in the scriptures as the ultimate result of human rebellion against God and the failure to obey him, if death were to be defeated, then idolatry, rebellion, disobedience, and sin would be defeated along with it. Death, like a great ugly giant, would do its worst, and pour out its full weight upon him. And the creator God would overcome it, showing it up as a defeated enemy. (174)
Jesus is now King. And he is enacting his rule and reign through his body, his disciples, on earth as it is in heaven. Our task, then, is to go about proclaiming that he is King, and enacting his kingdom in the same way in which he went about inaugurating it--by laying down his life on the cross, displaying God's agape love for the world.

This is an outstanding book, and I highly recommend it to every believer, and to every nonbeliever who wants to know more about who Jesus was and is.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Response to a Response

This post is a response to Jacob's post, which was a response to my post on questions for Calvinists. If you haven't been following the discussion, it all started with this post, in which I criticized something that David Platt said in a sermon about God hating/abhorring sinners. There is a long thread of comments in that post, which then precipitated a follow-up post on biblical hatred, and then a post called How I Read the Bible. Finally, I offered my reasons for criticizing David Platt here. That's a dizzying trail of links, to be sure. But it's been a fun and fruitful discussion. Before you read what I've written here, you should probably have Jacob's post open in another tab, and it might even be beneficial to have my questions post opened in yet another tab. Now to it.

Jacob, thank you for such an insightful and well-written response! I think you've articulated your position expertly.

While I certainly could have characterized Platt's sermon as "pastorally irresponsible", I didn't think that would be sufficient. Moving to the other end of the evangelical spectrum, I spent a great deal of time working through Rob Bell's book Love Wins, which I also thought was pastorally irresponsible, but which deserved a fuller treatment. I felt the same with Platt, since he is so revered by a great number of evangelicals, particularly of the young and conservative persuasion. As I've written elsewhere, I am not in Platt's faith community, but ,because of his celebrity, and through the miracle of modern social media, he is in mine. Obviously, I felt strongly enough about what he said here, combined with the level of his influence within my own congregation, that something more needed to be said.

I addressed this post to Calvinists/Reformed folks because every person who offered a critique/comment/question holds to that framework, insofar as I know. I could only assume that what I wrote rubbed them the wrong way, and that it had something to do with their overarching theological framework. (Or maybe it's just because Calvinists love to argue theology. Admit it. It's true!) My questions arose because two popular Reformed preachers taught that "God hates (abhors) sinners" (David Platt), and "God hates you" (Mark Driscoll). Furthermore, I find that those who hold to a Reformed framework, with the exception of Tim Keller, emphasize God's glory and his holiness, but not his love. Perhaps I haven't read broadly enough. (I'm not saying they don't believe in God's love or talk about it at all; I'm just saying, from an outsider's perspective, it's not something that seems to characterize Calvinist/Reformed teaching.)

Regarding total depravity, perhaps I haven't understood it correctly. Here is my understanding of total depravity: Human beings are utterly and completely sinful from birth, incapable of doing anything good whatsoever, and incapable of choosing to follow God or ever worship him. Perhaps I haven't got that right.

My perspective is that we are originally created in the image of God, that we rebelled and invited sin and death into God's perfect world. Furthermore, the image of God was broken and perverted in us. We are completely incapable of restoring both that image and the relationship we once held with God. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot redeem ourselves. We need God to do that for us.

Maybe I've gotten total depravity wrong, but I know there are some circles that teach that nonChristians are incapable of doing anything good whatsoever. This is clearly false, in my opinion. Now, do those good deeds earn them salvation, or a little bit of God's favor? No. The "good deed" God wants from us is to believe in his Son, and it is only by God's grace, through faith in Jesus, that we are saved. I believe this puts me well into the Reformed camp. Perhaps I have merely rejected a caricature of total depravity, as you say. But the caricature is a reality in many circles.

As for God's hatred and wrath, I have done my best to define the former, at least. I wrote in my post Biblical Hatred, "Hatred is the intense or passionate dislike of someone or something. But the term has deeper connotations in our culture, implying oppression, ridicule, and antagonism." Perhaps I should have also defined wrath, which I take to mean "the eschatological judgment of God unto condemnation." As I understand it, the wrath of God is a picture of the coming judgment of all humanity, and will be poured out upon all who have rejected Jesus. The overwhelming picture from the Scriptures--mostly the prophets and the NT--is that God's wrath is a future event, the only escape from which is to find salvation in Christ himself.

But both Platt & Driscoll used "hate" in the present tense, meaning God hates you (or sinners) right now, in the present. This is not God's coming wrath, as the Prophets and Jesus and the apostles talked about. This is God's present extreme dislike--his open and full antagonism and oppression today. That is what, in the light of the cross and the overwhelming witness of the NT, I simply cannot believe. I believe that God, like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, is actively and fully running toward every lost soul in the world, and he is doing it in the person and work of his Son.

To sum up, God's wrath is the eschatological judgment unto condemnation; God's hatred is the present antagonism and passionate dislike of sinners. I affirm the former, but reject the latter.

The conversation between Simeon & Wesley is very appropriate. Truly, Christ is our only hope. But that does not mean we do not have the responsibility to persevere and obey, by the grace of God and in the power of the Spirit. Surely, at the very least, the book of Hebrews and the seven letters of Revelation affirm this.

Question 1

What role, if any, does the Abrahamic/Davidic covenant play in these expressions in the Psalms. Are the wicked those Israelites who reject YHWH, or would that also include the Gentiles? Are the righteous David and his followers, or is it the covenant people as a whole?

Here, as with Platt, I would argue that you're overlaying a cognitive framework on the Psalms that they were never intended to accomodate. The theology within the Psalms, while true of course, is expressed in extreme terms because the Psalms are written in the language of the heart. To expound them in search of a literal dogma is to miss the point of the Psalms.

For instance, using Platt's exegetical method, I could make the following case, which I believe would be fully "biblical":
Psalm 137:8-9 • Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us. Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks. If you want to be happy in life, go to Babylon, which is modern day Iraq, and throw some infants off a cliff. Kill as many babies as you can find, and you will be happy--blessed, even. In fact, this verse is proof that God has commanded the United States Army to invade Iraq, and kill as many civilans as possible, especially children. If we want to be happy, we'd better go to war!
Absurd. Offensive. Horrifying. But my method is the same as Platt's. Ahistorical. "Literal". And, quite frankly, ignorant of proper exegetical methods and the differences between varying types of literature found in the Scriptures.

Question 2

I don't think I'm being vague here at all. A sinner is someone who sins. That seems self-evident. But it seems you don't agree with the premise. Fair enough.

I stand by my exegesis of 1 Timothy 1:15. The verb is in the present tense. His past has humbled him in the present. He knows what he's capable of doing and being, and is teaching Timothy to live with that same sense of his own sinfulness in order to remain humble.

Question 3

I would argue that God has not revealed himself analogically, as you say, but directly and personally, in the person of Jesus Christ. We know God, not through a roundabout circuit of analogies, but in the person of the Incarnate Son.
Colossians 1:15 • The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
Colossians 1:19-20 • For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
John 14:9 • Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.
Hebrews 1:2-3 • In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
John 8:19 • If you knew me, you would know my Father also.
2 Corinthians 4:6 • For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
John 1:18 • No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.
This is really the crux of it, for me. We most clearly know God through Jesus. Whatever we thought we knew about God through Israel's history and their Scriptures must now be reinterpreted through Jesus Christ, which, of course, was exactly what Jesus and the apostles were doing.

Question 4

This is not sophistry at all. The verse in Romans 9 has been quoted to me on multiple occasions, but I've yet to hear an adequate explanation. I put the verses together like that because it seemed especially relevant to the discussion.

Question 5

I agree! Perhaps my clarification above regarding the terms "hatred" and "wrath" will shed some light on this issue. God's wrath is coming at the eschaton, and all who do not believe/reject Jesus will be eternally condemned. But, in my opinion, that does not mean that God hates us today.


I'll conclude by stating my position as clearly as I can.
  1. God loves humanity with agape love, the love that exists within the Godhead, binding him together in perfect unity.
  2. God will judge sinful/rebellious/unbelieving people.
  3. God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to, among other things, spare all humanity from this coming judgment, also known as God's wrath.
  4. God did this because of his great love for humanity, and the cross of Christ is the clearest and most powerful sign of this love.
  5. All who turn to Jesus in faith and repentance will be saved from the coming judgment.
  6. God is actively pursuing all humanity by empowering his people, the Church, with his very Spirit to make disciples of every people group.
  7. Hatred has to do with present opposition and antagonism, not future judgment unto condemnation.
  8. God does not hate any human being.
And there you have it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Questions for Calvinists

On Tuesday I posted a critique of David Platt's sermon on why God hates sinners. (Mark Driscoll recently said much the same thing.) I contended that God does not hate sinners, a position I still hold.

This post generated, by far, the most conversation I've ever had on this blog. Many folks with a Calvinist/Reformed/neo-Reformed perspective brought some great questions and challenges to what I wrote in that and the two subsequent posts. I did my best to answer those questions and challenges within the comments, and in the course of the conversation, some questions began to formulate in my mind that I would like to ask of Calvinists. What follows is a series of questions and challenges for any Calvinist/Reformed readers related to the discussion at hand. Please feel free to post your replies in the comments on this post, and please also use the numbering convention I use here so that we can keep track of the discussion.

Question 1

It seemed to me that, in the challenges I received to my post, God's hatred of sinners was equated with his judgment of sinners. Is this true? If so, why must God hate sinners in order to judge them? And I know this sounds sarcastic but it's not meant to be, but do you really believe that God hates people? Do you believe that God is actively, objectively, and fully (with all divine power) antagonistic and oppressive toward those who have not put their faith in Christ?

Question 2

If God hates sinners, as Platt (and Mark Driscoll) argues, does he hate you? 1 John 1:8 says, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." We all have sin, and we are all, therefore, sinners in a very real sense. Does that mean that God hates even those who have put their faith in Christ? Please bear in mind the words of Paul, written at the end of his life, to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:15, "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst." (Note the present tense.) Did God hate Paul?

Question 3

It is often said that hate is not the opposite of love. Perhaps it's not, but they are certainly on the same plane--of the same order, or belonging in the same category. Is it possible for God to both love and hate an individual? Can love and hatred exist within God's heart for the same person at the same time? At the risk of leading the witness, it may be helpful to reflect on what Paul writes in Ephesians 3:16-19.
16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Question 4

The verse from Romans 9 came up in the discussion: "Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated." This is a quote from Malachi 1. I'd like to put a few of the relevant verses together and have you give your comments on them, please.
  1. Genesis 27:19 • Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”
  2. Psalm 5:5b-6 • You hate all who do wrong; you destroy those who tell lies. The bloodthirsty and deceitful you, LORD, detest.
  3. Malachi 1:2b-3a • “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated."
Jacob lied to get Isaac's blessing. God hates liars. God loved Jacob. How do you explain this series of verses?

Question 5

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the conversation we've been having is that nobody took the time to address the New Testament passages I mentioned, and how they were relevant to the discussion, and how they should have influenced Platt's exegesis. I'll repost the verses here for your reflection.

  • Romans 5:8 • But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
  • John 3:16-17 • For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
  • 1 John 4:10 • This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
  • 1 John 4:19 • We love because he first loved us.

So, does God hate sinners, or does he love them?

Question 6

If God is love, how can there be any hate within him? Keep in mind, I'm not talking about judgment. I'm not talking about wrath against sin. I'm talking about hatred, the passionate disliking of someone to the point of active oppression and antagonism.

Question 7

Jesus says, in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” If the world recognizes the disciples of Jesus by their love, what does that say about Jesus? What does that say about the Father, the one about whom he said in John 5:19, "Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does."


There are probably other questions that have been floating around in my mind this past week, but this will do for now. Some of these are meant to clarify, some are meant to challenge. Perhaps they won't do either, I don't know. But I would like hear from you.

One final note, which may explain, a bit further, why I've written what I have.

I think it's important to point out that, when you or David Platt or Mark Driscoll or whomever says "God hates sinners", you're not saying, "God judges sinners apart from Christ." You may think you're saying that, but you're not. Judgment and hatred are not the same thing. So even if what all this boils down to is semantics, the semantics are crucial, particularly for an unbelieving world that already believes God hates them because the Church has done a terrible job of loving them. If it's just semantics, then to say, "God hates sinners" so smugly as Platt said it is pastorally irresponsible.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Why I Criticized David Platt on My Blog

Last week was rather eventful at the blog. I wrote a post openly criticizing David Platt for preaching that God hates sinners, and took some heat for it. Admittedly, I didn't pull any punches, and several people read that as being judgmental. While I don't think I was being judgmental, my criticism was strong. So why did I do it?

Some people commented that I should have gone directly to him with this issue, with Matthew 18 serving as a biblical model for this. There are plenty of reasons why I didn't do that, the most obvious being that this is not about sin, and I am not a part of his local faith community. However, because of his celebrity and the prevalence of social media, he is a part of my local faith community. His teaching, and the teaching of many of the most famous pastors, reaches into almost every evangelical church in the country. In fact, many Christians trust preachers like Platt or Driscoll more than the pastor in their own church!

For these reasons, I thought it was appropriate to offer my thoughts on this particular message, which had come up in a previous conversation within our community. I expressed these thoughts privately before blogging them, but since this is the second famous preacher I've heard say this stuff, I thought it worthwhile to speak out publicly against it.

One of the problems of pastoral celebrity is that these preachers often have influence within a congregation that is infinitely disproportionate to their participation, being that their participation is zero. Of course, any healthy congregation will be open to influences from the broader Church, but when one of those influencers goes awry in some way, it is the responsibility of the local pastor to offer a correction for the sake of that particular congregation. That was what I attempted to do in my posts last week.

Ember Monday

Last night we had our first prayer service at Ember. Tim led us in the service, and he did a fantastic job! He said it was his first public speaking / preaching opportunity, but you never would have known it. He led us through the Lord's Prayer, and then through Gabriel's appearance to Zechariah, where God promised that Elizabeth would bear a child, who turned out to be John the Baptist.

We spent a good amount of time praying as an entire church body for the church. That was such an encouragement to my soul. You really get to hear people's hearts when they pray, and I'm very excited about where Ember folks are at. God's going to keep on moving in our midst!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Ember Prayer Service

I'm going to take a break from talking about God and hatred to announce that this Sunday night we're having our first Ember Prayer service! This is the brainchild of Tim Evans, one of the members of our Pastoral Care Team, and I'm so excited to see how God is going to move as we come before him in prayer. We're still going to have some songs to sing, but in place of the sermon Tim is going to be walking us through some times of prayer. If you have any emotional, physical, or spiritual needs that require prayer, please come out this Sunday at 5pm to be prayed over. Let's come before God's throne with faith and confidence, and be expectant that he will move!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

How I Read the Bible

The discussion on the "hatred" of God has generated quite a bit of buzz, at least relatively so to the scope and reach of this blog. My post from a couple days ago, Does God Hate Sinners?, is already the fourth most read post at The Sometimes Preacher. My interactions with some folks have lead me to this post, which is an explanation of how I read the Bible.

We all approach the Scriptures carrying particular baggage and with a particular framework. Most of us come to the Bible knowing very little about it, and it all seems so overwhelming. How can I make sense of this? What relevance does this have to my life? I call this the Biblical Fog, but it's really biblical illiteracy, and I fear that the overwhelming majority of Christians, today, fall into this category. We simply have not been taught how to approach the Scriptures, how to interpret them and apply them for our lives today. So we wander about in a fog, never really picking up the Bible, and when we do, never grasping God's word. It doesn't have to be that way, and I can help, but that's another post for another time.

Another approach to the Scriptures is called Systematic Theology. In this approach, the Bible is a wellspring of doctrine and theology (as well as practical issues for life) ready to be categorized into an ordered system of belief. This is, generally, the approach that the scholars of the Church have taken for the past 200 years or more. "What do you believe about X?" "Well, let me go to Book A, Chapter B, Verse C and I'll tell you, after I follow up on all the cross-references." This approach has many strengths, but it is fundamentally flawed because it does not consider the manner in which the Bible was created.

I believe that the Bible is God's Redemptive History. It extends into the deep past, to the very beginning, and anticipates the end of the present age to a new beginning. In the middle is all that God has done to redeem humanity, destroy sin and evil and death, and become the true King of the Cosmos. The Bible is the story that invites us to become participants. It is not Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth so much as it is a play in search of actors--the play that is, in fact, the truest reality, to which all the other stories of the world are mere shadow puppetry. The Bible is the Story that defines my life--past, present, and future--because it is the story of how God made all that exists, how it went wrong, what he has done to make it right again, and what he will do to finally consummate that process of making-all-things-right.

For this reason, I must pay the utmost respect to the manner in which God created the Bible--its authors, its times, its contexts, its audiences. God sovereignly directed the Bible to be written by dozens of authors over almost 1500 years under wildly divergent circumstances. I cannot dishonor this incredible work of the Holy Spirit by disregarding the historical nature of Scripture and still hope to fully understand the end result of the Spirit's work. That is an arrogance of the worst order.

So I pay attention to the history of Scripture. I seek to understand it within its own context before I try to apply it to my context. I believe that the Bible was the Word of God to someone else before it became the Word of God for me. As I've said elsewhere, two principles that guide me are:
  1. The Bible cannot mean what it never meant.
  2. If we don't understand the Scriptures in their historical context, we'll never understand them at all.
I try to immerse myself in the Scriptures by entering the world of it's authors and first readers. Besides prayer, this has been more profitable than anything else I have done in my studies. So that's how I read the Bible, and that's why I write the things I do on this blog, and preach the things I preach at Ember. My aim is always to honor the Scriptures for what they are, to enter the world in which they were written, and to participate in the new world they are creating.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Biblical Hatred

Corey, who I hate, posted a comment in yesterday's post about biblical hatred. What is it? Why is it there? What's it all about? Well, the short answer is this: "Shut up, Corey! Don't let me ever see your stupid face around these parts again!" (For those of you who don't know about my friendship with Corey, our love language is hatred. It's complicated.)

According to a quick search on, the English word "hate" appears 127 times in the NIV. ("Love" appears 686 times.) The majority of these passages do not have God as the subject of the verb, to hate. But there are some that do, and the object is occasionally human beings.

As I wrote yesterday, I don't believe that God hates sinners. The biblical evidence is, in my opinion, overwhelmingly in favor of the position that God loves sinners. The whole arc of redemptive history leads us to the cross, where God's agape love is most clearly on display.

What, then, are we to do with these hatred passages? Hatred is the intense or passionate dislike of someone or something. But the term has deeper connotations in our culture, implying oppression, ridicule, and antagonism. The imagery that gets conjured in our heads when we say, "God hates [whomever]", is of fiery destruction and torment--which is to say, of hell. But is that biblical hatred, properly applied to God? I don't think so.

Throughout the Scriptures, God relates to people through covenants. A covenant is basically an agreement between two parties, one greater and one lesser. God made covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David in the Old Testament. When God chose someone with whom to make a covenant, this person was seen as particularly loved, blessed, and accepted. When God chose to not make a covenant with someone (Esau, for example), this person was viewed as rejected, hated, and cursed. I believe that biblical hatred, with God as the subject, is covenant rejection, and does not imply divine oppression, ridicule, or antagonism.

God's hatred is exclusively linked to his covenant-making choices. When the Psalmist proclaims that "God hates liars", it is because liars and evildoers and murderers are actively breaking the stipulations of God's covenant with Israel. "Thou shalt not lie. Thou shalt not kill." And so on. When you break the stipulations of a covenant, you stand to receive the curses, or punishments, outlined within that covenant. Which is to say, you will receive the wrath and judgment of God. This doesn't mean that God hates you, in the 21st-century American sense of the word, but that you must suffer the consequences of breaking his covenant.

Fortunately, we live under a new and better covenant, the one made by Jesus through his spilled blood and broken body. This is a covenant of grace that comes to us through faith in Christ, and it was made because of God's deep love for humanity. And this new and better covenant depends on the faithfulness of Christ, and not our own perfect obedience. Praise God we live in such a time!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Does God Hate Sinners?

A friend of mine pointed me to this video of a sermon by David Platt, author of Radical. In this sermon, Platt argues that God both loves and hates sinners. You can watch the video for yourself, and then read my response below.

The first point I would make is this: Platt commits an exegetical fallacy by relying on the Psalms to make his theological point. The Psalms are Israel's Prayer-Song Book. They were, as Fee & Stuart point out in their classic book on exegesis, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, "addressed to the mind through the heart". (207) The Psalms use emotional language in order to draw out an emotional response from the worshipper. More from Fee & Stuart:
The psalms themselves are musical poems. A musical intended to appeal to the emotions, to evoke feelings rather than propositional thinking, and to stimulate a response on the part of the individual that goes beyond a mere cognitive understanding of certain facts. ...While psalms contain and reflect doctrine, they are not intended to be repositories for doctrinal exposition. Thus it is dangerous to read a psalm as though it taught a system of doctrine. (207-8)
I'm not sure who taught Platt how to do exegesis, but the fact that he doesn't understand this basic exegetical concept, and relies exclusively on the Psalms to make a rather bold and daring theological claim, troubles me deeply. This is a man with a wide reach within the Church, but he doesn't seem to know how to handle the Scriptures. This, by the way, is a major reason why I didn't like Radical, and wouldn't recommend it to anyone. In my judgment, Platt simply, and consistently, fails the exegesis test.

The second point I would make is this: The Hebrew word we translate "hate" means rejection, and particularly rejection according to the covenant. While it can also mean "despise" or "abhor", we must be careful with this word, particularly when we apply it as God's heart toward human beings.

The third point I would make is this: The truest thing about you is not that you are a sinner, as the neo-Reformists would have us believe, but that you are created in the image of God. The work of Satan cannot completely undo the work of God. He is not that strong. The first thing that was ever true about humanity was not that they were sinners, but that they were created by God in his very own image, and no amount of sin or temptation unleashed by the forces of hell can rewrite that history.

The doctrine of total depravity spits on the work and power of God because it makes the tacit point that Satan's de-creative acts are stronger than God's creative acts. False. God's creation is stronger than Satan's attempts at de-creation. Has the devil perverted God's work? Yes. Has he distorted it? Yes. Has he broken it? Yes. Has he undone it? Has he completely destroyed it? No. We are created in the image of God, and that is a fact of redemptive history.

The fourth point I would make is this: God is agape love. At least according to John the apostle. If God is love--the love that lays down its life, surrenders its rights, and forgives all offenses--can there be any room for hatred? If love is something that God fundamentally is, at the core of his being, how can he hate?

The fifth point I would make is this: Platt makes another exegetical fallacy by not working out his theology within the larger biblical context. In other words, Read the New Testament! Here are just a few samplings:

  • But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. -Romans 5:8
  • For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. -John 3:16-17
  • This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. -1 John 4:10
  • We love because he first loved us. -1 John 4:19

I don't know how to make this point any clearer: God loved us with the strongest force in the universe, with the agape love that resides at the core of his being, with that unbreakable bond which binds the Trinity together, before we believed in him. God loved us before we loved him, and his love is not so flimsy or wishy-washy as to leave any room for hatred. God loves sinners, and his love is too big, too full, too rich, and too deep to leave any room for hatred.

So I make this conclusion: No, David Platt; No, Mark Driscoll, God does not hate sinners. He loves them. He loves them enough to send his Son to die as an atoning sacrifice for their sins. What is lacking in the cross that makes you think that God hates anybody? What is lacking in all that God has done for us that would leave room in your heart and mind for a hatred of sinners coming from the heart of God? What else does he need to do to convince you that he doesn't hate you, or anybody else for that matter?

And, for the love of God, who taught you how to read and teach the Scriptures?! Your misunderstanding of basic exegetical principles and misapplication of Scriptures is astounding. It would be comic if your reach weren't so vast. But it's tragic. Please pick up Fee & Stuart's book and read it. Your churches, and evangelicalism in general, needs you to get the Scriptures right.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Ember Monday

I have no idea what happened in the service last night, because I was hanging out with our kids (and my wife) in the children's ministry. I do know that Travis Ell finished up our series on Titus, called Further the Faith, with a sermon from Titus 3. I also know that we started singing some Christmas songs, and that the band brought out a number of unique instruments, including the dulcimer, the pump organ, and a xylophone-type-thingy (I'm so knowledgeable about music).

In the children's ministry we played Jericho. I built a wall that we marched around seven times. Well, actually, we only made it about 2 and a half times before Zeke and Stella started tearing it down. Then Cyrus kicked part of the wall into Eisley's face, which brought out the tears, of course. Later on, we decided to play Jericho on the slide, so I built up walls that the kids took turns knocking down as they came down the slide. That was fun!

If you missed the service last night, you can still listen to the sermon in our sermon player. I know I'm looking forward to hearing from Travis!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Book Review: The King Jesus Gospel

Scot McKnight's latest book, The King Jesus Gospel, is a revolution for evangelicalism. It is an incredibly important and timely work, one which calls us to leave behind our "salvation-culture" and take up, once again, the "gospel-culture" set forth by the preaching of Jesus and the apostles.

I've worked through a little over half of the book on the blog already. My discussion of the first three chapters, which lays the groundwork by establishing the problem McKnight sets out to address, can be found here. The second post on the book, which dealt exclusively with chapter four, in which he lays out the book's thesis and defines the apostolic Gospel, can be found here. The last post I wrote on the book covered chapter 5, where Scot discusses how salvation overtook the Gospel.

Here is a brief sketch of the main points of the book:
  • We evangelicals have mistaken the Plan of Salvation for the Gospel.
  • We have traded in a gospel culture for a salvation culture.
  • Our evangelism focuses exclusively on bringing people to a point of decision.
  • As a result, we do a poor job of making genuine disciples of Jesus.
  • The biblical gospel is the Story of Jesus, found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5

In that last post I promised to cover the final two chapters of the book in a future post. So without further ado, I shall keep my promise.

Chapter 9: Gospeling Today

The way that we "gospel", or evangelize, today is different from the way the early believers, including the apostles, evangelized. (Scot likes to use the word "gospel" as a verb, so I'll put it that way from now on.) He sees several points of comparison, the first of which is what gospeling seeks to accomplish. "The gospeling of Acts, because it declares the saving significance of Jesus, Messiah and Lord, summons listeners to confess Jesus as Messiah and Lord, while our gospeling seeks to persuade sinners to admit their sin and find Jesus as their Savior." (133) He goes on to say, "the gospeling of the apostles in the book of Acts is bold declaration that leads to a summons while much of evangelism today is crafty persuasion." (134) Ouch!

I'll skip to the fourth point of comparison between the gospeling of the first Christians and our own evangelism--the problem gospeling resolves. What is the problem that the Gospel solves? Without minimizing sin and the need for forgiveness and reconciliation, Scot frames the solution this way: "The fundamental solution in the gospel is that Jesus is Messiah and Lord; this means there was a fundamental need for a ruler, a king, and a lord." (137) He says much more on this point, and I want to tempt you to get the book and read it for yourself with this quote:
Gospeling declares that Jesus is [the] rightful Lord, gospeling summons people to turn from their idols to worship and live under that Lord who saves, and gospeling actually puts us in the co-mediating and co-ruling tasks under our Lord Jesus. (142)

Chapter 10: Creating a Gospel Culture

So now what? How do we go about creating this gospel culture that we so desperately need? The first thing we must do is become people of the story. "To become a gospel culture we've got to begin with becoming people of the Book, but not just as a Book but as the story that shapes us." (153) Too many of us are functionally biblically illiterate. We are more profoundly shaped by the doctrines and dogmas that we extract from the Scriptures than by the overarching story God is telling within them; and while there are many dogmas, there is only one Story.

We must also become people of the story of Jesus. "We need to immerse ourselves even more into the Story of Jesus. The gospel is that the Story of Israel comes to its definitive completeness in the Story of Jesus, and this means we have to become People of the Story-that-is-complete-in-Jesus." (153) We must return to the four Gospels!

Thirdly, we must become people of the church's story. "We need to see how the apostles' writings take the Story of Israel and the Story of Jesus into the next generation and into a different culture, and how this generation led all the way to our generation." (155) Christianity was not invented in 1865; it has come down to us through nearly 100 generations of believers. There is much we can learn from them. "We have no right to ignore what God has been doing in the community of Jesus since the day he sent the Spirit to empower it, ennoble it, and guide it." (156)

There is more to say on these points, and Scot presents two other important points to create a gospel culture, but this is a book review, not a book report. Here is my review: Read this book!

Now I want to say one thing that Scot doesn't about how to create a gospel culture, and I say this to my fellow preachers out there. Preach the Gospel! Stop participating in the damnable story of American Consumerism & Pragmatism. Stop trying to draw a crowd. Stop preaching the no-Gospel of Success & Self-Improvement. That is not your task. That is not your calling. You are a minister of the Gospel, so preach it!

Your sermons shape your congregation and define its culture, and too many of you are creating a culture that is nothing more than a slightly more moral version of the wider American culture. You're telling the wrong story. You cannot create a gospel-culture unless and until you preach the Gospel. This will most likely take you down a new path, one that you probably won't like. You will have to say goodbye to the Story of Success and Fame and Power. But you'll discover that the Gospel is worth it.

May the Church's preachers become gospelers, that we all might learn to live out the Gospel, boldly proclaiming that Jesus Christ is King-over-All.