Practical theology is basically the application of biblical and systematic theology into every day life. How does one honor God as a husband or wife? How do you function in a society? What is the proper perspective with employment? In many ways practical theology is simply the art of interpreting life with a biblical, Godward perspective. But, like most things, it can be done badly. In some instances the results can be relatively minor but in other situations it can lead to devastating decisions. An example would be that the Old Testament practice of killing a murderer authorizes an individual to kill an abortionist. Wrong on many levels yet there are those who would not think twice about that concept.
So how does bad practical theology come about? I want to give a few quick points that are not designed to be exhaustive but rather are designed to stimulate thought in your lives.
- Difficult situations are not the best place to formulate your practical theology. When you are in the midst of great suffering, misery, danger or pressure you should not try to come to conclusions about what God expects of you. Rather, you should be establishing a strong foundation of theology prior to these events so that you can have something to draw from as you begin to apply sound theology in a practical manner.
- Seldom is there a simple formula that answers all situations. A person can have their twenty-five verses for all of life and make an utter mess of it as a result. The commands to speak truth does not mean you must tell everything that is on your mind in any situation for they are not the same thing.
- The complexity of God’s workings in the world go beyond any simple answer. So to interpret an earthquake as God’s judgment on the homosexuals, or the porn industry, or the corrupt politicians, etc. I am always amazed at how God never “seems” to judge the covetous or the gossip.
- God is not compelled to explain why something happened and you are not commanded nor expected to even understand the why. Think about Job, we have no indication that God ever explained to him the cosmic conversation God had with Satan. In fact, Job was roundly rebuked by God for even thinking that it was not fair. Yet how often do we hear a person telling another what they think God is doing in some sickness or disaster?
- Don’t confuse sovereignty of God with fatalism. The latter is too often expressed. I had one man ask me why we should turn a rapist over to the authorities since obviously God wanted the woman raped or it would not have happened. Another man knew he was sinning but argued that since God was sovereign that it was not his fault; rather he was waiting for God to change his desires because anything on “his own” was destined to fail. This is folly upon folly and fails to make a distinction between the sovereign (and unknown) will of God and what He has revealed for us in His Word. We are accountable for the revealed and not the unknown.
- Just because the Bible teaches that a Christian is an alien and stranger to this world does not exempt him from the responsibilities in the society in which he is found. Taxes, the laws of the land, and cultural standards do not just go out the window.
- Do not be foolish and believe that if you do what is right that everything will go well with you in your life. This is one of the many lies of the prosperity movement and it has its claws in the American Evangelical church far more that many like to admit. You can honor the Lord and get cancer. You can be a faithful evangelist and have a child of yours murdered. You can faithfully give to the Lord and lose your job. Cherry-picking blessing passages will only lead to disappointment in the long run.
- Do not assume that you are in sin if bad things happen to you. Suffering is a good place to do self-examination. But you can become easily tempted to be so introspective that you lose sight of the promises attached to the gospel in which you believe. Never forget that Daniel was a righteous man and yet he was taken into captivity into Babylon along with countless godless men and women.
I am sure there is more to write on this subject but these eight should be sufficient for many to begin to pull back from strong, black and white answers and expectations and take a softer view. I continue to learn to slow down on my conclusions and watch carefully as things unfold. I assume I am missing something in what is going on around me and mostly likely I am missing most of it.
Ever hear of Shai Linne? I had no idea who he is but managed to stumble across this link the other day and found it very refreshing. I am not a fan of hip hop, though my wife loves it. However I was very pleased with the quality and thoroughness of what he was confronting. The man nails prosperity teachers to the wall.
One of the sicknesses that the American church suffers from (though they are legion) is the reluctance to call a false teacher a false teacher. The end result is the constant contamination of the Body of Jesus as she languishes under such vague, feel-good preaching and teaching that does not help expose lies as lies.
The prosperity gospel is no gospel at all. Along with the blatant pursuit of riches and worldly comfort they are blasphemers who claim to do and pursue all this in the name of Jesus. Along with this most serious of sins you will always find other egregious lies that taint and harm the Church for whom Christ died. Think of T. D. Jakes and his anti-trinitarianism (regardless what McDonald and Driscoll state to the contrary). Think of Meyers and her “I don’t sin” perspective. Think of Osteen and his “Mormons are Christians too” idiocy. And the list goes on and on.
So, as a pastor, I for one am happy this man bangs out a song that blatantly calls out these people for what they are and what they represent. We need more of this in the churches today, defining what a false teacher is and what a false teacher teaches. We need to be like the Apostles who wrote our New Testament, declaring these people to be dangerous, filled with their own foolish appetites, clouds without water and wolves who savagely prey on the innocent and ignorant.
Additional resources on the prosperity gospel:John MacArthur (6 minutes of solid exposé) Wretched Radio properly mocking what should be mocked. John Piper doing what John Piper does so well. R C Sproul gives some helpful words out of Proverbs on this subject.
A question was raised in a class I teach each Tuesday. There is a portion of every class where those attending can ask anything they want on any subject that is on their mind. It is my favorite time of the study because I never know what is coming next and many of the questions are huge and allow for much focused instruction. The question on this particular evening was about the “rightness” of saying that God was very merciful to me if something good happened.
I appreciated the question and essentially said that it depends on what is the intent behind the statement. For many, they are simply expressing a thankful heart regarding something that they hold dear. Or it may be an answer to prayer that fits their personal desires. The problem, however, is when they don’t get what they asked or bad things, even terrible things occur.
I have pastored long enough to know that tragedy and injustice strike the homes and lives of Christians just as often and atheists. But what does disturb me is how many can inadvertently express more of a prosperity gospel hope than a biblically mature and proper hope. When bad things happen God is still merciful to the believer. Their sins are forgiven, they are adopted as children of God, and their salvation is certain in Christ Jesus. All of that is mercy overflowing. But if we are not careful we can begin to think that it is unfair that bad things have happened, especially if we have been unusually holy recently. Or, we become bitter that God would allow us to suffer.
I know myself fairly well and I know that this is something that I must battle. It is subtle and it is far more prevalent that I like to admit at times. How about you? Do you declare the glories and mercies of God regardless of your lot in life? Or is God’s goodness only based upon the pleasant things you enjoy at any given moment?
I was doing my morning reading of various blogs and was pointed to a church in Frisco, TX named Elevate Life Church. They are doing a series on Life’s Obstacles and want you and I to elevate our lives upward to enjoy the best. The title of my post is one of their “big thoughts” that I found to be rather little, so I ran with it.
They took a poll at the church about what are the great obstacles that the people attending face. Then the top four obstacles became the basis of the “sermon” series. Here is the breakdown, though the staff cleverly worked them into the Four F’s:
- Finances (84%)
- Future (Career)
- Fitness (Physical Health)
If you have the desire to hear the message you can go here and find the message entitled “Obstacles Series – Passing The Test of Obstacles” It is over an hour and thirty minutes long but you can fast forward to the message but I would forward to the muscle guy who introduces the series and then the testimonies of two men who overcame their obstacles–sort of.
Below are my notes on what I heard. Understand They are unedited and raw, but then that is what my soul was at the end.
The two testimonies do not display a spiritual issue, biblically defined; rather, we hear two American success stories that are about them, not Christ.
In the sermon about Isaac and Ishamel. The meaning is that we got to put God first and believe his promises. Then when Abraham built the altar he goes off on how Abraham ordered the part to build the altar. Somehow this gets to mean that if we go to church we order our lives around God. Somehow, because you show up to Church you are the real Christians. When the climbed Mt. Moriah it means that when we climb the mountains of our life we have to believe God. Pushes tithing is various ways and all I could think was how much money goes to keeping the fancy lights and sound system blasting. Serious money to just do a service. Wanders into the meaning 9 in the bible as being finality and therefore their fulness of time has come and God is going to bless them. All of this because it happens to be September.
The whole description of the sacrifice of Isaac misses the point. It is all about Abraham getting his life in order and Isaac willing to lay down his life to show God is more important than his own life.
An essentially Christless message of self-empowerment and self-enrichment. It was moralism American-style. Classic line at about the 1:30 mark that defines it all: “I did my part, and God did His.” There you go, God is just hoping you do the right thing so He can. The power of man and the weakness of God on display.
Near the end he moves back into tithing and uses himself as an example. This then goes out in a pseudo-powerful way to “mark this down” that though the church owes a lot of money on their building that he knows it will all be paid off because he knows that he has put God first. Wow!
I thought it was a 30 minute sermon, but only 20 minutes. Then more singing. I am grateful for that and grieve over the thousands who heard the American Dream and nothing of Jesus and His Kingdom.
Today is the grand and glorious day (or not) when Oprah, Joel Osteen, and Rick Warren appear on Oprah’s Lifeclass. I have already written two posts on this here and here and as my title points out this is my third post.
I just had the privilege of listening to part of Joel Osteen interview with Oprah. It was all about pushing his new book, I Declare, which is nothing more than re-branded “Name It and Claim It” trash. It is that deadly idea that somehow we can create our own reality and make ourselves happy, successful and, of course, rich. Oprah loves the book and said to him, “Do the declarations for 31 days and your life will be changed forever.” Then she gave me a bit if an eyebrow-raise-moment when she giddily stated, “I am! I do declare.” All of this to Osteen’s approval. Then I had the blessing of having “Pastor Joel” lead the people in some of the declarations. He asked all the people to stand and repeated loudly these words, “I am strong. I am healthy. I am confident. I am secure. I am talented. I am creative. I am disciplined. I am focused. I am valuable. I am beautiful. I am blessed. I am excited about my future. I am victorious.”
I could spend the time talking about the silliness of those declarations and how they reveal the idols of the hearts of all who so enthusiastically shouted them but it is not the point of this post. But the Lifeclass does help me in my point related to when a Christian should separate from others.
When we talk about biblical separation there can be a lot of heat generated. Among those commonly known as Fundamentalist Christians separation is a key doctrine. Some of them practice it in a manner that is gracious and concerned for truth, while others practices it in a manner that is hateful, political, and motivated by power. For most Fundamentalists the key text for the doctrine is 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 where the key line is “Therefore, come out and be separate from them.” I will examine this passage, but not now. This post is to simply give a broad sense of God’s perspective regarding those who teach false things and our reaction to them as Christians.
In Ezekiel 13 there is that powerful denunciation by God to the false prophets of Israel. The people of God are in sin and rebellion. The covenant they made with YHWH is certain. And the covenant made it clear that if they loved and obeyed the Lord they would be blessed but if they sinned and rebelled then they would be cursed by Him. The cursing was in progress, the glory of God was departing from the nation and pagan kings were circling the borders. And what do the prophets say? “Peace.” But there is no peace.
That is the lie of the false teacher. They always and ever point away from our hope and life in God alone. The alternatives are seemingly endless but they all flow from the same hellish lie, there is something other than the one true God that we need. Our hope, our striving, our delight and our joy comes from something other than God. James says in chapter 4 that the reason there is fighting and murder is that we lust and do not obtain. He goes on to then explain what that heart of lust really is, spiritual adultery. And to give your heart over to the desires of this age that is in rebellion to God is to make yourself an enemy of God.
Yet that is what the false teacher does. He or she does not lift up the utter necessity of the Cross of Jesus Christ. They will either point you away from the gracious saving work of God through His Son or away from your utter inability to do good. It shows itself in a multitude of ways and time does not permit it. It can be the legalist who tells you that through your efforts you earn the favor of God. It can be the spiritualist who tells you that you can imagine and declare a new reality for yourself. It can be the religionist who tells you that by following certain religious practices that you are perfected. It can be the atheist who tells you that nothing really matters because this is all there is, so live life as you wish and then die.
When you come to the New Testament it takes little effort to see that we are to separate from those who teach falsely or lead people away from the truth which is God’s Word. Jesus tells us that we will know the false teacher by his fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). Just prior to this He reminds us that the way of salvation and the way of truth is narrow, few are on it and many are on the path that ultimately leads to damnation. No one can accuse Jesus of softening up the “message.” Paul warns the church in Rome to keep an eye out for those who come into the church to create dissensions and tripwires by not teaching that which is true. They are people controlled not by a love for Jesus but their own desires (Romans 16:17-18). In almost every New Testament letter there is strong denunciation of those who seek to introduce strange teachings into the Church (Ephesians 4:14; 1 Timothy 6:1-3; 2 Timothy 4:3).
A follower of Jesus must decide whose company he keeps. I am not saying that we reject relationships with non-Christians, that is folly. But I am saying that the Scripture does not tolerate us buddying up with those who teach false things. Certainly we are not to seek to minister along side those people or act as if our differences are small and unimportant. There is a battle for truth that goes all the way back to the time of creation. It is not less of a battle today and it will only get worse. To have a man like Rick Warren allow himself to be placed beside a Joel Osteen or to appear on stage as a treasured guest by Oprah is a contradiction to the gospel he believes.
So, Joel Osteen and Rick Warren are going to appear tomorrow on Oprah’s Lifeclass. Earlier I introduced this situation and today I want to give the “so what” of it.
To start it off here is one person’s comment regarding Joel and Rick’s appearance:
Lifeclass has had a ribbon of ‘healing’ ideas running through it from the beginning. It’s good to see a move toward Christ-consciousness amist all the New Thought talk Iyanla has been doing this season. I think viewers unfamiliar with Joel and Rick will be surprised at how well the ideas will all blend together.
I started watching Joel weekly since his Next Chapter interview, and it is a very uplifting half hour. Rick’s PDL book sits right next to my Myss, Williamson, Tolle, Dyer, Gita, Emerson, and mythology/astrology, history of religion books. We just kicked off his “40 Days in the Word” series at church this week. Gooood stuff. Different kind of Book Club ; )
When your book that is supposedly a Christian book sits comfortably beside astrology and mythology books as if they are one and the same that is baaaaaaad stuff. To have your teachings be seen as so similar to the teachings of the New Thought and Eastern mysticism is not something about which to be pleased or proud. It is something to weep over and spend a long time alone before God searching your heart.
Let’s be clear, a Christian can write a book or speak at a conference and yet not be Christian about it. It is easy. One can do the same things and include bible passages and yet not be biblical. Even easier! All you have to do is not have the foundation of your words and message be on Christ. Talk all day long about God, but never draw in that critical point that Jesus is God in the flesh. That He alone is able to reveal the Father to us. And when I say “Christ” I mean the gospel, the good news that defines what Christianity is. If your book on parenting is heavy on how-tos but never gets around to grounding parenting in the gospel then it might be handy but it is not Christian. To quote bible verses and yet the words of your message are not as a result of those passages, rather the verses are merely appended afterward, don’t call that biblical. Or, to use a passage but not use it rightly also means it is not biblical. Just because you preach a sermon on David and Goliath and use that passage to talking about slaying the ‘giants’ in your life doesn’t mean you or your audience understands that passage.
This is where the rub is. The bible clearly teaches that we are to avoid those who actively hold to false, differing doctrines. The most blunt is Paul in Galatians where he writes:
But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men?If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:8-10)
Paul links the proclamation of the true gospel with trying to please man. In other words, the gospel (though it is truly good news) is something that has the habit of not pleasing mankind. Frankly it annoys them to the point of violence at worse and mocking at best. It is not broad, it is very narrow. There is but one way that man can be reconciled to God, and that is through Jesus, God in human flesh. We are dead in our sins. We are unable to please God. We are a people who have made it our life to not acknowledge God as God nor give thanks. The result is that the judicial wrath of God rests upon us.
Where then is the hope? How can we be right with God. In Ephesians 2 we have in verse 4 two of the greatest words ever put together, “But God . . . .” He goes on to say that it is through God’s love and grace we are saved through Jesus Christ. Not out of our efforts but the pure grace of God. How? Because in Jesus salvation rests. He died a unique death that was as our substitute. As sinless man He took our sin and suffered our death. As promised He was raised from the dead thus securing our salvation. Sin’s power was death and he utterly demolished it.
This is the gospel in a basic form. The call to mankind is to turn from their ways, their gods, their goodness and turn to God through Jesus by faith. To reject a hope that is not utterly bound up in the person of Jesus, who is both the author and the finisher of our faith. If you read a book on parenting and it is not founded on the sinful condition of you and your child and the need of the grace of God in both of you then you are not reading a Christian book on parenting. In the same way, if you hear a message on how to have joy now and it is not thoroughly on the need to turn from sin and to God, to lay down your life and follow Jesus, and to embrace the promise of eternal life that God has given even in the midst of sorrows and suffering, then it is not a Christian message. And that, my friends, is what you don’t hear from a person like Osteen and certainly not from Oprah.
Warren seems to know the gospel. The problem is that it gets all tangled up in his vagaries of theology where he constantly shifts and moves rather than taking a clear, solid stand. Get him among Arminians and he sounds Arminian, move him across the hall to a Reformed group and like magic he sounds more Reformed. Did feminists just walk in? No problem he has a gear for that change. Trying to get him pinned down to what he constantly believes is as hard as trying to get him to just use one bible translation in his books.
But what makes this so bad is that he also chooses to snuggle up to people like Osteen and Oprah. I have not heard him in the Lifeclass yet. I am scheduling myself to watch the show and my hope is that Warren will aggressively put forth a clear declaration of the gospel. Not a vague one that emphasizes man, but a Christ-exalting, blood-bought, sin-destroying, truth-magnifying gospel. The kind that separates. The kind that got the Apostle Paul kicked out of cities. The kind Paul tells Timothy to not be ashamed of, but to embrace it and the suffering that it brings.
Too long on this second post already so I will continue this later…
This is one of those posts that is too easy to be foolish with and bring shame to the name of Christ. One one side you have the seriousness of the situation; but on the other side, you have the ability to speak in such harsh and biting ways that the people you hope to touch are simply turned off. So I will try to wend my way through the middle ground and in the process perhaps shed a bit of light on a much misunderstood bible passage.
This little announcement showed up in my inbox last night and my response was simply to shake my head a bit and sigh. It is too common today to prompt any stronger of a response. Quite the the lineup. Yep, quite the lineup. Oprah, Joel Osteen, and Rick Warren. Three of the most visible people in the American ‘spiritual’ world.
According to the site (click through the image) Joel Osteen will be talk about finding the joy in life. I don’t see Rick’s talking point at this time but he usually does something related to having a purposeful life. Oprah is just Oprah, usually loved or hated.
But let’s be honest. None of these people should be the go to guys (gal) to find joy, purpose, or anything else in a true and serious manner. I will go from the greater to the lesser in a very brief manner. Oprah is really into spirituality. But it is the New Age, Eastern mystical kind that is rife with error and hopelessness. She recently professed to being a Christian, but that term is so loosely defined today it means almost nothing. Even a casual reading of her words and actions in that article will show that she has no idea what it means to truly follow Jesus as Jesus defines it.
Joel? Well, I have little love for him either. Has the largest church in America but has no knowledge of the basics of the Christian faith. Here he declares in the spirit of inclusivism that Romney and President Obama are Christians. Well isn’t that nice of him! Not remotely orthodox but sure nice of him. There is no end of material on the internet where Joel’s own words speak to his inability to articulate the genuine Christian faith. His is of the health, happiness, and wealth category and it is deadly.
Warren is a nice guy that I struggle to like. John Piper had him at a conference which created quite a firestorm of controversy. His confession of faith is sound, but his application of the Christian faith is poor in so many ways. When Piper interviewed him due to the controversy it was unsatisfying because of the narrowness of the questions and the restricted nature of the source of the questions. You can read a good article on that interview here. The problem with Warren is primarily two-fold. First, he is purposefully shallow due to his pragmatic approach to church building and planting. Second, and more troubling, is the theological shallowness attached to his writing and teaching. Read The Purpose-Driven Life and it will only take a few minutes to realize that all the scripture in the book can be removed and the message remains the same. The choice to use a large number of poor translations and paraphrases only made it worse. I remember reading a quote from James and I could not recognize it in the slightest even though I know the book of James intimately.
That is all for the day. Tomorrow, maybe later on today I will give you the “so what” of this whole thing.
This was my final day of teaching at the seminary here in Douala, Cameroon. We finished up both Hermeneutics and Biblical Theology with a bit of time to spare so I thought we could spend a good amount of time dealing with the application of what was learned. I posed one question to the class, “What is the goal of preaching?” The answers were varied, but also most were a bit discouraging. Even the good answers lacked scriptural backing; rather they simply had the right words present without the meaning or convictions.
One man in my class has consistently shown a reluctance to actually submit himself to the curriculum or me. There was a lot of push back and I noticed that he had a couple of other students who looked to him for leadership and affirmation. Great. His answer to the question was one of the better ones though and that was a bit surprising to me. It was essentially: “To proclaim God’s Word with the goal of forming Christ more fully in the person.” Not bad and certainly better than most of the answers.
I decided to use his answer as our point of discussion so I asked him what passages were driving his statement about preaching. In other words, what was the biblical framework that he used to come up with this answer. His answer was puzzling, he said it was Joshua 1:8. I just stared blankly at him for a second. Men around him were nodding sagely like that was a great answer All my brain would come up with for an answer was, “Huh?” What does any part of Joshua 1:8 have in connection to his stated reason for preaching?
This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. (Joshua 1:8)
His answer was very telling when I asked him to explain the connection between the statement and the passage. He said Christ became poor that we might become rich. Therefore, Christ is really rich and wants us to be rich too. So the more fully formed Christ is in us the more rich and successful we shall become. God said that if the Word does not leave my mouth that I will be prosperous and successful. So, I preach that people, including me, might be rich and successful by having Jesus more fully formed in us.
Oh, that makes sense now. A third of the class was nodding and I was dumbfounded. Here is a classroom filled with men and women, none of whom is remotely rich, except, perhaps that one man (and only comfortable by Cameroonian standards) thinking that this is the purpose of preaching. But this is what affects many of the churches today in Cameroon, and in much of the rest of Africa. A pursuit of prosperity through Jesus.
Never mind that the promise in Joshua 1:8 speaks only to Joshua himself. And don’t bother your mind to recognize that the context shows that the prosperity and success was not in money but in success in taking the Promised Land from the Canaanites. Hey, those little things are not what is important. It is also too much to expect that the promise itself is firmly rooted in the promise of the Old Covenant and the blessing of God to those who are faithful to the covenant. Nope, just details that cause us to miss the glorious point that God wants us to be rich.
For the next hour I took the class through the principles taught them over the last several days and made them work through the validity of this man’s claim. The problems are many but the core issue is a common one. The failure to grasp that we are aliens and strangers in this age. We are a people who are part of the new creation and we await the fulfillment of that day, this is the essence of 2 Corinthians 4-5. Our riches is the grace given to us through Christ. Our inheritance is Jesus and the blessings that come with being in Christ. But as long as there is still “Today” there shall be men who shall dangle to empty baubles of gold and silver before the eyes of the unsuspecting all with the singular goal to draw their eyes away from the glory of God in the gospel.
Another reminder given to me in the hard land of Africa.
Earlier today I posted this article about D. A. Carson’s father in the book, Memoirs of An Ordinary Pastor. The key point of the book was that he was an ordinary pastor doing ordinary things on behalf of our extraordinary God. While I was writing up that post I kept thinking about a video I watched and saved a couple of months back that made me a bit sick and a lot more angry. It features one of those celebrity pastors I tend to chew on in this blog. His name is Ed Young, Jr. and frankly he is not worth your time. But he is a big shot and countless young pastors want to be just like him. Because he is a man who cares greatly about the Kingdom of God he has started a blog that helps other pastors learn how to dress for success. In some warped, alternate universe, looking stylish is a way to express our desire to be clothed with Christ. Did a little bit of your breakfast come up in your mouth? No? Hmmmmm.
Anyhow, he is not an ordinary pastor so I will call him an unordinary pastor. What then, does an unordinary pastor look to for his motivation and delight? What captures his longing and desires? Well, this for one.