Thursday, January 19, 2017

Christian books: It's not "just fiction"

I love to read. With the New Year and all the 'Reading Challenges' that emerge as people make decisions at the start of the year, I'd decided to go back to reading for pleasure. This is an activity that had fallen by the wayside as I got busier, and my eyes grew more tired at night. Aging. It's not for sissies, lol.

I also decided to read the books that were on my own shelves to start with, rather than going out to buy a bunch of new books. Shop my own shelves, so to speak! So as I'd picked up that novel or this novel I'd had on my shelf since before salvation, and began to read them, I became dissatisfied. Sadly, the secular novels of today, even the literary ones, contain things my sanctifying soul objects to. Especially if there is profanity or blasphemy.

Are Christian books safer? Well, no. Take the book The Shack, for instance. This was a runaway bestseller back in 2007-2008 and onward. It was sold in Christian bookstores as a Christian book. Its author, William P. Young, wrote about a man who was staggering under heavy grief due to the kidnapping and death of his little daughter, which had happened in a derelict shack. One day the man received a handwritten note in his mailbox, with no stamp or postage, requesting his presence...in the shack. It turned out to have been an invitation from God. Curious, the man goes to the shack, where he also 'meets' Jesus and the Holy Spirit in addition to being greeted by 'God.' It turns out that according to the author's presentation of the Trinity, God is a woman, as is the Holy Spirit. The book goes on to present discussions between the persons of the Trinity and the man, regarding sin, evil, salvation, judgment, and other doctrines. The book teaches that sin is its own judgment, that hell exists to purge away unbelief (not punish for sin), that there is universal reconciliation, and other aberrant, non-biblical doctrines.

Many credible leaders in the faith negatively reviewed the book. I reviewed it negatively also. A common rebuttal to our negative view of the book was, "Lighten up. It's only fiction!" Or, "It's only a novel!"

Dear reader, novels teach an author's point of view, either subtly or overtly. It's no different for Christian novels. Novels with Christian themes use narrative to teach. We must all be Bereans and check to see that these things in the 'Christian' book are so, in whatever form the doctrines are coming to us. Doctrine is taught in songs, poems, sermons, lessons, theological books...and fiction.

Below are three essays regarding Christian fiction and theology that flesh out these issues.

Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In this first essay I'm linking to, Albert Mohler offers thoughts on the missing art of evangelical discernment as encapsulated by evangelical response to The Shack. The massive popularity of the book meant that Christians were accepting of, or at least overlooking, the heretical doctrines The Shack espoused. Fiction or not, false doctrine is gangrenous, (2 Timothy 2:17) and spreads infection to all who come into contact with it. Infection is no respecter of literary genres.

Though The Shack was published 10 years ago, it is still evidencing strong sales, sure to be spurred by the imminent release of the movie of the same name. Dr Mohler wrote,
Even as Wayne Jacobson and others complain of those who identify heresy within The Shack, the fact is that the Christian church has explicitly identified these teachings as just that — heresy. The obvious question is this: How is it that so many evangelical Christians seem to be drawn not only to this story, but to the theology presented in the narrative — a theology at so many points in conflict with evangelical convictions?
[Professor Timothy Beal of Case Western University] then asks: "What are these progressive theological ideas doing in this evangelical pulp-fiction phenomenon?" He answers: "Unbeknownst to most of us, they have been present on the liberal margins of evangelical thought for decades." Now, he explains, The Shack has introduced and popularized these liberal concepts even among mainstream evangelicals.

So we see that Christian fiction is deliberately used to bring heretical ideas to the masses and worse, popularize them. Christian reader, beware! It's not "just fiction"!

In this linked essay, Samuel D. James muses on the current state of Christian Publishing, where adult coloring books and bubble-gum devotionals litter the top ten, and wonders why there is a gap between the thought-provoking content we regularly read on social media and blogs, versus the tripe we're exposed to in hard copy publishing.
As I look out on the confessional evangelical writing scene, I see a lot of good, even in places where I’d find much to disagree with. There is quite a bit of thoughtful, meaningful commentary out there right now. So when I see a list like this, I can’t help but wonder: Where’s the disconnect? Why am I seeing such a stark difference between the content I inhabit on a daily basis and the content that the average Christian is consuming at bestselling rates? I don’t have an answer for that.
There are a few things I do know:
The space right now for creative Christian writers is enormous. There is a real material need in American Christian culture for literary talent. We can’t talk to teenage and twentysomething believers about using their gifts for the good of the body of Christ and only point them toward vocational ministry or the mission field. Christian art matters (it always has), and it requires Christian artists. They won’t grow out of the ground; they have to be cultivated, encouraged, identified, and supported.
Hear hear. Where are the new authors? People who might have written acceptable fiction twenty years ago are not only growing older but many of them are growing more liberal (Max Lucado...Ted Dekker...etc) Where are the young credible, solid authors coming up? Many of those older authors have taught their own family and their offspring are now writing books, such as Max Lucado's daughter Jenna, and Beth Moore's daughter Melissa. This is even a more important question because the twenty-somethings of today have been raised entirely in a liberal, prosperity, market-driven church growth model with sermonettes passing for deep theological thought and 7-11 praise songs that pass for hymns.

Jesus noted the pattern when sinful doctrine is allowed to remain for periods of time in teaching, the next generation adopts it.

But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, 23 and I will strike her children dead. (Rev 2:20-23a).

Christian reader, keep your eye out for good new authors, and buy their books and encourage them personally by offering good reviews on Amazon or even directly through their social media or email (if published).

I recommend reading the remainder of Mr James' article, also. He has several additional bullet point thoughts on the matter that are worth your time.

Here is the third article for your consideration, 12 Fiction Books That Will Shape Your Theology

I am mentioning this article not for the list, which may or may not contain books that are healthy 'eating' for the Christian, but for the fact that the author writes that it's a given that Christian fiction shapes theology.
When we think about the role of reading in our spiritual formation, we generally think of non-fiction books that help us understand scripture and theology, but fiction powerfully shapes the ways in which we think faithfully about God and the world. Here is some of the best fiction that has been most formative in my own theology. 
Here Albert Mohler states, that Christian books, specifically The Shack, are in fact sustained theological arguments.
In evaluating the book, it must be kept in mind that The Shack is a work of fiction. But it is also a sustained theological argument, and this simply cannot be denied. Any number of notable novels and works of literature have contained aberrant theology, and even heresy. The crucial question is whether the aberrant doctrines are features of the story or the message of the work. When it comes to The Shack, the really troubling fact is that so many readers are drawn to the theological message of the book, and fail to see how it conflicts with the Bible at so many crucial points.

What is meant here is, is the heretical message simply a mechanism to propel the narrative, as in an
example of a character who believes something unorthodox but eventually is saved from his sinful devotion to an aberrant theology, or is the aberrant message THE point of the book?  One of my favorite books of all time is Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis. It tells the story of a false convert who rose to fame and celebrity pastor status, all the while not being a believer in any sense. The message of the book was to illustrate how this can happen, not promote that hypocrisy is to be accepted. The sustained theological argument of Elmer Gantry is that hypocrisy is bad, while the sustained theological argument in The Shack is that God does not punish sin and everyone will eventually be reconciled to God.

Friends, do not accept the argument that "it's just fiction!" Unorthodox theologies come to us in song, poems, art, sermons, movies, and books. We must be Bereans and test every theological argument that we absorb. If this sounds like a lot of work, it is. Paul repeatedly advised his readers to be vigilant. (For example, 1 Corinthians 16:13). We are on a battlefield in a war, and we don't only hear the cannons booming, but we must be alert for snipers, too. When it comes to accepting things not of the Lord, it all matters. A sniper is not "just a sniper," and Christian books are never "just fiction."

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Further Reading

The Gospel Coalition, Christian Reading List for 4th-5th grade (other grades and reading levels at link)

Pilgrim's Progress: (free online)
Pilgrim's Progress is a great work of Christian literature. Originally composed in the 17th century, this spiritual allegory has entertained and delighted innumerous readers for over 300 years. Part I tells of "Christian" and his journey to "Celestial City;" Part II tells of the journey of Christian's wife Christiana and their children to Celestial City. The two parts work together as a unified whole, which describes and depicts the believer's life and struggles. Indeed, given the easy style of the book, readers of all ages can understand the spiritual significance of the depictions in the story. However, Pilgrim's Progress does not simply instruct readers with spiritual allegories; it entertains them as well, through Bunyan's creative story telling. Enjoyable and spiritually instructive, Pilgrim's Progress is highly recommended. 
Pilgrim's Progress at Amazon for purchase







Wednesday, January 18, 2017

At table: What the Table of the Showbread signifies

Our relationship with God is like a meal with Him at table.

From my Ligonier class 'Understanding the Tabernacle', we read,
We tend to appreciate a delicious meal enjoyed in the company of good friends. Such delight in a common meal should not surprise us, because the Lord in His Word describes many times in both the Old and New Testaments how our relationship to Him is like a meal we sit down to enjoy together with Him. In this lesson, Rev. Hyde explains to us the "bread of the presence" in the tabernacle and how it communicates to us God’s desire for intimate covenant fellowship with His people by way of presentation, preservation, and participation.
Here is the main verse where God tells Moses what and how to make the items for the tabernacle.

"You shall make a table of acacia wood. Two cubits shall be its length, a cubit its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. You shall overlay it with pure gold and make a molding of gold around it. And you shall make a rim around it a handbreadth wide, and a molding of gold around the rim. And you shall make for it four rings of gold, and fasten the rings to the four corners at its four legs. Close to the frame the rings shall lie, as holders for the poles to carry the table. You shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold, and the table shall be carried with these. And you shall make its plates and dishes for incense, and its flagons and bowls with which to pour drink offerings; you shall make them of pure gold. And you shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before me regularly. (Exodus 25:23-30).

Did you ever wonder about this verse below...where the beginning part of the verse states that the Angel of the LORD (Jesus) encamps around those who fear Him, and then the verse goes into tasting and seeing that the LORD is good? What does a encampment have to do with tasting? If you remember that our relationship with the LORD is like eating with Him at table and enjoying a meal, the verse shows that you are enjoying intimate fellowship with Him even in the midst of enemies.

The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him, And rescues them. O taste and see that the LORD is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him! (Psalm 34:7-8).

Especially in the midst of enemies! As David wrote:

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. (Psalm 23:5).

If you read Exodus carefully you might notice a particular word that occurs often, it's the word 'regularly'. I underlined it in the verse above. The LORD regularly meets with His priests who represent the People. He makes regular visits with His people at table. Often, frequently, repeatedly. What a God we have, who regularly meets with His people to partake of intimate fellowship!

In the tabernacle, there was a table on which the priests would place the bread. The table had a raised crown molding around the edge. The description of the table reminded me of the table that was in my old living room growing up:


There was a lip around the edge of it. In the Tabernacle, the raised edge signified the following:
The table contained crown molding to keep the bread and utensils from falling. This prevented the bread from becoming defiled. This pictures the Lord’s preservation of His people. He who never slumbers ever keeps His children in the grip of His grace. The table permitted partaking in the bread, denoting the participation of God’s people with Him. Source: Ligonier Connect courseUnderstanding the Tabernacle

On the last day, we will join the Lord in His presence and eat with Him and drink with Him.

I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. (Matthew 26:29).

And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." And he said to me, "These are the true words of God." (Revelation 19:9).

Blessed are those invited (called, elected) to participate with intimate fellowship in Him, our King, Priest, Friend, and Savior at His table!


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Deuteronomy passage reveals a stupendous God!

Just bask in this wonderful passage. We can never extol the virtues and attributes of our God enough. He is so wonderful, holy, perfect, majestic! He revealed Himself through His word. What a gift.

Deuteronomy 4:32-40,

The Lord Alone Is God
32 “For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. 33 Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? 34 Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? 35 
To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him. 36 Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire. 37 And because he loved your fathers and chose their offspring after them and brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power, 38 driving out before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in, to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is this day, 39 know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. 
There is no other God. Our God did all that, and He allows us to know Him! He meet with us at table, comforts us, gives us what we need, loves us. He is a great God, and there is no other.



Monday, January 16, 2017

What's in your pocket? Lists? Or Nails?

We are sinners. The Syro-Phoenician woman knew that. (Mark 7:26). The Tax Collector in the temple knew that. (Luke 18:13). Mary knew that. (Luke 1:46). We know we are sinners.

No one believes in Jesus Christ the savior unless they see a need in Him. Martyn Lloyd Jones, sermon Isaiah 1:10, Repentance and Salvation.

Before we are saved, we are blind to our sin. After the Lord graciously gives us the ability to see ourselves as we are, the scales having fallen off our eyes so to speak, (Acts 9:17-18), we repent of our sins. But that does not mean we stop sinning. We have the Power to resist sin thanks to the Holy Spirit in us, but we still sin. (Matthew 16:24). We will continue to sin until we are glorified.

Legalists like the Pharisees to whom Jesus contrasted the Tax Collector, believed they would attain heaven by their good works. This belief is not expired. People believe it to this day. If you watch street pastors Ray Comfort or Todd Friel, when they ask people on the street if they expect to get to heaven and how, the people always respond that they are a good person doing good things so surely they will go to heaven.

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. Are you so foolish? (Galatians 2:15-16)

After we are saved, however, we still have a tendency to give in to our to our sinful nature. We can easily start to believe satan's propaganda that we earn God's regard by doing good things, that we maintain our salvation by doing good works. Or we start to make lists of the things we must do to preserve our good name before the Lord. Paul addressed this in Galatians 3:3, asking rhetorically,

Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?


John MacArthur said of the verse,
The notion that sinful, weak human nature could improve on the saving work of the Holy Spirit was ludicrous.
We should always remember that it is by grace through faith that we have been saved, not by works. After salvation, the good works that we do are an inevitable result of our gratitude for this great gift, and it is the proof of the existence of the new creature. But our works do not save us and they do not add to the preservation of our salvation. Martin Luther said,
We all carry about in our pockets His very nails.
Erik Raymond at The Gospel Coalition succinctly said,
Legalists keep lists in their pockets, while Christians keep nails.

What's in your pocket today? Lists? Or nails?


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Here I raise my Ebenezer

We sing the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing at our church. Hopefully you do as well. It is a beautiful hymn written in 1757 by Robert Robinson. Here are the original lyrics from the first two of five stanzas. Some hymn books have updated it to modern language but I like the original.

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I'll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

What is an Ebenezer? Our church had put an explanation in a box at the bottom of the bulletin, which was helpful. We should know what we are singing. Words matter. When we sing in church, or pray, or listen to the sermon, we are meeting with God, eating at His table. We should know what we are about and be mindful of the things we say or do or read or sing.

The phrase comes from 1 Samuel 7:12. Here's the verse:

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, "Till now the Lord has helped us."
In the first narrative (1 Samuel 4:1-11 ), the Philistines defeat the Israelites, even though the Israelites brought the Ark of the Covenant onto the battlefield in hope of it bringing them a divinely assured victory. As a result of the Philistine victory and the Ark's presence on the battlefield, it was captured by the Philistines, and not returned until many months later (1 Samuel 6:1-2).
In the second narrative (1 Samuel 7:2-14 ), the Israelites defeat the Philistines, after Samuel has offered a sacrifice. Samuel puts up a stone in memorial and names it Eben-Ezer (the placename in the previous narrative resulting from this). This monument is referred to in the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. (Source)
The Lexham Bible Dictionary also explains-
EBENEZER 
"The stone of help" that Samuel set up to commemorate a great victory over the Philistines (1 Sam 7:12). Also the name of the place where the Philistines defeated Israel and captured the ark of the covenant (1 Sam 4:1; 5:1). 
Ebenezer as a Place Name
First Samuel 4 describes a battle between the Philistines and Israel, whose army was camped at a place called Ebenezer (1 Sam 4:1). The battle ends in disaster for the Israelites, as the Philistines defeat the Israelite army, kill many men, and capture the ark of the covenant.
Ebenezer as a Monument 
Scripture also refers to Ebenezer as the monument stone that Samuel set up after a successful battle against the Philistines. Several months after Israel’s defeat at Ebenezer, Samuel called for the people of Israel to gather at Mizpah and repent of their sins (1 Sam 7:2–14). The Philistines again massed their armies to attack; but as Samuel was praying, God threw the Philistines into a panic. The Israelites cut down the Philistines as they fled, chasing them "as far as below Beth-car" (1 Sam 7:11). In commemoration of the victory, Samuel erected a stone "between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, 'Till now the Lord has helped us'" (1 Sam 7:12 NRSV).


Raise your own Ebenezer in thanks to the Lord for His help. Our victories are not ours, but His. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1).

So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me. (Hebrews 13:6 KJV).


Saturday, January 14, 2017

Miracle Max explains Arminianism v. Calvinism



"With all dead, there's only one thing you can do. Go through his pockets and look for loose change."

LOL. For those who might not know, Miracle Max is a fictional character in the movie The Princess Bride. Of course, the movie was an entertainment fairy tale move, not a theological treatise. But Max's words summed up a critical difference in the two actual approaches to salvation.

The Arminian believes we are slightly alive, and that in some corner of the heart, we can at some point in life choose salvation.

The person who understands the Doctrines of Grace knows that divine grace is the only catalyst for salvation, and that we have nothing to do with it. God saves us. As a matter of fact, He chose every person He decided He was going to save before the foundation of the world. (Ephesians 2:1-6).

There's a big difference between Mostly Dead (Arminianism) and All Dead (Calvinism). Miracle Max, you are very wise!


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Mail Call 4: Why do some women discern false teachers and others accept false teachers?

Q. A reader asked how can she understand that Beth Moore and Joyce Meyer and other false teachers like them go dramatically outside of Scripture, while other women don't?

A. The Holy Spirit is giving discernment. Discernment is a skill. You as a believer pray, study, read, and work the scriptures through your mental capacities and reactions. Like any skill, it grows muscular through use. Other women who don’t use it, are weak. They are the ones who get captured, laden down by many sins. The Bible says "For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions," (2 Timothy 3:6.)

It is a process. If you abort the process at the start, and do not read scripture and study it and allow it to divide marrow from bone (Hebrew 4:12), then we have these ladies who are laden down. They are unable to endure sound doctrine because the sin in them prevents clear thinking. Then they seek a false teacher to suit their passions so the sin in them won't collide so harshly with the sound doctrine of the Bible. Last, they begin heaping these teachers up. There is a flavor of a false teacher for every flavor of sin. Beth Moore offers psychology and self esteem, also emotionalism. Joyce Meyer offers health-wealth. Christine Caine offers social justice. IF:Gathering women offer a faux-discipleship/fellowship.

Discernment begins with prayer, study, and repentant worship. The exercise of the discernment muscle comes in when you check the scriptures to see if the things you are taught are so, as Paul noted that the Bereans did. (Acts 17:11). The more you listen, check, pray, and read from the Bible, the more you are exercising that muscle, and it will get strong. The discerning ones can spot and resist these false teachers because they are not laden with sins and seeking fulfillment though them by following a teacher who promotes one's pet sin. They have clear vision. The Word has divided false from true.

This is my take on it. Other thoughts and verses welcome. As always, check the Bible and test what is written her and anywhere. :)


Further Reading:

Expository Listening: A Practical Handbook for Hearing and Doing God’s Word
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”––James 1:22 In many people’s mind, if they don’t get anything out of the sermon, it’s the preacher’s fault. But that’s only half true. The Bible teaches that listeners must partner with the preacher so that the Word of God accomplishes its intended purpose of transforming their life. Expository Listening is your handbook on biblical listening. It is designed to equip you not only to understand what true, biblical preaching sounds like, but also how to receive it, and ultimately, what to do about it. You need to know how to look for the Word of God, to love the Word of God, and to live the Word of God. In this way, God and His Word will be honored and glorified through your life