Raising Oaks of Righteousness: Ten Public Disciplines to Consider in the New Year

victoria-palacios-dfo06_DqxpA-unsplashAt the beginning of the year, we should be considering habits and practices that will build our most holy faith (Jude 21) for the next 365 days. Such disciplines begin with personal habits that enable us to commune with God. And books on practicing spiritual disciplines typically have about a dozen habits to consider.

For instance, Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life lists ten: (1) Bible intake (in two parts), (2) prayer, (3) worship, (4) evangelism, (5) serving, (6) stewardship, (7) fasting, (8) silence and solitude, (9) journaling, and (10) learning. Whitney also has another book on corporate disciplines. Similarly, but more mystically, Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline enumerates twelve disciplines under three orientations: inward disciplines include (1) meditation, (2) prayer, (3) fasting, and (4) study; outward disciplines involve (5) simplicity, (6) solitude, (7) submission, and (8) service; and corporate disciplines consist of (9) confession, (10) worship, (11) guidance, and (12) celebration.

Because Scripture does not publish an authorized list of disciplines, an exhaustive list cannot be produced. Even a cursory reading these two lists invites comment on the best way to think about practicing the habits Jesus commanded. Is worship only corporate? How is solitude outward? Does solitude have to be silent? Whitney and Foster discuss these questions in their books with different emphases based on their different theological and ecclesial backgrounds. (As a Reformed Baptist it’s not surprising that I find Whitney’s book, full of Puritan Spirituality, the better book).

But what makes both of these books the same is their challenge to individuals to grow in personal godliness. Indeed, both books highlight the personal model of Jesus, a man who  undeniably practiced the spiritual disciplines and taught his followers to do the same. In short, personal spiritual disciplines are part and parcel of faith in the Lord.

That said, personal disciplines are not private disciplines. As Foster rightly identify, there is an outward and corporate aspect to the Christian’s spiritual life. Understanding this interpersonal dynamic, Donald Whitney wrote a companion volume, Spiritual Disciplines within the Church to correct the hyper-individualism  fostered by an unbalanced concern for personal, spiritual disciplines.

A Third Horizon in Spiritual Formation

Still, I wonder if there is something more that ought to be stressed in the spiritual formation of a believer? Is it possible that those who attend regularly to Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, and even fasting may be incomplete in their spiritual development? In addition to personal disciplines and church practices, could it be that there is a third horizon that must be developed in order for a disciple to walk worthy of the gospel?

Continue reading

Getting Off the Gospel Blimp: A Plea to Believe God’s Gospel Method

Somewhere in seminary I was introduced to The Gospel Blimp (1967), a made-for-television adaptation of Joseph Bayly’s book by the same name (circa 1950s). For those who do not know Joseph Bayly, he was a Christian editor, author, and satirist that would make the brothers at the Babylon Bee proud. And I lead with his classic film, not because it possessed the best acting or cinematography, but because of its important warning: The works man cannot accomplish the works of God. 

More specifically, the book lampoons the way Christians, especially evangelicals, employ all kinds of gimmicks in order to preach the gospel. Yet, such gimmicks, Jesus junk, and revivalist tactics actual deny the power of the gospel and the wisdom of God that they claim to believe.

What is the wisdom of God? What is a demonstration of God’s power? How should we herald God’s truth?

According to Paul the wisdom of God is found in the preaching of the gospel (1 Corinthians 1-2) and the gathering of the church (Ephesians 3). In other words, the most effective ways for evangelism are not the schemes and strategies of men, nor are they the “God showed me” ideas of eager Christians. Instead, God’s strategy is laid down in Scripture. God’s plan is simple: disciples making disciples, by means of the regular preaching of the Word, the sharing of the gospel, prayer, and suffering.

Historically, this approach to limiting ministry to the regular means of grace has been referred to as the regulative principle. The regulative principle of worship affirms the all-sufficient wisdom of God’s Word and seeks to practice only what is commanded in Scripture. By contrast, the normative principle of worship has granted more freedom of expression, whatever Scripture does not forbid is thereby permitted.

Obviously, these are principles for church worship are derived from Scripture; they are not absolute mandates found in Scripture. That said, they provide a helpful rubric for thinking about what we do in church and what we don’t. So to help understand these principles, let me offer a few definitions and then return to the main point—that we should avoid gospel gimmicks and stick to the simple wisdom proclaiming the Word and gathering the people. Continue reading

Between Christ and Culture: 7 Books about the Word and the World (December 2021)

assorted books on the shelf

In November I read some books. And as with any book I read or listen to—the majority of what follows are books I’ve listened to and taken notes on—they help me understand God’s Word and God’s world. For matters of personal record-keeping and public commentary, I share a few thoughts on each book. If you have read any of these, or books like them, I welcome your feedback. Please put it in the comment section below.

Bible and Theology

Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism by Kevin T. Bauder, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., John G. Stackhouse, Jr., and Roger E. Olson. Edited by Andy Naselli and Collin Hanson.

In Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism, co-editors, Andy Naselli and Collin Hanson, have assembled a collection of essays that outline the unifying and dividing features of evangelicalism. Admitting the inherent challenges of defining this movement, Kevin Bauder, Albert Mohler, John Stackhouse, and Roger Olson define their positions as Fundamentalist, Confessional Evangelicalism, Generic Evangelicalism, and Postconservative Evangelicalism, respectively. And over the course of this introductory work, the reader is introduced to a number of the complementary, contrasting, and competing views of various evangelicals. As I listened to this volume, here are a number of the points I found interesting and/or helpful. Continue reading

Thou Shalt Not (Believe) Lie(s): Faithfulness in an Age of Fake News

people holding a poster asking about facts on coronavirus

Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy,
and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.
— Isaiah 8:12 —

In our church, one of our elders often reminds us that Isaiah 8:12 is a verse that neither confirms nor denies the presence of a conspiracy. In our world there are many reports that are fake news, and because of that there are many who also discount true news. By the same token, there are reports that some label conspiracies that turn out to be true. And conversely, there are “true” reports that turn out to be false. In short, since the world fell by believing Satan’s Primordial Lie—“you can be like God”—we have lived in a world of lies, half-truths, conspiracies, and fake news. And in that world, the people of the truth must learn not just how to tell the truth (Exod. 20:16), but how to spot a lie.

In the original context of Isaiah 8:12, the Lord has told Isaiah to “fear God, not human armies” (G. V. Smith, Isaiah 1–39, 220). In the historical context, God has promised to preserve Judah, even if the king has foolishly rejected God’s help. In that context, the Lord says,

Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13 But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.” (Isaiah 8:12–15)

In Isaiah 8, the particular sin is fearing man (i.e., human armies) instead of fearing God. But the enduring principle is fearing God according to what God has said. Again, in this case, God has promised a way of salvation, and Isaiah is calling the people to trust him and not human armies. In another context, however, fearing God might mean something else. In the case of Habakkuk, fearing God meant submitting to the coming destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon. In the case of Jeremiah, fearing God meant surrendering to Babylon and not fighting God’s instrument of judgment, as strange as it was to do so. Accordingly, the command to fear God does not always have the same application for God’s people.

Put this all together, and it is a foolish principle to fear God and never recognize or resist the threat of bad actors. Moreover, it is a foolish principle to read Isaiah 8:12 and conclude that everything that people call conspiracy is errant. History teaches us that rulers plot evil schemes (i.e., conspiracies) and that nations conspire together to accomplish wicked ends. Even more, sacred history—the history found in Scripture—teaches the same thing.

Echoing the first sin, the number of times that God’s people have been lied to—by their leaders, by their neighbors, by their prophets, and by themselves—cannot be counted with both hands. While the law of God can be numbered on our fingertips, and digit number 9 stands for “Do not bear false witness,” the number of times God’s people have believed false witnesses is too numerous to count. And thus, we should learn from Scripture how God’s people have believed lies and become liars, so that we who walk in the truth would not believe lies. Continue reading

Reassembling the Wreckage of Religious Freedom: Why Now *Is* The Time For Urging Liberty of Conscience and Supporting Those Seeking Religious Exemptions

low angle photography of waving usa flag on brown concrete cathedral

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?
It is before his own master that he stands or falls.
And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
— Romans 14:4 —

On the backside of a Sharp Top Mountain in Southwest Virginia lies the wreckage of World War II vintage air craft. On a training mission in February 1943, five airmen lost their lives as they flew a “low-level nighttime navigational” mission, a mission that ended with tragedy and the debris of a B-25 littered throughout the wooded hillside.

Today, if you leave the trail on Sharp Top and look for the fuselage, engine, wings, and other parts of the crash site, you will find a plaque memorializing the event. On an otherwise unmarked hillside, this memorial is the only sign explaining the mangled metal left standing in the woods. Yet my point in bringing up this piece of atlas obscura is not to focus on the plane crash, but to liken it to the state of our religious liberty today. Today, we can find scattered pieces of religious freedom in our country, but by and large most Christians do not know how they got there, how to assemble them, or how to make them fly. For instance, the recent TGC article undermining the sincerely held beliefs of Christians is a prime example.

In that article, Christian lawyer, John Melcon, explains “Why Your Employer Can Deny Your ‘Religious’ Vaccine Exemption.” In the article, he explained the way “religious exemption laws” work and cited three bad arguments for seeking a religious exemption: (1) personal autonomy, (2) my body is my temple, and (3) abortion complicity. In his estimation, the abortion argument “is perhaps the strongest case,” but by comparison to the welcome use of other drugs (e.g., “TylenolClaritin, or their favorite anti-aging skin cream“), he insists that this argument is most likely an example of great inconsistency. (N.B. For a quick response to the Tylenol retort, see this Liberty Counsel post).

In his other two arguments, however, the claim is not inconsistency, but denying that personal autonomy or bodily choice is a truly religious reason for seeking a religious exemption. For Melcon, this leads him to reserve religious exemptions for later, greater threats to the Christian faith. It is this argument that I want to address. Instead of addressing his three examples, which are presented with a striking likeness to someone headed for the Emerald City, I want to consider whether waiting for some later crisis is the best strategy. Even more, I will argue that the increasing statism of our country is coupled with a religious fervor that does not call for patient endurance, but bold witness to the truth. Continue reading

A Secular Sacrament: Why Mandates Violate Liberty of Conscience and Enforce a New Religion

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Since the Biden Administration mandated soldiers and federal workers to be fully vaccinated, while also requiring private businesses larger than 100 employees to require vaccines, chaos has ensued. Defending the freedoms of Americans, many have begun to address the constitutional problems this mandate creates.[1] Others have begun seeking a religious exemption for this mandate based upon the fetal cells used in the research and production of these vaccines.[2] Still others object to the mandates because they have already contracted Covid, have natural immunity, and believe (with a long history immunology supporting them) that taking a vaccine is unnecessary and may be potentially harmful to their body.[3]

At the same time, other Americans, and many Christians among them, have opted to get the vaccine, even arguing for its morality. Add to this the difference between seeking a vaccine exemption on medical grounds versus moral and religious grounds, and the complexity multiplies.[4] Not surprisingly, with all of these arguments out there, people of faith are led to ask: What should I do?

To answer that question, I am putting myself in the shoes of the men and women in the military and federal government who are now ordered to get vaccinated. Some of them have willingly received the vaccine, and done so in faith. Many others, however, are not able to receive the vaccine in faith. As I have spoken to church members and other Christians about this, many are crushed in spirit at the thought of injecting a serum that has come about by the use of stem cell lines that ultimately trace back to cells derived from aborted babies. Others are not bound in conscience by the use of fetal cell lines, but are nevertheless are unable to take the vaccine in good faith. It is for this latter category, I am writing. 

In what follows, I offer a twofold argument for why this vaccine mandate should lead some men andfauci women to seek a religious exemption (not just a medical exemption). These two arguments are based upon a genuinely held religious belief that this mandate (1) eliminates the free exercise of their faith and (2) forces upon them the faith another religion. Along the way, I will show why this vaccine and its accompanying mandate is different in nature than previous vaccines. Unlike previous vaccines, like Jonathan Salk’s polio vaccine or the more recent anthrax vaccine, the Covid vaccine comes with a moral imperative that is downright religious, complete with Fauci prayer candles and vaccine jewelry.

At the outset, I admit that this argument may not resonate with everyone, and that is fine. I am not writing to persuade everyone to seek a religious exemption. Seeking a religious exemption is deeply personal and should be based on one’s genuinely held beliefs. So, I am not seeking to bind anyone’s conscience regarding the vaccine. At our church, we have labored hard to stress the liberty Christians have to receive or reject the vaccine, because we really believe that one’s health care decisions are matters of personal responsibility and liberty, not public morality and coercion.

That said, as a pastor with many members seeking religious exemptions, I am writing to Christians to offer biblical rationale for why Christians can—and in many cases should—seek a religious exemption. So, to the text of Scripture we go. Continue reading

Sex and Culture: What Scripture and a Freudian Sociologist Have to Say To Modern America

people gathered near building holding flag at daytime

“Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean), lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.

— Leviticus 18:24–28 —

A few weeks ago, our church restarted its Tuesday discipleship night, which means we have begun again our study of Leviticus. And this week, we looked at Leviticus 18 and its detailed prohibitions against sexual sin. While many parts of Leviticus are foreign to modern readers, this chapter is not. Sadly, sexual sin continues to overrun our world, ransack our families, and invite the judgment of God. And in Leviticus 18, we find a long list of prohibitions that outline ways that men and women deviate from God’s design and invite God’s destruction. And as we will see, that destruction is not just personal, it is also national. Therefore, Leviticus 18 has much to say to us today and the judgment of God that comes upon nations that celebrate and promulgate sexual immorality.

Yet, we cannot make an immediate jump from Leviticus 18 to ourselves, not without seeing how this passage fits in Law of Moses and the rest of the Bible. While initial impressions of this text make it easy to connect God’s judgment on Canaan to the widespread sexual immorality of our day, superficial connections often misapply God’s Word. Moreover, we need to step back and understand how God can bring a judgment on Canaan, or any other nation, when in fact Israel is the only geopolitical nation who has ever been in covenant relation with God. To put it differently, we need to see how Leviticus 18 fits into the larger plans of God’s creation. For this in turn will help us make sense of the way Leviticus 18 finds fulfillment in a passage like Romans 1 and in our world today.

So, in what follows I will (1) set Leviticus 18 in the context of creation, (2) explain from the text what vomiting from the land means, (3) make connections to Romans 1 and God’s ongoing judgment on sexual sin, and (4) illustrate how the Bible finds confirmation in the historical research of a British sociologist, J. D. Unwin. (N.B. We start with Scripture and illustrate with social sciences, not the reverse.) Continue reading

On Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and Policy Changes: A Pastoral Rationale for Speaking Out Loud and In Public

patrick-fore-5YU0uZh43Bk-unsplashPhoto by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Over the last five years, Critical Race Theory has become a hot button issue in our country and among Christians. Concerning the latter, local churches are breaking apart, as pastors are—or are perceived to be—adding elements of social justice to the message of the gospel. Larger organizations too—seminaries, denominations, etc.—have had to debate the issue of social justice and Critical Race Theory. And to date, the results have not born the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Part of the reason for this division is that those advocating CRT—in part or in whole—are imbibing a way of thinking that is intended to divide and deconstruct. Conversely, many who respond to CRT do so with the same spirit of anger and division. Hence, the dumpster fire that is the current state of evangelicalism. We will save comment on the church for another day, but suffice it to say, the division caused by CRT is significant and growing.

Outside the church, CRT continues to be just as divisive. For instance, local school board meetings have become battle grounds for what will be taught about America and the history racism. Companies large and small are virtual signaling their wokeness by celebrating equity and inclusion and canceling those who will not join them. And more to the point of this post, federal, state, and local agencies are introducing policies that champion the ideas of CRT and the tools of Intersectionality.

Our county is one of those places where the tenets and tools of CRT are trying to be implemented. And recently, our Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) invited public comment on their new 10-page Equity and Inclusion Policy. As a resident interested in this subject and its impact on the church and its freedom to live and move and have its being in our increasingly secular age, I took time to read the proposed document and comment on it. What follows on this post is my letter to the Prince William County Board of Supervisors.

I share this as a model of what it might look like to speak up for truth in the public square. As a resident whose convictions lead him to have massive concerns with the proposal, and a Christian who is called to seek the welfare of the city (Jer. 29:7), it leads me to speak. I also encouraged other church members to do the same. Maybe I’ll share more of my biblical rationale for that later, but here’s my pastoral rationale. Continue reading

‘Anyone, Anyone . . .’ Want to Learn Economics: Three Reasons Why Christians Should Study God’s Household Rules

27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’
— Luke 14:27–30 —

What comes to mind when you think of economics?

If it is only a stuffy college classroom, a contentious topic that resurfaces at election time, or anything like Ben Stein in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off (see above), then you are not getting your economics from the Bible. In Scripture, economics is a subject that informs the story of salvation from Genesis to Revelation. From the command to subdue and rule the world to the promise of Christ’s payment of our sin-debt, we find economic realities. And just as prominently, from the inability to build a tower in the land of Shinar (Genesis 11) to Jesus’s warning of the same (Luke 14), we find dangers associated with bad economics.

Put the other way, when economics is studied, it touches on issues that penetrate deep into the life of everyone made in God’s image. Personal finance, raising children, going to work, making decisions about the future, and paying (and evaluating) taxes are all economic in nature. To put it more broadly, economics is not only about supply and demand, monetary theories, or policies related to taxation. Rather, economics is a fundamental aspect of human activity and moral imagination. When Jesus said to “count the cost” of following him, he employed an economic way of thinking.

Thus, like every other area of life and knowledge, economics is something intrinsic to human nature. And in Scripture, God’s prophets and apostles speak about the world God has made and the resources that exist therein. Even more, Scripture tells us how God intends for us to use creation for his glory. And all of this is economics.

To borrow the language of Thomas Sowell, “Economics is the study of the use of scarce resources which have alternative uses” (Basic Economics, passim). Now Sowell does not approach economics through the lens of Scripture, but his definition recalls the vast-but-limited nature of our world. God has created a finite world, where productivity is possible, but also fragile. Thus, the world God has made teaches us our need to learn economic principles for good stewardship. 

How we steward our limited resources (e.g., our time, our energy, our money, our vocations, etc.) is a moral endeavor. And economics, when rightly conceived, is a way of looking at God’s world that calls us to use those resources well. Indeed, the father of economics, Adam Smith, was not an economist, but a moral philosopher. And when we rightly consider the subject, economics is a way of thinking about God’s world and our place in it that calls us to invest our lives in things eternal.

I doubt many textbooks on economics speak like that, but they should. And starting this Sunday, our church will consider what Scripture says about economics in a new Sunday School series. In this post, I want to offer three reasons for studying economics. These reasons are explicitly biblical, but for that reason, Christians should not perceive economics as the “dismal science” (a pejorative label often assigned to economics). Instead, Christians who want to renew their minds with God’s Word should consider how God teaches us to think economically about the world, God’s salvation, and good works. Continue reading

Obeying God and Obeying God’s Servants: Five Truths from 1 Peter 2:13–17 (pt. 2)

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In obedience to God, we gather and sing and testify to the risen Lord.

Yesterday, I began a two-part series on 1 Peter 2:13–17. I am trying to answer the question, What does submitting to governing authorities looks like? Especially, what does submitting to governing authorities look like when they are ruling in ways that oppose God and God’s Word? Previously, I have tackled this subject in Romans 13 (see herehere, and here),, but now I am considering the text of 1 Peter 2.

Yesterday, I began by parsing out the fact that submitting to governors means putting God first and obeying earthly rulers as an application of obeying God. Conversely, we do not define doing good as obedience to our governors (full stop). Rather, we are called to consider what the good is from the unchanging and ever-authoritative Word of God. Then, in obedience to God, we promote the good by obeying good laws. And lest it go unsaid, the goodness of the law is decided by God’s standards, not my personal preferences. I am not advocating a hedonistic approach to ethics: “Just do what feels good.” No, we must obey laws that pinch our desires. That being said, to do the good we will at times need to resist tyrants when they enforce laws, rules, and regulations that directly defy the commands of Scripture or lead us to violate our conscience in following God.

That’s where this argument started yesterday. We must put God first. Today, I will flesh out the idea of God’s preeminence by looking in more detail at 1 Peter 2:13–17. In his letter to the elect exiles of Asia Minor, Peter has much to say about obeying the emperor and governors. And when we read his words in the context of his whole letter, and apply them to our own situations, we will gain much wisdom for walking well with the Lord. To that end, let’s look at five truths about obeying God and obeying God’s servants. Continue reading