Sunday, October 2, 2011

The "Babytalk Gospel"

Here is the Gospel in six statements from this morning in the sermon on Isaiah 28:1-13

i. There is only one true God who made the world and everything in it including us
ii. We brought sin into the world through our first father and every single person who followed him
iii. Because of our sin we have earned God’s wrath and maimed the world.
iv. Jesus came as our rescuing king to pay the price for our sin, live a perfect life as our representative and begin to set the world straight
v. One day (soon in God time) Jesus will return to finish out his work
vi. We receive rescue and become part of the rescue plan when we quit trying to rescue ourselves, trust Jesus to do it for us, and follow him away from our old lives of self reliance and sin.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Why the Final Party Won't Be in Earthly Jerusalem

Today I preached on Isaiah 17:7-13. The passage looks to the future of Israel, which will suffer greatly by being carried into captivity into Babylon. God tells the Israelites that the captivity is for the purpose of discipline, not judgement. He is seeking to bring them into repentance so that they will smash their idols and experience atonement for their sins.

Then, "on that day" the Lord will travel through Israel from the Euphrates River to the Nile and harvest the Israelites by threshing them (somewhat as olives are harvested from trees) and he will gather Israelites from Egypt and Assyria and they will worship in Jerusalem, on the holy mountain.

I argue that the image of Jerusalem as a destination for the people of God is simply reference to God's people worshiping him on the last day. I don't believe that the passage means that all of the members of God's family will buy a plane ticket to Israel and worship in a "holy land." The focus here is not on the land, the land is a symbol. The focus is on the act of worship.

Here's why:

1)Unless the people of God were a very small company (consider all of the redeemed through history!), they would never fit.
2)The idea that the Gospel goes out over the earth that the kingdom of God would be manifested on earth, and then all of the people move back to Jerusalem seems backward. (Acts 1:8 “…to the remotest part of the earth.”)
3)This attachment to land is a peculiarly OT focus, it seems absent from the NT, even when the “trumpet” sounds. (1 Thess 4:16; and where’s ANY mention of a return to Jerusalem?)
4)The Jerusalem mentioned in Revelation is NEW, not the old one (Rev. 21:2) and everyone agrees it comes at the end, not during a millennial reign.
5)The physical land is linked to a national entity, which has passed as the locus of God’s people, backwards in God’s redemptive plan, a return to OT Judaism which seems against all NT teaching (Gal 2:16; 4:9).
6)Jesus seems to specifically reject the view that the final worshiping place is on a mountain in John 4:21, while explicitly rejected the Samaritan error.
7)The boundaries describes NEVER fully existed and never did. Are we looking at a war which results in an Israel covering Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, half of Iraq and part of Egypt (not that I would mind!).
8)Even Abraham saw the land as symbolic as he looked to a city whose “architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:11).
9)Everything else in the chapter is symbolic:
b.the serpent,
c.the sword,
d.the dragon,
e.the sea,
f.a vineyard,
g.briers and thorns,
h.the burning,
i.taking root,
j.blossoming and sprouting,
l.the fierce east wind,
m.the threshing,
n.destruction of pagan temples [partly],
o.and possibly the calf grazing and women gathering. (15 total)

Notice how much of the passage is symbolic. Many other passages in the Bible should be considered from this view-point, such as Revelation 20. The fact that something is symbolic doesn't mean that it is not true. Symbols make non-literal points about objective realities. When we call Jesus the lamb of God, we're affirming real, concrete, historical reality, but in non literal and symbolic ways.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Marshall St. John Has Entered the Courts of the King

Marshall St. John, pastor of Wayside Presbyterian Church, loving father and husband and my friend, passed into the arms of his savior after a short battle with malignant melanoma of the lungs. His spirit was borne by angels to the throne of the father and his body will wait for the resurrection of the dead. Marshall was known for his Christ-like kindness, love for others, and his deep humility. He will be greatly missed.

The visitation will be on Monday night and the Memorial Service will be a 2 pm at Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church. The service will NOT be at Wayside because of space limitations. Please pray for his congregation, his wife, Grace, and his adult children, Becky and David.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Continued Prayer Needed for Marshall St. John

Our dear brother, Marshall St. John, the pastor of Wayside Presbyterian in Signal Mountain, Tennessee, continues to struggle with cancer. His weakness has been increasing and currently his white blood cell count is dropping as he is struggling with infection. Please pray for his healing, his faith, and his family (especially his wife, Grace). He desires from his heart to see God, but he grieves over the possibility of leaving his family and work. Marshall has a firm confidence in the finished work of Christ at the Cross. He trusts Jesus with all his heart. 2 Corinthians 5:21 "God made him [Jesus] who knew no sin, to become sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him."

Thank you for praying.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Christians Persecuted in Vietnam

This just in from ICC. I have to admit, Vietnam and our brothers and sisters there are often not on my radar screen. Note the age of the youngest victim and pray.

Christian Worshippers Brutally Beaten by Vietnamese Police

Sixteen Degar Montagnard Christians Attacked, Twelve Beaten Unconscious, One Arrested

Washington, D.C. (August 17, 2011) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that a violent attack against indigenous minority Christians in the central highlands of Vietnam took place this past July, leaving sixteen men and women severely injured and one man still under arrest; his welfare remains unknown to date. The systematic persecution of Degar Montagnard Christians continues, with this brutal attack as proof of the regime’s purposeful policing, harassment, and aggressive oppression of this indigenous people and minority religious group.

On July 7, 2011, at approximately 8 o’clock in the evening, Vietnamese security forces and police descended upon a worship service in the village of Buon Kret Krot (H’Ra commune, Mang Yang district, Plei Ku city, in Gai Lai province), and began kicking and beating the attendees. Security forces threatened the villagers, stating: “If anyone worships like this way, we will return to arrest you all and put you in prison for five years.” Twelve men and four women were beaten, and of these, ten men and two women were violently beaten to unconsciousness. Police beat A Jung, a 29-year old male, repeatedly with a baton until he collapsed to the ground where they continued to kick and stomp on his stomach and back until he lost consciousness. A Jung was taken away by police and remains in custody; he has likely experienced torture while imprisoned. Other villagers were beaten with batons, firearms and tree branches, and kicked and stomped upon by the Vietnamese security forces. The youngest victim was Y Kang, a 13-year old girl.

Vietnam has a long-standing practice of policing, harassing, and arresting Christians who are unaffiliated with the government-sanctioned and only legally-recognized religious bodies in the nation. According to Scott Johnson, with the Montagnard Foundation, "The Vietnamese government has targeted indigenous Degar Montagnards for simply being members of Christian house churches, in a long running policy designed to eliminate independent Christian house churches. Hundreds of Degar Montagnards remain in prison today and in custody many prisoners are brutally tortured and even killed. There is a shameful silence from the international community, including the United Nations and State Department, as to the plight of these forgotten prisoners even while the evidence of systematic religious persecution is overwhelming."

According to Human Rights Watch, since 2001 more than 350 Degar Montagnards have been arrested and sentenced to long prison sentences on vaguely-defined charges that are considered to be subversive to the Vietnamese regime.

ICC’s Regional Manager for Southeastern Asia, Kris Elliott, said, “We call upon the Vietnamese government to cease this systematic practice of violence and persecution against Christians, especially Degar Montagnards. We also urge the US Department of State to once again designate Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern, as conditions for religious minorities have vastly deteriorated since the designation was lifted in 2006. A CPC designation backed by strong US policies has the potential to pave a path towards significant improvements for Christians and other religious minorities in Vietnam.”


You are free to disseminate this news story. We request that you reference ICC (International Christian Concern) and include our web address, ICC is a Washington-DC based human rights organization that exists to help persecuted Christians worldwide. ICC provides Awareness, Advocacy, and Assistance to the worldwide persecuted Church. For additional information or for an interview, contact ICC at 800-422-5441 or 301-585-5915.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

And the rest of the story...

Since I've been asked, here are the details to answer regarding the conundrum of Genesis 10:21 "To Shem also, the father of all of the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born."

Is Eber an elder brother of Japheth, making him a previously unmentioned fourth brother with Shem, Ham and Japheth? Was there some kind of Levirate marriage going on wherein Eber, the eldest, died and Shem took his wife and children for himself, in effect stealing his lineage?

Actually, the answer is much more simple than that, and this will reveal one of the dangers of the more literal translations (which I am still in favor of). In Hebrew the word "av" means both "father" and "ancestor." It is a type of usage which also exists in English. "ben" (or its plurals) can mean both "son" and "descendent." This makes the count-the-people method of determining biblical dates somewhat flawed. When you go from one generation to another there can be skipped generations. And then if two different biblical writers decide to skip different generations in their lists, then you end up with two lists that don't match. But that wasn't a problem for them, because they all understood that a "son" (direct heir) could be meant or a "descendent" could be meant. Not a big deal.

So here, Shem is the "father" (ancestor) of all of the children of Eber and Japheth's elder brother. Shem is listed because he is the beginning of the line after Noah. Eber's sons are listed because Eber's line is the most important (10:25-29). Eber gives birth to Peleg (who has one claim to fame) and Joktan, from which the godly line continues.

In this section the lines of Noah's three sons are given in reverse order of importance, and it would be helpful for the translators to have section heads that say at verse 1, "Noah's Sons," verse 2 "Japheth's Sons," verse 6 "Ham's Sons," and 21 "Shem's Sons." If you look at the whole section with that knowledge, it should come into focus.

There is an "art" to how biblical writers constructed genealogies and presented them and we tend to pay little attention to that (including me!) and so we often miss "the point" and end up confused or we quickly rush through reading them until we get to the "important" part of the narrative.

Kudos to Noah and Miriam for reading carefully enough to catch this!

An Important Question from Genesis

As a pastor who desires to be faithful in teaching God's Word, I encourage people to come to me with their biblical questions so that I can help keep them from going astray in their reading of the Word. I recently received this email from a particularly thoughtful member of my congregation and I thought many of you might have the same question. I have reproduced the question and answer for your edification

Dear Sir,

I write to you for guidance in answering a most distressing point of detail in the book of Genesis. My wife came to me for spiritual instruction (for as the head of the household I am most wise) about an item of note in Chapter 10, the 21st verse. In it is stated (and I use the English Standard Version for correctness, accuracy, and salvation), quote, "To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born."

Was there then a 4th brother, a son of Noah named Eber? According to my wife (who is most distressingly educated), the custom of the day was that, if a man died childless, his wife should go to one of his brothers, and that any children produced from this second union should in point of fact be the heirs and children of the first, somewhat deceased brother, and not considered the children of the livelier, more virile second brother. Furthermore, is it possible then that Eber was the eldest son, and Shem the youngest, and that in taking Eber's wife for his own, Shem the youngest son, and father of Israel, took the inheritance and lineage of the eldest and made it his own, thereby irritating the descendants of Ham and Japheth?

Yours truly etc.,

Noah Barnett

Dear Noah,


In Christ,


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Why the Casey Anthony Jury Was Right

Like many people I felt sad and angry when I heard the Casey Anthony verdict. I wasn't surprised that they didn't convict her of first degree murder - I knew the evidence wasn't there. But not even manslaughter? This woman is most certainly guilty. The prosecutor did a masterful job of destroying her alibi narrative ("My daughter died in the pool and my dad and I covered it up out of fear.") Taking the entire story down in one blow the prosecutor asked, "What kind of grandfather covers up an accident by making it look like a murder and tosses his grand daughter's body in a swamp?"

But upon reflection, I realized that the Anthony jury was right - and perhaps heroically so.

This was just a bad case. They didn't have the evidence. The prosecutor was able to prove that Casey was a self-centered woman of low morals and a liar. But as legal analyst Dr. Bill Anderson points out on his blog, "...having a bad character does not mean one is a murderer. If that were so, then Washington, D.C., would be the murder capital of the world."

The prosecutor believed that she killed her daughter. I believe she killed her daughter. The jury probably believed that she killed her daughter. But their job was to determine if the prosecution PROVED that she killed her daughter. And that, they did not do. They proved exactly what Dr. Anderson pointed out. Casey Anthony is a terrible human being, an awful parent and a liar.

The system worked, and often it doesn't, because it's times like these that the integrity of our system is tested and tried: unsympathetic defendants, horrible crimes and shaky evidence. Our system is engineered to let guilty people go free rather than take undue risk of convicting an innocent.

Really, our justice system is actually based on faith in God. We do the best we can with all of the evidence, err on the side of letting guilty go free, and then trust that what God will do to them far exceeds anything we can do. No one escapes justice forever.

Any time a police officer plants evidence, or a DA withholds exculpatory evidence, or a jury decides to convict even when the evidence is not there, someone has played God. And the problem with that is that none of us is God. When we play God we make terrible mistakes and ruin lives. The agents of justice bring injustice. And it only starts with the self-centered wretches like Casey Anthony. It moves on to all of us.

Casey Anthony didn't get off scot free. She will either repent or fall into the hands of a living God. And THAT is a terrible thing.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Prayer Needed

Dr. Marshall St. John, the pastor of Wayside Presbyterian Church in Signal Mountain, Tennessee (and my dear friend) has been diagnosed with stage IV malignant melanoma in his lungs. Please pray for Marshall and his wife, Grace as Marshall begins treatment for this very aggressive cancer. Marshall had to immediately retire from Wayside. Please pray for God to heal Marshall and grant him great faith to receive God's providence with gratitude. Please pray for Grace as she walks with her husband as he faces this battle. Please pray for Wayside as they grieve for their pastor and losing his ministry from the pulpit while at the same time facing a pulpit committee to call a new pastor.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

For Love or Glory?

This Sunday was Trinity Sunday and I preached on Acts 20:13-38, Paul's address to the Ephesian elders at Miletus. I highlighted the Trinitarian thought undergirding Paul's message and talked about how the two breeds of wolves that we know came into the New Testament church were Judaizers and Nicolaitans. We know that the Judaizers were legalists and the Nicolaitans were libertines. We also have some evidence that the Judaizers became the Ebionites, a Jewish/Christian Unitarian heresy which denies the divinity of the Son. With an explanation that I'm not going to reproduce here, I asserted, and tried to demonstrate that legalism flows from unitarian heresy and libertinism flows from tritheistic heresy.

Then moving into the necessity of Trinity for grace (three persons) and for kingdom obedience (one divine nature/substance) I moved into the meaning of our salvation, being drawn into the life of God (also called entering the family of God) and mentioned that God did not create us out of any need for fellowship (we call this divine self-sufficiency). God created us out of an overflow of the love present in the life of the Trinity itself (thank you Augustine!). By the way, if you want to hear this sermon on the Trinity, you can find it here.

One of the more careful thinkers in our congregation sent me this question. "I had always thought of creation's purpose is to give glory to God. They way I took your statement it seemed to imply that the purpose of creation is to serve as a receptacle of God's love. I wanted to find out if I understood you correctly. Also, if I did understand you I was wondering if you could share some scripture references that teach this doctrine." A great question!

My short response is this:

The short answer is that I don't believe that we can separate God's being motivated by his love and his being motivated by his glory. Since God IS love (1 john 4:16), then an aspect of his glory is his love - just like an aspect of his glory is his holiness, which is also part of what it means for him to be love. When we talk of the "attributes of God," we always have to do so in a way which honors the "simplicity" of God - he is not divisible. This is exactly what the Westminster Confession speaks of when it says that God is "without parts." (WCF 2.1) Not keeping that in view can cause us to play his attributes against one another or diminish one in order to emphasize another. There is no conflict between his creating out of his love and his creating for his own glory. The two are aspects of a single purpose.

God creates us for his own glory - Isaiah 43:7. But Psalm 136 also celebrates his love made manifest in creation with line after line of emphasis that God's creation is a manifestation of his love.

Psalm 107 celebrates God's love which motivates his saving work by ascribing work after work to his love, which is a way of saying that ALL of God's saving acts are motivated by love. But Psalm 50:15 ascribes God's deliverance to, in effect, seeking his own glory. Which is it? It's both. God seeking his glory and God seeking to love are the same thing, seen in two slightly different ways. This is why, in my imperfect sermon on the Trinity (and I truly mean imperfect), I segued into the purpose of God in saving and the law of God in saving. In his love he saves us to being glory to himself because the most loving thing he can do for us is to cause us to glorify him by saving us. Saving us glorifies God.

What do you think?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

GA Photos Online

There are several hundred official pictures of the 2011 PCA General Assembly online here. This one is of me speaking in favor of a Study Committee on Insider Movements.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Denominational Accountability and the PCA

I made a comment on the blog Johannes Weslianus concerning Dr. Bryan Chapell's membership on the Standing Judicial Commission of the PCA, reflecting that it represented a problem with accountability in our denomination. A brother gave me a well-stated and kindly challenge on my comment and I explained my concerns in more detail as follows:


I don't think that Bryan Chapell is ill-intentioned by any means. As far as I know he is a godly guy. I am simply pointing out that denominations in our age tend to fall through their seminaries. If anyone thinks that age is over, they should cast an eye towards Erskine and the ARP. Dr. Chapell's position on the SJC violates both the principle of layered accountability and the principle of separation of responsibility.

Since seminaries are a danger point for a denomination, what does it mean for him to be on the SJC? Well, does anyone think that if he were to fail to deal with a professor as the president that he would be vigorous on the SJC? Accountability doesn't mean much when everyone's well-intentioned and responsible, it's meant to provide protection when people are NOT well intentioned or responsible.

So if Dr. Chapell were NOT doing his job well, then someone would catch it. Except in this case all the people dealing with the problem would either be the one who was asleep at the switch or part of the problem (Chapell) or people who had very close relationships with the guy who was either asleep at the switch or telling them "everything's" fine (the rest of the SJC). It's just a really bad idea.

Accountability means that there's some kind of system or structure to catch things is there's ever a problem. I don't have a half-glass office door because my elders don't trust me, I do it for accountability.

If you want another PCA example, look over at MTW. Dr. Kooistra serves as the coordinator (CEO) and his brother serves as CFO. In accounting, this is called "an issue of deficiency in control." To compound that, I understand that the Permanent Committee on MTW operates with a much smaller Executive Committee which makes the key decisions. Roger Kooistra is on that Committee, which increases his influence and power within the organization.

Now, I am confident that Dr. and Mr. Kooistras (did I say that right?) have the absolute best of intentions. But accountability is not about intentions, it's about wisdom and the acknowledgement that the best men are still sinners.

Does anyone else find it uncomfortable that the Strategic Planning and old PPLN process was dominated by Committee Heads (otherwise known as the best paid denominational employees) and their closest allies and that said process resulted in less functional power for the Committees of Commissioners (otherwise known as the accountability structure for the Permanent Committees)? Nobody sold it like that. It was for "efficiency" and "encouragement of ruling elder attendance." But if we cut all of the talking points away, the employees of the denomination spearheaded an effort which resulted in their oversight structures being less powerful.

Did they do it for bad intentions? Probably not. Is it a good idea? Not at all.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Call to a Faithful Witness - The Text of the Assembly Action Against "Insider Movements"

Here is the text to the resolution passed by the PCA General Assembly:

A Call To Faithful Witness

Approved By The 39th General Assembly
Of The Presbyterian Church In America
June 10, 2011

Whereas; the Church is called to take the gospel to all peoples, including those who have historically been resistant to the gospel;

Whereas; contextualizing the language and forms of the gospel, while remaining faithful to the truths of Scripture, is good and necessary for the advancement of the gospel;

Whereas; the Church must exercise wisdom in discerning appropriate expressions of contextualization, reserving its public corrections for genuine and substantive threats to the gospel;

Whereas; in recent initiatives known as “Insider Movements”, some groups have produced Bible translations that have replaced references to Jesus as “Son” (huios) with terms such as “Messiah” in order to be more acceptable to Muslims;

Whereas; some Bible translations of Insider Movements have replaced references to God as “Father” (pater) with terms such as “Guardian” and “Lord”;

Whereas; these Bible translations are harmful to the doctrines of the authority of Scripture and the deity of Christ, bringing confusion to people in need of Christ—concerns that are held by many national leaders and Bible societies;

Whereas; some PCA churches have knowingly or unknowingly financially supported these Bible translations;

Whereas; Muslims should not be denied a full and faithful witness;

Therefore be it resolved that the 39th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America:

• Affirms that biblical motivations of all those who seek to share the good news of Jesus Christ with those who have never heard or responded to the gospel should be encouraged;

• Repents of complacency or comfort that keep us from a faithful witness;

• Declares as unfaithful to God’s revealed Word, Insider Movement or any other translations of the Bible that remove from the text references to God as “Father” (pater) or Jesus as “Son” (huios), because such removals compromise doctrines of the Trinity, the person and work of Jesus Christ, and Scripture;

• Encourages PCA congregations to assess whether the missionaries and agencies they support use or promote Bible translations that remove familial language in reference to persons of the Trinity, and if so, to pursue correction, and failing that, to withdraw their support;

• Encourages PCA congregations to support biblically sound and appropriately contextualized efforts to see Christ’s Church established among resistant peoples;

• Calls PCA churches and agencies to collaborate with each other and the broader Church to discern and implement biblical authority in gospel contextualization.

• Authorizes the Moderator, as an aid to greater gospel faithfulness throughout the PCA and the broader Church, to appoint a study committee to report to the 40th General Assembly concerning Insider Movements, including but not limited to:
o A summary and biblical assessment of Insider Movements’ history, philosophies, and practices;
o A biblical response to interpretations of Scripture used in defense of Insider Movements;
o An examination of the theological impact of removing familial language for the Trinity from Bible translations;
o An assessment of PCA missions partners regarding the influence of Insider Movement within them, including assessment of their theology of religion, ecclesiology, Scripture, and relationship to the Emergent Church;
o An explanation of the relevance and importance of this issue for the PCA;
o Suggestions for identifying and assessing the influence of Insider Movements among mission agencies, missionaries and organizations;
o Recommended resources for faithfully training and equipping congregations to reach Muslims locally and internationally.

• Set the budget for the study committee at $15,000/year and that funds be derived from gifts to the AC designated for that purpose.


The Committee is convinced this critical issue for the global church strikes at the vitals of religion. However, the lack of sufficient analytical, biblical, and theological resources from a Reformed perspective, compels us to ask for a study committee to produce a cogent report for our churches.

Monday, June 13, 2011

We're the Other Kind of Presbyterians

When someone asks you about Presbyterianism, show them this video and then say, "We're the other kind of Presbyterians." So thankful for my denomination. At our General Assembly, we opened with a psalm, a hymn, and a stirring sermon calling us to faithfulness by Harry Reeder.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Insider Study Committee Passes Overwhelmingly

This picture has nothing to do with the Insider Movement Study Committee

The MTW Committee of Commissioners brought a revised motion back to the floor of General Assembly on Friday morning, recommending (with MTW) that the Assembly condemn "Insider Translations" which remove references to God as "Father" and Jesus as the "Son of God." They also (against the wishes of MTW) revived Potomac Presbytery's suggestion to create a study committee. Dr. Paul Kooistra spoke against the study committee, saying it was unnecessary.

Dr. Kooistra's speech against the study committee proposal did not seem as polished as usual. He is a very gifted communicator and effective leader. But I think he lost people on a couple of points. He admitted that MTW had not produced any materials for churches (not that it was their job to do so). He told the Assembly that MTW had been aware of the issue for seven years. When asked by a sympathetic commissioner what MTW's response had been and what materials were available, Dr. Kooistra said that Scott Seaton (author of the overture calling for the study committee) had first made MTW aware of the issue and that "an article that has been helpful to me has been 'Five Problems with Insider Movements'."

One brother speaking against the study committee said that pastors could just study for themselves. The chairman of MTW's Permanent Committee said that such a committee would need a theologian, exegete, missiologist and Muslim background believer on it. Opponents of the motion seemed to be saying that the issue was too hard for a study committee, but easy enough for a pastor to read up on.

Scott Seaton, former MTW missionary, spoke of the vital gospel issues being raised. Travis Hutchinson testified to his unsuccessful efforts to get materials from MTW and the unique gifts of the PCA in examining such an issue. Finally, Bill Nikides, visibly shaken by the issue, spoke of his interviews with over 200 "Insider Christians," and the reality of baptized Christians leaving the church for the mosque with the encouragement of Western missionaries.

The overture passed strongly on the first vote and overwhelmingly on the second. Praise God.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

And Being Nice Ends...

The Committee of Commissioners on MTW (CoC MTW), whose responsibility it is to provide representational supervision to the Permanent Committee on MTW, overwhelmingly voted to restore the Potomac Presbytery's language in their overture which called for the General Assembly to erect a Study Committee on Insider Movements. This is perhaps the most important theological issue for the evangelical church in our time and most of our churches and churchmen are largely ignorant of the issue.

When the CoC MTW presented its report, the chairman of the Permanent Committee moved that the section of the CoC report dealing with the Study Committee was out of order, effectively seeking to wipe it off of the Assembly's business without debate. The chairman found the chairman's motion in order and a commissioner from the floor challenged the ruling of the moderator. The commissioner challenging the chair admitted that the chair was probably technically correct, as was Dr. David Coffin, the perennial procedural watchdog who weighed in supporting the moderator. But, the commissioner said, this was a issue wherein the letter of the law was being used to kill debate on an issue of vital importance.

The Assembly almost overturned the Moderator's ruling - very unusual since the commissioner argued that Moderator was in fact right.

With the issue now headed to the dustbin for the next year, another commissioner moved to recommit the item back to the CoC MTW to fix the technical problem with their resolution. An explanation here is in order. The CoC on MTW was RESTORING the language of the Potomac Presbytery. But they formatted it wrong and it was considered "new business", which it wasn't, and it was ruled out of order without debate.

Another commissioner moved to recommit the business to the CoC MTW so that the Committee could "fix" the formatting errors and bring it back to the Assembly. This was certainly a brotherly solution to the problem. The Chairman of the Permanent Committee immediately spoke against the motion to recommit.

While this all may sound confusing, it isn't that hard to understand. The Potomac Presbytery gave an Overture to the General Assembly expecting (or at least hoping) that the Assembly would get to vote on their whole Overture. The Permanent Committee is a small group of men who necessarily function in very close relationship with Dr. Paul Kooistra. The Permanent Committee, together with Dr. Kooistra decided that a Study Committee was not the best way to deal with the issue (and there's NO disagreement that the denomination should stand against radical Movements) and deleted it from Potomac's motion. The Committee of Commissioners, which is a large body of men appointed from their presbyteries to oversee the work of the Permanent Committee restored the Study Committee to the Overture so that the whole Assembly could debate it and vote on it.

The Assembly overwhelmingly voted to allow the CoC MTW to fix the formatting problems and bring their concerns and motion to the floor for open debate.

Please pray that the men of the Assembly will judge these matters on biblical principles and be led by the Spirit in love.

Assembly Continues Without Rancor - So Far

The Assembly Floor is somewhat sparse as numerous non-contentious reports are presented.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wycliff Bible Translators comes out in support of "Insider Translations" but not quite

Wycliffe, the Presbyterian church of Bangladesh, and other organizations have sent communications to the General Assembly regarding the use of "Insider Translations" and the involvement of the PCA in Insider Movements in the world. These communications were ruled out of order, partially out of concerns that this precedent would open the floodgates of lobbying by outside organizations and parties.

One commissioner noted that the purpose of a Study Committee would be to solicit opinions and information from such parties (indeed!) but another commissioner, Bill Nikides (an expert on world missions), noted that some of the communications come from Reformed denominations addressing missions work by the PCA in the Islamic would. Scott Seaton, former missionary and currently a pastor in Potomac Presbytery, noted that the information is directly related to matters before the Assembly.

Even though the material was found out of order, much of it was already in the hands of the commissioners. Maybe we get to have our cake (not set a bad precedent) and eat it too (get to read the information anyway).

Wycliffe submitted a detailed response to the motion condemning "Insider Translations," basically arguing that there is a difference between the Insider Movement and accepted contextualization in translation. This is probably fair enough in a theoretical sense, and likely opponents of the Insider Movement have been hyper-sensitive at times to attempts to contextualize the message of Scripture appropriately. But . . . I strongly suspect this is not as cut and dried as they are claiming and I bet there ARE Insiders seeking to influence Bible translations.

Wycliffe's claim that Muslims are offended by the idea that Jesus came from a sexual union between Mary and God and are not at all offended by the Bible's claim that Jesus is God in the flesh is completely untrue. While there may be some Muslims who completely misunderstand the claims of the Incarnation, very few thinking Muslims who have read the Bible would think this. What they are offended by is the Bible's claim that Jesus is God. Wycliffe is clouding the issue and people should ask why.

Is this not why we need a study committee?

More Truth Comes Out

The Aquila Report reveals that the "emperor has no clothes" so to speak. Clements writes:

Dr. Kooistra was invited to explain CMTW’s recommendation of removal of the study committee from the overture. MTW had issued a statement saying that a committee was unnecessary given the fact that MTW was already equipped to assist churches deal with insider movement issues. Upon further questioning, Dr. Kooistra said that the statement did not originate from him and was not strictly accurate. Further questions determined that materials available through MTW were very minimal and included much material that was written by insider movement advocates.

Is this really the best that we can do? With the wonderful Study Reports that the PCA has produced on Creation and Marriage should we not produce one on the most important theological issue of our time? Should we not bring to the table some of our wonderful theologians, missiologists, Islam experts and missionaries and produce a report that MTW and our churches can use in thinking through these vitally important issues?

Read the entire Aquila Report article here.

Note: Dr. Kooistra is not the "emperor" here, the idea that MTW has produced all of the needed materials on Insider Movements is.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


With the Assembly Internet currently down I'm correcting a post from earlier today. A friend who is one of the Former Insider experts at MTW asked me to correct my statement that he claimed that MTW didn't have any studies on the Insider Movement. He said that Dr. Kooistra states that he has three articles on the Movement. I initially thought that meant Mr. Kooistra has WRITTEN three articles, but it turns out that he simply HAS three articles, presumably for distribution to interested parties. Maybe this is the material that MTW "has available to the churches to help evaluate Insider Movements"?

All of this seems a far cry from level of study and evaluation most pastors would expect from our denomination concerning the most important theological/missiological issue of our time...

Insider Movement Introduction

A month or so ago a good friend circulated some material (long) on Insider Movements to his extensive email list. One of his recipients is a Christian journalist, of whom many of you would be familiar. He is a deeply committed Christian and is involved with reporting on the Islamic world, missions and Christian persecution.

He didn't know what the Insider Movement was and humbly asked that someone pare it down for him. This highlighted for me two things: First, the general ignorance that Christians have to this issue and second, the need for simple explanations.

Here is the email I sent back through the list. My only real claim to being a good person to write this is that I'm pretty much a novice and so if you are too, this may help you.

[Name Omitted],

I never saw a reply to your question, so I thought I’d send a quick summary (tho I am assuredly not the person to do it). Maybe this answer will at least be simple, but probably not nuanced.

The email concerns something which is huge in the missions world, but largely unknown in the rest of Christendom, the subject of “Insider Movements.” Basically, it is the idea that people can become followers of Jesus without leaving Islam. Since the Koran mentions Jesus (as “Isa”) and since there are strains of Islam that emphasize Jesus’ return, this seems plausible to some. The thinking is that the “insiders”, who don’t leave Islam and are not baptized, are kind of like Jews in the first century that placed their faith in Jesus but kept practicing Judaism.

The theological problem is that it makes baptism and the visible church optional and tends to accept Mohammed as a prophet and the Koran as a true revelation of God. Socially, it begs the question whether these believers will be able to hold onto their odd Christiano-Islamic beliefs without being “corrected” by all of the orthodox Muslims they are spending their time with. Missionally, many conservative missiologists are claiming that the “insider movement” is actually plundering the visible church rather than converting Muslims. Denominationally, some people (more informed or misinformed than I) claim that there are people associated with the PCA who are either sympathetic to Insider Christianity or are working with people who are sympathetic to it. The idea seems to be that by passing a resolution condemning Insider Movements as unbiblical, we’d be guarding the truth in a very fragile mission field.

I’d be happy to send any interested people articles on Insider Movements written by conservative and orthodox reformed missiologists explaining these issues without all of my mistakes. I’m sorry for any misrepresentations in this email!

Grace and Peace,

Travis Hutchinson

The Study Committee passes through committee: Praise!

Praise God that the overture to erect a study committee on Insider Movements passed out of the Committee of Commissioners (CoC) on Mission to the World this evening. The CoC reversed the Committee on MTW which struck the proposal from the Overture because they claimed that MTW had already done the studies and had materials ready to assist churches in evaluating Insider Movements. The problem with MTW's opposition to the study committee is that a) MTW seems to not be responding to requests from churches for the material (see below); b) at least one former MTW Islam specialist is claiming that comprehensive studies don't exist; c) since this is a missiological heresy would we not want people outside of MTW doing some of the work so as to give accountability and oversight to MTW?

This news means that the overture will hit the floor of General Assembly intact and the commissioners we get to vote on the study committee as the main motion.

It is entirely possible that MTW just saw this as an unnecessary action because MTW has already decided against Insider Movements. Now they may shrug their shoulders and let the Assembly decide. If they, and their representatives, fight this one hard from the floor, however, it will leave many people wondering what possible dog they have in the hunt? What would motivate them to oppose it? The natural answer would be stewardship - the denomination doesn't need to spend the money. But since Paul Kooistra hasn't gone on record opposing ByFaith Magazine or the CE&P Bookstore, calls for stewardship would ring pretty hollow.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

My Unanswered Letter to MTW re Insider Movements

Here's what I wrote to MTW almost a month ago. Remember (see below) that they claim that they have done studies on Insider Movements (for description of heresy, see posts below) and these studies are available to the churches. I wrote MTW on May 9. No response yet.

Subject: Insider Movements Information Needed
Date: May 9, 2011
Sent to:


I received an email from Paul Gilchrist about “Insider Movements” in missions work to Muslims in Islamic contexts. I was wondering if you could send me any material MTW has on Insider Movements. I’ve heard that there’s an overture coming to GA which asks for a study committee and I wonder if you guys have already done that work. Thanks so much!

TE Travis Hutchinson
Highlands Presbyterian
Tennessee Valley Presbytery

Saturday, June 4, 2011

MTW has puzzling opposition to Study Committee on Insider Movements

On May 9 of this year the Committee on MTW passed a resolution recommending to the GA that it PASS the overture condemning "Insider" Bible translations but STRIKE the language calling for a study committee. The rationale is, in their own words, "MTW has conducted extensive research and has numerous resources and tools available to
assist local churches in evaluating insider movements."

What is the "Insider Movement"? Well, in some forms, it's bad, bad, bad... It's heresy, and we're not talking about paedocommunion heresy or Federal Vision heresy (which don't really fit the category of heresy) - it's completely give up the Gospel heresy and destroy the Church in the Islamic World, straight from the Pit of Hell heresy. Insider Movements tell Muslims that they can be good Muslims and believe in Jesus. They don't have to join a church, reject Mohammed, or get baptized. All they have to do is believe in Jesus. Brothers and sisters, since Islam is a religion created explicitly to reject Judaism and Christianity, that would be like saying that you can be a Christian and a Satanist (except you'd do a LOT less harm to others as a Satanist).

What my missiologist friends are telling me is that the Insider Movement, rather than adding to the number of Christians, is growing by luring Christians out of churches! There are also rumblings that MTW has been less than vigorous in dealing with this in the mission field. Now, Paul Kooistra (head of MTW) has apparently rejected Insider theology without reservation and written a short article or two about it. The problem is that there are Insider experts who are criticizing MTW's manner of dealing with this issue.

Do we really need a denominational study committee on this? Here are some reasons why we MUST have a study committee.

1) While they are claiming that they have material available to the churches, I wrote them as a pastor of a church asking for it and got no response. People I know who are "in the know" say that there's nothing they have besides an article or two by Dr. Kooistra. Maybe they have more, but they aren't giving them to the churches.

2) Since there's some rumbling about the cleanliness of MTW's hands in all of this, it would be most proper for people outside of MTW to deal with this. Not that MTW is always concerned about proper accountability and being beyond reproach in appearances. This is the agency which has Dr. Kooistra's brother as CFO (Dr. Kooistra controls the organization and his brother controls the money). My wife is a CPA and she doesn't have ANYTHING to do with the church finances because of the possible appearance of impropriety. It is important with money, but even more with the accurate teaching of the Gospel.

3) This is THE most significant theological issue since inerrancy. Do we wish to be asleep at the switch when this train comes bursting out of the tunnel?

Friday, June 3, 2011

GA 2011 Virginia Beach

Well, next week is the PCA General Assembly. I'll be blogging during the Assembly (GA) again; I hope more than last year - it'll keep me from speaking as much. This year's GA is in Virginia Beach - nice. The best deal my assistant could find was a beachfront cabin near the Assembly. [[Turns out, beachfront is not so beachfront. 10 minutes from the beach.] Life is hard.

Here are some initial impressions on the issues for this year:

1) Funding of the Administrative Committee - Last year's debate centered on AC funding and the vision for our denomination. The supporters of the AC were able to push the plan through, very painfully. The rancor left a bad taste in everyone's mouths and it got voted down resoundingly in the Presbyteries. I have no idea why the members of the AC thought is was appropriate for our denominational employees to come up with a plan to force us to give money for their initiatives and salaries and then decide how to punish or "forgive" individual churches. Aren't we supposed to be telling them what to do and not vice versa?

2) Vision for the PCA - The "powers that be," who for good and ill got us where we are today and consist mostly of middle-aged white guys, are going to continue to "lead us" in adopting strategies to reach racial and ethnic minorities, young people and the poor. They will be largely opposed by pastors who work with racial and ethnic minorities, young people and the poor. Since the pastors who matter most are the ones who pastor the largest and wealthiest churches, the wealthy pastors and their friends in the AC and other denominational agencies (which they control), they will likely continue to take the lead in fixing the problems which they have both identified and created. We all hope that this year they actually use data in examining the problems and Scripture in looking for solutions.

3) Heresy in Missions - The "Insider Movement," which is a missiological strategy for reaching Muslims by telling them they do not have to leave Islam, join a church or get baptized, has been a hot topic for discussion in mission circles. One presbytery has submitted an overture condemning an Insider Bible Translation and calling for a study committee.

I have been told by a reliable source that Mission to the World (MTW), our denominational mission board, supports the condemnation of the translation but not the study committee because they have already studied the issue. Don't take my secondhand report as gospel, but if it is true (which will be revealed on the floor, most likely) there are several troubling things to consider. [Update: On May 9, the Committee on MTW passed a resolution making minor editorial changes to the motion on the translation and striking the erection of a study committee. The language is troubling indeed: "Rationale for Omitting the Study Committee MTW has conducted extensive research and has numerous resources and tools available to assist local churches in evaluating insider movements."

First, one of MTW's experts on Insider Movements left MTW in frustration over the issue, dissatisfied over MTW's handling of Insider situations in the field.

Second, I contacted MTW weeks ago for copies of their "studies" on the issue and have never received any response. Do any actual studies exist? Their former expert says "no."

Third, Dr. Paul Kooistra is a godly man and an effective administrator and fund raiser, but he's no theologian or missiologist. With the most important controversy in missions now brewing, we need to bring in the big guns in scholarship and missions. And, since a study committee would examine our denomination's involvement with Insider Movements, it would warn us or clear MTW of any problems. But if MTW is doing all of the examination, the fox is watching the henhouse.

Of course this is a common failing in our denomination, witness the placement of Bryan Chapell (the head of our seminary) on the Standing Judicial Committee. Denominations almost always fall by way of the seminaries, so why would you put the head of the seminary on the commission whose purpose it is to provide judicial oversight over the seminary? In the PCA it doesn't matter, because they're all Good People - until they're not.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Turns Out Rick Warren is Pretty Solid

John Piper got a lot of flack by inviting Rick Warren to speak at his Desiring God conference, but circumstances kept Warren from participating. Piper then decided to do a long interview with Warren to discuss theology and The Purpose Driven Life (perhaps the second best-selling Christian book in history - not counting the Bible). It turns out that Rick is a thoroughgoing Baptist Calvinist (which puts him in the minority of Southern Baptists) and has very solid theological convictions. He explains in the interview why his book seems to soft-pedal repentance. Piper states, and I'm inclined to believe him, that most of the criticism directed at Warren from the Reformed community has been uncharitable an unfair.

Read it all here (with a link to the video).

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fantastic article by Dan Phillips at Pyromamiacs. Hat tip to Bekah.

Porn and Paper Pastors

Decades ago, I read a disturbingly candid essay by a pastor about his struggles with pornography. It was in Leadership magazine. Years later, two of his realizations still stand out to me.

The author came to see (as I recall) that he was attracted to these images because they were unreal. The women in the pictures never had bad days, were never crabby and demanding, never disrespectful and demeaning. No mood swings. They always suited his mood, his needs, his wants. They were unreal.

And this post is not about pornography, men, women, nor marriage...

[read it all here]

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter

Christos Anesti! Christ is Risen!

While Abraham, King David, Mohammed and Buddha all lie in their graves awaiting the judgement of the wicked and the just, Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and sits at the right hand of the Father. He will come again with glory.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Why You Need Saturday Night Sleep

Don't let this happen to you on Easter Sunday!

Head versus Heart

This frightens and convicts me (from John Brown's Commentary on First Peter):

It is painful to think that it is no uncommon thing for a person to be able to talk plausibly about these principles of Christianity, to reason conclusively in their support, and to be zealous even to rancour against those who deny, or even doubt, their truth; while he yet continues a total stranger to their transforming efficacy, the slave of selfishness, malignity, and worldliness. And what is the most lamentable part of this sad history, the infatuated man seems in a great measure unaware of the shocking inconsistency he is exhibiting, in displaying the most unchristian tempers in defense of Christian truth. He mistakes his knowledge and zeal about certain propositions - which, it may be, embody Christian truth - for Christianity itself; and looking, it would seem, on orthodoxy of opinion as the sum and substance of religious duty, wraps himself up in an overweening conception of his own attainments, and resigns himself to the pleasing dreams of a fancied security, from which but too frequently he is first and for ever awakened by hearing the awful mandate, "Depart from me, I never knew you;" and by finding his place assigned him with the hypocrites, in the regions of hopeless misery.

Prayer for Texas

As many of you already know, the state of Texas is currently on fire. The whole thing. I'm not kidding. As of yesterday, there were only two counties in the whole state that don't have fires. Over a million and a half acres have burnt. Two firefighters have died. Please pray for rain. As the governor of Texas has asked for prayer today, God's answer would surely shine his glory before many who doubt his existence. Pray both for rain and the glory of Christ. Thanks for praying.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Best Novel You Will Read This Year

Don't let its size daunt you. The Island of the World by Michael O'Brian is not a difficult read, at least in that it is not intellectually tiring (does that make sense?). But it IS a difficult read in a spiritual and emotional sense, not like Saving Private Ryan (glad I saw it and never will again), but in that it takes you to difficult places and you find that your heart and soul went on a journey with Josip Lasta. It will probably change you and the novel will live with you.

Island of the World is the story of Josip Lasta, a Croatian whose life is a difficult journey through the Second World War and Communism and unbelief and hopelessness. It is very Roman Catholic in perspective and addresses, narratively, the struggle to forgive out of very deep hurt.

Here's an idea for a spiritual retreat. Take two books: The Island of the World by O'Brian and Free of Charge by Volf. I think your world and heart will be rocked. Read O'Brian first.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Additional Information on Generosity

Here are some study notes from today's sermon.

I talked about Clement of Rome this morning. A site which has his letter and lots of other early church documents is Christian Classics Ethereal Library. The section of the letter where he talks about the faithfulness of the Corinthians is here.

The three ministries I mentioned this morning are:

The Diaconate of Highlands
Highlands Presbyterian Church
1211 West North Main St
LaFayette, Georgia 30728

The Care Mission
105 North Chattanooga Street
LaFayette, GA 30728-2763
(706) 638-3664
article on them here

Bringing Good News
Ian Thomson (David Thomson's father and ministry partner with Agape Puppets)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Small Decisions - Big Consequences

In a classic case of seemingly small decisions and unintended consequences, Christians in Iran have been endangered by the recent budget cutting in Congress. International Christian Concern has reported that in the midst of the budget cuts of the Republican-led Congress, Texas Representative Lamar Smith (R), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has proposed reviewing all judicial amendments in light of their budgetary impact. This would endanger the Lautenberg Amendment a Cold-War era piece of legislation which grants refugee status to persecuted Christians and Jews in the former USSR. This law was expanded in 2003 to include religious minorities in Iran.

The US grants asylum to many thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of refugees. These refugees receive small amounts of assistance in establishing themselves with other assistance given by non-governmental agencies and ministries. The refugees included in the Lautenberg Amendment are a tiny fraction of the total, but they are among the most vulnerable because other countries often do not recognize them as refugees. Oftentimes, the opportunity to emigrate to the US can make the difference between life and death for a Iranian Christian. This Amendment has never been controversial and its budgetary impact is tiny.

Repealing or even pausing this amendment could put lives at immediate risk.

Please consider calling Rep. Smith's office and asking him to not include the Lautenberg Amendment in any legislative review and leave it in effect. Sen. Smith's number is 202-225-4236. His staff is very nice.

Also, you could call your Congressional Representative and ask them to support the Amendment by leaving it in effect and not submitting it to review. It would be helpful if your representative called Sen. Smith's office as well.

Representative Tom Graves (GA) (202) 225-5211
Representative Chuck Fleischmann (TN) (202) 225-3271

Read more at International Christian Concern.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Repentance and the Institutional Church

One Christian that I follow is Jamal Jivanjee, the convert from Islam who has become a minor Christian celebrity through his role in leading Rifqa Bary, another convert from Islam, to Christ. Her conversion and subsequent running away from home catapulted her into the media spotlight and Jamal ended up on Fox news talking about Rifqa and Islam. Before the storm ended, Jamal was also embroiled in criticism of Rifqa's lawyer, John Stemberger, a prominent pro-life attorney in Florida. Now Jamal spends most of his time speaking about Islam and promoting revival in the Church through his ministry, Illuminate. We're Facebook friends and he knows me slightly. And though I disagree with him on some things, I like him a great deal and often read his articles on his blog.

Recently, he wrote a critical review of the book Radical, which has been creating quite a stir within American Christianity. I have not yet read the book, but two things in Jamal's review struck me. One is his very negative view towards the "institutional church" and the other is his view of "repentance."

Jamal writes concerning repentance:

Repentance is one of those words that has been hijacked by man’s religious system. According to man’s religious understanding of repentance, the burden is placed on our actions. In order to repent, we are urged to confess our sins and then seek to change our behavior and actions. It is all about ‘obedience’ to what God requires. This understanding of repentance is unbiblical and false. It does not produce freedom, rather more bondage and performance.

I have concluded that David Platt and Francis Chan’s messages resonate with us because, in a sort of a religiously sadistic way, the fleshly religious side of us likes a good ‘beat me, I’ve been bad’ message. Basically speaking, we feel good when we feel ‘bad’. Our religious flesh has an addiction to ‘conviction’. We just keep hearing how bad we are, keep attempting to be more obedient, and we never seem to see that part of the problem is the system that is keeping us in bondage to the ‘box’.

Platt does not seem to understand that repentance (which literally means to ‘change your mind’) is a one step process, NOT a two step process! Once your mind truly changes about something, action naturally follows. Those who think you must (1.) have a change of mindset (repentance), and (2.) try to implement a new set of behaviors to go with the new mindset, usually revert back to religion and rules.

Now Jamal isn't all wrong in his concern to guard against legalism, which has no power. And I'm sure he's right that a human-centered, self-powered attempt at obedience completely infects the church. He's also right that Christians can become very attached to a sort of emotional self-flagellation which is simply a modern version of Medieval religious masochism. But he's in danger of ending up in anti-nomianism, a rejection of obedience as being intrinsic to faith. This is where obedience is a secondary issue and faith is primary. The problem is that a faith that doesn't intend to obey isn't faith at all.

He supports this by a common misconception of the word "repentance" ("metanoia" in Greek). He repeats the common error that repentance is simply a changing of one's mind.

While pagan Greeks assuredly used the word to mean “change of heart/mind”, Jews in Jesus’ day certainly did not. In the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, the word metanoia was used to signify either a changing of direction (behavior) or a change of heart and behavior at the same time. Amos 7:3 is a good example. Where the Septuagint declares that the Lord “metanoia-ed”, the ESV renders it “the Lord relented.” Another instance is Proverbs 14:15-16 where the Septuagint says that “the wise comes into metanoia, carefully planning his steps, fearing and turning away from evil.” Much more learned than I have demonstrated time and again that the defining of metanoia as “change of mind” is the worldview of Greek pagans (assisted by liberal moderns such as Rudolf Bultmann). This is why Jesus says, “Repent and believe” in Mark 1:15. Belief (pistis) is a heart trust. By Jamal's definition, Jesus would seem to be repeating himself. But he’s not. He’s telling people to turn away from their sins and trust in him.

His rejection of "the institutional church" is also pretty problematic, though I'm pretty confused by his use of the term. When Jamal and others use the term, I wonder, do they mean “connectional church”, a church with some kind of formal attachment to other congregations? Do they mean “congregational church,” where people identify with a single gathered local group? Do they mean hierarchical church where there are some kind of formal offices? Or do they simply mean a “worldly church” which has ceased to be a dwelling of the Spirit and is only the place where men do some kind of religious business?

Jamal writes:

"I agree with Platt’s assessment in the first section of the book when he says that you can’t share the life of Christ with the masses. My question for him is this: Why is he attempting to do that each and every Sunday in what he is calling church? Why is he beating the church for not looking like Jesus who lived outside the religious institutional box?

Does he not realize that, as a mega-institution Sr. Pastor, he is sitting in a position that keeps the box in existence? I am in favor of destroying the box and setting the people free."

You see, I belong to a denomination which I am sure Jamal would declare “institutional,” but which resembles very little of what he and others describe, especially the two congregations I have belonged to. I read his stuff and I think, “Wow, the congregations you’ve taken part in must really suck.” The problem is that I run into lots of Christians that talk critically of "the institutional church" and I find a great deal of rejection of accountability, undealt with sin, and a decided lack of Kingdom fruit. I’m sure that they’re not all like that, but I run into it a lot.

I have a hard time making sense of the New Testament's picture of community without the “institutional church.” The New Testament has deacons and elders. Believers live in formal accountability and go to official worship services. You can argue that many modern churches do not have communities with the level of participation seen in the New Testament Church, but that's no reason to reject the only structure that reflects the biblical witness.

When a family isn't functional correctly, we seek to heal it, not throw it out altogether.