Friday, January 30, 2009 | By: Zachary Bartels

This Week's Sermon (2009, Week 5)

Click here to link to the audio (right click and choose "Save target as" to save the file on an iPod or other device).

The Mega-Chasm.
You've seen the overly-complex charts and "maps" of Abraham's Bosom, the Abyss, the bottomless pit, etc. They always make reference to Luke 16 and the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. But what's the point of that story? Is it sort of an orientation for the hereafter, so we'll know where we can and can't go when we buy the farm? Or does it have ramifications for our lives here and now?

As always, you can access all my sermons here.

Monday, January 26, 2009 | By: Zachary Bartels

What Do Jerry Falwell & Jim Wallis Have In Common?

Nothing, you might say. Falwell was a right-winger who accused Teletubbies of sodomy, warned that the “rapture” was just around the corner (its imminence apparently tied directly to DisneyWorld’s "Gay Days"), and called Archbishop Tutu a phony for opposing apartheid. Wallis, on the other hand, has delivered the Democratic response to President Bush’s weekly radio address, unabashedly opposes capitalism, and has largely devoted his life to taking down the Religious Right.

So what do they have in common? Well, several things. First, both are seminary educated and were ordained as Christian ministers. Secondly, in my opinion, both frequently confuse what Luther called the Two Kingdoms and Augustine called the Two Cities. (I fear that little else cheapens the Gospel more quickly and more completely than equating it to a particular political movement.) And, perhaps most tellingly, both of them claim one Charles Grandison Finney as a personal hero.1

Most Americans know little or nothing about Finney. That’s why I'm here. Finney was a revivalist preacher in the 19th Century. He first studied to be a lawyer, but after an emotional spiritual experience that he likened to being showered with "liquid love" (wha-?), he decided to go into the ministry instead. Foregoing seminary, Charlie began an internship program within the Presbyterian church and pursued a license to preach. To that end, Finney proclaimed his dedication to the doctrines of the Westminster Confession of Faith. According to his own autobiography, though, Finney had little idea of what was contained in the Westminster Confession; and he rejected what little he did know.

It quickly became clear that Charlie was not cut out for ministry within the Reformed tradition. He developed his theology on the fly and, before long, had determined that he patently rejected the following:

  • The doctrine of election (Christ atoned for all men equally on the cross, according to Finney)
  • The five solas of the Reformation
  • The doctrine of original sin
  • The doctrine of imputation (that Christ's righteousness is attributed to us)--he called it a "theological fiction."
At least Finney, unlike many modern-day Arminians, was consistent. Since it would be wrong for God to charge me with Adam's sin, it's also wrong then for God to charge Christ with mine. According to CGF, Christ could not have died for anyone's sins but his own. Therefore, Jesus didn't pay for anything on the cross and no one can be declared righteous on the basis of Christ's sacrifice alone.

Like many of today's teachers and preachers, Finney was always bending the Scriptures and the doctrines of the church to match his own will and his own sense of how things should be, rather than submitting himself to Scripture. With Pelagius, he reasoned that God would never command us to do something that we were not able to do in and of ourselves. In that way, he was the Joel Osteen of his day. Sovereign grace, total depravity, original sin--they were all downers, so he came up with a religion that was more upbeat and would be a bigger hit with the average sinner on the street because it allowed him to stay in the driver's seat of his own life--in fact it totally depended on him remaining behind the wheel. God really does want to be my co-pilot.

He may not have been in line with the Reformed doctrines, but Charlie was all about individual reform. In fact, that was really the sum of what he preached. Rather than preaching that salvation is a work of God alone, one of his most popular sermons was entitled "Sinners Bound to Change Their Own Hearts." No, I'm not making that up.

Finney's doctrine of the self-reformed heart leaves every man and woman in his or her sins and sends the ragged, filthy prodigal son back to the land of the Gentiles to "get himself together"; the father will welcome him back and kill the fatted calf only after he's made something of himself. Sadly, though, this will never happen. Scripture teaches that, when left to his own will and devices, man is so sinful that he lacks not only the ability, but even the desire to be right with God. Therefore, any religion that preaches salvation by personal reform will lead men on a primrose path to hell.

But Finney didn't care. He was an innovator, after all. A spiritual entrepreneur. Born just 16 years after our nation was, he had the same roll-up-your-sleeves-and-start-from-scratch spirituality that gave us Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormonism, (I Dispensationalism in with those, but yeah, also Dispensationalism). Finney's new religion was centered around what he called "the new measures." According to Charlie, a revival is not a miracle, nor does it need a miracle of any kind to get rolling. It's a simple case of cause and effect. If a minister or revivalist implements "methods sufficient to induce sinners to repentance," there will be repentance. Drop the right ingredients into one side of the machine and a revival comes out the other end.

And what were these methods? Well, I've always thought it appropriate that Finney founded and pastored Broadway Tabernacle, because he certainly turned church into theatre.2 For example...
  • The chancel and altar were replaced by a stage
  • The pulpit was more or less abandoned, in favor of the preacher "roaming" amongst the congregation like a performer,
  • Micro-managed "worship planning" (complete with rehearsals) ensured that the mood would be just right,
  • The "anxious bench" became a major part of the service. Those who were convicted by the shenanigans came up to the bench at the front to weep, pray, and (with God's help, of course) turn their lives around and become Christians...
Let me just pause right there because I know what you're thinking: Wait a minute! That sounds like most churches today! Sadly, you're right. Finney's "new measures" caught on in a big way and a lot of churches have embraced the circus approach. Yes, I said circus approach. No, that's not too harsh. Observe:

  • Finney sent an advanced promotion team ahead to the next city on his itinerary to promote the revival that was coming to town.
  • P.T. Barnum (of Barnum and Bailey Circus fame) made the tents. Have you ever wondered why so many churches are designed to look like a big tent? Barnum is well known for his many elaborate hoaxes and is said to have coined the phrase, "There's a sucker born every minute and two to take him." Finney was one of the two to take him.
  • CGF gave very confrontational addresses that generally included calling out and condemning immoral members of society in whatever town he happened to be preaching (in the days before Inside Addition, this was the only show in town)
  • He would also pray for the souls of pastors who hadn't supported the show (by canceling their own services and sending their congregations to Finney's meetings) as if they were unsaved.
  • These emotional tactics led to fainting, weeping, and other "excitements" (as Finney called them). On second thought, maybe I shouldn't use the word "circus." Circuses are usually more dignified.

The previous century had seen a true revival, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that did not rely on human methods, theatrics, and emotional manipulation. It is commonly known as The Great Awakening. Sadly, in the intervening years, a cloud of cold and dispassionate hyper-calvinism had settled in over New England. As a result, when Finney's Best Life Now tour came to town, it usually resulted in the widespread acceptance of this drivel. In a horribly ironic twisting of semantics and history, the movement started by Charles Finney is almost universally called The Second Great Awakening. And yet, it was the polar opposite of the true Great Awakening. There was no return to Scripture, no mass rejection of our own autonomy and mass flight to the only One who could clothe us in our nakedness and wash us of our filth. No lasting fruit. In fact, the parts of New York where his revivals had hit the hardest became known as the "burnt over district" (even Finney used this term). Religious hucksterism had left people suspicious of Christian ministers and, in the end, their hearts were all the more hardened to the Gospel.

How can Wallis and Falwell have the same hero? Easy. When the core of the Gospel is removed, anything can be put in its place. But the end product is no longer the Gospel and no longer has the power to save. Finney's legacy lives on in megachurch and small community "worship center" alike. In fact, if we're really honest, we might acknowledge "Finneyism" as the most popular religion in America. Go find what the people want and give it to them. Plan your services for maximum emotional impact. Leave nothing to chance or (God forbid!) to the Holy Spirit. Teach that man has the ability to "make a decision for Christ" with his own depraved heart and mind. There's a sucker born every minute and two churches to take him.

Are you a Finneyist? If you've fallen into that trap, repent. If your church is going down this road and struggling to figure out why it all seems so empty, even when the "auditorium" is full, repent of your man-centered religion and fly to Christ, who is alone the author and finisher of your faith.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Zach

1 See the book Jesus: Made in America by Stephen J. Nichols (Intervarsity Press, 2008). I don't have a page number. And don't expect any more citations. After a decade of college and graduate school, I've just been too lazy to track down every reference for blog posts. Let's do it like this: if you doubt the veracity of anything in this article, raise the issue in the "comments" section and I promise to provide a full citation.

2 No offense to the many Gospel-preaching churches with the word "Broadway" in their names.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009 | By: Zachary Bartels

This Week's Sermon (2009, week 4)

Click here to link to the audio (right click and choose "Save target as" to save the file on an iPod or other device).

Serpents & Doves. People are often confused by the Parable of the Dishonest Manager. Does Jesus want you to go all Enron when you find yourself in a tight spot? In this message, I attempt to present a clear exposition of this difficult passage.

As always, you can access all my sermons here.

Friday, January 16, 2009 | By: Zachary Bartels

The Church...Unleashed?

If you read my last post (Pesci Preachers), you know that when it comes to entertainment, I like my escapism to intersect with my professional life. Sure, I enjoy completely forgetting about work as much as the next guy; I appreciate the kind of amusement that brings me through the wardrobe to Narnia or wherever the dude can't find his car, but I also like to be entertained by characters who share my profession--ministers who beat the tar out of zombies in the church graveyard, effortlessly speak Spanish to local orphans before packing their churches to capacity with thrilling sermons, or discover in ancient church documents the proof of vast international conspiracies that have persisted for centuries. Most of all, though, I like my fictional clerics to solve mysteries in their spare time.

What is it about "detectives of the cloth?" I've never read a story or seen a movie about a plumber or high school principal moonlighting as a detective, but there are hundreds such stories about pastors, priests, nuns, and rabbis. Chesterton's incredibly famous Father Brown books come to mind. I also remember watching The Father Dowling Mysteries as a kid (featuring the dad from Happy Days in the title role). Those whet my appetite. But these days I'm partial to one Father Gilbert.

The Father Gilbert Mysteries are radio theater about an Anglican priest--the rector of St. Mark's in the little town of Stonebridge. He's also a former detective with Scotland Yard, which comes in very handy as he finds himself involved in various mysteries on a daily basis. There are occasional references to how he "must get back" to the church to meet with a bride and groom or work on his sermon, but he never seems to actually get there. Either St. Mark's has no pastoral relations committee or said committee is decidedly pro-clerical-mystery-involvement.

I think I love the Father Gilbert program so much because ministry is one of those professions (like law, medicine, teaching, politics, etc.) that has been built up and romanticized, even in the minds of those preparing to enter it. An emergency room doctor once told me that most of the stuff you see on the show ER really happens; it's just that what might happen over the course of six months in real life takes half an hour on television. It's similar with ministry. Seminarians have it in the back of their minds that they'll be racing from converting the lost on street corners to televised fund raisers to officiating extravagant weddings, preaching to packed houses, and digging into the secrets of ancient theologians by candlelight. Of course, as with most any profession, monotony plays a much larger role than we had hoped. That's why Father Gilbert is so welcome to come and entertain me from time to time. It's also why I jumped at the chance a few weeks back to skulk around the church in the dark, looking for an unnamed intruder.

It started as an urban legend, propagated intentionally by myself and Youth Leader Dave: the Boiler Room Hobo. Now a household name among Judsonites, the BRH has even inspired a rock band by the same name.

But then some staff members (I won't say who, but there are only two staff besides myself) became pretty convinced that there really was someone squatting on the premises. Hot water being left on, doors propped open, sandwiches found stashed in the back of the upright piano (the last thing was years ago, but it helps the legend, so we'll lump it all together). Was someone using the church as their primary residence?

While sensitive to the frigid conditions outside that could drive someone to force his way into the church each night, we couldn't exactly have a mystery person prowling around while two women are often working alone in the church. So, to set their minds at ease (and to milk the ministry for this rare bit of Father Gilbert-esque excitement), I called my friend Terry and arranged to meet him at the church after dark for a complete search of the old building. We were pretty sure we wouldn't find anything, but if we did, we could at least try to help this person get into a better living situation.

Under cover of darkness and wearing all black, we slipped into the church and made our way methodically through the vast building. We went everywhere. Quietly advancing from room to room, looking up by the organ pipes, through every storage closet, even into the attic. Nothing. No signs of life. No doors propped open. No sandwiches or wrappers. Nothing in the microwave. We came to the certain conclusion that there was no one living in the church. Believe me, we looked. The place was empty.

So imagine my surprise and confusion a few days later when a fellow pastor told me that we (the Christian church at large) need to work at "getting our congregations outside of the four walls of the church building." That's our whole purpose, he told me. We need to get our people out of the church and into the community. I responded that all of my people leave the building. Every week. Usually by 12:45 each Sunday (unless we have a potluck or something), every last member of the church has gone "outside of the four walls" and is out "in the community." No one stays in the church all the time. No one lives there. Believe me, I've looked.

He stared at me agape for a moment like I was an idiot (I get that a lot when I turn up the sarcasm), then launched into an explanation. He meant that we need to stop thinking of church as this place where we all come together on Sundays, and start thinking of church as us going out into the community via service programs and ministry. That's what the church is all about, after all. He quoted several church gurus du jour, explaining that we need to stop having a "fortress mentality" and instead identify our "target group" and implement a strategic plan to go out and minister to them. We need "ministry teams" and lots of them (plenty of those in the Bible, right?) to go and "be the church" out in the community. Then, we can try to bring them into the church for worship, but only after changing everything so that it won't be weird or off-putting to our "target group." No Scripture was harmed (or even referenced) in this explanation of why the church exists. Lots of statistics and marketing theories took up the slack.

A few years ago, I was in a Sunday school class where we studied a book with this same premise: the church needed to be "unleashed," to stop meeting each Sunday in this cage of a building where we do "churchy" things and, instead, go out and get our hands dirty. The author recommended regularly canceling Sunday services and encouraging members to instead go out and "be the church" (something that is apparently impossible to do in the church). He boasted that his congregation had gone from being a "fortress" to being a decentralized network of ministries that targets a variety of groups (there was even a chapter with the disturbing title "Targeting Street People."). The original building--once the location of Sunday worship--had become a staging area for dozens of different sub-groups, many of whom did not have any connection with one another. There was no more Sunday morning worship service, where everyone gathered together for God's Word and the sacraments. Instead, the people were off working for the Kingdom in every corner of the city--"being the church."

I will concede that there are many great ministry programs in such churches that do much to further the Kingdom of God. However, a completely decentralized mass of people, continually giving, working, organizing, and toiling--without ever coming together to be fed--will eventually burn out and/or fade away. Or at least those Christians who do the majority of the work will fizzle and fade.

But doesn't the church exist, as some have suggested, "solely to serve those outside of its walls?" In a word, no. The church (Greek: ekklesia, "the called out") as a congregation exists to glorify God, hear His Word preached, pray together, and edify and encourage one another. We need that edification and encouragement. We need to be fed. That's why St. Paul told us not to give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Feeding is no longer the "in thing" for a church. In fact, the granddaddy of all these mega-churches (we'll call it "Pillow Chic" to protect its anonymity) recently spent hundreds of thousands of dollars doing a study, sort of a self-inventory. What they found was that their most involved members were the most dissatisfied. They were doing the most in and for the church, working the hardest in the many different ministries, but were still reporting that they were far from content. They craved deeper Bible teaching, more theology, a better understanding of the Gospel. In other words, they needed to be fed. They were running on empty, running ragged. And what did Pillow Chic decide was the solution? To help these Christians become "self-feeders" (their words, not mine). Sadly, many of the small-medium sized churches who have "bought the kit" are now following this same paradigm.

But what did the Christians do on the Lord's Day in the Book of Acts? Cancel service so they could go and "be the church" somewhere clever? No, they met together for the ministry of the Word and prayer and for Holy Communion. (There were mercy ministries, but they took place apart from the worship services and were directed first and foremost to the needy within the church). And was their worship the carefully crafted, walking-on-eggshells type designed to be "seeker sensitive?" Heavens, no! In fact, for the first few hundred years of the church's existence, all the non-baptized folks were asked to leave before the Lord's Supper was celebrated.

So, what about the whole "Go and make disciples of all nations" thing, you ask? Sure, the church is "called out," but aren't we supposed to be calling others out too? Well, yeah. And that's where my fruitless search for the Boiler Room Hobo comes into play. No one lives in the actual church structure (at least not at my church). By mid-afternoon Sunday, everyone has left the building. They've "gone out beyond the four walls" and "entered into the community." That's where they eat, sleep, and work. That's where they live. Having been fed on the Lord's Day, they should be fulfilling that Great Commission out of those meals. This is what the church did in the Book of Acts. And God "added to their number daily."

I was recently at a ministry conference where Dr. Paul Borden was pushing for the "church unleashed" philosophy (with some modifications). A colleague of mine suggested that the more biblical method was for the church to feed, equip, and train the people to do the ministry during the 98% of their lives that they aren't at worship (either in organized groups as "official ministries" or just while going about their lives). Dr. Borden listened to the question impatiently (obviously having addressed it many times before), then did his best Dr. Phil: "I always ask those churches, how's that workin' for ya?" His point, of course, was that we can get more "butts in the seats" (to quote Sister Mary Clarence) if we approach "our target group" with a sleek marketing plan. However, the Great Commission is a many-layered animal; it goes far beyond the butt quotient. It involves making disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them to obey all that Jesus commanded. If we're not feeding, we're disobeying that Great Commission.

Now, there's nothing wrong with church programs designed to "get out into the community," but they are by no means the only (or even the main) gauge of a church's faithfulness and effectiveness. Are the people being fed? When they leave the church, are they entering the mission field? Are they living epistles to their world?

It's a tragic thing when we allow our churches to stop being a sanctuary--a place for God's people to come and be fed--and instead make them just another energy sucker, where everyone is always expected to be working, scheming, sweating, and filling jobs for which they are not even gifted. That's a recipe for a church that's not so much unleashed as it is unglued.

The Father Gilbert mysteries may be exciting, but a pastor's purpose is not to run around solving all the mysteries in the quaint English towne. Nor is it to play Dr. Phil, judging every congregation and church leader by hard numbers, growth charts, and hitting goals. Likewise, a congregation's purpose is not to do all the Kingdom work so that the individual believer (who is unfed, stressed, and run ragged by the church's unbiblical expectations) doesn't have to.

The preached Word--Christ in all of Scripture--and the simple elements of bread and wine aren't going to land any church on the evening news. They may not break any attendance records. But if the New Testament taught us anything about how the world will respond, it's that when we do it right, most of the lost will hear us proclaiming foolishness. But to those whom God has called, Christ crucified is the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Zach
Tuesday, January 13, 2009 | By: Zachary Bartels

This Week's Sermon (2009, week 3)

Click here to link to the audio (right click and choose "Save target as" to save the file on an iPod or other device).

Jesus and the Lost, Part 2.
In this message, not only do I exegete Luke 15:11-32 (Parable of the Prodigal Son), I also bare my soul and confess which movies make me cry.

As always, you can access all my sermons here.
Sunday, January 11, 2009 | By: Zachary Bartels

Pesci Preachers

So I've decided on a term to replace the potentially offensive "BA." My buddy Ted Kluck, himself an accomplished BA (see his blog on my blog roll), suggested the word "Pesci." As in Joe Pesci, Hollywood heavy and sometimes-funnyman. I like it enough to give it a thirty-day trial run. Anyway, the whole reason I got blogged-down looking for that word is because I had an idea for a couple blog entries that could only be called "Bad___ Preachers," but I didn't want to call it that; I'm a man of the cloth, after all. So now I've got the term--Pesci Preachers--and we can move on.

You may be thinking, "Pesci...preachers? That seems like a non sequitor." If so, I urge you to remember that Jesus, St. Paul, Martin Luther, Johnathan Edwards, Anne Hutchinson, and Martin Luther King, Jr. were preachers. Yeah; we've go plenty of Pescis*.

At any rate, I have fictional preachers in mind today.

Remember that scene in Boiler Room when the young wannabe stock brokers took turns reciting lines from Wall Street? Or on Hot Fuzz when Nick Frost revealed his massive collection of police-related movies? I think we've all got our favorite books and films that glamorize, flamorize, and romanticize what we do for a living. My mother, an RN, has a huge collection of antique Cherry Ames books. Cherry Ames is this twenty-something nurse who would have to be like sixty to have held down all the jobs she's supposedly mastered--army nurse, dude ranch nurse, ski lodge nurse, rural nurse, mountaineer nurse. I've never read one, but I guarantee she always saves the day, gets her fella, and never loses that cute little nurse's cap. And, while I bet they claim to hate them, I'm sure most archaeologists have all the Indiana Jones and Lara Croft DVDs locked away at home and watch them religiously. After all, those are some Pesci archaeologists.

So, who's in my Pesci preacher collection? Pickins are slim. When they're not psychos or perverts, preachers are usually portrayed as timid little nancies in fiction, even religious thriller type fiction. Just look at a book full of Pescis* like This Present Darkness. That's about as pro-church, pro-clergy a book as you can get, but still the newspaperman is a Pesci, the angels are Pescis, even the random skeptic lady has her Pesci moments. But the preacher is just kind of weasely and spastic.

So here's my list of favorite fictional Pesci clergy off the top of my head:
  • Sonny in The Apostle
  • Reverend Frank in License to Wed (that little sidekick of his too)
  • Father Laurence in Romeo + Juliet (played by Kobayashi!)
  • Pastor Dan on Raising Helen
  • Brother Thomas on The Prophecy
  • The God Squad in Keeping the Faith
  • Father Gilbert from the Father Gilbert Mysteries (more about him next time).
  • Monsignor Martinez from King of the Hill ("Via...con Dios.")
  • That bald, grizzled priest in End of Days (nonsense about 1999 notwithstanding...hey, makes as much sense as dispensationalism.)
  • Father McGruder (pre-zombie) in DeadAlive
  • Father Gabriel in The Mission
  • Mel Gibson in Signs
  • Friar Tuck on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
  • Abbe Faria in The Count of Monte Cristo
  • Harvey Keitel's character in Dusk Til Dawn (note: I am not recommending this movie! But I saw it and I can't unsee it and Keitel's character was indeed a Pesci Baptist pastor...who makes holy water.)
  • Father Damien from The Exorcist (even though he lost in the end...on second thought,
    strike him.)
  • Robert Deniro's character in Sleepers
  • Stacy Keach and David White in Mercy Streets

So now, your turn:

1. How have books, movies, TV, etc. tried to romanticize and glamorize your profession?

2. What are your favorites? Which ones do you watch/read over and over again?

*Hmmm, this is a problem. It looks like it should be pronounced PESH-iss. I refuse to put an apostrophe where one is not warranted. Maybe "Pescies" could be the plural. If so, I'm thinking we lose the capital all together.
Monday, January 5, 2009 | By: Zachary Bartels


Emergent pastors can swear. Even when they're behind the pulpit (not a literal pulpit, of course) with their fauxhawks and their green Bibles printed in soy-based ink, they can drop an F-bomb and no one will bat an eye. Now, I'm not legalistic about language (what may be completely appropriate in one setting can be flat-out blasphemous in another), but if there's one place where we should be overly careful with what words we use, it's in the pulpit (again, not literally in the pulpit, of course). So I'm not going to write a legalistic list of words that can never be used in preaching; discernment in the Spirit and the weight of responsibility in preaching God's Word ought to be enough to keep us out of trouble.

For example, I can't see myself ever using the S-word in preaching (except like this), but Tony Campolo famously used it to open our eyes to our own shameful complacency in evangelism. And while I'll probably never use the word "sucks" from the pulpit either, if I do I'll be plagiarizing Dan Seaborn who, when trying to communicate the damage divorce does to kids, said, "Let me use a Greek word: it sucks."

I've twice let slip a word that I didn't mean to use from the pulpit. Once, while doing a first person Easter sunrise service, fully decked out as a Roman soldier, I said the word "frickin'." The angel moved the "big frickin' stone." Got too caught up in the moment and it kind of shattered the suspension of disbelief. On another occasion, I referred to "all that crap" while being reviewed by Mike, my field ministry supervisor. (Shocking, right?) Oh, and I pulled a Tony Campolo once while preaching at a retreat and said, "don't give a damn" to drive home a point with the junior highers.

So Postmodern emergent type pastors can swear, but I can't. I mean, I can swear. But I really, really shouldn't--for three reasons. First, there's that whole "let no unwholesome talk pass through your lips" thing from Scripture. Then there's the fact that I'm a pastor, who must remain above reproach. Then there's that infant who hangs out around here, soon to graduate to toddler, who before long will be repeating just about everything that he hears (which is why I'm going to communicate only through recitation of the Westminster Confession of Faith.)

But here's the problem: what do you say when you've crushed your thumb in the car door and there's only one word that really seems qualified for the job? "Sugar?" "Aw, man?" I think we lack some of the basic euphemisms needed to communicate basic human feelings. I knew one guy who would shout, "Praise the Lord!" Only, what he meant was "Sh-t!" In what crazy world is it better to say "Praise the Lord" as if it were a four letter curse word? In fact, considering that the Septuagint (not to mention Jesus and the Apostles) said "The Lord" (ho kurios) in place of the sacred name of God (YHWH/Jehovah), smashing my finger and shouting "Praise the Lord" is a pretty flagrant violation of the third commandment; more or less the same thing as shouting "Jesus Christ!"

Me, I've got the angry maniacal laugh to fall back on. When I'm really, really mad, I'm not even tempted to curse, I just start laughing giddily and saying, "Yes! I was hoping the hard drive would crash!" My wife always leaves the room, as she finds me "scary" at such times. Still, it plugs that euphemism hole. And being of the generation where no one is really offended by "sucks," that's no problem either. I wouldn't use it from the pulpit, but etymologically, there's nothing offensive about it; it's just a shortening of the ages-old expression "sucks mud" or "sucks dirt." Heck, Wally and the Beav said that. I'm also of the school of thought that if it's in the KJV, it's pretty much fair game. Hence, "pissed off" is a Christian swear word, right? Just like caffeine is a Christian drug.

But there is still one gaping euphemism hole--the subject of my euphemission, with which I beg your help. It's that compound word which, were it appearing in a comic book, might look like this: bad@$$. If seeing that offended you, go find something better to get worked up about. Maybe the slaughter of Christians in the Sudan, the raping of our planet's resources, or the fact that you have friends and neighbors who are headed for hell. So, if you're still with me, I need suggestions. I know of no synonym that could be applied to Joab son of Zeruiah or King Jehu of Israel. Or John Wayne.

One could always just say "B.A.," but that's cheating. Plus, people will ask what it stands for. Besides, even apart from being a traditional curse word, there's something uneducated and lowbrow about it. No, better to come up with a new term altogether. But what? Thesauri are no help here: hard-nosed person, tough guy, unflinching individual? Really--would you describe Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, or Connor Freaking McMannus as a "tough guy?" Talk about damning with faint praise... There's much more to the B.A. label than just being tough. There's an attitude and a persona involved. Plus, what about women? How do we describe that quality in Jean D'Arc ? Tough girl? Tough chick? Give me a break.

Other alleged synonyms like villain, baddy, and the nominal form of heavy miiiight work if the individual is, in fact, a villain. But most B.A.s defy such labels. Was Benaiah a bad guy? (If you don't know who Benaiah is, go read 2 Samuel and I Kings. ) Sort of. But sort of a good guy. He was a conflicted, sword-wielding, lion-slaying, heroic man. And a bona fide...whatever we're calling it.

So give me your input.
Here are some guidelines: the word must work both as a noun and an adjective (e.g. Robert DeNiro is a real BA. In Sleepers, he played a BA priest). The term must be gender-neutral. (If it can't apply to Eowyn as she stabs the Nazgûl in the face, then what good is it?) And finally, as a helpful series of litmus tests, the term must apply to the following people (both real and fictional): Teddy Roosevelt, Batman, Rosa Parks, Indiana Jones, Samuel Jackson, St. Peter, Lara Croft, Ehud, Elijah, Jael, Jason Bourne, Mr. Miyagi, Yul Brinner, Il Duce, and that crazy lady from Die Hard 3 who never spoke.

Thank you for contributing to the project.


Thursday, January 1, 2009 | By: Zachary Bartels

About worship music...

I've got a new favorite song. This is something that happens frequently. The current favorite is by Lecrae, an artist with whom I am nursing a budding obsession (much to my wife's chagrin). Not only does he produce incredibly tight, smart, catchy songs, but I just love the way he dashes to pieces the silly mistaken notion that Calvinism is just for crusty old white Dutch guys in Grand Rapids. This is less true every day (I won't even go on my tirade about how Augustine first laid out the doctrines of grace and election in Africa).

I mean, even putting aside theological and pastoral giants (like Dr. Ken Jones) for a minute--even just looking at the world of hip hop, a more and more diverse group of people is embracing the doctrines of sovereign grace all the time. Lecrae, Trip Lee, Shai Linne, Redeemed Thought... We've all seen how pathetic it can be when the white guys from Grand Rapids try to be cool and relevant (wow, those are really hip glasses, but you're still a dork). God didn't call us to try and be something we're not. Thankfully, some Calvinists don't have to try--they just are cool.

Anyway, check this song out:
(you can hear it if you go to YouTube and do a search)

It's Your World
I know I'm not fit or deserving to do this
But I'm foolish if I don't spit to give you godly influence
Like a student practicing prudence; will you walk with me through this?
As I give my feeble attempt at glorifying Yeshua
Cause He is the beginning--everything came into being
By His being, the being who created all other beings
We're emceeing, true to his benevolent freeing, decreeing
He's the almighty creator of everything that we're seeing
There is none like him; if you don't like him,
Then he'll use the lichen to liken himself to a choir just to delight him
That's why I write hymns
My right hand used to write sin, battle against Him like I was Shai-Linne
And now despite sin, I give praise to the God who made sunny days
The white lightening, it's quite frightening
To sing "Who's world is this?" without proper enlightening

Whose world is this? It's your world! It belongs to you, Christ Jesus

He used intelligent design, like eloquence confined
Life elements assigned by Elohim my God
He left his fingerprints--You thinking our origins are coincidence?
Our symmetry alone makes evolution look ridiculous
And since our complexity is more than irreducible
The fact our design had a designer is irrefutable
I use science too to make a statement like this:
The existence of an atheist proves God exists
He's the owner, holding the throne
But since he up-rose he told us to go on this road
Shown by a knowledge foretold, spoken by prophets of old
The total opposite role, chosen by populace goes
Down to the hottest abode--total apocalypse, bro
That's why we're rocking it, yo
Hand these sounds to the proudest men
God has brought you in this world and he can sure take you out of it

Whose world is this? It's your world! It belongs to you, Christ Jesus

You should already know who's running it, brother
You don't want it
He made it in six but he'll only take one to crumble it
The earth rumbles at the sound of his mumbling
He flooded it once but with Noah he made a covenant
So the next time he's gonna be coming with flames
His antagonists don't know what they're up against
Return of the last Adam, whose rapping
Will smash men now holds together every last atom
And that ain't even the sum of it
Matter of fact, you could handle the half--I'm only giving you some of it
But it's still enough of it for you to come to grips
With the fact that it's his planet; you own none of it
So please consider how dumb it is
To take comfort in the momentary status you have and the stuff you get
He blows it up in the end; you can trust it, kid
But we ain't bugging cause there's another one coming--you dig?

Whose world is this? It's your world! It belongs to you, Christ Jesus

The earth was so impressed with his defeat of the grave
The ground did the Harlem shake; the ocean did the wave
No longer enslaved now that I see the Lord
God is so deep he causes hurricanes when he brainstorms
I switched teams; me and 'Crae got traded on the same night
Same conference, same sermon by James White
The light of Christ is a blazing one
I'm evidence that his grace is amazing, son
Man continues to overvalue his worth
Spends most of his time trying to conquer the earth
That kind of action only leaves you empty or hurt
Then you see your true value when you return to the dirt
$5000 casket
$500 clothes
6 months for the grieving
1 year to decompose
I've yet to find a human that can outlive the curse
While God sits in the heaven, places his feet on the earth

Whose world is this? It's your world! It belongs to you, Christ Jesus

Then it fades out. That's right, it fades out and somehow, rather than making the song lame, it makes fade-outs cooler.

We need more music like this! I don't mean more Calvinist hip hop (although that suits me just fine). I mean more music that both GLORIFIES GOD and DECLARES TRUE DOCTRINE. I don't care if it's pipe organ hymns from 1550 or punkgrass from 2009, a song that edifies us and magnifies God is doing what songs were always supposed to do. And it accomplishes these things through the majesty of the music, the poetry of the lyrics, and the truth of their content. A prime example is Luther's "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." I get chills from those words, but the chills aren't the main thing I'm chasing. They're a byproduct at best. They're incidental.

I've got a reputation for hating modern praise and worship music (belonging to the Facebook group, "Praise Bands Annoy God" may have helped reinforce the notion), but I don't hate it by default. I just hate the namby-pamby junk that has been dominating the scene of late. I hate walking into a church and singing songs that could either be about a really great girl or a pretty good god.

In the mid-'90s, I attended a "seeker-sensitive" storefront church in Grand Rapids and played bass in their praise band (they have since built an office-park-style building) and most every week the "special music" was some rock song, either from the '60s (No Man Is an Island) or current (Pearl Jam got lots of play, ironically). The sad thing is that most of those songs had more in common with Scripture than most of the shallow and repetitive praise songs we played.

There are some amazing new worship hymns being written: In Christ Alone, Mighty to Save, Indescribable. These songs are unapologetically Christ-centered, Gospel-proclaiming, and biblically based. We sing them at my church and I'd like to get into them more. But the ultimate criterion for worship music as far as I'm concerned will never be if it's new, catchy, bouncy, uplifting, snappy, or popular. I don't care if it gives me a "Jesus buzz." What matters to me is whether a song lifts Christ up in worship and lifts me up in Truth.

Luther did this well. And I think Lecrae gives Luther a run for his money.