Thursday, January 28, 2010 | By: Zachary Bartels

Did Jesus Die to Make You a ZERO?

Note: I will not be illustrating posts for a while, as all my artistic vigor is being channeled into a project with the one and only Ted Kluck.

I’ve always been partial to the phrase “by the numbers.” (I also like “according to Hoyle,” but that’s neither here nor there). As I understand it, this phrase finds its origin in a training manual for militiamen during the Revolutionary War. Each bayonet and rifle position in the manual was numbered. Hence, doing things “by the numbers” is to do them by the book, following proper procedure. That being the case, I truly like the idea of doing ministry by the book or “by the numbers,” especially considering that our Book is actually divided up into numbered chapters and verses.

But the church today is more concerned with just about every other set of numbers, particularly performance-based numbers—in fact, we’re obsessed with them. Pastors keep track of attendance trends compulsively (and who can blame us, since the first question everyone always asks upon learning our vocation is, “How many people in your church?”). We update the numbers of conversions, baptisms, and first-time potluck attendees.

And more recently, churches have begun assigning numbers to non-numerical items. Some of the most popular books on church growth and “healthy churches” (by the way, ask any dermatologist and she’ll tell you that not all growth is healthy growth) are all about assigning numbers to churches and people. Surveys and quizzes must be filled out ad nauseum so that the church can be identified as scoring a 4 in “friendliness,” a 9 in “worship intensity,” and a big fat zero in “ever going to actually do anything with these survey results.” Other books actually assign individual people numerical values. The so-called “seekers” at a church service are level 2 humans, the church members are level 5, the woman who sits on half a dozen committees and also does the landscaping is a level 9, etc.

Needless to say, this kind of ministry by the numbers is upsetting to me. Despite all the noise about how “postmodern” we’ve become, the world continues to be obsessed with numbers (Cf. the omnipresence of online IQ tests, magazines promising that you can go down a dress size in two weeks, or the inordinate weight given to a “credit score,” which is mostly based on how much one loves staying in debt). But the church should not be falling into the same patterns, because they can be incredibly dangerous.

I recently saw a great example of this danger in the form of a banner hanging at the front of a local church's sanctuary. It looked like this:

[Click the image to view a larger version.]

At first glance, you may be thinking, what’s the problem here? People do start out against God, are drawn to the cross, saved (justified), and then they mature (are sanctified). Well, the problems that come with ministry by the numbers are often subtle, but grave. And the errors involved in boiling the mystery of salvation down into a cute little chart are manifold and I could go on for pages; but, I shall resist and just address the main problem that relates to my point (because I do have one).

To begin with, the paths to and from the cross are presented as one long “journey.” But they’re not the same thing. You see, you and I are involved in the process of reaching spiritual maturity—that’s a fact. While it is by God’s grace that we are sanctified (made holy in life, thought, and practice), we do have a role to play in pursuing the deeper things of God, in reading and internalizing the Scriptures, in putting to death the works of the flesh, etc.

But since they’re all on one long continuum, this chart seems to at least imply that I also helped bring myself from -10 (enmity with God) to my salvation at the cross. It shows a picture of a sinner slowly learning more and more, getting “righteouser and righteouser,” became less and less an enemy of God until the two of them become friends when they meet at the cross. This couldn’t be further from the Truth presented in Scripture. Even while an unbeliever is beginning to feel convicted of his sins, he remains God’s sworn enemy (a -10, if that helps) until the moment he is born again by the power of the Holy Spirit and his sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Yet the real danger in these numbers is that big fat goose egg under the cross; the idea that Christ’s ultimate act of sacrificial love, the death of God the Son on a tree, only accomplished bringing me back to zero so that I could start working my way toward ten. I can think of no quicker way to cheapen the cross. But sadly this has become a common way to think of salvation—by the numbers.

Let me hit you with some really good news: Jesus didn’t die to make you a zero. When you’re saved, it doesn’t just take away your sins and put you back in a position of innocence like Adam and Eve, (How horrible would that be? Remember what happened to them…) No, when Jesus died, he took your sin from you and he gave his righteousness to you!

If I had to try and put it by the numbers, I’d say this: you and I are sinful people in ourselves and as such. Before we were saved, our standing before God was -10 (or more realistically, the numbers on the chart should go way lower). If we were to stand before God on our own merit, we’d be found to have a huge sin debt, which would even include our attempts to redeem ourselves with good works. Therefore, when we died and were separated from God, we’d be getting exactly what we deserved.

But when Christ died, he had no sin at all—only perfect righteousness and obedience. In terms of the chart above, He didn’t stand before God the Father as a zero, but as a +10 (again, assigning any kind of number to Christ’s righteousness is toying with blasphemy, but I’m working with what the chart gave me).

That means that when Christ died, he not only bore your sin (paying for your -10), but gave you his righteousness, his +10, or rather, his + ∞!

There’s an old Christian cliché to help believers remember what “justification” means. It says “that I’m justified means that it’s just-as-if-I’d never sinned.” That’s clever and it may be a useful memory aid, but it’s not accurate. You’re not just as if you stood in the Garden in a state of innocence. You have perfect righteousness imputed to you from Jesus Christ! (Romans 4:6). It’s “just-as-if-I’d” always obeyed!

And now the big question: SO WHAT? Does this stuff really matter to you and me in our day to day lives? You bet it does! If you’ve been born again and put your faith in Jesus Christ, you don’t default to zero, having to claw your way to a good standing based on your score or performance. (In fact, the process of sanctification should be on an entirely different chart). If you’re saved, you stand before your Heavenly Father clothed with the righteousness of Christ. That should give you the confidence, boldness, and perseverance to pursue spiritual maturity, knowing that your standing in God’s eyes is not at stake, and that your salvation rests solely in His strong hands. What a gift!

Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Zach
Friday, January 15, 2010 | By: Zachary Bartels

Classic Posts!

Update: I have relocated the continually updated page of my favorite classic posts here.

It occurred to me the other day that most of the people who regularly read this space have not been with me from the beginning. It also occurred to me that when I pick up a new blog, I almost never go back and read what I had missed in the months or years before I got on board.

With that in mind, then, I humbly (?) present the best of my posts thus far (as of 4/16/2010), my classics. Classic status is determined by number of hits, trackbacks, links, and comments, as well as my arbitrary affection for a given post. (Sadly, most of my favorite illustrations have been wasted on one-paragraph sermon synopses, so you may also want to check out the graphics album as well.)

And now, without further jibber-jabber, I offer the classic posts:

  • An Annotated Guide to Christian Buzzwords (6/25/09) - Perhaps my most popular post. This list of Christian clichés and accompanying commentary took me some time to compile (hence its excessive length). Feel free to add your own (least) favorite buzzwords to the mix.
  • centuri0n Drama (4/11/10) - My interview with big-time blogger Frank Turk, of which one little inconsequential comment sparked all sorts of high-pitched debate and crossed over into three other blogs (including TeamPyro). Oy vey. Great interview, though, if I do say so myself.
  • Dispen-Sensational! (10/28/08) - My favorite post. A play-by-play of my experience at the Jack Van Impe 60th anniversary rapturepalooza!
  • Jerry Falwell and Jim Wallis (1/26/09) - Featuring one of my favorite Dispatches illustrations (Chalres G. Finney as a circus clown/ring master), this is my ultra-condensed primer on what has happened to the American church and why we're in such a theological wasteland today.
  • Ted Wins (2/26/09) - My two-part interview with author Ted Kluck (click here for part 2), covering everything from pro wrestling to the Institutional Church.
  • Who Sets the Menu? (4/15/09) - A rant on seeker-seeking and itchy-ear-scratching. How did we get to the point where the Church measures its success by whether it's meeting the world's expectations? That's like basing the State of the Union on what grades we got on the Taliban report card.
  • The (Not So) Great Apostasy (3/17/09) - An epiphany that I put to paper when I realized that all of my formerly Christian friends who had ditched the faith had one thing in common.
  • Don't Stop Believing (10/14/08) - My two-part interview with author and professor Dr. Michael Wittmer (click here for part 2), in which he talks about his latest book and helps us understand why living like Jesus is not enough.
  • Me Painting a Bullseye on My Head (12/10/09) - If the Alliance for Confessing Evangelicals held an Inquisition, what would likely get me burned at the stake? The answer: a conviction that I believe to be thoroughly biblical and rather benign. But others strongly disagree. (The real incriminating stuff is in part 2).
  • What's In a Name? (8/13/08) - What the world is the significance of "42 months" and "twelve sixty?" Well, it involves the book of Revelation, but it's even less sexy than you thought.

Thursday, January 14, 2010 | By: Zachary Bartels

I'm Running a Marathon! (but not really...)

When I was a little kid, one of my favorite games was to pretend I was an explorer sailing through uncharted waters to land on undiscovered coasts. Of course, I didn’t realize what scoundrels the Conquistadors were in real life—I just knew they were soldiers, explorers, and adventurers. And the idea of sailing across the sea to unknown lands and discovering places and civilizations that had been untouched for centuries seemed like the most exciting life possible. I mean, how amazing must it have been for Christopher Columbus to stumble upon an entirely unknown continent? Compared with my boring life of school, play, chores, church, it seemed like Columbus’s life must have been one long string of non-stop thrills and adventure.

The truth, however, is that sailing across an ocean, while exciting at times, was more often than not mundane and even tedious work. There are many, many entries in Columbus’s journal that simply read, “Today we sailed on.” That’s it. No pirate attacks. No life-threatening storms. No amazing discoveries or breakthroughs. No great challenges overcome. Just, today we sailed on. Faithfully, single-mindedly, perseveringly, sailed on.

As I look back at 2009 at Judson Memorial Baptist Church, I see a lot of that sailing on. When the end of the year roles around and I put together an annual report (I'm now on my fifth such report at Judson), my default setting is to look for a big blockbuster theme around which to spin the year. What was the big event, the big breakthrough, the identity-redefining, course-altering element that will cause future generations, in retrospect, to recognize the monumental importance of what we’ve accomplished?

2009 had none of that. This year, we sailed on. There were ups and downs. I baptized a few and we welcomed a dozen or so into membership, while some members left. I officiated a handful of weddings and a whole lot of funerals (in fact, the unrelenting series of deaths this year—many of our most treasured bedrock members—led me through quite a spell of spiritual darkness this year). Still, we celebrated three surprise birthday parties for members hitting milestones. There was some conflict within the church (most of it unseen) and struggles making next year’s budget.

And there were a few mountain top experiences. We licensed a lay pastor to preach and administer the sacraments (something I’ve wanted to do since arriving here). I got to accompany the youth group on a mission trip. And we enjoyed a very refreshing and spiritually renewing church retreat at Camp Lael.

But mostly, it was a year of sailing on. A year of finding that rhythm of doing ministry with a new son (and finding that that rhythm is going to keep changing). A year of finishing one sixty-three-week sermon series and launching immediately into another section of God’s Holy Word.

I do look forward to 2010, in which I will celebrate my fifth anniversary of ministry at Judson. I have big plans, of course. I have high hopes for what we can accomplish together for the Kingdom of God. And yet, despite knowing that future generations will not be pointing back at ’09 as an amazing turning point or a year of unspeakable greatness at Judson Baptist Church, I thank God for this past year. I thank God that we’ve been able to sail on faithfully and that, as we’ve sailed, we’ve had his Holy Spirit and his holy Church to encourage us, comfort us, minister to us, challenge us, correct and rebuke us, and through us, to magnify his Name!

Whatever 2010 brings, let us remember that the Christian life is never likened to a wind sprint in Scripture, but to a marathon. May God be praised by the way we run this next leg of the journey.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Zach
Sunday, January 10, 2010 | By: Zachary Bartels

Tips and Tricks for Weight Loss

I haven't touched on the "miscellany" end of "Calvinist Theologizing and Miscellany" for a while, so let me do so right now.

This is the post in which I teach you what I've learned about losing weight.

I know what you're thinking: "Zach, you're chubby. Who are you to teach me how to drop some pounds?" It might sound kind of like the guy who said, "Quitting smoking is easy, I've done it hundreds of times," but the fact is that I have three times successfully dropped a significant amount of weight and kept it off for a good while. Observe:

(click graphs to enlarge)

As you can see, in 2002, I dropped 30 lbs in eleven weeks (an average of 2.6 lbs/week); in 2005, I dropped 40 lbs in 23 weeks (an average of 1.83 lbs/week); and in 2008, I dropped 17 lbs in eight weeks (an average of 2.13 lbs/week). Yes, I gained weight back each time (I'm not offering tips on how to keep it off), but I never gained it all back. All together, there was a difference of 51 pounds between my high in 2002 and my low in 2005.

How did I do it? The old fashioned way with a high tech new twist. In short, I counted calories and fat grams and exercised every single day. The high tech part is that I use a program for my Palm Pilot, called Calorie King Diet Diary (hereafter: CKDD). It contains a vast library of just about any food brand, item, restaurant, etc. you can imagine and does all the work for you, letting you know exactly how many calories you've consumed and how many remain for the day (it helps you pick the goal based on your weight, age, sex, etc.). It also will figure how much you've burned with a given exercise routine. If you don't have a Palm Pilot (and fewer and fewer people do), there's a Windows version of CKDD available, and I know there's an iPhone app that does the same thing, with the added feature that it knows what restaurant you just walked into and automatically pops up their menu's nutrition information.

However you keep track (a little notebook, a smart phone,or whatever), I have found that I have to do the math after (or preferably before) every little thing I eat. What follows are some additional tips for weight loss that I've discovered over the last eight years (I recognize that different things work for different people; these are just things that worked for me):.
  • Pick realistic goals. 1-2 pounds of fat per week is about as much as you want to lose. Any more is unhealthy (you'll lose more at the beginning, but most of that is water weight).
  • Set realistic limits. If you're a 6' tall 200+ pound man like I am, it's ridiculous to try and limit yourself to 1400 calories a day. Your body will go into starvation mode and start hoarding calories. My standard for weight loss is 1900 calories and 35 grams of fat per day.
  • Record an entire meal as you prepare it. While you mix together the ingredients, record the calories, fat, carbs, etc. of each (this is where a tool like CKDD saves you hours a week by doing the grunt work).
  • Tuna fish is your friend. So is fat free mayonnaise (Kraft makes a decent one, which tastes very good when cut with a little Smart Balance mayo.)
  • A big mug of coffee with a teaspoon of sugar easily takes the place of a mid-afternoon or mid-morning snack. Bonus: caffeine metabolizes faster on an empty stomach.
  • Forget low carb diets. Do you really think you can bacon your way to weight loss? Give me a break. In losing a combined 87 pounds, I've never once (that I know of) consumed less than 60% of my calories from carbs. If you burn it off, you burn it off. Duh.
  • Don't eat so much as one M&M without writing it down. Be a completely inflexible calorie nazi. Writing it down makes it real for you. If you don't write it down, you didn't eat it. You have to be clever enough that (even as clever as you are) you can't fool yourself.
  • Subway is your friend (swear off mayo, oil, and southwest sauce; stick to turkey, ham, roast beef, and chicken with American cheese or no cheese and mustard [any kind], sweet onion sauce, and/or vinegar).
  • Have a list of go-to foods--one list for breakfast, one for lunch, one for dinner, and one for snacks (Smart Pop Microwave popcorn and pretzels are two of my favorite snacks).
  • Grill a lot. Chicken, salmon, asparagus, portabellas, corn on the cob. When you grill (if you do it right), you don't need to add any oils at all.
  • No one really needs eight glasses of water a day, but drinking plenty of this free beverage helps the weight loss effort in several ways. I also pound the Diet Pepsi, Sugar Free Red Bull (although it's pricey), and light lemonade. Watch out for sugar free Rock Star and other "diet" energy drinks. Does it just have 10 calories per serving? Look closer: that's 10% of your recommended daily allotment of calories (or 200).
  • Fat free, calorie-free spray butter is your friend.
  • Weigh yourself a lot. When I'm losing weight, I weigh myself every morning and every night. Most weight-loss books tell you only to do it once a week or so because of natural fluctuations in your weight from day to day, but if you do it frequently, you'll learn to read through the fluctuations and anticipate them. Whenever I've gained weight that I'd previously lost, it started with me gaining a little and then becoming afraid of the scale (like a debt junky afraid to balance the checkbook or add up all the loans). Was it GI Joe or St. Francis De Salle who said, "Knowing is half the battle?"
  • Don't force yourself to do exercises you hate. Find something that you look forward to. For me, that's BIKING (in the summer), racquetball, a long walk with a nice cigar, or hitting the treadmill with a stupid Adam Sandler movie in front of me (in the winter).
  • Keep reminding yourself that the longer you keep up a good habit, the more automatic it becomes. At some point, you won't even have to think about how many calories are in this or that or stand there debating about whether to have just one doughnut. It will be robotic.
  • Despite what you read in all the articles on weight loss, I have found that if I let myself splurge, I will regret it. The conventional wisdom is that if you never eat a big wedge of chocolate cake, you'll eventually snap and go on a three-day cake bender. I'd rather have a little cake (small enough to fit into my daily allotment) than ruin two days of work in five minutes and then regret it and feel like crap.
  • If you're married, it really helps if your spouse is on board with you. If you're not married, some kind of weight loss partner is a good idea. I have lost weight without my wife being on the same program (Figures A and, of course, C [don't try to get a pregnant woman on a diet if you value your life]), but it's ten times easier if you approach it as a team. Contests have also worked for me. Friendly competition between my dad and I has proved a great motivator.

At the end of the day, it's all a question of self-discipline. Who's in charge, you or your craving? It's a matter of budgeting (just like financial budgeting). Erin and I are also (if God wills it) going to pay off our last debt (other than our mortgage) in May of this year. We finally got the traction we needed when we really owned the fact that we had to spend every penny on paper, on purpose before the month began. Then, once that paycheck is direct deposited, there's no decision to be made. The money's spent. The same thing is true of weight loss. You have to determine before you smell that Pizza Hut or are offered that cookie that you won't be eating that way. Not today. You've already got the budget written and it's a contract with yourself.

So, having once again re-gained some weight (I'm calling mine sympathy baby weight), my wife and I have started a weight-loss contest that runs through the end of May. There's a cash prize involved, but mostly I'm in it for the bragging rights. Since we're working together again, I am certain that we will both lose the weight we want to without much of a problem, but I want to actually keep it off this time.

So what has gone wrong in the past? Conventional wisdom would say that we hadn't really changed our eating habits, so when the diet was over, we went back to our old default way of thinking about food. That's not altogether true. We were never on some liquid shake or fad diet that was unsustainable. We were very happy with how we felt, what we were eating, and had every intention of staying with the program for life.

What went wrong is that life closed in each time. Look at Figure A (2002). The weight loss ended when I started an overwhelming semester of seminary and, in order to accommodate the hours, started working some nights. It was much easier to run out and grab some fast food than actually pack a dinner. Once in a while turned into every night I worked and, before long, I wasn't keeping track of anything (on paper or even estimating in my mind). I stopped caring. Figure B (2005) ends with my graduation from seminary, moving to a new city, starting a new career, etc. And Figure C (2008) ends with the birth of my son, Calvin. Things were too hectic to worry about what we were eating; we were lucky to have time to eat at all.

So, how will this one end? Will we keep the weight off longer than eight months (my record)? Do you have any tips for keeping weight off? Or additional tips for losing weight?
Hit the comment button!
Friday, January 8, 2010 | By: Zachary Bartels

Bullseye, part 2

I can't believe it's been a month since I last posted here. The stupid thing is that I've had four or five ideas for interesting posts of moderate length, and yet did not put fingertip-to-keyboard because I promised that my "next post" would address specific items of ecumenidom. Like anybody would have even cared.

But, here I am, true to my word, darkening the bullseye. I was rather surprised at how nice everyone was last time around--maybe because most of the "true reformed" folks had already un-friended, un-followed, and dis-fellowshiped me (see last post). Anyway, if you're a "Rome as the Whore of Babylon" type, no need to bite your tongue for my feelings' sake. Let's get it lively in here. And if you're a "we need Luther to interpret Paul" kind of cat, you're really going to think me some sort of suspect quasi-Christian in a minute.

So anyway, the two things I left hanging:

1. The Baptist connection to my ecumenism. This may seem weird, since most Baptists today are über-separationists. And when you read our definitive (at least in my opinion) confession, the 2nd London (1677, 1689), there is a reference to the pope being Antichrist.

But I'm thinking more about the practical aspects of early Baptist life in America. In Rhode Island (before it was Rhode Island), two cooperating settlements--Providence and Newport--were the first places in America where Christians of different stripes lived together in harmony. Quakers, Baptists, Catholics, Anglicans, Puritans, and even more obscure sects, all living together without flogging, banishing, beating, burning at the stake, etc.

Now, I realize that this has more to do with the separation of church and state than how one defines the church, but I see it as a metaphor for a spirit that was present within many early Baptists. Despite their religious toleration and the spiritual benefit of the doubt that goes along with the doctrine of Soul Liberty, the Baptists did not sweep religious differences under the rug. They debated. Week after week, you could find public debates (as well as many private conversations) about the important differences in doctrine between these very different traditions. The ecumenism (if it can be called that) present in Providence and Newport was not a "thin ecumenism" (the lowest common denominator type), but a "thick ecumenism," which acknowledges and debates differences, but does not see non-essential divergences as default communion-breakers.

Even going back further to English Baptist history (the beginning of our movement, despite what the silly "Trail of Blood" Baptists try to claim), we see a tendency toward a broader view of the church. In 1673, John Bunyan (author of Pilgrim's Progress) wrote, “The church of Christ hath no warrant to keep out of the communion the Christian that is discovered to be a visible saint of the word, the Christian that walketh according to his own light with God.” Again, Bunyan didn't sweep these differences in doctrine under the rug. Like many early Baptists, Bunyan was an accomplished debater and, like many early Baptists, he had his area of expertise: debating Quakers.

Likewise, William Carey, the father of modern missions (and the man who baptized our beloved Ann and Adoniram Judson) was pushing for a worldwide ecumenical meeting, in which all Christian groups were recognized and represented as early as 1810. To the over-Jack-Chicked, Left Behind crowd, this sounds like Mystery Babylon the Great just waiting to happen. But to a Baptist with a high view of Christ's historic Church, it's a logical and (if approached correctly) beneficial idea.

2. Communion Despite Differences in Soteriology. So here's where I'm going to plant myself on several people's skubalist. I believe that when we get to heaven, we will find people of many varying soteriologies there (soteriology is the doctrine of salvation), all having been bought by the blood of Christ. No, I'm not suggesting some PoMo "all paths lead to God" nonsense. I affirm all of the Words of Our Lord as true, including his statement, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by me." Yes, it is only through Christ that any fallen human can have any hope of salvation. But throughout Christian history, many different traditions have described this salvation by Christ in many different terms and with oft-conflicting concepts.

There's the obvious difference of Calvinist and Arminian (the issue of whether man's will plays any role in his salvation). The "true reformed" folks would have us believe that any non-Calvinist is a heretic (a Pelagian of some rank) and, therefore, not saved. Greg Fields has (I believe correctly) identified this as a new form of Calvinist Gnosticism. Who could ever read the works of John Wesley and then declare him unregenerate? It's beyond me. And I believe Satan gets giddy over these attitudes. After all, a house divided against itself will fall.

Alright, you say, but even I would have to admit that the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches are doomed, blasphemous abominations, and that any unity with them is simply the work of a compromising, worldly spirit and another step down the path toward a one-world-church...right? Pffft. Wrong.

I believe in and preach substitutionary atonement; divine election; salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. And while I'm happy to make a righteous judgment (κρίνω) about the Arminian view of salvation (and that judgment is: they're quite wrong on the details), I will not judge the individual (κατακρίνω) because Jesus himself warned us against doing so (Mark 9:39-41, Matt 13:29), as did the Apostle Paul (Romans 14:4). For this reason, when I encounter Christians who worship in churches that affirm the Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed, Athenasian Creed, the Trinity, the Divinity of Christ, his death for our sins and resurrection for our new life, his ascension, and his coming again...well, call me nuts, but I think of them as Christians. And I have no problem worshiping with them in our interdenominational Good Friday service or welcoming them to our table when we observe the sacrament of Holy Communion.

I tell sinners and self-justifiers to repent and believe, to flee the coming wrath of God. From my pulpit, I preach a Protestant, Calvinistic understanding of salvation. I don't sweep differences under the rug. Like my early Baptist forebears, I have the debate, the discussion, the exchange. But if a Protestant understanding of Sola Fide is absolutely essential for a church to be considered a Christian church, then there was no Church on earth for at least 1,000 years. In fact, if agreeing with Luther or Calvin on all matters soterological is the criterion for salvation, then, while we Calvinists love quoting St. Augustine and claiming to have an "Augustinian view" of salvation, Augustine himself is certainly in hell.

Even if we make substitutionary atonement the lynch pin (while I absolutely do believe it is grounded in Scripture and is the most biblical way to look at the cross), almost no one spoke of it at all until Anselm of Canterbury (born a thousand years after our Lord's ascension). Do we assume that he was the only true Christian on earth at that time? I'm afraid I cannot. Jesus' promises vis a vis his Church were just too many and too far-reaching.

Am I making a plea for watering down doctrine based on history rather than Scripture? No. In fact, I don't want us to water down doctrine at all. I am making a plea for embracing the tension that is present when we recognize that the Church is bigger than our own movement. The tension I feel between my Calvinist soteriology and the Church unity that Jesus himself prayed for, between my confessionalism and my ecumenism. This tension is going to involve acknowledging that growing along side the wheat is some chaff. It involves deciding where non-essentials end and the beating heart of the Gospel begins, and doing so in a way that recognizes the unfathomable depth of God's grace,shuns all neo-gnosticism, and does not make me and my movement the default yardstick.

How you do it is for you to figure out. I'll just point you to that old maxim, which has been attributed to everyone under the sun: In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity. I believe that's a good starting point.

But, at the end of the day, there will always be theological tension there (as there should be). Embrace it.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Zach