Showing posts with label Insanely long. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Insanely long. Show all posts
Monday, March 7, 2011 | By: Zachary Bartels

When Killing Pets Gets Fun


Why Lent Will Last Five Months

This is going to be huge, people. And by that, I mostly mean that it’s going to be really long, but I also mean that—in the context of my little life and ministry—it may prove rather significant. Or not.

Back story: My wife and I went to a John Reuben concert last Friday at the beautiful State Theatre in my home town of Bay City, Michigan. Of course, it was incredible, as Mr. Zappin is one of the best showmen working today and knows how to ramp up the energy in a crowd with no effort at all. His music is also snappy.

Man, the camera on my cell phone sucks...

Now, I used to be the first guy in the mosh pit and the last guy out, but since about 2003, I'd rather sit and enjoy the performance. I hate it when I have to stand up at a concert in order to see. I mean, you pay for a seat, right? So, I was pleased to find a couple spots in the balcony with a great view of the stage. Add to that the dirt-cheap popcorn, Raisinets, and Mt. Dew from the snack bar and I was in concert heaven. An up-and-coming regional group called the Matt Moore Band opened up; they were great, and I’m sure they’ll be hitting the national scene soon.

Understand that Pastor Zach has been to a lot of concerts. From 1994-1996, I was a deejay at a Christian music station (89.1 FM, WTRK the ROCK), and the benefits package consisted of free trips to pretty much every Christian concert in the area. The summer months were the busiest, when I went to at least one concert a week, usually more. I saw a lot of merch tables and intentional branding. I heard a lot of rather Finneyistic altar calls. I could fill volumes with the raspy pseudo-theological musings that I heard from A, B, and C-list Christian singers.

And I loved it.

Shortly after leaving that gig, I became a youth pastor. i.e., lots more concerts, lots more merch, lots more “talks”. With my graduation from college, my marriage, and the birth of my son, that sort of thing has gone by the wayside, as I suppose it should.

But attending this concert just down the road from where I used to spin CDs was a bizarre, deja-vu-ish experience. Although for different reasons (back stage pass, manning the radio station’s booth, keeping an eye on squirrely youth group members, etc.), I often watched those many former concerts from a detached distance as well, occasionaly while munching on green room goodies. Add in the fact that the place was 90% youth group kids, and I felt a bit as if I had travelled back in time to re-experience the sort of live-music-induced, uber-positive vibes that I rarely encounter these days.

And, man, was this show—in every way—postive! Reuben led the crowd in singing Happy Birthday to an elated 8th grade girl near the front. He “opened the mic to any other emcees in the building,” an exercise which netted three eleven-year-old kids who called themselves Triple Beat and a painfully dorky forty-five year old dad who filled his embarrassing my kids quota for the next decade. Through all this, Reuben remained steadfastly amped and upbeat. There was no hint of bitterness that he used to play venues ten times bigger (perhaps he still does); he poured himself into that show like he would have if there were fifty thousand people present. My hat is off to the man.

So what does this have to do with Lent? (Or killing pets?) Well, in the after-glow of this event, I decided what I would give up for Lent this year (cue Fundie joke about giving up “popish traditions”). It’s actually quite fitting, given the nostalgic turn of the night, as my devotional life was completely wound up in my concert-going, raspy-spiritual-talk-hearing, T-shirt-slogan, high-pressure-invitation-witnessing life during my deejay days.

So here it is: I’m giving up spiritual negativity. Seriously.

What does this mean? Well, it resists being described succinctly. For starters, it means I won’t be listening to certain podcasts or regularly reading certain blogs—the ones dedicated to exposing the false teachings of everyone everywhere and slaying heretics with a fiery sword, the ones that often (literally) make a game out of spotting and crushing error. It means I won’t be writing those kinds of blog posts myself. It means skipping the semi-regular portion of my sermon where I show how wrong “certain preachers” (always unnamed) are in their interpretation of this or that text. It means I’ll resist the urge to go off on Christian music, movies, and T-shirts for being so trite, stupid, and embarrassing . . . even when they are.

What does it not mean? Well, I’m not losing my Gen X sarcastic sense of humor, for starters. I’m not bailing on writing my chapters for Beauty and the Mark of the Beast (which almost immediately stopped being a critique of anything and started just being a goofy literary cartoon).I’m not setting aside the use of the Law in my preaching or my evangelism. I’m not shirking my responsibility to discernment in my pastoral ministry (i.e., if someone asks me about a given teaching or teacher, I will respond biblically and truthfully; ibid if a prominent false teaching begins to affect my congregation and must be dealt with . . . I just won’t be searching and destroying heresies like Dog the Bounty Hunter).

And most imporantly, I’m not changing my mind about the legitimacy or importance of contending for the Faith once for all handed down to the saints, calling spiritual error what it is, and comparing what people say in God’s name to what God actually said in His Word. Yes, I am aware that a lot of what Paul, John, James, and even Jesus wrote/said could potentially be branded “spiritual negativity.” I am aware that the same people who throw around the terms “heresy hunter” and “doctrine cop” in a derisive way would probably be horrified if they read the Church Fathers.

But here’s the thing: for Jesus and his apostles, contending against wolves was not the main event. Preaching the Gospel was. Dealing with false teachers and creeping error was an unfortunate necessity. I’m afraid that, for many today, it’s not the fishing but the hunting that really gets them going. I can see myself very slowly trending in that direction. And that is not good.

Let me put it this way: my childhood cat, Clifford (who was with the family for 21 years) was recently given to a nice family who lives on a farm. In other words, he was driven to the vet, where he was given an injection of something deadly, and Clifford stopped living. I’m thankful that there are people willing to do that job; it needed to be done, as the poor old thing could no longer even find his way to his food bowl without help. It’s a necessary task, but probably the biggest downer in the day of any vet. But what if Dr. So-and-so started to like putting down animals? What if he never killed anything that wasn’t specifically brought in for that purpose, but he started deriving great pleasure from making the injections and watching the animals die? Wouldn’t that concern you? Shouldn't it concern him?

Or maybe a better analogy is the flyer I received at the church last week for a company that comes in and “cleans up” after a death, violent crime, or suicide. These people viewed it as a ministry, caring for families when they were at their weakest and couldn't deal with the grizzly reminders in the drapes or the rug. And God bless them for it. But what if one of those guys started to like the blood and guts? What if he reached the point where his favorite thing to do was to pick pieces of skull and brain off of a linoleum floor?

In neither case would society be worse off, I suppose, (grizzly jobs need to be done), but that individual would be headed down a decidedly jacked up, unhealthy road. And while the church might perhaps benefit from even the most blood-thirsty heretic hound, I don’t think it’s good for them (the hounds themselves) when they relish the kill like that.

Am I changing my theology because of a corny experience in a big room full of youth group kids? Nah, I’m not changing my theology at all. I just want another chance to be that guy who could listen to Geoff Moore talk about his “quiet time” or pop in a “Christian movie”—not without discernment, but more expecting that God might speak through it than suspecting that it’s a conduit of deadly error. This is, I believe, a needed repreive for me—a safeguard in my sanctification. And I’m not trying to tell you that I received some revelation through the mouth of John Reuben or the kids of Triple Beat. This was good old fashioned Providence at its best.

So why will Lent last five months? Because the forty days of Lent are really incidental to this whole thing, and I don’t think forty days is a long enough detox period. Perhaps I was already thinking of Brian McLaren's recently concluded self-imposed five year moratorium on discussing homosexuality. Five years may be over-committing. Five months, I can handle. And why bring up McLaren? Because the hardcore ODM guys who will undoubtedly see this as some sort of swipe at them will be horribly scandalized by the dropping of BM's name.

And Lent hasn’t started yet.

For the record, of course McLaren’s books are full of rank heresy (especially his last one) and are dangerous to the Church at large. But, for the next five months, the Church at large will have to do without me on counter-offensive.

If you’re still with me, then you’re a true-blue reader of this blog. I’ll still be writing during the next five months, still determined to know nothing among you but Christ and Him crucified. Nothing at all, not even heretics and them humiliated.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Zach
Wednesday, October 20, 2010 | By: Zachary Bartels

Bombing Bridges


Carifications Born of an Internet Blow-Up

Note: The following post is more or less part 2 of this older post. In the former, I addressed why I think it is often necessary to respond strongly to false religious ideas that are being advanced in the public square. In this post, I explain how I go about deciding which claims warrant such a response. I know it’s insanely long and you probably won’t read the whole thing. That’s okay; I wrote it for me.

Also Note: I am well aware that, in many ways, arguing on the Internet is akin to entering a Twilight Saga trivia contest—even if you win, you still entered a Twilight trivia contest.

If you don’t find yourself publicly rebuked once in a while, you’re doing it wrong. At least that seems to be the conventional wisdom among we New Calvinists (and, I suppose, Christ’s words in Luke 6:26 could be offered as biblical evidence of this to some degree). The word troll was invented for those who intentionally invite the public rebukes because they like the feeling, but most people—healthy people— aren’t crazy about the prospect. You can count me among that number.

Recently, though, I was harshly admonished (first on a blog and then on facebook) by a guy who’s been my friend for much of my life. The long and short of it: I’m apparently a self-righteous jerk who “throws people under the bus” if they aren’t of the exact same theological stripe as me or don’t do things in the exact same way that I do. The idea is that I’ve got God in a box (although those words weren’t used, the equally trite phrase “my God is bigger than that” was), and I’m unnecessarily divisive to boot. The case in point was my posting a video of a Hannah Montana song being performed at a mega-church service (where it was billed as “worship”) and posing the question, “If this is worship, who is being worshiped?”

I deleted the entire exchange, which ended in private message and began with the issuing of anethamas in my direction (albeit slightly softened by replacing “cursed be...” with “shame on...”). Lots of buzzwords and clichés, but little actual content, followed, capped with, “No wonder we haven’t reached the whole world yet.” (And here I didn’t even know we were trying to proclaim the message of Hannah Montana to all nations).

I can’t be too critical here, though, as my friend’s words and tone remind me of myself about ten years ago, when I was just starting seminary. My theology was undeveloped and based more in popular trends than serious study, but I tried to make up for it with extra-strong opinions and an extra-incredulous disposition. (Of course, that being the case, I would have responded incredulously to the very suggestion).1

I answered all this by pointing out that St. Paul often responded very strongly to false teaching that was in danger of twisting or obscuring the Gospel, as did St. John, St. Peter, Jude, and pretty much all the prophets—in ways that make me look like Stewart Smalley.

After all, it was the Apostle Paul who wrote, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

But when I brought that up, my friend said,

“... quote Paul all you want, i’ll stick with Christ who encourages us to go, live, and love... ”
Of course, this “Red Letter hermeneutic” shows a lack of understanding regarding the inspiration of Scripture, but it also overlooks much of what Christ taught during his earthly ministry. Our Lord Jesus taught more about being on guard against false doctrine, false prophets, false christs, false teachers, wolves in sheeps’ clothing, and dangerous theological leaven than anyone else in Scripture. The love Jesus taught and modeled doesn’t look like path-of-least-resistance, flower child love. Sometimes it looks like this or this.

But here’s the funny thing: from the other side, I’m occasionally accused of having way too big a tent when it comes to the Church. For those who know me, the very notion that I make a habit of excluding Christians of other traditions is downright laughable. My view of the Kingdom stretches from Rome to Constantinople (the long way around) and includes everything in between. (See this post and this post, where I talk at length about this topic.)

Compared to many in the circles I travel, I am laid back to a fault when it comes to what should be exposed, anathematized, and refuted. I have again and again come out against neo-gnostic Calvinism (the notion that everyone who leans Arminian is a suspect Christian, unfit for service or ordination). I don’t dismiss Roman Catholics out-of-hand as non-Christians. I don’t indulge in screeds against the use of “worldly” music styles in worship (so long as it is actually worshiping Our Lord I don’t care what genre or instruments you employ). And I totally want to meet Billy Graham before he dies.

By holding a big-tent view of the Church, even while defending to the wall the doctrines of the orthodox faith, I’m often seen as reactionary and harsh by emergent types and seeker-driven Christians, and as compromising and overly accommodating by my more confessional/ fundamental friends.

Now, is it possible that I am the kind of jerk who gets off on confrontation and, therefore, just says whatever will get a rise out of the present company/ audience, thus cementing my identity as a “persecuted reformer?” I have considered this and rejected it for a number of reasons, most tellingly that there are many, many people (the vast majority of people) with whom I have no beef in these matters whatsoever and who have no beef with me. And this highly diverse, beefless group contains people with whom I differ greatly (here are just a few examples)—people with whom I can share a wide view of the Christian faith, but not so wide open that it lacks distinctives; people with whom I can disagree vehemently and debate passionately without the bridge being bombed (see below) and the inevitable, “Shame on you; you’re the reason we haven’t reached the whole world with the Gospel.”

Just because I often feel like either the most liberal or most conservative guy in the room at many clergy gatherings (depending on the group) doesn’t mean that it usually gets personal. It almost never does—this is one reason I love being a Baptist. We historically have been able to carry out the lively debate without dulling the edges of God’s Word, and then continue to embrace each other as brothers and sisters. Besides, I happen to know for a fact that I dread this kind of spat. Dread it. Still, one can’t stop speaking truth and exposing lies just because it is uncomfortable.

Another friend of mine (who can’t be hyperlinked because he lacks a blog) once told me that he also has no problem getting along with both liberal and conservative Christians and, in his ministry context, thinks of himself as something of a bridge between the two. “That’s awesome,” I said. He wasn’t so sure. “What’s the first thing they bomb when a war starts?” he asked.

Yeah, some people clearly view bridges as something to be burned.

But here’s the point: I don’t know many who would argue that—if someone is actively, clearly, and publicly teaching false doctrine—that no one should point out the error. To let people be led astray while doing nothing to help them see the Truth (usually in the interest of unity (read: uniformity)) is not loving in the least. I don’t care how open-minded you claim to be, within three guesses I can identify a teaching that you believe should be called out and refuted. Obviously, my friend agrees that there are certain things that should be boldly corrected, as he felt the need to try and correct me.

Therefore, the question that remains is: When has one crossed the line into error touching on essentials? In other words, when are we just quibbling over methods or details and when are we obeying the biblical call to contend earnestly for the faith once for all handed down to the saints? Everyone ultimately has to answer this question for himself; I can only tell you how I do it.

Last night, my wife and I watched the Robert Duvall movie, The Apostle, which has been my favorite film since it came out in 1997. It’s one of those Gen X phenomenon things, where it’s not just two hours of entertainment that I appreciate— no, loving this movie kind of helps define me. I almost always cry when the man at the bulldozer is converted and/or the final evangelistic sermon before the Apostle E.F. is arrested. (Oops: I meant to say, “spoiler alert”). And, in light of this whole bridge-bombing, I found myself reflecting on the film I had just watched and wondering, “Why does this story touch me, inspire me, and cause me to give glory to God?” It became kind of a test case in my mind.

Let me explain. The Apostle is a story about a Pentecostal Holiness preacher who pastors a large “tabernacle” (with a rather flashy, carnival-esque service) and travels from town to town, preaching revivals, and then (due to unforeseen circumstances) heads to a small town, where he builds up a church in the Deep South. In other words, we’re talking Finneyism par exellance, Arminianism, enthusiasm, slaying in the Spirit, the anxious bench ... basically, a lot of the very American spiritual elements that I roundly reject. This is not my tradition and I do believe that my reading of the key texts involved is the correct reading.

But I know a few local pastors in this same tradition. I pray for and with them. I worship with them from time to time. I greatly appreciate their ministries. We might have some good discussion or friendly debate, but I feel no need to warn the Christian community at large to be on guard, and I certainly don’t worry in the least about violating St. John’s admonition in 2 John 1:10 by supporting their ministries.

Why not? Going back to the test case of The Apostle film, Duvall’s character takes part in ministries that differ very much from my own, built on traditions and understandings very different from my own, but which have something vital in common with my own: absolute Christocentrism,2 continual reference in every form, action, song, and sermon to the Lord Jesus, His death for our sins, His blood which paid our debt, the concept of salvation by grace through faith alone, and a commitment to glorifying God with every aspect of life (although Sonny himself falls very short, as we all do).

Even if I would not personally want to join a church that sings “Jesus, He’s Alright” for ten minutes or encourages speaking in tongues (i.e., Duvall’s church in the film), I love to celebrate and experience diverse traditions that lift up Jesus Christ and glory in his death for the forgiveness of our sins and resurrection for our justification. I love the Eastern Orthodox church, where the notion of Christ’s body and blood, broken and spilled for me, is front and center in the eucharist (the high point of the service). Certainly, I have issues with Eastern Orthodox doctrine and even with elements of their liturgy, but Christ is proclaimed in it as Savior and Lord. Ibid concerning my friends at All Saints Episcopal in East Lansing, who are significantly more liberal than I (both theologically and socially), and yet I don’t know how Christ could possibly be more central to their life as a church. The same is true of a number of Independent Fundamentalist churches whose pastors are firebrands and likely think of me as too theologically liberal. But they love Christ and they proclaim Him clearly to the lost.

I would bring this all back to Paul’s statement, “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”

Where I take issue and where I see danger is where Christ, His cross, and His blood are toned down, twisted, perverted, obscured, or obfuscated; where they are hidden behind or presented as serving “my dreams for my life,” “the vision I’m casting,” or the notion of prosperity. If one gets the impression that Christ is here for my comfort, my entertainment, my glory, or my cultural proclivities, a false soteriology is at play.

A man-centered Gospel is no Gospel. And while my friend’s heart is in the right place as he pleads with me not to “turn people off to the message,” I sincerely want nothing more than to turn people off to that message. For once someone thinks they’ve found salvation in themselves, their heart will be all the more hardened to the true Gospel, which, although it is foolishness and a scandalous thinga stumbling block—to this world and its us who are being saved, it is the power of God, for God has chosen the foolish things of this world to shame the wise.

Solus Christus,
Pastor Zach


1 There is indeed a certain sense of newly discovered freedom (and perhaps an initial smugness) that comes with realizing that your tradition is not the extent of the Christian faith, that things may not be as black-and-white as they were presented to you in high school youth group, and that there are a lot more questions and a lot fewer pat answers than you once thought. But that’s only beneficial if you come out the other side with stronger faith, having wrestled with these things and having realized that, while not everything you thought was cut-and-dried is such, the Bible is still trustworthy and you can know what you believe and why you believe it.

2 I realize that the charismatic/Pentecostal traditions do sometimes overemphasize the Third Person of the Trinity, but as with any tradition, there are different strains and I cannot deal with them all at once, nor would I like to lump them all together.
Thursday, December 10, 2009 | By: Zachary Bartels

This is Me Painting a Bullseye On My Head...

I have a mostly-faded bumper sticker on my 1996 Lumina, nestled in amongst the many other sun-bleached slogans (and the still new and vibrant Ted Wins sticker), that reads EMBRACE THE TENSION. I bought it from myself on Café Press.

In addition to sounding deep, this phrase ("embrace the tension") is really the center of my theology. What many have called "mystery" or "paradox," I think is better described as theological tension. And, of course, when we humans come into contact with tension, our natural response is to ask, "How can I remove it?" Whether, we're talking about a relationship, a headache, or a tug-of-war contest, we see tension as a negative, and usually we won't rest until we've done away with it.

That's why Christianity—in its truest form—is such a hard sell, particularly to Westerners who really have the corner on approaching every tension as a logical problem to be solved. Christianity, at every turn, is concerned with owning the tension present when finite beings commune with, and try to understand, an infinite God. There's tension everywhere: God is transcendent and immanent. God is fully revealed and fully concealed (thank you, Karl Barth). God is three and one. Christ is human and divine. We are justified and sinful. God elects his own and exhorts us to preach the Gospel to all people. I could go on and on.

And what happens when a very analytical Western mind (like mine) starts trying to over-categorize and over-define these tension-filled doctrines? We fall into error. Either by inappropriately emphasizing one side of the tension to the detriment of the other (see: tritheism and modalism; Arianism and docetism; antinomianism and perfectionism) or by splitting the difference, thus creating some half-baked, half-way, tensionless Christianity.

After all, while "God is three, not really one" and "God is one, not really three" are classic Trinitarian heresies, the mean approach, "God is two," is so far out there, it doesn't even have a name ("bitheism," I guess). Another example: orthodox theology understands Christ as being human and divine (meaning Christ has two wills). That's a tension. To try and resolve this tension, the Monophysites tried splitting the difference, saying that Christ was sort of a hybrid half-God, half-man. This too is a dangerous heresy with far-reaching implications, even on the atonement.

It was finally making some peace with these tensions that led me away from Dispensationalism, to an amillennial view, recognizing that the Kingdom will neither be entirely realized in this world (a la postmillennialism) nor is it entirely for the Last Day and the days after that (a la premillennialism). Rather, the Kingdom is both already and not yet (as is reflected in our praying, "Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.")

So far, so good, right? Here's where the aforementioned bullseye gets firmly applied to my cranium. I believe that this theological tension should be applied to how we define the church, who is in the church, what constitutes a true church, etc. In short, to use a dirty word, I'm talking about Christian ecumenism.

Scripture teaches us to judge others carefully by their fruit (yes, Jesus told us to judge, John 7:24) , to determine if they are truly Gospel preachers and faithful teachers, or whether they are ravenous wolves, false prophets, depositors of dangerous leaven. Jesus also prayed that his followers would be one, even as He and the Father are one (John 17). Jesus told his disciples both, "Whoever is not against us is for us" (Matthew 9:40) and, "He who is not with me is against me" (Matthew 12:30). Jesus warned that wheat and chaff would grow side-by-side until the end (Matthew 13:30), while other passages indicate that the visible church is holy, separate unto God (Acts 2:38-41, 1 John 2:19).

Again, tension abounds. And, as with the doctrine of the Trinity, an attempt to compromise by splitting the difference is an absurd non-option. As a result, many Christians just run to one extreme or the other, clinging to their favorite proof-text while ignoring their opponents' choice verses (or re-interpreting them in light of one's own presuppositions). The result is twofold.

First, there are Christians and churches who would never even begin to define what makes a Christian. Doctrine is glossed over (after all, who am I to say?). Everything is considered a non-essential preference. The passive voice abounds. Go ahead and deny the divinity of Christ, the atonement, the resurrection, whatever—we can all sort of agree on a vague "parenthood of God and siblinghood of man" idea. Whatever it takes to avoid offending the golden calf of inclusiveness. This is the kind of ecumenism I hate. The kind that marks all doctrinal differences as out-of-bounds for discussion and sweeps them under the rug.

Then, there are Christians who go to the separatist extreme. Everything becomes an essential doctrine, especially if it can, in any way, be tied to how we understand what Christ did on the cross (although the more Fundie churches will disfellowship you for the most random, outlying belief). Much like the bishops of Rome and Constantinople simultaneously excommunicating each other, you wind up with Calvinists and Arminians trading anathemas, charismatics and cessationists mocking each other from the pulpit, and believers of all stripes making an absolute mockery of Christ's high priestly prayer (which, I could argue, constitutes a kind of practical Trinitarian heresy, as we grossly misrepresent the way Christ is in the Father and the Father in Christ).

This is the basis of a song I wrote a few years ago. (Yes, I'm an amateur musician, or at least used to be, and still enjoy writing music). A couple months ago, I tried laying it down in something of a flat-note-fest, and posted it to my facebook page. A couple of my facebook "friends" sent me strongly-worded rebukes and one of them, with a click, dissolved our "friend"ship.

Yeah, it's that kind of deal. So in this, my hundredth blog post, let me blow your mind with my horrible, horrible ecumenism:

  • At a youth work camp, this past summer, while we were meeting in the sanctuary of a Catholic church, one of our kids asked if Catholics are Christians. I answered, "Yes, of course."

  • I am part of an inter-denominational clergy group comprised of ABC, PC-USA, ELCA, UMC, UCC, Episcopals, and several very socially active, predominantly African-American denominations. And I love it when we worship together.

  • I signed the Manhattan Declaration, not because I think it will do any good, but because I saw so many self-designated protectors of the Reformation getting their boxers in a bunch because the document was somehow watering down the Gospel.

  • Tent revivals and Pentecostal preaching really get me excited, as long as the cross, blood, and wrath of God are clearly preached (and they usually are).

  • I still love Billy Graham and still want to meet him before he dies.

So, I'm just a theological liberal, right? Well, consider:

  • I'm a five-point Calvinist. Every week from my pulpit, I preach total depravity, unconditional election, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints. Sometimes I touch on limited atonement :).

  • I believe that, while he was defeating Satan (Heb 2:14-15) and giving us an example of how to love each other (1 John 3:16), the primary effect of the cross was that Christ bore the wrath of God in our stead.

  • I reject all "purpose-driven," seeker-oriented, man-centered approaches to the church and the Gospel.

  • I subscribe to the 2nd London Baptist Confession.

  • I believe that God created the world out of nothing and created humans as humans at the beginning of time.

  • I believe in a literal virgin birth, resurrection, and Second Coming. I believe that Jesus Christ was (and is) GOD IN THE FLESH.

  • I believe that Jonah was very literally swallowed by a whale and very literally puked onto a beach.

Tension, tension, tension. Am I trying to eat my cake and still have it? If so, I guess that's the case with the dual nature of Christ and the Trinity as well. Am I placing my brand of ecumenism on the same level of importance as these central doctrines? Of course not. But I do believe that the same theological tension is present.

I have more to say on the subject, particularly 1.) how Baptist distinctives have informed my ecumenism and my living out of same, and 2.) how I can worship with someone whose understanding of salvation differs from my own. But I shall do that in my next post. For now, the bullseye has been painted. Take your shots.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Zach
Thursday, December 3, 2009 | By: Zachary Bartels

The Long and Short of It.

This Week's Sermon(s)
2009, weeks 47 & 48

How do you make up for preaching a fifty-one minute sermon? Easy--follow it up with a twenty-five minute sermon. Here are the next two messages in my series on First John:

Sinless of Sin Less? pt. 1 and Sinless or Sin Less? pt. 2 - John keeps laying on the theological tension in 1:8-2:2. To summarize,
1. If you claim fellowship with God but live a life of sin, you're lying;
2. If you claim that you live a life without sin, you're lying;
3. You should live a life without sin.

How can anyone hope to live a faithful Christian life in light of these statements? The answer is rooted, not in us, but in the cross.

As always, you can access all my sermons at

Thursday, June 25, 2009 | By: Zachary Bartels

An Annotated Guide to Christian Buzzwords

In my last post, I thoroughly lamented the sad state of affairs in which American Christians know every Christian buzzword/phrase and how to use it in holy dialogue, but know very little actual Scripture. As an appendix, below please find an alphabetical list of buzzwords and Christian clichés and what I don't like about each--a good old fashioned Pastor Zach rant! Good times.

I've been adding to this list for several months now so, yeah, it's insanely long. Take it in a few bite-size pieces. Maybe it will bring you a cynical chuckle or two in the coming days.

Oh, and please feel free to add your own in the comments section. I'm sure I'm missing some doozies.

Authentic - Yeah, let's all be really intentional about being "authentic." We can probably synthetically produce authentic authenticity. (Cf. "relevant" and "engaging culture.")

Best Life Now - This idea has nothing to do with the Christian life during the 42 months (i.e. between the first and second comings of Christ), unless you consider being lied about, mocked, persecuted, and facing "all kinds of trials" as your idea of "the good life." BTW, do you think they still have this conversation over at Hachette Book Group: "What do you think should be the book cover for this one, Joel?" "Oh, I don't know... How about my insufferable face taking up every square centimeter with that creepy smile airbrushed to be so white that it burns people's retinas?" "Sounds good!"

Christ-follower - I've mostly noticed this listed as people's "religion" on social networking sites. I guess there's not really anything wrong with this term per se (apart from its grammatical awkwardness), but whenever we start using a new word/term in place of an already established word, I have to ask: why? What's wrong with Christian? It's what the "Christ-followers" were first called in Antioch and we've been called Christians ever since. So is "Christ-follower" supposed to be a translation (rather than transliteration) of Χριστιανός? That's over-reaching. I suspect that the real motivation is to set oneself over and against the masses of people who wear the name "Christian," to be part of an elite group of people that take this Jesus stuff much more seriously than those "Christians." And to that I say: yikes.

Comfort Zone - This was probably a good term when it was the new buzzword, but it's definitely run its course. Not to mention that it's misused more often than not these days. Sure, Jesus called us to a life of making disciples and being disciples, which often involves being uncomfortable, but that doesn't mean that we're all called to do everything that makes us squirm. If you're scared to death of speaking before a group, that doesn't mean God is calling you to "get out of your comfort zone" and preach on a Sunday morning. Quite the opposite.

Community - This falls under the category of "regular words that were re-cast as buzzwords and now make me want to throw up." I think I'll just leave it at that.

Conversation - Ditto. This is not a particularly biblical word. It only occurs twice in the ESV, once in the Old Testament and once in the New. The NT reference is to the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, talking about how Jesus has died and how they had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel. Then Jesus came alongside them and did the craziest thing. He didn't say, "Well, just keep being authentic and asking questions." No, he stepped into their "conversation" and provided answers from Scripture. Starting at Genesis, he walked them through the whole Old Testament, explaining how it was all about HIM. Why is it that the new "conversation buzzword" is used to move us in the opposite direction?

Creating a Space (or "Creating a Sacred Space") - Borrowed capital from New Age. I say they can keep it. Our desire to turn spiritual practices into disciplines and rituals by which we enter God's presence is unhelpful at best and blasphemous at worst. And really, only God can actually create space. Besides, the "space" doesn't matter when we approach God (John 4:23, Heb 4:15-16).

Decision for Christ - The Holy Grail of Finneyism and a perfect example of exalting the byproduct. My "decision for Christ" can only take place as a result of Christ choosing me (John 15:16). Shouldn't we be making a much bigger deal of the latter?

Do Church - It's almost like we choose these buzzwords based on maximum grammatical awkwardness. The meaning of this one is kind of elusive. It either means, "Let's commence diaconal ministries" or "Let's make everything really exciting and hip" (cf. "relevant" below). Either way, "do church" is a case of "verbing" (which is, itself, a case of "verbing," ironically)--taking a noun, "church," and making it into an action. But here's the thing: when the New Testament refers to the church, it's using a word that started out as a verb (ek-kaleo, "to call out.") I don't want to make too much of this, since the noun form (ἐκκλησία) had long meant "assembly" when Jesus' earthly ministry began. But either way, when we "verb" the word "church," the action/focus should be on assembling (something we do) or being called out (something that happens to us)...yet that's not what people mean by "do church."

Do Life Together - This may be the most awkward phrase ever. And for what? There's already a verb form of the word "life." When you want to know where someone resides, do you ask, "So where do you do life?" No, you say, "Where do you live?" But we don't want to say that people in the church "live together." Never mind that the New Testament church pretty much did live together (Acts 2:43-47). If we're not going to follow in their footsteps, let's just drop the pretense. Or else, to be consistent, next time your vehicle is in the shop, ask your co-worker if you can "do car together" tomorrow.

Emergent/Emerging - Yeah, whatever it is, it's done emerged. All that remains is to push down on that little silver handle.

Engaging Culture - If you want to be worldly, just say it. If you really want to be like Paul on Mars Hill, then don't sit there and say, "How can we engage culture?" You've just pretty much guaranteed that you won't. (Cf. "authentic" and "relevant").

Faith Journey - Ugh.

Felt Needs - I dealt with this one in my sermon on the Gospel Driven Church. You may want to check that out. Suffice it to say, Jesus never worried about people's felt needs because fallen humans purposefully create false "felt needs" to distract us from our true need (see Romans 1). Every time someone came to Jesus with a felt need, he re-directed them to what they really needed. If they weren't willing to make the shift, he sent them packing (e.g. rich young ruler, woman at the well, the masses seeking bread, James and John, etc.).

Incarnational - As in "incarnational ministry" or "incarnational living." No one quite knows what this means. I'm pretty sure it has to do with not showering, watering down the Gospel, and being exceedingly smug.

Invite Jesus into your Heart - Much more manageable than dying to self and being resurrected with Christ. Comes from our old buddy Finney's influence. For some reason, we don't think children will understand the concepts of repentance, faith, and atonement, so we hit them with an abstract, poorly constructed metaphor that is found nowhere in Scripture instead. Good call.

It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship - My boy Ted Kluck had this to say in my recent interview with him:

"[That buzz phrase] is bogus. It is about religion. When Paul was confronted with the altar to the unknown God, he didn’t respond with: “Hey, mystery, that’s great! You have an unknown God…I have an unknown God…let’s do life together and be authentic in our uncertainty.” He preached. He implored Timothy to preach, and to guard the good deposit. I love relationships as much as the next guy, but I also love the gospel and think that if it was important enough for Paul to endure beatings and imprisonment for, it’s something I can and should take a stand on myself. In that same Acts passage, Paul ended with (v. 31) “For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."

Let go and let God - I dealt with this common cop-out in my most recent sermon on Nehemiah.

Missional - In his book Don't Stop Believing, Michael Wittmer writes:

"It doesn’t help when postmodern innovators punt many of the important questions into the inscrutable realm of mystery. Earlier this year I attended a conference on the missional church. When asked for a definition of the term missional, a leader of the conference mysteriously proclaimed that the concept was too lofty for him to explain. Then he asked us to accept his inability to define it as proof that he understood it, implying that anyone who could put words to it would prove that they did not get it. So if we think we know, we don’t; and if we don’t know, we do. At this point I realized that I had just lost two days of my life to a cause that even the leaders knew little about!" (p. 135)

Purpose-Driven® (or "living out one's purpose") - A kit you can buy to make your church instantly awesome.

Red Letter Christians - A self-designation that means I take the words and ethic of Jesus more seriously than confessional or doctrinal Christians. It also indicates a complete misunderstanding of inspiration, as the "red letters" are no more authoritative and no more the Word of God than the black letters. Again, Jesus himself said that the whole of Scripture is about Him.

Relevant - 1. A cool magazine and now-defunct publisher. 2. A once-helpful buzzword. When Christianity had cornered the market on irrelevance (e.g. Stryper, Lord's Gym T-shirts, and Jesus dog tags), this term came in as a helpful litmus test. Unfortunately, it's been over-used until all meaning has been sucked out of it. Let it die. If we all stop saying it now, then the magazine won't have to change its name.

Seeker-sensitive - What Jesus was trying to be when he told the crowds they had to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Then, when many people walked away, he turned to his disciples and said, "You gonna leave too?" SEN-SI-TIVE!

Soul Tsunami - A term coined before we all equated tsunamis with thousands and thousands of people tragically killed. The idea behind it is that we shouldn't ask God to bless the work we do for the Kingdom, but rather should find where God is already blessing and glom on to it. My first reaction to this is, doesn't somebody have to first start doing the work for the initial blessing to happen? More importantly, though, what if Moses, Gideon, Deborah, Esther, Nehemiah, Ezekiel, John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary, St. Paul, etc. had decided not to obey and begin the work, but rather to find where God was already blessing someone else to lead Israel out of bondage, defeat the heathen, rescue the Jews, build the wall, bear the Messiah into the world, or prepare the way for him...?

Visioning - Another verbed noun. The standard proof-text for treating the Body of Christ like just another restaurant chain is Proverbs 29:18a, "Where there is no vision, the people perish:" (KJV) Yeah, Solomon must have meant "vision statement" type of vision. Remember, part of being "purpose-driven" is mining 500 different translations for every occurrence of words like "purpose," "vision," "mission," etc. The translators of the NIV, though, understood that the Hebrew chazon means a vision in the sense of "revelation" (or, as the ESV translates it, "Prophetic vision"). But even the rest of the verse in the KJV should clue us in: "Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he."

What Would Jesus Do? - Nothing wrong with this question. Just remember, that it's LAW, not GOSPEL. Jesus came primarily to do something, not show us what he would do.

Monday, December 15, 2008 | By: Zachary Bartels

Wow, this is long. Just skip it.

I went to Sears yesterday. As always, I was careful not to enter the store near the creepy mannequins with no eyes, dressed in lingerie or by the sea of appliances, each one seemingly assigned three over-zealous, commissioned salespeople. Instead, I went in under that wonderful sign that says "TOOL TERRITORY."

I was there for one thing: a 40-thread tap to re-thread a bolt. Two bucks; could be purchased in two minutes. But I took the long way around, gawking at all the Craftsman tools. Now, I'm not the handiest guy in the world--I don't even know what some of these things do--but I know that I love to wander and take it all in. It's like a high of some kind. My fellow men can vouch for me here. Every handtool and (especially) every power tool elicits the same excitement/ longing/ wonder that a pinup from the SI Swimsuit Issue elicited when we were twelve. Look at a tool for more than three seconds and our minds begin to fill with all the possibilities of what we could accomplish if we owned it (and all the essential accessories). We go from ignorance to wanting the tool to needing the tool in a matter of a few seconds.

I know what you're thinking. You think I'm going to use this as a springboard to talk about materialism, avarice, etc., etc. Right? Wrong. The draw between a man and a new tool is a sacred thing. I would never drag it through the mud like that. After all, as Owen Wilson said in Meet the Parents, "What got me into carpentry? I guess I'd have to say...Christ."

No, I want to talk about building things. Creating things. I've been doing a little more of that lately. For my birthday in May, my wife and parents got me a table saw (Craftsman, of course) and, shortly thereafter, I purchased a router (ibid). I've yet to churn out a masterpiece. I'd eventually like to craft a large and impressive wardrobe or desk, but for now I'm slowly building up to it (clearly, I'm already crafting masterful puns). I made a couple of rather nice display shelves for my son's dinosaur collection (yeah, he's only six months old...never too early to start a dinosaur collection). They're pretty nice looking shelves. Maybe that's why I went so shelf-crazy, turning an unused doorway in the basement into a pantry, installing shelves for sorting recycling in the kitchen closet, a custom bedside valet with an assigned peg or slot for each of the thirteen items that I bring with me as I leave the house each morning... I've been pretty happy with the stuff I've created. There's something very satisfying about starting with a board or two and then sawing, routing, drilling, and sanding away what you don't want in order to create something you've envisioned.None of the stuff I've made has been perfect, but that's to be expected.

My most recent project was a little pen stand for my study at the church. A month ago, I sketched out the simple little item that I wanted to make. A finished block of wood with a Chi Rho in the middle and two pen flutes, one on either side. Easy. I finished the piece up today and I've got to say I'm very happy with it. Behold:

Again, it's not perfect (some little fuzzies dried in the polyurethane and there's a slight bump where the router slipped on the top edge), but for the most part, it looks exactly as I wanted it to...exactly as I envisioned it.

What's funny is how much went into that simple little piece. First, I had to acquire all the respective parts. My dad gave me the piece of ash for the base. I pulled the two pen flutes off of a hideous purplish pen stand I got on eBay for two bucks. The polyurethane and bolts came from Aco Hardware, and I had the stain left over from a project a few years ago. My friend Terry gave me the wood for the Chi Rho and let me use his scroll saw to cut it out. The assembly process involved sawing, routing, sanding, staining, drilling, gluing, spraying, and screwing. All that for such a simple little object and still it's not perfect. It's just as I envisioned it. But still not perfect.

Do you know why we can design, build, invent, and create? It's because we're made in the image of God. We bear the Imago Dei. Even though it was fractured by the fall, that image of God remains in all people, believer and unbeliever alike (which accounts not only for our creativeness in construction, but for art, science, mathematics, music, complex abstract thought, philosophy, charity, technology of all sorts, concern for the environment, religion, etc.).

It never ceases to amaze me just how foolish the very smart can be when I hear scientists who write scholarly papers, design microscopes, and construct incredibly complex computer models (all via the Imago Dei) attribute our creative abilities to some blind naturalistic evolutionary process. They're missing the most important piece. Observe: My wife and I have a cleverly designed banana stand on our kitchen counter to keep brown spots from forming at the point of contact. You never see one of those at a chimpanzee's place. And they'll never come up with the concept either. Never. Because, some simple tool use not withstanding, they lack something that we have. Chimps may have opposable thumbs, but they don't have the Imago Dei.

So our ability to saw, glue, hammer, drill, etc. and create a desired effect with wood and other materials is a reflection of God's own ability to create. But the reflection is far less impressive than the real thing. Let's compare: It took me a few days of stopping here and there to get everything I needed together to create a simple pen stand. God created the universe ex nihilo (that's out of nothing). I used a table saw, drill, screwdrivers (all gifts), a router (purchased), and scroll saw (borrowed). God creates using nothing but his own infinite power. When I got done, I looked at the end result and send. "Hm. Pretty good." When God was done, he looked at the result and said it was "very good." And he was being modest. When God creates, it's abso-stinkin-lutely perfect every time.

This is how the Image of God borne in humans compares to the one we're imaging (see also art, science, mathematics, music, complex abstract thought, philosophy, love, relationship with Creation, etc.) Even before the fall and the fractured Imago Dei, our reflection of God's image could never have led anyone to confuse an image bearer with the Original. Still, our ability to image God was sufficient to glorify him in a way that pleased him. Of course, since the fall, we've begun using the Imago Dei not to glorify God, but as a giant middle finger in his face. Just look at what we've done with technology, music, and art (see also science, mathematics, complex abstract thought, philosophy, love, relationship with Creation, religion, etc.)

We've fractured that image so badly that only God could put it back together. And that he did. That's what the cross was about--removing our sin, which condemns us, and re-assembling us as people whose wills are in line with his, whose Imago Dei once again glorifies him instead of openly mocking him. For those who have put their faith in Christ, we've been bought by a price and, using no tools but the blood of Christ and the Holy Spirit, he is sawing, grinding, and sanding away every part of us that doesn't match the original image in which he made us.

When I was a kid, I had a big, shiny sticker that said, "I'm okay, God doesn't make junk!" Really ought to have had a semicolon, but we'll let that slide. The issue I have with the sticker is that, while God doesn't make junk, it does not necessarily follow that everyone who gets his hands on one of those stickers is "okay." We've bent our wills away from our Creator's and fractured his Image in us. Thank God that he loves us too much to leave us in that junky state. Thank God that he's better at working with hearts than I am at working with wood.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Pastor Zach

BTW, if all this stuff about a new heart sounds good, but you don't think you've got it, click here for more about it.