Archives For EFCA Theology Conference

This past year’s EFCA Theology Conference addressed the important theme of “Christian Faithfulness in a Changing Culture.” I am thankful to the Lord for how he blessed the Conference. It was encouraging, edifying and challenging. For those of you who attended the Conference, you now have an opportunity to listen again. For those who were unable to attend, you now have the opportunity to hear and process for the first time. The links to all the lectures, lecture notes and panels are now posted on our EFCA website.

One of the best ways to glean and gain from the Conference is to process the material with others. As that is done, it is important to think through the truths that are communicated and then to ponder the implications of those truths in one’s life and the application in one’s own local ministry.

When I had the privilege of serving as a pastor of a local church whenever I would attend a conference I would invite elders and other leaders to join me. In this way we learned from others and then we learned with each other as we processed together in the context of relationships, fellowship, centered in the Word of God. I learned that this was one important way of ingesting, digesting and being strengthened to be faithful in ministry.

I encourage you to listen and learn!

Our EFCA Theology Conference on the theme “Christian Faithfulness in a Changing Culture” was excellent. Here is how the Conference theme was introduced along with some of the key issues of theology that are being affected today.

For some time it has been intellectually acknowledged that we live in a postmodern, post-Christian day. However, with current tsunami-like moral and cultural sea-changes, many are beginning to feel and experience palpably implications previously known only abstractly or experienced vicariously.

These tectonic shifts require a different way of thinking, engaging, and speaking, without compromising the Word of God or Christian faithfulness. We need to discern how best to do this with faithfulness and fruitfulness, by God’s grace, for the good of His people and for His glory. This is the focus, the goal and the prayer of this Conference.

All of us know and experience the cultural changes that are taking place in an incredibly fast manner. How many would have thought at last year’s Theology Conference on “The Theology of Human Sexuality” that we would one year later see the number of states that have laws allowing same-sex marriage? These cultural changes have implications on changing cultural mores which influences and affects and changes laws, which we are experiencing. Rather than list what all of us could recite, here are some of the thoughts that the theme of this conference raises.

  • Bible: there are significant questions pertaining to the inerrancy of the Bible, and to hermeneutics, both critical issues for us who affirm the ultimate authority of the Word of God.
  • Church: what it means for the church to be missional, in the sense that its primary nature is missional, by virtue of its very being (1 Pet. 2:9-10). Does the church have a mission or is it missional, and what is it.
  • Kingdom: this is a significant debate with numerous questions about what the kingdom means and how it is ushered in and its relation to the church, and how Christians ought to engage in culture and what Christians can expect of culture, and how and if Christians are to transform culture, among many other related matters.
  • Church History: we are today more like the early church than we have been since the days of the Edict of Milan in February 313 when Constantine made law the religious toleration for Christianity within the Roman Empire.
  • Culture: though Christian fumes remain, and though we were never a Christian nation, we were a nation that was strongly influenced by Christian principles. But that has and continues to change drastically and rapidly, and the “intolerance of tolerance” is one of the key marks of this culture. During these changes, the twin temptations are to move in an accommodationist (liberal) or a separatist direction.
  • Contextual Theology: this is driving a lot of theologizing that is being done today, which often results in the culture being the lens through which the biblical text is interpreted rather than the other way around, which leads to biblical revisionism and liberal theology.
  • Moral Matters, Legal Changes: the moral boundaries are becoming blurred and obliterated, and when the sentiments of the vox populii shift, it has implications on law.
  • Social Strains: the animosity between political groups, religious groups, theological groups, racial groups, and many others, is getting more challenging and the rhetoric is becoming more heated.
  • Religious Freedom: this is narrowing more and more, and the focus is on freedom of worship and freedom from religion, not freedom of religion, and this has profound implications on Christians living in the world but not being of the world. Intolerance of truth
  • Persecution: Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world, and though it includes death in some Islamic countries, it also refers to other kinds and forms of persecution. But rather than engage in a victim mentality, which Evangelicals are prone to do, we must know that this is the precise manner and context in which the gospel transforms, seasons with salt, illumines with light, etc.

In sum, we need to figure out how to live the Christian life with faithfulness in a post-Christian day.

Do you agree with this assessment? Do you see a similar challenge to these key issues? What would you add to the list? Have you figured out how to live the Christian life with faithfulness in this post-Christian day?

Tomorrow I will include a link to all the resources from the Conference.

We live in a postmodern, post-Christian day, which we have known for some time. For most this statement has been made intellectually. With the moral and cultural sea-changes, and the speed with which they are happening, parallel with a moral tsunami, many are for the first time beginning to feel and experience palpably some of the implications of what we have for many years only known abstractly or experienced vicariously.

These shifts require a different way of thinking, engaging, and speaking, without compromising the Word of God or Christian faithfulness. In response to this reality, all too often one either ends up accommodating to the culture, or separating from the culture. As faithful followers of Christ, though we are in the world we are not of the world (Jn. 17). We are, as Jesus states, salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16). As Christians, it is not what we will be but what we are. It is vital for us to remember that during these days and live based on that truth.

We need to figure out how to live the Christian life with faithfulness in a post-Christian day. This explains the focus of our upcoming EFCA Theology Conference, “Christian Faithfulness in a Changing Culture.” This Conference is important for leaders, pastors and churches as we think about these matters and engage faithfully with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have also included a detailed schedule which explains in detail the focus of each message.

The Conference is drawing near, January 22-24, so plan to register soon. I look forward to seeing many of you there, both to learn with and from you.

Fred Sanders has written one of the better books on the Trinity in recent years (The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything). I am grateful he will join us for the preconference to our Theology Conference teaching on the Trinity, “God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity.”

Last month Sanders preached a sermon on the Trinity at Grace Evangelical Free Church, LaMirada, CA, where he is a member. He titled his sermon, “The Trinity as Old Testament Book Club.”  The sermon series is through Hebrews. Sanders preached on chapter 7, and his point was that in that text we learn how to hear God’s Word with Melchizedek as an example.

Here is the key to this sermon:

We can learn to read the Bible so well that we overhear in it what the Father and Son say to each other.

Does that sound too mystical? Learning to overhear the Trinity’s conversation? Don’t worry: It’s very high, but it’s not mystical. Mystical means, among other things, secret. And there’s nothing secret about this trinitarian conversation, because the whole thing is published, and has been for a long time.

When you listen to the Father and the Son in the way Hebrews teaches you to do, you know what you’re hearing? Not a single new word, but a host of old words, from the Old Testament. What Hebrews has been training us for since the first sentence is to hear God speak in the living oracles of the Old Testament.

When God says the biggest thing he ever said, he speaks entirely in quotations from the Old Testament.  And Jesus speaks to the Father in OT QUOTES; We are pointed to some of the Psalms as transcripts of what the Son says to the Father: Psalm 40, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you prepared for me. Behold, I come to do thy will, O God.” Once you’ve learned to hear Psalm 40 as a statement of the incarnate Son to the Father who sent him, good luck ever hearing it again as anything less than messianic and trinitarian. Jesus owns that Psalm!

Why do the Father and Son communicate in OT QUOTES? One way to think of this phenomenon is this: It’s like a book club where everybody totally agrees about what the most important thing to read is, and the members constantly communicate with each other by alluding to events and characters from that key text. If you’re into Harry Potter, then you’re on the inside when they start in with their “boy, what a Dumbledore” kind of talk; but if you haven’t read it, you just don’t get it. And “not getting it” is a serious problem, because even when these people talk about other topics, the constant flow of Harry Potter references is the very language that community speaks. Now imagine that kind of like-minded book club, a community of literary engagement that intense and interpersonal, but not annoying at all. In fact, imagine it at a much higher level, with a much greater text, and with salvation as its goal.

Apparently the Trinity is like a really tight book club and the book is the Old Testament.

Here we have a strong reaffirmation of the Word of God and the Trinity. We also have a new illustration of how to understand the relationship. I appreciate both his reaffirmation and his illustration, recognizing its limitations.

What do you think of this? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the illustration? What illustration would you use to address the relationship between Father and Son, and between Father and Son and the Scriptures?

Exodus International Shuts Down

Greg Strand – June 21, 2013 2 Comments

As announced by Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, the ministry of Exodus International has “shut down.”  They formally terminated the ministry on Wednesday evening. Chambers was interviewed about the ministry, its history, the decision to end the ministry, and a new direction for a future ministry in The Atlantic. Christianity Today included a report on their blog.

In many ways, in light of some of the comments made last year by Chambers in Christianity Today, I am not surprised to hear this. That seemed to be an incremental step in this direction.

My concern with the ministry of Exodus International in the past was their strong sense of “reparative therapy” such that what they meant by it was that the only true healing for those with homosexual inclinations or attractions is to be married and have children – a slight overstatement but only slight. I believe they were well-intended, but over-zealous. It is, in fact, the reason why this ministry, or a representative of this ministry, was not asked to speak at last year’s EFCA Theology Conference. Instead we heard from Wesley Hill, which was intentional and purposeful, and very helpful.

But what we are experiencing is what happens so often. If their original goal was defined by meaning heterosexual marriage with children, one side of the pendulum, then what we are hearing now, at least as it appears to me, is the other side of the pendulum swing such that they are backing away from holding firm on the clear teaching of Scripture. This is not stated explicitly, but it is what it sounds like, or at least there is a equivocation on what can be said and how strongly those things can be said. On some of these sexual matters, the Bible is not silent. Therefore, to equivocate or to suggest that it might be right for me, and it will be what I embrace, but I will not say what someone else must embrace is also a moral issue. Not to speak clearly when and where the Bible speaks clearly is morally wrong. The Bible still clearly and explicitly speaks of change/transformation (1 Cor. 6:9-11), and it also reminds us that we groan while we still live in this fallen world (Rom. 8:22-25).

And added to this is the all-too-typical apology made by Chambers to the LGBTQ community. I am not suggesting repentance and apology are wrong. Where wrongs have been done and where sins have been committed it is right, in fact it is morally right, to repent, to apologize. But often the apology is made in so comprehensive a manner that it negates any and all of the past ministry, including the good. And there was some good that happened with this ministry. I was encouraged to hear Chambers acknowledge this, at least in his own life. And acknowledging there was some good is not hedging whatsoever that there was some bad for which an apology was right. And I also wonder – should the LGBTQ community be the only one to whom an apology is given? Certainly the one sinned against is the one to whom an apology is to be given. Would it, however, also be fitting to give an apology to Christians too? I think so.

Here are a few concluding, summarizing thoughts.

  1. When one is converted by the gospel and transformed by the Holy Spirit, it is often concluded that that becomes the way God works in everyone’s life. In other words, my experience is universalized. The truth is universal; the promise of the gospel is absolute; my experience of it is personal, first, and corporate, second.
  2. Because the gospel brings liberty, freedom, and it is wonderful, one desires that same freedom for everyone else. But in that desire for others to experience the same deep and profound freedom and transformation that the Lord brings through Holy Spirit’s application of the gospel in one’s life, there is a temptation to go about it as if that change can be orchestrated and done by man, by a talk, by a ministry, by a program, by an institution, and not by God. Apart from Him we can do nothing.
  3. It is an ongoing challenge to keep the gospel central in both doctrine and in practice. It is absolutely critical to embrace both the doctrinal centrality of the gospel and the functional centrality of the gospel, that the gospel is central in lips and life, in belief and behavior. Often the Lord gives a person a passion for a ministry that is an entailment of the gospel. This is related to something the Lord has allowed them to experience or to have learned or something from which they have been saved. Because a person becomes so impassioned for this ministry which is to be seen and understood through the lens of the gospel, it becomes the lens through which the gospel is seen and understood. It, then, becomes central and essential, and the gospel is assumed, at best, and misaligned through the grid of this special interest, at worst. This may well be some of what happened with Exodus over the years.
  4. One side of the pendulum is that one becomes passionate and zealous for all to experience the same thing he or she did, and it is expected that it will happen in the same way, at the same time and with the same result. To treat all that way will be hurtful, even if it is well intended. But then the other side of the pendulum is to make everything personal, individual and private, and we do not expect much gospel transformation in others at all. There is little to no expectation that the gospel can and will bring forgiveness, liberty and transformation.
  5. This is related to an over-realized eschatology that expects too much here and now, almost as if the future, end-time kingdom has come in full. Once one realizes that we live in a redeemed-but-not-yet-glorified state, it can lead to an under-realized eschatology that expects little to nothing of transformation here and now.
  6. In much of our Spirit-prompted and Spirit empowered putting to death the sins of the flesh and putting on the graces of Christ, our battle in sanctification, we forget that we still live in a fallen world. We, like creation, groan, longing to be glorified. And not only must we understand this in our own lives, we must also see others in this way as well. No one is exempt from the command to be holy; no one will fully attain it in this earthly life; all ought to long for it.
  7. A ministry begins with a desire to serve and minister and help others. In order to do that most effectively, it creates programs and becomes an organization or an institution. Neither one is inherently bad, but each carries with it certain challenges. It must be remembered that programs, organizations and institutions exist to serve people. When that is lost, then a Christian ministry does need to reconsider its meaning, its purpose and its existence.
  8. There is a huge cultural shift on many moral issues of the day. This is an implication of living in a postChristian day. It causes, maybe even forces, Christians to reconsider things, which can be good. But it must not lead to a denial of the Scriptures, or updating the Scriptures in an attempt to make the truth more palatable. This decision has a bit of this feel. We must not separate or isolate ourselves, for how can we be salt and light if we do so, and we must not accommodate or capitulate to the culture, for then we have compromised. We stand on, proclaim and live the truth. We do so boldly, courageously and humbly.
  9. There is much to learn!

What do you think? How do you process this?