Discovering the Gospel before Rediscovering Values

Rediscovering Values is Jim Wallis’ latest book. It is a prescription for economic recovery: applying (out of context) social justice texts from the Torah, together with selective texts from the Gospels (primarily the Sermon on the Mount), while advocating the application of some aspects of Shariah law to the United States banking system (see page 128 of his book).  The result is an over emphasis on social justice and zero emphasis on the necessity of the gospel to fundamentally transform the fallen nature of corrupt sinners before values can have any meaning at all.

Wallis makes the error of applying theocratic texts from the Old Testment, together with admonitions of Jesus from the Gospels (which are limited in their application to those who have forsaken all, denied themselves, and taken up their cross to follow Him)  to the economic and political realities of secular America.

This is a fatal flaw. To quote the Apostle Paul, “the law is good if a man uses it lawfully” (1 Timothy 1:8). There is no better illustration of a man using God’s law unlawfully than Wallis’ Rediscovering Values. Wallis is counting on the law (the Torah, the social justice texts of the Gospels) to do what only the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ can do – make a man righteous so that he actually desires to “do justice, show mercy, and walk humbly with his God.” Man by nature – and by the law – is incapable of pursuing these things outside of his own self-interest.

Wallis is either ignorant of or intentionally ignoring gospel realities, including man’s fallen nature and the remedy for sin accomplished through the incarnation, humiliation, suffering, death (vicarious atonement) and exaltation of Jesus Christ.  He wants to generalize Gospel principles for people who have not been transformed by the Gospel, the end result of which is a kind of humanistic salvation that cleans the outside of the cup but leaves the inside of the cup corrupt.

Bottom line, Mr. Wallis: You can’t apply the words of Jesus to people who have no use for Jesus as Lord. Jesus didn’t come to give general principles for economic recovery or moral values. He came to revolutionize the economy by demanding that we recognize him as Lord – which is why he was ultimately crucified. Wallis is attempting to get the people who crucified Jesus to live by Jesus’ rules without Jesus as Lord.

Wallis’ out of context use of Scripture is too numerous to catalog here, but one of the most egregious is his use of Leveticus 25 (the year of jubilee) to justify forced governmental wealth redistribution. Kevin DeYoung, while not specifically responding to Wallis, offers a proper exegesis of Leveticus 25 in its historical context, which Wallis would do well to consider. You can read DeYoung’s exegesis here:

Social Justice and the Poor (Part 3)

Ann Arbor church’s efforts to help homeless fail

Update: Listen to my interview with Dr. David Apple, Director of Mercy Ministries at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia

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The First Baptist Church of Ann Arbor’s experiment in providing a rudimentary shelter for the homeless is coming to an end.

Sometime this week, a wooden pavilion the church built in 2008 at a cost of more than $15,000, will be removed and given to the University of Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

The church, 517 E. Washington St., tried but did not have success in managing “problematic behavior” among the homeless men who slept in the pavilion, co-pastor Paul Simpson Duke said.

The pavilion was built as an alternative for the homeless who had been sleeping on the church grounds, particularly under the large portico at the entrance to the building. Some church members felt unsafe when entering or leaving the church as a result.

The church wanted to be compassionate and did not want to remove the homeless; some were ineligible to receive assistance from local shelters, Duke said. So the church settled on the idea of building the pavilion, which has a roof and floor, but no walls, and put it on the side of the church’s property.

But it became a place for people to gather and drink and take drugs, Duke said. There were fights among the people who stayed there. And the church had concerns about noise and lewdness affecting its next-door neighbors, he said.

So where did this attempt go wrong? What are the obligations of the church (locally) to lose within its ministry area who are homeless mainly because of self-inflicted causes: drug abuse, anti-social behavior, criminal activity, etc.?

We’ll discuss these questions with Dr. David Apple from Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia today at 4:00 pm ET on The Paul Edwards Program. Dr. Apple is the Director of Mercy Ministry for Tenth Presbyterian. Through their ACTS (Active Compassion through Service) they mobilize 300 volunteers every week to ministry to the homeless, people with AIDS, at-risk children, single parents, nursing home residents, the incarcerated, and people with special needs.

By developing a Bible based approach to caring for the poor they have developed a program with well-defined ground rules. They have trained their people. They understand from a biblical perspective what the role of deacon is. All of this and more combines to produce a successful approach to ministering to real people in adverse circumstances.

Tune in today (Tuesday, June 1, 2010) at 4:00 pm for more.

Catholic Theology and the Re-Sacrifice of Christ

I’m giving serious consideration to taking our entire Sunday School program through the Heidelberg Catechism beginning this fall (and continuing for as long as it takes!). One of the resources I’m working through to help me in preparation is Kevin DeYoung’s The Good News We Almost Forgot.

I was interested to read this from DeYoung on the question of how the (evangelical) Lord’s Supper differs from the Catholic Mass:

To be fair, Catholic theology does not consider the Eucharist a re-sacrifice of Christ. “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice…” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1367). Thus, Catholic theologians do not agree with the Heidelberg that the Mass is “nothing but a denial of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ.” The sacrifice of Christ and the Eucharist are one sacrifice performed in different ways, they would argue. Official Catholic teaching does not argue that Christ’s death must be repeated over and over. Rather, it teaches that in the Eucharist the death of Christ is pulled into the present for us to enjoy sacramentally. No Catholic who knows his official theology would claim that the Mass repeats the atoning sacrifice of Christ, because the sacrifice is “ever present” (CCC 1364).

I’m almost ashamed to admit that this is the first time I have ever heard this distinction. Are evangelicals closer to Catholics in our understanding of the real presence of Christ at the Table than we may have previously imagined?

Bible Boundaries on Your Pastor’s Salary

Pastor Ed Young, Jr. at Fellowship Church in Grapevine, TX is the subject of a WFAA local investigative report into allegations that he is living a luxury lifestyle on the backs of the tax-exempt gifts of the members of his church. Ed Young, Jr. responded to the charges during his Saturday evening service on February 6.

I covered this for two days on my own program here in Detroit, concluding yesterday with a summary of what the Bible says about how much a pastor can be compensated. Listener Jeff missed that part of the program and asked me to summarize the scriptural points, which I am happy to do here.

Here’s the gist of what I said about how the Bible puts boundaries around a pastor’s compensation:

I first went to the Old Testament and talked about how the Levites lived off of the sacrifices (animal sacrifices and offerings), making the point that God expects his people to care for and provide the support for the life of their shepherds/spiritual leaders. How much of those offerings could be utilized by the Levites was clearly stipulated. There were boundaries on the living the Levites could make off God’s people.

I then talked about how Jesus told his disciples not to carry a purse or money, making the point that money should not be the priority of ministry and further that any size purse is never big enough, creating in us a desire to accumulate more and more wealth. I cited the verse that “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Then we went to 1 Timothy and Titus and pointed out that in both lists of the qualifications for pastors, a warning about money is mentioned. Then to Hebrews 13:5 – 7 where the writer warns us to “keep our lives free from the love of money,” doing so in the context of imitating “the way of life” of our leaders, a clear indication that a pastor’s life should not be characterized by wealth. Then to I Peter 5 where Peter warned his fellow elders to fulfill their calling “willingly, not under compulsion, and not for greedy gain.”

Finally to 1 Timothy 5 where Paul makes it clear that we are not to muzzle the ox who treads the corn, that the laborer (the one who labors in teaching the word) is worthy of his hire, but that Paul himself did not make the ministry his sole source of support for his lifestyle (1 Corinthians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8), therefore the best approach would be for ministers/pastors WHERE POSSIBLE to support themselves through other labor THOUGH SCRIPTURE DOES NOT REQUIRE THIS. That said, however, no pastor should become wealthy by worldly standards strictly from ministry income. The broader point was that the Bible allows for pastors to “live of the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14), not to get rich by worldly standards from the gospel.

The Nature of Love in the Context of Christian Fellowship – Part One

The following message is based on John 13:31-35 and is adapted from Jonathan Leeman’s The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love. Preached Sunday Morning, February 7 by Pastor Paul Edwards at Calvary Baptist Church of Waterford, Michigan. The audio is here.


God intends for the way we interact with one another as believers to help redefine love and beauty for fallen humanity. The basis of our interaction with one another is love.

Love is an affection for another’s good, recognizing that the ultimate good is God. Love is from God as a gift as distinguished from the common way we view love: love as desire or attraction.

Love as desire or attraction says, “I love you because you are beautiful, good, rich, etc.” The Bible doesn’t deny this kind of love exists. It just doesn’t make it primary.

Love as gift (benevolence) is not prompted by the attractiveness of the one loved but rather by a quality of benevolence in the one who is showing love: “I love you because I want to do you good.” This is the primary focus of love in the Bible.

During the next two Sunday morning services we will examine both of these views of love, aiming for this conclusion: The highest expression of love is God’s love for himself and his own glory. Therefore, we ought to love God for God’s sake, our neighbors for God’s sake, and one another (in the church) for God’s sake. Jonathan Leeman:

“I should not love you for your own sake; I should love you because you are created in God’s image, because you belong to Him, because he has commanded me to. Love centered on anything other than God is the opposite of love.”

“God does not love humanity because he sensed anything intrinsically valuable in us. God loves everyone because he beholds his own handiwork, image, and glory in everyone.”

What influences our ideas about love that place them opposition to biblical ideas about love?

1. The American Concept of Individualism

The creed of American individualism is: “I am principally obligated to myself and maximizing my life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.”

Every attachment is negotiable. We are all free agents, and every relationship is a contract that can be renegotiated or canceled.

This self-actualization and self-realization has fundamentally altered the way we think about love. A romanticized love has replaced rational compassion as the ideal in all of our relationships:

Rational love (agape) or compassion is motivated by the others’ ultimate good.

Romantic love (eros) is motivated by how the other ultimately makes me feel, based not on loving the other for the sake of God, but rather on loving the other for the sake of ourselves:

“I might claim to love you, but it’s really the way that you make me feel that I love. You make me feel accepted, smart, inspired, romantic, tingly, encouraged, special, warm and fuzzy, turned on, attracted, attractive, , hot, all that I can be, hardworking, creative, full of life, intellectually edified, spiritually edified, like a hero, empowered, built up, great! As John Piper has said, we call it “love” when people “make much of us.”

When self-actualization and self-realization become the basis for our love in the church, the focus of our ministry becomes therapy and not the gospel, because how you feel is more important than any truth about what you actually are.

2. Consumerism, or maximizing purchases for my benefit

The focus on the individual ultimately leads to a consumer mindset in every area of life, including love.

Love becomes an exchange: what does this person possess in terms of character traits, external beauty, resources, etc that will serve to fulfill me and my desires.

The object of our desires becomes the deciding factor rather than the faculty (rationalizing) of desire. In other words, when the object of our desire becomes the sole focus of our desires, we never stop to ask, “Are my desires right?”

Superficiality is the normal result. We focus on externals rather than on deeper unseen qualities. Beauty more than character, income more than constancy, manners more than virtue.

How does this focus on maximizing the purchase for my benefit affect my relationship with the church? I decide whether or not I fit into a church fellowship based on superficial externals rather than on quality internals. When superficial externals have my attention more than quality internals, I evaluate my experience rather than my heart.

We might leave a worship service and say things like, “I liked the music, except that one song. The preacher wasn’t very funny. Did you see any programs for teenagers? Am I comfortable with these people – are they like me?”

We must intentionally focus our desires away from our own self-interest and rather ask hard questions about the not so readily apparent internal qualities: is the mission of this church biblical? Is it gospel-centered? Is truth valued over pragmatism?

3. A culture opposed to any kind of commitment

If the focus of my love is me and my self-actualization, I will have an aversion to making any kind of long-term or even permanent commitments to another person or organization.

“People today are generally more reluctant to enter into binding commitments and associations that will limit the options available to them in the future.”

We worship the god of options. The consumeristic mindset, the multiplicity of options, and the worry of buyer’s remorse hinders the ability to make commitments in everything from jobs, to spouses, to restaurants, to houses, and to churches.

Commitments are not based on the ultimate value derived for the individual, rather than on moral obligation or a sense of duty or a call to serve or care for the other. Relationships become a function of what is purely advantageous to one’s own well-being. Whenever a relationship becomes inconvenient or demands too much, it is left behind.

When the idea of binding commitment is removed from the definition of love, churches become places where personal sacrifices are seldom made.

How do these characteristics of our contemporary ideas about love fit with Jesus commanding us to “love one another as I have loved you”? Obviously they don’t.

The Bible says, “God is love,” not “Love is God.” We have taken our romanticized view of love and defined God by it, rather than beginning with an understanding of God and defining love by Him.

So if I am going to love you the way Jesus loves you, I need a biblical understanding of God as love, freed from the influences of the romanticized view of love, a subject we will take up next week.