Sunday, April 22, 2018

Open Letter to Thabiti Anyabwile

Dear Thabiti,

I'm sure you don't remember me, but we met a few years ago. I was one of Voddie Baucham's pastoral interns at GfBC in Houston, and you were a speaker at our annual conference. You preached from 1 Corinthians 12 and the unity of the one body, the church. It was one of the best handlings of that particular text that I can remember hearing.

The reason I write you now, ironically, is because I think you're doing harm to the one body. I think you're causing and prolonging division. You've said so yourself. Perhaps not in those words exactly, but if you'll hear me out, I think you'll agree with my assessment.

If I understand your position correctly, you claim that there is division in the church, and most African American Christians (like yourself) won't reconcile with the church until there is repentance from white brothers and sisters.

Now, I am a white pastor at a small congregation, but one that is significantly made up of African Americans, and unity is of the utmost importance to me. In fact, I just preached yesterday on Philippians 1:27-28 where Paul urges the body to be unified for the sake of the gospel. I love Christ with all my heart and want to see him glorified through the advancement of that gospel. According to Paul, if anything is going to stop that advancement, it's not going to be the enemy that impedes, but division in the ranks. Division is inherently gospel stifling. And so I, (and I'm sure you as well) want nothing more than for the church to be unified, because ultimately, we want Christ to be glorified. He is all that matters.

And so this is why I'm troubled. You know that there is a lack of unity and you won't (can't) be the first one to move towards unity. You claim that you, and other like-minded black men and women, will not forgive and reconcile with the "white church" until something happens first. And this brings me to the reason for writing. WHAT do you want to happen? WHAT needs to happen to attain this unity?  I want nothing more than unity with all people, red, and yellow, black, and white. So let's get to work and identify clearly what needs to be done to seek attain the unity that Christ has purchased with blood. Are you interested?

You obviously want racial reconciliation; and when I say racial reconciliation I refer to racial reconciliation "in the Church," not the world. For it's the unity of the body that I'm after. I hope that when you use the term "racial reconciliation," you also are referring to reconciliation within the church; for it is the body of Christ that is called to be unified. In fact, the only people on earth that can be unified is the body of Christ.


You state that there can be no reconciliation in the church until white people do something first.

You have written,

"Racial reconciliation does not start with forgiveness...There’s no form of reconciliation that starts with forgiveness. All reconciliation—if it’s informed and true—begins with either the injured party declaring someone’s offense or with the confession and repentance by the guilty party. Jesus teaches us this clearly in Matthew 5:23-26. The guy claiming to worship can’t go on worshiping at the altar when he remembers there’s a rift with a brother. He needs to leave his gift—the very gift that was being offered to God for forgiveness. He needs to reconcile. Agree to terms. Get things patched up by dealing with the facts of the offense, and so on, and then come back to the altar where forgiveness with God and man might be enjoyed in a clean conscience during worship. "

So obviously, you want someone to confess to something. You want someone to seek forgiveness for something. And you claim that if that someone would come, confess, and seek forgiveness, then reconciliation will follow. We can make that happen. Since you're the one saying that you will not reconcile until white people act first, then you need to say what action we need to perform.  If you would clearly identify WHO you want to confess and WHAT you want them to confess to, then I'm sure white Christians would be happy to "leave our gifts at the altar" and "first be reconciled to our black brothers." We've been trying to get you to reconcile for a long time.

You contend that you want confession of sin from the "white church" white people don't know what that means.  We're confused concerning what you're after since the white church as already confessed. The Presbyterian Church in America offered a public condemnation of racism throughout their history. The SBC has also offered a public apology to "all African-Americans," as well. White people are striving for unity, even to the point of passing a resolution to "urge churches to demonstrate their heart for racial reconciliation by seeking to increase racial and ethnic diversity in church staff roles, leadership positions, and church membership." And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many efforts that the "white church" has made to seek reconciliation. We're doing all that we know to do.

We are sincerely trying to tell you that we are sorry. So it leaves me wondering why you wrote an article saying, "We Await Repentance for Assassinating Dr. King? We have "left our gift at the altar" and have gone to you, and confessed and repented. You said that is what was necessary for you to offer forgiveness, but obviously, it's not since you're still "Awaiting Repentance."

When the SBC published their apology to African Americans, it was received by Reverend Gary Frost who said,

"On behalf of my black brothers and sisters, we accept your apology and we extend to you our forgiveness in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Ephesians chapter 4, verses 31 and 32 say, 'let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and evil speaking be put away from you with all malice, and be kind, one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as god, for Christ's sake has forgiven you.' Because of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, and his great love toward us, we extend that same love, forgiveness, grace and mercy towards you. We pray that the genuineness of your repentance will be reflected in your attitudes and in your actions. We forgive you, for Christ's sake, amen."

The way that it seems from where I sit, white believers are seeking reconciliation, and some black Christians, like Rev. Frost, are saying, "we forgive you." But you, as well as others, are still saying, "you can't have forgiveness until X happens first." But I have placed X in that sentence because we don't know what X is. We don't know what has to happen.


This brings me back to my core questions. WHO do you want to confess? And WHAT do you want them to confess?  And if you want more than confession and a plea for forgiveness, then you need to tell us. What exactly, in your eyes needs to be done?  Up to this point, you've said that asking forgiveness was all that was necessary, but obviously, that doesn't seem to be the case. White Christians are desirous for forgiveness; for your forgiveness. What do we need to do in order to get it? What still stands in the way?


I don't ask these questions in rhetorical fashion and these questions don't serve to advance an argument. I'm seriously and sincerely asking very real questions; very real questions that you must answer. Your white brothers have left their gift at the altar, come to you, and asked for your forgiveness. The ball is in your court so to speak. You have to be the one to tell them why they still can't have your forgiveness even though they've asked. What more do we (as white brothers) need to do? Please seek to answer this question clearly and openly. What still needs to be done to attain the unity that we have in Christ?

We want forgiveness. We're striving for forgiveness.  Why don't we have it?

We need to get this done so that we can move on to the real work of advancing the gospel. Let's reconcile, for the sake of our Lord. His gospel and his glory demand it. We can't afford to continue stalling on this issue. And we can't move forward until these questions are answered. Let's do this!

"Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel."  Philippians 1:27

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Philippians 1:6 Probably Not What You Think It Means

In the movie "The Princess Bride" the inimitable character Vizzini keeps using the word "inconceivable" at every chance possible. Finally, Inigo Montoya can't take it anymore, turns to Vizzini and says, "you keep using that word, I don't think it means what you think it means."

As Christians, I think we might have more in common with Vizzini than we would care to admit. I sure wish I had an Inigo Montoya there to correct me when I needed it. But if the truth be told, I have someone better than Inigo Montoya. Jesus called him "the comforter" or "the advocate."  We call him, "the Holy Spirit." He has many functions, and correcting us is one of them. Let me offer an example.

All my life I've been convinced that Philippians 1:6 was a declaration of our continued progressive sanctification. You know the verse, "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."

That's about progressive sanctification right? Or is it not? As I was studying this passage recently, I began to have my doubts. It was like the Holy Spirit was there whispering in my ear, "you keep using that verse, I don't think it means what you think it means." 

Before I continue, let me put your fears to rest. I still believe in progressive sanctification. I think it's all over the pages of the New Testament. I just don't think it's on this particular page, not in this particular chapter, and not this particular verse. 

So if Philippians 1:6 is not about progressive sanctification, then what is it about?

In verse 6, Paul references the "good work" which God began in the Philippian church. But Paul is not referencing this "good work" in a vacuum, he's already mentioned what that good work was in verse 5, the "partnership in the gospel." Paul is citing the Philippians continues to share with Paul, their money, their people, and in suffering. In fact, in chapter 4, Paul says, "Yet it was kind of you to share
 my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only."

The Philippians are most likely afraid that all of their efforts have been done in vain now that Paul is sitting locked up in a Roman prison cell. Imagine investing all you have into a company only to see the government come in and shut them down. You would feel like all of your effort and investment has been done in vain. I imagine the Philippian church felt the same way. 

Thus, Paul mentions their "partnership in the gospel from the first day until now" in verse five and then immediately says, that this "good work" that God began will be brought to completion at the day of Christ. In other words, I think Paul is saying, 

"you've partnered in the gospel with me. You've invested money in me. You've invested people to serve me. You've invested in prayers and suffering with me, and all of this partnering with me in the work of the gospel will not be short circuited simply because I'm sitting in a Roman prison cell. Instead, this partnership in the gospel 'will be brought to completion at the day of Jesus Christ' so don't worry. Be encouraged. Nothing was in vain. The work will not stop just because I'm behind bars."

I think that makes verse 6 encouraging for two reasons.

1. Whatever you have done in service to God will not be lost, thwarted, short circuited, erased, or diminished. God WILL bring it to completion at the day of Christ. So whatever you've done in service to God that you feel like was done in vain, you're wrong. Partnering with God in the work of the gospel will be brought to completion at the day of Christ, even if our natural eyes see it having come to an end. Don't believe the way things appear. God is still using what you thought was done in vain. 

2. We can be encouraged to continue our efforts for the sake of the advancement of the gospel with full assurance that our efforts are not in vain and never will be. 

Thus, we have hope for both the seed that we have planted in the past, and the seed that we have opportunity to plant today, and tomorrow. 

So let's roll up our sleeves, get to work, and join in the gospel work that God is doing. We have full assurance that our partnership in the gospel will not be in vain, God will bring it to completion at the day of Christ. 

Here are two more detailed arguments concerning verse 6. 



Sunday, March 11, 2018

Shane Claiborne's False Gospel

My wife often calls me prolix. It's a word that we learned from watching Downton Abby. It means that I talk a lot. Case in point, today someone asked me a question on Facebook. I typed out my answer, and it was too long to post. So I'm creating a blog post just for that particular answer.

Since it's a Facebook comment, you won't find citations, you may find poor grammar or misspellings, but at the end of the day, you'll find my answer. Oh wait. I guess I should give you the question.

"What makes you think that Shane Claiborne is not a brother in Christ?"

This is going to be hard for me to do because Claiborne hides pretty well. Many years ago, when the emergent church was being developed, men like Rob Bell, Brian McClaren,Tony Campolo, Doug Pagitt, Mark Driscoll (who ended up leaving the movement because it denied the gospel), and many others introduced a new sort of theology into the church at large.

This theology had many differing characteristics depending upon who you asked but three points of theology upon which all agreed (except for Driscoll, which is why he left) was 1. "there is no salvation apart from Jesus, 2. God is love, and 3. Jesus had already saved everyone whether they realized it or not." 

Of course, such theology would be immediately identified as heresy by the church at large, so here's how the deceit works. 

1. State that salvation is in Jesus alone
2. Speak about God's love and showing love to others
3. Don't mention that you believe everyone is already saved, no matter what they believe. (as an analogy, imagine a person who ran a red light and got ticketed. A neighbor paid their fine. You tell them that the neighbor paid their fine and they don't believe you. But just because they don't believe doesn't mean that their fine isn't paid.) This is how these men see the atonement. All Muslims, Buddhists, and Roman Catholics are saved because Jesus paid their fine, even if they don't believe. 

[now some of those men hold to the governmental theory of atonement and they deny penal substitution but I'm just giving an example to show that they believe that all men are saved and explain how some of them get there. Other men hold to the same doctrine but arrive there in other ways]

So at the end of the day, you had a strong group of radical men within the church proclaiming that there is no salvation apart from Jesus, and speaking about loving God and loving neighbor. 

What a great message right? Salvation in Christ and loving neighbor! Completely in line with the gospel and the word of God. However, it's the silence of point 3 (that all men are already saved) that makes things very difficult. Because, if all men are already saved, then the need to proclaim point 1, expound on point 1, teach point 1, and focus on point 1, is unnecessary. Thus, point 2 becomes the focus. 

That's why when you listen to these men, you will hear a lot about point 2 (how to love one another), but virtually nothing about point 1. 

Thus, Jesus is preached, not as savior of sinners, but as the exemplar for how to love and how to treat your neighbor. 

Shane Claiborne is a part of this group. I'm not saying that he's a part of the Emergent Church (in fact, he doesn't even like the term Emergent Church) but he's a part of this new wave of theology that holds to points 1,2,3 as listed above. 

The reason that it's difficult for me to prove it to you is because he tries very hard to be silent on point 3. The fact that he is willing to confess Jesus as savior and that he speaks much about how to love neighbor are evident, and make it sound like he's a part of the body of Christ. This is how he hides under the radar. 

But take quick note of what I said earlier. These men of whom I speak, will all write, speak, and act A LOT concerning point 2, (how to love neighbor) while NEVER preaching repentance in order to be saved. (because they believe everyone is already saved) so the focus of their message will always be about this world, and this life, and how to make this world the best world possible. In other words, let's work to abolish poverty, disease, suffering in this life. After all, if everyone is already saved, then what is the need to speak about the world to come? Does that describe Claiborne? Yes it does. 

But let's continue. As I said, it's almost impossible to pin these guys down because they don't come out and preach point 3 (that all men are already saved). So since all we hear is a little bit of point one and a lot of point 2, they seem orthodox. After all, who's going to declare them heretics for preaching about loving neighbor? So as I continue, I'm asking you to look closely and see that they will come as close to preaching point 3 as they can without actually saying it directly. 

This was the case with Rob Bell. He flew under the radar for a long time and no one listened to my warnings about this very thing until he wrote the book "Love Wins" and came out and declared point 3 publicly in no uncertain terms. Of course, once he did, he was rejected by the church at large. You may or may not remember John Piper tweeting "Farwell Rob Bell" when the book was published.

Claiborne continues to fly under the radar but every once in a while his tail fin will poke above the radar line and you can see a tiny bleep on the radar screen. And unless you already know that the Shane Claiborne bomber is in the air, you might think that blip is just a bird, or perhaps a kid flying a kite. Or you might be confused as to what you're seeing and say something like Jay has said, "he seems iffy." You can tell that there is something wrong, but you won't be able to see it clearly. 

So let's begin looking at a few tail fins that have popped up on the radar screen. 

"when the curtain of the temple was torn open as Jesus died on the cross. Not only was God redeeming that which was profane but God was setting all that was sacred free. Now God dwelled not behind the veil in the temple but in the eyes of the dying and the poor" 

Here, when Claiborne says that he sees God dwelling not inside believers who are dying and poor, but he sees God as dwelling inside EVERYONE who is dying and poor, whether they believe or not. Point 3 has shown a bit on the radar. 

"As I looked into the eyes of the dying, I felt like I was meeting God.”

Not those who were believers and who were dying, but those who were unbeleivers who were dying. (not to mention that even if they were believers this would still be a troubling statement) But suffice it to say that Claiborne sees God dwelling in unbelievers. 

"one of the barriers seems to be the assumption that we (Christians) have the truth and folks who experience things differently (Muslims) will all go to hell"

Here, Claiborne is affirming that even Muslims will be saved because it's only an "assumption" that Christians have the truth. 

In speaking to Tony Campolo he tells Tony,

"You also note in your book the encounter of Francis of Assisi and the Muslim Sultan …they came together across major religious divides and had a mystical unity … Maybe we will even find a mystical union of the Spirit as Francis did."

Really? Are we to have "mystical unity" with Muslims? 

"“Let’s dive into the Scriptures together, correcting distorted understandings of the warrior God by internalizing our allegiance to the slaughtered Lamb" 

There are a few problems with the quote above.

1. He claims that God is not a warrior God and was not responsible for the crucifixion. 
2. He claims that God is a loving sacrificial God who wold never make war on anyone. 
3. He denies that Jesus is returning to make war against the wicked. 

"The other night I headed into downtown Philly for a stroll with some friends from out of town. We walked down to Penn's Landing along the river, where there are street performers, artists, musicians. We passed a great magician who did some pretty sweet tricks like pour change out of his iPhone, and then there was a preacher. He wasn't quite as captivating as the magician. He stood on a box, yelling into a microphone,... He talked about how we are all going to die and go to hell if we don't know Jesus... All I could do was think to myself, I want to jump up on a box beside him and yell at the top of my lungs, "God is not a monster.'" 

Here Claiborne shows his hatred for the gospel. He thinks that the God who would send people to hell is a monster. 

"In closing, to those who have closed the door on religion — I was recently asked by a non-Christian friend if I thought he was going to hell. I said, "I hope not. It will be hard to enjoy heaven without you." If those of us who believe in God do not believe God's grace is big enough to save the whole world... well, we should at least pray that it is." (ellipsis his)

Here Shane appears on the radar screen in two small blips. 

1. He recognizes that there are men who "believe in God" but they don't believe that Jesus' grace can "save the whole world" but he doesn't put himself in that category. In other words, he himself is one who thinks that God's grace is big enough to save the whole world. And he encourages anyone who disagrees to pray that God's grace IS going to save the whole world. 

Shane wrote a series of articles for CT called "The Gates of Hell". Here's how the editor sums up his first article. 

"In part one of his post, Shane Claiborne challenged our assumptions about hell. Is it merely something people experience after death, or is hell a living reality for many on earth?" 

You see? He's challenging our assumptions about hell. It's not a place for the wicked in the future, it's a place here and now (because everyone is going to heaven). 

"Just as we are building walls to keep people out of our comfortable, insulated existence, we are trapping ourselves in a hell of isolation, loneliness and fear. We have "gated communities" where rich folks live. We put up picket fences around our suburban homes. We place barbed wire and razer-wire around our buildings and churches. We put bars on our windows in the ghettos of fear. We build up walls to keep immigrants from entering our country. We guard our borders with those walls - Berlin, Jerusalem, Jericho. And the more walls and gates and fences we have, the closer we are to hell. We, like the rich man, find ourselves locked into our gated homes and far from the tears of Lazarus outside, far from the tears of God."

Hell for Claiborne is poverty and suffering.

"Let us pray that God would give us the strength to storm the gates of hell, and tear down the walls we have created between those whose suffering would disrupt our comfort. May we become familiar with the suffering of the poor outside our gates, know their names, and taste the salt in their tears? then when "the ones God has rescued," the Lazaruses of our world - the baby refugees, the mentally-ill wanderers, and the homeless outcasts - are seated next to God, we can say, "We're with them." Jesus has given them the keys to enter the Kingdom. Maybe they will give us a little boost over the gate."

And salvation is salvation from temporal suffering. Jesus died to help us put an end to temporal suffering.

Twenty three days from this posting, Shane Claiborne will be meeting with Tony Campolo at Yale University. If anyone disagrees with my opinions given above, I challenge you to watch the live stream of the conversation he has at Yale. Listen for talk about sin, repentance, hell, punishment, and the need for everyone to become a Christian or be cut off from God forever. It's 23 days away. I'm not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet but I can tell you this. There will be NO talk about the need for men to come to faith in Christ. There will be NO talk about all other religions being false. There will be no attempt to save men from the wrath to come. How do I know this?  Because I know Claiborne and Campolo. They're false teachers.

There may be talk about Jesus and how he loves and wants to save. But be careful, because they won't be referring to salvation from sin, they will be referring to salvation from suffering and "evil in this world."

One of the greatest ways to detect a false teacher is not to listen to what he says, but to pay close attention to what he does NOT say.

Below you will find the link for the live feed of the Yale conversation. You will have to copy and paste it since it's not a live link yet. (at least not for another 23 days)