Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Spurgeon's Easter Hope

Charles Spurgeon was one of the greatest preachers in history. He pastored in London during the late 1800's, where God granted him a tremendous ministry. The following is an inspiring segment of a message he gave on Easter and how it relates to the future of all who trust Christ:
"One more doctrine we learn . . . the doctrine of the resurrection. Jesus rose, and as the Lord our Saviour rose, so all his followers must rise. Die I must—this body must be a carnival for worms; it must be eaten by those tiny cannibals; peradventure it shall be scattered from one portion of the earth to another; the constituent particles of this my frame will enter into plants, from plants pass into animals, and thus be carried into far distant realms; but, at the blast of the archangel's trumpet, every separate atom of my body shall find its fellow; like the bones lying in the valley of vision, though separated from one another, the moment God shall speak, the bone will creep to its bone; then the flesh shall come upon it; the four winds of heaven shall blow, and the breath shall return. So let me die, let beasts devour me, let fire turn this body into gas and vapor, all its particles shall yet again be restored; this very self-same, actual body shall start up from its grave, glorified and made like Christ's body, yet still the same body, for God hath said it. Christ's same body rose; so shall mine. O my soul, dost thou now dread to die? Thou wilt lose thy partner body a little while, but thou wilt be married again in heaven; soul and body shall again be united before the throne of God. The grave—what is it? It is the bath in which the Christian puts the clothes of his body to have them washed and cleansed. Death—what is it? It is the waiting-room where we robe ourselves for immortality; it is the place where the body . . . bathes itself in spices that it may be fit for the embrace of its Lord. Death is the gate of life; I will not fear to die . . ." ("The Tomb of Jesus": Delivered on Sabbath Morning, April 8, 1855, by the REV. C. H. Spurgeon At Exeter Hall, Strand).

"51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory.' " 1 Cor. 15:51-54

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Is Rick Warren a Heretic?

The term “heretic” can be defined simply as “a person claiming to be a Christian who teaches doctrines contrary to biblical orthodoxy.” This begs the question, what is “biblical orthodoxy?” Well, throughout the history of the church, three creeds have been used as foundations for Christian orthodoxy: the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. All three creeds were written after a rigorous study of Scripture (which is the only inerrant source of true orthodoxy). They attempt to summarize what it means to be a true Christian. Today, most evangelical churches have a form of such creeds called a “statement of faith” or “doctrinal statement” that provides guidance for legitimate biblical doctrine. For example, the church that I pastor (First Free, Rockford IL) adopts the one stated for the Evangelical Free Church of America (, which is excellent in that it lists the essentials and allows for differences when it comes to doctrines that can be diverse under the umbrella of biblical orthodoxy (such as which holidays to celebrate or Arminianism vs. Calvinism). When a pastor willfully promotes a teaching that is contrary to orthodoxy, especially as it relates to the biblical doctrines of the Trinity and Salvation, that person is a heretic. Some notable heretics in history were Hymenaeus and Philetus whose teaching is described as “gangrene” that destroyed truth faith. They altered the doctrine of the resurrection in ways that subverted the Gospel itself. We see the Apostle Paul go after them with great force in 2 Tim. 2:17-18. Another heretic was Arius (A.D. 256-336). He denied that Jesus was fully God and tinkered with the doctrine of the Trinity. Jehovah’s Witness theology is very similar to this today (which is, indeed, heretical).
But I digress. Suffice it to say that throughout history, there have always been heretics who deny the Trinity, that salvation comes through Christ alone, that He rose bodily and that His followers will as well, that the Bible is the only inerrant Word of God, the reality of an eternal Heaven and Hell, etc. The question before us is, “Does Pastor Rick Warren fit such a description?” I emphatically and categorically would say “ABSOLUTELY NOT!” Take one look at the statement of faith of Dr. Warren’s church (Saddleback Church) and you will find biblical orthodoxy on all key doctrines without equivocation. Since Rick Warren founded the church and is its Sr. Pastor, there can be no question that he both agrees with and affirms his own statement of faith.
Yet rumors persist that Rick Warren is a heretic! Entire websites are dedicated to proving this idea. Some have tried to demonstrate this to me directly by attacking Dr. Warren’s character with vicious accusation. I’ve looked at the so-called evidence and here is, basically, what I’ve found: 1. Slander. 2. Guilt-by-Association. 3. Misunderstanding. Without writing a book, let’s take each of these in turn.
1. Slander. Many have taken an isolated article, talk, or quote by Rick Warren and slandered him as promoting New Age spirituality (which is a theology that basically teaches we’re all God and have to learn to worship ourselves—that’s heretical). For example, years ago, Rick wrote an article for Ladies Home Journal and asserted that, in order to have self-esteem, one must love herself. Critics took that to mean that he was teaching a form of self-worship (i.e. heresy). Yet they didn’t stop to consider that Jesus Himself recognizes a biblical “loving of ourselves” in Matthew 12:31 that stems from the greater love of God. Could it be that Rick Warren was whetting the appetites of lost readers for the greater love of God that he clearly articulates countless times in his sermons and writings elsewhere? Just because he didn’t give a treatise on the nature of biblical love or a lesson on theological anthropology doesn’t mean he is a heretic! This kind of slander happens over and over again with Rick Warren. In seminary, we called this “the argument from silence.” Basically, it says “Look, that teacher was silent on the full teaching of this topic; therefore he must not believe the full teaching.” That’s a slanderous accusation. Maybe he just didn’t feel that the venue was appropriate for a full lesson on theology. If I say “God loves you,” am I a heretic if someone takes that to mean the Universe has affection for me? Of course not! To say that I was promoting such an idea would be an argument from silence. I didn’t fully clarify who God is and what biblical love is, therefore I must be a heretic. In seminary, any time we gave an argument from silence, we definitely didn’t get a silent grade. I can imagine what Dr.s D.A. Carson or John Walvoord (both professors of mine) would have done to an essay of mine founded on such arguments. It would have been shredded! Such tactics were unacceptable and strongly discouraged. Side note: I’ve noticed that many (if not the vast majority) of Warren’s heresy accusers who engage in this type of slander have not been exposed to the rigors of serious seminary training.
2. Guilt-by-Association. There can be no question that Rick Warren is an evangelist. His longing is to see people come to know Christ as Lord and Savior. So, he builds friendships with all types of people. On occasion, he has declared his friendships with Muslims, heretics, immoral celebrities, politicians, etc. He even signed a document (mistakenly in my opinion) that encouraged Muslim and Christian cooperation in peace and justice efforts. He’s also had questionable people speak at this church in an effort to show them good will (case in point, the presidential debates of the last election). These types of associations have led many to call for Warren’s head. For example, some have noted that the above-mentioned document he signed referred to God as “Allah” when speaking on behalf of Muslims, and therefore Rick Warren must be equating Allah with the God of the Bible. The problem is that the word “Allah” in the Arabic language is the generic word for God. In other words, when the Bible is translated into Arabic, the word for God in the Arabic Bible is, indeed, “Allah.” Some time ago, I spoke to a pastor who had done considerable work evangelizing Muslims in the Middle East. He indicated that many Muslim clergy are turning to Christ but are not openly stating this due to the fear of death to themselves and their families. Yet when they preach to others of Christ, Jesus is referred to by the word for God in their own language, “Allah.” Since I’ve studied Rick Warren for many years, and since he so blatantly has stated that he believes Jesus Christ to be the only true God repeatedly, I know that Rick is seeing the term “Allah” generally in the document as a translation of our word for God. He is not, in any way, saying the Muslim-Koran “Allah” is Jesus! Nor is he promoting some sort of merger of the two religions. He is undoubtedly using this document as a launching pad for sharing the true Gospel when he speaks to Muslims and in support of Muslims who are turning to Christ. Personally, I think he made a mistake in signing it because it can easily look like he’s endorsing Islam, especially to his critics. But a mistake does not make a heretic (and, since I haven’t had the opportunity to actually talk to Dr. Warren about his reasons, I may be mistaken myself on this issue). Having a lost person speak at his church is also problematic, for it can come across as an endorsement of that person’s beliefs. But I don’t see it as heresy when the host actually shares the gospel in front of his church while the guest speaker is watching! I’ve seen Bill Hybels do this for years at his Leadership Summits. He’ll have an expert on leadership who is lost speak and then, right in front of the assembly, share the gospel with the guest. Very powerful! Rick Warren has a similar ministry philosophy. We may question the wisdom of the technique, but just because an evangelist has befriended lost people (or asked them to speak) doesn’t mean he has embraced their philosophies. Jesus was called a “friend of sinners” and often associated with the lost (Luke 7:34). Praise God for that or I would have no hope of Heaven (and neither would you)!
3. Misunderstanding. Many people misunderstand Rick Warren’s techniques. Warren’s philosophy has often been to start with the felt-needs of people and slowly introduce them to a deep relationship with Jesus Christ. So, his sermons are often designed to ignite the spiritual appetites of lost listeners. Therefore, he may have a message series on parenting, success, health, or some other value that most lost people long to experience. He then uses that series to show the practical wisdom of the Bible, touches a longing to know more, and recruits the lost into deeper discipleship vehicles (like small groups or classes where doctrine is, indeed, taught). Many misunderstand this technique as a watering-down of orthodoxy. And some would disagree that it is an effective technique. But the heart behind it is certainly not heretical. Several weeks ago, my wife and I spoke to a children’s class. Undoubtedly, there were kids in the class that didn’t understand the Gospel and were not saved. We started our talk with a drama about a mean coach and a kind coach (I played both coaches). The kids loved it and it exposed them to the heart of God in a way they could understand (God is like the kind coach). Rick Warren started his ministry in one of the most lost areas of our country. His community was biblically illiterate and, often, openly antagonistic to Scripture. He did what we call all our missionaries to do. He gave the Bible in bite-sized pieces and in ways the culture understood. When you’re feeding infants, you don’t give them steak (Heb. 5:12-14). There are legitimate differing opinions on this in terms of ministry effectiveness, but these are not issues of heresy vs. orthodoxy.
Others have written and commented on the integrity of Pastor Rick. Recently I came across a blog post by Michael Patton (ThM-Dallas Seminary) that is helpful regarding this topic as are Dr. John Piper’s (outstanding theologian) comments on YouTube. These can be accessed via: and
I’ll close with a quote from Patton: “Folks, if we are hanging out on theology corner looking for a fight, we can find one. We will also always have an audience who is willing to watch and cheer as we beat someone up. But what we will find is that we become blood thirsty after a few rounds. The cheers of the crowd will become our heroine. However, in the end, we might discover that we are punching the face of our brother . . . We need to be theologically discerning. We need (to) ‘appraise’ things. But when we realize that this is all we are doing, I think we need to appraise ourselves.”
I wrote this entry because I’m weary of these attacks on a man who has done so much for the Kingdom. Rick Warren has introduced countless people to Jesus Christ and discipled many as well. He is a man of deep integrity who loves God’s Word. I know this from his explicit words, his doctrinal statement, the abundant fruit of his life, and from several of my own personal, godly, and well-versed friends who know him and vouch for him. For some reason, we as the Body of Christ often attack a pastor or Bible teacher when they become famous. This has happened frequently throughout history. D.L. Moody was criticized for his evangelism techniques and accused of shallow theology as was (and is) Dr. Billy Graham and virtually every other great man and woman of the Christian faith who became notable. I will not take part in this activity. For what it’s worth, I think Rick Warren is a man of God and unless I see him actively and knowingly promote heresy, I will continue to thank the Lord for him.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Natalie's Joy

My daughter, Natalie, is a poet. She's only 14, but has shown a giftedness in this area that blesses me. I thought I'd share one of her poems that I found written on the back of a discarded paper. She was just doodling and came up with this. I call it "Natalie's Joy".

Natalie's Joy

If life were a beach,
I'd be playing in the sand getting a tan.
If life were fast food,
I'd be the happy meal.
If life were a fairy tale,
I'd sprout my wings and fly.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Shack

Several years ago, a woman who attended my church gave me a copy of a book called "The Shack." She told me it was great and helped her understand God and recommended it highly to me as a sort of with-it explanation of how the Trinity works. Since I had a stack of books ahead of this one on my "to read" list, I didn't get around to it. But from the moment she gave it to me, something didn't feel right. I don't doubt her sincerity. From what I recall, she was an involved person in our church, although I do not remember her name. At any rate, since that time, this small book has become a best-seller among Christians. While I still haven't read it, I have learned enough about it to know that the Spirit was pushing a caution light in my soul for a reason. From what I hear, the book masks itself as a profound understanding of the Trinity but commits some serious error doctrinally (as in goddess worship and modalism). Pastor Mark Driscoll has read the book and gives commentary at I encourage you to listen. Here's a lesson on all of this. When a book or teacher comes out with a popular new way of seeing central doctrines of the Christian faith, our first instinct should be suspicious. Then we are to test the teachings according to the Word of God. "Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world." 1 John 4:1. If they pass the test of biblical accuracy, by all means, promote them. But if you're not sure, take your time and test. It's best to test.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Elephant Experience

The Elephant Experience
Yesterday, I attended "The Elephant Room" live in Aurora IL and, somehow, ended up on the front row a few feet from Pastors James MacDonald, Perry Noble, Matt Chandler, David Platt, Steven Furtick, Mark Driscoll, and Greg Laurie. I even fist bumped Platt (which demonstrates that I was the most uncool guy in the building for fist bumping is sadly becoming a relic of the past--I am singlehandedly fighting for its return). The event was shot in a state of the art facility with a studio audience while being simulcast throughout the country. The idea was to put a group of influential pastors in a room together and talk about "the elephants in the room." These elephants ranged from methods of worship to poverty theology to the satellite church strategy. I found the experience exhilarating and ingenious. Whoever thought up this idea wins the cigar (and may smoke it in this crowd). Let me share what I liked and what I didn't like.
Liked: Honest, deep, engaging, and sometimes heated conversations about primary issues affecting our churches today. It was fascinating to watch different generations, theologies, techniques, and personalities engage one another on controversial subjects. My favorite segment had to do with whether it's spiritually mature to give away all your resources for ministry endeavors even when doing so may negatively affect your family. MacDonald made a strong case for enjoying the benefits of God's blessings while also being generous in the Spirit of Christ. He also pointed out the terrible wastefulness of missions programs in many churches and effectively questioned the traditional methods of missions allocation. Platt was inspiring due to his clear heart for "the least of these" and his challenge to the affluent to dethrone the god of materialism. I also enjoyed the banter between the participants. Driscoll's comment to Furtick that his reading list was similar to a "meat-loving vegetarian" was classic. But there were some lines crossed at times, which brings me to my dislikes.
Didn't Like: There were a number of times when some of the guys semi-cursed and made off-colored jokes. Listen, I'm no prude. I grew up in Redneck Louisiana. Swamp People is not just a television show for me. It's home! Cussing is my native language! But God has been urging me to be more holy for many years now and has convicted me on course jesting and the use of questionable words. It wasn't helpful to me to see pastors I respect push the envelope here. Case in point: all participants agreed that joking about homosexuality was not helpful. Yet MacDonald, the host of the event and clearly a mentor to the younger guys, jokingly states that Driscoll has a "man-crush" on Chandler. Funny, but didn't feel right. Although, I must admit, I laughed--couldn't help it.
Surprises: It's worth mentioning a final category of surprises. I was surprised at how witty Driscoll is. Some of his one-liners seemed to come from alien intelligence. It was like watching Spock with a personality. When he referred to God speaking through a donkey as “the Shrek verse,” I thought I saw pointed ears. I was also pleasantly surprised at Platt's humility. His heart for the hurting, quiet persona (MacDonald even had to ask him to speak up), and his kind demeanor were refreshing. I walked away convinced he is the real deal.
I'd like to see them do another one in the years to come with a new line-up. It would have been interesting to see greater stylistic and generational diversity. For example, a Chuck Swindoll with a conservative, Evangelical Anglican would have been interesting as well as racial diversity. But overall, it was an awesome experience.