An Englishman’s musings on the Ground Zero Mosque, and what President Obama might have said in his Ramadan speech

In this post: Introduction; The First Amendment; Does the Constitution protect the freedom to ‘practise religion’?; Do Americans have the right to ‘worship as they choose’?; My observations thus far; Did President Obama make a principled appeal to the Constitution? And what about the right to freedom of speech?; Understanding the sensitivities over the Park51 proposals; What the President might have said in his Ramadan speech; Conclusion

A debate has been ranging over the so-called Ground Zero Mosque, part of a community centre development proposed for 51 Park Place, New York. That’s just two blocks away from where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre once stood.

Tempers are fraying and emotions are at fever pitch.

A closer look at the Alpha Course and whether it is permissible to judge what other Christians teach

In this post: The responsibility of elders for sound doctrine; Do ordinary believers have the right to judge an elder’s doctrine?; Doesn’t Jesus tell us not to judge?; Doesn’t Paul tell us not to judge another’s servant?; Is the Alpha Course really that bad?; Is God not able to use Alpha, even if it imperfect?; In praise of discernment ministries

The Alpha Course is a widely used evangelistic tool designed to introduce people to the Christian faith. The Alpha website describes it this way:

Alpha is an opportunity for anyone to explore the Christian faith in a relaxed setting over ten thought-provoking weekly sessions, with a day or weekend away.

The same website gives an indication of its popularity:

The Alpha course spread during the 1990s, initially in the UK and then internationally, as more churches and groups found it a helpful way to answer questions about the Christian faith in an informal setting. There are now over 33,500 courses worldwide in 163 countries and it is supported by all the major denominations.

In the introduction to my article, Dangerous pragmatism – why a transformed life is not proof of salvation, I mentioned (mostly incidentally) the Alpha Course and its developer, Nicky Gumbel. I drew attention to the fact that many people found the course’s theology to be deeply problematic. And I quoted from an article documenting Nicky Gumbel’s apparent denial of the core Christian doctrine that Christ was punished in the place of sinners.

In his comments on my article, my father made these observations:

You also know that I tend to be reluctant to criticise others who seek to proclaim the gospel, even though they do not understand it quite as I do. God is able to use even the most misguided of putative followers to bring sinners to Jesus.

Our transformed lives: what are we to make of good works?

In this post: On professing Christians who seemingly bear no fruit; Paul Washer on our unbalanced understanding of Christianity; Of those whose lives do seem to bear fruit in keeping with repentance; Bonus comments: Brief study of assurance in 1 John 3:14–20; Is it right to share our testimony of a changed life?

In my article, Dangerous pragmatism – why a transformed life is not proof of salvation, I argued that we should not point people to their good works for definite assurance of their salvation. I closed that discussion with these remarks:

Point me then, not to my own works, but to the exceedingly precious promises of Christ that are mine through His finished work on the cross. Call me daily to repentance, and tell me of the forgiveness of all my sin that has been accomplished through Christ’s death and the shedding of His blood. Exhort me not to look inward to myself, but outward to the one with whom I was buried through baptism into death, the one who was raised from the dead for my justification and even now causes me to walk in newness of life (cf. Romans 6).

In his comment on my article, my father made several observations on this topic to which I thought it would be helpful to respond.

In thankfulness for my readers and their comments

This blog is blessed with intelligent, thoughtful and gracious commenters. One of the delights of posting a piece is in the subsequent interaction with its readers. Whether they agree, disagree or are simply asking questions, I often find that the ensuing conversation helps me to sharpen my understanding of the glorious Gospel and its outworking in my own life and in those around me.

The power of the Gospel

What is the Gospel?

I briefly covered this in my article, The mysterious case of the disappearing gospel. But the topic is so important that I return to it here.

St. Paul defines the Gospel very clearly and concisely in his first letter to the Corinthians:

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you – unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.

1 Cor. 15:1–8, NKJV

The Gospel, then, is the fact that Christ died for sinners, was buried, and rose from the dead.

Bob DeWaay on the dangers of spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines

My friend Mike Ratliff presents a superb article by Bob DeWaay that gets to the heart of the problems inherent in spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines. As usual, Pastor DeWaay is Scriptural, clear, insightful and convincing. What more could you want?

If you have read my article Spiritual growth? There’s an app for that, you’ll be aware that there is currently a big push within the Church to adopt these dangerous practices. Mike and Bob show you why this is a Bad Thing.

Still here? Quick, go read the article now – but don’t forget to come right back:

For those who don’t know him, Bob DeWaay is pastor at Twin City Fellowship in Minnesota and the founder of Critical Issues Commentary. He is also the author of two superb books, both of which I highly recommend:

If you don’t have a copy of these books, go buy them now!

Rick Warren plays the Pharisee card

Rick Warren, CEO of Saddleback Church, yesterday played the Pharisee card. He wrote:

‘It drives Pharisees nuts to watch God keep blessing ministries they ridicule & despise.God’s sovereignty is often humorous.’

What’s the Pharisee card? Good question.

Legalism and licence

Which of these two statements is true?

  1. We are never permitted to sin.
  2. We cannot avoid sinning.

Both of these assertions appear in an excellent article by Todd Wilken (of the Issues, Etc radio programme). Todd writes:

They seem so different. One person lives his life striving for moral perfection. The other person doesn’t try that hard. The first is convinced that he can avoid sinning, if he tries hard enough. The second is equally convinced that he can’t avoid sinning, so why try at all? After all, He says, ‘I like to sin; God likes to forgive; that’s a pretty good deal.’ The first is all about keeping the rules; the second is all about breaking them.

The first is a legalist. The second is licentious. They seem very different, don’t they?

Which are you? A legalist? Or licentious? Either way, you won’t regret reading the full article:

Thank you to my friend Paula Coyle of Purpose Drivel (please visit!) for bringing this article to my attention, and for the opening question to this post.

What is a sermon for, and is it right for us to judge a poor one?

My friend James kindly posted some thoughts in response to my How to diagnose a sermon article. That article gave a three-step diagnostic (courtesy of the Issues, Etc. radio programme) for reviewing sermons. You can read his comments in full on that article, but his three main points were:

  1. That I seemed to be ‘casting judgment on the speaker and the sermon rather than looking for the Lord to help you pick out those things from Him which are helpful for your sanctification and growth in Grace’.
  2. That there are some texts that do not lend themselves to a forthright preaching of Christ. The commandment not to commit adultery, for example. And that, therefore, the steps for diagnosing a sermon that I propagated cannot be justly applied to the preaching of such texts.
  3. That a lecture by Dr. Peter Masters (of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London) perhaps did not seem to fit the criteria I recited in my article, and that therefore my yardstick might be invalid.

I found myself writing enough in response to these points to warrant a separate blog post.

What if? (Absolute truth)

Many people in the Church seem to be asking ‘What if’ questions. Which started me thinking…

What if…there exists a truth
which is absolute?

What if…it is true that
there is a God?

What if…this God made
the heavens and the earth?