Friday, March 30, 2012

Thoughts on the Death of an Evangelist

An accident took the life of our friend, David Mann. A guy ran a red light and struck David's vehicle. Now both are in eternity. That is how fast we can go from this life to the next. Yet we all live as if we will never die. This is why street evangelists do what they do. Call us fanatics, misguided, zealots, or specially gifted--all we are trying to do is live in the light of eternity. Ours and the people we preach to. If you don't know Christ, please repent and believe the gospel before it's your time to cross from this world to the next. That's not fear mongering. That, my friends, is reality. The greatest reality that you face every single day. In the meantime, we must preach as dying men to dying men.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Monumental Movie: A Review


Last night I went to the opening of Monumental, a film directed by Kirk Cameron. I thought the movie was much needed and was well produced. It was refreshing to hear Kirk say much of what he said. The monologue Kirk does with the kickin' guitar riff in the background at the beginning is worth the price of admission. One of the big points of that monologue is the idea that the church has been passive on many of our moral issues. So much so, that many put forward the idea that the worse it gets, the better it is for the church because that means that Jesus is coming back sooner. While the church sits passive on those issues, it becomes a sort of self fulfilling prophecy. Pretty pointed stuff from the star of the Left Behind movies. I wanted to get up and leave the theater after that monologue and go do something.

The best parts of the movie were the explanation we got about the history of the Pilgrims\Puritans and the explanation of the monument that has been the center of some controversy due to some conspiracy theorist type objections. The Pilgrim history was excellent and could, by itself, prove conclusively that America was founded as a Christian nation. David Barton's segment was helpful in establishing the not-unanimous but majority opinion of the founding fathers' Christianity. The Bible from the 18th century that he showcases, printed by Congress for use in public schools with the subscriber's list in the back showing it was funded by signers of the Declaration and the Constitution is pretty good stuff. His claim that it is one of the rarest books in the world is ridiculous (20-some copies does not qualify that set for such a claim). This is the bookseller coming out in me, but there are a lot of editions of the Bible which would sell for more if they came to auction and rarity has as much to do with demand as supply.

Marshall Foster's explanation of the monument (The National Monument to the Forefathers) was excellent. Brannon Howse has made a stink because the Freemasons were involved in its construction. He writes, "It is my belief based on hours of research that the Monument to the Forefathers is not a Biblically acceptable rallying point or symbol for Christians or Christian families or the way we should go for several reasons. One major reason would be that historical documents report that the monument had its cornerstone laid by Freemasons who were involved in part in funding and erecting this monument." He then goes on to detail the fact that some names of Freemasons appear on the corner stone and that there was a list of subscribers which contained Freemasons. He then asks the question, "Should Christians unite around and worship God at this monument?" Since Howse never saw the movie before he wrote his critique he did not know that Kirk and Marshall never "worshipped God" around this monument. But what they DID do was go over the symbolism (which had zero to do with Freemasonry) point by point and suggest it as a guideline for our families to instill Biblical principles in our homes and eventually, in our nation. I am looking forward to some of the study materials that will be suggested by Kirk and plan on going over them with my family. In the meantime, Howse has marginalized himself in his stirring of the pot since Kirk never endorsed Freemasonry in the movie. The point of the monument is the symbolism.

The other main idea of the movie is that kings and leadership do not have autonomous authority to rule and reign as they wish, with no regard to the Law of God. Some critics of these kinds of documentaries will state that Romans 13 gives leaders carte blanche to govern as they will and we must submit. Romans 13 does not even teach this in context because it states, "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil...For he is the minister of God to thee for good" (Rom. 13:3-4). In other words, the God ordained function of leadership is to promote "good"--that which is morally excellent. Kirk does not go over this in the movie, but I am anticipating a common objection to the content, which reveals my bias, so there it is.


Now, for my criticism. In the latter part of the film the movie takes a turn towards obscurity. There was a tremendous build up in the organization of the material and then a vague conclusion. I am not totally sure what the film makers want me to do with this information other than buy some curriculum that they will be offering. This vagueness may be by design, but it is annoying. It's a lot of money to spend producing a documentary and then going light on the punch line. At the very least, a gospel presentation would have been appropriate.

This was evident by the crowd reaction in our theater at the end. Our satellite feed got knocked out in the middle of Kirk's live concluding remarks and a tea party type guy got up and urged the crowd to "do something." He had no plan, just "something" because things are really, really bad. This opened the door to a bunch of tea party types pushing various websites and it became evident that Glenn Beck's publicity for this movie filled our theater since most people pointed to Glenn Beck's websites and work. One retired pastor said that we should all go to church. I could barely stand it, and my wife was even thinking of open-air preaching to this crowd (she has never done it) when a guy I preach with on the streets finally preached the gospel. He started with Acts 17:11--a challenge to study the Bible. The reaction was predictable. People all over the theater stood up and left as soon as he mentioned Jesus. I leaned over and said to Lance (my buddy), "Hey man, you really know how to clear a room." Afterwards, one guy waited at the door to thank Lance for preaching. One. The crowd reaction illustrates the weakness of the movie.

Here's the problem. The principles are all dead on accurate with the movie. But if this movie becomes some sort of rallying cry for the tea party, which isn't fully committed to the gospel or the law of God, it will be a wasted opportunity. Kirk's decision to have Beck do an endorsement in the live feed before the movie began was a mistake. It's going to give Howse and the discernment ministries fits and it was an easily avoidable faux pas. Beck's claims to pray to God (as a Mormon) in that endorsement are problematic since we do not pray to the same God. It doesn't make Kirk a heretic. It makes him guilty of an error in discernment. It's hard for those of us who have defended Kirk and promoted the movie on our Facebook walls when the torrent of conspiracy lunacy was unleashed by Howse's blog post.

I am no movie maker, but if I was a consultant, what would have been wrong with making the point of the movie the power of the gospel to change hearts which leads to national change? What would have been wrong with making a clear statement of "this is where you start" beyond telling us to watch for resources from the movie website? Tie the issue up with Jesus and His gospel and then give us something concrete; like a challenge to read the Pentateuch (the Law of God) and then point to the coming resources? If Kirk had done that I don't think Lance would have had to.

The movie was worth watching and I will be buying the DVD when it comes out. I hope to teach my family the principles behind the Founders Monument because those principles are Biblical (and no, Mr. Howse, I won't become a Mason or a Mormon because I don't join cults). Discernment is not just fleeing from every reference to something worldly in our culture. It is being able to chew the meat and spit out the bones. Monumental is a meaty flick with low bone content. Watch it and bring a toothpick.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Thoughts Upon the Conversion of an Evangelist

Recently I had a shock. Not the electrical kind, but emotional. A guy that I have been heavily recruiting as a student for The Log College, a street evangelist with a couple of years of experience, and a guy I had hoped could be an elder candidate for our new church plant in Syracuse called and said that he had recently been converted. Saved. Born again.

The idea of false conversion is not a new one to me. I was a pastor with 12 years experience when I was saved. I know a lot about the Biblical doctrine, have taught on it, and have lived the experience. When it comes to my friend, I thought I had a pretty good idea that he was saved. Why? He preaches on street corners. He has sound doctrine. He's a nice guy. I met him at an intense evangelism training weekend in California. He had a testimony.

But he was not saved. At least, not until December 2011.

This should be a shock to the street evangelism community but I don't know that it will be. Self-righteousness is deceptive. For too long we have viewed false conversion as a "modern gospel" problem. It's the problem of the people we love to criticize: Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, Jesse Duplantis, and in some cases, entire denominations. We think like this because we have not been paying attention to the Scriptures.

The parable of the soils is not about the quality of the seed. However, too often we act as if the issue is cleaning up the seed and then we'll stop false conversions. This is patently false. Look at the text. Jesus explains that the seed is the pure, undiluted, inerrant Word of God. The reason why there are false conversions is not because of the modern gospel. The reason is because of the different kinds of soil. The heart is at the root of the issue.

Granted, if you neglect to talk about sin, ignore repentance, reduce the gospel to an invitation system, and talk only minimally about the person and work of Jesus you are begging for false converts. This kind of message is not the gospel and can't even be called a seed in many cases.

But how do you account for the fact that when the Law of God is brought to bear on the conscience to bring knowledge of sin, when the reality of judgment and hell are pressed upon the sinner, when people are urged to Biblically repent and trust Christ alone, and Jesus is exalted in all of His glory that there are still false converts?

The issue that matters more than the use of the Law in evangelism is the issue of regeneration.

Here are some lessons I think we can take from my friend's recent conversion:

#1: Being a street evangelist is not necessarily evidence of fruit of the Spirit.

#2: Intellectual conformity to sound doctrine and principles of evangelism is not saving faith. In other words, a decision to embrace truths is not salvation.

#3: Regeneration is solely the work of God and has nothing to do with man's decisions or efforts. A man may be intellectually convinced of the truths of Christianity, but if God does not work there is no salvation.

#4: The parable of the soils does not have to do with the quality of the seed that is sown. In all four instances, the seed was the Word of God--perfect and without defect. Sound gospel presentations and sound theology will not save apart from a work of God. The issue in the parable is the soil in the heart of the recipient, not the message.

#5: Since these things are all true, we cannot and must not assume that everyone who preaches the gospel on the streets, everyone who claims to believe it in the pulpit and pew, and everyone who loves good theology is in fact saved. Because we have lost the doctrine of regeneration, we have reduced the response to the gospel to the lowest common denominator. Because we are afraid to guide professing believers in Biblical self examination, we do damage to their souls by neglect.

#6: I am convinced now more than ever that if there is going to be a genuine revival it will have to start with a mass of conversions within the professing church. This will include those who love sound doctrine and evangelism. It must include the principles that lie behind what we have learned with ministries like Way of the Master and we must preach the possibility of false conversion amongst those we think do not need to hear it. And if we do that, we will need to do it without regard as to whether or not people like us for it.

#7: We need to change the way we do evangelism training. Too often we assume that if people agree with WoTM, then they are saved and only need to be trained in the "how." False conversion must be emphasized and the teaching of it has to go beyond the parable of the soils and focus on Matthew 7:21-23 and similar passages. 1 Corinthians 6 and Galatians 5 are essential as well. We need to talk about the fall away (from the gospel, not evangelism) we've seen in street evangelism circles, and we need to warn people that their interest in evangelism is no indicator of their salvation.

Biblical regeneration states that salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:4-8) and the incorruptible seed of the Word of God (1 Peter 1:23-25). If the Holy Spirit has not done the regenerating, all of the intellectual agreement in the world could not save a genius. Since this is true, our evangelism should look a lot different than it does. As it stands right now, there are elements of decisional regeneration that we still embrace as street evangelists even though we disagree with the concept when it comes to theory. This is proven every time we regard as saved someone who agrees with us simply because we agree.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Evangelicals Collapsing Cultural Influence

A friend of mine recently sent me a link to an article called Evangelicals Collapsing Cultural Influence by David French. French is an evangelical and writes as an insider describing what he sees as a departure from long standing norms in Biblical Christianity from the view in the pew. It is an excellent article and I heartily recommend it.

He nailed it. What he doesn't talk about is the "why" behind the collapse, which is a Christianity that has been neutered by false gospels. As long as we keep playing stupid games with the gospel we can expect nothing but a continued decline in the exact same way that the mainline Protestant denominations have. They traded the gospel for social programs. Evangelicals have traded the gospel for being "nice" (moralistic therapeutic deism). Many evangelicals offer nothing more than a God who is a therapist and who is moral (think Veggie Tales), but we can't even get the moral part right because the gospel so many evangelicals preach couldn't change a spark plug.

Therefore the world watches while our marriages end in divorce, we have the same addictions they do, and we spend our money on the same filth that WE PROTEST (abortions, porn, alcohol, drugs, ad infinitum, ad nauseum). And our teenagers turn into unbelievers and the unbelievers turn into atheists and we keep doing the same thing over and over again (purpose driven hooey, seeker sensitive nonsense, emergent tripe, legalistic loopiness) wondering why nothing changes? And we forget that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result! Do another altar call. Pray another sinner's prayer. Dunk another corpse and make sure we get him on the membership roll. Do it all in the power of the flesh because the shema of the modern evangelical is, "If it works we don't need the Spirit of God."

Our prayer times are limited to saying grace before we gorge ourselves on the fat of the land and the rest of the world can go to hell because we have ours. The great irony is that in reality, we don't have ANYTHING. No Spirit of God, no fire on the altar, no revival and in many cases, no salvation but a lot of self deception.

When judgment comes on America it will not start in Hollywood or New York City or any one of a number of places we love to hate. It will start in the evangelical church. Jesus never wrote any letters warning godless entertainers but He did write seven letters to churches in Asia Minor and warned them that if they did not get things right He would come and remove them (Rev. 2-3). It's time to stop running social clubs and start running Biblical churches with uncompromising preaching in tandem with uncompromising living. It may already be too late. May God have mercy on us all.