Archive by Author

Pipe Up Pastor: Justification, Sanctification, Good Works, and Judgment

Hold up! Someone on the internet is wrong. I think. Maybe. Perhaps. At least that’s what I was told. She says it’s him. He says it’s her. He says its him. Him says its he. They say it’s them. And…them say it’s they. Confusing, right? I have to admit that’s a bit how I’ve been feeling in this last week as I’ve tried to follow a dust-up caused by some comments that John Piper made in an article entitled “Does God Really Save Us By Faith Alone?” Many are thinking through justification, sanctification, good works, and final judgment. Those are important topics and the way Piper has interwoven them has caused some push back.

What do we make of this dust-up? Well, in one way I’m hesitant to draw unnecessary attention to it. In at least a couple of the rejoinders that have been made the authors – neither of whom are unintelligent or poorly read, and both who have been immensely helpful to me personally – have entered into a rather complex and nuanced disagreement with a lot of prepositions that is, to be honest, a little confusing if not a little discouraging. I’m not opposed to complex or nuanced […]

Hatred in Las Vegas: What if…?

Many of us woke up this morning to the absolutely tragic news of a mass shooting on the Las Vegas strip. Videos show the fear and horror as gunshots can be heard breaking through the noise of the crowd. So far, reports indicate a lone gunman opened fire from the 32nd floor of a hotel into a crowd. The initial numbers are nothing short of devastating. Fifty-eight dead and more than five hundred injured. Fifty-eight people. Fathers. Mothers. Sons. Daughters. Brothers. Sisters. Friends. Almost sixty people who will not walk past the threshold of their homes today because their lives have been snuffed out by an act of violence. Events like these trigger our collective memory—Pulse nightclub, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, and the list goes on. My heart is broken and so is the heart of this nation.

Hatred. Yes, that’s what it is. Hatred. There’s no other word for it. We can see it. We can feel it. We can hear it. To deny its presence or pretend it’s something less is to willingly ignore the obvious. It would be like closing your eyes and insisting that the sun—bright and warm as it is—doesn’t exist. To admit hatred […]

Between Irrelevance and Inspiration: Rob Bell’s “What is the Bible?”

I imagine it was a paradisiacal day—whatever happy, joyful, and blissful picture that gives your imagination—when the serpent slithered to the woman in the Garden of Eden. He did not come armed with bow or sword but only with his tongue and a simple but provocative question: “Did God actually say?” There was the starting point of humanity’s tragic descent into sin and misery. Its origin was doubt, disbelief, and misinterpretation of God’s word. I cannot help but hear an echo of that fateful question in Rob Bell’s new book, What is the Bible?

For many evangelicals and Reformed folk Rob Bell is, perhaps, a relic of the past. His departure from some of the main tenets of Christianity have made him all but irrelevant. So why should we care that he has written a new book? Well, if there is any value in this book it is simply that it offers a popular representation—without big vocabulary or complex hermeneutical rules—on where many people place the Bible in their understanding of Christianity. Rob Bell doesn’t write without knowing exactly to what audience he is writing, and he has learned well to connect with that audience in a captivating way. This book […]

Rethinking Christian Calling

Many well-meaning Christians often want to baptize their aspirations and decisions with divine approval. It’s not uncommon to hear young people encouraged to figure out who, where, and what God might be “calling” them to. Consider three little anecdotal stories. John is talking with some friends when he confidently announces that he has met the girl he will marry. When asked how he can be certain he says God has called him to take her as his wife. Susie is getting ready to graduate high school and decides to go to a particular university. When asked why, she says God has called her to go to that school. Ben works as a plumber. When asked why he chose that profession he says God has called him to that work. Do you see the pattern?

While it may not gain me popularity points I want to rethink this common idea of God’s calling. Biblically, the call of God is used in reference to our salvation and to Apostolic office (see e.g. Romans 1:1 and 1 Corinthians 1:1). Foregoing the second of these, the Bible says we have been “called to belong to Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:6) and “called according to his purpose” […]

Policies, Procedures, and Those Presbyterians

I always tell people that I was a pragmatic Presbyterian before I was a biblical Presbyterian. I grew up in a context that rarely thought about the governing principles of a church and, as a result, I saw the bad effects of a poor ordered congregation. Our pastor often said: “We have the word ‘free’ in our name because we’re free to do what we want.” There were no agreed on standards and patterns by which to make decisions. There wasn’t a clear path to express disagreement and no recourse to appeal the decisions of others. At its best these things were guided by the arbitrary will of the majority or, at worst, it was left to the control of a single individual. In that environment it was hard for justice and mercy to flourish.

That’s one of the reasons I was so impressed when first introduced to Presbyterianism. At its heart Presbyterianism seeks to find a way to structure the church according to the character of God. Paul expressed this concern when he reminded the church in Corinth that God wasn’t a God of confusion but a God of order and peace (1 Corinthians 14:33). One of the ways that […]

Hurtful Sheep and Bullied Shepherds

The final “Amen” was given and my friend descended the pulpit and took his usual place at the back door. As people filed by shaking his hand one particular member of the congregation approached him. Foregoing any and all pleasantries he immediately began to humiliatingly pick apart the message that had only ended minutes before. Overwhelmed by the onslaught my friend had no idea what to say or do. Thankfully, an older gentleman who was visiting–actually a retired pastor–overheard the harangue and interrupted: “What do you think you’re doing?” The man replied with all seriousness: “I have the spiritual gift of nitpicking and it’s my job to humble the preacher.” Defensively, the retired pastor fired back: “That’s nothing but spiritual bullying and it’s absolutely unacceptable!”

The relationship between a pastor and the people is one that should be grounded in every Christian grace but also crowned, in a special way, with joy and love. The Apostle Paul shows his pastoral heart to the church in Corinth when he said: “And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, […]

The Attraction of Reformed Theology

Sitting around a table I was enjoying some post-dinner conversation with three theologically eclectic and charming people when I was startled by an unexpected question: “Kyle, what is the attraction of Reformed theology?” It was a sincere question and I was grateful for the sudden opportunity to give an answer. As all eyes turned to me I hesitated for a moment and then said the first four words I could think of: the glory of God.

Simply defined, Reformed theology is that stream of thought summarized in the great confessions of the Reformed and Presbyterian churches such as the Westminster Confession of Faith together with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. These confessions are not minimalist bullet-point statements, but neither are they so exhaustive as to exclude a place for charitable disagreement. However, when taken as they are, they present a coherent and consistent system of belief in doctrine, worship, and piety that I am convinced is faithful to the Bible.

I wasn’t always convinced of that. I grew up far from some of the commitments of Reformed theology, and when I was first introduced to it (nearly twenty years ago) I adamantly resisted it. In time, I grew to appreciate many of […]

Lent: Glitter or Gold?

Every Sunday night before evening worship I meet in my study with the middle schoolers in our church to discuss the morning sermon. That goal isn’t always achieved. As I’ve gotten to know them they have also gotten to know me. Sometimes they use that to their advantage to derail the normal topic of discussion. They have figured out that the quickest way to have a tangential conversation is to ask me a serious question. I’ve never told them—and maybe I don’t need to—but these are some of my favorite times as a pastor. In one manipulatively planned digression I was asked about the practice of Lent.

Over a century ago William Ingraham Kip wrote: “For some years past each return of Lent has been, we believe, regarded with additional interest.” That observation remains true today. As Ash Wednesday marks the start of another Lenten season many of us will encounter it. In the spirit of the Apostle Paul who said “test everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) we should think biblically about the Lenten season.

Lent is regarded by many to be on of the oldest and most important practices of the church calendar. Traces of its observance can be found in the […]

Pro-Life For All Life

I have not done much in a public way to speak or write about abortion. That is not because I find abortion acceptable or even slightly defensible. Far from it! It is the holocaust of our generation, and even that is probably not strong enough language to describe it. Too many have turned what should be the safest place in all of creation, the womb of a mother, into a tomb. Rather, I have found it to be true that my engagement changed when I had to begin dealing with abortion face-to-face. It changes things when someone says, “Pastor, I’ve had an abortion. What should I do?” Suddenly, the faceless person has a face and the nameless person has a name. You’re no longer dealing with a vitriolic opponent but a tender soul that needs to work through the shame and guilt by the forgiveness, hope, and freedom of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That changes things. But I’m breaking from my relative public silence to offer a few thoughts.

Yesterday marked forty-four years since the Supreme Court invented a Constitutional right to kill babies in the womb. Since that date there have been nearly sixty-million little boys and girls murdered […]

If Church Isn’t Necessary, Let’s Quit.

Here’s a proposition for the new year. I propose that if church isn’t necessary, we quit. I mean it. If it’s not necessary let’s cancel all of our services, board up the windows, lock the doors, and send everyone on their merry way. Sure, Christians have been gathering together to hear the Word read and preached, to sing with grace in their hearts, and observe the sacraments for over two thousand years. But if it’s not necessary let’s be the first generation to finally end the practice. Let’s silence the pulpit, close up the song books, dry up the baptismal waters, and put away the bread and wine. If church isn’t necessary, let’s quit.

Why? Because I’m convinced if it’s not necessary it’s too difficult and not worth my time. Listening to sermons is hard and it’s not really my learning style. So, let’s quit. Singing is outdated and the thought of someone hearing me slightly off key or out of tune is unbearable. Let’s quit. Praying together is boring and I’m too easily distracted. Let’s quit. I have my own friends and family and people at church can be hard to get along with. Let’s quit. It’s also too time […]