The Intolerance of Tolerance

Is the Bible intolerant?  That was the question Nathan Hansen asked me to answer for hundreds of students and adults recently.  Three years ago, Nathan, Snohomish Community Church’s innovative youth pastor, created Jesus University, a five-day youth conference in the Seattle area.  During the day, students serve their community.  At night, the community is invited to come hear top Christian bands.  

But before the bands play, Nathan has a Christian apologist address a tough question for an hour, followed by 30 minutes of Q & A.  The big-name bands draw thousands of people throughout the week, but Nathan ensures they’re given more than music.  They get an intelligent yet gracious defense of Christianity.  And our culture desperately needs some clear thinking when it comes to the topic of tolerance.

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P is for Produce Fruit

A little over two years ago, my wife and I sat across from my son, Josiah.  “I’ve decided to pray for you as someone who isn’t a follower of Jesus,” I explained. “After several years, we just don’t see any fruit.”

I was, of course, referring to the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, etc.) that the Bible indicates we’ll see in our lives when His Spirit is truly indwelling and transforming us. His Spirit recognizes His Spirit in others. In spite of Josiah having made a profession of faith several years earlier (and believe me, it wasn’t because he wasn’t tested on making that life-altering decision - I resisted and was careful during the entire process), years later we just didn’t see a life that was being transformed.

“Are you relieved or do you want to challenge that?” I asked.

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"I" is for Inability

Irresistible grace.


In Calvinism, this doctrine means that if God is chasing you, you are powerless to resist Him. (A blunted definition, I know).

Again, in the effort to emphasize the Sovereignty of God, a question arises:  If the grace of God is extended to someone, does that person have the capacity to resist it? If the person does, doesn’t that somehow diminish the Sovereignty of God?

This is about as useful as the old question of: “If God is all-powerful, can He make a rock He can’t lift?”

In other words, it’s of no use at all! “Is God powerful enough that if He extends His grace to certain men they are unable to resist it?” Of course He is.

A Sense of Perspective

Let's begin our look at the Calvinism vs. Armenian debate (through the lens of pragmatism and mission) with a link and a few things of note.

The link is the interview of Rick Warren by John Piper: click here.I do NOT start here as an example of Calvinism v. Armenianism. Please DO NOT misconstrue this context. I'm not starting here to state Piper is Calvinist and Warren is Armenian. That's simply not true. Both are Calvinist to differing degrees. I merely want to point out the following:

1. Rick Warren views his ministry and his church plant through the lens of mission. He saw (and sees) himself as a missionary first. This is critical. It is also why I admire Rick and his ministry. Whatever else you think of the methodology, the bottom line is that both Rick Warren individually and Saddleback as a church has an actual heart for lost people. They put their feet where their faith is. Rick is a pragmatist because of that. The question isn't "what is supposed to work", but "what is actually working"? The root cause of good mission stems because a follower doesn't just want to talk missionally, but wants to actually follow Jesus into the unknown. Jesus stepped into a timeframe when there was a lot of theological talk and tomes written on the Old Testament. What made Jesus radical was that He actually reached people.

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Welcome and Winds

First, a welcome to all of those now tuning into my blog via “Conversant Life”.  You are now a part of a regular community of change agents who are living all over the world. 

My readers and I share a strong connection: we are passionate about navigating this life intentionally, passionately, and with kingdom-focus. Here’s what you need to know:

1.  We believe that God wants to use us to change the world.

2.  That’s not an esoteric statement, but one with profound implications: we start with where God has placed us and begin to echo His kingdom proclamation (found in Mark 1 at the beginning of His ministry).

3.  The baseline is leaving everything to follow Jesus. That’s what distinguishes the fishermen from the rich young ruler; the follower from the pretender; the well-intentioned from the intentional.

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Interpreting, (Well) Everything

You don’t hear about dream interpreters much anymore. We generally feel that everything has a scientific explanation. So when we have a dream, we assume it’s our mind trying to make sense out of some nonsense in our day. Likewise, since most people who speak in “tongues” are considered a little loony, you don’t hear about people interpreting tongues. Understandable, yet that probably wasn’t God’s intention.

The Apostle Paul talked about the gift of interpretation when mentioning other spiritual offices and gifts.

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:27–31 ESV).

I’m concerned about the lack of interpretation in our churches. We seem to take most things on face value. And our version of face value is skewed in the direction of rationalism. I believe in reason, but I don’t believe everything can be reasoned away. It’s reason that convicts me and convinces me that the spiritual is essential.

Most of us place the spiritual in a box, only looking for it in spiritual services. Yet it’s all around us. Just like everything has some form of electrical charge (electrons), so the whole world has some sort of spiritual charge. And because the world is this way, interpretation is needed. We have to perceive how God is working—what He is doing.

Interpreters are few and far between today because those who recognize God’s constant interaction with us are few and far between.

Spiritual depravity travels. It works in us, on us, and slowly dwindles down our desire to follow Christ. It is not as if we have immunity to the forces around us.

I’m not sure when the gift of interpretation will become prevalent again. I would like to be hopeful, but I cannot be hopeful until I see us awake to the Spirit again. It’s not that the Spirit has stopped working; it’s that we have stopped acknowledging it.

The spiritual gift of interpretation isn’t prevalent anymore because the other gifts aren’t prevalent anymore. Or better put, they’re generally not acknowledged or identified anymore (at least not properly). Given, there are many who are interpreting the Bible well. There are many great biblical commentators. I’m grateful for these people, but their work alone is not enough. It’s one step among many that must take place. We need people on the ground, in our churches, in our communities, interpreting regularly.

So let’s listen this week. Let’s be intent on hearing Christ. Maybe we can turn this negative into a positive. What can you do to enable interpretation in your community?


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Francis Chan engages the Hell Question

This video is from YouTube and is a preview video of Chan's new book about hell.

It should be very interesting to see how he enters into the current discussion and debate.

One can't help but notice a similarity in how this is being released (with a vague intro video) to Rob Bell's recent book.  He seems to be addressing Bell in some of this, but only time will tell.  I am sure this will ignite a whole other round of discussion prior to the book in the same way as well.  

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Living to God in Christ

In Jonathan Edwards' sermon, "Thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth," Edwards goes about defining "divinity," which in his day is what you called theology. He states: 

"Divinity is commonly defined, the doctrine of living to God; and by some who seem to be more accurate, the doctrine of living to God by Christ. It comprehends all Christian doctrines as they are in Jesus, and all Christian rules directing us in living to God by Christ. There is nothing in divinity, no one doctrine, no promise, no rule, but what some way or other relates to the Christian and divine life, or our living to God by Christ. They all relate to this, in two respects, viz. as they tend to promote our living to God here in this world, in a life of faith and holiness, and also as they tend to bring us to a life of perfect holiness and happiness, in the full enjoyment of God hereafter."

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Speaking in Tongues: Not Crazy, Just Different

The spiritual gift of “speaking in various kinds of tongues” is either fully embraced or completely ignored. Depending on our belief set, we either think we need this gift (or we’re not really anointed by the Spirit), or we think it doesn’t matter. There is little room in the center. But embracing this gift properly involves embracing the center.
Spiritual offices and spiritual gifts are discussed in 1 Corinthians 12:27–31.
“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:27–31 ESV).
Tongues, in the context of 1 Corinthians, are something that have to be interpreted (1 Corinthians 12:10). Paul talks about two types of tongues: those of people and those of angels (1 Corinthians 13:1). When someone speaks in the tongues of angels, they are speaking to God (1 Corinthians 14:2)—no one understands them. They need an interpreter for people to understand them (1 Corinthians 14:28). When someone speaks in the tongues of angels, they are meant to be dialoguing with God, not trying to impress their friends. When someone speaks in the tongues of people, they are miraculously speaking to someone in their own language, without training (Acts 2:3–4, 11).
But it doesn’t matter if we speak in tongues if we don’t love (1 Corinthians 13:8)—without love, tongues become noise.
Paul also contrasts prophesy with speaking in tongues. Speaking in tongues helps the individual speaking, but prophesying builds up the church (1 Corinthians 14:4). Paul desires for every Christian to speak in tongues, but helping people grow in their relationship with Christ is more important (1 Corinthians 14:5–6).
“So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret.” (1 Corinthians 14:9–13 ESV).
Based on this passage, it seems that those who are constantly expecting people to speak in tongues are actually striving for “manifestations of the Spirit,” not focusing on what’s most important: helping other Christians grow in their relationship with Christ.
We are meant to primarily focus on the church “outsider” (1 Corinthians 14:16). We can’t forget the real purpose of spiritual gifts: “in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1 Corinthians 14:19 ESV). “Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers” (1 Corinthians 14:22 ESV). Tongues are a sign for those who don't believe in Christ, but we have to be cautious.
Incredibly, the problems with people who speak in tongues today were addressed by Paul in the first century AD: 
If ... the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you” (1 Corinthians 14:23–25).
Paul then goes on to offer some further guidance for speaking in tongues: 
“What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:26–33 ESV).
For Paul, everything comes down to “order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). This is also his reason for asking women to be silent in the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 14:34–35). Paul makes this request, which is not applicable today, because that’s what the Law says (1 Corinthians 14:34). There was a large (and likely influential) Jewish population in Corinth, as evidenced by the synagogues unearthed there. Paul desired for the Corinthian church to minister to the Jewish population, not ostracize them. Women speaking in church services in the first century would be ostracizing for Jewish men, and perhaps even Jewish women. (Of course, women not speaking in churches today would be ostracizing for most people. So the opposite is true today: women should speak in our services.) Although Paul’s request about women certainly does not apply today, what he says about tongues fits precisely with what churches are dealing with now.
In our church services, we need to have balance and order, even when using spiritual gifts. We need to let the Holy Spirit be reincorporated, and we need to use our spiritual gifts, but we cannot do so at the cost of ostracizing people. (God wouldn't want us to ostracize people.) Our goals are clear: help people come closer to Christ, and help those who don’t know Christ. Speaking in tongues is important, but we need a centrist approach about when and how to do so.
How do you plan to reincorporate (or better incorporate) the gift of speaking in tongues into your church? 
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Intellectual Skepticism & Doubt in our Youth

Recently, pollsters have confirmed what many of us already know:  a large number of Christian students leave the church once they graduate from high school.  Barna has the number at 61%.  Lifeway has it at 70%.  Even if we take Barna's lower number and then subtract another 10% just to be conservative, we're still left with a situation where we are losing half our kids.  

But let's NOT be conservative because it looks like the situation could be worse. According to political scientists Robert Putman (Harvard) and David Campbell (Notre Dame) in their book, American Grace, young Americans are dropping out of religion at a rate 5-6 times the historic rate (30-40% have no religion today versus 5-10% a generation ago).  The Church definitely has a challenge on its hands.  

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