• Starting Easter Sunday at Resolved: Jesus Vs. Atheism

    In the past decade atheism has had a resurgence. This resurgence is due to four main authors:

    Richard Dawkins, who is an English  evolutionary biologist, and writer. He was the University of Oxford’s Professor for Public Understanding of Science from 1995 until 2008. He is the author of much read and debated book The God Delusion

    Christopher Hitchens, (who sadly passed away on 15 December 2011) was a British author. Hitchens was brilliant with the pen and contributed to New StatesmanThe NationThe AtlanticThe London Review of BooksThe Times Literary Supplement and Vanity Fair. He was also a fierce debater whose debates entertained even if you disagreed with his premises or conclusions. He is the author of the wildly passionate book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

    Sam Harris, is an American author and philosopher who holds a PhD in cognitive neuroscience from UCLA. He has lectured or debated at some of the most prestigious educational institutions in the world including University of Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Caltech, Berkeley, Stanford University, and Tufts University, as well as TED, where he outlined the arguments made in his book The Moral Landscape. Harris has also been interviewed on such prominent TV shows as  Nightline, Real Time with Bill Maher, The O’Reilly Factor, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and The Last Word. He is the author of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason and Letter to a Christian Nation

    Daniel Dennett who is the Co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies and the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University.He is the author of Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon

    Needless to say these men are extremely intelligent and I would say gifted by God. Their writings are lucid and full of passion and vigor. Anyone who would question their intelligence has not interacted with them fairly or honestly. These men and their writings pose a formidable challenge to religion in general and Christianity in particular and if Christians truly engage with these men and their writings we will ask deep questions about our faith which will in turn help us discover the truth and therefore our faith will be strengthened.

    Because of the formidable challenge  that these men and their writings pose to Christianity, at  Resolved, starting Easter Sunday, we are looking at what Jesus and these men say about five aspects of Christianity that these men attack. Here are the topics and the dates we are looking at them:

    20-April: Can a Rational Person Believe Jesus Rose From the Dead?

    27-April – Can a Rational Person Believe the Bible?

    4-May – Does Evil and Suffering Disprove God?

    11-May- Isn’t the God of the Bible a Moral Monster?

    18-May – Hasn’t Christianity Been a Force of Evil in Our World?

    At each service there will be time for people to ask questions and interact with what we say. I am really excited about this series and I hope whether you are a Christian, Atheist or you are unsure about faith you will come and hear why I side with Jesus over and against the New Atheists.


  • Pleasure Without Boundaries Produces a Life Without Purpose

    “When I read the biography of Oscar Wilde and researched the life of this quintessential hedonist, I was repeatedly surprised by the protracted passages of despair that came from the heart and the pen of a man so completely devoted to the pursuit of pleasure. See the scripture reference – Job 29:22 – engraved in Latin on his tombstone, which translates as, “After I had spoken, they spoke no more; my words fell gently on their ears.” ponder the epitaph that reads, “And alien tears will fill for him pity’s long broken urn, for his mourners will be outcast men, and outcasts always mourn.” These speak of the silence of pain. If it were pain alone that brought emptiness, I would at least half grant the atheist’s point. But some of the loneliest people I have met or read about are those who have had everything and experience little of what we consider pain; yet, they too have pain – pain resulting from having indulged and come away empty.
    The greatest disappointments (and resulting pain) you can feel is when you have just experienced that which you thought would bring you the ultimate in pleasure – and it has let you down. Pleasure without boundaries produces a life without purpose. That is real pain. No death, no tragedy, no atrocity – nothing really matters. Life is sheer hollowness, with no purpose.”
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  • Is Church Planting Really the Answer?

    My good friend Josh Dinale has written a blog entitled Is Church Planting Really the Answer which either excited or infuriated people based on what they think of church planting, Mark Driscoll and hipster pastors. If you don’t like the current crop of church plants around the shop, you like Phillip Jensen or John MacArthur more than Mark Driscoll and you think that all pastors have hips and therefore you think all hipster pastors need a good wash and shave you probably applauded the fact that a former skater punk like Josh has settled down, grown up, showers regularly and become a suburban Anglican minister[1]  who now rants against the evils of the current crop of faddish church planting with the zeal of a young church planter ranting against established churches. But if you are passionate about church planting, you want to start or have started a church a “theologically conservative culturally liberal” church and you have grown a beard, wear skinny jeans and only use Apple computer products you probably hated Josh’s rant and you might have thought “Typical old man Anglican!”

    The first thing to say is that Josh is a provocateur like Phillip Jensen, Mark Driscoll, Rob Bell, John Macarthur, Michael Jensen, John Dickson and myself. This is his personality. Josh has always had a habit of putting provocative words out there just to rattle cages and so it came with no surprise when  I read his blog and it was deliberately provocative and hyperbolic. This is what Josh and others (including myself) do and that is why I love Josh!

    Josh mentions that there are a lot of “pastors wanting to be the next Mark Driscoll”. While I think this was more true 5 years ago there is still some truth to it now. There always has been and there always will be heroes that people look up to. If you are a guitarist who likes good music your heroes will be Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughn or Robben Ford and you will try to be like them in the way you play and you will probably cop some of their mannerisms.. If you are a young girl and you have no taste in music your heroes will be Katy Perry or Mis Direction (I think that is what they are called) and your habits, mannerisms and likes will be, to a certain extent, dictated by your heroes. This is human nature. So I am not surprised when young men who are young pastors or who desire to be pastors want to be like Mark Driscoll (or for that matter Piper, Chandler, Chan, Jensen, Chong, Macarthur, Washer, etc.). If you are a young reformed guy you may want to be like Driscoll, if you are someone who went to UNSW in the 80s and 90s you will probably gush about Phillip Jensen and if you want to destroy your church you will probably idolize Rob Bell or Karl Barth. God has created the world in such a way that people would have heroes. That being said, I agree with Josh that if you are trying to be like Driscoll, Piper, Jensen or whoever you should be yourself. Be inspired by the great men and women of the faith but part of real maturity is building your identity on Jesus and who he has made you to be.

    The second point in Josh’s critique is aimed at “pastors moving into areas where there are already good evangelical ministries and rather than working together  targeting the same group” Josh outlines two concerns; firstly, that logically it is better to get critical mass in one place than have two churches struggling to get to critical mass. Secondly, there is the issue of resources. Josh, quite rightly, points out that a church takes a lot of resources to run and you would think it would be better to pool resources and have one church rather than two. On the surface these critiques seem valid but when you dig deeper they are found to be left wanting. Firstly, it would be stupid if two Evangelical churches from the same denomination existed in the same suburb. Yes in that instance it would make more sense two have one church rather than two. But what if you have two churches that are Evangelical churches who disagree on major issues i.e. baptism, church government or ministry philosophy. Imagine I move to Brisbane in the nice suburb of Cooparoo. I am quickly convinced that Cooparoo is a godless suburb that makes Newtown look like the Christian version of Disneyland and that Cooparoo needs the gospel of Jesus more than any other place in the world. If I were to take Josh’s advice the best plan would be to throw my lot in with him and work alongside him at his church. But here is the problem, in my opinion, because he is an Anglican, Josh doesn’t believe the Bible[2] on a bunch of issues like baptism, church government, church membership etc. So really our partnership in the gospel will only work if we don’t baptise anyone, never have a church meeting or we never practice church discipline. The only way two pastors can work together in the same church is if they either agree on the gospel and secondary issues like gender, church government, baptism etc or they don’t care about these issues. On the surface this critique from Josh looks plausible but when you dig deeper it is really a naive utopian fantasy.

    Next Josh says “often whilst on the surface evangelism is said to be at the core, rather what I have found is that being cool and hipster is more important.” but then he goes on to defend denominational churches and say they are culturally relevant and they are reaching people. I am not sure how Josh knows that churches and pastors of said churches want to be more hipster than evangelistically minded. If Josh came to my church Resolved he would see a small band of Christians many of whom have brought their friends to an evangelistic course we are currently running or they are inviting their friends to church and talking with them about Jesus. I am convinced that this the case at other church plants in Sydney and also denominational churches. On the hipster thing, being hipster is not a sin I am tempted by[3] I do think there is a pressure to be hip or cool with culture. But that can happen whether you are a church planter in Newtown or a Sydney Anglican minister. All I can say is that I know guys from the Geneva Push and Acts 29 churches and it seems like their greatest desire is for people to come to know Jesus. I can’t judge a pastors heart based on their church meeting or their evangelistic track record and I don’t know how Josh can know either.

    Josh then shares his concern “about the shuffeling the deck and really not reaching new people and burning people out” and in this I’m in full agreement. There is usually a hip church plant which blows up with people leaving their church. This is not the pastors fault at all as long as they don’t encourage this church shopping mentality. I also agree that some church plants don’t reach anyone and they just burn people out. But is this last critique only found in church plants? Can’t denominational churches be evangelistically dead and burn people out? Of course they can. For various reasons Resolved hasn’t always been as evangelistically hot as we should have been and we have burnt our fair share of people out. But I know friends that are going to denominational churches that are evangelistically dead and these churches are burning them out. The common denominator in both an ineffective church plant which burns out people and an ineffective denominational church that burns people out is the leadership. Either the leadership if the church needs to grow or change.

    The final critique josh has is that “many leaders seem to be developing a level of arrogance and snobbery towards those who work within denominations.” He continues:”  I personally am sick of church planters or church plat (sic) organisations telling me that I and other young denominational guys should leave denominational churches and plant something.” Now I planted Resolved almost five years ago and in that time I have been to a bunch of planting conferences. Also, before that I listened to every church plant talk I could listen to. In all this time I have never heard of one planting leader tell someone not to plant a denominational church or leave their denomination. Not once. I’m not sure who Josh is hanging out with but I would suggest that Josh get new friends if they are telling him to leave his denomination. In fact Josh why don’t you come to the Multiply a conference put on by the Geneva Push. I promise you no one will ask you to leave the Anglican Church and that you will be encouraged to be more effective in your ministry.

    Josh’s title of his blog was “Is church planting really the answer?” And the obvious answer is no. The answer is churches that are radically shaped by the gospel whose evangelistic fire is at boiling point. We need denominational churches to be like this and if we are to reach Australia and the world with the gospel we need church plants planted all the time with this evangelistic edge. No church planting is not the answer but it will be an outcome if churches  are gospel centered and on fire.

    [1] By the way I love suburban Anglican ministers

    [2] I know Josh is a brother in Christ who is a reformed evangelical and who does uphold the authority of the Bible. I am being hyperbolic to make a point…… And have some fun. See my above comments about Josh and I being provocateurs.

    [3] This is because, I like to shower and shave, I hate coffee, I like to work out and play sport and I like my music electric and loud

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  • An Interview with Jared Wilson Author of The Pastor’s Justification

    Pastor Jared Wilson has written anew book entitled The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry coming out tomorrow. Jared was gracious enough to let me ask him a few questions about the book.
    1. Why did you want to write this book?
    I wanted to write a book for pastors that a) wasn’t mainly about “tools” or methodology, which most books for pastors seem to be about, and b) applies the finished work of Christ to the never-finished work of ministry. As a pastor myself, I find that I cannot share the gospel with my congregation or the people in my community very effectively when I am not centered on the gospel myself.
    2. What is the main idea in the book?
    That a pastor’s approval, validation, and success is not found in church growth, congregational feedback, or the achievements of ministry or public recognition. Pursuing those things for justification is a dead-end trek that reeks of condemnation. The book’s primary aim is to help its reader find his satisfaction in God’s grace in Christ alone.
    3. The book is called The Pastor’s Justification, is this a book for Pastors only? If not who else should read it and why?
    It is primarily for pastors, yes. I do think, however, that others could learn a lot about pastoral ministry and particularly how to encourage their pastors and even protect them from pastoral and congregational idolatry.
    4. In conversations with other pastors what is the biggest pressure that churches put on their pastors and how can churches help to relieve this pressure?   
    I’m not sure if there’s a single biggest pressure but there are a lot of little pressures that all together amount to this: the pastor works for the congregation. He is their employee. In one very valid sense, this is true, of course. But pastoral ministry is not work for “professionals.” A pastor is both responsible for and responsible to his congregation, and this puts him in a very vulnerable position sometimes. Churches would do well to seek understanding on the particular fears pastors (and their families) face on a weekly basis — fears of not measuring up, fears of not being available enough, fears of not pleasing people, fears of only being as approved of as your last sermon or visit. Also, more specifically, it is rare for a pastor (or his wife and family) to be able to truly be themselves — warts and all, in total honesty and transparency and confession — with members of the congregation because the unspoken standard is that he must be “better.” This can be hugely damaging to a pastor, and by extension to his congregation.

    5. What should pastors do so that their justification is not found in ministry success, but rather the finished work of Christ?
    Remember to not simply study the Scriptures in order to teach and preach them but in order to be shaped by them oneself. Too often we are dealing with spiritual matters simply as an act of vocational responsibility and not more specifically as an act of spiritual worship.
    6. What would you say to a young pastor who wants to become the next Chandler, Deyoung, Driscoll, Piper etc?
    It’s not possible. Nobody can be the next anybody else. You can only be you. But you can be the next *you*, if you take time to study, grow, pray, invest, love, serve, and trust in Jesus. I would say this to anyone granted the privilege of a public platform/ministry, be it from publishing or speaking or both — Remember that local ministry ought to be the source of legitimacy for a public ministry, *not* the other way around.
    7. What has been the hardest time you have had in ministry and what ideas from the book helped you in that time?
    I would say that losing friends either through conflict or church discipline has been the hardest. Thankfully, it has not happened but a couple of times. In general, I deal most difficultly with just a profound sense of failure and “not measuring up” on occasion. It doesn’t often arrive from a recurring event but is the result of having failed in some way or other or simply disappointed myself or others. The whole book addresses this kind of thing, but more directly there is help in Chapter 1 (The Free Pastor), Chapter 4 (The Confident Pastor), and Chapter 6 (The Justified Pastor).
    Thanks Jared for your time!
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  • What You Treasure Will Shape Your Life For Glory Or Failure

    God has made us to value or treasure things or people more than others. This instinct that God has given us can be our greatest strength or our greatest weakness. It just depends on what we treasure. This is no different in pastoral ministry as Paul Tripp notes in his great book Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry:

    Let’s begin by unpacking the concept of treasure that Christ uses. Treasure is a provocative word. Imagine I am holding a twenty-dollar bill in front of you. Why is it worth twenty dollars? It’s not because it is made from twenty dollars’ worth of paper. That would entail a stack of paper. It’s not because it is made up of twenty dollars’ worth of ink. That would entail a pail of ink. You see, the value of the twenty-dollar bill isn’t intrinsic value but assigned value. Our government has assigned to that bill the value of two thousand pennies. Thus it is with most of the things that we treasure. Few of them have intrinsic value. No, most of them have assigned value. What does that mean? It means they have value because we have named them as valuable. This is something you do all the time. You are constantly value-rating the things in your life. That’s why the old proverb says, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” You are constantly naming things as important and other things as not so important. You are always attaching your inner hope and contentment to something, and when you do, those things take on life-shaping value. Let’s return to our twenty-dollar bill and see how it will shape our lives once that value has been assigned to it. Once my bill has the value of twenty dollars, the number of those you offer me will determine whether I will take that job or not. The number of those I have will determine the size of my house, the neighborhood I live in, the kind of car I drive, the quality of clothes I wear, the cuisine I eat, the level of health care I have, the vacations I take, and my hopes for retirement, and it may sadly even determine the kind of people I want to hang out with. Once something is our treasure, it will command our desires and shape our behavior. So there are two practical conclusions that immediately flow from Christ’s teaching on treasure. I want to state each conclusion in the context of pastoral ministry. First, in pastoral ministry it is very hard to keep what God says is important, important in your heart. What always happens to each one of us is that things in ministry rise in importance way beyond their true importance, and when they do, they begin to command our desires and shape our behavior. Also, it is critical to understand that your ministry will always be either propelled by or victimized by what you treasure. When you treasure what God says is truly valuable, your ministry will be protected and enhanced by the treasure commitments of your heart. But when you treasure things that God doesn’t say are important, you find yourself in the way of, rather than part of, what God is doing in your ministry at that moment.

    What do you treasure more than anything? It will shape your life for glory or for failure.

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  • The Sin of Failing to be Angry

    This is sheer brilliance by Ajith Fernando on anger:

    Sometimes we hear people say, “He’s such a saint, he never gets angry.” This is because we have come to value an understanding of tolerance that is far from the Biblical lifestyle. True, in the past we may have seen upright religious people who were unpleasant to be around because they were always ranting and raving against evil. Nothing pleasant came from their lips. We must surely avoid this extreme, but we must also avoid the opposite extreme.

    I have come to realize that my failure to get over wrong is a reflection of my fallenness rather than by godliness. I may have often sinned against my children but not expressing wrath concerning things in their lives that dishonored God. When we do not show anger against our children when they do wrong, we may be opening the door for serious insecurity in their lives. Unconsciously we may be sending them the message that their wrong actions are not serious enough to merit an angry response. that in turn communicates the idea that they are not significant to be taken seriously. Many children grow up to be delinquents, and through their wrong deeds try to grab the attention they were deprived of in their childhood.


    Ajith Fernando,Acts (The NIV Application Commentary), 252-253

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  • Who Should we Be Preaching To?

    There seems to me two basic camps when it comes to preaching in church. There is the camp where we are preaching primarily to the non christian in the pew and so we will preach on relevant topics and work on our communication. Then there is the camp that says we preach to the believer and try to make our sermons deep and weighty and full of great theology. But is there a third way? Tim Keller think so. Check out his reflection on Martin Lloyd-Jones’ preaching in his book Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City:

    I found particularly fascinating the structure he designed for his preaching. Lloyd-Jones planned his evening sermons to be evangelistic, while the morning sermons were intended to instruct and build up Christians. The evening sermons contained direct appeals to people to come to Christ and believe the gospel but were still richly theological and expository. On the other hand, while the morning sermons assumed a bit more knowledge of Christianity, they always returned to the clear themes of sin, grace, and Christ — the gospel. Lloyd-Jones urged his church members to attend both services. While he saw the evening service as an ideal setting to which to bring a nonbelieving friend, he wanted the professing Christians to attend regularly for their own good. Nor was he concerned when nonbelievers showed up regularly at the morning services. In fact, he wrote, “We must be careful not to be guilty of too rigid a classification of people saying, ‘These are Christians, therefore…’ [or] ‘Yes, we became Christians as the result of a decision we took at an evangelistic meeting and now, seeing that we are Christians, all we need is teaching and edification.’ I contest that very strongly.”17 I learned these lessons from him: Don’t just preach to your congregation for spiritual growth, assuming that everyone in attendance is a Christian; and don’t just preach the gospel evangelistically, thinking that Christians cannot grow from it. Evangelize as you edify, and edify as you evangelize.

    What do you think? Do you think our preaching should be aimed at both believers and unbelievers? If so what does this kind of preaching look like?

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  • Why Atheists Should Doubt Their Doubts and Be Skeptical of Their Skepticism

    In secular discourse it seems that doubt reigns supreme. We are called by atheists today to think carefully and doubt Christian beliefs. Why? Because Christian beliefs are obviously biased and are based on emotional longings craving after something more than this world has to offer rather than on solid evidence. Or so our atheists friends say.

    But the accusation can be and needs to be flipped. If it is true that my belief has a strong emotional component to it (and I’d be the first to admit that it does) then shouldn’t it be true that an atheists lack of belief has a strong emotional component to it also? Christianity is a scary religion where you are called to give your life over to someone else and let them be in charge. This causes most people to have a strong emotional reaction against it and therefore a person’s lack of belief has a significant emotional component to it just as my belief also has a significant emotional component to it.

    If we then agree with our atheist friends that any belief structure that has a significant emotional component to it should be questioned then is follows that an atheist should doubt their own doubts and be skeptical of their own skepticism.

    Pastor Tim Keller gives atheists this word of advice on our topic:

     Be skeptical of your own skepticism. Why? Because you realize that you are not completely objective. Maybe you have a very religious parent whom you dislike. Or you may have had a bad experience with an inconsistent and insensitive group of Christians. On top of that, as we have observed, few people can entertain an invitation to give up their freedom without some prejudice against it. You’re afraid of the claims of Christianity being true – that’s fine. If we’re honest, we all are. You’ll never be fair-minded with the evidence if you don’t acknowledge that you can’t be perfectly fair-minded. So what should you do about this? You could simply slow down, so you don’t come so quickly to skeptical conclusions. Also, you should recognize that if Christianity is true, it is not just a set of rational, philosophical principles to adopt— it is a personal relationship to enter. So, to take seriously at least the possibility that it is true, why not consider praying? Why not say, ‘God, I don’t know if you’re there but I do know what prejudice is like, and I’m willing to be suspicious of it. Therefore, if you are there and if I am prejudiced, help me get through it.’ Break the ice with Jesus— talk to him. No one has to know you are doing it. If you’re not willing to do that, I suggest that you’re not willing to own the prejudice that we all start with.

    You can read the rest of the quote from Keller here.

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  • Piper, Carson, Deyoung and Keller on Did Jesus Preach the Gospel?

    There seems to be a growing move within Evangelical Christianity that preaching of the gospel that I have been saved from hell and wrath through the death and resurrection of Jesus is, in some cases, seen as an individualistic reduction of the gospel and in other cases it is seen as not being what Jesus and the Bible is really on about. Jesus preached the Kingdom of God which contains the gospel outlined above but if we only preach the gospel as outlined above we are missing the heart of the teaching of Jesus and the whole scriptures. The participants in the video (Don Carson, Kevin Deyoung, John  Piper and Tim Keller) address these issues head on by answering the question “Did Jesus Preach the Gospel?”. This is an important video that is well worth the hour it takes to watch it.

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