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taking the war out of ‘worship wars’

I heard Matt Olson’s gracious resignation talk after the NIU board asked him to step down. So blessed to see a man who has been under fire from harsh critics respond in a gentle way and then to put the focus off himself and on God.

There were several things he said that are worth remembering. Here is one that sticks with me. I did a word wall of it since it is good for many other difficulties in life beyond his own at the moment.

Matt Olson quote

pic background available through demilked.com

You may have noticed that the word ‘unexpected’ is in a similar color as the words ‘worship’ and ‘praise’ and ‘thank.’ The ‘unexpected’ starts out darker and duller, but as we direct our focus toward God and away from ourselves our actions and attitude shift from remorse or grief to the joys of being in God’s presence.

I am reminded how often I fall short of this. Right, left or middle – wherever we stand on these issues – this response proves that we can navigate our differences with grace.

President Olson’s response to his dismissal shows he sees a higher value in grace over gotcha. And for that matter, the NIU Board shows grace by giving President Olson the chance to freely speak his parting words to their students. Most dismissal situations like this are often well choreographed or restricted to avoid further collateral damage, but this looks quite unusual in its gentle tone and ethos.

The text that serves as President Olson’s anchor is Romans 11:33-36:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom

and knowledge of God!    

How unsearchable his judgments,    

and his paths beyond tracing out!

Who has known the mind of the Lord? 

Or who has been his counselor?

Who has ever given to God,

that God should repay them?

For from him and through him and

for him are all things.    

To him be the glory forever!


The NIV translation entitled this section as “Doxology.”


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athiests are separatists too?

It turns out that athiests are following the separatist practices of Christian Fundamentalists – and secondary (an possibly third degree) separation at that.  whao! what’s happening to the world?

excerpt from the LA Times:

That rift cracked open recently when Paul Kurtz, a founder of the secular humanist movement in America, was ousted as chairman of the Center for Inquiry, a sibling organization to the Council for Secular Humanism. One factor leading to his ouster was a perception that Kurtz was “on the mellower end of the spectrum.”

more analysis at Out of Ur


what is in a name (or old label)?

old cheerios boxIt is interesting how brands or labels are influenced not only by their contents.  Many labels or brands are equally influenced by what is outside the bottle or box as well as by what is in them.  Consider how the labeling of brands you know from Cheerios to Wheaties and Hershey chocolates to Ford motorcars, have changed with the times.  Clearly labels and branding are influenced by “out of the box” factors as much by internal factors such as the product itself and the company behind it.

The dominant culture around a label affects its look and feel and value even if the contents were to basically remain the same.  Take a look at Spam.  Of course, there are external factors that influence a brand or label which are complex.  Then there are basic outside factors, such as the passage of time, that impose change on a brand or label.  The ‘ole “that was then and this is now” or a new set of “players,” the key personalities that surrounded that brand, aren’t around anymore.

Such is the case with the old label “Fundamentalist.”  My personal approach to conservative Christianity is that I choose not to prop up an old label such as “Fundamentalism.”  The term Conservative Christian works well for me and I find is a conversation starter not a conversation stopper. Then what I am able to follow up with comments or discussion that center around truths like “others-focused, Bible-believing, Gospel-centered.”

I think it is vital that we re-express timeless truths from the Scripture in ways that those around me can soak in.  It is not only knowing what you believe that matters.  It also matters HOW you communicate what you believe.

Many old labels are not in use anymore.  Why? because “that was then and this is now.”  Labels or brands, their perception, value and design, change appreciabley with the times.  It is interesting that even those who intentionally cling to an  old label such as “fundamentalist” are now reticent to use it in public {see his quote: “should only be used as an in-house label”}.

That covered lip approach speaks loudly.  If you can’t affirm everywhere who you are, then it is questionable that you are really standing for what you say you are standing for.  When humans talk in layers like “secret-speak” and “public-speak” they are usually trying to prop up something like either an old label or some sacred cow.   In many ways this is symptomatic of conservative Christianity.

For the sake of the Gospel being understood is a much better end result than being pigeon holed.  And also, speaking the truth clearly, lovingly and perceptibly to the here and now is a better instrument in the Master’s hand.  What are they (or we) really focused on – setting right old vendetta’s or helping set lost souls on the path to reconciliation with the Holy Father?

So should we toss out all labels? A good step forward is to remember that some labels are good and some are not helpful.  Again, being understood is a much better desired result than being pigeon-holed.  To that desired end we should do what matters most to the advancement of our Christian faith – know what you believe from the Bible (in particular The Gospel of Jesus Christ and it numerous implications), AND know how best to communicate what you believe from the Bible to those around you.- in this here and now.

Now this takes a little more work than tossing a label into the middle of a conversation.  BUT, taking a little more effort to be clear and avoid “buzz” words shows you care about those you are trying to communicate with.  Sometimes we cling to ways of saying things because we mistakenly think that our identity is tied to that phrase or label or buzz word.  You show you care about others when you take time to speak clearly – here and now – about the truths God has shown you from His Word.

Here is a good example of someone who is gracious to those who think differently that he and is still unwavering about what matters most – knowing the truth of God’s Word and knowing how to communicate it to those you care about.   20 reasons I  don’t take potshots at fundamentalists (by John Piper)


in view of present disturbances within American fundamentalists quarters

from the past suitable for the present
in view of present disturbances within American fundamentalists quarters

{ you might also be interested LABELS and why they change with time }


I was sick this past week with pneumonia and thus have had a lot of time to read. I came across an old booklet in my library which captivated my attention in light of this recent controversy and trading of barbs (May 09) within the American fundamentalist blogosphere. Had I read the booklet a year ago it would have impressed me no doubt, but stumbling upon this now, at this time – well, it reminded me like when I was a boy – finding a five dollar bill in the middle of the sidewalk and the county fair opens the next day – the timing, the poignancy and perhaps even the Providence of God striking me as if between the eyes. (Although, I think my view of God’s Providence has advance since those youthful days.)

What I read was a lecture by C. H. Spurgeon. The value of what Spurgeon said nearly a century and half ago, especially at the beginning of his talk, seems so finely tailored to this present hour that the significance of it cannot be lightly passed over. The lecture is entitled, The Two Wesleys: a lecture delivered in the Metropolitan Tabernacle Lecture Hall on Decemeber 6th, 1861 by C. H. Spurgeon. When I read the title I said to myself – “This should be interesting. Why would Spurgeon, a Calvinist, be interested in talking at length about a couple of Arminians? Perhaps he has a few well-positioned shots across the bow.  You know – Arminians and Calvinists, oil and water, the Hatfields and the McCoys.”

But quite to the contrary, Spurgeon’s tack is much different than what I expected. Here are a few excerpts. I trust they will speak bold for themselves. Some notes or emphasis have been added.

“Last Friday night I announced a subject …The Companions of Whitefield [a Calvinist] …Seeing that John Wesley and his brother [Arminians] were the first ‘companions of Whitefield,’ and were entitled to the chief place, I begin with their lives…”

“When Whitfield first went to Oxford, he had little fear of God before his eyes and little thought of heavenly things. But he found John and Charles Wesley there and though they could not teach him the gospel, they could impress him with the importance of eternal realities and they did so…From that time they formed a very intimate friendship with each other; they were co-labourers, working side by side for many years.”

This next comment by Spurgeon is noteworthy since both George Whitfield and John Wesley were strongly outspoken on their opposite views of soteriology. In time their friendship was tested not by the harsh edge of life, but by the dividing edge of doctrine itself.  Here is how Spurgeon describes their situation (this is long before sermonaudio.com and the blogs).

“When, at last, the controversy sprang up concerning the Arminian and the Calvinistic doctrines, Whitfield conducted his part of the controversy with the kindest and most gracious spirit and, I think, I may add, Mr. Wesley did the same. They disputed one another as brethren, not as enemies; the both, I think, held each other in quite as high esteem when they differed as when they agreed.”

It is instructive to us that Spurgeon tempers his own criticisms of Wesley because he sees in George Whitfield an attitude of self-control and deference toward Wesley.

“Now I, who admire Whitfield as much as the Wesleyan admires Wesley, though I am not bound to close my eyes to his faults, think very highly of Wesley because George Whitfield did so…”

And on a certain occasion…

“…some Calvinist, who was exceedingly wrathful with Mr. Wesley, once said to Mr. Whitfield, ‘Do you think we shall ever see John Wesley in heaven?’ Whitfield stopped and said, ‘Do I think we shall ever see John Wesley in heaven? Well, I do not think we shall,’ said he. “So then [the questioner] thought that Mr. Whitfield quite agreed with him in his bitterness.

‘But,’ added Mr. Whitfield, ‘the reason why we shall not see him is this – I am afraid that you and I will be so far off the throne of Christ and Wesley will be so near that he will be lost in the brightness of his Savior and I hardly think you and I will be able to see him.’

“[The questioner] turned away in a moment, having got quite a contrary answer from that which he expected from the lips of George Whitfield.”

Such meekness – such deference – such Christian courage to keep the dagger sheathed and give due diligence to “overcome the opposition” with the gentleness of the Spirit. These men were on “the same team” were they not? Spurgeon further noted something else, an action which speaks more eloquently than words possibly could.

“In proof of this [mutual bond of kindness], you will remember that Whitfield chose Mr. Wesley to preach his funeral sermon and he did preach it in the Tabernacle [the seat of Spurgeon’s Cavlinistic pulpit] and a more loving eulogy upon a godly man could never have been poured forth by one who had perfectly agreed with him. But while Mr. Wesley differed in many very important points, yet he extolled and loved Whitefield from his very soul and spoke of him as only one could speak who loved and valued that man of God.”

My father was a physician. He used to say that he thought it was odd that two physicians could strongly disagree with each other and still remain good friends, but two preachers could disagree strongly and not manage to get along. He never shared with us why he thought this is so, but I think I have an answer. The two doctors never lose sight of the fact that they are working toward the patient’s improvement. Helping the patient is their ultimate goal. That is their stock and trade. The two preachers for whatever reason lose sight of this greater good – feeding the sheep, discipling them in The Word (John 21) and equipping them to spread the gospel of Christ.

When those who oppose the gospel attack its truth we must be ready to prise de fer, “take the steel,” of course. But, when church leadership opposes each other as though the other is the enemy itself we in effect oppose ourselves and truly we oppose Christ. There is no merit for the Body doing injury to itself, but we should instead give full energy and strength and prayer and creative effort to spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The world is dying. They are marching headlong into a Christless eternity. We must spread the ‘good news.’

Those of us sitting in the pew and serving in the Church long for a vibrant church life which comes from seeing the lost converted by the gospel and the saints deepened in their faith-walk through discipleship in The Word and through Christian fellowship (Acts 2).

In this slice of Spurgeon, Whitfield and Wesley we see an ECHO of KINDNESS from the past that is perfectly suitable for the present. The cause of Christ is greater than any amount of turf you may wish to defend or opinion you wish to trumpet. Can we work as brothers in concert without rancor, avoiding misrepresentations and with patience and deference? By the grace of God may it ever be so.

My hope is that we can within our conservative circles, regardless of regional tendencies or theological persuassion, do two keys things:

1 – retune our FOCUS on the Gospel

(We should all be able to agree on this.  When we see our own church or group distinctives in light of the Gospel we should be able to see that some of those distinctives are secondary.  If we overemphasize or become defensive about these secondary matters, then such efforts will cast a shadow on the Gospel.  The Gospel is central to all that God is seeking to accomplish in time and eternity.)

2 – adjust our TONE to one of gentleness and deference

(There is more than one way to say the same thing.  We can still speak the truth without harpooning individuals, publicly flogging or mispresenting each other.  We are on the same team, right?)

What practical kindnesss tips can you suggest for when we disagree with one another?

for more on this subject check out LABELS and why they change with time

May, 2009

Psalm 133:1

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for the brethren to dwell together in unity.

“an echo of kindness from the past suitable for the present” C2009Mark Olivero