Weekly App Review: Reformation Study Bible

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The Reformation Study Bible App is an English Standard Version study Bible edited by R. C. Sproul. The app itself is very stable and easy to use. The Bible texts are easy to navigate and the features are simple to use. The app allows the user to reference over 20,000 study notes, which are generally insightful, intelligent and useful in a pinch. The app allows the user to search the text, take notes, and highlight passages. This app is pretty useful for simple and cursory study of texts.

The app also offers a handful of downloadable resources like a Strong’s Analytical Concordance, a Mathew Henry’s Concise Commentary, a Bible Dictionary and Sproul’s devotional collection. The user can also download several additional translations. This app is feature heavy and the features are generally useful, though some of them, like the Mathew Henry Commentary or the Strong’s KJV concordance, are not. These two resources are ok, but are not the best of the best available.

The most important thing I can say about this app is that it is stable, fast and useful. The in-text notes are easy to pull up and typically give a good information when its needed. As a teacher, I use this app daily. It has replaced my Chain Reference Study Bible entirely.

I have occasionally found the search feature frustrating simply because it tends to be very unforgiving to variations in words. This is a particular detriment for a guy who had never used the ESV translation before now. Occasionally, the app gets hung up in the text preventing the user from accessing the features. This is generally fixed by simply restarting the app.

The Reformation Study Bible’s main weakness is the lack of depth of resources, but this is certainly excusable considering that it is essentially a Study Bible. For deeper study, I use the Logos Bible App. The Reformed Study Bible is faster and tends to be easier to use in relation to handling the scriptures directly. This is particularly the case when offline, which is no issue for the Reformation Study Bible App, but the Achilles heel of the Logos app.

Another weakness is with the fact that you cannot copy and paste text from the scripture you’re referencing. While not a fatal flaw, this feature would definitely be a useful addition to this app.

The Reformation Study Bible works well on both the iPad and iPhone. It’s a little easier to use on the iPad because of the larger screen. For $9.99, it is certainly one of the more pricey options for Bible apps, but I would argue that it is worth the price, particularly considering that most study Bibles will run you $30 plus.

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The Monty Python Gospel

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20110824-091745.jpg“Always look on the bright side of life!” Eric Idle sings these words in the closing scene of the Life of Brian. For those not familiar with the Life of Brian, the film follows Brian, a Palestinian Jew during the time of Christ. It is a sort of mockery of people and conventions in the first century. (as well as some of the foibles of religious folks) The closing scene depicts Brian being crucified. After several misguided “attempts” at rescue turn out to be far too silly to work, Brian becomes frustrated and downhearted. Enter Eric Idle, who does his best to cheer up Brian by singing this startlingly cheerful song. It’s a crazy scene because we see people being crucified, arguably the most horrid form of execution in history, but they all sing about whistling and being happy even as we face death. Comic genius – though, it is sharp enough to make most Christians pretty uncomfortable. I’ll own up pretty openly that I love Monty Python and I laughed quite a bit at this movie.

This is the scene that came to my mind as I listened to a sermon in my car the other morning on the way to work. The sermon was by a popular pastor, who was giving a set of clever tips on how to live life better. There were scripture verses cited that supported all the things we needed to do to fix this particular area of our lives. It was fairly Christian-esque in the respect that it presented a message that was positive and the Bible turned up occasionally as a part of supporting a particular point, it was entertaining, and encouraging and everything else a good Christian message should have. What it lacked was a clear message that in struggling with our sins, we can only find victory in Christ’s atoning death for our sins on the cross. Without forgiveness, we are working to be good through the law. The book of Romans tells us that the law is death.

For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. Romans 7:5

Actually, this is one verse. Go read it in context. The surrounding chapters drive this point home. The law is death to the sinful man. More law equals more burden we cannot bear. Sermons like this are like throwing a drowning man an anchor.

Thus, we see the scene from the Life of Brian. Men and women dying and cheerfully singing that the best thing they can do is sing and try to be happy by looking at the bright side. Our sins are killing us. Christless Christianity gives us more laws, more burdens and more death. So, to deal with it, we sing and try to be cheerful. Its not really any kind of good news for someone to tell me that I need to overcome the sin in my life through my works and effort.

The only salvation we can find is to realize that we are dying in our sins and be renewed in Christ through his death for our sins.

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. Romans 7:24

Managing a great life through principles can never compete with righteousness in Christ through grace. It’s the difference between us merrily singing as we die and him dying so we can live and sing praise.

Circus Church

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20110814-033944.jpgThe other morning I was driving to work and I heard on the radio “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” by Neil Diamond. Yes, I listened to it and enjoyed it because Neil Diamond may be a cheese ball, but he’s a cool cheese ball. The song is about a traveling evangelist, who sets up a circus tent and puts on a Jesus show for everyone. The whole town turns out because it is entertaining. The lyrics imply that Brother Love is quite the showman. While I was listening to the song, my mind wandered to a discussion I had recently regarding the seeker sensitive movement and whether or not it was a legitimate way to do ministry.

For those not too familiar with the term, the seeker sensitive church model designs the Sunday morning service around reaching non-Christians and bringing them into the life of the church. In an effort to be seeker sensitive, music is chosen because it makes the worshiper feel good, distasteful words like “sin” are replaced with more palatable alternatives like “broken” or some other therapy oriented term. Rather than discuss Christ and atonement, sermons focus on meeting the felt need of the congregation. The general focus is shifted from worshipping God to making guests feel welcome in order to bring them into the life of the church. Ideally, seeker sensitive churches would then move guests to cell groups (groups that meet in the houses of members to do Bible study).

A couple of quick things to note regarding this model: First, it is effective at drawing a big crowd. Go to a mega-church and you will typically find the seeker sensitive model. Second, it is generally very entertainment oriented. It is not uncommon to find seeker sensitive churches doing outrageous things to draw a crowd. Just like Brother Love and his circus, there is a degree of Barnum and Bailey’s at work. These are the churches that talk more about having a great sex life through scriptural principles or feature motocross riders in the service or fire-breathing as a part of the sermon. All of these showman elements are aimed at bringing the unchurched in the front doors for an hour every Sunday. Third, the traditional gospel message is “repackaged” to be more accessible. This sometimes involves changing vocabulary or teaching with parables/stories. Sometimes sermons focus entirely on meeting the felt needs of the congregation. It is common to call them self-help sermons or sharing the therapy gospel. Ultimately, the message shifts from salvation in Christ alone to: how to have your best life now.

20110814-034153.jpgI will begin with a disclaimer: some churches that do this model could potentially do it well and with pure motives. Some seeker sensitive churches teach that we are all sinners and that the only way to avoid the wrath of a just and righteous God is through Jesus, thus doing more than simply teaching people how to feel good. It seems reasonable that some of the thousands of seeker churches that exist clearly proclaim the gospel. Ultimately, this is a method for drawing in unbelievers. The purpose of drawing in unbelievers is to expose them to the Gospel. That having been said, this raises the question of the purpose of the worship service. Is the purpose of worship evangelism? Further still, one of the central tenets of seeker sensitive worship is to focus on the felt needs of the unchurched. How does this gel with worship focusing on God? This question is especially pertinent when we consider the fact that many seeker driven churches soften the Gospel to make it more palatable for the lost that are visiting. This is the constant temptation faced by those who look to grow through seeker sensitive methodology. It is a temptation that results in a broken system on Sunday morning. No man can serve two masters and the seeker sensitive crowd frequently winds up having to deal with meeting the needs to the uncommitted against preaching the Gospel. Thus, we end up with therapy gospel and other messes that turn growth/numbers into an idol we worship rather than God himself.

Another problem with this model is that it often rests on a faulty assumption regarding everyone’s role in the church. In the seeker sensitive model, it easy for the Sunday morning Jesus show to become the primary attraction for the lost, rather than disciples of Christ going out to reach the world for His name. Ministry to the world is often reduced to simple service with no real sharing of the Gospel message of Christ as the one who redeems us. In such cases, serving our neighbor is sufficient ministry and no preaching is ever endeavored upon. Instead, the role of evangelist falls exclusively on the shoulders of the pastor. If a pastor desires to grow his church, but doesn’t so much care to disciple and train members to reach the lost, he is stuck in the role of trying to bring them in through other means. This often manifests itself in the three ring circus that is a seeker church.

One of the central problems, I would argue, is the desire of modern Christians to be served and entertained. They consume church like a product. When they are bored or uncomfortable, they leave and go somewhere else. As a result, congregations are frequently loaded with immature Christians who throw tantrums and leave every few years or throw tantrums and force out the current leadership ‘cause they don’t get what they want.

Sound Biblical teaching and discipleship are the missing ingredients that keeps Christians immature and prevents them from going out to reach the lost. As a result, the seeker service is the only answer for a pastor looking to grow his congregation, stoke his ego or appease a demanding consistory. This means that, at times, seeker sensitive tendencies can be used as a thermometer to measure the disciple-making efforts/health of a church. When a pastor has to entertain or scratch itching ears to keep people in the church, there is something wrong. That “something” is a congregation that lacks maturity and is not producing disciples. The big show should not be the attraction to worship.

I believe at one of the best scriptural illustrations of this concept is found in the Matthew account of the feeding of the 5000 and the day that followed. Everyone knows the story of the miraculous feeding of the 5000 from Matthew. In fact, the story is a favorite amongst seeker driven and health/wealth preachers because Jesus draws a big crowd and meets their needs. After this happens, Jesus crosses the nearby lake (on foot), helps Peter briefly walk on water and sets up camp on the other side. The crowd he had fed the previous day comes to find him the next morning looking for more food. There is a great conversation about Moses and manna, in which the people ask for more bread as proof of Christ’s having been sent from God. Christ responds by telling them that they need to eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to gain entrance into heaven. The crowd says his teaching is too hard and abandons him. We see this in the seeker movement today. They are fed and their needs are met, but at the first sign of difficult teaching or challenge, they abandon ship, because they did not want to know Christ. Rather, they wanted to have their needs met. We see the same thing happen with the Israelites in the desert when they demanded manna, meat, etc. and wandered when God didn’t jump to their service like a cosmic maitre’ d. The disciples did not abandon Him. Instead, they said that they had nowhere else to go, because only Christ had the words that bring eternal life. This is the response of a disciple of Christ to difficult teaching.

Now, another quick disclaimer: I don’t like organ music and I believe that living in Christ will change my life. Preaching should point me to Christ; in Christ, God’s Spirit will comfort me and produce fruit in my life. However, worship music must honor and worship God. It need not make me feel warm and fuzzy. The change in my life is not from applying principles and pulling myself up by my bootstraps. Rather, it is Christ and his Spirit living in me that produces changes. I also would argue that it is necessary to preach the good news every Sunday for the lost who are present.

Interlude: Sola Scriptura

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One of my favorite memories from my adolescent years is of arguing with my dad. Seems odd, right? I became a Christian when I was in Jr. High School and was excited to learn. One of the first Christian books I read was Luther’s Catechism. I read it because I wanted to know everything about God that I could possibly learn. I read and studied and absorbed. My father blessed me tremendously by pushing me to think about what I believed. His challenges to my thinking forced me to read the scriptures as a meter stick for my beliefs. Since then I have tried to practice this discipline in relation to my faith. When I read seminary texts, I try to check the scriptures to determine if the Bible supports the claims being made. When I read books from popular theologians, I read the Bible to determine the veracity of the claims. When I listen to sermons, I work to do the same thing. Measure, test and discern using the scriptures as the source for ultimate truth. Debating Bible with my father gave me this gift. At times, clever philosophies and theologies have come along only to be measured against the Word and judged accordingly. Let there be no doubt, at times I wanted them to be true, while at other times, I wanted to find them false. But my desires must always be subordinate to the will and truth of the God I serve. Paul pointed to the Berean church in Acts 17:10-12, referring to it as particularly noble because they tested everything he taught against the scriptures. Paul was happy that they questioned him and checked his teachings against the scriptures. Paul lived in a time rife with deceivers and false teachers, not unlike what we face today. In the wake of his ministry, Paul constantly battled false teachings, prompting him to say amazingly stern things to the effect of: if anyone teaches any gospel other than the one I taught, let them be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9) What is taught in the church matters. We must measure and test. I don’t have time to write the next installment of my love wins review. I will probably write it next week. However, I wanted to take a moment to comment on my observations of the discourse thus far. After all, the debate ought to be part of how we measure and test. That having been said, I have been reading blogs and articles, listening to podcasts and having conversations. The bluster, incredulity, name calling and condemnation has been more distasteful than anything else. Now, I have read a few great articles and discussions from a variety of sources. I have also read some dump and mindless articles. One of the more discouraging trends that I have encountered time and again is scant discussion of the scriptures and facts. I suspect this is a product of the appalling degree of Biblical and theological illiteracy in the church. We have so much freedom and so many available resources that they have lost all value. In the end, if we are going to discuss the matter, the only thing of importance is the scriptures. Period. Sure, it is difficult to think that people may go to hell. Its a sad possibility, but that isn’t enough to make the scripture supporting the existence of hell null and void. Only God can decide the truth of the existence of eternal punishment or salvation by faith in Christ. God gives us the truth in the scriptures and only they can act as the arbiters of truth. If we are to debate, let us do so with the scriptures. This makes it tough because it’s easy to love Rob Bell. We want to defend Bell because we love him. Others want to attack him because they loathe him. It doesn’t matter either way. We can only look to the scriptures for truth. Love him or hate him, measure the truth of all teachings against the word of God. I rather like Bell, but I will not choose any teaching over the plain message the scriptures. Don’t argue about the other guy’s argumentation style, argue their scriptures. Nothing else matters. The most important lesson I learned from arguing with my dad is that the best way to learn is to study and read in pursuit of the truth. If this debate has caught your attention and gotten your blood boiling… Read the scriptures and study. Then the goal ceases to be defeating the evil heretic or the stiff necked evangelical and becomes about learning who our God is so that we can take a closer walk with him.