Category Archives: Humility

Gospel Reductionism

The Gospel is the commonly defined as the “good news” of Jesus Christ and His message of hope and grace for man.  Pennington in his book, Reading the Gospels Wisely, expands on why our interpretation of the Gospels is of utmost and paramount importance.  The question I would like to address at the end of this report is:  If we deviate too far from this question of why the Gospels are important, do we leave the good news of Jesus Christ and the message of His Kingdom completely behind?   First, Pennington highlights “the why” as he discusses how Paul directly and bluntly challenges Peter and the Galatians (pg. 5) for not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel (Gal 2:14).  Paul saw Peter as attempting to add Torah obedience to Jesus’ Gospel message, thereby turning away from the message of hope and grace — which was really no good news at all.  Pennington describes Paul’s
continuous and persistent emphasis on the Gospel message in other letters he writes as well (pg. 5).  Second, Pennington highlights the weight and frequency of how the word Gospel is used in the Synoptic Gospels.  In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the word “Gospel” was used five, seven and ten times, respectively.  More importantly, Pennington says, is how and the word Gospel was used.  Pennington describes the phrase “the Gospel of the Kingdom” as Matthew’s desire to communicate the weight, significance, and centrality of the Jesus’ message of hope and grace for mankind (pg. 12).

Pennington goes on to discuss four areas that stood out to me that I want to highlight in the rest of this paper. These four areas are (1) Gospel reductionism, (2) the richness of having four Gospels, (3) understanding the larger framework of the Gospels, and (4) posture in reading the Gospels.

First, I believe, Pennington has found a deep need to communicate his message in the book because of recent trends in churches today.  He describes nine reasons why the Gospels are important.  Most pronounced to me was when he describes a form of Gospel reductionism (pg. 39). He specifically highlights Lutheran reductionism but I agree with Kyle Fever (Synoptic 1 Video) when he said during the lectures that other church denominations can engage in Gospel reductionism as well.    Pennington goes on to profoundly say “but movements over time always get dehydrated and reduced down to a bouillon-cube state so that they can easily be transferred and promulgated” (pg. 39).  For this reason, Pennington says, we need to study the Gospels wisely because they have been the central message of the Church throughout history (pg. 38).  In a related thought to  Gospel reductionism he describes how encountering Jesus’ true story and intent in the Gospels can help us grow instead of reducing scripture into “neat little boxes of truth” (pg. 48).

Second, Pennington describes a richness of having four Gospel books in the bible that one Gospel could not provide (pg. 70).  Each Gospel book has differences in wording and in the order of some of the parables and events of Jesus life. . He describes this as different “lines of sight” obtained from different perspectives (pg. 61).  By reading the Gospels horizontally (comparing the various wording of each Gospel parable in the various synoptic Gospels) we can gain a deeper meaning of scripture as we reflect on why each writer chose different words to describe similar events in the life of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, differences in order of parables tells us that the Gospel message cannot be interpreted exclusively through historical means, but we also need to interpret the Gospels theologically with an understanding that the intent of the Gospel writers was to highlight Jesus and His Kingdom and purpose (Kyle Fever: Synoptic 1 Video).  Pennington goes on to say that the gospel writers’ interpretations may not be to represent the “exact words” of Jesus Christ but they do represent Jesus’ “own voice” and intent.

Third, Pennington highlights the various approaches one can take to read the Gospels and discusses the “what strikes me” approach (WSM) vs narrative analysis of the stories.  He describes the WSM approach as “nugget hunting” for truth and says it can lead to missing the nuances and essence of the story itself (pg. 180). In contrast narrative analysis attempts to move beyond individual stories and bring into light the larger constructs of the story itself.   Narrative analysis would take into account things like identifying the rising intent and action of the story, the climax of the story, and finally the falling action of the story (pg. 173). Furthermore, we can observe broader items in the Gospels that he calls acts, cycles, and literary structures.  He describes this process as “panning out” to understand the bigger picture that the Gospel writer is trying to tell (pg. 187) so we can dig out the deeper nuances of the Gospel message.  Pennington concludes that we must not forget that the Gospel message and the parables are telling a bigger story that spans the entirety of the Gospel messages (pg. 189). Beyond that even the Gospels stretch across the entire canon of scripture (pg. 198).

Fourth, Pennington discusses the importance of the posture and lens of how we interpret scripture. Even though there is no one right way to interpret scripture he goes on to profoundly say that “the most important part of reading Holy scripture well is not our method or theory but our posture and goal” (pg. 137). By having the right posture and goal we will have a more productive reading and interpretation of the Gospel messages where we see nuance and the intended meanings and goals of the Gospel writer.

During the Synoptic Gospels pt.1 videos we had opportunity to apply some of Pennington’s thoughts to the book of Matthew.  I was struck that even in the geneology of Matthew there seemed to be purpose and intent that flowed into the message Matthew was trying to tell later in his Gospel.  Matthew chooses different people to include in the geneology (plus several women) than the other Gospel writers as well as different starting and stopping points of the geneology.  Kyle Fever highlighted some thoughts as to why and it was interesting that even in the geneology Matthew had significant meaning and purpose.

Kyle discussed how Matthew spanned across the canon in multiple prophecy fulfillments on the Old Testament (OT). Even in the geneology, again, there is much parallelism to the OT exodus story.

Continue reading

Monstrum Incertitudinis (the monster of uncertainty) Where To Look When You’re In Trouble?

monstrum incertitudinis (the monster of uncertainty)

I found this article at:

I have some words highlighted in red below. In todays world man has become profoundly inwardly focused on how he can impact and imprint the world via moralism or righteouss acts.   His focus on his own external behavior diminishes the Glory of the cross and gospel and what God finished on the cross.  Its not me do… its what He has done!  Don’t get me wrong, I feel called to lead sanctification oriented ministries. However, I find a  very common gospel-gap in most growth oriented ministries that results in people that can’t be very honest and open before God.  This gospel-gap that focuses on my external moral behavior without focussing on Christs work in my heart by what HE did for us on the cross !!! …. I see as major hindrance to real-christ oriented sanctification and implementing the James 5:15 where we can truly see and confess our sins!

Where To Look When You’re In Trouble

A shift has taken place in the Evangelical church with regard to the way we think about the gospel–and it’s far from simply an ivory tower conversation. This shift effects us on the ground of everyday life.

In his book Paul: An Outline of His Theology, famed Dutch Theologian Herman Ridderbos (1909 – 2007) summarizes this shift which took place following Calvin and Luther. It was a sizable but subtle shift which turned the focus of salvation from Christ’s external accomplishment to our internal appropriation:

While in Calvin and Luther all the emphasis fell on the redemptive event that took place with Christ’s death and resurrection, later under the influence of pietism, mysticism and moralism, the emphasis shifted to the individual appropriation of the salvation given in Christ and to it’s mystical and moral effect in the life of the believer. Accordingly, in the history of the interpretation of the epistles of Paul the center of gravity shifted more and more from the forensic to the pneumatic and ethical aspects of his preaching, and there arose an entirely different conception of the structures that lay at the foundation of Paul’s preaching.

Donald Bloesch made a similar observation when he wrote, “Among the Evangelicals, it is not the justification of the ungodly (which formed the basic motif in the Reformation) but the sanctification of the righteous that is given the most attention.”

With this shift came a renewed focus on the internal life of the individual. The subjective question, “How am I doing?” became a more dominant feature than the objective question, “What did Jesus do?” As a result, generations of Christians were taught that Christianity was primarily a life-style; that the essence of our faith centered on “how to live”; that real Christianity was demonstrated in the moral change that took place inside those who had a “personal relationship with Jesus.” Our ongoing performance for Jesus, therefore, not Jesus’ finished performance for us, became the focus of sermons, books, and conferences. What I need to do and who I need to become, became the end game.

Believe it or not, this shift in focus from “the forensic to the pneumatic”, from the external to the internal, has enslaving practical consequences.

When you’re on the brink of despair–looking into the abyss of darkness, experiencing a dark-night of the soul–turning to the internal quality of your faith will bring you no hope, no rescue, no relief. Every internal answer will collapse underneath you. Turning to the external object of your faith, namely Christ and his finished work on your behalf, is the only place to find peace, re-orientation, and help. The gospel always directs you to something, Someone, outside you instead of to something inside you for the assurance you crave and need in seasons of desperation and doubt. The surety you long for when everything seems to be falling apart won’t come from discovering the dedicated “hero within” but only from the realization that no matter how you feel or what you’re going through, you’ve already been discovered by the “Hero without.

As Sinclair Ferguson writes in his book The Christian Life:

True faith takes its character and quality from its object and not from itself. Faith gets a man out of himself and into Christ. Its strength therefore depends on the character of Christ. Even those of us who have weak faith have the same strong Christ as others!

By his Spirit, Christ’s continuing subjective work in me consists of his constant, daily driving me back to his completed objective work for me. Sanctification feeds on justification, not the other way around. To be sure, both doctrine and devotion go hand in hand, but the gospel is the good news announcing Christ’s devotion to us, not our devotion to him. The gospel is not a command to hang onto Jesus. Rather, it’s a promise that no matter how weak your faith may be in seasons of spiritual depression, God is always holding on to you.

Martin Luther had a term for the debilitating danger that comes from locating our hope in anything inside us: monstrum incertitudinis (the monster of uncertainty). It’s a danger that has always plagued Christians since the fall but especially Christians in our highly subjectivistic age. And it’s a monster that can only be destroyed by the external promises of God in Jesus.

Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is a bonafide peace that’s built on a real change in status before God—from standing guilty before God the judge to standing righteous before God our Father. This is the objective custody of even the weakest believer. It’s a peace that rests squarely on the fact that we’ve already been “reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (v. 10), justified before God once and for all through faith in Christ’s finished work. It will surely produce real feelings and robust action, but this peace with God that Paul describes rests securely on the work of Christ for us, outside us. The truth is, that the more I look into my own heart for peace, the less I find. On the other hand, the more I look to Christ and his promises for peace, the more I find.

So, when pressed in on every side, look up. In God’s economy, the only way out is always up, not in.

Repenting of our sin and good deeds

I have never found an explanation of repentance and faith as clear as this one.

What must we do, then, to be saved? To find God we must repent of the things we have done wrong, but if that is all you do, you may remain just a [self righteouss] elder brother. To truly become a Christian we must also repent of the reasons we ever did anything right. Pharisees only repent of their sins, but Christians repent for the very roots of their righteousness, too. We must learn how to repent of the sin under all our other sins and under all our righteousness – the sin of seeking to be our own Savior and Lord. We must admit that we’ve put our ultimate hope in both our wrongdoing and right doing we have been seeking to get around God or get control of God in order to get hold of those things.

It is only when you see the desire to be your own Savior and Lord—lying beneath both your sins and your moral goodness—that you are on the verge of becoming a Christian indeed. When you realize that the antidote to being bad is not just being good, you are on the brink. If you follow through, it will change everything—how you relate to God, self, others, the world, your work, you sins, your virtue. It’s called the new birth because its so radical” – Tim Keller, The Prodigal God

We must repent not only of our evil ways, but also our good ways motivated by the wrong reasons.

Habits of Highly Accountable Men and How People Change

I was listening to Mark Brouwer being interviewed and he made a very interesting point that I agree with. He said most accountability groups don’t work!  I have some issues with making this a global statement but I tend to agree.   Furthermore, I would extend this to mentoring relationships.   Most mentoring relationships don’t work.   Especially when one person expects some change as the output of this relationship.  Mark goes on to say during the interview that unless one person in the group understands the process  of change these groups are likely to end up not working…. especially in the case of addictive sin.  This interview came at an interesting time for me since next year I plan to start a start at a new Church and facilitate a group of men using material based on understanding the process of change in addictive sin.

Let me say a word about the word addiction.   Usually the word addiction is used by 2 kinds of people: Those that believe they are addicted and see a need to change….. and those that see themselves as pretty good and dont need to change.  However, scripture tells us that there is no sin not common to all men and scripture reminds us of mans addiction to sin!  There is a fine line between addictive sin and any other kind of sin.  Often it comes down to just how honest you are about yourself.   My point here is all Christians can benefit from a mentoring relationship with a person that understands the process of change in real relationships!  In the past few years God has been calling me to lead groups of people that are active church-goers and have assurance “in Christ” but are still struggling in big ways!!  Next year will be year 2 doing this. Continue reading

Christian attitude: Better in private than in public

One of the things I am trying to work hard toward is to make my life the same in private as in public.  Most people put on a good external face but when the doors are closed and the shades are pulled things become a different story.   When we shut the doors our selfish side is allowed to manifest itself.  Anyhow, I don’t always do this perfectly… but things are pretty good and a lot better than they used to be.

Wouldn’t it be great if our Christian attitude was better in private and in secret than it was in public as opposed to the other way around! Our private lives and what we do in secret reflects our real heart.  What we think about when our minds are at rest reflects what we worship so lets look to Jesus — the author and perfecter of our faith.

A good understanding of the Christian doctrine of sin should allow Christians to face sin head on in front of other Christian brothers and sisters. However, partially due to our own fears and also partially due to other peoples  incorrect understanding of the depth of mans sin … confession over deeper sins is driven into the corners of Churches; this type of confession and understanding of sin and grace may not exist in some Churches.

The basic question for the Christian as we look at our own heart is always “What desire (or idol of the heart)  is functionally in place of Jesus Christ” as we live our daily lives. For many it is sex, wealth, power, alcohol, drugs, or food.  Also the idols of  image (family, religious, and self image) , preeminence, wealth and self righteousness are also potent masters of the heart.

This year is the year of the diet for me…. and its a tough one.   So far I have lost 40 lbs but in reality I have never in my life not been overweight.   I am not looking at this so Continue reading

Uneven Ground and Showing Grace

Why cant Christians learn to rest in the all sufficiency of Christ. Why cant Christians show Grace, Mercy, and Love to their lost and hurting friends? Why cant we demonstrate love to people that are engaged in sins different from our own?

Why?    Because the Ground is uneven!!!!!!!

We tend to see ourselves, like the pharisees, as being on higher ground, a higher spiritual plane… or in a better place than other groups of people.  When you do this its IMPOSSIBLE to show grace and mercy to someone else. ITS IMPOSSIBLE!  We are delusional if we think we can just grow a little more humility but continue to see ourselves in a “higher place” and still show love, grace, and mercy to others in a meaningful, heartfelt way.   We need to deal with the idolatry of our religious sin and the content of our hearts before we demonstrate lasting mercy and love to other sinners or people that are hurting and wandering due to their sin.

Scripture talks about the condition of man as if its COMPLETELY and TOTALLY depraved — complete depravity or complete sinfullness.  Only in light of Gods Mercy and what Jesus did for us on the cross do we have any righteoussness; therefore, we CAN’t see ourselves as spiritually more mature than someone else.  Its only because of what Jesus did for us that we can claim any sort of righteoussness. ALL righteoussness comes from Christ and by what He did for us on the cross! (Romans 1:16-17).

The ground is even. The playing field has been levelled by what Jesus did for us. Not by what I can do.

Thoughts?  Am I rambling?

An inch or a mile

I am paraphrasing something my Pastor said this weekend. Briefly, he made a statement about Christians and people who miss things by an inch vs those who miss it by a mile.  

I am about to embark on a bible study on the parable of the Prodigal son and related parables for the next 6 weeks.  The parable is about exactly what my Pastor said. Its about a younger brother who seems to be missing the mark by a mile and an obedient elder brother who misses the mark by an inch. However, in the end the younger brother is sitting at the feast of the Father while  the elder brother does not seem to follow the fathers invitation to  the same feast.  The younger brother sees how deep his need is for a savior and the elder brother says “Look at me. I have been doing everything right. Why arent you slaughtering the fattened calf for me”.  I call this elder brother attitude acting as if he was “taxpayer with rights” as opposed to being a spiritual beggar.

I have seen how elder brother, religious  sin affects a marriages and its clear to me, from scripture, that Jesus speaks of this particular religious, Continue reading

Anti-moralist Christianity

I know it sounds like a weird title but bear with the article:

The article says:

“The Reason for God” boldly takes aim at smug self-righteousness: “It is possible to avoid Jesus as Savior as much by keeping all the Biblical rules as by breaking them.” As Keller explains, “Both religion (in which you build your identity on your moral achievements) and irreligion (in which you build your identity on some other secular pursuit or relationships) are, ultimately, spiritually identical courses to take. Both are ’sin.’”

The articles goes on to say.

Keller in New York and I in Texas have seen the result: “Churches that are filled with self-righteous, exclusive, insecure, angry, moralistic people are extremely unattractive. . . . Millions of people raised in or near these kinds of churches reject Christianity at an early age or in college largely because of their experience. For the rest of their lives, they are inoculated against Christianity.”


Keller’s summary: Often, “people whose lives have been harder and who are ‘lower on the character scale’ are more likely to recognize their need for God and turn to Christianity.

and again

Keller also rightly objects to charges that Christians feel superior to others: Christians realize that many people of other faiths “will live lives morally superior to their own . . . Christian believers are not accepted by God because of their moral performance, wisdom, or virtue, but because of Christ’s work on their behalf.” He notes that most worldviews connect spiritual status to religious attainments: “This naturally Continue reading

The Resources for Forgiveness

The following is from a document called Love and Love Language from the Tim Keller site. It can probably be found somewhere at

The Resources  for Forgiveness.

1. We need enough humility.

Jesus ties our ability to forgive to our ability to repent. (“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” Matt.6:12.) This doesn’t mean that God forgives our sins because we forgive others. It means that in general we are as forgiven by God as we are forgiving to others because unforgiving people are unrepentant people. The more we hold grudges the less we see ourselves as having done wrong and needing forgiveness; the more we see ourselves as needing forgiveness, the more likely we are to forgive others. Why? Resentment requires a person to sit in the position of Judge Rom.12:19-20). We can only hold grudges if we feel superior to the other person. Jesus very directly and bluntly tells us that, if we hold a grudge against another person, we are ignorant of how much we owe God. So the first thing we have to see is our own need for forgiveness. We need enough humility to forgive.

Transition: But this is not enough! Because though pride is one reason that we cannot forgive, emotional insecurity is another. So in addition:

2. We need enough “emotional wealth”.

Why is it that we can forgive some wrongs easily but not others? It is because everyone draws a sense of self-worth (a sense that we are worthy of Continue reading