Saturday, April 28, 2012

Book Review: Richard Phillips- The Masculine Mandate

691207: The Masculine Mandate:
God"s Calling to Men

By Richard Phillips / Reformation Trust Publishing

There is a crying need in the church today for men to be men. But competing visions for what a man is to be, some growing out of popular culture and others arising from flawed teaching in the church, are exacerbating the problem. Here is biblical exposition of the most practical sort teaching that reveals not only what men are to think but what they are to be.

In The Masculine Mandate Richard Phillips lays out a framework for Biblical manhood based primarily on his exposition of God’s mandate originally given to Adam. The book, however, isn’t just a commentary on the teaching about manhood from Genesis; it is also part of an ongoing debate within the culture of American Evangelicalism about what it means to be a Christian man.

A little background might be helpful. The Masculine Mandate is a response to John Eldredge’s book Wild at Heart which itself can be seen as a reaction to teaching prominent in earlier Evangelical “manhood” movements such The Promise Keepers. Although this was certainly not an entirely new concern The Promise Keeper movement in particular highlighted that there was a large group of Evangelical men who were willing (or at least desired) to emphasize Biblical expressions of manhood against the unbalanced expressions of masculinity in the broader culture.

Many, however; both within and outside of Evangelical circles, thought that the movement had imported too much femininity into its message thus “domesticating” men in ways that were not appropriate. Following the peak of the movement a number of books and articles such as David Murrow’s Why Men Hate Going to Church were written in reaction to this domesticated view of Christian manhood. The most famous, however, was John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man's Soul. These books argue to a greater or lesser extent that Biblical manhood does not require men to cease expressing those attributes that make them uniquely masculine. The idea is that men are not to be cowed or domesticated but rather refocused to discover their male identity.

Phillips agrees that it is inappropriate to expect men to conform to a feminized view of manhood and also reacts against the concept that men must be soft and sissy-like in order to be Biblical. He points out; however, that God intended man to participate in relationships and gave him duties and work to do. He sees the Wild at Heart mentality as an over reaction that encourages men to shirk responsibility and remain immature rather than Biblical providers who work and keep as God designed them to. Phillips emphasizes that men were created to function in a particular way within a covenant relationship.

The book has two parts. The first part, “Understanding Our Mandate” is focused on laying a doctrinal foundation for Christian manhood. Phillips focuses heavily on the Genesis account and the responsibilities that God gave to Adam to work, tend, and keep the garden. He uses a type of thematic exegesis throughout the book that assumes that this narrative account is normative for properly functioning manhood. He discusses the identity and function of man within this context and most of what he says here is helpful. The second part, “Living Our Mandate” is an application of the teaching that he lays out in the first half of the book. There are many helpful illustrations both from the Bible as well as everyday life that nicely highlight Phillips points.

The book has a number of strengths. There is a lot of scripture in the book which helps the reader to constantly come back to the Biblical foundation from which Phillips is working. The examples and illustrations are clear and well chosen. There is a lot of really helpful insight into the thinking and lives of men and at a number of points I was challenged regarding areas in my own life. Phillips also does a good job of pointing out certain legitimate weaknesses in the recent popular books on Christian masculinity as well as the obvious issues in the broader culture.

There were also some weaknesses. Although I did not disagree with most of the teaching points that were made I couldn’t help but feel that the author’s thematic approach to interpretation and application were stretched at times. His interpretation is reductionistic at times. Also, I felt as though his emphasis on marriage was overbearing. He throws in a couple of statements assuring the reader that single men can live complete and Biblical lives but the bulk of the discussion seems to leave the distinct impression that marriage is the ideal expression of Biblical masculinity. This, however, is a rather incomplete view of the Bible’s teaching on the issue. In fact, Paul seems to say the opposite in his letter to the Corinthians when he writes, “to the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am.”

Overall, I thought the book was OK. There were no major issues with the writing or the teaching and I think the topic is one worth continued examination. It was a book of the type one might expect from a conservative Evangelical on the topic.

* I received a free copy of this book from Reformation Trust Publishing as part of their book review program. Reviews are not required to be positive and the opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission' 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guidelines Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

NIV, ESV, & HCSB: What are the Differences?

Some time ago I saw these videos (on the DBTS blog) of a symposium held in September 2011 at Liberty University regarding various popular Bible Translations. The discussion was called “Which Bible Should I Use”. The presentations focused on the New International Version, the English Standard Version, and the Holman Christian Standard Bible. I thought that the presentations were excellent and would be very helpful to anyone who wanted to better understand the differences in the translation philosophies and renderings of these three modern translations.

If you are trying to decide on which translation might be best for you, are curious about the differences, or are just generally interested in Bible translation I think you will find these to be valuable. 

God Bless

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Book Review: David W. Jones & Russell S. Woodbridge > Health, Wealth & Happiness- Has the Prosperity Gospel Overshadowed the Gospel of Christ?

By David W. Jones & Russell S. Woodbridge / Kregel Publications

The desire for a thriving, healthy, and productive life is as strong as ever, especially in tough economic times. As people become more disillusioned at the state of the economy, they also become more susceptible to the lure of the prosperity gospel and its teachings of health, wealth, and happiness for the faithful. But what happens when the promise of prosperity overshadows the promise of the real gospel--the gospel of Christ?

Believing that the prosperity gospel is constructed upon faulty theology, authors David W. Jones and Russell S. Woodbridge take a closer look at five crucial areas of error relating to the prosperity gospel. In a fair but firm tone, the authors discuss the history and theology of the prosperity gospel movement to reveal that its foundation is the alteration of core biblical teachings.  Although even some of today's most well-known pastors teach these doctrines the authors show how they are actually a distortion that undermines the teaching of the Bible. After an introduction and assessment of the movement, readers are invited to take a look at Scripture to understand what the Bible really says about wealth, poverty, suffering, and giving.

Theologically sound but acessible to all readers, Health, Wealth & Happiness: Has the Prosperity Gospel Overshadowed the Gospel of Christ is sure to become a trusted resource for laypersons, pastors, and Christian leaders.

It is a tragedy that the so called prosperity movement has become so influential. What is even more tragic though is that many Christians are unable to recognize that these teachers are proclaiming is a serious distortion of the Gospel. Because teachers like Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes, and Joyce Meyer have combined their eclectic teaching with Biblical elements many people are confused into thinking that what they are hearing from them is Christian teaching. It is not. This book by David W. Jones and Russell S. Woodbridge is a gift to the Church because of the extent these teachings have not only infiltrated the culture at large but also many of our Churches.

The authors begin with a short but thorough critique of the prosperity / Word of Faith movement. The critique starts with an examination of the foundational assumptions of prosperity teaching and traces their development from their origins in the mystical “New Thought” movement through the more popular “soft” prosperity teaching found in various churches today. The authors’ then move on to an examination of specific elements of the teaching that includes many direct quotes from popular prosperity teachers and the errors they involve.

Once they convincingly make the case that prosperity teaching is unbiblical and spiritually dangerous they then present a Biblically based corrective to those distorted doctrines. They discuss the Bible’s teaching on suffering, wealth, poverty, and giving in a way that is positive, accessible, and balanced. The book also contains resources for further study for those who wish to learn more.

The value of this book is that it is brief, easy to read, and well written yet it manages to deal with the major errors in prosperity teaching in an effective way. I pray that this book will be widely read by those who think that these teachings properly fall within the broad range of “Evangelical Christianity”. I pray that we would take up the challenge that the authors give us to go to the Bible and understand what God has said about these issues so that we might be more knowledgeable about how to understand these issues. I pray also that many who are followers of these prosperity teachers would be led to look carefully at what they are being taught and believe. I gladly recommend this book. It should be widely read and widely shared. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Wonderful Gift for Free

"And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes."  (Ephesians 4:11-14 ESV)

It is not often that we are given gifts of great value for free. Our Father God, however, is most gracious and bestows upon us the greatest treasures out of His own bounty. The obvious treasure He gives which is of immeasurable value is Christ Himself and our own salvation through Him. This is not the end of God's generosity though. He also gives us many other gifts and one of them is teachers and preachers who He provides so that we may grow up into maturity in the faith.

One of the men whose preaching has been a tremendous gift of God to His Church is Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones. If you are familiar with the work of Dr. Lloyd-Jones then you already know this. If you are not familiar with his ministry the best way to better understand his value is to listen to one of his sermons. Fortunately (praise God) that has just been made much easier to do. This morning at the Together for the Gospel Conference in Louisville KY it was announced that the substantial library of of his recorded sermons (over 1,600) are now available to be downloaded for free at (you just need to register)

I would encourage brothers and sisters who are looking for preaching material to listen to throughout the week to take advantage of this collection. I am confident that you will be blessed by it.

God Bless 

Ministry ROI

Having a career in business as well as participating in ministry provides me a unique perspective on the similarities and differences between the two. Both companies and ministries must make decisions about how to use the resources that they have. Both must prioritize goals and objectives in order to ensure that time and resources are not squandered on non-value added activity. One of the keys to being a good manager whether in business or ministry is the ability to choose well how to use the available resources and to coordinate all those activities to support a unified goal. This is one of the reasons why the best leaders in both ministry and business tend to be effective communicators who can get a group of people “on the same page”. Because of these similarities the last few decades have seen the growth of a movement that seeks to define the pastor as CEO. This model of ministry leadership, however, ignores important differences between the Biblical view of ministry leadership and business management.

The fundamental differences between management and leadership in a business verses a ministry context are so substantial that a number of books and articles have already been written and yet the subject has yet to be exhausted. The fundamental assumptions about everything from labor, resources, strategy, and risk are substantially different between the two. Even many of the specific tasks that seem similar are really quite different. For example, there is a huge difference between giving a sermon and giving a 30 minute speech, or selling an idea to a board of directors and building consensus with elders or deacons. If a pastor handles these things like a business they will eventually find themselves forced to adopt business rather than ministry strategies. Each of the approaches builds a certain momentum that is difficult to change midstream without a lot of pain involved.

Of course, ministries must be as responsible as any well managed business with their resources but the goal is something much more difficult to measure. As a result, we must be very careful that we do not assume that business type measurements are adequate to truly capture the effectiveness of a ministry. The cost equation is much more subtle in a ministry context and the process cannot be measured by an output as simple or tangible as profit or stock price.

Businesses do not want to divert a single dollar to anything that will not generate a measurable return on investment. When faced with the decision to invest time, resources, or money good managers want to know if that investment will increase revenue, reduce costs, or increase throughput. If so, a good business manager will then assess the value of what needs to be invested against the expected return on that investment and the amount of time required to generate that return.

Many “good” ideas are rejected because the expected return either is not great enough or not fast enough to justify the risk of putting the time, money, or resources into the project. Though financial people often make it sound complicated the analysis is fairly straightforward. You can think of it using the metaphor of a candy machine. When you put money in a candy machine you expect the candy to drop out of the bottom. You are not going to put money in if you do not believe that you can get the candy when you want it or not at all. If you end up putting money in and do not get any candy (or cannot get it fast enough) you have wasted your money.

Therefore business managers generally try to quantify the return so they can reduce the number of projects to only those that have a high probability of paying off for them. They try and model plans in advance and then closely measure the progress of those plans once employed. The general approach is to formulate a plan, implement the plan, measure to see if you are getting the results you planned, and then act on that data to modify the plan as necessary. Empirical data drives the process. The management approach is as Dr. W. Edwards Deming once said “In God we trust, all others must bring data!” Emotions and assumptions can end up costing a lot of money so it is vital that opinions are double-checked with data wherever practical. In business if it cannot be measured it probably isn’t worth doing.

In the context of ministry, however, this kind of modeling and measurement often leads to pragmatic rather than Biblical decision making. In Biblical ministry, God has determined the strategy. It is His plan and He has told us what we need to “do”.  While there is a lot of variation on how we can go about it we cannot simply modify the approach it if we are not happy with the results. For one thing we do not always have the ability to properly evaluate all of the aspects of ministry effectiveness. By its nature, empirical data is focused on the things that are visible and yet much of ministry involves things which are somewhat less tangible. After all, how much is a single individual soul worth? How would you quantify the value of a person growing from an immature to a mature believer?

Of course, one might say that we should focus our resources on activities that are likely to lead to the most evangelistic results over those that are likely to have fewer results. That might sound good but it is an impossible case to make. To begin with, it is a hopelessly short term view from a Biblical perspective. One soul won in a low return program might turn out to be the person who leads a Whitefield or a Spurgeon to Christ. How many teeming thousands might hear the Gospel through such a person who only counted as “1” on some administrative report? Furthermore, it ignores the reality that the Holy Spirit is the one that brings forth repentance and conversion. Our part is to preach and live the Word and trust God for the increase. Choices of course have to be made but we should always be careful to keep in mind that we are simply stewards and that God is building His Church. Ministry resource decisions are difficult and I know that Churches cannot afford to do everything. We need to focus efforts on Biblical priorities and trust God to work though we may not see all the results.

As an illustration of this point I would like to share a story that a pastor friend told me a few months ago. His church was located near a park that hosts city sponsored events. Each year during these events the Church allows people to park on their property and they provide water, popcorn, and other snacks. As a result there is a lot of cross-traffic between the park and the church property. A few years ago a woman walking across the lot during a festival noticed the pastor’s name on the sign and began looking around to see if she could find him. When she saw him some distance away she hurried over to him and expressed her surprised delight that he was still there after so many years. She explained to him that many years earlier she had been a child that was not headed in a good direction. Then one summer she was invited to that church’s VBS program by a friend. She only attended one night but she heard the Gospel and later accepted Jesus Christ as her savior. She wanted to tell him that through her witness God had also saved her parents and she was able to find and marry a Christian man and was now raising children who were also believers. She was excited that after all those years she could thank the man who had led her to the Lord.

How many times have ministry leaders struggled to decide if they should continue programs where only a few guests visit or where they only get limited feedback? Ministry leaders have to make managerial decisions and wisdom and discernment is required. Let us pray that as they do so they would be encouraged by God’s promise that His word will not return to Him void. It may be many years, perhaps not until heaven, that we will ever know the true results of our ministries. It is likely that many discouraged brothers and sisters have laid up many unexpected treasures in heaven. I pray that our leaders have the strength to set Biblical priorities and then trust God for the increase.