Saturday, May 25, 2013

Review: Next Generation Leader by Andy Stanley has recently released Next Generation Leader by Andy Stanley. In the book, well-known pastor Andy Stanley teaches five traits that he sees as essential to the development and success of any leader. As the title suggests, the book is aimed to provide helpful advice to those who are emerging as, or desire to be, the next generation of leaders. The book is clearly written, easy to follow, and the narration by Lloyd James is excellent.

Stanley explains and gives examples of the following five essential leadership traits:
  1. Competence
  2. Courage
  3. Clarity
  4. Coaching (even leaders need coaches)
  5. Character

Much of the advice found in the book is helpful and practical. The lessons are good but anyone who has read almost anything else on the subject of leadership will have heard most of this already. There is nothing revolutionary about Stanley’s suggestions.

As someone who is both a business manager as well as serving in ministry, I was disappointed that Stanley indiscriminately applied general leadership ideas that are common in the business world to ministry. He used the Bible more often to furnish illustrations of how to apply common management wisdom than using it as the source of a distinctively Christian view of leadership.

* I received a free copy of this book from as part of their Reviewers Program. Reviews are not required to be positive and the opinions I have expressed are my own.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Blessed Among Women: 3 Questions about Mary

A few questions about Mary keep coming up recently so I thought I would summarize my answers to those questions here. Mary is to be highly esteemed in such a way that we recognize her faith and humility to the glory of God alone. The Bible teaches that Christ is a second Adam (1 Cor. 15:45) but it does not teach that Mary is a “second eve” or that her unique relationship with Christ puts her in a position to be a special intercessor on our behalf.

Most Roman Catholic and Orthodox teaching about Mary evolved out of the need to harmonize certain theological positions rather than the explicit teaching of the Bible. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church did not formally affirm a number of these teachings as dogma until 1854. Those who teach these doctrines admit that they are not taught plainly in the Bible but suggest that they can be inferred from things which are. Protestants, however, argue that no true teaching derived from the Bible will contradict what is plainly taught. Since much of the teaching about Mary in Catholic and Orthodox traditions contradict the clear teaching of the Bible it must be rejected.

Was Mary Without Sin?

The Bible explicitly teaches that Jesus was without sin (2 Co. 5:21; Heb. 4:15, 7:26; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 Jn. 3:5) but it never teaches that Mary was. In fact, the scripture is clear that all people apart from Christ are sinners and offers no exception for Mary (Rom. 3:10, 3:23).

More specifically, we have in Mary’s own words an acknowledgment that she is a sinner. When she visits Elizabeth in Luke 1 and offers her song of praise to God, she begins the hymn of praise by saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” (Lk. 1:46-47). Notice that Mary does not say that her spirit rejoiced in “the” savior, she glorified God and rejoiced in her savior. Those without sin do not need a savior. Mary needed a savior because she was sinner and Jesus was her savior because He came to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15).

Was Mary a Perpetual Virgin?

The Bible teaches that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived (Lk. 1:34-35; Mt. 1:20) but it does not teach that she remained a virgin throughout her life. In fact, the Bible teaches that Mary and Joseph had other children (Mt. 12:46, 13:55; Mk. 3:31, 6:3; Lk. 8:19; Jn. 2:12, 7:5; Acts 1:14; Gal. 1:19). Some insist that these are cousins or are Joseph’s children from a previous marriage.

It is true that the Greek words for brothers and sisters can sometimes refer to relatives or those who share a close relationship but although it is grammatically possible that these are cousins it is highly unlikely for several reasons. First, there are distinct Greek words for cousins and relatives that the N.T. writers use when they want to communicate that type of relationship (Lk. 1:36; Col. 4:10). Second, multiple writers use the terms in varying contexts to describe these relationships. For example, James is repeatedly called the brother of Jesus. It would be confusing for different people in different contexts always to refer to James as the brother of Jesus if he is not. Finally, some of the particular contexts do not make much sense unless we understand the word in its normal usage. For example, the question of the crowd in Mark 6 does not make sense if a broader group of relatives or people is in view.

Should We Pray to Mary to Intercede for Us?

Prayers of intercession are an important part of the ministry of all Christians (Jas. 5:16). In the Bible, we often see people requesting prayers of intercession but we never see a believer praying to another human. Prayer is an element of worship and the Bible is clear that we should worship only God. Fellow servants of God are never to be honored with worship (Rev. 19:10; Acts 14:15). The prayers of the saints are heard in heaven (Rev. 5:8, 8:3-4), but the term saints in the Bible refers to those who believe in Christ and not a special subset of super-Christians. We also see dead saints petitioning God (Rev. 6:9-10) but these are their own petitions and there is no suggestion that they ever offer petitions on behalf of others.

All believers are united with Christ, sealed with the Holy Spirit, and seated with Him in the heavenly places (Rom. 6:5; Eph. 1:13, 2:6). We have direct access to God because of the work of Christ (Heb. 4:16). The idea that the prayers of Mary would be more effective than our own based upon her righteousness and unique relationship to Christ reflects a misunderstanding of the power of the Gospel itself. If you have any doubt about the sufficiency of what every believer receives in Christ I would encourage you to look up each New Testament reference to the phrase “In Christ” and list all that said about what those who are in Christ are promised. Once you read that list, it will be clear that praying to Mary or any other dead believer is unnecessary and is a denial of promises already given to those who believe.  

In terms of righteousness before God Mary does not have a unique position.  As I showed above, she is also sinner saved by grace through faith. As such, her only standing before God is the same as that of any other believer, the finished work of Jesus Christ. When Jesus is speaking of His mother in the context of His messianic ministry, she is not given a privileged position. Shortly after His ministry begins, she asks Him to help because a wedding party had run out of wine. Jesus replies “Woman, what does this have to do with me?” (Jn. 2:4). At one point later, while preaching, He was informed that that His mother and brothers were waiting to speak with Him. Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers? …whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mt. 12:46-19). Neither of these incidents show disrespect for His mother but both demonstrate that Mary is not a co-redemptrix or mediatrix in Christ’s redemptive work.

All of those who trust in the promises of God through His Word are united to the death and resurrection of Christ and are made the Children of God (Jn. 1:12). The amazing thing is that Christ does this not in response to our righteousness but because of our unrighteousness (Rom. 5:8)! The work of Christ is sufficient and Jesus alone can serve as mediator between God and sinful humanity (1 Tim. 2:5; Acts 4:12). We need no other because we are heirs with Him and the Spirit of Christ presents our petitions to God in an acceptable way (Rom. 8:14-17; 1 Jn. 2:1). As believers in Christ we have access to God with confidence and even boldness because of Christ (Eph. 3:11-12). We cannot, and need not, add anything beyond what He has already done for our prayers to be heard and accepted.