1. After the latest earthquake in Japan, you stated that every calamity is a call from God for the living to repent. This statement contrasts with Open Theism, which posits God’s incapacity to interfere in these situations. What is your view on this current theological trend.
Unless I am missing something, Open Theism did not get significant traction in America. I don’t see it as gaining ground. Most biblically informed people find the denial of God’s exhaustive foreknowledge spiritually and intellectually repugnant. They know intuitively, God is not God, if he cannot know all that will come to pass.
The exegetical case that Greg Boyd and Clark Pinnock and others tried to make did not convince most careful Bible readers. And the pastoral implications of Open Theism are not felt by most Christians as comforting—namely, that the evil you experienced may have surprised God as much as it shocked you.
Most believers find it more hope-giving to make peace with the problem of evil through God’s wise sovereignty (Reformed), or God’s concession to man’s self-determination (Arminian). Neither of these denies the foreknowledge of God the way Open Theism does.
2. In Brazil some proponents of Open Theism have called you an “entrenched fundamentlist neocalivinist”. How does one deal with this type of aggressive reaction from the Church’s own ranks?
I deal with this kind of criticism mainly by a steady output of sermons and books and articles that are based as explicitly on the Bible as I can make them. Labels of this sort will stick or not, in the long run, because of what we say and do, not by how we answer our critics.
The question is: Over 30 years of pastoral life and public witness and steady publication, do most healthy Christians get helped or get hurt by what I do and say? You will know them by their fruit. I want to be biblical. Being “entrenched” or “fundamental” or “Calvinistic” is quite secondary.
I want the overall balance of my ministry to be defined by the overall balance of Scripture. The body of Christ will make that assessment in the short run, and Jesus will in the end.
3. You have challenged man’s tendency to make plans in light of God’s desire that we should not trust in our own means and ways. How should one balance this equation, once Scripture recommends that we plan our lives?
“The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31). “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
God has given us a will and a mind. He means for us to use them to discern his will and do it (Romans 12:2). And God is absolutely sovereign over the smallest aspects of our lives. “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33). Therefore, he means for us to think in dependence on his enabling grace, and plan in dependence on his amazing grace, and act in dependence on his amazing grace.
The reason for this is so that when we have thought and planned and worked, God will get the glory for all the good that comes: “Whoever serves let him serve by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11). “His grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). Knowing that God is sovereign in all our working should make us humble, bold, and ready to risk all for his glory.
4. Tell us a bit about the reason for your recent eight-month sabbatical and what you most benefited from this period. Why did you step back from your church for such a long period of time? What could you share about your experience with other pastors in Brazil?
Stress points and soul checks in three areas of my life brought me to the point of asking for this leave of absence. I wanted to do a reality check in the areas of my own soul, my family, and my ministry. By reality check I mean a focused effort to discern the motives of my heart, pattern of my family, and the pace of my ministry.
Sometimes, not always, the best way to discern if you are addicted is to fast. Sometimes the best way to discern the nature of your motives is to stop doing what you are motivated to do. And sometimes the stresses can be of such a nature that the best way to see if they are warranted (which they may be), is to take them away.
I am thankful I took the months. I will only mention one sweet outcome: In sitting in worship at a sister church week in and week out, I confirmed to my own soul that I love Jesus in worship, not just helping others love Jesus. I loved hearing biblical preaching even when I wasn’t doing it. I loved singing with God’s people even when these were not the people I have shaped.
5. Nowadays several pastors, including yourself, share several other ministerial duties other than preaching, such as writing and conference speaking. Do such diverse activities hinder the call to shepherd the flock? What has been your experience in this particular area?
A wider ministry outside the local church can hinder the shepherding of the flock. If I am speaking at a conference, or am on a writing leave, I am not present with my sheep during those times. So my personal presence in shepherding is less. Then the question is: Does shepherding, as such have to be hindered? No, not if there are partners in ministry (vocational or non-vocational) who carry on that work.
If you give yourself to designing and implementing a process of shepherding through elders and trained leaders, then the wider ministry of the preaching pastor does not have to hinder shepherding. But the people need to feel well-shepherded by this leader through his preaching and leadership of the elders.
If the people feel like he would rather be doing something besides shepherding this flock (through preaching and equipping and mobilizing elders), then the morale will understandably go down.
6. Is it possible for the Church to rescue biblical orthodoxy? In your view, when will the pendulum return to the equilibrium of purity in faith?
All things are possible with God. Nor does the timetable of any biblical eschatology demand that things get worse in our lifetime. Historically God has turned things around spiritually and theologically and socially in some of the darkest times. I have no clear sense from the Lord, or discernment of the times, as to whether he may awaken his church and refine her and reform her. My job is not to know what he will do, but to work and pray for what he may do through the faithfulness of his servants.
7. In Brazil, the health-and-wealth prosperity gospel has impregnated several sectors of the Church which are most visible in the media, largely due to the influence of authors such as Kenneth Hagin. This has generated several negative responses from our society to the Church and has severely redirected the message of the Gospel. In what ways should the orthodox sectors of the Church respond to this trend?
It seems to me that one of the clearest witnesses against an unbiblical prosperity “gospel” is a humble church ready to sacrifice and suffer for the cause of the true gospel. And to that end we need a robust, biblical theology of suffering and the sovereignty of God. So I think pastors should weave into their preaching the theme of suffering.
This should be done with a healthy dose of Christian Hedonism — the truth that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. And the greatness of his worth shines most brightly when this satisfaction is sustained through suffering, not in prosperity.
This assumes that the glory of Christ is our highest treasure, not health, wealth, family, or even life. So preaching must continually show not that Jesus is the means to prosperity but that he is better than prosperity.
8. Another movement that has grown in Brazil consists of unchurched Christians: people who have been hurt by pastors, laypeople, leaderships, liturgies and institutions and, for this reason, defend a life apart from traditional ecclesial structures. Some have even said that they became Christians the day they left the Church. How should we respond to this trend as individuals and as church communities?
It is impossible to follow the Lord Jesus without loving his people. “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers” (1 John 3:14). The eye cannot say to the hand I have no need of you. Therefore, even if a person leaves a formal church, the spirit of adoption will drive him to other believers. And sooner or later that fellowship will develop something like “ecclesial structures.” The Bible regulates the church through elders and deacons (1 Timothy 3). Something like this will emerge unless the fellowship is shutting itself off from the word of God and from love.
Therefore, we should lovingly repent of whatever sins have driven people away, and we should put reforms in place that take away unbiblical stumbling blocks. Then we should seek in all humility to woo them back.
9. The internet information highway, through blogs, social networks, live audio and video transmissions, has torn down denominational, doctrinal and theological barriers in an unprecedented way in Christian history. Can you perceive what mid-to-long-term effects such innovations will have on the formation of the Christian mind?
No, I can’t. It’s too early to tell what the effects will be on balance. It is easy to be a doomsayer about the effects of endless information and entertainment will have on us. We are more often distracted now. We are more given to frivolous Internet pursuits. We are more easily in touch with corrupting material (like pornography, or soul-numbing silliness). But none of that is irreversible. And the possibilities of making good things available to more and more people may outweigh the downside. This is how we should pray and work.