Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Expository Genius of John Calvin. by Steven Lawson - Book Review

John Calvin is probably most well known for his commentaries and affection for the doctrines of grace (aka: Calvinism). But what most people may not know about is Calvin’s devotion to preaching. In this book Dr. Steven Lawson sets out to explore not only that Calvin was in fact a faithful Bible expositor, but that he was a dedicated and committed Pastor and Preacher.

The book is broken down into 8 chapters, which begins with a brief summary of Calvin’s life. Here, Lawson does an excellent job of drawing the key attributes of Calvin’s background that allowed him to be such an extraordinary expositor of Scripture. For example, Lawson notes the influence that Calvin’s legal studies and understanding of ancient writings (particularly making note of his doctoral dissertation) which facilitated his ability to breakdown language and grasp the intentions of a given author (p. 7).


The subsequent chapters highlight several characteristics of Calvin’s approach to preaching. The author invites the reader to observe Calvin’s high regard for the pulpit, how he launched a sermon, how he expounded the text, all the way into Calvin’s preaching style. One of the interesting aspects of Calvin preaching style, the author notes, was at the commencement of a sermon, where, unlike today, he didn’t begin with an anecdote or a reference to the tumultuous times. Rather Calvin began each sermon where he left off, at the last passage of Scripture.

Lawson devotes chapter 7 to Calvin’s pastoral posture when applying his message. On page 104 he states, “Calvin did not fire over the heads of his people while answering the aberrations of other theologians. He did not misuse the pulpit to rebut his numerous critics. Instead, Calvin remained intent on nurturing the spiritual development of his people. He preached primarily to edify and encourage the congregation God had entrusted to him. In short, he preached for changed lives.

Lawson ends the book with a plea for preachers with the same dedication and fervor as Calvin. He gives the final word to Spurgeon who saw the lack of devoted preachers; I’ll offer a small taste here of the quote Lawson used by The Prince of Preachers, “I do not look for any other means of converting men beyond the simple preaching of the gospel and the opening of men’s ears to hear it. The moment the church of God shall despise the pulpit, God will despise her. It has been through the ministry that the Lord has always been pleased to revive and bless His churches.

Overall I enjoyed many things about this book. For one, it was written very simply, perhaps at an 8th grade level; although does expect the reader to be familiar with basic Christian vocabulary.. Also, it allowed me to become more familiar with Calvin “the man,” which, incidentally, sets the reader up for a greater appreciation of the subsequent aspects of Calvin’s life.

I’m not a preacher by vocation, though I have had the opportunity to preach in the past. And I can say that I benefited highly from reading this. There are many insights that the author had into Calvin’s mind and his approach to preaching that every Pastor/Preacher can benefit from. Learning the benefits of expository preaching is important for the Pastor and sheep alike. For the Pastor, it will allow him to avoid the more prevalent topical issues and get right down to each book, verse by verse; avoiding preaching what they want to preach rather than declaring the whole counsel of God (Act 20:27). For the sheep (laymen), it allows them to learn how to read the Bible for personal study; avoiding roulette-type Bible learning. Though it’s primarily the preachers roll to cut the solid meat of the Word into smaller pieces for the flock to be able to chew, swallow, and digest, it is the duty of every believer to be an expositor of their own.

This book gets the highest recommendation from me. I found it thoroughly interesting, highly relevant, and perfect in its timing. Dr. Lawson has set out to “raise the bar for a new generation of expositors.” Only time will tell, but I firmly believe he will achieve this task.

C. Michael Patton on orthodoxy and orthopraxy

As many of our readers are already aware, Norman Jeune III, Matthew Wilcoxen, and I have been collaborating to create this blog, Christians in Context. We have been working hard to offer, consistent, engaging topics for discussion. More specifically, one of our main focuses has been to facilitate conversation on any and all Christian topics as it pertains to theology and culture while remaining open to sober dialogue between supposedly opposing groups; albeit, remaining true to our Lord by embracing what I like to call essential orthodoxy. We have and will discuss all aspects of the church as it relates to the "implementation" of the Christian faith. I have very much enjoyed every aspect of this enterprise and cannot wait to see how much of an impact we can make.

Interestingly enough I’ve been reading much of C. Michael Patton’s blog due to the attention it has been getting on the “classification” of Emergent church members (remember the interesting charts we posted). For those of you who may not be aware, these charts were actually the root from which all the controversy with Tony Jones began; Patton originally put the charts together, and they were copied all over the blogosphere. We posted them after seeing a discussion on Scot McKnight's blog,and Tony Jones responded on McKnight's blog with a challenge for anyone to quote him moving beyond the bounds of orthodoxy. Once Matt answered that challenge, we saw an interesting array of topics spawned; much of this discussion has been related to the question of what orthodoxy is, and in certain cases, how the epistemology of some within the Emergent movement impacts our abillity to speak of such a thing as orthodoxy.


In any case, I just got done listening to his latest show on Theology unplugged called “What is orthodoxy?” Quite the interesting topic indeed, especially in light of everything that has transpired with Tony Jones’ supposed deconstruction of the term. I anticipate Mr. Patton to address some of the major questions asked; I look forward to the conversation, and plan to chime in often as it continues.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Book Review: Why We're Not Emergent

Kevin DeYoung (a pastor, preacher, and writer) and Ted Kluck (a writer) have picked up the ball that D.A. Carson dropped. Most folks paying attention for the last few years will remember well Carson's book Becoming Conversant With the Emerging Church. Although Carson has a brilliant mind, his book critiquing the whole emerging movement suffered for a few reasons:

1. Carson focused too narrowly on Brian McLaren.
2. Carson was "mean." (A common objection to almost anything that critiques the emerging movement)
3. Carson's book was not entirely accessible or readable for the "average joe".
4. The generational gap left Carson without street-cred; he was seen as an institutional guy, defending his place in the institution.

Well, this new book, Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) (Moody Publishers, April 1st, 2008), aims to do what Carson failed to do (ie, to air some serious objections to the theology of the emerging/emergent church). Moody has tried to shore up the weaknesses of Carson's book:

1. The net has been cast much wider; the book engages substantively with Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Steve Chalke, Doug Pagitt, Peter Rollins, Spencer Burke, etc). DeYoung, a pastor of a medium-sized Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, is actually pretty conversant with these authors, whereas Carson seemed to have just speed-read through McLaren a few hours before pounding out his little book. Evangelicals have no reason to be embarrassed about DeYoung's ability to converse with the heavy-hitters in the emerging movement.

2. DeYoung and Kluck do a pretty good job of not being too "mean." DeYoung, I'd say, won't be open to these charges at all. He avoids vapid rhetoric and instead goes to work synthesizing emerging thought and collating portions of their writing. The tenor of his writing is very charitable, although he is sometimes devastating just by presenting the material that he does. Kluck also does a pretty good job, but sometimes veers off into what seems like mockery of those within the movement.

3. Since neither DeYoung (who holds and M.Div) or Kluck (who is theologically uneducated and is a sportswriter) are academics, the book remains very readable. Moody did something kind of interesting with this book by having the authors alternate chapters. Their styles are so disparate that the contrast can be jarring at points. DeYoung is linear and argumentative and at times seems more like an archivist who is simply collating quotes from the movers and shakers in the emerging movement. Kluck, on the other hand, seems to be going for a Donald Miller type of vibe; he tells some kind of random stories and doesn't tell us explicitly how they relate to his topic. It seems like Moody was definitely trying to milk Kluck for the "cool factor." He was cool at times and not so cool at others. All around, the book's readability factor ranks high.

4. DeYoung and Kluck are young guys (late 20's I believe) and so they can say that they are "two guys who should be [emergent]." This is supposed to give them some sort of street-cred. Whether or not it does remains to be seen.

Summary of the Book: Quite simply, the book attempts to serve as an expose of the philosophical and theological underpinnings of the emerging movement. DeYoung moves through different topics in each of his chapters, laying out the varying theological positiosn of influential members of the emerging movement and then showing why they can't possibly accept these positions. He tackles the emerging concept(s) of "journey" and "mystery," the emerging concept(s) of what Scripture is and how it functions in the church, the role of doctrine and dogma, the emerging take on modernism, and the emerging conception of Jesus' mission (he talks a lot about hell in this chapter). Interspersed between all these chapters are Kluck's chapters, filled with meandering stories and personal narrative.

Brief Assessment: I actually didn't think I would like the book; I don't usually like it when we define ourselves in negative terms (kind of ironic, since I'm a Protestant!). The cover also made me think that someone was going to be trying way too hard to 'hip' and 'cool' throughout the book. I also didn't want to write too positive of a review because this would only bolster my rabidly conservative credentials and cut me off from discussion with emergent/emerging folks, a discussion which was one of the reasons I started blogging! I mean, a positive review of this book would be just too easy to see coming.

Alas, I can't help it. Kevin DeYoung did a great job in this book. I would and will recommend it to people who are trying to learn about the emerging movement. It is a valuable resource simply for the collation of the different portions of writings from the various emerging authors. A lot of the stuff from the book was old-hat to me; I'm relatively familiar with Tony Jones and Brian McLaren. However, I was pleased to learn more about the writings and perspectives of guys like Spencer Burke and Peter Rollins. Many Christians who may only notice superficial and linguistic differences between traditional Christianity and that of "The New Christians" will do well to at least read this book and understand a little bit of the philosophical and theological underpinnings of the movement. (This kind of semi-even-handed, thoughtful analysis is unavailable in the so-called discernment blogs of the likes of Roger Oakland and Ken Silva who make blanket statements and often don't know what they are talking about at all).

Anticipating Reactions:
From Emergent-types: It is really hard to say. I was quite impressed with Tony Jones' willingness to engage in some of the criticism of him that I offered late last week. Perhaps this is a harbinger of more substantial responses in the future. My thought, though, is that by-and-large we will not see many responses that deal with the substance of the objections raised in the book. The reason is two-fold: 1) Our suspicions were correct: if you're like me, you keep saying to yourself about some of these guys (or girls) "he can't mean what I think he means, right?" Well, it is becoming increasingly clear that these folks do actually mean the very unorthodox and un-Christian things they are saying. And, 2) There is too much here to respond to. The sheer amount of the objections raised in the book will allow everyone to be effectively off-the-hook. There is no certain person or issue that comes into focus here, so we probably won't see any large response.

From Conservatives: Two thoughts: 1) those who read the book will like it, but many will be ambivalent about it because the topic is tired. 2) the book is just another contributor to the lines that are already being drawn in the sand. Although the book is charitable, it makes it clear that the issues at stake here are not candles and finger painting and cussing (contra Al Mohler). Rather, the issues here are deep issues about the knowability of God, the sufficiency of Scripture, hermeneutics, epistemology, ethics, revelation, and pretty much every other theological topic you can think of. If there is one thing the emerging/emergent church is doing it is polarizing. Those who aren't following the leader down the emerging path are beginning to run far, far in the other direction.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Which theologian are you?

I just got done taking this survey only to find out that my theology lines up for the most part with Swiss theologian Karl Barth. A summary was given to me as follows:
The daddy of 20th Century theology. You perceive liberal theology to be a disaster and so you insist that the revelation of Christ, not human experience, should be the starting point for all theology.
Martin Luther and Jonathan Edwards were the runner ups! See all my results posted on my other blog. I was fascinated by this, I think you will be too. Check it out and see whose theology you line up with the most. (CLICK HERE)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Response to Tony Jones' Challenge

A couple of days ago Scot McKnight posted a chart that listed some people who were inside and outside of the realm of "orthodoxy." If you haven't already seen it, you can check it out HERE.

First of all, I don't necessarily endorse the chart. I want to make that clear.

Anyways, one of the four people who were listed as outside of the realm of orthodoxy was Mr. Tony Jones.

Well, Tony is apparently an avid blog reader and this post did not elude his Technorati grasp. He seemed a little perturbed about the assertion that he was outside of the realm of orthodoxy. Here is the gauntlet that he laid down in the comments section of the post (comment #93, to be precise):

"Sadly, this is happening more and more to me, and I continue to offer the same challenge: Will someone please show me where, in print, I have said something that is outside of classic, historic orthodoxy. I may not be evangelical, as it’s been defined over the past 150 years, but I’ve never claimed to be an evangelical. But surely Christian orthodoxy is much broader than modern evangelicalism. Was Augustine orthodox? Luther? Aquinas? Hildegard?"

Now, at the present time (10:19 Pacific Standard) 51 posts have followed on the heels of Mr. Jones'. However, I don't think that any of them set out to specifically show where Mr. Jones' has stepped outside of the realm of "classic, historic orthodoxy." There could be a couple of reasons: 1) people are not familiar with either a) classic, historic orthodoxy, or b) they are not familiar with Mr. Jones. Or 2) They are too afraid to venture a critique of a doctoral fellow at the venerable Princeton Seminary. Regardless of why no one has responded, I'm going to make a very brief attempt to show why Tony Jones can and should, at this point, be regarded as someone who has consistently located himself outside of "classic, historic orthodoxy."

First of all, he asserts that "orthodoxy doesn't exist." This was said in his presentation at last year's Wheaton Theology Conference. You can find him blog posting about it HERE. He says,

My "paper" went for a bit over an hour, then there were about 40 minutes worth of questions before Vince Bacote and I finally had to cut it off. I'll likely publish a version of that paper somewhere, sometime, so I'm not ready to give it all away here. But, the gist of it was that I said that orthodoxy doesn't "exist." Instead, orthodoxy is an event, in the Derridean/Caputoean sense. That is, orthodoxy happens when human beings get together and practice it (talk about God, worship God, pray to God, write books about God, etc.). There's no orthodoxy somewhere out there that one can point to and say, "See that? That's orthodoxy. That's what we're trying to get to."

Now, here is my problem with what Tony says here "in print": he is saying, very clearly, that "orthodoxy" is something that is defined by a human community. That is, when the community (and Tony, if you will read, means a "local community") gets together and does church and does theology, they come up with "orthodoxy." What this means, however, as Tony says, is that "orthodoxy doesn't exist." There is no such thing as universal, correct propositions about God or Jesus Christ. Rather, the community decides what is true about Jesus Christ.

If we engage in a very simple, 13th-grade logical analysis of what Tony is saying, we will see that he has now lost any ground for saying that anyone is outside of the realm of "orthodoxy." Mormons have banded together, and in their "local community" have decided what is and is not "orthodox." Martin Luther, rather than fighting heresy was simply fighting against what the whole of Catholic Christendom had deemed "orthodox." If Tony was around, it can be assumed that he would have told old Martin that it was silly to fight against heresy. "I mean, come on Marty, there isn't any orthodoxy out there to measure the papacy by anyways!"

This is my first problem with Tony Jones. The moment you say that "orthodoxy doesn't exist" you've dropped out of the realm of even being considered as "orthodox." You can't be an orthodox Catholic, an orthodox Protestant, or an orthodox Orthodox. You can't even be an orthodox Mormon. You've essentially made yourself irrelevant to everyone.

Even if he adopted a Barthian view that our theological endeavors could only be partial, modest, imperfect and incomplete, I would have a better view of him. But Jones, if we engage in reductio ad absurdum, is saying that orthodoxy isn't even out there, so all of our theological endeavors are simply arbitrary. Further, they can be deemed orthodox or heretical to the extent that they accord with the popular opinion of the local community.

We need to understand here that this epistemological stance of Mr. Jones effectively nips any constructive theology in the bud. From here on out all he can do is "talk about God, worship God, pray to God, write books about God, etc." Those all sound nice, but Jones has already told us that the way he talks, worships, prays, and writes has nothing to do with a God who is "out there," but instead is just the way his community has arbitrarily chosen to approach God. And, if Jones is right, a community of atheists would be orthodox in their denial of God's existence.

I'll stop rambling about this now, and if Tony would like to show me how this opinion that "orthodoxy doesn't exist" fits into the realm of classic, historic orthodoxy, I'm all ears.

Second, it is unorthodox and, dare I say, heretical to adopt a stance of antagonism towards Christ's church. Where has Tony articulated such an antagonistic stance? He finally comes clean, at least a little bit, right HERE. He says, in commenting on Jack Caputo's new book:

Here's what I don't like. I don't like that Jack lands the plane. I like it when deconstruction flies around at 30,000 feet and drops cluster bombs of intellectual TNT on church ladies and M.Div. students. That's fun. I should know, since I do a fair amount of it myself. Shockingly, church groups often pay me to come into their places and deconstruct them. I go Jesus on them, you might say. Or, to avoid a messiah complex, I go Isaiah on them.

Jack does a lot of that in the first four chapters, and he even does it in chapter five when he suggests using Jesus against the Bible. What kind of crazy hermeneutic is that?!? I love it!

Ah-ha, so he really does delight in a) never answering the questions put to him, and b) shaking the faith of “church ladies” and “M.Div Students.” Hmmm, you know what, I’m going to sound like a total fundamentalist here when I say this, but if you know people are believers in the Lord Jesus and you like shaking their faith and belief just for “fun,” you have an affinity with Satan who loves to question the clear commands of God (ie, “do not eat of it, for in the day you do you will surely die.”). On the other hand, we see Paul instructing the young pastor Timothy to teach “good doctrine” (and Tony, save the comment that Paul’s conception of “doctrine” is purely pragmatic. Have you read the book of Romans? And Tony, save the comment that Romans has a socio-rhetorical purpose in its original community, that’s BS, and Tony…). The tenor of Paul’s advice to Timothy is that people are supposed to be “built up,” not “deconstructed.”

Now, I’m all for some “deconstruction” if we mean allowing the Bible to correct our false practices and beliefs in order to reconstruct true practices and beliefs in their place. But read Tony’s post on Caputo, he doesn’t like it when Caputo, in a rare moment of inconsistency, actually makes some positive assertions. Tony doesn’t mess with the old “church ladies” and “M.Div students” for the purpose of “teaching,…reproof,…correction,…or training in righteousness.” No, rather, he wants to have “fun” by shaking people up and up and up. He has no goal, no answers. His epistemology won’t allow him any!

Now, I’d ask Tony to let me know if this spirit of deconstruction for deconstruction’s sake, a deconstruction that precludes any answers, falls within the realm of “historic, classical orthodoxy.” Oh wait, there is no such thing as “historic, classic orthodoxy.”

Come on folks, this is incoherent drivel! Are we going to continue to listen to this nonsense?

And Tony, I don't know why you get all "butt-hurt" about this stuff: as the whole emergent thing continues to pick-up steam, it seems that there is more and more money in heresy. I mean, I'm going to go pick up a copy of your new book tomorrow!








Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Jude - part 3

As a final point, I think its worth noting the rhetorical patterns of Jude. One such observer has offered Christians interesting insight into the book of Jude and 2nd Peter with respect to their styles of rhetoric. According to Duane Watson of Malone College, Jude uses a traditional structure of rhetoric. He classifies them as exordium, narratio, probatio, and peroratio.


Exordium is beginning with the case by which one needs to argue. Narratio is the concerns that bring the writer to deal with the situation. Probatio is the arguments and images that uphold the defense. And peroratio is the appeal to emotions. I think that Watson has clearly done a good job at showing how Jude lines up with this framework. One can observe exordium in verse 3 where Jude shows his intention in writing. Narratio is present in verse 4 with Jude intending to write against false teachers. Verses 5-16 and all the references to OT passages of condemnation is a classic example of probatio. And in his conclusion with verses 17-22 being a typically characteristic of peroratio.

Application:

The book of Jude is perhaps one of the most neglected books of the New Testament in its inclusion in sermons nowadays. This is perhaps because of the condemning nature of the book and the prevalence of avoiding such speech with fear of offending the congregation. Because Jude offers such a distinct style of poetry and allusion to the OT, it needs to be employed regularly in Bible study and analysis. For one of Jude' emphases is for the Christian to be aware of such people and their ultimate destruction. It is time for the Christians today to publicly read this book and preach it with vitality as was the intention of the author to do the same.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Jude - part 2

Although we cannot pinpoint the exact dating of the book, or whether it was written before or after 2nd Peter, we can have assurance of the content which indicates the books purpose. This helps us to understand the audience to whom Jude may have written to. The fact that Jude wrote from a predominately Jewish background, and given his many allusions to the Old Testament apocalyptic literature, doesn’t allow us, however, to concretely identify the audience. What is does do is show us that Jude was quite familiar with the Old Testament. Some commentators have sought to take the Jewish content to clearly reveal the audience [1]. Though Jude would certainly have intended his readers to have working knowledge of the Old Testament, it doesn’t necessitate a particular audience.

Now let’s take a look at how Jude used the Old Testament to illustrate the acts God’s judgment, paying special attention on how the poetic imagery and rhetorical patterns he used to develop his point even further.

Like many of the OT prophets Jude uses several events in the past to exemplify and argue his case [2]. Jude chooses to voice the judgment of God on the men whose sole purpose is to destroy the grace of God. Though it may not have been so obvious a transgression, these men who pervert the Gospel are to be reckoned damned; indeed they we destined beforehand for such.

Lets look at two verses that illustrate this very idea [3]. The first is verse 5. Here Jude makes reference to Jesus saving those out of Egypt [4] and then condemning those who did believe. This event in Jewish history was so tremendous and so poignant in depicting God’s redemptive acts for Israel that is basically had become synonymous with who God was upon identification [5]. But the main thrust of Jude is the negative side of the act, namely the Lord condemning those who did not believe. This is clear from the context as Jude then continues to illustrate the place of the angels as they disobeyed and receive the judgment of God.

Another verse in which Jude used from the Old Testament in a severe fashion is verse 7, referring to Sodom and Gomorrah. The purpose of this reference was to show how God did not spare these cities in order to show his fierce wrath against ungodliness. The same outcome will be for the men of Jude’s day (and ours) who attempt to supplant the truth of God as proclaimed by Christ and his Apostles with something wholly other. He also uses this circumstance to show that it wasn’t just those who falsely teach strange doctrines, but rather those who forthrightly disobey in practice.

I now want to show how the poetic imagery and rhetorical patterns displayed in Jude were used to develop his point even further. What is unique about Jude is frequent use of imager in typical Hebraic poetic style. We find very limited amount of imagery used in the NT epistles. An example of this is in verse 12 and 13. There he states that unreasonable men are waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. It is clear that Jude intended to use the pictures from the creation to illustrate these men. A waterless cloud could be a reference to the very opposite of the NT idea of water. Throughout the Bible, ‘water’ or ‘living water’ is a metaphor for the Spirit. Rather than being springs of Living Water, or possessors of the Spirit of God, they devoid of the Spirit altogether.

Jude’s reference to fruitless trees is another NT comparison. Jesus spoke of being able to recognize a Christian by their fruit. The one who bears the fruit of eternal life will be manifestly obvious after a period of time. According to Matthew 12:33, Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. Jude couldn’t have made his point more clear with this reference. But notice that Jude states that they are fruitless. In the above statement Jesus says the all trees produce fruit, its just what kind of fruit they bear. Jude uses in rhetorical fashion the assumption that these people are actually born of God. The point made is that these men proclaim to be of Christ but are really not. The argumentation doesn’t surround the premise of non-Christians, for that is a concern rarely dealt with in the New Testament. Like Paul says, what right do I have to judge those outside the church [6]?


[1] MacArthur Study Bible. Intro to Jude.

[2] Indeed the book itself serves as an alarm to Christians and non-Christians alike

[3] It worth noting that Jude uses the Pentateuch with no direct reference to Moses. See New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 355.

[4] This is a peculiar reference to Jesus as God. Though the some manuscripts generally use the word “kurios,” most translators agree that Jude more than likely had Jesus in mind because of the opening verses the book.

[5] Jehovah was the God who saved them out of Egypt to give them a land of their own. The repetition was to bring to memory the fact that even though the Jews were under such persecution from the Egyptians, God still had a plan to redeem them. Just as we see this phrase 9 times in Leviticus, 12 times in Deuteronomy, and numerous times throughout the Old Testament.

[6] 1st Corinthians 5:12.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Jude - part 1

What makes this book unique is its brevity as well as its gravity. So clear is the purpose by which Jude wrote that he states his purpose at the outset. He shifts his original focus from the “common salvation” to the condemnation of false teachers (vv. 8-10, 16). He, like Peter, pronounces the divine judgment on those who pervert and distort the truth of the Gospel; it is his God given duty to expose and dispose of these men.

I'm going to start off by showing the classic features of Jude as a NT epistle. Then in part 2 I'm going to offer several key factors involved in properly interpreting a letter of this nature; namely, the literary genres.

Let me begin by listing the five points that you can find in Ryken’s book. Then I will demonstrate how each one is present in the book of Jude.

Ryken observes an epistle in the following format:

1. Opening or salutation (sender, addressee, greeting)
2. Thanksgiving (including such features as prayer for spiritual welfare, remembrance of the recipients[s], and eschatological climax).
3. Body of letter (beginning with introductory formulae and concluding with eschatological and travel material).
4. Paraenesis (moral exhortations).
5. Closing (final greetings and benediction) [1]


Opening or Salutation. Like the epistles of Paul, though not necessarily present in the Johannine epistles, Jude forthrightly introduces himself to his readers. This structure is actually different than what we are used to in contemporary times. Modern letters (or epistles) would tend to begin with addressing the recipient thereof, and then at the conclusion the writer would identify themselves.

Another common point in the opening verses has to do with what I call extended identification. This we see Jude doing when he notes that he is a bond-servant of Christ as well as the brother of James. Readers or hearers of this epistle would have been quite familiar with James; as he was the brother of Jesus. Robert Gundry notes, Thus Jude too is a half brother of Jesus but modestly describes himself as “a servant of Jesus Christ. [2] Therefore the additional information properly defines Jude’s status and authority.

Thanksgiving. This element seems to be absent from Jude because he delves right into his argumentation. However, he does offer a reference to thanksgiving when he refers to his readers as those who are called; which refer to those privileged to be chosen by God. Notwithstanding, his immediate pronouncement of a benediction to the readers plainly notes his custody of thanksgiving for them.

Body of the letter. What is interesting about the beginning of the body of the letter is the nature of Jude’s intention. He mentions that he wanted to write the recipients about the common salvation. Commentators generally agree that Jude would have meant to write either a doctrinal treaties [3]or a letter on salvation as the common blessing enjoyed by all believers. [4] However Jude felt it necessary to change his intention of writing in a general benedictory fashion to writing in contention of the faith. [5]

Closing (benediction). Verse 24 is a perfect example of a NT epistle sharing in common with the others. It’s as if Jude ends the letter as a prayer might end by pointed the entire writing to glory and honor of God. A doxology was a common way in which a writer might blend a benediction with reverence to God; horizontally as well as vertically. These closing words could very well have been fragments of an early hymnal.

[1] A similar structure is also founding Fee and Stuarts book How to read the Bible for all its worth, 3rd ed. p. 56-57. Though they separate opening and greeting and give 6 total points.

[2] Gundry, Robert, H. A Survey of the New Testament. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 4th Ed. p. 491.

[3] Reformation Study Bible, Ligonier Ministries. editor, R.C. Sproul

[4] MacArthur Study Bible, Nelsons Bible, editor, John MacArthur.

[5] The Greek word, evpagwni,zomai [egonizomai] actually means to “struggle in behalf of” and is only found in the book of Jude. It shows Jude having to deal with the issues as Paul did in his letter to the Corinthians.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I want to be Tim Keller when I grow up....

I really do. Since I was turned on to him a couple of years ago, I've found almost no one that I admire more in his preaching and in his ministry. I think I identify with the way he does ministry in a very urban context while remaining quite orthodox in his theology. I also like his ability to converse with others, disagree strongly, and yet still remain on good terms with them.

Dr. Keller has a new book out this week. It is called The Reason for God. It is only his first or second book ever (I know him through his sermons that I download from his church's website). I don't have the book or anything, but I'm not going to lie: my expectations are huge! I'm expecting something along the lines of Mere Christianity out of this little book, when I do finally get it.

By the way, you can read a very short article about Dr. Keller in Newsweek. Check it out HERE.

Tim Challies has a book review on the new book HERE.

You can also see what Andrew Jones had to say HERE.

And, you can find Dr. Keller's church online HERE.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Random Matt Update...

First of all, someone found Jesus in a tree stump. But if you ask me, it looks much more like a belly dancer. Perhaps we all just see what we want to see.

I will not be blogging too much this week. I'm getting ready for our annual high school winter camp. We are going to Big Bear Lake, where we will relax, learn, pray, fellowship, and play together. It should be a really rich time. Our theme is "Transformation" and most of our studies will come from the epistle to the Romans. (And no, I'm not overly focused on Pauline Literature! Everything I've been doing for months has come from the gospels).

On another youth ministry note, I'm in the middle of planning fundraising for Wheatstone Academy. The last two years our church has been more heavily involved in this than any other church group so far. I'm proud of that. It is very expensive and so we have to raise a lot of money to keep going. Some may question the relevance of taking kids away for a week to hang out with Christian professors and read Plato, but I think that in an age when our public school systems are failing to produce thoughtful individuals, it is good that a youth ministry organization such as Wheatstone can pick up some of the slack. I've seen firsthand that they do indeed make a dent in kids' lives....Our plan for fundraising: invite our parishioners to a sit down dinner complete with some Jazz music, followed by a talk by the ever-engaging John Mark Reynolds. His topic is supposed to be "what happens when Christian kids go to college" or something like that. I'm really excited to offer this event to our church-folk, whether they give money or not!

Today was kind of like Christmas for me: I received a couple of forthcoming books in the mail that I get to read and blog about. I'll withhold the titles for now, but both should be really good and provide good fodder for discussion. One has to do with the "emergent/emerging" issue, and the other is on a very specific ethical/political issue. As Jack Johnson says "dust off your thinking caps..."

It brought great joy to me to see Zach make a comment on the blog here. When Zach isn't doing his day job, he is a prolific blogger. While I sometimes disagree with his views, he makes me think. His blog is one of the first blogs I ever read, and I still subscribe. (If you look hard enough you can find me saying a lot of things in the discussion threads that I shouldn't have; I've since learned the tenor of blogdom).

On the topic of blogs, I'm wondering if any of you who read this one have any leads on some good, mostly "undiscovered" Christian blogs. I'm trying to find some fresh perspectives and will check out anything. I would especially be interested in blogs kept by pastors (but not "discernment blogs"!) Just leave your suggestion in the comments...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Phyllis Tickle interview...Or, Maybe I can be a "friend of emergent" after all...or, read your Bible

I have often been very, very critical of the emergent/emerging church and will probably continue to be critical when I perceive a capitulation to postmodern philosophy and the articulation of an epistemology that makes evangelism and doctrine moot (and is not in concert with that epistemology present in Scripture).

With that said, Leadership Journal just posted a short interview with Phyllis Tickle (great name!). You can find it here. It is a very interesting piece. I know nothing of Mrs. Tickle so I can't vouch for her sanity or anything else, but I like some of what she has to say about Scripture and worship.

The subtitle of the piece is "we need to listen to more Scripture, without embellishment, in worship and life."

In her interview she says that the Word should be read aloud because this increases our ability to absorb it (agreed) and because, when read aloud, the text leaves off being an object on the page and becomes "an auditory space and you move into it" (I'm not sure I agree with this, but...)

She goes on to say that when we meet the Word in this way it "acts on us." "The Word works on us and changes us." I couldn't agree more. I so often feel that homiletics (preaching) is the art of taking a Scriptural text and embellishing it and turning it into a very different, human voice. In this way, we use Scripture as a tool to say what we want to say, or at least Scripture is merely an influence in what comes out in proclamation. This is problematic: it treats the Word of God as an object that humans can have mastery over. On the contrary, the Word of God should have mastery over us!

Now, Phyllis starts saying some things later in the interview that make me a little fearful: that we all hear different things in Scripture and that trying to have a uniformity of understanding of Scripture is "heresy." This is a huge can of worms that I won't open on a blog, but let's say that this is somewhat problematic for me.

Finally, she ends with an exhortation to Protestants to...READ SCRIPTURE. Wow, so revolutionary. Unfortunately folks, it is true that we don't read enough of Scripture. We don't let it do its work on us. I am a pastor of high school students and I can hardly get them to bring their Bibles to church (not for lack of trying). The reason? I'm guessing that they haven't seen it modeled for them at home or in the church.

Maybe things are changing. Phyllis thinks so:

"One of the things that younger Christians and emergent leaders are going back to is family altars, reading Scripture aloud, together, as a family."

Amen, you emergents!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Evangelical Politics: A Discussion, 3

(We Continue our discussion and review of Ronald J. Sider's new book, The Scandal of Evangelical Politics (Baker, 2008))...

In ch. 3 Sider attempts to connect the "Biblical Story and Politics." This chapter is biblically grounded and solid, but kind of basic, so I won't belabor every detail. What Sider does is briefly detail the biblical story of creation, fall, redemption, recreation and then he draws out some implications of the story. Among these implications:
  • The Nature of Persons: human beings are created as unique individuals, but also as fundamentally social creatures; we must affirm both truths. If we only emphasize our communal nature, we will end up with a totalitarian society. As it is, however, the radical individualism articulated by John Locke has produced an American society that has largely abandoned its communal responsibilities. Sider doesn't really flesh this out politically.
  • Sin: Sin has "radically broken" our relationship with God and with other human beings as well. The sins of individuals create a whole host of sinful social structures. Total depravity affects every part of the individual and the society. The implications? We must recognize that every individual politician will exhibit both God's "common grace" and humanity's "total depravity." As Sider says, "therefore, Christians should never trust any politician completely and dare never embrace any party or platform uncritically." Further, Christians must work on limiting government, building checks and balances wherein the selfish tendencies of individuals keep each other in check, and they must also make sure that the social structures the best they can be, while holding no delusions of utopia.
  • The Glory of Work: work is fundamentally good and any governmental and social structure that does anything to prevent able-bodied persons from working is evil.
  • Christ, the kingdom of God, and politics: evangelical politics must take into account that Scripture says that the kingdom of God is "among you." It is here and now, although only in an incipient form. The victory has not yet been won. If we remember both of these elements of Christ's kingdom, we can have the courage to actually work to enact some of the kingdom promises we read in Scripture (peace, justice, prosperity, etc.), without the naive thought that we will bring about the final kingdom (a la, the social gospel).
Running throughout this 3rd chapter is an issue that I think is very fundamental to evangelical politics: what is our view of creation and the afterlife? Most evangelical Christians, he says, have a very Platonic understanding of creation and the "afterlife" that is contrary to the Bible. This view runs something like this: Material existence is okay, but spiritual, disembodied existence is better. Jesus came to save us from this world, and when we die, our souls are saved and we go to live with him in disembodied bliss. When Jesus does come back he will destroy this earth and we'll all be in "heaven."

Sider takes N.T. Wright's position and says that this is not a biblical conception of the final consummation of God's kingdom. What will happen, rather, is that Christ will come and redeem this creation! I have to agree with Sider and Wright, at least on this point. When I read Romans 8:18-25 I don't see a creation "groaning" to be reduced to nothing. Rather, creation is yearning to be "brought into the glorious liberty of the sons of God."

The way that this eschatology affects evangelical politics is this: If this world will simply be exterminated and put out of existence and we must simply muddle through our time here and take as many people with us as we can, political engagement and activism become rather superfluous. If we understand that the kingdom work we do now (ranging from evangelism to social justice) is an image of the kingdom of God that will be here on the earth in the future, we are more apt to become politically involved.

I think Sider might be right on this point. What do you think? Are we just trying to ditch this earth, or does redemption include the earth itself? Does our eschatology affect our politics, or even our daily lives?

Matt

Thursday, February 7, 2008

New Monastics...

Damian posted last night about a church marketing campaign that reached right into his mailbox and shocked him.

Turns out, Damian isn't the only one who has a problem with church marketing. The Boston Globe ran a story a few days ago about a whole group of Christians who are reacting against shallow church marketing. Read it HERE. In fact, the article states that over 100 evangelical monastic communities have arisen in the last few years. Here is why, according to one author:

The New Monastics come from a variety of religious backgrounds, from Presbyterian to Pentecostal. All share a common frustration with what they see as the overcommercialized and socially apathetic culture of mainstream evangelicalism. They perceive a "spiritual flabbiness in the broader church and a tendency to assimilate into a corrupt, power-hungry world," writes New Monastic author Scott Bessenecker in his recent book "The New Friars." (emphasis mine)

I love the cruel irony: people are leaving the church and becoming disenfranchised precisely because the church is so caught up in marketing itself. I can't help but chuckle.

Matt




Wednesday, February 6, 2008

"Wake the neighbors, get the word out...!"

As usual, I came home from a normal day's work and stopped by mailbox to look for the bills. To my surprise I received a mailer for a new church in town. This isn't something altogether different, as I have seen these before. However, I've never seen this type of marketing for a Church. The main slogan read, "COMING TO A THEATER NEAR YOU"; I've never seen the type of advertising that was offered here. If that wasn't enough to catch you off guard as a catchphrase for a church, the rest went on to say, "The music rocks, the teaching is relevant, and the kids will have a blast. We guarantee a 100% boredom-free morning."

Now obviously there are some negative implications noted in the above statement. First, they assume, traditional church music is normally mundane and lackluster. Also, church teaching is usually irrelevant and extraneous. Furthermore, kids are usually disinterested with their programs. And last but not least, church as a whole is usually a place of complete boredom.

I don't want to get too critical of this church, for I admit that I haven't attended this church, nor do I know anyone personally on the staff, but I must say that this does make me wonder. I mean, there wasn't a single mention of Christ in this mailer in any way. Now, they may be going under the assumption, being that we are in the Bible-Belt, that everyone in this area (Raleigh, NC) already knows what "church" is supposed to be about, namely Christ. But I then went on the website (http://www.lifepointechurch.com/), and not only was the first thing I saw a $100 bill (link), but their website as a whole looked more like an add for jeans than it did a church devoted to God.

While I completely understand that their intention not to look like a traditional church, this does warrant some questioning:


  1. Should we even market the church at all?
  2. If so, should we attempt to capitalize on the apparent demise of other less exciting churches?
  3. Does it make sense to initially leave the direct reason for church [Christ] out of the equation, then introduce him through the back door? (ex. bait and switch)
  4. Should we dress church up to not look like "church," then show them the love of Christ afterward?
  5. How would the Jesus or the Apostle Paul react to such this apparent Gospel-masquerading?
I've said it before, I by no means believe that there is a "right" way to do church. For Mars Hill Church in Seattle is totally unorthodox in their practice of church; rather quite contemporary in their approach. But they by no means shy away from the real purpose of what and why they do church. I encourage you to visit the site and see for yourself. Let me know your thoughts on these things.

What do you think? Is this an acceptable practice?

Ash Wednesday: Protestants and Lent...

More and more Protestants are celebrating Lent. The Houston Chronicle has a little piece saying just that this morning.

I remember back in high school when some girls would show up at school one day with large ash marks on their foreheads. It was weird to me and I knew as soon as I saw it that it was just some "stupid Catholic ritual." To be honest, it didn't help that I would hear people say things like "I'm giving up Dr. Pepper for lent." Even as a nascent believer I knew that that was a display of trite religiosity. I'm not so hostile now.

'm wondering, why are so many more Protestants seeking to be engaged in some of these ancient liturgical practices?

My initial thought is that our methods of spiritual formation and discipleship (which often amount to singing songs and cognitive content) are not giving us a full-orbed Christian experience.

Roger Oakland, on the other hand, would say we are all caught up in the emergent church heresy and on our way to Rome.

Personally, I'm going to celebrate Lent, unless Roger convinces me otherwise (not going to happen). Lent isn't a biblical mandate, but neither is the Winter Retreat I'm taking my highschoolers on next week.

I'm going to commemorate Jesus' temptation and prepare for his death by doing battle with a certain temptation: the twin temptation of busyness and perfectionism. I've come up with five "non-negotiables" to help me to do this. They are pasted on my desk now. #4 is "Set a Quitting Time." I've tended to work as if the kingdom of God depended on me...that is a sin!

So which is it? Is Lent a valid practice of repentance and preparation for Easter, or is it a heretical interjection of Satanic doctrine? Are you taking part, and if so, how?

Matt

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Speaking of Evangelical Politics...

James Dobson says he won't vote at all if McCain is the nominee for the Republican Party...

Check out his statement HERE.

I'm not so sure abstaining is the best thing to do as a Christian...what do you think?

Evangelical Politics: A Discussion, 2

(We Continue our discussion and review of Ronald J. Sider's new book, The Scandal of Evangelical Politics (Baker, 2008))...

The title of Sider's book gave me the idea that the whole book was devoted to indicting Evangelicals for their political programme, or the lack thereof. Instead, after thrashing us evangelicals in ch. 1, he moves right into a constructive proposal for political engagement in ch. 2. The title of the ch. is "Developing a Faithful Methodology."

First Sider gives us a very brief rundown on the history of Christian political engagement from the time of Acts up to the present. He briefly glosses over the pre-Constantinian period, when Christian political involvement amounted to refusing to say "Caesar is Lord." Then he highlights five key political viewpoints of the post-Constantinian age:
  • Augustine in his City of God articulated a very Platonic, dualistic political philosophy. For him, Christians were citizens of two cities, earthly and heavenly. The latter was far more important and the earthly city was there only to provide temporary, imperfect peace and freedom.
  • Aquinas spoke of the important of 1) the role of government and 2) natural law. For Aquinas, the role of government was not merely something to restrain sin, but instead sprung from our nature as communal beings. Aquinas' view of natural law was that it was sufficient for all people to understand what was right and wrong, so this "natural law" is what our laws should be based upon.
  • Luther argued that God rules through two kingdoms, the spiritual and the secular. Luther makes a sharp distinction between the two kingdoms. The Christian lives in both kingdoms, but they remain radically separate. For instance, the principles of the Sermon on the Mount are never to be applied to the secular government. Under Luther's philosophy, the only purpose of the government is to restrain sin in a fallen world; if the world were made up of Christians, we'd have no need of this government.
  • Calvin, unlike Luther, thought that society at large could be transformed to show God's will. He said that secular government exists "to foster and protect the external worship of God, defend pure doctrine and the good condition of the church...mould our conduct to civil justice, reconcile us to one another, and uphold and defend the common peace and tranquility." Government also exists to further human "flourishing" and "discovery.
  • Anabaptists broke with the tradition of Luther and Calvin both. They recognized the God-given authority of the secular government, but believed that a Christian had entered the kingdom of God and given up the right to participate in the earthly, sword-bearing government. In more recent times, Anabaptists have not been as uninvolved, but have operated on a three-fold criterion: 1) we are Christians first, 2) we are global citizens before national citizens, and 3) we must be completely non-violent.
Sider quickly moves from this survey into what he proposes for a methodology for evangelical politics.
First, we must embrace pluralism. That is, we must accept that ours is a pluralistic society; the old ideas from Christendom won't work, or at least not in the same way.
Second, we must have a chastened view of natural law. The disparity in political ideas in our postmodern culture should make us realize that human reason is not sufficient for everyone to come to united views on politics, let alone anything else. Nonetheless, we do maintain that people have the image of God imprinted on them and they have the law written on their hearts (Rom 2:14-15). The situation is not as bad as some postmoderns would have us believe. It is like this: we aren't unaware of natural law because we're fallen, instead we twist natural law because we are fallen (cf. Rom 1:21, 28).
Third, our political philosophy must be drawn primarily from Scripture but articulated in the language of pluralism. We should, Sider says, go to Scripture for our stand on politics, but articulate our stand not in "Thus saith the Lord" terms, but rather in the language of the society and in terms they know and accept. It seems like Sider is saying that our political positions should be derived from Scripture but not argued from Scripture. He isn't completely clear.

One last thing Sider says that I think is helpful: our political positions must be more than just biblical proof-texting. We have to labor, not as individuals, but as churches and as evangelicals, and, presumably, as para-church political organizations, to come to systematic reflections on politics. We have to come to a coherent, definitive position on politics. Sider is quick to note that this position must be very humble and open to revision because we are all finite creatures.

I'm looking forward to chapter 3 when Sider surveys Scripture to lay the groundwork for a working political philosophy. It should be good.

In the meantime...

Happy Super Tuesday.

Matt

Sunday, February 3, 2008

What context?

You may have stumbled upon this website due to a recent search, or maybe someone even told you about it and you wanted to check it out for yourself. Let me be the first to say I’m glad you stopped by! Though I imagine one of the first questions you may have had after reading our blog is: what context are they referring to? Well, I’m glad you asked.

I am convinced that there are basically three contexts which every Christian finds themselves. While I am aware that there are myriads of sub-contexts and even mixed contexts, I am of the opinion that most of them would fit under the following three.

Context #1: Theological – This refers to our context with and about God; this is the lynchpin context. Every Christian is a theologian in one way or another. What we believe about God will ultimately determine how we react to the subsequent contexts. In a word, our theology has consequences. (Though there is some flexibility in this area, we must line our thinking up with what God has revealed in the Bible; cf. 2nd Timothy 3:16)

Context #2: Sociological: This is our context with culture; how we apply what we know about God to humanity. God has set forth in His Word how we should act toward the unbelieving world; we must take great care in how we do this. (As far as how to approach this will vary quite differently depending on the culture setting we find ourselves in; cf. 1st Corinthians 9:19-23)

Context #3: Ecclesiological – This is our context with each other as Christians. It includes our personal responsibility toward our fellow believers. We all have gifts God has given us to serve one another, we need to know why and how to do this. (There is also a great deal of flexibility here as to how to approach this, but our chief concern should be to love one another; cf. John 13:34-35)



There may be a fourth context however, family. But I purposely left this out as it basically could be categorized under #2 and/or #3. Nevertheless, the three contexts above is basically what every Christian will find themselves engaged in. Most of the time we Christians will address all three contexts at once. They will converge with one another as each one does in fact include and affect the other.

This is what you’ll be reading about here on this blog as we seek to interact with our moderns and historical contexts. Our hope at CIC is that we can help foster Christians to read and understand the Bible and encourage all Christians to study their own lives. To that end, we will all be readily available to act as a Christian in Context.

Which context do you spend the most time in?

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Evangelical Politics: A Discussion, 1

(Note: This post and the comments it generates have the potential to be rather controversial, please vigorously assert, defend, and interact. However, we ask that you do so with passionate kindness. Things will likely get more controversial as this book discussion goes forward).

What John McCain is to the Republican Party, Ronald J. Sider is to the Evangelical Movement. Sider consistently locates himself within the movement of evangelicalism, but just as consistently he refuses to toe the party line. For years he has pointed out evangelical blindspots and sins.

Sider just came out with a new book, The Scandal of Evangelical Politics (BakerBooks, February 2008).
I'm sure the timing of its release was no accident. With evangelicals being, arguably, the difference in the last two general elections, Sider and BakerBooks wanted to release this work at a time when our nation is again embroiled in political debate.

I don't at all want to endorse this book. I just today picked it up and started reading it; it just came out yesterday. Rather, I'd like to use the book and its chapters as an impetus for some interactive discussion here on Christians in Context. So, let's get started:

Chapter One is titled "Tragic Failure, New Opportunity." As the title shows, Sider is not at all bashful about his position: he says at one point "Christian political activity today is a disaster." He briefly details how evangelicals went from little to no political involvement in the mid 1960s, to being so heavily involved that they brought Reagan into the White House in 1980. The problem, Sider says, is that there has been very, very little evangelical reflection on how and why we do politics. "Grounded in an emotional fervor that characterized the revivalism that so powerfully shaped evangelicals, their political activity was populist, based on intuition and simplistic biblical proof-texting rather than systematic reflection." The result, according to Sider, is confusion and inconsistency on a number of matters. He notes:
  • Our commitment to human rights focuses almost solely on abortion, and we do little for the millions of children who die every year of starvation or the millions of adult who are killed by tobacco smoke.
  • Our inconsistency on matters of governmental control: when it comes to issues of healthcare, welfare, and charity, we declare that the individuals and churches should start and finance these programs, not the federal government. However, when it comes to issues of marriage, abortion, pornography, we want the government to take legislative action. Sider says that this is an apparent inconsistency that we need to justify or jettison.
  • Overall, Sider says that there is a dearth of Christian political action for things such as racism, environmental protection, or the empowerment of the poor.
Sider contrasts the confused and convoluted evangelicals with the Catholics and the Mainline denominations; they've got a thought-out, mostly consistent political philosophy, and we don't. According to Os Guinness, there has been "no serious evangelical public philosophy in this [twentieth] century."

Sider seems to say that one of two things will happen: either we will implode upon ourselves politically, and revert to isolationism, or we will come up with some type of orthodox public policy.

He gives two reasons why we should do the latter:

1. Practically, evangelicals can do good in the world if they are politically active: the church could have probably stopped Hitler from coming to power in pre-WWII Germany if it had not been slumbering, and imagine if William Wilberforce had been politically apathetic!

2. Theologically, Jesus is the Lord of our life, and he must be Lord even over our public, political lives. As Sider says "the obligation to vote responsibly follows necessarily from my confession that Christ my Lord calls me to love my neighbor."

If you wouldn't mind participating, please provide thoughts on any of the following:

Does the church align itself too closely with any one party or any one cause?

What elements of our two main parties (Republican/Democrat) are incompatible with the Christian faith?

What do you think about Sider's contention that the pro-life position of Christians is too narrowly focused on abortion?

What do you think of all the talk of providing healthcare for all citizens? Should we as Christians support this or fight against it?

Matt

god's thirteen

As a youth pastor, I'm always looking for illustrations of the gospel. If I can somehow use a story that my kids have already latched onto to infiltrate their worldview and then use the story to short-circuit their thinking and implant the gospel virus into their minds, I have achieved success. I am of the opinion that this is what gospel communication involves: the evangelist infiltrates, deconstructs, and plants. And yes, the order of those three things can be rearranged.

Tonight I watched a great illustration of the gospel message, although I'm sure it was not intended to be that. I finally saw Ocean's Thirteen. My fiance and I rented it (yes, rented) on iTunes. It was a fabulous movie. I especially enjoyed the retro cinematography, the eccentric characters, the action, and the witty subplots. However, I also saw the movie as doing something more than just titillating me.

The whole movie seemed to me to be a parable of gospel subversion.

I think it will serve as a great illustration. You probably saw the movie a long time ago, so I won't belabor the details too much. But consider the setting: we join Danny Ocean in the casino world, a place ruled by tyrannous tycoons. These men are above the law, and they live to prey on those whom they lure into their casinos with promises of big winnings and "the good life." The only thing these guys care about is their bank accounts. Everything else, whether family, friends, or otherwise, is only a means to that end. It seems like a fitting parallel to the actual world that we live in: Satan, whom the Bible calls "the god of this world" is a deceiver who is able to put up a facade as attractive as anything the Las Vegas strip has on offer. And as many of us know, the house always wins.

But check out the "gospel" that is Ocean's Thirteen. These men are experts in subversion. Like Robin Hood and his merry men they know how to steal from the rich and give to the poor. They know how to fight for what matters; Ocean's marriage, Saul's life, higher wages for Mexican workers, and a home for orphans. They know the enemy's schemes and they are committed to thwarting him, no matter what it takes. It makes me think of God's Thirteen: Jesus and his twelve disciples (who, by the way, become a paradigm for all of us). Jesus was an expert in subversion and inversion: he exposed the facades of the devil, showed us how to take the house, and didn't fight on his own behalf, but instead fought on behalf of others. The pinnacle of Jesus' subversive ministry was the cross. It was here, when Satan could sniff ultimate victory, that Jesus was actually bringing about the beginning of the end for the kingdom of darkness.

As St. John writes: "And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it."--John 1:5

May we all remember our subversive King, and may we live subversive lives. The way to subversion is, as Jesus said, to "take up your cross and follow me." Point people to the Cross by taking up your own.

Matt

Friday, February 1, 2008

Why pay for college?!

The one reason that I am not currently stimulating the economy: student loans. I mean, I've got near $xxK in loans to repay, for a bachelor's degree!

Now, if I would have only known about iTunes U!!!! That's right folks, you can download, for FREE, lectures from some of the world's top professors. Some of the schools that are participating: Yale University, UC Berkeley, and Duke.

In addition to these prestigious ivory towers, it appears you can get a good chunk of seminary education for free as well: Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS), Concordia Seminary and Abilene Christian University are all offering a good deal of high-dollar content for free.

For example, I paid (with the help of private foundations and Uncle Sam) nearly $10k for 12 units of Biblical Greek. If you are a disciplined autodidact, however, you can know everything I know for the cost of books. The only catch? You don't get a big, fancy piece of paper to hang on your wall. But that isn't the point, right? RIGHT?

The ironic part of the whole thing is that the same technology that has provided us with the ability to access Ivy-League lectures for free is the same technology that has shortened our attention spans and so distracted us that we can't possibly sit still to listen to them! Oh, it is a cruel, cruel world.

Matt