Monday, March 31, 2008

Providential Interruptions

This morning was a typical Monday morning where I usually stop and get gas at the local corner market. I always have my steaming hot cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee with blackberry in hand ready for the first email of the day (I'm addicted, probably to both). I then pulled up to the pump ready to pay an outrageous dollar figure for the smallest amount of premium gasoline. But after I placed my credit card in the slot something happened. No, it wasn't a mind-blowing event, it was just that the pump said "please see cashier." So I proceeded inside to evidently pre-pay for my gas. Only the lady at the counter said that the machine was working fine and for me to step back outside and try it again. Well, then it worked, and all was well, I received my gas. To my surprise I acted quite calmly. That is, sometimes when little annoying things happen like this I often become discouraged. Nevertheless, as this was taking place I became acutely aware of what I call providential interruptions.

There are so many little events like this in our lives in which we have no idea how or why they are even happening. Sometimes these things are big, sometimes they are small; but they always happen, and they're always there. As people of faith we can look back on our lives and evaluate how God has so eloquently orchestrates our steps (Proverbs 16:9). We can glance back in the past and see how all the little nuances have brought us to the place where we are now. Stuff that seemed so insignificant can sometimes play a huge role in the remainder of our lives. Like my credit card not working this morning. I'm not saying it was in fact a life changing event. Was this a big deal? Probably not, but I'll never know until eternity.

See, I believe this is the type of mentality that us Christians need to have toward the areas of our lives that we basically have no control over. I'm not suggesting that we need to think and reflect on every single event that happens to us. I am saying that we should all consider the work of God when we begin to well-up with selfishness in these times of providential interruptions. The tapestry of faith is something each Christian, including myself, has to deal with. But what separates us from the world is our hope in God and trust in His providential care.

Let us heed the words of Reinhold Niebuhr who said, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sunday Scrapbook...

(Sunday Scrapbook is your chance to sound off about your worship experience this week at church. True theology is always concerned with the worship of the church, so we want to hear how you were impacted by the word, the music, the sacraments or the fellowship at your church this week. For this weekly post, we ask that you keep all your comments constructive and positive.)

Sadly, I committed the unpardonable sin today of forsaking the assembling of myself and family with other worshipers within my church community. In other words, I missed church. And though this happens from time to time (I have 3 kids 5 and under), believe it or not, I still believed I'm saved. :) Nevertheless, I do want to sound off on what I have been doing in my devotion time.

As you can see from the side bar, I have been reading John Owen's book on the Holy Spirit devotionally. I do so because Owen is so dynamic in his writings on a given subject that ever single paragraph, nay, every sentence I read seems to enrich my soul (besides that, I love the 17th century hair!). Lately because of how encouraged I have become by this I was actually thinking of contacting Justin Taylor and suggesting a John Owen daily devotional. But who knows, he's probably working on it.

Anyway, I've selected for my devotion today his chapter on Sanctification [as] a Progressive Work. A few weeks ago I did a post on spiritual growth where I talked about how part of growing spiritually was growing in the knowledge of the Lord. Well, today I just wanted to quote Owen and allow the Christian in Context readers to get a taste of Owen's work and perhaps gain the insight that I've been reaping. Here it is...

"These trees and plants have the principal of their growth in themselves. They do not grow immediately from external adventitious aid, but from their own seminal virtue and radical moisture. It is no otherwise in the progress of holiness; it has a root, a seed, a principle of growth in the soul. All grace is the immortal seed, and contains in it a living growing principle, (John 4:14). That which has not in itself a life and power of growth, is not grace. And therefore what ever duties men perform, as directed by natural light, or urged by convictions from the word, if they proceed not from a principle of spiritual life in the heart, they are not fruits of holiness."


God Bless John Owen!

Free book giveaway!!!

Just sign up for email updates for Christians in Context by April 30th to enter a drawing to receive a free copy (shipping included) of The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Steven J. Lawson.

Its a simple thank you to all of our faithful Christians in Context readers.

Just scroll down in the sidebar and enter your email address and enter the verification code. You'll then receive an email asking to "activate" your subscription. Only those who activate their subscriptions will be entered in the drawing. Note : Your email will not be given or solicited to any third parties. For those who already signed up for email updates and you would like to enter the giveaway, just send us an email at info [at] christiansincontext [dot] org.

Give-a-way rules:

1 - One entry per email subscribed. You may increase your chances by referring someone. Just send us an email to info [at] christiansincontext [dot] org and include the email of who you referred. If they activate their email you'll receive 3 entries into the drawing.

2 - You must carry an active subscription until the drawing takes place.

3 - Free shipping only available within the United States. International winners will receive a $5.00 USD discount toward shipping.

Good luck!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Fear and Trembling, misappropriated.

I recently acquired a book from Reformation Trust called Jesus the Evangelist by Richard D. Phillips. I chose to get this book because it deals directly with the topic of personal evangelism, something very dear to me. I've only gotten through the preface and introduction, but plan to do a full review in the coming weeks. Nevertheless, I want to share some thoughts on personal evangelism with all of you before I read and review this book.

I titled this post the way I did as a case of irony more than anything else. Surely every Christian has heard this phrase in one form or another. For that matter, some of us can identify the exact places where this phrase is located in Scripture. To some of you astute readers this idiom may remind you of Søren Kierkegaard 1843 publication with the same name, but we'll not be concerned with that here. It is an interesting expression - simply because the two words are intricately connected. When we fear, we usually tremble; when we tremble, its usually because we're fearful.

I think what I find most interesting [about the phrase] is when we speak of their experiences with personal evangelism, much of what we hear is how we couldn't share our faith. Namely, that we feared and trembled. What's bad about this is we're doing this at the feet of man when it should be our posture corem Deo. I admit, I can be categorized in this same fashion from time to time. But what are we saying when we won't profess God before men? How did Jesus respond to our failure to testify about Him? In a 2007 study by The Barna Group showed that 35% adults feel they have a personal responsibility to tell other people their religious beliefs. I find this survey intriguing since in 2001 76.5% of religious Americans are Christians [1] and Christ himself gave us each a personal mandate to preach the Gospel to every creature, did He not?

In any event, my hope is as I embark on this study of personal evangelism [through this book] I will develop a better framework to work with and a greater passion to obey Christ when he says, go therefore and make disciples of all nations, and, go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. I'm very much looking forward to this and can't wait to share with you all what I learn.

I chose the complementary picture of Peter being crucified upside down to serve as a reminder to us all the cost some had to deal with when they stood for Christ (evangelized).

***What about you? Do you struggle with sharing your faith? I'd love to hear your thoughts as I persist through this book and deal with some of my own struggles. ***

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Top 10 R. C. Sproul Quotes

I love Sproul, so I figured I'd post my all-time top 10 quotes from him.

10. Every sin is an act of cosmic treason, a futile attempt to dethrone God in His sovereign authority.

9. Most Christian’s solute the sovereignty of God but believe in the sovereignty of man.

8. They are in fact, womb-mates. (Speaking of Jacob and Esau in Romans 9)

7. In a universe governed by God there are no chance events. Indeed, there is no such thing as chance. Chance does not exist. It is merely a word we use to describe mathematical possibilities. But chance itself has no power because it has no being. Chance is not an entity that can influence reality. Chance is not a thing. It is nothing!


6. If you’re not accountable in life that means ultimately that your life doesn’t count.

5. But, how do we get water from a well? Do we woo it? Do we stand at the top of the well and cry, ‘Here, water, water, water’?

4. If there is one maverick molecule in all the universe, then God is not sovereign. And if God is not sovereign, He is not God.

3. I think Arminianism is death to Christianity!

2. And I say to the humanist with all cynicism, if I come from nothing, if I’m going to nothing, I am nothing, and why should I care who sits on the front of the bus or on the back of the bus? What do I care if its white germs or black germs that have rights in this world?

1."When people tell me that they don’t believe in predestination I’m going to grab them by the throat and say, 'Why not! The Bible TEACHES IT!'

Monday, March 24, 2008

Oh yeah, knowledge puffs up!

If you're anything like me, Sunday's can sometimes be difficult. Let me explain. When I first became a Christian, I used to really enjoy going to church. Though I wasn't the most fond of worship (as singing), I loved the sermons. I was eager to learn about the things of God; I wanted to hear what He had to say to me, to change my mind, and consequently my heart. Incidentally, my co-blogger Norm and I got saved within probably a time span of about 18 months of each other. We both attended the same church and loved listening to the messages preached and articulated by our Pastor. We would sometimes even stay and listen to both 8:30 and the 10:15 messages, back to back; we couldn't get enough.

Though as the years have gone on and my knowledge of the things of God have increased, something started to happen. I began to struggle from time to time with Sunday morning sermons. Not that there is anything wrong with the sermon, but with the fact that I've heard them over and over again and I felt like I wasn't learning anything new. As I continued to learn the Bible in my own personal study, the more I found sermons to be unfruitful. I always thought to myself, "Maybe if I attended a more theologically sound church, I'd be better off," or "Maybe if I went to a church that would speak to the great doctrines of justification and eschatology, I'd actually learn something." Pretty high-minded. I have to confess, even as recently as Easter Sunday I've had similar thoughts. While I grant that there are some churches that simply don't have a theologically sound Pastor, this was/is not the case in my situation.

As a result, in my opinion there are two things wrong with my above inclinations.
  1. Too much pride in my knowledge has created an unteachable mind and heart.
  2. My perspective of church, and involvement thereof are severely flawed.
There is no question that these thoughts will create an unteachable heart. And, though I'm not one to attribute much of my faults to the Devil, I'm sure he takes a little credit when I think this way. While I admit that I need to be more humble and have a more teachable heart,in reality, this not really the issue. The issue is not so much that I should be learning something new each Sunday, but rather giving solemn testimony by standing in agreement with the preached Divine Word. I should be worshiping the God of the universe who created and redeemed my soul with fear and reverence. I should be giving witness alongside others that stand for the Lord Jesus Christ. I should be preparing my heart for worship the night before with fervent prayer and supplication.

And this leads me to the second issue above, my perspective of church. Now I'm not an expert in ecclesiology, but I do know that learning isn't the only attribute of church (though surely it has its place). I do know however that church should be a place where we not only worship God with our ears (mind), but also with our mouths and hearts. It should also be bearing witness to Christ by heeding His words and serving the saints. Finally, I believe church should be a place that fosters relationships with other believers through the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

So as I continue to forge on in church and in my theological education, I need to reflect on the notion that church isn't simply about listening to a sermon containing theological constructs. Rather its about the coming together of the redeemed of the Lord for worship, instruction, fellowship, and service.

In a word, its not about me.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sunday Scrapbook...

(Sunday Scrapbook is your chance to sound off about your worship experience this week at church. True theology is always concerned with the worship of the church, so we want to hear how you were impacted by the word, the music, the sacraments or the fellowship at your church this week. For this weekly post, we ask that you keep all your comments constructive and positive.)

My experience this week:

Our pastor gave a message titled "The Joy of Easter." It was centered around the two disciples who encountered the igcognito Christ on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection, the resurrection they didn't yet know about. The message was tailored to those who haven't been in church lately and it bid them to be experience the joy that the risen Christ offers us. I hope and pray that some of those in church this week (we, like many churches I'm sure, had a huge turnout) will experience the wooing of God's Spirit and will become followers of Jesus.

I loved the warmth and love that was expressed today; three families from the church, knowing that I'm all alone this weekend, invited me over for Easter supper. I took up one family on the offer and enjoyed a slab of HoneyBaked Ham and the best homemade creamed corn I've ever had. I'm so thankful for the deepening relationships that the Lord has given me at our church.

I'm also so thankful for the students that the Lord has let me be "youth pastor" to; I am wholly unworthy. My prayer for them this Easter: that we would not simply think of Jesus as a great example, a great idea, or a distant God, but that we would experience the presence of the risen Christ on a daily basis....I missed my students this week and can't wait to see them this Tuesday.

All in all, I had a great day at church. I was reminded of the joy that Easter should bring, and conversely reminded at how swept away I become with earthly pursuits and worldly perspectives when Christ offers us so much more: peace with God.

So, how was your Sunday?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Gap Between Seminary and Sunday School...


If I were on Jeopardy I would answer, "what is Ligonier Ministries!" I have to admit that I am personally indebted to this ministry for grounding me in the basic truths of the faith...and introducing me to Reformed theology; to which I was shortly persuaded thereafter.

Ligonier Ministries was founded in 1971 by R. C. Sproul in Ligonier, PA with the sole purpose of equipping Christians to articulate what they believe and why they believe it [1]. Dr. Sproul had a strong conviction for the layman and felt the need to design a ministry to bridge the gap between seminary and Sunday School (hence the blog title). Realizing that the average Christian could not attend seminary, he identified a need to develop teaching lessons that would have more substance than a sermon or Sunday school class, but not quite as comprehensive as a seminary class.

This ministry has almost anything anyone ever needs to be equipped to handle the Divine Word. Their award winning magazine (TableTalk) is a monthly publication that offers daily studies into the Word as well as short articles on a specific topic. They also offer teaching series in any format, CD, MP3, video, even internet streaming (pod casts). One of their most popular teaching series is called Chosen by God. There Dr. Sproul sets forth his defense for the doctrine of election. But perhaps the greatest accomplishment set forth by this ministry is the Reformation Study Bible. Most recently the Bible has been offered in conjunction with the English Standard Version translation. This was one of the largest endeavors of Ligonier and includes notes from scholars such as Roger Nicole, Graeme Goldsworthy, Wayne Grudemn, Moises Silva, Bruce Waltke, and Tremper Longman III.

Recently Ligonier launched a new division/publishing company - Reformation Trust. Their focus there is to publish books that unfold key theological topics, explore biblical passages, and take you down the halls of church history to tap the wisdom of the past. [2] They even started a new blog (click here) which has recently included special guest, über-blogger, Tim Challies.

I encourage everyone visit www.ligonier.org; they have my utmost recommendation.
Though there are some minor theological issues I dispute, such as paedo-baptism, I still return time and time again to seek the thoughtful and articulate counsel of Dr. Sproul. Most of the writings, publications, and teaching series are written/spoken at a high school (maybe early college) level, but are chock full substance. My personal favorite items are, Blueprint for thinking, Christian Worldview, The Providence of God, and Building a Christian Conscience. But if I were to recommend any series, it would be The Holiness of God. I firmly believe that if every Christian were to listen (and heed) to this series by Dr. Sproul it could change the the whole outlook of the modern church.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Church Swap?

(Disclaimer: Michael Patton did not make this chart for me)

My wife and I have a bit of a Wednesday night tradition, and that is to watch a show on ABC called Wife Swap. The premise of the show is to swap the mothers of two families who are total opposites in one respect or another. The last episode had one family who was dead-set on fostering their sons wresting career and their whole life revolved around maintaining this goal. The other family was a bunch of free thinking artsy-type who allowed their kids nearly endless freedom. What has to be the most interesting thing to watch is how families struggle. During the first week the mothers have to adhere to the rules of the existing families. The second week allows the "new" mother to restructure some things and have the families conform to the patters of her liking. And this got me a'thinkin'...

How interesting would it be to see this happen within the church?

Think about it: imagine a scenario where a radical Charismatic had to spend a month in a Southern Baptist church? Or perhaps an free-wheeling (liturgically speaking) Emergent member spending some time in a Methodist church? And lets assume that the person who does swap has to follow the "rules" of the church the entire time they're there. What would it accomplish? Well, we can think of a hundred different outcomes that might transpire. In the negative, arguments across the board on why and how worship should be done. Doctrinal disputes would inevitably arise. Moral issues might even take notice. Then again, think about what the positives might be. A deeper appreciation for other denominations. Greater respect for those you don't fully agree with doctrinally. Love for other members of Christ outside the walls of our home church.

And this is exactly what happens on the Wife Swap show. Families divide, arguments are made. But in the end, while most of the families go back to the way they were, usually they learn a valuable lesson and loosen the chains of their bias toward others.

The church needs just that. We need to come to a place where we can break down the walls of division and create a healthy dialogue amongst each other. Now, of course there are exceptions, don't get me wrong. But when it comes to dealing with mainline Evangelical Protestantism as its generally understood, we could all use a healthy dose of this mentality.

While I certainly am aware that this scenario might be far fetched, it would be nice to see some common ground established once and a while.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The calling of God: a word on vocation

Not all, but the majority of the popular mainline Christian blogs I read are started and maintained by individual(s) in full-time ministry; I however am not one of those individuals; but my CIC cronies are. My current vocation (or, context) however has been to serve in the banking industry.

I often wonder why God has placed me here. This industry tends to contain (and breed) individuals who are motivated by the very thing God states we shouldn’t be, money (Luke 16:13, 1 Tim 6:10). It’s a line of business that also contains many practices that have been considered unethical; especially in light of the mortgage industry and its impact on the overall economy. Me, I'm not really motivated by money, just the ability to take care of my family and have some extra to build the kingdom.


I can say however that it has given me a unique opportunity to serve the kingdom of God. To begin, I’ve worked in a variety of sectors. I started off as a teller in consumer banking for a small community bank, and moved up to a client officer in government banking for one of the worlds largest. I’ve partnered with politicians on their multi-million dollar child support programs all the way down to nickels and dimes with children’s banking at local schools.

What I enjoy most about it has been serving people. I really think it might be preparing me for ministry due to the level of awareness and care you have to have with your client/customer. For example, one of the marks good Pastor is their ability to counsel. Interestingly enough, that is pretty much what I do on a daily basis for my customers. When I worked with consumers in the branches I was constantly analyzing their financial situation and offering them advice on how to create greater levels of efficiency for them as well as us. That is, if someone had a difficult time balancing their checkbook, a debit card might suit them better since it usually debited their accounts same day. Or in my current job where I hand hold customers as they transition their entire banking and accounting over to us. This, I see, would be the equivalent of having been fed up with their current way of living (bank) and hoping you can direct them to something better, Jesus (bank). Sure that last one might be a little bit of a stretch, but I try to draw as many connections as I can to the drama of redemption. Sometimes I even like to view my work as a church, where the Lenders (those out in the field) are the evangelists and the client service groups (in-house servants) are the Pastors, deacons, and elders (my crazy imagination).

In any event, banking has been fun. I saw my first convert (Nick Adams) come to Christ in an unusual fashion in my first year of banking (though that story is for another time). I’ve sat down with individuals from all walks of life. I’ve met people of great power and astuteness. I’ve helped little children wrap their sandwich bag full of nickels. I’ve worked with elderly women who couldn’t fill out a deposit slip. But the common thread through all of this is the same if I worked in any other industry, namely, everyone’s desperate need for a Savior. Whether it’s an elected official or the school boy, each one needs to come to the place of repentance and place their hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. Some people falsely rest their hope in money that appreciates and depreciates as time goes on. But our hope is to rest in the finished work on Calvary.

Though I currently work in banking, I only do so to take care of my family. My true vocation serving my God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Amen!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Eve Carson...This is utterly appalling!

(HT: WRAL.com)

[WARNING]: The following content is quite disturbing.

As many of you know, the student body president at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill was murdered on March 4th. A true tragedy in every sense of the word. But perhaps just as atrocious as the murder is the fact that there is a group of people who call themselves Christians that have made a mockery of her death by actually celebrating it! Yeah, I know, CRAZY. Not only this, but according to their website they also say that America is under God's direct judgment stating "God is america's enemy, dashing your soldiers to pieces. 3,987 dead. 29,314 wounded."


The people of Kansas based Westboro Baptist Church have actually decided to "picket" her funeral on the campus of UNC and have even posted a "NEWS BULLETIN" on their website with a nauseating title (here).

Not only do they render themselves "Christian," but even 5 point Calvinists (which incidentally is my theological persuasion). It is this type of misrepresentation that turns so many people off to Christianity. They are obviously some sort of cult who have overly concerned themselves with the impending judgment of God and consider themselves God's personal mouth-piece.

My question(s) to them:

How can you pronounce celebration upon the death of a person you know nothing about other than what school she attended? And picket the funeral no less? What if she was a believer in Christ? If she was, then your assumptions about the alleged judgment of God against her is grossly false, and your reaction to this nearly inexcusable. Perhaps you've misread the actions of God as did the "friends" of Job when "judgment" apparently befell him. How would you know she wasn't a believer? You wouldn't, you can never truly know without knowing her personally. Which is why you should never make such an assumption (and reaction) like this, its repugnant! Does your Bible not contain Ezekiel 33:11?

Would Christ or His Apostles act in such a way? If Jesus were here today would he be throwing a party for the death of Eve Carson? May it never be!

Surely we Christians are called to pronounce the judgment of God upon mankind, but more so to proclaim His love, mercy, and grace through Jesus Christ. Never are we called to make such reprehensible assumptions upon people we don't know.

Let us pray for the family and friends of Eve Carson to be comforted during this tragic time, and to be guarded against these wolves in sheep's clothing.


Friday, March 14, 2008

Some thoughts and questions for C. Michael Patton

Look out Christian bloggers, C. Michael Patton is at it again, starting good conversations with those charts of his! He's posted a new chart HERE that coincides with a new series on the topic of "What is Orthodoxy?" Check out the chart and see what you think. Personally, I'm glad to see Patton continue to give us great fodder for discussion.

I have some preliminary thoughts and concerns with the concepts that his chart seems to indicate. For example, Patton's chart shows the church getting more and more "orthodox" as the church marches onward through history. This seems possibly problematic to me, for a few reasons:

1. What church is here being described? Does Patton think that the church as a whole is progressing in its understanding of orthodoxy, or is he referring to Protestants broadly, Reformed churches? Who is being referred to?

2. His chart seems to indicate that the truth known now is somehow more orthodox or more refined than when the apostles were around. Do we really want to say that we know God better than the apostles? I'm not saying this should be rejected out-of-hand, but I'm also not sure our good friend (he really is quite supportive of us!) Patton would be ready to say that.

3. Also, the chart seems to center on the church's (whoever that is) grasp or articulation of orthodoxy, but doesn't tell us yet where orthodoxy lies. This is a mistake: if we are to avoid the aforementioned error of Tony Jones (and many others) as it pertains to orthodoxy, we can't simply locate orthodoxy within the doctrine of ecclesiology. Ecclesiology, I believe, shouldn't be the controlling doctrine here.

4. The chart seems to indicate the notion of continual, linear progress. I'm sure that, for Patton, the progressive nature of this is rooted in God's ongoing activity in the church and not in man's intellectual or spiritual capabilities. Nevertheless, I think it fails to recognize the tendency within the people of God to recede into false worship. It seems true that there have been some extremely dark days in the church's history, both doctrinally and practically. How do we explain these dark times if our notion is one of continual progress?

Anyhow, I might be wrong about all or some of these assumptions, but these are just my initial thoughts and questions. Perhaps Patton will take some of them, if they are helpful, into account as he blogs about this topic. I think that this issue is exceedingly important, and I am excited to see the conversation that ensues.

I don't intend to enter into the fray yet with some type of drawn-out thoughts on the nature of orthodoxy, but I will say this: we've got to have a launching point for Christian orthodoxy that is fixed. And if that launching point is going to be truly Christian, the entry point for our definition of orthodoxy should be Jesus Christ.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

ARE YOU SCARED OF THE LIGHT?

One of the privileges God has given me has been to be a father of three beautiful daughters, Olivia (5), Sienna (3), and Ava (newborn). I have been watching them grow ever so quickly and cannot begin to describe how the experience has changed me for the better. However one of the challenges I’ve found has been how to teach them about Jesus and the Gospel. It might sound simple, but really its not. Sure they say they love Jesus, but they might just be giving me lip service since I and my wife also happen to be their heroes. I think the biggest fret of every [concerned Christian] parent is how to impart the truth to our kids. Well I can say that R.C. Sproul and Reformation Trust have given us an excellent tool in helping us achieve this very goal.

The Lightlings, By R. C. Sproul,(illustrated by Justin Gerard)



The title of this blog is the basic premise of the book. We all know that kids are scared of dark in one sense or another, so Sproul used this principle to introduce the truth about the Fall of mankind. The book begins with a little boy asking his mother why people are scared of the dark. Though his mother politely jettisons the question and entrusts it to the child’s grandfather, who then proceeds to tell the child a fable. He begins by turning the question upside down by telling his grandson that people are actually more afraid of the light, than the dark.

This is where Sproul gets creative. He draws many truth parallels and makes them accessible and understandable to young children. I’ll try to identify some of them here. The story is about a race of small cute creatures called Lightlings (mankind) who live in a forest with their King (God), who gave them light. One day some of the Lightlings decide they don’t want to do what the King says (rebel), so they leave started off on their own and began walking away from him (their source). As they began to walk further and further away, the light which came from their King became dimmer and dimmer. He then took it completely away resulting in nearly utter darkness (the giving over to vain speculations). The Lightlings are forced to literally feel their way through the forest as they could no longer see where they were going. They proceeded tripped over one another as they stumbled in their journey (life). But their King didn’t want to leave them in the dark so he gave them a gift that would help spread the light throughout the forest, a special bright baby Lightling, who was the Son of the King of Light (Jesus). The light that came from the baby Lightling was far off in the distance (our search for meaning), so many of the other Lightlings travelled far and wide to find the light. Once they saw the baby Lightling, they too became as bright as he was (conversion) so they went home to tell all of their friends and family (evangelism).

The story then goes back to the child and his grandfather, who concludes the story. Like all good storytellers the grandfather explains the meaning of the story to the child. Obviously Sproul placed that in there to allow for the story to explain itself, a very helpful instrument.

As you can see, Sproul's imagination is nothing short of tremendous. Though the first time I read this to my kids they weren’t completely enthralled (they are a little young). But as soon as they learned the story after reading it to them a few times, they just ate it up. Questions arose all over the place from my 5 year old; she even asked me if the baby was Jesus before the story was done (to which I was very proud!). Needless to say, if my kids loved it, I’m sure yours would likewise.

My analysis: I agree with one Amazon reviewer who said, “I particularly enjoyed the simplicity of this allegory.” Since 2003 there have been many Christian children’s books which I have gone through to teach my kids about Jesus. I’ve never read a children’s book that so clearly illustrates drama of creation, fall, and redemption to kids. I would recommend every parent this book to help guide their kids understanding of the truth of Christ. Though the intended age group is between 4-8, my 3 year old simply loves it!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

How to read the Bible as Literature...by Leland Ryken: Book Review

It is somewhat rare today, amongst books dealing with Bible interpretation, to find one that is focused almost exclusively on literary forms. You’re sure to find many books emphasizing the grammatical-historical method. But who would consider prose and poetry? How does one recognize a narrative from apocalyptic literature, and why does that matter? Ryken answers these questions and more in How to read the Bible as Literature…and get more out of it with utility and purpose.

The unique aspect of this work is it's specific consideration of literary forms. While you will find petite sub-sections in other hermeneutical books on literary genre, none delve into the subject matter so deeply. Ryken helps us to understand how to read the Bible in a more fluid, comprehensive fashion. What I mean is that people usually come to the Bible, in my opinion, with a determination to find doctrine and promote a theological agenda. The Bible wasn’t written like that, especially the way in which the Hebrew text was written. Most of the Old Testament is made up of narrative, displaying the acts of God. Yes doctrine is established through connecting the dots, as it were. But when you read the story of Saul and David in the books of Samuel, you hardly find a “theological” agenda represented in the same way, for example, as in the book of Roman’s. Ryken effectively shows how and why literature is written.

From the outset Dr. Ryken establishes his arguments, stressing the significance of being consciously aware of literary style. In chapter 1 he uses Psalm 23 as an example of how to identify the chief player (which in this case is God) and the descriptions attributed to Him. He then shows how David uses the means of metaphors to colorize his perception of God. Ryken writes, “Instead of using abstract, theological terminology, Psalm 23 consistently keeps us in the world of concrete images: green pastures, water, pathways, rod and staff, table, oil, cup, and sheepfold (metaphorically called a house).”[1]

At the same time, I must admit that I felt this book lacked liveliness. It seems that, while Ryken does a great job elaborating the value and significance of understanding literary forms, the book itself nevertheless lacks a sense of engaging intensity. I will grant that the nature of the topic doesn’t [necessarily] have an intrinsic vitality; when one sets out to clarify the need of "poetry" in Biblical interpretation, a flame of energy is rarely set ablaze.

Overall, I found this book to be edifying by strengthening my ability to properly understand narratives, prose, etc. Even the format was accommodating, with its consistent use of topics along the sidebar. Rarely, in my opinion, can one find a book that conveys the notion of literary style when reading the Bible as effectively as this one does. Despite the fact that I would’ve appreciated greater vitality when reading, it remains one of my commonly-referred-to books.

[1] Ryken, Leland. How to Read the Bible as Literature…and get more out of it. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI. 1984. p. 17.

Friday, March 7, 2008

We can reform now or face revolution later...or, thoughts on the pessimism of today's youth.

One of the reasons I haven't been blogging much lately is that I've been spending a lot of time hanging out with some high school students from a very well-to-do area here in Southern California. Their school is a national "Blue Ribbon" winner. Many students from this school go on to populate Ivy-League campuses and the top state schools. I've been shocked, however, to see the growing pessimism in high school students! If there is anyone who you'd hope to see brimming with optimism, it would be high schoolers: they have all the opportunity in the world in front of them! Well, that is not how these kids feel.

  • Rather than feeling the freedom of impending adulthood, these students feel that before they can do anything important, have anything important, or be anyone important, they have at least--at least!--4 years of college in front of them. So in this way, college and university education become the necessary gauntlet to significant societal influence. Therefore, rather than entering adulthood upon graduating from high school, these students enter into what amounts to a secondary high school experience. Further, now that bachelor's degrees are so common, many students feel that to get an upper-hand, they must go on to get master's degrees....They have no sense of freedom, just bondage to education and institutions that hold a proverbial carrot in front of them.
  • Rather than feeling the significance of societal contribution, these students again feel marginalized. It is innate, I believe, in young people to feel a strong desire to shape and guide the society that one lives in. Historically, some of the most amazing movements and inventions have come from young people who are full of life and vigor. When we, as a society, continually tell them that they can't do significant jobs and own significant things until they are in their mid to late twenties, then all of this creative and revolutionary energy simply is wasted and we create institutional drones who only go on to oppress future generations. Look around, people are getting married later, having kids later, getting settled careers later, and all these things mean they are contributing to our society later. Young people are one of our greatest assets and our society has, wittingly or unwittingly, put them in cages and made their lives insignificant.
  • Rather than feeling economically optimistic, young people face rising debts. There is nothing like starting out your life with debt that accrues interest. Rather than being able to purchase a home that will accrue equity, you'll spend the next ten years of your life trying to pay off the debt before you can sniff a house to buy. Then, you'll struggle to get a house and save, but you'll by no means be ready for your kids to go to college so either a) your spouse will also have to work and you won't be able to raise your kids in a traditional family setting or b) you'll offer your kids no money for college and the scenario will start over for them, or c) some combination of both a and b. All this and not to mention the fact that as more and more people have less and less money for retirement, taxes will have to go higher and higher for young people, and this will just make things worse.
So, what are we to do? I'm not an expert on government, economics, psychology, or sociology, but I've got a couple of suggestions for the state and the church that could help alleviate the problem:

1. The state: the state needs to step in and deal with the problem by doing a couple of things.
  • Regulate the financial sector by ensuring that home loans are more equitable for young people. The financial institutions have made a killing on the middle class, which, ironically, makes the middle class disappear. We need to make sure that banks make money on loans, but the amount of money they make should be far less than what it is right now. Essentially, interest rates should be lower or calculated differently.
  • Regulate businesses by ensuring that there are many jobs available for those who do not have college degrees. We need less education (in terms of years), not more. Ask anyone and they'll tell you that Americans are not any smarter now than they were 100 years ago. We need better education, not more education. Businesses should be prepared to hire, train, and pay high-school educated people to do jobs that currently require college degrees. Then, in turn, we will see people getting married earlier, having kids earlier, buying houses earlier, paying taxes earlier. In short, many of our economic problems would disappear. Somehow, in someway, the government has to encourage and assist businesses in developing apprenticeship programs and training for jobs for high-school grads, rather than forcing them to jump through the college hoop.
2. The Church: the church has to do a couple of things as well, in my opinion.
  • We have to stop making young people insignificant in our church congregations. Make younger people elders! Don't relegate younger men to the role of youth pastor! Don't allow the older part of the congregation to wield all the power, regardless of whether this is where the money comes from. I love being a youth pastor, don't get me wrong, but I think that we cheat ourselves of great energy and passion by putting all our guys who are in their early 20's through early 30's in the role of taking care of the kids. We have to balance this out by letting these young men have a significant role in the church.
  • Also, we have to teach our kids that marriage at a young age is good, and that work at a young age is good. We've got to stop cramming the idea that they have to go to college, and put off marriage and work, down their throats. This is only hurting them. Instead, we should encourage them to pursue the things that matter most: service to God and, hence, the raising of a Godly family. They will learn what they need to learn: don't worry so much about whether or not they go to college! I've seen a lot--and I mean a lot!--of college graduates who are absolute fools. And you know what, you can skate through college without learning too much. Just go interview the people at your local co-ed dorm. Many of them are not staying up all night studying (except very rarely). Instead, they are up all night playing video games, downing mixed drinks, and fornicating. College isn't essential, let's get that straight!
  • Finally, the church has got to pick up some of the educational slack. We've got to encourage our lay people to pursue truth, goodness, and beauty in Scripture and outside of Scripture. Most of one's education happens outside of the walls of the institution. The church should be a place that encourages its people to pursue knowledge, wisdom, and skill for the glory of God.
If some of these things don't change, revolution will be the only option for future generations. The state has to do its duty of regulating institutions and keeping them from becoming oppressive. The church has to do its duty and train Christians to model godly pursuits to the rest of society....

Let me know if y'all have some differing ideas...

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Theological bias

I just got done listening to C. Michael Patton’s second edition of “What is orthodoxy,” and I must say I really enjoyed it. He speaks to an issue that is quite prevalent today with respect to one’s theological viewpoints called obscurantism. This basically refers to the smothering of any other theological viewpoints outside your own. It reminded me of my early years of being a Christian where I was groomed in the particulars of charismatic theology. After being taught certain aspects, you basically would test the waters of every facet of Christianity to make sure, before you could truly “fellowship” with it/them, to make sure it lined up with your theological framework. Being charismatic, anytime I had a conversation about a supposed church leader (Pastor, etc) I would always [test the waters] by inquiring, "well, is he/she Spirit filled?" And when I first accepted Reformed theology I acted in a similar way. Patton made reference to scoping certain interpretations of theological writings (commentaries) to make sure they interpreted a verse “rightly” before he would purchase it. Well, this is exactly what I did. I remember every time I would begin to read something or something caught my eye I would go right to Romans 9 to see their interpretation. If it’s conclusion was a reference to the choosing of “corporate Israel,” that would pretty much sealed the deal…I wasn’t buying it!

I can tell you this obscurantism is much more widespread than perhaps will be admitted, even by the honest Christian. Heck, I still find myself doing it to some degree. Now I’m not saying that a certain type of obscurantism isn't important when we’re talking about the major tenants. That is, I'm not saying that if you read an interpretation that denies the virgin birth, or perhaps the vicarious atonement of Christ on behalf of sinner, that you should cast an open [serious] open ear. I am saying that many sides of the faith, including the ones referenced above (Charismatic’s and Reformed folks, which I know first hand) do in fact practice a pretty high level of obscurantism and turn a deaf ear to the other side of the issue.

And this is pretty much the message we at Christians in Context are seeking to convey. We want to encourage conversation on topics and issues that may otherwise never “truly” converse. We want to tear down the caricatures of other theological view points and bridge the gap between them to seek some additional common ground. Our hope is, and I quote my colleague Norm Jeune, to avoid “regressing into in-bred theological banter that accomplishes nothing.” (duly noted)

Interestingly enough in-the-not-so-far-off-future I plan to explore a joining of theological convictions that has gained some momentum over the last few years, I’m speaking of the Reformed Charismatic’s. The fact that I have previously held (Charismatic), and currently hold (Reformed) to these views should allow me to speak about my first hand experience in both camps. My goal is to explore a little into what they believe, and to begin to start an ongoing discussion about whether there is some harmony to this and if it is/can be, compatible.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Emergent, according to Mark Driscoll

Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA recently gave a sermon that offers a bit of an "inside view" into the emerging movement. He divides it into what he describes as the "4 lanes on the highway" of the emergent church. These are listed as Emerging Evangelicals, House Church Evangelicals, Emerging Reformers (his identity), Emerging Liberals. He describes the Emerging Evangelicals as those who maintain an outlook quite similar to mainline Evangelicalism, but with some minor distinctions. They don't deviate much on doctrine from historical Christianity but are continually rethinking of new ways of doing church in more of a hip/cool way to become more "relevant" and "applicable." Driscoll renders Dan Kimball and Donald Miller, for example, as within this circle.

The second lane, the House Church Evangelicals, he describes as those who seek to remove the "style" of church as its typically known within our culture. They don't believe in large corporate buildings or Pastor's per se. Rather they feel the idea of a smaller community of believers is the more biblical way (or style) to have church. Driscoll is critical toward them on a few notes, suggesting that this method is perhaps appropriate in other cultures such as China where oppression is widespread.

The third lane he describes as Emerging Reformers, which he claims as his own position. Similar to the Emergent Evangelicals, they seek to be more culturally relevant and germane to a society that could not otherwise care less about Christianity. This group, Driscoll further explains, is devoted to the "Reformed" tradition, and identifies itself with historical giants such as Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Haddon Spurgeon, along with some modern individuals such as Wayne Grudem, D. A. Carson, and Tim Keller. He also makes special reference to the emphasis placed on male Pastoral leadership, separating themselves from the EE. Though one characteristic, which is not present in the historical Reformed tradition that is gaining more acceptance nowadays in churches such as Sovereign Grace Ministries with C. J. Mahaney, is the adoption of Charismatic elements such as the gifts of the Spirit, speaking in tongues, et al.

The last, or fourth, lane is what Driscoll describes as the Emerging Liberals. This lane (group) takes the inquiry of "how-to-do-church" off the highway into questioning major tenants of historic orthodox Christianity. Examples given by Driscoll are the divinity of Christ, the reality of hell, the nature of atonement, and homosexuality. He places Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt in this group, though qualifying it in a loving manner, so as not to directly offend them, by calling them caring loving individuals (here it is important to be aware of the personal history he has with these individuals, which spans back a number of years, prior to the emergent movement itself). At the same time, he does express concern regarding the content of their instruction and makes special reference to his current lack of affiliation with these individuals.

Overall, I must say that I found this sermon informative and encouraging. Its pretty clear that there are many facets to the emergent church movement and most of them can overlap from time to time. From all the blog searching I've done in the past month or so regarding the Emergent Church, I've found a common thread amongst those who oppose the movement; a failure to consistently and adequately distinguish between the "good" and the "bad" characteristics. That is, those who find fault with the different segments of this movement have a tendency to group everyone together and cast them all aside. With this in mind, I want to personally encourage individuals who contest everything associated with the Emergent Church (particularly the Reformed community) to avoid this tendency; to refrain from passing judgment too quickly and "throw the baby out with the bathwater".

Finally, I think Driscoll does a great job at "categorizing" the individuals associated with the movement while offering some insightful commentary. I believe it lined up nicely with C. Michael Patton's recent chart (seen here), and would be a nice companion to those interested in learning more.

Spiritual Growth...a devotion

First and foremost, the primary concern of every Christian must be his or her own personal conformity to the image of their Creator. But how is this rather distinctive aspect accomplished? The great Charles Spurgeon once said, for the way to stand is to grow; and the way to be steadfast is to go forward . This concept is taken directly from the pages of Holy Scripture. The fourth chapter of the book of Ephesians speaks largely to this topic. There the Apostle Paul is describing the role of leaders that God has given as a gift to the church. The purpose of these leaders is described in verse 12, namely, leaders are given for the equipping of the saints for works of service, to the building up of the body of Christ in unity, and no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming . This involves not only growing in Grace, but growing in knowledge.

The Bible regards spiritual growth as intimately connected with the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. The more you know the Lord, the more you begin to love Him; the more you love Him, the more you grow. But what is the purpose of our growth? The short answer is this: we grow in the image of the Lord Jesus for works of service that glorify God and advance His kingdom. Consequently, the overflowing effects of this are a decrease in frequency of sin and an increase of the abundance of love toward God and toward the brethren. This is why personal Bible study, prayer, and church fellowship are so important. They edify us personally that we may be more effective corporately. These activities are the very heart of Gods plan for spiritual growth. This is why the Bible gives such commands to remaining in fellowship and gives warning against complacency. The writer of Hebrews understood the importance of this idea and urged the believers not to forsake the assembling of each other for this very purpose .

May we as Christians never forsake the very things God has given us to grow in our faith. Let us heed the words of the Apostle Paul's plea to us believers, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Phil 3:14-18)

Amen