Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Saturday, March 27, 2010
On the one hand Death is the triumph of Satan, the punishment of the Fall, and the last enemy. Christ shed tears at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane: the Life of Lives that was in Him detested this penal obscenity not less than we do, but more. On the other hand, only he who loses his life will save it. We are baptised into the death of Christ, and it is the remedy for the Fall. Death is, in fact, what some modern people call 'ambivalent'. It is Satan's great weapon and also God's great weapon: it is the holy and unholy; our supreme disgrace and our only hope; the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
"In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise.”
–Richard Halverson Chaplain to the U. S. Senate, 1981-1994
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
But where to start? I have always found great beauty in the explanatory power of simplicity: consider how a single photon of light causing conformational change in the retinal photopigments culminates in the experience of the visual world. Equally, the seemingly complex reasons behind Creation can be tackled by looking at attributes of His Nature. Namely His goodness. God is wholly and perfectly good. Admittedly non-Christians would argue with this, but it is assumed in this discussion.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
The former half of this book reads a little like David Brooks. However, instead of writing about the blending of the bourgeois and bohemian classes, Mark Sayers delves into the Christian individual's abandonment of an identity defined by the vertical (God) in exchange for one defined by the horizontal (society, Hollywood, self, etc.).
With startling insight, Sayers perfectly describes a Christian generation that has turned its eyes downward for a sense of identity. Movies and reality TV have us all acting out our own scripts. The Internet has fostered our separation between who we are and who we want to be. Narcissism feeds off this horizontal self, "in which our worth is tied to what others think of us, we end up obsessed with ourselves".
If you are in any sort of ministry (especially youth), I highly recommend this book. Here's a brief reason why: "Ministers and church leaders assume that they are speaking to people who have a vertical sense of self, but those they minister to both inside and outside the church (if they're younger than sixty years old) almost certainly have a horizontal sense of self . . . The emergence of the horizontal self is one of the most pressing challenges for the church in our day. Most of our theology was written by people who lived during the time of the vertical self. Most of our evangelistic approaches were designed to communicate the gospel to people with a vertical sense of self".
While the second half of the book can't quite stand up to the first, I was still very impressed in the end. Despite a latter half that seems to meander and wander when trying to reform us to a vertical self, the spot-on description of the horizontal self makes Sayers' book a greatly beneficial read for anyone in ministry.
This book was a free review copy provided by Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Monday, March 22, 2010
Yet this idea that salvation and heaven are just a reclaiming of what was lost in Eden seems to have some staying power. Certainly there are obvious similarities (which seem to get all the attention by many), but the differences are significant and considerable. I'm not even talking about the superficial distinctions—obviously one is a garden and the other is a city (the only carry-over we see in both places is the tree of life). Some of the other differences, however, are important because they inform our understanding of the fall, of heaven, and of the sovereignty of God.
The potential for a fall
I was tempted to break these all into individual points, but in the interest of brevity (and intellectual integrity) I summed them up to the basic idea that the fall and all that came with it loomed as an ever-present possibility. In Eden, mankind was of the nature that, though morally perfect in that he had not sinned, was not perfect in that he could not sin. Thus the possibility of sin and the fall kept these all as potential realities (and as we know, eventual realities). These ever-present possibilities include mourning, crying, and pain (Gen. 3:16, 17) and even physical death (Gen. 2:16, 3:19). Yet these all become impossibilities when God promises there will be no more "mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more" (Rev. 21:4) and Death itself will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14).
The presence of Satan
"Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman . . . " (Gen. 3:1) The beginning of the fall narrative opens with the presence of what most theologians agree is a physical manifestation of Satan. Yet in Revelation he is defeated and banished to the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10). This is reaffirmed when we read that "nothing unclean will ever enter [heaven], nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life" (Rev. 21:27).
The presence of God
While the last point is probably quite obvious to most, the presence of God also seems to be different between Eden and heaven. It is possible that God was not perpetually present in Eden in a physical manifestation because we read that "[Adam and Eve] heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day" (Gen. 3:8). This seems to suggest he was not constantly walking in the garden. It also seems implicit that God is not physically present during the conversation between Eve and the serpent. Whether this is true or not, it is certainly true that Adam and Eve's awareness of the presence of God was such that they thought they could escape it as they "hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden" (Gen. 3:8).
Now I am certainly not questioning God's omnipresence, but I am suggesting that there will be a change in our awareness of the presence of God from Eden to heaven. In heaven, we read that "the dwelling pace of God is with man" (Rev. 21:3) as well as this great promise: "They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever." (Rev. 22:4,5) It seems clear that in heaven we will
The ignorance/innocence of mankind
This last point is to some extent an outgrowth of the first three. While Adam was indeed quite intelligent (e.g. naming of the animals) and enjoyed a relationship with God of which we can only speculate, there is a great bit of experiential ignorance/innocence in man pre-fall. Adam and Eve did not have the same experiential understanding of God's grace, mercy, saving love and sacrificial servanthood that we have this side of Eden—and we do not have the same understanding that we will have someday while remain this side of heaven. Everything between Eden and heaven serve to shape and form worshippers who understand and appreciate who God is better than we ever could if we had stayed in the garden.
Obviously more could be said for each item and more items added to the list (for example, could Jesus' incarnated body and his post-resurrection glorified body be a picture for us of the bodies from Eden to heaven?). However, I feel these four points are sufficient to delineate between the condition of mankind in Eden and in heaven. So what? Why does it matter? I can think of at least two reasons.
1) This understanding of heaven as superior to Eden give us a greater appreciation of the sovereignty of God. If mankind had to endure everything between Eden and heaven just to get things "back to the way they were meant to be", it would seem somewhat pointless. But if God had planned from the beginning to bring a chosen people from Eden, through the in betweens, and to a heaven far superior to Eden, then that is a very amazing and beautiful thing. Indeed, I believe that is exactly what Revelation is talking about when we read "All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world." (Rev. 13:8) Notice that both those who would be saved and their means of salvation have been written from the creation of the world. This seems to imply also a fall that was somehow written from the creation of the world. (See also: Ephesians 1)
Saturday, March 20, 2010
God has given us the Morning Star already: you can go and enjoy the gift on many fine mornings if you get up early enough. What more, you may ask, do we want? Ah, but we want so much more--something the books on aesthetics take little notice of. But the poets and the mythologies know all about it.
We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words--to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses and nymphs and elves--that, though we cannot, yet these projections can, enjoy in themselves that beauty, grace, and power of which Nature is the image.
That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul; but it can't. They tell us the 'beauty born of murmuring sound' will pass into a human face; but it won't. Or not yet. For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendour of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very nearly prophecy.
At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.
Friday, March 19, 2010
Indeed, his intellectual approach is clear from the onset as he deals with the issue of "Supernatural Activities In Our World" in the first chapter. In the following chapters he then addresses the biblical tension felt between the nearness of God and the promise that we will face hardship—the same tension that many of the biblical characters themselves had to face. Yet one of the most simple—and profound—answers to the problem of the supposed silence of God is that the problem may not lie on God's side. Thus he points us towards some of the classical spiritual disciplines as a sort of spiritual troubleshooting.
While it's a short book (139 pages), Why Is God Ignoring Me? packs a significant punch for those in doubt and a needed lift for those in pain. Christians should certainly be glad that we have one as Gary Habermas investigating the resurrection of Christ. Now we can be equally glad he is investing some time and effort toward other pressing issues for the Christian's confidence.
This book was a free review copy provided by Tyndale House Publishers.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Well, not really. It's a pretty fantastic opportunity for Justin and I couldn't be happier for him in that respect. But it does bring up the larger reality that being friends with people who are set on doing missions is crappy because they inevitably just leave. Like Kyle and Melody Thibodeau did a couple weeks before Justin. Here one week, in South Korea the next- and for two years at that.
Soon enough, two more married couples who are some of mine and my wife's closest friends will go to Africa, and my reaction to those is quite the same: it's fine that you want to go serve Jesus overseas and all, but what about me? What about the fact that this means we don't get to hang out while you're there? Ever think of anyone besides yourselves and Jesus?
So let it be a lesson to all of you: don't be friends with people who want to do missions. Eventually they just pick up and leave and it's stupid.
Except for the part where it's awesome, of course. Just keep in mind the relational hazard and make sure they send you a card every once in awhile...
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
And here, it seems, we find the sticking point for many both today and throughout Christian history. The simple definition—and Armstrong's most often used definition—of the genuine believers would be those who have trusted Christ for salvation and have received the gift, promise, and seal of the Holy Spirit. Yet, for all it's objectivity according to Scripture, those objective marks remain unseen and unavailable to us in our pursuit for unity.
He also suggests that all three branches of Christianity share a core orthodoxy, or "core truths shared by all Christians everywhere". But even here there seems to be a wide variation among the understandings and applications. Indeed, I would suggest that the divergent understandings of these core truths are actually a contributor to our lack of unity, not a step toward the solution. We are united in Christ, yet we cannot ignore doctrine or core truth because by it we learn and understand how we are united to Christ. Moreover, one cannot even communicate the Gospel absent of doctrine, core truth and orthodoxy.
If we consider the example that the apostles modeled for us, they called for and pursued unity. They seemed to encourage unity in fellowship even when there was not unanimity in beliefs. Yet at times they too disassociated from—even attacked—certain teachers and sects.
I feel Armstrong made one of his strongest points when he differentiated between unity and unanimity. While I don't have unanimity with my denomination, my church or even my pastor, there is certainly a strong sense of unity. This same unity minus unanimity would do well to grow between denominations and beyond.
So I am sympathetic to Armstrong's position in his desire for unity. I am grateful for the conversation he is engaging in. I hope this book serves to temper the backbiting, the bickering, the theological grandstanding that makes the Church look infantile in the eyes of the world. I pray Your Church Is Too Small will contribute to a stronger and more winsome—and not a watered down or compromised—Gospel.
This book was a free review copy provided by Zondervan Books.
Monday, March 15, 2010
And I offer a hearty "amen". If you are a Christian and and withhold an "amen", then, well...then...gosh, I don't know what to say to you. You're being dumb. There, does that cover it?
Good. We all agree so far.
I wish I could tell you that I have read widely and can offer a thoughtful opinion about how we ought to handle this incredibly complex problem, but I can't. What I can offer is an opinion about how we go about having conversations like this.
Here is an opinion on health care that I'm tired of: "People are dying, no one's helping, the government wants to, so we should be fine with that- so what if it costs you a few extra tax dollars?" It's almost an "I don't care what we do as long as we do something" position. Typically an advocate of this thinking caricatures those who disagree as uncaring, financially selfish, in bed with the Republicans, or simply not aware of how bad it really is.
So here is my opinion: this isn't helpful to anyone. Here are 5 reasons why:
1. I know almost no Christians who are actually like that. They're probably out there, but I don't know them.
2. This wildly underestimates how complex the issues really are. It's all well and good that people want to care for the poor- really, it is. But the issue isn't simple, and a simple solution probably won't do.
3. Therefore, when a Christian disagrees that the government will genuinely be helpful with this, it may actually be because s/he has a thoughtful opinion about this complex subject. S/he may, in fact, care so deeply for those in need that s/he is not satisfied with what s/he thinks is a less-than-adequate solution, or a solution that will be hurtful in the long run, or a solution that will set us back even now. In this case, s/he is not being at all uncaring, unreasonable, or unbiblical, even if s/he is wrong. Which means the other side is being foolish to shrug off the opinion as any of these things.
4. Further, how we care for those in need is really, really important. The rush to care is sweet, but it may actually be unhelpful. I need only to point you to Africa for support, where it seems that more people are saying all the time, "All this foreign aid may actually be hurting them in the long term." It is important that we care, but it is equally important that we care thoughtfully. Careful caring isn't uncaring.
5. On top of all of this, there are legitimate biblical concerns that also deserve serious thought. For one thing, if anyone who is passionate about government health care wants to get Christians who disagree to change their minds, that person will need to articulate the case thoughtfully. Passion alone won't do it. For another, some of those arguments are serious, and you need to actually deal with them if you disagree. Again, I see too much shrugging off because, well, the Bible says we should care. That's true. It does. But it says a lot of things- we evangelicals must deal with the whole counsel of Scripture.
I suspect that if pro-government health care types took these points seriously, they might be more helpful to those who aren't convinced.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
The same subtleties—along with a healthy dose of humor—make his latest book, The Reason For Sports: A Christian Fanifesto, a very easy and enjoyable read. Kluck has written for ESPN The Magazine and Sports Spectrum, and his knowledge and love of sports show on every page.
While the spiritual content carries less of the weight than does the sports content, I imagine it would be annoying and heavy-handed if it were any different. Don't pick up this book expecting a deep theological treatise on how we are drawn to sports because the Christian life is a battle or how we will all one day "win" when Jesus returns. Rather, this book reads like a collection of essays centered around sports and how certain themes emerge for the fans (and players) that can be addressed by a Christian worldview. Such themes include steroids, sin and apologies, honesty and authenticity.
Kluck succeeds in writing a book that will appeal to sports fans while still writing a book that deserves to be on a Christian publisher's roster (yeah, I said it). While I did come away with one disappointment (What is the reason for sports? I still want to know), The Reason For Sports is a worthy read for any sports fan. In fact, it was the first book I have given to anyone this year for that very reason.
This book was a free review copy provided by Moody Publishers.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
My moment of enlightenment (and it was enlightening) came when I was standing in the back of a musical worship session at the camp I took my high school students to this last weekend. As I saw students confessing sin and praying for one another, the following thought entered my mind: "You do not pray seriously about your ministry, and therefore do not actually rely God to minister. This is foolish."
The next thing I did was laugh. Folly is funny, even when it is your own. I laughed at how a guy with as much Bible training as I have could still manage to be so foolish. Then I thought, "I wonder how many other reasonably smart, personable, and generally competent folks are out there ceaselessly thinking and talking about ministry who don't spend real time praying for the Spirit to work."
I assume there are many. Some of them probably read this blog.
So here is the point of this post: what we really need to do if we care about being effective ministers of the gospel is to pray. We need to pray a lot. We need to pray alone and we need to pray in groups. We need to pray specifically for our congregations, our leaders, our ministries, and the non-Christians we know. And if we aren't doing these things, we need to repent and start praying.
We can plant and water all day, but God must cause the growth (1 Cor. 3:6). There is no clearer indication of our belief in this truth than our commitment to prayer. Revivals don't come from the analyzing and strategizing- or at least not primarily. They come when we pray.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Yet On Guard, released this week by David C. Cook Publishers, is just that and more. This book is ready-made for undergraduate classes, church small groups or any Christian looking for an introduction to the key arguments in defense of Christianity.
Most of the content is not new to the discussion, but the format by which it is presented is. This is one of the primary appeals to this work. There are wide margins on the pages perfect for note-taking, unless that space is used for definitions of key words and logical fallacies. There are even profiles of some of the key thinkers along the way.
Craig presents the chapters in ascending logical order of arguments, from "What difference does it make if God exists?" to "Is Jesus the only way to God?". Along the way he hits some of the most popular arguments today for God's existence: the moral argument, the design argument, and of course the kalam cosmological argument, which Craig is especially well-known for modifying in his doctorate thesis.
If there is one weakness in the book, it is that it tries to be all things to all men. While the book is meant to be introductory, there are points when the content will simply be heavy lifting due to the subject matter at hand—despite the occasional single-panel cartoon thrown in. And the "Talk About It" questions seemingly geared for the small group are, in my humble opinion, more distracting than beneficial.
With only these few exceptions, William Lane Craig has written the perfect introduction to Christian apologetics. I know it will be among the first books I recommend when a Christian wants to get his feet wet in the defense of the Christian faith. Even to those familiar with the arguments, this book will be a worthwhile tool to add to the belt.
This book was a free review copy provided by David C. Cook Publishers.
Monday, March 1, 2010
"There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."
Despite my protestations I have nothing against campaigns like these: they open up discussion and allow a Christian response. The danger comes from the implicit messages entangled within their rhetoric and so we need to wary of the impact glib comments may have.