Monday, June 28, 2010

The greater Jonah

I am currently preparing for another go at preaching for Redeemer Church here in Omaha. I've chosen the last two chapters of the book of Jonah as my subject matter, and since my conclusion deals with the cross and Christ as the better prophet, I figured I would share it here. For those interested, my outline will be as follows:
  1. The Forgiven People (Nineveh)
  2. The Unforgiving Prophet (Jonah)
  3. The Forgiving Prophet (Jesus)
But before I go on, I must explain one thing so that no one feels I am playing fast and loose with my interpretation. Even though Jesus is not mentioned at the end of the book of Jonah, Jesus himself saw Jonah as a type (in the theological sense) of Christ and his resurrection. In Matthew 12:38-41 we read, "Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, 'Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.' He answered, 'A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. '"

And my conclusion:
Both prophets (Jonah and Jesus) knew that God was a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love. Both knew of God's love for the city and both called their cities (Nineveh and Jerusalem) to repentance. And then both went outside the city to await the wrath and judgment of God.

Both went outside the city but one went to condemn it, the other to save it. One called on God's wrath toward the guilty, the other called on God's forgiveness toward the guilty. One looked with self-righteousness upon the people and longed for them to meet death and judgment, the other looked with true righteousness upon the people and met death and judgment in their place. One would rather die than see the enemies of God's people forgiven, the other would rather die than see the enemies of God damned.
P.S. I am still early in the rough draft stage, so if anyone sees any points to compare/contrast, feel free to chime in! And if anyone is interested in the entire thing, I'm sure it would only take some minor edits to turn this into a mini-series of posts.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Cross and John Owen

John Owen's approach to the cross:

"To see him who is the wisdom of God, and the power of God (1 Cor. 1:30), always beloved of the Father (Matt. 3:17); to see him, I say, fear, and tremble, and bow, and sweat, and pray, and die; to see him lifted up upon the cross, the earth trembling under him, as if unable to bear his weight; and the heavens darkened over him, as if shut against his cry; and himself hanging between both, as if refused by both; and all this because our sins did meet upon him (Matt. 26:37-38; Mark 14:33; Luke 22:43-44; Heb. 5:7; Matt. 27:51; Mark 15:33-34; Isa. 53:6) - this of all things does most abundantly manifest the severity of God's vindictive justice. Here, or nowhere, is it to be learned."

"So he professes to his Father: "For their sakes I sanctify myself (John 17:19) - "I dedicate myself as an offering, as a sacrifice, to be killed and slain." This was his aim in all he former, that he might die; he was born, and lived, that he might die (Heb. 2:14-15). He valued them [man] above his life. And if we might stay to consider a little what was in this death that he underwent for them, we should perceive what a price indeed he put upon them. The curse of the law was in it (Gal. 3:13); the wrath of God was in it (2 Cor. 5:21); the loss of God's presence was in it (Psalms 22:1). It was a fearful cup that he tasted of, and drank of, that they might never taste of it (Matt. 26:39). A man for ten thousand worlds be willing to undergo that which Christ underwent for us in that one thing of desertion from God . . . When he did this for us we were sinners, and enemies, whom he might justly have destroyed. What more can be done? - to die for us when we were sinners! Such a death, in such a manner, with such attendancies of wrath and curse - a death accompanied with the worst that God had ever threatened to sinners - argues as high a valuation of us as the heart of Christ himself was capable of."

"He parted with the greatest glory, he underwent the greatest misery, he does the greatest works that ever were, because he loves his spouse - because he values believers. What can more, what can further be spoken?"

John Owen, Excerpts from "Communion with the Triune God"

Nothing more than "Amen and thank you Lord Jesus."

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Cross and Death

"Jesus Christ has not only dethroned the devil but dealt with sin. In fact, it is by dealing with sin that he has dealt with death. For sin is the 'sting' of death, the main reason why death is painful and poisonous. It is sin which causes death, and which after death will bring the judgment. Hence our fear of it . . . Now that we are forgiven, death can harm us no longer. So the apostle [Paul] shouts defiantly: 'Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?'"

John Stott, The Cross of Christ
Well, it was only going to be a matter of time before I quoted John Stott. My admiration for Stott needs no further rhetoric, but I've found that his words have resonated deeply recently following a discussion the other day. A best friend of mine and a non-Christian asked me why do I have hope? He is an anaesthetics trainee and so spends his time with the most unwell patients in a hospital and, more so than me, is surrounded by death. His admission was alarming and upsetting: he sees no point in what we do professionally or any point in life whatsoever. Is this actually the case and what would be an appropriate response? His questions brought me to reflect upon the liberation from death and the created order that the cross brings.

Death is the great leveller - it arrives to us all and returns us to the dust from whence we came. It is no respecter of reputation or status. I think it undeniable that we as humans live in fear of death - we do anything we can to avoid it. If this were not the case I doubt my professional life would be anywhere as busy or emotionally fraught. Why? No easy answer exists but I think Stott brings out a valid point: the fear of death is tied up with the prospect of meeting your maker and eternal repercussions therein (read the lyrics to 'Awake My Soul' by Mumford and Sons).

Death exists as a consequence of sin and a perfect, holy God must be as far from sin as east is from west (death therefore may be best illustrated by the Old Testament concept of Sheol). God desires us to dwell with Him and the cross is that place where we can finally be as far from sin as He is (Psalm 103:12). It was always His plan that we would dwell with Him and on His terms and in His mode of existence (Genesis 1-2). The Fall seemingly delayed that plan, but its fulfilment has been accomplished which now allows us to reap that undeserved reward.

I think it undeniable that we have this itch within us to become more than bystanders to the slow but inexorable romp of time. We yearn for transcendence above creation even if we are not aware of it - fame, legacy, acclaim. Hence the eternal question: What is the meaning of life? These are all things we hope will lift us above the created order and land us safely on Timelessness' side (something of no surprise to a Christian; c.f. Ecclesiastes 3:11). Yet we know from observing this world that this will never become the case and that, eventually, time and nature consume all (Ecclesiastes 1:4-11).

However, as Paul teaches us we have much to be hopeful for. The greatest enemy of the created is defeated and the victory imputed to us. The cross gives us the route through which we may unite our biological, created selves with the eternal form of God. Through the cross God unites the created with the Divine (the first of these beings was Christ) following which we are able to transcend this biological world and enter into eternity. How glorious a thing! God beckons us to know Him fully and in so doing leave this universe and meet Him in His true state, free from constraints this universe places on us - time, ageing and ultimately death.

We live in the now-not yet tension of Christ's return and whilst that time is awaited we will experience death and suffering. Christians are safe from its eternal pain and poison - sure we may suffer from the effects of its guerrilla warfare, but the victory is won. Christ made sure of that. The point of life therefore is simply illustrated by the purpose of the cross: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Book Review: Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola

As I picked up Jesus Manifesto, I was unsure what I was in for. The subtitle "Restoring the supremacy and sovereignty of Jesus Christ" had my hopes set high but I have been disappointed before when I let them get too high. After all, I told myself, the Calvinistic idea of the sovereignty of Christ that so often gets me worked up is not the sort that needs to be restored in the first place. It's immovable and unchangeable, no restoration necessary. And if we're talking about some other sort . . . well, we will see.

And Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola were talking of some other sort for the most part. Yet I found myself unexpectedly captivated and convicted by this book as they argued for the supremacy and sovereignty that we should be giving Jesus as individual Christians and the Christian church. At times soaring, at times ground-level, at times gushing, Sweet and Viola paint a picture of Christ that is all at once immense and close. And thankfully they often share what a life shaped by the life, cross, and resurrection of Christ will look like—from social justice to love for the church.

They truly hit stride on the chapter regarding the letter to the Colossians. As they expand and expound on the already christologically dense first chapter, their (and Paul's) vision of Jesus comes into clear focus and I found myself aching with love for the person of Christ. I would dare say this book is worth buying for chapter 2 alone—or at least sitting in The Barn (as my wife calls Barnes and Nobles) and reading it. I feel no shame in saying that because I imagine most who read that chapter will buy the book anyway.

A few negatives: the book seems to lack a certain flow from chapter to chapter. The authors seem happy to camp in the middle ground of trendy/edgy Jesus without delving into too many divisive ideas. Their Jesus is a uniter, not a divider. And yes, I did say that the high point of the book was chapter 2—but don't let that stop you. While everything else may be downhill, they keep momentum and the jog is certainly worthwhile.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Everyone

This book was a free review copy provided by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Cross and Social Mercy, Pt. 2 - The Cross is the Climax of Grace and Mercy

In part 1 of this series, I quibbled over semantics. I suggested that "social mercy" is a more helpful phrase than "social justice" for Christian care for the poor and needy. I mostly appreciate that it is broader. It is true that poverty is often caused by direct injustice. It is also true that in a perfect world (i.e. the world that will exist when our Lord returns), there will be no poverty, sickness, or general neediness, which points us to the reality that the Fall is at the root of poverty. So, ok, "social justice" isn't totally unreasonable. Still, I don't think it's the most helpful for the reasons mentioned in that post.

But if you're not with me on that, it should make little difference for your opinion of the rest of this series. Besides, who really wants to extend a theological argument with the esteemed Ian Clausen? Certainly not I.

So let's pick up with a reminder of our definitions of mercy and grace that we borrowed from Grudem. "Mercy" is God's kindness toward those in misery and distress. "Grace" is His kindness toward those who deserve only punishment. These are not hard and fast biblical denotations, but summary definitions of two completely biblical truths about God's character.

So here is the point of this post: the cross is the central display and outworking of both God's grace and mercy. This will sound obvious, but again, think about the terms as they are defined above: it is not just that we have grace for sin- we also have mercy for misery.

Here is the truth: the sinner is in miserable condition. Christians don't believe that sin is the consequence-free breaking of arbitrary rules. We believe it is offense against God and His wise laws. They are "wise" in the standard (and biblical) sense of the word: the person who keeps God's laws is not just right with God, but is like a tree planted by streams of water which bears its fruit in season. The sinner is like chaff blown about by the wind (Ps. 1). The former is a picture of fullness of life. The latter is a picture of wasted life.

The unrepentant sinner then, by all biblical accounts, is someone who lives a life of wasteful misery. Sin has made this world "not the way it's supposed to be", and this truth is more important and more visible in the life of any one sinner than it is in Hurricane Katrina.

The cross is God's great response to this, where grace and mercy meet and bring the sinner to spiritual life. I now have forgiveness and the power for a life well-lived by God's Spirit. I need not live in the misery of fighting against God's design for this world. The Spirit changes my heart and frees from that. This all happens only because of the cross.

At this point every Christian should be giving a hearty "amen". At least he should be. We will never understand what the cross means for how we ought to live from here on out until we first understand that how we were living before was senseless misery. Receive and thank God for His literally infinite grace and mercy. That is first and foremost. Fight with me about what it means for what we will do next after the next post.

Monday, June 21, 2010

God of Creation, What Shall I Do?

Headed by my re-reading of Tozer's Knowledge of the Holy a week ago, I have been struck by God's self-existence and self-sufficiency in new ways of late. The reality that God has absolutely no needs from anyone or anything outside of Himself is remarkable. I cracked open Genesis 1 this morning and was reminded of it again in that simple opening sentence of the Bible, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."

There, in that one sentence, is that same truth: God needs nothing from anyone. He creates by an act of His unfettered will, though even that creation itself is not something He needs in any meaningful sense of the word. He simply wants to do it, so He does. Christians have never been able to figure out why He would create but for one reason: He delights in His own glory, and creation reflects that glory.

And here am I, an infinitesimally tiny blip on the historical landscape of that creation running about with constant thoughts of what I can do for God. Scheming, planning, brainstorming, and conversing, all about that question: what shall I do to bring God glory? But Gen. 1:1 retorts, "You do indeed exist for His glory, Andrew, and He does indeed value you as His image-bearer, but how do you so quickly forget that He can bring Himself glory just fine without your help?"

So I'm not "doing the Lord's work". He can do His work just fine without me, thank you very much. I'm asking Him to do work through me. Wonder of wonders, I'm allowed a place in God's kingdom-mission to glorify Himself. Given this reality, why do I plan so much and pray so little? Imagine Warren Buffet's son setting up a lemonade stand to contribute to the continued growth of the family income. Such is my foolishness.

Maybe God's self-sufficiency has captivated me of late because my life does not reflect that I believe it is true. That lack of prayer is the largest pointer to this. Do I desire to reach lost people for Christ? Do I desire to grow in holiness? Do I desire to preach more effectively? Then I try to think of relevant outreach models, I try to read more Christian books, and I try varying my rhetorical techniques. I don't pray.

I suspect I am not alone in this. I suspect, in fact, that many evangelical churches and their pastors struggle because they aren't really committed to prayer much at all. The ceaseless barrage of advertisements for better mouse traps from Christian publishers worsens the problem. Just once I'd like to see a Zondervan catalog come to our church that didn't have any books or DVD's. It would just be a single page that said, "Don't buy our books this month. Try praying a lot."

But the financial bottom line would not allow for that, just as the ministry-output bottom line in many churches wouldn't allow for a pastor to take that advice. "That's fine, pastor, quit all of our programs and get everyone to pray and fast for a month instead." Unlikely advice, for we've always got to be doing something if we're really going to earn that paycheck, which, I remind you, comes from the people's pockets. Whether the pressure is from the pastor's conscience or the congregation's mouths, isn't this the way it goes?

Maybe I'm a pessimist, or maybe it's just a mood. In any case, I'd do best now to take my own advice and stop giving advice. I must pray.


All-Sufficient God,

Nothing is impossible for You. You have no limitations, no boundaries, nothing within or outside of Yourself that can or will stop You from carrying out Your plans. Far from being academic truths for systematic theologians and their students, this is bedrock, every-day stuff. And yet I forget it almost every day- even when it has been on my mind uncharacteristically often.

So then, if You can do all things You desire in order to glorify Yourself, my prayer is simple: use me in that. This will be my greatest joy. In the midst of that, Lord, teach me to pray like someone who really believes all this. Teach me to trust You. Teach me to delight in You and You alone.

I can only ask these things in the name of the One Who Has Reconciled Me to You, the Lord Jesus Christ, and so I do.



(NB: I know this is not a post about the cross. But like I said in the intro to the month, not all of them necessarily will be!)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Cross and Social Mercy, Pt. 1 - Social Justice or Social Mercy?

I am not the only one troubled by the following two truths:

(1) 35,000 children die every day in this world from starvation and preventable diseases. The HIV virus threatens to be an actual pandemic in Africa. Two billion people in the world live on less than 2 dollars a day. And so on. You've all heard the statistics. Hopefully they trouble you too.

(2) While more and more evangelicals are awakening to these miserable realities, there is a large group especially in the Reformed community that reacts against this evangelical awakening. These folks have reasonable concerns, but in general I think they are wrong. I'll explore some of that in detail later.

It is with these two truths in mind that I am starting this series on how a right theology of the cross will lead Christians to passionately pursue what we commonly call "social justice" ministry.

But we shouldn't call it that. What we should call it is "social mercy" ministry. Here's why:

"Justice" is a term the Bible usually uses for the faithfulness that He exhibits and His people often fail to exhibit in keeping His laws. That's why it is often paired with words like "righteousness" (Gen. 18:19), it is what we do when we refuse to accept bribes (Ex. 23:2; Deut. 16:19; 1 Sam. 8:3), and it is what God enacts when He punishes sinners (Job 8:3) or maintains by punishing Christ in their place (Rom. 3:21-25).

It is harder to pin down a consistent biblical definition of "mercy", but let's borrow Grudem's definition of it as an attribute of God: "God's goodness toward those in misery and distress." Compare this with God's grace, which Grudem defines as "God's goodness toward those who deserve only punishment." It is frankly impossible to argue that the Bible maintains such precise definitions of these two terms. It doesn't. These are merely helpful ways of categorizing two truths about God that are indeed biblical. The language is just meant to organize our thinking.

In any case, we should always recognize that words (biblical or otherwise) have ranges of meaning rather than some fixed dictionary definition. That's why there are multiple dictionaries, multiple definitions for words, and why dictionaries are always being updated, expanded, and even contracted--words just don't have fixed, inflexible meanings. A perfect illustration is my paragraph about "justice" above: there are multiple uses of the word in just those few examples.

In any case, "social justice" is not necessarily a helpful term because it suggests that the poverty that it aims to eradicate is always caused by injustice, which is debatable at best. The better way to talk about it is "social mercy". So that's the term I'm going to use. It's not the biggest deal in the world, and most of us know what each other means as we use the term "social justice", but I figured I ought to explain why I'm using the term I am.

The next post in this series will begin to argue that the cross demands that the church practice social mercy. I'm looking forward to the interactions we'll have about this massively important topic.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Book Review: Pierced for Our Transgressions by Jeffery, Ovey and Sachs

The tagline for this book reads: Rediscovering the glory of penal substitution. Now, I have this theory that the Bible must be God's word as it is so divorced from what we would expect to be true from human reasoning. To me penal substitution makes total sense because it is so utterly unexpected and paradoxical - how could penal substitution ever be glorious? Only with God.

As with the ebb-and-flow of trends in human sensibility so now our generation is facing challenges to the concept of penal substitution. I have heard people say "I just like to think of Christ on the cross as showing me how to die to sin in my life, but I don't think it saves us." This attitude has culminated in the description of the doctrine as 'cosmic child abuse' and the misplaced anthropomorphic misunderstandings which that highly emotive phrase brings.

'Pierced...' attempts to redress the balance and to open up to discussion the place of the doctrine of penal substitution in Chrisitanity. At 526 pages it is long but very particular care has been taken to address the doctrine and issues with extraordinary care and an even-handedness (although the authors views are made explicit from the title). The book is split into two parts: the first is examing the doctrine and the second is answering the critics. Both are exhaustive and considered. Critics will not like the second section as it will be misconstrued as aggressive, I personally found it educational and it places the reader at the heart of the issues involved. The book is dripping in Scripture - nothing is quoted out of context. And as with all good Christian books there are numerous sections devoted to practical Christian living with its lessons.

I love this book and it seems appropriate to review this month. I just cannot see another route to salvation than penal substitution and no matter how unsavoury it may seem to us. We should never lose sight of the God who would ransom Israel to Gentiles and yet still remain true to His Covenant. After all, He ultimately ransomed His Son - a far greater price - for our much greater gain. I won't rate this book but will apologise for the review - in short, please read it for yourselves. I believe we have The Cross of Christ-equivalent for our times.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The solution to God's justice and love toward man

It has only been within the past year that I have come to recognize a little better the profound solution the cross is to the problems of human sin and estrangement from God. For God to simply sweep our sin under the rug and ignore it as if it never happened would be an utter affront to His own justice. And to instantly annihilate the entire human race—as our rebellion has merited—would fall short of what is capable through His love and mercy. And either of the two actions would not exercise and display the beauty and glory that we see in Christ through the cross. As D.A. Carson put it in Scandalous:
Do you want to see the greatest evidence of the love of God? Go to the cross. Do you want to see the greatest evidence of the justice of God? Go to the cross. It is where wrath and mercy meet. Holiness and peace kiss each other. The climax of redemptive history is the cross.
The idea came up again quite unexpectedly as I was listening to Jesus, You Are Worthy by Brenton Brown (lyrics below), a song which we have since added to our worship playlist at Redeemer Church. The last phrase that you read below is actually a refrain at the very end of the song that I missed the first several times I listened to the song. It has now replaced the original bridge when we sing it as a congregation.

Jesus you are mercy
Jesus you are justice
Jesus you are worthy
that is what you are

You died alone to save me
Your rose so you could raise me
you did this all to make me
a chosen child of God

Worthy is the Lamb that once was slain
To receive all glory power and praise
For with your blood you purchased us for God
Jesus you are worthy, that is what you are

Justice and mercy
Justice and mercy
Justice and mercy
meet on the cross

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Cross and the Trinity

Ever considered God's perspective of the cross? How often we look at the cross and what it meant for us - and I would never wish anyone to forget that. However, that is only half the story. To understand the full gravitas of the cross it is worth considering what it meant for God.

It is far too easy to slide away from the true triune nature of God. So when we think of the cross we must remember that is was the Godhead which would face the full brunt of what had to occur on that cross. First though it is worth a recap on Jesus as the second member of the Trinity. Jesus was the Word through whom the universe was created (John 1:3). Jesus was called 'Son' by God from Heaven and is the one with whom God was well pleased (Luke 3:21-22). This Jesus came to a fallen earth (Ephesians 2:6-8) leaving the splendour of Heaven and served God in this place so that He may not lose any of those whom His Father has given (John 6:37-40; how wondrous a thing that is!) But more than all of these things, this was the Jesus that dwelt and communed with the Father and the Spirit in the eternal perichoresis. Visualise that image - the three members of the Trinity in an eternal dance, each revolving around the other, constantly loving the others. Each member seeks the other two as an expression of their perfect love - no one member ever wishes to be separate from the others. That is Jesus: Eternal, Holy, Loving and pleasing to God.

Yet the cross served as the place where death would die, where God would achieve ultimate reconciliation and where His promised rest would be achieved. However, a holy God cannot dwell with sin and its curse therefore needed to be broken. God, bound to His covenant made to Abraham, could not cast man into oblivion and so judgement had to fall upon the One who could face righteous judgement and yet be found innocent. So the wrath of God was borne on that cross and more specifically on the eternally pleasing and loving Jesus - on God Himself and between Father and Son. Father and Son became separated on that cross - the most unnatural state for the Trinity.

And yet it was me, Tom Miller, that drove a wedge between Father and Son. It was me and my sin that unrecognisably disfigured (Isaiah 52:14) the most beautiful man to walk the earth. It is overwhelming to think of the anguish felt by Father and Son as the Cup was emptied - it would have pleased neither - all for a wretch of a man. The disfigured and ugly made gloriously beautiful (something CS Lewis wonderfully illustrates in the 'The Great Divorce'). That though is the love of our God: that He would bring such total suffering on His Son for us. Moreover, Jesus willingly identifies Himself with man - fallen man! - so that righteousness may be imputed to all who identify with Him. But the Trinity could do nothing else - it was His will (Isaiah 53:10; Luke 24:45-47). Their eternal love drove them to make the ultimate sacrifice as they could not bear man to be separated from Their presence.

Does this change your view of the cross? I hope so. I hope it wounds the heart, forcing us into humility before God. I hope it weighs heavy on our consciences, yet turns downward facing hearts Heavenwards to praise God. That is how great Jesus is - facing the full brunt of the Cup of Wrath aimed at sin. That is how great the Father is - freely giving His Son whom He has loved eternally for utter wretches. That is the cross and the Trinity. What response is there from us? Well, I would hope that you could figure that out for yourselves because in truth I cannot - it leaves me stupefied and awestruck by the power and love of the Trinity.

I finish with an excerpt from 'God and Myself' a Puritan prayer written by those who knew much of the cross:

"At the cross may I contemplate the evil of sin, and abhor it, look on Him whom I pierced, as one slain for me, and by me. May I never despise his death by fearing its efficacy for salvation. And whatever cross I am required to bear, let me see him carrying a heavier."

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"The cross" in what we are reading . . .

What Tim Morey has to say about "the cross" in Embodying Our Faith:
For me, to say nothing of my unsaved peers, [my church] felt foreign, out of place. It wasn't just the programs or the style of music; it was the posture, the place the church seemed to occupy in the world. So much about the church felt foreign . . . I understood, even then, that people would stumble over the cross. But it felt like I had to get them past an array of stumbling blocks just to get to the one stumbling block that mattered. And so as I began to feel God's pull toward vocational ministry, a question began to brew in me: Is there a way that we as the church can be faithfully, even radically, biblical, and at the same time be culturally relevant?
And from Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus by D.A. Carson:
This expression "to take up one's cross" is not an idiom by which to refer to some trivial annoyance—an ingrown toenail, perhaps, or a toothache, or an awkward in-law: "We all have our crosses to bear." No, in the first century, that sort of interpretation would have been impossible. In the first century it was as culturally unthinkable to make jokes about crucifixion as it would be today to make jokes about Auschwitz. To take up your cross does not mean to move forward with courage despite the fact you lost your job or your spouse. It means you are under sentence of death; you are taking up the horizontal cross-member on your way to the place of crucifixion. You have abandoned all hope of life in this world. And then, Jesus says, and only then, are we ready to follow him.

Book Review: Embodying Our Faith by Tim Morey

If I were to give the award today for the book that most exceeded the low expectations I'd placed on it, Embodying Our Faith by Tim Morey would certainly win (of course, I can't give that award out until the end of the year). The marked presence of such names as McClaren, Pagitt and McManus in the reference notes at the back of the book set me on high alert for anything "too Emergent" (don't ask for a definition, I have none).

However my fears were ill-founded. Tim Morey pleads with a generation of Christians who were largely won and schooled by a modernist apologetic, as many of these same Christians are at a loss as to why the same apologetic is ineffective with a postmodern crowd. After defining our postmodern climate as one that is characterized by deconstruction, moral relativism and religious pluralism, Morey poses his big question this way:
"How do we bring the message of Jesus to a culture that is deeply skeptical about truth claims, rejects metanarratives (such as the gospel), considers the church a suspect institution, takes offense at moral judgments and believes any religion will lead them to God?"
His answer in a phrase is the embodied apologetic. He suggests that our postmodern culture is hungry for transcendence, community and purpose. Of course, we have all experienced these to varying degrees within the walls of our churches, but seldom do we consider those our strongest cases for Christianity when reaching out.

For all the reading I have done on the postmodern mindset and philosophy, I had not considered—at least on the level Tim Morey has—how this should impact our apologetics and evangelism. I was completely thrilled by this book and the approach Tim Morey has offered—in largely orthodox fashion it seemed to me.

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Church leaders and those interested in evangelism and apologetics.

This book was a free review copy provided by InterVarsity Press.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

How to Defeat Sin in Your Life

Jeff tells me that his Dad (John Bruce, pastor of Creekside Community Church in San Leandro, CA and all around wise fellow) insists on preaching through Romans 6 at least once a year. At some point in his life he was reading that chapter of the Bible and realized that he didn't need to sin anymore because in Christ, he was dead to it. John was free to live a godly life because of Christ's work on the cross.

The whole chapter is probably worth quoting, but consider what may be its central statement: "We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin." (Rom. 6:6) The thrust of the passage is that if you are in Christ, you are free from the power of sin. The cross makes us righteous before God, but it also frees us from slavery to sin. "Rock of Ages" puts it well:
    Let the water and the blood
    From his riven side which flowed
    Be of sin the double cure:
    Save me from its guilt and power.
So why do I know so many Christians who struggle with the same sins so much? Well, partly because even in our freedom, we'll never completely overcome sin in this life. The kingdom is here, but it's not yet. Sin will be a struggle until Christ returns.

But it is also because we don't actually fight against sin seriously, especially in our minds. Paul explains the implication of our being dead to sin in v. 11: "So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." Consider yourselves. It starts in your mind. Christians need to change our way of thinking. When the temptation to sin arises, mentally cut it off. You are dead to sin, so consider yourself dead to sin.

This is a large part of John Owen's advice in The Mortification of Sin in Believers: "Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you. Your being dead with Christ virtually, your being quickened with him, will not excuse you from this work." Owen goes on to prescribe some more specific methods of accomplishing this, but the thought is simple: when we stop fighting sin, the battle is lost.

This post partly came to mind to write because of our focus on the cross this month, but it is also because American church culture lacks emphasis on the need to discipline our minds, not just for study, but for fighting sin. Perhaps we don't do so because we always want to lower the bar to get more people in the church, so we ask little of them. Perhaps it is the insane paranoia that the Reformed community exhibits about ever "working" in the Christian life. Perhaps the academic-minded thumb their noses at something so introductory and simple as trying to not sin. Or perhaps we are just lazy.

Whatever the reason we haven't done so before, we must take our fight with sin more seriously each day than we do, and that has to start in our minds. Real sanctification is possible because Christ has defeated sin and death at the cross. And for all the Christian literature out there about how to grow in relationship with God, we really can boil down a lot of it to this: consider yourselves dead to sin.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

June Theme: The Cross

You may have noticed that original content at CiC has been a bit scant of late. Jared has been holding things down with his book reviews, and most weekends have a C. S. Lewis quote and/or a links post, but other than that, well, there hasn't been a ton to say.

There are a number of reasons for this. Lack of time is near the top. Some of us have been especially busy of late, and though we enjoy blogging, it tends to fall to the bottom of our priority lists. Perhaps just as important, two years into CiC's life it is often difficult to come up with new content. There's only so much about the church we can all keep complaining about...

I'm joking, of course, but those of you who read many Christian blogs know that I don't have to be. "Christian blogging" is too often synonymous with "Christians endlessly pontificating about what other Christians are doing wrong." I'll suggest that CiC is at its worst when this is the majority of its content- I know because I have too often reverted to needless critique when I have nothing else to say.

With all this in mind, the CiC team has come to the consensus that Christian blogging isn't worth doing if it isn't edifying to its readers- "isn't worth doing" in the sense that we don't want to waste our time or yours. So we've come up with a plan: themed months. For at least June (and probably for the whole summer), CiC will have a monthly theme that most of our content will revolve around. Hopefully this gives us not only fodder for writing in general, but focus for content that is edifying to Christians at all stages of faith.

So for June, we've decided to start by majoring on the majors: this month's theme is the cross (thus Damian's nifty addition to the banner at the top of the page). We know that's broad, but that is purposeful since we haven't done this before and want to allow some wiggle room. My hope is that we'll have a wide range of content, including original articles, interviews with people we respect who have done a lot of thinking on this topic, the usual links and quotes, and possibly some audio and video related to theme. I also know that Jared has it in mind to focus at least some of his reviews on books about the cross. We don't know exactly how it will all work, but hopefully we'll all figure it out. Also, regular, non-cross-related blogging will probably still show up in some measure. The idea is to focus us, but not to be unnecessarily rigid. If one of us has something to say, we'll say it.

So today marks what could be an overhaul in the way CiC operates from here on out. Or it could just be the beginning of a failed idea. In any case, we'd be glad for your feedback, and we hope that this little blog glorifies God by edifying Christians.