Theologians Playing Nice

I really enjoyed this conversation between Calvinist, John Starke, and Wesleyan, Fred Sanders, over at the Gospel Coalition (HT Marc Cortez).

Discussions, if they can even be called that, between Calvinists and Arminians are so often characterized by vitriol and caricatures; it would be thrilling to see this kind of fruitful and irenic dialogue more often.

When I Consider Your Heavens…

A reflection on Psalm 8 

English: Pleiades Star Cluster

English: Pleiades Star Cluster (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What, I wonder, would David think if he knew what we know now about the universe? I too grew up considering the heavens, and I could see so much more of them then. It is hard to see the stars and the blackness of the sky behind them in Portland. Our nearest neighbors are far away from our corner of the valley and the stars are overwhelming when I return there after having been gone for some time. They explode. They dazzle. If the moon is full and low on the horizon it couldn’t possibly get any bigger.

I have seen documentaries of course, and sermons even, showing the far-flung wonders of the universe. Nebulas and galaxies and black holes and stars that dwarf the stars that dwarf the stars that dwarf our sun. I still prefer the fresh air and the heavy sky of my home, to seeing those wonders on a screen though. It somehow ties it all together, to have the dirt road underfoot, and the frogs in the pond, and lonely, homey light of the house on the hill. It is a good place.

There is so much that is good about life there, with the dirt and the trees and the rivers and the mountains and the family. Life with good, creative work. Helping plants grow and bear fruit. Good, strong relationships with people. It is about more than saving their “souls.” Indeed, God will save the whole thing. I can’t very well imagine what it will be like to share the rule of that new earth, and to gaze at the new heavens, when all is made right. So I will say Maranatha rather than that I desire to depart and be with Christ.

You have made us. You love us. You even made all these wonders for us to rule over. With you! Adam did not do such a good job of ruling things. The second Adam came to rescue us from the mess.

YHWH, my Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Ruling over Creation

Aside

A reflection on Genesis 1:26

There is a balance here that is difficult to strike. I grew up hearing little to nothing about the “cultural mandate” of Genesis 1, and the Christianity that grew out of that was one that had no understanding of the “goodness” or “value” that something like art, or hard work, or a well-crafted pie could have to God. I valued those things, but I didn’t see them as important to God. It was probably there and I only missed it, but what mattered to God was only whether or not I sinned. There was a big, fat disconnect between most of life and how I lived it because, well…it didn’t really matter to God, unless I had a lustful thought while skateboarding, or could be a witness for Christ while playing baseball.

I think an early part of my desire to be in ministry came from the fact that I thought it was the only thing that had value. I’m not sure how I missed this in a family of Christian farmers, but I did. It took me realizing that pursuing vocational ministry (defined rather narrowly) was only one of many ways to serve and please God, to eventually come to the conclusion that I actually did want to pursue a life devoted to ministry. Not because it was the only way I could really please him, but because he had given me the gifts and the desires to be of use in that way.

He has also given me the ability to make music on my guitar, which can please him even if I’m not singing worship songs. He has given me a love of nature, which I can enjoy with him even if I’m not sharing the hike with an unsaved person to whom I am evangelizing. He has given me a love of cooking and baking bread which can please him just as much in a feast shared with friends as in loaves baked to hand out to the homeless in order to share the gospel with them. Heck, he has even given me a love for the craft of making and enjoying excellent beer of all things!

In short, much that is not overtly religious is of great value to God and pleases him indeed. At the same time (and here is the balance), what in the world would all of these wonderful things mean without Jesus?! Without him there would be no hope or peace within which to live and enjoy the earth he has made. The things we do and enjoy as humans living in creation can only be redemptive and not destructive because he has redeemed the whole thing and will make it new someday.

If we pursue these good things as ends in themselves, we will surely not gain them or find fulfillment in them; they will master us. If we would give up all these pleasures for the sake of Christ, it is then that they can truly be enjoyed and known in proper perspective. We will rule over creation rather than be ruled by it.

If you could only keep five books of the Bible, which would you choose?

While slogging through some of the reading for my Greek Exegesis class, a point was made regarding the fact that parts of our Scripture are more useful or easily applicable to our lives and thought.

My mind quickly followed the rabbit down his trail and I eventually asked myself which five books of the Bible I would keep if I were in some hypothetical scenario in which I were presented with such a choice. As I ran through the options in my mind, I quickly came up with the five that I would not be without. It was interesting to realize how quickly I came up with them, and how I was not able to come up with any arguments that would overthrow my previous choices.

I’d be very interested to hear which five books of the Bible you would choose to keep if you were forced to make the decision, and why.

This thought experiment brings up the idea of a canon within the Canon. This phrase refers to the fact that, whether we are aware of it or not, we all tend to emphasize and attach more worth to certain books of the Bible than others. This is a natural thing based on the diversity within Scripture and the diversity of its readers, but it is also a very dangerous thing. If we do indeed believe that ALL Scripture is God-breathed, and useful, etc. we must fight the temptation to spend all our time in our favorite books and ignore those which are less exciting, less clear, or more convicting. Of course different books have different purposes and different strengths, and I’m not suggesting a wooden application such that each book of the Bible receive equal time in the pulpit or in personal study, but most of us tend to pay undue attention to some books at the expense of others (and our own knowledge and edification!).

By considering this question and how you answer it, I hope you’ll end up with some food for thought regarding the way you think about the Bible and the way you value its different books.

I think I will wait to share my list until a few of you have shared yours, if any of you do.

Sermon on the Mount

Sermon on the Mount - Pontlevoy

We recently began a new sermon series at Grace Bible Church on the Sermon on the Mount. We are three Sundays in so far, with my pastor, Ken Garrett, introducing the sermon three weeks ago, and finishing the second half of the beatitudes today (listen here).

I’ve been asked, along with some of the other seminary students at church, to take part in preaching this series. I’m preaching from Matthew 5:38-48, which is a passage that has been challenging me recently, so I’m really looking forward to continue digging into it and preparing to share its message with our church. I may preach again later in the summer, depending on how the schedule works out. I’ve been reading the Sermon on the Mount daily and have been thoroughly enjoying the fruits of repetitive meditative reading of it.

Chatting about the Sermon on the Mount. Fighting over who gets to preach which passage.

I’ve preached a number of times before, but only at my home church, to a small group of people whom I have known my whole life and who were quite generous to give me opportunities to share with them. I’ve always been rather uncomfortable “preaching”, preferring more of a conversational teaching style, but these are the kinds of opportunities I want to take advantage of in order to cultivate and develop the gifts God has given me. We love our church family in Portland and have built many close relationships, and I’ve done a lot of teaching at Grace Bible Church already, but it will certainly be a challenge to my nerves to preach to so many. I’m very thankful for the opportunity to use my gifts and training, and am so grateful for being able to participate in practical ministry with my family at Grace Bible Church.

Chrysostom’s Solution for Blasphemers

“But since our discourse has now turned to the subject of blasphemy, I desire to ask one favour of you all in return for this, my address and speaking with you; which is that you will correct on my behalf the blasphemers of this city. And should you hear any one in the public thoroughfare, or in the midst of the forum, blaspheming God; reproach, rebuke him; and should it be necessary to inflict blows, spare not to do so. Smite him on the face; strike his mouth; sanctify thy hand with the blow, and if any should accuse thee and drag thee to the place of justice, follow them thither; and when the judge on the bench calls thee to account, say boldly that the man blasphemed the King of angels!”

- St. John Chrysostom

(Link)

Fresco of St. John Chrysostom, lower register ...

Fresco of St. John Chrysostom, lower register of sanctuary in Church of the Theotokos Peribleptos in Ohrid, Macedonia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Historical Mentor Revisited – John Chrysostom

St John Chrysostom, St Patrick's cathedral, Ne...

St John Chrysostom, St Patrick’s cathedral, New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some time ago I asked for some recommendations for an important figure from church history to engage with as a historical mentor. You gave me some wonderful suggestions and helped me think through the implications of some of the various choices available to me, and for that I am grateful.

I ended up selecting John Chrysostom as my historical mentor and enjoyed researching his life and thought for a paper for my Church History class. I knew next to nothing about him before my class, and since we were covering 2,000 years of history, we weren’t able to spend much time on him in class, so I was thankful for the opportunity to explore him a bit more.

 

His is truly an incredible story, and the way he has influenced our own Christianity today is fascinating.

I hope you’ll take some time to read through my paper and enjoy learning a bit about a bold man of God.

You can find it here.

Read This – I Didn’t Write it

German stamp, showing Karl Barth. Deutsch: Deu...

German stamp, showing Karl Barth. Deutsch: Deutsche Briefmarke, die den Theologen Karl Barth zeigt. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Great discussion in this series about a topic that needs to be addressed – Christians and Violence

This makes me want to read Barth – A Prayer for Sunday (Karl Barth) 

An important distinction I always need to be reminded of – A Critical Mind vs. A Critical Spirit (HT Marc Cortez)

A new religion? – On Mitt Romney, Liberty University, and Civil Religion (HT Brian LePort)

Church History as a Mustache Mirror

from American Mustache Institute

Have you ever wondered what you would look like with a dirty mustache? You may have taken a dry-erase marker and drawn one on your mirror to get a look, or perhaps even purchased this thing.

 

I may have done it once or twice but usually I just utilize my own face hair to create creepy mustachios.

 

Villains have always loved their mustaches, and I have always loved to hate villains. It is easy to find villains in the history of the Church and I have long sneered at those Christians who participated in or were perhaps even responsible for things like the Crusades and the Inquisition, or the sale of Indulgences and the justification of slavery in America. My natural response to these situations is to assume that these people were not real Christians, motivated purely by greed or hate. I ad hominem them in my mind until I can squint my eyes and say, “see, these aren’t really Christians. Christians would never do something wicked like this.”

However, when we actually studied Chuch History (and not just to confirm the biases that I already have) I realized that things were not quite as simple as I had imagined. At the beginning of our semester, Marc Cortez warned us against this kind of self-righteousness that avoids seeing fault in ourselves and avoids seeing anything good in those we disagree with. He challenged us to see what we look like with the mustache of an American Christian slaveholder, or of a Dominican Inquisitor (okay, he really said “put yourself in their shoes” ,,,but mustaches!).

After an initial shudder of disgust, and imagining the whiskers getting stuck in your mouth when you take a bite of a sandwich, you take a real look at yourself. You notice pretty quickly that you look completely different than you used to…because you are completely different. You are in a different time and a different culture, with different challenges and different assumptions and different ways of thinking. You can’t understand owning another person or killing someone who you disagree with.

But after you get used to the differences you realize that you are still you. You see a passionate conviction of the truth of what Scripture teaches or a desire to protect from trusting in a false gospel because you care about their souls. You see a respect for your faith community and the consensus it has reached or a deep and biblical theology, long thought through in pursuit of knowing God and making him known.

Please don’t hear what I am not saying. These things were not okay. I am not proposing a full makeover and new jewelry for the pig, let alone lipstick and a gold snout-ring. Though we have taken the name of Christ, and make up his body, we are not always like him, and to forget that would be a terrible error. Some may need that reminder, but I have long been steering in the opposite direction. When faced with those whose actions I despise or whose thoughts I disagree with, I am quick to pat myself on the back and thank God that I am not like that poor tax collector. If we ever forget Solzhenitsyn’s lesson from his time in the Gulags, we are doomed to a life of self-righteousness and us vs. them in a world of Christ’s righteousness and me against me.

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

Join me in pursuing charity. Spend some time seeing what you look like with someone else’s mustache on your face, or if you’re really committed eat an entire sandwich with their mustache on before you criticize and condemn them. Try and understand why they did what to us is so obviously wrong. Name evil and label lies when you see them, but understand that we are not all that different from those who have gone before.