Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll 2

I will never forget the first Christmas that Brooke and I had as a married couple. I was in seminary and we were dirt poor. When our apartment complex announced a balcony-decorating contest with one month’s free rent for the grand prize, we knew we had to win. We were going to be “that couple” that went nuts with the Christmas lights and hopefully start the next year with a few hundred dollars extra in our bank account.

Brooke had a great idea—a 3D multimedia shadowbox of Santa flying over Dallas. We found a cartoon picture of the Dallas skyline and a picture of Santa and the reindeer online and took them to a printer to be put on an overhead. I was leading an Adult Bible Fellowship at First Baptist Dallas at the time, so we snuck into the church on a week day to use some of the teaching aids in my classroom. We projected the pictures we had found on the wall and traced them on to butcher paper. Then we cut them out, mounted Santa on cardboard, and painted them. We blacked out our balcony with butcher paper (with the Dallas skyline painted on it), and then poked white Christmas lights through the paper in strategic places to look like stars. We suspended Santa in the air flying over the city for the 3D effect.

Sure enough, we won.

I mention this story because we had so much fun together. One of the things that has kept us happy together over the years is that Brooke and I are friends. Brooke is a lot of things to me—a wife, a lover, the mother of my children. But before she was any of these things she was my best friend, and she still is.

In chapter 2 of Real Marriage, “Friend with Benefits,” Mark and Grace Driscoll talk about the importance of friendship. When researching the book, they were surprised to find such infrequent mention of friendship in Christian marriage books. But a solid friendship has been a bedrock of their marriage. They write:

[M]arriage is about friendship. All the talk about spending time and doing life together, making memories, being a good listener, growing old and taking care of each other, being honest, having the long view of things, repenting and forgiving can be summed up in one word—friendship. (23)
Not only have the Driscolls found friendship to be key to their marriage, but studies show that quality friendship is a major determiner of a quality sex life. They note one study:

The determining factor in whether wives feel satisfied with the sex, romance, and passion in their marriage is, by 70 percent, the quality of the couple’s friendship. For men, the determining factor is, by 70 percent, the quality of the couple’s friendship. So men and women come from the same planet after all. (John Gottman and Nan Silver, The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work [New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999], 17. Quoted in Driscoll and Driscoll, 24.)
When the Driscolls were struggling in their marriage, one of the things that they had lost was their friendship. Mark’s work struggles and Grace’s emotional scars shut them off from each other and they forgot that they were on the same team. Then one way, God showed them what was wrong and set them on the path to recovery. Grace recounts the story:

In those days when our marriage struggled, and our growing church was sapping Mark’s energy, he used to say that he felt alone and always would because of the nature of ministry. It felt hopeless that we could ever return to that trusting, fun, free friendship. I tried to fight it, but I also partially believed he was right and found myself giving up hope too. It felt as if no matter how much I tried to become a good friend, he was determined to be alone, and yet was upset because of it. I was very confused. It wasn’t until God had me tell Mark I wasn’t his enemy that the light went on for him and he saw I truly wanted to learn how to be his friend and not make him feel isolated. I clearly remember the fight we were having in the bathroom when I pleaded silently with God to give me words to explain and give Mark a heart to believe those words. God told me what to say, and I saw a physical change in Mark in that moment. He started to soften and want to trust me again. As I later walked through my abuse history, he became a friend again. I a good way I was forced to trust him, and he worked hard to respond lovingly. (25)
The Driscolls rightly insist that a strong friendship is key to a healthy marriage, and they list seven attributes of a Christian friendship as it relates to marriage:

Fruitful—Marriage and family exist to help you better glorify God; not to serve as a replacement idol.
Reciprocal—It takes two to be friends.
Intimate—Friendships should be intimate. Men tend to build intimacy through shared activity, while women tend to build intimacy through shared feelings.
Enjoyable—Friends have fun together.
Needed—People were created to be in relationships. You need a friend.
Devoted—Friends are dependable over time.
Sanctifying—Husbands and wives expose each other’s areas for growth.
I think that this is a solid summary of friendship. A friend is someone whom you enjoy and who has proven their dependability over time. A good friend has seen you through the hard times. A good friend sticks with you when you’re at your worst, and rejoices with you when you are at your best. A good friend makes you laugh.

One thing that sticks out to me about the Driscolls’ description of friendship is the last bullet—“Sanctifying.” I agree that a good friendship is sanctifying, but I want to clarify what this looks like. They list two ways of “sanctifying” your spouse (and I am glad that they clarify that you can’t sanctify your spouse, only God can do that)—being there for them when they sin and speaking the truth (in love) to them. These are both great ideas.

Where do we see in Scripture that we are called to “sanctify” our spouse? How are we instructed to do this?

One of the things that I have noticed about speaking the truth is that often a “love for truth” is actually a mask for a “love for being right” or a “love for putting people in their place.” I like to be right. It feels good to be right. It feels good to point out where my spouse is failing and I am winning because it validates me as right.

But being right can be an idol.

We need the courage to speak truth to our spouses, but we need to do serious soul searching before we do. Are we speaking truth out of love, or because we want to be right? Only one of those motivations is godly. The other is idolatry.

In Ephesians 5:25–26, Paul instructs husbands how to love their wives and also explains how Christ sanctifies the church. Christ sanctified the church by giving himself. If we want to help our wives grow in Christ, our best response is to sacrifice for them. It’s plain, simple, and in the Scriptures. If you sacrifice for your wife, you are on the right track.

Nine years after winning the balcony-decorating contest, my wife is still my best friend. She makes me laugh. She takes care of me when I am sick. She listens to me. She lets me beat her at Bananagrams. And she rejoices at my success. She reminds me of the verses Ted Cuningham shared with us last week:

Go eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments always be white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun . . . .” (Ecclesiastes 9:7–9 ESV)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll 1

Over the next few weeks, I will be blogging through Mark and Grace Driscoll’s book, Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship, and Life Together. The elders of my church are going through the book together, so my chapter reviews will follow the elder meetings in which they were discussed. I don’t want to pass judgment on Mark and Grace, nor do I want to be a fan boy. They wrote this book to help marriages, hoping that it would be “biblically faithful, emotionally hopeful, practically helpful, sociologically viable and personally vulnerable.” (xi)

When I was in college, I had a professor named Dr. Drullinger who often talked about his marriage in class. He was in his sixties and had been married a long time. The guy loved his wife, and every time he talked about her his face brightened up and his smile beamed. Sometimes he seemed like a middle-schooler talking about his first crush, but in an endearing way. Even as a nineteen-year-old punk, I knew that this was how marriage should be. I remember nothing from the class he taught, but I will never forget how he treated his wife.

In the first chapter of Real Marriage, “New Marriage, Same Spouse,” Mark and Grace talk about each other and the early years of their marriage. Mark came from a rough neighborhood, but successfully avoided drugs and alcohol to become class president and be voted “Most Likely to Succeed.” Grace was the daughter of a pastor, but learned to act like everything was okay on the outside when things were wrong on the inside. They were sexually involved while dating, but stopped as soon as Mark learned that this was “fornication.” When they got married, their married sex life was mediocre and frustrating. Mark became a workaholic before breaking down in his mid-thirties and putting his home in order. Since then, marriage has been great in the Driscoll home, and the book describes what they learned through the whole ordeal.
There isn’t much to evaluate in the first chapter, other than to praise the Driscolls for their honesty. So far, I think they have succeeded in putting a book together that is “personally vulnerable.”

One thing that has stuck out to me, though, is the way Mark talks (writes) about his wife. I think you can tell a lot about a person by the way they talk about their spouse. Do they honor their spouse? Do they complain about him or her? Do they seem to respect their spouse, or do they put them down? When they tell a story about their marriage, who looks good?

In recounting the couple’s dating years, Mark tells the following story about himself:

Upon graduation from high school, I was given a free senior trip to Mexico. The company representative said I would receive ‘VIP treatment’ that included lots of alcohol and young women to sleep with. A few weeks before the trip, I declined the offer because I loved grace and did not want to ruin my relationship with her. (7)
There is a similar story about Grace. A few years into their marriage, Mark had a dream about what Grace did on her senior trip. He recounts the dream:

One night, as we approached the birth of our first child, Ashley, and the launch of our church, I had a dream in which I saw some things that shook me to my core. I saw in painful detail Grace sinning sexually during a senior trip she took after high school when we had just started dating. It was so clear it was like watching a film—something I cannot really explain but the kind of revelation I sometimes receive. I awoke, threw up, and spent the rest of the night sitting on our couch, praying, hoping it was untrue, and waiting for her to wake up so I could ask her. (11-12)
The vision was true—Grace had in fact sinned sexually during her senior trip.

Do you notice the contrast in these two stories? How does Mark look in his story? How does Grace look?

If you have read the book, what do you think about the way Mark talks about his wife? Does he honor her?

A pastor friend of mine once told me, “I can tell within the first five minutes in my office whether or not a couple seeking counseling is going to ‘make it.’ I can tell by the way they talk to each other. If they respect each other, I know they can work through whatever differences they have. If they don’t respect each other, they have a tough road ahead.” I completely agree.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight

When I was in Bible college, I took a class on evangelism. One of our assignments was to find the “bare minimum” of the gospel. Our professor took us to 1 Cor 15:1-5, and showed us that the gospel was the message that Jesus died for sins and rose from the dead, that there is no way for a person to save himself or herself, and that Christ alone can save through faith. When I claimed that I didn’t see the theology of justification by faith in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5, I was told that it was implicit in the confession “Jesus died for sins.”

I didn’t believe that then and I don’t believe that now.

Even as a student, I saw a troubling implication of the gospel my professor was advocating. If the theology of justification by faith is part of the gospel, then denominations with different theology (i.e. the Roman Catholic Church) don’t believe the gospel. That bothered me, considering the number of Roman Catholic relatives I have, including my mother. But again, what bothered me the most is that it’s not in the text!

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in justification by grace through faith. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves. We are saved only by the grace of God through faith in Jesus. That is good theology. But it’s not the gospel. The gospel is a story about Jesus.

This is also the idea in Scot McKnight’s new book, The King Jesus Gospel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011). McKnight argues that too many of us have inappropriately collapsed “the gospel” into soteriology (the theology of how people are saved). As important as doctrines like justification by faith, substitutionary atonement, and divine grace are, they are not the gospel. The biblical gospel, according to McKnight, is a story about Jesus—who he is and what he did. Our misunderstanding of the gospel has caused us to devalue discipleship, over-emphasize “making a decision,” and limit the effects of the cross to “me and my personal salvation.” McKnight suggests that by recapturing the biblical gospel, we can eliminate the disconnect between faith and following, make disciples that are in it for the long haul, and apply the lordship of Jesus to all of life and creation.

McKnight begins his book with some familiar stories, sobering statistics, and provocative questions. In 1971, McKnight became a Christian and had his first experience with evangelism gone bad. He and a deacon from his church invaded the home of a Sunday-morning visitor, whom the deacon badgered with the gospel until he said uncle and accepted Christ. The evangelism team rejoiced at the salvation, but the new “convert” never darkened the door of the church again. Research by the Barna group suggests that McKnight’s experience isn’t unique. At least 50 percent of Americans who “make a decision for Christ” don’t show any measure of discipleship. (20. He cites personal correspondence with Bill Kinnaman from the Barna group and statistics dated December 17, 2010.) Why do so many “conversions” not lead to discipleship? McKnight argues that it is because we have preached a “gospel” that is inaccurately boiled down to justification by faith and a personal decision for Christ. While McKnight affirms justification by faith and the importance of a personal decision, he says that the gospel is bigger than these things.

Having made the charge that church attrition is due in part to a misunderstanding of the gospel, McKnight transitions to walking through a number of biblical passages that recount the original gospel. He begins with the earliest account of the gospel—Paul’s summary in 1 Cor 15:1–5 (ESV):

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
McKnight sees in this neither a detailed explanation of substitutionary atonement, nor a defense of justification by faith, nor a passionate plea for a decision. Instead, he sees a story about how Jesus fulfilled the hope of Israel. He writes:

The Gospel for the apostle Paul is the salvation-unleashing Story of Jesus, Messiah-Lord-Son, that brings to completion the Story of Israel as found in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. To “gospel” is to declare this story, and it is a story that saves people from their sins. That story is the only framing story if we want to be apostolic in how we present the gospel. We can the frame the “gospel” with other stories or categories, but there is one holy and apostolic story, and it is the Story of Israel. That is the apostolic framing story for the gospel. (61)

He contrasts this apostolic gospel with what we are tempted to do:

We are tempted to turn the story of what God is doing in this world through Israel and Jesus Christ into a story about me and my own personal salvation. In other words, the plan has a way of cutting the story from a story about God and God’s Messiah and God’s people into a story about God and one person—me—and in this the story shifts from Christ and community to individualism. We need the latter without cutting out the former. (62)

Having established that the apostolic gospel was a story about Jesus fulfilling the hope of Israel, McKnight walks through the Gospels, the preaching of Jesus, The Book of Acts, and the ancient creeds to show a consistent pattern: for the first Christians, the gospel was a story about Jesus. (Why else would we call the first four books of the New Testament “The Gospel”?)

McKnight finishes the book by turning his attention to modern day “gospeling.” In the penultimate chapter, he makes six comparisons between our methods of gospeling with those of the apostles. First, while our gospeling “seeks to persuade sinners to admit their sin and find Jesus as the Savior,” the apostles’ “summon[ed] listeners to confess Jesus as Messiah and Lord” (133). Second, the framing story of the apostles’ gospel was not the atonement or personal salvation, but the Story of Israel. Third, both ancient and modern gospeling have an element of avoiding the wrath or judgment of God. Fourth, the problem that modern gospeling seeks to solve is that individuals are sinners and destined to hell. The apostles’ gospel emphasized Israel’s story that humanity was created as co-rulers over the earth and mediators of God’s presence to creation. Both Adam and Israel failed at this task, but Jesus succeeded and is now working out his rule through the church. Fifth, McKnight acknowledges that there may be a slight anti-imperial message in the gospel (though he doesn’t see this emphasized by the apostles) that is largely ignored today. Finally, the apostles’ gospel was about Jesus, not the sinner or personal salvation.

In the final chapter of the book, McKnight challenges the church to become “people of the story”—to find our story in God’s story, to tell a radical counter-narrative to the stories of our day, and to create a Gospel culture.

There is a lot to like in McKnight’s book. First, it is biblical. McKnight is an expert in New Testament theology, and he investigates what the Bible has to say about the gospel. He doesn’t defend a theological system and he doesn’t attack any denomination or tradition; he simply looks at the texts and asks, “What did the first Christians believe about the gospel?” One may disagree with McKnight’s conclusions, but at least he roots the discussion in the ancient texts.

The second strength of McKnight’s book is that it exposes (and solves) the shortcomings of the way in which the gospel is popularly understood. If the gospel is synonymous with justification by faith, how did Jesus preach the gospel? Why are the first four books of the New Testament called “The Gospel”? Why don’t we see a clear explanation of justification by faith in the apostles’ preaching in Acts? Why does Paul talk about Jesus when he describes the gospel instead of defending justification by faith? (Again, McKnight believes that justification only comes through faith in Jesus; he just doesn’t think that this is the gospel.) These questions are all answerable when the gospel is understood as a story about Jesus and his fulfillment of the Story of Israel.

The final strength of McKnight’s book (and the one he is probably most proud of) is that it provides a robust gospel for a generation of “gospelers” engaging a post-everything culture. Methods of evangelism emphasizing theological systems and propositional truth-claims are becoming less and less effective. People in the Google era think and communicate in narrative. Many have tried to create a narrative gospel for the postmodern culture, but the results largely have been too existential. Postmoderns aren’t just looking for their own story, they want to be a part of a cosmic story. McKnight has successfully communicated the gospel in a narrative, but in a narrative that is consistent with the ancient narrative. The king Jesus gospel allows us to find our story in God’s story.

One area that deserves more exploration is the role of contextualization in “gospeling.” McKnight’s account of the gospel on pages 148–52 marches through the whole Bible, touching on Adam and Eve, the Tower of Babel, David and Solomon, the Babylonian exile, the life-story of Jesus, and the politics behind Jesus’ crucifixion. As I read it, I imagined trying to preach it to a bunch of 20-somethings who knew nothing about the Bible. I can’t imagine them tracking with me through all of that (apart from divine illumination!). My mind immediately went to the Story of Israel, and how much of it is important to understanding the Gospel. How Jewish do we have to be to be Christian?

The major accomplishment of the Third Quest for the Historical Jesus and the New Perspective on Paul is that they have recovered the “Jewishness” of both Jesus and Paul. The New Testament was written primarily by Jews, and the language, symbols, and stories they told make the most sense as a continuation of that of the Jews. However, there is also a sense in which the church is something new. There is a sense in which the Gentiles are accepted as they are—with their own histories, languages, and symbols, and without the need to adopt those of the Jews.

McKnight makes the point that all of the “gospeling” sermons in the Bible make use of the Story of Israel. This is not entirely true, and I wonder what would happen when we take into account audience when evaluating these early sermons. The vast majority of the sermons in Acts were preached either to Jews or to Gentile “god-fearers” who had already adopted the Jewish story as their own (for instance, Peter’s sermon to Cornelius and Paul’s sermon in the synagogue at Antioch).

The only instances we have in Acts of sermons given to Gentile pagans are Paul’s sermons in Lystra and Athens. In both of these instances, the only element of the Story of Israel that Paul includes is that God is the Creator (and Judge in Athens). While McKnight rightly points out that the apostles’ gospeling involved showing the overlap between God’s story and that of the listeners, he overemphasizes the role of Israel’s story because that is the story that most of the apostles’ audiences had previously adopted. In instances in which the apostles gospeled pagans, Israel’s story played a lesser (and almost nonexistent) role.

As they did when they spoke to Jews and god-fearers, the apostles demonstrated to pagans how God’s story intersected with their listeners’ stories. But in these instances, humanity’s story (not just Israel’s) provided the frame for God’s story. In each of Paul’s sermons to pagans, he condemns idolatry (Acts 14:15, 17:29), contrasts the Creator God with idols (14:15, 17:24), ties God’s story to theirs by saying that God overlooked their idolatry in the past (14:16, 17:30), calls them to repent (14:15, 17:30), and cites historical evidence for his message (14:17, 17:31). In Lystra, Paul cites God’s giving of rain as evidence and in Athens he cites the resurrection of Jesus. (It is important to note, though, that in Lystra, Paul also demonstrated the power of the Spirit by healing a crippled man.)

It makes sense that Paul’s preaching to pagans would differ from his preaching to Jews. After all, Paul believed that Jesus was the telos, the goal or the fulfillment, of the law (Romans 10:4). When the Galatians tried to make the story of Israel their own by adopting circumcision, Paul accused them of turning to a different Gospel (Galatians 1:6-7). To Paul, Jesus’ death and resurrection ushered in a new age where there was neither Jew nor Gentile, but one new people of God (Gal 3:28, Eph 2:14-15, Col 3:11). There was some continuity, but there was also something new.

McKnight is right in emphasizing that the message of Jesus, Paul, and the apostles has to be understood in Jewish terms. After all, they were all Jewish. But when Paul preached the gospel to Gentile pagans, he contextualized it to their own stories. We can assume that the story of Israel was part of the catechizing of new converts, as all of the New Testament churches (including the Galatians) seem to be familiar with the story. Teaching the story of Israel is important, it just isn’t the gospel.

So what does that mean for modern-day gospelers preaching in a non-Jewish context? First, start with the biblical gospel that McKnight has so clearly communicated in his book—that Jesus is Lord, that his death on the cross for our sins and resurrection from the dead has vindicated him as Son of God and Lord of the universe. Understanding Israel’s story is crucial to understanding God’s story. God created mankind to co-reign with him over the earth and reflect his glory as his eikons. Both Adam and Israel failed at that calling, but Jesus succeeded. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection and the work of the Holy Spirit, God is redeeming for himself a new humanity to fulfill his purposes for Creation.

Second, go to the problems that the gospel resolves, contextualized for the audience. The dominant framing story of my city (Gig Harbor, WA) is that happiness, love, and security can be found in money and a prestigious career. People live according to that story, but find it relatively unsatisfying (as evidenced by the prevalence of substance abuse, divorce, and addictions). God is absent, loneliness is rampant, and many (especially youth) lament life’s lack of purpose and meaning. Despite the fact that the idols of money, career, and sex directly contribute to the people’s unhappiness, they continue to worship them in the hope of achieving a different result.
The challenge of gospeling the people of Gig Harbor is contextualizing God’s story in light of their story. The King Jesus Gospel intersects the story of Gig Harbor in a number of areas. It resolves the problem of God’s absence though the indwelling of the Spirit. It resolves the problem of broken human relationships through God’s new humanity. Finally, it resolves the problem of life’s lack of meaning through working for the kingdom of God.

Third, tell God’s story in light of Gig Harbor’s story. While McKnight insists upon tying Gig Harbor’s story to the Story of Israel, this doesn’t seem to be the practice of the apostles when gospeling pagans. Instead, they located the pagans’ story within God’s broader story (of which Israel’s Story is a part). For Gig Harbor, this means showing that the dominant framing story fails, and explaining how God’s story resolves the problems created by that story (connecting to God through the Spirit, living in community as part of the new humanity, and finding purpose by engaging the world in the missio dei). At the center of God’s story is the simple message that Jesus Christ died for sins and rose from the dead as Lord and God, and a call to repent and follow Jesus.

McKnight’s book is needed in churches today. At a time when churches are forming coalitions around the gospel it is important to clarify that gospel. What gospel are we together for? The gospel Jesus preached, or another gospel? While many are collapsing the gospel into a message of personal salvation, McKnight has recaptured the King Jesus Gospel for a new generation. He dives into the Scriptures, sorts truth from assumptions, and comes up with a simple message about Jesus. McKnight overplays the role that Israel’s story plays in gospeling pagans, but his emphasis on story is refreshing for those gospeling the post-everything generation.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Story and History--The Role of Historical Investigation for Faith

In his essay, “Knowing Jesus: Story, History and the Question of Truth,” Richard Hays critiques N.T. Wright’s method of knowing Jesus as described in his book Jesus and the Victory of God (JVG). Hays (a Barthian) argues that Wright’s method is doomed to fail from the start and that the “historical” Jesus is unknowable apart from the confessional Jesus.

What role does historical investigation play in the life of the church?

In JVG, Wright paints a portrait of Jesus based on critical realism and scientific investigation of history. While his method and conclusions differ from other historical Jesus scholars, his aim is basically the same—to discover the “Jesus of history” apart from the “Christ of faith” (Wright wouldn’t state his aim in those words, but his book does the same thing as others written by people who do use those words). The genius of JVG is that by using the scientific method for historical investigation, Wright is able to unveil a “Jesus of history” who looks remarkably similar to the “Christ of faith.” Wright demonstrates that the church’s confessions about Jesus stand up to the rigors of historical investigation.

Hays has two significant critiques of Wright’s method:

1. Wright is not as objective of an observer as he claims. Hays points out that Wright does not approach Jesus as an unbiased observer, but as an Anglican bishop and a lifelong follower of Jesus. Wright may be testing a hypothesis in JVG, but it is a hypothesis derived from his life in the church.

2. The “truth” of the story affects the method by which we investigate history. In order to remain “scientific” and “unbiased,” Wright has to table the church’s confessional claim that Jesus is the second member of the trinity. At the end of his investigation, Wright concludes that there is good reason for the church to confess what it does, but Hays notes that this changes the way we evaluate the data. If Jesus is God, then history cannot be evaluated in the same way that it can if he is merely a man.

Hays writes:

In a significant essay in Seeking the Identity of Jesus, the theologian Robert Jenson confronts exactly this issue and asks a provocative question: ‘But what if the church’s dogma were a necessary hermeneutical principal of historical reading, because it describes the true ontology of historical being?’ Let me paraphrase that: if it is true that Jesus was the incarnation of the Word, the fleshly embodiment of the one through whom all things were made—and if it is true that he was raised from the dead by the power of God and now reigns over the whole world (whether the world acknowledges it or not)—then it follows that the historical figure of Jesus cannot be rightly known or understood apart from the epistemological insight articulated precisely in the confession that Jesus is Lord—Jesus is the kyrios. This is where we ought to begin in we want to know the truth about Jesus.

This is the insight that Tom’s whole historical Jesus project doesn’t ever quite take on board. The ‘hypothesis’ that Tom seeks to verify by pulling together the evidence of the Synoptics is not a naked inference from uninterpreted data. Rather, the hypothesis that Tom is testing is already encoded in the New Testament texts themselves as proclamatory stories, and already imbedded in Tom’s own worldview by virtue of his lifelong participation in a community that continues to retell the story. So the hypothesis-verification model can’t escape the hermeneutical circle. Nor should it. Precisely because the church’s dogma names a truth the world does not nor cannot know, it rightly describes the truth about history in a way that secularist history is bound to miss. (Richard Hays, “Knowing Jesus: Story, History and the Question of Truth,” Jesus, Paul and the People of God: A theological Dialogue with N.T. Wright, ed. by Nicholas Perrin and Richard B. Hays [Downers Grove: IVP, 2011], 60-61.)

Note what Hays is saying (like Barth): the true Jesus cannot be known by natural means, so using natural means to know him is destined to fail. What do you think? Does historical investigation (think also of apologetic works like Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict) have a role in the life of the church, or does Jesus identity as the incarnation of the Word render that kind of investigation moot?

Monday, March 21, 2011

What Were We Thinking? Radical Together by David Platt

When I was a kid, hair metal ruled. Van Halen, Poison, Twisted Sister—the bigger the hair, the better. If you wanted to be a rocker in the 1980s, tight denim, a shred guitar and a can of Aqua Net were keys to your success. But, like every fad, hair rock gave way to grunge rock, which in turn gave way to something else. Looking back at the androgynous arena superstars of my childhood, I can’t help but ask, “What were we thinking?”

If David Platt is right, another child of the 1980s, the highly-programmed-seeker-sensitive-attractional-mega-church, is also destined for the “What were we thinking?” bin. In his book, Radical Together, Platt argues that current axioms for reaching the lost are actually counter-productive for building the kingdom of God. Shockingly, pouring money into rock-show-quality worship, holographic preachers, and multi-million-dollar campuses isn’t the best way to spread a message of self-sacrifice, service, and love for our neighbor.

What were we thinking?

In Radical Together, Platt expands on the message of his earlier book and applies it to the church. What Radical was to the individual, Radical Together is to the body. Conventional wisdom says that the keys to a healthy growing church are: superstar preachers, state-of-the-art worship technology, professionals at key leadership positions, targeting specific demographics, and keeping the message as simple as possible. Instead, Platt argues that church programs can distract us from the mission, preaching the Word is key to life-change, ministry should be done by everyone, and the mission is to take the Gospel to all nations.

The gold in Platt’s book is his ability to inspire through stories. From his own church’s ability to trim their budget and give $1.5 million to missions in India, to another church’s decision to meet outside and pass $60,000 in annual savings to God’s kingdom, Platt encourages and motivates churches to be radical for the Gospel. You can’t walk away from this book without being challenged to do something big.

The one weakness I see with Radical Together is Platt’s elevation of the Word as the only means of life-change (to the exclusion of the Spirit). Certainly, the Spirit works through the Word to change lives, but the Spirit also gifts the body to minister to one another in ways other than preaching. After all, “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing?” (1 Corinthians 12:17 ESV) Although he doesn’t say it outright, one gets the feeling that Platt is encouraging churches to cut programs emphasizing incarnational, life-on-life ministry in favor of those that emphasize the preached Word. While not discounting the value of the preached Word, there is also a value to ministries that “merely” involve Christians doing life together.

Hair metal seemed like a good idea at the time. Seriously, it did. So also the seeker-sensitive church seemed like a good idea for a time. But if Radical Together is any indication, church leaders are starting to wake up and return to Jesus’ call to make disciples from all of the nations.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons

As I met a friend for lunch the other day, I walked past an Apple store and saw an ad announcing their new partnership with Verizon: “This changes everything. Again.” A handset manufacturer expands to a new carrier, and the world is changed forever. Really?

Now, iPhone 4 is very cool, and Verizon customers have long bemoaned Apple’s exclusive contract with AT&T. The announcement certainly evokes celebration from them, but, “This changes everything”?

Good marketing doesn’t just inform us, it tells us a story. Advertisers convince us that bliss can be ours with a click of the mouse or a trip to the store. Marketing has become its own genre, complete with stock heroes (early adopters), villains (purists), tragedies (classicists who are left behind), and comedies (the geeks redeemed through innovation). Sadly, as I read The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons, I felt like I was reading an advertisement for the next Christians rather than a description of them.

The book is not terrible. There are a lot of cool stories of entrepreneurs using their gifts to help people and promote the Gospel. Jaime Tworkowski’s founding of To Write Love on Her Arms is the high point. Lyons also notices patterns that others have identified in younger Christians—their disdain for culture wars, their longing for community, and their desire to be countercultural—but he supports his claims with anecdotes rather than research.

The Next Christians is not what it claims to be. Promising to combine “current-day models and relevant research with stories of a new generation of Christian leaders,” it delivers a series of anecdotes without indication of their widespread relevance. Like judging an entire generation after a few viewings of Jersey Shore, we can’t stereotype the emerging followers of Jesus by relating how Nick and Josh started a magazine or how Jeremy gave up Facebook for Lent. The next Christians are more complex than that.

Lyons’ ad for the next Christians claims they “engage the dirtiness of our world without fear of tarnishing their reputations” (83), “[create] good culture” (95), “are already positioned to affect the cultural landscape in a big way” (120), “enjoy reading the Bible as much as curling up with a great novel” (136), “live in proximity to one another and often combine their resources to serve others” (163), and “try to create the most good for all people, regardless of race, class, or religion” (184). The movement “has all the signs of being a manifestation as crucial as the Reformation was” (120).

This changes everything. Again.

The Next Christians is filled with inspiring stories of creative people doing “neat” things for the kingdom of God, but we can only speculate on the significance of these stories.

I was not compensated for this review, but I was provided a free copy of the book in return for writing it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Planned Parenthood and Sex Trafficking

HT: Evangel

This is one office manager at one Planned Parenthood (and she has since been terminated), but this bad.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

In order to unlock the chest holding Rombaldi’s secret message, you will need to find his key. The key has been hidden, but there is a map.

Rombaldi hid the first piece of the map underneath a picture of his favorite tree. It is stored with vessels for entertaining.

Rombaldi hid the second piece of the map in a room that was once used, now is not used, but will be used again next spring.

You will need to assemble the two pieces of the map to discover the key to Rombaldi’s chest.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Systematic Theology by Wolfhart Pannenberg

I just finished volume 3 of Wolfhart Pannenberg's Systematic Theology, and for the third year in a row it will reign as "the best book I read this year." Pannenberg is brilliant. I will be digesting this work for a long time. He ends the three-volume book:

On the whole path from the beginning of creation by way of reconciliation to the eschatological future of salvation, the march of the divine economy of salvation is an expression of the incursion of the eternal future of God to the salvation of creatures and thus a manifestation of the divine love. Here is the eternal basis for God's coming forth from the immanence of the divine life as the economic Trinity and of the incorporation of creatures, mediated thereby, into the unity of the trinitarian life. The distinction and unity of the immanent and economic Trinity constitute the heartbeat of the divine love, and with a single such heartbeat this love encompasses the whole world of creatures. (Systematic Theology, 3, 646.)
Three years ago I would have read that and said, "What?" Now, I read it and say, "Sweet."
I have sketched an outline of how Pannenberg's theology can provide a way forward for "Big Tent Evangelicalism" to work together for the Gospel. I hope to put something together for Scot McKnight's blog. More on that soon.

Another Passage I Don't "Get"

What do we do with this one?

Jeremiah 35:1 The LORD spoke to Jeremiah when Jehoiakim son of Josiah was ruling over Judah. He said, 2 "Go to the Rechabite community. Invite them to come into one of the side rooms of the LORD's temple and offer them some wine to drink." 3 So I went and got Jaazaniah son of Jeremiah, the grandson of Habazziniah, and his brothers and all his sons and all the rest of the Rechabite community. 4 I took them to the LORD's temple. I took them into the room where the disciples of the prophet Hanan son of Igdaliah stayed. That room was next to the one where the temple officers stayed and above the room where Maaseiah son of Shallum, one of the doorkeepers of the temple, stayed. 5 Then I set cups and pitchers full of wine in front of the members of the Rechabite community and said to them, "Have some wine." 6 But they answered, "We don't drink wine because our ancestor Jonadab son of Rechab commanded us not to. He told us, 'You and your children must never drink wine. 7 Don't build houses. Don't plant crops. Don't plant a vineyard or own one. Live in tents all your lives. If you do these things you will live a long time in the land that you wander about on.' 8 We and our wives and our sons and daughters have obeyed everything our ancestor Jonadab commanded us. We have never drunk wine. 9 We haven't built any houses to live in. We don't own any vineyards, fields, or crops. 10 We have lived in tents. We have obeyed our ancestor Jonadab and done exactly as he commanded us. 11 But when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon invaded the land we said, 'Let's get up and go to Jerusalem to get away from the Babylonian and Aramean armies.' That is why we are staying here in Jerusalem."

12 Then the LORD spoke to Jeremiah. 13 The LORD God of Israel who rules over all told him, "Go and speak to the people of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem. Tell them, 'I, the LORD, ask, "Won't you learn a lesson from this about obeying what I say? 14 Jonadab son of Rechab ordered his descendants not to drink wine. And his orders have been carried out. To this day his descendants have drunk no wine because they have obeyed what their ancestor commanded them. But I have spoken to you over and over again and you have not obeyed me.

I am just thinking of how it squares up with James 1:13, "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God,' for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one."

Friday, September 24, 2010

David Opderbeck on God's Justice

Good article. Here's an excerpt:

The Girl in the Cage, the Lion, and the Lamb

Somewhere in America right now, there is a little girl locked in a dog cage. A man will bind her with duct tape. The man will sexually abuse her while another takes pictures and videos. The men will distribute these materials over a vast network of child pornography file sharing servers. Tens of thousands of other men will look at the pictures and videos, discuss them in chat rooms, use them as masturbatory tools, and demand more. And they will get more, much more.

I know this is true because I’m teaching a course this semester on “Cybersecurity Law.” Most of the course focuses on commercial and public espionage – hacking, data theft, and so on. This week, however, the topic has been online safety – cyberstalking, harassment, obscenity and child pornography. Our guest speaker yesterday was the Brian Sinclair, Chief of the Computer Crime Prosecution Unit in Bergen County, New Jersey. While he mercifully didn’t show us any of the volumes of child porn his unit has seized over the years (it is technically a felony to display such materials even in an educational setting), he described in general terms the sorts of things that commonly appear, including what he noted as “disturbing recent trend” towards the literal caging of victims.

What is justice? When is justice? Where is justice?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Eugene Peterson on the Busy Pastor

I just started reading The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson. Wow! There are so many gems even in the first chapter. This is the one I like the best, on pastors being busy:

The one piece of mail certain to go unread into my wastebasket is the letter addressed to the 'busy pastor.' Not that the phrase doesn't describe me at times, but I refuse to give my attention to someone who encourages what is worst in me.

I'm not arguing the accuracy of the adjective; I am, though, contesting the way it is used to flatter and express sympathy.

'The poor man,' we say. 'He's so devoted to his flock; the work is endless, and he sacrifices himself so unstintingly.' But the word busy is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection. The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront.
So you know where he is going with this, he writes later:

But if I vainly crowd my day with conspicuous activity or let others fill my day with imperious demands, I don't have time to do my proper work, the work to which I have been called. How can I lead people into the quiet place beside still waters if I am in perpetual motion? How can I persuade a person to live by faith and not by works if I have to juggle my schedule constantly to make everything fit into place?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What Does It Mean to Love God?

Christians talk a lot about loving God (which is good, since Jesus said that the most important commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and that the second is like it--to love your neighbor as yourself). But, how often do we ask ourselves what this looks like? What does it mean to love God?

The Greeks had three words that we translate, love--agape, phileo, and eros. Phileo refers more to a "friendship" love, eros to an erotic love, and agape to a sacrificial, unconditional love.

When we talk of loving God, often we mistakenly think of our love for God in terms of phileo love (or worse yet, eros love). We have nice feelings for God. We like Him. But, agape love is the love with which God loves us, and it is the love with which we have been called to love God and others.

What does it look like to love God with agape love? First John 4:7–12 (NET) says:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
Wolfhart Pannenberg asks some provocative questions about Christian love for God:

If Christian love is essentially a participation in God's love for the world, then we have to ask whether we can distinguish at all between love of God and love of neighbor. Does not true love consist of sharing in God's love for the world? And in the depth of turning to the cohuman Thou, do we not also love God? (Systematic Theology, vol. 3, 187.)
Pannenberg argues that, while love for God and love for neighbor are inseparable, they do not collapse into one another. Jesus seemed to prioritize love for God over love for others, implying at least a subtle distinction. Pannenberg describes love for God:
We love God by letting him be God to us as Jesus let the Father be God to him, by letting him be our God, our Father, and thus by putting our trust and confidence in him. (Systematic Theology, vol. 3, 193.)
Love for God is expressed in faith.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Is Egalitarianism/Complementarianism a Gospel Issue?

Scot McKnight links to an article by Dan Stringer, asking the neo-calvinists whether complementarianism is essential to the gospel. Can egalitarians be gospel-centered?

(Complementarianism and egalitarianism relate to the roles of men and women in the church, home, and society. Egalitarians say that there should be no distinctions between men and women. Complementarians say that while men and women are equal, God has assigned them diferent roles. Most complementarian churches would reserve the role of elder or pastor to a man; some would go farther than that.)

At issue is the neo-calvinists' strong stance on complementarianism. Stringer asks whether the neo-calvinists have allowed a secondary issue to muddle the gospel.

The discussion was on interest to me because I think some, like my hero James Dunn, may have gone to the opposite extreme and made egalitarianism a part of the gospel.

Wolfhart Pannenberg on Christian Hope

From Systematic Theology, vol 3. I love the last sentence (emphasis mine).

Faith lifts us above our entanglement in the vicious circle of sin and death by uniting us to Jesus and giving us a share in his Spirit. Hence believers in Christ, to whom they are united in the ecstatic 'outside the self' of faith, acquire a hope beyond death. In the process, too, a basis is established for overcoming the egotistical structure of human hopes. Christians do not hope just for themselves, which would mean only too often that the hope of one would be at the cost of the hopes of others. In Christ they share in a universal hope for humanity. Individual wants may certainly be taken up and met, but this takes place within the larger context of the saving reality of God's kingdom that transcends individual particularism. By faith Christians are snatched out of bondage to their egotistical striving for happiness and find the fulfillment of their personal life precisely in the fellowship of the body of Christ and in the work for the future of humanity in the kingdom of God.