Friday, June 27, 2008

The Good Life Myth #1

My latest sermon is available online here.

I am working through a series called The Good Life in which I contrast the good life according to suburbia with the good life according to Jesus. I am drawing a lot of the information about suburbia from David Goetz's book, Death by Suburb. The first myth that we discussed is, "I am in control of my life."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Christ and Culture Revisited by D.A. Carson (Chapter 2)

In chapter 2 of Christ and Culture Revisited, D.A. Carson explores the impact of a more developed biblical theology on the work of H. Richard Niebuhr. Niebuhr tried to write to a universal Christian audience, so he minimized the amount of biblical theology that went into his book. He tried just to focus on Christ and culture.

Obviously, there was some merit to Niebuhr’s attempt. His book has been accepted across a spectrum of traditions because the tent of what he considers “Christian” is wide. (Carson is not so generous.) However, by broadening his definition of “Christ” so much, Niebuhr unnecessarily (in Carson’s mind) expands the number of viable ways in which Christians can interact with culture.

For instance, the second model in Niebuhr’s paradigm is the “Christ of culture.” This category can generally be applied to the old liberals in America. They are the folks whose primary allegiance is to the culture and who trumpet the teachings of Jesus that parallel the values of the culture. Typically, they downplay “seams” in history—i.e. the fall, the resurrection, and the return of Christ. Carson wonders whether we can legitimately consider this type of “Christianity” genuinely Christian. He has a point.

Further, Carson notes that the historical examples that Niebuhr offers as following his categories don’t consistently follow his categories. This is a serious weakness of Niebuhr’s book. Almost everyone that I have seen interact with Niebuhr’s categories have picked and chosen elements from each. Carson rightly says that this is evidence that the categories are artificial and dependant upon circumstances.

Having shown the deficiencies in Niebuhr’s biblical theology, Carson outlines what the Bible says about God, man, creation, redemption, etc. The narrative is classic Carson—the typical stuff coming out of TEDS and prevalent in American evangelical churches. Carson says that it is from this starting point that we should investigate the relationship between (the real) Christ and culture.

Finally, Carson offers a series of parting shots at Niebuhr. First, he emphasizes that a well-developed biblical theology should influence our thinking about Christ and culture all of the time. Second, he points out that bifurcating ways in which Christ relates to culture is methodologically flawed (in the same way that bifurcating models of the atonement is errant). Instead, we should view Niebuhr’s models holistically and ask, “When is Christ against culture? When is Christ above culture? When are they in paradox?” Third, Carson notes that Christ and culture are not always mutually exclusive (I think this is a criticism of Niebuhr’s definition of “culture,” to which Carson will return in the future). Finally, Christ’s relationship to culture often depends upon historical circumstances.

Carson’s take on Christ and culture is very different than Niebuhr’s. Niebuhr sought to be more inclusive, which limited the extent to which he could talk about the relationship between Christ and culture. It may have even led him down paths that shouldn’t have been trodden. Carson sticks to what he believes and says, “Who cares about the liberals? How does the evangelical Christ relate to culture?” On the one hand, Carson’s model will be more helpful to me because he and I are on the same page on most doctrines. On the other hand, I disagree with how narrow he has defined Christianity. I would almost have preferred him to title this book The American Evangelical Christ and Culture.

I agree with Carson’s view of the “seams” in history, but I am not willing to say that everyone who deviates from Carson’s narrative is not a Christian. I think you can believe in sin without interpreting the fall like Carson does. I think belief in the resurrection and Trinity are non-negotiables, but I am not sure about substitutionary atonement. I think to be a Christian someone must believe that Jesus died for sins (whatever that might mean) and that He rose bodily from the dead. Christians also believe in the Trinity and that “faith” involves a conscious decision to follow/live like Christ. Obviously there is more to being a Christian that just that, but if we are talking sine qua non, that’s what I think it is.

In short, I think Carson’s net is too narrow, but since I’m in his net I’ll read what he has to say.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

iMonk on George Carlin

Michael Spencer has some good thoughts on the career of George Carlin. Obviously, Carlin was antagonistic to God and Christianity, but there is something to be said for someone who is not afraid to speak the truth.

The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age by George A. Lindbeck

In a footnote to his book, Renewing the Center, Stanley Grenz suggests that the paradigm for doing theology in a postmodern context may be found in Wolfhart Pannenberg's Systematic Theology and George Lindbeck's The Nature of Doctrine. I loved Grenz's book, so I bought and read these other two when I finished it. Both were tough. Both were over my head. Both were good. (Pannenberg's Systematic Theology was the best systematic theology I have read.) As I "review" Lindbeck’s book, keep in mind that systematic theology is not my specialty and that I am probably not qualified to critique Lindbeck's thoughts. (But that's what blogs are about, right? They're commentary by the non-specialist.) :)

In The Nature of Doctrine, George Lindbeck seeks to describe a method for "doing theology" in a postliberal age. His primary concern is ecumenicism. Is there any way that competing faiths can have meaningful dialogue in a pluralistic culture? To find out, he describes and critiques three ways of "doing theology," the pre-modern propositional model, the modern experiential-expressive model, and his own postmodern cultural-linguistic model. After showing why he thinks that the cultural-linguistic model is superior, he then moves to test whether it is applicable to modern ecumenical discussions.

Lindbeck starts by defining the different methods of "doing theology" have developed over time. In the pre-modern period, doctrine was propositional in nature. Doctrines spoke of reality and were packaged in propositions. I don't need to rehash the collapse of this method.

The modern way of "doing theology" is the experiential-expressive model. In this model, there is one true religion of which all world religions are only a shadow. Thus, none of the religions are "true," but they all have some "truth" to them. They all essentially say the same thing, just in different ways. Thus, the "doctrines" of a particular religion don't describe reality, but the particular religion's experience of reality. The problem of this view is that all religions are not saying the same thing. Often they are saying very different things, even when they address similar topics. Lindbeck points out that just because two religions both talk about "God" doesn't mean that they are saying the same thing about God. After all, the fact that there is a word for "God" both in English and Chinese does not make those two languages the same. By claiming that all religions agree, the modernist liberal sets himself over all of the religions in judgment of them. This is inappropriate.

Lindbeck prefers a model he calls cultural-linguistic. In this model, religions are like languages and cultures. They are not absolute, and they are not all saying the same thing. Just like a language is guided by rules of grammar (rules that don't apply in other languages), so also religions are guided by their doctrines. Similarly, cultures have mores that shape their cultural identity, so also religions have their doctrines that shape their identities.

There are some strengths and weaknesses to Lindbeck's ideas. First, Lindbeck is right to point out that doctrines aren't important merely for their propositions, but for their role in the life of faith. The doctrine "Jesus is Lord" has no meaning unless it affects my life--unless I live like He is Lord. The doctrine of spiritual presence in communion has no meaning outside of the religious significance it has when I partake. Doctrines become meaningful when they affect spiritual practice. In that sense, they are more like rules than propositions.

Second, his theory fits the reality in which we find ourselves. In that sense--it's practical. In my circles, we tend to think of doctrine as propositions about reality. Where does that get us in a post-Christian culture? If I walk up to a guy on the street and say, "Jesus is Lord," he's not going to say, "Thank you for telling me, I'll start serving him right away." He'll probably say something like, "That's fine and nice for you, but I'm not interested in your Lord." The fact that our culture sees doctrines as rules for a particular community (thus, "that' fine and nice for you"), suggests that we should learn to do the same to communicate to them.

Interestingly enough, in the last few pages of the book, Lindbeck asks the question of how relevant his ideas are to faiths that see "evangelism" as a primary element of their faith. (These faiths believe that their "rules" are applicable to those outside of the faith.) He writes about the difference between the way the catholic church (the early church, not the Roman Catholic Church) approached the pagans and the way the Gnostics approached them. The Gnostics "changed the rules" to make them more appealing to their pagan neighbors. The catholic church continued to teach their rules to those who lived by other rules. Lindbeck writes:

"Pagan converts to the catholic mainstream did not, for the most part, first understand the faith and then decide to become Christians; rather, the process was reversed: they first decided and then they understood. More precisely, they were first attracted by the Christian community and form of life. The reasons for attraction ranged from the noble to the ignoble and were as diverse as the individuals involved; but for whatever motives, they submitted themselves to prolonged catechetical instruction in which the practiced new modes of behavior and learned the stories of Israel and their fulfillment in Christ" (George Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age [Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1984], 132).

I think Lindbeck is on to something. Regardless of how we see our doctrine (generally as universally valid propositions), the world sees them as rules relevant to us only. I think that this is okay. We should preach them as such. We have to face the fact that our culture is post-Christian and that we can't just say, "The Bible says such-and-such" and expect people to listen up. We have to impress them with our lives so that they choose to submit to the faith. Then the doctrines become relevant to them.

Friday, June 20, 2008

"Death and All His Friends" by Coldplay

Coldplay's new album, Viva la Vida, is great.

I love the lyrics to the last song on the album, "Death and All His Friends." The last stanza is great. Chris Martin sings it in his falsetto voice supported by intense piano, drums, bass, and guitar--much like the "Give me love over this" refrain at the end of "Politik" on A Rush of Blood to the Head or the "Tears stream down your face when you lose something you can't replace" line at the end of "Fix You" on X & Y.

All winter
We got carried
Or way over on the rooftops just get merry
All summer we just hurry

So come over just be patient and don’t worry
So come over just be patient and don’t worry

And don’t worry…


No I don't want to battle from the year to end
I don't want to cycle and recycle revenge
I don't want to follow death and all of his friends...

Monday, June 16, 2008

The World Outside--A Believers Fellowship Outreach Experience

“Where are we right now?”

That was the question posed to us by Kris Rocke of the Center for Transforming Mission, a subset of the Northwest Leadership Foundation (NLF). Kris was pointing out that you can be somewhere without actually being there. This was the theme of “The World Outside,” the most recent outreach experience at Believers Fellowship.

We are surrounded by hurting people. We see them every day. But do we really see them? Do we really know their stories? Are we really there for them? Or are they just extras in a story that is really about us?

On June 14th, Believers Fellowship went “out there” to NLF to learn more about how we can be present for the people around us both in Gig Harbor and in Tacoma. First, we loaded into a bus and toured East Tacoma, learning about the lives of the people who inhabit the most uninhabitable places in our city. We learned some of their stories and talked about the difference between caring for people and merely serving them.

Pastor Ron Vignec showed us life in East Tacoma

After the tour, we returned to NLF headquarters where Kris Rocke led us in a dialogue about the marginalized and how we can develop a healthy relationship with the city. Finally, Duncan Wilson from Sound Youth Counseling (SYC) told us a little about what they are doing for the city’s youth and how we can be a part of their ministry.

Kris Rocke warned us about putting "problems" before relationships

The consensus response to this experience was, “Wow.” I learned a lot from our friends at SYC and NLF, and I am excited about how our relationship with the city will develop in the future.

Christ and Culture Revisited by D.A. Carson (Chapter 1)

In chapter 1 of Christ and Culture Revisited, D.A. Carson introduces "Christ" and "culture" and how they interact. We find ourselves in a multi-cultural context in which many voices compete to be "heard" in the culture at large. The relationship between Christ and culture is a sensitive one because any claim that Christians make to be relevant to culture implies that their voice is in one way or another superior to the other voices. Thus, "Christianity can be tolerated, provided it is entirely private: Christian belief that intrudes itself into the public square, especially if it is trying to influence public policy, is most often taken, without examination, as prima facie evidence for bigotry and intolerance" (D.A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008], 6).

At the same time, the world is by and large becoming "more religious," so the question of Christ's relationship to culture is unavoidable. This brings Carson to the most significant investigation of Christ and culture in the English speaking world, H. Richard Niebuhr's book Christ and Culture.

Niebuhr sees five general ways in which Christians have viewed Christ's relationship to culture:

1. Christ against culture. The claims of Christ are necessarily against that of "the world." The task of the Chistian is to retreat into the Christian ghetto to avoid pollution from the negative influence of "the world." The problem with this view is that the Christian can never escape from culture. Everything we do, from the language we speak to the way we make money to the laws that we obey or disobey, is culturally bound.

2. Christ of culture. The claims of Christ represent what is best in culture. Jesus' message was simple--love your neighbor, be at peace with everyone, work for harmony. These same claims are the claims made by the culture at large. Thus, Christ is indistinguishable from culture. The problem with this view is that it does not account for evil in culture.

3. Christ above culture. The claims of Christ are above culture. All truth is God's truth, even when it comes from a non-believer. The "truth" of culture that is really "true" is that which lines up with Christ. If we perfectly understood Christ and perfectly understood culture, we would see that they are the same. The problem with this view is that it is a little too neat in theory and it doesn't always work out in reality.

4. Christ and culture in paradox. Since God's ways are not man's ways, Christ and culture will always be opposed to each other. The Christian is at the same time a citizen of the world and a citizen of heaven. Thus the Christian is always living a life in paradox. The problem with this view is that its adherents often get comfortable with the sins of the culture and don't push for change. (For example, someone is able to justify being a Christian and yet owning slaves at the same time, since they are a citizen of two worlds.)

5. Christ the transformer of culture. Christ and culture are often in opposition, and Christ is always seeking to conform the culture to his ways. Thus there is much in culture that needs to be redeemed. Carson notes that since Niebuhr does not offer negative criticism of this view, that this was probably the one that he supported (28–29).

When I read Niebuhr's book a few months ago, I took a survey that put me in the "Christ above culture" camp. I stick to that still. Where do you fall? Or do you want to wait until Carson shows that the correct answer is "6: None of the above," "7: All of the above in different contexts," or "8: Wrong question"?

Kainos--Owning the Faith

Last night we had the sixth worship service for Kainos, a group in my church for people 18–25. Johnny and I have started a new series called Owning the Faith, based on The Book of Galatians. Good stuff.

Last night we looked at Galatians 1:1–10 and introduced the topic of Owning the Faith. People 18–25 are leaving the church in droves. As soon as people leave home, it seems like they do one of three things: (1) they continue to believe everything that their parents told them, (2) they hold on to some of their parents’ beliefs but adapt their faith to “own” it themselves, or (3) they abandon the faith altogether.

The problem with option (1) is that if you uncritically accept everything your parents taught you, you will always associate Christianity with your parents. You will never grow up in your faith. Jesus will always make you feel like a kid. The problem with option (3) is that, well, it leads to a rough life. You may be more “self-empowered” by rejecting your parents’ faith, but you’re not better off. I think option (2) is the best way to go. Maintain what works for you, but make your faith your own. That’s the only way that your faith will be personally meaningful.

Galatians 1:1–10 (NET) reads:

From Paul, an apostle (not from men, nor by human agency, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead) and all the brothers with me, to the churches of Galatia. Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever! Amen.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are following a different gospel-- not that there really is another gospel, but there are some who are disturbing you and wanting to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we (or an angel from heaven) should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be condemned to hell! As we have said before, and now I say again, if any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let him be condemned to hell! Am I now trying to gain the approval of people, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ!

Paul was accused of preaching a different Gospel depending on what was convenient to the audience (see 1 Cor 9:20). However, he adamantly denied that he did this, claiming that it wouldn’t make sense. There is only one Gospel! Why would he preach something he didn’t believe? That wouldn’t do anybody any good.

In the same way, it doesn’t do us any good to go along with a faith that we don’t really believe. We need to make our faith our own, so that Jesus is our Lord, that the mission of God is our mission, that the community of faith is our community.

Why are so many young people walking away from the church? What are some of the major obstacles to “owning” the faith of our parents?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Christ and Culture Revisited by D.A. Carson

Now that I have finished Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright, the next book I will be discussing chapter-by-chapter is Christ and Culture Revisited by D.A. Carson. It is, among other things, a response to Niebuhr's book Christ and Culture. I am looking forward to it! The chapters are longer than the ones in Surprised by Hope, so I won't be discussing a chapter every day. The book just came out, and you can buy it here.

D.A. Carson is a research professor of New Testament at TEDS in Illinois. He is also the champion of conservative American evangelicalism.

Skype and Starcraft

I tried Skype for the first time yesterday--what a great product!

I confess, I am not an early adopter of technology. I usually wait until things catch on and I can get them for cheap. I did, however, try VOIP when I was in college, and found it to be too laggy and distorted to be useful. I filed it away under "cool ideas that will never be practical." I would rather pay for a good phone conversation than get a messed up one for free.

However, I tried Skype again yesterday--seven or so years after my first experiment with VOIP. They have made some huge progress! There was no lag, the sound was crystal clear, the UI was great, and (best of all) it can run in the background while you play Starcraft without causing the game to lag. The computer headset was $12 at Target.

I gave my friend Aaron Spikes a call on Skype yesterday while we played Starcraft--we were able to talk while we played. This is huge for us because I am a slow typer, so in-game communication between us has previously been strained. This will certainly lead to more victories. Thank you Skype.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture by Michael Frost

In his book Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture Michael Frost compares the situation of the western church to that of the Israelites living as exiles in Babylon. Christendom has collapsed, and Christians have to learn to live in an empire that is hostile to our ideals. Far from being tragic, the collapse of Christendom may end up being the best thing that ever happened to western Christians as it will force us to take seriously what we believe and why we believe it.

Frost believes that living as exiles in a hostile empire involves four things: keeping dangerous memories, making dangerous promises, making dangerous criticisms, and singing dangerous songs.

To Frost, the dangerous memories that Christians maintain are those that tell the Christian story rather than that of the empire. Frost reminds us that Jesus was "a radical and a subversive"--he challenged the status quo and got into trouble for doing so. Thus, we could say like N.T. Wright that our dangerous story is "Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not." Remembering our story will keep us from buying into the metanarrative of our host empire. Frost challenges us to get outside of the traditional church and into "third places," where we will come into regular contact with those who do not believe.

In addition to dangerous memories, Frost challenges the church to make dangerous promises, namely "We will be authentic," "We will serve a cause greater than ourselves," "We will create missional community," "We will be generous and practice hospitality," and "We will work righteously." Frost rails on the "hyper-reality" of our culture. We are addicted to "reality" TV and internet chat rooms as if these media were actually real. Instead, Frost challenges us to get our heads out of the clouds and be real because the world doesn't need any more shiny happy people. He also encourages as to pursue "communitas" rather than "community." Community is the myth that people can live together in perfect knowledge, understanding, acceptance, and harmony without any kind of struggle. Too many churches seek community and fall short. Instead, Frost urges us to seek communitas--they kind of community that develops out of living a mission. Just like soldiers comes home from war with a heightened sense of community with each other, Christians can develop communitas by challenging the empire and living for Christ together. To develop these "missional communities," Christians must promise to be generous, practice hospitality, and work righteously.

In addition to their dangerous memories and dangerous promises, Frost also urges exiles to make dangerous criticisms of our host empire. Exiles cannot be comfortable in the empire, they have to stand up against it and criticize it for misbehavior. Frost says that we have to point out injustice, especially the economic injustice prevalent in an unbridled worldwide free market economy. As capitalism increases wealth, it also widens the gap between the rich and poor. Exiles need to speak against injustice. Further, they need to speak out against the destruction of the environment. God has charged us to take care of our earth, yet civilization consistently seeks to exploit it. Further, history teaches us that cultures collapse when they reap from the earth more than what is sustainable. Exiles need to criticize the empire that would exploit our earth. Finally, exiles need to criticize the empire for allowing worldwide persecution of God's people.

In addition to their dangerous memories, dangerous promises, and dangerous criticisms, Frost argues that exiles should sing dangerous songs. When you read the songs of the prophets, they don't read like "Jesus is my boyfriend." They are radically subversive. Many of them would have been considered treason by the host empire. Our song is that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not, and our worship needs to be singing this song.

I loved Frost's book. It's the best one on "doing church" that I have read in a long time. This is probably because I was a missions major in college and this book more or less takes everything that I learned in school and applied it to being a missionary in western culture.

One of the things that frustrated me most about being a part of a large suburban church in Dallas was the perception that everything that we were doing was advancing Christendom rather than Christ. We were more concerned about getting people to join the church than we were that they were following Jesus. I am happy to read about others who are equally as frustrated with McChristianity. We are ready for something new--something radically subversive of the American middle class evangelical system--something that cares about justice and mercy and the kingdom of God.

I love where I am at now. I love that church is low-key. I love that we are about changed lives. I love that we are about getting outside of the walls of our building and making our community a better place. I would love to see us continue to develop the communitas.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright (Chapter 15)

N.T. Wright concludes Surprised by Hope in style, discussing the relevance of the Christian hope to the mission of the church. He covers three areas--the redemption of time, space, and matter; the resurrection and mission; and the resurrection and personal devotion.

N.T. Wright reminds us of the importance of the traditional forms of Christianity as they relate to resurrection. With regard to the redemption of space, he says that too many people have discounted the value of "holy places," i.e. churches. While he sees the wisdom in avoiding undue worship directed at "holy places," he says that there is something valuable in feeling that church is a place where one is on holy ground. (N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church [New York: HarperOne, 2008], 260.) But redemption extends beyond just space to encompass time as well. To this, Wright warns us not to discriminate against those who have gone before us. Honoring tradition respects God's redemption of time--that we are all part of God's story. (261) Finally, redemption affects matter itself. To this, Wright speaks of the importance of the sacraments of eucharist and baptism. In these sacraments, heaven and earth intersect in the realm of matter. (262) Wright says that the sacraments describe heaven in ways that language can't. He writes, "Remember the ballerina who, asked to say what a particular dance meant, replied, 'If I could have said it, I wouldn't have needed to dance it.'" (263)

In addition to it's effect on time, space, and matter, the resurrection also affects the mission of the church. Wright says that the mission of the church should be to be the "already but not yet" to the world. He writes:

"The world of space, time, and matter is a place where real people live, where real communities happen, where difficult decisions are taken, where schools and hospitals bear witness to the 'now, already' of the gospel while police and prisons bear witness to the 'not yet.' The world of space, time, and matter is where parliaments, city councils, neighborhood watch groups, and everything in between are set up and run for the benefit of the wider community, the community where anarchy means that bullies (economic or social as well as physical) will always win, where the weak and vulnerable will always need protecting, and where therefore the social and political structures of society are part of the Creator's design." (265)

Finally, Wright says that the resurrection gives new meaning to personal holiness. In order for the church to bring heaven to earth, heaven has to break into the lives of the individuals of the church. Thus holy living is motivated by our future hope. He writes:

"The point of 1 Corinthians 13 is that love is not our duty; it is our destiny. It is the language Jesus spoke, and we are called to speak it so that we can converse with him. It is the food they eat in God's new world, and we must acquire the taste for it here and now. It is the music God has written for all his creatures to sing, and we are called to learn it and practice it now so as to be ready when the conductor brings down his baton. It is the resurrection life, and the resurrected Jesus calls us to begin living it with him and for him right now. Love is at the very heart of the surprise of hope: people who truly hope as the resurrection encourages us to hope will be people enabled to love in a new way. Conversely, people who are living by this rule of love will be people who are learning more deeply how to hope." (288)

In Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, N.T. Wright makes scholarship practical. This is the thing I love about him--he has one of the sharpest minds in New Testament scholarship, but his heart is in the church.

The church in America seems split into two camps, represented by "Pastor Gospelman" and "Reverend Smoothtongue" in the appendix to Surprised by Hope. Many, like Gospelman, focus on the "truth" of the resurrection and all of the theology that this entails. "Because Jesus is raised," they say, "we are going to heaven when we die." Others, like Smoothtongue, belittle to Scriptures as antiquated and irrelevant, and focus instead on the moral clean-up of society. "What really matters," they say, "is that Jesus is resurrected in our hearts and in society." I've been looking for some middle ground for a long time. I'm conservative like the fundamentalists, but I think the church needs to get out there into the culture to "bring heaven to earth," as Wright says. Hopefully there will be movement in America--one that takes the historic doctrines of the faith seriously, but one that isn't afraid to put legs on their faith to make a difference.

Friday, June 6, 2008

CRM on Todd Bentley (Part 3)

Mike at the Conservative Reformed Mafia has the third (and I think final) installment of his account of attening a Todd Bentley revival.

I realize that this now makes 4 negative posts about Todd Bentley this month on Awaiting Redemption. I really don't have an axe to grind against the guy, I am just finding a lot of good stuff on him.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Michael Spencer on Todd Bentley

Todd Bentley

I don't know why, but I love how fired up people get about this Bentley guy. He's a charlatan. Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, has an article on Jesus-Shaped Spirituality called, "Does Todd Bentley Have Anything to Do with Jesus?"

Psalm 17

Psalm 17 NET:

A prayer of David.
LORD, consider my just cause!
Pay attention to my cry for help!
Listen to the prayer
I sincerely offer!

2 Make a just decision on my behalf!
Decide what is right!

3 You have scrutinized my inner motives;
you have examined me during the night.
You have carefully evaluated me, but you find no sin.
I am determined I will say nothing sinful.

4 As for the actions of people--
just as you have commanded,
I have not followed in the footsteps of violent men.

5 I carefully obey your commands;
I do not deviate from them.

6 I call to you for you will answer me, O God.
Listen to me!
Hear what I say!

7 Accomplish awesome, faithful deeds,
you who powerfully deliver those who look to you for protection from their enemies.

8 Protect me as you would protect the pupil of your eye!
Hide me in the shadow of your wings!

9 Protect me from the wicked men who attack me,
my enemies who crowd around me for the kill.

10 They are calloused;
they speak arrogantly.

11 They attack me, now they surround me;
they intend to throw me to the ground.

12 He is like a lion that wants to tear its prey to bits,
like a young lion crouching in hidden places.

13 Rise up, LORD!
Confront him! Knock him down!
Use your sword to rescue me from the wicked man!

14 LORD, use your power to deliver me from these murderers,
from the murderers of this world!
They enjoy prosperity;
you overwhelm them with the riches they desire.
They have many children,
and leave their wealth to their offspring.

15 As for me, because I am innocent I will see your face;
when I awake you will reveal yourself to me.

I can't see how people believe in the prosperity Gospel when they read psalms like this. Often, it is the wicked who prosper in life. We know that this shouldn't be the case, but more often than not, it is.

This is an intense psalm. Throughout, the psalmist seems like he is almost pleading with God to act on his behalf. When I was little and I wanted my parents to do something, I would rattle off a whole list of reasons why I deserved them to do whatever it is I wanted them to do. This psalm almost seems like that. The psalmist is saying to God, "I am holding up my end of the bargain. I am living a righteous life. Why are these guys tearing me down? Take them out, God!"

I know I have had feelings like this before. When you are in the ministry (or in any service profession), it is easy to feel like life should be better for you. Even though I don't do what I do because I want God to make me comfotable, it's nice to know that God isn't threatened when people speak out honestly and ask Him, "What's the deal?"

"Father, You have been good to me. I thank You again for caring about my needs. I thank You for desiring to hear what is on my heart. I pray that when I get disatisfied in life that I would turn to you instead of acting out in anger. I confess that Your ways are the ways of life. Amen."

NHL's Best

Well, I brought up hockey the other day when my team won, so I think it's only fair to mention it when they lost. Last night the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup by defeating my beloved Pittsburgh Penguins. The Red Wings were clearly the better team.

I haven't watched hockey in years, and I haven't watched the Penguins since I moved to Dallas (I followed the Stars there). I like the 2008 Penguins better than the Jagr era Penguins. These Penguins play defense. They're feisty. They aren't afraid to put a body on someone or play "dump and chase" hockey. The late 90s Penguins were all about getting Jagr in an odd-man rush--exciting, but you lost a lot of games that way (especially in the playoffs to teams with good goaltending). When the Penguins did not win the Stanley Cup in 2001 with Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Alexi Kovalev, Martin Straka, Robert Lang, Jan Hrdina, and Kevin Stevens on offense, I figured it was never going to happen. You gotta play defense and you gotta have goaltending. It looks like the new Penguins have both of those, with some offensive superstars to boot.

If hockey is on TV next year, maybe I'll watch.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Psalm 16

Psalm 16 (NET):

A prayer of David.

Protect me, O God, for I have taken shelter in you.

2 I say to the LORD, "You are the sovereign Master,
my only source of well-being."

3 As for God's chosen people who are in the land,
and the leading officials I admired so much--
4 their troubles multiply,
they desire other gods.
I will not pour out drink offerings of blood to their gods,
nor will I make vows in the name of their gods.

5 LORD, you give me stability and prosperity;
you make my future secure.
6 It is as if I have been given fertile fields or received a beautiful tract of land.

7 I will praise the LORD who guides me;
yes, during the night I reflect and learn.
8 I constantly trust in the LORD;
because he is at my right hand, I will not be upended.

9 So my heart rejoices
and I am happy;
My life is safe.
10 You will not abandon me to Sheol;
you will not allow your faithful follower to see the Pit.
11 You lead me in the path of life;
I experience absolute joy in your presence;
you always give me sheer delight.

This Psalm beautifully expresses the goodness of the Lord. I love verse 6, rendered by the NIV, "The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance." It's a great picture of God's sovereign control over simple, everyday things like how property is divided. God is good, and we can't complain.

The other side of this Psalm is that those who desire other gods multiply their troubles. True.

"Father, I thank You for the way You have watched over me. I don't give You enough credit for Your goodness. Amen."

CRM on Todd Bentley (Part 2)

Mike has posted Part 2 of his account of attending one of Todd Bentley's revivals over at Conservative Reformed Mafia.

This is a great post. Mike is an excellent writer and he has me rivited to find out more about what goes on at Bentley's meetings.

Before I read this post, I laughed Bentley off as some kind of a kook. But now I am kind of mad at him as a truly bad person.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Psalm 15

The NET Bible renders Psalm 15:

A psalm of David.

LORD, who may be a guest in your home?
Who may live on your holy hill?

2 Whoever lives a blameless life,
does what is right,
and speaks honestly.

3 He does not slander,
or do harm to others,
or insult his neighbor.

4 He despises a reprobate,
but honors the LORD's loyal followers.
He makes firm commitments and does not renege on his promise.

5 He does not charge interest when he lends his money.
He does not take bribes to testify against the innocent.
The one who lives like this will never be upended.

This Psalm is more or less a catalogue of virtues for those who claim to follow God. Verse 2 seems to emphasize justice. Verse 3 says that the righteous person won't harm his or her neighbor. Verse 4 speaks of loyalty--the righteous person is loyal to his or her word and to those who are loyal to God. He or she wants nothing to do with those who are disloyal to God. Verse 5 speaks against greed, either in charging interest or in taking bribes. Maybe we could say that the God-fearing person is just, benevolent, loyal, and content.

"Father I pray that You would make me the kind of man that this Psalm extols. I pray that you would open my eyes to the injustice around me--that I would not be a participant in it and that I would speak out against it. I pray that you would make me compassionate--that I would be kind and generous to those who don't deserve it, even to those who wish me ill-will or who have harmed me. I pray that I would be true to You and to my word. I don't want to be one of those men who compromises what he holds dear because of fear or potential for gain. Finally, I pray that I would be content with what I have. I pray that you would direct my eyes toward those who have less than me rather than toward those who have more. You have given me so much, and I confess that I have not been grateful. Father I look forward to the day when we can say 'The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.' I pray that until then I would be faithful in bringing heaven to earth by being just, benevolent, loyal, and content. Amen."

CRM on Todd Bentley

The Conservative Reformed Mafia has a long post about attending one of Todd Bentley's revivals. Good stuff!

If you don't know who Bentley is, The Boar's Head Tavern has a number of videos on their site (linked to YouTube). He's a faith healer in Florida, I think. He's raised 13 people from the dead! Props to brother Todd--that's more than Jesus himself!

Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright (Chapter 14)

In the last 2 chapters of Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright is going to "reshape the church for mission," beginning in chapter 14 with the biblical roots of this mission.

Wright argues from the Gospels, Acts, and Paul that the message of the kingdom of God is "Jesus is Lord and Caesar [or, insert world ruler here] is not." Wright writes:

"The resurrection is not an isolated supernatural oddity proving how powerful, if apparently arbitrary, God can be when he wants to. Nor is it at all a way of showing that there is indeed a heaven waiting for us after death. It is the decisive event demonstrating that God's kingdom really has been launched on earth as it is in heaven." (N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church [New York: HarperOne, 2008], 234.)

The obvious objection to this is, "If Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not, why does Caesar seem to have all of the power?" Wright answers:

"The difference between the kingdoms of the world and the kingdom of God lies exactly in this, that the kingdom of God comes through the death and resurrection of his Son, not through naked displays of brute force or wealth." (245)

This leads one naturally to ask the question, what does Jesus's reign look like, if not brute force and wealth? Wright writes:

"The revolutionary new world, which began in the resurrection of Jesus--the world where Jesus reigns as Lord, having won the victory over sin and death--has its frontline outposts in those who in baptism have shared in his death and resurrection. The intermediate stage between the resurrection of Jesus and the renewal of the whole world is the renewal of human beings--you and me!--in our own lives of obedience here and now." (249)

Wright concludes:

"Heaven and earth, I repeat, are made for each other, and at certain points they intersect and interlock. Jesus is the ultimate such point. We as Christians are meant to be such points, derived from him. The Spirit, the sacraments, and the scriptures are given so that the double life of Jesus, both heavenly and earthly, can become ours as well, already in the present." (252)

I think Wright perfectly articulates what is going on in the church. God is renewing the world, and He is doing so by renewing individuals. I think Paul's language of the Holy Spirit being a "downpayment" of the world to come means that the Spirit's work in the community of faith is the world becoming "on earth as it is in heaven."

I started this blog to explore what effect "already/not yet" theology would have on Christian living and the mission of the church, and I think Wright has perfectly articulated a lot of this in Surprised by Hope.

What are some things that the church in America can do to make our communities "on earth as it is in heaven"?

Is Hockey Relevant Again?

I watched Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals last night. Wow. What a game! When Max Talbot scored with 34.3 seconds left in regulation to keep the octopi off of the ice, I shouted "That was in!" so loud Zack started to cry and it took 5 minutes to calm him down.

Marc-Andre Fleury was unbelievable, stopping 55 of 58 shots, including all 21 in the 3 OTs. The Pens were getting manhandled by the Red Wings in the third period and the first OT, and everyone but Fleury looked like they were thinking, "Make the bad men stop." But Fleury carried them to the win.

Game 6 is in Pittsburgh. If the Pens win at home, we could be in for a great conclusion to the hockey season in Game 7.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Tutoring at the Tacoma Rescue Mission

I tutored math at the Tacoma Rescue Mission today. Good stuff. I can't wait to go back.

The Tacoma Rescue Mission has a program called New Life. Homeless men and women can sign up for an intense, in-house program that emphasizes spiritual growth, addiction recovery, and employment skills. At New Life Square they have dormitories for all of the guys in the program. It's pretty neat--they have lounge areas, a basketball court, and a work-out facility. It kind of reminded me of a college dorm. Every day they have an intense program of devotions, recreation, and education. I helped with the math class--teaching people job skills and preparing some to test for their GED.

I'm hoping to go back every Monday afternoon, but I haven't been officially taken on as a tutor yet. You can get more information about the Tacoma Rescue Mission here.

Psalm 14

The NET Bible renders Psalm 14:

For the music director; by David.

Fools say to themselves, "There is no God."
They sin and commit evil deeds;
none of them does what is right.

2 The LORD looks down from heaven at the human race,
to see if there is anyone who is wise and seeks God.

3 Everyone rejects God;
they are all morally corrupt.
None of them does what is right, not even one!

4 All those who behave wickedly do not understand--
those who devour my people as if they were eating bread,
and do not call out to the LORD.

5 They are absolutely terrified,
for God defends the godly.

6 You want to humiliate the oppressed,
even though the LORD is their shelter.

7 I wish the deliverance of Israel would come from Zion!
When the LORD restores the well-being of his people,
may Jacob rejoice,
may Israel be happy!

I love the NET note on the first line, "Fools say to themselves, 'There is no God.'" It says that this is probably not philosophical assertion, but a moral one. Fools live like there is no God.

This raises a good question for me. You claim to believe in God, but do you live like you believe in God. This psalm is not talking about philosophy, it is talking about ethics. How often do I live as though there is no God of justice? Too often.

"Father, I confess that Your heart is with the needy and disenfranchised. I confess that I have often been a contributer to a system that worsens their lot in life. I don't want to be a part of such a system any more. I pray that You will show me a new way--the way of Christ, the way that confronts the Empire with a radically counter-cultural initiative. I want to be a peacemaker. I want to hunger and thirst for justice. I want to show mercy. Teach me how to live justly in suburban America. Amen."