"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Monday, April 28, 2008

Do I mistake my happiness for blessing?

Suppose I address some Christian who is happy, and joyous, and cheerful, and has such dainty bits sent home to him out of the promises, such precious words from Scripture applied to his heart. Dear friend, are you apt to think that there is something specially good about you because you get all these remarkable enjoyments? Then let me disabuse your mind. It is your weakness which gets you these favors. When you are living in a hotel you will remark that certain persons have their dinners sent upstairs. What for? Oh, that is because they are ill. If you are well you must go down to the table d'hote with the rest; but if you are ill they will send it upstairs, and pay you extra attention. These very comforts that God gives you ought to make you enquire whether there is not something amiss with you, and instead of thinking you are strong and well you should search and see if there is not some weakness which the Lord in his mercy intends to remove by the double comforts which he gives to you. Nothing in the world ought to be a cause of self-exaltation; nothing that our God gives us ought to make us think highly of ourselves. Lower down, brother, lower down, and so you will rise. The way to heaven is downhill, not uphill. As Christ went down to the grave that he might come up again and fill all things, so must you go to the cross, and down to the grave of self and be buried with Christ, and learn the meaning of your baptism, and make it true that you are buried with him to all the world, and to yourself also, for so only can you rise into the fullness of the new life.
C.H. Spurgeon
Update: 5/3/08:
Point 95 of Luther's 95 Theses. I love that this is found in the last point of so important of document for Prodestents who what to see Christ lifted up.
95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven rather through many tribulations, than through the assurance of peace.

Act 14:22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Trinitarian Revelation?

Ok, I'll admit I've gone a little Trinity crazy lately. Yet, everything in theology seems to point back to Theology Proper (the doctrine of God). I recently had an assignment where I was told to "define God." I went back and forth on how to begin my definition. The Anglican 39 Articles starts with God as Trinity. Reformed Confessions tend to start with revelation in Scripture, then base a confession of God on special revelation in Scripture. Finally, I decided I must preface the definition with how I know God. But, instead of using the special revelation and general revelation divide, I decided to set forth my preface of revelation in Trinitarian Formula, as follows:

God reveals Himself to us by means of the Father's purposed works in creation,[i] His incarnate Son[ii] (Who is God,[iii] and human,[iv]) and His Scriptures,[v] written by men and the Holy Spirit.[vi] (Who is God.[vii]) God is our greatest good[viii] and highest pleasure,[ix] and does all things for His own Glory.[x]

Does this work? A general revelation in nature by the Father, a special revelation in flesh by the Son, and another special revelation by the Spirit in the Scriptures. Feedback welcome.

[i] Rom 1:20 – also called general revelation
[ii] Heb 1:2, 2 Cor 4:4. [Or the Word – John 1:1]
[iii] John 1:1-14, John 20:28.
[iv] John 1:14
[v] 2 Tim 3:16, [also called the word of God, the Son being the Word of God made flesh, and Scripture being the word of God written]
[vi] Heb 1:1
[vii] Acts 5:3-4, 2 Cor 3:17-18, Eph 1:3-14
[viii] or “exceedingly great reward” Gen 15:1 KJV
[ix] Ps 16:11
[x] Ps 79:9, Ps 106:6-8, Isa 43:7, Ezk 20:5-9, 13-14, 21-22.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Walking the Tightrope: The Perils of Studying Theology

While studying theology, I’ve noticed two distinct categories of attitudes towards theology.

1) Theological Apathy

The first attitude is one of theological apathy. This attitude is typified in a comment I have heard more than once: “I don’t see why I need to read all this junk, I just want to tell people about Jesus.” This attitude tends to occur during an experiential period where the student just “feels” they know what’s right and they do not need new vocabulary or other people’s thoughts to figure out what exactly they mean by the Christianese they speak. (“How’s your walk?” – “Um, nice, it’s temperate outside so it’s umm…pleasant.”)

2) The Theological Militancy

The second attitude is what I would like to call theological militancy. This attitude enjoys employing the “h-word” a lot. (heresy) This attitude is typified in the general denunciation of everyone else – the theologically apathetic certainly, but in particular those with a different theological militancy. If the other group is not pre-mill, pre-trib; well, the obviously don’t know Jesus. Or, if the other group does not baptize babies, or does baptize babies, they are not worthy of the term church. Or if they do not share our eschatological chart, or soteriological chart to the letter, then obviously they are heretics, not Bible-believers and not Christian.

Getting Along?

Now, I don’t just share these observed attitudes of what everybody else does, but what I frequently do depending on the moment. Usually when around the theologically militant, I become apathetic: “Am I pre-millenial? No, I’m pan-millenial, it will all pan out.” Then around the theologically apathetic I turn militant: “You just want to talk about Jesus? What do you mean by Jesus? He’s a man, huh, why should I listen to him? He’s God? How does that work? Wait, stop using theological talk…”

The problem is not new. In teaching a mid-week class with my friend Jay Bennett, he posited a model for religion that had on one end emotion and on the other intellectual orthodoxy. Much of the history of the Church has been a swinging back and forth between those who see religion as an experiential reality, and those that see it as an affirmation of certain intellectual truths. Those on the emotional side err by sliding into emotionalism or enthusiasm and becoming feelings-oriented in our search for true religion. The other side errs in becoming a form of dead orthodox, an affirmation of certain truths without a sense of emotion or joy about it. True religion is both of the emotions, and of intellectual truths.
Yet, another factor comes into play. Both Dead Orthodoxy and Enthusiasm become Schismatic – The dead orthodox attack the enthusiasts and other dead orthodox that hold the wrong beliefs. The enthusiasts attack the cold doctrines of the other group or other enthusiasts who have the “wrong emotions” at the wrong times. What is missing is a sense of catholicity. What is missing is the knowledge that Christians must have an emotional reaction and certain doctrines they confess without anathematizing the other side as agents of Satan. This is especially true when we assume the role of the theologically militant. The theologically militant can have a lot of emotion with their doctrine, yet this is not displaying true religion as it is damaging when it is directed against fellow Christians that may truly just have a difference of opinion. True religion will be able to have a difference over non-essentials -still holding them with conviction- yet accepting the other person as a Christian and treating them with loving respect. Of course, that takes a lot of humilty - much more humilty than anyone can muster without help...

Sunday, April 20, 2008

C.S. Lewis to a Catholic

"The real reason I cannot be in communion with you is ... that to accept your Church means not to accept a given body of doctrine but to accept in advance any doctrine that your Church hereafter produces."

-C.S. Lewis

Monday, April 14, 2008

Peter, Paul and Street Preachers

I’ve had street preachers on the mind since Sunday. We talked a little about them in Sunday School. I am reminded about a little journal entry I wrote about witnessing a street preacher about a year ago. I thought I would share what I wrote then, now:

I experienced a new event in my Christian life the other day. I witnessed a street preacher. I have heard in the past of these preachers being effective in New York in lower class neighborhoods in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. But this I witnessed in Dallas Texas in a tourist neighborhood. A man stood on a chair and offered a dollar for the answer to a question of the most dangerous profession. We went into the restaurant and did not hear the answer, when we exited the man had a different message, still in the role of the man with the answers and authority. He was preaching hell. He described the torment and pronounced this as the end for those who sin in various ways. A group of 15-20 people were gathered around, same when we came out as when we went in. All his age, social group, and conservative dress. Later the group left and the same group came back as we walked around the shops, this time with a different speaker but the same (artificial) audience and message. One person walked through the middle of the group and received scorn at his sin, the man then flipped them off. Another woman stopped a few feet in front of the speaker and asked if he could just come down and talk to her. The man pleaded that “Jesus is calling you into relationship!” The woman just kept repeating “can you just come down and talk to me normal?” Then when the woman did not relent the preacher continued his condemnation of all those in earshot.

I’ve often wondered if a focus on avoiding hell is as orthodox as a focus on gaining Christ. At that moment if someone asked me, while standing there watching the street preacher if I was a Christian, I may have defined the term. As a man who’s never preached a sermon, I might offer quick condemnation. In fact, I wondered if the preacher would be able to recite the end or just the first part of 1 Peter 3:15 “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” but then that troubling ending: “yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

Questions entered my head: Is this street preacher what evangelicalism is supposed to be? Is fear of hell the only thing driving a person towards a “decision”? Is being a Christian even a matter of a decision?

I’ve been instructed to write a “sales pitch” for my class on Evangelism. Well, not a sales pitch as much as a 100-word description of my conversion to communicate to someone else. But when was I converted? Many take Paul as an example, with a road to Damascus experience. Light shines down and Jesus goes from hated to Lord.

But then I think of my “sinner’s prayer” at seven and subsequent baptism. The rediscovery of faith in high school through the writings of C.S. Lewis. The discovery of grace in college in Ephesians and Romans. Which one was my road to Damascus?

Here’s a harder question, when was Peter converted? What if I look back and see a calling out of my boat, a general disbelief at the words of Christ, a total misunderstanding of what it means to be a disciple, denial, restoration, further failure, disassociation with fellow Christians, disobedience and verbal orthodoxy? Which part of the story is the conversion part? What if I’m more like Peter than Paul?

What if God didn’t use a formula in my drawing out, do I need to put my experience into a formula? Well, if I want to get a good grade I do, even though I know there are more Peters than Pauls in Christendom. I know there are many sinners (yet saints) in Christ’s army. All this to say: sometimes I just want to go up to some evangelicals, standing on their chair, and ask them to come down and just talk to me.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Enemy Within

We search for the enemy out there in a certain group of people espousing certain evil deeds, or beliefs or idols. Yet, the whole time we rape and murder in our thoughts, we (as Derek Webb puts it) “have faith in the bank and money in our hearts,” and we worship approval or looking pious or knowledgeable. Perhaps the best way to combat evil deeds, wrong beliefs and idolatry is to confess our own evil deeds, wrong beliefs, and idolatry. Not as once I was like this one I wish to condemn, but as truly a confession of our own weakness. The sermon today at church ended with the pastor stating that God first judges His own people rather than a people out there His people don’t like. That “God saves sinners,” not the righteous, is the message for the church – to remind her that she is sinful. The last entry of Jim Elliot’s journal before he died reads as follows:

“I have been very low inside me struggling and casting myself hourly on Christ for help. Marriage is divorce from the privacy a man loves, but there is some privacy nothing can share. It is the knowledge of a sinful heart.”

Monday, April 07, 2008

Architecture and the Glory of God

According to this survey, having a "church that doesn't look like a church" is actually a hinderance to the unchurched. If your church looks like a medieval church, the unchurched are actually more likely to want to go to it. This survey actually angers me. The church growth experts came in and stripped our services of Christian liturgy and architecture and said just put the gospel in the sermon and that's all you need and people will like it. WRONG! The high ceilings that draw our eyes upward, the cross shaped buildings that remind us of our being in Christ, and the crosses and stain glass that communicate the gospel in picture - NEVER NEEDED TO GO. Now, by principle and pragmaticism, we have to relearn that the gospel can be told through art, liturgy, architecture and more than just a sermon, and that worship is more than "music." We must learn again how to incarnate the word, within the bounds of Scripture - avoiding idolotry, but subjecting all things to the reign of Christ.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008