Sunday, December 14, 2008
Our Mutual Joy
Please note my issue with this cover story is not the defense of homosexual marriage. I have said before I don’t presume to know the most loving, biblical (and political) answer to this complicated topic, but I will continue to ask God for grace and wisdom as our culture is faced with it. My issue here is with the irreverent and ridiculous use of the Bible to say what the Bible does not clearly say. If an article was written defending something using the Bible that I agreed with (for example, golf and IU basketball as spiritual disciplines) but which I know the Bible was never intended to defend, I would be equally heartbroken. Speaking politically for equal rights in the case of homosexual marriage is one thing; defending that political stance using the Bible in obvious error is quite another. The article is not saying defend gay marriage because it’s the right thing to do; it’s saying defend it because the Bible says so.
If you by chance agree with this article in Newsweek, my challenge to you would be to really read your Bible in its context, and pray through it as you read, and ask God to reveal whether His Word truly defends these thoughts, or whether this article is simply another example of the most important Word in the universe being taken out of context to seem to say whatever the reader wants it to. Getting the Bible right is very important. This blog exists for that very purpose, if nothing else. That some would be less serious about this is heartbreaking to me.
Here is some very thoughtful and refreshing response to this article:
Turning the Bible on its Head
Looking for a 'Serious' Conversation
More than 'Mutual Joy'
Hey Newsweek: It's the Journalism, Stupid
Seriously, a journalist should no more be giving the biblical interpretation of anything than a pastor should be writing a feature article on a politician or celebrity. But if the journalist has the opportunity, the least you would wish for is a balanced analysis. This effort has opened this particular journalist (and her publication) up to embarrassment and, to be frank, legitimate doubts about intellectual integrity. Believe it or not, the Bible is an important part of society and at the very least deserves disciplined and educated interpretation. This article is a mockery of that. Freedom of speech allows for such absurdity. Thankfully, it also allows for checks on this absurdity, and in this case, the integrity of the Bible, and the arguments of thoughtful people, is at stake.
The question of whether the bible is authoritative, inerrant, and true, is mostly a separate issue. This article is bad even if the Bible is only a helpful and respected guide, but not inerrant. Of course, I believe it is more than that, and here are some resources that defend that belief better than me:
The Erosion of Biblical Inerrancy
The Authority of Scripture
Can’t we speak and live what the Bible says, and as we approach complicated issues such as gay marriage, hold up the truth in His word, not compromise commands and institutions that Almighty God established for a specific purpose to glorify His name, and also love those who would disagree? This article is not most fundamentally a defense of equal rights. It is an example of the lackadaisical view of Scripture and prideful posture towards the most holy being in the universe that our culture tends to allow without much of a second thought.
My approach is still to love people and speak the truth. Compromising either will be catastrophic. Practicing both will seem complicated, but is not impossible, and God in his sovereignty will be faithful to his promises, and work it all together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, as revealed to us in the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, is precious not only because it is true, but also because it is helpful. Those who would suppress it still need to hear it, and still need to understand what it means, because it can be helpful for their lives. We don’t have to compromise culture to be relevant and faithful in our proclamation and demonstration of the Gospel. And we cannot compromise the Gospel merely to be acceptable in our culture.
Without the whole Bible, we have nothing to guide us even where to begin in this effort. With the whole Bible, we have everything we need for life and growth in godliness. If the Bible was one less chapter than it is, it would be hopelessly confusing and absolutely useless. But it is not. If you read it, you’ll see it makes a whole lot of sense and is full of soul-satisfying, people-loving, God-exalting truths. As Albert Mohler concluded in his article, “Newsweek could have offered its readers a careful and balanced review of the crucial issues related to this question. It chose another path -- and published this cover story. The magazine's readers and this controversial issue deserved better.” Indeed.
Oh, and then there's this:
Who throws a shoe? Honestly.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
I wish the beautiful and uninhibited corniness and excitement demonstrated by Buddy the Elf in this clip would translate to the way we feel about the Lord and Savior of the Universe. Because it is undoubtedly classic. It will never get old and I will never not laugh when I think about it. Any chance I get to post Will Farrell on this blog I will take it, and in this case, my intention is to exhort you to know Christ like Buddy knows Santa, and not be ashamed at all about it. He is real.
Speaking of that, if such a thing interests you, check out some interesting conversation on the web:
I was warned in an earlier post to watch what I say about Santa. And that I will certainly do. From no one else have I received such undeserved (yet ultimately temporary) joy in the form of ridiculous presents and toys that are simply awesome. No one else could deliver a fresh pair of '87 Air Jordan basketball shoes and a complete Thundercats figure set from the same toy shop. Simply amazing. But what I would like to relay and practice myself this year and beyond, is a view of Santa like that of C.S. Lewis in the classic The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: as Father Christmas sharing hope and love, and gifts, yet submissive to the ultimate ruler and authority, Christ, represented as Aslan in the story.
Santa does not have to be excluded, but Jesus should not be replaced. Truly, the example and legend of Santa makes a lot less sense without the truth and reality of Jesus Christ. It is not corny and stale to prefer and desire eternal life above toys. That we were created for Christ does not make toys themselves evil, but an all-consuming focus on toys (house, car, money) represents the evil that is in our heart and from which Jesus came to save us. Santa would not approve of this all-consuming focus, and the neglect of the ruler and authority he answers to. And in that case, Santa and Christ have spoken, and I'm taking a hint. If there is a better witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ than Santa Claus himself, I have yet to hear about it. Let's not miss the Gospel for the sake of the witness.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Death By Gift Certificate
The story this article references is not about politics, women’s health, equal rights or anything like that. Its not about birth control, which to include abortion in is barbaric. This is about ignorance and deception. The only reason this issue comes up so often on this blog is because it represents so well the fact that the simple and helpful truth of the Gospel seems to be neglected in our culture, when there is no good reason why it should be. Unless I’m missing something.
If pro-life is defined as supporting women and families before, during, and after decisions related to unwanted pregnancies, caring for them, helping them, providing resources for them, praying for them, and counseling them on the best, most ethically and emotionally healthy choice to make, all the while not ever compromising the sanctity of the unborn human life in their womb; who could disagree with this stance?
If pro-choice is represented as protecting a women’s right, by all means necessary, with a reckless disregard for the emotional health of the women making the difficult decision and for the defenseless unborn human in the womb, so much so that gift certificates are offered to further encourage an act that most claim they want to decrease; how can any morally responsible person align with this stance?
You can defend the right of a woman to choose and the life of an unborn baby at the same time. You can forgive, love, and support those who have had an abortion, and not compromise a belief and passion to protect the unborn at the same time. Why is that so complicated to understand? Offering gift certificates to encourage abortions is both ignorant, in that it ignores the real cost of the “service”, and deceptive, in that it further simplifies and justifies an act that will, without a doubt, lead to emotional turmoil and physical death. It is also ironic in that it reveals the true motives of organizations like Planned Parenthood; not caring for women but promoting their business and making money. This development absolutely blows my mind.
If the Gospel is presented as the truth that the God of the universe humbled himself and came to earth to show us a picture and example of his nature, healing the sick and lame, and eating with and offering hope to the sinful and ashamed, never committing a sin, making specific demands of us that are for our own good, going to a cross to die and absorb the punishment that we justly deserve, and rising from the dead to conquer once and for all sin and death and give us the immeasurable gift of eternal life in his presence, and leaving behind for us his Holy Spirit, to serve as a counselor and deposit and glimpse of holiness and the life to come, where there will be no more sickness or crying or deception or pain, where he will custom-make for us a new creation for our enjoyment and his Glory; how could and why would anyone suppress that truth?
I’ll go ahead and not suppress it and instead believe it and live it, and meanwhile continue to go with gift cards to Amazon, iTunes, and Lowe’s. Makes much more sense. Its Christmas!
Monday, December 1, 2008
WORLD AIDS DAY
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Don't Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus is Not Enough
Here is the product description on Amazon:
Evangelicals who reject the narrow fundamentalism of previous generations are in danger of over-correction. Don’t Stop Believing is an urgent call for both right practice and right belief. Our concern for social issues must not diminish the core doctrines of our faith. We must not stop believing.
And the last line on the back cover:
Genuine Christians never stop serving because they never stop loving, and they never stop loving because they never stop believing.
I have not read this book, so I can't necessarily defend it or wholeheartedly recommend it. But I'm encouraged that I'm not alone in thinking this way, and challenged not to over-correct myself, in either direction. The book tries to speak into the postmodern culture, specifically within the Church, and into such perspectives as those within the Emergent movement, (which is also carefully challenged in the book Why We're Not Emergent, if you need extra reading over the holidays) The chapters in Don't Stop Believing are based on 10 key questions often asked in our culture:
- Must you believe something to be saved?
- Do right beliefs get in the way of good works?
- Are people generally good or basically bad?
- Which is worse: homosexuals or the bigots who persecute them?
- Is the cross divine child abuse?
- Can you belong before you believe?
- Does the kingdom of God include non-Christians?
- Is hell for real and forever?
- Is it possible to know anything?
- Is the Bible God's true word?
I'll try to post further once I devour this book. It might be after Christmas though because I'm trying to have a spending freeze on non essentials. The problem is that "non essentials" is subjective and the economy is in bad shape and needs my money, right? So I'm torn between economic consideration and biblical frugality. I'm torn between Donatos' Pizza again or homecookin'. I'm torn between generosity towards my family and friends for Christmas or generosity towards the weak and hurting. Between time in bible study or time at a soup kitchen. Between a new book for me or a bible for someone who doesn't know Jesus. Between believing the Bible or living the Bible. Between being gracious or being truthful.
How about both? Brilliant!
Sunday, November 16, 2008
The best gift I ever gave for Christmas was a "Shrek" Donkey Chia Pet. The recipient may or may not have taken the gift back to Chicago with her. The best gift I ever received was a singing, dancing, talking hamster (no link available), which I still have in my bedroom closet to provide what the alarm clock and the shower can't completely accomplish in the form of a morning wake-up. I love Christmas, mostly because I don't take the presents seriously and it turns into utter chaos. Ok, I take some of the presents seriously. I still make a list.
Let's be honest, you're already thinking about Christmas, and you probably feel real guilty and annoyed about that. You don't want to think about it, but the stupid department stores are forcing you into it. The weather is getting cold. The college football season is winding down (or gearing up, if you're a fan). You will NOT hang Christmas lights until after Thanksgiving, but some of your neighbors are talking about it. The biggest shopping day of the year is approaching, and you want to be ready. The economy is in the toilet, so this year especially, you're looking at your bank statement and wondering how its all going to work. The Christmas bonus is looking questionable. You might have to kidnap your boss Cousin Eddie style.
But you're still thinking about it. Perhaps the holiday season is difficult for you because of pain or loss that once accompanied it. Perhaps you're thinking about it, but in reality dreading it and wishing you were as excited as when you were a kid. Perhaps you wish that Santa Claus could bring you that gift that would make everything seem right again. No worries, nothing but the anticipation of an authentic G.I. Joe figure in your stocking.
In whatever case, allow me to remind you of what I was so thankfully reminded of this year. The season of Advent is a conspiracy. It celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, born through the womb of a virgin, and into a small rural, hick town in a land far away from America. It represents the beginning of the ministry and the event that would become, and now remains, the center of history. God in the flesh came and lived a perfect life in the Person of Jesus Christ, and came to us, as sinners, and tax collectors, and prostitutes, to show us the image and character of the invisible God, and came to die on a cross, so that we could be reconciled with our Father in heaven and live forever with him and with all his children in perfect community.
And he came and did this, and accomplished this, as a baby. He was covertly hidden and transported away from his home as an infant to escape those who desired to kill him. And as the nation of Israel was waiting for a Messiah in the form of a triumphant king and ruler, the true Messiah prophesied about in the centuries before was growing up among them as a carpenter. As impurity and hate and war and evil swirled around everywhere in the world, and people longed and prayed for a deliverer, Jesus was building a chair for his mother and growing up in obscurity in a small town waiting for the perfect timing of the Father's will.
Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the One who came and shattered the chains of the kingdoms of this world, and introduced the Kingdom of God, overcoming evil and sin and purchasing for us justification and acceptance with the God of the universe. And he came as a baby. And he is now exalted at the right hand of the Father. His kingdom will have no end. Let's honor that this year, not as much with presents, but with presence, to those who he would have loved, cared for, and spent time with. Those in our city who may not be as excited as we are for the upcoming season, and to whom the $450 billion spent per year on Christmas seems hypocritical and appalling. And let's do it proclaiming that Santa Claus is not supreme. Christ is.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
I realized that if I neglect any of these areas, I will without doubt spiritually self-destruct. If you’ve been reading this blog long, you probably could guess that a faith of the head comes easy for me, and is where I default. A faith of the heart has been a natural result of my greater depth in the knowledge of God. Faith of the hands has always and continues to be my Achilles heel, and because of that I am at risk of self-destruction.
As I’ve started engaging the culture with the Gospel and encountered its complexity, specifically this year with politics, this weakness has become relevant because it would be very easy for me to hide behind well structured sentences, ideas, and arguments. I don’t regret any of these sentences, ideas, or arguments, but I don’t want the possibility to exist that such words are not backed up with actions. So I come to what is, unfortunately, a great hypocrisy and tragedy within the Evangelical Church in our generation (it’s not just me). As Ronald Sider asks in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, why are Christians living just like the rest of the world? I, in shame, can not answer that question effectively either for myself, or many like me.
Grace and Truth
Well, thanks be to God that answer is forming. I acknowledge the temptation and tendency to default towards proclamation and understanding, while neglecting demonstration, of the Gospel. And so I resolve to avoid that neglect and, as Pastor Greg Boyd says, by my life create the question that only the reality of Jesus Christ can answer. But I also acknowledge that without the effective, accurate, and faithful proclamation and understanding of the Gospel, my faith will self-destruct, my answer to the question from the world will be insufficient, and the reality of Jesus Christ will not be complete. In other words, I acknowledge that I must speak and live with a Christ-like balance of grace and truth, and I cannot sacrifice truth for the sake of grace, or vice versa. If I do, or if we do, it will all be for nothing, and all the encouragement, love, kindness, and grace in the world will not compensate for the reality of hell and the wrath of God; and all the brilliant and polished preaching in the world will not compensate for the damage done by hypocritical lifestyles and not loving our neighbor. Grace and truth are necessary. Jesus did not come as truly God and live a life of sin, nor did he come and live a sinless life as anything less than truly God.
This is all amazingly relevant and applicable, in my opinion, to political engagement by Christians. In other words, I tremble at the risk that Christians, so convicted by and ashamed of their hypocritical and inconsistent lifestyles (which I acknowledge), would silence their voices altogether, reduce their involvement either in public service or boldly advocating for issues that few others may defend, or neglect the truth of their convictions for the sake of grace and love. We have to do both; maintain the one and build on the other.
What I mean by Truth
What I mean by truth is that God is Sovereign and the Bible is authoritative, and Jesus Christ is supreme and no other name under heaven leads to salvation. God is holy, we are sinful, the Bible is preeminent, and the Cross in central. All this has overwhelming implications on our lives and the way we interact and love others. It means that we cannot compromise the truth that God created us in His image and knit us individually together in our mother’s womb. To mess with that is fundamentally unacceptable. It means that the sacred institution that God himself established to be, above all else, a representation of His relationship to the Church and the foundation of society, cannot be redefined. It means that we are obligated to care for the poor and not overlook those who are hungry or in need, and if we become wealthy by oppressing the poor, or fail to give to those in need, we are in very bad trouble. If we lose these things, we lose the Sovereignty and holiness of God, and we lose the authority and preeminence of the Bible, and we lose the centrality of Calvary. That is everything!
Now, surely you are saying, it is more complicated than that. You say, we don’t have to lose all these things, but we also don’t have to force our beliefs on others, or speak so publicly about them especially in the political sphere, or expect a secular culture and government to adopt our theology and value structure. But what I am saying is what a tragic pendulum swing it would be if Christians went from boldly proclaiming and defending the implications of the Gospel (albeit living in a way that is often inconsistent to this proclamation), to demonstrating with love and consistency the grace and mercy of God, without mentioning or defending the reality and implications of the Gospel which such actions are based on and receive their power from. Not enough grace should not be replaced by not enough truth. Christians should practice good theology and good works, and not abandon either for the sake of the other.
Greg Boyd in his sermon series, The Cross and the Sword, identifies five disastrous consequences when we mix the kingdom of this world with the Kingdom of God, or more specifically, when the Church involves itself in issues of political concern:
1. Our witness to Christ is compromised
2. We lose our missionary focus
3. We trust power-over instead of power-under
4. We allow the kingdom of the world to set the agenda
5. The Church sees itself as the guardian of social morality
You can listen yourself to hear at length what I could not easily summarize here, but what I hear Greg Boyd saying is that all we as Christians should do, living with a Kingdom of God mandate, is see the need, meet the need, and proclaim that the Kingdom of God is at hand; anything more he says, will be disastrous. What does the Kingdom of God at hand mean and what does it include? Living and loving like Jesus, he would say. Does loving like Jesus mean ignoring obvious injustices that could be reversed through gracious, truthful political engagement? William Wilberforce didn’t think so. He spoke up inside his culture and political structure and eventually brought about the end to the obvious injustice of slavery.
I think it is inaccurate and dangerous to ignore the fact that God uses the Church to bring about positive social change that glorifies him and honors his demands (See: When God Disturbs the Peace). Just as those demands did not tolerate, and through His Spirit working in His people brought about the end to, slavery; so it will not tolerate the destruction of His image bearers in the womb and will, I believe, in His sovereignty bring such horrors to an end also. May it be through the Church, and may we not abandon our role in such a God-glorifying, people-loving, culture-transforming, Kingdom-building development.
When discussing the Church’s embarrassing examples of attempting to guard morality, Boyd is rightfully appalled at the lack of criteria the Church uses to decide on moral issues to guard. Why is there so much fuss about nudity on television and so little concern at all about sexual trafficking in Cambodia? Why are there so many rallying outside a courtroom protesting gay marriage and so few outside a homeless shelter protesting or combating homelessness? In his frustration at why Christians choose the wrong issues to guard, and in turn paint the picture of hypocrisy to the outside world (which is true), he seems to imply that Christians should not be concerned about either. Why can’t we be concerned about both? I would ask why are some so passionate about racial reconciliation in our world but so unconcerned about the lives of unborn babies (many of which are black) that are taken every day? Why can’t we be concerned about both?
Without the proper balance of truth, the Church would become just a well-meaning and loving charity organization with no ultimate foundation and no eternal impact that accepts that some innocent babies will be killed, and some fundamental institutions will be redefined, and no ultimate and complete answer is available to hurting people who look at our love and ask, “Who is this Jesus”? The answer will never only be that He is a good man who came to this earth to show us the way to live and treat people, who spoke one version of truth that you can take the parts you like and discard the parts you don’t. A much better, more loving, more encouraging, and more helpful answer is that He came to do all those things and love people in the way he did, and he did all this as truly God with all the authority under heaven and only in His sovereign and gracious and glorious name will anyone be saved. The pendulum needs to be balanced.
What I mean by Grace
So let me say that what I mean by grace is that we all are sinners and we must first remove the tree trunk in our eye before we will have any ability or effectiveness helping others with the speck in theirs. It is fundamentally and eternally true that the world will know us by our love. And not the kind of love that is articulated in Hallmark cards, but the kind of selfless, sacrificial, Calvary-type love that demonstrates Christ through the surrender of time, resources, energy, and even life, if necessary. What I mean by grace is the Philippians 2 kind: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
What I mean by grace is that social change is more possible through soul change, and we should by our witness love people into relationships with Christ before lobbying for some political party that will not exist in the fullness of time. But not all political involvement destroys the Church or is inconsistent with the life and demands of Jesus. Ronald Sider says it this way: “Unless we embrace the biblical truth that sin is personal and social, we will never understand either the full set of causes or a comprehensive set of solutions to racism and economic injustice – or, for that matter, the destruction of the family and the loss of respect for the sanctity of human life. Because of the way God made us, we change society both one person at a time and through changing unjust systems. A biblical perspective demands both personal conversions and structural change.”
Some think that the “religious right” is in turmoil and utter fear after the election of Barack Obama. I’m not as concerned about the religious right political agenda as I am Jesus Christ’s Kingdom of God agenda, but I don’t believe the political agenda is altogether damaging to the Kingdom agenda, as long as we are careful and have a Christ-like balance of grace and truth. Again, William Wilberforce is a striking example here. Sider gives additional perspective: “Wilberforce and the evangelical abolitionists did not argue that the only way to end slavery was to convert all the slave owners. They worked for new laws that would change the structures by making slaveholding illegal.” And in the process, God changed the hearts of many slave owners, not to mention slaves and activists!
I was greatly impacted and convicted by The Cross and the Sword series because I, like many, so quickly preach and talk and much more slowly love and listen and help people who are in need. The stories of missionaries and servants and social workers and Mother Teresa-types are so few but so glorious. People who so selflessly love and care for hurting people that those people (unprompted) ask the question that only the reality of Jesus Christ can answer, and then through the Gospel those servants answer the question to the salvation of God’s people. It is healthy for me to hear that the enemy is not the liberal or the atheist, but the enemy is the principalities and powers of this present darkness who would have me hate the liberal and atheist instead of love them.
Grace and Truth in the Sanctity of Life
Boyd gives the example of Dorothy, who demonstrates more than proclaims the concept of being pro-life by her love and sacrifice for women who find themselves in crisis pregnancy situations. An example of loving and honoring and respecting women so much that even in the worst of situations, the opportunity is made available to make abortion an unwanted and unneeded option. His example of Dorothy indicates what all in the pro-life movement need more of: defense and love of the mother as much as that of the unborn baby. But then at the end of his description of the example of Dorothy, he indicates that she still considers herself pro-choice. Why can’t the perfect example be of someone who loves and lives like this, but also proclaims and defends the truth that abortion has no place in the Kingdom of God? We need to do both! Wouldn’t Jesus Christ do both?!
So if we’re going to be like Dorothy and love women at every level, helping them and pleading with them to avoid the option of abortion, but still philosophically be pro-choice, shame on us. We are sacrificing truth for the sake of grace. But of course, if we are going to be pro-life and not be at all like Dorothy in our love and support and defense of women in addition to unborn babies, shame on us. We are sacrificing grace for the sake of truth. Jesus Christ did not come to us that way and I do not believe he desires us to go out into the world that way.
You might say, wait a minute: you are making the political pro-life stance to be synonymous with truth. What I am actually doing is presenting the concept of pro-life to be a more true application of the Gospel and grace and truth of Jesus Christ. I feel confident saying this because to be pro-life (by my definition) does not mean to be anti-choice, and so it leaves open the option of not only defending unborn babies but also loving women and counseling them towards the most loving and Christ-like choice. Being pro-choice does not necessarily mean anti-life, but does leave open too much of a possibility for abortion and death to be a result. Perhaps you could refer to what I define as pro-life as pro-choice, and that would be fine. I don’t care about semantics. Just as long as we are both loving the women and defending the unborn in all circumstances, and not just loving the women and potentially sacrificing the unborn if that seems like the only option. We should never allow it be the only option. The only exception I personally can accept is when the life of the mother is at stake, and as the commentary in the ESV Study Bible says, “Here it is necessary to recognize that removing the unborn child is done with the direct intention of saving the life of the mother, and not with the direct intention of taking the child’s life (which, if the medical technology exists, should also be preserved).”
Grace and Truth in Marriage
As far as the marriage debate, I plead ignorance to both marriage and homosexuality, so I would be hard pressed to muster an educated comment on what the political and legislative priorities should be on such a delicate issue, but one that the God of the Universe is not silent about. What I will say is that it seems that the question of equal rights is small potatoes compared to the spiritual and social implications of allowing marriage to be redefined. In other words, allow tax benefits and hospital visits (because those who consider themselves homosexual obviously are equal as people) without redefining a sacred institution meant to show us the most mysterious and glorious relationship in the world, and meant to serve as the foundation of the family, which is the foundation of society. Either way, the Church should love unconditionally, and proclaim what is important to God unconditionally, and how that is worked out politically, I don’t presume to know. But I absolutely do care, and so should the Church.
God is Still Sovereign
The effectiveness of the Gospel depends so much on grace and truth. If we are not gracious, our truth will be altogether unattractive, and if we are not truthful, our grace will lead to nothing in which to believe and have no power in which to save. The Gospel of the Kingdom, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, whatever you want to call it, will be lost without the appropriate amount of both.
God willing, I will also be able in future posts to mobilize Christians in our generation to be equally passionate about other injustices that are just as horrible and just as inconsistent with the grace and truth and person of Jesus Christ as abortion; like poverty and racism and sexual trafficking. And may our focus, on our knees, be to approach these things with just as much grace as we do truth.
Ronald Sider also asks in a more recent book (called The Scandal of Evangelical Politics, which probably does a much better job than me making the point of this post), why are Christians missing the opportunity to change the world? He argues that the evangelical community’s approach to a comprehensive political philosophy has been inconsistent and confusing, but that is no reason to not form a better one. For example, regarding the sanctity of life, we focus only on abortion, “as if life begins at conception and ends at birth”, and we ignore other problems like starving children and adults who are killed each year due to tobacco smoke. If we focus on only some of these things, our passion for the “sanctity of life” is confusing and ineffective. If we focus on all of these things, God through us could change the world. Let’s not miss that opportunity.
And at the end of the day, our hope for these things is ultimately in God, not in any government or any culture. But we should not assume the role of the Church in governmental structures or cultural realities is altogether ineffective or damaging or outside of the Sovereignty of God. The Church can stay separate from the state and still be engaged and effective. History has some promising, yet rare, examples of social change working within God’s Sovereignty that we should look to for inspiration, and we should trust God to work through us in these ways again.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Today I woke up to an interesting feeling. Physically, I was below par still struggling with a sore throat and fever. I accidentally took Nyquil instead of Dayquil to start my day, which is not funny, despite the fact that you are laughing right now. But that is neither here nor there. Emotionally, I was a bit confused; in between excited, like so many in the country, and heartbroken, at what the election of Barack Obama might mean for the issues I care deeply about, especially defenseless unborn babies whose voices were further silenced yesterday. I was also confused wondering how I really even would have responded if McCain had won. Probably, I would have had a harder time demonstrating humility and reinforcing the importance of talking about Jesus instead of how I was right. Spiritually, I was broken and desperate for the sovereignty and never-ending mercy of God to overwhelm and sustain me, for yet another undeserved day of life.
After indulging in the political mess for several months, in a way and with words that I do not regret, I now have a fresh resolve to know and talk more about the Bible and Jesus Christ and less about everything else. God is as holy, we are as sinful, the Bible is as preeminent, and the Cross is as central, and shocking, and appalling, and glorious, as it was before this Presidential election. And it will remain so after, perhaps, several more. I resolve to more faithfully and ruthlessly read and study the Bible, and speak the name of Jesus Christ in a way that is true and relevant to our culture, our generation, and our time. I resolve to more courageously and selflessly engage the culture and participate in the work of God, through service (even that inspired by the President-elect) in the strength that God provides, so that reconciliation can be realized racially, culturally, and spiritually, and justice can roll on like a river, all in the name that is above all names, that at the name of Jesus Christ every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father and to the lasting joy of those who put their trust in Him. And all the while I resolve to do this not compromising or giving up the absolute truths that I know to be true. (Please read this excellent challenge on the implications and necessities of being pro-life with an Obama Administration: Pro-Life Advocacy in the Obama Era. Please read it no matter your stance on the issue).
And then these words by Dr. Albert Mohler are a perfect way to further motivate in this effort:
"The election of Sen. Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States came as a bang, not a whimper. The tremors had been perceptible for days, maybe even weeks. On Tuesday, America experienced nothing less than a political and cultural earthquake.
The margin of victory for the Democratic ticket was clear. Americans voted in record numbers and with tangible enthusiasm. By the end of the day, it was clear that Barack Obama would be elected with a majority of the popular vote and a near landslide in the Electoral College. When President-Elect Obama greeted the throngs of his supporters in Chicago's Grant Park, he basked in the glory of electoral energy.
For others, the night was magical and momentous. Young and old cried tears of amazement and victory as America elected its first African-American President -- and elected him overwhelmingly. Just forty years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, an African-American stood to claim victory as President-Elect of the nation. As Sen. Obama assured the crowd in Chicago and the watching nation, "We will get there. We will get there." No one hearing those words could fail to hear the refrain of plaintive words spoken in Memphis four decades ago. President-Elect Obama would stand upon the mountaintop that Dr. King had foreseen.
That victory is a hallmark moment in history for all Americans -- not just for those who voted for Sen. Obama. As a nation, we will never think of ourselves the same way again. Americans rich and poor, black and white, old and young, will look to an African-American man and know him as President of the United States. The President. The only President. The elected President. Our President.
Every American should be moved by the sight of young African-Americans who -- for the first time -- now believe that they have a purchase in American democracy. Old men and old women, grandsons and granddaughters of slaves and slaveholders, will look to an African-American as President.
Regardless of politics, could anyone remain unmoved by the sight of Jesse Jackson crying alone amidst the crowd in Chicago? This dimension of Election Day transcends politics and touches the heart of the American people.
Yet, the issues and the politics remain. Given the scale of the Democratic victory, the political landscape will be completely reshaped. The fight for the dignity and sanctity of unborn human beings has been set back by a great loss, and by the election of a President who has announced his intention to sign the Freedom of Choice Act into law. The struggle to protect marriage against its destruction by redefinition is now complicated by the election of a President who has declared his aim to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. On issue after issue, we face a longer, harder, and more protracted struggle than ever before.
Still, we must press on as advocates for the unborn, for the elderly, for the infirm, and for the vulnerable. We must redouble our efforts to defend marriage and the integrity of the family. We must be vigilant to protect religious liberty and the freedom of the pulpit. We face awesome battles ahead.
At the same time, we must be honest and recognize that the political maps are being redrawn before our eyes. Will the Republican Party decide that conservative Christians are just too troublesome for the party and see the pro-life movement as a liability? There is the real danger that the Republicans, stung by this defeat, will adopt a libertarian approach to divisive moral issues and show conservative Christians the door.
Others will declare these struggles over, arguing that the election of Sen. Obama means that Americans in general -- and many younger Evangelicals in particular -- are ready to "move on" to other issues. This is no time for surrender or the abandonment of our core principles. We face a much harder struggle ahead, but we have no right to abandon the struggle.
We should look for opportunities to work with the new President and his administration where we can. We must hope that he will lead and govern as the bridge-builder he claimed to be in his campaign. We must confront and oppose the Obama administration where conscience demands, but work together where conscience allows.
Evangelical Christians face another challenge with the election of Sen. Obama, and a failure to rise to this challenge will bring disrepute upon the Gospel, as well as upon ourselves. There must be absolutely no denial of the legitimacy of President-Elect Obama's election and no failure to accord this new President the respect and honor due to anyone elected to that high office. Failure in this responsibility is disobedience to a clear biblical command.
Beyond this, we must commit ourselves to pray for this new President, for his wife and family, for his administration, and for the nation. We are commanded to pray for rulers, and this new President faces challenges that are not only daunting but potentially disastrous. May God grant him wisdom. He and his family will face new challenges and the pressures of this office. May God protect them, give them joy in their family life, and hold them close together.
We must pray that God will protect this nation even as the new President settles into his role as Commander in Chief, and that God will grant peace as he leads the nation through times of trial and international conflict and tension.
We must pray that God would change President-Elect Obama's mind and heart on issues of our crucial concern. May God change his heart and open his eyes to see abortion as the murder of the innocent unborn, to see marriage as an institution to be defended, and to see a host of issues in a new light. We must pray this from this day until the day he leaves office. God is sovereign, after all.
Without doubt, we face hard days ahead. Realistically, we must expect to be frustrated and disappointed. We may find ourselves to be defeated and discouraged. We must keep ever in mind that it is God who raises up nations and pulls them down, and who judges both nations and rulers. We must not act or think as unbelievers, or as those who do not trust God.
America has chosen a President. President-Elect Barack Obama is that choice, and he faces a breathtaking array of challenges and choices in days ahead. This is the time for Christians to begin praying in earnest for our new President. There is no time to lose."
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Let me say by way of disclaimer that I didn’t want to get this political this season on this blog. My intention is to present the simple truth of the Gospel to our complex culture, and I’ve justified these types of posts saying that politics is a clear contributor to this complexity. But please know that the main reason I am being so outspoken about this election is that I have legitimate concerns with what I see the political campaigns, specifically of Barack Obama, saying about, and doing to, our culture. So what I am doing here is confessing that I have concerns that are out of my control that I’m giving to the Lord through my expression and trusting Him to do what He will for the ultimate good of all those who love Him. If you disagree, please don't get mad at me, but just understand my agony, which is for your good, and know that I am no perfect man. I hope that not only the act of my expressing such concerns in this way, but also the nature of the concerns itself, will capture your attention and cause you to take them seriously if for nothing else than to understand better the intricate balance between Christ and culture; and when in doubt never compromise Christ. I was humbled to read John Piper’s article Let Christians Vote as Though They Were Not Voting. That’s really what I want to do.
Because at the end of the day, through all the elections, economics, politics, wars, and disasters, my trust, my hope, and my salvation is not found in any president or any government. It is in the God of the Universe and only by the grace, and only because of the Cross, of Jesus Christ. God is Sovereign and his glory will not be mocked and his plans will not be thwarted. His Son Jesus Christ has the supremacy and will reign forever. That is good news. May our elections and our country and our government glorify Him in all we do, and honor the original foundation of our nation, which was in God, not in government.
So, with that said, here are my (hopefully humble and as informed as possible) Top 10 Reasons I’m Voting for John McCain:
10. My name is Joe.
Yes, at some level politicians, legislators, and even Presidents, need to fight to reverse some of the imperfect social structures that inherently lead to injustices, racism, and poverty; this is obvious. We will still fight for that. But a man who talks more about the middle class (who are able to vote) than he does those who are far worse off (who aren’t), and who doesn’t seem all that concerned about the justice of the most defenseless members of our society, is not the answer. I don’t believe it is God’s will for government to get us individually off the hook caring for the poor and loving our neighbor, and in my opinion Obama's message is less about encouraging people to be generous and more about supporting him to make it all better.
One concrete example of a ministry that would flourish with more generosity but could be crippled if the taxes of potential donors are raised is Rebuilding the Wall. This is their vision: 1) Stabilize and empower low-income families by renovating vacant inner city properties and giving the families the opportunity for homeownership. 2) Combat social injustice by building relationships across racial and socio-economic barriers. 3) Stabilize community by the recycling of assets within the neighborhood. This ministry would flourish more from (and be more fruitful for the community with) the generosity and volunteer time of Americans than it would from government funding and federal programs.
5. Tina Fey will make a heckuva Vice President.
4. National Security. John McCain is a seasoned and experienced leader when it comes to foreign affairs. Say what you will about Iraq, but Iraq will not be the dominate foreign policy of the next administration, whether we stay or not. We need a leader who does not haphazardly suggest meetings with our enemies and potential nuclear threats without much of a plan (Iran), or mildly react to the aggression of one of the next biggest nations in the world (Russia). We need a leader who has looked point blank at his enemies and without wavering, putting the interests of the country first, said “Do your worst”. (Count of Monte Cristo fans, anybody?) We need a President who doesn’t need to be tested in his first months in office, but who is ready for challenge on day one from a career and a lifetime of testing.
Allow me to mention two things to those who are prioritizing the economy over foreign policy in this election: First, it is more important to prevent terrorist attacks than recessions. Actually, recessions are quite normal in a system like ours. Second, governments are much less able to control the nature of the economy (unless we scrap the capitalism idea) than they are our national security, even with more regulation. Keep in mind that the present economic crisis should be partly irrelevant to the election, since neither John McCain nor Barack Obama is to blame for the problem, and neither will be able to entirely implement a solution (the crisis did not come only from bad policy, and had nothing to do with taxes). For them it is more about damage control. To prioritize economic policy over national security in a Presidential election is mind-boggling to me when you consider the world we live in and the dangers we face.
Yes, a strong economy contributes significantly to national security. Yes, the current economic crisis is not normal in a system like ours. Yes, economic policies of government do matter, and some regulation is necessary, and it should be an important priority in this election. Yes, struggling Americans should not lose their savings at the hands of greedy millionaires. But all this does not lessen the importance of competent foreign policy in our time or reduce the present danger in our world. If anything, it increases both.
3. His stand-up routine at the Alfred Smith Charity Dinner was priceless. Obama’s was good too, but not good enough for me to vote for him.
1. John McCain is running for President, but Barack Obama seems to be running for more than that. I won’t go as far as to defend the "messiah complex", but as a Christian I have to be concerned about the implications or motives of some of the promises he makes. Even if he unequivocally becomes the best and most popular President in the history of the United States, he will ultimately disappoint those who put their hope in him. And if it weren’t for his promises, his candidacy would be seriously lacking. Leading the most powerful and prosperous country in the free world is not all about promises and change, even if the American people deserve promises and the country is desperate for change. It is about possessing the character, experience, judgment, and integrity necessary to lead a complicated country in a complicated time and to face mostly unpredictable challenges. Voting based on promises will inevitably open up the likely possibility of disappointment (not to mention if those promises are either fundamentally counterproductive or morally questionable – but that was covered in the other reasons). Voting based on virtue makes much more sense.
Everything Obama’s campaign promises about hope and change, about caring for the people who need help, about restoring prosperity and freedom and security and justice to this country and this world, is only completely fulfilled in the Person of Jesus Christ. Hope in anyone else and promises from anyone else will ultimately lead to personal and global devastation. Does God want the main focus of struggling middle-class Americans to be on the American dream? Maybe, but I would rather have a qualified leader as President and then by our proclamation and demonstration of the Gospel, help all Americans main focus be Jesus Christ. Hope in government will lead to dependence on government; hope in Christ will lead to dependence on Christ. We should look to Jesus for hope, and to a President for leadership. We are not voting for a Savior. We are voting for a President. Barack Obama confuses the difference and by his presentation distracts non-Christians from the true Savior they should be seeking. I cannot support that. John McCain is clear, and his lifetime of selfless service, and his experience and courage, more than his promises, confirm to me that he is the better selection.
As a Christian, I rejoice at the excitement for social justice, racial reconciliation, and inspirational leadership that Obama generates. My overall point is that I think his effectiveness in these areas will be marginal compared to his promises (not only because he is lacking in qualifications, but also because his role in these things in the first place shouldn’t be preeminent), and in the meantime, he compromises issues that I (as a Christian) consider non-negotiable, and he shows inexperience and naïveté towards issues that may be negotiable, but deserve more experience. So in the end, my one or two reasons to vote for him do not hold up at all to the 10 (listed here) to vote for John McCain.
There, I said it. I feel better. After the election, no matter the result, I am excited and hopeful to see how God desires to use me and this blog to continue to proclaim simple truth to a complex culture. I hope you’ll vote with me on November 4 (though you don’t have to tell who it will be for), and then entrust the result, and our concerns, into Almighty God’s sovereign and all-sufficient care. He will never leave or forsake us.
Political Cartoons found on Today's Best Cartoons.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. - Colossians 1:15-17
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Well, I’m not a plumber and I don’t have a six-pack (or drink a six pack with any frequency), but my name is certainly Joe, I live in this country, I cut foam, and I don’t want Obama to raise taxes – partly because I’m out of shape and need to work on my six-pack (how does that affect taxes?) but mostly because I don’t think it makes good economic sense and would hurt my company’s ability to cut foam and employ others to help in that effort. Can I get some time with Obama? Maybe I’ll become a national celebrity. Maybe, I’ll even be that guy who single handedly gets the responsibility of deciding the election. What? That was just a movie? Oh.
In any case, let’s get serious for a second about this election. Is it over yet? Holy heavens. I am getting extremely anxious, and though I know God is sovereign and this world and its governmental structures are passing away, I can’t help but at least expose what I see as serious concerns. Feel free to pass any of this along – I’m not sure if I’m preaching to the choir sometimes. Mostly, I hope to reach the creators and supporters of things like this: Pro-Life Pro-Obama. This cause sounds good, but I’m not buying it.
Let’s make something perfectly clear: neither Barack Obama nor John McCain is Jesus Christ. Neither deserves our worship and neither is our Lord and Savior. That should be all I need to say. But, both deserve our respect, and both can handle our criticism. That is the beauty of this country that God has blessed us to live in, and that God calls us to steward. With that said, it shouldn’t surprise you that my concern lies not in a potential president that has yet to be washed by the blood of Jesus, though that is a concern with all people, but in a potential president that is morally questionable. You may say it is an exaggeration to identify Barack Obama that way. My entire point is that its not.
Politically, I do disagree with his tax philosophy, and the logic of Joe the Plumber’s argument is undeniable. If you raise taxes on small business owners who make more than $250,000 (or anybody who makes more than that), you will reduce the opportunity for middle class workers to have a job that may even provide health care, and hurt the very people you are trying to help; not to mention further an economic recession due to less discretionary spending. If you increase taxes for people who make more than $250K, you will also decrease the incentive to make that much, which is not exactly the attitude to have if you support the "American dream", and is not at all good for the economy at any level. Spreading the wealth is a form of socialism, no matter how you spin it. And there is a difference between the middle class and the poor - Obama doesn't make that very clear when he argues for those who need help. He is rallying a generation that is passionate about social justice and is desperate to see the end of poverty without doing much to convince anyone that he understands the real victims of injustice or will do anything to reduce poverty, or the things that lead to it. Instead he just speaks about helping a middle class that could work at my company and receive good health care if we had a job to give. For more on this check out my comments on Wake Up Nap Town (previous post).
I also disagree with his approach to foreign policy. I think he is naïve and inexperienced and his gut reactions to negotiations with Iran and in the immediate aftermath of the Russian aggression in Georgia were terrifying. I think he would withdraw from Iraq prematurely risking not only morale defeat among Americans but also tactical victory for our enemies. While I don’t necessarily believe that John McCain can balance the budget as he claims, it is definitely concerning that Barack Obama won’t even attempt to and will increase spending for things that the government shouldn’t need to do. I seriously question Obama’s association with people such as Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers, not because it makes any difference politically, but because it reveals very suspect character judgment.
But even all of that is not a deal breaker to me. In other words, I would vote the way I’m going to vote, and wouldn’t be bringing this blog into the mix if I didn’t think the most concerning thing about Barack Obama is his stance towards the most important moral issue since the abolition of slavery. And so with William Wilberforce-like persistence, I’ll do my best to cry in the wilderness until someone hears, because we’re talking about a theological issue here. It’s about God.
First, let me define what it means to be pro-life, in my opinion: To be pro-life means to defend and practice life and love in all circumstances. For example, to be pro-life means loving, sympathizing with, caring for, and counseling those in crisis pregnancy situations. It means loving women before, during, and after decisions made regarding an abortion. It means encouraging and providing resources for alternatives like adoption. It means practicing forgiveness, hope, and love to women who struggle with the pain and confusion that follow the decision to have an abortion. And it means defending the defenseless in the womb who have been created in the image of God. It means not ignoring the horror of killing babies for the sake of a women’s right; while also considering a women’s right and avoiding the horror of killing babies. I obviously agree that to be pro-choice does not necessarily mean to be pro-abortion. Hopefully you can agree that to be pro-life does not mean to be anti-choice. ‘Choose Life’ is not just a fancy slogan – it’s the whole point. Why would you not choose that?
With that said, it needs to be understood that Senator Obama, from his voting record, policy plans, and direct quotations, is not just pro-choice but pro-abortion. To think otherwise is not only naïve but downright delusional. And that makes his judgment morally questionable, because at the end of the day, no morally serious person can defend abortion, just as no morally serious person could defend slavery. For me to say such a thing does not leave women out to dry, as my definition of pro-life should indicate. Women may be in the best position to choose, as Obama would argue, but we should never do anything but encourage them to choose life in all circumstances, and then love them in other ways. Future doctors, teachers, pastors, scientists, soldiers, and even politicians could become the pieces of human thrown away if we don’t get serious about this issue in THIS ELECTION. I have no doubt that history will look back at the issue of abortion very similar to the way it looks back on the issue of slavery, and the support of it will be equally appalling. As I said, there are better ways to love the women (and families) in crisis pregnancy situations than allowing them to kill the defenseless person in their womb. Let’s pursue those ways, and stop messing around with an issue of this magnitude.
If you are morally serious, you will read this essay: Obama’s Abortion Extremism , and then vote and act accordingly. As a sidenote, I was motivated to write Senator Evan Bayh on this very essay, and asked that he either reassure me of its error, or speak for me to those who can do something about it. I'll keep you posted. But it in the end, those who can ultimately do something about it are those who can cast a ballot on November 4. I thought this was helpful information to have for that cause. If you need me I'll be doing situps and installing a water soften-- I mean cutting foam.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Well, obviously Indianapolis is a city also, but the culture and the size and the people it lacks makes it pale in comparison to the Big Apple. So what does God plan to do here? This could be the first of many posts on this subject, but this will get us started. My church recently launched a "Neighborhood Initiative" to challenge the congregation to be more intentional in our interaction with, prayer for, and service to people in our neighborhoods. The family next door may be struggling just as much (spiritually) as the homeless man on the street corner downtown, but you'd never know until you asked. So the first 30 days of this initiative is just praying for opportunities and activities that could help us seek God's will for our neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, a good high school friend has started a website that although not specifically Christian or spiritual in any way, has recently sparked some interesting dialogue that I couldn't help myself but to join, and in the process God is revealing to me not only great spiritual hunger, but also maybe some receptivity to the Gospel, right here in the Nap. The conversation is not perfect, and I will only speak for the comments I have made (you might have to scroll quite a bit to find my comments) but in any case the articles and the comments are interesting and prove the timing of the Gospel in our culture and city is especially ripe.
Inevitably, politics enter some of the discussions. That is ok. The politcal and economic landscape add to the receptivity to the Gospel, in my opinion. Also be sure to check back periodically, as the dialogue is far from over. If nothing else, I hope the conversations reveal that we, as Christians, should not be afraid of the reality or the implications of the truth of Jesus Christ, and that we should be merciful to those who doubt. Pray with me that God would wake up our city, both Christians who need more boldness and love, and non-Christians who need hope and salvation.
How Common Christianity Affects Our Moral and Intellectual Integrity
'Religulous' Asks a Lot of Questions
Eight Ball Says Obama Wins
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Wait, what did Palin mean by six-pack? Never mind. I was asked if I was going to post on the Palin-Biden debate. I wasn’t planning on it. I’m hoping to be done with politics, at least on this blog, with the exception of maybe a last minute pep-talk. But, alas, I want to please my readers. A more articulate, experienced, and talented writer for the Wall Street Journal wrote the review that I would first lead you to: Palin and Populism
My observations are fairly simple:
I don’t think I have heard, nor do I think there is, a Republican who thinks Biden won the debate, or a Democrat who thinks Palin won the debate. So in that sense, the media commentary and polling is pointless, and they might as well show the debate, and then go back to regular programming. Oh yeah, there now are MULTIPLE stations that talk about politics ALL the time, as regular programming. Ugh. And, just to remind you, this was the Vice Presidential debate. That’s not who we vote for. (As a side note, I thought the question about what their administration would look like in the event of the worst happening was unfair, but they both handled it well.)
I don’t appreciate untruth. Why is this such a problem on both sides? Is it intentional? I’ll give you one example that to me is glaring, and reveals a major weakness and danger of the party guilty of it. Palin (as has McCain) pointed out that Obama said he would meet with leaders of Iran, North Korea, etc. without preconditions. Biden said last night, “Can I clarify something? That is simply not true about Barack Obama.” Um, yes it is. Obama’s attempts to cover this with vague interpretations of what he actually meant are more admirable than lying about it altogether. I don’t deny that there was some untruth on the other side - but not this bad or significant, in my opinion. All the other lies ultimately cancel each other out. I’m not sure whether the deception or the foreign policy naïveté is worse, but neither is a solid characteristic of a president (or vice president) at this point in history.
I’m interested that both parties oppose gay marriage and essentially agree with the traditional definition of marriage as the union between one man and one woman. Saves me from having to give a theological perspective on this, which I hope is obvious. All the talk about hospital visitation rights is small potatoes compared to what’s really at stake.
In the end, the two most important issues in this election, the economy and the Iraq war, are approached fundamentally different by the two tickets, and that is not going to change. Take away all the media-spin, all the unfair attacks, and all the politics, and the most important issues are 1) raising taxes to fund programs and more regulation vs. cutting taxes to stimulate the economy and less regulation, and 2) ending an unfavorable war as soon as possible vs. staying as long as needed to win. You undoubtedly feel one way or the other on both of these, so whichever way it is, that’s how you will vote. So, ok, great. Let’s have this thing tomorrow, and get on with it. I want to watch Dwight Schrute instead of Joe Biden on Thursday nights.
It wasn’t the “fireworks show” it could have been if Biden had told a handicapped man to stand or Palin had forgotten what newspaper she reads (or if they had let them cage fight), but it was engaging nonetheless and overall good for the country. And there were moments where I honestly think God was glorified; in the agreement of the candidates on marriage or the unacceptable suffering in Darfur, or the mention of heaven. So that is what I care about. Seriously though, can we vote already?
Monday, September 29, 2008
We are more sinful,
The Bible is more preeminent,
And the Cross is more central (and shocking and appalling and glorious),
These are some reflections from a recent trip to New York City. Sure, I also had a rippin' good time, ate classic New York style pizza, took in some authentic live Blues, and took the stroll through Central Park, Times Square, Rockefeller Center, and across the Brooklyn Bridge (among other things). But, in true God is in the Details form, I noticed some less famous and more subtle aspects of the city while I was there that I think tell an eternally relevant story, and ultimately help us articulate the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the midst of a city and a culture that is beautifully diverse and authentically desperate.
The above are pictures (not all that I took myself) of some of the things that I thought I should mention, and which, by the Sovereign grace of God, match the phrase that I have repeated before as defense of the insufficient perspective of the Gospel that our culture unfortunately has. I'll explain each picture, so you understand my thought process and so that I don't miscommunicate my heart.
First, God is holy. This picture was from the front door of the Trinity Episcopal Church at the foot of Wall Street. It's the most amazing door I've ever seen. This engraving is accompanied by the reference to Revelation 4, which says, "Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: 'You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.'" I looked at this door wondering how many professionals on Wall Street, or tourists, who enter that church notice that door and specifically that engraving, and I wonder if they realize the immense holiness of God in the midst of the material culture that overwhelms them.
Second, we are sinful. Obviously using this picture I do not mean to imply that those that work in the New York Stock Exchange, or certainly those in America represented by the flag, are uniquely sinful. But I do mean to imply that we are all sinful, beyond measure, and it is interesting that the financial world has become a symbol of what our sin leads to. As Tim Keller said this Sunday, if you don't acknowledge the doctrine of original sin, just give it time; you will prove yourself wrong. Whatever you think about the economic crisis, whichever politician you support, whatever bailout plan (or lack of plan) you favor, there is no denying that someone is to blame for this situation, and whoever that someone is, greed had much to do with it. And someone's greed, or some group of someones' greed, affected more than themselves. My friend, and former Goldman Sachs employee, commented that "God is humbling a very proud people." That's true everywhere and anytime; He opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble; but particularly it is happening in the chaos surrounding Wall Street. I will try to do a future post on the crisis from a Christian perspective, if I can ever catch up and figure it out myself. But in the meantime, check out Albert Mohler's take.
Third, the Bible is preeminent. I escaped one day to the Morgan Library and Museum, which to many, would be considered absolutely boring. It features exhibits of ancient manuscripts and prints from music, art, history, etc. This time of year, it featured three Gutenberg Bibles, printed sometime in the 15th century. Somewhere beyond all the details of the printing, the style, the innovation, and the history that the exhibit mentioned, I was keenly focused on the words, which had been preserved and which endure beyond those of any other book in the history of civilization. It shouldn't take much convincing to see that the Bible is true, authentic, accurate, and preeminent to everything, but a few 600 year old books begin to do the trick for me.
Lastly, the Cross is central, and shocking, and appalling, and glorious. I saw a version of this picture above at a tribute to the victims outside Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan. The witness to this scene, viewing via zoom lens people holding onto each other before jumping from 80+ stories to their death to escape the fires, described it as unbearable and incomprehensible. Those probably are the words I also would have used. Yet, in the end, the tragedy itself was neither unbearable, as the city has endured and the people have persevered, nor incomprehensible, as we have been exposed to the horrors and motives of international terrorism for several years now, and though we don't understand it, we accept it as reality. Even our sinful hearts break with compassion for the people and the city that experienced this nightmare. Two thousand years ago an innocent man named Jesus Christ was tortured and crucified, in a scene that was more horrific, since He was God in the flesh, than 10,000 September 11ths. He suffered and died, and bore for us the wrath that our horrific sins deserve. This, on many levels, was unbearable and incomprehensible. Yet, in the end, it was not unbearable, as Jesus accomplished the Father's will, and rose from the dead, achieving for us forgiveness of sin and new life in Him. Nor was it incomprehensible, as the hope that it offers is free and available to us who are hopelessly hanging out the window as the smoke and fire of this fallen world engulf our soul.
In appropriate fashion, I closed my weekend attending Redeemer Presbyterian Church in the heart of the city, and heard Pastor Tim Keller in person. As expected, his sermon did not disappoint. Listen yourself here: The Fellowship of Grace. He began a series on the parables in Luke 15, this time explaining the parable of the lost sheep. The analogy is that we are like sheep, not dogs or cats who with the right direction (or teaching) can be fine on their own. We are desperate and need the shepherd not just to come back for us, and tell us the right things to do, as a moral teacher, but actually we need him to put us on his shoulders and take us home, accomplishing for us everything needed for our salvation. We are like sheep, who would climb a hill (seek temporal dreams) eat the grass (partake in worldliness), and with no way to get down (when what we have put our hope in crumbles around us), step over the edge and plunge to our death. And the Gospel is that then, after he rescues us, God's grace brings us into an authentic and unique community established to administer mercy and justice to a broken world and all the while bring endless glory to His name.After the service, we received the following (to the left) accompanied by whistle blows by the waitress after our dinner because one drink per person apparently doesn't cut it at Brother Jimmy's BBQ. Yeah, that's an alligator head first in there. We refrained from explaining that we had just gotten back from church and it was, after all, Sunday night, because I guess that's not normal in New York City. So we enjoyed about one-third of the mostly sugar-filled drink, and went about our night. Such a tactic probably works on a less conservative crowd, and I'm sure her tips reflect it. Her gamble fell flat with us, though the whole presentation and reaction was memorable.
In the end, the energetic yet annoying waitress, the quiet cab driver listening to Christian radio, the angry man screaming at no one at a busy corner, the young professional sending a text message while riding his bike on Park Avenue with groceries hanging off his handle bars, the Asian businessman praying before eating his sandwich at the Food Exchange, the bouncer at Terra Blues who in his excitement and intoxication can't remember the name of the members of the band playing at his establishment; need and are seeking the transforming grace of Jesus Christ, which is waiting to lead them (or has already brought them) not only into a relationship with the God of the universe, but also into a community, saved by grace, unlike the world has ever seen, of "beautiful, unified difference". A community where an old white man and a young, Hispanic, single mother can have an instant connection and fellowship thanks to the bond and the grace of Jesus Christ. May our churches look like this as well.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Another Greek InterVarsity Golf Marathon is in the books. I’ve got six of these things under my belt, and in those years I cannot relate to you adequately the number of students’ lives that have been transformed, college campuses that have been renewed, and world changers that have been developed. Through the event this year, we raised over $33,000 that will go right towards the three National Conferences around the country where students will take a break from the stress of class, the distraction of campus, and the complexity of living in a fraternity or sorority, to encounter the Person of Jesus Christ in all his simplicity and glory. Isn’t that awesome?
Monday, September 15, 2008
I am sometimes tempted to believe the lie that all these people have fallen into, which is that they don’t need the Gospel - their life is fine. They’re living the dream. God is only a crutch; or a consultant at best. My heart breaks for these people, almost more than those in poverty, because their need is hidden behind the forgery of health, wealth, and prosperity, and their openness to the most important message in the world is very small, and getting smaller by the day.
What I am convicted to try to do, with the power of the Holy Spirit, and with the authority of the Word of God, is peel back the canvas that is the American Dream, not to remove it or its luxuries altogether (though those who do not leave house and family and everything to follow Christ have no part in the kingdom of God), but to reveal behind it something far more amazing, by anyone’s standards, namely, the original, authentic “painting” of redemption as revealed in the Bible. And then let God give back the luxuries (which are not innately evil) according to His will. In other words, I believe the Bible reveals a much better dream, and specifically the Gospel of Jesus Christ offers much more joy, fulfillment, pleasure, happiness, and life than every other alternative, and ultimately it’s not even a “dream”. It is a reality, and truth, and necessary for the ultimate hope and joy of every human being – those in poverty or those in million dollar homes with beautiful and successful families. The American dream and the things of this world are fantasy and will pass away. The kingdom of God will never end.
Atheist Ellen Johnson said on Larry King once something to the effect of that she can’t accept something that’s not believable (eternal life) just because the outcome is desirable. She goes on to say that we should just deal with it and work to prolong and enjoy life now instead of “living for death”. What a pity. Well, I can’t accept an outcome that’s not really believable anyway (lack of existence) when the alternative is infinitely desirable (heaven). And I can’t allow myself to risk something that’s infinitely dreadful (hell) when the alternative is not only believable and desirable, but also offers a life right now that is much more enjoyable and (praise God) shorter, than a “prolonged” life enslaved to sin. But that’s just me. As Tim Keller says, the hopes of our hearts, and the narrative lines of our lives can only be completed in Jesus Christ. Everything else is an unfinished narrative with no hope and eternal torment waiting in the wings. No American dream is worth that.
The trick, then, is to explain what the Gospel is; or be able to articulate it to both these groups of people in a way that is simple, complete, correct, faithful, effective, and brief (um, if necessary), so that they can have the opportunity to believe it and be transformed. I probably will continue this effort for the rest of my natural life. With this post, I’m only trying to start the process to help you (and me) understand and apply the wonder of our Lord and Savior to save sinners, edify saints, and bring glory to His name. This effort is a compilation of thoughts by the two pastors whom I most respect: John Piper and Tim Keller (in some cases verbatim); along with some other thoughts and ideas I have picked up along the way.
The first thing I want to do is offer an explanation of what the Gospel is. I believe there is only one Gospel, so this should be easy, but since the human mind is depraved and our hearts are deceitful, distortions have made this much more complicated, and it is important to include everything that the Bible includes about the ultimate Good News of Jesus Christ. The other reason this is not as easy as it should be is that there is no single Bible passage that includes every component of the Gospel. Matthew, Mark, and Luke speak mostly of the Gospel as the Kingdom of God; John speaks mostly about the Gospel as eternal life; the Book of Acts has a focus on resurrection; and Paul in his letters seems to speak mostly about the Gospel as justification and atonement. So how do we simplify the Gospel in one message if the Bible never did?
Then I want to offer some examples and methods of presenting this one Gospel in a way that is effective for the hearers. Though there is only one Gospel, it can and should be presented in different forms based on the audience, as Tim Keller explains, and as the Biblical examples verify. I will focus on the explanation of the one Gospel first, and the examples of presentations last. The headings in bold are the three parts of the Gospel as explained by Tim Keller, originally outlined by Simon Gathercole. Beneath each heading is more explanation on these parts, including a “theological” word to identify the part, a Christological understanding (how it involves Jesus), and then also the components of the Gospel (in italics), according to John Piper, that must be included or there is no Gospel. I hope this format makes sense.
The theological word to identify this first part of the Gospel is incarnation. In the person of Jesus, God emptied himself of his glory and became human, entered our world and lived a sinless life, perfectly portraying a life of selfless service and providing a perfect picture of God himself. From a Christological point of view, this part can be best understood from the life of Jesus. By John Piper’s explanation, the essential components of the Gospel included in this part would be that it is a plan, and an event. The Gospel is a plan: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures..." - 1 Corinthians 15:3. Jesus was the promised Messiah and the fulfillment of every Old Testament prophecy and this plan was put in place before the ages began. The Gospel is an event: "...that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day..." - 1 Corinthians 15:4. Jesus walked on earth, as part of history, and really physically died and really physically rose from the dead. If God the Son did not come to earth in the form of a baby in a manger, as fully God and fully man in the incarnation, live a sinless life, as part of an eternal plan that existed before the foundation of the world, and as part of an actual, accurate, historical event; then there is no Gospel.
The theological word to identify this second part of the Gospel is substitution. Every view of the atonement includes the fact that Jesus became our substitute on the Cross, bearing our sin and absorbing God's wrath, securing our justification by grace, not our works. From a Christological point of view, this part can be best understood from the death of Jesus. By John Piper’s explanation, the essential components of the Gospel included in this part would be that it is an accomplishment, an offer, and an application. The Gospel is an accomplishment: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed." - 1 Peter 2:24. Jesus on the cross bore our sins, paid the price of redemption, endured God's wrath in our place, and completed a life of perfect obedience. The Gospel is an offer: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." - John 3:16. The accomplishment of the cross is offered freely to be received by faith alone apart from works of the law. The Gospel is an application: "You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God." - 1 Peter 1:23. Because of the accomplishment, and through the accepted offer of the Gospel, God applies to us regeneration (new birth), eternal life, faith, forgiveness, justification, reconciliation, adoption, and sanctification (growth in godliness). If Jesus did not die on the cross, as our substitute absorbing the righteous wrath of God that we deserve, achieving for us our justification by faith and imputing to us the righteousness of God in Jesus upon our acceptance of it as a free offer, and in turn apply to us the benefit of the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and much more; then there is no Gospel.
The theological word to identify this third part of the Gospel is consummation. After his death and resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven and was seated at the right hand of God, and will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and will restore creation destroying suffering of all kinds and will prepare an eternal place of joy for those who belong to Him. From a Christological point of view, this part can be best understood from the resurrection of Jesus. By John Piper’s explanation, the essential component of the Gospel included in this part would be a supremely happy future. The Gospel promises a supremely happy future: The final destiny promised in the gospel is God - regeneration, forgiveness, justification, adoption are not the final good in the Gospel - they are means to an end; the end is God himself. The Kingdom of God is ultimately forgiven people rejoicing in perfect community forever in the deepest desire of their heart, namely, Jesus Christ, who is the glory of God. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, overcoming for us the power of sin and death, and through God the Holy Spirit deposit to us the hope of ultimate, eternal consummation of not only our physical bodies, but also the entire material world where there will be no more sin, or tears, or suffering, or injustice, or imperfection at all, providing for us a supremely happy future with Him as our center; then there is no Gospel.
"A church that truly dwells in the Biblical gospel will look quite unusual. Because of the upside-down kingdom / incarnation aspect, the church will put great emphasis on deep community, cell groups or house churches, and will emphasize radical giving and sharing of resources, spiritual disciplines, racial reconciliation, and living with the poor. Because of the inside-out kingdom / substitutionary atonement aspect, the church will put great emphasis on personal conversion, experiential grace renewal, outreach, and church planting. Because of the forward-back kingdom / restoration aspect, the church will put great emphasis on seeking the welfare of the city, neighborhood and civic involvement, cultural engagement, and training people in "secular" vocations out of a Christian worldview. Very few church movements are able to integrate and inter-relate these ministries and emphases because of a comprehensive view of the Biblical gospel."
Four things to do when preaching The Gospel in all its forms:
1. Don't put all the gospel points into any one gospel presentation.
2. Use both a gospel for the "circumcised" (traditional, moralist) and "uncircumcised" (postmodern, relativist)
3. Use both a "kingdom" and an "eternal life" gospel.
4. Use all the forms and let each group overhear you preaching to the others.
"Won't this confuse people? No, it will stretch them. When one group - say the postmodern - hears a penetrating presentation of sin as idolatry, it opens them up to the concept of sin as grieving and offending God. Sin as a personal affront to a perfect, holy God begins to make more sense, and when they hear this presented in another gospel form, it has credibility. When more traditional people with a developed understanding of moral guilt learn about the substitutionary atonement and forensic justification, they are comforted. But these classic doctrines have profound implications for race relations and love for the poor, since they destroy all pride and self-justification. When more liberal people hear about the kingdom of God for the restoration of the world, it opens them up to Christ's kingship demanding obedience from them in their personal lives. In short, every gospel form, once it hits home in the hearts of its "target" audience, opens them to the other points of the gospel made more vividly in other forms.
"When you preach several different gospel forms with some regularity, you are more true to the Bible, you make your own listeners more balanced and mature in their understanding, and you make your own church more diverse. Instead of having a homogeneous group taken from just one slice of our pluralistic society, you have a mixed body of people from across the cultural spectrum.
"Today there are many who doubt that there is just one gospel. That gives them the warrant to ignore Paul's gospel of atonement and justification. There are others who don't like to admit that there are different forms to that one gospel. That smacks too much of "contextualization", a term they dislike. They cling to a single presentation that is often too one-dimensional. Neither of these approaches are as true to the Biblical material, nor as effective in actual ministry, as that which understands that there is one gospel in several forms in the Bible."