Thursday, 28 March 2013

Expositional Fragments - What to do with the bug on the windshield

There are many potential causes for the loss of Christian unity in the church.  Some are legitimate.  If a particular individual or group starts teaching false doctrine or preaching “another gospel” all faithful Christians have a biblical responsibility to separate from that.  Another example would be if a person or group is caught in a sin, confronted after the biblical pattern, and yet refuses to repent and amend their ways, again, faithful congregations have the biblical duty to excommunicate such ones.  So yes, there are legitimate causes for division in the church, but they are usually over issues where one party has identified itself, either through the fruit of their doctrine or conduct, as no longer being part of the church.  They are not acting like the church is called to act or they are not believing and teaching what the church is called to believe and teach.  “You will know a tree by its fruit,” we are told, so we hope that through such division the guilty party will come to see the error of their way and God will grant repentance, but we can’t read hearts or minds so we just obey Scripture when it tells us to “not associate with such a one” or where it says to let preachers of another gospel which is really no gospel at all “be accursed”.  All that said, the unfortunate thing is that most division at the level of the local congregation is not from these types of disagreements but from things much less important.  One thinks of the famous example of sanctuary carpet colour.  One wishes the example were apocryphal, but I’m afraid it’s likely to be real and likely to have happened many times over.  It just has the ring of sinners and local church politics about it.

Whenever Christian unity is broken, and it is not for the two legitimate reasons identified above, it is because something else has first been broken:  focus.  If the church loses its center, if the church forgets the glory of God, the cross of Christ, and the fellowship of the indwelling Spirit, that church will lose its unity.  If we forget the gospel that unified us in the first place, pretty soon we will have nothing keeping us unified.  Factions develop when the main thing ceases to be the main thing.  We see this in the attitude in Corinth where certain members were aligning themselves behind certain teachers of the gospel rather than aligning themselves behind the gospel message which all of those men taught.  And I think this is what we see in Philippi as well, where Paul calls on two women to agree with one another in the Lord.  Note that he does not take either woman to task over either a point of doctrine or a matter of ethics.  For whatever reason, some people in both Corinth and in Philippi had lost focus.  Their eyes were no longer directed at Christ.  Their vision had turned from the gospel to something else.  They had lost their focus and this was resulting in a loss of unity and a development of factions.

Usually when driving, the person behind the wheel focuses on the road a long way out in front of the car.  The whole point of driving a car, after all, is to drive it somewhere.  The somewhere is dictated by the route that was chosen in order to arrive at the desired destination.  But a church that has lost unity is like a driver who has stopped watching the road that stretches out to the horizon.  Some petty issue has drawn the church’s focus away from the gospel, away from Christ, away from the work of the Triune God to redeem and rescue a fallen people and a cursed planet.  It is like a big juicy bug has hit the windshield and everyone in the car starts debating over the best way to get it off the glass.  One wants to stop the car and wipe it off.  One wants to just use the windshield wipers and washer fluid.  That will just smear it, a critic pipes up.  Someone suggests rolling down the window and trying to reach it while the car is still in motion.  A voice from the back seat suggests everyone just pray for rain.  Someone else says it would be more authentic just to leave the bug right where it is.  Pretty soon the occupants of the car slip into thinking the point of their car ride is to figure out what to do with the bug smear on the windshield.  But that isn’t why anyone got into the car in the first place and it has very little to do with the destination they set out for, equipped with extra large drive-thru coffee and CCR’s greatest hits, at 6:30 yesterday morning.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

The way parents think without thinking about it...

Thanks to Tim Challies for pointing to this very, very good post about the two sets of wants of parents.  I would like to say that I live most often in the first set, but have to admit I live all too often in the second set and I don't like that about myself.  I'm pretty sure that when our kids are grown and leaving home we're not going to look back and wish that they had grown up quicker.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Good music & good cause

For March only, Josh Garrels is offering free downloads of five of his albums.  If you choose to leave a tip, all proceeds go toward World Relief's efforts in the Congo.  I would encourage you to leave a tip.

If you are unfamiliar with Josh's music, as I until only a little while ago, give some of these songs a listen.  I particularly like Father Along, the chorus of which I recall from when I was a wee lad (although the way I heard it was fairly different).  Happy Listening!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Being looked through, not looked at

Tim Challies posts an observation Alister McGrath makes about C.S. Lewis’ view on the role of the poet and the task of poetry (from McGrath's new biography of Lewis).  
For Lewis, poetry works not by directing attention to the poet, but to what the poet sees: “The poet is not a man who asks me to look at him; he is a man who says ‘look at that’ and points.” The poet is not a “spectacle” to be viewed, but a “set of spectacles” through which things are to be seen. The poet is someone who enables us to see things in a different way, who points out things we otherwise might not notice. Or again, the poet is not someone who is to be looked at, but someone who is to be looked through.
Challies goes on to apply this calling of being looked through rather than being looked at to preachers, evangelists, parents, and ultimately to Christians in general.  
The preacher is not someone who is to be looked at, but someone who is to be looked through. The task of the preacher is not to stand before the church and be seen and recognized as a great man or even a great preacher. The task of the preacher is to draw the minds and hearts of his listeners to God. He has failed in his calling if he is looked at instead of looked through.
The evangelist is not someone who is to be looked at, but someone who is to be looked through. The task of the evangelist is to declare what is true about God and to call upon people to turn to him in repentance and faith. The evangelist is to disappear and to be forgotten in the message he conveys so that his hearers are able to see what he sees, so they are able to grasp what he grasps.
The parent is not someone who is to be looked at, but someone who is to be looked through. Even a parent is better looked through than looked at. The parent who simply teaches Bible stories does little compared to the parent who lives as if God’s Word is true; this is the parent who disappears into the truth he loves, this is the parent who points beyond himself, the parent who says, “Look at that!” and points directly to Jesus Christ.
In all areas of life the Christian is to be that set of spectacles that allows people to see something beyond, something better, something greater. The Christian is to point to Christ and do to this he needs to be looked through, not at.
Catching a ride on the Challies train of thought and travelling a bit further down the tracks……
One powerful way that a parent is to be looked through rather than looked at is in who they are to image as a parent.  While all Christians are called to be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1), fulfilling this calling requires specific applications based on a given role or relationship we might have.  Parents ought to see the primary function of their parenting as one of imaging God the Father to their children.  He is a loving Father who cares for his children (1 Pet. 5:7), has compassion on us and remembers our frame (Ps. 103:13, 14), provides for us (Matt. 6:25-33), protects us (Ps. 91) and always, always keeps his word to us (Prov. 30:5; Ps. 105:8).  When parents do these things in imitation of God, they are discipling their own children into an intimate knowledge of the God who is Father to both they and their parents.  Such parents back up their words with their lives.  While no parent is perfect, when a parent's example matches their words, their children see it and what the parent says is made believable because it is visible.  And it isn't visible because the children are looking at their parents, but looking through them to God.

Parents are to be windows, not murals or sketchy caricatures.  Fathers, in particular, are to be windows through which our children can see God the Father.  Human dads are fathers because we are made in God’s image and God is a father.  He is the archetype and prototype Father from which the title and role of father takes its meaning and purpose (Eph. 3:14, 15).  Father is not a metaphoric title God uses for himself so that we can understand one aspect of his character or nature.  God is the Father, from which human fatherhood derives its existence and takes its proper function.  

Parents, when your children look at you, what do they see.  Fathers, can your children see through you? 

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The slavery of academic freedom

I heard a story on the radio today that a thousand law students across Canada have signed a petition protesting Trinity Western University's (TWU) application to start a Christian Law School on their campus in Langley, BC.  TWU's application is also being opposed by the Canadian Council of Law Deans, the Vancouver Sun reports here.  In the interview I heard today with a law student who had signed the petition against TWU's application, the reason given for the opposition was that TWU's community covenant is discriminatory toward homosexuals.  In a list that includes requiring all students to abstain from certain behaviors including cheating, lying, stealing, getting drunk and harassing or abusing others, the offending clause is this: 
"In keeping with biblical and TWU ideals, community members voluntarily abstain from the following actions: 
 -  sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman"
As I said, this statement in one of a list and there is much more to the community covenant than the "don't" rules. The whole student community covenant can be found here.  Note all the Scripture footnotes. 

The university self identifies as Christian.  Their stated purpose, vision and goals are to teach all they do from a biblical Christian perspective.

"The University’s mission, core values, curriculum and community life are formed by a firm commitment to the person and work of Jesus Christ as declared in the Bible. This identity and allegiance shapes an educational community in which members pursue truth and excellence with grace and diligence, treat people and ideas with charity and respect,think critically and constructively about complex issues, and willingly respond to the world’s most profound needs and greatest opportunities"
TWU was challenged once before in court on the issue of their community covenant when they wanted to start a teaching school to train educators.  In that instance, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld TWU's right to train teachers over against the attempts of the BC College of Teachers, who attempted to oppose it on roughly the same grounds as the current opposition to the proposed law school.  The details of that case may be found here

Those opposed to TWU starting a Christian law school say they are against it because TWU is intolerant of homosexuals.  (Never mind that the radio interviewer played a statement from a homosexual student at TWU who says that throughout his time there, he has only ever been treated with respect, dignity and kindness.) Tied closely with the charges of intolerance of homosexuals, the law students who signed the petition also believe that there cannot be a true climate of complete academic freedom at TWU as a result of their distinctive Christian perspective.  When the interviewer asked if the signatories were perhaps discriminating on the basis of religious freedom, the oblivious future lawyer didn't seem to understand the double standard he was holding forth.  No, we aren't the intolerant ones, they are.  Powerful argumentation from a future purveyor of justice and equality before the law.  TWU is guilty of not upholding the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects people's rights no matter what their sexual orientation, the student stated.  No mention of the fact that it also upholds the right to religious belief and freedom of conscience or that Section 29 confirms the rights of religious schools.   

Hmmmmm.....TWU can't have a climate of complete academic freedom, as compared with the existing secular law schools who are opposing them, in which there is lots of academic freedom and tolerance for all views......that is, unless you happen to want to hold to biblical principles and to adhere to a traditional Christian view of human sexuality, in which case not only are you not tolerated in their institutions but you are forbidden to start one of your own. 

Tolerance:  the new bigotry.  

Sunday, 17 March 2013

The Mission of God and reorientation away from self

A friend, John Barach, posts an excerpt of an excellent essay by Christopher Wright, based on his book, The Mission of God.  These few points should help to turn much of our self-centered religion on its head and help us to see just how far our perspective and focus is from where it ought to be if we were viewing all things through a thoroughly Christian and biblical worldview.  As John says, this corrective doesn't flip our thinking up-side-down so much as call us to turn right-side-up.

"Now such an understanding of the mission of God as the very heartbeat of all reality, all creation, and all history generates a distinctive worldview that is radically and transformingly God-centred. It turns inside out and upside down some of the common ways in which we are accustomed to think about the Christian life. It is certainly a very healthy corrective to the egocentric obsession of much Western culture — including, sadly, even Western Christian culture. It constantly forces us to open our eyes to the big picture, rather than shelter in the cosy narcissism of our own small worlds.
* We ask, ‘Where does God fit into the story of my life?’ when the real question is where does my little life fit into this great story of God’s mission.
* We want to be driven by a purpose that has been tailored just right for our own individual lives, when we should be seeing the purpose of all life, including our own, wrapped up in the great mission of God for the whole of creation.
* We talk about ‘applying the Bible to our lives’. What would it mean to apply our lives to the Bible instead, assuming the Bible to be the reality — the real story — to which we are called to conform ourselves?
* We wrestle with ‘making the gospel relevant to the world’. But in this story, God is about the business of transforming the world to fit the shape of the gospel.
* We argue about what can legitimately be included in the mission that God expects from the church, when we should ask what kind of church God wants for the whole range of his mission.
* I may wonder what kind of mission God has for me, when I should be asking what kind of me God wants for his mission."

Something I Read...

"As the church rides the waves of a changing culture, struggling to do the necessary work of contextualizing its message and practice to diverse environments, it has become evident that many have overcompensated.  Like Paul, we seek to become like all men in order to win some, but for many of us this has meant becoming indistinguishable from all men.  It's not cultural contextualization we've achieved, but cultural capitulation."

      - Ed Stetzer, from the foreward to Trevin Wax's, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, p. 15

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Something I Read...

"From Creation onward, God intended that the human race should develop with a diversity of individuals.  Even apart from the Fall, different people would have had different gifts and different experiences, so that one person's insights into the truth would compliment those of another.  The introduction of sin did not create diversity but rather made it contentious.
Our true unity and diversity is restored in principle in our union with Christ.  Being united to Christ and conformed to his image destroys only the bad forms of diversity.  The diversity of gifts in the body of Christ (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:7-31; Eph. 4:7-16) does not threaten unity in the truth but reinforces it.  Growing up into the full understanding of the truth requires the full exercise of the diverse roles of the body (Eph. 4:11-16).
No one human being has all the fullness of Christ's gifts.  All of us are to learn from others who have insights and contributions we could not easily achieve ourselves.  When we listen to other people sympathetically, we obtain perspectives on the truth different from our own.  Of course, we do not accept everyone else's ideas uncritically.  But we make an effort to listen lovingly and to take the other person's point of view.  In doing so, we achieve a kind of second perspective on the truth.
The use of multiple perspectives in our own thinking is thus a way of trying to reproduce and strengthen some of the effects that have always occurred in the growth of the church.  Using multiple perspectives ourselves does not eliminate the importance of listening to others but strengthens our ability to do so (because we have had practice shifting points of view)."

                     - Vern S. Poythress, Symphonic Theology:  The Validity of Multiple Perspectives in Theology, p. 53.

Friday, 15 March 2013

With a pipe in the teeth and a pencil in the hand...

There is a passage in C.S. Lewis’s introduction to St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, which I think speaks great wisdom on the subject of devotional material. Note that he is not negating all devotional works, and for the record, neither am I:

“For my own part I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that "nothing happens" when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.”

I personally have found the same to be true. Most recently, as I’ve been preaching through Matthew and working my way through the Sermon on the Mount, I’ve found my heart bursting at Calvin’s exposition of the Lord’s Prayer in the Institutes. There is much light but it is accompanied by warmth; it is red meat but seasoned well and with a gracious aroma. John Stott's expositional commentary on the Sermon on the Mount is also great. 

In fairness, I have found some very good devotional books as well, but they are typically the ones which are based on exposition of biblical passages or on pondering the implications of various doctrines or attributes of God taught in Scripture or events recorded in Scripture. Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening and John Piper’s A Godward Life, immediately come to mind as good devotionals. However, if I were to compare, I’d say that both Spurgeon’s and Piper’s works of theology or exposition have done more than their works of devotion to fire the faith of the saints.

Some works which have caused my heart to sing and which I would highly recommend:  
J.I. Packer's Knowing God, and his Growing in Christ; John Piper's Desiring God, and his Future Grace; R.C. Sproul's The Holiness of God, and his Chosen by God; A.W. Tozer's The Knowledge of the Holy; Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship; Jerry Bridges' The Pursuit of Holiness

Of course, none of these works would be considered "a tough bit of theology", but are rather all pretty accessible.  However, each of them deals with bits of tough theology and will stretch any honest believer's mind and soul.

Horton hears it true

Justin Taylor has posted an excerpt of Michael Horton’s review of popular devotional bestseller, Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young. Horton critiques not only the overall message of Young’s book, but the method of delivery as well. In fact, the method of this type of spirituality, and the assumptions which underlie it, inevitably leads to the type of message it delivers, and that message in turn, fosters further encouragement of the method. The whole review may be found at White Horse Inn, here.

Some may be upset by Horton’s negative critique. However, not only do I think he is right, but, in light of the problems he points out with this book, I think he shows amazing restraint. I must admit to not reading the book myself, but I trust Horton and I recommend this review and caution to anyone who may be reading or considering this devotional. Horton’s review gives occasion for some additional thoughts on the use of devotional books.

Many devotional guides encourage the reader to closeness with God by dwelling on the emotional level of sentiments, passions and desires, and of mentally working up deeper feelings. Very often such works don’t focus (or not much) on the actual works of God in redemptive history, culminating with God’s saving work in Christ. It is Scripture’s record of God’s mighty acts in history, things like God’s covenant and gracious dealings with the patriarchs, the Exodus, the leaders God puts over Israel which pre-figure Christ, the exiles and returns, the prophetic pronouncements of judgment for idolatry and passionate calls to repentance and promise of restoration, and of course the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension and present reign of Christ and indwelling of the Holy Spirit…it is things like this which teach us who God really is and what he is like. Through these things we really get to know who God is. But in focusing on the emotions and feelings of the reader, many modern devotionals miss all this and so give us a very warped picture of who God actually is and how he interacts with people. We end up thinking of God as someone who is primarily concerned with our own inner spiritual and emotional self-image, which is an image that could be called one of the prevailing idols in the church today.
To grow deeper in our relationship with Christ by perpetually focusing on the level of feelings is like trying to swim in a kiddie pool. It doesn’t matter whether you lie on your face or your back in the kiddie pool, the water is still only ankle deep. You can’t make it deeper by repeatedly scooping the water up and pouring it over yourself. If you want deep water, go over to the big pool with the diving boards at one end. Climb the ladder and dive in. It will be over your head, but you can learn to swim there.

Finally, any work that purports to record the direct messages of Jesus, as Jesus Calling does, ought to raise red flags immediately. There are enough quotes in Horton’s review to convince me that this book’s overall emphasis, the direction is leads, and the assumptions it makes about how God speaks to his people, are not biblical and therefore it ought to be avoided. The kind of spirituality that this book will engender in the Church is the kind we already have way too much of.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The dope on the Pope...

Over at Mere Orthodoxy, Kevin White has written the best article I've seen about the new Pope.  Helpful for anyone who wants to get a bit of an idea about what kind of a person Pope Francis I is.

Something I Read...

"He made this nephew think himself finer than he was by judicious praise, yet more foolish then he was by minimizing the value of the evidence.  Like many another materialist, that is, he lied cleverly on the basis of insufficient knowledge, because the knowledge supplied seemed to his own particular intelligence inadmissible."

"It was so easy to be wise in the explanation of an experience one has not personally witnessed."

                                                                                            - Algernon Blackwood, The Wendigo

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Something I Read...

Commenting on Matthew 7:1-5...

"We have a fatal tendency to exaggerate the faults of others and minimize the gravity of our own.  We seem to find it impossible, when comparing ourselves with others, to be strictly objective and impartial.  On the contrary, we have a rosy view of ourselves and a jaundiced view of others.  Indeed, what we are often doing is seeing our own faults in others and judging them vicariously.  That way, we experience the pleasure of self-righteousness without the pain of penitence."

                                      - John Stott, Christian Counter-Culture:  The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, p. 178  

Brief exchange with an Atheist Evolutionist

Below are some brief replies I made to someone who was arguing that biblical creationism is anti-scientific and anti-intellectual:

Atheist Evolutionist, you said: “There was no Adam or Eve. Humans evolved from lower forms of life. It is written in the genetic code of every eukayrotic (sic) cell in your body. You simply refuse to accept it.”

No one commenting here would argue with the scientifically observable fact that human genetic material and that of animals is very similar. However, to observe this fact and then deduce that this similarity of genetic material is due to evolution from a common source is not fact but theory, pure and simple, as it has never been observed. Another plausible theory is that the genetic material of humans and other species are similar because they were designed by the same Creator who chose to use the same building materials. My living room floor and my kitchen cabinets are both made of oak but it doesn’t necessarily follow that they both evolved ultimately from my neighbour’s book shelf. I tend to think they are similar because they are different products that were all made from the same type of tree.

Atheist Evolutionist, you also said: “Every day, science reveals more evidence that evolution is a fact.”
This statement has become a slogan or creed of evolutionism, and most people who pronounce it are just accepting on faith and repeating something they heard a prominent evolutionist say…I’m guessing this is so in your case as well, AE, but I may be wrong. This is a common assertion made by evolutionists, but these so-called “evidences” for evolution are only evidences to those with the requisite intellectual precommitments and who hold to atheistic and anti-creationist presuppositions. A creationist could just as easily look at new facts and interpret them through our lens as evidences for our own position. Your come-back would be that we are just blind to the facts.  But we are looking at the very same facts, just interpreting them differently. Let’s take the fossil record, for example. An evolutionist comes across a fossil of a species that no longer exists and sees evidence for an intermediate or transition species, something between what used to be and what we have now.  He/she has no way of proving this assertion, however, because the actual process of transition has not been and cannot be observed. A creationist looks at the very same fossil of a species that no longer exists and sees evidence for a species that God designed and created but which is now extinct. The evolutionist and the creationist can agree on the fact that the fossil represents a species that has died out. However, the evolutionist has a much harder time because he has to further prove that it was a transition species whereas the creationist can stop at saying that it is evidence for a species that is no longer in existence.

Whenever I listen to Dennett, Dawkins, Harris, etc., their arguments are not from evidences to conclusions but from conclusions to evidences. Dawkins begins with the assumption there is no God and then reads all the data (and pseudo-data) through that lens. That isn’t science, that’s philosophy and it is philosophy poorly done. Examining the world around us, there is reasonable warrant for belief in a Designer or Creator since our experience of reality teaches us that complexity, order, high functionality and interdependency don’t normally occur by accident or ultimately come out of nothing.