Monday, 30 September 2013

Desiring God and Appreciating C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis is my favourite author, so I always get excited when other people who love Lewis get together to delve into, discuss, appreciate and elucidate him and his works.  Desiring God has just completed a conference on C.S. Lewis and has the videos posted on their site here.  Of the individual talks, I've only watched about 15 minutes of Nate Wilson's talk thus far (which was quite good), but I just watched the entirety of the panel discussion with John Piper, Phil Ryken, Doug Wilson, Kevin Vanhoozer, Randy Alcorn, and hosted by David Mathis.  Other than Mathis, I've read multiple works by each of the speakers and have benefited from each one through their own literary ministry and would commend them as well, especially Piper, Wilson and Vanhoozer.  I have already heard Wilson and Piper quite a bit on their appreciation of Lewis (they were both very good again) so perhaps most enjoyable for me was to hear a first rate theologian and hermeneutics scholar like Vanhoozer discuss his appreciation for Lewis. 

All in all, a lovely way to end a wonderful day of rest, sitting down to watch five very different and very capable authors, pastors, theologians and professors, appreciate the one author who I've appreciated more than any other.  If you are already a Lewis aficionado, this will be sweet.  If you are not, I hope you catch a vision for just how important Lewis was and is, and I hope your interest is peaked enough for you to pick up something by him and start down a road that many have trod before, to our eternal benefit and very great joy.  If you haven't read Lewis, I would suggest beginning with the Chronicles of Narnia (LWW first, of course!), The Screwtape Letters, the Space Trilogy, or some of his short essays on tantalizing topics from God in the Dock

Monday, 23 September 2013

Video games and the eye as the lamp of the body...

By the sovereign goodness of God, our church has a high proportion of young men, some of them married, many of them single.  One of the popular pass times for young men (and increasingly, middle-aged men), in our culture and even in the church, is "gaming".  Many of the most popular game franchises grow more explicit in their depiction of sex and violence with every new iteration.  Tim Challies shares some good thoughts for the young (and not so young) men who are into games, such as the new Grand Theft Auto V, which just experienced the most popular entertainment release in history, making $800 million in its first day.  Here's a sample from his summary:
"GTA V is significant in that movies allow us to watch violence and sexuality, but games allow us to experience and participate in these acts. We do not passively consume games, but interact with them and make choices that carry us through them. As games grow more powerful and as both hardware and software continue to develop, we can expect the experiences will grow ever-richer and ever-closer to the real thing. Realism combined with the desire for sex and violence will have inevitable consequences.
GTA V is significant in that it proves there is broad appeal in games that are blatantly violent, crude and sexual. Few people who bought the game will be shocked to find that it contains these elements; most of them expected and demanded it. We can expect competing game-makers to emulate what made this one so successful and we can expect they will ramp it up all the more. There is no reason to think GTA V is at the end of the trajectory.
The fact is, we are more than the games we play, but we are certainly not less. Games like GTA V offer choices—hundreds and hundreds of choices. Though a player is experiencing this world through a controller and a screen and fictional characters, he still makes choices and every choice is moral. Every choice matters. Every choice is significant. Every choice says something about who he is and what he values. The things that entertain him shine a powerful spotlight into his heart."
You can read the whole thing here

For young men out there, here is something to remember in your entertainment choices:
"The eye is the lamp of the body.  So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!  No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and money."       (Matt. 6:22-24)
 ......and no, this doesn't just apply to money. 

2 Corinthians: Pummelling plural peacocks with one pebble...

I always find it satisfying when I am able to kill two birds with one stone.  It is especially satisfying when one wasn't trying to do so in the first place.  Well, this has just happened to me.

I am currently working on a paper for a course I took this summer (on 2 Corinthians).  The subject of the paper is that the Apostle Paul views his own sufferings and afflictions as part of his calling and ministry as an apostle; that just as Paul proclaims the gospel of a Messiah who died in weakness, so too the message bearer is called to weakness and suffering also.  Not quite a medium-is-the-message thing, but a medium-fits-the-message and thereby advances it.  And just as Christ was raised from the dead in power, vindicated by the Father and triumphant now through the continuing work of the Spirit, so too when Paul ministers in weakness, the gospel goes forth with power.  As Paul says, "when I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Cor. 12:10).

Whilst working on my paper, I am reading N.T. Wright's book, How God Became King, as a sort of bedtime, wind-down-and-think-of-something-else-for-a-while book.  While I find his repeated reminders of how the church has forgotten this or that element of the biblical story tedious, this really is a good book (and some of his criticism very much is warranted).  However, Sunday night while reading, I came across a wonderful section in chapter 9 where Wright actually discusses the point I am arguing for in my paper.  Here's a sample:

“that the early Christians understood their vocation as Jesus’ followers to include, as a central and load-bearing element, their own suffering, misunderstanding, and likely death.  It isn’t just that, as followers of a misunderstood Messiah, they themselves would naturally expect misunderstanding and persecution, though that is certainly part of it.  It is, rather...that the suffering of Jesus’s followers is actually, like Jesus’s own suffering, not just an inevitable accompaniment to the accomplishing of the divine purpose, but actually itself part of the means by which that purpose is to be fulfilled.  When Mark’s Jesus tells his followers to take up their own cross and follow him, we see a line straight through the New Testament to the theme of suffering and martyrdom that we find in Paul, 1 Peter, and Revelation...”

Wright then sights Mark 8:34-9:1; 1 Thess. 3:2-4; Phil. 3:8-11; 2 Cor. 4:7-12; Col. 1:24; 1 Pet. 1:6-7; 1 Pet. 4:12-13; and Rev. 12:10-11.  To which I would add at least:  Rom. 8:12-17; Rom. 12:14; 1 Cor. 2:1-5; 1 Cor. 4:9-13; 2 Cor. 2:14-16; 2 Cor. 6:3-10; 2 Cor. 11:16-32; 2 Cor. 12:9-10; 2 Cor. 13:3-4; Gal. 3:1; Gal. 6:17; Phil. 1:12-14, 29-30; Phil. 2:17; 2 Thess. 1:4-5; 2 Tim. 3:12.  Then he continues:

“Here, the suffering and death of Jesus’s people is not simply the dark path they must tread because of the world’s continuing hostility toward Jesus and his message.  It somehow has the more positive effect of carrying forward the redemptive effect of Jesus’s own death, not by adding to it, but by sharing in it.  When we speak of the 'finished work of the Messiah,' as the evangelists intend for us (as far as they were concerned, the story of Jesus was the unique turning point of all history), we are not ruling out, but rather laying the groundwork for, a missiology of kingdom and cross.  Jesus has constituted his followers as those who share his work of kingdom inauguration; that is the point of his sending out of the Twelve, and then others again, even during his lifetime and far more so after his death and resurrection.  But if they are to bring [Jesus’s] kingdom in his way, they will be people who share his suffering."
 Then, summing up:
"Reading the gospels as the launching of God's renewed people, then, is not merely a historical note:  'This was where and how our story began.'  It declares too:  'This is the sort of people we are:  suffering kingdom-bringers, suffering kingdom-sharers."
                                                                                                    (p. 198-202)
What a happy occurrence when one is able to pummel plural peacocks with one pebble.  Mind you, Wright's book didn't have the effect I was reading it for...which was to get me thinking about something other than the topic of my paper.  In stead, I got out the pencil and started in on margin notes.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Dancin' at the Policeman's Ball

When I started this blog, I named it for a lyric from a song by Mark Heard (1951-1992), the line being, "it's still the goodest news he's ever heard", referring to the gospel, of course.  You can find that post right here.

Here's another song by Mark Heard.  It's about people in the church who are adherents to an "ism"; they are practitioners of 'Christianism', going through the motions - 'dancing at the Policeman's ball' - but aren't truly gospel-people.  They aren't consumed by the love of God for them in Christ on the cross and therefore, they aren't focused on taking the message of the cross to others who desperately need to hear it - those 'criminals who are headed for a big fall'.  This song is a critique of those who, insulated within the walls of the Christian sub-culture, look down their noses at the lost world around them - 'the city outside' - but don't venture into the world with the gospel to do anything about it - 'nobody taking the law to the streets tonight'.  And everyday people die and more and more people go to an eternity under God's wrath rather than under his mercy. 

Mark Heard was a true poet.  When I first heard this song as a young teen, I was seriously convicted.  It's 3 minute message hit me harder than any amount of youth retreat guilt trips ever did.  Those guilt trips wore off...this song lyric still echoes through my brain, still pricks my heart.

by Mark Heard
You hit the floor at the sound of the band
With a partner in your hand
Restless and breathless you dance the night away
Did I hear you say it is your aim
For every night to be just the same
And you hope the city outside's gonna be okay

Dancing at the Policeman's ball
Dancing at the Policeman's ball
Move your feet while the city sleeps
Dancing at the Policeman's ball
Dancing at the Policeman's ball
Dancing at the Policeman's ball

I saw you smile when I heard you say
"A life of crime just doesn't pay,
And the criminals are heading for a big fall!"
And when I asked to see your badge
You said, "Man, I don't need to flash no badge-
Can't you see I'm dancing at the Policeman's ball?"

Dancing at the Policeman's ball
Dancing at the Policeman's ball
Move your feet while the city sleeps
Dancing at the Policeman's ball
Dancing at the Policeman's ball
Dancing at the Policeman's ball

In precinct five, ten people died
In precinct six, it was twenty-five
Nobody taking the law to the streets tonight
Did I hear you say it is your aim
For every night to be just the same
And you hope the city outside's gonna be okay

Dancing at the Policeman's ball
Dancing at the Policeman's ball
Move your feet while the city sleeps
Dancing at the Policeman's ball
Dancing at the Policeman's ball
Dancing at the Policeman's ball

From Victims of the Age

Weakness - Paul's and Ours

“If God’s definitive salvific act occurred through the weakness of the crucified Jesus, then it should be no surprise that the saving gospel of the crucified Jesus should reach the Gentiles through the weakness of his apostle.” 
                                                            -  Richard Bauckham, ‘Weakness – Paul’s and Ours’

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Dad, I don't think I need to go to church anymore...

Why do you go to church?  Often we slip into thinking its all about us.  Even if we are committed, faithful, biblical Christians who understand that we aren't attending church to be entertained or psychologically inflated or to socialize, etc., we can slip into thinking that its all about us in different ways.  Trevin Wax has a great post about how we can set our children up to think that church is all about them, even as we attempt (even because we attempt) to be God-centered.
"For months (maybe years), I’ve conditioned him to think that attending a worship service is all about learning. From our Saturday night prayers (“Be with us tomorrow, Lord, as we go to church and learn more about You”) to after-church conversations (“What did you learn in Sunday School today?”), our way of talking about church is predominantly educational. No wonder he thought we should move on. If church is school, then eventually, you graduate, right?"
 You can read the whole thing here.

Monday, 16 September 2013

The Gospel in Syria

Before their were Christians in North America, before the gospel was preached in Europe, even before the Apostle Paul became a household name in the churches of Jerusalem and Judea, Paul preached the gospel in Syria (Gal. 1:17-24).  Pray for our Christian brothers and sisters in Syria.

Friday, 13 September 2013

N.T. Wright on worldview formation through Psalm singing

N.T. Wright has a new book out that argues for the worldview forming power of singing Psalms in corporate worship.  Here are some samples of what Wright is on about:
"The Psalter is the prayer book Jesus made his own. We can see in the Gospels and in the early church that Jesus and his first followers were soaked in the Psalms, using them to express how they understood what God was doing. For us to distance ourselves from the Psalms inevitably means distancing ourselves from Jesus."
"Within the Jewish and Christian traditions, you get your worldview sorted out by worship. The Psalms are provided to guide that worship. When we continually pray and sing the Psalms, our worldview will actually reconfigure according to their values, theology, and modes of expression."
"...what is true today was true in the first century: There was a clash of worldviews. The early Christians discovered themselves drawn into the Psalter's ancient Jewish way of seeing God as both totally other than the world and radically present—dangerously present—within it. And of course, this very description of God is also the description of Jesus. The Psalms enabled the first generation of Christians to navigate the world of their day, a world not all that different from our own."
You can read the whole article here.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Robert Farrar Capon (1925-2013)

Father Capon went to be with the Lord this past Thursday.  The world just got a little less poetic...I'm not sure if Capon could write a dull sentence.  I confess, I haven't read widely from his works, and what I have read I haven't always agreed with.  In fact sometimes I have strongly disagreed.  But even in the areas where I believe him to be quite wrong, I am still edified to sit in his literary presence.  The things he got right, like grace, he got stunningly right.  When I read him, I often find myself in the seemingly paradoxical state of happy conviction, if that makes sense.  He reminds me that usually my besetting sin is that of not basking in the joy and peace and mercy of God's forgiveness of sin; of not drinking deeply enough from the rich wine of grace; of unwrapping my presents too slowly; of not going back for thirds. 

Some fine reflections on this gracious gourmand may be found here and here and here and here.

Below is an extended quote from his book, Party Spirit (1979), in which he further develops the themes from his more popular book, The Supper of the Lamb (1967).   Here he speaks of preparing for and having people into our homes for parties, which for him means gracious and lavish, food-centered hospitality, poured out in the company and for the enjoyment of others.  Capon sees entertaining (hospitality) as a sacramental foretaste of the great party God's people will one day enjoy and a far more potent taste of real grace than any case for the faith we might present.  The emphases below are mine.

"The Bible...actually ends with a party:  the marriage supper of the Lamb and his Bride - the celebration, after the stormiest of all courtships, of the wedding between God and his finally reconciled creation..."
"...since the end is always the best place to begin, look first at the image that speaks directly to the party as an act of faith:  the Book of Revelation's final picture of the consummation as a sit-down dinner for ten thousand times ten thousand.  Authors give themselves away in their last chapters, and the Holy Spirit is no exception.  If, for instance, a book ends with corpses, confusion and tears, we know that the writer's deepest belief - in spite of all the bright hours he contrived to crowd between his beginning and his end - is that life is a mess.  And if it ends with a party, it can only signify his conviction that, betrayals, crosses, and failures to the contrary notwithstanding, things were really peachy from the start.
Now, if you will add to that consideration the act that we are all authors - and that at every present moment each of us is invariably busy writing a last chapter to his history so far - you will see why a party is an act of faith.  For when we summon Irving, Dorothy and a dozen other assorted and consorted specimens to keep company with us for an evening, we are making a statement, not simply about us or them - few of our performances so far warrant three days in the kitchen on the off chance that sixteen of us will make it smoothly through a whole evening; rather, we are making a declaration of belief in a happier order which has somehow comprehended us all and under whose reconciling power every one of us is worth any amount of work.  We are offering, if you will, to refresh their history with a decisively hopeful last chapter, all on a Saturday night.
Notice, however, that that is precisely an act of faith and not an exercise in wishful thinking.  We remain fully aware that Irving and Dorothy could well break up next year, just as they broke up last with Celeste and Arthur.  We do not hide from ourselves the fact that Arlene becomes maudlin at ten, or that Grover moves to the right of Genghis Kahn after three martinis.  We carry with us the knowledge that Harold's hand is bandaged because he punched a doorframe instead of his daughter, and that Jennifer's frequent trips to the wine jug owe more to her husband's roving eye than to her own parched throat.
And we know all too well what those derelictions have cost them.  Our guests come to us - indeed we, but for our belief in the better order, come to ourselves - after a week of comfortless conclusions about our own acceptability.  Our histories from Monday to Friday have built up in us a wall of unbelief at the possibility of any order strong enough to countermand our chaos.  Harold, no doubt, feels condemned as a failed parent; Grover, no better off, finds himself condemning the rest of the world.  One way or another, the balm of a convincing absolution has been lost in the mundane shuffle and the search for Gilead given up as a hopeless cause.
But we as hosts know something more than that.  It is tempting to be bold and say that we know there is a Gilead after all and that we have cornered the market in balm.  But that is too bold.  Our party remains an act of faith, not of knowledge.  The most we can ever be sure of is the firmness of our decision to trust that there is a happier order on the other side of unbelief.  What we offer them, you see, are not proofs of a better order - all proofs are debatable, and a good headache can refute any of them; instead, we give them the tangible results of our faith:  in this case, an Armenian [he is writing of preparing an Armenian Easter dinner party] replica of the believed order in action.  We invite them to look, not at the necessary conclusions of their shortcomings, but at the unnecessary largesse of our acceptance.  And we ask them only to come and feel the power of its drawing.
That is why you and I sit now with Vivaldi and wine:  to be sure we appreciate the magnitude of what we have set in motion by our call.  It is all too easy to write off parties as mere adjuncts of life, diversions from the serious business of trying to find our way as we plod homeward to the future.  But the call of a party is precisely a sacrament - a representation with the same power as the original - of the homeward call that in fact is the only thing that keeps us going at all.  For one thing, it comes to us out of the future:  an invitation to Saturday at Five, issued and accepted, imposes a hope-filled shape on both the host and guest long before the time it sets.  Like the last day of the world, it says that reconciliation is already in the works and so begins to govern before it arrives.  For another, the happy shape it imposes by its grace can be grasped only by faith.  Luther once said that no man can know or feel that he is saved, he can only believe it.  So with a good party:  there is no way you can know for sure that it will come off; you can only hear the call and trust it."  (p. 12-15)
You might have noticed some places where Capon seems to be swerving a little too close to the shoulder.  Sure, we could come up with some caveats - people need to know they are lost before they see their need to be found - but Paul was never charged with teaching legalism and Jesus was not accused of being a dieter and a teetotaler. 

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

No hope for civilization...

"There is no hope for civilization apart from acceptance of the Person and obedience to the teaching of Jesus Christ."
                           R.H. Strachan, The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, p.58

Monday, 2 September 2013

Pastoral Fragments...not diplomats but prophets

"We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum."
                                                                                                          - A.W. Tozer