All posts by Uri Brito

Thorns and Thistles

By bringing the serpent to Adam, God teaches us a lesson that the Church has been learning over and over for millennia, and which she has not yet fully learned. We must not try to learn ethics from the lower creation. Matters of right and wrong, which always ultimately concern our relationship with God, must be determined by God’s Word and His Word alone. -James B. Jordan

 

Counseling and the Work of the Spirit

Theology is deeply intimate. Michael Bird excellently summarizes theology as “speaking about God while in the very presence of God. We are intimately engaged with the subject of our study.” a This theological intimacy builds a certain type of worshiper. This worshiper, then, is aware of the nature of his relationships and his relationality with the Triune God. The theological enterprise, which has largely become a rarely pursued journey by the common parishioner, has fallen into the hands of arm-chair theologians. Instead of finding theology an intimate quest, they see it as an academic exercise to be exercised at a fair distance from the subject of their study. They have academized theology.

But theology, properly understood, is a project of the people of God for the sake of the world. Undoubtedly there is room for academic expertise, but this expertise will not  bear fruit unapplied. And part of this distaste for theology has come from the official divorce between theology and counseling. Simply put, we have abandoned the Holy Spirit while pursuing theology. In doing so, we have broken the Trinitarian commitment to knowledge and life. The Spirit is the divine matchmaker. He puts together man and God. He does this by providing in man a need for the divine. The Spirit’s work in us is to make us into needy beings who can only find fulfillment in a giving God. Jesus’ works on earth were all practically aimed at restoring flesh-beings to a more fulfilling humanity, even to the point of restoring a man to life (Jn. 11).

Counseling is necessary in theology. It is the Spirit-side of theology in the Triniarian diagram. The Spirit is the comforter, and our advocate. When others abuse us, the Spirit is the One who reminds us that our sanity comes from the Father, and though we have been painfully beaten to the point of mental breakdowns, the Spirit says that our sanity is from above and no one can take it away.

John Frame was right when he asserted that Christians understand the distinctness of the Father and the Son, but they view the Spirit “as a kind of impersonal force or power associated with God.” b This un-trinitarian tendency c has infected the theological enterprise. Though most evangelicals are careful to avoid sounding like Mormons, they still practically approach theology as a Spirit-less process. Of course, orthodoxy has always affirmed that there is no conflict in the Trinity. There is mutual glorification among the persons of the Trinity. d But practically, our orthopraxis contradicts our orthodoxy. Though Jesus is promised to be a “wonderful counselor” (Isa. 7), the Spirit is promised to be an abiding counselor; the one sent by the Son to abide in every Christian ( Jn. 14:26).

In large measure due to the misunderstanding of the trinitarian nature, the Spirit has been left out of the counseling room. He is not called nor petitioned to. But the Third Person of the Trinity is the key to the theological intimacy we must all seek. Paul writes:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

This transformation/transfiguration comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. Counseling stresses the Spirit dependency counselees must have in order to be transformed from glory into glory. The work of theology, Frame stresses, “is not simply to repeat the language of Scripture, but to apply the language of Scripture to our thought and life.” e The Spirit applies theology that changes for He is the source of change.

The type of intimacy I am advocating in counseling is the intimacy that communicates the need of the Spirit and the application of truth to all of life. If only truth is stressed f you lose the relationality of the Spirit of God, but when truth is joined with a conspicuous dependence on the Spirit, then true change from glory to glory begins to take place. Theology must be an intimate pursuit, for in it we discover the Spirit of God who provides true fellowship with the Father and the Son. g

  1. An Evangelical Theology, Bird.  (back)
  2. Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Christian Belief, 477  (back)
  3. cult-like  (back)
  4. see Frame, 480  (back)
  5. Frame, 482  (back)
  6. certain counseling paradigms operate strictly from this premise  (back)
  7. II Corinthians 13:14  (back)

The Task of Theology

The task of theology is to enable disciples to perform the script of the Scriptures, according to advice of the dramaturge the Holy Spirit, in obedience to the design of the director, Jesus Christ, with the gospel as the theme music, and performed in the theater of the Church. –Michael Bird a


  1. Evangelical Theology  (back)

Don Miller and the Institutional Church

The pastoral task has all the ingredients for abstractness. After all, we are constantly engaging dead people and throwing around foreign terms to most in the pew. In fact, many of the concerns I have heard over the years from parishioners of different traditions has been the concern that sermons and pastoral work do not reach the laity. Donald Miller manifested this sentiment in his now controversial blog post I don’t connect with God by singing. I connect with him elsewhere. The article received abundant criticism. Miller asserted elsewhere that he simply intended to start a conversation–and what a conversation he started. In another interview, Miller summarized his post:

And so I talked about the reality that I don’t get a lot out of church when I go. I don’t connect with God very well there, and I wondered if it wasn’t more of a learning style issue because it is a lecture format, and it’s not how everybody learns. a

Miller’s concern was not unique. Many have expressed this frustration with the intellectualization of worship. Rev. Jeff Meyers’ wonderful book “The Lord’s Service: The Grace of Covenant Renewal Worship answers Miller’s concern with clarity and with classic historical categories. Meyers argues that worship ought to have a wholistic vision prioritizing every detail as opposed to over-emphasizing merely the word preached.

Don Miller asserts that one of his struggles is that the worship service does not appeal to his style of learning. The worship service has as its emphasis a lecture model. Since Miller does not learn through lecture models, therefore Miller no longer finds appeal in the institutional church. b In his interview with The RELEVANT he asserts that he did not qualify things well in his blog post and that looking back he wished he would have not written it. But as the interview continued, Miller affirms the same sorts of things his critics condemned in the original blog post.

I actually believe Miller is on to something. The lecture model of doing church is not the one I advocate. In many ways, the Church–especially in the Reformed tradition, which naturally claims a more intellectual history–has become a magnified classroom with lengthy biblical expositions at its center. Whatever precedes the sermon is only pre-game information. And whatever comes after it is not as significant as the sermon either. But as Randy Booth rightly noted–quoting a portion of James Jordan’s work Theses on Worship– in his booklet A Guide to Worship, “the entire service is sermonic, not just the sermon.” c “The sermon itself,” he writes,” is very important, but it is not the all-important event. It is one important part of the many other important parts of worship.”

But if this is the case and any historical/liturgical tradition will attest, and since I am convinced Miller is aware of this historical precedent, then why not work to change this paradigm in the institutional church instead of generalizing it and bidding the historical ecclesiastical traditional adieu? With Miller’s book and lecture platform he could affect thousands of pastors who see worship as a lecture hall. That’s the reformer Don Miller the Church needs, not the one who throws away everything for a literal walk in the park on Sunday morning.

What is Miller trying to get rid of?

According to the author of best-seller, Blue Like Jazz, we have turned over the Acts church to the hands of professionals, known as the pastoral staff. Instead of doing that, we should simply hand out sheriff badges to everyone and say to them that they are all pastors. They are all in control. Sunday serves only to prepare these pastors–male and female–to go forth and be the church wherever they are. First Peter two does affirm our royal priesthood. We are all priests in the sense that we are no longer bound by bloody sacrifices. Christ’s redemption is accomplished, thus transforming us into agents of redemption in the world. However, what Miller fails to see is that Paul does not flatten the priesthood, he sees the priesthood operating differently in different spheres (I Tim. 3, Eph. 4:11-13). There is an office of priest (overseer) that is distinct from the general priesthood that we all inherit united to Messiah, Jesus.

Miller also wants to get rid of the institutional Church as center of community life.

I frequent a coffee shop weekly where one of the baristas is the leader of a church. When I asked him about the church, he told me that they meet at the same coffee shop on Sunday mornings to drink coffee and discuss the Bible. When I asked him to define a bit further what they do, he was quick to point to the flaws of the modern church. “We don’t need structure. We need to return to simplicity.” Since I have lectured on this topic before a few years ago, d. I can probably summarize this general view point as the “Romanticized Acts Church” movement. I am no opponent of coffee and Bible studies; in fact, I encourage them. But the idea that a return to the first century Church–as privately interpreted–is the solution to today’s ecclesiastical woes is overly caffeinated.

Why can’t I simply find community on my dinner table? or a pub? –because community life is complex. There is nothing wrong with finding community in these places, but they are all incomplete pictures of community life. They may be fine extensions of the community life, which the creeds refer to as “the communion of saints,” but to assert that that is a legitimate replacement for Word, Sacrament, and Discipline in the context of the gathered community is simplistic and dangerous. What then do we do with the adulterer? or the rich folks who are arriving at the Lord’s Supper and the agape meal and eating and drinking everything before the poor arrive? or the sexual abuse situations that are unfortunately prevalent in our churches? Miller has no answer. “I can maybe set up a board or something like that,” he said casually. But wouldn’t a board indicate some type of structure; the very same type you are attempting to eliminate?

Miller also says that he doesn’t find intimacy with God by singing songs to him.

As one deeply involved in ecclesiastical music, this concerns me. Miller is suffering from the psalmic-less nature of modern church music. What some of us treasure each Sunday through hymns and psalms of lament, imprecation, and overwhelming joy has been largely forgotten. The robustness of masculine voices and the beauty and nuance of female singing has become a forgotten history. All of it replaced by praise bands, and the few songs intended for congregational singing are quickly swallowed by the voluminous instrumentation.

If Miller is saying he simply does not like to sing, then he needs to re-adjust his biblical priorities. A quick search for the words “singing” and “music” will reveal their prevalence, especially in the Hebrew Scriptures. Because I don’t like to do something does not mean I should simply replace or eliminate it from the life of the church.

How Miller finds intimacy with God.

The answer is another example of a faulty ability to differentiate. Miller writes:

The answer came to me recently and it was a freeing revelation. I connect with God by working. I literally feel an intimacy with God when I build my company. I know it sounds crazy, but I believe God gave me my mission and my team and I feel closest to him when I’ve got my hand on the plow. It’s thrilling and I couldn’t be more grateful he’s given me an outlet through which I can both serve and connect with him.

I find his response a wonderful example of missing the point. We all find intimacy with God by working. We were created to work for six days, which means there is a great priority that God places on that. We all find hobbies and passions that fulfill us as men. We all agree with Eric Liddel’s wonderful attestation of the presence of God when he says in Chariots of Fire, “When I run I feel his pleasure.” When Miller works with his crew he feels God’s pleasure. But his intimacy ought to be the outworking of an intimacy that begins when by the Spirit we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6).

Miller’s entire paradigm could be easily dealt with by reading an introduction to ecclesiology. e Don Miller is the product of modern individualism. And though he flees from that language with his post-modern categories, ultimately, he falls in his own trap. Miller believes that church is all around us. Yes, we go as church to the world. We carry the name of God. f But we go as church because we have already been fed by the head of the Church as we gathered as one body.

Conclusion

Miller’s platform is huge. His simple blog post, which he indicated took him about three minutes to write, led to a firestorm on the web. His attempt to start a conversation actually hinders us from having a more necessary conversation. The question should not be whether we worship in the traditional sense or simply find intimacy with God through other means, the question is “How has God called us to worship?” Further, whether you worship in a more lecture-style congregation or otherwise because of your learning style, what does your personal style of learning have to do with worship? What if God’s way of sanctifying you is by killing your learning style and causing you to appreciate God’s way of learning? What if the institutional church is God’s way of killing your wants so you may conform to his? What if attending church regularly is the way God intended to prepare you to understand intimacy?

I am not one to deny Miller’s connection with God via his work and habits, but I do reject his premise that abandoning the institutional church is the path to a deeper connection. The institutional church, I argue, is the deepest means of finding intimacy with God.

  1. Read more at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/donald-miller-church#KDZHerDkw3EuWr6q.99  (back)
  2. If you do not have this book, please purchase Kevin DeYoung’s wonderful work found here: http://www.amazon.com/Why-Love-Church-Institutions-Organized/dp/0802458378  (back)
  3. see Covenant Media Foundation for copies  (back)
  4. My lecture at the Family Advance Conference in 2012; e-mail for a PDF copy  (back)
  5. Maybe R.B. Kuiper’s work “The Glorious Body of Christ  (back)
  6. This is the heart of the third commandment  (back)

Resurrection Imitation: An Exhortation to Worship

As we consider Philippians one more time this morning before Transfiguration Sunday and the Lenten Season, we are considering this inseparable link between the Christian and his Lord. Not only do we share in the sufferings of Messiah, we also share in the resurrection life now. Richard Gaffin once wrote that “The Christian life in its entirety is to be subsumed under the category of Resurrection.” If we are to worship in spirit and in truth on this Lord’s Day we need to be renewed in resurrection garments that only a Resurrection Lord can provide.

For Paul, we taste of the life to come now. The final verdict has been declared now unto us. And only sin keeps us from tasting of this resurrection hope as we should.

What resurrection life does for us is provide the boldness we need to confess and to joyfully rise to receive forgiveness from Jesus Christ. This forgiveness is not granted by dead first century criminal, but a cosmic Lord of history. So we can say that “humans are saved by being united to the resurrected Messiah, and the result is that what is true of the true human is becoming true of others as well.”[1] The “category of resurrection” is not an ethereal description; it’s the place you live even now as you prepare your hearts for worship.



[1] Hood.

Silenced

She sits and ponders. Sometimes she is in pain. She rarely speaks. Her voice has been silenced. Her back is bruised, but her outfit and a few pain pills cover the hurt. Last night she was treated for another session of hubby’s anger explosion. In the outside world he is kind and gracious. He is even in leadership position in the church. He is treated like a model to the community. Inside the house children and wife are aware of how easily dad can lose his cool. His vocal chords reach record volume. His mistreatment and verbal slaps are constant, or can be triggered easily. They all walk quietly so as not awake the sleeping giant.

This description is the description of domestic abuse.

I write this because pastors sometimes treat these silenced victims as the guilty party. They blame them while overlooking the abuser.

For more information on this topic, purchase Jeff Crippen’s informative book A Cry for Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in your Church.

Also, if you have the time his lengthy audio series is quite helpful.

True Fellowship

Paul’s language in Philippians 3:10 is translated in the ESV as “share his sufferings.” The Greek is κοινωνίαν τῶν παθημάτων. “Koinonia” here is the community and association. This newly formed community is tattooed with suffering. They share in the messianic pain. They are built up through the sufferings of one another. In mourning with those who mourn they are forming an authentic koinonia in truth and are being co-shaped after the image of Jesus, the Messiah.

{Textual annotations from sermon on Philippians 3:10-11}

James Jordan on Paedocommunion

Brian Moats went through the trouble of transcribing this long quote from James Jordan’s lectures on paedocommunion (well worth the read):

“”Think back to the garden. Adam and Eve…this time they don’t sin. They have a child. Does the child grow up knowing the Lord? Yes. The child, from the womb, is bonded in. Bonded to the mother and to God, just like John the Baptist who leaped for joy in the womb when he encountered Jesus. John as a fetus encounters Jesus as a fetus, and John LEAPS for joy….that’s a response of faith. People say, “do you believe children can have faith,” and I say, “Man I believe a FETUS can have faith!.” John the Baptist had faith in the womb. Now, I don’t know how much intellectual content it had, but he recognized Jesus. His heart had faith.

…back to Adam and Eve. The children would have grown up naturally knowing the Lord. They wouldn’t have to make a decision. Now, as they grow older they become more self-conscious in that relationship. Sin is what destroys this whole pattern of life…these bonds. If salvation means anything, if we are Trinitarian in our view, then I submit that to mean that these bonds [of father and son,community] are restored.
Our children do grow up knowing the Lord. Now, is that because we are MADE righteous and so our children are conceived without sin. NO. They are conceived in iniquity. They are born in sin, they are born dead. But the pattern of redemption follows the pattern of creation, and God baptizes our children and puts them in a relationship with himself. They may grow up to be an Esau and they may break this, but they start out inside by baptism. We don’t baptize our children because we presume they are regenerate. We baptize our children because we presume they are unregenerate… baptism is our claiming the promise.

Salvation, by implication, restores these relationships. It’s not just an individual thing. The Holy Spirit comes and we would expect then that God would put our children into a relationship with Himself just as if Adam and Eve had not sinned their children would have grown up in a relationship with God. And that’s what we find, of course. Have you ever known 4-6 year old children in Christian families who didn’t believe? If the parents went to church and brought their children along? And prayed [and discipled them]? Have you ever known small children who don’t believe? No. They do! They may get to be 13 or 14 [etc] and rebel, but when they are young they receive the faith of their parents. That’s God’s way. If God didn’t want it that way he wouldn’t have caused us to come into the world as little kids. There is nothing wrong with that [being a kid]. We think, somehow or other, there’s something wrong with that…for a child to believe what his parents tell him. That’s not wrong, that’s God’s way! If God didn’t want it that way children could pop into the world at the age of 20 who could make his own decision. Think about this. God’s way is for children to start out believing what their parents say, and then then begin to get to the point where they move away from their parents by degrees. First of all, there are terrible two’s where the child moves a little bit away. Then there’s terrible five’s, then there’s adolescence, and then eventually the child is out of the home. And each one of these defines a new stage and a new relationship with the parent. These stages are real. At each stage the child relates less to the father and the mother and more directly to God. That’s what we want. Children relate to God as Father. When they reach adolescence they begin to relate to God as husband. And that’s why they get involved in a passionate need to have a relationship with God the son that is like a spouse, for the same kinds of reason that they start to look for someone of the opposite sex. God puts them in a stage of life where they want a complementary relationship. Before that time they relate to God as a Father, they just climb into his lap. That’s not wrong. It’s just a different stage of life.”

Why Study the Scriptures?

If God has revealed truth about himself, about us, and about the relationship between himself and us in Holy Scriptures, then we should study Holy Scriptures. It is as simple as that…Not to be interested in the study of Holy Scripture, if one living and true God has revealed himself therein, is the height of spiritual folly. a

  1. Robert Raymond, xxxi  (back)