The Passion Week provides diverse theological emotions for the people of God. Palm Sunday commences with the entrance of a divine King riding on a donkey. He comes in ancient royal transportation. The royal procession illicit shouts of benediction, but concludes only a few days later with shouts of crucifixion as the king is hung on a tree.
The Church also celebrates Maundy Thursday as our Messiah provides a new commandment to love one another just as He loved us. The newness of the commandments is not an indication that love was not revealed prior (Lev. 19), but that love is now incarnate in the person of love, Jesus Christ. We then proceed to sing of the anguish of that Good Friday as our blessed Lord is humiliated by soldiers and scolded by the offensive words of the religious leaders of the day. As he walks to the Mount, his pain testifies to Paul’s words that he suffered even to the point of death (Phil. 2). But hidden in this glaringly distasteful mixture of blood, vinegar, and bruised flesh is the calmness of the day after our Lord’s crucifixion.
The Church calls this day Blessed Sabbath or more commonly, Holy Saturday. On this day, our Lord reposed (rested) from his accomplishments. Many throughout history also believe that Holy Saturday is a fulfillment of Moses’ words:
God blessed the seventh day. This is the blessed Sabbath. This is the day of rest, on which the only-begotten Son of God rested from all His works . . .(Gen. 2:2)
The Church links this day with the creation account. On day seven Yahweh rested and enjoyed the fruit of his creation. Jesus Christ also rested in the rest given to him by the Father and enjoyed the fruits of the New Creation he began to establish and would be brought to light on the next day.
As Alexander Schmemann observed:
Now Christ, the Son of God through whom all things were created, has come to restore man to communion with God. He thereby completes creation. All things are again as they should be. His mission is consummated. On the Blessed Sabbath He rests from all His works.
Holy Saturday is a day of rest for God’s people; a foretaste of the true Rest that comes in the Risen Christ. The calmness of Holy Saturday makes room for the explosion of Easter Sunday. On this day, we remember that the darkness of the grave and the resting of the Son were only temporary for when a New Creation bursts into the scene the risen Lord of glory cannot contain his joy, and so he gives it to us.
Bob Jones University has been in the spot-light in these past several months. After hiring and firing and hiring again G.R.A.C.E, Bob Jones found itself in the middle of a firestorm. The multitude of responses came immediately from local pastors in Greenville, SC to well-known figures in the media. BJU finally offered the green light, so that GRACE would finish its report.
The report released on December 11, 2014, offered 300 pages of meticulous accounts and recommendations for the well-known fundamentalist university. The recommendations were specific. The university asked for 90 days to respond to the report. The response came recently through BJU’s president, Steve Pettit. You can read the entire transcript here.a
Though some were pleased with the university’s response, those who were directly affected by the poor and irresponsible counsel given to victims of sexual abuse and those who understand that abused victims need more than theological propositions to heal from the profound belittling of one’s humanity that occurs in sexual abuse, found President Pettit’s response to be a disgraceful attempt to rescue the reputation of BJU. Rather than reaching out compassionately to those who were damaged by the university’s dangerous counsel, BJU’s response proved that there is no inherent interest in following GRACE’s detailed recommendations. There was no attempt to offer a systemic undoing of the university’s overarching counseling narrative.
What follows are the testimonies of three such people who felt betrayed by BJU’s response and understood the response to be nothing more than beautifying the dead:
Almost two years ago, BJU asked people like me to take an online survey. They told us that they wished to learn about the experiences of those whom, during their time at BJU, received counseling for sexual abuse. BJU told us that they wanted hear our stories to assist them in evaluating their counseling program. And almost two years ago, I went online and took that survey. Then I was asked to travel and meet with some people who wanted to discuss my experiences in greater depth. So I went and met a team of 4 people. Four strangers. And I told those four strangers my very darkest secrets; memories that I had tried very hard to forget. It shredded my soul to revisit those parts of my life. But I believed I was doing something helpful. I was helping BJU to evaluate and improve their counseling program. The counseling that misapplied scripture and shamed me. The counseling that sent me back to my abuser to make sure he knew he needed God’s forgiveness. Interviewing with GRACE was a painful experience from start to finish. But I had no regrets. I felt that what I was doing was important.
I read the GRACE report, and was proud of the work they had done. They compiled our stories. Many voices, from different generations. Yet our voices echoed each other. Our stories were similar. Some so similar, that I wasn’t sure if I was reading my own words or someone else’s. And those stories clearly showed that BJU did need to make changes. And I believed that the University would listen to us. When many others didn’t, and when cynicism abounded, I still believed.
Then, the apology. An apology from a person who was not guilty of anything other than being the president of BJU on March 10, 2015. He, personally, had no reason to apologize. He read his scripted statement. Told me that they had listened; that they were sorry that we had been hurt. That we didn’t receive adequate “comfort and guidance.” Please forgive them. And I continued to believe that the cynics were wrong. But as I continued to listen, I slowly began to grasp that I was the one who had been fooled. According to him, BJU had already put in place changes. They were already doing things the right way. They had their lawyers go over everything; all of their files and papers and notes, and everything was ship-shape.
BUT, they want to meet with me. They want to hear my story personally. They want me to call them and share my experience. Why would I do this? They asked me to meet with GRACE and share my experience. And I did. At a very great price, I did what they asked. And they have said that they did everything according to Biblical standards, and in compliance with all laws. What would be the point of meeting with them? I’ve told my story already.
Now I sit and watch from the sidelines – the armchair commentary. Every kind of opinion. Some, upholding that the University can do no wrong. An attitude of complete and total idolatry. Others, that the University can do no right. An attitude of anger and revenge. And I feel lost in the middle of it all. On the one side, I feel scorn. On the other I feel pity. It’s said I must be a tool of Satan to destroy God’s school. It’s insinuated that I must be a needy desperate soul whose entire life has been derailed by the trauma I suffered. I’ve been called brave. I’ve been called bitter. I’ve been accused of being in such poor spiritual condition that I have no right to instruct BJU on any spiritual matters. Some nod along, some shake their heads. The cynics still tell me I should have known; they knew how it would turn out and I’m foolish for not seeing it too. It’s easy to try to “paint me by numbers;” to determine what kind of person I must be. Because I’m faceless. I’m nameless. My story, detailed in the GRACE report, is easily torn apart and dissected. Each side for their own purposes and motives. My story, pieced together with the stories of others; resulting in opinions, and more opinions, and even more opinions.
And today, one day after BJU’s response, I can only think of one word to describe my current feelings. Regretful. I wish I had never taken the survey. I am told that “they” are sorry, but not by the ones who have something for which they should be sorry. I’m patted on the hand and assured that they are doing better. Which I suppose should please me, except that I’m told they were already working their way there long ago. They were already getting it right. Without me. My voice, just one among many, wasn’t needed after all. And both the scorn and the pity, they have tugged at me. Scorn coming from ones who don’t realize that they know me. From critics who don’t realize, while they look down on me, that they sat at dinner with me many years ago. They were my friends. And now they assume the worst of me. Pity coming from people who mean nothing to me, who assume I need it because it benefits them. I am a useful tool in a vendetta that has nothing to do with me.
I can’t say, exactly, what Dr. Pettit could have said yesterday that would make me feel satisfied. I’ve struggled to come up with the “right answer.” I’m not writing this to figure all of those answers out. I’m weary of trying to figure it out. I’m writing this to say – I wish I had never taken the survey. I wish I had never interviewed. My voice has been heard, but not valued. If they didn’t truly want to hear it, why did they ask for it in the first place? I’m quite certain I would have been better off had I never been involved. But I wanted it to mean something. And, ultimately, it didn’t. An extravagant waste.
I believe that Steve Pettit’s apology was basically a non-apology because only external things have been changed. The heart of the problem is the way they SEE people and how they SEE themselves, and that has not changed. I don’t know how they can say with a straight face that they want victims to come to talk to them and that they want the university to be a place of solace when they continue to offend by holding onto their pride and refusing to submit to deep change at the level of the heart.
I am heartbroken over their stance, but I still have hope. My hope is in Christ, not an institution of flawed people. I think the GRACE report has exposed their condition, so the report was not in vain from that standpoint.
“Over the years, we have had a number of students come to BJU who had experienced sexual abuse prior to their association with BJU. Many of these victims reached out to our faculty and staff for help and were lovingly served and comforted. However, there were some who came to us and did not experience the loving and comforting environment they deserved in their time of need.”b
But he doesn’t mention what we received instead. In my case I received blame from Jim Berg for my problems of flashbacks and dissociation. I was told the reason I had the problems I did was because I wasn’t thinking on things that are lovely. I was at fault for not appropriately applying Phillipians 4:8. He told me I was choosing to dwell on the past and think about those things and that’s why I was there like I was in a TV show that was playing. I didn’t have the word for flashback and Jim Berg never told me there was a word for what I was describing to him about what was happening to me. At the time he was counseling me I also described to him my experiences in leaving his office after counseling and “waking up” somewhere way on the back side of campus. There is a word for that too, “dissociation”.
I really want to write out a well reasoned response to how BJU has responded to the GRACE report. I don’t know that I can. I am still reeling from their claim that their counseling is not the problem and they don’t intend to change it. How in the world can they have read the GRACE report and come to that conclusion?
I filled out the questionnaire and later interviewed with GRACE. It took me almost two years to get back to a place of stability. Right now I am reeling and am still basically in shock, even though I expected them to do nothing substantial or to truly own up to the damage their counseling causes. Maybe way down deep I did have hope for change. Maybe that’s why this hurts so much.
When Steve Pettit said, “I know many of you are saying to yourselves that what I’ve said about our discipline culture and counseling response isn’t a fair reflection of BJU as a whole. I know it’s not. But we have to own this problem, and we have to have the courage to deal with it in the right way for God’s glory.” They aren’t owning the problem. The counseling at BJU is woven throughout the entire school. The things said to me in private counseling by Jim Berg were also said in chapel and also appeared in his book Changed Into His Image. This is the same counsel that caused me such incredible harm. And they are keeping it. They aren’t following the recommendations to remove all of Jim Berg’s, Walter Fremont’s and Bob Wood’s counseling material and books.
I’m out of words, I’m left with shaking and sweating hands. Just this attempt to corral my thoughts that are flying a thousand directions, in order to express my reaction, is emotionally exhausting and I’ve even found myself sobbing uncontrollably.
The thought of spending $12.50 on a movie frightens me. I am perfectly content watching my favorite latest series on Netflix. The thought of going to a movie theater no longer appeals to me as it did ten years ago. So what would compel me to visit the theater this time? I confess, I was intrigued. I have been following Kirk Cameron for some time now. Kirk’s rise to stardom occurred in the late 80’s with Growing Pains. Since then, Cameron has come to Jesus and turned his career toward the Christian movie industry. His official entrance into the evangelical scene came in the 2000 movie, Left Behind. In those days, Cameron had drunk deeply of Tim Lahaye’s best sellers. The Left Behind series became a sensation. The 16-part novels emphasized the rapture, a popular evangelical doctrine of the end-times. The “Rapture” occurs when Jesus calls His Church home. The vision of falling airplanes, tightly folded clothes, and millions of people disappearing has become more than fiction; to many, it is Christianity in its purest form. And Cameron’s movies became the face of it.
Fast forward several years. Cameron’s involvement in broad apologetic and evangelistic work with Ray Comfort has given him some notoriety. He has spoken courageously on a host of moral issues and has received the type of media persecution expected from those who are antagonistic to the exclusivity of Jesus.
Cameron’s personal journey led him to some interesting theological figures. His youthful appeal can be deceiving. Kirk has actually become a fine thinker. And the greatest proof of his ability to engage the world of the Bible intelligently is his latest movie entitled “Unstoppable.” Originally presented to an audience of 10,000 people at Liberty University, Cameron explores the traditional question of theodicy: “If God is sovereign, why does He allow bad things to happen to good people?” a
A Case for Christian Activism
The theme song summarizes the basic thrust of the movie. There is a time to speak and that time is now. Cameron’s investigation provides an apologetic for Christian activism. The former Growing Pains star is now calling Christians everywhere to grow up. Speak for Christ. Defend Christ. The whole world has become a platform for the Christian vision.
This journey seeks to offer some answers to the broad questions of good and evil. Instead of entering into the philosophical arena, Kirk enters into the narrative of redemptive history. The drama of life is being enacted in this great stage. Unstoppable presents a narrative theology that is often unheard of in the evangelical pulpit. This narrative is both compelling and rich. It is a story that starts in the beginning.
Through very rich imagery, Cameron takes us through the formation of man. Man is created with authority and that is most clearly seen in his ability to name animals. In doing so, Adam mimics His Creator. God gives man a mission to heavenize earth. The heavenification project began in the Garden. Adam then is put to sleep and, from his side, God forms woman, who is flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. This beautiful, poetic, creative act, now puts man and woman at the center of God’s great plans for history.
Man was to have dominion over all things. And the first great test they faced came in the form of a beast. Adam should have smelt it a mile away. He should have crushed it. But the compelling drama goes from the safety of the garden into the danger of the forbidden fruit. Adam’s sin plunges humanity into chaos. But in the middle of this cosmic betrayal, God does not betray His creation. He makes a promise (Gen. 3:15). Even after Adam and Eve leave the garden He continues to provide for them.
But the narrative continues in bloody fashion. Humanity experiences its first death: the death of a son, the death of a brother. God then places on Cain the first true mark of the beast.
At this point, Kirk Cameron explores the persuasiveness of this narrative. This is a narrative, he argues, that would not sell. In Genesis, the Creator of the world destroys His own creation when He sent a great deluge to drown humanity in their sin. Why would the Protagonist do this? It is here when Cameron shines in his narration. He argues that God packs the whole world in a wooden box and then re-opens the box (the ark) to a new and better world. The new world is born through tragedy. The story is persuasive because it does not hide the consequences of sin.
The Theology of Unstoppable
Unstoppable is a short commentary on Genesis, which is consequently a commentary on the whole Bible. The great rainbow (bow) serves as an instrument of war. God took that instrument and directed it to His only begotten Son at the cross. At the cross, Christ was brutally murdered by His own creation. But it is precisely at the cross, argues Cameron, that “Jesus flips death on its head by dying for His enemies.” After death came life. Life burst from the grave. In fact, every graveyard is a garden. And one day, “each seed will burst into a new world.”
It is in this resurrection theme that Cameron transforms the question of evil into a case for the God who redeems humanity and will bring humanity from the dust of the earth into a new creation. Cameron takes the death of his young friend and uses it as an example for how grieving is not the end of the story. God’s purposes are unstoppable.
This is not your typical Bible story telling. Cameron weaved into his narrative a robust view of creation. Creation is not something to be despised or rejected. Creation was not left behind by its God. Creation is being redeemed by its Maker. Redeemed humanity united to the Final Adam, Jesus Christ, is now commissioned to disciple the nations and make the glory of God known.
Evangelicals will be deeply shocked by its overwhelming optimism. Cameron does not end in lament, but in triumph. The Christian vision is not an escapist one. It is a mission grounded in resurrection joy. And because of this, evil does not have the final word. God cannot be stopped. His purposes will be accomplished in history. His glory will be known from sea to sea.
JANUARY 28, 2014
CHURCH SHOWINGS BEGIN NOVEMBER 15!
Inherent in the question, is “How can He allow bad things to happen to Christians? (back)
Inherent in the question, is “How can He allow bad things to happen to Christians?
In one of the most lovely letters written in the Bible, I John– which we will be studying during Sunday School in July–the apostle encourages us by the example of Christ that our joy may be full. And then in chapter 5:21, which is the last verse of John’s first letter, we read this remarkable little exhortation: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”
We will consider this in the sermon more fully, but before we bow down to the only true God, what idols are we carrying along with us, even this morning?
All those virtues that we treasure: love, trust, hope; all of them can be turned on their head. What do we truly love, hope, and trust in during times of pain? Who do we seek when our lives are turned upside down? If any of these answers do not find their joy ultimately in the God who is righteous and just (I Jn. 1:9), then we have not heeded John’s warnings.
Brothers and sisters, as we come and confess our sins this morning, confess that you have not loved, trusted, and hoped in God as you ought. Confess that you have sought other gods before him. Confess them, and be still, and know that He is God, and there is none other before him.
Prayer: God Almighty, Father, Son, and Spirit, strengthen us today by your great mercy and transform us into the image of your own beloved Son, whom we love, trust, and hope. Amen.
Response to Comments: I am pleased with the enormous response. As of now there have been over 500 views. The vast majority of responses were very supportive and expressed in one way or another the sadness, but also the hope that a new generation will turn this evil tide in our country.
As I expected there were a couple of negative responses. The response can be summarized in the following manner: “Abortion is such a difficult issue, and to expose a four year old to such an issue can be unhealthy.” One comment referred to the topic of abortion as “intense.” I do not wish to spend too much time with a lengthy response, except to say the following:
First, we have largely sanitized abortion in our evangelical culture. We looked at the Gosnell case with absolute horror, but then treated it as something completely different than what happens every single day in the abortion clinics of America. Approximately, 4,000 babies are suffering the same fate every day. Instead of sanitizing, we need to call it for what it is: barbarism.
Secondly, we have also minimized the ability of our little children to understand big issues. My four year old has been raised in a covenant home where the gospel is brought to her attention every day through singing, Bible reading, discipline, and conversations that vary from the Trinity to tying shoes. Children can grasp more than we can imagine. During our lunch time today, my daughter called my wife to tell her something. She whispered to my wife: “Thank you for loving life.” Yes, there were some tears, but ultimately it was a confirmation that the covenant promises of God are yes and amen.
Third, one comment addressed the fact that we need to show more love to these mothers. I agree. And I think that pregnancy centers like Safe Harbor in Pensacola do a marvelous job. Last year alone they–through their counsel–prevented over 150 women from taking the life of their unborn children. At the same time, when these women are walking into these abortion centers, they are mostly making a conscientious choice to take the life of their unborn child. This is tragic, and my daughter’s response was far more mature and pure than my own at times. Death is death. Death is a reality. We cannot keep our children from it, and when we see it we need to despise those who work iniquity (Psalm 5:5).
May God grant this new generation courage and a fresh passion for the glory of God and the purity and value of human life.
It was a morning like any other, except my daughter was wide awake at 4:45 AM. I work hard at not being a morning person, but for her it came rather easily. I got dressed and made the quick decision to take my vivacious four-year old with me. It was an ordinary morning, but at the last abortion clinic in Pensacola it was a morbid morning. Young ladies full of life were entering the house of death.
I am an ordained minister. I have sat through a presbytery oral examination. After having studied for six months, I felt fairly confident as I sat before six other pastors. The Bible verses and the theology flowed from my lips with tremendous ease. This morning, however, I was examined by my four year old. Suddenly I found my rhetorical abilities being challenged as I tried to explain to this beautiful little girl just how un-beautiful this place was. “We are going to a place where mommies don’t want their babies,” I said. “Why do they not want their babies,” she asked. “Well, they simply don’t love life.” She paused and looked outside in silent wonder.
We arrived at the clinic and the signs were beautiful. The faces of lovely little children brought a temporary sanity to some of us. Another sign pictured a bloody and shattered body of an aborted image-bearer. She saw the image.
We joined the other saints. We read a psalm, prayed, and sang Psalm 92. They may not have heard us inside, but God did, and God acts through the prayers of his people. We sang of how the enemies of Yahweh grow like weed, but they are caught in their own evil schemes. Lord, hear our prayer.
We saw the vehicles as they drove by us. They reminded me of young college students flying through the college campus to get to class on time. In this case, they were young college students flying by in their expensive cars to terminate the life of their unborn children. It was a devastating sight to behold.
My daughter asked me to lower myself and quietly asked me: “Are the mommies going to kill their babies?” “They are, baby girl! That is why we are here. We don’t want them to make this horrible decision.” “But daddy, I don’t want them to kill their babies.” “We don’t either. We need to let them know that God loves life, and that He loves babies.” She was visibly shocked. In her world, mommies treasure babies, and daddies are not cowards. But in this world, mommies are bad characters in this unending movie, and daddies are participants in one of the most cowardly acts of history. “Daddy, I want to go home.” I excused myself and took my four year old to the car knowing that I was going to be examined again. “Are they really going to kill their babies?” Now she asked with greater conviction. Once again I said yes. We need to let them know that babies are gifts from God and that we cannot refuse his gifts. We then talked about how precious her baby brothers were. She told me she wanted to go home and kiss her 9 month old brother. Once again, she silently looked out the window in a contemplative manner. Then she burst into righteous anger: “I don’t like those mommies! They will never be able to kiss the babies! I don’t want to come back here.” I didn’t respond. She then pondered for a minute or two. “Maybe I will come back,” she said. “Just let daddy know, and I will bring you with me,” I said.
It was a morning like all others, but this morning my daughter learned that not everyone treasures life. And her heart was broken, and so was her father’s.
Uri Brito is a husband, and a father of three lovely children.
We treasure by our very nature as new creation beings (II Cor. 5) the justice of God upon injustice. We are imprecational beings. The Psalms are given for and to us for a particular reason. They are our prayers. They belong to righteous sons and daughters of the King. They are our means to communicate our hunger for justice in this world.
The blessedness of these prayers is that they begin to shape us in a new way. Mixed with the blessings of the covenant are the many curses the covenant brings to those who despise Yahweh. Of course, God’s judgments are pure and perfect and they are acted upon in His time and way. Since this is the case, they usually befuddle our expectations. And naturally, this can be frustrating. While we live in this justice-paradox, we also live knowing that God does not forget His justice. Though time passes painfully for us, God is not emotionally moved by His passion to see His Name and children vindicated.
So as we seek the kingdom of God above all else, let us also seek His justice in that kingdom. And while we do, let us continue to pray faithfully and continue to wait patiently for the God of war to act. His kingdom will prevail and His justice will not fail.
Collin Hansen wrote an article for the Gospel Coalition entitled Should You Cancel Good Friday? which has brought to the attention of many a conversation they have never had before. What is Lent? Why celebrate it?
As a committed Protestant, I am committed to the Church Calendar, not because I want to be a slave to it, but because I am aware of its inevitability. We all follow some calendar. The question is which calendar? I ask that question because Protestantism is grounded in a Trinitarian view of the world. In its best expression it does not isolate ideas; it brings ideas together to form a coherent system.
I suggest that Lent is highly Trinitarian. As the Trinity is a communion of love, so Lent provides a means to express that love to one another in the community. Where sins are confronted and battled, there you find a vigorous Trinitarian community and vision. Lent is service to the community by giving us a season of determined battle against sin for the sake of our neighbors.
It offers a vision of history that undergirds the biblical history and that reflects the normal routines, liturgies, and rituals of human beings. Lent is a form of restructuring our lives. All Christians need a re-structuring of order in their own lives. All Christians need to re-balance and re-form areas where there is disproportionate indifference. We all undergo a Psalmic journey of lamentation and feasting. Lent draws us into this journey.
In essence, Lent reveals the God who suffers in the Person of Jesus Christ. God’s image-bearers are formed from the dust of a fallen Adam to the glorification of the risen Final Adam. To disconnect Lent from the Church Calendar is to disparage history.
It is true we live in the age of an ascended Lord, but this same Lord guides a Church that is still broken, suffering, and healing from brokenness and suffering again and again. The removal of Lent is to proclaim an over-realized eschatology.
It is true that Lent can be abused, and history teaches us that it has. But it is also true, as Luther so memorably stated, “the abuse of something is not an argument against its proper use.” So if Lent can be proven to be profitable, then is there a legitimate way to benefit from it without falling into some its former abuses. Protestant Christians are not bound by Romish structures of food or rituals. We use wisdom in forming healthy habits for a Church and individuals while not binding the Church or the individual to a particular habit.
Lent and Wilderness
Lent teaches us that Satan’s gifts are easy to master. They come with first grade instruction manuals. They are made to be mastered quickly and enjoyed rapidly (fornication, drugs, alcohol; various temptations). God’s gifts are a little harder to master. They require self-control and patience. They anticipate spiritual growth; they demand a kingly attitude to grasp kingly wisdom. God’s instructions mean you have to seek others in the community to understand them properly. You have to exercise and express a theology of patience built into a theology of blessings.
In the wilderness, a garden stripped of colors, fruit, and water, Jesus faced the devil again in a re-match. He knew well that temptation had a triumphant history of subtly winning arguments. Jesus wasted no time and rebuked temptation. just like He would do with the demons and the demonic-like religious teachers of the day.
We are not to sit in temptation’s classroom. God already said we are to flee it; to rebuke it with the only source of authority that is permanent and stamped with divine truth.
The Church finds herself in a wilderness scenario. She is stripped of her former glory. But she is destined to journey from glory to glory like her Lord and Master. As in Luke four, we need to sit in Yahweh’s school house. We need to be instructed by the two-edged sword that muzzles the Tempter and tells him to not come back again. He is not welcome and neither are his offers.
Lent offers us a 40 day class on temptations and the glories and rewards of resisting it.
But Why 40 Days?
Lent follows the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. His fasting for 40 days speaks to the evil and the hardness of heart of the Israelites who succumbed to the Serpent’s whispers. So as the Church walks with Jesus from wilderness to Golgotha she re-lives the messianic journey. The 40 days are symbolic for that wilderness testing, and as a result it is chronologically set before the Great Paschal Feast, commonly referred to as Easter.
Should Lent be Observed?
Ligon Duncan and others in the Southern Presbyterian tradition argue that Lent has a history based on merit. Lent was a way to earn something. The Reformation fixed this soteriological error, and therefore Lent is no longer to be observed.
Duncan and others also go on to say that celebrating Easter and Christmas offer no such harm (he also believes that a National Holiday like Thanksgiving is also a uniquely American holiday to be celebrated). There is no doubt Easter and Christmas, and even Thanksgiving–to a lesser degree–offer wonderful benefits. But the question and the opening presupposition is that Lent is not biblical therefore it should not be practiced in the Church. If that is the case, then the question is not whether one day (or Season) is more beneficial than the other, but rather is it explicitly stated in the Bible or not? If the “explicit reference” argument is used, then Duncan will have to conclude that this is faulty reasoning.
I concur with Vance Freeman that “each of his (Duncan’s) reasons for not observing Lent are undercut by the observance of Christmas and Easter.” Mr. Freeman also concludes:
The biggest threat to Christianity today is not the church in Rome, or that Americans are prone to elevate traditional Christian rituals, like Lent, over discipleship. The biggest threat to the church is that our rituals are increasingly only secular ones. We are Americans before we are Christians. Super Bowl Sunday not only competes with the Lord’s Day, it dominants it. And when we relegate the Christian life to a mere facet of our American lives we fall into Moral Therapeutic Deism.
The formation of godly habits is the issue at hand. In other words, is there an adequate time of the year where the Church should have an explicit focus on the cross of Jesus and how that cross must shape our understanding of sin? Is there room for setting aside a season for a cruciform hermeneutic? I believe there is.
As Peter Leithart so ably summarizes:
Lent is a season for taking stock and cleaning house, a time of self-examination, confession and repentance. But we need to remind ourselves constantly what true repentance looks like. “Giving up” something for Lent is fine, but you keep Lent best by making war on all the evil habits and sinful desires that prevent you from running the race with patience.
If this is true, then Lent serves an enormously important role in the life of the Christian. Naturally, to quote Luther’s first thesis, “the Christian life is a life of daily repentance.” A faithful understanding of the Lord’s Service provides that for us weekly. However, an extended period where our sins are deeply brought to our attention by the preaching of the Word and prayer (and fasting) are regularly considered, practiced and meditated upon can provide great benefits for all Christians on each Lord’s Day and throughout the week.
The legalism concern is legitimate. We are all tempted to fall into this trap, but it does not have to be so. If we view Lent as a time to additionally focus our attention on mortifying our sins and killing those habits that so easily entangle us, we can then consider the cross in light of the resurrection, not apart from it. If we do so, Lent will become legalism’s greatest enemy and repentance’s best friend.
DJesus UnCrossed is SNL’s latest attempt to de-christ Christ. Of course, in our day, Jesus is easy to disrespect. One wonders if SNL would attempt a comedy journey through the life of Muhammad. No further comments needed.
David Flowers believes that the skit has something to teach us, and that we should begin to listen to our critics. He argues that the skit has hermeneutical problems, but that it shows our hypocrisy and inconsistency in our faith. Flowers argues that this is the result of an American-shaped Jesus. He is correct to assert that humor has a way of offending Christians and revealing weaknesses and hypocrisy. We should be aware of them.
The Jesus raised from the dead murdering Romans out of revenge seems bizarre in light of the biblical narrative. Flowers is correct to assert that it reveals the Jesus kick-ass motif portrayed by many in our evangelical culture. It is easy to object to the video’s false portrayals, but in what sense is this skit true, even with its exaggerative and faulty hermeneutics? There is something to be learned here. Flowers is correct that we are to listen to our critics. The point, however, is that our critics don’t go far enough.
Surely the 2nd Amendment Rights’ Jesus is very American and Neo-Conservative like. But that doesn’t even begin to describe the type of justice-driven Messiah we as Orthodox Christians believe.
For starters, we believe in a Messiah that is ascended to the right hand of the Father, and from that place of kingship rules and reigns over us and creation. He is not an unmoved Mover. Further, Jesus did not have the Romans in mind when He judged, He had the corrupt and idolatrous first century Jewish generation in mind. Upon them, He brought a profound tribulation (Mt. 24). The Gospel Lesson this Sunday is Luke 13:31-35 where Jesus laments over Jerusalem. He sought her with love, but she continued to kill and murder the prophets sent with a message of salvation and deliverance. The vengeful Jesus portrayed by SNL has no interest in context, but it should well observe that the Messiah who destroys is first the Messiah who shows mercy.
How Can we Learn from SNL?
First, Saturday Night Live is not a theology show. Its humor is devoid of accuracy, and frankly, that is not their interest. They have been on the air for 37 years because of their exaggerated (especially in the last ten years) view of current events. This is important to keep in mind.
Secondly, use these opportunities to correct false information. Bill Maher, the well-known HBO atheist host, does this better than anyone I know. He takes a portion of Scriptures and twists its meaning in a fashion that would make even the devil jealous. This is a good time for Christians to be hermeneutically savvy. In fact, go ahead and make a t-shirt with that slogan “I am hermeneutically savvy.”
Thirdly, do not allow an exclusively New Covenant narrative to shape your theology. As James Jordan observes: “The division of the Bible into “Old Testament” and “New Testament” is merely for convenience, for the Scriptures are one narrative from beginning to end.” It is important to note also that this one narrative portrays God as a God of justice who says all vengeance belongs to Him. The modern Marcionites have failed us just as much as SNL has.
Finally, remember that the life of Jesus–especially as we meditate upon it in this Lenten Season–is a life of cross before glory; suffering before resurrection. The Jesus that came out of the grave was first a Jesus that came riding on a donkey as the Prince of Peace. But that same Jesus has promised to come again riding a horse of judgment upon Jerusalem and upon all those who despise His Name.
This morning a group of us from Micah 6:8 joined to read Scriptures and pray at the only abortion clinic in Pensacola. It was a short time of reading and prayer. As the cold weather froze our bodies we realized that we were witnessing young women entering what I would assume was a pleasantly heated building. As they entered they were most likely treated kindly. As they waited they were most likely reflecting on the freedoms they would enjoy with this thing called “a human being” out of the way. Perhaps they were struggling with their decision. Perhaps they were forced into this concentration camp. And like a concentration camp they were led to a place that they thought was a refreshing shower, but instead turned out to be poisonous gas. As a “doctor” performed his surgery, the patient was slowly being seduced by the gas of death. “The right-winger and evangelicals can’t be right about this. They just want to take away our ability to choose over our bodies,” they rationalize. “My boyfriend will leave me if I decide to keep this child.” Whatever reasons they choose, and however detailed they may be, the telos is still the same: a living, breathing, God-formed human being was being obliterated without a chance.
I was struck while listening to the reading of Psalm 10 that “in secret places he doth slay the innocent.” How appropriate to our situation. This building is well-hidden to those who pass by. The Psalter says also that “they lie in wait to catch the poor.” Those in poverty are those who have relinquished their roles as mothers. In this case, the one in poverty of heart comes willingly to the trap set before them.
When that woman raised her fist at a pro-life activist this morning she was in defiance of God. “Those who defy verbally still have a chance,” opined the experienced activist near us. They are actually fighting with their decision was the implication. The ones who walk in quietly inhaling their first cigarette of the morning is set on their duty. Just as they puffed away on the cigarette, they were about to experience that unborn child puffed away from planet earth.
There is much work to do. I don’t do enough. I don’t pray enough. There is so much I can learn from those who have given their lives to declaring the message of life. To them I am grateful. John tells us that men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. In this clinic, it is in the darkness of the early morning that evil operates. As these ex-moms recover from their surgery, their consciences will never recover. May they never recover until God grants them repentance and their hearts find rest in the God of life.
This is the question tackled by Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He concludes:
Therefore, Christians may make careful and discriminating use of proper technologies, but must never buy into the contraceptive mentality. We can never see children as problems to be avoided, but always as gifts to be welcomed and received.
For evangelicals, much work remains to be done. We must build and nurture a new tradition of moral theology, drawn from Holy Scripture and enriched by the theological heritage of the church. Until we do, many evangelical couples will not even know where to begin the process of thinking about birth control in a fully Christian frame. It is high time evangelicals answered this call.