Theological Thoughts

Whatever Happened to Christian Salutations?

Whatever Happened to Christian Salutations?

I have always been intrigued by the lack of formalized salutations in the Christian world. Christians greet one another with no distinct language. Muslims, Jews, and others each have greetings that communicates their vision for the world. But whatever happened to a distinctly Christian salutation? I am not asking to restore King James English to letter writing; those days are behind us. But I am asking for some type of formality in exchanges and greetings. Christians can replace “bye” with “The Lord bless you.” They can greet each other with “The Lord be with you” instead of “How are you?”

The type of salutation we use in our worship service is actually a reflection of the common greeting of the Church in their day-to-day activities. It is taken from Ruth four where Boaz greets his workers with “The Lord be with you.” It is not merely reserved for the formal gathering. We use it also in our “passing of the peace” during the Eucharistic meal. But why can we not take it a step further and use it in e-mail exchanges or personal greetings? You can set up your signature on Gmail with something like “The Lord be with you” at the end of every e-mail. Rosenstack-Huessy says that greetings orient the speaker and hearer to the same environment. Christians need to be oriented to the same peace often.

This may seem trivial to some, but I argue that for Christendom to succeed we need to restore a Christian grammar to our day-to-day conversation and interactions. Colossians says that our speech needs to be seasoned with salt. Part of this saltiness means re-orienting ourselves with a distinct vocabulary. The apostle Paul was naturally fond of this type of interaction. He began most of his letters with a salutation. For Paul, when Christians meet or engage one another they are not meeting on neutral territory, they are meeting on holy ground. They are image-bearers engaging one another in common discourse; common, but also sacred. Everything we say and do as Christians carry a sacredness to it. This sacredness, I believe, needs to be translated into our day to day greetings and interactions.

Parents can begin very early to cultivate these practices with their little ones. They can greet them in the morning with peace and put them in bed with God’s peace.

We need to consider carefully the implications of what we say and how we say it. God has given us some principles on how our speech is to be carried out. As ambassadors, we have an opportunity to greet one another in a love that binds us together and in a union that cannot be severed. Peace be with you.

John Knox on Baptism

John Knox on Baptism

The Reformed world spins in all sorts of un-sacramental circles. In a recent post dealing with the Federal Vision, one writer observed that baptism does nothing to the recipient, but to point him to something greater. A well-known Reformed thinker has begun to use the phrase “baptism brings an individual into the shadow of the covenant.” All of this language serves to stay away from what many in the Reformed tradition, even the majority of reformational confessions have stated all along, namely that baptism accomplishes something. It is effectual. Baptism effectually brings an individual into a corporate reality. That reality brings then various benefits and blessings to the recipient. a

There are particular branches within the Reformed world that de-stresses the effectual nature of baptism. But one must also affirm without a shadow of a doubt that the Reformational expression has by and large emphasized the profound union that exists between baptism and covenant blessings. Baptism is not simply the exposure to blessings, but the experience of blessings.

John Knox, considered one of the fathers of Presbyterianism expresses this most powerfully in the Scots Confession of 1560:

We utterly condemn the vanity of those who affirm the sacraments to be nothing else than naked and bare signs. No, we assuredly believe that by Baptism we are engrafted into Christ Jesus, to be made partakers of his righteousness, by which our sins are covered and remitted, and also that in the Supper rightly used, Christ Jesus is so joined with us that he becomes the very nourishment and food for our souls.

If Knox is to be used as a paragon of Presbyterian orthodoxy, then this statement will certainly appear frightening to those who have become accustomed to de-emphasizing the efficacy of the sacraments. ((Steve Wilkins offers some of these quotes here)) But yet these quotes can be multiplied.

If we are Reformed, then we need to come to terms with the high view of the sacraments that are prevalent in the historical Reformed faith. To act as if the early reformers imbibed some form of middle-of-the-road covenantalism is dishonest to history, and particularly to our Reformed forefathers.

  1. We could discuss paedocommunion here, but my point is a more general one  (back)
John Frame and the Definition of Theology

John Frame and the Definition of Theology

One of my most cherished moments in seminary was to be exposed to John Frame’s definition of theology. For Frame, theology was defined as “the application of the Word of God by persons to all areas of life.” a This definition is helpful because “Theology is thus freed from any false intellectualism or academicism. It is able to use scientific methods and academic knowledge where they are helpful, but it can also speak in nonacademic ways, as Scripture itself does – exhorting, questioning, telling parables, fashioning allegories and poems and proverbs and songs, expressing love, joy, patience . . . the list is without limit.”

I have since used this definition again and again and have learned to appreciate it even more as a pastor. Contrary to pietism, the Spirit does not implant in us an application, rather theology is applicable and needs to be made applicable by pastors and parishioners. It is also freeing to consider this definition in light of the theological illiteracy in our day. Certainly we wish to see the church grow in biblical knowledge, but this definition means that a pastor can instruct even the newest convert in the way he ought to live.

Frame’s definition accentuates the pastoral task in that it calls pastors to ask consistently How Now Shall We Then Live? In this sense, as Frame has argued elsewhere, unless theology is practically applied it has not become true theology. On the other hand, the one doing theology must first understand it before applying it. We have seen our share of faulty applications in the realm of the home and the church. Therefore, to properly grasp this definition one needs to be familiar with theology. David’s battle with Goliath was more than a remarkable example for how we can overcome difficulties in our lives, but also how God can use the weak to defeat the strong, and how a nation needs to put their trust in God, rather than chariots. There are individual and corporate obligations involved in that simple narrative.

Theology prepares us to ascend with our Lord, and in that reign we can learn to apply this rulership in all areas of life.

Another dimension to this conversation is that in applying our theology we become ambassadors for our theology. When our lives are poorly lived out we do shame to our theology. When sins are left un-confessed we are asserting that our theology does not have an answer for sin, or that it is flexible toward certain sins.  Theology needs to be lived out consistently, and when it is not, we need to confess that is has not been consistent.

Theology is life and life is theological.

  1. The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, p. 81.  (back)

I Give Thanks

Paul’s letter to the Philippians is filled with thanksgiving. Calvin writes that when Paul refers to things that are joyful he breaks forth in thanksgiving, which, Calvin observes, “is a practice we ought also to be familiar.”

Thanksgiving is the antidote to bitterness and gossip. How often do we falsely accuse others only to boost our own selfish interests? Thanksgiving is the reaction of someone overwhelmed by the goodness of God. It is the by-product of a life-story that echoes praise. Be certain that when bitterness and selfishness arise it is out of an ungrateful heart.

This is another reason worship is so central to the life of the church. Worship is a thanksgiving gathering. The very word we use for the Lord’s Supper, namely Eucharist, means thanksgiving. Worship is practice in giving thanks.

Eschatology, Poythress, and the Hallelujah Chorus

I hope to write in the next 18 months a short booklet on eschatology. I have written some papers in the past, but have not been able to provide a general outline, specifically of the postmillennial hope, and its contrast with other millennial positions.

Obviously, there are many wonderful works out there. From John Jefferson Davis to Keith Mathison, and the multitude of theonomic works from the 70’s and 80’s, namely, many of David Chilton’s work (especially his Revelation commentary).

At the same time, there still seems to be a dearth of introductory works at a more layman level. The typical parishioner who has sat under postmillennial preaching for years still finds himself confused by all the labels used. If he has not been immersed in a reformational vocabulary, he is bound to confuse categories and chronology. Naturally, they find themselves incapable of articulating why this optimistic vision contains a progression beginning in Genesis and flowing throughout the New Covenant writings.

Panel Discussion on Eschatology

I listened recently to a panel discussion on eschatology at ETS held some years ago. The postmil advocate (a conspicuous minority in that room) offered a helpful treatment of the chronology of I Corinthians 15:22-26. While helpful, that type of assessment needs to be incorporated into the broader corpus of the Scriptures. For instance, I find it unfathomable to begin a conversation on eschatology without considering the promise of Genesis 3:15 and the motif that is unfolded throughout the other books, namely Judges with its five-fold illustrations of head-crushing.

Poythress, a noble advocate of the Amillennial view, sees the postmil vision more adequately than most, but still does not see why the vision of the Puritans, for example, is a vision of a christianized society.  He argues, in this panel discussion, that if postmil advocates were to focus more on the Second Coming then he would have more in common with them. Well, there is no doubt we focus on the Second Coming, the final parousia, but history is a progression. We look to the coming of Christ at the end of history while not discounting the purposes of Christ throughout history and in history.

The famous Hallelujah chorus grasped this already-ness of the kingdom:

The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ, and of His Christ;
And He shall reign for ever and ever,
For ever and ever, forever and ever,

King of kings, and Lord of lords,
King of kings, and Lord of lords,
And Lord of lords,
And He shall reign,
And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings, forever and ever,
And Lord of lords,
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

We are in full agreement concerning the restoration of the world. And to quote Poythress, we are not waiting for the dissolving of the cosmos, but its restoration, while at the same time we need to believe and trust that the enthronement of King Jesus means the de-thronement of Christ’s enemies. If it is true that he must reign until all his enemies are under his feet, then this reign is quantitative, not just merely spiritualized.

The Gospel promises a discipled world (Mat. 20:18-20) and discipleship and baptism imply a qualitative and quantitative narrative of history. This tangibility of the Gospel vision is the hope of the consistent eschatology of the Scriptures.

Pronouncement and Process in the Pastoral Call

The pastoral task requires a prophetic and priestly vision. The prophetic dimension comes through proclamation in word. This proclamation fills the ministry of word with grace. Grace is riches in the Bible. So the pastoral proclamation is a form of gifting the body with riches. These riches serve as tools for dominion. They equip God’s people to perform their task in the world with wisdom and discernment.

But the prophetic word needs to be followed by the priestly work. Every priest knows that he cannot skip steps in his duties. Rituals and rites demand preparation and a process. A priest is aware that a pronouncement is not enough. He needs a process. This requires patience and care as he leads, cares, and shepherds his own.

The prophetic task is not an alone role. In order for any pastoral work to be successful, whether in the pulpit or in counseling, a minister needs to exercise patience as his congregants take each step. At times they may take a step back, and at times it seems that they are willing to walk towards their goal. The minister needs to re-direct their attention to the original goal.

The prophetic and priestly role bring people into their kingly status. We are all kings and queens in God’s new world, but this kingship does not come by virtue of adoption alone, but by virtue of maturation. Maturation is an exercise in faith and perseverance in truth.

Parishioners who do not grow in their faith become weak kings unable to defend themselves against the assaults that will surely bombard their kingdom. But when the prophetic pronouncement is heard and the priest steps are carefully exercised, God’s people can grow into grace and knowledge knowing that they have heeded the word of the Lord.

The Ways of God

The ways of God confound the human mind. One would expect a divine finger to snap and create the world instantaneously. But he took his time and artistically prepared his home in six days.

One would expect that God would settle the world’s problems in Genesis four as quickly as those problems arrived in Genesis three. But God took centuries to begin the definitive undoing of the world’s problems.

One would expect that God would take a godly king to rebuke the powers of evil and transform civilization in one generation. But God waited until the true king was born many generations later.

One would expect that God would take his own son and exalt him before death. But God killed his son on a tree; cross before crown.

The ways of God are intentionally perplexing to the ways of man. It is so because his ways are not our ways.

Book Review: Gods at War: Defeating the Idols that Battle for your Heart by Kyle Idleman

These days I rarely finish a book. I am currently reading through so many books I can barely keep track of which ones. I usually peruse a book, find what I want, and leave it buried in my increasing treasury of books on Kindle. This changed recently. In preparation for a sermon on idolatry I came across Kyle Idleman’s book entitled Gods at War. The book title caught my attention and so I downloaded it into my kindle and two seconds later there it was. I confess I had never heard of Pastor Idleman, and my first impressions of a mega pastor (which he is; pastor of the fourth largest church in the country) have not changed. The writing style filled with little stories and illustrations hurt my intellectual feelings from the start. But then I just kept reading it. The side bars with research and even the funny footnotes kept me reading it.

The reading is meant for a lay audience, but I confess this pastor needed it just as much. Idleman argues that “until that god is dethroned, and the Lord God takes his rightful place, you will not have victory” (22). I am not even sure where to start. I have had so many idols over the years.

As I read the book I realized that the premise was not much different than the biblical theological work of G.K. Beale who wrote that we are what we worship, whether for our ruin or for our good. Beale wrote his work in an academically driven style. Idleman is Beale for Dummies.

The time I waste. The things I treasure. Everything had become a god. “Never in the history of humanity has there been so much entertainment and so little satisfaction” (121). I am so easily entertained, and yet that entertainment fails to find the satisfaction that it intends to give. Why? because it is not meant to give it.

Who is your god? That question kept coming back again and again to haunt me. I have read Keller and I am quite aware that the second commandment is more thorough than simply constructing a physical icon, it also deals with the heart of the matter; really, the heart is the matter.

What a simple, at times silly, but overall profoundly revealing book. Don’t read this book. If you do, you will start hunting more effectively for those gods that tempt you in every direction. Come to think of it, read it. Be a hunter. Choose this day whom you will serve. “You shall have no other gods before me,” says Yahweh.

*See also, We Become What We Worship by G.K. Beale

When a Greek Orthodox and a Protestant Reformed Pastor Agree

Over at Orthodox Bridge, Mr. Arakaki graciously interacts with some of my thoughts on the Ascension. He observes:

Reading Rev. Brito’s reflection reminded me of the debt I owe to the Reformed tradition: how it led me out of the shallows of Evangelicalism into the deeper waters of theology, doctrine, and the church fathers, and how the Reformed tradition (for me) pointed to the Orthodox Faith.

While I am grateful for the sentiments, I must also state that the best of the Protestant, Reformed tradition offers a robust Ascension theology.

This world is not my home…or is it?

Those who follow me on twitter may see several tweets with the hash-tag #Ruthproject. The Ruth project is a new work I am working with a fellow pastor from Birmingham. We are working on a commentary on Ruth. But this will not be just a normal, exegetical work, it is actually a pastoral and theological labor focusing on the nature and goal of redemptive history. We will focus on the content of Ruth’s majestic love story, but also detailing why Ruth serves as a miniature picture for all of God’s history.

We will offer a theological framework for how we are to look at redemptive history and how God is working in it. The commentary hopes to be practical, pastoral, and layman-friendly.

Here is a quote from the introduction:

What you believe about the future shapes how you live in the present.  If your final expectation is just to go and dwell forever in ethereal heaven, compare what your world view and your practice would be to someone whose final hope is of dwelling in a renovated and perfected physical creation in a resurrection body.

Lord-willing we will be able to provide a manuscript draft to our publisher by the end of the summer. Our goal is to have it published by the Family Advance Conference in November.