Category Archives: Theological Thoughts

Planning for 2019

It’s the third day of Christmas and I am finishing up some work before some hard deadlines. But I am already looking to next year. I journal at least three times a week–try Penzu.com this new year– and it helps me keep track of my progress.

As I read through my accomplishments this morning I looked back at some my goals at the beginning of 2018. In short, I essentially failed to accomplish all of them as intended. I did not read as much as I wanted, I did not write as much as I wanted, I did not pray as much as I wanted; in sum, I probably accomplished 30% of my goals for 2018. I confess my goals were fairly noble like reading 45 books (including some novels and poetry).

Though I failed to achieve my noble goals, I view it as a success. After all, I accomplished 30% of them. I could have lived all of 2018 aimlessly and purposelessly. But God wants your plans to succeed (Ps. 20:4), which implies there are plans made. It’s true that I set a fairly high standard and fell short, but I knew I was going to fall short at some level. But the planning ahead was fundamental to achieving the 30%. Had I not stopped to think late 2017 about how 2018 would unfold I would have entered the year without goals and agendas.

It’s quite easy to mock resolutions, but resolutions mean you have certain goals in mind; a healthy story you are trying to experience which will better your life and your family’s. This is why the Puritans journaled vociferously and wrote remarkably lengthy resolutions (see Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions).

So it is entirely true that God has a habit of shattering our well-laid out plans, but he also has a habit of honoring well-laid out plans. Therefore, plan. Plan for the coming year. Plan to love God, your family and your church and fill those days with ardent productivity.

Doing Away with Sentimentalism during Christmas

Steve Wilkins writes in his helpful article:

Observing Christmas as a season helps us to move beyond the sentimentalism that has become so much a part of “Christmas” and commemorate the true significance of Jesus’ birth. It enables us to see that Jesus’ coming truly transforms all things. It marked the end of the old world (under the dominion of sin and death) and the beginning of the new. And it reminds us of our new identity and purpose. We are now children of the King and are called to rejoice and give thanks and show the world the new destiny that now has come in Him. To celebrate for twelve days (as opposed to one) enables us to realize afresh the significance of what happened in Bethlehem and it declares to the world the remarkable reality that Jesus has destroyed the works of the devil and established a kingdom that shall have no end.

The Gnostic Advent

Christmas begins on Tuesday and it lasts for 12 days. Some criticize Advent as gnostic. “Advent is too immaterial and Christians want nothing with immateriality. We want the physical things like eggnog and gifts under the tree. So, why wait? Some would say? “Why not start celebrating Christmas early and get rid of this mysticism of Advent?”

Every year I hear this type of argument the more committed I am to the blessings of Advent. Call me stubborn, but I think Advent is as material as John leaping in Elizabeth’s womb, as material as tears of those waiting for Messiah to come, as material as getting together for dessert and singing of Advent hymns. Let’s be honest: Advent is only gnostic to those who want it to be gnostic.

I pray this season with all its rich texts about judgment and grace, waiting and deliverance, hope and joy was everything it was meant to be for you and your loved ones. I pray Advent prepared you to embrace these twelve days of Christmas with great rejoicing.

Kevin Hart’s Desecration of the gods

To step outside of the politically correct sphere is becoming a gigantic threat to anyone who dares touch on the ideological latitudinous of celebrity culture. Whether one uses humor or shares his convictions about a topic, if he touches on the sacrament of ungodly sexuality, his career suffers a thousand deaths.

Actor and comedian Kevin Hart, who was invited to host the Oscars, and who considered this “the opportunity of a lifetime” suffered such death when a decade ago he tweeted:

“Yo if my son comes home & try’s 2 play with my
daughters doll house I’m going 2 break it over his head &
say n my voice ‘stop that’s gay.’”

He dared, as a comedian in his late 20’s, to desecrate the holy of holies of the gods of diversity. Hart has since declared he has evolved on the issue and no longer holds to such declarations. Still, the gods show no mercy; even though Hart has achieved the apex of financial success; even though he has already shown on many occasions his ability to play within the temple with other toleration citizens. But the celebrity culture knows no grace; their gods demand perfection ten years ago and ten years henceforth. R.I.P. Hart.

Don’t Jump into the Darkness

Many of us grew up in environments where extra-biblical requirements were given as a way to please God. Now, no one in their right minds would assert that these were meritorious, but the end result of not doing x, y, or z inevitably led to guilt and fear. “Did I read my Bible this morning? “Did I forget to pray?” “Is God angry with me?”

The long-term effect of this thinking has led many to abandon the faith. I don’t want to condemn the legalistic heritage that some of us grew up with (though it is worthy of criticism), but I do want to assert that there are alternative ways of contemplating Christian piety that does not leave you dry.

We don’t want piety that abandons traditional habits of grace; we want a piety that learns to cultivate these habits in a grace-saturated world. We want a piety that is rich, diverse, and capable of drawing from God’s vast resources of strength and encouragement. We need to forsake legalism, but not to the wells of liberalism or atheism, but to the fountain of grace where the Gospel is given through an encouraging word, a phone call, a note of thanks, a text that edifies, a book that moves us, a story that awakens us, a community that bears with our weaknesses and a Christ that communes with us. If you find yourself in that guilt-ridden Christianity, don’t jump into the darkness, seek the light in traditions and people that are immersed in a life of freedom and thanksgiving.

Parental Repetition

Christians, of whatever persuasion, ought to bring their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. All parents should have a covenant awareness of their tasks. They need to remember the promises of God to their children each day. They need to whisper those promises when they rise up and when they lie down to sleep. The covenant demands the art of repetition. We kiss only to be reminded that we will kiss again. We say, “I love you,” as a way of practicing for the next “I love you.” These affirmations serve to remind us of the persuasive nature of our God who throughout Scriptures repeated the same message through patriarchs, prophets, and priests. We need the covenant promises made known afresh. Admonishment and nurture must be grounded in solemn joys–a firm, but tender methodology. We exasperate children when we stop reminding them of these promises. The more repetitive you are the more covenantal you become. So repeat yourself. Give hugs again and again. Repeat God’s promises again and again. And when your child complains of your incessant loving, hugging, and story-telling, then know that you have done your job well.

Death and Resurrection

Psalm 16 adds this unique messianic prophecy: “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” The Father loves this theme of “death and resurrection.” What we experience as saints are little episodes of death and resurrection. Every act of repentance is an act of death on your part, and every act of forgiveness by God or someone else is an act of resurrection in your life. God promises in this psalm to raise Jesus from the dead; the Father will not allow the death of Jesus to be a source of mockery but of triumph. So also, every act of suffering we undergo is God’s display of his commitment to being with you always.

26 Strengths of the Evangelical Church

While negative aspects of evangelicalism emerge quite easily due to its diverse expressions, sometimes we are left with an image less than flattering and under the impression that evangelicalism is about to give up the ghost. The reality, however, is quite different. By “evangelical,” I include churches who affirm the authority of Scriptures and a belief in the classic Christian doctrines of the Creeds. In addition to my 26 weaknesses post, here are 26 strengths of the evangelical church:
 
a) It has a zeal for propagation. However opposed one may be to certain methods of evangelicalism, the evangelical church continues to thrive in our day and grow numerically.
b) It preserves ol’ time religion. It has no interest in following progressive agendas for the church but in preserving the free offer of the Gospel as articulated in the Scriptures.
c) It strongly opposes sexual visions that contradict God’s view of sexuality.
d) It promotes male leadership in the Church.
e) It is antagonistic towards Roman Catholic paradigms which elevate hierarchy and tradition above biblical authority and which adds unbiblical rituals to the church (see Philip Jenkins’ “The Next Christendom”).
f) It preaches about the blood of Jesus frequently.
g) It is not afraid to confront scientism and liberalism.
h) It produced one of the greatest evangelists in the history of Christendom, namely, Billy Graham, whose crusades drew thousands, if not millions of people to Christ.
i) It has a high view of the Spirit’s work in the life of the saint.
j) It produced one of the most prolific hymn writers in Christian history, namely, Fanny Crosby, whose hymns still bear witness to the life of Jesus and ministers to millions in church and is remembered and sung by the aged in nursing homes with greater frequency than any other hymn-writer.
k) It was bold to break from liberal mainline churches when many were encouraging them to stay (PCA in 1973).
l) It defends vehemently the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible.
m) It upholds classic Christian moral issues such as the dignity of life from conception to death.
n) It is driven by a vision of preservation or conservation of the Judeo-Christian heritage.
o) It cherishes personal piety and a life of devotion.
p) It encourages a personal relationship with Jesus.
q) The modern evangelical movement has also produced capable biblical expositors.
r) It has popularized classic Reformed doctrines like the sovereignty of God and his glory (see John Piper’s works).
s) It has, by and large, preserved a historical understanding of the creation account.
t) Seminaries like Southern (SBTS) are producing well-trained scholars as observed in the most recent ETS where there were 50 presentations from Southern faculty and student body. Truly astounding. Also, kudos to Jim Hamilton’s excellent scholarship. I am a fan.
u) Pertaining to Southern Baptists, they drink an enormous amount of sweet tea and hide their beer remarkably well from guests.
v) Evangelicals treasure experience. Perhaps they overemphasize this dimension while some underemphasize the existential perspective (to quote John Frame).
w) Evangelicals believe in the power of prayer to change things.
x) Evangelical preaching is story-oriented; narratival; intended to keep your attention, while much preaching in our day is overly technical and unrelatable.
y) To be evangelical is to be the people of Christ; a people given over to the Evangel in its pure and unadulterated form.
z) In sum, the strength of evangelicalism is its disposition towards truth.

26 Weaknesses of the Evangelical Church

The evangelical view of the church–my piece of the ecclesiastical pie–is weak on a number of levels. These weaknesses, in my estimation, lead to lesser and lesser influence in the modern world and a dysfunctional ecclesiology. Here are at least 26 weaknesses:

a) it views church as a funeral procession for Jesus rather than a triumphant resurrection procession,

b) it disincentivizes male participation,

c) it makes the Bible secondary and human creativity primary,

d) it views Jesus’ authority over the world in similar categories to Satans’ (a misunderstanding of II Cor. 4:4),

e) it treats the themes of worship as preferential (see letter c),

f) it belittles the sacraments,

g) it is not future-oriented, so it’s bound to do theology only for the present,

h) it is content to keep Christians at a basic mode of growth,

i) it forgets its origins, thus minimizing the lessons of history,

j) it doesn’t rejoice enough,

k) it fails to view the church with the war-like categories of Scriptures,

l) it begins in Matthew when it should begin in Genesis,

m) it forgets the little ones in the life of the church,

n) it doesn’t view catholicity in a positive light,

o) it doesn’t read broadly enough (see letter n),

p) it fails to encourage women to pursue good theology,

q) it doesn’t practice church discipline,

r) it doesn’t sing enough,

s) it doesn’t encourage hospitality,

t) it fails to pray for the kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven,

u) it would rather sacrifice at the altar of sports than the altar of God on Sundays,

v) it views food and fellowship primarily as consumption rather than communion,

w) it reads too little Bible,

x) it is inconsistent in applying the Gospel to society, education and culture.

y), it’s too casual or non-interested in Creeds; how many evangelical churches even recite the creeds?

z) it is incoherently trinitarian instead of intentionally so.

The Outrageousness of Outrage

Outrage can be a useful prophetic gift when used rightly and timely. Elijah, for instance, reserved his outrage for the Ahabs and Jezebels of his world while bringing consolation to a widow and child. But if everyone and every issue is an “Ahab,” you have failed the qualification of biblical discernment and prioritization. The problem with unremitting outrage is that while bringing out the crazies to your defense–after all, crazies love’m some outrage–it limits the Gospel to self-righteous angry outbursts.

“I’ll have outburst over the weather for a $1,000, Alex!”

The reason Westboro Baptist and lesser known fundamentalist groups lose their soul in the process of their proclamation is that they want speedy results without the careful, deliberate method of engaging, persuading, praying, hosting, and loving others. Most modern outrage is a form of addiction accentuated by social media which needs to be carefully analyzed in our day. We used to chastise evangelical groups who make their mission to appeal to the masses through sexy ads and strategies fit for business but now we are amusing ourselves to death one outrage at a time treating our sins as more dignified than “theirs”.