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.
Human beings are a marketable people. Those who shop around for us see our lifestyles and develop an entire strategy aimed at purchasing our wants at an exceedingly rapid speed. But not only are we easily bought, we are also very creative. We are idol-makers, to quote Calvin’s famous line. We are industrious, and the consequences of our hard work are a boost to the Baal factories and stock.
Unfortunately, this type of productivity is not encouraging. St. John quietly, but forcefully exhorted us in the last verse of I John to keep ourselves from idols. We have not heeded the apostle’s words. We have approached the idols and bargained with them about producing an entire new line of idol fashion and idol currency. We take the idol money and invest it into our own companies. We are good at what we do. In fact, we produce the best idols in town. We make them in all colors and shapes. We sell them at a discount during the Christmas holidays. All we want is for everyone to share in our pleasures. We make idols and the idols make us. We are what we worship. The more we consume the more marketable we become for the more sophisticated idol seller. We become like the gods. We treasure their style. They roam around speechless and blind, and we perceive that to be the new fad.
We are what we worship, and our worship reflects the grandeur of our god.
Our productivity reflects our allegiance to this god. What is the chief end of our productivity? To doxologize idols forever.
Our society mirrors the deadness of the gods we produce and consequently buy. We are a buyer-seller market. We become so easily dissatisfied with the gods we carve that we crave classier gods.
This is our nature…but not who we were intended to be.
God calls us into a different profession. He says: “Abandon your ways!” He wants us to invest in heavenly things that are not corruptible. Yahweh wants us fired from our idol producing factories. He delights when we say to ourselves “We’re fired!” He delights when we turn from the business of idol production and embrace a cosmic demolition project.
The idol fashions and fads are not lasting. They appear to be the latest trend. It seems to be trending on twitter. People are sharing it all over facebook. But they are not lasting. “Keep yourselves from idols,” says the Lord our God. He is God, and there is no other. He is jealous for his glory. Doxology is only right and true when applied to Him. Repent! Put your tool down. Forsake your jobs. God is looking for a few good men, and lots of babies to start shattering the temples of Dagon.
We are what we worship. I prefer to worship an idol-crushing God.
We are imitators by nature. God made us this way. We are, after all, image-bearers. To copy is human. We know this in a very profound way when we become parents. Children very early on begin to reflect our temperament and repeat our most cherished lines ( a frightening idea at times).
My daughter recently put diapers on her set of Curious George monkeys. She saw my wife changing our little one time and again, and of course, she did what she thought was normal: imitate. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well, not always. Sometimes it is the sincerest form of idolatry.
Many have made fine contributions to the nature of idolatry in our day. Beale’s labors on a theology of idolatry is the most sophisticated demonstration of this. Professor Beale argues that idolatry is theological imitation. People become what they worship, and in this becoming, they are transformed into lifeless idols. They cease to hear and to see. They become imitators of death (Ps. 115:4-8). They transfer trust from Yahweh (life) to idols (death). And in this transfer, they become theologically de-humanized.
Imitation of the Triune God is the sincerest form of honor to that God. Other imitations are just cheap expressions of idolatry. You can only serve one master. Choose you this day.
Francis Schaeffer’s line true truth was coined as a result of the pluralistic culture he was a part of and which has in many ways engulfed our present society. Schaeffer was referring to a truth that is objective and not relativized by one’s preferences. The Gospel is true truth. The Church’s peculiarity stems from her unique message. It is indeed a message that is hardly embraced in the public square, but one which she must proudly proclaim: Jesus, the Messiah, is Lord.
Lesslie Newbigin’s classic work The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society addresses some of these profound manifestations in the Christian world. He exposes the pluralistic and cowardly trends of the modern church a few decades ago and certainly still very much true in our own day. A Church can speak truth, but speak it so subtly and unwillingly that she permeates by her words a certain level of skepticism in her people. But there is also the type of belief that leaves the door open to other ideologies. Newbigin observed that,
As long as the church is content to offer its beliefs modestly as simply one of the many brands available in the ideological supermarket, no offense is taken. But the affirmation that the truth revealed in the gospel ought to govern public life is offensive (7).
Both are fatal. One slowly ceases to proclaim true truth, while the other leaves the door open for philosophical wolves. The Gospel is no longer that potent and offensive claim, but a powerless declaration that Jesus can be a lord, but is not necessarily interested in the job description.
True truth is declarational. Simple truth has its genesis in the One who claims to be the way, truth, and life. This three-fold declaration is not up for debate. Pluralism, religious pluralism, is doxologically impossible for you can only serve one master.
I just received a book from a man I have never met, but who sought me a few years ago. He had written a book about his journey from addiction to non-addiction. I phrase it in those words because there wasn’t much he was going to when he left his addiction, except the non-practice of that addiction.
It has been a few years, and now that same book has been revised. I intend to provide a video review for him on youtube. I wrote a short review here some years ago. The revised book has a new title: My Journey Through Addictions to Salvation: A New Beginning. This is no longer an addiction to non-addiction journey, but one from misery to grace.
The Gospel Lesson for this Lord’s Day in John 10:22-30 is a reminder of this grace. Jesus calls His sheep, and what is unique about this calling is that His sheep have a uniquely tuned ear to realize that the voice calling is of their Shepherd.
The question before us is not whether we can free ourselves from addiction; the world has perfected that art in many ways, but the question is to what are we going to after the addiction? If this is going to be a long journey, then what is waiting at the end of that journey? Is it the absence of pills and alcohol? Or is it the presence of the Shepherd who calls you by name?
The reality is that for the addict who is free from his dependence he will always be seeking something to fill that gap. Previously drugs and alcohol (or whatever it might have been) filled that need, but Jesus promises to be the ultimate protector and satisfaction for His sheep. He will be the supplier of that need and no one will snatch His sheep from finding satisfaction in Him.
It is likely that you are a Facebook user. In fact, over one billion people are on Facebook. And of course, it is likely that you are reading this article because a friend linked to it on their Facebook page. So the majority of you do not need to be persuaded. The small and insistent bunch that will not succumb to the technological and peer pressure may do well to continue on a perpetual Facebook fast. But there is another group of Christians out there that simply haven’t joined for lack of knowledge of the benefits Facebook can offer. As a friend, you may have to print them a copy of this piece, or send them a link via e-mail.
The reason I did not state “all Christians” in the title of this article is because there are legitimate reasons for some Bible-believing Christians to stay away from this tool. And that is precisely what Facebook is: a tool. I agree with Dr. Al Mohler that “Social networking is like any new technology. It must be evaluated on the basis of its moral impact as well as its technological utility.” We are all called to be stewards of God’s gifts. Money is a tool for good, but the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil. In like manner, Facebook can be a tool for good, and I am arguing that if used wisely it will be.
I am in the redeeming business. I usually prefer to begin with how something can be redeemed before I talk about its dangers. Dr. Mohler suggests ten ways for safeguarding the social networking experience. You can read them. They are helpful and can keep us and our children from abusing something that is so ubiquitous. Before you read those, however, consider how Facebook may actually be a constructive tool in the Kingdom of God, one that can benefit you, your Church and community:
First, Facebook offers invaluable information about loved ones. A couple of days ago as I was leaving the office I scanned briefly through the updates and discovered that the son of a dear friend was about to enter into surgery. She asked for prayer. As I drove home I petitioned to our gracious God on behalf of this little child. Without Facebook I don’t think I would have known about this surgery in time. I could multiply these experiences. Facebook has brought closeness with not only loved ones, but dear friends and their families.
Second, Facebook has provided me tremendous counseling opportunities. I already have a distinct call as a pastor to counsel my flock, but if someone outside my community desires 5-10 minutes of my time seeking wisdom on a personal issue I have the luxury to offer it through this tool. We are all called to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. I have done both regularly because of Facebook.
Third, Facebook offers exposure to new ideas. This may not seem appealing, but I have always believed that Christians need to frequently visit C.S. Lewis’ wardrobe. They need to be exposed to ideas that confront their theological paradigms. Of course, sometimes these FB discussions can lead to unfortunate and uncharitable debates that consume a lot of our time, but again I want to redeem Facebook (see Mohler’s list for safeguarding).
Fourth, FB provides a venue to encourage others with words of comfort (see #1). Many have been encouraged by biblical passages and quotes that speak directly to a unique circumstance in their lives. At the same time, the same venue can provide a proper rebuke to our unpleasant and ungodly attitudes. There are pastors and godly parishioners whose FB status I read daily for comfort and rebuke.
Fifth, FB can be a source of intellectual stimulation. I can’t tell you how many books I have purchased or downloaded on Kindle (another useful tool for the kingdom) due to the sample quotes posted on FB. For those with a book budget this can be a temptation, but again I am in the redeeming business.
Finally, FB is inevitable. “Hey, everybody’s doing it!” Seriously, everybody! Is this a good reason to do it? In this case I believe it is! Many Churches, Ministries, Charitable Organizations, Event Planners, all have their own FB page. Of course, you don’t have to be on top of everything, just be a lurker! But at least have a FB presence. FB serves a multitude of purposes, and can in fact facilitate communication, fellowship, and much more.
Facebook has been a tremendous tool for good. And as tool, it fulfills Dr. Mohler’s requirements, since it is morally impactful and technologically useful. So go ahead, start an account and join us!
Cherie Harder, writing for the Trinity Forum blog, offers some compelling reasons to pick up a novel. Among them are:
Stories require, develop, and enhance the reader’s empathy.
Reading well – or “getting into” a story both requires and engenders the practice of empathy. Author Azar Nafisi compared a novel to “the sensual experience of another world. If you don’t enter that world, hold your breath with the characters and become involved in their destiny, you won’t be able to empathize, and empathy is at the heart of the novel.” Not surprisingly, several studies have found that avid fiction readers tend to better understand and empathize with others. (There does seem to be an exception to this general rule in many university English departments; perhaps due in part to deconstructionism having eclipsed empathetic reading.)
Entering the world of another can both broaden and disrupt our own. It can reveal the vulnerabilities of those we thought powerful, the tender points of hard people, the secret loves of the inscrutable, the character fissures of those we thought pillars of probity – and challenge the reader to respond wisely with that knowledge. It may well be the reason that novels such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or To Kill a Mockingbird, or A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, had an impact far more powerful than any pamphlet or manifesto.
Stories develop our moral reasoning in unique ways.
By enabling the reader to engage and enter into the challenges, conflicts, disappointments, loves, and fears of a novel’s characters, literature provides opportunity to develop one’s moral reasoning and deepen discernment in responding to similar challenges, conflicts, and fears in her own life. A novel shows, rather than merely tells, the broad range of possible responses to a crisis; and characters must grapple with the aftermath of their choices. We learn from fiction because we learn from imaginatively entering into the dilemmas faced by the characters themselves.
Editor’s Note: This post first published in July 2004.
Is it just my experience or is society consumed with mental illiteracy? Either they can’t conjure up harmonious thoughts or cannot think harmoniously. If you are like me, after a few days without reading you begin to feel a sharp pain right in the middle of your forehead… well, maybe I am exaggerating a bit. Of course, the poorly trained mind can’t fathom reading at all. It prefers rather to meditate on what a 19th century scholar called the “conversation of rocks.” In other words, empty thoughts in an unproductive and non-stimulating mind.
There are two men that come to mind in establishing an impressive resume of literature consumption. The first is Rousas J. Rushdoony. He was known perhaps as the founder of the Christian Reconstructionist Movement. Rushdoony is known to have read a book a day since his teenage years until his death in 2001. Even listening to his sermons and reading his works give you a sense of experiencing someone who was far above the average reader or writer. Rushdoony was well read in politics, economics, theology, philosophy and more. He was indeed a great mind and example to model.
Secondly, is the immortal C.S. Lewis. Who has not heard or even consumed the magic of Lewis’ works? I still recall reading through Screwtape Letters. It is almost impossible not to be drawn to Lewis’s works. His writings become art and you become an spectator of his mind. His style, charm, brilliance, all of it found in his works. Even the very last phrase leaves you imagining and even dreaming in broad daylight. Lewis is stimulating in every sense of the word. But what else can I say? Perhaps this quote by Lewis will captivate the way he thought about his great delight in life.
C.S. Lewis once wrote:
In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself… Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.