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.

Savior of the Nations Come -Advent Hymn


1 Savior of the nations, come,
virgin’s Son, make here Thy home!
Marvel now, O heav’n and earth,
that the Lord chose such a birth.

2 Not by human flesh and blood,
but the Spirit of our God,
was the Word of God made flesh–
woman’s Offspring, pure and fresh.

3 Wondrous birth! O wondrous Child
Of the Virgin undefiled!
Though by all the world disowned,
still to be in heav’n enthroned.

4 From the Father forth He came
and returneth to the same,
captive leading death and hell–
high the song of triumph swell!

5 Thou the Father’s only Son,
hast o’er sin the vict’ry won.
Boundless shall Thy kingdom be;
when shall we its glories see?

6 Brightly doth Thy manger shine,
glorious is its light divine.
Let not sin o’er cloud this light;
ever be our faith thus bright.

7 Praise to God the Father sing,
Praise to God the Son, our King,
Praise to God the Spirit be
Ever and eternally.

Climate Change Hysteria

Noah Rothman writes a phenomenal article at Commentary concerning the climate change hysteria overtaking the media. He focuses on the media’s outrage over recent comments from American Enterprise Institute scholar Danielle Pletka. Rothman summarizes Pletka’s concern:

Pletka went on to note mitigating phenomena that, in her view, don’t receive due attention. The last two years were typified by the “biggest drop in global temperatures that we have had since the 1980s,” she said. Pletka added that carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. are declining even after America pulled out of the Paris accords, and American industry has shifted away from burning so-called “dirty coal,” unlike its European counterparts.

She also added that “we shouldn’t be hysterical.” It was that latter comment that led to visceral reactions from the media. Rothman notes the outrage over that simple statement from Helene Cooper who noted:

“I actually think we should be hysterical,” she said. “I think anybody who has children or anybody who can imagine having children and grandchildren, how can you look at them and think this is the kind of world that through our own inaction and our inability to do something, that we’re going to leave them?”

Pletka’s great sin was her “refusal to accept a straight-line projection at face value.” Rothman concludes:

You might see now why some advocates prefer hysteria to caution and skepticism, and why those who shatter the serenity of the echo chamber are so valuable.

 

 

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”.

Translating Psalm 16

mikhtam.a
By David.

Keep me safe, God,
Because I take refuge in you!

You have said to Yahweh, “You are my Lord.
There is nothing good for me apart from you.”
As for the holy ones who are in the land,
“They are also majestic. All my delight is in them.”

Those who set a bride-price with another (god) have their sorrows multiplied.
I will not pour out their drink offerings of blood
And will not take their names upon my lips.

Yahweh is my chosen portion and my cup;
You yourself will hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
Yes, my inheritance is pleasing to me.

I will bless Yahweh who has counseled me;
Yes, by night my heart instructs me.
I have set Yahweh before me continually;
Because he is at my right hand I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad and my whole being rejoices;
Yes, my flesh will dwell in security,
Because you will not abandon my soul to Sheol
Nor will you make your holy one to see corruption.
You make known to me the path of life;
Fullness of joys are with your face;
Pleasures are in your right hand forever.

Notes:

I took advantage of John Barach’s excellent translation of Psalm 16. I concur with John when he writes that “the word mohar likely refers to a bride-price, money negotiated with a woman’s father but given to the woman.” In other words, those who make bargains with false gods end up with great sorrow. Further, verse 11 generally has “presence” for paniym. I find the translation of “face” to be more faithful to the Hebrew. The benediction of Aaron implies this translation. I prefer the consistency throughout. “His face shine upon you,” rather than “his presence shine upon you.” The idea is that God is turning his sight toward our afflictions and needs and blessing us. I also continue the translation of “Yahweh” for “LORD” which gives us God’s covenantal name. I was pleased to see John Goldingay’s translation of the Old Testament follow this pattern throughout.

  1. Classically this refers to a liturgical setting; certainly a musical reference  (back)

Bread in the Bible

The Bible has a fairly developed view of bread. Bread appears as a gift, such as in Melchizedek’s gift to Abram; it shows up when Jacob deceived Esau and gave him some bread with the lentil stew; bread is also a protagonist in the Passover Feast; it’s what fed the Israelites in the wilderness; in fact, sharing bread in the Psalms is an expression for close friendships; in the Book of Ruth, dipping bread in the vinegar is given as a ritual that brings Boaz and Ruth together. There is so much more.

If you were to put all that data together, you would see that the purpose of bread—whether literal or figurative– is central to the relational life of the church. In I Corinthians Paul says that we are one loaf, which is to say we are bound together as one. And finally, in John 6, Jesus is referred to as the true bread from heaven.

At the Lord’s Supper, we eat from one bread as a fulfillment of this beautiful typology. God uses this theme to invite us to his Son, the bread of life. We come together today as one loaf offered to God. May God hear us and accept our offering.

 

Catholicity, Orthodoxy, and Lordship