Thinking Out Loud

July 14, 2018

Don’t Condemn What God is Using in Someone’s Life

Filed under: books, Christianity, doctrine, theology — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:53 am

I’m not going to tell you I’ve had a change of heart about the book Jesus Calling, because I’ve never really read the book in the first place. I’ve written about it here and have simply noted the concerns that some had over the use of the first-person narrative to speak as though it is God speaking, but also noted this is far from the first book to use that format.

Previously, I wrote,

I realize some of you haven’t been in touch with where the doctrinal issues in this book arise. Much of the discussion online has to do with the fact that this book is part of a very small subset of devotional literature where the words on the page appear as a direct message to the reader from God. In other words, the (human) author purports to be writing this as God, speaking in the first person; “I” instead of “He.” Consider Francis Roberts’ Come Away My Beloved, Larry Crabb’s 66 Love Letters, Sheri Rose Shepherd’s His Princess series, Paul Pastor’s The Listening Day and Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling and Jesus Always as examples of this; you’ll also find this type of writing on some blogs.

That’s not the entirety of some people’s objections, but it’s a large part.

Early this morning, unable to get back to sleep at 3:30, I read what I consider a generally excellent article on how to spot false teachers. I should say right here that the term “false teacher” leaves no middle ground, no room for nuance, no possibility of the person getting 90% of doctrine right, but 10% wrong. When people use that particular term, it’s all-or-nothing.

You can read the article at this link. (I don’t know the writer and have no idea why the URL is so complex, but it wouldn’t shorten.)

Toward the end he says,

When someone comes forward in the Christian community with a new fresh way of understanding certain doctrines or teachings, the general Christian community tends to eat it up. Think of William P. Young’s The Shack, or Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling, or Rob Bell’s Love Wins. All of these books abandoned Christian doctrine, and yet were immensely popular.

The false teacher uses their wit, uses their intelligence and uses their ‘godliness’ from a place of arrogance and pride for the express purpose of their own personal gain.

I think there’s a danger here that someone will conflate “fresh way of understanding certain doctrines…” with “arrogance…pride…personal gain.” I’m betting the writer has one or two more recent commentaries on his shelf that also provide us with fresh insights into the scriptures. But I’ll leave that aside.

My single purpose in writing this is simply to say that I think the article loses its overall value when it starts mentioning names.

That, and to return to my first paragraph, I have been noting lately the number of people who I know and respect who have benefited from Jesus Calling and have given away copies to friends. These are people who I consider discerning in their reading, and in a very Peter-and-Cornelius way, has caused me to avoid the rush to judgement that I previously associated with people who gravitated toward this particular product. (And it’s appeal to a wider readership means there are people far from Christianity who enjoy this resource, but that in itself doesn’t give cause to write it off. After all, it was the tax collectors and sex trade workers who gravitated to Jesus.)

Out of all the Christian literature out there, these acquaintances see Jesus Calling as their best bet in connecting with those in their own sphere of influence. At that point, I don’t argue or try to dissuade them from their purchase.

I would say two things:

♦ First, we shouldn’t be too quick to condemn a particular pastor, speaker, author whom God is using in the lives of someone else.

♦ Second, we shouldn’t be too quick to recommend a particular pastor, speaker, author about whom others have real concerns.

In other words, definitely write articles on how to spot false teachers. At least two of Paul’s letters have this as a primary focus.

But be slow to name names. Let the discerning process be cultivated in the individual as they mature in Christ and gently guide them to a place where their eyes are wide open.

 

Advertisements

July 5, 2018

Theology for which we Don’t Have Songs

This post originally appeared under the title,

When We All Get to Heaven

Rapture art

If someone were to ask me if there are any paradigm shifts I’ve noticed in Christian perspectives on various issues, I would have to say that among my peers and those with whom I converse online, three things might quickly spring to mind:

  • A rethinking of the afterlife as ‘New Earth,’ rather than a ‘heaven’ that’s up there as opposed to down here. (For this, see the book Heaven by Randy Alcorn.)
  • A reconsideration of the ‘rapture theology’ that has dominated Evangelicalism for the past several decades. (See End Time Delusions by Steve Wohlberg.)
  • A re-assuming of our social justice responsibilities as opposed to placing the weight of our emphasis on doctrinal proclamation. (See Pursuing Justice by Ken Wytsma.)

However, the songs that we sing in our churches today — and by ‘our’ I mean those of us who have moved toward modern worship as opposed to gospel and classical hymns — do not reflect this change in thinking.

The hymns and gospel songs were consistent with things being preached in the pulpit and for many of us, these doctrines were ingrained through exposure to the music. Consider:

Some bright morning when this life is over
I’ll fly away

That’s rapture theology pure and simple. The hymn When We All Get to Heaven does talk about seeing Jesus and being in His presence, but implies that we are going to get to heaven, some place that’s out there.

Another example of a song under reconsideration, Onward Christian Soldiers talks about taking the cross to the world, but our crusade doesn’t appear to include demonstrating compassion or there being servant leaders among the soldiers. (Most people today agree that crusade is the wrong word; even the Billy Graham Association has dropped the term.)

I’m not opposed to those songs entirely; they shaped who I am today. It’s just that in today’s vertical worship environment, we don’t have songs that tell our story and describe more of the thinking that is currently being taught in our churches. Let me conclude with an illustration.

Last weekend we visited the anchor store in a large chain of musical instrument dealerships. I was telling the manager how my son, recently graduated in electrical engineering, has an interest in designing mixers, keyboards and especially synthesizers. I asked him if the store, when it hires people, is looking for product specialists or people who are good at sales.

He said basically that the product knowledge is a given. Nobody is going to apply who isn’t already a customer and very familiar with what’s in the store. So it’s the sales aptitude that they look for and develop in their staff.

Similarly, if I were asked to speak at a Christian songwriting conference, I wouldn’t talk about the basics of musical composition, I would, like the store manager, take that as a given. Instead, it’s a knowledge of the the lyrical foundation in the writing process that I would want to cultivate. I would want to encourage young Christian musicians to craft pieces that express where the church is today, the things that are central to us, and the things for which presently no songs exist.  

It’s not that vertical worship we have is inadequate in and of itself, but perhaps the whole vertical form is over emphasized to the point we no longer have songs of proclamation that fit our doctrine as it is constantly being amended (i.e. the parenthetic reference to crusade above.)

As we re-think certain Biblical interpretations, our music — or specifically our musicians — should be tracking with our different doctrinal emphases.


We found today’s graphic image along with a very thorough article at this website.

For an entirely unique view on this, here’s an old post I wrote about how a particular sect expresses their story in song.

November 27, 2017

Short Takes (2): Sin-Shaped Doctrine

All this week — except for Wednesday — we’re doing a series of shorter subjects.

Throughout Christian history debates have raged on controversial doctrinal subjects. We see in part and understand in part. We see through a glass darkly.

Different people read the same scriptures and come to very difficult conclusions as to their meaning. Each is convinced theirs is the correct one.

In preparing for this week’s articles here — I was originally going a very different direction — I started wondering if theologians or church leaders over the centuries were ever influenced by something else: Personal sin.

Too far fetched? Most of us can think of at least one entire denomination that was founded on one individual’s personal desire or preference. Concerning King Henry VIII, a BBC article notes that he

…was anxious to ensure a male heir after his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, had borne him only a daughter. He wanted his marriage annulled in order to remarry. In 1534 after several attempts to persuade the Pope to grant an annulment, Henry passed the Act of Succession and then the Act of Supremacy. These recognized that the King was “the only supreme head of the Church of England called Anglicana Ecclesia“.

But how many others, even in our time, have looked at a particular doctrine and said, ‘God would never punish that, he is a God of grace and mercy.’ So with a few published articles in theological journals we’re offered a different take on a familiar doctrine, and if other writers converge on any given viewpoint, a theological trend emerges.

Their desire is to place God in a more lax position concerning things that the church previously believed he had addressed rather clearly.

If we occupy a position of leadership or influence and our personal lifestyle requires us to characterize God as less stringent on particular issues, then through our speaking or writing we can potential introduce new ideas which become part of the contemporary religious literature.

But the root of it just might be personal sin.

 

 

 

October 22, 2017

Who I Am

Filed under: Christianity, doctrine — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:16 am

Last night a friend asked me to clarify where my wife and I stand on a particular doctrinal issue, and as I decided to write a much broader sweeping response, I realize I did not have a blog post for today. All that to say, please bear in mind this started as a rather hastily written email…

First of all, Ruth and I do not always speak with the same voice on all things theological. So “you and Ruth” questions aren’t always helpful, considering I will stand alone before God and so will she. There won’t be a questionnaire where I say to her, “What did you get for #6?”  Or she says to me, “I can never remember, are we cessationist or continuationist?” Or things more important.

I believe that my theology is informed by my “God picture” and my “God picture” is shaped by years of teachings, books, small groups, interactions and of course how everything lines up with scripture. Some things have resonated and some have not. Some seemed to be in conflict with each other, while others seemed to harmonize into a unified view of God where the ways of God become more clear. The whole First Testament does this for us. I don’t have to build an ark, slay Goliath, spend three days inside a whale, or do an overnight in a fiery furnace; but I need those narratives to teach me — teach us — the ways of God. That’s what we’re to learn from those accounts.

The “God picture” which emerges from all this input for me is not the same as for other brothers and sisters. We see in part, we know in part, we understand in part. We see as through grease-covered glasses. So there are going to be disagreements, but hopefully always these are on secondary or tertiary elements of doctrine. It has always been so. There were Johannine theology followers and Pauline theology followers. And at least six more early denominations of Christianity. Plus the more widespread expressions of the new sect (which is what the early church was) which scripture confronts directly, such as the Judiazers (hyper legalistic) or the Corinthian Christians (hyper licentious), etc.

So the answer to the questions is that the “doctrinal pattern” — as writers once referred to it — which most resonates with me would be Wesleyan and Revivalist and Free Will. There I said it. I would say my faith was birthed in mid-20th Century Evangelicalism, and has been greatly influenced by Missional theology. I believe in the limitless power and work of the Holy Spirit, but consider myself in the “open but cautious” category on all things Charismatic. The only major shifts in my beliefs in the last two decades have been that I am now slightly less dogmatic on young earth creationism and am starting to lean strongly away from the idea of a rapture, be it pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib or otherwise. I still believe there are God-ordained differences in the two sexes, but am now egalitarian when it comes to church ministry. I am now much more charitable toward people who see parts of the First Testament as allegory or poetry but still think the hermeneutic rule that served us well for centuries is that, within limits, everything that can be take literally should be taken literally.

My view on soteriology is that salvation is both a process and a crisis — this was part of the doctrinal exam when I worked for a local church — but I believe that the “wrath of God” or transactional way of explaining it totally robs the atonement of all the love, beauty, wonder and grace; and especially of the mystery it deserves; though I’ll grant the parallels between Calvary and Passover (and all the feasts) are undeniable; cf. Book of Hebrews. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. God designed the product, so He gets to write the owner’s manual.

I believe that just as the mercies of God are new every morning, so also a living, breathing, active salvation involves renewal of both confessions and commitments on a regular — ideally daily — basis.

That is my doctrine in a nutshell. But if pressed, my reason is that everything I believe flows out of my view of the nature of God.

(To which I was almost tempted to add, “I believe in love, I believe in babies, I believe in mom and dad and I believe in you.” But I do not believe that for every drop of rain, a flower grows.)

 

 

October 10, 2017

The Question to Ask: A Gauge to Measuring Understanding

Filed under: Christianity, doctrine, evangelism — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:10 am

Longtime readers here may recognize the story I’m about to tell, which I shared here 3½ years ago, though this is a complete rewrite.

I love hanging out in the religious books section at larger bookstores like Barnes and Noble or Chapters in Canada. You’ll see people — especially in cities where there are no longer Christian bookstores — looking at books and Bibles and are sometimes perplexed as they pick up a copy of something the store shelved in what they see as the catch-all category of Christianity. If it’s not going to come across as creepy, I’ll let them know that I work in the field or offer a comment on what they’re holding at a particular moment. (“That’s a great book, I just finished it.” or “If you’re interested in that subject, I know a better book that you might enjoy.”)

But one day I had a guy totally turn the tables on me. He let me know, rather arrogantly, that he had a Doctorate in Divinity and it was his intention to set the agenda for the rest of the conversation. I decided to simply roll with it and see what I could learn from him.

“When did you become a Christian?” he asked.

Growing up in church, by age 6 I knew the need to pray the prayer, or make a decision or accept Jesus, but I think that my faith solidified more at age 17. Depending on when and where you catch me, you might get a slightly different answer. The mercies of God are new every morning and hopefully each and every day I am reaffirming my commitment to follow and walk under Christ’s Lordship.

“How did you become a Christian?” he continued.

To answer the second question, I told him an analogy I often share with others; that of “taking delivery” of the salvation that God was “holding” for me.  I explained that often one receives a parcel-delivery card in the mail; the card says that someone has sent something, it’s got my name on it, but I need to drive to pick it up. I don’t possess it until I reach out and take it. Other times I’ll talk about the pastor of the church I attended throughout my teens, who would ask people to raise their hands if they wanted to be “included in the closing prayer” and how in prayer we ask God to include us under the covering the Cross provided.

But then he went for the third and final question.

“How does someone become a Christian?” he asked.

In a way I had already answered this, For the last question, I said that the act of accepting Christ’s offer of salvation is an invisible transaction that one makes on faith, trusting His promise that if I tell Him through prayer that I want the covering He offers, He will do His part. (You could break this down into the ABC process: Acknowledging, believing, confessing.) But beyond receiving the offer of salvation, I am giving myself to live for him and serve him. I defer decision-making to what is according to how he desires for me to live on his terms and not my own…

…I think this particular question can be really central to conversations we have with people both inside and outside the fold. In other words, while this can be useful in the context in which he spoke with me, it would also make a great opening a question for your next small group meeting. “How does one become a Christian?”

My guess is you would hear a variety of responses even from your closest church friends.


An extra thought to consider: Just because he had a graduate degree in Divinity does not in any respect guarantee that he himself was what some would call saved. There are a number of people taking advanced education programs for whom doctrine and theology are merely academic exercises. I always want to ask these people why bother to study something at a distance that is not a living reality in their lives, but I don’t want to presume too much, or ignore the possibility that God is still at work in their lives, inching them closer to the thing which fascinates their intellect. 

This story could have easily been different had I chosen to turn the tables on him and inquire as to his personal spirituality. Perhaps I was intimidated or perhaps I was confident in the moment that he really knew Christ and really cared. But a discussion like this can go either way. Noel Paul Stookey told a story where a young kid came up to him after a concert and started a conversation that would change his life forever.

May 2, 2017

Background to Yesterday’s Article

I’m posting this a little later in the morning in order to keep yesterday’s post here pinned to the top for a few hours longer. I am sure it left some of you thinking, ‘That’s a long way to go to make a point.’

I fully realize that any suggestion that there are things God doesn’t know cuts deep to the heart of some peoples’ theology. However, I never said that. Rather, I see God closing his eyes vis-a-vis the future and saying, ‘Okay. Surprise me!’ There’s a huge difference.

Is it central to core doctrine? Absolutely not. I do see it however as part of God delighting in us or in more KJV terms joying over us.

The first exposure I had to anything like this was Garry Freisen’s book Decision Making in the Will of God: A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View. It was originally published in the early 1980s (I think) and an updated anniversary edition is still available. The book ran counter to the idea that there was one college you were to attend, one person you were to marry, one city in which you were to live and one career path you were to follow.

Some of the people who liked the book were still reluctant to give up the idea of God’s complete foreknowledge and control. This reviewer wrote, “God has already sovereignly determined which tennis shoes we will wear that day, but we shouldn’t waste half the day waiting for a swoosh to appear in the clouds.  So long as there is no biblical principle being violated, just put on some shoes and get busy.” The word determined is interesting here.

On an older Walk In The Word radio program, James MacDonald spoke of being told that there was a dot that represented the center of God’s will; as opposed to Freisen’s idea that there is a circle of possibilities and as long as you stay within that circle you remain in God’s will. Describing his spiritually formative years, MacDonald intones:

Don’t get caught
Off the dot
That’s what I was taught.

I think the thing with Friesen’s book is that represented the first time in my life I became part aware of the cycle of un-learning which is necessary for those of us who grew up in the church, and wrote all our beliefs — or at least what we thought was being taught to us — in wet cement and then watched it harden. As we grow older, unless we’re completely closed-minded, we realize that we need to deconstruct some of those things and re-learn.

People who didn’t grow up in church may not have such hard and fast convictions on matters such as this. For those of were in church starting at minus-nine-months, we can fall into ‘Elder Brother Syndrome;’ and feel that our understanding is the correct one. Or the one Pastor John [MacArthur, Piper, Hagee, Steinbeck] teaches. Or the one our own pastor shared in a sermon eight years ago. Hey… it beats doing the research or thinking about it for ourselves.

Then along comes Greg Boyd et al and reintroduces the idea of Openness Theism — I say reintroduces because usually these ideas are not new in the grand scheme of Christian philosophy and thought — and everyone gets in an uproar because it’s slightly new to their ears, therefore it can’t be right.

So don’t ask me where yesterday’s story came from. I’m told a mother can have ten children in yet in a way that is mathematically absurd, give each one of them all her love. The mom in the story yesterday has seven kids, but we really only see her dealings with one of them. Five of them apparently aren’t even home from school yet. She’s focused just on that one but she realizes that the one child’s Fall choices when it comes to the city athletics program impacts the other children, their future, and the schedule her and her husband face getting the kids to lessons, practices, games and other activities.

If she can run all the sequences and possibilities, I think God, who is infinitely above anything we could imagine is capable of running an infinite number of sequences and possibilities for us. I can’t say he has determined our choices. Not every time. Not every choice. Sorry.

To say otherwise is to put him and us in a box. Rather I see him saying, ‘So what’s it gonna be?’

Can anything we do be a surprise to God? Theologically speaking, no; but God can allow himself to be surprised. Nothing Adam and Eve did in Eden surprised him because that was part of a much grander scheme. But your choice as to whether to live in Cleveland or Dayton; whether to marry Rebecca or Morgan; whether to study Public Relations or Information Technology; and whether to go to a local college or one out of town; all of these represent choices he could be leaving entirely up to you.

Once you have decided, he simply presses “Update” and then, if he so desires, he can have foreknowledge of an infinite number of other possibilities. 

I don’t see a Biblical conflict here.

 

 

 

 

May 1, 2017

Open Theology and a 10-Year-Old Girl

It was the first of May and already the city’s Parks and Recreation Department Fall registration brochure had shown up in the mail. Amanda flipped over to the page “New This Year” and let out a sigh. This news was not going to go over very well.

Madison arrived home from school and Amanda said, “After you get your snack we need to talk.”

She grabbed her snack as her older brother Luke walked in the door and ran to the fridge before heading off to his game console.

Madison placed the straw in the juice pack and then returned to the living room where her mom was waiting. “Is something wrong?” she asked.

Amanda explained that the Fall sports schedule had arrived. “Madison, they’ve moved swimming and it’s now the same night as your indoor soccer league.”

She waited for Madison to process the impact of her words. Finally she said, “Well, I can do the next swimming level at Eastside pool, right?”

Amanda was impressed with the girl’s resourcefulness. However, “They’re changing all the pool times, and Eastside has Level 3 the same night as you have choir. Plus it’s a 30-minute drive.”

Madison would not be swayed. “Maybe I could do Level 3 at the private aquatic place where Zoe goes. I could get a ride with her parents?” She raised her voice at the end of the sentence as if waiting for rubber-stamped approval.

Amanda sighed for the second time that hour. “Honey, we just can’t afford to send you there. Remember, we’re a family of seven kids, and if we make an exception for you we have to pay extra for programs for everyone. Besides, it’s the same night as we’re driving Luke across town his youth group, and we’d miss some of your competitions.”

Wheels in the ten-year-old’s brain were still turning. “Luke’s old enough to take a bus.”

“Luke’s old enough to take the bus there, but he’s not old enough to take the bus home at 9:00 when it ends; especially in the winter.”

“Maybe there’s someone else who lives in Westside who goes to Luke’s church.”

“We’ve already looked into that with their student ministry director. We’re kind of an exception.”

“Well Luke could find a church close to home with a youth group that works.”

“He’s already raising money for a February missions trip with that church that your cousins are also going on. We’re not going to take that away from him.”

Madison was realizing that much of this was coming down to choice and that while her mom could just tell her what to do, she was being forced to make the choice for herself.  Finally she said, “Well, I guess I could just skip indoor soccer for a season.”

At this, Amanda realized full disclosure required her to tell the whole story; “Maddy, you can easily take a year off soccer, but when you go back in, you’ll have to go through tryouts all over again. You’ll be competing with all the kids who want to get on that team at that level. If they’re really good, you could get cut.”

Madison looked at the recently-won soccer trophy still in a place of prominence in the living room. “But Mom; I’m really good at soccer.”

Amanda shot back, “Does that mean you don’t want to give it up; you’re willing to give it up; or that you’re confident you’d get back with your teammates a year later? Also what if Level 4 swimming is scheduled opposite soccer in the new year?”

The girl was processing this. “Well, we won the finals, but I did miss three open shots in that game. If it’s the same coach a year from now, and he remembers that, he may want to cut me.”

And then she paused.

A long pause.

Finally she said, “Mom, this is really, really complicated. When is the registration deadline for swimming and soccer?”

“June 15th. Or as long as there are openings.”

“Can I drop choir?”

“Yes, but choir isn’t impacted by this. Unless you think Eastside is still a possibility. But I’m not sure it is.”

Finally the little girl crunched up the snack pack and the juice box and said, “Mom, I’m going to my room to pray about this.”

Amanda smiled and once the girl was out of earshot whispered quietly, “Maybe I should have thought of that.”


One decision affects another. At Quara.com an image of the “most epic flow chart ever.”

Amanda’s frustration with the city for changing some of the nights for pool activities was triggered not so much by the dilemma facing Madison as it was trying to run all the different scenarios of how this affected her six other siblings.

For example, making an exception for Madison when she’d already turned down her older sister Sydney when faced with similar scheduling conflicts. Or setting a precedent with Madison when her youngest brother Aiden clearly wanted to get into aquatics. And the costs. And the busyness placed on her and her husband ferrying kids to activities. And wondering down the road, which route would better serve her daughter when she reached high school athletics: Soccer or swimming?

She knew clearly which choice she wanted Madison to make. She had a favorite in her mental road-map for Maddy’s life. But it was going to be her daughter’s choice. Not hers. And Amanda has already run the various sequences in her head for Maddy’s decision and how it impacts the fall season for her, her husband, and the six other kids; and how it could impact Madison for the winter schedule and the many seasons which follow.

No matter what Madison chooses, Amanda is still the parent. She’s still in charge. She’s still guiding and directing her daughter’s life. But she’s offering her daughter the luxury — the latitude — of free choice. To make her own decisions and deal with the consequences.


What Amanda is being forced to do on a small scale, God is capable of doing on a grand scale.

To me, this story effectively illustrates the concept of open theology. Only God is capable of running all the various scenarios and sequences for billions of us. He is omnipotent, omniscient and has omniprocessing. (Try finding that one in a theological textbook.)

He’s still in charge. He’s still the sovereign. No matter what we choose. He’s still guiding. He still has some personal favorite choices he’d like us to make (because he can see all the sequences) but he’s offering us the luxury — and latitude — of free choice. He can even close his eyes to the future and let our choice surprise him.

And doing so doesn’t rob him of an iota of sovereignty.

It’s how he made us.

It’s how he designed the system to operate.

And it delights him to no end to watch us working it all through.

 

 

 

October 9, 2016

The Gospel According to Paul

Filed under: Christianity, doctrine, Jesus — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:45 am

king-jesus-gospelI’m currently reading The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited by Scot McKnight*, in which he notes that one chapter of I Corinthians forms the basis of much of The Nicene Creed. I thought it would be different to reproduce it here from The Voice Bible**, but instead of presenting the full chapter, we’ll focus just on the verses McKnight highlights as comprising three sections: verses 1 and 2, 3 to 5, and 20 to 28.

Let me remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I preached to you when we first met. It’s the essential message that you have taken to heart, the central story you now base your life on; and through this gospel, you are liberated—unless, of course, your faith has come to nothing.

3-4 For I passed down to you the crux of it all which I had also received from others, that the Anointed One, the Liberating King, died for our sins and was buried and raised from the dead on the third day. All this happened to fulfill the Scriptures; it was the perfect climax to God’s covenant story. Afterward He appeared alive to Cephas[a] (you may know him as Simon Peter), then to the rest of the twelve.

the-voice-bible20 But the Anointed One was raised from death’s slumber and is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep in death. 21 For since death entered this world by a man, it took another man to make the resurrection of the dead our new reality. 22 Look at it this way: through Adam all of us die, but through the Anointed One all of us can live again. 23 But this is how it will happen: the Anointed’s awakening is the firstfruits. It will be followed by the resurrection of all those who belong to Him at His coming, 24 and then the end will come. After He has conquered His enemies and shut down every rule and authority vying for power, He will hand over the Kingdom to God, the Father of all that is. 25 And He must reign as King until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last hostile power to be destroyed is death itself. 27 All this will happen to fulfill the Scripture that says, “You placed everything on earth beneath His feet.”[f] (Although it says “everything,” it is clear that this does not also pertain to God, who created everything and made it all subject to Him.) 28 Then, when all creation has taken its rightful place beneath God’s sovereign reign, the Son will follow, subject to the Father who exalted Him over all created things; then God will be God over all.

Footnotes:
a Luke 24:34
Psalm 8:6


*Newly released in a revised edition in paperback from Zondervan.

**McKnight does not use The Voice Bible in his work. Sections in italics in The Voice Bible are supplemental and not found in original documents; this translations adds significantly to create flow of the narrative. The use of italics for this type of addition originated with the KJV.

April 21, 2016

Visual Theology: Part of a New Generation of Reading Materials for Non-Readers

And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end…
Ecclesiastes 12:12a KJV

If Solomon were alive today he might well be more accurate to say that of the writing of Facebook posts, blog articles and Tweets there is no end. Literacy is waning, attention spans are decreased and the time and money available for purchasing reading materials is being diverted to tech-based pastimes.

Rather than abandon ship, a number of people are producing materials aimed at keeping us interested in what’s on the printed page. As you’re reading more recently produced resources you’re likely to see a greater use of colors, varied fonts, sub-headers and sub-sub-headers and call-outs, those little boxes of reiterated text at the side of the page intended to draw attention to particular sentences (sometimes referred to as pull-quotes).

In the world of Christian publishing we find for example, Rose Publications providing what I call “fast facts for a bullet-point world” — they’re welcome to use that phrase — in a series of about a hundred laminated pamphlets, not dissimilar to the laminated charts you used in college science courses when there wasn’t time to read the textbook. Church history, The Temple, The Feasts, The Prophets, teachings on Baptism, translation comparison, the Fruit of the Spirit, the Armor of God and the Names of God are just a few of the many titles that condense information for those who just want the Cliffs Notes on a given topic.

Another way information is communicated online is through info-graphics, and we’ve seen this break into mainstream Christian publishing through products such as The Quickview Bible which we reviewed here a few years back. If I had a nickel for everyone I know who in the past twelve months who has used the phrase, “I’m a visual learner…”

Visual Theology coverInto this arena steps Visual Theology: Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God by Tim Challies and Josh Byers (Zondervan, 2016). Because you’re reading this on your computer or phone, the Challies brand should be familiar to you. Despite originating in Canada, challies.com ranks in the top ten on many U.S. lists of the top Christian blogs, spurred on greatly by the predilection of his neo-Reformed, New Calvinist tribe to be among the most active online. Publishers pay real money to run “sponsored posts” on his blog; his Amazon referrer income is probably the envy of thousands of other bloggers; and as we found out one time, a simple mention on his à la carte daily link list can send daily reader stats skyrocketing. It’s no surprise that as a result of his blog, subtitled “Informing the Reforming,” he is now able to write full-time.

Never one to be content with past accomplishments, Tim Challies continues to re-invent the blog with a now daily quotation graphic, and a few years back introduced a number of info-graphics by Iowa communications pastor Josh Byers. While these form the distinctive element of Visual Theology and were certainly the backbone of the book’s elevator pitch, it’s the ones done as flowcharts that I think are most engaging, especially the two-pager (pp 96-7) on How To Put Sin to Death.

In terms of overall organization, the book is divided into four sections:

  • Grow Close to Christ
  • Understand the Work of Christ
  • Become Like Christ
  • Live for Christ.

with two or three chapters for each. The actual text sections — and despite the liberal use of color there’s more text here than I may be describing — are written in fairly plain language including some helpful illustrations from the author’s experiences. This is a book that non-readers — a group especially encompassing teens, twenty-somethings and males of all ages — would find very accessible.

Visual Theology

Additionally, Visual Theology is a great resource for either the person wondering, ‘What does it mean to be a Christian?’ or the person whose current status is more of, ‘I’ve just made a commitment to become a Christian, so what do I need to know or do next?’ In terms of elementary things the Christ-follower needs to know, the book is no doubt indebted to Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem (who also writes the foreword) and other books of that genre, but without the dryness or clinical treatment that sometimes accompanies Christian academic or reference works.

Remarkably, the book is mostly denominationally neutral. Though the footnoted sources betray Challies’ roots and preferences (Tim Keller, Dane Ortland, R. C. Sproul,  C. J. Mahaney, John Owen, etc.) I was impressed by the doctrinal evenhandedness the book presents. True, my Anglican friends would cringe at the suggestion that ordinances means the same as sacraments, but I actually appreciated the inclusion of both terms.

In the author’s hometown, there is a congregation that advertises themselves as, “a church for people who aren’t into church.” Well, this is a book for people who aren’t into books. A gospel primer for adults, if you will.

Considering the graphic design and printing process that went into creating this book, the 156 page paperback is a steal at $17.99 US; and for the nerd in the family, the books of the Bible listed in the style of The Periodic Table of Elements is worth the price of admission.


Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for much-appreciated copy of Visual Theology which, if I loan it out to friends, I will probably not get back!

 

January 1, 2016

How to Disagree Theologically

Filed under: blogging, doctrine — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:49 am

As another year kicks in which is sure to bring more heated doctrinal discussions online, or even among your circle of church friends and acquaintances, I can think of no better way to begin the year with the quotation.

You know, brethren, that there is no soul living who holds more firmly to the doctrines of grace than I do, and if any man asks me whether I am ashamed to be called a Calvinist, I answer, I wish to be called nothing but a Christian; but if you ask me, do I hold the doctrinal views which were held by John Calvin, I reply, I do in the main hold them, and rejoice to avow it. But, my dear friends, far be it from me even to imagine that Zion contains none within her walls but Calvinistic Christians, or that there are none saved who do not hold our views. Most atrocious things have been spoken about the character and spiritual condition of John Wesley, the modern prince of Arminians. I can only say concerning him, that while I detest many of the doctrines which he preached, yet for the man himself, I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan; and if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitfield and John Wesley. The character of John Wesley stands beyond all imputation for self-sacrifice, zeal, holiness, and communion with God; he lived far above the ordinary level of common Christians, and was one of whom the world was not worthy. I believe there are multitudes of men who cannot see these truths, or, at least, cannot see them in the way in which we put them, who nevertheless have received Christ into their hearts, and are as dear to the heart of the God of grace as the soundest Calvinist out of heaven.

– C. H. Spurgeon, The Man With the Measuring Line

Sourced at Soteriology 101

Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.