Thinking Out Loud

June 22, 2020

The ‘Gospel Truth’ The Enemy Wants You to Believe

Review: The Gospel According to Satan: Eight Lies About God That Sound Like the Truth by Jared Wilson (Nelson Books)

Although this title released in January, I’m just getting to it now. I wasn’t sure if I would do a review — I normally don’t unless I’ve read every page, which I’ve done here — but after completing two of its eight chapters I decided I was all in.

First, I need to address the giraffe in the room. Regular readers here will know that this review is highly uncharacteristic of me, because you’ll also know that Jared Wilson is associated with The Gospel Coalition, which represents a doctrinal position on some issues which is light years the opposite of my own. I decided there was enough about the book to interest me, and certainly enough to commend for giving as a gift to someone you know whose idea of Christianity consists of motivational platitudes which are often not contained in Scripture.

So I won’t belabor that point, except in a mention of the penultimate chapter. (See below). So let’s dive in!

The book is centered around eight statements which each of us at some time have heard voiced by people with a loose connection to Christianity or still tracking at a very elementary level. Perhaps you’ve even caught yourself echoing one of these yourself, hopefully at an earlier stage of your Christian pilgrimage vis-a-vis where you are today. Let’s list them:

  • “God just wants you to be happy”
  • “You only live once”
  • “You need to live your truth”
  • “Your feelings are reality”
  • “Your life is what you make it”
  • “Let go and let God”
  • “The cross is not about wrath”
  • “God helps those who help themselves.”

These are general enough and timeless enough that the book doesn’t address current social issues, although some thing are alluded to. I think that timelessness is one of its enduring qualities.

The chapter on living your truth echoes the whole postmodern question of subjective truth; an apologetic issue that is still very much with us.

The section on feelings/reality is actually a good lesson in hope; that having Christ we “defy what is visible.” I included a short excerpt from that chapter on the weekend at C201; click here to read.

The discussion based on “God helps those who helps themselves” notes that since the fall, we’ve been “wired for works.”

I want to share with you all the various instances where I underlined sentences and circled key words, but space does not permit. (It’s never a good idea to write a review longer than the book.) In most cases, the discussion was advanced to the point where someone would need to be a little further down the road to understand everything, and yet naive enough in terms of their having perhaps adopted some of these non-Biblical maxims.

There are three more ‘lies’ I think could well have been included here:

  • “everything happens for a reason” – often based in a misreading of Romans 8:28
  • anything that riffs on a misreading of Jeremiah 29:11
  • “all roads lead to God” – as Universalism continues to creep into Evangelical thought

and perhaps you can think of others. Maybe there will be a book two! (The author suggested “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.”)

So…about that second to last chapter.

This chapter is all about penal substitutionary atonement. It’s a major linchpin in the core doctrines of people in the Reformed/Calvinist world. The chapter’s premise is based on a look at the book Lies We Believe About God written by The Shack author Wm. Paul Young. I’ve seen some of the positive fruit of The Shack and for the right person, I would still recommend it. But there were things in the Lies… book that concerned me and I intend to have a second look at it.

Jared Wilson directly addressed one of my concerns with his view on substitutionary atonement, namely his own objection to the idea that God poured out his wrath on sin, which is where I land the plane. He said that throughout scripture, God’s wrath is always poured out on people and brought many references. In and of itself, that wasn’t enough to change my mind, since my view — in fact my perspective on much of what the modern Reformed movement propagates — is based on a different picture of God, though I admit, not necessarily Paul Young’s view.

No, my objection to the inclusion of this chapter is that it was out of place with the other seven. It addressed a statement one doesn’t hear in the marketplace as they might hear the others. It went in a heavy theological direction where the other chapters didn’t. I almost felt that Wilson wrote this out of an obligation to his tribe, the same way the reigning Popes have to be sure to include a statement about Mother Mary in each major address they give and each book they write.

That said, I stand by my assertion that this would be a suitable book to give to someone who is doing Christianity-lite and might be harboring the beliefs in the other seven statements. Especially if you’re walking with them to continue the discussion. It’s a good title for giveaway, or even as the basis for an entry-level Bible study for seekers or post-seekers, though I’d lead it as a seven-week study.


For a very short excerpt from the book check out this one at Christianity 201. A longer excerpt from the chapter on the wrath of God appears at The Gospel Coalition. For the publisher overview of the book, click this link.

Today’s review title was provided by Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada.

 

June 13, 2020

Christian ‘Cancel’ Culture: The New ‘Farewell’

Invoking names like Amy Grant, Sandy Patti, Rob Bell, etc., the discussion was quite lively over the past 24 hours when Christian journalist Sarah Pulliam Bailey posted,

This morning, before my feet had touched the floor, I had read each and every one of the nearly 200 comments which were in the thread at that point.

If you’ve been aware of the modern culture term, “cancelled”

  • To dismiss something/somebody. To reject an individual or an idea (Urban Dictionary)
  • Canceling, today, is used like a massive, informal boycott when someone or something in the public eye offends … or when we’re just over them. The exact origin of this usage is unknown, but as is similar with most word trends, one clever quip sparks a cascade of copycat usage, and suddenly things we never imagined uttering are part of our vernacular. (Dictionary.com)
  • To cancel someone (usually a celebrity or other well-known figure) means to stop giving support to that person. The act of canceling could entail boycotting an actor’s movies or no longer reading or promoting a writer’s works. The reason for cancellation can vary, but it usually is due to the person in question having expressed an objectionable opinion, or having conducted themselves in a way that is unacceptable, so that continuing to patronize that person’s work leaves a bitter taste. (Merriam Webster Dictionary)

Christians are good at boycotting institutions (Disney), supporting other things (Chick-Fil-A) and wavering somewhere in the middle (Hobby Lobby). It’s something we — especially American Christians — do extremely well. Living blissfully as in a world of black and white before there was color. Or even greyscale.

►► You don’t need to be using the Twitter app to follow the link to Sarah’s post, but be sure to read through as much of the tread as you can. Just click this link.

Here’s two I especially liked; though the sub-themed posts about Rob Bell were especially interesting:

(Love that last term; border maintenance.)

What do you think? Is cancelling a more final-sounding word than farewell-ing? How does grace fit in?

 

May 4, 2020

Ravi Zacharias and Abdu Murray Team Up to Look at Jesus

Review: Seeing Jesus from The East: A Fresh Look at History’s Most Influential Person by Ravi Zacharias and Abdu Murray (Zondervan, 2020)

One of the challenges when multiple authors combine to cover a particular topic — especially when the individual chapters were not written collaboratively — is that that there is often nothing which unifies the book as a whole. When I started reading Seeing Jesus From the East, I resigned myself to reading it as a collection of nine essays.

Two things have convinced me that this project was so much more.

First, the unifying factor is the man not named on the cover, Nabeel Qureshi. It was his dream to write this book with Ravi Zacharias, but after his untimely death, that was not realized. With Nabeel’s wife’s blessing on Abdu Murray’s involvement, that original intention, in many respects, holds the book together in terms of having two men, each born into very different religious traditions — one being Muslim — examine the life of Christ.

The second unifying factor is that these men are indeed colleagues. Murray is the Senior Vice President of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) and has spoken at many RZIM events. The book is not disjointed in any respect; rather, they refer to each others’ chapters, something you don’t see in an essay collection. (For the record, Ravi wrote five chapters and Abdu wrote four.)

The Jesus story — not to mention the story arc of the Bible as a whole — is deeply rooted in the East. As Murray points out, it’s a story flavored more with “curry and cumin” than the “ketchup and mayo” version propagated by the Christian church in the West. Elsewhere he refers to the “olive skinned” Jesus.

And although we sometimes present the gospel as a story of guilt and innocence it unfolds in a place where the key markers are honor and shame.

The style of the two authors is notably compatible. I’ve never heard Ravi Zacharias speak that he doesn’t quote the writing of a piece of classic poetry or a famous hymn. But Abdu Murray also provides these similar points of connection for the reader. Both draw on personal anecdotes and interactions with the widest variety of people at in-person events. The flow between chapters washes away all my concerns that the book might appear as though various puzzle pieces were simply forced together.

Seeing Jesus from the East doesn’t cover every moment in the 3+ years Christ’s life. It’s possible your favorite parable or miracle isn’t included. What you do explore is pivotal scenes from the wedding at Cana to the wilderness temptations to the transfiguration. Although I have a lifelong familiarity with these narratives, I found it provoked fresh discussions with my wife after I had finished reading.

So who is the target reader for this book?

Statistically speaking, this will probably sell more copies to Christians, especially those with exposure to RZIM. But it really works both ways. Regardless of faith family of origin (be it Muslim, atheist, or anything else) if someone is already at the point of considering Christianity, this would be an excellent window into that process from two authors who can fully empathize.

This is not apologetics in the traditional forms (evidential, moral, logical, philosophical) but a more winsome apologetic based on the authors’ personal stories and the stories of the many whom they have encountered. If your sphere of influence includes those coming from an Eastern worldview, this one is a must.


Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for a much-appreciated opportunity to read an advance copy which is now well-marked and underlined. The book released April 28th in North America and will release on June 14th in the UK.

 

 

January 17, 2020

Helping Churches Navigate Uncharted LGBT+ Waters

Filed under: Christianity, Church, issues, reviews, theology — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:08 am

Towards the end of the summer I happened on an edition of the Unseminary podcast where Rich Birch was interviewing Texas pastor Bruce B. Miller, author of a book I was unfamiliar with, Leading a Church In a Time Sexual Questioning: Grace-filled Wisdom for Day-to-day Ministry.(Zondervan) I obtained a copy of the book but only this week completely finished reading it.

The thing I remember from the interview that day was the tremendous accommodation his church is making for visitors and regular attenders in a world of many different gender labels and complexities.

I really looked forward to reading the book but found that, in the perspective of the podcast I’d heard, it didn’t really hit its stride or have the same bite until about halfway through. I think there are a couple of reasons for that.

First of all there are things that you can quickly get into in a verbal interview that bypass laying the scriptural foundation for a particular view on issues related to LGBT+ people. He wants to begin with a theology of sexuality.

Secondly, I think it was important to the author to make clear his own position which is a traditional interpretation of key scripture passages.

But that said, especially the second point, only serves to show the tremendous grace that he and his leaders have offered to those who might be coming to his church for the first time or might be considering attending on a regular basis. The book is an excellent template for any church that is navigating these uncharted waters.

Miller draws largely from the writing of Preston Sprinkle (who wrote the foreword), Andrew Marin, Nate Collins and many others. (Lots and lots of footnotes for those who want do dig deeper.)

So how does the grace-filled response enter?

…[G]ay people are crystal clear on our church’s teaching that gay sex is wrong. In fact they go much further and imagine that we think being gay is the worst sin imaginable and that we hate them. Therefore, we have to go to great lengths to share what they do not know: that we love them and welcome them just as they are, as Jesus does. We have to say over and over that we want them here in our church family…(p.120)

And of course there’s two sides to this and so I also appreciated this quote from Kyle Idleman

“The church should not be known for outrage towards people outside of our community who need grace; we should be outraged by people inside our community who refuse to give grace.” (p.121)

Which tied in directly to this earlier statement,

We need as much grace for church people who struggle with gay people as we do for gay people who struggle with the church. (p.111)

So who it is that we’re dealing with?

…86 percent of people in the LGBT+ community reported a significant level of church involvement at some point in their childhood or teenage years. (p.118)

I also appreciated the way that he’s looking forward into the possibilities that can arise 10 or 20 years down the road from the position where are we now find ourselves. For example this comment about what happens as the gay population ages. Quoting Marin,

“What will churches do with the eighty-year-old gay man who has committed himself not only to the church but to celibacy as a theological conviction? He doesn’t have children to support him or to serve as next of kin or as power of attorney for his medical care. He doesn’t have descendants to listen to his stories or pictures of grandchildren to share with his peers. Who will be his advocate, his family, his community? It’s a reality that theologically conservative churches need to start planning for…” (p. 155)

In addition to discussion questions at the end of each chapter one feature of the book which I need to mention is found in chapter 10: A liturgy for sexual healing. This could be the basis of an entire service on this topic and there is content here that can be adapted by non liturgical churches.

I recommended this book to several people not because there aren’t other books on this topic in the market and others being written as I type this, but rather because it is written from a strong Church leadership perspective and as this issue becomes more front of mind in our churches it is the type of resource which, if I were a pastor, I would want to put in the hands of all of my key leaders and board members.


I wanted to include a section from the book on my devotional blog, Christianity 201, but that blog deliberately avoids topical issues so I found a general section which you’ll find at this link.


One more time, if you want to catch the podcast, click here.


I’ve used LGBT+ as that’s what this book uses. The author is clear at the outset that the focus is on gay and lesbian people, not transgender or “other sexual minorities.”


This was my first attempt at dictating an entire blog post into my phone. I think I caught the spelling and syntax issues, but you can let me know!

October 29, 2019

MacArthur: A Lesson for the Boys and Men

Filed under: Christianity, current events, theology, women — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:30 am

This is about the 8th or 9th time I’ve found a Twitter thread that I felt was worthy of a wider forum or a different media. This time around the author is Tish Warren Harrison, author of Liturgy of the Ordinary (InterVarsity). I know as I’m typing this that some of you are weary of this subject, but I believe she offers a fresh perspective.

When everyone was talking about John MacArthur and “Go home,” I was busy having a human being, so I haven’t been online. But do I care? Of course I care. I care because I’m a female priest and care about Beth Moore. And because I care about the church. And here’s what I thought:

I have often said that I keep having this conversation — not just about women’s ordination/roles but about women’s catechesis/discipleship, institutional empowerment and accountability, theological training, leadership, and depth — for my daughters, but this week, I had a son.

And I have realized that we need this conversation just as much for him and every boy of the next generation. Because it is hard to be a faithful, orthodox Christian in the world. I think it is getting harder.

If boys and men can’t learn from and value the gifts, insight, teaching, knowledge, writing, ministries, and works of God in 50%+ of the church, it will be all the harder for them to walk with Jesus.

Sexism is a sin. We don’t often speak of it in those terms, but it’s not just “problematic.” It’s a principality and power. It is idolatry. And like all sin, it diminishes us as a church, not just those sinned against, but those who are in sin.

(And note I’m not talking about complementarianism as a biblical conviction, which is not what any of this is about — Beth isn’t ordained even. This is about if women can speak about God.)

June 11, 2019

The Peculiarities of the Definition of Sin

How many times have you sat in church and been told by the pastor that the word for sin is taken from the word hamartia, which means missing the mark? You’re then told that the meaning of the word is based on an archery term and perhaps you were given a teaching slide which showed such an image.

In the examples above, there is only one arrow and it lands appropriately in what we could call the center of God’s will or even, as applied in our generation, the center of God’s design. Of course, anything that missing that mark, in God`s economy simply doesn`t count. The following diagram makes that more clear…

…And yet we`re faced with an analogy that offers — and certainly does in the sport itself on which the analogy is based — an opportunity to come close and receive a lower score.  I`ve always pictured this more like the image below…

…and have even gone so far to say that in reference to contemporary issues of co-habitation, divorce, and even gay marriage, that some of those things borrow from the ideal, and yet still miss; the idea of a graduated response.

I wish I could articulate this better, but here goes…

I wonder sometimes if instead of looking at human behavior as being either right or wrong in God’s eyes, we should look at our various responses to His intentions as falling into categories like

  • good
  • better
  • best

In other words, a person who has lived 24 years in a committed gay relationship obviously sees some value to that; especially when one considers the hurt and rejection they have had to face [the price they’ve had to pay] from others over the course of those years. But in God’s eyes there may have been a ‘better’ or even a ‘best’ that they missed out on. Taking that to the next logical step, we can see how anything that falls short of God’s ideal standard could by some measure be considered sin because that’s how the word sin was originally defined. But it would appear to some that it was still ‘good.’* So the question is can there be activities that appear ‘good’ (either to some or to all) but also appear to be ‘sin’ (to those who have studied God’s intention or ideal plan)?

*Clarification: I went on to say that those relationships, while they are not best, might be seen by some (including the parties involved) as good or better to the extent that they borrow from the best. Perhaps it’s a Christian couple that attends church, gives, and supports a child through Compassion. Perhaps they are committed to monogamy. Perhaps they demonstrated all of the Fruit of the Spirit.

But transgression in civil law doesn`t work like that does it?

If the speed limit is 60 and you’re doing 65, it’s less than 10% over, but you’re still speeding. If the girl is due to have a birthday in two weeks, 14 days seems pretty trivial, but she’s still underage.

So why did God give us an image which appears to be graduated in its meaning? Why not choose something more binary; something more black & white?

In that benchmark source for all things theological that is Wikipedia (!) we read:

Hamartia is also used in Christian theology because of its use in the Septuagint and New Testament. The Hebrew (chatá) and its Greek equivalent (àµaρtίa/hamartia) both mean “missing the mark” or “off the mark”.

There are four basic usages for hamartia:

  1. Hamartia is sometimes used to mean acts of sin “by omission or commission in thought and feeling or in speech and actions” as in Romans 5:12, “all have sinned”
  2. Hamartia is sometimes applied to the fall of man from original righteousness that resulted in humanity’s innate propensity for sin, that is original sin For example, as in Romans 3:9, everyone is “under the power of sin”
  3. A third application concerns the “weakness of the flesh” and the free will to resist sinful acts. “The original inclination to sin in mankind comes from the weakness of the flesh.”
  4. Hamartia is sometimes “personified”. For example, Romans 6:20 speaks of being enslaved to hamartia (sin).

Perhaps we’ve overstated the archery image. (Preaching in different eras does go through periods of emphasis and de-emphasis of certain principles) Clearly, to God, sin is sin. You hit that target center or you don’t. You (as in Rom. 3.23) fall short of his glory. Other than The Message and J. B. Phillips, all of the English translations speak of God’s glory in that verse. (The other two looking more toward justification as key.)

It’s easy to say, “I missed the bullseye, but at least I landed on the target.” Or simply, “I’m trying.”

But knowing God’s ideal; knowing that the goal of the game is to hit the center; knowing that God’s desire is we aim for a perfect score… this has to commit us to aiming to do nothing less.

So again I ask, why did God give us an image which appears to be graduated in its meaning? Why not choose something more binary; something more black & white?  Or did he give us something more like Wikipedia states and we’ve simply overemphasized an alternative use of the word in antiquity?

What visual image would you choose?

February 26, 2019

The Big Trinity Theory

Filed under: Christianity, theology — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:33 am

I was all set to watch God Friended Me on Sunday night but instead CBS was showing two hours of episodes of The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon, the spin-off prequel in which the key character from the former sitcom is portrayed in his younger years. It’s the last season for BBT so I thought I’d watch it. When Young Sheldon followed, it was an episode I had actually seen and it played on the screen for about 15 minutes while I was doing other things.

My one takeaway was how when you look at older Sheldon and younger Sheldon you’re looking at the same character. It’s not surprising since it’s the same production company and probably some of the same writers and everyone is intimately familiar with his personality quirks, which are legion. They are separated by several decades and yet the perspective, the thought processes and the mannerisms of each are identical.

That got me thinking about the Godhead and the relationship between the Father and the Son in particular. (What can I say? I’m one of the great theological minds of our generation and I see these parallels everywhere I look.)

The great mystery of what we call the Trinity is that Father and Son (and Spirit) are one and yet distinct.

The distinctiveness is summed up in The Athanasian Creed. When you click through, you see something much longer than the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. Part of the length is this qualification that each holds distinction but is part of the unified whole.  (I once suggested it was written by Philadelphia lawyer!)

There is also some additional language that stems from this:

And yet there are not three eternal beings;
there is but one eternal being.

For the person of the Father is a distinct person,
the person of the Son is another,
and that of the Holy Spirit still another.
But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one,
their glory equal, their majesty co-eternal.

Despite this, we also have one of the most succinct verses in the gospels, John 10:30 making the case for the unity and oneness of the Godhead: “I and the Father are one.” It’s further complicated when Jesus is asked when the end times will come and he says that “”However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” That’s in Mark 13:32 NLT, and it’s repeated in Matthew 24:36.

But then… it gets crazy complicated when in John 17:31, Jesus prays for his disciples before his crucifixion:

…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (NIV)
…that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (ESV)
…That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. (KJV)

I included three translations just to be clear. We’d have to save a discussion of the oneness in John 10:30 and the oneness in John 17:21 for our Christianity 201 blog, but when we touched on it once there we noted that the Asbury Bible Commentary states:

In nature this was identical to the oneness that united Son and Father, and it was characterized by the same glory. Its purpose was that by observing it the world might come to know that God had indeed been behind the mission of Jesus and that his blessing was on the church.

…So that’s what happens when I watch sitcoms. Here’s a drawing of what I think the Athanasian Creed uniquely states:

 

February 21, 2019

Peter Enns: A Fresh Lens for Approaching the Bible

Filed under: bible, Christianity, doctrine, reviews, theology — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:42 am

For most of us, hearing about a book which purports to teach us “How to” read the Bible usually presents two possibilities:

  • a basic introduction to the organization of the Christian scriptures, such as a Bible handbook; the type of thing we might give to a new believer; or
  • an introduction to the idea of Biblical interpretation, or what is called hermeneutics.

In How the Bible Actually Works: In Which I Explain How an Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom, Rather than Answers—and Why that’s Great News Peter Enns takes a rather different approach; showing us how the scriptures themselves have developed — a word preferred over evolved — different ideas which are commonplace in Christian thought, including the idea of an enemy (satan) or the idea of the resurrection of the physical body.

Or here’s another way of looking at the book: Many of you were aware of a controversy a few months ago when Andy Stanley said that the Church needs to jettison itself from the Old Testament. (It was that j-word that got him hot water.) I would suggest it’s not a stretch that Peter Enns would say that successive Old Testament writers were themselves trying to jettison themselves from earlier Old Testament writers; that this is a process which has been ongoing. (See Chapter 10, the section headed “Exhibit A.”) Follow this line of thinking, and you might find yourself believing that the Bible is a living book.

Or similarly, it’s as though one Gospel writer might bristle at the the way another writer has framed a particular episode in the life of Jesus. But of course, each is writing for a different audience. Peter Enns captures these anomalies, but sees them as part of his delight in reading scripture, not as a problem to be solved.

While his scholarship is evident, his approach in this book has a remarkably common touch. In one section makes it clear that “open theology” is above his pay grade. Furthermore, one can only take on so much in a more general treatment of Bible interpretation. The book doesn’t try to be all things for all people.

Some readers may be disturbed at Enns’ gratuitous use of writings from the Apocrypha to substantiate certain arguments. As an Evangelical, I accept the historical value of those books, but am often unaccustomed to seeing them quoted in the books I review. (Keep in mind however that this books is published by HarperOne, not the Zondervan or Nelson divisions of HarperCollins.)

Still others may have a knee-jerk reaction to the books subtitle, especially “…an Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book…” Ambiguous? Yes. For Enns, that’s part of the Bible’s basic equation; and that’s exactly where the “wisdom” in the other half of the extra-long subtitle comes into play.

Reading this following Stanley’s Irresistible made for an interesting pairing. In terms of our understanding of the book of books, something is clearly afoot, and Peter Enns doesn’t want you to miss it!

Thanks to Dave Knox at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for the opportunity to read How the Bible Actually Works. It went on sale on Tuesday in hardcover wherever you buy fine books.

Previously at Thinking Out Loud: A November, 2016 review of Peter Enns’ The Sin of Certainty, in which, coincidentally, Andy Stanley’s name also was mentioned!

Postscript: Books like this one, and Andy Stanley’s (mentioned above) and Rob Bell’s What is the Bible? are part of a fresh genre of books which, while not Bible handbooks in the traditional sense, serve much the same purpose. For a more conservative approach books like Gordon Fee’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth continues to fill the void between handbook and general guide to hermeneutics.

December 31, 2018

Of Lives and Years; Of Beginnings and Endings

Have you made your New Life’s resolutions?

As I was thinking about how to wrap things up for 2019, it occurred to me that there might be four different possibility for how your year has gone; and those are the same four which can be applied to the longer span of our lives. For some context as to what I mean by this, here’s something I wrote in 2009. A small portion of this is actually appearing for the 4th time; much of it for only the 2nd time, and some is new.

I’m certainly not one of those “Everything happens for a reason” people, but I do believe every book in the Bible is there for many reasons, and with II Kings, the clearest message that I see is that when it comes to their relationship with God, not everybody ends well.

living-bibleIn II Kings we see a succession of leaders, many of whom are relegated to the most minimal of mentions. In the original The Living Bible, Ken Taylor in his most paraphrasial — ya like that word? — moment in the entire work actually lapses into point form in the later chapters. Those chapters could be called the “bullet point translation.” One could think that perhaps Taylor tired of the various Kings simply not getting it. Basically there are four main types of stories told and each King is representative of one of them:

  • Started badly, ended badly
  • Started well, ended badly
  • Started badly, ended well
  • Started well, ended well

There are several benefits to reading this. It should make you want to end well, to leave a legacy of faithfulness and devotion to God, His word, and His work. But if you’re not solidly signed up with the eternal security camp, it also means you must end well. It allows the possibility that I can blow this Christ-following thing, with severe consequences.

Of course it helps that God, by His Holy Spirit is constantly nudging us closer to His ways. There are times in our lives however, when we don’t respond to His prompting. In the Revelation given to John, a message to the church in Laos ascribes three possible states of response: hot, cold, or lukewarm. Although the descriptors here apply to the local church as a collective noun, I believe the same terms can also apply to us individually.

heat-sensitive-imageMany of those who are cold or even lukewarm will recommit themselves down the road, but in terms of the here and now, if you were to take a picture of the spiritual temperature of people using a “spiritual heat sensitive” camera, you’d find that not everyone is responding to what the Spirit is suggesting. Or demanding; God’s not big on suggestions! Some just love their sin too much. Others are just spiritually apathetic. Some are just too busy.

One of the biggest myths in the Church (capital ‘C’ this time) is to suggest that “It’s all good.” To me, that’s not dissimilar from the Universalist perspective. It’s all good if it all ends well. Right here, right now, in the middle of the story, we don’t see so clearly how it will end. We have absolutely, positively no idea what’s going on in the lives of people at the deepest level, so we can’t begin to assume what God may be doing, or what He may be using to work His purposes, but if II Kings tells us anything it is that even Kings, representing the highest their country has to offer, can refuse to see the need to make God part of their lifelong equation.

lifes-journeyAnother myth is to say “We’re all on a spiritual journey.” The Greeks held that there were four core ‘essences:’ Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Knowing their list didn’t account for everything in the world, they held that there was a fifth essence, ‘quintessence,’ representing ‘spirit.’ Unfortunately many people live lives that are dominated by earth or air or fire or water or whatever modern equivalents represent our modern passions. Their journey can’t be characterized as spiritual at all; or if it contains elements of spiritual life, it appears to be a journey to nowhere.

In Jesus time, we see life represented in the phrase, “heart, soul, mind and strength;” both in terms of Jesus early life in Luke 2:52, but also in how we are to love the Lord with all our being. Some people allow their lives to be dominated by mental or intellectual accomplishments (mind) or physical prowess (strength) or their physical or emotional passions (the eros and philios loves; soul) rather than by a focus on their own spirit and the spiritual side of life.

Of course, it is not for us to know what God is doing in everyone’s lives. We are responsible for the ending to our own story, not that of anyone else.

I want my life to be spirit-focused; to be quintessence-focused. I want the center of that focus to be Jesus Christ. I want to end well. I want those around me to end well, too.

So while we’re caught up in what is really the ‘micro-focus’ of how a particular year began or ended or both, we need to also consider the ‘macro-focus’ on the overall progression of our lives. 

It’s a time for New Year’s resolutions, but also a time for New Life resolutions.

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.

 

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