Thinking Out Loud

December 31, 2017

My Year in Review

Redeem the time - Stewardship of timeThis is certainly the year in review time for many writers. But what about my year or your year? I’m definitely not a KJV guy, but there’s a phrase in it I’ve always particularly liked.

Col 4: 5 KJV Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.

Eph 5:16 KJV Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

The KJV uses the term “redeeming the time” in these two verses.   The second verse appears in the NASB as,

making the most of your time, because the days are evil.

and in the Voice as

make the most of every moment and every encounter

The other verse appears in the NASB as

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.

Again, The Voice has

Make the most of every living and breathing moment because these are evil times

The question I ask myself is this:  Did I make the most of my time and my opportunities in 2017?   And then:  Will I endeavor to make the most of my time and my opportunities in 2018?

While some writers emphasize the importance of rest — including it among the spiritual disciplines — others talk about the “stewardship of our time.”   Time management is considered enough in scripture that it is not a stretch to say that scripture introduces a “doctrine of time usage.”

But like everything else in scripture, there is a place for balance in doctrine.   Think of a pendulum swinging back and forth.   Only when it stops swinging does it find the place of balance in the middle.

There is a time for action — The one who knows to do something right and doesn’t do it; that’s a sin.   But there’s a time for rest — Be still and know that He is God.

Time management by Biblical standards involves more than a simple “resting” or “action” theory.   It requires skill and wisdom to find the balance.

So more questions:   Did I learn to rest in God in 2017?   Will I learn more about resting in God in 2018?

How is your year in review?

Nobody said this was easy…

…To my Thinking Out Loud online community, I wish you God’s best in the New Year.

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December 5, 2017

Praying to Who?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:51 am

The woman was returning her shopping cart to the outside of the grocery store, as was I. She was talking to her friend.

“They did the tests yesterday and now I’m just waiting for the results. So we’re praying.”

I wanted to interrupt and say, “Praying to who?”

You see, in the town where we live, the Sunday morning church attendance is about 5% of the population and among the five churches I would consider Evangelical, it’s 1% of the total number of people here. Seriously. I’ve visited all the churches in question. Many times. The Evangelical percentage is 1%. In a town about an hour east of Toronto.

I’m sure she would have said, “I’m praying to God.”

I would have then asked her which God she had in mind, with the added question, “Does He know you?”

Or perhaps, “Do you know him?”

Maybe that wouldn’t have been helpful. The percentage of people who have a deep Christian faith and spirituality but don’t attend church is high and growing constantly. She could be one of those. Church attendance doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than going to MacDonald’s makes you a hamburger.

But it’s interesting how people who might not profess any faith publicly will speak about prayer in moments of crisis…

…Until I remember that I do something similar myself. Not that I am engaged in constant wickedness outside of my church and blogging life, but there is a very small sense in which I dial down potential carnality in times of crisis and panic. I steer clear of the border between things that honor God and things that serve my own desires. I tend to be more focused spiritually. And if something is befalling me personally, I’ve written elsewhere that I tend to be a nicer person — a better person — in those moments when I am battling illness.

It’s not that I start praying to a God with whom I’ve had no communication up to that point (in a long while) but rather that I am made more aware of my spiritual deficiencies and double down on the faith I was already professing and practicing…

…The woman at the grocery store might have a deep faith. She might read her Bible more than I do and sing in the church choir for extra points. But statistically, that’s not the case here.

I hope her prayers get answered and her results are pleasing to her. I hope she knows the one — the one that I know — that she is trusting to hear her prayer.

In fact, I don’t hope it, I pray it to be the case.

 

December 2, 2017

Short Takes (6): Forgiveness

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:00 am

Forgiveness.

Over the years there have been some great resources on the subject of forgiveness. It’s a popular theme in Christian books:

  • Total Forgiveness by R. T. Kendall
  • Five Languages of Apology by Gary Chapman
  • The Gift of Forgiveness by Charles Stanley
  • Choosing Forgiveness by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
  • Choosing Forgiveness by John and Paul Sandford
  • The Revolutionary Guide to Forgiveness by Eric Wright
  • The Power of Forgiveness by Joyce Meyer
  • The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness by John McArthur
  • Forgiveness: Breaking the Power of The Past by Kay Arthur et al
  • How to Forgive When You Don’t Feel Like It by June Hunt

If you are of a certain age you remember this song lyric:

Love means you never have to say you’re sorry

which is taken from the 1970s movie Love Story and a hit song of that era. You can read more about that here. The song went:

Love means you never have to say you`re sorry
Love means without a word you understand
Hold me and let the pressures disappear
Kiss me I only need to know you`re here

Love means you never have to say you`re sorry
Touch me the love I felt is everywhere
I know I`ll never be alone again
Love means we`ll never really say goodbye

Love means you never have to say you`re sorry
Touch me the love I felt is everywhere
I know I`ll never be alone again
Love means we`ll never really say goodbye

Ahh… Isn’t that just sooooooooo romantic? (Bonus points if you can name the artist without help.)

But life isn’t like that. Sometimes you want to hear that apology. You want to hear the words. You want to sense that the other person has a sense of regret, of contrition.

And sometimes all of us have a way of dancing around actually having to say those words, “I’m sorry. I’m so very, very sorry.”

Christ followers are forgiven people. Freely we have received; now freely we need to give.

Here’s Matthew 6:12 —

Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. (Message)

and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
(NLT)

Pardon our offenses as we also ourselves pardon such that offend us. (rough translation from the French Louis Segond version)

Forgiveness: Easy to discuss. Hard to do.

October 5, 2017

What You Don’t See Just By Looking at the Amish

I don’t know offhand if the Amish permit what’s called here “Agritourism” — in other words farm tours — but I have something that would be of greater interest than seeing the hay lofts or furniture making workshop. I’d like to sit down with an Amish elder and discuss the underlying faith, specifically their faith and how it informs their customers. It beats driving around Lancaster, PA and going, “Over there! It’s another one!” and then snapping camera-phone pictures of these precious people simply trying to live their lives in peace.

This week, I got a bit of an insight into the type of information I’m seeking. I work two days a week at a Christian bookstore that my wife and I coincidentally happen to own. When an audio book came in missing the shrink-wrap usually found on audio products1 I considered the idea of listening to a few minutes of it as, despite the various podcasts and sermons I listen to constantly, I have no personal experience with audio books.

Then I discovered the book was voiced by none other than Christian Taylor, one of the regulars at The Phil Vischer Podcast.2 I decided to see (or hear) what her vocational labor produced.

The audio was for the book Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World by Susanne Woods Fisher.3 Interspersing Amish proverbs with anecdotal stores would make this a fun read, but it was probably a bit of a challenge voicing a reading of the book.

Putting it as simply as I can, there is a world here which, while it may seem strikingly different to observe as a tourist, is actually more different than you think in terms of the underlying principles which guide everyday life in an Amish family and an Amish community.  They live out an ethic which is certainly rooted in the Sermon on the Mount and other teachings of Jesus, but in many respects almost goes beyond that high standard in terms of everyday life.4

Even if I could embed myself in an Amish family for a week, I don’t know that I could ever expect to fully get it without having spent a lifetime being educated and shaped by their community values, passed on from generation to generation. They live in a world without electronic media and yet possess a wisdom many of the rest of us cannot imagine. Their formal education ends at Grade 8, yet they have better literacy rates than in other neighboring rural areas. Their children are given responsibilities that would boggle the minds of parents who bubble-wrap their kids in the cities, such as driving a team of mules to plow a field.5 And their pace of life means they see things which the rest of miss while driving Interstate freeways at 70 mph.

I enjoyed the (audio) book, but I find myself wanting more; more than I can get from simply packing up the car and heading off to Amish country or Mennonite country to simply look at them.6

I want to take a month and be them.7


1To my readers in other countries: For years records, tapes and CDs in North America have come plastic-wrapped, as we don’t want to get to get germs, at least that’s what a record vendor in England told me years ago.

2As in “…We’ll talk to Skye and Christian, too, but we’ve got no guest this week for you…” (Show theme song.) Christian is a voice actor. christiantaylorvo.com

3Oops! Fisher wrote Amish Peace in 2009. In an earlier version of this blog post, I identified the book as The Heart of the Amish which she wrote in 2015. This appears to be a different book, not a title update. My bad.

4The stories about forgiveness will break you.

5Full disclosure: The book admits this freedom results in a much higher rate of Emergency Room visits due to injuries compared to other children in rural areas.

6Pennsylvania or Ohio or Western Ontario would be the destinations of choice for such an excursion. The book notes the Ohio Amish have a lower percentage of people living in farm communities.

7I would probably not be able to give up my phone or internet connection. Today, several houses share an outdoor phone booth of sorts which is for making calls, not receiving them. That would be somewhat insufficient.


Christian responds:

Related: A 2010 article I wrote about the Amish and the concept of being separated from the world.

Photos: Daily Encouragement by Stephen & Brooksyne Weber.

September 18, 2017

Heroes

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:43 am

by Aaron Wilkinson

to read this at Aaron’s blog, Voice of One Whispering, click this link.

I had never been one to have heroes, or “idols/role models/etc.” My classmates in school would admire celebrities or athletes but I never really got that. I recognized good traits in the grownups around me and I would feel appreciation and respect but never anything like awe.

Such remained the case until last summer. I had just graduated university and I stumbled into the world of apologetics and I quickly discovered Nabeel Qureshi.

Nabeel’s powerful testimony was a bestseller and his personality and academic prowess strongly impressed upon me. I watched his debates and lectures, always admiring how he could be so firm and passionate in the truth and yet respectful and irenic at the same time (and the world of Christian apologetics can be rather deprived of irenic personalities.)

There’s a scene in The Hobbit where Balin, upon seeing the heroism of Thorin, says “There is one who I could follow. There is one I could call king.” My impression wasn’t quite that strong but I think I now know where Balin was coming from.

I felt rather insecure for a while. Perhaps I had put the man on a pedestal. Basically I felt as though I could never be content with myself until I had reached his level. There was a jealous corner of my heart that thought “I just have to be like him.” Specifically, just as smart as him.

Then, after only a few months of getting to know his work, he was diagnosed with advanced stage stomach cancer and given a grim prognosis. He vlogged his experience over the next year and his physical conditioned worsened. Then on the 16th of September, 2017 he passed away. Obviously this is to be taken seriously and his and his family’s experience of all this is what matters most, but I hope the reader won’t mind if I share my own experience of this.

In a year, Nabeel went from being someone I new nothing about, to being the person I admired the most ever, to being dead. So what happens to a man of such reserved admiration as myself when his hero suffers like this?

In my case, he only admires him more but that admiration changes. The hevel (the word in Ecclesiastes that is translated ‘vanity’ or ‘meaninglessness’) of health and academic achievement blow away and we see what really matters – a soul that loves God. Doctorates are hard but loving God is accessible enough a concept, I think. We also see a spirit that hopes and trusts in the midst of suffering which is a far more important (and more practical) lesson than anything taught in the halls of academia.

I wonder how Jesus’ followers must have felt the day after his crucifixion, having seen the great man they had followed and in whom they’d hope die.

As for my own experience, I now get how how unabashed childlike admiration for a person can transform you. I was drawn to Nabeel for his knowledge of books and histories and theologies, but he taught me (and I hope all of us) a greater lesson: He showed us what it looks like to love and hope in Our Father.

As for my envy over academic accolades, I now feel that disquietness lifted. While his mind was impressive, it is for his heart that I will remember him as being great. Perhaps that is the more effective apologetic. As the church does, remembering great writings from her history such as the letters of Clement or the 95 Theses of Luther, I hope we also remember Nabeel’s Vlog 43, his last public words to the world, as a pattern of conduct for how we are to share our faith.

If you allow yourself to admire a person you might just get hurt. You might just agonize over their suffering. But the strength of God is made perfect in the weakness of man and I cannot at all reflect on the life of Nabeel Qureshi without seeing the love and the power of God behind it all. The Spirit of God has not left us. And He just as might shine through us as well.

Choose your heroes well. I know I did.


May 5, 2017

The Book Which Launched J. Warner Wallace

Four years ago, most of us did not know the name J. Warner Wallace. Today his two bestselling books have made him a leading voice in Christian apologetics. I’ve received a copy of Foresnic Faith the newest from him and hope to review it here in the near future.

We never repeat book reviews here. I’ll re-purpose other content, but generally the book reviews are limited to a specific time period when the book is fresh. Today an exception…

The book that started it all

Every decade or so a great work of apologetics appears which breaks the boundaries of the discipline and reaches a wider audience. Josh McDowell did it years ago with Evidence That Demands a Verdict; Frank Morrison with Who Moved the Stone? and more recently Lee Strobel brought a large audience to the discussion with The Case for Christ series.

Enter former Los Angeles County homicide investigator J. Warner Wallace and his book Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. (2013, David C. Cook).  Like Strobel, Wallace was a skeptic turned believer, and like McDowell, Wallace leaves no stone unturned in his study of the reliability of scripture, from obscure passages to those central to core doctrine.

The book is divided into two parts, the nature of cold case investigation — and this case is 2,000 + years old, and the particular evidence that the Bible offers. But first one other book comparison, and you won’t see it coming. Years ago Philip Keller wrote A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. People loved that book because there were particular insights that only one who tended sheep could offer toward interpretation of the text that begins “The Lord is my shepherd.” In many respects, Cold Case Christianity offers the same type of intimacy with the subject matter that only an insider who has worked in this vocation can contribute. So if you feel you’ve read enough apologetics titles to last a lifetime, allow me to offer you one more! 

It’s important to note that Wallace approached this originally from the perspective of an atheist. While the evidence in this case is compelling, I found the first part of the book (which is more than half of the total) most interesting. Possible recipients of this book would include men (Father’s Day is coming) and anyone who reads mysteries or watches mystery or suspense or programs related to the justice system on video or TV.

In a sense, in Cold Case Christianity you, or someone you know who is sitting on the fence in terms of belief, are the jury. So the other possible recipients of this book would be anyone who is investigating Christianity; including people who might not read other books in the apologetics genre.

The second part of the book is the evidence itself. Here, Wallace brings in much from non-Biblical sources, satisfying the oft-voice complaint that some apologists are simply using the Bible to prove the Bible.

This is a handbook I intend to keep within reach and will no doubt refer back to many times.

The sophomore release

Two years later, Wallace returned with a similarly structured book looking at a slightly different subject. Again, with Forensic Faith just coming to market, I decided to make this a two-for-one.

In God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe (David C. Cook) J. Warner Wallace applies his unique skills to the idea of God being behind what we might call creation. But we need to watch using the word creation in describing this book, since creation science is concerned with origins and answering the “How did we get here?” type of questions. Rather, this is more about intelligent design and bypassing the How? and When? questions to look more at What?; or more specifically the complexity that exists in the world pointing to a master designer; a designer who exists outside the realms we can observe or quantify.

The last distinction is important to Wallace’s argument; he compares it to cases where detectives would have to determine if the killer was in the room or came from outside the room. The analogy is very fitting, but the proof isn’t contained in one chapter or another, but in the aggregate of a case built on a foundation consisting of an amalgam of evidence and syllogistic logic.

The evidence “inside the room” points to a very specific “suspect.” He’s not a malicious intruder. Although I’ve titled this book God’s Crime Scene (in an effort to illustrate an evidential approach to the investigation of the universe), God hasn’t committed any crime here. In addition, God is not an unconcerned intruder; He isn’t dispassionate about His creation. (p. 201)

God’s Crime Scene is intended therefore to make the argument for the existence of God accessible to the average reader through the comparisons to anecdotal cold-case detective work, and the use of cartoon-like illustrations. But make no mistake, this is not light reading.

This time around, I found myself gladly absorbing the chapters that were more philosophical and epistemological in nature, but totally over my depth in the sections that relied more on biology and physics. I could only marvel that the author was able to present such a wide swath of material which was so multi-disciplinary.

Still there were elements of the argument that were not lost on me. Even a child could see the resemblance of a machine-like mechanism in the human body and a man-made machine that forms a similar function, the latter being something we know was intelligently designed. Or the logic that if we agree that the brain is distinct from the mind, then it’s not a huge leap to the idea that a soul exists.

This is a textbook-quality product that will appeal to a variety of readers with an assortment of interests in this topic and offers the additional payoff of further insights into detectives’ investigative processes. You don’t have to understand every nuance of every issue to both appreciate and learn from Wallace’s writing; and it is in the cumulative assembly of all the various subjects raised here that Wallace is able to mark the case closed…

…You can learn more about the books and ministry of this author at ColdCaseChristianity.com .

March 4, 2017

You Can’t Parachute and Stay in the Plane

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:26 am

An author and pastor who I’ve followed for many years, Mark O. Wilson has moved over to a new domain at… wait for it… MarkOWilson.com

In the past we’ve posted reviews of Mark’s books, Purple Fish and Filled Up, Poured Out.

I found this at the new site and thought it would work well for Saturday. If today you have nothing scheduled, no plans, nothing to really look forward to; I hope this challenges you to make some changes.

Live the Adventure!

You can’t enjoy the summit if you don’t climb the mountain.

You can’t parachute and stay in the plane.

You can’t take the dive if you don’t get off the board.

You can’t enjoy the story if you don’t open the book.

You can’t steal second with a foot on first.

You can’t score a touchdown and stay in the huddle.

You can’t ski the hill if you don’t take the lift.

You can’t take the train if you don’t buy the ticket.

You can’t catch the fish if you don’t cast the line.

You can’t sing your song if you don’t open your mouth.

You can’t understand if you don’t open your mind.

You can’t walk on water if you don’t step out of the boat.

You can’t love if you don’t open your heart.

You can’t get in shape if you don’t exercise.

You can’t enjoy nature if you don’t leave the house.

You can’t fly if you don’t spread your wings.

You can’t get anywhere if you don’t make a decision

You can’t live the adventure if you don’t take a risk.

Playing it safe is the surest way a boring, humdrum life. Too many of us have unfulfilled dreams packed away deep in our hearts but we are afraid to bring them out and explore them. It’s too frightening to do something extraordinary.

So, rather of taking bold steps of daring faith, we settle for Netflix and video games. Instead creating a great story, we are content with consuming stories of others — watching reruns from the sofa. But we are not really content.

We weren’t created to sit around and watch the world go by. The reason why life often seems unfulfilling is because we have never take the chance to really live.

Maybe it is time to get off the couch, step out in faith, and experience the adventure!

~Mark O. Wilson

March 3, 2017

3/3 and the Trinity

trinity 1

Someone pointed out the coincidence (if indeed it is a coincidence) that a major motion picture about the Trinity is releasing on 3/3. That got me thinking that perhaps we could look back at this topic as it has been discussed here and at C201.

In November of 2014 at Christianity 201 we began with a quote from Tozer:

Our sincerest effort to grasp the incomprehensible mystery of the Trinity must remain forever futile, and only by deepest reverence can it be saved from actual presumption.
~A.W. Tozer, The Idea of the Holy, chapter 4

and then continued to look at “who does what.”

In the Holy Scriptures the work of creation is attributed to the Father

Gen. 1:1 In the beginning, God created everything: the heavens above and the earth below

to the Son

Col 1:16 It was by Him that everything was created: the heavens, the earth, all things within and upon them, all things seen and unseen, thrones and dominions, spiritual powers and authorities. Every detail was crafted through His design, by His own hands, and for His purposes.

and to the Holy Spirit

Job 26:13 By His breath, the heavens are made beautifully clear;
by His hand that ancient serpent—even as it attempted escape—is pierced through.

Psalm 104:30 When You send out Your breath, life is created,
and the face of the earth is made beautiful and is renewed.

The article continues as a scripture medley… continue reading here.

In July, 2013 we looked at the idea of “One What and Three Whos” with this item by C. Michael Patton:

I believe in one God (ousia), who exists eternally in three persons (hypostasis) — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit — all of whom are fully God, all of whom are equal.

Spirit of GodSince there is only one God, one member of the Trinity, in his essence, cannot have more power, authority, or dignity than another. They all share in the exact same nature (ousia, ontos, “stuff”). I did not understand this until later in my Christian life. For many years I existed as a functional polytheist (a tritheist, to be technically precise). I believed the three members of the Trinity shared in a similar nature, not the exact same nature. In other words, just like you and I share in the nature of being homo sapiens, so the members of the Trinity are all from the “God species” . . . or something like that. But this is a bad analogy since, though you and I may be the same species, we are different in essence. You are you and I am me. I have my body and you have yours. But in the Trinity, all three persons share in the exact same essence. One in nature; three in person. One what; three whos…

For more on the idea of a hierarchy within the Trinity… continue reading here.

In February of 2011, we offered “The Trinity Collection,” to go-to verses in which all three members of the Godhead are referenced:

Matthew 3: 16, 17 NIV

16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Matthew 28: 19 NLT

19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

John 15: 26 ESV

[Jesus speaking] 26“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.

Acts 2: 33 NIRV

33 Jesus has been given a place of honor at the right hand of God. He has received the Holy Spirit from the Father. This is what God had promised. It is Jesus who has poured out what you now see and hear.

II Cor. 13: 14 The Message

14The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.

Ephesians 2: 17 – 18 TNIV

17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

I Thess. 1: 2-5a CEV

2We thank God for you and always mention you in our prayers. Each time we pray, 3we tell God our Father about your faith and loving work and about your firm hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4My dear friends, God loves you, and we know he has chosen you to be his people. 5When we told you the good news, it was with the power and assurance that come from the Holy Spirit, and not simply with words…

I Peter 1: 1 – 2 NIV (UK)

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world … 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
Also included in this list is the longer passage at I Cor. 12: 4-13.

That’s pretty much the entire piece… read at source here.

Also in February, 2011, we had a discussion here about whether or not non-Trinitarians should be included among those called “Christians.” (Thorny topic, I know.)  At that time we noted that

…four of the seven statements in the National Association of Evangelicals Statement of Faith which specifically refer to God, Jesus and Holy Spirit, of which the first is primary for this discussion:

  • We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
  • We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
  • We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.

(For Canadian readers, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada Statement of Faith is identical.) 

For that article… continue reading here.

Finally, in January of this year, at C201 we quoted Fred Sanders on Trinitarian Praise:

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the
Holy Ghost! As it was in the beginning, is now,

and ever shall be, world without end.

The glory of God is from everlasting to everlasting, but while the praise of the Trinity will have no end, it had a beginning. There was never a time when God was not glorious as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit. But there was a time when that singular glory (singular because, to gloss the Athanasian Creed, there are not three glorious, but one) had not yet disclosed itself so as to invite creatures to its praise. To join in the ancient Christian prayer called the Gloria Patri, directing praise to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is to come into alignment here in the world “as it is now” with triune glory “as it was in the beginning.” All theology ought to be doxology, but Trinitarian theology in particular is essentially a matter of praising God. This doxological response is the praise of a glory (ἔπαινον δόξης, Eph 1:6, 12, 14) that always was, and whose epiphany in time entails its antecedent depth in eternity. Those whom God has blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ are summoned to join that praise: “Blessed be God the Father, who has blessed us in the Beloved and sealed us with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph 1:3–14, condensed). 

For that article… continue reading here.

November 17, 2016

When Certainty is Sinful

One of the university courses I took was a bit of a tossed salad consisting of music history, the philosophy of music aesthetics, and music appreciation. I learned that in both art and music  every period is somewhat of a reaction to the period that it immediately followed.

The post-war Evangelical era (in North America at least) was marked by the dogmatic fervor of its practitioners; a dogma which is still seen in many fundamentalist quarters. In that world, all is black and white. There is no gray. As my keyboarding teacher made us type, “We must know and know that we know.” Any deviation from the script smacked of liberalism, and the dominant teaching was that liberals were all going to hell.

But then the Evangelical world changed, and moved toward a progressive Evangelicalism for which many were not prepared. Blame was placed on the missional churches (which has Christian, incarnational values as traditional as you can imagine) or the emergent churches (which were simply adopting a mix of traditional and modern forms) when in fact the revolution was more theological. Suddenly it was okay to say we’re not sure about things, and needless to say, this attitude can be upsetting in a world of dogma.

So a few years ago, we had Greg Boyd releasing Benefit of the Doubt which wasn’t surprising (for it to be him that authored it) given that Boyd is a proponent of Open Theology which suggests even God isn’t 100% sure if you’re going to propose to the girl or end the relationship with tonight’s dinner date at Denny’s (but he has every possible sequence in his mind no matter what you do). We had authors suggesting you can still hold on to your faith and believe in evolution. We encountered writers on line who possessed a deep Christian faith in terms of both doctrine and service, but were comfortable identifying as gay or lesbian.

The Christian world was now full of gray.

sin-of-certainty-peter-ennsIt’s into that environment that Peter Enns steps with the release of The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires our Trust More Than our Correct Beliefs (HarperOne). With great irony, the book released a few months ago just as Andy Stanley upset some critics with his The Bible Tells Me So sermon, which is also the title of one of Enns’ other books. While others have defended Stanley online (and I for one feel that if anyone has been paying attention Stanley needs no defence) he pointed out clearly that the skeptic or new believer doesn’t need to sign on to everything in order to believe something; and that by starting with trust in the resurrection of Jesus we can then allow for exposure to a variety of doctrinal positions (or scientific revelations) without the whole of Christianity needing to collapse like a house of cards.

So a book like The Sin of Certainty is very timely. Peter Enns basically catalogs some of the various less-certain elements one might find in the sphere of Christianity, and rather than resolve all of these necessarily, creates a climate where the reader can say, ‘Oh yeah! That’s me! At last someone who gets it.’ Some of the book draws from his personal experiences of dealing with the doubt/certainty continuum, either internally or in his family or academic life.

All this to say the book will resonate with many readers. There were sections I found myself going back and re-reading just to absorb the manner in which the various subjects were presented.

Organizationally however, the book presented four distinct challenges. First, there was the fact that each subsection of each chapter was given a fresh page, which confused me at first as to where the chapters themselves began and ended. I was three chapters in (of nine chapters) before I caught on to the book’s layout and design and gratuitous use of partially blank pages.

Second, the constant references to his 2014 title The Bible Tells Me So made me wish I was reading that book instead, or at least first. The Sin of Certainty is obviously intended as a sequel; the former’s subtitle being, Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It.

Third, as I discovered too late, there was a wealth of ideas to consider in the end-notes. An explanation is provided as to why (to keep the flow of the book) these were not page footnotes, but as someone perfectly capable of rabbit-trail distraction, I would like to have considered some of those thoughts in context, rather than catching up later.

Finally, some readers will want to find the page and paragraph where Enns explains why certainty is a sin (or how to obtain forgiveness.) In some ways, this is to miss to whole point of faith-based trust; the book’s title must be seen as hyperbole in some measure. The certainty of the dogmatists must bring them some comfort, but it’s not reality for the average Christian.

That is echoed in the title of Peter Enns’ blog, The Bible for Normal People. As a longtime reader of his online writing, this was the first time I’d enjoyed him in print and I am richer for having read this.


Hardcover; 230 pages. Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing (Canada) for an opportunity to read the book. More information at HarperOne, also home to writers such has Henri Nouwen, Shane Claiborne, Dallas Willard, Rob Bell, N.T. Wright, and other authors the dogmatists are not particularly fond of. Publisher webpage for this book.

 

 

September 30, 2016

When You’re Asked to Read the Scripture

Filed under: bible, Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:25 am

scripture_readingNothing strikes terror in the hearts of churchgoers like being asked to do a scripture reading in a service, or even their small group. Some progressive, non-liturgical churches are trying things in the middle of the sermon which involve having the reader seated with a live microphone to jump into the middle of the sermon to read texts as requested by the speaker. (The change in voices might actually keep some from slipping into their Sunday slumber.)

Laypersons so asked to participate will often make a panic purchase of a resource  like How to Pronounce Bible Names only to find the pastor saying the names with completely different vowel sounds and syllable emphasis than what they read to the congregation moments earlier.

And then there’s always the critical question, “What should I wear?” This usually transcends any consideration of the words being uttered.

Talking about this on the weekend however, we decided that what is usually lacking in these moments is passion. It’s not that the participant is unsaved or involved in gross sins. Rather, they just haven’t taken the time to examine the text and draw out its key elements in spoken form.

I loved the way a reader described this in comment to a piece we did years ago, A New Way to Meditate on Scripture, where he redefined this study process as: “…like walking down a highway that you drove on every day. Longer to look, to feel, to think about.”

So let’s cut to the how-to. Here’s how to slow down on the highway and consider the text so you that can read it with passion.

Photocopy or hand-write the verses you have been asked to read. Then go through and place EMPHASIS on the KEY WORDS you want to draw out. You can do this with:

  • underlining
  • capital letters
  • bold-face type (or retracing handwritten words)
  • highlighting in yellow

In other words, whatever works for you; one, some or all of the above. This is what newsreaders on Top 40 radio stations would do to keep music listeners from tuning out during the newscast. Punch it out a little! Sell it! Make it sing! (Unless of course you’re reading from Lamentations.) 

Drawing out the text can also mean critical pauses. If the Psalmist asks a question, be sure to raise your voice at the end. If the verse in Romans says, “May it never be!” say that as you would say it to someone in your own interactions.

In other words, short of doing a dramatic reading — which you probably were not asked to — communicate some of the fire and intensity in the passage.

Because, all scripture is God-breathed.   


…There are two sides to everything, and of course public speaking/reading is not everyone’s talent. It’s important that giftedness determine areas of service. Thus the right people need to be asked. However, it’s important that the church not have a short list of the usual suspects. New people should be brought on to the team. That may involve some experimentation and a week where things aren’t ideal.

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