Wednesday, January 31, 2007

owning up to being an evangelical

Last night I was reading an a letter written from a Christian man in the early to mid 1800's. The letter was a defense of slavery. The author, Mr. Furman (Furman University ring a bell), was the President of the Baptist Convention in South Carolina, and used his Bible to defend the institution of slavery. The letter written to the governor not only defends slavery as permissible, but also as an act of benevolence to the Africans who were slaved from death and brought to America. Here, he argues, they were given access to spiritual truths they were ignorant of before - spiritual truths that are to the benefit of their souls. (Thankfully, there were other evangelicals who were standing against slavery, both here in the US and abroad. Read sometime about Wilberforce in England. In fact, the letter is written in large part to counter the arguments being made by Christians who were in favor of 'general emancipation'. There's always some who can see through the fog.)

Honestly, it was a painful letter to read. It reminds me that as a Christian and as an evangelical, there is a lot of baggage that comes with those labels - most of it self inflicted. But the point of this post isn't to point the finger at Christians of the past and curse them, or even to groan under the weight of the baggage they left us. Instead, I want to ask, where is our blind spot? Three generations from now, what baggage will we have left to those who will follow us?

Jonathan Edwards is my spiritual hero. I don't always agree with him, but his devotion and piety and intellect are astounding. Yet, he owned slaves. I would say this was clearly sin, yet Edwards was blind to it. It was so ingrained in his world and culture, that he didn't see it for what it was. And he wasn't alone. Others failed to see their sins because they were a part of their world and were just accepted. For example, Calvin (another hero of mine) had Servetus burned at the stake (although, to set the record straight, while he did favor execution, he pleaded for mercy and a quick death. The Council decided Servetus' fate). Servetus would've suffered the same end had he been arrested and convicted by the Catholic Church for his heresies, but this cannot be used to excuse Calvin for his sin. Or again, consider Luther (maybe the person I quote the most). There is pretty good, ok incontrovertible evidence, that he was anti-Semitic. Again, this is in large part to the times in which Luther lived, but cannot excuse his sin.

Oddly though, the people who I can't find these kind of examples in are my contemporary heroes. Does that mean that they aren't blinded by their culture to sin in their lives? No, I think it means I'm probably blinded by the same culture to the same sin in my like. So continues the quest to find sin, name it, then kill it.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

the Lord's Supper, A Prayer

I read this tonight in my office. I meant to read it at Connexion, but time got away from me. It's a beautiful prayer from a little collection of Puritan prayers called The Valley of Vision:

God of all good, I bless Thee for the means of grace;
teach me to see in them Thy loving purposes
and the joy and strength of my soul.
Thou hast prepared for me a feast;
and though I am unworthy to sit down as a guest,
I wholly rest on the merits of Jesus,
and hide myself beneath His righteousness.
When I hear His tender invitation
and see His wondrous grace,
I cannot hesitate, but must come to Thee in love.
By Thy Spirit enliven my faith rightly to discern
and spiritually to apprehend the Savior.
While I gaze upon the emblems of my Savior’s death,
may I ponder why He died, and hear Him say,
“I gave My life to purchase yours,
presented Myself an offering to expiate your sin,
shed My blood to blot out your guilt,
opened My side to make you clean,
endured your curses to set you free,
bore your condemnation to satisfy divine justice.”
O may I rightly grasp the breadth and length of this design,
draw near, obey, extend the hand,
take the bread, receive the cup,
eat and drink, testify, before all men
that I do for myself, gladly,
in faith, reverence and love, receive my Lord,
to be my life, strength, nourishment, joy, delight!
In the supper I remember His eternal love, boundless grace,
infinite compassion, agony, cross, redemption,
and receive assurance of pardon, adoption, life, glory.
As the outward elements nourish my body,
so may Thy indwelling Spirit invigorate my soul,
until that day when I hunger and thirst no more,
and sit with Jesus at His heavenly feet. Amen.

Monday, January 15, 2007

God is not impotent

Bob's comment last night that God will bring the kingdom whenever he "damn well feels like it" brought to mind another "damn quote" - one I particularly like by Virginia Owens:
Let us get this one thing straight. God can do anything he damn well pleases, including damn well. And if it pleases him to damn, then it is done, ipso facto, well.

I'm not just trying to be cute or edgy with the quote. I feel like I needed to circle back and clarify something I brought up in my message on Jan 7th. I talked about the establishment of the Kingdom of God in Genesis 1&2 - God created and ruled. It was an absolute, but benevolent monarchy. What God said went, no discussion, no debate...

Then you get to chapter 3 and man rebels against the King and a new kingdom is established on earth - the kingdom of evil or of Satan. The Bible is quite clear on this - Satan is the ruler of this world (John 12:31), the god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4), and we are told in 1 John that the whole world lies under his control (1 John 5:9). All this is true, HOWEVER, we must not believe that Satan is in control in the same way that God is in control!

Satan has authority, but it is derivative. He only has authority because he has been granted authority. A few examples come to mind. Take Job for instance. Satan had authority to take all his property, his family, and even eventually his health. Stunningly though, this was an authority he had to ask for, and was given by God.

Satan roams around seeking to steal, destroy, kill and maim; however, his purposes are always subservient to God's. Again, for example look at Joseph's life. He was sold into slavery by his brothers and suffered severely as a result. His brothers clearly sinned, yet, at the end of the book of Genesis we are told that God meant it for good. What Satan does, he does with evil intent, but in the end it serves God's good purposes (which has to be real frustrating to Satan). A more profound example is the crucifixion of Jesus. Satan sought to kill Jesus, and did. On the other hand, in so doing, he was serving God's purposes and ultimately sealed his defeat and destruction.

The need to clarify this came to mind last night when Bob was preaching and asked "why hasn't the kingdom come?" It would be a wrong answer, and you would fail my class, if you said that Jesus was still struggling to overcome Satan and his kingdom. Not the right answer at all. Jesus could, and will, bring Satan's kingdom to an abrupt end with a word. God can still do anything he wants - Satan's power (and he is powerful) couldn't stand against God's. Satan's kingdom and all his devices can't thwart even one detail of God's plan. God could overthrow Satan and his kingdom at any moment. It would only take a thought and the endgeschichte (the end of history) would come. He's not impotent to bring his kingdom and defeat all his enemies now.

The answer to "why not yet" isn't to be found in any lack within God (a lack of power, a lack of resolve, or a lack of anything else), but instead in God's overflow of mercy and patience. He is delaying his coming so that as many as possible will respond to the offer of pardon and enter his kingdom. He is delaying his coming to damn because he isn't wanting that any should perish but that all might repent and be granted life (2 Peter 3:9).

Thank you Jesus for having delayed until 1986, when I responded in faith and was born into your Kingdom!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

New "Books in My Bag"

People ask me a lot, "are you reading any good books". Ok, it's not a lot of people - mainly my dad, but anyway, I thought I could add a little section to my blog about what I'm reading. So, in the right hand border, just under my favorite links is a list of books I'm currently reading. Maybe someday I'll link that to my LibraryThing catalog and the comments, ratings and reviews with each book...but not today.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Confessions...of a Reformission Rev.

Last week a friend gave me a copy of Mark Driscoll's Confessions of a Reformission Rev. (not to be confused with Augustine's Confessions). Driscoll doesn't take himself, or anyone else, too seriously. At times, he's caustic enough to peal the paint of a barn, but he's also usually dead on. I'm not too far into the book yet, but today I read a paragraph that, even if I stopped on pg. 44, would make the book worth the price:

In the end [after studying through the Gospel of John and the Revelation of John], I realized that we labor with the exalted Christ, which gives us authority to proclaim the gospel of freedom. And we labor like the incarnated Christ, which gives us humility and grace to creatively demonstrate and proclaim the love of Christ to fellow sinners in our culture.

That's just an awesome way of saying it. It's downright deadly to the witness of the church when we neglect either of those two strands of truth. If we fail to labor with the exalted Christ, we either do it in our own power and authority (which is doomed to failure) or we do it with no power or authority (which communicates to the world that what we have to say isn't all that important). The later seems to be the issue with the liberal mainliners, the new left evangelicalism and some within the emerging church movement. They enter into culture and people's lives, but they've lost the message and the authority.

On the other hand, when we fail to labor like the incarnated Christ we display an arrogance and lovelessness that is altogether incompatible with our identification with Christ. This, I believe, is the error of the fundamentalists and the evangelical right. Too often they (maybe "we") stand on the street corners with our bullhorns and scream with authority, but not with the gentleness and transparent love Christ displayed.

Which do you tend to drift towards? How can you fix it!?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

How God-Centered are We?

We usually talk a good game when it comes to being God centered. However, I fear that most of us are God centered because we feel God is man centered. In other words, we'll keep God at the center of our existence and affections as long as we feel God keeps us at the center of his. But this just isn't the case, and it would be idolotrous if it were. Listen to what Cornelius Van Til says:
"God's being, with all the fullness of its holy attributes, is the only ultimate object of his will. God wills himself in all that he wills. God wants to maintain all his attributes in all their glory. He is the final or highest goal of all that he does. God seeks and establishes his own glory in all that he does....He seeks his glory. He seeks it and seeking it, sees to it that his purpose in seeking it is accomplished. No creature can detract from his glory; all creatures, willingly or unwillingly, add to his glory..."
So , we aren't at the center of God's affections, and to the degree that we are, it's for his glory - so that he might be glorified as a merciful, patient, gracious God. How does that sit with you? For natural man, that's insanity, it's egomaniacal. Only the heart awakened by the Spirit to the supreme worth of God's glory can be God centered and embrace God's self-centeredness... and then only in small increments. Oh, for the day when this won't be controversial, but the greatest statement of joy we can make!