Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Outdated

How much of what you learned in college is outdated now? I recently read this in Learning in Adulthood,
It has been estimated that the amount of information in the world doubles every seven years and some have projected that information will soon double every 20 months. Others have speculated that half of what most professionals know when they finish their formal training will be outdated in less than five years, perhaps even months for those in technology-related fields (15).
I know a good bit of what I studied in my poli-sci classes in undergrad is completely out of date now. My senior thesis was on Just War and MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) - kinda not an issue any more. But do you know what hasn't been outdated - my Bible classes. Sure, new controversies have flamed up (Federal Vision, New Perspectives on Paul), and old ones flamed out (Open Theism), and some just continue on as ever (women in ministry). But the content of the Bible, the categories of Theology haven't changed much.

As interesting is that is, what really got me thinking is how the church should respond to such an ever changing world. Should we try to keep up with all the trends, with the new and cool? What happens when a church tries to keep up, but lags behind a couple of years? Or decades? Have you ever been to a church that had obviously been cool in the 70s/80s but never made a transition to the 21st century? In the words of Luke (my son, not Gospel writer), "Awkward." I've been at churches that seemed obsessed with Bransonesque type musicals. Cool in the day, but really odd to see in a church now - though maybe slightly cooler once again since Glee is such a hit. Honestly, I still don't get Glee, but that's kinda my point. I'm a generation removed from Glee. It's not cool or fun to me, but really really stupid (and I'm a little suspicious of guys who get into it too). One last example, I remember sitting in a class on evangelism with Robert Coleman. Great man, old man. It was 1998 and we were talking about 'cutting edge evangelism techniques'. What was he offering? Women's Tea's. Really cutting edge Dr. Coleman - in the early part of the century!

What should the church do? I think we should make sure we're really outdated - like a thousand or more years outdated. I think the oldest things in our play book should be central - like the Word, the Supper and Baptism. Michael Horton writes,
Perennially tempted with 'mission creep,' churches are easily drawn to pragmatism in their methods of evangelism, worship, and outreach. There are myriad resources for personal spiritual development, yet the means of grace that Christ identifies explicitly as essential for his embassy in the world are often marginalized or ignored. Even in public worship, human creativity (which always leads to idolatry) is often prized over faithfulness t our Lord's commands. Instead of the means of God's grace, preaching often collapses into moralism, baptism becomes a testimony to our commitment, and the Supper become another opportunity for us to do something: to feel, reflect, remember, experience and rededicate ourselves...Our prayer for all of our churches is that they will regain their confidence in the ministry that Christ has ordained for the expansion of his kingdom, gathering regularly 'for the apostles' teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers;' (Acts 2:42). This is not only the description of public worship for those who are already converted, but the means of making and sustaining disciples throughout the world (Modern Reformation, July/August 2011, 64).
I'm certainly not saying that the songs we sing should be from the 1920's (which seems to be the average date of the hymns in the hymn book). I like a good deal of the contemporary music. But, I would fear if a church was built on the music it offered. And I don't think we should turn off the computers and projectors and go back to printed lyrics on a page. I like that we are all looking up and not down. But could we still do church if there was no power? Or have the techonological aspects of our worship overshadowed the meaty - the Word and the Sacraments?

New isn't bad. Tech isn't bad. But lets not hitch our wagon to the cool and new at the cost of the old, the tested, the commanded, the biblical.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Catechism #118-119

Question #118: What did God command us to pray for?

Answer: Everything we need, spiritually and physically, as embraced in the prayer Christ our Lord himself taught us (James 1:17; Matt. 6:33).

Question #119: What is this prayer?

Answer: Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
For yours is the kingdom
and the power
and the glory forever.
Amen.

(Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4; Earlier and better manuscripts of Matthew 6 omit the words "For yours is . . . Amen.")

Monday, June 27, 2011

What to Pray For

Bob's sermon from yesterday (6/26/11) was a wonderful and powerful reminder of the efficacy of prayer. Today I read this quote from Augustine in Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion:
God orders what we cannot do, that we may know what we ought to ask of him. There is a great utility in precepts [commands], if all that is given to free will is to do greater honor to divine grace. Faith acquires what the law requires; nay, the requires, in order that faith may acquire what is thus required; nay, more, God demands of us faith itself, and finds not what he thus demands, until by giving he makes it possible to find it.
Augustine is saying that God demands what we cannot do because we are sinful and enslaved. But, his demanding makes way for his grace, for by his grace faith acquires what we in our sinfulness cannot - righteousness, obedience to God's precepts. In fact, Augustine pushes it further, even the faith God requires he finds lacking in us until he bestows it upon us a free gift. Thus, in all of this, God is magnified as the Holy God who demands righteousness of his people and the Gracious God who gives to his people what he cannot find in them. Beautiful!

Calvin also includes the famous prayer of Augustine, which would be an appropriate prayer for us all to learn as we take up Bob's challenge to pray before we act: "Grant what you command and command what you will."

Song of the Week

Ok, after my last post on stupid lyrics, I'm reluctant to post this song. The lyrics of the verse or prechorus (whatever you call it) are kinda lame:
Just like the sunshine
You have been our light
Leading us into beautiful places
We’ve walked through fire
But You made us brighter
Leading us into beautiful places
But the chorus makes up for it I think:
Faithful Jesus, healing savior
Compass, center, bread of life
Faithful Jesus, cherished treasure
Our portion, wisdom God’s great light



Charlie Hall, 'Constant'

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Stupid Lyrics

I hate stupid lyrics, especially stupid worship song lyrics. Some of the ones I hate most:

- He Needs Just a Few Good Men, by the Gaithers. Sung on Father's Day across the country. My thoughts...bullsh-t (I didn't swear, I put a - in there!). Since when does God need anyone to accomplish his purposes!

- Above All, Michael W. Smith. I hate the man-centeredness of this song. I know I'm petty, but come on - he thought of me above all? Not really. He prayed in the Garden, "Your will be done", and sought to glorify his Father above all!

- Oh, and here's a new one. All to Show, by Hillsong (sorry no video for this one). The song as a whole isn't horrific, but I can't stand the self-congratulatory, grandiose lyrics in verse one. If we are a history making generation, I doubt it'll be for the right reasons!

We are a history making generation
For all that's true
Jesus, the life that I live is your reflection
It's all for you

(pre-chorus)
And unto your name
All glory and praise
For who you are

(chorus 1)
It's all to show the world
Who you are to me
All to show the world I'm free
In the life you gave

Monday, June 20, 2011

Catechism #116-117

Question #116: Why do Christians need to pray?

Answer: Because prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us. And also because God gives his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking him for them (Ps. 50:14-15; 116:12-19; 1 Thess. 5:16-18; Matt. 7:7-8; Luke 11:9-13).

Question #117: How does God want us to pray so that he will listen to us?

Answer: First, we must pray from the heart to no other than the one true God, who has revealed himself in his Word, asking for everything he has commanded us to ask for. Second, we must acknowledge our need and misery, hiding nothing, and humble ourselves in his majestic presence. Third, we must rest on this unshakable foundation: even though we do not deserve it, God will surely listen to our prayer because of Christ our Lord. That is what he promised us in his Word (Ps. 145:18-20; John 4:22-24; Rom. 8:26-27; James 1:5; 1 John 5:14-15; 2 Chron. 7:14; Ps. 2:11; 34:18; 62:8; Isa. 66:2; Rev. 4; Dan. 9:17-19; Matt. 7:8; John 14:13-14; 16:23; Rom. 10:13; James 1:6).

Song of the Week

New Album from City Hymns: Fragments of Grace.

"Holy Hands"

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Catechism #114-115

Question #114: But can those converted to God obey these commandments perfectly?

Answer: No. In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience. Nevertheless, with all seriousness of purpose, they do begin to live according to all, not only some, of God's commandments (Eccles. 7:20; Rom. 7:14-15; 1 Cor. 13:9; 1 John 1:8-10; Ps. 1:1-2; Rom. 7:22-25; Phil. 3:12-16).

Question #115: No one in this life can obey the Ten Commandments perfectly: why then does God want them preached so pointedly?

Answer: First, so that the longer we live the more we may come to know our sinfulness and the more eagerly look to Christ for forgiveness of sins and righteousness. Second, so that, while praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, we may never stop striving to be renewed more and more after God's image, until after this life we reach our goal:perfection (Ps. 32:5; Rom. 3:19-26; 7:7, 24-25; 1 John 1:9; 1 Cor. 9:24; Phil. 3:12-14; 1 John 3:1-3).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Christian Apostasy

Warning: I'm not advocating what I post in the next paragraphs, I'm only putting it out there as a possibility, as something to be considered. I just haven't thought enough about this proposal to dismiss it or promote it, but I do find it interesting and potentially helpful.

There are several troublesome passages throughout the New Testament, especially in Hebrews, but not limited to Hebrews, which offer stern warnings regarding the danger of apostasy. See, for example, Heb. 6:1-12, Heb. 10:26-31, 1 Cor. 15:2, 2 John 7-8, and also passages like Matt 10:22, 2 Tim 2:11-13, . How do we reconcile those passages with the seemingly contradictory claims of of the Bible that saints are eternally secure and will persevere (be preserved) till the very end? This encouragement comes from nearly all corners of the NT - from Peter (1 Peter 1:5),Paul (Rom. 8:30, Eph. 1:13-14, Phil. 1:6), John (1 John 5:13), and Jesus (John 6:38-40, John 10:27-29). How do we hold these things together in proper tension?

Some, from the Arminian/Wesleyan theological camp, argue that the warnings are indeed warnings to true Christians that they can forfeit their salvation through apostasy or continuing patterns of sin (some going so far as to say you loose your salvation every time you commit a willful sin). Thus, the warning passages are given tremendous weight while the comforting passages which emphasis security are given short shrift. Obviously, that is overly simplistic, but serves to set the contrast of the other views.

Some theologians from the Reformed standpoint (including Baptists) tend to emphasize the security side of the equation, explaining away the warnings in various ways. Some explain away the warnings of Hebrews as hypothetical warnings - "if you, as a believer, were to turn away from the faith, this would happen. If you, as a believer, were to keep on in your sinful ways, you'd be in deep trouble. It's not possible, but for the sake of argument, if it did, there'd be no hope for you." Others from Reformed camp explain the warnings against apostasy away arguing that those who fall away weren't really and truly Christians at all. They may have been upstanding members of the local church, but not of the invisible church. They weren't truly Christians, but only appeared to be so.

There's other variations on those above positions. I don't think I've ever held the first (Wesleyan/Arminian) position - not even in my unReformed wandering years. The second position which was presented only in brief (and caricature form) above has been/is my position. Today (5/31/11), however, I heard a third position that I think demands some attention. Doug Wilson argues that you can't simply explain away the warning passages, but you can't neglect those passages which promise security either. The solution: realize that the Bible is speaks in two different ways about being a Christian.

There are those who are apart of the covenant community of the church. They are Christian in this sense - they bear the marks of the covenant, meaning they have been baptized and partake of the Lord's Supper. They participate in the corporate life of the covenant community.

But, there is another sense which we can't ignore if we are to make sense of the biblical tension. This other sense we can term the 'decreetal' sense. Those who are Christians in the decreetal have been elect (predestined) before the foundation of the world, find their way into the covenant community by God's providence and are kept from falling by God's providence. They are 'in Christ' by God's eternal decree.

Here's why understanding these two senses is important. Those who are Christians in the covenantal sense are truly Christian in some sense, but not necessarily Christian in the decreetal sense. Therefore, when they are warned against falling away, it is a genuine warning. Don't loose what you have in the covenant community. If you do, you've lost something real and valuable. Those who believers in the decreetal sense cannot fall away, but since we aren't privy to the council and decrees of God, everyone must take these warnings seriously. Falling away is proof that though one may be a Christian in the covenantal sense, they were certainly not one in the decreetal sense.

To support his view, Wilson points again to two different kinds of metaphors in the Bible. There are those that talk of believers and unbelievers as 'ontologically different'. So, Peter can refer to unbelievers as sows and dogs (not sheep). Jesus can refer to them as goats (not sheep), or as tares (not wheat). Though they can be washed up, they aren't changed from a pig to a sheep; though they are in the same field, they aren't of the same seed. These metaphors which point to the ontological difference between believers and nonbelievers is viewing them from a decreetal perspective. Some are elect, others are not.

On the other hand, other metaphors can view believers and unbelievers as of the same stock, but different with regards to fruitfulness. So Jesus can refer to branches being broken off and tossed aside. There isn't a distinction between the branches kept and those lopped off except that one is fruitless and the other fruitful. This is a view from a covenantal perspective.

I want to do a lot more thinking and reading on this perspective. As I see it now, this understanding seems to 1) value the church as the covenant community - it is something valuable and real, 2) take the warnings against falling away seriously, 3) fits those warnings with the passages promising preservation by God in a healthy way. This understanding does flow from a controversial movement called Federal Vision, hence my reservations about recommending it wholesale. I'm honestly out of the loop on this, but it's a hot button issue in the Presbyterian Church of America. I'm open to thoughts, suggestions for further readings, push backs, etc.

Here's a short interview with Doug Wilson on this issue:

Perseverance of the Saint and Apostasy from Canon Wired on Vimeo.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Catechism #112-113

Question #112: What is God's will for you in the ninth commandment?

Answer: God's will is that I never give false testimony against anyone, twist no one's words, not gossip or slander, nor join in condemning anyone without a hearing or without a just cause. Rather, in court and everywhere else, I should avoid lying and deceit of every kind; these are devices the devil himself uses, and they would call down on me God's intense anger. I should love the truth, speak it candidly, and openly acknowledge it. And I should do what I can to guard and advance my neighbor's good name (Ps. 15; Prov. 19:5; Matt. 7:1; Luke 6:37; Rom. 1:28-32; Lev. 19:11-12; Prov. 12:22; 13:5; John 8:44; Rev. 21:8; 1 Cor. 13:6; Eph. 4:25; 1 Pet. 3:8-9; 4:8)

Question #113: What is God's will for you in the tenth commandment?

Answer: That not even the slightest thought or desire contrary to any one of God's commandments should ever arise in my heart. Rather, with all my heart I should always hate sin and take pleasure in whatever is right (Ps. 19:7-14; 139:23-24; Rom. 7:7-8)

Song of the Week

After a week off from blogging, facebook, twitter and even email, I'm back. Don't a any great new songs, so I'll go with a great old song.

Alice in Chains, "Them Bones"

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Catechism #110-111

Question: 110: What does God forbid in the eighth commandment?

Answer: He forbids not only outright theft and robbery, punishable by law. But in God's sight theft also includes cheating and swindling our neighbor by schemes made to appear legitimate, such as: inaccurate measurements of weight, size, or volume; fraudulent merchandising; counterfeit money; excessive interest; or any other means forbidden by God. In addition he forbids all greed and pointless squandering of his gifts (Ex. 22:1; 1 Cor. 5:9-10; 6:9-10; Mic. 6:9-11; Luke 3:14; James 5:1-6; Deut. 25:13-16; Ps. 15:5; Prov. 11:1; 12:22; Ezek. 45:9-12; Luke 6:35; Luke 12:15; Eph. 5:5; Prov. 21:20; 23:20-21; Luke 16:10-13).

Question #111: What does God require of you in this commandment?

Answer: That I do whatever I can for my neighbor's good, that I treat others as I would like them to treat me, and that I work faithfully so that I may share with those in need (Isa. 58:5-10; Matt. 7:12; Gal. 6:9-10; Eph. 4:28).