Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Song of the Week

So last week I saw this amazing video by Walk of the Earth (though Lynn isn't at all impressed by it). Anyway, the song they're all playing one the guitar is one by Gotye. I didn't know Gotye before this, but have been listening to them pretty much non-stop since Thursday. Good music to write to.

Gotye, "Smoke and Mirrors"

Monday, January 23, 2012

Song of the Week

I'm preaching on Sunday night from 1 Corinthians 5 on the topic of church discipline. I think this song fits so well (though not intended to be about church discipline). Cowper wrote:

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence,
He hides a smiling face.

Jeremy Riddle, "God Moves in Mysterious Ways"

Theosis: what we gain in Christ is more than what we lost in Adam

The question that will be driving me for the next two weeks, especially in the evenings after we get the kids to be and I am free to read/write, is this: "If Adam and Eve were in perfect union & communion with God in the Garden and still fell, what makes us so sure that we won't experience a 'second fall' in the New Heavens and New Earth? What will be better about our relationship with God in eternity than Adam's in the Garden?"

I will be investigating, the concept of 'theosis', or 'deification' as the answer to this question. Put simply, we will partake in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:44) in eternity in a way that surpasses Adam's experience of union with God in the Garden. This deeper level of union would have been Adam's too if he had maintained his faithfulness in the Garden, passing the test and being confirmed in righteousness, partaking of the Tree of Life. As it stood, Adam's union was sweet and made it possible for him not to sin; but, it wasn't as profound as the union held out to us as our reward, for our union with God in eternity will be so intimate, so transformative, that we will move from beyond Adams initial position prefall (posse peccare/posse non peccare: possible to sin/possible not to sin) to a condition far better - non posse peccare (not possible to sin).

If you have thoughts, I'm open! I think this is a productive line of investigation for a few reasons:
- it helps understand Adam and his fall.
- it helps us understand and appreciate that what we have in Christ is better than what we lost in Adam, and this should add fuel to the fires of our worship!
- it helps us appreciate the security of our position in Christ even more.

Looking forward to digging in!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Union with Christ, a Few Books

Calvin wrote, "we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from Him, all that He has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us...For, as I have said, all that He possesses is nothing to us until we grow into one body with Him. It is true that we obtain this by faith” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3.i.1). Exploring this doctrine of our union with Christ has been a joy for the past three or so weeks, and I look forward to posting more here as I continue to think through implications for how I understand the story of the Bible, my salvation (including my right standing before God and my living this salvation out daily), and the ministry of the church.

Here's a few of the books I've read recently on Union with Christ, and a couple I'm diving into now.

1. Union with Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church, by J. Todd Billings. This book was an easy read with good practical reflection on what the doctrine of our union with Christ means for life and ministry. Maybe a little lean on exploration and explanation, but great on reflection. 175 pgs.

2. Union with Christ: In Scripture, History, and Theology, Robert Letham. This one makes a good companion to Billings as he doesn't reflect much on practical implications, at least not as richly as Billings. On the other hand, he explores different aspects of our union with Christ and does a good job Biblically. He does, however, skirt the debate on the priority of justification vs. the priority of union. 150pgs.

3. All Things Made New: A Theology of Man's Union with Christ, by Lewis Smedes. Smedes does a good job of explaining how the doctrine of our union with Christ has been formulated in different traditions throughout the history of the church. It's hard reading, and I think his faults are glaring. He seems to conflate the Spirit and the Son in unhealthy ways and is so anti-mystical I think he misses some important streams of truth. I'd stay away unless you really want to dive into the deep end. 250pgs.

4. Imputation and Impartation: Union with Christ in American Reformed Theology (Studies in Christian History and Thought), by William Evans. I haven't tackled this yet, but it's on my list for this month, mainly because he interacts with Nevins and Hodge and explores their debate regarding the doctrine of union with Christ and how it plays out in the church. Not for those who want in intro to the beauty of this doctrine. 270pgs.

5. Life in the Trinity: An Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers, Donald Fairbairn. He was quoted so heavily in my class that I felt compelled to pick it up for myself. I appreciate any book that helps me explore doctrines through the eyes of the early church. I haven't opened it yet, and probably will only read the chapters that relate to my research, at least initially. 225pgs.

6. Calvin's Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension, Julie Canlis. I'm really excited about this book. I haven't read it yet, but was introduced to Canlis' research through the class. Canlis seeks to 'place Calvin within the mystical tradition', which sound good to me! Starting it tonite! 250pgs.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Song of the Week

I heard this song for the first time at Connexion last night. I like it a lot, partly because the theme of our union with Christ, which is in the forefront of my mind, is clear in it. Trust me, you'll be hearing a lot more about Union with Christ in the next few weeks!

Matt Maher, "Christ is Risen"

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Best Paragraph this Week

I haven't had time to post anything real this week as I'm out in St.Louis taking another class. It's a great class on our Union with Christ. Lewis Smedes writes a wonderful paragraph, my favorite in all I've read the past two weeks. Commenting on Ephesians 1:1-3 he writes (and where you read 'Paul' insert 'we'),

"There is no reason in heaven or earth why we should be so blessed. It is a gift. Paul ran from Christ; Christ pursued and overtook him. Paul resisted Christ; Christ disarmed him. Paul persecuted Christ; Christ converted him. Paul was an alien; Christ made him a member of the family. Paul was an enemy; Christ made him a friend. Paul was 'in the flesh'; Christ set him 'in the Spirit'. Paul was under the law; Christ set him in grace. Paul was dead; Christ made him alive to God. How does one give reasons for this? He does not give reasons; he sings: "Blessed be God who blessed us...even as he chose us in him." (All Things Made New: A Theology of Man's Union with Christ, pg 119)

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Iowa Caucuses, Apartheid and the Church

A few days ago I heard a reporter say that the Iowa Caucuses could come down to which candidate the evangelical pastors in Iowa backed on Sunday morning from their pulpits. I'm not sure that's how it played out or not, but the idea is repugnant to me (I think there should be disciplinary procedures for pastors who back candidates from the pulpit much like this young corporal will be in trouble for backing Ron Paul while in uniform). Kidding. Kind of.

Last night I was reading the excellent book by J. Todd Billings, Union with Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church and my disdain for churches backing political candidates or agendas was confirmed, though admittedly in a roundabout kind of way. The fourth chapter of Billings book, "The Gospel and Justice," explores the failings of the Reformed Church in South Africa during the apartheid era and it's attempts to set the ship right in the Belhar Confession.

In 1857 the General Assembly of the Dutch Reformed Church (in South Africa) received a request from some white members of its church to celebrate communion separately from black members of the church. This request was clearly out of keeping with the Reformed doctrine and polity as set out in the Synods of Dort, and the 1857 Synod said there was no biblical basis for segregating races when coming to the Lord's Table. However, the Synod accommodated this request, arguing that 'due to the weakness of some' (meaning white members), communion and worship can be segregated according to race.

This move eventually led to the separate, racially based denominations under the broad umbrella of the Dutch Reformed Church - the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (1887), and later the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa (1951). In addition, what began as a matter of polity and accommodation to some weaker members developed into a full blown ideology with its accompanying theology that "sought to ground the separation of the races in creation." With this theology, the DRC became an "avid advocate of apartheid as a government policy in 1924".

Thus, the sin of the church's 'broken theology' and its horrific implications for the church were compounded as the church lent it's support for a broken and unjust social program. And, it was done with the idea that it would be good for both whites and blacks! Billings establishes that apartheid was rooted in an overly optimistic, not pessimistic, view of humanity. It was "an impossible pipe dream built on unfounded optimism that it would safeguard racial and cultural identities in an equitable way, establish economic stability, and secure neighborly peace." (quote in Billings from Phillipe Theron's "One Savior, On Church:Reconciliation as Justification and 'New Creation').

I think that is an important point. The church didn't separate the races in their worship and later support the separation of races in society out of spite or hatred - at least not on the surface. It was a hateful thing, to be sure, but it was masked with good intentions. In the churches, it was a pastoral accommodation that was thought would make people feel more comfortable (at least the 'weaker members') and would thus contribute to the growth of the church. Billings points out "it was rationalized on grounds of missiology and practical necessity."

These good intentions were out of step with the truth of the gospel and the Lord's establishment of one common meal to nourish his church. The church, acting out of fear or hatred, deceived itself into thinking it was doing the loving thing. And then, it took it's broken though well meaning theology and supported a horribly sinful social policy with it. It's happened a few times in history. Robert Lewis Dabney shouldn't have supported slavery...but he did. The church shouldn't have supported racial segregation in the South...but it did. The church shouldn't be so quite to support a candidate who is unquestioningly pro-Israel...but many are. Examples could be added ad nauseam.

What does this have to do with Iowa and North American Pastors? Pastor Joe Cornfed endorses Candidate NotSoBad. Later, candidate NotSoBad shows his true colors - he's corrupt and unjust. Now the church is in a pickle. Or Pastor Hawkeye endorses Legislation SeemsGoodAtTheTime, but he hasn't really read it and doesn't know the far reaching ramifications of said legislation economically or socially, let alone legally. It winds up addressing problem A, but causes problems B and C. And oops, the church helped it happen. He had good intentions, maybe. Maybe he didn't have enough knowledge of the issue. Maybe he was sinfully self deceived. But now there's a problem - he, through his pulpit, has contributed to injustice and oppression.

Let me give another hypothetical situation (not so much). Pastor CornFields is passionately prolife. He hears that candidate Ima UsingU is more prolife that candidate Mittle Roade, who is also prolife, but maybe a little less consistently. There's also another candidate who is prochoice, but wants to raise wages of working moms, provide free childcare for poor working moms, make adoption easier, etc. He claims his policies will make abortions less appealing and less 'necessary'. Who should Pastor Fields endorse? Ima UsingU's position is more like his own, but that might make him unelectable, or make it impossible for him to get his proposed legislation passed. Mittle Roade, who knows? And can he really support someone who supports keeping the holocaust of infants legal, even if his policies may drastically reduce the numbers of pregnancies terminated?

My suggestion - preach the Word of God. Call for justice. Remind people that God is a God who cares for the oppressed and marginalized and call hold the unjust to account. But don't pretend to know the in's and out's of policies. Leave that to your people, to their gospel freedom, and to their Spirit led consciences. Hell, maybe a few of them will be lawyers, economists, social scientists, etc., and maybe, just maybe, they'll have a better grasp on those issues than we pastors will.

There's lots of good reasons to by a Reformed Two Kingdomer...maybe the best is that I know the deceitfulness of my own heart and my proclivity to bolster my agenda with my theology.

Monday, January 02, 2012