Friday, February 26, 2010

Jesus Made in America, by Stephen Nichols, pt. 1

Stephen Nichols book,Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to the Passion of the Christ, is one that I'll call a 'must read', and I haven't read a 'must read' in quite some time. The books easy style, wit, insight and obvious desire for reform make it well worth the investment of the time. Nichols sets the agenda of his book in the introduction:

"Jesus like most cultural heroes, is malleable. And his given shape has much more to say about the shapers than it does of him. Christians in all cultures and ages have the tendency to impose their understandings and cultural expressions on Scripture or beliefs...

But there is something peculiar to the tendency to con temporize in American evangelicalism...These theological and philosophical impulses of ahistoricism [anti-traditionalism], biblicism [no creed but the Bible], foundationalism [knowledge as objectice/neutral], and pietism [emphasis on personal, experiential relationship with Jesus and God] all conspire to make American evangelicals quite susceptible to culture in the shaping of beliefs and interpretation of Scripture. And perhaps nowhere is this more poignantly felt that in the area of Christology and the shape and identity of Jesus, the American Jesus...

This survey of the American evangelical Jesus intends to do more than inform. It intends to raise significant questions about the state of Christology in American evangelicalism...

The history of the American evangelical Jesus reveals that such complexities as the two natures of Christ have often been brushed aside, either on purpose or out of expediency. Too often his deity has been eclipsed by his humanity, and occasionally the reverse is true. Too often American evangelicals have settled for a Christology that can be reduced to a bumper sticker. Too often devotion to Jesus has eclipsed theologizing about Jesus...Their devotion is commendable, but the lack of a rigorous theology behind it mans that a generation of contemporary evangelicals is living off of borrowed capital."

The eight chapters of the book describe the Jesus of different periods and movements: the Puritan Jesus, the Jesus of the New Republic, the Victorian Jesus, the Modern Jesus, the Jesus of CCM, Hollywood Jesus, the TShirt Jesus, and the Political Jesus. It's not mere chronology that leads Nichols to begin his work with the Puritans. He considers Puritans to offer us the purist Jesus, the most orthodox and biblical. He commends them for bringing together both piety and precision in doctrine, "both within the confines of creedal and ecclesiastical traditions" (pg. 42).

In a chapter on the Puritan Jesus, you cannot ignore Edwards, and Nichols does a wonderful job liberating him from the caricature that is often painted of him. But beyond Edwards, Nichols looks at the life and work of Edward Taylor, "America's greatest colonial poet." Taylor is a somewhat obscure theologian, but he wrote volumes of poetry (over 40,000 lines). One p0em in particular, Metrical History of Christianity, runs nearly 19,000 lines. Nichols finds Taylor useful because he debunks the myth that the Puritans were against the arts. In fact, he argues they were great patrons of the arts, though not the contemporary theatre. At Yale and Harvard they would read the great works of literature (not in translation), and the contributed to the arts, though admittedly in a logocentric way - words were there medium. More importantly, Taylor significance lies in his "ability to wed theological precision, even using orthodox terminology, with heartfelt piety" (pg 26). He sums up the Puritans saying "They could be carried away in flights of spiritual ecstasy just as easily as thy could be lost in the intricacies of logical syllogisms" (pg. 32). In concluding this chapter, Nichols offers a little forewarning of where the next chapters will take the reader, "In some instances the story told of the movement from teh Puritans to later forms of American theology is one of decline, a downward spiral away from creedal and biblical fidelity. There is likely some truth to the declension thesis. But it is also true that at points along that downward slide there are bright spots" (pg 43). By way of criticism, I don't think Nichols spends enough [any] time on the bright spots, probably because he focuses on the 'popular' Jesus. Moving from the Puritans into the period of the new republic we find a Jesus liberated from the creeds and even the Bible. Nichols exposes the Christology of several founding fathers, including Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, and John Quincy Adams (none of which were orthodox Christians if judged by creedal standards) as well as the "Revolutionary and Republican Pulpits". The founders certainly liked Jesus, but liked him as a teacher of virtue, not as the divine miracle working Savior of confessional Christianity. In many ways, the emphasis on praxix over orthodoxy anticipates the contemporary over emphasis on application at the expense of theological truth. These men were considered great political leaders, but if they were to be considered national icons, there heterodoxy would need to be covered up, and it was. Biographers, pastors and even artists did the deed, turning deists into theists, Unitarians into orthodox Christians, precursors to John Dominic Crossan into good followers of Jesus.

Interestingly, the need to express belief was obviously felt by the political leaders of the new republic - they new they needed religion to gain and keep support. Jefferson felt he needed to defend himself from his critics, arguing that "Religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God" (pg. 68). Nichols argues that with these words he bequethed to American a "privitization of faith, which necessarily results in a pluralistic religious culture" (pg. 68). But religious leaders must have felt pressure to 'orthodox up' these great leaders. In both groups, the emphasis began to shift away from a doctrinally defined Jesus to a Jesus whose example citizens should follow for the good of the fledgling nation. During this time churches also began veering away from their Calvinistic roots, seeing the doctrine of predestination incompatible with the principles of freedom and equality on which the nation was founded. In addition, Nichols argues that it became common for "piety and patriotism, Christianity and citizenship flowed mingled down from America's pulpits" (pg. 65). Christian living and good citizenship were interlocked, secular optimism was baptized with Christian doctrine - "better days awaited the Christian nation" (pg. 66). Nichols concludes, "The enlisting of Christianity in the service of the nation was quickly becoming a political tool (pg. 67). Nichols warning at the end of this chapter is profound, "All of these (mis)appropriates fail to realize that unduly Christianizing America's past is a two-way street. It's one thing to say America and its founders were religious, even in a Judeo-Christian vein; it's another to claim that they were orthodox in their theology. Not only does it do injustice to the past and to true thought of the founders, it does injustice to Christianity and the true picture of Jesus...Civil religion and Christianity are not cut from the same cloth. Christianity, in any orthodox sense, demands that Jesus is more than a teacher of morals and an exemplar of virtue, that the Bible is more than a helpful resource, and that God is more than a benevolent deity. " (pg. 70-71). I hadn't anticipated this being such a long summary/review. I'll break off here and pick up the cultural story of Jesus with Nichols chapter 3 ("Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild") later.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Great Biblical Themes in 1 Kings 8

Monday morning I was reading 1 Kings 8 and was struck by what an wonderfully rich chapter it is (see also 2 Chronicles 6). Many of the Bibles great themes are evident here. Let me just highlight a few of them.

1. God's presence with his people. As Dr. Magary pointed out, this is one of the great promises of God, that he would be with his people. The presence of God is an important biblical theme beginning in the earliest chapters of Genesis. Adam and Eve enjoyed the presence of God with them in the Garden. This presence was interrupted because of sin, but in his grace (another theme I'll mention shortly) God promises continues to bless his people with his presence. Moreover, this theme peaks in the NT with the incarnation in Jesus (Immanuel - God with us; Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23, John 1:14). Finally, it reaches it's fullest expression in history when history comes to it's end (telos). In the consummation of the eternal state, John records hearing a loud voice proclaiming, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God" (Rev. 21:3). Moreover, as he retells his vision he says that he saw no temple because the Holy City is the Temple; nor did he see any sun, "for the glory of God gives it light" (Rev. 21:22-23). This theme of God's presence in the temple (of which Eden was a precursor) and his glory are developed in 1 Kings 8.

1 Kings 8:10, "And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord." (ESV)

2. Man's sin and God's grace. It's easy to misrepresent religion in the Old Testament as a performance based system that merited God's favor (this caricature is prevalent in some schools of theology, especially some dispensational approaches to the OT). That would be an awful misrepresentation however, as this chapter makes clear. Solomon assumes sin, but also knows God will be gracious and merciful to the sinner who repents:

1 Kings 8:31, "If a man sins..."

1 Kings 8:33-34, "When your people are defeated before the enemy because they have sinned against you [not if, when], and if they turn again to you and acknowledge your name and pray and plead with you in this house, then hear in heave and forgive the sin of your people Israel..."

1 Kings 8:35-36, "When heave is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you, if they pray toward this place and acknowledge your name and turn from their sin...then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your servants..."

1 King 8:37-40, "If there is a famine in the land...[long list of other possible catastrophes]...whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or by all your people Israel, each knowing the affliction of his own heart...then hear in heaven you dwelling place and forgive and act..."

1 Kings 8:46-51, "If they sin against you - for there is no one who does not sin - and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive...yet if they turn their heart...and repent and plead with you...if they repent with all their heart...then hear in heave your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed agasinst you, and grant them compassion..."

3. The holiness of God and the requirement that his people be holy. The word 'holy' shows up four times in this chapter: 'holy vessels', 'Most Holy Place', 'Holy Place' (2x). You see the emphasis on God's holiness also in the sacrifices surrounding the dedication of the temple. As the priests brought the ark to the temple (using poles - they had learned the hard way handle holy things properly!) we are told, "King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were with him before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered." (1 Kings 8:5, ESV). Finally, the people are holy (set apart). Solomon prays, "For you separated them from along all the peoples of the earth to be your heritage..." (1 Kings 8:53). If the people, specifically the kings, don't walk in holiness as they are called to, they will forfeit their place in the covenant with God made with David: "Now therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father what you have promised him, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’" (1 Kings 8:25, ESV). There is no doubt that God will keep his covenant (so it is unconditional), yet an individuals enjoyment of the covenant blessings is conditional (God could replace, easily, any kings who didn't keep his covenant).

4. God's sovereignty over human hearts. Solomon prays, "Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant. The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us, that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers" (1 Kings 8:56-58, ESV). Moreover, you can see this theme earlier in the chapter when Solomon pleads with God to "let your word be confirmed, which you have spoken to your servant David my father." Remember, the word had a conditional element to it - "...if only your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me..." In essence, Solomon was praying that God would keep David's sons; that he would 'incline them' to pay close attention and walk with God. Lastly, when Solomon prays that God would "grant them compassion" when they have sinned and been carried of into another land, he is asking that God will steer the hearts of the captors to be compassionate towards them. It isn't primarily God's compassion in view, but the compassion of Israel captors. You see that in the next line, "grant them compassion in the sight of those who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them." (1 Kings 8:50). God is sovereign over the hearts/minds/wills of men; they are a "stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will" (Prov. 21:1).

4. God's global agenda. God is not a localized deity. Even in the midst of dedicating the 'House of the Lord' there is a recognition that God is a big god; he cannot be housed in the four walls of a building, even a grand building like Solomon's temple. He declares, "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!" (I Kings 8:27, ESV). As God is bigger than the temple, so his agenda is bigger than the nation of Israel. That is evident in Solomon's prayer for the foreigner. He asks, "Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name’s sake (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name" (1 Kings 8:41-43, ESV). Again, this concern in evident in verse 60 when Solomon asks that God would defend the cause of his people "that all the peoples of the earth may know the the LORD is God; there is no other." As I've said before, the OT isn't God against the nations for Israel. It's God for Israel for the nations.

The Old Testament Seminar and my reading of this chapter has spurred me on to consider a series on the doctrine of God from the Old Testament. Not settled on it yet, but I like the idea!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Counterfeit Gods, part 5

Chapter four, "The Seduction of Success" was challenging, even if at points it seemed to rehash ideas from the previous chapters. In this chapter, Keller asserts that as we become successful, we also tend to become more self reliant (I've certainly seen that in my own life and ministry). Success can also lead to a false sense of security - a result of "deifying our achievement and expercting it to keep us safe from the troubles of life in a way that only God can" (pg, 75). Interestingly, he argues, this false sense of security makes it more difficult for successful people to deal with tragedy/crisis in their lives. "The poor and the marginalized expect suffering, they know that life on this earth is 'nasty, brutish, and short.'" (pg. 75). Not so with those who have come to idolize their ability to achieve.

Sadly, I believe (and my group agreed with me - they don't always), that in many ways the church has succumb to this worship of success and even perpetuated it. We idolize and imitate the 'successful' pastors and their church models, measuring success in the same way a business would. Faithful pastors of small, obscure churches don't get published.

One of the points that Lynn and I were hit with is the necessity of making our home safe havens away from the pressure of the dog-eat-dog world our kids live in. It's a hard balance to strike, and one we don't always do successfully. We don't want our kids to be lazy or complacent, but we need to be careful that we're not pushing them beyond their abilities or with the wrong motivation (for the 'A' or to keep up with Johnny). I think this is something every parent needs to be wise and prayerfully about.

Keller ends with the chapter reminding the reader that "The biblical story of salvation assaults our worship of success at every point" (pg 94). The worship of success and achievement stands as a massive obstacle to accepting the gospel in the lives of many. We come to Christ with nothing but our sin, inability and need. We don't achieve our salvation; it's charity. That's a hard pill to swallow, and it always has been. (Oh, and I think that's a Buckeye in the poster!)

Song of the Week

I've been reading a fantastic (depressing at times, but always insightful) book by Stephen Nichols Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to the Passion of the Christ. Expect a full review in a day or two, but chapter five 'Jesus on Vinyl' is a devastating critique of the Christology of the Contemporary Christian Music industry, including contemporary worship. Nichols, along with many others including musicians, bemoan the 'Jesus is my boyfriend/girlfriend genre'. For example, consider these lines: "Your fragrance is intoxicating in our secret place." I won't name the culprits who penned that awful song, but Nichols comments, "IN non-Christian songs these lyrics would be taken directly as a double-entendre". Yep.

Anyway, the chapter left me wanting a good old hymn with profoundly theological lyrics. I give you Toplady's classic 'Rock of Ages' reworked by David Crowder.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Justification Reader Review

I finished Thomas Oden's The Justification Reader (Classic Christian Readers). I quoted from the introduction a few weeks ago: "My purpose is plainly to set forth nothing more or less than the classic Christian teaching of salvation by grace through faith, and only those parts of that teaching on which there is substantial agreement between traditions of East and West, Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox, including charismatic and Pentecostal teaching."

That had me excited; however, the book as a whole was a little disappointing. The goal was ambitious, but I don't think Oden did a good enough job making his case. In a book that promises to be a reader in the ancient fathers of the church, you better have a lot of material from the ancient fathers! In my opinion, the book was too much Oden summarizing and not enough Oden citing. Even among the citations there is too much from the last 500 years, which is good, but doesn't help me get to the consensual teaching of the early church. He quotes often from Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon, the Westminster Confession (1642), The Book of Common Prayer (1662), various Baptist Confessions of Faith, The Gospel of Jesus Christ (2002), and repeatedly form the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (2000, from the Lutheran World Federation and Roman Catholic Church).

When he does quote ancient sources, it's enlightening. Throughout the work Oden argues that Protestants have come to misunderstand the early church's teaching on justification by faith alone through grace, in large part due to our ignorance of the early church fathers (centuries ago pastors/theologians studied Greek, Hebrew and Latin. We've dropped this and consequently, have 'lost' much of the early church). The contemporary teaching that the Reformation rescued Paul from 1500 years of misinterpretation is wrong. Luther and Calvin themselves didn't argue this. In fact, they appealed often to the early church fathers for support. Here's a few of the best quotes Oden musters to make his case:

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (393-457AD), "All we bring to grace is our faith. But even in this faith, divine grace itself has become our enabler...It is not of our own accord that we have believed, but we have come to belief after have been called; and even when we had come to believe, He did not require of us purity of life, but approving mere faith, God bestowed on us forgiveness of sins."

Origen (185-254AD), "A man is justified by faith. The works of the law can make no contribution to this. Where there is no faith which might justify the believer, even if there are works of the law these are not based on the foundation of faith. Even if they are good in themselves, they cannot justify the one who does them, because faith is lacking, and faith is the mark of those who are justified by God."

Clement of Rome (95AD), "We, therefore, who have been called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, neither by our wisdom or understanding or piety, nor by the works we have wrought in holiness of heart, but by the faith by which almighty God has justified all men from the beginning, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen."

Prosper of Aquitane (390-455AD), "And just as there are no crimes so detestable that they can prevent the gift of grace, so too there can be no works so eminent that they are owed in condign judgment that which is freely given. Would it not be a debasement of redemption in Christ's blood, and would not God's mercy be made secondary to human works, if justification, which is through grace, were owed in view of preceding merits, so that it were not the gift of the Donor, but the wages of a laborer."

Cyril of Alexandria (376-444AD), "We do not say that Christ became a sinner, far from it, but being righteous (or rather righteousness, because he did not know sin at all), the Father made him a victim for the sins of the world."

Theodoret, "Christ was called what we are in order to call us to be what he is."

Epistle to Diognetus (late 2nd century), "O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectations! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors."

Chrysostom, "The purpose of the law was to make man righteous, but it had no power to do that. But when faith came it achieved what the law could not do, for once a man believes he is immediately justified."

Jerome (347-420AD), "[When Paul writes] by grace you have been saved through faith, he says this in case the secret thought should steal upon us that 'if we are not saved by our own works, at lease we are saved by our own faith, and so in another way our salvation is of ourselves.; Thus he added the statement that faith too is not in our own will but in God's gift. Not that he means to take away free choice from humanity...but that even this very freedom of choice has God as its author, and all things are to be referred to his generosity, in that he has even allowed us to will the good."

Cyril of Alexandria, "What can we say to those who insist that Abraham was justified by works because he was ready to sacrifice his son Isaac on the altar? Abraham was already an old man when God promised him that he would have a son and that his descendants would be as countless as the stars of the sky. Abraham piously believed that all things are possible with God and so exercised this faith. God reckoned him to be righteous on this account and gave Abraham a reward worthy of such a godly mind, viz., the forgiveness of his previous sins...So even if Abraham was also justified by his willingness to sacrifice Isaac, this must be regarded as an evident demonstration of a faith which was already very strong."

Ambrosiaster (prob. 4th century), "Paul revealed that Abraham had glory before God not because he was circumcised nor because he abstained from evil, but because he believed in God. For that reason he was justified, and he would receive the reward of praise in the future."

Song of the Week

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Satan, Demons and False Religions

Sometimes the language of the Bible strikes our modern ears as very impolite, insensitive, rude, intolerant, etc. In particular, the way the Bible speaks of false religions sounds very offensive to those of us raised in a pluralistic culture in which we're taught to value other perspectives and the value of other people's religious views. Here's a sampling of a few verses:

Leviticus 17:7, "So they [the Israelites] shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations." This statute is given in the context of setting up the cult of Yahweh - the priesthood, the sacrificial system, etc., and is probably a reference to worship of certain Egyptian goat gods.

Deuteronomy 32:17, "They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers had never dreaded." This comes in the form of a prophecy by Moses - when Israel the Righteous (Jeshurun) gets fat (prosperous) they will forsake God, scoff him, anger him, provoke him to jealousy, by worshiping false gods. The false gods are referred to as 'strange gods', 'abominations', 'demons', and 'no gods'. This prophesy obvious came true as Israel whored after Baal, Asherah, etc. (see also Psalm 106:34-39).

1 Corinthians 10:19-22, "What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?" Paul closely connects the pagan religions of the day, religious like the cult of Apollo and Aphrodite and the Imperial cult, with the worship of demons. It's easy to think demon seeing a statue of Molech (above), but the beauty of the ancient Greek and Roman gods makes it less obvious.

1 Timothy 4:1, "Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons..." Here it seems like the 'teachings of demons' is larger than just false religions and would also include secular, anti-Christian philosophies.

Revelation 2:13, “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells." Here, Satan's throne/Satan dwelling probably refers to the cult (religion) of Zeus Sotor, Asklepsios and/or the Imperial Cult of the Caesars.

Revelation 2:9, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan." Here the 'synagogue of Satan' refers to Jews who had rejected Jesus and were persecuting the early church (this verse has often been misused to promote Antisemitism).

Revelation 9:20-21, "The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts."

This is a side of our evangelistic efforts I think we often forget. From the ESV Study Bible notes on 1 Corinthians 10:20, "False religions are not merely the result of human imagination and human energy but generally have demonic power behind them." Even when we aren't in conversation with someone who claims to be an adherent of a religion, they are. Everyone has a religion - be it one of the formal recognized religions or the naturalistic, materialistic philosophy that predominates the American landscape today. Everyone worships!

I think the verses quoted above should remind us that 1) it is a spiritual battle, 2) people have been blinded and need to have the veil lifted by the sovereign grace of God. Christopher Wright makes a few really astute observations in his book the Mission of God. In the chapter entitled "The Living God Confront Idolatry", Wright points out that when Paul speaks to Christians he pulls no punches, placing idolatry squarely in the category of 'things which incite God to anger', 'folly', etc. Yet, drawing on Paul's actual conversation with pagan idol worshipers (Lystra, Acts 14; Athens, Acts 17, and Ephesus Acts 19), Wright argues, "[Paul is] forthright and uncompromising, but markedly softer and more polite than the language we observe in Romans 1...In both places [Lystra and Athens] he allows that God has been patient and tolerant of pagan ignorance in the past. But in both he also calls for a decisive turning away from the worship of 'worthless things'...[In Ephesus] we also learn most interestingly that Paul had not engaged in any specific defamation of Artemis/Diana - the patron goddess of Ephesus...Clearly Paul's evangelism was uncompromisingly effective but it was not calculatingly offensive...Romans, written to Christians, highlights the wrath of God. Acts, referring to speeches made to pagans, highlights God's kindness, providence and patience. Both, however, insist on God's judgments."

I think Francis Schaeffer was a great model of this. When dialoguing with people who held philosophies or religious beliefs that were false (and I'm sure Schaeffer would have acknowledged, demonic), he still looked for a point of contact. Humans, probably as a reflection of the image of God that still resides in us, are reluctant to swallow whole lies. Consequently, Satan mixes truth and lie and sells it to us as a pill we can swallow - to our destruction. Schaeffer was great at pointing out the truth in a system and would say, "Yes, that's true, but it doesn't go far enough," or "That's true, but here's where you steer wrong and here's where your wrong turn will take you logically." I know his efforts were bathed in prayer as he understood it wasn't just with faulty logic or false belief he was contending, but with demonic power animating false belief and blinding the devotee.

At another level of application, these verses should sound a note of great warning against any kinds of syncretism. Studying the seven churches in Revelation shows how often the church has been in danger of syncretism, of blending the worship of God with the worship of or service to idols. But Jesus will have none of it. The truth of God in Christ and true religion as revealed in the Bible cannot be mixed with the lies of demons.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Counterfeit Gods, part 4

We live in a 'culture of greed', and as such, says Keller, we are often blind to our own greed. I absolutely agree. He comments,

"Once you are able to afford to live in a particular neighborhood, send you children to its schools, and participate in its social life, you will find yourself surrounded by quite a number of people who have more money than you. You don't compare yourself to the rest of the world, you compare yourself to those in your bracket. The human heart always wants to justify itself and this is one of the easiest ways. You say, 'I don't live as well as him or her or them. My means are modest compared to theirs.' You can reason and think like that no matter how lavishly you are living. As a result, most Americans think of themselves as middle class, and only 2 percent call themselves 'upper class'. But the rest of the world is not fooled" (pg 52-53).

One thing I wish Keller had made more clear is that the Bible doesn't condemn wealth as such. (The Brick Testament, left, surprisingly, isn't quite accurate on this). It certainly condemns the love of money, dishonest gain, unjust gain, trusting wealth, etc., but not wealth in general. My group spent a fair bit of time discussing how we should respond given that we live in a prosperous nation. Should we shun all luxuries? Should we choose to live at near poverty levels giving away all our wealth? I don't know if we really came to an agreement on that. No one was advocating turning down high paying jobs. I don't think any of us were arguing that we should (all) live in voluntary poverty. I think we all agreed we should be better stewards of our wealth and use our blessing to bless others more than we do now. I am not willing to say we should shun wealth or forbid ourselves any comforts, luxuries, etc. The problem, as I see it, is that we in the West, particularly in America, almost never turn down comforts or luxuries. If we can afford it, we buy it. We are at risk, and I think we should own this, of loving, trusting and serving our wealth over God. Keller points to Nietzsche's prediction that money would become the West's replacement for God, and there are certainly signs that it has.

Keller's interpretation of the Zacchaeus story was very good and demonstrates how grace invades and transforms the sinners heart. He was shaken free from his love of and servitude to money by the grace of God in Christ Jesus and he responded out of his new nature.

The best part of the is the discussion of deep vs. surface idols. Keller explains, "Sin in our hearts affects our basic motivational drives so they become idolatrous, 'deep idols'...'Surface idols' are things such as money, our spouse, or children, through which our deep idols seek fulfillment. We are often superficial in the analysis of our idol structure" (pg 64-65). He continues, "...idols cannot be dealt with by simply eliminating surface idols like money or sex....the deep idols have to be dealt with at the heart level. There is only one way to change at the heart level and that is through faith in the gospel" (pg.66). And further, "Faith in the gospel restructure our motivations, our self-understanding and identity, our view of the world. Behavioral compliance to rules without a complete change of heart will be superficial and fleeting" (pg. 68).

That's great stuff right there. I think this is something every small group leader, Sunday school teacher and especially preacher needs to wrestle with. There is near constant pressure to be applicational in our teaching, and too often the application that comes quick and easy is superficial. We all want to know, 'what do I do now?' and often we are given quick steps to __________. Dealing at the heart level means the applications will often be 'see the beauty of Christ', 'treasure him', 'love him for all he is and all he is done', etc. Not quick easy, but the key to tearing down deep idols.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Song of the Week

I love this song, but am torn as to which performance of it I like best. I like the longer version of Vedder's cover from the Haiti relief album, but can't find that anywhere to post. Obviously Springsteen gets points for writing the song

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Scottish Rugby Player won't Play on the Sabbath

I had lunch today with my Scottish friend (I only have one), and he is very excited for the start of the Six Nations Rugby tournament. After that conversation this afternoon I ran across this story of Euan Murray on the Guardian (thanks to the Reformation21 blog), a Scottish player who won't be playing Sunday because it's the Sabbath.

"This Sunday, as Scotland take on France at Murrayfield in their first match of the Six Nations, the 29-year‑old will not be on the pitch. He has decided to forgo Sunday matches, and all non-religious activity that affects the Christian Sabbath – including interviews with Sunday newspapers."

Strikingly different than many Christians in sports who 'give a shout out to Jesus' in the endzone! I think I'd be pretty good at making excuses to breach the Sabbath if I were him. I applaud his conviction and theological commitments. It reminds me of another famous Scottish athlete and makes me want to watch Chariots of Fire again. Oh, and this dudes neck as thick as my thigh!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Christ, Kingdom and Culture Conference

This conference would have been great:"What is the Christian’s relationship to culture? This conference addressed the sovereignty of God as it relates to his kingdom, to our role as Christians in God's world, in the state, at work, at school, and in the church." I wish I could have made it, but at least all the video's are up on line. Watch here.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010


I have grown tired of the same old stuff for breakfast, which for the past few years has consisted of chocolate donuts, chocolate dipped granola bars, pop tarts or frosted mini wheats. So, I decided to bake a quiche and just heat a little bit up each day. Here's the recipe that I started with

4 eggs
2 cups of milk
3/4 cup of biscuit mix
1/4 cup of butter softened
1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
diced ham
chopped up broccoli
8 ounces of cheddar cheese

I despise broccoli, so I replace with a bunch of jalapeno peppers. I didn't have ham so I added four strips of bacon, crumbled up. I used Cheddar Jack instead of cheddar.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 10in. pan.
Mix ingredients into a bowl and beat. Pour into pan.
Bake for 50-55 minutes.

It turned out great. My first quiche! Can't say I ever thought I'd bake a quiche.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Great Article by Richard Mouw

I've tried to get away from reposting what others have posted on their blogs, but this one was too good. The article Carl Henry Was Right in Christianity Today came to my attention by way of Justin Taylor's blog. It caught my attention because it involved 1) Fuller Seminary and Carl Henry, and I'm doing a lot of reading about the two recently, and 2) because it connects with the topic of my ACG last semester, Christ and Culture. It think Henry and I would have agreed substantially, and I find that very surprising. Here's how Mouw, President of Fuller Seminary, starts his article:

"I have an account to settle with Carl Henry. It is too late to personally settle it with him—although I hope the Lord eventually gives me the chance to do that in the hereafter. For now, though, I can at least set the record straight in the pages of this magazine, which Dr. Henry served so capably as Christianity Today's first editor.

The story starts in the fall of 1967 when, as a Ph.D. student in philosophy at the University of Chicago, I received a phone call from Henry. A few weeks before I had sent an essay to him, outlining what I took to be a proper evangelical approach to the sub-discipline of social ethics. Henry told me that he very much liked my piece for its critique of liberal Protestantism's approach to the field, and wanted to publish it. He had only one revision to suggest—a minor one, he insisted. At the point where I said that it was indeed important for the church to on occasion take a stand on some specific question of social justice, he preferred to have me speak of the need for individual Christians to take such a stand."

At first Mouw rejected the revision of his article. Henry pushed Mouw to approve of a statement that would say, in essence, "the church should regularly articulate general principles that bear on social concerns, leaving it up to individuals to actively apply those principles to social specifics." Mouw and Henry eventually came to a 'reluctant' compromise on the wording which replace 'church' with 'Christian'. It was ambiguous enough to pass by both. In the end, the article Mouw wrote and Henry published set forth the case "...that the church can say "no" to things that are happening in the economic and political realms, without mentioning anything about the church legitimately endorsing specific remedial policies or practices."

Now, more than 40 years after the publication of the article, Mouw concedes that his 'youthful convictions' were misguided and Henry was right.

In the article Mouw summarizes five guidelines Henry established to direct his editorial policy while at CT. I think they are wise and helpful to us as we think about how we ought to engage with our culture:

1. The Bible is critically relevant to the whole of modern life and culture—the social-political arena included.
2. The institutional church has no mandate, jurisdiction, or competence to endorse political legislation or military tactics or economic specifics in the name of Christ.
3. The institutional church is divinely obliged to proclaim God's entire revelation, including the standards or commandments by which men and nations are to be finally judged, and by which they ought now to live and maintain social stability.
4. The political achievement of a better society is the task of all citizens, and individual Christians ought to be politically engaged to the limit of their competence and opportunity.
5. The Bible limits the proper activity of both government and church for divinely stipulated objectives—the former, for the preservation of justice and order, and the latter, for the moral-spiritual task of evangelizing the earth.

Song of the Week

I heard this song watching 'Meet the Robinsons' with the kids. Great song.