Thursday, April 29, 2010

Praise God for the Messiness of Evangelicalism

Emerson wrote, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." I confess I have a little mind and I love consistency. I love order, I love tidy systems of thought. Maybe that's why I'm so Reformed - true Reformed theology is consistent, sometimes too tidy. Maybe that's also why I sometimes wonder if wonder if I'm really an evangelical. Evangelicalism isn't tidy, is nebulous, nearly impossible to define, has no center, not organizational flow chart, no controlling creeds or confessions. In a word, it's messy. Maybe I should shift to a less evangelical though conservative denomination like the Orthodox Presbyterian Church or the Reformed Church. Those groups are evangelical in belief (the uphold the authority of the word, the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, miracles, sustitutionary atonement, real resurrection, the church, the return of Christ, etc.) , but not evangelical in self conscious ways. Many would askew the label. They wouldn't disagree or deny Bebbingtons definition of an evangelical (bible is authoritative, evangelism/missions is important, the cross work of Jesus is central, conversion is necessary), but resist the controlling pietistic air and revivalistic emphasis on experience. They're world is tidy. Do I fit there?

Reading Alister McGrath's Evangelicalism & the Future of Christianity reminded me of why I love evangelicalism and should appreciate it's messiness. The beginning of the book is, to be honest, overly optimistic. By the end he does address the 'darker side' of the evangelical movement, but the opening three chapters are incredibly positive. It was refreshing. I read a lot about evangelicalism - more than on any other single topic probably. Most of what I read is critical - usually from friends within the movement, but critical nonetheless.

This isn't an organized review, but just to point to a few things that were really encouraging.

1. The tent is big and, while there are many disagreements, the unity is profound as well. Evangelicalism draws from a wide range of historical sources and traditions - from classic confessions of the Reformed Tradition to Anabaptist dissent to Wesleyan practice and Pentecostal worship and experience. In addition, evangelicalism is growing globally and the being expressed in innumerable cultural contexts. There is no wonder there is such diversity and disagreement. However, it's remarkable what a consensus there is on core issues. McGrath describes six controlling convictions: 1) the supreme authority is Scripture, 2) The majesty of Jesus Christ, both as incarnate God and Lord and as the Savior of sinful humanity, 3) the lordship of the Holy Spirit, 4) the need for personal conversion, 5) the priority of evangelism, and 6) the importance of Christian community. In each of these, the imprecision (aka 'wiggle room'). For example, Scriptures supreme authority doesn't necessarily inerrancy. Also, the need for personal conversion is flexible enough to include various modes of conversion (gradual process or dramatic 'Damascus road' type). Some groups would emphasize the convictions differently, but there remains a 'coherence amidst diversity.' Moreover, there is a 'devotional ethos' within evangelicalism that is unifying. "It is no dead orthodoxy, but a living faith," writes McGrath (pg. 57). He continues, "Evangelicalism is basically Christian orthodoxy, as set out in the ecumenical creeds, with a particular emphasis on the need for the personal assimilation and appropriation of faith and a marked reluctance to allow any matters of lesser importance to get in the way of the proclamation and application of the gospel" (pg. 57).

I love the blending of orthodoxy with the truth that some doctrines that are nonessential should be "matters of indifference" (I don't like that phrase, but it's historic. Doesn't mean we don't care about them, but they aren't worth dividing over or fighting about). Some of those conservative Protestant denominations I love have a poor track record on this, dividing over issues like the propriety of speaking about grace in God's dealings with Adam, etc. Silly things to divide over. So McGrath helped me appreciate again the unity within diversity in evangelicalism and how beautiful it is. The ecumenicalism of evangelicalism is good. McGrath quotes Trembath, "Considered ecclesiologically, evangelicalism is Protestantism's clearest attempt to recapture the pluralist nature of the early church." We should embrace this I think.

2. The evangelical movement is relatively new - 280-450 years old, depending on which side you take in some current debates (some would argue it's only 60-70 years old, but they are nutts). Yet, there are deep roots; roots that extend all the way back to the ancient creeds. As McGrath argues compellingly, evangelicalism is orthodox Christianity (with an 18th century twist, to steal from Doug Sweeney). McGrath may overstate his case when he writes, "Evangelicalism is historic Christianity... evangelicalism has shown itself to have every right to claim to be a modern standard bearer of historic, orthodox Christianity" (pg. 94). That seemingly controversial statement is even acknowledged by many liberal theologians. For example, McGrath cites Kirsopp Lake wrote (in 1926), "It is a mistake often made by educate men who happen to have but little knowledge of historical theology, to suppose that fundamentalism is a new form of though. It is nothing of the sort; it is the partial and uneducated survival of a theology which was once universally held by all Christians...The fundamentalist may be wrong; I think he is. But it is we [liberals] who have departed from the tradition, not he, and I am sorry for the the fate of anyone who tries to argue with the fundamentalist on the basis of authority. The Bible is the corpus theologicum of the church is on the fundamentalist side" (pg. 28).

As the standard bearer of classic orthodoxy, evangelicals have the right, the duty, to claim the ancients as their own and draw upon them. On this McGrath quotes J.I. Packer, ""The Spirit has been active in the Church from the first, doing the work he was sent to do - guiding God's people into an understanding of revealed truth. The history of the Church's labor to understand the bible forms a commentary on the Bible which we cannot despise or ignore without dishonoring the Holy Spirit. To treat the principle of biblical authority as a prohibition against reading and learning from the book of church history is not an evangelical, but an anabaptist mistake" (pg. 83).

So evangelicalism has deep roots. I like that. That's not to say other groups, say Lutherans and Reformed types don't have deep roots. It's only to say those roots aren't theirs exclusively.

3. McGrath sounds a corrective to my arrogance, and arrogance that can sometimes be discouraging. As I look around the evangelical landscape, I'm often frustrated and discouraged by those who's practice and theology are sub par biblically. Pragmatism runs rampant. Doctrine is slighted because it's not useful. Confetti canons are brought into the church because they're fun and people like fun. All kind of wild stuff. But, and here's McGrath's corrective, God can use all these means to be drawing people. That doesn't mean we shouldn't speak against poor practice and theology and seek reform, but it does say to us that God is bigger than us. McGrath recounts how the invitation of Billy Graham to speak at Union Theological Seminary in 1954 (uber liberal at this point) created quite a stir. Reinhold Niebuhr thought it below the institution to invite someone so un-academic and backwards in their theology (his words were 'obscurantist version of the Christian faith'). Niebuhr continued, "we can be assured that his approach is free of the vulgarities which characterized the message of Billy Sunday, who intrigued the nation about a quarter century ago. We are grateful for this much 'progress'" (pg. 77).

A biting critique of Niebuhr's snobbishness came from his own president (of Union), Henry P. van Dusen, "Dr. Neibuhr prefers Billy Graham to Billy Sunday. There ar many, of whom I am one, who are not ashamed to testify that they would probably have never come within the sound of Dr. Niebuhr's voice or the influence of his mind if they had not been first touched by the message of the earlier Billy. Quite probably five or ten years hence there may appear in the classrooms and churches of Billy Graham's severest critics not a few who will be glad to give parallel testimony to his role in starting them in that direction" (pg. 78). Likewise, there are many in our church (es) who have been drawn by God through churches/ministries/pastors with whom we have profound disagreements. There will be many who grow find their way out of WillowBack churches into deeper, more theological churches, but who owe their spiritual life to those shallow churches (humanly speaking).

Reading that was a good corrective and softens one of my constant agitations against evangelicalism. As I progress through the book, I'm sure I'll post more - especially on the critical side. But today I was feeling cheery and chipper. It doesn't happen often.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How a desire for holiness and a passion for truth can lead to sin

You're going to have to stick with me for a minute to get to the point of this post. The connections in thought are there, I promise.

This morning I was reading from the Sermon on the Mount. I was struck by how non-Kantian Jesus is in his ethical teaching. Jesus doesn't just command we do right because it is our duty. Jesus ethic isn't one devoid of self interest. Instead, Jesus holds up the threat of punishment and the possibility of reward as motivations to do good and avoid evil. The actual word 'reward' appears 9 times in Matthew 5-7, but even that number doesn't do justice to how prevalent the theme is in Jesus' ethical teaching.

As I was meditating on it, I realized that I often shy away from appealing to peoples desire for reward. I don't often hold it up to them as motivation to do good. Instead, I appeal to duty ('Jesus is your Lord and he commands it') and to the purpose for which we were created ('glorify God'). Why do I shy away from appealing to peoples self interest? Because I see it done so crassly by Health and Wealth people and improperly by some types of evangelists who preach reward without the call to obey and take up the cross. My reluctance is a reaction to something I deem to be sinful - a manipulation of the gospel. But my reaction is wrong, even sinful. If Jesus' ethic had a healthy does of reward based motivation, where do I get off rejecting it? My passion for the truth, and hatred of distortions of it, has led me to swing the pendulum too far the other way, and into a (different, yet still sinful) distortion of the truth.

And it ain't just me. I've been reading a lot about the Modernist/Fundamentalist controversy in the last few weeks for class. I see the same thing going on there. The sin of unbelief and doubt was sweeping through Europe, especially Germany and it's universities. As that wave rolled towards the US, many great preachers and theologians worried about the future of Christianity. What did they do? They found ways to safeguard 'Christianity' by accommodating it to the spirit of the age. The deemphasized the historical nature of God's revelation and stressed instead in the ethics of Jesus (without the real divine person of Jesus playing an important role). Others unmoored Christianity from its creeds and confessions, emphasizing Christianity of the heart instead of the head - it wasn't about dogma, but about feeling they said. They became the liberals, but they did so in an attempt to save Christianity. They were reacting to the sin of disbelief and tried to make Christianity more credible to a modern world. Yet their reaction was also sinful - a failure to 'contend for the faith once for all handed down to the saints'.

Others reacted differently. The fundamentalists did indeed contend for the faith - they stood against the tide of disbelief and accommodation with heroic courage. Yet, in many, the response to sin became sinful also - mean spirited, factious, etc. Many broke fellowship not just with the liberals, but with those who would dare associate with the liberals (second degree separation). Doctrines that had been held by the church for centuries took on new import and even became tests of faith. Inerrancy, which had long been taught and/or assumed by the church, became the most important doctrine. You can understand why - it is important. But can a genuine believer have a different understanding of inspiration and authority? Not if you were a fundamentalist. Other doctrines rose to the fore also - premillennialism, even dispensational premilliennialism became a test of orthodoxy. The fundamentalists became sinfully narrow, lacking humility and charity.

Beyond the 'big stage' kind of sins, I see the pattern daily. My kids sin. They argue, the get demanding or selfish, they complain and grumble. Yet, my reaction can easily become sinful - overly harsh, self interested, unloving, etc. The same can be said for my reactions to my wife. I can even see it in how I react to my own sin. I hate a sinful pattern in my life, so I react. I want holiness, so I work. But it's so easy to work out of the flesh or to become self righteous.

This whole train of thinking drives home again how sinful we all are. Even our good sucks. Noble desires turn into something twisted. Satan is crafty and can use so many things to lead us away from grace and God. How desperately we need the unmerited love of God and the righteousness of the cross.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Song of the Week

Off the best U2 album ever (which came out when I was a senior in high school). Does anyone have any idea what this song is about?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Earth Day Slogan

Being Earth Day, Caleb had to come up with an slogan and a poster as a homework assignment. Scott McKnight posted this image on his blog. Wonder what the response would have been if Caleb had turned this in:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Root and the Fruit of Justification

I haven't listened to a sermon by Piper in a long time. I don't know why. This sermon, "Did Jesus Preach Paul's Gospel," delivered at the Together for the Gospel Conference is outstanding. I think the whole thing is worth listening too, but I think the six minutes or so from 45:45 till he gets to 'point 5' are great.

T4G 2010 -- Session 6 -- John Piper from Together for the Gospel (T4G) on Vimeo.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Bride of Christ and the Song of Solomon

Last night I had to chance to preach on one of my favorite topics - the church. I love talking about the church. This past semester I've spent a lot of time critiquing the church: on my blog, in my ACG and interacting with the reading I'm doing for class. That critique is born out of a deep and abiding love for the church. My love for the church, however, pales in comparison to Christ's love for the church.

When you turn to the NT the inspired authors speak often about the church. Obviously there are extended sections of didactic material on the nature of the church, the structure of the church, etc. But what I'm repeatedly drawn to is the powerful images the authors use to describe the church - word pictures that tap into the imagination and through the imagination the affections. Of these, I find the image of the church as Christ's bride to be particularly powerful.

I'm not very good at coming up with sermon illustrations. They're usually pretty pedestrian. God is at a definite advantage here, because he can create illustrations to help us understand important truths. That's just what he did to illustrate how much he loves the church, he created marriage. Marriage was designed by God to illustrate Christ's love and commitment to his people. Paul draws on this illustration in Eph. 5:25-32, but he isn't alone in making the connection. The prophet Hosea, at God's direction, makes this connection also. Israel (the church in the OT) is God's unfaithful bride; God is the forgiving, faithful, ever loving husband. The apostle John makes the connection also, raising our hopes of the glorious return of Christ, the bridegroom, and of the consummation of the marriage and celebration at the wedding feast (Rev. 19:6-9; Rev. 21: 2, 9; Rev. 22:17).

Is there also a reference to Christ and the church in the Song of Solomon? There's been a lot of debate about that. Early in the history of the church the fathers drew upon this as an extended metaphor (allegory) for the intimate relationship between Christ and his Bride. The Reformers did also. However, most modern scholars do not think that is the point of the Song of Songs. The point is more earthly than that - to celebrate the God given gift of romance, love and sexuality.

Which is it, an allegory or a poem about earthly love between a man (Solomon or a shepherd boy - various interpretations have been offered) and a Shulammite woman? I think Dr. Magary's insight from the OT Seminar is important. If this book was intended to be a metaphor/allegory for Christ and the church, one of the NT authors got it. Not once is it mentioned, and the NT authors are good at picking up OT themes and tying the Christ.

However, I don't think we're forced to chose. I believe the poem is a celebration of love, romance and even sex between a man and a woman. I think we should read it as such, not shying away from the joy the poem depicts in sensual love. On the other hand, the NT authors are quick to point out that marriage, in all its elements including the 'one fleshness' of sex, is meant to point us to a deeper appreciation of the love of Christ for his church and the intimacy that is to be enjoyed between the bride and the bridegroom. As the ESV Study Bible comments, "showing the pure and passionate love of the man and the woman in the story—can also enable believers to appreciate more deeply the intensity of the spiritual love-relationship between God and his people."

I'm not a fan of Joshua Harris' writing, but I really like this section in Stop Dating the Church!: Fall in Love with the Family of God:
"If Jesus loves the church, you and I should, too. We can't use the excuse that the church has messed up too many times or that we're disillusioned. Jesus is the only person who has the right to disown and give up on the church. But He never has. And He never will.

I met a man who had been married over twenty-five years. As he told me about himself and his family, he reached for his wallet. 'Let me show you a picture of my bride,' he said excitedly. I half expected to see a worn photo of his wife from their wedding day. Instead, he handed me a recent picture of his wife, now in her fifties. I smiled in admiration. This man's obvious love for his wife was inspiring. She wasn't 'the old lady' to him. Even the term wife didn't express all that was in his heart. After a quarter century of life together, she was still his bride. She still had his heart, his passion, and his affection.

The Bible tells us that Jesus has a similar and even greater affection for us, His Church. Despite all our missteps, sin, and imperfections, Christ's love for His Church hasn't changed over time. John Stott writes:

'On earth she is often in rags and tatters, stained and ugly, despised and persecuted. But one day she will be seen for what she is, nothing less than the bride of Christ, 'free from spots, wrinkles or any other disfigurement,' holy and without blemish, beautiful and glorious. It is to this constructive end that Christ has been working and is continuing to work. The bride does not make herself presentable; it is the bridegroom who labours to beautify her in order to present her to himself.'

Jesus it work every day making us beautiful. He chose us before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4-6). He had us in mind as He hung dying on the cross. So many days have passed since then. But His passion hasn't diminished.

Jesus still calls us His bride.

Song of the Week

Rob introduced a reworked version of this John Newton hymn last night at Connexion. I absolutely love it, though the version of it below is a little campy (I can't find the version anywhere there Rob introduced). Anyway, it's the lyrics that are incredible, not the tune:

Approach, my soul, the mercy seat,
Where Jesus answers prayer;
There humbly fall before His feet,
For none can perish there.

Thy promise is my only plea,
With this I venture nigh;
Thou callest burdened souls to Thee,
And such, O Lord, am I.

Bowed down beneath a load of sin,
By Satan sorely pressed,
By war without and fears within,
I come to Thee for rest.

Be Thou my Shield and hiding Place,
That, sheltered by Thy side,
I may my fierce accuser face,
And tell him Thou hast died!

O wondrous love! to bleed and die,
To bear the cross and shame,
That guilty sinners, such as I,
Might plead Thy gracious Name.

“Poor tempest-toss├Ęd soul, be still;
My promised grace receive”;
’Tis Jesus speaks—I must, I will,
I can, I do believe.

Consider Luther's words as you listen to the song:
"You should tell the devil “Just by telling me that I am a miserable, great sinner you are placing a sword and a weapon into my hand with which I can decisively overcome you; yea, with your own weapon I can kill and floor you.

For if you tell me that I am a poor sinner, I, on the other hand, can tell you that Christ dies for sinners and is their Intercessor… You remind me of the boundless, great faithfulness and benefaction of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The burden of my sins and all the trouble and misery that were to oppress me eternally He very gladly took upon His shoulders and suffered the bitter death on the cross for them.

To Him I direct you. You may accuse and condemn Him. Let me rest in peace, for on His shoulders, not on mine, lie all my sins and the sins of all the world."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Praying Specifically

This past weekend, John Erickson made the point repeatedly that we should read broadly (the whole Bible to get the story firmly in our minds) and pray specifically (the passage we are studying, allowing the Spirit to impress the truth upon us powerfully). Learning to pray Scripture has had a tremendous impact on my spiritual growth, and no one taught me how to pray Scripture better than Ken Boa. Here's two great devotional resources:

Face to Face: Praying the Scriptures for Spiritual Growth

Face to Face: Praying the Scriptures for Intimate Worship

Two Devotional Thoughts from Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes is one of the books I struggle with the most. I don't know why, but maybe it's because I wrestle with the vanity of life anyway. I wonder often if what I do has any meaning or significance. So, I was glad today when I finished reading this book and can move on to another. I did, however, have two thoughts that God is impressing on me. One thought leads me to worship God for his grace, the other for his mysterious power.

First, in Eccl. 10:1 the Preacher points out that "Dead flies make the perfumer's ointment give off a stench; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor." Great image. As I thought about it, I was reminded how one foolish decision can derail someone. One foolish decision to get in a car with someone who had been drinking got my friend Debbie killed. One foolish decision to smoke pot lost another friend an athletic scholarship. How many marriages get derailed because of foolish decisions? How many ministries?

More to the point, I thank God for his grace. I have made my good share of foolish decisions, and have lived to tell about them. That's not a real exaggeration. Some of my more foolish decisions could have ended tragically.

The second thought is very different. In Eccl. 11:5 the Preacher reminds us of our position, "As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything." There is so much mystery in our world about even the most fundamental things, like life. What is life? What is consciousness? It can't really be measured. It's hard for scientists to really define. It's fundamental, and an utter mystery. So it is with God's works.

I love theology, but sometimes theologians get too speculative. Thinking about things like the order of God's decrees for example pushes beyond what Scripture teaches and into the mysterious of God, mysterious to wonderful for us to know. I love theology, especially theology that knows it's limits, that can hear God say, "Thus far you shall come, and no farther." I love theology that ends with doxology, as Paul's does:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36, ESV).

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Finding some agreement on Christ and Culture

The debate between how Christians should engage culture goes back at least to Tertullian and Justin Martyr. Two camps continue to debate the topic in modern Reformed circles - the 'Kuyperians' or 'Transformationalists' and the 'Two Kingdom-ers'. Kuyper famously stated, "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'" Advocates of Kuyper's position (who often go beyond Kuyper himself) advance the Lordship of Christ in every area of life. 'Two Kingdom' people readily, joyfully acknowledge Christ's lordship over the whole of human existence; yet argue that Christ's lordship is administrated differently in the church and the secular spehere. One king, yet two kingdoms - one spiritual and one secular.

The divide can get pretty wide, especially at the radical extremes. Yet, as Godfrey points out, there is a lot the can be agreed upon.

"As is often true in the history of the church, we [Kuyperians and 2K-ers] may not all perfectly agree what the Bible says, but I think we’re all agreed with the principle…The Bible is authoritative in everything that it says, about everything that it talks about. But I think we are also all agreed that the Bible, while authoritative in everything that it talks about, is not exhaustive in everything it talks about. The Bible tells us some things about history, but it doesn’t tell us everything about history. I believe it tell us some things about geology, but I don’t think it tells us everything about geology. I would suggest that it’s really only in three areas that we can say … it also speaks comprehensively, or completely, or exhaustively; we as Reformed Christians are committed to the proposition that that everything we need to know about doctrine and salvation is told to us completely in the Bible. … Secondly, we would say that the Bible is exhaustive in what it teaches us about worship. … And thirdly, the Bible tells us all we need to know about the Church and its government. … But I think we can probably agree as well, whatever our approach to Christ and culture, that the Bible does not speak exhaustively about politics. It says a lot of things about politics, it says a lot of things that are relevant to politics, but I don’t think any of us would want to argue that the Bible tells us absolutely everything we need to know about politics. Does the Bible even indisputably teach us whether we ought to have a democracy, or an aristocracy, or a monarchy? John Calvin says it doesn’t. … I don’t think anybody … would want to argue that every aspect of a platform proposed for a civil election could be derived from the Bible; I don’t think anyone would argue that. … So the Bible is authoritative in all that it says, but it doesn’t say everything about anything except salvation, worship, and church government."

You can listen to the great lecture "Every Square Inch" online or in iTunes.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Song of the Week

I really like Mudvayne. The lyrics are dark, but if Ravi Zacharias is right, the poets/songwriters of the day reveal the emotional tenor of a society. Though others learn how to hide it, artist embrace it and express it through their art.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Why we chose public schools

My wife and I (more my wife) have been asked often why we chose to send our kids to the public schools. Below are some of the reasons we opted for the public option. We believe it was the right choice for our kids given our specific location. We would certainly reconsider if things changed dramatically in the schools our kids attend, if we didn't think it was safe, if our kids needs weren't being met, if we were overseas, etc. We completely understand why some believe Christian schools and homeschooling are better options for their kids. We see the benefits (and drawbacks) to all of the options, including the public school option. Both Lynn and I have experience in Christian schools: me in grades K-6 (awful experience), and Lynn in grades 7-12 (great experience). I want to make that clear because the conversation can be heated (in some circles parents who send their kids to public schools are 'sinning'; in other circles, homeschoolers and those who opt for Christian schools are said to be shirking their responsibility to be salt and light).

Anyway, this post could die the death of a thousand qualifications. Here's why we are sending our kids public schools:

1. The public schools can teach my kids better than I can. In essence, this is the reason we didn't consider homeschooling. Could I teach them English. No. Could I teach them Spanish. Not on your life. Could I teach them Macro Economics. Not really. I know I couldn't have gotten that from my mom and dad either. They're bright people, as are Lynn and I, but not experts in every field. I know there are great resources out there, but I know my kids too. They have fantastic questions. Caleb stumps me regularly on Bible/Theology - topics I have some expertise in. He'd definitely stump me on any of those topics I'm not an expert in, and I believe that would stunt his educational development.

Some argue that kids in the public school are just taught to memorize and regurgitate facts. First, I don't see it. Not in my kids education so far (early on, to be sure). Second, I don't see that as a bad thing. Knowing facts is incredibly important - something we've neglected in recent 'discussion based' learning methods. Stephen Prothero writes, "when I finished graduate school and became a professor myself, I told students that I didn't care abut facts. I cared about having challenging conversations, and I offered my quiz-free classrooms as a place to do just that. I soon found, however, that the challenging conversations I coveted were not possible without some common knowledge - common knowledge my students plainly lacked." Prothero traces the problem, the lack of common knowledge, back to "John Dewey and other Progressive-era educational reformers, who gave up in the early twentieth century on content-based learning in favor of a skill based strategy that scorned 'the piling of of information.'" (Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't).

Basically, it boils down to this: I don't care if my kids learn soccer from Christians, why should I care if they learn how to do math from a Christian? This is why one of the factors that led us (me; honestly, while Lynn and I came to the same conclusion, we arrived via different paths) to choose public over Christian school. Some will argue, "Oh, but history and science are different." I understand what they're saying. Scientific data needs to be interpreted, as does history (and everything else for that matter). Will my kids be learning how to interpret science and history through a Christian lens? Not in school - but I'm ok with that. What I want them to learn in school is the necessary skills, facts, etc.

In the end, how will a Christian scientist's evaluation of a germ cell differ from nonChristians? How will a Christian historians teaching of Napoleon's exploits differ from a nonChristians? In penultimate discussions, not at all. Only at the level of 'ultimates' will there be any difference. A Christian historian will understand that behind all the historical details, God's sovereignty and providence are at work. A Christian scientist's research will leave him in awe of the complexity of life, the universe, and lead him into the worship of the Almighty. But, to get there, they will still need to know how to look through a microscope and observe things, how the Kreb cycle works (pulled that one out of my butt - I was listening all those years ago), the speed of light, the constant of gravity, etc. They'll have to know the facts of history before they can have discussions about how to interpret those facts (see Prothero above). I don't feel it's necessary for those facts and skills to be taught from a Christian perspective. In fact, arguing they should seems to beg the question, 'Is there a Christian perspective?' or 'Which Christian perspective?' More on that in point three.

2. In the public schools my kids will learn to interact with pagan culture while I still have tremendous influence on them. I won't always. I do now. I want them to see that the world we live in isn't always in agreement with our beliefs, values, etc. In fact, at times, it's quite hostile. I want them to encounter those things while I have the influence I have. Kids are impressionable. I understand that. I also understand that right now, their mom and me have the greatest influence on them. I want them to see and understand that they are 'in the world', and we'll teach them what it means to not be' of the world'. I don't want that sprung on them in college. I don't want them having to think about how to have conversations about sexuality, materialistic naturalism, etc, for the first time when they are out from under my roof. At the same time, I don't want them having to deal with it in Kindergarten either, and luckily, we haven't had to deal with that.

Moreover, I want them to learn how to take stands, even if they may be costly. Debating the merits of gay marriage or the belief in the exclusivity of Christianity in a Christian school is one thing. Doing the same in a public school where it may cost you (a letter grade, retribution from an angry teacher, friends, etc.) is quite another (I have experienced it). It may seem rather Spartan, but I want my boys to learn that being a Christian can be a costly affair and will take courage, commitment, and a good deal of faith. And I want them to learn it while I'm by their side.

3. The public schools don't teach Bible or theology. What?! Yep - that's a plus in my book. I may sound like the oddball, but I got the worlds most credentialed fundamentalist on my side - J. Gresham Machen. I'm learning more about Machen recently, and I admire him (though he scares me too. He was such a libertarian, he was against traffic signals!). Machen, a great champion of Orthodoxy, founder of the OPC and Westminster Seminary, was against reading the Bible and praying in the public schools. He believed public schools should be limited to teaching to the "impartation of knowledge". He didn't even want the schools teaching values/morals except where practically necessary. That was the duty of the family and, secondarily, the church. He advocated dismissing the children, with parents consent, for an hour of the day to receive religious instruction (catechesis along denominational lines, if I understand him correctly).

I am happy that the public schools don't teach the Bible and don't pray. Do I really want my kids learning the Bible or learning how to pray from people who might not believe it? Or who's theological commitments might be dramatically different than my own?

In fact, that concern spills over to the Christian schools (I hinted at it above). Most Christian schools are broadly evangelical. Here in Bloomington there is not a Presbyterian school, a Reformed School, a Lutheran School, etc. There are two broadly evangelical schools (that I know of). I want to emphasize the word broad. Until recently I knew nothing of Lighthouse Christian. After researching them I have a lot of respect for their approach to education and integration of the faith. However, their website announces that they draw from 37 area churches. On one hand, that unity and ecumenical spirit excites me. On the other hand, I'd be very hesitant to send my kids to some of the Sunday schools of some of the local churches in Bloomington.

I know I run the risk of sounding like a religious snob (understatement is a gift of mine), but I don't want people I don't know teaching my kids how to interpret the Bible or how to think about God. It's too important. Same thing for prayer. Nor do I want teachers in a school teaching my kids 'the Christian view' of _____________.

Again, I want my kids to think about, learn, and know the Bible, a Christian worldview, etc. But my kids are so precious to me, and these things are so important, I don't want to entrust that responsibility even to Christian school teacher. It's my job - mine and Lynn's.

In addition, I don't want Christianity/Bible taught as an add on, but as a whole way of viewing the world. From my experience, that's how it was taught in the Christian school I went to. We had math class, spent time doing science and history, then Bible class and chapel a couple of times a week. The Bible become just another subject to learn. It wasn't integrated. (Thankfully, many schools do a better job at that than what I experienced).

4. Public Schools are good for society, hence worthy of my support. I want to live in a society where kids, rich and poor, privileged and underprivileged, Christian and nonChristian have access to educational opportunities. Public schools are good for society. If so, I should support them (I could cite biblical precedent, but I won't. Ok, yes I will - see Jeremiah 29:4-7). I support them with my taxes. Don't have a choice there. In addition, I choose to support them with my prayers, my involvement, and the salt and light of my kids too.

5. Not because I'm shirking my parental right/authority, but because I take it seriously. I grant that many people pick public schools because it's cheaper than private Christian schools and easier than homeschooling. That's not why we've done it. In a way, I feel like we are homeschooling - teaching our kids what's most important, teaching them how to integrate what knowledge they learn at school into a fully Christian worldview (they don't even know that's what we're doing; not yet). It's not easy now. It will get harder. We know that. We aren't trying to shirk our duties as parents. We take it seriously, so seriously we're willing to do the job of teaching our kids Bible and theology, not passing that job on to a Christian school teacher. We're taking it seriously enough to embrace the harder job of teaching our kids how to engage a culture, how to discern biblical patterns of thought from nonbiblical.

Please, don't read this as saying that others who send their kids to private schools or homeschool are shirking their duties. I am simply trying to express that we didn't choose the public option because we thought it would be cheaper and easier. We take our job seriously, understanding that we can and should do better.

I know many will disagree with our reasoning. I respect that. I may disagree with yours, please respect that. Let's choose respect rather than jugementalism and honor Christian freedom rather than become legalistic and pray for one another and our children. They do not live in an easy world and they don't always have the best, wisest parent. God help them.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Should the US Support Israel? (update)

A friend of mine recently posted some thoughts on our funding of the Israeli military. The question isn't are we? That's certain. The real question is should we be?

The argument could get very complicated and I'm not going to try to sort it out. There could be real, good, compelling reasons to support financially and militarily a friendly democracy (kind of - after posting this I saw a story on Israeli censorship. Not good.) in a part of the world where we don't have many friends (mostly because we support Israel so unquestioningly).

My point here isn't to dissect the whole debate, but to take one argument off the table. Please, let's not argue that Israel has a divine right to the land. Many have seen it as the duty of the US, as a Christian nation (which we aren't, and never were) to support Israel as God's chosen people in the holding/taking back of the land that is theirs by divine grant. This argument just doesn't hold water - Israel has no more divine right to the land than does Japan. I'm going to quote Piper on this (because he comes at it from a historical premillennial position. I'm amillennial. Piper's position is typical of those in the amillennial camp, but not as typical in the premillennial camp where dispensationalism has won the day for the most part):

"I do not deny that Israel was chosen by God from all the peoples of the world to be the focus of special blessing in the history of redemption which climaxed in Jesus Christ, the Messiah...Nor do I deny that God promised to Israel the presently disputed land from the time of Abraham onward...But neither of these Biblical facts leads necessarily to the endorsement of present-day Israel as the rightful possessor of all the disputed land. Israel may have such a right. And she may not. But that decision is not based on divine privilege. Why?"

First, a covenant breaking people cannot claim a divine right to the land. Only those who have perfectly kept covenant can claim any 'right' to anything. That the promises of the land are conditional is clear from Scripture: "Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel” (Exodus 19:5, ESV).

But isn't the promise to Abraham unconditional? How can a conditional covenant at Sinai replace an unconditional promise give to Abraham (Gen 12 & 15)? Well, calling the Abrahamic covenant an unconditional covenant isn't entirely accurate. Certainly in Gen. 12:1-3 (where the promises are made) and Gen. 15 (where the covenant is more formally ratified) there are no stipulations, conditions or commands to keep. Just promises. Moreover, the 'everlasting' nature of the covenant promises is set out in Gen. 17:7-8.

Yet, in Gen. 18:9 God says, "For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him" (ESV). In addition, after Abraham demonstrates his faith and willingness to obey God, we read, "And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice” (Gen. 22:15-18, ESV).

So the promises are both conditional and secure. Ligon Duncan says it forcefully, "A covenant by definition has conditions. There in no such thing as a wholly unconditional covenant. Don’t ever let anybody sell you a bill of goods that there is such a thing as an unconditional covenant. Why? Because you have to have two sides before you have a covenant. And if you have two sides, then you’ve got requirements. So a covenant by definition has conditions. And so the covenant of grace is both unilateral and bilateral. It is conditional and unconditional. It is monergistic and synergistic...God sovereignly fulfills the conditions of the covenant...the beauty of the covenant of grace is that God comes in and He Himself provides the basis of our part of the relationship." (You see this time and time again in the NT. For example, look at Jude 1-7, a passage I'm preaching on this Sunday. There's a seemingly paradoxical blend of unconditional promises, i.e. 'you are kept by God', alongside calls for vigilance and warnings for those who fall/apostatize.)

The covenant God made with the people of Israel at Sinai must be seen in light of the covenant with Abraham. There are differences in emphases between the two; however, there is great continuity. In fact, Exodus 2:23-25 sets the whole Exodus/Sinai event in the context of 'God remembering' his covenant with Abraham. The Sinai covenant advances the Abrahamic covenant in that it deals corporately and nationally with Israel. The law is set within the context of covenant, as a definition of what covenant keeping will look like (covenant is a bigger concept than law). The nation will experience God's blessing if, and only if, it keeps covenant. On the other hand, it's a mistake to call this a covenant of works. God's grace is all over the covenant at Sinai. Israel wasn't chosen because they kept covenant. Instead, keeping covenant was the proper response to having been chosen. Moreover, God graciously provided through the sacrificial system a means of dealing with the people's sins, which God knew were inevitable. Still, for the nation to keep the land and the blessing, they would have to be faithful. They were not. That leads me to the next point.

Second, Abraham's true descendant do receive all God promised. Did Israel's failures and faithlessness negate God's promises? Does the question sound familiar? Paul anticipates the question when he says, "it is not as though the word of God has failed" (Rom. 9:6a), and "has God rejected his people?" (Rom. 11:1a). The answer is NO. The people of God, the true heirs of Abraham will receive the blessings God promised. But the people of God are not defined merely by their ancestry or by the certain physical marks (i.e. circumcision). In other words, not all Jews are truly Israel. In fact, it was never a purely ethnic thing. Not all of the descendants of Abraham were heirs of the promise. Ishmael was not, nor was Esau. Moreover, the Old Testament contains clear witness that being a Jew outwardly through circumcision wasn't enough, circumcision needed to be of the heart also (Deut. 10:16, Deut. 30:6). Michael Williams writes in Far As The Curse Is Found: The Covenant Story Of Redemption, "True inclusion in the covenant came not to those who merely went through the formality of the circumcision rite but to those who bore it as a symbol of living faith in God who set Israel apart for his service" (see Gal 3:7-9, Rom. 9:8).

In the NT it becomes clear that Jesus Christ was the 'True Israel of God'. God's says of Israel, "Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, 'Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son' "(Exodus 4:22-23, ESV). Compare that to the teaching of the NT (Rom. 8:29, Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:6, Luke 3:22 and especially Luke 9:35).

Moreover, the 'out of Egypt' motif is very important. In the OT, the phrase 'out of Egypt' or some variation appears more than 140 times. Clark rightly comments, "It is one of the defining facts of the existence of national Israel." It is then quite significant when Matthew applies this theme to Jesus in Matthew 2:14-15, "And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, 'Out of Egypt I called my son.'" (ESV). Again, Clark writes, "Matthew's inspired interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures must norm our interpretation of Scripture and according to Matthew's interpretation, it is our Lord Jesus, not the temporary, national, people who is the true Israel of God."

In addition, the promises made to Abraham are explicitly said to have been fulfilled in Christ. Galatians 3:16: "Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, 'And to offsprings,' referring to many, but referring to one, 'And to your offspring,' who is Christ." And the same chapter Paul makes it clear that these promises belong also to those who are in Christ Jesus, "the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe." (Gal 3:22).

It is Christ who is the true Israel and those who are ingrafted into Jesus by faith are the true children of Abraham. In John 8 Jesus has an extended conversation about who the true children of Abraham are. Clark summarizes,"This, then is our Lord's definition of a child of Abraham, a Jew, or Israel: One who does the things Abraham did. What did Abraham do? According to Jesus, "Abraham saw my day and rejoiced" (v.56). According to Jesus the Messiah, a Jew, a true Israelite is a one who has saving faith in the Lord Jesus before or after the incarnation."

Given this, it shouldn't be surprising that the apostles refer to the church with language that had previously been reserved for national Israel. Paul refers to the church of Galatia, a church made up of Jewish and Gentile believers, as the 'Israel of God' (Gal 3:15). Peter uses the same kind of language of the mostly Gentile church in 1 Peter 2:-10, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." Also, the author of Hebrews refers to those who have faith in Jesus as the "House of Israel" (Heb. 8:8-10).

Does this mean that we as Christians are to inherit the land? Yes and No. Not the physical land, but the physical land was only a shadow of a heavenly, spiritual reality. Just as the ethnic, national people of God in the Old Testament (Israel) was a temporary foreshadowing of the eternal, spiritual and multi-ethnic people of God (the Church), so the physical land of was a temporary shadow of the heavenly land; the earthly city of the heavenly city (Heb. 11:8-16, Heb. 11:39). Those who are the true Israel by virtue of their faith will receive the promised reward, the reward that Abraham was looking for, the reward that was typified by the physical land of Palestine.

After all, Jesus clearly taught that his kingdom was a spiritual kingdom, not a physical one (John 18:36). In addition, it's an eternal kingdom, not a really long 1,000 year kingdom. He will always be on the throne as the true King, the true descendant of David.

That doesn't mean God is done with ethnic Israel. Paul teaches that that Israel's disbelief was not complete nor final. He, as an ethnic Jew is also a part of the believing remnant, a member of the enlarged People of God, the True Israel. Not all Jews rejected their Messiah. Moreover, Paul holds out hope that the people of Israel will not persist forever in their unbelief. Piper rightly contends, "God has saving purposes for ethnic Israel (Rom. 11:25-26). But for now the people are at enmity with God in rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ, their Messiah (Rom. 11:28). God has expanded his saving work to embrace all peoples (including Palestinians) who will trust his Son and depend on his death and resurrection for salvation."

So, as we discuss our nations relationship with Israel, let's do so on the basis of what is just, what is equitable, what will lead to peace. Let's do so on the basis of international law and not on the basis of a supposed Divine right.

For those who may want more reading, here's a few great links:
Sam Storms on "Romans 11 and the Future of Israel": Part 1, Part 2,
Sam Storms on "The Church, Israel, and 'Replacement Theology": Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
R. Scott Clark on "The Israel of God"
John Piper on "Israel, Palestine and the Middle East" and "Do Jews have a Divine Right in the Promised Land?"

Monday, April 05, 2010

Song of the Week

On opening day for the Tribe, I thought this was perfect. It's from one of the great baseball movies of all time "Major League" (mainly because it's about the Indians winning the pennant). 'Wild Thing' pretty much sums up our pitching last year. I'm not at all worried about the Indians offense, but if this song proves true of our pitching staff again, it could be a very long year. We'll see.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Calvin on the Cross

“It follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone. For, he was sold, to buy us back; captive, to deliver us; condemned, to absolve us; he was made a curse for our blessing, sin offering for our righteousness; marred that we may be made fair; he died for our life; so that by him fury is made gentle, wrath appeased, darkness turned into light, fear reassured, despisal despised, debt canceled, labor lightened, sadness made merry, misfortune made fortunate, difficulty easy, disorder ordered, division united, ignominy ennobled, rebellion subjected, intimidation intimidated, ambush uncovered, assaults assailed, force forced back, combat combated, war warred against, vengeance avenged, torment tormented, damnation damned, the abyss sunk into the abyss, hell transfixed, death dead, mortality made immortal.

In short, mercy has swallowed up all misery, and goodness all misfortune. For all these things which were to be the weapons of the devil in his battle against us, and the sting of death to pierce us, are turned for us into exercises which we can turn to our profit. If we are able to boast with the apostle, saying, O hell, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? it is because by the Spirit of Christ promised to the elect, we live no longer, but Christ lives in us; and we are by the same Spirit seated among those who are in heaven, so that for us the world is no more, even while our conversation life is in it; but we are content in all things, whether country, place, condition, clothing, meat, and all such things. And we are comforted in tribulation, joyful in sorrow, glorying under vituperation, abounding in poverty, warmed in our nakedness, patient amongst evils, living in death. This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father.” - John Calvin

Our house has gone to the birds

Birds tend to build nests in weird places around our house. Last year, it was on the kids playset, right at the top of the slide. We moved it, the bird rebuild it. This year the bird built it in the wreath on our front door. Every morning, I walk out the door and the bird flies away, scaring the crap out of me. Three little eggs, which will mean three chirping baby birds soon!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

My confidence in our leaders plummets (update)

Ok, plummets is an exaggeration. It didn't have that far to fall. But after seeing this, it may have just hit an all time low.

Update: apparently, Rep. Johnson was joking. At least, that's what he said in a written statement on Thursday. "The subtle humor of this obviously metaphorical reference to a ship capsizing illustrated my concern about the impact of the planned military buildup on this small tropical island," Johnson said in the statement. If that's the case - he's funny. But he's also very subtle.

Stott on the Subsitutionary Death of Jesus

We strongly reject, therefore, every explanation of the death of Christ which does not have at it's centre 'satisfaction through substitution' indeed divine self satisfaction through divine self substitution. The cross was not a commercial bargain with the devil, let alone one which tricked and trapped him, nor an exact equivalent, a quid pro quo to satisfy a code of honour or technical point of law, nor a compulsory submission to God to some moral authority above Him from which He could not otherwise escape, nor a punishment of a meek Christ through a harsh and punitive Father, nor a procurement of salvation by a loving Christ from a mean and reluctant Father, nor an action by which the Father bypassed Christ as mediator.

Instead the righteous, loving Father humbled Himself to become in and through His only Son, flesh, sin and a curse for us, in order to redeem us without compromising His own character. The theological words 'satisfaction' and 'substitution' need to be carefully defined and safeguarded, but they can not, under any circumstances by given up. The Biblical Gospel of atonement is of God satisfying Himself by substituting Himself for us.

John Stott, The Cross Of Christ, Pp 159-160

From out of Left Field

As Luke would say, 'Didn't see that one comin!"

John Piper has invited Rick Warren to be at the Desiring God national conference in the fall. I have never been a fan of Warren's. Other than the first page of the Purpose Driven Life, I thought it was awful (but I've never tried to write a devotional book). I've heard sermon snippets that were awful (but I'm sure I've preached some awful sermons myself). I think the whole 40 Days is awful...

I was interested to hear Piper's reasoning (the two video's below), and I think it's sound. I had no idea Warren was a Monergist/Calvinist. I had no idea he was so committed to theological learning (as Piper quips, "He's never said anything that would make me think he's read theology"). My big question for Warren - how do you reconcile your pragmatic approach to church life with your monergistic view of salvation.

I like what Piper has done here for a few reasons. One, it's easy to be ghettoized - to only read, listen, speak to those with whom you share much in common. That's a problem. As we invite seminar speakers to ECC, I think it will be healthy to invite people from theological perspectives with which we might take umbrage. I wouldn't ask them to preach on a Sunday morning, but to learn from them. Second, and Piper gets at this in the second video, has to do with separation. I'm sure Piper will loose some 'fans' for this, as he lost some when he invited the 'vulgar Driscoll' a year or two back. Warren is certainly different that Piper and the DG crowd, but must Piperites separate from Warrenites?

I'm sure I'll still take my pot shots at Warren every once and a while. Hard not to. But again, I like what Piper has done here. Now if he invites Osteen next year, I'm off the Pipe bandwagon for good!