Monday, August 30, 2010

"Choose Christ and him alone."

This is a wonderful article about how God led two Italian nuns out of the Roman Catholic Church and into itinerant evangelistic ministry. Pastor Chris Castaldo talks with Cristiana Gavagni and Annamaria Mazzari a/k/a the Gospel Nuns.

@ The Gospel Coalition blog

Moore on Beck

Russell Moore:

A Mormon television star stands in front of the Lincoln Memorial and calls American Christians to revival. He assembles some evangelical celebrities to give testimonies, and then preaches a God and country revivalism that leaves the evangelicals cheering that they’ve heard the gospel, right there in the nation’s capital.

The news media pronounces him the new leader of America’s Christian conservative movement, and a flock of America’s Christian conservatives have no problem with that.

If you’d told me that ten years ago, I would have assumed it was from the pages of an evangelical apocalyptic novel about the end-times. But it’s not. It’s from this week’s headlines. And it is a scandal.

Continue reading

Sunday, August 29, 2010

From "ash in a flash" to the fire of the Holy Spirit

Once in a while you see a connection in scripture where you can't help but chuckle. This one concerns the Apostle John. You know, the Apostle of Love? That wasn't always his nickname though. He started out as a "Son of Thunder" and I'm guessing that moniker wasn't on account of a meek and loving disposition. In fact, John embarked on quite the journey of personal transformation when he signed on to follow Jesus. Scot McKnight gives a wonderful little capsule of John's journey in Chapter 11 of his book The Jesus Creed.

The connection I noticed the other day has to do with Samaria -- the region that respectable Jews like John avoided. In Luke 9:51-56 we read of Jesus and the twelve beginning their penultimate journey to Jerusalem. When they encounter an inhospitable Samaritan village John and his brother James want to call down fire from heaven to wipe them out -- to turn the Samaritans into what McKnight calls "ash in a flash." Wow! Not exactly behavior one would expect from an apostle of love. All Luke tells us is that Jesus rebuked the two, but I bet there was a heart-to-heart talk later on. Jesus was working on John. Like all disciples then and now he was a work in progress.

In Acts chapter 8 we read of another incident involving John and some residents of Samaria. Luke reports that after the stoning of Stephen a wave of persecution broke out against the Jerusalem church. The church was scattered, but so was the gospel "throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria." When the apostles back in Jerusalem heard the amazing news that even Samaria had accepted the good news guess who they sent to check it out? That's right, Peter and John. But this time, instead of wanting to call down the fire of judgment, John calls down the fire of the Holy Spirit on his new brothers and sisters in Christ. I can imagine the beloved apostle relating these incidents to Luke with a twinkle in his eye.

John would later express the heart of his message of love: "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." 1 John 4:10 - 11 (NIV)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Glenn Beck, Howard Zinn and middle-class discontent

One of my co-workers is getting on a plane tonight and flying to Washington, D.C. for the big Glenn Beck "Restoring Honor" rally tomorrow at the Lincoln Memorial. It just so happens that tomorrow is the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech, which interestingly enough, was delivered at what was billed as the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom." I have to say it takes a lot of chutzpah to cast oneself in the role of MLK, but hey, it's a free country.

I'll be too busy doing yardwork, daddy duties, and other weekend tasks to watch the proceedings on TV, but I'm guessing there will be a lot of talk about the evils of Big Government. There may even be talk of the "s word", the one that ends in "ist" or "ism." I'm as leery of big government as the next guy, but I hope the speakers -- which include the ex-governor of Alaska -- acknowledge that Big Government didn't begin with Obama -- or even FDR. Howard Zinn, who I've become fond of quoting, explains:

"Big government" had, in fact, begun with the Founding Fathers, who deliberately set up a strong central government to protect the interests of the wealthy and powerful, offering millions of acres of free land to the railroads, setting high tariffs to protect manufacturers, giving tax breaks to oil corporations, and using its armed forces to suppress strikes and rebellions.

It was only in the twentieth century, especially in the thirties and sixties, when the government, besieged by protests and fearful of the stability of the system, passed social legislation for the poor, that political leaders and business executives complained about "big government."

The point is that the virtue or evil of "big government" is in the eye of the beholder. I'm more concerned with who Big Government benefits -- the rich and powerful? Or the poor and struggling -- especially those trying to play by the rules of the system only to discover that the system is rigged? I'd prefer it benefit the latter, though if I were rich and powerful I'd probably give a different answer.

To be fair to Mr. Beck he taps into a legitimate and widespread disillusionment that's no longer just the province of the obviously disenfranchised (like those who flocked to the Mall on August 28, 1963). In the same book quoted from above Zinn predicted that "We may, in the coming years, be in a race for the mobilization of middle-class discontent." Right now Beck and the quite diverse coalition he speaks for is winning that race. Whether the answers put forward by Beck & Co. will solve the problems driving that discontent is less clear. And if Obama is thrown out on his ear in 2012 will we see a left wing version of tea party populism arise? Clearly, Howard Zinn was writing from a different ideological perspective than Beck or Palin are coming from, but read the following and see if it doesn't describe a lot of what's driving the Tea Party movement.

The surveys since the early seventies show 70 to 80 percent of Americans distrustful of government, business, the military. This means the distrust goes beyond blacks, the poor, the radicals. It has spread among skilled workers, white-collar workers, professionals; for the first time in the nation's history, perhaps, both the lower classes and the middle classes, the prisoners and the guards, were disillusioned with the system. . . . Millions of people have been looking desperately for solutions to their sense of impotency, their loneliness, their frustration, their estrangement from other people, from the world, from their work, from themselves. . . . It is as if a whole nation were going through a critical point in its middle age, a life crisis of self-doubt, self-examination.

All this, at a time when the middle class is increasingly insecure economically. . . . Capitalism has always been a failure for the lower classes. It is now beginning to fail for the middle classes.

The threat of unemployment, always inside the homes of the poor, has spread to white-collar workers, professionals. A college education is no longer a guarantee against joblessness, and a system that cannot offer a future to the young coming out of school is in deep trouble. If it happens only to the children of the poor, the problem is manageable; there are the jails. If it happens to the children of the middle class, things may get out of hand.

Was Howard Zinn a prophet? Keep in mind he wrote all that in the 1980's. Will things "get out of hand"? We shall see.

Quotes from A People's History of the United States: 1492 - Present (pp. 636-7, 650-1)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What's the Bible about?

John 5:39 records an amazing statement by Jesus: "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me."

It can't be repeated too often that the main character of the Bible is Christ. He said so himself. Here's a neat video illustrating this. The voice is that of Tim Keller and the drawings are by Gustave Dore.

via The Gospel Coalition

Differences matter (and there's nothing wrong with that)

Carl Trueman on why we should speak of Christian worldviews (plural):

Just to be clear: all this `Christian world life view' talk is not my language. I am myself very uncomfortable with it because it fails to respect difference among Christians; but I do not consider it inappropriate to ask those who do use this language with such confidence to explain it to me; to explain, for example, why they use the singular not the plural; and what are the doctrines that can be set to one side as matters indifferent when constructing this singular Christian world life view?

For myself, I am very comfortable with the view of the world expressed in the Westminster Standards. The theology therein profoundly expresses my view of life, the universe and all that. Does that mean I deny the name Christian to someone who is, say, an Arminian or a Lutheran or an Anabaptist or a Catholic? Not at all, though they would be as ineligible to serve as an officer in my church as I would be in theirs. But -- and here's the rub -- does it mean we share the same comprehensive world-life view? I would say not -- holding to Catholic sacramentology profoundly shapes how a Catholic looks at the world; holding to justification by imputation profoundly shapes how a Protestant looks at the world; holding to dispensationalism profoundly affects how a Fundamentalist looks at the world; and holding to Anabaptist ecclesiology profoundly affects how an Anabaptist looks at the world. And, while we're at it, to be indifferent to these things, to assume their a priori unimportance, profoundly affects one's view of the world as well. In other words, there are as many CWLVs as there are Christian sects (I use the term non-pejoratively); and it is extremely odd, not to say depressing, that, in a world where we are now supposed to rejoice in difference, it is frankly so hard to get people to see what seems to be a fairly obvious point.

I agree! Read the entire post for the context of Trueman's remarks.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

But God. . .

Often, when I read the newspaper or watch the news or simply drive through my neighborhood, I feel like I'm drowning in a sea of brokenness and despair. The temptation in those moments is to avert my eyes and try to isolate myself from "the other", to retreat into a "safe" enclave of my own making. That's not me, after all. What's wrong with those people?!

But to do that is to accept two lies. One, that I'm not implicated in the broken condition of our world. That I'm not also a sinner in desperate need of God's grace. And two, that I have nothing to offer to those at the end of their rope, to those who do the unthinkable. Accepting those two lies would be to reject everything Jesus said and did. The truth is -- there but for the grace of God go I (Ephesians 2:1-10).

I was reminded of this while reading blogger Jody (Valenzuela) Luck's uncommonly honest reflections on two recent news stories. She begins:

This week I saw two bits in the news that broke my heart. One mother who killed her own two little children and one father who killed his baby, pregnant wife, and then himself.

When I see these kinds of stories, they seem to work themselves into my heart and mind and linger with me for quite a while. The more life I experience, the more I wonder about the true back-stories on these situations. Who were they? What little “life thing” was it that piled on top of all the big “life things” that finally caused them to go past the point of no return in their utter hopelessness?

Continue reading

Sunday, August 22, 2010

God's Technology

One of the blogs I read regularly is Head Heart Hand by David Murray. Murray is a professor at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and has been creating some terrific online resources. His latest project is God's Technology: Training our Children to use Technology to God's Glory. The title says it all. If you're a Christian parent of young children or teenagers you'll want to check this out. Here's the trailer:

You can listen to an interview with Dr. Murray here.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Thanks Ike!

On the morning of July 31 my wife, son and I pulled out of our driveway. The trip odometer read zero. When we pulled back into our driveway on Thursday, Aug. 19 it read 3466. During that interval we drove through eleven states and the District of Columbia. We crossed rivers, swamps, and mountain ranges. It's easy to take for granted, but the interstate highway system is a marvel. It may be showing signs of wear and tear, but this 1950s-era brainchild of Dwight Eisenhower continues to pay huge dividends.

Like the information superhighway the automobile superhighway was originally conceived with national security in mind (the internet was originally a military communications network called the ARPANET). With the very real prospect of the cold war turning hot, Eisenhower and the Pentagon wanted a way to quickly move troops and equipment across the continent. Thankfully that scenario never played out. Instead, the interstate highway system has been an engine of economic growth and the means for average Americans to travel long distances in relative ease and safety.

Judging from the number of minivans we saw the family road trip is making a comeback. Who needs the hassles and unpleasantness of present-day air travel? If you have the time I recommend packing up the family car and hitting the open road. Ike's highways are still the best way to see America.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The magic hour

Cinematographers call the hour before sunset "the magic hour" due to the lovely quality of the light. Here are some magic hour shots I took last night at my in-laws' lake cottage. Who knows -- maybe Terrence Malick will hire me for his next film.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Barth on the danger of domesticating the gospel

Shane @ The Reformed Reader unearths this nugget from Karl Barth:

When the gospel is offered to man, and he stretches out his hand to receive it and takes it into his hand, an acute danger arises which is greater than the danger that he may not understand it and angrily reject it. The danger is that he may accept it and peacefully and at once make himself its lord and possessor, thus rendering it innocuous, making that which chooses him something which he himself has chosen, which therefore comes to stand as such alongside all the other things that he can also choose, and therefore control.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Jesus: transforming the table

I used to think the Pharisees were just a bunch of meanies. Why else would they say such nasty things to Jesus? Always trying to trip him up and get him into trouble. In truth, the Pharisees were trying to conscientiously keep the Torah. They saw Israel going to hell in the proverbial hand basket and thought the solution was a return to their version of traditional values.

One of the most colorful insults the Pharisee party hurled at Jesus was that he was a "glutton and a drunkard" because he sat down at table with folks who were unclean (Matt. 11:19, Luke 7:34). They were unclean because they didn't observe the Torah, and a scrupulous keeper of the law would never share a table with such a person. Calling Jesus a glutton and drunkard wasn't merely an off-the-cuff insult. It was a legal charge taken from the Mosaic Law. You can read it in Deuteronomy 21:18-21. What the Pharisees were saying was that if they were in charge of Israel then Jesus would be treated like a rebellious son and taken out and stoned to death. As it turned out the Pharisees and other religious elites betrayed their own principles by collaborating with the pagan Romans to get Jesus out of the way.

Scot McKnight explains in his wonderful book The Jesus Creed how the Pharisees used the table as a litmus test to divide law-keepers from law-breakers. By sharing meals with Matthew and his tax collector friends (who were as non-kosher as one could get) Jesus transformed the table into an open door instead of the dividing wall that the Pharisees had made it. In so doing he demonstrated what the new society, the new Israel, would look like. Here are a couple of snippets from the chapter "The Jesus Creed as a Table". . .

The observant person's table story: You can eat with me if you are clean. If you are unclean, take a bath and come back tomorrow evening. Jesus' table story: clean or unclean, you can eat with me, and I will make you clean. Instead of his table requiring purity, his table creates purity. Jesus chooses the table to be a place of grace.

For Jesus, the table envisions a new society, and that means that the table is a boundary breaker and a grace giver--a place where we can see what God can do when people are restored to fellowship with Abba. The table envisions because it is a door that opens and invites and includes. As such, the table creates a society.

Jesus uses a physical object (a table) to communicate a spiritual reality and to offer a foretaste of the kingdom of God. Since the church is meant to be the visible manifestation of the kingdom of God, McKnight invites us to ask "what, at the physical level, our churches are saying." Does the physical geography of your church (and mine) communicate the grace of Jesus to sinners, or does it communicate the self-righteousness of the Pharisees? Are the unclean welcome at our table?

Quotes from McKnight, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2004) pp. 36, 39

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"Same sex marriage", natural law, and the gospel (Clark)

R. Scott Clark is not an evangelical culture warrior. In fact he spends a lot of time critiquing the political and social preoccupations of many American evangelicals. That's why I found his commentary on yesterday's court decision striking down California's Proposition 8 more compelling than say, oh, Pat Robertson's. As Clark sees it the fundamental problem is that a society once grounded in natural law is rapidly being transformed into one grounded in libertinism i.e. the absence of any restraint. History teaches us that that trajectory eventually leads, not to genuine freedom, but to chaos and tyranny. Clark writes:

The truth is that humans everywhere know naturally, by virtue of being human, by virtue of being created in imago Dei, that there are fixed moral norms. Moreover, every human knows what those fixed moral norms are (love God and love neighbor). Those norms are inscribed on the conscience of every human (Romans 1-2). Yes, humans, particularly late modern humans, are busily trying to suppress the knowledge of those norms (and of the God who revealed them) but they can no more be finally resisted than an inflated beach ball can remain submerged. Try as we may the beach ball finally slips away from our wet hands and it pops to the surface. So it is with heterosexual and homosexual libertinism. We know what the truth is. We know what reality is but we seem especially hell bent right now to deny what we all know to be true in the service of a perverse, radical, French-Revolutionary resistance to all norms, even creation. It cannot last and if it does any society that so indulges itself cannot last.

However great the social cost of libertinism, its spiritual and personal costs are even greater. The eschatology of libertinism is empty. There’s nothing there. The thrill of random sex and re-creating the nuclear family outside of natural boundaries is intoxicating but what happens the morning after? What’s next after the thrill fades? To what does one turn for the next excitement? The good news is that there is, grace is for sinners of all kinds, homosexual and heterosexual libertines alike. Jesus obeyed and died for libertines. Acceptance with God is free. All libertines of all sorts need do is admit their brokenness, their sin and sinfulness, and need of a Savior. Jesus has always accepted the broken, the dirty, and the needy. The law doesn’t really change but neither does grace. In the end we rely on that fixity, that stability don’t we? As a culture we may be sitting on our Father’s lap slapping him and he may indulge us for a time, but an end will come. Reckon now with reality, including the reality and necessity of sin and salvation. It’s the only way out of the dreadful libertine spiral and the only safety from the wrath to come.

Read the whole thing

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Why Anne Rice thinks Christians aren't nice

You may have heard that author Anne Rice announced on Facebook that she was quitting Christianity (read: the church), but not Christ. Jason Stellman sympathizes with some of Rice's rant and wonders if she isn't confusing the "faith once delivered" with the Evangelical Manifesto.

@ Creed Code Cult