Posts Tagged ‘Gospel’

SubversiveI was almost immediately turned off by this book when one of the first things I saw was a quote by Shane Claiborne. I pressed on because that's the deal and eventually arrived at page 24-25. What I read on those two pages inspired me to press on further:

From the time of the murder of every young boy after Jesus' birth to the day of his crucifixion, Jesus was opposed by an empire intent on maintaining the status quo. This kingdom labeled Jesus a troublemaker, rabble-rouser, dissident, community organizer, agitator, nonviolent revolutionary, renegade, rebel, and traitor. But none of this was a surprise to God, for God was preparing the world for the coming revolution.

Many of our Sunday schools continue to encourage followers of Jesus to embrace a respectable Jesus, an agreeable teacher with pleasant stories to tell about how to be good. But no one would crucify this Jesus. No one would be threatened by such bland personal morality. Instead, they'd invite this Jesus over for a cup of tea and a chat about the weather. (24-25)

At this point, I was fairly well hooked. I mean, if this was the basis for everything else Greenfield was going to write in the book, then how could it go wrong?

Greefield goes on over the next eleven short chapters to explain to his readers all the various ways that he and his friends believe Jesus is subversive. Jesus is subversive in sharing, parenting, charity, suffering, and vocation among others. And, sure enough, Greenfield and his followers have all managed to flesh these various subversions rather well. It is very compelling the way he and his family have lived out these subversive behaviors that Jesus evidently taught, lived, and advocated. "He came to inaugurate the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. He came to subvert the world as we know it" (27).

I'm torn, frankly, as to whether or not I like this book. There are times when I was all over it and marking up my pages, underlining sentences, posting quotes on Twitter. When Greenfield talks about money and power and how the birth of Jesus took place in that shadow and then goes on to talk about Jesus preaching an alternative to empire–wow, I was hooting and hollering and jumping up and down on my couch.When he poked the bear and said, "Today, too many of our churches have concocted a dozen ingenious reasons why these stories no longer mean what they say," (78) I was again stunned that someone had the nerve to say it, and mean it.

Then there were other times when I was fairly well convinced that I was reading the party platform of the liberal wing of the American government. There were times when I felt as though Greenfield was loudly condescending towards those reading the book who might take exception with his particular understanding of what kingdom means and how we might go about being subversive. There were times when I deeply disagreed with his particular take on something Jesus said or did (for example, his conclusion that the feeding of the 5,000 was a mere 'beautiful miracle of sharing and abundance', 51.) And there were times when I felt that his activism bordered on the absurd (for example, the Pirate Flash Mob is something I seriously doubt Jesus would participate in precisely because it is absurd. See chapter 9, 'Subversive Citizenship.')

In the end, I came down on the side of liking the book. It seems to me that what I heard him saying is that what really matters is Jesus and love in Jesus' name. We need not be divided by our binary code of political opinions if we are united in our passion for the Lord's heart.

I think there is a lot about this book to commend and I do recommend it to my readers who want their faith to be challenged and who want to start living a more Jesus driven, Kingdom oriented life.

There are parts of this book that people are going to like. There are parts of this book that people are going to hate. As I noted above, I'm not sold on all of his exegetical points and I'm not sold on all his practical applications of said exegesis. At the end of the day, however, this is a book that tells the story of how one family decided to live out their vocation among the poor of the world. I think they do it well and I think it would be great if more people could live in such a way. That's not, necessarily, Greenfield's ambition though: "You must resist the temptation to do nothing because you can do only a little or because you can't like someone else who seems more radical. It takes many candles to overcome the darkness" (164). He goes on, "There is nothing prescriptive about the stories I have shared in this book. The stories are merely demonstrations of how God has worked in my life and the lives of those around me" (164-165).

That is a helpful caveat and helped bring the book to a good close for me. Each of us is called to a place in life and we struggle to live out that life faithfully in the place God has called us. The Lord called Greenfield to live among the poor and enrich their lives. He called me to educate children with special educational needs–many of whom are poor and living in single-parent environments. Others will have their own calling to be faithful to. It's not always easy. Greenfield's book, despite my reservations, is a helpful corrective and a powerfully prophetic word to the church in America that has grown too Conservative, too Binary, and too wealthy to mount any formidable offense against the powers of darkness that prevail in this land. Prophets like this are necessary for the church to wake us up. One only hopes it's not too late.

I love the quote he includes on page 27 from Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador: "A church that doesn't provoke any crisis, a gospel that doesn't unsettle, a word of God that doesn't get under anyone's skin, a word of God that doesn't touch the real sin of the society in which it is proclaimed–what gospel is that?"

Herein is the challenge for Christians–especially American Christians–who live in a sterile environment where faith amounts to a mere tithe on the first day of the week. I think this book is a wonderful example of a radical alternative to the empire of this world, a counter-cultural challenge to be exactly the opposite of what this world expects Christians to be: white, clean, tidy, and full of all the right answers. This book got under my skin, it unsettled me, it challenged my privilege, and my values.

Let's hope that the provocation continues in me and begins in others.

5/5 Stars

Important Book & Author Things

  • Where to purchase Subversive Jesus (Amazon, $11.40)
  • Author: Craig Greenfield
  • On the Web: Alongsiders
  • On Twitter:
  • Academic Webpage:
  • Editor:
  • Publisher: Zondervan
  • Pages: 182
  • Year: 2016
  • Audience:
  • Reading Level: High School
  • Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of this book via the BookLook bloggers review program in exchange for my fair and unbiased review.
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Part 2 of 3: What the Church Needs to be Preaching. Now.

In part one of this short series of posts, I talked about what I think the church needs to be doing now, namely, preparing the way for the coming of Jesus. By preparing the way, I mean: calling people to repentance. It may seem simple and, perhaps, a wee bit out of sync with all the fancy things that churches are told they ought to be doing, but it seems to me that everyone needs to repent–including the church. In fact, the apostle Peter himself wrote: "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).  Funny that Peter said this to the Church!

My point is, hopefully clearly, that there is always room for repentance and that perhaps this ought to form more our core message even today.

So there's that. John preached repentance. Jesus preached it. Paul preached it. Peter preached it. Clearly this is an important aspect of our preaching. But there's also another important part of our preaching that I want to explore in this short post. It has to do with the Kingdom.

For whatever reason, I can count on my one hand the number of sermons I have heard about the Kingdom in the local church. One sermon stands out because I was still in college at the time and didn't understand a single word the preacher preached. He preached from Matthew 13 and used Robert Farrar Capon's book The Parables of the Kingdom and its rather complicated (at the time for me) text to expound upon what Jesus was saying about the Kingdom. To this day I'm not sure I understand what the preacher said that Sunday or what Capon wrote in his book.

Scott McKnight has done a superior job teaching us about the Kingdom. His book Kingdom Conspiracy was a shockingly devastating book that nails it from the first page to the last. I took a lot from the book. Here's one thing McKnight wrote:

Kingdom mission flows from the kingdom story, and that story focuses on on God at work in history as God brings that history to its focal point in Jesus as King. That kingdom story, then, focuses on God as King through King Jesus. That story counters all other stories, especially stories that make humans kings and queens and thereby become stories of idolatry. […] This kingdom story tells the story of a kingdom; kingdom is a people, and that means kingdom mission is about forming the people of God. That is, the kingdom mission forms a kingdom people and that kingdom people in the present world is the church. This means kingdom mission is all about forming and enhancing local churches as expressions of the kingdom of God in this world. Which leads us back to a central reality of kingdom theology: there is no kingdom without a King. (123)

He says on the next page, which also happens to be the first page of chapter 8 "The King of the Kingdom", this: "Indeed, God is king, but God rules through his Son, the Messiah, the Lord, King Jesus." (125)

A little later he writes, "This ideal-king psalm [Psalm 72] leads to one of the most important observations about kings and kingdoms: kings determine what their kingdoms are like" (his emphasis, 128).

There is so much more I'd love to share, but this is a short post and you really should get your own copy of the book. But here's the point, from Mark 1:1: "The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus the Messiah." He then goes on to tell the story of Jesus: the things Jesus said, the things Jesus did, the places Jesus visited, the people Jesus interacted with, and the things Jesus preached. So, from the get go of Mark's Gospel, we, the readers, know that this is the Gospel (good news) about Jesus.

A few verses later, Mark tells us that John the baptist had been put in prison and that Jesus picked up where John left off. Mark wrote, "Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the Gospel of God. 'The time has come,' he said, 'the Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the Gospel'" (Mark 1:14-15). Well this is certainly interesting isn't it? Mark says the Gospel is about Jesus, the Messiah. Then John prepared the way for this Gospel to be preached. Then Jesus came on the scene preaching this same Gospel. And Mark uses the same word in all three places: 1:1, 14, and 15 all contain the word 'gospel' (or, as some translations say, 'good news.')

What are we to make of this? Well, if I may put a very sharp point on this, I will say: Jesus went around preaching…himself. The good news, or Gospel, is Jesus. Jesus preached that the kingdom of God was 'near' (interestingly, after he started preaching) and that because of this proximity, we ought to…wait for it…repent and believe the gospel! This is remarkable, isn't it?

Now, I think about this. The content of the Gospel is Jesus (of course this is fleshed out for us in several places; 1 Corinthians 15 comes to mind). It's what Jesus preached–and somehow this good news about Jesus, this Gospel, is related to this Kingdom of God he also proclaimed as near. We need to think about how, in our pulpits, we are going to make this connection both central and clear. We need to be telling a different story from our pulpits. We need to be constructing a different mission in our churches. We need to be preaching a different kingdom in our congregations. We need to be assuring the church and the not-church that Jesus is king, has received all authority in heaven and earth, and will be returning to claim his rightful place as King of this world.

We need to talk about the good news that Jesus is King. That Jesus rules.

In short: we need to be talking an awfully, significantly, larger amount about Jesus. We need to talk about the things Jesus did: he did miracles, he showed compassion, he demonstrated God's mercy, he loved unconditionally. And we need to talk about these things not as mere object lessons for how we can live better lives, but for the sake of themselves, for the sake of Jesus. In other words, these are the things Jesus did that characterize the Kingdom he said was near! Are we talking about them in our churches? Why do they matter? Why did Jesus do them? What do they signify or point to? What do they tell us about Jesus?

We need to talk about the things Jesus said. What did he say about himself? What did he say about the Kingdom? What did he say about humanity's need for repentance? What did he say about God's wrath, God's love, God's mercy, God's church, and the way of life he called us to? Jesus said his life was defined by the cross and resurrection. He told us that our way of life will be defined by taking up our cross, denying ourselves, and following him. Well, what are we saying about this life? What did Jesus say about the kingdoms of this world? What did he say about the end of exile, forgiveness of sins, and return to the Land? And again: we ought to talk about these things as part of the meta-narrative they are embedded in and not as if they were merely ways to help us live a better Americanized version of Christianity. We tell of the things Jesus said because Jesus said them. They are his words to us! We ought to listen to what he said. And we ought to preach them.

What story are we telling in the church? The world has all sorts of narratives out there floating around and many people are falling for them hook, line, sinker, and bobber. What story are we telling? Are we merely telling the story of mere salvation? Is it a mere join the club kind of thing? Or is it something greater, grander, better, bigger, badder, more magnificent and spectacular, and grandiose–and I'll run out of adjectives before I can run out of talking about the peculiar beauty and power that is the Kingdom of God Jesus was telling us about in his story. It's sad when our politicians speak more about Jesus than the church does. Jesus didn't call us to spend a lot of our efforts preaching theology–as important as that is–but he did tell us to spend a lot of time talking about himself. Jesus is the Way. Jesus is the Life. Jesus is living water. Jesus is the bread of Life. Jesus is truth. Jesus is the Resurrection. Jesus is I Am. That's who and what we ought to preach.

I wonder: are we selling people short by not telling them this story? It's a better story, isn't it? I'm not content with the stories of this world. I want a better story. I'm willing to bet there are other folks who feel the exact same way. So let's tell them the story of Jesus–for the sake of Jesus and nothing else. When people come to the church, they should hear the story of Jesus–for the sake of Jesus. I think Jesus is far less concerned about us leading 'good' lives here in America than he is about his kingdom being proclaimed and the good news about himself being heralded from our pulpits.

So the question remains: What ought the church to be preaching? Now? I think the answer is simple: Jesus.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

Just Jesus.

Read: Matthew 12; Exodus; 1 Kings 1-11

In his short little book simply titled Following Jesus, NT Wright waltzes through several New Testament books and explores their main themes and ideas. Among the books explored is the Gospel according to Matthew. Of Matthew he writes:

Matthew's whole gospel is, in fact, a Coronation Anthem. And the only sensible reason for going to church and hearing Matthew read is so that we can learn how to join in.

But who is being crowned King? Matthew gives him two names, and explains them both. He is to be called 'Jesus', which means 'YHWH saves'–because, says Matthew (1.21), he will save his people from their sins. That is, he will deliver his people from their exile, which was the punishment for their sin. He will be the King who will go down into exile with his people and lead them up and out the other side. And the real exile is not the Babylonian one. It is the satanic exile of sin and death.

The second name is 'Emmanuel', which means 'God with us' (1.23). Matthew has drawn together the two threads of Jewish expectation. First, God will save his people from their sins; yes, and he'll do it through the King, Jesus. Second, God himself will come and dwell with his people. Yes, says Matthew; he'll do that, too, through the King, Jesus. This book celebrates the coronation of the saviour, the God-with-us-King. (25)

Well, that's a wonderfully beautiful way of saying it. I've said it with several more words, to be sure, and so has Matthew. But Matthew is building his Gospel brick by brick (if I may change the metaphor) and will not be satisfied until he laws the final brick, the capstone to the entire edifice: the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. In the meantime there's a lot of ground to cover. This is where we meet chapter 12 of Matthew. And it is overwhelming.

One thought, governing two aspects of Israelite history, bookends this chapter and thus defines for us everything going on in the middle. First, in verse 6: "I tell you, something greater than the temple is here." This must have absolutely sent shock waves through the community. People just didn't talk about the temple that way, but Jesus did. I think perhaps he wanted them to keep the temple in perspective or maybe he wanted them to think about the temple in a new way–not so much as a place, but as a person in whom all that the temple offered was reserved and unleashed.

I suppose we are kind of that way with our own buildings now too. And the sad, sad reality is that in our modernish ways we tend to invest a lot more of our time and resources in our properties than we do in our people. And maybe Jesus was making a similar judgment about the people of that generation. The key is found in what he says: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. In other words, I care far more about people than I do about your rituals. They never escaped that trap. I wonder if the church of now will? Jesus said this. Jesus said that mercy is more important than ritual.

This is a message the church has yet to hear.

There's so much kingdom talk in this chapter. One thing that stands out is that now the agitation and aggression towards Jesus is heating up. Now the Pharisees are openly plotting to 'destroy' him. Now they are actively thinking that Jesus is a mere agent of the devil. Jesus keeps on going. He will continue to be a man of healing and hope. He will continue to be merciful to all who desire mercy. I guess Jesus' thinking is that the more people line up against him, the more merciful he will be. I mean seriously: how depraved does one have to be to plot against someone who heals another person? Yet that's what they did. Jesus heals, and he's in league with the devil. Jesus heals, and he's a threat to the power structures and must be destroyed. Jesus lets his people eat, and he's little more than the leader of a sinful band of degenerates.

No one says such things about the church. I suspect that's because we don't do these kinds of things that arouse the suspicions of others.

The chapter ends much as it began, in verse 42: "The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here." Solomon, man of wisdom and wives, was indeed a great king. He wasn't as great as his father, but he was special. Now Jesus says that even Solomon is eclipsed by Jesus.

Jesus is greater than the temple. He's greater than Solomon. He's greater than sacrifice; he's greater than wisdom. And he will keep pressing on doing good to people and preaching the kingdom of God.

You have to admire Jesus…even though 'admire' is a poorly chosen word. Something greater. And? This something greater says that what really matters is mercy. Jesus, the King, Emmanuel, the Son of Man, says that what matters for his disciples, for those who would follow is this: mercy.

NT Wright concludes his chapter on Matthew in Following Jesus with these words, "In the kingdom of the Son of Man, the power that counts is the power of love. It is the rule of Emmanuel, God-with-us." (31) Jesus says he is building a family of brothers, sisters, and mothers around himself. He is the center which holds us together and how does he hold us together? Mercy, love. And what is he saying to us? Be merciful. Love.

This is the something greater: the teaching, embodied in Jesus, that what matters here and now is mercy, not sacrifice.

Go and be merciful.

Read: Matthew 1; Romans 1:1-7; Hebrews 1; Isaiah 9:10-25

Advent is upon us and I am glad. It is an important time of the year for Christians to reflect upon the First Coming of Jesus and his subsequent ministry and, perhaps, to begin preparing ourselves for his Second Coming. You see, if the First Coming is any indication of what things will be like at his Second Coming, then I think perhaps we, Christians have a lot of preparations to make before his arrival.

He will come to us and we have to ask if we will be ready. I wonder if those Israelites who were living during his First Coming had any idea what was about to land on their doorstep? Think about it: it had been 400 years (give or take) since a prophet had been heard in the Beautiful Land. Then all of a sudden, John the Baptizer shows up and starts shaking the earth with his preaching about the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. What would you have done then? What will you do now if someone starts preaching just the same? Will there be anyone preparing the way of the Lord now?

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Matthew 1 is where we begin. We begin with the very beginning, but perhaps Matthew began his Gospel with the end in mind. That is, maybe he wrote chapter 1 while thinking long and hard about chapter 28. Again, I'm ahead of myself. Let's stick with chapter 1 and the genealogy of Jesus. At this point, I'll make four quick observations about the genealogy of Jesus as written by Matthew and then offer an 'application' (since that's what we do.)

First, it's the last genealogy in our Bible. That's strange. Sort of. But there it is. There are genealogies all over the place in the Older Testament, but in the New Testament, we see those Old Testament genealogies (in Matthew and Luke) summed up in Jesus. At the name of Jesus, the genealogy of Israel stops (so to speak) and a new family line begins (see Mark 3:31-35). What we see is a family line from Abraham to David to Jesus. That's important. How can we be a part of Jesus' family? Who are the children of Jesus?

Second, the Lord used an eclectic group of people to bring about the fulfillment of the promises he made to Abraham, David, and others. If you are familiar with the Older Testament, you will see what I mean when you read through and see names like Judah, David, Uriah, Rahab, and others. Bad behavior and poor decisions were not limited to the women included in this genealogy. There are some terribly sketchy men too. Nevertheless, God used all of them to bring about his history, to bring about his plans. And not a single one of these sketchy people thwarted God's plans. So despite the worst intentions of this current world, I doubt seriously anyone alive or dead now can either.

Third, why does Matthew begin his Gospel with a genealogy? Isn't there a better way to begin telling a story about someone so important? Well, perhaps. I guess. But here's the point: not only is Matthew saying that the the family of Israel finds its terminus in Jesus and that beginning with Jesus a new history is taking shape, but he is also saying that the history of Israel led up to and culminated in the birth of Jesus–Immanuel (see Isaiah 9). In other words: Jesus is the whole point of Israel's history (see Luke 24:13-35, 44-49;  John 5:39-47). History terminates and begins in Jesus. Why begin this way? Well, I think it's because it points to the purpose of Matthew's telling of the Gospel story and what you and I should understand as his intentions (I explore this in the next paragraph).

Fourth, two prominent names are found in the genealogy: Abraham and David. Abraham is mentioned three times; David five. On the one hand, Matthew is reminding us of the promise that the Lord made to Abraham especially in Genesis 12–that through Abraham the Lord would bless all nations. Matthew is saying that now, in Jesus, God is bringing that promise to bear upon the world. And isn't this what Jesus says in Matthew 28: Go, make disciples of all nations.  The reference is undeniable. Then there's David, mentioned five times in the genealogy and what's more is that the genealogy is laid out in such a way (notice that in verse 17 we are told 14, 14, 14) that we are to think about David, the great King of Israel. (David's name, using a form of Hebrew numerology called 'gematria', is equivalent to the number 14, D=4, V=6, D=4; DVD=14; they had no vowels). The point is simply this: this is the genealogy of the coming King, the promise made to David that his heir would always sit on the throne of Israel. That's the point. Not only is Jesus the fulfillment of promises to Abraham, but also to David. Verse 1, Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham. Interestingly enough, this is very much the way Paul the apostle begins the letter to the Romans.

So what? Why is all of this important, if it is important? Why should we care? We should care because the last name in the genealogy is Jesus, called Messiah, called Immanuel. Three things. It matters because Matthew is telling his readers: you need to pay attention to this story of Jesus because in him is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham; in him is the fulfillment of the promise to David; and in him is the fulfillment of the promise to the Prophets. He is saying: this story is not about you, or Israel, or anyone else. It's a story about Jesus and everything I'm about to tell you points to Him as the fulfillment of the ages.

Like I said, Matthew begins with the end in mind. Immanuel means 'God with us.' The story ends in Matthew 28 with Jesus promising never to 'leave us or forsake us.' It is comforting to know that whatever we face here and now, we are not alone. When we go forth and invite people into the family of Jesus, when we help continue his family line of mothers, and brothers, and sisters, he is with us. Always.

Finally, if this is what his First Coming was about, how much more is this what his Second Coming will be about also? If the first coming was about announcing a Messiah, a King, who will save his people from their sins, then how much more will his second coming be his very enthronement and final rescue of those people he saved?

So if this is a story of Jesus that we should pay attention to, then what are things Jesus did in his story that we should pay attention to? What kind of a Messiah was he? What kind of a king was he? And if we are members of his family, what sort of offspring are we supposed to be in light of all this?

In his book Simply Jesus, professor Tom Wright lays out for his readers his case that the Bible is, ultimately, a book about Jesus.

“So if, as the Jewish people believed, they were the key element in God’s global rescue operation, it was doubly frustrating, doubly puzzling, and doubly challenging that the Jews’ own national life had itself been in such a mess for so long. By the time Jesus went about Galilee telling people that God was now in charge, it was close to six hundred years since Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians, the greatest superpower of the time. And though many of the Jews had come back from exile in Babylon and had even rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem, they knew things weren’t right yet. One pagan nation after another took charge, ruling the Middle East in its own way.”

In particular, the Jewish people believe that the Temple was where their God was supposed to live. The Temple was the place on earth where ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’ actually met. They saw ‘heaven’ as God’s space and ‘earth’ as our space, the created order as we know it, and they believed that the Temple was the one spot on earth where the two overlapped. But the Temple seemed empty. God hadn’t come back.

So where did the hope come from? How on earth do you sustain hope over more than half a millennium, while you’re watching one regime after another come and go, some promising better things, but all letting you down in the end? How can you go on believing, from generation to generation, that one day God will come and take charge?

Answer: you tell the story, you sing the songs, and you keep celebrating God’s victory, even though it keeps on not happening….This is the story of the Exodus…This is the story Jesus’s hearers would have remembered when they heard him talking about God taking charge at last….When he was talking about God taking charge, he was talking about a new Exodus. (NT Wright, Simply Jesus, chapter 6)

He makes similar, and yet somewhat concluding comments, in another book How God Became King:

That is to say, when Jesus died on the cross he was winning the victory over ‘the rulers and authorities’ who have carved up this world in their own violent and destructive way. The establishment of God’s kingdom means the dethroning of the world’s kingdoms, not in order to replace them with another one of basically the same sort (one that makes its way through superior force of arms), but in order to replace it with one whose power is the power of the servant and whose strength is in the strength of love.

…Jesus, after all, has come to Jerusalem and found the Temple no longer the place where heaven and earth do business, but the place where mammon and violence are reigning unchecked, colluding with Caesar’s rule. Jesus himself, the evangelists are saying, is now the place where heaven and earth come together, and the events in which this happens supremely is the crucifixion itself. The cross is to be the victory of the ‘son of man,’ the Messiah, over the monsters; the victory of God’s kingdom over the world’s kingdoms; the victory of God himself over all the powers, human and suprahuman, that have all usurped God’s rule over the world. Theocracy, genuine Israel-style theocracy, will occur only when the other ‘lords’ have been overthrown.—205-206

So we live in a world much like the world of the Israelites: Fractured, chaotic, rising powers and falling powers, messiah’s everywhere, promises for luxury, means to ends, terrorists, power, influence, intrigue, Hollywood, and celebrity. There’s also the constant bombardment of sin and the war against the flesh.

The church often does its best to imitate and mirror the world and so we do silly things like publicly declare our political affinities on Facebook and Twitter. And we rant (self?) righteously about the influx of Syrian refugees because clearly Jesus told us to be more careful about our own safety than about who we love. And we are, of course, concerned about salvation—our own, to be sure.

This is the world. And this is the church. We keep trying to wrangle power unto ourselves or sell ourselves to the ones we think offer us the best chance of being safe or whom we think we will share their power with us so we can continue to be the church and American. We do this because for some strange reason we have allowed ourselves to think that being an American is more important than being a Jesus follower. We think loving the right people is more important than loving all people. We think as long as I am blessed I can be thankful. We, even the church, keep pointing to the American Dream and American Government as the solution to the world’s woes.

The Bible steadfastly points to Jesus, the Messiah, the Lord, the King as the solution. It’s not without significance that while the world points to everything but Jesus as the fix to what ails us, Jesus continually said: I. Am. The way.

And for the apostles, writes Scot McKnight, “it was all about King Jesus.”

_________________

So, Thanksgiving. This is what I was asked to speak about today because we are approaching that time of the year when we make a point to be thankful. It is that time when we, Americans, gather together with family and friends and enjoy the fruit of our labor and the company of our people.

It’s also the time when we will forget about what really makes us human because we will spend some time the day after Thanksgiving being thankful for nothing except that which is green and or plastic.

But I digress. I want this sermon to be uplifting to you and I’d like to answer a specific question: for what can we, the church, be thankful? Or maybe I should phrase it this way: What can I say to you this morning that will sustain your hope and enable you to give thanksgiving in the midst of all that we see in our world—all the violence, hate, death perpetuated as it is by the leaders of this world.

If you pay any attention to things at all then you know full well that the world is not quite happy right now. There’s a lot of grumbling and complaining and fighting and war and terror and politics and disease and confusion and tumult and chaos. Everybody is fighting something or someone somewhere. It’s all very disheartening.

Everyone is seeking power.

I see nation rising up against nation. I see brothers rising up against sisters. I see children rebelling against their parents. I see Republican Americans rising up against Democrat Americans. I see one Christian denomination rising up against another Christian denomination. It’s all very disheartening.

It’s all very stupid. Especially when the church imitates it.

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Grace. "It's a name for a girl" (U2). Grace falls all over us and colors us clean. Grace marks as children of the living God. Grace prevails upon us when we have no clue who we are, what we are doing, or where we are going. Grace guides, teaches, sustains, and reveals to us the mystery of God. All we need to know is found in grace–charis.

And why not? While all the other gods of this world demand from us, Jesus gives to us. Grace enlivens the heart and enlightens the eyes. Grace creates space inside of the void of our selfish and survivalist existence and then fills the vacuum. Then slowly it begins to expand like a universe and what started as a mere pinpoint of light eventually has expanded into a galaxy full of light and life within us. We are consumed. We are lost and found again in grace. We are destroyed and made by Grace.

Grace is our peace. Grace is a thought we can never lose, yet we can never track it down. We can scarcely pin down and yet it never lets us go. Never let me go. Never let us go. Let your grace conquer the abyss of wickedness that swims and swirls in our hearts and minds. Dear Father replace our inclination to evil with a bent towards your mercy and love and forgiveness.

Grace like rain. Grace like a waterfall. Grace like an ocean. These are all ways various artists have spoken or sung about grace. It's always about drowning, being overwhelmed by a fluid density that we cannot stand up under: we are lost, we are drown, we are suffocated, we are consumed and of us there is nothing left when grace is finished. Can we overstate the case for grace? Can we condense grace to a single point? Can we contain grace or keep it from expanding in our lives until it replaces all of us we hate and even bleeds into the lives of others? I think not.

If grace once infects us, we can neither contain nor control its growth. It grows and spreads with a rapidity we cannot imagine or believe. We cannot stand before the flood, the rushing tidal wave of forgiveness, mercy and love. Once we see it, it's too late. Grace utterly wrecks and makes us less useful to the world of self-interests and more useful to the ministry of Jesus.

And we cannot stand before God any longer without fear and trembling once grace has taken over our lives. So with reckless abandon we hurl ourselves and are ourselves hurled into a broken world where the Father invites us to trust and believe and hope despite all that speaks against such things. We are asked to live as though his grace is all we will ever need–it is sufficient–and that it will somehow sustain us now and forever come hell or high water.

We need grace just to live in grace.

I came across a startling idea when reading John's Gospel and it has to do with greatness or greater. Great. Greater. Greatest. We have fun ways of delineating hierarchy in the English language. I always enjoy seeing words like 'greater' in a text because it makes me wonder what's just 'great.'

It happens in John's Gospel on more than one occasion. I first saw it in chapter 1:51 when Jesus said that Nathanael would 'see greater things' than Jesus merely seeing him sitting under a fig tree. I saw it again in chapter 4 when Jesus was talking with a woman in Samaria (4:12) and in a discourse by Jesus in chapter 5 (20, 36), the latter of which Jesus says, "I have testimony greater than that of John." In chapter 8 someone asked Jesus if he is 'greater than Abraham' (8:53).

Jesus changes the perspective in chapter 10 when he notes for us that the Father..'is greater than all.' He tells his disciples in chapter 15:13 that there is no 'greater love' than to lay down your life for a friend and that 'servants are not greater than their masters' (15:20). Just before all this in chapter 14 Jesus said something interesting about those who follow him: "I tell you, all who have faith in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father" (14:12).

It's all very exciting. I should note that in each of those verses I cited Jesus used the same word for 'greater.' I don't know if that means anything in particular or not, but I note it simply to point out that Jesus was concerned about a hierarchy of people in the God-scheme of things: we rank somewhere far below Abraham, Jacob, John the Baptizer, Jesus, and the Father. Yet Jesus also says that because he is going to the Father we will do greater things than these. I'm not sure what the referent is for 'these', but it's at least interesting to know that Jesus is thinking about us: "All who have faith in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these…" (14:12).

Well, that's exciting isn't it? We will do greater things. Greater things. Well, there's at least one other reference to 'greater' in John's Gospel that startles us back to reality–and we probably need that startling because it's very easy to start thinking like gods when we read that we will do greater things than these. It comes from, interestingly enough, from the mouth of John the Baptizer: "He must become greater; I must become less" (3:30).

I don't think we ought to pursue greatness. Maybe our greatness comes when we recognize that we ought to be lesser. Maybe we get too concerned about greatness. Maybe we need to focus on shrinking and when we do the greatness of the things we do will become more evident to the world around us. Until then, it's all so much selfish ambition.

I will be honest: I struggle with prayer. Eugene Peterson wrote in one of his books that's quite OK if we struggle and that when we don't have words the Holy Spirit prays for us. Many people struggle, yet for some reason I find little comfort in that. For some reason this is the one area of my life where I take little comfort in the company that loves my misery. I wish, I wish I had the fortitude and strength to pray like David or Paul.

Luke's Gospel begins and ends with prayer–that is, if prayer is defined as talking to or responding to God. The first prayer (1:38) is Mary's: "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me according to your word." And the last prayer is either that of Jesus (24:30) and is simply a matter of giving thanks or it is that of the disciples and is a matter of worship (24:52). Maybe it's both.  Scattered throughout Luke's Gospel are other prayers–important prayers of people like Zechariah, Angels, Jesus. Prayers are sometimes rather long and drawn out (Luke 1:68-79) and other times prayers are short, simple phrases like, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me" (Luke 18:38). Sometimes they are utterly confessional (Luke 18:13; "God, have mercy on me, a sinner"), and other times utterly desperate, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Luke 23:42).

There's more. Sometimes when I think about it I realize that, given these examples, I pray a lot more than I think. Prayer need not be so formal–with all the hand folding, head bowing, and knee dropping. Prayer is not something we need to fear. I confess that I struggle because I'm not like those prayer warriors we read about in books on spiritual disciplines–you know the ones who say they wake up at four AM and pray for three hours before they eat breakfast, read the paper, shave, use the toilet, and go to work. Nah, that's not so much me.

I like these simple prayers I see in the Gospels–short little quiet prayers that demonstrate to God my minute by minute dependence or at least serve to remind me that I am no island. Even when Jesus taught his disciples to pray the prayer he used is a skeleton: basic, simple, and we have mostly memorized it (Luke 11:2-4). Jesus simply says for us to ask, seek, and knock. I find myself pounding on his door a lot–sometimes the hand is bloodied from so much rapping on the oak–yet like the mighty widow we persist (Luke 18:1-8).

I try not to be afraid of praying. I don't want to disappoint the Lord who wants us to pray. So the other day before I did my reading for the day, I wrote out my prayer. They are never long and this was true on that day. Yet I was feeling especially thankful for the simple things in life so I prayed: Dear Lord, thank you for this delicious Lender's Bagel I'm about to eat.

"So Dark is our situation that God Himself must enter and occupy it in order that it may be light. We cannot fully understand the Christian 'God with us' without the greatest astonishment at the glory of the divine grace and the greatest horror at our own plight."–Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, The Doctrine of Reconciliation, IV.1, p 13

There are lonely times in life, times when we don't understand why things are the way they are, times when we do not understand why God is so silent, times when we feel like the presence of God is galaxies away–or question whether he exists at all. The Psalmists were not afraid to ask such questions or feel such feelings. I am learning not to be afraid to ask the same questions, to use the words of the Psalms to express what I cannot otherwise express. I mean, God forbid a god-fearing Evangelical Christian ever dare to question whether or not God is 'there.'

Even an uncareful reading of the Psalms brings us back to reality. Seriously, why would the Psalmist say something like 'come quickly, Lord, to help me' (Psalm 40:13) if, in fact, God were already there helping? Surely the Psalmist was feeling the full of weight, or lack thereof, of the theological vacuum: Where was God in my time of need, in my darkest hour, when others were running roughshod all over my name, reputation, family, and career? Why does the Psalmist have to 'wait patiently' (40:1) for the Lord if the Lord is already there and not, as it were, making sure things were going well on another planet fully of people?

That's just one Psalm. Believe me, if you haven't read them, there are others. Many others that utter the same audacious things: Where is God when I need him most? This is how we can talk to God who is 'with us.' 

Growing up in the church we are taught that reverence for God is important (it is!) and that we should whisper our prayers and be careful what we say to God. We should have our heads down and hands folded, bowing, as it were. I think maybe we should learn to pray from the ancient Hebrews who wrote the Psalms: they were loud, audacious, fish-shaking, crying, weeping, moaning, complaining, shouting, worried, fearful, and honest with God. They held nothing back from him at all.

So, Matthew's Gospel and God with us. It starts and ends the same way, not with someone asking 'where are you God?' but with someone noting or telling us that 'God is with us' (1:23, 28:20) and that he has promised never to leave us. It is God who came into this space–not merely to inhabit space, but to walk with us, among us, and beside us. To be near us, is part of the goal. 'God with us' when Mary and Joseph were running all over the earth to protect that very God from the likes of humanity that he came to save.

 

MarkTitle: Mark

Author: RC Sproul

Publisher: Reformation Trust Publishing

Date: December 12, 2011

Pages: (e-pub version): 434

[The FCC has made it perfectly clear that if I do not abide by their rules, then someone may end up in trouble one way or another. So I am advised to tell you that I received this copy of Mark (e-book) for free from Ligonier Ministries in exchange for my unbiased review. I was in no way instructed to write a favorable review, just a fair one. There you go.]

 I haven't read through a commentary for fun for a long time. Back when I was preaching full-time, I devoured commentaries the way some folks devour the daily paper. Thus it took me a little longer to get through this book than I had originally intended.

I read through this commentary at the same time I have been working my way back into a daily habit of Scripture reading. So in the course of reading this commentary, I read the Psalms twice and Proverbs once. They were a nice complement to one another and I found that hearing the voice of the Psalmists echoed in Mark was a wonderful addition to my daily reading regimen.

This commentary was a good read for me as I work my way slowly back into theological reading. It was not a terribly complicated book to read. It was not overly-scholarly. Sproul focused on a more-or-less verse by verse commentary while offering the occasional theological excursus when he felt it necessary–most memorable was the excursus on Jesus' temptation in Gethsamane. It is not difficult to discern Sproul's theological bent towards Reformed theology in the commentary and this, at times, made the book terribly frustrating to read.

These things noted, this is actually my main gripe with the book. There was a time when the verse by verse commentary was especially useful, but I'm not inclined to think that way any longer. In my opinion, the verse by verse format in this commentary caused Sproul to miss what I think is the main point of Mark's Gospel as literature, as gospel, precisely because he had already committed himself to a theological perspective that guided his exegesis: Mark is writing to make a point, a point that Sproul believes is, in one way or another, to 'prove' the divinity of Jesus. So there are times when Jesus is referred to as the 'Son of God' (notably Mark 1:1 & 15:39 which form a rather nice 'sandwich' to the book as a whole), but it is important to ask what this might mean. What does 'son of God' mean in the Bible and how does that inform our understanding of Mark's theological point?

Surely Jesus is the God of Israel in the sense of being somehow divine–whatever that might mean–and there are times when I think Sproul did an absolutely masterful job of connecting the text with the Hebrew Scriptures in order to show the reader how Mark makes this clear (I'm think in particular of the walking on water episode in Mark 6:45-52 & the scene where Jesus enters Jerusalem in Mark 11:1-11). So I'm not disputing that for a minute; however, I do not think that is necessarily the point that Mark is trying to make in the Gospel as a whole. [Sproul wrote, "Remember, Mark has been at pains to demonstrate to Gentiles that Jesus is the divine Son of God" (214). I just do not think that Mark is at pains about this at all as much as he is at pains to do something different.]

It seems to me that Mark's point is made clearly in 1:1 & 15:39: Jesus is the Son of God. The question is, however, one of how we understand that phrase. In the Hebrew Scriptures, 'son of God' is a phrase that is given to the King of Israel (see especially Psalm 2). So what Mark does is this: he tells us in verse 1 that Jesus is Messiah (the anointed one, the King), the Son of God. Then he goes about showing us all throughout his Gospel what that means, how people do not get it (even his own family 3:20-34), how they misunderstand it, how they try to misappropriate his power, and what being King really means–what it means for God's power to be unleashed on earth (see Mark 3:23-29). Jesus in turn, goes into hiding, tells demons to be quiet, tells people not to say anything about his power, and is crucified after refusing to defend himself against charges brought against him. Yet it is here, after he dies death on a cross, that one person says something about Jesus that he is not rebuked for: "Surely this man was the Son of God."

The one place where we are truly allowed to hear a confession of who Jesus is, is while he is on the cross. It is there he was enthroned. And there he does not tell the centurion to keep quiet. It is this point which I wish Dr Sproul had made more clear to his readers because I think this is Mark's point: Here is our King! Here is our God! Here is the one who came to bring us back to life! He is the One! He is Jesus! (that's a David Crowder Band lyric). Sproul touches on this periodically, but in no way sustains this throughout his commentary which is unfortunate. (Note the heavy iron in chapter 15 verses 2, 9, 12, 17-20, 26, 32, 43.)

I have a couple other complaints which are minor by comparison with what preceded. First, I dislike that there were any footnotes or end notes of any kind. Sproul frequently says things like 'a commentator' or 'an author' or 'I once heard a speaker' and fails to give us any point of reference. This is bothersome. I get that the book is not a commentary for scholars, but there are some who read it who would like more information about who is it that he is interacting with on various pages.

Second, he tells too many stories about himself. I'll leave it at that. I make this complaint in nearly every book I review because if I have learned anything about being in ministry it is this: don't make yourself look good and nearly every story Sproul tells in this book makes himself look good. Third, there's way too much Reformed Theology. Mark certainly didn't write his commentary to explain the finer points of Drs Calvin and Luther and seeing such theological perspectives in Mark seems far more imposed than exposed.

Finally, I wish he had spent less time taking us to the other Gospels to make a point. Mark is sufficient in an of itself and sometimes, frankly, Mark's point is obscured when we bring in material from other Gospels (Matthew, Luke, and John). It's not that such a practice is wrong or evil, it's just that Mark has plenty to say on his own and he says it well on his own. Tying Mark together as one piece of literature, written to it's own audience, for its own sake seems to me a far better way to understand the book than trying create a bigger picture by bringing in other facts that Mark left out of his work. Maybe he left them out for a reason.

What I enjoyed most about this book was that Sproul makes some rather brilliant observations about the text that are easily overlooked if one is not careful. I will note just a few that I found especially wonderful.

I very much like how Sproul drew from the Old Testament to make points about such passages in Mark, such as the parable of the sower (Mark 4). I think his point about compassion when Jesus exercised demons from a man named Legion is brilliant, "…Jesus was not displaying a lack of compassion; he was exercising proper compassion. He was willing to sacrifice two thousand pigs, as valuable as they were, to rescue the demon-possessed man" (105). Well, of course! Folks often accuse Christians of being anything but compassionate–probably because we too often align ourselves politically with those who wish to exploit and terrorize the poor, but here Jesus gives us a fine example of compassion and forces us to ask the question of ourselves: just what are we willing to sacrifice in order to save one life? (Which was a nice question asked in the film Schindler's List.) And of course Jesus did what no one else could do or wanted to do: he saved the man!

I have already mentioned the brilliant points he makes when Jesus walks on the water and 'is about to pass them by' being an echo of the story of Moses who was hidden in the rocks when God passed by and the story of Jesus entering the temple being an echo of the Ezekiel story where the Spirit of God left the temple by stages. He also makes observations about the text that I find brilliant. For example, a young man runs up to Jesus with an important question (10:17-31) and Sproul notes how, at the end of the story, the man slowly walks away. Finally, his interpretation of the Bartimaeus story (10:35-52) and its juxtaposition with the request of James and John to sit right and left of Jesus is spot on (274).

Another valuable aspect of this commentary is the historical background Sproul provides for his readers at various points in the text. This historical background is necessary and vital for understanding such things as the Triumphal Entry, Gehenna, and the character of Pharisees and Saducees and Scribes among others. I am especially fond of the point that he made on page 310: "First, the Pharisees stressed the sovereignty of God. They were the Augustinians and Calvinists of their day." It made me smile, just a bit, when Dr Sproul, almost certainly inadvertently, announced that the Calvinists of our day were the Pharisees of Jesus' day. Who would have guessed. 🙂

Still, it took until page 423 for Sproul to rightly direct our attention to the point Mark had been making all along and even then it is made from a portion of Mark that is disputed as original to the text. Nevertheless, I agree with Sproul

Second, we see the session of Jesus. His reign in power at the right hand of the Father….This ministry flows out of his ascension and coronation. He is reigning as King of kings and Lord of lords, governing every event in this world, so that there are no maverick molecules (423).

There's nothing in this book that is so dangerous it will cause anyone to wobble in faith and, on the contrary, I think if an unbeliever reads it they might be persuaded to have faith in Jesus. Believers alike will be edified, as I was, and probably be even hungrier for more of the Scripture after reading it.

It's not a weighty book, but that is no insult. It is a book helpful for getting people involved in the Scripture and giving them a rudimentary understanding of what was happening. It is excellent devotional reading and perhaps for sermon preparation as much of the time it reads like short sermons that were written and preached, and that's fine too. I'm glad there were times at the end of chapters when Sproul challenged my faith and, in light of what Scripture said, forced me to come to grips with aspects of my life that were in contradiction to the Word of God.

4/5 Stars

DDD

Author: Joshua Harris

Title: Dug Down Deep

Pages: 232; +study guide & endnotes

(study guide written by Thomas Womack)

Publisher: Multnomah Books

Date: 2010, 2011

 I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for my review by Waterbrook/Multnomah Publishing

"A religious person is trying to put God in their debt through hard work…A Christian knows they are in debt to God; it's an absolute miracle…"–Tim KellerBeholding the Love of God sermon.

When I read any book written by a Christian the very first thing I pay attention to, regardless of who wrote it or what the subject matter is, is how long it takes for grace to make an appearance. I literally count how many pages it takes for the author to use the word, talk about it, expound upon it, and associate it with the theological point of view from which he/she is writing. In this way, I learn pretty much all I need to know about the author, the book, and the subject matter–especially if said book is a book of theology as Dug Down Deep in fact is. 

In the case of Dug Down Deep it took 12 introductory pages (introduction, TOC, etc) and 25 pages for grace to make an appearance and then only because someone else 'talked about grace, sin…' I didn't really get to bite into grace until page 27 when Mr Harris states, "The deeper I delved into Christian doctrine, the more I saw that the good news of salvation by grace alone in Jesus, who died for sin–the Gospel–was the main message of the whole Bible" (27). Sad to say that it takes a while for grace to get back into the book with any substance. I think for me it was about page 72 and then again around page 124 where we get a less than compelling definition of grace from another author. To be sure, he finishes strong, but by then I had wondered if it was too late. 

I sensed in this book that Harris was having trouble letting grace outweigh doctrinal orthodoxy–as if doctrinal orthodoxy is our salvation. I do get it: doctrine matters, but it is in no way as vital as God's grace: "The message of Christian orthodoxy isn't that I'm right and someone else is wrong. It's that I am wrong and yet God is filled with grace" (231). If that's true, why did we need this book? Because at the end of the day, it's all about grace since not one single human who has ever lived will get it 100% right. So again I ask: whose orthodoxy matters?

None of this is to say that I think Joshua Harris is preaching a gospel of works salvation. I don't think he is, but there are times when he treads the waters a little too carelessly. For example, he writes, "Being a Christian means being a person who labors to establish his beliefs, his dreams, his choices, his very view of the world on the truth of who Jesus is and what he has accomplished–a Christian who cares about truth, who cares about sound doctrine" (19). It is all to easy to point to the apostle Paul's thought that we should 'work out our faith with fear and trembling' (Philippians 2:12-13) to justify such sentiments, but I'm not buying it at all. He spend more time talking about what we do in the first 3 chapters than he does talking about what God does. 

It may be implied, but it seems to me that the weak might miss it. I'm glad that Harris learned theological words like propitiation, sovereignty, and justification (23). But what about grace? What I wanted, what I kept hoping for, was more of Harris exorting us to seek Jesus instead of theological propositions: "Pursuing orthodoxy and sound doctrine has to begin with a heart drawing close to Jesus–not to a theological system, denomination, or book" (30). Here I agree 100%! Sadly this is not always how the book came together for me. I wanted an explosion of grace to flood the pages, but aside from a few spring showers, I was left dry. I wanted a deluge of theological propositions about God's grace to fill every page, but most of the time it was merely a Wadi.

In the first chapter, My Rumspringa, he writes, "Theology matters, but if we get it wrong, then our whole life will be wrong" (11). He then spends a lot time time (about 220 pages of time) telling his readers that "theology, doctrine, and orthodoxy matter because God is real, and he has acted in our world, and his actions have meaning today and for all eternity" (15). And I just do not know if this is true. Can I be wrong at one point of theology and get my whole life upside down? I think Harris is wrong about tongue speaking; he thinks I'm wrong. Who is to say who is holding the orthodox position? Does it matter? 

There is a nagging thought tthat kept creeping up on the pages while I read: Whose theology? 

I have no problem accepting that orthodoxy matters. I have no problem accepting that 'right theology' matters. I have very little problem with most of the ideas Harris expounds upon in this book–that is, they are basic enough theological ideas that, with the exception of a few minor points here and there, most Christians will agree with him. But spare me the idea that Biblical Theology matters if you are going to begin by reciting one of the creeds (14). Creeds are neither theology nor orthodoxy. 

There is, on the other hand, a lot to like about this book. It is, in fact, easy to read and filled with happy little anecdotes. Personally, I disliked chapter 7 (How Jesus Saved Gregg Eugene Harris) and I thought chapter 9 (I Believe in the Holy Spirit) was a bit condescending, but for the most part Harris is self-effacing and humorous (maybe more than I think) and takes a stab at himself ever so often for his blunders and failures. It was interesting to follow his early paths where he 'learned to dig' and see what he came up with out of the dirt. Yet he has led a life of theological and pastoral privilege and sometimes I think his lack of experience outside the pastoral walls clouds his view of what in the dirt theology really is. 

Second, even though there are times when I disagree with Harris profoundly (I'd like to see one passage of Scripture that tells us baptism is merely the entry point into the church, 204), I do believe he is grounded in Scipture and has a high view of it. He quotes it a lot and at times takes a page or two to expound it. I wish his theology sprung more from the Bible than the collected works of Grudem, Calvin, Stott, and Mahaney–but isn't that just the point? When I ask "Whose Theology?" I am directly pointing here to this point: even Harris is the product of a mixture of theological propositions and ideas–all of whom disagree with one another at some point. 

So when I ask the question "Whose theology?" I am kind of asking "What is orthodoxy?" This leads into my third positive point: The last chapter is the best. "I am wrong, but through faith in Jesus, I can be made right before a holy God" (231). Because of Jesus. Because of Grace. 

I rate this book 3/5 stars. It will be helpful for new Christians, but I think it will leave a more mature audience wanting. 

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“To believe in Jesus in the Christian sense means not less than trusting him utterly as the One who has borne our sin in his own body on the tree, as the One whose life and death and resurrection, offered up in our place, has reconciled us to God.”

–DA Carson, Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, 29

 

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Friends,

During Lent, I am preaching a series of sermons on the essential unity and oneness of the church, forged in the cross of Christ. I will be providing excerpts of those sermons here and also links back to my box.net account where they might downloaded in full. The sermons are drawn from 1 Corinthians. These sermons are born also out of the experiences of my current congregation and include historical references to the Restoration Movement church of which I am a member. The congregation is also reading a book called Together Again by Bob Russell and Rick Atchley. Thanks for stopping by. May you be blessed in the Lord’s Word. I will update this post each week. jerry

1. A Common Plea, 1 Corinthians 1:10-17

The problem is easily identifiable. People. People were the problem at Corinth. Their quarrels and schisms were nothing more than power plays, power grabs. They were the human attempts to accomplish something in the church that could not be accomplished by the means of power. Paul lays this out for the reader in verses 10-12. People were elevating other people over other people. It became a matter of territory, a war cry of ‘my guy is better than your guy’ or ‘my guy has more authority than your guy’ or, worse, ‘I was baptized by a guy who is far superior than the guy who baptized you.’ Paul is quick to the draw: Such an attitude in the church is wrong.

There were people who were trying to construct a church community on the basis of externals. In this case they were trying to build upon the idea that baptism by one person was more important than baptism by another. What ended up happening? Well, what happened was certainly not the betterment of the church, the growth of the church, the expansion of the kingdom, or the filling up of the cross. All these external building blocks did was contribute fuel to the quarreling and divisions that were and had formed in the congregation.

What we see here is a stark, cold reality. There will be times when we have issues in the church that cause us discomfort and pain. There will be times in the body when we, let’s not sugarcoat it: There will be times when we fight. There will be times when we simply do not get along. The apostle wisely confronts the issue right out of the box: I hear there are divisions among you. This shall not be because quarrels and divisions never get the church or those involved what they think they want or what they hope: power.

2. A Common Savior, 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5

You and I, we have this in common. We are bound together under the weakness of a foolish message, a foolish word. This is what he is saying here. One group looks for signs and wonders; another group looks for wisdom; but all that we have to offer is what God gave us: Christ Jesus crucified. This word is a stumbling block to some; it is foolishness to others; but this is all we have. We cannot preach or proclaim something we have not been given. (And as a side note, I would say that we need not offer anything else. The Gospel has more than enough to offend everyone.)

And this is the confounding part of our message: It is not our message. It is God’s message. It is his word to us and this is why Paul cannot speak of anything else: He has nothing else to say. This message goes out to the world and it draws in all the misfits and losers. “Think of what you were when you were called.” We were called. We were called. Then it says this: “God chose…” God did! Thank God that he did the choosing! He chose all the weak, broken, battered, un-things. He chose the despised things and gathered them all up and together he did this: “Because of Him you are in Christ Jesus.”

And this is the message: It is the same for everyone. We preach Christ crucified because we cannot preach anything else. We are bound together in this common Word, by this common Savior. We preach Christ crucified and some will stumble, others will scoff, but all will be called. But we have only one message to proclaim

3. A Common Truth, 1 Corinthians 2:6-16

Apart from the Spirit of God there is no communication between Gospel and human. Apart from the Spirit of God there is no growth into maturity. Without the Spirit of God the very truth we claim to have in common is incomprehensible. But for all this, Paul writes, ‘we have the mind of Christ.’ We. We. We have the mind of Christ. The Spirit Paul said earlier who searches the mind of God and reveals his thoughts to us is in us and has revealed to us the mind of Christ. This is the Spirit in us. In We.

Is it any wonder that the apostle is frustrated with this church? Paul writes that we have the very mind of God, revealed to us by the Holy Spirit of God, the deepest mysteries of the heavens are ours in Christ, it is the power unto salvation…and we? We are bound together in Christ and by His Spirit. Those who love God are those who have been brought into fellowship and who have received the wisdom of God as revealed in the cross of Christ…and we?  Those who have submitted and acted unto the obedience of the message spoken have understood the deep things of God, have heard things spoken that the wisest and most advanced among the human race cannot fathom, are those who are among the wisest fools on the planet…and we?

“There are quarrels among you.”

And do you think the apostle was disappointed? And do you think God is?

4.  A Common Gospel, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Third, see the grace of the Gospel (8-9). The grace of the Gospel is that it may accept us as we are, but it doesn’t leave us that way. This is what he said in the sixth chapter: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Yes we might sing ‘Just as I am’ but our song of triumph is something more like, ‘He’s changing me.’ Takes us from persecutors of the church and makes us into promoters of the church.

5.  A Common Mission, 1 Corinthians 3:1-23

Why would nations want to flow to a place that is ravaged by the same problems that men in the flesh are ravaged by? We can go anywhere for quarrels and jealousy and division. Where can people go for unity, oneness, and brotherhood?

We are the temple of God which means that we are the habitation of the Holy Trinity—the essence and completeness and perfection of Unity and essential oneness. So when we are jealous and when we quarrel do we seriously consider God among us? God in us? And when we are jealous and quarrel and follow mere men do we consider how we are destroying God’s temple? What do you think it means that we ‘destroy’ the temple of God?

God’s temple is holy. We are the temple. We are holy. How can God make other holy people, add to his holy temple, when we are acting in a manner that is contrary to a holy God? God’s spirit lives in us so how can we act and live and behave in a manner that is contrary to the Spirit of God? The temple is the very place where the Oneness of God is on display before the world. What does the world think when they see a divided temple, a divided church? A divided God?

6. A Common Bond, Ephesians 4:1-16

Fifth, again Paul states that the purpose behind such gifts is that the church might grow up into Christ. This is really the only sort of maturity that is required or necessary or the goal. He writes, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is Christ.” You see, our goal is Christ. He is the goal of the unity we are preserving, he is the maturity of the unity we are preserving. We are not growing up into some man made idea of what it means to be one and unified and united and whole. We are growing up into a Spirit driven, grace provided, Christ called, humanly preserved unity and oneness.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

This is part 11 in the 14 part series that traces the meta-narrative of what God is doing from Genesis through Revelation. In this part, Jesus part 4, I am dealing with the Resurrection narrative in John’s Gospel. I began with SM Lockridge’s ‘it’s Friday but Sunday’s coming…’ sermon and ended with a video clip of Lockdridge’s ‘That’s My King’ (also available at this blog). The main theme is the resurrection of Jesus. Quotes from Lockridge, NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope. The resurrection was God’s declaration of victory. When the world had forgotten Jesus and ignored him by placing him in a tomb, God raised him up and set the world on a new course.

Download here: Jesus pt 4, John 20

Or listen online using the inline player below:

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Part 1: Genesis 3, Where it All Went Wrong
Part 2: Genesis 12:1-9, A Blessing for All People
Part 3: Exodus 7-12 (a), Freedom For God’s People
Part 4: Exodus 7-12 (b), Freedom For God’s People, b
Part 5: 2 Samuel 5-7, The King
Part 6: Isaiah 60-66, The New Heavens and New Earth
Part 7: Jeremiah 31, The New Covenant
Part 8: Matthew 1, Jesus pt 1
Part 9: Luke 1-2, Jesus pt 2
Part 10: Mark 15, Jesus, pt 3
Part 11: John 20, Jesus, pt 4

Other download options are available through feedburner and archive.org.

Always for His glory!

Friends,

Christian posted a short exercise in theology at Church Voices a few days ago. That I think you should take 60 seconds of your time to read.

He wrote:

I’m currently reading the book Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey.  In it she proposes Creationism as foundational to communicating the gospel. I have to agree. The story of Jesus’ death on the cross only makes sense in light of creation. Which is why it can be difficult to evangelize in cultures (such as ours) that declare that we are only a part of nature which has it’s roots in itself (Darwinism is a form of this naturalistic worldview).

He’s right. To further the problem is that many preachers are simply terrified to preach it (creation). To make matters worse, those who do preach creation (that is, Genesis 1 & 2 as historical accounts of human origin and not, necessarily, the popular creationism so often mocked by the secular humanists of our culture) simply do not understand the profound theological ramifications of Genesis 1 & 2 (and 3-50!) so they preach Creation not as something historical, but as a mere poem or an allegory or something merely polemical. But as my professor stated so beautifully, there can be no true doctrine of atonement apart from a doctrine of creation that begins in Genesis 1.

In fact, 3 of the four Gospels understood this all too well and began their Gospels in this way (Matthew, Mark & John), that is, by referring us back to creation before pointing us forward to Jesus. Their understanding is that the person and work of Jesus are only properly understood when the world belongs to God and is His to redeem. To take it a step further: they understand that the work of Jesus actually began at the creation. Apart from this, Christianity is yet one more myth among myths (and likely not a very good one). But creation is also foundational to the writings of Paul (see in particular Colossians and Romans), John (the Revelation), and Peter (see 1 & 2 Peter).

In fact, a careful reading of the Bible demonstrates that what took place at the beginning, the record of which is found in Genesis, is crucial to every page of the Bible. Creation permeates the Psalms, is underscored by the Prophets, and is the foundation of the Law. It is hard, difficult, impossible to understand the 66 books that make up the Christian Scriptures apart from understanding the very first verse.

Indeed, I agree with Christian (and his wise 4 year old daughter): When it comes to our preaching and teaching: Let’s begin at the beginning.

Always For His Glory!

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