Friday, June 26, 2009

The Curios Case of N.T. Wright

Some quotes from N.T. Wright's new book, in which one reviewer has said, "N.T. Wright has out-reformed the neo-Reformed."
"...It is because God will be true to that outward-facing generous, creative love that he must also curse those ways of life, particularly those ways of life within his covenant people, which embody and express the opposite. It isn't that God basically wants to condemn and then finds a way to rescue some from that disaster. It is that God longs to bless, to bless lavishly, and so to rescue and bless those in danger of tragedy--and therefore must curse everything that thwarts and destroys the blessing of his world and his people...

"...God made humans for a purpose: not simply for themselves, not simply so that they could be in relationship with him, but so that through them, as his image-bearers, he could bring his wise, glad, fruitful order to the world. And the closing verses of Scripture, in the book of Revelation, are not about human beings going off to heaven to be in a close and intimate relationship with God, but about heaven coming to earth...

"...Within the logic of love is the rich, theological logic of the work of the Holy Spirit. This brings us back to a point made much earlier. When, by clear implication, I am charged with encouraging believers to put their trust in someone or something 'other than the crucified and resurrected Savior,' I want to plead guilty - to this extent and this extent only: that I also say, every time I repeat one of the great historic creeds, that I trust in the Holy Spirit...N.T. Wright, Justification: God's Plan & Paul's Vision

Wright is has such an amazing talent to say things that sound so true and almost feel right. Look at quote two. What is the purpose of life? According to Wright, for humans to be used by God in order that He might change the world. Sounds as good as any Eric Clapton tune, especially when you put it into the context of Revelation 21. But it is simply not true, and not true to the passage. The wise, glad, fruitful order God brings to the world is a result of "the dwelling place of God is with man". We only become image-bearers as we are able to gaze upon and display the image which we bear. 2 Corinthians 4 And in Revelation 21 there is no indication that heaven comes to earth "through us" at all. Heaven arrives at earth by the power of the One sitting on the Throne at the end of chapter 20, to the glory of the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb (21:22-26). In fact, there is less of an indication that God comes down to earth to bring Himself to earth and more of an indication that God in the Heavenly Jerusalem descends upon the earth in order to be glorified by the kings of the earth and the nations.

Must Something Be Said?

Michael Jackson is dead. Just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, in the same way Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Hebrews 9:27 I have always been a fan of Jackson's music. Seeing the look on Lincoln's face when he stumbled upon Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough on the radio the other day has been one the highlights of the last few weeks. Jackson's death was sudden, not having suffered long like Farrah Fawcett or Ed McMahon. This is how he is being remembered:
Mr. Jackson’s brand of pop knew no borders and needed no translation, linking listeners around the world through the accessible corridors of rhythm, beat, and dance. New York Times
How do you memorialize a man who was at the same time so obviously out of touch with the realities of life and death and wealth and power and fame and sin and obligation. Must something be said? Of course. Anyone who can cause this reaction among inmates at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center, Cebu, Philippines must be memorialized.
Having Philippine prisoners do a choreographed dance to the music of an American Pop star could be classified as unusual punishment. Not cruel just a little unusual. Isn't this the response that Jackson and his music had on us all? Talent and dedication and the perfection of the crotch-grab. A scrambled egg for sure.
So, for me, I will not "always remember Michael Jackson" as anything. He is unclassifiable because he held on to the extremes of the human condition in a way that exposed himself to be, under all the pretense, to be a base, vile, sinful man. If Manson had more talent, a lot more people would have been sucked in. Where as Mason was megalomaniacal, Jackson's sins were more "private." We who are comparatively poor, ordinary, untalented and couldn't moonwalk ourselves across the floor of our kitchen in our socks, we love the possibility of a Jackson who can inspire people and are attracted to the boy who sings ABC with his brothers. But as we draw near and shrink back at discovering that it's Wacko Jacko who has produced such a following.
The guy is a freak, a Rick Jamesian superfreak and an elephant-man loving freak of neverland. Love the music. Afraid of the "man in the mirror". Why did he never change his ways? Must something be said or does the fact that his goodness and philanthropy was nothing more than a myth, created to hide a deep, original, all consuming pain convince us to leave well enough alone? Must something be said or do we live and let live, die and let die and move on to the next person of significance without considering the havoc that an unfocused, unprincipled, self-seeking life will cause to the soul? How can you say anything bad about the Bad One? How can you disrespect and discount We Are the World? Who else do you know that has his own videogame?
Opportunities abound if you ask the question. Was he basically good, but confused? Are we? Was he basically evil and unable to shake it? Are we evil but unable to shake it, and yet, scrambled as we are, do we yet eagerly awaiting the return of Christ. (I will avoid making a comparison between king of Pop and king of Kings here.) I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
Must something be said?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Good Augustinian Coffee, Part Two

If God gave forth no oracles from His human temple, but communicated everything that He wished to be taught to men by voices from heaven, or through the ministration of angels... love itself, which binds men together in the bond of unity, would have no means of pouring soul into soul, and, as it were, mingling them one with another, if men never learnt anything from their fellow men.
The eunuch who was reading Isaiah the prophet, and did not understand what he read, he was not sent by the apostle to an angel. Nor was it an angel who explained to him what he did not understand. Nor was he inwardly illuminated by the grace of God without the interposition of man. On the contrary, at the suggestion of God, Philip, who did understand the prophet, came to him, and sat with him, in human words, with a human tongue, opened to him the Scriptures. Didn't God talk with Moses? And yet even he, with great wisdom and entire absence of jealous pride, accepted the plan of his father-in-law, a man of a foreign race, for ruling and administering the affairs of the great nation entrusted to him? Moses knew that a wise plan, in whatever mind it might originate, was to be ascribed not to the man who devised it, but to Him who is the Truth, the unchangeable God.-Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, Preface, parts 6-7

I like my coffee shared, savored with friends. Which is to say that we were created in and designed for community and our coffee should contribute to this. Now, the warning must be sounded because talk about "community" easily de-volves into something that God did not intend. A reminder:
You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 1 Corinthians 10:21 (cf. 5:9-12)
The wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them. Ephesians 5:6-7
There is fellowship that we were created for and good coffee contributes to it. There is also a fellowship that we were not created for that good coffee obscures. Augustine would go as far as saying that God's love is shared by means of fellowship with one another, and so infer from scripture that only when our fellowship realizes (actuates?) Him who is the Truth, do we do what God intends for us. Anything else is a distraction: the weather, the NFL, quilting, talking about ministry, American Idol, farming... anything else that draws away from, the unchangeable God, yes even good coffee breaks commandments one and two. Probably all of them in a way. But, praise God, the Biblical example is that each of these things (except maybe Idol. I never was a fan) can, and should be used, utilized, and put under our dominion, in order that God, the God, the Truth might be glorified forever through its sharing. This is why we say grace out loud at meals. This is why I say "God bless you " when you sneeze. This is why we give produce from our garden, why we love, why we buy cars with good gas milage, frisbee golf with friends, paint the baby's room, do the dishes with the kids, and I pray, why we share good coffee at Black Sheep on 12th st.... I need to hear from God through His Word in you.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Source of "Idol Factories" in Calvin

A quick survey of the web reveals that the idea of our hearts being "[perpetual?] idol factories" has been extensively attributed to John Calvin. I just cannot find it anywhere in Calvin specifically. What follows are some (I think) relevant quotes from his Institutes with my own comments.
Every individual mind being a kind of labyrinth, it is no wonder, not only that each nation has adopted a variety of fictions, but that almost every man has had his own god. To the darkness of ignorance have been added presumption and wantonness, and hence there is scarcely an individual to be found without some idol or phantom as a substitute for Deity. Like water gushing forth from a large and copious spring, immense crowds of gods have issued from the human mind, every man giving himself full license, and devising some peculiar form of divinity, to meet his own views...
...If men are only naturally taught, instead of having any distinct, solid, or certain knowledge, they fasten only on contradictory principles, and, in consequence, worship an unknown God. Hence we must hold, that whosoever adulterates pure religion (and this must be the case with all who cling to their own views), make a departure from the one God. No doubt, they will allege that they have a different intention; but it is of little consequence what they intend or persuade themselves to believe, since the Holy Spirit pronounces all to be apostates, who, in the blindness of their minds, substitute demons in the place of God. For this reason Paul declares that the Ephesians were “without God,” (Epheisans 2:12), until they had learned from the Gospel what it is to worship the true God. John Calvin, Institutes Book I.V.10
Calvin speaks most clearly here about the human condition. Summarized often as "Total Depravity". (Great name for a [non-Christian?] ska band!) We, without God, have no idea how twisted our minds really are, and yet we show so much undue respect and pay so much undue honor to science, education, learning, business, talent, creativity, etc., etc., etc. Not that we should show disrespect or dishonor these fields, but that we should realize that at any point it is likely that human accomplishment may "worship an unknown God" and at the same time "make a departure from the One God."  
[Persons] have in their own persons a factory where innumerable operations of God are carried on, and a magazine stored with treasures of inestimable value—instead of bursting forth in his praise, as they are bound to do, they, on the contrary, are the more inflated and swelled with pride. They feel how wonderfully God is working in them, and their own experience tells them of the vast variety of gifts which they owe to his liberality. Whether they will or not, they cannot but know that these are proofs of his Godhead, and yet they inwardly suppress them. They have no occasion to go farther than themselves, provided they do not, by appropriating as their own that which has been given them from heaven, put out the light intended to exhibit God clearly to their minds. At this day, however, the earth sustains on her bosom many monster minds—minds which are not afraid to employ the seed of Deity deposited in human nature as a means of suppressing the name of God. Can any thing be more detestable than this madness in man, who, finding God a hundred times both in his body and his soul, makes his excellence in this respect a pretext for denying that there is a God?John Calvin, Institutes Book I.V.4
Total depravity is shown to be the totality that it is. Where we have been created in glory and majesty and honor (Psalm 8) we have traded that glory for ignorance of the One Creator Lord. "How majestic is Your name in all the earth." Instead of "living up to our potential" (or "living before our potentate") we live down to our "monster mind", which intently destroys and dis-recongizes God in all arenas of its life.

This, however, I the closest that Calvin comes to saying "idol factories." 
The human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols. There was a kind of renewal of the world at the flood, but before many years elapse, men are forging gods at will... The human mind, stuffed as it is with presumptuous rashness, dares to imagine a god suited to its own capacity; as it labors under dullness, nay, is sunk in the grossest ignorance, it substitutes vanity and an empty phantom in the place of God. To these evils another is added. The god whom man has thus conceived inwardly he attempts to embody outwardly. The mind, in this way, conceives the idol, and the hand gives it birth. That idolatry has its origin in the idea which men have, that God is not present with them unless his presence is carnally exhibited, appears from the example of the Israelites: “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him." (Exodus 22:1). They knew, indeed, that there was a God whose mighty power they had experienced in so many miracles, but they had no confidence of his being near to them, if they did not with their eyes behold a corporeal symbol of his presence, as an attestation to his actual government. They desired, therefore, to be assured by the image which went before them, that they were journeying under Divine guidance. And daily experience shows, that the flesh is always restless until it has obtained some figment like itself, with which it may vainly solace itself as a representation of God... After such a figment is formed, adoration forthwith ensues: for when once men imagined that they beheld God in images, they also worshipped him as being there. At length their eyes and minds becoming wholly engrossed by them, they began to grow more and more brutish, gazing and wondering as if some divinity were actually before them. It hence appears that men do not fall away to the worship of images until they have imbibed some idea of a grosser description: not that they actually believe them to be gods, but that the power of divinity somehow or other resides in them.Institutes Book I.XI.8-9
Our hearts are not "perpetual idol factories" exactly. The idea is there, our desires, wants, and passions, always seeking after other gods. So, with Jonathan Edwards, we must be dilligent in forming our passions towards the One true God. However, Calvin seems to indicate that it is not passions that must be formed first but our perception of God in our thoughts first. A correct thinking about God, will result in a correction worship of God.
So where the idea of "idol factories" is sound, it would seem that its usage is incorrect. Calvin wants us to have a correct and pure view of God (a God who is Spirit, and cannot be served or fashioned by human hands). A corrected (opened?) mind will lead its heart towards the proper affections.
It think this is reflected in the first two commandments. We are to "worry about" worship second, only after we have a right view of God. "You shall have not other God's before me" or in the Hebrew "You will not have any other god in my face." God doesn't want us to even see any other god, but for us to see Him and him alone. Only then will we be able to properly worship (the second command).
Anything "worshipped in place of God" is sin. But I don't think this is Calvin's point. I think that Calvin is warning not to trust our hearts at all, depravity is total. He might even be leery of our evangelical talk about "putting God on the throne of our heart." He might even warn that because our hearts/minds are idol factories/forges, even this (well intentioned and seemingly innocuous) is dangerous. Or I might just be putting words in his mouth.

Our minds all too easily place something on our heart's throne and we call it "god." When in reality what we do is [commandment 2!] fashion and bow down to it.

Seeking the One God in scripture and prayer and (more scripture and prayer) will naturally reveal to our monster minds that power of the divine is not ours to randomly move about at will. Only God is God [commandment 1!]. The divine lies only in Him and is not something that our hearts can comprehend. He must rescue us from slavery... [commantment 0!]
Romans 7:24

Friday, June 12, 2009


Friday, June 05, 2009

Free D.A. Carson Books

Free D.A. Carson Books here.

Baptism upon Confession

We have had an ongoing debate/discussion at our pastor's fellowship coffee about the disconnect between confession and baptism in modern evangelicalism. In other words, why don't we baptize upon confession, as is normative for the early church. The debate has been centered around a few themes: practicallity, fear of false conversion, flashiness... Here is more testimony to add to the discussion.

Knowing and Enjoying God Part Five

You make known to me the path of life
in your presence there is fullness of joy
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
-Psalm 16:11
Why is it of utmost importance to focus on teaching our people to glorify God and enjoy God in all that we do as pastors? Here are five reasons:

Reason five.

God is the reason behind all the work we do as pastors. We do not celebrate preaching, worship, counseling, conversion, or any other pastoral duty because preaching, etc. is good in and of itself, we celebrate it because in these God is made known, and by these we learn to delight in God. It's no good for God to be enjoyed and delighted in if it is only to be done privately, but our calling is to do so publicly before all the nations.

Psalm 16 ends with joy in God's presence and pleasures at His right hand, but they are joys and pleasures that are "made known." This is key. It is not enough to just teach and preach and worship according to the scriptures. We have as Christians and Churches had enough of talking about and describing God. So often this is where our ministries begin and end—talk.

What God reveals and makes known to us, in his word, is not just to be seen and described, but what God reveals to us is to be enjoyed by and delighted in by his creatures. Brain and heart. Flesh and bone.

If we haven't desired, hungered for, thirsted for, relished in, treasured, been blown away by God's glory, then we will find it more and more difficult to make known that glory for others.

Knowing and Enjoying God Part Four

The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup

you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places

indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
I bless the LORD who gives me counsel

in the night also my heart instructs me.

I have set the LORD always before me

because he is at my right hand,
I shall not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices
my flesh also dwells secure.

For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,

or let your holy one see corruption.
-Psalm 16:5-10
Why is it of utmost importance to focus on teaching our people to glorify God and enjoy God in all that we do as pastors? Here are five reasons:

Reason Four.

When we make the Lord our portion and our cup-our chosen portion-our hearts are freed from the kind of circumstantial reactionary living that we have grown accustomed to. We are free from evil desires and lusts (1 John 2:16-17), yes, but in addition we are also free from all the fears of mortal man: abandonment, corruption, Sheol, insecurity, chaos. This freedom is not given for freedom's sake or even our own, but delight in the Lord gives a gladness and rejoicing that will endure the night, the shaking, the insecurity, and corruption of life.

Christ puts it this way:
Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.
-Mark 10:29-30

When we treasure God more than anything else it makes sense to sell everything for His sake, although it will look odd to the world. Abraham treasured God and God's promised inheritance more than his father's land and household. Hebrews 11:8-12
Abraham's sons treasured God and God's future blessing more than present pleasures. Hebrews 11:20-22
Moses treasured God, God's people, and God's promise more than the fleeting pleasures of sin. Hebrews 11:23-28

The "faith chapter" ends with the example of Christ, "...who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising(F) the shame, and(G) is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:2 Jesus goes to the cross for what joy? "The throne of God!" To be in God's presence, a lasting city, the treasure in the field, the arms of the prodigal's father, the glory of the Lord...

Enjoying God's glory and delighting in him is what frees us to cast aside everything that hinders us and to focus our eyes on Christ.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Knowing and Enjoying God Part Four (supplemental)

An extended quote from John Piper:
Knowing God and being satisfied in him above all earthly pleasures frees us for the kind of love that will suffer the loss of all things for the sake of every good deed and for the sake of finishing the great commission. The great commission will not be finished without martyrs (Revelation 6:11). And churches will not make God look like our all-sufficient, all-satisfying treasure if pastors and people have all the same values and priorities and lifestyle commitments that everybody around them has. Unless we become a lot more radical in the risks we take and the suffering we embrace, why should anyone believe that our treasure is in heaven - in God - and that he is more valuable than anything here?

The key is being utterly certain and utterly satisfied that "in his presence is fullness of joy and at his right hand are pleasures for evermore" (Psalm 16:11). Or as Paul said, that "to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). This is the key to the sacrifices demanded by love. No sequence of texts in the Bible makes it plainer than Hebrews 10-13. Here is a portrait of the people we need in the pastorate and on the mission field today.

First, the case of the early Christians in Hebrews 10:34, "You had compassion on the prisoners, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one." They suffered the loss of their property with joy in order to show compassion to the prisoners. How? What released such love? - "Since you knew that you had a better possession and an abiding one." They treasured God more than anything.

Then the case of Moses in Hebrews 11:24-26, "By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he looked to the reward." He suffered the loss of all that Egypt could offer in order to embrace suffering as a leader of the people of God. How? What released such love? - "For he looked to the reward." He treasured God more than anything in Egypt.

Then the case of Jesus Christ himself in Hebrews 12:2, " . . . who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." Jesus embraced the suffering of the cross and gave shame no sway in his life so that he might die for his people. How? What released such love? - "For the joy that was set before him."

Finally, the case of the readers - you and me - in Hebrews 13:12-14, "Jesus suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come." Here is a call to every Christian, but especially to every pastor and every missionary: Let us go to him outside the securities and comforts of the camp and bear abuse for the sake of his name. How? What will release such love? For "here we have no lasting city, but we seek a city which is to come." The city of this world is not our satisfaction, God is.

Where does the love come from that can suffer the loss of all things and make plain to the world that God is gloriously more to be desired than life itself? It comes from being certain and being satisfied that God is a better possession than all our goods, and that the reward of his presence is vastly better than the fleeting pleasures of Egypt, and that the suffering of our cross is not worth comparing to the joy set before us, and that the city which is to come will last forever and will be the habitation of God.

In other words, the lever that unstops the river of love for pastors and missionaries is knowing God better than you know anything and delighting in God more than you delight in anything. This is the greatest need in the next generation of pastors and missionaries, just as it has always been the greatest need of every generation of pastors and missionaries.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Knowing and Enjoying God Part Three

The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names on my lips.
-Psalm 16:4
Why is it of utmost importance to focus on teaching our people to glorify God and enjoy God in all that we do as pastors? Here are five reasons:

Reason three.

Traditionally, but not in a good way, this has been reason number one: We must teach our people a persistence for separating from everything that God hates. Love of God is never neutral to the things that are against him. Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 1 John 2:15. When we are loving God, glorifying God, enjoying God, He pressures and pushes out any love for the world. The two cannot co-exist. Luke 16

What gets scrambled, with church people and churches especially, is that we tend to take for granted a desire to glorify God in our people. We assume that just because they are showing up (and in many cases, showing up for years) that they have a love for God. What is more often than not the case, however, is that there will be many who do not find their souls satisfied and at rest in God but find more satisfaction in fellowship, prayer, worship, giving, missions, serving, teaching, or any of the 1,000 churchy things that we do. In reality anything that we do must be the result of glorious presence of a God-given, Spirit-driven desire to see Christ exalted in all things everywhere.

Preachers of the past (and present) spend a lot of energy preaching against. Against homosexuality, abortion, teen pregnancy, drinking and driving, blah, blah, blah... the reason these types of things get a lot of milage out of people who do not enjoy God first of all but fail to bring real change in the hearts of the lost, is that they do not exalt the One who is abundantly more satisfying than the Sin that we preachers preach against. Sin is not only wrong just because "it's bad for you." We swat a puppy's nose when something is bad for it. Sin is wrong because it draws us away from what is eternally good and soul-satisfying for us.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Knowing and Enjoying God Part Two

As for the saints in the land,
they are the excellent ones,
in whom is all my delight.
-Psalm 16:3
Why is it of utmost importance to focus on teaching our people to glorify God and enjoy God in all that we do as pastors? Here are five reasons:

Reason Two.

Delight in God goes hand in hand in hand with delighting in those and the things that He loves. Good pastors make it a practice show that every mission, spiritual gift, ministry need be sustained by what Piper describes as God-exalting motives, God-centered truth, and a God-saturated spiritual life. When this becomes our purpose all that we will desire, teach, and live will be primarily a reflection of God's desires, God's truth and God's life lived out and through the body of Christ. In speechifying we are good at saying these things, but in reality this is the crux (pun intended) of showing forth what we value above all else. It is easy to say that "it all starts with God" but to realize and live it, becomes a different matter. The people of Israel, rescued from slavery with pillar of fire and cloud before them, still did not treasure their God above all else, but instead valued security, bread, water, safety, and a host of other unmentioned things above their God. Even though he was right there.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Knowing and Enjoying God Part One

Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the LORD, "You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you."
-Psalm 16:1
Why is it of utmost importance to focus on teaching our people to glorify God and enjoy God in all that we do as pastors? Here are five reasons:

Reason one.
The psalmist says that apart from God we have "no good." God does not look to be blessed by us but looks to be a blessing through us. Doing pastoring well means that in everything (hospitals, funerals, weddings, dedications, teaching, preaching, evanagelizing, hanging out playing ping-pong) we show the connection between the good of life and the good of God. That we cannot enjoy any good thing without first enjoying God. We cannot even bless a meal without first being blessed by God. We love (anything/anyone) because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19 We pastor well when more and more people in our congregation and world learn to love God above all things or love all things only as an expression of their love for their God, because they enjoy their God. 

We do that best when we show, by our lives, that at our core we have been transformed by God and are, now, fundamentally in love with God ourself and we enjoy God above all things and thereby enjoy him in all things.