Archive for April, 2009

Watchdawggie in trainingThe wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously (Ps 37:21)

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13)

In the past year, we’ve had a number of discussions and articles on the concept of the phrase “of the world”, and the meaning of the word “worldly”. In a nutshell, the Greek concept of “worldly”, the word kronos, deals with systems by which a society words – not a society’s art forms.

The systems of this world are not the systems of the kingdom of God. God does not bring his kingdom through wealth, power, coercion, and political intrigue. In His kingdom, the last are first, the meek are blessed, the poor in spirit are the first ones in, and the peacemakers are called sons of God.

So, “worldly” churches would be ones that preach a gospel of “health and wealth”, or who seek to achieve earthly domination via politics and power.

Worldly Christians are those who have bought into the systems of the world – who borrow beyond their means to repay; who focus on material wealth to the detriment of the poor; who benefit from the oppression of others; and those who see coercion and force as primary means of leadership and for whom humility and admission of error are foreign concepts.

Hypocrisy

Unsurprisingly, the #1 reason many unbelievers give for rejection of the church is observed, unrepentant hypocrisy of its members. Whether public scandals or private irresponsibility, the hypocrisy of churchgoers – coupled with the fact that they look little different from anyone else in their financial and family dealings – is a driving force behind the decline of the impact of the church in society.

Imagining, when the housing bubble burst in 2008, what if all of the Christian households had maintained integrity in their borrowing and little-to-no debt, living within their means? The current economic crisis affecting most of the world would be significantly lessened. The church, by and large, would be in a position to provide material and spiritual comfort to the unwise. In short, the impact would be huge!

Instead, Christians, by and large, are almost equally affected by the economic downturn, opportunities have been lost, and hypocrisy has been put on display.

Just An Example

Boom!  Headshot!Imagine that you’re a Christian, the CEO of a company with a name that implies some level of integrity, and debts upward of $1 million. In a faltering economy, do you a) buckle down and find a way to repay your creditors in full;** or b) stiff your creditors, pay to travel across the country to visit churches you don’t belong to* (where you criticize minutiae and gracelessly spin everything to fit your preconceived notions, offering nothing more than “essentially a Lutheran critique of Wesleyanism”), manage multiple ‘discernment’ blogs (where you beg for donations), and launch a “Pirate” “Christian” “Radio” station (three lies for the price of one!)?

I don’t know about you, but the choice seems rather obvious to me. (The choice of whether anyone in their right mind ought to lend to you again ought to be clear, as well, based on your decision…)

A few weeks back, much of the US watched, as rag-tag pirates from a fourth-world country tried to extort cash from unarmed victims, threatening to execute the innocent lives of others. Here in the first world, we just execute a “general assignment for the benefit of creditors” or declare bankruptcy, politely taking the cash w/o the physical coercion.

Off the Somali coast, the US Navy Seals effectively dealt with the Somali pirates. Here in the US, though, it looks like the ‘pirates’ just keep moving on – preying on the generosity of others, while stabbing innocent bystanders in the back to pay for their daily bread.

Where are God’s version of the Navy SEALs when you need them?***
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*It has been submitted that travel costs for 2008 were < $2000, paid from personal – not company – funds (which was not insinuated, just clarifying).

**It has also been submitted that one of the creditors was the CEO, himself, and that he was owed $140,000.

***It has also been noted to me by one of the other writers that this article is not in line with the “branding” of CRN.Info (we typically don’t involve ourselves in ‘opposition research’ – our niche is defending those who have been attacked and offering devotional/research materials on the diversity of (sometimes differing) views within Christian orthodoxy. This is not a new direction we’re intentionally heading down, so don’t expect many articles like this one…

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Driving to school yesterday, I heard a story on the news that sent my mind reeling.  Being that I am a little behind the times sometimes, you all may have heard about this book, but I believe it bears repeating.

Kevin Roose, author of The Unlikely Disciple:  A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University, posed as an evangelical at Liberty University for a semester as research for this book.  Karen Swallow Prior has written a good review of it at www.christianitytoday.com.  This is the final section:

Not surprisingly, Roose interprets much of the good he finds in his experience through the lens of pragmatism. He quotes William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience throughout the book as he tries to reconcile his increasing admiration for certain aspects of evangelicalism with his opposing political and social views. But even pragmatism can’t explain the most profound part of his experience.

I didn’t meet Roose until two years after his semester here, when he sat in my office for a friendly, hour-long chat on one of those “good days” of February in Lynchburg, just a few weeks before his book’s release. He still comes back to visit the friends he made here—and, on this trip, to talk about the book. Of all the unexpected events at Liberty, the one that most moves him, one included in the book but conveyed even more poignantly face-to-face, is the love his Liberty friends showed him when he finally revealed the truth about who he is and why he enrolled here. One of his roommates, he says, expressed their reaction best: “How could I not forgive you when I’ve been forgiven so much?” Roose shakes his head in disbelief, sitting in the chair next to mine. “I never expected the people here to apply the principles of their belief to their lives in such a real way.”

It is this sense of love, ultimately, that Roose can’t shake, even two years later. He found at Liberty a kind of community, he acknowledges, that has no parallel in the secular world. “I never thought,” Roose writes to the school in the book’s acknowledgements, “that the world’s largest evangelical university would feel like home … . But by experiencing your warmth, your vigorous generosity of spirit, and your deep complexity, I was ultimately convinced—not that you were right, necessarily, but that I was wrong.”

Roose’s life was changed for the better through his semester at Liberty. And hopefully, Liberty University will be changed for the better, too, through having seen itself through the eyes of a stranger—an angel of sorts, perhaps (as Roose intimates in the book’s epigraph), that we entertained unaware.

Yes, we watch our language around children, or we edit our actions if we are out with friends we know to be unbelievers.  But we never know who is watching.  And we never know when what we say or do will make an impact, good or bad, on the person standing nearest us.  Roose’s reaction to these students’ forgiveness and grace is the exact reason that Andy Stanley hit the nail on the head in a video I watched the other day.  He said, “Jesus did not dispense guilt.  He did not leverage guilt.  It is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance.”  (Romans 2:4)  One of the fruits of the spirit isn’t guilt.  Love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Not condemnation.  Not guilt.  Jesus, with the blood on his back and the scars on His body that made him unrecognizable, having nothing in His appearance that we would desire Him…yes, He alone has come in and cleaned out the closets of my heart.  I am skeleton-free, guilt-free, and righteous because of His sacrifice alone.  Andy Stanley says that it is the guilty people who deal in the currency of guilt.  Christ has freed me from guilt, therefore He has given me the freedom to deal in the currency of grace.  May we all be rich in the currency of grace to ALL people, at ALL times, for we never know who may be watching and listening…

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Here, our insightful friend at Slice points out that Evangelicals are somehow complicit in the ‘undoing of America.’ I’m not going to bother pointing out how absurd the post is; trust me when I say it is. (You should read it first though or this post will make little sense.) It’s got something to do with this:

From the conscience clause to stem cell research, President Obama has shifted social policy to the left in his first 100 days in the White House. But the reversal of several of his predecessor’s regulations has garnered hardly a whimper — leaving many to wonder how much social issues matter to Americans amid two wars and an economic crisis.

As if anyone with a brain should be surprised that BO is leading this nation further left. But let me take this a different direction.

A potential pandemic flu virus is sweeping across North America…and there’s hardly a whimper from the ‘Christian’ ‘right’.

There is ongoing violence and war in Darfur…and there’s hardly a whimper from the ‘christian’ ‘right’.

Two Coptic Christians in Egypt were shot dead over Easter…and there’s hardly a whimper from the ‘christian’ ‘right’.

An earthquake killed 150 people in Italy…and there’s hardly a whimper from the ‘christian’ ‘right.’

War continues in Afghanistan and may be spreading to Africa…and there’s hardly a whimper from the ‘christian’ ‘right’.

A gunman went wild killing 14 people in New York…and there’s hardly a whimper from the ‘christian’ ‘right’.

A human rights activist is missing in China, likely being held for torture…and there’s hardly a whimper from the ‘christian’ ‘right’.

Over 87,000 Iraqi’s have been killed in violence since 2005…and there’s hardly a whimper from the ‘christian’ ‘right’.

75 in Iraq were killed in homicide bombings…and there’s hardly a whimper from the ‘christian’ ‘right’.

Shall I continue?

As for the ADM’s, many have now signed on with themselves and they will continue to trot out the same, tired, boring youtube videos wherein they condemn other Christians for being concerned about all human life on the planet and they will continue using the internet to spread their vile hatred of all things not themselves and they will continue to tell us how proud God is of their orthodoxy and their commitment to winning the truth or culture or bible or evolution war. The rest will be handing out tracts warning people that they are going to hell in a handbasket (but not doing anything to comfort them now, and not doing anything to demonstrate their love, and not giving them any reason to think that life in the Kingdom is better than life out of the kingdom; just armed with bullhorns, a blog, a radio station, a youtube channel…) They will continue, bullhorns in hand, to run down everyone they see, everywhere they go, and by whatever means possible. They will continue going to the ends of the earth to make a convert to orthodox HannAmeriaCalvinanity only to make them twice as much…

And a few of them will stop by here and tell us about how they have been saved by grace and how important it is for them, and how the rest of us are wrong because we are concerned about ALL HUMAN life on this planet. Why? Because for the ODM’s of the world, purifying the church of all undesirables is far more important than bringing peace, hope and comfort to the lost and dying and hopeless of the world who suffer and whom they claim are going to hell and can only be rescued if America is awash in conservatism.

(I know, I know…far too broadly generalized right? I know, I know…not all ADM’s are like that. I know…I know…Tony Compola and Shane Claiborne and Jim Wallis have questionable theological points of view…etc…etc…ad infinitum. I know, I know…I’m guilty too and thanks to God for saving me and we need to warn people about the fires of hell and helping people without preaching the Gospel is meaningless and blah blah blah…yeah…I know, I know…homosexuality is wrong and AIDS is God’s judgment against them and therefore we should hate them and not love them…and war is good because it is God’s sword…and so on and so forth…and we should not feed the hungry unless they convert or put shoes on their feet unless they thank us in Jesus’ name…yada yada yada…And Myley Cyrus didn’t answer correctly when asked about ‘gay marriage’ so she’s wrong, and Miss America answered right and she’s wrong, and Rob Bell is vague…and it’s wrong to drink coffee during worship or to sit on couches instead of pews…and sing Chris Tomlin instead of John Wesley…yes. yes. yes. I know.**)

Hardly a whimper from the ‘christian’ ‘right’ in this present darkness.

And in more irony, on the same front page…I learned about Chinese children not getting treatment for AIDS…but the ‘good times in Boston roll’ because the Red Sox have won eleven in a row!!!! (And hardly a whimper from the ‘christian’ ‘right.’) Here’s a pic:

Hardly a whimper. But we should worry about the socialization of ‘America’ and we should fret because Obama is doing what we knew he would..as if people only suffer under Liberal Democrat administrations. And Evangelicalism is equivalent to being an American. And hardly a whimper. To hell with the world, the poor, the hungry, the afflicted, the transgressors. And hardly a whimper.

Hardly a whimper.

But we need to really, really, really worry about President BO. More conservatives! That will help! More war for big brother! That will help! More death! More violence! More hatred! We need more anti-christians (you know, anti-Rob Bell christians, anti-Rick Warren Christians, anti-NT Wright Christians, etc.) That will bring the Kingdom down!! That will save America and purify the Church!!!!

Hardly a whimper.

Washington – A woman in sub-Saharan Africa will be among up to 90 million people forced into extreme poverty in 2009. A baby in South Asia will be one of 400,000 to die this year. And a man in Latin America will join the 1 billion chronically hungry people in the world.

Hardly a whimper.

**I gave up sarcasm for Lent, but I hope you will spare me this one time.

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I actually wrote this some time ago on my blog.  Apparently the issue that “inspired” the post is rearing its ugly head again.  In an effort to combat universalism, easy-believism, and any number of other touchy-feely, warm-fuzzy brands of religion out there, the baby is too often thrown out with the bathwater.  Downplaying an attribute of God is no way to argue against those that overplay it.

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I have to wonder if there even exists a word or phrase in any human language that can properly and fully express God’s love.

Scripture tells us (Exodus 33:20) that no man can look on the face of God and live. Moses wanted to see God’s glory, and God told him that he couldn’t handle it. God gave him a small glimpse of His back, and just that brief instance along with talking with God in general, made Moses’ face shine so brightly that other people couldn’t even handle that (Exodus 34:29-35).

I know of no one who claims to be a Christian who would dispute this story or its application. God is glorious — so much so, that we can’t handle it. Yet somehow, there are those who would dispute the intensity of other attributes of God — and none more often than His love.

Why is that? Why would we somehow seek to diminish any attribute of God? “Well, yeah, man can’t handle God’s glory, but I’m manly enough to handle His love.” No, you’re not. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men:

YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE LOVE

Do you understand that God is incessantly dialing it back so that our finite brains don’t explode? Oh great, that means He loves us even more, that He’s willing to shield us from the full force of His love. ;-)

In the never-ending “worship wars”, one of the allegations of the hymns-only crowd is that too many contemporary choruses focus on God’s love (and conversely, not enough focus on His other attributes). I won’t bother expounding on the fact that their examples are cherry-picked and their approximations greatly exaggerated. But, regardless, God’s love is the primary attribute that allows man to have a relationship with his Creator. Many of His attributes, while not contradictory to His love, are such that — in and of themselves — they leave man in a really bad state. So pardon me if I focus a bit too much for your taste on the boundless love of God. You can write about it; you can sing about it; you can read about it, but ultimately:

YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE LOVE

Another issue that is often expressed is that worship and teaching in general focus too much on God’s love — and this leaves the typical American male cold. (Oddly, this concern is often raised by those who regard any type of seeker-sensitivity with great disdain.) Steve Geyer used to joke that — on the rare occasion when two men will hug each other — they pat each other’s backs three times — once for each syllable of “I’m not gay”.

What are we afraid of? God’s ways are foolishness to the natural (unsaved) person — he cannot comprehend them (1 Corinthians 2:14). Surely we don’t dispute that. So why do we balk at an image of God — Who is most often described as male — as loving men, simply because of the connotations that fall within the bounds of the understanding of the natural man? Is it not enough that God’s love for us is unfathomable, that we have to further complicate the matter by confusing the issue of a God-man relationship with that of a man-man relationship?

YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE LOVE

The disparity between God’s infinite holiness and our finite selves wrapped in total depravity is such that only an imcomprehensible love could bridge the gap. It’s not an issue of getting to a point of “arrival” at which you can comprehend it. It’s simply not going to happen — at least, not on this side of heaven, and maybe not at all.

YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE LOVE

And if you’re smart, you’ll thank God every day that this is the case.

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The God of Our Expectations

1 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 But the LORD replied, “Have you any right to be angry?”

5 Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” “I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.” 10 But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

There is something wrong with this story and it’s not what you think. Well, maybe it is; I don’t know what you are thinking. From where I sit the problem appears to be Jonah, though, again, perhaps not how we think. In an ironic twist, the only person in the story of Jonah to remain unconverted was Jonah. I believe that this story is told from a point of view that means for us to see that Jonah was the real target of God’s advances. Everywhere Jonah goes in the story, someone gets religion. It doesn’t matter if it is men on a ship headed for Tarshish or the 100,000 people living in Ninevah or the animals: God does weird, wild, amazing things in spite of Jonah. Yet Jonah, for all his theological profundity, remains steadfast in his anger.

But there’s a problem with the story. The problem should be obvious, but in case it is not, let me point it out to you. It’s in verse 2 and I think it is worth repeating: “He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”

The problem is not this verse per se, but Jonah’s application of it. I think what it demonstrates is that Jonah had a profoundly orthodox view of God. He had dotted all the theological ‘i’s’ and crossed all the theological ‘t’s’. He had it all together and to prove it he quoted from the Torah. Jonah knew his Bible; Jonah knew his God. Look what Jonah says, “I knew this is what you would do…” and it was precisely because Jonah knew that he fled and ran and ran and fled. That is, Jonah’s theological orthodoxy is the very problem of this story. It got in the way of Jonah’s discipleship and it got in the way of Jonah’s vocation. It was precisely because Jonah knew something about God that Jonah refused to be obedient to God or care about the people God cared about.

You see, Jonah did not want God to be gracious, and compassionate, and slow to anger, and abounding in love, and relenting from calamity towards the Ninevites. Jonah wanted God to act in a way contrary to God’s revealed character, the character Jonah knew and believed. He wanted God to, well, not be God or do God things. That is, Jonah wanted God, I think this is clearly the implication, to wipe out the Ninevites because of their wickedness. Clearly, if any one deserved the wrath of God, it was the Ninevites. But Jonah knew what kind of a God he served and prophesied for and so Jonah did what any self-respecting, theologically orthodox Christian would do: He ran and refused to offer that God to the Ninevites. He would rather have been dead than to offer the God of grace to the people of Ninevah (that is why he asked to be thrown overboard; he hoped to die.)

Jonah must have figured if he ran and ran and ran then perhaps the Ninevites would get what was coming to them.

I might go so far as to make this claim: Jonah had reduced God to an idol. That’s right: An idol. You know why? Because Jonah knew God, he knew God’s character, he knew how God would act and he, Jonah, challenged God on this point. Jonah wanted God to act like Jonah wanted God to act which is contrary to what Jonah knew about God. Jonah had no desire for God to demonstrate grace to Ninevah. Ninevah deserved wrath and judgment. When we reduce God to our expectations and demand that he act in accordance with our expectations we have made him an idol. God did not act in accordance with Jonah’s wishes but in accordance with his own character: “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” And that is how God acted: Perfectly orthodox.

What I’m suggesting is that God is not bound to our conceptions of theological orthodoxy even if he is bound to his own revealed character. Here, in Jonah’s short book, I think that is abundantly on display. And I suppose when God does do things that run contrary to our conceptions of theological orthodoxy or our expectations of God,  we act just like…Jonah. Theological orthodoxy, while not wrong, can be among the most dangerous weapons wielded by the church because it breeds the sort of pride and privilege we see in Jonah the man. The worst thing we christians can do is try to hold wind in a bottle, but the wind blows where the wind blows and who among us can stop the wind? And if we cannot stop the wind, what makes us think we can stop the Spirit of God?

Let’s see if this economy of grace plays itself out in the New Testament too. We already know that Jesus preferred hanging around with the sinners of the world, but he also taught about these things. Consider this parable of the workers in the field (which is a sad misnomer) in Matthew 20:

1″For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

3″About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5So they went. “He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ 7″ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ 8″When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

9″The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12′These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ 13″But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16″So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Here we see a profound example of God acting contra the expectations of people and doing something no one could explain, even though it is perfectly in keeping with his revealed character: Paying everyone equally for unequal work. Thus this isn’t a parable about workers in a field or about eleventh hour salvations as much as it is a parable about the crazy economy of God’s grace. Someone wisely pointed out to me this morning that those who expected to get more because they ‘bore the labor in the heat of the day’ are, actually, those who are bound up in a system of works righteousness. They believe they deserve more because they worked longer and harder and at the most inconvenient times of the day. They did not recognize that they were being paid according to the owner’s gracious will. At the end of the day, all the workers go away baffled at God’s grace. Grace makes no sense. Grace is the great equalizer. (It is likely, though, that those at the end of the day went away far more thankful than did those who began working at the beginning of the day and this for reasons that should be fairly obvious. The whole ‘those who have been forgiven much…’.)

This parable should turn our conceptions of God upside down because in it we see a great, profound reversal of all our expectations about God: He is not fair. Grace is not fair. We need to get used to it. This is what Jonah could not get in his head, and since the story of Jonah is left open-ended, we have no idea how he answered God. (Just like we have no idea if the older brother went in and joined the party in Luke 15.) Grace makes no sense because it is so wasteful. Grace makes no sense because…well, because it is grace. Who can understand it?

The great thing about Jonah and this parable in Matthew 20 is that they both end with questions the readers are supposed answer. In Jonah, God asks whether or not he has a right, as God, to be concerned about those whom he has created and to demonstrate grace to them as he wills. In the parable, God asks the people if they are envious because he is generous and spreads around his grace freely to all equally. (Another parable that fits well here, and also ends with a question, is Luke 15’s parable of the two lost sons.) All of these stories are pointing in one direction with these questions: Have we so bound God to a theological system that we actually prevent God from being God? Or, negatively, we cannot bind God to, or in, a theological system. Hear it well: We cannot control, bind, predict or anticipate this God and his grace.

Just about the minute we do, he tells us this parable (or the story of Jonah or the story of the two lost sons.)

Have we so demanded God act according to our expectations that we have actually reduced him to a mere idol?

Do we have a right to be angry with God when he acts outside our expectations, outside our theological constructs (no matter how orthodox), and against our will? (And doesn’t it infuriate some of us when he does?)

Are we so bound to a theological orthodoxy about God that we actually hope God sends calamity, that we get angry when he doesn’t, against those whom we deem to be the worst of the worst? What if…what if…those that we think are the worst, the ones most deserving of God’s wrath and judgment in our expectation…what if God actually does care about them more than we do and is in the process of saving them quite apart from our efforts, pride, and prejudice?

What if…what if…at the renewal of all things….what if God raised everyone up and in his grace had mercy on…everyone…without exception paid everyone the same price? I don’t know if he will; I don’t know if he won’t. I do know that if he does, which he could since he is a God who delights to act outside and contrary to our expectations, it will be christians who will complain the loudest and the longest and who will, most likely, bear a grudge against God, sit outside the party, pouting and refusing to join in an celebrate that the lost have been found, the blind have received sight, the lame dance, and the sinners forgiven, or will grumble because others have unfairly received the same as we have. Do you think we will rejoice that the lost have been found?

The God of our expectations is not necessarily the God of the Scripture or the God who saves. The God of our theological orthodoxy, is not necessarily the God who saves and reveals and redeems. The God of grace is.

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(so as not to have to pay royalties to Jerry for calling it the “Thought for the Day”)   ;-)

Osawld Chambers on discipleship:

Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you . . . — Luke 10:20

Worldliness is not the trap that most endangers us as Christian workers; nor is it sin. The trap we fall into is extravagantly desiring spiritual success; that is, success measured by, and patterned after, the form set by this religious age in which we now live. Never seek after anything other than the approval of God, and always be willing to go “outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:13). In Luke 10:20, Jesus told the disciples not to rejoice in successful service, and yet this seems to be the one thing in which most of us do rejoice. We have a commercialized view— we count how many souls have been saved and sanctified, we thank God, and then we think everything is all right. Yet our work only begins where God’s grace has laid the foundation. Our work is not to save souls, but to disciple them. Salvation and sanctification are the work of God’s sovereign grace, and our work as His disciples is to disciple others’ lives until they are totally yielded to God. One life totally devoted to God is of more value to Him than one hundred lives which have been simply awakened by His Spirit. As workers for God, we must reproduce our own kind spiritually, and those lives will be God’s testimony to us as His workers. God brings us up to a standard of life through His grace, and we are responsible for reproducing that same standard in others.

Unless the worker lives a life that “is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3), he is apt to become an irritating dictator to others, instead of an active, living disciple. Many of us are dictators, dictating our desires to individuals and to groups. But Jesus never dictates to us in that way. Whenever our Lord talked about discipleship, He always prefaced His words with an “if,” never with the forceful or dogmatic statement— “You must.” Discipleship carries with it an option.

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Annie Dillard on the Journey

“I live in tranquility and trembling. Sometimes I dream. I am interested in Alice mainly when she eats the cooky that makes her smaller. I would pare myself or be pared that I too might pass through the merest crack, a gap I know is there in the sky. I am looking just now for the cooky. Sometimes I open, pried like a fruit. Or I am porous as old bone, or translucent, a tinted condensation of the air like a watercolor wash, and I gaze around me in bewilderment, fancying I cast no shadow. Sometimes I ride a bucking faith while one hand grips and the other flails the air, and like any daredevil I gouge with my heels for blood, for a wilder ride, for more.

“There is not a guarantee in the world. Oh your needs are guaranteed, your needs are absolutely guaranteed by the most stringent of warranties, in the plainest, truest words: knock; seek; ask. But you must read the fine print. “Not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” That’s the catch. If you can catch it will catch you up, aloft, up to any gap at all, and you’ll come back, for you will come back, transformed in a way that you may not have bargained for—dribbling and crazed. The waters of separation, however lightly sprinkled, leave indelible stains. Did you think, before you were caught, that you needed, say, life? Do you think you will keep your life, or anything else you love? But no. Your needs are all met. But not as the world giveth. You see the needs of your own spirit met whenever you have asked, and you have learned that the outrageous guarantee holds. You see the creatures die, and you know you will die. And one day it occurs to you that you must not need life. Obviously. And then you’re gone. You have finally understood that you’re dealing with a maniac.

“I think that the dying pray at the last is not ‘please,’ but ‘thank you,’ as a guest thanks his host at the door. Falling from airplanes the people are crying thank you, thank you, all down the air; and the cold carriages draw up for them on the rocks. Divinity is not playful. The universe was not made in jest but in solemn incomprehensible earnest. By a power that is unfathomably secret, and holy, and fleet. There is nothing to be done about it, but ignore it, or see. And then you walk fearlessly, eating what you must, growing wherever you can, like the monk on the road who knows precisely how vulnerable he is, who takes no comfort among death-forgetting men, and who carries his vision of vastness and might around in his tunic like a live coal which neither burns nor warms him, but with which he will not part.” (Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 275)

Amen.

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Q: Why are Southern Baptists opposed to pre-marital sex?
A: Because it leads to dancing.

If you are now or have ever been a member of an SBC church (like I was at one time), you’ve probably heard that joke.

Sadly, for some, it’s not a joke, but rather another in a long line of (1) focusing on the wrong thing, (2) elevating opinion/preference to the level of doctrine, and (3) drawing definitive conclusions that have little or no basis in reality.

Such is the case for Mary Kassian in her criticism of William P Young’s The Shack.  Now, I am by no means a fan of the book.  It contains some (at best) questionable theology, has a troubling back-story, and many of its more strident fans often can’t seem to decide which genre it is in.

If you aren’t familiar with the book, Kassian’s criticism largely revolves around the fact that God the Father appears as a black woman named Papa.  Criticisms regarding this issue are numerous and have ranged from concern that Young has crossed a line to emphatic assertion that Young is promoting “goddess worship”.

It is fairly clear that what Young was probably trying to accomplish was to shake up the reader’s image of God, addressing the unfortunate issue that we have often created Him in our image, particularly in Western culture.  Unfortunately, Young’s attempt falls flat in that he trades in one humanly recognizable (and ill-conceived) image for another.  (Put another way, while it is true that God is not Wilford Brimley, He’s not Aunt Jemima, either.)

Setting aside the myriad negative motives that Kassian ascribes to Young, it would appear that she doesn’t even think that an assertion of goddess worship promotion is strong enough. Alluding to a mid-80s sculpture of a female Christ hanging on a cross, Kassian claims:

If you [don't think that The Shack contains terribly wrong concepts about God], then you’re well on your way to accepting the image of the Christa on the cross. In a few years, you’ll be hanging her up in your church.

No cautions that the wrong concepts could lead to other problems.  Rather, absolute and definitive statements of what will, without question, happen.  Do not pass GO.  Do not collect $200.  (Somebody call God and tell him that Kassian said He isn’t sovereign anymore.)

The only comment that I’ll make about her very next sentence (”I don’t think I’m overstating the case”) is to allude to gunplay, aquatic creatures, and large cylindrical containers made of wood.

Kassian’s criticism is not only over-the-top, but in some cases, just as theologically bad as — if not worse than — the book she is criticizing.  As part of her overall context of examining the imaging of God, she states (emphasis hers):

In the Old Testament, God instructed his people to reject female goddess images and images of God as a bi-sexual or a dual-sexual Baal/Ashtoreth-type collaboration. God hated this imagery so much that he had his people destroy it and all those who promoted it.

Combining these statements with others peppered throughout the article, Kassian comes dangerously close to (if not outright) implying that God’s main problem with Baal/Ashtoreth wasn’t the whole false god thing, but simply that those who worshiped Baal/Ashtoreth had imaged God wrong.  This is the same lousy logic that says that the Allah that Muslims worship is the same entity/person as Jehovah.

I have, on numerous occasions, cited my dismay with those that espouse an idea and then search the Scriptures for support of that idea (see also, “cart before the horse”).  But at least such eisegesis is only a misapplication of the text.  It’s sad that Kassian apparently feels that, in order to criticize the re-imaging of God, she must engage in the re-imaging of His Word.

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Somewhere in the internet world there is a post about Jude being an original ADM/EDM/ODM. My question is where are the names? Where is Jude’s name calling? In fact, look at verse 16 and tell me who that looks like today? Take a look at verse 8. Just look at the whole book and I would offer that the very people who use Jude as their proof text are guilty of what Jude is writing against. I find it interesting this supposed forerunner of the ADM’s never uses names. He tells them to be merciful. Truth is, by their standards, he seems rather wishy washy.

Seriously, go read the book here. Come back and tell me what you think.

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Every once in a while a truly and thoroughly evil villain appears, such as a Hitler or Stalin, an Ivan the Terrible or Vlad the Impaler. Folks such as these are easy to oppose. But, when opposing someone who does not exhibit pure evil, building a caricature helps. The first step in any confrontation, be it political, military, or otherwise is to portray your adversary in as poor a light as possible… and the weaker your position/argument the more sever (and important) the caricature becomes.

We have seen this time and time again with various amateur discerners and their blogs. Arguing from a position of weakness, often employing logic based on faulty information, hyperbole, or mere preferences – they must create a caricature of their opponent. Addressing real issues, taking people at face value, using complete statements, bothering to understand the nuances of a thought or comment are either lost or ignored.

The process is exacerbated when the ADM echo chamber kicks in and they start cross-linking and reposting – each time hardening the categories and expanding the caricature.

For example; here is a recent post (in its entirty) by Ingrid on SoL:

Here is an excellent post by Chris Rosebrough at Extreme Theology on the emergent whine that anyone who states anything authoritatively about God is “putting God in a box.” That line is a favorite of those who simply like to make their god up as they go. God has revealed Himself to us in His Word. But emergents, kicking that Word to the curb, would prefer to have a god who changes with them. It is much, much more convenient.

Notice the definitive statements of supposed fact: anyone who states anything authoritatively about God, [they] make their god up as they go, God has revealed Himself to us in His Word. But emergents…

I challenge this ADM to show an example where anyone whom she regularly names says “Any definitive and authoritative statement about God is placing him in a box.” Her hyperbole in caricature creation renders her objections shrill, comical, and useless.  She may have had a point, but her method of re-creating her foe into an unrecognizable caricature renders her argument meaningless.

But this is just the echo chamber exacerbating the ridiculous. If you read the original by Chris R., you will see it is somewhat more tempered – but still guilty of caricature creation and assassination – or straw man – and therefore it is to be rejected.

The very title of the post betrays the false dichotomy upon which it is built – God in a Box” or God As He Has Revealed Himself? This is not a dichotomy. These are not mutually exclusive choices. God has indeed revealed himself, and we finite humans routinely place him in a box.

The thesis of the post is this:

Today, if you happen to be conversing with a group of CHRISTIANS and you boldly, confidently, and succinctly talk about God and His characteristics, attributes and what He has done you are very likely to be accused of “putting God in a box”?

To a point I agree, though I would say “You may be accused…” But instead of exploring this thesis, instead of advancing when God is boxed and when he is not -the ADM jumps immediately to a caricature of his own creation.

He writes:

One of these Christians might even throw a Rob Bell quote or two in your face and tell you that you need to not be so arrogant and should adopt a more humble hermeneutic. According to Bell, “The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God. We are dealing with somebody we made up.” (Velvet Elvis, Page 25)
Poppycock!

Humility is poppycock?

It’s supposedly poppycock because

In the scriptures we have God’s revelation of himself and that divine self-revelation gives us some very hard neat lines and definitions about who God is, what He is like, what He has done and what true worship of Him entails. … But, we must always be careful to not allow our imaginations to go beyond what God has revealed about Himself in his word. That which God has not revealed about himself is still mystery.

At this point I would again agree… and so would Bell if he were allowed to speak for himself. After quoting a few of the giants of the faith the ADM points out “…that Paul didn’t say that we ‘can’t know’ but that we only KNOW IN PART.” Here he is denying a statement Bell never made. He’s arguing with a caricature of his own creating not any actual statements made by Rob Bell.

In context, Bell was simply affirming what the ADM himself said; “That which God has not revealed about himself is still mystery.” To deny and subvert this context the ADM must ignore statements that affirm the existence of truth and that Bell affirms the historic Christian faith. Which, by the way, he in no ways denies.

Basically, the ADM and the echo chamber have taken a simple and true statement – If your goal is to figure [God] out and totally understand [Him], it’s not going to happen. and twisted it into “You cannot say anything definitive or authoritative about God.” Then they attack.
This is sloppy at best; it is dishonest as worst… I don’t think they are that sloppy.

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