Archive for May, 2009

This is always a favorite game of mine: My dad is better than your dad. Sometimes boys play this when they are young. I heard a joke about it once. It had three boys arguing about whose dad was the richest or something like that. The doctor’s son. The Lawyer’s son. And the preacher’s son. It ends with the preacher’s son saying something like, “Well, my dad talks for 30 minutes per week and it takes seven people to carry out his haul.” That’s kind of what I thought about as I read this gem from Sam Guzman: Driscoll’s Jesus.

After informing us of his anger with Driscoll, Samuel writes this:

After opening to a random page and starting to read, I quickly gave up all notions of learning something of value.

Then he writes:

What’s my problem with Driscoll? He has a low and vulgar view of my friend, Jesus. To Driscoll, Jesus is not a conquering King, before whom millions of angels fall on their face day and night; He is not the glorious Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, before whom every knee shall bow; He would never be sitting on a throne high and lifted up; He could never knock you unconscious with a glance. In short, He is not worthy of respect because he’s just an average Joe. Joe the plumber Jesus. I wonder if Mark Driscoll realizes the Jesus of Revelation is Jesus in his humanity. The Jesus with flaming eyes is Jesus the man.

Sam, my friend, no one said you had to read the book. No one said you had to like Mark Driscoll. No one said you had to open to a ‘random page’ and start reading. But how can you, after ‘opening to a random page’ of one book begin to completely understand what a person believes about Jesus? Sam, you are fighting the wrong battle here. Driscoll, for all his weirdness, is on our side; he is preaching the Jesus of Scripture. There is no such thing as ‘Driscoll’s Jesus’ any more than there is ‘Sam’s Jesus’ or ‘Jerry’s Jesus.’

As the second member of the Trinity, Jesus Christ ruled from eternity past as God exalted in glory. He then humbly entered into history as a man to identify with us. The common jargon for the second member of the Trinity entering into history as a human being is incarnation (from the Latin meaning ‘becoming flesh’); it is a biblical concept.

On the earth, Jesus grew from infancy to adulthood, had a family, worked a job, ate meals, increased his knowledge through learning, told jokes, attended funerals, had male and female friends, celebrated holidays, went to parties, loved his parents, felt the pain of betrayal and lies told about him, and experienced the full range of human emotions from stress to astonishment, joy, compassion, and sorrow. Furthermore, Jesus experienced the same sorts of trials and temptations that we do, with the exception that he never sinned. Subsequently, Jesus lived the sinless life that we are supposed to live but have not; he was both our substitute and our example.

Significantly, Jesus lived his sinless life on the earth in large part by the power of the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that Jesus in any way ceased to be fully God while on the earth, but rather as Philippians 2:5-11 shows, he humbly chose not always to avail himself of his divine attributes. Thus, he often lived as we must live: by the enabling power of God the Holy Spirit. I want to be clear: Jesus remained fully God during his incarnation while also fully man on the earth; he maintained all of his divine attributes and availed himself of them upon occasion, such as to forgive human sin, which God alone can do. Nonetheless, Jesus’ life was lived as fully human in that he lived by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Mark Driscoll, The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, pp 128-129, ed by John Piper and Justin Taylor.)

I’m not sure how this Jesus differs from the Biblical Jesus. I’m not sure what you are contending for if this Jesus written of by Driscoll differs from your Jesus whom you claim Driscoll is opposed to. What? I know. I’m confused too.

Driscoll then goes on to defend truth: “Since nothing short of God’s glory and human eternal destiny are at stake when it comes to matters of the truth, we must contend for it like Jude 3 commands.” (134) He then lists what he believes are ten theological issues we must contend for. Among them are 1) Scripture as inerrant, timeless truth. 2) The sovereignty and foreknowledge of God. 3) The virgin birth of Jesus [I would call this the virginal conception]. 4) Our sin nature and total depravity [we don't agree here]. 5) Jesus’ death as our penal substitution [and more!] 6) Jesus’ exclusivity as the only possible means of salvation. And 4 others.

So, Sam, out of curiosity, how is ‘Driscoll’s Jesus’ different from ‘your Jesus’? Contrary to your statement that this is ‘not about theology’, it is about theology. You write:

Your conception of God will transform everything about you, your worship, and your service. In his practice, in his speech, in his writing, in his whole demeanor towards holy things, Mark Driscoll reveals what he really believes God to be like. And it is not high and lifted up.

And you know this to be true because…You are either saying that Driscoll is a liar or that he is, well, a liar. No one, the Scripture says, can say that “Jesus is Lord, apart from the Spirit.”

Sam once again you are fighting the wrong enemy.

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This installment of the De-Sanitizing the Parables series will explore the Parable of the Soil found in Matthew 13. However, before I explore the parable itself, I’d like to give some background on the nature of the parables found in Scripture. To do this, we will listen to two different scholars who give us some crucial background on the nature and use of parables in the New Testament, and a pastor who will help us better understand Jesus’ use of them as story. As such, I have decided to break down my post into two parts. First, an introduction to the nature of parables and second and exploration of the parable of the soils.

Craig Keener has written several books but in this particular case I will depend upon his massive Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Keener notes a couple of important aspects of the parables in the New Testament. First, he writes: “Rabbis commonly taught in parables, sermon illustrations, to communicate their main point or points. This Palestinian Jewish teaching form appears in the New Testament only in the teaching of Jesus, and thus cannot be attributed to composition by the later church outside Jewish Palestine.” (81-82)

This speaks to the authenticity of parables and their direct link to the mouth of Jesus. Especially helpful here is the idea that these are not mere distortions of Jesus’ ‘true’ teachings by later preachers. As we will see too the parables are directly linked to the Old Testament prophets and are seen, to a large extent, as fulfillment of the prophets’ words. There are parables in the Old Testament as well. Nathan told David a parable when he confronted David (2 Samuel 12), for example, and Isaiah used a parable in Isaiah 5 to talk about God’s relationship to Israel.

Second, Keener notes the general character of the population of Jesus’ day, that is, his audience: “Most of the Roman Empire’s inhabitants were rural peasant farmers or herders. The literate elite often ignored this large population, but Jesus’ illustrations show that he ministered frequently among this class. Although Galilee was heavily populated with villages and boasted two major cities (Sepphoris and Tiberias), most of its inhabitants were rural, agrarian peasants.”

So you might say that, in a sense, we have to transport ourselves into their mode of thinking of the world; put ourselves in their shoes; listen to Jesus as if we were farmers, prodigal sons, poor widows, or terminated business managers. Jesus spoke to their point of view and used illustrations that they could understand and relate to and listen to in context. What would make better sense to farmers than an illustration from the farm or to a poor widow than the constant threat of losing a coin or to a shepherd losing a sheep? Jesus spoke to people in language they could understand. He didn’t, as some assume, speak down to them; he spoke in their language. If anything, Jesus, in using their words, their experiences, their context, elevated their words, experiences, and contexts.

Parables keep our feet grounded by requiring us to think outside of our comfort zones about God, kingdom, Son of Man, and our everydayness. Part of the problem with interpreting parables is discussed by our next scholar, Robert Farrar Capon. In his book The Parables of the Kingdom, Capon notes that people can easily and often misunderstand the parables by too quickly assuming that they already know what the parables mean:

“Most people, on reading the Gospels’ assertion that ‘Jesus spoke in parables,’ assume they know exactly what he meant. ‘Oh, yes,’ they say, ‘and a wonderful teaching device it was too. All those unforgettable stories we’re so fond of, like the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.’ Yet their enthusiasm is narrowly based. Jesus’ use of the parabolic method can hardly be limited to the mere handful of instances they remember as entertaining, agreeable, simple, and clear. Some of his parables are not stories; many are not agreeable; most are complex; and a good percentage of them produce more confusion than understanding.” (1)

This immediately puts the reader on the defensive: It is not likely we will understand the parables and we need to listen to them anew, listen to them afresh, and work our way through them again and again. After all, these stories were preserved for us, the Church. Yet, they were spoken to people who were not yet the church in any completely modern sense. Only too often do we allow what we ‘already know’ to get in the way of what is really there. We must admit that it is always difficult to avoid the biases that we carry to the text. Capon illustrates his point by directing our attention to the rejection of Jesus by his contemporaries:

“So too with Scripture. Often when people try to say what the Bible is about, they let their own mindset ride roughshod over what actually lies on the pages…Jesus, for example, was rejected by his contemporaries not because he claimed to be Messiah but because, in their view, he didn’t make a suitably messianic claim. ‘Too bad for God,’ they seemed to say. ‘He may want a dying Christ, but we happen to know that Christs don’t die.’” (4)

His warning, it seems to me, is not that we should be afraid of parables or interpreting them, but that we should be cautious and listen well. Peterson, whom I reference below, notes that “Inconspicuously, even surreptitiously, a parable involves the hearer…A parable is not ordinarily used to tell us something new but to get us to notice something that we have overlooked although it has been right there before us for years” (Tell It Slant, 19). It does us well to work our way through the parables often, and to be and become those whose eyes and ears are open to the Word of Christ. We need to continually visit them, read them, participate in their action. Capon goes on:

“It should be only after long study and repeated readings that I would dare to conclude what any particular passage meant, let alone what the entire thrust of his writing was. With such a wildly various collection, there would always be a temptation to let my own sense of what he was up to get in the way of what he himself really had in mind” (3).

Capon also draws our attention to the fact that the parables, if they are about God, happen to turn on their heads our popular conceptions of who God is and the way God does things:

“In the Bible, as a matter of fact, God does so many ungodly things—like not remembering our sins, erasing the quite correct handwriting against us, and becoming sin for us—that the only safe course is to come to Scripture with as few stipulations as possible. God used his own style manual, not ours, in the promulgation of his word. Openness, therefore, is the major requirement for approaching the Scriptures. And nowhere in the Bible is an un-made-up mind more called for than when reading the parables of Jesus.” (5)

Indeed. The parables turn our conceptions inside out and outside in as he further observes for us:

“For example, some of the parables are little more than one-liners, brief comparisons stating that the kingdom of God is like things no one ever dreamed of comparing it to: yeast, mustard see, buried treasure secured by craftiness, fabulous jewelry purchased by mortgaging everything…Once again, they set forth comparisons that tend to make mincemeat of people’s religious expectations. Bad people are rewarded (the Publican, the Prodigal, the Unjust Steward); good people are scolded (The Pharisee, the Elder Brother, the Diligent Workers); God’s response to prayer is likened to a man getting rid of a nuisance (the Friend at Midnight); and in general, everybody’s idea of who ought to be first or last is liberally doused with cold water (the Wedding Feast, the Great Judgment, Lazarus and Dives, the Narrow Door).” (10)

Finally, there is a pastor, Eugene Peterson whose book, Tell It Slant, is a masterpiece in Peterson’s ‘conversation in spiritual theology.’ In the book, he takes on a journey with Jesus through Samaritan country as he explores Luke 9:51-19:27 and the parables contained therein. I wish there were space and time enough to note more, but I’d like for the time being to pick up on just a particular aspect of Peterson’s work. He begins by reminding us of the rather mundane, earthy subject matter of the parables:

“The subject matter is usually without apparent religious significance. They are stories about farmers and judges and victims, about coins and sheep and prodigal sons, about wedding banquets, building barns and towers and going to war, a friend who wakes you in the middle of the night to ask for a loaf of bread, the courtesies of hospitality, crooks and beggars, fig trees and manure. The conversations that Jesus had as he walked on the Samaritan roads were with people who had a different idea of God than what Jesus was revealing, or maybe not much of an idea at all. This was either hostile or neutral country. Parables were Jesus’ primary language of choice to converse with these people, stories that didn’t use the name of God, stories that didn’t seem to be ‘religious’” (20-21).

For all the ‘high’ talk we use in churches, talk about sanctification, redemption, propitiation and suchlike (all great and useful words!), talk that make us sound far more knowledgeable than we truly are, we stand in contrast with Jesus who didn’t. Jesus seems to have delighted in ‘low talk.’ This prompts Peterson to ask, “Why in the world is Jesus telling unpretentious stories about crooks and manure? Why isn’t he preaching the clear word of God, calling the Samaritans to repentance, offering them the gift of salvation in plain language?” (21) Peterson observes that Jesus’ choice of language is increasingly relaxed and conversational as he nears the day (he is speaking of the context of Luke 9:51-19:27). And Jesus doesn’t apologize for doing so.

Why? Well, Peterson believes that this keeps the conversation going by continually involving the listeners. As Jesus neared the crucifixion, knowing he would not see these Samaritan people again, his language became less direct. He told them stories they would remember, chew on, think about and be involved in forever. We are keen to remember a good story, to hear a good story, to tell a good story. Even now, the popular culture is fond of ‘Good Samaritans’ and ‘Prodigals.’ But church folk forget this simple aspect of life and in our attempts and efforts to be important, we fail to capitalize on such an idea. We forget how to be children. I remember when my eldest son, now nearly 16, was but a toddler. He could listen to the the same stories over and over and over; memorized them too. Why do we forget this as adults? This is what stories are for in the first place. Not merely to entertain even if they do entertain. We remember stories. I couldn’t tell you the financial reports of last month’s board meeting. I can tell you stories from every church I have ever had the pleasure or displeasure of knowing.

“It is common among many of us when we become more aware of what is involved in following Jesus and the urgencies that this involves, especially when we find ourselves in Samaritan territory, that we become more intense about our language. Because it is so much more clear and focused we use the language learned from sermons and teachings to tell others what is eternally important. But the very intensity of the language can very well reduce our attentiveness to the people whom we are speaking—he or she is no longer a person, but a cause. Impatient to get our message out, we depersonalize what we have to say into rote phrases or programmatic formula without regard to the person we are meeting. As the urgency to speak God’s word increases, listening relationships diminish. We end up with a bone pile of fleshless words—godtalk” (21).

So, why? I think this has something to do with keeping people involved in the conversation by requiring their participation. “A parable is not an explanation. A parable is not an illustration. We cannot look at a parable as a spectator and expect to get it. A parable does not make a thing easier; it makes it harder by requiring participation, by entering the story…” (59-60). Parables require effort. Parables require eyes of faith to see and ears of faith to hear. We have to listen and participate.

What I have laid out for you is three important aspects of the parables. First, Keener teaches that parable teaching is a common feature of teachers and rabbis of that day. This is not a later invention of the church. Second, as Capon noted, the parables turn our conceptions of God, Kingdom, Son of Man upside down and undo all our pretension. Third, as Peterson draws our attention to, parables keep us involved in the conversation by bringing us back to earth. “Why do you stand there staring at the sky?” the angel asked the disciples. Indeed, the answers are not found ‘out there’ or ‘up there.’ Jesus said, “Behold! Look around! You will see the Kingdom of God at work in places you never would have thought, under the spell of your own knowledge and wisdom, imaginable.”

Jesus told parables. He told stories that had meaning and connection to the everyday lives of the people who heard those stories. We do well, when we interpret the parables, to first listen to the parables. We do well to pay attention to the context of the parables. We do well to hear first the story of earth before we presume to know and attach meaning of heaven to the word of God. These are not earthly stories with heavenly meanings. They are carefully told earthy stories designed to capture our attention, involve us in a conversation with Jesus, and seek him and his kingdom first.

In part two of this post, I will explore the parable itself and de-sanitize it.

De-Sanitizing the Parables: The Good Catholic

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Regarding an LHT 3500-word (!) post with which he agrees, the “Admin” at Slice declares that those who choose not to read it are “lazy”.  Over-arching labels are no real surprise from that site. I note it only because it’s relevant to a later point.

To be honest, I found the statement that appeared two sentences later to be kinda funny:

Those who actually care about the wolves entering the flock will read this report …

Isn’t that just a derivation of the statement at the bottom of the “[Fw: [FWD: [Fwd: [FW:” email (that you got from Aunt Martha) that says that if you really love Jesus, you’ll pass this on to 10 friends?

But I was taken aback by the sentence in-between these two (referring to the afore-mentioned “lazy”):

These kind are inheriting the unbiblical and dangerous theology they deserve.

Our entire faith is about us not getting what we “deserve”.  I have to say that I’m really surprised by the candid nature of how Slice has delineated itself from, ya know, Christianity.

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I thought that maybe we could use a bit of levity, especially now that the U.S. folks have to go back to work after a 3-day weekend.

Tim Challies highlights a 1959 book called “Soul-Winning Made Easy”.  One could go on for days about the actual spiritual problems with this book, but (virtual) Mondays aren’t generally for shooting fish in barrels, so just enjoy the overall hokey-ness.  (You can tell the sinner in the pictures, because he isn’t wearing a tie.)

Two alternate things to observe:

  1. For a touch of irony, note that Tim gets thrown back under the bus on Slice by a writer who obviously doesn’t get the difference between “occasionally … pointing out the absurdity within the church” and gorging oneself on it.
  2. For the ultimate irony, though, recall all the kvetching that was done on Slice because Tim didn’t “name names” when he wrote about blogs that live off of bad news.  Then note that this new post was written by “Admin”.
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This is from Eugene Peterson’s book Tell It Slant. Here he is commenting on the prayer of Jesus in John 17.

“A major difficulty in taking this prayer to heart is that it doesn’t seem to have made much difference for twenty centuries now, and certainly doesn’t seem to be having much of an impact on Christians at the present. The Christian Church is famous worldwide for being contentious and mean-spirited, for using the words of Moses and Jesus as weapons to exclude and condemn. One of the identifying marks that Jesus gave his disciples is that ‘you have love for one another’ (John 13:35). But not many centuries had passed before outsiders were saying, ‘Look how they vilify one another!’ We kill with verbs and nouns, swords and guns, ‘Christians’ marching under the banner of the cross of Christ.” (Tell it Slant, 223)

Be blessed today. Find a way, as far as it depends upon you, to live at peace with your neighbor. Love the fellowship of Saints.

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Endeavoring to prove how right ‘they’ really are, Slice contributor Sam Guzman picked up on a blog post from Slaughtering of the Sheep (which is also endeavoring) and reported that two of the people who were ‘healed’ by Todd Bentley at the Lakeland revival have now died. Said Slaughtering:

It was inevitable.  A false healing revival with overblown and unsubstatiated (sic.) reports of healing can only lead to one thing for those who are desperate and looking for healing… death.

Said Samuel,

The Slaughter of the Sheep blog carries news that two of those who were declared ‘healed’ by false prophet, Todd Bentley, have now died.

Well, Kudos to Samuel and Slaughtering! You were right and all of us stupid people should have listened to your rightness in the first place then we would have been spared any embarrassment of having to admit later that you were right. Congratulations on being right!

You folks are so insightful. You are so prescient. So wise. Thank you for pointing out that people have died. Thank you for gloating in your rightness. Thank you for pointing to the moon and reminding us it is not the sun.

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Well, now that American Idol is finally over, we can move on to French Idol.

(Sorry to beat you to the punch, Chris R.  I assume this’ll be on your blog soon, too.)

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ht: David Hayward

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One way that I offset my amazing salary and my love of music is to D.J.,run sound for weddings, conferences, or public speaking. Having done this for 15+ years I’ve compiled quite the collection of interesting and sometimes bizarre stories. After this past weekend of running sound for a women’s conference I’ve decided to do a semi-regular series on what I see, experience, and generally am amused by from the most powerful seat during any performance.


While I often, ironically, don’t agree with the methods employed by Online Discernment Ministries I do sometimes agree with the fact that, what I’ll call “short theology”, is becoming more prevalent in American Christianity. This is not to say that I think the Church should be hinged to tradition or nostalgia. Rather the church, like missionaries, should speak the language of culture while maintaining the truth of scripture. Where the ODM’s and I part company is their penchant for hyperbole, slippery slope argumentation, guilt by association, and seeming legalistic approach to everything.

All that to say; this past weekend I was feeling like an ODM. Every speaker and most of the worship music was a little “short” on the full gospel. They were really big on “being loosed” and “letting God love you” but nary a mention of “I’m the chief of all sinners”. Speaker after speaker spoke of the terrible struggles in their lives (which were powerful stories), but never a mention of “I’ve fallen short of God’s glory”. Most everything was about those who had wronged them but nothing of “forgive those who trespass against us”. In short it was “short” theology. All Love but no Sacrifice. All Grace but no Guilt. All Freedom but no Law.

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that these women weren’t saved. Nor am I saying that the Romans road needs to be mentioned every time someone speaks at an event. I recognize that a lot of conversations happen before and after speakers. Also the Holy Spirit works even through bad gospel presentations. What I am saying is that when a unbalanced view of God is presented than perhaps unbalanced growth occurs. In other words is it possible that we risk not having a fullness of faith when we only see God as either a wrathful, angry, smiter of men or an angelic lover of all that we are? I would say yes. It is not an either/or it’s a both/and


Some in the ODM community spend to much time evaluating every word, (well except when they proof text, then they only evaluate certain words) attacking anything that doesn’t line up with their very narrow view of God. They are the same as the women’s conference just on the opposite end of the spectrum.

This weekend I saw ministry happen. This conference had a lot of broken women that really need someone to journey with. It was not enough to say “I’ll pray for you” and then go on their way. It was a blessing to watch these women pray for one another and minister.

Now if I was a true ODM I would fire up the blog and talk ad nauseam about the evil that was this conference. My blog would contribute 3,4,…25 blog posts about the abomination that is women’s conferences. With as much verbose language as I could muster I would tell everyone how they are wrong and I am right. Then I would lay out my theological treatise, call it my thesis and demand that if you don’t live up to all it’s points you are damned. I would petition others to take up the cause. I may even start up a youtube channel to really push back the gates of hell. But I can’t do that. Why?

Because I believe that even in the midst of “short” theology God works. In spite of my poor efforts to communicate the gospel, God works. Regardless of how polished I appear to the outside world I recognize I am a sinner saved by grace who falls short every day. I suspect I get it wrong more than I get it right. So I would rather faithfully, as best as I can, strive to be more like Jesus. Which I suspect most ODM’s also strive for. It’s just hard to see with all the wrathful, angry words they write.

God is still in control. Thank God!

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I believe this to be one of the most beautiful paragraph of words I have ever read in my life. It is profound; mind-boggling. Grace and Peace.

“If we fix our eyes upon the place where the course of the world reaches its lowest point, where its vanity is unmistakable, where its groanings are most bitter and the divine incognito most impenetrable, we shall encounter there—Jesus Christ. On the frontier of what is observable He stands delivered up and not spared. In place of us all He stands there, delivered up for us all, patently submerged in the flood. And if He was delivered up, how much more are we all submerged with Him in the flood, dragged down into the depth, and included in the ‘No’ which God utters over the men of this world and from which there is no escape! How much more are we led to the place where we stand under the universal judgment of God, where, embarrassed by the conflict between righteousness and sin, life and death, eternity and time, there remains naught but the existentiality of God. But the transformation of all things occurs where the riddle of human life reaches its culminating point. The hope of His glory emerges for us when nothing but the existentiality of God remains, and he becomes to us the veritable and living God. He, whom we can apprehend as only against us, stands there—for us. That Christ, who deprives us of everything but the existentiality of God, has been delivered up, means—we must dare to say it, dare to storm the fortress which is impregnable—and already capture!—that God is for us, and we are by His side. Christ who has been delivered up is the Spirit, the Truth, the restless arm of God. If so be that we suffer with Him, how can it be that we should not also be glorified with him? If we die with Him, how can it be that we shall not also live with Him? If God has delivered us up with Him to the judgment which threatens us all, how should He not also with Him give us all things, and thus secure that all things should work together for our good? All things—freely! Concerning the dawn upon which we have gazed, we are able neither to speak nor to be silent.” (Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 327)

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