Tuesday, September 23, 2014

And Will You Murmur?

I am mute; I do not open my mouth, 
for it is you who have done it.  
Psalm 39:9 
Has not God given you…
- a changed heart,
- a renewed nature, and
- a sanctified soul
—and will you murmur?

Has He not given you…
- Himself to satisfy you,
- His Son to save you,
- His Spirit to lead you,
- His grace to adorn you,
- His covenant to assure you,
- His mercy to pardon you,
- His righteousness to clothe you
—and will you murmur?

Has He not made you…
- a friend,
- a son,
- a brother,
- a bride,
- an heir
—and will you murmur?

Has not God often turned…
- your water into wine,
- your brass into silver, and
- your silver into gold
—and will you murmur?

When you were dead, did not He quicken you?
When you were lost, did not He seek you?
When you were wounded, did not He heal you?
When you were falling, did not He support you?
When you were down, did not He raise you?
When you were staggering, did not He establish you?
When you were erring, did not He correct you
When you were tempted, did not He support you? and
When you went in dangers, did not He deliver you?
—and will you murmur?

--Thomas Brooks, The Mute Christian under the Smarting Rod

Friday, September 19, 2014

What Fire Is to Gold, Affliction Is unto Souls

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 
2 Corinthians 12:8-10
Where affliction is, there is also consolation; where consolation, there is grace also. For instance when he was thrown into the prison, then it was he wrought those marvellous things; when he was shipwrecked and cast away upon that barbarous country, then more than ever was he glorified. When he went bound into the judgment-hall, then he overcame even the judge. And so it was too in the Old Testament; by their trials the righteous flourished. So it was with the three children, so with Daniel, with Moses, and Joseph; thence did they all shine and were counted worthy of great crowns. For then
the soul also is purified, when it is afflicted for God’s sake: it then enjoys greater assistance as needing more help and worthy of more grace. And truly, before the reward which is proposed to it by God, it reaps a rich harvest of good things by becoming philosophic [calm or unflinching in the face of trouble, defeat, or loss]. For affliction rends pride away and prunes out all listlessness and exerciseth unto patience: it revealeth the meanness of human things and leads unto much philosophy. For all the passions give way before it, envy, emulation, lust, rule, desire of riches, of beauty, boastfulness, pride, anger; and the whole remaining swarm of these distempers. And if thou desirest to see this in actual working, I shall be able to show thee both a single individual and a whole people, as well under affliction as at ease; and so to teach thee how great advantage cometh of the one, and how great listlessness from the other.

For the people of the Hebrews, when they were vexed and persecuted, groaned and besought God, and drew down upon themselves great influences from above: but when they waxed fat, they kicked. The Ninevities again, when they were in the enjoyment of security, so exasperated God that He threatened to pluck up the entire city from its foundations: but after they had been humbled by that preaching, they displayed all virtue. But if thou wouldest see also a single individual, consider Solomon. For he, when deliberating with anxiety and trouble concerning the government of that nation, was vouchsafed that vision: but when he was in the enjoyment of luxury, he slid into the very pit of iniquity. And what did his father? When was he admirable and passing belief? Was it not when he was in trials? And Absalom, was he not sober-minded, whilst still an exile; but after his return, became both tyrannical and a parricide? And what did Job? He indeed shone even in prosperity, but showed yet brighter after his affliction. And why must one speak of the old and ancient things? for if one do but examine our own state at present, he will see how great is the advantage of affliction. For now indeed that we are in the enjoyment of peace, we are become supine, and lax and have filled the Church with countless evils; but when we were persecuted, we were more sober-minded, and kinder, and more earnest, and more ready as to these assemblies and as to hearing. For what fire is to gold, that is affliction unto souls; wiping away filth, rendering men clean, making them bright and shining. It leadeth unto the kingdom, that unto hell. And therefore the one way is broad, the other narrow. Wherefore also, He Himself said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” (John 16:33) as though he were leaving some great good behind unto us. If then thou art a disciple, travel thou the straight and narrow way, and be not disgusted nor discouraged.

--John Chrysostom. (1889). Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the Second Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians J. Ashworth & T. B. Chambers, Trans.). In P. Schaff (Ed.), . Vol. 12: Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians (P. Schaff, Ed.). A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (401–402). New York: Christian Literature Company.
"...as though he were leaving some great good behind unto us" (i.e. inheritance).

Monday, September 08, 2014

Why Heterosexual Marriage Matters

When partners unite in a model where there are two of the same rather than opposite genders, the picture of the "Transcendent Other" (infinite uniting with finite man) is missing.  When we have a heterosexual marriage model, it is a celebration of the fact that the transcendent God, the One who is like no other, chose to initiate a relationship with finite man.  Although we are in a relationship together, it is a relating of two very un-homogenous natures.  God will never become "one" with mankind in the sense that He loses His divine nature or is no longer "other" (the transcendent deity).  The marriage model with two opposite genders reflects two different natures in relationship.

What is the big deal about preserving the idea of traditional marriage?

What is all the fuss about?

When heterosexual marriages are exchanged for same-sex relationships, marriage's ability to serve as a model or visible portrayal of infinite God uniting with mortal, finite man is destroyed.  The command to be fruitful cannot be fulfilled.

The model for the gospel is obliterated.

Please don't miss the importance of this--this is why heterosexual marriage matters.

--Kimberly Wagner, Fierce Women: The Power of a Soft Warrior, p. 239-240

Friday, September 05, 2014

Paul's Message and Method

Unlike the book of Acts, the letters tells us little about the numerical response to Paul's preaching.  We know more about the apparent failures of his preaching.  By refusing to treat the gospel as merchandise (2 Cor. 2:17) or to "tamper with God's word" (2 Cor. 4:2, RSV), Paul demonstrated his concern to be faithful to a trust, even if his faithfulness produced few results.  Although he knew that his audience considered his story "foolishness," he nevertheless preached "Christ crucified" (1 Cor. 1:22-23) in a direct challenge to an alternative way of viewing reality.  His proclamation was neither a response to the questions that people were asking nor an attempt to present Christianity as the answer to their own pursuits.  In his claim that God had acted in the events of the cross and resurrection, he knew that he was challenging a culture's myths and that his listeners would consider the message scandalous (1 Cor. 1:18-25; Gal. 5:11).  Paul gave his listeners a clear choice, a message that they could reject!  We easily forget that most of them did.  A challenge to the world's view of reality and a summons for listeners to conform their story to the larger story is not likely to result in easy victories.

Paul does not assume responsibility for the results of his preaching; God has called him to be faithful, not successful.  Where Paul's preaching results in a rejection of his message, he knows that the fault is with neither the message nor the messenger, but with the blindness that lies over the eyes of unbelievers (2 Cor. 4:4).  Where his preaching has positive results, he knows that it is God's power and not his own preaching that has been effective.  The gospel is "the power of God for salvation" (Rom. 1:16).  Unlike the rhetoricians, he does not preach with "plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (1 Cor. 2:4).  God's power is present in the preaching event, awakening faith in the listeners.  Consequently, Paul is not the evangelist who depends on his cleverness, sermonic technique, audience manipulation, or adaptation of the message for the sake of having maximum results.  His task is to confront the audience with a message that it does not want to hear, leaving the response to God.

--James W. Thompson, Preaching Like Paul: Homiletical Wisdom for Today, p. 48-49
This line stood out to me perhaps more than all the others:
His proclamation was neither a response to the questions that people were asking nor an attempt to present Christianity as the answer to their own pursuits.
I still remember the first time I heard the idea that faithful and winsome evangelism requires answering the questions people are asking with the truth of God's Word.  I've heard it multiple times, perhaps most recently from Tim Keller:
So the first task of contextualization is to immerse yourself in the questions, hopes, and beliefs of the culture so you can give a biblical, gospel-centered response to its questions.  When Paul began to speak to the philosophers in Athens, he began by saying he had carefully studied their objects of worship (Acts 17:23).  We should do the same.

--Tim Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City, p. 121
Interestingly enough, Keller (commenting on 1 Corinthians 1:22-24) also argues that faithful contextualization requires presenting Christianity as the answer to the pursuits of those who are lost:
Notice that while the gospel offended each culture in somewhat different ways, it also drew people to see Christ and his work in different ways.  Greeks who were saved came to see that the cross was the ultimate wisdom--making it possible for God to be both just and the justifier of those who believe.  And Jews who had been saved came to see that the cross was true power.  It meant that our most powerful enemies--sin, guilt, and death itself--have been defeated.

It is striking, then, to see how Paul applies the gospel to confront and complete each society's baseline cultural narrative.  He does this both negatively and positively.  He confronts each culture for its idols, yet he positively highlights their aspirations and ultimate values.  He uses the cross to challenge the intellectual hubris of the Greeks and the works-righteousness of the Jews.  But he also affirms their most basic collective longings, showing that Christ alone is the true wisdom the Greeks have looked for and is the true righteousness that the Jews have sought.  Paul's approach to culture, then, is neither completely confrontational nor totally affirming.   He does not simply rail against Greek pride in intellect and Jewish pride in power; instead he shows them that the ways they are pursuing these good things are ultimately self-defeating.  He reveals the fatal contradictions and underlying idolatry within their cultures and then points them to the resolution that can only be found in Christ.  This is the basic formula for contextualization.

--Tim Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City, p. 111-112
Now, maybe it's just me, but it doesn't sound to me like Thompson and Keller are painting the same picture of Paul's message and method--nor do they sound complementary.  If this is indeed the case, whose portrait more accurately reflects the biblical landscape?

Thursday, September 04, 2014

God's Military Tactics

So what does God think of militarism?  Does God think, with Hal Lindsey, that the moral downfall of America is due to a "crisis of military weakness"?  Does "the Bible" really "support building a powerful military force" as Wayne Grudem says?  Should we consider a strong national defense to be a biblical virtue?

Not at all.
Quite the opposite, in fact.

However, America's excessive militarism is inconceivable apart from "the support offered by several tens of millions of evangelicals."  This is unbelievable.  Most of all, it's unbiblical.

If America, for instance, used the Bible to shape its warfare policy, that policy would look like this.  Enlistment would be by volunteer only (which it is), and the military would not be funded by taxation.  America would not stockpile superior weapons--no tanks, drones, F-22s, and of course no nuclear weapons--and it would make sure its victories were determined by God's miraculous intervention, not by military might.  Rather than outnumbering the enemy, America would deliberately fight outmanned and under-gunned.  Perhaps soldiers would use muskets, or maybe just swords.  There would be no training, no boot camp, no preparation other than fasting, praying, and singing worship songs.  If America really is the "new Israel," God's holy nation as some believe, then it needs to take its cue from God and His inspired manual for military tactics.  But as it stands, many Christians will be content to cut and paste selected verses that align with America's worldview to give the military some religious backing.  Some call this bad hermeneutics; others call it syncretism.  The Israelite prophets called it idolatry.

--Preston Sprinkle, Fight: A Case for Christian Non-Violence, chapter 3
Ouch.  That stings.  But Amen, brother.