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Friday, April 18, 2014

I Don't Think This is What Good Friday Means

Brian McLaren seems to be on a role this week. Again, I don't think this is what Christians mean by this. Here is McLaren on the meaning of Good Friday.
To be a follower of Jesus in this light is a far different affair than many of us were taught: it means to join Jesus' peace insurgency, to see through every regime that promises peace through violence, peace through domination, peace through genocide, peace through exclusion and intimidation. Following Jesus instead means forming communities that seek peace through justice, generosity, and mutual concern, and a willingness to suffer persecution but a refusal to inflict it on others. To follow Jesus is to become an atheist in regard to all bloodthirsty, tribal warrior gods, and to become a believer in the living God of grace and peace who, in Christ, sheds God's own blood in a manifestation of amnesty and reconciliation.
At the cross Jesus satisfies the Father's wrath against sin. We are forgiven. At the cross, we are cleansed from all unrighteous. We are cleansed. At the cross and resurrection Christ crushes the head of the serpent. We are free from all accusation. At the cross and resurrection, Jesus succumbs and defeat death. Oh death where is your sting.

Therein lies our peace.


For more:
I Don't Think That is What Palm Sunday is All About
Farewell Old Friend: Saying Goodbye to the Emergent Church
Thesis | Brian McLaren and Emergent Soteriology: From Cultural Accomodation to the Kindgom of God - Full Series
McLaren on Hell and Universalism . . . Again
Hades, Hell, and McLaren's Eisegesis
The Clarity of Ambiguity: The Erosion of the Perspicuity of Scripture in the Emergent Church - the Complete Series
Where to Begin?: 10 Emergent Must Reads 
"A New Kind of Christianity" - A 11 part review and critique of McLaren's book
Revelation and the Ambiguity of Justification: McLaren Adds to the Confusion
Does McLaren Reject Penal Substitution?: A Review of the Evidence
Hamilton: McLaren and Whole Foods Stores
SBTS and McLaren: A Response to SBTS Panel Discussion
The Evolving God: McKnight's Critique of McLaren
The Future of the Emergent Church: McLaren Weighs In
Repost | Occupy Wal-Mart?: So This is What the Kingdom of Heaven Looks Like
Repost | Pinata Theology: Ignore the Issue and Swing at the Distraction - What Piper Has Taught Us About the Church
Emergent Panentheism: The Direction Towards Process Theology Continues
Will the Two Become One?: Emergents Turn to Process Theology
God's Many Names?: Emergent Pluralism in the Extreme
Theology Thursday | Don't Be Fooled: The Conversation Is Not Open To Everyone  

5 Books on the Cross and Resurrection

Obviously Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday is a golden opportunity to reflect and meditate on the meaning of the cross and resurrection. I pray it is a daily exercise. Below are five books that I have read and found to be excellent resources in no particular order (except for the first one).

John Stott The Cross of Christ
This is a classic that should be read at least once by every Christian. This book inspired an entire sermon series on the various motifs of the cross such as the Temple, the Battlefield, and others.

Adrian Warnock Raised with Christ: How the Resurrection Changes Everything
Of all the books I have read on the reality and the doctrine of the resurrection this is by far the best. Warnock presents a strong case for the resurrection's historicity as well as looks at its prediction in the Old Testament and the role it plays in the theology of the New Testament. This is an invaluable tool for every pastor certainly and it is written in a way that the average Christian could grasp.

N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God
Though this is more of an academic work, it remains as one of the most thorough and important works on the resurrection of Christ. Its a thick volume (numbering at 740 pages), but virtually no rock is left unturned. Wright, as a theologian, has his weaknesses, but when it comes to this subject, Wright proves himself to be quite the scholar.

Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach, Pierced For Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal substitution
This is the book to read regarding the doctrine of penal substitution. The authors tackle the biblical evidence and survey what theologians of the past have said regarding the doctrine. Perhaps most helpful is their critiquing common arguments against penal substitution like the more recent "divine child-abuse" blasphemy.

Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Death by Love: Letters from the Cross
In my opinion, every pastor should be aware of the contents of the book (though the first chapter is admittedly weak and problematic). The reason is because it forces ministers to view all of pastoral challenges as remedied by the cross. Each chapter reflects a unique challenge Driscoll has faced and ministry. He then writes a letter to those he is ministering to pointing them to the cross. Throughout the book, the authors apply the doctrines of redemption, propitiation, expiation, Christus Exemplar, and many others. This is an important model for pastors to always follow. Preach. The. Cross.


Others worth mentioning:

"For Us and Our Salvation" by Stephen Nichols: A Review

One of my favorite authors and Christian historians is Stephen Nichols. The first book I read by him was Jesus Made in America which traced the history of Christology from the Puritans to the Religious Right and the Passion of the Christ. Recently, I sat down to read yet another book by Nichols, For Us and Our Salvation: The Doctrine of Christ in the Early Church and was equally pleased.

As the title suggests, Nichols traces the Christological issues debated in the early centuries of the Church. Most interesting about the many names and theological doctrines and debates presented is that things haven't changed centuries later. The debates so central in the opening centuries of the Church remain with us today. The most obvious correlation is seen in the Arian controversy (which denied the divinity of Christ) and the modern Jehovah's Witness movement (which also denies the divinity of Christ).

Nichols traces the Christological debates primarily through two major ecumenical Church councils: Nicea and Chalcedon. Nichols focuses on the major movers and shakers leading up to these major councils, what happened there, and what creeds and confessions of faiths were approved. Men like Arius, Aquinas, Augustine, the Cappodocian Fathers, and many others are discussed in detail.

What was most helpful in this book was the primary sources provided by the author. Nichols doesn't just summarize and interpret the Church Fathers and heretics, but he also lets the reader read these men for themselves. This is very rare in historical books like this. Nichols is gaining popularity in the Christian market and it is pleasing to see how the primary sources remain central to his and his readers' understanding of theology and theological issues.

What sets the stage for the book was the release and popularity of Dan Brown's The Davinci Code. As Nichols rightly points out, the release of the movie and book is a double-edged sword. A lot of people are getting false information on Christ, Christology, the gospel, and Christianity. But on the other end, without such a book in the market, no one would care about these issues. Prior to Brown, no one cared about Nicea, Chalcedon, or Thomas Aquinas. As a result, Nichols calls on Christians not to miss this opportunity to train and teach others on correct Christology and the gospel itself.

I really enjoyed this book. It is rather short (I read it in one day) and yet full of information and important subjects. For those new to church history, this is a good place to start but be aware that you will get lost in all of it. Theology can at times get difficult, but Nichols does a good job explaining it all. Throughout the book, Nichols provides charts to help the reader recall the characters, their theology, and what the Bible actually teaches.

Books like this are ignored by many today and unfortunately so. The Christological debates the Church faced early on are still with us today. And no wonder. If Christ is who He said He was, then we are held accountable. But if we can changed the message by changing His Divinity, Humanity, or message, then we can get off scott free. These issues are still with us and thus we must know them and be grounded in the gospel. 
 
 

"Acient Word, Changing Worlds" by Stephen Nichols: A Review

Ancient Word, Changing Worlds: The Doctrine of Scripture in a Modern AgeOne of my favorite authors of history is Stephen J. Nichols.  His style of writing and his ability to make the complex more simple are abilities that few authors of historic theology have been able to match.  The previous books that I have read Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to the Passion of the Christ and For Us and for Our Salvation: The Doctrine of Christ in the Early Church have been very insightful and helpful for me in understanding doctrines of Christology in the early Church and American history.

I recently picked up and read Nichols' book Ancient Word, Changing Worlds: The Doctrine of Scripture in a Modern Age and as the title suggests, the author traces the history of the doctrine of Bibliology in the modern era. What Nichols does is show how contemporary language regarding Scripture has changed. Words such as plenary, verbal inspiration, etc. are remnants of the modern era and its attack on the Bible.

Nichols makes an interesting argument early on in the Bible that I think is insightful. Christological debates have always been in the forefront, but they were central in the early Church.  As a result, out of the context of Christological debates, the history of theological language regarding Christ was born during this period.  The modern era however attacked the Bible in a way that it had not been before.  The residue of modernity -- including scientism, evolution, and anti-miraculous beliefs - led naturally to an assault on the Bible from both the secular and Christian worlds. As a result, much of the theological language we now use in speaking about the Bible was born out of this era.

Nichols looks at three aspects of Bibliology: inspiration, innerancy, and inspiration. Nichols provides the reader with the leading figures for the orthodox belief on Scripture (like BB Warfield and J. Mechen Greshem) and for those who attacked Scripture like Rudolf Bultmann and the events and writings that shaped the theological discussion.

What I liked the most was the author's discussion of inspiration and hermeneutics.  All along I was wondering if he would at all discuss postmodern Bibliology. He sees postmodernity as an attack on Scriptures perspicuity (or clarity).  I think he is right and others have made similar arguments (see The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception). I really enjoyed how Nichols points out the subjective nature of postmodernity in its approach to Scripture. When one rejects the original intent or the author or at least the knowability of the original intent, then interpretation becomes an issue of one's own beliefs.  As a result, we make the text say and mean what we want it to say and mean.  It would be helpful for Christians to understand this worldview.

As with previous books, Nichols provides primary sources for the reader to take in. Instead of just saying what other people wrote or articulated, the author allows the reader to see it for themselves.  I have found this particularly helpful in my own study of historic theology.

As always, I found Nichols' book insightful and well written. I always leave his books with a new and better understanding of history and theology.  Thus I recommend his writings to everyone. Though at times his books can be rather deep, Nichols is always careful to explain what each word means and also includes a glossary in the back.


For More
"Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought": A Review
Repost | "Welcome to the Story: Reading, Loving, and Living God's Word" by Stephen J Nichols
Weekly Recommendation - "Jesus Made In America" by Stephen J. Nichols
Why the Reformation Matters: A Lecture By Stephen Nichols

All Around the Web - April 18, 2014

Ross Douthat - Diversity and Dishonesty
EARLIER this year, a column by a Harvard undergraduate named Sandra Y. L. Korn briefly achieved escape velocity from the Ivy League bubble, thanks to its daring view of how universities should approach academic freedom.

Korn proposed that such freedom was dated and destructive, and that a doctrine of “academic justice” should prevail instead. No more, she wrote, should Harvard permit its faculty to engage in “research promoting or justifying oppression” or produce work tainted by “racism, sexism, and heterosexism.” Instead, academic culture should conform to left-wing ideas of the good, beautiful and true, and decline as a matter of principle “to put up with research that counters our goals.”

No higher-up at Harvard endorsed her argument, of course. But its honesty of purpose made an instructive contrast to the institutional statements put out in the immediate aftermath of two recent controversies — the resignation of the Mozilla Foundation’s C.E.O., Brendan Eich, and the withdrawal, by Brandeis University, of the honorary degree it had promised to the human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

David PlattHeaven is For Real




Erik Raymond - I Can’t Imagine Being a Liberal Preacher on Good Friday
It is the Thursday before Good Friday. I can’t wait to preach tomorrow night and then Sunday morning. I love preaching Christ every week, but there is something about the Resurrection weekend that is particularly special.

However, when I woke up this morning I was drawn to think about someone I don’t often think about: the liberal pastor. By liberal I am not referring to political affiliation but theological conviction. In particular, I am talking about those who either deny the reality of or diminish the priority of the cross of Christ and his resurrection.

How would you like to be a liberal “preacher” tomorrow? Some of these guys will moralize, emotionalize, sensationalize, or trivialize the work of Christ. They gloss over the wrath, sacrifice, blood, sin and guilt. Instead the focus is on us and the hopefulness of humanity.

I remember growing up attending the Roman Catholic Church. They would actually read a lengthy portion of the gospel narrative. I listened to the priest read the Scripture and many times I was glued to it. I could picture in my mind the scene described and the horrible events that ensued. I was always moved by it. I remember thinking about how awful this was and I never knew why. Sure I was told it was because Jesus is so good and loves us so much, but the whole thing seemed like a nice gesture that went horribly bad. It was a humanitarian mission that kind of went out of control. This was reinforced by the priest’s pathetic homily. He would get up and start talking about anything from the environment to Mary to reasons why we needed to love people. I would check back out.It is the Thursday before Good Friday. I can’t wait to preach tomorrow night and then Sunday morning. I love preaching Christ every week, but there is something about the Resurrection weekend that is particularly special.

However, when I woke up this morning I was drawn to think about someone I don’t often think about: the liberal pastor. By liberal I am not referring to political affiliation but theological conviction. In particular, I am talking about those who either deny the reality of or diminish the priority of the cross of Christ and his resurrection.

How would you like to be a liberal “preacher” tomorrow? Some of these guys will moralize, emotionalize, sensationalize, or trivialize the work of Christ. They gloss over the wrath, sacrifice, blood, sin and guilt. Instead the focus is on us and the hopefulness of humanity.

I remember growing up attending the Roman Catholic Church. They would actually read a lengthy portion of the gospel narrative. I listened to the priest read the Scripture and many times I was glued to it. I could picture in my mind the scene described and the horrible events that ensued. I was always moved by it. I remember thinking about how awful this was and I never knew why. Sure I was told it was because Jesus is so good and loves us so much, but the whole thing seemed like a nice gesture that went horribly bad. It was a humanitarian mission that kind of went out of control. This was reinforced by the priest’s pathetic homily. He would get up and start talking about anything from the environment to Mary to reasons why we needed to love people. I would check back out.

Trevin Wax - The Hollowing Effect of Sin
Tim Keller on the banality of evil:
Evil does not usually make people incredibly wicked and violent – that would be interesting, and tends to wake people up. Rather, sin tends to make us hollow – externally proper and even nice, but underneath everyone is scraping and clutching for power, in order to get ahead. We continually just step on each other…
C. S. Lewis called these folk “men without chests” in The Abolition of Man. They may have reason (represented by the head) or visceral feelings and drives (represented by the gut), but they don’t have hearts. They are not really choosing, but rather are being driven by their desires for power and gain, by their fears and anger. We are all in danger of being just as banal and hollow and uninteresting, if we insist on making God “tame” and banal! Only by worshiping the real God can we escape this boring fate and know the blessing of coming to the house of God, the Lord Jesus, the One who has the words of eternal life.

Tim Challies - The Best Sellers - Your Best Life Now
Joel Osteen was born on March 5, 1963, the son of John and Dolores (known as “Dodie”) Osteen. John founded Lakewood Church in Houston Texas on May 10, 1959, and pastored the church until his death in 1999. While he began his career in ministry as a Baptist, he later experienced something he believed was the baptism of the Holy Spirit and founded Lakewood as a haven for charismatic Baptists. By the 1980s John and Dodie had become well-known among their fellow charismatics. The church had over 5,000 in attendance and their services were broadcast across the world. From a young age Joel was involved in this work, laboring behind the scenes in support of the family ministry.

When John Osteen died suddenly of a heart attack on January 23, 1999, Joel, who had preached his first sermon the week before, succeeded him as pastor with his wife, Victoria, serving as co-pastor. Very quickly, the church exploded in growth and Joel’s broadcasts become more popular than his father’s had ever been; his sermons, full of homespun wisdom and messages of self-empowerment, were heard all over the world and it was only a matter of time before he penned his first book.

In October 2004 FaithWords released Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential. The book is framed around seven steps meant to instruct the reader in living out God’s big dream for his life.

CNS News - Death Discriminates: 81% of Americans 100 or Older Are Women
There is a vast inequality among people who live past their hundredth birthday, according to newly published data from the Census Bureau.

Eighty-one percent of the Americans 100 years old and older during the five-year period covered in the Census Bureau’s report (2007-2011) were women, while only 19 percent were men.

The total number of centenarians, the Census Bureau reports, was 54,956, including 44,644 women and 10,312 men.

The centenarians tended to share another characteristic besides their age and sex: Very few were divorced.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pick a Doctrine of Perennial Importance: Advice from Fred Sanders

Here are some great words of advice from Dr. Fred Sanders that I wish someone had told me my first year of ministry and theological training.



Dr. Marc Cortez of Everyday Theology agrees and elaborated on his website. He begins his article with the following:
Studying theology can be rather daunting given the depth and complexity of topics, the wealth of literature, and the many disparate opinions. Where do you start?

In this short video clip, Fred Sanders offers two pieces of great advice to his theology students. But it’s advice that I think would benefit anyone wanting to study theology more effectively.
  1. Pick a major doctrine to focus on.
  2. Master a classic text.
As he says, the “major doctrines of perennial importance” are daunting in their significance and the wealth of material devoted to them, but they’ll certainly stretch and challenge you. And every major doctrine connects in important ways with all the other ones as well. So having a specific doctrinal locus provides a nice focus for your studies while also giving an entry point into systematic theology as a whole.
When I began my theological and ministry studies, I found myself sampling everything - from biblical archeology to Greek to eschatology to philosophy to preaching to Martin Luther. In many ways I am still like that. It was not until I was finishing my Masters that I decided to narrow my focus, but by then I was almost done with my degrees.

Nonetheless, I think the above advice is wise and would recommend any new student to heed it. Pick a doctrine of perennial importance and become an expert on it and don't neglect the classics in your study.

Why John Calvin Was Buried in an Unmarked Grave

In his helpful book John Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor, Dr. W. Robert Godfrey explains:
[Calvin] was buried on Sunday [May 28, 1564] in an unmarked grave at a secret location somewhere in Geneva. In one of the last commentaries he wrote, he commented on the death and burial of Moses, "It is good that famous men should be buried in unmarked graves."[1] This conviction guided his own burial. He rejected the superstitious veneration of the dead and wanted no pilgrimages to his grave. he had lived to make Christians, not Calvinists. He had perhaps written his own best epitaph in his Institutes ". . . we may patiently pass through this life in afflictions, hunger, cold, contempt, reproaches, and other disagreeable circumstances, contented with this single assurance, that our King will never desert us, but will give what we need, until having finished our warfare, we shall be called to the triumph."[2]

[1] Quote taken from John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 2, 15:4, altered.
[2] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses, Vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979), on Deut. 34:6, 406.


For more:
Calvin on Providence 
On the Reformation: An Interview With Glenn S. Sunshine
Where to Begin?: Calvin on the Starting Point of Theology - The Knowledge of God & the Knowledge of Man
Calvin on the Redemptive Necessity of the Resurrection
Was Calvin a Calvinists?: Helm Weighs In
"The Story of Calvinism": A Sermon Preached by Phil Johnson