Jesus, Culture, and Faith

In a class I’m taking called “theology of culture”, we’re looking at the Christian ethic as it relates to culture. How should a practicing Christian engage with culture?

I can’t go into detail about the course at this moment but the point I would like to make is that this question IS important. If we are to take seriously the call to be “in the world, but not of the world” we MUST not rush to conclusions as to what that may or may not look like. Christian thinkers have, through the centuries, employed varying interpretive lenses in order to live out this calling faithfully. We all have them: interpretive lenses. Those lenses are shaped by our very culture, which intensifies the need to THINK through these issues.

The 5 typologies given by Richard Niebuhr in his “Christ and Culture” are astoundingly important:

Christ Against Culture
Christ the Transformer of Culture
Christ in Paradox with Culture
Christ in Above Culture
Christ of Culture

Again, I can’t go into detailed description for each typology here, but what stood out to me was that each typology is to some degree and in certain contexts, a viable option. No thinking Christian could simply place themselves in strictly one of these categories for every cultural confrontation. Essentially, they are contextual categories. What I mean is, with every confrontation with culture, discernment needs to take place. Maybe on monday I’ll fall under the first typology, but on thursday I’ll fall under the third one.

With that in mind, discernment and wisdom, biblically speaking (and practically), are employable when one is in a state of dependance on God: Faith.

We must believe that God has and will continue to provide us with enough (not all) answers in order for us to discernibly and thoughtfully live according to his will and his glory.

By faith we can trust that God will “fill [us] with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding…in order that [we] may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that [we] may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified [us] to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light”

Colossians 1:9-13

BOOK REVIEW: The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission – John Dickson

(citations are from the kindle edition)

In John Dickson’s The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission, Dickson brings an unexpected approach to rediscovering the biblical grounds for orthodox Christian missions. The reader will find a professionally written composition that includes exegetical data understood in its historical, biblical, and linguistic context, in addition to personal stories of gospel encounters, bringing to life the propositions grounded in scriptural analysis. It is informal and theoretical, yet made remarkably practical. Dickson’s stories remind the reader that doctrines alone cannot bring to life the truth of the gospel, but that true missions must involve an encounter with the reality of Jesus’ Lordship. This is Dickson’s overall argument; that to promote the gospel in a biblical fashion involves every aspect of ones life being rooted in the embracing of ‘the Gospel as revealed in the gospels’ — the ‘here and coming’ kingdom of Jesus being Lord. Thus, for Dickson, the Gospel is more than a set of doctrines but is rather founded on the narrative of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, and the key to all of these is that they point to Jesus being Lord and king. This is what is primarily central to the Gospel. In light of this gospel, its promotion is not founded on soteriologically driven themes that prioritize personal salvation (though it may include them), but on the story of Jesus, his kingdom, and its consequences.  Dickson’s ability to stay balanced is an uncommon, yet pleasant approach. He claims that “the gospel message is not a set of theological ideas that can be detached from the events that gave these ideas definitive expression.  Nor is the gospel a simple narrative devoid of theological content” (1872).  Ultimately, an encounter with this gospel inevitably leaves an impact on every aspect of life.  Confronting the matter regarding evangelism training programs, Dickson rightly claims that programs “that focus on the doctrines of sin, atonement and grace without also stressing the need to be gentle, respectful and gracious are incomplete” (2788). Therefore, rightly understanding and receiving the gospel of Jesus being Lord must inescapably result in a graceful lifestyle that simultaneously beautifies and promotes the gospel message.

The climactic chapter that has brought most personal gain for myself would be that of the Gospel. Dickson puts into perspective what the gospel really is, the “Gospel as portrayed by the gospels.” He shares a most enlightening conclusion that to tell the gospel involves “recounting the deeds of the Messiah Jesus” (1685). I have gained a personal sense of urgency coming from the realization that the majority of evangelical circles today have deduced the gospel to four spiritual laws centered on personal salvation. In engaging with the ‘cognitive dissonance theory’ that Dickson makes reference to, I ask: is it not possible that we have modified the gospel to fit our consumerist society? Have we, due to our consumerist mindset, deduced the gospel to matters of personal benefit, and at what expense? When the promotion of God’s glory is central to the gospel then we are disarmed in being consumer driven. Subsequently, the privatization of the gospel experience has perhaps caused us to fail to realize that the gospel has more to do with breaking cultural barriers than we might think. In Dickson’s chapter “Following the ‘Friend of Sinners,’” he briefly points out that Paul criticized Peter for “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel” when he separated himself from the Gentiles (Galatians 2:14).  Thus, when we act in line with the truth of the gospel, we are not creating cultural barriers, but like Paul and Jesus, we live “oriented toward the salvation of outsiders,” (715) since “eating with sinners was for Paul exactly what it had been for Jesus: an embodiment of the salvation message itself” (731). One can perhaps make the argument that we have sidelined issues of racial segregation at the aggrandizement of personal salvation. Thus, the gospel has much to do with community; it is not a private salvation but a communal and public one. Citing Rodney Stark as referenced in Dickson’s chapter entitled “Being the Light of the World,” Stark claims that  “a major way in which Christianity served as a revitalization movement within the empire was in offering a coherent culture that was entirely stripped of ethnicity.” It is this new ‘culture’ that resulted from a kingdom-centered gospel, and this is the key to a continuing revitalization: when the message of Christ’s here and coming kingdom is central to the gospel it will empower the Church to truly be the Light of the World (1366).

 

N.T. Wright – Justification

It is unfortunate that most have pigeon-holed N.T. Wright into being a theologian with “liberal tendencies.” Many have categorized him as unbiblical in his “New Perspective” approach that at first glance seems to undermine classical Protestant Theology. “Justification by faith” has become the end all of Protestantism, more specifically for Reformed Theology, and Wright’s approach is not to discard it completely, but to understand in the grand framework of the Abrahamic Covenant.

The implications regarding our definition of justification is enormous, and Wright is simply using the New Perspective as a means to show that Paul’s use of “justification by faith” has way more implications than simply securing ones destination to heaven. Paul’s use of Abraham throughout his epistles, namely Galatians, and Romans, aren’t merely examples or illustrations of faith, but rather provide a framework in which we understand what faith and salvation really is.

The first part of this book is dedicated to a grand introduction, engaging with the “justification” on the basis of history, tradition, and of course the Bible. The second part of the book focuses on the exegesis of Scripture, as he goes through various Pauline epistles, bringing them into light through his exposition framed by the Abrahamic covenant.

Without giving away too many details in this book I will say a few things. Wright defines words like “righteousness” and “justification,” and does so with historical and literal context in mind. These words have familial and communitarian implications and essentially provide a greater Ecclesiology, Christology, and Missiology.  For Wright, the righteousness of God is not explicitly (though perhaps implicitly) a moral virtue, but specifically refers to his covenant faithfulness made with Abraham. This is made clear throughout Wright’s exposition of the book of Romans. Our ‘righteousness’ has to do with our covenant membership and behaviour. The marker then for those who are part of this covenant community is — like abraham — faith, not “works of Torah.” The problem is, that since the late medieval period, the church has ‘de-judaized’ the gospel, and has assumed that the problem with Judaism, and specifically 1st century judaism was legalism; essentially, that Jews from the 1st century were trying to earn their salvation. This is precisely wrong.

The 1st century Jews were quite aware that they were already a part of this covenant family, and the works of the law were a “marker” that intensified their separation from their gentile neighbours. For them, they were “justified by the works of torah” – in other works, they were counted as part of the covenant family and the works of torah was evidence of that fact. There is no such idea that 1st century judaism is attempting to earn salvation, it was already given by God through Abraham.

It was an ethnic elitism that had become problematic for the famous Jewish sect known as the Pharisees. Legalism was not the problem. God’s purpose of the Torah was not to intensify some kind of ethnic elitism but to provoke the surrounding nations to become part of the family of God, always intended since God’s covenant with Abraham. They were to be a “light unto the nations,” so that through Abraham, “many nations would be blessed” (Gen. 15). For this reason, Jesus reminds them that they are “a light unto the nations” and a “city set on a hill,” yet unfortunately, they failed miserably.

With this in mind, (and much more if you read the book for yourself), Wright points out that being “justified” by faith, has more implications than merely assuring the believer that he will one day go to heaven. So, if you’re wondering what those implications are, read the book. I highly recommend it.

 

Criticism of A Separate “Rapture”

The following is an excerpt from http://www.theopedia.com/Rapture, Text licensed under CC BY 3.0.

The doctrine of the rapture as an event separate from the general resurrection is a fairly recent doctrinal development within the scope of the Church’s historic body of belief.  Prior to 1830, most of the ‘rapture texts’ were regarded as referring to the General Resurrection. This was especially the case with the 1 Thessalonians 4 passage which was primarily regarded as referring to the resurrection rather than a rapture.

Virtually no prominent theologians held to this theory before Darby‘s influence in the 1840’s.  For example, none of the great reformers, e.g. Luther or Calvin, believed in a “Secret Rapture” theory. Nor did the ancient church fathers such as John ChrysostomJustin MartyrIrenaeus,Hippolytus expressly assert the theory of the pre-tribulation rapture, with the possible exception that The Shepherd of Hermas, 1.4.2 speaks of not going through the Tribulation.

Some Reformed theologians are still favorable of using the term “rapture” but insist on making a very clear distinction between rapture as a synonym for resurrection and what Dispensationalists propose by the term, namely an escape from a yet-future tribulation period. John Stott calls this idea “escapism” in his book Issues Facing Christians Today (2006, 4th ed.). He goes on to write that the Dispensational concept of a “secret rapture”  is one of the most destructive doctrines gripping the Evangelical Church today. According to Stott, it thwarts planning, hinders social involvement, and gives Christians a gloomy outlook for the future.

Other texts used by proponents of a separate rapture, such as Matthew 24:40 – Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left., when taken in context (especially Christ’s statement in Matthew 24:34) are seen by some Preterists as predictions of the Roman catapult bombardment of Jerusalem during the 42 month siege of Jerusalem from late 66-70 AD, not to a rapture. While Dispensationalists claim that the predictions in Matthew 24 are yet-future, centering on a secret-rapture, critics maintain that an exegesis of this passage reveals that this is at best unlikely, if not biblically and historically impossible (cf. The Most Embarrassing Verse In The Bible by Andrew Corbett).

The Kingdom in Mark: 3 Predictions and 3 Misunderstandings

If you read the Bible, and more specifically if you read the Gospel’s you’ll notice that the disciples of Jesus had a hard time understanding certain things. Mark gives us an interesting picture regarding their complete misunderstanding of the kingdom. Even though to them it had “been given the secrets of the kingdom” (Mark 4:11), Jesus asked them various times, “do you not yet perceive or understand/ are you hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you net hear?” (Mark 8:17-18, cf. 4:13; 7:18; 6:52). What had been given to them was Christ himself, but what they seemed to fail to understand was the implications of the kingdom of God. Their expectations of what was to happen represent the same expectations of all of Israel; that God would eventually send a Messiah who would militaristically and politically take charge of Israel and be in command. For Israel, the comming Messiah meant political power and authority given back to the people of God.

I think Mark chooses many ways to show this, but I want to highlight one. Jesus predicts his death and suffering three times, in 8:31-38, in 9:30-32 and in 10:32-34. Now the interesting thing that Mark does is that he juxtaposes the disciples misunderstanding right next to the predictions. First with the transfiguration, Jesus’ clothes become radiant on the mountain (sounds familiar, think Exodus?), and Elijah and Moses show up, and suddenly Peter says “it is good that we are here.” Of course these words should be seen in light of the next part. In 9:34, after the second prediction of the suffering Messiah (literally right after), it says that “they (disciples) argued about who was the greatest.” And then lastly, following Jesus’ 3rd prediction, James and John have the brilliant request: “grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left in your glory” (10:37).

We see more of this happening later on as Judas betrays Jesus for money (14:10-11), Peter denies ever knowing Him (14:66), and none of them eventually stay with Him, but they all “fled” (14:50).

The people of Israel misunderstand the plan of God. They expected to be freed from Roman bondage by sword. In fact, that will explain why Jesus will constantly tell those whom he healed NOT to tell anyone. If the people thought of him as the Messiah, they would quickly begin to riot against Roman rule. Similarly, the disciples, the closest ones, completely misunderstood the meaning of the Kingdom.

Here’s the big idea. Mark is writing to Christians who like us would read the gospels and identified themselves as being disciples. Mark is warning against presuppositions that come from our own pride and smugness, and our own self-assurance. The people of Israel had an expectation that was completely off, so did the disciples. I think what Mark may be saying is that wether or not we may think we are “insiders” we may miss the point of discipleship, equating it with worldly status rather than obedient service.

Ye Holy Angels Bright

In 1681, on the year that his wife died after 19 years of marriage, Richard Baxter wrote the words for the hymn Ye Holy Angels Bright.

Ye holy angels bright,
who wait at God’s right hand,
or through the realms of light
fly at your Lord’s command,
assist our song,
for else the theme
too high doth seem
for mortal tongue.

Ye blessed souls at rest,
who ran this earthly race
and now, from sin released,
behold your Savior’s face,
his praises sound,
as in his sight
with sweet delight
ye do abound.

Ye saints, who toil below,
adore your heavenly King,
and onward as ye go
some joyful anthem sing;
take what he gives
and praise him still,
through good or ill,
who ever lives!

My soul, bear thou thy part,
triumph in God above:
and with a well-tuned heart
sing thou the songs of love!
Let all thy days
till life shall end,
whate’er he send,
be filled with praise!

Searching for Truth

My journey is like Moses who went on the mountain in Exodus 24 in search for God. Or at least my convictions tell me that it should be. He was in search of true theology, while his people waiting for him decided they’d come up with their own theology. One that served creation rather than creator. It came by their impatience and desire to worship.

Moses went up the mountain, was there for a long time, and sought God. My prayer is that my theology would also be formed through prayer. There are many books and commentaries and denominations that interpret biblical theology differently, giving us various “religions” and theologies.

My belief is that there are strengths and weaknesses in every denomination. This places me on a search for truth. Others may be in a place where they too are searching for correct theology, and maybe some believe they have found it. Wherever you are, I pray that you wouldn’t be defined by your denomination, whether Reformed or Pentecostal, or something else, but you would be defined by prayer, not prayer itself, but the result of prayer. In order for this to happen we must be passionate about truth. Truth that doesn’t waiver. Truth that may sometimes offend. Truth that may be hard to swallow.

Moses went up the mountain, Jesus went to a desolate place, and we too ought to seek divine truth in momentous occasions of faith: prayer fueled by our desire for unrelenting truth.

How To Know What Real Revival Looks Like

By: Ray Ortlund

*Cited from: http://ow.ly/4pY0L **

In 1972 I heard J. I. Packer lecture at my seminary. One simple sentence of his has echoed in my mind ever since: “Do not neglect the revival dimension in your ministry.” Revival ispowerfully Christ-exalting. That is what I desire. And I am guessing that you, as you follow The Resurgence, feel the same passion.

What is a true revival?

But how can we distinguish true revival from false? Not everything labeled “revival” can be trusted and welcomed. Fortunately, we have guidance from a master theologian,Jonathan Edwards, who studied the Bible profoundly and experienced revival personally.
In his essay The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God Edwards offered categories for discernment from 1 John 4:1, where the apostle writes, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God…”

Not everything going on in church is of God

Edwards broke it down into two broad categories. First, negative signs. That is, what’s going on in a church may or may not be of God. We just can’t be sure. Edwards listed nine negativeevidences:
  1. What’s stirring in a church is new, unprecedented, surprising.
  2. People are emotionally aroused, trembling and weeping, even passing out.
  3. It attracts attention and causes a public stir.
  4. People have intense experiences, and spiritual things become vividly real.
  5. What draws people in is the example of others.
  6. The people involved misbehave at times, even get weird.
  7. Satan mixes in his delusions.
  8. Some of the people involved fall into bad doctrine and sin.
  9. The preachers scare people with their portrayal of God’s wrath and hell.
Edwards believed that a movement marked by these negative signs is not necessarily disqualified as true revival. But we need to know more.

God at work

Second, there are positive signs—that is, proofs that God mustbe at work. A revival is always imperfect, because we complicate it. But we can still know for sure that God is there too. The devil not only won’t, but can’t produce these outcomes:
  1. People lovingly raise their esteem of the biblical Jesus, displayed in the gospel.
  2. The movement pushes back against sin and Satan’s hold on people’s lives.
  3. People revere the Bible with a settled conviction that it is God’s truth.
  4. People receive and are helped by sound theology, even though it means they have to change.
  5. People grow in love for Christ and in loving humility toward one another.
Edwards taught that when spiritual power moves through a church with this impact, the Holy Spirit has done it. This is revival. We should receive it with enthusiasm.

Stay low before the Lord

One reason I’m glad to be involved in Acts 29 is that if we will stay low before the Lord, what he is doing among us could surge into “times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:20). The very thought moves me. I hope it moves you too.
Lord Jesus, visit us with power for this generation, to the praise of your glorious grace!

Cited from: http://ow.ly/4pY0L

Classic book on revival….

Jesus; the Sum, the Center

“Jesus is both the sum and center of our Christian faith. In a conversation I was privileged to have with noted theologian Dr. David Wells, he made mention of a very insightful fact. Unlike most religions, Christianity has no place, language, race, or culture that serves as a center to hold it together. Christians share no worldwide headquarters, no common language, no common race or ethnic heritage, and no common framework. The only thing that holds all of Christianity together is the risen Lord Jesus Christ who is alive today.”

Mark Driscoll
Vintage Jesus pg 200 –

Wether you Eat or Drink…

 

I recently heard someone preach on the verse: “whether you eat or you drink, do it all for the glory of God..” (1 Cor 10:31). The preacher went on to say that as Christians we sometimes “dichotomize” our lives. We’ve got the “secular” part of life: being with friends, going out, doing laundry, whatever. And then the “religious (or spiritual)” part of life where we go to church, we have our devotionals, we pray, we seek God. Rightly so, his point was that “dichotomized Christianity” doesn’t really exist.

This is a concept I’ve been thinking and wrestling with a lot over the last few weeks. Most might say that the subject and focus of this verse is “you.” That is true, but let me take it further and add to it.

I want to point out that the end all, the purpose, the goal, the highlight is not about what “you” (and me) are doing… but its about the Glory of God. This tells me much about God’s character, He’s interested in the ‘fine print’ of life. Ever read the Bible and get to a genealogy? Those are kind of boring, but they remind me of God’s attention to detail; to me and you those names mean nothing! But God see’s them and smiles because he knows everything about them.

God’s not so big and great and awesome that he only cares about the “important things” in life, but he’s so big, great and awesome because he see’s and cares about every little thing in every person’s life, that ever existed and ever will. In fact, the day he called Abraham he knew that I would be writing this note today. The day of the flood, he knew that you would be reading this note.

So wether I eat, or I drink, I’ll glorify God because He knows that I’m eating and drinking. But it doesn’t end there. Romans 8:28-29 says that all things work together for the good for those who love God and are called for his purpose. Everything includes the small things…. my conception of this is that God allows EVERYthing to happen so that they become an opportunity for the good, which is to be more like Jesus. It comes down to this: when you pray for more faith, will God just give you faith or will he give you an opportunity to have faith? Or maybe your dealing with patience, like most of us who like to be in control of time. Maybe you can figure that one out and let me know.

I wish I had a proper conclusion to this, luckily its not something I’m graded on… but Jonathan Edwards, an 18th century preacher said “the chief ends of man is to Glorify God; BY enjoying Him.” When all is said and done, all our unpleasant circumstances will still remain unpleasant no matter how much “Christian jargon” we add to it. BUT, there is a peace when we realize that, whether we eat or drink, whatever we do… we can glorify God, because while you are doing your thing, God see’s, he knows, he hears, and he’s setting you up, not to fail, but to succeed in becoming more like him.