Saturday, July 30, 2011

Eugene Peterson Cuts to the Quick

The new Holy Trinity. The sovereign self expresses itself in Holy Needs, Holy Wants and Holy Feelings. The time and intelligence that our ancestors spent on understanding the sovereignty revealed in Father, Son and Holy Spirit are directed by our contemporaries in affirming and validating the sovereignty of our needs, wants, and feelings.

My needs are non-negotiable. My so-called rights, defined individually, are fundamental to my identity. My need for fulfillment, for expression, for affirmation, for sexual satisfaction, for respect, my need to get my own way- all these provide a foundation to the centrality of me and fortify my self against diminution.

My wants are evidence of my expanding sense of the kingdom. I train myself to think big because I am big, important and significant. I am larger than life and so require more and more goods and services, more things and more power. Consumption and acquisition are the new fruits of the spirit. 

My feelings are the truth of who I am. Any thing or person who can provide me with ecstasy, with excitement, with joy, with stimulus, with spiritual connection validates my sovereignty. This, of course, involves employing quite a large cast of therapists, travel agents, gadgets and machines, recreations and entertainments to cast out the devils of boredom or loss or discontent- all the feelings that undermine or challenge my self-sovereignty.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Gary's Story

I was thinking about Gary Swetland's story today. In the three years that Gary was at Grace Chapel, he grew deeply into a rich understanding of the love of Christ for him. Of course, his assurance of that love did not always grow in a strictly linear fashion, as even this last Feb. Gary was once again struggling with dying and meeting God. I wrote these words to him in early February, "The Bible describes Jesus as the light of the world who shines into the darkness and promises that the darkness will not overcome Him. Know that, though we struggle, you will not be left in despair. Jesus has tasted death for you and even though you have not been there, Jesus has. He’s the One who lives and reigns in your heart, so be assured friend."

I remember first meeting Gary a few years back when he shared feeling a deep sense of inadequacy before God and struggled with the near-impossible task of being able to "work off the guilt." When I first met Gary, he said that his cursing was out of control and that he smoked a lot and that he wasn't sure if he was OK with God. I reminded him of a song called "Come Ye Sinners," one that we sing at Grace Chapel that he had heard at that point and a song that has this line, "Let not conscience make you linger, not of fitness fondly dream; all the fitness He requires is to feel your need of Him.” I told Gary that this is why Christ had to come, to live a perfect life and provide a perfect sacrifice for him and for His Beloved people. I told Gary that it will never be good enough, except for the fact that God finds us acceptable in His beautiful Son Jesus given for us; faith is that which apprehends the grace and acceptance of God, you see?

I was reading from Francis Schaeffer's The God Who Is There this morning and some of Schaeffer's words struck me as they reminded of Gary's journey and how he came to grow into a deep assurance of the love of God for him:

We must realize that Christianity is the easiest religion in the world, because it is the only religion in which God the Father and Christ and the Holy Spirit do everything. God is the Creator; we have nothing to do with our existence, or the existence of other things. We can shape other things, but we cannot change the fact of existence. We do nothing for our salvation because Christ did it all. We do not have to do anything. In every other religion we have to do something- everything from burning a joss stick to sacrificing our firstborn child to dropping a coin in the collection plate- the whole spectrum. But with Christianity we do not do anything; God has done it all: He has created us and He has sent His Son; His Son died because the Son is infinite, therefore He bears our total guilt. We do not need to bear our guilt, nor do we even have to merit the merit of Christ. He does it all. So in one way it is the easiest religion in the world.

But now we can turn over because it is the hardest religion in the world for the same reason. The heart of the rebellion of Satan and man was the desire to be autonomous; and accepting the Christian faith robs us not of our existence, not of our worth (it gives us our worth), but it robs us completely of being autonomous, p. 182-83.

You see, even though Gary had lost much of his freedom in one sense, his body being ravaged by porphyria and restricted to a wheelchair, nonetheless, it wasn’t until he gave up the autonomy of his heart to God, that he found the peace that he so desperately sought after. I kept telling him on Wednesday, a couple of hours before his death, that he was in a good place, to know that Christ is the Good Shepherd and that the Good Shepherd never lets His sheep go, ever. I told him to let the peace of Christ wash over Him, that he was a blessed man and that He was strong in the embrace of the Savior.

Really, God didn’t so much care about the smoking and the cursing, but He wanted Gary’s heart, and Gary gave it to Him; I’ll be forever grateful to the Lord for Gary’s salvation. As Schaeffer says, “Christ did it all.”

Thursday, July 28, 2011

In Memory of Gary

My friend Gary Swetland entered the sweet embrace of the Lord yesterday afternoon. Gary's memorial service will be at Grace Chapel this Sunday at 4pm. Gary loved this Scripture:

"If I say, 'Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,' even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you" (Psalm 139:11,12). 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Circle of Truth

Over the years, I’ve heard many explanations for why the Church doesn’t often seem to be filled with more savory characters, with goodness and a sense of relational wholeness and health. In fact, in our Philosophy of Ministry Statement at Grace Chapel we write this: “We have a soft spot for those who are slowly ‘re-entering’ church life after a difficult experience in the church.”

I guess the question that is begged here is, why do we need to be a “unique” place for those burned by the Church in the first place? Shouldn’t most churches be places of relational health and wholeness in Christ?

Well, I’ve heard many explanations, perhaps the most common being that the church is “full of sinners” and that perhaps we shouldn’t expect more from “sinners” than anyone else in society. I like this explanation to an extent. I think it is true that the honest Christian will admit to being filled with his own struggles with lust, envy, jealousy, covetousness, greed and on down the line, that we are far from finished products. Nonetheless, there seems to be something God promises as His people are drawn together to form His Body, the Church. The Scriptures seem to expect that this New Community of Christ’s will have a viable and visible witness in the world, one that actually draws praise from outsiders, rather than scorn (Matt. 5:16).

In The God Who Is There, Francis Schaeffer says that while we do not expect to see “perfection” in the Church, we should expect to see “reality.” He calls Christ’s Church the “final apologetic” of the Gospel: also, he calls it the "circle of truth." As my friend and fellow Grace Chapel member Gary Swetland has been dying these last few days, I’ve watched the “final apologetic” working beautifully, whether from Craig Moore’s near daily visits to Lancaster Manor (LM) where Gary is being cared for, to the long-time friendship Dave and Joan Paulus have had with Gary, to Dave Robison, Mike Callen and Stefan Mast visiting Gary Sunday morning, to Ben Loos stopping by LM yesterday, to my wife Tanya eager to go with me to see Gary as well; I'm sure there are others unknown to me who also have visited to pray, sing and read Scripture with Gary. Gary had been drawn into the Community of Faith because of the visible love of Christ embodied there, began talking about his sense of inadequacy before God and then came to embrace the Gospel of Christ's grace as a result of the final apologetic. So I tell you, not only is what Schaeffer saying true but it works as well:

The world has a right to look upon us and make a judgment. We are told by Jesus that as we love one another the world will judge, not only whether we are His disciples, but whether the Father sent the Son. The final apologetic, along with the rational, logical defense and presentation, is what the world sees in the individual Christian and in our corporate relationships together. The command that we should love one another surely means something much richer than merely organizational relationship. Not that we should minimize proper organizational relationship, but one may look at those bound together in an organized group called a church and see nothing of a substantial healing of the division between people in the present life.

On the other hand, while there is “the invisible Church” (that is, everyone who is a Christian living anywhere in the world), yet the Church is not to be hidden away, in an unseen area, as though it does not matter what men see. What we are called to do, upon the basis of the finished work of Christ in the power of the Spirit through faith, is to exhibit a substantial healing, individual and then corporate, so that people may observe it. This too is a portion of the apologetic: a presentation which gives at least some demonstration that these things are not theoretical, but real; not perfect, yet substantial. If we only speak of and exhibit the individual effects of the gospel, the world, psychologically conditioned as it is today, will explain them away. What the world cannot explain away will be a substantial, corporate exhibition of the logical conclusions of the Christian presuppositions. It is not true that the New Testament presents an individualistic concept of salvation. Individual, yes- we must come one at a time; but it is not to be individualistic. First there must be the individual reality, and then the corporate. Neither will be perfect in this life, but they must be real. I have discovered that hard twentieth-century people do not expect Christians to be perfect. They do not throw it in our teeth when, individually or corporately, they find less than perfection in us. They do not expect perfection, but they do expect reality; and they have a right to expect reality, upon the authority of Jesus Christ.

There must be communion and community among the people of God: not a false community that is set up as though human community were an end in itself; but in the local church, in mission, in a school, wherever it might be, true fellowship must be evident as the outcome of original, individual salvation. This is the real Church of the Lord Jesus Christ- not merely organization, but a group of people, individually the people of God, drawn together by the Holy Spirit for a particular task either in a local situation or over a wider area. The Church of the Lord Jesus should be a group of those who are redeemed and bound together on the basis of true doctrine. But subsequently they should show together a substantial “social healing” of the breaches between men which have come about because of the results of man’s sin.

The Christian sociological position is that the sociological problems which exist, regardless of what they may be, are a result of the separation that has come between men because of sin. Now the world should be able to see in the Church external marks which exhibit that there is a substantial sociological healing possible in the present generation. We can never expect the testimony of a previous generation to be sufficient for our own time. We can point to the wonders of past achievements, but men have a right to say, “This is our moment, this is our history, what about today?” It is not enough for the Church to be engaged with the State in healing social ills, though this is important at times. But when the world can turn around and see a group of God’s people exhibiting substantial healing in the area of human relationships in their present life, then the world will take notice. Each group of Christians is, as it were, a pilot plant, showing that something can be done in the present situation, if only we begin in the right way.

Corporate living in the early Church was very strong at this point. It was not perfect, but it was strong. The testimony has come down to us that one of the things that shook the Roman Empire was that as they looked at these Christians- a cross section of the wide sociological spectrum in the Roman Empire from slaves to their masters, and including some of Caesar’s household- non-Christians were forced to say, “Behold, how they love each other.” And this was not in a vacuum, but loving each other in the circle of truth, pp. 165-67.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What Fell and What Stands to Be Restored?

I've had some deeply meaningful conversations since starting my Doctor of Ministry program. Some of the feedback that has come back to me by close confidants and friends has been that, in my preaching, I have been so emphasizing the corporate dimensions of salvation, that perhaps some of the importance of individual salvation and assurance have not been emphasized as perhaps should be. Of course, this is not my desire to minimize the importance of our salvation, rather to "fill it out" so we see just how HUGE the work of the Cross is. Schaeffer in The God Who Is There gives a nice explanation of how to hold the corporate dimensions of salvation along with the importance of our individual salvation:

As orthodox evangelicals we have often made the mistake of stopping with individual salvation. Historically the word Christian has meant two things. First, the word Christian defines a person who has accepted Christ as Savior. This is decidedly an individual thing. But there is a second consideration. While it is true that there is an individual salvation, and this is the beginning of the Christian life, yet nevertheless individual salvation should show itself also in corporate relationships. This is the Bible’s clear teaching concerning the Church and what we find, in some measure, as we consider the Church at its strongest through the ages.

When man fell, various divisions took place. The first and basic division is between man who has revolted and God. All other divisions flow from that. We are separated from God by our guilt- true moral guilt. Hence we need to be justified upon the basis of the finished substitutionary work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet it is quite plain from the Scriptures and from general observation that the separations did not stop with the separation of man from God. For, secondly, man was separated from himself. This gives rise to the psychological problems of life. Thirdly, man was separated from other men, leading to sociological problems of life. Fourthly, man was separated from nature.

According to the teaching of the Scriptures, the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ is meant eventually to bring healing to each of these divisions: healing which will be perfect in every aspect when Christ comes again in history in the future.

In justification, there is a relationship which is already perfect. When the individual accepts Christ as his Savior, on the basis of the finished work of Christ, God as Judge declares that his guilt is gone immediately and forever. With regard to the other separations, it is plain from the scriptural teaching and from the struggles of God’s people throughout the best years of the Church that in this present life the blood of Christ is meant to bring substantial healing now. Individual salvation comes with justification, and guilt is gone at once. Then comes a future day when my body will be raised from the dead, and other separations will be healed just as completely. Now, in the present life, when men can observe us, there is to be substantial healing of these other divisions. Substantial is the right word to use because it carries with it two ideas. Firstly, it means that it is not yet perfect. Secondly, it means that there is reality, pp. 164-165.

I love Schaeffer's word "substantial" here as it means that healing in relationships, in the Church and a powerful witness of the power of Christ can be reasonably expected among us, even if the Church is comprised of a bunch of ragamuffins who have a very difficult time getting it together. "Substantial" is a good word; I also like the word "proximate." This side of glory, we will never be perfectly what we are meant to be; however, we might proximately be so.

Christian, Are You Excited?

Maybe one of the most challenging verses in the entire Bible was spoken by the Apostle Paul to the Galatians, "What has happened to all your joy?" (Gal 4:15a). Francis Schaeffer in his 1968, yet timeless work, The God Who Is There gets at the question in this way:

It is hard to understand how an orthodox, evangelical, Bible-believing Christian can fail to be excited. The answers in the realm of the intellect should make us overwhelmingly excited. But more than this, we are returned to a personal relationship with the God who is there. If we are unexcited Christians, we should go back and see what is wrong. We are surrounded by a generation that can find "no one home" in the universe. If anything marks our generation, it is this. In contrast to this, as a Christian I know who I am; and I know the personal God who is there. I speak, and He hears. I am not surrounded by mere mass, nor only energy particles, but He is there. And if I have accepted Christ as my Savior, then though it will not be perfect in this life, yet moment by moment, on the basis of the finished work of Christ, this person to person relationship with the God who is there can have reality to me, p. 169.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mundane Things

Sometimes God grabs you when you are doing weekly, mundane things. I was writing the back of the bulletin for this Sunday's worship services at Grace Chapel, as Pastor Stu Kerns of our mother church, Zion, is coming as a guest speaker. I got teary-eyed thinking about how beautiful the Church universal is, so I thought I'd share with you the back of the bulletin for this Sunday:

Dear Friends,

Welcome to Grace Chapel this morning. We’re so glad you made it! Today we are able to hear from Pastor Stu Kerns of Zion Church. Pastor Kerns mentored me from 1998-2000 before Zion sent my wife Tanya and I to plant GC in the fall of 2000. Zion has continued to be a huge support to us over the years.

Recently, I’ve been struck by how interconnected and reliant we are on one another as the Body of Christ universal- what our “mother church” Zion does is of great importance to us as her flourishing means ours as well (and vice versa).  The same is true of our sister church Redeemer here in Lincoln with Pastor Tobey Brockman as well as our daughter church Grace Presbyterian in Fremont with Pastor Kyle McClellan as well as with all Christ-centered churches in Nebraska and the world.  How we engage and view one another as brothers and sisters in Christ is absolutely crucial to the Missio Dei (the Mission of God; see Jn. 13:34,25).  So how can I not invite you to rejoice as we hear from Pastor Kerns today?  Rejoice and receive Beloved!  Rejoice and receive!

We especially want to extend a special welcome for newcomers this morning. If this is your first Sunday, thank you for joining us in worship; we invite you to be a part of the story of God’s redeeming love here at Grace Chapel.


Mike Hsu

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Conversation with "Friend B"


I went to 2 Corinthians 5 and read again. I have a question or thought or combination. I see at the end of the chapter that the language specifically speaks to people, human-spiritual beings who are in need of reconciliation to God. Paul writes of seeing people no longer according to the flesh, but as they are spiritually; i.e. regenerate or unregenerate. He speaks of reconciling the world in a context that defines world as people. So, I would like to understand how this particular passage speaks to reconciliation of the broader world, to engaging in redemptive activity within the broader culture, in engaging people's material, social and justice needs.

I could give my own answer to my question, to the effect that these activities are picturing the redemption from spiritual darkness that must happen in each human and that they are simple integration of redemptive activity into all of like, not just the spritual compartment. This makes sense. It is in harmony with the ideas of living an integrated life as a believer. So I can see its logical extension from 2 Corinthians 5, but am not satisfied that logical extension is the same as explicit mission. This seems an important point to me because, as I understand our conversation, these material and spiritual and justice, etc. works are becoming woven into your understanding of mission, call, vocation. They are being woven into my thinking too because they seem so true. But are there other scripture passages? I'm also interested how you see Christ modeling these things in the gospels. Again, I might answer my own question, but I'm interested in the dialogue with you.

All is well in [(another city)- this brother is away from Lincoln for the summer]. A fabulous experience.

I love you, brother,

"Friend B"

Here was my response: 

Hey "Friend B,"

I can’t remember if you were in class when we read this particular blogpost of mine: Meaningful Ministry.

Of course when we read 2 Cor. 5 on purely grammatico-historical grounds, it is difficult to see the broader context around these verses, but you remember that Michael Williams defines three key interpretative principles: 1) the grammatico-historical method; 2) the analogy of Scripture (comparing Scripture to Scripture) and 3) the sensus plenior, the sense in which Scripture finds fulfillment in Christ and is brought fuller meaning as a result.

The blogpost gets at this, but we do certainly see human beings as pre-eminent in creation- the Lion is the greatest in the cat Kingdom, but at the end of the day he is still a cat.  Humans are the greatest in the creaturely Kingdom, but at the end of the day, we are still creatures.  Romans 8:19-21 reminds us that, as all of creation fell with Adam, so all of creation stands to be liberated with Christ and His children, indeed that there is a solidarity the Sons of God have with both: 1) the groaning of creation as well as 2) the hope of its restoration.  Of course, the creation awaits the redemption of the Sons of God as we are pre-eminent creatures- God didn’t become a tree or a giraffe but He became man.  Now in Christ, we are being renewed after the image of Christ the 2nd Adam- so the hope of creation is found in God’s people once again cultivating the earth and fulfilling the cultural mandate in Gen. 1:28- indeed the Great Commission is an extension of the Cultural Mandate as we are now needing to “teach disciples all that Christ has taught,” the One who is the fulfillment of all that was written in the Law, Psalms and Prophets.

2 Cor. 5:17 reminds us that the hope of reconciliation is not an isolated hope, but one that shares in that of THE New Creation.  Col. 1:16-20 sets Christ’s ministry of reconciliation as being comprehensive enough to cover “all things whether in heaven or on earth.”  Yes, the narrow lens of 2 Cor. 5 is that people need to be restored to God; however, the question naturally follows, restored to do what?  Answer: to live as complete image-bearers of God who are being built up once again to be what they were always meant to be as those who take dominion, i.e. steward their gifts for the King’s Reign to spread throughout the earth.

Regarding the Gospels, how often does Jesus talk about the Kingdom of God being like... and then use a parable of a landowner or workers or a field ripe for harvest or a vineyard- of course they are “parables,” but what is the analog here to how we understand things to actually be in the Kingdom?  Wasn’t the first thing Noah did upon leaving the Ark into a New Creation, having experienced the saving mercy of God, was plant a vineyard?  I’ve heard it said of Martin Luther that he said if the world was going to end tomorrow, he would plant a tree.  

In John 5:17, Jesus said that His Father was always at work and He too is working.  Of course, when Jesus spoke these things, He was speaking about the completion of His task as the 2nd Adam to once again bring the hope of restoration to His Beloved (Matt. 1:21) but that such work would actually result in fruitful and productive lives for the Kingdom (Read Eph. 2:10 in connection with Eph. 2:8,9).  Also, Eph. 4:28 speaks of the one who has been stealing, to no longer do so, ... instead being useful and working with his hands.  1Thess. 4:11 says to the Thessalonians to make it their ambition to “lead quiet lives and work with their hands so that your daily lives will win the respect of outsiders.”  Even in 2Thess. 3, Paul quotes a saying about “not working and not eating”... ouch.

The idea of calling (klesis) in the Gospels does have a primary sense of being called to be Christ’s or being called to a special mission/evangelistic tour, etc., ... but my reminder to people is that Jesus and the disciples are at a point in redemptive history where they are calling others to repentance, that they might be “new creations” in Christ, those who share in the hope of re-creation, the New Heavens and the New Earth.  It’s a bit speculative, but it’s interesting at least to ponder Jesus’ 30 years as a carpenter and how that set Him up to understand His 3 year mission to “complete the Father’s work.”  When He said His Father is always working, did He have a sense of the creative activity and power of God in creation? Of course He did- He was there!  In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God- He was with God in the beginning!

I miss you "Friend B" and look forward to seeing you back,


A Conversation with "Friend A"

I've had two really challenging and edifying conversations in recent weeks with two different brothers grappling with me on the question of work and daily activities being a meaningful part of the ministry of reconciliation. The first interaction came a few weeks back after the first brother read this blogpost of mine, Meaningful Ministry. Here's the first exchange with someone we will just call "Friend A." I'll share the "Friend B" exchange in my next blogpost. 

Hey Mike, 

 ...I wanted to respond to your Meaningful Ministry blog post. Here's what I'm hearing, and correct me if I am missing something:  

1) 2 Cor. 5 tells us that Christ reconciled us to God and now we are given the ministry of reconciliation, which is the ministry of bringing others to Christ to be reconciled to God 

2) Col. 1 tells us that Christ will one day reconcile all things to God whether in heaven or on earth as he will make all things new with a new heavens and a new earth and therefore all things in earth whether people or works or things are a part of our ministry of reconciliation.  

I'm not quite sure what you mean, though, when you say that going to work is itself a meaningful ministry or that mowing the law is itself a meaningful ministry. Could you expand on that?

"Friend A"

Here was my response:

Hi "Friend A,"

There are two books that I recommend to you, one that is out and one that is coming out: The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work, by Cosden. 
This book is a bit pricey but you can borrow my copy if you want, but it’s very biblical and here are some quotes from the book:

“... when done in a way that images God and thus co-operates with him, human work in itself is Christian missionary activity. Why? Because it is largely (though not exclusively) through our work that we reflect God’s image and co-operate with him in bringing people and the whole creation to humanity’s and nature’s ultimate maturity and future…. We are saved to become together the image of Christ, and thus the image of God- and we express and develop this most directly in our work” (pp. 129-130).

“…this means that any understanding of mission that fails to grasp that in itself
human work is fundamental to God’s purpose (the mission of God or kingdom of God) for us and creation will be theologically flawed. Likewise, missions thinking that fails to incorporate this theology ultimately undermines the missionary calling of the people of God. For the majority of Christians simply cannot now, nor could they ever, measure up to the modern faith missionary ideal of leaving home and work ‘to work’ for God. For what that understanding of mission unintentionally does is marginalize and thus alienate the vast majority of Christians in the world who will spend most of their lives and life’s energy in ordinary work” (p. 130).

“Thus work is not a platform for mission or evangelism, as if it were somehow subordinate to salvation and eternity. Rather, godly work itself actually spreads by embodying God’s good news, a present experience and foretaste of salvation. For work in itself is a genuine form of life imaging God. It is an ever-open invitation to all to co-operate with God in his purposes” (p. 135).

The other book is not yet out but it is coming out this fall and it is called
Work Matters by Pastor Tom Nelson of Kansas City.

A robust biblical theology of work and of God’s purpose to redeem His creation has been largely absent among evangelical Christians for a long time now; however, this is beginning to change as in the last 5-10 years, more and more evangelical people are writing about the centrality of work to what it means to bear God’s image and fulfill His mission on earth.  Our first parents were set in the Garden to “work it and take care of it,” to multiply, fill the earth and subdue it; in essence, to make beautiful the unformed matter of the created universe, thereby reflecting God’s glory, beauty and orderliness.  Sin is what brought about toil, thorns and thistles to work, but sin was a departure from the original design where worship, work and life before God were meant to be an integrated whole.

This is what the Col. 1 passage as well as Romans 8:19-21 passage points us back to, a vision of the redeemed universe where
the work itself that we do shapes the world in a way where it is more Christlike and humane.  Therefore meaningful ministry involves participating in making the world beautiful and humane in the small ways and great ways and doing it as an act of worship, in connection with our God.  To participate in the ministry of reconciliation is therefore: 1) to share Christ with people and 2) to participate in making all things (whether in heaven or on earth) beautiful once again- mowing the lawn is a small way of doing this, subduing the earth.  Finding inherent value in the work we do is as well.

I would probably reverse the order of your 1) and 2) by saying that bringing others to Christ to be reconciled to God is a part of the larger reconciliation/restoration goal God has for all of heaven and earth; while it may not be blatantly obvious in the 2Cor. 5, nonetheless it’s there.  To be a “new creation in Christ” is to share in the larger hope of
all of creation’s restoration.



Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Bible, A Nonreligious Book

"On the basis of biblical Christianity a rational discussion and consideration can take place, because it is fixed in the stuff of history. When Paul was asked whether Jesus was raised from the dead, he gave a completely nonreligious answer, in the twentieth-century sense. He said: 'There are almost 500 living witnesses; go and ask them!' This is the faith that involves the whole man, including his reason; it does not ask for a belief in the void. As the twentieth-century mentality would understand the concept of religion, the Bible is a nonreligious book," The God Who is There, pp. 69-70.

Here I Go Again

Here I go again, as with two weeks ago (July 3rd Sermon), giving away my Sunday sermon. Sorry- I can't help it- we are staring right into the heart of the Cross; how can this sense that we're a part of something cosmic and stupendous in scope not overcome us? So I "give away" my sermon again! this time three days early (instead of one)- still, reader beware, if you are actually to apply the contents below, there will be no excuse to skip Sunday since you already "got" the message. Ha! Instead, I must urge you to "live into" the message as well as believe it! 

Blessings my friends,


Series: The Gospel of John
Text: John 19:28-37
Title: Public Truth as Embodied in the Church
Quote: “... I reject the division of human experience into a private world, where the 'good' is a matter of personal taste, and a public world, where 'facts' are regarded as operative apart from any reference to the good.... I believe that the whole of experience in the natural world, in the world of public affairs, of politics, economics, and culture, and the world of inward spiritual experience is to be seen as one whole in light of this disclosure of the character and will of its Creator."  -Lesslie Newbigin

Themes: The Gospel is “Public Truth” (Col. 1:19,20; 2:15; Jn. 3:16; 12:31,32).  It’s true not only in my prayer closet or inside my church, but it’s true in the Haymarket and in all of life, for all times and all peoples and all places; it IS public truth.  Yet, why does this message come across as imperialistic, coercive and abusive?  The reason is because we as Christians have often misunderstood how this message of “Gospel as Public Truth” is meant to be transmitted to the world.

Since the time of the Enlightenment, we’ve tended to valuing the role of the rugged individual, without a sense of the corporate nature of the Gospel’s hope.  We somehow came to view that what I am doing in my devotional life or in the coffee shop pursuing my walk with God is really the center of what it means to be a faithful Christian- we acquiesced to the Enlightenment ideal of “me, myself and Jesus determining what is right for me (and no one else being able to do so).”  In the worst cases, we witness the isolated individual, on his own authority, standing on the street corner shouting judgment and curse on all who walk by, in the name of Jesus. In the best cases (but not good ones at that), we have committed sins of omission, failing to build the Body of Christ by moving into meaningful engagement, taking responsibility for what it means to live in meaningful community with one another.

You see, at the foot of the Cross is a New Community, the family of God, i.e. the Church that is beginning to form.  Jesus says to His mother who stands at the foot of the Cross, of John the Beloved One, “Here is your son” and to the Beloved One of Mary, “Here is your mother.”  A new family, i.e. New Community of God’s people, “those who receive Him, believe in His name, born not of natural descent nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (Jn. 1:12,13) is beginning to form at the foot of the Cross.  Remember Jesus said that “ all men” will know that we are His disciples by the love we have for one another (John 13:35)? and also that in the lifting up of the Son of Man, “all men would be drawn to Himself” (John 12:32).

How will Jesus draw all men to Himself?  How will men primarily come to embrace the Gospel as Public Truth?  Here’s the answer: by its message being embodied in the Church, ... by those in the Church taking responsibility for one another and living with a sense of a covenantal responsibility to one another, by the mini-world of the Church living out together the Gospel as Public Truth before the macro-world with the hope of the kingdom of the world becoming the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ (Rev. 11:15).  While the Gospel is Public Truth, its means of transmission is through the Church being the Church, loving one another, embodying the covenantal responsibility we have to one another, helping one another to live not as rugged individuals but as intentional members of the family of God.

Challenge/Application: how we intentionally press into the Community of Faith, get involved in the lives of those in the flesh and blood/concrete realization of the family of God, in the local church, ... Grace Chapel in our case.  How will we do this, especially if we have tended more towards being individual consumers, primarily coming for the “good music” and “challenging message,” but then following the benediction have tended to be among those making a beeline for the door?  It’s a huge challenge for all of us, but certainly one worth taking up, ... for if we are successful learning to live as the Loving Family of God that embodies the Gospel as Public Truth, then what stands to be accomplished is that glorious Gospel effectively moving into the world.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Graciously Saying "You're Wrong"

I remember a number of years ago, a young lady wanted to talk about a paper I had written regarding the differences between Roman Catholic and Protestant theology. In the paper, I made the contention that the substance of the two theologies, based on documents from both systems of thought were irreconcilable. This young lady said that the comment about "irreconcilable differences" was divisive and not promoting of love. My response to her was that I wasn't trying to be divisive and know RC people who are genuinely wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ.

Now, part of the subtext of the conversation was that this young woman was dating a Roman Catholic man, despite being strongly Protestant in her background, conviction and theological persuasion. But what I continued to say to her was that if I in any way presented a false caricature or represented poorly the RC position, then I deserved the charge of being divisive; however, if I represented the RC position well and then simply compared and contrasted the two systems of theology, showing that one cannot say justification comes by faith alone and not by faith alone at the same time, then this would only mean I was being truthful.

She said that she did not believe I misrepresented the RC position on justification or the Protestant one for that matter, but that she still believed my comment about irreconcilable differences between the two systems of theology to be ungracious nonetheless.

Now, what happened in that conversation? Why were we unable to make any visible progress in the conversation?

In his 1968 work The God Who is There, Francis Schaeffer writes that in the 20th century in the United States and the 19th century in Europe, a new way of looking at truth began to develop. Schaeffer writes, "So this change in the concept of the way we come to knowledge and truth is the most crucial problem, as I understand it, facing Christianity today," p. 6.

Schaeffer contends that before this "shift" non-Christians held the same assumptions as Christians, regarding discovering truth. As Schaeffer writes, "(before the shift)... everyone would have been working on much the same presuppositions, which in practice seemed to accord with the Christian's own presuppositions.... What were these presuppositions? The basic one was that there really are such things as absolutes. They accepted the possibility of an absolute in the area of Being (or knowledge), and in the area of morals. Therefore, because they accepted the possibility of absolutes, though people might have disagreed as to what these were, nevertheless they could reason together on the classical basis of antithesis. They took it for granted that if anything was true, the opposite was false. In morality, if one thing was right, its opposite was wrong. This little formula, 'A is A' and 'If you have A it is not non-A,' is the first move in classical logic. If you understand the extent to which this no longer holds sway, you will understand our present situation," p. 6.

According to Schaeffer, following the shift, the understanding of discovering truth and logic by embracing the "law of noncontradiction" no longer held sway. The idea of antithesis in an argument is that you and I might agree to disagree, but also agree that one or even both of us might in fact be wrong. However, after the shift, with the rejection of absolutes, it became thought of as unloving and ungracious if we didn't all agree leaving an argument or disagreement declaring that everyone was right in his/her own way. Even much of Christian thought fell below Schaeffer's line of despair with skepticism and absurdity coming as a result.

You see, the issue with this young woman, who was a professing evangelical Christian, was not so much that Protestant and RC theology held fundamentally different explanations of the nature of salvation, understanding of the church and the mission of God in the world. But the issue was that she and I held a different set of convictions regarding how we discover truth and see the role of absolutes playing out in our respective worldviews.

This young woman would have been unable to agree with Schaeffer who wrote, "At the time of the Reformation, the (Protestant) reformers were confronted with a total system. They did not say that there were no Christians within the Roman Catholic Church, nor did they say that there were no differences in the teaching and emphases of the various Roman Catholic Orders. But they understood that there was one underlying system which bound every part of the Church together, and it was this system as a system that they said was wrong and in opposition to the teaching of the Bible," p. 51.

So given these newer presuppositions that have arisen since the "shift," it now comes across as "divisive and unloving," even among Christians when we say, "you're wrong" (even if it is in fact true). Yet as the Beloved who believe that the Triune God of the universe reveals Himself definitively through His Holy Scriptures, we must reserve room in our interactions to, at times, lovingly and graciously say "you're wrong" or at the very least to say, "from the best of my understanding of the Bible, I believe you're wrong." This isn't an excuse to be rude, arrogant or lack humility in our interactions with one another or to "beat others over the head with our Bibles," but to reserve the right to see that there is a place for meaningful disagreement and the acknowledgment of "right" and "wrong" in our conversations: there must be- the one who says otherwise, well, is wrong.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Finding an Integrated Worldview

"... Christ has overcome the power of sin and death. Entering completely into our shared humanity with all its burden of sin, he has gone down into the darkness of death and judgment for us, and in his resurrection, given us a sign and foretaste of total victory. As united with him we are enabled to follow the same way. We do not see the future of either our own personal selves or the world we share with all people. The curtain of death shuts off our view. But Jesus has gone before us through the curtain. The road disappears from view down into a dark valley, into whose depth we cannot peer. Jesus has gone down there before us and has appeared victorious on the other side. He is himself the path, the way that goes through death to life (John 13:26-14:7). As we follow that way, we have before us, beyond the chasm of death, the vision of the holy city into which all the glory of the nations will be brought and from which everything unclean is excluded (Rev. 21,22). Following that way, we can commit ourselves without reserve to all the secular work our shared humanity requires of us, knowing that nothing we do in itself is good enough to form part of that city's building, knowing that everything- from our most secret prayers to our most public political acts- is part of that sin-stained human nature that must go down into the valley of death and judgment, and yet knowing that as we offer it up to the Father in the name of Christ and in the power of the Spirit, it is safe with him and- purged in fire- it will find its place in the holy city at the end (cf. 1Cor. 3:10-15).

This faith heals the split between the public and the private. There is no room for a political fanaticism that supposes that my political achievements will establish God's kingdom, or declares a holy war against opponents, or tramples on individual human beings in the pursuit of a political millennium. The public political act has its real meaning simply as a kind of acted prayer for the coming of God's reign. Equally, there is no room for piety that seeks personal holiness by opting out of the struggle for a measure of justice and freedom in public life. This faith enables us to be politically realistic without cynicism, to be sensitive to the supreme rule of love without sentimentality. It enables us humbly to acknowledge that even the best social order is- in God's sight- an organization of sinful men and women and therefore always prone to corruption; and yet not to use this knowledge as an excuse for political quietism, but rather as an inspiration to work tirelessly for the best possible among the actually available political alternatives," Foolishness to the Greeks, pp. 136-37.

Consequence of Public Truth / Private Value Divide

Christian, what is your goal in all of life? For years, I was told, "heaven." Once we get to heaven, we "finish the race," right? We strive with God, and we seek to perfect the soul, but once we die, the Christian has "made it," right? Newbigin challenges some of these sacred pieces of evangelical thought by suggesting that this way of thinking about the Christian life is really borrowed from Greek as well as Enlightenment ideals, but perhaps is not very Biblical. Really?

And so, inevitably, alongside the doctrine of progress (an Enlightenment ideal) there comes back the ancient pre-Christian idea of the immortality of the soul (a Greek ideal). The individual person finds the true end of his living and striving not in the perfect society, which only the remote posterity will see, but in an afterlife in another world, which has no relation to this. The two histories- my personal history and the history of the world- go their separate ways to different ends. My personal future and the future of the world have no essential relationship to each other. Human life is no longer a unity; it falls apart into two divisions: the private and the public, the spiritual and the political. We are back again at the dichotomy with which we have become so familiar in looking at our post-Enlightenment culture.

Yet the human person is a unity. I am the same person in my most private prayers and my most public acts. Whence comes the splitting apart of what we experience as a unity? It comes, of course, from the fact of death, the fact that at a point that is as unknown as it is certain I who pray and work must leave behind all my work, cut all those bonds that have from my birth bound me in one bundle of mutual responsibility with family, society, and world, and face alone the last horizon. This creates the split, tempting me to turn my back on the outward world of shared responsibilities and to find meaning exclusively in the pilgrimage of my own soul.

Rejection of "Public Fact" / "Private Value" Divide

"... I reject the division of human experience into a private world, where the 'good' is a matter of personal taste, and a public world, where 'facts' are regarded as operative apart from any reference to the good. I believe that all created beings have a sacramental character in that they exist by the creative goodness and for the redeeming purpose of God, that nothing is rightly understood otherwise, and that, nevertheless, God in creating a world with a measure of autonomy and contingency has provided for us a space within which we are given freedom to search, to experiment, and to find out for ourselves how things really are. I believe that the whole of experience in the natural world, in the world of public affairs, of politics, economics, and culture, and the world of inward spiritual experience is to be seen as one whole in light of this disclosure of the character and will of its Creator," Foolishness to the Greeks, pp. 88-89.

Market Forces and Loss of Ethics

"The division of labor has a further consequence on the growth of a market economy. In a earlier age as in contemporary premodern societies, farming and the various skilled crafts were mainly for the use of the family or the local community. The market in which money operated as a means of exchange was only a minor and marginal part of the economy. But as the principle of the division of labor gained ascendancy, the market moved into the central place as the mechanism that linked all the separate procedures with each other and with the consumers. The modern science of economics was born. Once again teleology was removed, because economics was no longer part of ethics. It was not concerned with the purpose of human life. It was no longer about the requirements of justice and the dangers of covetousness. It became the science of the working of the market as a self-operating mechanism modeled on the Newtonian universe. The difference was that the fundamental law governing its movements, corresponding to the law of gravitation in Newton, is the law of covetousness assumed as the basic drive of human nature. What does not enter the market is ignored. Gross National Product refers only to what enters the market. It excludes the work of the housewife, of the gardener growing his own food. It includes the operations of the gambling syndicate, the arms salesman, and the drug pusher," Foolishness to the Greeks, pp. 30-31.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Loss of Purposeful Work in History

In his 1986 work Foolishness to the Greeks, Lesslie Newbigin speaks of the difference in the worldview from the person living in the middle ages versus someone who lives in our modern world. Newbigin makes the case for how the worldview of the average person living in the West today is quite different from the person living in medieval times. He says this:

"The medieval Christian, taught by the Bible, saw as the end to which all history moves, the second coming of Christ, the judgment of the living and the dead, and the holy city in which all that is pure and true in the pubic and private life of the nations is gathered up in eternal perfection. This vision of the end is, of course, part and parcel of the teleological view of creation and history, which has the will and purpose of God as its center. The eighteenth century transferred the holy city from another world to this. No longer would it be a gift of God from heaven; it would be the final triumph of science and skill of the enlightened peoples of the earth. The eighteenth century witnessed the birth of the doctrine of progress, a doctrine that was to rule- with fateful consequences- well into the twentieth century. The emancipation of the human spirit from pressure of dogma, tradition, and superstition, and the purposeful exercise of the newly liberated powers of human reason would lead to such a growing understanding and a growing mastery that all the evils that enslave men and women would be conquered," p. 28.

Newbigin's point is that the eighteenth century Enlightenment began as an optimistic vision of life on earth, a vision that was believed attainable without God, religion or dogma. Of course, as those who are essentially "religious" in nature, even embracing a worldview without God and the transcendent, nonetheless humanity placed its hope in the "doctrine of human progress": in a word, human reason was affirmed to be a messiah of sorts, holding forth the promise of liberation, happiness and the emancipation of the human spirit.

Unfortunately, one of the devastating consequences of worshipping the "doctrine of progress" was that "efficiency" in human work became the purpose for which man worked. The teleological view of creation and history, in other words, a vision of life as serving the larger cosmic purpose of a God and a story that might impart even the smallest action and expression of work dignity and significance was removed from our vista of understanding human work, activity and engagement. Efficiency became the goal and lost was the actual dignity and worth accorded to work according to a Biblical world and life view. Listen further to Newbigin's analysis here:

"The work of the traditional craftsman that spanned the whole process from raw material to finished product is analyzed into its smallest parts and then broken up into separate operations, each given over to a different workman. By this division of labor, it is possible to increase enormously the quantity of finished articles produced, but the individual worker no longer shares directly in the vision of the final product that governs the whole process. His work is assimilated more and more into the repetitive action of a machine rather than to the purposeful work of the craftsman, whose operations are all governed by a vision of the end. Craftsmanship is replaced by labor, and human work is assimilated into the pattern of the Newtonian universe, from which teleology is banished. The individual worker, for example, does not know whether his product is going to make a family car or a fighter plane," p. 29.

Newbigin's reference to a "Newtonian universe" speaks of the "achievement" of the Enlightenment scientists, especially Isaac Newton, who began to redefine the nature of ultimate reality by describing the "real world" as one built on natural laws of cause and effect. In essence, the sense of a purpose behind the universe that had governed medieval thought was now viewed as dispensable and unnecessary in describing the nature of ultimate reality. As Newbigin says, "Teleology (the understanding of purpose) had no place in physics and astronomy. All the movements of tangible bodies and changes in the visible world could be explained without reference to purpose and in terms of efficient cause," p. 24.

From this Enlightenment worldview flowed the basic dichotomy between "public truth" and "private values," the basic idea that if we want to speak about ultimate reality and "raw facts" about the universe, we can do so with the laws of nature, i.e. that of cause and effect; however, if we want to speak of things like faith, purpose, values and moral meaning, we must reserve such things to the individual private life where one is free to dabble in such ideas insofar as they are not proclaimed as "public and universal truth."

So perhaps the great challenge before the Church today is how Christians today integrate our vision of the world with a truly Biblical vision of the purpose for which we were created and for which we work. The Church has all-to-often acquiesced to this faulty Enlightenment ideal of separating "public fact" from "private values" by teaching an escapist theology that we ought remove ourselves from meaningful participation in "worldly engagement and activities"; we have shirked our responsibility by agreeing with the Enlightenment worldview saying to the world, "you keep to yourself and we the church will keep to ourselves." Yet is this faithfulness when Jesus asked us to be salt and light? As Richard Lovelace states, while we have "stayed away from the world" avoiding a kind of "destructive enculturation," nonetheless, we have participated in another kind of enculturation, as devastating, what we might call a "protective enculturation."

Nonetheless, the opportunity exists for the Church to once again teach a new world and life view (which is really an old world and life view) both for Herself as well as before the world of the God who is there and not silent, to use Schaeffer's terms. We must be thoughtful and intentional in engaging the world within the range of creational activities that are ours to take up, including activities in the world of public affairs, of politics, economics, art and culture to name a few, rather than simply shouting "repent and believe" without love or meaningful engagement in worldly affairs (like a bunch of clanging symbols). It is our task to participate in the redemptive work of Christ by bringing back to the public arena a vision of engagement in these various spheres with the hope of reunion between "telos" and public meaning. But we must also be careful to place our hope in the Lord and Redeemer of Creation as well (Col. 1:19.20), rather than in the hope of human progress and work in and of itself, lest we repeat the errors of the Enlightenment experiment all over again. It's a tricky tension we embrace, ... yet this is our call to take up as the Faithful.

Updates on Summerlins in Haiti

Gene will be posting updates this week on the Grace Chapel Haiti FB Page.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Summerlins off to Haiti

Please pray for Gene, Terri, Caitlin and Micah Summerlin as they are off to Haiti for this week to serve alongside and see their son and brother Trey who is in Mireabalais for the summer. Gene is Grace Chapel's Haiti Ministries Coordinator. Last Month, Deb Knight and Tim Scheel joined a medical group from Yale medical school. Our next big trip planned is for this November- currently we have 25 commitments for the trip.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Only Partially Disenculturated

"The evangelical stream, however, was only partially disenculturated, ... At its highest point it aimed to transcend the diversity of cultic practices to establish an ideal spiritual unity of Christians across denominations and cultures. But it was still largely wedded to the Puritan version of the training-code morality, which caught on in Pietist circles also. As the understanding of grace declined in revivalism, evangelicalism erected a stronger shell of protective enculturation to guard it from the world. Not only did it cling to the Puritan taboos, but in the nineteenth century it added more: wine and tobacco, both of which had been consumed by both Reformers and Puritans. The early Temperance movement was motivated by social compassion for victims of distilled liquor during the stresses of the Industrial Revolution, and it really called for temperance. When moderation seemed too difficult a spiritual disciple and too slow a remedy, the revivalists of the 1820s and 30s moved on to redefine temperance as abstinence, to the horror of Charles Hodge, who protested that the replacement of Communion wine with grape juice was an insult to Jesus and to biblical ethics.

A few decades later, coffee and tea were added to the taboo list by revivalist Charles Finney. It is significant that Finney's understanding of justification and sanctification were essentially severed from any doctrine of union with Christ; in effect he taught justification by sanctification and not by faith, and sanctification by will power more than by grace. As succeeding generations of revivalist leaders had less and less grasp of the dynamics of spiritual life, the drift toward training codes and protective enculturation became stronger and stronger.

Worldliness, for the Puritan, had meant 'excessive love for the wealth, affluence and pride of the world.' For the late nineteenth-century evangelical, however, it increasingly came to mean the presence of certain visible habits of behavior which marked the nonevangelical off as nonkosher. At the same time, an insidious process of cultural fusion was going on in which Christianity was gradually identified with Americanism, patriotism and the preservation of the status quo.

By the 1930s the average American Fundamentalist was not, at least, a proponent of theocracy, but he did have a way of confusing America, the Republican Party and the capitalist system with the kingdom of God. He did not practice circumcision, but he did assume that only those who had gone through a certain form of conversion experience was 'born again' and that the salvation of these persons was either unquestionably sure or else maintained by works of personal morality. Sanctification was not a subject he was used to hearing about- at least, not in terms of Pauline doctrine- but he had an extensive behavioral code by which to distinguish dedicated Christians from liberals, the unsaved and the backslidden. He felt that black people, including black Christians, were all right in their place (and that included a separate place of worship), but he was ready to focus all hidden fears and pooled hatreds of his heart on those who did not stay in their place, and also on Communists, Jews and sometimes even Democrats. If sufficiently well-trained, he could recognize the fact that theological liberals were Sadduccees, but very rarely could he see the point of the liberal contention that he himself was a Pharisee.

By this point, it becomes somewhat hard to discern whether the enculturation of Evangelicalism was protective or destructive, ..." (Dynamicspp. 194-95). 

Disenculturation and Signs of Protestant Health

"In the seventeenth century, English and American Puritans gradually began to adopt the leavening strategy of the New Testament and began to pray for spiritual awakening to reshape the church and the culture by internal transformation instead of external imposition. Many Puritans and Pietists began to seek to transcend theological and denominational differences to form a union of Protestants on the basis of a common recognition of godliness in one another. The most radical of these leaders, Count Zinzendorf, consciously limited his concern in missions and ecumenism to the core of biblical teaching in the New Testament which deals with spiritual renewal and insisted that political unification or cultural homogenization of the church was useless and unnecessary. Zinzendorf discouraged legalism and fostered Christian freedom..." (Dynamicspp. 193-94).

Destructive and Protective Enculturations

Richard Lovelace writes that the church must "fully appropriate the life and redemptive benefits of Jesus Christ" (Dynamicsp. 191), because if it doesn't it will fall into one of two damaging forms of enculturation. By the way, enculturation can be defined as the process of adopting the characteristics and norms of another culture. On the one hand, if the church isn't experiencing a renewed understanding of the life and redemptive benefits of Christ, it will absorb elements of its host culture that it should judge as unholy (destructive enculturation). On the other hand, if the church isn't being renewed in the Gospel of Christ, another dangerous alternative sometimes comes about: the church works so hard to separate itself from the broader culture that it "re-creates" the rigidity of the Old Testament's emphasis on the geographical and ethnic separation of God's people from the rest of the world (protective enculturation).

A few thoughts on the protective enculturation of the OT: the separateness of Israel from the rest of the world served an important purpose in the history of redemption: 1) to teach us that God's people were to be set apart and distinct from the surrounding peoples and nations but also 2) to show us that God's people needed a work of conversion and renewal that would run deep into the interior of God's people, for hearts to be set apart for God ultimately (consider Peter's words to those "scattered" throughout Asia Minor- 1Pet. 2:9- the issue isn't one of locale, but one of hearts being "called out" of darkness and into light). In a word, we learn in the OT that while the people could be taken out of the world, the worldliness could not be taken out of the people; a greater work of renewal and redemption was needed. So in Matt. 1:21, the child to be named Jesus is described as One who will "save his people from their sins," a salvation actually reaching to the defective layers of the heart (Jer. 17:9) to renew it and make one fit to ascend the Lord's holy hill (Psa. 24:3).

Lovelace reviews the ways sixteenth century Protestants were simply being enculturated in a destructive manner by the unholy aspects of fallen culture and losing their distinctiveness altogether. As a result, reform movements of the sixteenth century "such as Puritanism and Pietism, sought to develop a Protestant style of piety by tinkering with monastic spirituality and adapting it to a Reformational theological base. This inevitably sent them back to the ascetic ideals of the early church fathers, which they did not entirely rethink. And so the Puritans, shuddering a little at Luther's 'freedom of the Christian man' which they feared would lead to licentiousness and dead orthodoxy, reintroduced the training-code morality which forbade the theater, the dance, cosmetics and novel clothing style, and added to the older list of taboos on the use of playing cards, religious graphic art, the employment of musical instruments in worship, the celebration of Christmas and other indifferent things. Abandoning the Reformers' use of Sunday as a day of rest, recreation and reflection on the works of God, they turned the Sabbath into a day of strenuous holy work with recreation tabooed. They rigorously abandoned holy days like Christmas and Easter but introduced in their place fifty-two new fast days per year" (Dynamicsp. 193).

Truncating and Reducing

From his classic 1979 work Dynamics of Spiritual Life, Richard Lovelace gets us to think about the problems with mainline churches who have too readily accommodated the fallen value systems of secular humanism as well as those with evangelical churches that have tended to react so strongly to such "negative" cultural movements that "orthodoxy" has sought to be preserved in "fairy-tale kingdoms" rather than the world that God made and calls us to live in.

Lovelace goes a step further and criticizes the tendency for some evangelicals to simply dismiss the substantial pursuit of doctrine by emphasizing purely Christian experience and the life of the Spirit, forgetting that sometimes the Spirit empowers the intellectual engagements of God's people as a key method to cutting holes into the darkness; yet, at the same, time there are still other evangelicals who emphasize the importance of biblical doctrine utilizing "biblical building blocks" to the point of neglecting the Spirit's role to effectively guide the Christian life.

I think what Lovelace gets at here is that among all expressions of Christianity as well as particular tendencies within the evangelical world (of which I am a member), the human heart tends to truncate and reduce Biblical truth, i.e. the Gospel's truth. Why do we do this? Well, I think simply because to do so makes life manageable rather than too big for us. Yet, doesn't the God of Scripture call us to live lives of dependence rather than independence, to get us to worship our way through life rather than manage it?

Consider the following Lovelace quotes. They are quite good:

"In the present century (20th century) the theological power centers of many larger churches have become so intimidated and mesmerized by ... humanism that from time to time they have been reduced to echoing its social moralism. Other leaders who have longed to remain faithful to historic orthodoxy have sought to isolate the realm of faith from the realm of scientifically verifiable history in order to make it invulnerable to the critical erosion of the biblical base and the shifting cosmologies of secular systems. In doing so, however, they have found themselves rulers over a kind of fairy-tale kingdom of meaning beyond history in which the world is not strongly motivated to join them," p. 182.

"Some Evangelicals have been genuinely obscurantist, addicted to experience and dismissing doctrine and any informed use of the mind as irrelevant to spiritual maturity. In our quest for the fullness of the Spirit, we have sometimes forgotten that a Spirit-filled intelligence is one of the powerful weapons for pulling down satanic strongholds. On the other hand, we have often assumed that the theological task was simply a matter of digging out biblical building blocks and building up logically from them by the exercise of our own inherent brain power, forgetting that only the Holy Spirit can effectively guide us in wielding the sword of the Spirit.

Recapturing the biblical sanity of the professing church is an immense task. So is the projection of a sane theology in a way which will arrest the intellectual decline of our culture. We are not about to achieve these goals without a very close dependence on the Holy Spirit. But if we do attack the task of theological integration with the Spirit's guidance, we are going to succeed. The Spirit will enter into the sanctuary of our minds in fullness and power, and we will lift from the church and Western culture some of the fog blanket of intellectual darkness which has been oppressing us since the late nineteenth century," pp. 183-84.