Monthly Archives: January 2009
From The Thirsty Theologian...
I believe he quotes J.I. Packer in the following excerpt. No commentary in needed. Here is the Gospel…
There is a fabulously wealthy man who wants to adopt a son. It’s not that he needs to. He already has a son – and not just any son, but a son who is perfect in every way. This man is entirely happy with his natural son, and has no need of another. He loves his son, and his son loves him.
The son he wants to adopt is not just anyone, either. He knows this boy. He has seen him on several occasions. He knows this child. This child is not the typical child that most parents seek to adopt. He is no adorable, cooing baby. He is a homeless child, a loner, living in alleys and abandoned buildings. But he isn’t just any homeless child, either. He has a disease. His disease has deformed his body and twisted his mind. He is filthy, and he stinks. He is vicious and violent, entirely antisocial. He survives by scavenging and stealing. No one would want him.
The man tracks this boy down, finding him in an alley scrounging through a dumpster. He approaches the boy with a smile and an outstretched hand. The boy runs. The man follows him, tracking him to a condemned building. Cornered, the boy begins hurling debris at the man, shouting threats and obscenities.
All the while, the man looks upon him and loves him. He wants him. He wants nothing more than to take him home and lavish his wealth and affection on him. And so he does. He subdues the boy and takes him to his home. He feeds him, clothes him, and treats his illness. He loves him.
And he gives him his name and writes him into his will. This child who was nobody, with no hope, diseased and ugly, hateful and hated, is now a privileged son, heir to a fortune; and he is loved. He has been adopted.
He is me.
An excerpt from what I read this morning…
Jeremiah 17:5-8 (ESV)
Thus says the LORD:”Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
Having just finished the book Christless Christianity, I intended to begin reading God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology, also by Michael Horton, but I opted instead to start on The Prodigal God by Tim Keller. I am not finished with the book yet, but I read almost half of it in one sitting. Haven’t had time to read in the last day or two but hope to pick it up again this evening. Got to say it is an absolutely stellar read…so rich in unfolding the reckless grace, the heart of the Father’s forgiveness found in Christ’s parable of the prodigal son, a parable perhaps more accurately referred to as the parable of the two sons. Keller explores the parable with more a focus on the elder son yet without ignoring the nature of the prodigal son. He expounds on the prodigal nature of God’s grace, available to both sons, by using the more precise definition of the word ‘prodigal’ – recklessly extravagant, having spent everything. Too, his explaining of the historical context of the patriarchal nature of the ancient near east makes this parable even more profound. Nuff said for now.
Almost immediately after writing it, I am struck by the irony of the title of this post. Usually, I compose the content of a post, then come up with a supposedly catchy, provocative title
Today, I started with the title. The initial purpose of the title of this post was to declare that I have finished reading Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church by Michael Horton thereby setting the stage for the content of the post, my thoughts on said book. The secondary purpose, though at first unintended, informs that I have seen, experienced much of what Horton describes.
I ran through this book rather quickly and will probably read it again sooner rather than later. From this first quick read, here are a few things I take away: Horton diagnoses certain ills that infect the body of the American church, and two main themes seem to dominate. First, there is a strong element of Pelagianism that permeates much of the church. Secondly, there is a strain of Gnosticism that parallels the Pelagianism. This Pelagianism often takes on the form of a ‘legalism lite’ while the Gnosticism arrives in the form of the subtle primacy of subjective religious, emotional,self-focused experience over the objective authority of Scripture. His diagnosis is not unique to either of the broad, polar extremes of ecclesiology, the liberal and conservative branches; there is an overarching human-centricity that permeates both. He also points out the ironic commonality of the ‘deeds, not creeds’ mindset that has been so firmly ensconced in liberal Christianity and now boldly infects much of the church growth movement as well as the neo-liberal Emergents. Before continuing, Horton does not argue that the church, as a whole, has necessarily arrived at a Christless Christianity, but that signs are evident that the church is well on its way to that state. He argues that what is being engaged is not so much heresy, but more silliness, lightness, and self-focus. Almost gone are the days where the flock comes to church to be ministered to and taught, fed, truths of Scripture and have the sacraments administered. Some pastors no longer see their role as being one who feeds the flock and regularly administers the sacraments, but rather view church as the place where they cast vision and give marching orders to the flock. These marching orders can range from calls to engage those Joel Osteenesque steps to having a better life now to an exhortation to the flock to get out there and ‘be the Gospel’ without ever really and carefully explaining what the Gospel is, the proclamation of Good News given and offered to us more than something we ‘do’ or ‘are’. Think again on that ‘deeds, not creeds’ mentality previously mentioned.
Horton, with much clarity, traces the pragmatic methods of Charles Finney, quite frankly Pelagian in his theology, to the formulas used by contemporary church growth experts today. The fallout from this pragmaticism is often an unintended devaluing of the supremacy of Christ in both corporate worship and evangelism. Rather, church is to be an entertaining event to draw crowds wherein the Gospel (hopefully) may be found on a table filled with personal anecdotes and calls to moralism by self-effort without a clear expounding of the absolutely astounding nature of grace through faith found in Christ, God incarnate, in light of our sin nature, our total depravity. We end up, sadly, with a de-clawed Gospel, that ‘therapeutic, moralistic deism’ mentioned in a quote in the book. Even more sad, so many are content with just that. What is often engaged in that often ill-defined call to a personal relationship with Jesus, is a narcissism, a salvation solely focused on self rather than one lived out in covenant community. I have been guilty…
All in all, a sobering read, clear and concise. Another good book in the same vein is The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World by David Wells. Next on the list to read, God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology, also by Horton.
Hey! It dawns on me…this is my first book review ever. It dawns on me, too, how hard it is to be objective when you are close to the subject matter of the book being reviewed.
I do not recently listened to much contemporary Christian music. However, on good advice, I recently downloaded ‘Rebel’ by Lacrae from Amazon. I would describe it as a mix of John Piper and hip hop. Rich, rich, lyrics…deep, thoughtful, and theologically sound – a call to send beautiful feet to where the Gospel needs to be heard. Also, from 1979 to 1982 if memory serves, Bob Dylan released three Christian albums. ‘Every Grain of Sand’, released on the 1981 Album, Shot of Love, is arguably one of Dylan’s finest songs. Got all three on vinyl, but would love to convert them to digital. Perhaps one of those USB turntables will fall into my lap one day
Here are a couple of Youtube videos from Rebel for you:
Ordered some books from Westminster Bookstore this evening:
Probably the only books I will buy for the year and will perhaps take to the end of the year, if not longer, to read. Especially looking forward to reading the Horton books, Christless Christianity and God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology.
Ran across an article a couple of days ago (HT: Between Two Worlds) in the NYT Magazine titled Who Would Jesus Smack Down, an essay on Mark Driscoll and his church, Mars Hill, in Seattle in specific, and the growing interest in Calvinism in general.
I’m just getting around to putting the final touches on some quick, rambling, and perhaps peripheral thoughts regarding the article:
First, though not the best example of unbiased journalism to be found, I thought it an interesting read even in it’s rather insufficient understanding of Calvinism. But there again, I have engaged some of the same misunderstandings until rather recently.
I think sometimes the church wants to react as a pendulum on some issues. Not growing up with much of a church background, I have not been exposed, other than in examples found in old paintings portraying a soft, medieval Euro-Jesus, to this feminine church culture alluded to in the article, but I do not question that such exists. That being said, on the other side of the pendulum lies an equally distorted hyper-masculine polar opposite, a phenomena that I have been witness to on a couple of occasions. I don’t think this is where Driscoll resides. More, I perceive he gravitates to a Biblical center. I strongly suspect a few pastors try to emulate Driscoll but lack his theological underpinning; there you find at times a reactionary caricature of masculinity. Also, the reference to his reputation as the ‘cussing pastor’ is a bit passé.
It must also be understood that Driscoll is called, and uniquely fitted, to be a pastor in Seattle with all it’s post-modern, post-Christian cultural distinctions. Seattle is not in the Bible belt. Too, I think Ed Stetzer, quoted in the article as follows, is dead on the mark when he says “Mars Hill is “a reaction to the atheological, consumer-driven nature of the modern evangelical machine.” Though they may share some elements, some practices, not all mega-churches are cut from the same cloth. I think that Mars Hill, unlike many mega-churches, is as deep as it is wide.
All that being said, I really like and have been edified by what I have heard and read by Driscoll. I also, take a bit of umbrage at this quote found at the end of the article:
At one suburban campus that I visited, a huge yellow cross dominated center stage – until the projection screen unfurled and Driscoll’s face blocked the cross from view. Driscoll’s New Calvinism underscores a curious fact: the doctrine of total human depravity has always had a funny way of emboldening, rather than humbling, its adherents.
One, that is perhaps unnecessarily inflammatory rhetoric and reads more into the described moment than that moment intends, but I understand where the perception comes from. Two, I would say it is the nature of the beast, without regard to embraced theology, to be spring-loaded to a position of arrogance and pride. It is not unique to any ideology or theology. That being said, when properly understood, the doctrines of grace presents the most radically humbling and absolutely Christ centered of all theologies, an antidote to arrogance. Also, speaking and acting with strength of conviction is not necessarily synonymous with arrogance.
“Can you serve your boss and others at work, helping them to succeed and be happy, even when they are promoted and you are overlooked? Can you work to make others look good without envy filling your heart? Can you minister to the needs of those whom God exalts and men honor when you yourself are neglected? Can you pray for the ministry of others to prosper when it would cast yours in the shadows?….But the Christian serves with humility because it leads to Christlikeness.”
- Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, ch. 7, pp. 122
Philippians 2:3(English Standard Version)
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
I am not much for just opening my Bible and beginning to read from whatever random page I fall on; usually I am a bit more methodical than that. However, I did start off the morning’s reading from that page to which the Bible fell open, and this is what I began with this morning, an excerpt from Psalm 145:
Psalm 145:14-21 (ESV)
The LORD upholds all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand;
you satisfy the desire of every living thing.
The LORD is righteous in all his ways
and kind in all his works.
The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he also hears their cry and saves them.
The LORD preserves all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.
My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD,
and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.