Monthly Archives: October 2011
While listening to a Christian talk radio host, a pastor and political pundit, on the way home from work last week, I heard something quite disturbing. Among the many eyebrow lifting statements made was that God surrenders some of His sovereignty so that we may be free moral agents. While I agree that we are responsible for our actions, to say that God can surrender even a bit of His sovereignty is akin to saying that God can surrender a bit of His holiness, a bit of His omnipotence, that God is changeable. If true, God ceases to be immutable God and becomes an object not worthy of worship. We may as well be deists or open theists, and perhaps that is the unconscious and default attitude of much of the church in America.
The effect of this errant theology, if embraced, is this: I cannot trust completely a God who is not absolutely sovereign over the created order, over His created moral agents. I cannot trust that God works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose if He allows created beings to thwart His plans. I lose any comfort and solace from God if I find myself suffering trial and tribulation if God is not sovereign, who is, as the saccharine sentiment goes, ‘too much a gentleman to intrude on our ‘free’ will’. I could entertain such a god when life goes well, when all I need is a god who acts to enhance an already nice life with motivational platitudes, but such a god who is even able to surrender even the smallest quantum of his sovereignty could not possibly be a mighty fortress in times of trouble. I need to know that God is in control even when immediate circumstances seem otherwise.
What amazes me is that so many cling to some notion of a ‘free will’ that God respects so much that He will not act against it when the Biblical witness is diametrically opposed to such a sentiment. Biblically, the unregenerate are not free, but are slaves to their fallen nature. Apart from the grace of God, humanity is as free to choose the triune God as a zebra is free to change it’s stripes. Follows is but a small handful of Biblical proclamations on the nature of God’s sovereign rule over His creation that the aforementioned pastor/pundit would do well to dwell upon:
Ps. 103:19 His Sovereignty rules over all.
Isaiah 46:10 Declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’;
Prov. 16:33, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”
Ps. 135:6 Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in seas and in all deeps.
Pr. 16:4 The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil.
Pr. 20:24 Man’s steps are ordained by the Lord; how then can man understand his way?
Pr. 21:1 The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes
Jn. 6:44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.
Acts 13:48 And as many as had been appointed [ordained] to eternal life believed.
I know You are the Sovereign over the universe. Lord, your breathed life into every living thing. You spoke the worlds into existence, and You hold everything together by Your might, everything from the most vast and distant galaxy to the smallest sub-atomic particle. There is no created thing, no matter how large or insignificantly small, that strays from Your meticulous control.
Not only are You immeasurably, infinitely mighty, You are infinitely good. I confess I sometimes forget Your character when I undergo trial. I forget sometimes that You are God, my God. I am thankful You are aware of my infirmities, failures, and sins, that You know my foolish doubts, yet You love me anyway. I thank you Lord, that you adopted me in spite of You knowing my frame. I am no prize that You should choose me, there is no good of my own in me. I do not deserve Your mercy, yet You extend grace to me. You draw me toward repentance. You lovingly break me, discipline me, that You may remake me, teach me. Teach me to love You more deeply and trust You more completely, to love my neighbor, to love the unlovely just as You love me.
In the name of the Messiah, Jesus,
This morning, after a long night, I come across this post, copied in full, from More Than Coping:
Broken Things: Streams In The Desert, October 16th, 2011
Posted on October 15, 2011 by erunner
“By reason of breakings they purify themselves” (Job 41:25).
God uses most for His glory those people and things which are most perfectly broken. The sacrifices He accepts are broken and contrite hearts. It was the breaking down of Jacob’s natural strength at Peniel that got him where God could clothe him with spiritual power. It was breaking the surface of the rock at Horeb, by the stroke of Moses’ rod that let out the cool waters to thirsty people.
It was when the 300 elect soldiers under Gideon broke their pitchers, a type of breaking themselves, that the hidden lights shone forth to the consternation of their adversaries. It was when the poor widow broke the seal of the little pot of oil, and poured it forth, that God multiplied it to pay her debts and supply means of support.
It was when Esther risked her life and broke through the rigid etiquette of a heathen court, that she obtained favor to rescue her people from death. It was when Jesus took the five loaves and broke them, that the bread was multiplied in the very act of breaking, sufficient to feed five thousand. It was when Mary broke her beautiful alabaster box, rendering it henceforth useless, that the pent-up perfume filled the house. It was when Jesus allowed His precious body to be broken to pieces by thorns and nails and spear, that His inner life was poured out, like a crystal ocean, for thirsty sinners to drink and live.
It is when a beautiful grain of corn is broken up in the earth by DEATH, that its inner heart sprouts forth and bears hundreds of other grains. And thus, on and on, through all history, and all biography, and all vegetation, and all spiritual life, God must have BROKEN THINGS.
Those who are broken in wealth, and broken in self-will, and broken in their ambitions, and broken in their beautiful ideals, and broken in worldly reputation, and broken in their affections, and broken ofttimes in health; those who are despised and seem utterly forlorn and helpless, the Holy Ghost is seizing upon, and using for God’s glory. “The lame take the prey,” Isaiah tells us.
O break my heart; but break it as a field
Is by the plough up-broken for the corn;
O break it as the buds, by green leaf seated,
Are, to unloose the golden blossom, torn;
Love would I offer unto Love’s great Master,
Set free the odor, break the alabaster.
O break my heart; break it victorious God,
That life’s eternal well may flash abroad;
O let it break as when the captive trees,
Breaking cold bonds, regain their liberties;
And as thought’s sacred grove to life is springing,
Be joys, like birds, their hope, Thy victory singing. –Thomas Toke Bunch
Free Kindle copy (at least at the time of this post) of The World-Tilting Gospel
Evangelical culture warriors long for days gone by when America was a nation uniquely blessed by God. Many, especially in the Bible belt of the south, patriotically voice their pride in being a Christian American.
Beyond the oxymoronic concept of a ‘proud Christian’ and the counter-Christian synthesis of parochial nationalism and the Christian ethos of the redeemed as being citizens of another Kingdom, one not of this world, we may find, at times, a confusion of civic religion with authentic Christian faith in the rhetoric of the public square. We find at times, too, a core and deadly confusion of Law and Grace.
I believe that, to a substantial degree, the primary religion of America has always been one of moralism and patriotic hubris more than a humility-inducing love for the Gospel. Many pulpiteers and parishioners have waxed nostalgic for the days when prayers were recited in classrooms and the Ten Commandments were posted in public buildings. While I think the display of the Decalogue is a very good thing, my question would be this: What actually was the prevailing faith of those days?
I cannot help but think of the old song, The Last Kiss by Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers. Follows is an excerpt:
The Lord took her away from me
She’s gone to heaven
So I got to be good
So I can see my baby
When I leave this ol’ world”
This song, written in 1964, a vestige of waning ‘50’s sentimentality and idealized white-bread wholesomeness and innocence, encapsulates, I think, the overarching civic religion of evangelical America’s assumed golden years. Wrapping itself with Biblical language and allusions, we find a religion where ultimately we have to be good to get to heaven, obeying the Ten Commandments, so we can enjoy unending delights in the afterlife. Religion was, and most often is, defined as adherence to moralistic principles.
I believe much of the church of American history felt their call, and not entirely incorrectly, was to uphold ethical mandates and suppress the darker impulses of humanity. We were to shoulder the providential task of elevating the stature of America’s greatness on the world stage, of building a New Jerusalem, of realizing our God-ordained Manifest Destiny. I find it interesting that we could oft find, in America’s most recent evangelical Golden Age, the Ten Commands posted in court houses, but did one ever find the Gospel proclamation hung on a wall? I think that if you asked the typical man on the street in any American city, someone who probably was raised in a church, about the core of Christianity, you would receive a reply that implied Christianity was about performing good deeds and exhibiting moral behavior, essentially moral imperatives. The Gospel declarative would probably be absent. Sometimes I think the ‘pull yourself up by your own bootstraps’ religious ethos of America’s golden years has more in common with Andrew Jackson that Christ.
I find so many ironies in the religious history of America. Many colonists and clergy thought it God’s will, even in light of Roman’s 13, that they secede from England over the issues of taxation without representation, but a following generation of clergy and parishioners thought it wrong that the South secede from the Union. The South, champions of state’s rights, with much of the southern clergy proclaiming to be Biblical literalists and using such to validate the supposed civil right to keep slaves, claimed a Biblical mandate to secede, and the North laid hold of a moral mandate, based both on Biblical and Enlightenment ideals, to abolish slavery and to maintain the integrity of the Union. Using Biblical proof-texts, two bitterly and diametrically opposed factions voiced ownership of God’s favor.
When we look at the documents that give foundation to the American experience, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence for example, we find ‘God’ words, but we do not find Christian words. We find flattened allusions to a God that could be honestly approved of by a Deist, by a Unitarian, or by an orthodox Christian. In fact, one of the observations by some clergy of the Confederate States was that the American Constitution was far too secular for a nation that declared itself to be ‘Christian.’
I think, too, of the first settlers from the new world, the Pilgrims, who, by virtue of being both early settlers from the Old World and being Christian, are used as rhetorical fodder by culture war pundits to bolster the claim, correct or not, that America was founded as a Christian nation. Persecuted Puritans from England, their practice of Christianity, their ethos, would probably not be recognized by the average church goer of today. While I do not infer that all their practices and attitudes were correct and all contemporary practices and attitudes are inferior, their focus, I think, on eternal things were a bit sharper than ours. One need only peruse the literature produced by the Puritans and compare it to what we find on the shelf of the typical American bookstore to discern their focus was far more Christ-centric than the human-centric ‘best-life-now’ fodder typically found on contemporary bookshelves. I think the Pilgrims, in their austere practices, understood more clearly than we that the human heart was an idol factory. For example, they did not celebrate Christmas or Easter, holidays not appointed in Scripture. Pilgrim pastor John Robinson taught that “It seems too much for any mortal man to appoint, or make an anniversary memorial” for Christ. Perhaps with some irony, only certain cults think in such terms, now.
Ultimately, it does not matter to me if America is or is not a self-identified ‘Christian’ nation. My only skin in this game is that history is being revised by both the secular and the religious to bolster sectarian arguments.
Sometimes I think the idealized America of many moralistic religious pundits is probably more dangerous for authentic Christianity than some alternatives. An America where the streets are safe from crime, where there is no poverty and prosperity is achieved by all, where America is the sole super-power, where the American churches are full every Sunday with people basking in the light of moral imperatives achieved, and there is, of course, a Christ of sorts there to help us, an America satisfied with herself would be a place Satan would approve just as easily he would a pagan nation. Perhaps persecuted Christians in hostile lands understand the need for a Savior more dearly and are more satisfied with Christ alone, with faith alone, with Grace alone. They have no need for nationalistic hubris.
The primary inspiration for this post is this: On the way home from work a few days ago, I was listening to the radio, listening to a Christian culture warrior, a talk show host. After bemoaning all the social ills du jour, as he always seems to do, and rallying the listeners to take America back by judicial means, he shilled for something called The Patriots Study Bible (available in a camo addition!)
Sometimes the church loves to engage errant syncretism and idolatry when she wraps the Cross with a flag. As an aside, in the few times I have listened to the aforementioned Christian talk show, I have never heard the Gospel proclaimed.