Friday, July 30, 2010

Which Shoe First, God?

"But if a man stops to get the will of God in tying in shoe, or on making a lane change, he will soon be experiencing what might be called piety paralysis. God governs the world; we are not competent. Our lives are a mist. This does not mean we are to throw up our hands and abdicated all responsibility in decision-making. It simply means that God is God and we are not, and He wants us to make responsible decisions (according to our best light), not because He needs our help running the world, but because He is shaping us into the kind of creatures He has called us to be. We think we are making the world, when actually God is using the world to make us"- Douglas Wilson, Mother Kirk

Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt

Told through the eyes of a seven-year old Jesus, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt: A Novel traces the life of His family as they travel from Egypt back to Nazareth. When they reach Jerusalem there is war going on and much bloodshed. The young Jesus witnesses a man brutally killed with a spear by a Roman soldier. This event will impact his thoughts the rest of the story. Jesus sees much death and suffering on his trip back to Nazareth, such as bodies hung on crosses which line the roads as far as the eye can see. However these brutal things are counterbalanced with love and respect of his family for one another. This family compassion is a very real presence throughout the story.

Anne Rice has written from the viewpoint of a Jesus who does not know He is God in the flesh. Throughout the story he is very inquisitive about himself, without turning into morbid introspection, as there seems to be much ambiguity about his birth and his family going down to Egypt. He learns of the angels who visited his mother and father from his uncle Cleopas.

The book ends just after Jesus is found by his parents in the Temple after He has gone missing for several days. While there he learns from Temple priests of the murder by Herod of the male children at his birth. This event also troubles him, as he sees himself as the cause of it.

The book is well written and told with reverence. Rice tries to be historically accurate. Her acknowledgments at the end of the book are well worth reading as she recounts her own personal and spiritual journey, along with her interaction with history and biblical texts while researching the book. Her conclusion? There is much error and biased opinions out there concerning the "historical" Jesus. She herself was biased for many years. I was a little troubled by her use of such resources as the Gospel of Thomas, i.e. Jesus turning clay pigeons into real birds, etc. But, her use of those are very, very limited. All in all, I thought Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt: A Novel by Anne Rice was very good and I look forward to reading the sequel,Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana sometime in the near future.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Being the Church

The Greek word for church, "Ekklesia" means "called-out people," as in "called-out" from the old way of being human. There is a difference in "going to church" vs. "being the church." "Being" the church means being a part of God's family; in other words, being a part of the new way to be human, which worships and lives life together as brothers and sisters with God as Father, Jesus as Lord, bound together by the Spirit of love. So, in that sense, "He who has not the church as his MOTHER, has not God as his FATHER."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

When Nations Get Saved

Paul preached before a variety of kings and rulers; the gospel eventually going all the way to Rome. And the message was, as it still is, Christ is Lord! But suppose, like Constantine, Caesar says, "Okay, yes, I concede, Christ is Lord." What does he, (Caesar), do now? What happens if Obama says, "Christ is Lord?" How does that manifest itself? In other words, we kinda'/sorta' know what it looks like when individuals get saved but what happens when nations repent and believe gospel? What then? Well-meaning "Christians" might even rail against that sort of thing when it happens. Can't you hear them? "Sure Jesus is Lord over the church, but He ain't Lord over the U.S. Supreme Court....we do have "freedom of religion" after all...I mean, haven't you heard of the separation of church and state?"

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Surprised by Hope Thoughts

I finished N.T. Wright's fascinating Surprised by Hope. A very good book, I highly recommend it. There were only a few parts I found a bit troubling but all in all good, sound, historic biblical teaching from a "fresh" perspective. Below are some gleanings I took from his thoughts about the resurrection, heaven and the future.

Primarily a rebuttal to gnostic tendencies so prevalent in modern evangelicalism concerning heaven and the resurrection; be it the liberal or conservative variety. Wright is not traditional in that sense. He talks scarcely little about the second coming or judgment day, although he does have some things to say about those topics. He has much to say about rethinking heaven, the resurrection and practical implications for here and now. He stays away from speculation about what the future will look like other than bringing attention to "signposts" that point us into the "mist," i.e. "seedtime and harvest." In that sense he's very optimistic and focuses on the victory of Christ over the grave and how that has implications for those who believe. Let me give you a for instance: He says when you read in the Bible about Jesus going to prepare a place for us, he compares that to a friend who tells you he's got beer in the fridge. That doesn't mean you've got to go into the fridge (heaven) to drink it. What your friend will do (hopefully), is break it out in the open to enjoy.

According to Wright heaven and earth is/will converge into one and even now heaven is overlapping or poking into this world, but more about that in a moment, (he says this a lot too!!!) His focus is how eternal life has already begun and ways the church ought to be about the business of putting that into practice now instead of waiting to float around as a disembodied spirit on a cloud somewhere strumming a golden harp. In that spirit he attacks head on, Dispensatinoalism put forth in such popular books as the Left Behind series. Yuck! Away with such gnostic drivel!

Wright talks a lot about 1 Cor. 15 and believes it to be the heart of what the New Testament teaches concerning the resurrection. Almost every time he mentions it he brings up the last verse, 58 and says this is Paul's conclusion of the matter:"Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."

His encouragement to those who would read his book is that what is done in the here and now has ramifications for the future. As for John 14, he would say Christ is here, yet in another dimension, i.e. heaven.

His description on Hell was confusing, however he does a good job at explaining how purgatory, as defined historically, is a ridiculous idea, unless you consider the world we are in now as a type of purgatory, as in the stage on which our sanctification is played out. I found this to be a very intriguing idea.

He defines Jesus' parousia as an appearing rather than a coming, which he thinks is misleading. Again, the heavenly realm is very much present, yet we cannot see it. Christ is Lord over all and is transforming this world into something that looks more and more like heaven. And he says the dimensions of heaven and earth are interwoven, with heaven spilling over into this world. Two two are converging until one day they will be one. You see it happening when the hungry and poor are fed and clothed in the name of the risen Jesus Christ. So Christ's appearing is the manifestation of the kingdom of God on earth and yet there is a future aspect to his appearing, but it's more like a curtain being pulled back and this world being allowed to see what's actually going on. Christ has been here all along. But as for now we're not sure exactly what that will look like. But what we ought to be doing in the meantime, as God's people, is painting, planting gardens, writing books, building homes, teaching Sunday School, feeding the hungry, etc. all because this is the new way to be human and is living proof of the resurrection.

All in all, a thought provoking and challenging book.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

N.T. Wright and the Meaning of the Gospels

I listened to a couple lectures from N.T. Wright yesterday and this morning which he recently delivered at Wheaton College's 2010 theology conference.

In the talk, Wright poses a question: What are the Gospels all about? What's the primary thrust of their message about Jesus? This is not a trick question. He thinks many in the church have gotten it wrong for a number of years. He thinks many believe the Gospels are the written record which supports the deity of Christ, verified by His resurrection from the dead. Although, most emphatically true, Christ is God in the flesh, Wright believes the writers of the four Gospels had an even larger thing in mind.

Wright believes the Gospels are primarily about the inauguration of the Kingdom through the Cross. This is my paraphrase but he said, historically the church pendulum has swung in error from one extreme to another.
1. Kingdom---where the gospel becomes altogether "social" and misses the point of the cross, or
2. Cross--Where the kingdom becomes pietistic and "other-worldly,' and ignores the earthly ministry of Jesus, or at best, presents Jesus' earthly ministry as a prelude only to the cross. Most folks in my circle of Christianity seems to fall into the latter trap.
Wright says in order to understand the Gospels one must understand they are primarily about Jesus being Israel's Messiah inaugurating His Kingdom through the Cross. These points may seem ultra-nuanced but they have great and practical ramifications.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Prophets, Priests, Kings, and the Trivium

Priests (Grammar)
Priests are those who hold the office of household servants. They learn and serve through rote repetition. They are given detailed instructions and ordered to perform a task but told very little about why they must do it. This is true of young children in a household. Memorization is key in the early years. This is the grammar stage of learning.
“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing;”—John 15:15a

Kings (Logic)
A king is one who has matured and is now able to exercise and incorporate wisdom into the way he makes important decisions. As children grow in their knowledge of facts, they grow in maturity and they begin to connect the dots and understand how facts fit together into a larger picture. This is the logic or dialectical phase of learning.
“And all Israel heard of the judgment that the king, (Solomon) had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice.”—1 Kings: 3:28

Prophets (Rhetoric )
A prophet is one who speaks for God to the nations. He speaks and the world changes. When one has learned the basics and sees how the pieces fit into the bigger puzzle, he becomes able to speak as one who has wisdom. This the rhetorical stage in which the important truth of God is communicated to others.
“and the seven years of famine began to come, as Joseph had said. There was famine in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. “—Genesis 41:54