Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Content with my blade of grass

“As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.” –Psalm 103:15-16

                Those words used to be a bit disheartening to me. Lately, they have been refreshing. You see, I have been overcoming narcissism. It’s a disease that I’m prone to genetically. It traces back to my ancestors Adam and Eve. Although, I think I’ve been more exposed to it in places where I least expected it; in the church and Christian institutions.

                I have been suffering from this idea that I should be highly concerned with my impact on the world and what I accomplish for the kingdom. I don’t want to be too particular. I should be concerned with those things. In one sense, that is all I can really be concerned with. I can only control what I do. The problem is, I have been more concerned with the my impact than I am with the kingdom. The outcome is, when someone else sees fruit in their life, I am less likely to rejoice in their success than I am to think deeply about how I can be as successful. These are symptoms of narcissism.

                Lately, I have found great peace in resting in the fact that I am just a small piece in a bigger scheme. Eph. 4:15-16 says, “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

                I will die very soon. And, not long after my death, I won’t be thought about that often. I have great peace in that. I have an eternal inheritance in store that is richer than anything in this life and I play a small part in something great.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christianity as the Ideal Humanity

                What is Christianity all about? Of course, there are a lot of good answers to this question. I often think of the Westminster Catechism, when it asks, “What is the chief end of man?” The correct answer being, “To love God and enjoy him forever.” I like the wording, here. Notice that the question doesn’t ask, “what is the chief end of Christians?” It’s a bit more broad than that. It asks, “what is the chief end of man?”

                This is important, because Christianity is not about escapism from the world. It is about redeeming the world. It is not about “what is true for me.” It is about what is true. It is not contrary to humanity. It is the ideal humanity.

                Recently, Anglican bishop, N. T. Wright, along with Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum, have helped me more clearly see this idea that being Christian is about being human.

                A brief look at the overarching story of Scripture is helpful in fleshing this out. God made man in the garden to be his image bearers, his representative rulers on earth. Then, the fall happened. Ever since, God’s work has been about the redemption of humanity. God redeems humanity progressively, manifesting his praiseworthiness in each moment. He also chooses to carry out his salvation, not to the all, but to a remnant, that He would be justly glorified in both judgment and salvation. Let’s look at a few moments in history:

God judged the world, yet established a remnant through Noah and his family. Noah is a type of new Adam and his family a type of new Eden, looking forward to a new creation.

God chose Abraham out of the world and blesses his seed. Abraham is a type of new Adam and his seed a type of redeemed humanity.

God set Abraham's descendants apart from the world to be His people. Israel is a type of new Eden, looking forward to a new creation.

God sent Jesus to die and rise from the dead for the redemption of sinners. The church (containing both Jew and Gentile) is a type of Eden, looking forward to a new creation.

                The church, as Israel was, imperfectly in the Old Covenant, is set apart, as a more ideal community in the New Covenant. Through the cross, Jesus has redeemed an ideal humanity, a holy remnant, that looks forward to being a fully redeemed civilization at the return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the new heavens and new earth.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

You're going to do that in church?!

              I can’t tell how many times I have heard an exclamation like this: “You’re going to do that in church?!” It is often times said in a joking manner, but it seems to stem from a certain way of thinking. The basic logic is usually something like this:

Church is a place set apart to worship God.

What you are doing does not worshipping God.

Therefore, what you are doing is not good.

I would argue that the first premise is not necessary to the conclusion.

                In the New Testament, Paul often refers to Christians as “saints.” The word “saint” is from the Greek word hagios. In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, hagios is often a translation from the Hebrew word kadosh. In the Old Testament, kadosh can be used of God, but it is often used for things or people set apart for temple worship or set apart for God. In the New Testament, there is no temple. Paul uses the adjective hagios and uses it like a noun to describe Christians. In Ephesians 2:21-22, Christians are referred to as the temple of God. Christians are declared forensically holy and called to be holy in lifestyle.

                So, a better way to phrase the question above would may be, “You’re going to do that and you’re a Christian?!”

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Spiritual Experience of Prayer

               Let me start off by saying that I am neither a charismatic nor a mystic (in the way it is often portrayed). I’m a Baptist and a Calvinist. I think I’ve said enough… I have, however, been given the same Helper that Christ gave the apostles at Pentecost. That cannot mean that nothing has changed since my conversion. There is a Spirit inside of me that groans for redemption, like there is in any genuine Christian.

                I suppose to explain what I mean, I should just explain why I am bringing up the subject. If we are honest, most Christians struggle with the almost illogical idea of prayer. Question like “why do I have to tell God if He already knows what I am thinking” and “why does it matter if I pray if God is sovereign” are normal and understandable questions. In fact, Jesus acknowledged both of these things. He says, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Mat. 6:7-8). He also tells us to pray for God’s will, which he knows is inevitable. Take, for example, The Lord’s Prayer: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mat. 6:10). Or remember that Jesus asked for deliverance from the cross, but prayed that God’s will, not His, be done.

                Then why do we pray? There are a lot of reasons. I will mention one that I have been learning from personal experience. I often face the dilemma of knowing that I should pray, but feeling like I don’t want to. I liken it to the experience of trying to get started on writing a research paper. Then, when I do pray, I leave wondering how I have ever gone without it. There is an emotional and existential connection that is built between God and His children and I experience it when I pray. The Spirit inside of me longs to commune with my Father and, when I do, I know where I belong.

                Paul talks about this connection through the Spirit often. In Ephesians 3:16, he speaks of God granting us “to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” In Romans, Paul addresses the exact issue of not knowing what to pray. He says that the Spirit “intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” I am thankful that the Spirit intercedes for me in my weakness. This means that we do not need to be in the right frame of mind before we approach God in prayer. He helps us get there through prayer.

                I learned a helpful tip recently from Amanda: write out your prayers. I have been doing this the past two mornings and it has helped me in making my prayers raw and tangible. It keeps my distracted mind from wandering every 15 seconds. If you struggle with being distracted, like I do, maybe this will help you out.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Covenant Theology, Dispensationalism, and Stephen Wellum

           In the past couple of years, I have been highly interested in the overall hermeneutic of Scripture. What is a hermeneutic? A hermeneutic, as Webster defines it, is “a method or principle of interpretation.” While evangelical Bible scholars may agree on most of the primary flow of Scripture, there is much disagreement over how to interpret redemption history within itself.
The two dominating biblical hermeneutics are referred to as Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism. First, it needs to be said that these two camps agree on more than on which they disagree, though the disagreements are not inconsequential. Secondly, there disagreements are not as simple and straightforward as people usually think they are. Covenant Theologians break the Bible into dispensations (though not the same ones) and Dispensationalists see covenants as important to the unfolding of Scripture. There primary difference between the two is their views on the church and Israel, but even that difference isn’t quite as glaring in contemporary discussion as many make it out to be.
In the little bit of free reading that I do outside of my school work, I have been picking up whatever I can to help me understand these two systems of thought, only to find myself more perplexed the more I read the Bible. I haven’t been able to settle into either system comfortably. While I’m far more drawn to Covenant theology, I am hesitant to embrace certain elements of is ecclesiology. I see the Dispensationalists’ distinctiveness of Israel as a nation apart from the church (esp. Rom. 9-11), yet there still remains a disunity in their thinking that I cannot embrace (although I understand that Progressive Dispensationalism is beginning to bridge some of those gaps).
A little while ago I read an article by a theologian named Stephen Wellum called “Baptism and the Relationship between the Covenants” in an excellent book called Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (a must read for those interested in the baptism debate!). In it, Wellum points out that Reformed paedobaptists’ baptismal beliefs ultimately root back to their understanding of the “Covenant of Grace,” a theological category that he believes constrains Scripture in ways that is less than helpful (I think I agree). As Wellum began to explain his understanding of the continuity and, yet, discontinuity of the covenants of Scripture, I found myself nearly standing up and yelling, “Yes! Yes! That makes so much sense!” He was filling gaps in my thinking that I didn’t know how to fill. I had to find what else he has written.

Thanks to my good friend Mark Dickson, I stumbled across a book that he co-authored with Steve Gentry, call Kingdom through Covenant. It is a breakdown of their alternative hermeneutic to the classical dispensational and covenant theologies. I am quite excited to read it!