Monthly Archives: November 2009

Andy Naselli repost of thoughts on Job 26

I always enjoy another thought dervied from Job 26, one of my favorite chapters in Scripture. From Andy Naselli’s blog post on November 23, “Further Up and Further In,” consider:

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Layton Talbert reflects on Job 26:14a: “Behold, these are but the outskirts [“outer fringe,” NIV] of his ways.”

“These are the mere edges of His ways.” The word edges (KJV, “parts”) denotes a termination, a boundary line or coastline, an edge or corner. What we can discern of the infinite God from His works in nature and history are the mere coastlines of the continent of the mind and character of God. Imagine landing for the first time on the seventeenth-century American continent. You have no idea that the sand onto which you step is the fringe of a continuous landmass over 3,000 miles wide and 9,500 miles long. Imagine formulating views of what this whole continent is like based on what you can see from the bay where you drop anchor. Suppose you forge your way five miles inland, or even fifty miles, to get a better idea of what what this new country is like. As tangible and verifiable as what you see is, you are experiencing a minuscule fraction of an unimaginable stretch of vast and varied terrain yet to be explored—massive and multiple mountain ranges, trackless prairies, impenetrable forests, mammoth lakes and mighty rivers with deafening waterfalls, swamps and deserts, flora and fauna yet unknown. How much more there is to know about our magnificently infinite God than what we can see from where we are, only eternity can tell.

Beyond Suffering: Discovering the Message of Job (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 2007), 146.

Related: A few years ago I reviewed Talbert’s book and linked to MP3s of his sermons on Job.

Might I also recommend Mike Mason’s, The Gospel According to Job, and works by David Jackson,  Robert Fyall and John Piper (2) for those of you wishing to look at the greatness of God as revealed in Job?

Answering Veith On Gay Lead in Public Discourse: A Lukan-Pauline Primer

This week I had four conversations that led into discussions about the church and same-sex marriage. The first was with a group of pastors who were asking how we should approach the potential implications of the DC City Council’s actions for the church. The second was with a Christian brother asking about how to build a church-state theology that reflects Baptists’ historical position on freedom of religion. The third was within a conversation on the Manhattan Declaration and how we should view partnerships for the sake of public morality. The fourth concerned whether or not my church plant could join the ELCA church from whom we are renting space in making Christmas cards – at the ELCA church’s request – to give to residents of a local nursing home. The concern is that making cards with the ELCA church would detour us off Reformation doctrine to the road of the slippery slope.

I hope that I have sure enough footing in my Christian faith and theology that I can make a Christmas card without going down the theological slippery slope. I am certain that I can write, “Wishing you a Merry Christmas,” without communicating, “I agree with the positions of the ELCA, including the ordination of women and homosexuals.” (Let me be clear that I am not sure where our host church sits on the latter issue. However, since their pastor is female, I know where they sit on the former issue. Yet, I am preaching Christ every Sunday in their facility and holding firmly to the Five Solas; I pay my rent check and preach Christ. My church has a great working relationship with our host.) Signing the Manhattan Declaration for the sake of preserving life and marriage might seem like a more significant issue to many of you. Believe me when I say it is no more significant to the people of my congregation than is maintaining a proper, discerning, Gospel-affirming relationship with our host church. The issues are quite similar for me as a pastor.

In the short space of a blog post, I cannot formulate or communicate a robust theology of the public square. (May I suggest instead, after the Scriptures, consider the works of Wells, Carson, Gaede, and Guinness.) However, the Apostle Paul understood the dangers of an uncritical theology of social, civil, and religious pluralism, and Luke records that he still was able to make the following decisions:

1. He could join the Jewish believers in Jerusalem in the Nazarite Vow and pay for their related ceremonial fees without compromising the Gospel message to the Gentiles (Acts 21:17-26). Paul made a social compromise for the sake of keeping the Gospel from being spoken as something that was against the cultural customs of the Jews.

2. He could speak Aramaic to Jews and Greek to Gentiles so as not to be mistaken either as one who disrespected the temple or a riot starter (which would have discredited the Gospel message he preached; Acts 21:27-22:29). Paul could live as a “dual citizen” without denial of the Gospel (22:6-21). Paul’s dual citizen-theology kept him from being perceived as one harmful to society by both groups. When he was finally rejected, it was over the issue of preaching to the Gentiles, not of preaching against the Temple.

3. He could identify with his heritage as a Pharisee rather than focusing on theological matters over which he could disagree with the Pharisees. This brought the Pharisees to become supporters of Paul rather than continue as his detractors (at least in this one instance; Acts 22:30-23:11). Paul could do this without denying the resurrection. In fact, his choices kept the Gospel message moving to Rome through him (23:11).

Paul’s crafty public square theology involved making cultural compromise, living wisely in both Jewish and Roman societies (akin to one living like a citizen of two kingdoms), and finding a means to identify with his religious detractors on an agreeable point of theology for the sake of the Gospel. Luke’s record of Paul’s example is to be followed by the church. Paul did not forsake the Gospel while taking the Nazarite Vow, calming the Jews, correcting the Romans, or finding solidarity with the Pharisees. I think Paul could have signed the Manhattan Declaration for the sake of the Gospel—so that our message – the message of Christ – would not be perceived as anti-cultural even though it is counter-cultural. You are free to disagree.

At Cranach: The Blog of Veith, Gene Veith asks “why do gays come across better than their Christian critics?” I find his thoughts to have significance to the “to sign or not to sign” question surrounding the Manhattan Declaration and how our actions in debates of public discourse are perceived. Veith: 

Consider Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank’s account of a rally against the hate-crime bill:

Conservative Christian ministers from across the land, determined to test the bounds of a new law punishing anti-gay hate crimes, assembled outside the Justice Department on Monday to denounce the sin of homosexuality and see whether they would be charged with lawbreaking.

Anything other than sex “between a male and his wedded wife,” announced the Rev. Paul Blair, “is a perversion, and the Bible says that homosexuality is in fact an abomination.”

No arrest was made.

The Rev. Rick Scarborough, quoting Scripture, listed “homosexual offenders” along with thieves, drunkards, swindlers and idolators as those unwelcome in the kingdom of God. “To fail to call homosexuals to repent of their sin and come to Jesus is the highest form of cowardice and sin,” he said.

No charges were filed.

“Had people listened to our plea, there would be tens of thousands of people who had not died of a dreaded disease,” contributed the Rev. Jim Garlow. “This breaks our heart to see people die of AIDS.”

No hands were cuffed. In fact, the few cops in attendance were paying no attention to the speakers, instead talking among themselves and checking their BlackBerrys.

The evangelical activists had been hoping to provoke arrest, because, as organizer Gary Cass of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission put it, “we’d have standing to challenge the law.” But their prayers were not answered. Nobody was arrested, which wasn’t surprising: To run afoul of the new law, you need to “plan or prepare for an act of physical violence” or “incite an imminent act of physical violence.”
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Instead of getting arrested, the ministers got something else: A couple of dozen gay activists, surrounding them with rainbow flags and signs announcing “Gaga for Gay Rights” and “I Am a Love Warrior.” By the end, the gay rights activists had taken over the lectern and the sound system and were holding their own news conference denouncing the ministers.

“We’re here to say, my love is legit!” announced David Valk, an organizer of the National Equality March for gay rights.

It goes on in this vein, lauding the gays who took over the podium and praising the rental company that let them use the equipment and making fun of the Christians.

Here is my question: Why do the Christian protesters come off so badly, while the gay protesters come across so well? Is it just the bias of the author? Or are the Christian conservatives just being ineffective while the gays know how to protest effectively?

I think we should try to answer Veith’s question. I will take comments at this blog. Let’s leave Dr. Veith alone. He is Lutheran.

Book Notice: Liberating Black Theology by Anthony Bradley

Anthony Bradley (King’s College, NYC) – no relation to the previous post’s Adam Bradley (University of Colorado and Claremont McKenna College) – alerted me to the fact that his Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience (Crossway, 2010) is now available for pre-order at amazon.com. Happily I gave this (original) endorsement for the book:

With irenic tone Bradley reveals the theological justification of racial separation inherent within the victimization philosophy of both 1G and 2G black theology. His analysis demonstrates how the vision of Cone and his intellectual offspring contributes to rather than resolves DuBois’ problem of the twentieth (now twenty-first!) century.

I hope you will get a copy this book, even if Black Liberation Theology does not appear to be a major concern of your immediate ethnic context. For Bradley’s work will provide you with some good tools to understand nominal Christianity in the African American context. Hopefully this will help you reach many religious-but-not-righteous, church-going African Americans with the Gospel.  Congrats to Prof. Bradley on providing the church with this resource. Job well done!

 

Pre-Order! Ralph Ellison in Progress by Adam Bradley

Adam Bradley’s Ralph Ellison In Progress (Yale, 2010) is available for pre-order! I have been waiting for this book since the WaPo gave us the story behind the book, “The Invisible Manuscript.” I suspect we will not be dissapointed with this work, but will enjoy it greatly! When you order yours, get your pastor a copy for Christmas, too. (“Oh, yeah, my pastor!”) I hope my copy will arrive in time to finish the book before the Spring 2010 semester begins.  From the publisher:

Ralph Ellison may be the preeminent African-American author of the twentieth century, though he published only one novel, 1952’s Invisible Man. He enjoyed a highly successful career in American letters, publishing two collections of essays, teaching at several colleges and universities, and writing dozens of pieces for newspapers and magazines, yet Ellison never published the second novel he had been composing for more than forty years. A 1967 fire that destroyed some of his work accounts for only a small part of the novel’s fate; the rest is revealed in the thousands of pages he left behind after his death in 1994, many of them collected for the first time in the recently published Three Days Before the Shooting . . . .

Ralph Ellison in Progress is the first book to survey the expansive geography of Ellison’s unfinished novel while re-imaging the more familiar, but often misunderstood, territory of Invisible Man. It works from the premise that understanding Ellison’s process of composition imparts important truths not only about the author himself but about race, writing, and American identity. Drawing on thousands of pages of Ellison’s journals, typescripts, computer drafts, and handwritten notes, many never before studied, Adam Bradley argues for a shift in scholarly emphasis that moves a greater share of the weight of Ellison’s literary legacy to the last forty years of his life and to the novel he left forever in progress.

Congrat’s to Prof. Bradley!

Challies: 10 Million Words of NYT Bestsellers

Tim Challies is going to attempt to read and review all of the New York Times hardcover, non-fiction bestsellers of 2010.  He will be readng close to 10 million words. He writes,

In 2010 I intend to read all of the New York Times bestsellers. I will qualify this by saying that I’ll be reading all of the hardcover, non-fiction bestsellers. Fiction has little appeal to me and does not offer as valuable a snapshot of the culture as does non-fiction; the softcovers have generally already been released as hardcovers. So it made sense for me to focus on just that one list. There are fifteen books on the list and it is updated once weekly. On average there are three or four books added each week. Some weeks there are as few as one new one added or as many as seven. In any case, I am going to attempt to read them all. My intention in all of this is to find in those books lessons on culture and worldview.

Through the rest of 2009 I will be reading as many of the bestsellers as I can and trying to “find my voice.” I will be trying to find the best way to seek out and communicate the lessons about worldview and culture that will be the heart of this project. I may also try to focus some attention on books dealing with reading better, reading faster, increasing retention, and so on.

So I am going to encourage you to visit the new site, 10MillionWords.com. There are already quite a few reviews over there of some books you may enjoy. The site is hosted at Gospel Coalition. I mentioned the site to them and, for various reasons, we felt it would be a good idea to “park” the site for the year. You may like to subscribe via RSS or subscribe via email. You might also like to follow 10MillionWords via Twitter or join the Facebook group. At the very least, visit the site, bookmark it, and drop by a few times. I think (and hope!) you will find it an interesting and valuable stop on your online travels in the months to come.

Tim, I’m cheering for you! I think you can do it. One of my other reading and writing heroes attempted a “52 books in 52 weeks” challenge this year, among all of her zillion other doings as a writer, professor and mom. However, She graciously bailed in the end, (which is nothing at which to scoff, because she still read and reviewed far more than most of us ever will, and I’m sure she is the better for striving hard toward her goal).

Now, what are the rest of us going to do in 2010 to redeem the time? I have at least one strong (and annual) suggestion along with one additional, highly recommended resource and corresponding schedule. Too much? Send all complaints to Tim Challies (whiners@challies.com?). He will find time to read them.

 

Orphan Sunday

Adopted for LifeToday our church will join thousands of churches across the country in the celebration of Orphan Sunday. I am grateful that my friend, Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY, and a fellow adoptive parent, has written a book that challenges the church to have greater involvement in rescuing orphans and welcoming them into believers’ homes. The book is, Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches (Crossway, 2009). In the book, Moore makes a theological case for believers to see the earthly adoption of orphans through the lenses of the Cross. He writes:

[Adoption] is contested, both in its cosmic and missional aspects. The Scriptures tell us there are unseen beings in the air around us who would rather we not think about what it means to be who we are in Christ. These rulers of this age would rather we ignore both the eternal reality and the earthly icon of it. They would rather we find our identity, our inheritance, and our mission according to “the flesh”—rather than according to the veiled rhythms of the Spirit of life. That’s why adoption isn’t charity—it’s war.

            The gospel of Jesus Christ means our families and churches ought to be at the forefront of the adoption of orphans close to home and around the world. As we become more attuned to the gospel, we’ll have more of a burden for orphans….

            It is one thing when culture doesn’t “get” adoption. What else could one expect when all of life is seen as the quest of “selfish genes” for survival? It is one thing when the culture doesn’t “get” adoption and so speaks of buying a cat as “adopting” a pet. But when those who follow Christ think the same way, we betray we miss something crucial about our own salvation.

            Adoption is not just about couples who want children—or who want more children. Adoption is about an entire culture within our churches, a culture that sees adoption as part of our Great Commission mandate and as a sign of the gospel itself. (Russell D. Moore, Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches [Crossway, 2009]: 18-19, emphasis added.)

See also Russell’s October 31 blog post, “Racism and the Great Commission Resurgence.”

Let us celebrate Orphan Sunday with grateful hearts for the work of our Lord Jesus, who will not leave us orphaned, but has adopted us as sons. Because of him, in the spiritual war of this life, we, like the Son of God, can say, “Abba, Father.”  

 

The Obama’s Marriage in the NYT

ObamasFrom “The Obama’s Marriage,” Jodi Kantor, in this morning’s NYT:

If winning the White House represents a resolution of the Obamas’ struggles, it also means a new, higher-stakes confrontation with some of the vexing issues that fed those tensions. Their marriage is more vulnerable than ever to the corrosions of politics: partisan attacks, disappointments of failed initiatives, a temptation to market what was once wholly private. Some of the methods the Obamas devised for keeping their relationship strong — speaking frankly in public, maintaining separate careers, even date nights — are no longer as easily available to them. Like every other modern presidential couple, the Obamas have watched their world contract to one building and a narrow zone beyond, and yet their partnership expand to encompass a staff and two wings of the White House. And while the presidency tends to bring couples closer, historians say, it also tends to thrust them back to more traditionbound behavior.

For all of their ease in public, the Obamas do not seem entirely comfortable with the bargain. As they talked about their marriage, they seemed both game and cautious, the president more introspective about their relationship, the first lady often playing the big sister dispensing advice to younger couples.

On a related note, two absolutely outstanding books on marriage are Christopher Ash’s, Marriage: Sex in the Service of God, and Gary Thomas’, Sacred Marriage.  From the publisher’s description of Marriage: Sex in the Service of God:

The “way of a man with a maiden” was too wonderful for the writer of Proverbs to understand. Preoccupying so many thoughts and dreams, the subject of countless songs, films and fairy tales, the love between a man and a woman has always been a profound and perplexing mystery. And yet we do not live happily ever after. Four out of ten marriages will end in divorce. Couples now choose to live together rather than marry, and those relationships are even less likely to last. People are having fewer children, later, and with a succession of partners. Ironically, just when so much is expected of love, Western societies are witnessing lower levels of public commitment in sexual relationships than ever before. The scale of this change amounts to a revolution, a major historical paradigm shift. The statistics mask a depth of pain that every pastor and counsellor knows only too well. We must face the inevitable questions: if faithfulness is no longer esteemed, why get married at all? What is marriage? What did God intend when he gave us marriage?

Christopher Ash argues that our modern idolization of the sexual relationship contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction. To begin to rebuild a biblical confidence in marriage, we need to understand that the primary blessing and purpose of marriage is not sexual intimacy, but rather serving God in partnership. This in turn leads to the blessings of love, friendship, children, and order in society and will help us to rediscover that faithfulness which is the heart of marriage.