Saturday, June 28, 2008

STDs in Northeast PA

Fox News has run a story commenting on an outbreak of STDs in a local school district. Here are some exerts:

Bruce told the paper she wasn’t surprised by the numbers, citing a recent CDC study that found at least one in four teenage girls nationwide, between the ages of 14 and 19, has a sexually transmitted disease.

Dr. Keith Ablow, FOX News Channel's psychiatry correspondent, said he too, was not surprised. "Young people are desperately looking for anything that will make them feel human, as our culture plunges into the unreality of the Internet, technology and media," he said. "The easy way to try to convince yourself that you can still feel when nothing seems real is to have sex and experience pleasure and maybe even have a baby who can hold you and make you feel loved."

This is the kind of thing that ultimately only the gospel will cure. David Wells has shown that we live in an age of narcicism where people 'make their identity'. They put on who they are like masks depending on where they are and what they want. There is this desire to be human and authentic but then an attempt to craft it using everything under the sun for identity.

Ablow is right. There is 'unreality' and people try to create their reality. If you don't know you are made in the image of God--you are captivated by remaking your image however you see fit. You suppress the truth of God and fashion idols that revolve around new forms of identity and self images.

It is in the gospel that we find our identity. We are recreated in the image of Christ. We are being transformed to His image. In justification by faith we learn our identity and self-worth is not found in ourselves and what we do but in our faith in Christ. If trying to create our own reality in this 'unreality' is a way to hide from God--a way to supress the truth right in front of us (that I am made in God's image)--then the only way to stand before God and not feel the need to remake ourselves because of the inherent shame we constantly feel (shame that drives our quest to define ourselves and make ourselves feel human) is to know that we can come into God's presence with the righteousness of Christ.

We need to find our Savior not our identity. Of course, when I find the former, He brings the latter.

Pray for the young men and women at this school.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Chronological Snobbery

This was just too funny when the writer says of thee J.I. Packer--

"My that the views of a preacher... who... does not deign to use mobile, computer or any of the new technologies actually do not matter very much."

Well we can rule out a whole bunch of people in the Reformation, Augustine, Irenaeus, Athanasius and Cappodocian Fathers and oh every theologian for 2000 years of church history-- not to mention Jesus, Paul and every NT writer...

Talk about chronological snobbery. It may be funny but if the writter is serious then it is sad. C.S. Lewis has written we should read old books more than we read the new ones.

It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.

I love what Abraham Piper said on his blog "Paul forgot to mention in his qualifications for eldership that pastors must be high-tech."

It is sad on another level. Scripture everywhere teaches us to respect our elders, in fact for example older women teach the younger women (Titus 2:3-5). The point of passing on the gospel is teaching things to the next generation. For example, elders are to pass on the truth to faithful men who will do the same (2 Timothy 2:2).

If we bypass this process, we loose something. I often find that people older than myself have much more wisdom. The young person may be able to spread information faster and easier--yet this does not make someone worth listening to. It is sad when we measure the person's ability to contribute and dispense wisdom by the lack of gray on their head and the level of technology in their pockets.

"Angels and ministers of grace defend us."

Thursday, June 26, 2008

"What is a Healthy Church Member"

I just read this gem of a book. It was so good that I read it in one night. I found myself saying "YES THAT'S IT" or "MY PEOPLE NEED TO HEAR THIS" so many times that I lost count. Before I read the book I decided not to underline in the book because I figured I probably would loan the book out and I don't want people to be influenced my marks (I do that if I anticpate the book will be that handy) . But now I'm glad I didn't underline it for another reason: I would have probably underlined the whole book.

This book was Biblical and had practical helps for the reader. I couldn't help but wonder what kind of preacher Anyabwile is. You could hear his pastoral sensitivity on every page. There are probing questions and challenge throughout the book. Generally each chapter begins with the principle showing how this is essential to a healthy church--in that respect it builds the need. Then it turns attention to the reader: the church member.

The book itself takes Mark Dever's Nine Marks of a Healthy Church and turns them to the person in the pew. So the first mark "Expository Preaching" becomes for the member "An Expository Listener". This chapter alone was probably worth the price of the book. So the nine characteristics of a healthy church member are as follows:

  1. A Healthy Church Member Is an Expositional Listener
  2. A Healthy Church Member Is a Biblical Theologian
  3. A Healthy Church Member Is Gospel Saturated
  4. A Healthy Church Member Is Genuinely Coverted
  5. A Healthy Church Member Is a Biblical Evangelist
  6. A Healthy Church Member Is a Committed Member
  7. A Healthy Church Member Seeks Discipline
  8. A Healthy Church Member Is a Growing Disciple
  9. A Healthy Church Member Is a Humble Follower
  10. A Healthy Church Member Is a Prayer Warrior

The last one is, as Anyabwile says, "one to grow on".

This Sunday, I am going to encourage my congregation to read this book. I'm going to buy three more copies to pass out to people. I am also going to encourage those who can to buy to copies, one for them and one to pass to a friend. Here is a buletin insert that we are running:

“In an era when Christians seem confused about what kind of community the church ought to be, here’s a helpful book outlining the church’s true biblical priorities, especially as they apply to individual members.” –John MacArthur

“With a wealth of Biblical insight and practical instruction, Anyabwile calls Christians to do more than just attend church, but to be the kind of faithful, engaged church members that God intends them to be.” –R. Albert Mohler Jr.

Dear Church Family,

If you have one book to read this summer make this the one! This is a beautiful gem. It is short—small paper size and only 120 pages. Yet the depth of wisdom and practical advice far exceeds its small size. It is written by a pastor and geared for the average church member/attendee. It is written at a reading level that a high school student could easily grasp yet the breadth of Scripture he surveys and the topics he covers are extremely crucial.

Have you ever wondered what a healthy church should look like? Have you ever wondered where your role fits in building a healthy church? You cannot have a healthy church if you do not have healthy members and you cannot have healthy members if you do not have a healthy church. This book gives practical wisdom and insight into what a healthy member looks like. It asks penetrating questions to help you evaluate yourself and pray for our church. Read and Digest this book! Discuss it in the home and in church. Delight in how it points us to God and Christ!

-Pastor Bertolet

Other recommended books in the series:
Nine Marks of a Healthy Church and
What is a Healthy Church both by Mark Dever.

The only thing I did not like about the book was that is was so short. I put the book down and I felt so hungry for more. The book had to be short though otherwise it would miss the audience. I have some church members who read good books, from men like Piper, Packer, MacArthur, etc. Many do not read 'good books' for a host of reasons. Certainly people can handle different recommendations for the level they are at. This is one book that I can confidently recommend to everybody in my congregation. Thank you Thabiti Anyabwile.

Thabiti Anyabwile blogs over at Pure Church.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sermon Applications 6/22/08

TEXT: Hosea 14.

Hosea 14:9 9 Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; Whoever is discerning, let him know them. For the ways of the LORD are right, And the righteous will walk in them, But transgressors will stumble in them.



i) As you understand God is merciful, let go of others things you trust. What is it that I rely on? Let me give you a trivial example from my life. Twice in college and seminary I had a car die on me. I would get so frustrated and it would mess up my plans. It’s pretty silly but suddenly I realize that I was trusting the car and my ability to keep my schedule. I need to repent of that. I needed to trust God to order my days and realize that I’ll get there “if the Lord wills”. What in my life do I trust that isn’t God? What do I rely on so heavily that I would get discouraged and maybe depressed if I lost it? What do I get anxious over? What you are most anxious over is problem an area you are turning to trust.

ii) As you understand God is merciful, do not worry about turning to Christ. Do not ever fear that God does not hear your prayers. Do not wonder “will God be there if I confess my sin”? If you have felt the burden of sin in Hosea know that in turning to Christ everyday we find relief. Christ’s does not that heavy burden upon us—a point so powerfully illustrated in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.



i) As you understand that God restores, find comfort in God alone. God through the work of Jesus Christ is the only source of comfort.

ii) Find comfort in your life by remembering and trusting the promises of God. How do I get seek God in comfort? One suggestion is mediate on Scripture, particularly the Psalms. For example, on Friday I visited Jane McCrea in the hospital. I almost always read a Psalm or some Scripture. Why? Because the Word of the Lord brings comfort. When you read these Scriptures you can ask: is there a promise that applies to me? Is their hope that I can claim because of Jesus? Reflect on how God keeps that promised based upon the work of Christ. Perhaps you might keep a journal. Second, meditate on the death and resurrection of Christ. I do not mean is some sort of new age sense but I do mean consider the benefits of Christ. Perhaps, begin to right a list of all the things that God gives us. As you consider each one, respond my giving thanks. Third, when I was a youth pastor at Lebanon on Wednesday nights when we prayed with the teens we started a list to pray for. We’d right down an attribute of God and thank Him and praise Him. We let the list get as long as we could—it challenged us to think more deeply about God opening our Bibles to reflect on Him but then praise Him.


i) As you come to understand what God has done, notice that you have been blessed with every spiritual blessing and I am coheirs with Christ.

(1) Our blessing from God is not physical prosperity but the rewards of Christ redemption, which includes no more guilt from our sin, freedom from sin, transformation, the fruit of the Spirit, etc.

Ephesians 1:3 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.

Romans 8:17 and if children, then heirs- heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

ii) As you come to understand what God has done, marvel in deeper worship.

iii) Express joy in my personal life, not because of circumstances but because of God. Do not be discouraged by bad personal circumstances. Instead, ponder the grace of God. Ask God in prayer to help you see what He has done for you in Jesus. Recognize your circumstances are a temporary affliction.

iv) Spend time pondering the grace of God.

(1) Meditation, prayer, singing. How do I do this in my life? (a) Some of us need to more fervently thank God in our prayers. (b) Others need to “be still and know that I am God”—we need to just think about all the things God has done for us. That may mean stopping at the busiest time of day and reflecting who God is and what He has done. (c) Some of us may not even understand the Biblical language of salvation like atonement, justification and sanctification so we need to read and study our Bible’s more—you cannot understand what God us done until you understand the language of the Bible. You may need to apply yourself to some diligent study and I’d be happy to recommend some resources. (d) Some of us may need to add a time of singing and personal praise during our devotions because they have become a rigid formula or rigorous study without delight.

(2) Take time to delight in God. The purpose of spending time with God is to delight in Him. Take a moment to identify where you are.

4) Conclusion.
We need to come to understand the ways of the Lord. They are a mystery revealed in the Word of God. Walk in them, do not continue in sin. After all that Paul says about the depths of God’s grace and He probes in Romans to understand God look at how he concludes the sections on the doctrines of grace:

Romans 11:33-36 33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A proper grasp of the Gospel?

Does the average American Christian have a proper grasp of the gospel? Does the average preacher of the Word of God actually apply the Word of God like he believes the Gospel? How many times do we hear the Word of God applied, or do we apply it to our own lives as if there is no gospel? Do you hear primarily "obey" or primarily "believe"?

Do not misunderstand me, the gospel is an indicative--it tells us what God has done. Out of that it brings imperatives--things that we should go and do. So for example, Christ was crucified and put to death therefore we put to death the old man (Col 3; Eph. 4). Therefore, we respond in obedience. The truth of the gospel changing our hearts does bring ethical implications and commands; there must be fruit of the Spirit.

However, practically speaking, we are often so bent on pragmaticism--we want simple steps that we can go and do. We want a formula to evaluate ourselves--like a 10 step set of question that diagnoses the heart without doing the hard work of soul-searching and pleading for the Spirit's conviction. Or we want 10 steps to fix the problem X in our life. We typically set aside the gospel rather than apply the gospel. Again, do not misunderstand--clear, practical, relevant applications are crucial. The Word of God corrects, rebukes, instructs and trains in righteousness--preaching and personal Bible study must do the same (2 Tim. 3:16-4:5).

Scripture gives us many examples of what to do and how to live by the characters in Scripture.
1 Corinthians 10:11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
Notice however Paul understands this through the "on whom the end of the ages has come" which points us to the centrality of Jesus (cf. Gal. 4:4 or Heb. 1:1 for this same 'time language'). We have to read the examples even through the lens of the gospel and through the cross of Christ. The example is for believers who have seen Jesus Christ's fulfilled work. In the gospel we do not just have someone who lives a paradigm for us to follow but the gospel says we have one who lives the life we can never live.

A proper grasp of the gospel says the following:
  1. It acknowledges that even with the best of examples (Jesus' own life) or the good examples (like David as a man after God's own heart) we can never measure up. We always fall short. (Most acknowledge this)
  2. We need a Savior not an example. Christ has to remove the curse and punishment for our falling short. (Most acknowledge this)
  3. We need one who is a human being for us--He must (as a Covenant head and Second Adam) do everything perfectly for us. He does it for us just as if we ourselves have done it. (Few acknowledge this).
  4. Because we have one who has saved us and lived for us and is our advocate living as mediator who sends the Spirit from on high, we must live in accordance with the gospel we have received. (Most acknowledge this but without the crucial 'because').
Without item 3 and without the "because" in item 4, the commands become a new legalism and a new law. Even pleading that we obey the "greatest" commands: 'love God' and 'love your neighbor' can be a new legalism. It is so easy to forget that Christ must be one who has done what we can never do. Most Christians believe that Christ has only taken away sins and that he somehow clears the slate. It is off that clean slate that we now live and it is up to us to 'write properly on that new slate'. The reality of the gospel is even the Christian with the Spirit never writes perfectly on the slate the way we need to before God--we need a Savior who not only wipes the slate clean but writes afresh on it for us.

Martin Luther says it this way:
Be sure, moreover, that you do not make Christ into a Moses, as if Christ did nothing more than teach and provide examples as the other saints do, as if the Gospel were simply a textbook of teachings or laws. Therefore you should grasp Christ, his words, works, and sufferings, in a twofold manner. First as an example that is presented to you, which you should follow and imitate. As St. Peter says in I Peter 4, "Christ suffered for us, thereby leaving us an example." Thus when you see how he prays, fasts, helps people, and shows them love, so also you should do, both for yourself and for your neighbor. However this is the smallest part of the Gospel, on the basis of which it cannot yet even be called Gospel. For on this level Christ is of no more help to you than some other saint. His life remains his own and does not as yet contribute anything to you. In short this mode [of understanding Christ as simply an example] does not make Christians but only hypocrites. You must grasp Christ at a much higher level. Even though this higher level has for a long time been the very best, the preaching of it has been something rare. The chief article and foundation of the Gospel is that before you take Christ as an example, you accept and recognize him as a gift, as a present that God has given you and that is your own. This means that when you see or hear of Christ doing or suffering something, you do not doubt that Christ himself, with his deeds and suffering, belongs to you. On this you may depend as surely as if you had done it yourself; indeed as if you were Christ himself. See, this is what it means to have a proper grasp of the Gospel, that is, of the overwhelming goodness of God, which neither prophet, nor apostle, nor angel was ever able fully to express, and which no heart could adequately fathom or marvel at. This is the great fire of the love of God for us, whereby the heart and conscience become happy, secure, and content. This is what preaching the Christian faith means. This is why such preaching is called Gospel, which in German means a joyful, good, and comforting "message"; and this is why the apostles are called the "twelve messengers." [emphasis mine]
Why is it that so many Christians are led into spiritual depression? Why is it that so many Christians cannot handle talking too deeply about sin? Or they find it so discouraging? I would argue that most Christians think about their Christian life as something they maintain by how they act. They have a very works based model. We are like the Galatians, having begun in the Spirit we seek to perfect with the flesh (Gal. 3:1ff). Luther says this 'example only model' does not build Christians only hypocrites. While Christ's example helps, it helps only a little that is "the smallest part of the Gospel." We need more than that. We need one who fulfills the life of the obedient Christian perfectly in our place. We need the gospel.

Constantly building your life around good works and performance feeds the monsters of pride, arrogance and self-sufficiency—conveniently now all lauded even within the church as “self-esteem.” It is self-righteousness. But when this rickety boat hits the rocky shoals of reality we discover we cannot never live up to our best expectations, let alone God’s expectations. With our boat of self-sufficiency destroyed we are adrift clinging to shattered splinters of wood. Suddenly, alone on the open sea we have despair, depression and doubt. Perhaps we try with no avail to put the pieces back together so we can sail once more on the boat like the ‘good-ole’ days. Sadly this increases the pressure to perform as we use our best effort to repair a boat that is sinking under us. We are slow to learn and the cycle continues downward. We have not found a better way. It is time for a new boat which is really the old ocean-liner of the gospel. The ‘Christ-as-example’ model, sometimes heard with ‘dare-to-be-a-Daniel’ or ‘David-defeated-the-giant-and-so-can-you’, fits very well on the old boat. But it is not the gospel. I can never perfectly imitate the Rock I need to be anchored on the Rock. Only then will I grow to look more like the Rock.

When this example-only approach is followed and is the basis for our living there is little comfort and little joy. We will constantly despair realizing and knowing that we cannot cut it. There is belief that Christ has saved me but there is little reflection on Christ's perfection for me. It is precisely this latter element that a proper understanding of the gospel must have. Luther continues:
...Now when you have Christ as the foundation and chief blessing of your salvation, then the other part follows: that you take him as your example, giving yourself in service to your neighbor just as you see that Christ has given himself for you. See, there faith and love move forward, God's commandment is fulfilled, and a person is happy and fearless to do and to suffer all things. Therefore make note of this, that Christ as a gift nourishes your faith and makes you a Christian. But Christ as an example exercises your works. These do not make you a Christian. Actually they come forth from you because you have already been made a Christian. As widely as a gift differs from an example, so widely does faith differ from works, for faith possesses nothing of its own, only the deeds and life of Christ. Works have something of your own in them, yet they should not belong to you but to your neighbor.
We have in our day lost the monergism of salvation ('mono'=one, only; 'ergism'=work). God alone does the work of salvation and accomplishes it. We do not believe on a practical level that all of salvation belongs to the Lord alone, or at least that salvation applies itself in this manner to my daily living and how I view myself. We only believe justification by faith alone on paper, assuming we even articulate it on paper the way the reformation did--many 'evangelicals' do not.

Most of us operate on a sort of "God does his part and I do mine." That is how most people in practicality view faith: my contribution to things. This is how we often think about the fruit of good works. Good fruit is necessary but in our day often wrongly conceived. In the Bible, faith is being wholly dependant upon God and the work of Christ. The Bible teaches we believe that God justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5). In our day, on a practical level most 'Christians' believe that God loves them, saves them, blesses them and works in their life because they are able to rightly order their lives and keep their noses clean. The better they do this, the deeper their relationship with God. This leads to spiritual depression, worry, anxiety and most of all unbelief. Christians fail to realize how anti-gospel our everyday conception of spiritual health has become.

I would invite you to return to the deeper truth of Christianity--truth that is outside of me. It is about what God has done for me in Christ. If God has done it, He has done it completely and in its entirety. In this alone I must trust--in the person who does such a thing. This return to trust is called simply: repentance. Only once I know what Christ has fully done for me can I go out a serve. Only once I grasp that I do not add to Christ’s work does obedience move from obligation to enjoyment. I am freed to serve and obey. I can do so with love and joy. Duty becomes a delight.

Luther Quotations from His "A Brief Instruction on What to Look For and Expect in the Gospels."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hosea Sermon Introduction

Here is an introduction that I didn't use from a sermon in Hosea:

Topic: How do we survive in a chaotic world that stirs up anxiety and fear? It is no secret that we have fears, pressures, worries and anxiety. What do you worry about most? Retirement? Gas Prices or Finances? Children? The future? What is it you cannot live without? What if it was taken away would lead to serious depression, maybe even suicidal? In going through your daily life: what do you depend upon most? …is there something that if you didn’t have it, or God didn’t answer your prayer request, you’d consider turning from God.

We all recognize that anxiety and fear does not come from God?
2 Timothy 1:7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

So where does this spirit of fear and anxiety come from? This spirit of fear may look like depression or what is called ‘low-self esteem’. It may manifest itself in constant discouragement as we look at life, circumstances or events.

If these feelings do not come from God and His Spirit, it comes from something else. It comes from making something more important than God. It comes from a dependency and a determination to rely on things in this world. Like Peter, it comes from taking our eyes off Jesus and looking at the waves of life crashing on us and our spirit begins to sink.

In short, it comes from cherishing something—even something good—cherishing it so closely that it becomes an idol and pushes God aside. This makes Hosea’s critique of idolatry so relevant in our day. We are a Gomer, Hosea’s wife. We have God’s grace and yet we have fear and anxiety because we hold on to things that become idols. We get so focused on this life and its trouble that we fail to seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness and then trust God takes care of us. We fail to depend on the one thing—the one person—that really matters.

For example, in Hosea we see the dangers of failing to trust God. In Hosea's day, Israel turning to Assyria for deliverance. She appointed kings over her to save and rule her and provide 'salvation' and 'security'. Her worship took focus off of God and trust Baals to deliver. In many ways, despite all the differences, we too fail to look for and depend upon God and His grace. We seek not deliverance from above but in that which is tangible and earthly. We trust in the power of men or the power of our portfolios to deliver us not the hand of God.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Sermon Applications 7/15/08

Text: Hosea 11:1-11

Theme: God's grace.

This week I am doing several things different with my sermon.

First, the worked harder to allow the theme of God's grace to speak to one area of our lives. A number of places in Hosea, Israel shows a consistent failure to trust God. She will trust Assyria, turning to pay her for deliverance. She will trust the Baals. She will worship them even as YHWH brings her out in the Exodus. She will bless them not God for her prosperity, etc. Israel takes an attitude of independence and self-sufficiency. When these become our gods, it can create a sense of worry. Israel worries about being destroyed and not being powerful and so she turns to Assyria. So given my need to depend upon God's grace, if focussed a bit on how worry arises from idolatry which is a failure to trust God.

Second, I did not do all my applications at the end. I put them after each point. So I will give the main point, the verses and the applications in this summation. I do not post all my exposition here.

Third, I added a section after 'exposition' and before 'application' that I called "Bridging the Contexts". John Stott has called preaching ‘building a bridge between two worlds’. In an attempt to show you how Hosea continues to be relevant to us I am going to draw some similarities between Hosea’s day and our day before I make specific applications. This is a ‘how to make applications’ before we do it. We need to believe and trust that all of God’s Word is relevant to our lives and is ‘profitable for ‘teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness’. Part of the reason for my change is because (a) Hosea is often more distant than say the NT and (b) I heard that some of the people in my congregation were not finding Hosea all that relevant to their current struggles.

Worry. We all worry “will God be there?” or “is God dependable?” This is particularly true when we are facing difficult circumstances or when there is something unknown looming on the horizon. We stir and we fret—maybe it is about the economy, maybe it is about our future, maybe it is about our safety or security. We wonder: why is God allowing this? Will God be there? Our troubles in seem so overwhelming and it is tempting to turn to any number of earthly solutions—to trust in human means to ‘save’ us. To put trust in our bank accounts, our economy, our military of police. Maybe we trust our families to provide emotion security or ‘self-esteem’. We cling to all kinds of things to ease our worry—sometimes these things are good in themselves but we make them ultimate. When we do this these things become idols. Ultimately our worry stems from a failure to trust God and depend upon Him. We fail to connect His gospel to our daily lives.



Bridging the Contexts: In an analogous way, God draws us as His people to Himself. He sets us free from our slavery. Yet we grumble and complain. We need one who trusts the Father. This is why Hosea 11:1 is quoted in Matthew 2:15. Jesus is the greater son who comes out of Egypt. Yet as he comes he doesn’t look back. He doesn’t grumble. He does what you and I never can do because of our sin—he follows God perfectly and he does it for us.

i) Christ is the true Son called out of Egypt. You and I never perfectly follow God when he calls us. Jesus Christ does it for us—he obeys perfectly in our place.

ii) Christ succeeds where ever other ‘adopted son’ fails, where you and I fail.

iii) In Christ, we are called to God by grace alone. It is the Son who has obeyed in our place who sends His Spirit and calls us. His hands perfectly bring us to Him. His grace is dependable precisely because it does not depend upon me.


Bridging the Contexts: These three verses point to themes so vivid throughout Hosea—Assyria’s attack, Israel’s destruction for her apostasy, and Israel’s trust in other things—that sense of self-reliance. Our self-reliance is just like the self-reliance of Israel. Israel turned to human deliverance looking to Assyria—they pay Assyria money and make a covenant with her. Hosea 9:10; 10:1—we see how God had blessed Israel, she was far richer but she turns to the Baals—like Frank Sinantra she said “I did it my way” or Bon Jovi “It’s my life.” This is why Hosea is so relevant. Why is it if Israel has seen God’s mighty hand she turns to Baal? Why with all her blessings does she go after Baals? Why do we set out to do things our own way and not trust God’s plan and God’s timing? Why do we allow circumstances to create worry and doubt? I trust Jesus to save me—why is it so hard to trust Him in other areas of life? We let other things have our ultimate affections and devotion—this is making another god.

What does it mean to have ‘a god’ other than God? Martin Luther writes this in His Larger Catechism:

Many a one thinks that he has God and everything in abundance when he has money and possessions; he trusts in them and boasts of them with such firmness and assurance as to care for no one. Lo, such a man also has a god, Mammon by name, i.e., money and possessions, on which he sets all his heart, and which is also the most common idol on earth. He who has money and possessions feels secure, and is joyful and undismayed as though he were sitting in the midst of Paradise. On the other hand, he who has none doubts and is despondent, as though he knew of no God. For very few are to be found who are of good cheer, and who neither mourn nor complain if they have not Mammon. This [care and desire for money] sticks and clings to our nature, even to the grave.

So, too, whoever trusts and boasts that he possesses great skill, prudence, power, favor friendship, and honor has also a god, but not this true and only God. This appears again when you notice how presumptuous, secure, and proud people are because of such possessions, and how despondent when they no longer exist or are withdrawn. Therefore I repeat that the chief explanation of this point is that to have a god is to have something in which the heart entirely trusts.

So we either boast in what we have and get our self-worth from that; or we get despondent, sad, worrisome and anxious for what we do not have… either way we have are seeking to place something before God. The fickle heart of Israel is just like our fickle hearts. When it comes to worry we need to ask why is it that it springs up so easily in my heart? Why do I struggle with doubt when things are not going well in my life? It is because I am trusting in other things. In some way I am failing to find God and His grace trustworthy and worthy of my complete dependence. In this way, I am just like Israel—idols arise. In this manner Hosea is incredibly relevant to us.

i) Our fears, anxieties and worry arising in our hearts come from depending upon something other than God—an idol. Sometimes our anxieties are so overwhelming, we face such pressures we can’t even lift our eyes for a moment to see that that have turned off of God. We say “I still have faith in God” and “I still believe Jesus died for me but…” We combine our faith in God with a worry of the world. We have God but we are despondent. We worry will life work out? What about the economy or my security. God saves our soul but who will save our financial portfolio or our mortgage?

ii) We need to deal with our fickle heart before we ask God to solve our problem. So often we want God to bail us out on our terms. The problem is instead of letting God be God, we expect that He should work on our terms. This is a failure to call on God and exalt God.

iii) In this way, the natural bent of my heart does not turn to God. It does not consistently crave God—in fact when things are going good we tend to think less of God. We are bent on turning from Him constantly in our daily lives.
iv) It is easy to feign calling on God when what we really want is a God made in our image.

v) Only a dependence upon God’s grace can relieve these things. I have to learn to let God be God. I have to trust that He always does what is right. He grace is so marvelous nothing can separate me from Christ.

Romans 8:35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?


Bridging the Contexts: As part of the Old Testament, Hosea is part of God’s unfolding plan of redemption. God delivers His people at the Exodus. He set them in the land—he tells them to obey Him and things will go well. What happens when God’s people fail? God’s people were given all they needed to live in a relationship with God but they couldn’t do it. Hosea points us to Jesus. Hosea shows our failure—that the high point of God’s plan must come with Jesus who does what we cannot do. Hosea says God’s people fail—miserably but God’s does not abandon His own. He hands his people over to sin so that in Jesus Christ He might have mercy on them. Hosea is ultimately a message about the gospel point you and I to Jesus Christ and His work for us. The restoration points to not just the return from exile but the ‘kingdom of God’ which we find coming in the gospels with the death and resurrection of Jesus.

i) God’s grace is beautiful. In my sin, I should be wiped out like a Sodom or a Gomorrah. But God’s grace is dependable—not because of me and not because I deserve it but because God is true to His word. He makes us His people and He does not forsake us. We are to depend upon this grace.

ii) God’s grace overcomes my idols of self-sufficiency and independence.

Romans 8:32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?

“All things” does not mean the petty trivial things that I want which will rust and decay. It speaks of the glories of the things to come. We are co-heirs with Christ of the glories of a kingdom. God’s grace brings a wandering Christian back to Him.

iii) God’s grace does not abandon me even though because I fail to trust I have worries and doubts. God can discipline the Christian. God can put us in hard circumstances so we learn to trust. God never promises the Christian will have prosperity in this life—far from it we have a cross to carry. But God does constantly show and display a dependable grace.

iv) God deserves my complete dependence directed at His person and His work.

Hosea 13:14 Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? [the gospel say “yes”] Shall I redeem them from death? {the gospel says “YES”} O Death, where are your thorns? O Sheol, where is your sting?

If Christ who brings God’s grace is so dependable why do I worry? Continue to trust Christ daily.

4) Conclusion: God will never surrender his people because of Jesus Christ. They will never be surrendered over to their idolatrous heart and the problems that heart creates because Christ has triumphed over idolatry at the cross. God will never hand his people over to His wrath because Christ has borne that wrath. Christ has also done for me what I can never do: he has lived perfectly loving God with all his heart, soul and strength. Where my heart has idols, Christ’s heart never stirred to idolatry. I have to trust Christ to do what I can never do.

Hosea points me to a God whose grace is so perfect, so worthy of complete dependence that I have to stand and ask myself: “silly Christian, why have I ever been faced with worry? What do I need that Christ has not done?”

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Jesus' Humiliation and Exaltation

When we think of Christology we think of the two natures of Jesus Christ. That Jesus Christ has a divine nature that is eternal. 'There is not a 'when' when he was not'. He also takes on a human nature. There is a difinitive point in time when the eternal Word becomes flesh.

Something though that we rarely think about is the two states of the humanity of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was first in a state of humility. He is now following the Cross, in a state of exaltation.

An important passage for these two states is Phil. 2:6-11:

Philippians 2:6-11 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

I found this in some old notes the other day, I think I wrote it:

When we think of the humiliation and exaltation of Christ, we are to be reminded that these are states of His humanity. As one who is truly human Jesus' own words apply to his human state:

Luke 18:14 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."
Of course, Jesus is not like the tax collector who had to cry out "I am a sinner". But the great paradox of our redemption is that the very one who had every right to exalt himself as very Son of God--to use his own power and authority for his advantage, was the very one who was self-abasing to the highest degree choosing rather to as a servant hand himself over to death and humiliation on a Roman cross and allow the Father to exalt Him.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Endnotes and History Matter

On page 154 of Everything Must Change, Brian McLaren says
"But this book demonstrates, we are in the early stages of a radical reassessment of Jesus."
He is responding to Sam Harris' books The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation where Harris rejectany notion of an angry judgmental God in the Bible. McLaren's response is essentially 'that isn't really in the Bible like we think'.

One could perhaps argue that Harris is probably more accurate in his portrayal even though in the end he rejects it. McLaren rejects the judgmental Jesus by saying 'its not in the Bible' or at least 'not like you think'.

Anyways, that is not the main point of my post. McLaren's quote above leads you to this footnote:

"This reassessment is occurring along several different lines, led by diverse scholars including Walter Brueggemann, Marcus, Borg, Miroslav Volf, Dominic Crossan, Diana Butler-Bass, N.T. Wright, Steve Chalke, Tony Campolo, Joan Chittister, Jim Wallis, Shane Claiborne, Richard Rohr, Rene Padilla, Samuel Escobar, Ched Meyer, Mary Kate Morse, and others. This reassessment is, in many ways, a rediscovery of the Jessu of the sixteenth century Radical Reformation." (p.316, emphasis mine).

I won't really comment on the list other than to say it certainly is diverse. N.T. Wright is an extremely capable Jesus scholar. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan are also capable scholars in their own right--yet they are hardly orthodoxy Christians by any stretch of the imagination. One could also quivel over whether or not some of these folks are 'scholars'. Certainly a number of them are not Biblical scholars or even theologians in the field of scholarship. That's ok.

My real thought was with respect to this:
"This reassessment is, in many ways, a rediscovery of the Jesus of the sixteenth century Radical Reformation."
"Well I guess he doesn't mean Munster."

The irony is that the Radical Reformation had a decisively political agenda at least in some of its conceptions. This turned into a disaster. Ironically I don't see the Emerging Church really taking up a Mennonite or Amish agenda.

Ironically, the Mennonite and Amish non-violence is part and parcel of their retreat from society. As one who lived in Berks, Lancaster, and Lebanon counties, I would say that I am at least a little qualified to speak of them from first hand experience.

All to say, they are pretty far from the incarnation of culture model of the emerging church. And when the Anabaptists did go political it ended up in social disaster. In fact, it was the very 'imperialism' that McLaren decries. If anything, there was the same overrealized eschatology of the 'kingdom now' approach--at least with the millenarianism at Munster.

Maybe instead of making off-handed references to the 'prize' of anabaptist radical reformation (all while at the same time one bashes the Reformation), one should at least explain what one means. Or at least make some clear references to history. Sure we can learn stuff from the Anabaptists, but it is easy to just play the 'anabaptist card' without referencing what aspects it refers to.

In the revisioning of history, particularly in some emergent circles anabaptist become the gold standard and the reformed the whipping boy. Ironically the disaster at Munster was far worse than the Servetus fiasco at Calvin's Geneva.

But hey, if you don't know history or you fail to reference history, everything is up for grabs. The past is far more muddy and the idealic version often proffered by all interested parties. The tendancy is to latch on to our golden boys (er... now to have golden boys is hegemony so--golden girls [?]), we forget that we are all sinners in need of the cross.

One final irony, it is funny to see the emerging church latch on the radical reformation as if they could do no wrong (probably because they are caricatured as the 'oppressed' in a world where history was written by the 'victors') at the same time they remind us that no person can get everything right and we can learn something from every perspective (unless that perspective is late 20th century evangelicalism or [gasp] confessional orthodoxy).

Oh well, like a good endnote, history matters.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sermon Applications 6/8/08

TEXT: Acts 13:1-3



i) Our missionary teams have come from within the congregation. We should rejoice because God, not us, is the primary person who has called these teams.

ii)Perhaps some of us—young or old—are being called to full time ministry. You should be serving in the local church so that perhaps God might call you to greater service. Many of us wait for God’s call like alarm. We expect we can go around doing nothing and “wham” it hits us. The reality is often times God calls us in the context of serving him.

iii) Look for God’s call in your life: First—are you serving. Are you using your gifts. Second, if you are using your gifts is there some other area you should step into?

iv) Rejoice at how God has called these young men and women.


i)A local church should regularly recognize that God has called people to ministry. Many missionaries have “commissioning” services. Our church is commissioning these short term teams today.

ii)No missionary should ever be an island without the backing of a local church—we should even be suspicious of those who ask support from us but who do not have the support of a local church.

iii) Church’s should recognize the call of God. The church should affirm and confirm the hand of God. Not only does God direct the individual but he directs the church. We should be cautious of someone who says “God is directing them” if God is not also directing the local church.

(1) Example: my dad’s call to missions. –My dad was serving as an elder and in children’s church when he was called into mission.
(2) Example: my call to the pastorate. –I had been given some opportunities already as a young man to teach and handle God’s Word. I should an interest and people affirmed they say a gift.
(3) Example: Our puppet team’s call to go to Brazil. –our team has regularly devoted itself to evangelism and outreach in our area.


We live in a day and age where people down play the importance of the local church in being a sending agent. I remember in Bible college we would hear huge appeals to go and do missions—and that was good. But very rarely was the church viewed as the place from which God primarily calls missionaries. We need to stand against this trend of individuals and merely private calls. God directs the church. God raises up the church and people within the church to go elsewhere and build the church.

We should rejoice in and pray over the teams that are going out today.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Tim Keller Linkage

As I've been thinkin about idolatry and Hosea, here are some things that have helped me. These are some good articles in no particular order:


The biblical teaching about idolatry is particularly helpful for evangelism in a postmodern context. The typical way that Christians define sin is to say that it is breaking God’s law. Properly explained, of course, that is a good and sufficient definition. But the law of God includes both sins of omission and of commission, and it includes the attitudes of the heart as well as behavior. Those wrong attitudes and motivations are usually inordinate desires—forms of idolatry. However, when most listeners hear us define sin as “breaking God’s law” all the emphasis in their minds falls on the negative (sins of commission) and on the external (behaviors rather than attitudes.) There are significant reasons, then, that “law-breaking” isn’t the best way to first describe sin to postmodern listeners.

I ordinarily begin speaking about sin to a young, urban, non-Christian like this:
Sin isn’t only doing bad things, it is more fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything, even a very good thing, more than on God. Whatever we build our life on will drive us and enslave us. Sin is primarily idolatry.

I used it in my sermon applications here.
“In ‘religion’ the purpose of repentance is basically to keep God happy so he will continue to bless you and answer your prayers. This means that ‘religious repentance’ is a) selfish, b) self-righteous, c) and bitter all the way to the bottom. But in the gospel the purpose of repentance is to repeatedly tap into the joy of our union with Christ in order to weaken our need to do anything contrary to God’s heart."
Read all of the article here.


2. I use both a gospel for the "circumcised" and for the "uncircumcised." Just as Paul spoke about a gospel for the more religious (the "circumcised") and for the pagan, so I've found that my audience in Manhattan contains both those with moralist, religious backgrounds as well as those with postmodern, pluralistic worldviews....

However, Manhattan is also filled with postmodern listeners who consider all moral statements to be culturally relative and socially constructed. If you try to convict them of guilt for sexual lust, they will simply say, "You have your standards, and I have mine." If you respond with a diatribe on the dangers of relativism, your listeners will simply feel scolded and distanced. Of course, postmodern people must at some point be challenged about their mushy views of truth, but there is a way to make a credible and convicting gospel presentation to them even before you get into such apologetic issues.

I take a page from Kierkegaard's The Sickness Unto Death and define sin as buildingyour identity—your self-worth and happiness—on anything other than God. That is, I use the biblical definition of sin as idolatry. That puts the emphasis not as much on "doing bad things" but on "making good things into ultimate things."

Instead of telling them they are sinning because they are sleeping with their girlfriends or boyfriends, I tell them that they are sinning because they are looking to their romances to give their lives meaning, to justify and save them, to give them what they should be looking for from God. This idolatry leads to anxiety, obsessiveness, envy, and resentment. I have found that when you describe their lives in terms of idolatry, postmodern people do not give much resistance. Then Christ and his salvation can be presented not (at this point) so much as their only hope for forgiveness, but as their only hope for freedom. This is my "gospel for the uncircumcised."

This has been helpful as I go through and prepare for Sunday School where were are introducing basic apologetics and how to answer the questions of skeptics:

Deconstructing Defeater Beliefs.

Dismantle plausibility structure. Alvin Plantinga wisely asserts that people avoid Christianity not because they have really examined its teachings and found them wanting, but because their culture gives huge plausibility (by the media, through art, through the expertise and impressive credentials of its spokespersons) to believe a series of defeater beliefs that they know are true, and since they are true, Christianity can't be. The leading defeaters must be dealt with clearly and quickly but convincingly. Defeaters are dealt with when the person feels you have presented the objection to Christianity in a clearer and stronger way than they could have done it.

A Sermon: "Gospel-Centered Ministry"

Here is a PDF of the sermon.

"Jim Packer used to say to understand grace, and for grace to be transforming, first you have to understand the debt. The second thing you have to understand, besides the size of the debt, is the magnitude of the provision. There are people who do understand that they are pretty bad. They do understand how flawed they are. They do understand how far-short they fall. But they aren’t convinced of the magnitude, sufficiency, freeness, and fullness of the provision. They may only believe that Jesus died the death that we should have died. And maybe they also don’t believe Jesus lived the life that we should have lived . . . And you also see Pharisees - people who are really under the burden of guilt. As a result, they are withdrawn and hostile and moralistic and legalistic. And we look at these two groups of people and the evangelical world is filled with them. Easy-Believeism is really deadly. The Cost of Discipleship book by Bonhoeffer explains why Easy-Believeism was the reason Nazism could come into power. That’s pretty dangerous. Why Easy-Believesim? Why the Moralism? Because they don’t understand the gospel; the old gospel, the historic gospel. The gospel of salvation by grace through faith and the work of Jesus Christ alone, and substitutionary atonement . . . they don’t get it."

"Every other system motivates us through fear...the gospel motivates us through joy."

"The gospel is not the ABC’s of Christianity, it’s A to Z. It’s not just the elementary andbintroductory truths. The gospel is what drives everything that we do. The gospel is pretty much the solution to every problem. The gospel is what every theological category should be expounding when we do our systematic theology. It should be very much a part of everything."

Check out here for a complete list of resources from Tim Keller.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

McLaren and Revelation 19:15-part 6

This will be our final post interacting with McLaren's Everything Must Change and his reference to the Second Coming, particularly in Revelation 19:15. In this post we want to look beyond Revelation 19.

McLaren is right to point out that something is dreadfully wrong when our conceptions of Christianity are driven by violence. For example on page 184, he quotes a 'popular Christian preacher' referring to the war in Iraq "If it takes 10 years, blow them all away in the name of the Lord."

Certainly we do not fight in violence for the kingdom of God:

John 18:36 36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world."

2 Corinthians 10:3-6 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments 5 and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

Matthew 5:44-45 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
In fact, we are to love people in this life because it is not our responsibility to take revenge.

Romans 12:17-21 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 20 To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
This passage is designed to show us how to act in light of God's coming judgment. Admittedly, we are not to say "I'll love them so God can stick it to them one day". Truly, God does not overcome evil with evil. YET not all vengeance and 'repayment' is evil. We are told that the LORD is right in His vengeance and judgment.

ESV Psalm 51:4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.

ESV Romans 3:4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, "That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged."

Far be it from God to be a non-violent pacifist who cannot ever pronounces a tough sentence because he might be mean. In fact, this so misconstrues God's holiness and His righteousness. In fact, McLaren's portrayal of Jesus who comes back and puts flowers in the ends of soldiers guns rather than destroying the guns and conquering those who would make war against Him is so far off the Biblical 'beaten-path' that it makes a mockery of Biblical orthodoxy. Consider these:
...He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. (Apostle's Creed).

...and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end. (Nicene Creed)

...(then) having ascended into the heavens, He sat at the right hand of the Father; sent instead of Himself the Power of the Holy Ghost to lead such as believe; will come with glory to take the saints to the enjoyment of everlasting life and of the heavenly promises, and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both these classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh. This rule, as it will be proved, was taught by Christ, and raises amongst ourselves no other questions than those which heresies introduce, and which make men heretics.(Tertullian on The Rule of Faith)
While McLaren may favor a more generous orthodoxy, his portrayal is neither generous nor orthodox. More importantly in his quest for 'Changing everything' he has moved to set himself contrary to Scripture itself. It is not just a mockery of Revelation 19 (or 20). We should consider one final passage.

2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering- 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.
There are several things that run contrary to McLaren's portrayal of the non-violent second coming:
  • "God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you" vs. "if we believe that God will ultimately enforce his will by forceful domination, and will eternally torture all who resist that domination become not only permissible by in some way godly" (p.144).
  • "the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel" vs. the "Jihadist Jesus will return to use force, domination, violence and even torture." (p.146).
  • "They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord" vs. "what kind of victory and peace are we left with when domination, violence, and torture have won the day?" (p.146).
We have noted how McLaren seeks to be persuasive through the use of pejorative language. He redefines violence to incorporate traditional views of justice and punishment and then redefines justice to speak only of reconciliation. All 'because we don't understand apocalyptic literature.' McLaren is woefully naive. McLaren may be right about some sensational views of Jesus but his target is much broader than a few clucks in the evangelical hen house. His target is nothing less than the Biblical Jesus.

Certainly, McLaren is not without a few strengths. McLaren is partially right when he describes the kingdom of God:
"In this kingdom, peace is not made and kept through the shedding of the blood of enemies, but the king himself sacrifices his blood to make a new kind of peace, offering amnesty to repentant rebels and open borders to needy immigrants." (p.159)
None of us, not even the Christian, deserves the peace we have with God. It is accomplish through Jesus Christ dying in our place. Those of us who were far off have been brought near to God. The kingdom is not about violence. Christ does not return in violence because he has to 'get his gun off'. Christ does not 'stick it to them' because they 'stuck it to him'--it is not the sadistic blood lust of Caesars and warlord.

Nevertheless, the Lord does establish justice. While the righteousness of God is revealed in Christ's work so that God is both just and the justifier of those who have faith in him--for those rebels who continue to rebel for those immigrants who never actually immigrant and receive amnesty but afflict those who do--there still awaits a judgement. Christ does put all things under his feet either (a) by reconciling them to himself or (b) by defeating them and pouring out YHWH's wrath.

Rather than recoiling and claiming this is a 'violent Jesus' who portrays him as bent on violence--just the opposite this humbles the true Christian. It causes us to love others and forgive others because we see the greatness of the debt that we have been forgiven. Whoa to us if we do not respond this way--it shows that we do not believe the gospel, the good news that comes in the context of some very bad news against us.

Monday, June 9, 2008

McLaren and Revelation 19:15-part 5

Reworking Apocalyptic
In this post we want to interact just briefly with the genre of apocalyptic literature. In his book Everything Must Change, Brian McLaren says the following:
I believer that many of our current eschatologies, intoxicated by dubious interpretations of John’s Apocalypse, are not only ignorant and wrong, but dangerous and immoral. By way of ignorance, they are oblivious to the conventions of Jewish Apocalyptic literature in particular, and literature, of the oppressed in general. As a result, they wrongly—one might even say ridiculously—interpret obviously metaphorical language as literal. For example, they misread Revelation 19:15, where Jesus, in a blood-stained robe, “strikes down the nations” using a sword; they fail to notice that the sword comes out of his mouth—a rather unmistakable case of symbolism to a reasoned adult reader, I would think, unless he imagines Jesus actually thrashing his head around, slinging a sword between his teeth like a giant cigar of mass destruction.

In light of the literary conventions of both literature of the oppressed in general and Jewish apocalyptic in particular, and assuming that Jesus' coming as told in the Gospels was not a fake-me-out coming...Jesus' "striking down the nations" with a sword "coming out of his mouth" has a very different meaning. (pp144-145, emphasis added)
He adds later:

"The Jesus of one reading of the Apocalypse brings us to a grim resignation: the world will get worse and worse, and finally this jihadist Jesus will return to use force, domination, violence, and even torture--the ultimate imperial tools--to vanquish evil and bring peace." (p146).

Now this is more than ironic because one can find numerous commentaries by people who are experts in apocalyptic literature and they do not deny the theme of what McLaren has pejoratively dubbed 'the jihadist Jesus'. I, for one, would be interested in knowing if McLaren has found any seasoned commentators who so reverse Revelation 19 so that it is a peaceful non-violent second coming.

What's more even if the blood on the robe of Jesus symbolizes something other than the blood of his enemies, which is a distinct possibility--for example Caird argues it is the blood of the martyrs (The Revelation of Saint John, 243)--there is nothing in the context that suggests the Word of God coming from the Lord's mouth must be a Word of reconciliation. Numerous times in Revelation we see the Lamb opening up judgment on the earth:

Revelation 6:15-17 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; 16 and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?"

So for example, in chapter 6 the Lamb breaks the seal and judgment is poured out against the earth. Or in the letter to the churches in chapter 2 to Thyatira the Lord wages war against the 'Jezebel':

Revelation 2:21-23 21 'I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. 22 'Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. 23 'And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.
Revelation 11:15-19:

Revelation 11:15-19 15 Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever." 16 And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying, "We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. 18 "And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth." 19 And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm.
Of course, this is symbolism. 'Heaven opening' and 'lightening and thunder' 'earthquakes and hailstorms' is stock language of apocalyptic imagery there is a cataclysmic upheaval that comes from heaven itself as holy war breaks out. Yet the symbolism is designed not to point to a pacifist God but wrath a God who sets things right against the wicked because He does not show partiality. The great hope of apocalyptic literature is that the oppressed will be vindicated from their oppressors. They do not look for the hippy god of the twentieth century who is more like a jolly Santa Claus--they look for the Lord Sabbaoth. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

So for example in Revelation, we have the beast making war against the saints, yet is the Lamb who returns to make war against the beast--that war is much more than just the cross of Christ, although that is integral since the Lamb is worthy to open the Danielic scroll of judgment because he has been slayed (Rev. 5):

Revelation 13:7-10 7 It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. 8 All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. 9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear. 10 If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints.

But there is doom, from what McLaren labels the jihadist Jesus, for those who worship this beast:

Revelation 14:9-11 9 Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, "If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 "And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name."
In good apocalyptic literature style the faithful are told of their coming vindication (Rev. 14:12-13) if they stand firm but for those who worship 'the beast' (obviously symbolic) there is wrath. The rich symbolism and vivid language is not to 'deconstruct warrior language into weakness language' the rich imagery is designed to convey the fullness of this onslaught. In apocalyptic literature, we are to see a cosmic war behind everyday events. Instead of being coded for pacifism, as McLaren suggests, we are to see a deeper war behind our daily struggles--a war that originates in heaven itself and spills over.

We have numerous imagery and pictures of wrath, the language flowing from the OT itself.

Revelation 14:18-20 18 Then another angel, the one who has power over fire, came out from the altar; and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, "Put in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, because her grapes are ripe." 19 So the angel swung his sickle to the earth and gathered the clusters from the vine of the earth, and threw them into the great wine press of the wrath of God. 20 And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood came out from the wine press, up to the horses' bridles, for a distance of two hundred miles.

Revelation 16:1 Revelation 16:1 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple, saying to the seven angels, "Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God."

Revelation 16:18-21 18 And there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty. 19 The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath. 20 And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. 21 And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe.

Revelation 20:7-15 7 When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, 8 and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. 9 And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. 10 And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. 11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
There are those who wage war against the Lamb and the Lamb overcomes them (Rev. 17:14). When the book of Revelation does connect the people of God back to the first coming--which is foundational for the war (see Rev. 4-5 and the imagery in Rev 12 especially vv.10-13)--this overcoming is not without a conquering.

McLaren has done us a grave disservice. First, he naively wants us to believe that if we take the symbolism of apocalyptic literature seriously we cannot have a conquering Jesus who destroys his enemies--i.e. 'violence' 'torture' and 'jihadist Jesus'. We wholeheartedly agree we must take apocalyptic literature seriously. There is much that is symbolic--but the symbolism is that of holy war and judgment.

Second, McLaren does not offer any description or definition--no matter how basic--of apocalyptic literature. Granted that is not the topic of the book however if he is going to offer a radical rereading of Revelation based on a 'conception of apocalyptic' then he owes it to his readers to substantiate his claims--even if just briefly.

Third, McLaren dismisses all so-called 'violent readings' as "ignorant and wrong, but dangerous and immoral. By way of ignorance, they are oblivious to the conventions of Jewish Apocalyptic literature in particular, and literature, of the oppressed in general." Obviously there are some inane readings out there running in evangelical circles. But this kind of insults to the reader is rather unbecoming. In fact, McLaren is not just addressing the radical bizarre readings that the apocalyptic experts would agree are flights of fancy but rather he opens it up so that every reading that holds to a 'jihadist Jesus' is now 'ignorant and wrong...dangerous and immoral'. It is a brilliant rhetorical strategy but obviously lacking in substance.

The Nature of Apocalyptic
Richard Bauckham says the following:
"In Jewish eschatological expectation the theme of the holy war plays a prominent role. The future will bring the final victory of the divine Warrior over his people's and his own enemies. But the tradition of an eschatological or holy war can be divided into two forms, in one of which the victory was won by God alone or by God and his heavenly armies and in the other of which his people play an active part in physical warfare against their enemies. The former tradition has a kind of precedent in the Old Testament holy war tradition...In the proto-apocalyptic passages of the Old Testament it is this kind of holy war which seems to emerge as the expectation for the future: God fights alone (Isa. 59:16; 63:3) or with his heavenly armies (Joel 3:11b; Zech. 14:5b)... (The Climax of Prophecy, p.210-11).

Bauckham argues that the book of Revelation is a Christian War Scroll (Climax, 212). He rightly states:
"Revelation makes lavish uses of holy war language while transferring its meaning to non-military means of triumph over evil. Even the vision of the parousia while sharing with 4 Ezra 13 the concept of the Messiah's victory by his word ('the sword that issues from his mouth': Rev. 19:15,21; cf. 1:!6; 2:12,16: the common source is Isa. 11:14), nevertheless depicts the parousia in military terms as a theophany of the Divine Warrior (19:11-16). As we have seen, human participation in the eschatological war is not rejected in Revelation, but emphasized and, again, depicted in terms drawn from traditions of holy war, which are then carefully reinterpreted in terms of faithful witness to the point of death. The distinctive feature of Revelation seems to be, not its repudiation of apocalyptic militarism, but its lavish use of militaristic language in a non-militaristic sense. In the eschatological destruction of evil in Revelation there is no place for real armed violence, but there is ample space of the imagery of violence." (The Climax of Prophecy, p233, emphasis original)
What is helpful to understand is that the genre of apocalyptic is diverse at points. Some Jewish apocalyptic books are covert calls to action. In other words to employ the kind of earthly violence McLaren rightly decries. When one couldn't say "Kill the Romans" one would right a book with symbolism saying "Kill Babylon" or "Kill the beasts". Revelation taps into this but to encourage the reader to stand firm in their testimony--not to take up violence. In fact, John taps into a 'martyrology' (cf. Bauckham The Climax of Prophecy, pp.235-37).

Nevertheless, McLaren seems to decry the whole notion of an eschatological holy war--God/Jesus cannot come back and 'punish' 'torture' and 'vindicate' and yet it is precisely this divine Warrior motif in the defeat of evil that Revelation presents. The Lamb triumphs, of course not by picking up earthly swords and guns, but he does defeat and even destroy. If we look at things from the earthly realm--the beast seems to be winning. If we look at things from the perspective of the heavenly realm, the deeper war is eschatological and has been won in the first coming but the full triumph will be ushered in the second coming when 'Babylon' is destroyed. Of course, Babylon is symbolic both of Rome but also a larger symbol of idolatry and all that sands against God.

In short, one can agree with McLaren when he decries Christians taking up violence and arms against the world, imposing 'Christian sharia law' (p.147) and even assume that God blesses our military conflict "blow them all away in the name of the Lord" (p.184). Yet, we cannot remove the Divine Warrior motif--the Christ does conquer. Certainly Christ conquerors by laying down his life in the first coming. But out of that he is giving the kingdom and he brings all things to under his feet--he even pours out the just wrath of God.

"Apocalypticism or apocalyptic eschatology centers on the belief that the present world order, which is both evil and oppressive, is under temporary control of Satan and his human accomplices. This present evil world order will shortly be destroyed by God and replaced with a new perfect order corresponding to Eden. During this present evil age, the people of God are an oppressed minority who fervently await the intervention of God or his special chosen agent, the Messiah. The transition between the old age and the new ages, the end of the old age and the beginning of the new, will be introduced by a final series of battles fought by the people of God against the human allies of Satan. The outcome is never in question, however, for the enemies of God are predestined to be defeated and destroyed. The inauguration of the new age will begin with the arrival of God or his accredited agent to judge the wicked and reward the righteous and will be concluded by the re-creation or transformation of the universe." (Dictionary of New Testament Background, p.48-49).

Of course, there is symbolism in Revelation. G.K. Beale has shown that John himself tells us we should interpret these things symbolically (Revelation, 49-55). Must commentators then incorporate a historical approach with a futurist approach and an 'idealist/symbolic approach'. Commentators disagree over which aspects should receive more weight, nevertheless they acknowledge all aspect. However, the symbolic aspects in no way midigate the distinction of the wicked vs. the righteous which is common to apocalyptic. The wicked are vanquished and the righteous vindicated (Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Development, p. 66).

Thus, "the book of Revelation employs parabolic pictures setting forth its representation of the past, present, and future of history" (Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Development, p. 1026). So that we do not have to be 'literalistic' to the point that locust must be real bugs (or helicopters)--e.g. Rev. 9:7-11. But avoiding this crass literalism is not to say this things point to 'reality' whether past, present or future.

We fundamentaly misunderstand the symbolism of Revelation 19 if we take the sword and turn it into a pacificistic Jesus. This is the Divine Warrior who returns. There is a culminating eschatological battle where the king who secured the kingdom in weakness now ushers in the might of that kingdom against the enemies of God. It is McLaren reworks apocalyptic images away from there plainly intended point because he ignores "a rather unmistakable case of symbolism to a reasoned adult reader."

The book of Revelation is obviously in the style of apocalyptic literature (it is also a letter and a prophecy). We must take seriously the nature of apocalyptic literature. However, the symbolism of apocalyptic literature points to a Jesus who does triumph, defeat and usher in God's wrath against God's enemies while he vindicates God's people and establishes the new creation. McLaren would have us believe that if we understand apocalyptic literature and the literature of the oppressed the symbolism must be non-violent and pacifistic. While Revelation is symbolic, McLaren's reading is entirerly inaccurate, unhelpful and wholly unwarranted. Certainly Revelation does not champion Christian to engage in jihad--just the opposite it condemns the supremacy of martyrdom for those who stand firm even unto death. Yet the saints oppressed cry out for relief and vindication when Satan, the Beast and the armies who align with them are destroyed.

"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...