Saturday, February 26, 2011

Matthew 9:37 & Universalism

I'm prepping for my sermon tomorrow and I was thinking through Matthew 9: 37 Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few."

And I was thinking: sometimes we, as Bible believing Christians, miss that the harvest is really big! A passing thought was: there is one thing the universalist, in his twisted theology, gets right (in the sort of way that a stopped clock is right only in two small minutes out of the whole day) --the harvest is LARGE.

Ironically: the universalist often then pits: "are only a few small select few saved" vs. "or is God's love so expansive that everybody gets in regardless of what they believe." What a horrendous false dichotomy. 

Without refuting the whole of universalism in a long post: Jesus says:

John 3:36  “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” 
John 8:24 "I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” --'perish in your sins' is not a way of saying 'oh we all die anyways and then you'll get in-- in the context of John and the whole Bible it means you die under the penalty of sin and you perish eternally.

The point though is we are often told by the universalist that "either only a few get in" or "everybody gets in regardless of conversion." I was think about this and wondering how much to say in my sermon when I notice on my blog feeds: Justin Taylor just posted information on a new Rob Bell book. Apparently Rob Bell comes out clearly in his own words as a universalist (see video). Rob Bell sets up the very same dichotomy in the video clip posted over there.

I would propose that when Rob Bell says many people see the Christian faith is an endless list of inconsistencies and absurdities, it because he has just framed them that way rapid firing a whole bunch of caricatures and strawmen and letting them stand. The questions he poses (a) he should know the answers to as a pastor and (b) have long been answered by faithful theologians handling the text of Scripture, if we have the patience to listen. Sadly because he caricatures historic Christianity, it is worth noting that faithful Christians have long sought to guard against and put up guard rails from people misunderstand the views in such a way that Bell makes the sort of 'logical conclusions.' Guard rails are for both sides of the road.

Let me state something else obvious: of course 'love wins.' Everybody agrees with that. But what is the nature of love? What kind of love? What does it look like? The dichotomy is not: universalist = love wins vs. traditional Christian where hate wins too. Rather the question is between the two types of loves. Which type of love is real? No doubt the universalist would argue that traditional Christianity is not loving enough because the love is limited in scope of persons. I would suggests that the universalist limits its love in specificity. I would suggest that without specificity love is not love, it is not really love but just a vapid emotionalized term with no particularity to it. To us an admittedly crude (e.g. finite/limited) analogy my children and neighbor kids know what love is partly because I love my kids in a way that I do not love my neighbor kids. 

My point in arguing that last paragraph that way is not to say all that we can say on the issue or even to make an ultimate (or partial) refutation. Rather (please here this) universalism thinks it adds all the positives and gives up all the negatives but instead it ignores a new set of real negatives that brings upon itself. In other words, just from the perspective of an internal critique it contains elements of its on downfall. It sets up new structural weaknesses that internally erode its own supposedly better foundation. The house is built with rotten wood.

We could say more about this, but I'll leave it general. Don't want to nit pick something I haven't read in full.


LOVE WINS. from Rob Bell on Vimeo.
http://vimeo.com/20272585

Update: Why in the world send workers into the field if everybody gets in already? If everybody is harvested, then we don't need workers. But if we take God's word seriously there are tares amongst the wheat and they will be burned with fire (e.g. judged and condemned) at the end of the age. See Matthew 13:36-43.

Harvesters are sent because people are lost and those who reject will be judged. For example see the context of Matthew 9 where in 10:6,14-15, 32-33.

Equally there is really no call for discipleship if we all get in anyone, or at least Jesus doesn't really mean what he says in 10:38-39. (unless you existentialize "he would has found his life will lose it").

Friday, February 25, 2011

Kingdom of God Presentation

Here is the video of a paper presentation I gave on the Kingdom of God.




http://vimeo.com/20321217

It is a bit long, coming in at 1hr 23min. I never like watching myself in these things because you see all my foibles. There are few times when I spoke of the cuff I inserted the wrong word, or with Paul's use of the work kingdom, it isn't 6 uses but 12. Other than that, I put this out there.

If you don't have time to watch the whole thing, I'd encourage you to skip to the end. At 1:07 I start in with the conclusions including the implications for ministry, preaching/hermeneutics and missions. It's just an overview--you'll have to read more to see how this is fleshed out.

Also at 1:17 there is a good question about the relationship between preaching the kingdom and preaching the gospel.

Here is the copy of the paper.

Overview of the Kingdom of God in the NT

Recent Gospel Reliability Audio Resources

I've been posting these links on facebook and Twitter, so I'll post them here. These are helpful audio links for people interested in the reliability of the gospels and the nature of what they are as history.

Is the NT reliable? Are the accounts of Jesus in the Gospels fiction or reliable?

If you are looking for a good introduction to the issues Tim Keller has an introduction to the issue that you can listen to here:

This is a good popular level introduction at a level an astute high school student could listen to. In typical Keller fashion, he weaves in Tolkein and Lewis too. It is about 40 minutes and does not say all that can be said. It is a pastoral introduction. It lays out some of the main points for evidence but doesn't go too deep rather it addresses the listener in a personal way. It is a good place to start but not a place to end.

In the beginning Keller references Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.
You can find 4 lectures Bauckham just gave at SBTS. Here:

There are video and audio links. You can watch/listen on the site or download them.

(I watched the first one when it was streamed online but now you can download them all). These are bit more technical and jumps into the field--but if you wrestle with the issue, or you know people who do these types of resources are a good place to start. Bauckham's first lecture gets into the nature of the genre of the Gospels. He bridges the gap between two important works in the field. Very helpful, although again, it is a bit technical and it is certainly an academic lecture.

Books:
Basic intro:
Can We Trust the Gospels? by Mark Roberts.

More technical:
Richard Bauckham Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.
The Jesus Legend by Eddy and Boyd.

Leave a comment on the post if your interested in more resources. Much more could be said.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Book Review: 'The Next Christians'

The book The Next Christians: How a New Generation Is Restoring the Faith by Gabe Lyons seeks to chart the course of how the Christians of this generation are faithfully living out their faith and carrying back into the world by engaging rather than retreating from the world. As such, the book is both descriptive and prescriptive. It is descriptive of the shift that has occurred and how this generation is operating in the world to live out its faith. The book is filled with illustration of those who have taken such steps. The book also contains elements of prescription as the author gives us guidelines for what this looks like at its best and challenges the readers to join those of these generation who seek to be “the Restorers.”

This book is divided into three sections: part 1 ‘the World is Changing’ which is a basic rundown of ‘where we are.’ Three important concepts are that the world is pluralistic, postmodern and post-Christian. In chapter two, we find the important paradigm for how Christians tend to engage in culture. They can either be ‘Separatist,’ ‘Cultural,’ or a ‘Restorer.’ After briefly outlining what the first two look like, the purpose of the book is to illustrate and champion the Restorer model.

Part 2 of the book outlines what Restores look like. These six chapters are the meat of the book. Restorers engage the world rather than withdrawing. Each chapter is devoted to one of six characteristics. Restorers are (1) provoked, not offended; (2) creators, not critics; (3) called, not employed; (4) grounded, not distracted; (5) in community, not alone; (6) countercultural, not ‘relevant.’

Part 3 of the book is the conclusion. Following Phyllis Tickle, it suggests that a big shift is underway. However, this shift must begins with getting first things first. The gospel is important and the shift begins with returning to is. It is “the main thing...the one and only first thing” (p. 193). When this is right, second order things fall into place. This has the potential to revitalize the church so that it can impact the world as salt and light.

Strengths
1. This book seeks to recapture the Christian doctrine of vocation. Although by my count, this word is not used just over halfway through the book, it seems clear from the outset that this is the key to being a restorer. We read that the next Christians “desperately want the world to know the story of Jesus and the power of our faith.” He continues:
“It starts with rediscovering the full story of the Gospel, which leads them to recalibrate their conscience to allow them to be in the world, which forces them to rethink their commitment to one another and their neighbors, which inspires them to reimagine a renaissance of creativity, beauty, and art that the world hasn’t seen in centuries, which culminates in redeploying the church where the world needs it most. (p.66, emphasis original)

The next Christians do not divide ‘ministry’ work from callings into the secular workplace. This is a welcome return to one of the principles of the reformation and historic evangelicalism. It’s goal is to enable Christians to truly be the salt and light amongst the world.

2. The ‘Next Christians’ are cast not as those inventing a new faith but recovering the ancient practices of the faith. It is almost too common to read that if Christianity is going to survive it must reinvent itself theologically. Thankfully, the book is not an attempt to reinvent the orthodox faith. In fact it states the new Christians are recovering it (p.50). Along the way one can find echoes of elements important to the Reformation, examples of historical Christians who have impacted their world (like William Wilberforce) and in the end using the work of Rodney Stark the point is made that just as the first Christians revitalized life in Greco-Roman cites so also today’s Christians can revitalize our world by engaging Western culture. In a day an age where young people an enthralled by newness, showing this continuity is both helpful and important.

3. The book contains powerful and moving accounts of people taking action. The book is more than just reason and logic. One cannot help but be moved by the accounts of how Christians are taking actions to love. One particularly powerful account comes in chapter five as Renee the drug addict is shown a display of Christ’s love by Jaime. The book contains many examples of the principles and actions that are important to the next Christians and these accounts crystalize the concepts.

4. The book recognizes that all are made in God’s image. This book rightly notes sometimes Christians jump right to a discussion of sin before acknowledge the image of God. When the culture is largely when cannot assume people remember God original design for creation was only subsequently thwarted by sin.  The book not only draws attention to this but also advocates that we should pay attention to this aspect of creation. No matter how marred by sin a person is they still have value as an image bearer or God. This becomes one of the motivations for reaching out to people and helping them find restoration from their sin. It is the motivation for the next Christians avoiding withdrawing from the culture.

5. Chapter 10: countercultural not ‘relevant. To often discussion of how Christians should act focus on seeking to win the approval of non-Christians in a manner that is relevant. Relevant can quickly become relativizing the faith. “Simply put, relating to the world by following the world can be a recipe for disappointment and disillusionment” (p.173). To often Christians have tried to be gimmicky and have sought to engage the world to become like the world and win the world’s approval. The focus in this book of engaging the world is clearly marked in distinction from marketing techniques or compromising with the world.

Weaknesses
1. It is light on the content of the gospel. This is not to say the author does not give credence to the gospel but rather he takes for granted aspects of the gospel and overestimates the extent to which he describes it. The final chapter states, “The first thing for the Christian is to recover the Gospel--to relearn and fall in love again with the historic, beautiful, redemptive, faithful, demanding, reconciling, all-powerful, restorative, atoning, grace-abounding, soul-quenching, spiritually fulfilling good news of God’s love. As described throughout the earlier chapters of this book, it is critical that this come first.” (p.192, emphasis original). To which any committed Christian would give a hardy amen. However, he has hardly spent space describing this well or thoroughly in the early chapters of the book.

The discussion of the gospel begins of page 51 and ends on page 60. Only pages 54 and 55 really bring it into focus. It is hardly “throughout the earlier chapters.” We are told we need to rediscover the scope of redemptive history particularly creation and restoration in God’s pattern of ‘creation-fall-redemption-restoration.’ God’s should not be a half story that starts with the fall (agreed!). However, in this section attention is given largely to creation and restoration. Creation is an important backdrop to the gospel but not the gospel itself. Sin is not defined and explained with any clarity. We are told Christ’s death and resurrection were designed to save people “from something” and “to something.” The ‘from something’ is the stain of sin. The ‘to something’ is the focus of the book: the new way of living now.

Restoration is talked about in terms of the removal of sin, the curse, and death. Along the way there are brief nods to “dying on the cross, he [Jesus] begins to turn back the bad deeds done” and “paying for all the sins that had rippled from the garden to Golgotha” (p.55). There is one clear statement on p.53: “That’s why Christ came, to satisfy our sin debt so that we could experience a new way of living: restoration.” There is no mention of repentance and the necessity of receiving this salvation by faith. According to the Bible it is not just enough to recognize God’s story we must actually be redeemed and rescued and transferred into the kingdom of the Son (Col. 1:13-14). The evangelical could read this section and see allusions to all the right ideas likewise many who are more theologically liberal could easily find similar commonalities. Not every book must give specific clarity and depth on the gospel but when the author claims things are so grounded in the clarity and depth of gospel and that it is vital for the next Christians, does he not obligate himself to make clear what he means? However, there is a lack of clarity and the descriptions are largely cliche.

2. The book charts the course between opposing dangers but largely ignores one set of dangers. In chapter 2 “A Parody of Ourselves” the book outlines two ways Christians typical interact with culture and proposes a third way. There are the “Separatist” who withdraw and the “Cultural” who compromise. He illustrates three categories of Separatists “insiders,” “cultural warriors” and “evangelizers.” There are two kids of “Cultural” Christians: ‘blenders’ and ‘philanthropists’. The third category for interacting with culture is to be a “Restorer.” In and of itself this is not a bad taxonomy for a teaching tool.

The problem however is that in the rest of the book as he charts a course for restorers he constantly alludes to the ‘separatists’ as a foil. The book is gracious, cautious and much fairer than some who would critique this problem. It is largely not given to exaggeration although one might quibble over some details. The problem is that we are never sufficiently told how a “Restorer” avoids becoming a “Cultural” Christian. The description of the cultural Christian is weak when we are told philanthropists “seemingly attempt to prove their worth through acts of service and good deeds” (p. 43). This paradigm is rightly rejected when at the end we read “Good deeds will stop being done as an action that earns God’s favor” (p.196). But is that really the problem and extent of the effects of ‘Cultural Christians’? Throughout the book it is vivid and clear that ‘Restorers’ are not ‘Separatist’ and their activity is described as markedly different but that same attention is never given to the distinction between ‘Restorers’ and ‘Cultural.’

Another brief example of how the author lacks balance is when he writes “The next Christians are living within the tension of both [doing good and the need for conversion]. They recognize from Scripture that faithfulness is displayed in both word and deed--seen best by combining the Great Commission’s instruction to “make disciples” with the second greatest commandment to “love thy neighbor” (p.94, emphasis original). Again one gives a hearty “amen” to the principle set forth but the constant danger is the book is portrayed as a failure to do good. Indeed this is a great failure among Christians. However the great failure of the next generation of Christians will most likely not be a failure to do good, it will most likely be a failure to speak well and proclaim the word. In fact, the book gives no examples of what serious proclamation looks like. We are told they value personal salvation and discipleship (p.193) but what does that mean and what does it look like? Are the words filled with the same concepts that evangelicals hold to, or has their meaning and practice shifted? We are not told what they are for this generation or what they should be. Since the author himself draws such attention to the balance and the ‘third way,’ he should describe more thoroughly how both imbalances are avoided. The actual imbalance in the book is probably its greatest weakness.

3. The book so downplays the need for Christians to confront that Biblical confrontation is virtually eliminated. The best way to illustrate this is to note how the author handles Acts 17. We are told Paul is provoked in the chapter ‘provoked, not offended.’ It is certainly true that Paul “responds brilliantly” (p.86). Paul is cogent and engaging making “an intellectual connection” (p.87) whereas today Christians who take personal offense sometimes are not. However, it is false to say “he didn’t condemn them all to hell for practicing idolatry...they saw concern rather than judgment...he did not condemn them by preaching that they should tear down their idols.” Yes Paul did not rant as we sometimes do in our modern day, but in this passage Paul most certainly confronted. He won a bit of hearing by quoting the Greek poets in Acts 17:28. However standing in the Areopagus where in Aeschylus’ Eumenides, Apollo is said to have stated “once a man has died...there is no resurrection” Paul stated “there is a resurrection.” Nothing could be more controversial and confrontational. Not just that there was a resurrection but that this is proof that there is a day of judgment and God will not overlook their idolatry. Some sneer and some listen but Paul told them in no uncertain terms that they would be judged.

In this respect, a reader would be on far better footing following Mark Driscoll’s threefold response to culture where one can either: (1) receive it; (2) reject it or (3) redeem it. The Next Christians gives us examples of receiving culture and redeeming culture but it never draws any lines or gives any clear boundaries for where the 'next Christian' does or should reject culture. This is not to say the next Christians do not do this but rather the book never tells us. While it is true that Christians should be creators of culture, it is not fair to minimize the need for an appropriate use of criticism. Sometimes a repentant Christian must humbly state: this is wrong. The book shies away from this as judgmentalism and separatism. For example, is it really ‘good’ and ‘restorative’ when a porn director partners with a Christian for an awareness campaign about porn’s damaging effects (p.100) if he also never hears God's declaration of its wickedness and is invited to real Gospel salvation through repentance? I think not. Since the author himself uses William Wilberforce as a positive example of a Christian who did more than give speeches but also told the truth (p.101), we point out slavery would not have been overturned if William Wilberforce had not also in confrontation stated boldly and plainly that slavery was a moral evil.

Conclusion
While this book is helpful for discussing the change that is arising amongst the current generation of Christians, this book covers very little new material for one familiar with the discussion. While presentation and packaging may be unique to this author, those familiar with the discussion will probably not find this book necessary reading. Those interested in discussion of the ‘missional’ Christian will appreciate the illustrations and the guidelines in part 2. If one is new to the whole discussion of the changes amongst this generation, then one may find this a helpful place to start particularly if one does not intend to do exhaustive reading on the topic. In short, this book is not a bad place to start but is not necessarily an essential place to start. Given its weaknesses it is certainly not the place to end one’s reading on these issues.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars [if 3 stars = fair/good]

I would like to thank Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes. 

Machen on Education & the Money for It

I was reading this article about the flow of money in education and the pressure to adapt uniform standards.  It caused me to think of J. Gresham Machen's article from 1933 entitled "The Necessity of the Christian School."

"Let us return to the "educators" and their general demand either for a Federal department of education or for Federal aid to the states. Such demands are in the interests of uniformity in the sphere of education. There should be, it is said, a powerful coordinating agency in education, to set up standards and encourage the production of something like a system. But what shall we say of such an aim? I have no hesitation, for my part, in saying that I am dead opposed to it. Uniformity in education, it seems to me, is one of the worst calamities into which any people can fall.
There are, it is true, some spheres in which uniformity is a good thing. It is a good thing, for example, in the making of Ford cars. In the making of a Ford car, uniformity is the great end of the activity...But what is good for a Ford car is not always good for a human being, for the simple reason that a Ford car is a machine while a human being is a person. Our modern pedagogic experts seem to deny the distinction, and that is one place where our quarrel with them comes in. When you are dealing with human beings, standardization is the last thing you ought to seek. Uniformity of education under one central governmental department would be a very great calamity indeed."

And with respect to money:
"Every lover of human freedom ought to oppose with all his might the giving of Federal aid to the schools of this country; for Federal aid in the long run inevitably means Federal control, and Federal control means control by a centralized and irresponsible bureaucracy, and control by such a bureaucracy means the death of everything that might make this country great.
Against this soul-killing collectivism in education, the Christian school, like the private school, stands as an emphatic protest. In doing so, it is no real enemy of the public schools. On the contrary, the only way in which a state-controlled school can be kept even relatively healthy is through the absolutely free possibility of competition by private schools and church schools; if it once becomes monopolistic, it is the most effective engine of tyranny and intellectual stagnation that has yet been devised."
Interestingly, Machen also lamented the focus on being "educators" and focusing on methodology rather than actually mastering the subject and teaching the content of the subject.
The composition of that commission [appointed by Hoover] was typical of one of the fundamental vices in education in America at the present time -- namely, the absurd over-emphasis upon methodology in the sphere of education at the expense of content. When a man fits himself in America to teach history or chemistry, it scarcely seems to occur to him, or rather it scarcely seems to occur to those who prescribe his studies for him, that he ought to study history or chemistry. Instead, he studies merely "education". The study of education seems to be regarded as absolving a teacher from obtaining any knowledge of the subjects that he is undertaking to teach. And the pupils are being told, in effect, that the simple storing up in the mind of facts concerning the universe and human life is a drudgery from which they have now been emancipated; they are being told, in other words, that the great discovery has been made in modern times that it is possible to learn how to "think" with a completely empty mind. It cannot be said that the result is impressive. In fact the untrammeled operation of the effects of this great American pedagogic discovery is placing American schools far behind the schools of the rest of the civilized world.
It is just interesting that the more things change the more they really stay the same. You can find the full text of Machen's article in J. Gresham Machen: Selected Shorter Writings. edited by D.G. Hart. Or you can read the text online here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Can History Repeat Itself, Again?

Ok, this post really isn't about history, it rather is about economics and innovation. Here is an interesting article pronouncing doom and gloom of the internet (maybe it's not that bad). But it takes a rather gloomy outlook on what happens when corporations try to stifle and control. Here's a relevant excerpt from the end.
"The supposed freedom of the Internet works only if one can gain access. Browsers promise to allow access to the world of Internet sites, but only if the browser will work on the device, and only if the device will allow the media tools that provide the rich textual, graphics, photographic, musical and video formats to operate. Service providers will impose their own tariffs and restrictions. Will communication applications work properly, or will they, too, be restricted by the combined forces of the device manufacturers and the service providers? Current trends are not reassuring.
Tim Wu's book The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires, demonstrates how this process works. Wu's major theme is the inevitability of proprietary controls as large corporations discover the market value of exclusivity. All of our modern communication and transportation industries started off in similar ways -- whether telephone or film, radio or television, video or websites, Internet conferencing or blogging. At the outset, technologies are deployed to anyone who can be both providers and recipients of the powers of the medium. For example, the first phonographs could both record and play back. Telephone systems proliferated, run by cities or small companies. Radio amateurs and university groups freely developed radio stations. On YouTube, people can both produce and view streaming video. Amateurs and innovative inventors expanded the horizons. Then, as the business potential became obvious to corporate warlords, they struck, buying up small businesses, getting willing governments to enact rules, regulations and laws to protect corporate interests and turning the experimental two-way publications into one-way broadcasts within closed walls. The stories are remarkably similar whether one talks about the phonograph or movies, the telephone or radio, television or newspapers, music or book publishing. (For more, see Wu's interview with the New York Times.)
Why do we all meekly allow the speed at which we access the Internet to be much slower when we send than when we receive? Service providers will claim it is because, on average, people receive more than they generate. So what? Why would it harm companies to provide equal access? Or perhaps, is it because they want us to be consumers, consuming material sent to us rather than producers, creating our own content -- whether text, voice or visual? This asymmetry reinforces the view of the service and content providers; that we consume whatever they produce. All this in the face of great creativity by amateur musicians, photographers and videographers: Where would YouTube be without the everyday creator? Oops, that might be a good question but it might be too late. Where will YouTube be in the future when corporations decide to dominate?
I fear the Internet is doomed to fail, to be replaced by tightly controlled gardens of exclusivity. The Internet has extended beyond the capabilities of its origins: the trusting, open interactions among a few research universities. Today it is too easy for unknown entities to penetrate into private homes and businesses, stealing identities and corporate secrets. Fear of damaging programs and the ever-increasing amount of spam (some just annoying but more and more deadly and malicious), threatens the infrastructure. And so, just as previous corporate warlords used the existence of real inefficiencies and deficiencies in other media to gain control, equipment, service and content providers, large corporations will try to use the deficiencies of the Internet to exert control and exclusivity. All the better, they will claim, to provide safe, secure and harmonious operation, while incidentally enhancing profits and reducing competition. Similar arguments will apply to governments as well, invoking the fears of the existing Internet in order to exert control for the benefit of the existing ruling parties.
I have seen the future, and if it turns out the way it is headed, I am opposed. I fear our free and continual access to information and services is doomed to be replaced by tightly controlled gardens of exclusivity. It is time to rethink the present, for it determines the future."

Of course, the 'control' of the internet is disconcerting. However, I think this article fails to account for how innovation drives the market. History has shown big power hungry corps who wall themselves up with command and control of what they perceive as 'their domaine' can be outdone by the emerging entrepreneur who can function in the market with guerrilla warfare efficiency. The whole rise of media 2.0 is precisely because of the monolithic control that arose from a few over media 1.0. The real question is what will be media 3.0? I'm not a utopian optimist, but the facts emerging markets and human innovation do not leave me quite as stuck and pessimistic as this article ends. He acknowledges the role of innovation in the rise of the internet but never asks the next logical question: why can't it happen again?

The basic problem is that this article discounts any future reality (that as of yet unrealized) for human freedom and entrepreneurship to out-think and thereby undo and undermine the alleged monopolization that is developing over the internet. This is the genius of democratic capitalism. Those who have or are of the verge of developing monopolies are often outdone and undone rather quickly by the innovation of an unseen small competitor who breaks out and creates a new emerging market. (For an introduction to this basic phenomenon see among many: George Gilder's Wealth and Poverty and Michael Novak's The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism).

The basic point is this: the author acknowledges the wonder of innovation in the emergence of the internet itself. He even acknowledges the similarity of the developing control of the internet and media 1.0:  "The stories are remarkably similar whether one talks about the phonograph or movies, the telephone or radio, television or newspapers, music or book publishing." But each one of these was undone by new innovation. Those who monopolized in one generation with one form were undone in the next. Why should we think it will be different with the internet? Those companies that are seeking to command and control will face downfall just as quickly as companies that controlled or sought control of the previous media. Just as the internet unbridled the power of previous forms of monopolies on information, the real question we should be asking not can history repeat itself but what will it look like when history repeats itself, again. That is assuming we have not lost the human spirit and the will to innovate.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sanctification: More than Just 'Getting Used to Justification'

It has become popular in some circles to say that sanctification is really about getting used to the verdict that we have in justification. While this is an important aspect of my sanctification and I agree that sanctification is gospel-centered, this is not typically the Reformed, and I would argue Biblical, approach to sanctification. 

In the book "Christian Spirituality: Five Views on Sanctification," Gerharde O. Forde, writing for the Lutheran view, states:

"But is there not such a thing as growth in sanctification, progress in the Christian life? No doubt there is a sense in which we can and even should speak in such a fashion. But when we do, we must take care, if everything we have been saying up to this point is true. If justification by faith alone rejects all ordinary schemes of progress and renders us simultaneously just and sinners, we have to look at growth and progress in quite a different light.
That brings us back to our thesis: sanctification is the are of getting used to justification. There is a kind og growth and progress, it is to be hoped, but it is growth in grace--a growth in coming to be captivated more and more, if we can so speak, by the totality, the unconditionality of the grace of God. It is a matter of getting used to the fact that if we are to be saved it will be by grace alone. We should make no mistake about it: sin is to be conquered and expelled. But if we see that sin is the total state of standing against the unconditional grace and goodness of God, if sin is our very incredulity, unbelief, our insistence on falling back on our self and maintaining control, then it is only through the total grace of God that sin comes under attack, and only through faith in that total grace that sin is defeated. To repeat: sin is not defeated by a repair job, but by dying and being raised new. (pp.27-28)"

There is much to commend in this extended quote. For example:
(1) We should ourselves, even in sanctification, as dependent upon grace. Salvation is all of grace or it is not at all.

(2) We should see the importance of dying to sin and rising to new life in Christ. (as we will argue in a minute this is central to union with Christ).

(3) For some, sanctification is wrongly perceived as our work for God. That tends to minimize the gravity and offensiveness of sin, create 'performance mode' Christians and reduce the reality of indwelling sin in a Christian.

Yet, this statement is insufficient because it does not make union with Christ central to our sanctification. The tendency then is to prioritize justification by faith (admittedly no small part of our redemption and salvation) but with an effect that sanctification is sort of a subsidiary effect--a left over crater if you will. So that the more I am thankful for the first part, the more the second will develop. And yet--'dying and being raised' in Paul's language especially in Romans 6 is more than merely 'my justification' (I say 'merely' not to in any way minimize justification by faith). Rather Paul's approach makes my dying and rising with Christ a functional outworking of my union with Christ.

Sinclair Ferguson responds to the above 'Lutheran' approach by highlighting three points:
"1. I have the impression from the essay that so central is the idea of justification to Lutheran thought that is not only dominates sanctification, but at times even seems to threaten to displace the person of Christ from center stage. Justification is in Christ, and is to be sought in him, not in itself. In Reformed theology (and, I believe, in Scripture) this is a motif which is fundamental to justification." (p.34).
"2. Reformed theology is as anxious as Lutheran thought to safeguard grace. It has wrestled very seriously with the whole question of conditions. The term conditions has a certain infelicity about it. But there is a difference between what we might call "conditionality" (which compromises grace by saying, "God will be gracious only if you do X or Y") and the fact that there are conditions for salvation which arise directly out of the gospel message and do not compromise its graciousness...There is a sine qua non to forgiveness and to justification. They cannot be received apart from faith. This is a biblical condition that does not compromise grace, but arises from it. The important thing is not to deny condition, but to underscore that "It is not faith that saves, but Christ that saves through faith" (B.B. Warfield)." (p.34-35)
"3. Developing this point a little further, Lutheranism has a deep reluctance to highlight the so-called 'third use of the law' (as a rule for life). I appreciate Dr. Forde's concern to avoid a legalism that defines sanctification in formal terms. 
In contrast, however, Reformed teaching speaks of "the grace of the law." It recognizes the reappearance of the Decalogue in the New Testament's very concrete imperatives arising out of the gracious indicatives of the gospel... This, Reformed theology argues, was the original context of the Decalogue itself...Obedience is nothing if it is not concrete and specific. Sanctification, ultimately Christlikeness, has a definite form and structure in the New Testament, as well as a foundation and motivation in grace. This is no wise detracts from the concern both Dr. Forde and Reformed theology share in stressing that sanctification is ultimately a true humanity, because it is ultimately likeness to our Lord Jesus Christ." (p.35)

On the Reformed approach as a whole:
"Reformed Theology sees the central role of justification as does Lutheran theology. It is the 'main hinge on which religion turns' says Calvin; 'the pivotal point around which everything moves' (Geerhardus Vos). But this justification is ours only through our union with Christ. This union is also the mainspring of our sanctification: Christ is both our righteousness (justification) and our sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30 RSV)." (p34).

The following is especially golden:
"When the doctrine of union with Christ is made the architectonic principle of the application of redemption (as it was in Calvin's thought [see Institutes 2.16.19], by contrast, I believe with Luther), the tension which Lutheranism seems to feel between justification and the Christian's good works, or sanctification, begins to vanish. The one does not exist without the other, since both are effects of union with Christ. Yet neither is reduced to the other. Justification is not disgraced as though it were based upon sanctification; sanctification is not demoted, as though it were a threat to the grace of justification." p.34).

In the book Christian Spirituality: Five Views on Sanctification, the parts between the Reformed and Lutheran view are a model of how irenic but important debate can take place between confessional traditions on important issues. In his chapter, Ferguson expounds more of the Reformed view, handles Romans 6 and illustrates the centrality of union with Christ to sanctification. It is worth reading. Reading Forde's response is equally helpful for exposing potential weaknesses to the Reformed view (although I think these can be sufficiently countered).


The point of this post is again: it is becoming popular in some circles, especially some of the 'young, restless and Reformed,' to make sanctification essentially a 'getting used to the justification that I have.' While an important element because we certainly do not want to be legalists, sanctification entails more than this. Sanctification is not the cart pulled by justification and if I can just understand the strength of the horse, the cart takes care of itself. Instead we should see that both flow out of union with Christ.

Bonus:
Here's a video by Professor Lane Tipton on this issue:

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Bonhoeffer on Community & the Church

In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes:
“Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and if we are fortunate, with ourselves.”
“He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial. God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it must be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God and finally the despairing accuser of himself.” Life Together pp.26-28

One of the ways he specifically applies this is that pastors are not to grumble to other or to God about their churches.

I cannot help but wonder if Bonhoeffer had been writing to the 21st century American church he might have added-- "and then the visionary packs his bags, looks for another church and every 3-5 years repeats the process." We never think: what if I crucified my dreams instead of packing up my toys and going somewhere else. Most people today choose churches like they choose fast food restaurants. We are always looking for something. It is the next attraction, the next attention getter, the next 'loving community.' Few people stay long enough in the church to do the hard work of loving and sowing the seeds that will bear the fruit of true community.

--This is true not just of church attenders but pastors: we can be so captivated by our vision casting and our dreams and our building the church into what it should be that we fail to realize that Christ builds His Church. That the church is Christ's bride whom he sanctifies.

Bonhoeffer has this to say:
“Christian community is like the Christian’s sanctification. It is a gift of God which we cannot claim. Only God knows the real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification. What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.
Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate. The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our fellowship is in Jesus Christ alone, the more serenely shall we think of our fellowship and pray and hope for it.” Life Together, p.30
May God give us the grace to love his bride in the same manner he loved her.
"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...