Love means

Here is something to ponder G. K. Chesterton. Whatcha think?

Love means to love that which is unlovable, or it is no virtue at all; forgiving means to pardon that which is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all; and to hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all.

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How we ought to think about God

How we ought we think about God? (part 2)

by Paul Gould on the blog by his name.

In my previous post (http://www.paul-gould.com/2012/11/13/how-ought-we-think-about-god-part-1/), I mentioned four sure-fire ways to get it wrong; four ways to think about God that are ultimately incomplete as we try to align our concept of God as close as humanly possible to the reality of God. Still each of the approaches mentioned do hint at a more robust approach to modeling God, an approach that is best encapsulated in Anselm’s motto: faith seeking understanding.So, how should we think about God? I propose the following three-step approach that brings all of our resources (historical, revelation, rational, experiential) to bear on the question of God’s nature.

First, we begin with Scripture (I’m obviously assuming it true here–if you are not there, just consider this a conditional exercise: what would be the best way to model God assuming Christianity and the Bible true).   In the Biblical text we learn important truths about God. To name a few, we learn that God is the creator of all things distinct from himself (Gen. 1:1), supreme (Psalm 145:3), all-knowing (Psalm 139:1-4), all-present (Psalm 139:7-9), all-powerful (Genesis 18:14), self-existent (Exodus 3:14), unchanging in character (Psalm 102:25-27), eternal (Psalm 90:2), spirit (John 4:24), wise, loving, good, holy, just, sovereign, free, perfect, and personal. The list could go on. We learn many important and true things about God from Scripture. But we can’t end here if we are attempting to get as far as we can in modeling God—a “purely biblical” approach to modeling God is too open-textured—since many of these attributes (listed above) require philosophical analysis to fully understand—as rational agents, we can push on. Still, I suggest that any adequate model of God must conform to the following control (or regulating principle):

Regulating principle #1: Our model of God must be consistent with Scripture.

Secondly, add to our knowledge of God through Scripture the deliverances of religious experience. While we can’t lead with religious experience, we can’t do without it either. Scripture is clear that it is not enough to simply know about God; such knowledge is necessary but not sufficient for the religious life. Religious experience’s chief value is existential (having to do with the religious life of the believer), still there is an epistemic benefit as well. What can we learn about God through our experience of God? I think that Rudolf Otto was onto something in his book “The Idea of the Holy”—we experience God as wholly other, a being worthy of our worship. Thus, a religiously adequate conception of God, as we continue to fill out the biblical portrait of God would include the additional regulating principle:

Regulating principle #2: Our model of God must present God as a being worthy of worship; a being who is wholly other.

Finally, add to Scripture and religious experience rational theology. As creator of all reality distinct from himself, God is ultimate in terms of explanation. Thus, by examining creation, we can learn about God’s nature. Since God is the creator of all reality, it follows that all reality (in some way) illuminates the divine. So study, as Francis Bacon reminds us, God’s other book—the book of nature to learn about the His character. Let’s call this kind of theology Creation Theology and the regulating principle of such a theology as follows:

Regulating principle #3: Our model of God must uphold God as the creator of all reality distinct from God.

Further, as a worship worthy being, God is supreme, or supremely great. Such a high conception of God does provide a further guide for us in thinking about God. In his greatness, God is a being with the greatest possible combination of great-making properties, where a great-making property is any property which it is intrinsically good to have. Let’s call this kind of theology Perfect Being Theology and the regulating principle of such a theology as follows:

Regulating principle #4: Our model of God must uphold God as maximally great.

As we engage in Biblical theology, and fill in our conception of God through religious experience (always operating under the control of biblical revelation) and rational theology (always working under the control of the biblical revelation and religious experience) we should also consult the rich tradition of thinking on God’s nature over the past 2,000 years of church history. While we need not follow our fathers on every jot and title, it is always wise to consider the arguments and positions of those who have gone before us—chances are we will not stumble unto something that hasn’t been addressed or thought of before as we strive to understand the character of God.

Why bother going beyond the Bible and religious experience in our model of God? Why engage in philosophical hair-splitting over the nature of omnipotence, omniscience, aseity, sovereignty, omnibenevolence, and so on? Well, following Augustine, “one loves best what one knows best.” And what a better way to know God that the strive with all of our strength to understand who he is—which, as we expand our exalted conception of God, only leads to worship of this great being who is the very fount of our existence and hope.

“Worship gatherings are not always spectacular, but they are always supernatural”

by Eric Geiger

Worship gatherings are not always spectacular, but they are always supernatural. And if a church looks for or works for the spectacular, she may miss the supernatural. If a person enters a gathering to be wowed with something impressive, with a style that fits him just right, with an order of service and song selection designed just the right way, that person may miss the supernatural presence of God.

Worship is supernatural whenever people come hungry to respond, react, and receive from God for who He is and what He has done.

A church worshipping as a Creature of the Word doesn’t show up to perform or be entertained; she comes desperate and needy, thirsty for grace, receiving from the Lord and the body of Christ, and then gratefully receiving what she needs as she offers her praise— the only proper response to the God who saves us.

~ Chandler, Matt; Patterson, Josh . Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church

N.T. Wright on the Transfiguration

by Shane Lems at Reformed Reader blog

A few weeks ago, I preached on 2 Pet 1:16-21 where Peter teaches sola scriptura in his description of the transfiguration of Jesus. In preparing for the sermon, I read some of N.T. Wright’s typically insightful comments from his book Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters. (See here for my previous post about this book.)

Suppose that, after all, the ancient Jewish story of a God making the world, calling a people, meeting with them on a mountain – suppose this story were true. And suppose this God had a purpose for his world and his people that had now reached the moment of fulfillment. Suppose, moreover, that this purpose had taken human form and that the person concerned was going about doing the things that spoke of God’s kingdom coming on earth as in heaven, of God’s space and human space coming together at last, of God’s time and human time meeting and merging for a short, intense period, and of God’s new creation and the present creation somehow knocking unexpected sparks off one another. The earth shall be filled, said the prophet, with the  knowledge of the glory of YHWH as the waters cover the sea. It is within some such set of suppositions that we might make sense of the strangest moment of all, at the heart of the narrative, when the glory of God comes down not to the Temple in Jerusalem, not to the top of Mount Sinai, but onto and into Jesus himself, shining in splendor, talking with Moses and Elijah, drawing the Law and the Prophets together into the time of fulfillment. The transfiguration, as we call it, is the central moment. This is when what happens to space in the Temple and to time on the sabbath happens, within the life of Jesus, to the material world itself or rather, more specifically, to Jesus’s physical body itself.

Simply Jesus, pgs. 142-143.

Wright goes on to note that the  main point of the transfiguration of Jesus is not to prove Jesus divinity – although it’s hard to imagine it not doing that at least indirectly. Instead an eschatological intrusion is occurring in this remarkable event:

What the story of Jesus on the mountain demonstrates, for those with eyes to see or ears to hear, is that, just as Jesus seems to be the place where God’s world and ours meet, where God’s time and ours meet, so he is also the place where, so to speak, God’s matter – God’s new creation – intersects with ours. As with everything else in the gospel narrative, the moment is extraordinary, but soon over. It forms part of a new set of signposts, Jesus-shaped signposts, indicating what is to come: a whole new creation, starting with Jesus himself as the seed that is sown in the earth and then rises to become the beginning of that new world.

Simply Jesus, pg. 144.

The transfiguration was yet another harbinger of the coming storm – the rogue wave from the storm that is yet over the horizon. The new creation breaks in yet again, peeling back the clouds, and giving a brief glimpse of the coming new creation! Far from a smoke and laser show, this a sign of a fast approaching reality, even if scoffers are saying “Where is the promise of his coming?” (2 Pet 3:4).

An ID defense reading page

For both those who earnestly want to learn more about ID and those who doubt ID and are honestly are seeking truth, a good page to check out is

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2012/11/why_intelligent1066741.html

by John Newton

When I was young I was sure of many things; Now there are only two things of which I am sure: One is, I am a miserable sinner; and the other, that Christ is an all sufficient Savior. He is well taught who learns these two lessons”- John Newton, former 18th century slave trader and the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace”

Center Church by Timothy Keller – “Gospel”

by Aaron Armstrong at Blogging Theologically

Center Church by Timothy Keller – “Gospel”

I doubt there’s a church leader alive who wishes their church would be less successful—that fewer people would be coming to faith in Jesus, their influence within their communities would diminish, and everyone would settle into a nice rut and eventually it would fade away.

I’ve never seen that book written or message preached. What I have seen a lot of, though, is a lot of pastors—implicitly or explicitly asking, “What’s the secret behind so-and-so’s success? If I do what they do, will my church be successful too?”

More often than not, the results are less than encouraging. Many books and conferences tout methodology, offering just the right combination of music, lighting and cultural relevance to draw a crowd (and remember, keep the theology to a minimum).

Others eschew this pragmatic approach. Instead, they focus on our doctrinal foundation; that is, on reinforcing theological fidelity and practical obedience to the Lord in all things. Numerical growth is not the measure of success; instead, it is the purity of the Church.

Both approaches have their strengths. Our theology ought to be robust; we must never compromise on the pursuit of holiness in the lives of God’s people. Equally, we must use methods that allow us to meaningfully connect with the people we are trying to reach.

But what is it that connects the two? In his new book, Center Church, Tim Keller argues for what he calls the “middleware” of ministry—theological vision, “a faithful restatement of the gospel with rich implications for life, ministry, and mission in a type of culture at a moment in history” (p. 19).

This is, frankly, what far too many books on church ministry miss. Our doctrinal foundation matters immensely. If we get that wrong, everything else will be also. However, we need to understand how to express our doctrine in a way that’s meaningful to a culture with no significant understanding of the essentials of the Christian faith. Keller spends the bulk of this book explaining the basic elements of what makes up the “Center Church” theological vision: gospel, city, and movement.

It’s not often I review a book in multiple parts, but because each of these concepts—the axises of the Center Church—is so vital to the vision Keller puts forth, I felt it best to examine the strengths of each separately. And so we begin with the gospel.

Gospel theology

Keller opens his examination of the gospel access by stressing the importance of balanced gospel theology. This balance is among Keller’s greatest strengths. He is keenly aware of the difference between the gospel and its implications. The gospel is not everything, as he explains in chapter one. The gospel is good news, not good advice. It’s new announcing our rescue through Jesus Christ. Fundamentally, it’s the news that Jesus Christ died to save sinners.

But, the gospel is not its results, as some increasingly confuse it to be, with well meaning but incomplete admonitions to live lives of love that cause people to wonder. “It is news that creats a life of love, but the life of love is not itself the gospel,” he writes (p. 31). When we get this confused, we wind up obscuring the gospel, making it about us instead of about Jesus. It’s what we do or don’t do, think or don’t think, say or don’t say, rather than about Jesus’ graciously paying an impossible debt on our behalf. Therefore we must proclaim this message unashamedly while living out its implications. Anything less is pointless.

While the gospel is not everything in this sense, Keller’s equally clear that the gospel is the only thing which can handle the burden of being the main thing of the church. This should make us realize that it’s not a simple thing. “The gospel is a clear and present word, but it’s not a simplistic word” (p. 39).

We have a singular message that can be expressed in a variety of ways faithfully. The Bible uses models of exile and homecoming, covenant and fulfillment, and kingdom and coming, to name but three. There is a versatility to our message that we would be wise to not overlook. It’s easy to get caught up in preaching in a certain style—many of us default to the way that we heard the gospel and came to faith. But for the good of those around us, we have to be ready and willing to appropriately contextualize our message so the unbeliever can understand it.

For example, if I went to the average university student in my city, he or she likely wouldn’t have a clear understanding of basic terms like “sin” or “God.” They’re more or less foreign concepts to many North Americans. I need to communicate the singular truth of the gospel in a way that makes sense to the hearer (something we see Paul model throughout Acts). And when we do this, we can begin to communicate how it affects everything.

Of the three chapters comprising part one of the book, some of the strongest concepts are found in this one. When we see the implications of the gospel, when we see how much is affected—morality, sexuality, culture, authority… everything!—we can see the necessity of getting the gospel right and teaching how it applies to all of life. Faith in Jesus isn’t a “get-out-of-hell” free card; it’s a radical reshaping of everything we think, do, and say.

This is what leads us to understand the need for not only good gospel theology, but a desire to see gospel renewal.

Gospel renewal

What Keller calls gospel renewal, others have called revival – that is, the need for the doctrines of sin and grace to be experienced personally, but also corporately.

Because we don’t really believe the gospel deep down – because we are living as if we save ourselves – our hearts find ways of either rejecting or reengineering the doctrine [of grace] (as in liberal theology) or of mentally subscribing to the doctrine while functionally trusting and resting in our own moral and doctrinal goodness (as in “dead orthodoxy”). As a result, individuals and churches experience a slow spiritual deadening over the years, unless some sort of renewal/revival dynamic arrests it. (55)

Keller goes on to note that while modern revivalism in its most extreme forms is far too individualistic, genuine revival is part of the Holy Spirit’s pattern of work in a community, bringing spiritual life to the dead.

For me, the most challenging part if reading Keller’s assessment for the need for revival was getting my predispositions about what revival is out of my head. Genuine revival isn’t the crazy nonsense seen most prominently in recent years in the so-called Lakeland Revival, filled with people getting kicked in the face, and a “preacher” who openly contradicted the Word of God in word and deed.

But genuine gospel renewal always focuses on the heart, bringing the truth of the gospel to bear on the hearts of believers and unbelievers alike, seeing the living but stagnant renewed, and the dead regenerated. It’s this kind of balanced revivalism that Keller calls “the work of the church” (60).

This kind of renewal only happens through focused, intentional times of corporate and personal prayer, through the rediscovery of the gospel in the lives of individuals, the application of the gospel and gospel oriented creativity and innovation – that is, finding methods of gospel proclamation that fit our culture.

The vision described throughout this section is incredibly compelling and thoughtful. Indeed, its exactly what many of us would say we want to see happen in our communities, and it’s what we are striving for. But this is not easy, as Keller notes. Ultimately, “we can only prepare for revival; we can’t really bring it about. God must send it” (82). We sow the seed, we work hard, we faithfully serve, proclaim, and pray… but God determines the harvest we might reap.

Keller’s counsel in the first section of Center Church is wise and we would do well to carefully consider how we might apply these principles to our own context.

The gospel is the most essential part of the church’s vision, but it’s not the totality of it. The gospel’s implications must be dealt with, especially as we seek to understand how our churches ought to relate to our culture and expand the gospel’s influence into all sphere’s of life.

Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City
Author: Timothy Keller, (2012)