Friday, October 13, 2006

Good Stuff: Leslie Newbigin

In a reading for a class I'm taking at Regent College I came across an essay by Leslie Newbigin. I'd read him before but, for some reason, many of his thoughts had some deep resonations with me now. Here's the quote:

The Christian gospel has sometimes been made the tool of an imperialism, and of that we have to repent. But at its heart it is the denial of all imperialisms, for at its center there is the cross where all imperialisms are humbled and we are invited to find the center of human unity in the One who was made nothing so that all might be one. The very heart of the biblical vision for unity of humankind is that its center is not an imperial power but the slain lamb.

Newbigin gives us tells the reader this after critiquing modern secular projects at unity (which often involve too much compromise), and then critiquing imperialistic projects at unity (which involve violence and triumphalism). I think he's arrived at a true unity project. You?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

J.I. Packer, Regent College, and the Basics

While in Christian History this morning at Regent College I heard that J.I. Packer would be speaking at Chapel. I was pretty stoked. After reading Knowing God last year I began to develop a strong appreciation for Packer. So, of course, I was expecting something revelatory from Dr. Packer. Well, it was the case, just not how I was thinking.

Dr. Packer's message was fairly simple. He didn't delve into an arcane avenue of Puritan theology; nor did he provide some unexepected exegesis on a passage in Romans, instead he talked about what it means to "finish well" in our walk with Christ. He offered a fine maxim regarding this spiritual sojourn, "Let Christ fill your horizon". It may sound like spiritual immaturity but I was initally bummed because of the message's accessibility and obviousness.

After thinking about it I realized that this message came from someone who had taught at a number of seminaries, who was trained at Oxford, and is one of the most respected theologians in the world today. In that context the message opened uncharted vistas. J.I. Packer had, so to speak, seen it all and he was still championing the same message, "Let Christ fill your horizon". Unexpectedly, this afternoon I learned volumes: in our walk with Christ there will be nuanced 'trinket' theology that often steals our attention from Jesus Christ, Dr. Packer reminded me of the "one thing that I need" that is, to "Let Christ fill my horizon".

Friday, September 15, 2006

St. Irenaeus: The government is on His Shoulders

I am taking a class called Christian Thought and Culture at Regent College. The class is composed of lectures that, as the class name suggests, reflect on the intersection of Christian thought and culture. This week our reading is from Irenaeus. Irenaeus was one of the earliest church fathers and most well known for his thoughtful, incarnation-drenched, anti-gnostic, theology. Here's a quote I liked:

'A child is born to us, and a son is given to us, and the government is on his shoulders' (Is. 9:6)... The words 'the government us upon His shoulder' figuratively signify the Cross, to which His arms were nailed. The Cross was and is ignominy for Him--and for us, for His sake. And yet it is the Cross which He calls His government, the sign of His kingship.'

St. Irenaues, The Scandal of the Incarnation

Monday, September 11, 2006

Here We Are

The Summer, though not officially over with, is done. And since that last sentence was so riddled with irony I'll post something straight forward.

Here's a list of things that has kept me busy and entertained this summer.


Fear and Trembling, Soren Kierkegaard
Finally Comes the Poet, Walter Brueggemann
Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner
Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner
Marking the Sparrows Fall, Wallace Stegner
Standing By Words, Wendall Berry
The Heart of Matter, Graham Greene


ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT! (dirty but delightful)
Tsotsi (South African film, WATCH IT)


Anything by Sufjan Stevens
Derek Webb's, Mockingbird

So... keep checking out Quest. There'll be more in the upcoming weeks.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Blog is Closed for the Summer

So, for those of you who are Quest groupies you might have noticed that the posts lately have been slimmer than newt. There's a reason for that. Currently my wife and I are visiting friends in Honduras, prior to our trip to Central America we were traveled across the country (Massachusetts to Washington). And, after leaving Honduras tomorrow we will be moving to Vancouver, BC (where my wife will make the dough in photography and I will study at Regent College).

That said, the other member of Quest will--hopefully--make some posts. This will give Matt (the other blogger) some time to work on his Blogging skills. Also, we are accepting applications to Quest. If you want to become a blogger submit some info to our contact info (I am thinking of you Andrew Drain).

Anyways, thanks for being a Quest groupie.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Deuteronomy 18:9-14- Why Christians are Afraid of Harry Potter

I get tired of the fear that many Christians show when confronted with culture. It seems that in practice, many of us believe Christ to be quite powerless in this world. So we wonder if J.K. Rowling, the author of the hugely popular Harry Potter series, is out to vanquish Christianity with her pen. [for a better approach see here] We protest the movie Brokeback Mountain, because it is obvious that the homosexuals are more powerful than Christ as well. I am heartened by the response that many Christians have had toward the DaVinci Code, using it as a way to talk about Christ instead of running from it. This is the way we should approach this world, like Christ did- not running from it because of its filth, but running to the filth, confident of Christ's rule over this world.
Deuteronomy 18:9-14 are a big reason why Christians are scared of things like Harry Potter, witches, and astrology. These verses are a clear forbidding of any practice that might be a shortcut to succeeding in life through using the supernatural for your own ends. God does not allow this, for when you try to use the supernatural (even God) for your own ends, you end up in idolatry, and it ends up destroying you. This is a passage that does not lose its meaning when we read it in our day. These practices are still outlawed for the Christian. The powers of darkness are still around, and this world is still under their influence, despite Christ's decisive victory.
What should a Christian do, stuck between being a bearer of the true light, and having a new heart that is incompatible with the world's darkness (but fully able to experience it and participate in it). I think that a major problem that Christians have with culture today is that they have forgotten who they are. They are connected with Christ, they have new hearts, they are light bearers to a dark world, reflecting the True Light, and yearning for the day when he makes all things new. If Christians would just be who they are, then nothing that world throws at Christ can ultimately hurt them. Christ will set all to rights, to borrow a favorite phrase from N.T. Wright. The Christian's connection to Christ by the Holy Spirit is the amazing proof that the world cannot defeat Christ. He took you, filthy as you were, and now lives in you to fufill his plans for this world. Trust that he will (and is able to) do it; anything less is fear and unbelief.
Israel was told to not participate in the detestable practices of the Canaanites, and told to be blameless, "for these nations which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune tellers and to diviners."(vs. 14) This is the reason God is clearing the land of these nations. They don't listen to Him. I think that is the crux of the issue. You either listen to God or you listen to the world. If you listen to God, you know his promises are sure and his purposes firm to the glorious end that he desires. If you listen to the world, you are left without an identity and without hope in the world, except what you can manipulate to your own ends, as far as your power allows. Israel's identity is the people of God, which is why they were forbidden to mix with the culture; Israel's hope is in God, which is why they did not have to strive for power- their king was God.
As Christians, our identity is in Christ, and his plans are indestructible (he proved that at the cross) and full of love for a broken world (he proved that at the cross) and our hope for this world is in him.
Listening to God through the prophets is the subject of the next post on Deuteronomy 18:15-22.

Eating the Offering- Deuteronomy 18:1-8

*Bryan has some family visiting, so I will attempt to post about Deuteronomy in his absence.

Deuteronomy 18 is divided into three sections, dealing with three different areas of Israel's life. The first section talks about the provision for the Levites, the second about some abominable practices they were to avoid, and the third about prophets that will come after Moses. I will divide it into 2 or 3 posts.

The priests, or Levites, had "no portion of inheritance with Israel." (vs. 1) All the tribes recieved land that was their own, an inheritance that would sustain them for as long as they lived in the land that God gave them. The Levites did not have a secure inheritance, that is, they depended on their brothers to give them what God required (vs. 3-4) Thus the Levites are an Old Testament example of living the life of faith. Their dependence on the faithful offerings of their brothers was not one-sided, however. The Levites offered their lives to God in serve and "minister in the name of the Lord."(vs. 5) They would offer what they recieved from their brothers to God, ministering on the behalf of their brothers, keeping everyone faithful to the covenant. If the brothers got lazy and didn't bring their best, or didn't bring anything, then the Levites would suffer, and Israel's relationship with God would suffer in turn.
Revelation 1:6 declares that Jesus has "made us... priests to his God and Father." As priests of the new covenant, we minister in a new way. We offer Christ's life- his body and blood to the world. They are united to Christ and made priests as well. Christ's body and blood, the offerings of the Great High Priest, are recieved by us in holy communion and we as the new Levites, recieve and eat this offering, symbolizing the life of Christ in us. As the Levites were dependent upon the community for their life, we are dependant upon this holy communion. For what is symbolized by taking in the bread and wine has actually happened to us by our union with Christ.

Friday, June 16, 2006

How to Change this World

I listened to a session from the “Reform and Resurge” conference for pastors put on last month by Mars Hill Church in Seattle. The title of the session was “Beyond Brokeness: How Jacked Up Punks Will Change the World” He talked about how messed up we all are, and the amazing fact that God is using us to change this world, to bring healing, to restore it. He talked about how the gospel is more than personal piety and getting people in church, it is about the kingdom of God. This kingdom is being established through ‘jacked-up punks.’ The speaker, Anthony Bradley, gives this compelling vision of the kingdom based on Isaiah 61:1-4. Christ binds up the brokenhearted, he brings liberty to the captives, he gives oil of gladness instead of mourning- we are now oaks of righteousness- our new identity is for His glory.(vs. 1-3) Then verse 4-

“The shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.”

The work of Christ does not stop at the cross and with our personal salvation- his mission and now our mission is to redeem the entire creation and rule it in all his justice, love, and beauty.

It was an inspiring message for me, as my faith lately has been more of a head thing than a heart thing. I have been living out of my former identity, instead of my real one- I’m an oak of righteousness, the planting of the Lord. If you want to listen to it, get it here.

Listen to this message, and some others on the same topic. Check out Bryan’s message from a previous post, as well as Mark Driscoll’s sermon from last week titled “Missional Ministry.”

posted by matt

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Deuteronomy Chapter Seventeen: Stay the Course

In Deuteronomy 17 we see the theme of staying the course rising again to the forefront. It manifests first off with a reiteration of the forbidding of idolatry (see also the posts on ch.12 and 14). The importance of being free from pagan practices is most clear in the next chapter (ch.18 v.10) where Moses reports that some forms of idolatry have sunk so low that they make their children pass through fire. So, while we may feel unsettled about the legal imperative to kill those caught in idolatry (v.5), we can at least trust that if weren't for this firm justice a thick evil would take root. Also, and here I am repeating what I have already written about, this death sentence is not enacted on whimsy (v.6-7).

The theme of staying the course takes a different shape in verses 8-13. Here Moses allows for complicated legal matters to be decided by the Judge/Priest (v.8-9). And, Israel is called to not "turn [...] to the right or the left" from the judgment that the Judge/Priest declares. This again displays the importance of following God and listening to those wiser in times of transition.

In the last section the theme hones in on a potential king that will rule Israel in the distant future. 1st Sam. ch 8 clearly shows that Israel's desire for another king, besides God, is a grievance to God but, and in spite of 1st Sam. Ch.8 we have guidelines on how a King should live. This illustrates God's holy accommodation, though it grieves him he allows it under strict guidelines. The future king is to live in a spirit of modesty. We learn in v.16 that the king is strictly forbidden from returning Israel to Egypt so that he may prosper. The heart of that command being: don't put your people in bondage for your own benefit, don't make them a 'means' to your 'end'. Here God, via Moses, honors human dignity and commands the future king of Israel to do the same. But not only can the king not use his people for his benefit, he must deny decadence in all areas of life, even if it doesn't compromise the immediate health of his people (transportation and military v.16, sexuality v.17, monetary worth v.17). Further, the king must submit to the law of God: "It shall remain with him and he shall read in it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, diligently observing all the words of this law and these statutes [...]" (v.19). And then we read that he must not exalt himself above anyone else in the community of Israel (v. 20). Here we see a true portrait of biblical leadership: the Servant-King. The final verses solidify this they read: "[he must not] turn aside from the commandment, either to the right or to the left, so that he and his descendants may reign long over his kingdom Israel" (v.20). Here, and this is telling, we have an edict which is given to the king, further it is exactly the same syntax as the one given earlier in the chapter to Israelites seeking help in legal matters (v.11). So, while all of Israel must submit to the rule of the Judge/Priest, the king must submit to the rule of God's law; so in the end we come to understand not only that king and the common-folk alike are held accountable to God, but that the king is himself common-folk.

In Jesus Christ we have a King who is also simultaneously Judge and Priest, that mentioned, he is still our great Servant-King.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

A Sermon Link

Hello out there, Sorry the Deuteronomy post is late in coming. I have been spending a good chunk of the week working on a sermon, which I gave today. I gave the sermon at Maple Ridge Church in Amherst, Massachusetts. Here's a link to listen to it, if you so desire. It should be there later on tonight (Sunday evening).

By the way, the picture isn't me...just in case you were wondering. Although... nah.

Now, that's a blogging fact.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Guest Column: The Spirit of Prophecy

I asked my bud Teague to write a post for Quest. Here's the post, thanks Teague. This is good stuff. Hope everyone in the blogosphere likes it as well.

“He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day’” (Luke 24:44-46).

“For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10).


As the word hangs there in the ether, what comes to mind? A hairy man in burlap, pointing his finger and shouting? A one world government? The end of the world? For many of us, the only thing we definitely associate with prophecy is a big question mark. Yet, as the preceding scriptures show, the New Testament contains some clear statements about prophecy. Jesus taught that all scripture, prophecy included, found its fulfillment in Himself. While every prophecy has an historical fulfillment relating to the circumstances in which it is given, its full meaning is only realized in the person and work of Christ. This holds true even of prophecies whose fulfillment we still await.

The “end times” seem to be a continual sources of curiosity, intrigue, and confusion among Christians. Mountains of books—fiction and non-fiction—have been written on the subject. Movies have been made and remade. Every teacher worth his salt has weighed in. Theologians and fanatics alike have fastidiously woven scripture and world events into timelines. What has been lost in all of this is Jesus. Many have searched the prophets more diligently for the antichrist than for Christ, though the prophets themselves did not do this (1 Peter 1:10, 11). Wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, pestilence, and persecution are clues in a cosmic “who dunnit” instead of being seen for what they are: signs of His coming (Matt. 24:3-14). When Christ ceases to be the center and interpretation of the end-times, it is little wonder that there is so much confusion about them among believers.

To put this in theological terms, the chief value of prophecy lies in its Christology, not its eschatology. Jesus said the law and the prophets all hang on two commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:37-40). “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16). Prophecy has no purpose other than to draw us into Christ and to make us living sacrifices in His image (Rom. 12:1, 2). If our treatment of prophecy does not compel us to live for Jesus instead of ourselves, we may fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, but, not having love, will be nothing in the sight of God (2 Cor. 5:15; 1 Cor. 13:2).

Saturday, June 03, 2006

G.K. Chesteron Quote

Here's a qoute from the quotable G.K. Chesterton. This particular one is from his classic apologetic Orthodoxy. The book is simultaneously hilarious and insightful. I mention it here because it has particular resonations with the end of the previous post (the Lewis quote).
The Criminal we must forgive unto seventy times seven. The crime we must not forgive at all. [in Christianity] there was room for wrath and love to run wild. And the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild (102 Orthodoxy)."
If you haven't read Orthodoxy go buy it now. Read it and report back.

Deuteronomy Chapter Sixteen: Celebration

Well, we are nearly half way through the book of Deuteronomy; it has certainly turned out to be a fruitful journey in amateur exegesis, though often arduous. Also, I have to apologize for the lack of posts lately. The next few weeks I'm hoping to pump out around three posts a week, so check back often.

By the way, the picture is unleavened bread :)

Remembrance is a major theme in the Old Testament, and Deuteronomy is no exception (for a look at this in detail click here), God continually brings His people to remember the exodus from Egypt; this is so that Israel's devotion will have a reference point. This remembrance comes to a head in the celebration of Passover, "Observe the month of Abib and celebrate the Passover of the Lord your God, because in the month of Abib he brought you out of Egypt by night" (ch.16 v.1). Though the exodus from Egypt should be at the forefront of Israel's thoughts here Passover is instituted as an official celebration of remembrance.

Even their eating habits in the celebration of Passover have roots in their exodus from slavery, "Do not eat it with bread made with yeast but for seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste--so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt" (v.3). As a Christian the similarities between this text and that of 1st Corinthians 11:25-26, "and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.'" While Israel is called to remember their liberation from physical slavery with the "bread of affliction" Christians are called to remember their liberation from "the bondage of sin and death" when they partake of the bread and wine.

The Passover doesn't happen on Israel's terms; that's what we learn in verses 5 and 6, "You must not sacrifice the Passover in any town the LORD your God gives you except in the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name." These verses remind us that while God will liberate his people from bondage not only does the liberation happen on His terms but the worship does too. And really that is a good thing, left to our own devices we dig our own graves (Psalm 9:15); (for a longer meditation on this click here). Concluding the celebration of Passover there is to be a time of rest and assembly (v.8). This conclusion of Sabbath and congregation serves as a wonderful end to the week of focused remembrance.

The other two celebrations in chapter 16 are: The Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) and The Festival of Booths. Two marks of both these celebrations are: joy (v.11, 14) and inclusivity (v.11, 14). During the Feast of Weeks, a one day celebration marking the end of the wheat harvest, God commands Israel to "rejoice before the Lord your God;" not only does this show that God desires a joyous people but also the command nature of this verse implies that joy has more potential to burst out when we are "before the Lord" when our celebrating Him, in this case for providing a harvest. The same could be said for The Festival of Booths, where the Israelites slept in booths in remembrance of the transience of their desert journey, Israel is commanded to "be joyful at your feast". The second similarity these two celebrations share is one of inclusivity; but it is not inclusivity for it's own sake, no, it is the joy which God desires to spread, "And rejoice before the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name—you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, the Levites in your towns, and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows living among you" (v.11) and in verse 14 we read, "Be joyful at your Feast—you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns." God desires that not only the well off enjoy the celebration, in fact He goes out of his way to include the marginalized and the foreigner. This theme saturates the Bible and is most visible in the Kingdom of God that Jesus Christ announces as bursting from his ministry, that all tribes and tongues enjoy the Lord forever.

* * *

There is another section in chapter 16 of great importance. It's a meditation on Justice. In v. 18 we read that there should be judges appointed in the land. Immediately following v.18 we have the meditation, "Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you" (19-20). The message here is that bribery sends you down a slippery slope, the ultimate end being the decay of justice. Because of this justice must always prevail, it is for the betterment of the community. That noted, mercy too should be held up, alongside justice, as it's companion, C.S. Lewis says it well, "Mercy, detached from Justice, grows unmerciful. That is the important paradox. As there are plants which will flourish only in mountain soil, so it appears that Mercy will flower only when it grows in the crannies of the rock of Justice" (God in the Dock).

That's it for this week folks. Keep those emails and comments coming. Halfway through Deuteronomy.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Deuteronomy Chapter Fifteen: Big Change, Economic Equality

Deuteronomy chapter fifteen centers on what might be called the economics of God, the sabbatical year where all Israelite debts are cancelled. Before we dive in to this section it might be good to define "sabbatical"--a basic definition would be: Of or relating to the Sabbath as the day of rest. In this context the sabbatical year--where Israelite debts are cancelled--has a congruence with the Sabbath, day of rest, where Israel was called to lay down its heavy loads (even economic loads). Part of this sabbatical year can be seen, not only as an opportunity to relieve personal economic loads, but also societal economic loads, so we read, "Every creditor shall cancel the loan he has made to his fellow Israelite. He shall not require payment from his fellow Israelite or brother, because the LORD's time for canceling debts has been proclaimed." (Deut ch.15 v.2). So, part of v.2 can be seen as an opportunity to maintain a level of holistic equality among all Israelites, thus keeping God as the only sovereign.

As we go on we read, "However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless youif only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today." (v.4-5). What we see here is that while Israel has the resource capacity to have no poor among them (much like we do today) the manifestation of this hinges on "if only you fully obey the LORD your God." The sad reality of what will always happen in Israel is expressed in verse 11, "There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land." Even though they have the resources, they lack the moral resources, thus verses four and eleven belong together to remind us of our inherent selfishness and our overwhelming need for Christ's atoning sacrifice and the spirit's renewal of our hearts.

It is my thought--as alluded to in the above paragraph--that God, knowing the sad truth that his people will in fact not "fully obey [him]", instituted the sabbatical year as a point of renewal. Verse five is hopefull in one sense, and dim with hope in another. If God's chosen follow him, then-- among other things--there will be no poor among us. History tells us that Israel will fail, still there is the contingent "if" of verse five: "what if". Though, and in spite of the fact that we are plagued with Israel's failure throughout history, in Christ we have one who is truly faithful, in Christ the "if" becomes more than simply an "if" rather a promise (Romans 8:19-21, and let's not forget the Lord's prayer that it be "on earth as it is in Heaven"). So, on one hand we stand observing man's failure throughout history, on the other we wait in anticipation knowing the kingdom of God (with it's holistic reorchestration of society and individuals) to be a promise of new creation.

We hear this "if" in a lot of political discourse. "If" we do such and such, follow some ideal then things will go perfect. This is not a flimsy political ideal as is Marxism. No, Marxism will never work because it lacks the power to create new men; it tries to force the old man into an ideal, in which forgetting God is prerequisite and guilt is the motivation--in this light its eventual disaster is obvious. Again, in Christ the "if" of verse five is a promise--it is not contingent on our action but on our Lord's sovereign action. The Kingdom of God is a not a flimsy ideal, it is thick reality.

Along similar lines verse six reads, " For the LORD your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you." The idea here is not one of superiority or depotism but rather one of stewardship. In Isaiah ch. Two we have a similar picture, it reads:

Many peoples will come and say,
Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths."
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

In this light we see that rather than God giving Israel a promise of imperialism He entrusts them with choseness, and out of that sprouts the person of Jesus Christ and through him the kingdom of God; God's chosen our the ambassadors of true change.

The remainder of Deuteronomy Chapter fifteen is of great importance it gives imperatives to give liberally to the poor and sets down great rules for dealing with hired hands. Also it enters into more description of the requirements for sacrifice. I will stop the exegesis here though; partly because I'll be surprised if you even make it this far, but also because I am a bit tired and have a lot more to do today.

Love to hear any feedback.

The Da Vinci Code, Not Yet

A few posts ago I mentioned a "personalized outreach opportunity" regarding the Da Vinci Code and some drinks afterwards (hopefully including a good discussion). Well, to those who are wanting a post on the subject it hasn't happened yet. All the folks I was planning on going with are still interested in all that but... It just hasn't worked out yet.

I'll keep you updated...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

In Review: The Secret Message of Jesus

Last week I finished Brian Mclaren's new book The Secret Message of Jesus. My conclusions about the book itself are mixed, though the only negative thoughts are primarily personal (and in view of it's intent the positive outweighs my negative sentiments). I certainly have gained a deep respect for Brian as a missiologist. He not only knows the culture that he his hoping to reach, by the work of the spirit, but also he has written a book that is biblical, in a holistic sense.

As I mentioned in an earlier post his influences are clear. N.T. Wright and Walter Brueggemann I'd say seem to have had a very formative influence, as well as Dallas Willard. So TSMJ, to some extent, can be viewed as a popular synthesis of their works in a missiological framework. This aspect of the book is truly hospitable. Also, and I think this is of vast importance, he shares a subversive Gospel (thanks, no doubt, to N.T. Wright) that challenges empire, of every variety.

To a Christian that is both politically conflicted (think Sojourners) and also acquainted with Mclaren's influences, the primary sources if you will, TSMJ feels a little...well lite. But, while I find a it little 'lite' for my tastes, I think, in that we can see part of Mclaren's intent. Remember spiritual infants need spiritual milk. So, while it didn't conform to my desires I can say that for its intent TSMJ is a success.

Deuteronomy Chapter Fourteen: Don't Eat That and Giving to God

The first section of the Deuteronomy ch. 14 describes clean and unclean food. About this biblical scholar Tremper Longman III writes, "Perhaps certain animals were thought to conform to the norms of creation, while others were thought to blur the boundaries. For instance, fish that have "fins and scales" are true fish, while other animals in the deep that do not have them (lobsters) somehow do not seem to fit this category (Renovare Study Bible 269)." That said, what is of the most importance is that dietary laws helped distinguish Jew from gentile. The New Testament, however, declares that in Christ all outward distinctions are superficial (Galatians 3:28). What is of higher importance is that we remain in Christ, relying on the Holy Spirit--this, quite naturally, distinguishes God's chosen as a counter-culture to the world's ways. Now, if we were to rely on dietary restrictions for entrance into the Kingdom of God we would be forgetting Matthew ch. 11 v.11 where Jesus tells the group surrounding him, "What Goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean'". Also, in Acts ch. 10 the Lord gives Peter a vision of unclean animals and concludes the vision with the charge, "kill and eat." Thus solidifying the Jesus' message in Matthew.

* * *

The section of Deut. 14 is about tithing. It is here, among other places in the Old Testament, where we receive the distinction of 10% (ch.15 v.22) of our income should be poured back out to God's work. While this frustrates our thoroughly western sense of ownership and property it serves as a high reminder that God has allowed us to receive what we have--so in a real sense--it is already his. In view of this tithing only 10% is more God accommodating us, more than us accommodating God. Also, it is a fundamentally healthy because it prevents us from hoarding and falling into the temptation of decandence.

Moses charges Israel to give the tithe "in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always" (14:23). What we come to understand from this is that our offerings are on God's terms, not only does he provide the means for us and sets the amount that we should give back to him, but also he decides where it all happens. Moses tells us that this all happens so that, we "may learn to revere the Lord". We learn to worship when we let God decide.

But God isn't a cold slavemaster, or a distant despot, the following verse tells us that if a family is far away from the place God chooses then they shouldn't be burdened by having to carry an animal all the way with them. Find an animal when you get there, but don't steal it, buy it (v. 24). God cares about us, he doesn't want us burdened--the journey there to worship is the greatest importance.

Lastly, there is a social justice component to tithing. Though this might be obvious, since the call is to give to God's kingdom. It, of course, is important to point out. First, we read that the Levites (the priestly tribe), whose inheritance is the Lord himself (Num ch.18 v.20, ch.26 v.22 Deut. ch.10 v.9). After stating the provisions for the Levites the text opens up to embrace "the aliens, fatherless and the widows" (v.29). Israel is called to give to them out of their supply (v.28) so that they "may come and eat and be satisfied" (v.29). It is important to note that this isn't just forced service project, this wide-armed, welcoming care that is extended to the marginalized ("least of these") and it is worship to the core.

Question: Does this have implications for the current immigration issue?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Deuteronomy Chapter Thirteen: Troublesome Yeast

History tells us that in pivotal times (socially, economically, religiously) the results of inconstancy are heightened. Think of any revolution...for its success it takes the body of revolutionaries to have a unified vision. Any compromise in that singular vision and the revolution itself is compromised. Paul says it this way, "Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast —as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed" 1st Corinthians ch.5 v.6-7). Paul boldly tells the young Corinthian church that your acceptance of the "old yeast" is like allowing a deadly pathogen free reign in your body, it's like using bad yeast to make bread.

There is no surprise that the book of Deuteronomy agrees with Paul on this matter. Before we go on though we should review the context of Deuteronomy. Israel is on the verge of the "Promised Land" there are heightened expectations. It'd be safe to say that Israel is tired, hungry, and anxious. With the long journey, nearly finished, as it's backdrop, God uses Moses to convey his sovereign message. The message is filled with blessings and curses (ch. 11 v.26-32), commandments (ch. 5), and calls to remembering times of grace and salvation (ch.4 v.10, ch. 8). To add to this they are on the banks of the river Jordan, their only separation from the promise*.

That is the context of Deuteronomy chapter 13, where we read about the deceiving prophet, "If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder [and it takes place] and [then] he says 'let us follow other gods' [...] you must not listen to the words of that prophet [...] (ch.13 v.1-5). The hinge of this first section of Deuteronomy ch. 13 turns in v.3-4 where we read, "The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery; he has tried to turn you from the way the Lord your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you." The message is clear God allows testing to happen; testing creates an opportunity to grow in love for God. But God gives freedom enough to avoid his grace--to some extent--the deceiving prophet is proof enough for that.

The decisiveness of this "purg[ing]" is expressed v.6-8, where we read that the deceiver is to be put to death, not only that though but even if it is an intimate friend or relative. This obviously is not a 'timeless' law, but it does bare some valuable wisdom. Common reasoning tells us that intimacy yields an understanding that is void of judgmental sentiments, that's true, but the unfortunate by-product is a lack of objectivity in the face of harmful sin (remember a little yeast works through the whole dough). It is easy to demonize the judgment but in doing so we fail to remember that God works within history. In Israel's historical context there was nothing immoral about this, especially given Israel's pivotal place before and after settling in the Promised Land. In fact this judgment serves to protect Israel from the true evil of sacrificing children to idols (ch.12 v.31) which apparently was common among the areas pagan worship. In this way God keeps His people in relationship with Him, and preserves the livelihood of His people continuing the theme of 'mutual flourishing'. Also, in v.14 Israel is charged to "inquire, probe, and investigate" so that alleged claims of apostasy are verified and tested--this is not an inquisition, nor a Salem witch trial.

In verses 12 to 17 we read that a whole area, or town, is to be found guilty if "they are led astray" (v.13). This illustrates the biblical truth of all sin being both personal and corporate. For instance a culture's sin takes root in the people of the culture--it is both the culture and the people of the culture that are responsible. So the towns that are led astray are all together guilty because they chose the immediacy of pagan worship rather than the prolonging favor of the Lord. These settlements are to be fully devoted to God by destroying them, and not rebuilding them. This destruction, or testimony of the final end of sin, is a sad opposite to the covental watchtowers that Israel's patriarchs built to remember covenants (Gen ch.39 v.48-49, there are many others though I can't remember them currently).

We end this chapter not with more curse, or judgment, but rather the heart of covenant, "[if you follow God He] will have compassion on you, and increase your numbers, as he promised"(ch.13 v.17). When reading texts that challenge our post-modern and western sentiments let's remember that God is not contained in any culture or time period, nor are his covenants.

*This could be read as a type, as we Christians enter into the promise of Christ by descending into the waters of baptism similarly the Israelites descend into the river Jordan before entering into the Promised Land.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Besides Eat This Book I'm Reading

On top of Eugene Peterson's Eat This Book, which I am reading with the other contributor to this blog, I am reading Brian Mclaren's new book The Secret Message of Jesus. W Publishing was kind enough to give me two free copies of the book, along with 20 chapter samplers (which will hopefully be used to help with a word of mouth campaign). I am almost done with the book and from what I've read I'd say that it is a good introduction to voices like N.T. Wright and Dallas Willard. If you haven't read them check it out, if you have then you might find yourself reading a popularized version of their work. However the real treasure of the book is Mclaren's "lack of salesmanship" as Donald Miller says on the back. For the non-Christian bent out of shape because of our current political situation, or for other various reasons, this is a great and fresh intro to the subversive message of the Bible. I pray it appetizes their heart.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Eat this Book

Bryan and I are reading Eat This Book, a new book by Eugene Peterson about the "art of spiritual reading." He uses the metaphor of eating to give meaning to his phrase "spiritual reading." To put it simply, Peterson is proclaiming that the Bible is a book to be "eaten" and acted out, rather than reduced to information. I am excited to see how to do that. Wow, what a concept- living out what we read in scripture! Here is a quote that speaks to the smorgasboard, do it yourself evangelical church we live with today:
We don't form our personal spiritual lives out of a random assemblage of favorite texts in combination with individual circumstances; we are formed by the Holy Spirit in accordance with the text of the Holy Scripture"
( Peterson, Eat This Book, p. 15).

How often do we all do this- wrestle control from the author of our faith and take creative license with the life he has given us?

A Long Obedience Quote

I am still working on the Deuteronomy post, perhaps in a few days. In the meantime though I hope to share some invaluble quotes from books I have been going through. The first is from Eugene Peterson's A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.
A Christian who has David in his bones, Jeremiah in his bloodstream, Paul in his fingertips and Christ in his heart will know how much and how little value to put on his own momentary feelings and the experience of the past week.
Wise words indeed. After finishing this morning I can whole-heartedly recommend it. While reading it I am sure you'll find, as I did, someone who is both scholar and pastor, poet and theologian

Friday, April 28, 2006

Personalized Outreach or The Da Vinci Code Again

Usually evangelical outreachs make me want to puke--alright that might be an overstatement but you know the type of thing I'm referring to. The big events where there is a magic show for twenty minutes and then the magician pulls a Gospel tract out of hat and shares the message of salvation as quickly as possible. I mean I am all for people preaching Jesus but lots of times this bait and switch evangelism just ends in confusion.

I was talking to a friend the other day about that movie The Da Vinci Code (I know you're probably tired of hearing about it) but we agreed that it would actually serve as a great opportunity to share about Jesus, and to answer previously unfielded questions regarding other 'faith' topics. So, I am going to enlist, this May 22nd I plan on taking some friends (I am guessing it will be an assortment: Christians and otherwise) to the movie. After the movie I hope to take them out and for a beer.

So this is my personal 'outreach event' and because it's personalized (me with some close friends) and the movie isn't 'Christian' I am all the more interested to see what happens. Try it out with me, I'll blog about the results and you can send some comments.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Deuteronomy Chapter Twelve: Where Does the Help Come From?

If Gallup were to take a poll on places in nature people think are 'spiritual' I am sure that mountains would rank high on the results. They are awe-inspiring in their shear immensity, they even point upward, to heaven, reason tells us. This reasoning is exactly what we find in the Promised Land, before the Israelites settle there. "You must demolish completely all the places where the nations whom you are about to dispossess served their gods, on the mountain heights, on the hills, and under every spreading tree," we read in ch.12 v.2--the message is that while man thinks that spiritual connectedness happens on a mountain God says worship happens where people gather in his name, "God [will choose the place] and put his name there" (ch.12 v.5).

The positions are dichotomous, man uses his reason to find a place(s) to be spiritually in tune while God creates a location where his name will be the focus (again v.5) rather than a place. While seeking out God in this way our journey has resonations with the psalmist, "I lift my eyes up to the hills--where does my help come from? / My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth (Psalm 121). What the Psalmist knew was that the pagan worship that happened on the hills and mountains was marbles and bubble gum to the Lord who made those hills.

God's call is for his people to "seek the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes as his habitation to put his name there. You shall go there, bringing your [sacrifices]" (v.5-6). The idea is that this one place, where God's name will be stamped, will signify--more than a place to get good spiritual-antenna reception--but a space that offers Israel an opportunity to be unified, together, face to face, and under the name YHWH. Also, I like that God calls Israel to "seek the place"; this maintains his sovereignty as the judge while leading Israel, and us, into participation with him who was, is, and is to come.

Finally, the end of chapter 12 describes the depravity which some pagan worship practices had sunk to. We read, "do not inquire: 'How did these nations worship their gods? I also want to do the same.' You must not do the same for the Lord your God, because every abhorrent thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods. They would even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods" (v.31). This chilling passage bares witness to what happens when "reason" is let loose to do the business of faith. The human faculty of reason is good, surely it is God gave it to us, but the spiritual gift of faith must renew it before it attends to the spiritual things. Yet, these drastic spiritual perversions we see in Deuteronomy twelve will continue since man cannot escape the void in him that screams for God, thus "reason" will scramble, attempting anything to get a 'right' spiritual connection--as Deuteronomy ch.12 tells us: spiritualizing creation (v.2) and destroying it (v. 31) are signs of the fatal turn.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Da Vinci Code: Escaping Authority?

There is lots of uproar, in blogs and sermons, about the Da Vinci Code movie--coming out May 22nd. Here are a few links to different evangelical perspectives: Christian History Mag, Christianity Today, Culture Watch, Brian Godawa (screen writer for To End All Wars)--also here is a link to a post by Dick Staub (Culture Watch) regarding the thoughts of Rowan Williams', the Archbishop of Canterbury.

All this fascination with 'religious secrets' and whatnot seems to be man's ongoing and infamous attempt to escape authority. But by doing this they merely exchange one authority for another, that of the God for a skeptic and highly individualistic culture. I think the words of Lewis are helpful, "A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life" (64 Lewis). Lewis' idea is that authority is inescapable, it's the truth. Christians shouldn't be surprised by the success of The Da Vinci Code; the cross is a stumbling block and it's easier to have faith in godless myths and wives' tales ( 1 Tim. ch.4 v.7) then to bow to reality, that of the crucified and risen Lord.

However, our call is to humble--knowing how much grace we've been given. Being vocally upset with people who don't know Christ, is like punching a blind man for not using a cross walk--better to walk with them.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Deuteronomy Chapter Eleven: If and Then

In the first section of ch.11 we read a long, but still summarized list, of God's sovereign action on Israel's behalf, now usually when people remind us of something, or multiple things, that they have done on our behalf we only have to wait a few seconds before they ask something they want of us; this isn't the case with God--since he is complete in and of himself--so in Deuteronomy (ch.11 v.3-7) something else must be going on. And that is in fact the case, the reason Moses shares these memories of God's sovereign action is so that Israel will reminded that God's sovereign action is not a memory, that they are covenant people. So, it makes sense that we hear the familiar plea (v. 1, 8) that Israel follow the law of the covenant. This charge is a call for Israel to be covenant people and part of being covenant people is faithfulness, both on the part of the Israelites and also on God's. It is because the Israelites are covenant people that they will continue to see God's sovereign action among them. And that is expressed well in the second section of v.8 and on into v.9, "so that you may have the strength to go in and take over the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, and so that you may live long in the land that the LORD swore to your forefathers to give to them and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey." We have heard that Israel's covenant faithfulness is part and parcel with them living "long in the land [...] flowing with milk and honey," but we haven't heard the first part before, "so that you may have strength to go in and take over the land." What we can learn from this new statement is that Israel will have the "strength" to conquer, in part because of their covenant faithfulness--Israel having a deep understanding of it's identity as the sovereign God's people--but more so Israel's strength will come from the knowledge that it is the Lord that has already gone before them.

This presents Israel's covenant relationship with God as an "if, then" relationship. If Israel heeds God's commands then they will receive blessing. I must admit this offends my theological sensibilities (a good thing for the Bible to do); I tend to think of God's inevitable overarching plan and this "if, then" thing just seems to complicate matters. But a fuller view shows that this "if, then" element is fundamental to covenant relationship. God desires, and of course by his grace, that we choose him by putting aside the often immediate pleasures of sin for the full pleasure of himself and his blessings. Further, this "if, then" bit isn't my own theological creation; the "if, then" relationship is described in v.13, faithfulness yields good crops (v.13-14). And in v.22 where out of covenant faithfulness sprouts more land. While the blessings are grand the curse is described in v.16-17: "Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. Then the LORD's anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the LORD is giving you."

The chapter ends acknowledging the full reality of covenant, that is both blessing and curse. Moses tells Israel, and us, that both blessings and the curses be read from two different mountains (v.29) vividly showing the high stakes of covenant. We, as Christians, have been, "blessed [...] in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ" (Eph 1:3). That is, our role in covenant relationship is not to be mercenaries*, expecting blessings because of our great service; no we are called to serve Christ out of love for the grace he has lavished on us by separating us from our sins and unifying himself with our hearts.

*The Mercenary and Servant distinction is due to John Piper, click this link for the sermon that it comes from.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Deuteronomy Ten: Fear the Lord

I have written a section concentrating on Deuteronomy Ten's meditation on fearing God. In doing this I didn't intend to belittle the rest of the text, I merely felt there would be plenty of writing material while just writing about the fear of the Lord.

The fear of the Lord, is an odd phrase for us twentieth century westerners. We are used to fearing people, dogs, maybe high heights, but certainly not God! The richest theological section of Deuteronomy ten is a meditation on that very thing: the fear of the Lord. But, for the sake of understanding the movements in the narrative we will enter just before. Moses tells the Israelites, "It was not his will to destroy you," recalling the positive end to God's initial frustration with his "stiff-necked people" (Exodus ch.33 v.1-6). The message is of hope not of judgment, still Moses charges the Israelites to "fear the Lord" (v.12). This, as we see when we read on, is a call to devoted acknowledgment, "fear the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and your soul" (v.12). Here we see a description of what fearing the Lord looks like in practice, "walk in his ways, to love him, to serve [God]." If we don't "walk in his ways," we end up the hostage of lesser destructive fears: death, other people, snakes, the list goes on. Better to take hold of what Jesus says in Luke, "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him" (Luke 12:4-5).

"To the Lord God belongs the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it" (v.14), Here Moses gives us a portrait of God's sovereignty, an image like this is given to us so that we can be drawn into a deeper understanding of God's complete awesomeness; this wisdom inspires the fear of the Lord. But the very next verse is a declaration of God's specific love and grace, "Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today" (v.15). Here, in the last two verses we see a summarized picture of God; he is simultaneously sovereign, and intimately involved in every intricacy of life here on earth, he is "mighty and awesome" and "He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing" (v.17,18). It is because of this dual nature of God that he charges Israel, and us, to "circumcise [our] hearts" (v.16). Circumcision was a sign of the covenant God made with the Israelites; God's true desire is that the sign of covenant faithfulness be written on their hearts.

Throughout Deuteronomy Israel is on the verge of crossing the Jordan, they could nearly see into the promised land, but instead of focusing on the great and wild joys that they will have, Moses continually leads them to God. "Fear the Lord" he tells them--don't focus on yourself we hear, follow him. This is what fearing God is about--it is to look both joy and sorrow dead in the eye and remember that God's sovereignty is ineffable and his love is most intimate.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Augustine Hears an Apologist and I Change My Mind

I can remember thinking, even recently, that Christian apologists were bunch of tighty-whitey wearing grown up home-school kids. I know it's a caricature but that was the brand I sizzled on the realm of Apologetics. I thought that we as Christians should be more interested in sharing the love of Jesus with the world, if you go around arguing with people you sure aren't loving them, are you? Now I understand the false dichotomy I had set up. Sharing the love of Jesus can often take the form of sharing well-thought out reasons to why I believe in Christ in the first place. Surely there are some 'apologists' that seem to have forgotten that Jesus didn't die win a logical argument but there are just as many Christians who are bashful about sharing Jesus, under the guise of compassion.

I think all this crystallized while reading St. Augustine's Confessions. A third of the way through the book Augustine still isn't Christian and he reflecting on how he ended up where he did. He writes,
Even before I left Carthage I had listened to the speeches of a man named Elipidus, who used to join in open controversy with the Manichees, and I had been impressed when he put forward arguments from scripture which were not easy to demolish (105 Penguin).

Elipidus might not control a large part of Augustine's narrative but Augustine was affected by the great gravity of Elipidus' apologetic. After reading that section in the Confessions I saw that apologetics weren't just some invention of 'modernism', nor an expression of Christian hubris, but rather a cogent voice of faithfulness to our Lord in a culture that often runs counter to the cross.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Flannery O'Connor and Holy Week

I was at the Salvation Army yesterday; after flipping through the old denims and weird collared shirts (you know what I'm talking about) I made my way to the book shelf and lo and behold I found a gem. It was Flannery O'Connor's collected works and it was a $1.49--leave it to some New Englander to give away such a collection. For those who don't know her well, well you should, she has been heralded by everyone from the likes of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus to your average American Lit. Professor. What I've been drawn to now, even more than her short stories, are her insightful essays where, among other things, she examines the role of the Christian writer in relation to various groups (the south, the Church, and other writers). Her voice, though initially shocking, gives a loud prophetic witness to state of man apart from Christ.

Here's a quote from her famous essay "The Grotesque in Southern Fiction":
There is something in us, as story-tellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemtive act, that demands that what falls at least a chance to be restored. The reader of today looks for this motion, and rightly so, but what he has forgotten is the cost of it. His sense of evil is diluted or lacking altogether and so he has forgotten the price of restoration. When he reads a novel, he wants either his senses tormented or his spirits raised. He wants to be transported, instantly either to a mock damnation or a mock innocence.

Flannery hits the nail on the head; this holy week let's let our hearts re-learn the "cost" of "the redemptive act" after all, the "cost" of redemption is the crux of our faith.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Warning Satire: Build a Virtual Church

Do you have what it takes to be a Christian leader? Now you can skip the process of seeking out God's call; just buy this Megachurch game and you'll find out for sure if you have what it takes!!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Deuteronomy Chapter Nine: Preserving Promise

You've heard it said; until recently in Baseball it was, "Who can beat the Yankees;" in the realm of Computers it might be, "Who can stand up to Microsoft," and in international politics it is (sigh),"Who can compare with the United States." Apparently, a popular phrase of the ancient near-east was, "You have heard it said of them, 'Who can stand up the Anakim?'" (v.3). We might tremble with awe in contemplating the power of sports teams and nations but what we learn is that, if our attitude is "Who can stand up to..." we are forgetting the sovereign authority of God (Deut ch. 7 v.17). Thus the response to the ancient cultural maxim "who can stand up to the Anakim" is that God can, and will (v.3).

To go on, God's defeat of the inhabitants of Canaan will not be an arbitrary act, nor will it serve merely as God's announcement that his power is greater than theirs. No, while the Israelites conquest will definitely announce God's power, more importantly it will serve as the simultaneous sounding of judgment and promise. In verses four through six there is a repetition of two statements, the two are summed up well in verse five: "It is not because of your righteousness that the Lord has brought me into occupy this land; it is rather because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is dispossessing them before you." What we hear, quite clearly in this passage, is that Israel is not the Lord's worker therefore receiving due wages (Rom. 4:4). Israel receives the promised land because of grace, not because of their righteousness. In fact, in verse six we stop hearing about the wickedness of Canaan and instead hear only about Israel's faithlessness--so they have no reason to boast.

Then from verse six to twenty-four we hear vivid descriptions of how Israel has been "rebellious against the Lord" (v.7). The height of their rebelliousness takes place, ironically, while Moses is hearing from the Lord and receiving the Ten Commandments. Moses walks down the mountains and finds all of Israel involved in worshipping a golden calf. Moses then destroys the sinful object by burning it with fire, crushing it, and then "grinding it thoroughly , until it was reduced to dust," (v.21)*. Needless to say, Israel is guilty just as all other nations and people are.

So if we are all guilty, people and nations alike, why was Israel preserved while the Canaanites suffered judgment? Before that question is answered it's important to understand that oftentimes God will bring judgment against even his chosen people because of their sinfulness (the exile is one major example). But back to the original question: why not Israel here, if they are in fact rebellious? The answer is given to us in the last section of chapter nine. Here we read that Moses lies "prostrate" for forty days and forty nights interceding for Israel, so that God would not destroy Israel. He even reasons with God, saying that to destroy Israel would be to forget the "Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" (v. 27); secondly Moses reasons that God's name would be trampled by the pagans if he doesn't see the Israelites into the Promised Land. So Moses gives God two reasons to preserve Israel: (1) because of covenant, (2) and because of God's own name and reputation. Here many people would question God as truly sovereign because how can Moses 'reason' with an all-knowing sovereign God? I personally believe that God's plan was always to preserve them, and not to destroy them, therefore keeping the covenant and bringing glory to his name. The reason, I feel, God put the question to Moses: "should I destroy them?" was to challenge Moses to step up as God's appointed leader of the Israelites. If we understand this section of Deuteronomy in this light we see a sovereign God desiring that Israel's appointed leader develop a leader's heart by crying out for those he has been given to lead, here God's sovereign authority is never put into doubt.

*As an aside Moses here foreshadows Christ by: (1) serving as an intercessor between God and man, (2) and by ridding Israel of the manifestation of their sinfulness (the difference between Moses and Christ being that while Moses destroyed the manifestation of their sin Christ destroys the root of our sin by offering a sacrifice once for all time (Heb. ch. 9 v.23-28)

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Deuteronomy Chapter Eight: From Decadence to Decay

First, thanks to Matt for giving a solid post, articulate and well-crafted. Thanks. If anyone out there in the blogosphere thinks Matt should continue with me on this Exegetical journey through Deuteronomy give him some encouragement, by way of a comment on his last post.

If anyone knows a good picture for this post, let me know.

Now on to Chapter Nine & From Decadence to Decay.

At the height of a fruit's ripening process the last thing we might think would be that soon it will decay and be worthless. We might have this knowledge after seeing the process repeat many times but for someone who hasn't seen fruit go bad, it would seem that there would be no way to posit the completely 'other' end--that it's decay would follow it's decadence. Israel, never having seen affluence, does not stand at a vantage point where it can understand decadence and self-exaltation as the seeds of demise, however, God--via Moses--warns them, "Do not say about yourself, 'My power and my might have gotten me this wealth.' But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth [...]" ( v.17-18), and then, "if you forget the Lord your God and follow other gods to serve and worship them, I solemnly warn you today you shall surely perish" (v.19). To continue with the horticultural metaphor, if Israel "forgets" that all things come from God they are akin to a fruit falling from the vine; they will ripen quicker but they will perish quicker too. The lesson that Israel needs to learn is what Jesus tells his disciples in the book of John, "apart from me you can do nothing" (ch. 15 v.5).

Moses tells Israel that they should, "Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years [...]" (v. 2). We learn that God brought them the "long way" through the desert to "humble" and "test" them (v.2). The method God used to humble them was "by feeding [them] manna, with which you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord" (v.3). If Israel remembers this upon reaching the Promised Land they will never "exalt themselves" when they are at rest (v. 12-14). So Israel is called to a holy remembrance which is two-fold: (1) they must remember their God, (2) they must remember their humble beginnings so that they may see come to grips with the timeless truth that says, 'success, as the Bible sees it, is not a product of human ingenuity or force but humble faithfulness'. Both take root in the corporate acknowledgment that the Lord is sovereign and that he provides, or that he is the vine and we are the branches.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Deuteronomy 7: Mysterious Grace

The conquest of Canaan is simultaneously an act of great love, and an act of great judgment by God. Great love on behalf of his chosen people, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, a land of great influence in the region, and a land that would be theirs for generations to come. There would be great judgment on the Canaanites, the seven peoples greater and stronger than Israel; their perverse fertility religions had built up the wrath of God, which would soon be poured out through His instrument Israel. Great mercy would be shown to Israel, despite their wandering and whining, by giving them the land, taking it from the current residents. In the Bible, and by their nature, the grace and mercy of God are always undeserved. Conversely, in the Bible, the judgment of God is always deserved. Thus we can say that although undeserving, God blessed his chosen people, and because the Canaanites were deserving of wrath, he cursed them. What should make us wince when we read Deuteronomy 7 is not our human sense of justice being violated, but an awareness of our sinfulness like the Canaanite, and an awareness of how undeserving we are like an Israelite.

Even though we get a little sensitive about our “God of love” being so judgmental, his greatest act of love was an act of judgment. Where else do we see an act of great love and of great judgment in the Bible? At the cross we have the most loving event of all time, and also the worst, most unfair event of all time. In the judgment of God upon Jesus, we have life. In 1st Corinthians 5:21, it illustrates this great exchange and juxtaposition of judgment and love: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The central event of salvation was the most unfair, inhumane event of all time.

Lest we minimize the history of Israel and God’s dealings with her to allegory and illustrations, let’s think about the results of the conquest of Canaan. First of all, the Israelites were successful in occupying the land, but they did not exterminate the Canaanites. To be sure, many were killed, but also many were dispersed, and some even intermarried with Israelites. Let us not forget Rahab, the Canaanite woman from Jericho who would be part of the line of Jesus. Secondly, in God’s mysterious ways of grace, we see Jesus in the gospels, consorting with Samaritans (Hebrew-Canaanite mix), and going to the Decapolis, at that time known as the “land of the seven” according to Jewish tradition. In a land considered evil, he cast out a legion of demons and set a man free, and then sent him to tell people what God had done for him. (For more on the Decapolis, see here. Jesus showed his disciples what the kingdom would be like. It would be much different than a tiny, sliver of a nation-state; they would bring his kingdom to the world. The kingdom would encompass the entire globe and take root in all the cultures and peoples of the earth.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

In Process: St. Augustine's Confessions

I am currently reading through St. Augustine's Confessions with the other formal Quest member. In it Augustine makes some brilliant observations about his coming to faith, here is one thought he had upon beginning to read the Bible which had particular resonations with me.

"So I made up my mind to examine the holy scriptures and see what kind of books they were. I discovered something that was at once beyond the understanding of the proud and hidden from the eyes of children. Its gait was humble, but the heights it reached were sublime" (pg. 60 Penguin or 3:5).

For more info on Augustine click here for a good Wikipedia article.

What's the Difference II: Sin and Suffering

In the early part of December I wrote a post titled "What's the Difference: An Authentic Look at World Faiths". Since then I have been thinking a bit about how different faiths answer the fundamental problems of our world. What do they say is at the root of war, famine, family struggles, etc. Being a Christian and having a B.A. in religious studies this has served to be an enriching project.

If you have questions you can either email them to me (check profile) or write a comment. Also, this is an editorial of sorts because after stating the truth claims of Christianity and Buddhism I follow them to what I see as the logical end, so keep that in mind. I should also say that if I come across as a bit of a hard-liner it is only in the effort to share truth. I have Buddhist friends (it's hard not to have them in Western Massachusetts) and we hang out often. And, oh yeah, I am still waiting for Matt to put his Deuteronomy post up--until then Deuteronomy ch.8 will have to wait. But, without further ado: What's the Difference II: Sin and Suffering.

Underlying all Christian beliefs is the most prominent Christian truth claim, namely Jesus death and resurrection, and one reason for it--as Christianity states--is sin. Sin is the fundamental state of all humans before God brings us into a relationship with himself, the root of it is in man's first assertion of self-dependence; since then sin has been passed down like a bad family heirloom all the way into our current historical context. Human sin, says Christianity, is responsible for wars, murders, theft, divorce, pollution, pretty much most of what we call crime. If sin is the problem, and as stated above Jesus Christ's death and resurrection is the solution, the road connecting the two is the word we hate: repentance. Repentance is literally to "turn away" from sin and turn towards God.

Buddhism, however, sees the problem as "suffering" (dukkha). The first of the Four Noble Truths is roughly: "all of life involves suffering". The second is that "suffering is the result of desire". The suffering and the problems of the world (see above) are the result of desire, accd. to Buddhism. Consequently, the solution to the problem of suffering is non-attachment, that we kick desire out like an unruly house guest. For Buddhism the solution is practiced through a variety of ways, traditionally it was monastic ascetism but for many western Buddhists meditation is a 'just as good' method of ridding one's attachment, and then suffering.

The difference between the two is vast. While Buddhism says that suffering is the major problem of the world Christianity says that suffering is the direct result of sin. The Christian says that while sin exists on this earth there will always be suffering. In so doing, Christianity sees the fundamental problem of the world not as suffering but as the cause of suffering, namely sin. The call to all humans then is to repent of both personal and corporate sin, only then will suffering begin to disappear as God's Kingdom and an New Creation take root in its place. Because Buddhism sees suffering as the main problem with the world, from a Christian perspective, it will never rid suffering from the world. The Buddhist quest to purge the soul of desire may be religiously athletic but in the end the world will still be messed up because sin is not addressed and Buddhists will be lacking the desire to really help uproot the problem at its root: sin. Thus, for the Christian, the purgation of desire is not a corrective to the world's fundamental problem. Further the best of Buddhist efforts to 'cure' the world end only in therapy, rather than repentance. This is so because if the problem is suffering then the best we can do is escape it and/or become insulated from it, rather than admitting that we are more often the catalyst for suffering, or to put it in Christian terms: that apart from Christ's redemptive work we are sinful.

Christians meanwhile by addressing the problem at its root and acknowledging that they are themselves the problem become renewed in Christ, by his death and resurrection, thus having renewed desire (rather than the Buddhist ideal of an absence of desire) to help usher in God's kingdom where there will be no death or mourning (Rev. 21:4) because the tree of sin will have been taken up by it's root, rather than clipping the branch of suffering off only for it grow back.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Emergent/Missional Church and ReformTheology

Have you been following the heated dialogue between reform theology people and emergent church people? (If not, it's the in thing--get with it!) Well, Andrew Jones has written an interesting post on the subject.

Click the link on the title, if you're interested.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Deuteronomy Chapter Seven: Justice and Election

This is a longer post than normal, even for the Deuteronomy series. If you have time read it all the way through, or come back to it. There should be a second part by Matt, the other Quest member, hopefully that will be soon (hi Matt!).

All comments are welcome.

Promises of bloodshed, war and total savagery, that might be the first impression of Deuteronomy chapter seven for a person looking from without; especially so if a person comes to the Bible presupposing it as a useless, or even horrible book. But this isn't the entire case, Deuteronomy chapter seven, understood in its context, is a loudspeaker giving voice to God's elective love and holy justice. I'll look at these two parts of the story somewhat more systematically in this post, so to provide a very clear picture of what, I see, as the heart of chapter seven.

First, I should say that the two prominent points of Deut. 7 (elective love and holy justice) all hinge on God as the initiator, sustainer, finisher. What this means is that God is the "prime mover"--to borrow an Aristotelian phrase. God sets Israel's conquest of the promised land into being and opens opportunities for them to receive ownership of the promised land. Therefore everything that Israel apparently accomplishes, they in fact do not; Israel, in the Old Testament, is always provided for in times of provision and punished in times of exile. In the OT Israel and God have a Parent/Infant relationship. This is often so clear, throughout the Bible, that we often gloss over it, but if we read carefully we understand that it is "when the Lord God brings [Israel] into the land [...] he clears away many nations before you" (ch.7 v.1); it is God who "brings" and "clears". There are many other verses, in ch. 7 alone, that indicate God as the sole provider for Israel; for the sake of time though I will trust this first verse will suffice.

We have a great window into understanding God's elective love when we read in v.7, "It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you. For you were the fewest of all peoples. What we see here is that God chose a nation that was puny in comparison to Egypt and the Canaanites (the inhabitants of the promised land). We rightly infer a few things here, God's omnipotence allows him to even use the weakest people group in accomplishing his plan, he therefore receives all the more glory. But also, we see God's love for a marginalized people group along with his desire to see them to a stable future, securing them, if they continue to follow him, in a good land (v.8-9, v.12-15). To step on a few toes, Israel is the greatest 'affrimative action' project ever put into motion: a damaged and hurt people group placed in a position of stability by grace.

In Deut. 7 holy justice is seen through God's promise of Israel's victory. When we read in v.2, "[...] and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, there you must utterly destroy them," we become instantly outraged, "What?! That isn't the God I know. I thought God was only about love? Surely this isn't love." we say. The response to our first reaction should always be a quest for a deeper level of understanding. Only then can we begin to see that if a totally righteous God declares his justice against an evil nation (ch.9 v.5), Christians must as assume that God is acting justly. Just as the man firmly rooted on this earth can never grasp the gravitational pull of the sun because of his detachment from it, us, in our sinfulness often forget the gravity of our sin, we focus on the 'here and now' of daily interactions. If we were to understand the grievances we cause each other and God we would begin to see that it is only by grace that we continue living in the first place. NC State Univ. Professor John Bowker writes, "There is no 'might is right' view of God in the Hebrew Bible: war is always a judicial business [...] Indeed God never fought on Israel's side at all. The question was always whether Israel was about to fight on God's side, the side of justice" (88 The Complete Bible Handbook). Then Bowker writes, "If the reason for war is justice, then its aim is peace" (89). So we see that peace is the ultimate aim of God's heart, but justice cannot be skirted in the acheivement of peace. So God decides to take Israel out of the pit of Egypt and crown them with compassion because he loves and has chosen Israel (election) but also because he desires that justice take place in Canaan (ch.9 v.5).

But this part of the post cannot end here, for what would that mean about our present situation, our historical context. Is war right? Who decides who deserves justice? Here we must understand that God in Deut. ch.7 is working in culture; since God desires to bless Israel with the promised land it must be achieved within an ancient near-eastern historical context, anything else and the unfolding fabric of God's sovereign story would be disturbed. We might continue cringing, while looking through the stylish eye-glasses of our post-enlightenment context, but in the end all our cringing will do us no good, simply put, this was how land was exchanged; if two parties desired it warfare happened, and warfare was common. Now though God has poured out his complete justice on the cross, so that mercy flourishes like a ripe fruit for those who turn away from themselves and enter into covenant with Jesus Christ.