Tuesday, September 11, 2007

some thoughts on worship

I've been reflecting for a few weeks on two passages of Scripture having to do with worship:

Colossians 3:15-17 (NIV)
(15) Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
(16) Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
(17) And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I am struck by how each verse in this section focuses on Christ; how heart-felt gratitude is at the center of worship; how worship is the "rule of peace"; how worship involves our teaching and singing.

Psalm 89:15-17 (NIV)
(15) Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O LORD.
(16) They rejoice in your name all day long; they exult in your righteousness.
(17) For you are their glory and strength, and by your favor you exalt our horn.

With this text I am struck that worship is something I can learn and grow in. It is practicing his presence, delighting in who he is and his righteousness freely given. By his grace and favor our strength is exalted.

Monday, July 30, 2007

What is hope?

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. (Eph 1:17-21 NIV)

The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. (Heb 7:18-19 NIV)

I stumbled over the idea of hope today. I was reading Paul's prayer in Ephesians 1, but couldn't get my mind and heart past the "hope to which he has called you." Instead of the encouragement I was "hoping" for, I felt something else. At first I felt a great emptiness, then despair and anger. What hope is there?

It might be my commitment to the Old Way of finding hope in second things like financial security, physical health, an exciting marriage and obedient kids. Maybe I'm despairing of that kind of hope. But nothing has yet (consistently) taken it's place; The "better hope" of drawing near to God (what Crabb calls the New Way) that the second text mentions is still too often ambiguous and misty.

Honestly, what good is drawing near to God when your life is falling apart? He doesn't promise to change things or make things better. Why do it?

I guess I don't understand intimacy very well.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

I believe in the Church?

My relationship with my local church and The Church universal is an act of faith. I have recently discovered, with sadness, that I am on the outside looking in when it comes to God working in and through the church. I have lost almost all heart that I have a place in the church, I have lost all desire to look for it anymore. Even when invitations are extended to me to "find my place" I am indifferent.

I don't know what I expect from the church.

I have also begun to realize, again with great sadness, how judgmental and critical I am of the church and the individuals within it. It seems I have always carried around issues with church that I've avoided dealing with by finding a "better" one. Well, now that I can't imagine anything better, I am stuck; forced to deal with my sinful self-protection that must eventually malign others to stay safe.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Eldredge on the "Law of Linearity"

This reading from Eldredge & Curtis' "The Sacred Romance" relates well to recent reflections from my readings from Crabb:

The Religious Man or Woman is a popular story option in which we try to reduce the wildness of life by constructing a system of promises and rewards, a contract that will obligate God to grant us exemption from the Arrows. It really doesn’t matter what the particular group bargain is—doctrinal adherence, moral living, or some sort of spiritual experience—the desire is the same: taming God in order to tame life. Never mind those deep yearnings of the soul; never mind the nagging awareness that God is not cooperating. If the system isn’t working, it’s because we’re not doing it right. There’s always something to work on, with the promise of abundant life just around the corner. Plenty of churches and leaders are ready to show you how to cut a deal. These stories comprise what James McClendon calls the “tournament of narratives” in our culture, a clash of many small dramas competing for our heart. Through baseball and politics and music and sex and even church, we are searching desperately for a Larger Story in which to live and find our role. All of these smaller stories offer a taste of meaning, adventure, or connectedness. But none of them offer the real thing; they aren’t large enough. Our loss of confidence in a Larger Story is the reason we demand immediate gratification. We need a sense of being alive now, for now is all we have. Without a past that was planned for us and a future that waits for us, we are trapped in the present. There’s not enough room for our souls in the present.
(The Sacred Romance , 42–43)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

What can we expect from God?

Another issue arising from the "law of linearity" is what can we really expect from God.

My little girl Anna Beth is worried that something bad will happen to her while she sleeps. She's afraid of the darkness. I wish I could tell her that "nothing bad will ever happen, I promise" or "Daddy will always be there to protect you." She comes back with "what if you can't protect me, Daddy?"

I don't know what to say. I try to tell her to pray when she's scared, that Daddy and Mommy would do everything in their power to protect her, but what can I say for God? Can I say that his angels are watching over her and won't let her see evil? Watching the news changes that notion quickly. Children her age are too often brutalized in our day.

What can I expect from God for my daughter? For my kids, my wife, myself? Frankly, I find God too unpredictable and unreliable at times.

Cause and Effect in the Christian Life?

Thinking through the law of linearity (if you want "B" blessing from life, all you have to do is find the right "A" means) has made me question the role of cause and effect in the Christian life.

The wisdom literature (esp. Proverbs & James) strongly testify to the moral order of the world. If you are righteous, generally you can expect to be blessed and happy. If you are sinful, generally you can expect to be unhappy and cursed. We all know it doesn't always work out that way, which is why we have other wisdom books like Job & Ecclesiastes that speak of the moral order of the world being (from our perspective) hidden & confused; but how is this different from the law of linearity? There are other Scriptures that indicate (e.g., 2 Cor. 9; Malachi 3) that if we give (A) we will be blessed (B). Again, is this different?

Does the law of linearity need to be expanded upon to better fit the breadth of revelation?

things are changing.

Age-old structures of my old self are beginning to crack. Habits of sin are being challenged in new ways by the Spirit. I agonize over the cold deadness of my self-protection, and I want to want God more than anything. I'm not there yet. I'm what Crabb calls (in SoulTalk) a "defeated religious man," who still believes that this life (and this God) can be managed to the point of blessing and life, but has given up hope that it will ever happen. So far, I feel only despair and coldness. I want change, but nothing has taken it's place yet.

For me to try to do it myself would be to fall back into the old way of linearity (if I do "A," then "B" will inevitably follow). What is the New Way of the Spirit? How do I keep first and second things separate and in their proper place before God?

Sometimes I wonder if I'll make it; I have my doubts when all I see is deadwood.

Monday, June 25, 2007

I am desperate at times. There are times recently when my heart feels cold and hard to the point of making me wonder if there has ever been a trace of God. I am so deeply committed to a life that I can manage and work out for myself that I feel almost completely blind to its' presence and effects.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Choosing Loss

A great quote from John Eldredge relating to my earlier posts from Crabb:

The time has come for us to quit playing chess with God over our lives. We cannot win, but we can delay the victory, dragging on the pain of grasping and the poison of possessing. You see, there are two kinds of losses in life. The first is shared by all mankind—the losses that come to us. Call them what you will— accidents, fate, acts of God. The point is that we have no control over them. We do not determine when, where, what, or even how. There is no predicting these losses; they happen to us. We choose only how we respond. The second kind is known only to the pilgrim. They are losses that we choose. A chosen loss is different from repentance, when we give up something that was never ours to have. With a chosen loss, we place on the altar something very dear to us, something innocent, whose only danger is in its goodness, that we might come to love it too much. It is the act of consecration, where little by little or all at once, we give over our lives to the only One who can truly keep them. Spiritual surrender is not resignation. It is not choosing to care no longer. Nor is it Eastern mysticism, an attempt to get beyond the suffering of this life by going completely numb. As my dear friend Jan describes, “It is surrender with desire, or in desire.” Desire is still present, felt, welcomed even. But the will to secure is made subject to the divine will in an act of abandoned trust. Think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. (The Journey of Desire , 192–93)

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Real Battle (article by Larry Crabb)

found this very helpful too:

"On the Occasion of a Friend’s Retreat into Sin"

The Real Battle
A friend of mine is right now fighting the battle of his life – and at this moment he is losing. The dark side seems to be winning. He has turned his back on his wife and children and ministry in order to keep experiencing the satisfaction he is finding in relationship with another woman. The satisfaction is not sexual. That would be easier to explain and argue against. He describes his experience as soul joy, the profound sensation of feeling alive, free, connected, and wanted. It is an intensity of fulfillment that he does feel, that decades of (as best he knew) seriously and fervently following Christ has never provided. He sees himself as built for this joy, and can recognize only two options: pursue the experience and walk away from what he has always understood the Bible commands or come back to the Christian fold and give up all hope of deep joy in this life. That’s how he sees things. How should I respond? How should I pray? How should the community of family and friends that love him and cannot and should not give up on him – respond?
How should we pray?
As a younger man, I can recall persuading myself that the clean pleasure of coming home to my wife having not looked at pornography on the hotel television was enough to keep me on the straight and narrow path. The argument is typically “Christian”: the felt joys of obedience exceed the felt pleasures of sin. We hear it all the time.
But that’s true only when, as in my case, I really like my wife. As long as I have blessings that I sincerely enjoy, then the moral path allows me to keep on enjoying those blessings. But notice, the joy is not the enjoyment of God. It is the enjoyment of blessings. Remove the blessings, give the man a wife that for whatever complex of reasons he does not enjoy, and the pleasures of sin may exceed the pleasures of holiness. The old hymn says “There is joy in serving Jesus”. And there is. But if we are counting on an experience of soul satisfaction to reliably accompany obedience and if we expect that our felt pleasure in doing good will exceed the pleasure we could enjoy by indulging our favorite sin, then it won’t take long till sin will seem irresistible. Here’s the point: if we live for an experience of joy, if we elevate desire to central status and live for nothing higher than its felt satisfaction, then we no longer are living by faith. We are idolaters worshipping desire. We are no longer living for God. I agree with Jonathan Edwards that there is no incompatibility between our unquenchable longing for happiness and the command to worship God. But if God becomes the means and our happiness becomes the point, then we are self-obsessed pragmatists, not worshippers. When God is the point and obedience designed to bring him pleasure becomes the focus, then there will eventually be a fullness of joy that makes
sin unthinkable and unappealing, thoroughly repulsive. But that fullness of joy comes later, in heaven. In this life, it's more about hope than about joy. Joy now is wrapped up in communing with the Son in His delight in the Father, communing with the Father in his exaltation of the Son, and communing with the Spirit in His obsession with seeing the Father and the Son glorified. But that joy, though real and growing, will not be complete until we are literally in the presence of the Trinity, dancing forever in perfect rhythm and unspeakable ecstasy (See Eph. 3:19). In this life, now, it's by faith that we live, by faith that joy is in Jesus, even when following him yields suffering. Of course there are seasons of great joy, and there is an abiding sense
that we belong to the most wonderful Person in the universe, that the privilege of knowing him really does exceed all other blessings whether we feel it or not, and that living for him is what we most want to do. But if we’re living for the maximum sense of pleasurable satisfaction now, we will obey God only if he provides blessings that obedience allows us to continue enjoying. Take away the blessings and live life to gain satisfaction of even the noblest human desires and eventually you’ll find yourself moving away from God.

One prevailing heresy in evangelical culture is that living for Jesus reliably
provides the soul with a depth of satisfaction that exceeds the satisfaction found in sin. It is that heresy that keeps a pastor I know driven in his ministry. He works long hours, he studies hard, he is well disciplined in his habits, his church is growing, he is highly respected – and he keeps living the “Christian” life because it keeps him feeling important and alive. He is living for satisfied desire, not for God. It just so happens that what we would call a Christian lifestyle provides him with enough pleasure to keep him going. So he does, like a rat on a treadmill, feeling a weariness that he mistakes for the cost of discipleship.
Let him become honest enough to face the emptiness in his soul that every selfaware pilgrim feels (the Bible calls it groaning) and, at the same time, keep him believing the lie that serving Jesus is supposed to relieve emptiness, and you have a pastor ripe for an affair, or further burnout or an extra dose of legalism. Satan has a golden opportunity to bring along just the right woman that can become his soulmate, (really his fleshmate), and the appeal will be experienced as irresistible. Or the pastor will become disillusioned and drop out, or he might become more rigid and relationally aloof, and more driven and demanding in his role as spiritual leader.

We’re trying very hard in Christian circles to convince ourselves that even without the prospect of heaven, the Christian life is worth living. It’s not. Unless, like me, you’ve been blessed with a spouse you genuinely like, kids who delight your heart, a job or ministry that provides both meaning and income, and decent health. Then keeping your nose clean makes sense as long as the blessings keep coming. Why give up the enjoyment of what you have? Christian living then is pragmatically smart. But mess with the blessings, let just enough go wrong to reduce the pleasure you feel in them to a lesser intensity than the pleasure that comes from bagging Christian standards and doing whatever makes you feel alive, and doing wrong will seem justified, necessary, legitimate, reasonable. The wrong way will seem right. That scenario has led to countless divorces.

The real battle in the human soul that knows Jesus is not to find a way to feel now what we long to feel in our inmost being, whether it’s love, meaning, or the satisfaction of living an other-centered life in the service of a cause greater than oneself. The real battle is to continue on in faithfulness even when faithfulness brings no immediate experience of joy, even when it brings no prospect of felt joy until heaven. That’s what it means to live by faith. That’s the message of Hebrews 11. That’s the cornerstone of the gospel, first declared by Habakkuk when he quoted God saying, "The just shall live by faith" (Hab. 2:4), then established by Paul as the core of the spiritual journey. My friend followed Jesus for several decades. It didn’t “work”. He hoped that he would feel an overwhelming satisfaction that would make resisting sin as easy as passing
by dog food for prime rib. He believed the prevailing heresy of the evangelical church that the experience of satisfaction is for now, that living by faith does not delay satisfaction in hope, but provides satisfaction in experience. He discovered that a woman who it was not God’s will for him to fully enjoy provided more soul joy than anything he had known in years of faithfulness to the will of God. For him, the call to obedience meant giving up joy and returning to lifeless Christianity. He was not helped by the erroneous but popular teaching that there is a way to
feel so alive in God that sin loses its appeal, and that pursuing the experience of aliveness is the legitimate center of the spiritual adventure. That teaching is deadly, all the more so because it’s so near the truth. Knowing God is life. But living to feel alive is not the same as living to know and glorify God. When the bottom line is reached, the issue is not finding an experience of overwhelming joy in knowing Jesus. That will happen later. It may happen now. If it does, praise God. When the bottom line is reached, the issue is faith: what do you most deeply believe? How then shall you live? Heaven is coming up. Only that fact makes sense of the choice to persevere when blessings are withheld, when emptiness is seemingly unending, when anguish of soul eclipses even the prospect of joy.

Fighting the Battle through Prayer
If the real battle is to keep from making an idol of desire, if the real battle is to let our choices be ruled by a desire for God that sometimes leaves us empty and lonely, then, though we can rightly celebrate whatever blessings come our way and enjoy the pleasure they bring, we must never deposit that pleasure in the bank and write checks on that account. We must rather hope in Christ when life makes no sense, when sin does a better job of relieving emptiness than righteous living. We must write checks on the account of faith. Our hope must be fixed on Jesus, and the hope his presence brings, not on satisfied desire in this life.
With that slowly growing understanding of the battle going on in me and in my brother, I must pray. I must engage in battle prayer, the kind that is carried along by the recognition that the spiritual battle is between the demand for felt satisfaction and the life of faith.
My version of prayer as battle is to imagine my friend in the presence of the Trinity and to eavesdrop on their conversation. I claim to hear neither audible voices nor inerrant messages. I simply reflect on what I know of God as revealed in Scripture – the Father’s unconditional love, the Son’s atoning grace, the Spirit’s gentle rhythm – and I imagine what they are right now saying to my friend and how they are feeling and thinking about him. Whatever impressions come to mind, I register, ponder, and try to put into words. I pray for my friend who is about to throw away a life of faith for the experience of satisfied desire. I do not pray that he feel more joy in following Christ than in sin. I pray that he would get in touch with a longing to know God that is stronger than his desire for a present experience of joy and life. I imagine him in the presence of the Trinity. I sense their pain as their child values the experience coming from a woman who is not his wife over the hope they have promised, the hope that it cost the death of Jesus to provide.
I spent an evening telling him what I heard. He called me a day later. He told me he was ending his relationship with this woman. His words were, “I can explain my decision only as the work of God in answer to prayer. It feels awful but in some strange way, it’s what I want to do.” I since have been told he has re-entered his fleshmate relationship.
I’m afraid the heresy is still alive in his mind, that he may still believe that the choices we make should be determined by the joy they will bring in this life. Does he think he’ll feel better after giving up the other woman? That he'll experience a fullness of joy that will make the pleasure he enjoys with the other woman pale in comparison? And does the other woman sincerely believe she is entering a relationship with a strong man who will pour strength and life into her soul? I don’t know. Will he in fact give her up? Or will he go back to her when he discovers that his soul experienced more aliveness with her than in following God? Again, I don’t know.
So I keep praying. Prayer is battle.

Competing Desires (2)

Follow up on my last post - I have found Crabb's Papa Prayer to be very helpful in undermining desire for comfort and indulging desire for God:
Present - being radically open and aware of your heart before God
Attend to how you are thinking of God
Purge your heart of relational sin (commitment to spirit of entitlement)
Approach God as your "first thing", your chief desire

Competing Desires

I've been recently reading Larry Crabb's book SoulTalk. It's very much like his earlier work The Pressure's Off, with the focus on how the message applies to life-on-life relationships in the church.

The biggest challenge to me is the basic message of two competing desires in my soul:
1) The desire/commitment/demand that life work out so that I experience life;
2) The desire for God

I realized that I have been living forever in a deep-rooted commitment to entitlement, the desire to make life work so I would experience life, love and happiness. I've been trying to become more aware of this in my heart, trying to undermine it and encourage rather the desire for God. I feel so cold inside, dead to desire; my self-protection has become a coffin that is too narrow to breathe in. I am praying for brokenness over my sinful stance toward God, myself, and others. I want to want God; I want to want him more than making life work.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Old Testament Story - Week 1

Here are my notes from the class I'm teaching at my church on the Story of the Old Testament.

Story of the Old Testament (1)

Week 1 - Introduction

Opening Questions:
In your experience, what are the biggest obstacles to your understanding and applying the Old Testament to your life?

What would you like to get out of this course?

Read Luke 24
Walking with Jesus
He opened the OT Scriptures to them
He opened their minds to understand the OT – it is all about the gospel!

Some Basic Presuppositions
Inspiration and Authority of the OT (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21)
Christ is at the center of the Scriptures (e.g., Matthew 17:1-8; Luke 24)
There is both continuity and discontinuity between the testaments; the Bible contains diversity in the midst of unity.
The OT is deeply relevant for us today as the people of God in Christ
The God of the OT is the same God of the NT

3 Metaphors for understanding the Story
God's Kingdom: God's people in God's place under God's Rule[1]
i. God's People: What are we told about the relationship between God and people? People and creation?
ii. God's Place: What do we learn about the place that God created?
iii. God's Rule: How does God rule his people in the place he has created? What are the benefits of living under God's rule and the dangers of rejecting it?

Sacred Romance - God's heart on trial[2]
i. Act One: Eternal Love
ii. Act Two: The Entrance of Evil
iii. Act Three: The Battle for the Heart
iv. Act Four: The Kingdom Restored
Theodrama – Scripture provides us with the script to be lived out, not just information to be learned.
Canon and Story
i. Definition: from the Greek kanon, which refers to a rule of measurement, a straight edge.
ii. “As applied to literature, canon has come to mean those writings which conform to the rule or standard of divine inspiration and authority.”[3]
iii. God’s people did not declare the canon, they discovered it. The inherent authority of God’s books made themselves known to his people.
iv. The Issue of the ordering of books
1. Our English Bibles have a different order of books than the Hebrew Bible has. The Hebrew Bible reflects the order of the Masoretic Text, whereas our English Bibles follow the order of the Latin Vulgate (4th century AD) which followed the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament).[4]
2. Though the order is not inspired, we recognize the fact that Jesus and the Apostles used the threefold division of the TaNaK[5] of the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Luke 24) and therefore must have significance for us today (see handout).
3. In the Hebrew TaNaK, the order is determined more by literary connections, rather than historical chronology of our English Bibles. The implication of this is that literary connections can be harder to see in the English ordering (e.g., placement of Ruth).
Canon provides the boundaries for the Story; what constitutes God's Story, and what does not
Narrative and poetry make up the majority of OT genre
Overall framework is Story
A Brief History of OT Interpretation[6]
Pre-Modern (AD 100-1400)
i. Dominated by subjectivism
ii. Marcion (2nd Century AD) – influenced by Gnosticism, viewed a radical distinction between the God of the OT and the God of the NT. So much so that he threw out the entire OT and most of the NT (anything that had any OT flavor to it).[7]
iii. In fourth century two schools of interpretation fought it out for influence in the church, Antioch and Alexandria. The former focusing on grammatical-historical interpretation and the latter focusing on allegorical interpretation (e.g., Origen). Alexandria won the day.
iv. Four-fold sense made famous by Augustine (4th Century AD) [8]
1. Literal sense - In this sense the city of Jerusalem could symbolize the actual city in Judah.
2. Tropological (i.e., moral sense of Scripture). In this sense the city of Jerusalem could symbolize the human soul.
3. Allegorical (i.e., reference to church). In this sense the city of Jerusalem could symbolize the church.
4. Anagogical (i.e., eschatological or heavenly reference). In this sense the city of Jerusalem could symbolize the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem.
v. Of all these “senses,” the allegorical was by far the most influential.
Modern (AD 1400-1960)
i. A response to subjectivism, this age was dominated by objectivism.
ii. Rennaisance – emphasized the human side of texts from the past, and an attempt to understand them in their own right.
iii. Reformation – emphasized the issue of authority in the interpretation of texts. What is the final arbiter of truth in Scripture – the problem posed by allegory, which has no “right” interpretation.
iv. The recovery of the biblical, historical gospel in Luther led inevitably to the recovery of the literal, historical value of the OT in its own right.[9]
v. Enlightenment – commitment to history without God, led to the undermining of historicity and inspiration of the OT.
vi. We are still living with many of the effects of this period, as can be seen by the over-abundance of historical work for and against the biblical text, especially in the 20th Century.
Post-Modern (AD 1960 – present)
i. Modernist experiment has failed, loss of the belief that there are such things as “bare historical facts.” There are only perspectives, narratives; there is no Meta-narrative that governs all narratives.
ii. Response to the objectivism of modernism, extremely subjective.
iii. Deconstruction of texts is used to ascertain its particular narrative slant.
iv. Good: an acknowledgment of our presuppositions, of the biases that we bring to the text; an acknowledgement that God’s word contains redemptive presuppositions that shape us.
v. Bad: an erosion of biblical authority – how can there be an authoritative Meta-narrative that is not oppressive but liberating, allowing us to become fully human before God?
An Answer to the dilemma: Scripture as Story
Scripture is the Meta-Narrative, the Story that brings together and judges all other stories.
An attempt to bridge the gap between subjectivism and objectivism
“Sometimes we are told that the Bible is a library made up of many kinds of writing; poems and hymns, sermons and letters, visions and dreams, genealogical lists and historical chronicles, moral teaching and admonition and proverbs. And, of course, story. But that is not so. It is all story. . . . Nothing comes to us apart from the form. And we cannot change or discard the form without changing or distorting the content. This biblical narrative gathers everything into it, providing a beginning and ending, plot and character development, conflict and resolution.”[10]
Our problem: we don’t know how to read or how to live
“We live today in a world impoverished of story; it is not surprising that many of us have picked up bad habits of extracting ‘truths’ from the stories we read: We summarize ‘principles’ that we can use in a variety of settings at our discretion; we distill a ‘moral’ that we use as a slogan on a poster or as a motto on our desk. We are taught to do this in our schools so that we can pass examinations on novels and plays. It is no wonder that we continue this abstracting, story-mutilating practice when we read our Bibles. ‘Story’ is not serious; ‘story’ is for children and campfires.”[11]
“Somewhere along the way, most of us pick up bad habits of extracting from the Bible what we pretentiously call ‘spiritual principles,’ or ‘moral guidelines,’ or ‘theological truths,’ and then corseting ourselves in them in order to force a godly shape on our lives.”[12]
Story is a basic requirement to becoming human
i. Life has a narrative shape: beginning and end, conflict and resolution, plot and characters.
ii. Life is not a collection of abstractions; it is an organic unity that holds all details together.
Story is the language of the heart (center of who we are). “The deepest convictions of our heart are formed by stories and reside there in the images and emotions of story.”[13]
To grow as Christians we don’t just have to learn the story, but immerse our-whole-selves in it until its priorities, values and reality becomes our own.[14]
As we prayerfully and imaginatively read the Scriptures, God invites us into His Story. He transitions us from the position of lord of our own lesser stories to His servants and friends in His Story. He addresses us as one of the characters in our particular story, and calls us to respond within the context of the larger Story He is telling. A life of faith & obedience and the practice of spiritual disciplines is a covenantal, contextual, storied response to the God who speaks.
Genre in the Bible
i. a type, or form, of literature that operates by certain rules or conventions
ii. Inseparable from the content, a tool chosen by the author to convey meaning
iii. Each specific genre within the overarching Story (law, visions, genealogies, poetry, prophecy, narrative, etc.) uses its conventions to create a world in the reader that forms the covenantal context for meeting with God. It is all story, and there is always provided a place for God and our real selves to encounter one another, involving both mind and heart. Each of these “settings” is really the exploration of a new room in our Father’s dwelling, Christ-in-us, our true and authentic selves (see diagram 1).
iv. As we are immersed in the particularities of the Story (genres of Lament, Law, etc.), like rooms in our Father’s house or new clothes that we put on, we enter them to learn to be human, to be worship, to be the kingdom intersection of God’s world and our own. Christ-likeness is “put on” through genre participation in God’s Story, resulting in what I would call “Storied Spirituality” (see diagram 2).

Diagram 1.

Diagram 2.

[1] See Graeme Goldsworthy’s books, Gospel and Kingdom (1981) and According to Plan (1991); see also Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Story-line of the Bible (2003).
[2] John Eldredge, Epic: The Story God is Telling and the Role that is Yours to Play (Thomas Nelson, 2004). See also Sacred Romance by Eldredge.
[3] Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), 66.
[4] F.F. Bruce, The Books and the Parchments (Pickering & Inglis, 1971): 90. Cf. Archer, 66-67.
[5] TaNaK stands for: Torah, Nethubim, and Kethubim, or the Law, the Prophets and the Writings respectively.
[6] See John Goldingay, An Ignatian Approach to Reading the Old Tesament (Grove Books, 2002).
[7] Marcion’s canon included a shorter (edited) version of the Gospel of Luke, and the following of Paul’s letters: Galatians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Romans, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon and Philippians.
[8] Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom, 13-16.
[9] See Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom, 16-17, and his articles, “The Kingdom of God and the Old Testament,” and “Hermeneutics and Christ.” These articles are available at www.beginningwithmoses.org.
[10] Eugene Peterson, “Eat This Book: The Holy Community at Table with the Holy Scripture,” Theology Today 56 no.1 (Ap 1999): 13.
[11] Eugene Peterson, “Eat This Book,” 14.
[12] Eugene Peterson, Leap Over a Wall: Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians (Harper SanFrancisco, 1997): 4.
[13] John Eldredge, Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God (Thomas Nelson, 1997): 38.
[14] See Alister McGrath, Christian Spirituality (Blackwell, 1999): 119-120.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

How People Change

I recently went through a course at our church on "How People Change," based on a workbook and book written by Paul Tripp and Tim Lane from the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. One of our pastors described it as "an introduction to Biblical Counseling."

I wanted to review it here briefly. First let me say that the class was helpful in applying the gospel to many different areas of life. It challenged me to consider God and the gospel in a new light.

My concerns don't have much to do with what the material contained, but I guess with what it didn't contain. I felt like it was a great explanation of how the forgiveness we have in Christ should effect our daily lives. What I felt was lacking was a more comprehensive description of 1) what we bring to the process, and 2) what Christ's work can accomplish in our lives.

Let me explain what I mean. First, I appreciate that the authors are concerned to address some of the common excuses we all have for sin, like "it's because of my background," or "it's just my personality." But I think they take that too far in totally discounting what powerful influences our background and personalities (for example) can be in the process of working out the gospel. I think it's too simplistic to say that when heat comes, the only thing that manifests itself are sins that need to be mortified and forgiven. The heat also provokes deep wounds that we carry around, sometimes all our lives, wounds that are a result of living in a broken world. These wounds can deeply influence our clarity, willingness and ability to respond to God the way we ought.

It seems minimalistic to reduce the Christian life to "repentance and faith," though it is certainly not less than that. The Christian life, as I see it, has at its center repentance and faith, but it is so much more than that - it is healing of the whole person so we can rightly relate to God, involving healing of memories, using our imagination to deeply appropriate grace into the broken parts of our lives, etc. This leads me to the second observation.

Since they seem to reduce the Christian life to repentance and faith, Christ's work is reduced to forgiveness of sins. Again, his work is that centrally, but it is not the only thing he came to do. Passages like Isaiah 53 & 61, Psalm 103 and others, with language like "binding up broken-hearts" and "carrying griefs and sorrows," "by his stripes we are healed," all speak to me of a wide-ranging redemption that is certainly not less than forgiveness of sins, but includes the restoration of the whole person to God. Jesus often healed people of sicknesses and diseases that often had immense shame attached to them ( e.g., Matt 4:23-25), and it makes sense that his grace extended beyond the physical ailment to the shame underneath. Also, language in the Epistles about being "chosen," "adopted," and "beloved" speak to me of a grace that touches and heals the deep wounds we carry, often from childhood.

The material gives a good framework for a basic understanding of some aspects of the Christian life, but as a comprehensive framework for the Christian life I think it fails. My fear is especially for broken, hurting people to be deeply discouraged by this material. I know I was on many occasions as a result of the material. An extreme example I thought of was a (hyposthetical) young girl who had been seriously sexually abused over her childhood years, who came to Christ within the last 5 years. She has deep issues affecting her ability to trust in God and his provision in Christ. When heat comes on her life, she has a much more difficult time trusting Christ than other Christians who may not have such a broken past. To categorize her and her response as "sin" alone seems cruel and foolish. Sure, sin is involved, but intertwined with deep recesses of pain that need healing.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Toward a Spirituality of the Old Testament (1)

I'm preparing to teach an OT survey course at our church, and it's causing me to think through in new ways what I see as important to teach in a short amount of time. Of course, there must be basic overviews of the books, the literature forms and characters within the story.

But what about the Old Testament (better: "First Testament") is "authoritative and useful" for the Christian (2 Tim. 3:16)? How should we use the Old Testament as Christians? How is it to function in our lives? How does it affect our apprenticeship to Jesus? How does it form and shape our souls to make us more like the Christ to whom it points?

In terms of spirituality and Christian application of the Old Testament, two primary ways of application seem to have dominated recent times for evangelicals:
1) Pointing out all the direct predictions and prophecies that are in the OT that are fulfilled in Christ (there are a variety of ways that this is done, some legitimate and some not so legitimate). For example, Micah 5:2 says that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, etc.
2) The characters of the OT are presented to us as models to follow in virtue development (e.g., we should be a leader like Nehemiah, a wife like Abigail, a warrior-lover like David, etc.). There is a place for this as it has some definite value, if the OT has a voice of its own apart from the NT (and it does, to a degree).

Neither of these approaches, I think, is organically linked to Christ. The first approach takes prediction-fulfillment out of the context of the story of Scripture, like gathering facts for a legal case. The nature and form of the Scriptures as primarily narrative speaks against this kind of shallow Christology. The second approach highly values morality and sees the OT as providing examples of how moral virtue can be formed. This too is shallow Christology that sees Christ as an afterthought or circuitous to virtue. There is an externalism to both these approaches that can leave the heart unchanged by the revelation of God that it is dealing with.

What is needed is an approach to the Old Testament that is:
  • STORY-FOCUSED, that is, allowing the story of Scripture to read us as we read it, paying attention to the context it puts us in as we read. It presents itself to us in particular forms all under the rubric of story - this should determine how we read.
  • ORGANICALLY CHRIST-CENTERED; i.e., the fullness that Christ brings to all Scripture is not forced upon the OT text, and neither is it ignored. The OT continues to have a voice of its own in a symphony of witness to Christ.
  • ORGANICALLY RELEVANT FOR TODAY; directly linked to the disciple's response to Christ today, at this moment, through the various voices by which it speaks.
  • INCARNATIONAL; earthy, human; not abstract in its understanding of godliness or Christ. Not focused on externals, rather using the heightened externalism of the OT to lead us to Christ.