Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Word Made Fresh: A Call for a Renewal of the Evangelical Spirit

I loved this confessional statement, and I agree with Roger Olson that it is needed now more than ever. This seems especially needed in my “camp” - areas of the SBC “resurgence,” Acts 29 network and the Gospel Coalition, which unfortunately are moving more and more toward a polarizing fundamental spirit. It was signed by 110 evangelical scholars and leaders in 2001. Sadly, very few conservatives seem to be aware of it.

The Word Made Fresh: A Call for a Renewal of the Evangelical Spirit
To be evangelical is to be committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ–the Word incarnate–in all areas of life and to the supreme authority of the canonical Scriptures–the written Word–in all matters of faith and practice. To be evangelical also entails being characterized by an irenic, Christlike spirit of love toward those with whom we disagree and a cautious openness to the reform of tradition as the Spirit leads us to fresh understandings of the Word that are even more faithful to the entirety of God’s revelation. We oppose unfettered theological experimentation and accommodation to culture that threatens the gospel of Jesus Christ. But we also deplore a present tendency among some evangelicals to define the boundaries of evangelical faith and life too narrowly. For this reason, we call evangelical leaders and thinkers to make room for reverent exploration of new ideas and reconsideration of old ones without assuming too quickly that we know what Scripture clearly does and does not teach.
Throughout history, evangelicals have courageously stood against attempts to compromise biblical faith. Unfortunately, passionate resistance to error has repeatedly also led to militant, separatistic habits of mind and heart from which evangelicals in the mid-twentieth century struggled to free the movement. We are concerned that some claimants to the evangelical heritage appear to be falling back into some of the more onerous attitudes of fundamentalism. Out of this concern, we call all evangelicals to acknowledge the value of the kind of genuine diversity and fresh reflection, grounded in the written Word and centered on the incarnate Word, that has always been the hallmark of the true evangelical spirit.

To this end, we call all evangelical leaders and thinkers not to reject out of hand constructive theological proposals that are reverently rooted in biblical reflection, even when they challenge aspects of what some consider to be the “received evangelical tradition.” Rather than a sign of decline, constructive theological endeavor and rigorous debate about theological issues are marks of evangelical theological vitality. Premature closure of dialogue and debate by means of condemnations and threats of exclusion, in contrast, disrupts community and often quenches the Spirit who brings new life and leads us toward ever more faithful readings of God’s Word. Therefore, we admonish all evangelicals to resist attempts to propagate rigid definitions of evangelicalism that result in unnecessary alienation and exclusion. And we call all evangelicals to affirm the genuine diversity and fresh reflection, rooted in the authority of the written Word and centered on the Word incarnate, that has always been the hallmark of the true evangelical spirit.
Let peace prevail among evangelicals. We pray not for peace at any price, but for peace and harmony among equally God-fearing, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving evangelical Christians who may find that they disagree about many secondary matters. We call all evangelicals to rediscover and honor the motto: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” May the irenic spirit of generous orthodoxy that has energized and unified the evangelical movement prevail in our evangelical theological discourse. And may all evangelicals seek to renew the broad, historic evangelicalism that honors the oneness of faith that unites all who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and submit to the authority of the Word.

William J. Abraham.
Albert Cook Outler Professor of Wesley Studies
Perkins School of Theology
Southern Methodist University

Dan Allender
Dean, Mars Hill Graduate School

Mark D. Baker
Assistant Professor of Mission and Theology
Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary

Craig Blomberg
Professor of New Testament
Denver Seminary

Barry Callen
University Professor of Christian Studies
Anderson University

M. Daniel Carroll R.
Professor of Old Testament
Denver Seminary

Craig Carter
Vice President, Academic Dean and Professor of Religious Studies
Tyndale College

Rodney Clapp
Editorial Director
Brazos Press

David Clark
Professor of Theology and Ethics
Bethel Theological Seminary

Charles J. Conniry
Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology
Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program
George Fox Evangelical Seminary
George Fox University

Stephen T. Davis
Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies
Claremont McKenna College

William A. Dyrness
Professor of Theology and Culture
Fuller Theological Seminary

C. Stephen Evans
University Professor of Philosophy and Humanities
Baylor University

Gordon D. Fee
Professor of New Testament Studies
Regent College

Doug Frank
Adjunct Professor of History
The Oregon Extension of Houghton College

John R. Franke
Associate Professor of Theology
Biblical Theological Seminary

Al Glenn
Professor of Theology and Apologetics
Fuller Theological Seminary

Joel B. Green
Dean of the School of Theology
Professor of New Testament Interpretation
Asbury Theological Seminary

Stanley J. Grenz
Pioneer McDonald Professor of Baptist Heritage, Theology and Ethics
Carey Theological College
Professor of Theology and Ethics
Regent College

Vernon Grounds
Denver Seminary

Douglas Harink
Professor of Theology
King’s University College

Christopher Hall
Professor of Theology
Eastern College

Fisher Humphreys
Professor of Divinity
Beeson Divinity School
Samford University

Douglas Jacobsen 
Distinguished Professor of Church History and Theology
Messiah College

Alan F. Johnson
Professor of Theology
Wheaton College and Graduate School

Robert K. Johnston
Professor of Theology and Culture
Fuller Theological Seminary

Henry H. Knight
Associate Professor of Evangelism
Saint Paul School of Theology

D. Brent Laytham
Assistant Professor of Theology
North Park Theological Seminary

Randy L. Maddox
Paul T. Walls Professor of Wesleyan Theology
Seattle Pacific University

Gerald R. McDermott
Associate Professor of Religion and Philosophy
Roanoke College

Scot McKnight
Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies
North Park University

Nancey Murphy
Professor of Christian Philosophy
Fuller Theological Seminary

James Nelson
Professor of Theology
North Park University

Eric H. Ohlmann
Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Dennis Okholm
Professor of Theology
Wheaton College

Roger E. Olson
Professor of Theology
George W. Truett Theological Seminary
Baylor University

Alan G. Padgett
Professor of Systematic Theology
Luther Seminary

Tim S. Perry
Associate Professor of Theology
Providence College

Ronald W. Pierce
Professor of Biblical Studies and Theology
Talbot School of Theology
Biola University

Christine D. Pohl
Professor of Social Ethics
Asbury Theological Seminary

Daniel G. Reid
Senior Editor, Academic and Reference Books
InterVarsity Press

Kurt Anders Richardson
Boston University

Douglas R. Sharp
Professor of Christian Theology
Northern Baptist Theological Seminary

Lewis Smedes
Professor Emeritus
Fuller Theological Seminary

Klyne Snodgrass
Paul W. Brandel Professor of New Testament Studies
North Park Theological Seminary

Russell Spittler
Professor of New Testament
Fuller Theological Seminary

John Stackhouse
Sangwoo Youtong Chee Professor of Theology and Culture
Regent College

Glen Stassen
Professor of Ethics
Fuller Theological Seminary

Bryan Stone
E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism
Boston University School of Theology

Don Thorsen
Professor of Theology
C. P. Haggard School of Theology
Azusa Pacific University

Terrance Tiessen
Professor of Theology and Ethics
Providence Theological Seminary

Leanne Van Dyke
Professor of Reformed Theology
Western Theological Seminary

Miroslav Volf
Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology
Yale Divinity School
Yale University

Jerry Walls
Professor of Philosophy and Religion
Asbury Theological Seminary

Robert Webber
William R. and Geraldyne B. Myers Chair of Ministry
Northern Baptist Theological Seminary

Timothy Weber
Dean and Professor of Church History
Northern Baptist Theological Seminary

Jonathan Wilson
Professor of Religious Studies
Westmont College

Ben Witherington
Professor of New Testament
Asbury Theological Seminary

Monday, April 04, 2011

A Fresh Look at Jesus

I read chapter one this morning in So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore by Wayne Jacobsen and Dave Coleman and from what I can gather so far, it involves reflecting on what John the apostle might have to say about Jesus if he were alive today. Here is some of his description of first-hand experience of Jesus:

“But he was as gentle a man as one would ever know. He could silence detractors without ever raising his voice. He never bullied his way; never drew attention to himself nor did he ever pretend to like what vexed his soul. He was real, to the very core.

“And at the core of that being was love.” The stranger paused and shook his head. “Wow! Did he love!” His eyes looked far past the crowd now, seeming to peer across the depths of time and space. “We didn’t even know what love was, until we saw it in him. It was everyone, too, even those who hated him. He still cared for them, hoping somehow they would find a way out of their self-inflicted souls to recognize who stood among them.

“And with all that love, he was completely honest. Yet even when his actions or words exposed people’s darkest motives, they didn’t feel shamed. They felt safe, really safe with him. His words conveyed not even a hint of judgment, simply an entreaty to come to God. There was no one you would trust more quickly with your deepest secrets. If someone were going to catch you at your worst moment you’d want it to be him.

Though so few ended up following him, for the few moments his presence passed by them, they tasted a freshness and power they could never deny even years later. Somehow he seemed to know everything about them, but loved them deeply all the same.” (p.9-10)

I am captivated by this description of Jesus, mainly because it seems to describe the biblical Jesus in a new and fresh way. It is not the Jesus I know most of the time, however, the “megachurch Jesus” who is more concerned about earthly displays of success and power.

I remember thinking after reading this, If you’re on the run from God and religion, Jesus is a good travel companion.

You can purchase this book from Amazon here. But you can also download the .pdf for free here.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Trust and Flourishing

I am writing two blogs for the Society for Christian Psychology website this month. This is the first of my two posts (a reworked and expanded post from my own blog).

Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21 ESV). One of the things we can glean from this is that the relative health of our lives will be largely (if not entirely) determined by where our hearts are “bent,” specifically, whether or not our hearts are trusting in God to care for us (see the context of the rest of Matthew 6). For the purposes of our Society, then, it would be helpful for us to consider where our hearts are in relation to trusting God, and consider how this affects our healthy functioning as image bearers. Let’s consider this text from Jeremiah 17:5-8:

Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

In this passage of Scripture, two men are contrasted with each other. Reminiscent of Psalm 1 which contrasts the two paths of blessedness and wickedness, we are meant to see the ugliness of the wrong path in contrast to the beauty of the good path, so that we will choose the good path for ourselves and call others to it as well. As Christians involved in a variety of ways in the care of souls, it would be helpful for us to consider this text as a way toward spiritual and emotional health.

To feel the power of this text, we will unpack some of the contrasts. First, we notice that both of these men trust. The cursed man trusts in man and makes flesh his strength. Correspondingly, his heart turns away from the Lord. There is no neutrality before God; either we are trusting in Him or trusting in ourselves. What does it mean to trust in man? One of the things it means is that we cling to autonomous forms of living. We trust in our own ability to find life for ourselves, to navigate problems, gain affirmation and notoriety, etc. We also trust in others to give us the affirmation and love that we so desperately seek in this dark world. This leads to all our false selves as the public face of our sinful flesh which is determined to find life without God’s help. In contrast, the blessed man trusts in the Lord as a way of life. This is not restricted to initial trust for salvation from sin (though it is not less than that), but a daily pattern of trust in God, living interactively with him in all we do. It means acknowledging our need of him every moment of every day, and choosing to live in the brokenness of our own limits and inabilities, trusting in his grace and strength.

The second thing to notice is the motif of rootedness. The cursed man is described as a shrub in the desert. The image comes to mind of sagebrush floating across the prairie floor, without root, thrown here and there by the wind. Eugene Peterson captures this in The Message:

He's like a tumbleweed on the prairie,
   out of touch with the good earth.
He lives rootless and aimless
   in a land where nothing grows.

There remains only an expectation of trouble in the shrub-heart. There is little gratitude or expectation of God. In contrast, the blessed man is like a strong tree with roots connected to living water. The wind cannot topple it. The tree-heart leans hard on God and expects good from him. The image is that of a tree replanted in Eden, close to the source of all life.

The third motif is that of thirst. The cursed man dwells “in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.”
How much misery is created living under the tyranny of unsatisfied thirst? I know in my own life, the potential for misery is nearly infinite, as my creative faculties are brought to bear on the creation of a multitude of false selves dedicated to scraping an existence without any help from God. The diagnosis of this text is so clear: On my own, I am scratching a living in the land characterized by loneliness and thirst (salt). After a while, I assume it is the “normal Christian life” and seek to numb myself. I do not experience gratitude or the ability to see the good that comes my way. All I know is the tyranny of unquenchable thirst. These are all my false ways of living (false selves):

I am what I do

I am what others perceive of me

I am what I have (categories from Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, p. 74-79).

In contrast, the blessed man is a tree with ready access to life giving water. Rooted next to God’s river, we are free from fear and anxiety during the inevitable times of heat and drought. Our fruitfulness derives from abiding in Jesus our vine (John 15), not in our circumstances. How easily we forget this! How much fear and anxiety are created in our lives through our shrub-heart trust in man?

The question I am left with is: how do we move toward trust in God? How do we move from the salt land to the lush forest of trust in God? It must take a lifetime of small decisions, otherwise it would be much easier! As Eugene Peterson has said, it involves a long obedience in the same direction. The salt land is miserable but predictable, the forest mysterious and chaotic (like slavery in Egypt vs. the promised land).

It all seems to hinge on whether or not I trust that God is good. I must resolve daily to trust that the unpredictability of God is infinitely preferable to the predictability of what I can manage for myself.

Lord have mercy on my corrupt heart and twisted mind, so that I can sink my roots into your love and faithfulness in ruthless trust.


Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship In An Instant Society. IVP, 2000.

Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Thomas Nelson, 2006.