Monday, December 15, 2008

Free From God's Wrath, Firmly Rooted in His Favor: Part 1

The title serves as the final result in the life of a Christian summed up in a word that seems so foreign to us as Americans and even to those who would claim to be Christians. The word is propitiation.

In the posts that will follow, I shall try and share a paper that I recently wrote for my biblical theology class. I will admit that I am partially using this as an excuse to avoid studying for my two finals that I have tomorrow, but I must also say that I have been planning on doing this, but wanted to at least wait until my paper was returned. The mark was decent enough to give me a modicum of confidence to share it with you all in hope that you may some how benefit from what I learned. The paper is very straightforward and fairly introductory for a graduate level course, but I will expound somewhat where I see necessary. If you have any questions at any point, feel free to write back to me or post a comment; good discussion is necessary to flesh out some of the Bible's most profound truths!

Part 1: Definition of Propitiation

Propitiation is broadly defined in the New Bible Dictionary as signifying “the removal of wrath by the offering of a gift.”* Applied to Christian doctrine, John Murray states that “propitiation presupposes the wrath and displeasure of God, and the purpose of propitiation is the removal of this displeasure. Very simply stated the doctrine of propitiation means that Christ propitiated the wrath of God and rendered God propitious to his people.” To be even clearer one must acknowledge all mankind is sinful, deserving of God’s wrath, and that the “gift” which “propitiated the wrath of God and rendered God propitious to his people” was Jesus Christ’s bloody, sacrificial death on the cross (see Romans 3:23-25 ESV). This definition and the action it represents are very specific within the sweeping scope of the atoning work that Jesus accomplished on the cross.

Several key elements can be derived from this definition of propitiation, including 1) the reality of sinful man, 2) an Almighty God whose is wrathful toward and displeased with us because of our sins, 3) that Jesus Christ is the propitiation for our sins, with 4) the effect being the removal of God’s wrath and displeasure and placing us in a position of his favor. The doctrine of propitiation has been widely disputed, mainly because critics deny the key biblical truth that God is a God of wrath (2 Chr 36:16; John 3:36; Rom 1:18), favoring the term “expiation” (basically meaning to wipe away) instead. Though the debate will not be addressed directly here, it serves to form a question that is the basis of this paper, which is, “Can the theme of propitiation be traced through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation?” The intention in answering this question is then two-fold: 1) to show that the theme of propitiation is in fact traceable, thus being worthy of attention and study and, 2) to see the practical outworking of Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice in order that we might glorify God in all aspects of Kingdom work, from evangelism to the offerings of praise and adoration.

*I am neglecting to put the texts cited here, but do have a bibliography if anyone is interested

By His Grace.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

It's Late

It's 1:15 am here to be more precise and I'm just finishing up work for the night. I've been getting hundreds of e-mails and wall posts and messages all asking why my blogging has basically ceased. This is a post for all you avid readers who are deeply concerned and desperate (but I think I exaggerated a bit earlier in the number of pleas for posts...)

Life has been a little hectic these days, more so than I think I ever really experienced since I graduated from college. I've written papeses galor, learned more Greek than I thought possible, and have read mad crazy texts on biblical theology and church history, while also studying for a final dealing with theology & culture, spending time in Oxford, MS for Thanksgiving, working in Admissions, and taking some time to watch the Gators dominate college football. Blogging, sadly, has been placed on the backburner. But some things have gone down:
  1. Jeremiah 10 has caused me to reflect more on idolatry in my life and this world. The essence of idolatry isn't necessarily the physically crafted, little-g gods, but anything that is a god in your life who receives attention, adoration, commitment, and worship more than The God. If you have a Bible, read the chapter and spend some time meditating for your own life asking the question, "Honestly, what does replace Jesus in my life?" For some, you have spent your whole lives living in idolatry, worshiping grades, money, sex, "having fun," "being a good person," etc. Success is a big thing for me, which stems from a fear of failure, which contrasts the fear of God. It's vicious, but I am thankful for the blood of Christ who has redeemed of such fleeting desires. When I see the idolatry, I pray, by His Spirit, that I repent and turn to Him who is the only One worthy.

  2. I am so pumped about The Line. This is the church plant I have mentioned before that I will be involved in come January. I am part of the core team and I got to hang out with Aaron (the lead planter), his wife Kayla, his sister Amie, and a girl named Zoe who lives in the city. For now we's small, but we are trusting God to transform the city of Chicago north, south, east, and west with all that Christ is, has done, and continues to do in this world! If you are interested in hearing more about this from me, feel free to hit me up, especially if you're in the Chicagoland area.

  3. The song that has most of my attention these days, outside of the entire Sufjan Stevens Christmas collection, is Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald with Let's Call the Whole Thing Off. "For we know we need each other so we better call the calling off off"...classic. Check out that sweet JAM when you get a chance.

Hopefully more later.

By His Grace.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Prophets of our Time

The prophets of our time have stolen the words of God,
distorting them to form
the doctrines for a world that desires
to have its ears tickled with
deceit and lies.

By His Grace.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

God's Gracious Healing

"I have seen his ways, but I will heal him." -Isaiah 57:18

Much like in the days of Isaiah as he preached judgment against Israel and Judah who continually turned against the Lord, we live in a nation whose heart is far from Him. To say we are a Christian nation is tomfoolery if you ask me. We are dependent on the latest trends and fashions, find our comfort in countless hours of television and movies, spend money we do not have, seek happiness in the wrong places, try to find satisfaction in "casual" sexual relationships, think joy comes in drunkenness and drugs, and are somehow convinced that possessions provide meaning. Bottom line is we are a horrifically idolatrous people. God has seen our ways.

But He will heal us.

How powerful and beautiful this grace that God gives! He knows my disgusting, perverted ways, yet He has healed me through Christ. This is the matchless love of God! Could it be that all the healings Christ performed while walking on this fallen earth embody just this? The healings point not just to a restoration of blindness, deafness, or sickness--mere physical and superficial things--but to a complete restoration in relationship to God through what Jesus Christ accomplished in His life, death, burial, and resurrection. This eternal healing in Christ points to a time when God "will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore" (Revelation 21:4).

God knows my ways. He knows your ways. He knows our nation's ways. But He will heal us by His grace freely given through His Son. May we all repent and draw near to God, Our Healer.

By His Grace.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Family, Study, Prayer--Thoughts From "America's Pastor"

I recently read a Q & A with America's Pastor, Billy Graham, as he recently turned 90 years old. Now many of us know who Billy Graham is so I won't go into a description, but one question in particular did catch my attention. Dr. Graham was asked, "Do you have any regrets?" and I could almost answer the question for him: "Why no, of course not!" Why should he have any regrets? He is considered one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century, advised presidents, rubbed shoulders with other icons of the world and celebrity types alike. He saw millions around the world come to Jesus! What regrets could he have? Well, after being asked the question, here is what Dr. Graham, a man much wiser than I, had to say:
I regret that I didn't spend more time with my family; I'm sure Ruth and the children paid a heavy price for all the times I was absent. I always tell younger evangelists not to feel like they have to accept every invitation they get, or be absent from home so much. We can do so much today through modern communications.

And then I also wish I had studied more, and spent more time in prayer.
  1. Time with family
  2. Study
  3. Prayer

This is very sobering for a young, single guy like me in seminary, where I have both the opportunity to look into history to see the impact of Billy Graham and also the opportunity to strive forward in not having the same regrets as he does. Furthermore, I think these are potent words for Christian men all over the world in all fields of work, recognizing that these three things--family, study, and prayer--deserve and demand our fullest attention and top prioritization as we walk with Christ. Understandable that work is necessary and should be done well, but work does not require our heart or devotion like these three do and we must never lose sight of that. I have heard too many stories of husbands who are married to their church or their job and not to their wives. I have heard too many stories of absent fathers who do not lead by example for their children. I have heard too many stories of men whose work destroys their devotional lives to where they haven't prayed or spent time in Scripture for days or weeks.

Please, let us see clearly, without fogged, arrogant lenses, these words of the wise, humble man of 90 years, Billy Graham, and take them to heart, praying and fighting with all that God's Spirit gives us strength to fight for intimacy with our families, devoted study in God's Word, and passionate prayer to Him in all things.

By His Grace.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Senior Adult Choir Performing Pop Hits!

This is one of the best videos I've seen in a long time. Enjoy crying...from laughing so hard!

By His Grace.

Friday, November 07, 2008

"Lisi, Where You Going to Church?"

This has been an enormous topic of conversation since my arrival at Trinity, and rightly so. I strongly believe the Bible teaches about being involved in a local church, not forsaking meeting together as it is part of leading us to be filled with love and desirous of good works (Hebrews 10:24-25). I wrote a series of notes on going to church, but sadly they are scattered throughout my notes on Facebook. So the link provided is from my latest note, which refers to the verse referenced here. If you are really interested, you can track back through all my notes to read the rest. I trust Facebook will soon provide the ability to tag these notes.

Anyway, finding a church here did not prove as easy as my experience when I arrived back from Italy. The first thing I made sure I did when I got to Gainesville was to plug myself into Creekside Community Church because of the teaching, the community, and the discipleship that goes on there. The luxury of that was not found here, particularly because I was hoping to find something in the city I could get involved with as I believe God is calling me to plant churches in urban settings.

Well about a month ago, through a series of providential events and interactions, I have found my home church! In fact, it is a church that really isn't even a church yet; it will be a church plant ("plant" is a word for a starting church) established in January. The plant's name is The Line and will be started by a gent named Aaron who is moving down with his wife and three kids. We will begin in the Lincoln Park (just north of Downtown Chicago) area and see how God moves things from there.

I spent a good bit of time talking with Aaron, reading over his plan, talking with professors, mentors, and friends, finally coming to a prayerful decision, trusting that God is behind this. What it means is that I will be moving down to the City in January! I am trying to work out the details for that because it alters what my seminary experience quite a bit.

I hope to provide more details in the future (via video???), but for now, check out the website to see more details. Also, if you are a prayerful individual, please be praying for them and their transition along with the logistical stuff for my move (a place, the finances, school schedule, job, etc.)

Here's a link to The Line if you're interested in checking it out.

By His Grace.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I Voted Today (With Thoughts of Our True Ruler)

After all the campaigning and talks on the issues and blogging and endless media coverage and all other things, today it all comes to a head.

I voted today, but have been encouragingly reminded of my true ruler, who isn't a president, but King! So yes, today I exercised my right as an American to vote, but very much with certain thoughts in mind and heart as I have been reading through Isaiah. If you read this, keep these in mind regardless of who becomes our next president tonight:
Do you not know? Do you not hear?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
who brings princes to nothing,
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

-Isaiah 40:21-23

I am the Lord; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols.

-Isaiah 42:8

And finally these striking images from Revelation of Jesus coming to execute final judgment on peoples and nations who refused to repent of sin which he so willingly sought to forgive through the Cross. Here we see our Just King:
he is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.-Revelation 19:13-16

I did vote today. And I will continue submit to the authority of the rulers of this nation (Romans 13:1-7). I will to pray for my country and its leadership.

But I also know who my True Ruler is. To Him alone be all the praise, honor, and glory.

By His Grace.

Little Girl No Longer Crying...

As a follow-up to the crying child episode I figured I would share that I saw her several times after that fateful day. Each time she stared at me as I walked by her; I feared that she her spontaneous combustion would occur any moment. In fact, when I walked by her, a friend and I actually thought that her head spun 180 degrees so she could see us at all times, even when her back was turned!!!

Well after Octobeard and the free haircut from Dina at Sport Clips, the little girl no longer recognizes me. Her father was carrying her down the stairs of the chapel tonight and she was as happy as a peach in Georgia primed for pluckin'!

She now fears me not.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

How, then, Should We Preach to the (Postmodern) World?

Today we had the benefit of hearing a lecture from Dr. David Wells, Senior Research Professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is a prolific writer, whose works in the last 15 years have focused greatly on the cultural shift from modernity to post-modernity. I personally was exposed to his body of work while in Italy as I read the first of five books on this subject entitled No Place for Truth or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology, which I found extremely intriguing for two reasons: 1) I had just begun to be exposed to the term “postmodern” and how the culture that flowed from the thought affected the thinking of our generation and 2) I was in Italy where postmodern thought had swept through a generation before and still had a grip on the students with whom we ministered.

The topic today--How, then, Should We Preach to the (Postmodern) World?--would have been highly pertinent then and it still remains so now. Put on by the Carl F.H. Henry Center, Dr. Wells lectured for a little over an hour, opening with the gripping line, “This is very complex and perplexing subject that we have before us,” expounding on this by the sober reality that pastors and future pastors are on the front lines facing one of the greatest challenges of our times, “having to pick up the pieces and address the heartaches.”

He went on to share why it is important to think about the subject of postmodernity itself. The first is that there is a clear shift, even though many scholars are unsure as to what the shift exactly is. He did however explain how it is as momentous as the shift from the Middle Ages to modernity through what we know as the Enlightenment, so to put our times in that frame of reference allows us to see that when the foundations settle finally we will live in a vastly different era yet to be named (that is left for those generations after us). America today, he mentioned, is marked by three distinct characteristics: We do not believe in the modern idea of human progress, we do not believe in the false truth of pure, objective reason, and there is a great lack of community, thus there is a great yearning for it.

The second reason why it is important to think of postmodernity is because, in his words, “the Evangelical church right now is in turmoil as to how to address this.” In almost every instance churches are seeing a decline, programs are no longer working, and most are disillusioned with the idea of church altogether.

So we are left with two questions: How should we be thinking about this postmodern context? And how more particularly should we be thinking about it as preachers?
The first of these questions received the most attention and rightly so. If we know how to think about the postmodern context, rightly flowing from that with a good biblical foundation and proper exegesis we should discern how to preach in this context.

Dr. Wells spoke about how the postmoderns are getting it right, namely that they are right to be skeptical of the modern view of human progress and objective reason. However, although they are right to be skeptical, postmoderns enter into the same world as moderns when looking at consumption, but instead of consuming material goods and wealth, postmoderns are consuming experiences and relationships, or at least a sense of both. This is why we see Oprah and The View as popular shows, or pornography to be a successful and growing industry—because of the illusion of relationships. The most important thread that binds the Enlightenment all the way to our culture today is this very fact: The view of the self.

Without delving too much into his argument, the flow begins with Kant, who saw the Enlightenment as giving humans the freedom from the chains of the church to live as we ought. Growing out of this view is a strong narcissistic worldview and from this develops three human traits, which can be traced back into the early 20th century (he mentioned P.T. Forsythe’s 1909 text Preaching and the Modern Mind as being the “prophetic voice”), which pervade our culture today—triviality, uncertainty, and complacency. Triviality because we live in a culture that belongs to everybody and because of this it belongs to nobody; uncertainity because in triviality God becomes weightless and with a weightless God there is no sense of right and no conviction; complacency in the sense of “apathyism,” an indifference to the things that are ultimate, otherwise known as sloth.

To the second question, if the analysis is right, then in our culture today, with most of the preachers we have, postmoderns will just have their ideas reinforced. The problem today is that people want to reduce their knowledge of God only to what is therapeutic and sadly that is what much of our preaching is today. In short, we are failing. To counter this, we who love Jesus and want to see the gospel go forth with great power by His Spirit, must preach about the Triune God with all biblical categories given to us in Scripture and help people frame their problems in light of eternity. The churches that are truly thriving, not merely in numbers but in substance, are those who do this and do it faithfully because, as Dr. Wells so aptly put it, “It’s not about understanding God from the ground level, but understanding Him as He has revealed Himself to us.

I will end this post with the quote Dr. Wells closed with as I hope pastors and future pastors (including myself) take the words above and those that follow to heart, bearing the responsibility we have to be devoted, unwavering, gospel preachers:
If preachers have brought preaching down, it is preachers who must save it. The church will be what its ministers make it.”

By His Grace.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Are We Asking All The Questions?

At first glance of the title you might think I am writing about the upcoming elections. Well, actually I am not so you can breathe a sigh of relief. Instead I intend to share some insight I gleaned from a thick volume I am reading for my biblical theology class aptly titled New Dicitionary of Biblical Theology. This is one of those behemoth texts that have two columns per page, meaning it takes about 20 minutes to experience the ecstasy of turning the page. I joyfully get to read at least 300 of them.

I am honestly not complaining, particularly because there is so much good stuff I am learning for the first time. This past weekend I read a section called “Preaching and Biblical Theology,” which is the most practical section in the first part of the book. As I read I noticed how the advice given not only applies to preaching, but to devotional life and teaching in general.

Before delving into that it would be best to define biblical theology. The book states that, ”Biblical theology is principally concerned with the overall theological message of the whole bible. It seeks to understand the parts in relation to the whole and, to achieve this, it must work with the mutual interaction of the literary, historical, and theological dimensions of the various corpora, and with the inter-relationships of these within the whole canon of Scripture. Only in this way do we take proper account of the fact that God has spoken to us in Scripture.”

With that I mind I now share with you some very keen insight by Dr. P. J. H. Adam as to how biblical theology can affect not only our preaching, but our devotional life and teaching (discipleship, small groups, evangelism, apologetics, etc.):
Most preachers have been trained to read a text in its literary context, a verse in the context of a paragraph, a paragraph in the context of a chapter, a chapter in the context of a book, a book in the context of the thought of the author [all of which are good]. However not every preacher has been trained to read a text in the context of theology, much less biblical theology. To do so is to ask the following questions: How does this text fit into the progressive revelation that God gives in the bible? Is it related to any major biblical themes? Is its theme one in which there is significant development between the OT and NT? What relationship does it have to the gospel? How does the gospel form a context for it? How does it relate to the revelation of Jesus Christ, to the promise or the fufilment? Is it used or interpreted elsewhere in the Bible? In which major theological category does it occur, e.g. promise, law, prophecy, wisdom, instruction, blessing, curse, people of God, gospel?

This is a more difficult exercise than studying the literary genre and context. But to attempt it will make it less likely that a stirring call to build the temple will be applied to the church building programme, that a call to discipleship will become a proclamation of justification by works, or that adulterers will be stoned. Only biblical theology can save us from misusing the Bible, as we read each text in the context of the progressive revelation of God’s saving work in Christ.

These words are powerful reminders that we as a Christian people—regardless of vocation—need to know God’s Word and one of the great key’s to that is asking the right questions. I hope this helps you in your walk as much as I trust it will help me.

By His Grace.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Lesson From A Crying Child

I made a little girl cry yesterday. To be honest I'm not quite sure what I did. She was sitting in a friend's lap; she was staring at me. I thought she wanted to play a game. I hid behind the water cooler, trying the classic "Hide 'N Seek" knowing it's a surefire winner. The cute little blonde girl turned her face away so I thought I was somewhat successful. I didn't know that she would then turn her face back toward me as tears began to well up in her eyes. In an instant her cuteness turned to horror as she began to belt out loud wails like a coyote howling at the moon.

However, the dagger that was in my heart was twisted and shoved deeper by her mother when she said, "She's never done anything like this before."

I got back to the office (I work in Admissions) and shared the story with co-workers. One of them was surprised, sharing in my shock, because she was under the assumption that I am pretty good with kids. I would like to think that is true about me, but then again, with children, I never know. I said, "Well I'm a pretty polarizing person. You either really like me, or you really hate me." Another co-worker chimed in with a question: "Are you like that with adults too?"

Here's where the lesson comes in. My answer was, "I don't know." The reason is found in the beautiful innocence of the child who is probably still screaming as I type this. In that moment I knew exactly where I stood with that little girl. I was trying to play an innocent game and though she was afraid of me, she was not scared to let me know how she really felt. Children are good with this in other areas as well. They don't gossip. Little three year-old Billy doesn't talk to his buddies in pre-school about Bobby's bad breath; Billy just blurts out, "Bobby! Yowr bref stinks!"

I said that I don't know where I stand with adults because most of the time adults lack the child-like innocence of forthright speech (or action in the case of the bawling baby). We have the inglorious tendency to laugh with those we laugh at later on that day with friends. Grown up Billy won't tell co-worker Bobby his breath stinks, but he will tell Mike and Tom and Jenny and Tammy. They will all agree with him and start making jokes, all the while Billy thinks he's cool with them all. An older little blond girl isn't going to cry when she sees me (at least I hope not), but she will tell her mom and friends how scary I am with my hairy face (it's Octobeard so the facial hair is a little thick these days).

Somewhere along the way we lose the innocent forthrightness of being a child. We call it being polite. Instead we gossip or play down situations to be less of something than they really are. Rarely these days do people share how they truly feel about one another for the sake of each other. It can be something as small as hygiene. More importantly it can be about reconciliation and sanctification.

Maybe we don't have to shriek like that little girl, but I think we should all take a lesson from her and countless children who let us know how they feel about us nearly every moment we are around them. Then we might see what being adults actually means.

By His Grace.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Chicago Is The "Muder Capital" Of America

This is just one of many indicators that this city needs Jesus.

By His Grace.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Oddities Of Seminary

I have heard stories of seminary from many a gent who have made it out safely over the years. Everything always seems a bit hyperbolic, mostly regarding the library--like people locking themselves up in cubicles, students creating their own home at desks in the library, books that literally crumble in your hands when you pick them up from being centuries old, people using the library as a workout facility to get more "mind energy."

Slowly I am discovering these are all true. Here are two examples:

1. There is a "homedesk" just a few work areas away from me. I know this because books are stacked high on the floor; some are nearing the ceiling. This individual--whom I have yet to actually see sitting at the desk--has a makeshift wall built with the solid materials of cardboard and duct tape. Apparently the entire downstairs of the library is filled with these "homedesks," but I have yet to venture down there for fear that I won't come out until I am 45.

2. While studying from my History of Christianity mid-term (which is going to be killer so please pray for me) I saw rapid movement out of the corner of my eye. I glanced over quickly, thinking I myself was hallucinating from my studies. Thankfully I was not, but sadly I was witnessing a lad doing mad crazy push-ups at a pace that makes me think he was doing the "girl style" with his knees on the ground because I think he did about 36 in 15 seconds. He may have even had a white wristband on as well, so I am not sure if he found the actual gym inadequate or if he literally lives here and can't imagine going to the gym when there's a perfect carpeted floor to sweat on in the library!

I am thinking I might start keeping track of all the other oddities I find throughout my time here. The list could be something by the time I am finished. Unless, that is, I actually become one of these people myself!

Please...please...keep me in your prayers!!!

By His Grace.

Choppin' Broccoli

This is just some good ole nostalgia:

By His Grace.

The Collapse Of The Consumer

So hot off the presses is this startling article of truth revealing that the U.S. is facing its worst recession in 26 years. For some reason this line jumped out at me:
The focus of concern is shifting from the markets – although these remain dangerously stressed – to the wider economy, where the consumer finally appears to be cracking.

This is a great cause of concern for this nation because the economy heavily depends on consumer confidence. The article continues, stating:
Consumers, who account for 72 per cent of the US economy, are pulling back amid a brutal tightening of credit conditions on everything from car loans to credit cards and home equity lines.

I can understand how this would cause great fear, but I started to think about my own situation. I am personally not facing the penny pinch, mainly because I am single and live on a shoe-string budget. I'd like to think I am somewhat responsible with my finances as I seek to be a good steward of what God has given me, but there is always my thoughts began to wander further and I came to this question--

Does it concern anyone at all that we as Americans are mostly defined by the term "consumer" to begin with?

I know consumer is an economic term applied to a capitalist market. It just so happens also to manage in the dumbing down of persons to predictable, persuadable rats in the grand lab of advertising and marketing, much like the numbers assigned to prisoners or students at institutions of "higher education."

I do not think it helps at all that we are repeatedly told that the heart of the so-called American Dream lies in our ability to consume and consume and consume as if this is somehow what is meant by "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness." Is it really true that the free market depends on our slavery to consumption?

Does the word "consumer" really reflect the values of today's American society? My fear is that the answer to this question is yes, which is why we are in this predicament. But I want to be proven wrong. Please prove me wrong. Is there a better word we can use to describe us as Americans?

By His Grace.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Follow Up From Obama's Words On Abortion During The Final Debate

Another article has been written by Dr. George, along with Yuval Levin, responding to Obama's words on abortion during the final debate. Here is their conclusion:
Some of Senator Obama's supporters are now making one last, rather desperate-sounding attempt to defend his votes against protecting infants born alive after unsuccessful abortions. Their argument goes this way: Permitting children who survive attempted abortions to be abandoned is so heinous, so barbaric, that for someone to accuse Senator Obama, a decent man who is himself the father of two daughters, of supporting what amounts to legalized infanticide is too outrageous to merit an answer. There is a problem, though. In light of the documentary evidence that is now before the public, it is clear that the accusation against Senator Obama, however shocking, has the very considerable merit of being true.

Read the rest of the article here:
Response to Obama

By His Grace.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Day In The Life Of A Trinity Grad Student

Hey yo!
Some peeps from Trinity just filmed a "Day In The Life Of" video, so now if you take about ten minutes you can see a little of my campus and what my life is like.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Quote From "The Office"

I was just now able to watch the latest episode of The Office and I must say it was one of the funnier episodes in quite some time, namely because Michael was classic in just about every scene.

Here is a line from Michael after the office finds out that Meredith has been exchanging sex for discounts on supplies and Outback gift certificates:
This, I think was a great ethics seminary. She [Holly] has given us a lot of wonderful things to think about. Right...what is wrong...who's to say really in the end? I mean because it is...unknowable. But let's give her a round of applause.

Oh how I have heard such beautiful post-modern speak spewed forth from the mouths of such brilliant collegiate minds. Classic, Michael. Classic.

By His Grace.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Very Challenging Article on Obama's Pro-Abortion Stance

I just finished reading this article by Dr. Robert P. George, who according to one individual, "chooses his words very carefully." Dr. George is "McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. He is a member of the President's Council on Bioethics and previously served on the United States Commission on Civil Rights. He sits on the editorial board of Public Discourse."

I am compelled to share this with anyone who is interested in this crucial voting issue so I do ask that you take the time to read this article.

Obama's Abortion Extremism

By His Grace.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Gospel Numbness

On Tuesday last week, with the combination of preaching and class, I think I heard the word "gospel" well over 100 times. Everybody who has been down my path says one of the difficulties with seminary is the numbness to all things spiritual; tonight in fact one of my friends talked about his "spiritual insensitivity." In the short period of time I've spent in seminary, days like last Tuesday where words that carry eternal weight are tossed around like a football on gameday have been frequent and promise to be so over the course of the next three or four years.

Does this mean I will inevitably become numb to the gospel myself? Will the word and others like it turn into any other word like "and" or "the"--so common and seemingly insignificant?

Not necessarily. Not if I recognize that numbness occurs solely because of sin--that I could be indifferent in hearing the word once or a thousand times, that my eyes can glaze over Scripture, reading paragraphs in a daze only to turn the page never knowing what I just read, that my ears could be deaf to the sound of salvific words being spoken through a beautifully Spirit-filled preacher, that I could sing of Christ's love as unworshipfully as singing Coldplay's latest hit.

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it;
Prone to leave the God I love.

A lethargy exists within my flesh that does not delight in words, thoughts, prayers, or meditations on the being of God. Sadly, Christianity can easily become a culture, whether in church or the classroom, that actually feeds this lethargy instead of destroying it.

Yet in the recognition of this lethargy and numbness is the light of God's Spirit that leads to repentance. It is here that the sound of gospel words cause my heart to palpitate, that thoughts of Christ's love bring a bright smile to my face, that prayers are lifted up in great trust of the God who can fulfill them, that meditations on His being cause immense joy.

It is here, regardless of however many times I may hear the word, "gospel" that it never loses its purpose or its power.

Here's my heart Lord, take and seal it,
Seal it for thy courts above.

By His Grace.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Debate on Trinity at Trinity

Last night I attended one of many unique events I hope to experience at Trinity. A debate on the question, "Do relations of authority and submission exist eternally among the Persons of the Godhead?" was put on by the Carl F.H. Henry Center This may seem like a pointless question to many, but it has some interesting implications that came out during the debate in Trinity's ATO Chapel filled with about 400 people.

On the side of "Yes" were former Trinity professors Drs. Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware. On the side of "No" were current Trinity professor Thomas McCall and University of Wisconsin-Madison philosophy professor, Dr. Keith Yandell.

Instead of throwing my own thoughts out there, which are childish seeing as how I have very little theological training and no philosophical training, I am going to default to some individuals who have responded to the debate in a pretty thorough manner. Here are the links:

Andy Naselli's live-blog
Collin Hansen's CT article online

And if you are further interested, here is a post from an individual who is writing his dissertation on this very topic:

Phil Gons' refutation of one of the arguments against Drs. Grudem and Ware

By His Grace.

Final Words on Jonathan Edwards

Last night, I finally finishing reading George Marsden's definitive biography on Jonathan Edwards entitled, Jonathan Edwards: A Life and I must say there is a mixture of both joy and sadness: joy because I have finally finished this 500 page behemoth of a text, but sadness because of the odd connection I felt with the times and the person of Edwards. I do hope the latter may continue to remain through reading his own works and other perspectives of his life. But here I desire to share the concluding words of Marsden's text, which I believe finish the work out strongly and encapsulate much of Edwards' thinking, thus also revealing his motivation and action:
The universe of Newton was one of constant action and changing relationships, and Edwards' conception of God was matched to that dynamic universe. Lockean [John Locke] and early modern idealist philosophies, as Edwards appropriated them, added the notion that created reality was not independent of the minds that engage it. That reinforced the point that the universe most essentially consisted of personal relationships. All of creation was a system of powers to communicate. Creation was most essentially a means by which the creator-sustainer communicated his holiness, beauty, and redemptive love to other persons.

Edwards thus addressed one of the greatest mysteries facing traditional theism in the post-Newtonian universe: how can the creator of such an unimaginably vast universe be in intimate communication with creatures so infinitely inferior to himself? How can it be that God hears their prayers and responds by caring not only about their eternal souls but even about the details of their temporal lives? To answer such questions one would have to face more starkly than is usually done the immensity of the distance between God and humans and between God's ways and our understandings. At the same time, Edwards insisted, if God is meaningfully related to us, God must be intimately involved with the governance of all the universe in its detail. Further, God must be governing it in some way that also grants the maximum possible autonomy to created beings. Whether Edwards, or anyone else, adequately explains how this mystery may be resolved is a matter of some debate.
If you have made it this far, you will now be able to take away this beautiful nugget that is the root of Edwards' practical outworkings:
Yet Edwards' solution--a post-Newtonian statement of classic Augustinian themes--can be breathtaking. God's trinitarian essence is love. God's purpose in creating a universe in which sin is permitted must be to communicate that love to creatures. The highest or most beautiful love is sacrificial love for the undeserving. Those--ultimately the vast majority of humans--who are given eyes to see that ineffable beauty will be enthralled by it. They will see the beauty of a universe in which unsentimental love triumphs over real evil. They will not be able to view Christ's love dispassionately but rather will respond to it with their deepest affections. Truly seeing such good, they will have no choice but to love it. Glimpsing such love, they will be drawn away from their preoccupations with the gratifications of their most immediate sensations. They will be drawn from their self-centered universes. Seeing the beauty of the redemptive love of Christ as the true center of reality, they will love God and all that he has created.

By His Grace.

Monday, October 06, 2008

This "Day" in Chicago History: October 1, 1919

In light of the baseball playoffs, though sadly ending very prematurely for the Cubbies, I figured I would throw an article relating to baseball history here in the Chicago area. It is of course one of the most infamous stories in all of sports history:

The Black Sox
A fixed World Series casts a shadow over the national game.

The 1919 White Sox--the White Sox of Eddie Collins, Eddie Cicotte, Dickie Kerr, Ray Schalk, Buck Weaver and "Shoeless" Joe Jackson--are considered by baseball historians to be one of the greatest teams ever to take the field. But there were rumors about these Sox even before Cicotte's second pitch hit Morrie Rath, who was the leadoff batter for the underdog Cincinnati Reds in the first game of the World Series, played on this date. "I don't know yet what was the matter," Sox manager Kid Gleason told the Tribune's James Crusinberry the day the Reds won the Series. "Something was wrong. I didn't like the betting odds."

Those betting odds, in fact, had been a story even before the Series started. Bookies had made the Sox 7-5 favorites to win it all, and there was speculation those odds could go as high as 2-1 by game time. But in New York, a sudden and unusually large amount of cash was bet on the underdog Reds, sending odds there crashing toward even-money. After the Game 1 loss, White Sox owner Charles A. Comiskey told intimates he suspected a fix. The intimates suspected sour grapes, but the Reds would win the best-of-nine Series in eight games. Gleason was right: Something was wrong.On Sept. 28, 1920, the indictments came from a Cook County grand jury. Eight ballplayers were charged with conspiracy to commit fraud: Cicotte, Weaver, Jackson, Fred McMullin, Swede Risberg, Chick Gandil, Happy Felsch and Lefty Williams. Cicotte, whose plunking of Rath signaled that the fix was in, said he got $10,000 from gamblers. Jackson, who was promised $20,000, got only $5,000. When he complained, he said, Risberg threatened to kill him if he went public. So Jackson kept his mouth shut--and hit .375 in the Series. Defense lawyers argued that although the players admitted taking money to throw games, they had not intended to defraud the public.

"I guess I'm through with baseball," said Shoeless Joe. They all were. The jury acquitted them, but new baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned the eight "Black Sox" from the game forever. The suspected fixers got off clean. The man thought to be the power behind the fix, New York gambler Arnold Rothstein, never went to trial.

The White Sox, who won 96 games in 1920 to finish in second place, were a shambles. The next year, they wound up seventh.

It would be 1959--40 years after baseball's biggest scandal had destroyed a marvelous team and shaken the national game--before they would win another pennant.

By Alan Solomon | Tribune staff reporter

Friday, October 03, 2008

Common Absurdity

"For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God...we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.
-Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth

Paul wrote this 2000 years ago, yet the message remains the same today in contemporary America. We preach Christ crucified. We preach that God Himself became flesh and lived 33 years among all that Hecreated. We preach that He willingly went to His death on that cross. And we preach that Christ crucified is also Christ risen, that three days after His death on the cross, Jesus actually rose from the dead and is still alive today, reigning in heaven.

How absurd, right?

Just as the word of the cross was folly in Paul's day, those who cry "folly" and "absurdity" remain today. Just as our message hasn't changed in 2000 years, the response hasn't either.

The indictment is first on the person who actually believes that telling me, "what you believe about Jesus is absurd and foolish," is some kind of new truth, as if this hasn't been a part of what means to be a Christian for the last two millenia. Bill Maher's new documentary isn't bringing to light anything revelatory. Mature Christians know how the story sounds, but we also hold that "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Cor. 1:25).

But the indictment also falls on the unthinking, unmeditative Christian, which unfortunately is a large sum of our population. Do you ever stop to think about what the Christian story entails? Do you ever stop to think that you believe God actually became a man and lived on earth? Do you ever stop to meditate on the implications of Jesus dying on the cross? Do you ever dwell on the fact that if you say you are a Christian you say that a man who died rose from the dead three days later?

What has happened with Christianity in America is what I call "common absurdity," this phenomena where so many people claim Christianity that because it is so widely accepted and ingrained in culture the commonness of the absurdity actually makes it blindly accepted by most without giving second thought. Thus we can live in a so-called "Christian culture" with no Christ, because just as the absurdity becomes commonplace, so does the claim that Jesus was crucified, was buried, rose from the dead, and reigns on high forever and ever. It's like saying, "Yeah, Jesus rose from the can you please pass the salt?" The gospel is no longer the power of God.

This "common absurdity" is a big issue that I think directly effects our courage to share the truly powerful gospel boldly and courageously.

I just ask for those see our message as folly to come up with something better than that; it's an old tactic that when pressed only caused the Spirit to grow the church more. And for those who claim to revel in the foolishness of God--this includes me--I ask that we take the time each day to think and meditate on God's foolishness--and rejoice in gladness at the risen, exalted Jesus Christ who has rescued us from sin, Satan, death, and hell, boldly proclaiming this message of rescue, redemption, and resurrection to the world!

By His Grace.

Gospel in the Newspaper

I recently finished the book Finding Common Ground by Tim Downs. Here is a quote from that book I found extremely convicting and challenging:
John Wesley once commented that a mature Christian should be able to put his finger down anywhere in the Bible and work from that point to the gospel. That's an admirable goal, but I would like to suggest another skill that's needed just as much...a mature Christian should be able to put his finger down anywhere in today's newspaper and work from that point to the gospel.

How do I find this convicting and challenging:

  1. It still requires us to know our Bibles and the great gospel of Jesus Christ. This will never change.

  2. It challenges me to be up to date with what is going on in the culture. This may be the culture-at-large, i.e. America, or it may be where I am located, either the university newspaper or the city's newspaper. It could even become more focused into a particular field of interest.

  3. It is not enough to simply be informed, but to be thoughtful about culture. We must look at what we read, watch and listen to with a critical eye and ear to see what is truly being communicated.

  4. We must recognize that the gospel is needed in all areas of culture and that as Christ redeems individuals he redeems the culture through those individuals.

  5. We must learn to find what can link an article, a song, a show, a movie, a book, etc. to the gospel.

This is convicting because I know I do not do this too well and challenging because I know it can be done--through work, through prayer, and knowing that God truly does want people to be redeemed through the blood of Christ, not wishing anyone to perish, but for all to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9). We must engage our culture, especially in this day when we are taken less and less seriously. I pray to expose the need of every created human heart that cries to be reconciled to its Creator. Augustine said it well when he wrote, "O Lord, our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee."

By His Grace.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Midwest Winter

Right now it is the coldest it has been since my arrival here. The temperature is a mere 50 degrees. Needless to say this is still like the summer months in the Caribbean compared to what the winter brings come December-June or something hideous like that.

Every person I talk to, after hearing that I am from Florida, gets a frightened look on his or her face. "Have you ever experienced a Midwest winter?" is the immediate question they ask. I say I am originally from New Mexico and then I must quickly back that statement by mentioning that there are mountains in Santa Fe, it actually snows there, and there is some pretty good skiing as well. Once they get over the shock that New Mexico isn't just flat desert lands, they say, "But have you ever experienced a Midwest winter?" I come back with a confident, "No, but I sure do like seasons!" They laugh and say I am in for a big surprise.

Each conversation has constructed a more solidified image of this Midwest winter, where temperatures drop below 100, sometimes even making it close to -273 Celsius--the temperature where all motion ceases. People can't leave home without 15 layers, 12 jackets, and 5 pair of long johns. Then come the 16 pairs of socks, 22 pairs of gloves, and 5 pairs of boots--all at the same time! This just won't do for a Midwest winter though. One has to purchase clothes that have built-in heating systems so that at the touch of a button one can experience bursts of steam and a slight warming through a hot-water filtration system. It's all quite compelling actually. The snow stacks up so high we are actually holding class on the rooftops of the buildings and small city systems come out through the burrowed tunnels created under the snow. But I am sure my imagination in no way compares to what it's actually going to be like--it's probably worse!

Today in class someone actually prayed that I can make it through the winter. As for now, with the temperature being what it is, all I can do is brew a nice pot of delicious coffee, pull out my Bible, and enjoy life. All I can hope for as the weather gets colder is that I don't turn out like this guy:

By His Grace.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Desiring God Conference

So I just got home from my first real conference that wasn't associated with Campus Crusade for Christ. Ryan and I drove up to Minneapolis to hit up the annual Desiring God National Conference, which is part of Pastor John Piper's extensive ministry. This year's conference theme was The Power of Words and the Wonder of God. I remember the title so well thanks to Dr. Piper's humorous explanation of it this morning.

If the theme title peaks your interest at all, I am going to suggest you watch (not just listen, but watch) these three videos I am listing below from the speakers this weekend. These three were the most powerful for me personally and from those with who I have chatted the consensus seems to agree with me. I do hope you will take the time to watch to at least the first, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, who hails from Scotland so you will at least get a sweet accent to hear the entire time. If you have the time, however, watch not only to these three, but to all of them. They are all free so you might as well take advantage of them!

Dr. Sinclair Ferguson: "The Tongue, The Bridle, The Blessing"
Mark Driscoll: "How Sharp the Edge: Christ, Controversy, and Cutting Words"
Paul Tripp: “War of Words: Getting to the Heart for God’s Sake”

For a little humor you can also check out the first speaker panel, where Driscoll gives Dr. Piper a "special" gift.

I am very thankful for all the speakers and their unique contribution to this really amazing conference. God used them, the worship through music, and the conversations about the conference in amazing ways that I am just now beginning to unpack. I was able to get away to a nice coffee shop today in Stillwater, MN, which is right on the St. Croix River. During that time I was able to flesh out things regarding my calling, as I look more into that, and particularly how Dr. Ferguson's idea of "taming the tongue through the ministry of the Word in our hearts" plays a role--or lacks a role for that matter--in my life. I was convicted of my sin, and convinced of His grace this weekend. Christ was very much exalted and I hope that you will listen to these talks that He may be exalted through you as well.

By His Grace.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Skeptic? Critical? Envious? See How He Loves Us!

Jesus wept. So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?"
-The Gospel of John, Chapter 11

Envy. I would be exactly like those who spoke against Jesus. God has taught me a lot about envy these past few days as I grow to understand it more from the perspective of "sorrow at another man's success." I could be envious of some guy in the marketplace who is doing extremely well for himself according to this world's standards, making more money than I could ever know what to do with in my lifetime. Envy is not sorry over his soul; it's over his possessions. Anytime I walk in a big city like Chicago I am quickly tempted to be envious of the people who valet park their cars at the gigantic Marriot. I watch the valet drive away in their Mercedes as bell hops rush to get their Gucci bags for them so they can be waiting upstairs at their suites. I could be envious of the former CEO of Merril Lynch who used to be helicoptered over to a golf course after work in order to get 18 holes in before the day ended. I am tempted and sometimes fall for that temptation by putting them down, not angry at their sin or their indulgence, but angry because they have what my flesh wants. I could be envious of the guy who is better looking, more athletic, smarter than me, in a happy relationship, but none of these compare to being envious of someone alongside me in the Christian walk.

There were Jews who had come with Mary to the tomb of her brother, Lazarus. As best as I can understand, they must have somehow been connected with the family and wanted to pay condolences. They also seemed to be intrigued by the person of Jesus as they had heard that just days before he had healed the blindness of a man. Jesus was deeply moved by mary and the Jews' response to Lazarus' death and he asked where they had laid him. She took him over to the tomb and Jesus' immediate, initial reaction is to weep. To weep. Jesus. Wept. He wept. This does not connote tears just welling up in his eyes, or one tiny droplet running down his cheek. Could you imagine losing one of your closest friends? How would you react at his or her funeral? I know some try to hold their emotions in at a funeral, not wanting to be perceived as weak, but that wasn't Jesus' take. This breaks all the stereotypes of the stone-faced Jesus who knew no emotion. This was his care. His compassion. His love. Weeping does not equal weakness and he would soon show how strong he really was.

The Jews saw this. Most of them. Most responded by witnessing the love of Christ being poured out through His flood of tears over Lazarus' death. These Jews rightly commented on Jesus' reaction saying, "See how he loved him!" But there were some who reacted another way. Others said, "How is it that this Jesus could heal a blind man, but couldn't even prevent his close friend from dying? Who does he think he is?" Some might say these other Jews were skeptical, much like the critics today, who challenge God, saying "God, if you are truly real, reveal yourself to me. Show up at my door. Just for a second. If you are real and you want me to know you, that's all I need. Then I will believe. If not, you're not much of a God and I don't want to believe in you anyway."

Although this might be part of the truth, I think there might be more to it. I think these folk were envious of him, knowing the stories being told, knowing there was something mysterious about him. They were there, seeking him only weeping and their response wasn't continual sorrow alongside him over the loss of Lazarus; instead it was a critical attitude toward Jesus, saying if he had healed the blind man, why couldn't he prevent this? What kind of healer are you, Jesus?

Their response was in part a critique from envy toward Jesus, who many were calling "The Prophet" and even "The Messiah!" But who does he think he is? He can't even prevent this man's death! This is a bitterness that is pinned up against the beautiful, caring, loving, powerful, mighty Jesus Christ. The envy holds strong enough to the poin that even after he conquers Lazarus' death by raising him to life--an action that should silence any skeptic or critic--these Jews go and report it to the Pharisees who, from that day, "made plans to put him to death." These people who claimed to be religious were steeped deep in envy and were unable to enjoy God and his might works.

Here is the danger for Christians who are envious of other Christians. Our Triune God is restoring his Kingdom right now. That is beyond questioning. This same God is also choosing to do so as he sees fit with whom he chooses when he chooses where he chooses and how he chooses. His plan and actions are greater than ours and his lowliest work is infinitely greater than 10,000 valiant human acts. As a result different parts of the body function in different capacities and serve a wide-range of purposes. All the parts of the body are working together for the glory of God and his Kingdom. But envy takes our eyes off Christ and off this purpose, instead fixing them on the other parts of the body as a hand now wants to be a foot. Rather than rejoicing in how God is using his feet, the hand criticizes it and think it deserves to take the foot's place or receive as much recognition or responsibility as the foot. The hand forgets its job, its responsibility, and stops serving the body or it tries to do more than God has given it to do, overworking itself, the body, and making things disjointed all together.

Sadly this happens in so many ways--in the Church and in my life. I am too often envious of the more theologically sound Christian, the Christian who has written books, the Christian who is a great preacher, the Christian who sees thousands come to Christ, the Christian who is a missionary in a "glorified" location, the Christian who pastors a large church. And instead of immediately rejoicing in what God is doing, I jump right into critical thoughts filled with envy and questions of, "Why not me?" and "When is it going to be my turn?" I am sorrow-filled at another Christian's so-called success. This is a worldly sorrow, which only produces death.

So I pray for the skeptic non-Christians, who continually present challenges to God as if he owes it to them to reveal himself in a greater way than through the love of Christ that has already been put on display through his death on the Cross and his own beautiful resurrection. But I also pray for Christians and myself, that we can be like those Jews who saw the true love of Christ toward his friend, able to see in the lives of Christians all around me and the world how the Holy Spirit truly is working in their hearts, through their lives, for the Kingdom and for God's glory.

By His Grace.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Is Jesus "Made in America"?

Here is a book review on Steve Nichols' recently published book, Jesus Made in America.

In his book, Jesus Made in America, author Steve Nichols poses the thesis that the Jesus known from generation to generation is more of a culturally created Jesus than the biblically centered Christ Jesus. He posits that theology is not done in a vacuum, interpretation is not made through a crystal clear, unbiased lens, and that “Jesus, like most cultural heroes, is malleable.” Nichols sees a special way in which American evangelicalism contemporizes Christ on four counts: they are consistently antitraditionalistic, meaning they have a tendency to be suspicious of tradition; when they do follow tradition, it’s to the tune of Luther’s sola scriptura, creating a naïve hermeneutic of Scripture; they “tend toward an objectivist or foundational epistemology,” meaning a belief becomes the belief; and finally they highly value pietism, or the experiential, over doctrine. According to Nichols, these four factors make American evangelicals vulnerable to root their Christology in the ever evolving, rapidly changing American culture. If rooted in culture, it thus follows that what grows will be a Jesus truly “made in America” (pg. 12).

The thrust of Nichols’ thesis is found subtly in the main titling of each chapter, as chapter one is the only that refers to Jesus as Christ. The rest, two through eight, all use the name, Jesus. This may simply be a coincidence, but it is telling nonetheless. Explicitly, Nichols’ defends that the Puritans were orthodox in doctrine, with lifestyle and practice stemming from their strong and thorough understanding of the two-natured Christology of Jesus being both God and man as he writes, “The Puritans, to put it another way, were stout of mind and heart” (pg. 38). Yet right on the heels of Puritans like Jonathan Edwards, who rightly predicted an Arian influence arriving in America, was a wave of dissolved Christology, where “the heart overtook the head,” first being introduced through William Ellery Channing and his religion, Unitarianism. Nichols then spends the following chapters telling the history and exposing the impact of our culture in the making of the American Jesus, a culture that never has returned to its Puritan roots, seemingly living in their constant shadow as each generation tries to break more and more free.

In the New Republic era a literal cut and paste job of the Gospels done by Thomas Jefferson marks a time when he and other influential fathers of our nation like Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Paine were not only bringing about a new identity for America as an independent nation, but were also giving Jesus an identity that fit their cause. Nichols notes that, “the founders were deeply religious, but, with the exception here or there, not Christian in any orthodox sense—precisely because they answered the question of the identity of Jesus of Nazareth wrongly” (pg. 51). Though the founders have been Christianized over the years, Nichols strongly argues that what they really sought from Jesus was his virtue, summing it up by stating that, “Franklin and Jefferson’s moralizing, as well as Paine’s rationalizing, have a direct impact on the early nineteenth-century evangelical Jesus…It was not what Jesus taught, and certainly not what was taught bout him, that mattered, but instead what Jesus did” (pg. 71).

In the nineteenth-century, “Jesus is no longer the God above, the God-man who breaks into this world. Instead, he becomes interpreted by this world, conformed to cultural mores and ideological pressures, be they of Jacksonian era politics, frontier sensibilities, genteel Victorian manners or even Union ideals or Confederate dreams” (pg. 76). For frontiersmen like Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone, Jesus needed to be a “suitable Savior, not one of the theological exactitude of the creeds but one that reflects the simple stories of the Gospels” (pg. 82); Victorians like J. Paterson-Smyth needed the gentle Jesus, making up stories about his childhood and also taking the ones of him blessing children, narrowing his life and person, making him, in the words of Mark Driscoll, a “marginalized, Galilean peasant.”

Nichols is dead on in his assessment of our contemporary evangelical Christian culture by looking at four major influences on Americans: music, films, goods, and politics. Earlier in the book he hinted at how the shaping of Jesus would affect us today by writing that, “Jefferson wanted…a religion fit for public consumption. Curiously that’s exactly what Jefferson found” (pg. 55, emphasis added). And that’s exactly what Americans find today in our overly consumeristic culture—Big Business Jesus fit for the consumption of all. Christ lost out to capitalism a long time ago.

Whether it’s the Jesus Movement turning into the behemoth known as Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), or films such as The Passion of the Christ raking in millions of dollars, or entrepreneurs taking a slice of the Jesus market, or politicians using “faith in Jesus” as a way of winning votes—at the heart of it all for Nichols is the utter lack of orthodoxy in American evangelicalism. Some, like the Jesus Movement, made great strides for the sake of the gospel as it was being preached by ex-drug addicts and the like, which Nichols begrudgingly acknowledges: “But the Jesus People, if numbers count, were effective at winning souls” (pg. 128). However, with an overwhelming amount of evidence, such as Precious Moments and the Precious Moments Chapel, countless songs like “I Can Only Imagine,” which emphasize feeling and experience over theological accuracy, and the politicizing of Jesus as he becomes “a man of the issues,” Nichols exposes an popular American Evangelicalism that doesn’t know Jesus, the Christ.

Nichols is also right in being cautious in his critique. He does not call MercyMe singing heretics. He does not call for the burning of all the movies portraying Jesus or all Jesus gear. He recognizes that certain songs express longings similar to those in the Psalms and that movies such as the Jesus Film Project seek to be as real and authentic as possible. But the caution enters as he is keenly aware of the fact that most American Evangelicals get their theology from pop Christian culture instead of the solid study of Scripture as he writes, “Evangelicals tend to get their theology from popular novels, learning about spiritual warfare from Frank Peretti and learning about all things ‘rapture’ from the dynamic duo of LaHaye and Jenkins. They also get their theology from popular music. If numbers can be trusted, then the amount of albums bought, songs downloaded and hours logged listening to Christian radio cannot lie” (pg. 143). Nichols sums it up best by quoting Mark Noll: “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”

Although I agree with most of Nichols’ critique and analysis my question is, “against which tradition is America always in rebellion?” How does it not follow that, like with many other cultural trends, the pendulum doesn’t really seem to swing back to a “Puritan” view of Jesus? Instead, Nichols paints a picture of how Jesus, the Christ, has been increasingly watered down to slogans like “WWJD” or “Try Jesus” since the days of the Puritans and that the “tradition” continually rebelled against is theirs? Do Americans, this “Christian” nation, really live in the shadow of its Puritan foundations, each generation fighting to break free? I think this is a weakness in Nichols’ argument, as he only loosely states and rarely defends throughout the book that “for every Harry Emerson Fosdick, there is a J.Gresham Machen” (pg. 12).

In the epilogue, Nichols offers some fairly hope-filled advice to his readers to look to Scripture first before tradition or experience, to challenge what is acceptable, to build each other up, to teach “the cardinal doctrine of the person of Christ” (pg. 226), and to not shrink back from the complex truths in Scripture, particularly two-natured Christology. Sadly though, Nichols’ critique never really comes with the glimmers of light for the present era, such as the theologically sound music of The David Crowder Band and The Cross Movement or the impact of the Christ-saturated preaching and writing of John Piper, Tim Keller, CJ Mahaney, Matt Chandler, and Mark Driscoll. Although the warning is well warranted and there is a much greater need for orthodox Christianity to invade and impact all aspects of our culture, Nichols and others can be somewhat encouraged that our sovereign God is in complete control and that there are people who don’t just say, “experience our American Jesus,” but are confessing, like Peter, that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16).

By His Grace.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

This "Day" in Chicago History

In case you've been keeping up with me at all, you know that I am making somewhat of a concerted effort to know the beautiful city of Chicago a little bit more as my time here progresses. I have done a few things to encourage that: I went to the Art Institute, hit up the annual Jazz Festival, and most recently went to Cubs game this past Friday (sadly they got destroyed). Adding to this I have watched two classic films that have featured the city--Ferris Bueller's Day Off and High Fidelity. The process is slow, but I have a few other things in the works.

One thing I have decided to do is read at least an article a week on something that happened in Chicago that has helped shape it into the city it is today. Fortunately for me, the The Chicago Tribune has compiled a series of articles marking important events in the city's history over the last 150 years! My hope is to find something on the exact day I post these notes, but if I cannot, the article will pertain to something loosely associated with the "day." Most of the articles will be from contemporary journalists looking back on that certain day, though I hope to produce some originals as I develop my research skillz.

The Chicago Seven trial and the 1968 Democratic National Convention

Everybody knew it would be interesting, the trial of eight people charged with conspiring to incite the riots that erupted during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. How could it not be, with a cast of characters that included hippie leaders Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, Black Panther Party leader Bobby Seale, activist ideologues Tom Hayden and Rennie Davis, old-time liberal David Dellinger, and strict and conservative U.S. District Judge Julius J. Hoffman?

But nobody knew as the trial began on this morning that the trial would drag out over 4 1/2 months and disintegrate into a chaotic shambles that came to symbolize the widening gap between generations cleaved by the war in Vietnam.

Beginning as the Chicago Eight Trial, it quickly became the Chicago Seven when Seale, after loudly disrupting the trial when he could not have the lawyer of his choice, was at first bound and gagged in the courtroom and then severed from the case for a later trial, which never occurred. Judge Hoffman, a stickler for courtroom decorum, was challenged daily by the defendants, especially Abbie Hoffman, who called the judge "Julie" and once entered the courtroom wearing judicial robes, which he threw to the floor and trod upon. The trial became a three-sided war involving the defendants and their lawyers, William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass; the prosecutors, Thomas Foran and Richard Schultz; and the judge.

That war extended to the streets as well, with almost daily demonstrations gathering in the South Loop. On Oct. 11, a Loop rally turned violent in the notorious Days of Rage riots, when members of the Weatherman faction and other anti-war groups ran amok in the city streets, breaking windows, fighting police and leaving an assistant city corporation counsel, Richard Elrod, partially paralyzed when he tried to seize a demonstrator.

It ended with the jury deciding that five of the defendants-- Rubin, Hoffman, Hayden, Davis and Dellinger--had incited riots but had not conspired to do so. Defendants Lee Weiner and John Froines were acquitted of all charges. But Judge Hoffman sentenced all seven defendants and two defense lawyers to contempt-of-court jail sentences.

Eventually, all of the contempt sentences and the riot charges were either dismissed by higher courts or dropped by the government. At the time, it was the Trial of the Century, but in the end, the Chicago Seven Trial seemed to mean nothing at all.

By Robert Davis, Chicago Tribune

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Three Major Take-Aways From "The Call"

My two previous posts alluded to a book I was reading for a class which was also one that I had been planning to read for personal pleasure as well. The book is entitled The Call: Finding and Fulling the Central Purpose for Your Life.As one who hopes to have a stronger idea of what exactly God is calling me to, I assumed that reading a book with such an apt title written by a seasoned, intellectual Christian would provide concrete answers and steps to discover my calling. Guinness’ book did everything but what I was expecting; although that was the case I thoroughly enjoyed the read. From this book I gleaned three major pieces of wisdom that have truly helped shape my understanding of calling in general and how I personally should be approaching God’s calling on my life.

The first is from one of the opening chapters where Guinness makes a powerful distinction in calling that is not talked about much in Christian circles as he writes, “Our primary calling as followers of Christ is by him, to him, and for him. First and foremost we are called to Someone (God), not to something (such as motherhood, politics, or teaching) or to somewhere (such as the inner city or Outer Mongolia). Building off of this in a later chapter he writes of Abraham and the Israelites, “In both cases their sense of direction and meaning came solely from God’s call, not from their foresight, their wisdom, or their ability to read their circumstances. Being in seminary one of the first questions asked me is, “What are you doing after?” or “What are you called to do?” I am so tempted just several weeks in to give them answer to what I will be doing three or four years from now and often I give one. But what I learned from these passages is that my calling is primarily to God, not to do something or go somewhere. I am learning to be content in my calling first to God, living for Him each day, trusting that the rest will be revealed as He chooses.

The second somewhat stems from this and is the main idea of the chapter The Audience of One. Guinness writes, “A life lived listening to the decisive call of God is a life lived before one audience that trumps all others—the Audience of One.” I read this knowing that I live before an audience greater than God, namely the audience of my family. For reasons I am still discovering, I feel as though I am living in the shadow of a family that does not approve nor fully understand why I am doing what I am doing and Who I am called to. Much of my hope is this though which says, “one day they will see exactly the great things God does through me as I preach in front of thousands and write dozens of books.” I want their praise, though I know I shouldn’t nor will I ever be satisfied in it. Reading this chapter was one step closer to freeing me to help me see that I live for God and God alone.

The final piece of wisdom brought a lot of practical light to my Christian life and calling. In the chapter What is That to You? Guinness deals with the sin of envy, using Thomas Aquinas’ definition—“sorrow at another’s good.” Sadly envy has characterized much of my Christian walk up this point as I can recall countless times where I would compare myself with other believers who were better theologians, better speakers, better writers, more accomplished at my age, more compassionate—the list could go on. After reading this chapter I was led to go before the Lord in repentance of this disgusting sin, knowing that it hinders me from rejoicing in what God is doing in and through my brothers and sisters in Christ. I know that it also hinders my calling to God in terms of seeing the best in others and utilizing that for the sake of his Kingdom.

I am very thankful to have read The Call, seeing God’s faithfulness in revealing more of himself to me each day. I pray to heed the words Guinness concludes each chapter with: “Listen to Jesus of Nazareth; answer his call.”

By His Grace.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Sin of Sloth

Here is another convicting and frightening quote from Guinness' book The Call. This quote is from Václav Havel, the famous president of Czechoslovakia and first president of the free Czech Republic. Before rising to power and fame, Havel was imprisoned for his outspoken dissidence again Soviet totalitarianism. He wrote what are known as the Letters to Olga, which "has joined Dietrich Bonhoeffer's World War II Letters and Papers from Prison and Boethius's sixth-century Consolation of Philosophy as the three classic prison letters of the West.

For the quote to make any sense, I must use Guinness definition of sloth, which is, "a condition of explicitly spiritual dejection that has given up on the pursuit of God, the true, the good, and the beautiful. Sloth is inner despair at the worthwhileness of the worthwhile that finally slumps into an attitude of ‘Who cares?’”

In his Letters, Havel commented on how modern man has grown cynical, having "lost faith in everything." As he continues with this thought, here is what Havel writes with what I consider an ominously prophetic voice:

The temptation of Nothingness is enormous and omnipresent, and it has more and more to rest its case on, more to appeal to. Against it, man stands alone, weak and poorly armed, his position worse than ever before in history. The tragedy of modern man is not that he knows less and less about the meaning of his own life, but that it bothers him less and less…

Friday, September 12, 2008

Do You See These Days As A Time To Stand

I am reading this book by one of the great thinkers of our time, Os Guinness. Yes, he is a direct descendant of Arthur Guinness, the brewer and founder of Guinness beer. The book I am reading is entitled The Call, which was written to help Christians really discover and understand the concept of calling as it is spelled out for us in Scripture, establishing from the get go that we are not called to do something or go somewhere, but primarily we are called to Someone. I am not halfway through it, but I am already amazed at the balance he maintains between intellect and real pastoral care (though I don't think he is a pastor or ever has been one).

These words are from his chapter, A Time To Stand and I think they are some of the most powerful words for this generation of believers, requiring serious consideration:
Many followers of Jesus today have not begun to wrestle with the full dimensions of the truths of calling because they have not been stretched by the real challenges of today's world and by the momentousness of the present hour. "A time to stand" is a time to behave as our Lord would wish us to behave. A time to behave is a time to believe as he has taught us to believe. A time to believer is a time to move from small, cozy formulations of faith to knowing what it is to be called by him as the deepest, most stirring, and most consuming passion of our lives.

Do you see what he is getting at? Do you understand the magnitude of these words? The days have passed where you could get by with saying, "Yeah, Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior." Gone are the days where you could live a formulaic, comfortable, easy Christian life, never really considering why you believe what you believe. Gone are the days when you could insulate yourself in a little bubble and try to run as far away as possible from ever trying to understand the world and its ways.

Now are the days where we need to be versed in Scripture, willing to take a stand on the Rock of our salvation, the One in Whom we say our whole lives are wrapped? Now are the days where we need to embrace and engage culture, not shying away because we don't understand. Now are the days of learning, reading, writing, growing, and challenging ourselves and others with us to share the truth of God's love for all of us, of Christ's death for our disobedience against God, our Creator, and the foundation for why we believe--because Jesus Christ is risen! Now are the days of submission to our Lord and an obedience to our King who reigns on high, he who was and is and is to come.

These are the days. Do you see them as a time to stand?

By His Grace.

Change? How Intolerant!

You really think there's a need for change?
What are you trying to say?
Are you saying that there is actually something wrong with the way things are done?
On what basis are you making this claim?
What gives you the authority to say something's wrong and needs to change?
The audacity! The gall!
How intolerant of you!

Why can't you just accept things the way they are?
Why can't you accept me for who I am?
I don't do harm to anyone.
I don't know anyone who does.
I think things are going fine.
How is it that now you want to impose some kind of change on me?
Why are you seeking to oppress me and the way I live?

On top of that, you guys just won't leave me alone!
Everywhere I go I see your faces.
Everywhere I am I hear your words;
I know you're trying to persuade me with your speech.
You have these big meetings.
And everyone is screaming, waving their hands, going crazy.
I think you're kind of weird. All of you.
Yet you want to tell me that things need to change.
You have got to be some of the most intolerant people in the world.

More on where I am going with this later...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Words Can't Describe This

Welcome to the "Village" of Wheeling

Besides Chicago, there doesn't seem to be any cities here in close proximity. I have this odd feeling that the great State of Illinois just wants to give that city the only distinction as a city, thus call it the City of Chicago.

There are no towns. There are no townships. Instead, there are villages. Village of Deerfield. Village of Bannockburn. Village of Wheeling. Within 3 minutes one could drive through all three of these and many more, never knowing exactly which village one is in.

Unless, there are those banners on light posts; you know, the same exact ones on each light post. Those are what I saw today. On each post was written, "Welcome to the Village of Wheeling."

But here is the interesting fact about where I live. The light posts are not like quaint, victorianesque light posts one would expect for a village. Instead they are your regular, tall, gangly light post that curves out at the top over the street. To add to this is the fact that while I am driving through this "village" I am on a six-lane road next to semi trucks and other large carrier vehicles. The "village" is made complete with an enormous outdoor shopping plaza filled with your everyday neighborhood stores like Barnes N' Noble & the IMAX movie theater.

So how is this a village you might ask? Well to make sure everyone knows they are not in a city, or a town, but in a village, the local chief decides to make the speed limit on the six-lane country road 35 mph.

This is where I live.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Why Pro-Life?

I am pro-life. I don't think that by my saying that many are surprised. However, I'm not pro life in the "I-will-embarrass-maim-brutalize-kill-anyone-with-a-pro-choice" kind of way that seems to be a popular way of trying to get a message across.

I am pro life basically because I believe that there is a beautiful result and benefit from sex besides pleasure, and that is the power to create a new life. Sometimes that power is not exercised (i.e. contraception). But when a sperm and an egg do join, this power is unleashed and life begins. Once that life does begin, to take it away is murder. And finally I care for life in general, both for the mother and for the child that is forming inside of her.

At its core, this is not a political position I am taking; I do not think that this is essentially a "law" issue because if we are honest with ourselves as human beings we would recognize that abortions have occurred over the decades and centuries whether or not it is allowable by law. An overturn of Roe v. Wade is something I do desire because I do believe it is wrong to have a government that is legally sanctioning murder, but I would be ignorant to believe that this would rid our country of the atrocity of abortion.

So why I am writing about this then? Well I read two interesting pieces today that I wanted to share with the audience who reads this blog. The first was an article in the International Herald Tribune on Joe Biden's stance on when life begins, which he says, "I'm prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception."

Here is the rest article

But the other piece I read today was a little more startling. Again, although this is not just a law thing, Roe v. Wade gets most of the attention, yet other laws we have established on the state and federal level are telling of some major inconsistencies in thought. I am reading a book called Why Pro-Life? Caring for the Unborn and Their Mothers by Randy Alcorn. I suggest this read for anyone interested in the issue, regardless of what end of the spectrum from which you are coming. It's really short and an easy read with some compelling evidence. In one section he provides some of the very inconsistencies in the law, which also reveal inconsistencies on where many of our nations leaders stand with regards to the life of an unborn child. Here is what he writes:
At the Medical University of South Carolina, if a pregnant woman's urine test indicates cocaine use, she can be arrested for distributing drugs to a minor. Similarly, in Illinois a pregnant woman who takes an illegal drug can be prosecuted for "delivering a controlled substance to a minor." This is an explicit recognition that the unborn is a person with rights, deserving protection even from his mother.

However, that same woman who's prosecuted and jailed for endangering her child is free to abort that same child. In America today, it's illegal to harm your preborn child, but it's perfectly legal to kill him.

The U.S. Congress voted unanimously to delay capital punishment of a pregnant woman until after her delivery. Every congressman, even if pro-choice, knew that this unborn baby was a separate person, innocent of his mother's crime...

Many states have passed fetal homicide laws, declaring it murder for anyone but the mother to deliberately take the life of a preborn child. These laws are explicit affirmations that the child is a human being. In 2004 Congress passed the "Unborn Victims of Violence Act," which states that someone who "intentionally kills or attempts to kill the unborn punished...for intentionally killing or attempting to kill a human being."

Consider the bizarre implications of this double standard. If a woman is scheduled to get an abortion, but on her way to the abortion clinic her baby is killed in-utero, the baby's killer will be prosecuted for murder. But if this murder doesn't occur, an hour later the doctor will be paid to perform a legal procedure killing exactly the same child (in a way that is probably more gruesome).

To the child, what's the difference who kills her?

This is just one bit of evidence Alcorn provides and find much of his argument compelling, though I know I already come from his perspective on things. If you'd like to hear the rest, again, I suggest picking up the book.

I know people get really worked up over this issue and I am not seeking to start an enormous fire. I am willing to be conversant and hear where people are coming from, discussing it in a civil manner because we are, after all, human beings.

By His Grace.