Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Emerging Church and the Emergent Movement

In late July I will be participating in a two-day course/colloquium that focuses in part on the Emerging Church. While I have dipped into the broader discussion here and there, in order for me to participate intelligently, I need to do some substantial reading. So for those of you who have read on the subject, what resources do you recommend? I want to focus mostly on reading folks within the emergent movement itself, since I am generally familiar with the criticisms raised.

N.B. This is not the place to begin the debate on the Emergent Movement! As time passes and I read on the subject, I may in fact post on it. But for now I am in the research stage!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"An Obedient King" (Matt 26:36-46)

This past Sunday I had the privilege of preaching at our new church home (Christ's Covenant Church). I preached from Matthew 26:36-46. For those who might be interested, you can listen to the sermon here.

Monday, January 15, 2007

MLK Jr.'s "Dream"

Given that today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I have decided to post here an op-ed piece that I wrote for the campus newspaper at Ohio University sometime in the late 90s (I forget the exact year). At the time I was on staff w/ Campus Crusade for Christ. As you read, keep in mind that the piece was written for publication in a VERY liberal campus newspaper. I'd welcome any comments you might have.

Few individuals in the 20th century have had a greater impact on our nation than Martin Luther King Jr.. The societal change that Dr. King brought about was nothing short of miraculous, and the legacy of his heroic efforts lives on today.

We as a culture have the responsibility to see that the changes Dr. King fought for so diligently will live on for generations to come. Despite his dream to see people of all different ethnic backgrounds living together in society peacefully, and the efforts made in the past 30 years to make that dream a reality, we would all agree that the fulfillment of this dream has not been reached. This raises the obvious question of what has gone wrong.

Various reasons could be cited as to why this is the case, and arguments could be advanced as to which factors are the most prominent in preventing the fulfillment of King's dream. But I am convinced that if we are to discover what lies at the foundation of the problem, we need to examine two key assumptions that helped form the basis of Dr. King's views on racial equality. Both of these key pillars to King's belief system were rooted in the Bible, which should come as no surprise to us considering the fact that he was a pastor first and foremost.

The first assumption is that we as human beings have been created in the image of God. There are many ramifications to this idea, but the primary one for our purposes here is one of significance and value. Since every individual human being is created in the image of God, every individual is entitled to the same dignity and respect. This is what sets us apart from the rest of creation; we were created with the specific purpose of reflecting God's character. Because every individual of every ethnic group was created in the image of God, there's no room for racism. The perpetuation of racism is fundamentally incompatible with the Biblical idea of humanity created in the image of God. I recognize that in the past there have been those who have attempted to defend racism and slavery by appeals to the Bible, but that simply reflects a terrible error in interpretation and a fundamental failure to understand the broader context of the entire Bible. Let me state it in the most explicit terms possible: racism is a sin that grieves the heart of God deeply and in no way can be supported by any responsible reading of the Bible.

The second assumption which acted as a pillar of King's belief system was the idea that each of us as human beings are ultimately accountable to God for the way in which we live our lives. There are consequences for the evil things that we do in this life. This is such a prominent theme in the Bible that it is virtually impossible to miss. Because each of us must ultimately answer to God for the way in which we live our lives, it is in our best interests to live in such a way that we reflect God’s standards of right and wrong on a daily basis. A society composed of individuals who understand their accountability to God should make every effort to ensure that our society (composed of individuals made in the image of God) reflects the justice of God himself.

These two key assumptions helped form the basis of King's understanding of racial equality. It might be objected that King does not deal with these ideas explicitly in his speeches, and that I am merely reading them into this situation for my own purposes. But I would argue that the reason King does not mention these ideas very prominently in his speeches is the fact that these two key ideas were part of our cultural believe system 30 years ago. He did not have to explicitly mention his belief that each human being bears the image of God and is ultimately accountable to God for their actions because an overwhelming majority of our culture agreed with these two assumptions. They simply had not applied these two beliefs to the issue of racial equality.

The primary reason why King's dream has not been more fully realized in the past 30 years is that our culture no longer believes these two key assumptions. Most individuals in our culture no longer believe that every individual human being is created in the image of God and must ultimately answer to God for the way in which that individual lives that life. Life is now viewed as a cosmic accident in which each individual is merely the product of a Darwinian struggle for the survival of the fittest. The tragedy of this conclusion is that such a belief system cannot give an adequate reason for why racism is wrong. In fact, if life indeed is merely a survival of the fittest, it would logically follow that racism would be acceptable. (I'm not saying that everyone who believes in evolution is a racist; I am merely pointing out that if evolution is true it is extremely difficult to come up with a reason why racism is wrong).

I wholeheartedly share Dr. King’s dream of a society of people from many different ethnic backgrounds living together joyfully in a community. Yet I do not see how this dream will ever become reality if our culture continues to deny these two key pillars of King's belief system: humanity created in the image of God, and human accountability to God. It is my hope that our culture will once again embrace these ideas and move ever closer to the fulfillment of Dr. King's dream.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Ezra 7:9-10 - A Description of Pastoral Ministry

In reading through Ezra, I was once again struck by the summary description of Ezra's ministry to the returned exiles found in 7:9-10
"For on the first of the first month he began to go up from Babylon; and on the first of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, because the good hand of his God was upon him. 10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel."
This text presents several lessons for pastoral ministry:

1. The Call of God - In verse 9 it is stressed that Ezra's arrival in Jerusalem was the result of God's hand being upon him. A pastor needs to understand that his role is the result of the calling and leading of God, not his own ambition.

2. The Study of God's Word - Ezra "set his heart" to study God's Word. This expression involves both the will and the affections. A pastor must be a person who makes the study of God's Word foundational to his own life and ministry. Without this foundation pastoral ministry is doomed.

3. The Practice of God's Word - Ezra sought not only to gain knowledge when studying the Word, but to live it out. A pastor must be someone who not only excels in cognitive knowledge of Scripture but also applied knowledge of Scripture. Many a pastor's profound teaching from the Word is severely undercut by a failure to live out Scripture before his people in such a way that his actions match his teaching. Of course, no one does this perfectly, but it must be the intention of the pastor to apply his study of the Word FIRST to himself.

4. The Teaching of God's Word - Ezra fully intended to not merely gain knowledge of Scripture for himself or even live it out, but also to teach the Word to others. This commitment to the teaching of God's Word must be foundational to a pastor's ministry, NO MATTER WHAT CAPACITY HE SERVES IN. This is not merely for the "senior" or "preaching" pastor, but for every pastor/elder who serves in the church. Of course this will look different depending on the nature of his ministry, but it is the bedrock for all pastoral ministry.

In closing, I should note that the call to study, live, and teach God's Word is not limited to pastors, but to all of God's people. Are you committed to the study, application, and teaching of God's Word?

Finishing Marsden on Edwards; Dallimore on Whitefield Next

Last week I finished Marsden's bio of Jonathan Edwards. It was a terrific read. It reminded me of why I so admire Jonathan Edwards, warts and all. For those interested in finding out more about Edwards, the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University (the folks who produce the definitive scholarly collection of JE's works and house a good number of his manuscripts) has a blog you might be interested in.

Because I enjoyed Marsden's JE so much, I have decided to now work my way through George Whitefield by Arnold Dallimore (vol. 1 and vol. 2). As a contemporary and admirer of Edwards, Whitefield shared a similar passion for the advance of the gospel and was key figure in the Great Awakening both here in the United States and also in England. My wife read through both volumes last year and loved them. (For those paying attention, you'll note that I am trying to catch up to my wife in the area of reading biographies; she is currently reading vol. 1 of the biography on Martin Lloyd-Jones).

Have any of you read Dallimore on Whitefield? If so, what were your impressions?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Edwards on the Effects of the Fall

In reading the Edwards biography, I was reminded of this passage in Edwards' masterpiece Original Sin. He is speaking of what happened to human nature when Adam rebelled:

"The inferior principles of self-love and natural appetite, which were given only to serve, being alone, and left to themselves, of course became reigning principles; having no superior principles to regulate or control them, they became absolute masters of the heart. The immediate consequence of which was a fatal catastrophe, a turning of all things upside down, and the succession of a state of the most odious and dreadful confusion. Man did immediately set up himself, and the objects of his private affections and appetites, as supreme; and so they took the place of God. The inferior principles are like fire in an house; which, we say, is a good servant, but a bad master; very useful while kept in its place, but if left to take possession of the whole house, soon brings all to destruction." (Original Sin, Works of Jonathan Edwards vol. 3, pp. 382-83)

I find Edwards understanding of our "natural" desires helpful in recognizing the proper place for our "natural" desires. When contained in its proper sphere, fire has many important uses: heating a home, providing light, cooking food, etc. But the moment that fire escapes the fireplace and has free reign in the home, destruction is not far away. In the same manner, our natural desires for food, sex, love for self, love for family, etc., when not in total submission to the control of the Holy Spirit, lead to our own destruction.