Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Gutsy Guilt

I'm working on my message for this Sunday at Eastgate Bible Fellowship in Bellevue, WA and the point I'm working on reminded me of this great article by John Piper. I thought it worth linking for those who may have missed it.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Twitter, Guy Kawasaki, and Horoscopes

I’m on Twitter now. Not sure what to think of it, but there’s one thing I know. Guy Kawasaki is all over the internet finding interesting and odd tidbits. Here’s his link (via Twitter) on why you shouldn’t believe your horoscope (http://www.dumblittleman.com/2009/03/why-you-should-ignore-your-horoscope.html). I’m new to the game, but this guy is a Twitter machine. Non-stop! The verdict’s out on whether or not I’m going to be much of a tweeter, but following Guy Kawasaki makes it worth keeping my account.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Good Samaritan Challenge

Thursday night we studied the story of the Good Samaritan. We learned that rather than asking who our neighbor is, Jesus wants us to be a neighbor and serve those around us - regardless of who they are. So I laid out the Good Samaritan Challenge. Here it is.
Anonymously share your stories under the Comments (lower right) how this week you...

Saw a need (large or small) and met it.
Served someone you don’t like and/or makes you uncomfortable.
Tell what you did.
Tell how you felt about that person as you were serving them.
Tell us what Jesus taught you.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Flannery O'Connor Messes With My Head

I had a friend in college, an English major, talk about how great Flannery O'Connor was. It was filed somewhere in my head. A few years ago I subscribed to Mars Hill Audio and one of their guests talked about her, too. Finally, I was working on a reading list that would take me through both Christian and non-Christian classic literature. She popped up again on one of the lists I was using. So I purchased A Good Man is Hard to Find at Barnes & Noble.

I've read the first three of ten short stories and I don't know how to describe the stories. They're strange, severe, and haunting. While she's a Catholic writer, I don't think you'll find her stuff at your local Bible bookstore. I'm no critic, but her writing isn't something I enjoy in the sense that it is a nice diversion. I enjoy it because I keep thinking about it - and that's the same reason I don't like it. I can't seem to get it out of my head until I "get" a particular story.

The first couple stories made left me with an uncomfortable, "Wow." Not "Wow!" Just "Wow." But the third story, "The Life You Save May Be Your Own," still left me uncomfortable, but also puzzled, wondering what she's trying to get at. I found some university students giving their best shot, which was helpful, but I'm still searching for some authoritative conclusion. Any ideas?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Christ and Culture: Christ TRANSFORMS Culture (conversionist), part 2 (Historical Examples)

His historical example is St. Augustine (and he mentions John Calvin, too) who has a significant view of sin, but also looks forward to the transformation of culture in human history – and he was a key figure in the movement from a Caesar-centered Roman empire to Roman Christendom. Niebuhr states, “Christ is the transformer of culture for Augustine in the sense that he redirects, reinvigorates, and regenerates that life of man, expressed in all human works, which in present actuality is the perverted and corrupted exercise of a fundamentally good nature” (p. 209). Augustine’s conversionist trajectory, in Niebuhr’s view “set before men the vision of universal concord and peace in a culture in which all human actions had been reordered by the gracious action of God in drawing all men to Himself, and in which all men were active in works directed toward and thus reflecting the love and glory of God” (p. 215). But Augustine doesn’t go completely this way. He looks forward to an eternity with the elect and defends the church culture. He seems to think this curious given the groundwork he has laid for a conversionist theology.

His more contemporary proponent is a fellow named FD Maurice. He seems to be the one person closest to pursuing a legitimately conversionist perspective. Maurice believes that Christ is King and each man must respond to Him, but to focus on sin is to give it too much credit and to become self-contradictory because we are called to respond to Jesus our King (and do, whether they believe Him or not). Culture is good because it is always in relation to the Word and the attainable goal of the world is to shift from self-centeredness to Christ-centeredness. But given that sin is an illegitimate object of attention and Maurice views all of creation as good because it is related to the Word, I’m not sure how this doesn’t collapse into a universalism that avoids requiring people to come to terms with Jesus.

Anyone more familiar with this out there who can explain it better?

This is the last of the five perspectives from Niebuhr. I’ll read his post script, but I’m not sure if I’ll post on it. However, DA Carson critiques Niebuhr in light of biblical theology. I may give some highlights of that while Niebuhr is fresh in my mind. I hope this has been enjoyable for someone. I wish I could say it has been for me. Enjoyable or not, however, this is why I blog … so I can at least try to articulate some thoughts from all the books I read. If someone gets something out of it, great. If not, it’s been a good discipline for me.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Christ and Culture: Christ TRANSFORMS Culture (conversionist), part 1 (Theology)

This was the most difficult chapter for me to nail down what Niebuhr was trying to communicate. Carson reports that, since this is the only view he does not critique, some believe this is his view. There’s nothing articulated to this end; it’s just what some think. Each particular aspect seems clear, but they don’t seem to fit into a cohesive whole together. He does note that conversionists are much like dualists, except for the fact that they have a more hopeful view of culture.

This view is based on three theological convictions. First, God created the world as a prologue for redemption. It is good in and of itself. The next conviction is that sin has twisted or corrupted creation, but it is still essentially good. Finally, anything can happen in history because God is sovereign and eternal life is a quality of life now, not just eternity hereafter.

His biblical text is John’s gospel where the flesh/spirit dualism is broken down in light of the incarnation. The Word came, not to condemn the world, but to save it. While creation is essentially good, it has become “self-contradictory” and rejects life that God offers it. It is twisted and corrupt, but God wants to bring an eternal life to it. In fact, the eschatological future is made the eschatological present in John, according to Niebuhr (Carson 26). Niebuhr does recognize that John is not fully conversionist because there is clear particularism within the universalism that is also so prevalent.

This actually doesn’t seem too far from Luther’s view (dualist) – until we get to the historical examples. As this view distances itself from the dualist perspective it gets more confusing – at least for me.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Gospel in a Pluralist Society: The Bible as Universal History (ch. 8)

Newbigin notes, even through the words of a Hindu friend, that the Bible is history like nothing else. It makes unique claims and stands apart from other religious literature. Not only does it refer to history and dates and events, but it refers to a purpose and a future with a hope. This is indeed unique and, if the history unfolding as we speak has no purpose, our actions have no purpose. The biblical story shows us purpose and gives our actions meaning. This history is embedded in a particular people and we are to view our events through the perspective of these people as we participate with them in viewing our world through the text that interprets their experience (I find this perspective a little troubling). We use the biblical story to critique our own culture – as a competing plausibility structure. When we live “in” the biblical story and are a continuation of it, we live as people of hope, being chosen to live in the alternative plausibility structure to the world we live in.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Gospel in a Pluralist Society: The Logic of Election (ch. 7)

Election is a highly offensive doctrine to much of the world, but Newbigin shows the logic of it based on the relational nature of God. He says, “From its very beginning the Bible sees human life in terms of relationships” (82). This means that God has revealed Himself particularly because He has chosen to work through the network of personal relationships, primarily, to make Himself known. In this regard, election is as much a responsibility as a blessing. Those elected are given the responsibility to share the message of Jesus with others. In terms of primary objections to election, Newbigin offers that God consigns all men to disobedience so that He might show all mercy. While Newbigin knows this raises concerns of universality, he is content to remain agnostic on the matter of who is or isn’t saved.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Christ and Culture: Christ and Culture in PARADOX (dualists), part 2 (Luther, Strengths, & Weaknesses)

Martin Luther is an historical example of this dualist view – and I’m certain he’d be pleased to be on Paul’s team. His perspective is sometimes referred to as the “two kingdoms” view. The idea is that God has an eternal kingdom, but there’s also the sinful world we live in. God desires to change us in the core of our being that we might love God and others from our hearts, not for our own selfish desires. This is where the two kingdoms connect. If we’re to love God and others, it can’t happen by ourselves. It happens as we live and serve in our cultures. These two poles remain distinct, but they need each other. We can’t live out God’s Kingdom without people. Niebuhr also discusses other dualists, including Kierkegaard – yet he doesn’t seem to care much for Kierkegaard’s philosophy (and I don’t care enough to hammer it out, either).

Niebuhr only spends a couple pages talking about the strengths and challenges of this perspective. He notes that this honors the claims Christ puts on us and yet recognizes that the world is profoundly sinful. This dynamic tension is lived out and it serves our culture well as this church seeks to love its neighbor. Its challenges are that it tends to antinomianism and cultural conservatism. There are those who reject the law, but that isn’t the goal of this view. The goal is to live in the culture well by loving their neighbors. In terms of cultural conservatism, if government and rule are to restrain evil, there’s a tendency to not seek to move forward, but only restrain. It seems to be built in from Niebuhr’s mind. He seems to be correct here and it is a challenging conclusion.

I think this is my preferred perspective at this point, but this last critique troubles me.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Christ and Culture: Christ and Culture in PARADOX (dualists), part 1 (Theology)

It’s taken me longer to get back to this series than I had hoped, but here we are back in Niebuhr’s seminal work on Christ and culture title, appropriately Christ and Culture. We’re picking up with the second position on the “center positions” of the church.

Interestingly, the most vociferous opponents of the synthesist position (the previous position posted on Feb. 19th) are also “centrists.” These are the “dualists” who try to hold loyalty to Christ and responsibility toward culture in tension, but they do it differently than the previous synthesists. The key is the conflict between God and man, the righteousness of God and self – not between Christians and pagans, or believer/unbeliever. God is full of grace, man is full of sin and the starting point in dealing with the cultural problem is the great act of reconciliation between the two.

The distinctive feature is the pervasive nature of sin in the dualist perspective. They believe synthesists minimize the reality and extent of sin. Because of sin, culture is irretrievably corrupt. The dualist sees “the whole edifice of culture is cracked and madly askew” (p. 155). The dualist aligns with the fundamentalist who sees the world as corrupted and yet, unlike the Christ Against Culture view, he does not abandon his commitment to the culture. This leads to a position of paradox.

In Niebuhr’s view, Paul falls in this category – at least this motif is more evident in Paul than other positions. Because of sin and the failure of human institutions because they are the works of man, and yet God’s grace in Christ will lead us to being good and changing our lives for the better. Peace with God, then, creates a new kind of humanity that works out their salvation in whatever context God has placed them – even darks societies led by demonic powers.

I assume because of the fact that God is sovereign, part of being the new humanity means we respect governing authorities as from God (Rom. 13), even if they’re ungodly. The idea is that God uses all kinds of institutions, Christians or not, to restrain evil, to keep things from being as bad as they could be. Niebuhr states, “The function of law is to restrain and expose sin rather than to guide men to righteousness” (p. 165).

I seem to like whatever view I’ve last read in this book. While I’m certain I’m a centrist, this aligns with my theology a little more than the previous point. We’ll look at how this plays out in Luther’s theology next before moving to the last of the five positions on Christ and Culture. What do you think so far on this?