Friday, December 31, 2021
Monday, December 27, 2021
|(I took this photo in Istanbul. The reflection of the man makes it look like he is eyeing the Turkish delight.)|
To "resolve" means: fixity of purpose, resoluteness. For example: His comments were intended to weaken her resolve but they only served to strengthen it. (From here.)
This week I am printing out these four resolutions, which I resolve to live out. I'll carry them with me. I will pray them, often. I want them to get inside me, and become living and active.
1. I Resolve to inquire of the Lord.
2 Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Sea. It is already in Hazazon Tamar” (that is, En Gedi). 3 Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the LORD, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. 4 The people of Judah came together to seek help from the LORD; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him. (2 Chronicles 20:2-4)
Bring life's dissonance before the Lord. Inquire of God, regarding the chaos and incompleteness. You've tried to figure it out yourself; instead, seek God about this. Not just once in a while, but today, and every day.
Resolve to inquire of God, today and every day.
2. I Resolve that my mouth will not bring destruction.
2 May my vindication come from you;
may your eyes see what is right.
3 Though you probe my heart and examine me at night,
though you test me, you will find nothing; I have resolved that my mouth will not sin. 4 As for the deeds of men—
by the word of your lips
I have kept myself
from the ways of the violent. (Psalm 17:2-4)
I will keep my mouth shut, unless my words serve to build up others.
I will meet, often and alone, with God. I will abide in Christ. I will dwell in his presence. God will shape and form my heart into Christlikeness. (Gal. 4:19) This Jesus-heart will produce what comes out of the space between my lips.
Resolve that your mouth will not destroy, today and every day.
3. I Resolve not to defile my soul with the enemy's "turkish delight."
7 The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.
8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel... (Daniel 1:7-9)
Daniel refuses to allow King Nebuchadnezzar to redefine his identity. Daniel "resolved"; i.e., Daniel "set upon his heart" not to pollute himself.
When Linda and I were in Istanbul, Turkey, we tasted their famous dessert - called "Turkish delight." Turkish delight will be familiar to fans of C.S. Lewis. In Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Edmund meets the White Witch, who seduces him with a delicious piece of candy called "turkish delight." He eats it, betraying Aslan, and his defiled heart falls under the Witch's dark spell.
Today, resolve not to compromise your allegiance to Jesus as your Lord.
4. I Resolve to know Jesus Christ and him crucified.
1 When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)
Learn about Jesus.
Fix on him.
Sum all things up in Jesus.
Resolve to know Christ and him crucified. Today.
The month of January has 31 days.
My devotional book has 31 short entries.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Letter 1 - A Disciple of Jesus Takes Control of Their Schedule
Letter 2 - A Disciple of Jesus Is a Praying Person
Letter 3 - A Disciple of Jesus Learns to Hear the Voice of Jesus
Letter 4 - An Apprentice to Jesus Reads The Book
Letter 5 - A Disciple Is a Servant
Letter 6 - A Follow of Jesus Forgives Others
Letter 7 - Disciples of Jesus Meet on Sunday Mornings
Letter 8 - A Disciple of Jesus Makes Other Disciples
Letter 9 - A Disciple of Jesus Grows to Be Like Jesus
Letter 10 - A Disciple Grows in Discernment
Letter 11 - A Disciple Worships the Lord
Letter 12 - A Disciple Leaves Their Comfort Zone
Letter 13 - A Disciple Grows in Compassion
Letter 14 - A Disciple of Jesus is Interruptible
Letter 15 - A Disciple Is a Living Sacrifice
Letter 16 - A Disciple Exercises in the Spiritual Gymnasium
Letter 17 - A Disciple Experiences Union in Christ
Letter 18 - A Disciple Leaves Everything to Follow Jesus
Letter 19 - A Disciple Follows Jesus as Their Lord
Letter 20 - An Apprentice to Jesus Says “Thank You”
Letter 21 - A Disciple Lives in the Presence of God
Letter 22 - A Disciple Is a Vessel for the Power of God
Letter 23 - A Disciple of Christ Confesses Their Sins
Letter 24 - Disciples of Christ Are Humble
Letter 25 - Disciples of Jesus Love as He Loves
Letter 26 - Disciples of Jesus Experience Manifestations of the Holy Spirit
Letter 27 - Disciples Have Healthy Boundaries
Letter 28 - Disciples of Jesus Are Authentic
Letter 29 - Disciples of Christ Understand They Are in a Spiritual Battle
Letter 30 - A Disciple Gives to Others
Letter 31 - Disciples of Jesus Finish Well
Friday, December 24, 2021
This is why C.S. Lewis referred to the birth of Christ as an act of war. Christmas, said Lewis, is about "The Great Invasion." In chapter 7 of Mere Christianity he writes:
"One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe--a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease, and sin...
Christianity agrees that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.
Enemy-occupied territory--that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage."
Christmas Eve was the night before the Great Invasion. The creatures were stirring, even the mouse. We see this upheaval in the non-happy-holiday telling of Christmas found in Revelation 12:1-7. It reads:
A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.
And there was war in heaven.
Robert Mounce says that:
- The "woman" here is not Mary, but the messianic community, the "ideal Israel"
- Out of the messianic community is born a "child," a Messiah;
- The seven-headed red dragon is Satan (Rev. 12:9; 20:2); and
- Satan is looking to devour this child; AKA Jesus the Christ.
...the old man "Simeon took him [baby Jesus] in his arms and praised God, saying: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."
All's not calm
All's not bright
Thursday, December 23, 2021
|(Bolles Harbor, Monroe)|
"Of course," he added, "I forgot to put in my hearing aid, and didn't hear a word you said."
He was smiling as he told me this. I smiled and thanked him for the compliment.
First, your heart.
Tuesday, December 21, 2021
This is an experiment in disciple-making.
My new book is a 31-day devotional on discipleship. I invite you to do this with your church family in the month of January, or in the month of March.
- Purchase my book. ($2.99 for Kindle; $4.99 for paperback)
- Read one entry per day, in January, or in March. Take notes. When God speaks to you, write it down.
- Pastors - focus your sermons in on discipleship and disciple-making.
- Finally, join me on a Zoom call (free) to do an afterglow on the theme of discipleship.
Sunday, December 19, 2021
Saturday, December 18, 2021
I am a husband (to Linda, since 1973). A father. A father-in-law. A grandfather! A pastor (since 1970). A professor (taught at several seminaries around the world). A philosopher, and a theologian. (PhD, Northwestern University, in Philosophical Theology, 1986).
I have studied people, and biblical and theological issues, and culture, for over fifty years. I am a constant reader and observer.
I present to you a series of posts I am calling "Deconstructing 'Progressive Christianity.'" Here are reasons why I could not be a "progressive Christian." The first two posts are especially about this, using semantics and some deconstruction thrown in. (See here.) Post #2 will be - "The Term 'Progressive Christian' is too Vague to be Useful for Me." Post #3 will be - "Progressive Christianity Wrongly Diminishes Confidence in the Bible." In this third post I will critique progressive Christianity's approach to the Scriptures. I am still putting together Post #4, and maybe a fifth post.
A final note before I begin this first post. I have read, as a theologian myself, several of the theologians who are usually associated with progressive Christianity. (Postmodernism, deconstruction, critical theory, linguistic semantics and philosophy of language [my dissertation was in this area], and, yes, political progressivism.) Some of them have written books and articles that I have benefitted from. But then, along the way, some of them turned away from some core beliefs that I see as important to our faith. Some of them were "deconverted" from evangelical Christianity. That has saddened me.
There are many theologians and biblical scholars, such as myself, who have not departed from what we see as essential. We could never be "exvangelicals." This is not out of ignorance. We are familiar with, and have wrestled with, all the questions progressivists raise. And wow! We see things differently. Which means: we disagree with each other. Which means: we think each other is wrong about some things. (For example, see Brian McLaren's vicious disagreement with The Nashville Statement, where he even brings in the KKK, implicating the 24,000+ theologians and biblical scholars, and even Francis Chan, J. I. Packer, and people like me, who agree with the Statement.)
For a more complete repudiation of progressive Christianity see my recent book Deconstructing Progressive Christianity.
The term 'progressive,' as a modifier linked with 'Christianity', is misleading, even false.
“Progressive” is not a word that fits into a Christian eschatological worldview.
Humanity, throughout history, has not morally and spiritually progressed.
The term "progressive" implies some kind of advancing, a moving forward towards some goal. My understanding of Christianity is that, while individuals and even communities can improve morally and spiritually (= Christ's character being formed in them), there will be nothing morally new under the sun until Christ returns.
This is because of the human sin problem. Every new generation has to deal with this. The next generation, and the generations beyond that, will not have progressed beyond this. (Note: I read one self-identifying progressive who thought humanity has progressed and will further advance so much that we can question whether or not we even need a Savior.)
Let's look more closely at the idea of "progress." Progress only makes sense in relation to a "goal." Such as: "I have made progress in my weight loss strategy. I am closer to my goal weight of 180 pounds."
There are countless examples of this kind of progress. Someone’s goal is to play guitar like Eddie Van Halen. They take lessons. They practice. They are improving. They are making progress towards this goal.
“Progressive” implies “advancement”; “moving forward.” Towards some goal.
Someone else is constructing a house. Today they began digging the foundation. Next week they pour the cement. They are making progress toward the goal of building a house. That can be good. (It depends on what the house is used for.)
But "progress," in itself, is not always good. For example, I am overweight. My doctor has advised me to lose twenty pounds. But instead, my goal is to gain even more weight. This morning I step on the scale, and see I gained ten pounds over the holidays. Progress! Let us all cheer, and celebrate and affirm John's story! But, arguably, that’s not a progressive story to be celebrated. (FYI – I did not gain ten pounds over the holidays!)
Someone else researches the internet. Their goal is to build a bomb that will destroy buildings in downtown Nashville. Today they began constructing the bomb. They are making progress. They are moving forward. They are advancing toward their goal. Remember that 'forward' and 'backward' only make sense in relation to a goal.
What is the goal of progressive Christianity? And who sets this goal? In reading the literature of those who self-identify as progressive Christians, it’s not always clear to me that it is Christ. Perhaps, the goal for humanity is Love? For a Jesus-follower, it’s true that love is great, and greater than faith and hope. But I see the goal of history as Christ, not Love. Love is not greater than Christ. (See here.)
My understanding of Christianity is that, in the lifetime of every person, the goal is the formation of the character of Christ in us, individually and collectively. As I read and talk with some who refer to themselves as progressive Christians, I hear them elevating Love and Desire-fulfillment to heights that should be reserved only for Christ. (For Desire-fulfillment as a "progressive" idea, and how this has come about historically, see especially Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.)
I see every generation of humanity as having a sin problem, which can only be addressed by the cross of Christ. My studies and observations indicate that humanity has not progressed, and will not progress, beyond that. And, my sense is that some progressive Christians are not thrilled about talking of sin. Affirmation? Yes! Desire-fulfillment? Yes! Sin? Meh...
I do not see the word 'progressive' as being part of what N.T. Wright describes as the "five act play" that is the Bible. Yes, in eternity we shall be like Jesus. But, in this present age, we are not progressing morally and spiritually. I view it as phenomenally difficult to demonstrate moral progress, over the years. Have we gotten better? Are we getting better? The term “progressive” implies that we are.
Yes, I know that Steven Pinker thinks that humanity, over time, has gotten kinder and gentler. I, and many others who have reacted to Pinker, do not. (See here.) Violence has declined, says Pinker, because humanity is getting less and less violent.
This reminds me of what was perhaps the height of progressive optimism, in the early twentieth century. The Enlightenment belief was that human reason was now progressing to make a better world. And then came World War 1. And theologian Karl Barth was moved to write his commentary on Romans, with its teaching that all humanity sins and falls short of the glory of God. And then, Germany changed (progressed?) from a democratic republic in 1932 to a racist tyranny in 1934. And then, according atheist and scholar David Berlinski, the 20th century progressed into being the most murderous, violent in human history. (See Berlinski, The Devil’s Disciple: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions. See also footnote  below.)
But… we have massively progressed technologically, right? Correct. But it is still humans who use and wield technological artifacts. A hammer is a piece of technology. Its appearance advanced us, assisting in doing things like building furniture and ships and homes and you name it. But the human being holding the hammer could also use it to hurt and destroy. I see morally unadvanced, non-progressed humanity as still doing that, only with greatly advanced artifacts with massive destructive capabilities.
I don’t think progress is necessarily good, in itself. When you hear the word "progressive" you should not automatically think "positive." Yes, we seem programmed to think that way. But truthfully, it all depends on the goal. And here is where the word “progressive” is of no help to me, because it functions as a euphemism that should not be attached as a modifier to the term 'Christianity'.
I know the word "progressive" is politically popular. But I don't like it, because I see it as mythical at best. Jeffrey Burton Russell, in Exposing Myths About Christianity, writes:
“The predominant superstition of our times is Progress. Belief in lower-case ‘progress’ is reasonable, for progress can be made toward definable goals in specific fields, such as electrical engineering, plumbing or surgery. But people often believe in upper-case Progress, as in “The Progress of Humanity.” This is a superstition. Upper-case Progress implies moving toward an undefined capital-G Goal.”
One of the myths about Christianity that Russell exposes is that progress was something Jesus was trying to bring about. Scholar Terry Eagelton calls this the “ideology of Progress.” Russell writes that “the natural goodness of humanity is an illusion based neither in history nor biology, and the empty center of most Progressivism is the delusion that radical evil does not exist. Progressivism can become utopianism, which always sacrifices liberty for its ends, as Stalin did. Those who deny evil will be overtaken by it.”
Ahhh... the natural goodness of humanity. What an anti-Hobbes idea! What an anti-Freud idea! And, what an anti-Christ belief. From such a belief comes the ideology of affirmation. But, I ask, who in their right Christological mind could believe that Christ came, not to rescue us out of bondage to sin, but to affirm us?
Progressive Christianity is too utopian for me. Many, including me, believe that we are “regressing” in our humanity. To call progressive Christianity too utopian is to locate its roots in Hegel and Marx, who both thought humanity was inexorably progressing, but who disagreed on the engine driving the progression, as well as the goal or outcome. Anyone want to join me in a "Regressive Christianity" movement?
Again, if the goal of life is to embrace the Lordship of Christ and have his character formed in us, I think one can view our time as one of regression, division, and polarization. In fact, I, and many others, see progressive Christianity as divisive (e.g., I am aware of some young people who identify as progressive Christians and tie this in with their newfound belief that the Old Testament is just a bunch of made-up stories. I'll say more about this in my third post.)
Is humanity progressing? Or regressing? Or decadent and stagnant? (See New York Times writer Ross Douthat's recent The Decadent Society.) You need to know this has always been a topic of discussion among scholars. The answers are not obvious. If we are talking about moral and spiritual development or regression, it is far from obvious that some kind of progressive movement is actually happening. I submit to you that it is not. And I can see, without much effort, that progressive Christianity is aiding the regression. (See footnote  below.)
In all this I am saying that I could never refer to myself as a progressive Christian because it commits a mistake… a category mistake… when the two words are placed next to each other. This is not a matter of mere semantics. The kingdom of God, said Jesus, was "not of this world." Therefore, the kingdom of God was not the end-result of an ever-progressive earthly kingdom.
I have a suggestion. I began following Jim Wallis in the early 1970s, when he began publishing what was to become the magazine Sojourners. Wallis is one who is often cited as a "progressive" Christian. But in the Times interview, Wallace says he would rather be called a "follower of Jesus."
It's time to get rid of the term "progressive Christianity." And self-refer as "follower of Jesus." This would lead to interesting discussions, to include the morality of Jesus (see here, e.g.) and the relationship between Jesus and the Old Testament. Some progressive Christians, many of them unthinkingly, are on the "dismiss the Old Testament" bandwagon. Let's just focus on Jesus." The problem is, when you focus on Jesus, you see Jesus as not dismissing an authoritative Old Testament.
Finally, in the term “progressive Christianity,” the word ‘progressive’ is a modifier. It modifies the word ‘Christianity.’ ‘Progressive’ is a euphemism. It puts a happy spin on Christianity. It also feels like a judgment on those who are not “progressive.” which provides another reason as to why I could never call myself a progressive Christian.
COMING IN A WEEK OR SO... "The Term 'Progressive Christian' is too Vague to be Useful for Me."
AND THEN... "Progressive Christianity Dangerously Diminishes Confidence in the Bible."
 On atheism (esp. atheistic existentialism) there is no goal in life. Thus, humanity is not progressing towards anything, nor is it regressing away from anything. Nor is it decadent. This leads to things like Theatre of the Absurd, and Camus’s Sysiphus, and Becket’s Waiting for Godot.
 For an interesting, illuminating article on whether or not humanity is "progressing," see atheist John Gray's excellent review of The Evolution of Moral Progress: A Biocultural Theory, by Alan Buchanon and Russell Powell.