Neither Poverty nor Riches – A Short Summary of a Summary

NP or RICHES

This book is the most impressive summary of a Biblical theme I’ve ever encountered. Having already read and reviewed Blomberg’s other book in the same series, I was expecting something pretty good from this one. After all, I had (along with many other people who are much smarter than I) already decided that Blomberg is one of the very best writers on the New Testament living today. Therefore, I shouldn’t have been surprised by how good this book was. But still, I was. I couldn’t agree more with DA Carson who says, “In my view, this is now the best book on the entire subject.” It took me three times longer to get through this book than any other book I’ve read in the series because there was just so much good stuff to take in. Blomberg is original, articulate, studied, personal and pastoral all at the same time.

Blomberg has some sort of gift I’ve rarely seen. In this book he is somehow able to cover an overwhelming amount of material while at the same time maintaining oodles of nuance, description, and fresh insight. All the while writing in a very condensed straight-forward, easy to read fashion. Blomberg’s summarizing Scripture passage on this entire theme is highlighted in the title of the book, which comes from Proverbs 30:8b-9. It says,

“Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” 

Blomberg highlights this verse and many others like it to show that the avoidance of extremes of wealth and poverty is a consistent recurring mandate (68). Blomberg shows how in Scripture we are not always called to renounce our material possessions, but we are always called to “sit very loose” with respect to them (185). Actually, neither the amassing of riches nor their lack is seen as a necessary good (or evil) in Scripture (82). Instead, generous giving amidst contentment, rather than selfish hoarding, and accompanied by compassionate commitment to doing what will most help the genuinely needy, is to be one of the main priorities for God’s people (175).

As the Apostle Paul said, we are to be content with either poverty or riches (Philippians 4:11) while we are now living in the “not-yet”, but Scripturally, the ideal on earth is neither poverty NOR riches. So for now, while we may in God’s freedom enjoy the fleeting pleasures that wealth can provide for a short time in this life, we dare not put our trust in material possessions. Instead, we must lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven (211). Trusting in God (not money) is another major theme throughout…

For me, highlighting just a few of Blomberg’s conclusions doesn’t do near-enough justice to the book. I mean, how do you summarize in words a work of word-art? However, it’s all I can do in the time I’ve got. So I’ll conclude this short blog post with some of the main conclusions of the book.

But before I do that, I would like to say that I recommend every one who can, to buy this book and have it on their shelf. This book is such a valuable resource not just for the answers and conclusions contained. But much more than that, there is a lot of value in just following Blomberg in the process he takes to get there. He is an expert, expert Bible-guide. So now for the overly-simplified summation:

In summarizing the entire OT message on riches and poverty, Blomberg shows how the 5 main categories of sin of Israel are (as shockingly contemporary as they are):

  1. Worshipping idols made of costly materials
  2. Trusting in ritual rather than in repentance
  3. Extorting, robbing and oppressing to gain more land
  4. Boasting in wealth, and
  5. Corrupt financial motivation for leaders’ ministry.

God then offers the Israelites 5 primary alternative responses throughout the OT:

  1. Seek justice for the marginalized
  2. Rather than boast in riches, be generous in giving them away
  3. Lament as a way of repentance
  4. Seek the welfare of the city you are in
  5. Cling to God’s promises of restoration

That’s the first 100 pages of the book, or so. Then later, after going through all the relevant passages in the NT, Blomberg points to 5 similarly unifying motifs of Scripture on this topic as a way of trying to capture the diversity of the whole Scriptural witness:

  1. Material possessions are a good gift from God meant for people to enjoy.
  2. Material possessions are simultaneously one of the primary means of turning human hearts away from God.
  3. A necessary sign of a life in the process of being redeemed is that of transformation in the area of stewardship.
  4. There are certain extremes of wealth and poverty which are in and of themselves intolerable, and,
  5. Above all, the Bible’s teaching about material possessions is inextricably intertwined with more “spiritual” matters (243-246)

Therefore, five contemporary applications can be the following:

  1. If wealth is an inherent good, Christians should try to gain it. If some of us succeed more than the majority, our understanding of it as God’s gift for all will lead us to want to share with the needy…
  2. If wealth is seductive, giving away some of our surplus is a good strategy for resisting the temptation to overvalue it.
  3. If stewardship is a sign of a redeemed life, then Christians will, by their new natures, want to give. Over time, compassionate and generous use of their resources will become an integral part of their Christian lives.
  4. If certain extremes of wealth and poverty are inherently intolerable, those of us with excess income (i.e., most readers of this book!) will work hard to help at least a few of the desperately needy in our world.
  5. If holistic salvation represents the ultimate good God wants all to receive, then our charitable giving should be directed to individuals, churches or organizations who minister holistically, caring for people’s bodies as well as their souls, addressing their physical as well as their spiritual circumstances (247).

Review: The Pastor Theologian

PT

I am involved with a reading group at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Our most recent assignment had been to read Hiestand and Wilson’s, The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision. I was then to discuss this with another member of the group, and write a 400-500 page response. Below is part of that response, for anyone interested:

…Both of us enjoy learning, studying in our free time, and thinking theologically and so this book was an appropriate one for us to discuss together.

We both felt like this book was written to a very niche audience. Ben noticed that almost all the endorsements in the beginning of the book were from Professors, not Pastors. Having read the book, we weren’t too surprised at that. We did not feel like the book could be generally handed out to most of the people (or even Pastors) that we know. We were left wondering, “is this vision even attainable?” The authors included “steps” for how to attain the status of “pastor theologian” but with the first one as, “Get a Ph.D.” we thought it a bit idealistic – and not sensitive to the realities of most peoples’ lives [A book better suited to this task is Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan’s, The Pastor as Public Theologian, (to see my previous response to that book) especially pages 23-24 on their definition of an “intellectual.”].

For example, how intellectually capable is the average reader to pursue a Ph.D.? Or how much time and finances are available? What is the atmosphere and activity level of the church at the moment which would affect both the Pastor and the congregants? All of these questions relate to issues of discernment and properly applying wisdom – but insight into these matters were conspicuously absent in the book.

As well, these critiques about the book haven’t yet included a conversation that could be had about the changes in society which affect the changing perceptions of what a Pastor is – some people being skeptical of education vs. the value of experience. All in all, the book seemed a bit “tunnel-vision-y” and not quite connected to the actual, real world as far as Ben and I experience it.

However, we both appreciated some of the practical tips such as, “call your office a study” and “make time for a study sabbatical.” Good reminders of the importance of studying and continual learning. To these sentiments, both Ben and I responded with a resounding, “Amen!” If only now we could figure out how to actually do it J Ah, there’s the rub and the difficulty of balancing life amidst all these other important priorities!

Lastly, the authors do well in reminding the Pastor-Theologian of some of our primary responsibilities and priorities as the theological leader and articulator in the church. So, even when life is busy, we should continue to value solid, deep, Biblical thinking and theological reflection – and we should make time for it as much as possible. I think a book that would pair well with this one (and is preferable to it) is William Still’s now-classic, The Work of the Pastor.

P.S.: Just saw the same authors in 2016 came out with a recent summary from their most recent conference on this topic. Not sure I would buy it based on their initial work, but perhaps there are some redeeming qualities in the new book? Involving contributions from people such as Vanhoozer, KA Smith and Leithart couldn’t hurt… but I’m like, “dude, where are the Pastoral contributions?” If this book is meant for academics, then I get all the professorial additions – but supposedly this book is for the Pastor – interesting how I haven’t heard too many Pastors raving about it as of yet. Am I missing something here?

Biblical Adoption Is…

Adopted-into-Gods-Family

 “…You received the Spirit of Adoption.” (Romans 8:15)

This book was the 12th book I’ve read in the New Studies in Biblical Theology Set and by far, this one was the most academic of them all. This book is a barely-simplified version (of only 200 pages!) of Trevor J. Burke’s doctoral dissertation. The author isn’t afraid to “show his work” as he goes through and so I found this one to be a pretty slow, dense read. Plenty of scholarly detail that I didn’t necessarily need for my own purposes. What I did enjoy though, was that throughout the book, the author lays out a theology of adoption firmly rooted in Biblical exegesis. As there are only five passages to go to in the New Testament on this theme – this book ends up with a lot of thought for each section of Scripture discussed. Very focused research, filled with in-depth analysis and robust explanation.

A book like this is a bit more difficult to summarize than others because of how nuanced and comprehensive it is. However, I’m gonna give it a shot. At the least, I’ll present what seemed to me to be the most generally important findings. Essentially, Burke argues that Biblical Adoption (Greek: huiothesia) is…

A legal act or transfer from an alien family into the family of God (27). Adoption is thus its own thing – tied to but also distinct from other theological themes such as regeneration, for example (which is a renewal of our human nature occurring within us through the Holy Spirit). We find also that Biblical adoption is distinguished from justification (which emphasizes the penal aspect of salvation connoting the drama of the law court); redemption (which emphasizes deliverance as from the realm of the slave market), and propitiation (which emphasizes the cultic and is a metaphor stemming from Jewish sacrificial practice). So, uniquely, Paul’s adoption term underscores the notion of transference from one family to another. The act of adoption would happen typically when an adult son is taken out of one family and placed into another with all its attending privileges and responsibilities. As Francis Lyall puts it in describing the Roman socio-legal practice of the day:

“The profound truth of Roman adoption was that the adoptee was taken out of his previous state and was placed in a new relationship of son to his new father, his new paterfamilias. All his old debts were cancelled, and in effect the adoptee started a new life as part of his new family.” 

While some metaphors, such as propitiation, underscore the objective side of salvation, huiothesia tens to focus more on what happens to us – that is, it looks at salvation from the subjective or experiential side and thus focuses more on the result of what is achieved for the people of God. As an organizing metaphor, huiothesia (adoption) for the Apostle Paul (1) centers in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; (2) shares a moral focus evident in other soteriological expressions; and (3) is eschatological in nature – expressing the already/not yet tension (41).

At the time Paul was using the term, adoption oftentimes secured the lineage of a family and was essentially a family term. As such, adoption was not entered into lightly (68) because of the effect adoption had. As Berger and Nicolas explain,

“The effect of adoption was to place the adopted person for all legal purposes in the same position as if he had been a natural child in the potestas of the adopter. The adopted son took his adoptive father’s name and rank. He acquired rights of succession on death in his new family and lost all such rights as he had in his old family.” 

We find out in Scripture that when God justifies people, God also adopts them as his children and favorably places his own life within, the life-giving power and energy of the Holy Spirit (See Romans 8:14-15 and Galatians 4:4-6 especially). As with all of God’s soteriological benefits, his giving of his Spirit to his children is an honor bestowed upon them and not something that can be earned or boasted about. Put simply, Biblical adoption is a beautiful, undeserved gift of God. Adoption as a divine selection takes place in eternity past and is provoked not by historical contingency or human merit, but solely by God’s sovereign grace. For God to predestine us to adoption is not a cold, calculated act of God. Quite the opposite, God predestines us “in love” to underscore the Father’s deep affection in marking us out as his adopted sons. As James I. Packer puts it,

“God adopts us out of his free love, not because our character and record shows us worthy to bear his name, but despite the fact that they show the opposite. We are not fit for a place in God’s family; the idea of His loving and exalting us sinners as He loves and has exalted the Lord Jesus sound ludicrous and wild – yet that, and nothing less than that, is what our adoption means.” 

So our honor is not acquired, it is ascribed by the Creator and Savior of the universe, initiated by Him before all of time began! This ludicrous and wild idea gives us great expectations: If we truly are sons and daughters of God – then our future is sure. We read in Scripture that our adoption leads to, one day, a perfect and imperishable glory of sharing in God’s life, forever. As adopted children, our inheritance becomes not just God’s good gifts or even just an association with God. As God’s adopted children, we will one day get God himself! Adoption is then for us humans an “unsurpassed honor” (157) since we become associated with the highest and most honorable “head of the household” in all the cosmos (158). Ultimately, as Alister McGrath puts it:

“Adoption is about being wanted. It is about belonging. These are deeply emotive themes, which resonate with the cares and concerns of many in our increasingly fractured society. To be adopted is to be invited into a loving and caring environment. It is about being welcomed, wanted, and invited. Adoption celebrates the privilege of invitation, in which the outsider is welcomed into the fold of faith and love.” 

Christian, this adoption is yours!

From God the Father, in Christ, and through the Holy Spirit!

 

“Thanksgiving” is More Than Politeness

Thx

“Be thankful” (Col. 3:15) is a recurring plea of the Apostle Paul. The verb appears sixty-two times in the New Testament alone. But to be honest, I never really thought too much about it until I read this book. “Thankfulness” as a concept had always seemed to me like a sort of nicety – so it was never for me much more than an afterthought. You know, like, we should say “thanks” to be nice – or when someone is nice to us. What else value does it have? Honestly, thankfulness has always seemed to me a helpful action of etiquette and good manners (after all: it’s what mama and daddy always told me to say when someone did something good to me!) but besides that – thankfulness as a concept was “whateva.” “Of no consequence” so to speak. But, as it turns out, I couldn’t have been more theologically and Scripturally incorrect.

In this book David W. Pao persuasively shows that actually, Thanksgiving has much more to do with an ethical life than it does with polite etiquette. Pao shows that at the heart of a God-centered life, is thanksgiving. He writes about how thanksgiving is used as a summary term to characterize all proper behavior of the people of God. And he shows how in Scripture, thankfulness is contrasted with idolatry, forgetfulness, and ingratitude – which are some of the distinguishing marks of non-believers. After all, “To be ungrateful is not simply a state of harmless absentmindedness. It is the failure to acknowledge God as the creator and Lord of all. As such, ingratitude leads to a host of other sins” (157). So, thankfulness is a very significant Scriptural and theological concept. In Pao’s own words,

“Thanksgiving is not simply a reaction to random acts of kindness, it is a way to affirm the supremacy of God the Creator and the mighty acts He has done on our behalf.” (25) 

And so, thanksgiving belongs properly not only to ethical concern, but to theological affirmation (33). To give God thanks to God is to acknowledge that Yahweh alone is the one powerful God. It is also a humbling act to thank God because when we do, we admit to Him the dependency of our own human existence. Thanksgiving is the proper theological response which when directed towards God is transformed into what Christians call, “praise” and “worship.”

To thank God is to affirm that God is not only THE God, but he is OUR God. It is the precise, personal, proper response to the divine initiative. To thank God is to remember what He has done, it is to trust Him with the now, and it is to look forward to what He will do in the future. To live a life worthy of the Lord is to live with the constant awareness of God’s grace, mercy and love. Thanksgiving is at the core of a God-centered life. So ungratefulness, forgetfulness, and idolatry is the opposite.

This was the most personally convicting book of the series so far for me. Unfortunately, in thinking about how important thankfulness is, I realized how often I don’t do it. So I’ve got lots to learn.

In conclusion, I’d like to simply highlight a few Scriptures Pao exegetes in His work and ask you to notice that little concept in the midst of each passage: “Thanksgiving.” If you are like me, you had missed it before. But emphasizing it (or its opposite) in its context shows just how important thankfulness is to God. Rather than “thankfulness” being a random insert into an otherwise important passage: Thankfulness often works as the central solution, or even contrast. Check it out:

Romans 1:21: For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

II Corinthians 4:15: All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

II Corinthians 9:12-15: This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Ephesians 5:3-4: But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

Colossians 1:10-12: And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.

Colossians 3:15,17: Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful...Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Philippians 2:14-15: Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.

Philippians 4:4-7: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

II Timothy 3:1-5: But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.

I Thessalonians 5:18: Give thanks in all circumstances. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

In ending: I can’t help but highlight what Pao says in regards to this last passage. It’s just so good. He says,

“The phrase ‘in all circumstances’ also points to the same vision from which no aspect of life is excluded. The call to the church to give thanks in all circumstances stands in contrast with the occasional cultic celebration of ancient Israel. In 1 Thessalonians 5, this will of God is expressed in terms of thanksgiving. To further define what this will is, one may wish to refer back to the same epistle in which the content of this will of God is explicitly emphasized: ‘It is God’s will that you should be sanctified’ (1 Thess. 4:3). The connection between 1 Thessalonians 4:3 and 5:18 is further established by the fact that this construction (‘It is God’s will’/’for this is God’s will’) appears only in these two places in the Pauline epistles.

If we read 1 Thessalonians 5:18 in light of 4:3, to give thanks to God is to be holy. While on a linguistic level these two cannot be equated, on a theological level the relationship between the two cannot be denied. As we have discussed in the earlier chapters, to give thanks is to set our focus solely on God. For Paul, to give thanks ‘in all circumstances’ is not a call for us to remain in a certain emotional state all the time. It is a call to lead a God-centered life. To give thanks in all circumstances is to live under the Lordship of Christ in all that we do (cf. 4:1-2).” 

Freedom in Christ and the Heart of Our Master

slave of christ

I had to read this book slowly because just about all of it was new to me. I never knew there could be so much meaning packed in the metaphor of slavery (nor did I realize how often this term shows up in the original Greek of the New Testament!). Unless the reader is already an expert in this area – there is so much to be learned by reading this book. There had been three experiences that generated the authors’ special interest in this topic:

  1. The author was teaching a Greek exegesis course and discussing translation theory and how various theories are represented in the 20 major translations of the NT. He found that only one translation consistently renders the most distinctive Greek term “doulas” (slave) as slave. This was surprising, so Harris wanted to find out more.
  2. The author had been involved with the NIV translation since its inception and for an additional 12 years was on the committee responsible for reviewing the text. On that committee he was asked to write a special report on the matter.
  3. In October 1987 a Romanian pastor who had been arrested and imprisoned in 1974 and 1977, then exiled in 1982 was asked to speak at a conference. He forcefully expressed his preference to be introduced simply as “a slave of Jesus Christ.” “There aren’t many people” he observed, “who are willing to introduce me as a slave. They substitute the word ‘servant’ for ‘slave.'” In 20th century Christianity we have replaced the expression “total surrender” with the word “commitment”, and “slave” with “servant”. But there is an important difference. A servant gives service to someone, but a slave belongs to someone. We commit ourselves to do something, but when we surrender ourselves to someone, we give ourselves up.

There is really so much that could be highlighted within this extensive work. Lots of background and history (the section on how the Isrealite form of slavery was more humane than other ANE forms was especially helpful – page 29), lots of Biblical exegesis, and lots of helpful cross-references and explanations. I learned something new on virtually every page. Since I don’t want this post to be as long as the book, I’ll highlight just two really cool sections. One was on the freedoms Christians receive in conversion, and the other pictures the heart of our God who is our Ultimate Owner:

Our Master Offers Us Freedom(s): 

In Chapter Three “Slavery and Freedom” (pages 75-76) Harris shows that conversion to God brings freedom on at least seven fronts. Indeed Paul can say that the divine call of God is “for freedom” (Gal. 5:13), that is, “to be free.” We may note the following aspects of this freedom: In our conversion to God we receive:

  1. Freedom from spiritual death. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “those who hear my word and believe him who went me have eternal life and will not be condemned; they have crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24; cf. Eph. 2:1,5; Col. 2:13)
  2. Freedom from “self-pleasing”. “And Christ died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (II Cor. 5:15)
  3. Freedom from people-pleasing. “Am I [Paul] now trying to win human approval or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ” (Gal. 1:10; cf. 1 Cor. 7:23; 9:19).
  4. Freedom from slavery to sin. Jesus solemnly declared, “Everyone who sins is a slave of sin… If the Son sets you free, you will be indeed free” (John 8:34, 36; cf. Rom. 6:14-23)
  5. Freedom from bondage to the Mosaic law, especially if observing it is seen as a way of gaining God’s approval. “Now we have been released from the law, in that we have died to what once held us captive” (Rom. 7:6; cf. 3:20; Gal. 2:16; 3:10, 13). “So, my brothers and sisters, through the crucified body of Christ your bondage to the law has been broken” (Rom. 7:4; cf. Gal. 5:4, 13). “For in the case of every believer is the end of the law in its relation to righteousness” (Rom. 10:4).
  6. Freedom from fear of physical death. “Since the children all share in flesh and blood, he [Christ] too shared in their human nature so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and set free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Heb. 2:14-15).
  7. Freedom from slavery to the elemental spiritual forces of the universe. “During our minority we were slaves, subject to the elemental spirits of the universe…Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to gods who are not gods at all. But now that you do acknowledge God – or rather, now that he has acknowledged you – how can you turn back to those feeble and bankrupt elemental spirits? Why do you propose to enter their service all over again?” (Gal. 4:3, 8-9; cf. Col. 2:8, 20).

The Heart of Our Master

These few passages took my breath away – and help the reader to understand the sort of Master the Christian is “in slavery” to:

“When we recognize this correlation between kind master and compliant slave, and cruel master and reluctant slave, we can begin to understand why the early Christians found their slavery to God sweetly attractive. To be the slave of a Master who is himself ‘gentle and humble-hearted’, and whose yoke is so easy to wear that his load is light (Matt. 11:29-30), is to be a highly privileged and readily obedient slave. When the Master is the omnipotent Lord of the universe, the slavery is a consummate privilege and a passionate delight, as well as being infinitely worthwhile. The eloquent words of Philo (Cher. 107) regarding slavery to God are equally applicable to slavery to Christ: 

“The purified mind rejoices in nothing more than in confessing that it has for its master the One who is Lord of all. For to be the slave of God is the greatest human boast, and is a more precious treasure not only than freedom but even than wealth or dominion or anything that mortals cherish.”

In his drama Amphitryo, the Roman playwright Plautus places on the lips of one of his characters the words: “It’s no fun being a slave. And it’s not just the work, but knowing that you’re a slave, and that nothing can change it.” The slave of Christ, on the other hand, says: “It’s a delight being Christ’s slave. And it’s not just the work, but knowing that you’re his slave, and that nothing can separate you from his love.” (Page 142)

Additionally, 

The Master who is served is not only peerless in status (Matt. 28:18; Phil. 2:9) and meek and gentle in character (Matt. 11:29; II For. 10:1). He provides for his slaves generously, protects them jealously, and rewards them handsomely. (Page 149)

Thus, 

Christ’s slaves render their services voluntarily, not under external compulsion. They may confess, to be sure, that Christ Jesus has “laid hold” of them (cf. Phil. 3:12), but they serve him by their own choice, grateful that he has set them free. They have committed themselves to him totally and unconditionally – all of life for the whole of life. Slavery to Christ is not an irksome necessity imposed from without; it is a pleasurable commitment motivated from within. 

Half-heartedness has no place among Christ’s slaves; they serve with an enthusiasm generated by Christ’s Spirit. In Romans 12:11 it is significant that immediately after saying, “Be aglow with the Spirit”, Paul adds, “Serve the Lord as his slave,” as if to suggest that “the real proof of the presence of this fire of the Spirit would not be effervescent religious excitement but renewed energy and determination in the humble and obedient service of the Lord Jesus (Page 155). 

 

 

3 “Apologetic” Highlights

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So, I’m involved in a “Thinktank Event” for an apologetics organization, and one aspect of this event is to read and respond to the recent book edited by Sean McDowell titled, A New Kind of Apologist. This book review is a way to get me started… My three favorite chapters in this book were the following:

  • Chapter 6 by Dan Kimball titled, “‘Don’t Blame Us, It’s in the Bible’ – Understanding New Strategies for Shaking Up the Faith of New Generations.” In this chapter Dan talks about the importance of going beyond “good worship bands and even loving churches” and challenges us to listen to how our friends are processing the “troubling” passages of Scripture. Part of this process includes helping readers to read well – and to notice the context of what they are reading. He illustrates this masterfully in his “Mary Poppins” example on page 72. He writes,

“Mary Poppins is a wonderful movie about a caring, magical nanny who helps a dysfunctional family. Mary is kind and loving and everyone loves her. But I saw a fascinating movie clip where someone took short scenes from Mary Poppins and arranged them out of context. A scene of a group of nannies being blown away as Mary looks out sternly through a window at them. A boy being sucked into a closet and the doors shutting a sMary stares at him. A girl being sucked up into a chimney. Children running in fear. The clip ends with the words, “Scary Mary” and then the line, “Hide your children.” Someone who had never seen the whole Mary Poppins might assume it’s a horror film.” 

Similarly, taking bits of the Bible out of context paints an altogether different narrative than the true one of the God of compassion who is slow to anger and abounding in love.” 

2. Chapter 7 by Jeff Myers titled, “Shepherd is a Verb – The Role of Relational Mentoring in Communicating Truth.” Perhaps I’m biased to this chapter as I recently read another book on this topic, or because I’m a Pastor. Nevertheless, I loved this chapter because I felt the tone was perfectly humble. Myers quotes professor Linda Hill from Harvard Business School who said, “A leader is like a shepherd…He stays behind the flock, letting the nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing all along that they are being directed from behind.” Similarly, “shepherding leaders guide and nurture with a light touch that helps their followers conquer timidity and live out their design more fully” (79).

He doesn’t want us leaders to make the Christian life sound easy by teaching a “gospel devoid of a context of social struggle.” He believes, “those I’m influencing have to struggle. They have to watch ME struggle. Growth happens when we walk with one another in our struggles” (80).

As he has thought about influence, leadership and what it takes to facilitate true faith growth, he has a takeaway:

“Academic training piles up kindling; personal life-on-life influence lights the match. Apologetics training is invaluable for this generation, but transformation takes place when that truth is experienced in relationship.” 

3. My **favorite** chapter in the book was by Matthew Anderson – “Why We Should Love Questions More than Answers.” His thesis is fairly simple. I’d summarize it as:

  1. We are all looking for an intellectual home
  2. Questions are the means by which we travel
  3. We should care about the means of travel, not just the intellectual destination.
  4. We shouldn’t just care about other peoples’ questions, we should continually ask questions ourselves. This is in and of itself an effective apologetic.

Essentially: questions are important, and we should love to ask them, and love when people ask them.

After all,

  • “a question reveals more than what a person thinks, though; it also exposes the person’s attitude.” (150)
  • “questions are windows into what people want…the question is an expression of desire” (150)
  • “We must be Christians first and apologists second, which means our intellectual lives must be primarily shaped by seeking to understand the faith we live within rather than debating, disputing or even persuading those who do not believe it” (151)
  • “What we win people with is what we will win them to.” (151)
  • “Somewhat paradoxically, the method of answering the objections and questions from skeptics actually risks undermining their discipleship if they become Christians, as it can convey that having a satisfactory resolution to every question is a necessary criterion to believe. But who among apologists has achieved such a blessed state? The whole joy of Christianity is that it provides answers that keep the questions alive, deepening them and renewing them so that its adherences can go on seeking deeper understandings of the world forever” (152)
  • “Apologists should be more familiar with questions than any other tool in their rhetorical toolbox” because “questions are invitations to conversations. An apologist who only has answers is playing chess without a queen.” (153)
  • “The point of questions is to understand what the other person is saying and to help the other person understand what they are saying.” (154)
  • “Questions are among our most widely used forms of speech” (154).

And on and on it goes. This chapter was very affirming for me – such a delight to read! Matthew Anderson is such a gift to the church!

Other particularly helpful chapters in my mind were Chapter 8 by Brett Kunkle who recommends our training be similar to a classical education model, Chapter 10 by Holly Ordway as she discusses the value of storytelling for Apologetics. I’m particularly intrigued by her dissertation in the value of imagination in all of this – will look into her more as my post-graduate degree is in this area as well. And last but not least, Scott Smith’s Chapter titled, “The Scientific Naturalist Juggernaut and What to Do about it” presents a succinct explanation and “history of” the western naturalistic worldview and as such is very helpful.

 

Communal Discernment

VOJ

“Communal Discernment” is a topic of much discussion these days between Pastor Tom and I. Like, what does it look like for a church to make decisions together? What could it look like for an individual to make a decision within community? How can the leaders of Holden Chapel increasingly encourage the congregation to benefit one another in the midst of making important life decisions? Stuff like that… At the moment, this is a topic that is interesting and important to both of us.

Pastor Tom read this book first. He loved it, and recommended I read it as well. So I did and I enjoyed it too. Of primary help are the authors’ definitions of “discernment”:

  • On page 10, Smith tells us that the word discernment implies (at least in English) three different concepts simultaneously. First, it includes the idea of insight, which speaks of the capacity to see something clearly – the acumen to recognize that which is. Second, discernment includes the idea of discretion, the capacity to distinguish between good and evil as well as between the good and the better. A wine taster, for example, has the particular capacity to distinguish between good wine and even better wine. And third, discernment includes the idea of judgment. To be a discerning person is to be a wise woman or man capable of making a good assessment, a judgment that is informed by knowledge and understanding. Through the regular practice of discernment, a person grows in wisdom – a wisdom evident in the quality of one’s choices.
  • On page 53 Smith explains that discernment happens when we “truly understand when we know something with heart and mind. Discernment, then, is not merely a matter of rational analysis, of weighing the pros and cons and seeking to respond with a biblically informed mind to the options we are facing. Neither is discernment a matter of pure revelation, what some call a ‘word from the Lord.’ Rather, it is a way of knowing and seeing that is experienced as a profound interplay of intellect and emotion in which head and heart are informing and guiding each other.” And one more summation I liked:
  • “Spiritual discernment is an intentional way by which we respond with courage and integrity to our world. Discernment enables us both to see the world more clearly and to respond well to what we see. We discern our circumstances; we then, in turn, discern the appropriate response” (Page 183).

There is lots of good stuff in this book. But my favorite sections were the last two chapters where the author in discussing communal discernment touches on topics such as:

  • The nature of communal discernment (page 227ff)
  • The values of communal discernment (page 232ff)
  • The conditions for communal discernment (page 236ff)
  • The process of communal discernment (pages 242-260)

Without going into all the details, I want to conclude by highlighting one of my favorite parts of this section – found on pages 233-234. It is where the author considers four **distinct** ways in which the gift of discernment might find expression within a communal-discernment event. I found his delineation really helpful if for no other reasons than to help me pinpoint and value the diverse forms of discernment as they pop up within community (it was also super eery how two of them fit me to a “T” and the other two, perfectly to Pastor Tom):

  1. Some bring a gift of discernment through their capacity to see beyond the immediate. Every community, it seems, has those who have vision, who see the big picture – a capacity made possible only if they are not caught up in the mundane details of the organization. Those who have this capacity need to be cautious lest they are impatient with those who do not see things as quickly as they do. They need to consciously value and listen to those whose strength is to focus on the details of the immediate situation.
  2. Some have a gift of discernment exercised through their capacity for critical analysis – they understand the issues and the facts as well as the implications of the various choices a group is considering. Some with this competency have the capacity to read the facts easily, perhaps the financial data that are presented to the group, while others have the capacity to do the research needed to assess and respond well to a situation. The caution for those with this gift of discernment is to remember that though careful analysis is critical to the process of discernment, the process always includes more than rational analysis.
  3. Some are intuitive and have been given the capacity to identify the emotional dimension of organizations and communities. They are able to bring to the discussion an awareness of how a community and individuals within the community are responding emotionally to change or the possibility of change. At their best, intuitive can help the process by attending to the emotional contours of a community and the emotional dimensions of a decision-making process. But there is a caution: they need to recognize the potential of emotional blackmail in a discernment and decision-making process, when one person or group of individuals tie up the process with a threat – explicit or implicit – that they will be “hurt” if they do not get their way.
  4. Finally, the gift of discernment is also found in the sage, an individual who has perhaps been with the organization for a long time and is able to speak out of years of experience and observation. This is an invaluable contribution to the community. Yet here too there is a danger, for those who are older or have been with an organization longer can easily discount the contributions of those who bring a fresh perspective. After all, sometimes it is the newcomer who sees what those of us who have been around a while cannot see or have come to take for granted.