31 December 2011
Looking forward to more of this, and more deeply, with Wheaton College men Ian, Tanner, Erik, Wade, Ben, Bobby, Dave, and Mark. Eight men who make me want to live well.
I get one shot--one shot--at 2012.
30 December 2011
Toward the end of that letter Jack said the following, the second paragraph of which I find rebuking, igniting, and illuminating of past and present experience in my own life.
Open up the Scriptures which give us the full picture of the glory of suffering for Christ. What you discover is that there is no permanent joy in Christ apart from a willingness to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. That is, your life cannot have power in it or even salvation if you refuse to be like a grain of wheat that must fall to the ground and die in order to bring forth much fruit. God calls you to greatness, Catherine, but greatness means fruitfulness, and fruitfulness comes as we die to self and our fears and rise from the dead.--The Heart of a Servant-Leader: Letters from Jack Miller (P&R, 2004), 230
I do not presume to know whether you should go to Uganda or not. Only God can finally show you that. . . . But your life must have a death in it if it is to go anywhere. The greatest thing hindering revival at New Life is the way we tend to run away from our own death. The cross can be evaded only so long. Then if we keep away from it we begin to create our own deaths, and we die thousands of times over, killed and rekilled by our anxieties.
Does that last sentence explain why so many Christians are so weak, so joyless? I want to make my own failings, not others', my biggest concern, so I say it cautiously; but is it not the case that most of us who have had our eyes open to Christ, have truly embraced him and been born again, refuse thereafter to let go of the more immediate security of reputation, or comfort, or career achievement, or _________? Creating a breeding ground for innumerable anxieties? Holding on to hollow 'life' when Life awaits, if we will simply release our hold on a handful of pennies to fill out the blank check being offered us?
There is so much uncrucified Dane in me. Onward to death and joy in 2012. It really is possible.
'I died.' --the apostle Paul
'Die before you die. There is no chance after.' --C. S. Lewis, Till We have Faces
Death and joy. Both or neither.
29 December 2011
O heavenly, O blessed depositum of divine grace and goodness! . . . although every humble soul may learn and receive from it what is absolutely sufficient for itself on all occasions, with respect to its own duty and eternal welfare, yet the whole church of God, neither jointly nor severally, from the beginning to the end of the world, have been, are, or shall be, able to examine these stores to the bottom and to find out perfectly all its truths, in all their dimensions, concerns, and extent, that are contained therein.--quoted in Sinclair Ferguson, John Owen on the Christian Life (Banner of Truth, 1987), 189-90
24 December 2011
The army grows.
'Before I formed you in the womb,
I knew you,
and before you were born
I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.'
'So much as we see of the love of God, so much shall we delight in him, and no more. Every other discovery of God, without this, will but make the soul fly from him; but if the heart be once much taken up with this the eminency of the Father’s love, it cannot choose but be overpowered, conquered, and endeared unto him.'
21 December 2011
Our business is to present the Christian faith clothed in modern terms, not to propagate modern thought clothed in Christian terms.--J. I. Packer, "Fundamentalism" and the Word of God (Eerdmans, 1958), 136
Our business is to interpret and criticize modern thought by the gospel, not vice versa.
Confusion here is fatal.
The author, Doug Bond, writes in the opening chapter:
Who has not felt within him that he was too simple a man with too little to contribute to so great a cause as that of Christ and His church? What young woman, wife, mother, grandmother, or aged spinster has not wrung her hands, fearful and weak against the enemies of her soul and the church? Who has not thought that his gifts were too modest, that others could serve far better, and that he was too frail and timid to help advance the gospel of our Lord Jesus? Or who has not felt that hew was being unjustly maligned by critics, assaulted by the mighty, mocked and insulted by the influential?--Douglas Bond, The Mighty Weakness of John Knox (Reformation Trust, 2011), xxi-xxii
So it was for Knox, but as he wrote of the Reformation in Scotland, 'God gave his Holy Spirit to simple men in great abundance.' His contemporary Thomas Smeaton said of Knox after his death, 'I know not if God ever placed a more godly and great spirit in a body so little and frail.'
. . . The Almighty is in the business of raising up simple, frail, and little people, and empowering them to be strong in Christ.
20 December 2011
I am so much this way--the aggressive personality--that for a long time I questioned whether I could function as a pastor, whether I would not overwhelm people with my personality. Enthusiasm was not just my middle name: it was my first, middle, and last names. Eventually the Holy Spirit began to tame my spirit, and out of these changes I discerned that pastoral ministry was actually much easier than I thought. Basically at the beginning of a ministry, the leader should humble himself and not try to do too much. Really, even later a good pastor is pretty much a good listener, a patient, deliberate questioner; and at the beginning of a church-planting enterprise you will be astonished how well things will go if you are just a gentle, kind learner.--The Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters from Jack Miller (P&R, 2004), 86; emphasis original
My own conviction is that the flesh is still so strong in the Christian leader that each of us needs a healthy fear of our own capacity for ruining the work of God with our unconscious pride.
19 December 2011
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. -Romans 6:4
(Thanks to Z for pointing us to these pictures.)
My argument runs somewhat against the grain of the direction NT scholars are increasingly going in understanding the heart of Paul's concerns as an apostle. More and more I discern in NT scholarship an unhealthy over-horizontalization of the core of what animated Paul, prioritizing human reconciliation (Jew-Gentile) over vertical reconciliation (God-human). Zeal-language in Paul is a slice of his thought world that clarifies the priority of the apostle's concerns.
To the degree I've explained Paul rightly I hope students of the Bible will consider and be persuaded. It is not irrelevant to the gospel itself. I believe Paul will be better understood, and therefore Christ and his gospel more deeply cherished, and therefore God more reverently adored, if my arguments are read with genuine openness and textual submissiveness.
So it is gratifying to see three years' work come to fruition in this way. Glory to God.
16 December 2011
William Manson, 1953:
When we turn to the New Testament, we pass from the climate of prediction to that of fulfillment. The things which God had foreshadowed by the lips of His holy prophets He has now, in part at least, brought to accomplishment . . .
The supreme sign of the Eschaton is the resurrection of Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Church. The resurrection of Jesus is not simply a sign which God has granted in favor of His Son, but is the inauguration, the entrance into history, of the times of the End. Christians, therefore, have entered through the Christ into the new age . . . What had been predicted in Holy Scripture as to happen to Israel or to man in the Eschaton has happened to and in Jesus.
--William Manson, ‘Eschatology and the New Testament,’ in Scottish Journal of Occasional Papers 2 (Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1953), 6
Joachim Jeremias, 1971:
There is nothing comparable to the resurrection of Jesus anywhere in Jewish literature. Certainly there are mentions of raisings from the dead, but these are always resuscitations, a return to earthly life. Nowhere in Jewish literature do we have a resurrection to doxa as an event of history. Rather, resurrection to doxa always and without exception means the dawn of God’s new creation.
Therefore the disciples must have experienced the appearances of the Risen Lord as an eschatological event, as a dawning of the turning point of the worlds.
--Joachim Jeremias, New Testament Theology: The Proclamation of Jesus (trans. John Bowden; New York: Scribner’s, 1971), 309
Were earth a thousand times as fair
Beset with gold and jewels rare
She yet would far too poor to be
A narrow cradle Lord for thee
Praise God upon his heavenly throne
Who gave to us his only Son
For this his hosts on joyful wing
A blest new year of mercy sing
15 December 2011
You have a button in front of you, placed there by a helpful genie. But instead of giving you the standard three wishes (and why doesn't anybody ever wish for ten wishes?), the genie has limited your options.
If you push the button, the real income of all the "have-nots" in the world will double overnight. Their health care will be twice as good as it is now, their disposable income will be twice as large, their houses will be twice as nice, and so on. But another consequence of pushing this button will also be the fact that the "haves" will see their prosperity increase ten-fold. They will all be ten times richer, thus enabling them to swank around all day.
To spell it out, this means that the divide between the rich and poor will widen, but will do so in a way that leaves the poor undeniably better off.
This is your ethical "dilemma," and part of your test is whether or not you even think of it as a dilemma. Would you refuse to push that button out of hard principle? Would you push it, but with a guilty conscience? Or would you, like me, push it while whistling a cheerful air, with your hat on the side of your head?
If you would not push it, or if you would push it reluctantly, then that urgent yearning for social justice that you feel all the time in your gut is not compassion at all, but cancerous envy. It is evil. It is a deadly sin that must be mortified. You don't love the poor at all -- you hate the rich, and you want to use the poor as a club. And why would this malevolent genie want to take your precious club away?
HT: Chris Gensheer
Here is a downloadable PDF excerpt.
14 December 2011
God's work begins when ours comes to its end.--The Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters from Jack Miller (P&R, 2004), 200-201
Sometimes His presence is not felt with power through our methods however useful they may be, especially when we are confident we have the right approach and insights. God has a way of wanting to be God and refusing to get too involved where we have our own wisdom and strength. Then when we run out of wisdom and strength, He is suddenly present, a lesson I find myself relearning practically every day that I am in my right mind. (On my crazy days I am not ready to learn much!)
I think He wants our confidence to be exclusively in Him, and when we lose our self-confidence then He moves in to show what He can do. Perhaps self-dependence--and forgetting the strength to be found in Christ-dependence--is always our biggest blind spot. There is also presumption and pride that go with self-reliance.
So let's not lose our trust in God and the power of His gospel and the spirit of praise which goes with its proclamation (Rom 15:13; 1 Cor 1:18, 22-25; Gal 6:14).
13 December 2011
It seems significant to me that Smith, as he mentions in the preface, wrote this book around the time of his conversion to the Roman Catholicism (xiii). Much of the book feels directed against his evangelical upbringing, and I think I understand some of the attitudes towards the Bible at the popular level he is reacting against. A big part of what seems to annoy him, for example, is when people treat the Bible as a universal “handbook” for all kinds of issues, from dating to economics to how to train your pet, etc. Okay, I get that. But I think his book would have had greater value if he had engaged with evangelical treatment of Scripture against the backdrop of the classic Protestant doctrines of Scripture upon which it is founded, such as sola Scriptura (which was not opposed to tradition and creed) or the perspicuity of Scripture (which applied to matters of salvation, not all theological or a-theological topics). Much of what he is arguing against here seems to have less to do with different views of the Bible and more to do with different degrees of intellectual sophistication in practical use of the Bible. Christians of all traditions – including those, like Smith, in the Roman Catholic church – are guilty of treating the Bible in a simplistic way.
The core of Smith’s critique rests upon his thesis about “pervasive interpretative pluralism” – he frequently notes that even those with a high view of Scripture tend to disagree about all kinds of matters, and for him, this decisively argues against biblicism. My question is: why is “pervasive interpretative pluralism” anything more than a hermeneutical issue? Isn’t it simply a result of our finitude and fallibility as human thinkers, regardless of our doctrine of Scripture? Isn’t it just as much of a problem in the Roman Catholic church, for example – or really any sizable, diverse tradition, within or without Christendom? The myriad of different views on any given topic could be cataloged in Roman Catholicism quite easily – whether stretched back historically, focused on rulings and counter-rulings of different Popes and church councils, or seen today in the diverse opinions held on a multitude of issues within the Catholic Church. If one appeals to authoritative rulings from the Church to decide the issue, one must then adjudicate between the numerous interpretations of those rulings – and so on ad infinitum. Any authority source – whether the Bible or the Pope or human reason or the U.S. Constitution – can lead to “pervasive interpretative pluralism.” In no case does that fact as such discredit the authority.
12 December 2011
'I do really wish to destroy it!' cried Frodo. 'Or, well, to have it destroyed. I am not made for perilous quests. I wish I had never seen the Ring! Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?'--J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, ch. 2
'Such questions cannot be answered,' said Gandalf. 'You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.'
'But I have so little of any of these things . . . !'
. . . Sam passed along the path outside whistling. 'And now,' said the wizard, turning back to Frodo, 'the decision lies with you. But I will always help you.' He laid his hand on Frodo's shoulder. 'I will help you bear this burden, as long as it is yours to bear. But we must do something, soon. The Enemy is moving.'
09 December 2011
He is life from the dead. When the tomb was opened, the smell of Lazarus' sin and death came forth. The Lord must have felt like running away, since He hates evil in all its forms. But He stayed there.--The Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters from Jack Miller (P&R, 2004), 183
He does not run from us in our state of decay and smelliness. I tell you, when Jesus deals with us He does not pretend that we are lovely and odorless, but it is in the midst of our smelly death that Jesus draws near with tears and power and love and called the dead and rotting into new life. . . .
I know of no one else who can help the heart in its deepest needs, who can comfort the soul.
07 December 2011
It is a terrible and detestable blindness and a demonic presumption when a person has the audacity, as all work-righteous and hypocrites do, to attempt atonement for sin through works and tries in this way to earn the grace of God. It is wretched arrogance. . . . This is like a poor beggar--lice-ridden, syphilitic, leprous, filthy, stinking, and crawling with maggots and worms over his whole body, but nonetheless proud and arrogant--who vauntingly says: 'Just look at me, a handsome fellow!'The healing alternative:
. . . Therefore we have no right to indulge in much bragging and boasting when we step before God. Even if we were members of the highest aristocracy on earth and were prone to take pride in this, before God we would still be nothing but bags of worms or bags of manure, infested with lice, maggots, stinking and foul. . . .
But if we do want to boast, then let us boast that we receive from the fullness of Christ, that we are enlightened by Him, attain forgiveness of sin, and become children of God through Him. . . . This fountain is inexhaustible; it is full of grace and truth before God; it never fails no matter how much we draw from it. Even if we all dip from it without stopping, it cannot be emptied, but it remains a perennial fount of all grace and truth, an unfathomable well, an eternal fountain.--Luther's Works, 22:132-34
The more we drink from it, the more it gives.
06 December 2011
What is the gospel all about? It is the reconciliation of sinners to God through the blood of Christ and the reconciliation of men to one another as the fruit of that reconciliation to God. . . .--The Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters from Jack Miller (P&R 2004), 167-68
It must be greatly offensive to the Lord to see us defending the gospel in a manner that puts us at a distance from one another. . . . I fear that none of us have done all that well in living out [the gospel] as Christian brothers together. What has developed all too often is an adversary relationship among us, much like that in a court system. I am thinking of the tone, the pitting of position against position, the lack of mutual listening, and sometimes a breach of our covenant calling by bitterness and backbiting. . . .
How shall we give an account of ourselves when we are suddenly brought before our all-holy Father and asked to explain our divisions and quarrels?