Thursday, February 27, 2014

on God's anger

More highlights from David Wells' God in the Whirlwind...

"In all Western cultures, I have suggested, the love of God is welcomed and the holiness of God is given inhospitable treatment. Western nations will tolerate almost anything except a hard truth like this. We therefore do need to do a little ground-clearing work—because this idea has been so widely misunderstood and is so easily caricatured...

"If we are to understand the biblical teaching, we must distinguish between wrath in God and what we so often see in human anger. Human anger is often accompanied by malice, vindictiveness, retaliation, revenge, and hatefulness. God’s wrath, of course, has no such defilements. It is a pure expression of his holiness. It is not an outburst of irrational temper. Temper, malice, revenge were seen in some of the ancient gods and goddesses. They could be capricious, bad-tempered, and destructive. God, though, is not. He is none of these things and never could be. His wrath is instead about restoring to an unchallenged position all that is good, pure, true, beautiful, and right. And it is about removing everything that challenges his rule because it is bad, impure, rebellious, repugnant, or otherwise evil. This wrath is the way in which God’s holiness finally engages all that is wrong, all that has defiled his world, all that has defied his law, all that has rejected his rule, and all that has spurned his love expressed in Christ. It is the pure reaction of God to all that is impure. It is the dissatisfaction that arises within God over all that is other than what it should be, all that is dark, all that still has a raised fist. Wrath is his repudiation of all of that. It is the way in which he upholds the moral order of the universe...

"God’s anger is his holiness asserting itself against what is morally wrong. It is the way in which he upholds what is right in the face of what is wrong. It is how he preserves what is good against the assault of what is evil...

"The biblical writers had no difficulty in declaring that God will act in judgment. The difficulty would be if he did not act, for then evil would have triumphed. As it is, the day of reckoning is coming. When God finally acts to eliminate all evil, heaven will ring in triumphant shouts of joy. God has finally, and decisively, asserted his holy character! Until this moment, those in heaven are in suspense, saying, 'O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?' (Rev. 6:10)...

"Those who live in this psychological world think differently from those who inhabit a moral world. In a psychological world, we want therapy; in a moral world, a world of right and wrong and good and evil, we want redemption. In a psychological world, we want to be happy. In a moral world, we want to be holy. In the one, we want to feel good, but in the other we want to be good...

"God therefore stands before us not as our Therapist or our Concierge. He stands before us as the God of utter purity to whom we are morally accountable.

"He is not there begging to enter our internal world and satisfy our therapeutic needs. We are before him to hear his commandment. And his commandment is that we should be holy, which is a much greater thing than being happy. It is a commandment to be holy but not a promise that we will be made whole. We will not be made whole in this life. We will carry life’s wounds with us, and we will be beset by painful perplexities and our own personal failures. It is true that there are psychological benefits to following Christ, and happiness may be its by-product. These, though, are not fundamentally what Christian faith is about. It is about the God who is other than ourselves, who is the infinite and gracious God. But let us never forget, it is this God who also summons us to come and die at the foot of Christ’s cross."

Painting above is "The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah" by Henry Ossawa Tanner.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

he is the center

"God is elevated over all of life. God is God. We are but a part of his creation and dependent on him. He is its center. We are its periphery. He is infinite. In our humanity, we are but fading and finite. Between Creator and creation is a boundary. There is no place for pantheism in a biblical worldview. All spiritualities that begin within the self, building on the self as their religious source, are false. The self cannot reach out, in, or up and find God in a redemptive way. All of these cultural spiritualities have assumed that the boundary set between Creator and creature, between the holy God and sinners, can be crossed from our side and crossed naturally and easily. It cannot. Only God, the infinite Creator and the one who is utterly holy, can cross these boundaries."  (David Wells, God in the Whirlwind)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

why c s lewis attended church

"I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn't go to the churches. . . But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren't fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit."  (C. S. Lewis)

Quoted by Ed Stetzer here.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

finding common ground in a divisive world

Here's a very good interview with Francis Schaeffer Institute Director Mark Ryan, entitled “Finding Common Ground in a Divisive World” (Covenant Seminary, August 27, 2013)  There are some excellent real-life examples. Here are a few highlights...
When looking to engage others honestly with the gospel, we must not let ourselves validate the common stereotypes. There are enough other barriers to the gospel already; we don’t need to add to them by behaving in ways that play into the negative or restrictive images many people have of what they think Christians are like. Also, we have to learn to approach people not as evangelistic projects, but as fellow human beings—made in the image of God even though fallen and imperfect—and so give to them the same consideration and attention that we would like and expect for ourselves...

My emphasis is to help people reframe apologetics and get them to see that it’s not so much a discipline to be mastered as it is an orientation of the heart. Are we willing to live openly, to engage the questions that come our way? Are we willing to engage in conversations, offer clarifications, share our own testimonies in transparent ways? I want to frame apologetics in this broader, more personal sense...

Many Christians assume that the basic problem we encounter in apologetics is ignorance. Much of the literature on evangelism seems to makes this same assumption. That is, people just don’t know the gospel so we need to give them more information. But my experience is that it’s not that simple. The problem is not people’s ignorance; rather, it’s confusion. In much of North America, people hear about the gospel all the time, but they hear it in sound bites and in other very fragmented ways...

I think a more fruitful approach is to listen well and try to get some perception not only of what the other person believes, but also why they believe it, how it is meaningful to them, and to what degree it functions to explain their experience, generate hope, or counter fear. Then I can speak back to them in light of those things. I can say, “I understand why you would think that way. Let me shift your focus so you can see where I’m coming from and perhaps even why I think the way I do.” I can begin to tell the gospel story in a way that makes sense of what they value but puts that into its proper place or context. That’s bit more work and it makes the conversation slower, but now they’re not getting just a sound bite anymore...

If we allow ourselves to think of apologetics less as a discipline to be mastered and more as an orientation of the heart, then I think we can approach apologetics like any other aspect of our Christian discipleship—as something Christ by his Spirit delights to aid us with and is committed to growing us in.


reading highlights from jerram barr

Also reading Delighting in the Law of the Lord: God's Alternative to Legalism and Moralism (Crossway, 2013) by Jerram Barrs.

[Regarding societies that have no belief in inherent human depravity...] We could say that the more idealistic and utopian the ideology, the more disastrous will be its recipe for change when it is put into action.

This conviction that humans are sinful has been one of the most liberating doctrines in political history.

All biblical study of the law begins with the conviction that God’s own character stands behind the moral order of this world and behind the commandments that he gives to us his creatures. This is the fundamental reason why the Scriptures speak so positively about the law. Praising a set of commandments is an alien notion in our cultural context, but that is where the biblical view begins: with praise and thanksgiving for the law. Psalm 19 is an example of this high view of the law of God.

-- Jerram Barrs, Delighting in the Law of the Lord: God's Alternative to Legalism and Moralism (Crossway, 2013)

reading highlights from david wells

Reading God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World, by David Wells (Crossway, 2014).  Here are some highlights so far...

This is the direction in which our culture is pushing us: God does not interfere. He is a God of love and he is not judgmental... We see him as a never-ending fountain of these blessings. He is our Concierge.
We have exited the older moral world in which God was transcendent and holy, and we have entered a new psychological world in which he is only immanent and only loving.
We are now thinking of ourselves in terms, not of human nature, but of the self. And the self is simply an internal core of intuitions. It is the place where our own unique biography, gender, ethnicity, and life-experience all come together in a single center of self-consciousness.  And none of it is framed by absolute moral norms. This is where the overwhelming majority of Americans live.
This is not a generational matter. It was, and is, a cultural matter.
This was the soil on which Oprah built her TV empire. The followers who watched her show week by week were as conventional as apple pie in their own minds. The Pied Piper whom they followed, though, really is not. She heralded an age when God is found in the self, when salvation is only about therapy, happiness is just around the corner, and consumption is everyone’s right. And the nice thing about Oprah is that she herself is not perfection on toast. She is so very human. Her follies and shortcomings are all on display in moments of painful honesty. It was as if she was in her own private confessional—though confessing to herself—but the whole world was privileged to listen in.
Under the postmodern sun, everyone has a right to their own version of reality. When this comes about, any culture loses its ability to renew its own life.
There are a number of these fallen boundaries of which we should be aware. The distinction between soul and body was a boundary that disappeared increasingly after the 1960s as our culture began its self-transformation.
One suspects, though, that the outcome will not be very different. When these social experiments collapse, they bring behind them immense confusion, disorder, and suffering.
There is panic in the culture because we know our era is ending. Our horror movies are not just stories. They are a kind of mirror of ourselves.
That is why we must come back to our first principles. And the most basic of these is the fact that God is there and that he is objective to us. He is not there to conform to us; we must conform to him.
That calling is to know God as he has made himself known and in the ways that he has prescribed. We are to hear this call within the framework he has established. He is not there at our convenience, or simply for our healing, or simply as the Divine Teller handing out stuff from his big bank. No, we are here for his service. We are here to know him as he is and not as we want him to be. The local church is the place where we should be learning about this, and God’s Word is the means by which we can do so.
-- David F. Wells, God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World. (Crossway, 2014)

Monday, February 3, 2014

the ultimate shrink wrap

Here are some of my highlights from A Quest for More: Living for Something Bigger than You, by Paul David Tripp...

The fundamental core of sin is selfishness. It is a solitary universe turned in on itself. Sin really is the ultimate shrink wrap. It shrinks the size of your care and concern to the contours of your life.

The kingdom that is to capture and motivate us was meant to be no smaller than the size of his grandeur. I was never meant to shrink the size of my life to a size smaller than the contours of his glory. I was never created to establish my own kingdom, but to give myself in wholehearted, sacrificial devotion to his.

The size of my living was meant to be connected to the depth of his greatness. The fathomless greatness of God is the more that I was designed to live for.

We were not designed to settle for personal survival, temporal happiness, or individual success. We were created to find our meaning, identity, and purpose in the existence, character, and plan of God.

We begin to get excited because we see how grace has connected our story to his sweeping story.

This huge and wonderful place, where we were meant to live and find our identity and purpose, is the kingdom of God.

Sin shrinks each of us to a mini-king, ruling our mini-kingdoms of one. It reduces the human community to a society of kings colliding with each other’s solitary kingdoms.

The kingdom of self tends to be a “this is what I deserve,” “this is my position,” “this is what belongs to me,” and “this is how you should treat me” kingdom.

Sin holds the physical glories of the here-and-now world in front of you and tells you that they are the only glories worth living for. Sin shrinks your zeal and narrows your vision. Sin makes it hard to see beyond the borders of your own life. Grace enables you to tear down fences of self-focus, self-defensiveness, and self-protection so you can reach out to God and others. In so doing you will not only experience true glory, but you will recapture your true humanity.

The bottom line: big kingdom living means living with Christ at the center of everything I think, desire, say, and do.

Yes, sin really does cause all of us to shrink the size of our lives to the size of our lives.

The fundamental difference between the two kingdoms can be seen in who resides in the center.