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Archive for the ‘theology’ Category

Another great quote from Hoekema (You need to read this book)

In books, loving jesus, quotes, recommendations, theology, you need to read this book on February 13, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Boom.

“Being a citizen of the kingdom, therefore, means that we should see all of life and all fo reality in the light of the goal of the redemption of the cosmos. This implies, as Abraham Kuyper once said, that there is not a thumb-breadth of the universe about which Christ does not say, “It is mine.” This implies a Christian philosophy of history: all of history must be seen as the working out of God’s eternal purpose. This kingdom vision includes a Christian philosophy of culture: art and science reflect the glory of God and are therefore to be pursued for his praise. It also includes a Christian view of vocation: all callings are from God, and all that we do in everyday life is to be done to God’s praise, whether this be study, teaching, preaching, business, industry, or housework.”

Seriously folks, The Bible and the Future is a goldmine. Eschatology matters, and the more I think about what God has done, is doing, and is going to do in history, the more I’m led to worship.

Anthony Hoekema on total cosmic renewal

In books, loving jesus, music, quotes, theology on February 5, 2010 at 2:30 pm

First of all, Patty Griffin’s new album Downtown Church is great and you should go buy it right now. Second of all, in doing some reading for my Eschatology class, I came across this excellent quote from my good friend Anthony Hoekema (He’s not really my good friend, but if he were still alive and teaching at Calvin Seminary, I’d say we’d probably be buds) in The Bible and the Future.

While Jesus dying on the cross in our place for our sins is certainly the blazing center of the gospel, many of my fellow evangelicals leave it at just that, forgetting the essential eschatalogical hope of the redemption of the entire cosmos.

“Fully to understand the meaning of history, therefore, we must see God’s redemption in cosmic dimensions. Since the expression ‘heaven and earth’ is a biblical description of the entire cosmos, we may say that the goal of redemption is nothing less than the renewal of the entire cosmos, of what present-day scientists call the universe. Since man’s fall into sin affected not only himself but the rest of creation (see Genesis 3:17-18; Rom. 8:19-23), redemption from sin must also involve the totality of God’s creation.”

Jeremiah Burroughs on contentment with life circumstances

In books, prayer requests, quotes, recommendations, reviews, theology on January 18, 2010 at 10:26 pm

Right now is just about the most exciting and the most nerve-wracking time of my entire life. I am graduating from college in May, getting married to the most beautiful woman on the planet in July, and I’ve been accepted to seminary. Evidences of God’s grace are found everywhere in my life. However, there are so many decisions that we have to make in the next few months that I often feel bogged down with stress and anxiety. It is far too easy for me to focus on what is uncertain instead of focus on what is. I think a lot of my friends are in the same boat.

I’ve been reading an incredible book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, by an old Puritan named Jeremiah Burroughs. His purpose in the book is to help believers find peace and contentment during difficult times. Today I came across a quote that was a very helpful word of grace that I just wanted to share with you:

“You should labour to bring your heart to quiet and contentment by setting your soul to work in the duties of your present condition. And the truth is, I know nothing more effective for quieting a Christian soul and getting contentment than this, setting your heart to work in the duties of the immediate circumstances that you are now in, and taking heed of your thoughts about other conditions as mere temptations.

…So it is with those who think, If I were in such circumstances, then I should have contentment; and perhaps they get into those circumstances, and they are as far from contentment as before. But then they think that if they were in other circumstances, they would be contented, but when they have got into those circumstances, they are still as far from contentment as before. No, no, let me consider what is the duty of my present circumstances, and content my heart with this, and say, ‘Well, though I am in a low position, yet I am serving the counsels of God in those circumstances where I am; it is the counsel of God that has brought me into these circumstances that I am in, and I desire to serve the counsel of God in these circumstances.'”

You need to read this book (12/31/09)

In books, loving jesus, quotes, recommendations, theology, you need to read this book on December 31, 2009 at 1:32 am

Deep Church by Jim Belcher

So technically it’s the last day of 2009. My clock says 12:12 am CST. I thought I would try to fit in one more book recommendation into the year. While there have been a number of excellent books to come out this year, after Horton’s Christless Christianity, Jim Belcher’s Deep Church comes in as another favorite of the year. It is clear, practical, and Belcher (a PCA minister) says nearly everything I have been thinking about the debates between “emerging” and “traditional” churches. Like many of us, Belcher both feels like an insider and an outsider to the emerging church discussion(s) and Deep Church is his attempt to provide a way forward. f you are involved with church ministry, this is a must read. Besides, virtually everyone in the blogosphere (is it ok to say blogosphere?) is talking about it.

While Belcher and I come from similar backgrounds (I’m basically PCA with a lot of Kuyper thrown in for fun), Deep Church would be just as helpful for other brothers and sisters who don’t share my particular theological distinctives. Either way, you have to read a book on the church that has endorsements from both Mark Driscoll and Rob Bell on the back.

Review of James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom

In books, recommendations, reviews, theology on November 29, 2009 at 12:27 am

Below is a recent review of James K.A. Smith’s new book Desiring the Kingdom that I wrote for my Faith and Learning in American Culture class this semester with the incredible George Marsden. I hope it’s helpful.

The question of Christian education has been hotly debated for many years. What are the primary factors that shape a distinctively Christian education and what kind of content is learned? Is “content” even at the heart of Christian education? In his recent book, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, James K.A. Smith argues for a renewed vision for Christian education. While there are certainly many things to be admired in “worldview” models of Christian education, Smith claims that we should instead root our models in the actual practices of Christian worship. Too often, Smith notes, Christian education has started with an insufficient anthropology that sees human beings primarily as thinking things and not as fully embodied creatures. What Smith calls for is an Augustinian renewal of our understanding of the human person, primarily as “embodied agents of desire or love” (47).

The problem with worldview thinking, Smith argues, is that much of it “owes more to modernity and the Enlightenment than it does to the holistic, biblical vision of human persons” (31). While Christian education certainly involves the passing of information from a “Christian perspective” to some degree, Smith believes that this is not formative enough. The starting point for Smith’s model is worship rather than worldview. To demonstrate this point, Smith boldly claims that

“Before we articulate a worldview, we worship… That’s the kind of animals we are, first and foremost: loving, desiring, affective, liturgical animals who, for the most part, don’t inhabit the world as thinkers or cognitive machines… given the sorts of animals we are, we pray before we believe, we worship before we know—or rather, we worship in order to know.” (33-34).

This is at the heart of this Augustinian renewal: rightly ordered loves.

Smith divides his “Human Person as Lover” model into three primary categories: love’s aim, love’s end, and love’s fulcrum/formation. Smith argues persuasively that the fundamental mode of the human person is love. We engage the world as lovers and it is what we love that defines us. When espousing his views, Smith rightly notes that the issue of love is essentially an issue of worship and he states that “our ultimate love is what we worship” (51). While this ultimate love should be God, sin has distorted our affections and has pointed them toward things that are not God. Much of the time these things are not inherently bad. Rather, they are usually good things, but anything other than God that we hold as ultimate in our lives necessarily is an issue of idolatry. Indeed, Smith rightly shows that at our core is a kind of constant “love pump” (52) that sin has caused to be aimed at the wrong things. Smith then goes on to engage with love’s end, or telos. What is the end to which we love? What we love is ultimately rooted in some kind of picture of human flourishing. Whatever supreme picture of human flourishing we hold will then govern the way we act, think, decide, and love. It is here that Smith argues persuasively for his anthropology of the human person primarily as lover:

“Rather than being pushed by beliefs, we are pulled by a telos that we desire. It’s not so much that we’re intellectually convinced and then we muster the willpower to pursue what we ought; rather, at a precognitive level, we are attracted to a vision of the good life that has been painted for us in stories and myths, images and icons” (54).

Because of the fact that our “love pump” is misdirected, there are many different pictures of human flourishing we end up holding. This picture amounts to nothing less than our view of the kingdom. The way we live and the habits that we hold flow from this picture largely as second nature. However, our habits also help to shape this picture, and, as Smith shows, this must be taken into account when thinking through the nature and shape of Christian education.

One of the most helpful aspects of Smith’s anthropology of the human person primarily as lover is that it opens up the factors that shape us past the realm of ideas and concepts. When love becomes the primary characteristic of the human person, cultural practices and institutions become kinds of liturgies and create what Smith calls “cultural pedagogies”. As Smith shows, even something as seemingly neutral as shopping at the mall becomes a powerful liturgical event that has a dramatic effect on our vision of the kingdom. While there are certainly different levels of this effect, for example, brushing one’s teeth does not likely have a significant impact on one’s ultimate love, things like going to church on Sundays and engaging in daily prayer have a significant impact on our vision of human flourishing. Smith outlines several “secular liturgies”, such as shopping at the mall and university education, deftly showing their formative nature and the subtle ways they direct our desires.

According to Smith, human beings are ultimately driven by desires and affections and these desires both help shape and are shaped by the activities that we participate in. In summarizing his goal, Smith writes,

“Fundamentally, the concern was to emphasize that Christianity is not only (or even primarily) a set of cognitive, heading believes; Christianity is not fundamentally a worldview… Rather, we sought to show that what Christians think and believe (and they do think and believe, and that’s a good thing!) grows out of what Christians do” (216).

Smith wants to root Christian education in the nature and practices of Christian worship. However, I am not entirely convinced that what we do takes on any more of a significant role in our development than what we think and believe. I don’t Smith intends to set up an either/or dichotomy between what we think and what we do, but he certainly places the weight of formation on the side of practices.

In my view, both practice and worldview have significant impact on our vision of the kingdom. Much of what the New Testament says about what Christians are to do and how they are supposed to act are rooted in both liturgical practices and doctrine. One clear example of this is Ephesians 4:17-24. Note how many times Paul references teachings:

“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles to, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (emphasis added).

In this passage, Paul references “deceitful desires”, but the answer is not only to “put on the new self” (changing what we do), but also the renewal in the “spirit of your minds” (changing what we think). Paul then goes on to address specific issues in the church of Ephesus, concluding, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). Paul is asking for changes in practice, but it is rooted in the fact (the idea or concept, if you will) that God has already forgiven them in Christ. While our visions of the kingdom are certainly shaped by the practices that we take part in, it cannot be denied that we are also incredibly influenced by ideas and concepts.

Overall, Smith’s anthropology of the human person fundamentally as lover is an incredibly helpful model for discussing how a proper model of Christian education should be constructed. We certainly are more than just “thinking things” and too often this has been forgotten or ignored. While I don’t think Smith intends to completely abandon a model of education that emphasizes facts and ideas in favor of one that only emphasizes practices, he certainly argues that cultural practices and liturgies are the primary factor that influences our kingdom-visions of human flourishing. It seems wise to adopt a more moderate view that sees practices and concepts as both significant influences that shape our vision of the kingdom. Nevertheless, James K.A. Smith successfully changes the conversation about Christian education. No longer can we simply teach classes from a “Christian perspective” and consider it to be sufficient; we must go deeper. If human beings are primarily creatures of desire, the goal of a Christian education must seek to influence these desires, helping students to gain a biblical picture of the kingdom, rightly ordering all loves around the worship of our great God.

John Piper on the new birth

In books, loving jesus, quotes, theology on July 25, 2009 at 8:26 pm

One of the unsettling things about the new birth, which Jesus says we all must experience in order to see the kingdom of God (John 3:3), is that we don’t control it. We don’t decide to make it happen any more than a baby decides to make his birth happen – or more accurately, make his conception happen. Or even more accurately: We don’t decide to make it happen any more than dead men decide to give themselves life. The reason we need to be born again is that we are dead in our trespasses and sins. That’s why we need the new birth, and that’s why we can’t make it happen. This is one reason why we speak of the sovereign grace of God. Or better: This is one reason why we love the sovereign grace of God.

– John Piper, Finally Alive

Piper vs. Wright?

In books, theology on June 26, 2009 at 3:05 pm

For those of you who may be interested in the justification debate between John Piper & N.T. Wright (and a whole host of others…), Trevin Wax put together an overview that was published in Christianity Today this past month.  It is now available at his blog.

Piper’s book responding to Wright.

Wright’s book responding to Piper.

.pdf summary of Piper & Wright’s respective positions.

Kevin DeYoung also posted some good thoughts on the subject a few days ago.

For the record, I’m with Piper on this one, but I have tremendous respect for both men and have benefited from both of their work.

I haven’t died, but I haven’t had a lot of time to blog lately.  More coming soon…

Jerry Bridges on sanctification

In books, loving jesus, quotes, theology on May 30, 2009 at 12:00 am

“It is the glory of Christ revealed in the gospel, the good news that Jesus died in our place as our representative to free us not only from the penalty of sin but also from its dominion.  A clear understanding and appropriation of the gospel, which gives freedom from sin’s guilt and sin’s grip, is, in the hands of the Holy Spirit, a chief means of sanctification.

To the degree that we feel we are on a legal performance relationship with God, to that degree our progress in sanctification is impeded.  A legal mode of thinking gives indwelling sin an advantage, because nothing cuts the nerve of the desire to pursue holiness as much as a sense of guilt.  On the contrary, nothing so motivates us to deal with sin in our lives as does the understanding and application of the two truths that our sins are forgiven and the dominion of sin is broken because of our union with Christ.”

– Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace

Francis Schaeffer, art, and Animal Collective.

In books, music, quotes, recommendations, reviews, theology on May 9, 2009 at 9:00 am

I am giving a presentation on Monday for my Christianity and Culture class on how Christian are to relate to popular music.  While reading Francis Schaeffer’s classic Art & The Bible, I came accross this killer quote:

“For a Christian, redeemed by the work of Christ and living within the norms of Scripture and under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, the Lordship of Christ should include an interest in the arts.  A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God.  An art work can be a doxology in itself.”

One album that I have really been enjoying lately is Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective.  I bought a few months ago during spring break because it was on sale for $7.99 on iTunes and I had wanted to listen to it for a while.  I was a little nervous because it is very different from the kinds of music that I usually listen to, but I really, really like it.  They are one of the most innovative, strange bands out there, but I would highly reccommend it.  If you give it time, this album gets better with every listen and every beat, layer, synth, and strange, oddball noise points me to our innovative, glorious Creator.

Here is the video for their song “My Girls”:

The album cover:

According to Time Magazine, the new Calvinism is one of the 10 ideas changing the world.

In remarkable discoveries, theology on March 12, 2009 at 3:28 pm

In fact, they put it at number three on the list.  Themz my boyz.