Friday, September 25, 2009

Reading the Bible Missionally

My friend, Shawn, sent me this link on a new series of blog posts discussing "Reading the Bible Missionally." Looks like this is right up my alley. I look forward to this discussion.
“It is not enough, however, just to say that mission has a solid biblical foundation, we also need to see that the Bible has its roots in mission. That is, the Bible is the product of God’s engagement through God’s people in God’s world for God’s ultimate purposes for the nations and the world…So from beginning to end, the Bible is missional, by its very existence and by its comprehensive message. Mission then has to be a prime hermeneutical key for our own Bible reading and teaching.” [Quoting C.Wright's The Mission of God]

C.S. Lewis on “What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?”

"There is no half-way house, and there is no parallel in other religions. If you had gone to Buddha and asked him, ‘are you the son of Brahmah?’ he would have said. ‘my son you are still in the vale of illusion.’ If you had done to Socrates and asked, ‘are you Zeus?’ he would have laughed at you. If you had gone to Muhammad and asked ‘are you Allah?’ he would first have first rent his clothes and then cut your head off. If you had asked Confucius, ‘are you heaven?’ I think he would have probably replied, ‘Remarks which are not in accordance with nature are in bad taste.’ The idea of a great moral teacher saying what Christ said is out of the question. In my opinion, the only person who can say that sort of thing is either God or a complete lunatic suffering from that form of delusion which undermines the whole of man… He was never regarded as a mere moral teacher. He did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met Him. He produced mainly three effects – Hatred – Terror – Adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval."

— C.S. Lewis, “What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?”

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Conversation about Heaven & Exclusivity

Bobby slammed his coffee cup on the counter a little bit harder than he intended to: “You see, this is what frustrates me about you Christians. You all think that only Christians will be in Heaven. What about other people, like Gandhi, Buddha, or any other number of good people?”

Greg was a little surprised a Bobby’s intensity. They had connected a couple times previously in the semester getting coffee before their Philosophy 301 class and had always enjoyed asking each other what they believed. Greg tilted his head a bit and suggested somewhat teasingly, “Well, Bobby, I’m glad that you at least believe in Heaven.”

“Now, I didn’t say that, I consider myself open to the idea. But…," and then he hesitated.

They both sat down and poured packets of sugar into their coffee. “But…if there were a heaven, Christians are wrong about it?” Greg offered.

“They are wrong about it if they think that only Christians will be there. That’s just too…too…?”

“Exclusive? You think Christians are too exclusive.”

“Exactly,” nodded Bobby. The two college juniors sat in the corner where the sun was shining through the blinds.

“Okay,” said Greg, pausing. “It sounds like you’ve spent some time thinking about this. Let me ask you a question.”


“What kinds of people will be there?”

Bobby didn’t hesitate. “All kinds of people will be there, young & old, rich & poor, Jews, Christians, Muslims & non-religious folks.”

“What about Atheists?”

Bobby looked up for a moment weighing the question. “Sure, I know many Atheists who are good people. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be there, even if they don’t believe in God now.”

Greg took an unusually slow slip on his coffee, gathering his thoughts. “So you believe that good people go to heaven?”

“Yes! And—I must say—that’s much more inclusive and open-minded than you Christians,” Bobby said with a smile and a bit of satisfaction.

“Okay, now I’m confused,” Greg said throwing open his free hand.

“What do you mean?”

Greg leaned forward in his sofa chair. “I thought you were worried about Christians being too exclusive, but your view takes the cake!”

“I’m not sure I’m following you,” Bobby said hesitatingly, not wanting to take the bait. “What do you mean?”

“Well, maybe you can clarify this for me. You say that all kinds of good people—Muslims, Jews, Christians, and even good Atheists—will be in heaven because they have been, well, good.”

“Yes…?” Bobby was wondering where Greg was going with this.

“That view is much more ‘exclusive’ than what Christians believe.” Greg threw himself back into his chair shaking his head.

“How so?”

“What about the bad people?” Greg said protesting. “I mean, people who’ve broken the big commandments: liars, cheaters, murderers, adulterers? According to your view, they have no hope of heaven.”

“Okay. What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that your standard requirement for getting into heaven is that people have to be ‘good,’ but that excludes a lot of people.”

“Hmmm…okay. You got me," Bobby answered, somewhat sarcastically.

“Bobby, I’m not trying to get you. I’m just trying to understand your view."

"But that doesn’t exonerate Christianity’s exclusivity.”

"Look, everyone is exclusive on this issue, unless you want to say that everyone goes to Heaven when they die. But not many people want to say that. I mean, do you believe that Hitler will be in Heaven? There has to be an accounting, somehow. There has to be some kind of judgment for those folks, don’t you agree?”

Bobby nodded his head in agreement setting his coffee on the table. “Yeah, I can’t see God throwing open ‘the golden gates’ for the likes of Hitler, Moa-Tse Tung, Lenin, & the like,” he said as he threw open his arms in a big welcoming gesture.

Greg leaned forward again. “But here is the deal. Christianity says that there is hope for everyone, even for the really bad people too.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if we take seriously what the Bible says, everyone has sinned against God, and nobody is perfect, not even one. Yet God requires perfection.”

“Well, if that’s the case, then what hope is there for anyone?”

“Well, that’s just my point. Here’s the heart of the Christian message: God himself came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. He lived the perfect life, which means he loved God and others perfectly. And he voluntarily gave up his life when he died on the cross for people like you and me.”

“Okay," said Bobby as he was looking up tracking the argument. "I think I’m following you.”

“Do you know what the Apostle Paul said that I find so encouraging?”

“No, what?” They both stopped and looked up at a group of co-eds who entered the coffee shop laughing hysterically.

Greg & Bobby looked back at each other and busted out laughing, shaking their heads. After a moment, Greg continued, “He said something along the lines of, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.”

“An Apostle of Jesus Christ said that he was the worst of sinners?” Bobby asked incredulously.

Greg nodded.

“Why would he say that?”

“Well, before he became a Christian, he was hunting down Christians and killing them. Speaking of his pre-Christian days, Paul said that he was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man.”

A light seemed to be going off in Bobby’s mind, “And Jesus somehow made the difference?”

“Exactly,” Greg said with a smile. “Paul went on to say that it was because of this very reason—that he was the worst of sinners—that he was shown mercy, so that the Lord Jesus might use him as an example of his patience towards those who would come to believe on him.”

Bobby leaned forward, “You mean to tell me that Paul was saying that his hope of heaven was not because he was good, but because he was bad.”

Greg chuckled reassuringly. “You're starting to get it. Paul wasn’t good, even though he excelled as a Pharisee—that is, a religious teacher,” he clarified. “In many ways, he had to abandon all hope in his goodness and throw himself at the mercy of Jesus.”

Greg paused to make sure Bobby understood. Bobby was nodding his head like it was all sinking in. “Go on,” he said.

That’s why I said earlier that a standard that says, ‘All good people get into heaven,’ is actually very exclusive, much more so than Christianity. Christianity says that even bad people have reason to hope for mercy if they believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for only bad people.”

“I think I’m getting what you are saying.”

“Let that sink in. I truly believe that Christianity is unique, because it doesn’t tell you to go out and make religious pilgrimages, or to pray a certain number of times per day in a certain direction, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, or do x, y, & z. It tells you to abandon all hopes of impressing God with your goodness—because you can’t—and to believe in the Lord Jesus who actually saves people like us and people who are ‘worse’ than us and people who are ‘better’ than us.”

“Well Greg, this has been an interesting conversation. I have never seen things that way before.”

“I used to not, either. I’m glad we had this time to chat in between classes.”

The two rose and put on their backpacks.

“Me too. Maybe we can carry on this conversation later?”

“I’d love to. Because our hope is not really Heaven, but Heaven on earth.”

“Wow. We’ll definitely have to carry this conversation on later.”

Friday, September 11, 2009

"If 19-year-old boys are ruining your day because of what they do with a ball, that's a problem."

JT linked to an interview with Matt Chandler of The Village. He asks two questions:
* What stirs your affections for Jesus Christ?

* And what robs you of those affections?
So far, so good. Then he gets to meddling, as they say.
Sanctification here at The Village begins by answering two questions. What stirs your affections for Jesus Christ? And what robs you of those affections? Many of the things that stifle growth are morally neutral. They're not bad things. Facebook is not bad. Television and movies are not bad. I enjoy TV, but it doesn't take long for me to begin to find humorous on TV what the Lord finds heartbreaking.

The same goes for following sports. It's not wrong, but if I start watching sports, I begin to care too much. I get stupid. If 19-year-old boys are ruining your day because of what they do with a ball, that's a problem. These things rob my affections for Christ. I want to fill my life with things that stir my affections for him. . . .

We want our people to think beyond simply what's right and wrong. We want them to fill their lives with things that stir their affections for Jesus Christ and, as best as they can, to walk away from things that rob those affections—even when they're not immoral.
Great words to remember. I have a few thoughts.

I love sports. I used to love them too much. I, along with any number of sports fanatics, would have my day--no, my week--ruined by a game. I had too much invested there. Thankfully, I've made some progress in this. My wife seems to think this is why the Aggies have stunk for so long, b/c God was dealing with my idol. If that's the case, sorry Ags. He has been messing with yours too!

Secondly, while fully agreeing that there are times when we simply need to "walk away" from those things that ruin our affections for Christ, we still need to work through them. For example, food can function this way. But we can't go cold turkey on food!

What we need to do is learn to use the gift of food for God's glory. Same thing with alcohol, sex, influence, tv, investing, shopping, parks, facebook, etc. No, I'm not saying everyone has to use each and every gift from God. But sometimes, I fear the impression is given that the answer to our struggles is simply to 'walk away' from 'the things of the world' instead of learning to engage them correctly.

The Christian life is then viewed merely as a strategy of keeping the corrupting influence of the world far away, rather than dealing with the corruption within my own heart that takes the good gifts of God and perverts them for my own selfish reasons. In other words, it's a problem when the problem is viewed 'out there' and not within the core of my being. If it is out there, I can manage the issue. If it's "in here", then I desperately need Christ.

The worst examples of this are people who say sports, drink, tv, etc., always ruin appetite for Christ. Therefore it is always wrong for everyone to participate in these activities. The word for this is legalism. [Disclaimer: No, I'm not saying this is what Chandler is saying.]

So how should a Christian view sports? Should s/he have nothing to do with it? I think that part of the solution is to bring our thinking under the lordship of Christ. Or another way to put it is, How should we think Christianly about sports? Is it possible that sports can actually increase my appetite for Christ? I believe so.

To that end, here's a good book that I would recommend as well: Game Day for the Glory of God: A Guide for Athletes, Fans, & Wannabes.

Says the author, a self avowed Christian who 'absolutely loves sports,'
"DO I ever thank god for the incredible amount of pleasure that I receive from sports...? Let us resolve from this point forward that we will not enjoy the gift of sports without giving thanks and honor to the Giver himself. Let us recognize that sports are indeed gifts from a generous God to undeserving sinners, and let our enjoyment of sports be marked by thankful hearts."
Simply put, yes, we can enjoy sports as a gift from God, but like any of His gifts, we value the gift over the Giver of the gift. That's where the trouble begins, and what I think Chandler is talking about.

This new one looks good too, though I haven't read it yet: The Reason for Sports: A Christian Fanifesto.

Here's a link to the whole Chandler interview.

Pondering these quotes....

"The Church exists by mission as fire exists by burning."
- Emil Brunner

"There is no participation in Christ without participation in His mission to the world. That by which the Church receives its existence [i.e., the life of Christ] is that by which it is also given its world mission."
~ qtd. in God's Missionary People, ch. 1
"In choosing a people, God intended to reach out to the whole world.... 'In choosing Israel as segment of all humanity, God never took his eye off the other nations; Israel was the pars pro toto, a minority called to serve the majority. God's election of Abraham and Israel concerns the whole world."

"The Church is not an exclusive club of privilege, neither is it a place to rest from our labors. We have been brought in so that we may gather others into this Kingdom of grace."
~ qtd. in God's Missionary People, ch. 3

Flickr Favorites: Indian Summer Sunset

Indian Summer Sunset, originally uploaded by Osgoldcross.

I wish I were sitting here on the dock fishing, dreaming, praying.