Feeds:
Posts
Comments

What is Going on Here?

The local Christian radio station has decided to withdraw its sponsorship of the local Christian music festival because Jim Wallis has been invited. Their reasons for pulling back have to do with Wallis’ position on various social issues. they disagree with wallis’ ideas on the need to take care of people’s basic life needs first as opposed to sharing the Gospel and introducing them to Jesus.

Their statement is here.

The money quote for me is this:

We recognize that individually and as the Body of Christ we are not doing all we could as Jesus taught us to. But we do not believe the solution is the church partnering with the government in this endeavor. Feeding the poor with no ability to share the gospel message is at best an incomplete solution. And we fear this is what will happen as the government controls the purse strings. Doing so might indeed help them in this life, at least while the food and water lasts, but what about their eternal souls? While we are commanded by Jesus to help the poor, Jesus said our greatest calling is in Matthew 28:19: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Coming under federal control may make this impossible without legal and financial persecution.

A couple of things stick out.  First is the assumption that where government is in charge of re-distributing the wealth through taxation, the gospel will be hindered.

Has anybody asked the church in  China how that’s working out for them?  China controls and redistributes everything.  Yet the church is growing immensely in that country to the point where they are sending missionaries to their neighboring countries.

Of course, if the government decides that the gospel can’t be preached if your church is feeding the poor or using government money to do so, it will be harder to preach the gospel.  So what?  Where were we promised an easy time of spreading the good news of Christ?

Second, the statement that the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) is more important than Jesus’ command to help the poor, begs for some explanation.  It sounds almost Manichean to say that preaching is more important than helping people to eat.  The spiritual life takes over the reality of living in this world.  It is hard to hear the gospel when you don’t know where the next meal is coming from and your stomach is rumbling.

I appreciate their words of concern that we should be caring for the poor, I think they and Jim Wallis would agree on that point.  It is hardly humanism to suggest that the poor are more likely to hear the gospel if their basic life needs are met first.  I’m missing the statement from Jim Wallis that says we don’t need to preach the gospel.

I think this radio station has withdrawn its sponsorship in the attempt to get rid of a strawman.  The line in their statement that says they invited Wallis to a meeting of local Christian pastors, I thinks suggests that the powers that be aren’t quite certain Wallis is committed to the Christian Gospel as they are themselves.

Just my 2 cents.

I couldn’t agree more with the thoughts she’s expressing. Since coming back from overseas, I’m just not into the things that seem to make up most of the conversation on Christian radio or the titles in the Christian bookstore.

I only wish I had thought of how to say it like she has here.

His grace is sufficient

Just read the following quotes:

The faithful soul is always given grace sufficient for the matter at hand; there is no possibility of insufficiency of grace.  The realisation of this truth adds greatly to the calmness with which one may face crises and enables one to accept the events of life as they come without undue worry.

and

It is clear, then, that grace is not merely valuable, but necessary to the spiritual life; we depend upon it for our conversion to God and our union with Him, for our perseverance in holiness and for our soul’s growth…God gives His grace richly to those who ask Him, but the soul that does not pray is so shut up in itself that even the grace of God can hardly find an entrance.  Yet the use of grace demands circumspection. If grace is to have free course and attain its end one must desire to always do the will of God and avoid exposing oneself willfully to danger.  It is precisely this holy circumspection which is so often lacking even in well-disposed persons, and which is responsible for so many grievous falls from God.  There are many dangers in this world which cannot be avoided; if one loves God and desires to do His will one can rely on grace to keep one safe in these, but one has no right to presume on the grace of God by deliberately going into danger or by allowing oneself to carelessly drift.–F.B. Harton, The Elements of the Spiritual Life

Given the book is about the spiritual life, I would not want to jump to conclusions that we’re looking at another case of prosperity-type gospel here.  Rather, I would think the author is talking about spiritual dangers and carelessness.  So I see his argument is this:

  1. God’s grace is sufficient and does not fail
  2. We are dependent on God’s grace for our spiritual life
  3. We can block God’s gracious action in our lives by our lack of perseverance and our thoughtlessness
  4. In such cases, we cannot presume that God’s grace will prevail in our lives

Is this correct?  Though God’s grace is sufficient, can we block it by our lack of faith, holiness, or whatever?  Is faith, therefore, the necessary ingredient by which God unlocks the treasure house of His grace and pours those riches into our lives?  How does this fit into the finished work of Christ on the cross on our behalf?

I read a great interview with Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet about their new book, The Jesus Manifesto. I was loving the focus on Jesus and the importance of making Christ the center of His church again, when I stumbled over this paragraph…

Folks can visit www.theJesusManifesto.com and read sample chapters, hear some brand new songs that were recorded by professional Christian artists based on the book (one of them by the man who wrote some of Amy Grant’s most popular tunes), check out the iPhone app, read endorsements, etc.

It just sounded like another marketing strategy for Jesus in the 21st century. Do we really need an iPhone app to help our lives center on Jesus?

I loved their original, but much shorter, Jesus Manifesto from a couple of years ago.  It is good to see the original expanded into book form and placing Jesus inside orthodox Trinitarian theology.  It was only that one paragraph that made me feel uncomfortable.

That said, I already ordered my copy, I hope you will do the same.

Any other thoughts?

Last night brought word while I was at work that cancer had finally claimed the earthly life of Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk.  Words fail to describe the sorrow that I know his family and friends are experiencing as well as many of us in the rest of the blogosphere.  I think one of the BHT Jareds once said Michael was the only necessary voice on the Internet.  I would agree.

Michael’s words through the Internet Monk or Boar’s Head Tavern have been a great encouragement to me for years.  His writing was honest, sometimes painfully honest, but almost always captured in words what I was thinking and feeling in my heart of hearts.  His encouraging word to someone he may not have even known was reading his stuff was often priceless.

He and I never met, but he helped me through many ministry joys and successes but even more so, the crises and failures.  I owe him my deepest thanks for introducing me to Thomas Merton as a real human being and follower of Christ and not the quasi-gnostic syncretist that I had always thought him to be.   Michael also introduced me to Robert Farrar Capon, Francis Chan, the later writings of Robert Webber, and re-introduced me to Shakespeare after the Bard and I had a serious falling out in high school.

Michael introduced me to the concept of post-evangelicalism, just as I was getting ready to chuck the whole church scene into the bin.  I could not fathom the lack of spiritual depth of the materials from other churches that would come across my desk as a pastor.  It always looked great, tasted great, but left me with the crash of reality when the sugar high wore off.  Michael told me there was a world beyond that place where Christ was all and in all and led me there.

He helped shape my life’s ministry by pointing out that many of us evangelical pastors were chasing our tails on the hamster wheel every week.  He pointed me back to the Creeds, spoke of liturgy (both high church and low-church) with respect and not the disdain that had been beaten into my head over the years, reminded me the Good News was, is, and always will be Good News that changes everything, not merely a means to a happy, safe life.

In short, Michael was a spiritual father, director, friend, counselor, and goad when needed to someone he had never met.  His wit and humor made life more palatable on hard days.  His own struggles through the hardships of life, depression, loss of dear family members to death, or friends to the theological wars, encouraged me that I was not walking alone through this life.  He will be missed.

But yet we have hope…

For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  –1 Corinthians 15:53-56

Jesus is risen!

OK, then…a question

Here’s a quote…

It is clear that the Christian life is essentially supernatural.  It is the ignoring or denying of this element which is the cause of most of the ineffectiveness of present-day religion.  Supernatural religion is not popular, but that does not make it untrue.  Protestantism dislikes it, the Reformation was largely a movement for its dethronement; Modernism dislikes it–the pathetic desire to find a merely human Christ and the condemnation of sacramental action as “magic” attest as much; Science dislikes it because it appears to the scientist to introduce an incalculable and undemonstrable element in Nature; the Man in the Street dislikes it because it is beyond his comprehension, and it is a common weakness to fear and therefore hate the unknown; it remains for the Catholic uncompromisingly to nail his colours to the mast and live supernaturally, confident that on that level alone will he find fully Him for Whom his soul thirsts.

It may help towards clarity if we observe at this point that the supernatural is not the same thing as the miraculous.– The Elements of the Spiritual Life, F.P. Harton, S.P.C.K., London (?), 1932

Ok, then…what starts out as an excellent understanding of the Christian life lived as a response to God’s divine initiative in both general and specific revelation, gets bogged down into a squabble about what really happened in the Reformation.

I’m not certain it is fair to say that the Reformation sought to dethrone the primacy of God in action to save for Himself a people.  It is fair to say that the elevation of Reason over Revelation narrowed the field from infinite ways of God to the finite ways and understanding of human beings.

Is the weakness of the Church in the 21st Century due to a loss, through whatever means, of the supernatural element in the Christian life?

Much ado about life (or not)

Two years have come and gone from life on the island.  Winter will never be the same for me again, not that I was all that fond of it in the first place.

The last two years have been spent seeking God’s plan for my life and my family as we dealt with some health related issues with one of our kids, along with my own theological crisis.  Landing in the U.S. with no ministry outlet was/is depressing for a lot of reasons.  It forces a reality check with life inside and outside of the church bubble.

It didn’t help that most of the evangelicals I knew in this area thought in terms of political and religious culture fights rather than getting to know and follow Christ wherever He might lead.  When a local homeless shelter was on the verge of being closed down at the start of winter, I was convinced that God called me to help out.

Unfortunately, the evangelicals in the area weren’t all that impressed.  They saw it as a trip across the Tiber because the local Roman Catholic diocese took the place over to keep the city from closing the shelter.  I wasn’t planning on joining the RC church (and still am not), but to hear some of my evangelical brethren, being employed by the RC diocese is almost the same as denying the  Reformation.

I’m not interested in fighting that battle anymore.  I’m more convinced than I ever was that God is concerned for the poor and helpless, not merely those whose lives look like American success stories.  Some of the people I see every day are mentally ill, addicted to alcohol or drugs and living with a lifetime of horror stories that play out in their head whenever they close their eyes.  They often appear to me as walking metaphors for life without hope of redemption.

Were it not for God’s grace, I think all of us would be mentally ill (or more so than we are) and struggling to hide the awfulness of this life behind whatever veil we find that works for us.  That veil may come in a bottle or it may come in a fancy house with a perfectly manicured yard.  Truth is the veil rips from time to time and we become aware that our lives are exposed for the whole world to see.

A homeless person lives their life in plain sight of the whole community and yet remains hidden or overlooked at the same time.  Those who aren’t homeless have better hiding places, but the result can be the same.  Life goes awry no matter how hard we try to keep it together.

If we say we are pro-life, shouldn’t we stop to help those whose lives have been shipwrecked for whatever reason.  We can say that the drunk on the street made her own mess, she needs to clean up her act, but will we say the same thing to a neighbor in our nice neighborhoods whose life unraveled in whirlwind of financial and relational crises?  Probably.  Probably not.

It would be the height of callousness to tell someone they made their stew, soak in it; while then heading off to church to worship as if we had no needs and cleaned ourselves up.  We can’t clean ourselves up anymore than someone fighting a lifetime of addiction or mental illness.  We don’t just get better on our own.  We need help.

Christmas is the open door of help.  Not only for the Salvation Army kettles we see at every store, but for every aspect of our lives.  Life is hell if Christ is never born, walks along our paths and leads us out of hopelessness.  I needed the past two years of working with the homeless to anchor my faith in Christ alone.

This Christmas I’m glad God has sent Christ to help me in my hopelessness.  I pray I can do the same for someone else who doesn’t have any hope, spiritual or otherwise, in the middle of winter in a cold part of the world.