Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Comedy or Tragedy?

When people ask me if I'm optimistic or pessimistic about the future, I say, "Both, of course!"

I'm very optimistic about the grace of God triumphing over evil. In the end, God wins. Evil will be banished and righteousness will prevail. Leland Ryken describes the scene of the new heaven and new earth portrayed by the apostle John:
The climactic vision of Revelation is this vision of heaven. It is pictured in symbolic terms--as a transformed or new place and as a city that combines features that no earthly city can possess. The emphasis is on motifs of permanence and transcendence; splendor; the bliss and perfection of the citizens of the city; the beauty of the place, freedom from intrusions of sin; absence of fallen experience; the banishment of all evil; the satisfaction of all human needs and longings; the life-giving, light-shining presence of the Lamb... The garden of perfection at the beginning of the Bible is here completed in a city of perfection.

I'm very pessimistic, however, about the progress of mankind. Despite centuries of medical, scientific and technological advances, we are still plagued with the vices of pride, greed, lust, malice, envy, as well as the challenges of poverty, disease, famine and natural disaster that only add to the misery of our mismanagement. If the future of the planet rests in the hands of men and women, then what is to come is bleak indeed. Those who stand opposed to God in the end will be "thrown into the lake of fire...and be tormented day and night forever and ever" (Revelation 20:10).

Of course, there is hope. Augustine, in his monumental work The City of God, meticulously traces Biblical history and describes the peace and happiness belonging to the heavenly city, or the people of Christ, both now and hereafter. Those in the kingdom of God have a very bright future. Those, however, who reject God and the salvation he offers through Christ face heartache without hope in this life and certain judgment in the life to come.

The love that wins is the love that lost. Jesus was cut off by God the Father on the cross so that those who trust in him will be given new life. Those who reject Christ will themselves be cut off, and that without remedy.

Another way to state this is to ask the question: Is the story of the world a comedy or a tragedy? The answer according to Scripture and Augustine (and the historic creeds of the church) is, of course, both. For those in the city of God "all will be well" despite the hardships endured in this life. It is the comedy from which all others find there true source. For those in the city of man, the tragedy finds its fitting end.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Family Movie Night

Last night was 'Family Movie Night' at Redlands. We had our dinner as usually at 6 pm, followed by a special Spring Break edition of our normal mid-week gathering. It was "a break form Spring Break," complete with popcorn, candy, and Lord of the Beans on the "big screen." We learned the importance of using your gifts for the glory of God and the good of others.

Just in case you don't have plans for your Spring Break weekend, I thought I would recommend some movies that you can actually watch with the kids (or your parents) and may have missed (or need to watch again):

1. Chariots of Fire This is still my favorite movie. Recently, the kids, Heather and I watch it for the first time together. The race scenes still get my heart pumping. What struck me this time was the scene when Eric Liddell reads verses from Isaiah 40 while athletes’ greatest efforts come to nothing. In light of the recent fall of dictators and the threat to empires, the scene became for me even more powerful.
Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance…
He bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity.
Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary?
He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.
But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

2. Treasures of the Snow I love watching this one with the kids in the winter when it is freezing up north and balmy down here is South Florida. Again, my heart races when Lucien sets off to find help for little crippled Danny and the hope of forgiveness found through Christ is vividly portrayed. Call me a sucker for sentiment. This is a great conversation starter!

3. Secretariat This one suffers from some melodrama, but the story is so remarkable that it doesn't really matter.

4. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga Hoole This movie will remain a family favorite for years to come. It is a reminder that being heroic is not glamorous and battling evil is never easy.

5. Waiting for "Superman" is "premiering" this weekend at the Manuel Movie Theater. This "silly sentimental propagandist docudrama" according to one reviewer, was snubbed by the Academy for an Oscar--deservedly so, according to the Washington Post. Sounds like just the kind of movie I want to see and talk about.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Was Bonhoeffer an Evangelical?

Eric Metaxas' biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer made my top ten list for books last year. It is actually the best biography I've read in a long time. (Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand comes in a close second.) Metaxas has been criticized for presenting Bonhoeffer as too evangelical. Here is his reply, in classic Eric Metaxas style.

Critics have said that you paint Bonhoeffer as "too evangelical." I thought that you portrayed the whole of Bonhoeffer's theology, even quoting lengthy excerpts from his books. How do you respond to this criticism?

I find the criticism hilarious on the one hand and tragic on the other. Bonhoeffer and any other serious Christian is less concerned with being an "evangelical"—whatever that really means—than with being a Christian, a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ. One thing I have said over and over: I never set out to paint any portrait of Bonhoeffer other than what I saw, for good or for ill. That some seem to think that I have put some English on the ball seems to say more about their expectations than about the reality of his life.

The facts are what they are: Bonhoeffer thought of the Bible as the living "Word of God" and prayed every day and pointedly criticized the regnant theological liberalism of his era (both in Berlin and at Union Theological Seminary in New York), called abortion "murder," advocated a traditionally biblical view of sexuality, called for the Lordship of Jesus Christ over every realm in history and culture, advocated obedience to God under all circumstances and spoke against mere "religion"... so, yes, he tends to look pretty "evangelical." But that really is a label that is unhelpful when trying to understand him. Bonhoeffer was a devout disciple of Jesus Christ. That, I think, should suffice.

Not that some ideologues on the left and right haven't been annoyed, as you mention. But they are annoyed at reality, not at my depiction of reality.

It really is rather funny, though. It has to be noted that theologically liberal Bonhoeffer scholars have kept deadly quiet for decades while chest-beating humanists like Christopher Hitchens and "Bishop" John Shelby Spong have claimed Bonhoeffer as one of their own. But when Bonhoeffer is portrayed as the robust and serious Christian that he was, they have howled with all their might and main and have practically scampered up palm trees to cast down their coconuts of bitter fury. One wonders where their priorities lie.

Fussy theological conservatives, on the other hand, who have accepted this false theologically liberal view of Bonhoeffer, are another story, no less tragi-comic. They bring to mind the guy on the beach with the metal detector and headphones, oblivious to the staggering beauty of the sand and sea and sky. They seem bent on discovering any scrap of evidence that "proves" Bonhoeffer was neo-orthodox, and if not that, then something else unpalatable—anything! I think even a cigarette butt in the sand would thrill them. They sometimes seem to be worshiping an idol of theological purity.

But to have perspective on it all, we must remember that both types, left and right, have always been with us. As a friend of mine once said: "They are like the children in the marketplace who say, 'We played the pipe and you would not dance; we played a dirge and you would not mourn!'" Quel dommage.

You can read the entire article here.

Friday, March 4, 2011

You Know You're Preaching the Gospel When...

Felipe Assis, pastor of CrossBridge Miami, wrote a top 10 list for Gospel preachers. I think it is well worth reading even if you're not a preacher. He notes that "most sermons among the most famous evangelical preachers of our day could be preached by Dr. Phil, Deepak Chopra, and Oprah without a problem." This, of course, is a problem. Whether you are preaching in a pulpit, teaching a Sunday School class, explaining Scripture to your children, evaluating a sermon, or just reading the Bible on your own, this list will help.

You know you’re preaching the gospel effectively when…

1. In your prep you are able to see Jesus in light of every text and every text in light of Jesus. Jesus is the hermeneutical key to unlock every text because every text fulfills its main purpose when it reveals Christ. He said so himself (Lk 24:25-27,44).

2. Your reasoning sounds deep to mature Christians and simple to non-Christians. Both groups of people are not used to see Jesus in the Bible. The “mature christian” is not trained to read the Bible through Jesus and even when they are, they constantly need to be reminded because that’s how they grow. The non-christian on the other hand does not read the Bible and generally has a very negative view of the Bible (slavery, bigotry, violence…). Which means that, if you’re able to show Christ in the text there will be “a-ha” moments for both groups of people.

3. Change is taking place in the heart of the one who preaches before it takes place in the lives of those who receive it. When you’re able to see the Gospel in the text your heart cannot help but to burn and melt (Lk 24:32). You will begin to see your own idolatry, hopefully repent of it and, allow the truth of the Gospel to work in you before you hit the pulpit. If you allow enough time between your prep and your delivery your words will have depth. I usually give it about 2 weeks to marinate.

4. You’re able to share more out of failure than out of virtue. This one is a consequence of the previous point. When the Gospel becomes real to you there’s no shame in sharing weakness because the power of the Gospel is only made true in weakness (2 Cor 12:9). If you do this often people will not only relate more but grace will be made more real to them. Romans 7 is another great example of how this works.

5. You find yourself relying on the power of the gospel instead of relying on the intellect and emotions to be effective. I find that most preachers feel the need to quote dozens of smarter than everybody people, cry like a baby in front of people, yell like a drill sergeant, act like a comedian, among other things out of insecurity. Deep inside they feel the Gospel does not have enough power to do the job (By the way, I’m not saying these things are bad just that you should check your motives of why you keep doing it). Part of it is that they do not have a Christ-centered hermeneutic, do not think through the deep implications of the gospel (in that particular text) for their lives and other peoples lives and, do not go the length to explain the gospel clearly to people. I find myself constantly in this tension because I come from a race that worships feelings and a tradition that worships the intellect. I find Scriptures such as Rom 1:16, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 extremely helpful to keep the right perspective.

6. The implications of the Gospel are communicated beyond being right with God. We are made right with God so that things in the world will be made right. Part of the reason why God justifies sinners is so that everything would be redeemed (Col 1:15-20) through the power of the Spirit at work in the lives of redeemed individuals. If people are going forward and being baptized but your community is not becoming more grace-based, more sacrificial, more giving, more missional and your city is not becoming more beautiful, safe and just as a result of the people in your church, chances are that the whole gospel is not being preached.

7. There’s full emphasis on what Christ has done for change instead of what needs to be done to change. When the whole gospel is not being preached you have moralism mixed in with evangelism. So even though the “plan of salvation” may be presented at the end of every sermon the “living the christian life” part is based either on moralistic applications of the Bible text or on motivational/ self-help principles. This weird dichotomy produces the best kind of pharisees.

8. People are compelled by grace to believe instead of being coerced by guilt to behave. The gospel promotes an inside out change not an outside in change. Behavior modification has all to do with religion and nothing to do with the Gospel. So, don’t guilt people for not changing, nor force change upon them. Preach the Gospel and allow the third person of the Trinity to do as it pleases.

9. There’s greater satisfaction that you’ve pleased God and that God is pleased with you than that you’ve pleased people and that people are pleased with you. We often measure success in preaching by the number of compliments we receive afterward. I’m not saying that compliments are not good in terms of feedback nor am I telling you not to accept them but, when you’re depressed the next day because you didn’t get enough, you’re motivation might be sightly out of line with the Gospel. And, if you’re not drawing your motivation from the Gospel you will find yourself being less and less willing to be faithful to the Gospel message and more and more willing to be faithful to your audience. At the end of the day if your motivation is not right, you will either grow in pride or succumb in sorrow.

10. Both religious and irreligious people are believing the Gospel. When the Gospel is preached faithfully and consistently in a community, you will experience an interesting dynamic. Both the “churchy” and the unchurched will often be offended while at the same time both will be encouraged with the hope they’re able to find in the Gospel. Meaning, in a Sunday you might get two completely different feedbacks from same demographic unchurched folks. Same with “churchy” folks. Mainly because the Gospel will be doing its job to humble the prideful and uplift the humble at the discretion of the Spirit. You’ll see both types not only mixed in the crowd weekly but coming to Jesus often. There’s no way around it.