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Archive for June, 2014

We Are Not Called to Be Quiet

June 26th, 2014 No comments

I have noted of late that there is a charge of legalism that is being hurled at those who call themselves “radical” Christians, an amorphous group that incorporates what some call the “New” Monasticism, “New” Calvinism, and those who lately called themselves “Emergent.” I have to say up front that there are many points made by these groups that I cannot agree with on doctrinal grounds simply because I cannot find a basis for them in scripture. This in particular refers to those cultural issues where those who call themselves Christians want to jettison God’s commands to better conform to the world. It may be that this tactic creates a movement that is more attractive in our cultural setting but it does not create a gospel community. I am not, and I believe God is not, interested in attracting people to any movement that rejects God’s clearly stated commandments for expediency.

Nevertheless I think that the charge of legalism is ill-conceived and, frankly, wrong, because it points to a type of “Christianity” that simply is not biblical. As an example, I recently read an article that leveled this charge where the author stated the following assertion: that there is a desirable “’Normal’ Christianity – a quiet, peaceful, dignified life in accordance with the Ten Commandments,” that, I guess from reading the post, characterizes “Old” Calvinists and which, apparently, for “New” Calvinists “is simply not enough.” (here). This author proposes that because some notice they can’t find the basis for this “Normal” Christianity in the Bible and so claim that the Christian life demands a radical departure from the world results in a pernicious implicit “legalism” that leaves these innocent and upstanding “normal” folks with an unnecessary burden of guilt. And it is interesting to note that it matters little what these “New” Calvinists intend or even actually articulate, only the effect, which is again this guilt that accompanies what it seems to me is full devotion to the gospel.

But might I not make a similar observation about this so-called “Normal” Christianity?” In what way is it “normal?” Can’t this so-called normality be little more than a euphemism for a comfortable middle class existence? Cannot it become a mere façade of holiness; a garment woven of the respectability of modernism to cover a tepid and timid relationship to God’s call to holiness? Isn’t there a danger that this “Normal” Christianity will become what Bonhoeffer described as “cheap grace?” And in fact isn’t this precisely what has happened to the contemporary Western Church, that it has become, in essence, an irrelevant social club?

Where is the biblical support for this “normal” Christianity? I search my Bible from cover to cover and cannot find the place where God calls his people to something less than radical holiness (I am referring here not to a dimly glowing suburban respectability, rather a call to be “set apart” from the world; identifiably different, as God himself is set apart and identifiably different). I cannot find it in either the Old or the New Testament. The failure of Israel was its inability to radically differentiate itself from its neighbors, as following the law was supposed to accomplish, in order to become God’s light to the nations. At the heart of Jesus’ conflict with the religious leaders of his time was his insistence that the righteousness of the Pharisees was not enough.

The Jesus in my Bible calls for sacrificial discipleship. He calls his followers (as joined together in the Body of Christ), to make disciples of all nations (Mt. 28:19). He calls his followers to do this at the cost of forsaking the comforts of personal property and prestige and even family relations (Mk. 10:29, Lk. 14:26, Mt. 10:37). He calls on his followers to love as he loves (John 13:34-35). He calls them to take up their cross and follow him (Mt. 16:24). He calls them to be perfect (Mt. 5:48). He never calls his people to comfortable compromise with the world.
I have here barely scratched the surface of the hundreds of places in scripture where God’s chosen people are called to radical and sacrificial living in favor of justice, righteousness, love, and the gospel. How can anyone who is called to be “born again,” (Jn. 3:3) to forsake all and be “crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20) so that they might rise to new life in Christ, believe that he demands any less?

When pressed, proponents of this view point to a single verse in Paul’s first letter to Timothy as the basis for the call to “normal” Christianity. “That we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Tim. 2:2 ESV). But notice that this isn’t even the full verse, and when taken in context it points to something very different than quiet compromise. The context of 1 Tim. is the problem of false teachers in Ephesus and Paul’s instructions to Timothy about how to address those problems. This particular verse contains instruction for people to pray for those in authority, particularly pagan leaders, so that members of the community may lead quiet and peaceful lives. This is possibly a corrective to the false teachers who have apparently led members of the community to act in ways that brought disrepute on the whole community, with the possible consequence of interference by the secular authorities. So when Paul here refers to a quiet, peaceful life, he means the life of the gospel community without interference from outsiders, not a life indistinguishable from the surrounding culture. The life of the gospel community in the first century Greco-Roman world would hardly have been considered “normal,” as evidenced by the intense persecution they experienced in the following years.

The Spirit filled gospel community living out God’s commands will stand out from the world. In fact it is an offense to the world, which is precisely what Jesus predicted (Mt. 10:16-23, 34-39, Jn. 15:18-19). Jesus does bring peace, but it is not a false, compromising, comfortable peace (Jn. 14:27), rather assurance and contentment in the midst of persecution (Phil. 4:11-13). And God does not call us to be quiet, he calls us to proclaim the gospel, as much with our lives as our words. And that will always be a radical act that requires courage.

Delivered or Rescued?

June 13th, 2014 No comments

In the NRSV Mt. 6:13 is translated “And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.” instead of “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (ESV) It’s a perfectly valid translation from the Greek and really teases out the meaning in a much better way.

N. T. Wright and the Importance of Language

June 13th, 2014 No comments

God and Country… Again.

June 10th, 2014 No comments

I just read an(other) article noting that (at least the Christian) God is not welcome in our post-modern culture (true) and lamenting that we live in a “post-Christian” culture (not really true). In order for our culture to be “post Christian” it would have to have been at one point “Christian.” Yet, historically, what Americans have equated with Christianity has never really been Christian if you define Christian in terms of resembling Christ. Unfortunately, in the United States the church early on adopted a stance that essentially relegated it to the role of cheerleader for a decidedly non- (and even anti-) Christian ideal; essentially the ideology of the so-called “Enlightenment.”

When Christians bemoan the demise of American “Christian” culture what they most often are really grieving is the failure of the Enlightenment narrative that mankind would inevitably create his own paradise through science, technology, and education. The killing fields of the twentieth century finally nailed the coffin shut on that delusion. The problem is that the American church had more aligned itself with the modern narrative than with the teachings of Christ. When the modern narrative failed, it felt like the “traditional” values of the church were failing along with it.

But it is a blessing that the Enlightenment project failed because it was a pernicious idolatry that lifted man to at least the level of God. It denied the fallen state of humanity and thereby obviated any need for redemption or restoration. If people felt secure in that ideology it was a false security in what history has revealed to be an illusion. If people feel lost and rudderless in post-modernism it is because without Christ that is exactly what we are: lost and rudderless.

Let us not try to turn the clock back to a so-called “Christian” era that was anything but. Rather, let us put into practice the one action Jesus tells us will identify us as his followers: that we love each other. (Jn. 13:34)

The Coming of the Holy Spirit

June 8th, 2014 No comments

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1-4 ESV)

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