12 Tips for Keeping It Clean In Your Dating Relationship

awkward dateSo, I work with college students. Sometimes they like to date each other. Being human, with normal, God-given (but fallen) physical desires they also want to do stuff together while they’re dating. You know–sexy stuff. Of course, most of them who’ve been around long enough have learned that the Bible says the sexy stuff is God’s good, beautiful, and pleasurable idea for knitting a man and a woman together in marriage. In the meantime then, I’ll have couples approach me wondering if there are ways that they can continue to build their relationships in holy, appropriate ways, and avoid temptation.

Now, I remind them that it’s not just about not breaking rules–it’s an issue of the heart. I remind them of the grace of the Gospel for any past or future failure, and that this is not the one, irrevocable sin.  I encourage them to look to Christ, develop their relationship with him, and all the good spiritual, foundational stuff. But then, well, I get “practical” and offer them a few (slightly humorous) tips that helped my wife and I during the (four!) years we were dating.

I can’t emphasize enough that these are not laws, but general guidelines that help you obey God’s laws for your good. These are not hard and fast unbreakable rules. They are wisdom, though. Some of them may seem childish or nit-picky. You might think read them, roll your eyes, and think “Really? Come on, I’m not an animal!” True, but you’re not an angel either, and following these can help you honor God in your dating relationship:

  1. Clothes are not optional. But seriously, stay fashionable–in your clothes.
  2. If no one’s home, you’re not home. This might narrow your hang-out options initially, but it forces you to be creative. I really can’t stress this one enough.
  3. Cars are fun when you’re driving. When stationary, you can get in an accident.
  4. Give someone you trust absolute authority to speak into your life and talk to you about this area whenever. Also, don’t lie to them.
  5. Consider the consequences on a regular basis.
  6. Pray at the beginning of your dates.
  7. “Napping” together is stupid. Falling asleep during a movie is one thing, but otherwise…nah.
  8. And God said, “Let there be light…”
  9. Private porn usage always makes a public appearance. Eventually, porn shapes the way you act with your boyfriend/girlfriend. Avoid it at all costs.
  10. Spas are fun group activities.
  11. God gave you legs for a reason. Run when you have to.
  12. Have this conversation often. Re-affirm and re-commit to biblical guidelines and standards for your relationship.

Above all of these, of course, is to constantly be chasing Christ. Tips and rules can help for a while, but it’s the deeper holiness comes through the Spirit of Holiness changing our affections from within through the grace of the Gospel.

Soli Deo Gloria

How Much Theology Should Couples Agree on Before They Get Married? (TGC)

cake-marriage-300x225I’ll admit, this isn’t a typical question most Christian singles, or even couples, are asking. Most are still stuck on, “Wait, I’m supposed to date Christians?” That said, once you’ve established the importance of marrying someone who will be your partner in the faith and has the mutual goal of encouraging you in your relationship with Christ, you may start to wonder, “Well, does it really matter what kind of Christian they are? How will our theology affect the way we point each other to Christ? I mean, does it affect things if I’m a Protestant and he’s a Catholic? Or what if we have different views on the end times? What about speaking in tongues? Can I date someone who ‘quenches the Spirit’ and thinks I worship with ‘strange fire’?”
As I’ve thought about the issue while talking with friends, considering my own marriage, and searching through the Scriptures, I’ve concluded there isn’t any quick, easy answer. Instead, I want to simply put forward three questions, and a couple of caveats, to help singles and couples navigate the dating and marriage decision.
You can read the rest of the article at The Gospel Coalition.
Soli Deo Gloria

Is Vanhoozer Still a 5-Point Alvinist? (Engaging KJV Pt. 3)

This is the third entry in my series “Engaging Kevin J. Vanhoozer”, devoted to Kevin Vanhoozer’s work Remythologizing Theology by working through the essays devoted to it in a recent volume of the Southeastern Theological Review. You can read part 1, and part 2.

Fabulous beard. Horrible philosophy.

Fabulous beard. Horrible philosophy.

Oliver Crisp’s entry “Remythologizing, Projection, and Belief: A Reply to Vanhoozer,” is almost entirely focused with the methodological component of Vanhoozer’s project. Leaving aside the material proposals about the doctrine of God, Crisp analyzes what he sees to be a major gap in Vanhoozer’s armor, threatening to undercut his whole project: namely, his epistemology.

Projection Issues – One of Vanhoozer’s main foils in Remythologizing Theology is Ludwig Feuerbach, whose main claim was that all of Christian theology is just anthropology, or our best thoughts about ourselves projected onto the screen of eternity. Crisp summarizes:

Belief in God, on this view, is simply the reification of certain notions we have about ourselves, the projection onto the clouds of a father-like entity that is no more real than any other figment of human imagination. (pg. 32)

He then formalizes it in good analytic fashion, into what he calls the “Problem of Projection (PP)”:

(PP) Christian theological language about God is disguised language about the needs of human beings: such language reifies cherished human religious thought, values, beliefs. (pg. 33)

Vanhoozer’s remythologizing approach (which I’ve summarized here) is proposed as an answer to the problem by returning to the text as God’s own self-presentation, or Divine self-projection through Word and Spirit, as given us in God’s speech to us in Scripture. Theology in this view is a responsive, dialogical reality, attending to the story (mythos) of the Theo-Drama, not a monological mythology of our own making.

Crisp Anxieties – All that’s fine and well says Crisp, but there’s a hitch. Who’s to say all of this isn’t just another story? (pg. 33) Why should the Feuerbachian or the modern theologian buy this account? In other words, where’s the epistemology to to match it? All of this just seems to assume a view about God and Scripture, without an account of why we should accept scripture as God’s speech. Crisp takes us through a brief tour of Vanhoozer’s epistemological comments in other works, especially The Drama of Doctrine (DoD), to set up his problem (and solution.)

When it comes to epistemology, Vanhoozer has described himself as a postfoundationalist and an aspectival realist. Instead of coherentism’s metaphor of an interconnecting web of knowledge and foundationalism’s structure metaphor, with certain core, stable beliefs holding up the whole, Vanhoozer’s aspectival realism offers us a map. It is a framework of interpretation through which we see the world; it must be coherent, as well as have some connection to reality if it is to work, is admittedly limited, and yet it is testable, refinable, and correctable on the basis of new insights and information.

And yet, Crisp says, Vanhoozer’s a bit of a “theological magpie”, taking bits and pieces of various frameworks and piecing them together as they fit his own project. So, along with the map, in DoD Vanhoozer seems to adopt some of Alvin Plantinga’s reliablist account of knowledge even though it is a moderate form of foundationalism.

plantinga 4

Your thought has been judged and found wanting.

For those without knowledge of Plantinga’s account (which I favor heavily) Crisp explains:

On this way of thinking, what we believe is innocent until proven guilty. Such beliefs are formed by epistemic mechanisms that function according to a design plan aimed at truth. In his earlier work Vanhoozer even flirts with the Plantinga-inspired notion of properly basic beliefs.10 These are beliefs that are (a) noninferential, that is, not held on the basis of other beliefs from which they are inferred, and (b) justified or warranted, that is, formed in an epistemically responsible manner. (pg. 36)

Here’s where things get interesting. Crisp says this would be great, except that it seems Vanhoozer has dropped this line of thinking in RT because “proper basicality is embedded in a foundational epistemology” that he likely rejects as a postfoundationalist. In any case, he doesn’t mention it in the later work.

This becomes problematic in RT because, well, let me just let Crisp explain again:

Much of the work in this most recent volume involves the spinning out of his particular peroration on the claim that Scripture is the vehicle for divine discourse. But with so much riding on this claim, it is strange that he does not do more to shore up its apparent vulnerability. For, absent the notion of properly basic beliefs, it is not clear (to this reader, at least!) how he can ground the assertion that his hermeneutical framework, and his theological myth, is more likely to be closer to the truth of the matter than the frameworks and myths of his interlocutors. He has not provided an adequate means by which we can adjudicate whether his canon-linguistic approach to doctrine, or his more recent remythologizing approach to theology, is closer to the truth than either Bultmann or Feuerbach. (pg. 37)

In other words, Vanhoozer hasn’t given us a compelling epistemological reason to accept his picture over the others on offer. For someone who doesn’t accept fideism, the truth, or justification question is still up in the air. Along with another proposal derived from the material content of the faith, Crisp suggest that Vanhoozer’s Projection Problem could be cleared up with a heavy dose of Plantinga’s modest foundationalist epistemology, properly basic beliefs and all. It’s a good epistemology, it fits with the project, and Crisp even helpfully tells a little story about how all of this can work together:

What he can say is this. Although we cannot guarantee that we have the absolute truth of the matter, we can be sure that our hermeneutical framework, that is, the framework of canon-linguistic remythologized theology, provides some purchase on the truth, sufficient for us to be confident that it provides a theological myth or story more complete and more accurate than that of Bultmann or Feuerbach. Granted there is no “view from nowhere”—not even the canonical-linguistic view—from which to survey the epistemological landscape and make judgments about it. Nevertheless, what Vanhoozer provides is both internally coherent and a good fit with the biblical material, wherein (as he puts it) we find the mighty speech acts of God. Because our cognitive and linguistic faculties work according to a design-plan aimed at truth, we can move beyond perspectivalism to aspectivalism. That is, we can have some confidence that our theologically attuned hermeneutical frameworks give us the truth of the matter, or near enough, at least some (most?) of the time. Furthermore, because we are fashioned according to a design plan we can know certain things about God because he has designed us to be receptive to him. (pg. 36)

So what does Vanhoozer have to say about all of this?

Vanhoozer’s Confession – As it turns out, it’s all been a happy confusion since he basically agrees. Says Vanhoozer:

Crisp has to ask if I am still a “five-point Alvinist,” because Alvin Plantinga is an epistemological foundationalist while I appear to hold to some kind of postfoundationalism. The problem here is semantic, and can be fairly easily cleared up (I take full responsibility for any misunderstanding). The simple explanation is that I accepted Plantinga’s objections to classical foundationalism, and his proposed positive alternative. Plantinga argues that it is rationally acceptable (warranted) to believe in the existence of God without evidence, proof, or even argument (because belief in God is “properly basic”). Initially, this seemed to be a kind of Calvinist post-foundationalism. In retrospect, however, I acknowledge that Plantinga prefers to describe his Reformed epistemology as a version of foundationalism. Understood in Plantinga’s way, then, I too am happy to call myself a “modest” or “chastened” foundationalist. And I am therefore delighted to accept Crisp’s proposal that belief in Scripture as normative is a properly basic belief (I say as much in Is There a Meaning in this Text?), especially if this lets me escape, Houdini-like, from the Problem of Projection.  (pg. 78)

As you can imagine, I’m grateful to Crisp for squeezing this clear confession of Plantingan faith out of Vanhoozer. I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m a Plantinga fan, so I read Crisp’s account with great interest as I’d had thoughts along the same line.  I’d actually always sort of blended Plantinga and Vanhoozer together in my head hoping that it made sense, so it’s nice to get confirmation and a little constructive clarity from Crisp and Vanhoozer himself.

So, for those who are wondering, yes, one can be Vanhoozerian and a Five-Point Alvinist. All is right in the world.

Soli Deo Gloria

You Were Made For More Than Safety — “Risky Gospel” by Owen Strachan (Review for Christianity Today)

strachanExodus tells us that God saved Israel that it might “serve/worship” (avodah) him (Ex. 7:16; 8:1; 9:1). Contrary to what we might think, the Israelites weren’t set “free” to go off, settle in, and have a safe, pleasant life according to their own whims. God had particular, sometimes difficult, purposes for them. God’s redemption aimed at creating a people to boldly worship, serve, and represent him before the nations (Ex. 19:5-6). In Risky Gospel: Abandon Fear and Do Something Awesome, Owen Strachan, assistant professor of Christian theology and church history at Boyce College and executive director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), revives this message for a modern Christian audience. Framing our situation with Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30), he invites us to do more than accept life in a fallen world, hoping not to screw up too badly before the master returns.

Instead of living “safe,” miserly lives as the wicked servant did, we are called to go out, fulfill the creation mandate, and “take dominion” of the world (Gen. 1:26-30)—in other words, “build something awesome.” For this, we’ll need a willingness to take up our crosses and risk discomfort, failure, and pain in order to boldly do great things for the glory of God.

Sadly, instead of bold worshippers, Strachan sees a landscape filled with Christians who are tired, scared, defeated, and satisfied with small, pointless pursuits; we’re living our “stressed life now.” To use Andy Crouch’s language of “gestures” and “postures” (Culture Making, pp. 90-96), Christians have been flinching, slouching, and playing it safe for so long, we’ve developed a sort of scoliosis of the soul. In other words, we’re stuck. Stuck in weak prayer lives. Stuck in our parents’ basement. Stuck in suburban monotony. Stuck in marriages we’re scared to actually try at and are tempted to bail on. Stuck trying to merely hunker down and survive the Christian life. Well, as a good doctor would, Strachan endeavors to apply the medicine of the gospel to straighten our spines, and walk with the upright boldness of people who know the trustworthiness of God.

You can read the rest of my review over at Christianity Today

Tim Tebow Is a Hipster, and Other Things I Learned from Salon

That's a vest, right? That's totally hipsterish.

That’s a vest, right? That’s totally hipsterish.

Apparently Tim Tebow is a hipster.

I know, I was surprised at this too, but then I read this piece by Amanda Marcotte of  Salon.com on these 5 Christian “Hipsters” Trying to Make Fundamentalism Look Cool, by being young and hip and with it, despite their horribly conservative Christianity, and there he was, right smack dab in the center of it. I mean, if Salon.com says so, it’s probably worth considering. Again, it doesn’t initially make sense, but maybe they’re offering up a new definition of hipsterism?

In the past, when I’ve thought “hipster”, sites like VICE come to mind. For Christian hipsters, it was Relevant. To me, Tim Tebow wasn’t a hipster. Tim Tebow plays football. Tim Tebow has arms the size of Wyoming. Tim Tebow is the face earnest, conservative, and Christian Midwest who just happens to be young. There is nothing ironic, faintly urban, indie music-loving, foodie-ish, or Wes Anderson about him.

But, you know, looking at Marcotte’s list is making me reconsider things, because, in surveying it, the only person on that list who kind of made sense to me as a Christian hipster is Brett McCracken. I’ve sat in a hip, urbane coffee shop with him in the Orange Circle (a quaint little old-town section in Orange County) and talked about Whole Foods, craft beer, and cultural consumption, and then ironically laughed at the cliche we were embodying right there–even down to the self-aware irony about our self-aware irony. That’s kind of hipsterish, right?

But then, when you try to fit that into the same category as Tim Tebow, ‘Merican football hero…I dunno. So, maybe I’ve been wrong this whole time.

Then again, McCracken’s being on the list at all, makes me a bit suspicious.  I mean, one of the main points of his book on Hipster Christianity, is that Christians shouldn’t try to make Christianity cool by shaving off the edges, or believing the myth that if we just packaged it properly, everybody would jump on board. In that sense, it’s kind of odd for him to be the poster boy for missing the point that “conservative Christianity is the exact opposite of cool”, when that’s kind of what he’s known for.

Of course, the other odd bit of the article that gives me pause is Marcotte’s fixation on sex and politics as if it were the defining characteristic of conservative Christianity, and the litmus test of it’s truth and morality. I mean, I thought that Evangelicals were supposed to be the ones making views on sexuality the boundary-line of social acceptability? But, in reading it, the whole thing kind of amounted to: “This guy seems cool, or tries to seem cool, but don’t be fooled, he’s just as sex-negative and intolerant as the rest of his conservative counterparts.” Cut, paste, & change the name. Repeat four more times. 

Honestly, given the level of hostility in the article, I was looking for a more damning charge against these types than just being “sex-negative” and holding “anti-sex judgmental attitudes” (and, from what I gather, that simply means holding a fairly traditional sex ethic), but I could find neither hide nor hair of one. Still a bit puzzled over that. It’s like that was the only thing she cared about. But that can’t be right. Conservative Christians are the ones who are obsessed with and intolerant of other people’s sexual beliefs and behaviors, right?

It’s just odd to think that in a Salon.com article, there’s nothing to see here other than a confirmation of what we’ve known for a long time: people really don’t like what Christianity has to say about sex. I mean, this was true when Christianity first came on the scene in the Roman Empire and the pagan critics were lambasting it. It was true when C.S. Lewis wrote about the issue 60 years ago in Mere Christianity and the Freudians were still kicking about, talking about repression. And it’ll be true until Jesus comes back. That and the tired idea, refuted-by-history, time and again, that if Christians would just get with the times, shift up their sexual ethic, the kids would come back to church. It just seems so trite to keep writing about.

So, maybe now I’m wondering if Tebow’s really a hipster again.

Soli Deo Gloria

Does Diversity of Form Lead to Diversity of Message in Theology? (Engaging KJV Pt. 2)

Last week I kicked off a little series engaging Kevin Vanhoozer’s Remythologizing Theology by working through the essays devoted to it in a recent volume of the Southeastern Theological Review. I opened with an appreciative post outlining Vanhoozer’s unique place in Evangelical theology, but from there I figured it would make sense just going through the various essays in order, beginning with Stephen J. Wellum’s “A Critical Appreciation of Kevin Vanhoozer’s Remythologizing Theology.

“A Critical Appreciation” aptly sums up the thrust of the essay; it’s appreciative, then critical. Wellum begins with an excellent multi-page summary outline of RT, noting carefully the methodological as well as material proposals Vanhoozer is making. From there, he moves into three areas of criticism within his overall appreciative take on the work. While Wellum raises some material issues (how does the author-analogy for sovereignty deal with reprobation?), he settles in mostly on issues of theological framework, truth, and method.

Though his section on the absence of apologetics, or rather the assumption of a Reformed theological framework, is worth pursuing, it overlaps with the thrust of Crisp’s essay, so I’ll leave that to the side for this post. What I’d like to do is frame Wellum’s question to Vanhoozer on the issue of literary forms, and then summarize what Vanhoozer has to say in his puckishly-titled follow-up article “Vanhoozer responds to the four horsemen of an apocalyptic panel discussion on Remythologizing Theology.”

mediumMore Than One Medium, More Than One Message? – Back in the day, Marshall McLuhan taught everybody that the “medium is the message”–essentially form and content are inseparable; how you say something is part of what you’re saying. For instance, print media and visual media are two very different things and they radically shape what is being communicated. Vanhoozer is well-known for giving the dictum a theological twist and arguing that the form, or forms, of the message–specifically the various genres of literature in Scripture–should play a role in our theologizing about the message, especially in Is There a Meaning in this Text? and The Drama of Doctrine.

It’s here that Wellum starts to wonder, “are literary forms overblown?” (pg. 24) See, it’s not just that Vanhoozer claims we should be paying more attention to genre so we can figure out that you’re not supposed to read Revelation the same way you read the book of Acts. That’s all fine and good. What causes his query is the further claim that he sees Vanhoozer making–that the plurality of mediums and genres (canonical plurality) yields a plurality of conceptualities and theologies (theological plurality.) Quoting Vanhoozer in DoD (pg. 275):

The plurality on the level of the canon may call for an equivalent plurality on the level of interpretative traditions. If no single conceptual (read, confessional) system is adequate to the theological plentitude of the canon, then we need a certain amount of polyphony outside the canon, too, in order to do justice to it. The church would be a poorer place if there were not Mennonite or Lutheran or Greek Orthodox voices in it.

Applying the idea to atonement theology, this would mean that instead of privileging one of the many metaphors used to speak of Christ’s work to one, single, conceptual framework, a remythologizing approach will let them all come to play and shape our understanding. In RT, he says something along the same lines about our theology of God. Again, he quote Vanhoozer,“The reality of God outruns any one theologian’s attempt to conceptualize it, just as Scripture outruns the attempt of any one interpretative scheme to capture its meaning (RT, p. 474).”

At this point, Wellum throws up his hands and confesses that he’s not quite sure what to make of all of this. It’s all fine and good to think through the various genres of Scripture, as we struggle to do theology that honors all that God revealed, but “why does this lead to theological diversity?” (pg. 25) Sure, we should think through and include all the metaphors used in Scripture when thinking through the Cross, but isn’t it possible to take them all into account and land at an account of things that is better than other attempts? “…does this entail that there is no single conceptual system which accurately understands the Scripture, or at least, in terms of the areas that are central to an understanding of the Gospel?” (pg. 25) Pushing further, Wellum also asks whether this holds up in light of the inter-textual usage of the Old Testament texts by New Testament authors, who seem to appropriate texts freely across literary forms as they re-read them in light of the redemptive-historical story-line of Scripture.

These are good questions. So what does Vanhoozer have to say about it? Well, as with everything he says, he says it playfully and humbly–especially since Wellum happens to be his former student.

The Master Responds – So what’s he getting at? Well, to begin Vanhoozer does a little clarifying as to what he does not mean by theological plurality:

The first thing to be said is that I am careful to locate diversity on the level of vocabulary (e.g., metaphors) and concepts, not the more fundamental judgments that underlie them (e.g., ontological judgments). A second
preliminary observation: diversity is not the same thing as indeterminacy or contradiction. To be sure, there is a certain tension in saying that the same basic theological judgment may be rendered in more than one set of concepts, some of which catch certain nuances better than others. But we need only think of the various metaphors to describe the saving significance of Jesus’  cross to see how canonical perspectives generate theological perspectives. (pg. 75)

In other words, don’t take this too far. Recognizing understandable theological plurality is not a charter contradictory or incoherent doctrinal formulations. It is, however, a call to humility in our theological pronouncements given our finiteness and the fecundity of texts themselves.

Next, Vanhoozer happily concedes Wellum’s last observation about the NT author’s seeming emphasis on redemptive-historical readings over ones sensitive to literary form. That said, in the dispute between Christ and the Tempter (Luke 4), Vanhoozer points out that they’re not just trading true propositions. The issue up for dispute is where these statements fit in the canonical narrative of redemption. In other words, the issue of re-reading texts in light of redemptive history is still an issue of appreciating form–in this case, the form of the whole canon.

Finally, one of the key points to understand, is that Vanhoozer’s reflections on form and genre are an attempt at correcting against some approaches to the place of genre in theology on offer.  For so many Evangelical theologians, possibly including Wellum, understanding genres is important so that you can better crack open the shell of the text, and get to the juicy propositional content. Vanhoozer’s basic hunch about the forms of biblical discourse is that they “do more than provide packaging for theological content.” (pg. 75) Vanhoozer’s concern is that we see Scripture not merely as a treasure-trove of divine propositions to be deciphered and reassembled in the proper, systematic order.

God had particular purposes in using wisdom, apocalyptic, narrative, instead of one, clear, monological form, and this is an insight of theological importance:

Form is also an ingredient in “rightly handling [orthotomeo] the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). It is through the various literary forms of Scripture, including stories and histories, that the divine authorial imagination shapes our view of God, the world, and ourselves, thus forming us to be those who can make right judgments concerning fittingness. (pg. 76)

At a more than systematic level, the forms of Scripture train the disciple in ways of seeing, hearing, knowing, loving, and responding to drama of the Gospel, and that says something about the God of the Gospel.

One of Ricoeur’s line in particular continues to intrigue me: “Not just any theology can be wed to the narrative form.” How much more is this the case with a theology wed to history, apocalyptic, wisdom, prophecy, law, and gospel! (pg. 76)

A Clarifying Word – For some, questions will remain. I have a couple myself. Knowing this, Vanhoozer points the inquisitive to works by Ricoeur, as well as his own essay “Love’s Wisdom: the authority of Scripture’s form and content for faith’s understanding and theological judgment ” (Journal of Reformed Theology 5, 2011) At the end of the day, given the amount of space he had, this is a helpful, clarifying word, though not a final one from Vanhoozer.

Still, in the space he takes, we find a challenge to go back to the text and really see the formal diversity for what it is: not an obstacle to be puzzled apart, reduced to a clear, propositional form, but God’s diverse word that strikes “all the chords of the human soul, not just the intellectual”, in order to train us to take our place in the grand Theo-drama of redemption.

Soli Deo Gloria 

3 Things We Can Learn From The Genealogies

genealogyWhenever I read the Chronicles, I generally skipped the first 12 chapters full of genealogies. Yes, they’re in the Bible. Yes, I believe they’re inspired, but, let’s be honest, they can be pretty boring. It’s kind of hard to see the point of 12 chapters of list after list of people who don’t actually do anything of note. I can’t imagine I’m the only one who has felt this way.

Enter Gerald Bray.

In his systematic theology God is Love, Bray helpfully gives us three questions that we should always ask when studying any text:

  1. What does it tell us about God? What does it say about who he is and what he does?
  2. What does it tell us about human beings? What are we meant to be and what has gone wrong?
  3. What has God done about this problem and how does he expect of us in light of what he’s done?

As a test-case, he applies them to the study of the genealogies, to see what these “endless list of ‘begats'” can tell us, shedding on light the deep riches of God’s Word that await those patient enough to mine for it:

What do the genealogies reveal about God? They tell us that he is a faithful Lord, who keeps his covenant from one generation to another. Whoever we are and however far we may have descended from the source of our human life in Adam, we are still part of God’s plan. Over the centuries we have developed differently, we have lost contact with on another, and we have even turned on each other in hostility, but in spite of all that, we are still related and interconnected in ways that go beyond our immediate understanding or experience.

Secondly, what do the genealogies say about us? They say that form the world’s point of view, most of us are nobodies. We live and die in a long chain of humanity, but there is not much that anyone will remember about us as individuals. Yet without us, future generations will not be born and the legacy of the past will not be preserved. We are part of a great cloud of witnesses, a long chain of faithful people who have lived for God in the place where he put them. Even if we know little about our ancestors, we owe them a great debt of gratitude for their loyalty and perseverance, when they had little or nothing to gain from it or to show for it.

Finally, what do the genealogies say about God’s dealings with us? They tell us that we are called to be obedient and to keep the faith we have inherited, passing it on undiminished to the next generation. They remind us that there is a purpose in our calling that goes beyond ourselves. Even if we are not celebrated by future generations and leave little for posterity to remember us by, we shall nevertheless have made an indispensable contribution to the purposes of God in human history. So the genealogies bring us a message from God, even if they appear on the surface to be barren and unprofitable. All we have to do is ask the right questions, and their meaning will be quickly opened up to us.

God is Love: A Biblical And Systematic Theology, pg. 59

Now things might not open up that quickly for you and I, and yet Bray is right. All of Scripture really is profitable for the believer who seeks to hear God’s word to his people (2 Tim 3:16), and is willing to learn the right questions.

Soli Deo Gloria 

The Myth of ‘Magic Neutral Time’ (TGC)

BackSoon“The Myth of Magic Neutral Time” is the sort of goofy phrase you come up with in college ministry to make basic concepts of spiritual life stick for your students. Sometimes you can’t just come out and say stuff–it’s like you have to trick the truth into them.

In any case, this particular neologism struck me in a conversation with my friend Katie. We were discussing the frustrating phenomena of future college freshmen who plan on ‘taking a break’ from their faith to just go off and ‘have a little fun for a while.’ Now, this is idiotic for several reasons. But to see why, let’s first explain the myth of Neutral Time.

The Myth of Neutral Time – I always tell my students that they need to be aware of the myths, the stories, that they tell themselves about reality because the story you think you’re in determines the character you become. Neutral time is a particularly popular story. It goes something like this:

“I’ve been a good kid in high school. I’ve done my homework, been to Bible study, and didn’t screw around too much or anything. Now though, now I really want to go out and enjoy myself a bit. The ‘college experience’ is calling and I can’t be expected to go to college and not let loose a little bit. I mean, I really love Jesus and my faith will always be a big part of my life, but you know, I’ll just go off for a bit, maybe a semester or two, have my fun, and then be back around. You’ll see.”

There are number of assumptions underlying this story, but the main one seems to be that faith is this unchanging, timeless, perennial thing. Your walk with Jesus is something you can just leave alone for a while, and then, once you’ve done your own thing for a bit, you can just pick up again. No big deal. Calling ‘neutral time’ is like calling time-out so you can go the restroom or take a break in the middle of the game—when you come back the score, time, and possession is just like where you left of last.

You can read about the foolishness of this approach by clicking on The Gospel Coalition.

Lennon’s “Imagine” – The My Little Pony of Philosophy

little ponyI’ve despised John Lennon’s “Imagine” since the first time I heard it. Beatles fan that I am, it is one of the most vapid, unthinking pieces of marshmallow pop-philosophy I’ve ever heard. I’ve long wanted to rant about it explaining what utter tripe that song is. Thankfully, Francis Spufford did it for me with all the wit, dry humor, and aplomb that only someone from across the pond could muster. In his new defense of the Christian faith Unapologetic: Why Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Emotional Sense (my review is forthcoming at TGC) he levels a devastating critique of the basic lie about humanity that Lennon’s classic tries to sell us:

For a piece of famous fluffiness  that doesn’t just pretend about what real lives can be like, but moves on into one of the world’s least convincing pretenses about what people themselves are like, consider the teased and coiffed nylon monument that is “Imagine”; surely the My Little Pony of philosophical statements. John and Yoko all in white, John at the white piano, John drifting through the white rooms of a white mansion, and all the while the sweet drivel flowing. Imagine there’s not heaven. Imagine there’s no hell. Imagine all the people living in–hello? Excuse me? Take religion out of the picture, and everybody spontaneously starts living life in peace? I don’t know about you, but in my experience peace is not the default state of human beings, any more than having an apartment the size of Joey and Chandler’s is. Peace is not the state of being we return to like water running downhill, whenever there’s nothing external to perturb us.

Peace between people is an achievement, a state of affairs we put together effortfully in the face of competing interests, and primate dominance dynamics, and our evolved tendency to cease our sympathies at the boundaries of our tribe. Peace within people is made difficult to say the least by the way that we tend to have an actual, you know, emotional life going on, rather than an empty space between our ears with a shaft of dusty sunlight in it, and a lone moth flittering round and round. Peace is not the norm; peace is rare, and when we do manage to institutionalize it in a human society, it’s usually because we’ve been intelligently pessimistic about human proclivities, and found a way to work with the grain of them in a system of intense mutual suspicion like the U.S. Constitution, a document that assumes that absolutely everybody will be corrupt and power-hungry given half a chance.

As for the inner version, I’m at at peace all that often, and I doubt you are either. I’m absolutely bloody certain that John Lennon wasn’t. The mouthy Scouse git he was as well as a songwriter of genius, the leatherboy who allegedly kicked his best friend in the head in Hamburg, didn’t go away just because he put on the white suit. What seems to be at work in “Imagine” is the idea–always believed by those who are frightened of themselves–that we’re good underneath, good by nature, and only do bad things because we’ve been forced out of shape by some external force, some malevolent aspect of this worlds power structures. In this case, I suppose, by the education the Christian Brothers were dishing out in 1950s Liverpool, which was strong on kicks and curses and loving descriptions of the tortures of the damned.

It’s a theory that isn’t falsifiable, because there always are power structures there to be blamed when people behave badly. Like the theory that markets left to themselves would produce perfectly just outcomes (when markets never are let to themselves) it’s immune to disproof. But, and let me put this as gently as I can, it doesn’t seem terribly likely. We long to believe it because it’s what we lack. We dream of the peace we haven’t got, and to make ourselves look as if we do have it, we dress ourselves up in the iconography of heaven we just announced we were ditching. White robes, the celestial glare of over-exposed film: “Imagine” looks like one part A Matter of Life and Death to one part Hymns Ancient and Modern. Only sillier.

Unapologetic: Why Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense, pp. 10-13

And that’s the deepest tragedy of Lennon’s blind paean to fairy-tale theories of human nature–it’s another attempt to escape the truth that true peace only comes by peace with God through Jesus Christ (Rom 5:1).

Soli Deo Gloria

Are You Hungry Enough?

please-sirHave you ever been without food for long? I can’t say I have too often. I’ve fasted here and there for doctors appointments, but honestly, I’m usually nibbling on something every so often. Most of us are the same–except for those times when something has our attention, right? You know those moments when you’re so absorbed in a project, playing a game, or reading a book that you forget to eat? Or maybe something so urgent has come up, that you simply don’t have time to stop and eat? There are those occasions when, in a sense, another hunger leads you to forget bodily hunger for a while as you try to satisfy the deeper hunger you have.

This is what Calvin says is going on in the feeding of the 5,000 in John:

Here we see, in the first place, how eager was the desire of the people to hear Christ, since all of them, forgetting themselves, take no concern about spending the night in a desert place. So much the less excusable is our indifference, or rather our sloth, when we are so far from preferring the heavenly doctrine to the gnawings of hunger, that the slightest interruptions immediately lead us away from meditation on the heavenly life. Very rarely does it happen that Christ finds us free and disengaged from the entanglements of the world. So far is every one of us from being ready to follow him to a desert mountain, that scarcely one in ten can endure to receive him, when he presents himself at home in the midst of comforts. And though this disease prevails nearly throughout the whole world, yet it is certain that no man will be fit for the kingdom of God until, laying aside such delicacy, he learn to desire the food of the soul so earnestly that his belly shall not hinder him.

-Commentary on John 6:2

Calvin’s words cut deep here. These people were willing to sleep outside, weather the elements, go without food or drink, just to hear Jesus speak a few words. I can’t remember the last time I just sat, engulfed in the text, so drawn to Jesus that I could have tuned the world out, suffered discomfort without notice, as long as I could feast on the Word. Instead, I’m lucky if I make through my reading without a quick jump onto Twitter, or a break for a snack, or…you get the picture. I’m hungry all the time, but never hungry enough for the one thing that counts.

Thing is, and I don’t mean to assume here, but I’m fairly certain I’m not the only one out there with this. If Calvin’s complaining about this circa 15-whenever-he-wrote-this, I can’t imagine the situation’s improved. No, we live in a distracted age–even more, we live in an age where everything is offered up to satiate our needs. The problem is, most of it’s cotton-candy and we consume so much of it, our palates are ruined for the life-giving nourishment of the Gospel.

Take a moment and ask yourself “Am I hungry enough?” And then, if you’re like me, ask God to give you a hunger–the proper hunger that would lead you to a desert mountain to follow him, to know him, to hear from him. Or, at least one strong enough to ignore your cell-phone for 15 minutes and pray in the midst of all the distracting cotton-candy delicacies of modern life.

Soli Deo Gloria