Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Go to church?

[W]hen I hear them make “church” something one goes “into” I cringe. Part of our problem here is that the word “church” has become a building or an institution and has lost its cosmic shape from the Bible (ever read Colossians and Ephesians?!)…— Kingdom Conspiracy, page 232

<idle musing>
Ain't that the truth! Have you been following Roger Olson's review? He's sympathetic to Scot's view—very sympathetic. But, and here's where I'm at as well, what about the "dones?" What about the ones who have become disillusioned with church as it is done in the U.S.? Where is it more God and Country, or God and Self, or God and whatever. The whatever is anything but Jesus; A.W. Tozer in Pursuit of God says that whatever comes after the and is a distraction from God. I agree. And that's where the vast majority (in my experience over 43 years of being a Christian) of churches land.

There's something wrong when a church's web site features the U.S. flag in a prominent position. There's something wrong when a church's web site brags about their pastor/teacher, what have you. There's something wrong when a church's web site promotes a particular political view (right or left!).

Lord, purify your church! And start with me!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

At what cost compromise?

Randy Balmer, one of America’s finest historians of evangelicalism, after years of studying the relationship of evangelicals and politics, concludes on a similar note in his God in the White House: “My reading of American religious history is that religion always functions best from the margins of society and not in the councils of power. Once you identify the faith with a particular candidate of party or with the quest for political influence, ultimately it is the faith that suffers.” He concludes with a subtle, but searing reminder: “Compromise may work in politics. It‘s less appropriate to the realm of faith and belief.”— Kingdom Conspiracy, page 215 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
That quotation alone is worth the price of the book! The kingdom of God is just that, the kingdom of God. Trying to mix our best efforts at creating a kingdom just isn't going to work. God's calling is higher and beyond our meagre efforts.

Jesus said you can't serve two masters. I fear some have sold the true master for a chance to influence the current world. At what cost?

Lord, have mercy! Open our eyes that we may see! That we may catch a vision of your kingdom!
</idle musing>

Monday, September 28, 2015

Vain attempt

The Christian Left and the Christian Right are doing the same thing—seeking to coerce the public or, more mildly, seeking to influence the public into their viewpoint through political agitation and majority rule. Hauerwas describes the ultimate goal of both sides: “their common goal of making American democracy as close as possible to a manifestation of God’s Kingdom.” I need not provide details in a history that has been told well by others. But I will say that Hauerwas and I agree that American democracy can’t be the kingdom of God until it submits, for one thing, to Jesus as the redemptive King.— Kingdom Conspiracy, page 211

<idle musing>
Amen and amen!
</idle musing>

Friday, September 25, 2015

Constantine again

The church’s historical temptation is to make “kingdom” public by aligning itself with the state or the powers of culture, often called the Constantinian Temptation. In the United States, both the Moral Majority (or the Christian Coalition) and the Christian progressives have succumbed to Constantine; that is they are tempted to use the state’s force (even if of the majority) to legalize the Bible’s teachings and its arena to carry out their battles.— Kingdom Conspiracy, page 206

Thursday, September 24, 2015

What's a person to do?

In the last post, I mentioned that Roger Olson is blogging through the book Kingdom Conspiracy. Yesterday, he asked a serious question about the nature of church. Here's the relevant paragraph:
My experience of visiting numerous churches in numerous locales is that very, very few are fitting “kingdom of God” as Scot describes it (“a new kind of fellowship, a new community, a new people of God” [emphasis original]). Most of them, in my humble opinion, are American first and Christian second or Baptist first and Christian second or middle class first and Christian second. Most of them function like community clubs. There’s a lot of God talk but very little God showing up among them. They are not really “a people, a community, a fellowship.” For the most part they don’t even know each other well. They certainly don’t share their lives; they value their privacy and individuality far, far too much for that.
Think about that. Is it true? Is a megachurch really a church? Or is it a social club that talks a bit about God? Is there real community there?

I'm not picking on megachurches; they can be places where real fellowship happens, but I would submit that you have to work at it very hard to make it happen. And just because a church is small doesn't mean fellowship happens. You still have to work at it, but it's a bit easier when you can't hide in a crowd. But our culture still works against real's got to be a supernatural move of God to get people out of themselves. Even so, come Lord Jesus! Move in your people!

Just an
</idle musing>

But are they really?

[I]t is reasonable to say that the kingdom is the church, and the church is the kingdom—that they are the same even if they are not identical. They are the same in that it is the same people under the same King Jesus even if each term—kingdom, church—gives off slightly different suggestions. In particular, “kingdom” emphasizes royalty, while “church” emphasizes fellowship. Slight difference aside, the evidence I have presented in this book leads me to the conclusion that we should see the terms as synonyms.— Kingdom Conspiracy, page 206 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
Not sure I agree totally with him here. Roger Olson is blogging his way through the book, too (part 1 and part 2). He has not yet come to this section, but before he began, he expressed his disagreement with an equation of the two: kingdom does not equal church. Maybe, given the caveats that Scot expressed here, Roger will agree, but I doubt it.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Are we really that screwed up?

Two stories from pastors. One, the pastor of a megachurch, confessed to me over a round of golf that he could do away with Sunday morning services because small groups did everything he believed a church should be. Of course I asked, “How so?” To which he replied, “Because church is about fellowship, and I’m not sure that happens on Sunday mornings.” Another pastor, convinced that churches ought to be marked by fellowship, created the practice of the church gathering for a church-sponsored, cheap meal on Thursday evenings. For a long time the only ones who gathered were the pastor and his wife and the youth pastor and his wife, with an occasional straggler. It took years for the congregation to embrace the idea. Over lunch at an Italian restaurant he said these two things: “our people are too busy for fellowship,” and “One person asked me what fellowship had to do with church!”— Kingdom Conspiracy, page 202

<idle musing>
Are we really that confused about what the church is all about? Do we really think it is only a 1–2 hour stint of sitting in pews (or padded chairs) on Sunday morning, singing a few songs, and then listening to a person (usually a man) expound on a verse or two of scripture? Doesn't your heart long for more?

Mine does! I want vibrant interaction among people who love Jesus. People who know that their lives have been re-created in him. People who know that the power of the Holy Spirit is real and can make a difference as they face the trials of daily living.

But apparently most people are too busy for sad.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

It overflows

Zacchaeus’ conversion shows that genuine conversion, as John the Baptist himself taught (Luke 3:7–9), erupts into a life of love for others that includes economic care for others. The cross of self-denial leads to loving others.— Kingdom Conspiracy, page 176

<idle musing>
Amen and amen! If our lives aren't transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, I have a hard time believing that a person actually encountered God.

Just an
</idle musing>

Monday, September 21, 2015

But it's mine!

Westerners may not see wealth so much as a blessing of God, but the do see it as the reward of labor; they tend also to see poverty as the just reward for laziness. To be sure, the more liberal see a systemic problem in free enterprise itself, but the system is one in which reward, or possession, correlates with labor. The impact of this is that what we earn is ours, and what others earn is not ours. In other words, self-centeredness rules much of what we believe about possessions and ownership in Western economy. Self-centeredness makes us blind to injustices.— Kingdom Conspiracy, pages 174–75

Friday, September 18, 2015

Where do you find peace?

Those who talk most about peace are talking about peace in the world, and almost never about peace in the local church. The peace of the kingdom, I am contending, is first and foremost a shalom that marks the kingdom as it is present now—that is, in your local church as it is now. First we are to seek peace in our local fellowship, to end strife and to seek reconciliation with God and with one another, and out of this peace-shaped, kingdom-shaped church we spill over peace into the world. But our tendency today is to politicize peace, to make it about global relations and ethnic strivings, both of which are instinctual desires for anyone who follows Jesus. But I assign these to the expression “good works,” while I assign the peace Jesus talks about to be fundamentally about how members of a local church, or the church universal, live with one another under the King of Peace.— Kingdom Conspiracy, page 171 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
Roger Olson is discussing the book now, too. You should definitely read his push-backs against Scot.
</idle musing>

Thursday, September 17, 2015

I want one of these, and one of these, and...

I've been working on the Eisenbrauns fall catalog lately. It went to press today and is available on the web here (5.3 MB). I see all these great books and I want to read them all! Not that I have the time right now, but come this winter, I'll get a good percentage of them read.

There are two that especially grabbed my attention: The

The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden
The Creation of Humankind in Genesis 2:5-3:24 in Light of the mis pi pit pi and wpt-r Rituals of Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt
Siphrut: Literature and Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures 15
by Catherine McDowell
Eisenbrauns, 2015
Pp. ix + 246, English
Cloth, 6 x 9 inches
ISBN: 9781575063485
List Price: $47.50
Your Price: $38.00


Standing in the Breach

Standing in the Breach
An Old Testament Theology and Spirituality of Intercessory Prayer
Siphrut: Literature and Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures 13
by Michael Widmer
Eisenbrauns, 2015
Pp. xiv + 592, English
ISBN: 9781575063256
List Price: $64.50
Your Price: $51.60

Of course, there are others, but I'll limit myself to two right now...

And the greatest is...

Love, then, is not one of the virtues; loves is the one and only virtue that creates space for all the other virtues. We can agree that Jesus made love central to the kingdom, to the church.— Kingdom Conspiracy, page 168

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

At the core

What Jesus advocated, then, was a cruciform existence for his followers. The moral fellowship of the kingdom, then, is a fellowship in the cross. Think briefly over the pages of the New Testament where cross becomes the norm for discipleship (and not just the atoning sacrifice). Jesus maps the Christian life along the coordinates of the cross (Luke 9:23), Paul sees the cross as pattern of his own ministry (2 Cor. 4:10; Phil. 3:10–11), and the pattern of Christ’s own self-sacrifice becomes the solution to the local church’s struggle for a loving fellowship (Phil. 2:5–11).— Kingdom Conspiracy, page 162

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Simple, but it demands everything

In summary, to enter the kingdom one must surrender to Jesus as King and live under King Jesus. Entrance here is so unlike much of what occurs in church settings today, where if one is baptized as an infant or if one has walked the aisle or if one has been baptized as an adult or it one has made the decision, one is in. Not so for Jesus: to enter the kingdom means a person surrenders to live under King Jesus. Jesus is not talking here about sinlessness—the failure of the disciples, Jesus’ rebuke, his forgiveness, and their resumption of discipleship proves that. He’s talking about the core commitment of one’s life. The only ones who enter the kingdom are those who give themselves to Jesus.— Kingdom Conspiracy, page 161 (emphasis original)

Monday, September 14, 2015

What a mess!

Why is the church so messy and inept and divided and pock-marked by the infections of the powers and principalities? Why is the church so battered by incomplete redemption and in fact belittling itself by thinking redemption is only spiritual? How can we call our local church the kingdom of God or even associate kingdom with it? I suggest once more we look to eschatology, and in particular at the tension we observed already: that the kingdom has been inaugurated but not yet fully consummated, that the kingdom is partly here and partly in the future, that the church is the holy bride of Christ but will only be spotless and pure in the final kingdom. In the New Testament, salvation is found in all three tenses because the kingdom has only been inaugurated. That is, we have been redeemed (past), we are being redeemed (present), and we will be redeemed (future) .— Kingdom Conspiracy, page 157

Friday, September 11, 2015

What a feeble gospel!

So often today, kingdom gets boiled down to ethics; for those who make that move, the kingdom is little more than justice. Others reduce the kingdom redemption to personal salvation. Both sides deny holistic redemption…— Kingdom Conspiracy, page 152

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Who needs insecticides?

Just saw this:
More Flowers, More Food, More Bees, Fewer Pests. Can It Get Any Better?
Could cornflowers and poppies take the place of pesticides? That’s what researchers are proposing in a new study on wheat fields. By planting strips of wildflowers alongside the crops, the scientists found that they could encourage the presence of helpful bugs that eat pests.
They found a 2.5–10% increase in yield—with no pesticides! Increase, not just remaining why aren't we doing it?

But does it deal with sin?

Kingdom redemption, then, is the work of God, through Jesus, and by virtue of his sin-solving cross and new-life-creating resurrection, unleashed to those who are needy because of their sins. Any kind of “redemptive” activity that does not deal with sin, that does not find its strength in the cross, that does not see the primary agent as Jesus, and that does not see it all as God’s new creation life unleashed is not kingdom redemption, even if it is liberating and good and for the common good.— Kingdom Conspiracy, page 150

<idle musing>
Indeed! As far as I'm concerned, that's the distinguishing mark between "Christian" works and "good" works. If it doesn't deal with the core issue of sin, then it might be very good, but it isn't a distinctly Christian work. It can be done by Christians—and there should be more Christians doing this kind of thing—but it isn't distinctly Christian.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

I guess not

Hmmm. Jim West answered my question with a resounding "NO!" But then I read this:
What about when you double up this heightened male interest for greater sexual variety in a same-sex relationship? Scholars have examined this, finding that only a third of committed homosexual male couples had agreements on strict monogamy and truly honored them. The other two-thirds had mutually established ground rules for extra-curriculars or regularly failed to adhere to their commitment to monogamy. In fact, in the openly non-monogamous relationships, the frequency of sex outside the relationship in the last year ranged from zero to an extreme of 350 occurrences, with a median of eight hook-ups over a twelve month period. Even the couples who pledged true monogamy, the range was from one to sixty-three “slip-ups” with a median of five. The corresponding numbers for men in heterosexual marriages are microscopic in comparison. Women settle men down. Other men do not.
So, I guess Jim is right...celibacy won't ever find a voice among the same-sex marriage advocates. It's hard even to find a voice for it among heterosexual marriage advocates...

Bicycling, an observation

I've been riding in the mornings along Highway 61 for the last 6–8 weeks. The last week or so has been relatively foggy, so I've started turning on my flashing tail light (for those who care, it's a Planet Bike Superflash) before starting.

Some days the fog has turned out less dense than it appeared at first. On those days, I've noticed a scary pattern: The cars/trucks give me less clearance. That's right, they don't move over as much as when I'm not using the tail light. Now, that's not a big deal to me, because I'm riding on the generous shoulder, but it reinforce the findings that I posted way back in 2007 about helmet use. For those who don't click the link, motorists gave less clearance to cyclists wearing helmets than to those who didn't wear helmets! Counterintuitive, isn't it?

Here's my theory: Without a flashing light, the vehicles see a bicycle, but aren't exactly sure where it is on the rode, so they give you more clearance, just to be safe. With the flashing light, you are more visible to them, so they feel more confident that you have a enough room.

Now, I'm not going to stop using the Superflash on foggy days, but it does make you wonder...

A genuine question

A question for those of you who are in a church endorsing same-sex marriages: When will you begin to preach celibacy in singleness? Or is that too old-fashioned, too?

Just an idle musing...

But who's counting?

With six stone jars holding a total of about 180 gallons (perhaps a little less), and with each gallon being the equivalent of just a shade over five ordinary (modern) bottles of wine, that means Jesus just served up to the wedding party the modern equivalent of about 907 bottles of wine. Jesus could have just filled up each person’s wineskins or mugs or pitchers, but instead he chose to do something incredibly and beautifully extravagant. He took ordinary stone jars of water that were used to purify and made them vessels of abundant joy.— Kingdom Conspiracy, page 149

Friday, September 04, 2015

Is Christ really the center?

Although “mission” is not the first word, sometimes people approach it as if it were. That is, for some, one’s mission determines one’s Christology, and Christ is then used for an agenda.— Kingdom Conspiracy, pages 135–136

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Not what was expected

When Peter calls Jesus Messiah (Mark 8:29), and Jesus responds by revealing that he will suffer and rise again (8:31) and by rebuking Peter’s perceptions (8:32), we enter into the unique interpretation of “Messiah” by Jesus and the church: the Messiah will rule, but only after dying the death of others and by rising and being exalted far above all rule. Jesus is that Messiah, but his kind of Messiah bewilders his contemporaries, including his closest followers. He cannot be embraced as Messiah until his story is embraced; that story is the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, and it is that life story that shapes what “Messiah” means. Jesus is the gospel-shaped King. There is no other messianic story like the one Jesus told and lived.— Kingdom Conspiracy, page 133

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Sure it's good, but

Next, I appeal to Paul in Galatians 6:10: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Notice the order: first the church and kingdom, and then society and culture and world. When social activism decenters or replaces the church, it becomes a kind of idolatry in which our allegiance is no longer to Jesus and the kingdom but to the world. But when the kingdom citizen’s activism in the local church spills over into the world, that is the “good work” about which Peter is speaking. This is the place—this “spilling over” of kingdom goods into the world—where social gospeling and liberation theology belong. If the activism is designed to make the world a better place, it is “good works,” but it is not kingdom mission.— Kingdom Conspiracy, pages 121–22