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    Entries in Theology (12)


    Does God Foreordain All Things? :: A Friday Funny

    I Fall Down Stairs.  A Lot. 109/365

    My friend Joe Taylor passed this joke along.  I found it funny.

    Traditionally, Presbyterians hold a view of God's sovereignty which includes that all events in history are in harmony with God's foreordained, perfect will--all suffering and hardship as well as all blessing and fruitfulness.  Nothing comes to pass of which God is not the direct cause.  Everything occurs according to the plan of the Almighty.

    One day, a faithful Presbyterian awoke and emerged from the bedroom of his second story house.  Still a bit sleepy, he stumbled on the top step of his staircase, and preceeded to roll to the bottom.  Bruised, but not badly hurt, he arose to his feet, dusted off his shirt, and said aloud, "Well, I'm glad that's over with!"


    Book Review :: What is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert

    Greg Gilbert and Kevin DeYoung, in their book What Is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission have chosen to contribute their voice to the intense discuss of missiology, raising important questions about the exact nature and scope of the work of the church in the world.  In what has been a developing and important discourse for church leaders, Mr. DeYoung and Mr. Gilbert set out to examine the important biblical texts and the theological claims that have been made by the strongest proponents of mission and Kingdom as a key and controlling concept for articulating the gospel and directing the ministry of the church.

    The intent of this book is to bring clarity to an important question, and one that has been burning hot for some time.  Missiology has become an important topic for pastors and theologians.  What is the mission of the church?  What is the church charged with doing in the world?  And how can we know if we are successfully carrying out that mission?  As DeYoung and Gilbert state:

    What is the mission of the church? . . . what do we even mean by mission?  And if that can be settled, we then face more difficult questions.  Is the mission of the church discipleship or good deeds or both?  Is the mission of the church the same as the mission of God?  Is the mission of the church distinct from the responsibilities of individual Christians?  Is the mission of the church a continuation of the mission of Jesus?  If so, what was his mission anyway?

    The answer, in essence, boils down to a declaration that “the church is sent into the world to witness to Jesus by proclaiming the gospel and making disciples of all nation.”  This leaves Mr. DeYoung and Mr. Gilbert with the task of defining proclamation, gospel, and disciple making, in contradistinction to other definitions on offer.

    The definition of mission that Mr. DeYoung and Mr. Gilbert offer is simple, though it does entail a great deal of unpacking.  And the definition itself is not universally agreed upon, and thus the need for this book.  The authors are on a mission not only to exegete the biblical texts that support their articulation of the mission of the church, but to critique other treatments of those same texts, and to show where other Christian leaders may be getting the mission of the church wrong.  Texts of critical importance include Genesis 12 (God’s call of Abram), Luke 4 (Jesus’s reading from Isaiah at Nazareth), and Matthew 28 (The Great Commission), Matthew 22 (The Great Commandment), and John 20 (“As the Father has sent e, so I send you.”). 

    Both the constructive and critical exegesis offered by Mr. DeYoung and Mr. Gilbert is helpful.  Foremost is their point that the gospel, and therefore the foundation of our mission, is something that is primarily announced as true, rather than declaratively embodied.  The authors state:

    We cannot re-embody Christ’s incarnational ministry any more than we can repeat his atonement.  Our role is to bear witness to what Christ has already done.  We are not new incarnations of Christ but his representatives offering life in his name, proclaiming his gospel, imploring others to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20).  This is how the exalted Christ carries out his mission through us.

    This is most certainly right, with an additional, careful nuance.  Christ, as our pattern (Luther’s terminology), invites us to take up our cross and follow him, and, as C.S. Lewis wrote so lucidly in Mere Christianity, put his life in to ours.  In addition to this, we too are to lead a cruciform life, and though we cannot repeat his atonement, we too lay our lives down for the world, as he did, not to the same effect in the cosmic scope, but as an act of witness to the ultimate act of God’s love on the cross.

    In my analysis, Mr. DeYoung and Mr. Gilbert have offered us a book that is filled with strong engagement with the biblical text, diverse citations from those across the missional movement, and some interesting critiques.  For those pondering the nature and mission of the church, there are some helpful points, both critiques and affirmations, that I would strongly agree with.  But the book is not without its weaknesses.  There are articulations of the scope of Christ’s salvific work that I find partial, and a softening of the imperatives surrounding obedience to justice related commands that I find detractive from the overall mission of the church.  Rather than propelling us into the world, there are elements in Mr. Gilbert and Mr. DeYoung’s presentations that I believe keep us nailed to the pews, listening again and again to a singular articulation of the gospel of Christ’s atoning death.  And while we do need to hear this message again and again, allowing it to humble and fuel us, there is work in the world that must be done.  That work, the work of justice and mercy, is a logical outcome that flows from the nature of Christ’s work to save individual souls, and our preaching should reflect this. The resulting fruit should be not only individual who care about justice and mercy, but churches who actively take up that work.

    Mr. DeYoung and Mr. Gilbert may object, saying this is most definitely not their intent, and that the closing chapters of their book do continue to stress the importance of engagement and advocacy for justice causes in the world.  But their claims fall victim, I believe, to “death by a thousand paper cuts”.  With so many qualifications about the nature of the gospel and the narrow scope of what discipleship entails, in an effort not to add works to the good news of grace, I believe they weaken their thrust in an unnecessary manner.

    Though a helpful book, it is not without weaknesses.  Polemical in nature and in tone, yet constructively critical, read What is the Mission of the Church? if you are working diligently to nail down an articulation of God’s mission that is biblically faithful and theologically sound.

    Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for a review.


    Doesn't Jesus Have Better Things to Do?

    This weekend I had the privilege of listening to William J. Abraham speak on Scripture.  One anecodote he relayed concerning the academic environment when he began teaching at Perkins School of Theology 26 years ago was brilliant.  Here it is:

    During my first faculty retreat at Perkins, Schubert Ogden was giving a lecture on peer reviewed scholarship, and the inner workings of the university system.  He looked upon those in the room, and said “Let me tell you something.  If Jesus were to apply for a job at Perkins, he wouldn’t get it.  And he would know that he most certainly shouldn’t.”

    One faculty member raised his hand and asked, “I didn’t know Schubert knew that much about the historical Jesus.”  Ogden was himself a skeptic.

    Though I didn’t say it at the time, since it was my first retreat, I thought, “If Jesus is the Son of God, was raised from the dead, is reigning over the universe, is saving people from their sins, then the last thing that he would want is a job at Perkins.”


    Excited. "The Right Way to Disagree" Published at

    I was glad to discover via Twitter that published an article I submitted under the title "the Right Way to Disagree".  I am thrilled.  Here is my conclusion: 

    John 13:35 reminds us, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” This includes loving one another enough to speak the truth. It means loving one another enough to ask hard questions, to be picky about the details and to take care that our words and actions are truly Christian. As Stanley Hauerwas has reminded us, living as a Christian requires learning a language that encompasses what we say and what we do.

    We may not be of one mind, but we can be of one heart. If we hold our love for Christ in common, God has given us all the time we need to work out our differences and disagreements. In those difficult moments, we must trust that, though we can’t see it, God’s Kingdom is bigger than our corner.

    You can read the rest here.  Share with your friends.  I hope you find my words of value, and worthy of discussion.


    Something to Chew On...

    This past week I finished reading Collin Hansen's Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists.  He presents the reasons why this movement has experienced a resurgence, and why, in particular, it has had appeal among younger people.

    As Hansen told his own story, he included a bit of biographical information that might be of interest to United Methodists.  Hansen writes:

    I had been a Christian for about two and half years when I arrived in Evanston, Illinois, in 1999 to study journalism at Northwestern University.  During my last two years in high school I had helped lead United Methodist Youth Fellowship at my family's small church in rural South Dakota.  The denomination even paid for me to fly to Los Angeles to attend a conference for youth considering full time ministry.

    All the while, my knowledge of Scripture grew very little.  Sin plagued me with guilt, and I saw little victory over temptation. . . Yet I knew without a doubt that I had been saved.  I recalled with joy the moment my resistance fell and I trusted Christ to forgive me of my sins.  I knew God gave his church the Bible so that we might know about Jesus and learn the story of salvation.  I actively shared with unbelieving friends and family about the joy God had given me.

    Even before I enrolled, I confirmed that Campus Crusade for Christ ran a chapter at Northwestern.  I harbored no false expectations about the climate for Christians at this school that long ago ditched its Methodist roots.  I hoped Crusade would help me grow in faith and introduce me to other students trying to follow Christ.  Crusade did that--and much, much more.

    Our campus director studied for his Master of Divinity degree up the road at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  Most Crusade students attended a nearby Evangelical Free church, pastored by a Trinity grad.  My first morning in church, the pastor rocked my Methodist sensibilities.  It wasn't so much that the sermon's content shocked me.  Rather, I was surprised the sermon contained any content at all.  On top of that, the pastor even raised his voice a few times and preached for more than thirty minutes.  That kind of behavior gets you fired by Midwestern Methodists.

    I had never heard of Calvinism until a Crusade friend, also a Methodist, told me she believed that God predestines salvation.  Before long that's what I believed too. My weekly Bible study with fellow freshmen worked through Romans.  An older student took me to hear R.C. Sproul preach.

    I didn't go looking for Reformed theology.  But Reformed theology found me.  Beginning college as I did with an almost blank slate, Calvinists impressed me with their knowledge of Scripture and devotion to theological depth.  Calvinism made the best sense of what Scripture teaches about salvation.  None of this theology seemed to dampen my friends' passion to evangelize the campus and consider serving as missionaries after graduation.  As I began teaching Bible studies and mentoring younger students, we discussed Calvinism.

    I'd temper Hansen's presentation with a tale from my own experience: I know that in my early to late twenties, many of my questions took the form of, "Why have I not been taught this before?"  I grew up in a healthy church environment, and upon reflection, found that it is more likely that I was not ready developmentally to receive all that I was being taught within my church community, rather than simply not being taught at all.  This does not mean that Hansen's church did not fail him (as he seems to suggest), but in my experience, we tend to frame things a certain way autobiographically, particularly when we have moved from one place to another.  No matter where we are headed, we like to portray our stories as moving us toward the Celestial City.

    I offer this story as something for my United Methodist readers to chew on, largely because this tale continues to be true.  I have met enough United Methodist students to know there is a lack of biblical and theological knowledge.  I have also worked with enough United Methodist students to know that there is a hunger for doctrinal and biblical teaching that is personally challenging and intellectually stimulating.  Calvinism is not the only theological system that can be taught with passion.