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Archive for June, 2018


In my typical vacation mode, I’m reading another in the series “on the Christian life.” This vacation I’m reading Spurgeon on the Christian Life: Alive in Christ by Michael Reeves. Reeves’ goal is to communicate about Spurgeon’s views, not offering correctives or counter-points. While I agree with much of what Spurgeon held regarding preaching, there were enough things I wanted to offer a counter-point to that this merited its own blog post.

Spurgeon began to preach as essentially a newly converted person. Prior to his conversion he’d read much from his grandfather’s library. This is where his love of the Puritans came from. Spurgeon did not preach like a Puritan.

For instance, I’m also reading Christian Love by Hugh Binning. After his treatise on the subject there are 3 from his sermon series on Romans 8:1-15. They are taken from his 40 sermons on that passage. Yes, 40! The better part of a year on 14 verses, by a man who would die at 26.  Spurgeon did not do such lengthy series.

“The special work of our ministry is to lay open Christ, to hold up the tapestry and unfold the mysteries of Christ.”

“It is the end (goal) of our calling to sue for a marriage between Christ and every soul. We are the friends of the bride to bring the church to him; and friend of the church, to bring Christ to them.”

In this regard, Spurgeon is spot on regarding the goal of preaching. We are to so reveal Christ as to present a Savior worth trusting, and encourage them to trust in Him for all things as revealed in the Scriptures.

In this way, preaching is not simply an information dump. Information is conveyed. We must explain the text, and explain Christ to them. But we are to preach for personal and congregational transformation.

“The object of all true preaching is the heart: we aim at divorcing the heart from sin, and wedding it to Christ. Our ministry has failed, and has not the divine seal set upon it, unless it makes men tremble, makes them sad, and then anon brings them to Christ, and causes them to rejoice.”

The rub is in some of the opinions he had about how that takes place.

Reeves notes a common criticism, that I have mentioned to others, that he wasn’t very exegetical. Reeves notes that prior to his sermon, in another part of the service he would give “a separate verse-by-verse exposition on the portion of Scripture from which his preaching text would be taken.” Or at least what he thought he would be preaching. At times he would admit to changing his text on the fly. This would disconnect the text from the exegesis. If it was a late, not last second change, then he wouldn’t have much time to do proper exegesis of the text. He’d inevitably have to do that on the fly. The prep work he’d done (and he did do plenty of that) would not be used, at least that week.

Spurgeon discouraged his students from preaching series. He didn’t plan out his sermons in advance. I often have my sermon texts lined up a few months out. He thought few preachers had the gifts to preach a series and engage the congregation’s attention for the duration. Spurgeon notes that even the gifted Joseph Caryl preached his congregation from 800 to 8 over the course of his series on Job. No mention is  given on how many sermons this included. I’m not advocating 5-6 years (or 16) in a series on a book of the Bible.

He believed that such sermon series didn’t address the immediate situation of the congregation.

When I plan a sermon series, I consider the “immediate” needs of the congregation and choose a book that addresses those things. Their immediate needs often include long-term needs that need more than a sermon by an extended period breaking up the ground, sowing and watering seed that it may bear the fruit we long to see. Some of those immediate needs may be met by a short book like Jonah, or a longer book like Romans.

I want to model Bible study as a collateral benefit of preaching. They begin, I hope, to see how thoughts flow through a book of the Bible. They aren’t seeing a text arise from the ether but in the overall theme of its authors, human and divine.

Surely the Holy Spirit is not bound by the time frame of a week to know what any congregation needs. As God who has eternally decreed whatsoever comes to pass, He can lead and guide me well in advance, not just on the spur of the moment. In my preaching, I frequently illustrate in ways I had not prepared, or go on an unplanned trail. So the Spirit is not stifled, but neither am I investing hours each week figuring out what text to preach. Rather I’m grappling with the text to discern what it means and how it applies to this group of people.

Christ can be just as preeminent in a series as in a weekly discerning of a text to preach. As he famously noted, just as all towns in England had a road leading to London, all text lead to Christ.

As pastors, we do well to remember that we “are not only laboring for Christ but in His stead.” As the Reformed Confessions indicate, the word preached is the Word of God. Christ is addressing His people thru us. He indicated (as another book I’m reading, Preaching to a Post-Everything World) we must love the people, the sinners, to whom we preach. We do not exercise a ministry of condemnation. We are not to provoke or exasperate them. But we are to plead with them so they turn from their sin to Christ in both conversion (justification) and consecration (sanctification).

He also indicates that we are to embody that which we preach. Here I think is an issue as well. We are to preach joy in Christ, joyfully. But this implies that in God’s providence we are not preaching to ourselves as well as to them. Often I can struggle because God brings me to the “school house” through the text.

For instance, I’m currently preaching through Philippians. While joy is a theme of Philippians, so are partnership in the Gospel particularly in the context of persecution and some level of congregational strife. They were to stand together, but apparently they weren’t.

In our congregation this has been a year filled with change. Change inevitably brings conflict. There has been some disagreement among us. I’m a sinner and struggling to not take it personally at times. I’m challenged to abound more and more in love toward people with whom there is disagreement. My preaching, therefore, is not bound to my emotions. I’m not being deceitful as I say these things, but am also in the struggle to define my life by God’s great Story rather than I own feelings, thoughts or story. I’m in process just like they are.

We do not preach as perfected men. We preach as men being perfected. God’s living and active sword cuts us too, in a surgical way, as we prepare and preach. I agree we should not be disingenuous, but neither are we to search for a text or subject we’ve mastered or that suits are emotions on a particular day. God is in control over the text, and our circumstances even leading up into that moment we walk into the pulpit (many a preacher gets a disheartening text, call or email while writing the sermon, Saturday evening or Sunday morning). We are called to bring the Word of God to bear even as we wrestle with our own sinfulness and need for the gospel.

So, I find these views of his to be driven by subjectivity. As we think of his life, as a man who struggled with depression, this seems particularly out of place or idealistic. It can crush a man instead of helping him trust that God uses even him, a jar of clay, to reveal the treasure of the gospel.

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While I was in seminary, on of my homiletics professors pushed us toward redemptive-historical preaching. I resisted. He’d say “Where’s the gospel?” (in that sermon), and I’d say, “This text isn’t about the gospel.” I struggled to grasp that every text has a larger context, not just of the particular book in which it is found (like, say, Matthew or James), but the context of the whole of Scripture and its story of redemption.

After a few years in pastoral ministry, the light bulb went on. At a graduation ceremony, I spotted said professor and thanked him, noting that “I get it now.”

This is a big transition in the life of a pastor, and a Bible teacher. It is exciting to see someone figure out that the Bible, and therefore our teaching, must point us to Christ. When Paul wrote to Timothy about the Scriptures which made him wise for salvation, he was referring to the Old Testament. Those Scriptures speak of Christ because they are from Christ, the Living Word who would later become flesh.

The other day I heard a sermon that started and ended with a reference to Joshua 24. I thought it would make a great sermon text and sermon. I thought it would make a good example for showing how I think through things for one of the guys who’s been asking me questions about this.

14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, 17 for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” Joshua 24

A sermon should do the following:

  1. Explain the text (original meaning- derived from historical context & grammar/vocabulary)
  2. Connect to Christ & the gospel (redemptive context)
  3. Apply the text (following the ephocal adjustment)

 In reading the text, one of the things I want to identify is the Fallen Condition Focus: specific reality of life in a fallen world being addressed. This was popularized by Bryan Chapell in his book Christ-Centered Preaching. It addresses our need for Christ and the gospel.

As I think about this text in Joshua,, I am reminded that we are tempted to forsake Christ & follow the gods of the world.

Sometimes this seems obvious from the early readings of the text. Sometimes you have to sort out the original meaning first. This involves starting with the grammatical-historical method. You study the grammar and look at key words to understand what it says. But this passage doesn’t arise from the ether. It is found in a context. Contexts, actually, as I mentioned above.

Image result for joshua covenant renewalHistorical Context:

Joshua led Israel in the conquest of the Promised Land (land granted to them by the Great King). He was appointed by God prior to the death of Moses to accomplish this great mission. He’s about to die and concerned about their future. Will they continue to serve God or will they begin to serve the foreign gods of the surrounding nations?

This is an important transitional time in the history of Israel. Freed from their Egyptian masters they now are free and vulnerable to being enslaved again.

Original Meaning:

Joshua was their divinely appointed leader. There is no hereditary leadership (king) at this point. The tribes will now be without a leader to unify them. They had to choose whom they would serve or obey. Joshua was pointing them to YHWH.

Joshua’s question is met with a vow to serve the Lord. They want to renew the Mosaic covenant. Their rationale for serving the Lord is the great redemption they received from Egypt, and driving out the nations before them. They recognized God as gracious, good and powerful, working for their good.

Past grace ==> Present & future commitment

Or to put it another way: delivered by YHWH from slavery, we will not serve Him.

I noticed a problem: Joshua misrepresents the Mosaic covenant in verse 19. Forgiveness was provided thru the sacrificial system which is a shadow/type of Christ’s saving work for us. Further, God revealed Himself to Moses on the mountain as:

“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty,Exodus 34

There is also the redemptive context; the text’s place in the history of redemption.

Redemptive Context:

Creation ——Fall ————————Christ —————-Consummation

Joshua deals with the time between the Fall & Christ.

The Noahic, Abrahamic & Mosaic covenants are in effect to prepare the people for the fulfillment of the promise of the Seed or Christ in the New Covenant.

In making application we have to make some adjustments based on culture, changes in technology etc. But the most important adjustment is epochal, particularly in the case of an OT text. We live on this side of the Cross and must apply it in light of the cross. Richard Pratt’s discussions in Hebrew exegesis should have helped me realize this in homiletics. Sometimes it takes time for us to put the pieces together like we should.

Ephocal Adjustment for Application:

Jesus is the “Greater Joshua” who lives forever and will never leave us nor forsake us. There are no more leadership transitions for God’s people. Undershepherds may change, but the Chief Shepherd remains the same.

We have experienced a greater redemption. Christ has redeemed us, purchasing the forgiveness of sin for when we fail to serve the Lord (Eph. 1).

We are called to live for Him who died for us (2 Cor. 5:15). We serve the Suffering Savior (who will conquer as King).

IImage result for chemoshnstead of serving Baal or Chemosh like they would, we’re tempted to serve money, sex, power, comfort etc… These false gods still make us empty promises, with fleeting pleasures that only lead to death.

Past & Promised grace ==> Present & future commitment to Christ (2 Cor. 5:15)

Perhaps a succinct way of putting it is found in the old DeGarmo & Key song based on that 2 Corinthians passage: He died for me, I’ll live for him (from The Pledge).

It is good to consider some ways to connect the OT to Christ. I’ve picked these up from people like Sinclair Ferguson, Tim Keller and Graeme Goldsworthy.

Ways to Connect OT Texts to Christ

  1. How does this text reveal our needs that Christ will address? This would be issues of sin, guilt, shame, fear, weakness etc.
  2. Promises: does this passage have any covenant promises that will be fulfilled by Christ (all God’s promises are “Yes” in Christ)? Does it anticipate the Seed (Gen. 3; 12), the defeat of our enemy (Gen. 3) etc.?
  3. Prophecy: does this passage contain a prophecy regarding the Messiah? Examples are found in Messianic Psalms, Isaiah’s Servant Songs and promises of the New Covenant.
  4. Types: does this passage contain a person who anticipates the work of Christ, pointing to Him as a greater fulfillment of that role?
  5. Shadows: does this passage contain an element of the law which anticipates the work or office of Messiah which will then become obsolete (Col. 2:16-17; Heb. 8:13)?

Some examples of the last two would be:

  1. Sacrifices ==> the Cross removing our guilt & restoring fellowship with God. Jesus is the One who bore the curse of the law we deserve. Jesus is the One who obeyed the law so we could receive what He earned.
  2. Prophets like Moses, Elijah, Elisha & Isaiah. Jesus is the Prophet who reveals us the fullness of our sin and God’s great salvation.
  3. Priests like Aaron. Jesus is the final Priest offered Himself as the sacrifice which actually takes away sin, and who lives forever to intercede for us.
  4. Kings like David: Jesus is the Greater David who sits on the throne forever, a throne of grace. Jesus is just, and has not need for forgiveness for errors in judgment & sin. He perfectly loves the people He leads.

Back to my vacation!

 

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Continuing with my favorites from the 60’s series…

ILater North American releasen high school I was a big Jimi Hendrix fan. He was the first great guitarist I listened to. I read one of his biographies, ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky, multiple times. My favorite album of his at the time was Are You Experienced?, the one that started it all.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience was one of the first great power trios. It put the focus on Jimi’s innovative style of playing guitar.This doesn’t mean the other members were slouches. Noel and Mitch were excellent musicians in their own right, able to to complement Jimi. They just weren’t well-known names like Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce when Cream was formed. Noel was actually a guitarist.

What Ritchie Blackmore appreciated about Hendrix was that he was always searching for the right note. He pushed the boundaries. And when he found that note it was amazing.

This goes back to your idea of what a musician, particularly a lead guitarist, is supposed to do. Some people want a band to perfectly reproduce their music live. If you listen to Matthias Jabs of the Scorpions, you wonder if he ever misses a note. But the reason I love live music is the improvisation. That is probably why I love Blackmore so much. It is a reflection of my personality. Blackmore often begins and ends his solos with “standard” solos, phrases from the studio recordings, and then improvises. He’s on the tightrope.

That was Hendrix too.

One of the weird things about the album is that the title track is the last one on both the U.K. and U.S. versions. The U.K. version included Red House, Remember (which I don’t remember hearing- perhaps it wasn’t memorable) and Can You See Me. The U.S. versions included Hey Joe and The Wind Cries Mary instead. Red House shows up on other collections so Americans could enjoy this great blues rock number. It was frequently played on the radio here in the States. It is a song that has stuck with me.

Purple Haze is one of his songs most commonly played on classic rock stations. It is quintessential Experience. Oddly enough, it was not on the original U.K. release. That opening riff gets your attention and sets the tone. According to Noel, Jimi hadn’t taken LSD yet. Jimi said it was about a dream he had. But that’s not important now. The point is the music, and this is a song full of hooks and great guitar. The psychedelic style helps create some of the misheard lyrics, like “‘scuse me while I kiss this guy.”

The mood changes slightly with Manic Depression which supposedly isn’t about bipolar disorder. It is essentially about not being able to get what you want. Perhaps it is about Jimi’s inability, even his, to produce the sounds in his head expressing (I know what I want, but I just don’t know, how to go about getting it). It has the feel and timing of a jazz song more than a rock song. As a teen who seemed to be on the outside looking in, this song captured some of how I felt.

Hey Joe is a cover of a oft-covered blues song by Billy Roberts. Deep Purple also did a version of this song. This is still the standard version of the song for many of us. Straight up blues.

A black and white photograph of three men, one is sitting on the floor.They go back to psychedelic with Love or Confusion, May This Be Love, and I Don’t Live Today. The tempo is faster, and the guitar work is great. Sadly these are all pop songs too. They were made to be played on the radio. The last song on the side is the longest at 3:55. Purple Haze is an all too short 2:45. You are left wanting more, especially from a guitarist this good. I had the same feeling with the first Van Halen album. The songs really didn’t have extended solos, which is precisely what I want, but both albums made their mark. Perhaps it was simply an issue of money. The budget for this introductory album was small, and studio time was at a premium. It takes time and money to put together longer songs.

The rest of the album is also full of songs under 4 minutes with the exception of Third Stone from the Sun, which is 6:40 of Jimi using feedback and pedals for a strong psychedelic feel. But it starts with Jimi’s nod to Bob Dylan in The Wind Cries Mary. It isn’t a Dylan song, but you’d swear it was.

Back to fast-paced rock and roll with Fire about passion. This is something any teenager can identify with. His guitar work mirrors the urgency.

After Third Rock, is the song that starts the U.K. release, Foxy Lady. This is a classic guitar song about an attractive woman with attitude. This another one of the songs on this release that has stood the test of time despite the ‘dated’ style.

The album ends with the title track. The rhythm, bass and drum tracks were backwards, which Mitch reportedly hated trying to do live. It added to that psychedelic feel.

This was a ground-breaking album that broke a ground-breaking artist. There really isn’t a bad track on this album. The only weakness is that you want longer solos, to hear more of this incredible guitarist.

After my collection was stolen in the late 90’s I never replaced this album. Putting this together makes me think it is time to do so.

 

 

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We seem to be “good” at judging other people’s spiritual status. And pretty lousy at judging our own.

I think of some of the comments I see by Christians.

“President Trump can’t be a Christian because ….”. (I don’t know if Trump is actually a Christian, but that’s because I don’t know what he actually believes and whether it is orthodox).

“People who commit such & such a sin can’t be Christians.” These are usually grievous sins, but still.

We often do this to ourselves. “How can I be a Christian? I looked at porn/committed adultery/embezzled from work or church etc..” We lack assurance because we’ve begun to shift of confidence from Christ and His perfect righteousness to our own very imperfect righteousness.

I’m currently re-reading A Guide to Christian Living by John Calvin. It is taken from the 1544 edition of the Institutes. Chapter 1 is the Scriptural Foundations for Christian Living. In section 5, Perfection Should Be Our Aim,  Calvin addresses the progress or seemingly lack of progress ordinary Christians experience.

“I do not insist that evangelical perfection be attained before anyone can be regarded as a Christian. That would be too strict and severe a test. On that basis every living soul would be excluded from the church, for there is no one, whatever progress he has made, who does not come well short of the mark. Most people indeed have hardly advanced one step, yet they are not to be rejected on that account.”

Calvin argues against perfectionism here. It is not the claim of perfectionism, but the demand of perfectionism in view. While we must be clear about sin and the need for repentance, our standard for fellowship with others and their admittance into the church is not their performance but Christ.

TImage result for Christian Loveoday I was also reading Hugh Binning on Christian Love. He notes that we are not to see other Christians as they are with all their sins staining their clothes, but as stripped and clothed in Christ and His perfect righteousness by virtue of their union with Christ.

Returning to Calvin, he notes that even the best of Christians would be prohibited from membership. Not only does he say we are short of the mark, but well short of the mark. Not even close. Not a kick that bounces off the goal post, but WIDE right. And short.

Our progress in sanctification is slim. But you are not to think that you or your professing friend or neighbor isn’t a Christian because they committed a sin, or the same sin 490 times.

Sin is stubborn like that. It is deep down within us and not solved by resolutions or 7 steps (or 12). Our hope for freedom from sin is tied to the consummation, not conversion.

“What then? Our sights should be naturally set on the perfection which God commands. That should be the yardstick by which we measure all our actions, and that should be the goal for which we strive.”

Calvin is not a practical or theoretical antinomian. He’s not rejecting the law or its use for us. It is not used for our justification, or to admit people in the church. It continues to reveal sin to us, and in us. It continues to show us what Christ-likeness is like. It still has a role in the life of a Christian.

“But as long as we live in this earthly prison, none of us is strong or keen enough to hurry on as briskly as we ought. Most of us are so weak and feeble that we shuffle and stumble along, making little headway as we go.”

Union with Christ doesn’t make us uber-Christians. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. He sin daily in thought, word and deed. Sin easily entangles us (Heb. 12), so we all stumble in many ways (James 3). Habitual sins (those connected with a lifestyle or called addictions) don’t go away easily or quickly. Change is often incremental. There can be 3 steps forward and 1 or 2 back. “Little headway” he says. Do we say that? Do we act towards others as if he’s right?

Calvin encourages us to keep walking the path. Don’t give up because we sinned, again. Keep your eyes, he says, focused on the goal.

One key aspect we should not forget in the midst of this. “… not fooling ourselves with vain illusions or excusing our own vices.” Real Christians admit their sinfulness. They own their faults and want to be free. They are not using grace as license. They struggle, they fight and sometimes they lose. The point is that they are in the game.

There are some who shouldn’t be admitted to the church, or should be removed from the church. Those are sinners who don’t care about their sin. They are not repentant but blame-shifting, excusing and enjoying their sin(s). They are the ones who are antinomian by theory or practice.

Real Christians confess their sins as sins. Real Christians look to Christ’s blood and righteousness for their acceptance with the Father. They know we are never more or less united to Christ and therefore never more or less God’s son. But they also know that communion can increase and decrease. The Father does discipline us, as sons, when we are careless about sin. He’s concerned about our future faith & practice, not about punishing us.

Calvin is encouraging us to be kind to ourselves, and other sinners who profess faith. Repentant, they need encouragement so they stay on the path. We need to remember that while our sins may be different and less spectacular, we too fall far short of the mark ourselves. And that is normal.

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Another quarter, and another volume of Nick Needham’s church history set, 2,000 Years of Church History. The second volume covers The Middle Ages. I mentioned the layout of the books in discussing volume 1. This volume is about 440 pages long. Reading about 10 pages per day, I was able to read a chapter a week and be done in 10 weeks. This makes for a very doable project, and you aren’t overwhelmed with all the information that is found in this thus far excellent series.

He  begins this volume with Islam and the Church. We’d join Paul in saying that even if an angel preaches another gospel to you, they are to be anathematized (Gal. 1). While Mohammad claims to have received a vision from an angel, his message is very different from Paul’s gospel and therefore to be rejected.

Islam did spread through military conquest. Some of the churches in conquered lands were treated fairly well, particularly the Arian and monophysite churches. He distinguishes between the Sunni and Shia muslims in addressing their first “civil war”. Most Christians were placed in segregated communities and treated as second-class citizens, often with a heavy tax. At times they benefited from the Christian community. Nestorian Christians in Persia translated the great Greek philosophers into Arabic. Generally “Christian governments” waged defensive wars against Islam. A few people like Francis of Assisi preached the gospel to them. Some of the crusades seem far less interested in protecting pilgrims and freeing conquered Christians than gaining fame, power and wealth.

Needham then discusses Charlemange and the Holy Roman Empire. The struggle between civil and religious authorities would take up much of the Middle Ages. This was not limited to the Pope, but we also see the Eastern Patriarchs, at times, seeking to bring the civil authority to heel. It was a back and forth. He also addresses developments in theology and worship in both the Eastern and Western Church.

This volume continues Needham’s broader than usual focus. This is not a Eurocentric approach to church history. For that I am thankful. For instance, much is said about the development of both Eastern and Western monasticism. We see the repeated influence of Augustine in controversies involving predestination and the Lord’s Supper. Communion controversies appear at least 3 times in this volume.

The third chapter focuses on the Byzantine Empire and brings us to the Great Schism. The iconoclastic controversy takes up a bit of space. It was a ruthless controversy with Emperors deposing Patriarchs; Patriarchs excommunicating Emperors, exiles and cruel punishments. Church history is not pretty! This should put to rest any mistaken notion about the consensus of the Patriarchs as preferable to “sola Scriptura”, but sadly it won’t. The filioque controversy regarding the Nicene Creed is discussed.

“Following the Cappadocian Fathers, the East tended to being with the persons of the Trinity, and saw their unity as lying in the person of God the Father. For Eastern theologians, the Father guarantees that the three persons are only one God, because the Father alone is the “fountain of deity”, the one source of the Son and the Spirit, … By contrast, the West began, not with the persons, but with the nature of God. Following Augustine of Hippo, Western theologians tended to think of God’s nature or essence before the three person of the Trinity, and to see the oneness of the Trinity as lying in the one common nature shared by Father, Son and Spirit”

In the east, you had some dissenting movements: the Manichees, Paulicians and Bogomils. All three were connected to Gnosticism. Paulicians often allied themselves with Muslim Arabs against Byzantium, whom they saw as oppressors. The Bogomils were in Bulgaria, which was a region over which the Eastern and Western Churches struggled. They would not survive the conquest by the Muslim Turks in the late 14th century.

Needham then moves back West for the Cluniac Revival, influence of Hildebrand and the Investiture Controversy. The Norsemen proved to be a problem for much of the Western church. But eventually they were converted to Christianity. Over the course of about 100 years the gospel spread from the lands the Norseman conquered to the lands they came from (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland). The gospel also made headway into eastern Europe as the Bohemians, Poles and Croats were converted. Alone with this was a reformation of Western monasticism aka the Cluniac Revival. They also sought purification in the leadership of the church. Hildebrand led the efforts to reform the papacy. He wanted it to be independent of the state in order to pursue its spiritual purposes. This would lead to the Pope investing kings with power. Popes, for a time, were king makers. One unfortunate side effect was that ecclesiastical officers were freed from prosecution from the state. Their crimes were considered sins and subject to the discipline of the church- a practice that helped produce the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the American Roman Catholic Church, particularly in Boston (don’t worry, I don’t deny that Protestants like to cover up a “good” scandal too).

The fifth chapter examines that less than period of time covering the Crusades. He looks at the causes and history of the Crusades. Not all crusades were created equal. Some were worse than others as the trade cities exerted their power.

Needham then moves into the manner in which the gospel came to the Rus, how they had their own patriarch and became an independent Eastern Church. The Mongols factor heavily in this. After the defeat and removal of Mongol control, many Russian Orthodox began to think of themselves as the “third Rome”. Because Byzantium had “sold its soul” in the Union of Florence (in order to receive military assistance against the Turks) Russia saw itself as the heir of orthodoxy.

Back to the West, the book then delves into the rise of the universities and scholasticism. Aristotle “came west” and exerted great influence on the theology of the Church at this time. Needham gives summaries of Anselm, Peter Abelard, Peter Lombard, Bonaventura and Aquinas among others.

The Papacy reached its height in the time of Innocent III. There were a number of theological developments (transubstantiation was made dogma), new monastic orders (Franciscans and Dominicans) and humbling of kings. There was also the crusades against dissenters like the Albigensians and Waldensians.

Back to the Eastern Church he develops the fall of Constantinople. The battles with the Muslims, particular the Turks, continued to take their toll. There were also controversies like the hesychastic controversy involving Gregory Palamas. He relates the various attempts to heal the Great Schism, all of what came to nothing since they were mostly about receiving military aid than uniting the Church.

The decline of the Eastern Church was matched in the West by the decline of the Papacy, particularly in the Avignonese Captivity (the Papacy was controlled by French nobility and seated in France). At times there were two or three Popes. Proto-Reformers like Wycliffe and Hus arose. The church East and West was in sad shape at the end of the Middle Ages.

This is another insightful and interesting volume. It has good balance between East and West. It deserves a reading by all interested in church history.

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Much of the music of my youth was the music my brothers listened to. When I got older, I often plundered their record collections to make tapes.

One of my brother John’s favorite bands was The Beatles. He was not alone, to say the least. listened to lots of music by The Beatles in the basement with my cousin (along with plenty of Elvis).

TThe words "The Beatles" embossed on a plain white background, with a serial number in the lower righthere are too many good songs, and good albums. Trapped in a corner, under threat of death I’d likely say my favorite album is The Beatles aka The White Album. The LSD period was over. The songwriting for this album took place in India. There was plenty of meditation, some marijuana and upset stomachs, primarily Ringo’s. It was a period of turmoil in the band. Ringo had to be talked into recording. George’s songwriting was limited. And Yoko Ono showed up.

This album reduced the psychedelic influence and technological innovation that dominated albums like Rubber Soul, St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Some of the highlights for me are:

Back in the U.S.S.R. which is a parody of a Chuck Berry song. It has an R & B feel with Beach Boy-like harmonies. Dear Prudence is an acoustic guitar song about Mia Farrow’s sister Prudence who accompanied them on the trip to India. She rarely left her room during their stay. The song

My favorite is Glass Onion, which does have a strong psychedelic feel to it. John wrote the silly lyrics to tease those who thought there were secret messages in the songs. I can’t really explain why I like this song so much, but I do.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps is another fantastic song. George was unhappy with how the group played it at first and invited his friend Eric Clapton to play on it. This song has stood the test of time. I love the guitar work. The piano accompanies it well. This is probably the best song that George wrote.

Helter Skelter, about a spiral slide at playgrounds, is a playful romp that was originally a longer blues rock jam. Their shorter attempt was a bit more chaotic, which seems to be appropriate. You can’t plan that. Too bad Charles Manson gave this song a somber note as the inspiration for his mass murder.

Musically this is a very diverse album. That was one of the strengths of The Beatles. They had no identifiable sound. They started singing pop songs, silly little love songs. As they matured the explored more subjects. They struggled with fame and that shows up in their songs. They used technology as an instrument pioneering the way for bands like Pink Floyd. Their experimentation with drugs created a distinctive second phase in their career paralleling the expanded subject matter.

Their storied career is what makes picking just one album from that decade so difficult. I could easily have chosen Rubber Soul, Revolver, or Help! I went with the White Album.

 

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TWashed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexualityhe controversy over the Revoice Conference is producing plenty of heat. For me it is a frustrating conversation because of the heightened emotions, quotes that may or may not be taken out of context, a lack of civility and the presence of shibboleths. It is hard to work through the maze of opinions to identify actual facts.

One of the key note speakers is Wesley Hill. This seemed like a good time to take his book Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality off of my shelf and read it. It is only about 150 pages, and slightly larger than mass market paperback pages at that. Therefore the book reads quickly. I read it in my spare time over about 3 days.

He lays out the book like this:

Prelude: Washed and Waiting

1. A Story-Shaped Life

Interlude: The Beautiful Incision

2. The End of Loneliness

Postlude: “Thou Art Lightning and Love”

3. The Divine Accolade

Wesley grew up in the Church. As a member of the Anglican communion, he holds to general biblical orthodoxy. Wesley also struggles with same sex attraction, and has as long as he remembers.

“I have never found a book I could resonate with that tries to put into words some of the confusion and sorrow and triumph and grief and joy of the struggle to live faithfully before God, in Christ, with others, as a gay person.”

Wesley notes that his homosexuality has hindered his life and flourishing spiritually. It has not helped him. If I could put words into his mouth, he wishes God would flip a switch so he would no longer be a homosexual. Homosexuality is one of the many ways human nature has been distorted by sin “and therefore that homosexual practice goes against God’s express will for all human beings, especially for those who trust in Christ.”

“So this book is neither about how to live faithfully as a practicing homosexual person nor about how to live faithfully as a fully healed or former homosexual man or woman.”

He has concluded that it is healthier to live as one whose struggles are known to close friends than to live in the dark. He admits that he is young (late twenties at the time of writing it). He is in need of growth, knowledge and wisdom. He is writing as a homosexual Christian to homosexual Christians about being a homosexual Christian.

And here we come to one of the shibboleths! Some disagree with the use of that term. Rosaria Butterfield, for instances, argues against using it in her book on the basis of the fact that our identity is in Christ. Our identity shouldn’t be in our sin. Others have put for “sexual sufferers” as a suitable option in light of that. This too, however, focuses on our sin or at least the thorn in our side.

A novel idea might be to ask people what they mean by the phrase before we jump to conclusions and indicate we are not a safe person to talk to. Hill offers what he means by this phrase. In the introduction he mentions that “gay” or “homosexual” is an adjective because the main idea is the noun, Christian. That is his identity. Homosexuality is part of his life. A stubborn, painful part of his life.

In his prelude he focuses on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6.

“Washed and waiting. That is my life- my identity as one who is forgiven and spiritually cleansed and my struggle as one who perseveres with a frustrating thorn in the flesh, looking forward to what God has promised to do.”

He’s a Christian with a struggle. We all have a struggle. His makes him feel like “damaged goods”, something he mentions periodically in this book. I want to take this seriously as a pastor. To continually remind someone who feels like damaged goods that they need to repent for this disordered desires is like rubbing salt in the wound. They already feel damaged, broken, like a misfit. Some seem to want to exacerbate this loneliness and isolation even more. They know they are messed up- they need to know they are loved by a holy God.

It is hard to think that all your life will be an attempt to struggle well, not to actually succeed. Most homosexuals don’t experience a change of sexual attraction. This is due to the remnant of sin. Hill paints a picture of this struggle as he tells his story throughout the book. Many of us conservative Christians would be wise to listen. Not to excuse, but to exercise empathy. Too often we act like we’ll catch a disease.

Image result for island of misfit toysAt times it would be easy to dismiss him. Some of us have also felt profound loneliness for extended periods of time. Some of us have felt like misfits for most of our lives. We identify with the Island of Misfit Toys. He’s not saying only homosexuals experience this profound loneliness. Only that they do in fact experience it.

In A Story-Shaped Life he explains why he resists his same sex desires. He accepts the Story, not just some texts. I mean the story of creation, fall, redemption and consummation. Those texts reflect the creation. We were not designed for same sex relationships. They are part of the fall brought about by sin. We all have disordered desires, and disordered sexual desires. Sin is living out of accord with how God made us to live. The Story includes redemption too. He’s a forgiven sinner, not a condemned sinner. He was washed, justified as Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 6. It is not our sin that defines us, but Christ in our justification.

“I abstain from homosexual behavior because of the power of that scriptural story.”

And so should we abstain from our deviant sexual desires. This story is a balm for our often raw soul.

“The gospel resists the fallen inclinations of Christian believers.”

While not explicitly calling his same sex desires sin, he frequently uses similar phrases. He doesn’t delight in them, or ask others to delight in them. He groans because it is difficult to be faithful in the face of such desires. But this is his goal, and the purpose of the community. These desires are an unwanted burden.

He explores Lewis’ comments on temptation from Mere Christianity.

“Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. … A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know that it would have been like an hour later.” C.S. Lewis

Before his extended reflection on loneliness, he has an intermission focused on Henri Nouwen. He kept his homosexuality a secret shared only with a few of his closest friends. He lived faithfully to the biblical sexual ethic. He was wracked with self-doubt, despair, loneliness and insecurity. In desperate need of intimate relationships, he seemed to also keep them at arms length fearing they would turn into something they shouldn’t. Here is one of the push-pulls of homosexuality: the need for healthy same sex relationships but the fear of sinful attraction. Like Nouwen, Hill longs to feel at home in the Father’s embrace.

In The End of Loneliness Hill focuses on the need for community. This is the very thing most people with sexual disorders fear. They don’t want to be exposed, revealed. In the gay community there is no need to keep your attractions and desires secret. This is part of the big attraction- feeling like you fit in. The Christian community feels threatening to homosexuals, and I fear we don’t help ease this fear. It is often a place of hardship, particularly since you likely can’t find someone to share the rest of your life with. It’s not just that you haven’t found a spouse, but that your desires run in the wrong direction.

The longing for love is human. But in this case it is disordered, bent and twisted. One can begin to curse the longing that reflects our humanity.

“They are trading what seems to be the only satisfying relationships they have or could have for ones that will prove to be at once more painful (because of all the myriad effects of sin) and most life giving.”

In Thou Art Lightning and Love Hill introduces us to Gerard Manley Hopkins. This section included a rather uncomfortable quote from Frederick Buechner about Hopkins. A quote about “a beautiful boy in the choir” and “some street child” when moves closer to pedophilia. Yet Hopkins struggled to remain faithful despite his isolation and despair. Hopkins eventually saw this struggle as part of God’s loving purposes.

There is also a quote from Dallas Willard which distinguishes between temptation and sin: “But temptation also is not wrong, though it should not be willfully entered.” This seems out of place with the rest of his comments on same sex desire, so I’m a bit confused. It is temptation to sin, and must be rejected. We are tempted by our inordinate desire, or desire for something inherently sinful. Jesus was also tempted, though not by inordinate desire. He was tempted by others to commit sin. This the splitting of a theological hair: is it sinful to have a sinful desire? Or is the sin in letting the desire bear fruit? This is not a topic Hill takes up, which is unfortunate.

At the end he refers to Martin Hallett, a celibate homosexual Christian. Hallett speaks of his sexual orientation as a “gift”. Not that homosexual is a gift in itself, but that the struggle was a gift “because, under God’s sovereignty, it can lead to blessings.” In other words, God works good out of it that He couldn’t work in any other way. As John Newton noted, there is nothing given that is not needful and nothing needful that is withheld. God uses this struggle to humble, and to reveal the greatness of His grace and redemption.

67 Before I was afflicted I went astray,
    but now I keep your word.

75 I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous,
    and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. Ps. 119

Because this is a book, and a short one, of reflections it is not a book of theological exposition. Some may criticize it for that. There are other books for that. This is a book explaining why & how Wesley Hill struggles with his desire rather than following his desire. It is a window into the struggle for those of us who are heterosexual. You could treat this as the conversation you need to have but don’t have a friend with whom you feel comfortable having it.

CavWife and I both have had friends who punted on the faith to live in homosexual relationships. We have friends who left families too, to satisfy the sexual desire they told practically no one about. Some of us may have suspected, but there were no conversations about the struggle until they gave it up. I wish they’d shared this with friends. Maybe it would have turned out differently. But maybe it isn’t too late, God may grant repentance.

 

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