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Posts Tagged ‘C.S. Lewis’


The 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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No, not the C.S. Lewis novel.

There is a history book called The Last Battle by Stephen Harding. As WW II was ending in the European Theater, there was a battle which saw U.S. and German soldiers fighting together against SS troops to free some French honor prisoners imprisoned in a castle in Austria.

Historically, this is a very interesting event. As one reviewer noted, this would make for an excellent movie.

Much of the book is setting the scene for the battle. The first chapter, A Mountain Stronghold, gives the history of Schloss Itter, a castle at the entrance to Austria’s Brixental valley. It’s location provided strategic advantage and it was a fortified site before a castle was built. As a result, it had a storied and often bloody history. After Nazi Germany took control of Austria, they decided it would be a good location to house “honor prisoners”. They had to transform it from a schloss-hotel and art gallery into a prison. In between it served as a headquarters for the German Alliance for Combating the Dangers of Tobacco. Yes, the Nazis were pioneers in the anti-tobacco movement.

Prisoner-workers were sent to Schloss Itter to transform the building. Although secure, they wanted the prison to also be comfortable for the “honor prisoners”. These were generally political prisoners from other countries who were held for leverage. They were treated to far better conditions than ordinary prisoners. One prisoner-worker who transformed the castle was Zvonimir “Zvonko” Cuckovic. He was a captured resistance fighter of Croatian origin. He would remain at the castle performing maintenance, and would play a key role in the events surround the last battle of the European Theater.

“To put it simply, SS-Captain Sebastian “Wastl” Wimmer was a nasty piece of work.”

He then moves into the background of the warden of this political prison, the brutal SS-Captain Wimmer. He seemed an odd choice for these prisoners, especially considering his background in concentration camps. Here he was to keep them alive, not eliminate populations. He role in all of this was to abandon his post as the war was ending. This opened the door for their rescue. Had he been there, the prisoners would have just been killed.

The next two chapters focus on the honor prisoners themselves. He tells their stories, and many of them are interesting. What is particularly interesting is how many of them hated each other. They seemed unable to put their differences aside “for France.” They acted as if the others, not Germany, was the enemy. I am reminded of American politics today as so many politicians seem more afraid and critical of one another than the “enemies outside the gates.” So, while their stories are interesting, you don’t particularly gain affection for them. There was one exception for me, The Bounding Bask, who stayed in shape from his professional tennis playing days in the hopes of escape. He escaped, and was recaptured, three times. This came in handy when it was time to “escape” and find allied forces to rescue them. Borotra’s knowledge and stamina saved the day for the others.

Harding then describes the unfolding series of events that put the prisoners in peril. As the front lines collapsed in on Germany, the Allied forces were about 15 miles from Schloss Itter. You have Austrian resistance groups in the area. There were even some German soldiers, seeing the writing on the wall and disillusioned, were assisting the resistance groups. But there were SS groups with a dual mission. They were to make Allied advance difficult by blowing up bridges and created blockades. They also executed “defectors” and resistance fighters. The fear, which proved to be valid, was that an SS group would come to execute the honor prisoners housed in Schloss Itter.

Escape would be just a perilous. They knew they needed to be rescued. And so Cuckovic and then Borotra went in search of Allied soldiers (or at least Austrian resistance). The Allied troops joined with Austrian resistance and some German defectors to form the rescue party that made its way to Schloss Itter. The rescue party arrived shortly before a number of SS troops, setting up the final battle.

After the account of the actual battle, Harding briefly tells of the survivors after the war. Sometimes heroes in war struggle in life. That seemed to be the case here.

This is an interesting read. Unfortunately other obligations (work! kids!) meant that I read this over the course of about 6 months. History buffs, particular WW II buffs, will want to read this book. They won’t be disappointed.

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Many years ago, C.S. Lewis was not the only prominent Christian to do a series of radio addresses. J. Gresham Machen gave a series of addresses on the person of Jesus in 1935. These are collected in The Person of Jesus: Radio Addresses on the Deity of the Savior.

When he gave these, he had already resigned from Princeton Seminary to form Westminster Theological Seminary in 1929. Having set up an independent missions board, Machen was battling in the church courts. In 1936 he would be suspended and found the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He would fall ill and pass away on January 1, 1937. As a result, these are among the last public words from Machen whose most important works had already been written.

In the course of the addresses, Machen lays out the objections of liberal theology and secularism to the deity of Christ, and positively puts forth the case for Jesus as the second person of the Trinity. Machen was at the forefront of the struggle against liberalism as evidenced by his books Christianity and Liberalism, and The Virgin Birth of Christ. He lays out all of this in a very simple, understandable manner. In other words, he doesn’t come across as an academic, but one addressing the common man that they may believe. This was his goal, that people would believe that Jesus was God the Son and Savior.

While interacting with liberal views, you’d think such a man might sound bitter, but he doesn’t. He succinctly addresses their presuppositions, and brings us back to Scripture to show that the Jesus of liberalism is a fiction.

There are seven addresses presented here. The first is on the Triune God, explaining briefly the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. He covers a lot of ground in a short time, including God’s communicable and incommunicable attributes. He does recognize mystery in that finite man can’t comprehend the infinite God, but that we can understand what God reveals to us. For him, the OT assumes the Trinity while it is taught in the NT. He gives a few of the places we look to in order to understand where we find this doctrine.

He then moves to the deity of Christ. The problem he addresses is the differing understanding of this phrase. People have different definitions so you may think you are in agreement when in reality you aren’t. His personal and denominational history does arise here as men with a liberal understanding of this phrase entered the ministry and subverted congregations and denominations. We must have a biblical understanding of God to understand what it means that Jesus is God.

He continues with whether or not the Bible teaches the deity of Jesus. In discussing the meaning of Messiah, he brings the audience to Daniel 7 to show that the Son of Man is a representative of the people but not also a supernatural figure. He connects Malachi’s coming of the Lord with the angel’s words to Zachariah about John the Baptizer. He precedes Jesus who is Jehovah coming to His people.

Machen then turns to the Sermon on the Mount to address another way people try to avoid the divinity of Christ to focus on a great teacher. He shows how the sermon both assumes the deity of Jesus, and reveals this authority. Jesus has authority as law giver and judge of humanity. He isn’t just a rabbi. He pronounces blessings on those who obey Him and curses on those who don’t.

In What Jesus Says About Himself, Machen brings us back to Daniel 7 to understand the Son of Man sayings of Jesus. This covers some similar ground as the previous chapter. It focuses on the more explicit sayings.

The last two chapters focus on miracles. The first focuses on miracles in general and the second on the resurrection. Miracles are often a stumbling block for people. If we removed them, like Thomas Jefferson did, “It would be far easier to believe, but then, you see, it would not be worth believing.” We don’t need another teacher; we need a Savior. Machen then spends some time on the subject of David Friedrich Strauss’ book Life of Jesus as an attempt to find the “real” Jesus. Strauss argued against finding rational explanations for accounts of miracles, as liberals had been doing. He asserted they were myths, pure and simple. Now skepticism about the whole Bible emerges. How can you find the real Jesus? How can you find the source to sort this out? We can’t escape a supernatural Jesus. If we follow Bultmann we get to a Jesus we can’t believe in, a phantom of sorts.

The greatest miracle is the resurrection of Jesus. Without this none of the others really matter. While the resurrection is often debated, what is not debated is the effect on the disciples. They changed from people hiding for their lives. to people who spread Christ’s message around the world often as the expense of their lives. It spread peacefully, not at the edge of the sword like some other religions. What changed these men and woman?

The only coherent answer is what the New Testament claims, that Jesus rose from the dead. He also mentions some of the ways the reality of the resurrection is denied, like the “vision theory”: they all had a similar vision of Jesus. Machen notes that this “means that the Christian church is founded upon a pathological experience of certain persons in the first century of our era”. He also brings up the “spiritual resurrection” theory. But Christianity is based on an event, recorded in Scripture with eyewitnesses who could be questioned at the time of its writing.

“What we are trying to establish is not the resurrection of any ordinary man, not the resurrection of a man who is to us a mere x or y, not the resurrection of a man about whom we know nothing, but the resurrection of Jesus. … It is unlikely that any ordinary man should rise; but it is unlikely that this man should not rise; it may be said of this man that it was impossible that he should be holden of death.”

These addresses by Machen are a handy apologetic tool for people wondering who Jesus really is. It is not technical, but for the average person. It does not presuppose much knowledge of the Bible. It is brief, not overly complex, and to the point.

“The direct evidence for the resurrection must be taken together with the total picture of Jesus in the Gospels, and then that must be taken in connection with the evidence for the existence of God and the tremendous of man which is caused by sin.”

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Rejoicing in Christ (entitled Life in Christ in the UK) is the follow-up to Michael Reeves’ excellent Delighting in the Trinity. The titles indicate that Reeves takes the answer to WSC #1 seriously. These books are not meant to simply satisfy your intellectual curiosity but inflame your religious affections.

“Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him.” Robert Murray M’Cheyne

This book is very much like its predecessor. It is brief (just over 100 pages), it has brief sections within chapters that focus on an historical figure or idea, and it has some artwork. This last one may prove a problem to some. Some of this classic artwork includes what many would consider a 2nd commandment violation. I see these as instructional, not doxological, thought the point of book is to feed doxology. It is a tough line that perhaps requires more consideration.

Reeves has chapters focused on Christ’s pre-incarnate work, the Incarnation, the death & resurrection, our union with Christ and the return of Christ. This is done with succinct historical reviews, quotes from theologians of days gone by representing the eastern and western churches, pre- and post-reformational. His work is not caught in a moment of historical theology. He also has a Keller-esque way with words as he unfolds contrasts revealing the sweetness and excellency of Christ to help us rejoice in Jesus.

The OT, according to Jesus, teaches us about Christ and His sufferings. Reeves draws on people like Charnock and Calvin to remind us that we only know God as we know Christ. Even in the beginning we see the Word, God speaking as He works. This Word, John tells us is Christ, a God who reveals Himself through His works. The eternal Word indicates to us a God who communicates, who wants to be known, can be known. He also does some apologetics with regard to myths and stories similar to those we find in Scripture. Often they are used to undermine the uniqueness and authority of Scripture, as though it copies them. He relies on C.S. Lewis to flip this; these myths are corrupted reflections of the true Story, they are derivative. This is similar to Currid’s argument in Against the Gods.

The Father is fully delighted in His Son, and for Reeves this transforms our understanding of the gospel. The Father shares His treasured Son with us.

“If the Father can be infinitely and eternally satisfied in him, then he must be overwhelmingly all-sufficient for us.”

Christ, the One through whom the Father created, is also the One through whom the Father redeems or saves. Reeves spends time examining Original Sin and applies the concept of firstfruits to the subject and that of redemption. Adam was the firstfruit of sin & death. Jesus is the firstfruit of resurrection & righteousness & life. Here was find one of those historical reviews on Irenaeus who saw Jesus as undoing all that Adam had done, restoring creation and humanity from the ravages of sin.

“In a garden, Adam fell down into death; in a garden tomb, Christ rose up from it.”

As Incarnate, Jesus becomes the perfect Man for us. He becomes the perfect image of God to give this status to us. We are called sons of God, whether male or female, because Jesus shares His Sonship with us. Jesus was conceived by the Spirit and fulfilled His ministry in dependence on the Spirit gives us the Spirit so we can walk as He did in newness of life.

“Christ shows what it is to be a human, fully alive in the Spirit. And he is the head of a new, Spirit-filled humanity; all in him share in this anointing of his.”

Christ is our only hope for salvation. His righteousness for us. His death for us. His resurrection for us. We face an Accuser who wants us to look to our unrighteousness, our condemnation etc. True assurance of salvation is found in Christ in whom we believe, not in ourselves. He explores this in terms of our being clothed in Christ’s righteousness as Adam & Eve were clothed in the first sacrificial animal, as Jacob received the blessing clothed in Esau’s clothes, etc. He also moves into the Christ entering the true sanctuary for our salvation as foreshadowed in the High Priest entering the earthly copy.

Our salvation and reception of spiritual blessings is “in Christ”, a result of our union with Christ. Reeves doesn’t focus on the union itself so much as the benefits we receive in the union and its focus on Christ. Salvation is a participation in the life of Christ through our union with Him (Rom. 6; Gal. 2:20 for instance). Because of His life we bear fruit. Our identity is derived from Him, not one we gain for ourselves. We may suffer spiritual amnesia, forgetting our identity in Christ, but God never forgets our identity in Christ.

“Where self-dependent efforts at self-improvement must leave us self-obsessed and therefore fundamentally unloving, the kindness of God in Christ attracts our hearts away from ourselves to him. Only the love of Christ has the power to uncoil a human heart.”

In addressing Christ’s return Reeves contrasts Jesus with the Dragon and the beasts in Revelation. He helps us to focus on the return of Christ, not all the other stuff people focus on in eschatology seminars. Christ’s return completes the restoration of creation. It will be new and improved. Our future includes a physical and earthly existence. Gnostic views of creation are to be rejected.

“Where the Lamb has suffered death for others, the dragon only seeks to inflict death on others. The one gives out life; the other sucks in life. … where the Lamb speaks for God, the beasts speak against God; where the Lamb rises from the dead to give life to others, the beast rises from its mortal wound only to take life. Where the Lamb goes out to conquer evil, the beast goes out to conquer the saints. Here are two utterly opposed approaches to power and judgment.”

With some books you can be glad you are done. Reeves once again leaves me wanting more. I look forward to reading more from Michael Reeves in the future.

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Tim Keller says “This is the best book for laypeople on this subject.” This book is Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God by Rankin Wilbourne. I think he is right.

Union with Christ is one of the more neglected doctrines in the contemporary church. This neglect has been addressed with a few releases in the past few years like the books by J. Todd Billings and Robert Letham. These tend toward the more academic or pastoral in nature. Wilbourne’s book is written for the lay person and is easy to understand, though the topic can still stretch our minds. He provides a number of good illustrations to help us understand this rather nebulous concept. Or perhaps enchanted, for in his introduction he relates this to our disenchanted (materialistic) culture, and to understand union we need our imaginations again.

“Coming to see your union with Christ is like finally putting on a pair of desperately needed glasses- Wow!”

He begins with reality of a gap between what the Bible says and our experience of that reality. We can often feel exhausted by our efforts and discouraged by a lack of “progress”. The gap is real and must be acknowledged. But God’s answer to all this is union with Christ.

“First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value to us. Therefore … he had to become ours and to dwell within us.” John Calvin

Calvin, particularly his Institutes of the Christian Religion, is very present in this volume. United to Christ we have all the blessings of God (Eph. 1). Christ also dwells in us by the Spirit so we are empowered by Him to enjoy these many blessings. While this was understood by many in history (he quotes from Edwards and Goodwin, for instance) such talk is like a foreign language to many/most western Christians.

“If it ‘s true that nothing is more central or basic than union with Christ, and this book aims to show that it is, then it is fair to ask this: Why is union with Christ neither central nor basic to so many of us? Why, rather, is union with Christ, if it is talked about at all, reduced to some vague or optional aspect of Christian living…”

The only way we partake of the gospel promises is …. union with Christ. When we neglect this, the work of Christ for us is separated from the person of Christ in us and the gap between beliefs and experience begins to increasingly widen.

He moves on to what it actually is. One aspect of union is imputation: what happened to Him happened to us; what He earned we receive; and what we earned He paid the price for. Paul frequently uses the term “in Christ” to talk about how we live before God. Christ represents us so His death is our death to guilt & sin (Rom. 6; Gal. 2:20). His resurrection is our newness of life (Rom. 6; Eph. 2; Gal. 2:20). His obedience becomes our obedience. We have even been seated with Him at the Father’s right hand (Eph. 2).

“Faith is how union with Christ becomes operative and powerful in your life. Faith is a God-given gift that allows you to take hold of God’s having taken hold of you. … Your life, your story, becomes enfolded by another story- Another’s story.”

As Paul says in Colossians our life is hidden with Christ in God. United to Christ, Calvin says, we receive the double grace of justification and sanctification. Though distinct they are a package deal given simultaneously. We partake of His redemption because we are united to Christ, covenantally and spiritually. We enjoy our salvation as He works in us to transform us. Our faith is not simply in Christ’s work for us, but also that Christ continues to work in us and through us. He became like us to make us like Him so we look to Him to accomplish these things that are so beyond our doing.

Union with Christ also holds together some of the tensions that tend to tear God’s people apart. For instance, he mentions extravagant grace and radical discipleship. We see them both in Calvin’s double grace, but our tendency is to separate them. Apart from discipleship extravagant grace lapses into Bonhoeffer’s cheap grace. Apart from extravagant grace discipleship degenerates into legalism. This conflict that has periodically emerged in the church is resolved in union with Christ. These two songs, as he terms them, meet in harmony in Christ. They cannot be separated because Christ cannot be separated (Ferguson makes the same argument in The Whole Christ). Wilbourne then explains and applies the “double grace”.

“Because we are relentless in trying to justify our lives, because we will use anything, even our virtue, to keep God at a distance, we can’t hear this song of grace too loudly or too often. … That hit home because that’s exactly what I had been doing- using grace as an excuse not to follow Jesus. … Undiluted grace and uncompromising obedience meet in the person of Jesus. He is always full of both.”

Rankin then spends a chapter showing us where all this is in the Scripture, a chapter on where it pops up in Church History (Augustine, Athanasius, Irenaeus, Bernard of Clairvaux, Luther, Owen and Lewis) and then what happened that we have fallen to this low estate. As mentioned, there is the disenchanted or materialistic worldview, the increase in self-centeredness (due to the eclipse of the gospel), our poor pneumatology, sound-bite culture, and pragmatism.

“Paul is saying union with Christ not only gives you a new identity; it gives you a new mindset, a new grid through which to filter everything that happens to you. For it’s not so much what happens that defines you, as how you interpret what happens to you.”

From there he delves into the problems union with Christ solves. We have a new identity, new destiny, new purpose and new hope. So many of the stories we love focus on people seeking to discover their identity. We think we have to establish our identity so we are insecure and exhausted. Many famous musicians (interviews with Madonna and John Mayer come to mind) feel the need to re-establish themselves, prove themselves. In Christ, we receive an identity we neither win or can lose. We don’t have to prove ourselves. This identity also shapes how we live, providing appropriate boundaries for us. We have a new destination too- not simply to decompose in the ground or simply cease to exist. Our destiny is to be what Adam and Eve once were, the image of God. Jesus, in His humanity, the perfect image of God restores God’s distorted image of us. We don’t lose our sense of self (just as in a healthy marriage we are one flesh but don’t lose your sense of self). You become more fully you with the unique gifts and experiences but without the sin and weakness.

“The purpose of the gospel [is] to make us sooner or later like God; indeed it is, so to speak, a kind of deification.” John Calvin

“Because love was central in the life of Christ, love is at the heart of the image of God. Your win is learning how to love. And your greatest losses are your failures to love.”

We are here for holiness, which for many of us, as he notes, is like broccoli. Good for us but …. (personally I like broccoli). Holiness is good, beautiful and attractive. It is something we only pursue properly in union with Christ (see Walter Marshall’s The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification).  We are positionally holy due to our union with Christ, and dwelling in us He works to make us personally holy. These two tensions are brought together in harmony in Christ. The more holy we become the more we enjoy communion with God, in part because we now find His holiness more attractive and a greater source of joy.

“God wants us to grow in holiness, not as some sort of test or punishment, not even just as preparation for the future, but because he wants us to enjoy life with him more. The more we grow in holiness, the more we can enjoy his presence. He wants us not simply to press on but to soar. He wants holiness for us, for our joy.”

Our hope is life in the presence of God where Jesus currently is. This is unattainable for us apart from our union with Christ. He is there now, seated and interceding for us (Heb. 7:25). This means that our continuing sin does not separate us from God. We don’t have to look to our circumstances to gauge if God is pleased with us, we look to Jesus and know He is. Union with Christ holds the facts that God with for us and with us together.

“John Calvin said, ‘Let us therefore labor more to feel Christ living in us.’ John Owen added, ‘Labor, therefore, to fill your hearts with the cross of Christ.’ And Jonathan Edwards exhorted, ‘We should labor to be continually growing in divine love.'”

Wilbourne then moves into our daily life as people united to Christ. He begins with abiding. He brings up the illustration of sailing. Sailing depends on the wind, but you still need skills to get where you want to go in the power of the wind. This is communion with Christ, the subjective or experiential aspect of our union with Christ. We cannot be more or less united to Christ. But our sense of communion with Christ grows or diminishes. Faith always precedes our sense of communion for faith lays ahold of Christ. He warns us of our tendency to drift (pride, complacency etc.). If we are not manning the sail and the tiller we will not go where we long to go. He moves into the means of abiding, or the means of grace. Our sense of communion is tied to prayer, meditation on Scripture, and worship including the sacraments (signs of our union). This does not mean all will be exciting. There will be doldrums, just like in sailing. There will be times when all seems stagnant, and no progress is made.

“Jesus lived a perfect life and terrible things still happened to him. Jesus was the only one who ever trusted and obeyed God perfectly, yet he nevertheless was made to walk the way of suffering unto death…”

We are united to the Christ who suffered. As a result we should expect to suffer (Rom. 8; Phil. 1 & 3; 1 Peter 2-4). Because He suffered, He is able to comfort us in our suffering. He also provided an example for us in suffering, to continue to do good and entrust ourselves to our Creator. Will our suffering drive us from God, or deeper into God?

He then moves into the fact that each of us is united not only to Christ individually but also to one another. In Christ we are the people of God. Here, in a footnote, he surmises, that the tension revealed by the New Perspective of Paul finds reconciliation. In Christ we are justified by the imputation of His righteousness AND we are part of the community of God; soteriology and ecclesiology are united in Christ. Another tension that tends to tear the church apart is also reconciled in Christ: we declare and demonstrate the love of God to the nations. Many conservatives so fear the social gospel that they deny the social aspects of the gospel (and throw accusations at any who do). This is because Jesus not just declared God’s love but demonstrated it (see 1 John 3-4) and calls us to do the same (see also 1 Peter 2).

I found this to be a very encouraging book. He had a number of helpful ways to explain our union and its implications. I heartily recommend it to pastors, elders and ordinary people who want to grow in grace. He makes a difficult subject understandable, interesting and practical.

 

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Last night I spent the two and a half hours watching The Revenant. It was a bit plodding, and at times it was clearly brutal, and confusing. It was also oddly theological.

It begins with an attack on a trapping party in a northern wilderness in the 1820’s. You aren’t sure why they are being attacked, but as the story unfolds, it seems to be connected with a missing young Souix woman. Or that could be a different tribe of Native Americans that comes along. Hence my on-going confusion. Little did I realize that this search for Powaqa was so central to the story line as Glass keeps coming close to being killed by this driven group of men.

Glass was a tracker and woodsman with a Native American son. He was the guide for the (illegal?) trapping party which seeks to make its way back to their fort after the attack.  It is along the way that Glass encounters an angry momma bear who mauls him horribly.

This is the other key event of the movie. Captain Henry, who values Glass, returns to the fort while leaving the nearly dead Glass in the care of 3 other party members, including Glass’s teenage son. Fitzgerald is a man who fears death, and the Native Americans who he believes are on their trail. Unable to move under his own power, Glass is slowing them down. He wants to abandon Glass and digs a grave. Glass’s son refuses to leave his father. Glass is able to watch but unable to stop as Fitzgerald kills his son, buries Glass alive and leaves. He deceives the other young man who didn’t witness all of this.

Glass pulls himself out of the grave, driven by his thirst for vengeance. Ans so he crawls toward the fort using only his arms through the frozen wilderness. Eventually he is able to walk and continues his trek despite only having a canteen and the bear skin. He faces the threats of cold, animals and the party searching for Pawaqa.

Amazingly he avoids death and comes across a young Pawnee man eating raw buffalo meat. He receives mercy from this man whose tribe was killed by the Souix. He is moving south to find more Pawnee. The subject of revenge comes up, as you imagine it might from a man who is only alive to gain revenge. “Revenge is the Creator’s.” I’m not sure from whence his notion came, but it is an echo of Romans 12.

19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

The two men travel together as the Pawnee cares for the still healing Glass. That is until he stumbles upon a French group who kill him while Glass sleeps during a storm. Glass discovers these Frenchmen have a young Native American woman. He decides to assist her while she is being raped (yet again). While they are distracted by Glass who takes the Pawnee’s horse to escape, Pawaqa is able to escape. In the distance Glass hears the battle as the Souix gain their vengeance on the Frenchmen who abducted Pawaqa. Glass, however, had left his distinctive canteen behind.

The lone remaining Frenchman has this canteen when he stumbles into the fort. This prompts Captain Henry to gather a search party to find his friend. While he is gone, Fitzgerald steals the Captain’s money and literally heads to the hills. After discovering this, Henry and Glass pursue Fitzgerald into the mountains.

It is as Glass is on the brink of gaining his revenge that two things happen. First, he sees the Souix hunting party. Second, he remembered that “Revenge is God’s.” He pushes Fitzgerald into the water and the current takes him to the Souix who kill him.  As the Souix ride by Glass, you see Pawaqa which explains why Glass is the only white man they don’t kill.

What it was over I thought “God must be a group of angry Souix”.

As I thought more, I was reminded that God often used “the nations” to bring judgment on His people. He used the Assyrians to judge the northern kingdom. It was equally ungodly Babylon who was used to judge Judah.

In Romans 13 (don’t forget, the chapter divisions are note original) we see that the State bears the power of the sword to bring His vengeance upon the wicked.

In The Revenant we see this Souix hunting or war party as the instrument of vengeance upon a variety of wrong-doers. While uncertain about the original battle, clearly the Frenchmen (murders, woman-stealers and rapists) and Fitzgerald (murder, betrayal and deceit).

24 The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 1 Timothy 5

Sometimes what seems like chance or coincidence is God working to bring the truth to light, to bring people to judgment. C.S. Lewis notes that “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” Perhaps The Revenant is more than vaguely theological, but theologically driven. For eyes that see it is, as God works through this series of coincidences to bring a number of wicked men to judgment. This judgment was not “traditional”, but in disputed territory it can come in unexpected ways. And when the legal authority is part of the problem it may come in unexpected ways.

In the words of Steve Brown, “you think about that.”

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Jared Wilson’s new book is a bit of a departure for him. He has written mostly for the church and its relationship to the gospel. With Unparalleled he seeks to talk to the world about the gospel. The subtitle is How Christianity’s Uniqueness Makes It Compelling. That is Wilson’s goal in this book, to reveal this compelling uniqueness.

This is not an evidentialist kind of book like Evidence that Demands a Verdict. It is more in the tradition of Mere Christianity and The Reason for God. Wilson covers the territory in different ways but it winsome rather than confrontational. He adds some humor. He removes some of the philosophical sophistication of Lewis and Keller’s books. But he is speaking to a similar skeptical world to the ones they did.

He begins with how the God of Christianity is different and cycles through the following: the Trinity, Human Dignity as the Image of God, Human Depravity as Fallen in Adam, Jesus is God, His Substitutionary, His Resurrection, Salvation, Mission and Eschatology. So he treats the major doctrines of Christianity, in a good logical order, He does this with an eye toward showing not simply the reasonableness of Christianity but how it is profoundly different (and better) than any other faith tradition.

This is really the important thing- that profound difference in what we teach about God, man and salvation. As he does this, he often brings us into conversations with cab drivers like Omar and (the midnight) Tokar. There are dying church members, high school friendships and a boss. The questions and comments of skeptics and atheists often move the discussion forward.

“The deepest, most profound evil I will ever face is that which is found in me.”

This is a book I would commend. It isn’t perfect, obviously. Perhaps because I was studying the Trinity shortly before reading the chapter I found it took abit too long to get to the crux (as least for Augustine and Michael Reeves); God is love. This is what makes the God of Christianity profoundly different from the god of Islam or any other faith. He gets there near the end of the chapter, but dabbles in some unsatisfying material first. The incomprehensible nature of the Trinity isn’t really what matters, though it is true. That people want a God of love is important. Not just loving, but love as central to His essence and character.

“Think about it: A solitary god cannot be love. He may learn to love. He may yearn for love. But he cannot in himself be love, because love requires an object.”

The Christian understanding of mission is very different. It is not a self-salvation project. It is a response to grace received. It is also about offering grace instead of demanding change. Christianity thrives as a minority faith, and one that serves the ones deemed unworthy by society. While he notes the great things Christians do he also notes we don’t have cameras following us to show the world. This is why the new atheists can get traction with the claims of religion causing so much harm. They ignore the damage done by atheistic regimes, but more importantly the many hospitals, schools, poverty agencies etc. founded by Christians.

His chapter on eschatology isn’t what many might think. Like many, he heard about “heaven”. I’m guess he also heard about the rapture and great tribulation. But the focus here is not on these, but on the new heavens and earth. There is a physical, as well as spiritual, hope for Christians. While the world seems to be running down, these groans are birth pains for the renewed or restored creation in which all God’s people will spend eternity. We don’t have a faith that hates this world, but one that hates sin and misery while longing for the removal of the curse from creation.

“All of our attempts at orchestrating community cannot keep our self-interest at bay. The vast injustice of the world- in everything from slavery to racism- is the result of our failure at community. Sin messes up our souls; sin messes up our societies.”

As you read you do find a comprehensive world and life view that makes sense, and better sense of the world than any other. The tension between the dignity and depravity of man helps us understand why we see glory and why we experience evil. The gospel of grace is fundamentally different than the salvation offered by other faiths. Grace and glorification leave the others in the dust. It is a faith for real people, real sinners, as I listen to Johnny Cash’s American VI which was largely about his hope in Christ.

This book if for the real people in your life. The ones who would find C.S. Lewis dry or Tim Keller a little intellectual. It is for the skeptics in your life. The power to change their hearts and minds lies not in Wilson’s words. Like Tokar they may just shrug. But God may use it to see and delight in Christ for their salvation as a result.

[I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.]

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