Friday, February 25, 2011

Random Thoughts on God's Independence, PhD's, and TV

I have realized several things about me in the past few weeks.

1) I find the whole question about God's foreknowledge and predestination exhausting and frustrating. I am deeply unsatisfied by the Reformed explanation of God's sovereignty and human freedom. However, I am equally disturbed by Molinism's attempt to explain it.

    Basically, my problem with Molinism is that it hinges upon this strange concept of our freedom where God looks ahead into the future, sees our free actions, and then can choose which world to actualize based upon that foreknowledge. The problem, however, is that that makes God's knowledge of something dependent upon humanity. Since we insist on a God who is self-existent in every way and independent, I feel very uncomfortable with forfeiting this concept.

2) PhD work becomes less desirable every day. Maybe it's just my apathy, but I find it incredibly painful to even write a 500 word essay for seminary. I used to enjoy writing papers but I can't stand it now. I am still an avid reader and student--I just hate doing it for class. I think my current struggle rests in this: If I am going to study alot, I want to be able to get a degree out of it--but I don't want to write the papers for the degree. I just want to read. Since no program exists like that, I am just going to finish my M.A and rest. Maybe I will get my desire to write later. I guess, if anything, I will go get an M.Div later...maybe. Schoolwork just feels agonizing.

The other thing that feels agonizing is the fact that there are so many things I want to read about apart from theology but I simply cannot right now. I have been dying to read some books about the wild west but simply do not have time to do it. I also feel this strange guilt when I read anything that is not theology related--like I am wasting my time. I know that is absolutely absurd. I think what is needed is this reprogramming of myself.

3) I love TV. I lived without it for the past two months but I finally broke down and got internet so I can stream NETFLIX through my TV. So I have been basking in an overflow of movies, documentaries, and tv shows.! I also feel like it makes my house feel like a home. TV gives me a place to come back to a relax.

This leads to a strange revelation I have been given--TV is not evil in itself. John Piper, in his book Don't Waste Your Life, says alot of stuff about how we waste our lives in front of TVs. I think I remember reading somewhere where he does not own a TV. I guess during his nights he devotes himself to reading or something. Like I said, I tried that for two months and got royally stressed out (not to mention my eyes hurt). I also felt somewhat disconnected from the people in my church. They looked at me as a relic (and nutcase) and I felt out of touch with what was happening.

Since I started watching movies, I have noticed my own thinking about how the Gospel applies to life has changed (for good). I have been able to see more clearly needs in youth ministry and my own understanding of how to connect the Gospel to others has been clarified. This has happened in the span of--oh--three days.

Long story short: I think that if you are a pastor, you need TV. You need to know what is on TV. You need to watch movies. You need to watch documentaries. You need to relax. You need to know what the culture is saying.

As for me, I am going to go catch up on TV and lament I still have 9 months of schooling left.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Book Review of "Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Carry"

We live in a sin-stained, idol-filled, addiction-prone world and humanities’ greatest need is for redemption. However, for many Christians, bridging the gap that often exists between the Bible and the trial is incredibly difficult. Even those who are well-trained in hermeneutics struggle from time to time to apply God’s Word in a relevant way that speaks powerfully to the human condition.

            With this in mind, Mike Wilkerson, counseling pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, has written a brilliant book entitled Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Carry. Drawing upon the Exodus event and real-life stories of addictions, hurt and idolatry, Wilkerson paints a vivid picture on how Jesus leads us to freedom. Some of the stories Wilkerson tells are absolutely gut-wrenching and will make even the most jaded reader wince. Yet that makes the picture of the redemption we have in Christ all the more beautiful.

            After an introduction that orients the reader to the reason why sin exists, the first chapter, entitled “When You Suffer, God is Near” outlines how just as Israel suffered under the brutality of the Egyptians, we too suffer. Yet it is in our darkest hour of suffering that we can see the evidences of God most clearly.

            The second chapter, entitled “Bricks Without Straw: How Long Oh Lord” encourages believers and those who are hurting most to cry out honestly to God in the midst of our hurt. We may not always receive an answer for why we suffer, yet the Christian can place his or her faith in a God who is always faithful.

            Chapter three, entitled “The Passover: At Your Worst, God Gives His Best” Wilkerson shows how the Passover becomes a picture of the cross and a model for God’s dealings with us. This chapter centers on our need for forgiveness.

            Chapter four, entitled “Crossing the Red Sea: Into a New Life Free from Shame” is really, in many ways, the hallmark chapter of the book. Here, Wilkerson describes how the actual event of the Exodus serves as a paradigm for our own freedom. We are remade because our Creator was unmade. Due to this process of recreation, we are not defined by our past struggles but by our new identity with Christ.

            Chapter five, entitled “Demanding Manna: The Subtle Significance of Everyday Desires” was, for me, arguably the most convicting chapter because it deals with an issue that virtually every person struggles with: good desires turning into idols. Here, Wilkerson discusses how even the most basic, natural desires can and often do become idols when they take the place of God. This is a brilliant chapter and full of insight that every pastor needs.

            Chapter six, entitled “The Golden Calf: Volunteering for Slavery” is an outstanding chapter on idolatry. While much of this can be read in Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods, Wilkerson nevertheless brings his own unique spin to the discussion. Ultimately, however, this chapter feels too borrowed from Driscoll’s own Death by Love and Counterfeit Gods by Keller. That said, it is nice to see both Driscoll’s and Keller’s works synthesized into a coherent system.

            Chapter seven, entitled “The Covenant-Keeping God: Our Only Hope for Lasting Change” warns the reader that change and freedom is not possible by a simple act of the will. Our redemption is ultimately found in resting in the God who is faithful to His covenant. In many ways, freedom rests not in “doing” but in “being”. This chapter provides several needed warnings against such things as “idol-hunting” and “morbid introspection”. It is a brilliant chapter and will provide much food for thought.

            Chapter 8 is entitled “Is God Your Promised Land” and asks the reader to consider that question very closely. Freedom from sin is not just for the sake of freedom—it is freedom to know God better. If God is not our “Promised Land” we are elevating freedom from a particular sin to the level of an idol. This too is an excellent chapter and is a tremendous reminder for many who find themselves in counseling situations.

            Finally, the epilogue and appendix provide short exhortations as well as a helpful summary and synthesis of the book. My only regret here is that another chapter was not devoted to Wilkerson for the very heavy topic of religious addiction, which he covers in a mere page and a half in the appendix. Overall, however, the epilogue and the appendix serve their purpose well.

            In conclusion, Wilkerson’s book is a tremendous book that covers the some much needed ground in truly biblical counseling. Redemption is highly readable and practical. I found myself repeatedly needing to place the book down and worship our God who has redeemed us. While the book is short, clocking in at 176 pages, it is a heavy book and is not light reading. In many ways, I wish this book was made mandatory for every believer taking a hermeneutics class because it teaches one how to apply the Bible accurately and practically. It is my prayer that Wilkerson’s book finds its way into the hands of many pastors.

*Thanks to Crossway Publishers for providing me a free review copy of this book*

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Ephesians: Better than Sushi on the Beach at Sunset

This past Sunday morning we started a new series in Sunday School called, "Ephesians: Better than Sushi on the Beach at Sunset." Strange name aside, here are a few reasons I absolutely love the book of Ephesians:

1) It is all about God's plan. In a Christian culture that is all about finding "God's will for MY life" Paul inverts this and says, "It's all about God giving you His will for His life in you." I love that! This is not to absolve our responsibility to seek God. But even, as the next point brings out, our responsibility is centered on being seated in Christ!

2) It's all about Christ. Watchman Nee has written a short little book on Ephesians called Sit. Walk. Stand. Don't let the size of the book fool you--it is full of outstanding truth! One of the best truths is that Christ is seated in Heaven, above all powers and forces (Eph. 1:20-23) and because we are "in Christ" we are seated with Christ too (2:4-6). This has many important ramifications. Nee gives one and I'll give one as well:

a. Nee demonstrates that our position in Christ reminds us that we simply need to rest and sit in WHO Christ is and what he has accomplished for us. We cannot make our sanctification progress by works. We simply have to rest in who God is and know that Christ is working out our sanctification.

b. Another important point, I think, is that because we are seated with Christ positionally over the rulers and authorities (Paul's shorthand for demons and spiritual forces), we are not enslaved to them and are protected from them. This does not mean we are unaware of Satan's schemes or that we cannot be demonically influenced (but not possessed!). Rather, it means that we have a way out! No temptation can seize us with no way of escape. God has seated us positionally in Christ and has secured our victory--there is always hope and always a way out.

I could list more reasons I love the book of Ephesians but I will sum it up by saying this: I love Ephesians because it reminds us that it is ALL about God and ALL about Christ. This world is His world, the church is His church, the life we live is His life in us, and the fight we are engaged in is His fight.

Ephesians: Definitely Better than Sushi on the Beach at Sunset