Monday, October 31, 2011

Genocide in the Bible: How Should We Respond? (Part I)

I will be perfectly honest: I have never really had a problem with the accounts of the book of Judges. Some people find them morally horrific--what kind of God would authorize the Israelites to show no mercy (Deut. 7:2)? This just hasn't bugged me since I figure God knows what he is doing. But it bugs some people and in our increasingly secular world, more and more people are looking at the Bible to find faults with it. This seems to be a particularly popular thing to point out to show how God is a "moral monster." In the next few posts I would like to outline some reasons why I don't think Christians should have any problem with these passages whatsoever.

Reason #1: The Bible is About Worship and Warfare
It seems that everyone and their grandma is writing a narrative theology and is attempting to locate the "center" or the dominant theme of the Bible. There are so many good books on this topic and I think that all of them contribute to Biblical theology in different ways. I am not totally convinced that there is a dominant theme but, if I had to attempt to write a narrative theology, I would say that the dominant theme is this:

The Triune God of the Bible, because of he alone is King, deserves all glory, honor and worship and is willing to go to war to receive that worship.

A few things to say about this theme:
1) Right off the bat it offends us that the Triune God of the Bible would be willing to go to war for worship. Isn't that egotistical? Isn't that vicious? I think John Piper, in his numerous works, has defended the idea that God's concern for his own glory is actually to our benefit. So I don't want to rehash that here.

But I will say that God's concern for his worship is necessary. Since God is wise, perfect, good, righteous and loving, those same attributes are marks of God's kingdom as well. Any aberration against this kingdom is a sign of rebellion and is also a declaration of war. More importantly, it is a declaration of rejection and attack on the other members of the kingdom. As a result, it must be punished, not only to maintain order but also to uphold the values of the kingdom. Thus it is perfectly right for God to go to war for his worship. Jonathan Edwards, I think, would agree as well because the inner-workings of the Trinity also emphasize overflowing love that results in worship. To refuse to worship the Trinity is tantamount to rejecting life, love, freedom, joy, hope, and beauty. Again, anyone who rejects these things should rightly be punished.

2) God goes to war in different ways. If I were to write a book I would mention all of the ways God does, in fact go to war. He does not always go to war in violent ways. Often he goes to war by allowing other nations to wage war against another nation to bring judgment. Perhaps the most impressive act of warfare was when Jesus came to earth, healing those who were demonically oppressed and sick. This was nothing short of an invasion and attack on Satan. Further, when Jesus died, he opened the ability to be transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Jesus (Col. 1:13-14). Again, this is warfare, but a type of warfare that highlights God's grace and mercy.

3) While I hate to mention this at times because it attacks our modern feelings of comfort and inoffensiveness (but the Bible focuses so much on it I have to as well): you have to worship the king. It is built into the title and it is built into the very fact that God is supreme. God deserves it. We gotta get over it. To reject him is rebellion. Paul uses the title of Lord A LOT (just do a word study on it on and most of the time, I have noticed that it is at critical points of the argument. Christ is Lord; You are not Lord. God holds human kings responsible for worshiping him as well. Yes, he delegates authority to them, but it is never in doubt who the real king is.

4) The entire climax of the Bible is centered on worship. Just read Revelation. Worship is what the future is centered on. There is a restoration of all things, healing and seeing God which leads to worship. Revelation 4 and 5, in my opinion, set the stage for the whole book. We will see people fight for worship and demand worship who are not worthy of worship. Only the "One Seated on the Throne" and "The Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David" the conquering "Lamb who was slain" is worthy of worship. Thus all of human history is moving toward worship. In fact, if I had time (and was writing a book), I would point out how worship and warfare permeate Genesis 1-3 as well, thus providing a clue and sort of inclusio to the entire Bible.

Anyway, tomorrow (or when I get more time), I will post the rest of the reasons why Christians should not be offended by the Genocide in the Bible.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus Book Review

Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus: Luke’s Account of God’s Unfolding Plan is the 27th book of the “New Studies in Biblical Theology Series” and in my opinion is one of the best.  Author Alan J. Thompson doesn’t get bogged down in ridiculous debates about tongues or methods of baptism. Rather, he steers a clear line to focus in on the heart of Acts—that it is a continuation of Luke’s Gospel and is a proclamation of the acts of the risen Lord Jesus.
Because of the nature of Thompson’s approach (and the approach of the entire series), he focuses a good bit on redemptive history. Thompson also argues for an already-not-yet interpretation of the book of Acts. While I doubt many classical dispensationalist will be thrilled with Thompson’s book, I think his argument for an already-not-yet hermeneutic applied to Acts is convincing.
Thompson’s book is divided into six main chapters (excluding the introduction and the conclusion) and each chapter provides an in-depth look at how Acts main theme (Jesus’s continuing acts) plays out. In chapter one, Thompson argues for an already-not- yet approach to the kingdom. In chapter two (my personal favorite), he argues that Acts takes place in the “last days” (which we are living in now) which was inaugurated at Christ’s resurrection. This brilliant chapter captures the heart of apostolic preaching and is particularly timely in light of Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel.

In chapter three, the author argues that God’s promises for Israel were already being fulfilled in Acts. Israel is being regathered together. In other words, God’s future saving purposes for Israel were already instituted at Christ’s death and resurrection. Here, while I appreciate Thompson’s clear pose, I have disagree with his overall argument. There was nothing in his exegesis that convinced me that Israel’s future promises have already begun to be fulfilled.  In this case, I cannot help but feel that Thompson places too much emphasis on the already nature of the kingdom, thereby over-spiritualizing the nature of the kingdom.

In chapter four, the author again focuses on how the Holy Spirit relates to the acts of Jesus. Here, I found Thompson’s argument, that the Spirit acts as a sign for the inaugurated new age and as one who shows that Jesus’s works will still be carried out, both brilliant and exciting. Again, this chapter was amongst my favorite.

Chapter five, however, was a bit disappointing. Thompson spends a good bit of time arguing that in Acts, there exists an indictment against the temple and its leaders. He argues that Jesus is now the temple and there was a certain shift away from the physical temple.  Here is my complaint: it is one thing to say Jesus is the new temple and so our worship is toward him. In other words, it doesn’t really matter now where we worship. I think that much is clear. However, it is another thing to say that there was an underlying hostility toward the temple. Did the leaders fail? Yes and they are rightly called to the floor for it as Thompson shows. But it is difficult for me to see how the temple is somehow pushed to the side as irrelevant when Paul himself still submits to some of the rituals (such as circumcision) and will even worship within the temple itself (Acts 21:27ff.). Thompson argues that the first few chapters center on the temple and show a movement beyond it. However, could it not also show that the temple was now just another location where people could meet to worship? By slightly shifting the question we remove any necessary argument that the temple is somehow condemned. In other words, I don’t think Thompson’s argument is a necessary reading of the text and seems more driven by his presuppositions. Nevertheless, it is a well written chapter and is very clear.

The final chapter, chapter six, deals with the issue of the law. Thompson argues that the law is no longer the direct authority but rather, it is submission to God and to his delegates, the apostles. This chapter is brilliant, if for no other reason than Thompson takes an incredibly difficult subject and brings and argues persuasively that the law is not so much replaced but that its focus is now on Christ. This was a great way to round out an incredibly well written book.

Perhaps the best thing I can say about the book was its lack of unnecessary technical discussions. I can’t always say that about the NSBT series but Thompson writes with clarity and ease. He makes difficult arguments easy to understand. As a testimony to this, one of my 10th grade students picked up the book and started reading a chapter about the inaugurated new age. Apart from a few technical theological words, she said she really understood what was being said. More impressive (and again a testimony to Thompson’s ability to write), she was excited about what Acts was saying and wanted me to explain more to her!
So in conclusion, I cannot recommend Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus enough. It was both engaging and extremely helpful. Thompson has some great charts in the book and there is an absolute waterfall of preaching material and excellent quotes in this book. As a youth pastor, it sparked my passion to see God’s full story proclaimed. Combined with The King Jesus Gospel, I think the book of Acts is getting the attention it finally deserves in formulating what the Gospel really is. Make sure to buy this book!

Thanks to IVP Academic for the free review copy of this book.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"Dictionary of Christian Spirituality" is a Winner

Maybe it’s just me (though I seriously doubt it), but when I hear the word “spirituality” I get a weird picture of men with long beards, wearing robes, and writing strange, esoteric thoughts on God. In other words, when I hear the word spirituality, I don’t think practical, useful or full of truth. Maybe it’s because I’ve had bad experiences in the past with books on spirituality (where they felt completely disconnected from reality), but I am a skeptic when it comes to talking about spirituality. 

                So when Dictionary of Christian Spirituality was released, as you might imagine, I was a bit hesitant to embrace it. Even as I flipped through the pages and encountered names I was completely unfamiliar with (such as Jacob Boehme), I thought “Is this really worth my time?” 

                The answer: Yes! Yes! A million times over, yes! In fact, the Dictionary of Christian Spirituality might be the most valuable resource I have come across in years.

First, let me start off by saying that reviewing a dictionary is no easy task. Not every article is written with the same precision and skill as another. That said, based upon the many, many selections I have read, I can wholeheartedly recommend this resource.

                Second, it is important to note that the dictionary itself is divided into two segments. Part I consists of various articles that integrate, from a multidisciplinary perspective, spirituality into life. These essays are extremely helpful and really prepare the reader for the second part of the dictionary: the dictionary entries themselves.  I would suggest that Part I by itself would make the book a worthwhile read. I mean, you really have some outstanding essays in this book. My personal favorite? John H. Coe’s fantastic introduction to approaches to the study of Christian spirituality. Other excellent essays include a history of Christian spirituality from the early church onward. Further, the reader will come across several fantastic essays on experience, mysticism and spirituality’s relationship to creation. The scope of part I is simply breathtaking.

As far as the dictionary entries themselves, they are absolutely fantastic. As a youth pastor, I do not have a lot of time to dive into super in-depth articles. I need the articles to get to the point, provide a lot of information in a concise manner and then sum it up. The articles here do exactly that. Not only so, but I found myself finding at least one or two helpful quotes per article. In other words, this book is a preachers dream! There is enough thought provoking sermon material here to last for years.

                Perhaps, more than anything, this valuable resource will challenge you to go deeper in your own walk with Christ. I know I found myself in a more reflective, constant state of prayer as I was reading this. It also sparked in me a desire to simply slow down and savor Jesus Christ more. Any resource that forces you to do that is a winner.

Simply put, do yourself a favor and drop the money to get this resource. You will not regret it.

"The Deity of Christ" Book Review

The Deity of Christ is the third title in the Theology in Community series published by Crossway. This series is known for putting together a sort of who’s who list of biblical scholars who write concerning a particular topic (suffering and evil and the glory of God). This time a group of excellent scholars tackle the deity of Christ and the results, as expected, are fantastic.

The five chapters alone are devoted to exploring the deity of Christ in the Bible. While I wish the chapter on the Old Testament witness was just a tad longer, overall I felt that the Biblical material was covered exceedingly well.  One chapter is devoted to the development of the doctrine of the deity of Christ as well which I was happy to see. Again, I wish that chapter would have been a tad longer but Dr. Gerald Bray packs so much into it, I didn’t feel too shortchanged.
The strengths of this book are clearly the thoroughness in which it explores its topic. In fact, while the deity of Christ is such a vast topic, I would dare say they nearly exhaust the Biblical evidence for the deity of Christ. While they perhaps do not go into detail that say Fee in his massive Pauline Christology does, they nevertheless cover the topic so well that I am convinced little more is to be said.

Further, the amount of topics this book covers is simply astonishing. From Christ as presented in culture, to Christ and the cults to Christ and missions, the authors make sure they keep the scholarly balanced well with the practical. It is rare to find such balance in most books today, yet The Deity of Christ gave me so much good preaching material in the last two chapters alone that I have enough on my plate to preach for quite a while.

The only downside, which is rather common for this series, is that there is a good deal of overlap. I felt this particular with “Toward A Systematic Theology of the Deity of Christ” chapter, which felt like a rehashing of all of the Biblical material. While this isn’t to say that the editing is not good, it often felt as if I had to traverse the same trail again and again. I recognize it was necessary to a certain extent (and it certainly helped me grapple more effectively) so it is hard to complain too much.
This small complaint aside, I think every pastor needs to get his hands on this book. Not only does it offer a tremendous apologetic for the deity of Christ, but it also stirs the heart. I found myself worshipping often at the feet of our sovereign Lord Jesus. Do not miss this tremendous book!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Losses Hurt

I've been in youth ministry long enough now to see students graduate and go off to college or work. It never gets any easier when I see them turn their backs on God. During the entire time of ministering to them I noticed a general apathy when it came to Christ but they were always convinced they were saved because they walked the aisle once.

Today I engaged with one student who is now largely a Satanist. I taught the Gospel to this kid every week and prayed for him constantly. I now look back and think to myself, "What happened?" I could point fingers at particular things but at the end of the day blaming anyone (including myself) just doesn't work.

The losses in ministry hurt. I have seen so many awesome things but I have seen probably more defeat. God has blessed every ministry I have been in and I love my job. I've seen several of my students either enter ministry or prepare themselves to enter ministry of some sort. I've seen kids become awakened to new things in God's Word.

But then I've seen just horrible, horrible things like students leaving the faith and worshiping openly the adversary (I've seen two kids do this now). I've seen kids get baptized and then continue to live horrible lifestyles, rejecting any opportunity for discipleship. I lament the structures we build within the church that cause this sort of problem to even exist. I get frustrated with the repeated losses we face and the misunderstandings that exist with the Gospel.

How long O Lord?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Random Thoughts on Youth Ministry

I don't have near enough time to write like I wish I could. I mean, I have to write for seminary but currently, all my writing projects are boring so I have no interest in actually writing them. I am looking forward to graduation so I can finally return to my outlet for getting stress out--writing!

Anyway, I have a bit of time before my wife gets back from work and we have friends over so I think now would be a good time to write a quick post on youth ministry (that probably applies to all of the church but since I am a youth pastor, I will apply it just to that). Basically for the past...oh...three years or so, I have been attempting to grid out the type of students that pass through our youth ministry. This helps me figure out where they were, where they are, and where they should be spiritually. The problem is (and if you ever read any youth ministry books you will immediately see my point) EVERYONE has a method or a grid for student ministry. Each one proposes that you should use their method to advance students further.

I've never been that thrilled by methodology. It bores me and makes me feel like a crappy Christian and pastor because I don't do the things they say I should do. So  instead of being filled with new, innovative ideas, I normally just get depressed and lament that I stink at life or get frustrated because my budget isn't big enough to implement the idea.

I have largely abandoned methodologies. When I was called into ministry, the thing that burdened my heart the most was biblical illiteracy in the church. That is the thing that keeps me going every morning--I want that to change. I probably would have burnt out of ministry had it not been for God continually spurring me on by reminding me of that fact. So my entire ministry at every single church I have worked at has been "Don't let the kids leave with a superficial understanding of God's Word."

I suppose things have become slicker the longer I've been in ministry. I try not to info-dump on students anymore. I try to make doctrine cooler by having cool handouts and illustrations and, when we finally get this new youth house, I hope to implement videos and more. But really, all of this is in service to the simple fact that I want students to fall in love with God through the Bible.

All of this is to say that I got a new book I am suppose to be reviewing in like two weeks for Zondervan. The book is Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. It's pretty massive and with all of my other reading projects I am going to go out on a limb and say I will probably only complete part 1 on Christian Spirituality (rough 240 pages). Besides, I don't really want to read a bunch of random articles. The first part is the fascinating part anyway...but I digress.

Anyway, the first chapter in the book is laying the foundation for Christian spirituality. The author has this absolutely outstanding breakdown of the dynamics of Christian spirituality and Ill list them here.

Dynamics of Christian Spirituality

From a Christocentric point of view this would be...

Relational = Christ with us
Transformational = Christ in us
Vocational = Christ working through us

To put it a different way, the author says the cycle consists of...

Encounter = Relational = Christ with us
Change = Transformational = Christ in us
Action = Vocational = Christ working through us

These three things not steps but are constant ongoing processes.

So this leads me to my own basic grid (that I have been working on for years and finally, today, was able to make sense of by reading the article). Youth pastors will encounter four basic types of students in their ministries...

1) Those who are not believers
2) Those who are focused on encountering God
3) Those who are focused on change
4) Those who are focused on action

Those focused on the encounter are ones who are basically seeking relationship with God. Often times they are heavily swayed by emotion and are flighty. The services need to be jam up in order for them to encounter God. These are often the ones that are most easily broken...the ones that constantly go up to the front.

Those focused on the change are the ones that normally have been immature but are moving towards greater understanding of what being a Christian is all about. The danger for these students is that they might fall into legalism.

Those who are focused on action are the go-getters. They want to be involved in all things missions. They are driven by what the youth group is doing. They will volunteer for everything. The danger here is that the student associates what he is doing for relationship. Sometimes the most shallow students are the ones that do the most so you need to be careful to make sure these students get proper nutrition in God's Word. While not everything is cognitive, not everything is action-oriented.

Just some thoughts.