Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Is This a Joke?

You've got to be kidding me! This is all we need; another Bible that distorts the meaning of Scripture and takes our eyes off of it's Subject--Christ! Is this really what the Scripture teaches?

Check out this idiocy (and idolatry?) over at Vanguard Church. Rather than having me "ranting and raving" about this (and believe me, it's difficult for me to hold it in), read Bob's comments, watch the video and then head to Greg Boyd's review of this travesty of Christian Commercialism.

When will we get it! The Kingdom of God is made up of people from every tongue, tribe and nation. The United States of America is not God's people any more than the old Soviet Union was God's people. The "people of God" is not Israel; it's not America; it's not Rome; it's not...any particular nation or Sacral Society. There is only one "people of God" and it's all those and only those who have been joined to Christ by the Spirit. And this "people of God" transcends nationalities because the Kingdom of God is not of this world!

The Kingdom of God has nothing in common with the kingdoms of this world. Even now the nations (including America) are "pouring their wealth into the Kingdom of God" as the Gospel penetrates into the world and the Spirit calls people from every nation under heaven to Christ and His Kingdom. But the Kingdom of God is the Kingdom of the Spirit; the Kingdom of the New Creation! One day, when Christ returns, all the nations (kingdoms) of the earth will belong to Him as He takes up His righteous reign in the eternal Shabbat of God's Rest. Shalom will once again characterize God's good Creation and all kingdoms (redeemed people) will exist under one banner and King--Christ, the Lord. But until that day, the Kingdom of God is a spiritual Kingdom that has no allegiance to earthly powers.

Can we be Christians in America? Yes! But is America a "Christian Nation"? God, I hope not!

Oh well, you got a "mini" rant anyway. Check out the links; we must be people of the Word...not the world. Can we not see the difference?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pentecost as the Reversal of Babel

As I promised last time, here is the second part of the sermon on The Event of Pentecost-The Outpouring of the Spirit. In this part, we see how the "curse" of Babel is reversed (in fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant) as the Spirit comes and draws men from every tongue, tribe and nation together again under one Head, Jesus Christ the Lord.

Luke conspicuously tells us in Acts 2 that the people who are in Jerusalem at Pentecost during the event of the outpouring of the Spirit were there from "every nation under heaven". Now this is obviously hyperbole; but Luke wants us to understand this event as it relates to the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant in Christ. Remember, the promise to Abraham was that through him, through his "seed", all the families of the earth would be blessed. Paul makes it clear that this "seed" refers to Christ and that the blessing to the families of the earth is the salvation that is found in Christ. "Israel" the nation, as the "seed" of Abraham, was the first-level fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant...but as a type of the true "seed" to come. They were called to be the vehicle of God's blessing to the nations by drawing the nations around them to YHWH. They were called as God's "son" to minister the knowledge of God to all the nations so that they would find life in their God; the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Israel, however, failed to be "Israel"; they failed to be God's "son". So a new "Israel" was needed; a new "Son" was needed to fulfill the Abrahamic Covenant. And this must be the case because, as I've stated so many times before, the nation of Israel was a type of Christ (as God's chosen "son", etc.) and their very existence, as with all things in the Scripture, prophesied of Christ, the true "seed" of Abraham.

So Luke, in the continuation of his Gospel account, makes sure that his readers realize what is happening here. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant (and by extension, the Davidic Covenant) because He is the promised Seed of Abraham and the true "son" of God, and it is in Him alone that this blessing comes. All the nations of the earth are to be blessed only as they come to Him as God's Son. In the history of Israel, when a Gentile wanted to come to the God of Israel they had to come to Him through "Israel", through His "son". To have YHWH as their God, they had to become proselytes; they had to join themselves to God's "son"--Israel. And since the nation was simply typological, the same holds true when the Promised Seed arrives. A person comes to God only by being joined to His "Son"--Jesus Christ. Luke (and the rest of the N.T.) makes this clear. And in the book of Acts we see how people come to the Son--by the Spirit.

The work of the Spirit is the effectual fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant because it is the Spirit who joins a person to Christ in the New Birth. Jesus has fulfilled the Abrahamic Covenant in Himself; but this fulfillment is applied by the Spirit. It is the Spirit who is calling people from every tongue, tribe, nation and people and it is by the Spirit that they are "born again" as God's "sons" in The Son.

So, as part of the Spirit's work in applying Christ's fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant, the paradigm of Babel is reversed. Where once God judged the people and scattered them over the face of the earth by confusing their language, so now He, by the Spirit, unites them once again--not in a universal language, but in Christ! The emphasis that Luke places on the "every nation under heaven" and the fact that they all heard the Disciples in their own language, speaks to the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant and the reversal of the judgment of God at Babel. He doesn't restore a universal language, but He does unite the people under One NAME--not their own, but the Name of Jesus.

Well, enough of my own "babel"...on with the "Brief Sermon Overview" and the PDF notes. I encourage you again to listen to the audio message (top right) and read the Sermon Notes. I don't know what can be more encouraging for the Christian than to see the Scripture being fulfilled in our Lord and Savior!

Brief Sermon Overview (by our Pastor):

As the Spirit-filled disciples spilled out into the street in Jerusalem, the cacophony of voices proclaiming God's mighty saving deeds began to draw a crowd. These onlookers were Jews and Gentile proselytes to Judaism who had come to Jerusalem from surrounding regions to celebrate the Passover and Feast of Weeks as required by the Law of Moses. Very quickly they realized that the speakers were all Galileans, and yet every individual within the widely diverse crowd was hearing one or more of them speaking in his native tongue. This message examines the salvation-historical significance of this phenomenon as it implicates God's ancient judgment at Babel and His subsequent promise to extend HIs blessing to all the families of the earth through Abraham (Genesis 11:1-12:3). What was transpiring that day in Jerusalem indicated that the day of fulfillment was dawning. God was reversing His judicial act of scattering and fragmenting the human race and entering upon the fulfillment of His promise to Abraham to reunite the world of men by recovering them to Himself in the patriarch's singular Seed (Gal. 3:1-29).

Listen to the Sermon at top right (Acts 007-The Event of Pentecost: The Outpouring of the Spirit-Part 2).

Read the PDF notes here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Pentecost interlude

I know that I've promised the conclusion to my "How Are We To Live" series, but I've just been too busy lately to complete it. I almost have it done, but I've noticed that it is becoming a longer monster than usual (even for me). As I try to tidy it up, I may either a lot of material or make it into two posts. For those of you who just can't wait for it (I know you're out there!), sorry...you'll just have to be a bit more patient.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share a couple of our sermons (one this week, one next week) from our latest series as we go through the book of Acts. This series comes on the heels of our Sermon on the Mount series which came on the heels of our Sacred Space (God With Us) series and for full effect they all should be listened to in order. The issues that we dealt with in the S.S series were fleshed out more in "salvation history" through the SOTM series which is being augmented further in the Acts series. The central topic of "God With Us" and the purpose of "redemptive history" is the key theme that is developed throughout. For all ministerial resources, follow the link to our SermonAudio page. You can find it on the links bar on the right. If you want to hear (and read) faithful, "redemptive-historical" preaching that takes Biblical Theology seriously for the glory of Christ, then I encourage you to listen to and download our sermons.

I've included an audio sermon from the series called, "The Event of Pentecost: The Outpouring of the Spirit-part 1" on the right (part-2 to follow) which helps explain the meaning and purpose of Pentecost as the fulfillment of Scripture. The next sermon also deals with this event as it deals with, among other things, the reversal of Babel. The outpouring of the Spirit is crucial in understanding this Gospel that we believe. His coming is in fulfillment of the Scripture--the promise of God in Christ is the coming of the Spirit! All the excesses of the Charismatic movement aside, we must recognize the importance of the coming and ministry of the Spirit if we are to understand who we are as the Church, the Body of Christ.

Here's the "brief sermon overview" from our Pastor (and I've included the link to the PDF notes from the sermon).

Brief Sermon Overview:

To this point in his account, Luke has documented God's preparation for inaugurating His kingdom. The Son of David had now entered into His glory and taken His seat at His Father's right hand; the enthroned King-Priest was poised to begin building His house (Zech. 6:9-15). Moreover, the apostolic foundation for that house was also now complete. Everything was in place and it was time for the Father and Son to send the Spirit. As the Scriptures and Christ Himself promised, He - the Creator-Spirit - would inaugurate the kingdom of the new creation and enter upon His great work of building Yahweh's everlasting house (Zech. 4:1-10). The Holy Spirit is the central figure in this new age of the new creation, and yet multitudes of Christians have no substantial understanding of His person or work in relation to it. This message examines the Spirit's self-manifestation in His coming, and especially how the particulars of it reveal His person and role in fulfillment of the Scriptures.

PDF Sermon Notes here.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Don't Stop Believing

Having read Michael Wittmer’s excellent book, “Heaven is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters To God”, I was eager to read his latest, “Don’t Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus is Not Enough.” While the former title helps us to understand God’s cosmic view of redemption and our place (and responsibility) in this world by emphasizing the continuity of God’s creation (without denying the biblical aspect of discontinuity), the latter helps us to understand God’s redemption and our place (responsibility) in this world by showing us the benefits and deficiencies within the two seemingly opposing strands of theological thought: “Emerging” (Wittmer’s, “postmodern innovators”) and “Conservative” Christianity. These labels, of course, don’t do justice to all the practitioners of either “camp” (what labels ever do?), but Wittmer attempts to show us how the fundamental core beliefs of both groups can contribute to a more well-rounded and biblically accurate understanding of the Gospel by helping us see their strengths and weaknesses.

Wittmer successfully (I believe) accomplishes his task by asking and answering ten important questions (chapter titles) that either are either at the heart of the debate (e.g., “Must You Believe Something to Be Saved? and Is It Possible to Know Anything?), or are lightning rods that fuel the debate (e.g., Which is Worse: Homosexuals or the Bigots Who Persecute Them?, and Is Hell for Real and Forever?). In developing each Chapter/Question, Wittmer favors a more balanced approach between Emergents and Conservatives that seeks to combine right Belief with right Practice.

Of course, it’s easy to simply state that the dichotomy between the two groups is Practice vs. Belief; but nothing is ever really that simple (except the yoke of our Lord) and we can’t pit Emergents against Conservatives in this simplistic way—and, thankfully, Wittmer doesn’t do this. He recognizes that both groups believe something and practice those beliefs in some way. The nature of man is that we always do (practice) what we believe whether or not we are conscious of this relationship or are consistent with it. He recognizes that Belief and Practice go hand in hand and that even the most radical Emergent and Conservative live this way even if their rhetoric sometimes suggests otherwise. But the rhetoric is “out there” and we, as the Church, must deal with it as we seek to live out the reality of who we are as sons and daughters of God.

In fighting the excesses of Conservatism that may imply (or teach outright) that doctrine is the most important (if not only) aspect of our relationship with God, Emergents are in danger of erring in the opposite extreme of denying the necessity of believing anything about God (as some “emergents” have affirmed) as long as we live lives of love as Jesus did and as Scripture instructs. Wittmer is gracious to both sides of this dialogue and shows how a biblically based understanding will not allow this false dichotomy to exist within the mind/heart of the believer. Without the right (true) belief (doctrine), we have no basis for even knowing what we are to practice (live), much less what the best practices actually are! And since we can all agree that the best practice is the life of love (which is to say, the “life of faith”), we must never stop believing because our practice can only be as good as the truth that we believe.

As I’ve said numerous times here, sin is at bottom unbelief. Even as Christians, our sin is fundamentally unbelief that manifests itself in our practice. Now the penalty or guilt of our unbelief has been born by Christ on the Cross and has been taken away from us through His death, resurrection, ascension, presentation (as High Priest) and enthronement. When Christ died, we died. When Christ was raised, we were raised to new life. Christ has brought His own blood into the true Sanctuary where as High Priest He presented Himself as our Propitiation before the Father. And upon the Father’s acceptance of the offering of His Son, Christ sat down on His throne (the throne of David) where He sends the Spirit to indwell His people and to conform them into His likeness.

So, even our practice of Christianity is contingent upon our knowledge and belief of/in God because the Spirit doesn’t work in a vacuum. He takes what is Jesus’ and gives it to us. He makes us partakers in the New Covenant through the knowledge of God (in Christ), as we read in Jeremiah, “I will put my law (teaching) within them, and on their heart I will write it…they shall all know Me…” (emphasis added). You can’t read far in the New Testament without seeing the relationship between Faith/Belief and Practice.

So, the question becomes: “What do we believe?” or “Must we believe certain things?” And to a large extent, Wittmer answers these questions. He reminds us (without necessarily saying outright) that doctrine is a necessity because we must know something about God in order to believe something about Him. And if we must “believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God” and be “born again” by the Spirit in order to be “saved”, then there must be something to know and believe. Practice is all fine and good, but it alone cannot “save” (see Matt. 7:21-24, etc.), and as the author states, even our “best practices can only arise from true beliefs” (back cover). And as I say, for the most part Wittmer answers these questions and shows us the biblical relationship between practice and belief.

My only (minor) issue I have with the book is his lack of development of the Penal Substitution model of atonement in Chapter Six. I know that this book isn’t a treatise on the Doctrine of the Atonement and that this is but one of several issues that he is dealing with. I also understand that he had limited his focus to the deficiency of Penal Substitution as the only legitimate or as the most important aspect of the atonement of Christ. I really appreciate this chapter and I’m in agreement with him that this theory doesn’t cover all the facets of Atonement and we need to have a full-orbed understanding to do justice to all that was accomplished by Christ.

Having said that, I still think he missed a golden opportunity to develop the Atonement of Christ (including Penal Substitution) along Biblical Theological lines. Other than a cursory statement at the beginning of the chapter (confined within one sentence) relating Penal Substitution with the sacrificial system of the Old Covenant, Wittmer doesn’t deal at all with the importance of the type/anti-type paradigm that gives meaning to this crucial doctrine. In my judgment, you can’t do justice to such an important doctrine and the resulting belief without explaining how the sacrificial system portrayed and was fulfilled in Christ…especially as it pertains to the title of the chapter: Is The Cross Divine Child Abuse?

All the talk of what the atonement means is…well…meaningless apart from the type/anti-type paradigm that is so painstakingly developed in Scripture. The sacrificial system, including the role of High Priest as well as the sacrifice itself, paints the portrait of Christ. To understand any aspect of the atonement one must understand the Old Covenant sacrificial system and how it speaks to and of Christ. He must be crucified because He is the Lamb of God of which the sacrifices speak. He must be crucified because He is the High Priest who brings His own blood as the sacrifice before the Father. Before anything else can be said about Penal Substitution or Christus Victor or Moral Influence/Example, etc., we must bring Salvation History to bear in our understanding. Whatever God was communicating in the Old Covenant Sacrificial System is crucial to understand the why of Christ’s atonement and the what that was accomplished in and through it.

As I said, I know that this book wasn’t written to give a full and detailed explanation of the atonement and I’m sure that Wittmer would have devoted much more time to the issue of type/anti-type had this been his purpose; but I simply don’t feel that his explanation for Penal Substitution in the section “Love Hurts” is adequate. I should probably devote an entire post to this particular critique and any other possible minor issues that I may have had upon a first reading. Of course, I’ll want to read it again before I commit to having any other “issues”.

And I do encourage a first and a second reading of “Don’t Stop Believing”. My reservations about Chapter Six aside, this is an important book in our “postmodern” age. Wittmer has written a very thoughtful and gracious book that should help clarify the important contributions of both “Emergents” and “Conservatives” as we continue to work together as His Body to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”