Category Archives: Ethics

The Drama of Doctrine: A Book Summary

The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology by Kevin J. Vanhoozer. Westminster John Knox: Louisville, 2005. 493pp. $39.95.

According to the author, “The present book sets forth a postconservative, canonical-linguistic theology and a directive theory of doctrine that roots theology more firmly in Scripture while preserving Lindbeck’s emphasis on practice”  (xiii).  On the whole, this work is a fascinating piece that helps theologian and layperson grasp the energetic nature of Scripture. Lindbeck’s cultural-linguistic approach de-emphasized the autonomy of the exegete while heightening that of his enveloping culture – “the experience and the reasoning of the individual human subject is always already shaped by a tradition of language use” (10). By replacing “cultural” with “canonical,” Vanhoozer is able to say the same of Scripture – namely, it is the shaping subject for humanity. In this way, Vanhoozer reorients theology from theory to wisdom (13).

The author aptly shows how drama is a correcting foil for the theological endeavor. God is both the script(ure) writer and player in the drama. Humans are actors following a script. Theologians are the dramaturge for humanity.  Regarding the script, Vanhoozer makes it clear that this is a not a wooden mimic of the script. Rather, it is likened to a dinner theater, where the audience plays a part in the action and shaping as well. The actors are given roles, and they are so intended to enter into the ethic of the role that their actions and words will reflect the kind of person the playwright intended. Further, the Church acts out her parts in front of the surrounding culture and draws them into the drama that God intended them to live. Poignantly put, “Neither the pastor nor the magisterium should be allowed to become the sole voice or actor in the church. On the contrary, the whole people of God is responsible for participating in and continuing the action. Only an active rather than passive audience can turn deadly theater into ‘ a rehearsal of revolution.’ At its best, the church, as the theater of the gospel, is revolutionary, overturning idols and ideologies alike as it displays the first fruits of eschatological reality” (404; original emphasis).

Vanhoozer’s work should be read by all those who seek to bring doctrine and practice together. While this is not the only model by which we can organize Scripture’s teaching, the author has powerfully argued for it as a major contender. Unlike Michael Horton’s work regarding Divine Drama, Vanhoozer helpfully incorporates the surrounding culture in his model of theology. That is, rather than just saying that he will organize his theology around an analogy that follows the Bible’s own intrasystematic categories (when drama itself is not a category given in Scripture), Vanhoozer helps further theology’s enterprise of incorporating culture and Scripture together.

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Filed under Bible, Books & Media, Christian Living, Ethics, Interpretation, Pneumatology, Post-Modernity, Theology

A Note to the Purchaser

Neckless SalesmanRight now in life I am a salesman. Some people have myriad allergic reactions to the word “salesman.” Some of this is rightly deserved. But have you ever taken a moment to consider whether you are just as allergy-causing to the salesman.

This is by no means a gripe session. Rather, it is a call for Christians to be christianly in their purchasing habits. Day in day out I interact with people from so many backgrounds your head would spin. Some people come in my door thinking that I am wicked – this is before they have spoken a word. Their demeanor says everything. Others open up and tell me about how they are getting ready to divorce for infidelity.

To the one who hates the salesman: Consider that this salesman is performing a valid service to your community. In a world where cyberspace has crowded out human interaction. In a world where people are not challenged to buy something they thought they wanted. The salesman provides some kind of sanity in the consumer’s overly righteous, yet uninformed, way. The salesman provides flesh and blood instead of keys and buttons.

To the one who lays it out: even though it can be over the top, but perhaps this is society’s plea for humanity. Like the hemorrhaging woman who reached out in despair, so to the consumer who has had enough of automated prompts and pixelated faces reaches out to their closest friend – a human.

To the Christian: make sure you are purchasing in a way you would if your salesman was Jesus. Don’t say you’ll come back. Don’t ask for a card when you have no intention of calling the salesman. Have some backbone. Don’t be like the boy who wanted to bury his father, spouting lines to get any kind of decision on his part postponed. Realize that the person attempting to sell you a phone or a car or a television needs to feed his family. He is not a shark (always).

Enjoy interacting with humans. Pay the extra $20 in order to feed your neighbors kids. On-line is cheap, but so is the experience and the loving of neighbor. It requires no backbone on your part – read people-pleasing. It requires no sympathy, empathy, or any other emotion than just getting what you want.

Challenge yourself to buy as you would from Jesus. [Matt 25.40, 45; Heb 13.2)

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The Evaluated Life

I have been teaching on Matthew 7.21-23 for the past two weeks in Sunday School. One of the issues we spent a lot of time on is the fact that both those who enter the Kingdom of Heaven and those that are surprised when they say “Lord, Lord did we not…”, both these groups of people do something. It apperars with the list of things the surprised group lists shuld be classified as doing the will of the Father – since these are the very things done by the Apostles. However, there is an aspect of their acitons that is missing to make them disqualified in doing the will of the Father.

Those that are surprised are essentially not in Christ. My question of the text probed a little deeper than this statement of fact. How do we know whether we are “in Christ.” One of the ways we know is by evaluating our motivations for why we do what we do. In a world that is constantly moving and changing we do not take the time that is necessary to think through why we do what we do. If we get to the answer of this question, then, I believe, we will get at the larger question of whether we are “in Christ” or not.

Here is a list of questions I posed to the Sunday School to help in this exercise:

Self-Evaluation
1. What do I get excited about when I come to church?
2. Do my conversations include testimonies of God’s grace in my life?
3. In what ways does God’s grace seem sweeter to me now than a year ago?
4. When I pray, speak in front of others, serve others, would I be content if no one applauded or noticed that I was serving?
5. If you were to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and God were the only one there, would you still want to enter? That is, you aren’t primarily excited about heaven because you will be reunited with loved ones.
6. Do your conversations allow others to see your flaws or do you feel the need to micro-manage how others will perceive you?
7. Do I understand that all of my obedience will be tainted with sin? If so, is it easy to accept as fact?
8. What have I done in the past three months out of love for Jesus?
9. What have I stopped doing in the past three months out of love for Jesus?

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Religious Lethargy #4

I case you didn’t catch it in my last post, the reason I used the adjective “lethargy” has to do with the relationship between knowledge and emotion. Religious experience that is founded upon the affections without content not only will result in lethargy, but it begins with lethargy. 

There is a fear of many that learning kills any kind of emotion. Jesus said that he delighted to do the will of the Father. His delight was contingent upon his knowing the will of the Father. How could he delight in something he did not know? We mustn’t be lax in our search for truth. We must dig deep as for a treasure. We mustn’t become naive ascetics who long for the spiritual slop of fervor. Rather we are to long for the pure spiritual milk of the word of God (= information about and from God). 

Such fervor leads to lethargy in that the congregation will merely wait for the next innovator to come to their conference or meeting to stir them up. Getting up in the morning and having their mind conformed will seem dry if the only kind of Christianity they experience is an experience.

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Religious Lethargy #3

We want to make Christianity relevant to our culture. We cannot continue to speak in the King’s English and expect people to understand and exegete their culture when no one speaks it. For example, if I told you to watch out for the poodle-klumps, you would look at me cross. But if I told you to watch out for the rebellious, you would understand. We need to contextualize our message in words people will understand. 

There are a few things wrong with this video (which is a symptom of a greater problem in modern Christianity):

1) We cannot merely tack the name of Jesus onto a popular concept and believe that we have sanctified it. We must also re-define what it means to “spin me right round.”

2) Mere emotionalism saves no one. Jonathan Edwards wrote an excellent work Religious Affections that I commend to all of you – especially this section

3) We implicitly teach folk that fervor is the goal of the conference. Emotional response is definitely necessary when the sinner is confronted with the truth of sin and grace. This emotional response is part and parcel of the content that is shared. Music can work people to tears and trembling, but it is the one who trembles at God’s word whom he will countenance.

4) When the folk return from the conference and the youth leader does not work them up in a similar frenzy, they will grow bored with the group and with Christ. 

5) Similar to #3 above, Christianity is starkly different than other religions in that it seeks to fill the person with transforming knowledge. Not mere knowledge, which is the heresy of gnosticism. It is knowledge that necessarily transforms. It is knowledge, nonetheless. We are to present our bodies as living sacrifices through the non-conformation of our minds to this world’s worldview. Granted, I have not heard the speakers at the conference, and am not aware of the content of the messages. I venture to say that they revolved around confessing sin and encountering God in a powerful way. 

This is good. But when it comes to the music and what is communicated by vain repetition and the stirring up of frenzy is that the mind should not be engaged. This fellow is talented, no doubt about this. But what will this kind of fervor do in the longview? Perhaps you were present at this conference. Please comment and shed light on what else was done there. These posts are limited to this video that stirred so many emotions and reactions in me. 

Let’s continue to make Christianity relevant and fun and…real. So many youth at this conference will be contemplating suicide in the next year I am sure. I was there and almost did it. What we must give our people is teaching that is solid and will keep these kids from tottering in the sands of relativity in our culture.

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Multi-Faceted Blessings

Godliness, while not guaranteed to change the original situation, often had an effect for good on the world. . . . The possibilities for the many-sided blessings of God are endless. Instead of my day being ruined, God has extricated me from sin and misery, and this is perhaps one of the most significant days in my life from the standpoint of growing into the image of Christ. I’ve learned how life works in God’s world. I’ve learned how the gospel works. I’ve learned profound lessons in a very tiny corner of life.

– David Powlison, Anger, 25.

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Question #8 Answer

What are the consequences of faith and obedience? We’ve already mentioned some of the subjective benefits. More objectively, maybe a dented fender or even a killing was prevented. Somebody else was kept from stumbling into sinful anger or murder on my account. And in the half dozen cars around me, maybe my courtesy and relaxed response prove catching.

-David Powlison, Anger: Escaping the Maze, 25.

This point Powlison hit me hard because I too often merely consider my sanctification as indicative of my relationship with God. Here we see that our exercise of self-control entails others in our wake. If I am able to put to death the deeds of the flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit, then, perhaps, someone else may be enticed to pursue such holy living. Perhaps, my willingness to intentionally walk by the Spirit will keep someone else to go down the road to perdition.

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Question #6 Answer

As I mentioned earlier, I just finished reading the “Anger” booklet through CCEF. I am going to post a few excerpts that I found especially helpful.

How can I turn to God for help? Do it. Question #5 laid out the worldview in which problems now make sense. Mere analysis, however, won’t change me. Question #6 gets me moving. God wants me to seek him, to interact with him. I need to apply the truths of question #5, for example, by distinguishing between righteous and sinful anger. It’s not hard to tell that my anger fails the test of righteous anger: this traffic jam is not a moral evil! My anger has arisen because I served the false gods identified in question #3.

– David Powlison, Anger: Escaping the Maze (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2000) 23.

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No Good Thing (i.e. Speeding Ticket) Does He Withhold

I was cruising along yesterday not thinking about my post and varied comments on driving the speed limit when I see a police car make a u-turn. I was on the phone with a good friend, told him I was getting ready to be pulled over, turned off the radio, and waited. The cop gave me my citation and I drove off. What happened the next hour is something I will not soon forget.

Usually I would be fuming and reeling from such a blatant encroachment on my freedom. This time, however, instead of turning the radio back on and going about my commute home I kept it turned off and began to reflect on the fact that this divine appointment was meant for my good. I began to enumerate the myriad blessings I have in my life and how paying this fine is and will be good for me. Too many times have I thought such activity was a hindrance to life – a citation, a phone call, stuck in traffic, coffee too hot to drink, supper not ready on time. This time, however, I dove into a deeper understanding of how all these inconveniences must be part of my daily commute in life. 

Instead of getting angry at the officer who was doing his job, I thanked God for putting authorities over me and my neighbors to keep us from violating other people’s freedoms. Instead of griping about the ticket, I thanked God the officer was kind – additionally he knocked 9 miles off the offense. Instead of yelling about having to spend the money I had just made that day at work, which was going to pay now for this ticket, I thanked God that I had made money at work and that I didn’t goose-egg in my sales that day.

I chose to rejoice in all circumstances. My sinful abuse of freedom had led me to be (rightly) pulled over. The law of the land says I should not drive over a certain speed limit. I did. I broke that law. Again, let’s not be legalistic about it (as I have been in the past) that if I were to go one mile over I would have to repent in sackcloth and ashes. But let’s not exercise undue license. We must not scoff at the speeding limit as though it were a suggestion for other motorists. 

God was kind to me to pull me over yesterday. What would happen if I continued to pompously cruise at my own discretion? Might my speeding increase even more to the point of uncontrolled driving? What a gift to not be pulled over so many other times – how many times have I sped!?! What a gift from God to keep me from being a fatal crash. What a gift from God that I have a job to drive to, a car to drive in, two eyes to see, two legs to accelerate, two hands to steer, air conditioning to regulate the temperature in my car, windows that I can roll down to enjoy the fresh air, music I can listen to, a Bluetooth I can play the sermons on my BlackBerry through…so many blessings. I get home, I open my trunk and there are well over a $1000 in library books that I was able to check out and enjoy without paying for them. Another couple books I got from the Band of Bloggers meeting at The Gospel Coalition.

I was reminded of my prideful scoffing at people I have passed on the road who had been pulled over. “Serves them right for driving like banshees.” “Ha ha. That’ll teach him.” 

In all of this, we must number our blessings by name so that we are not consumed with irreverent hatred; so that we do not grumble with the monotonous manna we receive every day. Breath is a gift. Family. Friends. Possessions. Do not forget.

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Anger

I am reading one of CCEF’s booklets on anger by David Powlison. This is an area that I have struggled in for the last four years and am trying to tackle head-on. For any that know me, they know that I am a pretty forceful personality that presses forward. Anger comes in when I fail to remember God’s control and sanctifying work in my life through everyday situations. That is, when obstacles come in my way and keep me from accomplishing my goal, I boil. 

I want to post a few excerpts from Powlison’s book that have been helpful for me – and I pray they are helpful to you.

Questions to Alleviate and Kill Anger:

  1. What is my situation?
  2. How do I react?
  3. What are my motives?
  4. What are the consequences?
  5. What is true?
  6. How can I turn to God for help?
  7. How should I respond in this situation?
  8. What are the consequences of faith and obedience?

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Slow Down

Turn off the radio. I don’t care if it is a sermon. Turn off the television. I don’t care if it is the latest episode of 24. Put the book away. Put the computer away (and yes, I don’t care if you’re reading this…although you may want to wait to see why you should). 

If you’re like me, you have a to-do list of about ten things…constantly. If you’re also like me, you have a to-do list that is full of have-to’s rather than if-i-get-around-to’s. If you’re even more like me (don’t get too scared), then you suffer from discontentment until you have knocked out your to-do list. Not just that you have knocked it out, but that you have smote it and cut off its head.

Yesterday I was forced to turn it all off…and might I say it has been the most rewarding 30 minutes I have had in quite a while. My daughter and I played outside while my wife fixed our supper. As I sat there looking at my beautiful daughter, I had five or six things running through my mind that I should be doing. But I repented and breathed in the air-after-the rain smell and was taken back to my childhood days. How often have I longed for the days when I was 12 and 13 just running around my yard with my dog without a to-do list. For this short moment I delighted in the fact that the measure of a man does not consist in the length of his to-do list. Rather it resides in the content of that list. 

So much of what I think needs to be done is merely an accessory. I would do well to sit down each morning and remind myself what are my priorities in life. Much like Jonathan Edwards (and several fathers in the Early Church) who measured his life by his resolutions each day, I should sit down and look at my priority list – God, family, work, school, etc. 

Some of you may retort that I should just have a scheduled time in my day for down time. Sure, it could be that easy. But I want to challenge myself, in the middle of knocking out my to-do list, to intentionally stop hammering that nail and sit down. I want to challenge us to stop whatever it is we are in the middle of and remind ourselves that he gives rest to his beloved; we need to remember that he gives strength to my arms; he has even given me arms in the first place. 

So the challenge (beyond merely planning downtime in your life) is to go through your day today and intentionally stop whatever it is you are doing and be quiet. To be still and know who is your God.

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Filed under Christian Living, Ethics, Prayer, Sanctification, Solitary Life

“Morning Needs”

O God, the Author of all good,

I come to thee for grace another day will require for its duties and events.

I step out into a wicked world, 

I carry about with me an evil heart,

I know that without thee I can do nothing, 

   that everything with which I shall be concerned, 

   however harmless in itself,

   may prove an occasion of sin or folly,

   unless I am kept by thy power.

Hold thou me up and I shall be safe.

Preserve my understanding from subtilty of error,

   my affections from love of idols,

   my character from stain of vice,

   my profession from every form of evil.

May I engage in nothing in which I cannot implore thy blessing,

   and in which I cannot invite thy inspection.

Prosper me in all lawful undertakings,

   or prepare me for disappointments;

Give me neither poverty nor riches;

Feed me with food convenient for me,

   lest I be full and deny thee

   and say, Who is the Lord?

   or be poor, and steal, and take thy name in vain.

May every creature be made good to me by prayer and thy will;

Teach me how to use the world, and not abuse it,

   to improve my talents,

   to redeem my time,

   to walk in wisdom toward those without, and in kindness to those within,

   to do good to all men, and especially to my fellow Christians.

And to thee be the glory.

The Valley of Vision

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Acceptable Biblical Illiteracy

Gene Veith posts some thoughts on Obama’s lack of biblical clarity and faithfulness. 

I would encourage Christians to use such openness about what politicians claim the Bible says and what it says. I would encourage us to press people to come to terms that they do not know what the Bible actually says, thereby risking their lives to spiritual laziness and ineptitude.

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Filed under Abortion, Culture, Current Events, Ethics, Evangelism, Family | Parenting, Politics

Where are the Prophets?

First Things put up an article by Peter Leithart that provokes and informs. I may write more later regarding prophets and prophecy – as this has been a focus of my studies this semester. But for now, read this snippet and pick your jaw up from the last sentence:

Far from simplifying prophecy, the Bible greatly complicates it. It’s as easy to denounce from a distance as it is to launch smart bombs from a command center on the other side of the world. Gestures of repudiation cost little, and adding the term prophetic lends an aura of piety to our reputations.

Prophets in the Bible, though, cannot afford gestures. They are called to speak the word of the Lord from within the court, mounting an internal critique. The pressures on Nathan to keep silent after David seized Bathsheba and sent her husband to his death must have been enormous. He could have vented himself in a scathing editorial and then kept his head down. From all appearances, though, Nathan had free access to the court, was a friend of David, and a close adviser. It is said that prophets spoke truth to power, but that goes beyond cliché when we realize that prophets spoke the truth face to face with power, to powerful men and women whom the prophets knew intimately, frequently from their own position of power.

Power corrupts, and it always has. Court prophets were often pusillanimous yes-men like Ahab’s four hundred, who dramatized Ahab’s coming victory over Aram by shaking around iron horns. But power doesn’t always and necessarily corrupt, and the company of priestly and court prophets also included spokesmen of Yahweh. Faithful “insiders” were always a minority, but the biblical picture shows that we can’t tell a true from a false prophet simply by answering the question, Where is the prophet? Not all prophets are in king’s houses, but some are.

Judging by the biblical evidence, though, we are as likely to find a prophet in a presidential Cabinet, at the Hague, or roaming the halls of WCC headquarters as we are in the mountains of Northern Idaho or the deserts of Arabia or the desperate ghettos of Chicago. God is no respecter of persons, and a Karl Rove or a Paul Wolfowitz, as scandalous as the suggestion may be, is as likely to be a prophet as a Jeremiah Wright. 

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One Issue Voting

I have been thinking alot about one-issue voting lately. I have long been an advocate of this as it relates to abortion. I have oftentimes told friends that if both Republicans and Democrats were pro-life then I would have a much harder time – I might even vote for a Democrat. I have heard some evangelicals respond that they are going to vote Democrat because the Republicans have failed or messed things up. I fail to see the validity of such a charge as Democrats have not been the saviors of the world either; merely voting for one will not remedy our situation.

There are so many issues, why have I chosen one to ride my horse on? One of the dangers in calling my perspective “one issue” voting  is the misnomer that there is only one issue that a candidate needs to agree with me on and the rest is chaff. The is a farce since there are myriad issues that I also evaluate when picking a candidate. I have said for several years that if all parties agreed that abortion should be illegal that I would have a much harder time deciding who to vote for.

Am I being petty and naive? I am sure I am in several ways. However, when you talk to people it is obvious that they are also one issue voters. For example, those who are pro-choice have this as their one issue that will steer them towards one candidate over another. Another person may not vote for someone because he wants to leaglized marijuana. Someone else may be allergic to joining hands with the Castros in Cuba.

Why did we go to war with Nazi Germany? We went because they were war-mongerers. This was one issue. The killing of babies (let’s not use “abortion” as the primary term as it is mechanistic and euphemistic for what is really happening to the child) is a heinous crime against humanity. We cringe at the thought of chimpanzees or polar bears eating their own young, but celebrate the virtue of choice in the similar decision to take the weak’s life.

Political renovation does not stop with the illegalizing of the killing of human babies. Movements must start somewhere. This is the most immediate need right now. Of course there are homeless people, hungry people, unemployed people. But if we can’t even take care of those who are helpless, what kind of policy could we dream up that would do justice for the poor?

It is a shame that the Republican party believes that if they say “I am pro-life” then they have the evangelical vote. It is a shame that it is only the Republican party that has said this most resolutely. I wish it would be across the board that sucha  statement would be made. But we are tyrannized by other (yes, important) less immediate issues.

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