26 March 2013

Unshaken Confidence in Gratuitous Pardon

To exercise unshaken confidence in the doctrine of gratuitous pardon is one of the most difficult things in the world; and to preach this doctrine fully without verging toward antinomianism (i.e., living without standards) is no easy task, and therefore seldom done. But Christians cannot but be lean and feeble when deprived of their proper nutriment. It is by faith that the spiritual life is made to grow; and the doctrine of free grace, without any mixture of human merit, is the only true object of faith...Here, I am persuaded, is the root of the evil; and until religious teachers inculcate clearly, fully, and practically the grace of God, as manifest in the Gospel, we shall have no vigorous growth of piety among professing Christians.

-Archibald Alexander

Nothing but Prayer

And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”-Mark 9:28-29

I was reading a book a few days ago, I don't recall what one, though perhaps it was Keller's King's Cross.  Regardless, the author was discussing this section in the book of Mark when Jesus casts out a demon that the disciples have been unable to cast out.  Jesus comes to the child and easily heals him of his convulsions. The demon comes out of the boy, Jesus takes his hand, and the boy stands.  

Afterwards, it seems, the disciples are confused.  Why couldn't they cast it out? They want to know from their teacher what he did.  He tells them simply, "this kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer."  As I read the  words of the disciples, I began to think of areas of besetting sin in my own life.  I can hear echoes of myself in their words.  God, why can't I cast this sin out?  God why do I continue to struggle with this sin?  I have done everything that I can think of to get rid of it, why is it still there?  

And then Jesus words serve as an eye-opener.  "Jason, this kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer."  

Why, after having followed Christ for the last 25 years, do I still try to do things by my own effort?  Why is my reliance upon prayer yet so weak?  Because I still think I can do it.  I still think that my sanctification is me and God--I do my part, He does his.  In a way, that is true.  However, the truth of this comes in the recognition that my role is to echo the father in this story who said, "I do believe! Help my unbelief!"  I must call upon the Holy Spirit and rely upon His power to deal with these sins are only destroyed by prayer.  

Father, may you increase my reliance upon prayer. 

23 March 2013

Book Review: King's Cross

I just finished reading King's Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (2011).  In this book, Keller examines the life of Jesus while walking through the book of Mark.  He describes the book as "an extended meditation on the historical Christian premise that Jesus's life, death, and resurrection form the central event of cosmic and human history as well as the central organizing principle of our own lives."  This book is a little bit history, a little bit worldview, a little bit apologetics, and a little bit theology, all woven together in the person and work of Jesus.

On the whole, this was a really good book. Keller is an engaging author who draws from a seemingly endless remembrance of his readings, though his affection for CS Lewis and Jonathan Edwards come across particularly in this book.  One of the things I like about this book is how he walks through a book of the Bible. So many of the Christian books that come out, it seems, are topical.  Topical books are wonderful and I have benefitted from many of them. This book is a bit different in that there is an expository quality to it as well, which adds to the richness in terms of understanding Jesus life as narrative.  I would happily recommend this book, as I do with so many of Keller's other works.

22 March 2013

Forget about evolution & inerrancy for a minute

Michael Patton has written a winner about apologetics and evangelism.  Some people are so committed to evolution or scripture having errors that we seemingly cannot get them to see Jesus.  He discusses how he has talked with people about this when these concerns are raised.  You definitely should read this article

14 March 2013

Book Review: The Gifts of Imperfection

I want to offer just a snapshot review of The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown (2010).  Brown is a shame and authenticity researcher in Texas who was brought to my attention through a video of her TED: Houston talk where she addressed the issue, "the power of vulnerability."  As I professionally and personally continue to explore the issue of shame, her work is of interest to me. 

In this short volume, she introduces her readers to her research into "Wholehearted Living."  Using qualitative research methods, she explores the components that seem to contribute to authenticity.  She provides the reader with 10 guideposts for Wholehearted living.  The first, for example, is Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think.  As I read this chapter and reflected on the people that I am most drawn to, I have realized that authenticity seems to be a large part of that attraction.  Perhaps that is why I am drawn to Rich Mullins; he seemed authentic to me. 

On the whole this was a good book.  There were a few areas where I would probably view things differently, but it is a worthwhile read. 

13 March 2013

Book Review- All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir

I have been in a bit of a funk with my reading lately.  Normally, I read quite a lot, but in the last few weeks or so, nothing seems to capture my attention. I have several unread books on my shelves at home; I may pick them up, scan the endorsements, and read the introductions, only to set them back aside. A friend of mine recommended reading some fiction, which has helped revive me a bit.  The other book that I did not want to set aside was the memoirs of Brennan Manning in his 2011 book All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir. Brennan Manning is known for writing and speaking of the radical grace found in the person of Jesus Christ.  His Ragamuffin Gospel, which I have not yet read, has apparently deeply influenced the lives of many people. The singer Rich Mullins claimed that within 5 minutes of listening to Manning for the first time, he pulled over his vehicle and wept because, for the first time, he believed he was hearing the pure gospel of Jesus Christ.

Although the other book I read from Brennan Manning, The Furious Longing of God, had biographical elements, this was much more intentionally autobiographical.  Manning discussed his childhood under the care of a father who never quite seemed to find work and a mother who never quite seemed to like him.  Indeed, the culture of shame in his childhood home seems palpable.  Manning moves on to describe his entry into and exodus out of the priesthood, and then marriage, all the while maintaining his relationship with alcohol. 

Manning, who finished this memoir in his late 70s, was at a point in his life where the end was in view.  He required assistance to finish the book.  He required assistance in many things, actually.  Despite all of this, he clings to grace. 

In sum, this is a compelling memoir.  I admire his transparency, even with his admission that he still may not be entirely so.  I am moved by his proclamation of vulgar grace (a term he borrowed from Robert Capon).  My reservations, as the were with his other book that I read were his approach to inclusivism. Though he doesn't come out directly and say so, much like Capon, Manning appears to believe that all people everywhere will be saved, regardless.  As I read the Bible, it appears that only those who call upon Christ for his mercy will be saved.  Nonetheless, Manning is a champion for God's grace to unworthy sinners and this memoir will help you to see that. 

11 March 2013

Yes Grace, but What About All Those Commands?

Over the past couple of months, I have been chewing on the relationship between unmerited grace and the commandments that we see in the Bible.  Let me lay some groundwork before proceeding.  
  1. There are hundreds of commands given to the Israelites in the Old Testament.  We see again and again that God's people fail to live up to those commands.  God is perfectly holy and they are not, which leads to ongoing rebellion and God's anger at their sin.   
  2. We also see in the Old Testament that God's ultimate plan is that He will save His people, not based on anything they have done, but because He is merciful.  When you look for this message, it is everywhere in the Old Testament.  One of the clearest places to see this in my opinion is in Genesis 15, where God establishes covenant with Abraham.  In that passage (e.g., verse 17), it is evident that God passes between the animal pieces alone without Abraham, establishing that salvation is monergistic (e.g., God alone does it) rather than synergistic (God and Abraham do it together).  
  3. In the Gospel accounts, we see this salvation come to fruition.  God sends Jesus his only son to save His people.  We read again and again that by his death and resurrection, he bore our sin and shame...all of it...and gave us his righteousness.  In Christ our slates are clean, not because of anything we've done, but because of his mercy.  No matter what we have done, or what we will do, those who are in Christ find forgiveness in him. Always.
  4. HOWEVER, there are many (hundreds!) commands in the New Testament as well as the Old Testament.  What shall we do with those?  Here comes my current thinking: God gave us these commands, these imperatives, because he knows what is best for us.  These commands provide us with a view of what righteous living is all about.  God wants good things for His children and so, through His inspired writers, he provided a lot of guidance about what that living looks like.  
Perhaps this isn't news to any of you.  Perhaps some of you are thinking, "well duh..."  But maybe, just maybe, some of you have view those New Testament commands as a way to demonstrate your worth to God.  If you are in Christ, you are worthy.  You are a beloved child.  In fact, you are so beloved that God is telling you just how to live so that are the most physically, psychologically, relationally, and spiritually healthy you can be. 

Your standing with God does not depend on whether you keep these New (or Old) Testament commands.  Your standing with God depends upon Christ and Christ alone.  He alone is your righteousness, but that doesn't mean God has not shown you a better way to live. 

The Exhausting Burden of the Law

Tullian Tchvidjian wrote another winner.  This comes from his upcoming book, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Love for an Exhausted World.  He shares an excerpt from a letter he received:

The person wrote, "Over the last couple of years, we have really been struggling with the preaching in our church as it has been very law laden and moralistic. After listening, I feel condemned with no power to overcome my lack of ability to obey. Over the last several months, I have found myself very spiritually depressed, to the point where I had no desire to even attend church. Pastors are so concerned about somehow preaching 'too much grace' (as if that is possible) because they wrongly believe that type of preaching leads to antinomianism or licentiousness. But, I can testify that the opposite is actually true. I believe preaching only the law, and giving little to no gospel, actually leads to lawless living. When mainly law is preached, it leads to the realization that I can’t follow it, so I might as well quit trying. At least, that’s what has happened to me."

Although I believe we must preach the whole counsel of God, including the commands, it must be grounded in a message of grace and mercy.  I have said it many times before, but if you are going to err, err on the side of grace.

06 March 2013


Lifestyle Liberalism

Rod Dreher, writing for The American Conservative, has written an important article regardless of your political persuasion.  Dreher interacts with a letter he received from a friend of his who was expressing concerns about the activities of his young children.  Essentially, the father expressed shock that his 10 year old boy had become a gamer waking up early to play M-rated games and watch sexual clips from HBO.

His friend wrote, "But there’s something deeper here that is profoundly disturbing. Just last week, my wife and I attended an orientation at our son’s middle school next year. It’s a lovely school with great test scores and supportive staff and a million extracurricular options, etc. Everything you’d expect in a wealthy suburb with high taxes. But in all the orientation talks by the principal and administrators and counselors, not one word was spoken of morality or character. It was a complete moral vacuum, beyond empty tolerance (no bullying, which I support, of course). And meanwhile, at home we’re experiencing the consequences of this way of raising a child."

This father, it seems, has painfully stumbled upon the failure of value free education that promotes a world of tolerance of the kind that says "you must completely accept whatever someone else does" rather than "you must show another respect even if what they do makes your blood boil."  We must get back to a standard where children are taught right from wrong.  The Ten Commandments are a good place to start, or perhaps to which we should return.