Archive for February, 2011

Christian biographies don’t always tell the whole story

I don’t want to say too much and give anyone an indication of who I might be talking about.  God is their judge.  Be careful who you make your heroes out to be  as people aren’t always what they are made out to be.

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Set phasers to kill, Rob Bell doesn’t believe in Hell!

LOVE WINS. from Rob Bell on Vimeo.

The video clip doesn’t actually define what Rob Bell believes but people are already getting up in arms about it. I’m curious enough I might just pick up the book. I don’t think the biblical case for eternal conscious torment in Hell is as solid as we are made to believe. It is pretty clear that God can get upset about injustice as we all should. The language around Hell is metaphorical, even the word we translate Hell (gehenna), was a physical place outside Jerusalem that came to represent severe judgement. Kevin De Young argues that we need God’s wrath. I don’t follow him on every point.  I do see a distinction between metering out justice, even wrath and putting people in hopeless unending pain.

I like John’s way of framing judgement.

"Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God."
(Joh 3:17-21 NRSV)


The New Middle East

File 10566

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The Church in dialogue with God

In my quest to understand the current rationale for the centrality of preaching in Protestant church practice I’m evaluating different posts and articles by prominent proponents of preaching. I found “Who is doing the talking in our church gatherings” by Thabiti Anyabwile through Dashhouse.

In the post he responds to someone who reviewed one of his books and aired some typical objections to the centrality of preaching.

The review left me asking myself: Who’s doing the speaking in our church gatherings?

The fatal flaw in my reviewer’s comments was his tendency to think that the service at its best is a conversation between man and man, a human dialogue, a gathering of people of rather equal status speaking to one another. But is that really what’s happening in preaching and in the gathered worship of the church? How we answer this question reveals much about our theology of the church gathering and of preaching in particular.

He then goes on to say

The Christian worship service is inherently dialogical. The dialogue, however, involves a more important party than any living human. The Lord of the Universe speaks during the service. We have the wondrous privilege of being able to speak to Him as a community of saints. When God speaks through the exposition of His word there certainly will be many reactions, but as our Sovereign speaks there should not be an interruption in favor of our pooling our comments and sharing our insights. Our best wisdom is foolishness before God. Better to first listen to the One who speaks, then talk with one another about it afterward.

If I’m reading this correctly Thabiti considers the proper exposition of scripture by a faithful preacher is the voice of God in the church’s dialogue with God. Thabiti appeals to 1Thess 2:13 to support this connection. Here is it with a bit more context:

As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us. You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers. As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.

(1Th 2:5-13 NRSV)

There are a number of things about this situation that are distinct from a typical conventional church situation:

  • Paul and company personally knew each person and cared for them like family
  • They worked for their living
  • They did not use their authority as apostles of Christ
  • This was primarily missionary activity
  • There is nothing in this passage that implies they preached sermons to Christians
  • The person speaking wrote things we consider to be scripture

If we cross reference this with Luke’s account in Acts 17 we find that Paul “reasoned” or “argued” with the people in the synagogue. The word used is dialogomai and it has a range of meanings from “discuss” and “argue” all the way to “address.” The meaning is determined by the context. In a typical gathering at a Synagogue the scriptures are read and someone offers their exhortation and commentary after the scripture reading. Initially Paul likely engaged with some form of monologue but it was also likely that the Jews would have questioned and eventually objected to what Paul was saying. In the end they ran him out of town and even travelled to the next town to do it again there. It isn’t hard to see where Luke might have got the idea that there was some arguing or disputing going on.

There is nothing in Luke’s or Paul’s account of what happened in Thessalonica that suggests that the people their received their words as the “word of God” solely through the medium of preaching. These accounts raise interesting questions for me about how Paul’s love for the people might be just as important as his words to the people. If the message of Christ’s love is conveyed in a way that is divorced from the tangible reality of that love embodied in the actions of God’s people it won’t have the same impact. Given the stress Paul puts on love, I’m beginning to believe that one can’t proclaim or live the gospel without tangibly demonstrating God’s love. This leads me to conclude that an over reliance on oratory could very well stifle other essential aspects to the proclamation of the gospel.

I understand how we might try to equate the scriptures with God’s voice. Unfortunately the bible is at best words inspired by God written by one human to other humans in a specific context. We are in a sense observing God’s dialogue with someone else. Observing this dialogue can help people understand God and humanity, find principles to live by and bring inspiration but at its core it isn’t a direct dialogue with God. Because of this there is an extra level of complexity in understanding what is being communicated. Most of us rely on a translator to accurately convey the meaning of words of people that lived in a very different context using a different language. That is one lens of interpretation. The next lens comes from the preacher who in turn is interpreting the words of the translator and he or she has their own bias.

I think a lot of people can do a good job of both of these but is always dangerous to equate one person’s interpretation of scripture with the voice of God. As one who has been authorized to preach a few sermons in my day, I’d never claim such a high level of authority or faithfulness for much of the content my messages. I’m far too aware of my failings as well as complexity of biblical interpretation. That doesn’t mean that I’d be completely unsure of what I’m trying to convey, but we all have things we have a great certainty about and things we aren’t as sure of. As a product of a post-modern culture my circle of certainties might be smaller than it should be, but in this world of conflicting ridiculous notions about God I’d rather be safe than sorry. We enter a dangerous place when we casually equate our interpretations as the “word of God.”

One thing I don’t get about Thabiti’s post is that the words of the preacher are considered God’s voice but the inclusion of a voice from the congregation is considered “pooling our comments” and “sharing our insights” or even an “interruption.” Does God only speak through the preacher? Based on the all the examples scripture provides us of people and even donkey’s speaking for God I’d say this is a pretty dangerous assumption. I’ve observed God’s word proclaimed and God’s love displayed in many multi-voiced church gatherings. 

[Edit]  In the comments Thabiti makes it clear that he believes that Spirit of God fills up the discussion in other types of church gatherings where there is dialogue.  He believes this qualifies as “ministry of the word.” He argues that only certain people occupy the “teaching office” based on the requirements of 1Tim 3 and James 3, therefore not everyone should preach.  1Tim 3 speaks to requirements for elders not anyone who might offer a question or comment on what is being taught.  If it did wouldn’t it apply to all forms of ministry?  1Tim 3 speaks of the role of elder, not the ability to speak in a church gathering.  If it were it would be completely inconsistent with 1Cor 14 where only women were instructed to remain silent but men are not.  In 1Cor 14 Paul describes a dynamic meeting where people were spontaneously inspired to prophesy and were doing it it out of order.  The solution wasn’t to silence everyone but to simply do things in order.

Thabiti suggested that the critic of his book had a low theology of preaching. I would counter by suggesting that Thabiti’s comments suggest he has a low theology of the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit works through the entire body as it wills and can inspire anyone to utter divine truth.

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American Shame

Click here for how the International Monetary Fund’s “Advanced economy” countries on various measures.

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Why do we preach?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, researching and writing for another teaching website I hope to launch sometime this year.  One issue I’m confronted with is preaching.  In current protestant church practice the sermon is largely regarded as the central activity of the church.  In fact a great many people believe that church just isn’t church without a proper sermon delivered by the right kind of person.

What is the biblical basis for the central role of preaching in the life of the church?

Albert Mohler points to just 2Tim 4:2 in this post.  In this post he says:

Preaching did not emerge from the church’s experimentation with communication techniques. The church does not preach because preaching is thought to be a good idea or an effective technique. The sermon has not earned its place in Christian worship by proving its utility in comparison with other means of communication or aspects of worship. Rather, we preach because we have been commanded to preach.

Preaching is a commission–a charge. As Paul stated boldly, it is the task of the minister of the gospel to "preach the Word, . . . in season and out of season" [2 Tim. 4:2]. A theology of preaching begins with the humble acknowledgement that preaching is not a human invention but a gracious creation of God and a central part of His revealed will for the church. Furthermore, preaching is distinctively Christian in its origin and practice. Other religions may include teaching, or even public speech and calls to prayer. However, the preaching act is sui generis, a function of the church established by Jesus Christ.

The passage in it’s entirety is:

Preach the message, be ready whether it is convenient or not, reprove, rebuke, exhort with complete patience and instruction.
(2Ti 4:2 NET.)

At first blush I’m a little confused.  If I was to write an article on what I think is the central activity of the church I’d probably want to find more than one bible verse.   Constructing theology is tricky business.  It is dangerous business to build a case on one verse.  I could build a case for another activity that perhaps could be central to the life of the church based on 4 passages.

Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
(Rom 16:16 NET.)

All the brothers and sisters send greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
(1Co 16:20 NET.)

Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.
(2Co 13:12 NET.)

Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss.
(1Th 5:26 NET.)

I know I’m being silly but this illustrates a point.  We can’t pick just any group of passages of the bible and make what they talk about central in the life of the church.

We have lots of examples of Jesus and Paul preaching.  People say we should preach because Jesus preached.  Yes Jesus and Paul preached but they used a lot of other mediums as well.  We see things like discussion, debate, and teaching.  We really can’t cherry pick some examples and say this has to be central in the life of the church today.

Jesus picked and mentored 12 men, quite a lot is written about that, perhaps mentoring should be central? We have a very strong command from Jesus sending the apostles to go out and make disciples.  Jesus sent out his disciples on little mission trips and eventually the apostles covered much of the known world, perhaps missions should be central?

Neither of the two common words translated preach actually define the medium used.  One means to share the gospel (euaggelizo) and one means to proclaim something (kerysso).

Here is an example of euaggelizo in Peter’s one on one meeting with the Ethiopian eunuch.

Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached [euaggelizo] Jesus to him.
(Act 8:35 NASB)

In this example is pretty clear that the word euaggelizo is more about the sharing of a specific message than the method it is shared in.

What about kerysso?

We proclaim [kerysso] Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.
(Col 1:28 NASB)

Most of the time the NASB renders kerysso as preach but in this case the translators render it “proclaim.” Just like euaggelizo the word kerysso doesn’t define the medium.  One can kerysso or proclaim something through a sermon, monologue, published writing, blogs, dialogue, art, music, debate, teaching etc…  In Colossians 2 Paul is saying Jesus is being proclaimed/heralded/announced and one of the mediums listed is teaching.

The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says the following:

1. kerýsso and Other Words for Proclamation.
The NT uses many words for the proclaiming of the Christian message, e.g., légein, laleín, martyreín, didáskein. It is a mistake simply to render such terms, and kerýssein itself, by “to preach.” Fundamentally kerýssein is the declaration of an event.

Kerysso is the word used in 2Tim 4:12.  It seems shaky to the point to 2Tim 4:12 as evidence that one specific medium should be central in the life of the church when the words used in the passage don’t explicitly define the medium. 

Does the context of 2Tim 4:12 imply something resembling the practice of the modern sermon?  Most translators seem to think so as they render the word kerysso “preach” but not all do.  The NRSV and the NJB render kerysso “proclaim” and I think it fits better.

Here is the passage with a little more context.

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim [kerysso] the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.
(2Ti 4:1-4 NRSVA)

It seems to me that Paul is telling Timothy to be ready to proclaim the message in any situation he finds himself in.  Be ready to do it by convincing people, rebuking and encouraging.  To proclaim it with patience in teaching.  I don’t know that it fits as well to say that Paul is telling Timothy to be ready at all times to engage in a 30 minute exposition of scripture to a quiet audience.

The one word that does describe contemporary preaching is oratory, but we don’t see that word used in connection with ministry.

Where this whole investigation gives me pause is many of the people who believe wholeheartedly in preaching also believe wholeheartedly in proper biblical exegesis.  I just haven’t seen the solid case for making preaching central in the life of the church.  Now just because I don’t think it should be central doesn’t mean I think it is unbiblical or illegitimate. 

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Aircraft are bombing protestors in Libya

"What we are witnessing today is unimaginable. Warplanes and helicopters are indiscriminately bombing one area after another. There are many, many dead," Adel Mohamed Saleh said.


"Military planes are attacking civilians, protesters in Tripoli now. The civilians are frightened. Where is the United Nations, where is Amnesty International?" al-Warfali told Reuters.

Read the rest at Reuters

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Finding a biblical church

I’ve done lots of thinking about church in my life.  I think that even many forms of simple church don’t live up to the biblical standard.  I read about one group on online.  It did some things right.  They talked about scripture and did some missionary work but they had several obvious failings.  

The people in the group had a obvious lack of commitment to each other.  It took years before a real community gelled and in the crisis moment’s people would scatter.  There were some in the group that fought with each other over leadership roles in the group.  There were some in the church that didn’t really respect the leader and thought they he should have taken a completely different approach.  

At times the church was really popular with the community and did a lot of outreach.  They followed the Luke 10 approach so popular with the house church movement today but they never actually got around to planting any more churches.  Any church that isn’t fulfilling committed to multiplying disciples and churches isn’t fulfilling the great commission.

Their leader was a real liability to the movement at times.  Sometimes his teaching was cryptic and irrelevant.  At other times he was just plain offensive and managed alienate almost everyone who could have become good members of the church.  Josh was a real hot head and sometimes he would mock or insult other leaders of the faith.  It appeared at times like the leader had favourites in the church.

There was an obvious lack of church commitment to the truth and accountability.  As time went on it became readily apparent that the treasurer was taking money out of the church account.  The leader had to have known this was happening and he did nothing about it.  

That isn’t to say this church didn’t do some good.  They did but it was obvious that its members really lacked the commitment to each other to be a real biblical church.  

Three of the church members kept a blog about it. You can read them here, here and here.

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Fault lines in American society

I just finished reading this article about the protests in Wisconsin.  Now that money is getting tight the political left and right are increasingly at odds.  American governments are broke.  The right blames the public unions and over rich entitlement programs.  The left (and the libertarians) blame things like fat cat “banksters” and imperial size defence spending. 

The truth is they are both right.   Instead of coming together and rationally discussing the issues they seem to want to tear each other apart.  This is not going to work.  I fear this scenario will be played out across the land fuelled by a similarly divided media that have skewed away from balanced reporting towards something akin to propaganda. 

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Early reflections on my first real attempt to lose weight

A few weeks ago I stepped on scale at a relative’s house.  As I watched it wrap around past 0 I realized that I’ve crossed a barrier or I’ve come very close to crossing the 300lb barrier.   I’m 6’ 6” so 300lb looks a lot trimmer on me than it would on a lot of other people but it is at least 50lbs heavier than I really should be.

Last fall my wife entered a weight losing contest at work.  A few months later and 20lbs lighter she looks fantastic.  My wife doesn’t like to lose contests.  She liked losing weight.  She used the LoseIt app for her Ipod touch.  The system is simple.  Using their database you track the calories going in and the calories burned.  If you burn more than you eat you lose weight.

It is abundantly simple.  I found a similar and perhaps and even better app called MyFitnessPal for Android (it too is available for the iPod touch/Iphone).  It does the same thing.  Both apps have corresponding websites that you can access for free.  I’m down to 292.  I’m losing weight just about as fast as the app would have projected.

Now that some people know what I’m doing I’ve discovered that some very large people feel free to give out lots of dieting advice.  Some are very pro Atkins/low carbs.  While I agree that I feel more full eating steak than eating a apple turnover with the same amount calories, I still need to burn more calories than I eat to lose weight.  I wonder if we try to over complicate a very simple equation.  If you put in more energy than you use it gets stored.  If you use more energy than you put in, it takes it from the energy store.

I’ve also discovered that moving 300lbs around burns an amazing amount of calories relative to my much smaller wife.

Cheese has an amazing amount of energy density.

Carrots and Lettuce couldn’t light up an LED.

Free chocolate cup cakes feel more like sabotage than a gift.  Sweet, delicious sabotage.  I enjoyed one today!

So far it hasn’t been terribly difficult.  The biggest change has involved what I drink more than what I eat.  That and I don’t eat ridiculous meals anymore.  No more gobbling 4 pieces of extra large pizza or getting 20 McNuggets and Fries and a Coke at McDonalds.  Sometimes I’d eat more calories in a meal than my wife should eat in a whole day.  It is easy to see how I put on about 6-8lbs a year each year for the last number of years.

Ultimately I was inspired by my wife.  I am so very proud of her.