June 28, 2013

The Corrupted Gospel #andcanitbe

John Wesley's conviction that the Methodist movement existed primarily to proclaim the doctrine of Christian perfection (or entire sanctification) is well-known. Here is Wesley in his own words:
"This doctrine (full sanctification) is the grand depositum which God has lodged with the people called Methodists; and for the sake of propagating this chiefly He appeared to have raised us up."
For Wesley, the recovery of this good news is the distinctive contribution of the Methodists; to lose it would be to lose our identity. Tragically, we seem to have done just that. This quote from George MacDonald gets straight to the heart of the matter when it comes to why we must recover and hold on to the message of holiness:
"The Lord never came to deliver men from the consequences of their sins while yet those sins remained: that would be to cast out of the window the medicine of cure while yet the man lay sick; to go dead against the very laws of being. Yet men, loving their sins, and feeling nothing of their dread hatefulness, have, consistent with their low condition, constantly taken this word concerning the Lord [Matt.1:21] to mean that He came to save them from the punishment of their sins. This idea - this miserable fancy, rather - has terribly corrupted  the preaching of the gospel. The message of the good news has not truly been delivered" (Life Essential, 15). 
For MacDonald, to suggest that Christ came to save us from the consequences of our sin, namely hell, without also declaring the hope that Christ came to free us from a life marred by perpetual sin is nothing less than a corruption of the gospel. Again, MacDonald, "this is what He came to deliver us from - not the things we have done, but the possibility of doing such things any more" (16). I can only imagine that Wesley would agree and encourage the present day people called Methodists to preach a gospel that is whole and uncorrupted. 

June 26, 2013

Rough Magic: Paul and the Law in Narnian Perspective

Ever have the experience of reading a book only to have the author turn a phrase so well that it unexpectedly sheds new light on some matter on which you were not, at the moment, reflecting? That very thing happened to me not long ago while reading C.S. Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Let me say that I typically expect Lewis to push me to think about God, creation, redemption, and everything else in fresh ways. However, I wasn't expecting him to hit me with a sentence that illumined my perspective on Paul and the law, a topic to which I've devoted a fair bit of thinking, some writing, and no little preaching. Here's what happened.

I've been reading The Chronicles of Narnia this year, and have just recently completed The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which recounts the adventures had by Caspian, Edmund, Lucy, Eustance, and the Dawn Treader's crew as they sail eastward in hopes of finding the World's End and, perhaps, even Aslan's country. Along the way they stop off at a number of islands, one of which is inhabited by a race of invisible people who come to be known as the Dufflepuds. Ruled by the magician Coriakin, they are invisible because they put themselves under a spell with a view to hiding their self-perceived ugliness put on them by Coriakin's magic. The spell can only be broken if the appropriate spell is read by a little girl from the magician's book which is located upstairs in his house. The Dufflepuds are a curious people and spend most of their words agreeing with their chief, though they are none too bright and tend to say remarkably silly (and humorous) things like, "You'll find the water powerful wet." Despite their foolishness, they threaten to kill Lucy and her friends if she doesn't go into the magician's house and read the spell to make them visible. Lucy obliges and while in the house she not only encounters Coriakin but the great lion Aslan as well. 

That brings us to the point. As Lucy visits with Aslan and Coriakin, she learns that the lion put the magician on the island to rule over the Dufflepuds. As the conversation proceeds, Aslan asks Coriakin whether he ever grows weary of ruling his foolish subjects. The magician responds that he does not; in fact, he finds himself rather fond of them despite their stupidity. It was the next thing said by Coriakin that sent shock waves through my thinking on Paul and the law. "Sometimes, perhaps, I am a little impatient," he said, "waiting for the day they can be governed by wisdom instead of this rough magic." I had not been thinking of the apostle to the Gentiles before, but I couldn't escape him after reading that. Suddenly, the letter to the Galatians occupied my thoughts, not least the words of chapter 3:
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our child-minder (παιδαγωγός) until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian (23-25).
It wasn't so much that Lewis' words brought a dramatic change to my understanding of Paul's view of the law, and I have no idea whether Lewis himself had Paul in mind when he wrote this chapter in Dawn Treader. Nevertheless, the narrative caused me to think afresh on an old problem in the study of the apostle.

Lewis' language of "rough magic" is provocative. It seems almost irreverent to speak of the Law of Moses in this way, but the phrase captures both the tension and trajectory in Paul that the law is suitable for its purposes in governing the people of God but was always intended to be surpassed by something better. For Paul, the law was intended to be a temporary ruler over the people of God until they could come to maturity. It was never intended to be the fullest and most glorious expression of God's mind for his people. That is not to disparage the law, only to understand it within its proper redemptive context.

Lewis provides an analogy by describing the hope that the Dufflepuds will move from being ruled by rough magic to wisdom; they are not where they need to be. Likewise, Paul saw the law functioning as a governor for a people who were not where they needed to be. God always intended for his people to come to the place (or be brought to the place) where they no longer needed a child-minder, The end of the law is maturity in Christ. The law should be studied and valued for the ways it can lead us into the heart of God, but we must understand that it wasn't intended to be the last word. It had a particular function with regard to a particular people for a particular time, and, having fulfilled it's particular role, it has been set aside. It was good and important, but it was also rough and unpolished. It was given to an imprudent people just rescued from slavery in a pagan nation, a people who did not know God. But with the advent of Christ and the indwelling presence of the Spirit, the children of God are come to maturity and can be ruled by wisdom instead of rough law.

As is often the case, Lewis' fiction is a breath of fresh air as I reflect on scripture. May we all be ruled by the wisdom of God in Christ and the Spirit, and may we never be known as Dufflepuds.

June 25, 2013

To Bless the Nations: Election in Biblical and Missional Perspective (@OfficialSeedbed)

The rapid increase of those who identify as "young, restless, and Reformed" is bringing fresh attention to the doctrine of election, which is one of the definitive issues that marks the sides in the ongoing debate between Calvinists and Arminians. The question is not whether there is a doctrine of election in the Bible, but how God goes about choosing a people for himself.

Wesleyans and Classical Arminians believe that God's election is conditioned on his foreknowledge of faith. In contrast, Calvinists and others in the Reformed tradition insist that divine election for salvation is unconditional. From the Calvinist perspective, God's choice with regard to which individuals will be saved is made without reference to their faith or anything they do. From this perspective, those who are not chosen are passed over and remain in their condemned state with no hope of salvation. The technical term for this unfortunate group is "reprobate". We must ask, however, whether these the only ways to think about election? And does this way of framing the debate make the best sense of the relevant passages in scripture? We will see that how we approach these questions will inform the way we understand what God has chosen us to do. So, let's begin with a quick look at election in some key biblical texts. Then we'll reflect on how our findings impact the church's mission to the nations.

Read the rest of the post at Seedbed.com to discover why the doctrine of election is all about how the reprobate come to experience the blessing of God's salvation. 

June 20, 2013

Arminian Theology Videos (@FASociety, @OUPAcademic)

The Francis Asbury Society (FAS) has kindly made available a series of four videos introducing the life and theology of Jacob Arminius. The videos are the product of a partnership between FAS and Asbury University, and they feature Dr. Thomas McCall, of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Dr. Keith Stanglin, of the Austin Graduate School of Theology. The four videos include talks on (1) the Biography of Arminius, (2) God and Creation, (3) Providence and Predestination, and (4) Sin and Salvation. McCall and Stanglin are well-suited for this project, having recently coauthored Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace, which looks to be a great new resource on the important Dutch theologian. Here's a recommendation from Calvin Theological Seminary's Richard Muller:
"Keith Stanglin and Thomas McCall have provided a much needed introduction to the thought of this major theologian that is both scholarly and accessible. They set aside the prejudices and stereotypes that have often plagued the study of Arminius and provide a significant access to the main themes of his thought--a work to be studied by scholars in the field and valued by all students of the early modern roots of contemporary Protestant thought."
I'm grateful for presently increasing interest in Arminius and the theology that carries his name. As regular readers of Incarnatio will know, I take the Arminian understanding of salvation to be an accurate expression of what we find in scripture. Many who criticize Arminius are stunningly unfamiliar with what he actually said, and many who call themselves Arminian misrepresent him and would be shocked to discover some of the things Arminius believed and taught. So, take a look at these videos. You can watch them below or click through to the FAS  Vimeo page. For a variety of other great resources, check out The Society of Evangelical Arminians.

Session 1: Biography of Arminius (Stanglin)


Session 2: God and Creation (McCall)


Session 3: Providence and Predestination (McCall)


Session 4: Sin and Salvation (Stanglin)


June 19, 2013

Review: Preaching the New Testament (@ivpacademic)

Two of my top interests are combined in the title of this book. So, I'm very glad to have the opportunity to draw attention to it here, and many thanks to the team at IVP Academic for providing a review copy. With Preaching the New Testament, Ian Paul and David Wenham have pulled together a strong team of scholars all with varying degrees of experience in preaching to create a fine handbook that will guide preachers into the many challenges of relating the ancient text of the New Testament to present-day congregations. Each contributor clearly believes that preaching matters and writes with the goal of allowing his expertise to illumine sound and interesting approaches to the homiletic arts.

Books on preaching abound; so let me begin by saying why this one is important. If, with Paul (the apostle, not the co-editor, though I'm sure he would concur!), we make it our aim to preach Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23), then before we begin working through the tasks of crafting an introduction, working out our points, finding creative illustrations, and composing a compelling conclusion, we must first deal with the text. That task begins by sorting out what the New Testament authors had to say about the importance and implications of Christ's life, death, and resurrection for their first century churches. The many excellent books written on preaching are often intended to serve as guides to composing and delivering a sermon and articulating a theology of preaching. This book, however, is by biblical scholars for preachers and comes a step before the others. Its contribution is an invitation to the reader to explore the context of the New Testament while keeping in constant view the question of how that context can be effectively communicated through contemporary preaching. Thus, the aim of this book to bridge the gap between the first-century text of the New Testament and the 21st century church-goer is the glue that holds the various essays together, and the contributors undertake to accomplish that aim from a variety of angles.

The chapters take up a number of topics related to the many types of texts that appear in the New Testament. The first five chapters focus on the gospels with an initial chapter by D.A. Carson on "Preaching the Gospels", which is followed by essays devoted to various topics in gospels studies like the infancy narratives (R.T. France), parables (K. Snodgrass), miracles (Stephen I. Wright), and the Sermon on the Mount (D. Wenham). In chapter 6, Cristoph Stenschke addresses "The challenges and opportunities for preaching from the Acts of the Apostles", which is followed by essays on preaching Paul's letters (J.K. Hardin and J. Matson), the Pastorals (I.H. Marshall), Hebrews (C.A. Anderson) and the General Epistles (M.J. Kamell). Ian Paul rounds off the chapters devoted to preaching specific books with a look at "Preaching from the Book of Revelation" (chapter 11). The following five chapters consider how preaching can be informed by various disciplines in New Testament studies including archaeology (P. Oakes), ethics (J. Nolland), eschatology (S. Travis), theological hermeneutics for preaching (W. Olhausen) and the "New Homiletic" (H. Stadelmann). The final chapter brings the book full-circle with a discussion of "Preaching the gospel from the Gospels" (P. Weston). As you can imagine, these many angles will inspire readers with many fresh strategies for preaching the New Testament.

Without taking space to look at each essay in detail, I'll mention a few contributions that I found particularly helpful. I very much enjoyed the chapter by Peter Oakes on how archaeology might inform our preaching. Oakes suggests that the first century is (often unconsciously) much like a "fairy-tale world" to many modern people and argues that archaeology can help preachers dispel such notions by accurately portraying the world of the New Testament as a real place inhabited by real people. Archaeology helps undo our fantastical imaginings about the biblical contexts and replaces them with a deeper and more informed understanding of how the message of the New Testament confronted the concrete values and ideals of the Roman Empire. I also appreciated Ian Paul's essay on preaching from Revelation, which aptly develops and sets forth several strategies for helping preachers lead their congregations into what is arguably the most difficult book in the canon. I'll add that John Nolland's chapter on preaching the dual eschatological realities of hope and judgment was extremely helpful. These two themes run throughout the New Testament, and Nolland works through some of the barriers that make it difficult to preach them in order that we might ably lead our congregations in reflecting on the way these two important matters impact our belief and practice.

Preachers need to know that this is not a book of scholarship. It is a book that aims to bring the findings of scholars to bear on the ministry of preaching, and it is a book that every preacher should keep close at hand. Pick it up and read through the relevant chapters before setting out to preach on the gospels or on Paul. Use it as you are thinking through fresh strategies for a sermon series on New Testament eschatology. Allow yourself to be stretched by the practical experience and expertise of the contributors. Preaching is not preaching unless it is biblical preaching, and Preaching the New Testament will only help your preaching to become more thoroughly biblical.
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Note: This book was received from the publisher in exchange for a review. The reviewer is under no obligation to provide a positive review.

June 17, 2013

Gosnell and the Resolve of #NCCUMC (@gbcsumc #umc)

The North Carolina Annual Conference passed a resolution earlier this month that is commendable in many ways, even if the content of the resolution sends some mixed signals. I'm grateful to Rev. Jeremy Smith for first pointing me to the resolution, which is titled, "The Trial of  Dr. Kermit Gosnell and the Response of the General Board of Church and Society" (pp. 6-7). I'm also grateful for Jeremy's expressed concern for my health, though in the end it was unfounded as my head is entirely intact. I can only imagine his worry over my potential cranial combustion stemmed from the part of the resolution that commended the General Board of Church and Society for their statement in response to the Gosnell trial. My own reading of that statement resulted in a rather more mixed response. Nevertheless, as indicated above, there is much to commend the resolution. So, let's turn to that before raising a question or two.

The resolution passed by the North Carolina Conference is commendable for three reasons. First, it strongly condemns the actions with which Gosnell was charged and found guilty. Second, it expresses a hope that I share that Gosnell will "have a change of heart." Third, by citing the language in the Book of Discipline that affirms the sanctity of preborn human life and United Methodist commitment to reducing abortion alongside a key portion of the charges outlined in the grand jury's indictment of Gosnell, the resolution draws a clear connection between abortion and the investigation leading up to Gosnell's trial and the resulting guilty verdict. United Methodists need to recognize the link between abortion and Gosnell and articulate that connection clearly. Good job, North Carolina, for leading the denomination by connecting abortion to Gosnell. 

This accurate connection, however, contributes to the mixed message sent by the North Carolina resolution. Three out of the first four "WHEREAS" statements include the language of abortion, including one that describes Gosnell as a provider of "late-term abortions." That the North Carolina Conference sees a connection between Gosnell and abortion appears unquestionable. However, the statement on the Gosnell trial released by GBCS suggests that the proceedings were unrelated to the abortion debate. GBCS put it this way, "this case has become the latest battlefield in the abortion debate, but it is unclear why." So, North Carolina expressed its resolve to condemn Gosnell's actions in light of the UMC stance on abortion and Gosnell's work as an abortion provider, but it then commended the GBCS statement which claims that Gosnell has nothing to do with abortion. This strikes me as quite the mixed message. Was the Gosnell trial about abortion? Or, was it not? 

To my knowledge, North Carolina is the only Annual Conference that has passed a resolution about the Gosnell trial. Do you know of any others who've passed such a resolution? If so, let us know in a comment with a link to the resolution.

June 11, 2013

The Christian Family (@ministrymatters)

I'm grateful for the recent opportunity to participate in the Converge Podcast at Ministry Matters with Angela Roberts Jones, Clifton Stringer, Jessica Kelley, Shane Raynor. Here the video in which we take up Galatians 3:26-29 and Romans 8:14-17 to discuss what it means to be a child of God, faith, how Christians relate to one another, and being led by the Holy Spirit.

June 10, 2013

5 Ways to Preach the Whole Bible (#andcanitbe)

Leading the church into an ever deeper understanding of the Bible-as-a-whole is no small task, and all who devote their lives to the ministry of the Word know the weightiness of this responsibility. Like Paul, who told the Ephesian elders that he had not refrained from preaching to them “the whole counsel of God”, we long for our congregations to be nourished by every word that God has spoken (Acts 20:27). This means, however, that we must resist the natural drift to preach only those parts of the Bible that are most familiar to us. If the people of God are to continually grow in health and vitality, then we all must have a balanced and steady diet of scriptural explanation and application. But is there an approach to preaching that will ensure we feast on all scripture has to offer? Here are five recommendations that, when taken together as an integrated approach, will help you preach whole Bible and avoid running in the same old homiletic ruts.

Click through to read the rest of this post at Seedbed.