Archive | May, 2011

Book Review: Redemption

If you ever meet Mike Wilkerson, thank him. In his concise book Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Carry, released in February, he has diligently summarized the best evangelical theology has to offer on idolatry, as well as the best biblical counseling has to offer on addiction, abuse, recovery, and healing. The footnotes and bibliography alone are worth the price of the book.

As Wilkerson notes in the opening pages, “Why me?” has probably been on the lips of every victim and “What’s wrong with me?” on the lips of every desperate addict. He begins with the very real felt needs that drive those questions and doesn’t waste any time moving to the unfelt needs underlying them.

Among our unfelt needs, probably none is more unfelt than our need to be set free from our idols. Wilkerson shows how the theme of idolatry elegantly unites both the abuser and the abused, both the addict and the victim, under one banner, by asking one question: What are you delighting in more than God? or What do you want more than God? Whatever we want more than God is automatically an idol. Whatever we want more than God is what we worship, and what we worship is ultimately and inevitably what masters us. While idolatry may not always be the most talked about problem in the average counselor’s office, idolatry is the most talked about problem in Scripture.

In light of these things, Wilkerson concludes that—irrespective of the contributing and interlocking factors of history, brain chemistry, psychology, and sin—addiction is ultimately a worship dysfunction. Wilkerson starts from that premise, and the results are piercing. “[T]his brings us all the way back to the core of our problems and therefore to the brink of the solution. We love the wrong things, so our worship is distorted. We have exchanged the worship of God for golden calves. The solution: renewed worship.”

In other words, Wilkerson is arguing that at the root of all our addictive patterns of sinful behavior lies the simple truth that we desire the wrong things, and our desires motivate us to act to satisfy them by any means necessary. Thus, we need transformation of not only our behavior, but even more urgently, our deepest desires. Wilkerson, channeling the best of Tim Keller, David Powlison, and others, uses the biblical account of the Israelites’ exodus as a framework for retelling our stories of addiction and abuse redemptively. He writes:

The Israelites didn’t have just a natural desire for food; they wanted food, and they wanted it on their terms, and they disbelieved that God would provide… [T]heir desire wasn’t simply for a daily fill of bread. That was merely a thin cover over a bottomless pit of desire to have life on their terms. They wanted bread, and they wanted it now. Gathering it a day at a time wasn’t good enough; they wanted to stockpile.

God set the Israelites free from physical slavery, but they soon discovered that their hearts were still enslaved to a myriad of sinful desires that were repeatedly exposed whenever they encountered suffering and hardship.
Continue Reading →

On Corporate Prayer, Hope and Expectation

(Lisa Robinson)

This is a melange of thoughts on prayer, with a specific focus on corporate prayer, expectation in prayer and unanswered prayer.  I’ve been reading through Talking To God: What the Bible Teaches About Prayer, by Thomas Constable.   It is a solid work on a biblical theology of prayer.  He notes some common misconceptions regarding prayer, one of which is the often misinterpreted passage in Matthew 18:19-20 and the idea that there is something ‘magical’ about corporate praying. He writes

This passage promises God’s presence when  his people assemble, particularly in situations regarding church discipline.  It does not promise God’s presence only when we assemble.  God is always with his children (cf. Matthew 28:20).  The dynamics of a group situation may generate new ideas and enthusiasm as people pray together.  Moreover, the fact that many people have united to pray about a situation also shows God that many, rather than just a few, feel the need for what they request.  Prayer meetings are a good idea, but we should not overestimate their power. (pg 159)

I agree with this assessment that gathering together does not conjure up the presence of God more so than individual prayer.  But I think he might be downplaying the significance of corporate prayer.  Even though he does acknowledge “It is a normal, divinely approved activity for people of like mind to pray together (Daniel 2:17-18; Acts 4:23-24; 12:12)”, there is something special about corporate prayer.  It represents a uniting of the community of faith that is not present with individual prayer.  I believe it demonstrates to God that the people gathered take being the body of Christ, in which members join together, serious.  Corporate prayer honors God. Continue Reading →

Some Valuable Lessons On Theological Learning From An Analysis of Origen

(Lisa Robinson)

First off, this post is not really about Origen (c. 185-254).  But it is about some lessons that I learned from studying Origen’s homilies in relation to how we do theology in general.  Prior to taking an elective last fall in History of Exeges is, I had a certain idea about Origen and his interpretive methods.  I had not read Origen’s work directly, but learned what I did of him from historical theology surveys and articles I read on the internet.  Mainly, my impression of Origen being the father of Alexandrian school of exegesis was that he utilized a wildly allegorical style of interpreting scripture where symbolism ran amok and passages were assigned some arbitrary meaning. In fact, many of the descriptions I read of him identified him in relation to this but in more of a pejorative light. What I gathered was that Origen was just a wild and crazy guy when it came to interpretation.

That was until I took the History of Exegesis class, where a good portion of it was spent on analyzing Origen’s interpretative methodology and some of his homilies on Luke that were delivered to new Christians. What I discovered was that there was a method to Origen’s seeming madness.   Not only that, but he was consistent in his approach to interpretation.   His multiple sense of interpretation always begin with the literal sense that is not divorced from the text albeit not necessarily concerned with historical accuracy.  The spiritual sense of the texts correlated meaning to an overall analysis of what was going on.  This would lead to the moral sense, which was to affect obedience to God.  For Origen, this was the ultimate goal.  Understanding the text corresponded to the reader’s spiritual maturity and the correlation between obedience to Christ and an illumination of the text.  Origen’s interpretation was rooted in a strong Christology that sought to draw the reader to Him.   Needless to say, this was quite a different understanding that I had going into the class.   Moreover, I was refreshingly surprised at how much I was personally edified in my Christian walk as a result of better understanding of where Origen was coming from.

But like I said this was not about Origen but rather the affect of what I learned particularly as it relates to theological learning and discourse.   It seems to me just as I had one impression of Origen’s interpretive methods that admittedly came with an attitude of scoffing, we often approach theological topics, positions, systems this same way.  We have built an identity around particular issues or theologians that we have come to reject, treat as insufficient or just don’t agree with.   And let’s face it, theological discourse can be very reactionary.  Often times, that reaction can propel unexamined rebuttals that are not really honest to what is being proposed.  But I propose guarding reactions in consideration of these  key points that I found useful in my example of Origen.’s exegesis. Continue Reading →

Loopholes for Hell: A Response to Jeff Cook’s Response to Francis Chan

Give me enough slack and I can get out of anything. I am a master of manipulation. Before you get too smug, let me say this: you are too. It’s called sin. Manipulation is lying for the sophisticated.

I have gone on record saying that I hate the doctrine of Hell. If there is anything in my theology that I could discard—if there was a theological “burn card”—it would be the doctrine of eternal punishment. It causes me great anxiety and disillusionment. I am sorry if that makes some of you uncomfortable, but that is just the way it is. That is me.

That is why I am somewhat jealous of people who can find their way out of this doctrine. That is why, in one sense, I am envious of those who have found ways to adjust or deny the existence of the eternal punishment of the unredeemed. Would that I could follow them, but my conscience will not yield to my emotions and allow me to.

Here we go again…

Francis Chan has a book coming out in July called Erasing Hell: What God Said About Eternity, and the Things We Made Up. Though the book has not yet been released, there is a substantive and dramatic video preceding it to get people talking (following the lead of Rob Bell prior to the release of Love Wins). I know of no other Christian author with the popular appeal right now that overshadows that of Rob Bell, so Francis Chan’s contribution to the issue should only serve to intensify this discussion. As well, from what I have seen from the video (and the obvious connotations carried by the title), I imagine that Chan is going to defend the traditional doctrine of eternal punishment in a unique way.

And, just like with Rob Bell’s book, there are people critiquing the book before it comes out. As I said before, I have no problem with this, as the promo videos are meant to provoke thought by allowing us to preview the substance of the book. More copies get sold that way.

Jeff Cook, at Jesus Creed (Scot McKnight’s blog), is the first I know of to begin the pre-publishing critique by examining the implications of the video. Check it out here. While Cook opens with some very kind remarks about Chan, as the old saying goes, nothing really counts before the word “but”! Continue Reading →

Dealing With My Depression #1: Muffling Its Voice

Three years ago, I would not have dared start a series such as this. No, I take that back. I might have started such a series, but it would have been from the outside looking in. Having wrestled with depression for a while now, all I can do is share some of my methods for dealing with my depression when it taps me on the shoulder. So, from time to time, you may see these types of posts on this blog.

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I have learned to muffle the audience I give to my depression. Depression whispers something in your ear and it sounds as if it represents reality in the moment. But I have come to realize that it is representing a distorted reality that will soon pass.

I remember when depression first hit my sister Angie. All she could say was “This is just how I am now. This is just the way it is going to be from now on.” I could not understand how she could evaluate her entire future without any regard to the past. She was never this way before, why was she so certain that this current pain was to define the rest of her existence? However, I now know what a deceiver depression is. It is very easy when I am depressed to think that this is just the way that I am. This is reality. That is what eventually took her life. Continue Reading →

Trevin Wax’s Response to N.T. Wright: Do People Really Believe that God is a Monster?

I normally don’t post links such as this on this blog (it is a content blog, not a news blog), but due to our obsessive-compulsive excitement about release of The Discipleship Program tomorrow (yes, I did say “the”), I have not had much time to get stuff up here on the blog. Therefore, I point you to my friend Trevin Wax (author of Counterfeit Gospels), as he put together a wonderful post in response to N.T. Wright on hell.

See here.

The whole post is worth the read, but this stood out to me the most:

“Perhaps the caricature of “God as capricious monster” exists out there, somewhere. But I have yet to run across non-Christians who conceive of God this way. In my conversations with non-Christians, I am more likely to hear them articulate a vision of God that is held captive to Western notions of “love” (sentimentalism) and “fairness.” I don’t run across many people who are afraid of hell or final judgment. Instead, I see people who resemble those in Noah’s day, eating and drinking and marrying without any sense that judgment is coming.”

Out of this world, Trevin. Thanks.

Does God Approve of “Greater-Good” Theology?

“Greater good” theology. We often talk about the “greater good” in ethics. We defend God’s use and allowance of evil, understanding that so long as there is a “greater good” which can be expected, evil is justified. Joseph tells his brothers after they sold him into slavery out of jealousy, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good” (Gen. 50:20).

Though I am not too comfortable once we, as fallen, ill-informed humans, began to incorporate a “greater-good” theology into our lives, practically speaking it seems anything can be justified when the door is open for us to find a “greater good” that might come from any particular unrighteous action. Of course, it is not always cut-and-dry. Often, when people seek my advice on these matters, I want to hide. Some things are just too hard to give advice on. Take marital issues, for example:

1. A wife comes to you and says that her marriage is falling apart. She and her husband have tried and tried, but their marriage is, according to her, beyond hope. They fight continually in front of the kids. They bring out the worst in each other. The marriage has changed both of them into bitter, unhappy people. Their kids are suffering greatly due to their unhappiness and seeing a terrible example of marriage.

It is a sin to get a divorce. However, the attitudes that they continually bring out in each other are terribly sinful as well. Not to mention that they are hurting the kids. Which is the greater evil? Which is the greater good? Continue Reading →