Monday, October 5, 2015

Feeding the Frenzy

Once again Christian social media has been inundated with harangues centered upon well-known ministers. Perhaps the more accurate way of putting it is that Christian social media is still inundated, because I'm not entirely convinced it ever stops. Providentially, the latest round has coincided with my church's study of 1 Corinthians, particularly Chapter 1. As I've been reading over Paul's frustrations with the church in Corinth I've been struck by how the factions he speaks of still exist today, in some measure. While we may not be aligning ourselves with Paul, Apollos, or Peter, there is still a great deal of following in Christian circles - be it a certain pastor or denomination.

In my study of 1 Corinthians, I came across this quote by David Prior,
Whenever Christians give their allegiance to any human personality, such as a gifted preacher or pastor, they have taken their eyes off Jesus Christ and there will inevitably be disunity (source).
If Prior is correct (and I believe he is), it's no wonder there is so much fighting among Christians. My pastor recently gave an excellent sermon on disagreements within the church. (His advice is well-taken.) All of this reading and listening has led me to ponder how we, as the Body of Christ, chew each other up in our attempts to be theologically correct. I confess I have done my share of looking down my nose at those who don't agree with me. And while I agree with J. Gresham Machen who said, "Indifferentism about doctrine makes no heroes of the faith", I wonder if we don't take our concern that we may be indifferent to the extreme.

I've meditated and prayed over this, and the Lord brought to mind the example of a well-known and respected minister who took in another after he was called out in his denomination. The former offered the latter a safe place to be mentored, counseled, and held accountable. This, this is a picture of the gospel. If he disagreed with the offending minister, I don't believe he ever stated so publicly. He took some hits for his actions because there were many who couldn't believe he would do such a thing; they argued he was colluding to cover the sin. It seems that rebuke is not genuine unless it is made public.

What your eyes have seen
do not hastily bring into court,
for what will you do in the end,
when your neighbor puts you to shame?
- Proverbs 25:7-8 (ESV)

With all the social media platforms out there, it's incredibly easy to bring someone before the court of public opinion. We often do so without thinking. Meanwhile our neighbors - believers and unbelievers alike - are watching. How long will it be until they put us to shame by bringing us before that same unforgiving court?

In his book Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World, Michael Horton discusses the cultural evolution of ambition from a vice to a virtue. The church has not been immune to this change. In fact, Horton argues, our drive to achieve notoriety within our churches causes us to focus on self and pulls us away from our brothers and sisters, something the New Testament writers warn against (see James 3:13-18; 1 Cor. 12:15-26)
This isn't every person for himself, but all for one and one for all: Christ for us and then us for each other. It may not make any sense to people around us, but when a brother or sister falls down, we do not keep running, much less demean them, but turn back to pick the person up. If necessary, we carry him or her to the finish line...'Above all,' Peter exhorts, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins' (1 Pet 4:8). Peter isn't saying that our loving acts atone for sin. Far from it! Peter's astonishing point is that love hides the faults of others rather than making a spectacle of them. (Horton, 92)
We can extrapolate this argument to the universal church. Yes, doctrine matters. Yes, we must battle heresy. But it is far more wise - not to mention, loving - to point out error in private than to jump on the bandwagon of public criticism. If I acknowledge the unlikelihood of a Christian celebrity reading what I post about him or her on a social media platform, I must question my motive for posting it.  Even if that person were to come across my post, what am I accomplishing? My time is better spent by privately going to a friend who may be affected by that person's ministry, rather than airing my disagreement publicly.

I was reminded of this recently. A friend of mine is a member of a church led by a pastor whom many consider controversial. I knew the swirling storm was hurtful to her; she has been wounded by people seeking to wound her pastor. I contacted to her express my sympathy for her pain. I don't know her pastor or anything about him, really. I do know my friend, and I ached for her. She was grateful to have someone reach out to her and although I didn't ask her about it, she told me what she has witnessed. Her reply reminded me that it's nearly impossible to see the full truth for the mud slung in a media (or social media) frenzy. And underneath all that mud is a church of believers splattered in the cross-fire. There are family members dirtied simply for standing beside their loved one. There is a person in need of a Savior.

And so am I.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Thirty-Four on the Three in One: Which Are Not True?

In his little book Delighting in the Trinity, Michael Reeves calls the Trinity "the governing center of all Christian belief" and "the cockpit of all Christian thinking."1 In other words, it's not an irrelevant or secondary doctrine, but of primary importance.

How well do you know this central doctrine of Christianity? I've put together a little quiz so you can test yourself. Here are 34 statements related to the Trinity. Which ones are not true? (There's a link to the answers at the end of the post.)
  1. There is one God.
  2. God is one person.
  3. God is one being.
  4. There are three persons in the Godhead.
  5. The three persons in the Godhead are related eternally as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 
  6. Each of the three persons of the Godhead is one-third of God.
  7. The Father is fully God.
  8. The Father has the whole fullness of God’s being in himself.
  9. The Father is eternal.
  10. The Father is not the Son.
  11. The Father is not the Holy Spirit.
  12. The Son is fully God.
  13. The Son has the whole fullness if God’s being in himself.
  14. The Son came into being at the time of the incarnation. 
  15. The Son was brought into being in eternity past.
  16. The Son is eternal.
  17. The Son is not the Father.
  18. The Son is not the Holy Spirit.
  19. The Holy Spirit is fully God.
  20. The Holy Spirit has the whole fullness of God’s being in himself.
  21. The Holy Spirit is eternal.
  22. The Holy Spirit is not the Father.
  23. The Holy Spirit is not the Son.
  24. The persons of the Trinity are distinct.
  25. In their nature, the Son and the Holy Spirit are co-equal and co-eternal with the Father. 
  26. The Son and the Spirit are subordinate to the Father in their essence or nature.
  27. The Trinity is unique.
  28. There is both unity and diversity in the being of God.
  29. The persons of the Trinity have distinct primary roles.
  30. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are simply different names for the one person of God showing himself to us in three distinct roles.
  31. A right understanding of the Trinity is vital to right worship of God.
  32. A right understanding of the Trinity is vital to a right understanding of redemption.
  33. Any analogy used to explain the Trinity will not represent it completely accurately.
  34. The doctrine of the Trinity cannot be derived from the biblical text.
Answer key.

1] Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity, page 16.

This quiz was first posted on my personal blog several years ago.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Summer With L.M. Montgomery

A couple of weeks ago, Persis wrote about her L.M. Montgomery summer. Quite serendipitously, I was reading L.M. Montgomery myself. I have spent a lot of time with Montgomery.

Montgomery was part of my childhood the way that Laura Ingalls Wilder was in the lives of other girls. Montgomery died in 1942, and after that, publishers began re-printing her books. My grandmother bought them, and gave them to my mother. I bought a cheap set of paperbacks for my daughter to read.  When I purchased Montgomery's biography a few years ago, I began a reading project, not only re-reading her books (and not just the "Anne" books), but reading critical works of her material and reading her Selected Journals, which were edited by Elilzabeth Waterson, and Mary Rubio; Rubio is the author of The Gift of Wings, the biography of Montgomery. This summer, I read the fourth volume of her journals.

The journals provide fascinating reading. Maud didn't hold back in her journals, and she took the project seriously. In fact, she re-copied them years after writing them, expecting people to read them after her death. The same lavish descriptions of P.E.I. which are in her books are within her journals. Many phrases in her journals are used verbatim in her books. These aren't just "what I did today" journals. She used her journals to process things, and to unburden her heart.

The volume I finished this summer covered the years 1929-1935. In these years, she begins to experience a loss of influence in the literary world, her husband takes a new church, and she struggles with anxiety and depression due to tight finances and a rebellious son. Health matters such as insomnia, headaches, and dizziness plague her. However, she still manages to soldier on with her duties as a minister's wife (duties which she loathes for the most part), and participate at speaking engagements.

If it is one thing Maud was good at, it was hiding her feelings. She managed to pull off Sunday school programs, hostess duties, and missionary society meetings as if nothing was wrong, when in reality, she was in despair. She did not want anyone knowing the truth. Her grandmother instilled in her a very healthy fear of "what will people say?" When one of her boys fails college courses, her cry is is, "How could he do this to me?" because she is afraid of the public disgrace. The previous volumes of her journals have their share of angst, especially when her husband's mental illness is at its worst, but this volume contains much more, and is not punctuated as often with good times.

Maud Montgomery was not generally a happy woman. At times, she reveals unflattering qualities, most notably intellectual snobbery. The comments she makes about her husband's congregants are often unkind and impatient, because she does not find them intellectually stimulating. I got the feeling that Montgomery valued intellect above godliness.

Two things really stood out to me as I read this volume. First, the ability of such an unhappy woman to write happy stories is a testimony to the creative abilities God gives. I have no idea of Montgomery's standing before God, but I know she was created in his image and he gave her those literary abilities, and I'm thankful for that. Second, I was left wondering if we can really know someone. How many people who were Montgomery's contemporaries knew her dark, despairing thoughts? When the journals were published beginning in 1985, were those who were still alive shocked? We can really only know what others will let us see, and even then, we may interpret it wrongly. God does know us intimately, though, and I wish I could have the sense that Montgomery knew some sort of peace with God.

Montgomery will always feel like a companion to me. I've enjoyed her stories and I've felt sad for the lack of love she had in her life. She truly was a fascinating woman.

Monday, September 28, 2015

What I read on my summer vacation: Philosopher's edition

When I was in college, the last class I would have picked for an elective was philosophy. Who needed to learn about a bunch of dead Greek guys sitting around in their togas pondering the meaning of existence? The subject seemed boring and highly impractical. As a Christian, thinking also seemed to be at odds with spirituality, so I never thought much about what I believed and why, let alone what others believed.

When I went through a personal crisis in my 40's, a crisis of faith soon followed. Where was God in all of this? What was He really like? Why was this happening to me? These were philosophical questions even though I did not know it at the time. Thankfully through a new church and exposure to sound Biblical teaching, I regained my bearings. At the same time, I realized that I sorely needed to know what I believed and why I believed it.  In short, I needed to become a Berean, which meant learning how to think as a Christian.

So here are a few books that I read this summer to help me discipline my mind in this way:

Prelude to Philosophy: An Introduction for Christians - Mark W. Foreman
If Christians are to be people of the truth, we need to be wise about what goes in our minds. As we seek to share the truth, we also need to be careful to convey our beliefs with clarity and without manipulation. Thus in the first half, the book covers the importance of thinking critically about what we believe and its importance specifically for Christians. In the second half, the reader is introduced to principles of logic and argumentation. This was a very enjoyable read and not dry at all. The author is a professor of religion and philosophy at Liberty University.

An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments - Ali Almossawi
A fallacy is a misleading or unsound argument. I've used them without realizing it, and you may have, too. So what better way to learn what they are and how to avoid them than through clever illustrations with furry critters? A version of the book is available online.

With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies - S. Morris Engel
This is a much more thorough treatment of informal fallacies and argumentation than the previous book. I'm still working my way through, but this book has given me a lot to consider and challenged me to be as logical as possible when trying to make a point. I was pleasantly surprised to find cartoons from the Far Side as examples of the different fallacies. This is a college text so the latest edition is a bit pricey, but it's possible to find less expensive, used copies of earlier editions.

The Consequences of Ideas - R.C. Sproul (audio/video series)
Sproul gives a great overview of the history of philosophy from ancient Greece to the present. Whether we realize it or not, we are influenced by schools of thought from the past. Therefore, it can be very helpful to be able to recognize the source of ideas, both the good and the bad. In my opinion, Sproul can make any subject interesting, and this is no exception.  Keep an eye on the Ligonier $5 Friday specials to get these lectures on sale.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Servanthood as a Lifestyle

"Could it be that our passivity to the needs around us does not really grow out of a commitment to prioritize what God has commanded us to do, but is really a neglect of how he has commanded us to live? It is the difference between focusing on specific behaviors as opposed to a particular kind of lifestyle."
- Paul Tripp (source)
Without a doubt,these words were some of the most convicting and challenging I read all summer - even all year. I have mulled them over in my mind time and time again, and asked myself repeatedly what they mean.

Convicting because I know that I often neglect the people in my life who need me most, especially if they are outside of my home. I'm quick to do anything I can for my husband and my daughter, but I don't like the inconvenience of helping others. I rationalize my absence by citing time, distance, or financial constraints. In truth, I'm offering pitiful excuses and hoping they'll be accepted graciously. If Tripp is right, it's not my lack of prioritizing that's the issue. Instead, it's disobedience. Ouch.

Challenging because while disobedience may be the root, the time, distance, and financial constraints are very real. They don't disappear merely because I wish they didn't exist. I can't always drop my job or my family to attend a friend in need. I can't serve on church committees that meet every week when I live 45 minutes away. I can't disregard the electric bill because a family needs groceries.

The key, I think, is Tripp's last sentence. I tend to focus on the behaviors or the things I'm doing. But God isn't keeping score. There are no extra points for going, doing, or giving. Instead he calls me to be a good steward of my family, time, and money. Sometimes that means I stay put and keep my checkbook in my purse. There's no shame in that. However, there are times when sacrifice is required. Loving my neighbor demands that I be willing to offer my comfort for theirs. The lifestyle Tripp speaks of begins with a heart willing to serve, and we gain that by remembering Christ's sacrifice and his willingness to serve us.
Appreciating what God has done for us in Christ changes how we see our service. Martin Luther writes, "Thus from faith flow forth love and joy in the Lord, and from love a cheerful, willing, free spirit, disposed to serve our neighbor voluntarily, without taking any account of gratitude or ingratitude, praise or blame, gain or loss." (source)
For more on servanthood, I highly recommend Servanthood as Worship: The Privilege of Life in a Local Church by Nate Palmer.