Saturday, March 14, 2015

New distribution for Marriage, Family, and the Image of God

I'm happy to report that my book, Marriage, Family, and the Image of God, is now available for the Apple universe on iTunes, as well as in ePub format at Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and other online retailers.

It's also still available for Kindle on Amazon, and as a paperback at CreateSpace, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers.

If you're interested in the big picture of what marriage and family are all about, and if you're interested in seeing how that connects with us being created in God's image, please check it out! And if you like it, please post an honest review on the site where you purchased it. That would really do a lot to help me spread the word. Thanks!

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Fivefold ministry paper on the Studies page

I've collected a series of four posts on the so-called "fivefold" ministries of Ephesians 4:11 into one paper on the Studies page. The original posts are still some of the most frequently accessed on this blog. I hope they're a blessing to people collected together. Check it out.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Why I Married a Divorced Woman

Shiela over on To Love, Honor, and Vacuum has a very thoughtful, carefully-considered post entitled, "Why I'm Anti-Divorce and Pro Remarriage." I wouldn't necessarily dot every i or cross every t precisely as she has, but she has the main idea dead-on right: that even though God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), he doesn't hate divorce in isolation, as though he just thought up something arbitrary to hate. He hates it for a reason, and that reason--stated in the verse--is because divorce is a form of violence against the person one has married. If he hates it for a reason, then there might be reasons why it would be allowed, if the marriage itself has become a form of violence, if one person has made it clear that he or she is refusing to honor the vows taken when they married. This is precisely what Jesus said: "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so" (Matthew 19:8). God never intended marriage to be temporary, at least within this lifetime, but because people's hearts are hard, it had to be allowed to prevent the worse evil of someone being trapped by a marriage covenant that the other person has no intent to honor.

All of this became very real to me when I began getting to know my wife, Cecile, who had been divorced several months before I met her. The full story is told in my book, Marriage, Family, and the Image of God, but I want to share here, briefly, why a young man who had grown up in the church, was waiting for sex until marriage, and had dedicated his life to pursuing God's purposes, chose to marry a divorced woman.

Friday, January 09, 2015

The Not-So-Romantic Tale of Jacob, Rachel and Leah

Those of us who grew up in the church are familiar with the story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah. After fleeing for his life from his brother Esau, Jacob comes to his relative Laban in Haran to find a wife, and meets Rachel, Laban's daughter. He falls in love with her at once and makes an arrangement to work for seven years to earn her hand in marriage. At the end of the seven years, Laban tricks Jacob into marrying Rachel's older sister Leah instead, and Jacob works another seven years for Rachel. The story is almost always presented as a beautiful love story with a touch of intrigue thrown in. Laban is considered a rotten trickster, Leah his accomplice, Jacob is viewed as receiving a bit of poetic justice after having tricked his brother and his father out of the oldest child's traditional birthright, and Rachel has the role of the hapless heroine, caught in the middle of this mess through no fault of her own. It is often pointed out that "Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her" (Gen. 29:20).

We are told that "Leah's eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance. Jacob loved Rachel" (Gen 29:17-18). Commentators are not agreed on what the "weakness" of Leah's eyes means. Most seem not to believe that it reflects poor eyesight or blindness; the majority seem to believe that her eyes were simply unattractive--possibly blue, which may have been considered a defect in the ancient Middle East. Adam Clarke has an intriguing suggestion: that the "weakness" of Leah's eyes reflects not a negative quality but a positive one--that she did have pretty eyes, but by contrast, Rachel's entire "form and appearance" were attractive, and therefore Jacob gave his love to Rachel. One way or another, it was Rachel's beauty that swayed Jacob. There's nothing wrong with this, in and of itself: many significant women in the Bible are described as being beautiful. But if we look at the respective characters of Leah and Rachel, and the results that came from the two marriages, a picture emerges that is very different from the romantic one usually taught.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Stuff I Wish People Would Stop Writing about Christmas

Every year people trot out the same observations about Christmas. It's not so much the observations themselves I object to, but the air of smug intellectual superiority, the "I know something you don't know" attitude. Because we all know all this stuff already. And some of it isn't even true. Here's my list:
  1. Jesus wasn't really born on Christmas Day.
  2. That's right, kids. Jesus wasn't really born on December the 25th. Well, duh. Strictly speaking, there is just about a 1/365th chance that Jesus was born on December 25th. I'm not going to go into details, but arguments both for and against a December birth aren't conclusive. Nonetheless, the date wasn't included in the gospels, and there's no reason to suppose that Jesus' birthday would have been remembered and celebrated outside the gospel records. Look, we all understand that December 25 is the day we traditionally celebrate the incarnation. It doesn't have to be accurate. That's not the point.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Marriage, Family, and the Image of God:
If It's Permanent, Make It Good

This post is adapted from a chapter of my upcoming book, Marriage, Family, and the Image of God.

Cecile and I decided, even before we got married, that if marriage was permanent, we needed to make a commitment to make it good. That, I believe, is one of the primary reasons that God created marriage to be permanent. Of course he wants to spare us the pain of broken marriages and families. But he also wants us to take the permanence seriously, so that we will decide to make it the best we can, and so that in doing so, we will suppress the individual selfishness that has plagued human beings since the Fall.

The best thing you can do, once you’ve decided to make marriage permanent, is to make it good. And the only way to make it good is to resolve that you are no longer two people but one, that all decisions need to be made with “us” and “we” as the focus, not “you” and “me.” And that takes a willingness for self-sacrifice that, humanly, we don’t have, which is why so many marriages end up miserable and broken. But by seeking God’s help to overcome our innate selfishness, God can use our marriages to mold us into his own self-sacrificial nature; in other words, to conform us into the image of his Son. Other life paths, of course, can accomplish the same thing—those who are married don’t have an exclusive avenue into the image of God. But marriage does have unique challenges. No other relationship is as capable of fostering so much intimacy and creating so much pain.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Marriage, Family, and the Image of God - In the Beginning

This is a first draft of the first chapter of my upcoming book, Marriage, Family, and the Image of God. Enjoy!

Cecile and I first met during the summer after I had finished my first year in seminary. I was back home for the summer, and the job I thought I’d had lined up had fallen through. I got a temporary job doing data entry for a travel agency that was converting its files from one format into another. The job was from five at night to one in the morning, for about two and a half weeks.

I was one of three men among about a hundred women working on this project. Since I was shy, this was pretty intimidating, so when an attractive tall blonde in a red dress smiled at me, I stuck with her. Not for the reasons you might think. I went for short brunettes at the time, and I’d just had my heart broken, so I wasn’t looking for anything beyond a summer job. She smiled at me, so I thought she was safe.

She wasn’t safe.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

New Book Coming Soon!

I just finished the first draft of a new book, tentatively entitled Marriage, Family, and the Image of God. Stay tuned for details!

Monday, July 14, 2014

What's Wrong with Visionary Dreaming

I just got blown away by this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it has sprung from a wish dream…He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the later, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial. God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dreams bind men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.” (Life Together, 27-28.) 

Monday, July 07, 2014

What Does It Mean to Follow Jesus

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.
--Matthew 4:18-20 NIV

The phrase Jesus uses most often to call people to become his disciples is the familiar phrase, "Follow me." Most people are reasonably clear on what that meant in Jesus' day, at least for Peter, Andrew, and the rest of the twelve. They left their occupations and traveled with Jesus, being taught by him and being commissioned to do the things he was doing: preach the good news of the kingdom, drive out demons, and heal sicknesses (Matt. 10). Their "following" was quite literal: Jesus was an itinerant preacher and they went with him wherever he went. Following Jesus involved sacrifice: Peter once said to Jesus that his disciples had "left everything" to follow him, and Jesus didn't contradict Peter, but rather held out to him promises of reward (Mark 10:28-31).

It's difficult to say in what sense other people also followed Jesus. Crowds followed Jesus from one side of the Sea of Galilee to the other, and Jesus rebuked them for having wrong motives (John 6:24-26). However, it's clear that at least some people outside the circle of the Twelve were also disciples, or at least true believers who followed Jesus' teachings: Mary and Martha, along with their brother Lazarus, Mary Magdalene and the other women who went to anoint Jesus' body and found the tomb empty. Joseph of Arimathea is also identified as a disciple of Jesus, albeit secretly, along with Nicodemus (John 19:38-39). So to be a disciple or follower of Jesus did not necessarily mean to be one of those who actually went around with him physically.

These questions become relevant for us in the present day because there are some current teachings relating to discipleship that make assumptions regarding what following Jesus is all about, largely based on the biblical example of Jesus and the Twelve. These teachings also relate to how we understand the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), because Jesus' command was to "make disciples," not merely to make converts. What it means to be a disciple, what it means to follow Jesus, is thus very important.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Top Ten Reasons Why Theological Debate Doesn't Work

... especially on the internet.

#10 - Everyone compares what they actually believe to the "logical implications" of what the other guy believes.

This is why you get Calvinists arguing that Arminianism logically implies that we want to take credit for our own salvation, and Arminians arguing that Calvinism logically implies that God is the author of evil. Complementarians think egalitarianism implies erasing of all gender differences and egalitarians think complementarians simply want to keep women down. None of these groups actually believes what the other side says they should, and we all cry foul when someone else does it to us, but we all have the tendency to do a reductio ad absurdum on someone else's argument, no matter how much they protest that that's not what they believe.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Rediscovering Grace

My parents were both brought up in an extremely legalistic "Holiness" branch of the church. I have always been grateful that they broke away from most of that when I was very young. Since my family already understood that true holiness wasn't a matter of adhering to a bunch of mostly non-biblical rules and regulations, the question of what holiness or righteousness actually was was a live question to me growing up.

Somehow--I can only attribute it to the action of the Holy Spirit--I gained the insight that righteousness came through faith. I don't recall hearing it from anywhere, although I'm sure that it was present in sermons that I've heard and forgotten. I know that when I was young the Epistles were mostly opaque to me. ("Why should I care about some old letters that people wrote to other people a long time ago?") I was mostly into reading narrative at that time--Bible stories. So I didn't directly get the message from Paul. But somehow the story of Abraham in Genesis caught my imagination, and the line, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness" stood out to me. I'm sure I got it from Genesis, and not Romans or Galatians.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christian Tribalism: does God call us to stand up for the truth?

There seems to be a great deal of emphasis in Christian circles involving "standing up for the truth": affirming an unpopular but Biblical position regarding some issue that conflicts with contemporary Western mores. The latest flap is about Phil Robertson of the Duck Dynasty TV show, his interview with the magazine GQ, and network A&E's banning of Phil from the show. Conservative Christians are up in arms about censorship and free speech and most of all Standing Up for Biblical Truth.

What I see in all of this is a mindset I'd call Christian Tribalism.

Christian Tribalism is merely the religious version of a mindset shared by most people throughout history. It's basic form is encapsulated in the phrase, "Us vs. Them."  The basic idea is that We are at war, or at least in competition, with Them. We, of course, are the Good Guys, and They are the Bad Guys. Our job is to fight, or defend, or take a stand, for the Good Guys and for the principles that we believe in. We're looking to defeat the other guy, whether the weapons of our warfare are swords or guns or pens or tweets.

Friday, December 13, 2013

More on Rob Bell's "What Is the Bible?"

I have no intention of starting a running commentary on Rob Bell's "What Is the Bible?" series on Tumblr, but a couple of recent posts of his 1) answer some questions I had raised about how he was going to handle the Resurrection, and 2) provide a wonderful example of how not to do exegesis on Ephesians 1:9-10.

First, on the Resurrection. I had raised the question of how Rob would handle Jesus' resurrection, considering the fact that he had made a point of saying that the historicity of events in Scripture was beside the point. In his post #18 of the series, Rob gets to the Resurrection. And his conclusion is that, yes, literally, "Dude is alive!"(Rob is living in southern California now. And surfing a lot.)

So that's great: Rob and I agree that the Resurrection really happened. Rob gets there by an interesting path--he sees the discrepancies (or what he views as discrepancies) in the various Resurrection narratives and post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus as evidence that this was not propaganda and therefore really happened. (That it was women who saw Jesus first is additional evidence. A phony story would not have been set up that way.) So Rob manages to affirm the literal truth of the Resurrection while not having to affirm (or reconcile) the literal truth of any of the documents that document that fact. It all fits into his method pretty well.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Rob Bell's "What Is the Bible?" Series

Rob Bell has been blogging a series called "What Is the Bible?" If you're interested in reading it from the beginning, it starts here.

I'm neither a particular fan nor a particular detractor of Rob. (He strikes me as the kind of guy who'd like you to refer to him by his first name. Rob, feel free to call me Keith if you pop in.)

I read his Velvet Elvis, which didn't make a really significant impression; I think he was just tilting at different windmills than those that occupy my back yard. I haven't read any of this other books, including the controversial Love Wins. I was going to write that I have no particular axe to grind, but of course that isn't true; everyone has an axe to grind. I guess it's more true to write that I'm not jumping on board any particular pro-Rob or anti-Rob bandwagon.

So anyway, back to the "What Is the Bible?" series. A good summation of Rob's method can be found in Part 13: Consciousness and Violence. Rob's essential argument is that the Bible was written by people (he doesn't deny divine inspiration, but I suspect that what "inspiration" means is one of the things he'll get around to), those people were influenced by their own cultural biases and attitudes, those biases and attitudes become a part of the text, but also some new thoughts and ideas that weren't a part of the writers' culture also get introduced, which pulls the consciousness and attitudes of humanity forward. This process is very slow, because humanity is incapable of turning on a dime. God works from where we are, and draws us toward the next step forward.

Mike Breen and Building a Discipling Culture: A Dissent

Last summer, I commented on a review of Mike Breen's Building a Discipling Culture. The original review was at a blog entitled Notes from the Trail. In it, Jeff Noble offered a mixed review of Breen's book, lauding its intentional and structured approach to discipleship, but questioning the necessity of such a convoluted approach to discipleship and the effectiveness of the geometric images that Breen employs.

Based on my own experience in a church that had begun using Breen's approach, I commented on Noble's review. I've thought long and hard about whether to deal with the subject here on this blog, and decided that rather than saying a lot myself, I'd simply reprint my comment on the original review, along with a couple of the responses to me. I'm doing so because I think that Breen's approach is dangerous, and I feel that I need to let people know. My comment on the original review read as follows: