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.