Archive for March, 2011

I don’t know how I missed it.

But it came clearly to mind as I read pages 182-189 of my book du jour, A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story, by Michael W. Goheen (Baker Academic, 2011).

Throughout the years since graduate study, I’ve been deeply enchanted with the New Testament letter of 1 Peter. I’ve studied it, preached it again and again, taught it, written on it. And I’m still learning it!

“Is there an image of the church,” asks Dr. Goheen, “that enables us to understand our missional identity in such a perilous social context?” Answer? Yes! “The primary theme of Peter’s epistle is how the Christian church can live faithfully in a non-Christian environment.”

So far, so good.

But what until now I have dubbed “living as a resident-alien” must be reversed: a Christian is being called and equipped by the gospel for “living as an alien-resident.” Everything hinges on the hyphen, and on the sequence!

Lose the hyphen between alien-resident, and we’ll be tempted to choose for one status or the other. Many Christians emphasize alienation between the church and the world with its culture, in response to which other Christians emphasize participation and virtual identification between the church and the world with its surrounding culture. A privatized religion quarantined in the church is one way of surrendering to the temptation, while a syncretized religion accommodated to the surrounding culture is another.

But once again, this is a false dilemma, a bad choice, a pernicious dualism (which absolutizes a duality).

Ignore the sequence of alien-resident, and we’ll miss a truth for which Jesus Christ died: one day, soon, the first status (alienation) will dissolve, but the second status (resident) will be established! Christian salvation does not consist of an exodus from creation, out of history, and away from human living. Rather, Christian salvation equips believers already now for participation in the gospel-renovated creation, in God’s gospel-driven history, and in comprehensive gospel-saturated human living.

Put 1 Peter together with Jeremiah 29.4-7 (“seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile”), and here’s what you get:

We are obligated, then, to seek the welfare of our cultural setting, involving ourselves in the various cultural and social institutions of our place as we participate in the cultural task. This means that the church’s witness will move beyond the church as a communal gathering. . . . Christians [are] to live as critical participants (Goheen, 185; italics original).

Well now, as part of clarifying the relationship between Christianity and culture in our generation, we may be delivered from the destructive myth that to live as a pilgrim church exempts us from participating in surrounding culture as Christians.

Pilgrimage is not the alternative to cultural participation. Pilgrimage is the manner of Christian cultural participation.

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Perhaps you already know that the surname of one of America’s premier twentieth-century Reformed-Presbyterian theologians is the Dutch word for “fox.”

“Vos” was his name. Geerhardus Vos.

A friend supplied me this “foxy” quote as an encouragement in clarifying the issues surrounding NL2K (a modern construal of Natural Law + 2 Kingdoms):

[87] From this, however, it does not necessarily follow, that the visible church is the only outward expression of the invisible kingdom. Undoubtedly the kingship of God, as his recognized and applied supremacy, is intended to pervade and control the whole of human life in all its forms of existence. This the parable of the leaven plainly teaches. These various forms of human life have each their own sphere in which they work and embody themselves. There is a sphere of science, a sphere of art, a sphere of the family and of the state, a sphere of commerce and industry. Whenever one of these spheres comes [88] under the controlling influence of the principle of the divine supremacy and glory, and this outwardly reveals itself, there we can truly say that the Kingdom of God has become manifest.

But “the Fox” has just begun. Read on:

[88] And what is true of the relation between church and state, may also be applied to the relation between the visible church and the various other branches into which the organic life of humanity divides itself. It is entirely in accordance with the spirit of Jesus’ teaching to subsume these under the kingdom of God and to co-ordinate them with the visible church as true manifestations of this kingdom, in so far as the divine sovereignty and glory have become in them the controlling principle. But it must always be remembered, that the latter can only happen, when all these, no less than the visible church, stand in living contact with the forces of regeneration supernaturally introduced into the [89] world by the Spirit of God. While it is proper to separate between the visible church and such things as the Christian state, Christian art, Christian science, etc., these things, if they truly belong to the kingdom of God, grow up out of the regenerated life of the invisible church.

For your files, the complete bibliographical reference is: Geerhardus Vos, The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1972 [repr.]), 87-89.

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We (my wife and I) happen to be visiting dear friends in Florida for a long weekend.

Our intention was to spend time in their home, relaxing, chilling, catching up, going deep with each other.

But termites spoiled the plan. Only in a manner of speaking.

You see, our friends recently undertook some interior remodeling, only to discover entire studs, joists, and rafters eaten away by termites. Which required the replacement of far more than initially intended (covered, happily, by insurance). So the carpenters would be seriously dampening our relaxation, making work noise all around us while we were trying hard to be lazy.

That’s why their friends stepped in to offer the four of us use of their empty oceanfront condominium for the duration. What began as hopeful refreshment turned into a heartwarming retreat.

Simply stated, we can’t awaken to a brilliant orange splashed sunrise over the Atlantic coastline, and not thank the Lord for these termites.

Sunrise over the Atlantic

We are unable to listen to the constant sleep-enhancing rumble of ocean breakers, and silence our gratitude for these termites.

As the sun sets over the inter-coastal waterway, with sailboats passing by with their sheets unfurled to celebrate season’s opening, thank you, Lord, for these termites.

Let me encourage you to look around and identify something that you might have considered a setback that became the occasion for something better. A surprising opportunity for temporary retreat from responsibility, for genuine renewal of a relationship, for healthy realignment of the spirit.

And give thanks for the termites.

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Forty percent.

That’s almost fifty percent. One half.

Forty percent of American-grown corn ends up in our gas tanks.

Simple economics teaches us that there has to be some correlation between this fact and food riots around the world.

You see, other people are beginning to talk about this. And to riot about it. In Tunisia. Egypt. Other developing countries where food costs have spiked beyond affordability.

As usual, Charles Colson sharpens the moral point for us:

Passion and anger aside, forty percent of the corn grown in this country goes to ethanol production. That’s enough corn to feed 350 million people! And yes, I understand that the kind of corn used in ethanol is not generally used for food. But the land used for growing corn for ethanol could be used to grow corn for food! What’s more, all of this diverting potential food for fuel hasn’t made much impact in lessening our dependence on foreign oil. And the environmental benefits of using ethanol are at best debatable.

You can read the rest of his column here.

This is a discussion you may not have heard about, but it’s one that North American Christians need to join, soon. The questions are complex, to be sure, and the multiple causes of rising food prices require careful sorting. For a balanced analysis of the causes behind rising food prices, Bryan Walsh offers this commentary.

Once again we have opportunity to confess–with deeds as well as words–that people are more important than things, than pleasure, than privilege. Hungry people. Starving people. Restless and rioting people. We need Christian thinker-leaders, among them our young collegians, to help us wrestle with the dimensions and implications of this global and growing phenomenon.

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The highly acclaimed 2010 biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. A Righteous Gentile vs. the Third Reich, by Eric Metaxas (Thomas Nelson), has received both plaudits and punches. Has the hero been seasoned for evangelical tastebuds? Or freed from being held hostage for decades by those wanting a post-WWII German theological survivor? (For your encouragement and as an indication of how accessible and reader-friendly the 608-page book really is, consider that my 85-year old mom read the copy she borrowed from her church’s library. Go for it!)

As with any great thinker, so with Bonhoeffer, I suppose: you can extract from him precisely what your colored glasses let you see. Having read him for both undergraduate and graduate study, I’ve always found his thought stimulating, occasionally opaque, warmed by the heat of the crucible of twentieth-century events that shaped world history. My Dutch-immigrant dad enjoyed reading Bonhoeffer, and when I had become more of an adult, we enjoyed discussing important life lessons gleaned from Bonhoeffer’s masterpiece, Cost of Discipleship.

A colleague and friend sent me this paragraph from the Metaxas biography. It contains one of those life lessons my dad and his generation nurtured in their offspring:

All his life, Bonhoeffer had applied the same logic to theological issues that his father applied to scientific issues. There was only one reality, and Christ was Lord over all of it or none. A major theme for Bonheoffer was that every Christian must be “fully human” by bringing God into his whole life, not merely into some “spiritual” realm. To be an ethereal figure who merely talked about God, but somehow refused to get his hands dirty in the real world in which God had placed him, was bad theology. Through Christ, God had shown that he meant us to be in this world and to obey him with our actions in this world. So Bonheoffer would get his hands dirty, not because he had grown impatient, but because God was speaking to him about further steps of obedience.

That entire paragraph and especially the underlined sentence capture the heart of the Christ-centered-gospel-for-this-world driven life.

It’s Saturday today. Only because I’d like you to ponder the double entendre contained in the blog title, ponder this question en route to tomorrow: Whose dirty hands?

Have a blessed Lord’s Day. Tomorrow. And then Monday.

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We interrupt our translating routine to pass along this gem from Herman Bavinck, The Kingdom of God as the Highest Good:

Scripture is the Book of the Kingdom of God, not a book for this or that people, for the individual only, but for all nations, for all of humanity. It is not a book for one age, but for all times. It is a Kingdom book. Just as the Kingdom of God develops not alongside and above history, but in and through world history, so too Scripture must not be abstracted, nor viewed by itself, nor isolated from everything. Rather, Scripture must be brought into relationship with all our living and with the living of the entire human race. And Scripture must be employed to explain all of human living.

Such moments in this translator’s labor provide opportunity for exhaling but one word in response: Amen!

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