Joy and Peace

I am someone that wants, in my actual experience, a life of joy and peace.  I must admit this is harder said than done.  Worry, guilt, the past, the present and the future all fight to fill my mind with a sense of worry and joylessness.  I know that I am not the only person who struggles in finding joy and peace.  So how do we enter into the life promised to us in the gospel?

I think there are three steps into joy and peace for the follower of Jesus:

Step #1: Think rightly
Here are some ideas that I try to keep before me all the time.  I find them so helpful in moving me into the reality of peace and joy.  Here is the basic truth of our existence: we feel and experience what we think upon.  And what we think upon is in our powers to control.  Want joy and peace?  Think about the right things!

From John Calvin:

The native tendency of the gospel is to give peace and calmness to the conscience, which otherwise would be tormented by distressing alarm.

From Henry Nouwen:

Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.

From Dallas Willard:

We may allow joy to dissipate through looking backward at our sin and failures, or forward at what might happen to us, or inward at our struggles with work, responsibilities, temptations and deficiencies. But this means that we have placed our hope in the wrong thing, namely ourselves and we do not have to do this. It is our option to look to the greatness of God and what he will do in our lives.

From The Heidelberg Catechism Question 1 & 21:

Q&A 1
Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own,1 but belong—body and soul, in life and in death2—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.3

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,4 and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.5 He also watches over me in such a way6 that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven;7 in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.8

Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life9 and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.10

Q&A 21
Q. What is true faith?
A. True faith is not only a sure knowledge by which I hold as true all that God has revealed to us in Scripture;1 it is also a wholehearted trust,2 which the Holy Spirit creates in me3 by the gospel,4 that God has freely granted, not only to others but to me also,5 forgiveness of sins, eternal righteousness, and salvation.6 These are gifts of sheer grace, granted solely by Christ’s merit.

And of course from the Bible: Psalm 23, Romans 4-8, Ephesians 3, The Lord’s prayer.

Step #2 Community

We need people who actually know us.  Who we can confess sin to, we have a history with, can speak truth to us and encourage us to keep running the race.  Most of us fail in joy and peace because we have no one who can help pull of from the mire of doubt, confusion and darkness in our lives.  Community has been the greatest gift of God’s presence in my life these last many years.  From my wife to good friends, there is nothing like walking with other Christians that can remind me of the goodness of God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes this about this kind of community:

It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian community is a gift of grace. [… For it is there that we] meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation.

Step # 3 The Activity of God

God wants you to have peace and joy more than you do.  These are the fruits of life in Him.  One of the great comforts of life is to know that God is working on our behalf to bring us into joy and peace.  It is good to know that this is not just our project.  So, let’s trust Him together to do what only He can do!

This is how I am learning to live moment by moment in joy and peace.  Would you add anything?

God, Eros, Sexuality, and Traditional Marriage

knowledge and Christian belief

I just finished reading, Knowledge and Christian Belief, by Alvin Plantinga.  It is a great book and one I will probably write a review for later on but wanted to pull out an idea that Plantinga touches upon that I think can help us understand the importance of traditional marriage.  The book which is about how Christianity has its roots in actual knowledge, unintentionally, gives a solid defense for marriage between a man and a woman.

In his book, Plantinga describes how eros is one way to understand our relationship with God and actually is the primary way the persons of the trinity interact.  Eros is a classical term describing one of the forms of love and is most simply defined as desire.  Usually, eros is used to describe sexual love between two persons.  Plantinga shows us eros is actually much more than sexual longing. If Plantinga is right then sexual longing, I think, is a signpost that points to what is happening in the cosmos–the eros of God.  If true, we begin to see why sexual ethics, for the follower of Jesus, are of extreme importance.

First, Plantinga shows us that eros finds its most realized expression in the trinity,

According to Jonathan Edwards, ‘The infinite happiness of the Father consists in the enjoyment of His Son.’  This presumably isn’t agape.  It doesn’t involve an element of mercy, as in his love for us.  It is, instead, a matter of God’s taking enormous pleasure, enjoyment, delight, happiness in the Son.

Desire and delight is one of the essential hallmarks of the trinitarian community.  It is a community of eros.  It is a community of joy!

Secondly, Plantinga believes God in His overflowing delight invites His people to encounter His eros,

The church is the bride of Christ, not his little sister.  Theses scriptural images imply that God isn’t impassive, and that his love for us is not exclusively agapeic.  They suggest that God’s love for his people involves an element of desire: he desires the right kind of response from us, and union with us, just as we desire union with him.

Do you see the progression?  The eros of the trinity overflows and becomes a place we are invited to.  God desires us and the imagery that the Scripture uses is the desire of a bridegroom for his bride.  This divine marriage and the eros in it is what life is all about!

And finally, Plantinga sees eros emanating from the bride for the bridegroom,

This love for God isn’t like, say, an inclination to spend the afternoon organizing your stamp collection.  It is longing, filled with desire and yearning; and it is physical as well as spiritual: ‘my body longs for you, my soul pants for you.’  Although eros is broader than sexual love, it is analogous to the latter.  There is a powerful desire for union with God, the oneness Christ refers to in John 17….

We desire to be one with the bridegroom, to be in union with Christ.  This is eros in action.

 

If Plantinga is right about eros both in the trinity and our life with God, then I think there are some conclusions we can make concerning our sexual nature, activity and relationships:

  • Sexual longing has meaning
    I would contend that eros is a signpost that points to God.  Our longings show us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.  This is true of our sexual longings .  They show on a human level what is happening in the heavens.  This gives sexual activity much more meaning than just two people hooking up.
  • Sexuality must honor God
    It seems to follow that our sexual activity must have as its final aim the ability to point to that one marriage that will last for eternity.  If it does not do that, if it has lower purposes, then it does not honor God.  This is the reason that fornication, homosexual activity, porn and the like are wrong.  They don’t honor God because they do not point clearly to the eros of eternity.
  • God honoring eros is most clearly seen in traditional marriage
    There is eros between the bride of Christ and the bridegroom.  This is the delight of the heavens.  I would argue this is what all of life points to.  And I think this what our marriages points to and give us a taste of.  Traditional marriage is a shadow that points to that one marriage that is coming.  This is why changing the definition of marriage just won’t work.  To change the definition of marriage is to lose what it points to.
  • The beauty of family and how it points to the trinity
    Finally, I think this give us another reason to be thankful for the beauty of family–father, mother, and children–a circle of sufficiency.  Eros between Husband and wife that provides for their good.  In the midst of such love, a safe space is created for children to come, be safe, nurtured and grown.  It is in our family that we see what God is up to and just how good he is.  In a small way, I think this points back to the trinity.  It is a signpost of his goodness and life!

 

I would love to hear your comments.  What am I missing?  What has been your experience with eros?  Does it weird you out that God has eros for us?  Comment below

 

The Allure of Gentleness

 

Author Dallas Willard is one of evangelicalism’s most influential voices over the last quarter-century. Though he died nearly two years ago, a significant amount of his material is still being released. One such posthumously published book is The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus, a compilation of presentations and writings on apologetics brought together by Willard’s daughter, Becky Willard Heatley. “Apologetics is serious work to help people—Christians and non-Christians—resolve issues of doubt,” Willard contends.

In The Allure of Gentleness he seeks to do this serious work and teach others how to do apologetics in the manner of Jesus. The book is helpful, unique, and sometimes theologically provocative; it is an important addition to the conversation of how we ought to contend for the faith in an increasingly doubt-filled world.

Overview of the Landscape

The Allure of Gentleness is divided into seven chapters. Chapter 1 begins with definitions of knowledge and truth, and the need for discipleship in apologetics; chapter 2 deals with doubt and the fundamental need for Christian apologetics to be more than a defense of right ideas; chapters 3 and 4 consider faith, reason, hell, a biblical approach to apologetics, and Willard’s rationale for a Creator; chapter 5 is his take on the God of the Bible and a case for the veracity of the Scriptures; chapter 6 covers his answers to the problem of pain and evil; and chapter 7 asserts the need for a personal, active relationship with God if our apologetic endeavors are to be effective.

Overall, Willard covers what anyone must if he is to effectively address the topic of apologetics. Occasionally, he takes unhelpful theological detours.

There is much to love about this book. One of Willard’s most helpful reminders is his assertion that serious thinking is necessary if we are to engage in effective apologetics. For many, both inside and outside the church, there is ea fear that thinking might knock down the walls of faith. Willard writes, “This reminds me of the definition of faith by Archie Bunker, a character on the 1970s TV show All in the Family: ‘It’s what you wouldn’t believe for all the world if it wasn’t in the Bible.’” Willard believes this type of shallow faith is destructive for rigorous Christianity. For him, serious thinking is the way forward:

You have the ability to reason—the ability to think—just like you have the ability to open this book and read it. Please forgive me, but we need to be unmistakably clear that apologetic work uses reason. We submit our reason to God to help people understand things that will increase and enlarge their faith.

Drawing from John Stott and Martin Lloyd-Jones, Willard artfully shows how reason and logic can help us see the truthfulness and reality of our Christian faith. Always the professor, Willard offers helpful examples of logic and deductive reasoning and demonstrates why Christianity is based on knowledge and not mere belief.

(To read more, click here.  This review was originally posted at The Gospel Coalition).

Answering Benjamin Corey’s Sincere Question!

Benjamin Corey is a blogger over at Patheos and writes some really interesting stuff.  He is always provocative but always kind. He is smart and someone who is sincerely seeking the truth.  I enjoy reading his stuff.  Last week he wrote an article titled, A Sincere Question For My Calvinist Friends.  I found that he framed the conversation of God’s sovereignty in a very unique way.  He seeks to show how double predestination would make God unworshipable.  At the end of the article, Corey writes this,

what if it’s the person you love most in all the world who God picked for hell? Presupposing your theology is correct, do you really think you could worship that God?

He is of course writing this to Calvinists.  Since I am one, I thought I would take a shot at answering his question.  Like Corey, I am hoping to find the truth and live in it.  I also want to help my Christian friends see the beauty and lovlieness of God.  So here is my shot at an answer:

I would suggest first of all that Corey’s questions are secondary to two larger questions:

  1. who is God
  2. what purposes did he create the world.

I think once you can answer these two questions, you can then answer Corey’s questions.

So who is God?

For the Calvinist, God is the most happy, the most competent, the least anxious and the most powerful person anywhere. This is His essence and who He has always been! John Piper (who I know you love Corey!) writes, “God has been supremely and eternally happy in the fellowship of the Trinity.” The reason Calvinists believe such a thing is that this is the steady proclamation of the Scriptures.  Even at the lowest point of history, the crucifixion of Jesus, we are told that it was all done for joy (Hebrews 12:2).  Calvinists also think God is competent.  The technical term for this is sovereign.  This simply means that what God wants to do He can do (Job 42:2).  Nothing can thwart His plans and purposes.  Calvinists would also say that God is eternally good and at His core is love (Psalm 136:1, 1 John 4:8).

This is what I propose is a decent, biblical definition of God: God is the most happy, the most good, the most competent and the most loving person anywhere.

I like my definition of who God is but I think we need something better.  Adam Clarke, by no means a Calvinist, but who still got some things right :), gave this as a definition of God:

God is the eternal, independent, and self-existent Being; the Being
whose purposes and actions spring from himself, without foreign
motive or influence; he who is absolute in dominion; the most pure
the most simple, the most spiritual of all essences; infinitely perfect;
and eternally self-sufficient, needing nothing that he has made; 
illimitable in his immensity, inconceivable in his mode of existence
and indescribable in his essence; known fully only by himself, because an 
infinite mind can know itself.  In a word, a being, who from his infinite
goodness, can do nothing but what is eternally just, and right, and kind.

Clarke hits the mark!  This is the Calvinist view of who God is. I like this definition and so would Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Edwards, etc..  I wonder if you would agree with this?  How would you change this definition and still keep the biblical view of God?  This is the God that Calvinists have in their view when they speak of His sovereignty.

What purposes did God create the world?

Let me assert why I think God created the world: to show his goodness (glory/beauty) to free creatures that can decide to choose Him.  I admit that this does not sound thoroughly Calvinistic at first glance but let’s see if I can show you how this is a Calvinistic idea.  I am reading through Calvin’s Institutes right now and Calvin has lots to say about free will and sovereignty!  According to Calvin, the only time humanity had free will was before the original sin of Adam and Eve.  Before sin, man was truly free.  Free to follow God.  Free to do what he wanted.  And yes, free to sin.  This is the world as God created it.  This was the original design (Now I think this pre-sin life was marked by grace as well but that is another story).  Man was free and used that freedom to move away from God in rebellion.

It is here that sin entered the world.  For Calvin, sin severely diminished human freedom (he thought it totally obliterated free will in fact).  Because of sin, we are now slaves to sin.  Slavery by its very definition means a lack of freedom.  The disease of sin has ruined the will.  It can not choose good nor can it even want it nor would it want to.  This is the human dilemma!  So by the sin of one man, freedom was lost.  We can no longer choose Him (the point of creation remember).  We need help.

To free us (and our wills), Jesus came.  Salvation for sure justifies but it also makes us free people again.  I think one of the most powerful themes of the book of Romans is this idea of becoming people with free wills once again.  This is the good news of the gospel!  We can be free.  But there is a problem, if we are slaves to sin then we will need help to choose God and live for him.  This is what grace actually does.  Grace is, as Dallas Willard states, “the activity of God in our lives.”  It awakens us, forgives us, empowers us and finally it frees us to be free people.

Creation was a place where humans had free will and they could choose to follow God.  But they chose sin and lost their freedom.  God has sent His Son to justify and free His people.  It is through the Son and the grace He offers that we can choose God and live for Him.  And this is where it becomes amazing!  Through redemption it is better than it ever was before.  We now have the likeness of the Son and His freedom.  God gets to show His beauty off in ways that would never had been possible if sin never happened.  Good news!  This the story of the cosmos from Calvin’s perspective.

Two more clarifications

I am close to answering your question but want to give two more short clarifications.  The first is this; I think the idea that God condescends to reveal himself to humanity will help us in our conversation.  I want to assert that the idea of “double predestination” is a term of condescension.  I heard of God’s condescension first from my friend and theologian Todd Billings.  It is simply the idea that when God reveals himself to us that it is done in way so we can understand.  Much like how I reveal myself to my five-year-old son.  I must speak and be with my son at a level in which he can understand what is going on.  It is the real me and what I share is true but there is much more to me than what my son is experiencing.  Matter of fact, as he grows older he will see me, reality and truth in a much clearer way.  I think double predestination is a way for us, the five-year olds, to understand something well beyond us.  It is true in a sense but there is much more to it than what our dimly lit theology can see.  To talk about it is to delve into the mysteries of God.  We must be careful or we are in danger of losing our way.

The second clarification is another term I want to introduce.  This is the term antinomy.  This is the idea that two opposing ideas are actually reasonable.  J.I. Packer introduced antinomy as way to understand free will and God’s sovereignty.  We are free agents who can choose and God is totally sovereign in whom He chooses.  I basically agree (Piper does not).  I think from God’s perspective, we are people free to choose (somehow by grace) and God chooses (somehow) who will receive grace.  Again, we are delving into the mind of God.  He is totally unlike us and we are speaking as children.   He is of such immensity and greatness that I think He can hold two seemingly contradictory ideas and in Himself bring them together.  I assume that in eternity it will become clearer and clearer how this happens.

Now to your question:  what if it’s the person you love most in all the world who God picked for hell? Presupposing your theology is correct, do you really think you could worship that God?

With all that said, I am ready to answer your question.  God is love and He is so good that I can trust Him with my most dear friends and family.  Whatever He chooses, which will be the most good He can do for all involved, is all right by me.  This is the God I worship, follow and adore.

Simple and short.  I think the best answers are usually the most simple.  You will have to decide if I came close to giving a compelling answer.

A Question to Benjamin Corey

Now that you know how a friendly Calvinist would answer your question, I have a question for you: what Christian hope do you have if God is not sovereign?  How would you explain the good that He can do to a person in the Sudan, or a loved one with cancer?  If God is not competent, if He cannot do what He wants, then how could you worship such a being?  To me, it sounds like He is like the rest of us, just doing the best He can.  This might be admirable but it is not, at least to me, the God we find in Scriptures.  So, what hope do you give your child, or your friend, or the world or even your enemy?   The ball, my friend, is in your court.

New Morning Mercies

New Morning Mercies, by Paul David Tripp, is a devotional that seeks to help its readers to remember just how good God’s mercy really is. Tripp writes:

One of the stunning realities of the Christian life is that in a world where everything is in some state of decay, God’s mercies never grow old. They never run out. They are never ill timed. They never dry up. They never grow weak. They never, ever fail, because they really are new every morning.

The devotional is comprised of 365 readings on mercy, one for each day. Covering topics from “rebuking mercies” to “hope-giving mercies” this devotional is filled with God’s mercy. Each day is organized in a simple format. The devotion starts with a short, concise, summary sentence that Tripp has previously tweeted. The tweet is then followed with a short devotion that can be read in a few minutes. The devotionals are easy to read, filled with Scripture, and always encouraging. After the devotional, for further study and reflection, there are Scripture references given so that the reader can study and go deeper.

(To continue reading, click here.  This post was orignially posted at LifeWay Pastors.)

What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?

Kevin DeYoung in his new book, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?, gives a concise evangelical guide to the issue of homosexuality. Divided into two parts, 12 chapters, and only 150 pages, this book is easily readable in one or two sittings. Part one—chapters one through five—tackles the significant biblical texts that deal with homosexuality and shows how they clearly prohibit homosexual behavior. He looks at Genesis 1 & 2, Genesis 19, Leviticus 18 & 20, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1 to build a Biblical view on homosexuality. Each of the five chapters dealing with a biblical text is organized similarly. First, DeYoung shares the biblical text in question; then he gives common revisionist objections to why this should be read as not necessarily against homosexual behavior; and then he concludes with his own reading of the text.

Part two of the book—chapters six through twelve—answers the most common objections from revisionist Christians who believe that homosexual activity is not sinful. He answers objections like,

The Bible hardly mentions homosexuality
The Bible doesn’t prohibit committed, monogamous same-sex relationships
The Bible also condemns gluttony and divorce but the church doesn’t make a big deal out of those
Being against homosexuality is to be on the wrong side of history
It’s just not fair that God wouldn’t let someone express his/her love in a same-sex relationship

(To continue reading, click here. This post was originally posted at LifeWay Pastors.)

Love into Light

Love into Light

Peter Hubbard. Love Into Light: The Gospel, the Homosexual, and the Church. Greenville, SC: Ambassador International, 2013. 176 pp. $12.99.

In the midst of cultural chaos, the church is being pressed on every side to explain why homosexuality is not part of God’s good plan. So we need substantive, evangelical books on the issue of homosexuality. Peter Hubbard’s Love Into Light: The Gospel, the Homosexual, and the Church is such a book—one every pastor and lay leader should have and read.

Put simply, Love Into Light is a good book because it’s centered on Christ and glorifying to God. One of the weaknesses in the ex-gay community is an overreliance on psychoanalytic frameworks for purity and transformation. Same-sex strugglers don’t need more psychoanalysis; they need more Jesus. As Hubbard writes, “Jesus came to model and mediate the cure” (47). And while Hubbard uses psychological concepts in his book, they are not central. What is? Beautiful confidence in the person and work of Jesus. You get the sense that Hubbard and his church have seen Christ do marvelous things with those who struggle with same-sex attraction, and they want you and your church to experience the same thing.

(For the complete post, click here.  This post originally was published at The Gospel Coalition.)

Bible, Gender & Sexuality

James V. Brownson. Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2013. 312 pp. $29.00.

I am acquainted with this book’s author, James Brownson, and I like him. He’s always been kind and gracious to me. Among other things, he’s a leading theological voice on issues of sexuality in the denomination in which I pastor (Reformed Church of America); to say I was interested in what he’d have to say about homosexuality is an understatement. I read Bible, Gender, Sexuality thoroughly and carefully. I was touched by Brownson’s personal family story and thankful for his thoughtful writing. But his book deeply saddened me, and I believe it should sadden all others who follow Jesus. At the end of the book, Brownson writes:

Can we imagine a world in which the divine pronouncement at the beginning of creation, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18), might find a range of deeply satisfying resolutions, from heterosexual marriage, to celibate communities, to gay and lesbian committed unions?. . . . For some Christians, this vision is imaginable as a form of “accommodation” in a broken world. . . . Other Christians may be more ready to acknowledge that, throughout the natural order, same-sex attraction is a naturally recurring “minority” experience. These Christians may celebrate the way in which, by the providence of God, such “queer” folk can naturally deconstruct the pervasive tendencies of majority voices to become oppressive and exclusionary. In this vision, the inclusion of committed gay and lesbian unions represents . . . [a] rather offbeat redemptive purpose in the new creation. (252, 253)

Brownson gets to this point via a complete reconstruction of the biblical narrative concerning sexuality. Unfortunately, however, he builds his biblical narrative on a shaky foundation. Below I have identified several problems with Brownson’s vision of sexuality. Though by no means exhaustive, I think they will grieve your heart like they did mine.

(To continue reading, click here.  This post was originally posted at The Gospel Coalition)