Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Steel Toes Required

There are books that should carry a warning that steel-tipped footwear are necessary because the author will stomp on your toes in grand fashion. I am still hobbling from a passage read yesterday from D. A. Carson's book, A Call to Spiritual Reformation.
I worry about the rising number who, when asked where and how they think they might best serve, respond with something like this: "Well, I think I would like to teach somewhere. Every time I have taught, people have told me I have done a pretty good job. I get a tremendous sense of fulfillment out of teaching the Bible. I think I could be satisfied teaching Scripture."

How pathetic....In any Christian view of life, self-fulfillment must never be permitted to become the controlling issue. The issue is service, the service of real people. The question is, "How can I be most useful?, not, How can I feel most useful?
Those paragraphs struck me deeply because I had wanted to "teach somewhere" and "be satisfied teaching Scripture." Where is my source of contentment? Of course there is a difference, I am twice the age of a typical MDiv graduate. That alone adds credence to finishing my years teaching others the Word of God in an academic setting.

While academia has a certain pull for me (maybe a part-time position?), I greatly enjoy teaching in the context of the local church. And truth be known, that is actually a better setting for this ministry, because you can deal with the student as a disciple rather than as a student in a program.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Can't Make It Any Clearer

John Frame is thought-provoking in a good way. The following are actually two sub-points he makes concerning the precision and vagueness of Scripture and possible misapplication. These strike home, because, in my attempts at being overly precise, I have injured and been injured trying to force what was never present.
If, as I implied earlier, Scripture itself contains intentional vagueness, then we must be beware of trying too hard to eliminate vagueness from theology. We do not want to be less precise than Scripture is, but . . . we don't want to be more precise than Scripture, either. I'm afraid that theologians sometimes seek maximum precision in theology, contrary to the intent of Scripture itself. Thus they multiply technical terms far beyond their usefulness, a practice that has occurred in much writing on the "order of decrees." trichotomy, and so forth.

Similarly, we should not seek to impose on church officers a form of creedal subscription intended to be maximally precise. We are often tempted to think that heresy in the church could be avoided if only the form of subscription were sufficiently precise. Thus in some circles there is the desire to require officers (sometimes even members) to subscribe to every proposition in the church's confession. After all, it might be asked, why have a confession if it is not to be binding? But that kind of "strict" subscription has its problems, too. If dissent against any proposition in the confession destroys the dissenter's good standing in the church, then the confession becomes irreformable, unamenable, and, for all practical purposes, canonical. And when a confession becomes canonical, the authority of the Bible is threatened, not protected."
John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, p 225-6.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Got Something to Say?

If God says as in Isaiah 55:10-11

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
then will it happen? In the old days, this would be certain and called effectual working. In the modern church, this is basically considered a fable with the moral being either: God loves the earth and will accept those who work at being good; or I have to help God's word by whatever means at my disposal in order to convince the hearer of the words. No middle ground is presented. Enter Lutherans.

One consequence of attending a Lutheran seminary is reading Lutheran authors and learning some of the theology. One point in particular that I appreciate is the insistence on the effectual work of the Scriptures. In the periodical, Logia, Vol. XVII, No. 2, James Nestingen writes in addressing evangelicalism (i.e. those who use whatever means):
On the face of it, the absurdity announces itself plainly: appealing to the old Adam to create the new, if it begets anything at all, can only propagate either hypocrisy or despair.
Share that at your local church, and see where it gets you. Hopefully, it gets you into the Word, but it may get you left outside for pointing counter to church growth or emerging church ideas being presented by the leadership. Nestingen goes on:
The critical point at issue is the power of God’s word. The living God—the Triune One who creates out of nothing, justifies sinners, and raises the dead—does all such work by speaking. Just so, Jeremiah describes the word of God as a hammer that breaks the rocks to pieces; Hebrews calls it a two-edged sword. Since it is God’s own word, the gospel does what it says, performing in the hearer what it describes, accomplishing that which it declares. It is, as Paul says, the power of salvation.
Do evangelicals believe this? As one of that group, I often wonder. What would happen if we realized Nestingen's closing remarks?
[B]laming the lost sheep for being lost and then challenging them to find themselves in [the debris] provides no alternative. Rather, the Triune God’s empowering of the word by his Spirit frees its speakers from self-reliance and all of the apprehension that goes with it to hand over the goods—to speak freely, openly, confidently to anyone who will listen. Sinners are premium. By just such speaking, the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps.
Now, one might begin thinking that all a Christian has to do is quote Scripture, and the work of evangelism is done. Not quite. While the Holy Spirit does indeed do all the things mentioned in that last sentence, he uses us in that work. The new believer needs to be discipled and learn what it means to live by faith.