Friday, February 26, 2010

Movie Review: Shutter Island

Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed was kind enough to post my review of Shutter Island. Check it out here.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ash Wednesday

Isaiah 58:1-12

"Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the house of Jacob their sins.

For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.

'Why have we fasted,' they say,
'and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?'
"Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.

Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD ?

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
"If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Rob Bell interview

A stellar interview with Rob Bell is up at Leadership Journal. Here's a bit, talking about "video venue" services:

There is something more powerful than simply beaming yourself into other locations, and that is raising up disciples. Over time that will go farther and faster, but right now it will be more work and slower. With technology today it's easy to spend all of your energies reproducing your own voice, but there is a longer view that says, what if instead of beaming video to those ten locations, we train ten people who can go there and lead? That's a very basic question that should be in the mix somewhere.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Neither Clergy nor Laity

Here's a clip from a long but excellent post on the New Testament vision of ministry by Ben Witherington.

The Greek word laos from which we get the term laity simply means the people of God. It is used this way over and over again in the NT, sometimes of Israel sometimes of those who are in Christ, but in neither case is it used to refer to a particular kind or class of believing persons who are set apart from the 'clergy'. And about that word clergy, it is not a Biblical word at all. Webster's tells us it comes to us from the Medieval French word clerc (13th century), but in fact ultimately the term comes from the Greek κλρος - klēros, "a lot", "that which is assigned by lot" (allotment) or metaphorically, "inheritance". So it partially has a Biblical root, but no persons in the NT are called kleroi to distinguish a class of ministers. And there is a good reason for this.

First of all the reason is that Christ and his sacrifice has torn down the wall not only between God and an alienated and lost humanity, but also the wall between Jew and Greek, between slave and free, between male and female, and yes between priests and ordinary folk. There is no priesthood as a class of individual ministers in the NT. There are in fact two priesthoods--- the unique heavenly high priesthood of Christ, as described in glorious technicolor in Hebrews, and the priesthood of all believers as described in 1 Peter and elsewhere. In other words, no one on earth is or can be a priest like Jesus, and on the other hand, every believer is part of the 'kingdom of priests' foreseen by Moses, and actualized by Jesus.

And so it is that the author of 1 Peter is not saying something novel when he throws down the gauntlet and says to his Christian audience "but you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, so that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" ( 1 Pet. 2.9). This friends is the Magna Carta of Christian identity and Christian freedom, and among other things it means we are all laity, and we are all priests. We will unpack the implications of this wonderful verse in a moment, but first we need to answer a question--- if what I say is true, what went wrong with Christian religion, and when did it happen? Why do we continue to have a clergy club and laity conferences for non-clergy?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Provocative Question

Josh Rowley at Post-Yesterday Church asks a compelling "potential ordination exam" question:

After preaching a sermon on Mark 9:14-29, a passage in which Jesus is described as exorcising a demonic spirit from a boy who seems to have epilepsy, you are confronted by a church member. He says: "I just can't buy that exorcism stuff. It's clear the boy in that story had epilepsy. Why don't we just drop talk about spirits and the like?" How do you respond? What (if anything) do you indicate would be gained by the member's suggestion to jettison the language of exorcism? What (if anything) do you indicate would be lost by this suggestion?

Here's my response:

Tough. I think that particular kid probably did just have epilepsy, and the language of evil spirits was all the gospel-writers had. And there are other exorcism scenes that can easily be described in terms of mental illness. But there are other stories that imply much more...mental illnesses and neurological problems don't generally grant one the ability to tell fortunes(Acts 16), nor do they ask to be sent into a herd of pigs (Matthew 8).

I think rather than jettisoning the language of exorcism, it would be better to add the language of healing, including healing of disorders the ancients didn't have a category for. Jesus is Lord also of our synapses and serotonin levels. That is, some exorcism stories perhaps are better understood as healing stories, but not in a way that rules out the reality of spiritual forces opposed to God. Or perhaps the distinction is false, as if problems could ever be just physical or just spiritual...another example of our underlying gnosticism.

As for the hypothetical church member, I think a little soft naturalism on this issue probably isn't the worst of things. And wholesome doubts are perfectly natural and even helpful sometimes, but I would encourage that person to keep in mind the prayer of the father in the story: I do believe; help my unbelief! Or perhaps: I do believe Jesus is Lord over everything, including the spirits and demons who I'm not sure exist. Help me keep my mind open to the possibilities of God's redemption happening in realms I'm not even aware of!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Resident Aliens

For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life...

Yet, although they live in Greek and barbarians cities alike, as each man's lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of the remarkable and admittedly extraordinary constitution of their own commonwealth. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land. 

from the anonymous Letter to Diognetus
2nd or 3rd century A.D.