theology

The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by DA Carson

The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by DA Carson

DA Carson is one of the clearest and deepest thinkers in the Reformed evangelical world. In The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God Carson tackles what is perhaps the most difficult issue for Reformed thinkers to grapple with: if the God of the Bible is sovereign, can he really be loving?

Before making his case for what the love of God looks like, Carson grapples with the distortion of the love of God. In Carson’s words, “The love of God has been sanitized, democratized, and above all sentimentalized.”

Carson spends the first two chapters parceling out the love of God. First, Carson lays out what is his most significant contribution in the book: a layered understanding of the love of God. In doing so, Carson comes to grips with the multitude of ways God is talked about scripturally. For instance, how does one reconcile God’s love of the world with his love of the elect? It is a surprisingly difficult task that Carson has an elegant solution for.

Evil and the Justice of God by NT Wright

Evil and the Justice of God by NT Wright

After NT Wright completed his seminal work on the resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection of the Son of God he planned on writing a follow-up on the crucifixion of Christ (what would eventually be The Day the Revolution Began). As he prepared to write that book, tragedy struck as 19 terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners and flew them into civilian targets on the Eastern seaboard of the US. Wright realized he needed to write a book on the problem of evil before he dealt with the cross. This thin (less than 170 page) volume Evil and the Justice of God is Wright’s contribution on the subject of evil and God.

Wright’s book is neither primarily a pastoral nor a philosophical reflection on the problem of evil. It deals with the problem primarily from a cultural and biblical perspective. Wright speaks with such ease, you feel as though you’re sitting with a cup of tea in hand in his living room. This both warmly draws the reader in, but can at times give one the sense that the material is ad hoc and is not as well thought out as one would hope.

The encroachment of evil in the contemporary world has been a significant problem, and yet, Wright notes, it “seems to have taken many people, not least politicians and the media, by surprise.” This is because our cultural philosophy has no answer for evil. Wright identifies that cultural philosophy in one word: progress. What is new, no, what is next holds the highest value (look no further than our cultural worship of youth).

And yet, we should have learned that progress provided no real answers for our hardest questions. How, in light of Auschwitz, could we still be anchored by a philosophical mooring as weak as progress? Our answer has been to project evil outward: to the other, to society, to politics. But a culture of blame is no real solution.

Enter postmodernity, where cynicism reigns: “nothing will get better and there’s nothing you can do about it.” But that is no solution. Worse still, “postmodernity allows for no redemption. There is no way out, no chance of repentance and restoration, no way back to the solid ground of truth from the quicksands of deconstruction.”

Modernism did away with Satan and evil, but the burden of proof lies on the modernist to defend their tenuous construal of reality.

What does the God of the Bible do about evil? Wright takes us on a biblical tour to answer that question.

Nonviolence and the Christian: the Old Testament

Nonviolence and the Christian: the Old Testament

I remember the first time I had a conversation with a dyed-in-the-wool Christian pacifist. I was on an immersive backpacking trip with classmates the month before I entered my freshman year at Gordon College. Our guide, a student at Gordon, and one of the freshmen on the trip were both Mennonite and were staunchly pacifist. I had never really heard a strong argument for pacifism and was intrigued by their position.

My dad came of age during the Vietnam War and shared stories with me as a kid of his opposition to the war, an opposition that he came to see as well-intentioned, but naïve. My natural response to war was similar: war is bad, but inevitable, and if our country can intervene for the betterment of those involved, we ought to do so.

My freshman ears were intrigued by the argument, but ultimately unmoved. I would encounter Just War Theory in a philosophy class and that would become my anchor point for processing the use of violence.

When a friend urged me to pick up Preston Sprinkle’s Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence, my interest was piqued but I didn’t expect much to come of reading Sprinkle’s book. But, in a way that rarely happens at this stage of my life, I’ve found my perspective on nonviolence has changed pretty significantly over the past months as I’ve read and processed the book.

Over the course of these posts, we are going to examine a biblical perspective on violence.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      The Massive Self-Storage Industry: If you were going to invest in one industry over the past few decades, it would be hard to beat self-storage, which is now a $32 billion a year industry. Patrick Sisson digs deeper into the industry where "One in 11 Americans pays an average of $91.14 per month to use self-storage, finding a place for the material overflow of the American dream."

2.      Study: Atheists Find Meaning in Life by Inventing Fairy TalesRichard Weikart reflects on a recent report, "The survey admitted the meaning that atheists and non-religious people found in their lives is entirely self-invented. According to the survey, they embraced the position: 'Life is only meaningful if you provide the meaning yourself.'”

3.      Ten Things You Should Know About the CrossPatrick Schreiner concludes, "The cross is not only where our sin is paid for, where the devil is conquered, but the shape of Christianity. As Rutledge has said, 'the crucifixion is the touchstone of Christian authenticity, the unique feature by which everything else. . . is given true significance.'”

4.      Can Social Media Be Saved? Kevin Roose examines whether there might be alternatives to the current quagmire, "I don’t need to tell you that something is wrong with social media. You’ve probably experienced it yourself. Maybe it’s the way you feel while scrolling through your Twitter feed — anxious, twitchy, a little world weary... Or maybe it was this month’s Facebook privacy scandal, which reminded you that you’ve entrusted the most intimate parts of your digital life to a profit-maximizing surveillance machine."

5.      The Owner of the Paper Airplane World Record Shows You How It's Done: You also get to check out John Collins's loop-de-loop plane and his bat plane. Pretty cool.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      What's the Most Costly City in the World to Live in? An international report says that five of the top ten cities are in Europe. There are no US cities in the top ten, but two in the top twenty. What's the most expensive city you've ever lived in? For us, it was Princeton, NJ.

2.      When Obsessing About Theology Prevents Obedience: Andree Seu Peterson reflects, "Carolyn did Greek boot camp with me at seminary. She was a Carolinian, a people person, and outspoken in her love for Jesus, everything that I was not. I chalked it up to Southern culture. I explained that I was reserved by natural endowment, and more prone to wait for the right moment. She wasn’t impressed: 'I’ve got plenty of faults, but shutting up ain’t one of them.' I did not like Carolyn. Forty years later I’m still waiting for the right moment, and Carolyn’s probably blabbed the gospel all over Dixie. She has offended many people, I’m sure, and won a few to faith. After all, the law of averages."

3.      Two-Thirds of Americans Believe They're Sinful: LifeWay Research reports that while 2/3rds of Americans agree that they're sinful, only 33% of women and 22% of men depend on Jesus to overcome sin. And 52% of Americans believe that you can help earn your way into heaven with good deeds. 

4.      7 Ways Grief Becomes SinfulThe Bible does not tell us to stifle or suppress our grief, but there are ways that grief can become sinful. Paul Tautges draws wisdom from John Owen: "It moves us to take strange pleasure in sadness. 'Strange it is that we should find some kind of pleasure in rousing our sorrows.'"

5.      Online TrapsHow so called 'dark patterns' online trick you.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       13 Things a Pastor Should Never Tell a Congregation: I've heard at least half of these. And Amen the critique of each one. The first three on Joe McKeever's list: "1. 'I’m thinking of quitting. I haven’t decided. Pray for me.'; 2. 'I’m no theologian.'; 3. 'God told me to tell you … '"

2.       How to Re-Shape Your Conscience: Michael Taylor with sage advice for a reality we all face, " For most of us, the normalization and celebration of sin has become so pervasive in the entertainment we grew up enjoying that it can be difficult for us to discern whether or not God is pleased with our lifestyle. There is often a cognitive dissonance between what we believe about God and his law and how we live. So, how are Christians meant to navigate this complicated issue?"

3.       What is Reformed Theology?: Benjamin Vrbicek answers this question by focusing both on the historic and theological components: "When we seek God through Scripture and church dogma, we can be made right with God only through Christ, his mother, priests, and saints, by trusting in God’s grace and the sacraments, as long as we do enough good works alongside our faith.”

4.       A Visual Representation of Just How Split Our Politics Have Become: There truly is no middle ground any longer. And both parties have reduced their platforms to a particular set of issues. " The data viz designer Mike Cisneros has mapped out the political positions of every member of Congress ever, starting with the first Congress in 1789 up until the 115th Congress that’s currently filling the news cycle with so much anguish. The central visualization is a giant scatterplot, where positions are mapped based on how conservative or liberal each Congress member is economically and socially."

5.       Carnival Scam Science: This really fun video tells you the science behind what you already know: carnival games are rigged against you.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       The Birth of a Daughter and the Birth of the Camera Phone: The story of how the camera phone was born.

2.       8 Major Changes in the Church in the Past 10 Years: Thom Rainer reflects on the most significant changes in the church in the past decade. It's a pretty encouraging list.

3.       A Hill to Die On: When is a hill worth dying on? Jonathan Van Maren reflects on whether hills are worth dying on. Douglas Wilson's quote is helpful and I'm still wrestling with it: "Whenever we get to that elusive and ever-receding “hill to die on,” we will discover, upon our arrival there, that it only looked like a hill to die on from a distance. Up close, when the possible dying is also up close, it kind of looks like every other hill. All of a sudden it looks like a hill to stay alive on, covered over with topsoil that looks suspiciously like common ground. So it turns out that surrendering hills is not the best way to train for defending the most important ones. Retreat is habit-forming."

4.       The Case for Free Range Kids: Lenore Skenazy makes a case for free range kids by sharing a story of the day she let her 9 year old find his way home in New York City.

5.       Thunderstruck: a collection of beautiful supercell thunderstorms.

5 Ways to Make a Church Home

5 Ways to Make a Church Home

When I graduated with my BA in Biblical-Theological studies and came back across the country to marry my bride, I entered our new church like a bull in a china shop. I wanted to get my hands into ministry as quickly as I could and sit under a mentor as soon as possible. I reached out to the pastoral staff and tried to jump in as quickly as I could into various ministry roles and getting mentored. There were lots of good things about our experience at that church, but when we left two and a half years later for seminary, I was largely disappointed with the ministry opportunities that had been available to me and the pastoral mentoring I had received. Some of the blame for my experience falls on the church leadership. But plenty falls on myself.  

Many can identify with disappointment in a church. Many of you have been at a church for years without feeling a significant level of connection and belonging.

There are absolutely ways in which churches need to improve in helping newcomers feel at home quickly and well, but there are lots of things I would tell my 21 year old self about how to join a church and what expectations to have.

4 Questions to Ask When You Church Shop

4 Questions to Ask When You Church Shop

After Angel and I were married, we moved to a town new to both of us: Phoenix. Thus began a several month journey of finding a church that would be repeated again in two and a half years when we moved to New Jersey. I have vivid memories of both church shopping experiences: of the sweet little Anglican church in Phoenix where we were the youngest in attendance by at least four decades and mobbed afterwards by kindly congregants who begged us to stay for coffee and cookies; of the 1,000 square foot church on the Jersey shore where we and our friends doubled the size of the congregation and the accompaniment was played by means of a 1980s style boom box which the pastor turned around to push the button at the beginning and end of every song.

It wasn’t long ago that the idea of having more than one church in your lifetime would have been completely foreign. Virtually the entire world died where they were born and rarely left their hometown.[i] In contrast, the average US citizen today is expected to move 11.4 times in his or her lifetime.[ii] Even if you never leave a church for another reason, you will most likely look for a church ten times in your life.