Saturday, April 30, 2011

"We shape our God and then our God shapes us" (Rob Bell)

Adrian Warnock cites Rob Bell's Love Wins:
"Many have heard the gospel framed in terms of rescue. God has to punish sinners, because God is holy, but Jesus has paid the price for our sin, and so we can have eternal life. However true or untrue that is technically or theologically, what it can do is subtly teach people that Jesus rescues us from God. Let’s be very clear, then: we do not need to be rescued from God. God is the one who rescues us from death, sin, and destruction. God is the rescuer. This is crucial for our peace, because we shape our God, and then our God shapes us."
Adrian replies saying:
"I am sorry Rob, God either exists or he doesn’t. We cannot shape him. He is God! He is what he is. We cannot mold him in our own image but must find him in the Bible and worship him."
I imagine Adrian will feel a bit betrayed by me here but: I think Adrian missed the point. I agree with Adrian's saying we can't shape our own version of God, but I don't think that's what Bell is saying here.

Far from saying we're allowed to "shape" God, I think Bell is saying that evangelicals have done precisely this, and ended up with an unbiblical view of God. Bell still speaks of such evangelicals as we.
The underlying principle is that our view of God shapes how we live.Which is true.
And Bell is out to accuse Evangelicals of being mean-spirited, not interested in social justice and quick to judge.... because, reasons Bell, the god of evangelicals is the god who we need to be rescued from.
Bell says in the Premier Radio interview, that he longs for a better story than the one he has heard from many evangelicals. And if what's he's heard is not a straw man but a reality, then he should long for more, shouldn't he?

1. I agree our view of God shapes how we live. As many have argued, we become what we worship. (See GK Beale's book with that title, or lots of John Piper's work).
2. The observation that evangelicals can be mean, narrow and judgemental is not without basis - in my life and I probably in the lives of others. I had a particularly convicting personal light-bulb moment about that sitting in an evangelistic talk by Mike Reeves about 18 months ago... it's been character-reshaping as its sent me into a fresher knowledge of the Triune God, as I realised that I lacked love. Eugene Peterson writes that "being loved creates a person who loves" and so if I'm loveless I ask whether I'm full of the love of the Father, Son and Spirit - as Paul prayed in Ephesians 3 that we would be.
3. Given that we're ALL prone to such harshness, I would love Bell to have been a bit more generous, forgiving and kind with those he has in his sights. Love might win some.

There are two questions to ask.
1. Is the Bell critique right?
2. Is the Bell alternative answer right?

Bell writes, describing the dilemma that some evangelicals have:
"they sense that the God lurking behind Jesus isn’t safe, loving, or good. It doesn’t make sense, it can’t be reconciled, and so they say no. They don’t want anything to do with Jesus, because they don’t want anything to do with that God."
Bell is concerned that this is what people think God is like. And he's right to be. If we think the Father is unsafe, unloving and not good we have a problem. The question is is the Father loving? And if we only believed in hell and judgement because we believed in a judging Father, what then if the Father loves what happens to the doctrines we held before...

As I've said before I'm much more concerned by the indifference and lack of passion in Bell's view of the love of God than I am in the lack of wrath. I think the lack of wrath comes from the lack of love, rather than from an excess of love as some have observed. Bell is writing to disaffected fundamentalists and evangelicals, exactly the kind of people he expects to react very strongly against him, but in hope that some of them might be warmed to his vision and his questions. I don't think he gets the right answers consistently, but I don't think anyone will be helped if the wrong issues are challenged in this important discussion.

I think Bell gets the critique right, I think he doesn't articulate the answer clearly, or particularly rightly and so I find Love Wins to present a view of God that is less attractive than I think the Bible portrays.

The question Bell is asking is whether we need Jesus to rescue us from his Father? He says no. I say, it's a question of Trinity (as you'd expect me to say!). A question of who Jesus is, and who his Father is. And evangelicals need to be able to articulate the cross is Trinitarian terms a whole lot more clearly.

It's Trinitarian confusion that leads to observations of "cosmic child abuse" and "the God lurking behind Jesus", caricatures of the gospel that must be rejected - but if you're going to reject them you need an alternative. And saying, "that we need to balance our talk of God's love with his Holiness and Wrath" wont wash. We need a deeper sense of the love of God, that casts our sin in deeper terms than rule-breaking and more in terms of spiritual adultery, of our scorning of the beloved Son and his loving Father and of the people loved in the Son... and of who is then wronged and why, to know the heart of God. And we'll need a richer view of salvation accomplished by the Triune God in perfect unity, and of salvation's goal as bringing us into relationship with the Father, Son and Spirit in their renewed world.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Who am I?

‎"If you want to know me 
don't look up my IQ or Myers-Briggs, 
study me in the company of 
the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." 
Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, p307

I find strategy and management tools helpful, but for every one look at them, I need ten looks at Christ. And of course, as I grow in my knowledge of Christ, then as Calvin notes in the opening of his Institutes, I'll grow in my knowledge of self. At heart we're relational beings, living with broken relationships and through the gospel we come to live in the relationships of the Triune God, and consequently into deeper relationship with one another.

I have strategies and priorities for the term ahead, but above all my goal is the pursuit of relationship with the Triune God, and then to invest in my relationship with my wife, my son, the five Staff I have the honour of supervising, the members of my home group, a small number of students in the region, others in the church, and those beyond the church with whom I have relationships too - whether those I'll encounter briefly as a visiting speaker as I pass through somewhere, or those who I'll count as friends. In all cases, longing to be who I am in God, and to see others drawn into that same roomy fellowship... not by my great winsomeness, but through my Saviour who wins me, and has promised to take many into his (and my!) Father's house.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Where is the love of God? The question I'd want to ask Rob Bell.

Over the weekend I listened to Justin Brierley's radio show on Premier Radio in which he interviewed Rob Bell with Adrian Warnock. Both are preachers and authors, and Adrian is part of the same family of churches as I am, and is a friend. The show is worth a listen. Now, I'm firmly on Adrian's side of the fence in this whole thing but... Bell is infuriating and smart and this important debate doesn't have a simple solution.

1. Questions about questions.
He has question asking down to a tee. I wonder if he's read Randy Newman's Questioning Evangelism?  I'm impressed by his apparent commitment to only answer questions after he'd asked the questioner what they thought the answer was. His most common answer was "Do you?" This is a clever way to approach direct questions. It's also really frustrating because he barely gave a single answer in an hour of interview. I'm not persuaded by his conclusions but there are things he and I would agree on, and from which I think I can learn. Adrian was gracious and patient and generous - though you could argue he was a bit 'on the attack' from the start. He reflected that Bell talks a lot about the love of God, challenging him to speak of God's holiness and wrath too. It's a good question, and important question but not the one I find myself asking. Everything is starting to sound like the aftermath of that Steve Chalke book a few years ago, and I fear people are making the same misstep as last time... It's ok to ask about wrath but when was Wrath the opposite of Love, and when did we need fear of hell to motivate... etc. I'm not sure that's the wrath question gets to the heart of the issue. I have a different question.

2. Where is the love of God in Love Wins? 
I know the whole book is about the love of God but where is the passionate love of the Father for his beloved Son (and his son's bride)? Where is the love that sends the son into the world? Where is the love that wont be contained and restrained? Where is the love that is jealous? Where is the love that burns against those who oppress his son (as we see in Exodus) or against those who would seduce his son's bride (as in the letter to Thyatira in Revelation 2)? What I find in Bell, and I fear in evangelical responses to him, is the dispassionate love of God that let's people walk away, though it desires to win them back. Mere Agape. Yet, Jesus fought for his people in Exodus, and he fought for them in Revelation, and he fought for them on the cross and in his resurrection - against sin and the devil and against death.

This whole debate is about the love of God. Do we believe in a God of lukewarm love or one whose love burns hotly for his Son and his people, and against their enemies? Does my God care enough to get wrathful or is he ambivalent and indifferent to evil?

It's about who God is. It's about Trinity. It's about whether salvation is about who gets into heaven and hell, or whether it's about Christ. It's about God's desire to save, and about whether everyone get's saved, and how and what that is...  and we need a winning and attractive and faithful answer. And I think it might be about whether Anders Nygren was right to say God's love is only Agape and not Eros.

I think James, one of our Relay interns, nails this issue better than most - and I have to say I'm thrilled to hear him having caught this vision of the gospel. Listen to James Watts on  Jesus' Letter to Thyatira at Emmanuel Baptist Church, Falmouth in April 2011 (mp3). (or similarly, Rich Carding on the Letter to Thyatira at St Neots Evangelical Church, August 2010.)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Mike Reeves: Enjoying the Cross.

At our first UCCF Transformission Conference in Exeter in 2007 Mike Reeves spoke on Enjoying the Cross. You can get download the mp3s from the three sessions from Theology Network.
Enjoying the cross (Mike Reeves)

For your diary: Transformission 2011 is on Saturday 22nd October in Exeter with Mike Reeves preaching Jesus Christ. A free one day conference for the South West Christian Unions and any friends of CUs. A launch to a new year of mission on campus as we feast together on a gospel banquet and cry out together for Christ to be known.

More on previous years here: Transformission Page
2007 (the cross), 2008 (the word), 2009 (union with Christ), 2010 (love of God).

Spreading Goodness

Ron Frost is a mentor with Cor Deo in Chippenham, UK, and I have him booked in for a day with my team next month. You've probably never heard of this modern day Sibbesian but use the internet at let him be a friend to you in knowing Christ.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Remember in the garden when you asked me where I was?

What is our God like? Who is he? What is his salvation like?
What about the difficult questions of "once saved, always saved?"
Jo Larcombe loves this song. Chase me by Miriam Jones. She should.
The gospel is surely the Son sent by the Father to bring us into the life of God.
As Ellis Potter says, Jesus question in the garden isn't accusation but invitation. Seeking us.
Chris Oldfield commends this video. He should.
The best bit, says Chris, is a quote from Calvin near the end.

Sanders cites Calvin around 55mins into his lecture.

"We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ [Acts 4:12]. We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. 
If we see salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is "of him" [1 Cor 1:30]. 
If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his annointing.
If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; 
if gentleness, it appears in his birth. For by birth he was made like us in all respects [Heb 2:17] that he might learn to feel our pain [cf. Heb 5:2]. 
If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion; 
if acquittal, in his condemnation; 
if remission of the curse, in his cross [Gal 3:13]; 
if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; 
if reconciliation, in his decent into hell; 
if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; 
if newness of life, in his resurrection; 
if immortality in the same; 
if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in his entrance into heaven; 
if protection, if security, 
if abundant supply of all blessings, in his Kingdom; 
if untroubled expectation of judgement, in the power given to hiim to judge. 
In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other." Calvin Institutes 2.16.xvi

A friend asked me what to say about "once saved, always saved" yesterday. Whatever the subject or question, keep it about Jesus would seem to set the conversation in the right key. In this case, if I'm tempted to anxiety about whether I'm saved - look to Jesus. If I'm tempted to complacency and wandering away - look to Jesus. "Saved" after all is another word for knowing Jesus and his Father who sent him (John 17:3). Worry less about when that relationship might have started and whether it can end - instead dig deeply into knowing Christ. To following him. To knowing the Spirit's annointing as he did, and indeed everything else his Father gave to him. And so, in Jesus, by the Spirit, let's get to know the Father. Trinitarianism is Christocentrism. He came looking for me, and I want to know him.

Keeps it simple, keeps it beautiful.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Heartfelt Christianity: Delighted by God Conference

Cordeo & UCCF Theology Network are co-hosting this great looking conference in London on June 4th at All Souls. The guys running this are great and I highly recommend it to you.

A blogger commented that its good in the UK that we don't lead with names but with content. So, this conference is about Christ and his word and your heart enjoying him. Cordeo and UCCF Theology Network should mean a burning passion for Christ and so should the four guys who you may or may not have heard of who are speakinng - Peter Sanlon, Mike Reeves, Peter Mead and Ron Frost. And the conference is free.

See also: Delighted by God: Facebook Event

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Scripture is a Personal Overture of Love

Ray Ortlund says the message of the Bible is that "The Lover of our souls won't let the romance die, but is rekindling it forever." And Jeremy Begbie makes a similar case in his 'Who is God? - Biblical Inspiration Revisited' in Tyndale Bulletin 43.2, 1992. Begbie is a tastily triune musician and theologian.

In his paper he says that our view of Biblical inspiration struggles between two false extremes - fundamentalism (BB Warfield) and liberalism (James Barr), and he proposes a Trinitarian alternative. Begbie says we need to ask: who is the God who inspires and who is the God who addresses us through these scriptures and not just how did inspiration happen.

Begbie reflects on five overlapping dimensions of the Spirit's agency that may illuminate the nature of biblical inspiration and which are just encouragingly true. I've cut much of the detail.

See the atoning and relating character of the Spirit. "Central here will be the recognition that the Spirit relates us to the risen and ascended Christ and to his Father in such a way that we are included in the fellowship of the Father and Son. This participation is our salvation, for it entails being freed from the self-obsession and self-concern which so cripples us. Biblical inspiration is but one moment in the Father's work of reconciling wayward human beings to himself by his Spirit through his Son. It speaks of that particular work of the Spirit by which the words of those who have been drawn into a redeeming relationship with Christ are established as his own through a long process of remembering, rehearsing and eventual compilation as Scripture... in reading Scripture it is not simply that Christ meets us; we are first of all freed internally by the Spirit to respond to Christ and through him know ourselves forgiven, accepted and claimed by the Father"  

This impacts on the inspiration of Scripture and the Spirit's breathing through them today. "T.F. Torrance has commented that both fundamentalists and liberals often fail to get beyond the surface level of the biblical texts because they forget that revelation has taken the form of a personal overture of love such that biblical words need to be read and heard with a view chiefly to the relationship which are made possible through them. It is noteworthy that for Calvin the inner testimony of the Spirit, although a conviction about Scripture's divine source, could arise only within the circle of saving faith in Christ and his Father.... "

"The Spirit frees us, opens us out to one another, enabling our particular charismata to be exercised and yet empowering us to live in communion with one another. The trinitarian grounding of this is that God is eternally in relationship and as his people we are invited to share and show forth his being-in-relatedness... a dynamic pneumatology which speaks of the Spirit constantly renewing and transforming the Church into the likeness of Christ."

He invites us to "speak of the liberating work of the Spirit..." as "God the Spirit opens, frees the humanity of the Son so that it may be the vehicle of the Father's will in the world.... In trinitarian terms, the Spirit is 'God present to the world as its liberating other, bringing it to the destiny determined by the Father, made actual, realised in the Son' (Colin Gunton)... The Spirit will indeed point us back to the Christ of the New Testament but this is in order to expose, explicate, interpret and apply the truth as it is in Christ in a way which relates that truth to the ever-new situations and questions which emerge in history, and in so far as this happens God's final future is being realised in our midst."

He concludes reflecting on the way the Spirit's ministry isn't so much about his "general immanent presence" but a ministry that has diversity and specificity - as in the gifts of the Spirit... and so the Spirit-breathed Scripture can be expected to be diverse in genre and mode of inspiration. I appreciate the way this highlights the relational purpose of Scripture, and the dynamic work of the Spirit in drawing us into relationship with Christ and the Father, through the diverse and wonderful Scriptures.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Triumph of Love (John Howe)

I've been reading puritan John Howe's The Redeemer's Tears which is his reflection on Jesus' weeping outside of Jerusalem in Luke 19. Having journeyed to Jerusalem since the end of chapter 9, telling all his most famous gospel parables he arrives at the place of his necessary death and the sunrise of his resurrection that will send good news of forgiveness of sins to the world.

Howe invites us "remember that he who shed tears did from the same fountain of love and mercy shed blood too". 

Those tears shed for those who we past hope melt us while there is still hope for us. Jesus' tears "signify how very intent he is to save souls, and how gladly he would save yours, if yet you will accept his mercy while it can be had. He wept over those who will not be saved, from the same love that is the spring of these tears would saving mercies come to those who are willing to receive. The love that wept over those who were lost, glories in those who are saved.will glory in those who are saved. There his love was disappointed and vexed, but if we receive it how much will be rejoice over us with singing and rest in his love"

So, says Howe: "Rejoice and bless God that so it is. Christ, your Redeemer, rejoices with you and over you. If he weep over them, he no doubt, rejoices over you. There is joy in heaven concerning you. Angels rejoice, your glorious Redeemer presiding in the joyful consort...  How should you admire victorious grace, that would never desist from striving with you til it had overcome! You are the triumph of the Redeemer's conquering love, who might have been of his wrath and justice!" Endeavour that your spirits may taste, more and more, the sweetness of reconciliation, that you may more abound in joy and praises... How should you 'joy in God though Jesus Christ, by whom you have received the atonement!' ...Think how strange it is for the friends of God, the favourites of heaven, to be dismayed at the appearance of danger that threatens them from the inhabitants of the earth!"

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Sing, Preach, Live

When I did the strengthsfinder survey it identified 'input' as one of my top 5 strengths. Basically means I love to collect information because some day it'll be of use to me or someone else. Input ergo Blog.

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Messiah and his Technicolor Dreamcoat?

Genesis 37 is a fascinating story. Questions... Why Joseph not Judah or Reuben? Why is Joseph so loved and hated? What's with the Technicolor dreamcoat? What's with the dreams? Why do they want to kill him? Why deceive their father? 

The story, almost self-contained, is the first part of the final section of Genesis. Genesis Act 4: These are the generations of Jacob, the story of his son Joseph.

If we came to it cold we might think it's just a great story, and one worth making a musical about.

But's it's not just a great story, it's a classically Genesis-story.

All about fathers and sons, and sons who are loved, and brothers who aren't their brother's keeper who try to kill their brother, and sons who deceive their father. All very Genesis. And it's a story of a journey from Canaan to Egypt - like Abraham in Genesis 12, though he came back, so will Joseph? And will anyone else go down there and will they come back?

Joseph is the beloved son of his father, clothed in splendor. He brings a bad report on his brothers who hate him, because he's loved, and because of the report, and because he has dreams that say they'll all bow down to him. His father sends him to them and they conspire to kill him, but instead sell him into slavery and deceive their father with his robe, as Jacob had deceived his father with his brothers robe. The story is reminiscent of Jacob's own story - where his brother was loved, and yet the LORD favoured Jacob, and Isaac prophesied that his brothers would bow - the promise repeats and pressed down a generation, and on.

Applications? The LORD isn't on stage here to be worshipped directly.
We're not really able to say the application is "go and do likewise".
So, we ought to ask a typological question... Do the events or the people point us forward to the promised seed and his story? And if so, how...

Joseph is pictured as a suffering servant in general by many, but his story isn't just any sufferer, but a suffering seed who, according to Nathan Pitchford, overlaps with The Suffering Servant in 21 ways! At the end Genesis Joseph will stand as a second Adam, ruling and blessing the world. But here we see him loved by the father, clothed in splendour, hated, sent, conspired about - thrown into the pit (a Psalmist's favourite picture of death before resurrection), into slavery while a prophetic dream hangs over him of every knee bowing before him. This is a deeply Messianic story! Though Joseph isn't in the Messiah's line (neither is Moses), the Messiah is surely a kind of son of Joseph. This a story with the prospect of songs of celebration, and yet by the end of 37 the tune is a lament. What we have in Genesis 37 is an unfinished story.

Joseph's dreams push the story into the future and into our hearts. 37v11 asks me, will I be jealous for the seed - envious of what is his, or think over what has been said about him? Do I rage against him or treasure what's said of him in my heart?  He came to his own, but his own did not receive him. Will I? Will I trust that the seed will be raised to reign, to love those who hated him, to rescue them and bless the world? Will I stand over and against the seed, or take refuge in him? Will I got to him to feed me?

The story as we have it in Genesis 37 looks like a classic Ian McEwan tragedy as a fool is cast down to death - but the dream remains. It asks me to believe for more. To believe for comedy. Where is the happy ending? Surely there can be hope, and I'd like Genesis 38 to tell that story but it will heighten the tension by making me wait, not just for Genesis 50, but for the exaltation of the beloved and suffering promised Seed, who will crush the head of evil and bring his people back into the love of his Father.

This a story that must be told. Tell it on the greatest of stages, tell it with singing

Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Men Who Stare At Goats

Jon Ronson's book The Men Who Stare at Goats, and the associated Clooney caper of a film are great fun. It's about the US army's elite soldiers who can kill a goat by staring at it, amongst other world war winning powers.


Matt Hosier recommends listening to Rob Bell preaching 'The Goat has left the building'.

Me too.

I think it's a little kooky in places - an apocryphal red cord is asked to carry quite a lot of weight, and I could have lived with slightly fewer quotes from rabbinic sources that just make him sound clever. But,...

Connecting the day of atonement to Pilate and the crowds in John 19 is brilliant. The sermon is brilliant. I have serious questions about his books. And this is an old sermon - reckoned to be one of his best... and the trajectory seems different, but this is good.

It's Leviticus 16 and it'll make you laugh, and weep and sing and clap.
(Mike Reeves preached four times from Leviticus recently, not including ch16 - also brilliant.)

This one is what people mean when they say Bell is a great communicator.

One vivid big idea, that gets under your skin.

It's what Dick Lucas and Tim Keller have been teaching for years.

Bell says Westerners love propositions while Easterners love pictures. And people tell Ravi Zacharias that Easterns don't believe in absolutes because you can have both this and it's contradictory opposite. Forget either/or and embrace both/and. Except when you cross the road in India - it wont be both me and the truck. Pictures are good in all ages and all cultures. Paul painted the gospel with his words (Gal 3:1). And God gave us both pictures (think countless Old Testament models), and a person.

The goat has left the building is a great image.

Sin is gone. God's picture language.

So why do we spend our time staring at goats?

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Rah! The Good News According to Jack Wills

Jack Wills has a gospel and they're keen to proselytise you. If you're rich and beautiful enough or just prepared to give your heart it you too can live their dream - though really this is no gospel for the poor and the weak and the old and the ugly, this religion wont have room for you.

They pitch to the kind of rah students who make up some of the population of some South West universities - especially Exeter and Bristol... The Jack Wills gospel plays on the idealised picture of student life - lots of time, money, cool clothes and beautiful friends. Hard to imagine why they think that's appealing...

Their recent ad campaign was banned, as The Guardian reports. Jack Wills' Provocative Ads Banned for presenting a risk to younger teenagers.... not sure taking away the advert is going to take away the desire or the appeal though. The current controversy will only help their viral approach to marketing.

One of our interns wrote on the theology of Jack Wills earlier this year, asking:
Can Jesus deliver what Jack Wills can't?
"In the catalogue, people are free to have a Christmas party in the middle of the forest, or lounge around endlessly on an eternal summer holiday. There are no restraints on money or time. There’s the freedom of luxury- there’s a rich feast laid out- it’s left untouched, but that doesn’t matter, because they can afford the decadent lifestyle. There’s the freedom to be naked without shame, so to speak- they have the freedom to exhibit themselves without feeling any embarrassment.
There’s the freedom of fun- anything goes in the party world, going to an underground gig in a haze of neon, getting soaked in an impromptu water fight. This links to the freedom of independence- there are no authority figures in the catalogue, no responsibilities to be fulfilled. There’s even the freedom to be spiritual, if they like, as a girl ambiguously kneels prostrate on a rug remarkably like a prayer mat, or another reflectively looks out across the water. Finally, there is freedom in casual relationships, as this group of friends live together, sleep together, kiss at parties, wake up after the party together. There are no rules, no boundaries, just pure liberty. As Poppy Vernon writes in the Observer, ‘Jack Wills sells an appealing version of life.’"
One has to ask what kind of freedom it really is... and later in life, marketing sells on the security of family, is Jack Wills just a fleeting dream?
"However, while this picture might be aesthetically pleasing, it’s also flawed. The freedom of being IN, being accepted, is conditional. When you put on weight or grow old or just don’t follow the values of the popular crowd, suddenly the “freedom to be yourself” is exposed as false- the freedom of acceptance is only there as long as you fit the mould. For example, when Jack Wills was casting for their Autumn handbook, the successful applicants have to be ‘extrovert 18 – 25 year olds!
Girls, size 8 – 10. Boys, tall and slim.’ They act ‘We are only interested in people who can ACT, and are very outgoing.’
Being ‘potential Jack Wills model material’ means being within a tiny, exclusive fraction of the population. If we seek after this kind of acceptance, we’ll find ourselves becoming slaves to the whims of the in-crowd, and not really being free to be ourselves at all. Haven’t we all exaggerated certain interests or elements of our personality to look better, or covered over the characteristics we’re ashamed of?"
What's the alternative? Does our desire for freedom point to something better? Why is it we want freedom from shame? Why do we want acceptance? Why do we want intimacy? Are these things available, lastingly? Differently? What if I'm not fit and strong? What if I'm not one of life's winners? What if I can't save myself? And for that matter, how free is the freedom of buying into a £42 million turnover brand?

Perhaps, as a beginning, the Triune God would say, "I'm the fountain of life, yet those I created...
...have committed two evils: they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water."
(Jeremiah 2:13 ESV)
It's good that you thirst, but not everything can quench that thirst.
Rebel against the crowd and listen to the one who said "All who are thirsty..."

Spreading Love Wins

Reflecting back on reading Love Wins last week a few things come to mind...
  • Rob Bell wants people to be generous rather than mean-spirited. He can't quite manage it towards his own heritage in fundamentalism but I think the whole let's get Gandhi into heaven is wanting us not to quickly write people off but to believe for an expansive gospel.
  • He wants people to notice that this world is very messed up and there are a lot of people in need of practical help as well as needing to hear the gospel.
  • He wants people to be aware that sometimes we speak of an ugly god who is lurking behind lovely Jesus.
  • He wants people to know that our God is surely generous and welcoming.
  • He wants people to ask questions rather than just believe because someone said so.
And to be honest I support that cause..

Tentatively I think the problem might be this: Bell has a decent diagnosis but appears not to see the Triune God clearly. Or at least, not clearly enough to offer a good way forward. I'm thankful for the journey I'm taking in this - and so I raise my thoughts as one much helped and much in need of help.

He has hundreds of questions for his readers, I have one:
Where is the "spreading love" of the Triune God in his book? 
If Bell built on a Trinitarian foundation surely he'd offer that God to us. It's what Sibbes and his many friends in the history of the church would show us, the spreading goodness of the divine community of love.

I fear that none of Bell's concerns are going to be heard because his way of crowbarring generosity and social justice into his gospel seems only to be possible by selling off the family (doctrinal) silver and annoying all the people he wants to win over.... rather than being able to show that our God is better than we dared to imagine. I'm thankful for the friends helping me in this, softening my edges and warming my heart.

What kind of love wins would I love to see?
A warm and warming vision of the Triune God who is full of love and overflowing with love as Christ comes to us in the gospel. A God of whom we can ask questions, because after all our Christianity is participation in the Triune life.

When Luke gathered his eyewitness testimonies it's no surprise that having recorded the occasion where Mary sat at Jesus feet, while he revealed his Heavenly Father to her, that he next records the day the little children following Jesus asked him (a question!) - how shall we pray? And he invited them into relationship with his Father, through the Holy Spirit - where paragraphs before Luke had recounted Jesus' joy in the Spirit as he spoke with his Father. As for him so for us! We're caught up into the conversation, the love and joy of the Father, Son and Spirit.

As we live in that life we come to know divine love's jealousy - not happy for the Son to be scorned, nor his people. Our God is a God who cares passionately. A God whose love truly wins. We can freely ask questions and know there are answers. Very clearly and specifically and wonderfully, God is love. And we may lead with a vision of the loved and loving Son of the Father, and then love wins.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Love really does win

I've written today for Cor Deo. I love what Peter Mead and Ron Frost are doing up in Chippenham with their approach to heart-affecting mentoring, a much needed contribution to training leaders for the church.
Guest Post: Love really does win

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Compassionate Evangelists Know Love Wins

From Robert Gordon's introduction to John Howe (May 17th 1630-April 2nd 1705), The Redeemer's tears wept over lost souls (p23)
"Every believer can bear witness that thus it has been with him - that the love of God in Christ Jesus has melted and subdued the obstinacy which no dread of punishment ever could have vanquished - and that the small still voice of the gospel is the only melody that can expel from the human soul, the evil spirit of distrust and of unbelief. And where is this melody to be heard, if it is not in the simple, and unadorned narrative of the inspired writer, when he tells us, on our Lord's approach to Jerusalem, the place where he had been reviled... he beheld the city and wept over it..."
The love of God melts us, and makes evangelists like Jesus - who weep. John Howe was a large-hearted man who "never made an enemy and never lost a friend" ministering in Devon and London. Howe preached on the Spirit from Ezekiel, lamenting the lack of the Spirit in his days:
"When the Spirit shall be poured forth plentifully I believe you will hear much other kind of sermons, or they will, who shall live to such a time, than you are wont to do now-a-days …It is plain, too sadly plain, there is a great retraction of the Spirit of God even from us; we not know how to speak living sense [i.e. felt reality] unto souls, how to get within you; our words die in our mouths, or drop and die between you and us. We even faint, when we speak; long experienced unsuccessfulness makes us despond; we speak not as persons that hope to prevail …When such an effusion of the Spirit shall be as is here signified…[ministers] shall know how to speak to better purpose, with more compassion and sense, with more seriousness, with more authority and allurement, than we now find we can"
HT: Ray Ortlund whose tweet put me on to Howe.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Light is the Life of Men

Brian Cox's Wonders of the Universe finished last weekend but is still on iPlayer for the next few days. You don't need me to say it's worth watching. It is. Phil Moore says Cox is: "Patrick Moore’s brain ..transplanted.. into Vernon Kay’s body".

For the last few years Richard Dawkins has been the bulldog of Science, venomously gnawing away against his Christian heritage... Cox is different.

Brian Cox is a worshipper and, as Phil Moore notes, a worship leader. He knows what he loves and he sings, to a spectacularly orchestrated soundtrack. He's committed to telling a better story than everyone else. He wont just tell you "old boats wont do" or "I can build better boats", like Antoine de Saint-Expury makes us dream of the ocean.

His worship of the gods of the Sun and Moon is compelling and enthusiastic. It's loud and visual. Watching him is a bit like watching Louie Giglio's Indescribable videos. Giglio's answer is to say - yes see the big and amazing world, and look to the God beyond. That angle is good and helpful and has really helped me, crying out in the wilderness: my God is bigger than your God. It an be a bit scary but it makes us say wow....

The cinematography is wondrous, but when the show is over I'm left sitting in the dark - and there I need someone who will chase that away, overcome that and lead us out into the comfort and safety of a new day.

Cox says the light is the life of men. Someone said that before. The sun has a lot to tell us. It's song isn't just "I'm big and you're small". Truly the sun sings of our need of life from outside ourselves, of another who will pour himself out for us, one who will chase away our darkness. This good news is wonderful and wowing, but above all winning and wooing.... but then the God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor 4:6)

The light has a face.