During the Advent and Christmas season, my church did a sermon series going through the key texts of Handel’s Messiah.
I got to preach during that series and only recently realized I never posted it here.
I’m beginning to see that light and darkness are constant themes through my preaching, and in this sermon, those themes are explicitly in the text. God’s people have returned from exile to their homeland, but it still hurts. Things aren’t the way they remembered, and they keep encountering difficulties and old temptations at every turn.
And so God acknowledged the darkness, but promises light. Is that enough, though? How do we not just sit back and say, “yeah, yeah yeah–I’ve heard this all before” and then continue on steeped in our cynicism? In this sermon (as with others I’ve preached), I try to press more deeply into the darkness to see what God might say. The text is Isaiah 60.1-3, and here’s the sermon audio. Feel free to send me any thoughts, questions or concerns:
Inspired by last month’s Theology Book Club, I want to spend some time on the blog reflecting on baptism. Today, I want to tell you the story of how I changed my views on baptism to be in favor of baptizing babies.
I was raised a good Bible Belt Southern Baptist. I was so immersed in this language and perspective on the Bible, that even now that I totally buy into the reasoning and Scripture behind infant baptism, it still “feels” more natural to read the Bible with my Southern Baptist eyes. I get why people would absolutely disagree with infant baptism.
Having come from the Baptist perspective (called “Believer’s Baptism”) gives me some added insight (I hope) into this discussion. It also has helped me see how people can get so insulated in the way they are raised that they can get really wrong impressions of the “other side”. I remember all the beliefs I had about those that baptized infants and now, on the other side, I see how wrong I was.
The Fateful Turn
I got all the way through college and entered a Presbyterian seminary, all while still holding to my theological roots. These Presbyterians spoke as if it was soooo obvious that infants should be baptized, and thought any other way of thinking was pretty silly and naive. I couldn’t have disagreed more. Continue reading →
I recently offered some proposals on some “less intense” (yet still Reformed) articulations of Calvinism (see above). The election (of a different kind) derailed those posts for a bit, but I wanted to pick it up today, by talking about the most controversial of the “points” of Calvinism: Limited Atonement.
This is the most controversial of Calvinism’s points, but it’s also the most logical. The least charitable way to explain it is to say that Jesus only died for Christians and not others. The more charitable way is that there is not a drop of Jesus’ blood that is shed in vain. God accomplishes what he sets out to do. So traditionally, the belief is that Jesus’ atoning work on the Cross was “limited” to cover only the sins of people that would become Christians.
There seems to be only two options, here, right? Limited or Unlimited? Particular or Universal? How can we approach this in a more winsome and erudite way while still calling ourselves Calvinists?
Atonement is NOT Salvation
This is really important. In my last post, I pointed out that God’s Election is more about our life here-and-now, and less about our future eternal destiny. The same can be said of Atonement. Continue reading →
As our book club is going through Richard Mouw’s Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, I’m blogging some of my thoughts.
In this little Calvinism mini-series, I’ve talked about some of the things that make Calvinism hard for our modern ears, and I’ve begun articulating a broader view of these ideas, by first looking at the “T” (“Total Depravity) of the usual acronym of Calvinist beliefs: TULIP. Today we’ll look at the “U”: Unconditional Election.
Unconditional (Corporate, Vocational) Election
Traditionally, the “U” of TULIP stands for “Unconditional Election”, which simply means that when God chose us as his people, he made this choice on the basis of no condition outside of his own good pleasure. In short, God didn’t choose you because of anything you are or had done. This is true. And yet, it’s not the whole (or even the main) story.
In the Reformation’s move away from the Institutionalism of the medieval Catholic Church, and Scholasticism’s emphasis on the ability and intellect of the individual in society, much of the foundation of Calvinist doctrine was laid in very individualistic terms.
Think about it: each of the five ideas represented by the letters in TULIP are fundamentally about how individuals are reconnected and reconciled to God. I think this really distorts what the Gospel and Christianity (and Calvinism) are about. Continue reading →
[As our book club is going through Richard Mouw’s Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, I’m blogging some of my thoughts.]
If you have any sense about Calvinism, its reputation, and what it believes, you probably know that it is not especially popular. Contemporary Calvinists nearly always fall into one of only two camps: irritating, uncharitable jerks that are unapologetic for their Calvinism; and kind, warm people that too apologetic about it. In other words, you have the “damn right, I’m a Calvinist” crowd, and the “I wish I wasn’t a Calvinist, but it just makes sense to me” people.
Depending on my coffee and/or alcohol intake, I can be either one. But I definitely think (and hope) I lean more towards the latter.
I started out my Calvinistic journey in college as I sat under a sermon miniseries on the topic that utterly convinced me of the truth of the doctrines. I’m going on over a decade now having sat with these beliefs and (in my opinion) truths, and I’ve watched then morph and shift over time in my soul.
I definitely began the journey as the arrogant, tight-fisted, dogmatic Calvinist that generally annoyed anyone that didn’t agree with me. I also hurt a lot of suffering people. I acted in good faith, thinking that changing the doctrinal minds of others would unlock such joy and security in such a big God. Sometimes this happened. A lot of times it didn’t. Continue reading →
This month, our Theology Book Club is going through Richard Mouw’s remarkable book Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, in which he articulates a vision for how Calvinists might understand and hold their doctrinal convictions.
But first, what is this “Calvinism” thing I’m talking about?
Every school of thought has some core foundation on top of which they build every thing else–some assumption that guides and shapes the rest. In that sense, Calvinism is a cluster of beliefs that are centered around the idea that Jesus is Lord, or (in more traditional language), that the Triune God is uncompromisingly sovereign and has no competition in this area. That is the center of Calvinism from which everything else fans out. As Mouw summarizes:
“Unlike other traditions, Calvinism rigorously guards this emphasis on divine sovereignty by refusing to allow any other theological point to detract from it. [So] when Calvinists get around to attempting to explain the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human freedom, we are so concerned to protect the former that we are willing to risk sounding like we are waffling on the latter rather than to imply in any way that God’s power is limited.” (p.27)
If you’re only somewhat familiar with Calvinism, you likely think it was some archaic belief mainly held by cranky medieval Christians and Puritans that said God was in absolute control of every little thing and human free will was largely an illusion. Further, you may also have some vague sense that it’s super depressing, focuses almost entirely on how bad and useless humans are, and had some role in creating the American work ethic.
A couple of weeks ago, I got to finish up our church’s series going through the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon was such an experience to prepare and give. For one, this was my first time ever preaching two weeks in a row (if your pastor does this regularly, give him or her a hug for me–it’s hard!)
Second, this was my firs time preaching on a text I previously preached on. This text was the same as my first ever “real” sermon. It was the oddest experience diving back into this text and it feeling so new–as if I’d never read or studied it previously.
And lastly, this is the shortest set of verses I’ve ever been able to preach on–5 verses! This gave me the freedom to slow down, and experiment with how I wanted to structure this and go about writing the sermon.
This sermon tries to serve both as a summary of the entire Sermon on the Mount as well as a conclusion and call to action for those of us who have sat under it all Summer. If that piques your interest, feel free to listen to or read the sermon below. The text is Matthew 7:24-29. Here’s the audio:
As part of my church’s series on The Sermon on the Mount, I got to preach this past week on the Golden Rule, as well as Jesus’ call to action at the end of the Sermon.
For many of us, when exploring Christian faith, what we’re really looking for is what makes Christianity distinctive. What does it have to say that any other perspective on existence doesn’t—or can’t? I can imagine many people see Jesus offer the Golden Rule and think that he is acting as just one more ethical teacher repeating this ethical principle that most anyone who wants to be a nice person knows about. And it’s true: much of what Jesus says is, technically, not new in human history.
But here’s the trouble: as a human race, we’ve had a lot of practice with the Golden Rule. It’s in us. It’s in our laws. It’s in our societies. It’s in our intuitions that guide and shape how we move through the world. It shapes our sense of justice and morality. And yet we still fail it every day. We’ve had so much practice legislating it, commanding it, manipulating it, teaching it, and hoping for it. And yet it is not the predominant reality in our world or relationships.
That’s why when Jesus comes on the scene, it’s not enough for him to simply repeat the same old teachings in the same old ways. We need more than that if we have any hope for living his vision out. And in this sermon I argue that what Jesus offers here is an entirely new framing and context of the Golden Rule. What Jesus offers here is so much more than a simple ethical maxim. It’s not even Ethics at all! Further, if we see Jesus as just one more religious authority trying to tell people how to act, then we’ve profoundly missed Jesus’ point and what he’s trying to offer us here.
So feel free to listen to or read the sermon, and let me know what you think. The sermon text is Matthew 7:12-23. Here’s the audio:
My go-to Bible Study software of Logos. They have some amazing sales every once and a while and right now they are having a great sale on the New International Commentary Series (popularly known as NICOT and NICNT). They are selling each volume at $19.99 a pop, which is amazing. I am really picky about commentaries, but I know a good deal when I see it. So, I’m enlisting your help to help me pick out a few of these for my library.
So…for those of you that have had experience with these, which would you say are really good and why? Which would you say are definitely not worth one’s time?
So you know what I’m looking for: I go to commentaries more for biblical critical scholarship, not systematic theology. Even though I am theologically conservative, I really do not enjoy commentaries by conservative Evangelicals that spend most of their time grinding their conservative axe against all those “big bad liberals”. Those commentaries end up being more about conservative theological apologetics than the text. For that reason, I find it far more helpful to engage with commentaries that have an openness and sympathy to critical (“liberal”) scholarship.
In short, if one of the primary selling points for a commentary is that it is “conservative”, then it’s probably not for me. I can think of so many other adjectives I would prefer came to one’s mind first to describe a good commentary. If a commentary writer is conservative, great! But breathlessly defending that dogma at the expense of the text isn’t helpful to me.
Yes, I graduated from seminary, and yet I still have a couple more classes I’m finishing up. One of them is going through the documents, Creeds, Confessions that define the theology of my denomination, the Reformed Church in America. I’m having to write a bunch of reflections on differents aspects of these writings, and I offer them here.
Every way of understanding the world involves creeds and confessions. “Creed” comes from the Latin word meaning “I believe”, and a Confession from the Latin for “acknowledge”. A Creed or Confession, then, is simply a distillation of what you acknowledge and believe. There’s nothing weird or particularly “Catholic” about it.
From Creeds to Trinity
If you are a Christian, no matter which part of the family you call home, your beliefs almost certainly fall in line with what have been called the “Ecumenical Creeds”, which are the oldest and simplest articulations of the Christian essentials. They include the Apostle’s, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds.
Now, if you were going to start writing out the core of what you believe, where would you begin? The interesting thing about these Ecumenical Creeds is that they are built entirely, both in foundation and structure, around the doctrine of the Trinity. Why? Continue reading →
I had the honor of giving the reflection at our Good Friday service this year. For the service, we did a series of extended readings, from Luke 22.39-23.56, from Jesus praying in Gethsemane to his burial.
Preaching on this passage was a unique privilege for me, having recently returned from Israel. I walked these very steps that Jesus takes in our story. I prayed in the shade under the Olive Trees in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. I walked down the Kidron Valley to the place where it’s actually quite possible Jesus was imprisoned overnight, beaten, and mocked. I walked through Old City Jerusalem to the fortress of Pilate. Our hotel was right outside the old city walls near the place of Crucifixion.
This passage therefore, especially in light of that trip, was so rich with meaning throughout. Nevertheless, the focus of my message was living in the darkness and tension between Good Friday and Easter.
During the Advent season, I preached a sermon on John 1.1-5,10-18, the famous Logos. In the sermon, we talk about Jesus revealing himself in the midst of the darkness of this world and our hearts, and so encouraging us to press all the more deeply into darkness rather than running from it. Looking back on it, I think it’s a very “Lent-y” sermon and so I’d like to throw it up here this week during Holy Week. It was my first sermon I preached without a manuscript, so there’s no version to read (sorry). But here it is for listening:
Each year during Lent, I press all the more deeply into a motif that appears throughout the Bible: that in some mysterious way, the God of the Universe has had a “slain” and “suffering” aspect to his nature for all eternity–even before the world came into being.
When this world did come into being, the Bible says that it came to exist “through” this suffering and slain Jesus. Therefore the rhythms of Christ’s own nature and life are written into the very DNA of the world. All of our history is an echo of Jesus’ life, both from eternity past and while on earth.
A couple of days ago, I kissed my fiancée goodbye, boarded a plane in Philadelphia, and began the nearly 24-hour process of traveling to the Middle East for a two-week long trip to Israel and Palestine. Today was Day 1 (I’m 7 hours ahead, so while I’m about to go to bed, most of my readers are probably getting this in the afternoon).
I’m part of a team of students in my seminary program who are engaging in this Intercultural Immersion trip, where we will be spending time throughout Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Anyway, I’m sitting here at the end of the first day. I’m exhausted physically, as well as emotionally. I had no idea just how disconnected my religious faith has been to the real world. I love historical things and enjoy walking in others’ footsteps and inhabiting their space once more. And yet, for the most important part of me, I have never had any material interaction with the physical, tangible stuff of my faith’s own story.
I realized today that I have learned to live my Christian life in such a way that I have no mental frameworks for how I’m processing this. I took for granted that I could have a thriving, deep, spiritual existence without having seen and walked the lands and places from which the beliefs were born. And yes, we can have such thriving spiritual lives without visiting this land.
But (to overuse a phrase people use all the time when they come back from this region), I feel like the Bible has transitioned from a silent, black-and-white movie, to a full HD Imax one. It’s crazy. I’m still processing it all. It’s surreal, to say the least. Continue reading →