Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Gospel, part 1

We began a study on the concept of “the gospel” last night at Mizzou. I looked at all of the instances of mention of the term “the gospel”, “good news” and “the message.” Fascinating study. I know Keller has done a lot on this, and Scot McKnight did a series of blog posts on it, but I am interested for my own interest and looking at teaching through it with college students.
We start with Mark 1.1 – The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ [son of God]. We begin with a question, is this gospel about Jesus Christ or according to Jesus? I believe it is the gospel concerning Jesus Christ, because it tells the whole story surrounding Jesus and his message, not necessarily only his message.
The word gospel - The term comes from an Old English word “godspell.” God was the Old English term meaning good and “spell” was the term that meant history or story. The term godspell or gospel means….a good report or “the good news.” It directly corresponds to the Latin term “evangel” which comes from a Greek term “euangelion.” Now an evangel in the time of Jesus was usually about the emperor of Rome. The emperor’s birthday or his rise to power were celebrated as occasions for festivals throughout the world. The reports of these occasions were called “evangels.” One such evangel was written of Augustus, the emperor who followed Julius Caesar. This evangel reads “the birthday of the god (they assumed the emperor’s were gods) was for the world the beginning of joyful tidings (or good news) which have been proclaimed on his account.” This is very similar to Mark’s opening verse: “The beginning of the gospel (or good news) about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This is the essential content of an evangel in the ancient world: a historical event which introduces a new situation for the world. The Roman reader of Mark’s gospel would understand Mark’s proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah. Mark announces Jesus’ coming as an even that brings about a radically new situation for humanity.
Immediately, Mark connects the gospel with the Old Testament and begins with quotes from a couple of prophets (Mal. 3.1 and Isaiah 40.3). There is an allusion to Ex. 23.20, that of the pillar of fire going before the people of Israel.
The messenger or forerunner is John the Baptist who comes in the spirit and power of Elijah.
His message: repentance for forgiveness of sins (people come, being baptized and confessing sins).
The difference between the messages of John and Jesus: John baptizes (only) with water, but the one who comes after him (Jesus) will baptize with the Holy Spirit.

So, the gospel, here, is about Jesus Christ; it is connected to the Old Testament as it has roots in God's revelation or previous holy writings; it fulfills prophecy; and is distinct from the message of prophets in that it bestows the presence of God (baptism of the Holy Spirit).
More to come on this multifaceted and fascinating subject.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Textual Criticism is typically not a type of "higher criticism" and I should have known that. Higher Criticism is usually source criticism, redaction criticism and form criticism. They are typically looked at as looking at the texts from historical/scientific perspectives. They are also looked at as liberal means of looking at texts from most conservatives. They have been tools used by liberal/non-faith scholars, but they don't necessarily have to be linked to a liberal/historical non faith perspective. I still think there are ways that these tools can be used and still maintain the belief in the inspiration of the Scriptures.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Faith and Higher Criticism

So many people that I come in contact with in my position are very suspicious when the subject of Higher Criticism comes up. I want to print a quote from a "higher critic" where his work has actually bolstered his faith. The area of "higher criticism" I am dealing with is textual criticism.

It is interesting to see where two "higher critics'" studies have taken their personal faith. Bart Ehrman's book Misquoting Jesus has gone a long way to make the public suspicious of the accuracy of the New Testament. In fact, his study of the "errors" in the ancient manuscripts has eroded his faith. However, the man he learned under had a much different experience when intensely studying the Scriptures. Listen to this exchange between Lee Strobel and Bruce Metzger (Ehrman's mentor).

Strobel asked Metzger, "All these decades of scholarship, of study, of writing textbooks...what has all this done to your personal faith?"
"It has increased the basis of my personal faith to see the firmness with which these materials have come down to us, with a multiplicity of copies, some of which are very, very ancient," Metzger responded.
"So, scholarship has not diluted your faith - ," Strobel started to say.
"On the contrary, it has built it. I've asked questions all my life, I've dug into the text, I've studied this thoroughly, and today I know with confidence that my trust in Jesus has been well placed...very well placed."
(Found in Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ, p. 71; see also Dethroning Jesus by Daniel Wallace and Darrell Bock).

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Postmodern Apologetics

I really connected with this passage in Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. The authors discuss the development of apologetics from the Enlightenment until now. They discuss the postmodern mindset and discuss the role of apologetics with regard to the postmodern mindset.
Modern Christianity has developed a rational apologetic. We engage modern society with rational proofs of God's existence. We provide scientific data to defend divine creation. We have developed logical responses to the questions raised by suffering. All of these presuppose that modern people find the Christian faith intellectually weak. But the problem is not an intellectual problem. The problem is hearts that refuse to live under God's reign. we reject God. It is a relational problem. And if it is a relational problem, it requires a relational apologetic.
What will commend the gospel are lives lived in obedience to the gospel and a community life that reflects God's triune community of love. People will not believe until they are genuinely open to exploring the truth about God. They become open as they see that it is good to know God. And they see that it is good to know God as they see the love of a Christian community. As Francis Schaeffer said: "Our relationship with each other is the criterion the world uses to judge whether our message is truthful. Christian community is the ultimate apologetic.

I don't post this to say that a reasoned defense of the gospel is unnecessary, but I do think that as we display a life that is changed by the gospel, and we are the pleasing "aroma of Christ" in the world, people will be more willing to listen to our reasoned defense.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Change You Say?

Scan over the first 1:21 and get to the Daily Show bit about the Inauguration Message of Obama versus some of GW Bush's rhetoric.

Community Interpretation in Total Church

I was caught in the middle of the inerrancy wars in the Southern Baptist Convention in the early nineties. The war was winding down and the conservatives had pretty much won and most of the moderates went on to form other conventions. There was so much pettiness on both sides and unflattering behavior that it was hard to align heavily with either side. There was one mantra of the moderates that rubbed me the wrong way. It was on the issue of soul competency. It went along the lines that “there’s no one who will tell me how to read the Bible but Jesus.” Biblical interpretation became such an individual thing (as a response to some of the creedal-type statements coming from the conservative/fundamentalists). This attitude goes back to the days of the Reformation, the idea that every believer decides for him/herself what the Bible says. There’s no need for a pope to be our authority. Now, lost in this mantra is the idea of interpreting the Bible in community. Tim Chester, in his book Total Church, deals with this and reminds me of the need for community in reading (and living out) the Bible.

There are a number of dimensions to this understanding (that the text is only properly understood in community). First, most of the New Testament was written to gospel communities. This suggests that the best context in which to understand then is a gospel community. The Old Testament, too, was for the most part the product of a community identity, a community called to be a light to the nations. Bible interpretation is not just about me and my Bible. It is about God’s word to his people, a people with a responsibility towards the world…If you want to understand the role of the Law and its implications today you need to recognize that the Law was given in the context of the call to be a missionary community (154).

Now, I don’t want to say that the interpretation done in community is flawless, but it should not be discounted in the face of elevating the individual’s interpretation over any other.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Last Thoughts on Suburban Christian

I really enjoyed this book. It helped explain how suburbs were developed and gave insight into why people move to suburbs. It also gave practical tips to living missionally in the suburbs. I recommend this book to anybody interested in practical missional living examples (whether you are in an urban or suburban setting). Like I said, this book is available. If you want it, let me know and I will give it to you the next time I see you.

Intentional Presence
Hsu asks what would it look like if Christians got together and decided to move to an area and minister to it without worrying about their jobs. Instead of the job being the lead factor, how about having the community be the decisive factor? That might also cut down on transience. Usually people relocate because they get a better job offer, so they uproot themselves and figure they can start over and find new friends, churches and ministries elsewhere. What would it look like if we prioritize the friends, churches and ministries we now have rather than the jobs that would take us away from them? Choose your community, live there, work there, worship there and minister there. Some of us need to hear the call not to go but rather to stay. Frequent moves diminish our ability to have established, credible witness in a community. Don’t think in terms of just the next year or two but the next five, ten or twenty.
Consider the possibility of sensing God’s calling for a particular community. Sometimes a job transfer or career change requires a relocation, but if you are merely changing housing, see if you can remain in your local community for as long as possible. We are called to be good neighbors to our communities, and we can’t do that well if we are nomads and frequently uprooting ourselves.
God needs suburban Christians who are willing to take a sharp look at their environment, recognize the challenges of the suburban setting and then stay here to do something about it. No matter why you are in suburbia (whether you love it or hate it), the call is the same: Seek the welfare of the suburb you are living in. And because of the metropolitan interdependence, transforming suburbia may well transform urban and global sites both near and far.

Too many younger leaders and church planters equate suburbia with something negative. However, suburbia is as much a part of God’s global mission as any other part of the earth.

A Gospel of both Salvation and Stewardship
The gospel of salvation and deliverance is good news for the poor and oppressed. It means that God is calling them out of Egypt, out of slavery, out of sin and death. The gospel of stewardship and celebrating is good news for the well-off and secure. It means that God is calling them to be his stewards and to responsible, wise management of his good resources, so that they can others can experience the blessings of his shalom.

For many affluent suburban Christians the challenge is to discern ways to live out this gospel of stewardship and blessing. The biblical concept of shalom is that of wholeness, peace and security, life the way God intended it to be.
If you are a suburban Christian, you must determine what kind of suburban Christian you are going to be. Will you be virtually indistinguishable from your neighbors, consuming and commuting and striving and acquiring like everyone else? Or will you live out a missional suburban Christianity, where you are connecting and giving and sharing and practicing hospitality, generosity, community and self-sacrifice?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Beyond Suburbia

Some more thoughts from Albert Hsu's book The Suburban Christian. (If you'd like it, I will give it to you).

Hsu tells the story of a two week mission trip to inner city Minneapolis. They were confronted poverty, crime and hopelessness. Over and over they were confronted with the questions: What would Jesus do here? How would Jesus minister to this neighborhood? What is the good news of the gospel for these communities? We learned that spiritual comfort about God’s love, inner peace and eternal life was not enough. Christian ministry encompasses whole persons and communities: Bible studies and gospel tracts were meaningless without sheltering abused women and children, feeding the homeless, and working toward economic and social justice. Hsu was confronted by the thought that he lived in the same county less than ten miles away.
Suburban-Urban Interdependence
Even if a suburban church is only five minutes or five miles away from an inner-city community, it might as well be across the country or half-way around the world. Indeed, many suburban churches give more to overseas missions than they do to support local ministries in nearby urban centers.
Suburbanites and urbanites together must affirm that to care about one requires that we care about the other.
Church consultant Eric Swanson calls churches to be outwardly focused and to “measure their effectiveness not merely by attendance but by the transformation effect they are having on their communities.” He writes:
As churches partner with people in neighborhoods, schools, human service agencies, business and government agencies, they are creating bridging capital within these neighborhoods, not just by linking the entities of a neighborhood to the church but helping to link the entities to one another. It is the church’s care and love that build bridges through tutoring programs, ministering to the battered women in the safe house, hosting job fairs and opening day care facilities. As churches seek to be agents of community transformation, they should not ignore their abilities to bring social capital to a community – building community bonds and community bridges.

Hsu admits that no church can do everything. But every church can do something.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

N.T. Wright on Salvation

I have thought recently about wading into the fray of Piper versus NT Wright on the subject of justification. I’ve read a few articles of Wright on the “new perspective” on Paul and downloaded Piper’s book, The Future of Justification aimed at Piper’s view that not only does Wright not understand justification in Paul but that Wright is dangerously wrong. I should probably leave it alone for I am biased: I find Wright far more useful than Piper. I believe that Wright is more exegetically sound than Piper (who I believe reads everything through the eyes of [certain] Reformers). I did want to post this passage where Wright defends himself against critics who find his views somewhat “dangerous.” See what you think here:

I hope I have said enough in this short section to convince you of two things. First, my understanding of how Paul supposed someone became a Christian is, I think, basically orthodox and indeed reformed. God takes the initiative, based on his foreknowledge; the preached word, through which the Spirit is at work, is the effective agent; belief in the gospel, that is, believing submission to Jesus as the risen Lord, is the direct result. My central point is that this isn’t what Paul is referring to when he speaks of ‘justification’. But the substance of what reformed theology, unlike Paul, has referred to by means of that word remains. Faith is not something someone does as a result of which God decides to grant them a new status or privilege. Becoming a Christian, in its initial moment, is not based on anything that a person has acquired by birth or achieved by merit. Faith is itself the first fruit of the Spirit’s call. And those thus called, to return to Philippians 1.6, can be sure that the one who began a good work in them will complete it at the day of Christ.

From “New Perspectives on Paul,” found on the Wright page (

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Even More from Suburban Christian

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Moving from Anonymity to Community

Hsu quotes a man who grew up in my hometown (St. Louis city) and describes my childhood very aptly (even though he is describing life 40 years earlier):

You had a parochial school on one corner, and down the street we had a public school. It was a neighborhood, and it was like that all over the city. And everybody knew everybody…it was just a big neighborhood; you could walk anyplace in the whole area and you knew everybody…We just played. We made up our own games. We played ball in the alleys and the vacant lots. We didn’t need any supervision.

I wouldn’t dream of letting my 9 year old daughter wander around like I did (even though I live in a much safer neighborhood than I did when I was a child). A lot of us are like that. We live in such a culture of fear due to the reporting of missing children and other horrible acts committed to kids (even though there may not be an increase in the incidence of missing kids, just the reporting on it has changed). Hsu mentions that air conditioning and television has changed that. Air conditioning pulls us indoors and TV keeps us there. (I don’t know about that. We had AC in my home and TV but we were outside roaming around a lot, but I do agree somewhat that it does keep us indoors more).

More and more residential areas are spreading out however and there is a lack of community feel. I walked to school until high school. My daughter would have to walk about three miles to school (truly up hill both ways to some extent) with no sidewalks on a majority of the walk. The newer schools in Columbia are like that, but the older ones are more conducive to walking.

Practicing Hospitality, Creating Community

I don’t feel like I am part of a community in my neighborhood. I want that to change. Hsu gives some good ideas on how to foster community in the suburbs. One way to do that is to practice hospitality. I am definitely challenged in that area. In spite of the fact that it is discussed over and over again in the NT, even being a qualification of a church leader, I just don’t feel very confident as a host (even though we constantly had college kids in our home in Garland, TX).

Hsu gives the practical example of sharing lawn tools. (I’ve already briefly mentioned this). Why not share a lawnmower with two or three other neighbors? Chances are that you wouldn’t all need it at the same time, and would only require a minimum of planning to decide how it is used and stored. Besides cutting down on consumption, you also increase the small amount of interaction and interdependence between neighbors. Some neighborhoods draw up community asset lists so neighbors are aware of what resources are available for sharing. (I am going to borrow a neighbor’s wheel barrow for a project. I’d like to feel more comfortable borrowing, though I have no problem lending. Maybe my neighbors feel the same, how do we get over it?)

Hsu quotes Randy Frazee, “One of the simplest and most practical things you can do to create community in your neighborhood is to play in the front yard.” This sounds great, but I’m in my front yard all of the time, but I don’t know anybody. But, I have seen it within the subdivision in places. We just need to get out more in the neighborhood. I have seen a little bit of community building with a friend’s neighborhood where they share a community pool. There is a clubhouse there as well. The main thing that I am trying to do as I learn some of these things is to be intentionally outside looking for opportunities to connect with neighbors. It is hard, but I am looking forward to the connections.

Thoughts on Ankara

We stayed in a pretty busy part of town, within walking distance of many shops and cafes. One thing to note about hotels in Turkey, they are serious about saving power. The halls had motion sensing lights. It was weird, because at times you felt like you were moving through an abandoned hotel because there were no lights on in the hotel hallways. Plus, they did not heat the lobby or breakfast area. And it was cold in Ankara. I don’t think it got out of the thirties the whole time we were there. At night the temps climbed into the single digits.
We found out (later) that the OK sign in Turkey is somewhat offensive and maybe suggestive. That may explain the busy boy’s confusion when my roommate gave him a five dollar tip with the OK sign.
There are statues, posters and images of Atatürk everywhere. He is basically the founder of the Republic of Turkey and the mastermind of the battle to secure their independence after WWI (in which they sided with the Germans). Atatürk is so revered that it is illegal to make fun of him or his image (which was a shame because I had a whole series of Atatürk jokes that I could not issue). It is like the law and sin; I had not desire to tell any Atatürk jokes, until the law said not to.
Ankara is the capital of the nation, but it is not looked on too favorably by most Turks. I spoke with a girl who needed to go to visit friends but she would look for any excuse to get out of going. I really enjoyed the visit there. We met some wonderful friends there that I will cherish. I look to go back to visit them someday. Not a lot of English speakers in Ankara. And the language is so different from English. It was hard to pick out words and phrases. In France, Spain/Mexico and even Germany you can see a lot of cognate words, but not in Turkish. You really felt like you stuck out. We dressed differently, we looked differently and acted differently.
I was reminded of the importance of prayer walking in Ankara, some of my most focused times of prayer. We visited the largest mosque in Ankara, the Kocatepe Camii. It has the largest chandelier in Turkey. Very pretty mosque. We went during Friday prayer service. It was very crowded, but the people were tolerant of us being there and it was an interesting experience. Take your shoes off before stepping on the carpet! It was interesting seeing people hawking goods outside of the mosque after the service. Weird stuff too, like a marionette duck and a comic hot water bottle.
In a later post, I will tell you about our visit to the restaurant of the Turkish Don Quixote (Don Kișot).

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

More from Suburban Christian

Slowly trying to get back into the swing of blogging after my trip to Central Asia. I'll post some thoughts about that trip soon. Here are some more thoughts on Albert Hsu's book The Suburban Christian.
Status Check
We are influenced in our consumption by the flood of mass produced brands surrounding us. As we look around our communities, it doesn’t matter where we live, there are the same brands of stores, restaurants etc. in communities across the nation. It works against the emergence of distinct and unique communities. Hsu quotes James Howard Kunstler who calls suburbia “the geography of nowhere.” This is the power of mass culture. Little distinguishes one suburb from another because larger commercial realities all but require everything to be basically the same as everywhere else. (Think about it, whether you live in KC, STL, DFW or NYC, there are a bunch of big box stores and chain restaurants that you can see in just about any community across the country).
The challenge for Christians living in this consuming environment is for our Christian identity to determine our consumption rather than for consumption to determine our identity.
We need to have more self-understanding and self-awareness. What sense of self-identity or community is shaping how you consume? How are your consumer choices shaping your identity? What magazines are on your coffee table, and what purchases have you made because of them? What brand stories or images have you bought into? On the other hand, has a particular Christian conviction led you to change any of your patterns of consumption? Has your church or Christian community helped you be more accountable in your consumer choices? How might your church wield its collective consuming power more christianly?
Hsu states that we can make a difference by being aware. We can begin by detaching ourselves from the tyranny of corporate branding, repudiating the power of status markers, and understanding how our identity and community shapes our consumption. It is an act of spiritual formation for us to allow ourselves to be shaped by Christian values and virtues rather than consumerist ones. We will then be alert to how our consumption can be beneficial for the sake of the kingdom.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Travel Note

Greetings from Efes (Ephesus)! (As I stare at a bust of Ataturk). I've got lots of notes piled up for future posts. Thought I'd give you an update, kind of in Peter King "aggravating travel note of the week" style. We left on Monday the 29th at 3pm and got in Ankara at 3pm. We lost 8 hours on the flight. 24 hours of time and I got about 30 minutes of sleep. Nice! I can't sleep on a plane. In spite of losing that day, basically, I still haven't slept that well.

Ankara was a great experience. Ate traditional Turkish food, visited a Mosque and walked the city. Met some new friends here in Turkey. Great families that we spent New Year's Eve with. We had an 8 hour ride in a van with 9 people that I swear should only have seated 8. Stopped in ancient Sardis (one of the churches of Revelation). I'll have more to share later.

Tomorrow, we tour Ephesus and we will be at Izmir (Smyrna) on Monday and on to Istanbul (not Constantinople) on Tuesday.