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A Parable on Pursuing Holiness

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A man began to mow his yard.  

The reels of the mower were sharp and spun effortlessly. At first, it was easy and the grass cut without difficulty. The man breezed along, finding enjoyment in the work he had been given.  But soon, the work became difficult.  Though much of the grass was still being cut down by the blades, the man began to notice some spots that needed extra work.  And as he continued, he became aware of some stubborn weeds that seemed to remain no matter how many times he went over them.  The man became frustrated, and began to tire.  

At that moment, the man was interrupted by his wife, who gave him a glass of water.  He took a few minutes to rest, and to think about why he was putting in such hard work.  Then, he started again, going more slowly over the weeds.  To his delight, he noticed that when he went more slowly over them, the weeds would be cut down.  As he finished, the man rejoiced, knowing he had done well, but not without the help of the mower, his wife, the water, rest and reflection. 

 

[This was previously posted at Tyler Helfers' former blog, Brevity and Clarity in May 2014]

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The University as Faith Community in Conversation

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It was a Sunday afternoon. The sun was descending from its high place in the sky and frost had formed on the windows from the cold wintery air outside. Two students and I sat in my living room discussing their lives as students and followers of Christ. We talked about genetic testing, the pros and cons of commercial farms, sports, greed, the authority of Scripture, church worship practices, and homosexuality. Two hours, and a few cups of tea later, they departed and I was left to reflect on our discussion. 

I found myself both encouraged and amazed at the way in which our conversation flowed from topic to topic, academics and faith, research, Scripture and prayer woven together to form the rich fabric of our lives together. In that moment, I realized that this was what the faith community in conversation was supposed to look like; the dwelling of the message of Christ among us as we talked and taught one another in all wisdom and grace, being filled with the Spirit and with thanksgiving to our great God (Eph. 5:15-20, Col. 3:15-17).

Writing on Augustine's Confessions, Dr. David Rylaarsdam conveys the significance of this sort of faith community in conversation on the theologians conversion and Christian life:

In his early life, its theological reflection done with others that helps Augustine slowly convert more and more to God. On his own, his theology is often stuck in ruts: he thinks of God too much in bodily terms, he doesn't balance God's transcendence and immanence, he thinks Scripture is too unsophisticated to deserve his attention. It's his reflections with others that keep him moving forward. The more he is drawn into the faith community, the more he converses with this community's deep tradition of reading life and Scripture, the more he accelerates toward full conversion...It's through this community of theological reflectors that God's voice breaks through the stubborn ears of Augustine's heart. [1] 

All too often, we isolate our lives from the story of Scripture, from the grand redemptive drama unfolding on its pages and extending into human history up to the present day. We fail to see our place in, as Calvin put it, the "theater of God" and how Scripture and life are woven together. As a result, our spiritual lives can seem dry, we can grow cold in our affections towards God and obedience to His ways, and we can become detached from the world around us, failing to love and serve others; proclaiming in word and deed the beauty, truth, and hope of the gospel in our various sphere(s) of influence. 

A lot of this is born out of a failure to engage in theological reflection as a faith community. We read the Bible on our own; worship in large, darkened auditoriums as individuals; we pray only in our closets at home. This is why conversation in community is so important; a space for unity and diversity, a safe space for questions and doubt, and a space of encouragement and challenge in walking in the way of Christ. In the case of Augustine, time and again, it moved him beyond the barriers his heart and mind had set up, propelling him forward in taking hold of Christ in faith. 

The university is an incredible place for Christians to enter into theological reflection in conversation. It is a place that offers a rich diversity of believers from around the world, with different experiences and viewpoints. It is a place that, perhaps more explicitly than others, sits at the intersection between faith and everyday life, work, recreation and God, the church and the world. How are you engaging in the conversation?

I challenge you in your time at university to theologically reflect on your life. But I also challenge you to do so, not merely on your own, but in conversation with others in the faith community. This will require intentionality, it may require sacrifice (of time), and it will probably have moments of both joy and pain, but it will prove its worth as you grow closer to God, deeper in fellowship with one another, and more confident of your place in God's mission in the world. So let the lordship of Christ in all spheres of life, the rich diversity of the body of Christ, and the powerful living and active Word of God all form you into a mature citizen of the Kingdom of God. 

 

[1] David Rylaarsdam, For God So Loved The World, ed. Arie C. Leder (Belleville, ON: Essence Publishing, 2006), 206. 

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Weaving Science and Creation Together for Human Flourishing and the Glory of God

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"Belief in creation and the practice of and belief in science are often thought to be antithetical. Doubtless there are today challenges in the relationship between the two and I do not intend to try and solve all such challenges. What I do want to do is to try and show that the doctrine of creation, correctly understood and science, correctly understood, complement each other in vital and exhilarating ways."

With these words, Dr. Craig Bartholomew began this year's Areopagus spring lecture at Iowa State University, entitled, "The Doctrine of Creation and the Exhilaration of Science: A Different Approach." And while it was surely a lecture about creation and science, it proved to be far more. In this lecture, delivered to a crowd of fifty university students and faculty members, as well as members of the Ames community, Dr. Bartholomew challenged Christians and non-Christians alike to critically examine their presuppositions when coming to the biblical text, the science lab, and the marketplace of ideas (the public square of the university). 

Dr. Bartholomew began by examining Genesis 1 & 2, showing that the doctrine of creation is not a simple thing. In a very clear and succinct way, Dr. Bartholomew walked through some of the contemporary scholarship on these chapters, laying the foundation for his four main points about this crucial piece of the biblical drama that would have a bearing on the rest of his lecture: 

  • The Genesis account leaves us with a profound sense of God as the all-powerful, majestic king who speaks creation into existence.
  • Genesis 1 portrays a universe that is ordered, given its structure, by God's "let there be's"
  • The creation account gives an astonishing description of what it means to be human with our meaning and purpose wrapped in being image-bearers of God called to image him in this created world
  • Finally, the opening chapters of Genesis portray a world that is not only filled with wonder and awe, but a world that we can know!

Without dismissing the common questions about origins, it was made clear that the doctrine of creation presents us with so much more that this, including a great deal that contributes to the sciences. And this is where Dr. Bartholomew turned his attention to in the remainder of the lecture.

"So powerful have the discoveries of science been that it is easy to expect science to provide the answers to all the questions we have about life. Indeed, a tendency in modernity has been for science to ally itself with naturalism and to relegate religion to the private spheres of our lives, with no public consequences, including in education and university life."

This statement is but one of many that highlight the ways in which our world and life view frame our approach and give shape to our lives, including in the classroom, laboratory, coffee shop, and church. Rather than adopting the prevailing narrative, Dr. Bartholomew proposed that the doctrine of creation presents us with the true basis for all human understanding, including in the sciences. Though it does not provide all the answers to the sciences (and never claims to do so), the doctrine of creation "encourages contemplation and curiosity and provides us with confidence to pursue the truth about the world." And as we engage in the work of science with this framework in mind, we can be truly hopeful about our exploration and learning about the world in which we find ourselves.

"GenESIS 1 enables us not only to pursue science with appropriate confidence but also as a divine calling, an imperative from God, to think, as it were, God’s thoughts after him, to discover his ways in his world."

Turning again to his main points about the doctrine of creation, Dr. Bartholomew encouraged everyone to recognize the vocational component. He challenged those in the sciences to consider why they chose to study biology, physics, chemistry, or astronomy. Motivations born out of amazement and wonder are appropriate, but also love and respect. Love for God and his creation, as well as respect for the task entrusted to his image-bearers to unfold its potential for human flourishing and the glory of God. 

Drawing on Kuyper, he brought the lecture to a conclusion by pointing to that which follows the doctrine of creation in the redemptive narrative: the Fall. Sin has caused us to become estranged from the previously organic, natural unfolding of the scientific vocation. Just like the doctrine of creation, science is complex, and much more than merely "collecting facts into our bucket to be arranged in later in a logical order." Rather, drawing on Karl Popper, a better approach to science is that of a torch, understanding that "our identification of the facts and their interrelationship will be heavily influenced by the light we cast upon that which we are studying." Therefore, we have to critically examine ourselves, and the matrix out of which we practice science (our presuppositions) and consider how we account for them. At the end of the day, the doctrine of creation, and a world and life view rooted in the redemptive drama of the Triune God, forms a powerful, hopeful, and exhilarating basis for the practice of science. 

Below are a few of the comments from the event:

"I found this a very fascinating perspective on the relationship between religion and science."--Kyra

"I thought the discussion about the purpose of university was most interesting...this is something that needs to happen more."--Sebastian, Physics

"Dr. Batholomew's explanation of the meaning of Genesis 1 was so helpful and very encouraging to my faith."--Ben, Aerospace Engineering

"As a Christ follower, this lecture has allowed me to think more about how we think, and how to approach others with the teaching of creation and its relationship to the gospel."--Luke, Mechanical Engineering

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A Call to Reformed Discipleship

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"Occasionally a voice is raised among us to the effect that the sole task of the church is to bring the gospel to the unsaved. How foolish! If the Christian Reformed Church should take that position, the day would not be far off when, for lack of a strong home base, it would find itself incapable of effective evangelism. [1]"
 

In my last post, we examined R.B. Kuiper's understanding of the motivations for evangelism, and gave a call for reformed churches to passionately pursue evangelism. This week, we turn our attention to that which undergirds the evangelistic efforts of the church (as institute and organism): discipleship.

If the church is going to engage in evangelism well, her members must be built up in the faith; matured through faithful teaching (orthodoxy) and practice (orthopraxy). The creeds, confessions, and the redemptive-historical trajectory of Scripture (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation) are not simply fences for testing whether one is "Christian" or "reformed," but also powerful tools for helping us better understand Scripture, and find our place in the unfolding drama of redemptive history. Furthermore, they challenge us to practice charity, unity, loving-service, and faithfulness in every sphere of life.  

Discipleship takes the shape of family worship, of catechesis, and participation in corporate worship. Through such activities--which serve to shape our hearts and minds--we are equipped for evangelism and service (living out the virtues of Christ). We can neither afford to ignore the formative impact of these tools and practices--rejecting them as antiquated, outdated, or irrelevant--nor fail to participate in them because we are "too busy" or "disinterested." 

Sadly, as Kuiper points out, this is all too often the case:

There are churches round about us, evangelical churches at that, which strongly stress evangelism but neglect almost entirely the religious education of their own children and the building up of the adult members in the faith. [2]

The consequence? Kuiper goes on to describe how such a failure leads to a down diminution of the doctrine of the church, and the gospel itself. Like the pendulum of a great clock, church history reveals the way the church has swung between periods of great evangelistic fervor and doctrinal controversy. For the purposes of his book, Kuiper reflects on the rise of protestant liberalism and the social gospel, which arose in the wake of the Second Great Awakening. A lack of discipleship can lead to the "adjustment of Christian message," "a willingness to remove the offense of the gospel," and the watering down of worship.  

However, a lack of discipleship can also lead to other consequences: namely, the degrading, distress, and disillusionment of the faith among new Christians. I cannot count the number of times in which I've witnessed new Christians thrust into the evangelistic endeavor only to be beaten down by the questions, objections, and/or ridicule of non-Christians (let alone the physical, emotional, and spiritual effort it takes to do such work). How can one be expected to be prepared to give a reason for the hope they have (1 Peter 3:15) so that they are not tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine and the cunning and craftiness of those who oppose the Christian faith (Eph. 4:14) unless they are being trained in sound doctrine and practices that reflect Christ and the kingdom of God? 

It's important that our churches not become lax in adult education: participation in worship, Bible study, mentorship, and Sunday school. It's important that we continue to catechize our young people, and to engage in family worship. It may require reorienting our lives, cutting things out of our busy schedules, or being creative in the ways we engage in such things, but neglecting these things is not an option. Both are part and parcel of God's calling for the church, and central to her fulfilling her mission in the world. 

Evangelism and discipleship exist in a delicate balance. Failure to do one affects the other. This ultimately leads our churches down the broad road that begins with impotent witness, followed by sickness, and ending in death. However, if we make it our mission to glorify God in both evangelism and disicpleship--both as individuals and the church--we will find ourselves on the narrow way towards powerful witness, flourishing, and blessing. So, may we take up the task not only of reformed evangelism, but also reformed discipleship.  

 

[1] R.B. Kuiper, To Be or Not to Be Reformed (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1959), 82-83
[2] Kuiper, To Be or Not to Be Reformed, 82. 

 

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A Call to Reformed Evangelism

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"The more consistently Reformed a church is, the more active will it be in evangelism."

This is a simple, yet profound, statement from the former Westminster Seminary professor and president of Calvin Seminary, R.B. Kuiper. The connections between Reformed theology and evangelism are so strong that, according to Kuiper, no one has a greater incentive for engaging in evangelism. Why? Because for the Reformed, everything revolves around the glory of the Triune God, and this includes evangelism. 

As Kuiper puts it:

Reformed evangelism is God-centered. The danger is ever present that evangelism will become man-centered. In many instances that has occurred. The salvation of souls is often regarded as the one end of evangelism. It is most certainly an end of evangelism, and an important one, but it is by no means the ultimate end...[Evangelism] is a means to a more comprehensive end—the growth of the body of Christ, the church. That again is a means to a still more comprehensive end—the coming of Christ’s kingdom in every domain of life. And that is a means to the highest of all ends—the glory of God.

In his book, To Be or Not To Be Reformed, Kuiper begins by laying out the more common apologetic for Reformed evangelism: Election. In light of God's gracious choosing of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation (people group), Reformed Christians should approach evangelism with confidence in both the universal gospel and universal church; a message of good news for all peoples and a church of those united to Christ from all peoples. The good news is that the good shepherds sheep hear his voice, they follow him, and no one can steal them away (John 10). 

However, it is his second argument--the glory of God--that I find particularly fascinating and compelling. In this argument, Kuiper cuts through the dualism that often marks evangelical approaches to evangelism (the saving of souls for heaven), while also challenging Kuyperian neo-calvinists (Christ's lordship over every sphere of life). And he does so, not by tearing anyone or anything down, but rather by building up, stacking telos upon telos until he reaches the chief end of humanity: to glorify God. Evangelism serves the building of the Church, and the building of the Church provides the foundation for witnessing to the Kingdom of God in all of life, and such witness fulfills our created purpose as image-bearers of God in His world. 

Notice, too, what is at the heart of this chain leading to the glory of God: the Church. As institute, the church fulfills her calling to proclaim the gospel and administer the sacraments, sending out the church, as organism, to fulfill her comprehensive calling as witnesses to Christ and the Kingdom. Below is an illustration that may articulate this point better:

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So if we are committed to being consistently Reformed, we must engage in evangelism: "But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? (Rom. 10:14, NLT)" It is not an option, nor is it a burden. Rather it is a serious responsibility and incredible opportunity. However, beyond this, we must engage in evangelism because it ultimately serves as a vital way to glorify God. Through the faithful word and deed proclamation of the gospel, we will see the body of Christ, the Church, grow, and the Kingdom advance in the lives of those who entrust themselves to the good and gracious king, Jesus Christ.  

 

*Next week, we will reflect on a brief warning Kuiper presents at the end of this chapter on evangelism in the CRC. 

 

 

 

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A Vision of the Future For the Church (and University) Today

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"We must therefore try to rehabilitate for our times the vivid expectation of the early Christians. For beleaguered communities of believers today, hard-pressed by poverty, oppression, and persecution, the consummation holds out hope for a 'sabbath rest' (Heb. 4:9-10). But the 'new order' also offers abundant opportunities for a renewed pursuit of the cultural mandate. There will be times of exuberant worship, face to face with our Lord, no longer restricted to a temple (Rev. 21:22)...But there will also be time for gardening in this Paradise, for constructive activities in this City, time for reading those good books we somehow never get around to, for finishing those half-written letters, for removing the incompletes on our academic transcripts. As my chemistry professor once put it: an eternity to continue running laboratory experiments, probing the unfathomable wonders of creation...In Christ 'all things are [ours]' (1 Cor. 3:21-23). For 'the meek...shall inherit the earth' (Matt. 5:5). Now already all this, and more, is ours in hope--and someday in perfection."
-Gordon Spykman, Reformational Theology: A New Paradigm for Doing Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992)

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Forging a Third Way: On Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Theological Journey

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"Old systems of exploitation and oppression are passing away and new systems of justice and equality are being born. In a real sense ours is a great time in which to be alive. Therefore I am not yet discouraged about the future. Granted that the easygoing optimism of yesterday is impossible. Granted that we face a world crisis which often leaves us standing amid the surging murmur of life’s restless sea. But every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities. Each can spell either salvation or doom. In a dark, confused world the spirit of God may yet reign supreme." [1]

This quotation comes from an article written by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for an ongoing series in Christian Century on the theme: "How My Mind Has Changed." In it, King chronicle his intellectual and spiritual development, revealing the third way he sought between the fundamentalism he grew up with and the liberalism he adopted early in his adult years; a third way that synthesized theological systems and was contextualized to his experience and circumstances in the American South of the 1950s and 60s. 

Having been raised in a strict fundamentalism tradition, King found the allure of liberalism, with its "devotion to the search for truth, its insistence on an open and analytical mind, its refusal to abandon the best light of reason," intellectually satisfying. Through his early life and time at seminary, King uncritically accepted the teachings of Protestant Liberalism with its gospel of love working through reason. However, the more King examined the Scriptures, the world around him, and began to engage the social issues of his day, he quickly found theological liberalism wanting:

It was mainly the liberal doctrine of man that I began to question. The more I observed the tragedies of history and man’s shameful inclination to choose the low road, the more I came to see the depths and strength of sin...[I became] aware of the complexity of human motives and the reality of sin on every level of man’s existence. Moreover, I came to recognize the complexity of man’s social involvement and the glaring reality of collective evil. I came to feel that liberalism had been all too sentimental concerning human nature and that it leaned toward a false idealism. I also came to see that liberalism’s superficial optimism concerning human nature caused it to overlook the fact that reason is darkened by sin.

Much of this came to light through King's study of Reinhold Niebuhr and the neo-orthodox movement. Neo-orthodoxy presented a sobering assessment of humanity's sinfulness, and the insufficiency (or, rather, inability) of human reason properly applied to solve the problems of the age. For the neo-orthodox, one needed more than objective truths or reason, one needed an "encounter" with Christ. And, yet, King could not completely give himself theologically and intellectually over to neo-orthodoxy. Instead, he sought a third way that synthesized the "truths" of both: reason and experience, love and power, tangible and spiritual. What this yielded, in terms of the gospel, was a holistic vision that encompassed the "whole man":

The gospel at its best deals with the whole man, not only his soul but his body, not only his spiritual well-being, but his material well-being. Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.

Whether one agrees with his theological perspectives or not, King's critiques and journey can prove instructive for us today as we seek to proclaim the power of the Gospel--the good news concerning Christ and the Kingdom of God--over and against the hate, racism, and injustice that persist in our age. We must wrestle seriously not only with Scripture, but also with the evils of our age, and the struggles faced by our fellow human beings. We must recognize our presuppositions and the presuppositions of those we encounter. We must consider how to formulate a theology that is not merely concerned with biblical orthodoxy, but also orthopraxy (belief and practice). 

I'm convinced that our hope is firmly rooted in a concern for the "whole man," for we believe that God in the person and work of Christ is at work redeeming and reconciling all things to himself. Our Gospel is one that celebrates the truth that grace restores nature, broken and marred as it is by sin. This restoration includes, but is not limited to, human nature and our relationship with the Triune God. It also includes the restoration of institutions, systems, and the creation itself as the church (institute) proclaims the gospel and administers the sacraments, and the church (organic) is sent out to serve the risen Christ in all spheres of life. Redeemed and renewed by the power of the Spirit, we can live out our divine callings and begin to see glimmers of the future to come: a world radiating with love, righteousness, justice, and peace. 

And we can pursue this with a sure hope, because we know (to borrow and slightly amend Dr. King's words) that in a dark, confused world the Spirit of God does, and will, reign supreme. 

 

[1] This and subsequent quotations from "Pilgrimage to Nonviolence," by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Christian Century 77 (April 1960), 439-441. 

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A Year in Review: 2017

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Each year, we look back at the most popular blog posts and make recommendations for reading over the winter break (and beyond). Below are the most popular posts from this past year as well as a few book recommendations for the upcoming year. 

BLOG POSTS

A Doubleshot of Bavincks (A Guest Post at the Kuyperian Commentary)
(April 8, 2017)

Reformed and Always Reforming
(May 3, 2017)

With Eyes That See, and Hearts of Love: Wisdom on Sharing the Gospel from J.H. Bavinck
(August 24, 2017)

Recovering the Priesthood of Believers
(November 8, 2017)

BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition: A Systematic Introduction by Craig Bartholomew (IVP Academic)
This book serves as a great introduction not only to the work of Abraham Kuyper, but also some of his contemporaries and successors. Writing in a clear  and engaging manner, Bartholomew has given the church a tremendous gift in the form of this book, providing a standard for the study of the Kuyperian tradition for years to come. 

Reformational Theology: A New Paradigm for Doing Dogmatics by Gordon Spykman (Eerdmans)
I began reading this book earlier this fall as a possible text for the Areopagus Leadership Training Initiative (ALTI). And while the jury is still out on whether it will be one of the main texts for ALTI, I have no reservations about recommending it to anyone seriously wanting to study theology through a Christian/Reformational philosophical lens. Though it may dense at times, it is well worth the work, and bears the fruit of a renewed vision for a Christian world and life view founded upon the Word of God. 

The Works of Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald (Doubleday: Black Lizard)
If you like detective fiction and haven't read either Raymond Chandler or Ross MacDonald, you need to pick up some of their work. Through the work of their private eyes, these two authors give us a picture into sin, corruption, and injustice at work in the world, and the hard, gritty work necessary to bring some semblance of redemption/resolution. They're always entertaining reads, but can prove to be reflective as well. 

An Introduction to the Science of Missions by J.H. Bavinck (P&R Publishing)
The last recommendation is a work by the late missiologist, J.H. Bavinck. In this book, Bavinck lays the foundation for engaging in missions in a way that takes theology, culture, and history seriously. This book is extremely practical for anyone engaged in vocational ministry, as well as those who desire to engage others with the gospel of Christ (whether next door or around the world). Few books have been as helpful and encouraging to me in my own ministry. 

There are also a few books I'm looking forward to tackling in the new year, including: Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology (James K.A. Smith), Gospel Witness (Joseph Boot), and Dune (Frank Herbert).

 

BONUS: MUSIC To CHECK OUT

Caroline Cobb: a Home & a Hunger

Lissie

 

I hope you find these resources and recommendations helpful and a blessing to you as we wrap up 2017 and look ahead to what the Lord has in store in 2018. If you find any of these particularly helpful or encouraging, please leave a note below, or send us an email. We would love to hear from you. Also, if you have any recommendations of your own, please feel free to add them to the comment section. 

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Forget to Remember: Smartphones, Liturgy, and Embodying the Story

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"He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children."

"Hello Siri. Show me the law of God."

"Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands."

"Okay Google. What was the exodus?"

"They would not be like their ancestors--a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him. (Ps. 78:5-8)"

The practice (art?) of remembering seems to be a relic of the past, relegated to the dustbin of outdated cultural practices. With the advent of the smartphone came instantaneous access to information that has no parallel in history. Don't remember that Bible verse? Simply look it up on Google. Cannot recall that event? Check it on wikipedia. Struggling to bring those instructions to mind? Search for them on Bing (wait, that's not right, nobody uses Bing...I digress). 

And while having such unfettered access to information can be a exciting prospect and liberating experience, it also comes with unintended consequences that have a tremendous bearing on our faith. 

Psalm 78 reminds us that throughout history, remembering has been important for faithfulness to God. The passing down of stories of God's mighty works and powerful words of promise were intended to instill this faithfulness in the next generation. Why? So that they would not follow in the path of their ancestors who frequently forgot to remember and strayed from God. And so the collective memory of the people of God was passed down from generation to generation through storytelling, memorization, and practice (liturgy).

The same is true for Christians throughout history. The liturgy served as a means of telling the story of God, His mission, and the gospel in the context of corporate worship. Furthermore, catechesis ingrained the truths and promises of God on the hearts and minds of children so that as they grew up among the covenant community, they would remember the Lord's deeds and keep his commands. 

However, we are on a precipice today, looking over into the abyss that is the screen of our smartphones, tablets, and computers. No longer needing to remember--to embody truths, stories, and, calling--we become empty while having everything at our fingertips. To put another way, our devices cause us to "unstoried" beings whose primary (or perhaps sole) orientation is the present. And a people without a story, a people lacking an embodiment of history or a vision of the future are a people bound to forget their God, his works, and his ways. Such a people will become behold to, and enslaved by, the present, which can lead to all sorts of sinfulness (see 1-2 Kings, and a number of the Old Testament prophets).  

This is why it is important to remember. To place oneself in the unfolding story of redemptive history. To memorize Scripture. To engage in the liturgy; that weekly practice in which we are reminded of, and further embedded in, the story of God's covenant people--one of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. Recurring patterns of confession, assurance, proclamation, and commissioning help to offset the formative practice of swiping right and calling out to the disembodied beings within our devices for the answers to our questions. 

It is easy to despair, disparaging the impact of modern technology on life and faith practice. Considering the low rate of biblical literacy today, and the growing indifference and non-religious identification of young people today, it is easy to imagine things only getting worse. Yet, I find it is equally easy to imagine renewal and reformation in our patterns, habits, and practices as we pass down the immeasurable riches of God's grace given to us in Christ to the next generation, so that they might put their trust in the Lord and follow his commands. 

The question is: What does that future require of you in this present? 

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Recovering The Priesthood of Believers

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"This word, priest, should become as common as the word Christian."[1]

This quotation, taken from Martin Luther's collected writings and sermons on 1 Peter, gives us a window into the Reformer's perspective on this oft-neglected Reformation concept. For Luther, all Christians are priests. In fact, all who have been united to Christ are called to a priesthood rooted in the church and situated between God an the world; a priesthood arising out of 1 Peter 2 that must be recovered for continued Christian witness in our increasingly diverse, biblically illiterate, post-Christian Western culture. 

Examining 1 Peter 2

The Church: Spiritual Household of a Holy Priesthood
In 1 Peter 2, the apostle makes two allusions to the Old Testament that would have resonated with the original hearers. The first of these is found in verses 4-5, where he refers to Christ, the living Stone, with whom the believers, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house. Peter is drawing on the Temple, which was the house of God, his representative dwelling place among the Israelites. Then, in Christ, the Lord dwelt among his creation as never before: in the form of a man. And now, by virtue of their union with Christ, these believers--and you and me--are dwelling places of God's Spirit. Thus, the church--both the gathered people and space--becomes the spiritual household where God is present  

It is in this context--that of the church--that Peter explains they are to be a holy priesthood. Peter, and Luther for that matter, didn't view the priesthood of believers to be an individualistic thing, but rather something that took place in community. Reformation scholar, Timothy George, explains it this way:

For Luther, the priesthood of all believers did not mean, "I am my own priest." It meant rather: In the community of saints, God has so tempered the body that we are all priests to each other. We stand before God and intercede for one another, we proclaim God's Word to one another and we celebrate God's presence among us in worship, praise and fellowship.[2]

So the focus is on our offering ourselves up on behalf of one another for the building up of Christ's body, each individual part. 

Another way I've often heard it put is that the church is to be an embassy of the kingdom. What does an embassy do? It serves the people of that country in a foreign land. Thus, the church is to be a place where weary Christians and struggling saints can take refuge in the midst of a troubled world; a place that attracts the lost and the lonely, the poor and needy, the despised and rejected. The church is to be a place, and a gathering of people, of the Kingdom who extend the grace of God in word and deed to one another.

This means, as Christians, we have an obligation to one another as members of the church. We are to be priests standing before God and interceding for one another (prayer); speaking and performing God's Word into one another's lives (discipleship); and intentionally gather to praise the Lord and celebrate His grace as a community (worship). When it comes to the church, we must move beyond a consumer mentality to one of sacrificial giving, and view her not as a voluntary association of people with similar interests (not to mention socio-economic levels or ethnic background), but rather, a divinely gathered people called to do life together. 

Such a view has a significant impact on what shape Christian education takes, what resources we avail ourselves of, and how we teach and train up the next generation of the church to live as faithful followers of Christ on mission with God. 

The World: The Scope of Our Priesthood
However, there is another facet to the calling to be a priesthood. Once again, Peter employs language that would have been familiar to his audience: that of Exodus 19, in which God tells Moses that Israel will be his treasured possession, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. 

Israel, as a people, was to serve as a priesthood on behalf of the world. They were to intercede for, and offer themselves in service (both word and deed) to the nations. In this way, they would be a blessing to the world. Yet, throughout the Old Testament, we find Israel turning in on itself, forgetting her God, and forsaking the nations around them. And though there are glimmers of this priestly work found in Elijah and Jonah, the people largely fail in this calling.

However, Jesus Christ, as representative Israel, perfectly fulfills this role of intercession and sacrificial service on behalf of the world. Nowhere is this more clear than in his atoning work on the cross--dying to satisfy the debt of sin and rising from the grave to break the power of death and evil for (ultimately) people from all tribes, tongues and nations. 

Which brings us back to Peter. Having been united to Christ, or as the apostle puts it, built as living stones into him, the church has received this responsibility to universal priesthood on behalf of the world; a responsibility to proclaim to the nations the goodness and grace of our God who delivered us out of darkness and into His wonderful light. 

Another of the Reformers, John Calvin, understood this responsibility in terms of the church's participation in the threefold office of Christ as Prophet, Priest and King. The church, and each member of her, is called to be a representative of Christ in his redemptive mission in the world.[3] In his commentary on Hebrews, Calvin writes this:

All believers...should seek to bring others into the church, strive to lead the wanderers back to the road, stretch forth a hand to the fallen and win over the outsiders.[4]

In both word and deed, every believer is to go forth into the world, exercising their priestly ministry on behalf of their neighbor to the glory of God. We cannot simply sit back in our pews, waiting expectantly for our friends and family, neighbors and coworkers, to come into the church, be discipled, and worship the Triune God. Instead, as the State, nationalism, and self increasingly take the place of God in the lives of those around us, we must go to them, declaring the gospel in powerful words of beauty and truth, as well as in redemptive works of love. We must present a compelling, holistic vision of the Kingdom of God and invite those around us to enter in through the only way, Jesus Christ.  

Conclusion

If we are to be reformed and always reforming, we must take seriously this calling to be a holy priesthood. This is a difficult calling; one that stretches us. And, yet, as I look to the future, I am convinced it is the way to seeing the church in the West flourish; creating a theologically-rich, deeply attractive, culturally engaged, redemptive community. Furthermore, we can enter into this difficult duty knowing that:

[Christ] has made us a kingdom of priests
to serve our God,
and we will reign on earth.
God will be all in all,
righteousness and peace will flourish,
everything will be made new,
and every eye will see at last
that our world belongs to God.
Hallelujah! Come, Lord Jesus!

[1] Martin Luther, The Epistle of St. Peter and St. Jude: Preached and Explained (New York, NY: Anson D.F. Randolph, 1859), 106.
[2] Timothy George, "The Priesthood of All Believers," First Things, last modified October 31, 2016, accessed November 6, 2017, https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2016/10/the-priesthood-of-all-believers. 
[3] George, "The Priesthood of All Believers."
[4] John Calvin, Commentaries, Heb. 10:24.
[5] An excerpt from a Contemporary Testimony of the CRCNA, Our World Belongs to God

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