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Archive for February, 2011

habits

What is the bible for?

I’ve just read a prominent UK evangelical blogger answering: “Application”!

Time to repost this one then…

 

Like coathangers, we own a hundred bibles but have no idea how they came to be ours.  One of them is called a “Life Application Bible.”

As far as I can tell, it exists in order to footnote every biblical indicative so that a moral imperative may be added.  This is, we are assured, the cure to our spiritual malaise.  Just listen to this endorsement on the back cover:

Evangelical Christianity is suffering from an acute case of spiritual malnutrition.  The symptom is well known – defection in personal standards of living.  The cure – Vitamin A – application of God’s Word.

This remedy is both refreshing and realistic, calculated to change the will.  Not merely satisfying curiosity or making us smarter sinners, the Scriptures were given to make us more like Jesus Christ.

Wha??

What’s the understanding of the bible here?  The Spirit’s testimony to the Son?  Christ’s love-letter to His bride?  The deposit of faith given to the church for the sake of proclaiming Christ to the world?  No.  At base the bible is, apparently, given for individual piety.

What kind of anthropology is this?  Change the will and you’ll correct the ‘defection in standards of living.’  !

What kind of salvation is offered?  Apparently we are not to become merely ‘smarter sinners’ – well what then?  Do we become subtler sinners?  more self-righteous sinners?  self-satisfied sinners?  There’s one option that is assuredly closed to us – that of ceasing to be sinners!  So why not a smarter sinner?

This approach to Scripture and to Christian faith is not good.  And yet, doesn’t this kind of thinking throb away beneath much of what passes for evangelicalism?  Isn’t the majority of ‘evangelical’ preaching informed by just such beliefs?  I’d say our spiritual malnutrition is not because of a lack of this kind of application.  We’re spiritually anaemic precisely because we have turned the Scriptures into moralistic or therapeutic self-help.  No wonder other Christians deride us as simplistic legalists.

For a thought on what good application is, go here.

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Evangelicals believe in conversion.  It’s absolutely foundational.  The human race is either in or out.  We’re born out.  We need to come in through Christ.

But then, what are we coming in to?  Because if you only think in terms of “in or out” then it might start to sound like the Christian community is the safe-house and the world is going to hell.  And the church says: “Bring em in, batten down the hatches and ride out the storm.”  It’s us against the world and the godly traffic is all heading towards the safe-house.

This sounds like the conservative Christian picture.  But it’s missing a key element.  God.

You see God is out-going.  The Father is a Sender – of His Son and Spirit.  We need to be in.  But we need to be in on the One who is ever going out.  Therefore, with Christ, the church says: “Get on out there, reach into the world in order to bless.”  It’s us for the world and the godly traffic is all heading towards the outsider.

We must, by all means, believe in conversion.  But let’s understand what we are converted to.  We want people in, but we want them in on radical out-going-ness.

So it’s not so much in or out, it’s in on out.

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We need a good evangel.

Thankfully we’ve got one.

But here’s what this means:

Evangelists don’t need to study evangelism

They need to study the evangel.

But you try telling that to evangelist types!

 

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“Ok here’s the deal…”

(How much of it essentially does!?)

It begins with the phrase “Ok here’s the story…”

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Given

The Father gave Jesus to us.

Jesus gave Jesus for us.

The Spirit gives Jesus in us.

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In Australia I heard a worship song that was new for me:  “There is no-one like you.”

Not the Dave Crowder one.  This one is, almost note-for-note, sung to the tune of “What if God was one of us.”  To the point where the urge to sing “…just a slob like one of us” became almost unbearable.

Do you struggle with other songs like this?  I find it difficult not to break out with “Go West” on the rare occasions we sing “Give thanks“.  Other examples?

But actually “There is no-one like you” and “What if God was one of us” is an interesting juxtaposition.  And quite a biblical one.

Since ancient times no-one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. (Isaiah 64:4)

What is it that sets the living God apart from every other deity conceived by the imagination of man?  This God works while we wait.  That’s the difference.

Every other god waits while we work.  But this God works while we wait.  “His own Arm works salvation for Him” (Isaiah 59:16).  The Arm of the LORD (Isaiah 52:10) who is the Servant of the LORD (v13; 53:1) – He achieves our redemption for us.

When we think of the utter uniqueness of God, where do our thoughts take us?  When we conceive of the transcendent glory of God, what do we imagine? And how biblical are those conceptions?

From “There is no one like you” so often we take a left and descend a flight of stairs to “God is just really, really, completely and utterly different.”  Ok, but then we cross a barbed wire fence and enter a haunted wood… “He’s so totally other, we can’t even begin to relate.”  And we continue wandering down such darkened paths with the especially religious among us revelling in the murk.

People take a similar journey when discussing concepts of “glory” or “holiness” or “transcendence.”

Ah yes, now we’re talking about the real Godness of God.

Indeed.  But if God really is so different then it won’t be obvious what that Godness consists in will it?  Or don’t you believe in His difference after all?!

You can’t just take some bog-standard definition of deity, pump it full of steroids, and then call that “glory” or “holiness” or “transcendence”.  You’ll have to study how this utterly different God shows Himself to be utterly different.

And – surprise, surprise – even His difference turns out to be different to how we’d imagined it.  His difference is not in some alien detachment but in intimate engagement. His glory is not His self-obsession but self-giving.  His holiness is not His shut-off-ness but His committed devotion.  His transcendence does not keep Him from us, it’s a transcendent love that moves heaven to earth to save.

There is no-one like this God.  The God who comes as one of us.  Just a Slob like one of us.  Just a Stranger on the bus, come to bring us all Home.

That’s what makes Him really different.

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In the world’s eyes, it’s okay to be blind drunk, but it’s not okay to be fat.

From my favourite blog in the whole world

 

 

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