The Case is in the Singing

I had the pleasure of hearing the good Bishop N.T. Wright on tour last Monday talking about his excellent if pricey little book The Case for the Psalms.

His basic premise is that God gave us an inspired song book, the Psalms. Jesus sang them, and so should we. This need not take away from new songs being written, but the fact that what people usually sing in churches today, if they sing any Psalms at all, is a wee snippet of one here or there, is a tragic loss.

Wright told a story about a man associated with his who hadn’t become a Christian but went with him in a group to the holy land some years ago. Part of the tour included a trip to what is thought to be the high priest’s house of Jesus’ time, and beneath it was a deep and narrow vertical shaft which led to a solitary room. This is probably where Jesus spent his last night alone on earth, no doubt singing Psalms which appear on his lips all the time. The tour guide mentioned the lightless despair and the relevance of Psalm 88, the one with no resolution at the end, which we all feel at times. Wright noticed the man visibly moved by the reality of Jesus facing his death in those circumstances, and later he converted. Counted by the number of times he quotes them, Psalms are one of Jesus five favorite Old Testament books, and certainly the one he sang the most.

Wright’s talk was full of goodness, but two points stood out.  Continue reading

Real Adoption

Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families

By Russell Moore

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons,by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” –Romans 8:15

The paperwork is in order. We have been visited, called, chosen and bought with a price. The Spirit of adoption has been earnestly deposited. And yet it’s not complete. Christians are an adopted people, and a people longing for the completion of that adoption: “we groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). All of creation along with our bodies, scattered and buried and dustified, is moving toward redemption, and that redemption is our adoption.

But if redemption is adoption, what does that mean about human adoption? Does it reflect the redeeming love of our God? And if so, should it be a priority in the church? Russell Moore does an outstanding job rooting the practice of adoption in the adoption, God’s adoption of his people.

Adoption is, on the one hand, gospel. In this, adoption tells us who we are as children of the Father. Adoption as gospel tells us about our identity, our inheritance, and our mission as sons of God. Adoption is also defined as mission. In this, adoption tells us our purpose in this age as the people of Christ. Missional adoption spurs us to join Christ in advocating for the helpless and the abandoned. Continue reading

Rescuing Ambition

I’ve been reading and enjoying Dave Harvey’s Rescuing Ambition very much in large part due to the nuanced view of ambition it gives. One entire chapter is titled Ambition’s Contentment, describing the patience and wisdom that go along with godly ambition. Another chapter is dedicated to ambition for the church, and not just the church in general or the heavenly church where no one ever offends you, but the lowly local one where we’re called to belong.

The book is about ambition for everyone, and it really ought to be. Not everyone is called into leadership (or else who would follow?), but everyone is called to pursue excellence in everything. Everyone will have some opportunity for leadership in the informal sense since everyone talks to others, is called to friendship, and has opportunities however small for influence.

Harvey relates one story particularly helpful in a book about ambition. Bill Patton was a pastor involved in leadership training and church planting. When something came up in his family that made it clear he needed to step out of leadership, he actually did so, appointed faithful men to replace him, and get this, “publicly committed himself to be an active and enthusiastic member of the church he’d founded–to support this church through the transition and to serve them long into the future. He also dedicated himself to leading his family with gospel humility” (p. 195). In Bill’s own words:

The gospel answers my questions of identity. It tells me I am Go’s nonobservant, his child, a worshiper, and a functioning member of his church. My identity as a pastor was always a secondarily identity. I have not lost my main identity…. I responded to the call to ministry in order to glory God. Being a pastor was never, rightly, my chief end. I do not presently have opportunity to serve as a pastor, but I do have daily opportunities. to fulfill my main purpose in life. Asking the question, “How do I glorify god now?” wonderfully liberates me.

True ambition isn’t selfish ambition, what Thomas Watson called the mother of all schisms. The local church needs leaders and members who are committed to the mission of the gospel, one that goes beyond personal circumstances and hopes. Such commitments enable the biblical qualifications for leadership to be upheld and relieves the pressure that is felt when “indispensable” men become disqualified, the kind that Charles de Gaulle said fill our graveyards.  True ambition has courage and takes risks, but it is also selfless and humble.

Practicing Affirmation


Practicing Affirmation: God-Centered Praise of Those Who Are Not God

By Sam Crabtree
Reviewed by Jerry Owen

He has raised up a horn for his people, Praise for all his saints, For the people of Israel who are near to him. Praise the Lord! Psalm 148:14

We like to think we are wired differently from one another, that some see the glass half-full of sparkling champagne, and others see it half empty with three-day-old Folgers coffee grounds mucking the bottom. Sam Crabtree has done us a great service by putting the practice of affirmation into the disciplines-to-be-cultivated category and not the I’m-not-naturally-inclined-that-way-so-I’m-excused-from-obedience category.

“Affirmation is the purpose of the universe—specifically, affirmation of God” (p. 11). All true affirmation finds its source in the work of God, poured out on his creation. “And the LORD made Solomon very great in the sight of all Israel and bestowed on him such royal majesty as had not been on any king before him in Israel” (1 Chron. 9:25). Solomon is not stealing praise from God, but simply receiving what God gave him. Those who recognize and proclaim this, as the biblical writers constantly do, affirm not just the person who has been blessed, but ultimately the work of God who gave the blessing in the first place. Continue reading

Bibliophilic Confessions

Good thoughts by Keith Mathison’s from his article, worth reading in full, Confessions of a Bibiophile:

Our God is a God who has revealed Himself in a book, in words. We learn about God and His will, therefore, by reading. We learn by reading and reflecting on His Word. We also learn by reading and thinking with the church. This means we read and reflect on the insights of our brethren, those who are still with us and those who have gone on before us. We may also learn by reading with discernment the works of those who have spent time “reading” God’s general revelation. This includes works of science, philosophy, history, poetry, and literature.

If I might offer a word of advice and encouragement to my fellow bibliophiles, it is this: As Ecclesiastes reminds us, “Of making many books there is no end” (12:12). Millions of books have been published, and thousands more are published every year. We cannot read them all, so it is best to read the good ones. If you don’t know which books are the good ones, seek the advice of mature Christians. Find recommended reading lists by churches and ministries you trust.

Finally, while we read to learn about our God and His works of creation and redemption, we must not allow a love of reading to supplant our love for Christ. If we do, our books, even our Christian books, become nothing more than idols. All the reading in the world, if it does not ultimately promote our love of Christ and our brethren, is nothing but futility.

Brief Review of Generous Justice

Generous JusticeGenerous Justice by Timothy Keller My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Keller does a good job of identifying the need for all Christians to give as God has given to them, undeserving and rebellious people. He identifies different causes of poverty and injustice: individual sin, natural disaster (what insurance policies used to call “Acts of God”), and systemic oppression. Unfortunately he is unable to identify true systems of systemic oppression (e.g. institutions that sustain poverty and promote injustice and dependence). For example, instead of seeing the enormous moral, financial and educational failure of government schools, he recommends reforming them. The ravaging idol of secular statism (which claimed over 170 million lives in the 20th century) is an elephant that never gets touched. There are also some weird points, like saying Peter was “taught about the sinfulness of racial and ethnic bias (Acts 9:34)” (p123) and referring to the sacrificial system, a great resource for understanding justice, actually, as “an eye-glazing number of diverse rules” (p39). Peter wasn’t a racist before Acts 9:34, sheesh. The call of this book is good, but those who take it up need to go elsewhere for how to understand and do justice.

Trinitarian Evangelism

Most evangelistic conversations stay a mile wide of the Trinity, and I don’t mean simply avoiding words like perichoresis that ought to be avoided. Gospel presentations that often include multiple members of the Godhead usually do so in a descriptive manner. Man crosses the chasm back to Father over the bridge of the Son. But when people are invited into a relationship with God, they are being invited into an eternal society. “For through Him [Jesus] we both [Jew and Gentile] have access in one Spirit to the Father”, Paul says (Eph. 2:18). This description echoes the doctrine of God where the Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son. God has been in fellowship and community forever, and the offer of the Gospel is one of redemption and adoption into God’s family, into the society of the three in one and one in three.

Fred Sanders’ recent book is all about the Trinity: The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything. He notes C. S. Lewis’ excellent discussion of the Trinity in Mere Christianity where he ties the being of God to the offer of the Gospel. Why does the Trinity matter?

It matters more than anything else in the world. The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round) each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made. (quoted in Sanders, p. 234)

Bringing the life of the Trinity into evangelism is the antidote to health-and-wealth, prosperity Gospel distortions. God sent his Son, and then his Spirit, to bring man back to himself where life abundant has always been (Jn. 10:10). It also remedies the individualism that has crept into so much evangelism. The Gospel is fundamentally about God, remarkably bringing unholy and unthankful sinners back into his community, the Trinity. It’s not “me and Jesus”, but me and the Triune God, and not just me but the entire family, the church, that is called to reveal the unity of the Godhead.

There is eternal life gong on in the Trinity, and if we are to be saved we must share in that life. Lewis describes our way of access to that Trinitarian life as “good infection,” which calls for us to get close enough to the Trinity to catch this communicable life like a healing virus. The triune life is caught, not taught. Good infection is possible, obviously, only because one person of the Trinity, the Son, has united himself with us by becoming human. Proximity to Jesus is the way to come into contact with the eternal life of the Trinity, because Jesus Christ is that life of God incarnate. “If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise  in us.” This brings Lewis’s exposition of the Trinity full circle, back to the “ordinary simple Christan at prayer” and the Trinitarian cadence of that prayer. (Sanders, p. 234).

A New Kind of Christianity

Brian McLaren’s new book of said name prefaces darkly: “the Christian faith in all its forms is in trouble“, da-da-da-duuuuuuh. But don’t worry: “the Christian faith in all its forms is pregnant with new possibilities.” And since one can’t be a little bit pregnant, it looks like McLaren will unpack a lot of possibilities. Will they be legitimate spawn, or pomo orphans? Will they be embraced by the church or made victim of choice? I wonder if he will address the issue of abortion. But I’ll hold my horses.

I’m here to witness this birth, midwiving as he pushes away. He begins with a testimony (where else for an evangelical to begin?) that he grew up in conservative evangelical churches, passionately committed through the ’70s Jesus movement, did a stint in mainline Protestant and Catholic churches, married a Catholic woman and has been around the globe loving every tradition on the various continents. Still, he believes in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” So this book is written from the inside by one who happily embraces the Apostles’ Creed. Ten questions, five “profound and critical” with the “potential to unlcock us from a prison in which we have been held for a long time”, and five “less profound or theologically radical” but still important as they address “down-to-earth practicality”, comprise the book.

The first three chapters are preparatory for the questions. Think of them as quiet contractions. I’ll tackle them all next post. Remember the breathing exercises.