God won’t fit your tiny theology

In all of our disagreements about “wedge issues,” we continually allow arguments to be reduced to sets of verses. If an argument can be reduced to particular verses, theology then fits on a bumper sticker. God, and what he is communicating through Scripture, is far more complex and beautiful than reducing theological arguments to a set of verses.

We want a god that fits us. We’re simple. We like things in 140 characters or less. That’s about the size of my god these days.

I saw this quote attributed to Tim Keller:

If your god never disagrees with you, you might just be worshiping an idealized version of yourself.

The way of Christ is far more complex, far more frustrating… and finally, far more beautiful than sets of verses I neatly pick out to disagree with in my tiny mind. When Jesus called people to follow him, he bid them “come and die.” That just gets complicated after a few days of walking with him. Perhaps it’s the reason that out of thousands he touched in his ministry there were only 120 in the upper room on the day of Pentecost.

Just a thought.

Justice

Scot McKnight is going through Tim Keller’s new book, City Church, over at Jesus Creed.

McKnight offers a critique on Keller’s use of “justice” that I find interesting. When it comes to church and culture, I have had my thinking changed over the years. When I was growing up, it was the thick of the pro-life movement. I lived in Kansas at the time protests were going on at George Tiller’s clinic in Wichita. I knew pastors who had been arrested. It was something to hear them talk.

The church seemed to be ready to influence the culture in a new voice.

So… how’s THAT working for us these days?

How DOES the church interact in the culture? McKnight offers this thought:

“…when folks today mention “justice,” and I see this in lots of authors, including Keller, that term refers to what we do in public. I would contend that we are to participate in the church as a just culture, work hard to make sure justice is done within the fellowship, and then let that just culture be a challenge to the public culture. Not that Christians need to withdraw from culture but that it is a two-fold kind of justice work and not just a public-sector justice.”

I have grown to this thought, but haven’t quite figured out how to express it. I want to help in the transformation of my church. I want to see justice lived out in our congregation. Over the past few years I have watched this unfold beautifully. As we practice this in our local body, it is beginning to live as a challenge to the culture around us.

McKnight is helping me get some of these thoughts into words.

Seeking the Welfare of the City

The more I learn about Tim Keller as a pastor, the more I am impressed. I really want to know more about this guy. I’ve watched several videos where he engages the skeptics and agnostics. His style is so incredibly well formed to his setting.

Some thoughts here on ministry in the city.

In an urban setting like my own (just a few million less than New York City), I think these three proposals are good ones:

1. We should develop appreciative attitudes toward the city.
2. We should become a dynamic counterculture where we live.
3. We should be a community radically committed to the good of our city as a whole.

We are here to live a dynamic faith in a dynamic world. We are not here to curse the darkness. We are here to bless the city.

Race and Reconciliation

I posted some initial thoughts on Pentecost and race here. Then I saw this video with Piper, Keller, and Anthony Bradley discussing race and reconciliation. Piper is okay on this stuff, but Keller really jolted me into paying attention with corporate racism thoughts. He gave a “white guy’s” perspective, and I could understand more clearly what I’ve thought of before. He communicated it so clearly.

It really opened up Joshua 7 and the sin of Achan to me. I found it to be an insightful video.

 

Video Preaching

Being a part of a movement that is now hawking multi-site churches, I am treading in very dangerous waters. I offer these words from Tim Keller’s blog as he interacts with another great preacher of a past era:

Dr. Lloyd-Jones effectively dismantles the idea that watching a video or listening to an audio of a sermon is as good as coming physically into an assembly and listening to a sermon with a body of people. It is obviously a good thing if a person who never hears or reads the Bible listens to the recording of a good gospel message and is helped by it. But the Doctor argues that people experience the sermon in a radically different way if they hear it together with a body of listeners and if they see the preacher. Watching on a screen or listening as you walk detaches you and the sermon becomes mere information, not a whole experience. There is a power and impact that the media cannot convey.

Full post is here.

The Elder Brother

We are going through Tim Keller’s excellent book The Prodigal God in our Wednesday night adult group at church. Keller is incredibly challenging. I love his style.

Our views on the parable of the prodigal tend to focus on the younger son. Who can’t get into that? We write songs about it. (“When God Ran.” I LOVE that song!)

But the point of the parable, of course, is the elder brother. Jesus is telling this series of stories to trap the Pharisees. The response of the elder brother is the climax of these little episodes.

Keller points out that both sons are lost. The younger brother is all about “self-discovery.” That’s an obvious screw up. Go off and “find yourself” and you end up in the pig trough. No brainer.

But the elder son? His sin? Moral conformity. He had kept all the rules. He was therefore entitled to the father’s blessing.

To the point: Both sons are lost, but both sons are loved. Both sons used their father to get his stuff. They didn’t care about the father himself. Yet, at the end, it’s the younger brother who is “saved.” The elder brother, at least where Jesus leaves it, stays lost.

Ouch.

I am the elder brother. I’ve been the moral conformist doing everything right pretty much all my life. I am owed. I do it right, God ponies up. It’s how the game is played.

But it’s not. I’m trying to “own” God. I’m trying to control him. I am trying to save myself in this scenario.

I don’t have to keep the elder brother’s attitude. I can come into the house. I have come into the house. But there is still the tendency to drift back into that elder brother attitude. I’m doing what’s right and why isn’t God paying any attention to it?

The elder brother syndrome was in my blood. I am thankful for the “blood transfusion.” I was wrong. But I am loved.

Two Great Pastoral Models

There are more and I want to develop that thought, but two great models of pastoral ministry influencing my thinking right now:

Tim Keller (below left) and Eugene Peterson (below right).

I am starting to learn more about Keller. Peterson I have admired for so long and LOVE his books. Keller is becoming a model I truly enjoy watching as he engages the culture.