Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What's the difference?

I finished reading a book the other day and I needed to decide what to read next.  There are lots of unread books in our house, most of which are in boxes and likely not being unpacked until we make our final move.  Even so, there are quite a few out that I could choose from.  But which one, or from which genre? 

I decided on an unconventional method to make my decision.  I would ask for advice from my friends on Facebook.  So I posed the question, “What sayest thou, Facebook friends, fiction or theology?”  And I waited for an answer.  And waited.  After nearly a full day I had a response…from my sister.  By that time I had made a decision, but since she did answer the question I will respect her guidance and read the genre she suggested after I finish the book I chose while I was waiting.

Right after I posted the question to Facebook I had a flash of insight.  I have friends on Facebook who have a wide variety of views about the things of life.  And I think that there a number whose response to the essence of my question, “fiction or theology?” would have an immediate question of their own, “What’s the difference?”

According to, fiction is: “The class of literature comprising works of imaginative narration, especially in prose form.”  The same reference says this about theology: “the field of study and analysis that treats of God and of God’s attributes and relations to the universe; study of divine things or religious truth; divinity.” 

The definition of ‘fiction’ tells me clearly that it arises from the creative forces of imagination.  The definition of ‘theology’ tells me…I’m not sure what it tells me. 

It could suggest that theology is essentially one of many forms of academic study.  Being the study of God it could have myriad permutations, depending on the orientation of the one doing the study.  I have studied theology from a Christian perspective but surely there are theological approaches to Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, Hinduism, Jainism, and so on down the line for however many different ways there are for attempting to apprehend an understanding of God. 

The second part of the definition of ‘theology’ moves beyond God to a less-clearly defined subject, i.e. ‘divine things.’  This, to my eye, seems more vague than the first part of the definition, and being more vague it would seem to blur the line separating fiction from what is not fictional.  And in neither part of the definition does it state that the student should have some basic belief in what they are studying.  The study and analysis of theology is held to be an academic pursuit.  Something that can be pursued during the day while at work and then set aside when it is time for Monday Night Football.

I would like to suggest a different understanding for theology: “Faith seeking understanding.” (This, not entirely coincidentally, was also the title of the first textbook used as I studied theology at seminary.)

So from my perspective an essential element for studying theology is the presence of faith in Christ.  (I don’t want to discourage any of my non-Christian friends…if you have read this far I invite you to jump in and explore the pool.  Send me a note if you want a companion for the journey)

Faith…seeking understanding.  As people of faith in Christ we explore theology to know our Lord more fully, to love him more completely and to serve him more faithfully.  Not always in that order. 

How do we get that ‘faith,’ that particular faith in the work of God through the death-and resurrection of Jesus?  Question-and-Answer 21 of the Heidelberg Catechism says it this way:

Q: What is true faith?
A:  True faith is not only a sure knowledge by which I hold as true all that God has revealed to us in Scripture; it is also a wholehearted trust, which the Holy Spirit creates in me by the gospel, that God has freely granted, not only to others but to me also, forgiveness of sins, eternal righteousness, and salvation. These are gifts of sheer grace, granted solely by Christ's merit.

So at the end of the day I believe there is a difference between theology and fiction.  Fiction arises from the creative forces of imagination.  It may facilitate understanding of any number of things about ourselves, our world, or nothing at all. 

Theology has its basis in faith in Christ.  It can be done through reading, through conversation, through prayer.  And it is always intentional, leading us in understanding the things of God in the ways I outlined above – to know, to love, and to serve – for the purpose of proclaiming his glory now and forever

Friday, May 25, 2012

A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New, by G.K. Beale - briefly reviewed

What are we to make of the Holy Bible?  To that very broad question there could be many answers.  For some people the Bible is an old book that may have once had value to society but is now archaic and irrelevant.  Others find it to be the source of their moral grounding in life, having value primarily in giving instructions for right living.  And others consider it to be the literal word of God, accurate in everything it teaches about God, history, science and any other topic it may address. 

And there are many other views besides these, too many for me to even name for my purposes here. The view that I hold to is that the organizing theme of the Bible, both the Old and the New Testaments, is to tell one story, the story of God’s plan to redeem his people through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Preaching and teaching along these lines is generally referred to as the Redemptive-Historical model.  It is a model that believes that not only the New Testament, but also that all of the divisions of the Old Testament (Law, Prophets and History), in some way articulate God’s plan to redeem his people.  To the body of work written along redemptive-historical lines G. K. Beale has added a masterwork: A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012).

While I used the term ‘theme’ above, Beale prefers to view the Bible as containing two storylines, one for each Testament.  The Old Testament storyline is:

The Old Testament is the story of God, who progressively reestablishes his new-creational kingdom out of chaos over a sinful people by his word and Spirit through promise, covenant, and redemption, resulting in worldwide commission to the faithful to advance this kingdom and judgment (defeat or exile) for the unfaithful, unto his glory.(16)

This storyline is transformed in the New Testament to:

Jesus’s life, trials, death for sinners, and especially resurrection by the Spirit have launched the fulfillment of the eschatological already-not yet new-creational reign, bestowed by grace through faith and resulting in worldwide commission to the faithful to advance this new-creational reign and resulting in judgment for the unbelieving, unto the Triune God’s glory.(16)

Beale provides a brief Introduction to his project and then delves into a more fully detailed exploration of the redemptive-historical storyline of the Old Testament.  Then follow thorough discussions that show how the Bible demonstrates the inauguration of things predicted and anticipated in end-times.  These discussions include topics such as Idolatry and Restoration of God’s Image, Salvation, the Work of the Spirit, the Church, Christian Living, and several other broad topics, with each topic having several sub-divisions. 

In the two-part conclusion he first briefly discusses the connection between various Old Testament realities, showing what God has already inaugurated related to them and then what God promises in their consummation.  The final chapter sums up the purpose of the redemptive-historical storyline and its implications for Christian living succinctly as “the Glory and Adoration of God.” (958) 

At nearly 1,000 pages of text, which are extensively footnoted, Beale has written a book that is not for the theologically faint-of-heart.  He has in mind as his audience scholars, pastors and educated laypersons who are interested digging deeply into God’s word, not merely for their own education but in order that they may be better prepared to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20a). 

To make disciples we need to have a firm grasp on our subject matter.  In this volume Beale intends to provide a solid foundation for teachers in the church, be they in the formal setting of pulpit or classroom, or the informal setting of small groups and one-on-one conversation, to clearly articulate the ways in which the Bible, all of it, points to God, and particularly his work in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, for the purposes of God’s glory, now and forever. 

Augustine’s experience of conversion took place as he heard the phrase “Take up and read,” leading him to pick up his Bible and discover the love God had for him within its pages.  Beale has written a book of great depth and powerful purpose.  I highly commend it to any serious student of the Bible, so that they may understand more deeply the purpose and unity of the Bible’s storyline, and then be better equipped to share God’s Good News in Jesus among the people where God has placed them, to God’s eternal glory.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Having it all

Last Sunday in church our pastor was planning to talk about Solomon, the last of the three kings of the united Hebrew kingdom.  So earlier in the week we read some of the parts of the Bible written about him.  We also read to our daughter the story of Solomon in one of her Bibles, The Story for Children

Her Bible contains just one of the stories of Solomon, but it is one that shows him at the virtual height of his power.  He is ruler of the Hebrew kingdom, has built the temple in Jerusalem, and is pretty much considered to be the wealthiest and wisest person on earth.  He receives a visitor, the Queen of Sheba, who marvels at Solomon’s riches and intellect.  As I read this story Solomon appears to “have it all.”  If he was alive today we might say that he was living the American Dream

I thought that it was a little ironic that we were reading of Solomon at the same time that Facebook was going public, catapulting Mark Zuckerburg overnight to a level of wealth that, for all practical purposes, is unimaginable.  Zuckerburg may, or may not, have Solomon’s wisdom, but he sure seems to have as much money.  And a day or two later he married his girlfriend.  I don’t really know a lot about Zuckerburg but I do know that he has money, family and youth.  To me it seems that he “has it all” as much as Solomon did.

We have no idea how Zuckerburg’s story will play out over time.  Nor, for that matter,  the story of anyone else.  Zuckerburg, like Solomon, just lives more publicly than most of us because of his wealth.  What we do know of the latter parts of Solomon’s story wasn’t pretty. 

In 1 Kings 2:2-4 Solomon was given some instructions from his father, David, whom he succeeded as king, instructions to prepare him to lead the Hebrew people.  They included,

 “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man,  and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses,…”

Solomon had received wisdom as a gift from God but wound up living in ways in which evidence of his wisdom was absent.  He blatantly neglected, at best, and rejected, at worst, the foundational teaching of Moses that his father told him to follow, the first of the Ten Commandments, which was, and still is,

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.”

I think it is very easy, and somewhat natural given that we live in a fallen world, to envy the things that others have.  We can see what Solomon had and desire it.  Or what Zuckerburg has.  Or what our next-door neighbor or our sibling has.  Solomon, despite all his riches, remained unsatisfied and he pursued the acquisition of other things in a manner that took him away from God.  Rather than worship God alone, other things became his gods.

In his second letter to the church at Corinth Paul gives testimony to the situation that he and those with him lived in as they shared God’s Good News of Jesus.  In chapter 6:3-10 he lists a number of contrasts in their circumstances.  He details the repeated ways in which they have suffered, followed by a list of the virtues they have continued to practice.  He then has a number of pairs, with the first being the way something appears to be and the second being the way it really is.  He concludes in writing this:

“as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”

Paul knows, and reminds the church at Corinth and those who follow Christ today, that “having it all” isn’t about money, or fame, or power, or family, or health, or any other thing we could possibly desire.

Having it all is only about having Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior, something that we begin to understand as we live in faith today, and something that he promises will be more glorious than anything we can possibly imagine.  In Christ we can truly "have it all," now and forever.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Healing and God’s glory

Last week I wrote a post around the topic of healing.  One of the claims I made in that post was that God could heal absolutely anything.  I added the qualifier that in doing so he would do it for his purposes and not for ours.

This morning I learned of just such a case, here where I live in Rochester, MN.  Here are the links to the story as it appeared in the local news.  Part one describes the circumstances and part two describes more specifically what the woman, Ema Mckinley, felt as she was being healed.

Miracles do happen.  While I have seen evidence of many remarkable things happen in my work at the hospital what, in my mind anyhow, separates a remarkable event from a miracle is that miracles serve God’s purposes by bringing him glory in the world. 

God’s power and glory are given powerful testimony in this story.  It is seen in the faithful witness of Ema Mckinley, who never abandoned her faith throughout the many years of her disability.  And it is seen in the testimony of Dr. Stanhope, who states that the healing came in response to answered prayer, prayer that God answered for reasons that are known only to him.

In his letter to the church at Ephesus Paul writes these words in Ephesians 3:20-21, the only words I find to be a response to Mckinley’s miraculous healing:

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

What’s in the news?

While skimming the news online I saw a headline that caught my attention.  It read:

My friends know I enjoy my coffee, a habit I acquired while serving on board the USS Nimitz.  My consumption of coffee varies.  A cup or two some days.  Other days without any.  And others with a bit more.  According to the article a person’s coffee consumption is relatively stable over their lifetime, so it seems that I would fit into that “two cups a day” group. 

But what interested me about this headline, much more so than the article itself, was the connection between something a person might do and that action’s impact on his or her longevity.  The headline connects coffee with a reduced risk of dying, but it can’t be as simple as that.  There may be a reduced risk of dying in a general sense but in the end there is no such thing.  We all will die.  Enoch and Elijah excepted, no one has been bodily taken from life in this world to the next without passing through death’s door. And if a person is not a Christian, or is a Christian who has questions about the truth of God’s revealed word in the Bible, then even those two examples are without merit.

So no matter how much coffee I drink, or how much I exercise, or the amount of broccoli I eat, or any other habit, good or bad, that I may practice, will have any bearing on the ultimate fact of my death.  Death will indeed come for me one day.  My habits may influence the length of life to a small degree, and they may also influence its quality, but they will not stave off death’s inevitable arrival.

Whenever it may come, I believe as a Christian that only one thing will really matter: my standing with God.  In the parable of sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46  Jesus is seen separating people into two groups, those who knew him truly, and those who didn’t.  The ones who knew him as his own receive their inheritance, being joined with him forever, while those in the other group are cast out into the darkness.

We can make all kinds of arguments as we work out our understanding of the Bible, and particularly so as we deal with parables, whose meaning may be less overtly clear than in other texts.  But I do believe that to be cast out in the darkness, separated from God eternally, is the ultimate form of loneliness and isolation there can be.

I don’t think that Jesus uses this parable to merely present us with an image of the stark differences between eternal life with or without him, as some sort of attempt to “scare” people into salvation.  Jesus graciously shows us the contrasts and invites us to join him, now and forever.

With faith in Jesus we can read Paul’s powerful statement of confidence in God in Romans 8, knowing that his words apply to us as well. In verses 31-38 he writes:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

            “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
                        we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is truly the Good News.  Earthly life will end but for the Christian it is merely the gateway to their eternal presence with God. 

And that is something for me to remember again the next time I have a cup of coffee. 

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Can God heal our bodies when we get sick?  When they break down?  When they are on the verge of death?  I believe that he can, because my understanding of God, as revealed in the Bible, is that he can do absolutely anything and everything. 
All of creation came into existence through the mere speaking of his voice.  He created every star that I see in the night sky.  He created the pine tree sitting outside of my window.  His creative act in the human mind led to the invention of the very computer that I am writing with and the technology that you are using to read this post.
Healing, and specifically God’s power in healing, floats through my mind every once and a while, and it has been on my mind again the past few days.  I work in a hospital providing care to people recovering from serious injuries and illnesses.  Some of my patients are in the hospital a few days, and I have worked with people who have stayed in the hospital for many months.
I have cared for some people on and off for many years and some of the people who I met through their time in the hospital are among my best friends.
No one likes being sick, and when we are ill there is nothing as good as having our health restored.  But time and again in my work at the hospital I have met people who will likely never experience a return to the health that they once had.  Their bodies have acquired injuries that even the best medical and surgical treatment has little to offer. 
As I stated in my beginning, I believe that God can heal absolutely anything and everything, but there is a qualifier to that, which is that God works healing according to his will.  And this can be hard for us to grasp and accept. 
We want God to work healing according to our will, and for our purposes, and we find it hard to accept that God’s purposes in our illnesses, even in our routine aches and pains, may be different.  Paul wrote of this in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, saying,

"So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong."

Paul understood that God’s purpose in his suffering, which he very much desired to be relieved of, was for Paul’s own good.  Paul’s suffering remained in order to serve God’s purposes rather than Paul’s. 
I don’t mean to be trite about any suffering that anyone is going through, be it physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.  This post isn’t about the question of “Why suffering exists?” but rather to briefly address why we may experience healing in our suffering. 

What I want is to be mindful that in times of suffering we are never alone. When we are suffering it may rarely be our first focus, but God is always with us.
There have been times when I have ardently longed for healing and it hasn’t come, at least not in the way I desired it.  And in my longing I was eventually able to see God’s presence and have my own faith strengthened, like Paul, in the midst of my suffering.
While we most often think of healing in terms of our bodies and the day-to-day lives that we lead, we can also be mindful of God’s promises, promises of a time when for the people of God there will be no more suffering.  In Revelation 7:16-17 the Apostle John writes,

“They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

We may or may not know the healing of our various ailments.  We may earnestly yearn for, and pray for, the healing of those whom we hold dear, healing which may or may not come in this life. 
And as we do so let us also be mindful that in the finished work of Christ God has a healing awaiting his children that is so glorious as to be almost unimaginable in its goodness and perfection. 
To God be the glory, now and forever, amen.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Grace in the Heights

Revitalization is a hot topic in the church these days.  It seems like, to me, that rare is the church meeting, conference or denominational meeting that does not discuss, either directly or indirectly, means of revitalizing the church in the 21st century.  Not that it is a new issue, or one exclusively present in our age.  About 6 years ago, as I was beginning seminary, I had the opportunity to meet several times with a pastor who was nearing retirement.  As he looked back on 30 years of pastoral ministry he thought that two-thirds of the churches he had served at were slowly fading during the time he was there. 

Re-vital-ization.  Without consulting a dictionary I believe that it means to take something that once was “vital,” or we might say “vibrant” or “alive,” but may not be any more, and lead it back into that vibrant state.  And revitalization is on the mind of many congregations and denominations, as many congregations are aging and their neighborhoods change. Many times those new neighbors find other places of worship, that is if connecting with a community of faith is even on their agenda in the first place.

Revitalization is a topic that is easier to discuss than to implement effectively.  Facilitating effective congregational revitalization is, I believe, the intent of Grace in the Heights: A Fable of Revitalization, by Rodger Price (New York: Reformed Church Press, 2011).  Price works for the Reformed Church in America in the area of leadership development. (Disclaimer – I participated in a leadership training session led by Price earlier this year.) 

Grace in the Heights is a fable.  It is a short piece of fiction that has a purpose or teaches a lesson.  It is the story of one church with a young pastor, a church in a changing neighbor hood that knows it needs to change but does not have a clear vision as to how that will happen or what it will look and feel like.  Price uses the story-telling method of fable to bring to life the issues and concepts that we can discuss intellectually at meetings and conferences without quite understanding how they will play out in the world of real ministry.  The pastor, the congregation and the neighborhood are all integral parts of the story.  There are moments of joy and also ones of powerful sadness.  Price shows how all of them can be used by God to breathe life into a ministry that was once perceived as failing and is now experiencing new life.

One of the strengths of Price’s book is in his story-telling and the way it enables a reader to envision similar situations in their own ministry context.  He gives several examples of people in the congregation that are resistant to change and push-back, some pushing very hard, and provides insight through the story of how the pastor and congregation can deal with those situations. 

Another strength is the way he deals with core leadership issues.  He weaves them into the story and afterwards he provides an appendix that briefly identifies and discusses each one.  An example is prayer.  As I read the story I though the young pastor provided a good example of a ministry leader grounding all of their work, i.e. their personal life and their joys and struggles in ministry, so that prayer was something that was woven into all that the pastor did.  Then in the appendix he pointed out that he did this intentionally to demonstrate the essential need for ministry leaders to have an active prayer life, also noting how in his own work with church leaders he had encountered pastors again and again whose primary practice of prayer was what they led in worship on a Sunday, rather than something that they did throughout the day, every day.

Grace in the Heights is a quick and easy read but one filled with practical lessons for congregations and their leaders who are charged with the task of “revitalizing,” or bringing new life to what God is doing in their locations.  And if you are part of a church that “has it all together” then I recommend it to you as well, for God may be on the brink of leading you in new and rich ways to build his kingdom, to his eternal glory.

Grace in the Heights can be downloaded free at

Monday, May 7, 2012

The First American

Benjamin Franklin is one of the near-mythical characters among the Founding Fathers of America.  The ambitious politician of the 21st century would take great pride if their career achieved only half of what Franklin accomplished as a statesman, excepting the absence of President of the United States from his resume, and yet politician was just one of the hats that he wore.  He was also distinguished as a printer, author, inventor, philosopher and diplomat.  With so much material to work with, H.W. Brands begins at the beginning, taking us through Franklin’s life in stages from his birth in 1706 to his death in 1790, in a thorough and balanced biography, The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin (New York: Doubleday, 2000). 

Franklin’s early financial success as a printer enabled him to put his imaginative mind to productive work in many other disciplines.  Among his achievements were contributing to the early understanding of electricity, including the invention of the lightening rod.  He helped his adopted home of Philadelphia establish the first fire department, police department and library in America.  He founded a society for the learned among Philadelphia to gather and discuss the issues of science, philosophy and politics and he later started a similar national academy.  He was active in both the politics of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. 

He traveled widely, living a significant portion of his life overseas, primarily in London, where he once stayed for 18 years, returning home as the American Revolution was beginning.  During and after the Revolution he was in Paris, where he represented the fledgling American government to the French crown and negotiated the peace treaty with Great Britain.  While in Europe he was a personal acquaintance of the philosophers Voltaire and David Hume, and he corresponded with Immanuel Kant

Back in America for what would be the sunset of his public career, he served simultaneously as the Governor of Pennsylvania and as an active member of the Constitutional Convention, being considered second in influence only to George Washington.

By nearly any measure Franklin’s life was a full and complete one.  He was the prototype for the notion of the American dream being fulfilled by pulling oneself up by his, or hers, bootstraps.  Yet as I read this comprehensive story of Franklin’s life I found one significant absence among the many areas he studied in depth - theology.  It is not that Brands overlooked Franklin’s thought on religion in general.  It is just that it appears that Franklin repeatedly passed up the opportunity for his own study of theology.

Franklin grew up in Boston, the child of Puritan parents in a city dominated by the Puritan ethos.  There is evidence in his adult life that he personally knew Cotton Mather and he was acquainted with the sermons of Jonathan Edwards.  In Philadelphia Franklin developed a personal friendship with the greatest figure of the Great Awakening, George Whitfield.  But what interested Franklin was the acoustics of Whitfield’s public preaching, rather than the content of the message preached.  In France he was friends with several Roman Catholic priests, and he also had some knowledge of Islam.    

Late in life Franklin summed up his religious sentiments, writing to a friend in a letter,

“Here is my creed.  I believe in one God, creator of the universe.  That he governs it by his providence.  That he ought to be worshipped.  That the most acceptable service we render to him is doing good to his other children.  That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this.”

Franklin follows this with a paragraph specifically discussing Jesus, where he considers him to be a good moral teacher but quite possibly not divine.  He then concludes,

“I shall only add, respecting myself, that, having experienced the goodness of that Being in conducting me prosperously through a long life, I have no doubt of its continuance in the next, though without the smallest conceit of meriting such goodness.” (707)

As I read and contemplated these words it struck me that Franklin is not only the First American, as portrayed by Brands, but also perhaps the first person to articulate the “theology” of Moral Therapeutic Deism.

Franklin believes that God exists and that he provides for us.  In response our purpose is to do good, and our eternal reward will be based upon our performance in that endeavor. 

While undoubtedly a genius in every sense of the word Franklin appeared unable to see what the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 19:1-2,

“The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.

or what Paul wrote in Romans 1:19-20,

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Benjamin Franklin lived a long and active life during a time when the world was changing rapidly, perhaps sometimes too fast and unpredictably for many of those of his era.  And we live in a similar time.  While the discoveries of today may revolutionize tomorrow, they will seem archaic and elementary when we think of them 10 years from now.  But the words of both the Psalmist and Paul will remain true. 

As we study, explore and grow, no matter what our areas of endeavor, let us always remember that God has made it all possible, and that our ultimate end is not mere knowledge, but the glory of God, a purpose which was so beautifully written of by the authors of the Westminster Shorter Catechism in 1647, saying in Question and Answer 1,

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The World

Earlier this week I was online and stumbled across something that I thought I would be interested in but at the time I had no time to read it.  So I mailed it to myself to read later.  I gave it the briefest glance as I hit the ‘send’ button.  It was a quote by J.C. Ryle, a Christian leader I had heard of but of whom I knew very little.  I knew that he lived in some bygone time and that a number of people whose work I admire considered Ryle as someone whose work nurtured them.  More information on Ryle can be found here and here.

All I noted in my quick skim was the title, Fighting the Unholy Trinity, and then a listing of what made that trinity; i.e. the flesh, the world and the devil.  I know a fair amount about the Holy Trinity, the three-fold way in which Christians know and understand God, being Father, Son and Spirit.  And Christians don’t live in a world in which the Holy Trinity does battle with the unholy trinity as if they were roughly equally matched armies.  Christians know that God has already won the battle, decisively in the finished work of Christ. 

Sidebar: If you are a Christian who is reading this and didn’t know that, and know it deeply, then send me a note and I’ll help you find a church in your area where the Good News in Jesus is faithfully and frequently preached.  If you are not a Christian but still interested the same offer applies to you.  Listen and read God’s Word and see what he does in your heart.  Reach me at

So several times during the week found myself thinking about what it means to fight “the world” as I walk through life trying to live as a disciple of Jesus.  And today I had a particularly clear example within my own life. 

I’m not going to give all the details, because at the end of the day the story isn’t about me.  It’s about God.  It’s about what I came to understand God calling me to do, which was clearly outside of what most “conventional wisdom” would be.  But as a person walks through life with faith in Christ she or he repeatedly sees that the Gospel doesn’t jibe with conventional wisdom.

So I’m going to make an action, a fairly small one when I look at it from God’s vantage point and not from the world’s.  But is an action that is grounded in faith, something that God has revealed to me as a place where I can serve him with the gifts he’s given me. 

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 143:8, which in the NIV reads,

“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.”

As we drink deeply from the Bible and seek a close relationship with him through prayer, God will prepare and sustain us for the encounters we will repeatedly have with Ryle’s aptly named unholy trinity.   His promise to us is to be with us as we take part in what are really the minor skirmishes of a battle whose outcome was decided on a hill outside Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago.  Thanks be to God!