Articles

Welcoming the Uncomfortable Work of God

Of all the pursuits that come with the Christian life, is any more constant, any more consuming, and any more difficult than the pursuit of humility? Surely nothing cuts harder against the grain of our natural, sinful humanity than to be humble before God and humble before our fellow man.

Yet God calls us to display humility. He warns that he opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. So how do we become humble? Or, to say it another way, how do we humble ourselves? Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it! Give me a course I can take, a list I can check off, a procedure I can follow, and I’ll keep at it until I’m properly humble! But as David Mathis points out in his new book Humbled: Welcoming the Uncomfortable Work of God, such an attitude is all wrong because it elevates us too much. “In contrast to this attitude, the humble-self theme in Scripture turns our human instincts and assumptions upside down. Yes, this is indeed a biblical directive. And at the same time, it’s not something we can just up and do. We cannot humble ourselves by our own bootstraps.” There is no simple plan to follow, no course to take, no step-by-step procedure. That’s because …

… we humans are not the drivers of our own humility. Our God designs the humbling way in which he forges the virtue of humility. He takes the initiative. He acts first. Our humility happens on his terms. He sees. He knows. He moves, with sovereign, omnipotent, meticulous care. He is intimately engaged with his created world and with each of his creatures. He is the one who humbles us with his mighty hand, and when his humbling hand descends and we’re cut to our knees or flat on the ground, then the question comes to us: Will you humble yourself and embrace God’s humbling hand, or will you try to fight back?
Will you receive his humbling providences, or attempt to explain them away?
Will you soften to him in humility, or harden with pride?
True self-humbling is not our initiative, but it does require our doing as we learn to welcome the uncomfortable work of God.

That uncomfortable work, and our response to it, is the theme of Mathis’s book. In its eight brief chapters he offers a study of the Bible’s humble-self language. Specifically, he follows the lead of the “humble-self” texts “for what we might discover not as much about humility in general, though that’s not unimportant, but specifically (and practically) about what it means to pursue humility, and especially to humble-self, when God is the one who initiates our humbling, not us.”
So he asks first “How do I humble myself?” and explains how God humbles us through our response to his Word and his work. He shows the importance of providence, Scripture, prayer, fasting, and local church fellowship in God’s working out of our humility. He explains how we can think less of ourselves and think of ourselves less. He shows how most ultimately, humility is the means through which we admit to ourselves, to others, and to God himself, “I am not God.” In that way, it is “a posture of soul and body and life that acknowledges and welcomes the godness of God and the humanness of self.”
All-in-all, Humbled is as helpful a book as you’ll find on the essential but oh-so-difficult task of becoming humble—of responding appropriately to God’s pursuit of our humility. I highly recommend it.

Buy from Amazon

A La Carte (October 22)

The Lord be with you and bless you today.

Westminster Books has a really good deal on a really neat set of books.
Remembering Don Lewis
“Dr. Donald Munro Lewis died Tuesday, October 19, 2021 in Vancouver, BC, of cardiac arrest. He was seventy-one. A beloved and respected historian, professor, mentor, friend, and parishioner, Don will be mourned and missed around the world. He was a wise and steadying presence from Vancouver to Cape Town.” Don was also the man who led my dad to the Lord (who in turn led my mom to the Lord).
Identity vs. personhood
This is a really good one from Janie Cheaney. “Anyone over 40 could have a lot of fun with 249 genders, but it’s no laughing matter for young people trying to figure out who they are in a confused and confusing world. The tragedy is, some may be so intent on crafting identities that they’ve let go of personhood.”
The Woke Non-Gospel at the Chappelle Netflix Protests
Rhys Laverty has some interesting analysis of a recent protest. Note that there is a really bad word that comes up in the article, but it is asterisked out. “I awoke this morning to a protest video. A friend had forwarded a video of yesterday’s demonstration outside Netflix’s head office in LA. Employees walked out, joined by plenty of others, to protest comedian Dave Chappelle’s latest Netflix standup special.”
Sing When You’re Losing
“The gathered church sings. That’s what we do. It’s not the only thing we do, but it is what we do. … We sing to worship the Lord, we sing to bolster one another, we sing to ‘push back the dark’ by declaring the victory of Christ. But, occasionally, we struggle to sing. Especially I think we struggle to sing—or at least I struggle to sing—when it feels like we’re losing.”
Four Types of Men in Leadership
I appreciate Chopo’s thoughts on leadership here. Focusing specifically on leadership in the home and church, he highlights four kinds of men commonly found in the church and in our society.
What the Lord’s “Imminent” Return Means
This is a helpful look at what it means that the Lord’s return is “imminent.”
The Church Among the Deathworks
I’m committed to linking to pretty much everything Carl Trueman writes. “Hegel writes that the 1820s witnessed a rise in anxiety and despair because cultural symbols and institutions began to lose their meaning, plunging the world into a state of random flux. Of course, this is all the more true of our own world, where old symbols—national flags, national anthems, national narratives—have lost their shared meaning, and have thus also lost their authority. Which flag to fly—Stars and Stripes or Pride? Which anthem to sing—’Star Spangled Banner’ or ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’? Where to date America’s founding—1776 or 1619? These are now serious questions.”
Flashback: Young Christian: Give the Lord a Lot to Work With
The teens and twenties—these are years that can be put to very good use or that can be squandered. These are years that can form the firm foundation of a life well-lived or the unsteady foundation of a life tragically wasted.

Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us (leading us to faith and worship), we have to see it as something done by us (leading us to repentance). —John Stott

With Friends Like These

The reason why we can be wrong is that God’s ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. Does Job have an answer to the question “Why?” No, he does not. But he can lay his troubles at the feet of Almighty God. This is whom we need to direct people to when they are suffering inexplicably.

Perhaps Job wished his friends had remained silent. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar initially didn’t speak a word to Job. His suffering was too great. They remained silent for a week. But Job 4 marks the beginning of their speeches, where they begin to tell Job what they really think.
Eliphaz is the first of Job’s friends to speak. He speaks first probably because he’s the oldest. We pick up in Job 15:9–10 that he’s a gray-headed man, older than Job’s father. Bildad is the second of Job’s friends to speak, beginning in Job 8. He is brasher than Eliphaz. Zophar is the third of Job’s friends to speak, and he is even brasher than Bildad. Job’s friends all share something in common, however: their understanding of Job’s suffering. It can be summarized in a few questions from their speeches:
Eliphaz:_ “Remember: who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?” (Job 4:7)_
Bildad: “Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right?” (Job 8:3)
Zophar: “Do you not know this from of old, since man was placed on earth, that the exulting of the wicked is short, and the joy of the godless but for a moment? (Job 20:4–5)
Job’s friends each understand the universe as operating according to a certain law. The reason for suffering, in their minds, is very simple. You reap what you sow. You get out of life what you put into it. You are responsible for your actions, and suffering is a consequence of your actions. The implication is that Job has sinned. It may have been a little sin, it may have been a medium-sized sin, or it may have been a big sin. It may be a present sin or some past sin that Job has forgotten about. One way or another, their answer to this predicament—from a philosophical, theological point of view—is that Job is reaping what he has sown. It’s karma. You get whatever’s owed to you.
What do we make of that as a principle, as a philosophy, as a theological way of understanding Job’s predicament?
Read More

Faithful Shepherding In The Midst Of Suffering – Part 3

My dear friends, glory is our reward with the Lord. “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed because the Spirit of the glory of God rests upon you.” We need to get our eyes off of this earth and off the temporary problems we have, and on the eternal reward day that is coming. The payday is coming. And God is no man’s debtor. whatever you have suffered, however, we have been faithful to him, that will all be brought up at the judgment seat of Christ. Again, eternal rewards are ours. Let us be faithful. 

So far, we have pondered on the reality of suffering in the world, and have seen from the Bible that suffering is to be expected for Christians, especially since we are engaged in spiritual warfare. Remember that we are not only to teach these truths faithfully, but also to model them in our own lives.
The third thing we need to continually teach our people about is the divine perspective on suffering. If you have your Bible, I do want you to see this yourself. I want you to open 2 Corinthians 4. Now, here’s a passage of Scripture, that I am not exaggerating when I say I’ve used it hundreds of times in my life, it could even be 1000! And I want you to use this when we face suffering and when we help other people, because we do not just deal with our own suffering, as shepherds. Along with that, we have to be faithful to help others through suffering. In fact, I think we spend more time helping other people through suffering than ourselves. And we need to know what Scripture text to go to.
I remember I was training this young man in our church about visitation, going to hospitals dealing with people’s problems. And I remember the first time we went out and an issue came up with the people we were talking to, and I took them to this passage. And this young man said to me later, when we left, “You know, I literally had no idea what Bible verse to open to?” He said, “I’m glad you showed me.” I said, “Well, that’s why I brought you along. So you know how to open your Bible and comfort people who are suffering and help yourself.” Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 4. Second Corinthians, is an amazing book. It is the most autobiographical of Paul’s books, and there is no other book in which we get these insights into Paul as a shepherd of the Lord’s people. And you see at one moment his severity and next moment, tenderness unlike anything else So in verse 16, he says, “For we do not lose heart.” Well, my friends, if anyone should lose heart and get depressed and discouraged, it was the Apostle Paul. He had more problems than all of you put together and multiplied. This man had every problem there is. I have never been whipped, I have never been left at sea, never been hungry. I mean, this man experienced everything. He sat in jail, he had people trying to stone him to death, whip him to death. “We do not lose heart!” Oh! I want to find out why he doesn’t lose heart, because I lose heart so easily.
“Though our outward self is wasting away.” Now if you’re over 55 you know what this means. The outer nature is wasted away. Well, you lose muscle, your skin sags, you have to have glasses, you go get hearing aids, some people get wigs (I look better this way!). And then we have knee replacements and hip replacements. Replacements seem to be nowhere near what they can repair in your body. The outward nature is wasting away, and well, it will end in your death. Now, this is my verse for my philosophy of aging. Are you ready? “Although the outward nature is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” If you’re over 50, you better know this verse. Although the outward nature is decaying (you can do some things to slow it down, but it is going to win), the inner man, the new man in Christ, in the Holy Spirit who lives within us, every day he is being renewed. Well, that is an amazing truth, isn’t it? Your inner man is being fed and he is growing, he is expanding, he is maturing. That should be your philosophy of life.
[In fact, I was going to speak to you about this whole thing: About being a growing leader, a maturing leader. Sadly, many stop growing when they get to be about the age of 40 and older. They do not read anymore, they do not go to conferences, they do not have a greater vision for the world. That is a very, very big problem. But this text says, the inner man is being renewed every day. He is growing. He is learning and expanding. That’s what I want to do as I age.]
Now I want you to get the balance hereof words very beautifully balanced. I wish I had a scale to show this but you can imagine a weighing scale. “For this light momentary affliction…”  or  suffering “is preparing for us…” Well, that’s good to know. “An eternal. weight of glory beyond all comparison.” In other words, these are not comparisons. This is what happens. It is an eternal weight of heavenly glory. Here on earth what we face is a light, momentary affliction. That’s the divine perspective. And he says it is not comparable. So in this life, you have many afflictions, sorrows, heartaches, setbacks, losses, and sometimes very severe, and they really can hurt. But the divine perspective says it is light and it is momentary, lasting a very short time. A whole life here on earth is a very short time. But it is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory.
Now, if you want to know a little bit more about this glory, you go down to Chapter 5 verses 1-10.
Read More

That Are Not of This Fold

Written by A.W. Workman |
Friday, October 22, 2021
The good shepherd has been calling his sheep from other, unexpected, folds for 2,000 years now. My own Anglo-Saxon and Celtic genes are evidence of this. The hardest to reach demographics and people groups have and will continue to surrender a remnant at the power of the shepherd’s voice. The flock – in all its unexpected diversity – will be complete. “And there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

Yesterday I got to preach to our small local church plant on John 10:16 – “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
We simply walked phrase by phrase through this verse, seeking to understand, wrestle with the importance, illustrate, and apply each line. The phrase that got the most audible reactions was “that are not of this fold.”
I shared with the attendees that Jesus was here communicating to the Jews that the people of God would be gathered from unexpected peoples and places – namely, the gentile nations. “Not of this fold” meant not of ethnic Israel. One of the great mysteries revealed in the New Testament is that God had chosen a holy spiritual nation, comprised of those from every nation, tribe, and tongue. Ethnic Israel wasn’t the ultimate Israel.
This part wasn’t very provocative. After all, my listeners were Central Asians, not first century Jews. However, we then discussed why this point is important for us today. We, like Jesus’ initial Jewish followers, tend to believe that there are certain types of people who believe, and certain types of people who really don’t. Those similar to us almost always fall into the category of “likely open to belief.” And groups we are naturally opposed to often end up in the category of “unlikely to believe.”
This has a practical effect on our evangelism. We end up sharing with those we have pre-filtered, and we remain tight-lipped with others. But what has occurred is that our own experience and cultural categories (or prejudice?) have become the filter, rather than the gospel message itself. Given the logic of Jesus in this passage, this is a mistake.
Read More

On Being a Normal Horse

I was struck by the self-pity of Bree, the kidnapped Narnian horse who in the story is escaping homeward from the southern deserts of Calormen. He is a charger, a beautiful white war horse who has fought many battles, even earning acclaim for his feats in this foreign kingdom. But during the flight northwards to his homeland, in one instance he does not appear so grand. Bree and his company are attacked by a large lion and it is Shasta the young boy, not Bree the warhorse, who turns around to face the lion in an attempt to defend two females in their company. Bree continues bolting away from the scene in a dash of panic, leaving the others to a likely death.

I recently read The Horse and His Boy and since I had long forgotten the plot and the conclusion, I enjoyed the whole thing as if it was the first time. What a brilliant, well-constructed story. It takes some time to get going but by the end the story fits snuggly like a glove, resolving every uncertainty and lose end in a work of pure Lewisian craftsmanship. On top of that, I believe it speaks directly to some issues in myself, namely a preoccupation with self with tendencies to self-pity.
I was struck by the self-pity of Bree, the kidnapped Narnian horse who in the story is escaping homeward from the southern deserts of Calormen. He is a charger, a beautiful white war horse who has fought many battles, even earning acclaim for his feats in this foreign kingdom. But during the flight northwards to his homeland, in one instance he does not appear so grand. Bree and his company are attacked by a large lion and it is Shasta the young boy, not Bree the warhorse, who turns around to face the lion in an attempt to defend two females in their company. Bree continues bolting away from the scene in a dash of panic, leaving the others to a likely death.
Later we see Bree in a state of despondency at his failure. He was not supposed to run away, he should have faced the danger and sacrificed himself for the weaker members. He should have acted heroically, but the moment came and went and he was missing in action. I understand this feeling very well. In my mind I both imagine and expect that I will act according to the lofty standards I know I should be able to reach. But I fail! I do not live up to my own expectations. Some things I put considerable work into do not seem to materialize and make an impact. Other times my actions toward my family do not reflect the righteous example I am called to model to them. There have been several what I call “golden opportunities” presented to me over the years to speak up about the gospel of Jesus Christ to unbelievers, yet I remember them as Bree remembers his failure: as opportunities missed.
Read More

Lessons in Artful Argument from C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis understood his times well and responded brilliantly. One of his most substantive rebukes—and one that’s particularly relevant today—was his condemnation of chronological snobbery. This view asserts that what we believe today must be true because it’s most recent. It assumes that we’ve evolved intellectually so our beliefs must be better than those of less enlightened people of the past. 

C. S. Lewis modeled disagreement in a variety of helpful ways. Sometimes, he declared that particular ideas were wrong. Early in Mere Christianity he anticipated the objection against universal morality: “I know some people say . . . different civilisations and different ages have had quite different moralities.” He simply followed with “But this is not true.” Only after drawing this hard line in the sand did he offer support for his strong claim.
Sometimes, he softened his words when others might have sharpened theirs. This works especially well when countering common misconceptions about the gospel. For example, when Lewis addressed the claim that Christianity is just a bunch of rules to follow, he gently responded, “I do not think that is the best way of looking at it. I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before.”
In some instances, his brilliant reasoning skills allowed him to dismantle arguments before offering the truth. Such was the case when he responded to the claim that Jesus was just a good man but not God: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.” He also took on the idea that Jesus never claimed to be God. Some said it was his disciples who invented those statements. Lewis responded, “The theory only saddles you with twelve inexplicable lunatics instead of one.”
Of course, when responding to less-than-sincere objections, he felt no need to mince words:
There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of “Heaven” ridiculous by saying they do not want “to spend eternity playing harps.” The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them.
Does that seem too harsh? It probably is for most of us in most of our situations. But bear in mind the dramatic differences between the contexts we inhabit (usually one-on-one conversations with a friend) and Lewis’s platforms (radio broadcasts, public speeches, or arguments in books). It fits some situations to make sweeping or pointed declarations. Often, though, we should temper the boldness of our rebukes. But even when sitting across the table from a confused friend, our gentle pushbacks need to be both genuinely gentle and genuinely pushbacks.
Reading the Times
C. S. Lewis understood his times well and responded brilliantly. One of his most substantive rebukes—and one that’s particularly relevant today—was his condemnation of chronological snobbery.
Read More

Doubts About William Lane Craig’s Creation Account

Written by Peter J. Leithart |
Friday, October 22, 2021
On the surface, Craig’s argument turns on his non-literal interpretation of Genesis 2-3. He sets up a hermeneutical frame in three steps. First, Genesis shares features with myth. Yet, second, Genesis also has features of history. Therefore, third, Genesis is “mytho-history,” and we determine what Genesis teaches about Adam by mining the nuggets of history hidden under layers of metaphor. Craig warns us to avoid a simplistic antithesis between myth and history, but he ends up with his own antithesis, sorting bits of the creation narrative into baskets marked “metaphorical” and “literal.” 

William Lane Craig (“The Historical Adam,” October 2021) believes that a being corresponding to the biblical Adam actually existed. Paul’s typology of Adam and Christ, he argues, requires an historical, as opposed to a merely literary, Adam (Rom. 5:12-21). But this isn’t your Fundamentalist grandma’s Adam. According to Craig, Adam didn’t exist at the beginning of time, but was preceded by billions of years and many varieties of semi-humans. Adam wasn’t formed from the dust of the ground nor was Eve built from Adam’s rib; our first parents were selected from the ancestors of Homo sapiens known as Homo heidelbergensis. They didn’t live in an idyllic paradise called Eden, nor were they tempted by a talking snake, though they did disobey God, were alienated from him, and unleashed sin and death into the world.
On the surface, Craig’s argument turns on his non-literal interpretation of Genesis 2-3. He sets up a hermeneutical frame in three steps. First, Genesis shares features with myth. Yet, second, Genesis also has features of history. Therefore, third, Genesis is “mytho-history,” and we determine what Genesis teaches about Adam by mining the nuggets of history hidden under layers of metaphor. Craig warns us to avoid a simplistic antithesis between myth and history, but he ends up with his own antithesis, sorting bits of the creation narrative into baskets marked “metaphorical” and “literal.”
Craig is confident. He knows the anthropomorphic deity of Genesis 2-3 shouldn’t be taken literally, nor the garden, nor the trees, nor the serpent. The ages of early men are, Craig thinks, absurdly long, though not long enough to accommodate modern beliefs about the age of the earth. Yet he also knows these men existed: We shouldn’t “imagine that they comprise purely fictitious characters.” He’s capable of seeing through the eyes of ancient Babylonians, who didn’t see “the desiccated flesh and bones of Tiamat” when they looked at the sky, and he sneaks into the head of the author of Genesis to discover that the biblical account of Eden and the fall was “fantastic, even to the Pentateuchal author himself.”
How does Craig know all this? Why preserve the historical reality of Methuselah and Noah while dispensing with their ages? Real persons and events are, he says, “clothed in the metaphorical and figurative language of myth.” But clothes make the man: By what criterion does Craig distinguish one from the other? He offers no argument, relying on readers to share his prejudices concerning plausibility. To which we may ask: Whose plausibility? Craig thinks the ages of early men are too long to be literal; but Augustine might disagree, as might Ussher or the millions of Christians between the two and since who have constructed chronologies from the numbers of Genesis. The account of Eden and the fall is “clearly metaphorical or figurative,” but clear to whom?
Read More

Reflections on Race and Racism

Perhaps the most important thing to say about race, in the typical American sense of the word,[1] is that it does not exist. Unlike sex, it has no biological reality, and unlike ethnicity, it has no cultural reality. The human community simply is not divided into half-a-dozen (or whatever) racial groups united by distinct genetic markers or a common culture. Let me explain this claim. The idea that race exists did not originate in Scripture. Scripture speaks of all human beings descending from one man, and thus the only “race” it knows is the one human race. Scripture distinguishes among humans, but does so in terms of people-groups. 

Race and racism are obviously controversial issues. Writing on the subject is a thankless task, bound to provoke accusations that an author is enthralled by some nefarious ideology and insufficiently enlightened by a better one. This essay has no agenda either to call out the church for racism or to strike the death blow against wokeness. It simply offers reflections on race and racism intended to help Reformed Christians work through these matters in humble, wise, and Christ-honoring ways. Five basic ideas guide these reflections. (A terminological note: I use “antiracist” to refer to scholars and activists who use this term to describe themselves, not as a general term for all people who think racism is immoral. Although antiracists differ amongst themselves on some issues, they share many core convictions addressed below.)
1. Race Does Not Exist, although Racism Does.
Perhaps the most important thing to say about race, in the typical American sense of the word,[1] is that it does not exist. Unlike sex, it has no biological reality, and unlike ethnicity, it has no cultural reality. The human community simply is not divided into half-a-dozen (or whatever) racial groups united by distinct genetic markers or a common culture. Let me explain this claim.
The idea that race exists did not originate in Scripture. Scripture speaks of all human beings descending from one man, and thus the only “race” it knows is the one human race. Scripture distinguishes among humans, but does so in terms of people-groups. Egyptians, Babylonians, Israelites, and dozens of others had different customs and religions, but they were not different races. The geographical theatre in which the biblical story unfolded, at the crossroads of Asia, Africa, and Europe, ensured that biblical writers were familiar with people of dark skin, light skin, and many shades in between, yet they gave no hint of regarding Cushites and Galatians (Celts) as racially separate.
Contemporary genetic science comes to the same conclusion. Mapping the human genome is one of the most amazing scientific accomplishments of recent decades. By studying the genetic information of living humans and comparing it to DNA from human remains of past millennia, genetic scientists have been able to reconstruct the migration of peoples and their inter-breeding with other peoples in ways hitherto impossible. Data is still coming in and scientists will undoubtedly modify their reconstructions, but one basic conclusion is clear: the modern conception of race has no genetic basis. People around the world are related to each other in complex and often counter-intuitive ways. Who would have thought, for example, that Western Africans are more closely related genetically to Western Europeans than to Eastern Africans? Population-groups have certain genetic markers distinguishing them from other population-groups, but this does not translate into anything corresponding to the “races” of modern mythology.[2]
Furthermore, race has no cultural reality because, unlike ethnic-groups, modern races (“black,” “white,” “Asian,” etc.) do not share a common culture. Rather, they consist of a multitude of groups with often very different histories, languages, and the like.
I do not know how many contemporary Reformed Christians believe that race is a biological and cultural reality, but they would be well-advised to abandon such a spurious notion.
Race, instead, is a figment of the human imagination. One way to put it is that race is a social construct.[3] Certain people in a certain historical context developed the notion of distinct human races. Although social constructs are not necessarily bad or unhelpful, this one was pernicious. Europeans constructed race in conjunction with the colonization of the Americas and the African slave-trade, and they used it to justify the subjugation of non-Europeans and the elevation of Europeans as morally and intellectually superior.[4]
This explains why racism exists even though race does not. (I take “racism” as treating and judging people not according to what is true about them but according to their racial categorization.) Social constructs can be powerful. Often what we imagine to be true shapes our thoughts, feelings, and behavior more strongly than what is actually true. Christians should understand this. Scripture emphasizes that there is no God but one. Yet idolatry exists and it is seductive. Baal was a construct of the human imagination, but it inspired people to dance around altars cutting themselves and provoked Israel to forsake the living God who redeemed them from bondage. Race is something like a conspiracy theory. Conspiracy theories are based on fabrications, yet they can powerfully re-shape the lives of those who buy into them. They scare people into moving off the grid, rejecting life-saving vaccines, or hording gold coins under their mattress. Likewise, race is based on lies, but the idea became very important to those who believed those lies and forced others to live as if they were true.[5]
2. The Interests of Truth and Peace Call for De-Racialization.
If race is a fabrication of the sinful imagination, there seems to be one fundamental and necessary response: Deal with the idea as the lie it is. Stop acting as though race is real. Stop treating and judging people according to what is false. As people are unlikely to escape Baal-worship until they cease to think and act as though a powerful deity named Baal exists, so people are unlikely to escape racism until they cease to think and act as though race exists.
Some of what this entails is obvious, even if easy to overlook. Most of us have become aware of racial stereotypes and made efforts to give them up, but we all need to stay alert and keep striving to put them aside. Most of us have been warned about the hurt caused by racist jokes, although many people still tell them privately now and then, thinking no one is harmed. But whether in public or private, that is acting as though a destructive lie were true. Or consider some people’s habit of mentioning a person’s racial categorization when it is irrelevant: the European-American, for example, who relates a funny incident at the grocery store and describes one of the people involved as an “Asian guy,” although it has no bearing on the story. Perhaps she intends nothing malicious, but she perpetuates racial thought-patterns that have wrought profound harm.
Recognizing the myth of race calls for de-racialization. That is, to live by truth and at peace with all our fellow humans, we ought to (continue to) strip our minds of racial categories and treat our neighbors without respect to them.
What I just wrote is highly controversial. Its most prominent opponents, however, are not unrepentant racists but antiracists. For antiracists, the preceding paragraph promotes color-blindness, the idea that we should not see other people’s race. They believe this is a terrible thing that impedes racial justice and reconciliation rather than promotes it.[6] Progress, they argue, requires seeing racial tensions and dynamics everywhere. When “whites” do not see race, it manifests their dominant place in society and their privilege over others. “Whites” need to become increasingly cognizant of their “whiteness” and hence remain aware of others’ different identities.[7]
These antiracists have legitimate concerns. If wrongs have been done in the name of an imaginary concept, it is surely impossible to rectify wrongs and change course without mentioning that concept. To return to a previous analogy, the Old Testament prophets did not pretend as though they had never heard of Baal or ignore the seduction of idolatry. Likewise, battling racism throughout de-racialization should not mean that we simply stop talking about race and hope that this clears things up. Antiracists are also rightly concerned about an alleged color-blindness that sees the world only through the lens of one’s own cultural assumptions. Ceasing to judge people according to racial categorization should not mean making one’s own culture the universal standard. Cultural diversity is generally a good thing.[8] Finally, antiracists correctly oppose a color-blindness that evaluates all formally identical racial statements identically. For example, an African-American who says “black is beautiful” and a European-American who says “white is beautiful” make formally identical statements. But in the context of American history, they obviously do not communicate the same thing.[9]
These concerns should keep us from a simplistic color-blindness, but if we are concerned about truth and peace, our goal ought to be the elimination of thinking and acting in racial terms. The best strategy for getting there is open for debate, but it is far-fetched to think that the concept of race might disappear by demanding that people see all things through the lens of race.
Read More

Singing with the Saints

The teaching takes place not only by hearing the message that people around us sing, but by singing the message ourselves. This benefit is confirmed by modern observations about how people learn. People learn more effectively and more deeply if they not only hear, but try to re-express what they learn. Getting one’s voice involved deepens one’s participation. Singing engages our emotions, and may help to make the message more memorable. People remember songs that they have sung repeatedly, and embrace them more deeply. Their active participation reinforces their memory.

For decades now, Christian congregations have had to deal with differences in musical styles in Christian worship. Some prefer “contemporary music.” Others prefer “traditional music.” The differences become a source of contention. Sadly, we now have the term “worship wars,” as a label to describe the extent to which music in worship has become a battleground.
We should not want more wars, especially within the bounds of the church. Therefore, a discussion of music and singing in the church must begin by recalling Christ’s command: Christians should love one another as Christ has loved us (John 15:12 ESV; see 13:34; 1 John 4:19). Loving one another is a central principle in the life of the people of God. We need not only to teach the principle, but to practice it. Any disagreement or tension in the body of Christ should be seen as an occasion to practice Christian love.
My purpose here is not to talk about Christian love, important as that is. My focus is rather on one specific element: congregational singing. I wish not to create tension, but to ask both pastors and musicians, both leaders and followers in the Christian faith, to approach the issue of congregational singing with wisdom and with balance. For the sake of the health of the church, we want congregational singing to contribute to that health.
How do we best do that? In this four-part series, I briefly set forth my own thoughts. Even if other brothers and sisters may not agree, I hope this may help lead the conversation in a positive direction.
As we have observed, one prime factor is love, and with love, patience. We should bear with other people in the congregation, and bear with decisions about singing with which we disagree. But now what else should go into the decision-making and practice of a Christian congregation?
Mind the Goal
What should be the long-range goal in congregational singing? Everything that we do in Christian worship and in all of life, we should do for sake of honoring God, that is, for sake of promoting the glory of God: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). The glory of God is primary and essential.
In addition, the Bible indicates that church meetings should have the aim of building up the church: “Let all things [that take place when the people assemble] be done for building up” (1 Cor. 14:26). The goal is that the people should grow in spiritual maturity, not only individually but as a body, as a community. Nearly the whole of 1 Cor. 14 is about the importance of building up the church, and how this goal regulates and guides the details of what happens during a congregational assembly. Likewise Eph. 4:1-16 has a focus on building up the church. According to Eph. 4, the goal is “the stature of the fullness of Christ” (verse 13). We are “to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (verse 15).
We have two goals before us: the glory of God and the building up of the church. These two goals are not two diverse goals that pull in opposite directions. Rather, each implies the other. Building up the church takes place properly only when we are serving God and seeking to please him. So we need to seek the glory of God in Christian worship.
We can also reason the other way, starting with the glory of God. Seeking God’s glory includes seeking to honor his commandment to love one another. This means we cannot seek God’s glory properly without attending to the goal of building up the church. Seeking the glory of God and seeking to build up the church are two sides of the same coin. The two aspects, oriented toward God and toward fellow Christians, are intended by God to work together harmoniously.
How do we build up the church? Much is involved. We need the power of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us and among us.
Read More

Scroll to top
Refcast

FREE
VIEW