Another Great Read for the New Year!

I first read this article in January of 1997, in First Things magazine. I immediately knew that Neil Postman, the author, had said some things I too had discovered and that I wanted to bookmark. I knew that E4Unity blog (that was still in embryo at the time) would want to review this at least once a year.

Science & The Story that we Need

But in the end, science does not provide the answers most of us require. Its story of our origins and of our end is, to say the least, unsatisfactory. To the question, “How did it all begin?”, science answers, “Probably by an accident.” To the question, “How will it all end?”, science answers, “Probably by an accident.” And to many people, the accidental life is not worth living. Moreover, the science-god has no answer to the question, “Why are we here?” and, to the question, “What moral instructions do you give us?”, the science-god maintains silence. It places itself at the service of both the beneficent and the cruel, and its grand moral impartiality, if not indifference, makes it, in the end, no god at all.

Into the breach has come still another contender—the offspring of the science-god—the great god of technology. This is a wondrous and energetic story which, with greater clarity than its parent, offers us a vision of paradise. Whereas the science-god speaks to us of both understanding and power, the technology-god speaks only of power. It refutes the promise of Christianity that heaven is a posthumous reward. It offers convenience, efficiency, and prosperity here and now; and it offers its benefits to all, the rich as well as the poor, as does Christianity.

To Read entire article at First Things

Released from the Law (Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 7)

7:1 “Or do you not know, brothers —for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.  3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. “

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles

This is the way of deliverance appointed by Our Redeemer through the salvation He has provided in His Beloved Son, JESUS!

True liberty is found only in Christ. This deliverance from the power and condemnation of sin, is what Christ was sent into the world that first Christmas to accomplish. This is the heart of the New Testament faith and the center of Saint Paul’s preaching and teaching. (see “Imitating the Incarnation” by Benjamin Warfield)

A Christmas gift: the best interpretation I have found on what I believe is the heart of Saint Paul’s life of faith & teaching. “The Apostles’ Doctrine of The Atonement” by George Smeaton (1870). (commenting on Romans chapter 6, pages 161-167)

Older posts on “The Abolition of Death” (2009) and “Understanding Saint Paul” (2008)

20th Century Prophet that captures the theme of Death in his Biblical ethics: William Stringfellow

JOHN BUNYAN’S “Pilgrim’s Progress”.

An early classic in the English language that reflects the Biblical narrative of ruin and redemption is still relevent to today’s “city of destruction”! Watch first 7 minute segment.

Related Post- Discovering the Mystery

Great read 4 Thanksgiving: http://bit.ly/vgwIpq               “Pilgrims giving thanks”!

Lessons for the Lenten season: How shall we then pray?

In my observance of the Lenten season as a time of meditating on the sufferings of Christ that led up to the last week, I have also been focused on the the whole question of Adam’s race in rebellion that necessitated it all. This of course leads me into confessing my own participation in the rebellion which is universal. Learning to pray from this platform is taking me into some interesting requests, not the least of which has to do with renewing my own covenantal vows of the Christian Faith.

Recently I’ve been re-reading a classic book by one of my favorite Puritan writers, John Owen, on beholding the glory of Christ. I mentioned this last year in a post and suggested this is what we are supposed to do in living the Christian life. It can be considered our “reasonable worship” as redeemed people of the New Covenant. In the last few days I ran across a post quoting from this book which I found especially helpful in knowing more specifically how to pray from this same perspective.

“Renewed repentance is seen in fervent prayer. ‘Take words with you. Say to him…’ We must know what we are to pray for. We are to pray for pardon of all iniquity. ‘Take away all iniquity.’ Not one sin must be left to be indulged. We are to pray that God will graciously receive us. ‘Receive us graciously.’ Confession must be made of the sins that caused our backslidings. ‘Assyria will not save us. Nor will we say any more to the work of our hands, “You are our gods.” Fleshly confidence and false worship were the two sins that ruined the people, and of these sins God expects a full and free confession so that we may be healed.

“Believers must renew their covenant with God, renouncing all other hopes and expectations, and put their trust and confidence only and wholly in him, for only in God do the fatherless find mercy (14:3). The result of such repentance is praise and thanksgiving: ‘We will offer the sacrifice or our lips’ (14:2). When God heals our backslidings he will communicate his grace to us, to the praise of his own glory…”  (John Owen)

To read the entire post over at ‘Cultivating Epiphanies’ go here.

The Gospel of Christ Crucified

January was a much needed Sabbatical @E4Unity

I don’t know if you missed me, but I sure missed posting for you. I have been busy refilling the tank, as they say, by reading a lot of blogs and tweets and adding new friends.

from phoenixmasonry.org

So now I think we’re ready to get back to blogging about humankind and the universal conditions we’re all faced with in the new year. To start us off, with an eye to the Lenten season coming up fast and the present situation in Egypt and the mid-east, I hope this will interest you. Comments from the Letter to the Hebrews:

The preacher finds in these antitheses the basic truth of the matter. His weakness in dying defined his power in ruling. With all other New Testament witnesses he was obsessed with the paradox of the passion story. It was by sharing in flesh and blood that Jesus became a faithful and merciful high priest; it was by being tempted that “he is able to help those who are tempted” (2:18). The devil had tempted him to fear death and thus to become enslaved to the devil; but by resisting this temptation Jesus had received power to free men from that fear, that bondage. So, in the sequence of images by which the preacher gave tribute to Jesus’ glory in 1:1-4, we must give full weight to the mention of the “purification for sins”. This action of expiation explains Jesus’ power to uphold the universe, his work in the creation of the world, his appointment as heir of all things.

Paul S.Minear writing in “God’s Glory in Man’s Story”.

 

 

The Old  Zion Red Church- Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania

On our drive to New York city last week for Navy Fleet week, we finally took a short side trip that we’ve wanted to do for a long time. We went by to see where my first generation maternal ancestor lived and began his family after arriving on board the ship at Philadelphia. The record of his wedding as well as the births of his first three children were recorded in the ministerial records of this church in Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania, before the Revolutionary War.

The Red Church is in the Blue Mountains and has had four buildings. The first one in the early 1700’s, the present one which was built in 1887. Over the door is a marker identifying it as Evangelical Lutheran and Reformed. Lorentz Jung only lived here seven or eight years after his marriage before heading south into Virginia where he changed his name to Lawrence Young.

I couldn’t help but get a little emotional as I poured out a grateful heart for such a rich spiritual heritage from the first generation in America. But I realize that such a spirtual pedigree does not guarantee us an inheritance apart from a living faith in the Christ of the Scriptures. Like Esau of old, we can squander our inheritance, exchange it for a bowl of fleshly pottage.

Grandparents Henry and Jesse Young (1906)

I was reminded again in New York city in reference to the Marble Collegiate Church of the Dutch Reformed tradition and Trinity Episcopal Church, both which predate the American Revolution, that the witness of the Gospel of Christ has been present in every generation of Americans. It has been the “open secret” that was either ignored or embraced as God’s testimony of redeeming love.

We came home from New York city impressed with the extent that the city embraced the men and women of the armed services during Fleet week. And we came home with a renewed testimony that the churches of the new century continuing to faithfully live out the faith of our Fathers. Our only question is to what degree are multitudes in America squandering their spiritual inheritance?

See my post last year on “A Night to Remember” .

The difference between “ what would Jesus do” and “what IS Jesus doing”! You may be familiar with the popular fad that was revived in recent years that sought guidance for Christians in daily decisions by answering with WWJD. Like so many fads in Christianity, I always felt that though the intent was a sincere attempt to influence life’s decisions by reference to the historical Jesus, this version of what it means to be a disciple of Christ completely missed the heart of the Biblical Gospel.

In the last few days, I have been reading a book which confronts this misunderstanding in the American churches with a fresh exposition of the doctrine of the Ascension of Jesus. The book which was published in 2004 by Gerrit Scott Dawson, is entitled –

Jesus Ascended: the meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation“.

I read a lot and have considered myself a full-time student for over 50 years. It has been a long time since I have been as profoundly moved as I have in reading this book about the present life of Jesus of Nazareth now in His heavenly session as our King-Priest. The fact that I have been celebrating the Festival of the Ascension for over a week now was the preparation needed to be able to profit so much from this author and the mature understanding he has of this neglected part of the Biblical narrative. I would love to recommend this book to everyone but I won’t because of one principle that is a priority here at E4Unity and that is the recognition that each individual is unique and in no way would the many be able to profit in the same way I have from reading any book. In the area of what is called “spiritual formation” that means that real progress is made only when we are able to see these things for ourself, through the “eyes of faith”, and that means we must be patiently brought in life’s experiences to desiring such things as this present world can never give or satisfy our inner spirit with.

I want to leave you with some quotes from Dawson. He is an excellent writer and this book is very “reader friendly” in the sense that he tells you what his topic is, tells you how he is going to approach it, and even gives you upfront a short direction on “how to use this book”. I will tell you that he is a Presbyterian pastor and so he is thoroughly pastoral- that is he concerns himself in the end with the purpose of this doctrine in living here on planet earth, the life of Christ in heaven transmitted to us by the Holy Spirit as we learn to live, not in the flesh, but by faith in God’s abundant provision in His beloved Son Jesus.

He has included some of the rich comments from past teachers in the churches, both from the Patristic fathers as well as men like John Calvin,  Andrew Murray, and Lesslie Newbigin. He has a robust exposition of what the the Ascension of Christ has meant to the Church in the past as well as how it can be instrumental in reviving us in the challenge we are now facing in our own generation.

“We have such difficulty conceiving how, or even believing that, the body of Jesus went to heaven that we may want the doctrine to remain in obscurity” (p.3)

“In no way, then, did the ascension signal simply a return to business as usual between God and humanity. Rather, the ascension of Christ is a vital hinge on which turns the work of the Mediator, the incarnate Son, our Redeemer in all his offices.” (p.8)

“My premise is that the church- our local church and the churches of the west-needs to recover the meta-narrative of the gospel as a counter-story, indeed a better story to the one the world tells. . .one of those episodes, the ascension, has been sorely neglected in the church’s telling of the story. The silence. . .cuts us off from the present work of Christ in heaven and from the conclusion of the story. . .recovering a proper and robust doctrine of the ascension can reconnect us to a sense of our true citizenship in heaven and the implications of that identity for life in the world.”(p.25)

Dawson’s book is divided into three parts, and we haven’t even reached the second one yet. But I don’t want to impose on you so I will close for now with one more, this time, a quote from Andrew Murray. Murray has also been one of my favorite devotional writers for a long time. Dawson may be the first Presbyterian writer that I can think of among contemporary ones that utilizes the treasures in Murray so often and so freely. He says here, that ” the church can reclaim the fullness of its story, with spectacular results.” And then quotes Murray-

” Faith has in its foundation four great cornerstones on which the building rests- the Divinity of Christ, The Incarnation, the Atonement on the Cross, the Ascension to the Throne. The last is the most wonderful, the crown of all the rest, the perfect revelation of what God has made Christ (to be)for us. And so in the Christian life it is the most important, the glorious fruit of all that goes before.” (p.26)

In part two, one of the highlights for me was his discussion of Calvin’s interpretation of the Lord’s Supper as one of the means of grace directly connected with the ascension. We will have a great deal to come back to on another occasion. For now, we must get ready to celebrate once again another Festival: The Day of Pentecost.

The link to the book is the on-line edition where you can read most of it at Google.books.

The Saints Gallery @E4Unity does not sub-divide by heritage: you have to look elsewhere for that.

However, since I mentioned this week a celebration of 400 years of the Baptist heritage, I thought I might add a few names of Baptists here in America that would be in any Saints gallery: men like George W. Truett, Walter Rauschenbusch, and Martin Luther King. Each one a Baptist minister, each one made tremendous contributions to the Church of Christ as well as to America, but very different in their gifts and perspectives involving their Christian faith and how it was manifested in their individual and professional lives.

baptist

Walter Rauschenbusch – A German-Baptist that worked among the working poor in the early 189o’s and developed what became known as the “social gospel”. But it would be a great mistake to brand his ministry by that phrase without trying to understand the man himself and his environment, which is suddenly not so strange to our own situation.

Rauschenbusch sought to combine his old evangelical passion (which he never abandoned) with his new social awareness. He adopted critical approaches to the Bible and identified himself with liberal theologians like Albrecht Ritschl and Adolf Harnack. The kingdom of God became the theme by which he pulled together his views on religion and science, piety and social action, Christianity and culture. Did he get it right? He certainly tried.

George W. Truett – Known as a great Preacher and educator, Dr.Truett was pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas,Texas, for 47 years (until his death in 1944). His influence and contribution to the city of Dallas and the Southern Baptist Convention is astounding. But he was also a strong advocate in this country for religious liberty and his spirit in the above link-a 1920 address on the steps of our nation’s Capitol building, is very different than the recent voices of the “religious right”.

What is the explanation of this consistent and notably praiseworthy record of our plain Baptist people in the realm of religious liberty? The answer is at hand. It is not because Baptists are inherently better than their neighbors — we would make no such arrogant claim. Happy are our Baptist people to live side by side with their neighbors of other Christian communions, and to have glorious Christian fellowship with such neighbors, and to honor such servants of God for their inspiring lives and their noble deeds. From our deepest hearts we pray: “Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.” The spiritual union of all true believers in Christ is now and ever will be a blessed reality, and such union is deeper and higher and more enduring than any and all forms and rituals and organizations.

Martin Luther King – I can only add here my personal appreciation for this man and what he gave his life for; a vision that went far beyond his own race or time. When you are able to appreciate the Black church heritage and especially their own preaching tradition, then you have no hesitation to tag him as one the outstanding preachers in our generation. God gave him an incredible mind and speech pattern that was all his own. Take a few minutes to listen to his speech against the Viet Nam War at the link above. You may not agree with his politics but surely you will agree  that he has left a large legacy, especially in the principles of non-violence for all religious people.

So these and many other men and women in our history were of the Baptist heritage and some use to speak of that as a “large tent” with room for greatly diverse convictions. Each one testified to Christ from their own perspective. I have not tried to hide the weaknesses or the warts of any of these men-that is not for me to do. The Baptists are making giganic contributions in almost every field; education (there are more Baptist Colleges and Universities in America than any other faith), healthcare (hospitals and clinics and a host of human service centers), and orphanages, and especially in advancing world-wide the gospel of the Kingdom.

These are just a few reasons to celebrate what God has been able to do through the people called the Baptists these last 400 years. To God be the glory great things He has done. If only we had been more obedient we could have greatly multiplied these efforts.

Endings that Bring HOPE of New Beginnings

I am hoping that you will follow the link in my Advent post to the great orientation to this year’s theme and Scriptures. If you do you will find a special surprise for your spiritual meditations: “The focus on endings to come that bring the hope of New Beginnings”.

I happen to believe that it is precisely this emphasis in the Gospel that has been tragically neglected in American Christianity and means that we have largely failed our own society by failing to include this part. And that is that the announcement of the coming to earth of God’s Promised Redeemer and thus His Kingly rule, means the utter judgement, destruction, and replacement of the world’s kingdoms and powers. And that is precisely why it is such Good News. deathbylove

In keeping with this theme, “ending that brings the hope of new beginnings”, I have started reading a new book called, Death by Love. I plan to take my time on this one because I really want to understand the main author’s view of the death of Christ. It will be the first book I have read by Mark Driscoll.

I have just started so I will let you know what I find as I go along. I always try to do a preliminary survey of a book like this before digging in- like reading the preface ( a good author will often tell exactly why she/he wrote it and what they are trying to accomplish), the table of contents, the index, the notes, and the Scripture index. I will leave you with this morsel from the preface:

One theologian has called the cross the great jewel of the Christian Faith, and like every great jewel it has many precious facets that are each worthy of examing for their brilliance and beauty… most poor teaching about the cross results from someone’s denying one of these facets, ignoring one of these facets, or over emphasizing one of these facets at the expense of the others… such narrow and reactionary theology has tragically caused the beauty of the cross to become obscured by the various warring teams that have risen up to argue for their systematic theology rather than bowing in humble worship of the crucified Jesus.

THE BOOK of FAITH INITIATIVE of ELCA

In joining the Book of Faith Initiative, your congregation or organization is committing to becoming more fluent in the first language of faith, the language of Scripture, in order that we might live into our calling as a people renewed, enlivened, and empowered by the Word.

The UNITY that is advocated in this blog is one that already exists. It exists in Jesus Christ as He is witnessed to by God in the Bible. It just seems to be a no-brainer then that all Christians of every tradition would be empowered to understand and bible-2celebrate this unity before the watching world as they become more and more fluent in the “language of the Christian Faith”, which is the Bible itself.

Here in Madison County, Kentucky, there is only one Lutheran Faith Community. But I think this five-year initiative of their denomination, the ELCA, is one that could have great blessings for all of us as a necessary step towards greater practical unity. It was of course MARTIN LUTHER who provided one of the greatest contributions toward restoring the Christian Faith of the Bible. Others that went before him all shared a common conviction (such as John Wycliff) that the Bible must be put into the hands of every Christian in their mother tongue.

So I applaud what this initiative is doing for believers in the ELCA tradition and I heartily recommend it to every Christian as one of the necessary ways for all of us “to grow up into the fullness of Christ” for the great blessing of our world and for the glory of GOD.

“THE PURPOSE of The Book of Faith Initiative is to increase biblical literacy and fluency for the sake of the WORLD”. BOOK of FAITH SITE

ST.THOMAS LUTHERAN CHURCH  (Richmond,Kentucky)

DIETRICH BONHOEFFER on READING the BIBLE