“You Are Now Entering the Mission Field”

I found this little excerpt from Total Church to be a challenging source of wisdom. May God help me to apply these insights. I’m not sure I have good answers to all these questions.

We sometimes ask people to imagine they are part of a church-planting team in a cross-cultural situation in some other part of the world:

  • What criteria would you use to decide where to live?
  • How would you approach secular employment?
  • What standard of living would you expect as pioneer missionaries?
  • What would you spend your time doing?
  • What opportunities would you be looking for?
  • What would your prayers be like?
  • What would you be trying to do with your new friends?
  • What kind of team would you want around you?
  • How would you conduct your meetings together?

We find it easier to be radical in our thinking when we transplant ourselves outside our current situation. But we are as much missionaries here and now as we would be if we were part of a cross-cultural team in another part of the world. Mission is central to us wherever we are. These are the kinds of questions we should be asking wherever we are. (p. 33)

The iPod Touch, Neil Postman, and Mount Calvary Baptist Church

A friend and fellow iPod Touch owner sent me Tim Challies’ “Don’t Take Your iPod to Church” a few days ago and asked me what I thought.

It just so happens that I do take my iPod Touch to church and take voluminous sermon notes on it, but that friend made some good points spurred by Challies’ post:

  1. iPod instead of Bible feels less formal/deliberate to me.
  2. iPod seems like it could be a distraction to others around me.
  3. I can’t take notes as well on an iPod.
  4. iPod gives me a feeling of “get where I’m going in a hurry” convenience.

I thought he answered well two questions that Neil Postman has now gotten me asking: First, what is the unspoken ideology that every technology carries with it? The medium, after all, is a message. Second, we techie folks know what tech gives, but what does it take away?

But I’m still carrying my iPod to church, and here’s why I do: I have found that the iPod gives such benefits that I am willing to put up with what it taketh away. I know I’ll use the sermon notes I take by putting them into BibleWorks—and I know paper notes will end up in the trash. So while I’m taking notes on the Touch I constantly keep two goals in mind which help me keep control of the technology: 1) understanding this passage by distilling Pastor’s exegetical points and 2) enriching my future teaching of the Bible.

I also try to communicate to others around me with my body language that I am listening intently and not texting. I have to think they would conclude that a guy like me would not so brazenly text during an entire message! Being married is actually a help, because people know that a married woman would be too embarrassed that her husband was texting to let it continue very long.

I can’t say, however, that I have control of all other technologies I use and that they never distract me. Google Reader, especially, is one that I am still fighting to get control of. My subtext for this post is that tech users should not reflexively defend their gadgets but should ask those trenchant Postman questions above.

The Shack

shackThe Shack has taken America by storm, and like most storms it has kicked up a good bit of controversial dust along the way. I recently reviewed it in order to get a free copy.

Mackenzie Alan Phillips is the central character in The Shack. His young daughter, Missy, was murdered by a serial killer, and over the years the resulting Great Sadness has almost incapacitated him. He’s a Christian. A seminary graduate, in fact. But while his wife seems to have been able to find comfort in God, “Mack” has not yet been able to forgive God for letting Missy be murdered.

So God meets Mack at the Shack, the place where Missy died. Only God is not one but three: “Papa,” a jovial black woman; Jesus, a large-nosed Jewish carpenter; and “Sarayu,” a colorful apparition in the basic shape of an Asian woman. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Papa explains to Mack that he has taken the shape that will bring the most comfort to Mack. Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu lead Mack through various experiences and conversations which free him to forgive his daughter’s killer and restore his love for God.

Several good things can be said about this book: It pictures the deep mutual love among the persons of the Trinity, and it stresses man’s need to live dependent on God.

Hmm. That was fast. But I meant it.

However, a few significant problems exist, too:

  • Putting words in God’s mouth is a dangerous thing.
  • God tells Mack, “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is it’s own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.” (120)
  • The book despises hierarchy—both among the godhead and among humans. Jesus tells Mack that the persons of the Trinity are submitted to one another in the same way they are submitted to Mack.
  • Papa sometimes speaks irreverently or even slightly scatalogically.
  • The reason given for God representing himself in Scripture as male is said to be that good fathering would be far more lacking on earth than good mothering, and God wanted to pick up the slack.
  • The book has a barely disguised disdain for religion (and seminary education!). The church has little or no place in the book.
  • Sarayu suggests that it’s not a “fatal” mistake to view Eden as a myth. (134)
  • Jesus leaves it a bit unclear as to how He regards world religions. (182)
  • To borrow explicitly from John Piper (who gets it, as usual, from Jonathan Edwards): God’s love for man is seen in His making much of man rather than freeing man to make much of God. (190)
  • God is awfully soft on sin. Papa says, “I don’t do…guilt or condemnation.” (223) Mack’s sinful heart is a wild wonderful mess rather than an object of divine wrath.

Perhaps the most significant problem in the book is the way that it deals with the most significant problem in Christian theology, the problem of evil. Man’s choice is sacrosanct in The Shack. Over and over—ad nauseam—God insists He will not violate man’s choice. But this leads the god of The Shack to say exactly the opposite of what the God of Scripture has said. Papa explains, “I did not purpose Missy’s death, but that doesn’t mean I can’t use it for good.” (222) This is striking because it so closely matches—and explicitly contradicts—what Joseph told his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “You planned this for evil, but God planned it for good.” Another phrase in the book is quite similar. Papa tells Mack, “Just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies.” (185) But God said through the prophet Amos, “Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” Absolving God of responsibility for evil by making him purposefully impotent to stop it—shackled by the inviolability of man’s self-determining choice—is not the Bible’s way.

The book is meant to be a comfort to hurting people who cannot accept God’s love. But Mack’s question toward the beginning of the book stands unanswered: “I just can’t imagine any final outcome that would justify all this.” (127)

The Bible does offer comfort to hurting people, but that comfort extends from the powerful hands of a God who “does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth.” These words come from the most powerful world ruler of his day, Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:35). And he continues: “None can stay” those powerful hands or even say to God, “What have you done?” Far from being opposed to hierarchy, Jesus said, “All authority on heaven and in earth is given to me” (Mt 28:19). His benevolent rule will bring all human history to a final outcome which will justify all the pain of human existence.

For a more lengthy scriptural case for this view, check out this excellent article or this excellent book.

In the Nick of Time

Kevin Bauder of Central Seminary is always worth hearing. And this blog hears him. It’s my firm desire that this blog never be what he describes in the last line of the following paragraph of this excellent, timely essay:

These young [fundamentalist] leaders are aware of the injustices of the past, and consequently they are very much on their guard against the imperfections of the present. When they perceive anything that looks like the old imperialism, they tend to react strongly. Given the availability of electronic communication, their reactions can be propagated widely and quickly. Sometimes, these reactions are poorly considered. Obsessed with issues and episodes, they run the risk of becoming as pugilistic as the very leaders to whom they object.

Enduring Counsel from B.B. Warfield

I regularly return to this enduring counsel from B. B. Warfield—required reading for all BJU seminarians who take Systematic Theology:

A minister must be learned, on pain of being utterly incompetent for his work. But before and above being learned, a minister must be godly.

Nothing could be more fatal, however, than to set these two things over against one another. Recruiting officers do not dispute whether it is better for soldiers to have a right leg or a left leg: soldiers should have both legs. Sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. “What!” is the appropriate response, “than ten hours over your books, on your knees?” Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God? If learning and devotion are as antagonistic as that, then the intellectual life is in itself accursed, and there can be no question of a religious life for a student, even of theology. The mere fact that he is a student inhibits religion for him. That I am asked to speak to you on the religious life of the student of theology proceeds on the recognition of the absurdity of such antitheses. You are students of theology; and, just because you are students of theology, it is understood that you are religious men—especially religious men, to whom the cultivation of your religious life is a matter of the profoundest concern—of such concern that you will wish above all things to be warned of the dangers that may assail your religious life, and be pointed to the means by which you may strengthen and enlarge it. In your case there can be no “either—or” here—either a student or a man of God. You must be both.

I love those words, and I’ve thought of them many times over my eight years (!) of graduate school. I pray that I might not be deficient in either head or heart. I’m supposed to love God with all of both.