Saturday, October 21, 2006

N.T. Wright and the New Creation

Thoughts and summary from the N.T. Wright lecture in Georgetown this past Friday:

- He is an excellent, gifted communicator.

- New Creation theology, which is the idea that Christ in his resurrection has initiated a New Creation, informs ALL his theology and reading and thinking and application.

- As Christians, we are to live out this New Creation and even to bring this New Creation as we seek to restore the world to God's original design.

- N.T. is very ecumenical, urging Catholics, Orthodox, Pentecostals, Baptists all to work together as Christians. Something is up w/ his Pauline theology, because these different denominations hold very different understandings of justification and for him to consider them all as within the bounds of Christianity is confusing.

- The main purpose of the Church to live out New Creation.

- What about missions? Missions can be preaching the Gospel or it can be doing good works of New Creation, which would be a form of communicating the Gospel. We do good works so that people can ask why. Then we explain our story. He quoted St. Francis' "Preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words".

- We can work w/ other faiths, but some faiths can't embrace New Creation theology (for example, Buddhists), and so there will be disagreement. Again, his New Creation theology dominates his thinking.

- Repeated this theme of how God "deals", "defeats" evil at the cross. But he never clearly explains what that means. His New Creation theology causes him to emphasize Christ's resurrection and what that accomplishes more than his death.

- His treatment of worship, Israel, the temple, is excellent. If you like his stuff here, you should read David Peterson's Engaging with God, which is a great Biblical Theology on worship.

- Repeatedly, N.T. emphasizes on the importance of living out New Creation by fighting global warming (He got worked up on this one), fighting AIDS, or digging wells in Africa. Two comments:

1) These are all good things, and it would be a good thing for Christians to be active in them. However, it makes me wonder that the things he is advocating are the exact same things that Bono and Oprah and Apple and the rest of our culture is promoting. I'm curious... why doesn't he urge Christians to fight abortion? Why doesn't he urge churches to help persecuted pastors in Vietnam?

2) Pastorally, these are just not very helpful applications. In speaking to a group of 200+ young adults about living out your New Creation by digging wells in Africa or fighting global warming, maybe only 5 in that group has the freedom, resources, and ability to do this. By saying stuff like this, he is allowing these Christians to be affirmed in their faith and feel good that it can make a difference in the world, while at the same time not being really challenged to do anything. After all, with a task as huge and distant as fighting global warming, how can I do anything about that? Pastorally, he would do better to confront people more directly about their sin and challenging them to live out their New Creation more directly. Challenge people to invite a homeless man to dinner in your home and share the Gospel with Him. Live out your New Creation by turning of the television and spending your evenings building relationships and having spiritual conversations with co-workers. Live out the New Creation by getting rid of the pornography or taking advantage of your girlfriend, but working towards purity. Husbands love your wives and wives submit to your husbands. Disciple your children and stop neglecting them. Drive the senior citizens in your church to church on Sundays. Build relationships with your neighbors and those different from you. And as you do these things, should the Lord give you opportunity, certainly do your best to play a part in helping the environment or fighting poverty.

- At the book signing, I asked NT, "I appreciate your emphasis on New Creation. As I'm looking in the Bible, both OT and NT, and trying to understand this, I consistently only see the language of New Creation, Restoration, Redemption being used to describe the immediate work of God in history. Can you point out some parts of the Bible that might help me understand how New Creation, Restoration, Redemption are to be the work of Christians or the Church?"

He seemed a bit surprised, because every one else before me was basically gushing and telling him how much they loved him. He said that we are the agents of God's New Creation, not that we do it by ourselves, but with the Spirit. (I already knew that he thought this. He clearly doesn't believe that we do this New Creation by human effort. But this doesn't answer my question, because I'm saying that it seems that the Bible teaches that God doesn't use human means for New Creation/Restoration/Redemption, but rather always works those things immediately.)

Then he told me to look in the "Resurrection narratives" and "Romans 12:1-2". I'm not sure how these passages support a human role in New Creation/Restoration/Redemption.

Then I asked him, "So in these passages, does our work constitute the New Creation?" He said our work is a signpost to the New Creation. Then he told me to read his book.

If our work is to be a signpost to New Creation, but not the agent of the New Creation itself, then why all the emphasis on New Creation? If all he's advocating is the Lordship of Christ, the transforming, sanctifying work of the Spirit, which results in our good works in every area of life, then why the confusing language of Christians bring about a New Creation, which is really not a New Creation, but only a signpost to the coming New Creation?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Nature of Worship

Before we can start thinking about worship practically, we must be able to discuss the nature of worship theologically. On the most basic level, the object of Christian worship is God Himself and those who participate in worship are humans. Therefore, in our understanding of the nature of worship, we should have both a divine and a human component. There are four aspects of the nature of worship that are fundamental to our understanding of worship: God’s initiative/human response, God’s enabling/human dependence, God’s governance/human obedience, and God’s glory/human joy.

First, Christian worship is possible only by God’s initiative. This truth is made evident from the very beginning at creation. Man does not initiate a relationship with God. Rather, God, as the only eternal Being, creates man in order that he might know God and enjoy Him in all of life. God’s initiative in our worship is only made clearer as we progress on through redemptive history. In Israel’s history, we see how God initiates a covenant with Abraham, an idol-worshiper, in order that he might worship and follow the true God instead. We see how God initiates and carries out Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt, so that they might worship Him in the desert. We could go on to discuss the giving of the Law, invasion of Canaan, God’s repeated deliverances, the temple, the prophets, and many other ways in which God initiates Israel’s worship. All of these various acts of initiative, however, ultimately point to the greatest act of divine initiative, namely God sending His Son as a payment for our sins, so that we might be reconciled to Him and worship Him forever. Worship is possible only because of Jesus Christ and His life of obedience, death and resurrection. The Gospel must be the foundation of true worship. Any attempt to worship God that is not built on God’s initiative is false worship.

This has many implications for the nature of worship, but perhaps most significantly, this means that only Christians have the privilege of worshiping God. If worship is only possible by God’s initiative, then only those who have responded in faith to God’s initiative in Christ can offer true worship. No worship can be offered apart from the Gospel. Therefore, worship should never be viewed as an activity that we have invented or orchestrated by our own wisdom or goodness. Rather, worship is always our grateful response in faith to God’s work in our lives to bring us to Himself. Worship is the human response to God’s initiative in saving us.

Second, Christian worship is enabled by God. This is a theme repeated throughout Scripture. Peterson writes, “New-covenant worship is essentially the engagement with God that he has made possible through the revelation of himself in Jesus Christ and the life he has made available through the Holy Spirit” [1]. On the cross, Christ opened the way so that we might worship God. Yet, because of our sin, we need God’s enablement in our lives to worship Him. This enabling is described in Scripture as the Holy Spirit’s work to cause us to be born again (John 3:5), to exchange our hearts of stone for hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), and to open our blind eyes to the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). But this enabling happens not only at conversion, but also throughout the Christian life. Even after we have been regenerated, we continue to need the Spirit’s work in conforming us to Christ-likeness, in reminding us of the truths of the gospel, in causing us to grow in our knowledge of God, and in fostering love and unity among Christians. God continues to work in our lives in order that we might be enabled to offer up acceptable worship to Him.

This means that as Christians, when we approach God in worship, we come with an attitude of humble dependence on Him. Whether worshiping corporately or in the day-to-day events of life, we must remember that worship is not our supplying God with what he lacks, or something we muster up from our own resources. Rather, as we seek to magnify God in worship, we are dependent on the Holy Spirit’s merciful work in revealing to us the glory of Christ in the Word. Because the Holy Spirit works particularly through the Word, the way we express our dependence on God in worship is by centering all of our worship on Scripture and incorporating constant prayer. The nature of Christian worship requires human dependence on God’s enablement of our worship.

Third, Christian worship is governed by God. More specifically, God has established in His Word how we are to worship Him corporately. God cares about how we worship, because our worship reflects who He is. Duncan writes, “Corporate worship informs our understanding of God… Form impacts content. The means of worship influences the worshipers’ apprehension of God” [2]. How Christians worship God when they gather speaks volumes, both to us and to the world, about who God is. Therefore, God is careful to govern our corporate worship, so that it might more accurately reflect His glory. This is why we see God jealously punishing those who defy His Word and attempt to form their worship after human traditions. Worship that is not governed by God is in vain (Is. 29:13).

For Christians, this means that worship, including corporate worship, requires wholehearted obedience to God’s Word. Though sincerity, emotions, and affections are all good and important in worship, apart from obedience to the Word of God, they will not produce worship that is pleasing to God. Because of sin’s deceitfulness and our inclination towards idolatry, it is especially important that we carefully evaluate our worship according to God’s Word. As with all obedience, our submission to God in worship brings glory to Him. “The way in which we follow his commands for worship is a reflection of our knowledge of God and how seriously we take him” [3]. The success of our corporate worship should be guided and evaluated by our faithfulness to God’s Word. The nature of worship is such that it is governed by God and requires human obedience to God’s governance.

Finally, worship exists for God’s glory. The ultimate reason for why God has saved us from His wrath and set us apart for worship is because of His passion for His glory (Ex. 32:11-14, Is. 43:6-7). Human history exists to display the glory of God’s grace in the Gospel, through the lives of the people He has called to Himself through His Son. It is ultimately not because of any goodness or desirability in us that we are worshipers of God, but because God seeks to display His glory. Therefore, Christian worship exists for the glory of God, and since Christian worship encompasses all of life (Rom. 12:1), all of life is for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). True worship will always seek to highlight the glory of God, and this glory is particularly expressed in the Gospel. The three previous points about God’s initiative, enablement and governance are particularly important for our theology of worship because they ground our worship in the Gospel, which brings all glory to God.

Since worship is to be a display of God’s glory, then worship must be the most satisfying and fulfilling activity in which our souls may participate. Worship that is joyless or ritualistic is not true worship. Nor is worship that finds its satisfaction in styles, or music, or creativity, or anything other than the glory of God, true worship. We also must be careful that we do not worship for any other purpose (i.e.: unity in church, better health, success at work, wisdom in life, etc…) other than enjoying God. We engage with God for God’s sake, in order that we might enjoy Him. Although God requires our joy in Him in our worship, this isn’t anything that we can spontaneously generate within ourselves. Therefore, the other aspects of worship are closely connected with this one. Worship requires our response to God’s initiative in the Gospel, our dependence on His enablement through the Spirit, our obedience to God’s governance in His Word, so that we might be satisfied in beholding His glory and worshiping Him.

[1] Engaging With God, David Peterson, pg. 100.
[2] Give Praise to God, J. Ligon Dunca, pg. 52.
[3] ibid., p. 35

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Weddings at CHBC

One of the ways CHBC is being counter-cultural in this part of the country is in the number of weddings every year. With an average age of 29 and teaching that consistently honors the institution of marriage, it's not a surprise that many of the single members here are pursuing marriage. But what I've come to appreciate is not only the number of weddings, but the deliberate-ness of how they do weddings here in order to communicate biblical truths. Here are a few observations:

- In one of the Sunday evening services leading up to the wedding, the bride and groom-to-be will always come up to the front and share prayer requests with the whole community about how they can be praying for the wedding ceremony and for the upcoming marriage. Usually, the focus is more on spiritual concerns than temporal concerns, including unsaved relatives that will be attending the ceremony.

- A wedding ceremony is considered a gathering of the Capitol Hill Baptist Church, meaning that the entire church membership is always invited to attend weddings of church members.

- Something I learned is that when escorting ladies, men are always supposed to escort with their left arms, in order to keep their right arms free in order to draw their swords in case of any danger.

- Modesty seems to be a consistent theme in the dress of the ladies in the wedding party.

- The ceremony is very much a worship service and will include congregational singing (rarely "special music"), prayer, and preaching, along with the processional, vows and other more traditional elements of a wedding.

- During the sermon, the entire wedding party actually sits down in the pews in the front row, and the pastor gets behind the pulpit to preach. This is to emphasize the fact that he is proclaiming the truth of God's Word. The message is especially directed to the couple, but also to the congregation.

- In the two services I've attended, I've found the wedding sermon to be particularly Gospel-centered and Christ-exalting, focusing on the example of the love of Christ for the Church, in His patient, personal, sacrificial love for her.

- The wedding vows taken in the ceremony are strongly encouraged to be the same from marriage to marriage. The pastors discourage individualized wedding vows, because they want to emphasize the commonality of marriage, how it is instituted by God for all His people and not something that we create. Therefore, the commitment that one person makes in his marriage is the same commitment that other married people have made, to which they must all hold each other accountable.

- After the wedding ceremony, there is usually a nice reception in the West Hall with food and fellowship. There the bride and groom can partake in other wedding activities that might be more culturally related. (For example, if there is a Chinese couple, they might serve tea to their parents... or like the last wedding I went to, where the bride and groomed used a two-man saw to saw through a piece of lumber) Since CHBC has a pretty diverse congregation, this is always a fun time.

- For each wedding reception, at least 20-25 church members will volunteer to help with various tasks, like serving food at the reception, setup, clean up, etc...

- There is no garter toss, due to the potentially immodest nature of it. As a result, there has also slowly been a doing away with the bouquet toss as well, much to the relief of many of the single women. After all, as one of the deaconesses described it, "It can be humiliating for a 35 year old single woman to have to go up in front of everyone to catch a bouquet from a 25 year old bride."

Monday, October 02, 2006

21st century evangelism

Saw this posted up on the wall of a church down the street:

I see at least three mistakes here:

A category confusion of evangelism and conversion - In writing, "21st century Evangelism: Conversation, not Conversion", they have confused two concepts which should never be confused. Evangelism is the God-given responsibility to Christians and to the church to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Conversion is the supernatural work of God to regenerate hearts that are spiritually dead. If we ever confuse these two concepts, it will either result in apathy and disobedience (when we think that evangelism is the work of God), or in coercion and violence (when we think that conversion is the work of man). Clearly, either of these errors will lead to terrible results. We must have a right understanding of evangelism and conversion as two distinct activities.

Evangelism is more than conversation - Evangelism certainly can (and should) involve conversation and interaction. In fact, it is important that we understand where others are coming from and to treat them with dignity and respect. However, ultimately, evangelism is not a two-way dialogue concerning what is the truth. Ultimately, evangelism is a faithful proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, according to His revelation. In this day and age, such a proclamation might be considered arrogant or dogmatic, but true humility is not trying to make the Word of God more palatable to human tastes, but humbly accepting the Word of God and faithfully proclaiming it. True humility is submitting to the Word of God. Therefore, we must measure true success in evangelism as faithfulness to the Gospel.

"Conversation, Not Conversion" - Though true success in evangelism is faithfulness to the Gospel, our heart's desire is that God would save sinners, not simply to have a meaningful conversation. Now, theological liberalism's desire for "conversation" is not necessarily a bad thing, and certainly God can use conversations. But we must not be content with simply that. We must understand that a "conversation" will not save anyone from God's wrath. "Conversation" will not help anyone put their sinful nature to death. "Conversation" will not open spiritually blind eyes to the glory of God's grace displayed at the cross. What is needed is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit to exchange our hearts of stone for a heart of flesh. Therefore, we absolutely need conversion. As Christ said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”