Christianity in Protestant America is, as a whole, very skeptical of anything coming out of the monasteries of the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox tradition. While a lot of this skepticism was inherited from our Reformation fathers (which, oddly enough, was started by a monk), most of it has to do with our tendency to want to have our cake and eat it too.
What I mean is that we, if I might be a bit stereotypical for a moment, tend to want to live in the modern world while also hanging onto our Christianity faith. As such, the idea that someone would voluntarily walk away from society and modern conveniences (not to mention sex!) to join a monastery…well, that person must not be right in the head… or so we think to ourselves.
The reality is something far different – as is usually the case.
The monasteries of our older brothers (Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches) are full of wisdom and life. And we, the younger, more rowdy, sibling would be wise to pay attention to the lessons and traditions of these monks.
Written as a journey of discovery, Markides leads the reader by the hand into the monastic world of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Starting first with a monastery in Arizona, Markides introduces the reader to this new world before taking them to the monasteries and streets of Cyprus, Greece and the United Kingdom.
At times along this journey, I felt out of place as the concept presented seemed strange….concepts like radical obedience to an elder, self-denial of basic comforts, and the like. These are not things I’m used to hearing about….but they are things that Jesus followers throughout the ages have talked about. As such, it would be wise to take note of these things. We might not live in a monastery, but self-denial and humanity are not limited to the walls of a building. These are things that you and I can practice while living in modern society.
One of the many jewels within the book was the three stages of spiritual life identified by the monastic elders (pages 131-147). The first stage, “Slaves of God,” is when your motivation to follow God is driven by fear. As in, fear of hell, separation from community, or disappointing God. This is not to say that your relationship with God is not genuine; it is just that God want more from us than just a relationship build upon fear.
Which leads us to the second stage, “Employees of God,” where, according to the elders, most of us reside. This is when we have moved beyond the fear of hell and rather are looking forward to be rewarded by God in this life or the life to come. As in, we do good works and expect God to reward us for those works by keeping the bad things away from us and giving us good things here on earth as well as in the afterlife.
The final stage is that of the “Lovers of God” or “Children of God.” This, the elders say, is really the “only stage that is real” as the other two stages are false views of God projected on him by our own fears or desires. Those in this final stage “act and do what they do not because they are afraid that God might send them to hell or because they want to gain a ticket to paradise but because they love God.”
The quicker we, the followers of Jesus, can get to the third stage the better. Learning to love God without fear or the desire to gain anything is powerful…may it be that we all reach stage three and learn to gazed into the eyes of Jesus, our beloved.
Theology for theology sake is worthless. The reason we ponder the mysteries of the cosmos is so that we can live life better. Nowhere is this concept more applicable that when dealing with the great Sovereignty of God/Free Will dilemma.
To some, this dilemma is so huge and so crazy that they will walk away from it with their fingers in their ears. However I would say that we need to think about this issue for it affects how we act when sh*t happens in our lives. Pastors especially need to ponder this issue as they will be called upon by others in the middle of some sh*tty events and how they answer this question will color their interactions.
Over the last few weeks, I have talked about some alternatives to the typical Arminianism/Calvinism option given to folks. Namely I brief discussed Open Theism and the Eastern Orthodox’s consent and participation view of God’s rule. Today I’m going to try to think through how these views would color one’s interactions with folks who are in the middle of pain and suffering. In doing this, I fully note that I will most likely misrepresent one or more of these groups….and for that I will apologize in advance and ask for your help via the comment section below.
There are five major points within Calvinism that dictate how they view the world. These five points (also known as TULIP) are listed below:
Perseverance of the Saints
Because of Calvinism’s position of Total Depravity (i.e. original sin; everyone is born a sinner), Irresistible Grace and Unconditional Election, Calvinist have the hardest position to defend when it comes to the problem of evil. Since God is in charge of everything (either directly or allowing it), the sh*t that happens to people is all part of God’s plan.
Therefore when a two-year old child is murdered, a Calvinist has to hold on to the belief that God caused/allowed it to happen for some reason (typically to teach someone something or because of some unknown ‘good’ reason which we human can never know). As a pastor and a Jesus follower, I think this mentality is harmful and does not draw people to Jesus. (yeah, I’m fairly biased against this viewpoint…) 😛
Arminianism, why held by a large portion of the Protestant church, isn’t always understood or acknowledged due to the vocal criticism of influential Calvinists. Roger Olson, a leading Arminian theologian, once described Arminianism has holding onto the following items (all words are his, I just split his sentence into bullet points):
Total depravity (in the sense of helplessness to save himself or contribute meritoriously to his salvation such that a sinner is totally dependent on prevenient grace for even the first movement of the will toward God)
Conditional election and predestination based on foreknowledge
Grace is always resistible
Affirms that God is in no way and by no means the author of sin and evil but affirms that these are only permitted by God’s consequent will.
The outworking of this view holds that that humanity can resist God’s grace and choose their own actions, which will sometimes lead to negative consequences for themselves and others. Arminianism also holds that while God has foreknowledge of the future without actually dictating and controlling the future. (Granted there are some Arminianism who hold a stronger view of God control things similar to their Calvinist cousin.)
Typically an Arminianist would say that God has two wills: antecedent and consequent. God’s antecedent will states that he wants everyone to be saved while his consequent will acknowledges that only those who believe will be saved (i.e. “God reluctantly permits sin and enables it” – to quote Olson).
This means that the sh*t that happens isn’t the divine will of God acting upon this world. Rather it is the consequences of sin, death, and evil being played out in a world with free agents (i.e. humanity). In the case of a two-year old being murdered, an Arminianism would comfort the parents with the knowledge that the death of their child was not in God’s plan. It was something contrary to the antecedent will of God that happened because of the sin, death, and evil in the world.
This view of Sovereignty of God is similar to Arminianism (in fact, Roger Olson considers it as a variation of Arminianism) in that highlights the free moral agents of humanity. As in, humans are free to make choices that may or may not be within line with God’s plan. The major difference between Open Theism and classic Arminianism is that Open Theism pushes the free will boundaries of humanity to the limits without going into Pelagianism (i.e. humanity still need God to rescue them from evil due to original sin).
In other words, an Open Theist would say that humanity has complete control over the future with God working within creation and with humanity to guide the overall direction of history towards his overarching conclusion. Because of this, the timeline of God’s plans can, and are, subject to change according to the actions of humanity. This is not to say that God’s plans and/or promises will fail to happen, rather it is the timing of those plans/promises that can be changed. Just like the people of Israel delayed God’s plan for them to go enter into the Promise Land by 40 years, so can we delay God’s plans/promises.
Accordingly, an Open Theist would respond to a young child’s murder similar to that of an Arminianism in that they would both hold that the death of the child was not something sanctioned by God. Rather it was the consequences of sin, death, and evil being played out in a world. Jesus, rather than saying away from this pain, is there in the middle of the pain, holding the family tight and walking with them through pain. At its root, Open Theism is a warfare worldview that sees the world through a lens of a spiritual battle between God and sin/death/evil/satan. This, I might add, doesn’t mean that Calvinism and Arminianism doesn’t contain a warfare mentality. Rather this is to say that Open Theism places this warfare view at the forefront of their worldview along with the free will of humanity.
The Eastern Orthodox’s view of the Sovereignty of God is one of God’s consent and participation (as mentioned last time). This means that God consent (i.e. gives up his authority to rule) to natural law (gravity, weather patterns, etc.) and human freedom. However rather than walking away and letting things go, God also participates within creation to rescue us (i.e. Jesus).
In addition, Eastern Orthodox rejects the total depravity of humanity embraced by the other views. This may sound like a heresy to some of you as total depravity is something that has been drilled into Western Christianity to the point that it is taken for granted. However if you study church history, you will find that the concept of total depravity didn’t come into the church until St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD).
The background of the concept being St. Augustine’s debate with Pelagius on whether or not humanity could save themselves without God’s help. St. Augustine held that all of humanity was sinful with each of us being condemned for Adam’s sin. This sin was passed down throughout the ages through the human seed – a view that helped get sex labeled as sinful rather than beautiful (i.e. sin was passed generationally through the father’s semen to their children). Because of the total depravity of humanity, we need God to rescue us. Pelagius, on the other hand, held that we were born good and could rescued ourselves. While the church at large (Western and Eastern) rejected Pelagius view of sin and salvation, the Western half (i.e. Roman Catholic and then Protestantism) adopt St. Augustine’s view of original sin and total depravity while the Eastern half of the church, now known as the Eastern Orthodox Churches, did not.
Instead the Eastern Orthodox Churches adopted the view that humanity is, and was, created in the image of God and is by nature pure and innocent. Sin, however, has entered into the world through Adam and Eve as a sickness that effects every generation. Bishop Kallistos Ware puts it this way in his book The Orthodox Way:
“Original sin is not to be interpreted in juridical or quasi-biological terms, as if it were some physical ‘taint’ of guilt, transmitted through sexual intercourse. This picture, which normally passes for the Augustinian view, is unacceptable to Orthodoxy. The doctrine of original sin means rather that we are born into an environment where it is easy to do evil and hard to do good; easy to hurt others, and hard to heal their wounds; easy to arouse men’s suspicions, and hard to win their trust. It means that we are each of us conditioned by the solidarity of the human race in its accumulated wrong-doing and wrong-thinking, and hence wrong-being. And to this accumulation of wrong we have ourselves added by our own deliberated acts of sin. The gulf grows wider and wider. No man is an island. We are ‘members one of another’ (Eph. 4:24), and so any action, performed by any member of the human race, inevitably affects all the other members of the human race. Even though we are not, in the strict sense, guilty of the sins of others, yet we are somehow always involved.”
I mention all this because when it comes dealing with the sh*t of this crazy, messed up world, it really helps to know that we, humanity, are made the image of God. This means that when God grants us the freedom to reject or accept him, we aren’t automatically going to reject him. Rather there is a part of us, no matter how buried or small, that desires to be close to our Creator King. Humanity was created to be in a loving relationship with God and being outside of that relationship is an unnatural state not a natural state.
Practically this means that a pastor or Jesus follower can comfort the parents of a murdered toddler with the understanding that not only is Jesus there within the pain, but that this child who died was loved and embraced by the Creator King. Yes, sh*t happened due to the war that ranges around us. Yet the pain wasn’t from the hand of God nor was it his will that allowed/created the pain. Rather Jesus loves the child and was/is with them/us – in pain and death.
“We should not try to explain suffering or construct theories about the reasons for suffering in the world and systematic explanations that seek to reconcile innocent suffering with belief in a good and all powerful God. The pervading presence of senseless suffering in the world falls outside the bounds of every rational system. Remember how Dostoyevsky in his book Brothers Karamazov was seized with horror in contemplating the picture of suffering throughout the world, especially the suffering of the innocent and of the little children. The only answer, which Aliosha (representing Dostoyevsky’s own faith and attitude) can give is the image of the Crucified: He can pardon all; He can reconcile all, for He has measured the depth of our afflictions, of our loneliness, and of our pain. In the Crucified Christ, God does not remain a distant spectator of the undeserving suffering of the innocent but He participates in their suffering through the Cross and plants hope in the life of all afflicted persons through the Resurrection. When faced with the mystery of evil and suffering, the story of Jesus as the story of God is the only adequate response. The human quest for meaning and hope in tragic situations of affliction, draw from Christ’s death and Resurrection the power of life needed for sustenance. Thus, as Christians we do not argue against suffering, but tell a story…”
“God does not intervene to save Jesus, but neither does God abandon Jesus. Jesus’ life ends with an open question to God, “God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” God answers to the crucified Jesus by raising Him from the dead and glorifying Him. The resurrection signifies that God is present in the suffering of Jesus and of every human person. If we speak of Jesus’ real abandonment by God at Calvary, this could lead to the mistaken impression that suffering human beings are also forsaken by God. Instead, we must speak of God as silently present to Jesus at this terrifying moment, just as God is silently present to all those who suffer. This silent presence of God to Jesus becomes manifest in the Resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus confirms and completes all that Jesus was about in His life. The bottom line of the Christian faith is that God will be victorious over evil and suffering, as exhibited and effected in the death and resurrection of Jesus.”(emphasis added)
Throughout this post, I have sought to highlight how one’s view on the Sovereignty of God affects how one interacts with pain and suffering. I know that I most likely left out bits and pieces of this view or that. Yet my goal wasn’t to detailed out everything; rather I was trying to give you all a taste of what each view looked like. At the end of the day there are great Jesus followers who hold to all these views and I would gladly worship the Living King with them!
However I must also admit that when it comes down to pastoring and dealing with people in the trenches, I would rather deal with someone who hold to an Eastern Orthodox, Open Theism or Arminianism view of the Sovereignty of God. Calvinism, as I understand it, just doesn’t lend itself very well to compassion and mercy… so yeah, sorry my 5-point friends. :/
I would also say that on a personal level, I am leaning more and more towards the Eastern Orthodox view of consent and participation (as if that was’t obvious!). There is just something there that I love. Something that fits well with the mystery of the here and not yet that I see throughout the Scripture. Good stuff worth pondering. 😀
This, I might add, is a VERY rare thing for me as I typically only read a book once. And those books which I do re-read, I usually re-read them after a few years. So to say that I read Brad Jersak’s book “A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel” twice within three months is saying a lot.
Granted if I’m being completed honest, I must admit that it was the prospect of meeting Brad in person that prompted me to re-read the book. Brad was scheduled to be my one of my professors at St. Stephen’s University this past October and I wanted to be able to ask him some questions about his book. And yes, the books was required reading by Brad along with N.T. Wright’s “Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters.” (You HAVE to love classes that require you to read the books you would read on your on! No more self-justifications of the cost – instead it is all wrapped up in the “education” bucket of the budget!!) 😀
Before talking about the book itself, it is helpful to know a bit more about Dr. Brad Jersak. As mentioned already, Brad is an adjunct faculty member at St. Stephen’s University in Canada. He also teaches New Testament and Patristics classes at Westminster Theological Centre in the United Kingdom in addition to serving as the senior editor of Plain Truth Ministries. His faith journey includes growing up within the Baptist General Conference before becoming a church planter/pastor within the Conference of Mennonites in BC, Canada. After years hanging out with the Mennonites, Brad shifted gears and joined the Eastern Orthodox Church where he has been chrismated and ordained as a Reader in the Orthodox Church (OCA) for the All Saints Monastery in Dewdney (Canada).
Brad’s Eastern Orthodox connections are very important as his book “A More Christlike God” is packed full of concepts gleaned from our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters. The book was also, as I found out talking to him this past October, was reviewed and approved by several Eastern Orthodox theologians. The book also received endorsements from a surprising wide range of Protestant and Roman Catholic Church authors, ministers, and priests including Father Richard Rohr, Eugene Peterson, Brian McLaren, William Paul Young, Frank Schaeffer, and Brian Zahnd.
The primary focus of the book is fairly simple – mainly that the best picture we have of God is Jesus and, as such, we should allow Jesus to influence the way in which we see God and read the Bible. While this premise sounds simple, the sad reality is that a lot of us have based our view of God on things other than Jesus. Whereas St. Paul says that Jesus is the “the image of the invisible God” [Co 1:15], we tend to split the Triune God up into three parts with a different image for each part. We have the punishing judge Father God, the nice Son (Jesus) and the crazy unknown Spirit…or we have the deadbeat dad God or perhaps the genie in the bottle God who we can influence through doing or praying the right things.
Writing from an Eastern Orthodox viewpoint, Brad challenges these different misconceptions of God while offering a picture of a loving God based upon the person of Jesus. This focus on the cruciform God (i.e. God on the cross) effectually challenges the a lot of the common theological concepts we in the Protestant world take for granted. For example, whereas the Protestant world is focused on the Calvinism/Arminianism debate of sovereignty of God and human participation, Brad offers a uniquely Eastern Orthodox viewpoint in which God consents to freedom but also engages in participation within creation.
Reading – and later talking to Brad – about this alternative to the dualism of the Protestant world was a breath of fresh air for me. A few years ago I came to the conclusion that the Calvinism/Arminianism debate had outlived its usefulness and was no longer helpful. However I was having troubles coming up with a theological alternative that I could fully embrace. And why I’m fine with living in the mystery of not knowing, I knew that my position as a pastor/teacher would require a deeper understanding of the issue so that I could help others walk the path. While I was able to find an alternative in the writings of Greg Boyd (i.e. open theism), I was having a hard time finding anything on the topic from the Eastern Orthodox side of the family (a group with which I have had a longtime love affair). The book “A More Christlike God” filled that vacuum for me – and taught me that I had in fact already been exposed to the Eastern Orthodox view on the matter, I just didn’t recognize the argument as it was buried under implicit language typical of those from the East. 😕
Connected with the sovereignty of God and human participation topic are the issues of the atonement (i.e. what happened on the cross?) and the wrath of God. While anyone of these topics could have been a book within itself, Brad seamlessly weaves all three issues into his book while keeping the focus on Jesus and the cruciform God. I especially liked his selection on the atonement as breaks down the weakness with the penal substitutionary atonement view of most Protestants while highlighting the value of the victory of God over satan, evil, sin and death. But then again I’ve been a proponent of the Christus Victor atonement view for quite some time. 🙂
The part of the book that I have the hardest time with is when Brad seeks to un-wrath God in the both the Old and New Testament. For those who have read the Scriptures know that there are some parts of the Bible (mostly in the Old Testament) that are extremely hard to understand. Why and how could a God who claims to be love (1 John 4:8) command the total genocide of various people groups? It doesn’t make sense… which is why one of the first heresies in the church was the view that the God of the OT is different than Jesus and the God of the NT. However the early church mothers and fathers were quite clear that the God of the OT is the same God of the NT – and this God is seen the most clear in the person of Jesus. Brad puts it this way in his book:
“[T]he Bible itself takes us on a progressive, cruciform pilgrimage from primitive literal understandings of wrath, where God appears to burn with anger and react violently, to a metaphorical reading of wrath, in which God consents – gives us over – to the self-destructive consequences of our own willful defiance. The cruciform God will not and cannot, by love’s nature, coerce us to obey. God grants us the dignity (and discomfort) of ‘finding our own bottom’ (to use 12-step recovery terminology), the end of which is willing surrender to the arms of grace. In the Bible, the shorthand for this process is ‘wrath.’” [page 185]
I must admit I’m still pondering about the full ramification of this definition of wrath as the concept has some very powerful consequences in how we read the Scriptures, see God and live life. Yet I think it is an issue we need to think about as we live in an age of war, fear and revenge. Regardless of the consequences, the one thing I do know is that if we are going to error in how we see God, let us let us error on the side of Jesus and love.
“I [Jesus] say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” –Luke 6:27-31
I’m four days back from my trip to St. Stephen’s University (SSU) and still trying to get back into the swing of things. Work, family, odds, ends and all the stuff that you find you miss when you are away for a few weeks. =)
My time at SSU was wonderful. At first I was very uptight and nervous as I didn’t know what to expect from the professors, classmates or even the country (it was odd being in a foreign country that wasn’t all that foreign). The altitude and climate difference also threw me for a loop that first week – causing me retreat into myself and be more introverted than I typically am.
Somewhere over the weekend I found my footings and started coming out of my self-imposed shell. This caused one classmate to comment on that Monday that I was a different person. 😀
I had four classes crammed into those two weeks. Below is a quick outline of these classes:
Spiritual Formation – Lorna Jones, Ignatian Spiritual Director
Drawing on the spiritual formation exercises of Ignatian Spirituality, this class walked us through some contemplative practices – giving us a chance to stop and reflect on what we were experiencing and learning. It was interesting walking through these practices as a group as I’ve always heard them talked about within an individual context. I’m looking forward to introducing some of these practices into my local small group here in Boise. 🙂
Historical theology: Ancient Insights for Today (16th–21st C.) – Dr. Peter Fitch
This was our main class throughout the two weeks. Dr. Peter is a great professor that has a way of encouraging dialogue and drawing out insights from each class member on our required readings. A lot of the book reports that I have posted here over the past few months was written for this class as we had to read writings from Luther, Calvin, Teresa of Avila, Pascal, Herbert, Baxter, Thérèse de Lisieux, Bonhoeffer, C. S. Lewis, Rollins, and others.
Healing through Symbol and Story – Dr. Walter Thiessen
This was one of the most challenging classes as Dr. Walter walked us through inner healing and narrative therapy concepts. Having experienced both freedom and pain through inner healing programs, I was a bit apprehensive about the material… Dr. Walter quickly disarmed me through his love and grace for people. His clinical background coupled with making room for God to work allowed him to lead us all through the sometimes murky waters of inner healing.
Jesus and a More Christ-like God – Dr. Brad Jersak
Drawing off Dr. Brad’s recent book (A More Christlike God), this class took a deep dive into the self-revelation of God through Jesus as seen from below (biblical studies) and above (systematic theology). With a focus on Jesus and the Kingdom of God, I have to admit this was the class I loved the most – it was also taught during the second week, meaning that I had my feet under me and was engaging more. Hopefully I didn’t overwhelm my fellow class members with all my questions… :/ Dr. Brad, by the way, is currently a Reader in an Eastern Orthodox monastery in B.C., Canada – which is really, really cool as I have had a longstanding flirtation with the Eastern Orthodox church for many years.
The culture of SSU was really cool. It is a small university with only 50-60~ undergrad students who live in a communal type setting with students and teacher eating and working together. The university also actively encourages questions with no topic off-limits – even topics that would typically be considered off-limits in other Christian universities (not to mention churches). At first this openness threw me as I’m used to being careful about who I talk too about certain topics. Yet after two-weeks this openness grew on me and I started joining in on some of the conversation. 🙂
Well…that’s all for now. I’ll try to post a more touristy post later on with some pictures of the area. Until then, be blessed.
Seeing how wonderful their explanation is, I have posted their explanation below for you read (with some emphasis added at certain points). I hope it will speaks to you as it spoke to me.
What is Salvation?
What does it mean to be saved? What is salvation in Christ?
Salvation is freedom – freedom from the tyranny of self centeredness, freedom from bondage of fear and death.
Salvation in Christ is being freed from myself so that I can become they person God created me to be and intends me to become.
Salvation is God lifting us up in Christ Jesus. It is God giving us hope. It is God working an unrelenting work in our personalities, in our characters, in our lives. It is God not giving up on us.
Salvation according to Orthodox theology is not the state of “I have arrived. I have made it. I am saved.” Rather, it is the sate of “I am on the way. I am moving. I am growing in God, for God, with God, and through the power of God.”
Salvation is Christ overcoming for us our greatest enemy which is at the root of all our insecurity, the fear of death. God does not remain aloof in the heavens while men suffer and die. He takes on a body and by death destroys our death so that now death becomes a doorway through which we must all pass to enter the splendor of His glorious presence.
Liberation from evil,
The defeat of the devil,
The transfiguration of man,
Putting on Christ, The restoration of the image of God in man, Participating in the life of God, Restoration of communion with God,
Receiving the Holy Spirit,
Becoming temples of the Holy Spirit,
Forgiveness of sins,
Ascending to the throne of God,
Participating in the kingdom of God,
Being by grace what God is by nature,
The destruction of death,
Seeing the light,
Being in a process of growth that never ends, Living life the way God meant it to be.
I was talking to a gentleman a few days ago about what it means to follow Jesus when the topic of sex came up. During the course of the discussion I made a side comment about Jesus having an erection… oh wow, did that open up a whole other avenue of discourse!
But why? Why should we be so shocked with the idea that Jesus got aroused?
The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus became “fully human in every way” (2:17) – meaning that he pooped, peed, throw up when sick, got the cold and flu, scraped his knees, had wet dreams, got tired, enjoyed a good meal and got a bit irritable at times. He also saw his fair share of pretty girls – including those of various stages of undress who were trying to sell him sex.
None of those things, however, are a sin in and off themselves. They are simply part of what it means to be a human living on planet earth. Getting aroused is a physical reaction to a visual or emotional simulate. There is nothing innately wrong about this response as it was something God build into us. It is what we do AFTERWARDS that matters.
Do we stop and dress the person in our mind? Do we treat that person as an object? Or do we bless that person as someone made in the image of the Creator? Do we hold captive the thoughts of our mind knowing that the Lord has put a fence around sex for our benefit and enjoyment?
Jesus – who is our example on how to live life – experienced all the struggles that we experience and overcame them all (Hebrews 4:15). By doing so, he has created a way for us to overcome the struggles and temptations of this crazy, messed up life. We are to join with him in his death and resurrection, being filed with his Spirit, grace, mercy and strength. As Jesus told St. Paul years ago, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
“That which was not assumed is not healed; but that which is united to God is saved.”
If Jesus did not fully assume the human experience while also being fully Divine, then we could not be saved. Yet because Jesus experienced sexual arousement and overcame the desire to act upon it outside the boundaries given to us by the Creator – well, that means that I, Josh, can face the same battle with the knowledge that my King and Best Friend has already won the battle.
I can win because he won.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”– Hebrews 4:15-16
Peter Rollins is a postmodern pastor, theologian and philosopher born and raised in Northern Ireland. In 2006, he published his first book, “How (Not) to Speak of God,” as an attempt to bring the mystical approach of viewing God into the wider Christian community of the Western Church. The core of this endeavor can be found in the following statement articulating the tension between mystical humanism and religious fundamentalism:
“That which we cannot speak of is the one thing about whom and to whom we must never stop speaking” (page xiv).
Drawing heavily on postmodern philosophy and the tradition of medieval mystical thought (especially that of Meister Eckhart), the book itself was directed to those engaged or interested in the “the emerging conversation” (page xvi). Accordingly, Rollins spends the first part of the book providing a theological framework for this view of God before shifting into a more practical outworking of the material. While Rollins’ application of his theoretical framework is interesting, this review is going to focus solely on the theological first part of the book.
In the first chapter, Rollins introduces two very important concepts. The first is that each of us unconsciously projects our view of the world on to the Scriptures, affecting the way in which we see and understand God. Once we know this, then we are able to understand the second major concept, that of mystery and concealment. It is this later concept that serves to drive the book forward as Rollins explores how God can both be concealed and revealed at the same time: “revelation embraces concealment at one and the same time as it embraces manifestation and that our various interpretations of revelation will always be provisional, fragile, and fragmentary” (page 18).
Chapter two builds upon this foundation by “exploring how such thinking critiques the idea of theology as that which speaks of God in favor of the idea of theology is the place where God speaks” (page xv). The core of this exploration is the concept that while we must continue to speak of God, we must also recognize that our words will always fails at truly defining or describing God. This “a/theology”, as Rollins calls it, is an “uncollapsible tension between affirming our religious ideas while also placing them into question” (page 28).
The next chapter continues to developed the a/theology concept with a focus on virtual of doubt. Rather than trying to know everything completely, a/theology focuses on the Holy Saturday experience between the shock of the cross and the glory of Resurrection Sunday. Namely that the decision to follow Jesus on Holy Saturday, when the future is unknown, is the true decision while the same decision on Resurrection Sunday, when the future is certain, is a false decision. This embracement of doubt causes one to realize that “God is not revealed via our words but rather via the life of the transformed individual” (page 44).
The theme of doubt and mystery continues to build in chapter four with Rollins exploring how the “rediscovery of mystery, doubt, complexity and ambiguity in faith helps us come to a more appropriate understand of religious desire” (page xv). For Rollins, it is the “seeking” after God that is important rather than the “finding” Him as other traditions have done (page 53). This core thought behind this can be understood in the following statement:
“A true seeking after God results from an experience of God which one falls in love with for no reason other than finding God irresistibly lovable. In this way the lovers of God are the ones who are the most passionately in search of God” (page 53).
All of this mystery, doubt and complexity on whether one can fully talk about or understand God leads to question how we can understand which reading of the Bible is “good and which reading is not” (page 64). Rollins tackles this question in the fifth and final chapter of part one during which he “draws out the centrality of love in Christian thinking” (page xv). Rather than having an infinite number of ways in which one could interpret the Scriptures, love provides the boundaries that keep the interpretations in check. This prejudice of love is draw from Rollins view that it was the “central interpretive tool that Jesus employed when interpreting the scriptures” (page 65).
In reflecting on part one of Rollins book, I found myself really enjoying and agreeing with chapters one through four. The mystical concepts of the unknowable yet knowable God is something I have embraced over the years, primarily through the reading of the Eastern Orthodox branch of Christianity. In this tradition, they have something called apophatic theology which attempts to describe God by what He is not just like cataphatic theology seeks to describe Him by what He is. The back-and-forth nature of the Eastern Orthodox’s apophatic and cataphatic approaches to theology creates a sense of mystery which fits beautifully with Rollins a/theology viewpoint.
My main disagreement with Rollins is over the centrality of love in chapter five. Rather than seeing love as the central interpretive tool used by Jesus, I see Jesus embarking on the mission of God as seen through the lens of Kingdom Theology. God is the Creator King who created humanity in His image as a signpost to all of creation declaring His rule and reign. After breathing life into humanity, the Creator King beckons them to join Him in His mission to establish His kingdom throughout the earth. Jesus, in entering into a specific culture at a certain time and geographical location, joined His Father on this mission while destroying the works of the evil one and challenging the different contemporary interpretations of the kingdom. We, as followers of Jesus, are to embrace the mystery of the inaugurated eschatological kingdom established by Jesus and allow that mystery to guide us in how we view God and the Scriptures.
It is easy to forget that Christianity is about a relationship with a person (i.e. Jesus) and not about having answers to all of our questions. No matter how much we study or how many years we follow Jesus, there will always be unanswered questions. Rather than getting upset at this, we should embrace the mystery and wonder of the Creator King who actively seeks a personal and intimate relationship with each of us.
My friends over at Think Theology have started listing out their top books every pastor should either own or have read. After reading over Able Baker,Robby McAlpine, and Kenny Burchard lists, I just had to respond as I think they missed the mark on some must have books!! 😀
The Scriptures tell us that central message of Jesus and the 12 was the Kingdom of God. Sadly the original meaning behind these words have been shifted and changed as the years march by. Building upon the works of George Ladd, Albert Schweitzer, John Wimber and others, Derek Morphew lays out the historical and biblical foundation for the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God in human history. If you are at all interested in Enacted Inaugurated Eschatology of Kingdom Theology, you simply MUST read this book.
I first read this book a few months after I became a senior pastor, and I have to say that it did more to shape my view of pastoring than any other book I have ever read. Drawing from 30 years of experience as the pastor of a small 300 member church in Maryland, Peterson shares the tough times and the good times, the happy times and the not-so-happy times. And in doing so he lays out an amazing pastoral model built on empowering the people to be the people of God. A model that can, and should be adapted to the modern setting through the use of modern Church Software. Due to technological and software advance pastors can now effectively manage and monitor their flocks mental and spiritual well-being, and empower people to be people of God.
A lot of Christians know the different Bible stories, but very few actually know how they are connected. Winn Griffin connects all the dots with an amazing book that outlines the grant meta-narrative of the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. An added bonus is that the book gives detailed information about each book of the Bible: author, date written, theme, purchase, audient, and outline. This is truly a great resource that I constantly refer too when preaching/teaching.
The book’s subtitle says it all. Don did a great job listing out and talking about the kingdom essentials for all Jesus followers. Things like spiritual warfare, prayer, allowing God to change your desires and actions… it is all here. Not only does it make a good reference book, it is one of those books that should be read every few years as it reminds you about the basics of Christianity and what we should be focused on.
This is a more practical book on the philosophy of ministry along with various tips and points on how to do church. For many years, this was the premier church planting book for the Vineyard as it was written out of Venter’s work with John Wimber in the early 1980s. While I highly recommend this book, I do have to say that I disagree with Venter’s view on women leaders (he’s more complementarian while I’m egalitarian; or at least he was in the first edition of this book, I don’t know if he has changed his view or not in the later editions).
This volume is similar to Winn’s book in that it tells the grand story of the Scriptures. Only instead of outlining each book of the Bible, Bill stays focused on the main themes of the Bible: kingdom, covenant and the great rescue mission of the Creator King. Bill also brings in some cool historical and cultural facts that breathes life into the story of the Bible.
Every living human being is an addict. The only difference is what we are addicted too – chemicals, relationship, work, actions, etc. In this book, Don talks about finding freedom from addictions by embracing the abundant life that God has promised to each person who follows Him. This is a powerful book that will challenge you to your core.
The church at large has embraced a lot of different things over the past two thousand years since Jesus walked this earth, some good and some not so good. In this book, Carl walks you through a process of separating the culture trappings of Christianity as a religion and the person of Jesus. For some this can be a hard journey as it is easy to confuse the way we do something with being in relationship with Jesus. Definitely a book to read for any Jesus follower – let along a pastor or leader.
Every pastor has a TON of pressure placed on them by the culture at large, the folks in their church, those in authority above them as well as by themselves. As such it is easy to drift away from the essentials of what it means to be a pastor and start doing everything else. In an effort to call pastors back to their calling, Peterson outlines the three essentials jobs of a pastor: praying, reading Scripture, and giving spiritual direction. Everything else is icing on the cake; no matter how “good” or “profitable” those tacks are, if you aren’t doing these three things, you are not pastoring.
Most Christian books that I have read over the years are written with the view that humanity can understand God if only we study hard and apply the right theology mindset. This book offers a different route. Written by an Eastern Orthodox bishop, this book lays out a way to embrace the mystery of God without having to understand everything. It is truly a spring of fresh water in the middle of a dry desert of sureties and I-know-everythings. The book also gives us Protestants a chance to learn from our brothers and sisters in the East.
George Ladd was one of the pioneers in the re-discovering the message of the Kingdom within the Scriptures. His “Theology of the New Testament” is a gold mine of information about the Kingdom of God. Definitely a must have.
It may sound odd to place a daily prayer book on a list of books for pastors…but the fact remains that if your soul is dry then nothing you do matters. This book has some beautiful and ancient prayers that will refresh your soul and draw you deeply into the love and grace of the Creator King. It also has some great situational and seasonal prayers that make excellent congregational prayers. An added bonus is that the book is written from a very strong Trinitarian theology viewpoint.
One of the awesome things about following Jesus is that He told us about the end – that He will defeat sin, evil and death and restore the earth and heaven while giving us new physical bodies. Sadly enough very few church going people really know about or understand the blessed hope of the second coming. Instead they rely on popular culture for their view of heaven and life after death. In this book, N.T. Wright lays out the end game of Bible in a matter that will change the way you live your life in the here and now.
King Solomon once said that there is nothing new under the sun. Sadly however, the church today seems to think that the struggles we face are brand new instead of just a variation of what happened before. As such, I think all pastors and church leaders should be a student of history. Bruce Shelly’s “Church History in Plain Language” is a great place to start as tells the story of the church in an engaging manner that should keep the attention of pretty everyone.
The 12 Days of Christmas are over and a new season of liturgy has begun. To mark this shift, Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters celebrate the feast of Theophany in remembrance of when Jesus as baptized by John the Forerunner.
The name Theophany means the “appearance of God” as it was at that baptism that the Trinity appeared clearly to humanity for the first time. God the Father spoke from the heavens while the incarnated God the Son physical stood in the Jordan river with the God the Spirit descending upon him.
Among our Roman Catholic and liturgical Protestant family, today is celebration of Epiphany. That is, the day when the magi visited Jesus in Bethlehem, most likely when he was one years of age.
The feast’s name, epiphany, means “manifestation” or “revelation” as the magi represented all the non-Jewish people of the world (i.e. the Gentiles) who received the revelation that God had taken on the likeness of humanity to rescue us from darkness.
Both feasts have been celebrated by Jesus followers since the fourth century, if not earlier. So, if you are able, lift up a cup and shout:
“Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Revelation 19:6b-8a)