Mark Driscoll, Church Culture, and the Nature of Biblical Leadership

It has been a brutal year (or so) for Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll, or I suppose I should say former Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll. From being accused of plagiarism and what ever happened between him and John MacArthur at the latter’s Strange Fire Conference to Acts 29 publicly parting ways and a laundry list of grievances brought against him by current and former pastors of Mars Hill. Driscoll has never been far from controversy, but since the publication of his Real Marriage book it has been nearly constant. All of it peaked last week when he resigned from his post as the founder and preaching pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Washington. Through all the recent controversy I had been tempted to write a post on him, but refrained, and ultimately this post isn’t about him so much as it is about what this whole fiasco has shown me. That said, I should begin with a few words about my view of the man and his creation.

Pastor Mark and Mars Hill

When I was a younger Christian in my late teens I was hungry for something more than what my church offered. There were a lot of issues, but suffice to say that the gospel was shallow, I was far from intellectually fulfilled, and there was little that attracted me to various images of Christian men I saw. Almost simultaneously I met two men, one in person and one through the magic of the internet. A youth pastor named Allen and the voice of Mark Driscoll. they both presented me with a version of masculinity that was Christian but appealing, a gospel that was robust (or at least more than what I was used to), and an intellectually enticing view of Christianity commonly called Calvinism. What these two men introduced me to is a large part of why I am currently working on my second Master’s of Arts degree. I say this to both honor my friend Allen, whom I owe much to, and to show the impact Driscoll had on my early theological development. However, over the years since, my excitement over his ministry has decreased, and my worry increased. The culmination was when my wife and I decided against attending the Orange County satellite. The decision was based on philosophical differences that had emerged as I studied in seminary. Things like the jobs of a pastor, the legitimacy of video preaching, the crass language (especially in regards to sexuality), and what seemed like a shift from quality to quantity in most areas. Ultimately I would describe the difference as pragmatism, Driscoll held it in one hand and his Bible in the other. I, by way of contrast, have been accused of being anti-pragmatic in theological and philosophical positions.

The Culture I See

This shift to pragmatism is not simply a Driscoll thing, churches all over are employing pragmatism in their theology, philosophy, and social engagement. However, I have not seen a more pragmatic statement in a long time than the one I read concerning Driscoll’s resignation. As reported by Christianity Today,

In a statement, the church’s board of overseers accepted his resignation, but emphasized that they had not asked Driscoll to resign and were surprised to receive his letter.

They concluded Driscoll had “been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner,” but had “never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy. Most of the charges involved attitudes and behaviors reflected by a domineering style of leadership.”

Mars Hill’s leadership had concluded that Driscoll had not been disqualified because he had “never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy”. Talk about setting the bar low. Immorality, illegality, and heresy are not only causes for disqualification, but church discipline and potentially excommunication. Are we to understand that a leader has not disqualified himself unless he is guilty of immorality, illegality or heresy? Like I said earlier, this is not a problem with Mars Hill alone, but this is what our culture of pragmatism has come to. We can fire an “ineffective” pastor who teaches faithfully and leads in a godly manner, but who has not seen significant growth. Yet “effective” pastors are given license for thousands of evils that simply fall short of immorality, illegality or heresy. These are not the standards for disqualification. We have lowered our views on nearly everything ecclisiological. From church membership, preaching, and discipline to qualifications and disqualifications of pastors. But the Bible is not silent on these topics, as we have been, there are standards sprinkled about the Bible, 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 2 contain the most well known but they are everywhere in both testaments, ultimately we can sum them up in asking the following question: “is this how Jesus would lead?”

A pastor, biblically speaking, is an under-shepherd, that is, an assistant of the Chief Shepherd. Under-shepherds guide and lead under the authority of the Chief Shepherd. They only have authority insofar as it is given by the Chief Shepherd. They are meant, not to shepherd out of their strengths or in their own manner, but they shepherd in the strength and manner of the Chief Shepherd. In what manner, then, does Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, lead his Church?

The Nature of Biblical Leadership

Jesus leads as the servant king. That is, Jesus’ leadership is authoritative and assertive, but is gentle and compassionate, and certainly never arrogant, assertive, or domineering. Jesus’ leadership is of a kind that causes him to bear the shame of those he leads, it causes him to willingly take a beating and be bloodied so that those he leads—his Church, his bride—may be presented spotless. Think about that, we can be presented spotless before our Father because Jesus allowed himself to be dirtied with the his own blood. In the letter to the Philippians, Paul calls all believer, and one must think especially the leaders, to be humble as Christ was, Paul writes:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

God is not glorified in our arrogance, Christ is not imaged or exalted by the simple refraining from immorality, illegality or heresy. I do not say this to be another mud slinger, or Driscoll critic. I have been both at different points and in many ways I regret things I have said about other brothers who I saw, in my own arrogance, and misguided and wrong, for those times I apologize. I write this post now because of what this situation means. Mars Hill was once heralded as a citadel of reformed theology, the epitome of returning to the reformation as signified by long winded exegetical preaching and a brazen Calvinism in an age of airy spirituality. The sermons have drifted from exegesis focus to rant focus, the reformed theology has been mostly abandoned with the the exception of the TULIP soteriology. The good Driscoll has done has now become overshadowed in many sectors of Christian culture. I the words of Tim Keller, “In the Internet age, Mark Driscoll definitely built up the evangelical movement enormously… But the brashness and the arrogance and the rudeness in personal relationships—which he himself has confessed repeatedly—was obvious to many from the earliest days, and he has definitely now disillusioned quite a lot of people.”

Marching Orders

We ought to pray that Mark serves us as an example, let us try and avoid that which entrapped him. But let us not forget, as wall, that it is only by God’s grace that we are not standing in his place. Furthermore, it is by God’s grace, and not its absence, that Mark stands where he does now, let us pray for him as he is a brother and fellow worker that God used mightily, and maybe, time will tell, God still has plans for Mark and his ministry.

Thanks for reading,

t.d.h.

Book Review: Eric Mason’s Beat God to the Punch

A month or so back I got a comment on a book review I posted on this blog explaining that the author I had reviewed was releasing a new book and if I would like the publisher would send me a copy for free if I would review it as well. Since I have never turned down a free dessert or a free book I accepted.

The author is Eric Mason, lead pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philly and board member of Acts 29. Although I don’t follow his ministry closely I am always impressed with pastor Mason, as I was with his previous book Manhood Restored. However, when the new book came a few weeks ago, I was put off. It generally fits the description of books I avoid. Its small, like seriously small, its short, under 100 small pages short, did I mention the pages are small, and it has a random/vague title—Beat God to the Punch. What the heck does that mean?


The reason I usually avoid such books, for what its worth, is that I used to work in a Christian bookstore, on occasion I would pick some books off the shelf and read them during slow periods, and I found that much of the Christian publishing world was totally useless. Half the books on a give shelf in the store said the exact same thing, all that had been done to avoid plagiarism, was change the lingo. The impression I got was that a pastor had preached a pretty good sermon series with a flash title and reoccurring metaphor, then some publisher printed and distributed it. Why is this a problem? Why did the Christian publishing industry receive my ire? It appeared (and still appears) that most publishing houses flood the market with mediocrely written books. This has two effects, first it makes it substantially harder to find good Christian literature to find it without knowing your way around Christian culture. Shelves are stocked full of catchy, but not profound and barely useful books; second, I believe in a theology of excellence, which finds roots in the excellence of God. Producing something clearly mediocre, in my not so humble opinion, is unChristian because it does not reflect our God. This is not just true of publishing by the way, but it seems Christian culture in general. A Christian mechanic should be the best mechanic you can find, not just the most honest. There is so much more I could say, but I should get off my high horse and actually review this book.


My apprehension about the book was checked only by two names pastor Mason’s and Paul Tripp’s. Tripp is another pastor I have a great deal of respect for, so his investment in writing the forward helped me venture beyond the cover. What I found inside was pleasantly surprising. Unlike the books that generally share the same format, Beat God to the Punch contained weighty theology, clear structure, and gospel centrality. To put it another way, Mason isn’t concerned with making your life “better” but saving your soul. Beat God to the Punch simply out classes the majority of stereotypical Christian publishing.

What Is Beating God to the Punch?

I seriously spent a significant time staring at the cover of this book thinking ‘what in the world does that mean?’ The answer is this, there is coming a day when the magnificent Triune God of the Bible will reveal to all his majestic glory and every knee will bow before him, some will bow with excitement, admiration, amazement, and thankfulness. Others will bow trembling for the terror of their mistake will have become realized. This is to say, that judgement is coming, some will be judge righteous having been cleansed of sin by the blood of Christ, others will be judged as wicked based on their own actions, thoughts, and general disposition toward God. The judgment is the punch, and God in his grace opened a way for us to submit to him through Christ before that judgment, in effect making away for us to bow before the weight of his glory forces our knees to fail beneath us. Judgement is a theme that rarely comes up in the books that have a similar formate to Mason’s.

This answers the second question the title poses, how does one beat a sovereign and omniscient God to anything? We are not beating God to the punch in a way that implies surprising or catching him off guard, rather its more like waking up a minute before the alarm goes off, and starting to get up and ready before the shock and startle of the alarm.

How Is the Book Structured?

Books like Mason’s are usually not well thought out and the chapters seem only tangentially linked, Mason sheds the inner-city-pastor stereotype of being more culturally relevant than cohesively thoughtful. The book has a clear flow and structure that is almost predictable, and adds to the readers ability to follow the book from its thesis to its conclusion in a manner that prompts the suggestion of applications.

Having mentioned that the book is about judgement, I should point out that the book is extremely gospel-centered in that it seeks to balance the truth of God’s judgement with the truth of God’s grace. This, as well, is unusual for this kind of book, but the presence of the theme of judgement is counter balanced by the focus on grace. In fact the table of contents intentionally reads like a roadmap from meeting God’s grace to responding with deeper understanding being gained along the way.

Conclusion and Criticisms

I want to mention a few criticisms as I close so that you understand how the previous 500 or so words of praise can exists without the book showing up on my favorites list anytime soon. Ultimately I have three criticisms, but my introduction covered one already (formatting), so I will skip it and talk briefly about the other two. First, I have a difficult time with books that have a conversational tone. This is one area where Mason falls into the pattern of books with similar formats. I understand that some may enjoy more conversational books, but I don’t fit in that category. Conversationally toned books tend to be packed full of unnecessary words because we use unnecessary words all the time when we talk. Because of this and other aspects, they tend to lack a certain ascetic beauty that comes from the systematic trimming of unnecessary words and the hunt for the perfect word that adequately substitutes itself for three or four others. Playing off of that, a conversational tone is easier to write in and thus usually less polished, often lacking the clarity that comes with specificity. Second, Mason uses a lot of block quotes to support the robust theology that underlies his thoughts, but block quotes seem a bit out of place in a book so short. For these reasons Mason’s book doesn’t show up in my favorites, but that said it is an easy read with a lot to recommend it.

Thanks for reading,

t.d.h.

The NFL and Morality

Last night my San Francisco 49ers take on the St. Louis Rams on Monday Night Football. Few things are seen as being as masculine as football; and few sports have a stage as big as Monday Night Football. If you have been following my blog much, then you know that one of my passions is masculinity, specifically analyzing and discussing what masculinity is and the development of the modern day counterfeit. As such I have been thinking, both as an observer of masculinity in culture and a football fan, about the current state of the NFL. Ray Rice (Super Bowl Champion running back ) has been cut from the Baltimore Ravens and indefinitely suspend from the NFL (albeit after a mere two game suspension) for domestic violence, Adrian Peterson (winner of multiple MVPs, consistently voted to the pro-bowl, winner of the comeback player of the year) has been suspended and is currently in court proceedings for child abuse, from my own San Francisco 49ers Ray McDonald is being investigated for domestic violence (he is being allowed to play until formal charges, if the accusation is substantiated, are brought against him), Josh Gordon (last seasons leading receiver) is currently suspended following a positive drug test for marijuana, and just a few years ago Aaron Hernandez was arrested on multiple gang-related homicide accounts. These are just a few of the suspensions for immoral (and quite frankly stupid) behavior from those who are suppose to be role-models. We can hand-cuff to these suspensions the fact that the over last couple of years there has been a trend in both college and pro-football that the highest ranking teams are also the most penalized. There seems to be an increasing disregard for both the rules of the game and the rules of society.

I had a revelation the other day, concerning the state of the NFL and morality, while listening to a conversation with one of the NFL’s leading commentators, Rich Eisen, and two Hall of Fame running backs Marshal Faulk and Marcus Allen. They were discussing notable trash-talker and often vilified defensive back Richard Sherman. While I have never heard anything even remotely questionable about the character of any of these three two comments stuck out to me as defining the new morality of the NFL. First, Marshal Faulk asked a simple question: “is it still trash-talking if you back it up?” He argued no. While I want to argue with Faulk, a much more clarifying was made later by the host Rich Eisen. As the group discussed the state of the NFL and Sherman’s penchant for post-game mudslinging, they reached a point where it seemed moral judgement ought to be given, there was silence for a brief period, and then Eisen said, “but man, isn’t he fun to watch.” With that it seemed the moral stamp of approval was given, Sherman, or anyone else, maybe a trash-talker, a thug, a drug user, a spousal abuser, or he maybe none of those things. What matters is (1) whether the player is “fun to watch” and (2) how bad the evidence is against him.

It might be fair to summarize the current moral spotlight that has been cast onto the NFL as the collision of two incompatible systems of morality. That of the larger society, which, for all its insanity, still holds some of common sense un-allowables—don’t hit a woman—and that of the NFL, as stated by Eisen. The NFL has, with some exceptions like O.J. Simpson and Michael Vick, over looked certain cultural sins on the basis of the virtue of entertainment. Similarly, the NFL is moving toward embracing actions that suggest (at minimum) a questionable character because they are no longer seen as sinful in our culture even if they are still illegal, notably marijuana use and carrying a concealed weapon, on the basis of entertainment value. To clarify what I am saying here, consider this, if Josh Gordon (if you don’t know who he is, google him) was mediocre he would never play in the NFL again, yet because of his freak talent, his suspension might be lifted later this year in spite of multiple infractions for drug and alcohol abuse.

I think there are substantial reasons to be wary of the direction the NFL is heading, the reasons are heightened when we, returning to the introduction, think about the NFL’s impact on masculine culture. Guys watch and are influenced by this culture. Some kids will be football players for Halloween, college students might sport their favorite players jersey, and a couple of businessmen may be rooting for the over turning of a suspension for a player on their fantasy football team. We root for them, we put faith in them, and we let them (at least in part) set the trajectory of masculine culture.

 

Thanks for reading,

t.d.h.

The Christian Life and Fantasy Football

“I don’t care what you do or where you land with this, but I do care whether you thought about it.”

I say this a lot. I have said it in arguments/conversation about Calvinism, baptism, church structure/polity (including video preaching), marriage, parenting, and now I am using this comment in the context of fantasy football. There are two things I should say before I dive into this post, some preliminary comments.

Preliminaries

  • I am in two fantasy football leagues, one a friends league and the other a family league.
  • I am the league manager of one of these leagues
  • I do not put money on any league.
  • I listen to a daily fantasy football podcast that eats up about an hour of time, though I am usually making breakfast, driving, or working out while listening.
  • I don’t own/play a video game system.

Now on to the discussion

The Mind

The quote I began this post with reveals something key about the way I view the Christian life. Our lives, if we are believers, are intended to consistently be shaped and formed into reflecting the life and teaching of Jesus the Christ, that is to say, a Christians goal is to live in light of the gospel in every area of their life.


When I say are of life, just by way of clarification, I am thinking home/family, work/school, leisure, friends, finances, etc. Our lives, in reality, are not this compartmentalized, but it is helpful to, intellectually speaking, to break life into these chunks for the sake of assessing how we are doing and where we could improve. Anyway, back to the point at hand.


The first major step in assessing and addressing how we are doing in our Christian walk involves cognitively engaging with our lives and practices. This involves questioning and prodding whatever it is we are considering. Take parenting for example.

A while back I had a new sliding glass door installed in my home. The guy we hired to do it brought his son along to help him out (his son looked like a freshmen in high school), though he did a great job, he was consistently insulting his son, both to his face and behind his back. One particularly abrasive comment, while he and I were talking, must have draw a visible facial reaction from me because he turned back to me and seeing my reaction said, “you’ll understand when you have kids.” Now I don’t yet have kids, but I can consider and contemplate the ramification that comments like those will have on this son, I can develop ideas about better methods of disciplining and correcting a lazy son. When I do this, it happens in a moment, but what is happening in my mind is actually fairly complex. I am analyzing the situation and reacting to it named off of the questions and answers my mind works through. All this happens in a split second. I hear a comment and my mind asks questions:

  • What are the ramifications of such language?
  • What are the ramifications of such abrasiveness?
  • Is it having the desired effect?
  • Why is it not having the desired effect?
  • How would I respond in to this situation if I were in the father’s shoes?
  • Is there a better method of correction?
  • What would I be thinking if I were that kid?

I timed myself, it took me less than 30 seconds to come up with those questions while writing, and it takes significantly less time when I am in those situations, the same is true for you. How we answer questions like the ones listed, and for any situation that comes up, boils down to what we believe. If this sounds weird, all I am really saying is that our actions flow from out beliefs.


Belief > Thoughts, Intentions, Desires, Purposes > Actions and Words


Thus when we look at our lives with the goal of assessing the state of our faith, what we ought to do is look at our actions and our words, and question ourselves to trace those back to beliefs. Sinful actions will trace back to poorly formed or flat out wrong beliefs. Righteous actions (in the true sense, not false or empty righteousness, which is an oxymoron) will trace back to good beliefs. This is called cognitive behavioral psychology, or a less daunting name, critical thinking.

Application

So let’s bring this to bear on the topic at hand, fantasy football. What questions should we ask? Most people will begin and, if we’re honest, end with the simple question “is it sinful?” but this question really doesn’t shoulder the burden that we are trying to get it to. Why? Because it is clearly not sinful in the general way we tend to think about sin (is it condemned in the Bible). Better questions fall along these lines:

  • What is the goal of me spending time on this?
  • Is there a more effective way to reach that goal?
  • Do I have the time to spend on it?
  • Is it distracting to other responsibilities (work/school, family, church service)?

Again, I limited myself to 30 seconds for those questions. Since it is obviously not an issue discussed in scripture, we cannot say that it is sinful all together, but we can look at our lives and see if it can become sinful by causing us to neglect other responsibilities. I clearly focused on time as I asked the questions because I heard of a study that found productivity in government jobs decreases significantly during football season, when they looked into the reason why they found out the average government employee spent two working hours on fantasy football related webpages. So time and productivity is a place where we should focus when considering fantasy football.

Every football season I think about these questions and others, so far I feel free to engage in this in part of my leisure time, but I have been convicted about he amount of time I spend on it, given one of my teachers gives out homework like Oprah gives out Halloween candy.

There is more I could and probably should say, but in terms of what you do with fantasy football and akin activities, I don’t care what you do or where you land with this, but I do care whether you thought about it.

Thanks for reading,

t.d.h.

 

Calling and Identity

Yesterday I was honored to preach at a church’s ten year anniversary party. The topic I picked was identity and I used several passages sprinkled in the book of Mark to illustrate its importance. One such passage was Mark 1:16-20,

16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

This passage appears at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry and gives us a glimpse into what it means to follow Christ, specifically to follow Christ is first to be called and second to be redefined, or given a new identity.

Called

The first thing we can see is that Jesus calls to Peter and Andrew, James and John. Mark leaves out a substantial amount of the lead up to Jesus’ ministry in his gospel, as such Mark’s account seems like Jesus returns from the wilderness, begins preaching, and spots a few fisherman, calls them to stop what they are doing and follow him, but John tells us that Jesus had a previous relationship with these guys. They knew of Jesus, they had an inkling to his significance thanks to John the Baptizer. So why would Mark leave that out? It seems to paint the picture pretty differently.

How you answer that question is going to be dependent on how you view the Bible. There are a lot of people who lend little to no credibility to the Bible, but there are a lot of people, like me, who believe the Bible is perfect, that is without error, entirely truthful, and masterfully written and compiled. In my view, which is not really ‘my view’ but the historic view of Christianity, Mark is not leaving something out because he is unaware or uninformed, but he has left out the parts that John included to make a point. He wanted his readers to feel the authority Jesus had to call and command. Jesus calls out to these sets of brothers and because of the authority he holds, they drop what they are doing and obey. To be a follower of Jesus, that is to be a Christian, is to be one who is called and who has responded to that call. Hence the word used in the New Testament for church, ekklaesia, literally “called out ones” (ek – out, kaleo – to call).

Identity

But there is more happening here than just a group of fishermen being called. Jesus is calling them away from two of the biggest sources of their identity, family and occupation. Consider the following names: Carpenter, Smith, Shoemaker, or Erikson, Jackson, Morrison. Names play a large part in who we are, that is why a bride takes the name of her husband to, in essence, redefine herself as a part of a new family. Similarly these names reflect the power of identity to our ancestry and occupation. The first three are somewhat common names that are in fact occupations, the second three are common names that identify ancestry (son of Erik, Erik’s son, Erikson). Jesus calls these four men away from their family and occupation, functionally calling them away from their identity. In many ways I think this is a perfectly natural way to describe the gospel, it is the good news that Jesus calls us away from our pitiful forms of identity, to a robust and fulfilling identity. Consider how the idea is filled out further here.

Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.”29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

How does Peter describe (on behalf of all the disciples) what they did in order to follow him? Leaving everything. But if you read the Gospel of Mark, it seems that Peter did not leave everything. He has a wife, home, boat, and mother-in-law. That’s a lot of stuff for the 1st century. However Peter has left everything in the sense that he has surrendered his identity to Jesus.

If we look at this honestly, a realization should dawn on us. C.S. Lewis says it well,

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I am ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make the choice: Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon, or you can fall at His feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

Jesus makes very strong statements about who he is and his disciples follow that up with strong statements about what he has done, if these are not true then Jesus is not a good moral teacher, but rather a liar or a lunatic because he has required that people submit their identities, which is to say their entire selves, to him. If he does not offer a new, robust, and fulfilling identity to replace the old, then he is no God, he isn’t even a good guy. But Jesus does offer us new identities, he does so by offering us a new father.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Conclusion

Adoption is one of the most beautiful images in the Bible. It tells us that God came an got us and paid the adoption price by sending his first born to willingly die for us. Jesus, our brother, and resurrected Lord, now calls to us from his scriptures and his church, he calls us home, to a new family, a new identity.

Thanks for Reading,

t.d.h.

Book Review: Michael Horton’s Calvin on the Christian Life

There are few figures in church history that experience as wide a range of opinions about them than John Calvin. When I was an undergraduate at Biola University a classmate told me that she transferred to Biola from another Christian college where Calvin/Calvinist/Calvinism was comparable to a curse word. Similarly, during a philosophy of religion class, which covered the atonement, a professor quipped that penal-substitutionary atonement (a view deeply associated with Calvin’s work) was divine child abuse. On the other side, I have sat in two different classes on Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion and listen to students switch views on a topic instantaneously because Calvin held the other view. My point in beginning this book review here is to say that we are either deeply divided on the issues presented in Calvin’s theology or we are completely misunderstanding his views. My guess is that it is a little bit of both, which is why when people ask me about Calvinism or reformed theology (often used interchangeably, which is awkwardly anachronistic) I have usually pointed them to Greg Foster’s book The Joy of Calvinism. It is a great read for anyone interested in Calvinism, but now Foster has a competitor. Last month I read Michael Horton’s addition to the Theologians on the Christian Life series, which is on John Calvin. Horton does a phenomenal job articulating Calvin’s theology with a particular eye for its impact and importance to the Christian life. There is a full review of this book on the Gospel Coalition’s site, so I am going to primarily focus on what I believe to be the highlights of the text.

Stats

  • Total Pages – 272, 251 of content
  • Topic – John Calvin on the Christian Life
  • From the Theologians on the Christian Life Series
  • Crossway, 2014, originally $19.99

Piety

As I consider what was important to talk about in this review, the first thing was obvious: Calvin’s piety, that is Calvin’s view of piety. To those unfamiliar with Calvin’s theology, or maybe to those who think something along the lines of “Calvinism = T.U.L.I.P.”, to draw our attention to a P word that isn’t predestination may seem odd, but piety is the central concern of the reformers. In many ways the protestant reformation was not fundamentally about theological reformation, but an overhaul of the Christian life, a call to return to piety. This, the reformers rightly believed, required a change in theology, thus they sought significant theological change as well. I guess what I am trying to say is that the reformers were concerned with orthopraxy as much as they were with orthodoxy.

The heart of piety of Calvin stemmed, according to Horton, from what theologians refer to as double-knoweldge, that is knowledge of God and knowledge of self. This is how Calvin opens his Institutes he explains that true piety begins with the pursuit of knowledge of God (for those who don’t like theology, read “true piety begins with pursuit of relationship with God”). However pursuit of God must be driven by knowledge of self. We must see what need we have of God in order to be drawn into such pursuit. The rest of the Christian life in many ways is described by the continual growth in these areas. That is, as we grow in knowledge of God we see ourselves through the lens of his holiness and realize how deeply we need his grace, comfort and forgiveness then come through the pursuit of knowledge/relationship of/with God.

Transforming Culture

This is another area of misconception about Calvin, yet it is also a place where we can learn much from him. The usual view of Calvin is that he was some amalgam of a church and state official. This is overly simplistic and it carries with it the notion that Calvin had the run of the town (that town being Geneva, Switzerland) and sought to reform its manner of life through legislation and moralistic preaching. The truth is Calvin was not very involved in politics and really only began to get his way after the city counsel exiled him and then asked him to return. Calvin’s method of transformation, Horton says, was not ecclesial-political rulership, but rather more akin to what James Davidson Hunter, in his amazing book To Change the World, calls “faithful presence”.

This idea of faithful presence is key to Calvin’s impact in the daily life of Geneva (which was an outworking of his theology) and is an increasingly popular idea in the minds of those who study history and theology, and particularly those who study Calvinists—George Marsden’s recent work, The Twilight of the American Enlightenment, concludes with an exhortation to faithful presence in a pluralist society, and who does he look to as an example but Abraham Kuyper the dutch Calvinist from the turn of the century. What interests me about the increasing popularity of “faithful presence” is that it run contrary to much of the Christian rhetoric I hear today. From megachurches to Christian universities and scattered throughout Christian music and publishing, all I hear is “GO CHANGE THE WORLD FOR JESUS”. The heart is good, but the idea I think is off. The way Christians will truly make the most impact is by living like Jesus (this includes holiness and evangelism) in regular, everyday life circumstances in the midst of a community. Let people see and hear the gospel in how you live.

Conclusion

There is much more that could be said about Calvin on the Christian Life, but honestly I leave a bunch out because I want you to read the book, so I am hoping just to wet your appetite. I point out these issues because they are regularly misunderstood positions and I have seen great growth and insight in my own life as I have corrected false assumptions in my pursuit of God.

Thanks for reading,

t.d.h.

Masculinity and Domain: The Body

What is your reaction to the following thoughts:

  • How you treat your body (i.e. how much exercise you get, how much sleep you get, what you eat, etc.) is a reflection of how serious you are taking spirituality.
  • How you position your body in a religious context is important to your ability to be spiritually formed.
  • The body is just as important to God as your heart.

If there is a lost skill, or a gap in our educational system, I would contend that it is the ability to critically think. I wrote a few weeks back that I believe the process of transformation begins in the mind. In essence, that is to say transformation starts with critical thinking, and in many ways it does not move past it, but rather engages the rest of life with it. One area of engagement is the body. As disciples of Jesus we must think about what God thinks about our body and whether it plays a role in our transformation into increasing Christlikeness. After some serious thought and study I believe that the body is important to God and to our transformation, but we ought to be judicious in how we speak about its importance since the Trinity’s primary concern is our heart, but that ought not to be used as an argument for neglecting the body, rather properly prioritizing it, all of this we will discuss in this post. Before we get too far into this post, I want to discuss the current situation.

How Things Seem to Be

In an article from January 2013, Fox News reported that a Pulpit and Pew study of 2,500 clergy found that 76% were over weight or obese. The article also pointed out that same year for America as a whole, 61% registered at overweight or obese. In line with this increasing numbers of clergy and laity have chronic illnesses directly resulting from an unhealthy lifestyle. What does it say about our beliefs concerning our bodies, not only that the average people in the pews, that a fair amount (read: majority) of pastors and clergy either struggle with or neglect all together the stewardship of their bodies? This trend was spotted a few years ago by Rick Warren, not exactly Mr. (or minister) Skinny, but to his credit he began encouraging his congregation to follow his example and begin treating their bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, and something God cares about.

What Does the Bible Say About Our Bodies?

Before we get too condemning or self-loathing, let’s consider what the Bible says about our bodies. There is more that could be said on this subject, but for now what you are about to read will need to be sufficient.

  1. We were created as physical and spiritual beings. In Genesis 1, we see that the body exists before the fall, this would seem to tell us that the body is AT LEAST not evil as the gnostic heresy would claim. We may also note that all things are declared ‘good’ in Genesis 1, informing us that not only is the body not evil, but it is actually good.
  2. Are bodies are fallen and will be made new. Genesis 3 teaches  that the Fall had a total impact, meaning that it impacted ever aspect of us, this means our bodies. As a result our bodies age and wear down over time, some more quickly than others. But to show that God has not written off the body, we see in the book of Revelation that our bodies are renewed and that we will live in eternity, in the Kingdom of Heaven, as physical and spiritual beings.
  3. Spiritual training is more important than physical training. 1 Timothy is clear, in spite of the fact that we are and will continue to be both physical and spiritual beings, training in the spiritual realm (to use biblical language: training in godliness) is of significantly more importance than training in the physical realm.

How Does the Masculine Mandate Impact Our Understanding of the Body?

At this point we have seen that bodily training is of significantly lesser importance than spiritual training, however, as the late Dallas Willard wrote,

Spiritual transformation…is the process of forming the inner world of the human self in such away that it takes on the character of the inner being of Jesus himself. The result is that the “outer” ice of the individual increasingly becomes a natural expression of the inner reality of Jesus and of his teachings…. [For] this to happen our bodies must increasingly be poised to do what is good and refrain from what is evil…. The body must come to serve us as a primary ally in Christlikeness. For good or for evil, the body lies right at the center of the spiritual life. (Renovation of the Heart, 159)

 

Thus there is clearly a care and concern that ought to be given to our bodies. There are many reasons for this care and concern:

  1. Our bodies are gifts from God that ought to be stewarded.
  2. Our bodies are tools to advance the kingdom of heaven that ought to be properly used.
  3. Our bodies can limit our ability to minister.

For our purposes though I want to talk about, something Willard points out a few pages later when he writes, “Therefore my body is the original and primary place of my dominion and my responsibility” (161). In this series we have been looking at how men can pursue the masculine mandate by systematically seeking to keep/protect and work/cultivate the different things God has placed under our domain. We began with the mind, will, and soul (which combine to make up the heart, biblically not biologically speaking), now we consider the body.

How Can We Keep/Protect the Body

Not to sound to obvious, but have you heard about diet and exercise? We obviously cannot protect our bodies from everything, but we can eat right and exercise to make sure our bodies are functioning in the most optimal condition. I really cannot say much more than this because (1) I don’t know a ton about either diet or exercise (my wife tells me what is healthy and what isn’t and I got to the gym and lift heavy things and do some cardio) and (2) how one diets and exercises depends on what stage of life you’re in and where you body is at right now. My advice would only really be all that good for 26 year olds blessed with a high metabolism, who weigh in at 150ish lbs.

How Can We Work/Cultivate the Body

This is pretty much going to be the same thing, but I want to add one more idea here. In the book Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes about the folly of thinking that our body has little to do with our spirituality. In particular Lewis brings up our body position during worship. It is not uncommon for churches to encourage people to stand when singing, but I think Lewis makes a good case that our body position should vary depending on what we are doing in worship. Some prayers and some songs might better represent our heart posture if said and sung from our knees with our heads bowed low, other might be better when we stand on our chairs and stretch our hands as high as we can get them. Ultimately this is my point, cultivate the heart body connection by mimicking your heart posture with your body posture.

Conclusion

In closing I want to say a few things to leave with:

  1. To neglect your body is a sin, but so is the neglect of your heart for the well-being of your body. The heart comes first, but the body is to be cared for as well.
  2. Our bodies can be a source of shame, but Jesus died not only to take the shame of our sin, but all of our shame. He did so by making our primary identity that of children of God. You are not to see yourself first and foremost as a “fatty” or “boney”, but as an adopted child, adopted by the king and creator of the universe.
  3. Your body, though it requires work to keep up, is a gift. You did not choose the family and the gene pool which you were born into. So, if you are pretty cut, don’t be cocky about being fit, rather thank God that he created you the way he did and use your body to praise him. On the flip side know your limits, how hard you can work out and what you need to eat in order to steward your body well.
  4. Most of all, know that Jesus loves you.

Thanks for reading,

t.d.h.

 

Coming up:

  • NFL predictions, discussions, and reflections.
  • Book Review of Michael Horton’s Calvin on the Christian Life
  • Masculinity and Domain: Family and Home
  • Thoughts on a philosophy of education

Bonhoeffer and Emotions

On Monday I posted a blog about Masculinity and the need to bring the soul and will (the seats of emotions and decisions, respectively) under our control. Men are called to rule over, as God’s ambassador, all that is put under their domain. In a series of posts, beginning with the heart, the internal workings of a person, I wrote about how a man ought to exercise his God-given dominion. On Monday we will move on to discuss how man ought to have dominion over his body, but I want to spend some more time considering emotions. I have been reading Eric Metaxes’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, and I have noted a few places where Metaxes touches on Bonhoeffer’s view of emotions or ability to control his emotions, I think looking at a few will be instructive on the importance of cultivating and protecting our emotional lives.

  • Bonhoeffer’s Family

Karl Bonhoeffer taught his children to speak only when they had something to say. He did not tolerate sloppiness of expression any more than he tolerated self-pity or selfishness or boastful pride… The Bonhoeffer children were taught to be in firm control of their emotions. Emotionalism, like sloppy communication, was thought to be self-indulgent. When his father died, Karl Bonhoeffer wrote, “Of his qualities, I would wish that our children inherit his simplicity and truthfulness. I never heard a cliché from him, he spoke little and was a firm enemy of everything faddish and unnatural.”

It is important to read this rightly. Metaxes is not saying that the Bonhoeffer household was emotionless, the actions and legacy of this family shows that to be quite an untenable position. What Metaxes is saying is that Dietrich’s father, Karl, sought to instill in his children emotional balance. They were to experience emotions, but not to lose themselves to them, not to allow themselves to be ruled by emotions. So much of our culture encourages us to lose ourselves in our emotions, especially in terms of romantic love and vengeance.

  • Bonhoeffer, Emotion, and the Church

Talk like this was rare from most German pulpits. From a university lectern it was simply unheard of. But Bonhoeffer had not suddenly become more emotional, or less rational. His style as a lecturer was “very concentrated, quite unsentimental, almost dispassionate, clear as a crystal, with a certain rational coldness, like a reporter.” It was this combination of an adamantine faith with a logician’s sparkling intellect that was so compelling.

Bonhoeffer openly thought things through and taught his students to do the same. They followed lines of reasoning to their logical conclusions and considered every angle to have a sense of absolute thoroughness, so that nothing depended on mere emotion. He accorded theological ideas the same respect that his father or Karl-Friedrich accorded scientific ideas, or his brother Klaus accorded ideas of jurisprudence. Questions about the Bible and ethics and theology must be treated with the same rigorousness, and all cant and “phraseology” must be identified, exposed as such, and cut away and discarded. One wished to arrive at answers that could stand up to every scrutiny because one would have to live out those conclusions. They would have to become actions and would have to become the substance of one’s life. Once one saw clearly what the Word of God said, one would have to act on it and its implications, such as they were. And actions in Germany at that time had serious consequences.

Bonhoeffer struck a balance between the lectern and pulpit. The former was often cold and mathematical, the latter emotional and charismatic. Bonhoeffer sought a middle ground. he combined controlled emotions with firm logic. In his own studies this allowed him to see through the fog of the popular liberal theology and to seek to communicate truth. He impressed this on his students as well.

  •  Emotions, Control, and Circumstance

But as they spoke, Bonhoeffer’s mind continued to churn about the situation back home, wondering how long he should stay in America, whether he ought to have come at all. But ever the master of his emotions, he didn’t betray any of this inner turmoil to his host, neither on the train nor in the three days he was with him and his family in their country home.

Listening to the radio in the sick bay on July 21, Bonhoeffer heard the news of the failed assassination attempt. He knew the ramifications. But he would not take his emotional cues from circumstances.

Bonhoeffer’s life brought about circumstances that would have lent themselves to emotional extremes, but his ability to rule his emotions (rather than them ruling him) allowed him to live a life of joy in the midst of tragedy, which was never far from his mind. It is possible that Bonhoeffer went too far in reigning in his emotions, I am not sure, but what I can say for sure is that we can learn much from Dietrich, as well, I am sure, other brothers and sisters in church history. But ultimately our example must be Christ. Jesus as well felt deep emotions and yet he never allowed them to rule him. Yes, even when turning tables over in the Temple.

 

Thanks for reading,

t.d.h.

 

Coming Up Next Week:

  • Masculinity and Domain: The Body
  • More NFL predictions and reflections on the NFL
  • Either a personal psalm (I promised one a while ago and didn’t get around to it)…
  • Or a review of Michael Horton’s Calvin on the Christian Life

Predictions for Week One

Though I usually limit myself to a select set of topics, every once in a while I branch out to talk about sports, my favorite of which is football. So here are my predictions for week 1 of the regular season.

  1. With a larger than normal chip on his shoulders Arron Rodgers leads Green Bay to an upset over Seattle in Seattle as pay back for the “Fail Mary”. Final score 14-24 Green bay.
  2. San Francisco stops talk of weak defense as Bowman and Smith’s subs get big pressure on Romo. I bet the secondary gets burned deep at least once though. Final score 17-27 San Francisco.
  3. Corrderell Patterson scores at least a 30 yard touchdown of some kind in a win over St. Louis. Final score 21-14 Minnesota.
  4. Brian Hoyer does “just fine” as Cleveland beats Pittsburgh in an underwhelming performance. Final score 3-17 Cleveland.
  5. Toby Gerhart does well, but is out shined by McCoy and Sproils. Final score 14-28 Philly.
  6. Maurice Jones-Drew makes a comeback. Final score 10-17 Oakland.
  7. Epic chases ensue between RGIII and Javed Clowney as Houston barely pulls out the home win. Final score 24-21 Houston.
  8. Alex Smith usually does well when he has a new contract, I bet he get a touchdown with his arm and his legs in a win over Tennessee. Final score 24-14 Kansas City.
  9. Cam Newton continues to prove he is a fantasy beast, but also continues to prove that Carolina is not good on offense. Final score 10-21 Tampa Bay.
  10. Andrew Luck out performs Peyton Manning in an Indi win in Denver. Final score 24-31 Indianapolis.

Thanks for reading,

t.d.h.

Masculinity and Domain: The Soul and The Will

Feelings, feelings, and feelings. Let me try thinking instead. – C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Continuing on in our discussion about masculinity and domain, we come to the will and soul. By way of recapitulation, we have been examining what Richard Phillips calls the “masculine mandate”. This is the directive God gave to Adam to work (cultivate) and keep (protect) creation. Having written both a book review of Phillips’ The Masculine Mandate and a discussion of how we (men) might pursue fulfilling the mandate today by thinking about what God has given us dominion over, we discussed the how we might work and keep our minds, as the mind is where transformation begins. In that last post I asserted, in agreement with Dr. Robert Saucy, that the mind is one facet of the heart; or put differently, that the heart is the center/core of a person and is made up of the mind, the will, and the soul. In this post we turn our attention to the will and soul, that is, having attempted to work and keep the mind, we now attempt to understand how we might do the same for the will and soul.

The Relation of the Mind, the Soul, and the Will

The first concept we must understand is how the mind and soul relate, for this I, again, am relying on Dr. Saucy’s Minding the Heart. In today’s culture we are tempted to think of emotions as involuntary or uncontrollable. Emotions are often thought of as autonomous, they do what they want without regard for our thoughts and desires. Likewise we often think of ‘emotional’ people as volatile or spontaneous. On the flip side, the Spocks of the world are all intellect and no emotion. In truth, however, this is not an accurate picture of emotions. Emotions are directly linked to our thoughts, they arise as a result of our thoughts. Consider, by way of example, the death of a loved one. How you emotionally respond to that is directly correlated to what you believe to be true about that person and what happens after death. In relation to this Dr. Saucy writes, “This analysis tells us that our emotions are not simply feelings, but feelings that result from our emotions are not simply feelings, but feelings that result from our mind’s appraisal of that which has aroused our attention” (140).

This is not always immediately clear to us though, not because it is false, because we often are inconsistent in our real beliefs and our assertions. We may claim a belief in God, or the goodness of man, or the rightness of an action, or the benefits of technological progress, but if we ever ‘lose’ this belief we might ask if we ever really believed it in the first place. To be more specific there are many who have ‘left’ Christianity or the Church because they felt they could no longer believe in God for this or that reason, but many times we find that careful investigation reveals that they never really believed in the Christian God (the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Rather they believed in some false depiction of God (maybe a deist God or the God of moralistic, therapeutic deism) or never tested their “belief in God” enough to see if it actually held weight.

To return to our point, though, emotions are connected to beliefs and thoughts. They are subordinate and often reveal our true inclinations in what we believe and how we think. But if we are seeking transformation and change it should be common sense that something is missing from our discussion. From this idea we get the following progression:

Thought  >>> Emotion >>> _________ >>> Heart Transformation

It should not take long to figure out what is missing, action. Heart transformation does not happen on its own, rather it is a result of actions which are motivated by our sanctified emotional responses to true beliefs/ideas. This brings us to our next concept, the will.

The will is the seat of desires and decisions. Put simply when a choice arises (say between writing a blog post or going to work out) our will kicks in. It weighs our desires (do I want to practice writing and publish a blog which will contribute to me becoming a better writer or do I want to work out which will contribute to me getting stronger and looking good with my shift off?) and makes a decision based on which desire is stronger. Like our emotions, however, this is not an isolated process. Our desires are based on beliefs/ideas and fueled by emotions. Thus the will is inseparably linked to the soul and the mind.

There is much more that could be said here, but we need to move on to the issue at hand.

How Do We Work Our Souls and Wills

  1. Seek truth. voraciously read your Bible and allow it to challenge your thoughts and beliefs. I recommend starting by taking a few blank pieces of paper and labeling them ‘God’, ‘Life’, ‘Humanity’, then write as much as you can about what you believe about them. Then take a Bible (read it), and make notes about what the Bible says about those three things. When you run into disagreement between what the Bible says and what you believe allow the Bible the place of primacy over your thoughts. This is not to say “just believe what the Bible says”, rather allow the Bible to be judge over you rather than you judging the Bible. Ask yourself why you believe X and whether or not it is more believable and more consistent with reality than what the Bible says. This is not easy to do, so seek help from people who know their Bibles well and from commentaries on the Bible.
  2. Reflect on your past. Are there events that have lead you to develop false beliefs about God, life, humanity, the world. Seek out your false beliefs and change them, ask God to change them.
  3. Analyze your emotions. In moments of deep emotion or soon after, ask yourself, ‘why did I respond that way?’, ‘what caused that emotion to manifest in me?’, ‘was my emotional reaction justified?’, ‘if I could re-live that experience and change how I reacted, what do I wish I could have done?’
  4. Act. Go. Actually do these things. Ask God to give you the desire to do them.

How Do We Keep Our Souls and Wills

  1. Seek Truth. Read your Bible it will soften and feed your heart.
  2. Search and destroy false beliefs.
  3. Analyze emotions. Attempt to catch yourself in the midst of emotional reactions which show false beliefs.
  4. Pray for consistency in your life.
  5. Pursue holiness. Sin hardens and erodes the heart, but holiness frees us to follow and hear from God.

 

That is all we have time for in this post, thanks for reading,

 

t.d.h.

 

Coming up next:

  1. Update on The Planter
  2. NFL: Week One Predictions
  3. Bonhoeffer and Emotions
  4. Review of Michael Horton’s John Calvin on the Christian Life: Part 1 of a series of reviews covering the Theologians on the Christian Life series from Crossway.