Saturday, September 24, 2011

Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People

"I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there's gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day." so begin the tribulations of the children’s classic hero, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day?

The book has a positively puritan title (check out the length and descriptive nature in all its glory!). But it also captures a great truth. This little boys struggles have enchanted generations of readers, because every one of us has terrible, horible, bad days. The 19thCentury American Poet H. W. Longfellow who has penned: “Into each life some rain must fall, / Some days must be dark and dreary.” Someone has said, their are three states people are in in life. They are either in the midst of troubles, just emerging from troubles, or about to enter into trouble. But beyond this common place there is something more.
“There comes into all souls, at least once in life, a severe test. It is known as the Dark Night of the Soul. It is when we are beleaguered by darkness: spiritual and mental and where no hope seems to be near and everything we try to do it thwarted. It is where the soul is forced to persist and enter into the glorious Golden Dawn of Illumination and kinship with God, or relax into the dull slumber of a mediocre physical existence. You cannot avoid it. If this test has not already come into your life-it will. How you deal with it is as important as life itself.” (From the preface to the poem The Dark Night of the Soul by 16th century theologian John Cross).

The Biblical Book of Job sets out to answer the often difficult quandary: "Is God Good?". But it answers it from the classic question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?". The Author of the Biblical book notes of the story's central character, “that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). Notice that this description identifies four things about Job:

* blameless: This word in Hebrew, the language Job was written in, speaks of perfection in the sense of wholeness or integrity. It means simplicity of morality, what you see is what you get. Job was a “good old boy”. You could trust Job with any secret. He would always be on your side.

* upright: This word means, that as a reflection of his integrity, Job was a “straight arrow”. His integrity was an integrity of moral goodness. He was one of those people you could just count on to do the right thing. He helped the orphan and the widow. He upheld justice.

* fearing God: This idea means he was a man of faith. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. It is also a great measure of morality. Even in secret Job would maintain his integrity and uprightness, because he knew that God saw even in the secret place. Job followed God’s commandments, and was a great person to be around. He gave practical counsel to everyone leading to their success in life.

*Turning away from evil: This means when temptation came Job’s way, he went in the other direction. Sometimes a person is afraid to do evil themselves. But they will watch evil. Vicarious evil is the fundamental principle of the Hollywood industry. Job would not even consider evil, but turned wholly from it. He would never cheat, or hurt you.

Why did bad things happen to Job? Why did he enter a "dark night of the soul"? Is there injustice with God?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Is God Good?

I recently posted this on my team blog with my brother Wyatt.

Is God good? For the New Atheists, like Christopher Hitchens, the answer is a decided “no”. For billions of believers the answer is a resounding “yes”. One would assume, that those who are Biblical Theists, would have very little trouble joining the faithful throng. In the view of many, the Bible presents a safe and benevolent deity, who responds so positively that a bumper sticker reading, “God Bless America” is at once a both a prayer that one assumes will be answered and a statement of the perceived message of the Bible. It may surprise the reader of this blog, then, to hear that the Bible’s perspective if far less clear cut.

God is Great and Awesome

The Bible presents God, not as a simple safe and benevolent old man longing for the company of his creation, but rather as the awesome and unparalleled power behind all that is great: “What is man,” the Psalmist asks, “that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4).

This reflection follows the statement: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,” (Psalm 8:3). The question asked in verse four brings to mind the insignificance of a mere man, when compared to the awesome majesty of the Cosmos, and the Ultimate reality that lies behind it. The Sun, a single star puts forth every minute about 10,000 times the energy the whole of the human race has ever produced, and it is but one of trillions. The beauty of the cosmos, with its nebula and sparkling orbs, puts to shame every speck of human art. How could He who made those stars even notice, let alone care about you or me?

Great minds in philosophy have grappled with this perspective, as have many ordinary folks who have a moment to behold at a spectacular range of mountains, or peer over the precipice of the grand canyon, or gaze upon the Milky Way on a clear winters night. Does the Creator notice the Creature? Is the Unmoved mover affected by man’s acts? A mere glance at the universe tells us he is both great and awesome. Careful reflection should bring a tremor to the human heart and a reverence that is shocked when we read, “because of the great love with which he loved us”, God visited humanity with mercy and gave us life immortal with which to enjoy all of his blessings (Ephesians 2:4-7). But that is not the total picture.

God is Great and Awful

The simple awe of the Psalmist, at the realization that God has spoken in mercy and cares for His people is contrasted by the darker tones of a much more sober work. Patient Job, who beholds not mountains and canyons and cosmic displays, is confronted instead with the trauma of psychological, emotional and physical suffering the likes of which few have ever conceived, let alone seen. In that day, God was not "awesome", but "awful".

His beloved children, all dead, have left this father in mourning. Job's life’s work, all gone, has left this proud man in poverty. His beloved companion and partner in life, his wife, has asked him to go to a quiet place and end his misery. His closest friends have assailed him with the un-compassionate refrain, that he brought all this upon his own head, “I have seen” one noted, “those who plow iniquity and sow trouble, reap the same” (Job 4:8).

In the “bitterness of [his] soul” (Job 7:11), the sufferer reflects in the Creator, “What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, visit him every morning and test him every moment?” (Job 7:17-18). While Psalm 8 has been the beloved memorized refrain of generations of believers, Job seven reads like a dark mirror, reflecting the joy of the Psalmist into darkened tones. Rather than a cause for praise, Job sees a cause for fear. Rather than care, Job sees trouble. For the Psalmist the visit of God is a cause for rejoicing, for Job it is a cause for grief.

This book, described by some as the ultimate expression of Biblical Humanism, demonstrates the balance and brilliance of the Bible. It is not a “pie in the sky” document for dreamers dis-associated with the pain of life. It is a book for the psychologically complex, intellectual agile and pragmatically surviving people who inhabit this world. Job deals very specifically with the question, “Is God good”, not from the perspective of quiet reflection, or from theological academia, but from the perspective of a man in a crises. From the depths of despair it presents both a sufferer reaching out and a Creator reaching down to deal with this really important question.

If God is not good, then it would be right and even heroic when facing such a Being to cry out in the words Milton put in the fallen angel’s mouth, “better to rule in hell then to serve in heaven”. Yet, if God is good, then only a fool would say in his heart through day to day life, “there is no God” (Psalm 51:1). As I reflect on the book of Job myself in the coming weeks, I would invite you to join me in reading this book, and follow along as I share my own reflections in this blog.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A New Alliance!

If you have enjoyed any of the posts on this site, or if you link to it from your blog or website, please consider updating your link. Recently, my brother asked me to join him in a blogging venture: The Graham's of Montrose (link). For those with a knowledge of Scottish heritage, this name will be recognized. It is a historic designation for my family. Our Tartan, and Crest regularly displayed in family homes reminded us of the passed, as does the family logo: ne oublie, Latin for "never forget".

We have set our goal to remember the Creator, and our family heritage of faith. My blogging energies will be regularly engaged on that site. I have been posting Tuesday's and Thursdays, and my Brother Wednesdays and Fridays. Weekends through Monday, we hope to post our Dad's thoughts.

Some of my recent entries include:

Don't miss Wyatt's exciting content either as he is discussing a balanced Christian life with work, and leisure (sample).

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

When Giants Clash

What do you do, when two respected and faithful Christian leaders teach different interpretations of Scripture? Be a Berean. In Acts 17:11 we are told of their nobility, because on hearing Paul’s message, “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

I am thinking about Church government, because of a recent series of blogs by James MacDonald of Harvest Fellowship and Jonathan Leeman of 9Mark sparred over Church leadership. Both men seem to genuinely respect each other, and the debate was in internal and friendly one. But who is right?

MacDonald argued here, that Congregationalism, as known in America, is Satanic, and used by the Devil to divide Churches. He clarifies that he meant the “Roberts Rules Democracy” type of congregationalism in a follow up post.

9Marks authors responded reaffirming a moderate and limited congregationalism here, which attempted to address MacDonald’s legitimate concerns. And it is also, BTW, quite the model of how a Christian responds when a fellow Christian appears to say his position is "satanic"!

MacDonald responded here, and 9Marks had a final follow up here. In essence each of them appear to agree that government by the people of the congregation is unbiblical. This of course seems shocking to an American (and we Canadians share this) liberal democracy mindset, where the “right to vote” is ingrained in our collective psyche. We argue that governments exist “for the people” and so should be governed “by the people”.

Who is the Ruler of the Church?

The problem with the western democratic assumption is this: The Church is not a human, but divine institution. It operates on Divine instructions, from King Jesus. He came, sent from God with a message, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). By this he means “good news”. God’s good rule was returning with blessing and eternal life, for all who embrace the King. It also implied bad news for rebels, who refused to submit. The King didn’t come with a referendum question: “would you prefer to stay in the Domain of Darkness, or be transformed into the glorious Kingdom of God’s beloved Son?” (Cf. Colossians 1:13).

The Domain of Darkness was in essence the establishment of human democracy in Divine things. Eve considered the proposals of the candidates stump speeches: God said “ You shall not eat, or you shall die” and the Serpent argued from the other end of the spectrum, “God’s holding out on you, you will not die, but you will be like God”. Adam and Eve induced the Republic of Sin, by voting for the Devil in landslide victory. As we have become accustomed to, this politician failed to deliver on his promises, and in hindsight, appears to have mislead his voters.

When Christ came in the incarnation, he in essence, “Crossed the Rubicon” into the Republic of Sin. He came to overthrow sin and Satan, and to restore the rule of God, reforming the entire order of Creation.

Crossing the Rubicon

In 49 BC Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River. This was significant, because the Rubicon marked the boarder between the provinces of Cisapline Gaul and Italy proper. Italy was governed by, as the Legion Banners declared by the letters SPQR, standing for a phrase translated, “the senate and the People of Rome”.

Caesar was a governor in Gaul, and by Roman law, commanded the armies their. However, only the elected officials could control Italy. Upon crossing the boarder into the province, all Governors, lost their commissions over their troops (this ensured security from insurrections). Thus when Caesar crossed the River, he was committing treason, and invading Rome.

Of course he had his reasons. Rome was corrupt and decaying. After his victory, he was declared “Dictator for Life”. The people actually adored him, as he reformed the judicial system, restructured the government and secured Rome for its glorious future as the greatest Empire in history. Naturally enough the people did not “vote”, because Caesar was King, not elected official (Historical note, Caesar was never officially a King, but was granted all the trappings of such by the Senate, including having his statue placed in the procession of Kings in the government palaces of Rome).

Now, the republicans, Pompey and Marc Anthony, assassinated the King, with the help of one of his most trusted friends and subordinates, Brutus. This promped Shakespeare to write Caesar’s last words, in his play on this event, “Et tu Brutus?” (You too Brutus?). Caesar’s son Octavius mopped the floor with the rebels and fully established the Roman Empire, never again to have a Republican threat. Now, this is not to speak of human governance systems, but of the Divine regulation of Creation.

Christ, then, crossed the Rubicon, when he “took on flesh” and dwelled amongst us. He came to bring light and life to men. But, this is the condemnation, “men loved darkness rather than light” (John 3:19), and “His own people did not receive him” (John 1:11). He was assassinated and even betrayed by one of his closest companions, Judas (Rhymes with Brutus?). But rather than his adoptive son, Christ Himself was raised form the dead, and as the creed says, “will return to judge the living and the dead” and we are told “of his kingdom their shall be no end” (Revelation ).

The Church in Christ’s Kingdom

Christ is the “Head of the Body”, “Head over the Church”, “Husband of the Bride”, “King of the New Jerusalem”, reigns, “On the throne of David”, sits, “On the throne of God”, and is “Lord of Lords” and “King of Kings”, according to the Bible. In his Kingdom he “rules with an iron rod” (Rev. 2:27, 12:5, 19:15).

Now the Church, is the beachhead as it were, of his final kingdom. We are his ambassadors pleading with the world to embrace Jesus message and his Kingdom (2 Corinthians 5:20). We pray, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

The Church’s Government is Christ’s Government

The Church’s Ruler is exclusively the prerogative of Jesus Christ, her King.

1. He is the only one building the Church (Matthew 16:18). Yes, we participate, but only upon his pattern (cf. 1 Cor. 3:10, an ancient way of saying, ‘according to blueprint’).

2. Jesus owns the Church, having purchased her with his own blood (Acts 20:28). The Church is his slave and he is the Master.

3. The Divine decree has made him “Head of the body” (Col. 1:18).

4. He alone is described as the “Pastor and Overseer” of souls (1 Peter 2:25).

Therefore to Him alone belongs all the prerogatives of leadership and full obedience in the Church. There are no rights, and no votes (John 14:15, 15:10).

The Church’s Rule in practice is a rule delegated to the Apostles.

1. During his earthly ministry, Jesus delegated to them his earthly authority (Matt. 10:1-4, 11-15).

2. Envisioning the Church, he gave them Heavenly authority (Matthew 16:18-19, John 20:21-23).

3. As Paul notes, as an Apostle he shares a special “Authority, which the Lord gave” (2 Cor. 10:8) and that through the Apostles the voice of “Christ is speaking” (2 Cor. 13:3). Therefore the Apostles may command all Christians (cf. Phmn 9).

4. The very Church Christ is building, is built, “upon the foundations of the Apostles and Prophets” and only upon this pattern of authoritative direction can any today minister (Eph. 2:20, 1 Cor 3:10ff).

This rule is exercised through the living and abiding word of God, written by the Apostles and prophets so one may know “how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church” (1 Tim 3:15).

The Church’s Leadership is a function of interpreting and following the Apostolic instructions.

1. Christ as part of his ministry of building his Church gives gifts to that church, including leaders (Ephesians 4:11). These ensure the unity of the Church, by instructing the people into mature following of Christ (Ephesians 4:3-6, 12ff).

2. These leaders, known interchangeably in Scripture as Pastors, Elders, or Overseers (Bishops), are directed to “Shepherd the flock of God” by the Apostle Peter (1 Peter 5:2), no doubt in an echo of his own commission from Christ “Feed my sheep” (John ). Paul states that these leaders can summarise their commission as “Preach the word” (2 Tim 4:2).

3. Further, these leaders, “exercise oversight” (1 Peter 5:2), or in the words of Paul, “rule” in the Church (1 Timothy 5:17). This especially involves overseeing sound doctrine, both instructing believers and refuting false teachers (Titus 1:9). They also, in following the Apostolic Pattern, oversee others in ensuring the practical needs of the Church are met (Acts 6:2-6).

4. These leaders will answer to God for their faithfulness (1 Peter 5:4, 2 Tim 4:1, esp Hebrews 14:17b). In light of this heavy responsibility, believers are instructed to “remember” them and “imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7), and to “obey” and “Submit” to them (Hebrews 13:17) as they “teach the word of God to [them]” (Hebrews 13:7). On the flip side, the leaders are to “command and teach” (1 Tim 4:11) the apostolic trust (1 Tim 6:20, Titus 1:9). They are even forbidden to allow anyone to “despise” literally “get around” their instruction because of perceived personal weakness, such as age, because this is not their word, but God’s.

5. Finally, Christ has provided, by a command, that those who minster the gospel should “live by it”, thus paving the way for staff elder/pastors . Though they are permitted to pass over this right, as Paul did, for the furtherance of the gospel (1 Timothy 5:17, 18, 1 Cor 9:9ff).

This establishes a very clear order, which sounds very much like the conclusions of James MacDonald. Christ is King, ruling through his Apostles, mediated by the interpretive authority of the pastor/overseer/elders. There is no democracy in these passages. The Church is the Embassy of a Theocracy. The Ambassadorial party does not decide policy, but explains and proclaims it. What role does the congregation have in leadership? As best I can find, the congregation has no role in leadership of any kind. They have a different role.

The Church’s Accountability is the responsibility of every believer.

1. Following what we have seen above, there is an obligation on all believers to encourage their fellows to love and good works, including loving and obeying their leaders to preserve unity (Hebrews 10:24, 1 Peter 5:5, Eph. 4:3) This suggests, that with the exceptions listed below, the saints should be obedient in all the decisions of leadership indifferent or otherwise, provided they are not in conflict with Scripture, just as with other authorities such as Government (Romans 13:1, Hebrews 13:17, with Acts 4:19).

2. All Christians, Elders and Saints alike, are responsible to maintain moral purity in the body (Galatians 6:1, Matthew 18:16-18). Jonathan Leeman at 9marks has argued that this should extend to the approval of members, as guarding the door to the church, is the best way to ensure purity. The right to discipline out, he argues, implies the right to accept in. James MacDonald on the other hand, argues that this is a role that the Elder’s fulfill, as a function of leading the congregation. Obviously, as they are given to be the interpreters of the biblical instructions for Christian living and are selected for their role, because they are living examples of such (), the Elders should take the primary lead in this role. It is important to notice that in the case a charge comes against an elder, it is the other elders, not the body, who determine whether to “admit” or “reject” a charge (1 Timothy 5:19). As this aspect of universal responsibility is not clearly defined by Scripture, as far as practice, it may be a matter of prudence and local exigencies, rather than Biblical faithfulness (in other words, both men may be right, practically).

3. All Christians, Elders and Saints are responsible to maintain doctrinal purity in the body (Romans 16:17, Galatians 1:6-9). Again, for Leeman, this implies the responsibility to participate in the selection of those who will teach the doctrine. This is a very reasonable extension. When Paul and Barnabus were commissioned from Antioch, we are told of their appointment: “it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church” (Acts 15:22). Should this seeming good to the whole church be determined by means of a vote? Should it be the affirmation of the elders leading in this matter? Again, the obvious leaders in this process are the ones charges to safeguard doctrine, not the ones being safeguarded. Perhaps again, this is a matter of prudence.

4. We notice that there are no instructions in Scripture for the congregation to influence such things as the distribution of finds, the administrative direction of the church, or its mission. These are all entrusted directly to the leadership, whether the oversight of the financial administration (Acts 4:35, 1 timothy 5:1-7), general management (1 Tim 3:5), conduct in worship (1 Tim3:15), and generally (Hebrews 13:17).


We must conclude then, that the Church, ruled by Christ, and Christ alone, through his Apostles, as interpreted by his appointed leaders, is not by any stretch a liberal democracy. Ideas that come from that cultural practice must be rejected. At the same time, there does seem to be a warrant for some kind of universal responsibility within the body for all the saints to have a sort of “passive veto” in Jonathan Leeman’s words, in regard to the purity of morals and doctrine in the church. This does seem by reasonable inference to include both input into membership and into selecting leaders. How this is practically done, appears to be a matter of local prudence, under the leadership of the elders in any given congregation.

If it seems prudent in a small group to solicit the wisdom of all, then I see no reason why the leaders should not be able to ask for a general conversation/vote. If it seems prudent in other situations to move forward directly, then that seems to be an elder prerogative. Saints ought to be humble followers of Christ, through their leadership, granting them the benefit of the doubt, and making themselves a “joy to lead” (Hebrews 13:17). Leaders are to be Christ to the people, loving them as Christ would. Being patient (2 Tim. 2:24), respecting them, and guiding them with compassion (1 Peter 5:1-4).

Friday, June 10, 2011

I Believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of Life

Imagine that it is the Feast of Tabernacles (described in John 7 and 8) and you are approaching Jerusalem, and seeing the mighty pyres burning on the corners of the Temple Mount. All that glitters in the gilding of that magnificent building sparkling with the flickering of the flames. You enter the courtyard and see a crowd, a massive confluence of peoples is flowing through the busy courtyard, taking, laughing. All through the court are massive seven pronged torches making it seem as bright as day, and echoing the thoughts of many hearts embracing the hope of Israel, that the God who said, “let their be light” will bring light into these dark days and deliver Israel once again.

Suddenly, an enigmatic Rabbi steps up on a low stone beside a fully lit Menorah and yells out in a voice that stops the crowd in their tracks: “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12). Suddenly, pandemonium; Jesus had already made quite a stir with regards to the ultimate speech on a renewable source for water, surely a valuable idea in a desert surrounded city. Just what was going on?

The Significance of the Feast of Tabernacles is highlighted by Josephus who states that this feast was “especially sacred and important” (Antiquities viii:100 quoted in Carson, 305). As the last of the great season of feasts, and celebrating the richest harvest of “grapes and olives” (Carson, 305), it became know as “the Feast” (Kostenberger, 108). In each of the three great feasts, “Passover”, “Pentecost” and “Booths”, all Adult males were expected to make every effort to get to Jerusalem (Kostenberger, 77). Thus we can imagine, that at this, the most popular of all the “required” feasts, Jesus would have the broadest and most significant audience of faithful Jews at any point in his ministry. As Jesus now approaches the final months of his life and ministry, he begins to fully unburden his mission: “to bear witness to the Truth” (John 18:37).

Jesus fulfills the spiritual realities symbolized by the ceremonies of the Feast. Tabernacles was known for its “water-drawing rite and a lamp-lighting rite to which Jesus quite clearly refers (cf. 7:37ff.; 8:12, Carson, 305). It is critical to realize that Jesus does not fulfill this in any act, or any statement, but rather, in himself. “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12) and “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37). The explicit statement of John (from his perspective as omnipotent narrator) clarifies that "this he said about the Spirit" (v. 39). It is of course, the spirit who gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6 and Job 33:4). In a few lines we will come back to this, but first we need a stronger picture of the feast in mind.

Water is especially significant to this Feast, as it was “owing to the daily solemn outpouring of water… [that] the Feast of Tabernacles came to be associated with eschatological hope” (Kostenberger, 109). The ceremonies also brought the people to a dramatic climax, ready to hear Jesus speak: “for six consecutive days a procession of priests carried water in golden vessels into the temple area. This pouring was thought to have physical and spiritual significance.” Now sense the anticipation of this pageantry, when “on the seventh day, the ‘great day’ (v. 37), no water was carried. It was then that Jesus stood and taught of the ‘rivers of living waters’[1]”.

Now, this statement, of living waters for: “whoever believes in me” (John 7:38), is backed up a summary statement of the Old Testaments teaching, “as the Scripture has said”. This is so stunning that it sets off a maelstrom of speculation regarding the identity of Jesus once again.

The potential Old Testament background is complicated by the fact that Jesus words do not seem to be a direct quote, but a theological summary. This is not uncommon in many references to the Old Testament (see Paul’s gospel summaries in 1 Cor. 15:3-4). It may perhaps be referencing Isaiah 12:3 and 58:11.However one passage stands out to the present author, Ezekiel 47 which describes the living waters flowing from the temple in the Millennial Eden.

Jesus is of course in the temple court here. According to John, Jesus is a physical manifestation of the “tabernacle” (John 1:14), and has spoken of “the temple of his body” (2:21). It certainly fits the flow of John’s theology and depiction of Christ, to have him once again claim to be the temple. Thus we read in Ezekiel 47 of a purifying stream of water (v. 8), which specifically gives life (v. 9), and which nourishes an orchard of trees whose leaves are “for healing” (v 12).

This theme seems to be taken up by John once again in Revelation 22, where he speaks of the “water of life” flowing from “the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:1), which echoing Ezekiel produces an orchard of “the tree of life” whose leaves “were for the healing of the nations” (v. 2). It is by the Spirit that Jesus will provide all these things for his people: and so the final climax of his ministry is: "receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22), who is called in the creed, "the Lord, the giver of life".

And so the water of life and the light of the world, make for startling claims of eschatological fulfillment, from the one who preached, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). What tragedy, that at the end of these speeches, the account ends, not with healing waters of salvation, but with the statement: “they picked up stones to throw at him” (John 8:59).

[1] The Liberty Annotated Study Bible notes (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 1988), John 7:2

Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John. Eerdman's Publishing, 1991. ISBN 0-8028-3683-6.

Köstenberger, Andreas J. Encountering John. Baker Books, 1999. ISBN0-8010-2603-2.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Reflecting on Jesus and the Twelve

This reflection is not intended to be a definitive statement about Discipleship, but just some thoughts that occurred incidentally, while studying the Gospels. It is “off the cuff” as it were, and so should be meditated on, before conclusions are too strongly drawn.

As we think about church leadership, what do we tend to think of? Pastor’s from seminary? Rev’d Doctor’s from the Universities? Should we look for imports from another place, or the most successful business people in the congregation? What did Jesus do?

1) Multiplication of Ministry

Jesus knew that it was important to multiply his ministry quickly. He needed more leaders.

Jesus chose the twelve, “so that they could be with him and that he could send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14).

After some time with him, he sent them out into the towns and villages that he would visit as forerunners.

Who were they? They were, as one book labels them Twelve Ordinary Men. But they were also a pretty diverse crowd. Matthew was a Tax Collector (Roman puppet and extorter of Jews), Simon was a Zealot (radical anti Roman Jewish political movement). Other’s were fishermen, and so on.

Peter and John seemed to have some wealth and standing. Peter’s ‘home’ in Capernaum is a significant one. John was able to have communications with the High Priest’s court, during the trial of Jesus.

In fact, despite popular thought, they were a fairly competent lot. The Tax Collector would be educated in business, multi-lingual (Arabic, Greek and smattering of Latin, and probably some Hebrew), the Business owners similarly, so.

They were also all Galileans. Galilee was kind of the working man’s area. The rough and tumble, Alberta, or Texas of ancient Israel. The intellectual elite in Jerusalem certainly looked down on them, as unlettered men. But that did not mean they were “uneducated” in the real world.

2) Specification of Ministry

Despite the fact that there were 12, Jesus really focused in on a smaller group. Peter, James and John (not Peter, Paul and Mary as some are want to think today!).

This intimate group saw far more than the others, including the transfiguration. They alone advanced with him to pray in the Gardene of Gethsemene. Special tests (Peter’s Denial, James the 1st Martyr etc) and special commissions (Feed My sheep-Peter, Care for my Mother-John etc) are focused on these men.

We see this imitated by Paul, who by some estimates had 35 people he labeled “Fellow workers” in his letters. Yet we chiefly associate him with his close companions, Timothy, Luke, Barnabus etc. He didn’t give special tasks to Priscilla ands Aquilla, but he did to Timothy and Titus.

3) Intimacy of Ministry

One more step is intriguing. It was actually a surprising recognition (which I know I have heard before, but never gave much thought) to consider the relationships between the core disciples.

James and John, where the Sons of Salome, whom most scholars believe to be Mary (the mother of Jesus) sister. In other words, Jesus was cousins with two of his inner circle. This makes sense, when at the cross, Jesus asks John to take care of his aunt.

Further, Peter was a business partner with James and John in the fishing industry. Probably this implies another familial relationship, or at least a close intimacy.

Jesus simply didn’t tenure for resumes, no he went with those he trusted! Interestingly, we all know Peter as Mr. impulsive/aggressive, (think of the sword at the Garden), but James and John were labeled by Jesus, “the sons of thunder”. He picked the aggressive and hardnosed, loyal relatives to surround him in his trusted inner circle. Remember the his forerunner John the Baptist, was also a cousin, and amongst the other disciples a number were related.

Andrew, for example was the brother of Peter (cf. Matt 10:2). Further, According to John 1:44, “Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter.” They must have known each other. Philip immediately went out and recruited Nathaniel ““Nathanael” may be the personal name of Bartholomew (Bar-Tholomaios, “son of Tholomaios”), who is linked with Philip in all three Synoptic lists of apostles” (ESV study Bible). The parallel to Andrew and Peter, and this link, likely implies that they were brothers, or cousins.

So we basically have the cousins and business partners from Western Galilee, getting organized around Jesus.

We often see that families and friends for the nucleus of significant movements. Think of Franklin and Billy Graham, or Charles Spurgeon, his Uncle, and sons all pasturing at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, or Jonathan Edwards, who served as assistant pastor to his maternal grandfather, before taking over in Northampton.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Propaganda, or Truth: Rehabilitating John's Gospel

History or Propaganda? These stark options and much in between have caught believers in a milieu of confusion with regards to the reliability and usefulness of John’s gospel over the last 150 years. While the Betty Ford clinic has often struggled to successfully rehabilitate high profile young Hollywood stars, developments of 21st century scholarship have succeeded in breathing new life into Johannine studies.


During the heyday of Liberal Theology, and especially through the influence of Strauss and Bultmann (Burge’s p. 18, Carson p 30-32), John came to be seen as the “gospel outsider”. The Gospel was thought to primarily reflect a Greek worldview, to be influenced by Gnosticism or Christian myth making, and to have been written very late. In sum, it was thought by general consensus to be “the least historically credible of all the canonical gospels” (Carson, 30).

While earlier writers, even from amongst the modernist German’s had maintained support for the gospel (see Schleiermacher’s position in Burge, 17), it was primarily three dramatic movements that brought credibility back into the discussion.


First, archeological evidence surfaced, knocking most of the presuppositions of the Liberal construction out from beneath their theories. The Dead Sea Scrolls provided a framework for the sociological and theological milieu of John, which moved it away from a Greco-Roman and back into a Palestinian context (Carson 32-33). Coupled with this, discoveries of manuscripts, best represented in the John Ryland’s Papyrus, dated to ca 125AD conclusively pushed the Gospel’s dating back into the Apostolic era (Kostenberger, 211).

Secondly, the “new look” movement re-evaluated John in light of its internal witness and these archeological developments, and argued persuasively that John represented an independent historical witness to the life and teachings of Jesus; “from the same wellspring as that of the Synoptics” (Burge, 25). One critical writer of this movement is Gardner-Smith, whom Carson notes, “has taken hold of much of Johannine scholarship” with this thesis (32). Accounts from the history must no longer be viewed as “fictional” but have “historical worth” (Burge, 27).

Third, the evidence of the Dead Sea Scrolls and new analysis (tied to this ‘new look’ school with J. A. T. Robertson leading the way), has really placed emphasis on the Palestinian/Jewish context of the book. Moving the theology away from a Grecian context, has led to significant re-interpretation of the meaning of the “signs” and re-interpreted the purpose and meaning of the main plot. (Kostenberger, 212).


Bringing up images of adventure and discovery, a la Indiana Jones, the Archeological discoveries of the last century revolutionized much of biblical scholarship. The confidence that it grants and the context it provides to a Biblical book is invaluable to the preacher and the apologist. If one includes the theological and sociological insights provided by the manuscripts of the Dead Sea, the message of John is dramatically enhanced, making this perhaps the most valuable foundational aspect of these movements.

It is important to note, however that despite the encouraging direction of much of this rehabilitation, like the restructuring of Tiger Woods moral compass around Buddhism, it has not necessarily led to Christian orthodoxy in modern scholarship. This is seen in the Johannine School hypothesis of Robertson, which argues that a separatist movement of John’s disciples was responsible for the final draft (see Kostenberger, 212-13), and various other new theories. The cautiously identified ‘cutting edge’ of modern thinking on this Gospel, Carson notes is “literary criticism” (38). This school of thought often assumes the final form of the gospel, as is, without getting too deeply into questions of authorship thus leading to textual analysis that can be helpful, but also tends to look to identify ‘sources’ within the text, or political agendas. Thus this “rehabilitation” has both gifts to offer and minefields to avoid (38-40).


Burge, Gary M. Interpreting the Gospel of John. Baker Books, 1992.

ISBN 0-8010-1021-7.

Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John. Eerdman's Publishing, 1991.

ISBN 0-8028-3683-6.

Köstenberger, Andreas J. Encountering John. Baker Books, 1999. ISBN0-8010-2603-2.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Creation, Faith and Science

One of the toughest things Christian's face in sharing their faith today, is the objection that modern science (usually meaning the Big Bang and the Theory of Evolution) have made faith in God, at least the Biblical view of God, obsolete.

But is this objection really true? Do these "origins theories" really reflect scientific certainty, over and against biblical theology?

Consider the faith building encouragement of this message from Genesis 1:1.

Creation's Story from Chad Graham on Vimeo.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Is Missional the New Traditional?

Every successful revolutionary movement, becomes the new establishment. It may have a new face, but it becomes the same great power, "the tradition", which they themselves had once sought to overcome. The new leaders find themselves repeating much of the defences that the previous generation used against them.

Anthony Bradley has written an article concerning the "missional" movement, within evangelicalism. Referencing yesterdays revolutionaries, he writes:
So I'm beginning to wonder if it's "a wrap" on this whole "missional" movement splash, especially in terms of church planting? I can definitely see the wind being taken out of the sails for some. I've been particularly curious about crickets I hear when bringing up a few issues among missional Christians (link to article.)
Now, as a church planter and having attended countless hours of church plant training and read many church planting books, i am of a very similar opinion.

It seems like these certain fads come up, and become "the thing" and then like the seed planted in shallow soil, they suddenly wither. Individuals within the movements either mature back to historic Christian roots (Mark Driscoll), or go on to further and further extremes (Clark Pinnock).

The richest irony is how heavily the fads of just a few years ago are mocked by the newest establishment. For example, a decade or so ago, all one heard about was "purpose driven ministry". Then 5 years ago, the Missional leaders derided this "attraction" model as so much huffing and puffing.

In each popular movement that arises, there may be value, and their may be danger. But one thing remains certain, the Word of God still stands, and a very simple ministry philosophy is already provided for us, that will never go out of style, because unlike all the movements of men, God's supernatural power accomplishes his purposes.

We are told that pastoral ministry is a shepherding function.

"Feed My Sheep" Jesus told Peter. To Pastor Timothy, Paul wrote, "Preach the world, in season and out of season" (2 Tim 4:1). An elder, by basic definition is a believer whose life is an example and one who is, as is repeated three times in Paul's letters to Timothy as a necessity: "able to teach" (1 Tim 3:2, 2 Tim 2:2, 2 Tim 2:24).

We are told that pastoral ministry is an equipping function.
"He {jesus} gave some... as pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry" (Ephesians 4:12).

We are told that body ministry is the mutual shepherding and equipping of one another after the example of the pastoral ministry.

"...speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is athe head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, cwhen each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love" (Ephesians 4:15-16).

We are told that the purpose of Assembling together is to minster encouragement to fellow believers.

"consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another" (Hebrews 10:24-25).

The error of going beyond the Scripture.

The list I gave was meant to be illustrative, not exhaustive. There is much more. Paul warns, in regard to following the ministry directions of certain men, even the best of men, that we must, "learn by us not to go beyond what is written" (1 Cor. 4:6).

Now I would never say that we cannot model off of and learn from other leaders. There is certainly value presented in each of these various church fads that come up. I and many others have been blessed by some of the opportunities they opened and some of the biblical content they refreshed for us. However, within every wilting movement there is a sense that a significant part of the model itself has gone beyond what is written. There are other more biblically centered movements, that have proved to be more enduring.

You can see the difference in comparing, for example, the "Prayer Book" movement. The Book of Common Prayer, is a manual for scheduling and organizing church services for every day and each Sunday, and holidays. In the 1500's Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote this book when he sought to conform the English Church to a biblical form of worship. Certainly not everything in that volume is perfect. However in the main, it focused on 1) helping pastors to feed the sheep a well rounded diet, 2) helping ministers to equip their flock with prayers and doctrine, 3) helping the people participate in activities that encouraged one another. At its heart 4) it was a systematic approach to preaching the word. As a result, 500 years later, it is still a living force within the church life of millions of believers, and a template for millions more.

On the other hand, no one is using the the old "walk across the room", seeker techniques anymore. Fewer and fewer are using the "purpose driven model" and now "missional" model churches seem to be slowly dying.

So how should we frame our ministries?

First, I believe it is the the obligation of every believer, and the urgent necessity of every leader to carefully study the New Testament and come to a thoroughly biblical and complete Ministry Philosophy and Practice. Note philosophy AND practice. Many miss the fact that the Scriptures give us the "how to" as well as the "what to".

  • "I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church" (1 Tim. 3:15, emphasis added).
  • Paul warned the leaders of the Church in Corinth regarding the biblical foundations of church ministry, "each man must be careful how he builds on it" (1 Cor. 3:10, emphasis added).

Secondly, as we model off of those who have gone before (after having a biblical foundation established for ourselves), then we are to compare each of their ideas and "be careful how" we adapt it to our foundation. After all the Scriptures according to the Statement of Faith of my denomination are, "the complete revelation of [God's] will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged".

Speaking of the potential collapse of the fad now called missional. There is one surefire way to be ahead of the curve and not caught in the collapse... If we will get in our Bible's and build a biblical philosophy and practice, then we will be free to pick and choose creative approaches to those practices, without the danger of being sucked into the "movement". When the movement flourishes, we will rise with its best features. If the movement withers, we will have no formal part with it, and continue as if it never existed, the solid foundation of God still standing.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Growing Spiritually

What is the key to spiritual growth? I get asked this a lot and really my own life experience has focused much on this question. According to Psalm 119 and especially noting verses 9 and 11, the answer to the question of purity is ultimately "heeding", reading, memorizing, yielding to and obeying the word of God. So obviously that can be called a summary of the answer. However, there are many passages of Scripture that tell us more about "how to" do this. For example, Hebrews 13:7 commands us to "imitate" the faith of those who have taught the word of God to us.

Evidently a part of "heeding" the word of God is heeding to the word of God preached, and the word of God lived out in leaders examples. We might find other examples such as "prayer" and "spiritual disciplines" and "fellowship" and so forth. I decided in this post, just to talk in brief and general terms about what became most important to me in a certain period of my own wrestling with sin, as their was really one key thing that in my life, really jump started my spiritual growth.

The Reaction Trap

We all have a tendency to react to our circumstances. The baby cries, so you pick her up and sooth her with one of a handful solutions, perhaps touch, perhaps a bottle, perhaps a burping, or a changed diaper. The phone rings, so you answer it. A client gives an order, so we fill it. Facebook updates us, so we check our news feed. The common experiences of life have a very simple rhythm. We just fall into them, and go about our business.

When that pattern is disturbed it stresses us out. We are certainly capable of being flexible. But this introduction of new circumstances can be troubling. If we cannot comfort, the baby, we worry she is sick. We eventually may go to the doctor. We are worried. When a client is unsatisfied, it is stressful to try and come up with a solution that satisfies them, and protects the company.

The same kind of thing so often happens in our spiritual lives. We get into certain patterns, of going to church, praying here and there and so forth. When something difficult comes into our lives, it throws us for a loop. Suddenly we begin to doubt God, or to doubt our faith.
It is an issue of preparedness. The well-trained employee is much less stressed when a dissatisfied client calls, and knows what to offer and how to offer it in such a way as to come to a mutually successful conclusion to the conflict. An experienced parent no longer freaks out when little changes happen with their child.

At the back of all this is the assumption that people should indeed, be both knowledgeable and experienced in handling challenges. Every believer must expect to face faith and life challenges. It is critical that we be prepared. We are unprepared so often, because we have fallen into these patterns, these ruts.

A Life in Review

I have been in various roles of pastoral ministry now for around 7 years. I have around 8 years of ministry training, plus almost three years in which I had active mentorship in ministry (a part of that total of 7). In my experiences I have made many mistakes. I wish I could say I had not. My life would have been far less painful if I had avoided certain mistakes.

I have also succeed, sometimes through circumstances that seemed very difficult. I have grown. Again, I could say that I wished I had grown more. Who couldn’t say that? But there are particular areas, I believe could have been significantly more successful, if I have been quicker to learn.

My Key Lesson

Without a shadow of a doubt, the number one lesson of my failures and of my successes has been never to let myself live, according to natural rhythms. Whenever I begin to float along through life, I seem to be shook out of it by providential circumstances. Every sin I have grown casual too, has suddenly been exposed by a timely sermon, or embarrassing circumstance. When I have lacked knowledge in some area of knowledge, my growth has been forced by circumstance. For instance, I once had no idea had to change a diaper. I also once would have not had the foggiest idea of what to do when someone came to me and said, “I am struggling with a pornography addiction”. As live has happened, I have gained more and more knowledge in things like this. But, not everyone takes the opportunity to learn. One woman I know and respect, has had the life circumstance of needing gas in her car many times over. In her younger years, her father filled it. In her later years, her husband. Over decades of driving, she has yet to fill her car, and has told me that she still hasn’t any idea how one would do so.

Now there are places in life where this is no big deal. But what if we begin to slide into this trap in our spiritual lives? What if we get use to our father, and then our husband perhaps, or pastor just giving us the answers to the spiritual questions we have? What happens to our spiritual lives in a crises, when none of the above are available?

As an athlete, I learned that if you just do the required practices, and play your sport, you can easily fall in a rhythm that prevent you from moving forward. One of the early lessons of my life, was to learn of the real commitment physically and mentally it takes to succeed in sports. There are a lot of “good” hockey players in the world. There are very few “outstanding” ones.
Of course this is sometimes the lottery of genetics, sometimes the luck of circumstances, to a certain extent. But I have never studied the career of a great athlete without being impressed with their drive. Wayne Gretzky reportedly practiced more than any of his teammates. Of anyone couldn’t he rest on his laurels? But through his career he was the first one on and the last one off the ice. Sydney Crosby sets training goals for himself. He’s done okay for himself with MVP trophies and a Stanley Cup under his belt already. But after all that, he spent an entire summer with special training in faceoffs and then last season became one of the NHL’s leading faceoff men. Great athletes are perhaps great because they are always challenging themselves to improve and change and learn and to be better.

I don’t believe that our spiritual lives are any different. How many Christians are there in the world, which just go through the motions. D.L. Moody, the famous evangelist, was as “ordinary” as any other Christian. He made a commitment however to see “What God could do through one man wholly committed to him”. The answer was world shaking.

We must be fully committed, and we must fully prepare. The primary way we prepare is through the study of God’s word, along side a study of the best interpreters of that word. John Wesley instructed his Methodist ministers to spend “at least five hours per day reading the best books”. He often provided them, from Calvin’s Institutes, (yes Wesley recommended Calvin… hmmm, food for thought) to John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. The reason is, as John MacArthur has said, “If a Christian does not read, he will not grow”.

Now, not all of us have the opportunity, nor the faculty to read five hours of the best books each day. But let no one say he hasn’t the taste. Taste can be developed.

In my own life, years ago now, I used to rely often on my father. He always had a reasonable answer to every bible and spiritual question I had. Then I went to College. I faced all sorts of challenges. Eventually, I came to see my need to do more of the research and discover satisfying answers for myself. (Though I used my father and others as resources to point me in the right direction). At the same time, though, I was busy. How was I to read? How was I to read on everything that was coming up in my spiritual life, while being a full time student, working part-time, playing on a school sports team, having an active social life and of course the relentless pursuit of impressing the young ladies that went along with being a healthy young male.

I came up with a solution. I generally watched an hour of TV, or a movie in the dorms with my friends 3 or four nights a week. I made a plan to cut out a single television episode, in favour of studying my bible. That gave me ½ hour, three or four days a week, which I did not have before, and which did not effect my social life, my work life, or family life. The more I read the more I wanted to read, until, I simply skipped the next show, from time to time, because I was too interested in what I was reading. I began to read as a went to bed, and first thing as I got up... sometimes, for a while there was very little time between the two. I still have the bible I used in that time. It is a hard cover NKJV bible. It was brand new at the start of that year. I filled it with highlights, notes and book summaries. The pages are worn and tattered, tape is holding the spine together. It takes a lot of reading to wreck your bible. A good sign of spiritual life, is to look at the condition of a man's bible. Unless he just bought a new one, you should expect to see some wear and tear.

A few years ago, an older man I respected for his consistent walk, came to church with one of those high quality leather bibles. The ones that "last a lifetime". His was toast. It was literally held together by a rubber band, which her removed during sermon and study!

I began to read other books along side my bible, to answer the biblical questions I was beginning to have. Was the Bible reliable? I read McDowell. Was the Bible a unified message? I read Wilmington. Did I have the gospel right? I read MacArthur's Gospel According to Jesus. What is Reformed theology? I read R.C. Sproul. What was this Dispensational stuff? I read Ryrie.

It took time to read all these books. Some I looked at and couldn't figure out, and then found another one I understood. But later, when I picked it up again, I had read about the theologies they referenced, and I had studied the bible passages they asked questions about. The more difficult book suddenly made sense. I graduated from novels to simple devotional books and author’s who usually wrote on a popular level (Church Swindoll, Ken Ham, Charles Ryrie, etc.) to a more in depth study level (John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Harold Wilmington, etc.). Then I made an academic jump (Josh MacDowell, and Commentaries on the Bible, Systematic Theologies, etc.), to a class of ‘difficult’ writers, (Cornelius Van Til, Jonathan Edwards, etc.). If I had tried to read Van Til during my freshman year at college, I would have given up. But after years of training, my tastes, and my faculties grew and grew. It took hard work and persistence sometimes. It still takes those things when I read Jonathan Edwards, but persistence has constantly paid off.

And I grew. I grew to understand how to ask the question "What is the Will of God". I grew to then actually ask, "What is the will of God, for me?" I changed my life direction. In many ways, I grew more in that year than I ever would in a short period again, though I believe I may have "learned more" in later years.

This last week, after a friend in our church began to read Edwards "On the Freedom of the Will", I thought to myself, hmm, I should read that too. I am now being reminded again of the awesome mind straining, and soul stretching power of careful thinking about God, myself and faith. Growth must never stop. Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy must hand in hand be found to be ever increasing, if we are to be found pleasing to God. We must labour, by faith, in the power of the Spirit, to rightly understand the word (2 Timothy 2:15) and then labour to live it out "so that in everything [we] may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior" (Titus 2:10b).