As is my on-again-off-again custom (though a little earlier than some years), here is my list of the books I enjoyed most this year, in alphabetical order:
* Michael Bond, A Bear Called Paddington and More About Paddington. I read these several times when I was younger and read them again this spring to Aletheia (still in her mother’s womb) and to Moriah, who had never read them when she was a child. The Paddington books are great fun. More recently, we also enjoyed Walter Brooks’s Freddy Goes to Florida and Freddy at the North Pole.
* Bono in Conversation with Michka Assayas. I loved U2 in the ’80s, stopped listening to them in the ’90s, and recently began listening to them again. Bono reveals himself in this book as a serious and mature man and, as I read the interviews, my respect for him grew.
* Anita Brookner, Visitors. Moriah brought this one home from the library because it caught her eye. Neither of us had read anything by Brookner before, but we both enjoyed this slow-paced, thoughtful story. (See my blog entry from Feb. 17.)
* G. K. Chesterton, The Club of Queer Trades. Fun short “mystery” stories.
* Colin Dexter, The Remorseful Day. Sadly, the last of Dexter’s novels about Inspector Morse, which I’ve enjoyed for years.
* Mark Driscoll, The Radical Reformission: Reaching Out Without Selling Out. As you can tell by my blog entries earlier this month, I found this book provoked me to think (and to act) on almost every page.
* Susan Howatch, Glittering Images, Glamorous Powers, Ultimate Prizes, and Scandalous Risks. The first four in a series set in and around the cathedral town of Starbridge. It’s somewhat surprising that these novels were bestsellers, not because Howatch’s stories aren’t gripping but because so much of each of these stories (the first three in particular) has to do with spiritual direction and pastoral counselling. In fact, I think I learned a lot as a pastor from them, and I look forward to the rest of the series.
* James B. Jordan, ed., Christendom Essays. This collection of essays was probably the best non-fiction book I read this year (keeping in mind, of course, that much of the year I was struggling my way through John Milbank, which kept me from reading as much other stuff as I’d hoped). Essay after essay was outstanding: “Trinitarian Worship and Confession,” “Is the Church Year Biblical?” and “The First Sabbath Conversation: How Old Is the Earth, Dear?” by Jeff Meyers, “Against ‘Christianity’: For the Church” and “The Sociology of Infant Baptism” by Peter Leithart, “Persecution: The Manifestation of and the Prelude to God’s Victory” by Rich Bledsoe, “Bahnsen on Self-Deception” by Joel Garver, “Trinity in Covenant” by Ralph Smith, “The Full Moon and the Sun of Righteousness (Matthew 1:1-17)” and “Saul’s Nakedness Exposed (1 Samuel 24:1-7)” by Arthur Kay, about whom I’d love to know more, “The Fourth Book of the Psalter” by James Jordan, and a few more besides. You’ll recognize that some of the essays by Meyers, Leithart, and Smith have grown into or been incorporated in their books, but these original essays are somewhat different and still worth reading. Outstanding.
* Harvey Karp, The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Baby Sleep Longer. This, of course, was the year my daughter was born, and so I read a lot of books on babies. This one had some evolutionary junk in it and it was a quick skim, really, but it had enough helpful stuff in it â€”Â stuff I wish I’d known earlier! â€”Â that I included it here. Think of it as a highish three star on a five star scale.
* C. S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet. The first of Lewis’s science fiction trilogy. Well-written and often beautiful.
* Patrick O’Brian, Post Captain. The second of O’Brian’s wonderful novels starring Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. I finished this tonight, and it’s one of the three best novels I read this year.
* Elizabeth Pantley, The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night. Another good book about babies. I like Pantley’s approach and her emphasis on gentleness in helping babies learn to sleep.
* Tim Powers, The Stress of Her Regard. A great, sometimes frightening, novel about the Romantic poets and the seductive attractiveness of evil.
* Ruth Rendell, Put On By Cunning. Rendell’s eleventh novel starring Inspector Wexford.
* J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I’m a fan. I read the first in the series last year and these ones this year and enjoyed every minute of them.
* William & Martha Sears, The Attachment Parenting Book: A Commonsense Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Baby. Moriah and I have been very impressed by the Sears books we’ve seen. This book, which introduces “attachment parenting,” was particularly helpful in orienting me as a father and reminding me of the importance of modeling self-sacrifice in raising my daughter.
* Rupert Sheldrake, Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals. Okay, this may look strange. The book caught my eye at the library and for fun I picked it up. I don’t know how accurate it is, but the anecdotes he relates and the experiments he describes are interesting. The book reminded me, too, that, as Christians, we ought not to be bound by the standards of “Enlightenment” science. God’s world may be stranger (and more delightful) than we realize. I was also struck by Sheldrake’s comments about animal sciences are often taught: instead of examining pets, we examine rats and other non-pet animals; instead of talking to people who live and work with animals about their behaviour, we keep at a safe, “objective” distance from the animals we experiment with, and instead of focusing on the whole life of the animal, we tend to dissect dead ones to analyse them and figure out that way how they “work.”
* Jeff Smith, Bone. This long graphic novel saga is great fun.
* Anthony Trollope, Framley Parsonage. The fourth of Trollope’s Barchestershire series, this novel concerns a clergyman who, wanting to be accepted in “fast” society, becomes surety for a friend (Prov. 6:1-5; 11:15).
* Jack Vance, The Dying Earth. Beautifully written stories.
* Rikki Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark. Very helpful study of the Gospel of Mark.
* Douglas Wilson, Standing on the Promises: A Handbook of Biblical Childrearing. I’m not sure that “handbook” is the right word. This book certainly doesn’t cover all the bases. But what it does say is very helpful.
* Gene Wolfe, Castle of Days. A great collection of short stories, articles, and interviews.
* Gene Wolfe, Litany of the Long Sun and Epiphany of the Long Sun. The other two best novels I read this year, though you could consider them also as four novels (which is how they were first published) or, most accurately, as one long novel. One of my friends identifies these books as the best pastoral theology he’s read. I can see why. It’s also a very rich story, full of puzzles, beautifully told, and very rewarding. Probably the best book(s) I read this year.
* Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians. Moriah and I read from this volume after supper and found Wright’s comments on these books of the Bible solidly orthodox, very readable and often helpful.
In 2006, Books and Culture plans to focus on this question: “How can followers of Christ be a counterculture for the common good?” To that end, they’ve asked a number of writers to contribute articles answering this question.
The first response is Lauren Winner‘s “Sleep Therapy.” While I don’t agree with everything she says â€”Â not least what she says about the death penalty â€”Â her response is worth reading. Her answer to the question: Sleep more. Sound strange?
The unarguable demands that our bodies make for sleep are a good reminder that we are mere creatures, not the Creator. For it is God and God alone who “neither slumbers nor sleeps.”Â
to sleep, long and soundly, is to place our trust not in our own strength and hard work, but in him without whom we labor in vain.Â
It’s an article worth meditating on. Or sleeping on perhaps. It’s also a reminder (as if I needed it) that I need to go to bed earlier.
ISRAEL REACTS TO THE ANGEL’S ANNOUNCEMENT
(December 25, 2005, Sermon Notes)
A Saviour has been born in David’s city, and He is the anointed Lord! That was the angel’s message to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth. The glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified but the angel comforted the shepherd. The Lord had heard Israel’s prayers and kept His promises. The king who would deliver His people was lying in a manger in Bethlehem.
The good news of Jesus’ birth demands a response, a response of faith-filled celebration. Luke wants us, like the shepherds, to hear the good news and let it move us to respond in joyful faith. And so he shows us here how Israel reacts to the angel’s announcement of Jesus’ birth.
THE CONFIRMATION OF THE ANNOUNCEMENT (2:15-16)
The glory of the Lord didn’t continue to shine around the shepherd. The angels didn’t stick around to fight on the side of the newborn king. The glory and the angels disappear and Luke focuses on the men (literally, verse 15 reads: “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the men, the shepherds, said….”).
The angels didn’t praise God because of what the Saviour’s birth means for them. Rather, they rejoice because there is joy for men, for “all the people,” that is, the whole nation of Israel, and peace to men on earth. The focus isn’t on the angels here; it’s on the men.
The shepherds respond to the angel’s announcement the right way. They go to Bethlehem, not to see if anything had really happened but to see what the angel had said had happened. The angel announced a sign and the meaning of the sign and the shepherds want to see it, not to interpret it for themselves but to let it confirm for them what the angel had announced.
They come to see the Christ, the anointed king, the saviour, the Lord who would be a rival to Caesar and all other would-be lords. But what do they find? Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger (v. 16). Mary and Joseph don’t look like a royal family. Joseph works in construction in a hick town in Galilee. And the baby is lying in an animal’s feedbox in a stable behind a house. The house probably belonged to a relative, but with the census, the guest room (a better translation than “inn”) was too full to give Mary the privacy she needed to have the baby and this was the only private place Mary and Joseph could find.
Christmas cards make that stable glow with a warm light so that it looks cosy. But in reality, everything in that scene points to poverty, the poverty of Mary and Joseph, the poverty of the newborn king. But that was no disappointment to the shepherds. Rather, everything they saw was a confirmation of what the angel had said.
There is a contrast between the glory that surrounded the shepherds in the fields and the poverty they see here, but that contrast is not a contradiction. It’s a sign of salvation. Jesus will save His people, not in spite of but by means of His humble birth. He is Israel’s king, Israel’s representative, and He shares here in Israel’s poverty, the poverty that came through sin. He is our representative, and He shares in the poverty of man ever since the Fall.
This manger is the first step on the path to the cross. Jesus came to suffer because He came to save. He takes this poverty and suffering on Himself to deal with sin, the sin that separates you from God, so that the glory the shepherds saw, which once filled the Temple, would shine on all His people.
And what the shepherds see, then, doesn’t put a damper on their joy. It doesn’t need sentimentalizing in order for it to give us joy. This is the sign the angel gave and it confirms that this child, lying here in poverty, is the Saviour, the anointed Lord. And therefore there is joy for you, even in the midst of your suffering, and there is joy to the world.
THE CELEBRATION OF THE ANNOUNCEMENT (2:17-20)
The shepherds see the sign and they become evangelists. The angel preached the good news to them and they now pass it on (v. 17). They report how they stood in God’s glory without being consumed, what the angel told them about a Saviour born in David’s house who would be the anointed king to rescue His people, and how they found the child swaddled in a manger.
But whom do they tell? Mary and Joseph, obviously, but also others (“all those who heard”). They report it all over Bethlehem. After all, this is “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” The shepherds want all the people, all Israel, to enter into this joy, to rejoice in what God has done in the birth of that baby lying in the manger.
But the people are hesitant. They marvelled at what the shepherds say (v. 18), which in itself is not a bad reaction. All through Luke’s Gospel, people will marvel at Jesus. Amazement is an appropriate response. But it is only the beginning of the right response. As will happen again and again in Jesus’ ministry, Bethlehem marvels but doesn’t move on to praise. The story holds people’s attention for a time and then they move on to think about other things. They don’t even “keep these things in their hearts,” as everyone had done at the birth of John.
Only Mary does. She keeps thinking about what the shepherds had said and what the angel had said. She remembers what Gabriel had told her about how her son would be God’s son, ruling on David’s throne over the house of Jacob. She remembers that Elizabeth called her “mother of my Lord.” She herself had sung about how the Lord would overthrow Israel’s enemies and fulfil His promises. And now that fulfilment is starting. Mary is amazed, but she goes further. She treasures the shepherds’ words in her heart. Her response is a response of faith.
But the shepherds go further still. They return to their flocks, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told them.” Their praise is grounded on the angel’s word (“heard”) and confirmed by the angel’s sign (“seen”). Apart from that word, they wouldn’t have seen anything special â€”Â and certainly no cause for joy â€”Â in the baby lying in the manger. But the word taught them to interpret that sight correctly.
And though they don’t yet have the full salvation that baby will bring, they start to celebrate it. The victory is certain! The angels celebrated in advance, before the battle was fought, and now the shepherds join in. And that’s the goal toward which God was working all along. In spite of the opposition the world will offer, in spite of the amazement and then indifference with which many hear the story, God’s Word accomplishes its purpose. The angels spoke to move men to sing and these shepherds do.
And we do too. We don’t see our full salvation yet. There’s still opposition and persecution, war instead of peace, suffering and death. But we sing in faith, grounded on what we have heard â€”Â not just the announcement of Jesus’ birth but the better news of His life, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, His enthronement as the anointed Lord, who has won the victory and has saved us.
Yesterday afternoon, I read J. Bottum’s “Dakota Christmas.” Moriah and I enjoyed almost all of it, with (interestingly enough) the exception of the theological stuff toward the end. It brought back memories of some Christmasses past.
As happens with many celebrations, the ones Bottum recalls ended with people feeling depressed. The article’s turn toward theology takes place when a sixteen-year-old Bottum finally steps outside to breathe freely and finds himself looking over the prairie. It almost sounds as if he’s suggesting that God is out there, in the purity and simplicity and perhaps solitude of the prairie as opposed to among the crowd of people and the piles of toys and the food, food, food indoors, though the end of the article draws back a step from that conclusion.
It may have been true that Bottum’s family’s celebrations ended up in depression. Many people’s do. But is the problem that we celebrate too much or that we aren’t celebrating well? Just in time for our Christmas celebrations, Rich Bledsoe has written about “The Crisis of Christmas” with some wisdom about rejoicing and worship.
Tonight, Moriah, Aletheia, and I will be opening our presents. Tomorrow evening, my parents will be here for another Christmas celebration. May the Lord bless you and your family as you rejoice in our Saviour’s birth!
In “Frame on McLaren,” Peter Leithart presents some of John Frame’s comments on Brian McLaren‘s A Generous Orthodoxy from his review in Reformation and Revival along with some of his own. I hope that the Frame-Poythress site has Frame’s article up soon. It sounds as if it’s very well balanced. Leithart’s own comments are also very helpful.
I also appreciated Leithart’s recent “Baptism and Personhood” and his … but if I get started listing worthwhile Leithart entries I won’t stop.
I’ve been reading through P. G. Wodehouse’s works (or at least the ones I have or can get my hands on), roughly in chronological order. The early Wodehouse isn’t as funny â€”Â or at least isn’t funny as frequently â€”Â as the later, though the discerning eye does spot flashes of that later brilliance. The Inimitable Jeeves, of course, is priceless.
Last week, I finished Ukridge, a collection of somewhat related short stories, all involving James Corcoran, the narrator, and the disreputable Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge, always coming up with some new scheme to make a fortune. Some of the stories were better than others and there are some very funny moments or turns of phrase. But somehow the stories didn’t grab me.
So let me ask the Wodehouse fans out there: I know there are fans of Berty and Jeeves, fans of Blandings Castle, fans even of Mr. Mulliner or of Psmith. But … are any of you great fans of Ukridge?
In other reading, I recently read (for the third time) C. S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet and loved every minute of it. Each time I read it, I find more in it to appreciate.
From the cover of my old Macmillan edition, however, it’s pretty clear that the illustrator hadn’t read it. The picture shows a man in a space suit standing on a barren wasteland with weird globes floating in the air around him. The cover of the newer edition (linked above) actually attempts to show Ransom in a boat with a hross.
Any recommendations for books, articles, or websites on evangelism and church planting? Stuff on church planting in an urban context would also be appreciated.
Mark Driscoll closes The Radical Reformission with a series of paragraphs outlining what his vision of “kingdom culture” looks like for the city of Seattle and the church where he ministers. Much of what he writes is inspiring.
He talks about the role of men, given that young men in Seattle seldom go to church, get married, raise families, or act responsibly. At Driscoll’s church, however, young men are trained “on everything from how to study the Bible, get a job, invest money, buy a home, court a woman, brew beer, have good sex, and be a pastor-dad to their children” (p. 184).
Driscoll also outlines how the church creates a culture that embraces and imparts the Bible’s teaching on sex, children, and the home. For instance, members are encouraged to have homes large enough to allow them to host events, practice hospitality, and even take in other members who are trying to save enough to buy a home for themselves (p. 186).
He talks about the importance of beauty: “We paint the walls of our homes and church because we worship God and not an orthodontist who only believes in sterile white surroundings” (p. 186). Other things he touches on include joy and laughter, wisdom and practicality, the development of leaders and the planting of churches.
There’s a lot of great stuff here, stuff that Reformed churches could learn from. That’s why I said earlier that I plan to buy a copy of this book. Sure there are flaws and you have to overlook some things, but Driscoll’s book has done a lot to encourage me in my own pastoral work and to give me some ideas about how to reach out to the world around intelligently and effectively in order to see people drawn to Christ. More than that, his passion is also contagious. And for that, I’m thankful.
JESUS OUR PROPHET
Scripture: Deuteronomy 18:15-22; Jeremiah 1:4-10
(December 18, 2005, Advent Sermon)
[For much of this sermon, I'm indebted to James Jordan's From Bread to Wine and to Peter Leithart's sermons in April and May 2004.]
During much of Israel’s history, there were priests and kings and prophets at the same time. But different offices come to prominence in different stages in Israel’s history: first priests, then kings, then prophets. Prophets are prominent in the divided kingdom, at the time of the exiles of Israel and Judah, and after the return from exile.
Priests are God’s housekeepers, obligated to be obedient servants who hear and obey. Kings are greater than priests. They aren’t just under authority; they exercise authority. They are to be wise and glorious rulers who give themselves for God’s people. But prophets are greater than kings.
Understanding this development in Israel’s history helps us understand what it means that Jesus is priest, king, and prophet. It also helps us understand God’s goals for our lives as He brings us through the stages of life toward maturity in Christ’s image.
OLD COVENANT PROPHETS
We often think of prophets as people who predict the distant future, and some do. Daniel talks about events that would take place long after he died. But more often, prophets talk about the near future (cf. Deut. 18:21-22). Jeremiah talks about the exile, which took place in his lifetime.
But the future is not the prophet’s primary focus. He may talk about the future or the past, but his focus is on the present. Prophets speak God’s Word to people in the present about their present responsibilities. Abraham is a prophet, but he doesn’t speak very much about the future. Moses speaks about the future briefly at the end of Deuteronomy, but that isn’t the limit of his prophetic work. His main work as a prophet was giving God’s Law to Israel.
In fact, sometimes when prophets talk about the future, what they say doesn’t happen. Jonah announces Nineveh’s destruction in forty days, but Nineveh repents and that destruction doesn’t happen. The future Jonah announced wasn’t fixed; it was contingent upon how Nineveh responded to Jonah’s message. When Nineveh repented, the Lord relented and didn’t do what He had said He would.
Prophets, therefore, do not simply predict what’s going to happen in the future. They speak about the past, too, and they focus on the present. But prophets also do not simply speak to people. They aren’t simply God’s messengers to men. Prophets also speak to God. Prophets intercede (cf. Gen. 20:7).
In the Bible, a prophet is a member of God’s court, God’s Council. In eternity, that Council consisted of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Adam was created to be a junior member of that Council, but his sin cut him off from it. But God was determined to have men in His Council.
Prophets are not mere message boys. They are men who stand in His council (cf. Jer. 23:18-22). God doesn’t act without telling His secret plans to them (Amos 3:7). But He doesn’t always allow them to reveal His plans to men. Why does He tell His plans to the prophets if they aren’t allowed to report them? So that they can talk to Him about them.
Abraham hears God’s plans for Sodom and Gomorrah and challenges God to do what is right (Gen. 18:16-33). Moses hears that God intends to destroy Israel and he argues with God until He relents (Ex. 32:11-14). Amos hears God’s plans to bring judgment and pleads for Jacob until Yahweh relents (Amos 7:1-6).
Prophets may be young, but they are mature men, men whom God wants as His counsellors, to hear His plans, sometimes to challenge them, and then sometimes to announce the decision of the Council. As Council members, prophets function sometimes as God’s prosecutors, announcing God’s lawsuit against His people, and sometimes as defence attorneys, appointed by God to plead His people’s case.
Unlike priests and kings, the prophets do almost everything by the authority of their words. Their words are God’s words, placed in their mouths (Jer. 1:9) and they have His power. They don’t simply announce the future; they bring it about by their words. They destroy and build by their words (Jer. 1:10). Their words bring God’s judgment to tear down an old world and then plant a new world.
JESUS AS PROPHET
Jesus’ baptism was His anointing as a prophet. He announced the coming of God’s kingdom and called people to repent. By His Words and actions, He inaugurated that kingdom. People recognized Him as a prophet (or sometimes dishonoured Him as a prophet). People saw Him as a new Moses bringing about a new exodus. Stephen identified Jesus as the prophet like Moses, promised in Deuteronomy 18 (Acts 7:37; cf. John 6:14; 7:20).
Jesus is a Council member as the Word who is God, the Son who is in the Father’s bosom (John 1:1-18). He is the Father’s closest counsellor and therefore He is the one who reveals the Father in everything He does and says. And the Father always listens to Him (John 11:42). He is the defence attorney and He is also the Father’s prosecutor, bringing wrath on the Father’s enemies.
As a prophet, Jesus went to die in Jerusalem (Luke 13:33). He was rejected as a prophet, but God raised Him again and confirmed His words. By His death and resurrection, Jesus brought about a new creation in the midst of the old creation, a new covenant and then the end of the old.
Jesus is still our prophet. He is the fully mature man (with white hair: Rev. 1) who stands in God’s Council, who upholds all things by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3), who intercedes for us, who makes petitions before God’s throne, and who speaks God’s words to us through His messengers, words with the power to kill and make alive.
US AS PROPHETS
Jesus has given to us His life so that we share in His anointing as a prophet. In one sense, there are no more prophets. No one today is inspired as Moses or Jeremiah were. In another sense, however, all of us are prophets, as Moses desired (Num.11:29) and Joel promised (2:28-29) because Jesus has poured out His Spirit on His church (Acts 2), on all who are baptized into it (2:38-39).
All of us are Council members in Christ. Jesus calls us His “friends” (John 15:14). In the Bible, a king’s “friend” is not his buddy; he’s his counsellor (cf. Abraham: 2 Chr. 20:7; James 2:23; cf. 1 Kings 4:5; 2 Sam. 15:32-17:15; 1 Chr. 27:33). All of us who have been baptized into Christ are now Jesus’ “friends” and God’s, members of God’s Council.
We get to hear God’s plans, though not in detail. We learn from His Word what His plans are in the world so that we can interpret things that happen and reveal who God is to each other and to people around us. More than that, God also listens to us. He invites us to intercede, to present petitions. And He acts in response to us and He acts through us, through our deeds but also through our words. When we speak His Word, that Word is powerful to comfort, rebuke, judge, condemn, tear down and plant.
But the Bible also shows us prophets as mature men. Children are like priests. Middle-aged people are like kings. But older people are like prophets. When you’ve worked at a job long enough to become the boss, you rule often by your words. Generals speak a word and send armies to war.
Men of experience and wisdom are prophets in this sense. They’ve been through trials and temptations and can help younger Christians with them. They have a sense of plot and can help people see where they fit in the story. They’ve had to die as priests and kings and God has raised them in greater glory, and so they can assure others that, if they’re faithful, their crises and “deaths” â€”Â in their work, their marriages, their relationships â€”Â will lead to more glorious resurrections. Because of their wisdom and experience, their words have weight and open up new possibilities for the future.
But there are temptations that older people face. It’s possible to become set in one’s ways and to resist all change instead of using mature wisdom to see where change is necessary. People sometimes figure that because they are old they can retire from serving in Christ’s church and so they don’t help the younger Christians around them. It’s possible to grow old without having learned to die and rise again and so to become bitter and cranky. It’s possible to grow old without any wisdom to pass on.
But Christ came to be our prophet, to reveal God, to intercede for us, to establish the New Creation and new covenant. He came to imprint the pattern of His life on us, to make us priests who are obedient servants, kings who are wise rulers, and prophets who are mature members of God’s council, who say things God listens to, whose words change the world for God’s glory.
The problem with my pastoral job is that I don’t really know what I am doing. So I read every book I can find and I cling to the Bible like a kid who can’t swim but somehow found a life preserver in the middle of the ocean….
Often, I just want to be left alone or to start preaching sermons that sound like pithy statements strung together from fortune cookies and just cash my paycheck every week. But I can’t help myself. Invariably, I see the needs of the culture and the condition of the church, and like the Hulk, my skin becomes green, my eyes bulge out of my head, and I lose the ability to speak in full sentences. So I just keep going and more people keep getting saved and more churches keep getting planted and I keep seeing more than needs to be done.
The only thing that gets me out of bed on Monday is the picture in Revelation of King Jesus on his throne ruling over all of creation, which is his kingdom. I have never seen what John saw, so I am forced to take his word for it. But because Jesus is in charge of everything, there is hope, even for my city (Mark Driscoll, The Radical Reformission, pp. 183-184).
In 1 Corinthians 10:17, Paul says, “We, though many, are one bread, one body, because we all partake of that one bread.” The bread that we partake of is the body of Christ, and so we are one body. We become what we eat: one loaf of bread.
What about the wine? Jesus says that the cup “is my blood of the covenant which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28; Luke 22:20). The wine is blood which is shed. Wine has other significance as well, but because it is shed blood it has to do with Jesus’ suffering and death and therefore also with our suffering and death. As James Jordan says,
As the book of Revelation shows us, we overcome by being ready to suffer for Jesus’ sake. His blood enables us to be suffering kings, for he would be great in the Kingdom must be least of all” (From Bread to Wine, p. 17).
Thus when we eat the one bread, we become one bread, one body. But when we drink the wine, we are united to Christ as the suffering king, the one who sheds His blood for many, and so we also become kings who share in Christ’s sufferings, who shed our blood for others, and so win the victory with Christ.
Perhaps that’s why Paul speaks of his suffering (Phil. 2:17) and death (2 Tim. 4:6) as a libation, a pouring out of wine as an offering to God. His suffering and death for the sake of the church were part of His fellowship in Christ’s sufferings (Phil. 3:10) and a conformity to Christ’s life as part of the one loaf, the one body of Christ. What kind of body is that? A body which sheds blood as wine for others.
Toward the end of The Radical Reformission, after a rather superficial (but sometimes insightful!) survey of western history up to the emergence of postmodernism, Mark Driscoll writes:
Perhaps modernity and its lonely individualism, arrogant rationalism, judgmental skepticism, and atheism was a demon that needed to be cast out. But as Jesus taught, unless that demon is replaced with the Holy Spirit, we are in deep dung, because seven new demons will take its place. After spending some years speaking with pastors from around the nation, including arguably most of the important leaders in what has been dubbed the emerging church, I have seen seven troubling demons that have entered the American church and brought fatal wounds to those ministering on the cutting edge (p. 165).
Here are the demons Driscoll identifies:
1. Jesus being transformed into “the Sky Fairy,” who never talks about and sin and doesn’t send anyone to hell (pp. 166-167).
2. Authenticity being promoted over holiness: “[B]ecause we are sinners, simply encouraging people to be who they are in the name of authenticity is dangerous because it can easily be taken as a license to sin without repentance…. As we work among cultures that value realness, we must not forget that the kingdom first values repentance” (p. 167).
3. A hermeneutic that reduces the bible to a story without authority and without one truthful interpretation (p. 168).
4. A kind of “deconstructionism” that simply attacks traditions, modernity, or other things in our society or in our past without anything positive (and I would add: biblical) to put in its place (pp. 168-169).
5. The tendency to have our churches pander to the wants of unbelievers in an effort to draw them (pp. 170-172).
6. Egalitarianism: “Theologically, a postmodern church addicted to egalitarianism is also marked by a confusion over gender issues, such as masculinity and femininity, and sexual issues, such as homosexuality and bisexuality, as well as by a peculiar commitment to making sure that everyone’s voice is equally heard and everyone’s input is equally considered, whether or not it is foolish, as if the church were one big internet chat room. Some churches have gone so far as to replace a preaching monologue from a recognized leader to a spiritual dialogue among a group of peers who refuse to acknowledge any leader over them. This makes about as much sense as shooting your doctor and gathering with the other patients in his lobby to speculate about what is wrong with one another and randomly write out prescriptions for one another in the name of equality” (p. 173). In this section, Driscoll also mentions open theism, which extends egalitarianism to God, reducing Him to our level (pp. 173-174).
7. The idea that one can be a “hyphenated Christian” (e.g., a Buddhist Christian, a New Age Christian) (pp. 174-176).
Good stuff, and perhaps a helpful response to some in the “emergent church” conversation.