Religion

Owl Post 4-18-14

Owl Post

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If All Religions Are True, Then God Is Cruel:

world-religionsThe short film Most made its way onto the big screen more than 10 years ago. A brilliantly moving piece of cinema, the film tells the story of a single father who lives with his son in the Czech Republic. The pair share simple yet content lives together. The father works as a bridge engineer—he is responsible for raising and lowering a massive draw-bridge that allows ships and trains to pass at scheduled times. One day, the boy happened to be at the bridge with his father. As he’s playing outside, he notices a train rapidly approaching the station.

Why How I Met Your Mother’s Marshall and Lily Were TV’s Best Sitcom Couple:

tumblr_l7vaf65RMu1qdsisgo1_500For many casual fans of How I Met Your Mother, the treacly plot of Ted seeking out “the Mother” grew unbearably manipulative, right up through the twists and turns of last night’s final episode. And yet, our nostalgic flame will burn on for many aspects of HIMYM, among them the awesomeness of Lily and Marshall. The married college sweethearts, played by comedy heavyweights Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan, provided a model for happy but rarely boring coupledom, even as the show’s other characters fumbled romantically. For every obnoxious rom-com gesture that Ted attempted, Lily and Marshall were there to point out that the real thing is as messy as it is sweet.

Hollywood tries to win Christians’ faith:

1Randall Wallace didn’t expect a rock-star reception when he went on the road to promote his faith-based drama “Heaven Is for Real” ahead of its Easter-weekend release.

Yet at the First Assembly of God Church in Phoenix, 9,000 congregants greeted the filmmaker with a standing ovation. A few days later, 11,000 boisterous students packed a convocation in the sports arena at Liberty University, a Christian college in Lynchburg, Va., where Wallace, best known for writing the 1995 battle biopic “Braveheart” and directing the equestrian drama “Secretariat,” spoke about “Heaven Is for Real.”

Literary City, Bookstore Desert:

storewindownight_0When Sarah McNally, the owner of McNally Jackson bookstore in Lower Manhattan, set out to open a second location, she went to a neighborhood with a sterling literary reputation, the home turf of writers from Edgar Allan Poe to Nora Ephron: the Upper West Side.

She was stopped by the skyscraper-high rents.

The Underrated, Universal Appeal of Science Fiction:

science-fictionWhen I’m introduced to someone as a writer, a now familiar pattern of events often follows.

“Oh, really! How interesting!” the someone—let’s call her Jane—says, sounding quite enthusiastic. “What do you write?”

“Science fiction,” I say.

Jane instantly glazes over. “I’m afraid I never read science fiction.”

 

Preeminent Importance

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Colossians 1:15-23 ESV)

Let us not shift our gaze and attention away from the gospel of Christ which is the hope of our salvation and the only rock with which to build our lives upon.

“The universe shudders in horror that we have this infinitely valuable, infinitely deep, infinitely rich, infinitely wise, infinitely loving God, and instead of pursuing him with steadfast passion and enthralled fury — instead of loving him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; instead of attributing to him glory and honor and praise and power and wisdom and strength — we just try to take his toys and run. It is still idolatry to want God for his benefits but not for himself.” Matt Chandler – The Explicit Gospel

So let us make Christ preeminent in our lives, he already is preeminent in the universe. We love him because he first loved us. Thank you God for the kindness and mercy you have shown in making your Son the firstborn of all creation and sending him to give us new life through his death on the cross. Let us give our hearts to you fully, not for the stuff of this world, but for relationship with you. You are the only good and wise God. Amen

The Call and the Gift

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

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

(Ephesians 1:3-23 ESV)

The Narnian – A Review

The Narnian

Alan Jacobs

HarperSanFransisco, 2005 342 pages $25.95

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alan Jacobs has written a superb biography chronicling the life of C.S. Lewis. Unlike other exhaustive works on Lewis, this one is focused on how his life led him to create the enduring works The Chronicles of Narnia. What enables this boy with a wild imagination who created “Animal Land” to become an atheist? What was the catalyst for turning away from atheism, “…kicking, struggling, resentful and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape”?(129) It was this turn that had the largest impact on the creation of Narnia.

For Lewis, his undoing as an atheist was his love of story and myth. “What alternative was there to the materialist’ suspicious undermining of all myth and the supernaturalist’ universalizing of the Christian story?”(142) The real light switch for this was his friendship with Tolkien who, “…the question of myth…had much occupied…for many years, and his thinking on the subject was therefore considerably more sophisticated than Lewis’s.”(142-143) What did myth have to do with Christianity? Tolkien’s answer was, “…to perceive the Creation truly we must move beyond knowing what stars are ‘made of,’ and because we are fallen and finite creatures, this we can do only by image, metaphor, and myth.”(145) For Lewis this is the beginning of understanding. He had always longed for joy, and this longing had plagued him for years since there never seemed to be a way to satiate this desire. “So Tolkien goes on to ask a countering question: ‘Whence came the wish, and whence the power to dream’? That is, if materialist philosophy is true, why do we even have such dreams and desires?”(145)

Here Tolkien was reaching to the heart of his friend. Lewis had focused all his attention either on what Joy was or how to get it, but Tolkien was forcing him to consider the matter in a wholly different light. It was not Joy itself but its presence in a biological organism comprised largely of water, nitrogen and carbon that constituted the greatest puzzle. That we dream and wish at all is a powerful element in the case for the belief that myths communicate some truth that cannot be communicated in any other way.(145-146)

Lewis’ lifelong desires had been pointing him to something greater – his love of myth and storytelling had primed his heart for the truth that he was discovering.

“Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with the tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where others are men’s myths: i.e. the Pagan stories are God expressing himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing himself through ‘real things.’”….”the ‘doctrines’ we get out of the true myth are of course less true: they are translations into our concepts and ideas of that wh. God has already expressed in a language more adequate, namely the actual incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection.” That is, the language of actual historical event, such as can be narrated in mythical form, is a more truthful language than the ‘concept and ideas’.(149)

Jacobs does a wonderful job of showing how so many of the things in Lewis’ life make their way into the Narnia stories: the death of his mother, the horrible treatment he received at boarding school and even his own time as a teacher – each one of these things makes an impact. Almost every part of Lewis’ life influences Narnia in one way or another, and Jacobs’ masterful grasp of his subject adds to a deeper understanding of Lewis’ life and his most famous works.

I first read a book by C.S. Lewis 25 years ago, and I have been reading his work consistently since then. I know his voice quite well, as well as I know anyone’s; it is utterly distinctive. And the most dominant feeling I get when I read his early letters – that is, those written in the first 30 years of his life – is that in none of them does he sound like himself. That pre-conversion Lewis is, though obviously highly intelligent, neither a particularly likable nor a particularly interesting person – at least in his letters. He may have been delightful to know, but I doubt it. But once he “admitted that God was God,” it is as though the key to his own hidden and locked-away personality was given to him. What appears almost immediately is a kind of gusto (sheer, bold enthusiasm for what he loves) that is characteristic of him ever after.(131)

I recently read another well-written biography, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. I was struck by how similar geniuses seem to be – they are driven and usually end up challenging the status quo. But there is something that separates these men, Lewis and Jobs, and it really makes all the difference. Jobs continually fights in his life to be important, to do something meaningful and be remembered. When he did not get his way, he would literally throw a tantrum. The driving force in his life was himself, and in the end it left him empty. Lewis was headed down that same path, but something grabbed him and altered his very foundation.

What brought the comparison of these two men to mind was Jacobs’s description of the change that belief in God had on Lewis. Isaacson talks about the perfecting nature of Jobs and his pursuit of greatness that drove him, and when he failed it left him longing for more of what he could never seem to obtain. Lewis on the other hand is able to find the fullness, the joy, that he had always been looking for by surrendering to God. It was only through this surrender that Lewis was able to give us Narnia.

“It is a reasonable hope,” Lewis writes, “that of those who heard you in Oxford many will understand that when poets of old made some virtue their theme they were not teaching but adoring, and that what we take for didactic is often the enchanted.” Lewis is known as a moralist, but I think we can infer from this comment that his teaching is often a function of his adoration – so that the moral elements if his writing are not so easily distinguished from the enchantment of storytelling and story-loving. It is the merger of the moral and the imaginative – this vision of virtue itself as adorable, even ravishing – that makes Lewis so distinctive.(xxiv)

I am thankful that Lewis was dragged kicking and screaming to the Lord and that his whole self was unlocked for all the world to benefit from. This book is well worth the read and you just may finding yourself longing to revisit Narnia soon after.

The Explicit Gospel – Review

The Explicit Gospel

Matt Chandler

Wheaton: Crossway, 2012 237 pages  $17.99

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matt Chandler cements himself as one of the best Bible teachers today with his first book, The Explicit Gospel. There have been a flurry of books on the gospel in the last year and for me, this makes the third in what I am calling the “Gospel Trilogy”. This includes Gospel by J.D. Greear,  Jesus+Nothing=Everything by Tullian Tchividjian and Chandler’s book. Matt’s book is a fantastic capstone to these other books (this does not mean it does not stand alone, which it certainly does). The Explicit Gospel is just what the title says – it is a concise and yet surprisingly comprehensive look at the gospel in less that 230 pages.

The introduction lays out the why and the how Matt will tackle this subjet. There were growing concerns, for him, of seeing people who had been in the church all their life and hearing them say something like this,

“‘I grew up in church; we went every Sunday morning and night; we went to Wednesday prayer, vacation Bible school, and youth camp. If the doors were open, we were there. I was baptized when I was six, seven or eight, but I didn’t understand what the gospel was, and after a while I lost interest in church and Jesus and I started walking in open sin. Someone recently sat me down and explained or invited me to The Village and I heard the gospel for the first time. I was blown away. How did I miss that?’ Or they would say, ‘No one ever taught me that.’”(12)

This lead to a realization that began to haunt Matt. Why was this such an issue? What has happened in the church to allow this kind of thing to become so prevalent? He began to see that much of what the church was teaching was not the explicit gospel but, “Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”.

“The idea behind moral, therapeutic deism is that we are able to earn favor with God and justify ourselves before God by virtue of our behavior.  This mode of thinking is religious, even ‘Christian’ in its content, but it’s more about self-actualization and self-fulfillment, and posits a God who does not so much intervene and redeem but basically hangs out behind the scenes, cheering on your you-ness and hoping you pick up the clues he’s left to become the best you.

The moralistic, therapeutic deism passing for Christianity in many of the churches these young people grew up in includes talk about Jesus about being good and avoiding bad – especially about feeling good about oneself – and God factored into all of that, but the gospel message simply wasn’t there. What I found was that for a great many young twentysomethings and thirtysomethings, the gospel had been merely assumed [Chandler's italics], not taught or proclaimed as central. It hadn’t been explicit.” (13)

The goal of the book is to make the gospel explicit. “But I want to spend my time with you trying to make sure that when we use the word gospel, we are talking about the same thing.” (15) So, “in part 1, ‘The Gospel on the Ground.’ we will trace the biblical narrative of God, Man, Christ, Response…When we get to part 2, ‘The Gospel in the Air,’ we will see how the apostle Paul connects human salvation to cosmic restoration in Romans 8:22-23…If the gospel on the ground is the gospel at the micro level, the gospel in the air is the story at the macro level” (16) “Both are necessary in order to begin to glimpse the size and the weight of the good news, the eternity-spanning wonderment of the finished work of Christ.” (17)

I could walk through both of the sections here, but I would only end up quoting the whole book, instead of letting you read it. Chandler constantly builds on each chapter and methodically shows how the gospel has impact on the person and then on all of creation. I was surprised at just how much theology he is able to fit in each chapter. None of this is exhaustive, but it is a concise and easily understood introduction for anyone. And because of the depth in each chapter, it is engaging for those who may feel like they have heard it all before.

The next section of the book looks at the problems that can arise for us if we focus exclusively one aspect over another.

“The explicit gospel holds the gospel on the ground and the gospel in the air as complementary, two views of the same redemptive plan God has for the world in the work of his Son. By holding these perspectives together, we do the most justice to the Bible’s multifaceted way of proclaiming the good news. When we don’t hold them together, either by over affirming one or dismissing (or outright rejecting) the other, we create an imbalance that leads to all sorts of biblical error.” (175)

Then he moves to moralism and the cross and the danger he mentioned in the beginning of the book: not being explicit about the gospel to the detriment of souls.

“…the truth that unless the gospel is made explicit, unless we clearly articulate that our righteousness is imputed by Jesus Christ, that on the cross he absorbed the wrath of God aimed at us and washed us clean – even if we preach biblical words on obeying God – people will believe that Jesus’s message is that he has come to condemn the world, not to save it.

But the problem is deeper and more pervasive. If we don’t make sure the gospel is explicit, if we don’t put up the cross and perfect life of Jesus Christ as our hope, the people can get confused and say, ‘Yes, I believe in Jesus. I want to be saved. I want to be justified by God,’ but begin attempting to earn his salvation. By taking the cross out of the functional equation, moral, therapeutic deism promotes the wrong-headed idea that God probably needs our help in the work of justification and most certainly needs us to carry the weight of our sanctification, as well. The result is innumerable Christians suffering under the burden of the law’s curse because they have not been led to see that gospel-centered living is the only way to delight in the law” (208-209)

The beginning and ending quotes I have shared are monumental for me. Personally, the trilogy of books that I have read in the last year have had a – well, what adjective is sufficient to explain the life-changing nature that the gospel has had in my life? God has opened my eyes and has illuminated the Word to me in a truly life-giving and life-altering way. So, do I recommend this book? Yes, but as I do, I recommend reading it with the Word of God ever in your focus and praying that the gospel would come alive to you.

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