Man-handling Man-centered Theology

people cut outsI often hear this distinction being made typically by conservative Christians, God-centered vs. man-centered. Whenever I see it articulated, I get the sense that it is often communicated to distinguish between Christian faith and practice that is shaped based on the desires of man.

Now I do affirm God-centered theology. I strenuously insist that God’s self-revelation though the Incarnate and written word must inform our theology. When deciphering the character and nature of God, his actions and requirements, his ultimate revelation through the Son, and redemptive history it behooves us to approach his Word with the greatest humility. Surely that will mean confronting some aspects that are uncomfortable. But it helps to remember that He is God; we are not.

So I sympathize with the decrying of man-centered theology if that means theology that is shaped by man to accommodate man’s creation of God and the Christian faith in his or her own image. However, I think we can go too far and cut man out of the picture all together. God-centered does not mean man nothingness. Continue reading

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Preaching the Gospel on Sundays

I came across this quote recently on Facebook

The church, when it’s not seduced by consumerist spirituality, is in the business of cultivating ordinary Christians, people who are united to Christ by faith and are in it for the long haul, like people in a good marriage. It transforms people, not by giving them life-changing experiences but by repetition, continually telling the story of Christ so that people may hear and take hold of him by faith. For we do not just receive Christ by faith once at the beginning of our Christian lives and then go on to do the real work of transformation through our good works. We keep needing Christ the way hungry people need bread, and we keep receiving him whenever we hear the gospel preached and believe it. So what transforms us over the long haul is not one or two great life-changing sermons (although these can be helpful from time to time) but the repeated teaching and preaching of Christ, Sunday after Sunday, so that we never cease receiving him into our hearts. -Phillip Cary, Good News for Anxious Christians

One comment to this was worth noting

So I have a serious question – if I am to take literally what this writer says, I have one of two pictures that I know are not just my imagination; the first picture is the literal Sunday after Sunday presentation of the good news message. I have met many Christian refugees over the years and I seriously mean many, who simply could not endure their church after years and years of hearing essentially the same gospel message Sunday after Sunday. And while I certainly understand personal responsibility of the Christian to study the Word, the obvious and stark reality of that is that it rarely happens to any significant degree. And since the Pastor’s primary duty I believe is proclamation of the Word meaning the whole counsel of God’s Word meaning 66 books of the Bible you either get what I have already described week after week with Christians drying on the vine or you get a sound bite gospel message quickly and shabbily tacked on at the end of each message doing the wonder of the good news a disservice.

On the road to Emmaus when Jesus wanted his disciples to know who he was The text said something rather profound:

“Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in ALL the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:27 NASB) Would it be totally unfair to assert that what the writer “seems” to be advocating may be part and parcel of the profound ignorance of the Scriptures in the church at large? Or am I pushing what he means too far?

pupit w bibleI think he’s on to something and why I can’t beat the drum loud enough about Christ-centered preaching. Sadly, it took a long time and a lot of exposure to all kinds of sermons before I actually realized what makes a sermon, Christ-centered. Just because you mention Jesus, does not mean he is at the center of the message. I’ve sat under all kinds of preaching. The topical sermon with made-up theology based on some innovative “spiritual” insight and cherry-picked, out-of-context verses. Continue reading

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The Freedom Delusion

Douma Ten Commandments coverI’ve been reading through this excellent book that was recommended to me by a friend in a conversation in which I described my change of heart about the Ten Commandments. Yes, I confess, for many years I did not believe that the Ten Commandment applied to Christians since Jesus fulfilled the law. I shudder at that thought now since the Decalogue, aka the Ten Commandments,  represents God’s ethical requirements for his people. Surely God does not have a different standard in the OT than in the NT, but brought to their fullness in Christ.  Jesus demonstrated that this was summed up in the greatest command: to love the Lord with your heart, soul and mind and love neighbor as yourself.  More of that, and my conversion to see this light, in a separate post.

In The Ten Commandments: Manual for Christian Life, Jochem Douma, former professor of Christian ethics in the Netherlands, provides a very thoughtful commentary on how each commandment applies to Christian life.

I was really struck by this section on the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods beside Me.” (Exod. 20:3). Douma discusses the issue of idolarty and the freedom that Christ provides from it. But he takes it a step further to show the futility of idols.

“That leads us to this final observation. As you listen to the first commandment, you hear in it the liberation of which the prologue to the Ten Commandments bears witness. Yahweh demands the whole person, but in this total commitment of his person to the one true God, lies his greatest freedom. The one who serves Yahweh will live under His blessing, but the one who serves idols will languish in bondage.

Let us look first at ‘primitive’ idolatry. For the Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Canaanite, danger lurked on every side. A tree, an animal, a rock, a river, the sea, a thunderstorm, lightning, a hostile neighbor, and more–dangerous divine powers nested everywhere and in everything. Catastrophes could ocur at any moment.  A wall of fear surrounded a person. Specific actions, prescribed incantations, and particular  rituals were needed to neutralize the host of dangers. Magic, exorcism, and sacrifices were therefore the way to pacify the angry gods. Continue reading

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The Great Commission, Great Commandment, and our Humanity

Super ChristianAfter hearing a sermon on the Great Commission this past Sunday, it reminded me of these quotes from two books I’m reading and reinforced that being a witness does not require us to be super Christians, with big capes like we have it all together. You ever feel like you don’t measure up to be an effective witness for Christ, loving God and neighbor as you should? Well neither did the first disciples. And they were with Jesus!

“Matthew concludes his gospel with the Great Commission. To his worshipping, yet doubting, disciples, Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples” (vv. 18-19). The one who has all authority has chosen not to use it himself. The one who has all power has chosen to give it away. The one who has just conquered sin, death, and the grave has turned over the next stage of the kingdom to this group of fearful and doubting followers, who have demonstrated over and over again that they are more concerned about themselves than about Jesus, about their agendas than about the kingdom, about their reputations than about ‘the least of these,’ and about greatness than about servanthood. Yet it is to these men that Jesus gives the responsibility to make disciples. The gospel is entrusted to them. The mission of the church is given to them. The fate of the poor, the needy, and the oppressed is delegated to those followers who, even in the presence of the resurrected Jesus, continue to doubt. And that continues to be God’s plan. It is through the church that the kingdom grows and spreads over the earth.”  – Glenn Kreider, God With Us: Exploring God’s Personal Interactions with His People throughout the Bible. Continue reading

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TheoThoughts 2014 in review: top 5 posts and a few random thoughts

2014-2015-calendar-flipWell, I guess I wouldn’t be fulfilling my “obligation” as a blogger if I didn’t cite the top 5 posts of 2014. Thanks to WordPress for doing the legwork because otherwise, I don’t think I would make the effort to figure out the most popular posts. Honestly, a couple of these surprised me and here they are;

5. When Scripture is not Enough: a topic so dear to my heart, I addressed it in my master’s thesis. I think it sounds really spiritual and intimate to “hear” God speak directly to us but leaves us reliant on questionable, subjective methods instead of the reliable witness of Scripture. God spoke through his Word (see Heb. 1:1-2) and continues to speak, if we’ll be willing to listen.

4. Have you heard of my pastor? Why its good that you probably haven’t: The Mark Driscoll scandal provided an opportunity to reflect on the whole personality cult thing that has become endemic in contemporary evangelicalism. We seem to like celebrity and generally equate popularity with pastoral effectiveness. I actually think that the more effective pastors are those without the public recognition because they are focused on the main thing, as I pointed out in Dear Obscure Pastor.

3. 50 thoughts from turn 50: nothing more than me waxing philosophical at the half century mark. When you’ve messed up as much as I have, there’s a deep pool to draw from. It was a time to really reflect on how far the Lord has brought be from so much foolishness. Now that I’m 51, I’ll consider myself a year wiser. Ha!

2. 8 Bible Interpretations that make me Scream: self-explanatory. One of my goals in life – to teach as many as I can how to approach Scripture. Context people!

1. Does Jesus Really Take Away my Shame? We Christians, in general, like to float on air and pretend that being in Christ means being untouched by anything. I don’t play that game. Stuff affects us. Bad and wrong stuff affects us more. Acknowledging this has been one of the most liberating things in my Christian walk because it has freed me to run to Christ when those nagging voices of insufficiency and failure nip in my ear. Continue reading

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