Surprised by the deficiency of the Spirit

worship singingAs I wrote about in Hearing God Speak regarding my master’s thesis, one of the books I interacted with was Surprised by the Voice of God  by Jack Deere. If you are not familiar with the book, Deere writes about the need to hear the voice of God beyond the Bible, namely through dreams, visions and prophetic utterances.  Deere proposes that in order to have a vibrant walk with the Lord, we need to model the way in which God spoke to the people in the Bible, namely the prophets, apostles and even Jesus himself.  He uses a plethora of examples, including his own, that portrays a staid and rather lifeless Christian existence by relying on the Bible alone and the inability to really hear from God. This is contrasted with an energized Christian walk that relies on the ability to hear God speak beyond the Bible. The thrust of his proposal is that if you want to really experience the Holy Spirit then the Bible is not enough.

Unfortunately Deere’s proposal echoes a view that I believe many Christians have adopted about the work of the Holy Spirit especially related to the Bible and our Christian walk. T To varying degrees, it is the idea that the Holy Spirit is only partially present in Bible and that if we really want to experience the Holy Spirit it requires going beyond the Bible to “hear the voice of God.”

I propose that this position undermines the work and presence of the Holy Spirit in relation to the biblical text. It presumes that the Holy Spirit cannot be fully active with just Bible reading alone or if the preacher simply reads and explains the text. Now Deere does not dismiss the power of Scripture, since he does have a chapter entitled God Speaks Through the Bible. But the thrust of his proposal is that it is insufficient. But I don’t think it adequately relates the Holy Spirit’s involvement revelation, which is how God made himself known.

Deere’s premise rest on the fact that the Holy Spirit began the age of revelation in the book of Acts, which gives us a prescription for how we should hear from God [1] Well, if we see that Scripture is a product of revelation, that is how God made himself known, that prompts us to go back to Genesis and follow along as His story progresses. The covenant promises and acts of God in relation to his people unveil a progressive revelation, in which he provides the Law and to which the Prophets testify.  The people and miracles that he used were for the purpose of revelation, which unrolls progressively through Israel’s history with the expectation of fulfillment of covenant promises. The progressive revelation culminates in the Son so that the fullness of the Godhead is revealed in the Son (Colossians.2:9; Ephesians 1:9-19). The Son fulfills the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17-18) and all the promises of God (2 Cor. 1:20). Continue reading

Advertisements

Another look at racial tension and stuff that divides Christ’s church

white vs black_headsThere’s been a lot of talk about race in the church of late, the need to talk about it, the need for reconciliation, the need to get gatherings to talk about it so that we can be reconciled, the need to point out racial disparities, the need for white people to understand their privilege, the need to keep talking about it, and do something.

Now I’m not necessarily opposed to bringing attention to ways in which the majority culture has imposed a standard of acceptability and normativity into the evangelical culture and the broader fabric of society. After all, we cannot dismiss the premise that resulted in slavery, Jim Crow and more subtle unequal treatment of minorities – that black skin was considered inferior. Especially being in the PCA, a denomination that recently took decisive action in repenting of a past that thwarted equal acceptance of black people and other minorities into the fold, I appreciate when we can bring to light how the church has behaved inconsistent with it’s mandate to welcome all who seek Christ on equal terms, as equal heirs to the kingdom of God. See this wonderful reflection here from an African-American PCA pastor.

But I confess, often experience tension. Tension exists because I don’t want to be dismissive of ways in which marginalization occurs with even an unconscious bias regarding consideration of black and brown people. Don’t believe this happens? Just check out the make up of prominent conservative evangelical conference speakers. But on the other hand, I think we can raise the issue to a point of prominence that should not be and become so overbearing with the issue that it distracts from our ability to truly live as those whose chief affiliation is union in Christ.

One of the biggest challenges I’ve found to having conversations about race is the varying perspectives, sensitivities and experiences involved. Even for those with sensitivities, they still range on a spectrum. Specifically, for black people, the range goes from recognizing that injustices have incurred but also realizing that racism will continue until Jesus comes back and sets everything right. In other words, there is not a great expectation for every jot and tittle to be addressed since it is the product of a broken world. On the other end of the spectrum are those so sensitized to both historical injustices and present realities, that any slight can be perceived as a continued devaluation and proactive efforts are needed for correction for some kind of racial Utopia. Continue reading

On being called into ministry

This is a slightly edited version of a post I did for Parchment and Pen in 2011. These are some thoughts I spent some years in working out on the question of what it means to be be called into ministry. 

pupit w bibleOne of the essays in my application to Dallas Theological Seminary required that I respond to the question of how I knew I was called into ministry.  While I understood that question to be more related to affirming events that led me to apply to seminary, I find that the idea of being called into ministry has not only been a popular catch phrase but also bears some examination.  I say this because I believe the call to ministry has been designated as a special call to select individuals based on God’s selection for specific ministry roles.  I do believe that has some merit as I indicate below, but I think it might be different than what is commonly thought of as a call.

First, I think the ‘call to ministry’ as designated for select individuals is misleading.  All Christians are called into ministry because all Christians have spiritual gifts that are to be employed for service to the body of Christ (1 Peter 4:10).  That doesn’t require some specified direction but a working out of those gifts as we grow in our Christian walk and seek to serve the body.  1 Corinthians 12:12-24 identifies that everyone has a part to play in the growth of the body (also supported Ephesians 4:16).  I don’t dismiss the fact that God may have specific roles or even specialized ministries that he directs us to (after all the local assembly does require pastors, elders and deacons), but it is more indicative of our progress in the faith and a capacity bear larger burdens for service.

Second, the New Testament witness to the concept of calling is predominantly related to the salvific call of election. God calls individuals into the body of Christ. It is within the service to the body that one works out there inclination. And there is much to be said for passion and desire.  I heard a popular preacher say once that if you want to know what you should be doing pay attention to what drives you and what bothers you when its off.  I don’t believe that should be equated with a critical, fault finding mission, but an inclination of things that God has placed within us.  This is a process and it doesn’t happen overnight. But in time, we will find ourselves inclined and passionate in certain areas of ministry that we will gravitate towards. This actually factored in quite a bit in my essay. Continue reading

The greatest lesson I’ve learned for successful Christianity

man standing on rockI’m not really a task oriented person and shun the standard listicles of how you can have a better life. Our world today gravitates towards simplified pragmatism for improvement and living a Christian life is no exception.

However, I might just break that disposition . . . maybe. There is one principle I’ve learned in all my years of Christian living. It’s the one thing that successes and failures and trials and disappointments and uncertainty and bad church experiences have brought me to time and time again. What is this one principle, you ask?

Get over yourself.

Yep, that’s it. Everything rests on that. Yes, but what accepting Jesus? Well, it starts with that. First, I had to get over myself to even be a Christian. It’s when you realize there is no way that any goodness on your part makes you acceptable to the Father, that your best efforts fall way short and it is only through faith in Christ. It means wholeheartedly accepting his life, death and resurrection and what that means.

Then, I had to try to understand who this God is. Though I spent some years following all kinds of distorted roads, over time, I came to realize that he spoke to us through his written word that testifies to the Incarnate word through whom we come to God in the first place. I came across hard passages, stories that made me cringe, divine actions that made me question, and I ask questions. Lots of questions.

However, in all my years of Bible reading, I’ve recognized the importance of getting over myself. Because you see, I could read hard things, troubling things and then set myself up as judge and jury over God’s actions to determine what I would find acceptable or not. I could shape my own version of Christianity based on my level of comfort and acceptability. But that would make me full of myself. Continue reading

The church that Christ built (and is building): a Pentecost reflection

pentecost doveI’ve had some swirling thoughts today that I wanted to spit out in reflection on Pentecost Sunday. If you’ve read my About page, you’ll know that I’ve gone through quite a theological transformation. My Christian life began with prosperity oriented, Word of Faith, Pentecostal based teaching. I read the Bible in a very fragmented fashion that led to all kinds of erroneous beliefs about Christian faith and practice. I then went through a dispensational/baptistic phase because I started reading the Bible in a more holistic manner and came to recognize the connectedness in Scripture. That evolved in a solidly Reformed position.

I couldn’t help but think of this trajectory as I listened to the sermon today on Acts 2:14-36. In my earlier Christian days, the focus of Acts 2 had been about the evidence of tongues as proof of the Holy Spirit’s work. It demonstrated the miraculous work of the Spirit that moved people to prove their Christian position through extraordinary events. In this view, the Spirit moved individuals to do whatever it is they believed God called them to do based on some existential, individualized perception.

Since 2006, I’ve come to see that Acts 2 is but a reflection of the Christ-oriented nature of Scripture and God’s redemptive plan for his creation. The baptism of the Spirit had less to do with extraordinary events but had everything to do with the testimony and proclamation of Jesus Christ and our empowerment to proclaim him. After all, in John 14-16, Jesus had promised the Spirit after he was no longer with the disciples. Specifically, he said;

But when the Helper comes whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me and you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:26-27)

A good trinitarian understanding will negate seeing the Holy Spirit as a rogue agent that propels us to focus on the Spirit’s work apart from the work of Christ. The Spirit’s role is to glorify Christ and point to him according to the Father’s good purpose that he has already revealed. So while it might seem plausible to focus on the the extraordinary works of the Spirit, the central character of Acts 2 is not the 3rd person of the the Trinity, but the 2nd person – Jesus the Christ. (Also, regenerating hearts to believe the gospel IS a miraculous event.) This is wholly demonstrated in Peter’s speech in our sermon passage today, vv. 14-36. Continue reading