I recently learned that the popularity of Jesus Calling, the devotional by Sarah Young, is bigger than I thought. Not only has the book sold over 9 million copies but there is a plethora of companion pieces, including a devotional Bible and phone app. Clearly, it has followed the path of the Purpose Driven Life and Prayer of Jabez that makes me wonder if Jesus told his disciples to go into all the world, therefore, and make merchandise. And let’s not be too quick to throw the authors and publishers under the bus because they wouldn’t be mass marketing Jesus products unless there was a demand based on sales.
So this post is not about Jesus Calling so much as it is about “us”. And by “us” I mean Christians who have soaked up this book and embraced it as if hugging Jesus himself. Because after all, the book is written in the first person as if Jesus himself is speaking. It occurs to me that there is something about this book that is appealing to people, especially women, and they have found comfort in it.
This book obviously resonates with people. To be sure, the popularity and evolution of companion products suggest that these devotionals feed something we need, or think we need and seek after. The demand suggests that we need to have some kind of experience of Jesus in order to be satisfied with our Christian walk. And this leads me to ask why what God has already given us is not enough?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against experience. I think it is a necessary component of our humanity and especially more so in serving and worshiping an invisible God. The problem comes when we put experience in the driver’s seat for the sake of obtaining emotional comfort based on subjective means. Life is hard and pain is real for sure. We want assurance and relief during troubling times. We generally hate uncertainty. But that should drive us to rely on what God has sufficiently spoken instead of subjective words that come from others who claim to speak from God. Then you have to go through the gymnastics of figuring out if it is from God. As I wrote about in A Sure Word, why not just rely on what has already been written? Continue reading
I’ve been reflecting recently on the concept of relationship that seems to be rampant within Christian circles. Somewhere along the way, we’ve created the false dichotomy of religion vs. relationship, something I addressed in this post.
One of the neat things about God’s revelatory process is that he contextualized himself to the culture of the ancient Near East, adopting the various symbols, structures and norms but doing something unique to show that he is the one true God. This is no different when he established the covenant with Abraham, Moses and David (some would say Noah) to secure relationship with his people. Based on what a covenant was in the ancient Near East, there was both promise and expectation.
Looking at the breadth of 66 books, the fulfillment of covenant relationship in Christ was of course the whole point. One only need look at the book of Hebrews to understand that the “better way” foreshadowed in the Old Testament was Christ himself, establishing a new covenant (cf Jeremiah 31:31-34), thus fulfilling previous covenants…
The main point here is that this was the means by which God established relationship. It was not just some willy-nilly, feel good, “being in love with Jesus” type of thing that typically gets associated with our Christianity. Relationship with God is governed by promise and expectation specified in Scripture. We can expect for him to be God based on his promises to us ultimately found in Christ. There is expectation for us to love him with our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love neighbor as ourselves. There is expectation for us to walk in his ways. I think that is an accurate depiction of religion based on its own definition.
I think the problem is that we’ve taken the concept of relationship further to define what that relationship must look like and often it is according to what we expect from our earthly relationships. We’ve imposed these expectations on Christianity. Imposed is a good word, I think, when we dictate the terms. So when we say that God is relational, it has come to mean in many cases a relationship that are emotionally satisfying to us. Continue reading
In working through my thesis, I’m interacting with some popular level books that advocate seeking the voice of God, hearing God speak regarding whatever dilemma we are facing or just to give encouragement or direction. And this seems right to so many because we ARE in relationship with the living God who continues to move by the Holy Spirit, right? Well not so fast.
I’m addressing the fact that God already spoke through Scripture and explaining why that is so. Of course, we need to define what it means for God to speak, which is his verbal revelation. Whatever propositional knowledge of himself he wanted to convey, has been conveyed progressively through the Old Testament as he spoke through word and historical acts in establishing a covenantal relationship with his people. Both word and deed get accomplished through the Son, through whom the words of the Old Testament are validated and the New Testament explains.
But I’m also reminded of the fact that we do face uncertainty, difficulty, confusion or fear. We do face times of doubt and discouragement. Being in relationship with an invisible God can cause us to ache for the tangible. We are humans after all.
So many do what these writers I’m interacting with advocate, seeking out that tangible need in he form of soft whispers or signs, words of comfort and affirmation that we long to hear. Somehow the Bible seems deficient and words spoken by others meet the needs of the immediate, especially when there is a claim attached to it that the Lord has spoken. Who doesn’t want a word right now for what we are going through? Continue reading
When you think of the word ‘cessationist’ what comes to mind? Typically, I’ve seen these characterizations;
- Opposite of a continuationism
- One who no longer agrees the gifts of the Spirit are in operation
- No miracles
- Prophets and apostles no longer exist
- Not all gifts are in operation; some have ceased
- God no longer speaks beyond scripture
It’s a mixed bag that unfortunately brings some baggage in discussions involving continuationism vs. cessationism OR discussions regarding if God still speaks today. Given the above descriptions, what is that exactly? It’s a problem because when you say the word it means different things to different people. Even under the rubric of continuation of all gifts, some cessationists avow this happens but not in the manner.
Wayne Grudem is amongst the continuationists but one who adheres to the sufficiency of scripture as God’s word. In his Systematic Theology he says this about prophecy; Continue reading
Michael Horton writes this from the Ligonier blog
I really do believe we are facing the same doctrinal crises that the Reformers faced, only in some respects it’s worse because Rome never questioned the authority of Scripture or the inerrancy of Scripture. Both are widely disputed in Protestantism generally, and increasingly in evangelicalism particularly. If we lose the authority of Scripture and the sufficiency of Scripture, then what’s the point? There would be no point in trying to understand what we believe and why we believe it—no point in even talking about a Gospel because there would be no authority for this Gospel. Then justification is as much up for grabs today as it has ever been. According to all the studies I’ve seen, most American evangelicals believe that they save themselves with God’s help. That’s the prevailing view in all the studies that have been conducted. Do your best. That’s why Jesus is no longer seen as the only way, truth, and life. And that wasn’t up for grabs in the Reformation—that Jesus is the only way of salvation—that wasn’t up for grabs. The issue in the Reformation was how salvation is applied to us, but everyone believed Jesus was the only way of salvation. Today, that’s no longer taken for granted. We have to fight for it.
Religious pluralism has not only made us more aware of other beliefs, which is good, so that we’re explicit about what we believe and why, it has made us more vulnerable to the belief that religion is really about morality. It’s about being nice. It’s about being good. It’s about loving each other. It’s not really about the intervention of God in human history, assuming our flesh, dying on the cross, and being raised the third day for our justification, His return in judgment, and a real Heaven and a real Hell. To the extent that we’ve already turned religion into morality—something we do rather than something that God has done for us—to that extent, religious pluralism will mean, not only that there are lots of people of different religions we must respect and to whom we have to witness, but rather that there are all of these wonderful people who have their sources of morality just as we do, and we need to realize that there are different paths to God. Increasingly that’s where we’re going with a lot of pastors, telling believers that Jesus is the best way of pursuing community and self-sacrifice, but not the One who was sacrificed for our sins and raised for our justification. Continue reading