Archive | March, 2009

Nightline Face-Off: Does Satan Exist?

I finished watching the debate over the existence of Satan this morning. I watched half of it yesterday and the other half of it this morning. Apparently the debate was edited when it was aired, but you can watch it in its entirety here: http://www.abcnews.go.com/Nightline/FaceOff/

Be prepared to endure commercials before and after each clip. A couple of times the online media player started over at the beginning of the first clip. A bit annoying, but well worth it.

I wish every follower of Christ would watch this. I thought it was a great cultural/philosophical clash. It would be so helpful for Christians to watch and think deeply through the issues presented in this debate. And the greatest issue for me was not the existence of Satan, but the reality of truth.

The players in the debate formed two teams: Mark Driscoll & Anne Lobert on one side and Deepak Chopra and Carlton Pearson on the other side.

When I watched the first half, I thought Driscoll was the winner. He did have home field advantage however because the debate was at his church. Thus, the many rounds of applause after Driscoll’s comments. But the TRUE WINNER of the debate was “Red Shirt Guy.”

As you watch the debate, pay attention to the interaction between the audience and the panel. In particular, pay close attention to two audience members and how they address the Deepak. The two audience members are “Red Shirt Guy” and “Pony Tail Girl.” A please, please understand that if we are going to engage culture we all need to be “Red Shirt Guy;” he got it. He understood the underlying issues and gave the best rebuttal of the night. (See below for my transcription of “Red Shirt Guy’s” comments.) “Pony Tail Girl” took things way to personal and misunderstood the deeper implications of Deepak’s comments. She was right to become angry, because Deepak was saying she was at a “lower level of consciousness.” But for her to say that Deepak was attacking Jesus was the wrong way to respond. Deepak was attacking the nature of truth (which of course we know is Jesus). She would have done better to take a lead from “Red Shirt Guy.”

So here is my reaction to the debate. At the end I will sum up my thoughts about truth, but here are my random thoughts and observations:

“All belief is a cover up for insecurity.” — Deepak Chopra

I did not plan on taking notes, but this is the first thing I wrote down. I am glad “Red Shirt Guy” addresses this later on, because this is an attack on all people of faith.

“If something is real then you don’t need to believe it. You just experience it.” — Deepak Chopra

This is THE ISSUE in the debate for me. I know it was supposed to be about Satan and evil, but this is the issue. What is truth? What is reality? How do we know it? Deepak says that reality is that which we can experience. I agree. But what if we experience something inauthentic? What if two people experience the same thing and interpret it different? How we discern right reality and evil reality?

“The Bible is not the inspired Word of God it is the inspired word of man about God.” – Carlton Pearson

Oh how the mighty have fallen! Pearson’s descent into heresy began with a denial of hell and eternal punishment and it has led him to reject the authority of Scripture all together. Pearson did make a few (emphasis on “few”) good points, but for the most part his comments were wondering, off-topic, etymological, self-involved rambling. I know it sounds like I am hating on Pearson and really I am not. Often the moderator cut Pearson off, because he was headed off into la-la land. I feel so sorry for Pearson.

“Perception is the ultimate reality, but it not necessarily the ultimate truth.” – Carlton Pearson

Yeah, I know where Pearson is coming from. There is a difference between truth and perception. He is wrong to say perception is reality. Perception can be a “perceived” reality, but reality is that which is really real. This goes to the very definition of truth. Truth is that which corresponds with reality. More on truth below.

“Fairytale-like good god and bad god” – Carlton Pearson

The Devil is the “bad god” by the way. Oh and earlier Pearson called the Devil “hairy and horny.” I think he was referring to the caricature of the Devil who has horns, but I did laugh out loud when he said “horny.” My, my, the bishop is off his theological rocker.

Red shirt guy: “My question is for Deepak and the Bishop, You said, ‘All belief is a cover up for insecurity?’”

Red shirt guy: “Do you believe that?

Deepak: “Yes”

Red shirt guy: “Thank you”

Audience laughter

This was the best moment in the debate. Pearson laughed and looked at Deepak. Driscoll smiled. Lobert seemed to miss it. And Deepak tried to explain himself, but he never addressed the implication of Red Shirt Guy’s comment. And don’t miss this, but this is the leverage point in the argument of truth between Christians and pluralists.

Deepak is arguing that “belief” is somehow a more primitive way of knowing. Evolution, he is arguing, has brought us to a higher state of consciousness were we know by experiencing in a way that is consistent with science and philosophy. But here is the deal….DEEPAK’S ARGUMENT IS A BELIEF!

He is using a belief to devalue beliefs. In other words, he is using a belief system to say belief systems are no good. Tim Keller is right, “Every doubt is based on an alternative belief.” (Read Tim Keller’s Reason for God for a fuller explanation of these issues.)

As soon as you define god, you limit god. — Deepak

This is true, but it shouldn’t stop us from exploring God should it? Deepak is no atheist. He contends that there is a high probability of an intelligent being out there. So sure, for finite beings to try to define god we do limit him, but for followers of Christ, we believe Jesus is God and came to reveal to us (in part) who God is.

At one point in the debate a woman question’s Driscoll on how he reconciles the evil of pride with the exclusivity of his position. I don’t have the exact quote, but Driscoll is right to go to the heart of the matter, “But what if it is true.” This whole debate is about truth.

“My experience is more consistent with what we know about biology, evolution, and the laws of nature, in my opinion.” — Deepak

This was his response to “Pony Tail Girl” and it is a sophisticated way of say you are wrong, but in Deepak’s worldview you cannot call anybody wrong, because there is no constant, no fixed point of reality, no frame of reference.

Pony-tail girl: “Why would you come here tonight if not to attack him [Jesus]?”

This was the worst thing she could have said. The only thing worse thing for her to say would have been to say that Deepak’s mom is a prostitute. Antagonistic attacks on non-Christian people will never lead them to Christ. This is a good time to love our enemies. Deepak wasn’t attacking Jesus. He was attacking truth. As I stated above, we know that Jesus is the Truth, and so maybe by inference he was attacking Jesus, but in responding to a pluralistic culture we need to respond to people’s statements, and the worldview behind their statements, and not the inferences we draw from those statements, because like Pony Tail Girl we are then arguing against an idea in our minds that may not be in theirs. She had all the best intentions in the world, bless her heart, but she didn’t help our cause.

“You need these forces [creativity/evolutionary and entropy/destruction] to keep creation going.” — Deepak

Driscoll needed to push the issue with Deepak over why he would call Anne’s story “evil” and more importantly why are these entropy/destructive forces necessary for creation to go on? Maybe he should have asked “How is it both evil and necessary?” Anne had been brutally gang raped and Deepak agreed that this was evil, but he wanted to brush it off as the fault of cultural psychosis. As he described his worldview he said destructive forces are necessary. So does that imply that evil is necessary? Or that Anne needed to be raped and tortured? I wish Driscoll would have pushed this issue. It would have clearly shown the inconsistencies of Deepak’s worldview.

“I don’t trust my mind. I trust my spirit which is beyond all this” – Deepak

Driscoll did a great job in questioning how Deepak believed in the evolutionary process and yet Deepak admits that he doesn’t trust his mind. He trusted his spirit! This was a clear contradiction in Deepak’s form of pluralism. If he doesn’t trust his mind, then why use his mind to study biology, cosmology, and philosophy? Why not just meditate and stop writing books?

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS: This debate was not about Satan. The existence of Satan is what got the debate started. This was a debate about truth. What is there in the world of philosophy, religion, and theology that is true? What is it in those areas that corresponds with reality? For those of us who follow Jesus, we believe that he is the way, the truth, and the life, the only way to God the Father and eternal life. Jesus did speak these words in Aramaic, but when he spoke of “me” or “God” he was not referring to the “circle within the circle” or the great “spirit” in the sky. Deepak’s interpretation is not consistent with First century Judaic thought. It sounded intellectual, but his interpretation of Jesus is not consistent with what we know theologically or linguistically about the first century. What his followers heard him say is “God” and “me.” When Jesus said nobody comes to the Father except through me, the gospel writers wrote the word eimi in Greek. There only way to interpret that is through the very simple meaning “me.” Jesus was simple at this point. It takes a lot of religious and philosophical wrangling to make it more completed than that. For those of us who are Christ followers it is simple:

Jesus is the Truth.

He is our philosophical constant.

He is our moral framework.

He is what corresponds with reality.

He is not our experience of cultural/philosophical influences.

He is really real.

He really lived.

He really died on a Roman cross.

He really was buried in a borrowed tomb.

He really rose up from the dead.

He really sent the Holy Spirit to live in the hearts of those who are his.

He is really coming back.

Mark Driscoll did a great job of reading Scripture as his closing remarks. He read 1 John 5:19-20. I am closing this blog with that text:

We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (ESV)

Talking About the Trinity

Last weekend, I had the privilege of speaking at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri in a pretty unique format. WOLC’s pastor, Brian Zahnd, set up a “kitchen table” interview with me, where he asked me questions about the Trinity. This was a part of his “Engaging Orthodoxy” series, a teaching series geared towards equipping people to engage in culture by being rooted and grounded in Christian orthodoxy, i.e. right believing regarding the Christian faith.

So we literally sat at a table on the stage and talked about the Trinity with coffee and Bibles in hand. We talked about theology, church history, baptism, creeds, heresy, orthodoxy, Jerry Seinfeld, and Bob Dylan…all in a 35 minute time slot. You can listen to the audio here. [You can also listen to the audio on the WOLC website. Click here to go to their archive audio and scroll down to "Engaging Orthodoxy – Part 4: The Trinity."]

Brian gave me the list of questions and like some middle school over-achiever, I diligently wrote out answers to each question so that I would be prepared. As it worked out, I didn’t get to all this material. I spent some time working on some of these answers in order to make the very complicated doctrine of the Trinity easy to understand. So here are the notes in their entirety:

What is the Trinity?

“Trinity” is the word that Christians use to describe who God is.

In the Old Testament, God has revealed himself as one God.
In the New Testament, God has revealed himself as Father, Son, & Holy Spirit.
This is a bit of a mystery.

“Trinity” is the Church’s way of preserving this mystery, that there is one God, one divine substance, revealed in three persons—the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. This was the language of the early church when speaking about God, “one substance” (Latin: substatia) and “three persons” (Latin: persona).

The doctrine of the Trinity is a gift from the historic Church to the modern Church.

How was the doctrine of the Trinity developed?

The doctrine of the Trinity grew out of worship and a devotion to Scripture.
Historically, it began with BAPTISM as you read in Matthew 28:19…baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

In the early church, baptism was by immersion, often dipping the head three times while the person being baptized stood naked in the water. (I hope that was some murky water.) If there was not enough water for immersion, pouring water over the head was permissible. The water would be poured over the head three times. (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol 2, pg. 248-249)

It was baptism, not just in God’s name, but into the name. There is a footnote in the ESV regarding this difference in translating Matthew 28:19. From a Jewish perspective, a name relates to a person character. And so we are not just baptizing people in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but into that name, into this mysterious community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

From there, the Church began to use CREEDS in order to teach Christians basics…like the Apostle’s Creed.
Candidates for baptism would recite (or repeat) the Apostle’s Creed. The Creed was “the baptismal symbol.”
(Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol 2, pg. 248)

The ancient creeds used a Trinitarian structure for the Christian faith.
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth…
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord…
I believe in the Holy Ghost…
(Apostle’s Creed)

Then the doctrine of the Trinity really began to take form in response to HERESIES. It has been said that, “heresy is the mother of all orthodoxy.” This was particularly true in relation to the formation of the doctrine of the Trinity. There were hundreds of years of debates asking, “How is God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Christian pastors wrote books and the church held Church-wide counsels and they ended up with this language: One substance, three persons, one divine essence revealed in three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

How important was the doctrine of the Trinity to the early church?

It was absolutely critical.

The early Jesus movement was but one of dozens of new religions and it was important for the Church to clearly communicate who their God is. They were spread out through the Roman Empire who had a pantheon of gods. At first, they were considered a radical Jewish and so they had to separate themselves from Judaism. And they had a number of schisms among those who called themselves “Christians,” but disagreed on who God was.

So it was critical that they establish the uniqueness of the Christian God, who they believed (and we believe) is the one true living God. And God as a Trinity is unique. The media will talk about the three great monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as if they are essential the same. God as Trinity is totally unique and unlike any other religious system.

Why do you think modern Christians aren’t so interested in the Trinity?

I think it is because many Christians in the United States are more interested in seeking God’s hand than seeking his face. They want to know, “What can God do for me?” Instead of “Who is this God?”

Michael Horton in Christless Christianity calls this “moralistic, therapeutic deism.”
Moralistic: people want to be better people, better husbands, fathers, employees.
Therapeutic: We want to feel better; we want God to give us goose bumps on Sunday morning
Deism: God is the maker of heaven and earth, but he has no contact or interaction with his creation

Many who claim to be followers of Christ don’t want to take the time to seek God’s face in a serious way.

And for churches like yours and mine…we are hip, young, cool, and contemporary…we want to know what God is doing now…we don’t have much interest in knowing what God has done in the first couple hundred years of the church.

Are there dangers in our unwillingness to think seriously about doctrine?

Yeah I think so. Look at the history of the Roman Catholic Church in the late middle ages.
The Reformation of the 16th century was necessary, because the church had gotten so far away from biblical Christianity; it was a mess.

It is easy for Christians living at anytime to absorb the values of the dominate culture.

Thinking seriously about doctrine helps you discern biblical truth from cultural error. It is so easy to replace biblical values with cultural values.

We are living in a consumer culture. It is easy to baptize American consumerism and make it sound Christian.
I am not selfish and greed; I just want God to do whatever I say when I say.

What are some of the wrong ways people think about the Trinity?

There are essential two wrong ways of thinking about the Trinity and it is to err on one side or the other…to either see God and a monad….one in his person or to see the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three Gods.

Historically, these heresies are called modalism and tri-theism.

Modalism sees to God as taking on three modes…wearing three masks.
You see this presently in the United Pentecostal Church–”Oneness Pentecostals” or “Jesus Only Pentecostals”.

Tri-theism is a polytheistic view of God. That there are three Gods.
A polytheistic view of God is found among Jehovah Witnesses and in Mormonism.

Both of these are heresies that have been condemned by the Church.

Why do we call wrong thinking about the Trinity heresy?

Ultimately we call it heresy because it is inconsistent with the teaching of the apostles, which we know as the New Testament.

Building any kind of theological framework like the doctrine of the Trinity requires that we build it big enough to hold all of what the Scripture says about God. There is no doubt that the Scripture reveals God to be one. There is only one God. But was we look at the teachings of Jesus, he himself claims to be God. And they way Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit indicates he is God too.

Either heresy requires us to ignore certain Scriptures are simply force them to say something that the biblical author’s did not intend.

What are some analogies of the Trinity?

The early church used analogies to try to describe the Trinity. Tertullian of Carthage actually coined the term “Trinity” used two in particular.

Tree as trunk, branches, leaves
Moving water as a river, stream, and creek.

Some modern analogies include: Water in three forms: solid, liquid, vapor.
Football team: offensive, defense, and special teams
A person as husband, father, & pastor
A hot, cherry pie cut into three large pieces

My favorite may be an analogy from music. In a 2007 Rolling Stone interview, Bono was describing his appreciation for the Beatles. He described their music as “an intoxicating mix of melody, harmony and rhythm.” (As quoted by Roderick T. Leupp, The Renewal of Trinitarian Theology, 2008, pg. 9)

Do analogies accurately explain the Trinity?

No. All human metaphors fail at some point.
Consider the music analogy. This is a good one. Melody, harmony, and rhythm are a distinct, but together they make up a song. They are three distinct faces to the one song.

As good as this analogy is, it does have its problems when relating back to the Trinity. The orthodox position is that the Father is fully God, the Son is fully God, and the Spirit is fully God. The melody is not fully the song and harmony and rhythm alone, are not “the song.”

There is really nothing in creation that is like the Trinity, which is consistent with what the Bible says about God. He is holy, i.e. separate, different, other.

There is nothing in creation like the Trinity, because if there was then it would be the Trinity.

Is the doctrine of the Trinity easy to understand?

No, but it isn’t supposed to be. The early church began to speak of God as a Trinity not to explain the mystery, but to preserve the mystery.

The Church confidently believes this is who God has revealed himself to be…this mysterious community of persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It is a mystery that we embrace.
It is a mystery that we explore.

I grew up in Myrna Manor North, just a few miles from this building. In the back of our neighborhood there is a creek and large wooded area. The woods were mysterious…beckoned us to go exploring.

One early church father expressed his worshipful exploration of the mystery like this:
“No sooner do I conceive of the one than I am illuminated by the splendor of the three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the one. When I think of any one of the three I think of him as the whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of that one so as to attribute a greater greatness to the rest. When I contemplate the three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the undivided light.”
Gregory of Nazianzus, (330-390 AD)
Orations (40.41)

Should we be suspicious of doctrines which are difficult to comprehend?

Not when it comes to God.

A God who is easy to understand is a popular god, because it is a god we can control, a God we can master.

But if God is the holy, infinite, eternal God as declared in the Scripture than shouldn’t he be difficult to comprehend? A God who is easy to understand isn’t a God who demands my worship. The kind of God is a god who demands my boredom. I seriously believe this is why some Christians become shipwrecked in their faith. Their god is too small.

A difficult and demanding doctrine like the Trinity humbles us and demands our worship.

“In the presence of this mystery, we are no longer in a position of control where we can manage or master the subject. Before this Subject, worship is more appropriate than problem solving, awe is preferable to answers. So the mystery of the Trinity ought to evoke in us humility and worship—the very attitudes necessary for entering the circle of triune fellowship.”
—Steve Seamands, Ministry in the Image of God, pg. 103

What does the Trinity say to us about community?

“At the center of the universe there is a relationship.” (Darrell Johnson, Experiencing the Trinity, pg. 37)

We know that God is love.
(1 John 4:8)
There is no biblical understanding of love without other people.

You can love your car, your cat, your dog and even your goldfish, but that is not the biblical definition of love.

It is not love without other people.

God is love, because for eternity there has been love between the Father, Son and Spirit. These three persons have been loving each other since before there was time.

“It is common when speaking of the Divine happiness to say that God is infinitely happy in the enjoyment of Himself, in perfectly beholding and infinitely loving, and rejoicing in, His own essence and perfection…”
–Jonathan Edwards, Unpublished Essay on the Trinity

And this love draws me in. The Father sent his Son to build a community.
The Father, through the Son sends the Spirit in invite us into this community, where we will never be alone.

What about the Shack?

The best thing that happened to The Shack, outside of an endorsement from Eugene Peterson, was all of the criticism and negative backslash it received. I am still waiting for some friends to create an Anti-Shape Shifters website to help promote my book!

I think The Shack is a wonderful introduction to Trinitarian life. Some say The Shack has an anti-authority vibe and a very low view of the church…and I can see that. But remember The Shack is a work of fiction and not systematic theology. It has its flaws, but it is a good way to see the love between the Father, Son, and Spirit.

Why does it matter? What does the Trinity have to do with our everyday lives?

In Shape Shifters, I give seven reasons why I am a Trinitarian Christian. But here is one: For me, it goes back to relationships.

I have had to confess a sin to my church. I have had a habit of running away from church members when I see them at Wal-Mart. When I go shopping at Wal-Mart, I am a man on a mission. I want to go in. Get my carefully selected items and then get out. And so I developed a habit of running from church members when I would see them at Wal-Mart. When I saw them coming one way, I would dart down an isle in order to avoid them.

This is a sin, because I was running from the very thing I was created for…relationships, right relationships with other people.

Why did Jesus say that the greatest command is to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves?

Because this is a reflection of who God is. When we love one another, we are living out our “created-in-the-image-of-Godness.”

Paul’s Trinitarian Prayer:
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, [17] so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, [18] may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, [19] and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19 NIV)

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For more information about the Trinity, I recommend the following books:

Shape Shifters by Derek Vreeland

Experiencing God by Darrell Johnson

Ministry in the Image of Godby Steve Seamands

Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace by James Torrance

The Renewal of Trinitarian Theology by Roderick Leupp

I also found Dr. Michael Williams’ lectures on the Trinity to be helpful. Williams is a professor at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. I listened to four lectures on the Trinity from his “God and His Word” series. I listened to lessons 17-20 in preparation for this talk on the Trinity.

Biblical Worldview

The Barna Group has recently review their survey data regarding contemporary Americans and whether or not they have a biblical worldview. They conducted surveys in 1995, 2000, & 2005 and their conclusion is that 9% of Americans have (what they define as) a biblical worldview.

So what is a worldview, you may ask.

A worldview is simply how you view the world. More specifically, a worldview is that set of core beliefs and values by which to interpret reality. We all do not perceive things the same way because we interpret what we see and experience through a certain worldview. By way of analogy, it may be helpful to see your worldview like a pair of glasses. I wear glasses. I wear the trendy, rectangular, black kind…how original, I know. My glasses help to shape what I see, because without them, most things far away would look blurry. Eyeglasses help make things clear and understandable. By the time we are adults, we have been formed by a certain set of values, a certain set of beliefs that functions as interpreters of life, as the criteria by which we distinguish right from wrong, and those core convictions we use to make decisions.

So what is a “biblical” worldview. The Barna Group defines a biblical worldview by these six convictions:

  • absolute moral truth exists
  • the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches
  • Satan is considered to be a real being or force, not merely symbolic
  • a person cannot earn their way into Heaven by trying to be good or do good works
  • Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth
  • God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today

And only 9% of Americans have such a worldview.

And here is the kicker: of those who say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ (i.e. they claim to be a born again Christian, or evangelical Christian), only 19% have a biblical worldview.

I wonder which of these six beliefs causes them trouble. For me I think the belief in Satan is maybe of least importance. There other five are non-negotiable essentials for me. I would add something about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus to the fifth statement. I may also add something about the Triune nature of God. Nevertheless, I concur that these six are a fairly good test to see if a person’s worldview has been formed by the Scripture.

Here are more stats from Barna:

  • One-third of all adults (34%) believe that moral truth is absolute and unaffected by the circumstances. Slightly less than half of the born again adults (46%) believe in absolute moral truth.
  • Half of all adults firmly believe that the Bible is accurate in all the principles it teaches. That proportion includes the four-fifths of born again adults (79%) who concur.
  • Just one-quarter of adults (27%) are convinced that Satan is a real force. Even a minority of born again adults (40%) adopt that perspective.
  • Similarly, only one-quarter of adults (28%) believe that it is impossible for someone to earn their way into Heaven through good behavior. Not quite half of all born again Christians (47%) strongly reject the notion of earning salvation through their deeds.
  • A minority of American adults (40%) are persuaded that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life while He was on earth. Slightly less than two-thirds of the born again segment (62%) strongly believes that He was sinless.
  • Seven out of ten adults (70%) say that God is the all-powerful, all-knowing creator of the universe who still rules it today. That includes the 93% of born again adults who hold that conviction.

So what is the deal here? What is the breakdown?

Certainly there is a growing epidemic of bible illiteracy in the US. We are at an all-time high of media’s production of Scripture (both print and through digital media) and yet people know less and less about what the Bible teaches.

More than that, I think we approach the Scripture too often for information and not transformation.

The Scripture has been given as bread to eat and not a trivia book to be memorized. There is a place for Scripture memorization, but not when we are trying to memorize Scripture in order to kick butt at Bible trivia. What we need is to incorporate the Scripture into our lives and allow the text to wash over us and form us mind and soul. There is a place for in-depth, theological study of the Scripture, certainly. But our main participation with Scripture needs to be one where we are transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Read more here: http://barna.org/barna-update/article/12-faithspirituality/252-barna-survey-examines-changes-in-worldview-among-christians-over-the-past-13-years

Book Review: What to Do on the Worst Day of Your Life by Brian Zahnd

What to Do on the Worst Day of Your Life by Brian ZahndThis is the book I want with me when all hell breaks loose and I am battling the worst day of my life.

I have had some difficult days, some challenging days, some tearful days, but on the worst day of my life would somebody please hand me a copy of Brian Zahnd’s, What to Do on the Worst Day of your Life.

This book is more of a story than a how-to guide. Zahnd retells the biblical story of King David and the tragedy at Ziklag (1 Samuel 30:1-8, 16-20, 26). He masterfully weaves the reader into the story, so that like David, we feel the heartbreak, the disillusionment, the turn-around, the grace-infused renewal, the righteous anger, the thrill of victory, the celebration of recovery, and the proclamation of hope.

King David was having a bad day. As Zahnd tells it: David went bankrupt, had his house burned to the ground, his possessions stolen, and his entire “family kidnapped by terrorists—all in one day [author's emphasis]” (3). For sure this was a bad day, the worst day in David’s life up to this point.

Zahnd’s retelling of David’s story gives us an encouraging template, a heart-stirring testimony of grace and hopes, so that we cannot only endure our own worst days, but reach a place of full recovery. He peppers the retelling of David’s story with his own stories of struggle and celebration and he appeals time and time again to the Scripture. (There are 163 biblical references recorded in the “Notes” section in the back of the book.)

As an unfolding story itself, What to Do on the Worst Day of Your Life does not offer a picture of naïve optimism or a catalyst for superficial emotionalism. This story is centered on the grace-filled message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Like David during his Ziklag experience, Zahnd explains that Jesus cried our tears, shared in our suffering, and defeated our enemies through the cross and the empty tomb. Because of God’s gracious gift of redemption, we can join David in getting a word from God, reorienting our vision, regaining our passion, attacking, and recovering all.

Zahnd uses not only the imagery of “success” and “prosperity,” which can so easily be misunderstood in our culture; he also uses the imagery of “beauty”and “restoration.” He writes:

Beauty is the final objective of God’s gracious work, and ashes seem to be His favorite medium. God is the creator of beauty and a connoisseur of all that is truly beautiful. God is an artist, His canvas is creation, and in our lives tears and ashes are often His oil and clay as a He works relentlessly to make something beautiful. (110)

According to Zahnd, God wants us to fully recover from our worst days, because salvation is “for the restoration of all things to God’s original goodness” (96). We can survive our worst days with the hope of the restoration of God’s original goodness for our lives. We can recover, but God will weave these “worst days” into our lives so we can rightly give to others and be sources of healing and encouragement for those who are suffering.

I highly recommend What to Do on the Worst Day of Your Life. Read it before your worst day hits home. Read it on the worst day of your life and then give it to other people who are suffering during hard times.

This book is a glowing beacon of hope in the fog of uncertainty, discontent, and suffering.

[Brian Zahnd, What to Do on the Worst Day of Your Life. Christian Life, March 2008. ISBN: 978-1-59979-726-7. Hardcover, $14.99. To order go to http://www.worstday.net/]

– Dr. Derek Vreeland

P.S. Here are some of the gems tucked away in this book. These are some of the lines I underlined, lines that stirred my thinking as I read.

“Powerful men wept until weeping had drained their power” (8).

“Yet, the tears of God are not tears of mere commiseration. These are holy tears that lead to our liberation…” (12)

“The leader will always be the one who can encourage himself when everyone else is discouraged. Had someone else encouraged himself instead of David, that man would have become the new leader. The ability to encourage yourself when everyone else is discouraged is an essential attribute of leadership” (34-35).

“We live almost all of our lives in memory and imagination—remembering the past and imagining the future. We encounter the past by memory, and we encounter the future by imagination….In order to be happy, humans need healed memories and hopeful imaginations” (59-60).

“Hope is the God way of imagining the future. A mind that is God-conscious, God-centric, and God-saturated will be full of hope” (60).

“At the Cross:

  • The debt of sin was paid in full.
  • Humanity was elevated from the fall.
  • Satan’s dominion came to an end.
  • The curse of the law was canceled.
  • Alienation became reconciliation.
  • Hatred was swallowed in love.
  • Death was swallowed in victory.
  • The cosmos was reclaimed for God” (89).

“Don’t let your personal tragedy or failure define your identity. Failure and loss are events, but they don’t have to become an identity. Failure and loss are things that happen to you, but failure and loss are not who you are. Your identity is defined in Christ. In your mystical union with Christ you share in His death, burial, and resurrection” (95).

“…prophecy is not for prediction but for hope and glory” (99).

“Through the Cross, God recovered all—for Himself, for humanity, for creation. God will restore all things through the death, burial, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the great mystery of the Cross” (101).

“Faith needs no other justification than the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection of the Son of God is the cornerstone for every hope of recovery” (104).

“This is the problem of being the center of your own universe but not having enough energy or substance to sustain your function as a star—you collapse in upon yourself and become a black hole” (120).

“Remember, your times are in God’s hand. He is the artist who has promised to weave all things in such a way that in the end your story will truly be a story of beauty, a work of art, God’s masterpiece that can never be marred or touched, His beautiful tapestry of grace” (138).

The Cross of Christ

April 12th is Easter, Resurrection Sunday, the ultimate day of Christian celebration when we celebrate Jesus’ triumph over death and hell. In order to prepare for Resurrection Sunday, we are spending five weeks on Sunday mornings talking about “The Cross of Christ.”

For a number of years I did not prepare for Resurrection Sunday. Ok, so maybe I went shopping for a new tie, but for the most part Resurrection Sunday was just another Sunday. This is not our heritage as followers of Christ. The church has always celebrated the resurrection on Sunday. This is why we normally conduct worship services on the Sunday; it honors the day Jesus rose from the dead. Every Sunday is a mini-celebration of the resurrection. Nevertheless, for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years the Church has dedicated on day to be the ultimate celebration of the resurrection, the Sunday after the first full moon after the first day of Spring…Resurrection (or Easter) Sunday.

Resurrection Sunday has historically been a day of celebration…renewing ourselves in the joy of the resurrection. And to experience the joy of the resurrection you need to reflect on the sorrow of the cross.

Lent is the historic way to prepare for Resurrection Sunday.

Lent is a way to identify with Jesus’ 40 day fast in the wilderness before his public ministry began.

Lent is a way to reflect on the cross.

At the cross we see Jesus not as:
•    Our life coach
•    Our love guru
•    Our therapist
•    Our motivational speaker
•    Or our mystic guide

Rather we see a humiliated, failed revolutionary being executed by the reigning empire… a failed revolutionary who billions of people for nearly 2,000 years have worshipped as the Son of God and Savior.

So why would he do it?

The 19th Century Danish philosopher Soren Kiekegaard said about Jesus:

“That one should push through the crowd in order to get to the spot where money is dealt out, and honor, and glory – that one can understand. But to push oneself forward in order to be flogged – how sublime, how Christian, how stupid!”Training in Christianity

The cross is a paradox, a contradiction.

At the cross we see the glory and the shame; the beauty and pain in Jesus death.

For many people the cross is simply offensive. It is offensive to people who (like the ancient Greeks) are looking for wisdom, or self-help principles, or trite, pithy, common-sensical statements about life. Those who are looking into Christianity in order to find something to improve their lives are often offended when they are offered a bloody, tortured man on a cross.

It is a shocking, horrific scene, pitiful and offensive, but the cross of Christ is the pinnacle of history. Time is split by this one six hour event into BC (before Christ) and AD (not “After Death,” but the Latin phrase: Anno Domini, “after death). The cross of Christ split time and it is central to what we believe as followers of Christ.

Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures. This is of primary importance.

The Apostle Paul, who was a religious hit man turned early church leader told a church in the ancient world: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Here’s the deal:

God who is maker of heaven and earth created us in his image. Sin perverted and corrupted us like a PC with corrupt files that will never boot up Windows no matter how much we cuss, scream, and bang on the keyboard.

Sin has made us less than human and utterly/eternally disconnected from God our Creator and Father. Because of our sin, we deserve death, hell, judgment, and punishment. But GOOD NEWS—Jesus came to be our substitute. On the cross, Jesus died in our place for our sins, bearing the guilt and shame of our sins and bearing the wrath of God, that our sins incurred.

From the cross, Jesus becomes our Savior and our Healer in order to make us into the new humanity body and soul. As the Savior he forgives us of our sins (past, present, and future). As the Healer he heals us physically and emotionally.

But forgiveness and healing come only as a result of the unthinkable, the ultimate gasp—the death of God. The cover of Time magazine on April 8, 1966 proclaimed “the death of God” and at the cross of Christ we see that very thing, the unimaginable death of God.

We will explore theses theme on Sunday mornings at Cornerstone Church in the weeks leading up to Resurrection Sunday, April 12. Here are the five messages:

March 1 :: The Offensiveness of the Cross
March 8 :: Jesus our Substitute
March 15 :: Jesus our Savior
March 29 :: Jesus our Healer
April 5 :: The Death of God