Catechism, Ministry

Question #2 – What is God?

July 30, 2020

Question #2 – What is God?

God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything. He is eternal, infinite, and unchangeable in his power and perfection, goodness and glory, wisdom, justice, and truth. Nothing happens except through him and by his will.

For every human living on earth, question #2 from the New City Catechism may be one of the most important questions you could ever ask. What is God like? How does he act? Who is he? These are some of the most fundamental questions that will require a lifetime to ponder. A.W. Tozer once wisely said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Fortunately, the catechism provides us with a beautiful picture of what God is like.

CREATOR AND SUSTAINER

God is first and foremost the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything. Genesis 1 and 2 show that God is the ultimate creator of everything, speaking creation into existence by the word of his power. There is nothing that exists that God did not create (John 1:1-3). As the creator, God has the right over all creation, meaning, that he is king over all.

Not only is God the creator but he is the sustainer of everyone and everything. Not a single person or animal takes a breath without God’s sustaining power; a blade of grass will not grow without God’s permission. All things are sustained and held together through him (Colossians 1:17). This means that God is actively working and present not only in our lives, but in the entire world. Notice the comprehensive statement of the catechism: God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything.

THE CHARACTER OF GOD

If God is the creator and sustainer of all things, would it not be helpful to know what he is like? In ancient history, many cultures believed that some form of deity created the world but primarily through violence, chaos, and conflict. Is this God the same? The Catechism will proclaim that the God of the Bible is nothing like the gods of the nations. So then, who he is?

First, God is eternal, meaning that he always has been, or, to put it another way, God is self-existent. God is self-existent in the sense that his existence is not tied to anyone or anything but rather in himself. Therefore, there has never been a time in which God has not been—he always was, is, and will be. “God is self-existent, that is, He has the ground of His existence in Himself.”1 God is the uncaused being—one who exists wholly by himself by no causation. “All that God is, he is of himself.”2

Second, God is infinite, meaning that he is free from all limitations or hindrances. There is nothing too difficult or straining for him; he never gets tired or weary. God is also not confined to space, meaning that God is everywhere—no one can hide from him. The Lord alone is the creator, the possessor of heaven and earth, the Lord of all creation, in whom we all live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

Third, God is unchangeable, meaning that God will always be who he is; he does not decrease in his power; he does not weaken in his perfections; he does not sin. Another way to say this is that God is constant and consistent—he will never change! The catechism mentions several characteristics that God will never change in, namely, his power, perfection, goodness, glory, wisdom, justice, and truth. God will always be wholly consistent in all of these attributes.

To take it a step further, not only will God not alter from these attributes, he himself is the source and the definition of these attributes. What is goodness? It is the goodness of God. What is truth? It is the truth of God. This is to say that truth is not something that God has but something that he is. Therefore, he is the source and author of all goodness, truth, justice, and goodness. Any goodness, truth, justice, etc on earth is simply an imitation and deviation from God’s attributes.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

  1. How is the eternality and infinity of God bring you comfort?
  2. What attribute of God brings you the most encouragement?
Bible, Theology

Why Don’t We Use The Apocrypha?

July 29, 2020

One of the dividing lines between Protestants and Roman Catholics is their view regarding the Apocrypha, primarily the OT Apocrypha books. For those that are unfamiliar with the debate, the Apocrypha is a collection of books that were written between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament (around 4th century BC to 1st century AD). There are also New Testament Apocrphyal books, such as the Gospel of Thomas or the Apocalypse of Peter, but both Roman Catholics and Protestants reject these are canonical.

For Christians, books of the Bible are canonical in the sense that they are regarded as sacred, written by human authors, but breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16). In this regard, both Protestants and Roman Catholics view the 66 books of the Protestant Bible as Scripture, while the Roman Catholics include the Old Testament Apocryphal books as well (such as 1 & 2 Maccabees, 1 Esdras, Judith, Tobit, the Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, as well as some smaller works and even some additions to existing canonical books). Why then do Protestants (we) not regard the Apocrypha as Scriptural or canonical?

No Historical Attestation

If the Old Testament apocryphal books were regarded as Scripturally and canonically valid, we would assume that contemporaries of their writings would regard them as such. Historically, this is simply not the case. As Michael Kruger notes:

Although these books were known and used among the Jews of this time period, there is little evidence to suggest they were regarded as Scripture. Neither Josephus nor Philo—key sources for our understanding of the scope of the OT canon—used them as Scripture. In addition, no NT author (most of whom were Jews) cites even a single book from the Apocrypha as Scripture. And later rabbinic writers do not receive the Apocrypha, affirming only the Hebrew Scriptures as part of the Jewish canon (b. Baba Bathra 14–15).

Michael Kruger

Even after the early Jews rejected the Apocrphyal books as canonical, early Christians in the 1st and 2nd century did not regard the Apocrypha as canonical. In fact, it wasn’t until the 6th century that Augustine argued for its inclusion, which was later confirmed in the 16th century at the Council of Trent. Therefore, for the first 1500 years of Christian Church History, they were not included as Scriptural or canonical.

No New Testament Attestation

Can you guess how many times an Old Testament verse is quoted in the New Testament? 855. In all of these hundreds of cases, not a single one is quoted from the Apocrypha. If the early Christians, many of whom were previous Jews, relied upon the Apocrypha as Scriptural, would it not be fair to assume that they would use and refer to the Apocrypha in their New Testament writings? There is not a single instance of an Apocryphal text being cited as Scriptural according to New Testament authors.

Helpful But Not Scriptural

This is not to say that the OT Apocrypha is not helpful in any regard; I simply wish to communicate that it is not Scriptural or canonical. The Apocrypha gives us a view into the world of the inter-testamental period (the time between the Old and New Testaments). It helps us, like a good history textbook, to understand what was going on in the current political, social, and culturally moments of the time. It also helps us understanding the 1st century Jewish context more, as there were 400 years of historical development between the last writing of the Old Testament and when Jesus was born.

So, can we learn from the Apocrypha? Absolutely. Should we treat it as equal to the rest of the 66 books of the Bible? No. Early Jews, Christians, and Church Fathers did not regard these books are canonical and we would be unwise to reject their conclusions. Again, Michael Kruger is helpful:

The story of the OT and NT canon is a story that also involves “other” books. These other books have been a point of contention and controversy at various points within the history of Christianity. Moreover, these other books can raise concerns for modern day Christians who might wonder whether they’ve been improperly left out.But the historical evidence suggests we can have confidence in the content of both the OT and NT canon. Despite many years of wrangling over the OT Apocrypha, the Hebrew canon handed down by the Jews still stands as the Bible known by Jesus and the apostles and therefore is properly regarded as Scripture. Likewise, even though there has been much talk about “lost gospels,” these texts were written much later than our canonical ones and have little claim to historical authenticity. Thus, our biblical canon is complete. As Origen declared, “The net of the law and the prophets had to be completed . . . And the texture of the net has been completed in the Gospels, and in the words of Christ through the Apostles” (Comm. Matt. 10.12).

Michael Kruger
Bible, Culture

A Call To Civility In An Age of Hostility

July 28, 2020

If you were to describe the current cultural climate of the United States right now, what words would you use? For some, our country embodies hope, creativity, and exploration. For many, though, our country, at least right now, embodies an air of hostility, division, and a general spirit of unkindness towards one another. Perhaps this has been amplified by the rise of digital technology, allowing men and women to express what has always been inside their hearts, now with little to no consequences. If I were to select a few words to describe the current cultural climate, it would be hostility and division.

Perhaps in no other time in America history (outside possibly the Civil War era) has our nation been so divided. Before us is constantly a binary choice, forcing us to choose sides, dig our heels in, and vilify our opponents. Rather than approaching one another with dignity and respect, we assume the worst of one another, painting each other in negative lights, and use derogatory language about one another. A prime example of this is our current President, who should be the representative of a nation (perhaps, he is, after all), continuously mocking his political opponent with the nickname “Corrupt Joe Biden.” We can do better than this.

DISAGREEMENTS ARE HEALTHY

Contrary to what most people assume, disagreement and conflict are actually incredibly healthy for individuals, teams, and marriages. The ability to resolve conflict demonstrates a healthy system, rather than a family or team that never fights. A system devoid of conflict is not healthy, quite the opposite. The same is true for cultural systems and countries—our ability to resolve or not resolve conflict and disagreement is a barometer of our health. Ecclesiastes 7:5 notes, “It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools.” In some arena of life, there are those that are smarter and wiser, and thus, it would be wise for us to heed the rebuke rather than pick a fight.

What is required to be able to resolve conflict in a healthy way? Both parties must possess charity, kindness, and grace for one another while at the same time possessing incredible self-awareness.

Beginning with the latter, understanding our true selves as we approach a conflict is very important. What biases do I bring to the table? What presuppositions am I assuming (all Republicans value ____, all Southerners are ____)? How has my story shaped my beliefs? How can that be driving my desires at the present moment? In the former, leading with charity, kindness, and grace can entirely change the tone of the conversation. If there is a heated disagreement, we should first seek to listen and understand before we lecture.

This sort of demeanor is present not primarily in words but in our attitudes towards one another. Do I really see the person on the opposing side as someone made in the image of God, worthy of my dignity and respect, even if they disagree with me on fundamental issues? Do I believe that regardless of what a person believes, they are not worthy of my berating comments? Do I seek to follow the golden rule, of speaking to others as I would like to be spoken to? Words of kindness and charity flow from a heart that is full of kindness and charity for others; a lack of such words reveals that our heart is perhaps far darker than we dare even realize.

THE CHURCH AS AN EMBODIED KINGDOM ETHIC

Sadly, in the last few years, I have noticed that the broader American church has not followed the way of Christ in servanthood, kindness, and grace, but instead, has taken up the cultural vernacular of unkindness, bashing, and shaming. Rather than understand and show compassion to those we disagree with, we vilify and demoralize our opponents. What if the church embodied a Kingdom ethic, that was demonstrated in the character of God that is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness?

What if, as a church, we realized that every hill is not worth dying on, and that perhaps our kindness speaks more than our ability to argue? What if the world was drawn into our community by our affection, love, and kindness rather than our division and incivility? Dear Christian, remember, this world is not your home, you belong to the King and to the Kingdom. Rather than making every argument high stakes, remember that the Bible calls us to live at peace with all people (Romans 12:18).

Will you then, live counter-culturally, not by abdicating from certain immoral behaviors, but by embodying a speech ethic that is shaped by the Kingdom? Will you lay down your weapons, pull up a chair, and invite conservation that is charitable and profitable? Will you seek to serve your enemies rather than slay them with your words? Church, God is inviting us into a live of civility and kindness for the sake of a watching world.

Bible, Theology, Uncategorized

Why Are There Missing Verses In My Bible?

July 27, 2020

In last few months, several members of Coram Deo (the church I pastor) have asked me about a Facebook post that has been floating around. The post accuses various modern translations and their publishers for removing verses from the Bible. If you haven’t seen it, I have attached a picture of the post, which has been shared 26,000 times:

On the surface, it is shocking. Would Zondervan and Crossway really remove Bible verses because it does not fit their agenda? Should we stop reading the ESV/NIV translations because of this? Is it even true? Many questions such as this have been asked of me of late and I thought I would explain what is going in the textual differences.

TEXTUAL CRITICISM

Textual criticism is not a phrase that gets thrown around in common Christian circles very often but it is incredibly important when understanding the textual differences that we see in different translations of the Bible. As Christians, we believe the Bible is God’s word, literally, breathed out by God (2 Tim 3:16). At the same time, the Bible was written by human authors and then transmitted through human copyists. As humans, we are fallible and prone to error, even when our intentions are correct.

In order to preserve the accuracy of the original text, copyists took painstaking efforts to keep the text as pure as possible. But with any human effort, errors are a natural occurrence. For example, in grade school, we used to copy definitions from the back of textbooks onto sheets of paper. From time to time, we would either skip a line, repeat a word, or miss a punctuation mark. This is natural as our eyes glance from the textbook to the notebook. You probably also remember copying large chunks of text and accidentally repeating words or entire lines, forgetting key words, or misspelling difficult words.

The same is true in copying texts of Scripture. At times, a copyist would be transcribing a text like we would with a textbook open, glancing back and forth between the text and the writing. Other times, someone would be reading the text out loud and they would copying down what they heard. In both cases, small textual errors would develop as people would spell words wrong, repeat words or lines, or omit punctuation marks. Contrary to what secular theologians would assert, the number of key errors in the biblical text is incredibly small, less than 1%.

It is the job of a translation committee to gather these various manuscripts (which are dated from various time periods) and assess which ones display the most accuracy. This is done through multiple ways, such as finding the most difficult translation, finding the oldest manuscripts, and a host of other complex solutions. When we read this Facebook post then, is it right to claim that Zondervan and Crossway are leading a crusade against the Bible they publish?

MISSING VERSES AND UPDATED MANUSCRIPTS

Again, one of the ways translators choose the most accurate text is by date. For example, we all would intuitively understand that a copy of a text written in the 3rd century is probably far more accurate than one copied in the 13th century because there is a larger gap between when the original text was written and when it was copied. In other words, the more time that elapses in the copied manuscript, the more likely it is prone to error (a bit simplified but lets work with it for now). How does this impact the Facebook post in question?

The author of the Facebook quote claims that the KJV is superior to the ESV and NIV in accuracy because it has not removed the verses in question. In order to understand why these verses were removed, one has to understand the previous statements regarding textual criticism. You see, the KJV was translated and built off an outdated manuscript system, namely, the Textus Receptus. This manuscript system was developed by Erasmus in the 16th century, which was a Greek translation of the Latin Vulgate. At the time, these were the most updated manuscripts they possessed.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, we now have over 25,000 manuscripts (comprised of various Greek, Latin, and Syriac/Coptic translations). Simply put, the more data, the more accuracy. Furthermore, we now have manuscripts that date very early in comparison to its publication, compared to the Textus Receptus that used relatively outdated manuscripts (in today’s standards). Because of simply the amount of data now available through the thousands of manuscripts, translators have seen that previous translations did not provide the most accurate translation due to the manuscript deficiency that they possessed.

WHAT ABOUT THE MISSING VERSES?

This leads us to finally deal with the problem at hand: where are the missing verses? If you were to open up the ESV or NIV translation to Matthew 18, you will notice that there is no verse 11, it simply goes from verse 10 to 12. You will also notice that every modern translation provides footnotes where verse 11 should be. Most translations will indicate that due to a lack of manuscript accuracy, these verses have been removed. The verses are missing because they were most likely not included in the original writing at all, which is demonstrated by textual criticism with updated manuscripts. The verses are still included in the KJV because it is still built on an outdated manuscript system.

Be not afraid, there is no coverup or theological conspiracy to undermine the accuracy of the Bible. On the contrary, the men and women who sit on translation committees for the majority of modern translations are godly, wise, and Bible-loving people that want to translate the Bible into vernacular English in the most faithful way possible. So for those questioning whether or not you should be using the ESV or NIV, you can have all confidence that God’s word is being preserved and sustained through the diligent and faithful work of translators in the 21st century.

Bible, Catechism

Question #1: What is our only hope in life and death?

July 21, 2020

Question #1 – What is our only hope in life and death?

Answer: That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.

The authors of the New City Catechism began where the Hidelberg Catechism starts, asking us the most fundamental question (rivaling the Westminster Shorter Catechism #1) that a person can ask of themselves. Every person, regardless of what they believe in, has some form of hope in life. For some, hope is found in romantic love, in finding and keeping the perfect mate; for others, hope is found in financial security; still, for others, hope is found in a life full of relationships. Hope is found everywhere, but the question remains, is it hope that will endure for both life and death?

Many people hope in their fitness, checkbooks, relationships, or status in their circle of influence, but will that really endure through the ebbs and flows that come in between life and death? Can these things sustain the both the heights of joy and pits of despair that happen in the normal course of a human life? Even more than that, will these things provide hope for death? As Americans, we have pushed death so far outside the main conversation that many of us do not know how to handle death when it comes knocking on our door.

Many of us never stop to ponder the significance of death and whether or not anything happens to us after death. We are content to live in the present, enjoying and delighting in the pleasures of modern life. Yet, as Christians, we implore you to consider that consideration of death is one of the most important things you could do. The majority of the objects that we place our hope in will not sustain us through death.

the Bible and the catechism instructs us that our hope is not found in our fitness, success, pedigree, or relationships; in fact, it is not found in us at Allee. Notice how it begins: that we are not our own. In an era and culture where we are constantly told to make something of ourselves, demonstrate our greatness, and show forth our success, the catechism breathes life in a culture of discouragement and disappointment. I’m not my own. I do not have to validate myself. I do not have to prove myself. Someone has done that for me.

The hope that Christianity offers is that I am not my own but I belong to someone else, and not someone that is my equal, someone that is far superior. I belong, both in body and soul, in life and death, to God himself. The Creator of the universe not only knows about me, he knows me intimately and has bonded himself to me. Therefore, whatever happens in life, I can be confidently hopeful that I am safe in the hands of the God who sustains and rules all things.

What can compete with that kind of hope? If my hope is in my financial success, that can wiped out in the blink of an eye. If my hope is in my spouse, my life can changed by one quick phone call, informing me that they were killed in a car accident. If my hope is in my children, they will soon disappoint and in some cases, betray me. Everything that you can hope in outside of God is built on shifting sand. God is inviting you to build your life upon the most solid of all foundations: the person and work of Jesus himself.

Reflection Questions

  1. Our words mean little unless action follows. What do you functionally put your hope in? Where do you spend your time, money, energy, resources?
  2. What one burden can you bring to your only hope in life and death today?

Family Reflection

  1. What does it mean to hope in something?
  2. Have you ever hoped to get something and it didn’t come true?
  3. What do you think it means that God is our hope?

Books, Ministry

The One Book That Changed My Life

July 20, 2020

In college, my wife and I were visiting grandparents in northwestern Wyoming, where we were suddenly stuck in a blizzard just west in Idaho. With nothing to do, we walked over to the used bookstore next-door. Scanning the plethora of dusty books, I came across a book that was recommended to me months ago that I never bothered to pick up: Knowing God by J.I. Packer. With nothing left to do, I bought the first-edition print of this now classic theological treatise with no regard to how it might change me in the future.

Fast-forward a few days, we are again stuck in the airport waiting for a snowstorm to pass. I reach into my bag and pull out Knowing God and begin to read about this God that Packer seems to know so intimately yet was so foreign to me. The God of J.I. Packer was sovereign, holy, in control, jealous for his glory, powerful. Perhaps the God I was accustomed to was a bit needy, longing to be in my presence, and was simply a nice addition to my life. Packer talked about God the way an experienced climber talks about Everest: with delight and fear. I devoured the first quarter of the book and thought, “I’ve never heard of this God before.”

In one book, Packer fundamentally changed my perception of God. Even though the phrase is overused, Knowing God literally changed my life. When people ask for my top recommended books, Knowing God is, without hesitation, the first book that I recommend. In fact, I think it should be read once a year. It is that good.

This past week, on July 17, J.I. Packer passed away and is now enjoying the presence of the very God that he wrote about for so many years. Outside of Knowing God, Packer has influenced me through a host of other books, including Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, A Quest for Godliness, and Weakness is the Way. Outside of that, Packer played an influential role in the translation of the English Standard Version (ESV), which is the Bible that I regularly use and preach from.

In light of Packer’s passing, perhaps one of the best ways to honor his legacy is to not only pick up a copy of Knowing God but to cherish and delight in the God that he wrote about. Packer’s aim was for Christians to know, experience, and glorify the Triune God, so that God might be rightly seen for who he is—the all-knowing, all-seeing, God of the universe.

Bible, Catechism, Ministry

Introducing The New City Catechism

July 15, 2020

In my last post, I wrote about the dwindling popularity of using catechism’s as one of the main forms of discipleship. In order for you to understand why I am writing these posts, please read my previous post first. In order to put into practice what I preach, I want to use this blog as a means of communicating the importance of catechism’s while also using it as a platform to disciple my church (Coram Deo) in The New City Catechism. This post will serve as an introduction to the latest catechism that can be utilized for the entire family.

First, what is The New City Catechism? The New City Catechism was created by Tim Keller, former pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. Keller wanted to compile a modern day catechism that still contained biblically rich doctrine with updated language. For those familiar with historic catechisms, some of the question and answers in this latest version will be familiar to you. Keller adapted 52 questions and answers from historic Reformed catechism, such as the Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster Catechisms.

HOW DO YOU USE THE NEW CITY CATECHISM?

The makers of The New City Catechism not only updated the vernacular they used in the catechism, they updated the medium by which we use the catechism as well. The catechism is now adapted to modern life with a beautiful iPhone and Android app that can be used on-the-go or in family worship in the evening. For those who prefer a hardcopy, a catechism and devotional can be purchased online for a small price.

The best way to utilize The New City Catechism is dividing each question and answer into one week, which will allow you to complete the entire catechism in one year. For families, I recommend having daily family worship, where you go over one question each week. For those with small children, there are songs attached to each question which will help the titles ones memorize the content.

WHO IS THE CATECHISM FOR?

Perhaps you have been a Christian for over thirty years, do you really need to learn the catechism? I would, without hesitation, ask you to pick up the catechism and memorize! It will only add fuel to your soul about the life-saving truths of Jesus that you have treasured for thirty years.

Perhaps you are a new Christian and are looking for answers to some of the fundamentals of the Christian faith. There is not a better place to start. For two thousands years, the church has used catechesis to instruct and educate new disciples of Christ in the fundamentals of the faith. For others, maybe you have lead someone to Christ recently and are looking for material to train them—this would be an excellent resource to utilize for this process.

Others of you perhaps are not even Christians and simply want to explore the Christian faith. While the catechism is not designed to give you thorough answers to all of your questions, it will give you a basic understanding of what we believe and what values we hold to.

AN INVITATION TO LEARN

Will you accept the invitation to learn? Will you accept the invitation to disciple and educate your children in the faith that you love? Will you sacrifice your comfort and time to learn about the precious truths of God’s word? Consider picking up your phone, downloading the app, or ordering the book online, and discover the ancient catechisms that Christians have been using for hundreds of years.

Bible, Ministry

The Importance of Catechesis in the Modern Church

July 14, 2020

It is a cold, chilly evening in November, your family has just finished dinner and you are setting up for family worship. You have your Bibles in hands, alongside a catechism that is providing foundational truths for your families’ spiritual growth. Everything is set, except one person is missing: your pastor. After a few minutes, your pastor arrives at the door, sits down, and begins to talk to your family about the importance of the Christian faith. He does this through a variety of ways: prayer, Scripture reading, and through catechesis. He invites you and your children to recite the weekly question and answers from this week’s study. You end with a corporate song of the doxology and praying for one another.

For many modern Christians, this scene is completely foreign, perhaps even strange to the way that we conduct discipleship in our churches. Discipleship is a program, a Bible study, an event I attend; catechesis is outdated, foreign, and inefficient. Yet, for hundreds, dare I say, thousands of years, pastors instructed their people in the fundamentals of the faith through catechesis. At the present moment, the practice of memorizing a catechism for discipleship purposes is completely lost on generations of modern Christians.

The early church thought it critical to educate its new members in the doctrines of the faith, as is evidenced by the use of the Didache in the late 1st century. The Didache (greek for “The Teaching”) which describes the early Christian ethics, practices, and order. It instructed Christians on prayer, fasting, baptism, communion, and a host of other Christian practices. The new converts to Christianity needed to know what was distinct about their new life in Christ. Since the writing of the Didache, thousands of pastors and theologians have written and adapted catechism’s for their modern day in order to instruct and educate God’s people for God’s mission. Yet, in the last hundred years or so, this ancient and wise practice has somehow been lost.

However lost at the present moment, current pastors and theologians are attempting to revitalize catechesis in the church today. Tim Keller, a pastor in New York City, adapted many of the historic, reformed catechisms and modernized the language, resulting in The New City Catechism. With such a historic, reliable tool at our disposal, Christians in the 21st century would be unwise not to learn the core Christian doctrines and practices through this excellent resource.

What if reinventing the wheel of discipleship for new Christians, our children, and even ourselves, we attended to the historic route of catechesis. For some, catechism may seem rote, dull, and boring; what is the benefit of memorizing answers to spiritual questions? In so many facets of our life, we are comfortable with routine, yet when it comes to spiritually, we gawk at the idea. My prayer and hope is that you my give catechesis a chance, and you may discover that through the routine of memorizing simple question and answers, God will shape and mold your heart into the image of His beloved Son.

Book Review, Ministry

Book Review: Reset

June 24, 2020

In this present historical moment, humans across the world have more access to information and opportunities for connection than ever before. Particularly for Americans, life is often described with one simple, yet repeated word: busy. The ever-growing demands of modern life coupled with our general restlessness given the advancement of digital technology in the forefront of our lives has caused us to become a people marked by burnout. For many, the concept of life being slow, calculated, methodical, or even restful is not only foreign, it’s impossible. In a short yet incredibly helpful book, professor David Murray (Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary), invites Christians in Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture to undergo a personal deconstruction so that they may in turn find more freedom and joy in this world.

When reading books surrounding rest, retreat, minimalism, or a host of other topics surrounding the one general theme of rest, many authors will choose to go in one of two directions. On the one hand, many authors will seek to convince you that you need to make significant changes in your physical and emotional life (work changes, more sleep, etc). On the other hand, other authors will you invite to discover the realm of spirituality (thus, the uprising of meditation and mindfulness). One of Murray’s greatest strengths is composing a picture of the whole human: physical, emotional, and spiritual. He does not offer simple platitudes that will only last for a minute but gives you a comprehensive picture of a life lived in Christ, which effects the way we pray, eat, sleep, and recreate.

After personally experiencing burnout, Murray invites his readers to find the richness of a life not marked by busyness, stress, and chaos but through an identify shaped by the work of Christ, which flows to every facet of life. Fundamental to our problem is not whether we have good time management (though that is important), but whether or not our lives are anchored to the grace-giving identity of being found in Christ. Critical to all of our restlessness, Murray seeks to apply the finished work of Christ as the foundation to all living.

Lest we think that Murray simply invites Christians to read their Bibles and pray more, Reset offers you a beautiful holistic life that is shaped around grace and rest. In other words, how does your sleep, diet, goals, technology use, spiritual disciplines, church attendance, and goal setting shape the person you are becoming now? Coupled with both biblical and practical wisdom, Murray will challenge the way you live so that you do not have to encounter burnout like many Americans are in this present moment.

This book, in particular, is helpful to pastors, as Murray writes as one who understands the demanding challenges of ministry. If you are a pastor or ministry leader that is experiencing the alarm signs of burnout, please, for the sake of your soul and your family, pick up Murray’s book and put in the hard work of self-examination. In the beginning of the book, Murray invites you to take an inventory of your current soul status. For many, this may be the gift that you desperately need. God is inviting you to find healing and rest in Christ, not so that you may do less for the King, but so that you may endure to the end with a heart that still loves God, your family and children, and your neighbor as yourself.

Ministry

An Architectural Theology

June 22, 2020

As a pastor of a new church plant, I have the opportunity to dream about what our potential building will look like one day. Will it match the scenery of the neighborhood we are in? Will it have modern touches that appeal to the average American? What will the architecture and aesthetics of our building communicate to the watching world? Over the past forty years, as churches have sought to cater to people through attractional services, programs, and buildings, I believe that something has been lost with the constant sense of immanence in our buildings and the lack of transcendence. What do I mean by that?

Historically, churches wanted to communicate something with their buildings. They were not simply spaces to worship, though they did exist for that purpose—the building itself communicated an attribute about God: his transcendence. When you walk into an ancient cathedral, towering with high ceilings, you gain a sense of your finitude. Few people boast in their own power when standing at the base of Everest. Architecture has the power to humble a man under the transcendence of God communicated through a well-designed facility. To be clear, worshipping in a building that communicates the transcendence of God does not invoke the presence of God magically; rather, it designates and demonstrates that you are in a sacred space.

Again, many churches moved away from buildings that felt austere because they wanted to appeal to non-Christians in a more friendly environment. Lest we forget, God is not a product to be marketed and a good to be consumed, but the holy and ferociously jealous God of the universe. Personally, what if non-Christians were not looking for a comfortable environment but a different environment. I can experience the comforts of modern church buildings anywhere, I can only experience the sacredness and the uniqueness of God’s people worshipping the Triune God in this space. What if a means of winning the nations in our city is what our building communicates to people: through the church, God invitees you into his bigness. I want non-Christians to feel comfortable and welcome, at the same time, I want the building and the service to feel foreign; I want the space and liturgy to invoke curiosity about our practices and the God we serve.

This is not to say that God should always be transcendent, for we know that God must at the same time become immanent. This is where the body of Christ becomes a tangible representation of the word made flesh. As the people of God extend a hand of fellowship, create a welcoming and hospitable environment, confess their sins, partake in the sacraments, and live out the story of God with their friends and neighbors, those who are far from God experience both the transcendence and immanence of God via the body of Christ.

So pastors, are we thinking about what our buildings communicate? Are we seeking to show the beauty, complexity, and transcendence of the glory of God? Or are we attempting to market the God of the Bible as another common good that people need to consume? May we seriously consider building a more robust architectural theology that leads to the expansion of God’s kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven.