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Bible, Theology

A Missing Emphasis in the Doctrine of Election

June 29, 2019

There are few topics quite like the doctrine of election that will split Christians into differing tribes. Introduce the topics of predestination, foreknowledge, and election on social media and the comment section will be populated even before you hit refresh. Sadly, this doctrine has often been the great dividing marker between the two proposed camps—Calvinism and Arminianism. While the doctrine of election has caused division of the years, both historically in the church and personally in my life, I believe that there is a missing emphasis in both camps. Regardless of where you land on this topic, I believe we can both learn a great deal from one of the greatest, albeit, unknown to many Christians, 20th century theologians and missiologists of our day—Lesslie Newbigin.

Before we get to Newbigin, I want to touch briefly on the nature of doctrine and the disparity on how things are systematized and communicated outside of the Bible. My exposure to the doctrine of election was through R.C. Sproul, who I owe a great deal of my early theological acumen to. Sproul lead me to the many of the great works I have come to cherish over the years: the Westminster Confession, Reformed Dogmatics by Bavinck, various Systematic Theologies, and a handful of others. Reflecting back upon my introduction to this doctrine (and in my camp, the Reformed faith), I have now come to realize the way in which this doctrine (and many others) was presented to me was not incorrect doctrinally, but rather incorrect in mode. In other words, the way in which the doctrine was described was foreign from the way the Bible actually dealt with the doctrine.

The Communication Problem of Theology

Theology is often painted as being cold, heady, and merely intellectual; and if we were to crack open Hodge’s Systematic Theology, sadly, you may find the accusations warranted. This is not to say that there is not much to cherish there, it is simply to say that theology often done in a systematic way does not engage the doctrines as the Bible often does—through story, drama, and historical narrative. In this case, election was always presented to be in this cold manner: God chooses some and doesn’t choose others, based upon his sheer foreknowledge, grace, and sovereignty. As soon as one states their position, debates roar, heels get dug in, and rarely, if ever, does fruitful conversation follow. How can we avoid the traps of describing a doctrine, that is so beautiful, without getting into endless debates that seem to harden rather than soften positions?

Cue Lesslie Newbigin, who will have no problem demonstrating that the way Westerners often discuss the doctrine of election is through individualism and pragmatism, rather than through the biblical storyline. If you were to ask an aspiring theologian (someone like myself in college, who had merely read the popular level writings of Sproul and Packer) where they turn to defend their doctrine of election, many would either go to Romans 9 or Ephesians 1. Do these passages speak to election? Absolutely. But if we jump straight there, we miss one of the most crucial texts for understanding election and its purpose in the world: Genesis 12.

Genesis 12: A Missional Doctrine of Election

In this passage, God calls a man named Abram to flee his country to the land that the Lord will show him. This is the beginning of the election or the calling of a people, namely, the nation of Israel. God has selected one man and one family from all the face of the earth as his chosen vessel. Now, the way in which we discuss election, the conversation may lead to various rabbit trails. Why did he choose Abram and not another family in the Ancient Near East? Should they have not have the choice to respond? Is it fair?

While the questions are perhaps warranted, the biblical storyline is not interested in answering the questions. Rather, Genesis 12 is going to answer the question we aren’t asking: What is God’s purpose in electing Abram? The answer comes in verse 2—Abram was chosen not so the blessing of election may terminate on his family, but may extend to the whole world. In other words, to use the biblical langue, he was blessed in order to be a blessing. Election (and salvation for that matter) is often extracted from the purpose and the biblical storyline and is reduced to merely discussions about who God chooses and who he doesn’t. Here is where Newbigin is so helpful:

“Too often election is understood strictly in terms of its benefits and the blessings of God’s salvation. Election, in this misunderstanding, is only for privilege and not for responsibility; election is so that the people of God might enjoy salvation, not be a means of salvation for the world.” –

Newbigin, Household of God, 111, emphasis mine.

You see, for Newbigin, election is not merely for the individual/family, it is also for the purpose of bringing the blessing of God to the rest of the world. Election then is directly tied to mission. And what is this mission? Newbigin would describe the mission of God nothing less than the cosmic renewal of all creation (for Newbigin, renewal could also be interchanged with salvation):

“The only way of proceeding in reveling and accomplishing the cosmic and corporate salvation of the end is by choosing a community to be the nucleus of his renewing work. God begins with some community, knits them back together, and restores the creational relationships fractured in the fall. He begins with a reconciled community and then incorporates others from outside into this community. In short, God’s people have been chosen to be reconciled to God, to each other, and to the nonhuman creation and to draw others into that reconciliation.”

Goheen, The Church and its Vocation, 31.

Therefore, the doctrine of election is not some cold, static, and distant doctrine where God simply chooses some and leaves others. Election is about the reconciliation of a people that are now given a mission to invite and call others into that community, which has its final goal in the restoration of all things. Again, Goheen notes ,”A missionary doctrine of election understands that God’s choice of a people is not simply for the town sake but also for the sake of the world.” Therefore, to be one of the elect—to be a Christian—is to be incorporated into the mission of God and to “bear God’s reconciling purpose for his whole world.”

This is what I think Paul had in mind when he wrote, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10). Paul was able to endure hardships and suffering so that those outside the fold of God may be welcomed into the reconciliation offered by the death and resurrection of Jesus. For Paul, he may never have known who the elect were, but he knew that God would use his life (and the life of the church) to bring about the fulfillment of the cosmic salvation that he purposed.

Therefore, in this way, the biblical storyline informs and undergirds our doctrine of election. It is not merely about the choice of God—it is also about the purpose of God in election—bringing about the restoration, renewal, and shalom to the entire earth that the elect currently experience.

Bible, Theology

Why Sometimes a Literal Translation Is Not Sufficient

June 24, 2019

The preservation of the biblical text is a tenant of orthodox Christianity. Since the Bible was written not in English but in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, scholars have often wrestled with how to translate the biblical text in a way that is both faithful to the original while at the same time communicating relevantly to its audience. Regardless whether one is translating a biblical text or a non-biblical text, translation is an incredibly difficult task. We are all aware that certain languages have particular phrases, idioms, and word pictures that are simply hard to translate, despite the translators best attempts.

In the English language, we are privileged with several excellent translations, such as the English Standard Version (ESV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the New International Version (NIV), and several others. These translations are often considered literal translations, or, more specifically, formal-equivalence translations, by which translators attempt to translate each word in the original language to an equivalent word in the English language. A different translation method is called the dynamic-equivalence approach, which seeks to message/meaning of the original language into equivalent modern English. For conservative evangelicals, we tend to pride ourselves on choosing and reading translations that are deemed literal, implying the preservation of the very words of the original.

Yet, the reality is that while often we are forced to choose between the two translation methods—because of the complexity of translation work—both approaches are actually appropriate in certain circumstances. In other words, there are instances when a literal translation, while correct in theory, is not sufficient in actually communicating the original meaning.

Luke 22:31-32: A Case Study

An analysis of Luke 22:31-32 shows this premise in action. Consider the rendering that the King James Version (KJV) puts forth:

31 And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: 32 But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.

Now, look at the way the ESV translate the verse, which is the translation I often use:

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Now, a comparative reading of the two texts would seem that both are virtually identical, except for the updated language in the ESV; but there are some difficulties with the ESV’s rendering. You see, the King James was written in a time in which English speakers still used the second plural form (you) and a second singular form (thy/thine), which means that the KJV can actually translate the text in a more accurate manner. You will notice in the KJV’s translation, the you (ὑμᾶς) is plural in verse 31, whereas in verse 32, Jesus begins to address Peter specifically with thee, thy and thou (σοῦ). If you read again the ESV’s translation, you will notice that in English, both verse 31 and 32 simply read “you.” While this technically is the literal translation (since we don’t have a plural you in modern English, unless your from the South and you use “y’all”), it is not sufficient for the intended meaning of the text. In this way, the formal-equivalence method fails us.

Turning to a different translation, we notice that the NIV actually captures the original meaning of the text through the latter approach (the dynamic-equivalence method):

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

You will notice that the NIV appropriately captures the meaning of the text by translating the plural “you” in verse 31 with “all of you,” while translating the singular “you” in verse 32 with “you” and “your.” Proponents of literal translation may fault the NIV for adding words into the text since the words “all” are not in the text. Yet, the evidence suggests that the NIV is actually more faithful in rendering the intended meaning of the Greek. In this way, literal biblical translations, while helpful in many scenarios, are also unhelpful in other scenarios.

Bible

Put Down Your Phone

December 21, 2018

This past week I published a post about how smart phones are creating isolation amidst our generation. Over the last week, I have intentionally begun to disengage from my phone. Whether that has been through leaving in my bedroom on my day off or turning it off for the night, the process of disengaging from digital distractions has been immensely helpful. I’d love to share with you some things that God has taught me in the short season of intentionally leaving my phone at home.

MY TIME IN THE WORD WAS SWEETER

There were no Facebook updates, tweets to look at it, e-mails to respond to, text messages to answer – there was the simple Word, waiting to be cherished and delighted in. To be honest, it felt weird in the beginning. There was a spell of anxiousness in my heart as I began to study God’s Word. What if I’m missing something? What if someone is trying to reach me? There I sat, wrestling with doubts of missed conversations on my phone, when I’m missing the ultimate conversation with God through His Word. Silly me.

In another real sense though, I felt free.As I began to read and journal through Colossians chapter 1, I found myself getting lost in the text. I found myself intermingling vocal prayer with vocal scripture reading. I began to feel free from the burden of constant-communication that is 99% of useless and began to feel connected to the King’s voice. I wasn’t bogged down by constant reminders to check the latest message or update, instead, I was pressed in by the Holy Spirit to continue to dive headlong into the mystery of Christ found in Colossians chapter 1.

I WAS MORE ATTENTIVE TO THE BEAUTY OF CREATION

One of the things I missed about living in the Southwest was the beauty of sunsets. Each night, I walk onto my front porch to gaze at God’s handiwork: a mosaic of hues spanning yellow, orange, purple, and blue. As I walked, I worshiped the Lord for the beauty of the sunsets. I marveled at the colors and shades that were to my right. I gazed at the clouds and the sun as it was setting. I looked to my left and I saw the beautiful Organ mountains with clouds rolling over them. My heart was full of adoration of a God who would design such an amazing evening.

I spent a bulk of my time praying and thanking God simply for who He is. There were no requests, there were no demands — just worship, praise and delighting in God. I spent the rest of my time telling my son about the beauty of Jesus and the Gospel. It was a sweet time to rejoice in who God is and His creation.

I SAVORED THE TIME WITH MY FAMILY

It was a wonderful evening to sit down at the dinner table with my wife and just to talk. We talked about what the Lord has been doing in our lives. We talked about the struggles of being parents and we leaned upon God in prayer for strength. We laughed, joked and enjoyed one another. It was simple and wonderful. Afterwards, we read The Jesus Storybook Bible to our sons and prayed for them. Honestly, there was nothing special about the evening — it was a simple evening filled with simple activities but was honestly one of the best nights I’ve had in awhile.

CONCLUSION

I’m going to challenge you to intentionally leave your phone at home the next time you go to dinner with your family or enjoy coffee with a friend. I’m going to challenge you to take a Sabbath rest from technology for the entire day so you can enjoy the beauty of creation and all of the gifts that God has given you. Let us not be bogged down by status updates, new e-mails and constant notifications — let us be a people who knows how to rest well, especially from technology. Let’s leave your phone at home this week.

“Now set your mind and heartto seek the Lord your God.” (1 Chronicles 22:19)

Bible

Isolation

December 18, 2018

AN ISOLATED GENERATION

Have you ever gone out to dinner and seen a whole table of individuals eating but not talking? They aren’t talking because they have nothing to talk about, but because they are all attached to their phones. Have you ever accidentally ran into someone while walking, not because they couldn’t see, but because their device was capturing their attention? This is become the norm in our culture. Everywhere I go, everyone is on their phones doing something. I’m not knocking phones or even technology— I have an iPhone and I love it.

The ironic fact about smart phones and social media is that they were created to increase communication. You now have the ability to connect with people on Facebook you may never have. You can call, text, e-mail or Skype anyone you want to in the entire world. The world of social media wants to connect us through never-ending pictures on Instagram, short-witty tweets on Twitter and the normal-day-life updates of Facebook. Despite the fact that we have so many outlets to connect and reach out to others, most of us are isolated. 

Why? The life of smart phones and social media are consuming us. Instead of looking at that status update for the third time, why don’t you pick your face from the glowing screen and engage with your wife? Instead of browsing the Pinterest board where you are getting home decor ideas that you’ll never actually do, look up from your screen and engage with the world around you. The world of social media screams “Be Connected!”, yet more often than not, it brings more isolation and loneliness when we submit to its call.

A DISTRACTED GENERATION

As believers, I truly believe that social media and smart phones can become a distraction from our walk with Christ. I think the art of waiting for God has become lost on our generation. The mantra of our culture is “Quicker, Faster and Easier!” The mantra of the Bible though is, “The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.” Are you being distracted from Christ by the never-ending notifications that call out for your affections? You are not alone in this struggle.

So many times I have caught myself checking the same social media stream for the second and third time to only realize, “Instead of enjoying my life right now, in this moment, I am wasting it by viewing other peoples life.” I’m not surprised though. It’s always easier to check Facebook than engage deeply with my wife because my flesh wants to take the easy way out. My flesh wants to distract me with a thousand little things that don’t really matter so that I may not focus on what truly matters.

THE SOLUTION

Colossians 3:5 states, “Put to deaththerefore what is earthly in you.” If social media and your phone are becoming a distraction from the glory of Christ — put that to death then, brother. Consider turning off your phone on your next Sabbath day. Intentionally leave your phone at home the next time you go to coffee with your husband. Instead of reading Facebook and Instagram when you wake up, read a Psalm and meditate on the glory of God. Do the hard work of conversing with your wife, loving your family and encouraging your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Smart phones and social media are not inherently evil but they can often be distractions away from Christ. Therefore, check your life and see if it is becoming an idol in your heart. My encouragement is to ditch the phone every once in awhile, be freed from the stream of information, plug deeply into community and relish in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Just remember, the Psalmist declared, “In your presence is the fullness of joy and at your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” It is only for your good that you pursue Christ. For in Christ, there is the fullness of joy — your iPhone can never promise that.

In my next post, I detail the blessings I received from putting down my phone on a consistent basis.

Bible, Book Review, Books

Book Review: Unlimited Grace

January 7, 2017

How does one grow in their Christian faith? Is it by our efforts, God’s work, or a myriad of influences that impact our lives? Bryan Chapell presents a compelling case to see our Christian growth both founded in God’s grace and empowered by God’s grace. In other words, even in our sanctification, we do not use our good works as a means of earning God’s favor. God, through the sending of his Son, has given us the acceptance that we need through the Son’s finished work.

Chapell returns again and again to the Gospel message for the motivation for obedience. Throughout the entirety of the work, he calls believers to pursue obedience out of love for the Lord. Only grace can make a heart of stone love that which it previously hated. Chapell calls this “heart chemistry,” citing John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

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Bible, Featured, Theology

The Eternal Covenant Of Peace

June 3, 2015

“This is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.”

– Isaiah 54:9-10 ESV

The book of Isaiah is chock-full of promises given to us by God that we can reflect deeply upon. Earlier this week, I studied this passage and was moved by the promise given in these two verses. The Lord recalls back to a familiar story—the tale of Noah—to impress upon our hearts his compassion and steadfast love.

In the days of Noah, wickedness abounded in the people, “for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth” (Genesis 6:13). Despite this wickedness, there was one man, “a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9). Because God is holy and justice was due, God determined to flood the earth, pouring out His wrath upon the earth. God instructs Noah to build an ark for his family and livestock. 

After the flood subsided and the earth was judged, God made a covenant with Noah, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done” (Genesis 8:21). God then gave a sign to Noah, a reminder of the promise given to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth” (Genesis 9:12-13). 

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Bible, Featured, Theology

The True Good Samaritan

May 27, 2015

“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.”

– Luke 10:33 ESV

Last week, I had the distinct honor and privilege of preaching The Parable of the Good Samaritan at Desert Rivers Community Church. This parable is dripping with Christ-centered symbolism. There is inherit danger of reading too much into parables or trying to extract too much; we must tread lightly. While there are dangers, we cannot avoid the blaring similarities between Jesus’ main character and Jesus himself.

The parable begins with a Lawyer standing up to ask Jesus a common question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Again, this would be a common question but one that is fundamentally flawed. An inheritance isn’t gained or earned—an inheritance is given and received with gratitude. This Lawyer and consequently, a majority of the Israelites, had in their mind that God needed to be appeased morally with good and righteous behavior. They saw salvation and eternal life as something earned by working hard and behaving well.

Jesus, not rebuking the Lawyer, asks the Lawyer a question, “What is written in the Law?” (10:26). The Lawyer responds with two famous verses from Deuteronomy and Leviticus that every Jew would have known, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

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Bible, Featured, Ministry, Theology

The Misnomer of Philippians 4:13

May 21, 2015

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

– (Philippians 4:13 ESV)

How many times have we seen this verse plastered on a picture with a man holding a trophy while the crowd is cheering him on? While the scope of the verse seems universal, the context would prove otherwise. Is Philippians 4:13 the call of Christians to boast in their achievements, standing on top of the mountain with their cape flapping in the wind? Surely the Apostle Paul had more in mind when he wrote to the church at Philippi.

CONTEXT IS KING

The problem with taking and memorizing verses here and there is that you miss the context of not only the chapter and book, but also of the grand narrative of Scripture. In order to understand the context of this verse, we must look at the book as a whole and also the preceding verses. First and foremost, what is the context of the book?

Paul is writing to a beloved church that he holds extremely dear to His heart. In fact, in all the other letters, Paul offers a rebuke to the churches in areas they are failing. In this letter, Paul continues to praise and thank God for the Philippians in their partnership (1:5), assistance in Paul’s imprisonment (1:7) and their willingness to give generously to Paul’s mission (4:15-16).

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Bible, Featured, Ministry, Theology

They Have Eyes But Can’t See

April 1, 2015

“They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.”

(Mark 9:30-32 ESV)

THEY HAVE EYES BUT CAN’T SEE

The heading of this portion of Scripture is ‘Jesus Again Foretells Death, Resurrection.’ This is not a rare occasion where Jesus informs His disciples quite plainly His plan to be handed over to the Romans and be crucified. One chapter before, Mark records in 8 verses Jesus’ plan to be handed over to evil men, tried and executed and ultimately rise again on the third day. The disciples shouldn’t be surprised or confused in Mark 9, but they are.

I often want to give the disciples the benefit of the doubt because honestly if I were in their shoes, I probably wouldn’t respond any better. In this small portion of Scripture, Jesus is extremely clear on what is going to happen. It isn’t simply that Jesus is going to be handed over, Jesus says, “and they will kill him…after three days He will rise.” After Jesus plainly tells them, they respond, “But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.”

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Bible, Featured, Ministry, Theology

The Poor In Spirit

February 26, 2015

“Blessed are the poor in the spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven”

– Matthew 5:3

The year is 1731 in Boston, Massachusetts when Jonathan Edwards preaches a sermon entitled, “God glorified in man’s dependence”. Edward’s thesis statement for the sermon is “God is glorified in the work of redemption in this, that there appears in it so absolute and universal a dependence of the redeemed on him.” He continues to expound on how this dependence flows from the good nature of Christ. It is always good for the believers of Jesus to be in full dependence and reliance upon Jesus Christ. For truly when, as little children, we trust in Him, He will surely guide us and lead us through all things for our joy and His glory. He pleads with the congregation to humble themselves under the mighty hand of God and to see their desperate state before Him. Jesus begins His famous sermon with the exact same words.

THE TRUTH OF OUR HEARTS

Jesus begins with this idea of our complete sinfulness and our desperate need of our dependence upon Him in the opening lines of the sermon. The funny thing about dependence is that the sinning heart does not want to hear it. The natural response to a heart stuck in sin is self-reliance. Apart from Christ, we do not want to give anyone control. We want to dictate our lives. We want to be strong enough to handle whatever comes our way. Sin is essentially declaring to God that you can handle it on your own. Sin declares that you are your ultimate purpose and that none can thwart you.

Jesus begins the sermon and says, “You must get this right first and foremost – blessed are the poor in spirit.” This goes completely contrary to our culture and what our mentality is. We want to achieve the American dream. This friends, is one of the most difficulty things for us to admit – that we do not have everything under control. We cannot do life on our own. We are not God. Until we get to a place of accepting this truth, our lives will be dictated by circumstances and lacking real joy.

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