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Archive for the ‘idolatry’ Category

Brave New World

Jason e-mailed this to me earlier in the week, and I thought it was well worth passing along. It’s important to note that this book was written in 1986 (!), long before DirecTV, reality shows, etc. and the explosion of cell phones and the internet. His comment about the truth drowning in a sea of irrelevance is frighteningly timely.

In the foreword to the book (Amusing Ourselves To Death) Postman contrasts the visions offered in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949):

Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing.

Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.

Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.

Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure.

In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

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I try to ignore stories like the burning of the Qur’an in Florida (which appears, according to late-breaking news, is not going to happen).  Doug Wilson had some good comments, among them the following paragraph (emphasis mine):

[W]hat are Christians to make of this action of burning a book, a book that we all believe to be a bundle of falsehoods? While there is book burning in the New Testament (Acts 19:19), the people there were burning their own books in repentance. The situation would only be analogous to this one if ex-Muslims were doing this instead of a small group of Warholian Christians. To do this to the sacred literature of others is quite a different thing. In that same chapter, we see a couple of other interesting things about the ministry of St. Paul in Ephesus. He was not just behind the preaching that led to the burning of the occult matterial. He was also, it says, “friends” with the Asiarchs (pagan officials with a priestly role), and as his friends they requested that he not enter the colliseum (Acts 19:31). Where others saw riots, the apostle saw preaching opportunities. And Paul is defended by pagans who were able to point out that neither he nor his companions had blasphemed the goddess (Acts 19:37). Their opposition to the goddess had been more potent than that.

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I’ve spent a fair bit of time pondering where the divide lies between orthodoxy and heresy, that divide famously defined by J. Gresham Machen as Christianity and Liberalism (whatever the latter happens to go by; it often assumes Christian names for its gods and churches).  Al Mohler is the President of Southern Seminary; he thinks that abandoning a young-earth, six-day view of creation is a great gateway to apostasy.  Others point, with more validity, to the cruciality of particular understandings of atonement and inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture.

Machen himself, however, pointed to one great door through which so many enter, and I think this may be the grandaddy of gateways to another religion:

The truth is that liberalism has lost sight of the very centre and core of the Christian teaching.  In the Christian view of God as set forth in the Bible, there are many elements.  But one attribute of God is absolutely fundamental in the Bible; one attribute is absolutely necessary in order to render intelligible all the rest.  That attribute is the awful transcendence of God.  From beginning to end the Bible is concerned to set forth the awful gulf that separates the creature from the Creator.  It is true, indeed, that according to the Bible God is immanent in the world.  Not a sparrow falls to the ground without Him.  But He is immanent in the world not because He is identified with the world, but because He is the free Creator and upholder of it.  Between the creature and the Creator a great gulf is fixed.

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Eerdmans, 1923), 62-3.

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America’s Idol

There may be no more famous statue, and there may be no god more widely worshipped by men.

I don’t think it’s well-known that this is an image of the Roman goddess, Libertas.

If “we become what we worship”, as the slogan goes and as Scripture shows (see the recent fine book by Greg Beale bearing that title), then it’s worth asking to what extent we are becoming radically free in an altogether unhealthy way.  We’re not far from Solaris, Asimov’s imaginary planet where thousands of humans live in complete isolation, only relating to one another through technological alternatives to the person-to-person.  We’re terribly far from the biblical view of radical dependence on God and his Messiah, on his teachings, on life with others in radical community, sharing a radical faith.

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below is a letter from a friend of mine to his congregation. he is a pastor of a large church who found himself in ICU for exhaustion and her casualties. his transparency is both challenging and convicting. more mercy!

I am writing to thank you for your prayer and for your allowing me to
speak with candor about wife and me and the lessons that we have learned since our hospitalization.  We continue to search providence for a better grasp of what it means to be human, married, and in ministry.  We are far from being finished our study of ourselves and our marriage and ministry.  At the risk of being a little presumptuous, I wanted to write to ask you to continue to pray that God will stoke the fires of our souls as we continue this self-evaluation.

Concerning being human, we have learned just a few things and
we’re trying now to apply them.  As simple as it may sound, both
work and rest are commanded by God, and to do one to the exclusion of the other takes us into the realm of sin.  We must do both and do both faithfully or we are not truly obeying our King.  Second, in order to love His Bride, our Lord Jesus Christ left His glory, His dwelling in heaven, His place of utter perfection and delight in union with His Father and the Spirit. Therefore, in order to love my wife as Christ loves the Church, I must discern what is to me “glory” and leave it regularly in order to love
Barb.  Frankly, ministry is my glory.  Third, Jesus left His glory
not for that which was attractive within us to Him.  Rather, He left His
glory for that which was repulsive in us to Him.  My wife should sense
that I am willingly leaving the most glorious portions of life for me for her in her deepest weakness, most frightening struggle with what she suspects is repulsive to me.

In terms of ministry, we have learned that when we give out of
resources that we do not have, then it is not sacrifice but lack of wisdom, if not actual folly.  Barb and I have often pushed ourselves beyond the limits of health because of the demands of ministry and have gone to the margins of well-being and beyond.  This actually becomes a kind of dishonesty, for inside we are feeling a sense of emptiness and disquiet as we meet with individuals who are deeply hurting, and at times actually fight resentment and distraction within while we are sitting with them without, and are dishonest about how embattled and empty we are feeling.  The Lord has been pleased to strike straight blows with crooked sticks like us, but that does not mean that we should make crooked sticks normative for His hand to use.  Hence, when we have reached our limits, we are learning to rest in ministry.  The measure of reaching our limits has been difficult to discern.  Among the things we are measuring is as follows:  When the two of us can no longer be in the present with the person or persons to whom we are seeking to grant service, but rather are either agonizing over some failure or difficulty in the past, or worrying about some inevitable difficulty in the future, instead of being fully present to the individual, we have likely crossed a bound into exhaustion.  We don’t know if you can identify with the loss of “being in the present,” but it is discernable to us.  It’s palpable and frighteningly regular.  Sometimes we are agonizing over the large number of people to whom we have given nothing but crumbs of the gospel because we’ve been too exhausted to plumb its depths when they came to us for help.  Sometimes we worry about the future and our inability to sustain the level of intense ministry that has marked us for very long, and therefore actually disappear from concerted, intentional concentration with the person who is seated right in front of us.  Our ability to enjoy as well as to serve is dissipated.  Hence, when we lose our present, we’re in trouble.

We have been rising from bed to exercise, and eating less.  Wife
has lost thirty pounds and I have lost twenty, and we continue to seek to trim down and steward better the brokenness of our lives with faithfulness.

I remember Robert Murray McCheyne having said, “God gave me a
ministry and He gave me a horse to do that ministry and I’ve killed the
horse.”  That’s a rough paraphrase of his reference to his
body as the steed upon which God meant for him to ride in service.
Instead of caring for the steed, he had beaten it into the ground and died
before he ever saw thirty years of age.  Although we have both long passed
thirty, we have lived with a similar disregard for the “steed” and
we are trying to care for it far more faithfully.

I place these things before you for prayer, and I ask that you would
lift the two of us before the throne of grace as we stand together in ministry for the glory of God, even though our paths do not cross nearly as regularly as I would like.  Thank you for remembering wife and me.  We are your debtors.

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The woman who makes a dog the centre of her life loses, in the end, not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping. The man who makes alcohol his chief good loses not only his job but his palate and all power of enjoying the earlier (and only pleasurable) levels of intoxication.

It is a glorious thing to feel for a moment or two that the whole meaning of the universe is summed up in one woman–glorious so long as other duties and pleasures keep tearing you away from her. But clear the decks and so arrange your life (it sometimes feasible) that you will have nothing to do but contemplate her, and what happens?

Of course this law has been discovered before, but it will stand re-discovery. It may be stated as follows: every preference of a small good to a great, or partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice is made.

Readings for Meditation and Reflection, pgs. 14-15 (HT: Joel Willitts)

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now that i am done with my written ordination exams i am “free” to use my “free time” to read books i have been itching to get to. this weekend i made some good headway into Soo- Chan Rah’s new book, The New Evangelicalism. Rather than write up a bunch of reviews and spit out some quotes i thought you could hear the words directly from his mouth by watching this interview. it is WELL worth your time.

come Holy Spirit!

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today the u.s. advanced in the world cup. today i ate mexican for lunch. today i am surrounded by books and notes trying to study. today i drove my car. today i drank coffee and tea with people (not together, but both this morning). tonight i will sleep in a bed. not everyone in our world, or even in the city of memphis, can share these same realities.

recently sociologist johnathan bloom has noted that, as americans, we throw away an average of $2000 of food per household of four every year. yes, $2000 a year, and this in a world where 25,000 children will die TODAY of preventable causes (hunger, malnutrition, diarrhea…) 

the article states, “Jonathan Bloom estimates the average family of four throws out close to $2,000 worth of food annually — 25 per cent of what’s brought home from the grocery store. Bloom has investigated the cycle of food waste for several years and has found that our obsession with freshness is at the heart of the issue.” you can read the whole article here.

the real stats that will blow you away are found HERE.

it has been fashionable of late to throw around the stat that memphis was named the “hungriest city in america” but i am not seeing much movement on it, especially from the church. memphis is hungry, the world is hungry, and i am getting fatter and throwing away more food. this is not OK and it will change.

followers of Jesus are called to feed the hungry, love justice & mercy, and to serve the poor. in fact, Jesus identifies himself with the poor so much he says, “whatever you do to the least of these you do to me.” so if i live in a city and a world where i am throwing away food or consuming excessively, and not sharing, am i doing that to Jesus? by ignoring the poor am i ignoring him?

i like the warm fuzzy feeling i get when i serve someone and think about how i served Jesus. that makes me feel good. but when i am self absorbed, self focused, self satisfying, and self serving i do not like the feeling i get when i think about how my ignoring of the poor is ignoring Christ. i am too self focused to relate “to the least.”

check out this dudes anger below. i am not encouraging you to sign his stuff (i have not) but this video made me smile. i think we should be angry over this. definitely. the disparity, even with in the church, should call us to turn over tables.

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throughout my short span on earth i have been overwhelmed by many things- a dysfunctional family, consequences of personal sin, God’s amazing forgiveness, the joy of marriage, a growing family, the suffering of this world, vocational transitions, among others. new to this repertoire is realizing my personal limitations in a new and fresh way.

i am experiencing anew an amazing grace, the fact that i cannot control everything, cannot be everywhere i would like to be, as deep in every relationship as i want to be, and as affective in my ministry (both vocationally and familially) as i would like. in short, i am overwhelmed by the grace God gives me in being limited. 

limitation is God’s design from the beginning, right? i mean, we are created to rest daily, neutralizing from the outset those thoughts of, “man, i wish i had ten more hours in my day.” guess what, you do not, and that is by design and is a grace. i can tell i am struggling with this design when i am having trouble sleeping due to anxiety. along with our daily rhythms God has built in weekly rhythms of rest, what Scripture calls “sabbath.” a day to set aside for worship, reflection, re-creation, and restoration. this is Divine design, the fact that we are created to stop. rest. trust. sleep. not be in control…

with this there is the reality that there is only one of me. i cannot be everywhere at once, i am only here in the “place” where God has put me. i am, in every way describable, limited in my presence. i can only be where God has put me. before this past month these realities really chaffed me. i hated not being in control and having to operate within my limitations. in short, i hated not being God. that is the root of it when i am honest, right? wanting to be God, that is.

as i have wrestled in prayer with the Lord over my anxiety, poor perspective, and desires for “productivity” i have experienced his grace in being content in my creatureliness. that is to say, i am not God, the Creator, but his creature- and that is OK. in fact, it is great. with Paul i have heard, “my grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in your weakness.” and that is what i want, the Lord’s power to be made perfect through me. 

the implications of this are multi-fold but for now i will say i am learning to bask in the grace of being limited, to boast in this weakness, and to trust. in the process i am putting in check the unhealthy priority i put on your opinion of me and the idols of status and productivity. and that is freeing. 

God’s mission is much bigger than what i can do, and if i limit what i want him to do to what i can be a part of and where i can be then that would be tragic. what a wretch i am, wanting to put God in my box! but what a great God we have. our God is the One who called gideon and his army of 300 into battle with lanterns, jars, and torches.  lanterns, jars, and torches, somewhat of a set of limitations when fighting a nations army. the result? a victory for the Lord, where the Lord got all the glory! is gideon remembered as a great general, a great strategist or organizer of men? nope. gideon is remembered (among other things) as a guy who reluctantly operated within the limitations the Lord gave him by trusting the calling, leading, and provision of God when the scenario did not make much sense. 

i am grateful for the grace of experiencing my limitations and am finding myself more and more willing to grab a lantern, a torch, and a jar to have a front row seat to watch the Lord grab glory for Himself. bring it on!

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Idolatry is something of a hot topic right now.  Tim Keller, Greg Beale, and Brian Rosner have recently published good books on the topic and its significance for Christians.  One of the real tragedies is not just what we do as idolaters, but what is done to us through idolatry.  More on that later, but for now, one really thought-provoking quote…

In the Old Testament, the

image-of-God-in-humanity theology says that idolatry is ruled out of court because to locate divine presence and action in another part of creation or in that which we create is to absolve ourselves of our own responsibility to bear divine presence and action.  The idolatrous humanity, like Narcissus, clings to those objects made in its own image [and those of creation] which it believes will affirm its being [and values] and guarantee its security and prosperity.  The true humanity in the biblical vision is one which affirms, gives security to and [multiplies] the life of creation [and now, from the viewpoint of Ephesians and the like, the life of New Creation is affirmed, secured, and multiplied].  The mark of the former is passivity and that of the latter activity.  Any pious resurrection of divine (privilege and) responsibility for the one human Jesus Christ must therefore be mindful of the besetting danger at the root of idolatry:  a self-absolution from the responsibility given to us at creation of bearing divine presence.

Crispin H. T. Fletcher-Louis, “God’s Image, His Cosmic Temple and the High Priest:  Towards an Historical and Theological Account of the Incarnation,” in Heaven on Earth: The Temple in Biblical Theology, eds T. D. Alexander and S. J. Gathercole (Paternoster 2004), 92.

These are provocative words, and my theological conditioning wants to push back a bit.  But this emphasis meshes, at least in part, with our identity as the body of Christ and God’s Temple, the location of his tabernacling presence on earth, and the mission we are given to live that heavenly reality.   CHTFL is responding to “low anthropology” by pointing to the biblical vision for humanity.  I continue to be overwhelmed with the way in which God chooses to use humanity for his purposes, rather than dolphins, chimps, and parrots.  To be sure, we’re earthen vessels.  But there’s treasure there…God’s spirit, New Creation life (Gal 6:14-15, 2 Cor 5:17). 

I’m toying with titling my next Sunday School lesson on Ephesians (4:1-24 is the text), “Cloning Jesus” (compare 4:32-5:2).

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