Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Wilson’

Adam Hamilton’s self-refuting “Jesus colander”

September 13, 2017

Hurricane Irma had been downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it reached my home south of Atlanta on Monday, but it was powerful enough to knock out our power. So, in preparation for my upcoming sermon on Sunday on sola scriptura, I spent the day reading a book by an author whose viewpoint I knew I wouldn’t share, United Methodist megachurch pastor Adam Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible.

It was from this book that he articulated his “three buckets” approach to scripture, which caused great controversy a few years ago. Most of scripture, he says, belongs in Bucket #1: It reflects God’s heart, character and timeless will for human beings. Other scripture belongs in Bucket #2: It expressed God’s will in a particular time, but is no longer binding. The ceremonial aspects of the Law of Moses, for example—including Jewish dietary law, circumcision, and purity laws—would fit within this bucket.

I would only qualify this by saying that there’s a sense in which none of us Christians is bound by any part of God’s law: Christ has fulfilled it all on our behalf. We are free from the law, although, as the Spirit writes the law on our hearts through sanctification (Heb. 10:16), we will naturally do works of the law out of love for God and neighbor. We are not antinomians.

Still, so far so good. The problem is with Hamilton’s Bucket #3: There is scripture, he says, that “never fully expressed the heart, character or will of God.”

He offers a few predictable examples of Bucket #3 scriptures, including the conquest of Canaan in Joshua.

In the last chapter [in which he discussed Noah’s Ark], we learned that God was “grieved to his heart” by the violence human beings were committing against one another, and for this reason he decides to bring an end to the human race. Now God is commanding the Israelites to slaughter entire towns, tribes, and nations, showing them no mercy and providing them with no escape. How can this be?[1]

When he was young, Hamilton was untroubled by these passages of scripture, but when he got older, he

began to think about the humanity of the Canaanites. These were human beings who lived, loved, and had families. Among them were babies and toddlers, mothers and fathers. Yet they were all put to the sword by “the Lord’s army.” Thirty-one cities slaughtered with not terms of surrender offered and no chance to relocate to another land. I came to see the moral and theological dilemmas posed by these stories.[2]

His solution to these dilemmas? The Israelites, he says, were mistaken about what they believed God told them. While there’s still value in reading the Book of Joshua (he especially likes the last chapter), here’s “the most important reason” (emphasis his): “to remind us of how easy it is for people of faith to invoke God’s name in pursuit of violence, bloodshed, and war.[3]

Hamilton says that we should filter everything in the Bible through the “words and great commandments” of Jesus Christ, who alone is the true Word of God (John 1:1). Jesus is not merely a “lens” by which we read the Bible; he is a “colander,”[4] through which we can filter the rest of scripture to determine what scriptures belong in Bucket #3.

I’m reminded of Andrew Wilson’s blog post on what he calls the “Jesus Tea-Strainer.” As Wilson argues, this colander or tea-strainer approach is self-refuting:

The strange thing about this, of course, is that Jesus himself seemed so comfortable with many of those passages, and affirmed stories about destroying floods, fire and sulphur falling from the sky, people being turned into pillars of salt, and so on. Not only that, but he actually added to them, by telling several stories that present God in ways that modern people are not inclined to warm to. Here’s a few examples of things Jesus said that wouldn’t fit through the Red Letter guys’ hermeneutical tea-strainer:

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.” (Luke 10:13-15)

“And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matt 22:12-14)

“But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out.” (Luke 13:27-28)

He offers six more examples in his blog post, but you get the idea: to say the least, hell, about which we learn more from the red-letter words of Jesus than any apostle or Old Testament writer, is infinitely more violent than violence perpetrated by human beings. How would Christ’s own words pass through Hamilton’s colander? In which case, Hamilton’s “canon within the canon” wouldn’t even include all the red-letter words of Jesus himself!

Throughout the book, Hamilton argues that we can’t reconcile scripture’s depiction of God’s violence with the “forgiveness and mercy” demonstrated by Christ. In doing so, however, he underestimates the problem of sin—the way it makes us “enemies” of God (Rom. 5:10) who deserve God’s wrath (Rom. 1:18)—and the effects of Christ’s atoning death, through which forgiveness and mercy are made possible. By all means, throughout the gospels, Jesus tells people, “Your sins are forgiven,” the only condition of which is faith and repentance. But theologians would say (as the rest of the New Testament makes clear) that Christ’s forgiveness isn’t free: even before Good Friday, it looks forward to and is made possible by his substitutionary death on the cross, on which he suffered the penalty of our sins for us. The effects of the cross are applied retroactively to the people Jesus forgave in the gospels.

By the way, this is also the basis of forgiveness for Old Testament saints. Abraham, for example, was justified by faith alone, as Paul says in Romans and Galatians, but it was a faith that looked forward to the cross, however incomplete Abraham’s understanding was.

Hamilton fails to wrestle with the debt that we human beings owe God. The Bible’s clear teaching is that we all deserve God’s judgment, death, and hell because of our sins. And forgiveness is infinitely costly, because it requires the death of God’s Son Jesus.

I feel like these are the A-B-C’s of the gospel, about which a self-identified evangelical like Hamilton shouldn’t need a refresher. Yet, in his book, he doesn’t deal with the cruciform shape of God’s love—at all! Why? What a glaring omission from someone who is purporting to “make sense” of the Bible!

In a future blog post, I’ll talk about Hamilton’s view of scripture’s “inspiration” and the way in which it’s also self-refuting.

1. Adam Hamilton, Making Sense of the Bible (New York: HarperOne, 2014), 211

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid., 216

4. Ibid., 213

Why this Methodist believes in meticulous providence (Part 1)

August 7, 2017

Last week marked the tenth anniversary of the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. From what I’ve read, the tragedy represents a failure of engineering (I say as a former engineer myself) and public policy: tax-paying citizens and their representatives in government are unwilling to pay for needed infrastructure repairs and improvements. Until we are, tragedies like the 35W bridge will repeat themselves.

The good news for Minnesota is that this particular tragedy motivated the state to repair dozens of bridges that, like the 35W, were in danger of failing.

Be that as it may, let me pose a theological question: Despite the many human and bureaucratic misjudgments and sins that went into the 35W’s collapse, could God have intervened somewhere along the way either to prevent the bridge’s collapse, or at least ensure that when it did collapse, no one would be on it (as with the famous Tacoma Narrows)?

If the answer is “yes,” then we must be prepared for the next question: Why? Why didn’t he?

Nearly everywhere I turn on social media, I’m confronted with one blog post after another telling me that, despite the cliché, everything doesn’t happen for a reason (or at least a reason that can’t be fully explained by science or free will), so we Christians are committing pastoral malpractice if we hint that God might have some deeper reason for allowing human or natural evil—and the suffering left in its wake. To ask why, we’re told, is almost sinfully presumptuous.

In one representative sermon by a popular United Methodist pastor I know, he said the following: “We want a reason for everything, and we have this tendency to say that because God is in control, all things that happen, even suffering, are God’s will. And it’s just not true.”

At one point in my life—as late as 2010—I would have agreed: God is not the author of sin or evil, therefore, when sin or evil happens, God doesn’t cause it. I still believe that. But several years ago I would then take the next (unwarranted) step: If God doesn’t cause it, he must also not have any good reason for allowing it.

As I’ve written before in many blog posts, this idea runs roughshod over the Bible. Here are only a few examples:

After the climax of the Joseph story in Genesis 50, Joseph tells his brothers, “What you intended for evil, God intended for good.” In other words, God had good reasons for allowing Joseph’s brothers to carry out their evil plans against him, and these reasons were different from Joseph’s brothers.

In Job 1-2, God allows Satan to carry out his evil against Job as a test of his faith. Satan believes that Job’s faith will falter in the face of suffering. God will prove otherwise, and teach something to Job and his friends in the process. What Satan intended for evil, God intended for good.

The prophet Isaiah teaches in many places that foreign powers like Assyria and Babylon are his agents for judging and punishing Israel. While this judgment and punishment reflect God’s righteousness, the behavior of Assyria and Babylon is evil, for which they too will be judged and punished. (See, for example, Isaiah 10.)

The same goes for Paul in 2 Corinthians 12: Paul complains about his “thorn in the flesh,” which is both a “messenger of Satan sent to torment” Paul, and a gift that “was given” (divine passive) by God to keep Paul humble.

In each of these cases (and many more throughout the Bible), God has no compunction about using evil to accomplish good—even though God doesn’t cause evil.

Besides, we haven’t even dealt with the other part of my clergy colleague’s statement: “because God is in control.” Does he really believe that God is, in any meaningful sense, in control? If so, then how is it “just not true” that suffering isn’t God’s will?

Again, how would my clergy colleague—indeed, the many pastors and bloggers who tell us to avoid saying “everything happens for a reason”—answer the question I pose above: “Could God have intervened somewhere along the way either to prevent the collapse of the 35W bridge—or at least ensure that when it did collapse, no one would be on it?”

So long as he would answer “yes” (which is the clear orthodox Christian, not to mention biblical, answer), then he has contradicted himself.

In the new book from the Gospel Coalition, The New City Catechism, which updates classic Protestant catechisms for our modern era, Question 2 asks, “What is God?” The answer:

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.

Nothing happens except through him and by his will. Granted, in the Methodist circles in which I run, I can anticipate the objection: “But the Gospel Coalition is Reformed! Of course they believe that!”

To which I would say, “Yes, but we Wesleyan-Arminians believe it, too! Or at least we’re supposed to!”

Only recently have some of my Methodist colleagues boarded a lifeboat called “Process Theology,” or its friendlier “evangelical” form, “Open Theism,” to escape the orthodox conviction that nothing happens except through God and by God’s will.

Open theism, whose most popular contemporary proponent is Greg Boyd, says that God is time-bound rather than timeless. God’s time-boundedness (from an open-theist perspective) is usually construed as a “decision” on God’s part: God doesn’t want to “determine” the future by knowing it[*]; therefore he limits himself to being a participant in history alongside us creatures.

Therefore, God doesn’t know the future.

(By the way, if memory serves, the current version of the United Methodist Disciple I Bible study advocates for open theism in one of its weekly video lectures. 🙄)

Does this mean that God is less than omniscient? Does God not know everything, as Christian theology has always maintained? Not all, the open theist would say. God does know everything—at least everything there is to be known—all knowable facts. Since the future hasn’t happened yet, however, any future event is not a knowable fact. Therefore, that God doesn’t know the future doesn’t compromise his omniscience.

Therefore, when bridges collapse and people die, this surprises God as much as everyone else. The open-theist apologist would then say, “Of course God hates this evil and suffering, but what could he do about it? His hands are tied!”

Of course, this raises a question: Why is God, who knows all facts—including whether or not a bridge is properly designed, the tensile strength holding a bridge together, and the the external forces working against it—unable to anticipate the collapse of a bridge?

Or if God can anticipate a bridge’s collapse—not even by knowing the future but by knowing all pertinent facts about the bridge—yet does nothing to prevent it, how does open theism solve the problem for which it was apparently made to order?

I ask because no one would think up “open theism” without an eye toward theodicy: how can I reconcile God’s goodness with the fact that there’s unjust suffering in the world? Greg Boyd, for one, is always talking about theodicy. If this theological system can’t do the one thing it was created to do—given how badly it already fails on biblical grounds—why bother with it?

(Theologian Andrew Wilson has an excellent post on the subject of open theism here.)

That’s enough for now. In Part 2, I’ll look at a controversial blog post from 2007, written by John Piper, whose church was located near the bridge, and a critical response from Greg Boyd.

* Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not conceding for a moment that God’s foreknowledge of an event determines that event. The content of God’s foreknowledge is based in part on what human beings freely do (with the understanding that human freedom is badly compromised by sin). I like the way William Lane Craig puts it: Future events are logically, though not temporally, prior to God’s knowledge of them.

Andrew Wilson makes the revisionist case for idolatry

May 9, 2017

I see you, Gospel Coalition—going all Babylon Bee on us.

Andrew Wilson applies nearly every argument made by sex-and-marriage revisionists to idolatry. Here’s what he has to say about how we “traditionalists” have misused Paul:

With all of these preliminary ideas in place, we can finally turn to Paul, who’s sadly been used as a judgmental battering ram by monolaters for centuries. When we do, what immediately strikes us is that in the ultimate “clobber passage” (Romans 1), the problem isn’t really idol worship at all! The problem, as Paul puts it, isn’t that people worship idols, but that they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images” (1:23). Paul isn’t talking about people who are idolatrous by nature. He’s talking about people who were naturally worshipers of Israel’s God, and exchanged it for the worship of idols. What else could the word “exchange” here possibly mean?

Not only that, but none of his references applies to idolatry as we know it today: putting something above God in our affections. Paul, as a Hellenistic Roman citizen, simply would not have had a category for that kind of thing. In his world, idolatry meant physically bowing down to tribal or household deities—statues and images made of bronze or wood or stone—and as such, the worship of power or money or sex or popularity had nothing to do with his prohibitions. (Some see an exception in the way he talks about coveting as idolatry in Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5, but these obviously reflect his desire, as a first-century Jew, to honor the Ten Commandments.)

In other words, when Paul talks about idolatry, he’s not talking about the worship of idols as we know it today. As a Christ-follower, he would be just as horrified as Jesus if he saw the way his words have been twisted to exclude modern idolaters like me, and like many friends of mine. For centuries, the church has silenced the voice of idolaters (just like it has silenced the voice of slaves and women), and it’s about time we recognized that neither Jesus, nor Paul, had any problem with idolatry.

“Glory to God in the Highest,” Day 29: An Unexpected Gift

December 29, 2016

I recently created a 31-day Advent/Christmas devotional booklet for my church called “Glory to God in the Highest.” I will be posting a devotional from it each day between now and the end of the year. Enjoy!

Scripture: Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

glory_cover_finalIn keeping with the spirit of Christmas, the holiday classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer begins with the birth of an unconventional child: baby Rudolph has a glowing red nose! Unlike in the Christmas story, however, Rudolph’s parents are not happy about it. In fact, the first thing that Rudolph’s mother, Mrs. Donner, says  when she sees her son’s glowing nose is, “We’ll simply have to overlook it.”

Overlook it? Why can’t Rudolph’s mother conceive that this unusual feature of her son’s anatomy, far from being a problem, might actually be a gift or a blessing in some way?

rudolph
In a new book he wrote with his wife, an English pastor and theologian named Andrew Wilson reflects on his experience parenting his two young children, who have autism. Having children with special needs, he writes, is like being at a dinner party at which all the other guests receive a “chocolate orange” for dessert. (A chocolate orange is a British candy in the shape of orange wedges, which are wrapped in foil.)

While you watch all of your friends receive creamy, sumptuous chocolate oranges, the host of the party hands you an actual orange instead. Wilson writes:

Special needs, like the orange, are unexpected. We didn’t plan for them, and we didn’t anticipate them. Because our children are such a beautiful gift, we often feel guilty for even saying this, but we might as well admit that we didn’t want our children to have autism, any more than we wanted them to have Down’s, or cerebral palsy, or whatever else. Give or take, we wanted pretty much what our friends had: children who crawled at one, talked at two, potty trained at three, asked questions at four, and went off to mainstream school at five… So there are times, when we’re wiping the citric acid out of our eyes and watching our friends enjoying their chocolate, when it feels spectacularly unfair, and we wish we could retreat to a place where everyone had oranges, so we wouldn’t have to fight so hard against the temptation to comparison-shopping and wallowing in self-pity. We know that oranges are juicy in their own way. We know that they’re good for us, and that we’ll experience many things that others will miss. But we wish we had a chocolate one, all the same.[†]

So oranges are good, he says—they’re delicious, they’re nutritious, there’s simply nothing wrong with having an orange—any more than there’s something wrong with Rudolph’s having a shiny red nose. In fact there is so much that’s right about it!

But we look around and what happens? We “comparison-shop”: Why can’t we have what they have? What we have is great, but… it’s more difficult, more challenging. It’s not what we expected.

Which brings us to the Christmas story. Think of Joseph. Talk about not getting what we expected! First, he has to deal with his hurt and bruised feelings when he imagines that his fiancée has cheated on him. Then he has to deal with the fact that his first-born son won’t be his own—that he will only be the child’s adoptive father.

Again, there’s nothing at all wrong with that; it’s just not what he expected.

Then he has to uproot his family and move to Egypt, when he finds out that the jealous King Herod is out to murder his son. Finally, even after that Herod dies, he still can’t return to his ancestral home of Bethlehem the way he plans, because another Herod is on the throne there—and this Herod is even worse than the first.

This isn’t at all what Joseph expected. His life is a thousand times more difficult than he thought it would be. But has any man in history been more blessed? No way!

The point is, God will often give us “gifts,” which, from our perspective, we would just as soon return for store credit.

But the question is this: Will we trust that what God gives us will be good for us—whether it’s what we want or not?

Do you ever “comparison-shop” when you look at what someone else has? Does it make you feel better or worse about yourself? Do you trust that God knows what he’s doing?

Andrew Wilson, “The Life You Never Expected,” thinktheology.co.uk. Accessed 01 December 2016.

Does God collaborate with the devil?

May 18, 2016

I’ve said (or implied) this a few dozen times on this blog and in sermons: I find it immensely comforting to know that Satan himself can’t derail God’s plans for me—that God has the power to transform into good whatever the devil sends my way. (And, yes, biblically speaking, Satan has the power, however constrained it may be, to “send things our way.”)

As evidence, I always cite two scripture verses or passages: Joseph’s words to his brothers in Genesis 50:20: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today”; and Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12 about his “thorn in the flesh,” which Paul describes as both a “messenger from Satan” and something that “was given” (divine passive) by God. C.S. Lewis might describe Paul’s thorn as a “severe mercy.”

Believing that this is so spares me from having to be selectively thankful to God for what’s happening to me. Because the skeptics are right: It isn’t logical to give God all the credit when something goes well in our lives without at the same time at least appreciating that God’s providential hand is at work through the bad stuff in our lives. To be clear: this doesn’t mean that God causes evil; only that God is always at work, transforming it for our good.

Andrew Wilson, an English pastor and theologian, makes the same point in this fine blog post. Scripture is clear that God and Satan are often in a “collaborative” relationship, although Satan is an unwitting partner with a drastically different agenda. He cites many more scriptures:

The problem is, of course, that there are a number of places in Scripture in which a collaborative relationship between divine and satanic agency is assumed, or explicitly taught, without going anywhere near the unforgivable sin (unless we are to believe that Moses, the Chronicler, Luke, Paul and co committed it within the pages of the Bible, which seems unlikely). Job is afflicted by Satan (1:6-12; 2:1-8), and also by God (1:20-22; 2:9-10). David’s census is incited by God (2 Samuel 24:1), and also by Satan (1 Chronicles 21:1). Judas betrays Jesus because of Satan (Luke 22:3-6), and because of God’s sovereign plan (Acts 4:27-28). Church discipline will result in an immoral brother having his flesh destroyed by Satan (1 Corinthians 5:5a), so that his spirit may be saved by God (5:5b). And that is without mentioning the various human individuals whose evil actions are ordained somehow by God, with a view to bringing about good (Joseph’s brothers, Pharaoh, the king of Assyria, and so on). Paul’s knowledge of all these stories, alongside his language here, strongly indicate that he regarded his thorn in the same way.

Contemporary Methodists, among many other Christians, get squeamish about saying that God ever wants his children to experience pain or suffering for any reason. If you are one of them, please feel free tell me why Wilson and I are wrong.

I like this concluding paragraph:

So who gave Paul his thorn? God, and Satan, but with thoroughly different agendas. Satan, we may surmise, wanted to destroy him. God wanted to humble him, and throw him back onto divine grace. And God won.

Sermon 01-03-16: “The Voice of the One Crying Out in the Wilderness”

January 4, 2016
the-gallant-hours.jpg_90662_1500_1500_2

James Cagney (right) in The Gallant Hours

Many of us look ahead to the new year and think, “I hope this year is better than last year!” While I understand the impulse to do so, we need to remember this: everything that happened last year happened according to God’s plan for us, even if his plan didn’t correspond to our own. Therefore we can be grateful even for the hard times, because God used them for our good.

John the Baptist provides a great example to help us have a better year in 2016. He reminds us to stay focused not on what we want—on our plans and desires—but on what God wants. We should be so focused on his agenda that we don’t have much time to worry our own!

Sermon Text: John 1:19-34

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

I can tell from Facebook that many of us have made New Year’s Resolutions. Indeed, early January is the time when gyms across the nation pay the bills for the other eleven months of the year. Because in January we resolve to do what most of us resolved to do last year but failed. And what we resolved to do the year before that, but failed. And what we resolved to do the year before that, but failed: which is, to finally get in shape! So we join the gym in January. And we go many times in January. And we go a little less in February. And March… even less.

One of my Christmas gifts that I asked for this year, and received, was running clothes for cold weather—and finally, on Friday for the first time this winter, it was cold enough to wear them. The outfit is made of this stretchy material that is form-fitting. Unforgivably so! When I put the shirt on, and looked in the mirror, I said, “Oh, my goodness, when did I become the Michelin man? I have to wear a baggy T-shirt on top of this.” So I’ve resolved to get in better shape in this new year.

Read the rest of this entry »

“He will turn to good whatever adversity he sends”

December 28, 2015

I received an embarrassingly inadequate—indeed, spiritually harmful—theological education from the Candler School of Theology. To be fair, I was (as I see now) barely a Christian at the time and thus utterly unprepared to meet the challenge posed by critical scholarship and the liberal mainline. If there were evangelicals among its faculty (and I think they hired one recently), I didn’t know it at the time.

Be that as it may, between Candler’s sixth or seventh helping of “liberation theology,” it apparently didn’t have time to teach classic Reformation-era confessions of faith such as the Heidelberg Catechism.

So, for example, I didn’t know that it included these words in Answer 26:

I trust [God] so much that I do not doubt he will provide whatever I need for body and soul, and he will turn to my good whatever adversity he sends me in this sad world. He is able to do this because he is almighty God; he desires to do this because he is a faithful Father.

In this blog post, Andrew Wilson describes a letter expressing astonishment that Wilson would teach that God ever sends adversity to his children. He says this objection is becoming increasingly commonplace. In my experience, I have to agree. I blogged once about a sermon I read (from a fellow Candler grad, naturally) who said that God “never wants us to suffer. Never!”

When I tried to challenge this idea, politely, I received a pushback that suggested that my opinion on the subject was definitely in the minority, at least when it comes to mainline Protestantism.

Regardless, I like this last paragraph from Wilson’s post:

As I say, the irony of this particular objection is that the love of the Father, which (to be fair) is what the objection is trying to preserve, is often demonstrated most emphatically to us when we are suffering. It is suffering which produces perseverance, and character, and hope, which does not disappoint because the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Spirit. It is “in all these things” – persecution, danger, nakedness, sword – that we know nothing can separate us from the love of God.  It is through sufferings that our comfort abounds in Christ, and through discipline that we know we are legitimate children of God. And it is God’s ability to turn all things to good, in precisely this context of pain and difficulty, that the Heidelberg Catechism makes central to its statement about God’s loving care for us: “He is able to do this because he is almighty God; he desires to do this because he is a faithful Father.”

Do you find anything objectionable here? I don’t.

Sermon 11-29-15: “Reel Christmas Classics, Part 1: Rudolph”

November 30, 2015

rudolph

Rudolph’s glowing red nose was great gift—misunderstood, difficult, even dangerous—but a gift nonetheless. Using clips from the Rankin-Bass holiday classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, I share insights about the gifts that God gives us by relating the TV special to the experiences of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Sermon Text: Daniel 3:8-25

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

The following is my original manuscript. The video clips from Rudolph that I showed in church are included.

In keeping with the spirit of Christmas, I guess, it’s fitting that this classic Christmas special begins with an unusual birth. No, it’s not a virgin birth—and God knows Rudolph’s parents are not at all like Mary and Joseph. Notice the first thing Rudolph’s mother, Mrs. Donner, says when she sees her son’s glowing nose: “We’ll simply have to overlook it.”

Overlook it! Oh my goodness! So Rudolph’s mother can’t conceive for a moment that this unusual feature of her son’s anatomy is nothing more than a problem that needs to be solved—or at least hidden. From her perspective—and her husband’s perspective and even Santa’s perspective—there’s just nothing good about it at all. She can’t conceive for a moment that far from being a problem, it might actually be a gift or a blessing in some way!

And why do these people feel this way? Because it’s not what they expected! Read the rest of this entry »

The secret to gratitude begins with the gospel

November 27, 2015

This would have made a good Thanksgiving post yesterday, but better late than never…

Andrew Wilson, whose praises I’ve sung on this blog several times already, gave an interview this week with his wife, Rachel, about their new book, The Life You Never Expected, which comes out in the States next year. The book is about their ongoing adventure of parenting two autistic children in light of their Christian faith.

In the following excerpt, Wilson discusses what he’s learned about gratitude from the experience:

I know I’ve got to get my head around the fact that what I deserve is death and condemnation, and, instead, I’ve received life. And you start there with the gospel, really. The center of the gospel makes you grateful as you consider it—and your eschatological hope and all the rest—compared to what you have. So you stop feeling grumbly about what you have.

But as that sets in in your heart, it begins to spread sideways as well and you become grateful rather than entitled to people… other people—you know, human organizations and institutions and the like—and start thinking, “This isn’t just that I’m grateful to God that he’s given me this instead of eternal separation from God. It’s changes the way you think about gratitude toward other people as well. And you begin to feel happy and excited about things that other people assume is their rights.

Next he talks about his gratitude that in Britain he has access to health resources that many parents of autistic children in other parts of the world don’t have.

But [gratitude] starts with the gospel, and you realize this is just scandalous, and I’ve got so much more than I should have. And as that seeps through bits of your life, it does begin to change [you]. Obviously, that’s a very nice picture of it; it doesn’t always feel like that, but I genuinely think I am a much more grateful person, and I have a much better theology of gift now than I did three years ago because of learning to see gifts everywhere.

He means “scandalous” in the sense that we take so many of God’s blessings for granted.

When I hear things like this, it reaffirms my conviction that we preachers need to preach the gospel in every sermon, in one way or another. We need to continually remind ourselves of the fact that “what [we] deserve is death and condemnation,” whereas what we receive in Christ is eternal life.

File under “ontological argument for God’s existence”

November 24, 2015

We discussed St. Anselm’s ontological argument for God’s existence way back in Philosophy 1001 at the Georgia Institute of Technology 25 years ago. The argument has proven to be surprisingly resilient—and even my prof expressed admiration for it. At the same time, like most people, I fear that we’re playing with words more than saying anything about God.

Nevertheless, Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga updated it recently. I’m posting it here not because I necessarily buy into it, but because I want to remember what it is, and this puts it rather plainly.

Premise #4 is the trickiest for me, but, as Wilson says, it follows from the meaning of “necessary.” Christian theology teaches that God is a necessary, rather than contingent, being; he doesn’t depend on anything else for his existence. You can substitute “maximally great being” for “necessary divine being.”

Anyway, for what it’s worth… From Andrew Wilson:

Here’s a quick, and surprisingly robust, argument for the existence of God. It amounts to a late twentieth century Plantingan rehash of Anselm’s ontological argument, and it goes like this:

1. It is possible that a necessary divine being exists.
2. If a being possibly exists, then it exists in some possible world.
3. Therefore a necessary divine being exists in some possible world (from #1, #2).
4. If a necessary being exists in some possible world, then it exists in all possible worlds.
5. Therefore a necessary divine being exists in all possible worlds (from #3, #4).
6. Therefore a necessary divine being exists (from #5).

The conclusion obviously follows from the premises, so the only question is whether the premises are probably correct. Both #2 and #4, in effect, are simply ways of stating what the words “possible” and “necessary” actually mean, and as such are not as controversial as they might appear. So the real debate is over #1 – but this, to most people, sounds intuitively correct. I’m not saying it will compel people to repent of their sins and follow Jesus, but it’s a good one to pull out at parties, isn’t it? (Presumably it depends on the parties.)