Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Wilson’

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.)

Do the four gospels reflect ideological “development”?

August 11, 2015

In the world of mainline Protestant seminary education, we take for granted the following “facts”: Mark is the earliest gospel and therefore the most “historical.” Since the understanding of Jesus as God developed over time, Mark portrays Jesus as more human and less divine than the other gospels. Matthew and Luke, written later, use Mark as a source for their own gospels, while also relying on a source they have in common, called “Q.” Inconveniently, this source—again, a taken-for-granted fact for us victims of mainline Protestant education—has managed to vanish without a trace.

While Matthew and Luke have access to other sources, unique to their respective gospels, neither is interested in telling a straightforward history. Rather, each has an ideological agenda to suit their particular audience. They freely change the historical data and invent stories and sayings of Jesus to suit this ideology.

John, meanwhile, written much later than the other three, portrays Jesus as nearly a superhero. It is by far the least historical.

And of course, none of the gospels was written by its attributed author; none is based on apostolic sources.

As you can guess, I now reject all of these highly speculative articles of faith. I’m happy to grant that Mark is the earliest gospel, but the truth is, as N.T. Wright points out, we don’t know for sure when the gospels were written—besides which, they were likely based on oral traditions that long predated them. (But even the consensus of critical scholarship now grants that John’s gospel was written within the first century; this wasn’t the case 50 years ago.) Also, there’s nothing at stake in believing that Matthew and Luke had access to Mark as a source, except… If they merely “copied” Mark, as so many critical scholars believe, why did they copy Mark so poorly?

I’m not talking about alleged changes they make to suit their agendas; I’m talking about differences in minor details that serve no ideological purpose—for example, did the four friends lower the paralytic through a thatched roof or tiled roof? Most neutral observers would say, I think, that these differences in details would be evidence of historians working with some degree of independence, relying on different sources or eyewitnesses.

All that to say, you can hear all the biases and clichés of mainline critical scholarship on full display in a recent two-part debate (here and here) on the Unbelievable? podcast between the famously agnostic New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman and Christian apologist Tim McGrew, a philosophy professor at Western Michigan University.

McGrew’s wife, Lydia, herself a fierce apologist, has written lengthy responses to both debates on her personal blog. Earlier this year, however, she wrote this post debunking the “development” trajectory in the four gospels’ Passion narratives. Before offering her own evidence, she challenges her readers to pick up their Bibles and see for themselves if they discern this progression from “more human” to “more divine.” She concludes:

I submit that we need to get over, well over, and forever over, the entire picture of the gospel writers as “making Jesus say” things he never said, portraying different “Jesuses” in a literary fashion, and “developing” Jesus for their own agendas. That is not the way the evidence points. It is a mere construct of airy and unsubstantiated literary critical approaches. If anyone tells you that Jesus “develops” in the gospels, let your antennae twitch good and hard. Then, if you are interested, go and see for yourself that it isn’t so.

A mere construct of airy and unsubstantiated literary critical approaches. Love it!

It reminded me of a blog post that theologian Andrew Wilson wrote last year about another Unbelievable? debate, this time between two self-identified evangelicals, Peter Enns and David Instone-Brewer. Enns was defending a more critical approach to reading and interpreting the gospels. During the debate, Enns said the following:

I can see, for example, in the context of the Caesar-cult, that it makes perfect sense for Luke to have the Magi come, it makes perfect sense for me to have that there, because Jesus is the true king of the world. Or, you know, a virgin birth. Or, for Matthew, shepherds, right? For a God to come to the lowly, the unexpected, which supports (in my opinion) Matthew’s theology, which is summarised in the Sermon on the Mount: God is doing the unexpected … So could I see them making this up? Absolutely. It doesn’t mean they made it up, but I can see it, in terms of an ideology.

Notice any problem with Enns’s statement? Wilson did.

My concern here is not primarily with the obvious blunder, namely that it is Matthew (not Luke) who describes the coming of the Magi, and that it is Luke (not Matthew) who describes the visit of the shepherds; everyone makes mistakes. Nor is it with the fact that Enns says this in a discussion in which he stresses his credentials as a biblical scholar; even biblical scholars make mistakes, and it may well be that he kicked himself for this one after the programme. Nor is it with the idea that the evangelists deliberately selected and arranged their material to suit their agendas; that I take as axiomatic. Rather, it is the fact that even though Enns has got the details absolutely upside-down, he is still able to posit an “ideology” that could account for the Gospel writers “making this up.” He is so persuaded that the Bible is full of invented stories, written to support existing ideologies, that he sees them even when they don’t exist. (Richard Dawkins, interestingly, makes exactly the same point, with exactly the same error, in The God Delusion.)

The fact is, you can argue almost anything to be an ideological invention if you adopt this approach. Matthew made up X because God is doing the unexpected. Luke made up Y because of the Caesar-cult. John made up Z because, well, John. Once the rot sets in, no text is safe, no matter how innocent, and no ideologically-driven explanation is beyond plausibility, no matter how preposterous. As such, the only ideologically-driven invention here – though, as I say, I’m certain it is a genuine mistake – is that of Peter Enns, not Matthew or Luke.

In other words, once you buy into the hypothesis that the gospel writers were ideologically driven, this hypothesis is unfalsifiable.

Fighting against the temptation to “comparison-shop and wallow in self-pity”

July 21, 2015

In my June 21 sermon, I made reference to a profound insight that actor Michael J. Fox, who has suffered for many years from early-onset Parkinson’s, shared in an Esquire magazine interview:

My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations. Acceptance is the key to everything.

Of course, from a Christian point of view, acceptance doesn’t mean acquiescing to fate with Stoic courage. It means—and I swallow hard when I say this—appreciating that God’s hand is in this. God has a purpose for allowing this unplanned, often unwanted event to occur. In other words, this experience is, or can be, good for us.

Pastor and theologian Andrew Wilson explores this theme in some depth in this fine post about rearing two autistic children. Having children with special needs, he writes, is like receiving an actual orange for dessert, when the rest of your friends received a chocolate orange.

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. We could have lived quite happily without knowing what Piedro boots were for, or what stimming was, or how to fill out DLA forms. 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.