Category Archives: Community

Why Personal Idols Destroy Community

N.T. Wright, Surprised By Hope, 182:

One of the primary laws of human life is that you become like what you worship; what’s more, you reflect what you worship not only back to the object itself but also outward to the world around. Those who worship money increasingly define themselves in terms of it and increasingly treat other people as creditors, debtors, partners, or customers rather than as human beings. Those who worship sex define themselves in terms of it (their preferences, their practices, their past histories) and increasingly treat other people as actual or potential sexual objects. Those who worship power define themselves in terms of it and treat other people as either collaborators, competitors, or pawns. These and many other forms of idolatry combine in a thousand ways, all of them damaging to the image-bearing quality of the people concerned and of those whose lives they touch.

Wright’s point is that idolatry is more than a mere internal heart problem — idolatry is what we project onto others. Idolatry de-values others and becomes a relational cancer in our families, our communities, and our churches. In other words, personal idols dehumanize us, dehumanize our evaluation of others, and necessarily erode community.

How Do We Defend Biblical Authority in Postmodernity?

This relatively tricky question increasingly appears in contemporary debates like the reoccurring debate over complementarity and mens/womens roles in the home and in the church. It simply isn’t possible to dismiss NT roles and also affirm the authority of the Bible at the same time. So then, how do we defend biblical authority in this age?

Kevin J. Vanhoozer helps answer this bigger question in his books The Drama of Doctrine and Is There a Meaning in This Text? and Everyday Theology and probably everything else he’s written. But he wrote the following in his article “Exploring the World; Following the Word: The Credibility of Evangelical Theology in an Incredulous Age” [Trinity Journal 16/1 (1995), 20–21]:

Biblical interpretation involves performance. Think of a pianist who interprets a Beethoven sonata. We speak of Alfred Brendel’s interpretation as opposed to Glenn Gould’s. Can we really “perform” texts? Can we put prophecy, wisdom, apocalyptic, narrative into practice? Can we perform doctrine? psalm?

Certainly! We do so all the time: the fundamental form of interpretation is the way we live our lives each day. Our behavior is the true index to what we believe about biblical authority. The Bible lays claim to our whole being. Some of God’s words require our intellectual assent, others our pious submission, others our moral obedience, and others our cultural faithfulness.

Christian life and thought alike, then, are interpretations of Scripture. Our doctrine is our theoretical interpretation of the Christian story; our life is our practical interpretation. In the postmodern world, the best way to defend biblical authority may be to create a kind of community life in which the Bible functions as authoritative (and liberating).

No contemporary theory of the authority of the Bible can assume that a person will be convinced of the Bible’s authority apart from participation in the community of faith. To repeat: the fundamental form of Christian biblical interpretation is the corporate life of the Christian church. The church embodies the Word of God—this, at least, is its task, its privilege, and responsibility. In Lesslie Newbigin’s words: the church must be a “hermeneutic of the Gospel.” Think of the congregation as a living commentary. Biblical literacy—“following” the Word—should lead to Christian discipleship, to practicing the letter in our lives.

Long iPhone Lines and Individualism

From Don Carson’s 2010 editorial, “Contrarian Reflections on Individualism”:

I wonder whether individualism is in reality as highly prized as some think. One could make a case that many people want to belong to something—to the first group that manages to purchase an iPhone, to the “emerging” crowd or to those who want little to do with them, to the great company that can discuss baseball or cricket or ice hockey, to those who are up-to-date in fashion sense, to those who are suitably green or those who are suspicious of the green movement, to various groups of “friends” on Facebook, to those who tweet, and so on. If you say that most of these groups do not foster deep relationships, I shall agree with you—but then the problem lies in the domain of shallow relationships of many kinds, rather than in individualism per se.

How Personal Idols Destroy Community

Readers of this blog know where I stand on N. T. Wright so I’m not going to take the time to qualify this post and I’ll just jump in by saying that last summer I read Wright’s Surprised By Hope (HarperOne, 2008). The book was okay and while I cannot recommend it I can say that at one point Wright makes very important point about how idolatry undermines community.

Wright’s point is that idolatry is more than a mere internal heart problem—idolatry is something each of us project onto others. Idolatry shapes our value (or de-valuation) of others and carries consequences into our families, our communities, and our churches. He writes,

One of the primary laws of human life is that you become like what you worship; what’s more, you reflect what you worship not only back to the object itself but also outward to the world around. Those who worship money increasingly define themselves in terms of it and increasingly treat other people as creditors, debtors, partners, or customers rather than as human beings. Those who worship sex define themselves in terms of it (their preferences, their practices, their past histories) and increasingly treat other people as actual or potential sexual objects. Those who worship power define themselves in terms of it and treat other people as either collaborators, competitors, or pawns. These and many other forms of idolatry combine in a thousand ways, all of them damaging to the image-bearing quality of the people concerned and of those whose lives they touch. (p. 182)

That’s a great point. In other words, idolatry—while at root a heart issue—not only affects the sinner but also the community. Idols dehumanize the heart and cause us to act inhumanely towards others.

This idol-projecting point is also made Mark Driscoll’s latest book Doctrine (Crossway, 2010):

If we idolize our gender, we must demonize the other gender. If we idolize our nation, we must demonize other nations. If we idolize our political party, we must demonize other political parties. If we idolize our socioeconomic class, we must demonize other classes. If we idolize our family, we must demonize other families. If we idolize our theological system, we must demonize other theological systems. If we idolize our church, we must demonize other churches. This explains the great polarities and acrimonies that plague every society. If something other than God’s loving grace is the source of our identity and value, we must invariably defend our idol by treating everyone and everything who may call our idol into question as an enemy to be demonized so that we can feel superior to other people and safe with our idol. (350-351)

Wright and Driscoll provide a sobering warning. Personal idols dehumanize us, dehumanize our evaluation of others, and necessarily erode community. Personal idols are not isolated in their consequences. We all have something at stake.

Affirm, Share, Serve

Here’s a helpful organization of the “one anothers” of Scripture as they appear in Tim Keller’s study guide, Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything [ht JT]:

Affirm

1. Affirm one another’s strengths, abilities, and gifts.

2. Affirm one another’s equal importance in Christ.

3. Affirm one another through visible affection.

Share

4. Share one another’s space, goods, and time.

5. Share one another’s needs and problems.

6. Share one another’s beliefs, thinking, and spirituality.

Serve

7. Serve one another through accountability.

8. Serve one another through forgiveness and reconciliation.

9. Serve one another’s interests rather than our own.

Critiquing the Missional Movement

tsslogo.jpgNow that all the Sovereign Grace Ministries messages are free, I’m slowly feasting message-by-message in a long and delicious buffet of audio. Today I finally arrived at Dave Harvey’s message from the SGM Leadership Conference this Spring (at the time, I was on the other side of the wall listening to Dever speak on his annual reading schedule).

Harvey, the author of the excellent book When Sinners Say I Do: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage (Shepherd’s Press: 2007), is also an expert church planter and apostolic leader within SGF. This Spring in his session “Watch Your Mission: To Be, or Not to Be, ‘Missional,’” he assessed the strengths and weakness of the missional movement. In part, he argues the MM muddies the Cross-centered focus of the Church and misunderstands the apostolic context of the Great Commission.

Here’s the heart of his outline:

1. What are the Strengths of Missional Churches?
A. Missional Churches Have a Commendable Passion for Evangelism.
B. Missional Churches Have a Laudable Commitment to Engaging Culture.
C. Missional Churches Have a Profitable Impulse for Reexamining Church Tradition.
D. They Also Possess an Admirable Devotion to Social Impact.

2. What are the Weaknesses of Missional Churches?
A. Missional Churches Tend to Be Mission-Centered Rather Than Gospel-Centered.
B. Missional Churches Tend to Have a Reductionistic Ecclesiology.
C. Missional Churches Tend to Confuse Culture Engagement with Cultural Immersion.
D. Missional Churches Tend to Downplay the Institutional and Organizational Nature of the Church.
E. Missional Churches Tend to Have an Insufficient Understanding of Apostolic Ministry.

Free: Get the full outline here and the mp3 audio here.

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Update: It should be noted SGM believes in a continuing apostolic gift: “present-day apostles plant and build local churches for the sanctification of the believer, the expansion of the mission, and the exaltation of God.” For more on why they use the term, what it means and does not mean, see the SGM booklet by Harvey titled Polity: Serving and Leading the Local Church (2004), pages 17-26, 49-50.

Warning … (2)

… the quote you are about to enjoy is extremely hot!

david-wells.jpg

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Taken from the very end of Wells’ book, God in the Wasteland (Eerdmans: 1995). … Have a great quote for a coffee cup? Email it our way (please include source information). Thank you! Tony [tony AT tonyreinke DOT com]

Understanding our motives

tsslogo.jpgUnderstanding our motives

One of the deepest questions we can ask of ourselves is very simple: Why do we do what we do? Here are some thoughts on the topic.

Scripture addresses our motives in a profound way. Take James 4 for example: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (v. 1). Our quarrels with others spring from our own hearts because we entertain self-centered desires. James tells us that we fight, not because we have enemies without, rather, we fight because we have a sinful heart within. The conflict problem is me. At some level, I start every fight. And this angry heart rages hot because our sinful motives arise from unmet idolatrous desires: “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (v. 2). In verses 3-10, James says our motives cause conflict because we are worldly, because we fail to ask God for His grace, because we fail to pursue humility and fail to resist Satan’s temptations. Motives are at the root of all conflict. The evil of fighting is not that we land punches. The evil of fighting is that it reveals worldly idols and pridefulness towards God in the heart. Conflict with others is profoundly theological.

In a series of articles comparing modern psychotherapies with the cure of souls, Dr. David Powlison writes, “…the dynamics of human intention and desire cannot be defined in purely psychological terms (or psycho-social terms, or psycho-social-somatic terms). Motivational dynamics do not simply operate within or between persons. The human heart has to do with God. So when the Bible describes the desires that obviously play within our souls and rule our lives, it does not portray them as hard-wired psychological or physiological givens: as needs, instincts, drives, longings, wishes. It speaks of them as morally freighted vis-à-vis God, as moral-covenantal choices: we are ruled either by cravings of the flesh or by repentance-faith-obedience to God’s desires. Our desires are tilted one way or the other, either toward the true God or toward the host of idols we fabricate both collectively and idiosyncratically. Our mastering desires are relationally and morally qualified. … In sum, the human heart – the answer to why we do what we do – must be understood as an active-verb-with-respect-to-God. Climb inside any emotional reaction, any behavioral choice or habit, any cognitive content, any reaction pattern to suffering, and you are meant to hear and see active verbs working out. Love God or anything else. Fear God or anything else. Want God or anything else. Need God or anything else. Hope in God or anything else. Take refuge in God or anything else. Obey God or anything else. Trust God or anything else. Seek God or anything else. Serve God or anything else. The Bible’s motivation theory shouts from every page – but it does not look like a motivation theory to those whose gaze has been bent and blinded by sin’s intellectual logic” [The Journal of Biblical Counseling (Spring 2007, vol. 25, No. 2) p. 24].

It’s no exaggeration to say Instruments in the Hand’s of the Redeemer (P&R: 2002) is on my top ten list of favorite books. Without hesitation, I would consider this book essential reading for pastors, fellowship group leaders, and really any thinking and reading Christian. In it author Paul David Tripp writes, “We must humbly admit we are sinners while we lay hold of the hope of our union with Christ. We don’t simply suffer; we suffer as sinners with a deep propensity to run after god-replacements. And, as believers, we don’t just suffer as sinners, but as those who have been united with Christ and therefore no longer live under the mastery of sin. We bring these two realities to times of blessing as well. Holding onto both truths is the only way to do battle with our own hearts, and the only way to be part of what God is doing in our lives and others’. This is a perspective on life that only those who believe God’s Word will ever embrace. Ist is the heart of biblical personal ministry. It is more than a topical list of problem-solving principles, more than a collection of morals on how to live life, more than an empathetic relationship or a dynamic therapeutic encounter. Biblical personal ministry is rooted in the story of a war and a Savior King. As we place our stories within this great story of the compassion and love of Christ, we will understand who we are and live as we were meant to live” (pp. 93-94).

We act and sin in certain ways because of the idolatrous motives of our hearts. This is our biggest problem: We expect to get what we want and what we naturally (and sinfully) want is an idolatrous replacement for God to steal His glory for ourselves. We are at war. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh” (Gal. 5:17). At a very deep level of motive-confrontation God calls us to fight worldliness, ask for more Cross-purchased grace, pursue personal humility and resist Satan’s temptations. Scripture lays for us a profound understanding of our personal motives and — in light of the precious Cross of Christ — what to do about it.

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Excellent biblical counseling resources for further study…

*** Paul David Tripp. Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change (P&R: 2002) 362 pp. More conceptual in nature. One of the most important contemporary Christian books in print. Essential reading for pastors and fellowship group leaders.

*** David Powlison, editor. The Journal of Biblical Counseling. A 60- page journal published quarterly with subscriptions starting at $23/year for new subscribers. Essential reading for pastors and fellowship group leaders. In our church every small group leader receives a subscription.

** Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp. How People Change (New Growth Press: 2006) 258 pp. The text font and layout for this book is simply awful but a very helpful book with excellent illustrations. Written on an easier level and more application-oriented than Instruments.

** David Powlison. Seeing with New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture (P&R 2003) 274 pp. A conceptual book it “unfolds Scripture’s view of people and problems. It reinterprets common counseling phenomena through God’s eyes, as revealed in Scripture” (p. 7).

** David Powlison. Speaking the Truth in Love: Counsel in Community (Punch Press: 2005) 202 pp. The follow-up to Seeing with New Eyes, this book focuses on the act of counseling. “This second book describes living right. We will glimpse essential dynamics of relationship and sketch the shape of communities that pursue such relationships” (p. 2).

Confess your sins to one another (part 3)

No man is more ready to charge the church
than she is to confess her infirmities.
She never hideth them,
she never justifieth them;
she is black,
she hath afflictions,
she kept not her own vine,
she wants [lacks]
knowledge,
affection,
discretion,
love.
She never denies it,
but confesses all freely from her heart;
she hides not her sin,
but tells what she is,
what she hath done,
that so she may give glory to the Lord God of Israel.
And indeed, it makes much for the honor of Christ,
and commends his grace,
that he, such a king,
will set his heart and his eye
upon such a deformed slut as the world deems her to be.
It makes for the comfort of her poor children,
and much stayeth [sustains] them,
when they shall hear the church in all ages,
and in her Abraham, David, and Paul, saying,
‘I am black,’
I have affliction,
corruption,
as well as others.
It makes for the silencing of all saucy [flippant] daughters
that will upbraid her;
an ingenuous confession,
stops their mouths,
and puts them all to silence.
It much quickens her to the use of the means,
and maketh her cry,
‘Shew me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest.’
And to seek her comfort in Christ Jesus.
Oh it doth her good to receive the sentence of
death,
shame,
poverty,
damnation,
in herself,
that so she may be found in Christ,
arrayed with the rich robes of his righteousness.
Hence her plain-hearted openness in her confession.
Let us do the like,
and leave it to the harlot and whore of Babylon
to say herself is a queen, she is glorious, she cannot err.
But let us say with the church, we are black;
yea, let us see it,
let us speak it
with sorrow,
with shame,
as the saints have done,
and be so affected with our estate,
that it may truly humble us,
and cause us to say,
‘It is the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed.’
And let us so confess it in ourselves,
that we pity others,
and bear with them,
though full of sins and miseries;
so confess it,
that we stir up others thereby to run,
as Paul did,
and use the ordinances with all diligence,
to pray much,
to read much,
to hear,
to confer,
to advise,
and be humble
and sincere.
A verbal confession of frailties,
without humility,
mercy,
diligence,
without the use of the means,
is hypocrisy.
If we will speak with the church,
we must feel what we say,
and so well understand ourselves and our estate,
that we may gain
humility,
mercy,
and watchfulness
by it.

- Richard Sibbes, Works 7:97-98

Confess your sins to one another (part 2)

We may observe the ingeniousness of the church in laying open her own state. It is the disposition of God’s people to be ingenious in opening their state to God, as in David, Nehemiah, Ezra, etc.

The reason is thus:

(1.) By a free and full confession we give God the honor of his wisdom in knowing of our own condition, secret and open. We give him the honor of mercy that will not take advantage against us, the honor of power and authority over us, if he should show his strength against us [in judgment]. We yield unto him the glory of all his chief prerogatives; whereupon Joshua moved Achan to a free confession, ‘My son, give gory to God,’ Joshua 7:19.

(2.) We shame Satan, who first takes away shame of sinning, and then takes away shame for sin. He tempts us not to be ashamed to do that we are ashamed to confess, so we, by silence, keep Satan’s council against our own souls. If we accuse ourselves, we put him out of office who is the ‘accuser of the brethren,’ Rev. 12:10.

(3.) We prevent, likewise, malicious imputations from the world. Augustine answered roundly and well when he was upbraided with the sins of his former age: ‘What thou,’ saith he, ‘findest fault with, I have condemned myself before.’

(4.) This ingenious dealing eases the soul, giving vent to the grief of it. While the arrow’s head sticks in the wound, it will not heal. Sin unconfessed is like a broken piece of rusty iron in the body. It must be gotten out, or else it will, by ranking and festering, cause more danger. It is like poison in the stomach, if it be not presently cast up it will infect the whole body. Is it not better to take shame to ourselves now, than to be shamed hereafter before angels, devils, and men?

- Richard Sibbes, Works 2:38-39

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