Tag Archives: Love

Gospel Reductionism

The Gospel is the commonly defined as the “good news” of Jesus Christ and His message of hope and grace for man.  Pennington in his book, Reading the Gospels Wisely, expands on why our interpretation of the Gospels is of utmost and paramount importance.  The question I would like to address at the end of this report is:  If we deviate too far from this question of why the Gospels are important, do we leave the good news of Jesus Christ and the message of His Kingdom completely behind?   First, Pennington highlights “the why” as he discusses how Paul directly and bluntly challenges Peter and the Galatians (pg. 5) for not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel (Gal 2:14).  Paul saw Peter as attempting to add Torah obedience to Jesus’ Gospel message, thereby turning away from the message of hope and grace — which was really no good news at all.  Pennington describes Paul’s
continuous and persistent emphasis on the Gospel message in other letters he writes as well (pg. 5).  Second, Pennington highlights the weight and frequency of how the word Gospel is used in the Synoptic Gospels.  In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the word “Gospel” was used five, seven and ten times, respectively.  More importantly, Pennington says, is how and the word Gospel was used.  Pennington describes the phrase “the Gospel of the Kingdom” as Matthew’s desire to communicate the weight, significance, and centrality of the Jesus’ message of hope and grace for mankind (pg. 12).

Pennington goes on to discuss four areas that stood out to me that I want to highlight in the rest of this paper. These four areas are (1) Gospel reductionism, (2) the richness of having four Gospels, (3) understanding the larger framework of the Gospels, and (4) posture in reading the Gospels.

First, I believe, Pennington has found a deep need to communicate his message in the book because of recent trends in churches today.  He describes nine reasons why the Gospels are important.  Most pronounced to me was when he describes a form of Gospel reductionism (pg. 39). He specifically highlights Lutheran reductionism but I agree with Kyle Fever (Synoptic 1 Video) when he said during the lectures that other church denominations can engage in Gospel reductionism as well.    Pennington goes on to profoundly say “but movements over time always get dehydrated and reduced down to a bouillon-cube state so that they can easily be transferred and promulgated” (pg. 39).  For this reason, Pennington says, we need to study the Gospels wisely because they have been the central message of the Church throughout history (pg. 38).  In a related thought to  Gospel reductionism he describes how encountering Jesus’ true story and intent in the Gospels can help us grow instead of reducing scripture into “neat little boxes of truth” (pg. 48).

Second, Pennington describes a richness of having four Gospel books in the bible that one Gospel could not provide (pg. 70).  Each Gospel book has differences in wording and in the order of some of the parables and events of Jesus life. . He describes this as different “lines of sight” obtained from different perspectives (pg. 61).  By reading the Gospels horizontally (comparing the various wording of each Gospel parable in the various synoptic Gospels) we can gain a deeper meaning of scripture as we reflect on why each writer chose different words to describe similar events in the life of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, differences in order of parables tells us that the Gospel message cannot be interpreted exclusively through historical means, but we also need to interpret the Gospels theologically with an understanding that the intent of the Gospel writers was to highlight Jesus and His Kingdom and purpose (Kyle Fever: Synoptic 1 Video).  Pennington goes on to say that the gospel writers’ interpretations may not be to represent the “exact words” of Jesus Christ but they do represent Jesus’ “own voice” and intent.

Third, Pennington highlights the various approaches one can take to read the Gospels and discusses the “what strikes me” approach (WSM) vs narrative analysis of the stories.  He describes the WSM approach as “nugget hunting” for truth and says it can lead to missing the nuances and essence of the story itself (pg. 180). In contrast narrative analysis attempts to move beyond individual stories and bring into light the larger constructs of the story itself.   Narrative analysis would take into account things like identifying the rising intent and action of the story, the climax of the story, and finally the falling action of the story (pg. 173). Furthermore, we can observe broader items in the Gospels that he calls acts, cycles, and literary structures.  He describes this process as “panning out” to understand the bigger picture that the Gospel writer is trying to tell (pg. 187) so we can dig out the deeper nuances of the Gospel message.  Pennington concludes that we must not forget that the Gospel message and the parables are telling a bigger story that spans the entirety of the Gospel messages (pg. 189). Beyond that even the Gospels stretch across the entire canon of scripture (pg. 198).

Fourth, Pennington discusses the importance of the posture and lens of how we interpret scripture. Even though there is no one right way to interpret scripture he goes on to profoundly say that “the most important part of reading Holy scripture well is not our method or theory but our posture and goal” (pg. 137). By having the right posture and goal we will have a more productive reading and interpretation of the Gospel messages where we see nuance and the intended meanings and goals of the Gospel writer.

During the Synoptic Gospels pt.1 videos we had opportunity to apply some of Pennington’s thoughts to the book of Matthew.  I was struck that even in the geneology of Matthew there seemed to be purpose and intent that flowed into the message Matthew was trying to tell later in his Gospel.  Matthew chooses different people to include in the geneology (plus several women) than the other Gospel writers as well as different starting and stopping points of the geneology.  Kyle Fever highlighted some thoughts as to why and it was interesting that even in the geneology Matthew had significant meaning and purpose.

Kyle discussed how Matthew spanned across the canon in multiple prophecy fulfillments on the Old Testament (OT). Even in the geneology, again, there is much parallelism to the OT exodus story.

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Close-fisted vs Open-handed Christianity

Today my pastor used the analogy of close-fisted vs open-handed in a sermon to challenge what type of Christian we are.  He used the analogy to not  challenge the position or specific beliefs we have  …. but more to challenge the posture we have in how generously we behave toward our resources and others.

So as you think about  idea of close-fisted you think about someone ready to fight, close-minded, closed off, and trying to win.  When you consider the idea of open-handed you see a person willing to serve,  generous in his/her resources, open, and  worshiping.

I don’t normally blog about theological topics. Rather, I try to blog about things pertinent to me and others in the here and now.  I have intentionally taken a delayed approach on discussing Kim Davis, the government clerk that refused to sign marriage licenses because of her beliefs.

First, I want to say I respect Ms Davis for following her conscience according to her understanding of scripture.  However, and there many sincere people who will disagree with me on this, I believe the response by Ms Davis, (and especially those who use her position for political gain), falls far short of a faith used in wisdom, living in understanding of outsiders, and representing the grace, mercy, and love Jesus shows sinners and outsiders.   In many ways the Ms Davis situation reinforces a caricaturization of Christians that is far more focused on what they are against rather than what they are for.  It reinforces the stereotype of a Christian that is close-fisted in his/her approach rather than open-handed and willing to serve, listen,  understand, and love other sinners.  The Kim Davis situation (most specifically the in-your-face pep rally used for political gain) falls far short of embodying Jesus’ ethics and does not represent the Jesus I see in scripture.

Scott Sauls says in his blog on the topic:  http://scottsauls.com/2015/09/23/on-refugees-kim-davis-and-the-best-and-worst-ways-to-take-a-moral-stand/

Jesus never scolded or took a public moral stand against their ideas or practices. Instead, he won each person over with a love more compelling than the empty love that they had been chasing prior to encountering him.

So its important as we grow in our faith, to grow not only  in our understanding and position, but also the posture we have toward outsiders and people we disagree with.   To be an open-handed Christian and not a close-fisted Christian.  To be like Jesus when it seems hard to do!

Both our position AND our posture matter!

Peter or Paul?

In the book of Galatians Paul, an almost Apostle, challenged Peter, an apostle, for not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel (Gal 2:14).  I want you to understand the potentially scandalous charge that Paul was going to make against Peter.   You see Paul, at this point, was an outsider to the inner circle of the Apostles, After becoming a follower he immediately left to promote the Gospel to the gentiles… without ever corroborating his understanding of the Gospel with  the rest of the Apostles,  Now, after several years and after  promoting the Gospel to the gentiles,  Paul is about to challenge Peter, a person that walked and was taught personally by Jesus himself, for not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel. This could have been a scandal if done in today’s Church.

I want you to consider the gravity of this. First, lets discuss Peter.  Peter is one of the Apostles where you learn more from his mistakes than you do his teachings in Scripture.  Peter, of all the Apostles was not the sharpest tool in the shed.  He denied Christ three times and now was sent off to do ministry and now Paul was challenging him for not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel. Wow!

However, Christ also said that Peter was the rock on which He would build his Church.  Jesus was going to build his Church on Peter and people like Peter.   I do ministry with Men struggling with various issues,  Due to the nature of their issues, its unfortunate that I have to tell them to find more Pauls in their lives that do not twist the Gospel message of Jesus Christ so that they are not rejected and fall deeper into their sin. Don’t get me wrong …. the Peters of the world often mean well and God will use them in great ways,,,, but for a season of life we just need more Pauls in our life than Peters.

Perhaps  you know Christians like this… ones where you can learn more from their mistakes than their words.  They understand right from wrong and the they understand Gods standards,   I am sure they have a tone of truth that is ethical and moralistic,,,, but they also do not act “in line” with the truth of the Gospel.

What do you do so you don’t get duped into acting outside of Paul’s teachings….. so you don’t pull a Peter.   When the stresses of life come in … do you act like a Peter or Paul?

Today I am thankful for how Peter was used as an example of how to not act and as an example of Gods sovereignty as God used Peter in great ways.  I am also thankful for Pauls correction of Peter and for Paul pointing us to the Gospel with divine words.

Simul justus et peccator — Simultaneous Righteouss and Sinner

Simul justus et peccator

(Latin simul, “simultaneous” + Latin justus, “righteous” + Latin et, “and” + Latin peccator, “sinner”)[10]

From:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theology_of_Martin_Luther

Roman Catholic theology maintains that baptism washes away original sin. However, “concupiscence” remains as an inclination to sin, which is not sin unless actualized.[11] Luther and the Reformers, following Augustine, insisted that what was called “concupiscence” was actually sin. While not denying the validity of baptism, Luther maintains that the inclination to sin is truly sin.[12]

“Simul justus et peccator” simply means that a Christian’s righteousness or justification imputed in baptism is a gift of Christ, freely given despite the sinner’s condition. The doctrine of “simul justus” is not an excuse for lawlessness, or a license for continued sinful conduct; rather, properly understood, it comforts the person who truly wishes to be free from sin and is aware of the inner struggle within him. Romans 7 is the key biblical passage for understanding this doctrine.

Luther also does not deny that the Christian may ever “improve” in his conduct. Instead, he wishes to keep Christians from either relying upon or despairing because of their own conduct or attitude.


Living with a Gospel Gap: The Ampersand of our Faith

The Gospel (The Good News) of Jesus Christ tell us…

(Part 1) We are more sinful and weak than we ever cared to admit

and (&)

(Part 2) We are more loved and accepted than we ever dared to hope.

So I find myself writing this on the Eve of Christmas Eve. I do not fully understand why this has been in my thoughts recently.

As I have lived my life I have noticed that many people understand sin.  Also, many people understand how high, deep, and wide Gods love is for us (Ephesians 2).  Many churches, religious institutions, and groups of people quite often have a “lens” in which they interpret scripture that are either more centric of part 1 or more centric on part 2 of the Gospel message.  However, the stories of scripture often reflect a much more complex and dynamic truth than than either just part 1 or just part 2 of the Gospel alone could ever describe,  Some of the theologians in todays world that may be labelled as “new age” or “emergent” are often in love with love as their primary lens of interpreting scripture. Other people or churches are legalistic or black and white , pointing out the sins of other people and how bad and ungodly that sin might be.

In the Gospel definition above there is an ampersand! We are both loved and sinful. This gives rise to very complex truths such as in MY weaknesses (and sin) I see the power of God in the gospel  — that he would come to me while still a sinner.   It is the ampersand that makes the gospel electrifying!

Many people understand the truth of part 1 of the gospel  and many people understand the truth of part 2 of the gospel. It appears to me that as people relate to other groups slightly different, often with different sins — that it is much more difficult to embrace the ampersand in the Gospel.  I call this living with a gospel gap in our faith.  This gospel gap basically means we have not come to grips with the ampersand of the gospel message.

There are a lot of good ampersand examples in scripture.  My favorite is the example of King David.  King David in what I call “Bathsheba Gate” had an affair with Bathsheba and plotted and killed her husband but was also called a man after Gods own heart.  He was used mightily to advance Gods kingdom. KIng David was an adulterer and (&)  a man after Gods own heart!

My wife and I facilitate Marriage Rebuilders, a ministry for broken and struggling marriages. Quite often a spouse might say how can he/she love me but also he/she have an affair.  Learning to understand that we can love another person and(&) be pretty messed up is a difficult but necessary step a person must take in recovery of a broken relationship. Learning to understand the ampersand of truth allow the couple to start talking about difficult topics without engaging in black and white thinking. In other words the ampersand of truth allowed the couple to start talking honestly about their issues.  This honesty and transparency, if returned with honesty and transparency is the first step to regaining intimacy in Marriage.

If we embrace part 1 of the gospel (sin)  more than love we have no choice but to live with a legalistic system of thought. When people cross certain boundaries we have no choice but to look down on them. Quite often we throw out critical and hurtful labels.   Often we simplistically (and carelessly) caricaturize other groups of sinners.   At the extremes of this kind of thinking you may have religious bullying.  These people may have a network of broken relationships because they can not live as sinners who live with other sinners whose sin is different from theirs. Changes and growth are centered around trying harder and being more spiritual and more accountable. Gods grace and love have lost its electrifying nature and instead we engage in stoic religious processes to try to grow.

If you embrace part 2 (love) more than the fact that we are sinners you don’t see how electrifying Gods grace can be.  You see no reason to change and grow because Gods love does not challenge sin.

Living with a gospel gap (neglecting the ampersand of our faith) makes real honesty, change, and growth impossible.  We might be able to grow intellectually but personal, emotional, and psychological growth are not possible.

Think about the “ampersand moments” of your life.   The ampersand moments in life are hard… but they are important opportunities to grow and to learn self honesty.   Are there some ampersand moments in your life that you could share with someone else? Could this “ampersand story” be a blessing to them?  Finally, the ultimate ampersand is shown to us through the Gospel message that Jesus came us while we were still sinners!  Today,  lets fully embrace the Gospel!  Hallelujah!

Merry Christmas!

The Evils of Idolatry and Thoughts on Worship

When our culture is considered through the lens of worship and idolatry we see a deeper sin and a greater need for a Savior. This is because everyone everywhere is continually worshiping incorrect things, and idolatry is, sadly, only seen when we examine our hearts deeply. We often have too narrow an understanding of worship and sin and do not see that idolatry empowers our sin and provides the motives for us to sin.

One of the great evils of idolatry is that if we idolize, we must also demonize. Tim Keller reminds us that if we idolize our race, we must demonize other races. 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.

An understanding of the nature of the Idolatrous heart then not only gives us the ability to see to the motives under the easy to see sins of money, materialism, sex, self-righteousness and power … but it also allows us to see the motives that drive the sins that also are not quite as devastating. It allows us to see the motives behind the sins that turn good things into ultimate things. Our hearts indeed turn easily to other gods.

If we understand this then we begin to have a fighting chance to have “heart based” change and sanctification. We see our need for Jesus … not only in our need to go to heaven…. but we also see our need for a Jesus that changes and grows us. Gods grace on the cross then does not become just an event that gives us a “ticket” for heaven but it also becomes the center of growth and change.

By looking at idolatry, sin, and worship of the heart in a deep way we don’t offer people a “system of redemption” and just some advice that stems from a mound of ideological insight and principals. Change does not come from the mound … it comes from a man. We offer a redeemer that glares at the heart of our idolatry and we finally have a chance at real, lasting change as a result.

The cosmic dance of life

My wife and I are taking dance lessons again.  A couple of years back we learned west coast swing.  Now we are learning a slow dance called night club 2 step.  I really like it. Not only does it give the two of us something  to do during our long winters in Minnesota, but I also love the symbology of dancing and how it is a communication style of  non verbal cues  between 2 people.  The entire dance hinges on a “connection” between 2 people.  For the dance to succeed in looking like a dance it requires some very basic skills of highly subtle communication. Once those basic skills are mastered you can move on to more “styling” in your dance.

For the dancing to start being successful it requires 2 things. First, I need to communicate the dance moves to Sue in a way she understands.   In dancing a lot of these are subtle things you do to communicate your intent.  This connection between 2 people is what makes the dance work.  If the leader gives the wrong understanding to the follower it does not look like much of a dance. If the follower back leads the dance it is not very much fun for the leader and its definitely not how dancing was designed to be like.

Second, to move on to where the dance really looks good and start making progress Sue needs to feel safe in the dance communication going on between us.  If that safety is not there she is not willing to move on to learning the next thing to make dancing even more fun.  Furthermore, A lack of safety sucks the fun right of out dancing for me and her.

Those are the building blocks of dancing. Communicating  our intentions with understanding  and providing a safe environment where can grow and move on to more advanced and more fun dance moves!!  Growing with my wife is is much like dancing.   Intimacy and closeness with  my wife requires understanding and safety. Safety and understanding are the building blocks of intimacy and both, like dancing, require effort and intentionality as we take specific steps to grow together.  To communicate with understanding and safety requires some very deep roots in Gods love and mercy because, quite often it is NOT safe to communicate our shortcomings and vulnerabilitites to other sinners.  Also, we strive and work hard to protect our image of performance as a good performing employee, nice person, or moral achiever.   We communicate our strengths but.. gasp!…. never our weaknesses.   When we live up to our performance expectations we feel good about ourselves and when we don’t we feel like failures.

However, when we create an environment to safely share our weaknesses (James 5:16) and we live with the grace and mercy narrative of the cross  in how we behave toward other sinners we have the recipe for growth and change and finally have a chance at …. real intimacy.  This intimacy is not rooted in the performance and expectations of the other person but it finally has real understanding.  It loves progress but does not demand perfection.   We can put finally put down the performance achievement mask and be real with each other.

Finally, intimacy must be about something shared.  For years as Sue and I were raising the kids we seemed to be on separate missions.  Our shared lives were dismal as I became rooted in my job and she became more rooted in the children.  So what are you sharing? For Sue and I we now share workouts together, walks, devotions, a few games, some deep conversations and of course … we are trying something new …. dancing.

As we enjoy our new dancing skills I also have a vision I established about 5 years ago that I am temporarily calling for this blog topic  “the cosmic dance of life” . <—Link

Merry Christmas to you all!