Monthly Archives: September 2010

 

Sep

29

2010

Jared C. Wilson|1:43 pm CT

An Improvement-Proof Gospel

And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me.
– Galatians 2:6

Oh, how I love Paul! He is hilarious. He is so cheeky. “Sure, sure. Peter, James, and John, those pillars, they seemed like somebodies, I guess.” Love it!

But is he being as disparaging as he appears? Not really, but sort of. Here’s Luther on this verse:

Paul disparages the authority and dignity of the true apostles. He says of them, “Which seemed to be somewhat.” The authority of the apostles was indeed great in all the churches. Paul did not want to detract from their authority, but he had to speak disparagingly of their authority in order to conserve the truth of the Gospel . . .
What they say has no bearing on the argument. If the apostles were angels from heaven, that would not impress me. We are not now discussing the excellency of the apostles. We are talking about the Word of God now, and the truth of the Gospel. That Gospel is more excellent than all apostles.

“The gospel is more excellent than all apostles.” Yes!

You know what? Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, John Piper, Mark Dever, Will Willimon, David Platt. These guys and more are (probably) better preachers than you and me. But if your gospel is the Bible’s gospel, their gospel isn’t better than yours. Same gospel. They can’t improve on it any more than you can defuse it.

If you’re a good preacher, you’re probably a better speaker than Paul — because Paul himself acknowledged he wasn’t an impressive speaker — but if your gospel is the Bible’s gospel, it is not your speaking that wakens hearts, but the same power the “unimpressive” Paul set loose.

If you know and speak the gospel, you are a channel for God’s destroying of strongholds and resurrecting of lives. Every Christian who can articulate the gospel has the launch code and access to the button.

If you preach the gospel, you wield the most powerful word in the universe. It’s not the gnosis of the apostles. It’s the resurrecting word entrusted to us all.

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Sep

29

2010

Jared C. Wilson|1:22 pm CT

Photo Contest: Win a Copy of Your Jesus is Too Safe

(Blog reader/commenter Spencer wins a copy of my book Abide: Practicing Kingdom Rhythms in a Consumer Culture for his winning idea for this contest to give away a copy of my book Your Jesus is Too Safe.)

How to enter:

Take a picture of a place or area where Jesus is portrayed as “safe” or not like Christ at all. Show me your found safe Jesuses.

You can either submit your photo by posting at your blog or Twitpic or Flickr or what-have-you and providing a link in the comments,
OR
You can submit your photo by emailing it to me at the address you see in the upper right sidebar profile.

Rules, etc.

Don’t pass off photos you find online as yours. You must take the pic yourself. C’mon, that’s not that hard.
Yes, you could probably successfully cheat by passing off a found photo online as your own, but don’t do that.
If you’re related to me, you can’t play. Sorry.

Deadline

Contest will end in roughly a week, or whenever I remember to end it.

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Sep

28

2010

Jared C. Wilson|9:17 pm CT

10 Reasons for the Institutional Church

“What other church is there besides institutional?” – Eugene Peterson

Entire books have been written on the subject of “the institutional church,” both pro and con, so I don’t propose to offer anything new or comprehensive with a blog post. But the urging to ditch the “institution” of the church just seems so plainly misguided I thought I’d offer some reasons for the good of the institution.

None of this is to say that institutionalization is good, of course, or bureaucracy or professionalization; the church is not essentially an organization but a people called out by God, saved by Christ into his kingdom and image, and powered by the Spirit. The institutionalization of the church is what happens when the Spiritual reality of what the church is disappears and all that’s left is the “local” expression/form. But local expressions/forms are important. Here’s, I think, why:

1. The New Testament presumes church governance
2. The New Testament commands church discipline
3. The New Testament designates insiders and outsiders in relation to the church
4. The image of “the body” presumes unified order
5. The New Testament churches had recognizable structures. The apostles sent their letters to somebody
6. “Spirit-filled community or institutional organization” is a false dichotomy that presumes the Spirit is powerless against institution
7. Logically speaking, there is no such thing as “no institution” except chaos or anarchy. Every community made up of people is institutional to some degree
8. That institution is not eternal is not grounds for jettisoning it. Marriage isn’t eternal either.
9. The subjection of kings and nations presumes institutional subjection to Christ and therefore that God works in, with, and through institutions
10. No one in 2,000 years has successfully cultivated an enduring institution-less expression of the local church

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Sep

26

2010

Jared C. Wilson|12:22 am CT

Even to the Uttermost Farthing

‘Would I know the fullness and completeness of the salvation God has provided for sinners? Where shall I see it most distinctly? Shall I go to the general declarations in the Bible about God’s mercy? Shall I rest in the general truth that God is a God of love?

Oh, no! I will look at the crucifixion at Calvary. I find no evidence like that: I find no balm for a sore conscience and a troubled heart like the sight of Jesus dying for me on the accursed tree. There I see that a full payment has been made for all my enormous debts. The curse of that law which I have broken, has come down on One who there suffered in my stead; the demands of that law are all satisfied: payment has been made for me even to the uttermost farthing. It will not be required twice over.

Ah, I might sometimes imagine I was too bad to be forgiven; my own heart sometimes whispers that I am too wicked to be saved. But I know in my better moments this is all my foolish unbelief; I read an answer to my doubts in the blood shed on Calvary. I feel sure that there is a way to heaven for the very vilest of men, when I look at the cross.”

—J.C. Ryle, “Calvary”

HT: OFI

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Sep

22

2010

Jared C. Wilson|1:49 pm CT

A Thick, Thick Heaven

Wim Wenders created a now-classic foreign film, Wings of Desire, several years ago in which an angel renounces his angel-ness to experience human romance with the woman he’d fallen in love with. (Wings of Desire was remade a few years later in the American film City of Angels, with Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan.) One of the major conceits of Wings of Desire was that, when an angel, our lover saw the world — and we saw the film — in black and white and shades of gray. When he gave up his “wings” and became human, the film turns to color to reflect his now fully-realized vision.

This is bass ackwards.

Only in the mind whose treasure is set on earth are the heavenlies seen as drab and the earth seen as glorious (by comparison). Our world is glorious, of course, because the skies declare the glory of God, the mountains and trees declare his majesty, and as Calvin reminds us, every blade of grass is meant to make us rejoice. But heaven is far, far better.

Our problem, then, is probably not that this fallen world is seen too beautiful (I could argue it’s not seen as beautiful enough, actually), but that we have a deficient view of heaven. It is more colorful than this world, not less. It is, as CS Lewis depicts it in The Great Divorce, thicker than our world.

Do you realize that Christ’s glorified body is in the heavenly space? His is a body that is tangible, real, space-taking. It can eat food and be touched. But it can also pass through locked doors, defy matter and space. Elijah and Enoch are there, in their bodies in some real sense.

Heaven is not some thin place, some cosmic hyperbaric chamber for disembodied spirits only. It is realer, truer, grander. Lewis may have captured the best illustrative parallel of how heaven “works” with his Narnia stories. Narnia is a real place with its own time, space, matter, contents. Narnia is bigger than our world but nevertheless within our world, or at least accessible within our world. It is not outer space, it is inner space but outsized space. Bigger inside than it looks outside (to steal from Lewis again).

The staggering beauty of this realer reality is that heaven is not a holding pattern but an approaching land. Our own world is groaning for our and its redemption, and in the consummation of the kingdom at the swiftly coming return of our Lord, every nook and cranny of this world will be restored, covered with the glory of God like the waters cover the sea. The new heavens and new earth will make this place more colorful, not less. Thicker, realer, truer, better. As I wrote in Your Jesus is Too Safe, heaven’s subsuming of fallen creation will be in “an eternal splash of glory the likes of which will make the aurora borealis look like a Lite Brite.”

Imagine there is a fuller range of more vibrant colors than our complete spectrum. Imagine a new creation. The Himalayas, the pink of dawn, Angel Falls, the emerald hills of Ireland, the “deep magic” of England, the pearl of Sudan, the coral reefs of Australia, the secret wonders of the Chinese wilderness, the crystal beauty of the Arctic — all pale signposts to the world that is coming.

We worship a God whose wonders we will marvel at for eternity, because eternity cannot exhaust his wonders. We’ve got a ten-dimensional Jesus in a heaven so heavy our thin space can’t conceal it much longer; it must crash into this world. Maranatha!

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Sep

21

2010

Jared C. Wilson|12:30 pm CT

How to Carry the Death of Jesus in Our Bodies When We Suffer

2 Corinthians 4:6-12

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

This is a beautiful, confounding passage. The image at work is the frailty of a clay vessel concealing a priceless treasure (“the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”). It is something eternally valuable placed inside something with an expiration date. We are dime store piggy banks holding within us the Hope Diamond. What Paul is getting at with this imagery is that when the jar is broken, as in suffering, the treasure becomes visible.

When we suffer, we show what we’re really made of.

The purpose of suffering for the believer, then, is to reveal this light of Christ, to reveal the image of Christ, and we do this first by suffering as he suffered, by being conformed to the image of the crucified Savior. But how do we do that? How can we actively engage, in the midst of our hurts and brokenness, in carrying the death of Jesus in our bodies so that the life of Jesus is visible in our bodies?

I look to the actual dying of Jesus for help. In his words from the cross, I see the means of dying and dying to myself in a cross-centered way.

1. Be Honest with God

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus is here quoting Psalm 22, and as I have argued in Your Jesus is Too Safe, I don’t believe God actually forsook Jesus on the cross, as Psalm 22 is not about being forsaken by God at all, but actually about God not forsaking his children. But the opening of Psalm 22 and Jesus’ words here are certainly about feeling forsaken. And in this we find the okay to be honest with God. Many times, either out of fear of the pain of further vulnerability or out of bad theology that tells us to put on a happy face or God won’t like us, we hold back from God, thinking we may leverage his healing or his comfort or his approval by sucking it up and pretending we aren’t hurting. But the psalmists don’t do this. The prophets don’t do this. And Jesus didn’t do this. You can’t hide anything from God anyway. He sees you’re hurting. Be honest with him. He can take it. Being honest with God is the way of holding no part ourselves back, the way of laying it all on the altar for his dealing. This is precisely what Jesus did, even in his anguish. We show that Jesus was real, in more ways than one, when we agree to expose all to God.

2. Forgive

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

One ironic way to embrace the power of God in the midst of hurt is to forgive those who have hurt you. Unforgiveness brews bitterness, which does not alleviate pain but exacerbates it. When we forgive our enemies and bless those who persecute us, we glorify God by acknowledging he is the sovereign Judge over all and that vengeance is his. And we highlight the treasure of Christ, who forgave all the way to death those who hate him.

3. Submit to God’s Sovereignty

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

This is the dying man’s way of saying “Not my will, but yours be done.” We may not know all the why’s of our suffering, but as Rich Mullins sang, “It would not hurt any less, even if it could be explained.” As Christians, what we can know is that God has purposed pain to remind us that the world and those of us who live in it are broken, fallen because of sin. We can know that “pain is God’s megaphone,” as C.S. Lewis reminds us, to wake up to the reality that something is wrong, that we are in need of a Fixer. And we can know, thanks to the revelation of God that is his written word, that the grand purpose of suffering for the Christian is to be conformed to the image of Christ. We can commit our spirit into the Father’s hands by ditching our pleas for fairness and trusting that God is revealing the treasure of Christ in our bodies through our bodies’ very decay. Let us look forward to the resurrection, when we will have new eternal bodies, powered by the Spirit and awash in the glory of the risen Son. Let us amen Job’s oath: “Though you slay me, yet will I trust you.” The sufferer who is able to say this makes Christ look big.

4. Center on the Gospel of Jesus Christ

“It is finished.”

The work is done. This is the great message of the good news: he has done it! (Also the final cry of Psalm 22.) We can hope in our suffering, then, that the finished work of Christ, when believed with our hearts, is a down payment on the work begun in us. The gospel tells us that we are forgiven from sin, that we stand under grace, that we have the blessed hope of Christ’s return, that we will be resurrected as he was, and that we stand to receive the inheritance of Christ’s rich presence in the new heavens and the new earth. The gospel tells us that God will be faithful to finish the work he started. So the fragility of our jars of clay is not just our winding down for the grave, but our winding up for eternity. When we center on the gospel as we suffer, we communicate as dying men to dying men that there is real hope for real people. We make Christ manifest in this witness. With Job we can declare, “Though worms destroy my body, yet in my flesh I will see God. My eyes will behold him.” And: “I know my redeemer lives and in the end he will stand upon the earth.”

If we can apply these words from the cross in our times of suffering, we can carry the cross-shaped death of Jesus in our bodies, thereby revealing that he who is the life everlasting is our true treasure.

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Sep

21

2010

Jared C. Wilson|12:02 pm CT

Quick Hits #10

#1 Zach Nielsen links to and reflects on a New York Times piece about why we don’t see as many people with Down’s Syndrome these days. The reason? Prenatal screening results in the murder of 9 out of 10 Down’s Syndrome babies in the womb.

#2 I don’t believe there is a “gay gene,” but supposing one is discovered — and while I doubt it’s existence, I also wouldn’t be inordinately surprised if “they” find one — I wonder if we may suddenly have some allies in the fight for the right to life of unborn children. Or, being the cynical poopyhead I am, I wonder if we might see hypocrisy on both sides, as previously pro-choice gay rights advocates become horrified at the thought of snuffing out “homosexual” fetuses while at the same time many professing Christians might be among those who would screen for this gene and secretly terminate their pregnancy to spare themselves potential heartache. Just thinking aloud here.

#3 Andree Seu of WORLD Magazine is a writer whose work I have enjoyed immensely in the past. Recently Seu has declared that Glenn Beck is a new creation in Christ and that he articulates the gospel more clearly than anyone she’s ever heard in any church. I’ve taken a lot of heat from fellow Christians and fellow conservatives for harping on the danger and the sin of this syncretism of evangelical faith with American patriotism, and I hate to say I told you so, but this is a prime example of what happens when America or “Judeo-Christian values” become the evangelical’s god. And of course in the places where critics are rightly rejecting Seu’s approval of Beck’s Christian faith, there are plenty of Christians all out of sorts in the comments, wondering how on earth anyone could possibly say a Mormon isn’t a Christian. The early church dealt with all this same junk, which is why we have the creeds. But the creed most American evangelicals care most about is the Constitution. It trumps anything else.

#4 If you put your treasure in anything temporal, you will always be fighting against rust and decay. It’s exhausting. Count me out.

#5 I am now 1-1 in both my fantasy football leagues, which is fine, since the 3 teams I root for (Titans, Patriots, Redskins, in that order) are all 1-1 themselves.

#6 If you haven’t registered for Lead10 yet, do so soon. Bob Thune & Bill Streger bringing the gospel thunder to beautiful Maine in the fall. Myself, Josh Cousineau, Mark Gedicks, et.al. rockin’ the breakouts. In the parlance of the times, it’s gonna be off the hizzy.

#7 I want to hold a Twitter or blog contest to give away a copy of Your Jesus is Too Safe, but I’m out of ideas. Help me out. Whoever has the best idea for a giveaway contest for YJITS — decided by me, of course — will get a free copy of my other book, Abide. To enter, leave a comment with your idea.

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Sep

15

2010

Jared C. Wilson|1:56 pm CT

Much More Rational, but Much Less Like a Ball

Miss Bingley: “Would not conversation be much more rational than dancing?”

Mr. Bingley: “Much more rational. But much less like a ball.”

– via Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise,
and apply your heart to my knowledge.
Proverbs 22:17

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Sep

14

2010

Jared C. Wilson|2:49 pm CT

Sowing Justice

At church on Sunday my friend Dan put Sarah Vowell’s humorous history of the Puritans The Wordy Shipmates into my hands and told me he thought I’d like it. I started it Monday afternoon and couldn’t put it down until late. One of my favorite passages so far is this:

When John Cotton’s grandson, Cotton Mather, wrote his Ecclesiastical History of New England in 1702, he told a story about [John] Winthrop that I would like to believe is true. In the middle of winter, Boston was low on fuel and a man came to the governor complaining that a “needy person” was stealing from his woodpile. Winthrop mustered the appropriate outrage and requested that the thief come see him, presumably for punishment. According to Mather, Winthrop tells the man,
“Friend, it is a severe winter, and I doubt you are but meanly provided for wood; wherefore I would have you supply yourself at my woodpile till this cold season be over.” And Winthrop then merrily asked his friends whether he had not effectually cured this man of stealing his wood.

I loved that. And it was fresh on my mind when my daily reading found me at Proverbs 22:8: “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail.”

I think the reverse can be true as well. “Doing unto others” is most certainly a way to sow justice. Winthrop here did not fail the measure of justice. Perhaps the thief deserved punishment, but Winthrop put a stop to his thievery by freely giving from himself what the thief was taking from another. In doing so, he doesn’t just put a stop to the thievery but he puts a stop to the need.

Isn’t this what God has done for us in Christ on the cross? He satisfies his desire for justice and simultaneously satisfies our need. That he does it in an unexpected way, offering the Treasure of his own storehouse, is part of the power of the gospel that bears fruit and grows. Let us enact living parables of Christ’s kingdom and Christ as King — which is what I think Winthrop did there — let us sow this justice, for whoever does so will reap a eucatastrophe.

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Sep

14

2010

Jared C. Wilson|2:18 pm CT

Quick Hits #9

#1 I carved out a couple of days two weeks ago to finish up my manuscript for Gospel Wakefulness. Then I got sick. Hoping to find another spot in my schedule soon to finish this thing up. I eager to get it to the publisher. If you’re so inclined, I’d appreciate your prayers in this regard. I am really hoping this book will be a blessing to many and I am grateful for Crossway’s enthusiasm about it.

#2 Scot McKnight asks Gospel Coalition/Together 4 the Gospel -type people if complementarianism is essential to the gospel. It’s a good question. He suggests the answer he’d like to hear. I find it interesting that 3 comments in — and several more thereafter — somebody’s already saying complementarianism is incompatible with the gospel. So I suppose the conversation’s kinda going the other way.

#3 Seen on Facebook: Instead of calling ourselves “pro-life,” how about “fetal-rights advocates”? I like it.

#4 Forget burning Korans. Let’s burn Ikea catalogs and 401K statements.

#5 Here’s a really good post from Bob Thune called “Maybe You Shouldn’t Plant a Church“. Very good words here. Bob himself makes allowance for exceptions, but I would just throw out that just because something is hard, doesn’t mean someone’s not called. Isaiah said “Here am I; send me!” and got sent to people who didn’t care and didn’t listen. To some extent, hardship is part of the package. But that’s a nuance and a caveat that doesn’t take away from Bob’s words of wisdom, and certainly it isn’t outside the scope of his post in any event.

#6 I’m still receiving emails from my Resurgence piece about New England as mission field. I’m not able to keep up with responding substantively to them all, actually. One difficult spot is having someone say “I’m in. What do I do?”, and I don’t know what to tell them. There are no jobs up here, so even bivo planters will be scraping up a living unless they have raised good support. Some of the churches up here, mine included, are just now working through how to facilitate plants, support plants, and plant plants, so the infrastructure and resources are not there yet to fund planters or plants. We’ll get there, but we need some real pioneers. The ground is hard too; don’t forget that.

I am grateful for your heart. I am praying for your will and endurance.

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