Monthly Archives: December 2006

 

Dec

30

2006

Trevin Wax|1:34 pm CT

Death of a Dictator

2_63_123006_saddam_noose.jpgWhat is the Christian response to the death of an earthly tyrant? Surely we are not to delight in the death, any death, of another human being – one who bears the image of God. And yet, it seems that at least a measure of justice has been carried out. We acknowledge (with a mixture of sadness and relief)  that one responsible for so much death and terror has been punished.

Some may question the purpose of an execution, especially a public one. Corina and I were discussing the event this morning, recalling the overthrow of the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in the final days of 1989. The images of the Romanian dictator and his wife being shot to death in a courtyard were seared into the consciousness of my wife, who was only 9 at the time.

250px-ceausescucourt.jpgBut those images, haunting and gruesome as they were, had to be released. Otherwise, rumors would have continued to persist that maybe Ceausescu had escaped. Perhaps he was planning to take over the government again. Maybe he was secretly watching to see who was supporting the revolution, and then plotting the moment he could pounce on those who had desired freedom. The people were gripped by the widespread fear that Ceausescu would soon restore his reign and mete out his “justice.”

For a people who have lived in terror and oppression under a dictator’s thumb, only the death – the public death - of the leader will suffice. Any other solution simply creates the ghastly ghost of a tyrant, a ghost whose shadow can loom greater than his existence.

Jesus’ death on the cross was perhaps the most unjust sentence ever carried out, for He, the innocent One, was condemned to die the brutal death of a criminal. And yet, the cross is where true justice took place, where injustice and sin and Satan were defeated at their own game. The cross is where satisfaction was made, where forgiveness was purchased, where reconcilation was put into effect.

stjamescross.pngThe resurrection brought the defeat of death itself. Christ’s cross and resurrection represent the triumphant victory of God – the defeat of Satan, the tyrant whose influence is greater and more deadly than any earthly ruler that may come to power. The cross, the very instrument upon which Jesus was hoisted up as a public spectacle, the punishment that defied anyone to argue with Roman power – that cross was actually the place where God turned the tables, ”disarming the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (Col. 2:15)

For those who have lived under the tyranny and oppression of the Evil One, enslaved to sinful and selfish desires, nothing else will do but the glorious, public defeat of evil that took place in the cross and resurrection of our Lord.

written by Trevin Wax. © 2007 Kingdom People Blog

 
 

Dec

30

2006

Trevin Wax|8:23 am CT

Hodge on the Gospel

The gospel is so simple that small children can understand it, and it is so profound that studies by the wisest theologians will never exhaust its riches.

- Charles Hodge

See other Quotes of the Week

 
 

Dec

29

2006

Trevin Wax|8:21 am CT

My Thoughts on "Bruchko"

bruchko.jpgBruchko is a fascinating glimpse of a missionary’s firsthand account of contextualizing the Gospel message for a primitive culture. Bruce Olson’s years of ministry experience provide an intriguing story peppered with nail-biting suspense. His book is meant to be an autobiographical account of his life, and to this extent, it succeeds.

Olson gracefully takes the reader through the twists and turns of his missionary adventures. He does not shy away from the unpleasant or unflattering moments, recounting his bouts with severe diarrhea, hepatitis, and parasites. He is also remarkably honest about his impulsive attitude and his often irresponsible actions. Though Olson is the hero of his book, he does not paint a perfect portrait of himself. His self-effacing honesty is refreshing and helps the reader avoid seeing Olson as a super-spiritual saint.

At the same time, Olson does not shy away from relating his strengths in ministry. He describes forthright his talent for mastering different languages and his ability to assimilate into foreign cultures that often required him to associate with people who held opposing viewpoints. He also writes of his ability to overcome his initial distaste for certain Motilone practices.

Olson’s book raises several thought-provoking questions regarding missionary proclamation of the gospel. First, I was left wondering how much time is necessary for assimilation into a culture before gospel proclamation can or should begin. Olson spends years with the Motilone Indians (two-thirds of the book) before he ever begins to witness. Of course, these years are not wasted. Olson is busy learning the tribe’s language and customs. He is adjusting to their food and their way of life. Only once he has completely gained their trust does he attempt to share the gospel, and even then, this takes place when he is prompted by an external circumstance and not his own plan.

The narrative plays out in such a way that one would doubt that the gospel message would have been effective any other way. The way Olson describes his experiences leads one to believe that had Olson not taken those years of preparation, in which he did not share the gospel story, his message would have been misunderstood and rejected by the natives. Is this the biblical picture of evangelism?

I do not call into question the amazing work that the Lord has done through Bruce Olson. It is evident that God used him mightily to reach the Motilones. However, Olson’s fascination with tribal customs and traditions and his reticence to speak the gospel truth during his first few years with the Indians raise concerns. One would assume that a missionary would be eager to share the gospel at the moment he or she feels able to communicate freely within the linguistic and cultural context of service. Olson does not justify those years of silence, and in fact, he raises the same concern himself.

The second question that arises from Olson’s narrative concerns the nature of the gospel event. The book’s climactic chapter is titled “Jesus the Motilone,” and it recounts Olson’s telling of the gospel story and Bobby’s subsequent conversion. Olson’s contextualization of the gospel message for the primitive Indian tribe is ingenious. He uses Motilone language, myths, fables, and lingo in order to make the message accessible to the people. Olson effectively communicates the theology of the gospel proclamation.

Yet, missing entirely from the discussion is the historicity of the gospel. Olson revels in the fact that the Motilone Indians picture a Jesus who “had dark skin… wore a G-string and hunted with bows and arrows. Jesus was a Motilone”.

Is this the correct way to share the Gospel? There is no relation of Old Testament history or the Creation and Fall. Olson’s Jesus could have lived in any time in any place and been any nationality. In some sense, it is true that Jesus could have come from anywhere. But He did not. Jesus was a Jew from first-century Israel. In the book, Olson does not correct the misconceptions that the Motilones have of the historical Jesus. Instead, he delights in those misconceptions as evidence of his effective contextualization of the gospel message. This quandary is, at least, partly resolved as Olson eventually translates the Gospel of Mark and Philippians.

A third question arises regarding the nature of Indian culture. I was disturbed by how many of the Indian customs went unchallenged by Olson. Especially disconcerting is the Motilone tradition of lifting a corpse to the sky to be eaten by vultures. Olson explains that the tradition is meant to display the departure of the soul to the place “beyond the horizon”. Olson describes it in detail several times, before eventually stating that he plans on having the same thing done to him when he dies. Is this custom morally neutral? I admire Olson’s respect for the native culture and traditions. However, historical Christianity has promoted the practice of burial, in anticipation for the resurrection of the body. These and other theological concepts are not discussed by Olson. The important thing is the “soul,” and not the body. A concept more Gnostic than Christian.

Olson does not counter the Indian customs with the gospel message. He preaches a personal conversion that comes about through faith in a personal Lord. Because of this, Olson’s gospel is somewhat truncated. Jesus is a nonhistorical figure whose story brings about personal transformation but leaves most cultural assumptions largely intact.

Bruchko deserves to be read by all missionaries who are seeking to be culturally relevant in the society to which God has called them. Olson’s passion for the Gospel and his love for the Motilone people are clearly visible in his exciting narrative. Though Olson’s story raises many concerns regarding the extent to which we should contextualize the gospel, it forces the reader to ask hard questions and to wrestle with the implications of what it means to “be all things to all people.”

 
 

Dec

28

2006

Trevin Wax|8:49 am CT

Bruchko: The Story of Bruce Olson

bruchko1.jpgBruce Olson’s autobiography Bruchko contains much more than his life story. Olson’s work with the primitive Motilone Indian tribe of South America brings up missiological questions of utmost importance.

- What does the Gospel look like in a culture that is radically different from ours?
- What traditions and customs can a culture preserve while maintaining a Christian identity?
- How much do missionaries need to be immersed in a culture before they can effectively share the gospel? 

Today I will summarize Olson’s story, and then tomorrow, I will lay out some of my thoughts on Olson’s contextualization of the Gospel. 

 Bruchko tells the story of Bruce Olson’s difficult journey to the dangerous Motilone Indian tribe of South America, his assimilation into Motilone culture, and his role in the entire tribe’s conversion to Christianity. The book begins with Olson’s conversion experience. Raised in a legalistic Lutheran church with parents who were cold and indifferent to the Gospel, Olson embarked on a quest for genuine Christianity. He studied Greek and Hebrew and began reading the Bible in the original languages. Olson feared the judgment of God and was eventually driven to his knees in repentance and faith. His Lutheran church offered no support for Olson’s newfound personal faith, so he began to attend an interdenominational church.

Touched by missionary reports, Olson felt God’s call to minister to Indians in South America. When he was nineteen, Olson embarked on the journey that would change his life forever. He headed to South America with little more than the clothes on his back. Olson’s first contact with local missionaries was disheartening. The missionaries looked at Olson as an outsider and refused to include him in mission work because he had come without sponsorship. Instead of doing mission work from the beginning, Olson attended a university in Venezuela and began learning about the South American Indian tribes.

Months later, Olson set off into the jungle looking for the Motilone Indian tribe. He first came across the Yuko Indians. After spending a year with the Yukos, he ventured deeper into the jungle to find the Motilones. His initial encounter with the Motilones was frightening. He was pierced by an Indian arrow and later almost executed by the Motilone chief. Olson endured dysentery, hepatitis, and a chronic problem with parasites during his first few months in the jungle. However, none of these trials convinced him to turn back. Instead, they emboldened him to continue his work and to take joy in this time of “suffering” for the Lord’s work.

Upon his return to the Motilones, Olson received the name “Bruchko.” He began to accompany the men on their fishing and hunting expeditions. He slowly adjusted to the Motilone diet, and he began to pick up on the tribe’s tonal language. Still, he faced periods of discouragement as he did not know how to share the Gospel within this foreign and difficult context.

The turning point of the book comes from Olson’s befriending of a young Motilone warrior – Bobarishora (“Bobby” for short). As Bobby became a leader of the tribe, Olson’s influence expanded and his opportunities for service were multiplied. One such instance took place when an epidemic of pink eye hit the tribe. Olson obtained antibiotic cream for the Indians, only to find out that the witch doctor refused the outside help. In an ingenious attempt to win over the witch doctor, Olson purposefully contracted pink eye and allowed the witch doctor to treat him with his own antibiotic cream. From that time on, the witch doctor began to use Western medicines and the tribe took steps to better sanitation.

Olson’s opportunity to share the gospel came shortly after the experience with the witch doctor. In the jungle, he came upon several Motilone Indians who were digging a hole in an attempt to find God. Olson began to teach them about the incarnation and Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross. In order to drive home the biblical teaching about God becoming man, Olson told the Motilone fable about a man who became an ant. Bobby was the first Motilone to convert to Christianity, but it took several months before the rest of the tribe would make their decision. Bobby, as the tribe’s leader, sang the Gospel story as a chant, and his testimony influenced the other Motilones to put their trust in Christ.

From the moment of the tribe’s conversion, Olson speeds up his account and skips over years with very little detail. Bobby married and had children. Olson met and dated a girl named Gloria, who decided to work with the Motilones. Tragically, she was killed in an automobile accident shortly before they were to be married. Olson was also involved in international organizations as an advocate for the Motilones and their traditions. Olson’s discipleship of the Motilone tribe continued through his efforts to translate the Gospel of Mark and then the New Testament. Olson records his difficulties in translating the Bible into a tonal language and oral culture.

The final chapters take on a solemn note, as encroaching civilization begins to threaten the Motilone way of life. The book ends with the tragic death of Bobby at the hands of outlaws. An epilogue provides additional information on Olson’s work with the Motilones and the tribe’s preservation of its ancient traditions.

Click here to see my thoughts on Bruchko.

 
 

Dec

26

2006

Trevin Wax|8:54 am CT

My Favorite Reads of 2006: Top Ten Books

Here they are! Out of the 86 books I managed to read (and finish) this year, I have chosen ten that stand out as my favorite reads of 2006. This list differs somewhat from previous years. In 2004, several of the books were either New Testament studies or about developing a Christian worldview. In 2005, three of the books dealt with the Emerging Church. This year, I read more fiction and also began reading some literary classics. That explains the reason for three works of classic fiction on the list.

10. Exodus: Why Americans Are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity
- Dave Shiflett
Why Americans Are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity

Dave Shiflett’s book is a thoroughly engaging look at the dynamic of Christian churches in North America, and why conservative churches are growing while the liberal denominations continue in their state of perpetual hemorrhage. I was so engrossed by this book that I read it in one day.

9. Uncle Tom’s Cabin
-
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Uncle Tom's Cabin (Bantam Classics)

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book against slavery is deeply moving. Upon its release, it challenged the apathy of slave-owners and those who supported slavery by their reluctance to take a stand against it. Would that Christian writers today learn from Stowe’s example and write such a heartfelt book against the great moral evil of our day: abortion!

8. Why Men Hate Going to Church
-
David Murrow
Why Men Hate Going to Church

David Murrow gets to the root of the problem of why men hate going to church. His pointing out how Christian services have been “feminized” is scandalous. Nevertheless, I do not agree with the solutions he offers. There’s more that has to be done than simply tweaking Christian worship services so that men will “feel comfortable.” Still, the book makes my Top Ten list because it influenced me greatly this year by helping me begin to see the great problem of how our female-oriented lingo and practice turns men away.

7. Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today
-
John Stott
The Challege of Preaching Today

Yes, I know it’s now the 21st century. But John Stott’s book on expository preaching is a classic that should be read even into the 22nd century and beyond. Terrific insight. Great encouragement. The book makes me want to preach!

6. Les Misérables
- Victor Hugo
Les Misérables (Signet Classics)

Victor Hugo’s portrait of France in the 19th century is breathtaking. The sadness of the story is broken by brief, but beautiful glimpses of grace that remain unparalleled in classic literature.

5. Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers
-
Christian Smith, Melinda Lundquist Denton
The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers

This look at the religious life of American teenagers is both disturbing and promising. The writers’ conclusion is that American teens have a worldview called “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” The challenge for youth pastors and parents? Overhaul the current youth pastor system in this country and throw out our flawed presuppositions about youth education.

4. Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense
-
N.T. Wright
Why Christianity Makes Sense

A masterful apologetic for Christianity in our postmodern, post-Christian society. Wright infuses his work with warmth, illustrations, and historical research that make this book one not to be missed. As a side note, this is the only book this year that I read twice!

3. Being the Body
- Charles Colson and Ellen Vaughn
Being the Body (Colson, Charles)

This updated version of Colson’s The Body from the early nineties is better than the original. It is a clarion call for the church to engage the culture and for Christians to understand the importance of the local church.

2. Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be : A Breviary of Sin
-
Cornelius Plantinga
A Breviary of Sin

The most enjoyable (if that’s possible) book on sin that I’ve ever encountered. Plantinga focuses on the different aspects of sin, the ways evil manifests itself, and how we are all guilty. Prepare to see your need to ask for forgiveness.

1. The Chronicles of Narnia
-
C.S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Narnia

Last year’s Narnia movie, as well as my tutoring of middle-school kids this year, led me back to the Narnia series, now conveniently placed into a single volume. Once again, I was amazed by the spiritual depth of Lewis’ fiction, as well as the immense enjoyment I (as an adult) received from reading this series.

 
 

Dec

24

2006

Trevin Wax|11:22 am CT

Rejoice!

“Rejoice, you who feel that you are lost; you Savior comes to seek and save you!
Be of good cheer, you who are in prison, for he comes to set you free!
You who are famished and ready to die, rejoice that he has consecrated for you a Bethlehem, a house of bread, and he has come to be the Bread of Life to your souls.
Rejoice, O sinners everywhere, for the restorer of the castaways, the Savior of the fallen, is born!”
- C.H. Spurgeon, “Joy Born at Bethlehem”

 
 

Dec

21

2006

Trevin Wax|1:47 am CT

Our Anniversary

wedding-picture.jpg

Four years ago today, Corina and I were married in Oradea, Romania. La multi ani, iubito! I am blessed.

 
 

Dec

20

2006

Trevin Wax|7:41 am CT

Original Ending of Mark Found! (sort of)

ms2649s.jpg What happened to the original ending of Mark? Did one exist? If so, what happened to it? Where did the  the ending that we have in our Bibles today come from?

Last semester, I took a class on the Gospel of Mark. When we arrived at Mark 16:9-20, we began asking the question:  What do we do as preachers who preach whole books of the Bible? Do we stop at verse 8? Are verses 9-20 inspired… even if they were not found in the original manuscripts? And how do we handle such the technical issue of text criticism from the pulpit, without denying the authority and inerrancy of Scripture?

After reading dozens of books and commentaries that address this subject, I have come to the conclusion that there was an original ending to Mark’s Gospel. (This means that Mark was not trying to be a literary genius by leaving us with a clever cliffhanger. It also excludes the possibility that he was dragged to his martyrdom as he was finishing the Gospel.) For some reason, in God’s providence, the original ending was lost.

The two endings found in our Bibles today assuredly did not come from Mark’s pen. This is not a surprise. This was common knowledge from as early as the second century. The Church Fathers addressed the issue too.

So what was Mark’s ending like? I believe that we actually have the original ending to Mark, or at least its substance, if not its exact words. And it’s been in our Bibles all along. Since Matthew follows Mark faithfully through most of his Gospel, it is not a stretch to see that his use of Mark continues right through the end of Matthew’s Gospel, albeit with some minor changes.

So… I am offering here what I believe the original ending of Mark would have sounded like, based on the way Matthew often revised Mark.

16:8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for fear and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
       And immediately, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
       Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted. And Jesus rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart. And he said to them, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 It may seem short. (After all, it’s shorter than the extra ending we have in Mark, and also than Matthew’s ending which includes the report of the guards). But it seems to me that this proposal is not too far-fetched. Obviously, we probably will never know until we meet Mark face to face and ask him ourselves. But honestly, I am surprised that with all the books analyzing how Matthew revises Mark, I have rarely come across the proposal that the substance of Matthew’s ending is a clear indication of what Mark’s original ending was like.

 
 

Dec

19

2006

Trevin Wax|8:03 am CT

5 Tips for Faster Reading

bookworm.gifI didn’t quite make my goal of reading 100 books this year, but I got close enough. The more you are in school, the more you have to read.  Here are some tips that have helped me read faster.

1. Use a bookmark or your finger.
    Studies show that the split seconds it takes for your eye to find the next line on the page add up and eventually slow you down. By reading with a bookmark going line by line, or with your finger at the start of each line, you can increase your speed.

2. Read the Introduction and Conclusion first.
   
This doesn’t work for novels and works of fiction, but it is very helpful if you are tackling an academic book. By knowing where the author is going, you can fly through the material at a much quicker pace.

3. Read blocks, not words.
   
Most people who read slowly are still reading word-for-word like a child who learns to read in elementary school. Faster readers are able to take in whole lines at one time. This is easier on the eyes, and it also helps one hurry down a page and still retain all the information.

4. Concentrate.
     Don’t try to do two or three things at once. Turn off the stereo. Turn off the TV. Shut out the noise, and focus on what you are reading. The faster you are able to read, the more you can concentrate. And the more you concentrate, the faster you can read.

5. Read a lot.
   
Don’t get out of practice. Always have a book in your hand. Don’t waste the time you spend in the doctor’s waiting room, or stuck in a traffic jam. Have a book handy, and keep the habit alive.

And I have one more (unofficial) tip to add. Learn a new language. For some reason, I began reading much faster in English after I had become completely fluent in Romanian.

 
 

Dec

18

2006

Trevin Wax|7:59 am CT

Forever and Ever, Amen.

This is the final post in a series on the Lord’s Prayer. To see all the posts in this series, click here.

“For Yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.”
- Jesus, The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:13)

The final phrase of The Lord’s Prayer resembles the last notes of a symphony, reviewing the musical movements that have come before. After praying for deliverance from evil, we, as followers of Christ, are called to remember that the Kingdom, power and glory belong to God alone.

 The Kingdom is not the United States or any other nation. The Kingdom does not belong to any one certain Christian denomination. It doesn’t belong to you or me! It doesn’t belong to the countries with the biggest military might, just like God’s Kingdom wasn’t Rome, Greece, Persia or any of the other world empires. Keeping in mind the prayer for God’s Kingdom to come, we state with certainty, “Yours is the Kingdom, Lord!”

Spiritual power comes not from our personal Bible reading, our prayer life, our knowledge, or our church attendance. Our own power is not what brings salvation. Deliverance from evil does not come due to our own strength. Remembering the weakness that we recognized when we prayed for deliverance, and our neediness when we asked for daily bread, we cry out, “Yours is the power Lord!”

The glory does not reside in the church that has implemented the latest church-growth scheme. The glory belongs not to the nation that can “shock and awe” win a war in another country. The glory doesn’t come to those who harp on “tolerance” and, with eyes closed to diversity, accept that all religions are basically the same. The glory doesn’t belong to the academics, the historians, the theologians, the greatest businessmen or even famous pastors. With one voice, Christians in all places and at all times, must be ready to shout, “Yours is the glory, Lord!”

The Lord’s Prayer closes with a startling reminder to keep our motives and actions in Kingdom-focus. The Kingdom is God’s. The power is God’s. To Him be the glory. Amen.