Monthly Archives: December 2008

 

Dec

31

2008

Trevin Wax|3:07 am CT

Interview with Tim Stoner 2: Longing for the Untamable God

tim1_041Today, I continue my interview with Timothy Stoner, author of The God Who Smokes: Scandalous Meditation on Faith.

Trevin Wax: You write about worshipping a God who “lets you drop,” who lets you get hurt. How does this view of God counter the popular belief that “God is always there for me”?

Timothy Stoner: God is not safe; nor can He be manipulated. He is perfect in His wisdom and love and knows much better than we what we really need. And He is not averse to allowing/causing pain, struggle and disappointments that He knows are essential for our maturation, growth, refinement and strengthening.

He tells us that He is like a gardener who will not let sympathy for his plants dissuade Him from trimming or cutting off (sometimes ruthlessly) branches that are unproductive or that are preventing maximum fruit bearing.

Because of our inveterate selfishness and idolatry it is not unusual for God to orchestrate deep suffering that we might learn to draw our comfort from Him alone and to shape us into vessels filled with comfort for others.

God is always there for me only in the sense that He is working all things: pain, sorrow, loss, sickness, defeat, sins and successes, together for my maximum good and His ultimate glory.

Trevin Wax: It’s interesting that you justify your belief in the exclusivity of Jesus Christ by turning to the marriage relationship. How has your understanding of marriage and covenant helped you grapple with Jesus’ exclusive claims regarding salvation?

Timothy Stoner: One of the most beautiful metaphors in the Bible for the relationship of God and His people is that of Bridegroom and Bride. Hosea is a prime example. The Decalogue and the book of Deuteronomy are replete with explicit and implicit declarations of the holy jealousy of God the lover for the exclusive devotion of His beloved.

There is nothing demeaning or improper about this depiction of God’s jealousy. Lovers are rightfully exclusive in their devotion. That is the nature of romantic love: there can only be one beloved. God, as husband, Lord, Master, King, Lover appropriately demands, expects, and urges the undivided deveotion and faithfulness of His bride for whom He gave up the best that He had—His only Son.

What we fail to note is that this demand for exclusivity is for our benefit more than God’s. Though He will not be diminished and damaged by our harlotry, we will be. So, it is a jealousy for the good of the beloved, not out of a selfish need to be loved. This helps me understand how salvation—the commitment to the Lord Jesus is like a marriage covenant entered into between the bride and her divine (royal) groom who has given up His life for the one He loves.

Trevin Wax: You write about the need for evangelicals to have a greater appreciation for art. How do we appreciate and create culture as evangelicals and still remain focused on personal evangelism?

Timothy Stoner: Good art can be a means of grace that points away from darkness and despair to hope and light. It can be a window through which humans can see the True, the Good and the Beautiful – all of which are signs pointing ultimately to Jesus the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Art can provoke dissatisfaction with the finite, the material, the earthly by evoking longing for our true home and our good Father. It can remind us that this world is not our home, that there is a reality that is more real and more substantial that stands behind this world. It can be a means to break down intellectual prejudices and crack open a window where grace can stream in.

Art can be a good gift that God uses in common grace to bless His creatures with joy, delight, pleasure. A gift that makes life livable and becomes another indirect means of leading men to repentance by goodness rather than severity.

Ultimately, these can all become instruments to lead men to Jesus. But evangelism is not the only justification for art. Sometimes joy can be grounds enough. Other times it is simply fulfilling the creation mandate to lovingly “name” the creation, blessing it by affirming its essential character, or fulfilling one’s calling to imitate God (knowingly or not) by bringing beauty and meaning out of chaos and disorder.

Trevin Wax: How does longing for God affect the way we live?

Timothy Stoner: David described his ultimate passion and his singular motivation as living in the house of the Lord all the days of his life, enjoying the sweetness of Yahweh and consulting Him in His Temple (Ps. 27:4 JB) The Psalmist tells us that he longs for God as a deer pants for the brooks of water in summertime.

Longing is another word for hunger. We live to satisfy our hunger. So we draw near to Him in prayer, in worship (corporate and private), in sacrament, in repentance, confession and submission. He is our highest good and our highest priority (our relationship with Him takes precedence). We feed on Him and ask to be made hungry for more.

We seek to live a life of prayer—which is very hard (we seek to live life in a conscious and purposeful awareness of His presence). We make choices to cultivate, not dull, or bend, or satisfy our hunger for Him improvidently. We tune our senses to be alert to His real presence in what He has made (creatures and creation). We cultivate eyes that see Him and ears that hear Him and hands that feel Him all around us.

We deny our fleshly appetites that tend to quench or divert our hunger for (and sensitivity for) what is Real and True and Beautiful. We live a life of repentance and humility, like little children we run to our Father, even when (especially when) we sin and disobey.

We make it our goal to make our Father look good. We brag about Him, who He is, what He has done and is doing. We earnestly desire that everyone love Jesus, the Savior and Lord we love, that all might serve Him, follow Him, acknowledge His beauty and goodness and extravagant, sacrificial love.

We seek in all things to live doxalogically: that He receive the maximum honor, praise and glory possible. What we long for is a world that is filled with white-hot worship of the One who alone is worthy. Our eyes are not fixed down, but up. We look forward even as we live in the present, because we know that His ultimate goal is to restore and reconcile all things to Himself, and we want to collaborate with Him even now in the interim between the already of the kingdom of God and the not yet.

 
 

Dec

30

2008

Trevin Wax|3:05 am CT

Interview with Tim Stoner 1: Emerging's False Dichotomies

tim1_04Yesterday, I reviewed a new book by Timothy Stoner entitled The God Who Smokes: Scandalous Meditation on Faith. Today and tomorrow, I am following up that review with a 2-part interview with Tim.

Tim was raised in Chile, South America where his parents served as missionaries. He spent his teen years in Spain. Tim has been married to Patty Grace Stoner for 27 years. They have five children, the youngest of which was adopted from Mozambique, Africa. They all live in Grand Rapids. The God Who Smokes is his first non-fiction work.

Trevin Wax: What’s with the title? Why “The God Who Smokes”?

Timothy Stoner: “A God who Smokes” speaks to me of both aspects of the character of God the Consuming Fire: His holy, passionate love and His anger.

As the Psalmist says: Righteousness and justice are the foundations of your throne; love and mercy go before you.

The column of smoke was grace in the wilderness—shade and direction. The smoke on Mt. Sinai was a mercy that protected the Israelites from the blinding brilliance of God’s glory.

We are told that when God is angry, fire comes from His mouth and smoke rises from His nostrils (Ps. 18:8) while Isaiah tells us that “The Name of the Lord comes from afar with burning anger and dense clouds of smoke.” Smoke in the book thus represents God’s goodness and severity.

Trevin Wax: You write about being “Emergent” before it was cool, but now that Emergent is cool, you no longer consider yourself “Emergent.” What aspects of the Emerging Church do you appreciate?

Timothy Stoner: I appreciate Emergent’s critique of a tendency within certain streams of fundamentalism and evangelicalism toward a divisive, narrow intolerance of those it considers enemies, and a mean-spirited, fear-based rejection of culture which it considers synonymous with “the world”.

I affirm its emphasis on wholistic and integral mission and its priority for justice and mercy.

I also believe its call to affirm the goodness of the creation, the value of listening to and respecting those who hold divergent opinions to be a very healthy and helpful corrective.

Trevin Wax: So why would you distance yourself from the movement today?

Timothy Stoner: I disagree with its equating authority with oppression, eliminating the element of wrath from God’s character, deconstructing the gospel so that it centers around politics (Jesus died to subvert a cruel, violent oppressive system) and ethics (the purpose of the cross was to give us an example to follow) rather than being essentially about man’s sin, God’s mercy, justice and glory in paying for man’s redemption and appeasing His wrath that rebels might be forgiven and restored. I also find no biblical warrant for its denial of an eternal hell for unrepentant sinners who persistently reject God’s love in Christ.

Most troubling is its universalist trajectory which denies the exclusivity of faith in Jesus and provides a back door to salvation for the sincere who do good. This is, of course, an utter denial of the necessity of the Cross.

Since my book is intended to provoke a dialogue about this theological movement, let me add the following critique which I think is quite ironic. Whereas Emergent promotes the virtues of tolerance and a generous inclusivity as its highest virtues, it seems to me to be surprisingly reactionary and polarizing. It majors in creating false antinomies: forcing choices between supposedly mutual exclusives. In other words, it is as divisive as the tradition it is most repelled by.

Trevin Wax: Can you give us some examples of these false choices?

Timothy Stoner: First off, there are the Emerging Church’s false antinomies (driving a wedge between concepts that only appear to be opposites):

  1. The Gospel is about a person, not a message.
  2. The Gospel is an event to be proclaimed, not a doctrine to be professed.
  3. The message and its interpretation is fluid, not static and solid.
  4. The Gospel is about behavior, not belief.
  5. The Gospel is primal/elemental (ancient), not European/sacramental (antiquated).
  6. The Bible is a human book, not an utterly unique, divinely inspired revelation from God.
  7. The church is for the lost, not the found.
  8. Life is about searching (pioneer), not finding (settler).
  9. Evangelism is about saving the world, not individual souls.
  10. The Bible is about stories (indicatives that describe), not prescriptions (imperatives that prescribe).
  11. God cares about the boardroom, not the bedroom.
  12. Jesus came to set an example, not appease the wrath of God.
  13. God is a God of love, not judgment (because He loves He does not hate).
  14. Those who teach or believe other “stories” need to be respected, not converted.
  15. We are to love the “world”, not hate it.
  16. Our posture toward culture is to affirm it, not critique it.

But then, as if to counter its imbalance, it careens off track by over-compensating, for it brings together things that are not the same.

Its false synonyms (equating concepts that only appear to be similar):

  1. Anger with abuse.
  2. Authority with authoritarian.
  3. Confidence with smug.
  4. Fundamentals with fundamentalism.
  5. Judgment with judgmentalism.
  6. Correction with criticism
  7. Power with oppression.
  8. Fervor with fanaticism.
  9. Militancy with militarism.
  10. Uncertainty (ambiguity, doubt) with humility.

Tomorrow, I will post the second part of this interview with Timothy Stoner.

 
 

Dec

29

2008

Trevin Wax|3:05 am CT

Book Review: The God Who Smokes

Scandalous Meditation on FaithTimothy J. Stoner acknowledges the validity of many of the concerns raised by those in the Emerging Church. But unlike some in the Emerging movement, Stoner is able to address these concerns without abandoning historic Christian convictions. 

His book, The God Who Smokes: Scandalous Meditation on Faith (NavPress, 2008), is thoroughly enjoyable on a number of levels. First, it is very well-written. Secondly, it uses humor as a way to communicate serious truths. And best of all, Stoner uses personal stories to help him make his case.

Tim Stoner is a dad who has seen the Emerging Church up close. A Michigan native, he has witnessed the rise of Emerging preacher, Rob Bell (who might resist the label, but seems to fit the description nonetheless). But curiously, Stoner confesses:

“I was Emergent before it was cool. Now that it’s cool, I’m not.” (109)

Stoner’s negative view of Emergent does not lead him to bash those who advocate Emerging theology. In fact, he appreciates many aspects of the Emerging conversation.

But Stoner believes the Emerging movement ultimately delivers reductionistic picture of God. He worries that the Emerging Church downplays the wrath of God and leads to a lopsided vision of God that ignores essential aspects of his character.

“We are not only invited guests but the blushing Bride. And our Groom is a heroic King, a mighty warrior who is good and just and stunning in his beauty. He is so full of passion and blazing emotion that he burns – and yes, smokes in the ferocity of his infinite, holy love that compelled him to give it all away for his Bride. And he who gave it all for us is worth giving ourselves completely to.” (14)

So we worship a God who smokes – a God whose passionate jealousy for the glory of his own name is an integral aspect of his glorious love for creation.

Stoner is a terrific writer. I think I enjoyed the writing of this book as much as the concepts. His choice of words causes images to leap from the page. Take this for example:

“From [Jesus'] carpenter’s tool belt there also hung a sword.” (31)

Or this:

“Life is not a riddle, but a romance.” (67)

Or this description of God in his glory:

“God really believes that he is the most worthy, most majestic, magnificent, glorious, stunningly beautiful being in the universe. And he is fixated on the certainty that only he deserves worship – that to him alone belong honor, glory, and praise forever and forever. With red-rimmed, stinging eyes and burning hair, all we can say is – he is right. He is astonishingly beautiful, utterly majestic and perfect in the symmetries of justice and righteousness, knowledge, and wisdom. He is as hypnotically compelling as a surging forest fire and ten times as dangerous. He is out of control – ours, not his.” (83)

Stoner’s biggest criticism of the Emerging Church centers on the tendency for some Emergent leaders to negate the exclusivity of Christ for salvation. But Stoner does not argue for Christ’s exclusivity by turning to a couple of Bible texts. Instead, he shows how our understanding of the marriage covenant between the Church (the Bride) and Christ (the Groom) should influence our understanding of exclusivity.

In the end, Stoner does not base Jesus’ exclusive claims in philosophical speculation about there being “only one way.” He makes his case relationally, with the underlying message being this: you go soft on Jesus as the only way, and you are being unfaithful to your Groom.

The only thing I would change about this book is its length. Near the end, there are a few chapters about various topics unrelated to the main subject of the book. Stoner talks about the need for Christians to be “secret agents” in the art world. He also addresses issues of sexuality. I enjoyed these chapters, but felt as if they were a digression from the main theme of the book.

The God Who Smokes deserves a wide audience. Tim Stoner has accepted the Emerging invitation to dialogue, and what results is a picture of God that is more biblical (and exceedingly more satisfying) than the pictures painted by many in the Emerging Church today.

(Check out an extensive quote from The God Who Smokes here and stay tuned for a 2-part interview with Tim Stoner this week here at Kingdom People.)

written by Trevin Wax  © 2008 Kingdom People blog

 
 

Dec

28

2008

Trevin Wax|3:48 am CT

Teach Us to Count the Days

20-swan_mountain_range

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.

You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.

For we are brought to an end by your anger;
by your wrath we are dismayed.
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.

For all our days pass away under your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Who considers the power of your anger,
and your wrath according to the fear of you?

So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!

- Psalm 90

 
 

Dec

27

2008

Trevin Wax|3:45 am CT

In Jesus We See God

God wants to be seen and known in his Son.

Even though God is a Spirit and is therefore invisible, he has now revealed himself in an utterly unique way—by the incarnation of himself in his Son Jesus.

In Jesus we see God.

You don’t have to wonder today if there is a baby in the womb of a woman eight weeks pregnant. And you don’t have to wonder what it’s like. We have pictures and videos and models and detailed physiological descriptions.

And so it is with God.

You don’t need to be in the dark about God. He has gone beyond parchment and paper. He has gone beyond tapes and cassettes. He has gone beyond videos and even beyond live drama. He has actually come and pitched his tent in our backyard and beckoned us to watch him and get to know him in the person of his Son Jesus.

When you watch Jesus in action, you watch God in action.

When you hear Jesus teach, you hear God teach.

When you come to know what Jesus is like, you know what God is like.

- John Piper, “The Word Became Flesh”

 
 

Dec

26

2008

Trevin Wax|3:04 am CT

In the Blogosphere

Bad news for Narnia fans. Disney isn’t taking a voyage on The Dawn Treader.

Jared Wilson recaps his favorite posts from Gospel-Driven Church this year.

Why Rick Warren is worthy of honor.

Taking love for your cell phone to a new level.

Z interviews one of my favorite recording artists, Fernando Ortega.

Going to Seminary blog readers will be learning from the letters of Samuel Rutherford in 2009. Banner of Truth is helping out with a good discount.

Next week at Kingdom People, I’ll be interviewing Timothy Stoner, author of a new book called The God Who Smokes: Scandalous Meditation on Faith.

 
 

Dec

25

2008

Trevin Wax|12:17 pm CT

Christmas Giveaway Winner

jordan

toptenbooks2

Congratulations to Jordan Thomas of Memphis, TN. He is the winner of the Kingdom People Christmas Giveaway 2008. Jordan’s entry number (#269) was randomly selected this morning, so he will be receiving my ten favorite books of the year as well as an ESV Study Bible.

Thank you to all who participated in the Giveaway and Merry Christmas!

 
 

Dec

24

2008

Trevin Wax|3:08 am CT

Ponder

nativity-shepherds

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
- Luke 2:19-20

Why shepherds?

Have you ever wondered why a glorious host of heavenly angels put on their best celestial choir performance for a scraggly band of sheep-keepers? Why not for King Herod? Why not show up the rulers and astound Caesar in Rome? Why go to the lowest people on society’s scale of importance?

Like Mary, we should treasure the Christmas story and ponder these questions in our hearts.

The Christmas story shows us that God’s ways are not our ways. God does not save people on the basis of their earthly importance, physical appearance, wealthy status or position. God saves people on the basis of his mercy alone, and that means that even lowly, smelly shepherds are loved by God.

Once we ponder the Christmas story, we are immediately convicted of our tendency to “write people off” when it comes to salvation.

He’s too poor.

She just doesn’t have it together.

They are too addicted to drugs.

She would never come to church.

Aren’t you thankful that God didn’t write you off? That God reached in and touched you with his salvation?

Take some time today to ponder all that God has done for you. And then ask God to bring people into your life that you can spread the good news of salvation to.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for your coming at Christmas. Thank you for the salvation you have provided for a lowly, undeserving sinner like me. Help me to show forth your salvation to those around me in the coming year.

 
 

Dec

23

2008

Trevin Wax|3:17 am CT

Living Gently in a Violent World

The Prophetic Witness of Weakness (Resources for Reconciliation)Intervarsity Press is publishing a new series of books called ”Resources for Reconciliation” that pair leading theologians with on-the-ground practitioners. For example, put a missiologist and a missionary together and let them write a book. Or an academic expert on world hunger together with a person leading a hunger-fighting organization. It’s a terrific concept.

Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness is one of the first books in this series. It is written by Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier. Hauerwas is a well-known theologian, and Jean Vanier is the founder of L’Arche, a community that emphasizes the importance of the disabled.

L’Arche differs from other organizations by placing emphasis on communal life with the disabled, not merely work for them. Vanier’s organization is founded upon the belief that the weakest among us have something of spiritual and eternal value to offer us.

Living Gently in a Violent World intends to challenge our presuppositions. In the introduction, John Swinton writes:

“It is not the world of disability that is strange, but the world ‘outside,’ which we dare to call normal. It turns out that the world of disability is the place God chooses to inhabit.” (15)

I had hoped that this book would be a fresh look at how weakness challenges our world’s preoccupation with strength. After all, Christianity is the only religion that embraces the paradox of seeing strength in weakness, power in submission, gain in giving, etc.

Unfortunately, many of the distinctive Christian beliefs that undergird the pro-life witness of this book are swept to the side. Vanier embraces a bland ecumenism that sees everyone as “children of God.” His beliefs stem from a view of Jesus that does not always correspond to the Jesus portrayed in the Gospels:

“Jesus spent time creating relationships. That’s what Jesus did. His vision was to bring together all the children of God dispersed throughout the world. God cannot stand walls of fear and division. The vision of Jesus shows us that division is healed by dialogue and meeting together.”

Division is healed by dialogue and meeting together? Then why did Jesus die? Or take this: 

“Jesus entered into this world to love people as they are. The heart of the vision of Jesus is to bring people together, to meet, to engage in dialogue, to love each other. Jesus wants to break down the walls that separate people and groups. How will he do this? He will do it by saying to each one, ‘You are important. You are precious.’” 63)

No… Jesus brought people together by dying on the cross and rising again to new life. This type of cross-less reductionism is what makes Living Gently in a Violent World ultimately unsatisfying. Instead of grounding the work of L’Arche in the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection, L’Arche put down roots in the sands of contemporary psychology:

“The vision of Jesus is that we meet people at the bottom and help bring them up to trust themselves.” (71)

Ironically, much of the vision of Vanier and Hauerwas is distinctly Christian, even if the authors do not recognize its distinctiveness! Can you see Hindus embracing the untouchables in the way that Vanier lives with and serves the disabled? Can you imagine the secularist devoting his life to people without “meaningful life” according to our contemporary, merciless terminology? Not at all.

This book makes a powerfully pro-life statement: every life is valuable. Vanier peppers his book with good stories: a man staying by the side of his wife who is suffering with Alzheimer’s, people being transformed by the slow pace of the L’Arche community, volunteers discovering the value of every human life.

Living Gently in a Violent World communicates a distinctively pro-life point of view that shines the light of life in a dark culture of death. But the book’s Christian witness is muted by its theology. Living Gently ultimately negates the very distinctiveness that could have given its pro-life message the foundation necessary for true and lasting transformation.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2008 Kingdom People blog

 
 

Dec

22

2008

Trevin Wax|3:42 am CT

Book Review: We Become What We Worship

A Biblical Theology of IdolatryIn We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry (IVP Academic, 2008), author G.K. Beale teases out the implications of a truth he first discovered during an extensive study of the commissioning of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 6). Beale believes that one of the central aspects of Isaiah 6 is that “what you revere you resemble, either for ruin or restoration.” His book is an attempt to show how this teaching is woven into the fabric of Scripture. We Become What We Worship illuminates this teaching by presenting a biblical theology of idolatry.

We Become What We Worship relies heavily on intertextuality – a method of Bible study that combines grammatical-historical exegesis with canonical-contextual exegesis. Beale uses this methodology in order to persuasively demonstrate that the concept of idolaters becoming like their idols is one that appears throughout the Bible.

The most helpful section of this book is the chapter on Isaiah 6. Pastors and teachers will find Beale’s exegetical insights to be of enormous value. Next time I preach or teach on Isaiah 6, I will definitely consult this book again! Beale masterfully showcases the biblical allusions in the text, nuances that shed light on the passage’s context and meaning.

Another important insight I gleaned from Beale’s work concerns the Golden Calf narrative in Exodus. Beale shows how this pivotal event in Israel’s history is alluded to in many Old and New Testament passages.

Many readers may not have the stamina to persevere through the rigorous exegesis that forms the heart of this book. We Become What We Worship is definitely geared to the academy and not the layperson. But I highly recommend that pastors consult this book whenever they are preparing to preach on one of the texts that Beale exposits. We Become What We Worship is a terrific resource that shines light on many passages of Scripture.

written by Trevin Wax. copyright © 2008 Kingdom People Blog.