Monthly Archives: March 2011

 

Mar

26

2011

Trevin Wax|3:31 am CT

“He is a Talking God”

“The God of the Bible in the very first chapter is not some abstract “unmoved mover,” some spirit impossible to define, some ground of all beings, some mystical experience. He has personality and dares to disclose himself in words that human beings understand. Right through the whole Bible, that picture of God constantly recurs. However great or transcendent he is, he is a talking God.”

- D.A. Carson, The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story

 
 

Mar

25

2011

 
 

Mar

24

2011

Trevin Wax|3:44 am CT

Talking Technology with Tim Challies

A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to preach at a conference alongside some great speakers/thinkers, including uber-blogger Tim Challies. Tim and I have run into each other at various conferences, and we’ve often corresponded via email. But there is nothing like face-to-face, lengthy conversations. In a superficial sense, I knew Tim before the conference. But now, I think of him as a friend that goes beyond the blog world of cyberspace.

I give you the details of this account because it helpfully illustrates one of the main principles from Tim’s new book The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion. Tim points out the benefits and drawbacks from the onslaught of new technology in society. One of the truths you walk away with is that embodied presence cannot be replaced or replicated by online communication.

So today, I’m talking technology with Tim Challies in anticipation of the release of his new book, The Next Story. Zondervan has put together an interesting promotion for buying the e-Book version. For every 200 books pre-ordered, the price falls by a dollar. And no matter what price you order it at, you’ll get the lowest pre-order price possible. But right now, let’s get on with the conversation…

Trevin Wax: Honestly, Tim, I had no idea that your book would be as helpful as it is. My initial thought was, Another book on technology? At least, Tim will help us think theologically about it. But you do so much more than help us think theologically. You are not only increasing our awareness of new technology and how it shapes us; you are also getting into really practical things regarding the usage of technology. Give us a summary of the “three circles” you want us to live in.

Tim Challies: Thanks, Trevin. That’s good to hear. My challenge when writing about technology was to about topics and to write in such a way that the book would be relevant to all of us. My mother carries a cell phone everywhere she goes, has a Facebook account and uses the Internet on a daily basis. So she needs to know about technology as much as her grandchildren do.

The three circles is an illustration I use to represent experience, theory and theology.

  • We all have experience with technology; every time we check email or watch television or answer a call on a cell phone we further develop that experience.
  • Many of us have some theory of technology. Perhaps we’ve read a book by Neil Postman or we’ve seen a TV special on the subject. Along the way most of us have picked up some theory of technology.
  • But what few of us have done is consider the biblical perspective on technology, which means that few of us have a theology of technology.

If you put these three circles together in a Venn diagram you’ve got a space that overlaps all three of them. What I want people to do is to try to find that spot, that spot where they are integrating experience, theory and theology.

Trevin Wax: Here’s an example of how these three circles have affected me. Last spring, it was time to get a new cellphone. I upgraded to a Verizon Blackberry and started getting emails on my phone. For the first few weeks, the phone was a help. It kept me from being on the computer checking email. It let me know when there was an urgent email I needed to respond to, or just normal emails that I could respond to at my leisure.

But my experience with the Blackberry became increasingly distracting. I didn’t even realize it had gotten bad until I decided to stop taking my phone to church. There were times in church, or in the hall, or when walking, that I would notice this nervous tic of wanting to check my phone. But alas, it wasn’t there! It dawned on me just how much the technology had seeped into my life and changed my habits.

Tim Challies: That’s a common story. What we are really bad at doing is pausing to consider the implications a new technology before we introduce it to our lives. Technology theory will teach us that every new technology brings unintended consequences–secondary consequences that can have a profound impact on our lives. We tend to be myopic–we see only what’s right in front of us. What we need to train ourselves to do is to look farther, to try to see the greater impact of any new piece of technology.

  • What will it do to my time?
  • What will it do to my family?
  • When else will I use it?
  • What other purposes will I begin to use it for?

When we understand the biblical perspective on technology we’ll see that technology inhabits a fallen world. Technology is not evil, but it exists within an evil world and, therefore, will very often be used for evil (or by evil). Your cell phone is not bad and has no inherent morality. But it will lead your heart away from what’s most important if you don’t ensure that you remain its master. The cell phone, like the ground around us, will bring forth “thorns and thistles.”

Trevin Wax: Your advice reminds me about Andy Crouch’s “five questions” to ask about cultural artifacts:

  1. What does this artifact assume about the way the world is?
  2. What does it assume about the way the world should be?
  3. What does it make possible?
  4. What does it make impossible, or at least a lot more difficult?
  5. And what new culture is created in response?

We tend to think of new technology solely with the “what does it make possible?” category. Like with my phone: Wow! I can check my email anywhere now! We don’t always think through the implications of #4 and #5: What does it make difficult? (unhurried, undistracted time). What new culture is created? (a frenzied lifestyle). About the cell phone, you write:

“The cell phone, a device meant to enhance my communication with others, can increase my ability to communicate with those who are far from me, often at the cost of communication with my own wife and children – those closest to me.”

Tim Challies: Andy’s questions are good, and I can see McLuhan’s influence in them. I’m not really smart enough to read McLuhan, so I get his ideas filtered through Neil Postman. In that way he was quite influential in The Next Story.

But you’re right. We tend to go straight to question #3. And so do the advertisers. Apple is fantastic at giving us all kinds of possibilities for #3–”Use this new iPad and you can talk to your family using these amazing new video cameras (that we deliberately left out of the first generation iPad so we could make it seem like a triumph to add them in the second generation).” But if you go back to questions #1 and #2 you’d realize that cameras are more of a concession than a feature. We should want to be face-to-face rather than mediated via cameras and screens.

Trevin Wax: What do you think about how churches are using technology? Do you see more reflection there or less?

Tim Challies: Generally I think churches are very quick to see the benefits of any new technologies, but to ignore the risks. We’ll replace a hymn book with Powerpoint without thinking about the short-term or long-term ramifications of such a decision. That’s not to say it’s bad to switch to Powerpoint. Rather, it’s to say that there are always implications and we’d do well to think those through. Many churches broadcast their services across the city and onto screens in other locations. That is not necessarily a bad thing to do, but we ought to think long and hard before giving people a virtual preacher.

So I guess I’d see about the same amount of reflection which is to say, not a whole lot.

Trevin Wax: What do you hope the takeaway from this book will be? What’s the overall goal you hope it will accomplish?

Tim Challies: I was often asked that same question after I wrote The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment and I would usually answer something like “If people can take away that they are responsible before God to genuinely seek good from bad and right from wrong, I’ll be happy.”

When it comes to The Next Story, I will be thrilled if people walk away with a couple of practical ideas they can implement along with a change of thinking in their relationship to technology. If I can convince people to take just one day to think about the new iPad before they rush out to buy it, I think I’ll be happy. That’s especially so if they can now think in a distinctly Christian way about that iPad. “This thing is wearing its benefits on its sleeve (or on its box, as the case may be). But it inhabits a sinful world, so there is more to it than just those benefits. So what will the hidden cost be to me, to my family, to my way of thinking?”

Trevin Wax: Thanks for stopping by, Tim. And I look forward to more unmediated face-to-face talks in the future!

 
 

Mar

24

2011

Trevin Wax|2:19 am CT

Worth a Look 3.24.11

A lengthy article worthy of reflection by Gerald McDermott: “Evangelicals Divided - The battle between Meliorists and Traditionists to define evangelicalism”

Evangelical theology has long been divided between those who emphasize human freedom to choose salvation (Arminians) and those who stress God’s sovereignty in the history of salvation (the Reformed). Now this old division has been overshadowed by a larger division between new opposing camps we may call the Meliorists and the Traditionists. The former think we must improve and sometimes change substantially the tradition of historic orthodoxy. The latter think that while we might sometimes need to adjust our approaches to the tradition, generally we ought to learn from it rather than change it.

Ed Stetzer begins a blog series on how to offer criticism. Point #1: Critique What One Actually Believes

First, it is important, even essential, that criticism is done in such a way that the person being criticized would actually recognize his or her beliefs in that criticism.

The Humble Origins of 11 Chain Restaurants

They’re seemingly everywhere, yet they all started somewhere. Here are the stories of the humble beginnings of 11 chain restaurants.

Romania Pro-Life March:

The slogan of this year’s “March for life” is “Say YES to life!”. The main message will be focused on making people aware of the need to protect the unborn life, in a country with a sad history on the matter. Romania has the highest abortion rate in the EU and the second highest in Europe.

 
 

Mar

23

2011

Trevin Wax|3:46 am CT

Jonah's Twist Ending: Lessons from a Small-Hearted Prophet Swallowed by a Big-Bellied Fish

Jonah is best known for being the prophet who ran from God and was swallowed by a huge fish. But the point of Jonah’s story isn’t a simple morality tale: “Watch out! If you run from God, He’ll get you back… and it won’t be pretty.”

Instead, we see in Jonah’s life the contrast between the self-preserving actions of a prophet and the self-sacrificing actions of our missionary God.

We first meet Jonah in 2 Kings 14. King Jeroboam restored Israel’s border “according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, had spoken through His servant, the prophet Jonah…” (v. 25). Jonah was a son of Israel given a word from God about the distinction between God’s people and the outside world. Jonah’s message was encouraging: “God loves Israel enough to fortify the borders that will defend us from those who would oppress us.”

Next, God told Jonah to go to Nineveh. This time, the message wasn’t an encouraging word for God’s people; it was a message of judgment to wicked Nineveh. The Ninevites had earned a reputation for brutality and terrorism. When it came to Nineveh, prophets weren’t lining up before God, saying, “Pick me! Pick me!”

But God cared enough for Nineveh to warn them about the coming judgment. Jonah was the messenger God chose.

Jonah’s earlier role had been on defense: he built up the borders between God’s people and the world. This time, Jonah was on offense: he was to enter enemy territory and command a very wicked people to repent. No wonder Jonah got on a boat and headed in the opposite direction.

God didn’t leave Jonah in a state of rebellion. He intervened by sending a storm and a fish. Then, God issued the call again, and Jonah obeyed.

In response to Jonah’s preaching, all the Ninevites – from the king to the peasant – fell on their faces in humble repentance. Jonah became the instrument by which God orchestrated one of the greatest revivals in history.

One might expect the narrative to end with Jonah’s triumph. Instead, this book ends with a twist: God’s mercy made Jonah angry.

Slowly but surely, we realize the truth: Jonah hadn’t run away because he was afraid the Ninevites would reject his message. He ran away because He was afraid they would accept it! Jonah couldn’t stomach the thought that God might actually forgive these wretched people.

It’s easy to point the finger at Jonah’s small, unmerciful heart. But the moment we judge Jonah, we judge ourselves. All of us are naturally tribal, focused on ourselves, and our self-preservation. It’s God who breaks through our artificial borders and leads us out into the world with good news.

Jonah ran away from his enemies; Christ ran toward them. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Our tribal attitudes melt away when constantly exposed to the warm embrace of our missionary God.

 
 

Mar

23

2011

Trevin Wax|2:38 am CT

Worth a Look 3.23.11

The New Evangelical Virtues:

I have seen evidence of three characteristics that seem to pass as virtues today. In some parts of the Christian world, these are now embraced as Christian virtue: doubt, opaqueness, and an emphasis on asking rather than answering questions.

Challenges facing the Gospel Coalition:

Our theology, at its best, corrects us. When we really understand the gospel and our need of it, it will protect us from putting secondary things first, from idolizing people or ideas, or of devaluing others. We’ll allow Scripture to critique us, and we’ll be open to rebuke and correction - if we believe what we say we do.

Walden Media has confirmed that Narnia 4 will be The Magician’s Nephew instead of The Silver Chair:

Looking ahead, Walden Media believes “The Magician’s Nephew” has the potential to be a blockbuster hit like “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” because it is the second most popular book in the Narnia series.

Speaking of movies, filming has begun on The Hobbit:

Like the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, the “Hobbit” movies will be shot back-to-back, and this time using 3-D technology. The films are set to be released in 2012 and 2013.

My introverted friend, Adam McHugh, wonders if he will always be branded “the introvert:”

In 20 years will people say “that book really changed things in evangelical culture and Adam has become a significant voice in the church” or will they say, in a sexy deep voice: “Adam McHugh: he is the most introverted man in the world.  He doesn’t always go to church, but when he does, he probably won’t talk to you.”  Time will tell.

 
 

Mar

22

2011

Trevin Wax|4:15 am CT

Counterfeit Gospels Chart: How 6 Counterfeits Affect the Gospel Story, Announcement, and Community

The best way to spot a counterfeit is to know the real thing.

When it comes to the gospel, the best way to spot a counterfeit gospel is to know the biblical gospel – not only to master it in a cerebral, objective sense, but to be captured by the beauty of what God has done for us in Christ.

Earlier this year, I listed nine “counterfeit gospels” that I considered writing about in Counterfeit Gospels. Then, I asked readers of Kingdom People to participate in a poll, choosing the six most prevalent among evangelicals today.

Later, I described the biblical gospel by using the analogy of a three-legged stool.

  • There’s the Gospel Story – the grand narrative of Scripture (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration).
  • Within that overarching framework, we make the Gospel Announcement about Jesus Christ (His perfect life, substitutionary death, resurrection, exaltation).
  • The gospel announcement then births the Gospel Community: God’s church – the embodiment of the gospel, the manifestation of God’s kingdom.

In the book, I describe a counterfeit gospel as a colony of termites, eating away at one of the legs of the stool until it topples the whole thing. Below is a handy chart included in the book that lays out the six counterfeits we deal with in the book and how each counterfeit affects the gospel Story, gospel Announcement, and gospel Community.

Take a look at the chart below and let me know what you think.

Does your heart drift toward any of these counterfeits? Why or why not?

Which counterfeits do you see as particularly dangerous in our day and age?

 
 

Mar

22

2011

Trevin Wax|3:28 am CT

Worth a Look 3.22.11

John Piper disagrees with the idea of a Judeo-Christian ethic:

The New Testament is written to say that those who do not honor the Son do not honor the Father. So the concept of a Judeo-Christian ethic as the goal to which people ought to aim is profoundly mistaken, because ethics has to grow out of a true view of God. And to reject Jesus Christ is to have an absolutely flawed view of God. Therefore the ethic of morality that flows from this kind of flawed view of God is going to be flawed, even if some of the behavior is the same.

Billy Atwell (from Chuck Colson’s BreakPoint) responds:

I understand what he is saying, and I agree with his point about ethics requiring a proper view of God. But I think he is mistaken in saying that the term “Judeo-Christian ethic” is flawed. The way you define a Judeo-Christian ethic makes all the difference in the world.

Sexual sin as a gateway:

Sexual sin is the canary in the coal mine, the first sign that something has gone haywire in our walk with Christ. Don’t laugh at lust. Repent before you do something really dumb.

David Dunham reflects on his first month without pop culture distraction:

I have discovered that these things which I so love, yet which can be a distraction are not what is keeping me from growing spiritually and pursuing Jesus. Sadly, even after taking them all away I found myself not reading my Bible more and praying more. Instead I was filling those empty time slots with other things. You see it’s not my habits and my activities that are keeping me from studying my Bible and praying, it’s me. I am my biggest hindrance.

 
 

Mar

21

2011

Trevin Wax|3:56 am CT

Gospel Definitions: Sam Storms

Sam Storms defines the gospel:

The gospel is the good news of what God has accomplished in the person of his Son, in his life, death, and resurrection, to secure the forgiveness of sins of all who will repent and believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

In other words, the gospel is something that God has accomplished. It’s not something that we do. Our faith is not the gospel. Our repentance is not the gospel. But they are the effects of it. So we could say that the gospel is an indicative, not an imperative. In other words, it’s an accomplishment by God; it’s not a command to us. The gospel is what God has achieved, not something that we are to attempt.

The content of the gospel, the essence of hte gospel, is God’s saving activity in Jesus as Lord – in his sinless life, his atoning death on behalf of sinners, his resurrection. This is the gospel.

The gospel does have consequences. For example, we have a responsibility to pursue justice, according to the biblical terms in which it is set forth. We have a responsibility toward the environment, toward creation. We have a responsibility toward racial reconciliation. We have a responsibility to pursue the welfare of the unborn. But these things are not the gospel. They are the consequences of the gospel. They are responsibilities that fall upon us as Christians because of what God has done.

When we talk about proclaiming the gospel, we’re talking about declaring the good news of what God has graciously and mercifully done in Jesus on behalf of otherwise hell-deserving sinners to secure everything necessary that they might enter into the fullness of eternal life and the forgiveness of sins.

(For three years now, I have been steadily gathering a number of definitions of “the gospel” in an ongoing series entitled “Gospel Definitions.” As far as I know, this is the largest grouping of gospel definitions on the internet today. Carefully working through these definitions helped me see the gospel as a three-legged stool, an idea that I treat more fully in Counterfeit Gospels.)

 
 

Mar

21

2011

Trevin Wax|3:03 am CT

Worth a Look 3.21.11

New C.S. Lewis work found – his translation of Virgil’s Aenaid:

Although it was nearly lost, a copy of C.S. Lewis’s translation of the Aeneid by Virgil has been found and will be published later this year. Unfortunately, the manuscript appears to be incomplete, but what remains is of great interest to Lewis fans around the world.

Diet Coke Passes Pepsi as No. 2 Soda:

The top 10 sodas in the U.S., in order of popularity, are: Coke, Diet Coke, Pepsi-Cola, Mountain Dew, Dr Pepper, Sprite, Diet Pepsi, Diet Mountain Dew, Diet Dr Pepper and Fanta.

The Counter-Intuitive Appeal of the Exclusive Jesus:

The universalist Jesus cannot be found in the Gospels; the Jesus we find there is too busy putting himself at the center of everything. The universalist Jesus is safe and safely ignored. It is the compelling Jesus of the Scriptures who refuses to be disregarded.

What about those who haven’t heard?

Maybe you’ve agonized over the question yourself. Surely you’ve heard it from someone probing for vulnerabilities in Christianity, In a world with constant awareness of our global neighbors, the question, “What about those those who haven’t heard the gospel of Jesus Christ?” demands an answer from Christians.

A Romanian pastor’s take on Rob Bell’s Love Wins:

Dragostea nu este nicidecum mesajul esenţial al lui Isus Cristos şi nici scopul fundamental pentru care S-a Întrupat, mai ales dacă scoatem fraza “Dumnezeu este dragoste”din contexul literar, dar şi din contextul vieţii şi lucrării Mîntuitorului. Această expresie atît de întîlnită deasupra baptisteriilor din bisericile noastre baptiste ar trebui completată cu “Dumnezeu este Sfînt, Sfînt, Sfînt”. De trei ori Sfînt. Dragostea nu- anulează sfinţenia, sfinţenia nu-I sufocă dragostea.