Sunday, August 26, 2007

Keeping the Tenth Commandment by "Walking" in the Spirit

Last night I preached a sermon at Redeemer Presbyterian Church of New York City on the Tenth Commandment closing out our summer series on the Ten Commandments. If you'd like to, you can purchase it here.

What follows is an abbreviated intro and the outline:

We may think that the Tenth Commandment is the least important of the Ten and/or it may be the one we least understand. We may think it's the least important because it's the last in the list of the Ten. So we think to ourselves, if it's the last in the list, then it must me the least important. But the Tenth Commandment may be the second most important simply because it is the tenth; simply because it one of the bookends of the Ten.

But also, it may be the one we least understand because we've become completely desensitized to its meaning. Think of all the synonyms for the word covet: desire, envy, crave, yearn. Every one of these words has a perfume named after it. So we have Desire by Dunhill; Envy by Gucci; Crave by Calvin Klein; and, Yearn by Victoria's Secret. Therefore, our culture has done a good job of desensitizing us to its meaning.

So, let's figure out what this commandment means by looking at it under three headings. Let's look at:

1. What It Is (let's define it)
2. What It Leads To
3. How It Can Be Kept

Monday, August 13, 2007

PROLEGOMENA: Redeemer Presbyterian Church
Sunday, August 12, 2007

This past Tuesday, in the Op-Ed Section of the New York Times, David Brooks had a column that spoke about the significance of names entitled, “Goodbye, George and John.” Now, while the article was a little tongue-in-cheek, Brooks tried to point out the fact that a person’s name can really matter and define who they are. And in the humor of David Brooks, he says that’s why he named his two children President and Hedge Fund Manager, respectively. But despite the humor, I think Brooks is onto something. Yet, I don’t think Brooks is on to anything new.

You see, in the opening chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, we read this, “Mary will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

You see, the God we come to worship this morning; the God we come to sing praises to, has always understood the significance of a name. And the Apostle Paul makes that clear in his letter to the Philippians when he says, “That now, at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

So, are you ready to worship the One this morning whose name stands above every other name? Welcome to worship!

Monday, August 06, 2007

PROLEGOMENA: Redeemer Presbyterian Church
Sunday, August 5, 2007

This past Thursday, on the front page of Metro Section of the New York Times, there was an article entitled: "When a Mayor Plays Just Another Straphanger.” And the article spoke about one way that NYC mayors have attempted to rub elbows with their constituency over the years and paint themselves as “regular guys.” And the way that most mayors have chosen to do this (according to the article) is by using the subway system from time to time--because to ride the subway is to do something that every New York does. It’s a way of condescending; a way of stepping into the shoes of the average New Yorker. In other words, it’s a way of becoming…one of us.

And that’s something like what the God we come to worship this morning has done.

You see, the God we come to worship this morning; the God we come to sing praises to, has lived in your shoes, has felt what you have felt, and has experienced all the ups-and-downs of this life the moment he became…one of us.

So, are you ready to worship the God who has become one of us this morning? Welcome to worship!

Monday, July 30, 2007

PROLEGOMENA: Redeemer Presbyterian Church
Sunday, July 29, 2007

For the past week I’ve been re-reading the memoir of Dalton Conley, the Chair of the sociology department at New York University (my alma mater). And in his memoir, Conley recounts the story of being a young white kid growing up on the Lower East Side in 1970s among the ethnic color in that neighborhood. And the gist of his memoir is, how he came to an understanding of race, class and (even) gender distinctions at a very early age. And at about one-third through his story he says this: “Race was not like something mutable, like a freckle or a hairstyle; it defined who looked like whom; who was allowed to be in the group--and who wasn’t.”

Now, Professor Conley’s realization is probably historically accurate for almost every group that has ever existed. That is, every group except for this group--the church.

Listen to Paul’s words from Galatians 3, “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither freeman nor slave; there is neither male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

You see, the God we come to worship this morning; the God we come to sing praises to, has made a way for all people everywhere to be in this group, the church, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So, are you ready to worship this God this morning, the one who can be worshiped by everyone? Welcome to worship!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Book the PCA Study Committee Needed to Read:
The Saving Righteousness of God by Michael Bird

Michael Bird has done a wonderful and fair job sifting through the data on the New Perspective on Paul. Moreover (and for some strange reason) he has an interest in the debates inside the PCA (why? I don't quite know!). So, if you want a solid treatment of the issues pertaining to the debate within the PCA, PLEASE READ THIS BOOK!

At this point I'm only about halfway through the book, so to review it would be unfair. But I will say that it is the single best treatment of all the issues that I have read to date. Bird reminds us and demonstrates that Richard B. Gaffin (my former professor) has been more aligned with the NPP than he cares to admit! He also does a fine job of dealing with, dikaiosune theou; pistis Christou; and the biblical texts surrounding these issues and others related to justification by faith. Lastly, he grounds his work historically when necessary.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Second Commandment:
A Conversion of the Imagination

I recently preached a sermon on the second commandment at Redeemer Presbyterian Church entitled, A Conversion of the Imagination, which you can purchase here. I then re-preached it at the Village Church (which is a church plant of Redeemer) and you can listen to it free here.

The three points were as follows:

1. The Purpose of the Imagination
Since humans are created in God's image and are vice-regents, God's under-kings, the use of the imagination is a good thing, and quite honestly, a very human thing to do. We are to use our imaginations to envison a world where shalom is the norm. And we're to rule over the created order. That's what "kings" do!

2. The Problem with the Imagination
But, ever since the fall, we misuse our imaginations and envision God wrongly. We either imagine him as something we're suppose to rule over, ("the fish our the sea, the birds of the air or every living creature that moves along the ground"), or, we imagine him to be just like us. So, what we need is...

3. A Conversion of the Imagination
Ever since the beginning of time, ever since the creation of the world, God has always known how he'd want to be imagined: "Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, the first born over all creation." So, to imagine God as he wants to be imagined, to see him in the face of Jesus Christ, is to have our imaginations converted.

Monday, July 16, 2007

PROLEGOMENA: Redeemer Presbyterian Church
Sunday, July 15, 2007

Thirty years ago this week, on July 13, 1977, New Yorkers were able to equate two concepts that the ancients have equated for thousands of years. We were able to equate darkness with chaos. You see, on that hot and sticky night in July, the city experienced a blackout. And as a result of the darkness, there was mayhem. Neighborhood stores were looted; much of the city was vandalized; and, block after block of the city was set ablaze. Furthermore, this chaos continued until the power was restored late the next day when all the lights of the city went back on.

Now, the opening chapter of the Bible tells us something similar. It reads, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was chaotic and void while darkness covered the face of the deep… And then God said ‘let there be light.”’

Do you see what I’m getting at?

The God we come to worship this morning; the God we come to sing praises to, has ordered the chaos when his light broke through the darkness of the world. And that light (we’re told by the Apostle John) is none other than Jesus Christ himself.

So, are you ready to worship the light of the world, Jesus Christ our Lord? Welcome to worship.

Monday, June 25, 2007

PROLEGOMENA: Redeemer Presbyterian Church
Sunday, June 24, 2007

A few weeks ago, in the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times, there was an article that described how one man single-handedly changed the Lower East Side.

Now the Lower East Side when I was a kid was a neighborhood in steep decline. And the only reason you’d find yourself down there was to get a pastrami on rye from Katz’s Deli on Houston Street (pronounced House-ton; not pronounced like the city in Texas).

But Sion Mishrahi has found a way to breathe new life into that community. He has single-handedly restored the things that were once broken; he has brought beauty to a place where beauty was once hard to find; and he has given new hope to a community that once felt abandoned by the powers that be in the city. Sound familiar?

It should! Because this story is merely a faint echo of the story that the Bible tells us.

You see, the God we come to worship this morning; the God we come to sing praises to has also brought restoration and new life to a community--except this community is not defined by geography, but by those who believe in the death and resurrection of the Son of God.

So, are you ready to worship Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is the renewer and restorer of all things? Welcome to worship!

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Wishy Washy PCA!

I think that it's about time for me to chime in with my two cents (sorry for the mixed metaphor) on the happenings at the PCA General Assembly. For the most part, I'm discouraged by the outcome and here's the reason why.

The adoption of the FV/NPP study committee's report has and will complicate matters more. It adds another layer of hermeneutical confusion to the discussion. That is to say (and following David Coffin), we already have a Confession to lead us through matters of controversy. We don't need another document thrown in the mix. Moreover, how the document is handled and interpreted (from this point forward) will become a matter of debate in the coming months. Take the first recommendation for example:

"That the General Assembly commend to Ruling and Teaching Elders and their congregations this report of the Ad Interim Committee on NPP, AAT and FV for careful consideration and study" (my italics).

I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this: whose idea of "careful consideration and study" are we following? Some presbyteries and pastors could respond, "We considered it, thank you, but no thank you." Why is this a fair response? (1) Because the document is NOT constitutionally binding; and (2) Because as the study report even reminds us, it is still up to the presbyteries to decipher the document and apply it.

All this document did was make our denominational stance on the issue more WISHY WASHY! We should have followed the lead of Joe Novenson and added a year and exegetical teeth to the paper.

Monday, June 11, 2007

No Pepper in the Salt of the PCA!

As I plan to leave for another General Assembly of the PCA, I am reminded of the horror I experienced last year when I walked into the convention hall for the first time. Out of the 1800 or so commissioners on the floor of GA, you could literally count the number of African-American ministers in the denomination.

Now that Redeemer has one of the thirty-three Blacks in the denomination (Rev. Mark Robinson), I have found myself growing more sensitive to this issue. I am looking forward to seeing old friends; I am looking forward to debating the FV/NPP issue; I am NOT, however, looking forward to seeing the lack of diversity in this denomination once again! Therefore, it is my opinion that the PCA has to make a concerted effort to recruit Black ministers in the denomination and get FAR beyond the number 33! Or to put it bluntly: 33 African-American ministers out of roughly 2000 is something we should all be ashamed of! Talk about inequity!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Not a Shoe-In:
Proponents of the NPP and FV Study Report Respond with Their Own Open Letter

Probably fueled by the fear that the PCA's study report on the New Perspective and the Federal Vision was loosing steam and not gaining momentum among commissioners in the denomination, eight ministers and one ruling elder have responded to a handful of open letters with their own open letter. The initial open letters (one which is published on this blog and another which is published here) which caused this reaction reminded their readers of the necessity of fairness with regard to committee member selection, timeliness in handling sensitive matters such as these, and previously established norms (i.e., good faith subscription).

What may have caused the elevated anxiety of those associated with the newest open letter which supports the committee's report might be the outcry of injustice that many moderate commissioners have voiced in the blog-o-sphere. Furthermore, a recent poll has suggested that the vast majority of people tracking along with this issue DO NOT support the paper's adoption this year on the floor of GA. Lastly, Joel Garver has chimed in with a handful of thoughtful concerns about the committee's report on his blog.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Covenant Faithfulness of YHWH in the Skies of Harlem!

Two Sundays ago I awoke to be reminded of God's covenant faithfulness. God even reminds New Yorkers of his fidelity!

"Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, ‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’"

--Genesis 9:11-17 (NRSV)

Monday, June 04, 2007

PROLEGOMENA: Redeemer Presbyterian Church
Sunday, June 3, 2007

I like to prepare us for worship this evening by talking a little about love. Now, would it seem odd to you if I told you that my daughter Hannah--who’s only three years old--knows something about love, that you and I have either forgotten or never learned? I mean, if I were to ask you, how much does your husband or wife, or boyfriend or girlfriend, or your mom and dad love you, how would you answer? You’d probably answer like this: “They love me very much;” or “They love me a lot;” or “They love me a great deal;” or you might even say, “They love me with all my heart.” But my daughter Hannah tells me that she loves me “As big as the stars.”

Now, what’s interesting about her answer is that she attaches a spatial significance to love. In other words, she understands the stars as infinitely removed from us here on earth. And the space between us and them, is the amount of love she has for me.

Now, to you or I that may sound a little silly and 3 year-old-ish, but let me suggest that Hannah’s description of love is very similar to the apostle Paul’s.

In Ephesians 3 Paul describes the love of Christ in this way: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”

So, are you ready to worship the God who loves you, to quote my daughter Hannah, “As big as the stars?” Welcome to worship!

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Sabbath = Good Eats: Borinquen Style!

The one good thing about having Puerto Rican cousins, aunts and uncles is that you can visit Puerto Rico and practically stay for free. Moreover, all the hole-in-the-wall food joints that are on their maps wind up on your map as well. Therefore, all you have to do is tag along to taste the entire island.

We went to a wedding in El Yunque, that's the rain-forest; then to a reception at a cousin's cousin's house in Carolina and had amazing paella. Next, we spent Tuesday night in Ponce (which is a 2 hour drive through the mountains from San Juan) and woke up to great cafe con leche and wonderful breads. Then, on the drive back from Ponce, we stopped at this little roadside joint (and I mean joint) in Caguas where we had succulent pig (lechon) and great arroz habichuelas (that's rice and beans), yuca (that's a starchy root vegetable like a potato) and different PR sausages.

Right down the street from the place we were staying on the last two nights (in order to escape my crazy family) was a wonderful little sandwich place that had great cafe, an array of Cubano sandwiches and fresh squeezed china (that's PR for orange juice). (Orange juice got the name "china" in the early part of the twentieth century when the crates used to pack the oranges bound for the USA were branded: MADE IN CHINA.)

Enough about food: I think the single most exciting moment for me was going with my PR cousins and uncles to the cock fights (and losing $60). What a bizarre experience!

[The photo above is of my daughter Hannah and me.]

Monday, May 21, 2007

PROLEGOMENA: Redeemer Presbyterian Church
Sunday, May 20, 2007

A few weeks ago, in the magazine section of the New York Times, there was an article entitled: “Reinventing Middle Age.” Now, the article attempted to show how Americans, especially New Yorkers, fear the inevitable--we fear growing old. And if we fear growing old, then it logically follows that we fear death.

Now, the writer drove this point home to me when she said this: “For one thing reality has hit me in the eyebrows where I first started going gray some years ago and where I keep going grayer underneath renewed coatings of eyebrow tint.”

You see, what the writer made clear to me was this: We’ll do anything to avoid the inevitable; we’ll do anything to avoid the downward spiral of this life. We're all guilty of this at some level--every one of us.

Yet, we’ll disagree with that when we sing the first line of the opening hymn which reads, “A mighty fortress is our God a bulwark never failing. Our helper he amid the flood of mortal ills, prevailing!

You see, the God we come to worship this morning; the God we come to sing praises to, has given us hope beyond our graying hair. And that happened the moment Jesus stepped out of the tomb. So, are you ready to worship the God who gives us hope beyond death this morning? Welcome to worship!

Friday, May 18, 2007

A Brief Open Letter to Moderate TEs and REs in the PCA:
Vote "NO" on the New Perspective and Federal Vision Study Report!

There is little doubt in my mind that the report issued by the PCA's study committee on the New Perspective and Federal Vision attempts to sneak the strict subscription issue in the back door. (And let's not forget that that issue was settled three years ago. We have already decided that we are a "good faith subscription" denomination.) I saw this in the Soiuxland Presbytery commttiee report and I see it here too. Let's not be fooled by this move by the "Far-Right."


Monday, May 14, 2007

PROLEGOMENA: Redeemer Presbyterian Church
Sunday, May 13, 2007: Mother's Day

Because it’s Mother’s Day, I’d like for us to reflect on the words of St. Cyprian, who’s obviously the first person that comes to mind for all of us when we think about Mother’s Day, right?

Cyprian was a third century bishop of Carthage in North Africa and he’s most remembered for this one great statement. And that statement is this: “No one can have God as their Father if they don’t also have the church as their Mother.”

You see, Cyprian saw the church as having the qualities of a mother. And we all know that mothers: care, nurture, provide, and protect. So, he saw the church as a care-giver, a nurturer, a provider and a protector And guess what? He was right!

You see, the God we come to worship this morning; the God we come to sing praises to, has decided to “mother” his children--those who believe in his Son--in the church.

So, this morning, are you ready to worship the Father, through the Son, in the church, the one St. Cyprian calls our "Mother?" Welcome to worship!

Monday, May 07, 2007

PROLEGOMENA: Redeemer Presbyterian Church
Sunday, May 6, 2007

I’d like to prepare us for worship this morning by turning your attention to one sentence in the reflection quote printed on page 1 of your bulletin. In the middle of the quote we read, “The cross reminds us that we too were enemies whose hostility and offence have been reconciled.”

Now, this week I attended a lecture at Princeton Theolocial Seminary given by Stanley Hauerwas--a theologian and ethicist at Duke University. And during the Q & A, Hauerwas was asked about heaven--about what the future would be like when we’re with God. And his answer was simple, yet surprising. He said something like this: “Heaven will be about our restored friendship with God.”

Now, to some of you that may sound overly simplistic and/or reductionistic. But at bottom I think Hauerwas is right. Because both the reflection quote and Hauerwas are picking up on a thought of Paul in Romans 5 which reads, “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.”

You see, the God we come to worship this morning; the God we come to sing praises to, has done something special for us: He’s allowed for us to befriend Him again. And that happened the moment Jesus died; the moment he gave up his friendship with God so we can have a friendship with God once again.

So, are you ready to worship God our friend this morning? Welcome to worship!

Monday, April 30, 2007

PROLEGOMENA: Redeemer Presbyterian Church
Sunday, April 29, 2007

I’d like to prepare us for worship this morning by turning your attention to one word, one word in the reflection quote printed on page one of your bulletin; and that word is the word peripety.

Now, the word peripety comes from the Greek word peripeteia, which is a word used in drama and literature to describe the turning point of a story. In other words, the peripety of a drama is the point where the story is: turned on its head, turned inside-out, flipped upside-down. It’s the point that the story goes from good to bad or bad to good. It’s the point that shifts the whole entire story; and that point in the biblical story is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Now, in Acts 2 Peter points this out when he says,

"[Jesus] was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But…God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him."

You see, the God we come to worship this morning; the God we come to sing praises to has interrupted history; has flipped everything upside-down; has turned everything we know inside-out the moment Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. So, are you ready to worship the God who had done this this morning? Welcome to worship.

The literary structure of peripety found in the book of Esther mirrors on a small scale the structure of all of redemptive history....We should expect nothing but death, but we have seen the ultimate peripety, the ultimate reversal of expected ends,in another seemingly ordinary human event: the birth of a baby in Bethlehem and the execution of that man on a cross. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our destiny has been reversed from death to life against all expectation.The cross of Jesus is the pivot of the great reversal of history, where our sorrow has been turned to joy.

— Karen Jobes, Esther

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Straw That Broke the Camel's Back:
Why I Switched to the NRSV

Beyond the fact that most noteworthy scholars today use the NRSV, I've got my own reasons too. Here's one:

Everyone has their theological pet-peeves. One of mine is paedo-baptism. I guess you can say that I'm just a good presbyterian working out his covenant theology to its rightful (logical) conclusion.

So, when I was counseling a diaconate candidate out of my NIV--a candiate who was struggling with paedo-baptism--and turned to Acts 16 where Paul baptizes the Philippian jailer's entire household (oikos) based on his belief, and saw that the NIV took the liberty of changing the pronoun to a plural (his to their faith, pepisteukos), and also found that there weren't any text-critical issues to speak of, well, that was "the straw that broke the camel's back." I picked up my leather-bound NRSV and put it in my backpack and took the NIV and buried it on my shelf. (Even though the NIV's proper place is in the trash, I cannot, for the life of me, chuck a Bible.)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A War of Narratives: What the PCA Can Learn from NY Times Columnist David Brooks

David Brooks, an Op-Ed writer for the New York Times, has put his finger on what I believe is the problem with most disagreements today, especially those within the PCA. While at a conference that brought together Americans and moderate Arab reformers, Brooks recognized that the two groups just "passed each other without touching." That is to say, one group was talking about X, while the other group was talking about Y, and "never the twain met or shall meet." Why? Brooks noticed that each side "had a different narrative." That is, they told themselves different stories to make sense of the data.

Now, narratives make sense of reality for human-beings. We use them all the time to make sense of the data that life throws at us, especially the data that we don't quite have categories for. Thus, we tell ourselves stories in order to fit the data into categories so we can understand the world.

Within the current debates in the PCA on the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) and the Federal Vision (FV), each side of the debate has its own narrative to make sense of the data; and if each side has its own narrative, then it also has different vocabulary; and if different vocabulary, then, never the twain shall meet!

Therefore, if we (in the PCA) first recognize that we're talking beyond each other and that each group makes sense of what's going on by telling itself a different story, then we might (and I say, "might") make it beyond the (narratival) impasse.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Psalm 23: A Fresh Translation in Light of the Exodus Event (Part 1)

-1 A Psalm of David

1 YHWH my shepherd! I lack nothing!

2 He will make me lie down in green pastures;
he will lead me into calm waters;
3 he will restore my life.
He will lead me on the right path
for the sake of his reputation.

4 Even though I (currently) walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil,
because you are with me;
your rod and staff--they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and loving-kindness will follow me
all the days of my life
and I will dwell in the house of YHWH
my whole life long. (v. 6 follows the LXX)

Monday, April 16, 2007

PROLEGOMENA: Redeemer Presbyterian Church
Sunday, April 15, 2007

Well, just in case you forgot (or wanted to forget) what today is, I’m going to remind you: Today is April 15th. And we all know what April 15th is, right? It’s the day that Jackie Robinson played his first Major League baseball game, 60 years ago, in 1947, in the borough that Rev. Matt Brown says God loves: in Brooklyn! And on that day something special happened: People who were once separated, were now brought together; something that was once exclusive, now included all; and, the barrier that once divided, was now brought down. Sound familiar? Well, if not, then let me remind you of these words from the apostle Paul.

In Galatians 3 Paul writes: “There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

You see, the God we come to worship this morning, the God we come to sing praises to, has made a way for all people, all people everywhere, to worship Him as His people. So, are you ready to worship Him this morning as His people, a people that includes all people? Welcome to worship!

Monday, April 09, 2007

PROLEGOMENA: Redeemer Presbyterian Church
Easter Sunday, April 8, 2007

This morning, in thousands and thousands of churches around the world, and in every tradition of the Christian faith, Christians will join their voices together to welcome the risen Lord. So, let’s join in the celebration this morning, the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. And let’s welcome the Risen One with the words that all Christians, all Christians everywhere, will be saying throughout the world:

Minister: Alleluia! Christ is risen!

All: The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

[The artwork in the upper left hand corner of the post is entitled Lazarus. It was used on the bulletin for Redeemer's Easter Sunday services. The artist is Barbra Februar. She lives in Vancouver, B.C.]

Friday, April 06, 2007

Good Friday Meditation 2007: Redeemer Presbyterian Church

Every Good Friday at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC, we host four services where we reflect on the death of Jesus Christ with four readings and three meditations--each meditation given by a member of the pastoral staff. In years past, these meditation sought to answer one of the following questions: (1) Why did He come? (2) Who was He? (3) What did He do? This year, however, we changed the format to "Jesus: Our Prophet, Priest and King." The passage that we have chosen to highlight the three offices of Jesus Christ is, Luke 19:37-48 (and then a final reading of Luke 23:44-49 without a reflection, leaving the congregation to reflect of Jesus' death). My meditation is on Luke 19:37-40 and is entitled, "Jesus Our King."

37When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives…the whole crowd of disciples…began joyfully…to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
38”Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

In the ancient world, especially in Rome, when a king was about to enter the imperial city, the citizens beneath his rule, would have rushed out to meet his procession. This means that thousands of people would gather to celebrate the homecoming of their king. And as the king’s procession would draw near the imperial city, the celebration, well, the celebration would grow more and more intense: The cheers would become thunderous; the hands of all the people would be raised in the air; and all those who were present would praise the coming of their king. Yet interestingly, you didn’t have to like the king, or agree with the king to be there to greet him--since not showing up to greet him would demonstrate a great disrespect for the king

There’s a great picture of this in the movie The Gladiator. When Commodus the king--the king that no one cared for and the king that no one respected—well, when he entered the imperial city, thousands of people still turned out to greet him, whether they loved him or not. And I think that’s something like the picture that Luke has painted for us in this passage.

You see, as Jesus entered the holy city, he was met by cheering crowds who recognized him as the coming King. But he was also met by those who weren’t too happy that the celebration was taking place.

Now, if you’re anything like me, when you heard the answer that Jesus gave the Pharisees (those people in the narrative who were less than celebratory and the people who wanted to see the celebration come to an end) well, Jesus’ answer probably through you for a loop. I mean, it probably made you scratch your head and ask yourself, “What do crying stones or shouting rocks have to do with Jesus being the King? Quite honestly, EVERYTHING!

You see, ever since the beginning of time, the world, the cosmos, the universe, recognized its Creator-King. But what’s more, the cosmos always knew, and had little doubt, that there would come a day, a day that would be unlike any other day: The day that all things would be renewed. And that day would be the same day that the universe’s King would take his throne.

You see, today we’re here to celebrate the enthronement of the King. Except this King’s crown would be made of thorns; and this King’s throne, would be nailed to him, and he would hang on it for six long hours. And at the very last moment of this King’s life, the rocks would indeed cry out.

Now, Matthew tells us about that moment at the end of his Gospel where we read this: “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. And at that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And the earth shook and the rocks split.

You see, at the very moment when the King of the Universe breathed his last breath, the universe, the cosmos, the created realm screamed at the top of its lungs when the earth shook and the rocks split.

Yet somehow I don’t think that those screams were wales of mourning. Instead, I believe that they were the first shouts of joy, the first celebratory cries, as the universe began to realize--at that very moment--that everything was beginning to be set free from its bondage to decay! Amen.

[The artwork on the top left hand corner of the post was used on Redeemer's bulletin for the service. It is entitled, Tetelestai! (It Is Finished!): Charcoal on paper, 2005 (36" x 24"). The artist is my father, Paul Buccheri. It was his gift to me for my ordination and it hangs on my living room wall. My father told me that when he was working on the piece, he kept Isaiah 53:2 in the front of his mind: "He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him." Yet interestingly, the piece is a loose self-portrait of my father, which in turn, makes it theologically profound: that when Jesus died, so died my father.]

Monday, April 02, 2007

PROLEGOMENA: Redeemer Presbyterian Church
Sunday, April 1, 2007

If you’re the kind of person that calls themselves a true New Yorker, then anytime the president comes to town, you just want to run for the hills. I mean, you just want to avoid him and his motorcade like the plague--a quarter of mile of limousines; scores of police cars, screwing up traffic all over the city; shutting down the subway system; making it impossible to cross town...I mean, this is not the kind of stuff that New Yorkers care deal with. Yet, this is the way that all presidents and all kings in all times and all places have chosen to travel. They have always surrounded themselves with loads of pomp and loads of circumstance. That is to say, all but ONE!

You see, today we celebrate the King’s arrival. Except this King--King Jesus--entered the city, lacking the pomp, lacking the circumstance and lacking the fanfare of every other king, because the fanfare that would surround him would have to wait another week.

So, are you ready to worship the coming of this King this morning? Welcome to worship!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Semper Reformanda: Always Reforming!
Contra Carl Trueman on Reformation 21

My former church history professor, Carl Trueman of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, recently posted a cautionary note to the church on Reformation 21 about whether or not, when and if, and by whom and why the church's creeds and confessions should be revised.

Allow me to counter Professor Trueman with these three points:

1. The later confessions of the church are undeniably Euro-centric. This includes, but is not limited to, the Westminster Standards, the Heidelberg Catechism, and Belgic Confession. Again, staying within the trajectory of my last posts, if the church desires a true ecumenism, that is, one that allows for the voice of all Christians everywhere to chime in (especially those of the non-Western church) we'll have to allow for confessional-reconstruction. In other words, the church will have to allow for non-Western, non-Enlightenment affected theology to creep into (and even dominate) its confessions.

2. Professor Trueman cautions us that "the church is more highly fragmented now." To this I say, "So what!" I must remind Professor Trueman that the "fragmentation" he speaks about is the product of the Protestant Reformation, the same people who felt that they had the right and/or obligation to revise and reconstruct the church's creeds. Moreover, this "fragmentation" is just the logical outworking of Luther et al's break with Rome. So, let's just deal with it instead of allowing it to handcuff us.

3. There is little doubt in my mind that some of the doctrines of the later confessions were affected by modernistic categories. For example, the modern banking system as we know it was conceived of and implemented by the Medici family in the 15th century. That's the same era that Luther speaks of justification in terms of accounting. [Hmmmm, interesting.] Maybe our non-Western sisters and brothers will help to see that our confessions recapture a filial aspect of redemption instead of all the modernistic legalese that hijacked it.

Therefore, if the church is "Semper Reformada," then it needs to always be reforming--even its creeds and confessions!

Monday, March 26, 2007

PROLEGOMENA: Redeemer Presbyterian Church
Sunday, March 26, 2007

Good Friday, the day that Christians celebrate, or we might even say, mourn the death of Jesus Christ, well that day is fast approaching. And like most churches around the world, Redeemer will have a Good Friday service. And not just one service, but four: Two on the Eastside and two on the Westside. Now, many of us will come to those services; and we’ll come to those services straight from work, dressed in our business suits, sporting Brooks Brothers, Prada, and your Gucci attire. Yet strangely enough, all of us, because of what we’re wearing, will be, in some sense, out of sync with the reality of Good Friday when we walk in the door. Because the essence of Good Friday is about something quite the opposite of the way we’ll look as we enter those services. You see, in John 19 we overhear this conversation about the reality of Good Friday:

"When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. 'Let's not tear it,' they said to one another. 'Let's decide by lot who will get it.' This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, 'They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.' So this is what the soldiers did."

You see, the God we come to worship this morning; the God we come to sing praises to, was stripped naked! Was completely exposed! Was laid bare! in order to cloth us with something far beyond Brooks Brothers and Prada. He was striped naked to clothe us in His righteousness itself! So, are you ready to worship this God this morning? Welcome to worship!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Sao Paolo, Brazil: The Next Constantinople?

The epicenter of the church has always been in the world's largest cities, ever since the time of Paul. So, just imagine the City of New York, with three times the population, approximately twice the square mileage (NYC: 321; SP: 588), with high-rise buildings as far as the eye can see, only with far less the architectural beauty of Manhattan. That's Sao Paolo, Brazil.

In my previous post, I mentioned that the center of the world Christian movement has and will continue to shift into the global south and east--into cites like Sao Paolo, Mexico City, Shanghai, and Dhaka. As a result of this shift, I challenged us to consider the possibility that the Western church (North America, Europe and England) will need to give up its paternalistic dominance with regard to the future of how the Christian faith is and will be articulated.

Lamin Sanneh at Yale Divinity School in his book Whose Religion is Christianity: The Gospel Beyond the West agrees with this when he writes, "Christianity should not anywhere be about the refusal to change the old; it should be about the willingness to embrace the new."

When the center of the church shifted to Rome from Constantinople and Antioch in the first millennium, the church did not do away with what was previously established. It did, however, continue to address issues in light of the church's new context given the new questions it was asking. All one has to do to confirm this is take a close look at the seven ecumenical councils to see that each council affirmed what was theretofore created and accepted by the preceding councils. For example, the Council of Chalcedon affirmed and built upon the Council of Nicea.

Therefore, the church is faced with a similar situation today. Will it seek to undermine what was established in centuries past? Will it be afraid of the voice from the South and East that is now a whisper but can soon be a scream? If the church was able to weather the storm of the first shift from the South and East to the West, it should, by God's grace, be able to weather the storm back. Thus, places like Sao Paolo will soon be the "Constantinopes" of the Christian World once again.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

From East and South to the West and Back Again:
A Brief Reflection of the World-Christian Movement

All Christians at all times and all places--in other words, catholic types--claim to stand on the shoulders of such greats as Augustine, Tertullian and Cyprian (among others). But these men were unlike most of us in one very important way: All of them were from a Roman province known as Africa, what is now roughly modern Tunisia. Out of the five early patriarchates, only Rome's see was in the West. That means that the "center" of the church was located firmly in the East and South! Moreover, the catholic doctrines that we all hold dear were primarily the work of such "Eastern" and "Southern" minds. Furthermore, the monastic movement owes itself to Egypt. So what, you ask?

If the current forecast is current and the trajectory is set, that the major growth that the church can expect over the next century or two is located in Asia, Africa and South America, then this question arises: Is the Western church, namely North America and England, prepared to listen to the voice of the "Christian majority?" Or, will the Western church continue in its paternalistic-narcissistic claim to have the all the answers to all the questions that have ever been asked and will soon be asked? Hmmmm...let me guess.

Tonight I leave for Sao Paolo, Brazil for the executive committee meeting of the World Reformed Fellowship (WRF). The WRF is a free association of denominations, churches, organizations, ministers and lay people from around the world that seek to share resources with each other and see the gospel do what it promises: to renew all things!

My prayer is this: as the church grows in places that are foreign to us, that we (Western Christians) would not only seek to give what we have to those who have less and need more, but that we would also listen to the voice of the global church, that is, to our Eastern and Southern sisters and brothers that surely have a lot to say about the Jesus Christ, the gospel and the scriptures. I'm sure that they'll bring fresh insights about all of this to us!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Redeemer Presbyterian Church
PROLEGOMENA: Sunday, March 11, 2007

As some of you may already know, today is the third Sunday of Lent, which, by the way, is 40 day period that Christians prepare themselves to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now, many churches around the world this morning will be reading from Psalm 63--the liturgical reading of the day. So, I thought I’d take the liberty to join Redeemer’s voice in with the voice of the global church. Verse 3 of Psalm 63 reads: “Because your love is better than life, my lips will praise you.”

Now, I don’t think David was completely aware of the hint we got from him when he penned this psalm, because to talk about God’s love is to always have Good Friday in view--the day that Jesus died. And it's John who helps makes sense of this for us when he says, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” You see, according to John’s statement, to understand what love is, is to bring Good Friday into sharp focus in your mind’s eye. So, are you ready to praise God this morning because of the picture of love we get when we focus in on the three dark hours of that one Friday two, or so, millenia ago? Welcome to worship!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Two Sides of the Same Coin:
The Federal Vision and Its Opponents (Part I)

Have you ever wondered why most people can't make heads or tails of the so-called Federal Vision (FV) debate within the PCA? Well, after listening to a conference hosted by Woodruff Road Prsbyterian Church entitled "Analyzing the Federal Vision," I am pursuaded that the strong opponents of the FV (Dr. Guy Waters of Belhaven College and Dr. Joey Pipa of Greenville Seminary, et al) are making the same mistake as those who unwaveringly hold to a FV theology. In my estimation, both camps' view can be reduced to one basic moderistic presupposition: radical false dichotimization!

One of the great mistakes of modernism was and is the wrenching apart of the natural and the supernatural. The postmodern critique of modernity has unabashedly used up the world's ink supply to prove this particular modernistic phonomenon as false. And it is my opinion (and the opinon of countless others) that postmodernity has won the battle with regard to this particular critique of modernity. That is to say, we've come to realize that both realms need to be held in tension.

So where do both camps find alignment? In my humble opinion, both camps fail to live in the tension that the Bible presents us with. FV proponents insist on highlighting the efficacy of the sacraments: that the Christian life begins with baptism. The FV opponents on the other hand are insisting that faith is the only necessary means to be called a Christian: that baptism means next to nothing. The apostle Paul could never tear the two realities apart. Moreover, the Reformed standards make clear that a "Christian" is one who believes in the person and work of Jesus Christ by the Spirit AND one who is baptized (cf. Mark 16:16. passim)! Remove one from the equation and you don't have a "Christian." So...

- Faith in the person and work of Jesus + No baptism ≠ Christan
- No faith in the person and work of Jesus + Baptism ≠ Christian
- Faith in the person and work of Jesus + Baptism = Christian

It's interesting that both pre-modern thinkers (Jesus, Paul et al) and postmodern thinkers find themselves more aligned on this. Therefore, it is my conclusion that both FV proponents and their opponents live on either side of the same modernistic-coin! That is, they both lack the ability to answer the question, "What makes someone a Christian, baptism or faith? as my former professor Dr. Clair Davis would have answered it. His answer: YES!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Redeemer Presbyterian Church
PROLEGOMENA: Sunday, March 4, 2007

This week in the magazine section of the New York Times, there was an interesting article entitled, “Why Do We Believe?” Now of course I can’t speak in depth about the article at this time, but I’d like to share with you one interesting fact it highlighted.

One reason the article gave that supported the propensity of humans to have faith in a god as opposed to the rest of the animal kingdom is, “[humans have]…the capacity to impose a narrative…on whatever [we] encounter.” Or to put it another way, and in my own words, humans are storied creatures. Which seems to imply that without stories or without narratives, we’d have trouble making sense of the world.

Now, the stories we tell each other to make sense of reality don’t have to be long, arduous or complex to do the job. They can, instead, be short and pithy, just like the one Paul tells the church in Corinth in just one sentence. He says, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve...and this is what you believed.”

You see, if Paul were around to read the New York Times article, he would have undoubtedly agreed with the New York Times quote. And that’s why he told the Corinthian church the story that he told them in the way that he told them. Because he also understood that without stories, life simply wouldn’t make much sense. So, are you ready to hear more this morning about the story Paul summed up in one sentence? Welcome to worship!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

"At the Beginning" of Each Week...

As the title of this post hints at, I have decided, after being encouraged by my colleague Mark Robinson, who blogs under Post Cogito, that I will begin to make available, every Monday, "At the Beginning of Each Week," the reflection that I use to open up the worship service at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. (How's that for a sentence that competes with Paul's in Ephesians 1.)

Therefore, for those interested, you can begin lurking on Mondays for my "worship reflections" or check back at your leisure under the topic heading, PROLEGOMENA--a fitting heading for the opening words of a Redeemer Presbyterian Church worship service.

(And for you Hebrew scholars out there: as you can see, I took the liberty of translating the preposition bet in bereshit as "at." A fine way to render it in my book!)

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Hermeneutics of Life

Every day we try to make sense of life. And if not just our own lives, then we (especially pastors) try to help others make sense of theirs. It's simply one of the great human (and pastoral) endeavors! It doesn't matter what it is we're dealing with, or what we're trying to sift through, because the fact remains, we're always "dealing" and "sifting." Why? Because we never have all the data! It's just impossible! In other words, we're forced to attempt to make sense of our lives (or the lives of others) with various little bits and pieces of the story. New information is always surfacing; new data is always coming to the fore. Sometimes I think it's a kin to painting by numbers or a jigsaw puzzle--that all we can do is take an educated guess at what the picture is as we put color on the canvas or put another piece in the puzzle.

In Grant R. Osborne's book, The Hermeneutical Spiral, "Osborne contends that hermeneutics is a spiral from text to context--a movement between the horizon of the text and the horizon of the reader that spirals nearer and nearer toward the intended meaning of the text and its significance for today."

Making sense of life's situations is much the same as Osborne's thesis (especially in pastoral counseling). We move between the bits of data we receive and how we understand them, spiraling ever closer to "the truth"--what's really going on; what someone truly needs.

The "hermeneutics of life" can also be compared to viewing a Lichtenstein painting (since a Lichenstein is nothing other than a collection of dots: To view it properly you'll have to move between getting very close to the canvas and backing off it. If you're too close to the canvas, all you'll notice are large dots that make absolutely no sense; if your too far off, you'll never notice that the painting is a collection of dots. The movement between to two is essential!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Promises, Promises! (Part 2)

If there's one thing that the "post-liberals" are good for, it's getting sound-bites from them. I mean, they know how to take difficult topics and condense them into poetic paragraphs that conjure up image after image after image. Consider these words by Walter Brueggemann from his book The Land:

"Place is space that has historical meanings, where some things have happened that are now remembered and that provide continuity and identity across generations. Place is space in which important words have been spoken that have established identity, defined vocation, and envisioned destiny. Place is space in which vows have been exchanged, promises have been made, and demands have been issued. Place is indeed a protest against the unpromising pursuit of space. It is a declaration that our humanness cannot be found in escape, detactment, absence of commitment, and undefined freedom" (The Land, p. 4).

Part 1 of this post dealt with one verse in Paul (Romans 4:13) and the promise given to Abram in Genesis 12. Why, then, Part 2 you might ask? Foolish Sage posted a comment on Part 1 that forced me to further consider the issue (especially in light of the gnostic sentiment of one Reformed systematics professor). Foolish Sage's comment is as follows:

"I spoke with a seminary student just yesterday who was quite upset that her Reformed systematics teacher told her nothing we do for this present world counts for anything, since it is going to be completely destroyed and God is going to create a whole new world."

Again, the understanding beneath this systematics professor's comment is nothing less than gnosticism--that the earth and everything in it is useless (and meaningless) and all that counts are the ahistorical abstract ideas that float above the created realm.

First, the earth is the place where our Lord Jesus Christ was born, died and was raised to new life. It is also the place where YHWH made promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (generation, after generation, after generation, etc.). Thus, Brueggemann's first statement finds support in this very fact: if the earth is good enough for God to live in, it's surely good enough for us as well, and it's surely good enough for Him to redeem. That's good incarnational theology! Second, followers of Jesus are told to go out into the world, making disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! This lends support to Brueggemann's second point: Christians have a vocation in this world! Lastly, YHWH has said to his people, "I will be your God and you will be my people"...that's a promise! And Jesus said,"I will be with you always, to the very end of the age." Moreover, God's people have been asked to live in a certain way. You know, indicative-imperative stuff. Thus, the statement, "Place is space in which vows have been exchanged, promises have been made, and demands have been issued," is also a true statement about this place called earth.

So, does Christian-gnosticism win out? Not a chance!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Speaking Out of Both Sides of Your Mouth!
(or, Two-Faced!)

According to the Cambridge Dictionary of Idioms, the term, "to speak out of both side of one's mouth" means, "to say different things about the same subject when you are with different people in order to always please the people you are with." Then, the example that follows the definition is: "How can we trust any politicians when we know they're speaking out of both sides of their mouths?" What I found interesting was the relationship that the dictionary drew between the "untrustworthy" and the "politian." It's funny how the dictionary applied the term "speaking out of both sides of your mouth" to a politician and then labeled such a one, "untrustworthy."

What forced me to look up this particular idiom was what I believed the following statement was saying--a statement posted on the Westminster Theological Seminary homepage:

"Dr. Samuel Logan left the Westminster community at the end of January 2007. In appreciation and acknowledgment of Dr. Logan’s 27 years of devoted service to Westminster, we are honored to name him President and Professor of Church History Emeritus" (my italics).

A "President and Professor of Church History Emeritus" who's "[not part of] the community?" Hmmm? Interesting...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Promises, Promises! (Part 1)

A comparison reading of Romans 4:13 and Genesis 12:7 show us the eschatological mind of Paul's understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (And when I use the term "the gospel," I mean by it, "the good news about just what the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah of Israel affects/renews--individually, corporately, and as we'll soon see, cosmically.)

Romans 4:13 reads, "For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith" (NRSV).


Genesis 12:7 reads, "Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, 'To your offspring I will give this land'" (NRSV).

All that YHWH promised Abram in Gensis 12 was the "land of Canaan." Now, I don't know of a scholar who would say that the use of ha erats (the land) in the book of Genesis (particularly this verse in Gen 12) should be understood as "the entire earth," (cf. Walter Breuggemann's, The Land). What makes reading ha erats "globally" in Genesis 12:4 more difficult is that Abram is standing on the threshold of Canaan--a single plot of land in the Ancient Near East.

But of course Paul blows the doors off what all ancient commentators (both Jewish and Christian) believed about this passage. Paul's use of ho cosmos (the world) in Romans 4 goes far beyond the literal, physical earth. Moreover, it goes far, far beyond the promise given to Abram in Genesis 12. Paul now sees the gospel as an affectual and renewing means of "the entire cosmos!" Furthermore, Paul sees the gift as something far beyond Canaan, which is far beyond the original garden-gift to Adam. Paul would have said that Abram, Moses, David and every Jewish commentator (especailly Rabbinic) thereafter were extremely short-sighted! Why? Paul coundn't help but recognize the eschatological implications of the gospel. In Paul's mind, the gospel was nothing less than cosmic in it's scope (cf. Colossian 1).

Monday, February 19, 2007

Happy President's Day!

I thought I'd celebrate "President's Day" this year by highlighting the current work of one president that I consider a friend, Dr. Samuel T. Logan. Sam is the former president and chancellor of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, where he also taught church history for more than 25 years. He now serves as president of the World Reformed Fellowship (WRF), a free association of evangelical and Reformed churches from around the world. "WRF was formed to encourage understanding and cooperation among evangelical Presbyterian and Reformed denominations and institutions, and to link those institutions having ministry resources with those possessing vision but few resources. The fellowship promotes Reformed thinking, a Reformed world and life view, fosters evangelism and strategies on missions, church planting and theological education, and promotes international communication for the further advancement of the Gospel." WRF hopes

-to promote Reformed thinking and a Reformed world and life view;
-to inform and encourage churches and people who embrace the Reformed faith;
-to provide a forum for dialogue on current issues;
-to be able to offer direction to the evangelical Reformed community;
-to promote evangelization in the Reformed tradition;
-to maintain, strengthen, and defend the sound doctrines and
Biblical-theological tenets that distinguish us as Reformed Christians.

I became a member of WRF a few months ago for one simple reason: To get out of the American-Reformed plastic bubble and associate myself with Christians from around the world who are unlike myself (although, most everyone--according to Doug Green--are "unlike myself"). If, as Reformed Christians, we feel that we have something to offer the broader Christian world, then we should make it available. And that's what WRF is doing--sharing resources with and listening to the wider World-Christian voice, a voice that is becoming exceedingly louder with the expansion of the church in Africa and South America.

Sam, thank you for all your kingdom-work! Oh, and happy President's Day! (And, see you in San Paolo, Brazil in March!)

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Reformed Sacerdotalism (in Practice)?

Despite the fact that Christians of the Reformed (and broadly Protestant) persuasion insist that they (we) are non- or anti-sacerdotal, a closer look into Reformed (and Protestant) practices will reveal otherwise.

Since the time of the Reformation, most Protestant churches have shifted the aesthetics of their sanctuaries. Roman Catholic churches have always placed the Eucharist at the visual center of the sanctuary. Since the Reformation, however, most Protestants replaced the Eucharist with the pulpit. This had the effect of elevating (both spatially and psychologically) the preaching of the Word over the sacraments. Peter Leithart refers to this as making the sacraments "appendixes" to the preaching of the Word. This has, according to Leithart, forced Protestants to view the Sacraments as "expendable." In Against Christianity Leithart explains:

"So long as baptism and the Supper are seen as "appendixes," they will be seen as expendable. Characterizing baptism and the Supper as "appendixes" to the Word, further, is part and parcel of a Protestant tendency toward the "primacy of the intellect." It is rationalism, in that it reduces baptism and the Supper to a means of communicating information. But that is not what rituals are for."

Generally I agree with Leithart. Protestant churches (including Reformed churches) have not walked away from the Reformation unaffected by Enlightenment categories: The material realm is unnecessary, while the immaterial realm is all we need. "Faith" is all that matters; the ancient practices of the church mean little, if nothing at all. The "noumenal" and the "phenomenal" (to use Kantian terms) cannot interact on any level. (The Apostle Paul was diametrically opposed to this Kantian/Enlightenment/(even) Reformed reality! He saw that the truth of the gospel dispelled this Hellenistic heresy.) But the truth is, Protestant practices reveal something a little different (especially Reformed Protestants!).

While most Protestants will allow their center-stage pulpits to be filled by any Tom, Dick or Harry preacher (even if just once), they WILL NOT allow anyone except a duly ordained minister to preside over the sacraments! In other words, Protestants are sacerdotal in practice as opposed to their rhetoric. Therefore, it's safe to say that Protestant churches (especially Reformed ones) may need to rethink the place (and effect) of their sacramental theology (and the ministers who administer them) in the life of the church based on the fact that we don't preach what we practice!

Monday, January 29, 2007

"Slipping in the Back Door"
(Some Random Thoughts on the Siouxland Presbytery Report)

The Siouxlands Presbytery of the PCA recently adopted a report by a study committee it had erected to deal with the so-called New Perspective on Paul, the so-called Federal Vision and Norman Shepherd's theology. Now, whether or not I agree with (all of some of) its findings is besides the point. The point of this post is to highlight a few random thoughts.

1. At a time when a lot ministers in the PCA are becoming increasingly frustrated with the denomination's current trajectory--a trajectory that is anti-ecumenical and increasingly uncharitable--and a few churches have withdrawn from the denomination, I'm thankful that the PCA is the kind of place that allows each presbytery the freedom to decide matters like these on their own. Moreover, the Siouxlands Presbytery document carries little if no weight in other presbyteries and in the denomination as a whole (thankfully!).

2. The document itself is far from nuanced. The conclusion reads: "The proponents of these views are outside the system of doctrine of the Westminster standards and do contradict the Scriptural teaching."


3. I believe that the good majority of people who are gearing up to fight this particular battle also support (or have supported) strict subscription to the Westminster Standards in the denomination. Therefore, it's another way of getting at the issue of strict subscription adherence (or the need for strict subscription adherence) to the Standards. In other words, I believe that the argument for strict subscription adherence to the Standards is trying to slip into the back door and has found a way to piggyback itself on this issue.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Echoes of Jonah in the Jesus Story

Whether or not the Book of Jonah is historically accurate is not the point of this post. The Gospel writers (Matthew and Luke) make it clear that they knew the story and read the story and used it typologically for Jesus (they even put it in Jesus' mouth). But there are a few other interesting connections between Jesus and the story of Jonah that the Gospel writers pick up on:

1. Matthew picks up on the obvious connection: Jesus' death stay is 3 days long, just as Jonah's encapsulation in the gut of the fish in the depths of the sea (what the writer of Jonah equates with Sheol--the place of the dead) was 3 days long.

2. Luke is more subtle and doesn't mention the 3 day parallel: He hints at the 40 day post resurrection account. Both Jonah and Jesus have a 40 day post resurrection occurrence.

3. In the famous Jesus Stills the Storm pericope, all three synoptic writers have Jesus sleeping in the boat just as the storm begins to rage, threatening to drown the disciples. This is an uncanny parallel with the Jonah story: Jonah was sleeping in the boat as the storm began to rage threatening to drown the newfound YHWH fearing sailors.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

New Years Eve Reflection on Genesis 3: "The King Has No Clothes"

I recently preached a sermon on Genesis 3 through the lens of what Adam and Eve were wearing. You can listen here.

Since my undergraduate art history class, I haven't been able to shake the Masaccio image on the left--an image which perfectly portrays the horror and shame of Adam and Eve's expulsion from the garden. What was branded in my mind was Eve's expression--one which should be on the face of every human being once we have come to the realization that we have been exiled from the presence of the God of the universe.