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!