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The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (Book Highlights)

The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (Book Highlights)

A Jewish PerspectiveThe Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective

by Pinchas Lapide, translated by Wilhelm C. Linss

Augsburg Publishing, 1983

 


 

The resurrection of Jesus is central to the Christian faith. Without the resurrection, there would be no Christianity, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).

Historically, Jesus’ resurrection (along with his claims to be the Son of God and the Son of Man) has always been the point of contention that separates Christians and Jews. However, the Orthodox Jewish theologian Pinchas Lapide (1922–1997), in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, turns that expectation on its head. Though he does not believe Jesus is the Messiah, Lapide does believe that the resurrection of Jesus was a historical event. Recognizing that Jesus and his disciples were faithful Jews, he seeks to understand it from a Jewish perspective.

Foundational Faith

According to Lapide, belief in resurrection was common in Judaism of Jesus’ day. He points out that not only does the Old Testament record several resurrections (or resuscitations; 1 Kings 17:17–24; 2 Kings 4:18–37; 13:20–21), it alludes to the future resurrection for all people in a number of places (Job 19:25–27; Hosea 6:1–2; Ezek. 37:11–14; Dan. 12:2). Individual resurrections provided the basis for the final, general resurrection. Lapide claims, “This certainty of a future resurrection of all and of a possible earlier resurrection of some people especially graced by God was the precondition of the Easter faith of the disciples” (p. 64). Thus, the Jewish faith of the apostles was the foundation of their faith in the risen Christ.

Lapide does see the cross “as a definite pledge of God.”

Though he believes the New Testament embellished some of the facts, Lapide argues that the oldest accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are simple and unexaggerated, which contributes to their reliability: “Instead of exciting Easter jubilation we hear repeatedly of doubts, disbelief, hesitation, and such simple things as the linen cloths and the napkins in the empty tomb” (p. 100). Furthermore, “The best proof for the solid faith in the resurrection is probably the realistic way in which the two oldest Gospels describe the painful death and Jesus’ cry of despair on the cross: ‘And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last’ (Mark 15:37)” (p. 110).

Only 3 explanations

In Lapide’s mind, Jesus’ resurrection and appearances have only three possible explanations. They were either:

  1. A religious myth,
  2. A series of individual personal experiences, or
  3. Historical events.

Though formerly a skeptic of Jesus’ resurrection, re-examining the evidence led Lapide to accept the resurrection as historical fact: “If the defeated and depressed group of disciples overnight could change into a victorious movement of faith, based only on autosuggestion or self-deception—without a fundamental faith experience—then this would be a much greater miracle than the resurrection itself” (p. 126).

Resurrection, Lapide argues, is a hope Christians and Jews share.

Modern explanations of the resurrection that de-historicize the event appear to Lapide “as all too abstract and scholarly to explain the fact that the solid hillbillies from Galilee who, for the very real reason of the crucifixion of their master, were saddened to death, were changed within a short period of time into a jubilant community of believers” (p. 129). If God truly was active in the miraculous events of the Old Testament, then Jesus’ resurrection is not inconceivable.

While Lapide does not see Christ’s work on the cross as accomplishing redemption, he does see it “as a definite pledge of God, as a down payment of further hope for the longed-for complete redemption which we all are still expecting” (p. 136). Moreover, though he thinks Christianity has misinterpreted it, Lapide believes Jesus’ resurrection has “helped advance the divine plan of salvation” because it has “carried the faith in the God of Israel into the whole Western world” (p. 142). The resurrection of Jesus can still provide hope of God’s faithfulness to Jews who are waiting their messiah, Lapide asserts.

A Common Hope

Jesus’ resurrection does not have to be miraculous, according to Lapide. The works of God “do not arbitrarily skip the natural chain of cause and effect like the works of the sorcerer in a fairytale” (p. 150). Resurrection is no more miraculous than is the creation of life through natural birth: “Why should the resurrection of a personal ego after passing through death be more miraculous than the gradual awakening of a human being out of the lifeless matter of a fertilized ovum?” (p. 151). Rather than a supernatural event, the resurrection is a natural event that gives meaning to all of life, and “the hope of resurrection is a reasonable faith which should be sufficient for a meaningful, fulfilling life on earth” (p. 151). Resurrection, Lapide argues, is a hope that Christians and Jews share.

Lapide does not believe the resurrection proves Jesus is the Messiah.

It is unique for a Jewish scholar to accept the resurrection of Jesus as a historical event. Yet as Carl Braaten writes in the introduction, “It is the contradictory interpretation placed on the final 48 hours from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, the decisive events—cross and resurrection—on which the whole of Christianity is based” (pp. 13–14). Christians (and the New Testament) see in these events the revelation of the messianic identity of Jesus, while Jews still look for the Messiah who will establish God’s kingdom. Lapide accepts the resurrection as thoroughly historical, yet he is not a Christian because he does not believe it proves that Jesus is the Messiah.

For Lapide, Jesus is just a member of the great line of patriarchs and prophets who pave the way for the full salvation to be brought about through God’s kingdom. For Christians, the resurrection is God’s miraculous testimony that Jesus is “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:26), “the Holy and Righteous One . . . the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 3:14–15). We as Christians believe that God “commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30–31).

The Necessary Ministry of the Holy Spirit

The Necessary Ministry of the Holy Spirit

The below is an abridged excerpt from “The Ministry of the Holy Spirit,” a chapter that Mike Wilkerson and I co-authored in the new book Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling, which was just released yesterday.

It’s About Engagement, Not A Process

Life is a mess of sin and suffering. When people find themselves in over their heads, they come to us the counselors, and quickly we’re in over our heads with them.

What do they want? Often they want relief from the pain or practical advice for how to break sin patterns. Sometimes they’re aware that there’s more to it, something deeper.

We can’t go far without prayer and Scripture.

What do we want for them? If we’re thinking biblically, then we’ll want to provide some immediate, practical help. But we also know that the roots of their problems are likely deeper than they are aware, and that God is often up to something greater than merely cleaning up the messes as we see them and in the ways that we would clean them.

We know that biblical counseling will involve prayer and Scripture—we can’t go far without those. Yet if we’re not careful, even prayer and Scripture can be deployed in the counseling process as mere techniques (the technologies of biblical counseling) rather than as means of engaging with the living God, who alone is sufficient for the needs at hand.

It’s The Holy Spirit’s Counseling

Rather than asking about the role of the Holy Spirit in counseling, we should be asking about the counselor’s role in the Holy Spirit’s counseling! Yes, there will be Scripture. Yes, there will be prayer. Yet, it is good for us to focus on the Holy Spirit’s personal presence, agency, and efficacy. We should not reduce him to the topic of “prayer in counseling,” nor to “Scripture in counseling.”

By taking this more personal approach, we’ll be reminded that prayer is not just a technique of spirituality—it is conversation with our Redeemer, a person.

The Holy Spirit is the primary counselor.

Further, the Spirit is at work even before we pray and in ways for which we may not even know how to pray. He does more than we ask or think (Eph. 3:20). We’ll also be reminded that the Scriptures are not magical formulas that work apart from our understanding; they are meaningful communications from a personal God about himself that we might know him. It is the Spirit who opens our hearts and minds to know God through the Scriptures.

Counseling that lacks this dependence on the Holy Spirit ceases to be Christian. Jay Adams is emphatic here:

Ignoring the Holy Spirit or avoiding the use of Scriptures in counseling is tantamount to an act of autonomous rebellion. Christians may not counsel apart from the Holy Spirit and his Word without grievously sinning against him and the counselee.

 

Siang-Yang Tan agrees:

The role of the Holy Spirit in counseling is therefore a crucial one. He is the ultimate source of all true healing and wholeness. All true Christian counseling needs to be done in the Spirit, by the Spirit’s power, truth, and love, under the Lordship of Christ, and to the glory of God

It’s A Trialogue

If the Holy Spirit is the primary counselor, then biblical counseling is not merely a dialogue between a counselor and a counselee. Rather. It is a trialogue in which a counselor participates in the Spirit’s work already underway with the counselee. The Spirit is actively engaged in counseling, working directly on the counselor and the counselee, and through each to help the other.

 

Download the entire chapter

 


 

Copyright © 2013 abridged expert from Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling, James MacDonald, Bob Kellemen, and Steve Viars, eds. 

 

How People Change (Book Highlights)

How People Change (Book Highlights)

How People Change

by Timothy S. Lane & Paul David Tripp

New Growth Press, 2006


The central theme of How People Change is that much of the time, Christians live with a “gospel gap.” We believe the gospel intellectually, but we don’t live out its implications practically. This gospel gap “subverts our identity as Christians and our understanding of the present work of God” as it “undermines every relationship in our lives, every decision we make, and every attempt to minister to others” (p. 2).

The Gospel Gap

The gospel gap produces three kinds of blindness: “blindness of identity,” when we underestimate the power of indwelling sin and misunderstand our identity in Christ Jesus; “blindness of God’s provision,” when we do not understand that God has provided “everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3); and “blindness to God’s process,” when we forget that the Christian life is one of “constant work, constant growth, and constant confession and repentance” (p. 6).

Many external things can wrongly fill the gap of the gospel for us:

  • Formalism reduces the gospel to church attendance and spiritual disciplines.
  • Legalism adds to the gospel law-keeping and rule-keeping.
  • Mysticism reduces the gospel to personal experience.
  • Activism reduces the gospel to doing social justice.
  • Biblicism reduces the gospel to loving theology more than Jesus.
  • Psychology-ism reduces the gospel to therapy.
  • Socialism reduces the gospel to being accepted by a particular Christian community.

By contrast, the authors offer five gospel perspectives that fill the gospel gap:

  1. Awareness of “the extent and gravity of our sin” because we cannot be properly cured without a correct diagnosis.
  2. A focus on “the centrality of the heart” which emphasizes that sin corrupts not only our behaviors but our motivations.
  3. Attention to “the present benefits of Christ” because the gospel is the root not only of our justification but also our sanctification.
  4. A reminder of “God’s call to growth and change” because Christian growth requires self-conscious attention.
  5. A call to “a lifestyle of repentance and faith” because the grace of God is not merely the experience of forgiveness but also the enabling power of change.

According to Tripp and Lane, there are five common “deceitful” teachings that Christians sometime believe which cause us to lose gospel perspective and falsely attribute the root of our problems to our 1) circumstances, 2) behavior, 3) negative thinking, 4) low self-concept, or 5) the idea that we “just need to trust Jesus more.” Understanding the gospel helps us see that none of these can be the ultimate root of our sin or lack of Christian growth.

How God Changes Us

Christian “change is a community product” (p. 73). We can’t change ourselves or fix our problems alone. God intends that we change with others and that others change with us. Community has been ordained by God because God himself lives in community. Although relationships are always messy, personal change happens in community because God gives a diversity of gifts to individuals in the community. No one has the same gift, and everyone needs a diversity of gifts to grow.

Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is not primarily a set of ways to live but a “big picture book.” The big picture of the Bible is the story of redemption. It is panoramic as it “introduces us to God, defines our identity, lays out the meaning and purpose of life, and shows us where to find help for the one disease that infects us all—sin” (p. 92). This picture tells us what life in a fallen world is like, who we are as fallen human beings, who Jesus is as Savior and Lord of all things, and how he progressively transforms us by grace.

You can respond to the heat of life with fruit.

Jeremiah 17:5–10 provides four images which create a model for appropriating the big picture of the Bible for our own lives:

  1. Heat represents “life in a fallen world,” and in the authors’ model it stands for a person’s situation in daily life, with difficulties, blessings, and temptations (pp. 95–96). It asks the question: “What is your situation?” (p. 105) An honest assessment of your experience is important to personal change.
  2. Thorns represent “the ungodly person who turns away from God” and in their model it stands for a person’s “ungodly response to the situation. [This] includes behavior, the heart driving the behavior, and the consequences that result” (pp. 95–96) It asks the questions: “How do you react? What do you want and believe?” (p. 106) Life doesn’t just happen to you. You react to it, and you are not forced to react the way you do. Your heart determines your reactions.
  3. The Cross is not explicitly found in the text but shows God as the Redeemer who “comforts, cleanses, and empowers those who trust him.” In the authors’ model it stands for “the presence of God in his redemptive glory and love. Through Christ, he brings comfort, cleansing, and the power to change” (p. 96). It asks the question: “Who is God and what does he say and do in Christ?” (p. 106) God is with you now and there is grace to change. Jesus is remaking and renewing you.
  4. Fruit in the text represents “the godly person who trusts the Lord,” and in their model it stands for the person’s “new godly response to the situation resulting from God’s power at work in the heart [including] behavior, the heart renewed by grace, and the harvest of consequences that follow” (p. 96). It asks the question: “How is God calling me to seek him in repentance and faith?” (p. 107) Because of God’s grace in your life, you can change. You can respond to the heat of life without thorns but with fruit.

The Ten Commandments illustrate that our sinful actions towards others (commandments 6–10) are the result of our tendency to worship something other than God (commandments 1–4). A grace-centered life of pursuing change is being honest about our sin, and being overwhelmed by God’s great love for us and promise to redeem us fully from sin.

Finally, Lane and Tripp offer five realities to remember as God changes our hearts:

  1. You are already a fruit tree because of what Christ has done for you.
  2. The Christian life is about living by faith in Christ, with the possibilities and privileges he brings.
  3. Because Christ has made you a new creation, good things are possible even in difficulty.
  4. Because you are united with Christ and his Spirit lives in you, trials and temptations are opportunities to experience the power of God at work.

God calls you to a new identity in Christ (“This is who I am”) and therefore a new way of living (“This is what I can be”) (pp. 220–221).

 

 

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The Temple & The Church’s Mission (Book Highlights)

The Temple & The Church’s Mission (Book Highlights)

The Temple and the Church’s Mission

by G. K. Beale

Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004.


 

In The Temple and the Church’s Mission, biblical theologian Gregory Beale answers two major questions. First, why does “a new heaven and a new earth” in Revelation 21:1 appear as a garden-like temple (Rev. 21:2–3, Rev. 10–22:3)? Second, how does this vision relate “to Christians and their role in fulfilling the mission of the church” (23–25)?

Beale’s thesis is “that the Old Testament tabernacle and temples were symbolically designed to point to the cosmic eschatological reality that God’s tabernacling presence, formerly limited to the holy of holies, was to be extended throughout the whole earth” (26).

The Symbolism of a Temple

In the first portion of the book, Beale examines the cosmic symbolism found in Old Testament and ancient Near Eastern temples. He argues that “the Garden of Eden was the first archetypal temple, and that it was the model for all subsequent temples . . . the Old Testament tabernacle and temples were symbolical microcosms of the whole creation. As microcosmic symbolic structures they were designed to point to a worldwide eschatological temple that perfectly reflects God’s glory. It is this universally expanded eschatological temple that is pictured in Revelation’s last vision” (26).

As Beale shows, “Ezekiel 28 explicitly calls Eden the first sanctuary, which substantiates that Eden is described as a temple because it is the first temple, albeit a ‘garden-temple.’ Early Judaism confirms this identification. Indeed, it is probable that even the similar ancient Near Eastern temples can trace their roots back to the original primeval garden” (79–80).

The mark of the true church is an expanding witness to the presence of God.

Adam, the kingly gardener, priest, and watchman over Eden, was to subdue the earth as God’s image-bearer (Gen. 1:26–28). Adam and Eve “were to reflect God’s kingship by being his vice-regents on earth” (81). Israel is also depicted as “corporate Adam,” as Beal calls it. “The nation’s task was to do what Adam had first been commissioned to do. Israel failed even as had Adam. And like Adam, Israel was also cast out of their ‘garden land’ into exile” (119–121).

Both Adam and Israel were given the role of expanding God’s temple on the earth: “Eden and the temple signified a divine mandate to enlarge the boundaries of the temple until they formed the borders around the whole earth. Sometimes the thought may be that the entire land of Israel, conceived as a large Garden of Eden, was to be expanded” (123). As Habakkuk writes, “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).

Christ and His Church: The Ultimate Temple

The role given to Adam and Israel—to expand God’s temple into all the earth—is fulfilled in the ultimate Israelite, Jesus Christ, and his church: “The New Testament pictures Christ and the church as finally having done what Adam, Noah, and Israel had failed to do in extending the temple of God’s presence throughout the world. Luke 2:32 and Acts 26:23 picture Christ as fulfilling this commission to be a ‘light’ to the end of the earth (an allusion to the Servant Israel’s commission in Isa. 49:6)” (169). Jesus’ Great Commission promise to go with his disciples to the ends of the earth (Matt. 28) gives further support to this conclusion.

The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, with people from a multitude of languages being drawn in, is a reversal of Babel. Moreover, there are hints of the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy of the new temple at Pentecost: “The coming of the Spirit indicates a shift in redemptive history whereby forgiveness of sins derives from Jesus instead of Israel’s temple priests” (204).

We will not bear fruit unless we stay out of the shadows.

From the letters to the Corinthians, Ephesians, and Colossians, we see that the church is the temple of God. “Just as God’s glory uniquely dwelt in Israel’s old temple, so the glorious attributes of God are to be manifested in the Corinthians both individually and corporately, since they are the new temple. Similarly, the consummated temple in the new creation will perfectly reflect ‘the glory of God (Rev. 21:11), and ‘nothing unclean . . . shall ever come into it’ (Rev. 21:27)” (252). The temple of God has received its fulfillment not in a literal structure but instead in the church.

In Hebrews, Jesus is portrayed as the veil of the heavenly end-time tabernacle as well as the end-time tabernacle itself. Moreover, “Mount Zion” and the “heavenly Jerusalem” are pictured as equivalent to the end-time temple. Significant to this is the fact that “Hebrews 12:22–28 says that believers have begun to participate in an unshakeable mountain, temple, and kingdom, which are different images for the same one reality of God’s glorious kingship in a new creation” (306).

In Revelation, the Eden-like imagery describing the city-temple (Rev. 22:1–3) shows that the building of the temple that began in Genesis 2 but was abandoned will be commenced again and completed in Christ and his people, and will encompass the whole new creation. In addition, the Revelation imagery of lampstands points to the church’s temple-expanding mission: “The church symbolized as a ‘lampstand’ in Revelation 11 represents God’s temple-presence that is given power by ‘the seven lamps’ . . . a power primarily to witness as a light uncompromisingly to the world so that the gates of hell (Rev. 2:9–11, 13) would not prevail against the building of God’s temple. . . . The lampstands represent the church as the true temple and the totality of the people of God witnessing between the period of Christ’s resurrection and his final coming” (327).

The Temple and the Church’s Mission

Beale’s conclusion is that all Christians are now spiritual priests serving God in his temple, of which we are part. As priests we are called to fulfill the role originally given to Adam, “to keep the order and peace of the spiritual sanctuary by learning and teaching God’s word, by praying always, and by being vigilant in keeping out unclean moral and spiritual things,” and to continually offer our own bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1), following the example of Jesus” (398–399). Moreover, “Believers are priests in that they serve as mediators between God and the unbelieving world. When unbelievers accept the church’s mediating witness, they not only come into God’s presence, but they begin to participate themselves as mediating priests who witness” (400).

In conclusion, “We as the church will not bear fruit and grow and extend across the earth in the way God intends unless we stay out of the shadows of the world and remain in the light of God’s presence—in his word and prayer and in fellowship with other believers in the church, the temple of God. The mark of the true church is an expanding witness to the presence of God: first to our families, then to others in the church, then to our neighborhood, then to our city, then the country, and ultimately the whole earth” (401).

 

 

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Finally Alive (Book Highlights)

Finally Alive (Book Highlights)

Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

–John 3:7–8

Finally Alive: What Happens When We Are Born Again

by John Piper


In his book Finally Alive, John Piper aims to recover a phrase that has lost some of its power—“born again.” These days, being “born again” is often equated with attending church, but the term itself has entered popular culture and often refers to any mystical experience or new lease on life. Piper reminds his readers that being born again is not merely flowery language, but describes the crucial moment of salvation. He sets out to describe the new birth by answering a series of questions:

  • What is the new birth?
  • Why must we be born again?
  • How does the new birth come about?
  • What are the effects of the new birth?
  • How can we help others be born again?

What is the new birth?

Piper begins by exploring the story of Jesus and Nicodemus from John 3, the most famous instance of the born again language in Scripture. Using this conversation as a template for new birth, Piper answers his first question—What is the new birth? As Piper describes it, the new birth is an act of the Holy Spirit, not of an individual person. When we say that a person has been born again, we mean that the Holy Spirit has supernaturally intervened in their lives to give them new life.

The new life that the Spirit gives to believers is not just a feeling or a renewed vigor to live rightly—the life which the Spirit gives is Jesus Christ himself. What Jesus offered Nicodemus and what we receive when we are born again is the new life of Christ. This means that we do not just experience an improvement on our previously broken selves; we become an entirely new person, still recognizable, yet completely changed. As Piper writes, this new self is “a nature that is really you, and is forgiven and cleansed; and a nature that is really new, and is being formed by the indwelling Spirit of God” (28).

Why must we be born again?

Why must the cure for our situation be as radical as a new birth? Piper asks, “Do we really need to be changed? Can’t we just be forgiven?” (48). To answer this, he turns to a litany of biblical passages to highlight the hopeless situation of those without the new life of Christ. From Ephesians, he notes that apart from the new birth, we are dead in trespasses, are by nature children of wrath, and are slaves to Satan. From Romans, he points out that apart from the new birth, we are slaves to sin, unable to submit to God. From the gospel of John, he shows that apart from the new birth, we are unable to come to Christ because we love darkness and hate the light. The overwhelming sensation is that human life outside of the new birth is really no life at all. A new birth is absolutely necessary.

How does the new birth come about?

As the imagery of birth shows, there is a certain passive element to being born again. It is the primary work of the Holy Spirit, and a person has as much control over being born as a physical child does in childbirth. Yet Piper balances the work of the Spirit with the simultaneous action that occurs in the life of the individual—faith in Christ. The new birth comes about because of the work of the Spirit, but from our perspective, we see evidence of the new birth when a person places their faith in Christ. As Piper explains it, “Our first experience of this [new birth] is the faith in Jesus that this life brings. There is no separation of time here. When we are born again, we believe. And when we believe, we know we have been born again. When there is fire, there is heat. When there is new birth, there is faith” (78). Piper acknowledges that this balance reflects a mystery, but that this accurately reflects the biblical depiction of the new birth.

The new birth that God creates in believers is part of the broader work of God in renewing and restoring all of his fallen creation. The new life of Christ that springs up in believers is like a down-payment, a promise of the future regeneration of both our bodies and this physical world. The new birth is “the first installment of what’s coming.” New birth gives us the confidence that “God’s final purpose is not spiritually renewed souls inhabiting decrepit bodies in a disease and disaster-ravaged world. His purpose is a renewed world with renewed bodies and renewed souls that take all our renewed senses and make them a means of enjoying and praising God” (89).

All of this regeneration occurs as a result of the character of God, not because of any worthiness in creation or in us. The result of the new birth is our faith in Christ, not the other way around. “In other words,” he writes, “‘hearing with faith’ is what happens when we are ‘born again through the living and abiding word of God.’ The gospel—the news about Jesus Christ—is preached, we hear it, and through it we are born again. Faith is brought into being” (114).

What are the effects of the new birth?

Piper draws eleven principles from the book of 1 John to illustrate how the life of believers differs from the life of non-believers. Most importantly, those who are born of God believe in Jesus and love other people. Faith in Christ stands above our love for others, since our love may waver, but believers can always trust in the unchanging Christ. “Even if you have failed to love as you ought,” he writes, “he has never failed to love as he ought. And this perfect one stands before God and advocates for you” (140). As believers grow in the new birth, we want to imitate the love of God more and more in our daily lives. We will not achieve perfection in this life, and we need to constantly turn to Christ for forgiveness, but the new birth has definite and distinct results.

How can we help others be born again?

The final portion of the book is focused outward: How can we help others be born again? “The biblical answer is not obscure, and it’s not complicated. The answer is: Tell people the good news of Christ from a heart of love and a life of service” (166). In all of his emphasis on the work of God in the new birth, Piper ends with a stirring call to personal evangelism. He encourages his readers to treasure the Word of God until they cannot help but share that truth with others. A lost world desperately needs the truth that can make them finally alive.

 

 

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Culture Making (Book Highlights)

Culture Making (Book Highlights)

“Culture—making something of the world, moving the horizons of possibility and impossibility—is what human beings do and were meant to do. Transformed culture is at the heart of God’s mission in the world, and it is the call of God’s redeemed people. But changing the world is the one thing we cannot do. As it turns out, fully embracing this paradoxical reality is at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian culture maker.”  –Andy Crouch

Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling

Downers Grove, Ill. InterVarsity Press, 2008.


Andy Crouch’s book Culture Making has three main purposes: First, he offers Christians a new vocabulary to talk about “culture.” Second, he provides a new look at the “old story”—the Christian gospel. Third, he presents a new way of thinking about the calling of Christians in the world.

What is culture?

In Part 1: Culture, Crouch begins by defining culture, a term often used but rarely understood. For Crouch, culture has two aspects. On one hand, “Culture is what we make of the world” (23). On the other, “it is in fact part of the world that every human being has to make something of” (25). Culture defines the boundaries between what is possible and what is impossible, between what is real and what is not. It is the construct within which we live, and is as inescapable as the air we breathe.

While culture forms the realm of possibilities for each of us, this does not mean that culture is a monolithic and unchanging entity. Culture comes in a variety of scales, ranging in size from the family to whole civilizations. As these families or civilizations interact, they inevitably change their respective cultures. Most of these changes are imperceptible at the time, but Crouch notes that the most enduring cultural changes are those that take place over a long period of time.

Only when creating cultural products in the public spheres of art, science, education, music, and politics can Christians hope to truly transform prevailing cultural models.

Christians have long assumed one of four postures towards culture—either condemning it, critiquing it, copying it, or consuming it wholesale. While each of these stances can be appropriate towards certain cultural goods, none ought to become the default posture of a Christian in society. Instead, Crouch commends cultivation: “The only way to change culture,” he says, “is to create more of it” (67). Only when creating cultural products in the public spheres of art, science, education, music, and politics can Christians hope to truly transform prevailing cultural models.

The gospel and culture

In Part 2: Gospel, Crouch turns to the Bible to inform his discussion of culture. God, as Creator, made culture, which is seen in his decision to place Adam in a garden, itself a cultural artifact. Culture, then, was no accident, but an intentional feature of God’s creation. And in commanding Adam to work the Garden of Eden, God invited him—as he invites us—to share in the task of culture-making.

Even though culture was initially part of God’s good creation, it soured with the Fall. But God continued to use culture even in his plan of redemption, choosing the people of Israel to carry his message to the world, eventually orchestrating the coming of his Son, Jesus.

Jesus’ existence was thoroughly cultural. He came at a definite time, in a definite geographical area, and lived a culturally Jewish life. Yet within this culture, Jesus offered a new cultural pattern, one of obedience to God rather than disobedience. Both Adam and Israel had failed in this: “The first Adam took his God-given freedom to make something of the world and chose a course that distorted the world; the second Adam laid aside both his human and divine creative powers” (142).

Culture will not disappear, but rather will find its rightful place within God’s kingdom.

Jesus’ new cultural pattern most often manifested itself in his teaching on the Kingdom of God: “In the kingdom of God a new kind of life and a new kind of culture become possible—not by abandoning the old but by transforming it” (146). Jesus, by willingly suffering on the cross, offered a creative cultural replacement that had not been seen before.

The gospel story ends with an unveiling of God’s final restorative act as depicted in Revelation. As Crouch reads it, not merely humanity but culture itself will be fully and finally restored in the new heavens and new earth. Culture will not disappear, but rather will find its rightful place within God’s kingdom. Our activity in heaven will be full of redeemed and God-honoring culture.

Christian life in culture

Crouch ends with Part 3: Calling, examining how Christians ought to live in light of the biblical picture of culture. He believes that while we can change the immediate culture around us, it is presumptuous and impossible to “change the world,” as Christians are often urged to do. The larger the scale of a certain culture, the less likely it is that one person can truly impact it. However, this is cause not for defeatism, but humility. While we cannot change the world, we can make real changes in the small culture around us: “Every cultural good, whether a new word, law, recipe, song or gadget, begins with a small group of people” (239).

The distinction between secular and sacred will dissolve as Christians seek to live lives of love in all spheres of culture.

The challenge for Christians, then, is to find their calling in the midst of their culture. To do this, Crouch recommends looking to where God is at work in redeeming culture and to join him there. “God is at work precisely in these places where the impossible seems absolute. Our calling is to join him in what he is already doing—to make visible what, in exodus and resurrection, he has already done” (216). God invites us to challenge the reigning power structures by living according to a biblical culture, one in which power is not wielded for personal gain, but is used in the service of others and for the glory of God.

Once we recognize that God is the one who is truly at work in any area of culture, our efforts to join him there will be taken with gratitude and humility. They will also be taken with a measure of freedom, since Crouch believes that “our most important cultural contribution will very likely come from doing whatever keeps us precisely in the center of delight and surprise” (252). The distinction between secular and sacred will dissolve as Christians seek to live lives of love in all spheres of culture. Christians will ask themselves where they find God multiplying their efforts, where the world is in great pain, and where they feel God quickening their heart to joy. And they will gladly take up their calling, knowing that while they cannot “change the world,” they can join God as he transforms the culture around them.

 


 

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Made To Stick (Book Highlights)

Made To Stick (Book Highlights)

“Business managers seem to believe that, once they’ve clicked through a PowerPoint presentation showcasing their conclusions, they’ve successfully communicated their ideas. What they’ve done is share data. . . . but they haven’t created ideas that are useful and lasting. Nothing stuck” (245–246). 

Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

by Chip and Dan Heath


What is it that makes some ideas persist, while others simply fade away? Why are certain urban legends memorable upon one hearing, while important information can be studied for hours while still not finding a place in a person’s mind? In short, what makes an idea stick in a person’s head?

The Curse of Knowledge

Brothers Chip and Dan Heath conducted their research in order to answer these questions, and the result was Made to Stick. Heath and Heath identify the persistent enemy of “sticky” ideas as the “Curse of Knowledge.” That is, those who know something well have a hard time remembering what it is like not to know it and can often have great difficulty in communicating.

While they warn their readers that creating sticky ideas is not a foolproof method, the Heath brothers do identify six features common to sticky ideas, principles that can help overcome the Curse of Knowledge. They maintain that following these six principles can help anyone transform their idea into a sticky one: “That’s the great thing about the world of ideas—any of us, with the right insight and the right message, can make an idea stick” (252). The six principles of sticky ideas spell out the acronym SUCCESs: Sticky ideas are Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, and packaged as Stories.

Simple

First, sticky ideas are simple. This does not imply, of course, that complex ideas can never become sticky. It rather recognizes that any idea, regardless of its complexity, must be stripped down to its core if it is to be memorable. This is why good news writers begin their articles with a “lead,” the single most gripping aspect of the story. No matter how complicated the article or situation is, it must be reduced to a single core message. As Heath and Heath put it, “If you say three things, you don’t say anything” (33). The simple idea, however, must also be profound. Proverbs are a prime example of sticky ideas, simple in their structure, but profound in their meaning.

Unexpected

Second, sticky ideas are unexpected. People quickly recognize patterns and are accustomed to filing new ideas into their existing mental framework, so for a new idea to stick, it must surprise them. It must create a void in their knowledge that they desire to be filled, a problem that they feel must be solved. Otherwise, the idea will be forgotten almost as soon as it is heard. Here the Curse of Knowledge becomes particularly meddlesome, since in the mind of the communicator, the idea is so obvious as to be common sense. “Common sense,” however, “is the enemy of sticky ideas” (72). Instead, communicators should emphasize what is counterintuitive about their idea to heighten feelings of surprise.

Concrete

Third, sticky ideas are concrete. As the Heath brothers write, “Abstraction is the luxury of the expert. If you’ve got to teach an idea to a room full of people, and you aren’t certain what they know, concreteness is the only safe language” (104). Concrete examples take advantage of everyday experiences as hooks on which to hang abstract ideas. People may have a hard time understanding what “prejudice” is, but they are not likely to forget an exercise in which they are split into two groups and treated differently based on an arbitrary feature. The concrete experience makes the abstract idea familiar, and thus, more memorable.

Credible

Fourth, sticky ideas are credible. Two types of credibility can aid a person in presenting their ideas. One is external: Cite an authority on a matter, or have a celebrity speak in favor of a position. Certain people might be perceived as credible “authorities” if they seem to be representative of the audience in question, as when actors portraying mothers star in laundry advertisements. The other type of credibility is internal, in which the idea is shown to be credible on its own merits. Several tools can aid in this credibility, including the Sinatra test. As Frank Sinatra sang of New York, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” The same can be applied to an idea—if it can work in one instance, that provides credibility that the same idea can make it anywhere.

Emotional

Fifth, sticky ideas are emotional. Rational belief alone is not enough to prompt people to act; they must also care. Sticky ideas appeal to the emotion of the audience, whether that emotion is one of pity, envy, pride, love, or even fear. One of the most common examples of using emotion to create a sticky idea is in personalizing an idea. As Mother Teresa said, “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will” (165). Thus an appeal for money to help starving African children finds less success than an appeal which includes the story of a 7-year-old African girl, complete with a picture of her and her family history. While such appeals are useful and necessary to make an idea stick, the brothers Heath warn that people are suspicious of emotional manipulation and quick to resist it. Emotion should not be overplayed.

Stories

Sixth, sticky ideas are packaged as stories. Stories can unite all of the previous five principles of sticky ideas comfortably and easily, as they provide both simulation and inspiration. In hearing a story, listeners simulate the events and place themselves in the narrative. Stories create in the listener’s mind a credible, concrete situation, disarming plausible objections that would arise if the same material were presented in argument form. At the same time, stories are easy to remember because they are simple, and they create an environment for unexpected twists to occur easily. In addition to simulation, stories create inspiration, drawing in the emotions of the listener. This is why urban legends—like the one about infamous kidney thieves leaving people in a bathtub full of ice—can thrive with literally no evidence to support them at all.

 


 

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Abraham Kuyper: Hero To A Nation

Abraham Kuyper: Hero To A Nation

Theologian for a nation

Have you ever heard of a theologian being so well-known that his birthday was a national holiday? The 19th-century Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper had such a great impact in the Netherlands that the entire nation celebrated his seventieth birthday in 1907.

Kuyper was a man of many hats: statesman, politician, educator, preacher, churchman, theologian, and philosopher. He was a modern-day Renaissance man who participated in the cultural conversation of his day.

While Kuyper’s influence has been felt throughout the 20th century in the Dutch Calvinist branch of the Reformed church, his influence has been expanding as scholars continue to mine his writings for resources to deal with the challenges of a public theology for the contemporary world.

 

Kuyper’s life

Abraham Kuyper was born to a middle-class pastor’s family in the remote fishing village of Maasluis, Netherlands, on October 29, 1837.

As a young boy, Abraham was thought to be a dull student. He began his early education from home. However, he went on to graduate with the highest honors from the University of Leiden, and he did his doctoral work in theology. Leiden, at the time, was a bastion of theological liberalism, with professors who questioned the resurrection of Christ and the existence of the supernatural and embraced a historical-critical view of Scripture.

Kuyper was captivated by this liberal stream of thought but was not content with its answers to all of his questions. After writing an award-winning treatise (in Latin!) on Calvin’s view of the church, Kuyper found himself overworked and exhausted. On a six-week vacation to Germany, he read Charlotte Yonge’s novel The Heir of Redclyffe, and “In the arrogant hero he recognized himself and his spiritual poverty.” He realized the church could console his weary soul in ways his studies could not. Kuyper had seen a vision of what the church could be in his study of Calvin’s writings, but he had not seen that church existing in the Netherlands. As a result, he pledged his life to reforming that church.

Ordained in 1863, Kuyper began to pastor a small church in the village of Beesd. There he found himself pulled in two different directions, both from his orthodox Reformed heritage and from the liberal theology he discovered at Leiden.

After meeting with members of his congregation in their homes, Kuyper found himself at a crisis. De Jong writes, “The choice lay between what he had learned at the university and what these simple folk so firmly believed.” This led him to the conviction that what was wrong with the Reformed church in the Netherlands was that it cared little for its membership, who had no voice in the church and even less a voice in the state and society.

Kuyper moved on to pastor in Utrecht and then, in 1870, he moved to pastor the Reformed Church in Amsterdam, the largest and most influential church in the Netherlands. He pastored there until he was elected to the Dutch parliament in 1874.

 

Kuyper’s career       

During the course of his 57-year career, Abraham Kuyper started two newspapers, founded an influential political party, helped create a new denomination, started a university, was elected as his nation’s prime minister, and authored numerous important books. He spent ten years as a preacher, twenty years as a professor, forty-two years as a newspaper editor and chairman of his political party, ten years as a member of the Dutch parliament, and four years as the prime minister.

Kuyper’s ideas and academic works emerged from his grass-roots effort to urge his constituency into action, and most of his writings first appeared as newspaper editorials and pamphlets.

In 1898, Kuyper visited the United States to deliver the Stone Lectures at Princeton Seminary. These were compiled into what is perhaps the most well-known work of Kuyper, his Lectures on Calvinism, which offer a biblical and systematic view of life and the world. Kuyper also published his own edition of Calvin’s Institutes, since he believed the widely available Dutch translation at the time was insufficient.

Kuyper was a man of action as well as ideas. As scholar James Bratt points out, “For every hour [Kuyper] spent studying great books, he spent two more hours plotting the tactics of church reform, wheeling and dealing with university trustees, meeting with party representatives…Kuyper was a movement leader, an institution builder, as well as an intellectual.” Kuyper spurred church, social, cultural, and political change through the advancement of his Reformed views of education, the church, and the state.

 

Kuyper’s theological distinctives  

There are two theological concepts for which Kuyper is most famous: sphere sovereignty and common grace.

Kuyper is known for his famous phrase, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry ‘Mine!’” Indeed, this concept of “sphere sovereignty” is one of Kuyper’s most original ideas. Theologian Richard Mouw describes this concept:

God, [Kuyper] insisted, built into the creation a variety of cultural spheres, such as the family, economics, politics, art, and intellectual inquiry. Each of these spheres has its own proper ‘business’ and needs its own unique pattern of authority. When we confuse spheres, by violating the proper boundaries of church and state, for instance, or reducing the academic life to a business enterprise, we trangress the patterns that God has set.

Kuyper believed that these God-given structures of creation were important for maintaining order and justice in society.

For Kuyper, though sin has pervasively corrupted the world, the glory of God’s created order is not completely obliterated by the Fall, and therefore the various spheres and structures of the earth still reveal glimpses of God’s goodness and power.

 

Kuyper’s legacy 

Abraham Kuyper has been called “a churchman who aroused many to their high calling in a society which had drifted far from its historical Christian moorings.” Kuyper’s ideas have important ramifications for Christians as we think through our place in a secular society and culture, and for that reason it is worth learning from this 19th-century Dutch Reformed theologian today.

 

Kuyper’s major writings:

Herman Bavinck: Vast Learning, Ageless Wisdom

Herman Bavinck: Vast Learning, Ageless Wisdom

In recent years, study of the Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck has exploded, due in large part to the complete translation of his major systematic theology, Reformed Dogmatics (Gereformeerde Dogmatiek), from Dutch into English. In 2011, for instance, a full issue of the Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology was devoted to essays about different elements of Bavinck’s theology.

For a name that, until recently, would be unrecognized by most people even within the church, it may be surprising that J. I. Packer would say the following about Herman Bavinck: “Like Augustine, Calvin, and Edwards, Bavinck was a man of giant mind, vast learning, ageless wisdom, and great expository skill.” Any name put on a short list with Augustine, Calvin, and Edwards certainly deserves attention. But theologian Richard Gaffin goes a step further than Packer, saying that Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics is “Arguably the most important systematic theology ever produced in the Reformed tradition.”

These are high praises, and to understand why they are not simply hyperbolic statements made to sell books, we need to examine the life and thought of Herman Bavinck.

 

Bavinck’s Background                    

Bavinck was born on December 13, 1854, in Hoogeveen, in the Netherlands, and he died in July of 1921. He was the son of Jan Bavinck, the pastor of a church that had seceded from the state church of the Netherlands because of its theological liberalism. As a young boy, Herman was fortunate to study at the Hasselman Institute—a highly esteemed private school—from age seven to sixteen. He first studied theology in the city of Kampen at the theological school of the Christian Reformed Church (Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk). From there, Bavinck moved on to complete his doctoral work on the ethics of Ulrich Zwingli at the University of Leiden, under the supervision of several of the leading liberal scholars of the day at one of the most liberal universities of the time. He chose Leiden over Kampen because “he wanted ‘a more academic theological education’ in which ‘he could engage the new modern theology directly.’” This liberal education solidified in him the desire to engage with the most theologically pressing ideas of the academy in a way that took seriously the authority of God’s revelation in Scripture.

After he completed his doctorate, Bavinck served briefly as a pastor for eighteen months at a church in Franeker before, at the age of 28, he was appointed by the Synod to be a professor in systematic theology and ethics at the Theological School in Kampen, where he worked from 1883–1902. His short time as a pastor gave him a chance to speak theological truth in a scholarly manner while at the same time being made aware of the pressing needs and issues faced by the average parishioner. After Abraham Kuyper was named the prime minister of the Netherlands, Bavinck filled his place as the chair of systematic theology at the Free University of Amsterdam in 1902, and he remained a professor there until his death in 1921.

 

Bavinck’s Contributions to Theology                   

Bavinck is most famous for his magnum opus, a four-volume, 3,000-page work entitled Reformed Dogmatics. Even though it was written more than a hundred years ago, the theological discussions in the Reformed Dogmatics are timeless, because they quite frequently discuss the history and development of both orthodox and heretical theological positions. The four volumes that compose the Reformed Dogmatics are: Prolegomena; God and Creation; Sin and Salvation in Christ; and Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation.

Like other Dutch theologians, Bavinck was not just concerned with ivory-tower theological discussion but also dealt with issues of culture and the church’s relation to it, such as politics, education, evolution, psychology, war, the role of women in society, economics, and international relations. Bavinck delivered the Stone Lectures at Princeton Seminary in 1908, and these lectures later composed the book The Philosophy of Revelation. Perhaps his most popular and accessible work, Our Reasonable Faith is a relatively “short” (576 pages!) one-volume summary of the Reformed Dogmatics.

Bavinck’s work was shared with the English-speaking world through the writings of Louis Berkhof (a post on him will be coming later), but he also had a significant impact on other Reformed theologians such as Herman Ridderbos, Anthony Hoekema, and Cornelius van Til.

 

Bavinck’s Theological Distinctives                       

Perhaps the greatest contribution of Bavinck’s theological work was his unflinching devotion to the authority and inspiration of Scripture, at a time when such views were unfashionable. Many theologians in Bavinck’s day sectioned off religious knowledge as a purely subjective matter not to be confused with the “hard facts” of science and other forms of genuine, objective human knowledge. Rather than let modern scholarship barrel over the truth of Scripture, Bavinck held that the Bible was foundational truth upon which all theology and religious experience rests. He genuinely believed that the Bible could speak authoritatively to issues pressing on modern people.

At the same time, Bavinck did not entirely reject the subjective elements of Christianity. He produced a theology that took seriously the objectivity of the Scriptures and the church’s confessions, as well as the subjectivity of Christian consciousness and religious experience. Rather than allow his theology to be dominated by trite biblicism or blind adherence to church dogma, Bavinck allowed room for the Holy Spirit to work subjectively in the lives of believers without undermining the objective revelation found in Scripture.

In addition, because of his situation in the fractured Reformed church in the Netherlands, Bavinck expressed a broad Reformed theology that emphasized the unity and beauty of the one church in Christ and aimed to heal the divisions that he saw dividing the church.

 

Bavinck’s Legacy     

Carl Trueman suggests that the work of Bavinck is relevant for evangelicals today for five reasons: 1) it is done in the context of faith and under the assumption that the Bible is God’s revelation; 2) it is grounded upon biblical exegesis; 3) it articulately and charitably interacts with differing views; 4) it delicately balances the history of theology and the contemporary social situation; and 5) it is filled with personal devotion.

John Bolt sees a sort of duality that existed in Bavinck between the “academic theologian” on the one hand and the “churchly dogmatician” on the other. His academic tendencies led to him engage modern culture and science, and his churchly concerns drove him to strive for unity in the fragmented Reformed Church in the Netherlands. As Bolt puts it, “Bavinck’s life and thought reflect a serious effort to be pious, orthodox, and thoroughly contemporary.” While certainly not as prestigious as figures like Augustine, Calvin, and Luther, the work of Herman Bavinck is worth the attention of those exploring the Reformed tradition.

 

Bavinck’s Major Writings