Archives For Theological Convictions

How do we understand God’s presence with suffering and pain? As pastors, how do we trust in and rest upon the Lord while giving pastoral care to those who are in the midst of deep suffering and pain? Often during these moments it feels like a Job-like experience, we believe and we trust, but it does not seem to make sense. And in the midst of it all, it feels like God has become silent.

This refers to the Deus absconditus, the hiddenness of God. This is when it is critical to remind those who are feeling God’s hiddenness of the truth of God’s presence, even if it is not felt. It is the heart of Jesus’ human experience on the cross. It is also the heart of a pastoral presence.

Colin B. Johnstone writes about God’s presence and human suffering in “Theophany & Theodicy: When the Inevitable Questions of Suffering Confront the Living God,” Touchstone (July/August 2017), 36-39. This was an unpublished paper written by his father, prior to his succumbing to Alzheimer’s.

For some context, Colin’s father “studied the Western classics, and became a theologian and then a applied theologian, spending 25 years in a cancer research hospital as a chaplain. He provided care for terminal patients, taught aspiring chaplains, and counseled scientists and medical doctors in the ethics of care and research.”

Since it is not available on-line, I include lengthy quotes from the article, so even though you will not get the full gist of the essay, I will attempt to give some context so you get the most out of the quotes I have included.

This article grounds theology in God, in his presence (theophany) in the midst of suffering and pain (theodicy), and it provides an excellent example of combining pastoral theology with pastoral practice.

In the introduction, he sets the context of the attempt to reconcile “belief in God’s goodness with the existence of evil and suffering,” and in particular with the existential, personal angst of “why me?” For the caregiver, the question is heard as coming from the head. For the sufferer, he utters the plea from the heart.

Questions of theodicy, questions concerning the reconciliation of belief in God’s goodness with the existence of evil and suffering, are among the passionate existential questions. They come out of my own story. “Why me?” is not a textbook question but rather a question that comes out of my life and stirs my passions every time it returns. I believe that the important existential questions do return repeatedly, for they are questions of the heart, not of the head. We may have excellent answers for the questions, but they do not quiet the heart’s ache. The heart cries, laments, and complains, and although it expresses itself in the language of a question, an answer will not satisfy the lament of the heart.

The biblical context he focuses on is Job, the man from Uz. Job is considered an “innocent sufferer,” who experiences a “cosmic ‘wager’ between the Lord and Satan,” and who was given inadequate answers by his “comforters.”

Johnstone concludes it is important to discern who is asking the question. Often the one giving counsel to the sufferer wants to respond to the intellectual question. Furthermore, it is done “by someone deeply disturbed by the suffering of someone else. It is usually offered in an attempt to change the person’s mind about his or her suffering, and it assumes that suffering is a human problem.” For the sufferer, it is more of an existential question than it is an intellectual objection.

However, the question changes considerably when it is actually the suffering asking the question. He writes that when the sufferer asks the question of “why me?, “it is often a private conversation between God and the sufferer.”  He continues,

I would not wish this reflection to be construed as an attempt to deny the value of struggling with the theodicy question. Caregivers, especially pastoral caregivers, need to “justify” the behavior of the One in whose name they come, but they should not confuse an adequate working theology of suffering with a pastoral methodology for easing suffering. Their care should not be used to stop the questioning; it should be used to help people who have stopped questioning to restate questions that remain unresolved. Several years ago, I suggested that the question “Why me?” asked by a sufferer ought to be listened to and the emotions responded to, but the question itself not answered. I argued that until the emotions were heard, the question couldn’t be dealt with. I wrote of venting emotions, differentiating the question and integrating it into a search for meaning. I stated that, very often, when the emotions are listened to, the question seems to lose its power and to no longer need an answer.

He speaks wise words for caregivers. We often are afraid of questions, and we do not like to leave questions unanswered. And when there are no questions, we conclude all is well. However, he communicates an important and helpful reminder writing, “they should not confuse an adequate working theology of suffering with a pastoral methodology for easing suffering. Their care should not be used to stop the questioning; it should be used to help people who have stopped questioning to restate questions that remain unsolved. . . . very often, when the emotions are listened to, the question seems to lose its power and to no longer need an answer.”

At the end of the day, Job did not get all of his questions answered. In fact, God responded to Job’s questions with questions of his own. Although Job did not receive answers, he encountered God’s presence through his word. Prior to this, his claim was God was silent. Now he spoke, not answering his questions, but with his presence.

It is the encounter with the living God that heals and transforms. When we explore the dynamics of Job’s healing, we see clearly that the very presence of God is sufficient. In this encounter, however, we must not ignore the content of the discourses, for that is also important. The Lord not only spoke out of the whirlwind, but also directed Job’s attention to the whole of creation. A sufferer is like an astronomical black hole that draws everything into itself. The Lord directs Job to look beyond himself to the total perspective of creation. It is as if he is saying, “Look around you, Job, and ponder the mysteries of creation. There are many things out there that you don’t understand but can still appreciate.” This calling out was a call to an encounter with the living God. Thus, theophany is experienced with fear and trembling, but there is also healing and resolution in the encounter. Job doesn’t have anything more to say, because God has come.

In essence, “Job doesn’t have anything more to say, because God has come.” In the words of Job, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2-6).

Here is his conclusion:

It has been my experience that my personal pain and suffering has been resolved by the caring presence of another person or the caring presence of God. It has also been my professional experience that suffering is eased and resolved by a Healing Presence and not by a brilliant answer to the theodicy question. One who has explored theodicy and has come to an acceptable answer will probably be more able to minister to the suffering, but he will also find that it is not the answer itself that helps but the calm, trusting presence of the caregiver.

Remember these two keys: (1) “It is the encounter with the living God that heals and transforms.” (2) “One who has explored theodicy and has come to an acceptable answer will probably be more able to minister to the suffering, but he will also find that it is not the answer itself that helps but the calm, trusting presence of the caregiver.”

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Cor. 1:2-5).

What thoughts do you have? How do you approach those who are suffering, those sufferers who are asking questions, those sufferers who have stopped asking questions, those who suffer with or because a loved one is suffering?

October 31, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses

There are a number of excellent resources that have been published in conjunction of this anniversary. I include a couple of those resources below, which you ought to consider using if you are interested in pursuing the Reformation further for adult Sunday school classes or small groups.

Echoes of the Reformation: Five Truths That Shape the Christian Life (six-week video series with an accompanying workbook/study guide)

Echoes of the Reformation: Five Truths That Shape the Christian Life is a new Bible study examining the five core truths that came from the Reformation—often called the solas. Group members will explore these essential convictions of the faith and emerge more immersed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The solas include:

• Sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone)
• Sola gratia (by grace alone)
• Sola fide (through faith alone)
• Solus Christus (through Christ alone)
• Soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone)

Ideas That Changed the World: The Four Key Gospel Truths and People of the Reformation (four-week video series with accompanying workbook/study guide)

Around 500 years ago a momentous change was spreading across Europe—a change that has become known as the Reformation.

At the heart of the Reformation were four ideas and four leaders. The ideas: faith alone, grace alone, Bible alone and Christ alone. The leaders: Luther, Calvin, Tyndale and Cranmer.

In this course we will travel together to Wittenberg, Geneva, London, Antwerp and Oxford to see the massive impact of the four key Reformation ideas: that we are saved by grace alone (by God’s gracious initiative in Jesus); that salvation is made available to us through faith alone (not by us being good enough); that we know God through the Bible alone (and not through any church authority); and that we can pray to the Father through Christ alone (and not through the saints).

This was the topic/theme of last year’s Theology Conference: Reformation 500: Theology and Legacy – God’s Gospel and the EFCA

2017 is the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses, what traditionally is known as the beginning of the Reformation. We join the celebration in giving thanks to God for this rediscovery of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our emphasis will be on the theology of the Reformation and its ongoing historical legacy, with a specific focus on the biblical gospel of grace, rediscovered by the Reformers (Luther referred to himself and the movement as Evangelicals, not Protestants), and its impact historically on the EFCA.

I encourage you to consider using these excellent resources as well. Ask someone to join you in this study. Listen to the messages individually, and then come together to discuss them. You can do this with one other, or consider doing it as an elder board.

Corporate Confession

Greg Strand – September 13, 2017 Leave a comment

Many Evangelical churches do not often include a time of corporate confession as part of their weekly services. This is, I believe, a weakness of our gatherings.

Most of our service – singing, praying, greeting, sermons, etc. – reflects an overrealized eschatology. We speak and respond and expect as if the kingdom is already fully here. The emphasis is on the now of the kingdom. Much of the sharing of life together reflects the now of the kingdom, as if troubles and trials are unexpected, and marriage and parenting are all perfect. What this creates is a false exterior and a heavy heart because it does not match reality. There is seldom a place to share hurts and pains and struggles. It is as if there is no not-yet of the kingdom.

And yet we know doctrinally and experientially that we live in the not-yet-fully-realized kingdom. There is sin, ongoing struggles of sin, suffering, trials, lament, etc. In the midst of these existential realities, God’s kingdom has truly broken in, and the way in which we live in and through these matters reflects the now of the kingdom. The kingdom is truly here, even though not in full, and the presence of the kingdom is manifested in the way we live under the Lordship of the King, the Lord Jesus, and the way in which we live a life of faith and trust.

And yet, the kingdom is not yet here fully. We await the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to make all things right, and all things new, when there will be no more sadness, sorrow, weeping. But not yet.

The strong bend in most Evangelical churches is to emphasize the newness of the kingdom, which is right, but they do so at the expense of the not-yetness of the kingdom, which is wrong. Too many have imbibed too much of the prosperity gospel, or an Americanized version of the gospel, and not enough of the true, biblical gospel.

In every corporate gathering, there ought to be a confession and manifestation of the now of the kingdom, where we hear and see manifestations of the work of God in our midst. But there will also be manifestations of the not-yet of the kingdom, where we hear and see manifestations of life in this fallen-redeemed-not-yet-glorified world, and yet in the mist of that reality the now of the kingdom manifests in a life of trust, crying individually and corporately, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation (Hab. 3:17-18). This is why the early church cried, and we ought to pray regularly, Maranatha, come Lord Jesus!

In this link you will see an example of a corporate confession: A Corporate Confession of Faith Based on the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount Repentance is not only the Holy Spirit’s work in one’s life that bears fruit in confession of sin and profession of Christ resulting in new spiritual life (Mk. 1:14-15), repentance is also a mark of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in one’s life, a bearing fruit in keeping with repentance (Matt. 3:8). It is important we live and lead a life of repentance.

Might this be one resource of helping you to do this. It is through repentance that “times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:20). May it be so!

 

The Gospel: Professed and Practiced

Greg Strand – September 13, 2017 Leave a comment

“The gospel which we possess was not given to us only to be admired, talked of, and professed, but to be practiced.” J.C. Ryle

This expounds the commitment of Evangelicals through history. One of the more recent manifestations of this was the Evangelical Awakening in Europe in the 18th-19th centuries.

More recently, and not just with the EFCA, this captures what we have been talking about for quite some time. Although Evangelicals have been saying it, and are committed to it, the final statement has been limited in its scope of application. Racial reconciliation is one of those limitations.

We need to remember that when we address patience, or being long-suffering, we will live with a tension. For the white or majority community, some are coming to realize these limitations in application. They need some time to figure this out and work through what this means. It is important this be done in community, and not just with other majority folk.

For our brothers and sisters in the minority community, they have generally suffered long and experience some racial fatigue. How many times do they have to go through fits and starts, how often do they have to hear public and corporate repentance, both of which are good and right, but they are waiting for the next step, the costly and sacrificial step of love lived out and “practiced.” And, as noted previously, a vital way to do this is in community, to engage in dialogue together in the context of relationships.

May God give us the wisdom, grace, kindness, patience and courage to speak and live the gospel.

Please plan to join us at our upcoming Theology Conference, where we will address the theme, “The Gospel, Compassion and Justice, and the EFCA.”

Although the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville is history, the implications of the rally have carried on. Ripples and reverberations have continued. In the wake, many questions have been raised, and many have been awakened or reawakened to the racism that still exists. This was blatant. This event has also caused one to ask the question about whether or not there is implicit racism within, and what must be done about that in light of the one new humanity in Christ created by the gospel.

I stated a couple of weeks ago, if people were unfamiliar with the alt-right before the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, most now know. The alt-right exemplified blatant racism, consisting of white nationalists, white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazis, and other racists. As I wrote then, I repeat again: the alt-right is anti-God and anti-gospel.

Below I have compiled some of the specific responses to the alt-right, along with a brief summarizing quote from the author. The first and third resources explain who and what the alt-right is. Carter’s, the first, is a brief FAQ, while Ashford’s, the third, is a helpful and insightful four-part series.

The second listed resource is a 30 minute interview Mark Galli, CT, has with George Hawley, the author of the forthcoming book, Making Sense of the Alt-Right.

The fourth, and final, resource consists of the specific statements made in the SBC Resolution “On The Anti-Gospel Of Alt-Right White Supremacy.”

I read an article today in which the author, who has followed the alt-right for some time and written about it extensively, claims that the alt-right “seems to have changed irrevocably after the parade of Nazis and the killing of an anti-racist protester in Charlottesville, Virginia.” Although the author does not state what has “changed irrevocably,” I assume the movement, as little as it is, was seen for what it is, and most have been repulsed by its message and behavior. It would be a good thing, a gift from the Lord, if it would cease to exist. Our prayer “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10) reflects that reality.

I include these resources because it is important to be educated, informed and equipped to respond to these kinds of movements that undermine and deny basic biblical truths and the essentials of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Joe Carter, The FAQs: What Christians Should Know About the Alt-Right

The alt-right—short for “alternative right”—is an umbrella term for a host of disparate nationalist and populist groups associated with the white identity cause/movement. The term brings together white supremacists (e.g., neo-Nazis), religious racialists (e.g., Kinists), neo-pagans (e.g., Heathenry), internet trolls (e.g., 4chan’s /pol/), and others enamored with white identity and racialism.

The alt-right seems to have a particular disdain for gospel-centered Christianity. . . . Some on the alt-right (such as Vox Day) claim that Christianity is a “foundational pillar” of the movement. But what they mean by Christianity is often a heretical form (Day rejects the Trinity) a racialized version of the faith (e.g., the Kinist movement), or “religion as culture” (Spencer says he is both an atheist and a “culture Christian.”). The true religion of the alt-right is white identitarianism, which is why the SBC accurately considers it an “anti-gospel” movement.

At the core of the alt-right movement is idolatry—the idol of “whiteness.” In building their identity on shared genetic traits the alt-right divides humanity and leads people away from the only source of true identity: Jesus Christ.

The alt-right is anti-gospel because to embrace white identity requires rejecting the Christian identity. The Christian belongs to a “chosen race” (1 Peter 2:9), the elect from every tribe and tongue (Rev. 7:9).

CT’s Quick to Listen Podcast (30 minutes), What the Alt-Right Tells Us About Christianity and Politics

“The alt-right is now mostly ignoring the religious question,” said George Hawley, the author of the forthcoming book, Making Sense of the Alt-Right. “That sets it apart from earlier far-right movements. Obviously, the KKK presented itself as an explicitly Protestant movement. … The alt-right seems to be of the view that Christianity is becoming marginally irrelevant, at least in American politics, and as such, it seems to be largely avoiding the subject.”

Hawley joined assistant editor Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli on Quick to Listen this week to discuss the true influence and popularity of this community, its connection—or lack thereof—with Christianity, and what role the church could play in fighting its message.

Bruce Ashford’s four-part series, An Evangelical Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right

[This] serves as a sort of evangelical conservative’s guide to the alt-right. The series summarizes alt-right ideology, profiles its leadership, answers frequently-asked questions, provides a theological critique of the alt-right, and applies that critique to American politics.

The alt-right movement is neither Christian nor conservative, but it claims to be conservative and often claims to be Christian. That fact, taken together with its emergence as a significant voice in American politics and public life, should cause Christians to educate themselves about the movement and be prepared to give a gospel-centered response. I hope this four-part series will be helpful toward that end.

The Anti-Gospel of the Alt-Right (Part 1): Introduction to Alt-Right Ideology

The Anti-Gospel of the Alt-Right (Part 2): A Profile of 5 Alt-Right Leaders

The Anti-Gospel of the Alt-Right (Part 3): A Response to FAQs about the Alt-Right

The Anti-Gospel of the Alt-Right (Part 4): An Evaluation of the Alt-Right

We should fight racism tooth and nail, from the pulpit, the press room, and the public square.

In his wisdom, God caused his Son—our Savior—to be born in a Middle Eastern Jewish body. Christianity sprouted in the Middle East, but from there, Christianity exploded into Asia and North Africa, and to Europe and North America, and now, finally, across the face of the earth. One day our Savior will return to consummate his reign as the righteous king. He will be worshiped by a vast multitude of humanity, unique in their ethnic heritages but unified in their religious identity as children of the King.

Until that time, the church’s task is to serve as a preview of that coming kingdom. We can do so by recognizing that our primary identity is religious (referring to Christ, the object of our worship) rather than racial (referring to our ethnic heritage, or combination of ethnic heritages); by affirming that God creates all people in his image and likeness; by declaring that God’s Son shed his blood on behalf of the whole world; and by loving and valuing our “neighbor” even when our neighbor is ethnically different.

SBC Resolution: On The Anti-Gospel Of Alt-Right White Supremacy

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 13–14, 2017, decry every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as a scheme of the devil intended to bring suffering and division to our society; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we acknowledge that we still must make progress in rooting out any remaining forms of intentional or unintentional racism in our midst; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we earnestly pray, both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived, that they may see their error through the light of the Gospel, repent of these hatreds, and come to know the peace and love of Christ through redeemed fellowship in the Kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people, and language.