Jonathan Edwards’ Most Famous Publication

Jonathan Edwards. 20016. The Life and Diary of David Brainerd (Orig Pub 1749). Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In February 2008, I read a biography by John Piper which focused on the lives of three saints whose affliction bore fruit for the Lord. Having known affliction in my family life—my wife had two rounds of breast cancer, my son is a kidney transplant, and so on—this book sparked my interest. Of particular interest was the story of David Brainerd, who suffered greatly in life—losing both parents at a young age, chronically despondent, and infected with tuberculosis most of his adult life—yet persisted in ministering to the Indians of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware until his untimely death at the age of 29.

Writing about Brainerd’s diary, Piper (2001, 131-132) writes:

“why has this book never been out of print [since 1749]? Why did John Wesley say, ‘Let every preacher read carefully over the Life of David Brainerd’? Why was it written of Henry Martyn (missionary to India and Persia) that ‘perusing the life of David Brainerd, his soul was filled with a holy emulation of that extraordinary man; and after deep consideration and fervent prayer, he was at length fixed in a resolution to imitate his example? Why did William Carey regard Edward’s Life of Brainerd as precious and holy? Why did Robert Morrison and Robert McCheyne of Scotland and John Mills of American and Fredrick Schwartz of Germany and David Livingstone of England and Andrew Murray of South Africa and Jim Elliot of twentieth-century America look upon Brainerd with a kind of awe and draw power from him as countless others?”

This biography proved irresistible to me and I ordered a copy of Edward’s The Life and Diary of David Brainerd, which became the core of my personal devotions as I entered seminary in August 2008.

It is easy to get caught up in Brainerd’s life story. As a third-year ministry student at Yale, Brainerd made an uncomplimentary statement about one of his tutors, a Mr. Whittelsey, saying: “He has no more grace than this chair” (28) in a private conversation, which was overheard and reported to the faculty. The faculty expelled him; the presbytery appealed his expulsion, but Yale did not back down. Concern about Brainerd’s case led the presbytery to establish a new school, which became Princeton University which later spun off Princeton Theological Seminary in 1812.[1]

But Brainerd’s influence did not depend on Princeton, which was founded after his death. Because of his expulsion from Yale University, Brainerd could not be ordained as a pastor and he was commissioned as a missionary to the Indians, in spite of suffering from tuberculosis. His illness left him chronically weak, depressed, and frequently spitting up blood. Yet, he ministered from horseback preaching multiple times a day and even lived among the Indians enjoying a fruitful ministry to within months of his death.

What is most striking about his diary is the depth of his personal piety—he constantly praises God, contemplates scripture, fasts, and prays. For example, on Saturday February 19, 1743, he writes:

“Was exceeding infirm today, greatly troubled with pain in my head and dizziness, scarce able to sit up. However, enjoyed something of God in prayer, and performed some necessary studies. I exceedingly long to die; and yet, through divine goodness, have felt very willing to live, for two or three days past.” (72)

Brainerd actually lived another four years (1718-1747).

Brainerd’s work among the Indians did not go unnoticed by local businessmen. On Monday, February 3, 1746, he writes about being accused of a “popish plot” for:

“[vindicating] the rights of the Indians, and complaining of the horrid practice of making the Indians drunk, and then cheating them out of their lands and other properties” (184)

He personally raised funds to hire a teacher to help the Indians learn English, which would allow them also to read the Bible for themselves. Absent this skill, they could be cheated by local businessmen and depended wholly on preaching and the teaching of catechisms (328) to learn about the Gospel.

Another technique for teaching, which is mentioned mostly in passing, is the use of what Brainerd refers to as “ejaculatory prayer” (74), which is a short prayer, like the Jesus Prayer, designed to be repeated as a form of meditation.[2] He later cites a prayer of one of his Indian converts:

“I hearkened to know what she [an Indian woman] said, and perceived the burden of her prayer to be, Guttummaukalummeh wechaumeh kmeleh Ndah, i.e. ‘Have mercy on me, and help me to give you my heart.’” (284)

In my own ministry, I was introduced to ejaculatory prayer by a Roman Catholic Sister who encouraged psychiatric patients engaging in negative self-talk to substitute the Jesus prayer to break the despondency created by their own rumination. In Brainerd’s ministry, he used such prayers to focus his converts on Christ and to bring them to faith in spite not having access to scripture in their own language.

One of the more fascinating stories that Brainerd recounts is his visit with a local shaman among the Indians. Brainerd describes him as a devout and zealous reformer who tried to help his community resist the temptation of alcohol through a frightful costume and prodigious dancing (300-301).

Jonathan Edwards edited David Brainerd’s diary and published it two years after Brainerd died under the care of Edwards’ daughter, who later also died of tuberculosis. The diary was Edwards’ most popular publication, which seems odd because Edwards is often described as America’s most influential theologian and was better known himself for his role in the Great Awakening.

If you liked this review, you will love the diary of David Brainerd.

References

Piper, John. 2001. The Hidden Smile of God: The Fruit of Affliction in the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd. Wheaton: Crossway Books.

[1] http://www.ptsem.edu/about/history.

[2] “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_Prayer).

 

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Prayer to Increase Faith

Oak Tree in Oakton, Virginia

Prayer to Increase Faith

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty Father,

I praise you for the gift of another day,

let the newest of the day (Isa 43:1) be expressed in new faith.

I confess that I have to  frequently blocked your access to my heart

in despair, in self-pity, and in cynicism not worthy of your love.

Thank you for not giving up on me (Eze 37).

In the power of your Holy Spirit,

give me instead a stronger, more vibrant faith (2 Cor 4:8-9),

where I am able to make you Lord over increasing parts of my life (Acts 4:36-37)

and drain the despair, self-pity, and cynicism by laying my griefs at your feet (Ps 31:9-14).

In Jesus’ name, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2), Amen.

 

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Rational Learning

“Behold, I have set before you an open door,
which no one is able to shut. I know that you
have but little power, and yet you have kept
my word and have not denied my name.”
(Rev 3:8 ESV)

Earlier in my preface, I argued that the act of knowing brings us closer to a holy God because holy means both sacred and set apart. Rational thinking sets us apart from the object of our reflection just like God was set apart from his creation, not part of it. Yet, knowledge is also at the heart of sin, as we learn in Genesis 3 when Satan tempts Eve. Scripture praises knowledge when its object is God, but cautions us when it leads to pride.[1] So we should take the attitude of the Apostle Paul vigorously defending the faith and pointing people to God (2 Cor 10:5-6).

So what is rational thinking?

The word, rational, implies that a conclusion comports with reason or logic. Rational thinking is thinking logically while thinking has to do with the work of the mind. Using logic and experience to judge rightly. In this context, rational thinking starts with making reasonable comparisons and associations.

Rational thinking benefits directly from logic, such as mathematics and mathematical relationships. We might argue, for example, that 1+1 = 2 which simply states that adding one to one makes two. Alternatively, we might argue that 1+1+1 > 2 which says that one plus one plus one is greater than two. Simple comparisons, like these two equations, make rational thinking extremely powerful in ordering our thinking and quickly admit substantial complexity.

Rational learning, which is based on comparisons, differs from behavioral learning because we need to stand back from simple responses to stimuli. For example, suppose I am a high school student trying to decide whether to take a full-time job or to enroll in college. From a behavioral learning perspective, the job provides an immediate benefit while college enrollment requires an immediate expense for tuition and living expenses so the obvious decision is to take the job. From a rational learning perspective, the lifetime earnings in the job may be only a small fraction of the lifetime earnings after completing a college degree, even accounting for costs involved so the decision likely is to enroll in college. While both alternatives involve uncertain outcomes, the behavior learning model focuses on short-term costs and benefits, while the rational learning model employs more information than simply immediate costs and benefits.

From a faith perspective, how we learn clearly affects our attitude about our faith, especially when it comes to future events. Think about our attitude about children. When our children are young, they require a lot of expense and attention. Even if they care for you in your senior years, such benefits are far into the future. Considering only the short-term costs and benefits, the behavior learning model suggests that having children is only a present cost, while the rational learning model weighs the current costs against future benefits. The calculation applies to living out our faith today in view of our future life in Christ. The sacrifice of praise on Sunday and of living a moral life the rest of the week has both present and future benefits, but only a rational evaluation sees beyond the sacrifice. Trust in God’s goodness and provision for our needs is also required

If blind response to stimulation leaves the exclusively behavioral learner at risk of addiction and of missing out of benefits preceded by costs, the exclusively rational learner falls prey to analysis paralysis. The rational learner patiently considers all available options, comparing costs and benefits. We all know Christians who get stuck evaluating all their options in life decisions and spend more time studying their faith than living it out. Coming to closure on decisions is frequently a problem for those specialized in rational decision making.

How do we come to closure on decisions? When should options be limited and a decision made?

In my experience, this is an opportunity to pray for God’s guidance. Where the behavioral decision maker needs to focus on developing patience in decision making, the rational decision maker needs to pray for guidance to be satisfied with the doors that God has already placed in front of them.[2]

Reference

Ortberg, John . 2015. All the Places to Go—How Will You Know? God has Placed Before You an Open Door: What Will You Do? Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

[1] Compare, for example, (Prov 1:7; Isa 11:1; 2 Cor 4:6; Phil 1:9) with (1 Cor 8).

[2] John Ortberg (2015, 257) sees the opened door is a fitting metaphor for how God invites us to step out in faith and service rather than having us wait for confirmation and comfort. He writes (10): “It’s an open door. To find out what’s on the other side, you’ll have to go through.” This opened door invitation always appears riskier than it really is because of who offers the invitation and for what purpose. The purpose that Ortberg sees is intensely interesting: “God’s primary will for your life is not the achievements you accrue; it’s the person you become.” (15). As God tells Abram: “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:3; 9, 35). In offering such blessings, God invites us to decide which doors to go through as part of our sanctification (16) and our decisions form our character and mold our identity (8).

 

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Sedniev Teaches Improv to Speakers

Andreii Sedniew.[1] 2013. Magic of Impromptu Speaking: Create a Speech that Will Be Remembered for Years in Under 30 Seconds. Santa Clara: Andreii Sedniev.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Confession time. Analysis paralysis is my default setting. I write out my sermons and generally over-prepare for presentations. As I tell my colleagues, I don’t do spontaneous. When I notice Andrii Sedniev’s book, Magic of Impromptu Speaking, I knew that I needed a copy.

In his book, Sedniev presents a how-to guide on extemporaneous (or improvisational) speaking. He writes:

“During the last 10 years, I collected tips, techniques, and strategies that can dramatically raise the level of any speaker in impromptu speaking. My goal was to create the most comprehensive system, which will make anyone a world class impromptu speaker within a very short time. The Magic of Impromptu Speaking system was based on the analysis of thousands of impromptu speaking contests, interviews, debates, and Q&A sessions.” (3)

The book is deceptively short (100 pages) and Sedniev writes in a breezy, conversational style organized into 28 chapters. Sedniev is a speaking coach from the Ukraine trained as an MBA.

For Sedniev, an impromptu speech is a talk one to three minutes long (64; and no more than five minutes long) that one cannot prepare for in advance. A job interview question or a party invitation to speak are examples of impromptu speeches (7).

A key starting point in successful impromptu speaking for Sedniev comes from his training in karate: “Think about the impromptu speech as a game.” (10). Attitude matters because time is short. There is no time to think analytically about the talk. He describes impromptu speaking as drawing primarily on right brain (subconscious mind) not left brain (conscious mind) processing (16)—this is the magic part of his system. Therefore, Sedniev advises the speaker to hold two beliefs: “I will definitely answer the question and I will not always have a stellar answer” (17).

Understanding the above paragraph is important in processing Sedniev’s method. Think of the basketball player’s mindset. If you are standing under the basket and your teammate throws the ball, there is not time to thinking about what to do—you reflexively take the shot. That reflex becomes automatic, but only after many hours of practice and training with your team. This is what Sedniev is saying when he talks about right brain thinking. Later in the book, Sedniev talks about the need to practice and mentions, for example, that he joined seven toastmaster’s clubs and offers visualization (a Zen Buddhist technique) as a technique to enhance speaking performance (75, 82).

In my own experience, for years I advised young professionals to practice taking job interviews, even when the job is not a perfect fit, so that when the dream job comes along you will understand the process and can interview well. Sedniev’s method provides a more focused way to get this practice without the stress and need to dress up.

Once you understand Sedniev’s basic approach, he provides advice on structuring your talk and handling the particular problems that come up in extemporaneous speaking.

Several elements are critical in structuring an impromptu talk, which Sedniev outlines as rules of thumb in speaking:

  • Going back the right brain, reflexive response idea, he writes: “Once you hear a question, begin answering it based on the first idea that pops up in your head.” (21)
  • “The best time for thinking is while you are talking because it is not limited.” (23) By limited, Sedniev means that it is not limited like the problem of remaining silent until an idea pops up and makes analytical sense.
  • When someone asks a question, you have several choices to make in responding. You can answer the question directly, answer in part, transition to another topic, refuse comment, or answer later (28). You can also pick a word from the question to focus on, seek clarification, or redefine the question (30-31).
  • In an impromptu speech, you talk about one idea for a couple minutes, transition to a second idea, then transition to a series of other ideas. Transitions are hugely important to bringing your audience along with you. One way to transition is a synthesis (this idea is a part of a larger class of ideas, as in cups to dishes) or an analysis (this idea can be broken into subclasses of ideas, as in cups to tea cups), which Sedniev calls linguistic pyramids (32-33). Another way to transition is to use associations, as in a table and a donkey are similar in that they both have four legs (34-35).
  • An impromptu speech is still a speech, having three parts: an opening, a body, and a closing (36-38).
  • Impromptu speeches generally have three basic frameworks. You can tell a story, a PEEP (point, explanation, example, and reiteration of point), and a PAB (position, action, and benefit) (40-45).

 The PAB is an approach often used in a business context to propose a solution to a problem, an action that needs to be taken, and a benefit likely to result.

Sedniev sees four levels of proficiency in impromptu speaking. At the first level, you acquire the ability to talk for two minutes about an random topic without discomfort. At the second level, you add an introduction, body, and conclusion to your two minute talk. At the third level, you begin to pay attention the audience, gesturing, using dramatic pauses, establishing eye contact, and vary your voice. At the fourth level, you mix things up—using slant—a bit to make your talk more interesting (69-71).

Andreii Sedniew’s book, Magic of Impromptu Speaking, is a helpful and interesting book focused on extemporaneous presentations. For people unaccustomed to speaking on short notice on random topics, like myself, this book fills a unique void in the speaking literature. In my case, I must have twenty books on preaching and speaking, but none address the question of improvisational speaking. Seminary students, pastors, business leaders, and politicians may all find this book beneficial.

 

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[1] @AndriiSedniev, http://www.MagicOfPublicSpeaking.com

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Prayer for Strength

Holy Father,

I praise you for creating me.

For giving me life and health and all the many blessings of family.

I confess that I have not always used time wisely and not always made the best lifestyle choices.

Thank you for another day–I have learned not to take them for granted.

The gift of time is precious to me; help me to make good use of it.

and, above all, to be a faithful steward of it.

Thank you for good health–I have learned not to it for granted.

The gift of health is a prerequisite for everything else that I do;

help me not to abuse it.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, I ask for strength.

Strength to make good choices.

Strength to be a witness, a good father, and a loving spouse.

Strength just to deal with all the many challenges of this life.

Strength like an oak that grows straight and tall and sturdy.

Strength in Jesus’ name, for “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13 ESV)

Amen.

 

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Behavioral Learning

In my earlier discussion of perceptions (click here), I argued that we learn to respond behaviorally a long time before any rational decisions are made. Behavioral learning starts with a simple idea: do more of activities that bring pleasure and do less of activities that bring pain. By contrast, rational learning starts with making comparisons: activity A brought more pleasure than activity B so let’s do more of activity A. Such comparison require pattern recognition and memory not required in behavioral learning. Success in implementing rational learning also requires patience.

This simple distinction between behavioral and rational learning lies at the heart of many ethical controversies, because behavioral learning can lead to logical traps. For example, the fish that grabs every tasty worm is likely to end up the fisherman’s dinner. In a study of such traps, Cross and Guyer (1980, 3-4) write:

“The central thesis of this book is that a wide variety of recognized social problems can be regarded from a third view [Not stupidity; not corruption]. Drug use, air pollution, and international conflict are all instances of what we have called ‘social traps’. Put simply, a social trap is a situation characterized by multiple but conflicting rewards. Just as an ordinary trap entices its prey with the offer of an attractive bait and then punishes it by capture…’social traps’ draw their victims into certain patterns of behavior with promises of immediate rewards and then confront them with [longer term] consequences that the victim would rather avoid.”

Following this line of thinking, the existence of conflicting patterns of rewards and punishments create ethical dilemmas in decisions focusing exclusively on behavioral responses.

For example, the example of short-term benefits followed by long-term costs arises in the case of smoking. The pleasure of smoking a cigarette poses no immediate health risk, while a lifetime of smoking can lead to cancer and early death. In the case of smoking, the short pleasure of cigarettes leads one into a pattern of addiction that would not be chosen, if the entire pattern came into view at the outset. Smoking therefore poses an ethical dilemma because hypothetical future costs must be compared with tangible present benefits, which poses a problem for many people.

A counter example arises when short-term costs are followed by long-term benefits. The classical example is the student who hates to study (a short-term cost) and drops out of school losing a lifetime of additional income. Investment decisions more generally have the characteristic of a short-term cost followed by a long-term benefit.

In both examples, smoking and education, conflicts in patterns of short-term and long-term costs and benefits lead those specialized in behavioral learning into ethical dilemmas that cannot be avoided without considering the entire sequence of costs and benefits. The need to study and learn patterns of costs and benefits involving ethical dilemmas provide the inherent motivation for most ethical teaching and for avoiding an exclusive reliance on behavioral learning.

While trap avoidance motivates ethical teaching, teaching self-discipline (a kind of rational learning) has its own benefits. In the early 1960s, Walter Mischel ran an experiment with pre-schoolers (4 year olds) focused on delayed gratification. The children were given a choice: eat one marshmallow now or, if you wait about twenty minutes, you can have two. Mischel then tracked the performance of the children over time, reporting:

“The more seconds they waited at age four or five, the higher their SAT scores and the better their rated social and cognitive functioning in adolescence. At age 27-32, those who had waited longer during the Marshmallow Test in preschool had a lower body mass index and a better sense of self-worth, pursued their goals more effectively, and coped adaptively with frustration and stress.” (Mischel 2014, 4-5).

In other words, self-discipline is at the heart of achievement as we know it (and predictable even in preschool) and impulsive (behavioral) responses lead to under-achievement. The good news in Mischel’s research concerned how self-discipline could be taught, thereby avoiding a lifetime of under-achievement.

If self-discipline is important in worldly success, then why do so many people continue to live a hedonistic lifestyle, pursuing only happiness and pleasure? The short answer is that we become addicted to dysfunctional behaviors much like we get addicted to cigarettes—knowledge about the likelihood of cancer and an early death is normally insufficient to giving up cigarettes. Worse, industries have profited and grown from encouraging people to indulge their addictions—why else would bootleggers and drug dealers be so popular?

The Good News is that Christ died for our sins so that we don’t have to.

References

Cross,John G. and Melvin J. Guyer. 1980. Social Traps. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Mischel, Walter. 2014. The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

 

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Kinnaman and Lyon Research Faithful Living, Part 3

David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. 2016. Good Faith: Being A Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme.[1] Grand Rapids: BakerBooks. (Goto part 1; goto part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In their book, Good Faith, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons divided their argument into three sections:

  1. Understanding Our Times.
  2. Living Good Faith.
  3. The Church and Our Future (7-8).

Part one of this review focused on the first section. Part two of this review, focused on this second section. In part three of this review, I will address this third section.

The Church and Our Future. In section three, Kinnaman and Lyons remind us that atheists, agnostics, and religiously unaffiliated only account for about a quarter of the U.S. population (222), which means:

“the vast majority of Americans are informed by faith in some way and Christianity is far and away the dominant player on the U.S. religious scene.” (221)

Before you start to take comfort in this summary, Kinnaman and Lyons see underlying realities behind these statistics.

First, the number of Christians is declining, especially among “legacy” or cultural Christians. The good news is that the number of practicing Christians seems reasonably stable (45% of boomers, 42% of Gen-Xers, and 36% of Millennials; 224), but maybe not as stable as we might like. Kinnaman and Lyons treat this subject gingerly, but the numbers suggest that “Christianity lite” is not a good strategy for long-term church vitality or growth.

Second, biblical literacy has declined making it harder for people to apply the Christian message to their lives. Remove the foundation; watch the building crumble (226). Kinnaman and Lyons observe:

“secularism shouldn’t be our greatest concern. In other words, secularism’s advance is downstream from anemic Bible engagement and thin theological thinking.” (227)

The storyline here seems to be simple—give people thin soup and they start checking out other restaurants. People want an adult faith to believe in and provide a lens for interpreting a crazy world.

Third, we have become increasingly individualistic, to the point of narcissism. Kinnaman and Lyons report:

  • “Eight-four percent of U.S. adults and 66 percent of practicing Christians agree that the highest goal for life is to enjoy it much as possible.”
  • “Ninety-one percent of adults and 76 percent of practicing Christians believe that the best way to find yourself is to look inside yourself.” (228)

These trends suggest that a large portion of U.S. Christians have bought into “New Age” dogma, which reveals a pervasion influence of pagan ideas. That is, the substitution of self for God in our worship, a consequence as old as original sin.

Rather than go away cynical, Kinnaman and Lyons offer three familiar lessons for good faith drawn from the experience in the book of Daniel: love well, maintain an orthodox faith, and act consistent your beliefs (256-260).  Daniel took a chance to interpret the king’s dreams, arguing to save the lives of those who did not (257). Daniel cites scripture in advising his peers to:

“… seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jer 29:7 ESV)

Daniel applies the advice of Jeremiah in continuing his government service, in spite of the pagan nature of that government. We, as Christians, face this very same problem today living and working in a secular society, the new Babylon.

In their new book, Good Faith, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons explore the perceptions that Christian faith is both irrelevant and extreme, employing empirical studies and data to make their case. Their analysis bears examination and discussion by practicing Christians, seminary students, pastors, and researchers.

 

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[1] https://www.barna.com, @BarnaGroup, www.GoodFaithBook.org, @DavidKinnaman, http://QIdeas.org, @GabeLyons

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Prayer for Moms

Hazel Hiemstra in 1954
Mom and I, 1954

Prayer for Moms

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Dear heavenly father:

Thank you for moms.

Mom, the one who always came running when I got into trouble as a child

and has modeled your presence in my life ever since.

The one who always listens to me,

even when I make no sense and go on and on.

The one who says nice things about me,

even when I feel just awful and beat myself up.

Watch over and protect my mom,

especially when I am not around.

Teach me to remember her patience,

especially when I don’t want to be.

In the power of your Holy Spirit,

help me to be a better son,

like your son and our savior, Jesus Christ. Amen

 

Also see: Prayer for Father’s Day

 

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The Goads

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?
It is hard for you to kick against the goads.
And I said, Who are you, Lord?’
And the Lord said, I am Jesus
whom you are persecuting.”
(Acts 26:14-15)

Friends in Christ sometimes ask how my marriage to a Muslim has informed my faith and call to ministry. When they know my wife, Maryam, they do not question why I fell in love with her. In fact, Maryam frequently reminds me that I won the lottery when I married her. But the faith and ministry question challenged me for many years and required greater self-knowledge and theological insight than I could muster at first.

For many years, I believed that I attended seminary in spite of my wife, but I came to understand that I attended seminary because of my wife.

When Maryam and I married in 1984, I asked her to attend church as a condition for our marriage, which she did faithfully until our kids grew up and attended college, confident that the Holy Spirit would work in her life to bring her to faith. When this did not happen, I became convicted of my own negligence in witness and began to explore my own faith more deeply hoping to become a better witness, not only to Maryam but also our children. As I witnessed to them, my faith blossomed and I found my call to ministry to others, even as Maryam remained a Muslim. Stubborn as I failed to recognize God’s call on my life, Maryam served as God’s goad—a prod to action—in my life to bring me to himself.

The Prophet Hosea also married an improbable wife and used her sin to highlight the idolatry of the Nation of Israel (Hos 1:2-3). While not mentioned in the text, I can picture Gomer as a stunningly beauty woman that God used to goad Hosea into realizing his prophet call and to draw attention to the nation’s idolatry.

Idolatry also figures prominently in the call of the Apostle Paul, whom the risen Christ accused of kicking against the goads, as cited above. In describing himself before he came to faith in Christ, Paul reported:

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. (Phil 3:4-6)

Paul’s idolatry took the form of being zealous for the law. When we zealously prosecute the law—beit Mosasic, Islamic, secular, or even physical law—rather than almighty God who created the law, we commit idolatry. Or when we work zealously and worship God sparingly, as I did, we commit idolatry and come under judgment.

Consequently, I believe that God placed Maryam in my life to goad me into a deeper faith and to realize my call to ministry.

Thanks be to God!

 

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Kinnaman and Lyon Research Faithful Living, Part 2

David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. 2016. Good Faith: Being A Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme.[1] Grand Rapids: BakerBooks. (Goto part 1; goto part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The notion that Christianity is irrelevant and extreme feels odd, having grown up at a time when things were different. In the course of one generation, the consensus about how the world worked and our place in it changed dramatically, not only on the street but in the church. Snap, one morning you wake up and, after the coffee kicks in, you realize that the “invasion of the body snatchers”[2] occurred while you slept and pod people now control everything. What do you do now?

In their book, Good Faith, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons divide their argument into three sections:

  1. Understanding Our Times.
  2. Living Good Faith.
  3. The Church and Our Future (7-8).

Part one of this review focused on the first section (the invasion of the space aliens above). In the next review (part three), I will address the third section. In this review (part two), I will focus on this second section.

Living Good Faith. Kinnaman and Lyons offer an interesting contrast involving six principles, which illustrates why Christian faith feels so out of sync today.

 

Cultural principle 1:   “To find yourself, look within yourself.” (57)

Christian principle 1: “To find yourself, discover the truth outside yourself in Jesus.” (60)

 

Cultural principle 2:   “People should not criticize someone else’s life choices.” (57)

Christian principle 2:   “Loving others does not always mean staying silent.” (60)

 

Cultural principle 3:   “To be fulfilled in life, pursue the things that you desire most.” (57)

Christian principle 3: “Joy is found not in pursuing our own desires but in giving of ourselves to bless others” (60)

 

Cultural principle 4:   “Enjoying yourself is the highest goal of life.” (57)

Christian principle 4: “The highest goal of life is giving glory to God.” (60)

 

Cultural principle 5:   “People can believe whatever they want as long as those beliefs don’t affect society.” (57)

Christian principle 5: “God gives people the freedom to believe whatever they want, but those beliefs always affect society.” (60)

 

Cultural principle 6:   “Any kind of sexual expression between two consenting adults is fine.” (57)

Christian principle 6: “God designed boundaries for sex and sexuality in order for humans to flourish.” (60)

 

The scariest part of this observation is that many Christians have bought into the cultural principles, first articulated by Roman philosopher Lucretius one hundred years before Christ, and abandoned the Christian ones (59, 62). People forget that the church has been struggling with pagan philosophies from the very beginning.

How do we live the good faith? Kinnaman and Lyons write:

 “The secret recipe for good faith boils down to this: how well you love, what you believe, and how you live.” (72)

This is an old recipe for dealing with an old problem and should come as no surprise to those who spend time with their Bible. The authors point to Matthew 22:37-39, which cites the double love command: Love God; love your neighbor. But most people ignore (or misinterpret) the next verse:

“On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 22:40 ESV)

“The Law” is a rabbinic reference to the Books of the Law (of Moses), which are the first five books of the Bible. “The Prophets” is a rabbinic reference to all the other books of the Old Testament. If you understand what Jesus is saying, then what you believe is not up for grabs—you cannot just interpret love anyway you want. The Old Testament context for love is found in Exodus 34:6 where God provides an interpretative key to the giving of the Ten Commandments:

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,” (Exod 34:6 ESV)

In this context, love (וְרַב־חֶ֥סֶד; rav hesed) is better translated as “covenantal love”—keeping your promises. Keeping your promises is another way of saying living them out, as Jesus’ younger brother James famously says:  “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (Jas 2:17 ESV)

Consequently, Kinnaman and Lyons’ secret recipe for good faith is no secret to practicing Christians, who naturally spend a lot of time with their Bible.

In their new book, Good Faith, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons explore the perceptions that Christian faith is both irrelevant and extreme, employing empirical studies and data to make their case. Their analysis bears examination and discussion by practicing Christians, seminary students, pastors, and researchers.

 

Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Read my April newsletter at: http://mailchi.mp/t2pneuma/monthly-postings-on-t2pneumanet.

 

[1] https://www.barna.com, @BarnaGroup, www.GoodFaithBook.org, @DavidKinnaman, http://QIdeas.org, @GabeLyons

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invasion_of_the_Body_Snatchers.

 

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