The Better Story

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

How do we know what we know is true?

The end of the modern era spells the end of the modern pretension that we can logically prove that objective truth is knowable and provable. It is not. Because it is not knowable and provable in the abstract, proof requires that truth be knowable and provable to a human audience. An argument must both make sense and feel right in the context of the human condition. In the context of a confusing and dangerous world, who has the best story, one that you can bet your life on?

The Gospel Story

The Gospel story is the story of Jesus’ birth, life and ministry, death, and resurrection. This story is the focus of the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—in the New Testament and of faith statements, like the Apostle’s Creed.

Christianity began in a graveyard with the resurrection. The resurrection could not have occurred without Jesus’ crucifixion and death which was, in turn, associated with his life and ministry. Because Jesus’ life and ministry was chronicled looking back from the resurrection, each sentence in the New Testament should be prefaced with these words: Jesus rose from the dead, therefore . . . Jesus’ life, ministry, suffering, death, and resurrection are the Gospel story.

Christians, like Mary Magdalene, are the ones running from the cemetery to tell the rest of the world that Jesus lives (Matt 28:8).

After the Gospels themselves, the story of Jesus is the subject of many New Testament sermons by both Peter (Acts 2:14–41; 10:34–43) and Paul (Acts 13:16–41).

Context for the Gospel

In Genesis 11:1-9 we read the story of how men schemed to build a tower up to heaven to force God to come down and bless their city. The God who created heaven and earth (Gen 1:1) looked down on this effort and just laughed. These devious and obviously stupid men thought that they could manipulate a god that stood outside of time and space having created both. To prevent further foolishness, God confused them with different languages so that they would not be able to scheme together any further.

Because God transcends the material world and time itself, no physical or metaphysical tower can reach up to heaven.Towers, temples, religions, philosophies, and sciences are all equally vain. God must come down to us; we cannot reach up to him. The story of God’s efforts to reach down to us is recorded in scripture; he himself came down in the person of Jesus of Nazareth (Matt 1; Luke 1). God reversed the curse of Babel on the day of Pentecost with the giving of his Holy Spirit and the founding of the church (Acts 2), the oldest, continuous institution known to humanity.

But this story is not over; the church is not a museum of the past. Jesus points to the future and promises to reunite with his disciples:

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:3)

Because the future is in Christ and we worship a loving and all powerful God, we know that our future is secure. In the midst of the traumas and tribulations of life, our hope is assured.

The Better Story

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/2018_Lead

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Hauerwas and Willimon: Christians as Colonists, Part 2

Hauerwas and Willimon, Resident AliensStanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon.[1] 2014. Resident Aliens: A Provocative Christian Assessment of Culture and Ministry for People Who Know that Something is Wrong (Orig pub 1989). Nashville: Abingdon Press. (Goto Part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Fundamental to the problem of the postmodern church is grasping for how much society has changed. In Christendom, a sense of right and wrong permeated the entire culture—even those that never entered a church shared Christian morality even if reluctantly. An important problem in postmodern culture is its fragmentation—kids frequently introduce themselves by who they listen to and prefer communication with friends, not in person, but by texting. One gets the impression that for a boomer a FB friend is an acquaintance, but for a millennial a FB friend is a intimate—in part because of differences in the personal details shared online.

Introduction

 In their book, Resident Aliens, Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon (hereafter H&W) described the church already in 1989 as:

“The church exists today as resident aliens, an adventurous colony in a society of unbelief…Western culture is devoid of a sense of journey, of adventure, because it lacks belief in much more than the cultivation of an ever-shrinking horizon of self-preservation and self-expression.”(49)

My wife and I had our first child in 1989 right after I received my first job in finance and could afford for the first time the house that we lived in and we attended a church plant in our community that now is a well-established church. We were among the fortunate few because anyone without a post graduate degree still earns probably little more than they did back then.

Church in the Lurch

Churches not serving the fortunate few were already struggling back in the 1980s and have lost members, especially young people, ever since. H&W observe:

“An army succeeds, not through trench warfare but through movement, penetration, tactics.(54)

The old saying goes, the best defense is a good offense, yet most churches never learned to play offense because in Christendom evangelism consisted primarily in keeping those that showed up on Sunday morning. If no one shows up, they are lost as to what to do.

The Importance of Story

The church played defense pretty much throughout the modern era. In attempting to respond to the unscientific nature of faith, churches used abstract concepts, like “God is love”, to communicate the Gospel, but for the most part such abstractions merely served to vaccinate people against real Christianity. Conceptual—ersatz or cultural— Christianity is sterile and cannot reproduce itself.

H&W write:

“How does God deal with human fear, confusion, and paralysis? God tells a story: I am none other than the God who ‘brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.’ (Deut 5:6)”(54)

 At its heart, the Gospel is the story of Jesus, not the concept of Jesus! We cannot understand and appreciate the Gospel unless we follow Jesus and participate in his story. (55) For postmoderns, it’s all about narrative and the Good News is that the church has the best story around—if it is willing and able to tell it.

Assessment

In part one of this review, I have outlined a few key points and summarized the book. In part two, I will endeavor to engage their arguments in more depth.

In Resident AliensStanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon outline an approach to a post-Constantine church from perspective of the church and Christian ethics. The text is engaging and is often cited as a follow up to John Howard Joder’s The Politics of Jesus(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), which they frequently cite.

Footnotes

[1]https://divinity.duke.edu/faculty/directory. @Stanleymemelord

Hauerwas and Willimon: Christians as Colonists, Part 2

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

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

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/2018_Lead

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Monday Monologues: Postmodernism, October 8, 2018 (podcast)

Stephen W. Hiemstra, www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I prayer for traveling mercies and talk about Postmodernism.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below.

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Monday Monologues: Postmodernism, October 8, 2018 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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

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Prayer for Traveling Mercies

Arizona SnowBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Merciful Father,

All praise and honor be yours,

for you are a God of the journey–

one that walks with us on life’s long march.

You never tire of the pace or complain of the company,

yet we do constantly–forgive our impatience,

our boredom when the slope is steep and

the weather most challenging.

We give thanks for your cheerful companionship and

constant encouragement,

especially when we are undeserving and bad company.

In the power of your Holy Spirit,

remember those afflicted by hurricanes and fires and poor health and

offer us traveling mercies that we might enjoy a restful journey and

return home safely.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Prayer for Traveling Mercies

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Books, Films, and Ministry

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Postmodernism

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

In his book, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism, James Smith (2006, 26) Describes post modernism as a kind of pluriform and variegated phenomena, an historical period after (post) modernism, heavily influenced by French philosophers, especially Jacques Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard, and Michael Foucault.  Adding to the confusion, Smith observes that postmodernism does not make a clean break with modernism, but tends to intensify certain aspects of modernism, particularly notions of freedom (Smith 2006, 19-21, 26).

Smith starts with the intriguing premise that the basic ideas of these three postmodern philosophers have misunderstood. When properly understood, postmodern philosophy and the traditional teaching of the church remain compatible.  The collapse of the church in our lifetime can accordingly be seen to lay the groundwork for a revitalization of the church around traditional teaching—once purged of its modernistic thought patterns (Smith 2006,  22-23, 29).  This re-imaged traditional teaching he refers to as radical orthodoxy and has an incarnation focus which takes time, place, and space seriously and which affirms both the liturgy and the arts (Smith 2006, 127).

Jacques Derrida

Smith’s premise that these philosophers have been misunderstood because of weak bumper-sticker summaries of them. For example, Derrida’s misunderstood statement is: “there is nothing outside the text.” (Smith 2006, 36)  The idea that one can simply read a text, particularly an ancient text written in another language, and understand its meaning is to misunderstand the role of language, context, and interpretation. 

While often said to mean that the Bible cannot be read and understood by just anyone, Smith says that this is not what Derrida is saying. Derrida’s point is simply that all understanding of texts requires interpretation—the context and the interpretative community—which implies that there is no such thing as 

objective truth.  Interpretation is always required (Smith 2006, 38-40, 43).

Jean-François Lyotard

Smith also sees Lyotard’s idea of a meta-narrative as misunderstood in its bumper-sticker characterization. Postmodern critics have trouble with the meta-narrative or big story of scripture—creation, fall, redemption, and eschatology.  Smith disputes, however, that the scope of meta-narratives is Lyotard’s main concern.  Smith sees Lyotard’s main concern being the truth claims of modern use of meta-narratives—science is itself a meta-narrative but falsely and deceptively claims to be universal, objective, and demonstrable through reason alone. Smith writes:  “For the postmodern, every scientist is a believer.” Lyotard is perfectly okay with the idea of faith preceding reason, following Augustine  (Smith 2006, 62-72) and Anselm, who cites Isaiah 7:9.[1]

Michael Foucault

Foucault’s concern about institutional power structures is hard to reduce to a bumper-sticker characterization, in part, because he resists reductionism in his writing style and focuses on tediously pure description.  Smith sees Foucault preoccupied with disciplinary structures, but wonders what his real intentions are.  He talks about two readings of Foucault:  Foucault as Nietzschean and Foucault as a closet enlightenment liberal (Smith 2006, 96-99).  Smith (2006, 102) writes:

“What is wrong with all these disciplinary structures is not that they are bent on forming or molding human beings into something, but rather what they are aiming for in that process.”

Smith sees Foucault offering three lessons to the church: to see “how pervasive disciplinary formation is within our culture”; to identify which of these disciplines are “fundamentally inconsistent with…the message of the church”; and to “enact countermeasures, counter disciplines that will form us into the kinds of people that God calls us to be” (Smith 2006, 105-106).

Weakness in Modern Witness

Smith sees hope in the Derrida’s critique because the modern understanding of the Christian message is itself a distortion of traditional church teaching.  In attempting to frame the Christian message in ahistorical truth statements (God is love), the narrative tradition (God showed his love by sovereignly granting the exodus of the nation of Israel from Egypt) has been lost.  Because the Christian message is contextual in biblical accounts and is interpreted by the church, it meets Derrida’s primary concerns.  Consequently, according to Smith, the church must, however, abandon modern stance and language in order to thrive in the postmodern environment (Smith 2006, 54-58).

When exactly did the church relinquish its internal discipline and why?⁠[2]  Smith (2006, 107) sees communion, confession, foot washing, and economic redistribution as the kind of disciplines that need to be maintained.  A more normal reading of discipline might ask why the teaching of the church—church doctrine—is ignored and no dire consequences follow for those most engaged in the ignoring.

References

Davies, Brian and G.R. Evans [ed}. 2008. Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works. Oxford World Classics. New York: Oxford University Press.

Longfield, Bradley J. 1991. The Presbyterian Controversy:  Fundamentalists, Modernists, and Moderates. New York:  Oxford University Press.

Smith, James K.A.  2006.  Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism:  Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church.  Grand Rapids:  Baker Academic.

Footnotes

[1] In his Proslogion, Anselm writes: “I believe so that I may understand.” (Davies and Evans 2008, 87)

[2] Longfield (1991, 79-91) chronicles changes 1925-1936 in the Presbyterian Church from dropping the five fundamental of faith as ordination requirements in 1925 to changes at Princeton Theological Seminary serving to allow theological diversity within the denomination. These changes also effectively removed doctrinal basis for church discipline, accept in the case of gross error.

Postmodernism

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/2018_Lead

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Hauerwas and Willimon: Christians as Colonists, Part 1

Hauerwas and Willimon, Resident AliensStanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon.[1]2014. Resident Aliens: A Provocative Christian Assessment of Culture and Ministry for People Who Know that Something is Wrong. Nashville: Abingdon Press. (Goto Part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

My kids have a hard time understanding first that today’s culture differs dramatically from the postwar culture that I knew growing up and that people actually enjoyed life back then. Life mostly revolved around family and church. Almost no one had psychological problems, although we all knew about battle fatigue, alcoholism, and suicide. Virtually everyone wanted the American dream and expected to participate in it. What we did not know what how fragile the economic assumptions were that allowed the American Dream to be a reality.

Introduction

In their book, Resident Aliens, Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon (H&W) date the end of Christendom to 1963 when the blue laws in Greenville, South Carolina changed to allow the Fox Theater to open on Sunday (15). H&W have no interest in bemoaning or explaining the passing of Christendom and the American Dream, but rather focus on articulating what it means for the Christian church to delink itself from the cultural assimilation that began with Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan in AD 313 (17).

The Task of the Church

In other words, while I might bemoan the task of supporting and raising kids in a period of downward mobility when neither the church nor the schools have my back, H&W focus on the how the church can articulate more fully its biblical mandate in a postmodern context. Unlike the modern church, which strived to explain the Bible to modern people in modern terms, they write:

“In Jesus we meet not a presentation of basic ideas about God, world, and humanity [in support of Christendom], but an invitation to join up, to become part of a movement, a people.”(21)

Our task in the church is not to transform the Gospel for the world, but first to transform ourselves by being faithful to the Gospel (22). It is the world, not the Gospel, that is being transformed.

The Challenge

The need to abandon Christendom could not be greater, as H&W write:

“If Caesar can get Christians there to swallow the ‘Ultimate Solution’ [a la Adolf Hitler] and Christians here [in America] to embrace the [use of the atomic] bomb, there is no limit to what we will not do for the modern world [and compromise our basic Christian values].”(27)

Buying into Christendom may mean Sabbath rest on Sundays while businesses are closed, but at what cost?

The Church

H&W see the church as fundamentally a political organization that allows the Christian to interpret the world for what it is. (38). They write:

“Witness without compromise leads to worldly hostility. The cross is not a sign of the church’s quiet, suffering submission to the powers-that-be, but rather the church’s revolutionary participation in the victory of Christ over those powers.”(47)

Not being willing to remain silent in the face of evil is in every generation a political decision. To do so as a group project is inherently political.

Organization

H&W are on the faculty of Duke Divinity School in Durham, NC. Hauerwas is the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Lawand

Willimon is a Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry. They write in seven chapters:

  1. “The Modern World: On Learning to Ask the Right Questions
  2. Christian Politics in the New World
  3. Salvation as Adventure
  4. Life in the Colony: The Church as Basis for Christian Ethics
  5. Ordinary People: Christian Ethics
  6. Parish Ministry as Adventure: Learning to Enjoy Truth Telling
  7. Power and Truth: Virtues that Make Ministry Possible”(ix-x)

These chapters are proceeded by a foreword and Preface, and followed by an Afterword and index.

Assessment

In part one of this review, I have outlined a few key points and summarized the book. In part two, I will endeavor to engage their arguments in more depth.

In Resident AliensStanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon outline an approach to a post-Constantine church from perspective of the church and Christian ethics. The text is engaging and is often cited as a follow up to John Howard Joder’s The Politics of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), which they frequently cite.

Footnotes

[1]https://divinity.duke.edu/faculty/directory. @Stanleymemelord

Hauerwas and Willimon: Christians as Colonists, Part 1

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/2018_Lead

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Monday Monologues: the Nature of Evil, October 1, 2018 (podcast)

Stephen W. Hiemstra, www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I offer a Midnight Prayer and talk about the Nature of Evil.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below.

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Monday Monologues: the Nature of Evil, October 1, 2018 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/2018_Lead

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Midnight Prayer

Dried, Yellow Roses, Photo by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Dried, Yellow Roses, Photo by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty Father,

Let me dwell in your shadow,
though darkness surround me,
for the snares of this world are a constant threat. and
I am not immune to the rages of disease and death that they bring.
I trust only you.
Your angel wings surround me and lift me up
above the slings and arrows that fly all around me.
Younger men perish; older men faint;
but you are my strength.
Guide me through the darkness as my eyes fail me.
Grant me sleep when sickness spoils my day and
makes thoughts so heavy.
That I might be of some service to your church
until I struggle no more.
Through the power of your Holy Spirit and in Jesus’ name, Amen
(Inspired by Ps 91)

Midnight Prayer

Also see:

Giving Thanks 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/2018_Lead

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The Banality of Evil

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple Faith“And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.” (Matt 6:13)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the primal experiences in life is the experience of evil, yet in our postmodern world many people work to deny its existence and its ultimate manifestation in the person of Satan. By contrast, the early church routinely practiced exorcism as part of the baptismal service because “The exorcisms [meant] to face evil, to acknowledge its reality, to know its power, and to proclaim the power of God to destroy it.” (Schmemann 1973, 70-71)

Evil Personified

The proclivity to deny evil shows today in our attempts to define it away. We are not born in sin, as Augustine (Foley 2006, 9) argued; we are born basically good and able to live an righteous life. When someone points out an obvious sin, the blame is shifted away (he was poor, disadvantaged, in great pain, and so on). Even Adolf Eichmann employed this defense.

Many people avoid making decisions hoping that they can escape accountability. Hannah Arendt was a German Jew who, having escaped Nazi death camps before coming to America, was asked to report on the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem (1961) for the New Yorker magazine. Eichmann was the German officer during the Second World War who organized Adolf Hitler’s program of extermination of the Jews known as the “Final Solution.” Arendt attended the trial expecting to see a hateful, anti-Semite only to discover that Eichmann was more of a petty bureaucrat, someone unable to think for himself. In the case of Eichmann, the face of evil was that of someone unable or unwilling to think for themselves (Arendt 1992, 97–101).

The Eichmann trial changed Arendt forever. She devoted her life to studying the mind and no doubt out of anguish coined the term “banality of evil,” which speaks to the commonplace nature of evil (Arendt 1976, 3). In some sense, denying the reality of evil is intellectually on par with denying the existence of the Holocaust. 

Sin Defined

Sin and evil are birds of a feather. Sin is a broad term encompassing several related ideas: sin, trespass, and iniquity. 

In the Greek language where it comes from, sin is an archery term that means to fall short of the mark. When we strive, but fail, to do good, we sin. 

Trespass is a legal term that implies the breaking of a rule or law. Driving at 90 miles per hour on a road with a posted speed limit of 55 miles per hour is a trespass.

Iniquity, like sin, can also take a broad meaning but it is helpful to think of iniquity as failing to do something good. Watching someone drown when it is possible to throw them a rope, may not be illegal, but it is an iniquity.

Evil Defined

Evil is often defined today as the absence of good. When God created light, he declared it to be good (Gen 1:3). The absence of light, darkness, could be thought of as evil—the absence of good without the pejorative inference. But this definition for evil wishes away the problem of pejorative evil.

Viktor Frankl (2008) offers numerous tips to prospective concentration camp inmates during the Second World War on how to survive, such as:

  • Don’t draw attention to yourself from sadistic guards.
  • Shave daily, walk briskly, and stand up straight to look healthy enough for work.
  • Applaud profusely when sadistic guards read poetry.
  • In walking in formation, stay in the middle or the front to avoid those that stumble and the beatings that follow.
  • Offer free psychiatric counseling to guards in need of it.

The key term in this description is sadistic. Evil pollutes those that touch it encouraging further evil. True evil is never simply the absence of good.

The Importance of Purpose

James K. A. Smith offers an interesting ethical insight into the nature of evil—an instrument (or person) is good when it is used with its purpose in view.  When it strays from its purpose, it commits sin and engages in evil.

He asks how one would evaluate a flute used to roast marshmallows over a fire—we would never say that a flute used this way was a bad flute. Why? The measure of a flute is how it is used to play music, not roast marshmallows. Smith (2016, 89) observes:

“…virtue is bound up with a sense of excellence: a virtue is a disposition that inclines us to achieve the good for which we are made.”

Because of original sin, we are not inclined to love virtues and to practice them. Being created in the image of God implies that are on a mission in worship to develop the virtues through ritual and sacrament that match God’s intent for our lives (Smith 2016, 88). 

Satan in the Bible

Satan’s role in tempting us and promoting evil in the world is found throughout scripture. In the Garden of Eden, Satan is pictured as a snake who rebels against God and tempts others to sin by rebelling with him.⁠1 God later advises Cain to be good because, otherwise, sin will strike like a snake crouching at your door (Gen 4:7).

Another important image of Satan is given in Job 1 where Satan is depicted as a ruthless prosecuting attorney in God’s court. Satan’s cruel lies slander a righteous Job. Still, Satan cannot afflict Job without first seeking God’s permission (Job 1:6-12). In spite of Satan’s cruelty, Job remains faithful. In the end, God not only acquits him of all of Satan’s charges, Job is compensated for his losses (Job 42:10).

In the synoptic gospels, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the desert where the devil tempts him.⁠2 Much like Adam and Eve are tempted with food, the devil starts by goading a hungry Jesus into turning a stone into bread. The devil tempts Jesus three times. Jesus cites scripture in response to each temptation. In the final temptation, the Devil’s temptation starts by misquoting scripture, but Jesus corrects the deception and resists the temptation.⁠3

Like Job and unlike Adam, Jesus remains faithful to God’s will in life and in death. Jesus’ death on the cross then fulfills the prophecy of Satan’s defeat (Gen 3:15) and pays the penalty for sin—we are redeemed. Because the curse of sin is broken, the death penalty for sin has been rescinded (1 Cor 15:22). The resurrection accordingly proves that we have been reconciled with God.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus asks us to pray that we not be tempted and that we be delivered from evil. Because Satan must ask permission to tempt us, God can deny that petition and our deliverance is within his power. King David writes: “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.” (Ps 16:1) Jesus has promised us that when we turn to him in weakness our salvation is secure (John 10:29).

References

Arendt, Hannah. 1992. Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Arendt, Hannah. 1996. The Life of the Mind: The Groundbreaking Investigation of How We Think. New York: Harvest Book.

Foley, Michael P. [editor] 2006. Augustine Confessions (Orig Pub 397 AD). Translated by F. J. Sheed (1942). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.

Frankl, Viktor E. 2008. Man’s Search for Meaning: A Classic Tribute to Hope from the Holocaust (Orig Pub 1946).[1] Translated by Ilse Lasch. London: Rider.

Kline, Meredith G. 2006. Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers.

Nouwen, Henri J. M. 2002. In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company.

Schmemann, Alexander. 1973. For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy. Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Smith, James K. A. 2016. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press.

Footnotes

1 For example, Kline (2006, 302) writes about the people of God and the people of the serpent.

2 Mark 1:12-13 gives a brief overview while Matt 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13 are longer. The Luke version has the most detail. The second and third questions posed by Satan appear in different order in Matthew and Luke.

3 Each temptation Jesus faces is a challenge facing all Christians, particularly leaders. Nouwen (2002, 7–8) summarizes these leadership challenges as the temptation to be relevant (provide food), to be spectacular (show your divinity), and to be powerful (take charge).

The Banality of Evil

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/2018_Lead

Continue Reading

Introducing a Sophisticated Jesus

Review of Geisler
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Norman L. Geisler and Patrick Zukeran.  2009.  The Apologetics of Jesus:  A Caring Approach to Dealing with Doubters. Grand Rapids:  Baker Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the cherished myths of the modern era is that modern people are not only more sophisticated technologically than ancient people, they are also morally superior.  This idea is widely believed, but seldom seriously evaluated.  Moral progress is held to be obvious, in part, because of the abolition of slavery and the extension of new rights to other disadvantaged groups. The nexus of this belief is that freedom of the individual, a God-given right according to the U.S. Constitution, makes choices available through the advancement of science and consequent greater wealth.  But what if ancient people were actually more sophisticated than moderns, just lacked the technology?

Introduction

In their book, The Apologetics of Jesus, Norman L. Geisler and Patrick Zukeran paint an extremely sophisticated picture of Jesus, as articulated in the Gospel of John.  Geisler and Zukeran note, for example, that the Bible pictures God as a god willing to reason with us. Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD (Isaiah 1:18 ESV).  After all, apologetics mean to offer a defense (11).  If we are created in the image of a reasonable God, then perhaps the Son of God would also be someone able to turn an argument.  The Apostle Peter admonishes us:  in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15 ESV). Humility requires a God willing to argue a case, not force one.

Organization

In fact, Jesus tailored his arguments to his audience (185).  Geisler and Zukeran make this point in laying out chapters devoted to 8 apologetic methods, including:

  1. Use of Testimony,
  2. Use of Miracles,
  3. Use of the Resurrection,
  4. Use of Reason,
  5. Use of Parables,
  6. Use of Discourse,
  7. Use of Prophecy, and
  8. Use of Arguments for God (7).

Four additional chapters place these arguments in context:

  1. Jesus’ Allege Anti-Apologetic Passages,
  2. Jesus’ Life as an Apologetic,
  3. Jesus and the Role of the Holy Spirit in Apologetics, and
  4. Jesus’ Apologetic Method (7).

These 12 chapters are preceded by a brief introduction and followed only by a series of chapter notes.

Parabolic Apologetic

Especially interesting is Geisler and Zukeran’s discussion of what they refer to as parabolic apologetics—using a story to convey a truth (197). Characteristics of this method include:

  1. Use of the story form,
  2. It teaches through an indirect approach—the audience affirms the point before realizing they themselves are in focus,
  3. The logic is a fortiori—a truth from everyday life applies also to spiritual matters,
  4. The parable uses self-discovery to give the audience a sense of ownership of the message,
  5. The parable is sensitive to those caught in sin (188-89).

I would enjoy teaching this book to an adult group to develop a greater command of its contents. Having said this, I have a suggestion. Instead of focusing on the apologetic techniques, it might be more effective to start by classifying audiences (types of atheists or personalities or age or economic groups) and work back to the techniques that Jesus used to address them. Although I have not seen this done in the apologetics literature, an audience-focused approach might prove easier to apply in evangelism.

Assessment

The myth of moral superiority of moderns over ancients clearly cannot be resolved in a brief review.  It is a subject, however, worthy of further inquiry. If in the fullness of time God chose the ancient world to pay a visit, perhaps, he did so not because the ancient world was more needy, but perhaps because the ancient world possessed emotional and relational intelligence which allowed it to follow the conversation better than subsequent periods like our own [1]. Geisler and Zukeran’s contribution to this discussion is to suggest that Jesus is not the country bumpkin that some critics have inferred.

Footnotes

[1] For example, the ancient world practiced many things that we find intolerable, but the ancient world did not possess nuclear and chemical weapons or use them the way that we do.  If you wanted to murder someone, you had to make a moral decision and get your hands dirty.  Greater efficiency in hiding a crime does not relieve one of responsibility but it may limit its public discussion.

Introducing a Sophisticated Jesus

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