Prayer of Praise

October table setting of praiseBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Lord Almighty,

All praise and honor be to your name,

the name of all names.

Lord of our comings and goings, our beginnings and endings, our good moods and bad ones.

For you have shared yourself with us graciously, the person of Jesus of Nazareth,

who lived as a good example to sinners,

died for our salvation from sin, and

rose from the dead that we might have life and hope eternal.

And in spite of our sinful state,

you gave us the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit,

who provides us with every good gift,

provisions and sustains our world, and

remains with us on good days and bad.

Accept our praise as we give ourselves to you.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Prayer of Praise

Also see:

Prayer for Shalom 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

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33. Prayers for a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_web

Great Physician, Prince of Peace, Lord of the Sabbath,

Where can we find peace but with you? Holy Spirit grant us your peace. As our bodies are at war within us… We want to be filled with your peace, impatiently filling our stomachs beyond need and beyond capacity looking for you but finding only the refrigerator. repeatedly popping pills for the unsightly ailments real and imagined needing you but but not making room for you in our busy schedules. Heal our hearts, bodies, and minds; grant us your peace.

Where can we find peace but with you? Jesus grant us your peace. As our relationships are in tadders… We want to be faithful children and parents and spouses imprudently grasping first after our own goals, looking to be served by those around us rather than serving, jealously demanding more from others than from ourselves. Heal our families and relationships; grant us your peace.

Where can we find peace but with you? Gentle Father grant us your peace. As we neglect our fellowship with you.., we want to be faithful worshipers, servants, and ministers, serving you but more nearly trying to get our own way, unfaithfully constructing idols of things great and small, hoping in total foolishness to bribe and control you. Forgive our sin; look beyond our transgressions; pardon our iniquity.

Grant us your abundant peace, in Jesus’ previous name, Amen.

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Keller Argues the Case for God

Tiimothy Keller, Reason for GodKeller Argues the Case for God

Timothy Keller. 2008.  The Reason for God:  Belief in an Age of Skepticism.  New York:  Dutton.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

An old saw goes:  “you can’t argue someone out of something that they weren’t argued into”.  Many people adopt illogical positions that suit their needs.  A common argument goes: I want to control my own life, therefore God must not exist.  The banality of such arguments helps explain my attraction to apologetics—the use of logic to the defense of the faith.

Introduction

In his book, The Reason for God, Keller notes an interesting statistic:

“10-25 percent of all the teachers and professors of philosophy in the country [U.S.] are orthodox Christians, up from less than 1 percent just thirty years ago.” (x)

Perhaps I am not the only one tired of incoherent arguments.  In his efforts to organize Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan New York, Keller observed that while many people are leaving the church today, many inner-city young professionals are attracted to orthodox believing churches that offer strong arguments for faith (xiv).  These are people who base their faith not on where their parents attended church but on carefully considering the alternatives.  Keller notes:  “You cannot doubt Belief A except from a position of faith in Belief B.” (xvii) Jesus himself respected those who honestly admit and struggle with their doubts to come to faith (Mark 9:24; xxiii)

Orthodox Believing Church Defined

What does an orthodox believing church look like?  Keller writes:

“The new, fast-spreading multiethnic orthodox Christianity in the cities is much more concerned about the poor and social justice than Republicans have been, and at the same time much more concerned about upholding classic Christian moral and sexual ethics than Democrats have been.” (xx)

Who is Timothy Keller?

The jacket on his book says that he was raised in Pennsylvania.  His seminary education took him to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (South Hamilton, MA) and later to Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS; Philadelphia).  WTS is the flagship seminary of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).

Keller lays out his book in 14 chapters divided into 2 parts (Leap of Doubt/The Reasons for Faith).  The chapters are:

Part 1: Leap of Doubt

  1. There Can’t Be Just One True Religion
  2. How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?
  3. Christianity is a Straitjacket
  4. The Church is Responsible for So Much Injustice
  5. How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?
  6. Science has Disproved Christianity
  7. You Can’t Take the Bible Literally

Part 2: The Reasons for Faith

  1. The Clues of God
  2. The Knowledge of God
  3. The Problem of Sin
  4. Religion and the Gospel
  5. The (True) Story of the Cross
  6. The Reality of the Resurrection
  7. The Dance of God (vii-viii)

These chapters are preceded by an introduction and followed by an epilogue, acknowledgments, notes, and an index.

Apologetics

Keller’s approach in apologetics is to provide a detailed list of arguments and counterarguments consistent with traditional apologetics.  This approach makes sense because frequently people struggling with their faith get hung up on particular stumbling blocks which, once removed, allows them a more normal journey of faith to proceed.

An important stumbling block for many people is the question of human suffering.  The classic argument offered by atheists is:  how could an all-powerful, loving God allow suffering?  Either God is not all-powerful or God is not loving.  Keller notes the story of Joseph whose brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt, but ends up prime minister of Egypt.  Keller asks:  what was the role of suffering in Joseph’s life? (24).  He also notes that atheists have a curious agenda in posing this question about God’s attributes because natural selection, taken in the process of evolution, depends directly on death, destruction, and suffering of weaker individuals.  Holding such a detestable theory so close to heart, how then can the atheist suddenly have standing to question God’s fairness and goodness? (26)

Perichoresis

For me, The Dance of God proved. most memorable.   Keller asks:  “What does it mean…that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit glorify each other?”  He goes on to write:  “The life of the Trinity is characterized not by self-centeredness but by mutually self-giving love. When we delight and serve someone else, we enter into a dynamic orbit around him or her, we center on the interests and desires of the other. That creates a dance…The early leaders of the Greek church had a word for this—perichoresis.” (214-215)[1] Perichoresis is the Trinity modeling life in community for the church.

Assessment

Keller’s book ends with an invitation to faith.  Citing Flannery O’Connor, he writes:  “To Know oneself, is above all, to know what one lacks.” (227)  The hope of our age is that we will individually and collectively wake up—like the drunk who wakes up in an alley—and recognize that we desperately need God.  Keller advises—take a spiritual inventory—identify your own stumbling blocks (231).  Then, repent, believe in Christ, and find a community of faith (232-235).

[1] See my earlier review:  Fairbairn:  The Trinity Models Relationship in Community, Part 1 (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-RT) and Part 2 (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-S0).

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Fairbairn: The Trinity Models Relationship in Community, Part 2

Fairbairn_02112015Donald Fairbairn.  2009.  Life in the Trinity:  An Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers.  Downers Grove:  IVP Academic. (Go to part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The centrality of John 13-17 in Fairbairn’s picture of the scarlet thread running through the understanding of the early church fathers of our life in Christ is both obvious and mysterious.  It is obvious because these chapters contain some of Jesus’ last words before his crucifixion.  It is mysterious, in part, because John skips things highlighted in the other Gospels, like Jesus’ prayer in the Garden and the last supper, and includes things, like the washing of the disciple’s feet, not included elsewhere (13-16).  Jesus’ enigmatic discussion in the upper room about his relationship with the Father is probably the most mysterious narrative in the entire New Testament.

The complementary relationship between this upper room discourse and Jesus’ high priestly prayer suggests that John feels it important—a kind of Hebrew doublet. Fairbairn (28) writes:

“In the discourse, Jesus has laid out a picture of life as God intends it, and in the prayer, he asks his father to bring about the kind of life he has just described to the disciples.”

However, these are also some of Jesus’ last words making this a doublet that today would be written in red and underlined, so to speak.  For this reason, these chapters got the attention of early church fathers.  Summarizing, Fairbairn writes:  “our sharing the Father-Son relationship is at the center of what it means for us to participate in God.” (37) And: “the doctrine of the Trinity is the gateway to understanding Christian life.” (50)

If you accept Fairbairn’s conclusions, entering the deep end of the pool theologically is clearly not optional .  Fairbairn suggests that we were created to share in the life of the Trinity as evidenced by the early life of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and by our creation in the image of a Triune God.  Being created in the image of God sets humanity apart from plants, animals, and even angels (60) and sets humanity apart from them even after the fall.

But what does this life in the Trinity look like?  Fairbairn (65) sees 4 obvious benefits to having fellowship with the Trinity:

  1. Significance—our significance lies not in what we do, but to whom we belong (67);
  2. Peace—The peace of God is more than the absence of conflict, it shares a calmness even in the storms of life (69) and includes the tutorage of the Holy Spirit throughout (70);
  3. Work—our attitude towards work is transformed. The apostle Paul writes: “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” (1 Cor 15:10 ESV) To redeem work is to return to the Garden of Eden where our work began.
  4. Human relationships—If God loves humanity, then so should we and we see people differently (81).

Fairbairn (224) writes:

“We are called to reflect the Father’s love for the Son, and part of the way we do that is by serving the least of the believers—the neediest, the ones who are the loneliest, the ones who suffer the most in this fallen world.”

Perhaps the most important contribution Fairbairn makes, in my estimation, is to our understanding the depth that sin has broken our relationship with God and neighbor. Sin, he writes, “is what happens when have two children in the same room with one toy” (87).    This brokenness dominates who we are and how we relation to both God and neighbor. The curse of sin involves two parts:  physical death and spiritual death—separation from God (98).  We are twisted to the point that we do not even recognize our own depravity.  Adam and Eve had no reason to doubt God’s word in the garden and no reason to trust the serpent’s words:  “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:5 ESV)  The word, know, here in Hebrew (yada) means more than simply knowledge, it implies being able to decide (93).  In order words, Adam and Eve not only wanted to understand good and evil, they wanted to determine what is good and evil for themselves—to play god.

It is only by fully understanding the depth of our own depravity, we can appreciate the need for God’s promise, the incarnation of Christ, and the gift of redemption.  The lost sense of sin is accordingly at the heart of the modern and postmodern shamelessness and inattention to faith.

As is always the case with good books, it is not just the interesting details but how they hang together to make the text sing.  This is a text that clearly sings.

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Fairbairn: The Trinity Models Relationship in Community, Part 1

Fairbairn_02112015Donald Fairbairn.  2009.  Life in the Trinity:  An Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers.  Downers Grove:  IVP Academic. (Go to part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

We live in an age of disconnect. American society empowers the individual in the mistaken notion that individuals are autonomous beings. As Janis Jopelin sang, “Freedom means nothing left to loose”[1], we are disconnected from ourselves, from others, and from God himself.  It is indeed ironic that in this period of great  theological reflection—ancient manuscripts are more readily available today than at any point since the first century because of the internet—the church itself is increasingly cut off from its own traditions. Fortunately, the basis for those traditions is also increasingly being rediscovered by a new generation of church historians able and willing to take these ancient manuscripts seriously.

Contributing to this renaissance of interest in the early church in his book, Life in the Trinity, Donald Fairbairn takes as his theme (ix) “the forgotten heart of the Christian faith” or “scarlet thread” (10-11) running through much of the writing of the early church.  The early church fathers, writing during the period from 100 to 800 AD (ix), used the Greek word, theōsis, to refer to the process by which human beings become divine or are deified (76). The fathers most frequently cited Psalm 82:6-7[2] and 2 Peter 1:3-4[3] (8) which imply not that we become gods so much as take on a divine nature or attributes as Peter later writes:

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (2 Peter 1:5-7 ESV).

In this way, sharing in divine qualities and overcoming our mortality and corruption (8) by participating in the life of the Trinity (12). Weighty material.

Fairbairn explains this scarlet thread in the context of a theological overview seen through eyes of the early church fathers, especially Irenaeus (second century), Athanasius (fourth century), Augustine (fifth century), and Cyril of Alexandria (fifth century) (33) from whom he quotes extensively.  A key focus point of the early church and Fairbairn exposition are Jesus’ words on the night of his arrest recorded in John 13-17 which Fairbairn describes as the “heart of the faith” (13-14).  This is where Jesus describes his relationship to God the Father.  Fairbairn writes:  “our sharing in the Father-Son relationships is at the center of what it means for us to participate in God.” (37)  In other words, life in the Trinity is the model for our life in the church and life as Christians, as understood in the early church.

Fairbairn writes in 10 chapters, including:

  1. Introduction: Getting Started in Christian Theology,
  2. The Heart of Christianity: The Son’s Relationship to the Father,
  3. From the Father-Son Relationship to the Trinity and Back,
  4. Life as It Was Meant to Be: A Reflection on the Father-Son Relationship,
  5. What Went Wrong? Our Loss of the Son’s Relationship to the Father,
  6. The Promise: God’s Preparation of the World for His Son,
  7. The Incarnation: The Only Son Becomes the Firstborn Son,
  8. Redemption: God’s Gift of His Son’s Relationship to the Father,
  9. Becoming Christian: Entering the Son’s Relationship to the Father, and
  10. Being Christian: Another Look at Reflecting the Father-Son Relationship (vii-viii).

The front-matter includes a preface, acknowledgments and an explanation of Patristic citations.  The after-matter includes an appendix, index of names and subjects, and a scriptural index which highlight this book’s usefulness as a seminary text.

In this postmodern age, we are accustomed to the doctrine of the Trinity being ignored and even denigrated as abstract and politically incorrect.  In this context, it is rather shocking to hear that the Trinity is not only important, it is important to our understanding of daily Christian life.  This makes Fairbairn’s very accessible presentation important in framing a new understanding of all things biblical.  In part 2 of this review to post next week on Monday, I will look in more detail at Fairbairn’s key arguments.

 

[1]These words are taken from a song  written by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster and recorded by Janis Joplin  (January 19, 1943 – October 4, 1970) who died of a drug overdose before the song hit the top of the charts in 1971 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janis_Joplin; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Me_and_Bobby_McGee).

[2]“I said,You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.” (Psalm 82:6-7 ESV)

[3]“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Peter 1:3-4 ESV)

 

 

 

 

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Prayer Day 10: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Available on Amazon.com
Available on Amazon.com

Loving Father, Beloved Son, Holy Spirit. We praise you for sharing yourself with us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and stepping into history. Your silent suffering on the cross shouts your love into our fallen world. Thank you for modeling a perfect life; bearing our sins on the cross; and granting us resurrection peace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Amoroso Padre, Querido Hijo, Espíritu Santo. Te alabamos por compartir ti mismos con nosotros en la persona de Jesús de Nazaret y por entrar de la historia. Tu sufrimiento silencio en la cruz grita tu amor en el mundo caído. Gracias por modelar una vida perfecta; por llevar nuestros pecados en la cruz; y por nos concede la paz de resurrección. En el nombre de Jesús oramos, Amén.

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Prayer Day 1, A Christian Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Available on Amazon.com
Available on Amazon.com

Almighty Father:  thank you for the person of Jesus of Nazareth; who lived as a role model for sinners; who died as a ransom for sin; and whose resurrection gives us the hope of salvation.  In the power of your Holy Spirit, inspire the words written and illumine the words read.  In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Padre Todopoderoso, gracias por la persona de Jesús de Nazaret, quien vivió como un modelo a seguir por los pecadores, quien murió como un rescate por los pecados y cuya resurrección da nos la esperanza de salvación. En el poder de Tu Espíritu Santo, inspire las palabras escritas y iluminar las palabras leídas, En el nombre de Jesús, Amen.

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1 Corinthians 12: Spiritual Gifts Point to the Holy Spirit

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone (vv 4-6).

Are your talents a gift?

The Apostle Paul is not shy about discussing the role of the Holy Spirit.  In 1 Corinthians 12 he begins a 3-chapter discussion of spiritual gifts.  Hays (207)[1] sees this chapter divided into 4 parts:

  1. Introduction (vv 1-3);
  2. Manifestations of the Spirit (vv 4-11);
  3. Body analogy (vv 12-26); and
  4. Application to gifts and offices of the in the church (vv 27-31).

In his introduction, Paul grabs the bull by the horns and says:  Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed (v 1).  This direct approach is most interesting—these days we often read of churches torn up by controversies—often outright sin—that were allowed to grow in the shadows.  Paul does not let mold grow in the shade; he confronts controversy head on.  And he claims all things for Christ—no one can say Jesus is Lord, except through the Holy Spirit (v 3).

In discussing manifestation of the Spirit, Paul sees a Trinitarian (Spirit, Lord, and God) variety of gifts, services, and activities (vv 4-6).  In claiming all gifts, services, and activities for God, none is excluded and none is more important than the other.  Theologians get excited about Paul’s Trinitarian statement because it seems off the cuff rather than the focus of his comments.  In other words, Paul experiences God in three persons even though his does not articulate a formal theology of the Trinity (Hays 210).

Paul use of the body as an analogy for the church is interesting, in part, because he reframes the analogy from his peers.  Ancient authors often used the same analogy to argue for hierarchy in the social order; Paul uses it to illustrate diversity and interdependence (Hays 213).  In undertaking his discussion, he tailors his comments to the particular needs of the Corinthian church which becomes obvious in comparing the list of spiritual gifts with other lists that he provides, for example, in Ephesians 4:11-13 and Romans 12:6-8.  Neither alternative list, for example, cites speaking in tongues (v 10).  Clearly, Paul’s emphasis in listing gifts is not on the list, but on the legitimacy and use of each gift to build up the body of the church.

In wrapping up his comments, he exhorts the Corinthians to strive to work in building up the church and in attaining the “higher gifts” (vv 27 and 31).  One suspects in reading this section that Paul prioritizes spiritual gifts, in part, because Corinthian priorities were different.

One clue to this deficiency is Paul’s switch in words used in the Greek for gifts.  In verse one, a gift is πνευματικός, (BDAG 5999; mostly in the sense pertaining to wind or breath) already in verse 4 Paul switches to χάρισμα (BDAG 7896; that which is freely and graciously given, favor bestowed, gift).  In switching from an emphasis on the receiver of the gift to an emphasis on the giver, Paul highlights the role of the Holy Spirit.  A spiritual gift is a talent used to build up the body of Christ.

Are you musical?  Do you work well with kids?  How might your gift be used to build up the church?

[1] Richard B. Hays.  2011. Interpretations:  First Corinthians.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press.

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