Monday, September 10, 2012

Sermon: Left Outside Alone (Jonah 4)

The conclusion of the series:

4. Left Outside Alone

Sermon: Call and Answer (Jonah 3)

This is part 3 of "Amazing Grace":

3. Call and Answer

Sermon: Down in the Depths (Jonah 2)

Here is the second sermon in the Jonah series, "Amazing Grace"

2. Down in the Depths

Sermon: Running to Stand Still (Jonah 1)

Jonah and the Whale Bible Story by Dennis McGeary
Some people have asked me to post my sermons online. I have been reluctant to do so, mostly out of laziness. Not a good enough reason not to do it. I am still trying to figure out how to podcast it, but until I do, I will just post links to sermons from time to time.

Here is my first offering, which is the series I preached last fall from the book of Jonah, which is entitled: "Amazing Grace." This the first sermon in the series.

1. Running to Stand Still

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

"The Law and Gospel Distinguished" by Isaac Watts

The Law commands and makes us know
What duties to our God we owe;
But 'tis the Gospel must reveal
Where lies our strength to do his will.

The Law discovers guilt and sin
And shows how vile our hearts have been;
The Gospel only can express
Forgiving love and cleansing grace.

What curses doth the Law denounce
Against the man who fails but once!
But in the Gospel Christ appears,
Pardoning the guilt of numerous years.

My soul, no more attempt to draw
Thy life and comfort from the Law
Fly to the hope the Gospel gives;
The man that trusts the promise lives.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

More teens becoming 'fake' Christians -

"If you're the parent of a Christian teenager, Kenda Creasy Dean has this warning: Your child is following a 'mutant' form of Christianity, and you may be responsible.

Dean says more American teenagers are embracing what she calls 'moralistic therapeutic deism.' Translation: It's a watered-down faith that portrays God as a 'divine therapist' whose chief goal is to boost people's self-esteem.

Dean is a minister, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary and the author of 'Almost Christian,' a new book that argues that many parents and pastors are unwittingly passing on this self-serving strain of Christianity.

She says this 'imposter'' faith is one reason teenagers abandon churches.

'If this is the God they're seeing in church, they are right to leave us in the dust,' Dean says. 'Churches don't give them enough to be passionate about.'"

Read the rest of the article here...

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Abreaction: The Shack

The Collins English Dictionary defines abreaction as "the release and expression of emotional tension associated with repressed ideas by bringing those ideas into consciousness." And this is precisely what author William Paul Young set out to do when he wrote the NY Times bestseller The Shack. (It's been on the list for the past 76 weeks and is currently at #4!)

I am currently attending the American Academy of Religion annual meeting in Montreal, and decided to stop in on a session this afternoon where Young was talking about his book and interacting with a panel of theologians in front of a roomful of theologians on what he wrote. To be honest I have not read the book yet, even though many people had recommended it to me. I have been quite ambivalent towards the genre of Christian fiction on the whole, because much of the time it is either poorly written, or not very "Christian" in what it communicates, and in most cases just poorly written, un-"Christian" trash.

But since this was an academic presentation by the "Christian Theological Research Fellowship," I thought that it might be interesting to go hear what the author had to say about this "wildly popular novel" (as stated in the program book). Well, I was truly blown away by Young, and his presentation. I won't try to rehash the whole session or give you all my notes on the session here, as I don't think I could do him justice if I did, but I posted an interview that he gave a Christian radio station in Sydney, Australia, that basically captures a lot of what he had to say about the book and the many objections to it.

The Shack is essentially a "theological novel" (his description) and in it he is trying to address who God is and how he has come to understand him in the midst of deep personal pain. He talked about the "shack" as a metaphor of the human soul and how it is a run-down, ramshackle dilapidated building that we try to prop up and pretend is really a beautiful mansion, or a least a nice suburban detached two-storey home. In reality it is filled with deep darkness, pain and every manner of uncleanness inside. As far as he is concerned, this is what most of us (especially Christians) will not admit to. We try to paper over the cracks, and pretend that everything is ok, when we know it really isn't. And one of the ways we do it is to turn to religion to do. For him, religion is "fear and guilt based performance to win the approval of God." Instead he believes that we need to find our relationship with a personal and loving God who is revealed in his Son, Jesus Christ.

What really grabbed me was the fact that he set out to write the book in obedience to a request his wife. She wanted him to write something to tell his 6 children about what he had learnt in a time of deep darkness. He went through a huge personal crash in early 1994, and this began an 11 year ordeal, that he only came out of at the end of 2004 (details can be found in the posted interview). It was in this context that he wrote to share with his kids what he had learnt about God in this time of deep personal darkness. So The Shack was his abreaction and I think this is why it has gained the readership it has all around the globe (over 10 million and counting!). One of the theologians in the audience described it as Young's "12 step" recovery process.  It connects with people deep down in a visceral way, bypassing all the intellectual objections many people have to the Christian description of God. I think that it is telling that most of the critics are those who are within the Chrisitian establishment, some of whom have labeled it "heresy". (Just "google" it and you can find all manner of vitrolic against him and his book)

Young himself is a "layperson" but not an unschooled one. He has had some seminary education, and is very well-read theologically. My impression of him was that he was quite astute as an amateur theologian. He was working as an office manager for a circuit board manufacturer when he wrote this book, and initially meant it as a Christmas gift for his children. He originally printed 15 copies for them and some close friends and other family members, but was later encouraged to try to get it published. What is amazing is that it was turned down by 26 publishers (both Christian and secular), so a couple of his friends helped him get it published, and they actually sold over 1 million copies out one of their garages with a $300 advertising budget. As Young says, it was a God thing!

What was widely acknowledged at the end of the session (which was attended by some really well-known, and respected theologians) was that Young has succeeded in getting theology into the hearts (and heads) of the masses. Not just Christians, but also many who had either turned their back on Christianity or had never given it serious thought up till reading his book. He shared some wonderful testimonies of people who had come to faith in Christ through his work, and many of them were really amazing. The challenged issued to the group of thinkers here in Montreal is to do more creatively so that theology will break out beyond the hallowed halls, and "ivory towers" we theologians too often find ourselves in. I can't wait to get my hands on the book and actually read it for myself!

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Change of Heart

I just came across an interview with Dr. Ashley Null on Thomas Cranmer (ht Aaron Z). For those of you who don't know, Cranmer is the architect of the English Reformation, and is one of the key figures in the formation of the Anglican church. Dr Null is the foremost expert on Abp Cranmer.

I used to think of myself as an Anglican because of an accident of birth (i.e. being born in the home of an Anglican vicar) but I now consider myself one out of conviction. The chief reason for this is what Dr Null pointed out in his interview:
"According to Cranmer’s anthropology, what the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies. The mind doesn’t direct the will. The mind is actually captive to what the will wants, and the will itself, in turn, is captive to what the heart wants.
The trouble with human nature is that we are born with a heart that loves ourselves over and above everything else in this world, including God. In short, we are born slaves to the lust for self-gratification, i.e., concupiscence. That’s why, if left to ourselves, we will always love those things that make us feel good about ourselves, even as we depart more and more from God and his ways.
Therefore, God must intervene in our lives in order to bring salvation. Working through Scripture, the Holy Spirit first brings a conviction of sin in a believer’s heart, then he births a living faith by which the believer lays hold of the extrinsic righteousness of Christ. Of course, the perfect justifying righteousness by which we are made right with God must be outside of us, for the ongoing presence of sinful concupiscence in our mortal bodies renders it impossible for us ever to be truly holy in this life. Indeed, the glory of God is his love for the unworthy, that although we are sinners, he makes us his own."

This insight into the human condition and God's work in our lives has revolutionised my own life, ministry and preaching. This understanding also permeates the liturgy of the Anglican church, especially since Cranmer's single greatest contribution is the Book of Common Prayer. I have really come to appreciate and value the depth of the prayers, and how it points us time and time again to God's sovereign work in us, and how we desperately need a "change of heart". As Cranmer prayed:
Cambridge BCP 2O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men; Grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A 2009 Ranking of Graduate Programs in Theology in First Things

I was alerted to this article from the Christian Journal, First Things by a fellow student at Wycliffe, where I am currently a doctoral candidate in Theology. It is a ranking of graduate theology programs in North America, done by the features editor of this publication. He also happens to be a professor of theology at Creighton University, and is well versed with the academic world in North America. What I was pleasantly surprised about was the fact that he ranked Wycliffe 4th in the North American continent!

When I applied to Wycliffe, it was not because I had an eye on the rankings, but because of what they had to offer in terms of the professors, and the way the system was set up within the larger Toronto School of Theology at the University of Toronto. So I was really pleased to learn that someone else (who is far more well-versed in academia) also thought highly of my choice!
However this is but one person's opinion and he admits that he has a personal bias, but as I learnt from Gadamer in my readings this week, prejudice is not necessarily a bad thing!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Can You Do It?

I have recently gone back to school and one of the courses I am taking this semester is centred around the theology of the reformers, specifically that of Luther and Calvin. In class this past week, we were discussing the bound will from Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, and of course the topic of semi-Pelagianism came up. One of my classmates used an illustration to explain this heresy that is too good not to share with you on on this blog.
He pointed out that a semi-Pelagian sees God like the Home Depot store whose tagline is “You can do it, we can help”. That set off a discussion about how pernicious this kind of thinking can be. It is actually fatal because it hides what the real problem is, and prevents us from fully embracing the gospel.
To use the Home Depot illustration again, it is like a person who thinks that all they need to make their home presentable is to get a fresh coat of paint, and maybe some new molding, to fix the problems they have with the house. When in reality the root of the problem is that the foundations of the house have rotted away, and it will collapse at any moment (ala Tom Hanks in “The Money Pit”). What is really needed is for the home to be torn down, and a new one erected in its place. That is why the Christian gospel is about death and resurrection—not “you can do it, we can help”!
So many times we don’t like to hear this kind of news. Someone in my class observed that Luther sounds so pessimistic and depressing in his disputation. Yet Luther himself points out how important it is to get the diagnosis of our problem right. In the proof for Thesis 17 of the Heidelberg Disputation, he says:
Sin is recognized only through the law. It is apparent that not despair, but rather hope, is preached when we are told that we are sinners. Such preaching concerning sin is a preparation for grace, or it is rather the recognition of sin and faith in such preaching. Yearning for grace wells up when recognition of sin has arisen. A sick person seeks the physician when he recognizes the seriousness of his illness. Therefore one does not give cause for despair or death by telling a sick person about the danger of his illness, but, in effect, one urges him to seek a medical cure. To say that we are nothing and constantly sin when we do the best we can does not mean that we cause people to despair (unless they are fools); rather, we make them concerned about the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.