5 Basic Postures Toward Culture

I recently returned from The Gospel Coalition Conference in Orlando, FL. I enjoyed hearing the preaching and fellowshipping with friends old and new. One of my favorite events was the Christ and Pop Culture panel with Alan Noble, Richard Clark, Mike Cosper, and Derek Rishmawy. This panel discussion started a conversation on the ride home with my travel companion and good friend Chad McKinnon. We talked a lot about engaging with culture and how to know when to reject certain cultural artifacts. It made me think that these conversations might be helpful for my readers.

In his book Culture Making, Crouch says,

“I wonder what we Christians are known for in the world outside our churches. Are we known as critics, consumers, copiers, condemners of culture? I’m afraid so. Why aren’t we known as cultivators—people who tend and nourish what is best in human culture, who do the hard and painstaking work to preserve the best of what people before us have done? Why aren’t we known as creators—people who dare to think and do something that has never been thought or done before, something that makes the world more welcoming and thrilling and beautiful?”

So how should we posture ourselves toward culture?

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Jerry L. Walls’ Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory (Brazos Press)

“You cannot rationally be indifferent to heaven and hell.” (14)

A title like Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory: A Protestant View of the Cosmic Drama (henceforth, HHP) is bound to provoke interest. The idea of a Protestant purgatory is not novel (as is proven in the book itself) but certainly uncommon to many ears. As an important element of Catholic theology rejected in the Reformation, a Protestant doctrine of purgatory might sound like an oxymoron. Hence the natural interest many will have in this title by theologian/philosophy Jerry L. Walls.  HPP is the distilled product of three academic books spanning over a decade proving Wells is no novice on these issues (16). This is no half-baked publication from an emerging theologian. This level of understanding and writing is achieved by a longtime philosopher and professor and makes HPP lucid, enjoyable to read, and provocative.

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Review: G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd’s Hidden But Now Revealed

The past few months have seen the release of several books co-authored by G. K. Beale, who needs no introduction:

I want to read everything Beale writes, but out of these three I was most excited about Hidden But Now Revealed because of the presence of biblical theology in the title.

Co-written with Dr. Benjamin Gladd, who wrote his doctoral dissertation under Beale at Wheaton on the use of mystery in Daniel and Second Temple Judaism, Hidden But Now Revealed explores the biblical conception of mystery, a term found in conjunction with key doctrines such as eschatology, soteriology, relationship between Jew and Gentile, etc. in the New Testament. The authors’ goal for this book is that “the church would gain a greater appreciation for the concept of mystery and the intersection of the Old and New Testament. The gospel itself contains both ‘old’ and ‘new’ elements that stand in continuity and discontinuity with the Old Testament” (8). In this study, mystery is defined generally as “the revelation of God’s partially hidden wisdom, particularly as it concerns events occurring in the ‘latter days'” (20).

It begins with a look at the use of mystery in the book of Daniel, where “Revelation of a mystery can be defined roughly as God fully disclosing wisdom about end-time events that were mostly hitherto unknown” (43). The second chapter continues providing background into the New Testament’s use of mystery by analyzing the use of mystery in early Judaism, looking at a few key texts in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Targums. Like in the book of Daniel, mystery in Second Temple Judaism is eschatological and characterized by an initial hidden revelation followed by a fuller interpretation.

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“Jesus wept.” And I Get It Now.

“Jesus wept.” And I get it now.

I was driving home from church slowing down as I exited the highway. My phone rang. I listened silently. Said, “OK thanks for telling me.” Hung up.

Stared straight ahead. Wife asked, “Who was that? What’s wrong?”

Barely got the words out, “Pastor Tom . . . cancer.” Couldn’t hold back the deluge of tears.

We were on our way for lunch at my sister’s house. One of those lunches where more than just family was present. We arrived. I entered the house. It took all my energy to make it to the couch. Where I slouched comatose for a good forty-five minutes.

Ever since I was young I’ve been fearful of death. It was a major hurdle to my faith maturing as I became a husband and father. It also played some role in regular episodes of depression I experienced growing up.

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Pursuing Greater Pleasures

Just paying lips service to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus isn’t enough. We must also hit the note of what that means for us now. And what that means for the everyone we are commanded to go out to teach and baptize.

It’s easy to fall into the trap that makes the Christian life a matter of do’s and don’t’s. “God has said don’t murder. So just don’t!” It’s the kind of trap that’s enveloped in the common jingle, “I don’t drink, smoke, or dance, and don’t hang out with those that do”—as if that sums up the duty of a Christian.

We are commanded to teach the world what it means to love and obey everything Jesus teaches. But how we do this matter. Christianity isn’t a checklist for us or anyone else to achieve. It is about standing at the crossroads proclaiming, “The King has come. He’s died and risen and reigns. He doesn’t cast anyone out. Pursue greater pleasures in him!”

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Grace for Thanksgiving

I sat across the table listening to a friend share his struggle with being thankful for his wife. I realized after he was done confessing this, I had been chewing the same bite of my hamburger for the last five minutes. I was struck by how similar his struggle was with my own.

I immediately thought to myself, “Why is it so difficult to be thankful? Especially for people who we love and should instinctively be thankful for?” Think about your own life. Maybe it’s not your spouse. Maybe it’s your job. Your kids. Your life in general. Your family. Your house.

It’s easy to slip into an attitude that only sees the downside, that only lives in the already, but doesn’t long for the not yet.

At the end of May, my family vacationed in Kansas. My wife had a cousin getting married and her parents needed help moving the rest of their furniture to South Carolina. We had an enjoyable trip despite the eighteen-hour drive.

But on our arrival home (exhausted, zombies for children), harsh air from a humid and un-air conditioned home assaulted us. Our unit had burned out while we were gone.

We lasted a week in our home with no air, mainly because God blessed us with heavy rain almost every afternoon dropping the temperature by a solid fifteen degrees. It was easy to lose sight of the rain and only see the lack of air.

The next week was a scorcher. Over ninety degrees and the rain stopped. I felt like Elijah living in a dried up riverbank. God provided again. My sister and her husband graciously offered us their upstairs. So we lived there for a week.

You may immediately ask, “Why didn’t you fix your AC unit right away?” Three words: home warranty company.

As much as I appreciated staying with my sister, five kids and four adults in one home can get to the best of us.

Just when the stress and fatigue mounted, God provided a Hulk-sized window unit, which allowed us to move back into our home for four days until we finally got our air compressor fixed.

I look back at those three weeks now and understand I was wandering in the wilderness and grumbling the entire way. The Israelites complaints pierced my heart, “It’s better back in Egypt.”

As the temperature in my home dropped, I realized I had missed the manna, water, and guiding cloud as I curmudgeonly moved from my home, to my sister’s home, and back again.

Surely you can relate?

God created this beautiful world and said, “It is good.” He said, “Enjoy everything in the Garden, except this one tree.” But the serpent enters. He deceives.

“God isn’t good. He’s not enough.”

“There’s more joy elsewhere. You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

“You’ve got it soo bad. This Garden is full of ‘No!’ where’s the fun in that?”

They swallowed these lies stem and core. We fell.

It’s now difficult living in this world. Without Christ it would be mission impossible living a consistently thankful life.

Turn on the news and just watch for a moment. Our world is filled with death, hate, disease, natural disaster, and suffering. Do the little moments of life and happiness out weigh those other things? For many living on the third rock from the sun, the answer is clearly no.

Paul echoes this truth when he says, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifest in our bodies” (2 Cor. 4:7-10).

He understands living in this fallen world means suffering. Multiple times in his letters, he writes about the number of times he’s been beaten, cast out of cities, almost killed, or in prison. Yet he says later in 2 Corinthians 4, “For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God” (v. 15).

In a matter of five verses, Paul moves from an epic catalogue of suffering to “Grace increases thanksgiving to the glory of God.” How does that happen? How does someone who suffered more than many promise thanksgiving increases?

Paul understands the beauty of Jesus Christ in the gospel. He understands that, just as God said, “Let light shine out of darkness” in the beginning (Gen. 1) and in our hearts (2 Cor. 4:6), He will speak those words over all of creation in the end.

Right now we are dying trees. But the moment we see Jesus, the seed planted by our death (1 Cor. 15:38) will transform into a tree of life. That’s not a painless process. You must die first. You must be planted to rise again.

But Paul says, “We do note lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:16).

Remember Paul’s catalogue of suffering (vv. 8-10)? That doesn’t sound like “light momentary affliction.” I’ve been meditating on verse sixteen to make sense out of it, but I can’t. I tried to think of a way to explain it, which would places everything in perspective now. That would always allow you to be thankful for your all of suffering now. I can’t.

I’ve found in my own life removing tension isn’t healthy. The gospel is full of it. This statement may be the culmination of it all. In some mysterious way, our current suffering will be feel light in comparison to the “eternal weight of glory” found in Jesus Christ. In the end, the thanksgiving we struggle with now will be ours in spades.

In the meantime, let’s pursue the grace for thanksgiving found in being known and knowing Jesus Christ.

God will have his resurrection fruit

“When a person dies, the earth is generally unwilling to cough him back up. A miracle contradicts the will of the earth.” Leif Enger

After Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden, God cursed the ground saying,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)

Ever since those words, the ground has been fighting man. It refuses to yield its proper fruit. It advances the line whenever man doesn’t advance against it. In short, left to itself it becomes the mangled, morning hair of a child. Yet Jesus enters the ground and, unlike any before him, he rises up and stays alive. The ground would not recycle the body of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is the firstfruit.

I was reading Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River (which is excellent) when his words made me realize the significance of this. As you read above, he says, “When a person dies, the earth is generally unwilling to cough him back up. A miracle contradicts the will of the earth.” Resurrection is a miracle. Plain and simple.

When we die, the earth consumes our bodies returning it to dust. It seemingly advances against God. It dares him to speak those same words Jesus spoke to Lazarus, “Come forth.” And to say them finally.

It eats the flesh, the bones, and the ligaments. It consumes the geniuses of the earth. It consumes the lowly beggars. It consumes the Helens (whose beauty allegedly launched a thousand ships). It consumes the disfigured face of the unknown man. Death is no respecter of persons. It fights against the new creation by rotting our flesh.

But God. He loves a good ending. He loves a eucatastrophe. He already grabbed death by the neck on that resurrection Sunday and spun him around a thousand times. Now death staggers like a drunk. It hasn’t fallen completely but it will. It doesn’t know those decomposed bodies are seeds for the new earth (1 Cor. 15:35-41). Death is fertilizing the earth with our bodies until the time is ripe for God’s final resurrection. Its efforts are self-defeating.

Death may be unwilling to cough us back up, but our God will have nothing else in the end. He will speak, “Come forth.” And the earth will give forth its dead. God will have his resurrection fruit.

Review: Kingdom Come by Sam Storms

5 out of 5 Stars
Author: Sam Storms
Publisher: Christian Focus
Buy Kingdom Come
Reading Level: Moderate

I have a smeared history with eschatology. I grew up in dispensational churches and honestly the topic of ends times never gave me much hope. I never had a longing for the end. I lived in fear and doubt. I was afraid of being left behind (ironically, that turn of phrase has made some authors a lot of money). After studying Scripture and finding myself reformed I knew I wasn’t dispensational anymore but I was so turned off the topic of eschatology it was until recently, I gave any attention to read anything excluding Scripture on the topic. It didn’t interest me because I had a bad taste in my mouth.

Sam Storms’s Kingdom Come provides hope, longing, and points to Jesus Christ as the hero of all the story (pp. 6-30 are superb). That’s what I took away most of all. The end times--all about Jesus. The OT promises--all about Jesus. Sam says,

Amillennialism best accounts for the many texts in which Israel’s Old Testament prophetic hope is portrayed as being fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ and the believing remnant, his body, the Church . . . . We found amillennialism to be a superior scheme for understanding redemptive history. (p. 549, 550)

That’s what sold me. Amillennialism isn’t without its difficulties (all eschatological positions have them) but as I’ve read it fits more squarely with my understanding of the unfolding gospel story found from Genesis to Revelation. It makes Jesus Christ the central emphasis of that story (p. 39). It emphasizes his unique reign and rule. It doesn’t minimize the significance of our adoption in Christ--which creates one family in God who receive one blessing, Christ himself. Sam says,

In sum, Jesus is himself the inspired interpreter of the Old Testament, His identity, life, and mission provide the framework within which we are to read and approach the Old Testament (p. 30).

A significant question which Sam brings up at the beginning of Kingdom Come and again at the end (p. 551) is “What does Scripture say happens after the second coming of Christ?” He systematically examines what all of Scripture says about the second coming of Christ and lays that at the table where the beast, false, prophet, death, the tribulation all eat. He rightly interprets Scripture by Scripture.

Significant for me and for many others, Sam Storms contrasts amillennialism with the other eschatological positions especially with dispensationalism. Significantly because dispensational is the most popular end time scheme among Christians today. As you would expect, Kingdom Come includes quite a bit of exegesis. Sam isn’t afraid to admit when there’s other possibilities or when he’s unsure of the position he present. He exudes a humility in tackling these issues but he does tackle them nonetheless.

If you’re serious about understanding all of Scripture, I would heartily recommend Kingdom Come. For a 600 page book, it’s immensely readable and approachable. For that length the best I’ve read. Even if you don’t intend to read all of it at once, you can read most chapters alone, although they certainly work together better as a whole.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received Kingdom Come free from Christian Focus. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you plan on purchasing Kingdom Come, consider supporting Grace for Sinners by purchasing from Amazon.

The King of the Cosmos (Stop Pigeon-holing Jesus)

Luke reports,
66 When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, 67 “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, 68 and if I ask you, you will not answer. 69 But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” 70 So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” 71 Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.” (Luke 22:66-71)

Judas betrays Jesus. The religious leaders and armed soldiers take Jesus captive. Jesus stands trial before these religious leaders (never mind it was an illegal trial because it was at night). They demand Jesus tell them if he’s the Christ, but Jesus doesn’t answer them in the way they might have expected.

These religious leaders wanted to know if Jesus was the king of the Jews. The one who would overthrow the Roman yoke. You can see this is what their getting at because when they send Jesus to Pilate and he examines Jesus according to the charges he says,

11 Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed. (Matthew 27:11-14)

They end up crucifying Jesus with a plaque above his head “KING OF THE JEWS.” You’re not surprised. You already knew that. I want to focus your attention on the contrast Jesus makes when answering the religious leaders in the first passage quoted. Jesus says, “But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” This statement sheds light on the charge of regional king. It sheds light on the plaque above his head.

They had it all wrong. He wasn’t only the King of the Jesus. He was the King of the Cosmos. The King of Everything. Abraham Kuyper famously stated, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” and R. C. Sproul gets at this same point when says, “There’s no maverick molecule if God is sovereign.”

The religious leaders and Pilate were thinking too small. King of the Jews? Jesus rises from the dead and sits on the right hand of God. King of All. That truth should’ve brought the religious leaders to their knees. They were standing on holy ground surrounding the Son of God.

That truth should change the way you live. There’s not a single area of your life that Christ does not claim as “Mine!” No maverick minute. You live your life as a child of God in proxy to the throne of God because Christ sits at the Father’s right hand and you are in Christ. Let that truth sink into your belly and smolder.

So stop pigeon-holing Jesus. He’s not the king of your church. He’s the King of all of your life. The King of the Cosmos.