“A Meal with Jesus”- Book Recommendation

I recently read an excellent little book by Tim Chester called “A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, & Mission around the Table.   It’s a study of several portions of Luke’s Gospel that deal with Jesus at various meals.  I was greatly challenged by much of what was said, especially in the practical applications of hospitality in cultures where even families don’t eat meals together anymore.  There’s also some challenging chapters on the ways we can use food and even hospitality to feed our idolatry rather than worship God and bless others. I immediately passed it onto my wife for her reading shelf since it’s hard to start applying new ways of hospitality without your wife being on board!

Here are some quotes to entice you more:

“Meals can be a visual representation of our hearts. If our hearts are concerned for position, honor, status, or approval, then that will be reflected in our dining etiquette. Consider how your meals express your vision for life.  Think about who’s invited, how they’re served, what you hope to achieve, and the layout of your home.  Do they express the vision of the kingdom of God?”

“Many people love the idea of the church as a community. But when we eat together, we encounter not some theoretical community, but real people with all their problems and quirks. The meal table is an opportunity to give up our proud ideals by which we judge others and accept in their place the real community created by the cross of Christ, with all its brokenness.”

“If guests offer to help, then take them up on their offer. Your aim is to love, not impress. Jesus himself was the recipient of hospitality more than he provided it. Letting others serve us creates a relationship of equality and intimacy.”

There are a lot more little tidbits here worth reading.  I found some of the thoughts on meals very similar to Eugene Peterson’s writing in “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places” from which I hope to put some quotes up in the near future.

“Jesus was a legalist.”

No, that’s not my new blog title! (I’m still thinking through some updates and changes, but I’ve been kind of busy the last two weeks now that I’m “bi-vocational” for a month or two).  But unfortunately, this title was found on a local church sign near where I live:

Now, let me admit a couple things right now.  First, this isn’t the first sign message from this particular church that I’ve disagreed with.  Usually, most of their signs have something to do with how sinful people are (and I drive by this sign about 30 times a week), or about some special meetings at the church where they’ll expound on sinfulness (my favorite one- “This week, Gospel Meeting: The Works of the Flesh”.), or general attempts to downplay other churches (All denominations are of man and evil, etc.)  So I’m predisposed you might say to disagreeing with their signs!  Also, they may or may not have deliberately posted “Argument Signs” to counteract the sign of another church down the street (which I may happen to work at.)  🙂

But let’s talk about this particular sign. My mind went in about 30 different directions as I thought about this sign, so I’ll just throw them out bullet-style, in no particular order of importance.

1)  I have to give them points for boldness and wearing their beliefs on their sleeves.  After all, I might feel deceived or tricked had their sign said something like: “Jesus loves you” and when I went inside I found out the message was “Jesus hates you because he’s a legalist.”  I mean, authenticity is one of the chief virtues of our age, so at least they’ve got a sense of who they are as a church and what message they want to send to the world.

2) Watch that past tense!  “Jesus was a legalist”, not Jesus is a legalist.  So, is this a denial of the Resurrection?  (That might explain why they like the idea of legalism so much!) Or that Jesus was once, but isn’t now a legalist?  There does seem to be a disconnect between the Jesus they (want to) find in the Bible and the reigning Lord of all, at least enough that they aren’t comfortable saying “is” here.

3) Everybody’s doing it!  No, really.  I think that’s the core of the argument here.  They want to defend their own “legalism” by appealing to other occurrences of it.  People never get past the arguments they learned as children unfortunately.  But of course, when Christians argue, we have a secret technique for going above the “everybody is doing it” argument.  It’s called the “But Jesus did it!!!” argument (you must say in an ever-ascending whiny voice too.).  I want to wear flip flops to church one day.  My wife gives me a look.  “But Jesus wore sandals!” Boom.  Roasted.  Argument over.  I mean, seriously.  Who (besides us Southern Baptists and that awkwardness that is John 2 for us) wants to be on opposite sides of Jesus in an argument?  I mean, even people that don’t really like Jesus want him on their side in an argument.  And I think that’s really at the heart of this sign.  “Jesus was a legalist” is clearly the church’s response to someone else saying “Your church is legalistic.”  and of course, that kind but mistaken person saying that is clobbered with the I-want-to-grow-a-beard-out-but-my-wife-won’t-let-me patented response: “BUT Jesus was a legalist.”

4) Weird prooftexting here.  Matthew 7:21-23?  Really?  Do you KNOW whom Jesus is talking about in these verses?  You may have to go all the way back to 5:20 to figure it out, but it’s there.  “The scribes and the Pharisees”  He gets them there.  He goes after their rigid letter-of-the-law righteousness that ignores the sinful heart in 5:21-48, and 6:1-18, and 7:1-6, and 7:15-20.  Jesus is dissing on…wait for it…LEGALISTS!  And these legalists are the ones who keep all the rules and say “Lord, Lord” in the day of judgment and practice exorcism and prophesy and do miracles.   And it is to legalists that Jesus will say “I never knew you.  Depart from me, you lawbreakers!”  Apparently one breaks the Law by being a legalist.

5) Why not prooftext better?  I mean if you’re going to the Sermon on the Mount to justify your argument, at least go to Matthew 5:17-20 to really hammer it home!  At least use the right club to whack people over the head with!

6) Jesus was NOT a legalist.

7) If Jesus was a legalist, then he was a really, really bad one.  Have you read that story in John 8 where he didn’t stone to death the woman caught in adultery?  The Law told him to.  Not very good at legalism, apparently.  Or apparently in Matthew 23, he forgot which side he was on because he basically tells all the legalists they’re going to hell and that they are snakes.

8) Eph. 2:11-22.  “did away with…”  Read it for yourself please.

9) A minor point of agreement:  We invented in this country a kind a of Christianity where one can profess Christ, or sign a card, or pray a ritualistic “sinner’s prayer” and be set to go for heaven.  It’s called “cheap grace” (from Bonhoeffer’s “Cost of Discipleship” or “easy believe-ism.” Jesus has a lot of hard sayings.  He calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, give up everything, and follow Him.  People who are swimming in that sewage lagoon need to be shocked by the harshness of some things Jesus said.  But He also said, “Come to me, you who are weary and burdened (by legalism, perhaps?), and I will give you rest.  All of you, take up My yoke (idiom for a Rabbi’s teaching and rules) and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves.  For My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

10) Romans 8:4- “so that the righteous requirement of the law might be accomplished in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according the Spirit.”   I know this is a big debate right now in Christian scholarship over what this means in detail.  But generally, Christ fulfilled the Law, so us who are in Him fulfill the Law, and our living by the Spirit is involved in our fulfilling the law.  but it is clearly NOT by being legalists, though, which all would agree with.

11) If you have 1 chance to tell someone about Jesus for 5 seconds as they drive by, what would that one thing be?  I can tell you it shouldn’t be something that will be confusing, misleading or simply off-putting.   You know people hate legalism (at least in theory, we all tend to practice various forms of it, even hippies look down on those who don’t recycle).  So if you know people hate legalism, why use your 5 seconds to associate that with Jesus in their minds?  I recently read through all the sermons in Acts looking at how the apostles shared their faith.  From the 12 sharing with Jews to Paul sharing with Gentiles, I can you tell you what their strategy wasn’t.  “Here’s something you really hate and dislike.  Jesus is like that.  You want to know more?”  That isn’t to say there wasn’t elements of their messages that would certainly step on toes.  Peter: “You guys killed God a few days ago.  And now you need to repent.”  or Paul mentioning the coming judgment and Resurrection of Jesus at the end of the Mars Hill sermon.  (Greeks disdained resurrection and no one likes the threat of judgment!)  But that’s not how they started.  With Jews, they usually grounded the life of Jesus in the Old Testament scriptures, which every good Jew would affirm.  With Greeks, we see Paul focuses more on general human need to connect with God, gratitude for his life-giving provision, and the failure of idols.  There are always going to be people who hate Jesus (John 15:18), but at least make sure they hate him for the right reasons.  NOT because your sign connects him with everything people hate about religion.

12) If someone calls you a legalist and your first response is to write a church sign defending your position with a select few Bible verses…(Jeff Foxworthy) you might REALLY be a legalist.

13) Legalistic religion is a soul-killing, joy-stealing, no-good rotten thief.  (John 10:10- We love to say the “thief” in this verse is Satan (which is true in the ultimate sense), but read the earlier verses and see the more specific thieves Jesus had in mind.)  And Jesus gives abundant life.  So if legalism steals joy and life and Jesus gives joy and life, then maybe they’re not on the same team after all!

14) Bumper sticker culture is bad.  I started reading the book “Lord, Save us from your followers” the other day (it was $1 at Mardel), and that point is well made early on.  Rather than inviting people to come and discover Jesus, this sign is shouting at them in what seems like an angry tone.  Like if this was a Disney musical, this sign and its message would be sung on a stormy night in a torch-lit dungeon by someone with warts and non-proportional facial features.

15) I thought I might get shot taking this picture.   Someone I knew honked to say hi as I was getting out of the car, and I jumped thinking it was gunfire.

16) Their lawn is usually well mowed.  I guess you have to clean the outside of the bowl if you’re serving a big pot of poo-stew inside.

17) Church signs are like old-school tweeting.  You have the character limitations and everything.

18) If every clever, pithy saying I came up with was scrutinized like I’m doing with this sign, how would I fare?  There’s only so much clarity one can communicate in so small a space.  But that should make us try harder for clarity and to avoid misinterpretations.  Like I know when I’m commenting on a blog that whatever I write someone will take in the worst possible tone.  So what do I do?  I take extra time to add disclaimers and little extra words to soften what I’m saying.  I could probably use more of that when I talk as well, I think.

19) Many of us would never write “Jesus was a legalist” on a sign.  But we might be saying the same thing with our lives if we are not careful.  and that may be more damaging than any dumb sign ever could be.

20) and in case you missed it, Jesus was/is NOT a legalist.

Easter book thoughts…

I’m kicking myself right now.  I’m getting ready to prepare a Bible study on the events of Easter for our youth and I was mining a couple books for great quotes.  It’s usually easy for me to find a great quote.  I just start looking at all the stuff I’ve underlined (or formerly-“highlighted”…I’ve since learned that my inability to draw a straight line makes mechanical pencils far easier to correct!  Plus, for some reason, my wife brought about 100 fully-leaded of them into our marriage…so might as well get some use out of them.)  However, apparently I was rather inconsistent a few years ago when I spent a month or so reading NT Wright’s “Resurrection of the Son of God.”  The first couple chapters bear some highlights, but then…NOTHING!!  And I know that’s nothing to do with the book’s content (It picks up a lot of steam near the end as he goes through the New Testament itself).  Arrrgh.  Nothing like reading a 700-page book to find out that 3/4 of it bears no sign of your having visited.

That said, when the topic of Easter and the Resurrection comes up, I have two works that I find really helpful:

The Resurrection of the Son of God (RSG)– NT Wright

The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (CFRJ)– Gary Habermas and Michael R. Licona

RSG is the work to read on the theology and historical background of Jesus’ Resurrection.  Wright wades through Greco-Roman and Jewish thoughts on the afterlife, as well as spending time doing some excellent biblical theology in both Old and New Testaments regarding the concept.  His continual reminder that resurrection isn’t merely “the afterlife”, but clearly refers to a bodily “life after life after death.”

CFRJ is a more “lay-friendly” approach focusing on a “bare minimal fact” approach to arguing for the Resurrection.  The authors essentially want to defend 4 or 5 things almost all historians (Christian and secular) agree upon.   They are: the crucifixion of Jesus, Jesus’ disciples believing he rose and  appeared to them, the conversion of Paul, the conversion of James the brother of Jesus, and lastly (though with a few caveats distinguishing it from the previous four) the empty tomb.  Using those facts alone, they provide a fairly impressive argument.

I know there are probably some more “theological” or “devotional” works on the Resurrection.  If you know of any, I’m certain I would be glad to hear about them.  These two are very useful in each their own way.

Now to finish kicking myself!

On Trimming Theology…CS Lewis

In an essay entitled “Horrid Red Things” from the God in the Dock collection, which later appears as a chapter in the longer work Miracles, Lewis makes a bold challenge to those of his day attempting to strip the Christian faith from its theological baggage, especially that of an historical* or miraculous nature.

“I think there are two things that Christians must do if they wish to convince this ‘ordinary’ modern man.  In the first place, they must make it quite clear that what will remain of the Creed after all their explanations and reinterpretations will still be somehting quite unambiguously supernatural, miraculous, and shocking.  We may not believe in a flat earth [and I add that most Christians in history didn’t either, contrary to the myths about Columbus] and a sky-palace.  But we must insist from the beginning that we believe, as firmly as any savage or theosophist, in a spirit-world which can, and does, invade the natural or phenomenal universe.  For the plain man suspects that when we start explaining, we are going to explain away: that we have mythology for our ignorant hearers and are ready, when cornered by educated hearers, to reduce it to innocuous moral platitudes which no one ever dreamed of denying.  And there are theologians [and still are today] who justify this suspicion.  From them we must part company absolutely.  If nothing remains except what could be equally well stated without Christian formulae, then the honest thing is to admit that Christianity is untrue and to begin over again without it. [italics mine]

“Who Made God?”- Book Review

Edgar Andrews’ Who Made God?: Searching for a theory of everything may be the funnest book I’ve read so far this year.

Andrews is a world-class scientist, whose lifetime of work at the University of London and as a consultant of several major chemical companies throughout the world give him a platform for attempting to write a book such as this.  Who Made God? is titled after what Andrews found to be “the sceptics favourite question” from atheists regarding the issue of the existence of God.  He might have also titled his book An Hypothesis of God’s Existence. He spends several chapters on defense, before spending most of the book studying the idea of God in the fashion of an hypothesis–that is, rather than arguing from the evidences to conclusions, in true scientific fashion, he sets forward an hypothesis–namely that God exists and that this God is the God described by the Old and New Testaments.  Then using his extensive insights, both in physical and biological science, he examines whether what we find in the world confirms or falsifies the hypothesis.

Andrews excels in the explanation; he takes complex ideas such as quantum physics, string theory, and genetic mutations and puts them into words and ideas that the non-technician can understand.  His wit and analogies make the book hard to put down, even if one finds oneself sludging through some pretty thick scientific mud.   For example, “There are several problems with Stenger’s (another physicist and author) bold claims.  First of all, he confuses ‘nothing’ with ‘nothing’–which is an intellectual feat in itself.”  or “I have a feeling that Dr Stenger might be like a man climbing Everest in a T shirt–brave but somewhat alone.”  These are just a few examples.

He also will make some happy as he not only discusses the major evolutionary and creationist worldviews (and their implications), but also builds in discussion about theistic evolution (noting several different types) and the Intelligent Design movement.  One of his major strengths is his consistent ability to distinguish between science and philosophy.  He notes that in searching for origins, evolutionists often fall into philosophical speculation of things like multiverses (many universes) and, he points out, once science has opened the door to philosophical speculation of one type, then creationism and other groups are just as welcome to enter the fray.  He doesn’t argue that the two spheres have no overlap, but rather that we must acknowledge them and not make empirical “scientific” statements that actually belong in the philosophical realm.

All that said, Andrews’ book is worth the read for anyone simply interested in science in general and especially for those who are interested in the overlap between science and Christianity and on the question of God’s existence.

One extremely helpful thing about the book is Andrews starts each chapter with a 2-3 paragraph summary of what will be discussed, along with a helpful list of 2-4 vocabulary words introduced for the non-scientists among us.

So, that said, I encourage anyone interested in these things to pick up a copy of Edgar Andrews’ Who made God?.

“Collision” Movie Review

What happens if you take an outspoken New Atheist from the UK and a pastor from Moscow, Idaho and toss them together for a few days with cameras constantly rolling?  Well, that’s obvious.  You get “Collision”, a new documentary released late last month on DVD and (I have to add the proper kudos) a birthday present from my beautiful wife. (She gets me.)

Atheist Christopher Hitchens and Pastor Douglas Wilson are no strangers to each other via writing and the Interweb.  Several years ago, Christopher Hitchens was doing some writing on new atheism and his main slant in its support–namely that religion is irretrievably evil.  He received some rather intriguing responses from a man in Idaho named Douglas Wilson.  Apparently, the dialogue was so good that the two men were invited to co-author a book entitled Is Christianity Good for the World? However, despite co-authoring a book, the two men had never met in person before the several days of public debates of the same title as the book that this film revolves around.

The film, directed by Darren Doane (this is where I show my film buff skills with a brief synopsis of the previous films he has done…ok, I haven’t seen them), has a quick overall pace, but knows how to settle in for the important moments.  At the end, I was thinking, “I could watch another hour or two of this,” which is good.  Most documentaries start off great and then make you claw your eyes out during the second half of the film as the movie goes preachy on whatever topic.  (Or they add a self-congratulatory biography of how poor Al Gore, the senator’s son, overcame all his obstacles…)  Collision doesn’t do either.

It helps that Hitchens and Wilson are both big personalities.  There’s a scene in the middle where the two of them are quoting their favorite sentences from author P.G. Wodehouse and just laughing until they cried.  They debate each other in such a way that if you saw them at the booth across the restaurant you would want to pull up a chair and listen in.  As Hitchens acknowledges, Wilson’s adherence and claim to actually believe the Bible make the debates work.  Hitchens comments of his boredom with debating the water-downed beliefs in the UK which bend over backwards to not really believe much of anything.  Of course, Hitchens himself is sort of a rock-star personality, as the camera crew often catches fans recognizing him on the street and he makes no attempt to stay humble about such things.

Doanne in his direction does a great job of allowing the debate between the two to advance within the film itself.  Although I am certain that some of the main points were made by each man at their various debate stops, you never get a sense that something has been recycled from earlier in the film.  He also does a great job of giving pretty equal airtime to both men.

I was wondering whether the Reformed theology of Wilson would be a help or a hurt during the debates.  But as most (good) theologians realize, the major problems of either Calvinism, Arminianism, or something-in-between are really problems that theism in general must answer (questions regarding foreknowledge, freedom of will, divine sovereignty, the problem of evil, etc.), so in that regard it doesn’t really change much of the overall argument.

If I could sum up the basic arguments, Hitchens argues that Christianity promotes wickedness, and Wilson responds that atheism can’t have a category called “wickedness” to put Christianity in.  Obviously, these themes are teased out in greater detail by both men, but you’ll have to watch the movie to see them.

Collision is an excellent movie.  For those interested in religious issues, it will be even more fascinating.

(FYI- The movie does not have a rating.  There are two instances of profanity in it for those concerned.)