What are the Bounds? (probably ‘Part 1’)

Well, in one of my previous posts, I got all grumpy on John Piper and, particularly, Tim Keller for being less gracious than I would have liked in their opinions of George MacDonald.

In the comments Mike, probably quite accurately, noted that I just didn’t like the fact that Keller said MacDonald wasn’t a Christian.  Yup.  That sounds about right.

I appreciate the fact that we all need to be as discerning as possible.  I agree that some of the distinctives of certain denominations/traditions are not compatible with those of other denominations/traditions.  However, in my humble opinion, providing that we are all seeking Christ with all of our heart, soul, mind, & strength and seeking to live out that faith in Him in the most Biblically consistent way we know how… I think the rest of it is probably an ‘in house‘ discussion.

But, Mike wants to know, what are the bounds? What is it that really constitutes being ‘in house’ as I’ve put it.  Well, if we’re talking about the historic bounds of Christianity, isn’t this as good a place as any to start?:

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The Sun, the Moon, and what the Bible’s all About

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Last night I had a wonderful evening reading some more of George MacDonald’s sermons as I sat by the fire in my backyard.  Pretty much an ideal way to end off a day, in my opinion.

Anyway, as I read through his sermon, “The Higher Faith,” MacDonald used an analogy that rang true for me in a beautiful way.  He had been talking about the Scriptures; the Bible and what it does and doesn’t, can and cannot do.  He was speaking about those who are tempted to raise the Bible up onto a pedestal that it wasn’t ever intended to be on:

But herein is the Bible itself greatly wronged. It nowhere lays claim to be regarded as the Word, the Way, the Truth. The Bible leads us to Jesus, the inexhaustible, the ever unfolding Revelation of God. It is Christ “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” not the Bible, save as leading to him.

This quote got my attention as it strongly reminded me of being in Bible college and reading, for the first time, N. T. Wright’s essay, How Can the Bible Be Authoritative.  This essay articulated for me what, at the time I had been wrestling with and had a hard time putting into words.  As Evangelicals there is this strong temptation to hold onto Scripture sooooo tightly that we elevate it beyond its intention.  This might be why conservative Evangelicals can so easily fall into legalism and even fundamentalism.

Wright’s essay cleared up that fog for me.  He’s since fleshed out that essay into a great little book, Scripture and the Authority of God.  The basic gist of it can be summarized by a couple brief quotes:

… the phrase ‘authority of scripture’ can make Christian sense only if it is a shorthand for ‘the authority of the triune God exercised somehow through scripture.'”

When John declares that ‘in the beginning was the word,’ he does not reach a climax with ‘and the word was written down’ but ‘and the word became flesh.’

You can see how MacDonald and Wright’s views of scripture line up pretty closely here.  Scripture has absolutely no authority in and of itself.  The sense in which it is authoritative is that it reflects God’s own authority as perfectly exercised by Jesus Himself (Mt. 28:18).

The Scriptures are authoritative because they point us to an authoritative Jesus!

 

Anyway, all of this is bland preamble.  Here is MacDonald’s analogy:

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The one use of the Bible is to make us look at Jesus, that through him we might know his Father and our Father, his God and our God. Till we thus know Him, let us hold the Bible dear as the moon of our darkness, by which we travel towards the east; not dear as the sun whence her light cometh, and towards which we haste, that, walking in the sun himself, we may no more need the mirror that reflected his absent brightness.” [My Emphasis]

I immediately fell in love with this analogy.  It’s simple.  It’s eloquent, even poetic.  It’s accessible (who isn’t familiar with the sun and moon?).

More importantly, aside from the inevitable limitations of any analogy, it’s pretty darned apt!

The Bible = the moon.

Jesus = the sun.

[I will resist the diabolical temptation to insert any terribly over-used sun/son puns]

Just as the moon provides no light on its own but simply reflects the light of the sun, so the Bible has no authority in itself but reflects/embodies the authority of Christ.

And so, MacDonald’s plea is for us to hold onto both the moon and the sun in their proper roles.  Don’t let the moon usurp the place of the sun; don’t let a strict adherence to the Scriptures overshadow a dynamic relationship with Jesus.

 

That’s all.  I just loved the analogy and thinking about it kept me up last night.  I know I find it helpful.  Maybe you will too.

Smart People Saying Stupid Things

I don’t think it’s any surprise that I’m no Calvinist.  So the fact that I might disagree from time to time with some of the good, Godly guys over at The Gospel Coalition should come as no surprise either.

Normally this wouldn’t be blog-worthy (nothing new here!) but the good Mr.s Piper and Keller recently made some ludicrously unfair and ungracious comments about George MacDonald that I couldn’t let slide.

That Piper made a thoughtless comment that gets him into hot water is sort of ‘par-for-the-course‘ these days but, of the Neo-Calvinists out there today, I’ve probably had the highest respect for Tim Keller.  That respect just dropped fair bit.

For whatever reason, Piper and Keller were having a little sit-down chat discussing the influence of C.S. Lewis on their lives.  Cool.  Fair enough.  Who doesn’t love Lewis?  Part of their conversation involves the sort of fun but largely inane question, “do you think you would have been friends with Lewis?”

After the typical sort of admiration and praise for Lewis they express their bafflement of Lewis’ own admiration for the one Lewis called his “master,” George MacDonald.

Their comments about MacDonald begin at 3:15 of the video below:

Surprisingly it is actually Piper who plays the (slightly) more gracious of the two and holds back from actually saying that MacDonald wasn’t a Christian.  But, personally, it just irks me that, based on nothing other than the fact that MacDonald was no lover of Jonathan Edwards, Piper simply ceased reading him altogether.

In fact, Piper was right to say that it was 30 years ago that he read that quote.  Over in an article you can read here (written in 1983), Piper says that he enjoyed reading 3 of MacDonald’s novels and had started reading a collection of MacDonald’s writings compiled by Lewis.  Piper then says:

Then I read this sentence, and the budding friendship collapsed: “From all copies of Jonathan Edwards portrait of God, however faded by time, however softened by the use of less glaring pigments, I turn with loathing”(Creation in Christ, P. 81). I was-stunned. George MacDonald loathed my God! Over the last fifteen years since I graduated from college all my biblical studies in seminary and graduate school have led me to love and worship the God of Jonathan Edwards.

So, let me get this straight.  After reading 81 pages he stopped reading the book because MacDonald didn’t love Jonathan Edwards.  That’s it?  Not only that, but he hasn’t read any MacDonald since?  There’s no comment of interacting and wrestling through the scriptures to compare them to MacDonald’s theology.  Instead it is a complete write-off simply because he didn’t like Edwards’ Calvinistic portrayal of God.

How is it possible that any proper scholar or theologian could take that approach?  As a Bible scholar you need to read the works of people you disagree with.  To simply read only the things you agree with is a terrible practice!

Plus, John Wesley said worse things about Calvinism than that!  I guess I should’t read any of his stuff either.

Anyway, at the very least Piper holds back from saying MacDonald wasn’t a Christian.  Keller clearly didn’t have any problems going there.  A pelagian?  Really?  I’m not claiming to agree with (or that anyone should completely agree with) everything MacDonald ever wrote, but Keller clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

It’s true, MacDonald, as a non-Calvinist in Victorian Scotland, was a bit of an anomaly.  But he certainly wasn’t a heretic.  He simply held to Christus Victor over penal substitution.  He simply believed that the purpose of wrath was ultimately reconciliation.  There’s nothing new or unorthodox to either of those things.  Many of the Apostolic Fathers and Early Church Fathers held very similar views.   In some ways maybe he was more of an anabaptist, a patrist, or a pietist stuck in Presbyterian/puritan-land.

This quote (from “Father of the Inklings“) says it well:

Those who have attempted to categorize MacDonald through the years as a “liberal” (which he was to some) or a “conservative” (which he was to others) or a “universalist” (which he appeared to those who did not study his writings in sufficient depth), or a “heretic” (which he seemed to the staunch Calvinists of his day) have all largely missed the point in their attempts to pigeonhole him according to their pre-set standards. They overlook the intense hunger of his heart after God. They overlook the obedience and fruit of his life. For MacDonald, to this day, steadfastly resists all attempts to categorize him.”

In this respect he’s no different than others, like, perhaps, Richard Baxter, who found themselves falling through the cracks of their theological and ecclesiastical landscape.

Anyway, one of the more ironic points in all of this is that Piper and Keller don’t give Lewis the benefit of the doubt.  Lewis knew all of MacDonald’s works intimately.  And yet, after having praised Lewis for how well read he was, after having admired his razor sharp logic, they choose to take their own extremely limited view of MacDonald over Lewis’ extensive view of MacDonald.

Doesn’t make much sense to me.  Guys who are well known and well respected within the Christian world should know better than this.

Perhaps we should give the final word to Mr. MacDonald himself:

From the sermon, A Child in the Midst:

Nothing is required of man that is not first in God.  It is because God is perfect that we are required to be perfect.  And it is for the revelation of God to all the human souls, that they may be saved by knowing him…”

… it is not obedience alone that our Lord will have, but obedience to the truth, that is, to the Light of the World, truth beheld and known.”

What is the kingdom of Christ?  A rule of love, of truth — a rule of service.  The king is the chief servant in it… The great Workman is the great King, labouring for his own.  So he that would be greatest among them, and come nearest to the King himself, must be the servant of all.  It is like king like subject in the kingdom of heaven.  No rule of force, as of one kind over another kind.  It is the rule of kind, of nature, of deepest nature — of God.

And from his sermon, The Consuming Fire:

… for this, too, has the divine destruction [ie. God’s wrath judging and purging sin] been going forth; that his life might be our life, that in us, too, might dwell that same consuming fire which is essential love.”

He is a consuming fire, that only that which cannot be consumed may stand forth eternal.  It is the nature of God, so terribly pure that it destroys all that is not pure as fire, which demands like purity in our worship.  He will have purity.  It is not that the fire will burn us if we do not worship thus; but that the fire will burn us until we worship thus.”

Why A Bearded Gospel History? My perspective on (bearded) Church history

One of my posts for BGM.
Aside from the focus on beards this lays out my overall view of Church history and our identity as God’s people.

Bearded Gospel Men

by Sir Timothy Braun

 

 

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My father was a wandering Aramean…” ~ Dt. 26:5

In the book of Deuteronomy it describes how the people of Israel, once they had inherited the Promised Land, were to come “to the place the LORD your God will choose” (Dt. 26:2 ff.) and offer back to God their firstfruits, the first and best of what God had blessed them with.  As they made their offering they were to recite a brief history beginning with Jacob, a wandering Aramean whom God renamed “Israel,” and following through the people of Israel’s slavery, God’s acts of deliverance, and so on.  It was important to God that as his people they remember their own history in relation to Him.

That’s one of the things that I love about the Bible: it tells a story, our story.  And the scriptures…

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The end of the beard?

tim's daily beard

Well, for those of you who still check back here from time to time I should clear things up and let you know that, in all likelihood, I won’t be blogging here anymore.  So while my beard will continue on in its various forms this blog will not.

For those who care to follow along with my meanderings I will still post whenever I feel like it over at my other co-blog, Sweet Like Meat (click).

For those who have an insatiable desire for more bearded content I will enthusiastically point you over to Bearded Gospel Men (click)the pinnacle of bearded Gospelly goodness on the web.  I am also very humbled and honoured to be an occasional contributor on that prestigious site.

Please make sure to check out BGM on:

Tumblr (click)WordPress (click)Facebook (click), and Twitter (click).  More beards, more Gospel!

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Sabbatical Reading List

tim's daily beard

Well, my sabbatical is now officially done!  It’s kinda crazy.

So what did I accomplish?  Well, I might do a post a bit later reflecting on the sabbatical as a whole but, since back in April I posted about my reading goals, at the very least I can give an update on that.  Really, that’s pretty much the only objective, measurable aspect of the sabbatical.

Here’s what the list looks like now:

 

Tim’s Sabbatical Reading List:

(s) – started; (x) completed; (_-rr) re-read

Main Study Goals:

– (s) Hebrew for the Rest of Us (Lee M. Fields)

– (s) Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament (Christopher J. H. Wright)

– Knowing the Holy Spirit through the Old Testament (Christopher J. H. Wright)

– Knowing God the Father through the Old Testament (Christopher J. H. Wright)

General Theology:

– (x) Against Calvinism (Roger E. Olsen)

– 

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You are to be The Presence

tim's daily beard

metropolitananthonybloom“This day is blessed by God, it is God’s own and now let us go into it.  You walk in this day as God’s own messenger; whomever you meet, you meet in God’s own way.  You are there to be the presence of the Lord God, the presence of Christ, the presence of the Spirit, the presence of the Gospel — this is your function of this particular day.  God has never said that when you walk into a situation in His own Name, He will be crucified and you will be the risen one.  You must be prepared to walk into situations, one after the other, in God’s name, to walk as the Son of God has done: in humiliation and humility, in truth and ready to be persecuted…”

Anthony Bloom, Beginning to Pray

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How Deep are You?

One of my favourite quotes is this one by Richard Foster from his classic book, Celebration of Discipline.  He says, “The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.

As one thinks about this quote I’m not sure if anyone would seriously question the truth behind it.  Today’s greatest need is that God’s people would tap into the unending, unfathomable depths of the Spirit of God dwelling within them.

As I’ve been slowly pondering my way through Anthony Bloom’s Beginning to Pray, I came across this section which, in my mind, eloquently states the pitiful state we are all in when we attempt to access our own ‘depths’ (after all, we all think that we’re ‘deep’ people, don’t we?  Or at least, very few of us would consider ourselves to be ‘shallow!’):

Try an experiment and you will see, you will discover a number of other useful things on the way.  Try to find time to stay alone with yourself: shut the door and settle down in your room at a moment when you have nothing else to do.  Say ‘I am now with myself’, and just sit with yourself.  After an amazingly short time you will most likely feel bored.  This teaches us one very useful thing.  It gives us insight into the fact that if after ten minutes of being alone with ourselves we feel like that, it is no wonder that others should feel equally bored!  Why is this so?  It is so because we have so little to offer to our own selves as food for thought, for emotion, and for life.  If you watch your life carefully you will discover quite soon that we hardly ever live from within outwards; instead we respond  to incitement, to excitement.  In other words, we live by reflection, by reaction.  Something happens and we respond, someone speaks and we answer.  But when we are left without anything that stimulates us to think, speak or act, we realise that there is very little in us that will prompt us to action in any direction at all.  This is really a very dramatic discovery.  We are completely empty, we do not act from within ourselves but accept as our life a life which is actually fed in from outside; we are used to things happening which compel us to do other things.  How seldom can we live simply by means of the depth and the richness we assume that there is within ourselves[My emphasis]

What a great reminder for us to walk/be led/live by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 18, 25) without which we are all empty, shollow, and poor!

I think it also stands as a stern warning to us all, if it is true that we live most of our lives simply reacting to external stimuli, to be very aware of what outside voices we allow to speak into our lives!

Moses, milk, prayer, and foxes.

Here is a quote from Anthony Bloom’s “Beginning to Pray”:Beg.Pray_AnthonyBloom

Without attempting to cover all the ground, I would just like to give you an image of the worthiness of an act of worship or words of worship.  In the life of Moses, in Hebrew folklore, there is a remarkable passage.  Moses finds a shepherd in the desert.  He spends the day with the shepherd and helps him milk his ewes, and at the end of the day he sees that the shepherd puts the best milk he has in a wooden bowl, which he places on a flat stone some distance away.  So Moses asks him what it is for, and the shepherd replies, ‘This is God’s milk.’  Moses is puzzled and asks him what he means.  The shepherd says ‘I always take the best milk I possess, and I bring it as an offering to God.’  Moses, who is far more sophisticated than the shepherd with his naive faith, asks, ‘And does God drink it?’  ‘Yes,’ replies the shepherd, ‘He does.’  Then Moses feels compelled to enlighten the poor shepherd and he explains that God, being pure spirit, does not drink milk.  Yet the shepherd is sure that He does, and so they have a short argument, which ends with Moses telling the shepherd to hide behind the bushes to find out whether in fact God does come to drink the milk.  Moses then goes out to pray in the desert.  The shepherd hides, the night comes, and in the moonlight the shepherd see a little fox that comes trotting from the desert, looks right, looks left, and heads straight towards the milk, which he laps up, and disappears into the desert again.  The next morning Moses finds the shepherd quite depressed and downcast.  ‘What’s the matter?’ he asks.  The shepherd says, ‘You were right, God is pure spirit and He doesn’t want my milk.’  Moses is surprised.  He says ‘You should be happy.  You know more about God than you did before.’  ‘Yes, I do’ says the shepherd, ‘but the only thing I could to do express my love for Him has been taken away from me.’  Moses sees the point.  He retires into the desert and prays hard.  In the night in a vision, God speaks to him and says ‘Moses, you were wrong.  It is true that I am pure spirit.  Nevertheless I always accepted with gratitude the milk which the shepherd offered me, as the expression of his love, but since, being pure spirit, I do not need the milk, I shared it with this little fox, who is very fond of milk.’

DesertFox

Sabbatical Update

tim's daily beard

Well, today is May 15th which means that today marks the half-way point of my sabbatical.  I figured it couldn’t hurt to take a look at the past month and a half and think things through a bit.  It might be a bit long but this post is just as much an opportunity for me to sort through things and process/articulate them as it is a chance for those who care to catch up on what we’ve been up to.

 

Study:

I started off the sabbatical just hanging out with my family for about a week after a very, very busy Easter season.  Kaleb was out of school so it was a great chance to spend uninterrupted time with family.  My parents were out here for some of that week too, to it was great to hang out with everyone without any evening meetings/practices/studies, etc.

Following that week I took the…

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