allegorizing the Trinity?

allegorizing the Trinity?

One interest of mine that continually challenges me…and never really leaves me satisfied…is looking for ways to communicate the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.  The communication of this doctrine, I believe, is an essential element of Christian teaching.  Often, though, especially in evangelical circles, we are so concerned with the application of doctrine, that we tend to neglect doctrines that don’t seem as readily applicable.  If there were any doctrine in my growing up years that seemed irrelevant to the daily decision I had to make, it would have been the doctrine of the Trinity.  When I finally began to understand the relevance this doctrine has for our daily lives, my interest in communicating it exploded.

One of the difficulties we have communicating this doctrine is that there is no single verse in Scripture that articulates a complete picture of the doctrine.  Another difficulty communicating this doctrine is that all analogies drawn from nature tend to fall apart rather quickly.  Some of the more helpful analogies are those drawn from human relationships.  That is why I’m really intrigued to read William Young’s book, The Shack, which is, I believe, in the top 100 best-selling titles on Amazon currently.  I haven’t read it yet, but I know a number of people who are or have read it.  And there is a LOT of buzz around this book right now.  I can’t review a book I haven’t read, but from what I’ve read about it, I know that it is a fictional novel driven by an allegory of the Trinity based several people relating to each other.  Sounds pretty intriguing, no?

Here are a couple reviews that caught my eye:

on Christianity Today’s website

on Amazon

posted by: caleb

change in plans?

change in plans?

If you’ve been watching the news at all over the last couple days, I’d imagine this question may have come to your mind concerning us and our plans. Let me just say up front: Our plans right now remain unchanged. We are still hoping to be in Beirut by mid-September starting language studies. Does the current situation scare us? There are a couple of answers I often give when posed with that question…the first is in a post Nicolette wrote up not so long ago on fear. The second answer I will often give is: yes. of course. But the current situation is also a reminder of why we want to work in this part of the world…we want to be a part of bringing about true, lasting Peace straight from the Source.

Is it “safe” moving to Lebanon? We are often asked this question, and the sentiment behind it encourages me. I…We very much hear and appreciate your concern and care for us. We certainly don’t tackle the issue of safety lightly. A year or two ago, a very dear friend of ours blogged about the issue of safety as he, his wife, and baby girl prepared to move to another chaos-prone country. His post so clearly echoes our thoughts on the issue that I have included it below for your reading pleasure. His answer to the question, “But is it safe there?”:

The answer has several parts. First, we believe the safest place we can be is living in obedience to God. We believe that God created us to share the Gospel with people who have never heard. When Jesus gave the command, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,” he coupled it with a promise, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20).

Does the presence of the Triune God insure that we won’t get hurt or die? No. The night before he was executed, Jesus told his disciples, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Being a follower of Christ involves a willingness to follow in his footsteps. We can’t “leapfrog” over the cross to the resurrection. Too many of us have unwittingly bought into the Prosperity Gospel that promises heaven right here on earth. God’s promises will come true, but we err if expect the blessings without the hardship. Jim Elliot, slain missionary to the Wadoni People (formerly known as the Auca Indians) famously said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Second, safety is an illusion. No place is safe. Living in America is not safe. Driving in a car is not safe. Eating at a restaurant is not safe. People go to great lengths to find security, but all in vain. People buy SUVs, install alarm systems, and live in gated communities in an attempt to find security.

We don’t like to admit it, but none of these things can keep us safe. Deep down we all know that tomorrow we could lose our jobs or the ability to work, the stock market could crash, we could be diagnosed with cancer, or a hurricane, tornado, drought, or earthquake could strike. The Bible says, “You are a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:13–14). We have no guarantee of tomorrow, and we can’t avoid risk.

So since risk is unavoidable, why not be intentional with the risks we take? Why not take risks that glorify God? Let’s take risks that produce everlasting results.

What is the difference between faith and foolishness? Foolishness is taking risks that have a temporal purpose. Faith is taking risks that have an eternal purpose. Faith takes risks in obedience to God’s commands. Foolishness is focused on self. Faith is focused on God and others. When we put all of our eggs in God’s basket, we find that it’s really not a risk.

…That’s sort of a long answer to the question, “Is it safe.” For us, it is a calculated risk that we think is worth it. Our confidence is in the Lord who has led us to -[this country]-. No matter what happens, His goodness never fails.

There is a peculiar tension between faith in God’s goodness and the logical responses we feel watching CNN at night. Conflict in Lebanon seems, at times, to be as sure as the fact that the weather changes (at least outside of Arizona, where it will be 100F from this Friday until next fall, I suspect). The current situation, if it continues, may force us to do language studies elsewhere. But it may be sorted out and life brought back to “normal.” Our plans remain unchanged at present. Our hope remains firmly fixed on its Source.

posted by: caleb

a review: The Great Debaters

a review: The Great Debaters

“It is my civic and moral duty to oppose unjust law, either with violence or non-violence. Pray I choose the latter.”

Nicolette and I caught an early matinee for The Great Debaters this past Saturday. While I do not normally recommend sappy/inspirational movies, I thoroughly enjoyed this flick. Sure, the story is one I feel like I have seen before, but a familiar story re-told with conviction and with the gravitas of this cast was well worth seeing.

While it is supposedly based on a true story, I think it falls somewhere more along the lines of “a-collection-of-true-stories-put-together-to-be-more-dramatic.” From what I have read since Saturday, there are a number of historical inaccuracies in the film (check here to see these more thoroughly explained). I certainly think that editing and dramatization have their place in story-telling, but it seems like this story could be told with out the dramatization and be just as (if not more??) compelling. Does “spicing up” the story sour its moral lesson? Or is it a useful tool for engaging an otherwise apathetic audience?

Beyond that question that lingers in my mind, my reaction was and is thorough admiration for the cast of this film. I really enjoy Denzel Washington’s work on both sides of the camera.

posted by: caleb

question of the week

question of the week

Alright, I’ve been on the prowl, and this question popped into my mind from this last week…

What do you think about the “emerging church?”

This is an important question to be asking, especially since our church here in Chandler has adopted elements of the “movement” into its ministry strategy. The difficulty in answering this question is that “emerging” carries all kinds of baggage, some rightly ascribed, and some wrongly. Almost a year ago, Scot McKnight posted an article on that gives a helpful framework for what “emerging” means and how to talk about the movement. Scot writes as one who defines himself as belonging to this movement, so his perspective is particularly insightful (as well as, it is fairly systematic…Scot is a professor of religious studies at North Park Theological Seminary who authored the text I studied in a course on New Testament Interpretation).

What McKnight rightly highlights in his article is the diversity in the movement. There are numerous characteristics that identify the movement…(These are listed even more exhaustively in this article on Wikipedia) which makes it difficult to answer the question “what do you think of the emerging church?”. It’s so important to identify what is on the table before you start surgery.

Having said that, I do think the “emerging” movement’s approach offers some helpful reforms to Evangelical Christianity.

The first is the reminder of the Incarnation of the Son of God. Fundamentalism represented a movement within Evangelical Christianity that withdrew from culture, and saw it’s place as outside of culture. Or, as establishing a new, “Christian” culture alongside of culture. The emerging movement rightly critiques this kind of culture-less Christianity by reminding us that the Son of God came and became human…but not just human, he assumed and addressed the culturally specific values, assumptions, and perspectives of 1st century Near Eastern Jewish life. As Christians, we should adopt the same kind of incarnational approach to life, “so that some might be saved.” We should live “missional,” not “isolational,” lives.

The second that stands out in my mind is its critique of the disunity in beliefs that it identifies among Protestants. The “soft” post-modernist approach helps right some of the crazy ideas given to us to modernism, like the idea that reason alone should guide our interpretation of Scripture. The idea that we can achieve an objective reading of Scripture, free of all my own presuppositions is nonsense.

The answer to how we should read Scripture is one aspect of the emerging church’s approach where I take issue. It is so important as we forge ahead, theologizing anew, that we continue to draw from the wisdom the Church in the 20 centuries that came before ours. Just as it is silly to think that all I need to interpret the Bible is the Holy Spirit in me (fundamentalist’s error), it is equally silly to think that by engaging in “conversations” with other Christians and non-Christians today, we have all we need to interpret Scripture and arrive at “Truth.” I think this is the one of the critiques of “post-modernism.” I think the answer is a kind of pre-modern approach that recognizes the importance and authority of tradition. We should avail ourselves of the Spirit-gifted teachings of those who have come before us in the Christian faith. Beliefs and practice rooted in the ancient beliefs of the Church are thoroughly appealing within Western culture today.

posted by: caleb

no fear?

no fear?

A few weeks ago, we watched the movie “A Mighty Heart.” It’s the true story of American journalist Daniel Pearl working in Pakistan, who was kidnapped by extremists and brutally beheaded. It’s an excellent movie – with a really good message – about a terrible event.

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By far the most common question I get when people find out we are headed to this part of the world is: “aren’t you so scared?!?” And it is a valid question, especially with men like Daniel Pearl in our recent memories. It takes me back to my last year in college. It was just a month after 9/11, and one of my classes was taking a trip to New York City to see a Biblical archeology exhibit at the Met. It was right in the middle of the big anthrax scare… you remember, when we were all afraid that the next big attack would be something chemical or biological – anthrax.

I’ll admit, I was not excited about going. Every day on the news it seemed like there was a new threat against a bridge, or a building, or a city as a whole. I was scared. So scared, that I actually went and talked to my professor… did I really have to go? I’ll never forget what he told me. Well, I forgot most of what he told me, but I do remember the last thing he said:

Nicolette. Being in God’s will is the safest place to be.

Now, I was still scared to go to New York. But I wasn’t 100% convinced that it was God’s will that I go, so I won’t count it. :)

I am totally, without a doubt, absolutely certain that God is calling Caleb and I to spread His message of love and grace and redemption to those who have never heard. So, no. I am not scared. My prof was not saying that safe always means what we want it to mean, but I understand his point. I would rather be “safe” in God’s will in a dangerous place, than living out of His will in a “safe” place… man, I love movies that make you think. :)

your church vs. the ideal church?

your church vs. the ideal church?

Good questions have a way of making you think about them for a long time after you answered them. So, here’s a question I was asked recently, that I’ve been muddling on ever since:

Which do you love more, your local church or the ideal Church?

I answered by saying that I love my church to the degree that it conforms to the ideal church. Well, I didn’t actually say it that smoothly. It took me a minute or two to get there.

Augustine makes this very point in Book 14, Chapter 6 of his work City of God. His famous dictum, so often misconstrued “…he should hate the sin but love the sinner” was written in the context of his discussion of man’s nature, the importance of the will and its act of love.

This question really challenged me, because by saying that you love the ideal Church more than your church, you will find yourself forever frustrated by the local church. The truth is we’re still on our way to where we are supposed to be, but we haven’t arrived yet. The truth is that we in the Church will let you down. We’ll lie to you. We’ll gossip about you behind your back. We’ll be unforgiving. We’ll misjudge you. We’ll cut you down and betray you. Sadly, we are as broken and corrupt humans just like the rest of humanity.

The difference that “salvation” makes is in our Hope. What awaits us is the complete renewal of our corrupt an imperfect humanity into incorruptible and perfect humanity.

Okay, so that’s the theology behind the idea. The point is that we should love what is good. It is right for us to appreciate it and praise it and love it. The rub is that everything on this side of “salvation” is corrupted.

Let’s take as an example my love for my wife.  No matter how hard I try to overcome it, my love for her is corrupted and inwardly bent. Even though I am saved and I am being transformed, that transformation has not fully (or even mostly) happened yet. So, I am not fully “loveable” yet. In fact, there are still a good number of things about me that she cannot…and should not love. She can only truly love that which is good in me. That which is evil she must hate.

The same is true for the church. She is not fully “loveable” yet, but she will be someday.

posted by: caleb