Kingdom Present?

20 August 2019

Let’s just get right to it: Jesus taught His followers to pray for the Kingdom to come…and also He said it had come (Mt.12:28//Lu.11:20). This is one of those things that gives Bible college freshmen a theology headache. (The cure is the same as for an ice cream headache: take it slow, and you’ll be fine.)

There’s a mountain of passages that describe the future Kingdom. These passages are often used to demonstrate that the Kingdom is still future (which it is) and therefore argue on that basis that it can’t be present.

The problem is, if we believe that “The Kingdom is future” means the Kingdom cannot be present, then somebody needs to tell Jesus.

If Jesus didn’t misspeak, then we have no choice but to reckon with the facts revealed to us in Scripture: at the moment Jesus said that, the Kingdom was future, and also in some sense present. We all read Isaiah, and nothing could be plainer than that the lion is not yet laying down with the lamb…and yet, Jesus said what He said.

And once we’re *there*, arguing for the future-ness of the Kingdom is not sufficient to establish that it can’t be present now. You might be able to argue that on other grounds, but just establishing that there’s a Kingdom in the future ain’t gonna do it.

Some folks will want to argue that the NT hardly speaks of the Kingdom outside the gospels, so how important a category can it really be? It’s a good question–but there’s a pretty compelling answer.

The answer has to do with where the Kingdom does come up in conversation. All over the Gospels, of course, which lays a strong foundation. But what about the rest of the New Testament?

  • The very last verse of Acts summarizes Paul’s preaching ministry in Rome thus: “Then Paul dwelt two hole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the Kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.” If that were the only other place the Kingdom appeared in the NT, that’s enough to make a pretty decent case for its continuing relevance. But there’s more…
  • Luke also summarizes Paul’s preaching in a similar way in Acts 19:8, and Pihlip’s preaching to the Samaritans in Acts 8:12.
  • Paul himself describes his own preaching to the (mixed Jew-Gentile) Ephesian church as being about the Kingdom of God in Acts 20:25.
  • In addition, the Kingdom of God is sprinkled through the epistles as a present reality in some very interesting ways (Rom. 14:17, 1 Cor. 4:20, Col. 4:11).

So it appears as if, throughout the rest of the New Testament, the Kingdom is treated as a present reality. This bothers some folks, because how can it be future if it’s already here? Where’s the logic in that? And besides, if we’re already in the Kingdom, Jesus doesn’t seem to be ruling very well…

I get it, but we’re Christians. We worship the Triune God who is, in His own being, the only possible resolution to the problem of the one and the many. We do some interesting things with logic at times, and this is one of those times. We’re up against some very plain biblical statements, and the thing to do is #BelieveAllScripture, as the kids might say.

So how does this work? If we become obedient, perhaps we’ll find out–but that’s the subject for next week’s post.

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Recognizing Good

13 August 2019

A week ago, I had occasion to speak to Faith Community Church in Littleton, CO on Philippians 1:3-11, or some portion thereof. 


Kissing Joshua Harris Goodbye…Temporarily

6 August 2019

So, a propos of last month’s post on the pursuit of purity and its attendant hazards, Josh Harris–having first kissed dating goodbye–has now also kissed his marriage goodbye, followed by his Christianity. I wasn’t going to comment on all that, but then homeschool maven Michael Farris decided to do a dumb about it, and I’m not letting this one pass without comment.

Farris’ open letter, appearing as an op/ed column and posted on social media, is worth reading, if only as a bad example. Click the link and read it. Seriously. I’ll wait. It’ll take you less than 5 minutes.

Read it? Good. Let’s talk, because this is a study in what not to do, on a whole bunch of levels. First of all, remember, this kid grew up under Farris’ wing. Michael Farris knew Joshua, by his own admission considered him a friend and a brother. If it’s true that the kid was just running a set of formulas, and it was never any deeper than that, where was Farris’ head at, that he didn’t notice *then*?

I’ll tell you where: building a movement, pushing an agenda. Selling his own set of formulas. Farris says — now — that the courtship agenda they pushed together was never a formula, never a recipe for a happy marriage. I call bullshit, and he must think we all have really short memories. I was there, and that’s *exactly* the way it was promoted. We were all promised blissful marriages and great sex lives if only we avoided this and that before marriage. (And yeah, that was totally a lie, but that’s a post for another day.)

If Josh Harris is in trouble today — and he is — it’s in large part because he was made a willing tool of the adults around him, promoted to prominence far beyond what his maturity warranted, and used up. The Bible tells us not to promote neophytes to leadership—did we listen? No. Michael Farris least of all. When Josh was forced later in life to come to terms with the damage that he’d been complicit in doing, he seemed initially to be handling it fairly well. Now, though, he’s hit a serious crisis of faith, and he’s not handling it well. That’s on him.

But the fact that he got there to start with, that’s on us. Yes, us — the adults like Michael Farris who promoted a kid as a celebrity, the publishers who profited from it, and us, the ones who went to the conferences and bought the books and supported the celebrity culture that created this mess. Wasn’t for us, Christian celebrity culture wouldn’t be a thing, and Josh Harris would just be another person who had some pretty naive ideas about love and marriage when he was 21 years old. Didn’t we all?

If Joshua Harris ever believed in Jesus—and we have good reason to think he did—then he came into possession of eternal life at that moment. And eternal life is…what’s the word I’m looking for here…oh yeah. ETERNAL!!! As in, lasting forever. He has passed from death to life, and that’s a one-way street.

He can decide to take a nap on a slab in the morgue, but that doesn’t make him dead any more than sleeping in a garage would make him a car. It’s not healthy. It’s not good. And if he ends this life in that condition, he’ll enter heaven reeking of wood, hay, and stubble, saved yet so at through fire—but saved nonetheless.

But I’m praying for better. Josh Harris was honest enough to face the damage he did early in life. He was honest enough to recognize that some of the views he was coming to did not line up well with his Christianity. I’m praying he’ll stay true to that honesty and eventually come out with a clear head. He’ll look around at the husks the pigs are eating and long for home—and when that happens, his Father will run to meet him.

God has not given up on Joshua Harris. Michael Farris clearly has. You decide who you’d rather follow.


Seven Theses on Practical Unity

30 July 2019

Since moving to Englewood, I have been blessed to be involved in the nuts-and-bolts practice of Church unity. The pastors here talk about the One Church in Englewood, and mean it. They love each other, pray fervently for each other, and long for the unity they enjoy to spread to their congregations. Among the participants are Messianic Jews, Dutch Reformed, Anglicans, Southern Baptists, Assemblies of God, nondenominational folks. It’s not every tribe, tongue and nation, but we’re getting there.

As I observe discussions in the wider Christian world about unity across churches and denominations, I see some key points being overlooked, and so I’d like to offer the following seven theses on the practice of unity:

  1. The unity of all God’s people is internal to the gospel, not simply a natural downstream result of it.
  2. Jesus prayed for His people to be visibly unified in a way that would induce the world to believe in Him. Unity has been essential to our testimony and evangelism from earliest days. (John 17:20-26)
  3. Paul rebuked Peter for failing to eat with some of Christ’s people, and described it as “hypocrisy,” a failure to be “straightforward about the gospel.” Unity is essential to our confessional and practical faithfulness to justification by faith. (Galatians 2:11-21)
  4. Since practical, visible unity is so important, we must obey as far as we can. Like perfect sanctification, perfect unity will have to await the last day, but we can and should anticipate the unity of the last day now, as Paul insisted and Jesus prayed for.
  5. Jesus told us to love our neighbors. A mentality that defines “neighbor” as “those like me” (ethnicity, confessional agreement, denominational ties, or something else) is exactly what Jesus was speaking against in the parable of the good Samaritan. Loving our neighbors starts with whoever is physically closest. Loving our Christian neighbors starts with whatever Christians are physically closest. (Luke 10:25-37)
  6. Therefore, your neighbor churches are the churches that, in God’s geographical providence, are right down the street. Confessionally allied churches further away are also your neighbors, and you ought to love them too — but not at the expense of the churches nearby. “A friend nearby is better than a brother far away.” (Proverbs 27:10)
  7. The task of the moment is to meet the folks in nearby churches and start getting along with them. Institutional unification of the denominations–and all the problems that will attend it–is not a necessary prerequisite; it will be the last thing that happens. The zipper starts at the bottom, not the top.

I can tell you from experience that when you dig into practical unity, you will have problems. Of course you will. We’re all sinners, and on top of that, we have an enemy who hates what we’re doing. I can also tell you from experience that the overwhelming majority of the problems you think you’re going to have–those are never going to happen. (And of course, many of the problems you do have will be surprises. Such is life; we are not as good at prediction as we think.) Bottom line: future problems–real or imaginary–should not stop us from obeying the Scriptures to the extent that we can, right now.


Reasons to Rejoice

23 July 2019

Had occasion to share a word with Faith Community Church in Littleton a couple weeks ago, on Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3.


Grinding Down Mountains

16 July 2019

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were very focused on moral and ritual purity.  If only Israel would be pure enough, they believed, God would return to Jerusalem, and bless her as He had in the days of David and Solomon. They were so focused on purity that when God actually did return to Jerusalem, they missed it. Jesus wept over the city:

“For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
(Lk. 19:43-44)

Where we focus is very important. It’s possible to make a serious mistake by focusing on the wrong true thing. The Law is holy and just and good, Paul says. But if you focus on the Law, you run headlong into the rocks of Romans 7. You can’t keep it, and the Law does not confer the power to keep it. Nothing does.

In my corner of the Evangelical world, we have mostly learned this lesson when it comes to moral purity. If we focus on moral and ritual purity, we will become Pharisees, and we know it. So we avoid that mistake…and focus on doctrinal purity instead.

Purity is a good thing. Doctrinal purity is a good thing. But if we focus on any form of purity as the bullseye, we will develop the same trouble the Pharisees always had. It’s just a different version of the same basic mistake. Like the Pharisees, we will make ever-finer divisions in a pursuit of ever-greater purity, and the price of our impatience will be disunity.

If we focus on love and unity–which is what Jesus told us to focus on, in the upper-room discourse–it’s been my experience that we will grow toward greater purity together. Slowly. The speeds can be glacial at times. But glacial speed has its advantages: even mountains cannot stand in our way.

 

 


Insight from Business?

9 July 2019

As an organization, 3DM largely packages its materials to appeal to large corporate churches, and those that aspire to their ranks. In contextualizing their materials to that environment–which is to say, to American corporate culture–3DM opens itself to a range of pernicious influences.

…but if you’re gonna…

Now, all truth belongs to Christ. We can profit from insights in psychology, group dynamics, neuroscience, physics, finance…you name it. We are free to read business books about organizational change just as we are free to read books on neuroscience. But just as we need to carefully filter out the evolutionary presuppositions of the neuroscience book, we need to filter out the various pagan presuppositions in the business book–and that’s going to be harder than we think. Christian thinkers have been waging war on evolution for generations. We haven’t been working nearly as hard to discern good from evil in business culture. And look at it — this is the culture that gave us record label accounting, Enron, the housing bubble of 2008, and so, so much more. It’s a disaster, and uncritically accepting insights and recommendations from that culture is not going to be good for us.

Before we try to metabolize any business advice, we need to go back to first principles, in Scripture. What is it that we’re actually supposed to be doing? Until we have an answer for that, we’ve no business trying to use business principles to “be more effective.” A lot of ugly presuppositions are being smuggled in through that word “effective.” Similar smuggling happens under the guise of “leadership.” Leadership is an important field of study; I’ve seen a lot of damage done by unskilled, untrained leaders. But the wrong training is sometimes worse than no training at all, and Jesus taught His people to lead differently than the world does.

It’s always working for somebody

In order to see the problem, we need to think about the way broken systems work. Russian communism was a horribly broken economic system, but members of the Politburo never lacked for food, medicine, or even entertainment. Washington Mutual was a total disaster, desperately broken, but Kerry Killinger, the CEO of that disaster, made millions–and when he was fired, walked away with a $15 million severance check. Washington, D.C. public schools are consistently failing (just look at the test scores), but D.C. school principals make 6 figures anyway.

The broken system is always working for somebody. Putting someone who benefits enormously from the status quo in charge of reform is just a recipe for failure; those are not the voices we should be elevating. In the church world, those voices are the successful church professionals, who are doubly acclimated to American business culture: first, because their churches run like businesses, and second, because the backbone of their donor base lives in business culture, and thinks of business culture simply as The Way Things Are Done.

So now what?

If we’re that deeply acclimated to business culture, then where will reformation come from? Here, history is our guide: real reformation does not come from a Staupitz, who functions smoothly within the system, nor even from an Erasmus, who lampoons its failings while remaining part of it. Real reformation must come from a Luther — someone for whom the system is not working. Let’s pay more attention to those people.