Category Archives: Theology

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John Piper offers a wonderful theology of art, in which he defines art as that which is done not merely for utilitarian purposes, but to move or affect.

Strengths of this definition:

  • “good” art affects us in an emotional and/or spiritual way
  • purely pragmatic communication does not seem artful
  • everyone can be artistic in some fashion
  • art and definitions of art should be rooted in God’s character
  • Christians should be more motivated than anyone else to care about art
  • What we could add to this brief definition:

  • some art also has practical purposes (e.g., a beautiful advertisement)
  • art demonstrates the common grace of God, even amongst non-believers
  • art requires intent that sets it apart from everyday actions
  • urbanization_art

    The world spins madly on, and as it spins, our population continues to increase.

    Over and over again, artists have questioned our tendency to clump together in urban centers and destroy the natural world around us.  At the same time, philosophers and theologians contemplate how historical truths apply in an ever-changing landscape.


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    We often take our surroundings for granted, but that can be dangerous.  Rather than accepting the status quo, we should follow the lead of artists like Yang Yongliang and consider where our trajectory will take us.  For those of us who believe in God, we have a responsibility to be good stewards of our time, our energy, our people, and our world.

    For more on Yongliang’s work, read this article by Gizmodo, and check out more of his work here.

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    Good design has dramatic effects upon the human brain. We have all sensed that in one way or another — maybe through an abstraction painted by Pollock, a computer designed by Apple, or a sunset displayed by God.  But have you ever wondered why?

    “Why We Love Beautiful Things” (you can read it here) is a well-written article that explores the connection between good design and science. It is worth reading for anyone who enjoys art and its relation to our brains. Here is how the article ends:

    “We think of great design as art, not science, a mysterious gift from the gods, not something that results just from diligent and informed study. But if every designer understood more about the mathematics of attraction, the mechanics of affection, all design — from houses to cellphones to offices and cars — could both look good and be good for you.”

    I would add that science, too, is a gift from God. Science does not diminish from art, but adds to the incredible wonder of our complex, yet utterly coherent, world that God has made. From a theistic viewpoint, art and science compliment each other because they have a common Creator, so these findings should not surprise us, but rather encourage us as we pursue the arts and sciences.

     

    Photo:  NY Times (click image for link)

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    Depending on your stage of life, Valentine’s Day can be exciting, romantic, confusing, lonely, or depressing.

    heart (emmy)Whether or not you are in a relationship, holidays like these raise  expectations so high that sometimes those expectations are impossible to meet.  Today, some people will be let down because they are not in a relationship.  Others will be let down for by their significant other, their fiance, or their spouse.  The plain fact is that human beings eventually let us down.

    On days like these, we must remember the Kingdom of Heaven.  Valentine’s Day is not part of the liturgical calendar, of course, but as an artifact of our society, what does Valentine’s Day remind us about God and our relationship with him?

    1) God cares about your loneliness.  (Gen. 2:18)

    2) God establishes friendships, families, marriages, and churches, so you do not need to be alone.  (Gal. 3:28)

    3) God provides companionship when no one else does.  (Ps. 62:2)

    4) God restores relationships and will eventually heal every heart.  (Rev. 21:4)

    No matter how this day goes for you, be comforted that God cares.  After all, He is the One who created relationships in the first place.  Although we often miss out on healthy relationships, and although we sometimes mess them up, God is always there to heal our broken hearts.  When we place our expectations in him, we will never be disappointed.

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    On this wonderful MLK day, let us remember the sacrifice and dedication of all those who have continued Christ’s work of bringing together all people. Our God is a God of reconciliation, and He is the one who unites different races and ethnicities. Let us celebrate His work through His Son and through His people.

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    For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us… He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.  Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

    And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus. By God’s grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving him by spreading this Good News.

    (Selections from Ephesians 2-3)

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    I am deeply concerned about a trend in some Christian circles to glorify suffering, as if suffering is somehow a good thing. Over the past few months, I have heard that suffering should not only be anticipated, but gladly accepted because of its benefits. Of course, this is not exactly a “recent” trend, but one that can be traced back to Catholics in the Middle Ages. To this, I would like to offer an important clarification.

    First of all, there is nothing good in suffering itself. God does not delight in the suffering of a person being killed, nor did Jesus find any satisfaction in His crucifixion. Suffering involves suffering, and we know from Scripture that God abhors violence. Simply put, God does not delight in pain.

    Errantly, it has been said that “there is nothing inherently evil about suffering,” but this needs to be qualified. Although this is true for an athlete in training or a religious person who fasts from a meal, this is not normally what we mean when talking about “suffering.” Usually, suffering involves physical, emotional, and relational pain. We cannot categorize all suffering as the same. Some sufferings are voluntary or amoral, while other sufferings are involuntary or immoral.

    Experiencing this latter kind of suffering, a sufferer undergoes pain, and the reality of that pain should never be diminished. There is nothing good about a child dying. Nothing good about an instance of abuse, murder, rape, or any other horrific evil in the world. Evil is evil, and it would be a tragic error to ever suggest otherwise. As it says in James 1, our good God has nothing to do with causing temptation or evil.

    When the Bible speaks of finding joy in the midst of suffering — such as in 1 Peter — joy is not found in the suffering itself. Rather, the joy is found despite the suffering. Joy is found in God — in His steadfastness, in His comfort, in His healing, in His power, etc. — and not in the circumstances that surround us. Trying to find joy in painful circumstances is like trying to cool off in the midst of a heatwave; it is an empty mind trick.

    We should never be surprised or be caught off guard by suffering, but at the same time, we should not anticipate or glorify it. Like Jesus, we can pray for the cup of suffering to pass from us. Since Jesus was not a masochist, neither are we as Christians. I would argue that we should pray that suffering passes from us, lest we try to be more holy than Jesus. Following Jesus’ example, we can ask God for another way and for healing from our pain.

    The joy that we experience in our suffering is God Himself, not the circumstances of our suffering. For that reason, we should not fear suffering, nor should we exalt personal comfort as the ultimate goal. It is through difficulty that our vision becomes clear. We can see who God is — perfect, faithful, and safe — better than we can during other times in our lives.

    God allows for suffering because sometimes suffering is a lesser danger than a false sense of perfection, comfort, and ease. God never delights in pain itself, but like an athlete in training, He can see the benefits beyond the pain.

    If suffering were necessary for joy or for God’s glory, we would expect to suffer in heaven. But to the contrary, we know that the ultimate joy lies beyond the suffering of this present world. May our eyes see beyond this pain and look towards the everlasting comfort that is coming…

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    2 Tim 2:14
    Keep reminding them of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.

    Pastors and church leaders are called to be spiritual “reminderers.” The goal of ministry is not to invent new ideas or new teachings. Instead, men and women need to be reminded what God had already communicated. And when it comes to quarreling, a reminder is what we need.

    The reminder not to quarrel is presented before God Himself. God is the authority here, not man. The reason for not quarreling is not ultimately for ourselves, in other words, but because of God.

    Quarreling matters to God because it is against His own character. Within the Trinity, the three persons do not argue but exist in perfect unity. Love and respect are made possible in the world because love and respect first existed within God. Rather than condemning or quarreling with us, God displayed His love to the world. (John 3:16-17)

    The warning in 2 Timothy 2:14 is not to quarrel about words. This does not mean we should drop out of school, burn our dictionaries, or stop discussing important matters. The warning concerns trivial arguments that damage others. Because of the sin that so easily entangles us, even healthy debates can go astray and, sometimes within seconds, turn into worthless quarrels. As soon as we depart from loving communication in order to prove a point, we sin against others and against God.

    In other words, as men and women, we often engage in arguments that do not help the people around us, but ruin them. We need reminders not to quarrel because if we are honest with ourselves we sometimes prioritize arguments over people. As followers of Christ, however, we are called to re-examine our motives, cease from pointless debates, and pursue peaceful and constructive conversations with one another.

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    When leading congregations, Christian leaders must be aware of both explicit and implicit theologies. What people believe determines how they act, and because of that, church members will continue to act according to the theologies that they hold. Without an awareness of both explicit and implicit theologies, church leaders can waste time, “spinning their wheels” on technical fixes to problems, while ignoring the deeper issues that are involved. Though it can take years, but church leaders need to address the explicit and implicit theologies of their congregants.

    To begin with, explicit theology is what a church expressly believes. Explicit theology is usually easier to determine because of its public nature. What a church explicitly believes can be gathered from mission and value statements, doctrinal position papers, sermons, liturgy (including the hymnody), and various other items that express belief. While explicit theology is often accurate, it can sometimes be more of an expression of intent, meaning that not everyone may hold to the same ideal. Even still, explicit theology is usually the starting point for understanding what a congregation believes.

    Implicit theology, on the other hand, is underneath the surface per se, and for that reason, it is much more difficult to determine. The term “implicit theology” refers to those beliefs that are held, but may not be fully expressed. Peter Cha, for example, illustrated how difficult it is to interpret implicit theology from merely what is visibly seen (i.e., artifacts), and that church leaders must take time to question what is unseen. In fact, congregants themselves may not even be aware of their underlying beliefs until they are explicitly pointed out. Implicit theology can include anything from “the pastor is the most spiritual man in our congregation” to “real worship means the raising of hands.” In most contexts, neither of the statements would be verbalized, but they can become part of the working assumptions of a congregation.

    As Kevin Ford points out in Transforming Church, churches function best when their explicit theology matches their implicit theology and vice versa. If there is any discontinuity between the two, there will be underlying conflict. Such conflict should not be overlooked, but used as an opportunity to change either explicit or implicit theology, so that it better aligns with Scripture. To help encourage spiritual transformation, therefore, church leaders should be aware of both explicit theology and implicit theology, so that churches can be healthier and more apt to grow.

    As church leaders help to develop local churches, they must look beyond mere technical fixes and focus on deeper adaptive change. In this effort, however, church leaders must take time to delve into the basic assumptions of a congregation, compare those assumptions with Scripture, and invest time in changing unbiblical assumptions. Simply changing the explicit theology (such as a doctrinal statement) will not change people’s hearts. Ministry needs to go deeper than what is espoused, so that heart issues, including what is assumed, can be sanctified for God’s glory.

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    As a gift from the Gospel Coalition, here are 7 free D.A. Carson books that have been read and loved by many. I am looking forward to reading these, and I wanted to pass them along. The books are in PDF format that can be downloaded, printed, or transfered to an e-reader.

    7 Free Books
    http://tiny.cc/freecarsonbooks

    Many thanks to Andy Naselli for offering these links on his blog. In addition to these books, there are hundreds of additional resources available at Carson’s bibliography.

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    Hark, the voice of Jesus calling,
    “Who will go and work today?
    Fields are white and harvests waiting,
    Who will bear the sheaves away?”
    Loud and long the master calls you;
    Rich reward he offers free.
    Who will answer, gladly saying,
    “Here am I. Send me, send me”?

    If you cannot speak like angels,
    If you cannot preach like Paul,
    You can tell the love of Jesus;
    You can say he died for all.
    If you cannot rouse the wicked
    With the judgment’s dread alarms,
    You can lead the little children
    To the Savior’s waiting arms.

    If you cannot be a watchman,
    Standing high on Zion’s wall,
    Pointing out the path to heaven,
    Offering life and peace to all,
    With your prayers and with your bounties
    You can do what God demands;
    You can be life faithful Aaron,
    Holding up the prophet’s hands.

    Let none hear you idly saying,
    “There is nothing I can do,”
    While the multitudes are dying
    And the master calls for you.
    Take the task he gives you gladly;
    Let his work your pleasure be.
    Answer quickly when he calls you,
    “Here am I. Send me, send me!”

    Hymn # 318 from Lutheran Worship
    Author: Joseph Barnby
    Tune: Galilean
    1st Published in: 1869