Tag Archives: Theology
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:
What we could add to this brief definition:
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.
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.
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.
What makes “Christian” art? This debate has gone on for many years, but at least in my circles, the discussion has not progressed very far. In some ways, this question can be misleading because there is not necessarily a single answer. There are at least 3 ways to define Christian art:
1. In terms of source: art made by a Christian individual or a group of Christians.
2. In terms of motive: art intended to minister to others or to glorify God in a general way.
3. In terms of message: art that communicates a message about the Christian God or is somehow influenced by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Considering the Oxford dictionary as an example, there are various alternatives when defining a word. A single definition is not more “correct” than another, so we would be better off describing what kind of Christian art we are talking about. As a result, the conversation can advance further when we avoid semantics and focus our discussion on a specific kind of Christian art.
Regarding biblical study and the use of commentaries, Eugene H. Peterson uses a captivating illustration to demonstrate the reason why Christians should read commentaries. It is our way of entering into the vibrant conversation, of hearing many other voices and eventually expressing our own. I read this years ago, but I’ve never forgotten it. Since he says it better than I could, I’ll simply share his own words:
“…biblical commentaries have for too long been overlooked as common reading for common Christians… Among those for whom Scripture is a passion, reading commentaries has always seemed to me analogous to the gathering of football fans in the local bar after the game, replaying in endless detail the game they have just watched, arguing (maybe even fighting) over obersvations and opinion, and lacing the discourse with gossip about the players. The level of knowledge evident in these boozy colloquies is impressive. These fans have watched the game for years; the players are household names to them; they know the fine print in the rulebook and pick up every nuance on the field. And they care care immensely about what happens in the game. Their seemingly endless commentary is evidence of how much they care. Like them, I relish in a commentary not bare information but conversation with knowledgeable and experienced friends, probing, observing, questioning, the biblical text…. there is so much to notice, so much to talk over.” (Eugene H. Peterson, Eat This Book, 54)
For those of us who write worship songs, it is easy to fall into the same patterns. By reading lyrics of other songs, especially well written hymns and songs from other cultures, we can be moved to think in new ways and to expand beyond our normal categories. For a sample, check out this hymn shared by Thabiti Anyabwile.
How Sweet and Awful Is the Place
How sweet and awful is the place
With Christ within the doors
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores.
While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast
Each of us cry with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?”
“Why was I made to hear thy voice
and enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice
And rather starve than come?”
‘Twas the same love that spread the feast
that sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste
and perished in our sin
Pity the nations, O our God,
Constrain the earth to come;
Send thy victorious Word abroad
and bring the strangers home.
We long to see thy churches full,
that all the chosen race
may with one voice and heart and soul
sing thy redeeming grace.
I am a huge proponent of incorporating technology into the local church. It deserves to be said, however, that when it comes to technology in the local church, we need to think through our options. Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean that we should.
On a practical level, one instance of this is the recent increase of multiple video screens (usually in larger churches) and the rise of satellite churches (which incorporate sermons via a video feed). After nearly 2000 years of church ministry, only in the past decade or two has this technology been an option. In response to this growing phenomenon, much could be said about the importance of personal contact, proximity, and lifestyle as they relate to preaching. A quick illustration, however, will suffice to show why we need to think through these issues:
At the most recent Presidential inauguration, there were roughly 2 million people in attendance. Some of these people were near President Obama or within eyesight, while others were 2 miles away at the Lincoln Memorial. Those who were far away, of course, depended on video screens in order to see what was happening on stage. They were present in person, but in in a different sense.
That actual event reveals a very simple truth: people within eyesight had a greater sensory experience, while those far away (though enjoying their time) had a much different experience. For those watching a video screen (2 miles away), there was a personal disconnect that could not be fully resolved by technology. At least to a degree, they were removed from the action. They were participating, for sure, but in a more distant sense.
Of course, this directly relates to preaching because a preacher appeals on behalf of God and calls people towards a response. We should want as much “proximity” as possible and not allow technology to get in the way. On the other hand, some may argue that technology increases proximity more often than decreasing it. Maybe the question we ask is, “How does this particular technology change ministry (compared to New Testament times), and how do we overcome any potential weaknesses?”
While technology certainly has a place and can be very helpful — obviously, without technology there would be no internet or printing presses — we also need to be aware of the drawbacks. The point here is that simply adding more technology does not automatically ensure real, inner life change. Rather than simply accepting whatever technology is available to us, we need to be careful and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of incorporating technology in the local church. The solution is not a boycott of technology, but a greater effort to think through how we use technology.
How can we honor God in our worship?
Although Exodus 20:22-26 is not frequently quoted in the context of worship, it provides some direction for us. In speaking to Moses, God gives the Israelites four instructions. They are simple and helpful, even for us today:
1. Do not worship anyone else beside me. (v.23)
2. It is absolutely necessary to worship me. (v.24)
3. Where I am worshiped, I will bless. (v.24b)
4. I deserve to be worshiped reverently. (v.26)
These instructions may seem familiar, but they serve as a helpful corrective for us. Does the worship in our lives meet those standards? If not, we should reconsider how we are worshiping God.
Taking this further, this passage also contains another kernel of truth that can set us free from egocentric worship. In these words to Moses, God expresses that He is the one who causes His name to be honored. As He says, “Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you.” (v.24b) Incredible!
What is so striking is that this is the opposite attitude of many of us today. We often think that we are the cause of worship — whether it be a talented worship leader, a great hymn that was written, a moving instrumental song, or a passionately singing congregation. Speaking on behalf of worship leaders, it is fair to say that we often feel a burden to “help” worship along. Even if we meet the 4 instructions listed above, this is one area where we often miss the mark — ironically, in the process of worshiping, taking credit for ourselves.
While there is truth in the fact that leaders need to lead, it would be wrong to overlook the powerful truth of this passage. Ultimately, it is not us who cause worship. Rather, it is God who causes His name to be honored. He is the first cause.
In other words, God is glorified for who He is, not because of what we bring. He is the one who inspires worship, and in that sense, our responsibility pales in comparison. Instead of causing, we should think of our responsibility as responding to His glory.
When we worship in a God honoring way, God will come near and bless us. Ultimately, because He is the one who inspires worship, He ends up blessing us because of who He is. What an amazing promise!
Colossians 3:23 was intended for all aspects of life. In that verse, Paul reminds us that “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not men.” Our work should be defined by maximum effort and the right motives.
Unfortunately, most of miss the mark in one way or the other. Some people become accustomed to what is common and slow down in their efforts. They may have good reasons, such as fatigue or a low salary, but they forget the ultimate purpose of their work. Other people work hard, not wanting to fail, but they work for the wrong reasons. They work to please men instead of the Lord, and in so doing, get distracted from the ultimate goal.
A.W. Tozer’s insights in Of God and Men are helpful. Tozer rightly pointed out that people often act out of fear. We often choose the easy route (fearing hard labor) or the popular route (fearing human opposition). Of course, in reality, the best choices in life are usually difficult and unpopular.
Two stories are inspiring in this regard. First, think of Moses. When Moses was called to the incredible task of returning to Egypt, he was full of fear. He did not know what to do, what to say, or how to respond to criticism. (Does that ever sound like you?)
God’s response is wonderfully encouraging. In speaking to Moses, God asked, ““Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” God reminded Moses that fear is irrational. God is in control, and He is always present to help his servants.
Even more significant is Jesus’ death and resurrection. In Jesus, we have the perfect illustration of Colossians 3:23. He gave everything and never lost sight of His father. He is the perfect example of working for God with all effort.
The key to living a productive and courageous life is to remember Jesus. After all, if Jesus physically suffered, even unto to death on a cross, then we can certainly try harder in our daily efforts. In Jesus, we also find courage to face opposition. Fear has no power over us. Even death itself cannot conquer us.
Now my brothers and sisters, whatever you do, work with all your heart.