After reading The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment and Don’t Waste Your Life over the last couple of months, I wanted the next book I read have some scholarly and intellectual teeth to it. Unfortunately I picked up What Have They Done With Jesus? by Ben Witherington. This book was required reading for a class I audited (and hence didn’t have to read the book), so I really wanted to be favorable towards it.
I know next-to-nothing about Witherington’s theology or position in the evangelical world. In the book he comes across as thoroughly orthodox, with a slight liberal bent in regards to New Testament authorship (holding to the “First Witness” composition of Matthew, Markian Priority, and a rather unique position about the Gospel of John). The purpose of his book is to critically examine the bizarre world of alternate theories about Jesus and his relationships with his disciples. Witherington examines everything from the Gospel of Judas to The Da Vinci Code.
Despite some mildly beneficial content, I put the book down after about 65 pages. It was an incredible waste of time. This book serves as a microcosm of the problems with current mainstream evangelical scholarship. I say mainstream because the church is blessed with many many God-glorifying, courageous men like DA Carson and David Wells who refuse to cheapen the truth for the sake of fake “intellectual humility.” And I say current because it hasn’t always been that higher learning and tepid writing go together. To quote:
“Very likely Isaiah 22:15-25 lies in the background…” (64)
“Probably, then, the keys are a symbol of Peter’s authority in general…” (64)
“Perhaps one could argue…” (64)
“Peter may have been one…” (65)
“This may explain…” (65)
“We should perhaps envision…” (66)
“It is, of course, possible to see…” (66)
“If the reference…” (66)
I began thinking, what would it look like if we talked in everyday life like we did in evangelical scholarship?
“After studying the mathematics, I am persuaded that the bridge most likely will be able to support your car as it travels across.”
“Hello ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for flying Southwest. Our destination will possibly be Phoenix today.”
“Thank you for paying with PayPal. The seller might send you your package.”
A referee: “That perhaps could have been a touchdown.”
Parent to child: “It’s possible that we love you.”
The gospel of Jesus Christ matters far more than a plane flight or a football game. It is of far more importance than banking statements and engineering. So why do we reserve unreserved assertions of truth for only things that don’t matter?
It’s sad to see the life-giving gospel muddied by pandering to the culture of trendy intellectual uncertainty. I claim to speak a message that brings reconciliation and redemption to the human heart. May God grant courage to speak it with all the force and clarity and compassion the Son of God slain for us deserves.
Contrast this, found on financial services site MintLife (HT: Tim Challies):
Missions is not only crucial for the life of the world. It is crucial for the life of the church. We will perish with our wealth if we do not pour ourselves out in ministries of mercy at home and missions among the unreached peoples. We are very wealthy in America. All the money needed to send and support an army of self-sacrificing, joy-spreading ambassadors is already in the church. But we are not giving it.
In 1916, Protestants were giving 2.9% of their incomes to their churches. In 1933, the depth of the Great Depression, it was 3.2%. In 1955, just after affluence began spreading through our culture, it was still 3.2%. By 2000, when Americans were over 450% richer, after taxes and inflation, than in the Great Depression, Protestants were giving 2.6% of their incomes to their churches. Moreover, “If members of historically Christian churches in the United States were giving an average of 10% in 2000, there would have been an additional $139 billion a year going through church channels.” Now add to that the really shocking fact that of the money given to the church, less than 6% goes to foreign missions and of that amount, about 1% goes to fund breakthroughs to unreached peoples. This is not to say we should pull back on any front. The point is, there is plenty for all the breakthroughs is we live to show that Christ is our Treasure.
–John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life (pg. 172)
I was playing frisbee golf with a few of our youth group members yesterday when I asked them a question: “What are you thankful for?” We as a culture (which means me as an individual) usually relegate thankfulness as something that only needs to be pondered on the fourth Thursday of every November. But it would seem that our utter inability to merit even life and breath would cause us to be overwhelmingly thankful. When life itself is a gift, how could I take anything for granted?
We as people are happiest when we are the most thankful, for thankfulness overwhelming selfishness is a clear testimony of the grace of God. It isn’t natural to be thankful. It isn’t normal to bow before God and confess helplessness and gratitude for and trust in His life-giving nature.
I’ve yet to see myself intentionally slide from the mountain top of thankfulness to the obscuring valley of selfish ingratitude. Rather, I wake up to realize that I no longer have the joy of an uncluttered view of who God is and what He has done for me. And I’m shocked by it. It’s as though I start walking down the path from the mountain top to the valley, feeling like I haven’t lost anything because I can still remember what the view from the peak looks like. And I’m not worried because, although I can’t actually see the landscape of grace, I can still picture what it looks like. Can still conjure up the awe that it evokes.
But then as time goes by and as I get further and further from the peak I can no longer remember what I need to remember. I can no longer feel what I know I need to feel. It saddens me most that I take most for granted the things that I love the most, starting with my Savior.
I don’t think that the ultimate solution is what I’m about to do. I don’t think that merely listing out things I’m thankful for is enough to keep me from becoming thankless. The heart is more deceptive than that. I need the sustaining grace of God. But I do know that usually I become thankless when I simply neglect being thankful. I want to be diligent in giving thanks. It’s really hard to pull your gaze away from something you’re thankful for.
Here are some things I’m thankful for, in no particular order or importance. And this list is in no way shape or form comprehensive!:
1) The Intentional Fellowship of Christians. I’m thankful for the people in my life who practice and talk about the “one anothers.” People who love and understand the value of authentic, heart-and-gospel-oriented conversation and actions. Much endurance comes from having such relationships.
2) Brent and Laura. I’m thankful for the way they have opened their home up to me. I’m thankful for the lessons I’m learning about what family life is really like from a parent’s perspective. They challenge me in diligence, drive, and purpose.
3) John Marc. I’m thankful for being able to learn what it means to be a faithful minister of the Word of God. He’s taught me much about the realities of ministry. It’s not flashy, it’s not hype-driven. It’s about faithfulness and confidence in the Holy Spirit. He’s taught me much about loving people for the sake of their gain in Christ. His reward in heaven is going to be very great.
4) Stars. I’m in an area where I can see stars again. It was funny taking astronomy in Los Angeles. Looking up at the night sky has a way of bringing perspective. To think that God created all of that, and billions of galaxies that I cannot see with the naked eye! It breaths out the awesomeness of God and the insignificance of man. And yet, that only reinforces the joy of His personal love for me.
5) Cornerstone Youth Group. I appreciate the youthfulness of the youth. I appreciate their eagerness and excitement in life, their drive to get maximum enjoyment out of everything. And I’m thankful for their thoughtfulness in youth group. They ask good questions, ponder important things. I’m thankful that they keep coming to hear the Word, over and above excitement.
6) My Mom, Dad, and Brother. I’m excited to go home for Christmas. There’s no reservations, no worry that it might be a stressful time, no fears that conflict might rip us apart. I know that’s not the case for the majority of people. So I don’t want to take for granted the joy of having a tight-knit, like-minded, Christ-loving family. My parents are wise, and my brother is one of my best friends. What more could you ask for?
7) Good music. I’m thankful for music that makes much of God like Shawn McDonald, Caedemon’s Call, David Crowder Band, Casting Crowns, Phil Wickham, Jeremy Camp. I’m thankful for music that is relaxing and helps me study like Sigur Ros, Secret Garden, Ulrich Schnauss. I’m thankful for music that is fun and thought-provoking like Switchfoot, Hillsong United, Matisyahu, Andy Hunter. And I’m thankful for all the countless hymnwriters who used their gifts to create music that has lasted for decades because of the truth that rings forth from their work. I’m especially thankful for the men and women who wrote Jesus Paid It All, Rock of Ages Cleft for Me, Amazing Grace, Great is Thy Faithfulness, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, God Moves in a Mysterious Way, Whate’er My God Ordains is Right, In Christ Alone, The Power of the Cross, How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, And Can It Be, It Is Well, and Hallelujah! What a Savior.
8 ) Doctrinal Words. Especially words that we don’t talk about much in ordinary conversation like regeneration and sustaining grace. They are rich words, containing so much about God and so much about man. I would be lost without God, and doctrinal words help me explore the nuances of who God is more deeply.
9) Blogging. It forces me to think through things more deeply. Clarity often comes through writing, and things I’ve thought have often proven to be untenable once I’m forced to form an argument for it.
10) Facebook. I’m thankful that Facebook lets me keep in touch with a much wider group of friends than I would be able to otherwise.