Category Archives: Theology

What Story are you part of? (Mike Fox)

I can only answer the question, “What am I to do?” if I can answer the prior question “Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?”

– Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue

My granddaughter loves to act out the stories she hears.  She is the heroine of a seemingly endless stream of mysteries, adventures, and tragedies.  She boldly invites any ‘innocent’ bystander into the story – sometimes as the victim, sometimes as the bad guy, and sometimes as the loyal sidekick.

Recently we watched “The Wizard of Oz” together.  For the next 2 weeks she was Dorothy.  My wife, my daughter, and I were the Tinman, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, the Wizard, and the Wicked Witch of the West depending on what the story required at any given moment. Continue reading What Story are you part of? (Mike Fox)

‘A Great Cloud of Witnesses’: All Saints Day Reflection

November 1 is All Saints Day.  More familiar to Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians, this is a day we pause both to remember and celebrate all those brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone before us.

The church universal is made up of those believers both on this earth, and those who have passed on to the other side.  Notice I didn’t say “saints both dead and alive” — for we believe all who are in Christ, “though they die, yet shall they live” (John 11:25) eternally in the presence of God.

I have a small bone to pick with fellow protestants on this topic. While I have many profound disagreements with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Church, I believe they have a much richer understanding of the ‘Communion of the Saints’ (a clear part of the Apostles’ Creed) and protestants have a far too diminished view. Continue reading ‘A Great Cloud of Witnesses’: All Saints Day Reflection

Going Green 4: God’s Junior Gardeners

You may be thinking, “Sorry, I’m not into gardening, so maybe I’ll skip this series.” Not so fast. We’re talking about something far more central to our humanity than growing vegetables and flowers.

God the Creator made human begins in his divine image and likeness, and part of this likeness is our ability to join God in the creative, productive process. We are co-creators with God — His junior gardeners — given the key task of sharing the work of cultivating the earth. We’re not just talking about the natural environment. We’re talking about human productivity and work of every kind. Gardening in the Bible represents all the ways we use our creative capacities to impact our environment for better or for worse.

Another way to put it is that we all have a garden to tend. We all have a domain of responsibility. Parents are cultivating the garden of their home, trying their best to grow healthy children. Teachers have their classroom. Doctors have their practice and patients. Engineers have their factories and shops and products they make. The architect’s garden is her sketchpad and blueprints. The corporate business CEO is overseeing a large greenhouse full of different gardens and gardeners.

So, we are all gardeners. We all have some domain of responsibility.

Another way to look at our role as God’s co-creators and image bearers is to look at God’s key activities in the first couple verses of Genesis. Continue reading Going Green 4: God’s Junior Gardeners

Tim Keller’s “Counterfeit Gods”

51WUhNgBu7L._SS500_Check out Trevin Wax’s review of Tim Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters (Penguin, 2009). Keller is one of my favorite Christian thinkers these days, and I find him a very insightful, articulate writer bringing clarity to very complex theological issues.  He is a gift to the church and a newfound favorite among my preferred authors.

I want to whole-heartily recommend this book for further exploration of the foundational issue of modern-day idolatry.  More great coverage on this hot-topic in the media today can be found at Out Of Ur.  Here’s  snippet:

There is nothing like a recession to put Americans in a reflective mood. Unemployment and a devalued stock market have led many to consider whether money is the pre-eminent form of American idolatry. New York Timescolumnist David Brooks has called for a new culture war, a “crusade for economic self-restraint” in a self-indulgent age. Adam Sternbergh wonders whether thrift is a virtue that can be developed or a trait that must be inherited. ABC’s Nightline invited Mark Driscoll to discuss the allure of celebrity and corporate idolatry. And Tim Keller has turned his attention to rooting out idolatry with his latest book, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters.

For Keller an idol is “anything more important to you than God, anything which absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” Elaborating on the book’s title, Keller writes that a “counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life, that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.” What does Keller have in mind? Well, everything: family, children, career, earning money, achievement, social status, relationships, beauty, brains, morality, political or social activism—even effective Christian ministry.

Below is great introduction to Tim Keller.  Keller was invited to speak at Google’s headquarters on his book “The Reason for God.”  A lively, engaging discussion ensued. Enjoy!

God’s Grand Story & Our Role In It

Narrative theology is a relatively new undertaking and is one good example of a positive development in theological studies, due, in part, to the influence of postmodernity.[1] I would suggest that the contributions of this movement will surprise many with numerous insights into how we might better approach the theological task, read the Bible, and live as faithful disciples in an ever-changing postmodern world.

Among the many emphases of story theology is the underlying claim that story plays a central role in how human beings make sense of the world and how they process and organize their experiences.[2] N. T. Wright expounds on this fundamental role of story:

When we examine how stories work in relation to other stories, we find that human beings tell stories because this is how we perceive, and indeed relate to, the world.  What we see close up, in a multitude of little incidents whether isolated or (more likely) interrelated, we make sense of by drawing on story forms already more or less known to us and placing the information within them.  A story, with its pattern of problem and conflict, of aborted attempts at resolution, and final result, whether sad or glad, is, if we may infer from the common practice of the world, universally perceived as the best way of talking about the way the world actually is.[3]

While raw information can stimulate and exercise our brain muscles, it is usually a good story that moves us to tears.  And it is when we are moved holistically—both mentally and emotionally—that we are most likely to be changed or transformed.[4] As Wright puts it, “Tell someone to do something, and you change their life—for a day; tell someone a story and you change their life.”[5] As Clark Pinnock describes it, Continue reading God’s Grand Story & Our Role In It

Cultivating an Apostolic Imagination

A repost from a few years back. -JB

What if our faith was as real and powerful as the faith of the Apostle Paul, Peter, James and John, Mary and Lydia, Priscilla and Aquilla?  What if our experience of church today was as exciting as those in the upper room at Pentecost, as action-packed as Barnabas and Silas’s missionary journeys throughout Asia Minor, as faith-stretching as Peter stepping out onto the water, or as jolting as Paul being knocked flat on his back and blinded by the light of Christ? What if the Spirit’s guidance was as real and direct in our lives as when Paul was led to Macedonia by a vision in the night?  What if our message today was bold enough to “turn the world upside down” as we pledge allegiance to a different King and Kingdom than the rest of those around us (Acts 17:7)?

We are accustomed to approaching the New Testament as detached observers feeling far removed from the original events, or as students picking apart the text as an academic exercise.  We study the Bible to learn about God, about Jesus, about the church and about the power of Holy Spirit. But many of us will never enter into the story, become real participants in the activity of God, and let our imaginations be reshaped by the Apostolic life we read about in the New Testament.

Awhile back I had the privilege of leading some college students through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. As I prepared for our first evening together, these thoughts were swimming through my head. All of these students grew up in church and now attend a Christian college where they are constantly discussing the Bible, taking classes on it, hearing it preached in chapel, and reading it in their personal devotions. As with all Christian colleges, the Bible is their primary textbook.

But I wanted to approach Paul’s letter to the Ephesians differently.  I wanted to recapture the exciting situation into which this epistle was written.  I wanted us to remember that these were personal letters sent by a real missionary-pastor to real people living in a real place facing real challenges.  I wanted to let these powerful words be heard afresh, wrapping our minds around the potent message contained within.  I wanted us to cultivate an Apostolic Imagination as we dug into Ephesians.

I began our journey through Ephesians by unpacking 4 aspects of an Apostolic Imagination: apostolic purpose, power, passion and participation.  Continue reading Cultivating an Apostolic Imagination

Cruciform Justice 1: Introduction

CruciformJusticeHow long, O LORD,
must I call for help before you listen,
before you save us from violence?
(Habakkuk 1:2-4)

He came closer to the city,
and when he saw it, he wept over it, saying,
“If you only knew today what is needed for peace!
But now you cannot see it!
(Luke 19:41-42)

There is no place worldwide where Habakkuk’s cry is not heard; and Jesus’ tears still wet our cities’ streets today. The world’s pain and suffering cries out for justice and peace. Yet what does it look like when they finally prevail? And, more importantly, when and by what means will it actually come to pass?

So we ask, “What is needed for peace?” These perennial questions have had many proposed solutions. Yet, in a world where injustice still reigns supreme, it appears all human attempts to establish a global kingdom of peace and foster universal prosperity have so far ultimately failed.

Christians have taken different sides on this issue. Some quarters of “Christendom” have allied themselves with the political powers and socio-economic systems of the day, attempting to Christianize the worldly systems and use them as God’s instrument for peace and justice. Other Christians have separated themselves from society altogether, placing upon it the stamp of divine condemnation, and simply awaiting the rapture from this hopeless world.

Political and social activism is advocated by the former, while the latter focus solely on ‘soul-winning,’ shrugging off social involvement saying ‘it makes little sense rearranging the deck furniture on a sinking Titanic.’ Both of these approaches fail on biblical grounds. What then is the church’s appropriate response to the world’s injustice and suffering? And what ecclesial action (if any) is expected of us by God while we await the new creation — the kingdom “wherein justice dwells”?

Drawing significantly from the works of John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas and Jurgen Moltmann, the forthcoming series of posts will argue that the popular definitions of justice used in mainstream political and theological debate need to become more Jesus-shaped and our values more cruciform if the church is going to be faithful in its task of following the way of Jesus, i.e., the way of the cross, in the world today.  (Note: This is the unique call of the church, not the world, secular governments, etc.)

Join me on my search for a more Jesus-shaped, cruciform understanding of justice. Read full series HERE.

*This series is excerpts from a term paper I wrote back in 2004 at Bethel Seminary. -JB

“Get Out of the Way” Theology

Holding blank signWhen I meet Christians who are infatuated with their own depravity because it supposedly puts God on display, I often wonder what they do with certain Bible passages.  You’ve met them often enough.  They have a “Get out of the Way” theology.  They appropriately fear self-righteousness and pride in their faith. They rightly want to be humble, deny themselves and give God all the glory.  They mistakingly conclude, however, that they need to get out of the way in order for God to be seen in their lives.

The obvious problem with “Get out of the Way” theology is that God himself has placed us “in the way” on purpose to be his living, breathing signposts pointing others to Him.  As God’s “image bearers” we are intended to reflect and display God’s glory in our lives. And, what do we do with Jesus’ little lesson about letting our light shine before men?   Continue reading “Get Out of the Way” Theology