Friday, August 12, 2011

More on Michele Bachmann

The recent piece by Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker has drawn forth a response by Nancy Pearcey (whom Lizza mentioned in his article).  Pearcey's piece is HERE.  Pearcey shows how the crucial issue with Bachmann is that of "worldview."  Interesting response worth reading.

1 Corinthians 14.24-25 and Charles Spurgeon

In a recent sermon I looked at 1 Corinthians 14.24-25 for some basic principles for the worship service.  I didn't deal in detail with tongues or prophecy specifically but rather with principles of application for our worship service.  Added to this there is an on-going dialogue over at  Parchment and Pen entitled "Why I Am/Not A Charismatic."  Amid the comments there was some discussion of Mark Driscoll's remarks that he has, at times, been granted knowledge of someone's past in order to minister to them.  This seemed to be in accord with 1 Corinthians 14.24-25. There was some concern that this smacked of "mysticism"--a negatively loaded word by those using it!  I brought up the example of Charles Spurgeon as another example of a minister receiving direct, non-discursive knowledge about the details of someone's life for the sake of ministry.  The following excerpt is from Charles Spurgeon's autobiography.
There were many instances of remarkable conversions at the Music Hall; one especially was so singular that I have often related it as a proof that God sometimes guides His servants to say what they would themselves never have thought of uttering, in order that He may bless the hearer for whom the message is personally intended.  While preaching in the hall, on one occasion, I deliberately pointed to a man in the midst of the crowd, and said, "There is a man sitting there, who is a shoemaker; he keeps his shop open on Sundays, it was open last Sabbath morning, he took ninepence, and there was fourpence profit out of it; his soul is sold to Satan for fourpence!"  A city missionary, when going his rounds, met with this man, and seeing that he was reading one of my sermons, he asked the question, "Do you know Mr. Spurgeon?" "Yes," replied the man, "I have every reason to know him, I have been to hear him; and under his preaching, by God's grace I have become a new creature in Christ Jesus.  Shall I tell you how it happened?  I went to the Music Hall, and took my seat in the middle of the place; Mr Spurgeon looked at me as if he knew me, and in his sermon he pointed to me, and told the congregation that I was a shoemaker, and that I kept my shop open on Sundays; and I did, sir.  I should not have minded that, but he also said that I took ninepence the Sunday before, and that there was fourpence profit out of it.  I did take ninepence that day, and fourpence was just the profit, but how he should know that, I could not tell.  Then it struck me that it was God who had spoken to my soul through him, so I shut up my shop the next Sunday.  At first, I was afraid to go again to hear him, lest he should tell the people more about me, but afterwards I went, and the Lord met with me, and saved my soul."
Then Spurgeon adds this comment immediately following the above:
I could tell as many as a dozen similiar cases in which I pointed at somebody in the hall without having the slightest knowledge of the person, or any idea that what I said was right, except that I believed I was moved by the Spirit to say it; and so striking has been my description, that the persons have gone away, and said to their friends, "Come, see a man that told all things that ever I did; beyond a doubt, he must have been sent of God to my soul, or else he could not have described me so exactly."  C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography (Volume 1: The Early Years), Banner of Truth, 1962, pp. 531-532.
The parallels to what is described in 1 Corinthians 14.24-25 are amazing.   Without any claim to perfection, Spurgeon is recognized as a powerful Calvinistic preacher of God's word and a reliable source that is not prone to exaggeration.  It is difficult, for me at least, to refrain from seeing a prophetic manifestation in the incidents described by Spurgeon above.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Michele Bachmann in The New Yorker

The recent issue of The New Yorker (August 15, 2011) has an article by Ryan Lizza entitled "Leap of Faith."  This is a lengthy article about Michele Bachmann and the influences on her thought and life.  What is interesting is to see the number of individuals that have been influential in evangelical circles over the past 40 years and how they have shaped Bachmann.  The article mentions all the following: Francis Schaeffer (How Should We Then Live), Nancy Pearcey (Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity), John Eidsmoe (Christianity and the Constitution), David Noebel (Understanding the Times), and Steve Wilkins' biography of Robert E. Lee.  The article's author finds all of this disturbing--too Christian, too right-wing, etc.  Whatever else one may think of Mrs. Bachmann and her political skills she certainly has had training in a biblical worldview.  The article is worth looking at--HERE.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Hiddenness of God

A few men and I have been reading and discussing Klaus Issler's book Wasting Time with God: A Christian Spirituality of Friendship with God (IVP, 2001).  I am enjoying the book and it is challenging in that Issler, at times, comes from a slightly different theological perspective.  Issler writes from a non-Reformed perspective on the will and his language tends to reflect this.  The challenge is to read in a sympathetic manner without unnecessarily throwing out good ideas due to the fact that they are communicated in a manner not congenial to my theological perspective.

As an example, we read chapter five--"Commitment: Seeking the God Who Hides"--in which Issler discusses the concept of the "hiddenness of God."
Can Christians admit that, in a sense, God is hidden now, that God has not fully revealed himself this side of heaven?  Hiddenness is not a word usually associated with God, for God is known as the one who reveals himself.  But does he at the same time also intentionally conceal himself?  Upon consideration, most would agree that God is not fully revealed now in this world.  If God revealed more of himself, perhaps believers would never ignore his trademark.  For example, maybe he could make a rainbow shine every morning to start the day, and end the day with a heavenly choir singing his praises to accompanying the sunset.  God could do much more, but he does not.  Apparently God now conceals some of his glory--to hide himself to some extent--so that, among other purposes served, believers may be able to pursue a genuine and deeper relationship with him.  (pp. 125-126)
 So God "hides" himself to create the space for us to seek him.
Thus, God graciously cloaks his greatness for believers so he will not overwhelm us or coerce our loyalty.  Such divine hiddenness provides sufficient room--a measure of "relational space"--for believers to respond to God's initiatives of love.  If we wish, we may remain at a surface level of acquaintance with God, or we can pursue a deeper friendship.  Obedience to divine commandments is important to God, but God desires much more: the development of an ongoing and mutually willing relationship of love between God and each one of his children.  (p. 127)
Granted, there are ways of understanding this kind of statement that is at odds with a Reformed understanding of the human will and divine sovereignty.  But is this necessarily the case?  Is there a way to affirm this concept?  The best way to do this is ask, "Is there a biblical category that might make sense of this?"  I think there is.  The Bible recognizes a concept of "feigned obedience" or "pretended obedience" as indicated by the following scriptures.
Foreigners pretend obedience to me; as soon as they hear, they obey me. (2 Samuel 22.45; also Psalm 18.44 where it is repeated)
Say to God, "How awesome are your works!  Because of the greatness of your power your enemies will give feigned obedience to you.  (Psalm 66:3)
Those who hate the Lord would pretend obedience to him, and their time of punishment would be forever.  (Psalm 81.15)
The scriptures provide us with a psychologically sophisticated account of the depth of the human heart and its devotion.  It is able to probe the depths of the intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4.12).  Our God desires full-hearted devotion and not merely lip-service of half-hearted devotion (Isaiah 29.13; Mark 7.6).

There is a way to construe Issler's remarks that do not need to buy in to all of his assumptions about the human will.  His comments can be seen to be consistent with certain scriptural categories as seen above.  Once this is done Issler's remarks can be profoundly shaping for us.  God does seem to hide himself in the ways Issler describes but he does this to create "a measure of 'relational space'--for believers to respond to God's initiatives of love." This makes sense.  It certainly seems like an obvious truth that some Christians know God "better" than others.  I speak here of not just intellectual cognition of the propositions of God character and ways--although this is very important.  Rather, there are some Christians whose relationship with God is deeper and more profound at an existential level.  This is in large measure due to their tenacious seeking of the living God and his allowing them to find them (2 Chronicles 15.2, 4, 15).  This relentless seeking of the living God by his children is pursued in faith and empowered by grace.  Yet it is, nonetheless, a true seeking and true finding.  There is the individual's self-consciously chosen paths of seeking and hungering for God's presence.  And this is the kind of seeking the Father desires.
You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart.  (Jer. 29.13)        
With the above in mind, Issler's comments can be informative and encouraging for our pursuit of God.
God does not force his full presence on us; rather he partially hides himself to encourage a genuine response of friendship.  It is as if God walks a precarious tightrope of giving enough clues about himself so that we could know he desires a deeper relationship, but not enough to overwhelm us or coerce us toward him.  God maintains a delicate tension between self-revelation and being hidden in order to assure that believers respond to his initiatives and pursue a relationship willingly.  Ultimately God will fully live in our midst and show us his face (Rev 22:5).  But now, God's invisibility poses a problem: it is easy for us to become distracted from seeking God.  
Issler then adds,
Believers must not mis-interpret God's intentions.  The relational distance he offers never indicates any indifference toward us.  (p. 128)
So we can approach the hiddenness of God with hope.  Sometimes the hiddenness is itself a summons to him; a summons to experience more of him.  It is a goad God gives to us to seek him for he knows that as we draw near to him, he will draw near to us (James 4.8).