Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Bible as "How to Manual" or "Character Sketch"

Last night I was in seminary class. Someone was giving an informal testimony and said something to the effect, "We need to look in the Bible to find solutions because it is an answer book." Looking at the Bible through the eyes of what I call suffering I find the Bible is not so much an answer book but a book to tell me who God is. He is my answer. That may sound a bit trite but I think it makes a lot of difference.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Reveiw of Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster

I re-read Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster for my Spiritual Formation class at Capital Bible Seminary. The first time I read it I think I was looking for something that was not there. This time I just read it to see what God might want me to change. It was refreshing the second time.

I think Foster's strength in the book is that he translates for the evangelical community the historical writings on the topic of spiritual disciplines. Most people who are reading the book want to hear from God. Foster's membership with the Friends, that values the mystical side of Christianity, helps him to take seriously listening to the voice of God in prayer and meditation. Foster handles the subject with depth and gives an accessible introduction to the historic practices of the disciplines. In other words, people are hungry to hear the voice of God and are looking for reliable answers from someone with sounds experiences that ring true.

Sometimes Foster justified his position well. At other times Foster simply assumed his premise as true without bothering to prove it. Certainly confession of sin is biblical, but Foster did not support from Scripture the practice of public confession of sin. This is not always appropriate. We must be 'as wise as serpents but gentle as doves' when it comes to public confession. I'm not saying that it is always wrong but idealizing it in a book like this may cause some immature believers to confess their sin in a body who will in turn use it against the party making the confession.

He took the standard position that if we hear a subjective prompting of the Lord it must always be in line with the Bible's clear revelation. Certainly God knows the movements of every sparrow. At the same time, I think some small and routine matters may not require a “Word from the Lord”. I would have liked to hear Foster explain when and when not to seek the voice of the Lord on a matter.

Having participated quite a bit in church government, I found the chapter on guidance quite intriguing. For Foster, the discipline of guidance was foremost an issue that the group would handle. So we are really talking about decision making of a congregation or other group. Often we bring processes of decision-making in from the business world and implement them at the church. In other words, we are making decisions via human effort, the flesh. We are sowing in the flesh and wondering why we are not reaping a spiritual harvest. A few months ago a friend of mine explained to me how the board he is on do not make decision except by a unanimous leading of the Spirit.

With the charismatic movement being a strong force at the time of his writing, I wish he would have written more about that movement. It may have been a distraction to his purpose, but he assumes the charismatic gifts to be active and working. That made me somewhat suspect of his other premises. I would have liked to know clearly where he stood.

I would recommend it for sure to the mature Christian who needs to grow closer to the Lord. I would not want to expose someone to his position who is not ready to read critically the passages about the charismatic gifts. I also would be wary of someone who does not have a good grasp on doctrine or exegesis. I believe pastors, elders, deacons and other lay leaders would benefit from studying this book. Anyone who has grown cold in the faith or has taken up daily devotions as a mere heartless duty would benefit developing a listening heart. Foster believes God is still speaking in an illumination sense. Many who have taken up the cause to stand for the finality of God speaking as revelation in the Bible also make our present age one like to that of the deist profess. Foster and other writers like him are a solution to the mindset of placing God far, far away a long time ago.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Crazy Church Review

This summer I visited two churches but I have decided to not review them as I usually do. The reason is that I have some highly negative thoughts about these two churches. I thought about not saying anything but I do want to address the issues.

The first church I visited this summer was a world famous mega-church. The music was great. The people warm. The worship environment was creative and cool. The problem I had with the worship though was the sermon. The pastor gave a sermon on 2 Kings 5:1-15a. The Scripture reading stopped at a high point with the words of Naaman saying, "“Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel." The reading stopped at this point, half way through the sentence which was great since it emphasized whole point of the passage. I was excited with the prospect of such a great sermon. Then we got a message on baptism. I realize there are only so many texts on baptism, but why take this passage with such a grand theme and make it into something it is not. I blame this sort of exegesis for people coming up with whacky interpretations and then thinking it is okay. Sort of disappointing to go to a world famous church and hear a message that basically is consider evangelical in its theological position but for the most part unrelated to the Bible passage being discussed.

The second church I visited was a good church from what I could tell. The music was good. The projection of words and images was fantastic. The sermon was good. What I found disappointing was that much of the discussion was about the organizational life of the church and not about God. Yes, they did mention God. They preached from the Bible. However, instead of hearing about the transcendent one, I heard about a temporally relevant program, which left me wondering whether I would get something transcendent from that program if I decided to participate. Since I do not live in that community or state, it would not be practical for me to consider that as an option. I would rather hear a creed than a mission statement. I would rather hear timeless truth than hear about an organization.

As I have matured, I have gotten to where I want to meet God during worship. I do not want to be impressed with talent, though I do like to hear talented people speak and sing. I do not want to see a performance, though I do hope those leading are well prepared, perhaps even rehearsed. I do not want be entertained, though I do hope to be engaged in hearing from God himself. When I come to worship, I want to be in the presence of God. I want to hear something that is on his heart, not something that is earthly. I live in the temporal, I thirst for the eternal. I live in the systems of this world, I want to be ruled by the Lord himself.