Friday, April 28, 2017

Wisdom in the Prism

It’s always been a head-scratcher for me — this obsession that some people seem to have with pitting various viewpoints on the Atonement against each other, as if they are mutually exclusively (and therefore bitter enemies).

I’ve always seen them more as the differing sides of a finely-cut jewel. The essence of the jewel is the same — Jesus Christ’s saving work on the Cross — but as you rotate the gemstone, you see and appreciate different angles, refractions, and you marvel at its simple, yet complex, beauty.

Plus, you can’t ignore that each viewpoint — regardless of how well articulated — has its own fair share of Scriptural support. To use just one viewpoint as an example, you can’t escape the ‘substitutionary’ language of the Bible without having to pretend certain verses don’t exist (or engage in dubious mental and hermeneutical contortions in an attempt to make them go away).

Just the other day, while researching for a new book that I’m hoping to write, I came across a collection of videos at “Three Minute Theology”. Instead of my metaphor of a jewel, the creators of these videos chose a Prism, which I like even better.

Three Minute Theology does not pretend that it’s possible to exhaust all the nuances of the topic in bite-sized morsels, but these videos provide a fantastic overview of the various sides of the jewel, or — in this case — the different hues found in the Prism of Atonement.
Complementary views, not competing.
These short hor d’oeuvres will whet your appetite. Enjoy!

The various colours in the Prism of Atonement:

Penal Substitution

Christus Victor


Moral Influence

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Weight

“Do you know why retired pastors always sit at the back of the church?” he asked, with a knowing wink.

I smile back, shaking my head. “I have absolutely no idea. Why?”

His grin broadened even more, and he leaned back in his chair with a hearty laugh.

“Because we can!”

For years, there have been numerous unwritten rules that govern the lives of pastors (and, by extension, their families):
  1. When you retire from the position, you must leave that particular church.
    • (At the very least, it made things easier for the new pastor.)
  2. Ideally, you should leave town, too.
    • (Same rationale as #1. Pragmatic, but a little heartless.)
  3. While you still have the position, you must be seated in the front row.
    • (And in most cases, that meant your family should as well. And your children had better behave angelically.)
Little wonder that retired pastors (and their grateful spouses) revel in the freedom to sit at the back of the church for a change. Or anywhere they like.
Because they can.
They are free of the expectations of the parishioners. Free of the subculture that declares: ‘this is what pastors must do’. Free of the weight of responsibility for leading. (I’ll bet Moses was the happiest retiree of his generation, after forty years in the wilderness with the merry band of cutthroats he’d been given to lead.)

But aside from congregational expectations, I suspect there is a much deeper reason for their new-found appreciation of the back row in the sanctuary.

Even in the healthiest, most team-based leading environments, there is a very real weight that pastors carry. A burden of responsibility that few can fully appreciate or relate to. As St. Paul put it:
“Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28).
To not have this sense of concern — or responsibility — would make the pastor a “hired gun”; just filling a position, putting in time doing a job, callously earning a paycheque.

Jesus is THE Shepherd of His flock, the Church (John 10:1-16). Nobody is suggesting otherwise. But pastors do carry a weight of responsibility for the people they are leading. If they don’t, they’re not pastors. They could be any one of several other options — entertainer, charlatan, snake-oil salesman, or to use Jesus’ phrase, a “hired hand”.

But not pastor. Pastors care, and deeply.

Sitting in the back row after retiring may mean much, much more than simply being free of the ‘traditional’ seating arrangement expected by church-goers. It could easily also be a sign of the release from the responsibility that comes with the position — a time to rest from hard, but hopefully rewarding, labour in the Body of Christ.

If, perchance, you know any back-row pastors, take a moment the next time you see one, and thank them for their years of service. Maybe share an encouraging word. Perhaps you could even pray together, just for a moment.

Make the back row a seat of honour.

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Challenge

Before reading any further, take a moment to soak in the statement captured in the image above. In some ways, that picture+insight could simply exist as a blog post on its own, without any need for elaboration.

But writers just can’t resist.

My own trajectory as a writer — and specifically, an author whose writings should reflect a growing Christ-likeness — traces back to my college days at Providence, and a series of articles I had written in our local college paper.
(Yes, I began writing much earlier, in junior high, when I created some forgettable examples of science-fiction. And yes, I had also studied journalism at a local community college in Sarnia ON. But it was at Providence that I first began writing to address Christian issues, from a Christian perspective and for a Christian audience.)
My articles for the college newspaper could be described as “passionate”. In the parlance of greater blogdom, circa the turn of the 21st century, one could also categorize them as “rants”. (Ranting online was considered a mark of being “authentic” back in those days.)

But it was a letter to the editor, after I’d written five or six of my passionate, ranting, un-nuanced and generally caustic opinion pieces, that (choose one):
  1. Rang my bell.
  2. Left me gob-smacked.
  3. Slapped me up-side the head.
  4. Or, in general, got my attention and made me stop and reconsider my approach.
The letter to the editor (which was published for everyone at Prov to see and ponder) was direct and well-crafted — the writer would later enjoy a successful career in broadcast journalism, so it was no surprise that his short screed would be an excellent example of concise communication.

In short, he had no problem with the content of my articles. However, he nailed my hide to the wall over my attitude and tone of writing. As well he should have. I still have copies of those articles in a box somewhere, and my “passionate” writings sure sound like a “resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1), in the sober and objective clarity that hindsight provides.

The sharp rebuttal that I had instinctively begun to craft in my mind, when I first read the letter to the editor, fortunately died a quick and merciful death. I was forced to confront the “why” behind my writing — and realized that my sarcastic, ranting approach was the complete and total antithesis of what I really wanted to accomplish.

I am still passionate about what I write. I have zero desire to publish Christian books just for the sake of writing more Christian books. I hope I will always write from a place of passion and zeal.
And therein lies my greatest challenge: to write graciously of things that I am passionate about.
The Younger & the Elder (and their supporting cast of characters in The Genesis Café), as well as the fictitious members of ‘Charismatics Anonymous’ in Post-Charismatic, have been a great help to me in this regard. Creating characters who interact respectfully with each other is a powerful tool in meeting the challenge.

Salvation has always included the assumption of ongoing discipleship. And discipleship has always included the assumption that all areas of our lives will come increasingly under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Personal morality, business ethics and practices, our approach to justice issues — everything is (and should be) impacted by the simple yet profound statement: “Jesus is Lord”.

Including not just what we write about, but how we write it.