Sunday, May 22, 2005

On a Christian Mission to the Top

A number of affluent evangelicals are directing their attention and money at some of the tallest citadels of the secular elite: Ivy League universities. Three years ago a group of evangelical Ivy League alumni formed the Christian Union, an organization intended to "reclaim the Ivy League for Christ," according to its fund-raising materials, and to "shape the hearts and minds of many thousands who graduate from these schools and who become the elites in other American cultural institutions."

Read more at On a Christian Mission to the Top (NY Times, registration may be required). If you can't reach the article via that link, click here for the full article (text only).

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Whither Expository Preaching?

In Content & Context: The Books & Culture Weblog Nathan Bierma writes the following:

Someone asked me recently why my wife and I switched churches. "We prefer sermons, not personal essays," I replied. Of course, personalizing potentially rote lectures is essential to good preaching. But over-personalizing is plaguing preaching today, writes Alastair Begg in Preaching for God's Glory. Begg spoke last month at a conference at Covenant Seminary called "Salt in Our Preaching: Back To Basics," and his book was excerpted recently at byFaith Online.

Begg has three basic explanations for the disappearance of expository preaching (and since I was raised on three-point sermons, this approach works for me). First, the church is losing confidence in Scripture; chalk it up to postmodernism and Baby Boomer's distrust of authority. Second, preachers are placing the political allegiances and psychological needs of their congregation ahead of theology. Third, there are few role models for good expository preaching.

My wife and I were schooled on the systematic sermons of the Reformed tradition, so we know the opposite problem Begg identifies: preaching that is "lifeless" and "thoroughly boring." "I never cease to be amazed," Begg says, "by the ingenuity of those who are capable of taking the powerful, life-changing text of Scripture and communicating it with all the passion of someone reading aloud from the Yellow Pages!"

But somewhere between the Yellow Pages and Dr. Phil-type pep talks lies the kind of preaching Gustaf Wingren speaks of, as Begg quotes him: "The passage itself is the voice, the speech of God; the preacher is the mouth and the lips, and the congregation . . . the ear in which the voice sounds." Begg's essay inspires and worshipers to seek this kind of harmony.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

He ascended into heaven…

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.  They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky?  This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:9-10).
Where is heaven?  Do you ever stop to think about it?  The Book of Acts tells us that Jesus ascended into heaven.  But where is heaven?

A friend of mine recently reminded me of a little chapel in Walsingham, England, that depicts the Ascension of Christ.  The ceiling of the chapel is painted like the sky with clouds, and sticking out of one of the clouds on the ceiling you can see a pair of feet!

However much we may believe in the Ascension of Christ, illustrations like this chapel ceiling seem quaint and make us laugh.  Skeptics, however, respond to such depictions by dismissing the reality of the Ascension altogether.  Liberal Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, in his article, “A Call for a New Reformation,” says, “The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.”

Similarly, the late Church of England Bishop, John A.T. Robinson said that because of astronomy and space travel we know that heaven and God aren’t “out there;” the place to look for God and heaven is “within.”  Robinson even cites Luke 17:21, “the kingdom of God is within you," in support of his view.  Well, of course, in context, the kingdom of God is at work in us and through us.  But the tendency of Robinson’s view is toward a pantheism which says that the only place God and heaven are to be found is within the creation and within us.

Cardinal John Henry Newman had a different view, which, to my mind, captures the truth quite well.  Commenting on the biblical passages where Jesus says the kingdom of God is “at hand,” Newman says that the kingdom runs alongside our world and is ever near it, and that someday, when we least expect it, our world will resolve itself into the kingdom of God.

Remember that Newman wrote this 100 years before scientists (and science fiction writers) started telling us about “parallel universes.”  Is the kingdom of God a parallel dimension to our own existence?  Perhaps it is.  That is why there may well be unseen angels hovering around us at this very moment.

Of course it entirely sensible that, for the disciples sake and for ours, Jesus is seen ascending into heaven.  For Jesus simply to have disappeared or faded away would have represented dissolution or annihilation.  Jesus ascends to show us he is going to a place—a place from which he will return—a place that is higher, better than where we are.

So where is heaven?  Is it “out there, somewhere?”  Is it above, below, within, or along side us?  The best answer we have concerning heaven is the promise of Jesus:
In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:2-3).
Heaven is God the Father’s house—the place where Jesus is and where we will someday be with him.  And if heaven is the place where Jesus is, then—wherever it may be—it will be perfect.