Friday, February 27, 2004


The Kingdom of God for Modern Academia

Jesus spoke to people about the kingdom of God in parables which related to things they understand. The following is an adaptation of the "Parable of the Talents" (Matthew 25:14-30) for an academic setting by Deborah and Loren Haarsma (1996). There are many more parables Jesus said regarding the kingdom of God. You can seek them in the Gospels.

The kingdom of God is like a professor who went off on a long
sabbatical. Before he left, he called together his graduate students
and gave each of them projects to work on; to one he gave five projects,
to another two, and to another one, each according to their ability.
The one who received five projects immediately went to work, designing
experiments, building equipment, and analyzing data. She worked long
and hard, and eventually she achieved good results on each project.
Likewise, the one who received two projects immediately went to work,
and eventually got results as well. But the student who received one
project was easily discouraged, got distracted by her coursework, and
eventually gave up.

After a very long time, the professor returned to settle accounts with
his students. The first student said, "Professor, you gave me these
projects to work on, and see, here are the results." And the professor
answered, "Well done, good and faithful graduate student. You have been
faithful over five projects. You shall be co-author on five
publications and receive a Ph.D! (And you can expect a good letter of
recommendation, too!)" Likewise the second student showed his results,
and the professor said, "Well done, good and faithful student. You have
been faithful over two projects. You will be co-author on two
publications, and receive a Master's degree."

But the third student came and said, "Professor, I know that you are a
harsh man, publishing where you did not labor, and claiming credit where
you did not contribute, and I was afraid. So I kept the lab locked up
and I didn't let anyone borrow any equipment. See, everything is just
the way you left it." Then the professor answered, "You wicked and
slothful graduate student! I will judge you by your own words. So, you
knew that I was a harsh man, publishing where I did not labor, and
claiming credit where I did not contribute; well then, you should have
at least gotten a teaching fellowship so that I wouldn't have had to pay
your salary out of my research grants! Now depart from me and from this
institution ... "

For to everyone who has, more will be given. But to him who has not,
even what little he has will be taken away.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004


Putting First Things First

Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. -- Jesus of Nazareth, Matthew 6:33

Here's a good motivating quote by C. S. Lewis about how we ought to order the pursuits of our lives individually and corporately.

....every preference of a small good to a great, or a partial
good to a total good, involves the loss for the small or
partial good for which the sacrifice was made.  Apparently
the world is made that way.  If Esau really got the pottage
in return for his birthright, then Esau was a lucky

You can't get second things by putting them
first; you can get second things only by putting first things
  From which it would follow that the question,  What
things are first?  is of concern not only to philosophers but
to everyone.

To preserve civilization has been the great aim;
the collapse of civilization, the great bugbear. Peace, a high
standard of life, hygiene, transport, science and amusement -
all these, which are what we usually mean by civilization,
have been our ends. ... Perhaps it can’t be preserved that
way. Perhaps civilization will never be safe until we care for
something else more than we care for it.

... What is the first
thing? The only reply I can offer here is that if we do not
know, then the first, and only practical thing, is to set
about finding out.

-- C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), God in the Dock

Wednesday, February 11, 2004


What is God's Plan?

By Ralph D. Winter

This is an edited version of a portion of "The Story of Our Planet" from noted missiologist and Pasadena local, Ralph D. Winter. I found it very interesting. Maybe you will too.

Our final mystery is what the New Testament actually calls a mystery. It was not supposed to have been a mystery down through Jewish history, since it was made clear to Abraham in Genesis 12:3. This mystery involved a radically different way of looking at things, which was courteously or euphemistically called by Paul a mystery instead of a blind spot. In Luke 24 we note that Jesus went further when he bluntly stated that his hearers ought to have understood what they apparently did not-- that a chosen people was called to be blessed and to be a blessing, to special service not just to survival.

This radically different way of looking at things allows us to understand the appearance of human beings as an additional creation for the specific purpose of restoring what already had been created, this to be done by advancing God's Kingdom (see Romans 8:19-22). Alas, however, through sin, human history has become for the most part a story of human self-aggrandizement rather than conquest of evil. Humans, unlike other animals, have more often fought their own flesh and blood, than worked together to restore God's originally "good" creation. Thus, they have given little attention to fighting the principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this earth. This way of looking at things allows us to recognize in the early pages of the Bible the ingredients of the Great Commission in the call of Abraham and his foretold involvement in the redemption of all the peoples of the world--and even earlier, the mandate to Adam to "replenish" the earth, not progressively extinguish all forms of life.

Yet, the followers of Christ have to a great extent fixated on how, personally, to get to heaven. That has been an attractive emphasis, of course. The Evangelicals have done a bit more than that, in a sense, by setting aside a relatively small part of their hearts, lives and resources to assist others to get to heaven (especially those at the ends of the earth). But their idea continues to be that the advance of the Kingdom consists primarily (and merely) in the rescue of humans not the restoration of a corrupted creation and the defeat of the Evil One who did and is doing that corrupting.

By corruption of creation we must recognize genetic damage (not just "defects") both before and after conception. We must pay greater theological attention to the existence of terribly hostile pathogens, viruses, bacteria, parasites, vicious animals, as well as the cruel, hateful, warlike genocide of whole peoples. Jesus' death on the cross, thus, has been seen as (merely) a tragedy essential to the rescue of humans, not the restoration of creation. For most Evangelicals there is a massive "disconnect" here. When we stop and think about it we can clearly see a monstrous, pervasive, intelligent distortion of creation, but we don't realize how illogical it is to blame all that on God, as some do, instead of attributing it to an intelligent Evil One.

A better explanation for the massive suffering in nature might be what was mentioned already--the possibility that many forms of life at all levels of size and complexity, although earlier created benign, have been distorted into vicious mutations by a skillful, destructive tampering with their DNA by the Evil One and his evil servants (whether human or angelic).

But our disconnect blinds us to the theological significance of the corruption of all creation. We tend significantly to reduce our concerns to the purely immaterial--the emotional and mental-- problems of humans. We let Jewish and secular doctors attend to the problems of disease control. They may at this point, unconsciously or consciously, be operating from a more Biblical theology dented, as ours is, by Augustine's neoplatonism.

The curious truth is a common tendency is not only to allow God to be blamed for all appearance of evil, but to resign ourselves to "not understanding God" when evil appears (e.g., Dobson's book, When God Doesn't Make Sense), thus excluding from our thinking any perception of the instrumentality of intelligent, evil powers. As a result our evangelism would seem to be drastically and unnecessarily enfeebled in so far as it does not portray our God as opposing such things, as well as enlisting us specifically to fight against them. Caltech may be doing a lot of that but not Lake Avenue Church.

This view I am proposing ought not to be construed to involve a presumption of human success in quelling all evil, but at minimum a proposed alignment of human effort with God's purpose to defeat all evil. The important point is that hat kind of alignment will more fully portray to an unbelieving world the true attributes of our God, and thus forever remove a truly major barrier to belief--namely, the artificial and unnecessary question of why a good and all powerful God would sponsor evil in nature and human affairs.

Sunday, February 08, 2004


Learning to Lament

Only a minority of Psalms focus on praise and thanksgiving, accoding to Eugene Peterson, a recent translator of Psalms; perhaps as many as seventy percent take the form of laments. These correspond to the two conditions in which we often find ourselves: well-being and distress.

King David ordered that his people be taught to lament (in 2 Samuel 1).
The lamenting we see in Psalms has little in common with whining and complaining. We whine about things we have little control over; we lament what we believe ought to be changed. No matter how things appear, we can cry out to God, appealing to his ultimate goodness and justice.

Christian psychologist Dan Allender, asks,

To whom do you vocalize the most intense, irrational---meaning inchoate, inarticulate---anger? Would you do so with someone who could fire you or cast you out of a cherished position or relationship? Not likely. You don't trust them---you don't believe they would endure the depths of your disappointment, confusion. . . . The person who hears your lament and far more bears your lament against them, paradoxically, is someone you deeply, wildly trust. . . . The language of lament is oddly the shadow side of faith.

The process of letting God in on every detail of life is one I need to learn from. Somehow, David and the other poets of Psalms managed to make God the gravitational center of their lives so that everything revolves around him. I am trying to make the prayers of the ancient Hebrews my own. The New Testament writers did this, quoting Psalms more than any other book. Jesus himself did this, relying on the language of Psalms to show us how a human being ought to relate to God.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004


Write a Poem of the Wilderness

Of all the creatures both in sea and land

Only to Man thou has made known thy ways,

And put the pen alone into his hand,

And made him Secretary of thy praise.

-- George Herbert

C.S. Lewis once suggested that we might best imagine praise by thinking of our instinctive response to a great work of art or music or extraordinary beauty in any form. The natural response is to enjoy the beauty, and then go announce it to others. "Did you just see that shooting star? It lit up the sky!" "My newborn daughter is so beautiful." "The U2 concert was so moving, it gave me goosebumps."

When the ancient Hebrews encountered something beautiful or majestic, their natural response was not to contemplate the scene or to analyze it, but rather to praise God for it and maybe write a poem. Authors of the psalms, especially David, had an advantage over us in their praise because of their closer tie to the natural world. Reverence for the natural world shines through many of his poems (Psalms 8,
Psalms shows the world as a whole that fits together because a personal God is watching over it.

When I spent my time in the wilderness a few years ago, I was overcome with awe at the Creator's handiwork, overcome with God's grandeur and worthiness. It was something I experienced even as a kid, looking through picture books of the cosmos at beautiful galaxies, mysterious planets, and other celestial exotica. And there I was in the middle of cosmos, on a side of mountain at night, with a meteor shower all around. God put on a show before my senses, and I delighted in his presence.

Wilderness brings us to a level we'd prefer to forget: our creatureliness. It shouts to our senses the splendor of an invisible, untamable God. The world cannot contain the delight God inspires. "Shout for joy to the LORD , all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music" (98:4). Nature herself must join in: "Let the rivers clap their hands,
Let the mountains sing together for joy"(98:8).

In praise, the creature happily acknowledges that everything good and true and beautiful in the universe comes from the Creator. Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggests that the psalms are God's language course. Just as infants learn the mother tongue from their parents, Christians can learn the language of prayer, the language with which one speaks to God, from Psalms.

Worship is the strategy by which we interrupt our preoccupation with ourselves and attend to the presence of God.

-- Eugene Peterson