Stanton Lanier in Concert – April 12

 

stanton-lanier1ACT3 Network is pleased to present the musical artistry of Stanton Lanier in concert on Saturday, April 12. This event begins at 6:30 p.m. and is free to the public. (A retiring offering will be taken for the artist.) This concert will be hosted by Windsor Park Manor in Carol Stream, Illinois. If you are not a resident of Windsor Park you should register for this event even though there is no charge. Seating is limited. Go to www.act3network.com to register.

The best introduction to Stanton Lanier is to first listen to his music before you listen to his story. Stanton’s stated mission, to offer “peace and rest in a hurried world,” is accomplished through storytelling, but not in words. His stories are told through instrumental melodies on the piano, transporting a global listening audience to that unique interior place that brings peace to each person’s life and circumstances.

You can meet and hear Stanton Lanier at http://www.stantonlanier.com/about-stanton.php.

From his “2011 Best Neo-Classical Album” nomination (ZMR Music Awards) and “2011 Notable Sacred Music” selection (Christianity Today) for A Thousand Years, to his “2009 Best Holiday Album” December Peace (ZMR Music Awards, winning over Enya and Yo-Yo Ma), the words “calming, soothing, and uplifting” have become a universal description by a global listening audience. His mission to offer “peace and rest in a hurried world” is accomplished through instrumental piano, exquisite visuals and captivating stories from his life and music. Some of Stanton’s favorite concert moments are when he interacts with the audience, demonstrating how he composes, and involving them in the creation of a new melody right before their eyes (and ears).

In this April 12 concert Dr. John H. Armstrong, president of ACT3 Network, will introduce his friend Stanton Lanier and speak (briefly) about art, beauty and God’s gift of creation. Dr. Armstrong will also share about the vision of ACT3 and invite friends, both new and old, to share in his vision of unity in Christ and his glorious kingdom.

 

Posted in ACT 3, Music, Personal | 3 Comments/Likes

Ending Modern Slavery – The Global Freedom Network

gfnDespite the endeavors of so many countries and entities global slavery and human trafficking continues to expand. Victims are often hidden from plain view; in places of prostitution, in factories and farms, on fishing boats, in illegal establishments, and in private homes within cities and villages and slums where abject poverty is the norm. It is estimated that 29.8 million people are forced to live in slavery in the world today. This need cries out for an all-out war to end modern slavery. If anyone ought to be at the forefront of ending slavery it ought to be the Christian church.

VATICAN-ITALY-RELIGION-SLAVERYTo eradicate such slavery the Global Freedom Network was launched a few days ago at the Vatican. The GFN aims to eradicate slavery by encouraging governments, businesses, educational and faith institutions to rid their supply chains of slave labor. The goal is to end slavery by 2020. Can this happen? I have no idea but I am sure of this one thing – it cannot happen unless we intentionally try to make it happen.

The Global Freedom Network initiative is the brainchild of billionaire Australian mining magnate Andrew Forrest, who founded the Walk Free Foundation in 2012 to mobilize a grass-roots movement to end slavery.

Andrew Forrest, ranked 270th on Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people, used personal contacts to bring the 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church, 85-million strong Anglican Communion and al-Azhar university in Cairo, the world’s foremost seat of Sunni learning, into partnership with his initiative.

Representatives from all three gathered on Monday. March 17, at the Vatican to sign an agreement to launch the project, which will be based at the Vatican. The GFN will have a chief executive responsible for implementing a five-year business plan. Objectives include getting the G20 nations to condemn modern-day slavery, persuading 50 major corporations to commit to slavery-proofing their supply chains and convincing 160 governments to endorse a seven-year, $100 million fundraising effort to implement anti-slavery programs globally.

A wonderful post on this historic event can be accessed via Huffington Post.

I signed up last week to support this cause as an endorser and encourage my friends to do the same. Visit the GFN at this site.

Posted in ACT 3 | 10 Comments/Likes

Divergent: What To Do With the People Who Do Not Conform

20140321_inq_svrdiv21-aThe much anticipated science-fiction film Divergent opened this weekend to mixed reviews. Divergent is a thrilling action-adventure film set in a world where people are divided into distinct factions based upon human virtues. Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) is warned, via a test given to every sixteen year-old, that she is divergent. This warning means that she will never fit into any one group of the five groups in this post-war culture. When Tris discovers a conspiracy by a faction leader (Kate Winslet) to destroy all divergent’s she must learn to trust in the mysterious Four (Theo James). Four becomes her ally and love-interest (refreshingly without sexual scenes or nudity). Tris and Four must find out what makes being divergent so dangerous to the various “tribes” before it is too late.

Divergent only received a 40% “fresh” rating by the popular movie site Rotten Tomatoes. In spite of this I took the bait and went to see it over the weekend. While it did not have a great script it actually played out rather nicely on the screen. It is filled with action, as you would expect, and some surprises, though not too many. In a much less powerful way it reminded me of The Hunger Games trilogy and the two movies that have been based upon  the best-selling books.

Divergent is based on a young-adult novel by Veronica Roth and opens with a 22nd-century Chicago in what critic Steven Rea calls, “a doomopolis, its skyscrapers patched and appended, its bridges broken, its vacant lots turned to, um, vacant lots. The El still works, although exiting a train may require hurling yourself off while it’s speeding along.” Pretty cool stuff if you live in the Chicago area as I do. The people in the 22nd century are divided into these “tribes” (factions/groups) of which there are five as I said above. These groups all have intriguing names and that work nicely in the film’s storyline. The first is Abegnation, an order of Zen-like folk devoted to serving others. Another is Amity, a group of peace-loving, patient souls (also known as pushovers). Candor is an honest, forthright group. Dauntless consists of the brave, the strong, the protectors and Erudite of the coolly intellectual, the scientists, techies and control freaks.

Tris discovers that she does not fit any of these five factions, thus she is, as the title suggests, a divergent. This is where the fun begins. Divergent is suspenseful and clearly sequel-ready. It fits well with movies like Limitless, The Illusionist and The Hunger Games, however it does not rise to the level of these films in several ways. I recommend it for two reasons: pure fun and the serious question it raises that every society must face: “How do we treat those who do not conform to the various groups and factions which we all tend to think constitute normal life?” Take George Orwell’s 1984 and mix in some action scenes and you get something like Divergent. Some churches, and sub-church groups, could stand to see and discuss the film with profit. I am serious about this idea!

Posted in Film, Personal, The Future | 1 Comment/Like

The Divine Interpretation of Christ’s Death

twelve-thumbAs I have been working my way through writing the first draft of my book, Our Love Is Too Small, I have confessed that nothing draws us more deeply into the love of God than the death of Christ “for our sins.” I have also suggested that theories of the atonement often get in the way of our experiencing the death of Christ at the very core of our soul.

A friend suggested last week that I read a chapter in the famous A.B. Bruce book, The Training of the Twelve (1871), and see what he had to say about the death of Christ and the love of God. In a chapter titled “In Memoriam; Or, Fourth Lesson on the Doctrine of the Cross,” A.B. Bruce says:

Besides commemorating Christ’s death (“This do in remembrance of me”), the rite of the Supper is used to interpret the Lord’s death. He says the eucharist throws important light on the meaning of the solemn event. The institution of this symbolic feast was in fact the most important contribution made by Jesus during his personal ministry to the doctrine of the atonement through the sacrifice of himself (356).

Besides all the words that our Lord spoke Bruce argues that this meal would allow the twelve to conceive of the redemptive character of his death more than any single thing he did. We are, says Bruce, accustomed to explaining the Lord’s Supper by the death rather than by explaining the death by the Supper. I found that statement immensely helpful. If we imagine ourselves in the time and place of the twelve we will be more likely to better understand the significance of the Supper.

The fact that the Lord’s Supper commemorates the Lord’s death plainly fixes our eyes on Calvary. It is a “monument” to Jesus because of his death, which was not just any death. But why should his death be singled out in this manner? Did Jesus merely want us to remember his death and thereby have our feelings stirred up or a tear come to our eyes now and then?

Jesus meant, by this Supper, that his disciples would understand his death henceforth and forever as the inauguration of the new covenant. Jesus means for us to understand how much God’s love actually means for us – it cost him the beloved Son’s life in order to complete this radical display of love he had for the whole world (cf. John 3:16-17).

The key to understand this, says A.B. Bruce, is to realize that this commemorative celebration has at the center of it our Lord’s words: “This is my body, given for you,” and “This is my blood shed for you.” His blood was shed for the remission of sins. But Bruce errs, I believe, when he says that this blood was shed to “purchase forgiveness of a moral debt.” (This is one of the theories of the atonement at work and one I will try to show misses the intent of the death of Christ at its heart!) I do believe that he is right in saying that forgiveness is clearly connected to this remembrance but the problem is in this phrase “moral debt.” Who is paid and why? Is the honor of God the real issue, or perhaps it is simply the legal requirement of paying God, the devil or someone else? All of this is what I find less than convincing as I study this subject every single day.

Bruce suggests that after his death there would be no more sacrifice needed but rather a “thank offering” would follow Christ’s “once for all” sacrifice. (I think he is right but even this needs serious exploration.) “We may well drink of this cup with thankfulness and joy; for the ‘new covenant’ (new, yet far older than the old), of which it is the seal, is in all respects well ordered and sure.” Bruce then rightly says:

Then this economy serves well the interest of divine love, as it gives that love a worthy career, and free scope to display its magnanimous nature, in bearing the burden of the sinful and the miserable. . . . If by faith in Christ be understood merely belief in the opus operatum of a vicarious death, the power of such a faith to elevate is more than questionable. But when faith is taken in its true scriptural sense, as implying not only belief in a certain transaction, the endurance of death by one for others, but also, and more especially, hearty appreciation of the spirit of the deed and the Doer, then its purifying and ennobling power is beyond all question. “The love of Christ constraineth me;” and “I am crucified with Christ,” as the result of such faith (361-62).

He died not as a martyr for righteousness but “as a Redeemer for the unrighteous” (362). Without the death the forgiveness would cost the forgiver nothing. It would have been a cold transaction. “We must feel that our forgiveness has cost the Forgiver much in order to love him much” (362). These insights are sound I think.

Bruce further says:

When the catholic Christian thinks of the tears, agonies, bloody sweat, shame, and pain endured by the Redeemer, of his marred vision, broken heart, pierced side, lacerated hands and feet, his bosom burns with devoted love. The story of the passion opens up all the fountains of feeling; and by no other way than the via dolorosa could Jesus have ascended the throne of people’s hearts (362-63).

Bruce says that the “government of God is carried on in the interest of Holy Love” (363). This is the central thesis of my work on God’s love. God ‘s love is always holy and his holiness is always moved by who he is in his great love for the whole world.

But the Lord’s Supper is not only taken to remind us of what Christ did to save us but also to nourish us as the Paschal Lamb who is eaten at the table. Jesus taught his disciples that his “crucified humanity [was/is] the bread of God for the life of their souls. We must eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of man spiritually by faith, as we eat and rink the win literally with the mouth” (365). Do not read the words “spiritually by faith” here as if this is bare commemoration. It is much, much more. It is mystery and I believe the language of sacrament alone fits the mystery.

As often as we celebrate this meal of thanksgiving (eucharist) we are to contemplate Christ “as the food of our souls in this comprehensive sense” (365). Thus Bruce concludes:

This, then, is what we have learned from the monumental stone. The Lord’s Supper commemorates the Lord’s death; points out that death as an event of transcendent importance; sets it forth, indeed, as the ground of our hope for the pardon of sin; and finally exhibits Christ the Lord, who died on the Cross, as all to us which our spirits need for heath and salvation – our mystic bread and wine. This rite, instituted by Jesus on the night on which He was betrayed, He meant to be repeated not merely by the apostles, but by His believing people in all ages till He came again. So we learn from Paul; so we might have inferred, apart from any express information. An act so original, so impressive, so pregnant with meaning, so helpful to faith, once performed, was virtually an enactment. In performing it, Jesus said in effect: “Let this become a great institution, a standing observance in the community to be called by my Name” (366).

Posted in Biblical Theology, Christ/Christology, Jesus, Love, Sacraments, The Church | 15 Comments/Likes

God’s Plan of Salvation Is One

UnknownThe cornerstone of the Christian faith is expressed in the Shema. In Hebrew the text of the Shema is only six words, but in English it reads: “Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” The Shema is said at least twice daily by observant Jews. It is the first portion of Scripture that a Jewish child learns. When it is said in the synagogue, Orthodox Jews pronounce each word carefully and cover their eyes with their right hand. The complete Shema is recorded in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. It consists of three parts linked together in a complete unity.

In Mark’s Gospel we read an account from the ministry of our Lord:

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength’” (Mark 12:28-30, NRSV)

Rabbi Jesus not only recited the Shema but he explained his kingdom in terms that were plainly built upon this truth. The cornerstone of Christian truth is that there is one God, not three. We confess one God who is revealed to us as Father, Son and Spirit. God is not a committee of three divine beings!

As I work my way afresh through the biblical teaching on divine love, I have been struck again and again by the many theories that we have embraced that implicitly deny the oneness of God. For example, if we teach that the Son died to make a payment to the Father so as to remove his wrath against us and our sin then we implicitly, and maybe unwittingly, deny the oneness of God. In most evangelical contexts this idea of the Son being sacrificed because of the Father’s wrath against our sin is equated with “the gospel” itself. One reason (and there are several) for rejecting this idea is that it posits a faulty understanding of God. Oddly, we teach that God demands a payment for our sins even though he teaches us to forgive others without any payment at all.  We teach that the Son says, in effect, “Father I will go and pay for the sins of humanity by becoming a perfect sacrifice. Pour your wrath out upon me Father.” The Father demands satisfaction in this thinking. Jesus provides it. We accept it and thus we receive a once-for-all-time  “get out of jail free” card called salvation. Salvation is not rooted in the love of the one God but in the odd way we construct a legal concept of the atonement and then call this THE gospel.

The truth of this matter seems to be altogether different to me. Our salvation is just not this schizophrenic. It originates in the very heart of God the Father. John 3:16 plainly says that God loved the world. The longer I read the theology of John the less I believe that we have understood the depth and greatness of the love of the triune God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If the Father “so loved” the world that he gave his Son then that doesn’t sound like a wrathful Father punishing his one and only Son because he demands satisfaction. It sounds much more like a rescue project planned by a loving God to save/rescue those he loves.

There is no greater theme in all the universe than this–God loves us and thus continues to do everything necessary to save us if we would only flee to his open, loving arms for forgiveness and salvation.

[This blog appeared in a slightly different form as part of the ACT3 Weekly on Monday, March 17, 2014. If you would like to read these posts please go to ACT3 Network site and sign up for the ACT3 Weekly.

 

Posted in American Evangelicalism, Biblical Theology, Christ/Christology, God's Character, Gospel/Good News, The Church | 12 Comments/Likes

Bible Reading or Bible Engaging?

UnknownMy own tradition puts a lot of emphasis upon reading the Bible, even reading it each day as a part of morning devotional practice. I heard about Bible reading from as far back as I can remember. I also read the Bible at the breakfast and dinner table with my family. As soon as I was old enough to read the Bible for myself I delighted in reading the text. I was given my first Bible, which I still possess, at age six. My mother’s inscription reminds me of the supreme value that we placed upon Scriptures in our family and church.

It is often shocking to people with my background to realize that for centuries, before movable type and the printing press, almost no Christians “read” the Bible. Christians in the early church did not “read” the Bible either. Most of them only “heard” it read and most of the time they only heard the Old Testament until centuries after Pentecost. This is why 1 Timothy 4:13 says: “Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture (i.e. the Old Testament), to exhorting, to teaching.” A faithful leader in the early church was supposed to read and teach the Scriptures publicly. This was an oral culture and this is how people heard the gospel and learned the faith.

Even today the overwhelming majority of Christians in the world hear the Bible in this same way. You will quickly realize this when you minister in some of the places where I have served among non-literate people. At best there is one reader in a village who can read the Bible to others who will gather to hear it read aloud for all.

Why do I say this? Because in the West we are undergoing a serious change in how we hear and read the Bible as well. Not only do many of us process the Scripture in wholly new ways but fewer Americans are actually reading the Bible than ever before. Pew Research recently said that 700 Americans per day cease to engage with the reading of the Bible. Think about this data – almost 5,000 people per week drop out on Bible reading.

Old-NewThis all raises an important question. Do people who read the Bible actually engage with its message at a deep and transforming level? I believe the answer is quite clearly no but I do not have a large amount of data to back this up, only a lifetime of experience and a lot of anecdotal evidence.

Here is another question: Do we produce Bible readers who understand what they are reading and who engage with the central message of the Bible at deepest level of their mind and soul? Somehow the transformative Bible reading experience must be recovered and at the same time we must learn to teach without reading being our only method. And before you assume that only readers can understand the message of the Bible try that idea on people groups in non-literate cultures and you will soon see just how unwise your conclusion really is.

Am I suggesting that we discourage reading the Bible? Not at all. I am suggesting that we must uncover whole new ways to engage with the story the Bible reveals so that lives are being transformed by the message of Christ. I am quite convinced that we are not doing this well in the present church context. This is even true where pastors still “preach from the text of the Bible” every week. I find many people listen to sermons and never truly go deep in their walk with Christ. They think they have the message “down pat” and the preaching merely rearranges their bias. Preaching the Bible is clearly not a “silver bullet” as I was taught as a young beginning minister in the 1960s. The sooner that we realize this the better our preaching will become and the more we will seek for new ways to encounter the Word of Christ in the real life of people. We need to engage with Holy Scripture all over again if we are to see deep renewal and reformation today.

Posted in American Evangelicalism, Biblical Theology, Culture, Current Affairs, Discipleship, Education, Personal, Scripture, The Future | 20 Comments/Likes

Missional-Ecumenism in Early 20th Century India

Bishop_AzariahaBishop Vedanayagam Samuel Azariah (August 17, 1874 – January 1, 1945), simply known as V. S. Azariah, was an Indian Anglican bishop. He was also a very important pioneer of Christian ecumenism in India. Azariah became the first Indian bishop in the churches of the Anglican Communion when he was consecrated in the diocese of Dornakal, December 1912. Interestingly, he was considered by Gandhi to be postcolonial India’s “Enemy Number One” because he followed Jesus first, not the politics and culture of the West.

Like so many young men in his era Azariah was converted to faith in Christ through the work of the YMCA. He became a YMCA evangelist before he was made a bishop in 1912. From 1895-1909 he was the general secretary of the YMCA in south India. He came to believe that indigenization was central to the fruitful ministry of Christianity in his native country. Azariah saw that the very mission of the Church should be an expression of its unity. (This is what I mean by the term missional-ecumenism in my book, Your Church Is Too Small.) This is why he took a leading role in negotiations for Church reunion in India. These efforts were not fulfilled in his lifetime but through the efforts of many, including the greatest missionary of them all, Lesslie Newbigin. These efforts resulted in the inauguration of the Church of South India in 1947, two years after his death. Newbigin became the first bishop of this united church.

Speaking to the landmark World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh (1910) Azariah connected love and friendship in a way that appeals very deeply to me because of the work that I am doing on my book on love.

Bishop Azariah said:

Through all the ages to come, the Indian Church will rise up in gratitude to attest the heroism and self-denying labors of the missionary body. You have given your goods to feed the poor. You have given your bodies to be burned. [but...] We ask for LOVE. Give us FRIENDS. (World Missionary Conference, vol. 9:  To Consider Missionary Problems in Relation to the Non-Christian World, 315).

 

Posted in ACT 3, Love, Missional-Ecumenism | 5 Comments/Likes

Friendship, Mentors and Divine Love

images-2Someone recently wrote to me about relationships – comparing the various kinds of human relationships we have in terms of our different kinds of friends; including our peers and mentors/mentees.

The dictionary says that a friend is a person known well to another and generally regarded with liking, affection, and loyalty; an intimate. It may also include an ally in a cause, or an associate. I think most of us have three kinds of friends. We generally have a few people who constitute a small group of our intimate friends who become very, very close to us. This may, on one level, include only three or four people, perhaps a few more. These people share life with us at the deepest level through bonds of affection that are without sexual overtones in any sense of the word. The second kind of friendship is one that I personally enjoy with scores of people, maybe even a hundred or more if I stop and count. These are friends that I regularly communicate with via meals, telephone and the social media. I love to hang out with these friends and “catch up” on what we are doing, how we are learning, what God has taught us, what has happened in our lives since we last spoke, etc. Finally, it seems to me, there is a third circle of friends which includes hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people. These are those people that we know by meeting them in person or via the social network. We recognize one another, pray for each other, care for the other and even pray when we remember to do so. We enjoy being with such people, even having numbers of them around us now and then, and count them as a part of what our modern society calls “our social network.” We try to stay in contact with these friends, as much as possible, and we will generally see them from time-to-time. It is here, so I think, that the social media serves an even greater role in modern life.

UnknownSome of my friendships/relationships are peer-to-peer. This is usually with someone in the same life stage, or someone who is in a similar position of leadership and shares many of my interests and needs. The purpose of these relationships, scripture says, is for iron to sharpen iron (Proverbs 27:17). In these relationships you will share mutually, teach mutually and advise mutually. This is a different way to understand friendship in the modern social context.

Other relationships are what we properly call mentor/mentee relationships. These are generally teaching relationships, where one person (the mentor) is in a position that the other (the mentee) desires to be in through experience and learning. The purpose of this relationship is primarily for teaching and learning. One listens, asks questions, pays attention, and solicits wisdom. The other teaches, admonishes, advises (but rarely, if ever, confesses or asks for guidance in return).

Unknown-2Having made a valid distinction between mentors/mentees, I believe this distinction can be, and very often is, overblown by excessive use of categories. I have more than a few mentor/mentee relationships that are also deep friendships. I think too sharp a distinction here is not always warranted. It might be me but I approach my younger friends in dual roles, as both mentor and true friends, though they are not friends in the same way as people closer to my age and life experience. But in reality, some younger adults are as dear to me as many of my older friends. They are like adult children (I mean this in the most affectionate of ways) and yet they are my peers in another extremely important way.

The truth is that I hardly ever think about these categories as they have been defined and described. I just think of the blessings of all my growing friendships and how important these are to me as a Christian. If I complete my book on love I have another book in mind and it is on friendship. (That is a few years down the road I feel sure!)

The Free Dictionary (online) reveals the historical development of the word friend. I find this very interesting.

A friend is, quite literally, a lover. The relationship between the Latin amīcus “friend” and amō “I love” is clear, as is the relationship between Greek philos “friend” and phileō “I love.” In English, though, we have to go back a millennium before we see the verb related to friend. At that time, frēond, the Old English word for “friend,” was simply the present participle of the verb frēon, “to love.” The Germanic root behind this verb is *frī-, which meant “to like, love, be friendly to.” Closely linked to these concepts is that of “peace,” and in fact Germanic made a noun from this root, *frithu-, meaning exactly that. Ultimately descended from this noun are the personal names Frederick, “peaceful ruler,” and Siegfried, “victory peace.” The root also shows up in the name of the Germanic deity Frigg, the goddess of love, who lives on today in the word Friday, “day of Frigg,” from an ancient translation of Latin Veneris diēs, “day of Venus.”

If friendship is rooted in divine love, as it should be for a Christian, then such friendship is the highest expression of true love between humans. Sexuality has little or nothing to do with this kind of relationship. My wife is my dearest friend but I share deep friendships with many other people. No one has more of my heart than my wife but others share a part of me that is different from my relationship with her and this makes me more whole. (I believe she has friends like this in her life as well.)

All of this provides the rich texture with which I read a text like John 15:12-17:

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another (NRSV).

Posted in Friendship, Love, Personal | 6 Comments/Likes

Visions of Vocation

UnknownAuthor Steven Garber wrote one of those rare modern books that I have read twice. Some years ago I developed an answer that I cleverly gave to folks who, upon seeing my immense library (before I sold nearly 15,000 books over the last few years), would gasp at my floor-to-ceiling library shelves and ask me, “Have you read all of these?” I calmly answered, “I’ve read some of them twice.” This was true. Hoping I could read them all was only a pipe dream but unless pressed hard I did not admit to that until I gave up reading them all in my late 50s and realized I should break up the Armstrong collection sooner than later.

Steven Garber’s book, The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior (IVP), was one of those books that I actually did read twice. It is a truly magnificent book. I recommend it to everyone who reads this blog.

Steven Garber taught for many years on Capitol Hill in the American Studies Program and then became scholar-in-residence for the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities. He serves as a board member for some of the most interesting ministries I know: Ransom Fellowship, A Rocha and the Telos Project. He is also a consultant for the Wedgwood Circle, the Murdock Trust, the Demdaco Corporation and the Mars Corporation. Steven combines that rare ability to think philosophically but to respond in ways that touch ordinary people and change lives. He is a clear, compelling and brilliant writer. I cannot recommend his written material too highly.

3666Steven Garber’s newest book, Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (IVP), poses what the author believes to be a difficult dilemma for all serious human beings who think deeply: “What will you do with what you know?” In some way this is the THE question that we must all eventually face at different times and in differing contexts.

How do we keep our eyes fixed on the complexity of our broken world, especially since the 1980s, and then choose to engage with it in a deeply Christian way? Hannah Arendt used the word banality to describe the ordinariness of man. But Garber believes it is ordinary people living in uncommonly good ways that produce extraordinary life.

Garber writes of taking students to the Holocaust Museum in Washington for many years. (If you have not been then I highly recommend it. It is one of the five most important museums in America!) Steven says that as he walked his students through the museum he told the story of the “banality of evil” in the lives of countless men and women all over Europe. These people (and not all were Germans by any stretch of the imagination) did not see themselves as implicated in the world around them. In the words of Simone Weil these people did not see their neighbors as neighbors. They failed to pay attention to what Nazism really meant for Europe and the world and their thoughtlessness became a tragic summary of Arendt’s judgment about banality.

But Garber believes such banality goes both ways. If most of Europe was Eichmann-like, offering “the obedience of corpses” in thousands of terrible ways, there were marvelous exceptions. In every nation of Europe there were people, ordinary to most of those around them, who did the extraordinary thing and chose to truly love their neighbors. This story raises another important question for Garber: “Can we know and love the world at the same time? Knowing its glories and shames, can we still choose to love what we really do know? Is there any task more difficult than that?”

Garber believes that the sociological and philosophical questions of our modern world conspire to haunt us. One reason for this is the “info-glut character of contemporary culture” as we know it.

In a typically moving bit of prose Garber writes:

Responding to the critique of postmodernism–a word that [Walker] Percy was using as early as the 1960s to explain the soul-strained character of contemporary life–makes most of us wonder whether anything is every really true for everyone all the time. We do not need to read the philosophers to understand this. As the twentieth century has become the twenty-first, the air we breathe is full of the ether of “whatever” (Chapter Tw0).

Knowing what I now know about this world what am I going to do about it as a responsible Christian thinker who lives well and seeks to act in obediential faith? Garber answers this question as well as any, and I do mean any, modern Christian writer.

I am grateful to say that I met Steven Garber at Wheaton College about two years ago. My respect for him as a writer is now only exceeded by my respect for him as a person. He is a wonderful man and has an important message that everyone who reads my words, and respects my ideas, should hear. I highly recommend this wonderful new book. It is an “instant classic” for me.

Posted in Apologetics, Books, Culture, Current Affairs, Discipleship, Ethics, Ideology, Kingdom of God, Philosophy, The Future | 24 Comments/Likes

Bishop Tony Palmer and Pope Francis on Christian Unity

tonypalmer-300x164The recent informal video of Pope Francis, made on a smartphone by the British charismatic Anglican bishop Tony Palmer, has now become a viral phenomenon. The seven-minute greeting by Pope Francis, seen by millions of viewers, called upon all Christians to set aside their differences to pursue a deep “longing” for Christian unity.

I prayed for this January 14 private meeting @ the Vatican in early January when Bishop Palmer asked some friends to privately pray for this one-to-one meeting. I also knew that the first airing of the video would be at the Kenneth Copeland Ministries center in Texas. I privately expressed my concerns about this “context” to Tony but when he explained his friendship with Copeland, and his relationship with Pope Francis, I knew that he was right in what he did and why he did it in this context.

As you will see in the now-edited version of this presentation, made available last week by Bishop Palmer, the pope urges all Christians to put aside their divisions and to pray that the Lord “will unite us.” Francis says, “We should move forward. We are brothers. We should give each other a spiritual embrace and open ourselves to letting the Lord complete the work he started.” The pontiff adds, “I never saw the Lord start a miracle without finishing it. And he will finish this miracle of Christian unity.” The pope concluded, “Who is at fault? (For our myriad divisions.) All of us are. We are all sinners. There is only one who is right, and that is our Lord.”

One of the most remarkable things about this video is the informality of the presentation. Most things done at the Vatican are never released in such an informal way and certainly through a single person who released the pope’s words to a charismatic conference in Texas. Generally the Vatican press office, or some other official agency, handles all such presentations. They are crafted and edited carefully, for very good reason.

So far as I can tell no Pope has ever sent an impromptu video message that shared his greetings with a Pentecostal conference in the United States, much less anywhere else. Many Argentinian evangelicals already know that the Pope’s bold step is consistent with his character as a Catholic bishop.  For many years, Archbishop Bergoglio of Buenos Aires entertained close friendships with leading charismatic Christians, some of whom I have had the joy of knowing in recent years.   In 2006, at a large gathering of Catholics and evangelicals a number of leading evangelicals laid hands on the cardinal in public prayer. This was so surprising, indeed shocking, that my good friend in Argentina sent me an article that appear in the Argentinian Catholic magazine Cabildo. In it a story is reported under a heading that called the Archbishop apostate (apostate). This widely known controversy in his native country did not stop Bergoglio’s enthusiasm for reaching out to evangelicals as this new video makes abundantly clear. I am inclined to believe that few people, Catholic and non-Catholic, understand the power of this gesture and where it might lead us in coming days.

Tony Palmer sent me an email two weeks ago with a link to his now edited version of this presentation to the Copeland Ministries gathering. This includes his interview with Pope Francis. This new video appears on Tony’s Ark Community website. I have included it here with the hope that many of you, my friends and fellow missional-ecumenists, will watch this thirty-three minute address and marvel at the power of the words spoken as well as the manner in which they are spoken in both tone and context. Do I agree with everything spoken here? Not at all. What I am profoundly moved by is this – after nearly 500 years we are finally talking openly about how the Spirit is bringing us together. And this pope is responding to missional-ecumenism in ways unheard of before. I have to wonder how this movement will continue to grow since it is not limited to formal decrees, councils and previous church responses to some of the very issues that have divided us for so long. True missional-ecumenism will not walk way from what is true and right but it will always pursue what is true by seeking to remain in the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace.

Posted in ACT 3, Current Affairs, Missional-Ecumenism, Roman Catholicism, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 10 Comments/Likes