Resources I’ll be using for 1 John

Hey Bloomaloomers –

Happy Monday to you!

1 John started last night.  If you missed it, do check out the audio over here later on today (Chuck, one of our most faithful sound guys and the fella responsible for sermon audio each week, usually posts the messages late in the day on Mondays.)

One of the things we’re hoping to get better at as a congregation in the weeks and months to come is providing more educational resources for you to grow in your faith and understanding of the world, etc etc.  In other words, giving you things that you can take BEYOND the Sunday gathering and wrestle with on your own.  Maybe some “book of the month” type stuff that we put at the info table in the back, devotional resources, book lists/recommended reading, etc etc.  Things like that.

So as a first gesture towards that, I thought I might clue you in on a couple of the resources I’LL be using as I wrestle and preach my way through 1 John.  Contrary to what you may think, I do not make up all the stuff I preach on Sunday nights on my own.  (Well, some of it I do.)  I don’t just look at the Bible and receive heavenly inspiration straight out of the clouds.  The process is much more “human” than that.

And one of the biggest parts of the “human” process is sitting down with trusted “friends” who know the Bible better than me, have wrestled with the books much more deeply than I have, and have really, REALLY good things to say.

Those “friends” are normally a couple commentaries.  Often, they point out nuances in the text that I would have missed, or help solve riddles in a way I never would have thought of.  Their insights bring the text to life for me, and then I try to bring the text to life for you.  And mind you, I don’t always AGREE with them.  In fact, I often try to pick commentators that I know either I will tend to disagree with, or, even better and in addition to that, will disagree with EACH OTHER at certain points so that I can actually see what the issues at stake are.  Doing so challenges my thinking.  It’s an exercise in loving God with all my mind.

That said, here are the commentaries I’ll be reading through as I work through this series.  I’ll give a short description of each and a link to Amazon where you can check them out further.  If you’re so inclined, I’d encourage you to buy one or more and read with me.  These commentaries are written by three really stellar mid-late 20th century New Testament scholars.

1) John R. W. Stott, The Letters of John, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries.  Stott, who passed away last year, was and is a trusted “evangelical” voice in both the pastoral world and the world of New Testament scholarship.  His writing is a reflection of that.  Love for Jesus, love for the Bible, love for the people of God.  This commentary is written to be accessible to the thoughtful layperson and scholar alike.  Not super technical, but not a “light” treatment of the text either.  $11 or so on Amazon.

2) I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John, New International Commentary on the New Testament.  I ran into Marshall’s work for the first time when I was in seminary and really appreciated it.  Another great evangelical scholar, Marshall is a committed Arminian (different from the other two guys), and (so I am told) wrestles with the text as an Arminian.  Can’t wait to get into this one.  The NICNT series is geared more for the scholar than the layperson (lots of footnotes, some technical talk on Greek, etc), but I think it will still be a profitable read for someone who really wants to wrestle with the text.  Some used ones for around $15 or so on Amazon.

3) F. F. Bruce, The Gospel and Epistles of JohnBruce was a mountain of a man in terms of his scholarship in the 20th century.  His Hebrews commentary was my primary conversation partner when I worked through Hebrews earlier this year.  Thoroughly enjoyable.  Like Stott’s commentary, this one is written to be accessible to the layperson, and it shows.  In addition, this one includes his thoughts on the GOSPEL of John as well, so I think it’ll be fun to compare what’s going on in the epistle with the gospel, via Bruce’s thoughts.  Some used ones for around $10 or so on Amazon.

So there you have it.  Get one, or all three, or none.  Should be a fun series either way 🙂

Grace and peace to you Bloom family.

Andrew

Get to know (like super quick) David Bentley Hart

All right… I’m like REAL busy right now so I have to keep this short.

Every so often you run into a book or an author that absolutely rocks your world and takes his or her place at the top of your “awesome” list.  That just happened to me again, and for it I am grateful.  I love running into a new “mind” to respect and who’s work I can really enjoy.

Let me introduce you to David Bentley Hart.  I ran into Hart’s work through the blog of Roger E. Olsen and a review that Olsen wrote of Hart’s book “Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies” a little more than a month ago.  (Click here for that post.)  Hart is an Eastern Orthodox theologian, philosopher, historian, cultural commentator… you name it… and is regarded by many as one of America’s finest theological minds.

In brief – I concur.

Rarely do you find someone with as broad and deep (and integrated!) an understanding of dogmatic and historical theology, Western history, the arts, sociology and culture, philosophy and metaphysics, etc., as Hart.  His level of erudition is really shocking.  Not only that, but its hard to find someone who writes with Hart’s style.  At once dense and, quite often, beautiful, Hart does things with words that most of us writers only dream of.  Just amazing.

But even more impressive – and to the point about the book, Atheist Delusions – rarely, at any level of Christian literature, do you meet someone who’s combination of erudition and eloquence makes it possible for them to brush away the (sometimes imposing) arguments of folks from the New Atheist camp as though they were a bunch of ranting, uneducated junior highers.

And yet, that is EXACTLY what Hart does in this book.  The basic argument of the book runs like this:

  • The New Atheist camp’s core claim is that religion (particularly the ethical monotheist brand, and even more particularly, Christianity) has been and is currently responsible for the world’s worst evils
  • That being the case, and since religion is entirely logically incoherent to boot, religion should be forsaken in favor of a pure scientific rationalism in the service of a brighter tomorrow for humanity
  • These arguments (and the books that contain them) gain traction in our culture largely because MOST people are entirely ignorant of the ACTUAL fact of the impact that Christianity made on Western civilization when it did erupt upon it back in the first century…
  • When one does in fact look at the history, it is clear that far from suppressing reason, science, human rights, and the like, Christianity actually provided the fertile soil out of which these things flourished (his look at the history is quite stunning on this point) – it ACTUALLY DID create a “new humanity”, and we all are the beneficiaries of it.  It was and remains the greatest ACTUAL “revolution” in human history.
  • A crucial reason that we are unable to SEE that impact is that we live in the world that that impact DID create… in other words, you can’t see the forest when you’re in it – at least if no one reminds you that you’re living in a forest (as opposed to a desert or a prison)
  • And if and when Christianity DOES recede from Western culture at large, there is no logical reason to suppose that our civilization will not descend either into banality (best case scenario) or barbarism (worst case scenario)

I really, REALLY wish I could go into more detail.  But I can’t.  Hart’s work felt to me like a combination of G. K. Chesterton’s “Everlasting Man” (particularly in how he tells the story of Christianity’s impact on Western Civ) and C. S. Lewis’s “The Abolition of Man” (particularly in his analysis of what happens when the human will gets finally unmoored from transcendent values), written for an audience living during the waning of Christianity’s influence upon Western culture – the 21st century.

I cannot recommend Atheist Delusions more highly.  Tough sledding in certain parts.  But incredibly rewarding. A “taster” for you as I close this entry:

The ambition to refashion humanity in its very essence–social, political, economic, moral, psychological–was inconceivable when human beings were regarded as creatures of God.  But with the disappearance (following the Enlightenment) of the transcendent, and of its lure, and of its authority, it becomes possible to will a human future conformed to whatever ideals we choose.  This is why it is correct to say that the sheer ruthlessness of so much of post-Christian social idealism in some sense arises from the very same concept of freedom that lies at the heart of our most precious modern values…The most pitilessly and self-righteously violent regimes of modern history–in the West or in those other quarters of the world contaminated by our worst ideas–have been those that have most explicitly cast off the Christian vision of reality and sought to replace it with a more “human” set of values.  No cause in history–no religion or imperial ambition or military adventure–has destroyed more lives with more confident enthusiasm than the cause of the “brotherhood of man,” the postreligious utopia, or the progress of the race.  To fail to acknowledge this would be to mock the memory of all those millions that have perished before the advance of secular reason in its most extreme manifestations. (pp107-108)

Enjoy.

“Fear God and Keep His Commandments – This is Essence of Being Human”: 16 Declarations from a Creature Cognizant that He Will Live Forever

Life is full of serendipity.  The (rather haphazard) decision made earlier this summer to preach through a book that had long been a favorite of mine, Ecclesiastes, has turned out to be exactly that.  Something about this book really struck a chord with many in our community (both near and far – to my surprise and delight, I got a lot of response from our listenership around the country, whom we count as “the community beyond the community”), and for that I have been incredibly grateful.

All good things must come to an end, as they say, and so last night I preached the last of 15 messages on Ecclesiastes, trying to tie a nice bow on a fairly “enigmatic” book.  Throughout Qohelet’s work (“Qohelet” is the Hebrew title for the book, and it basically means something like “The Teacher”), two themes have sat side-by-side, juxtaposed, as it were, without any apparent resolution: all of life is vapor, on the one hand, and yet we are called to rejoice and celebrate, on the other.  How these things fit together as we live out this enigmatic existence “under the sun” has not been altogether clear.

But that has been because, to a certain extent, Qohelet has been withholding.  As the book draws to a close, the Teacher opens up for us a horizon BEYOND “the sun”:

Remember him (your Creator)—before the silver cord is severed,
and the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
and the wheel broken at the well,
and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

And then later:

13 Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
14 For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil. (Eccl 12)

Several weeks ago, a friend of mine (who’s been following the series closely and really enjoying it) asked me, “So do you think Qohelet believes in the afterlife?”  At the time, based on where we were in the series and forgetting what was to come in the book, I wasn’t completely sure.  But, in my opinion, chapter 12 leaves no doubt.  That which is lived “under the sun” is NOT the whole story.  Our bodies will one day, one way or another, crumble.  The silver cord will be severed, the golden bowl will be broken, and the spirit will return to the One who gave it.  And then, the whole of our history, who we were, what we became, what we did, will stand before God.  As one commentator put it:

What returns to God is a spirit fitted out with the person’s whole known or hidden history… That is, the person enters into the fullness of life, with everything that his life has been.  The breath brings with it the entire history of that particular, unique person who has lived his life in God’s presence.”

At the outset of his work, Qohelet asked, “What does main gain from all his labor with which he toils under the sun?” (1:3)  In the immediate context of the chapter, the answer was pretty clear: absolutely nothing.  Now, however, with chapter 12’s perspective in mind, we may revise our answer:

Question – What does a man gain from all his labor?
AnswerA fitness for everlasting communion with God.

Seen in this way, Ecclesiastes reads something like the Christian classic Pilgrim’s Progress… everything we experience has the character of a test designed to chisel and shape… not unlike the wilderness wanderings of Israel…

Ch 1 – How will we handle the challenge of the (seemingly) endless cycles of life?
Ch 2 – How will we handle the challenges of pleasure, wisdom, and work?
Ch 3 – How will we handle the challenge of limited knowledge?
Ch 4 – How will we handle the challenge of community and social life?
Ch 5 – How will we handle the challenge of our tongues?
Ch 5/6 – How will we handle the challenges of wealth?
Ch 7/9 – How will we handle the challenge of certain death?
Ch 7 – How will we handle the challenge of our own moral incapacity?
Ch 8 – How will we handle the challenges of corrupt authority and a corrupt “system”?
Ch 9 – How will we handle the challenge of living in a morally upside-down world?
Ch 10 – How will we handle the challenge adapting to reality, even when it is enigmatic?
Ch 11 – How will we handle the challenge of uncertainty?

Will we… throw in the towel and cave into the twistedness?
Will we… cower in fear or take the coward’s way out by trying to avoid it all?
Or will we… fear God and keep his commandments, right in the midst of the “havel”, knowing that…

All of Life is a crucible… and we are being prepared, whether we realize it or not, for an unending existence in God’s world… as C.S. Lewis so famously put it in “The Weight of Glory”:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would strongly be tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare…it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit–immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

…and of course the important point that Lewis makes over and over and over again is that our choices in the here and now directly impact whether we shall become one (an everlasting splendor–a creature complete in virtue and radiant with all the glory of God) or the other (an “immortal horror”–a creature closed in on itself, immune to God’s goodness, self-inoculated against His glory).  I honestly don’t think that most people, Christian included, really believe this or live this way.  Christians in particular seem to me to be more interested in defining who’s “in” and who’s “out” (that is, who’s prayed the prayer, or gotten baptized, or has the right theology or view of the Bible or eschatology or political position or whatever)–often as some kind of salve to an uneasy conscience–than they are in the very concrete questions of what they are becoming.

Thought experiment: Project the trajectory of your life, the movements and developments of your soul, a billion years into the future.  What do you see?  Greater love of God and neighbor?  Or increasing hatred, anger, selfishness, and self-enclosure?  Whatever “eternity” shall be, I can assure you it will be, unless some change takes place, a consummation of the basic trajectory of your life NOW–and the words “heaven” and “hell” are likely perfect words to describe what that consummation shall be.  Sobering thought.

It was with those thoughts in mind, and the challenges that Qohelet presented to us in his work, that I wrote the following (which I shared last night in the service).  Truth be told, I didn’t really know what I was writing when I started, but by the time it was finished, what had sprung into being was a set of declarations about who I am, who I want to become, and how I will handle the challenges and enigmas of life.

When I had put the finishing touches on them, I thought, “My goodness.  I should share these with Bloom.”  So I did.  And now I’m sharing them with you.  For God’s glory and your good.  May you and I alike live them, and become all that the Creator intends us to be.

In light of the above challenges, and for my part:

1) I will not despair nor rise up in insolence, but will bless God, the giver of the days and the months and the seasons and the years, savoring the repetitiveness of it all as a gift that stabilizes and orients me on planet earth…

2) I will not make an idol out of pleasure but receive it also as a gift and know each pleasure of life to be what it is—a God-given, if limited, pathway to creaturely joy…

3) I will not make an idol out of my work, but instead do what is in front of me to do with skill and grace, for the common good and with thanksgiving, knowing full well that it is all, eventually, going to dust…

4) I will not make an idol out of certitude, but will relax as I find myself enfolded by mysteries around, above, and beyond me…

5) I will not get derailed in my soul by the perils of community, culture, and social life, but will instead keep my eyes on God and keep my feet moving…

6) I will not mouth empty, boastful, manipulative words before God and others, but will instead live quietly and speak truthfully, knowing that I am already loved and already safe in God’s good world, and no amount of talking will ever add to that…

7) I will not make an idol out of riches, nor freight wealth with hopes and expectations that it is simply not capable of bearing, but will instead be open-hearted, open-handed, and deeply generous…

8) I will not fear death, but will instead make it a pathway to wisdom that transforms my life now and fills it with nobility and dignity, paradoxically making the reality of death a gateway to life…

9) I will not wither in the face of my own moral ineptitude, but will instead give myself over completely to God, who Himself IS the Good and the One who leads me into all good…

10) I will not grow cynical or jaded at corrupt authority and broken systems, but will instead keep fearing God and sowing what I believe is right into the “system”, entrusting the outcomes to Him who calls Himself heaven and earth’s only Sovereign and Lord…

11) I will embrace the moment that I am in, right now, always, seizing the day, sucking the marrow out of each experience because life, even if vaporous, is good and God-given…

12) I will not lose sleep over living in a morally upside-down world, but will do my best, personally, to live a life of wisdom, authenticity, and integrity…

13) I will not grow weary of the complexity and subtlety of life “under the sun”, but will instead use it as an opportunity to grow in moral and spiritual refinement, and clear-mindedness…

14) I will not shrink back from the uncertainty of life, but will instead throw myself gladly and wholeheartedly into it, casting my bread upon the waters wherever and as often as I can, knowing that my role in the Story is secure because the Storyteller has promised it and made it so…

15) I will, in all things and at all times, remember that I am a creature called to live forever in everlasting communion with God, and that the choices that I make today—how I handle each of the above challenges—directly impact whether or not I will become such a creature, and what sort of creature I shall become… a creature radiant with the glory of God, or else withered and shrunken and darkened forever by folly…

16) I will FEAR GOD and KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS, knowing that this is the Alpha and the Omega of what it means to be “human.”

Amen.