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Archive for May, 2011

Special thanks to Adrianna of IVP for a review copy of this book.

Way back in September of last year I mentioned my desire to read Worship and the Reality of God, and guessed that I would “be pumping my fist in agreement in one chapter and shaking my head the next.”  That’s pretty much how it turned out, though my reaction would often change from page to page.  I, for one, appreciate this in a book.  John Jefferson Davis is professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and, as my previously linked post indicates, an eclectic theologian (in a very good sense).  Davis’ concern in this book is the lack of understanding of the presence of God in Christian worship, hence the subtitle “An Evangelical Theology of Real Presence.”

As Davis sees it, there are “competing ontologies” working within the church today (p21).  There’s the scientific materialism (the ontology of modernity), digital virtuism (the ontology of postmodernity) and trinitarian supernaturalism (the ontology of eternity).  As you can see with just that short list, this is no easy book to plow through.  If you are not familiar with philosophical categories (ontology and epistemology being the two biggest), then I’m not sure how much of this book makes sense (another example, the John Zizioulas quote from page 178: “Pneumatology is an ontological category in ecclesiology”).  Davis demonstrates how the first two ontologies have diluted Christian worship, specifically in how we understand God’s presence in our worship.  To put it differently, churches act as if God’s is not truly present when we gather to worship, and this is largely because we have a skewed view of reality (ie, our ontology is off).

So Davis has some strong words of critique for modern Christian worship, which is no surprise coming from a seminary professor (especially one from Gordon-Conwell).  But what I love about Davis is that he doesn’t simply point the finger at others, but calls theologians and seminaries to task for not spending enough time thinking and training people in worship (pp9-10).  Davis takes this topic seriously and personally, which shows throughout this book (more on this point at the end of this review). 

I won’t take the time to summarize Davis’ argument for the lack of understanding of God’s presence in our worship, in part because I think he’s basically right.  Christians across the board, and I’m including we charismatics who allegedly have a strong theology of God’s presence through the Holy Spirit, do not show up to church excited to gather with other believers in the presence of God.  There is little-to-no expectation of encountering God.  Davis attempts to demonstrate how this has happened through the aforementioned competing ontologies and their impact on our view of reality (interestingly, I had a lot of trouble keeping up with his discussion of modern technology, virtual gaming and its impact on the church, whereas many people my age would understand that far better than the philosophical portions of the discussion).

What I want to get to is Davis’ recommendations for fixing this problem.  Davis’ stance is that with the loss of liturgy we have lost the belief in the real presence of God in Christian worship.  He believes that a more regular practice of the Eucharist would lead Christians back to a place of taking the presence of God more seriously in worship.  Davis also argues that a return to the regular practice of spiritual gifts would contribute to fixing our error.  Like I said, he’s eclectic.

If you’ve read this blog for very long, you’ll know I’m jumping on the spiritual gifts bandwagon, but I remained unconvinced of the previous two points (liturgy and Eucharist).  We all must be aware that we are in danger of turning preference into law, and there were points of this book where I felt like Davis was doing exactly this.  There’s no doubt that he is greatly moved by a weekly Eucharistic celebration, and he feels the weight of the liturgy.  But he never convinces me that I should be, too.

Davis marshalls all sorts of evidence in support of his liturgical and Eucharistic (is that even a word?) suggestions, mostly theological and historical.  But that is precisely the problem: because his biblical arguments are unconvincing, I’m not sure why anyone should adopt his stance on these points.  And I’m not sure the historical evidence necessarily works in his favor at all times, either.  Let me explain.

There is no liturgy in the New Testament, at least not in any sense we see practiced in liturgical churches.  That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad to follow one, but to think of this as the medicine for our problem when it isn’t described or prescribed in Scripture seems a bit backwards.  Besides, there were pragmatic reasons for adopting the liturgy in the first place.  Yet, when reading Davis one gets the impression that pragmatism is the enemy of the church. 

Also, last time I checked, New England (where I’m from) is littered with liturgical churches that have no understanding of the presence of God.  Their liturgical practices haven’t helped one bit, why should we think this is the solution to our problems?  I do admit his list of 6 advantages of using a liturgy is intruiging (p188, I’ll post them another day), but, again, I’m surrounded by churches that see none of these despite their liturgical practices.

Regarding the Eucharist, I’m simply too far removed from Davis’ theology here to buy what he’s selling.  I don’t even like using the term Eucharist (nor sacrament, nor communion, for that matter).  I’ll confess that I’m basically an old-fashioned Baptist/Zwinglian on this issue.  Mind you, I agree with Davis’ argument that evangelicals don’t take the Lord’s Supper seriously enough- I’m 100% on board with that.  And I even lean towards a weekly observance.  But I’m uncomfortable with terms like “means of grace” or the thought that the Eucharist “seals to believers the benefits of the Redeemer’s Sacrifice” (p131).  Last time I checked, that the job of the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13-14).  I should note that when Davis talks about the presence of Christ at the Eucharist, he is careful to say he does not believe Christ is present in the elements (basically a Catholic view) but at the Table.  But again, I’m unconvinced by the biblical argument of this point, and would argue that Christ is present through his Holy Spirit, not through the Lord’s Supper.

Going back to church history, I think one could make a case that those with a high view of the Eucharist share the blame for its fall within American churches.  After all, it was those folks who wouldn’t allow frontier churches (a target in the book) to administer the Lord’s Supper because they did not have ordained clergy to do so.  Well of course the practice fell out of favor, no one would let them do it! 

This review is going on much longer than my normal ones, so I’ll summarize briefly.  I think church leaders would benefit from this book.  Because Davis’ approach is fairly eclectic, he helps the reader see church practices from multiple angles.  And even though I’m unconvinced by his positive arguments (what the church should do), I see the merit of his negative ones (what the church should not do).  This will be, whether we admit it or not, largely determined by our previously held position.  It’s no coincidence that you can read a largely negative review of the book by a Baptist, and a positive one by an Anglican.  If nothing else, read the book for the annotated bibliography- it’s a goldmine of historical and theological writings on the topic of worship, liturgy and the Eucharist.

I mentioned above that Davis’ passion for this topic is evident.  This is not a normal thing to include in a book review, but it did affect the way I read the book so I feel the need to mention it.  When I told a seminary buddy about this book before it came out, he relayed something to me that stuck in my brain.  He heard Dr Davis give a talk at a conference on worship and was greatly impressed by Davis.  In his words, “this isn’t the same man we studied under a few years back.  I honestly think he underwent some kind of personal revival since then.”  I’m not sure if it’s true, but I’ll agree with the basic point.  The Jack Davis coming through these pages was more passionate and moving than what I remember in class.  It is clear this is a very personal issue for him, and he truly is moved in worship of our Savior through the practices outlined in Worship and the Reality of God.  I appreciate that about him and this book.  I hope others see that, too.

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…until Harold Camping is either vindicated or proven wrong (again).   As Danny pointed out a few weeks ago, there is a great series of articles written about Camping, and his most recent prediction of Christ’s return at 6p.m. on May 21.  I will not be so rash as to say that Christ is definitely not returning this Saturday, since, biblically speaking, nobody knows but the Father (Mt. 24:36).  If Jesus does return on Saturday, however, Camping’s prediction is the hermeneutic equivalent of hitting the lottery:  it’s not because he interpreted the Bible properly, but because he got lucky.

For an excellent article on why the publicity of Camping’s most recent prediction is cause for grief among believers, and a potential stumbling block for unbelievers, Robert Jeffress has written an excellent article on the subject.  I’d encourage our readers to be at least informally acquainted with this (it’ll take all of 30 minutes to read through all the articles I recommend here).  If it’s making the news, it could be on people’s minds, and might make for a great opportunity to share the truth of the Gospel.

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Scattered Thoughts on 1 John

I’ve done this type of post here and there, where I’ve been working through a book of the Bible (usually for teaching purposes) and have some thoughts, but don’t have time to work them out into full posts.  This time I’ll hit 1 John.

The Opposite of Self Deception Is…

1 John 1:8-9 presents an interesting antithesis.  V8 tells us about the person who claims to be without sin- those who do so are self-deceived.  We would, perhaps, expect the antithesis to be someone who knows they sin.  But that isn’t where John goes with it.

Instead, the antithesis of the deceived person is the person who confesses their sin.  For those of us familiar with these verses, we might not even catch something important; I know I didn’t until a couple weeks ago.  There are really only two options: either claim to be without sin, or confess your sin.  I can’t help but wonder if John is not-so-subtly saying this: if you are aware of your sin but don’t confess it, you’re basically denying your sin.  If you are truly aware of your sin, you’ll confess it.

Convicting.  I spend more time acknowledging my sin rather than confessing it, and living in the truth of v9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Assurance

1 John is mainly about assurance.  The letter is, in many ways, a “confidence boost” for Christians.  The wording “this is how we know…” shows up in quite a few places, and tells us that John’s goal is to assure his readers that they are on the right path (5:13f). 

But what’s interesting is that the confidence comes externally- from God himself.  After all, the author himself knew and heard Christ himself (1:1-4), who was sent by God (4:9).  Our sins have been atoned for as proof that God loves us (2:2, 4:7-21).  And ultimately, even if we feel “our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (3:20).  As John says in 4:16, “we know and rely on the love God has for us.”  Next time I’m in a spiritual rut and need a reminder of what God has done, I’m heading to 1 John.

Echoes of Genesis?

The only direct reference to the OT in 1 John comes in 3:12, when John mentions Cain (from Genesis 4).  But as I recently reread vv7-10, I couldn’t help but wonder if John was alluding to the earlier chapters of Genesis.  John refers to the devil, who has been “sinning from the beginning,” God’s seed remains in them (Gen 3:15, though I acknowledge that technically there it’s Eve’s seed), and John pits the children of God vs. the children of the devil (also Gen 3:15).  Mind you, I’m not sure what to do with this, but I can’t help but wonder if there’s an allusion.

I checked D A Carson’s section on 1 John in the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, but he didn’t even mention it as a possibility.  So am I crazy for seeing this?

John and James: Different Language, Same Basic Point

For John, there is no love if there is no obedience, specifically in loving our brothers and sisters in Christ (3:16-18).  In other words, Christians can’t say “I love you” without demonstrating it through their actions.  In James, Christians can’t say “I believe” without demonstrating it through their actions.  I’m not saying their addressing exactly the same issue, but pretty darn close.  Check it out:

1 John 3:17-18

James 2:15-17

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?  Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

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Is Parenting Really That Complicated?

I’ll admit it, I don’t really read too many parenting books.  Or any, for that matter.  That probably stems more from my arrogance than anything else.  But it is, partially, because everyone has a theory and can back up their theory with all sorts of statistics and anecdotes.  They can’t all be right, but they might all be wrong.  My approach has generally been to watch the families I admire and learn from them.

But I loved Kevin DeYoung’s post from yesterday, Parenting 001.  It’s probably the most level-headed thing I’ve read on parenting in quite some time, and highly recommend it.  Did I say “highly?” 

Now, his post deals more with older kids than what I currently have (we have a 2 year old girl and a 5 month old boy), but I can easily apply his thoughts to my situation (again, go read it right now).  I’m thankful for my church community where there are varying styles of parenting babies and toddlers, yet very little pressure from people to do it “their way.”  Among our close circle of friends we have attachment parenting folks, hard core schedulers and everyone in between (of course, we have the perfect balance, right?).  Yet my wife and I have never felt judged by those who choose a different approach than we do.

The fact is that if your kid learns to sleep in a crib from Day 1, or doesn’t leave your bed until Day 1001, chances are it won’t determine your child’s future.  Thankfully, our God is bigger than a parenting philosophy.

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