Daniel took a stand. When taken as a captive to Babylon, he received a new name, language, and education in Babylonian ways. But when the king offered meats and wines from his table, Daniel refused. His reasoning is not stated, but his conviction is clear: Daniel will not let culture shape him. Everyone who follows God must draw lines between cultural values and personal convictions. Daniel shows how personal convictions make public statements, earn favor, get tested, and have profound impact. God's people must not swallow everything the culture offers up, but let their understanding of God's word to form them.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Bock first encountered Jesus as a skeptic, but after years of inquiry, debate, and nurture from believing friends, he became a Christ-follower. "Since I spent so much time considering Jesus before becoming a follower, once I made a decision, I felt well informed," Bock explained to me on the ride to the airport. I cherished the opportunity to pick what was left of his brain after five sessions in three days.
We talked sports and theology, but avoided the theology of sports. "Someone suggested we discuss that on the [Table] podcast, but I refuse to. I'm afraid sports will be treated as an idol," Bock confessed. Then he returned his focus to the Houston Texans game, streamed live from his iPhone.
Bock's influence as a popular evangelical voice erupted after publishing his response to Dan Brown's novel, The DaVinci Code. "I wrote [Cracking the DaVinci Code] in three days," he recalled. He hashed it out over Thanksgiving weekend, likely between football games and second helpings. When one reporter questioned his frustration over Brown's fictional portrait of Jesus, Bock did not stand down. It was one of five bad interviews he can remember. He shared the other four with me, as well.
Bock has well represented the Evangelical community in country, overseas, in print, and online. His winsome smile, Texas drawl, and quick wit temper his intellectual brilliance. But it is Bock's commitment to the real Jesus that propels him. "I want people to consider Jesus first. I want them to wrestle with his actions and claims. And when they see how Jesus handles the Scriptures, it will help them trust the Bible," he said in response to a question about inspiration.
I found Bock's apologetic refreshing. Session after session, he pointed people to the historically-rooted, culturally-cued activity of Jesus. He referenced Old Testament texts and Second Temple Literature to create a backdrop of Jesus' life. He established the certain events of his ministry -- baptism, temple clearing, forgiveness of sin, synagogue teaching, Sabbath practice, purity practices, crucifixion, and resurrection -- to validate the more phenomenal episodes -- exorcisms, healings, nature miracles, and long discourses.
Most importantly, Bock stressed Jesus' exaltation at the right hand of God. "The resurrection is not about us getting new bodies. It was God's vindication of Jesus. God got the last word: Jesus is who he said he was."
Too often Christians seek to prove the Bible reliable before pointing people to Jesus. We place our theology of the Scriptures above our understanding of Messiah. We assume more authority comes from evidential argument rather than personal encounter. We treat the biblical text more like an ethics manual or doctrinal statement than God's living word.
It's worth noting Jesus did not make this error. When helping his disciples with belief, he asked a personal question. "Who do you say that I am?"
Evangelical belief is fundamentally personal: it is centered on the person of Jesus.
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Daniel stands out as one of the greatest heros of Hebrew faith. His courage, wisdom, and resolve mark his legacy. Daniel's people needed such a hero, too, considering their faithlessness and idolatry finally led to Judah's demise (2 Kings 25; Jeremiah 25). In 605, the first year of King Nebuchadnezzar's reign, the king takes Daniel and companions to Babylon to begin an 18-year period of deportation. He also orders new names and a heavy dose of Babylonian doctrine for his captives. Loss of land and identity is a grave hardship. But Daniel can see God's hand in the hardship, and teaches us to do likewise.
Tuesday, September 8, 2015
Tuesday, September 1, 2015
In the post-Christian era, Christ-followers must learn how to become critical thinkers without becoming critical. They must model simple faith without seeming simple-minded. One of the ways to the church can develop these virtues is to address difficult questions of the faith.
Following Paul's dialogical model of preaching in Thessalonica and Berea (Acts 17), I invited questions from the congregation and gave five minutes to answering each two Sundays ago. People asked about the distinctiveness of Christianity, developing joy in singleness, what happens to aborted babies, what ministry roles women can assume in Ephesians 4:11, and other challenging topics.
Five minutes only scratches the surface. The intent of this time was not to settle every question, but to encourage thoughtful reflection. May it so encourage you.
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
But I refuse to rush. I plod along, catching my breath and reviewing my notes.
Themes emerge from the various workshops and sessions I attended. For example, the importance and difficulty of partnerships in ministry. Scott Feather, pastor of Gateway Grace Community Church (PA), led an hour-long workshop on the topic. He stressed the need for clear communication among partners (including a written agreement) and win-win situations.
Adam Copenhaver, pastor of Mabton Grace Brethren Church (WA), dedicated two days to building a biblical theology for marriage. On the first day he worked through each book of the Bible and its contribution to a definition (and deviations) of marriage. The second day he entertained various case studies relating to sexual ethics within a church context. On the heels of the Supreme Court ruling for same-sex marriage, Copenhaver's workshop proved invaluable.
Greg Serafino, pastor of Oceola Grace (IN), and I shared the story of our leadership cohort in the Heartland District. In recent years a small group of pastors has met at various churches to provide insight and encouragement to our fellow pastors. Our friendship and commitment to and Equipping Model of ministry (see Ephesians 4:11-16) set the foundation for our cohort.
As I scanned through my notes, I realized most of them came from the workshops, not the main sessions. My personality lends itself to focused discussion better than the shotgun model of the main celebration, where we jump from song to video to game to announcement to speaker to video to speaker to speaker to song to announcement to dismissal. If my church services followed the same relentless pace, few people would depart feeling refreshed.
Fortunately for me, I had eight hours in the airport to regain my energy, review my notes, and consider the takeaways God had for me: the importance of risk (more on that next), the value of new (and old) connections, and the need for focused discussion on theology and praxis.