Month: September 2012

evangelical repentance

I want to pick up an underdeveloped thread from my previous post before I move on. And that’s the thread of ‘gospel repentance’ — repentance that’s truly evangelical in that it both flows from and expresses (or declares) the gospel.

Here’s how John Calvin puts it in The Institutes (3.3.2) where he expounds Jesus’ agenda-setting sermon — which echoes that of John the Baptist — “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”:

[W]hen we refer the origin of repentance to faith we do not imagine some space of time during which it brings it to birth; but we mean to show that a man cannot apply himself seriously to repentance without knowing himself to belong to God. But no one is truly persuaded that he belongs to God unless he has first recognized God’s grace.

I find this to be so profound. While refusing to separate faith and repentance as the necessary response to God’s grace, Calvin (rightly) insists on the priority of grace.

This is a fountain from which a very distinct approach to all sorts of things in Christian life and ministry will well up.

To give just one example, in explaining the gospel to someone (Christian or not), I don’t want to preach a fear-inducing law that causes them to run fleeing to grace; I would much rather try to describe the grace and mercy of God in Jesus in such captivating and compelling terms that it draws out the repentant response it demands…

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carried away on a flood of tears

After experiencing that shrinking feeling and then taking on titanic proportions when she nibbled a biscuit labelled “EAT ME”, Alice falls to weeping — and is carried away on a flood of tears.

That’s pretty much where I’m at now in my own adventure down the rabbit hole.

In earlier posts I shared how I’ve realised that simply knowing more stuff — or even having an integrated Christian worldview — just won’t do the job when it comes to spiritual growth.

After making me feel small and insignificant, I think this realisation has led me to (finally) begin to get the significance of the ‘self’ in biblical passages like this:

Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4.16)

Or this:

So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us. (1 Thessalonians 2.8)

This is what I think I was driving at HERE (in my typically roundabout and muddled way).

Sharing of ourselves — investing personally in others — is the indispendible context for making and maturing disciples of Jesus: that is, people who not only have the ‘right answers’ theologically or an integrated Christian worldview, but who worship and love and centre their lives on him. (This, by the way, is why I’ve come to see solid preaching as necessary but insufficient.)

But why are our (shared) lives so significant? And how?

As examples. Obviously.

But examples of what?

Not perfection I take it (otherwise I’m out). But growth and change. The biblical term for which is also that word that stands over the start of the Christian life… Repentance!

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1.15)

Repentance is often associated with tears. You know, groveling and self-laceration? Like in certain over-rated Puritan prayers…

But I like the theological tradition (which you can find in Calvin) that binds repentance — gospel repentance — to joy.

It is with my face streaming with joy. As I’m carried away (not ‘lifted out of myself’). Soul and body. Exulting in the fist-pumpingly good news of the kingdom (at last!), of life, of the resurrection, of God’s “Yes”!

That’s the kind of life we’re called to share. To embody examples of. Living, walking, talking appetisers for the glorious feast we’re awaiting in the kingdom of God.

And, to pre-empt where all this is heading, for this we need recalibrated inner compasses — reordered desires, loves untangled and set right, hearts gripped and filled and brimming over with right affections (enacted in right habits). And we’ll only ever get this by believing the gospel more and more…

But you’ll have to forgive me. I’m getting carried away.

one for the coffee lovers

If I was more pretentious, I might say that blogging at its best is like a good shot of espresso. Short. Sharp. A perfect balance of syrupy, mouth-filling oomph and that lingering subtle perfume and complexity — with hints of red apple sweetness or whatever.

But really that would just be an excuse for pointing out that blogging has a kind of ebb and flow — a lot like coffee fashions.

While sometimes requiring an almost medieval-looking apparatus, alternative brewing methods (pourover, cold drip, syphon, aeropress) have been ascendant here in Melbourne for the last couple of years. So much so that many coffee houses are now using lighter roasts in their blends — which are much better suited for these other brewing methods but kind of lame in espresso form (particularly if you take your coffee with milk).

And I’m beginning to sense a similar shift in some of the blogs I read.

On the one hand, there’s an increasing lightness — a willingness to dive in and even distribute before ideas are fully roasted. On the other hand, posts are becoming longer. And thrusting complexity and subtlety to the fore rather than simply trying to land the grab-you-by-the-scruff-of-your-neck-shake-you-and-wake-you-up punch that I’m used to.

(I guess this is part of what I’m trying to do with my Alice In Wonderland series — to which I promise to return … when it’s had enough time to brew.)

Again like with coffee, the rewards can be substantial but the consuming of this new wave blogging requires patience — and an adjusted palate. You’ve got to give up on cookie-cutter perfection for one thing. And start to really embrace process.

And you know what? I think I kind of like it…

interlude: the biblical case for liturgical formation

Yesterday I preached on James 4.13-5.20. As far as I’m concerned, the crowing jewel and tip off about what lies at the hidden centre of this passage (and holds together all it’s different elements) is this:

13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.

James K. A. Smith – eat your heart out!

Here’s James’ word for those who know that Jesus is Lord. Here’s the nuts and bolts of how to put away self-concern and train your hearts to long for the Lord’s appearing as the farmer longs for the rains — banking on it 100%.

What’s his word?

Turn outwards.

In trouble. In success. In sickness. In the desperate struggle to stay afloat when life threatens to swamp your faith.

Take daily, disciplined, habitual action — like repeated liturgical action — to form and shape your desires in response to the gospel.

This is the only way to break free of the massive gravitational pull of self-concern so you can begin to orbit around the true centre of gravity of the moral universe — the Lord Jesus who is coming to judge…