Posts Tagged Apostle Paul

Chosen Instruments: Obedience and Socio-Economic Decision Making

Ananias restoring the sight of Saint Paul, Pietro De Cortana, 1631I have received a bit of criticism for my constant claim that obedience is the defining factor of the Christian life (e.g.), with most of critiques rooted in the belief that we are to instead focus on “sacrifice” or “love” (as if obedience to God would not involve either).

My questions are most simply: (1) love according to whom and (2) sacrifice for what?

I recently wrote about this very thing, emphasizing the need to follow the Holy Spirit in all that we do (hint: that’s why he’s here).

To further solidify this point, I wanted to take a moment to look at the Apostle Paul — a man who understood that “following the way of love” was interconnected with “eagerly desiring the gifts of the Spirit” (i.e. learning to hear his voice, discern it, and do what it says). As I have also previously noted, such an approach is extremely difficult because there is no hard-and-fast, legalistic solution. The Christian life is not a one-stop, altar-call sort of thing.

Paul had a good grasp of this, and made clear in his letter to the Philippians. Following a summary of his personal trials, Paul provides encouragement to the believers by honing in on the value that obedience will yield while also reminding them of the tensions it implies for their work here on this earth:

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

We all know what this means for our post-earth destination (or, I hope we do), but what does this mean for our own personal callings and struggles today? What does this mean for our socio-economic engagement with others?

First, it is clear that Paul has a purpose and that purpose is not his own. He did not endure imprisonments and beatings for nothing, yet he also did not endure them for personal glory or some lofty martyrdom status. Paul was not standing in the streets and blocking traffic for the mere purpose of being hauled away and lauded in the annals of do-gooder history. Paul was not offering himself as a firstborn calf on some altar of cultural symbolism or earthly greatness.

Paul was arrested for speaking the truth and doing what God told him to do. He was not seeking suffering as an ideal for himself (or anyone else). He was seeking the Glory of God to the point of suffering.

Likewise, Paul’s impetus did not come from some fleeting passion for “social justice.” Paul did not discover his life’s purpose from reading Barbara Ehrenreich in undergraduate school and getting worked up about class divisions and money-grubbing sinners. His purpose came from Read the rest of this entry »

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Divine Generosity: Making “Good Intentions” Good

God So Loved, He Gave, Divine Generosity, Kelly Kapic, Justin BorgerI have previously written on the importance of the Holy Spirit in aligning our lives to God’s perfect will and have also noted the limits of a spiritually dead worldview as it relates to generosity. What I haven’t done, however, is examined what will emerge — and how it will emerge — if we get all of our ducks in a row.

What might it look like if we were to actually succeed in avoiding the desires of the flesh, producing the fruits of the Spirit, and leveraging the subsequent alignment toward reaching the Lost, healing the sick, and helping the needy? What might it look like if our actions were guided by the Love of God rather than the Love of Man?

My friend Robby Moeller recently wrote eloquently about having a “head for the poor,” but while this is an important point, I am also concerned that our hearts might be further off than we think (hint: we’re sinners). Like anyone else, Christians are prone to what the Apostle Paul calls “futile thinking” and “foolish hearts.” We are constantly struggling to overcome a debased, idolatry-prone worldview.

In short, I fear that we often give our “good intentions” the benefit of the doubt.

What is “good” in the first place, and according to whom? Does it have anything to do with truth, and if so, how does that impact our view of love? What does “effective” mean under such a framework, or what about “compassion”? Are there any intentions worth esteeming if they fail to orient themselves correctly?

We need to correct our brains, yes, but more fundamentally, we need a spiritual revival that aligns our hearts and minds accordingly. This will certainly impact our perspectives on loftier political and philosophical levels, but more importantly, it will transform the way we approach our most mundane of day-to-day tasks and choices. Unbeknownst to many, God actually speaks, and we have the amazing opportunity to listen. Sound “radical” yet?

As Kelly Kapic argues in his recent book, God So Loved, He Gave, we have been called into a movement of divine generosity — one in which we reject bondage of this world and embrace God’s absolute ownership over our lives. “When captured by the depths of God’s gifts in the gospel,” Kapic states, “we discover that he frees us to participate in his work of grace, hope, righteousness, and love. This is the generous life: this is what belonging to God is all about.”

Sin is all around us, and although we are typically good at talking about it in church (or at least we used to be), we seem to forget that it’s a constant competing force in our fundamental decisionmaking. “No human relationship is free from this corrosive power,” as Kapic states, yet in our attempts to build relationships and community we seem to think that “good intentions” are all Read the rest of this entry »

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The Search for Self: It’s Not About You…Until It Is

Hire Me, College GraduatesIn a recent column for the New York Times, David Brooks does a fine job examining the overall condition of today’s rising generation(s), describing them as a lot of self-absorbed, egotistical wanderers in need of what was once known as calling.

Brooks is dead on in his explanation of why individuals should set their sights outward, onward, and upward, rather than merely inward:

Most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life. A relative suffers from Alzheimer’s and a young woman feels called to help cure that disease. A young man works under a miserable boss and must develop management skills so his department can function. Another young woman finds herself confronted by an opportunity she never thought of in a job category she never imagined. This wasn’t in her plans, but this is where she can make her contribution.

Brooks places a good deal of emphasis on the value of the self to the other — how we as individuals can align our passions, courses, dreams, and inward searches properly and thus make a significant contribution to those around us. If you’re a Christian, this consists of syncing up your plans with God’s purposes, something the Apostle Paul called “pressing toward the mark.”

Brooks is also clear about the danger of what some might call “atomic” individualism, through which the self is only interested in his own (supposed) gain and thus rejects God or the other altogether:

If you sample some of the commencement addresses being broadcast on C-Span these days, you see that many graduates are told to: Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture. But, of course, this mantra misleads on nearly every front.

Yet Brooks is less clear, though still cognizant, about the value of the other to the self. Yes, he thinks our callings should be based in a specific pursuit aligned to external value. But will that process also produce value in our own lives? The closest he gets to this is in his statement about the self being “constructed gradually” by one’s calling. Toward the end of the piece, he also talks about fulfillment being “a byproduct of Read the rest of this entry »

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Intellectualism and Evangelicalism: Mental Adultery vs. the Rational Gospel

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John PiperEvangelicals have long winced with suspicion toward contributions from intellectual arenas. Whether faced with critiques about the legitimacy of the Flood, the coherency of the Trinity, or the plausibility of God himself, we are well known for responding with the “faith-that-doesn’t-need-answers” refrain. Rather than confronting intellectual challenges and engaging our minds as an act of faith, we twist such faith into a shield to be held over heads, protecting us from such conflicts as we close our eyes and mumble, “I’m not listening.”

In turn, intellectuals are quick to exploit such a response, claiming that evangelicals are nothing but a bunch of mindless zombies, brainwashed by cult leaders and clouded by happy thoughts. As Mark Noll put in his book on the subject, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”

Oddly enough, such a scandal is evident even among those who evangelicals assume comprise their intellectual front (i.e. the postmodernists). A good example of this can be found in the ongoing Rob Bell controversy, in which supposedly “anti-intellectual” conservative evangelicals are being derided left and right for engaging Bell in an intellectual challenge. Meanwhile, the supposedly brainy and overly nuanced Bell is being defended not on intellectual grounds, but on warm-and-fuzzy, “don’t-judge-me” togetherness. In one quick swoop of a Justin Taylor post and a simple John Piper tweet, Bell was quickly diminished by his defenders to being a mere “artist” rather than an impressive mind or a “serious theologian.” He is just “asking questions” we are told — having a bit of creative fun with the Scriptures in the same way a child might draw fanciful whatchamacallits on his driveway with sidewalk chalk. (“Don’t be hatin’ on the beauty, bro!”)

Making such a topic even more timely has been the entirely different (and far healthier) discussion launched by Matthew Lee Anderson on evangelicalism and natural law. This particular discussion, however, doesn’t indicate a lack of intellectualism in evangelicalism as much as it illuminates that the movement has its own unique view of the mind itself, bringing us back to the original challenge. For the evangelical, there is a transcendental tension between our supernatural understanding and our natural reason, and as is only natural (harty har), it can be hard for us to wrap our minds around it.

(Making this yet more timely still is Donald Miller’s recent post, which argues that the church’s problem is too much intellectual engagement instead of a lack thereof. Seriously.)

To cut through such tensions and offer some clarity, John Piper has released a helpful new book, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God (also the topic to last year’s Desiring God conference). For Piper, the supposed faith-reason dichotomy need not be a dichotomy at all. All we need is the proper Read the rest of this entry »

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Regenerated Value: John Piper on Radical Individualism

John Piper recently released several videos to coincide with the 25th-anniversary release of his defining work, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. As I have written elsewhere, the book’s primary aim is to demonstrate that “the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.”

The book changed my life (no exaggeration), and much of its contents support Remnant Culture’s overarching thesis. Thus, it is no coincidence that one of these videos hits at the very core of what Radical Individualism is all about.

Watch the video here:

Piper’s main point is centered around Matthew 13:44, in which Jesus describes the Kingdom of Heaven as “a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up.” To gain the treasure, the man joyfully sells all that he has and purchases the field. (I have commented on this previously.)

In other words, to gain the Kingdom of Heaven, we must be willing to trade in everything. This requires a drastic regeneration of our understanding of value itself, which means that the resulting exchange will not involve an isolated choice or decision in human terms. Instead, the transformative experience of coming to know Christ will necessarily lead to Read the rest of this entry »

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Tithes Untapped: The Potential Economic Power of the Church

I recently read Jordan Ballor’s new book, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness, and I plan on posting a full review in the very near future.

In the meantime, I wanted to highlight a small piece from the final chapter on “avenues for reform.” Among other things, Ballor discusses the ecumenical movement’s tendency to lean on government action rather than church solutions, questioning whether this an acceptable (i.e. Christian) approach to serving the needy.

First, it is important to get a sense of what motives should driving our giving. As Ballor notes (and as I have discussed previously), the apostle Paul provides great assistance in directing such motives:

Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

As for the topic at hand, “under compulsion” is probably the most valuable piece when it comes to identifying whether government programs can serve as Biblical generosity. Has paying your taxes ever made you feel “cheerful”?

But what if we as a society were to rely on non-compulsory generosity and “cheerful giving”? What if the church actually lived up to its Biblical calling by at least giving tithes on a consistent basis (there is certainly more work to be done)?

To give us a sense of what this would look like, Ballor pulls some figures from theologian Ron Sider, who is quoted as follows (from this book):

[I]f American Christians simply gave a tithe rather than the current one-quarter of a tithe, there would be enough private Christian dollars to provide basic health care and Read the rest of this entry »

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Instruments of Righteousness: Leveraging Human Nature through Capitalism

Apostle Paul, Rembrandt

The Apostle Paul recognized human depravity, but he also saw redemption.

In a recent piece at The American, Arthur Brooks and Peter Wehner write splendidly about the connection between vision and political execution. After summarizing three basic views of human nature — what Thomas Sowell would call “visions” — Brooks and Wehner dive into the issues involved in executing each vision in the political sphere.

The three primary views, as the authors see them, are as follows:

  1. Humans are flawed but perfectible (a la Jean-Jacques Rouseeau and Karl Marx).
  2. Humans are flawed and cannot change (a la Thomas Hobbes and Bernard Mandeville).
  3. Humans are flawed but “under the right circumstances, human nature can work to the advantage of the whole” (a la Adam Smith and James Madison).

Brooks and Wehner side with the last option, and after exploring the political implications supporting it, they explain its overall consistency with Biblical teaching:

This last view of human nature is consistent with and reflective of Christian teaching. The Scriptures teach that we are both made in the image of God and fallen creatures; in the words of Saint Paul, we can be “instruments of wickedness” as well as “instruments of righteousness.” All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, the Bible declares — yet it also tells us to be holy in all our conduct, to walk in His statutes, and not to grow weary in doing good. Human beings are capable of acts of squalor and acts of nobility; we can pursue vice and we can pursue virtue.

But how does this vision of human nature connect with the political realm? How do we take the Pauline view of human nature and translate it into a proper political framework?

Brooks and Wehner explain:

As for the matter of the state: Romans 13 makes clear that government is divinely sanctioned by God to preserve public order, restrain evil, and make justice possible. This, too, was a view shared by many of the founders. Government reflects human nature, they argued, “because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint.”

This brings the authors to the subject of self-interest. After all, it is capitalism’s reliance on self-interest that leads its opponents to ridicule it as immoral and Read the rest of this entry »

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The Knowledge Crisis: Pursuing Truth in a Postmodern Age

In a previous post, I used John Piper’s 2010 Desiring God Conference as a launching point for asking whether Christianity has properly engaged intellectualism. The conference took place a few weeks ago and Piper has a new book out by the same name, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God. Although I was unable to attend the conference, I have been catching up online, and I encourage you to do the same.

Speakers included Rick Warren, R.C. Sproul, Thabiti Anyabwile, Albert Mohler, Francis Chan, and, of course, John Piper. I enjoyed each session thoroughly, but Mohler’s talk was perhaps my favorite, titled, “The Way the World Thinks: Meeting the Natural Mind in the Mirror and in the Marketplace.”

You can watch it here:




Mohler’s primary goal is to simply get Christians thinking about thinking, but more specifically, he calls us to grasp the difference between a “regenerate mind” and an “unregenerate mind.” Additionally, Mohler believes that we need to fully understand the “mind of the age” in order to preach the Gospel effectively.

He structures his argument around what he calls a “knowledge crisis” — a struggle that has engaged humanity since the Fall of Man. As far as what kind of crisis this is, and how we are supposed to overcome it, thinks the fundamental problem is that “we suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (pointing specifically to Romans 1).

Indeed, although overall human knowledge has come a long way since the Fall, we are still largely presumptuous about Read the rest of this entry »

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Heaven Misplaced: Christ’s Kingdom Now, Apocalypse Later

Heaven Misplaced: Christ's Kingdom on Earth by Douglas WilsonWhen we think of the End Times we usually think of earthquakes, floods, and nuclear explosions. From the hyper rants of Jack Van Impe to the silly scenes of Left Behind, evangelical culture has bombarded us with images of an apocalypse that is devastating and widespread — one that will be preceded by a big, cruel magic trick.

Small pockets of Christians will vanish across the globe, disappearing from busy streets, bustling malls and crowded airplanes. News anchors and political pundits will be left speechless, unaware that they are representatives of a world full of no-good sinners, left hopelessly to self-destruct under the grip of a soon-to-rise anti-Christ. The minority of good folks will be gone and everyone else will be doomed to hell.

But what if we’ve got it wrong? What if the events leading up to the Second Coming aren’t as grim as we suspect? There will almost certainly be a tribulation period filled with conflict, but before that happens, what if those busy streets are overwhelmingly Christian instead of overwhelmingly heathen? Yes, the above storyline often accepts that the Gospel will be proclaimed throughout the world, but what if most of the world will actually receive it?

It is this question that Douglas Wilson explores in his recent book, Heaven Misplaced: Christ’s Kingdom on Earth.

His answer? Before anyone goes to the Kingdom, the Kingdom is going to come to us — and with force.

As Wilson says:

[T]he striking thing about the Second Coming is that it will be the culmination of what is happening right here, right now. The new humanity is going to be finally and completely formed and born, but it is this world that is pregnant with that glory. The relief will be great, but it will be relief from the travail of this world.

For Wilson, our planet is simply one of the “colonies of heaven,” meaning that we are not to see ourselves as a “feeder town” for our colonizing power, as we so often do. Pointing to Paul’s metaphor of “citizenship” to the colonized Philippians, Wilson makes it clear that “the mother country feeds the Read the rest of this entry »

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The Ultimate Exchange Rate: Real Value in a Material World

The Parable of the TalentsIt’s easy for us economist types to get caught up in earthly measurements of value — partly because it’s fun, but mostly because it’s important.

Even more important, however, is the pursuit of real value in heavenly terms. When it comes to this, we all struggle with getting the earthly “exchange rate” down, and as long as sin is around, we always will.

But Jesus gives us a pretty clear image of what it might ultimately look like in these back-to-back examples.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

In other words, no matter how much we have accumulated in our own lives, whether it’s wealth, skills, prestige, or status, none of it matches up to the value of a life transformed and saved through Christ.

But how do we purchase such a life? How do we make this ultimate trade-in?

The first and most important answer is that we can’t — Jesus already paid the ultimate price through his blood, which pays for our entrance into the “kingdom of [God’s] beloved Son.” It is only through this propitiation that we can be saved.

But there is still this central notion throughout the Gospel of obedience, which Jesus often illuminates by talking about trade. The question rises: If the ultimate price is already paid, what is left to trade in? What are we Read the rest of this entry »

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