What’s The Point?

Why are we living the Christian life? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, I saw one of my Facebook friends had a status where she was told by someone else that her time in Bible College being educated in the Bible was a waste. After all, will that help you to go to Heaven? I hate to say it, but I have encountered this attitude many times before. It’s a dangerous problem for the church.

I could focus a lot on the point that the Bible doesn’t really talk so much about going to Heaven as it does about the resurrection and the Kingdom of God, but that’s another point. The problem is that our Christianity today has made the goal of life be to get to Heaven. Unfortunately, in our descriptions, getting to Heaven seems to be the goal and God is often kind of secondary there.

What is the relationship between God and Heaven? Few people seem to think about this. That’s because few of us seem to really think about God anymore. Well, that is aside from thinking about all the stuff He ought to be doing for us. Isn’t it strange we don’t think as much about all that we should be doing for Him? God is often seen as someone there just to meet our needs.

This also causes us to ignore this world. I still think back to what one lady said in a Bible Study I was at with a church we used to attend. “I’m saved and my children are saved so we’re just waiting for Jesus to come.” Apparently, their Bible said, “You’re saved, but if you want to you can go into all nations and spread the Gospel, or you can just wait until I return one day.” Yes. Jesus needs to return to relieve our suffering, but what are we going to do for the suffering of others meanwhile?

Sadly, an education is often seen as a threat. Couldn’t your learning get in the way of knowing God? I did write about this in an earlier post. To say that it is is like saying “I want to be married to my wife, I just don’t want to waste time on all that stupid stuff like getting to know her as a person. Oh yes. I want to make sure that she also has plenty of sex with me.” Of course, most any husband will want plenty of sex, but what would we think of the man who wanted it absent of really knowing who his wife is as a person? Such a person is essentially just using his wife to meet his own desires. Are we guilty of doing that with God?

It’s easy for us to sit back and talk about all that God owes us. Let’s make it simple. What does He owe you? He only owes you that which He’s already promised He will give you. If He has not promised it, He does not owe it. He doesn’t owe you perfection this side of eternity. He doesn’t owe you feeling good about yourself every day. He doesn’t owe you money or fame or anything else? Now let’s reverse the question. What do you owe God? You owe Him everything you have and it’s the selfish tendency of you and me to want to hold on to things that we have no rights to as if our true happiness is found apart from God. Of course, God gives us many things that can help bring us some happiness, but none of these will bring us ultimate happiness. When we start treating them like they will, they become idols and they quickly become our masters. (This is called addiction in extreme cases.)

The sad part is a greater education could help with this. One of the greatest boosts of mine to Christian living is to know the things that I believe and why and what a difference they make. Christianity has something to say about every aspect of life. It speaks about money, leisure, sex, friends, family, etc. Nothing I do is untouched by Christianity, or at least it shouldn’t be.

When we fail in our evangelistic duties and start thinking about how Christianity can help us, we become increasingly self-centered. For all of us, our tendency is to look out for #1. Aren’t we all thankful Jesus didn’t do that? Had Jesus done that, the crucifixion would not have happened. Jesus chose willing suffering to bring about redemption and the glory of God. Many of us think we can reach the glory by bypassing the suffering. It just won’t happen. The Bible regularly connects suffering with righteousness. We often connect it with the idea that we’re not living Christianity right.

I applaud my friend for wanting to have a greater education in the Bible. I wish we all did. We have too many sermons and Bible studies where we skip straight to the question of “What does the text mean to my life and how do I apply it right now?” instead of asking what the text meant to them and about the situation when it was written. We will not properly understand the latter without having some understanding of the former. We also increase the likelihood of a self-centered Christianity.

It’s my sincere hope that we return to a faith that is lived out well but understood well in the mind as well. We won’t all be intellectuals, but whatever intellect we all have we should focus some of it to understanding Christianity and what a difference it makes. We can look forward to Heaven, but let us not ignore the world around us as if Heaven is plan B because God’s just given up on this world. Greater knowledge of what we believe will not hurt us. It is the ignorance of the knowledge and the defiance of it that will.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Challenge of Jesus

What do I think of N.T. Wright’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Most readers know that I thoroughly adore the works of N.T. Wright. Give me a Wright book and it normally moves right to the top of my reading list. How can you not enjoy the works of N.T. Wright? Wright has a great gift in that he takes the serious study of the academy and then he brings it to the church in a way that a layman can understand. In all of this, he does not sacrifice an inch on orthodoxy, while maintaining a devotion that will encourage readers to look at Jesus in a whole new light and consider seriously what he says, which is of course, the Challenge of Jesus.

This is a book that was written earlier and then redone for us today. It is indeed one that needs to be redone as the world has changed since the last writing of the book and we need to be reminded anew of the challenge of Jesus. Wright begins with explaining why studying the historical Jesus matters and there are two groups that would say it is pointless. The first would include hyper-skeptics who view history negatively and think that we cannot really know anything about the historical Jesus. On the extreme in this case would be people who say we don’t even know that He existed. Surprisingly on the other end are Christians. These would be the attitude of “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” Why do we need to study Jesus this way? We have the Word of God here. It tells us everything we need to know.” I would agree with Wright that this is not a wise position. We have learned more about Judaism, and especially Second Temple Judaism, in the past few years and we should seek to put that to use.

I definitely agree with Wright that studying the historical Jesus should be a part of Christian discipleship. We should be wrestling with the question of what the historical Jesus thought and what He was trying to say to His contemporaries. Might we have to sacrifice some beliefs that we think are just obviously what Jesus was saying along the way? Of course. We might. But if we are interested in living as Jesus would have us to live, would that not entail that we should have as many accurate beliefs about Jesus as we possibly could? We should not be afraid of having any belief challenged in our study of the historical Jesus if our goal is truth.

Next is the challenge of the Kingdom and this is also one that is neglected. Jesus spoke so much about the Kingdom of God and today, we say hardly anything about it. People treat the Earth as if it’s a sort of temporary holding spot until God just does away with everything and makes things new. The Gospel is about God becoming King of this world through the work of Jesus. As I write this, I think about a cousin of mine who is a minister who put on his Facebook about the importance of following Jesus. I was pleased to see this and commented that we need to ask why do we follow Jesus? Could anyone give a reason?

No one answered.

How is it that we are go to the unbeliever and tell them that Jesus is the King of this world and that we should follow Him, if we cannot even say why we follow Him ourselves? Do we follow Him because He rose from the dead? Then should we have become followers of Lazarus as well? Do we follow Him because He claimed to be God? Then should we not follow numerous cultists who claim the same? How about following Him because He claimed to be who He said He was and then God raised Him from the dead to vindicate those claims. Of course, to do that, we might actually need to do something shocking, like study Jesus.

Once we learn about Him more, we can see that He is indeed the King of this world and then we can answer the question of why we follow Him. We do not follow Him because we like His teachings, though we might, or because He rose from the dead, though He did, but we follow Him because He claimed to be God’s agent to bring about His kingdom on this Earth and He demonstrated that by being raised from the dead by God. We follow Him because He has shown that He is Lord and Caesar is not and the same applies to all who would like to take on the title of Caesar today. Jesus is the true King of this world.

But what about crucifixion? Yes. Why did that happen? Wright argues that Jesus was taking on the punishment of Israel on behalf of Israel. He was taking on the enemy not with the sword but with surrender. He was the one who did not resist the chastisement of God, but He took on Himself that which He did not deserve. The crucifixion would have normally spelled the death knell of the movement, but it did not. This indeed gets us to the resurrection. Wright does think this can be defended historically, which I agree, and that anyone arguing against it needs a better explanation of why the movement went the way that it did. Because of both of these together, we see that God has acted in Jesus to bring about His kingdom.

Finally, the rest is about how we can be salt and light in our own world. What does what happened 2,000 years ago have to do with today? The answer is the Challenge of Jesus is still just as relevant as we are to be Jesus to our new postmodern world.

Reading Wright is always a blessing. He not only gives me more knowledge, but he encourages me to live a better life and in fact, brings me to the Scriptures anew with looking and thinking about the historical Jesus and what He did and said in His own time. May the works of Wright continue to have their great audience and when the church takes him and those like him as seriously as they take people like John Hagee and Joel Osteen, it will be a much better day for the church.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Rest of Life

therestoflife

What do I think of Witherington’s work on life in the kingdom? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Ben Witherington certainly is one of the greatest biblical minds out there and in looking through his books, I was intrigued to find one called “The Rest of Life.” In it, Witherington deals with issues not normally talked about explicitly in sermons and how they relate to the Kingdom. We are often told that we are to work hard at what we do, but are we told that we need to play? Witherington says we do. We are told we need to sleep, but what about rest, which Witherington says is different? How is it that we are to study? What about eating and drinking? And of course, we are told about sexual ethics at times, but do we have anything on the role of sex in the kingdom?

(Okay. Now with that last one I know I got the attention of every guy reading this blog.)

It is amazing we have so little on these when they so much dominate our time. Americans live a life where we can easily get enough food to satisfy us. How ought we to live in response? We have several entertainment options before us. Is it wrong for us to take the time to play when we could spend that time “serving the Lord” or “Doing Bible study”? What role does sex play in the kingdom of God, especially if there will be no need of it in eternity?

Witherington takes us through each of these kinds of areas and in the end of each writing, I definitely had a greater sense of how I wanted to live my life in response and take them more seriously. It is amazing that for so many of us in years of theological study, we never really take the time to consider the concepts of activities that we like to do every day.

For instance, let’s consider play. I have been a regular gamer all my life and is there any place for that in being a devout Christian? Absolutely. Play gives us a chance to unwind and release a lot of tensions. Of course, like anything else, done excessively it is a problem, but play is also pointing to the full realization of the Kingdom. It is pointing to a time where we do not have to worry about the world. We can enjoy something in the moment itself.

What about sex? Witherington certainly deals with the myth that many people have bought into about Christianity (Including people like Carrier) that for Christians, sex is only about procreation. Witherington tells us that it is also for the purposes of unity and pleasure, but any sexual relations for a Christian will be in a relationship that all things being equal, would be capable of reproducing were everything in full working order. He also shows us that this is in the context of marriage and that sex is not simply a physical act but an act meant to unify persons together in a bond of unity.

People who read The Rest of Life will be blessed for it. It will enable your life activities to be seen in a whole new perspective. Also, the chapters will work great if you want to read them in a small group setting or a church setting and have them be open for discussion.

And I have no doubt our churches would be blessed if we read more of Ben Witherington and others like him and far less of people like Joel O’Steen.

In Christ,
Nick Peters