The Bible in one sentence

Dane Ortlund asked a number of prominent evangelical pastors and writers to sum up the Bible in one sentence.  Here is a sampling (see more at the link):

Dan Block:

God was so covenantally committed to the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him may have eternal life!

Craig Blomberg:

God is in the process of recreating the universe which has been corrupted by sin and has made it possible for all those and only those who follow Jesus to be a part of the magnificent, eternal community that will result.

Darrell Bock:

The Bible tells how the loving Creator God restored a lost humanity and cosmos through reestablishing his rule through Jesus Christ and the provision of life to His honor.

Mark Dever:

God has made promises to bring His people to Himself and He is fulfilling them all through Christ.

Kevin DeYoung:

A holy God sends his righteous Son to die for unrighteous sinners so we can be holy and live happily with God forever.

Zack Eswine:

Apprenticing with Jesus to become human again.

John Frame:

God glorifies himself in the redemption of sinners.

Scott Hafemann:

The Triune God is the beginning, middle, and end of everything, ‘for from him (as Creator) and through him (as Sustainer and Redeemer) and to him (as Judge) are all things’ (Rom 11:36).

David Helm:

Jesus is the promised Savior-King.

Paul House:

The movement in history from creation to new creation through the redemptive work of Father, Son, and Spirit who saves and changes corrupted people and places for his glory and their good.

Gordon Hugenberger:

The message of the Bible in one sentence is that genuine truth, unlike every human philosophy, is far too luxuriant, too enthralling, too personal, too all-encompassing, too sovereign, and too life-changing to be reducible to one sentence (or, as Einstein once put it, the challenge is to ‘make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler’).

via Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology: What’s the Message of the Bible in One Sentence?.

Some of these are pretty good, but two things struck me:  (1)  How unevangelical many of these are. That is, how they emphasize not the Gospel (evangel), but the Law, putting the focus on our being or becoming.

(2) How these different takes on Scripture often reveal a specific theological perspective.  Evangelicals often maintain that they are taking their beliefs straight from the Bible, without needing a theological framework, but scratch the surface and you will tend to find a specific theology at work.  Not that that’s bad, since I believe one needs a specific theology.  In fact, this exercise shows that theology is inevitable.  We say we believe the Bible.  It’s legitimate to ask next, “What do you believe the Bible says?”  And that’s your theology.  We Lutherans answer that in a whole book of confessions rather than one sentence, but the principle is the same.

Can you do better?  Sum up the Bible–or the message of the Bible– in one sentence.  Or, if you consider that too reductionistic, comment on these other attempts.

Why democracy is in trouble

Herbert London, a conservative academic drawing on Plato and others, gives six reasons why he thinks American democracy is in trouble:

First, and perhaps most notably, a democratic republic depends on an educated populace and adherence to certain norms of behavior. It is evident, however, that Americans have a far greater interest in amusing themselves than in educating themselves. Even the extraordinary number of college graduates reveals little about educational attainment since so many are trained in incapacity. Many colleges in the United States are only faintly related to education at all, and many that purport to train simply instill an ideological canon on their students.

In a recent ISI survey on civil knowledge, a majority of college graduates could not name the three branches of government. . . .

Second, a government that assumes enlarged authority over the economy can browbeat those in the private sector to accede to its desire. . . .

Third, the power of demagoguery is enhanced by a press corps that engages in cheerleading. . . .

Fourth, as Juvenal once wrote, those in power want to remain in power. In order to do so, they will make any gesture, compromise any principle, and purloin any aspect of the economy in order to retain their positions. Acting in what is reputed to be the public interest, a class of politicians acts to build constituencies for reelection. The public welfare is mere cover for actions that lead to incumbency.

Fifth, if self-restraint does not exist, external restraint must be imposed to assure domestic tranquility. At issue is the moral basis for civic cohesion, namely, families, churches, associations, and schools, which are in disarray and cannot provide the mediating structures between the individual and the state. As a consequence, government is obliged to fill the moral vacuum playing a role that was not intended in a democratic republic.

Sixth, a democracy cannot work if the system of taxation is used to take from the productive elements of society and give to the unproductive sector.

via Pajamas Media » Democracy Imperiled?.

Is he right?  What’s the alternative?

If Democracy is no longer possible in this country,  who should we pick for King to get our hereditary monarchy started?  Who would be our aristocrats?

Maybe the Queen of England would take us back, though she’d need to dismantle democracy in her country. Or maybe we could just complete our sale to China.

Seriously, some of these six reasons to worry seem to be due to a lack of democracy, not its collapse.  Can some of these be remedied through a proper exercise of democracy?

Forbidden descriptions

Now pundits are drawing back from their initial claims that Sarah Palin and company were responsible for the Tucson shootings, since it’s evident that the gunman Jared Loughner was simply mentally ill and never paid attention to political rhetoric.  But now they are attacking Palin for describing the way she was blamed for the killings as a “blood libel.”

That phrase specifically refers to the old anti-semitic libel that Jews mix the blood of Christian children in their matzoh balls.  How dare Palin compare criticism of her with the pograms of the Jews, especially in the context of the shooting of a Jewish congresswoman!  Oh, how insensitive!  Oh, how hateful!

The phrase was first used in this context by conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds, aka “Instapundit.”  It has also been used in other contexts and for other meanings without attracting condemnation.

So do you think “blood libel” can only apply to what Jews have been falsely accused of?

Some say that “holocaust” should only refer to what happened to the Jew, though it seems acceptable to speak of “nuclear holocaust.”  Some say the same for  “genocide,” but it is still used for attempts to wipe out other ethnic groups.

Should “inquisition” be off limits, out of sensitivity to Lutherans and Jews, the two main targets of that persecution?

Is “witch hunt” insensitive to Wiccans?

Should we reserve “purge” for the victims of Communism?

Can you think of other potentially problematic terms, if we are going to go this route?

Sarah Palin’s effort to defuse controversy backfires with ‘blood libel’ comment.

Theological bankruptcy

Christianity Today has a thoughtful editorial on the bankruptcy of the Crystal Cathedral and what that means (or should mean) for contemporary Christianity:

This past October, the megachurch prototype of the late 20th century filed for bankruptcy. A 24 percent drop in donations and a $50-$100 million debt owed to more than 550 creditors forced the Crystal Cathedral to file. It was a poignant moment in the history of modern evangelicalism.

Robert H. Schuller’s famous Crystal Cathedral was built on a foundation of self-esteem. In a 1984 interview with Christianity Today, Schuller said that when he came to Garden Grove, California, in 1955, he asked himself, “What human condition exists here that I can have a mission to?” His answer was “emotional hunger.” “Because of that,” he said, “we have developed our present ministry.” . . .

Schuller was tapping into themes of the human potential movement, the rage in the 1960s and ’70s, when Abraham Maslow’s theories deemed self-actualization the highest expression of human life. . . .

It’s like building a state-of-the-art structure. Technology moves at such a rapid pace that as soon as you move into the new building, you immediately find yourself stuck with an architecture that is already technologically dated, if only in small degrees at first. It isn’t long before another developer announces plans for something even more state-of-the-art.

Today both the Crystal Cathedral and the theology that undergird it seem woefully inadequate buildings in which to house the gospel. In an age deeply sensitive to energy conservation, a glass house of worship is a sinful extravagance. In a culture increasingly addicted to the self, the gospel of self-esteem is clearly part of the problem. In short, the Schuller enterprise is filing for bankruptcy on more than one front.

Some are tempted to hit the man while he is down, but this is unwise. Robert Schuller is not the problem—contemporary evangelicalism is. Schuller was only leading the parade of those who believe they are responsible for making the gospel relevant. The lesson is not that Schuller got it wrong or that his theology is out-of-date; it is not that we just need to find a better, more current point of cultural contact. The lesson is that our attempts to find and exploit a point of cultural contact inevitably end in bankruptcy. . . .

We must repress every fearful thought that suggests that making the gospel relevant and meaningful rests on our shoulders. The mystery of why and how people come to faith is just that—ultimately a mystery.  . . .

In fact, it is not only the listener who is deaf and blind to the gospel. The church is equally handicapped, especially regarding what will “work” to achieve genuine conversion. But—God be praised—we have a God who makes the deaf to hear and the blind to see! In every age and every culture, we are wise to trust the God who is rich in mercy and is able to accomplish through his Word that which he intends.

via Cracks in the Crystal Cathedral | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

It’s significant that Christianity Today is saying this, since that magazine has not been all that critical of the various church growth movements–each with their attempt to be culturally relevant–up to now.  Do you think this heralds the end of the megachurch church-marketing concept?

Anger at God leads to atheism

Joe Carter reports on a study that shows that atheists are angry at a God they don’t believe exists.  Or, rather, their anger at God motivated them not to believe in Him:

A new set of studies in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finds that atheists and agnostics report anger toward God either in the past or anger focused on a hypothetical image of what they imagine God must be like. Julie Exline, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University and the lead author of this recent study, has examined other data on this subject with identical results. Exline explains that her interest was first piqued when an early study of anger toward God revealed a counterintuitive finding: Those who reported no belief in God reported more grudges toward him than believers.

At first glance, this finding seemed to reflect an error. How could people be angry with God if they did not believe in God? Reanalyses of a second dataset revealed similar patterns: Those who endorsed their religious beliefs as “atheist/agnostic” or “none/unsure” reported more anger toward God than those who reported a religious affiliation.

Exline notes that the findings raised questions of whether anger might actually affect belief in God’s existence, an idea consistent with social science’s previous clinical findings on “emotional atheism.”

Studies in traumatic events suggest a possible link between suffering, anger toward God, and doubts about God’s existence. According to Cook and Wimberly (1983), 33% of parents who suffered the death of a child reported doubts about God in the first year of bereavement. In another study, 90% of mothers who had given birth to a profoundly retarded child voiced doubts about the existence of God (Childs, 1985). Our survey research with undergraduates has focused directly on the association between anger at God and self-reported drops in belief (Exline et al., 2004). In the wake of a negative life event, anger toward God predicted decreased belief in God’s existence.

The most striking finding was that when Exline looked only at subjects who reported a drop in religious belief, their faith was least likely to recover if anger toward God was the cause of their loss of belief. In other words, anger toward God may not only lead people to atheism but give them a reason to cling to their disbelief. . . .

I’ve sometimes mistakenly assumed it to be a purely intellectual failing—a matter of the head, not the heart. Only recently have I begun to appreciate how much the emotional response to pain and suffering can push a person to an atheistic worldview.

Most pastors and priests would find my epiphany to be both obvious and overdue. But I suspect I’m not the only amateur apologist who has been blinded to this truth. As a general rule, those of us engaged in Christian apologists tend to prefer the philosophical to the pastoral, the crisp structure of logical argument to the messiness of human emotion. We often favor the quick-witted response that dismisses the problem of evil rather than patient empathy, which consoles atheists that we too are perplexed by suffering.

Many atheists do, of course, proceed to their denial of God based solely on rational justifications. That is why evidentialist and philosophical approaches to apologetics will always be necessary. But I’m beginning to suspect that emotional atheism is far more common than many realize. We need a new apologetic approach that takes into account that the ordinary pain and sufferings of life leads more people away from God than a library full of anti-theist books. Focusing solely on the irate sputterings of the imperfectly intellectual New Atheists may blind us to the anger and suffering that is adding new nonbelievers to their ranks.

via When Atheists Are Angry at God | First Things.

To be angry at something you don’t believe exists is, of course, illogical.  To not believe in God as a way of rejecting Him makes an emotional sense, though that is illogical too.

The expectation that God is and must be benevolent derives from Christianity.  Zeus and the other pagan deities were certainly not benevolent.  Hindus have the evil creation deity Kali.  Muslims, I suspect, do not hold Allah to these high moral standards, since he is above them all.

And yet, as I have complained, so many Christian projections of God leave out the distinctly Christian understanding of God, that He is incarnate and that He is crucified.

I think an apologetic to this emotional atheism–which I suspect underlies much of the rational atheism as well–must center around the God who suffers, the God who dies (phrases some Christians cannot abide, though such language is affirmed against them in the Lutheran confessions).  We must emphasize not just a transcendent deity looking down on the suffering of the world, but a God who enters that evil and suffering world and takes it into Himself and bears it for us.  That is, Christ on the Cross.

Frodo & Vocation

The Lord of the Rings is another tale about vocation, as John Ortberg realizes:

My daughter and I were re-watching Lord of the Rings before Christmas. At one point, on the last part of the journey through Mordor, Frodo turns to Sam and tells him how badly he wishes he did not have to be the one to carry the Ring. Being the Ring-Bearer was a difficult and dangerous role. He took it up voluntarily; he knew it was a worthy task; he understood in some dim way that he was suited for it—even his weakness was part of his gifting, and yet the cost of it wore him down. . . .

“But you have been chosen,” Gandalf says to Frodo. “And you must therefore use such strength and hearts and wits as you have.”

You have been chosen. I don’t know if you (or I) am in exactly the perfect fitting job. But that’s not the issue.

You have been chosen.

And this sense of having been called—the worthiness of it, the glorious goodness of a life lived beyond an individual’s agenda—is a precious thing. It is sometimes subverted into grandiosity. It is perhaps more often lost in the ministry of the mundane. It needs to be guarded.

Sometimes, in the quest, we get to visit the House of Elrond; the Fellowship is united and strong, the plans are glorious, hope is fierce, and hearts beat fast.

But you don’t get to spend every day there.

All ministry involves slogging through Mordor.

via Guard Your Calling, Frodo | LeadershipJournal.net.

Rev. Ortberg is discussing specifically the pastoral ministry.  But doesn’t the example of Frodo apply to all vocations (marriage, parenthood, one’s job, citizenship, life in the church,etc.)?


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