I’ve been pensive lately. I write plenty of messy notes, but nothing blogworthy – mainly book-reviews. But, reflecting on 2011 I thought I’d include some of the top webpages and articles I just so happened to collect in 2011 that had a major influence on me or unusually good. Just sayin’ in advance, almost all of them are religious or philosophical… but hey, that’s what I read. There are more than this, but I didn’t think to favorite all of them. Anyway, here’s ten categories, somewhat in order of importance.
10) Top tens. Starting out recently is this article from Collin Hansen, top ten theological stories of the year. Christianity Today has their own top ten stories as well. As far as international news, AP’s Top Ten News Stories of 2011 is pretty comprehensive, though I’m baffled as to why the American pull-out of Iraq didn’t make the cut. Isn’t the end of a big, controversial 7-year war big news?
I would have added William Lane Craig/Richard Dawkin’s spectacle or the economic/environmental disasters that have caused more theological reflection in these top ten, but overall very good choices.
9) Future theology debate trends. It took me a while of thinking before I agreed with him, but Andrew Wilson’s article The Biggest Theological Debate of the Next Twenty Years is very insightful. What will it be? Read and see!
8) God to Jesus. This article by John Dickson, Jesus: God’s Tangible Sign, is so well-reasoned and well-written, especially on how rational it is to at least move from atheism to deism, then from there to theism, and on to Jesus.
7) All the boys and the girls… This has been an interesting year in public discussion of marriage, sex, and dating and all the current issues with that, especially on the Christian scene. A few good articles are
Christian Boy Meets Christian Girl from World Magazine – the best of the bunch, and hilarious.
I took interest in these, because I fit some of their criticized stereotypes of young men – not asking girls out, stubbornly single, wanting to “see the world” before being “tied down” in marriage, etc. I thought of bloggin in defense of this monkish lifestyle as mine, but haven’t gotten around to it! However, Vicky Beeching’s “Honest thoughts about singleness in the church” expresses some of my thoughts already. Nonetheless, excellent points and analysis are made by DeYoung, et al. and they’re worth the read.
6)Atheist surprises. Atheist Joel Marks in Confessions of an Ex-Moralist admits morality isn’t possible without God. He replaces it with something else like morality, but I was impressed by his candor. The well-known defender of evolution and naturalism, Michael Ruse wrote another fascinating reflection, On Going to Church Christmas Morning . In “Atheists Against Darwinism” Peter Williams surveys how the debate on Intellgient Design even has some atheists thinking. Evolution is not nearly the stalwart, established scientific theory it’s purported to be, and the exposure of its weaknesses by atheists is telling.
4)C. Michael Patton. Not one, not two, but three excellent articles from C. Michael Patton:
The ability of this guy to write great-quality articles is amazing, and I had a hard time just choosing three. Look around Parchment and Pen blog if you have an hour to kill, it’s great.
3)Evil World. Related to above, this isn’t an intellectual article like the rest, but it sure leads that way: CNN article asking why is the Congo the “Rape Capital of the World”? This is among the many articles that made me think of how sad and full of evil the world really is. That’s worth thinking about. But to balance this:
2) Kimberly Klein’s “My Beautiful Mess” was an extremely thought-provoking article for me this year (many of her posts are excellent, to be honest), written some time ago while she was in Kenya – thoughts on suffering and hope. I’m not at the point of balance she is yet, but it is somewhere I hope to be someday. Read it, it’s profound.
1) George John Romanes. Another article I read that is simply profound is this one on the life of George John Romanes. If you only read one page I list here, this is the one to read: A Pilgrim’s Regress: George John Romanes and the Search for Rational Faith. His story really impacted me and the drama of the story just takes you in. The ending is a surprise!
Anyway. That’s what I got for closing the year. I have nothing original to say, but the above people are saying whatever it is better than I can right now!
On to 2012 C.E. And I hear-tell the world might end then, so better make it a good one! Happy New Year everybody!
Americans like mirrors. We check that we’re presentable, admire our perceived good-looks, bemoan our perceived ugliness, talk to ourselves, and gets sadder from there. In America’s obsession with self, you could say we worship at them like altars! In 2Corinthians recently, I noticed Paul the Apostle looks at a new kind of mirror than what we’re used to.
You see, in the ancient days of Israel God spoke to Moses “as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33.11). Exodus 34 records that when Moses would return from speaking with God, “the skin on his face shone.” The people were afraid at this (understandably, I would be too). Therefore, Moses put a veil (think Middle-Eastern head-covering, not some flimsy linen thing) over his face whenever he returned to the people from having the Law revealed to him from God.
In 2Corinthians 3, Paul draws on this story to say that if the Law, though not able to give salvation still “came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?” (3.7-8). The glory of Christ being the Savior that frees us from the Law by faith in Him, and His Spirit coming to empower believers, was the message of Paul and his missionary associates.
Paul was a successful man in the world before he became a Christian and Apostle. Being of a more upper class, he had access to reflective mirrors (unlike the poor) and probably saw a stately figure looking back at him. But nice mirors and all his other wealth left him when he became a Messenger of Jesus. Despite beatings, hunger, thirst, imprisonment, riots, and a host of other nasty experiences they yet had “great boldness in speech” to speak about Christ (3.12). How did he give it all away, going from the comforts and prestige of being a successful Pharisee to become “the dregs of the earth”? How did Paul and his missionary associates trade their health and looks for starvation and scars all over their bodies from the beatings? How did they get over themselves? Verse 18 reveals an answer:
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
When you look at a regular mirror, you see yourself. But when you look at the truths and experience of God’s glory in His grace, mercy and holiness, you see all that Jesus is. And when one stares at this kind of mirror, the mirror called Christ, he or she begins to be transformed into what they see. Instead of transforming yourself by looking at yourself more, you look at Christ and Christ transforms you.
For these missionaries, their modus operandi was to behold the glory of their Lord Jesus Christ. The missionary’s inner well-being and action doesn’t form from doing nice things for poor people, although that is good – it is gazing intently at the glory of Christ, directing ourselves toward seeing, experiencing, and knowing God. If we want to be changed into better, more Christ-like people and to do effective missions, we look to Christ first – not to ourselves, nor to other people, or other ideologies. As the Scandanavian missionary Frederick Franson’s motto went, a missionary must have “constant, conscious communion with God.”
And of course, this applies to all Christians. In the book of Romans, Paul expounds eloquently on the grace and holiness of God for 11 chapters. When he finishes at chapter 12, he stops and says “Therefore, I beseech you . . . be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12.1-2). Then goes on to 5 chapters of the actual actions fitting for those saved by God’s grace. We renew our minds by setting our minds on the glories of the grace, mercy, and holiness of God. Yet too often we are looking in the wrong mirror. Tired of the evil you find in you? Desire to be loving, joyful, forgiving, not bitter, not unhappy, not quarrelsome, etc., etc.? And the most longing desire – to get to know God Himself? Let’s stop looking at the shattered mirror of ourselves and gaze at the glory of God in the face of Christ. And the more we look, the more we become like the glory we see.
I was reading the Bible the other night and was struck with how the words of the Bible have authority over me. God speaks through these pages, though my Bible is smaller than me. We can hold it in our hand, throw it on the backseat of a car, slip it in a backpack, carry a small one in our back-pocket… but one Bible is stronger and more powerful than all the other forces of the world.
Do we let the Bible have authority over us? As I read the Bible I try to see what’s there, dissect it, interpret it, correlate it with the rest of my knowledge. But as I do this, I can slip into treating the Bible as any other text – figuring out what it says just so I can know, slipping it into categories and systematic theologies without having the humble heart to ask the long and hard first question, “What is God saying here?”
That should teach us to handle the Scriptures carefully and not box-in Scripture into to our preconceived notions. Those of us who are the “Bible scholar” types (or wannabes) need to keep this always at the forefront of our minds. The Bible is the very word of God, transformational, inspired, and authoritative over us. It tells me what to do and say; I don’t tell the Bible what to do and say.
As my hermeneutics professor Dr. Mark Bailey said, “The Bible was not written to satisfy your curiosity; it was written to change your life. It was written not to make you a smarter sinner, but to make you more like Jesus Christ.”
I hope our heart’s cry can resonate with the Psalmist: “Teach me O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I shall observe it to the end.” – Psalm 119.33