There Are Three Kinds Of Men

 

Three Men.jpg

I have always found C.S. Lewis’s short essay, “Three Kinds of Men,” from a collection of his essays helpful (Present Concerns, pp. 9-10).

There are three kinds of people in the world.

The first class is of those who live simply for their own sake and pleasure, regarding Man and Nature as so much raw material to be cut up into whatever shape may serve them.

In the second class are those who acknowledge some other claim upon them—the will of God, the categorical imperative, or the good of society—and honestly try to pursue their own interests no further than this claim will allow. They try to surrender to the higher claim as much as it demands, like men paying a tax, but hope, like other taxpayers, that what is left over will be enough for them to live on. Their life is divided, like a soldier’s or a schoolboy’s life, into time “on parade” and “off parade,” “in school” and “out of school.”

But the third class is of those who can say like St Paul that for them “to live is Christ.” These people have got rid of the tiresome business of adjusting the rival claims of Self and God by the simple expedient of rejecting the claims of Self altogether. The old egoistic will has been turned round, reconditioned, and made into a new thing. The will of Christ no longer limits theirs; it is theirs. All their time, in belonging to Him, belongs also to them, for they are His.

And because there are three classes, any merely twofold division of the world into good and bad is disastrous. It overlooks the fact that the members of the second class (to which most of us belong) are always and necessarily unhappy. The tax which moral conscience levies on our desires does not in fact leave us enough to live on. As long as we are in this class we must either feel guilt because we have not paid the tax or penury because we have. The Christian doctrine that there is no “salvation” by works done to the moral law is a fact of daily experience. Back or on we must go. But there is no going on simply by our own efforts. If the new Self, the new Will, does not come at His own good pleasure to be born in us, we cannot produce Him synthetically.

The price of Christ is something, in a way, much easier than moral effort—it is to want Him. It is true that the wanting itself would be beyond our power but for one fact. The world is so built that, to help us desert our own satisfactions, they desert us. War and trouble and finally old age take from us one by one all those things that the natural Self hoped for at its setting out. Begging is our only wisdom, and want in the end makes it easier for us to be beggars. Even on those terms the Mercy will receive us.

[HT: Tim Keller; Dane Ortlund; Justin Talyor]

The Curious Christian

hero-cover-2Curiosity is such a childish word, right? Not so fast. Just because we grow up doesn’t mean we should lose our wonder at the world, or the people around us. When we do, we lose so much because curious is how God made us to be.

My friend Barnabas Piper is on to something here. Without curiosity a Christian’s life is incomplete. “Without curiosity he can never discover deep things, deep connections God tucked below the banal surface of life.”

In his new book, Piper explores what curiosity is, and how it affects relationships. Here are a few good quotes!

  • Curiosity is more than a mere trait. It is a discipline, a skill, a habit – one that will expand your life in magnificent, if subtle, ways.
  • Imagination guides and shapes our use of information.
  • God is echoed in rhythms of music, meter of poems, strokes of brush, taps of a hammer, numbers on a pivot table, laughs with a friend, fantastical fiction, icicles, acorns, sweet tea, oak trees, walleye, alloy metals, espresso, and cirrus clouds.
  • You and I were created to create and discover, created for the vocation of reflecting God’s image.
  • Curiosity combined with courage presses in and digs deeper in relationship.
  • If curiosity is not increasing our joy and capacity for enjoyment then something is amiss.
  • Curiosity is a hunger to know more truth so that we can show people more truth so that our world will see more of God.
  • Curious people create more, find better solutions to problems, overcome challenges, meet needs that arise, make connections, and prepare better for the future.
  • Open-mindedness, at its best, is humility and grace blended with curiosity – but not without conviction.
  • The Christian faith should be curious, not blind. It should be full of questions, not fear questions.
  • True curiosity is the pursuit of truth, the exploration of God’s creation and will for the world.
  • Questions are the currency of curiosity. But unlike other currency there is no withdrawal limit and they multiply themselves. Spend liberally.

Be curious. By all means, invest the time to read this book.

Eugene Peterson and The Pastoral Imagination

There is something special about pastoring a local church.

Being called to shepherd a local congregation and being a part of a particular church family is a blessing.

In the American church we often hold the megachurch pastors in high esteem becuase of the breadth of their influence. This is something we can be thankful for, if they steward their influence well.

However, let us not forget that the depth of ministry in a local community – through a local congregation – is a powerful witness to the kingdom of God.

While local church ministry happens in obscurity, it has profound implications on eternity.

In the past few years I have come to appreciate the ministry of Eugene Peterson. His writings have profoundly shaped my pastoral imagination.

Take a few minutes and watch this video from Nav Press and you will see why. Also, if you have not read any of Peterson’s books – I encourage you to do so. Here is a link to his Amazon Author’s Page.

The Neglect Of Beauty in Theology

Beauty

The Gospel Coalition just published my newest article titled “5 Reasons Christians Neglect Beauty In Theology“.

To be human is to have a sense of beauty. Beauty demands our attention. There is no way, then, to escape the aesthetic task.

If the practice of aesthetics is the responsibility of every person, it’s especially true of Christians. Doing aesthetics isn’t so much a theological option as a theological necessity.

It’s no stretch to argue that the evangelical church has largely neglected theological inquiry into the nature of beauty and aesthetics. Most reflection and writing on these subjects come from professionals in philosophy and in the specialized field of aesthetics. Christians are largely on the sidelines. This should not be.

Here are the five factors that have contributed to the lack of distinctly evangelical contributions to the conversation. Would love to hear your thoughts!

Independence Day and Religious Liberty

 

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“The religion of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man.” – James Madison

Independence Day of the United States, also referred to as the Fourth of July in the U.S., is a federal holiday commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

On that day, thirteen American colonies regarded themselves as a new nation, the United States of America, and no longer part of the British Empire. Central to the foundation of our country is the freedom of religious liberty. On this issue, the first amendment of our constitution is clear.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition.”

The freedom to believe, and the freedom to live out those beliefs is the very cornerstone of a free society. Religious liberty teaches that individuals, institutions, or government should not coerce religious beliefs. As Moore and Walker argue, “…the most biblical form of government is one that’s neither hostile to religion nor too cozy with religion.”

Government is designed to see that laws are followed and that citizens are protected. Government should not invade the free religious conscience of its citizens. The issue central to religious liberty is “to whom do we owe our ultimate allegiance?” To God or state? This is a matter of conscience, and one that should be protected.

This is why we read in Matthew 22:15-22 and Romans 13:1-7 that a government’s role is limited and its authority is delegated. Therefore, religious liberty entails the careful balancing of a government’s duty to uphold public order and the rights of citizens to freely exercise their religion in peaceful ways.

The current state of religious liberty in our country is growing more and more ominous. If this trajectory continues, religious freedoms will soon be limited to the “freedom to worship”. In other words, religious people will be free to worship within the four walls of their church, but will be hindered to act on those beliefs in the public square. However, faith is integrated into all areas of life. We are the church both gathered and scattered. Our theology not only informs our doxology, it also animates our daily living (praxis).

The threats to religious liberty are serious even though they are not evenly distributed throughout society yet. While the threats are serious, we also understand that our God is sovereign over all of human history. As the church proclaims that Jesus is Lord, we are trumping all other claims made by a governmental institutions and by elected officials. When the church proclaims Jesus is Lord, we are also pledging our ultimate allegiance to Him – in trust and prayer.

As the church, we need to pray for our temporary home, the United States of America. Yet, we do so with the balanced understanding that we are ultimately citizens of the greater Kingdom of God (Philippians 3:20; Hebrews 11:16). We must also trust that God will sustain and empower us to remain faithful regardless of how our society regards religion. Even so, as citizens of this country, let us continue to uphold and defend the religious liberty of all American citizens.

The Sin of Retaliation

Decorative Scales of Justice in the Courtroom

This was originally published at The Biblical Recorder.

The natural mode of our hearts is expressed well in the Latin phrase lex talionis, which means “the law of retaliation.” When someone crosses us or makes demands on us our initial reaction is to respond in the same way. Why not? This is the way we’ve heard that the world works. Right? Retaliation is sinfully seductive and bitterly sweet.

However, as Christians we operate by the laws of a different world, the Kingdom of God. This is why in Matthew 5:38-42 Jesus says, “you have heard it said … but I tell you.” What does he tell us? Jesus demands that when someone insults us, we should not respond in a way that escalates violence. Instead, we should respond in love towards our attacker, in a way that prevents further attacks or stops the progression of violence.

Moreover, when someone takes your possessions, Jesus calls us to respond in the way of love, namely, to go the extra mile, to give freely to those in need. In many cases, those who pursue our possessions have an actual need they are trying to meet.

Doesn’t Jesus call us to give to those who are truly in need?

Now, we can split hairs on this passage and develop numerous scenarios where helping can hurt. Or we can think of many modifiers to these words in order to show how these things may or may not play out. But I think that misses the point of the passage.

In fact, the initial response of counting the costs to respond this way shows that retaliation is our natural desire.

However, Jesus calls us to think differently. Moreover, His Spirit enables us to respond differently.

In a unnatural way – better yet, a supernatural way – our need for retaliation and personal justice is not bound by the “pay out” on this earth.

If our self-esteem is found in our stance before God, we can lovingly stand in the face of sinful insults. If our treasure is found in the inheritance we have as children of God, we are not devastated when our earthly belongings are taken. This is the power of the gospel.

Love Your Enemies

Love Your Enimies

This was originally published at The Biblical Recorder.

The election season is a good time to gauge fears of our fellow citizens. Politicians are experts at exposing and exploiting the suspicions of our culture. Right now, many people fear Middle Easterners because they merely resemble their religious extremist neighbors. Some candidates have proposed that we respond to entire people groups with fear by shutting them out.

However, Jesus calls us not to respond in fear, but in faith. To open our hearts to those who are different that we are. Even to our enemies: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

It is easy to love those who are like us, but what reward is there in that? Is God not sovereign over all things? Does He not allow His sun to rise on the evil and on the good? Does He not send rain on the just and on the unjust?

We know from scripture that God hates those who are resolutely and unrepentantly wicked. Those who do, and intend to do harm against us will face the judgment of God. In most cases, even those who resemble the enemy do not intend harm. Without reservation, we are called to reflect the grace that we so commonly enjoy.

Doesn’t God show grace and care for all of His creatures? Absolutely. Therefore Jesus’ disciples are called to imitate God and love both neighbor and enemy. I recently heard International Mission Board President David Platt say that “Only an Americanized Christianity would prioritize security over the proclamation of the gospel.” We must remember the power of Satan is limited by the prerogative of God. When we face the enemy, and the perceived enemy, our initial response should be love: pray for them; love them; open your hearts to them.

The power of the gospel dissolves fear and empowers us to act in faith. Perhaps the most poignant way to apply this text is to remind us of Christ’s command to love your neighbor as yourself. In other words, love others with the same amount of energy and tenacity that you would for your own well-being. How would you want to be treated?

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