Tag Archives: grace

A New Grace-Based Resource For Growing in Sexual Integrity

An excerpt:

Among clergy, a 2009 study conducted by Texas Tech University of 460 male ministers revealed over 20 percent accessed pornography at least twice monthly. Older statistics on Christian clergy showed anywhere from 35 to 50 percent of ministers consider pornography a personal struggle, whether currently or in the past.

As Christian leaders these stats don’t really tells us anything we don’t already know. Porn is a significant issue for both Christian men and Christian leaders alike. And that’s just about pornography. This says nothing about our sexual integrity struggles with prostitution on business trips, strip clubs, affairs, masturbation, unbridled fantasy and checking out the sexy jogger in the rearview mirror.

At some level sexual integrity is challenging for all of us…. (13)

In Unburdened: The Christian Leader’s Path to Sexual Integrity, Michael Todd Wilson begins to address these challenges and provides guidance for those who happen to be Christian leaders and are seeking greater sexual integrity. Rather than asking “Do you struggle with sexual integrity?” he asks “How do you struggle with sexual integrity.” He takes an approach which recognizes that sexuality is an inherent part of our humanity and that at least some part of our sexuality has been marred by the fall. However this book doesn’t just say “change!” This book encourages Christian leaders to find growth in light of God’s grace.

Wilson encourages Christian men to take small but intentional steps toward integrity. He encourages men in leadership to take the risk of forming relationships with safe men who can encourage them toward greater sexual integrity. He encourages the reader to learn from others who have experienced victory in this area. He also encourages honesty and confession.

Ultimately what I like the most about this book is that he encourages the reader towards a grace-based approach rather than a duty/works based approach to growing in integrity. He argues that doing the right thing simply because its what we ought to do or because we feel guilty won’t sustain lasting change. He says that we need to be motivated by grace and not law. We need to be fired up by a passion for what’s right rather than merely the call of duty. His Grace-based approach is what makes this book stand out above other books about sexual purity.

I highly recommend this book for any Christian leader who wants to grow in their sexual integrity (there is always room for growth). But the group I would most highly recommend this book to is small group leaders (especially of men’s groups). I can see this resource being used to great effect in men’s small groups or as a resource being used to equip small group leaders who are constantly faced with the sexual integrity issues in their small group.

Note: I received this book courtesy of IVP in exchange for an impartial review.

A Fellowship of Differents (A Primer on the Christian Life in Community)

This is the most important book you may ever read outside of the Bible…

At least that’s what Derwin Gray says about A Fellowship of Differents, Scot McKnight’s new books. Now I really respect Derwin Gray and I definitely try to snatch up any new book that Scot McKnight writes – but really? The most important book you will ever read? That’s a pretty bold claim – and a really hard description to live by.

Gray has gone too far. However I will certainly agree that it is a good an important book for any believer, especially those in ministry to read. Basically McKnight helps us answer the question –

What Would Paul say to the church today?

McKnight takes the teachings of Paul, specifically his major emphases like Grace, Love, Unity, Holiness, and Flourishing and applies those themes to church life today. McKnight takes his deep understanding of the New Testament and his love for the church and gives insight into what a church that actually lives by God’s word might look like today.

Yes the book contains many criticisms of the state of the church in the West, but its all written out of a love for the church in the West. Sometimes you need someone to call out your failings so that you may grow from them.

Favorite Quotes:

  • If we want our church to become holy, we need to learn to spend time in God’s presence, basking in the light of his holiness. (119)
  • To love a person means that together in our mutual indwelling we strive unto kingdom realities, or Christlikeness, or holiness, or love, or full maturity in Christ. (61)
  • If some said, you must be kosher to eat with us, Jesus said, eat with me and I will make you kosher. (135)
  • The ideal Christian life is not a life of “rules and regulations,” but rather a life of irresistible, Spirit-Shaped, new creation freedom to do all God calls us to be. (149)
  • Faithfulness is not our own strength muscled up by determination and discipline and grit; nor is it our strength combined with God’s strength. Faithfulness happens when God’s strength is unleashed in us as we look to, lean on, and love God. (161)

So if you are looking for a primer on how to walk the Christian life in the context of community then this book is for you.

Grace Is…

What is Grace?

Grace is more than being lucky to be on God’s side.

Grace is God’s goodness showered on people who have failed.

Grace is God’s love on those who think they are unlovable.

Grace is God knowing what we are designed to be.

Grace is God believing in us when we have given up.

Grace is God unleashing his transforming power.

Grace realigns and reroutes a life and a community.

Grace is when you turn your worst enemy into your best friends.

Grace takes people as they are and makes them what they can be.

Grace ennobles; grace empowers.

Grace forgives; grace frees.

Grace transcends, and grace transforms.

Grace turns God-fighters into God-defenders.

Grace turns Jesus-haters into Jesus-lovers.

Grace turns Spirit-resisters into Spirit-listeners.

-Scot McKnight (From A Fellowship of Differents, p.38-39)

Getting Practical with Paul’s Apocalyptic Gospel

Paul Writing a Letter
To see the practical implications Paul’s apocalyptic gospel in Galatians it is helpful to begin by looking at chapter 1 verse 6 which says that the Galatians are abandoning the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel. We should note that verse 1:3 begins with the “grace” that the Father and Christ offer the Galatians and that in 1:6 Paul says that they are leaving the “grace” of Christ and turning to a different gospel. This inclusio of “grace” might indicate that what is contained between these two graces is what should be contrasted with the “different gospel.” If this is the case then Paul’s gospel is essentially an apocalyptic gospel, one which essentially claims that Christ has freed us from this age by addressing the problem of sin. This notion of being freed from this age is in line with Jesus’ message in the gospels that Israel’s exile has ended. It seems as though Paul is saying that Jesus who somehow addresses our sins is the one who frees us from exile which we were under and that this exile was this present evil age. Thus Paul’s gospel is in line with Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom which is about the end of exile and the reign of YHWH.

Understanding Paul’s thoughts in this passage has various implications for Christian practice. One such implication is that it calls us to question our understanding of our hope as Christians. Many Christians would say that their hope is essentially in heaven, that one day when they die they will go to heaven, not to hell. However Paul’s gospel message is that we have been freed from the present evil age. This message implies that somehow we are no longer living in the evil age but that we have entered a new age. The fact that Christians can now live in the new age should affect the way they see their lives as Christians. If we are to understand that we have hope now, and not merely after we die, then this will radically change how we interact with the world around us. If our hope is now, then our lives as Christians cannot have an escapist mentality. As Christians we must begin to figure out what it looks like to live in light of the truth that because of Christ we are now living in the age to come.

Fear & Loathing In… God?

Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
    as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
    and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10 For forty years I loathed that generation
    and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
    and they have not known my ways.”
11 Therefore I swore in my wrath,
    “They shall not enter my rest.” – Psalm 95

Moses Striking the Rock by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (oil on canvas 1660’s)

God loathed that generation! If you are like me that is so hard to grasp – God Loathed them! Why because they complained against God and hardened their hearts against him. How can God loath his chosen people? How does that even make sense? In one of John Webster’s sermons on this very Psalm he addresses how this can be. Honestly its one of the best explanations of God’s wrath and hatred and anger that I have ever read…

Now, if we are to hear Holy Scripture aright at this point, we must be very careful. We read of God “loathing” this generation, of God’s anger against them. But if we are to make sense of that, we must not fall into the idea that God becomes another God—a God without grace, a God without mercy, a God who is not the redeemer and guardian of his people. God’s anger against this wicked generation does not mean that God abandons his covenant. It does not mean that God casts off his people forever, and that his promises are at an end. God’s purpose stands fast. His ways will be brought to completion. No sin, no rebellion, no refusal of God, can overthrow the determination of God. If our sins could stand between us and God, then no one would ever have been saved. God has never and will never go back on his avowed purpose that he will be our God and we will be his people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. God is infinitely greater than all our sins.

Because this is so, then this “loathing” and “anger” of God does not mean that God rejects his people and that he is no longer with them. But it does mean that his presence is the terrifying presence of the judge of all. And that presence purifies by destroying evil. God’s anger is not just sheer destructive rage, the kind of thing which afflicts human beings and leads them to smash everything in their sight. God’s anger is God setting aside the evil which we sinners have allowed to invade us and take over our lives. It is the fearful energy of his holiness; it is his refusal to let sin have the upper hand. Through his anger, God eradicates sin and evil from the world. And he eradicates evil with a purpose: He eradicates it in order that righteousness and holiness might flourish; he attacks sin to establish the good order of human life. God’s anger is not God on the rampage; it is the form of God’s love. It is God refusing to let sin triumph; it is God not allowing his people to destroy themselves. God’s anger is his faithfulness to the covenant, the purifying power of his love. It doesn’t send us to hell; it rescues us from hell.

Webster, J. (2014). Confronted by Grace: Meditations of a Theologian. (D. Bush & B. Ellis, Eds.). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Free Books – Two Key Books in Pauline Studies

I love the fact that Logos gives out a free book each month. But sometimes those books are hit or miss. This month though, its definitely a hit. They are giving away an awesome book on Pauline Studies and they are throwing in a game-changing book for dirt cheap . The first book – the free book – is Stephen Westerholm’s short book Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking a Pauline Theme.

Note: You can read my review of Justification Reconsidered by clicking on the link here.

Justification Reconsidered

Here’s a short blurb: Much has been written of late about what the Apostle Paul really meant when he spoke of justification by faith, not the works of the law. This short study by Stephen Westerholm carefully examines proposals on the subject by Krister Stendahl, E. P. Sanders, Heikki Räisänen, N. T. Wright, James D. G. Dunn, and Douglas A. Campbell. In doing so, Westerholm notes weaknesses in traditional understandings that have provoked the more recent proposals, but he also points out areas in which the latter fail to do justice to the apostle.

The other book is Douglas Campbell’s game-changing (and largely wrong) The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul.

Here’s a short blurb: This book breaks a significant impasse in much Pauline interpretation today, pushing beyond both Lutheran and “New” perspectives on Paul to a noncontractual, “apocalyptic” reading of many of the apostle’s most famous—and most troublesome—texts. In The Deliverance of God, Douglas Campbell holds that the intrusion of an alien, essentially modern, and theologically unhealthy theoretical construct into the interpretation of Paul has produced an individualistic and contractual construct that shares more with modern political traditions than with either orthodox theology or Paul’s first-century world. In order to counter-act that influence, Campbell argues that it needs to be isolated and brought to the foreground before the interpretation of Paul’s texts begins. When that is done, readings free from this intrusive paradigm become possible and surprising new interpretations unfold.

You can pick this must-read, conversation changing, book for just 99 cents when you get the free Westerholm book.

If you don’t have logos – don’t worry! You can download the app for free on your mobile device and still purchase individual titles. So you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on Logos to get these two books.

Hail Mary, Given Grace [T.F. Torrance and Grace in the Annunciation]

Tonight on Christmas Eve we celebrate the fact that to us a Savior was born. He was born in the little town of Bethlehem to a faith-filled virgin. Hear what T.F. Torrance has to say about Mary and the pattern of grace we see in the virgin birth…

The angel went to her and said "Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women."
The angel went to her and said “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”

In the virgin birth we are given at the very beginning of Christ’s life a revelatory sign, which tells us what the divine act of grace is. Grace takes a form in the birth of Jesus which we may take as a pattern or norm for all our understanding of grace. Here God takes the initiative and approaches Mary through the word of his angelic messenger – the word proclaimed to Mary is the word of election or grace: she is chosen and told of God’s choice. She has nothing to do in this matter except what is done in her under the operation of the Spirit. What Mary does is simply to receive the word, to believe, which she does not in her own strength but in the strength given her by the Lord, and she is blessed because of that, not because of her virginity….

This is the normative pattern for the believer in his or her attitude toward the Word announced in the gospel, which tells men and women of the divine act of grace and decision taken already on their behalf in Christ. (Incarnation 101)