Despite all of its bitterness, 2020 also shared its slice of sweetnesses. For me, I thank the Lord for concentrated time with our little family and extra bandwidth for reading and reflection. I enjoyed, learned, and grew through reading a number of books this year, and here are my top choices from 2020. Five were published in 20202, and six were books I read this year (several of which I wish I had read much earlier!).
Katerine Sonderegger, Systematic Theology, Volume 2, The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity: Processessions and Persons. In full disclosure, I am reading this one slowly and intentionally, and I haven’t quite finished it yet. Nevertheless, it clearly stands high on any list for 2020. Sonderegger’s prose exhilirates me (and often exhausts me) every time I move through a new section. She grounds a huge section of her explication of the processional life of God in the sacrifical cultus of Leviticus. …
In my paper for this year’s annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, I argue that a Protestant principle of sola Scriptura can provide a methodological guardrail against tendencies toward what I’m calling either cataphatic “indulgence” or apophatic “indigence” in constructive theological labor. Here I draw from Kevin Vanhoozer’s essay on sola Scriptura in Biblical Authority After Babel, which defines Scripture as clear, self-sufficient, and self-interpreting, yielding a canonical “practice of using Scripture to interpret Scripture” which nevertheless avoids a narrow biblicism (solo or nuda Scriptura) and engages robustly with the catholic tradition. I argue that this tradition functions like rumble strips on the highly of theological labor, warning the theologian to take care and pay attention to potential danger. If such secondary authority bounds the theologian by way of warning, Scripture defines the non-negotiable guardrail on that highway. Here I envision Scripture in two methodological modes: a negative mode of “guarding” the theologian from catastrophic and a positive mode of “guiding” the theologian toward truth. Scripture is the wayfinder for theological investigation. …
In a recent article, Florida pastor Tom Ascol argues that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) should elect a local church pastor for its next President. Ascol pushes back against the selection of a denominationally employed “bureaucrat.” The article implies or asserts a number of problems with a denominationally employed leader.
Ascol argues that denominational bureaucrats (by which he largely means the administration and faculty of the SBC seminaries) traded orthodox theology for something unbiblical, leading to the need for the reformation of the SBC in the late 1970s and 1980s.
Ascol also correlates the bureaucratic organs in Washington (what some call the “Deep State”) with current employees of SBC entities. Some of these employees promote positions Ascol considers unbiblical, refusing to stiffen their spines and stand for the gospel. Instead, Ascol argues, these employees work for us, the pastors and members of SBC churches, who “own the institutions” and “pay their salaries.” …
Actions follow faith. Everything we consciously do follows our beliefs about that thing. Every person believes something about every conscious action in their life. Those beliefs may be largely subconscious, they may form almost instantaneously, or they may simmer slowly and deliberately in our hearts and minds. But whether it’s changing lanes on Federal Highway or giving our life to Christ, we choose any specific action because we believe that it provides the best option for us. We enroll our kids in school, because we believe they need to learn, grow, and make friends. …
On September 11, 2001, as waves of terror from the collapse of the twin towers pulsed across the continent, my friend Shawn and I packed up his 1987 Honda Civic to start the drive from Northern California to the Canadian border. No, we weren’t fleeing for fear. We had long been planning a gap year at Capernwray Harbor, a small Christian training center embedded on an island in British Columbia’s cold Pacific waters. At Capernwray, I lived in a cabin with half a dozen other men. Sean was from Seattle, Thomas and Marcus were from Germany, Cyriac was from India, while Chad and Steve were the resident Canadians. The months after 9/11 juxtaposed with these friends and others who introduced me to a global church embedded into a global community. I was both more proud than ever to be an American, and less arrogant than ever about my American identity. More significantly, this diverse clustering of Christians from the nations impressed me as a glimpse of the reality of Christ’s transnational and pan-national bride: “After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9). Here I saw Christ reigning as a king in a way that relativized all earthly loyalties. Yes, Marcus was German, Cyriac was Indian, and I was American, but we all confessed, “Jesus is Lord!” And so we experienced a deeper and higher unity, a new life as brothers. …
now faintly dappled by spots,
backgrounded a decade times five;
this cloud of witness would testify
to a life’s time labored
in the shadow of friends,
once fresh and now weathered
some folded and stained,
spines cracked (despite care).
Ears attentive could overhear
old discussions in marginal marks.
Except they all lay now in boxes
for flesh, paper, and bone;
buried in dirt or the dust of a room
unwanted by any,
The heartbreaking story of Ahmaud Arbery broke over the nation this week, with millions seeing a video of him being shot by two white men in February. These men, father and son Greg and Travis McDaniel, claimed that Arbery looked like someone who had been caught burglaring on home security video. They saw him running through their neighborhood, armed themselves, chased him down, and when he tried to defend himself, they shot him and killed him in the middle of the street. The video is sickening, as Arbery stumbles and collapses, breathing his last.
A wave of outrage and lament has broken out across social media, and the shooters have finally been arrested. Among the many voices of lament, a few have raised a fairly standard list of questions, “Why is this such a huge deal?” “Why don’t we lament the killing or murder of every person, white or black?” “How you do know this was racism and not merely self-defense?” …
I was sixteen days into the season I’d been dreaming about for a decade and a half. After spending almost nine years pastoring an established church, I was now a full-time church planter. Everyone said I would feel like a bird with unclipped wings, uncaged and free to fully follow God’s call. But just over two weeks into this season of free range ministry, a door with iron bars imprisoned me. In the semester leading up to our church launch, I had committed to teach a number of theology classes as an adjunct professor. This was in part because I’m called to teach the Bible and in part because I’m called to make enough money for my kids to eat lunch every day. Two weeks into the first of these classes, while lecturing from Acts 17, a firestorm of anxiety swallowed my mind and heart. …
In light of the coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic, many churches, ours included, have suspended physical church gatherings. This is an unprecedented situation and leaders, church leaders included, are writing the playbook in real time. While many have argued for suspended church gatherings, others have argued against it. Here I want to argue why a church should suspend church gatherings in light of the coronavirus and COVID-19, and to provide responses to a few arguments for why a church might want to continue to gather.
First, Christians are called to love their neighbors. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Part of loving our neighbors means seeking their peace and welfare. We are ultimately concerned for their eternal destiny with God, and we are also concerned with their life in this world. We are not of the world, but we are in the world. And in the world we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. So, if we can stop the spread of disease to those who are vulnerable in our community, then we are acting not in fear but in love. …
To celebrate my 39th birthday today, here are 39 quotes on the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the eternally begotten Son of God.
“Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death — even to death on a cross. For this reason God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow — in heaven and on earth and under the earth — and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” …