The Importance of Imagination, Part 5

NickOfTime

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Imagining the Transcendent

We have already emphasized the distinction between immanent reality (the here-and-now, sensible order) and transcendent reality (the eternal order that is outside of and above immanent reality). As Christians, we must be careful not to deny either the actual reality or the fundamental goodness of the immanent order. That is the error of Gnosticism. Nevertheless, we do deny its ultimacy. We recognize that the transcendent is prior to and above the immanent. If we wish to know the world as it ought to be known, then we must have at least a glimpse into the mind of God.

In order for us to get that glimpse, it must be given to us. It must come from God’s side. If God does not speak to us, then we shall forever remain ignorant of the eternal world, and consequently, we shall remain doomed to misconstrue the world in which we live.

Philosophers have asked certain questions about our dependence upon revelation. Is it possible for God to communicate with us? Is the eternal of such a nature that it can be grasped by human minds? Is human language even capable of bearing genuine revelation? These are important questions.

We need not speculate about the answers. We need merely to point to the Bible. The Bible is genuinely God’s message to us. It allows us to glimpse God’s mind and to discern enough of transcendent reality in order to let us understand immanent reality. For those who know and love God, there can be no questioning of the Bible’s authority. Read more about The Importance of Imagination, Part 5

Poland: Always the Underdog

Maybe three years in Poland has left me somewhat nostalgic, but I love America; I miss America. As Ginger and I learn the language and observe this culture so foreign to our own, we often find ourselves comparing the two. One culture is home, and the other, well … it’s growing on us. Many similarities can be observed but a few stark differences exist. The longer I’m away from home the more I see “American Individualism” emanating from across the Atlantic. 

We Americans love stories about people who overcome all odds. We root for the underdog. Whether its pilgrims surviving the first winter; or sending the world’s great superpower back across the pond with its “tail between its legs;” or a handful of men holding off Santa Anna’s army, allowing Sam Houston to rally the troops; stories of one person or a handful of people making a difference are ingrained in our folklore. It worked for Knight Rider; it’s why Sylvester Stallone made six Rocky films; and it’s why Jack Bauer has saved America from certain destruction something like seven times (and if he can overcome direct exposure to weapons grade uranium, he’ll save us an eighth time this year). Though we know the outcome we can’t avert our eyes. Read more about Poland: Always the Underdog

I Love My Logos: A Review of Logos 4 Bible Study Software

Full disclosure: Logos and I go way back. During seminary, in the early 1990’s, my dream was to be able to run a word processor and some sort of Bible software at the same time and quickly paste text from the Bible software into the word processor. Doesn’t sound like much. Today we can do that on our phones. But at the time, it was the holy grail.

My first Bible software explorations were DOS programs—and they consistently disappointed. All that changed, though, when I scraped together my pennies and bought Windows 3.1, Microsoft Word for Windows and Logos 1.6. I’ve been a “Logos guy” ever since.

So when I write about Logos, I’m writing about an old friend I love, warts and all.

And there have always been warts. From the start, the company has had a bad case of Microsoft-think, which says (among other things) that new software will always be operated on new PCs. The result is that the software tends to be hard to afford and hardware-hungry—designed to run well on PCs that few pastors and teachers own yet.

Version 4 is no exception to Logos’ history in that department. Though many of us saw the arrival of version 3 for the Macintosh as a great ray of hope, Logos 4 for the PC is still dependent on more layers of Microsoft code than ever. (If you install it on XP, you can see this clearly as “prerequisites” install and install and install.) Read more about I Love My Logos: A Review of Logos 4 Bible Study Software

Wounded in Afghanistan

Reprinted with permission from Doug Kutilek’s As I See It, with some editing. AISI is sent free to all who request it dkutilek@juno.com.

It was 4:00 AM on March 5, 2010. The ringing telephone startled us awake from deep sleep. A call at such an hour, while not common, is regularly someone from the dialysis clinic that my wife Naomi administrates, reporting a problem with equipment as they prepare to open the facility for the day.

But the voice was that of our Marine Captain son Matthew, who had been in Afghanistan since early last October. Seeming a bit groggy, or perhaps weary (we would soon be able to tell which), his first words were, “I’m okay. I just got out of surgery. I’ve been shot in the leg.” He had our full attention. He went on to say that he had been on a dismounted patrol in hot pursuit of Taliban fighters, and had taken a single rifle round in the right leg, in the shin. He passed the phone on to a nurse who briefly detailed his injuries and assured us that he would recover. He was soon to be flown out from Camp Dwyer, where he received the initial treatment, to a larger base for further care. Read more about Wounded in Afghanistan

The Believer's Heavenly Rewards, Part 1

All true Christians must surely rejoice at the thought of God’s wonderful promise and provision that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NKJV).

But how does this divine provision relate to Christ’s confrontation with His church, His body and bride, at the judgment throne? Does participation in the marvelous promise of 1 John 1:9 eliminate the threat of possibly losing a reward or a crown on that great day? This is a very confusing issue for many of God’s people today.

The Purpose of the Judgment Seat Confrontation

One point must be settled immediately—the issue is the gain or loss of rewards, not of salvation. Thank God, “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). And, “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:1-2). Read more about The Believer's Heavenly Rewards, Part 1

The Pastor and His Salary Package

By James Rickard. Reprinted with permission from the Baptist Bulletin Jan/Feb ‘09 issue. All rights reserved.

In the mid-1960s as a young accountant, I began helping my pastor prepare his state and federal tax returns. I was surprised at his meager salary, lack of fringe benefits, and inability to provide financially for his future. His family lived in a church-owned parsonage totally controlled by the church; they couldn’t even paint a wall without committee approval. It was a large farmhouse that was difficult to maintain and expensive to heat. I remember visiting that parsonage and finding his wife in tears over the frustration of living under those conditions. And I remember thinking, This is not right. Little did I know how that experience would begin to sow the seeds for the Stewardship Services Foundation, a ministry that would allow me to devote my energies to counseling pastors regarding finances, helping them prepare their personal income tax returns, and teaching church boards how to structure pastors’ salary packages within the limits of IRS tax law. As a result, in 1977 the Stewardship Services Foundation ministry was born.

A church board needs to know about salary packages and their proper application in the budget process. The most important issue when it comes to this subject is the board’s attitude—a proper understanding of the salary package issue and the desire to meet the needs of the pastor’s family with a spirit of generosity. Read more about The Pastor and His Salary Package

The Importance of Imagination, Part 4

NickOfTime

Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Postmodernity and the Demonic Imagination

Among conservatives, postmodernism is almost universally spoken of in derision. The derisive attitude is understandable, especially given the consequences of what postmodernity has produced. What conservatives sometimes fail to recognize, however, is the significant contribution that postmodernism has made in its critique of modernity.

The advantage of postmodernity is that it emphasizes the bankruptcy of the modern turn. Modernity progressively (the pun is deliberate) sacrificed the transcendent universe, then the moral universe, then the ordered universe. Without an ordered universe, of course, there is no universe at all. Whatever is “out there” can be construed in an indefinite variety of ways.

Far from bemoaning the postmodern criticism of modernity, I believe that we should applaud it. Modernity was an assertion of human arrogance and autonomy. It was based upon the pretence that the facts were clear in themselves and could be understood so as to produce truth transparently. Postmodernism reminds us that brute facts do not exist. Whenever an observer notices an object or event as a fact, that person has already, by the act of noticing, interpreted and assigned a value to it.

Postmoderns are right to insist that the only reality we know is interpreted reality. They are also right to insist that we always interpret reality from within our own situation, and that our interpretation of reality invariably reflects certain pre-interpretive commitments that we have made. In fact, as Christians we go even further along this line. We insist that every human, being depraved, has a pre-interpretive commitment to sin and idolatry. Faced with the facts, in our natural state we invariably construe them in such a way as to legitimate our treason against the Creator. Read more about The Importance of Imagination, Part 4

Tertullian Misses the Gospel

Tertullian was the first Latin theologian and one of the most creative minds of the second and early third centuries. In particular, his writings contributed greatly to later articulations of the Trinity. This essay focuses on the negative, but not because I think Tertullian was worthless or because I think all good Protestants should bash the Fathers to prove their orthodoxy. On the contrary, we Protestants could probably use quite a bit more familiarity with, and appreciation for, the first five centuries of Christianity. It is precisely because of how much I enjoy Tertullian that his sub-biblical gospel stings me so sharply. I’m writing this because I think we Christians could benefit from understanding how this powerful theologian and apologist came to his misunderstanding of the gospel.

Tertullian believes that there are several unforgivable sins—“murder, idolatry, fraud, apostasy, blasphemy; (and), of course, too, adultery and fornication; and if there be any other ‘violation of the temple of God’ ” (On Modesty, 19). To Protestants, this alone appears unnecessarily harsh, but Tertullian goes farther still. It is not that the Church (or at least the New Prophets, i.e., Montanists) lacks the power to forgive these sins, in Tertullian’s view; it does have the power, but it ought not forgive such sins (On Modesty, 21). Disregarding Tertullian’s scriptural arguments, which are intriguing, his practical argument is that such leniency will simply encourage more sin in the Church, which is clearly unacceptable. There are a few hints that perhaps God in His mercy will forgive the repentant, but in any case, they cannot be returned to the fellowship of the Church.

What a twisted view of the gospel! Yet, it is more profitable to explain the context of this error than simply to decry it. We must start with Tertullian’s view of the Church. He is a perfectionist, or very nearly so. The Church is the bride of Christ, so no spot or blemish should be allowed in it. Anyone who could be condemned by the outside world on moral grounds should have already been cast out of the assembly (Apology, 44). Tertullian’s apologetic strategy both presupposes and necessitates this perfectionist tendency. Tertullian’s main argument for Christianity is the moral blamelessness of Christians. According to Tertullian, Christians simply don’t engage in bad behavior, at least nothing too bad. Although he does grant that Christians may need one (and only one) dose of post-baptismal forgiveness for some non-mortal sin (On Repentance, 7), Tertullian does not paint a picture of Christians struggling against sin, except in an unending stream of victories. Read more about Tertullian Misses the Gospel