June 27, 2012 by Matthew Mason
In relation to creation, the gospel is not a crown on a canary. God’s purposes in Christ do not replace, subvert, or alter his original design in creation; rather they redeem and deepen it, bringing it to completion. Grace does not replace nature; grace restores nature and brings it to its proper perfection. As John Bolt explains, this was the heart of Herman Bavinck’s understanding of the Christian religion.
Repeatedly in his writings Bavinck defines the essence of the Christian religion in a trinitarian, creation-affirming way. A typical formulation: “The essence of the Christian religion consists in this, that the creation of the Father, devastated by sin, is restored in the death of the Son of God, and re-created by the Holy Spirit into a kingdom of God.” Put more simply, the fundamental theme that shapes Bavinck’s entire theology is the trinitarian idea that grace restores nature.
…In an important address on common grace…Bavinck sought to impress on his Christian Reformed audience the importance of Christian sociocultural activity. He appealed to the doctrine of creation, insisting that it s diversity is not removed by redemption but cleansed. “Grace does not remain outside or above or beside nature but rather permeates and wholly renews it. And thus nature, reborn by grace, will be brought to its highest revelation. That situation will again return in which we serve God freely and happily, without compulsion or fear, simply out of love, and in harmony with our true nature. That is the genuine religio naturalis.” In other words, “Christianity does not introduce a single substantial foreign element into the creation. it creates no new cosmos but rather makes the cosmos new. it restores what was corrupted by sin. it atones the guilty and cures what is sick; the wounded it heals.” (John Bolt, ‘Editor’s Introduction’ to Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ, 17).
June 14, 2012 by Jason Hood
. . . can you spot?
I’m currently enjoying as much of the European Championships as I can. I’ve copied the current headlines from the sidebar of soccernet.com (run by ESPN). How many signs of the end of the world can you spot?
(The Russian fine headline is the result of Poles and Russians clashing in the streets before their fight, and it had more to do with history and current nationalistic and expansionistic policies and rhetoric than soccer…unless we recognize that the latter may in fact be a subset of the former.)
EURO 2012 HEADLINES
- Poland convicts 23 hooligans in fast-track trials
- Croatian fans burn EU flag, carry far-right signs
- Sub’s late clutch goal lifts Portugal by Denmark
- Germany’s 2-1 win has Dutch near elimination
- Russia fined $150K for fans’ attacks after match
- Captain’s strike gives Poland key tie vs. Russia
- Czechs score 2 in first six minutes, beat Greece
- Sweden players see ‘fun’: others call it bullying
- Euro viewership on ESPN triples over ’08 tourney
- Italy player says he hopes no gays are on team
March 28, 2011 by Jason Hood
It’s an endlessly fascinating epistle, even mind-blowing at times. If you haven’t read it lately, do so!
Nelson Kloosterman has an interesting discussion of one aspect of 1 Peter, life in a pagan culture: what if we are alien-residents, rather than resident-aliens? What if “pilgrim” vs. “participant” is a false dichotomy? Here is his money shot: “Pilgrimage is not the alternative to cultural participation. Pilgrimage is the manner of Christian cultural participation.”
For my part I’ve been working through what 1 Peter teaches on missional suffering (as opposed to generic suffering of the sort all humans experience) and the death of Jesus.
Dan McCartney observes, “There are few books in the New Testament more intensely concerned with the atonement than 1 Peter. Yet the comments in this letter on the redemptive work of Christ in his suffering and death all take place in the context of ethical discussions about the behavior of servants, or the Christian response to undeserved suffering, or general exhortations regarding the Christian life.”
For 1 Peter as for the gospels and the rest of the NT, the death of Jesus is not about doctrine alone. It is a picture held up for readers to imitate in various ways, a picture of a life lived in submission to God in a broken world. “The Messiah suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Pet 2:21).
The term Peter uses for example, hypogrammos, can refer to an alphabet, often engraved in a plate, a standard provided to students to use when learning to write letters. Karen Jobes notes the inability of English terms to convey this sense: “‘[E]xample,’ ‘model,’ or ‘copy’ are too weak, for Jesus’ suffering is not simply an example or pattern or model, as if one of many; he is the paradigm by which Christians write large the letters of his gospel in their heart.”
Jobes concludes: “This is a strong image associating the Christian’s life with the life of Christ. For one cannot step into the footsteps of Jesus and head off in any other direction than the direction he took, and his footsteps lead to the cross, through the grave, and onward to glory.”
 Dan G. McCartney, “Atonement in James, Peter and Jude: ‘Because Christ Suffered for You,’” in The Glory of the Atonement, 180. Note the subtitle of Edmund Clowney’s exposition of 1 Peter: The Message of 1 Peter: The Way of the Cross (The Bible Speaks Today; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1989); Karen Jobes, 1 Peter (BECNT), 195. 1 Comment
December 31, 2010 by Jason Hood
Update: The Economist has an earlier (2006) article with some eye-popping stats on Nollywood: it produces more movies than India and the US and employs nearly a million people.
The year-end double issue of The Economist has an interesting breakdown of the pan-African success of Nollywood films. These films represent the Nigerian alternative to the hope-or-holocaust treatments of Africa churned out by Hollywood. These indigenous films depict the challenges commonly faced by New Africans: the hope and trauma associated with rural people moving into massive urban area; personal (not political) betrayal and disappointment; the challenges of “ordinary people trying to make sense of a fast-changing, unkind world.”
(In passing, I think anyone considering moving to Africa as a missionary should watch 10-15 of these films as part of their training.)
Theological themes are rampant in Nigerian films. Witchcraft or occult-related wickedness provide drama and violence: “Traditional curses are imposed, spirits wander, juju blood flows.”
“[T]ormented characters often find salvation by turning to Christ. A church scene is de rigeur in a Nollywood film.” As many “Nigerian ‘owner-operated’ churches preach the gospel” around Africa—virtually always health-and-wealth in nature—the burgeoning Nollywood film industry has become a way to manifest religious success.
“Many Nollywood film stars are born-again Christians. Film credits usually end with the invocation: ‘to God be the Glory’. Helen Ukpabio, who is a leading actress as well as a successful preacher, runs a decidedly religious production company called Liberty Films. ‘All the movies from our stable are means of spreading the gospel in preparation of rapture,’ she explains.” These Christians are out in front of the trend, and thus by some measures more successful than Christians in North America, with less of the late-to-the-party derision of Left Behind-style Christian cultural interaction.
The article closes by comparing the growth and success of Nollywood to Hollywood’s own global growth. But America’s other great export—the health-and-wealth gospel—authors the imprimatur on many of Nollywood’s hits, for spiritual slogans and faith formulae are far more slavishly followed than film industry conventions.0 Comments
November 30, 2010 by Jason Hood
Let me say that I could argue either way on this one as both have very strong points. But let’s critique the original essay a bit for starters. (Let me clarify that I know nothing of the church or musicians in question other than what is said in the essay, so what I’m saying is only about the essay and the argument than their ministry, which I would not call into question; I’m certainly in favor of contextualization.) I’ll highlight a few quotes and give my own thoughts.
“Youngren hoped to plant a church that could specifically minister to artists and clear a place at their feet where the entire congregation could sit and learn from them.” Later Fujimura is cited: “So much of God’s truth is located in the eternal and invisible. God is in the sublime, but the sublime is often only accessed by artists.”
In my experience the church really needs to be sitting at the feet and hearing from down-to-earth missionaries, businessmen who have made radical economic sacrifices, people who have loved dirty lost people into faith, and couples who have worked very hard at love, trust, and forgiveness. Some of these people may be artists, but that is incidental to their value to the church.
Teaching a dehumanized child how to be human appears less sublime than hip artistry and “creative impressions”. But in fact, the art of radical Christian living is far deeper and more human than mere artistry. I’ve been a worship musician, an inner-city schoolteacher, and a parent (among other things) and I was more creative when teaching and parenting than with a guitar in my hands. I’ve known many Christian musicians whose belief in the importance of their “art” (sometimes called an anointing) led directly to a narcissistic, self-centered approach to life. Making artists out to be anointed priests with unique access to the divine can lead artists to confuse service and superiority, regardless of how highly their craft scores on the sublime scale.
I guess I would want to know what artists have to teach us that cannot be taught or learned by someone who has lived for Jesus patiently, seeing God in creation in the midst of working at a desk or in a house full of sinful, ungrateful children. Often there is the assumption that we can and thus should improve the aesthetic values of a congregation, and that such an important thing is well worth our time and $$. That’s true whether high culture (and a million dollar pipe organ) is the desideratum or pop culture in one of its more sophisticated manifestations. I certainly wish most lay people had a better appreciation for art/music, and in that sense I’m sympathetic to pushing back in places where art and artists are not valued. The emphasis in the essay on being better readers is important as well—I was just this morning lamenting the lack of contextual reading skills.
But let’s not make the mistake of making art qua art out to be some sort of priestly venture, capable of stewarding the secrets of divinity to which the unartistic have no access. Not least because that priestly position rather dangerously elevates artists above critique and (arguably) violates the spirit of Deut 29:29.
Moreover, it’s unclear to me that art–particularly art deemed adequately “sophisticated” by those with enough hubris to say so–is to be placed on a pedestal as something to which we must aspire in order to truly or fully worship or experience God:
“Because many don’t treat art as an integral part of living or worship, they do not know how to experience God through creative impressions and musical abstraction. They don’t know how to receive art unless it is spelled out plainly.”
If people are not artists of a particularly sophisticated type, or fans of impressionistic or abstract art, on what basis are we to fault them for such deficiencies? This paragraph sounds a bit like a Christian version of Pleasantville: the masses need to be enlightened, and we are the ones to do it. I get this impression not least from the way “art” as articulated in this essay is some special class of abstract, impressionistic creative expression fully distinguishable from what is commonly accessible.
But every human I know, save for a few computer programmers and theologians, values forms of creative expression as an integral part of living or worship. Unfortunately for them (and almost all humans in history), it often fails to qualify as “art” or garner the label “artistic” because it (say) involves Kincaid, an organ, or an arrangement that is 100 years old whose harmonies are more functional and accessible than sophisticated and ethereal. I find it brutalizing to fault the cultural laity–Christian or otherwise–because abstraction and “creative impression” does not register with them. Still less do I have the right to denigrate their interests and inspirations, however much disdain I have for Thomas Kinkade and synchronized ribbon dancers during worship.
Some parts of this essay sound like a more sophisticated, non-charismatic version of the approach to worship I heard when I first learned to play in charismatic worship bands. We who were anointed always felt bad for (and sometimes even looked down on) those who couldn’t take 45 minutes to “flow with the Spirit” according to our pre-programmed musical pattern on a Sunday morning and experience enlightenment and our own worshipful sense of God’s glory and grandeur. Now maybe there was something wrong with those we looked down on. On the other hand, maybe those folks had personalities that didn’t swing our direction. Maybe they had simply learned a different artistic language.
And if so, then maybe my job as an artist is to speak their language in their idioms, even if it is more readily accessible and not as impressionistic or as abstract as I would like. Leading worship at most churches will inevitably be a cross-cultural experience for most musicians. And if there’s one thing we know about cross-cultural ministry, it’s that requiring others to learn our idioms and making the quality of their spiritual life dependent on our idioms is an error of massive proportions (particularly since it mistakes form for content).
Maybe the laity are artists in their own right, simply looking for God and goodness and beauty in the midst of dreary, stressful, sense-deadened lives, striving for faithfulness and worship in a world where neither is regarded as beautiful. Put another way: if I was an accountant with a tough marriage simply struggling to follow Jesus, maybe I myself would like Kinkade, K-Love, and Christian illiterature. And maybe those of us who are more sophisticated should glorify God not in spite of the fact that people find him there, but because they find him there. I praise him not just for his infinite superiority, but because our God is a God who took his artistic superiority and stooped. Maybe we should do likewise.7 Comments
November 9, 2010 by Matthew Mason
The Bible does not only tell the history of redemption. It also tells the story of how God is bringing humanity from infancy to maturity in Christ. To tell this story faithfully requires integrating the doctrine of creation that we find in Genesis 1 with the gospel. Douglas Knight captures the connection between creation and redemption with an evocative metaphor.
The doctrine of creation requires two accounts, in one of which creation is a single finished event, and in the other of which creation and its vindication are a process that continues. In this second account God sustains his creation in the face of the resistance represented by other incompatible goals and creations. A[n] analogy may help establish the complexity of the link between the doctrines of creation and reconciliation. We need to show that God makes the world new by picking up and reusing what is to hand, without this being any the less entirely his own work. This…analogy is about building a house and a society.
Building a house is a relatively unproblematic business. It involves the accurate measurement and assembly of inanimate pieces at right angles to each other. But les us imagine that at the same time it was our task to bring up a group of children, to build both a house and a society. Imagine that this group of children includes a mixture of the very young, the disturbed, and the delinquent. The learning environment for some could be constrained or threatened by the behavior of others, and their learning outcomes may be very different.
To build a house in order to live in it together would be straightforward. But to build that house together as the means of bringing up a gang of delinquent children to adulthood would be more of a challenge. For the children this would be not only the first time building anything, but the first time for any social behavior. Whatever the children built or destroyed in the course of a day, the builder would have to ingrate into the construction of a house. The builder must make good a building that does not suffer from the deficiencies of the efforts of children, or even the willful deconstruction caused by disaffected delinquents. It is not that the upbringing and education of the children is an interim goal, and the building of the house an ultimate goal. Neither goal can be subordinated to the together. The house must have the objective reality of a building; it must become the place in which they can live. It must also however, be the wherewithal by which they grow to be adults and are provided with support that increases and decreases at every stage as appropriate to each learner.
(Douglas Knight, The Eschatological Economy: Time and the Hospitality of God [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006], 38-39. The original is one paragraph; I added the breaks0 Comments
November 5, 2010 by Matthew Mason
In Desiring the Kingdom, James Smith gives an exegesis of the suburban shopping mall, suggesting that it ‘is actually a religious space because it is suffused with practices that constitute a kind of worship (p. 93). He argues from an Augustinian anthropology, where we are creatures shaped by our desires, that malls are temples, with their own ritual practices that are designed to shape us and to evoke a certain set of loves.
With this in mind, this short video is at once beautiful and deeply subversive. For five minutes, Christ’s transforming rule is proclaimed in the midst of one of postmodernity’s temples of desire. More than that, the transformation is a kind of glorification, as the muzak of the mall is replaced by music of transcendent beauty. Both during and after the performance, Macy’s had become a different kind of space to inhabit. The passing desires and rituals of the mall had been transcended by the beauty of the endless rule of Christ. Evoking surprise, bewilderment, and delight among the assembled shoppers, the veil was momentarily parted, and reality shone through.0 Comments