Thursday, December 25, 2008

On The Weight of The Incarnation

"Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people." (Heb 2:17)

Another Christmas is here and gone, presents strewn about the house, cookie crumbs decorate the mouth corners of all, and the seasonal afternoon nap develops into a way of life. It truly is easy to lose sight of the heart of what it is we are celebrating amidst all the commotion of family visits, dinners, children playing, purchases and exchanges etc.

We can think quaintly of the baby in the manger, with the sheep and animals gently nuzzeling about Him. But it is there in Bethlehem we see humility and exaltation joined in One, glory and shame, the servant and King of all, this in one Person, Jesus Christ.

He was made like us in every way, subjected Himself to the same futility, cried like any other infant, played with other children, skinned His knees, as He grew He learned a trade and earned a living. In two ways He was not like us, He is indeed God and He lived a life without sin. All of this to save a people to Himself.

He didn't have to do it. Justice does not demand this humility and mercy on His part. The wonderous mystery of His choice to come as a Man and lovingly redeem a people lies in the unloveliness of those He came to redeem. He did not look upon us and see something that called for mercy (else it would no longer be mercy). Rather, in all of our ugliness toward one another and rejecting of God's Lordship He came to save.

We all to easily confess to our sinfulness without meditating on the hideousness of it, perhaps because it is too heavy to bear. "Christ died for the ungodly" (5:6) What does it mean to be "ungodly" other than to be opposed to God and all He calls good?

Such were all of us, yet He came nonetheless. He did not do this primarily to show us the life to live, for we could never live it. However, we see in Christ the invisible God. God is not some aloof invisible man distant from His creation as some would say. Our sin has seperated us from Him yet in His mercy He revealed Himself by becoming one of us. In Christ that seperation beween man and God no longer exists and those who are in Him may boldy approach the throne of grace.

These are sweet truths, worthy of meditation more than once a year.

Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Revisiting Schaeffer's "Final Apologetic"

In Francis Scaheffer's work "The Mark of the Christian" the timeless balance of truth and love, doctrinal integrity and interpersonal authenticity is struck. All too often we fall prey to one extreme or another in our evangelism, apologetics, preaching and relationships with one another. We tend to emphasize one of Scripture's mandates at the expense of another.

Followers of Christ who highly esteem the Word and the propositional truths contained in the Bible often can be guilty of bludgeoning others with those truths. Any disagreement is met with harsh outbursts where the person of the objector is attacked and villified. When it is between believers and non-believers, as far as I can tell this is no more evident than within the supposed "Culture War".

Believer to Unbeliever Lack of Love

In the made up "Culture War" moral miscreants and unbelievers are "the enemy" who must be destroyed. This is evidenced by a recent "outrage" of a homosexual nativity scene with 2 Marys and 2 Josephs played by live people (they must be working in shifts). At any rate the group has claimed it is not their intention to offend Christian but they just want an alternative because they "feel left out" of Christmas.

Is this blasphemous?



Meant to offend Christians?

But how do we react as Christians? Do we go on the radio and rant about these people and their degeneracy? Go stand across the street from their Nativity scene with signs reminding them that indeed homosexuality is immoral and hell is real? Well that's what is expected, and frankly that's probably what these people want; a bunch of angry offended Christians foaming at the mouth. This is ugliness and is often all the world sees of Christians.

So how should we react? By practically loving them. It can be as simple as bringing them hot coffee and warm cookies and gently saying "I completely disagree with what you are doing but I want you to know I love you." If they have any sense and they see you aren't there to pick a fight (which is probably what they want) they just might feel a little thing we call guilt in response to your returning good for evil.

I believe we are called to do just that, we are not called to protest, lobby, yell and scream we are called to love our neighbor and seek to save the lost. Schaeffer wrote of this stating:

"All men are our neighbors, and we are to love them as ourselves. We are to do this on the basis of creation, even if they are not redeemed, for all men have value because they are made in the image of God. Therefore, they are to be loved even at great cost."

Believer to Believer Compromise of Love

In the believer to believer conflicts and disagreements much ugliness and lack of love can also be displayed. Church splits often reflect this ugliness where the actual matter of the division gets lost in personal malicious attacks.

I know for myself the above is my own tendency, I love the truths of God inestimably and I hate to see them trampled down as a common thing. Bunyan's depition of "Mr. Valiant for truth" is one of my own heart. So, when I see or hear the center attacked I get angry at the person. My first thoughts in doctinal controversies generally are not how can I in trying to win this person intellectually to a "more perfect" (Acts 18:26) understanding of God show them that I love them unconditionally? My thoughts are generally thoughts of how to zing the moron. This is sin, and a theology of glory.

On the opposite end of the spectrum we have the tendency to compromise truth and doctrine for relationships. This is poignently seen in the incessant cries for "Unity!" in the church. These cries are valid Biblically (Eph 4:1-10) and are not to be dismissed out of hand. However, often the cry for "Unity!" is synonymous with a cry of "Compromise!". This has been the bane of liberal theologians exhortations for Church unity, it is a unity that is simply skin deep.

Again, as I have said my personal tendency is toward truth at the expense of brotherly kindness, so my sense of the the unity=compromise is rather acute. More than acute my theological spidey sense more often than not manifests in outright synicism at any cry for "Unity!" Because, like the dwarves in the C.S. Lewis' "Last Battle" I simply do not want to be taken in.

Living Christ's Commands

This is why I have found Francis Schaeffer's life and contribution to be of immense value. Schaeffer not only talked about the balance between truth and interpersonal relationships he lived it. His exhortation though simple enough is so easy to neglect. We are not to destroy the image of God in the person in our proclamation and defense of the truth, nor are we on the other hand to compromise the truth in order to have relationship with persons.

This is a simple message. However, in order to really live this balance I believe we absolutely must be intentional in seeking this balance. Schaeffer's own life manifested this balance as he opened his home at L'Abri to travelers and seekers, loved them in very practical manner all the while speaking the truth of Christ to them. This is "Speaking the truth in love" (Eph 4).

I honestly think that this is the most important aspect of "Schaeffer's apologetic" as without the diligent practice of loving the whole person our apologetic efforts are being undercut by our lack of love for the individual. This is in part why I have backed off a bit from the internet debate culture, so much of debate on blogs is simply bickering in an extremely insulting manner. Individuals are far more rude over the medium of the internet than in person, myself included.

It really goes back to the call to love our neighbor as ourselves which Schaeffer has emphasized.
While it is true that people may believe and say things that are ridiculous as well as blasphemous, yet for the sake of the image of God in the person they are to be reprooved and corrected while we do not seek to destroy them as persons through insult and a desire for ill will. We must honestly be checking our own hearts as often we will find ourselves desiring people to fail because of some disagreement we may have with them.

Don't be quick to think "I don't do that!" if we search our hearts we will undoubtedly see this dark smudge. All the more lamentable is that we more often than not harbor such ill will toward our fellow Christian with whom we may disagree doctrinally. We may actually feel a degree of glad smugness upon hearing of their failure. This is ugly, for in holding this attitude we have destroyed our brother in our hearts under the banner of "Truth".

In his book "The Mark of the Christian" Schaeffer argues strongly based upon John 13:33-35 that world will know that Christ is risen and is Lord by the changed lives of Christians manifesting itself in love. Schaeffer shows that unless we are truly loving each other WITHIN our differences the world has no reason to believe the Christian message is any different than all the other messages. It is this Mark of the Christian that distinguishes Christianity as authentic truth, for we can disagree even strongly yet love and fellowship with equal strength within our disagreements. Schaeffer writes:

"Before a watching world, an observable love in the midst of difference will show a difference between Christian's differences and other men's differences. The world may not understand what the Christians are disagreeing about, but they will very quickly understand the difference of our differences in an open and observable love on a practical level.

That is different. Can you see why Jesus said this was the thing that would arrest the attention of the world? You cannot expect the world to understand doctrinal differences, espescially in our day when the existence of truth and absolutes are considered unthinkable even as concepts."

Everyone will disagree and argue, the difference is that Christians are called to love within their disagreements and this is what will authenticate the message to the watching world. That is what our Lord Jesus Christ said. This love toward one another as fellow Christians is what will give a distinction to our message, and what Christ said validates that we ourselves are Christians.

I close on that note by quoting Schaeffer on the final apologetic:

"Yet, unless true Christians show observable love to each other, Christ says the world can not be expected to listen, even when we give proper answers. Let us be careful, indeed, to spend a lifetime studying to give honest answers. So it is well to spend time learning to answer the questions of those who are about us. But we must never forget that the final apologetic which Jesus gives is the observable love of true Christians for true Christians."