Peace and Human Flourishing

How would you define the word “peace”? When most people think of peace, the first idea that comes to mind is the opposite of war—the absence of fighting. In other words, peace is for many a negation—a lack of something bad, sort of a blank slate indicating not much else except the possibility of a fresh start. You get a glimpse of this view of peace from the feeling a sunrise or sunset stirs in you. But peace is much more than a feeling or lack of conflict. There is a reason why the Bible’s words for peace—shalom in Hebrew and eirene in Greek—are carried over into English as greetings and names of ministries. But the reason is not always obvious.

Many universal human longings we take for granted. Love, belonging, righteousness, work, and rest. These all lie close to our hearts and are unavoidable. Others lie under the surface or function like the air we breathe. Peace is that kind of longing. It’s rare for people’s hearts to ache for peace and human flourishing until war, hardship, alienation, oppression, or other aching frustrations wake us up to our profound need for deep and lasting peace. Perhaps the best way to grasp what I mean by this kind of peace is by tapping into your imagination. Try this: what do you wish out of life for your great-grandchildren: people you love but may never know. Your answers are likely very similar to everyone else’s. Unless you wish for them world domination or to win the lottery jackpot, I bet you imagine things like happiness, freedom, health and prosperity, good education, a safe neighborhood, marriage and family, friends, time for leisure and recreation, community service, devotion to God, a vibrant church. Those are what peace looks like. But peace is also allusive. Whether you pursue it alone or in cooperation with others, hard-won gains seem like sand slipping through your fingers. Just when you get a glimpse that life is truly beautiful, Murphy’s Law comes crashing down, reminding you this world is profoundly out of step with the way things ought to be. Are we doomed to this cycle of life’s frustrations, crying out “Peace! Peace!” when there is no peace? Is it even rational to long for peace, or are we just deluding ourselves? Is it responsible and realistic to just steer clear of the stubborn problems “out there” and salvage a measure of comfort for our individual lives, homes, families, and neighborhoods?

This passage in the book of Ezekiel, chapter 34, verses 11-31 provides us answers to these perplexing questions.  What will it show us?  That the LORD will rescue his lost people and shepherd them in justice as their healer, protector, provider, and ever-present God. You can only experience the kind of soul peace that buttresses human flourishing and sustains you through times of trouble by reconciliation with God through Christ the Good Shepherd. Continue reading

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Theology of the Westminster Confession: Church Censures & Synods and Councils

My church is nearing the end of an extensive adult Sunday School class.  The topic is the theology of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF).  The idea is that each teacher will develop a set of slides to aid in presentation and discussion.  We hope the completed set of slides (the goal is to cover all 33 chapters of the WCF) is a valuable resource not only for our folks at church, but also for individuals, other churches and schools to use (and modify) for their own purposes.  Here is the set of slides that present chapters 30-31 of the WCF on “Church Censures & Synods and Councils.”  Enjoy and let me know what you think.  Are these helpful?  How could they be improved?

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Praying the Bible (Book Review)

Prayer is like rowing.  It’s hard, tedious work.  And you don’t feel like you’re going anywhere if you don’t do it consistently.  Even so, there is a definite benefit to it.  Sometimes it’s even enjoyable.  But when the wind catches the sail, what wondrous elation you know and feel when you’re caught up in the current, ease, and the vistas of beauty.

I love that analogy of prayer!  It’s original to Tim Keller as his hard-won conclusion to his quest for God in prayer.  Many Christians, including me, know it to be true by experience.  And yet.

We still struggle with the motivation to put our oar in the water.  Don’t you?  If you say no, then…I’m not calling you a liar, but chances are you’re either not being honest with yourself or you’ve set the bar so low for prayer that it takes little effort to clear it.  Again, you may have a vibrant prayer life that regular, powerful, sincere, humble, and satisfying.  Only you and God know.  But most sense they’re missing out on the riches of prayer.  Why is that?  Why do believers who love God and truly desire to know him with great intimacy have such a hard time with prayer?  It’s probably not laziness for the otherwise diligent Christian.  It cannot be lack of maturity for the one who is growing in Christ.  Can’t just blame it on sin without labeling what kind of sin it is.  So what in the world is wrong with you and me?  This question perplexes and often defeats sincere believers.  Is there a solution?

Don Whitney, author and a professor of biblical spirituality at SBTS, contends we won’t find an adequate solution until we accurately diagnose the problem.  Whitney can be brutally honest because he is in touch with regular Christians and also those who are pursuing a call to pastoral ministry.  What he’s found is that the problem with our motivation to pray is like the proverbial elephant in the room—everybody knows it but no one dares admit it.  (Well, except for the village atheist!)  So what’s the problem?  Brace yourself.  It’s profound! Continue reading

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Creation and Change (Book Review)

Fundamentalist.  Just reading the word conjures strong emotions.  For some, it elicits thoughts of “Bible-believer,” “faithful Christian,” or “evangelical.”  But for others, the term connotes negativity, close-mindedness, harsh arrogance, or true-without-love.

As I’ve been reading and reviewing various books on young-earth creationism (YEC), one thing I noticed about those who write and teach this theological position (that usually finds its home in fundamentalist circles) is that it seems very difficult for YEC authors to avoid the tone that gives reflects badly on fundamentalism in general.  Of course every teacher and book must be evaluated on its own merits.  Some will fall prey to the tendency to sound “fundy” more than others.  But in my experience almost no YEC author escapes this criticism.  Thankfully theologian Douglas Kelly in his classic (and newly revised and updated) book Creation and Change: Genesis 1:1-2:4 in the Light of Changing Scientific Paradigms (CAC) avoids these distasteful pitfalls more than others.  Kelly is not a scientist but has sought for this book several scientific “peer reviews” from YEC Christians in order to accurately describe the scientific argument in CAC.

First published in 1997 and updated in 2017, CAC is written for pastors, Bible college students, seminarians, and others who want to examine the exegetical and theological evidence for YEC beyond the typical popular-level treatments that often satisfy the curious layman.  Kelly doesn’t write easy-follow prose, but his analysis is incisive and thorough.  And the best thing about the writing is that he (mostly, ahem!) avoids condescending and dismissive statements for this ideological opponents.  Because of the scholarly tone and level of detail, CAC would serve as a good place to start second-level study on the issue of creationism in general and YEC in particular.  Each chapter concludes with a section on Technical and Bibliographical Notes for those who want to go deeper still, and a handful of Questions for Study to facilitate the book’s usefulness for Bible study and book discussion groups. Continue reading

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The Little Way of Ruthie Leming (Book Review)

Did you grow up in a small town?  It is, let’s just say “different”, than what most city slickers and suburbanites view as normal.

A story: when I was 14 my family moved from the Los Angeles suburbs—that seemingly never-ending plane of city after city with no space between them—to a Virginia neighborhood 10 minutes from “town”.  That town was a small city.  Small enough to learn where everything is in the space of a couple years.  But still big enough to be a city where you could remain anonymous wherever you went.  Outside of my college years, that small city and the other large communities that make up the transitory northern Virginia region was my home.  But then in 2012 my wife and I moved our family a few miles west to a picturesque small town (population ~10,000) just outside the periphery of the metropolitan Washington DC area in order to live closer to our church (and my new job as pastor).  And overnight, things changed for us.  We love our new community.  Yet it took some getting used to when we’d go to a store and run into someone we know.  A bit of culture shock.  No more anonymity.  What at first felt like living in a fishbowl turned out to be an unforeseen benefit.  Nearly every single time we make our way around town, whether it’s to the store, or on a walk, or picking the kids up from school, we run into someone we know—often a neighbor, friend, or church family member.  No more anonymity, but the change was totally worth it.  Knowing and being know is so much better.  We find our lives richer, more connected, blessed, and entrusted with the needs of our neighbors.  Small towns may not be for everyone, but we all need community, and probably more of it than most of us have right now.

These are just a few of the lessons journalist and blogger Rod Dreher meditates on in his beautiful memoir memorializing his late sister Ruthie.  The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life (LWRL) is more than a good story.  It’s a call to return to the traditional but increasingly rare values of place, family, community, and rootedness.

Likened to the parable of the prodigal son, Dreher (albeit the older sibling) plays the younger son character who leaves his small hometown of St. Francisville, LA (population 1,700)—but more specifically Starhill in the West Feliciana Parish—to spread his wings and makes his way in the wide world.  Ruthie (his younger sister) plays the dutiful older son character who stays to tend the family and serve her community.  When Ruthie, a truly beloved pillar of her community, discovers she has a deadly form of lung cancer, the narrative turns for the worse and the better at the same time.  In the months following, the contemplative narrative spins a tale of joy, heartache, family conflict and reconciliation, confronting the ghosts of the past, and the complications of a good life in a fallen world.  In his return visits to his hometown to visit his dying sister, Dreher feels the pull—even the calling—to make his way home to serve and be served as a lost son of the town he left behind decades before. Continue reading

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Theology in Three Dimensions (Book Review)

About a month ago I gave a talk at the local chapter of Pub Theology.  The topic was “triperspectivalism” and the book I read in preparation for it is a recently published introduction to the subject.  John Frame’s Theology in Three Dimensions: A Guide to Triperspectivalism and its Significance (TTD) is a helpful resource for those new to this way of looking at, well just about everything.

Yeah, I know.  With that first paragraph I’ve probably turned off many of my readers.  “Triperspectivalism” is admittedly a terrible label for what I and many many others have come to find an uniquely insightful method for getting out of my own limited perspective, for understanding reality a little better, and for personal growth in humility when I’m tempted to think I’ve got a corner on the truth.  Others have proposed various alternative names: multiperspectivalism (not much better!) or perspectivalism (has a creepy  Nietzschean connotation).  Honestly I don’t have any better ideas.  Perhaps “trifocalism”?  Ha!

Anyway, for a short book-length (under 100 pages) trip into the world of considering reality from the “normative,” the “situational,” and the “existential” perspectives, Frame’s little treatise is a fine place to start.  Each of these perspectives is a view from somewhere.  The normative view looks at things to answer the “ought” or “should” question.  It is concerned with what ought to be believed about something, and then how one ought to respond to that belief.  The normative perspective looks at that something from a standard that is outside oneself and others.  It attempts to answer the question: what are the universal norms for this topic?  The situational view looks at things to answer the “but what about” question.  Whenever a particular issue is defined in black-and-white terms, often the next step in discussion is to test that standard with real-world and hypothetical cases.  How does the norm work out when given legs in this or that situation in the messy world we live in?  And finally, the existential view attempts to answer the “personal” or “experiential” question.  How do I react and respond to this issue?  How does this issue affect me and others in a personal way?  How does this issue make me feel?  One way to illustrate how all of the perspectives relate to one another and come together is the personal metaphor of head-hand-heart.  Each of these is a perspective on the whole and unified person.  Because a person is not a brain-on-a-stick, or a bleeding-heart ignoramus, or even a soul-less automaton, we can speak of a person as a head-hand-heart being.  Take away any one of these perspectives on what it means to be human and you lose the essence of humanity.  But head, hand, and heart are not parts that add up to the sum of humanity.  Each is a perspective on the whole integrated self.  Such are the three perspectives.  Taken together they give you a richer and more nuanced understanding of whatever it is you are looking at.  They are like different camera angles or lenses we peer through to get a bigger picture of what we are viewing.  As Frame defines a perspective, it is “a view of something from somewhere by someone.”  Just as gaining the counsel of others who are different that you can make you wiser, so also systematically and intentionally employing the tools of triperspetivalism can broaden your horizon and increase your wisdom. Continue reading

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40 Questions About Creation and Evolution (Book Review)

Dangitbill readers know I’ve been reading about the age of the earth issue for the last few months.  It’s been a challenge to find good resources on this topic, but as I’ve delved deeper and paid attention to sources there are a few books so far that have proven quite useful.  One that I’m pleased to draw your attention to is in Kregel’s “40 Questions” series.  Co-written by Kenneth Keathley (old earth creationist: OEC) and Mark Rooker (young earth creationist: YEC), 40 Questions About Creation and Evolution (40QCE) is a comprehensive summary of all things related to the creation/evolution debate.  I’d go so far as to say this is the book to start with when researching any topic related to this massive field of study.  Why do I say this?  Because 40QCE does an excellent job of summarizing the positions on the various issues, of orienting the reader to the relevant vocabulary, positions, and arguments, of citing the best scholarly and popular sources for further study, and of striking that rare balance of irenic tone.  A single book with two authors on opposite sides of the age of the earth is always a “debate book.”  But not this one!  Keathley and Rooker model how Christian brothers can collaborate in a way that is respectful, loving, and honest about each position.  Amazingly, if there were only one name on the cover the reader wouldn’t be able to tell the book is written by an OEC and a YEC! Continue reading

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