My “sabbatical”

This is day three since my last day at Coastal Church. Day one was very busy with grading papers and teaching. Day two was delicious. Sharon was at work (no, that wasn’t delicious), and I was home alone in my office most of the day reading and being present to the Lord. The rains were pounding most of the day, so it was sort of an ark experience – closed in by God’s hand and saved from the waters.

I am reading The Story of Christian Theology by Roger Olson (IVP). I have read this many times before. After this I will read JND Kelley’s Early Christian Doctrines.  I have downloaded on my Kindle Vol 2 of the AnteNicene Fathers so I can read the primary sources, the Fathers themselves. During this time I will be focusing on Great Church and the Great Tradition. I will soon read once again John Henry Newman’s And Essay on The Development of Christian Doctrine.  Then I will read some church history. I will be doing some translation work in Hebrew and Greek. I am also rereading Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. If you have done reading in the period of Calvin, you will be impressed with how refreshingly biblical he is. He is an exegete of another kind. As you can tell, I am focusing on early church and the development of the Christian tradition. So many evangelicals are waking up to the reality of classical Christianity. I don’t think I have an unrealistic picture of this period as if it is the halcyon days of Christianity. Who would want to live in a time before Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, etc.? But researching the DNA of the church can only be helpful and provide a backdrop for decision making in our own time.

My son, Jon, called, and we spent an hour and a half on the phone just covering the territory. He is looking forward to Easter Sunday at Willow Creek Chicago. They use a gospel choir quite a bit and he really enjoys that.

Sharon’s mother sent her an Easter gift so we used it to buy Chinese food. Yum!!!!

Then I went back to reading. The college changed my textbook for philosophy class so I began the work of digesting that.

Today I will scoot over to the church to work on my books – packing, organizing, etc. I will pick up a couple of books I have sold and need to get mailed.

I am sure I will have days of banging my head against walls, but for right now I feel like I have walked into an amusement park with so many rides I’m not sure which one to get on first.

For sale: The Essential Evangelical Parallel Bible

I have a nice leather bound version of the EEPB. It has the NKJV, ESV, Message and NLT side by side. The hardback cover new is $30. They don’t sell the leather bound anymore. This one is like new. I’ll sell it for $20 plus $4 for shipping.

Except for the NKJV, these are all versions I regularly use and are popular in evangelical churches. Of course, the NIV is missing. It would be missing soon anyway since the NIV will soon no longer be after the planned revision of the NIV and the TNIV.

email me at donbryant at hotmail dot com.

Why do so many Protestant churches choose Easter as the time for a church breakfast?

Providing a breakfast on Easter Sunday seems to be a tradition among many Protestant churches. The question is simple: why on Easter?

Of course, Protestants hardly need a “why” for anything we do. Our freedoms are large. The immediate answer that occurs to me is that those who go to a sunrise service will need to have breakfast before worship and it is most convenient for everyone just to eat together at the church. But most churches do not have sunrise services. (As a child the two services I most dreaded were the watch night service on new year’s eve and the sunrise service). But they do have a breakfast. Of course, this fits the pattern that the one thing we keep as we change our liturgies on a regular basis is eating.

But the “chummy” approach to Easter morning seems strange to me. It is a high point in the church year and liturgical calendar. I have always found that the breakfast approach to Easter morning diminishes the power of the event and gives Easter the picnic feeling. Picnic feelings are ok. I just find that it knocks me a bit off-center when I am gathering energy to give Christ glory of an extraordinary kind. By the time worship begins, too many pancakes, eggs and sausage keep digestive systems working over time and turn the service into a time for the food to settle in, after which Christians rush off to their big family dinner.  Easter has become a huge eating day. Seems counterintuitive to me. It’s just not what I had supposed we would do.

The church I am going to on Easter will have a breakfast and everyone who comes to service gets a free gift. Christ is the good. Christ is the gift. No thank you, I have already eaten. No thank you, I have already been given all.

Consider these words by John Henry Newman:  

“We are now approaching that most sacred day when we commemorate Christ’s passion and death. Let us try to fix our minds upon this great thought. Let us try, what is so very difficult, to put off other thoughts, to clear our minds of things transitory, temporal, and earthly, and to occupy them with the contemplation of the Eternal Priest and His one ever-enduring Sacrifice.”

More than I want to know

John Piper has announced that he is taking an eight month sabbatical for renewal. A very good thing. That’s about all I want to know out here in blogosphere land.

I don’t need to know that his marriage needs renewal and his love for his family needs rekindling. I don’t want to know it. I respect this and honor this. Who doesn’t need this? But I can’t figure out why he thinks I need to know this. Yes, I can pray. But my prayers for his sabbatical cover what is done in the sabbatical. It just raises questions and brings me closer than I want to be and should be. This is “friend information” and I am a friend only in a far sense of the word.

Frankness and honesty are good things. But they can do harm when the concentric circles of near and far relationships are not taken into account.

I don’t want to know that a preacher is struggling with loving his wife. I am not hard-hearted. I care.I am not sure your wife wants the world to know that you struggle with loving her as she deserves.  But this can get in the way of ministry to which we are called. Discreteness is not a bad thing. It can help the ministry.

So, John, go on the sabbatical and take care of business. You will be in my prayers. (I mean that).  Take the help Christ offers. I look forward to your return and in the meantime you will continue to minister to me in your sermons and writings. There is more there than I could ever digest. I could spend the rest of my life reading Desiring God and still find reasons to read it again.

Today’s Money Shot 3/29/10

You ministers of Christ, behold your theme. So dreadfully denounce the curse, that you and yours may flee it. So sweetly paint the blessing, that you and yours may grasp it. So fully preach the Savior, that you and yours may be forever saved. Blessed are they, who, living, preaching, dying, make Christ their All.  Henry Law from The Gospel in Leviticus.

Thanks to Jared.

TSK riffs on Piper’s conclusion that emergent church is an upper middle class pehenomenon

Tall Skinny Kiwi looks over the topography of the emergent church and asserts that it is more interested in doctrine than Piper suggests and is not a function of bored upper and middle class white church dropouts.

I think TSK makes his case. In my conversations with those who would roughly fit into emergent as a classification I find a level of interest in theological reflection that makes my brain explode. They are convinced that the church is in some kind of captivity to theological and ministry models that make us blind to the wider diversity that really does characterize the church through the centuries.

I do think that Piper, Driscoll, MacArthur, et al, do not seriously reflect that their models of biblical interpretation and church life have a serious shelf life. The broader church of trinitarian confessionalism is more inclusive and has a power of being sustained that requires explanations which the neoCalvinists cannot explain.

My experience is that Calvinism lives up to its best when it is part of a larger movement, but left to its own natural tendencies creates ghetto cultures that choke off the air the church needs to breathe. Its heavy rationalism and scholasticism strip Christianity of its inherent mysticism, isolates a part of the church from the whole, and its imbalanced emphasis on predestination of the elect and the non-elect results in twists and turns that bend the soul into unnatural shapes.

I love and read the Puritans like some Roman Catholics love and read Augustine. But I will not create a church out of the Puritans or Augustine. These are movements of God that need to be in dialogue with and in constant tension with other movements keep it from tipping over into Stoicism or solipsism.

Reformed confessionalism has always done a lousy job of creating healthy church movements. But the reformed remind the evangelical church that pragmatism and revivalism cannot sustain the church, and the guy in the pew will grow tired of the market driven style of church life. It just does not have the power to strengthen the church’s spine and give it the ability to withstand culture.

I have never made a sacrifice

My life has essentially been one of full-time vocational ministry. I spent my college years majoring in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and since age 21 I have been engaged in preaching, teaching and leadership. At age 60 and now looking at finishing well I can honestly say that I have never made a sacrifice. It has all been investment and return on investment.

This is not to say I am happy with my service to Christ. He is far more worthy than my service honored. He deserved more. But merely to be invited to work in the vineyard is a pleasure beyond which I cannot imagine. I hardly understand why anybody would not do what I do. It does not matter where I am called to serve. It does not matter what men think of where I serve. It matters only that I get to serve Christ.

I am susceptible to the usual tugs of desire for success, popularity, applause and financial gain. Yet the Holy Spirit has put in my heart a deeper joy that has kept me essentially centered and satisfied in the Savior Himself. To know that He is with me and to feel His very life flowing through my spiritual veins is a transcendent experience of another kind. The world does not offer to me a better way or a greater reward.

John Piper recently posted these words from David Livingstone.

For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. . . . Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.

As I look at next steps and hope, as I reflect on past steps and wonder, as I look at present steps and trust, the landscape of my imagination is dominated by Christ Himself. He is the beginning and the end and has made the way to Heaven heaven.

I can’t shake the sadness of iMonk’s illness

Word came today in the blogosphere that Michael Spencer, alias iMonk, has chosen to no longer be treated for cancer but to commit himself to the Lord for the perfect end we have in the Savior.

I have never met Michael but have depended upon his honest and sane blogging for several years. He, like me, is an evangelical who feels restless with what our movement has bequeathed to us but remains an evangelical still, again like me. He has been able to express my frustration and even my pain in moving through the post-evangelical wilderness but at the same time has helped me to focus on Jesus and the gospel essentials.

Unlike many, iMonk did not cross the Tiber to the Roman Catholic church nor to Orthodoxy. He maintains his commitment to an evangelical church that has often buried its head in the sand with its fixation on just one more program that will save us all. He has been able to point out that the emperor has no clothes without rejoicing in the nakedness but seeking to clothe it with Christ.

I have particularly appreciated iMonk’s take on Christine Wicker’s The Fall of Evangelical Nation, a determinative book for me. It is a significant part of the explanation of why evangelicalism has so little transformational presence.

Michael is 53 and is just publishing his first book. He was taking wings and making a difference in a generous way. I am just bummed. But bummed “in the Lord.” I have not found anyone like iMonk in the blogosphere who pops open a lot of the stuff I have in me and helps me to see it and deal with it.

I need friends like this man. Saying goodbye seems so unreal.