settled, but not set

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3:14-15

Much is swirling around in response to the pandemic and the problem of systemic racism against African Americans coming to a head. There’s a lament, and I am lamenting myself about the evangelical church’s lack in all of this. I feel like I’m a part of that, even if I am on the side that would roundly critique perceived deficiencies within that tradition. It’s certainly not like I don’t fall into something of that critique, myself, even if the only thing I’m aware of would be my probable reading of Scripture in an overly individualistic way, though I do attempt to read it as it is.

But through the storm we have to return to what we have learned and have become convinced of. We can build from there, making modifications, maybe even dismantling some things. But we must stay strong in what God is teaching us. And not despise that. In and through Jesus.

evangelicals and Scripture

Richard Foster in his book, Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith celebrates the evangelical tradition for its emphasis on Scripture. Of course we can and should celebrate what all the great traditions of the Christian faith contribute to the whole.

It is common nowadays for evangelicals to be criticized left and right, for this and that, and almost everything else. I almost feel like I have to duck anymore when I get on social media and note the criticisms leveled by other Christians. A lot of it concerns how white evangelicals voted in the past election. We need to think long and hard on things like that, all of us. I agree with something John Dickson said in reference to his nation, Australia, that we best be careful on that score, or else it’s likely we’re not thinking hard enough, whichever way Christians might vote.

Another common criticism is how evangelicals fail when it comes both in not appreciating the tradition of the church, or the importance and place of philosophy. Again, evangelicals return to Scripture, but I do think we try to do so with more of an appreciation for church tradition and philosophy than in the past.

I for one both accept the label “evangelical” which essentially means gospel-oriented, and the emphasis on Scripture which comes with it, all things tested by Scripture, including the tradition of the church, and philosophy. But my manner and own concern is far less ambitious. I want to simply plod along, hopefully faithful to the high view of Scripture I hold, which I believe is taught in Scripture itself: that the Bible is indeed the word of God written. Of course we have to read it as a whole, and consider all the parts with reference to the whole. When we do that, most any criticism against our view of Scripture I think rings hollow.  Something ongoing for me and many others. In and through Jesus.

Billy Graham: a faithful servant of Christ

Christianity Today has an excellent issue on the life of Billy Graham. I consider it a must read even if you’re just into US history, because of his often intimate relationship with twelve US presidents. And all the more so if you’re a Christian, especially with spiritual roots in God’s working through Billy’s ministry.

Between my mother’s witness and prayers, and the preaching of Billy Graham, the Holy Spirit brought deep conviction of sin and conversion of life through the new birth. And I am indebted to the ministry of the Mennonite church I was raised in, as well. I used to not want to hear Billy’s preaching, and yet I was captivated by it. I came to Christ, committing my life to God because of his death on the cross on that October afternoon in the milk bottle wash room at the dairy. And I more or less knew then, and know even more now the powerful impact of Billy’s preaching of the gospel on my life through the work of the Holy Spirit.

If Billy was active in ministry today, as he was for decades, you can be sure that he would not be known as either a Republican or  Democrat, liberal or conservative. And fundamentalist churches of varying degrees refused to participate in his campaigns because he would partner with Catholic and mainline Protestant churches. I remember all of that well. I believe Billy was right, and we have good fruit from that, as well as other roots contributing to God’s work in that, I think of the writings of Karl Barth, and the Second Vatican Council.

I am thankful to God for the life and ministry of Billy Graham. And I look forward to meeting him someday. Until then, we want to press on by the same Holy Spirit, and be faithful to Christ and to the gospel, to the very end. In and through Jesus.

the our Father/Lord’s prayer in thinking about the gospel and life today

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,[a]
    but deliver us from the evil one.[b]

Matthew 6:9-13

How do we look at what the good news (which is what gospel means) in Christ, and all of life? Oftentimes we evangelicals are criticized for being navel gazers so to speak, the idea of it being all about my salvation and walk with God and management of life. And when it comes to the world at large, we are also criticized for not seeing community as more important than the individual, without bypassing any individual. I think much of the criticism is probably justified to some extent. Not that other groups don’t have their blinders on. And not that the evangelicals don’t have some strengths, because I believe we do.

But regardless of what Christian tradition we’re a part of, the Our Father/Lord’s prayer can help us get a view in keeping with the Biblical view of God’s will for us and for the world. And what is to be basic for us. It is a prayer worth repeating every Sunday as a church (the evangelical mega church where we’ve been taking our grandchildren, and probably will join does not), and every day of our lives, or at least regularly. Of course it has to be read in light of all the rest of scripture. But it is basic and formative in helping us understand what our view of the impact of the gospel and the world should be. All of this in and through Jesus.

throwing in (casting) my lot with the evangelicals, but hopefully “simply Christian”

If you’ve known me through the years, you’ll know that I’ve flirted with the Great Tradition, at one time years back considering considering (yes, repeated) becoming a Roman Catholic. And liking much of what I witnessed and was aware of from the Eastern Orthodox tradition. I still hold the Great Tradition in esteem, but to make a long story short, it seems evident on the face of it, that the true church is bigger, and that the tradition is not as infallible as it might seem to some. But I won’t dig further there.

I could come up with all sorts of reasons, I suppose, why in the end I remain something of an evangelical (maybe of an Anabaptist, liturgical mix), while not making the mistake of cutting myself off from the Great Tradition, as if they aren’t part of the true church as well. They are, at least all who are born of the Spirit, which is the case since the church is the Spirit-indwelled Body of Christ on earth, surely on both a local and global, universal level.

The evangelicals are made to be a regular punching bag nowadays, from so-called “progressive” Christians to nearly everyone else. And it’s not like we’re without our faults. What tradition doesn’t have issues? Strengths and weaknesses? Of course some will refuse to acknowledge any good in a given tradition, nothing new if we consider social interent sites like Facebook, where never is heard a discouraging or encouraging word, depending.

Let’s just say that I cast my lot in with the church and the gospel, with scripture being the backbone of all of that, the church deriving its authority from both. Of course the Lord himself, to whom all authority has been given, the one from and through whom we live and work.

Can the evangelicals change in some helpful ways before the Lord returns? Of course only God knows what that should be, but surely yes. Life goes on with much change for better or for worse, but God’s word and the truth of the gospel remains the same. Our understanding hopefully will grow within those necessary bounds. And the church by the Spirit most definitely has an important say in that.

Hopefully, “simply Christian” with an emphasis on Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, is where I stand, but only with others. Yes, each one of us, but also necessarily, all of us together. Before the world, in and through Jesus.

Back to the Bible

One of my favorite radio programs as a young Christian, was Back to the Bible with Theodore Epp as the teacher. I can still hear his voice with the simple, straightforward teaching of the word of God. Although I don’t think I’ve heard that broadcast for years, I’m confident it continues on faithfully as before, since it’s grounded in the written word of God within the traditional evangelical church mold. There are some like ministries, but the two which stand out the most in my mind and past experience is that program and programs (now, Discover the Word) from Our Daily Bread Ministries. What I like about both ministries is their commitment to scripture in a Christ-centered way, the gospel at the heart of it. One might criticize either ministry for this or that reason (not that I’m suggesting I have any important or significant criticism of either), but they are both nonsectarian in their approach, and faithful in their teaching of scripture.

Just because these ministries are grounded in the written word of God, in the Bible, doesn’t mean that they’re not rooted in tradition. Of course they are, how the Spirit has led the church at large over the centuries, although with the more or less conscious attempt to get back to the pristine understanding of such, and away from the additions later on, which may not be actually binding or authoritative in the same way, such as the assumption of Mary into heaven, and before that praying to Mary, or asking Mary to intercede for the pray-er compared with the teaching of the divine and human natures of the one person, Jesus, or the Trinity of God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

For better or for worse, evangelicalism, in my case of an Anabaptist bent, with traditional liturgy preferred, is my home. Yes, of the Protestant sort, though hopefully that word would become less and less significant toward the goal of living out the unity that is the church’s, in Christ.

We need to think about this in a constructive way, critically and contextually, with an emphasis on the teaching of scripture itself. Just what place does the church hold in all of this, and what might be the strengths and weaknesses of the various traditions of the church in how this is understood and practiced. A tall order, and beyond any one person, really a church endeavor, since the Spirit guides the church together. And something which is most often taken for granted, or not even on the radar of many. Yet important, nonetheless.

But for me, synods and magesteriums aside, the one place we continue to go back to for our grounding in Jesus and the gospel is scripture, God’s written word. Yes, we go back to the Bible.


the need for both scripture and creed

Although I am thankful to say that I can cite much good from which we can learn, in spades in the ministry where I work with no bad examples there, there is pop theology you can find in many places elsewhere which is not sufficiently grounded in scripture or the great creeds of the church.

We need both scripture and creed in either order depending on what one means, both of paramount and critical importance for the church in its call to contend for the faith once for all entrusted to God’s people.

The “Ecumenical and Historic Christian Creeds” include probably the two most common: the Apostles and the Nicene Creed. The Anglican denomination of which we are a part is working on a new Book of Common Prayer which will be more in keeping with the 1662 edition and will incorporate “we believe” in place of “I believe” which overall I find more helpful (but that’s another subject). I’m looking forward to the release of that book. I highly value the creeds and liturgy, because these are the works of the church. No scripture is of private interpretation, we must be committed to the revelation the Spirit has given to the church both in terms of scripture’s initial reception which is actually given through the church one can say, in the first place, and its interpretation, hammered out in the midst of controversy over especially the early centuries of the church.

While first and foremost I would want to be identified as a follower of Jesus along with being a Christian in the orthodox sense, I am also an evangelical, committed to the gospel for life and witness, and committed to scripture as having primacy for our understanding. The revelation given to the church is a living witness, one the church continues to receive by the Spirit, and each of us who are in the church are a part of that reception process. My sense of this in terms of the Great Tradition would be more Roman Catholic than Eastern Orthodox in that I believe that the church can continue to grow in its understanding of the truth in the breadth of scripture. At the same time I think the gift from the Eastern Orthodox Church is valuable too in its good emphasis on scripture. Where I depart from both is what I suppose makes me an evangelical in the Protestant sense in that I don’t believe tradition is infallible in its totality, or necessarily even meant to be in terms of how it’s practiced. But everything pertaining to the gospel is in at least some sense infallible, since the gospel is both the heart and point of the story, of scripture itself.

I’m excited about the Institute for Bible Reading and a book written by one of its founders, Glenn R. Paauw, Saving the Bible from Ourselves: Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well. Some would say that we simply need to keep tethered to the Church and its teachings. I think it’s a matter of and/both, not either/or. The church itself needs to stay grounded in scriptures in accordance with “the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude :3).

Trying to adhere to this will go a long way toward helping us avoid erroneous teaching such as the health and wealth gospel and pop theologies we sometimes see coming up like little weeds everywhere. What we want is the wheat, not the chaff. Vital for our own faith and witness in this world.