Koinonia Blog Tour: A Theology of Luke and Acts

The good people over at Zondervan Academic have been working on a new series of textbooks called The Biblical Theology of the New Testament. The purpose is pretty straight-forward: cover every book of the New Testament by having various biblical scholars hash out the theology inherent in different groups of writings. I have the privilege of being part of a blog tour regarding the second book in the series, A Theology of Luke and Acts by Darrell L. Bock. Here’s a quick snippet to give you an introductory look:

What really sets this book apart from the other textbooks I’ve read regarding Luke, Acts, or the New Testament in general is the focus. Bock does spend some time on foundational issues like authorship, date and what-not. He also writes about Luke’s place in the canon of Scripture. But these are not the centerpiece of his work. The bulk of the text, “Part Two” of the three sections, is entirely devoted to the thematic theological elements of Luke and Acts. Curious about the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts? There’s a chapter for that. Women, Rome, Israel, the Gentiles, eschatology and the use of Scripture are some of the themes Bock deals with, and he does so with great clarity.

While written on the graduate level, I never felt like Bock was talking over my head. This level of writing is important to consider when examining the author’s treatment of introductory material. Bock does not bother investing in lengthy debates. He does, however, summarize them in order for the reader to better comprehend the idea that informs his perspective on Luke’s writings: Luke and Acts are two volumes of essentially one work.

Bock explains why this unified reading is so important to understanding Luke-Acts:

…we contend that Luke-Acts as well as Luke and Acts is intended to set forth the program of God as delivered through Jesus. The Christ was sent to bring the kingdom and Spirit to people of all nations who embraced his message of promise and deliverance. Jesus is the promised Messiah who also was vindicated by God to show he is Lord of all. So the kingdom message can go to all (p. 60).

This argument may not be unique in the great history of Christian theology, but it is offered with clarity and integrity in A Theology of Luke and Acts. Bock’s assessment is critical, in my opinion, to understanding how Christian’s today should respond to the kingdom of God. Because in order to respond and take part, we must first discover the kingdom. By reading Luke and Acts as Luke-Acts, and subsequently drawing upon the themes of both volumes, we see a kingdom that is robust, diverse and ecumenical.

All in all, Bock’s book is a worthwhile read. It may not be the kind of reading that every Christian enjoys, but the insights and breakdowns offered within the text are incredibly valuable for all Christians.

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The Truth About Forgiveness by John MacArthur

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The Truth About Forgiveness is part of a series that Pastor John MacArthur has recently unleashed upon Christendom which seeks to boil down some of the key teachings about Christianity. This little book, primarily concerned with the multi-faceted concept of forgiveness found in the Bible, is a good beginner’s tool. MacArthur weaves recent events, with good Biblical exegesis to produce a succinct work that pronounces in no uncertain terms that forgiveness is essential to the Christian life.

MacArthur has entitled the first chapter of his recent work “We Need to Be Forgiven.” Well, Dr. MacArthur, I forgive you. With his latest series, The Truth About…, MacArthur has given into the all too enticing “patchwork” book. It is a cobbling together of various portions from previous works, in an effort to demonstrates MacArthur’s main thoughts on specific titles. For some, these kind of book are fantastic. But, for people like me, this just doesn’t cut it. Aside from looking like a cheap ploy to make more money, the book lacks significant continuity of thought. Yes, all the chapters are about forgiveness, but that doesn’t mean they flow together as a coherent unit. MacArthur is capable of much better efforts, but he is not alone in such a misstep.

While I could easily recommend such a book to either a new Christian with questions about forgiveness, or even an immature Christian struggling with a relevant situation, this is not a work I would suggest to many others.

Thinking to yourself

When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.  – Luke 2:17-19

When something incredible happens… when revelation opens our eyes, it elicits a response. And sometimes we feel, much like the shepherds did, that what God has shown us needs to be shared. But sometimes, we need to be more like Mary.

I love this passage because it doesn’t indicates that one response was better than the other. The shepherds aren’t like the lame who are healed by Jesus, specifically told not to tell anyone. Nope, they’re met the Messiah and they cannot contain their joy. And it’s fine. It’s a good response.

Then there’s Mary, the one who has had her life more turned on its head than anyone could possibly imagine. And rather than going around telling people she gave birth to the Messiah, she ponders these things in her heart.

This isn’t so much a personality thing, as it is a “proper” thing. There is a time and place to share what God has shown you. But then there’s also a time and place to think on it, mull it over. And above all, do so privately.

What is God showing you right now? Does He need to be the crutch you lean on? Do you need to mend a relationship? Perhaps you need to confess your sin? Whatever is, there is a time for sharing and a time for pondering. Reflect before deciding which one it is. Seek, and you will undoubtedly find.

Keep On

And a man named Joseph, who was a member of the Council, a good and righteous man (he had not consented to their plan and action), a man from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who was waiting for the kingdom of God; this man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. – Luke 23:50-52

Joseph of Arimathea had been waiting. As a righteous mas, who was also a teacher of the Law, he understood what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah. And he bet it all on Christ.

One can imagine his heartbrokenness. Jesus was the one who was going to change everything! Jesus was the one who was going to bring God’s justice and mercy into this world! Except, now…He was dead.

Christmas reminds us that much of our role in God’s plan is waiting. And for many that leads us in one of two directions:

1) I’ll wait on God to direct my every step. The world has gotten on this long with God at the helm, so I can manage too (this is sometimes called the “everything-happens-for-a-reason” plan).

or…

2) This waiting business if for the birds. God, if you have a plan, I’m sure it will adapt to the decisions I make (this is sometimes called the “God-doesn’t-have-one-set-path-for-you” plan).

The reality though is not so black and white, not so either-or. Much of Christianity is a both-and proposition, which people as a general rule don’t tend to like (think of Mark 9 for example). Joseph of Arimathea spent his whole life waiting on the kingdom of God, and when it looked like everything was coming down around him and all his hopes were shattered, he still kept on.

He didn’t pray and ask, “God do you want me to bury Your Son?” He didn’t say to himself, “God doesn’t care if Jesus gets buried.” No, he kept waiting on the kingdom, and did what he knew to be right while he waited.

Read Luke 2, and you’ll see even more people doing the same thing.

We wait. But while we wait, we serve; we act.

How are you waiting on God? Will you stop if your dreams perish? Or, when the chips are down, will you turn to God and continue waiting?

Breaking a Sweat

When Jesus says, “love the Lord your God with all your…mind,” I am fully tuned in.

“Love God with my thoughts and intellect? Dude, I’m there.”

Of course, that’s not the whole verse. See, Jesus also tells us to love God with our hearts, souls, and bodies. But like many other Christians out there, I tend to focus on the one I’m best at.

12_82_70---Firewood_webFor instance, I’m not too keen on working out. Or physical labor of any kind, for that matter. Despite a lifetime of experiencing the blessing of work. When I lived in Colorado, we would chop wood and there was something wholly invigorating about it. The pine chips scattered about. The other guys raising their axes high in the air, and then bringing them down like swift justice on the logs standing on end. The sound. The air. All of it came together to make for an experience I enjoyed, in spite of blisters and sweat and aching muscles.

But that was, unfortunately, a mountain-top experience. That’s not how I lived throughout the other 6 days of the week, and it is certainly not how I live now. In other words, I don’t love God with my body.

But it’s not just an issue of neglecting some aspect of my relationship with God. It’s about exhausting other aspects.

I’m reading four different books right now. Four. And those are just the ones I read apart from preparing for my class lectures. Not to mention the blogs, the articles, and the countless journals I read all in an effort to think Biblically and thus love God with my mind. Of course, my mind won’t be of any use if it’s mush.

This business of loving God requires us to labor in more than one area. Simply breaking a mental sweat, or a physical one, will not bring us into true intimacy with Christ. We have to strive to be whole people.

I John puts it like this:

If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

We have to get rid of the darkness. Any maybe that means working out for 20 minutes each day, Or reading a book. Or honestly dealing with our emotions. Whatever it is, God will show up when we do. And that’s encouraging.

Advent Season, Part II: Longing for…

This time of year sees Americans rushing out to stores to purchase gifts for those they love. Even if the intended recipient knows what gift they are getting, family and friends insist that they wait until Christmas to get their gift. Some families have traditions that allow for a single gift to be opened on Christmas Eve, in order to enhance the already mounting anticipation.

Longing is a part of Advent. Many long simply to open their gifts. But that is not where the Christian tradition of anticipation began. After all, Jesus did not come to grant us all a Nintendo 3DS. So what does the Christian long for? What exactly does it mean to long?

For starters, listen to the Christmas song “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” If you don’t have it, you can download a beautiful rendition here. Often when we listen to Christmas music, we want something poppy or upbeat. That is all good and well, but we miss something when we leave out the songs built upon agony and yearning. Are you listening to the song yet? Pay close attention to the first stanza:

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

El Greco (Greece/1541-1614)When Luke writes of the shepherds going to see the newborn Messiah, they weren’t just going to see a baby who would one day be a great man; they were witnessing the beginning stages of humanity’s redemption. Luke’s previous chapter is scattered with references to Isaiah, and I doubt it’s coincidental. The angels who tell Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds about Jesus are not just proclaiming the birth of a man. They were proclaiming the Kingdom of God! This was the beginning! This was what Israel had been waiting for! Isaiah 2: 1-5 and 11:1-16 give us a picture of what this would have meant to those who first greeted Jesus.

To summarize: all of the longing for God’s justice, for His mercy, for His redeeming love, for His Presence had finally arrived! This was truly a moment to rejoice.

But what now? The early Christians did not look back at Christmas and long for Jesus’ birth, did they? No, rather they looked forward to His return. The joy of Christmas, which is intricately bound up in the agony of longing, is founded on the idea that while God’s Kingdom is being inaugurated here and now, it will not be complete until Jesus returns. As Christians, we don’t celebrate Christmas because we like “baby Jesus” the best. We rejoice during Advent Season because Jesus came once, gave redemption to His people through His life, death, and resurrection, and He will return again to finally set everything to rights. We can be part of His glorious work now, but we still groan for justice and the redemption of all creation.

As the first week of Advent comes to a close, we open our hearts to the agony of a painfully incomplete world, and begin to move into the hope of Jesus’ second coming. Christmas is a time of looking forward to the promises of God, and worshipping Him in return.

The best way to prepare our hearts for this is prayer. I’ll end here with word from  John Chrysostom, who says it much better than I could:

Our spirit should be quick to reach out toward God not only when it is engaged in meditation; at other times also, when it is carrying out its duties, caring for the needy, performing works of charity, giving generously in the service of others, our spirit should long for God, and call him to mind, so that these works may be seasoned with the salt of God’s love, and so make a palatable offering to the Lord of the universe. Throughout the whole of our lives we may enjoy the benefit that comes from prayer if we devote a great deal of time to it.

Prayer is the light of the spirit, true knowledge of God, mediating between God and man. The spirit, raised up to heaven by prayer, clings to God with the utmost tenderness; like a child crying tearfully for its mother, it craves the milk that God provides. It seeks the satisfaction of its own desires, and receives gifts outweighing the whole world of nature. (excerpt from “The Prayer of Longing”)

May we learn to pray in this way, and thus long for our God with all of our heart, mind, body, and soul.

A little something from Mr. Chambers…

I wanted to share this from My Utmost for His Highest. I’ve read this many times, but every time I read it it strikes me as so amazingly true. Hopefully, if you don’t read Oswald Chambers devotional, finding it here will encourage you too.

The Warning Against Desiring Spiritual Success (April 24th)

Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you . . . —Luke 10:20

Worldliness is not the trap that most endangers us as Christian workers; nor is it sin. The trap we fall into is extravagantly desiring spiritual success; that is, success measured by, and patterned after, the form set by this religious age in which we now live. Never seek after anything other than the approval of God, and always be willing to go “outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:13 ). In Luke 10:20 , Jesus told the disciples not to rejoice in successful service, and yet this seems to be the one thing in which most of us do rejoice. We have a commercialized view— we count how many souls have been saved and sanctified, we thank God, and then we think everything is all right. Yet our work only begins where God’s grace has laid the foundation. Our work is not to save souls, but to disciple them. Salvation and sanctification are the work of God’s sovereign grace, and our work as His disciples is to disciple others’ lives until they are totally yielded to God. One life totally devoted to God is of more value to Him than one hundred lives which have been simply awakened by His Spirit. As workers for God, we must reproduce our own kind spiritually, and those lives will be God’s testimony to us as His workers. God brings us up to a standard of life through His grace, and we are responsible for reproducing that same standard in others.

Unless the worker lives a life that “is hidden with Christ in God” ( Colossians 3:3 ), he is apt to become an irritating dictator to others, instead of an active, living disciple. Many of us are dictators, dictating our desires to individuals and to groups. But Jesus never dictates to us in that way. Whenever our Lord talked about discipleship, He always prefaced His words with an “if,” never with the forceful or dogmatic statement— “You must.” Discipleship carries with it an option.