Posted by: John Adams | March 24, 2010

Why Eden Isn’t Enough

Anthony Bradley has a brief, well-reasoned article up on WorldMagBlog today, arguing that urban environments can be every bit as “natural” as rural ones. He quotes Lewis Mumford, author of The Culture of Cities, in saying that “cities are a product of the earth..there is nothing in city life that keeps one from experiencing nature.” In contrast to Wendell Berry, a poet-farmer who once scoffed at the “sophisticate who before puberty understands how to produce a baby, but who at the age of thirty will not know how to produce a potato,” Bradley asks, “Well, what’s wrong with that?”

There is nothing wrong with having a preference for smaller towns or more rural contexts, but to set rural life—“simple living,” or the mythology of small town solidarity and the like—against urban living is to introduce a twisted distortion of nature and is foreign to the world of the Bible. Alternatively, those who argue that urban life is the best way to live miss the diversity represented in the providence of God using rural and urban contexts to fulfill his good intentions for the whole creation. So the next time you want to “get back to nature and see God’s creation,” skip the mountains and visit your nearest major city.

No doubt Bradley’s article will be a bit provocative to those who are more of a “back-to-nature” bent, but I think his main point is sound. The Bible may begin in a garden, but it ends in a city. Industrial machines, urban architecture, and the bustle of human activity are not aberrations marring a once-pristine creation. They are part of what God always intended when he told Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply.” Thus, some Christians’ aversion to cities may owe more to warmed-over romanticism than it does to Scripture.

“Cities represent concentrated activities of people living out their human vocation to be rulers and subduers of creation—a priestly function to manage creation well, create conditions for flourishing human life, and bring glory to God,” Bradley writes, and he’s absolutely right. Despite what Wendell Berry might have said, a city is just as much a natural (and Biblical) development upon raw creation as a garden.

Posted by: John Adams | March 24, 2010

Speaking of C.S. Lewis…

…I just discovered an excellent C.S. Lewis blog run by the HarperOne Publishing House. It’s well-written, well-designed, and well worth your time.

Posted by: John Adams | March 23, 2010

The Weight of Glory

There are only two books to which I consistently return, like the company of an old friend. One is the Bible, and the other is a posthumous collection of C.S. Lewis essays and sermons titled The Weight of Glory. I reread the titular essay last night, and was pierced once again by the beauty of Lewis’ prose and his description of the longing for “the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” I thought I’d share part of it with you:

Now, if we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us, but not yet attached to the true object, and will even appear as the rival of that object. And this, I think, is just what we find… If a transtemporal, transfinite good is our real destiny, then any other good on which our desire fixes must be in some degree fallacious, must bear at best only a symbolical relation to what will truly satisfy. …

In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name.

Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years. Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth. …

Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache…At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door.

The faint, far-off results of those energies which God’s creative rapture implanted in matter when He made the worlds are what we now call physical pleasures; and even thus filtered, they are too much for our present management. What would it be to taste at the fountainhead that stream of which even these lower reaches prove so intoxicating? Yet that, I believe, is what lies before us. The whole man is to drink joy from the fountain of joy.

Posted by: John Adams | March 23, 2010

Jesus and the Healthcare Bill

After more than a century of wrangling, the era of socialized healthcare is finally upon America. Writing at Out of Ur, Christianity Today’s leadership blog, Pastor Gordon MacDonald says that he feels “a sense of gladness” at its passing. Pointing out that Jesus showed great concern for hurting, sick people, MacDonald concludes that “any effort that is made to bring health benefits to more people (especially the weak, the poor, the children) is an effort with which I want to identify.” Americans can afford to pay a bit more in taxes in order to make sure the “least of these” in America find adequate care. “We just have to conclude that compassion in the face of human need is a greater value than accumulating more stuff,” he writes.

I must say that I share MacDonald’s sentiments exactly, with the exception that I am a bit skeptical as to whether the eleventh-hour pro-life language written into President Obama’s executive order will actually stick. As always, government in a fallen world is a give-and-take. The hearts of broken people in a sinful world are strange things, rife with contradictions. The same people determined to bring affordable healthcare to the masses turn a deaf ear to the plight of millions of unborn children aborted for the sake of nothing more than mere convenience. Abolitionists must have felt much the same at the establishment of the Mason-Dixon line — everyone north of the line will be free from hereon out; everyone born south of it is still subject to injustice.

Will our nation eventually have to pay for its sins, as Abraham Lincoln once said, “until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword”? Only God knows. For now, we can rejoice in the righting of the wrongs that our nation does see even as we pray for the day when it repents of those it does not.

Posted by: John Adams | March 14, 2010

10 Things I Want to Do While I’m 25

1. Get some sleep.

Somewhere back in my teens, I became a night owl. Some time before I’m 30, that’s got to stop. My body can’t handle going to bed at 2 a.m. and waking up at 7 anymore.

2. Get (more) humble.

It is amazing to me how much pride resides within my heart. I want to turn the other cheek more this year, listen more than I talk, lose a few arguments, and be OK with that.

3. Get a mentor.

One of life’s principles is that (generally) older people are wiser people. I want to be mentored by one of the good people here at Asbury Seminary who can keep me accountable and help me grow.

4. Get a mentee.

What good is knowledge if you’re not pouring it into others? I’m looking into the possibility of becoming a Big Brother to some kid in need of someone to look up to.

5. Get married.

It might a stretch to aim for this within a year, but anything is possible, right?

6. Write on a regular basis.

It takes discipline, since it’s a lot of work with very little reward, but I’d like to write stories and essays this year.

7. Stop procrastinating.

(Starting right after I finish this blog post.)

8. Figure out what I’m going to do after seminary.

I know I’d like to end up in France. I just don’t know how or with whom. I’d like to get that figured out this year.

9. Go somewhere I’ve never been.

New England, I’m looking your way.

10. Lead someone to Jesus.

We’re supposed to be fishers of men in more than theory, aren’t we? Right. Time to get to work.

Posted by: John Adams | March 9, 2010

An Ethical Dilemma

(Note to those reading from Facebook: I am not using Facebook except on Sundays. If you want to have a conversation, please click through to the blog and post your comments there.)

This is an imaginary dialogue that has been running inside my head for quite some time now. Aspects of it might be a bit controversial to some readers. You are welcome to agree or disagree in the comments.

B: Are there some issues that disqualify a particular candidate automatically from receiving your vote, regardless of what their stance might be on any other issue?

A: Such as?

B: Well, OK, let’s say that a particular candidate had a wise, balanced foreign policy, took a reasonable approach toward environmental issues, understood economics well, and had proven him (or her) self as a competent, fair-minded leader. Let’s say that this candidate enjoyed the approval of a broad swath of the electorate and demonstrated the ability to reach across party lines and reconcile various political factions. The candidate had the ability to communicate clearly and effectively, was a visionary leader, and aspired to the brightest possible future for their constituency.

A: So far, so good. Is there a catch?

B: Yes, there is one small catch. The candidate happens not to believe–how do I put this tactfully?. The candidate does not believe that a certain demographic of the country are actually people.

A: What demographic might that be?

B: Well, it’s not that the candidate doesn’t consider these people to be people…it’s just that…

A: Who are you talking about?

B: Well…Jews.

A: What on earth do you mean? Of course Jews are people.

B: Well, obviously the candidate believes Jews are people once they turn 18.

A: Not until they turn 18? Are you crazy?

B: Yes, once they turn 18, they start paying taxes, serving in the military, going to college, running for office. All of these things look like things that real people do. Before that, however, they’re kind of an inconvenience.

A: Are you serious?! An inconvenience? How so?

B: Well, yes, they tend to make things inconvenient for people who would rather they didn’t exist. I’m sure you understand.

A: I assure you most sincerely I do not.

B: Well, many of the respected academics and media elite would disagree with you. They would say that morality is socially defined and is relative to the ethical context of the situation.

A: What does that mean?

B: Basically, it boils down to the idea that the right thing to do is whatever a majority of people, or the people in power over a majority of the people, want to do is right. So if a majority of the population decides that Jews under the age of 18 should not be legally defined as persons deserving of legal protection, there is nothing to say that that majority isn’t right.

A: But what about the fundamental human rights of those Jewish minors? You can’t just brush those aside!

B: “Human rights” is really just a fancy way of saying “things that we believe are true about human beings because it makes us feel good to do so.” In a world of limited resources, it is the strongest who will survive. In order to ensure a strong and healthy society, it is necessary sometimes to eliminate those who represent a drain on the system.

A: But…what about what those people would be able to contribute to society if allowed to flourish into the prime of their lives?

B: You’re being a moralist, and I’ve never understood why you moralists are so concerned about minors? You don’t seem to care all that much about the millions of adults who need health care, education, and social support. Why should children, especially children unwanted by the majority of society, receive government support that could go to supporting people who are more functionally viable, and more capable of making a direct contribution to society? Don’t adults deserve all of these things, too?

A: I’m not against providing these things for adults. But you can’t just go killing Jews  because you want more resources to go to Caucasians, Hispanics, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, etc. The end doesn’t justify the means!

B: Doesn’t it? Admittedly this is a complex issue, but the end justifies the means in all kinds  of messy ethical situations–cops shoot robbers if it looks like they’re pulling a gun, armies routinely kill civilians in bombing raids meant to kill terrorists, and most people would shoot an intruder into their home if it meant protecting the lives of their family members. Doesn’t the end justify the means in all of these situations?

A: Well…maybe in some situations. But I still believe that in the case of Jewish minors, who pose no threat to anyone, and have done no wrong worthy of death, the government should intervene on their behalf to protect them if their rights are violated.

B: Clearly, we have differing perspectives on this sensitive issue. The candidate I mentioned to you earlier understands how sensitive and delicate this issue really is to some people. That is why he has prepared a carefully calibrated statement that recognizes both perspectives in this important debate.

A: Are you seriously suggesting a compromise on killing Jewish kids? This really is not an issue we can compromise on. That would be murder, and murder is always wrong.

B: Why is murder always wrong? Is that a rationally held belief or a religious belief?

A: Well, I do believe that murder is wrong because the Bible says so. But it’s also just irrational to kill people just because…

B: First of all, please keep your religion out of the public square. Religious dogmas have no place in formulating public policy in a pluralistic society. Second of all, it may be irrational to you to kill merely because of who they are, but the millions of citizens of this country who consider co-existing alongside Jewish minors an unnecessary hardship that they should not have to endure would disagree.

Millions of people differ with you on this issue. It doesn’t look like everyone will agree on this issue anytime soon, which is why my candidate has proposed a compromise solution. Do you want to hear it?

A: I still think this is despicable, but go ahead…

B: My candidate strongly believes that this is a deeply personal choice. He respects the strong convictions of people of both sides of this issue. For those who would object to the pro-choice position, the best solution would be simply agree to disagree. If you don’t believe in getting rid of Jewish minors, then don’t get rid of them yourself, but don’t try and impose your views on others who do want to exercise that choice. The new healthcare plan coming into effect within the next few months will exercise the same principle of choice.

A: What does that mean?

B: Basically, it means that there is an opt-out policy. If you don’t want the option of covering or supporting the coverage of other people who want to have Jewish minors terminated with your tax dollars, no problem.

A: But the option is still open to people who do?

B: Yes. The option is still open to people who do. A balanced, fair and reasonable approach, to be sure. So…will you support my candidate?

A: Absolutely not.

B: Why not?

A: Because the candidate supports legalized murder of human beings.

B: Well, he supports the choice to exterminate an unwanted portion of the population if a person so chooses. Besides, this is really just one of a host of issues confronting our nation today. Even if you disagree with my candidate at this point, can’t you at least give us your vote in support of the overall position we represent?

A: No. The candidate’s support for the murder of human beings is an atrocious evil, and I would never vote for such a candidate.

B: I can’t believe you’re being so narrow-minded about this. Are you really just a single-issue voter? Aren’t there other issues to worry about besides this one (admittedly controversial) issue?

A: Of course there are other issues, but this candidate’s support of such an evil renders their position on every other issue superfluous. They will never receive my vote.

B: Well, I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

A: I guess so.

Obviously, I’ve cast this in very extreme terms. Still, I would like to know how you believe this differs (if you do), from supporting a candidate who believes in keeping the choice to abort unborn children a legal option? If you are a Christian, could you support a pro-abortion candidate if you agreed with that candidate on a broad range of other issues? If you are not, do you think that Christians are being consistent with their own principle of the sanctity of human life when they vote for candidates with whom they disagree on this issue?

Posted by: John Adams | March 4, 2010

Why Verb Tense (Doesn’t Always) Matter

I got called out in Greek class today by my T.A.

Apparently, aorist tense verbs don’t always refer to a past tense with continuing implications for the present. It depends more on context. You have to take it on a case-by-case basis.

I think I managed to avoid saying anything heretical, but it’s a lesson learned all the same. First-year Greek students should tread carefully when drawing exegetical implications from tenses they have just learned. (Thanks, Greg.)

Posted by: John Adams | March 4, 2010

Why Verb Tense Matters

1 John 2:3 is the death knell to legalistic readings of Scripture. It reads, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.”

“We have come to know” in the Greek is a verb in the aorist subjunctive tense. Aorist means that it is an event occurring at a fixed point in the past with implications extending into the future. Subjunctive refers to the aspect – the speaker is speaking of a condition from the perspective of possibility, rather than indicating as a fact. What on earth does that mean?

It means this. If we have come to know Jesus Christ at a fixed point in the past, that is an event that has implications for our lives that extend into the present time. The implications are that we obey Jesus’ commands. Indeed, we can verify that that event in the past has happened to us by the fact that we are obeying Jesus’ commands.

The reason I said that this is the death knell for legalism is that the event itself is not rooted in our obedience. Rather, the obedience proceeds from the prior event, which is that we came to know Jesus Christ. The new birth makes obedience possible, but the new birth is not a result of obedience. Rather, obedience is the result of the new birth.

This is what the author of Hebrews meant by having your heart “strengthened by grace” (Heb. 13:9). When you are low and swamped by your own sin, preach the Gospel to yourself. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst” (1 Tim. 1:15), but “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

Because you have been born again, you have everything you need to stop sinning: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Pet. 1:3-4).

The fixed point in the past whose implications carry on through life will end up by taking us into glory and “participation in the divine nature.” Hallelujah!

Posted by: John Adams | March 1, 2010

Hard Words for Hard Hearts

I’ve been reading through Ezekiel for a while now, and it’s quite depressing. The prophets were serious people – poetic on occasion, usually hopeful in the end, but also full of furious denouncements of sin and predictions of violent judgment. There is no getting around the fact that in the prophetic literature we meet God at his angriest, and it is probably true of most Christians that they simply avoid these parts of the Bible because apart from being obscure, they present a side of God that is very difficult to handle. Nevertheless, as Christians, we believe that God had them inspired for our benefit and if we are willing to put our shoulders to the task of digging, I believe that there is real treasure to be found there.

A professor of mine once said that one of the reasons the prophets spend so much time decrying sin before moving on to predictions of hope is that without repentance, there is no cure. You can’t get to the springs of joy that bubble up from a repentant heart until you’ve dug down through all the layers of denial, excuse-making, selfishness and sin that accumulate in an unrepentant heart. And if you don’t believe those layers are there, simply look at what it took the original recipients of those prophecies to actually fall on their faces and repent: It took deportation. It took exile. It took the complete dismantling of everything they knew about life.

A preacher named Mark Driscoll says we should use hard words to pierce hard hearts and soft words to comfort soft hearts. If you find the Bible using hard words, don’t assume God doesn’t love the people to whom those words were written. He is trying to chisel away at people’s arrogance, presumption, and unrepentance for the sake of their souls. He is trying to save them from themselves, so that they will finally be what they were created and called to be.

Read the prophets, and think on these things.

Posted by: John Adams | January 19, 2010

My Response to the Earthquake in Haiti

A couple of weeks before the earthquake, I was at the Port-au-Prince airport, awaiting a connecting flight to the northern city of Cap-Haitien. My flight was running a couple of hours late–a typical Haitian experience–so I was wandering around the small terminal with nothing to do. A couple of taxi-stand dispatchers noticed the Bible in my hand and–upon discovering that I was a seminary student–turned me into a portable Bible college, asking me their toughest questions as I relished every moment. I was struck during the course of the conversation by the spiritual hunger evident in these people, who were “like sheep without a shepherd,” hungry for the Word of God but untaught and undiscipled.

A few hours later, gazing out the window as the plane traveled north, my heart was saddened by the brown, arid landscape around Port-au-Prince. Haiti is 97% deforested, and many of the mountains bear deep scars from hurricane-related landslides, as well as mining and quarrying that have been performed without regard for the natural environment. As the plane began to cross over the mountains, I felt the Lord impress upon my spirit that the natural landscape matched what was happening to Haiti in the spiritual realm. Centuries of spiritual devastation had left their mark upon the people, and for lack of knowledge, many had perished. When storms have come, many have been swept away because they have no spiritual root system.

As the plane crossed into the North, however, I saw rainclouds forming over the mountains, eventually giving way to a lush, green rain valley. I felt another impression upon my spirit–that God would send an outpouring of His Spirit to Haiti, and that it would begin from the North and spread outwards. The following Sunday, I shared this with my church as a conclusion to my sermon out of John 6, which states that Jesus did not come merely to give bread, but to be bread given for the life of the world. In that passage, Jesus says that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we have no life in us. I challenged each individual member of our local church to take Jesus seriously, to learn the Word of God for themselves, and to be prepared to play a role in the harvest that the Lord was bringing to Haiti.

The rest of my time in Haiti was spent assisting two pastors’ conferences–one in the South in Grand-Goave and one in Cap-Haitien. Both conferences were blessed with powerful praise and worship where the manifest presence of God was tangible. During the latter conference, I saw a couple of my childhood friends receive prophetic words over their lives. It was incredibly moving to see these friends, who had previously been on the fringes of the church, get set into the church and begin to move into their calling and destiny. On the Sunday before last, as the rain poured down, my church ordained three new elders and rejoiced as one was sent out to plant a new church across town. On Tuesday, my siblings and I flew back to the U.S., leaving Port-au-Prince around 11:30 in the morning.

At 4:53 p.m. the same day, an earthquake struck Port-au-Prince and changed Haiti’s history forever. In the days since the earthquake, amid the flood of news coverage, the search to ascertain the safety of friends and church members caught in the quake, and the tremendous grief of seeing a country that one holds so dear suffer such a tremendous loss of life and property, there have been glimmers of hope sparkling out from the wreckage. Even six days on, survivors continued to be pulled from the rubble, a testament to the hardiness of the Haitian people. A little girl named Winnie, who is barely a year old, has already become a national hero by surviving 68 hours spent buried under the ruins of a building.

Furthermore, the outpouring of compassion from the world community has been truly astonishing, and the Dominican Republic (which has historically had ethnic and political tension with Haiti) was reportedly the first country to arrive on the scene. It seems as though every church and every charity in the world has directed its efforts toward Haiti, and despite some of the logistical problems in getting aid to the scenes of destruction, it has been truly heart-warming to see the world rush to Haiti’s assistance.

The most beautiful outcome of this disaster, however, has been the response of the Haitian church. Already a church well-accustomed to suffering and a band of Christians that routinely leave my mouth agape because of their incredible faith through the harshest adversity, Christians in Haiti have shone like stars in the universe as they have conducted praise marches through the rubble, worshiped on the ruins of their own houses, and filled black-out nights with songs of praise. What the world does not acknowledge, God notices. Though they have no earthly fame, Christ’s beautiful bride in Haiti is bringing him much glory out of a situation that is seemingly hopeless.

While I do not believe that God caused the earthquake, the Bible states clearly that He can work it to the good of those who love Him. A visiting minister prophesied in our church a few years ago out of Hosea 2:17 that the Lord was going to open “a door of hope in the valley of trouble.” Though I did not know how it would be accomplished, I am beginning to see that word find fulfillment as refugees stream into Cap-Haitien, the nation’s second-largest city. I am praying that thousands upon thousands would respond to the Gospel in faith, would find their way into powerful, life-giving churches, and would be sent from there to touch the nation. I believe that the door of hope to which Hosea refers is the Gospel, which alone has the power to effect the full restoration of Haiti–curing body and soul, satisfying spiritual as well as physical hunger, healing hearts and homeland alike, to the eternal glory of God alone. Long after the news crews have gone home, the church will still be in Haiti, preaching the Gospel of Jesus to any and all who will listen, and in that Gospel may millions find redemption for now as well as for eternity.

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