Spring Reading

Faith

Here are some of my reading projects for the first quarter of 2009. Some interesting material here that might inspire a few posts down the line.

Bible in Estonian
I’ve never read through the Bible cover to cover in Estonian so I figured it’s about time I give it a shot. We were warned in seminary that we might feel that the Bible’s devotional value had been taken from us for a while until we learned to read it again with new lenses. In a similar way, I’m finding that passages that always felt familiar in the past sometimes feel clumsy and, well foreign. Even so, somehow the Psalms have been opened up to me in a new way through reading them in another language and that has been a real blessing. I also find that when I start my day reading my devotional passages out loud in Estonian, my language skills and pronunciation seem sharper throughout the day. An added benefit!

Calvin’s Institutes
In honor of the 500th birthday of Jean Calvin, Princeton Theological Seminary has set up a reading plan to work through Calvin’s Institutes over the course of a year. If you’d like to join in on this, you can find the readings on their webpage. You can also subscribe to their RSS feed or have daily readings delivered to you by email. It seems to me that a good many Calvin-nots are all too eager to throw out the book, the baby and the bathwater based upon a misreading or a compressed version of his doctrines. I think he deserves at least to be heard in full. So far, I’ve found Calvin to be an accessible, pastoral, disciplined and of course insightful theologian. I think you will too.

The following books are among many that have been waiting patiently for me to take them off the shelf with attentive purpose.

“After our Likeness” by Miroslav Volf – In conversation with Catholic and Orthodox voices, Volf attempts a theology of the church for the Free Church. As a Presbyterian serving largely in Free Churches, I think Volf’s work here is something that’s been missing. On one hand, Free Churches are growing incredibly fast especially in the southern hemisphere. On the other, their very “freedom” often implies autonomy from the Church (big C). Is that what’s really going on? Does it have to be that way? Does it matter? I’m looking forward to seeing what Volf has to say.

“Jesus and the Victory of God” N.T. Wright – This book addresses the historical man Jesus and deals with the various pictures of him that we find in the NT. Who was the historical Jesus? What do we know about him? What can we know about him? And why did he behave and speak the way he did? The fad these days is to pare down the historical Jesus to a few harmless details and then “re-imagine” the rest. Wright holds us to the scripture and demands that we both read it afresh and take it seriously.

“The Open Secret” by Leslie Newbigin – A classic by one of the 20th century’s mission masterminds. Newbigin rocks. He really gets it. This one has been on my list for a long time and I’m really looking forward to getting in.

Ok … lots of serious stuff in there. Have you got any good suggestions for light reading this year? I’m up for just about anything. The comments are open!

Connor’s Question

Faith

Back in the days when things weren’t so hyper-regulated, my siblings and I used to take turns spending the night with my dad while he worked at the hospital. We’d hob-nob with the various docs and nurses and learn all sorts of interesting and disgusting things about the medical emergencies people find themselves in. I’m glad I had that opportunity for a lot of reasons but one of the chief among them is that I got to see my dad in action with his patients. One of the things that always amazed me is that he would go to see a patient with an empty chart in his hand, have a seemingly “normal” conversation, and come back with a complete and accurate history. Somehow he had learned how to get the answers he needed without using “doctor speak”. In so doing, he not only filled his chart, he also was able to built rapport with a total stranger.

During seminary I was aware that even as I was becoming adept at my new theological language, I would someday need to translate all that specialized language into everyday speech in order to harness it for good use. The fact is, people are thinking about theology and making theologically informed decisions all the time, even if they don’t identify what they are doing as theologizing. But as with medicine, a theological language has evolved that allows a small population of specialists to locate themselves in a conversation quickly and precisely without having to do a lot of round-about explaining. A theologian isn’t necessarily thinking differently than your average Joe or Jane asking questions about God. The difference is largely in the vocabulary we use and the access that vocabulary gives us to more precise conversations. The trick in all this is for a theologically informed person to ask, hear and communicate all the same content in a way that is appropriate in any given context.

How do we communicate important and sometimes complicated or precise theological ideas without getting derailed by our vocabulary? We need practice. So take a second to stretch while I “wind up”.

Recently a 5-year old named Connor delivered a sermon doodle to his pastor along with this note: “Dear Pastor, how did God create himself?” Clearly a wise man, the pastor handed the question off to his “resident theologian” Eric Meyer, a good friend of mine from Regent College. Also a wise man, Eric subsequently challenged his blog readers to give a one-sentence, age appropriate answer.

You’ve got a good mind for theology (trust me). What would you have said? Here are some of the answers folks offered on Eric’s blog. Check out his response and reasoning in this fine post.

Mission and Storytelling

Faith

?That which we have seen, which we have heard, which we have touched with our hands ? that we proclaim to you. We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.? ? 1 John 1:3?

During our last year in Vancouver, Lea joined a book local book club. In the evenings, I?d enviably watch her from behind my textbooks as she burned through classic fiction, curled up on the couch. Well, now that I?m a free man, I picked up a P.D. James crime. Towards the end of the first chapter, a new character came on the scene and the following exchange caught my attention:

When they were seated, she asked, ?Would you like some coffee??
?Real coffee or ersatz??
?Well, I suppose you?d call it ersatz. But best-quality ersatz.?
?Tea, then, if you have it, preferably Indian. Milk, please. No sugar. No biscuits.?
The form of the request was not meant to be offensive. He was used to ascertaining the facts and then asking for what he wanted.

That final interpretive line irritated me. What right did the author have to conclude this about a character we had only just met? But any seasoned novel reader knows that a relationship of trust must develop between the reader and the one doing the telling. P.D. James knows something I don?t. As the story begins, I need to trust her telling so that the facts of her story can eventually become our story. The apostle Paul makes the same truth clear in regards to the transmission of the Gospel. ?How will they know,? he asks, ?unless it is proclaimed to them??

As Lea and I travel between churches and gatherings raising support this fall, I?ve begun to feel some of these same tensions from the perspective of the storyteller. At each stop, we tell the story of Estonia according to our own observations and experiences. We paint in details according to our lenses and lead our listeners to agree with our conclusions. Generally, we have been invited to speak and so are regarded as reliable sources. But the fact is – as many writers will claim – the story has a life of its own and develops whether we are present or not, a fact which has become all too clear over our last four years in and out of Estonia. How is the story unfolding in Estonia? We?d like to share a few glimpses.

Alternate Readings The most engaging stories force us to look beyond the narrative to realities just below the surface. In the latter part of my first term in Estonia, I began to realize what the Estonians knew all along: the headlines report news in the cities while an entirely different reality exists in the country side. Urban and sub-urban churches have received enormous support in the last twenty years but many rural pastors have labored on overworked, underpaid and only seasonally supported. During our studies, Lea and I had the opportunity to explore the rural Estonian context in partnership with two pastor families. This is a subtext that we believe needs more attention, more sustained support and a deeper form of partnership.

Sub-plots As a story develops, we begin to recognize stories within the story. Characters who appeared to play minor or supporting roles move into prominence and take on a life of their own adding depth and life to the overall narrative. Nine years into our commitment to Estonia, we are beginning to see encouraging signs that ?the plot is thickening?. This summer, we began to support Astrid Raja, a young woman who grew up in our youth group and is now raising support to serve with an affiliate of Campus Crusade for Christ in Estonia. Astrid?s brother Andres, who has been a pillar of our children?s camp leadership teams in the last four years, also ventured into cross-cultural mission this summer joining a team sponsored by Alongside Ministries serving in Albania. Madis Raspel, also a member of the Viimsi Church youth group, spent his summer as a youth and children?s intern at the Presbyterian Church in Post Falls, Idaho. God?s unfolding story is dynamic: as disciples are made and the kingdom grows, it develops and moves in directions none of us can predict.

Narrative buy-in When The Lord of the Rings came out in film, I had a hard time believing this was the story I had read. The characters, the architecture and the landscapes were different than I had read them. I?d bought into the story and made it my own. Many of you have likewise bought in to and become a part of the unfolding story in Estonia. Much of this buy in comes in the form of prayer and financial support. As we prepare to return, we?ve been amazed at the track record of longtime support that has kept us in Estonia and the renewed interest in continuing forward together. But we?ve also seen buy-in in other exiting forms: short term teams who come to Estonia to serve and churches who receive Estonian interns like Madis. As the buy-in continues, ?readers? become ?writers?. What is happening in Estonia belongs to you as much as it belongs to us.

I?ve got to be honest, months on the road, telling and retelling the same stories is a long haul. Now that we?re nearing the end, we sigh each time we pack and re-pack the car. But this time more than ever, I?m coveting this season of storytelling. This is our chance to build the trust that will carry us deeper into God?s unfolding story. Do you want to know where the story goes from here? Well so do we! Turn the page and plunge in.

Statement of Faith

Faith

Following is the statement of faith I’ve prepared for my final examination before the Presbytery on the 15th of September. I thought I might put it out here to see what you think. Any comments or challenges are welcome!

There is only One God who alone in all the cosmos deserves honor, glory and praise. God alone is the source, the measure and the purpose of all creation. God exists as He has revealed Himself in history: Father, Son and Holy Spirit – three coequal, co-eternal persons selflessly affirming one another in perfect community. From the boundless resources of this inner abundance, the Triune God creates, sustains, governs and redeems all the cosmos. In selfless love, God extended Himself in the act of creation. God made all things to His glory and upon completion they were rightly declared to be whole and good.

From the rest of creation, humankind has been set apart as bearers of God’s image and likeness. Unimpeded, this image and likeness compels humans to reflect the nature of our creator by relating with God, one another, and the created world in self-sacrificial love. As His image bearers, humans are endowed with the unique ability to respond to God’s goodness in worship and obedience by exercise of free will. And yet, since the beginning of time, humankind has demonstrated an innate proclivity for distraction from this calling and to obsession with gratifying our perceived needs by our own power and means. In doing so, we have turned ourselves over to the pervasive forces of chaos and evil which now permeate every aspect of our existence and identity. The result is that God’s creational intention for humankind has been fundamentally compromised and we have been made partners – even unwittingly – with death and decay by our idolatry and disobedience.

No human effort – individual or corporate – could right these wrongs and as God is holy and just, restitution had to be made for sin so that a relationship of worshipful obedience might be restored. In His immeasurable mercy and grace, God extended Himself into fallen creation, entering history in the form of Jesus Christ, the one and only begotten Son of the Father, The God-Man, sent to die a righteous death to atone for the sin of the whole human race. Jesus lived and ministered among us and was crucified on the order of Pontius Pilate. As he promised, after three days he was raised from the dead by the Father and ascended into heaven, where he sits enthroned over the whole universe having conquered evil and chaos. In Christ, and in him alone, all are invited to bend the knee in worship and obedience to the one true God. Restitution has been made; relationship has been renewed; the image is being restored; and all of Creation awaits the consummation of God’s redemption project initiated in Christ.

For those who repent from sin, place their hope in Christ and join with the community of faith, Christ has sent his Holy Spirit to open our eyes to the truth of Scripture, to complete the work of sanctification and to form us into a people called according to God’s name and for God’s purposes. We together are God’s Church unified by Christ in our repentance, our redemption, and our worship. Together, we participate with God in reconciling the Cosmos with its Creator. We are sustained by the abundant love of the Trinity, by the presence of Christ in the Word, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and by the common life of worship. We are guided by the creeds and confessions of the Church. Together, we eagerly await the return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment, and the eternal rule of God over His creation.

These things have been revealed in Holy Scripture and testified to by the people of God throughout time. The witness is inspired, true, accurate and trustworthy and I believe it with all my heart.

Spring 2007

Faith

Dear Friends,

Our intention for some time now has been to send you quarterly prayer letters and this no doubt would have made it much easier for us to communicate our experiences in depth. But we have been so incessantly busy this year that writing and publishing a prayer letter has been relegated to the bottom of the pile. So, we figured that if we’re going to try to pack in the details on a longer letter, we ought to at least include some good pictures.