Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The gods aren't angry at Rob Bell, but others are

Two weeks ago Rob Bell was in town on his "The gods aren't angry" tour. My wife and I went to hear him and, for the most part, had a good experience. I had not posted about it sooner, mainly because I've been busy with that end of the semester crunch at Seminary, but also because it's taken me a while to digest what he had to say.

Just today a friend directed me to a review of Rob Bell's nearly 2-hour presentation. You can read the review here. I think I agree with what the reviewer has to say.

Of note is the fact that recently Mark Driscoll (pastor of the other Mars Hill church) labeled Rob Bell a Heretic at the Convergent Conference in September. There's plenty out there in blogland about this now.

Here's my comment on the goings on. I'm not quite ready to label Rob Bell a heretic. I have listened to some of his teachings and even read his first book Velvet Elvis. I wouldn't recommend the book to believers who are not mature in their faith, but Bell definitely challenges us as believers to live out our faith. Further, his communication skills are formidable and his knowledge of Biblical backgrounds is impressive.

Have a look at the review. I'd love to hear what you think.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Thanksgiving: Now it's just "that holiday before Christmas"

I had a conversation just the other day with some friends (see their blogshere and here) about Thanksgiving. It seems crazy that Thanksgiving Day is next week! It has been about 80 degrees here in Fort Worth the last few days!

My wife and I were out Christmas shopping (she likes to get it done early) last weekend. We went into several stores and to a local mall. Many of these places were already decorated for Christmas. Soon some men dressed as Santa will take their places at the local mall. One local station has already started playing all Christmas music, all the time. (Yikes!)

Amidst all this Christmas holiday marketeering, where has Thanksgiving gone? It seems that our culture today has forgotten to stop and be thankful for the blessings that God has given us. It seems that we have become so enthralled with what we expect to get for Christmas that we lose sight of what we already have. Sadly, too often our greed and desire for more stuff drives us. Instead of thanking God for what we have, we ignore it and lust after more!

I realize this, and I am stopping now to say "Thank you" to God. He has blessed me with far more than I deserve. This season, perhaps I will be able to focus on His blessings, and then maybe I can be a blessing to others.

Let us not overlook Thanksgiving this year, but rather stop and give thanks, remembering that all we have comes from God.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Expressions of the Christian Faith in Narnia – Part 2

After a hiatus due to school work and life in general, now I continue my series on the Christian themes in C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia.

In Part One of the series, I outlined the story of book one, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and I attempted to highlight some of the spiritual themes of the first book in the Narnia series. This week I’ll look at book two – Prince Caspian. It seems especially timely that I should be discussing this series as the buzz is growing about another children’s series entitled His Dark Materials. The movie version of the first book in that series, The Golden Compass has gotten a lot of discussion of late.

Of the other, atheistic, series I have little to say now. However, Kevin Bussey has a brief discussion of the topic here. I will say, however, that I find it interesting that Nicole Kidman, herself a catholic, would be involved with this movie, but then what do I know about movies and moviemakers? Having said my piece, let us move on to Prince Caspian.

In this, the second Narnia book, the Pevensie children return to the magical land of Narnia to find that hundreds of years have passed, while only a few months have gone by in our world. Their beloved land has been taken over by the Telmarines, who have sought to remove every vestige of magic from the land. They fear the talking animals and magical creatures, and so they have driven them into hiding.

Among these Telmarines is a young man named Caspian whose uncle, Miraz, the king has raised him. The boy, Caspian, grows up under the tutelage of a Doctor Cornelius, who, unbeknownst to the king, is part dwarf. He reveals to Caspian the truth about Narnia, and that it is a magical land, and was once inhabited by the magical creatures. Caspian has a fascination with the “old Narnia” and longs to learn more of the old days. As he learns more, he also finds that Miraz is a usurper. His father, King Caspian IX, was the ruler before his death, and since that time Miraz had proclaimed himself king. This becomes crucial to Caspian when he learns that his aunt, the Queen has given birth to a son – and so he must flee into exile in order to save his own life.

As Caspian enters the mountains, he encounters the remnants of the “old Narnians” – the talking beasts and magical creatures. They recognize him as the true king and form a resistance.

Meanwhile the Pevensie children return to Narnia and encounter one of the old Narnians, who tells them of Caspian. They set out on their way to meet up with Caspian and his army, with many trials along the way. It is this part of the story which deals with the matter of faith. As they journey to meet Caspian, they lose their way. Lucy, however sees Aslan, while the other children cannot. She reveals that He wants them to follow Him. As the others believe her, putting their faith in Aslan, they are able to see Him too. Thus, in the story we recognize a critical spiritual truth that, believing is seeing.

Meanwhile, Caspian and his advisors must decide if they will trust in Aslan to send them aid in their cause, or whether they will turn to dark magic. Thankfully, they make the right decision, just as the Pevensies arrive. Perhaps the biggest of the issues that faces the characters in this book is the struggle of faith. The Telmarines generally have made a decision not to believe in Aslan or in “Old Narnia,” as a result they live their lives in a decidedly un-magical fashion. However, so many of the “old Narnians” themselves have lost faith in Aslan. He has not been seen in Narnia for many years, and so some have decided not to believe in Him.

The action comes to a climax in a single-combat match where Miraz faces off against Peter. The scene is somewhat reminiscent of a David and Goliath type conflict, pitting a man, Miraz, against a boy, Peter. In the end, Peter defeats Miraz, but it is the Userper’s own treacherous lieutenants who kill him. A battle ensues and the Narnians, let by Caspian, Peter, and Edmund are soon joined by a second Narnian army, reawakened and led by Aslan himself. The Telmarines are defeated and Caspian is recognized as the rightful ruler of Narnia.

As a result of the battle, Narnia is reclaimed by the magical creatures who had inhabited it. Curiously, Lewis introduces a number of pagan mythological figures, namely Baccus and Dionysus. (In this we can be certain that he is no Baptist). However, each of the gods introduced recognizes Aslan as superior. I believe that this is one of several cases where Lewis chooses to use fantastic or mythological elements to advance or enhance his story, but where they serve no real theological purpose.

At the outset I tried to make it clear that these books are not theology books, nor are they to be taken for gospel. They are stories, but they do have a number of elements, as I am trying to show, which are Christian in nature and give the books themselves a Christian bent.

As the story draws to a close, Aslan questions Caspian, much as God comes to Solomon in 1 Kings 3. Aslan asks Caspian if he feels worthy to be king, to which Caspian replies that he is only a boy. Aslan blesses him, acknowledging that his humility is a great virtue and giving him the promise (as God gave to David) that his children would always sit on the throne of Narnia.

Finally, Aslan shows mercy. He shows mercy to the mouse, Reepicheep, by restoring his tail (a mouse’s glory), which had been cut off in the battle. In addition Aslan reveals that the Telmarines were originally from our world. They had entered into Narnia from a magic cave on an island which their ancestors (pirates) had discovered. Aslan provides an opportunity for those who wish to return to that island. And he sends the children back to England.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Barriers to Following Christ

I know I've missed a few days, and a Narnia post will be coming soon, but in the meantime here's what's been on my mind lately.

In my Sunday morning bible study class we've been going through the Gospel of Matthew. Over the last three weeks we've looked at Matthew chapter 8. During this time, we've witnessed Jesus' demonstration of His divine power, but also of His love for those that society rejected. In the first part of the chapter, Matthew gives account of three healings that Jesus performs.

Jesus first heals a leper who comes and bows down before Him (Mt.8:1-4). It stirs my emotions when I see that Jesus, who could have healed with a word, touches this leper. Secondly, Jesus encounters a Roman Centurion (vv.5-13). Here we find a Gentile, who, according to Jesus, has more faith unlike any in Israel. He believes Jesus to heal his servant, even while they are some distance away. In the third and final healing story in this chapter, Jesus heals a widow - Peter's own mother-in-law (vv. 14-15). After this he proceeds to heal many others. I find it fascinating that Jesus breaks so many stereotypes here and shows His power and compassion to such people as these (who remind us of ourselves sometimes).

This sets us up for the section that the title of the post refers to (vv.18-22). Two men in particular are highlighed in these verses. The first is a "scribe" or "teacher of the law", notice he's not a novice, and he already has a career. He declares to Jesus that he will follow Him "wherever you go." But Jesus seems to just shoot him down, declaring that while foxes may have holes, and birds nests, Jesus Himself (the Son of Man) is homeless. And that's all we ever hear of this gentleman.
Next another man says he wants to "bury his father." This can seem pretty deceptive to us today. Some commentators explain that the man's father is not necessarily dead, but that this guy wants to stay with his father in order to collect his rightful share of the inheritance (perhaps he's the eldest and stands to collect 2/3 of the total). In this case, Jesus again seems to put him down hard, declaring "let the dead bury their own."

This sort of thing seems typical of Jesus. He has a way with people. Think with me about the people who claim that they want to follow Jesus. He seems to put many of them down hard. The rich young ruler, for instance, is confronted about his wealth and goes away sad. Jesus has a unique way of cutting to the heart with the people that He encounters. In this passage, as with the others, Jesus identifies the real issue in the hearts of the individuals. The first man seems to have had an issue about his home or his comfort. Jesus speaks to the main barrier in his life - his home. With the second, He deals with the man's desire to collect his inheritance, or perhaps His relationship with his father. Whatever the issues are, Jesus cuts straight through all the smoke and mirrors and straight to the real matter.

You and I all have things in our hearts, we may seem to emphasize this or that, but Jesus knows what's most important to us. When we encounter Christ, He demands to be #1 in our lives, whatever is currently in the #1 spot of our hearts must take a back seat. I know that for me, when we discussed this, I was challenged to consider my priorities and values. Was there a barrier that was keeping me from following Christ? This is a question we must all ask ourselves, because Christ demands preeminence in our lives.