November 27, 2006 More Shalom

Shalom is a big concept. It, like poikilos grace, is also multifaceted and variegated. The course. I was recently listening to a sermon on Philemon by our own Rob Turner and it drove this home to me. As Rob said, “Peace always flows from Grace.” Look at the many instances of that blessing in Paul’s writings: “Grace to you and Peace from our Lord Jesus Christ.” Shalom is sourced by Jesus. It flows “from Christ through us to others, always in that direction.”

Also Shalom is a covenant word. In our individualistic society, we search for inner peace or yearn for a walk in the garden alone with Jesus and ignore the fact that peace has a communal, koinonia aspect of one-anotherness. The church is the vessel of Shalom and we participate in it in covenant with each other and with God. We do not well to keep our peace. We seek the best for others. We pay the cost of investing in them and playing a part in the healing of their woundedness and the renewing of their minds.There is a definite aspect of Shalom that is concerned with general well-being. We need each other to have Shalom.

Shalom also has a corporate sense in terms of the human family. The new covenant is extended to all who will believe, and so we have a unity in Christ that transcends the effects of Babel. We are restored to communion with each other in Christ. We are completers of each other in some regard. We see this in the becoming of one flesh in the three way covenant of marriage, and in the church in the new covenant in His blood. Shalom was purchased by the shedding of blood. As partakers of Shalom, we are vessels that are to be broken, blessed and spilled out for others. In Shalom we find an end to our unsettled wilderness wanderings.

Shalom has a cost. It may require us to lay down our rights as people bought with a price; we are not our own. Peace with God requires us to forge peace with each other in the body in the way Christ exemplifies. The bride is called to be at peace as she is covered by her bridegroom. This is a positive peace is one in which humans flourish and become fully human. In regard to the world, we may see conflict Christ came not to bring peace but a sword: our exclusive truth claims make us aliens and strangers as we proclaim the peace of Christ In Christ. The warring, fallen world will be no friend to any who declare Shalom. Battlefield faith conforms us to Christ, and through discipline yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness. Paul wrote of the peace that passes understanding from prison in a context of reckoning the reality of the Goodness of God. The peace of God will guard our hearts and minds in Christ. Anxiety in the heart of a man weighs him down but a good word makes him glad. Peace is not personality driven, it is nourished by supplication and gratefulness to God. Shalom replaces anxiety with rejoicing.

Warm fuzzies or shalom?

This is the issue- we equate peace with the absence of turmoil in a given situation. The Bible's narrative reveals from the Fall the quest of man for restoration, econciliation, atonement and utter access to the presence of God. Shalom is not the absence of something, it is the very presence of God, knowing God (in every sense of the word), in which is Life. It is intimate and awestruck, transformative and may have nothing to do with the absence of conflict in one's life. In reality, Shalom may require me to die.

I have often thought it may glorify God more for us to trust Him than for us to Love Him. It is in this surety and security of the obedience of faith that the mind and life of Christ is manifest in our mortal bodies. Trust is a deep response to a deeper reality, living in the light of the unseen, faith in One who is most worthy of our trust. Humans would just as soon substitute sentimentality and Maalox for Shalom.

In terms of human development, what humans need is God himself. Adam was created for this. The Holy Spirit communes with our spirits in a place where deep calls unto deep and it's not a place we seek but a state of being where the Prince of Peace is intentionally (ours and His in confession, agreement with God) ) on the throne of our lives. Shalom is bigger than sehnsucht, I think, in that it is articulated once and for all in Christ and not open to misinterpretation, only supression (Romans 1). Sehnsucht is a vague concept; C. S. Lewis only found his joy by God's grace and only succeeded to the degree that he filtered his worldview through a biblical grid, which I would say he did rather unevenly at places.

The indwelling presence of Christ is what Paul called the mystery and I nearly equate this with Shalom and the peace that passes understanding, not the absence of bad feelings about myself or my situation. One can have that kind of "warm fuzzy" peace and be thoroughly deluded while you rationalize all sorts of sin jst as surely as a false prophet who cries peace, peace when there is no peace. Off to church...

Visuals in Teaching

One cannot escape the visual element of teaching, not only in Jesus' teaching but replete throughout the Bible from creation to the tabernacle to the vinedresser and the potter's hand to Jeremiah's yoke to the incarnation itself. I was trained as a visual artist and struggled for years to make sense out of how God built the human mind to think in pictures and how that glorifies God. So my thoughts here include parabolic teaching but are not limited to it.

The big issue , I would contend, is whether the images engendered in the mind of the hearer/viewer are subservient to the Word of the Lord. It is a verbal, plenary word that is the more sure word that leads to salvation. Words themselves create mental pictures as signs of the signified so they are powerful and must be used wisely. Semioticians have referred to God as the symbolizing God. I think there is some merit to this, from the use of creation to glorify Himself. But the man made images employed in teaching, whether they be mental or visual, MUST not be placed on the same level as the intended meaning of the Word. There is a powerful lesson in the Nehustan. The other issue is that I wonder if the intent is to make the Bible relevent, then the intent is backwards. MacArthur recently proposed in his lecture at Southern that the best exposition of scripture is intended to transport us into the biblical world and confoem us to it, not make it "relevant" to our culture, and I think I agree...

A lot of the criticism of the use of video, the visual arts, and even presentation media is that it can compete with the hearing of the Word. There may be a fine line involved, but in our visual culture, God is still sovereign over man's ability to communicate with images. I think it is up for us to think critically about how and whether the visual media we use enhances learning and the understanding of the Word or not. There are not many good, well balanced models out there, but we are free to explore them discerningly.

With Nooma, you get a double issue- video presentation plus parabolic teaching, both of which are separate issues to consider. I personally enjoyed the Nooma Series ( and movies in general in which I see a wealth of teachable moments) but I would recommend to see them "cast beside" the clear exposition of the Word, as in and of themselves are not much better than a good sermon illustration, which should be used in context and only in service to the Word. Otherwise the out of context message of the illustration (or art, or graphic, or powerpoint, or even the chalk talk or flannelgraph of my childhood) is what gets tatooed on the hearers mind, notnecessarily the meaning of the Word itself. In regard to parables in general, it is just one way or teaching exemplified in the Bible. I also have no problem in non-Bible teaching scenarios to discerningly use any and all means available to teach. I would submit that the best remembered moral stories are remembered best because they are stories.

The Idol Factory

I just recently said I get tired of reading Calvin quotes but here's one that attains. Calvin once described the human heart as "a perpetual factory of idols" (Institutes 1:108). (There is a good treatment of this by C. J. Mahaney at this location.

Thoreau said, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things."

As we develop as human beings we become experts at concealing despair and denying its reality. I woulkd say that much of modernism was predicated upon this and postmodernism has seen full blown nihilism reign. Humans turn to disconnecting from reality to be able to get up each morning.

That's where the Word comes in- it is the ultimate mirror in which we can discern reality and apply it to our lives. I think Thoreau might have written differently in today's sceneario where play trumps most everything in first world countries. We see a polaration of the developing and non developed nations. the more stuff there is to attain the less happy and satisfied we are. We have just as many idols in "Christian" america than any pagan third world culture.

Most recent posts by Anthony Foster
04:32pm Nov 29, 2006 EST - What's the linkage between your favorite teacher's qualities and Jesus as a Teacher?

Tough question. In my first crack at it I will play devil's advocate (since I am a chief sinner that should go well). The qualities we saw in our best teachers tracks pretty well with Wlodkowski on first blush. As I wrote earlier, I see a key issue with Jesus' teaching is that he taught with authority- his content is presented as life or death “must see” teaching. Here is what you must do to be saved, else you will go straight to hell. Talk about a motivational /attention getter!

There are some ways in which Jesus would have been seen to have been breaking the rules of a good teacher, I think. Put yourself in his audience and compare your own best classes... The teacher says, The Bible says this but I have some things to say about this as well. He says things like- the whole of the Scriptures were written about yours truly, and don't forget the holidays you celebrate- they are about me too. He said radical things like “I'm the most important person in the world” and that his teachings would be around after the end of the world. Jesus was not big on self-directed learning, but he was surely an exemplar of motivation by expertise. However, “Success plus volition plus value” just does not seem to add up when you hear “come take up your cross and follow me” unless you radically change the meaning of success (which He did!)

His empathy is clearly seen in his weeping over Jerusalem and the mercy that accompanied his teachable moments. Jesus knew what the world needed most, he knew his subject perfectly, and he was prepared to convey it, even to the obedience unto death on a cross. Since He was filled with the Spirit, he defines the notion of enthusiasm.

So you cannnot get away from the uniqueness of Christ as the definer, not just the teacher of reality. HE IS THE TRUTH. As Habermas wrote, “Jesus did not use worksheets”, rather he teaches to reality. As to clarity, that difficulty in understanding his teachings says more about the obtuse learners he had in the crowd than his own perspicacity. Finally, Jesus was culturally responsive to his audience as exemplified in his illustrations and parables.

- 03:53pm Nov 29, 2006 EST - How does this distinctively biblical view of human life impact our understanding of the developing person?

Based on the Biblical anthropology, we start from a point of intrinsic value and human dignity- creatio imago Dei. I for one would differ with someone like Wilhoit who implies that the death of humans was a normal part of life before the fall, (I see it as a potentiality only) but I would agree that development is intrinsic to the creation based on Genesis 1:27-28. Being fruitful demands development. Multiplying implies that babies were to be born and grow up into adulthood. The ongoing life of man was only to be insured by the presence of the Tree of Life in the Garden, and after the fall, man will only be physically complete again in the glorification of the body in the final estate.

Fallen man nor the fallen world is a tabula rasa. Being fruitful in the fallen world means impediments to development will be the reality. We are free within boundaries by design. Paul asserts in Romans and 1 Corinthians 2, among other places that we are all sinful. Man retains a broken image of God which develops physically, morally, intellectually, emotionally and socially in an environment that is toxic, fallen, and unspiritual. Death seems to be the only restraining factor built into man to limit his production of evil. The Fall extends to all of creation, which groans for redemption as well. Creation's redemption seems to be tied intrinsically to man's in Romans 8.

Redemption changes all of this by God's goodness and grace. We have a spiritual aspect that is either alive through redemption or spiritually dead in sin. Yet God uses the palette of our empirical development as humans in terms of nature and nurture as a canvas upon which his story is written. Who we are is a grace to us. Faith comes by hearing and believing, and there is a physical, emotional, intellectual, moral, and social aspect to our redemption. God redeems the whole man, physical, mental, moral, etc. It is even through the physicality of man that redemption was effected- the shedding of blood of the incarnate Son. The Scriptures tell us there are ways to maximize the context in which hearing and believing takes place, tilling the soil, so to speak. Salvation is not conditional but humans are. Development does not end at redemption, it is an ongoing process. We are to “grow up”, be conformed, etc.

So sin is the single greatest impediment to becoming fully human. Sin dehumanizes. This is the watershed issue that differentiates a Christian approach to human development from a non-Christian one. The truth claims of Christianity embody the only answer to this sin problem, thus the study of human development in a matrix of creation, fall, and redemption holds out the promise of a truly coherent human developmental theory. Christian developmentalism thus becomes a part of Kingdom redemptive action.

08:05pm Nov 28, 2006 EST - On the putting of cookies...

It's been said that teachers should put the cookies on the lowest shelf. If you are saying teaching should be accessible, I wholeheartedly agree. But there is a danger involved as well. The first and foremost thing I would say is, know your audience.

If they can only reach cookies on a low shelf, that's where they need to be placed- as a starting point. Teaching should be accessible, but for it to be transfomative there is also a progressive learning process that must be reckoned with.

For instance, in a teaching situation, I would not put up with people whining about "hard" words like propitiation and sanctification and justification. Turning justification into merely "just as if I'd never sinned" is not an adequate understanding, for instance. These are basic Biblical vocabulary and should not be shied away from. They can be grasped and explained in simple but not simplistic terms. If students learn to articulate meanings for themselves, then they can be said to own the concepts. Also part of the job of a teacher is to help students use the tools available to learn. Feed a man a fish and tomorrow he'll be hungry again, teach a man to fish and he'll never starve...

I believe a friend is right he warned against "dumbing down" the message. We all know the hard work it takes for teachers to simplify complex issues. I do believe Scripture is clear and can be understood, but that requires learners to become Bereans or to strive to be approved workmen; we must ask our audiences to be on that journey as well. Scripture memorization has become a lost art in many churches. I am afraid the prolonged practice of lack of challenge to the audience has produced a Biblically illiterate generation.

In a teaching situation, it is necessary to raise the level on the student incrementally, either by scaffolding or by challenging them to learn new concepts in learning activities and being there to guide them through this process. Learning must be FACILITATED. this can also apply to the pulpit, I think... I have sat under pulpit ministies that challenged the hearer to understand the Biblical language and concepts- they built on prior knowledge and experoences. I have been under ones that only dealt with overt simplification and called this putting the cookies on the bottom shelf. So I guess it depends on what you mean. The ones that raised the bar and expectation level of what should be understood are the ones that saw thriving fruit in their ministries. The danger of only and always putting the cookies on the lower shelf is that the approach runs the risk of producing fat babies or unwrung sponges that never grow up in the the fulleness of the stature of Christ. There are many hard sayings, profound passages , and hard to understand passages in the Scriptures that defy a singular approach.

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