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Monday, September 15, 2014

Revival and Reformation Pt 21

[The recording didn't work last night. But here is the manuscript]

Revival and Reformation Pt 21
2 Chronicles 32

Cause your Word, O Lord, cause your Word to take up permanent residence in our hearts that we may grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and that we may be strengthened to successfully resist sin, society and Satan. Amen.

Problems (1). The first line should snag our hearts – “After these things and these acts of faithfulness”. We want it to be, “Acts of Faithfulness equal Painless Triumph!” Right? But God is very careful to show us that he is neither a machine nor an abstract mathematical calculation. James 1.2-4.

Preparation (2-5).

Prophecy (6-8). The Son of David, the anointed one of God’s kingdom, speaks once more like a prophet. He has taken his cue from Jehoshaphat (20.17), and has gone all the way back to Elisha “”Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6.16-17) – which is similarly stated in in the NT, “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4.4) – and the Exodus “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Exodus 14.13).

Prattling (9-19). They strain hard to sow the seeds of disloyalty, distrust, and dissension (Hezekiah – v.11 and 15; but more importantly God – 11b, 14-19). V.12 – Kingdom resistors and God haters misread faithful actions! Hezekiah was instrumental in furthering and fortifying revival and reformation and he gets painted by the Spin-meisters and the powerful as being untrustworthy and deceitful. The same happened to our Lord Jesus who reached out to tax collectors, prostitutes, spoiled and sinful of his day and was called a glutton and drunkard, badmouthed for eating with the spiritual “trailer-trash” of his day!

Prayer (20-21). Hezekiah’s response reveals his resolution – he teams up with Isaiah and they have a two-man prayer meeting! The Spirit guided editors cut through all the things that happened in between to impress on us again the place of prayer and the potency of prayer in God’s sovereign scheme! From 1 Chronicles 4 to this place, we’re being pounded with God’s mallet of love and promises, and hammered into shape on the anvil difficulty so that 2 Chronicles 7.14 never leaves our hearts!

Provision (22-23; as well as 27-30). See 29.36 God provides for the sustaining of revival and reformation and all that is needed for it; and he provides deliverance. 2 Chronicles 20.20c.

Pernicious Paradox (24-31). I delight in the reality that God displays the faults of faithful men so that we never turn them into idols. Role-Models? Yes! Insofar as they follow Christ. Thorough examples that we look to, and place our confidence in? Never! And so this portion of the story reminds us – so that we gain a heart of wisdom – that with reforming men there still remains some foolishness. Hezekiah’s particular peccadillo was pride (v. 25 and 26). After all that has happened – personal and church-wide revival and reformation and then phenomenal deliverance from the greedy grip of the kingdom-resistors – you would think it might be otherwise. But he “did not make return according to the benefit done to him” (25). With some reflection it’s not too farfetched that pride might raise its sinister, serpentine head. It can often show up in reforming pastors, reviving evangelists and stalwart congregations, who become proud and pompous after God has done some great work in them or through them. Why? Because they slide into self-satisfaction that smacks of self-righteousness. But God wants humility because it is god-like (Philippians 2.5ff).

Therefore, Hezekiah portrays aspects of our Lord Jesus, but also exposes why we will always need Jesus!

Pulling it Together. Now it’s time to circle the wagons, look over our provisions and count up our ammo – so to speak.

As the editors, guided by the Spirit of God, are seeking to direct those coming out of exile, it’s pretty clear they want to encourage (on the one hand), and alert (on the other hand). (1) Listen to Hezekiah, he was right. Follow his faith and faithfulness, get on your knees with him and Isaiah and pray. Believe in the Lord your God and you will be established, believe his prophets (through whom his word comes) and you will succeed. Humble yourselves, pray, seek God’s face – he will hear, forgive and heal! (2) But don’t put all of your eggs in a human ruler’s basket – Hezekiah pictured what a Son of David ought to be like, and failed like every son of David. So lift up your eyes, look longingly toward the sunrise for the great Son of David who will be greater than Hezekiah ever dreamed of being!

First, for us, now that the greater than Hezekiah – whose name means something like Strength of Yahweh – the Greater Son of David, the one who is always the true Strength of Yahweh has come, we have every reason to pray and have confidence: Hebrews 4.12-14. (1) What Assyrian assault is piling up outside our walls – as a family, congregation, our denomination or the Church of Jesus Christ in North America – challenging our faith in the Almighty God? (2) How have the kingdom-resistors misrepresented our faithful actions, twisting them till they look either foolish or outright sinister? Bring these things before the LORD, lay out this chapter and pray for success, “pray because of this and” cry “out to heaven” (20). Pray because you know that what Hezekiah said is right (7-8). Turn those verses into your prayer!

Lastly, take heart. In the words of Os Guinness, “Let there be no wavering in our answer. Such is the truth and power of the gospel that the church can be revived, reformed and restored to be a renewing power in the world again. There is no question that the good news of Jesus has effected powerful personal and cultural change in the past. There is no question too that it is still doing so in many parts of the world today. By God’s grace it will do so again even here in the heart of the advanced modern world where the Christian church is presently in sorry disarray” (“Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times,” 14). Take heart, believe, and pray!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Congregational Prayer - 14 September 2014 PM

To you, O LORD our God, belong heaven, and the heaven of heavens, the earth and all that is in it. Yet you have set your heart in love on our forbearers and chosen us, their offspring in the faith. Help us to circumcise the foreskins of our hearts, throwing off all stubbornness toward you; for you, O LORD our God, are God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe (Deuteronomy 10.14-17). O Lord, hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus, nothing can withstand your word of life! Just as you called out and raised Lazarus from the dead, even after he had been in the grave for four days (John 11); Speak health and life, Lord Jesus, to those for whom we pray – those lingering at the door of death, those with crushed hearts and souls, those with debilitating weaknesses, and those with body-and-mind shattering ailments. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Lord, our God, Lord of lords and King of kings, thanks be to you because you have blessed our beloved country with good and generous institutions of government. Preserve civil and religious liberty to us, to our children, and to our grandchildren unto a thousand generations. Give able and faithful rulers in offices high and low, and cause righteousness and peace to flourish in the land unto our welfare and your praise (Adapted from, “Reading the Psalms with Luther,” 238). O Lord, hear our prayer.

Again, Lord God, we cry out to you whose eyes are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good (Proverbs 15.3): see the evil being done throughout the nations in our days – evil against your people and others; evil inflicted in the name of religion; evil plotted and acted out on the unarmed and vulnerable; evil being advanced through adjudication and legislation; evil lurking in out-of-the-way places and out of sight-settings. O God see the evil, hear the groans and give heed to the silent whimpers; rise up and roust evil out. And Lord, grant us to be part of the remedy. O Lord, hear our prayer.

We beseech you on behalf of your church throughout the world, as well as Faith Works Baptist Church; Fifth Street Baptist; First Baptist on North Jackson Dr. and on North Robison Ave; and First Baptist of Bethany: along with our Reformed University Fellowships at SMU, TCU and Texas Tech; As our Lord Jesus fasted 40 days and fearlessly faced-down the Devil’s temptations, come now and furnish us with the same mindset that was in him against all evil and sin; grant us to so keep our hearts – out of which flow the springs of life (Proverbs 4.23) – in such godliness and holiness that we would always be ready to follow your Spirit’s directions, and resist the enticements and pressures of sin, Satan and society. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times by Os Guinness; a Review

Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times
Os Guinness
InterVarsity Press
 PO Box 1400
Downers Grove, IL 60515 
ISBN: 978-0-8308-3671-0; $16.00; July 2014

4 Stars out of 5
Re-ignited Resolution
Some years back a fellow church leader quipped to me, “It feels like we are standing alone facing a spiritual tsunami!” It was a poignant statement, since it was just after the December 2004 tidal wave that hit Malaysia. His point was made. In the Christian Church in North America and throughout the West, on the left and the right, amongst progressives and pedants, it appears that more and more churches, ecclesiastical leaders and denominations have slipped their dock lines and drifted away from their moorings. On top of this, the social and political temperature has become increasingly frigid toward Christianity and Christian mores; with civil leaders, educators, mass media and health professionals progressively throwing overboard anything that smells restrictive and chauvinistic. Who is to blame? How could these things have happened? Is there a way to “wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die” (Revelation 3.2)? Os Guinness (D.Phil., Oxford), prolific author or editor of more than thirty books, frequent speaker and prominent social critic, a founder of the Trinity Forum, onetime visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and guest scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Studies, looks to answer these questions and more in his new, 192 page, paperback, “Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times”. Guinness writes from within the Evangelical arm of the Church, and for her renewed well-being.
“Renaissance” moves along in six chapters and a postscript. Each chapter can stand alone by itself, but also works well with the succeeding ones.  Guinness’s core theme is simple, straightforward and promising, “Let there be no wavering in our answer. Such is the truth and power of the gospel that the church can be revived, reformed and restored to be a renewing power in the world again. There is no question that the good news of Jesus has effected powerful personal and cultural change in the past. There is no question too that it is still doing so in many parts of the world today. By God’s grace it will do so again even here in the heart of the advanced modern world where the Christian church is presently in sorry disarray” (14). The whole work is given over to supporting this bold claim, as well as proposing the steps necessary to bring it about. But those suggestive steps have far less to do with technique or technicalities, methods or maneuvers, and more to do with the biblical message of returning to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Renaissance” is more a book of confessing our faults in the bleak predicament of the West and the Church, re-igniting our allegiance to Jesus Christ, and moving forward with courage and hope, no longer bowing before the idols of prestige and prominence; “The time has come to trust God, move out, sharing and demonstrating the good news, following his call and living out our callings in every area of our lives, and then to leave the outcome to him” (148).
Throughout this work, Guinness brings historical and social insights to bear so that the reader may become more discerning of how we got to this point, and why it all matters. Though he is clear about the social pressures pushing hard against the Church, he is even clearer on the many ways we (the Evangelicals to whom he is writing) have caved in on ourselves long before those social pressures pushed! As the author states, “Evangelicals little realize how much they have become the spiritual smiley button of suburban America” (85).
The weakest part of “Renaissance” is the final segment that explains and republishes “An Evangelical Manifesto”.  The content is similar to what has already been addressed in the book, showing obvious signs of Guinness’s influence on its writing. It is worth reading and instructive, but it is longwinded and lumbering.
One of the beautiful strengths of the book, personally, is the well-written, heart-felt prayers that concludes the six chapters and post script. Each prayer grows out of the chapter it is appended to, guiding the reader to make the chapter’s content their own before the face of God. I have been using some of these prayers in my personal devotions, and think that they are definitely fitting in public worship.
“Renaissance” is a timely work written by a perceptive author with a passionate heart for Christ’s Church, especially in the West. This book is nicely set up with concluding questions at the end of each chapter to guide congregational leaders and reading groups into fruitful discussions. The importance of this book is such that I eagerly recommend readers dash out and obtain immediately.
My thanks to IVP for the free copy of “Renaissance” used for this review.

[Feel free to publish or post this review, but as always, please give credit where credit is due. Mike]

Saturday, September 6, 2014

"Force Decisions" by Rory Miller. A Review

Force Decisions: A Citizen’s Guide: Understanding How Police Determine Appropriate Use of Force
Rory Miller
YMAA Publication Center, Inc.
PO Box 480
Wolfeboro, NH 03894
ISBN: 978-1-59439-243-6; $18.95; April 2012

5 stars out of 5: Forcefully Forthright

In the face of so much print and electronic media coverage on actions of police officers, it appears that law enforcers are always overstepping the line. The almost automatic assumption is that cops abuse power at almost every step. They’re assumed guilty until proven innocent, and the supposition is that they will not be proven innocent because they pulled a trigger, tasered someone, shed blood, or broke bone. In fact, in the court system a police officer’s testimony is no longer accepted as having more weight of truthfulness than the person being tried. As an aside, my own personal principle, that an officer’s testimony is to be accepted as true unless proven false, has gotten me kicked out of numerous jury selections. Into this socially charged atmosphere comes a 206 page paperback book that has the potential to bring sounder thinking to the front, “Force Decisions: A Citizen’s Guide: Understanding How Police Determine Appropriate Use of Force”. Rory Miller, a veteran corrections officer with years of police experience under his belt, has composed a well written document that walks the non-Law Enforcement reader through the different levels of the use of force. With loads of stories illustrating his points, carefully composed chapters, and thorough explanations, Miller presents solid material that enlightens and helps the reader understand better the dynamics of resistance, violence and outcomes.

“Force Decisions” breaks down into four sections that guide the reader, step by step, to the place of making better informed decisions about a police officer’s actions. The first section describes the training an officer receives in the Academy. Most of the material appears to be Miller’s own lesson plans on “Use of Force and Decision Making, Police Defensive Tactics, and Confrontational Situation” that he has taught several times. It is engaging, energetic, and educational. The author’s premise in offering this information is that all “officers have been civilians; but few civilians have been officers. The civilians need information” (143). By the time a reader completes this section, they will never be able to read or see a news story about a Law Enforcement Officer’s actions in the way they did before.

The second, relatively shorter portion describes the checks and balances that are in place in case a use of force is suspected of being bad. The author guides the citizen through the process of how a case is decided; whether the officer is exonerated or the complaint is observed to be unfounded, unsustained, or sustained. In both section one and two, the bottom line is the crucial grid for both action and analysis: “You are expected and required to use the minimum level of force that you reasonably believe will safely resolve the situation” (4, 71).

The third, and largest segment of “Force Decisions,” is all about experience; how it changes, conditions and sharpens an officer’s perceptions and decisions. This particular part flows with abundant stories to illustrate the point, and the point is basically to drive home what was learned in the first two sections. Though this piece gels together nicely, it covers a whole host of new subject matter, like the contrast between the way a citizen things and a criminal thinks; the different types of officers; how knowing what to do does not always translate into doing; being confronted by those in an altered state of mind; and feelings of betrayal. The last bit of book limps its way to the end, primarily summarizing what has been taught and how it can be used.

“Force Decisions” is an important book intended to help the average Joe or Jane Citizen to understand how and why officers use force, and why they have no choice or only bade choices in many of the decisions made (161). I think that most readers, even those who routinely presume that an officer is guilty of abuse of power, will have their eyes opened, their perceptions widened and their prejudices minimized. I strongly recommend this book.

Thanks to YMAA Publication Center, Inc. for the free copy of the book used in this review.

(As always, feel free to publish or re-post this review; but please, give credit where credit is due. Mike)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

"Seriously Dangerous Religion" by Iain Provan - a Review

Seriously Dangerous Religion: What the Old Testament Really Says and Why It MattersSeriously Dangerous Religion: What the Old Testament Really Says and Why It Matters by Iain Provan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Seriously Dangerous Religion: What the Old Testament Really Says and Why It Matters
Iain Provan
Baylor University Press
One Bear Place 97363
Waco, TX 76798-7363
ISBN: 9781481300230; $49.95; August 2014
5 Stars of 5 Stars
Hazarding Holy History
The Old Testament receives a lot of flak. It looks grisly, violent, vicious and unforgiving to many. Then adding to the bad press it already gets, the new Atheists and others have taken great pleasure in painting it with even darker and starker colors. On top of all this, Christians themselves either avoid the Old Testament at all costs, or shove it up the stairs into the attic where with the embarrassing family secrets it remains blanketed under dim light and chocking dust. Unsatisfied with this treatment, Iain Provan, the Marshall Sheppard Professor of Biblical Studies at Regent College in Vancouver, has put forward a new 512 page hardback titled, “Seriously Dangerous Religion: What the Old Testament Really Says and Why It Matters.” In the book Provan dusts off this portion of the Bible and brings it back down the stairs for the family to face, and shows there’s really nothing to be embarrassed about. He also takes on not only the new Atheists, but several others who think that biblical Christianity is dangerous and deadly.

Provan begins “Seriously Dangerous Religion” by describing four modern stories that seek to capture the West’s center stage, three of which are attempting “to displace, above all other stories, this dominant Old Story of Western culture” (9). The story of the “Axial Age” seeks to take us back to some ancient moment where there was a supposed “wellspring from which all faith once emerged, behind and beneath all specific religious and philosophical worldviews and their secularized political forms” (6). Then there is the story of the “Dark Green Age,” a primordial time when humankind allegedly lived in harmony with all nature, where “people in ancient hunter-gatherer societies lived much happier lives than we modern people do” and where “they did a much better job of looking after the environment” (7). Next is the story of the “Scientific New Age” that looks to the present and out ahead. They rehearse a story that claims that if we could simply throw off the childish, fearful ways of religion and embrace “modern, empirical science as the only (or at least the best) basis for true knowledge of the world” (8) we could have “greater human fulfillment and happiness” (Ibid.). The final story is the biblical story, which Provan pours himself into.

In “Seriously Dangerous Religion” Provan spends most of his time in Genesis, from which he branches off into other bits of the Old Testament to make his case. The author answers a number of questions, each of which is a chapter in and of itself: “Who is God?” “What is the world?” “Who is God” “Who are man and woman?” “Why do evil and suffering mark the world?” “What am I to do about evil and suffering?” “How am I to relate to God?” “How am I to relate to the rest of creation?” “Which society should I be helping to build?” and “What am I to hope for?” In answering these inquiries, the author keeps an eye on the modern worldviews mentioned above as well as the storied answers from Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, along with the responses from the religions of the Ancient Near East (ANE). This is the brilliant aspect of the book. By juxtaposing the biblical answer to these questions with the other metanarratives, it becomes clearer and clearer that the Old Testament is unique and sui generis (in a class by itself). Though there may be overlapping similarities on the surface, nevertheless, at the end of the day, the Old Testament rises to the top.

Throughout the work the author is willing to take on issues that many blush at, and work them out in challenging, thought-provoking ways. A case in point is that as Provan unloads the biblical concept of God’s jealousy, he rightly points out, “God’s jealousy is good news for his human creatures, for it is this jealousy that leads God to campaign against the false gods who can only do harm to those who devote themselves to them. “Worthless idols” cannot bless, or love, or rescue. In the biblical perspective, God is, thankfully, jealous” (70). Later in the same chapter he draws attention to how God’s jealousy, being a jealousy for the good of his people, is the polar opposite of ANE spirituality, for there “was certainly no concept in this ancient Near Eastern way of thinking that the gods were committed in some way to the good of worshippers. The world was, after all, not set up in the first place with the good of nongods in mind” (73).

Provan lays out a well-lit, nicely built motorway in “Seriously Dangerous Religion.” There are, unfortunately, potholes that once hit may well mess up a reader’s alignment and wear some tires down to the bare radial wire. Here are three examples. First, his acceptance of macro evolution appears to bring him to see the first three chapters of Genesis in a more metaphorical light, for instance, “the metaphor of the garden that is used for (the world) in Genesis 2” (33). Unable to accept a real, set-apart garden where humankind and God enjoyed communion, he sees it as simply being the earth dressed up in pretty language. With this in mind, it seems clear that he understands the story of Adam and Eve as metaphorical, as well as the episode of the fall.

Then, because of his unquestioning assumption of evolution, he perceives a greater continuity between the pre-fall world and the post-fall world. In other words, the conditions that exist now and the way things function presently are nearly identical to the way it all worked before the fall, “it is perfectly obvious that some suffering in the world arises simply from the fact that the world is the way it is, and not otherwise. It is perfectly obvious that the world already had this nature long before human beings lived here” (369). Provan’s opinion seems to fly in the face of Paul’s point in Romans 8.19-23 where the Apostle posits a close relationship between humankind and creation post-fall. That since the fall we and creation groan, longing for the final day of redemption, but until then creation is in “bondage to corruption” (phthora). Something significantly changed creation and brought it into bondage to decaying decline. The world doesn’t work the same way as it once did, there is a serious, substantial discontinuity from the way it was made, and creation longs to be restored and transformed, obtaining “the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Nevertheless, Provan is absolutely correct in emphasizing the creational consequences of redemption (338). Since things have gone horribly wrong with both humankind and creation, with neither of us functioning as we once used to and as we were meant, then Christ’s redemptive work breaks in and inaugurates the restoration and transformation of both (humankind and cosmos), to complete this work at his return; something I also noted in my book, “Gnostic Trends in the Local Church.”

Lastly, and in a different vein, the author slowly and almost imperceptibly builds a case for thorough egalitarianism among humankind. After developing this thought through several chapters he finally works it into ecclesiastical leadership, claiming that in the early church women “held positions of authority ( . . . ) Phoebe is noted as a deacon of the church ( . . . ) and Junia as an apostle” (320). Both of these assertions are heavily contested by New Testament scholars, which certainly Provan knows but doesn’t footnote, nor does he acknowledge that he is in the minority on this. But what makes this even more problematic is that further up and further in, he reinforces his claim under the theme of “Accommodation” where he acknowledges that there are places in Paul’s writings where the Apostle states that women are not to hold ecclesiastical office but this is all a passing part of “the accommodation of the biblical moral vision to the realities of the world as the early Christians found it” (339). His entire subject of accommodation, which begins with great insight and promise, leaves the reader wondering what else might fall under accommodation; for “it is understandable that often in the New Testament Christians are exhorted to live within the cultural norms of their time and place and are not encouraged to exercise what New Testament faith overall implies to be the full extent of their Christian liberty” (340).

There are a few other potholes to watch out for while driving down the thoroughfare mapped out by Provan. For instance, his presentation of suffering intrinsic to creation, that is before the fall; and suffering that is extrinsic to creation, or a result of the fall. Also there is his way of handling Genesis 3.15 that strips it from being the protoevangelium, the first reference to the Gospel. The reader will simply need to be watchful.

These concerns I have raised might attract some to pick up the book because it resonates with their way of thinking. Well, so be it. Others may be repulsed and tempted to look for another resource. And many will likely conclude that I see little value in this work. On the contrary! I say race out and get it, devour it, ponder Provan’s premises and propositions! “Seriously Dangerous Religion” is a thought provoking read that will be profitable to whoever sincerely imbibes in it. This ought to be the first book an Old Testament seminary professor assigns and the primary or sole textbook for an undergrad “Introduction to the Old Testament” class. Pastors and priests should scoop it up and pour over it with pen in hand, pausing after every chapter to muse over the points the author makes, and the ways the biblical faith stand out against other traditions and metanarratives. Plus University and Seminary librarians need to obtain copies for their libraries. Even with my declared concerns, I strongly recommend the book.

I’m grateful to Baylor University Press for the free copy of “Seriously Dangerous Religion” provided for this review.

(As always, feel free to publish or re-post this review; and please, give credit where credit is due. Mike)
View all my reviews

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Revival and Reformation Pt 20: 2 Chronicles 31

[Follow the link to the audio file]

Revival and Reformation Pt 20
2 Chronicles 31
Some Reviving and Reforming Consequences

Lord God, merciful and gracious, who in Christ sought us when we were not seeking you; but sought us so that we would seek you: by the actions of your Holy Spirit, take our stiff and often unyielding hearts, and kneed the message of this passage into them, that we may rise and become those who earnestly seek you and deeply know you. For Christ’s sake, amen.

What happens when real revival and genuine reformation erupt? Sometimes there are far reaching consequences! As an example, when John Wesley and his fellows began preaching the Gospel to coal miners, the highbrow and low, the down and outers and the well-to-doers, the low class and others on the margins of society, then the revolutionary and societal chaos that was percolating under the surface of the social systems of his day, and about to explode onto England, were diffused, and for a season England had something of a moral and communal transformation. “What did Wesley preach? Thrift, cleanliness, honesty, salvation, good family relations, dozens of other themes, but above all, faith in Christ ( . . . ) Swearing stopped in factories, men and women began to concern themselves with neat and plain dress, extravagances like expensive tea and vices like gin were dropped by his followers, neighbors gave one another mutual help through the societies” ( When real revival and genuine reformation erupt, sometimes there are far reaching consequences.

Rubbed into the Culture/Society:

31.1 – this would have brought the cessation of some Religious Human Trafficking, curbing “unwanted” pregnancies, thus reducing abortions and infanticide; curtailing sexual immorality, slowed down the spreading of STDs, as well as other related illnesses.

30.11-12, 18, 31.1, 5-6 – fastened together much that had once been unfastened and feuding! With the core group having a God-crafted, God-fashioned unity of purpose and ambition – it became a magnetic glue that fussed together the frayed ends of society!
“Increasingly the ordered fellowship of the church becomes the sign of grace for the warring factions of a disordered world. Only as the church binds together those whom selfishness and hate have cut apart will its message be heard and its ministry of hope to the friendless be received” (Edmund P. Clowney, “The Church,” 16).
Raised up a re-fired, awakened generation of ministers; 2, 11-19 [2c; 16b; and “faithful” 3xs]: And remember the importance of this is laid out by Paul, “For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" ( . . . ) So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10.13-17).

Renewed generosity in supporting the ministry of the Word and Worship of God (31.4, 5, 10).
“The practical question, which has been asked before in Chronicles, is how one may know that a real spiritual work is going on in the hearts of God’s people; and as before, the practical answer is the thoroughly earthy one of the pocket, the purse, and the cheque-book. The need of the moment is the ongoing support of the ministry, the providing of a livelihood for those whose calling is to ‘give themselves to the law of the LORD’ (31:4)” (Michael Wilcox, “The Messages of Chronicles,” 250).
Restored kingdom prosperity: 31.20-21 (20.20c!).

The “Take Home”:

1. As this was originally written for God’s disenfranchised, defunct, despoiled, dejected, demoralized people coming out of exile in the middle of the 300s B.C., it is obvious that the Spirit-guided editors are pressing home on the hearts of the people: “This can be again! Therefore, like Hezekiah and the people, seek the Lord (30.6), break out of the past (30.7), throw off stiff-neck-itus (30.8a), yield yourselves to the LORD, come into his sanctuary and serve him with single-minded, exuberant, joy-filled worship (30.8b), draw near to the one who is merciful and gracious (30.9); and allow God’s reviving, reforming work to break into your society, bringing together diverse family groups, inspiring a new generation of God’s ministers, sprouting up a new generosity – and watch the kingdom prosper!

2. The same is for God’s church no matter the time, or place, or space we fill. This can be again!

3. But because we humans are more prone to plunge into processes – we are more likely to search out the techniques and technicalities, the methods and maneuvers (just take a trip to our Christian bookstores and notice how many of our books are absorbed with “How To” on just about every subject) – the recording of this episode has far more to say about the person whom Hezekiah sought, than the practices he followed!
“In the biblical view of things, a deeper knowledge of God brings with it massive improvement in the ( . . . ): purity, integrity, evangelistic effectiveness, better study of Scripture, improved private and corporate worship, and much more. But if we seek these things without passionately desiring a deeper knowledge of God, we are selfishly running after God’s blessings without running after him” (D.A. Carson, “A Call to Spiritual Reformation,” 16).
So instead of running to the “stuff” and trying to turn them into some mechanical massaging for the purpose of manipulating the mercies of our Maker; see clearly that the goal of the whole thing is to seek this God – personally, pointedly, and passionately.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Dangerous Passions, Deadly Sins by Dennis Okholm: a Book Review

Dangerous Passions, Deadly Sins: Learning from the Psychology of Ancient MonksDangerous Passions, Deadly Sins: Learning from the Psychology of Ancient Monks by Dennis Okholm
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dangerous Passions, Deadly Sins: Learning from the Psychology of Ancient Monks
Dennis Okholm
Brazos Press
Baker Publishing Group
6030 East Fulton Road
Ada, MI 49301
ISBN: 9781587433535; $16.99; July 2014

Soul Care 4 out of 5
For someone to wed Psychology and Christian spirituality may sound, for many, doubtful and dubious, especially after the decades-long frictions between the two. But the new 240 page paperback titled “Dangerous Passions, Deadly Sins: Learning from the Psychology of Ancient Monks” has entered the ring to help referee the match. To do this Dennis Okholm, a Benedictine oblate, assistant pastor at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Costa Mesa, California, professor of theology at Azusa Pacific University and adjunct professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, takes the reader back and forth from present-day psychology to three ancient monastic leaders: Evagrius of Pontus, John Cassian, and Gregory the Great. Okholm specifically takes up their discussions, diagnosis and prognosis of the seven principle vices (8): gluttony, lust, greed, anger, envy, sloth and vainglory.

“Dangerous Passions, Deadly Sins” begins by making the case that the ascetic theologians and monks of the fourth through seventh centuries “provide the church with a psychology that is not only specifically Christian in its orientation, but relevant to modern people” (14). Okholm explains that his two-fold approach is to bring forward a clearly Christian psychology that originated with the early Christian monks, and to make an apologetic case for the priority of this Christian psychology over against the presumption of modern technicians who act as if they are some of the first to have come to their conclusions (14). In almost every chapter the author will pair one of the principle vices with discussion of a specific pathology or addiction (16).

Okholm then takes the next seven chapters of “Dangerous Passions, Deadly Sins” and unpacks each vice individually. He draws almost exclusively from Evagrius, Cassion and Gregory, while allowing Aquinas and Basil of Caesarea some say-so in the matter. Once he draws out the contours of the vice and how it looks and acts, he then brings in the moderns to speak their piece: Bunge, Cohen, Holloway, Joest, Kardong, Katz, Kavanaugh, Smith, Solomon, as well as others. The author not only looks into the mechanics of a particular defect, but draws the reader toward the sagacious remedy prescribed by the Christian soul-physicians.

Not being a professional psychologist, it is hard to gauge whether or not the author has read the contemporary psychologists correctly. That will have to be left to the professional psychological community to decide. But if Ohkolm has presented them as fairly and accurately as he did the monastic fathers, then he characterized them properly. But assuming that many of the readers of this book will have had little contact with psychology, the real benefit of “Dangerous Passions, Deadly Sins” may actually have been unintended. This made, for me at least, a nice devotional read. As the author walked me through each flaw, the way it forms in a person, the deceptions it takes on, the sinister tactics it uses, as well as the grace-empowered remedial approaches scripted by the three pastoral theologians, I found myself often in prayer as well as regularly reflecting on what I had just read, for days.

“Dangerous Passion, Deadly Sins” is a work for pastors, counselors, psychologists and Christians. It is accessible, thoughtful, instructive, devotional, and useable. This might make a good addition to an “Introduction to Christian Ministry” class at a seminary. It would be a solid supplement for any Christian pastor’s reading list. And it ought to be a “must-read” for a Christian reading group. I gladly recommend the book.

Thanks to Brazos Press who provided a temporary e-copy of this book, through Net Galley, for this review.

[Feel free to re-post or publish this review. But as always, please give credit where credit is due. Mike]

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