Poor reception

A fascinating quote from Dr John Piper’s new book Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God:

[…] People receive Christ [but] they do not receive Him as supremely valuable. They receive Him simply as sin-forgiver, because they love being guilt-free; and as rescuer from hell, because they love being pain-free; and as healer, because they love being disease-free; and as protector, because they love being safe; and as prosperity-giver, because they love being wealthy; and as Creator because they want a personal universe; and as Lord of history because they want order and purpose; but they don’t receive Him as supremely and personaly valuable for who He is. They don’t receive Him the way Paul did when he spoke of “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”; they don’t receive Him as He really is, more glorious, more beautiful, more wonderful, more satisfying than everything else in the universe. They don’t prize Him or treasure Him or cherish Him or delight in Him.

Omnipotent Compassion

In the middle of one of his least accessible talks, John Murray throws in this gem:

To view the heavenly sympathy of our Lord from the aspect of our existential need, how indispensable to comfort and perseverance in faith, to know that in all the temptations of this life we have a sympathiser, and helper, and comforter in the person of him from whom we must conceal nothing, who feels with us in every weakness and temptation, and knows exactly what our situation physical, psychological, moral, and spiritual is! And this he knows because he himself was tempted, like as we are, without sin. That he who has this feeling with us in temptation appears in the presence of God for us and is our advocate with the Father invests his sympathy and help with an efficacy that is nothing less than omnipotent compassion.

— John Murray, The Heavenly, Priestly Activity of Christ. The Campbell Morgan Bible Lecture, delivered June 18, 1958 at Westminster Chapel, London.

Eggheads and babies

Reading from Matthew 14:14 today

When [Jesus] went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

it struck me how hard it is to find a balance between knowledge and application in teaching the Bible.

In contrast to other religions, Christianity is actually more news than system. What I mean by that is that there is more proclamation involved in the Christian faith than instruction. There is instruction (read any NT letter), but it comes after the proclamation/description/teaching of greater principles. First we learn the news, then we are to live by them.

That is consistent with the gospel. The gospel is not a self-help recipe; it is a diagnosis of a terminal disease and a prescription for the only cure available. People aren’t called to come to Christ in order to improve themselves (although that will happen inevitably). They are called to come to Christ because they are in desperate need for a radical change of their position before God. Christ Himself never implied anything different.

So in a sense, the Bible is mostly news – but news that must inevitably affect us in a profound and unprecedented way. I think that this ought to be consequently reflected in the teaching of the Bible.

There are teachers/churches that emphasise proclamation above application. This results in hypocrisy: Theological knowledge that is separated from the life and troubles of the individual believer. A God who only cares about His truth and can’t be bothered with “my silly little problems”.

Other teachers/churches emphasise application above proclamation. The result is what is called “seeker-sensitivism”. A constant me-me-me atmosphere, with me-centred worship and me-heavy teaching. If it doesn’t “speak to my situation”, I simply don’t care or don’t believe it’s relevant/important/true. How can God say anything that doesn’t apply to my current concerns right now?

Jesus balanced both perfectly. He combined his divine theological wisdom with an immense compassion for people. He proclaimed the news and lived them out. He showed us that theology must be “efficacious” – it must affect and change us. It must be broad and deep. Neither eggheads nor babies.