Imagine . . . : 16 Observations on Imagination, Theology, Discipleship, and the Church

michael-aleo-DpgzNS1yvWg-unsplash.jpg“Imagine there’s no heaven.”
— John Lennon —

“Many churches are suffering from malnourished imaginations,
captive to culturally conditioned pictures of the good life.”
— Kevin J. Vanhoozer —

In seminary I took a class called “The Worshipping Church,” where one of our assignments included visiting churches outside our denomination. In one of those visits, I went to a local Roman Catholic Church, where before, during, or after the service (I cannot remember), the instrumentalist played the song “Imagine” by John Lennon. If you are unfamiliar, the lyrics begin

Imagine there’s no heaven / It’s easy if you try
No hell below us / Above us only sky

Admittedly, the instrumental tune is soothing, but the casual denial of heaven and hell is satanic. And though the words were not sung aloud in the service, to anyone familiar with the song, it was not too difficult to imagine what the song was saying.

I bring up this occasion not to bemoan the presence of that song in church—it’s exclusion from the worship set should be obvious. I bring up the song “Imagine” to observe the lack of imagination that cripples so many of God’s churches. As Kevin Vanhoozer has observed, “Many churches are suffering from malnourished imaginations, captive to culturally conditioned pictures of the good life.”

Going further, Kevin Vanhoozer’s book, Hearers and Doers: A Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples through Scripture and Doctrine, reiterates the need for churches to engage the imagination. Indeed, this is more than a hat tip to the arts; as Vanhoozer argues, imagination is a necessary (and biblical!) step between theory and practice, between faith and love.

As he has (for years) sought to bridge the chasm between knowledge and action with what he calls “theodrama” or “the drama of doctrine,” Vanhoozer rightly observes the importance of imagination. And in what follows I want to cite sixteen of his observations on this subject and why it is so vital for the church. Continue reading

The Last Battle: Five Portraits of Warfare for Life in an Embattled World (Joshua 11–12)

joshua07The Last Battle: Five Portraits of Warfare for Life in an Embattled World

Sometimes reading the Old Testament is difficult because it is so far away and so different from today. But other times, we see in the struggles of Israel and actions of God experiences that mirror (or even foreshadow) our own. On Sunday, that was certainly the case, as finished the first half of Joshua.

In Joshua 11–12 we found the conclusion of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan. And in these two chapters we saw five portraits of war that provide us with five principles for life.

Importantly, these principles are not just for life in general, but for life in a fallen and embattled world. Truly, our lives are enmeshed in a spiritual battle and Joshua 11–12 helps us see how to fight the fight of faith. You can find the sermon here and response questions and additional resources below.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Response Questions

  1. How is the gathering of armies in verses 1-5 different from what Israel has faced previously? How does God counsel Joshua? (v. 6)
  2. What is significant about Moses’ command? (11:12–15)
  3. How should we understand this battle in light of God’s sovereignty? (11:20)
  4. What does this battle (chapter 11) and these victories (chapter 12) teach us about the Lord?
  5. What truths and attributes of God do you observe in this narrative?
  6. How ought we to respond to these truths?

Additional Resources

On Joshua

On Spiritual Warfare

 

 

The Strength That God’s Sovereignty Supplies and the Judgment God’s Sovereignty Justifies

pexels-photo-32625610  The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
11  The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
the plans of his heart to all generations.
12  Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!
— Psalm 33:10–12 —

Throughout the book of Joshua we see the personal presence of God. In battle after battle, Yahweh fights for Israel. Through his appointed leader Joshua, God brings justice on a land whose sin has finally come to judgment (cf. Gen. 15:16), and he brings salvation to Israel, as more than 31 city-states rise to fight God’s people (Joshua 12)..

Indeed, if there is any theme that recurs in Joshua is God’s sovereignty over the affairs of the nations. As Psalm 33:10 puts it, “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.” Yet, God’s sovereignty does more than run roughshod over the affairs of men. His personal actions in the world actually bring to fruition the sins of the nations, which in turn demonstrates his righteousness in bringing judgment on evil. Simultaneously, his covenant promises lead his people to bold action. Rather than passively waiting for God to act, God’s actions impel his people to follow suit.

Joshua teaches us, therefore, how God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility work together. In particular, we see God’s sovereignty in his judgment and salvation. And for those of us who are seeking to know God and his ways in the world, it is worth our time to consider both. In what follows, we will consider how these often confused and competing themes (God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility) work in harmony. Continue reading

The Last Battle: 10 Things About Joshua 11–12

michel-porro-vfaFxFltAvA-unsplashIn Joshua 11–12 we come to the close of the first section of Joshua. Here are ten things about those two chapters.

1. Joshua 11 repeats the same pattern as Joshua 10 . . . but faster.

Joshua 11:1 begins just like Joshua 5:1; 9:1; and 10:1. In each chapter, kings from Canaan “heard” of the exploits of Israel and Israel’s God. At first “the kings of the Amorites” feared the Lord (5:1), but then others sought to fight Israel (9:1; 10:1; 11:1). The difference in responses, it seems, is because Ai defeated defeated Israel when Achan sinned. A consequence of that debacle was an increase in hostility (and confidence) among the kings of Canaan.

This surge of confidence is what initiated the clash of Israel and the nations in chapters 10–11. And between these two chapters, we find a literary parallel. As Kenneth Mathews observes,

Chapters 10 and 11 have a general correspondence: both begin with a coalition of enemy kings (10:1–5; 11:1–5); both describe their respective battles (10:6–39; 11:6–11); and both contain a summary of the fallen (10:40–43; 11:12–23). There are details are similar, such as the Lord’s explicit directive to engage the enemy and the author’s attribution of the victory to the Lord (10:8, 14; 11:6, 8). (Mathews, Joshua102–03)

At the same time, there are differences between the chapters; the greatest difference being the speed with which Joshua 11 covers the material. In this chapter, “only one town is described in detail and there are no lengthy descriptions of a chase or of miracles. This suggests an acceleration in the narrative. Moving ever more quickly, the text completes the description of the conquest” (Hess, Joshua227–28).

This faster pace reminds us how biblical narratives are written. They are not intended to cover everything. Instead, in their selectiveness, they point the reader to the important (read: theological) facets of the story. For readers today, comparing chapters 10–11 helps us see how Joshua is written and what these battles reveal about God. Continue reading

The Lord is a Warrior (Joshua 10)

joshua07The Lord is a Warrior (Joshua 10)

Standing on the shores of the Red Sea, with Pharaoh’s army buried under the water, Moses leads Israel to praise God for his powerful victory. And in Exodus 15:1–3, he sings,

1 Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord, saying, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. 2 The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. 3 The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name.

This song of Moses rejoices in the God who defeated Pharaoh and his army. And inspired by the Holy Spirit, God teaches us who he is and how we are to worship him. As verse 3 says, “The Lord is a warrior” and he deserves our praise as such.

Today, this image of God as a warrior is not often appreciated. Instead, God, and especially God the Son, is presented in softer colors. As Dale Ralph Davis has put it, “The popular image of Jesus is that he is not only kind and tender but also soft and prissy, as though Jesus comes to us reeking of hand cream” (Joshua, 88).

Think what you will of hand cream, but the truth remains—Jesus as victorious warrior has been replaced by Jesus as a mild-mannered, emotive counselor. Certainly, Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor and one who knows our pains and plight, but he is also a strong and mighty ruler whose enemies are being put under his feet every day.

In Sunday’s sermon, we considered God as a Warrior. From Joshua 10, we saw how the LORD rained down hailstones on the wicked and went to war, defending his people. Moreover, we saw how Joshua, God’s Savior, prayed and judged—two themes that must be kept with salvation. All in all, Joshua 10 presents a corrective to any view of Jesus that only thinks of him in sentimental terms.

You can listen to the sermon here. Response questions and additional resources can be found below. Continue reading

Under His Feet: 10 Things About Joshua 10

michel-porro-vfaFxFltAvA-unsplashAs we prepare for Joshua 10, here are ten things about this powerful chapter.

1. The Battle of Gibeon

Joshua 10 can be summarized as the battle for Gibeon or the Battle in the Valley of Gibeon (Isa. 28:21). In this chapter, the Gibeonites are attacked by their neighbors because of their peace-making with Israel. And thus Joshua is called to rescue them.

In this setting, Joshua 10 unites chapter 9 with chapter 11. In the former, Joshua 9 recalls the deception of Gibeon, which results in a covenant between Israel and their neighbors. Joshua 11 records multiple victories of Israel over the cities of Northern Canaan. Joshua 10 itself recounts the defeat of one five-fold federation (vv. 1–27), along with seven other city-states (vv. 28–43).

Together, these three chapters explain how Israel defeated peoples in the central region of Canaan in Joshua 9–10 (Jericho, Ai, Jerusalem, etc.), the Southern region of Canaan in Joshua 10:28–43 (Makkedah, Libnah, Gezer, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, and Debir), and the Northern region in Joshua 11 (Hazor, et al.). Joshua 9–11 hang together then by the theme of Yahweh’s defeat of the Canaanites and they are organized according to their geographical military campaigns. Continue reading

For Disciples and Disciplers . . . A Short Biblical Survey of Beauty

waterfallAnd we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. . . . In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
— 2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:4–6 —

In recent days I have become increasingly convinced that biblical teaching, preaching, and discipleship must do more than transmit information. We must proclaim the Truth of God with the same beauty that we find in Scripture. Indeed, the Spirit of Truth did not inspire the Word in some drab and dull way. It is filled with poetry, irony, mystery, and symmetry—in a word, beauty. And the more we see such Christ-centered beauty, the more we will understand God’s Word and become like the Word made flesh.

To put it biblically, if salvation comes from seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:4–6), than sanctification is beautification, where the disciples of Christ reflect the glory of God in ever-increasing ways (2 Cor. 3:18). As Kevin Vanhoozer puts it, “The ‘holy array’ in which the priests of ancient Israel worshiped God (1 Chron 16:29, RSV) now becomes the righteousness of Christ (Gal 3:27), the humility (1 Pet 5:5) that clothes all believers” (Kevin Vanhoozer, Pictures at a Theological Exhibition129). Continue reading

His Mercy is More: God’s Surprising Kindness to Liars and Self Reliars (Joshua 9)

joshua07His Mercy is More: God’s Surprising Kindness to Liars and Self Reliars

Lies and liars. Our world is filled with them, and we often struggle to know what to do with them. This is true when are deceived, but it is also true when we are the deceiver.

On Sunday we saw another deception story in Joshua. And to play on words—Joshua 9 teaches us again that (first) looks can be deceiving. For instead of seeing how the lies of Gibeon are met with swift punishment, we find that God’s mercy overshadows their wrongdoing. At the same time, we also learn how Israel’s self-reliance is covered by the wise mercy of Joshua. Thus, in this chapter we find great hope for liars and self-reliars, which is to say we find hope for all of us!

To see how Joshua 9 leads us to appreciate more of God’s mercy and to become more merciful, you can listen to the sermon online. You can also find response questions and further resources below.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds Continue reading

His Mercy is More: 10 Things about Joshua 9

michel-porro-vfaFxFltAvA-unsplash

After a week away from outlining the details of Joshua, we return to see in Joshua 9 ten things about God’s mercy.

1. The theme of Joshua 9 is mercy.

While geographical and personal details, not to mention extended dialogue, fills Joshua 9, the main message is one of God’s mercy. This is mildly surprising since God does not speak in this chapter and the people of Israel don’t seek his counsel. However, that the people of Gibeon are not destroyed but given a place of service in God’s tabernacle is strong indication of the mercy that God has for people marked out for destruction.

As Kenneth Mathews notes, “Because of their service to the Lord at the tabernacle, they [the Gibeonites] live at the centerpiece of Israel’s unity and worship.” In other words, “by grace those initially outside the covenant are brought near to God” (Mathews, Joshua, 84). Continue reading

What is the Bible? And What Does It Do?

theoWhenever we talk about inerrancy, we must begin by defining what the Bible is.

In philosophical parlance, this discussion relates to the nature or ontology of the Bible. Defining the Bible rightly matters because Scripture is more than a functional handbook for religious followers of Jesus. The Bible it is the very Word of God.

Yet, even this lofty claim requires clarity, and so here are five considerations about the Bible’s ontology from Kevin Vanhoozer (Pictures at a Theological Exhibition: Scenes of the Church’s Worship, Witness and Wisdom80):

1. Scripture is not a word from outer space or a time capsule from the past, but a living and active Word of God for the church today.

2. The Bible is both like and unlike every other book: it is both a human, contextualized discourse and a holy discourse ultimately authored by God and intended to be read in canonical context.

3. The Bible is not a dictionary of holy words but a written discourse: something someone says to someone about something in some way for some purpose.

4. God does a variety of things with the human discourse that makes up Scripture, but above all he prepares the way for Jesus Christ, the climax of a long, covenantal story.

5. God uses the Bible both to present Christ and to form Christ in us.

Getting the Bible right does not secure good interpretation or practice, but getting the Bible wrong does. So we should aim to rightly understand what Scripture is and what it is intended to do—namely, lead us to Christ and make us like him.

Yesterday’s post considered the matter of interpretation, but that discussion depends on getting the Bible right, which these five points help us see. To the end of reading the Bible and becoming conformed to Christ, may we continue to labor and pray.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds