Issue #83

Why Is Christian Unity So Hard, Scripture Alone: What the Reformers Really Believed, What to Say to Someone Suffering Like Job, and more...

Issue #83
Photo by Nik Shuliahin 💛💙 / Unsplash

Read and Reflect 📖

Why Is Christian Unity So Hard? | Jon Bloom 📃 →

I’m not talking about disunity fueled by higher-level disagreements over primary Christian doctrines (ones that define the bounds of Christianity) or even secondary doctrines (ones that define, say, the bounds of a denomination). I’m talking about the far more common kind of disunity fueled by the endless variety of conflicts that break apart relationships, and even whole churches, because earnest, sincere Christians fail to humbly, gently, patiently “[bear] with one another in love” and cease being “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1–3).

If you’re like me, you’ve seen too much of this, and you wonder, sometimes with tears, “Why is unity in the church so hard?”

But, if you’re like me, this question might also reveal misguided assumptions we have about what Christian unity is supposed to be like. What I found lurking behind my question (and I don’t think I’m unusual here) was this assumption: unity between Christians who love and trust Jesus, are filled by his Spirit, and largely agree theologically, should not be this hard. It seems reasonable on its face. But a reasonable assumption doesn’t make a right assumption, especially when the Bible doesn’t support it.

When he looks at scripture, Bloom finds that unity has always been hard. Yet it is no less important. We are warned to avoid division and encouraged to forgive and bear with one another. If unity is how the world will know that we are Christ’s (John 13:35), unity is crucial! The reason the world will know we are Christ’s is that unity is costly. It’s hard. I pray that I, and you, will face the cost with courage.

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Watch and Wonder 📽

Is Progressive Christianity a False Gospel? | Randal Rauser, Doug Groothuis, and Justin Brierley 📽 →

Randal Rauser has responded to the book Another Gospel?: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity with his own Progressive Christians Love Jesus Too. He argues that Another Gospel lacks nuance and is too heavy-handed in placing (at least some) progressive Christians outside the Christian faith entirely. In this conversation, he defends theologians and pastors such as Rob Bell, Richard Rohr, and Brian McLaren.

Conservative philosopher Douglas Groothuis brings nuance to the conversation and argues that some progressive Christians have left the Christian faith entirely behind.

This is a great and charitable discussion as the two try to find common ground and explore the lines of heresy.

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Church History Corner ⛪️

Scripture Alone? What the Reformers Really Believed | Steven Wedgeworth 📃 →

Christians somewhat regularly say, “The Scriptures are our only standard.” But our only standard for what? Is Scripture the only source of truth of any kind whatsoever, leaving no need for, say, physics textbooks or instruction manuals from IKEA? That kind of interpretation would be silly. And qualifying the statement by saying, “The Scriptures are our only authoritative standard” doesn’t really help. What kind of standard isn’t authoritative, at least in some sense?

So, we need to explain what sola Scriptura is supposed to mean. This is where our nitpicky historians are helpful. Expressions like “Scripture alone” always showed up in particular contexts. When the Reformers appealed to Scripture in this way, they were not debating science or mathematics or grammar. They were having religious and doctrinal debates. That means that sola Scriptura does not apply to matters related to the natural world in and of itself. We can learn about butterflies from studying butterflies and reading books by people who have studied butterflies. The same is true for literature and even politics.

Reason also leads to a kind of knowledge of God. For its part, the Westminster Confession of Faith appeals to “the light of nature” five times and “reason” or “common sense” at least three more. In its 21st chapter, it says, “The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might.”

The Scriptures are not then our only source of knowledge, not even of knowledge about God. But what they are is a sufficient source of saving knowledge.

Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”, one of the five Solas of the Protestant Reformation) is well-known among some Protestant Christians and less well-known among others. If you are in the former camp, this is a great introduction! If you’re in the latter camp, you may find that it’s widely misunderstood. That’s because the basic formulation of “scripture alone” sounds iron-clad, when in fact, it doesn’t fully define what is meant. This article brings considerably more nuance to the table.

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Challenge Your Brain 🧠

The Philippian Christ Passage | Michael Bird 📽 →

In this 20-minute video, Biblical scholar Michael Bird dives deep into Philippians 2:5–11 to discuss what exactly it is. Is it a hymn, poem, or something else? And did Paul write it, or does it come from even earlier than Paul? This is a scholarly discussion, but he aims to make it accessible.

Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus,
who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be exploited.
Instead he emptied himself
by assuming the form of a servant,
taking on the likeness of humanity.
And when he had come as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—
even to death on a cross.
For this reason God highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow—
in heaven and on earth
and under the earth—
and every tongue will confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
— Philippians 2:5–11 (CSB)

Living This Christian Life 🤴👸

Why I’m No Longer Trying to Be Extraordinary | Nathan Sloan 📃 →

I’d equated gospel faithfulness with doing extraordinary work for God. Initially, that meant planting my life in South Asia. But now that a new stage in life and ministry had come, faithfulness began to look different than I’d imagined.

I’ve heard from many Christians who struggle with this. Does faithfulness to Christ demand uprooting our lives and moving to a foreign country?

The answer is: maybe! But not for most. Some are indeed called to lives of faithful difficulty serving Christ in foreign lands. But most American Christians are called to faithfulness where they are.

Alongside my ambition, I also now long to be faithful and content in life’s more mundane rhythms. I long to experience God and his abiding presence, not first in the drive of life but in hidden moments of quietness. I’ve learned that God wants me to embrace a faithful and ordinary Christian life, the kind that’s described in 1 Thessalonians 4:11–12.

And that has some serious disadvantages too. Faithfulness to Christ in a decadent society focused on the self and accumulation of happiness can be more difficult for the soul, even if it’s easier on the body. The gentle slope to faithlessness is more difficult to notice than the cliff.

Ordinary faithfulness can be difficult. Tish Harrison Warren wrote about her struggle to embrace an ordinary life after returning from mission work in Africa:
What I am slowly realizing is that, for me, being in a house all day long with a baby and a two-year-old is a lot more scary and a lot harder that being in a war-torn African village. . . . And so this is what I need now: the courage to face an ordinary day—an afternoon with a colicky baby where I’m probably going to snap at my two-year-old and get annoyed with my noisy neighbor[,]… the bravery it takes to believe that a small life is still a meaningful life, and the grace to know that even if I’ve done nothing that is powerful or bold or even interesting that the Lord notices me and is fond of me and that is enough.

Listen and Learn 🎧

What's Not in the Bible? What Sayings Do People Mistakenly Think Are in the Bible? | Shea Houdmann, Jeff Laird, and Kevin Stone 🎧 →

What are the most frequently asked about sayings that people think are in the Bible that aren't actually in the Bible? Why are there so many sayings that people attribute to the Bible that definitely are not biblical?

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Best with a Cup of Tea ☕️

What to Say to Someone Suffering Like Job | Eric Ortlund 📃 →

The book of Job does not directly tell us how to address Job-like suffering. But I think we can sketch what a helpful answer would be, if we take an approach exactly opposite from his friends. Our two compass points here are the note of condemnation that rings through almost every line of the friends’ speeches and the attitude of self-righteous superiority. In contrast to this, what would it look like to address a suffering friend under the assumption of God’s unceasing love and approval (Job 1:8)? And without any assumption of moral superiority to him? That we are just as vulnerable to these inexplicable ordeals as anyone else?

First, remember that your friend might be so shell-shocked in the early days of his ordeal that he can barely hear you. Lecture him, and all he’ll give you is a glassy stare. Remember as well that he is probably receiving “help” from other Christians that is distinctly unhelpful. If your friend does not respond as well as you would like, or does not respond at all, it may be because he is simply unable to.

Asking diagnostic questions about what kind of suffering this is (is there some sin God is bringing to light?) can be helpful, depending on the strength of your relationship, but should only be done slowly and cautiously. The main thing when speaking to a Job is neither to blame nor to suggest God is trying to teach a lesson.

Since I find myself just quoting the whole article, I simply recommend that you read the whole thing. It will take you less than 10 minutes.

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Keep Your Mind on Things Above

I will be praying for you this week.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure, buried in a field, that a man found and reburied. Then in his joy he goes and sells everything he has and buys that field.
— Matthew 13:44 (CSB)

Joel Fischer

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