Issue #96

Lewis' Oxford, How to Tell if You're Blessed, What Can Contemporary Christians Learn from the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and more...

Issue #96
Photo by Ganapathy Kumar / Unsplash

Church History Corner ⛪️

Lewis’ Oxford | John Dickson 🎧 →

You probably know him from The Chronicles of Narnia. Those books have sold over 100 million copies. But that’s not all he’s known for. He wrote the classic apologetics work Mere Christianity, the satirical The Screwtape Letters, the collection of sermons The Weight of Glory, other spiritual fiction like The Great Divorce and The Space Trilogy, and much more.

But what about the man himself? He was an Englishman, a World War I soldier who became a medieval literature professor. He was a part of the Inklings writers club with J.R.R. Tolkien and others. He married an American woman knowing she was dying and penned the heart-wrenching A Grief Observed after her death.

This podcast explores his life and the place that shaped him: Oxford University.

Consider Another Perspective 🤔

The Top Theology Stories of 2022 | Collin Hansen and Melissa Kruger 🎧 →

This is a good podcast from Gospelbound host Collin Hansen and The Gospel Coalition VP of Discipleship Programming Melissa Kruger talk about what they’ve been up to for the last year, and the top stories and trends of the year that have a theological angle. Some of their topics include the state of the church in Russia, Ukraine, and China, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and books that have stuck with them.

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Living This Christian Life 🤴👸

How (and How Not) to Discuss Doctrinal Differences in the Church | Rhyne Putnam 📃 →

I recently met with an interdenominational group of missionaries and pastors who serve the persecuted church. They told me incredible stories about the way God was calling people to faith in a place where the evangelical church is only a few decades old. But they also spoke about doctrinal controversies which often hinder their work. This young church wrestles with many of the same doctrinal differences we have in the West—conflicting views on church leadership, salvation, and spiritual gifts. But they also differ about how to address the challenges which are unique to their persecuted context. They are learning how to practice gospel cooperation in an environment hostile to the faith.

In some ways, our division over doctrine is a sign of the incredible freedom of expression that we have in the modern west. That kind of freedom has been essentially non-existent for thousands of years. We are unique, and weird, in that we western Christians can divide over secondary doctrine. Even a few hundred years ago in the Reformation, Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli—three heroes of the reformation—wanted each other jailed or killed for their differing views on the Lord’s table.

On this side of heaven, theological disagreement is part of life. The apostles who wrote the New Testament settled such disputes in the first century. Today, we have a clear word from God preserved in Scripture but no magisterium to settle our disagreements over how to interpret it. Even when we share common convictions about the gospel and the authority of Scripture, we still argue about its meaning and how we should apply it to the unique challenges we face in our cultural context. Because doctrinal disagreement is inevitable, we must find healthy and God-honoring ways to deal with our conflicts.

Putman goes on to describe his take on those ways.

Consider Another Perspective 🤔

How to Overcome Tribalism in Politics and the Church | Patrick Miller, Keith Simon, and Justin Brierley 📽 →

Patrick Miller and Keith Simon, American co-pastors and co-hosts of the Truth over Tribe join Justin Brierley on his British Unbelievable show to talk about “Christian nationalism, progressives and conservatives, and how the church can be part of the solution rather than the problem of tribalism in politics and culture.”

The polarization of culture and the church is one of the most painful issues of our time. It fractures relationships and splits churches. Miller and Simon have an interesting perspective and experience with this as pastors.

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Explore the Scriptures 📖

How to Tell If You Are Blessed | Matt Boga 📃 →

Most nonfiction books have an introduction. This is typically a brief but essential section at the beginning of the book. One of its purposes is to present the information necessary to comprehend what the book is about. The author answers the question, What does my reader need to know to understand the rest of this book? The book of Psalms is no different.

While the Psalms has been known as the prayer book of the Bible, it doesn’t open with a prayer but with an introduction. You could say Psalms details for us the blessing of direct and honest access to the Creator of the universe. Psalm 1 shows us where that access to God is found.

The author gives a sweeping view of the blessed life through contrast. We either delight in the ways of the wicked or in the law of the Lord (vv. 1–2); we’re either blown like chaff or firmly rooted (vv. 3–4); we’ll either burn up in the judgment or stand confidently with the congregation (vv. 5–6).

Being “blessed” or seeking God’s “blessing” is a common refrain among many Christians. But what does blessing look like, Biblically?

Read and Reflect 📖

Pitfalls to Experiencing God’s Presence | Matt Tebbe 📃 →

“Sure, okay, let’s say for argument’s sake God is always present and at work in my life…what difference does that make? What about all the times I can’t feel God’s presence or see God’s work? You telling me all this feels like a taunt; like something I’d wish were true but I can’t find any way to access that truth in my life!”

Does that describe how you’ve felt? Tebbe’s article might help you.

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Best with a Cup of Tea ☕️

What Can Contemporary Christians Learn from the Desert Fathers and Mothers? | Andrew Arndt 📃 →

About five years ago, amid a chaotic and confusing time in my own life, I began reading the sayings and stories of the desert fathers and mothers—that fanatical group of men and women who, during the early centuries of the church, retreated both from the comfortable confines of institutional religion and from the seductions of an increasingly decadent and violent Roman culture to seek God and rediscover the radical way of Jesus in the barren wastes of Egypt, Syria, and Palestine. Their words and the example of their lives helped me reclaim a kind of spiritual “true north.” They became cartographers of the Holy for me, teaching me anew what it means to live for the love of God and others; instructing me again in the subtle beauty of a life lived in ongoing and familiar friendship with God; helping me find my way amid deep disorientation.

As meaningful as my encounter with them was personally, I soon began to see that their wisdom held great promise for helping an adrift church recover its way and reclaim its calling—which, as it turns out, is exactly the impact that the desert movement had on the regnant church of its time.

They teach us that “love is the way of the kingdom.” The desert fathers warned us against out-of-control passions.

By the Spirit, so teaches the New Testament, our loves are put to death and made alive again so that we might live ever-increasing fulfillment of the command of Jesus to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength—and our neighbors as ourselves. The person whose sanctification is complete is the person who loves completely: “No one has ever seen God,” writes John, “but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” for “God is love” and “whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them” (1 John 4:12, 16).

Second, says Arndt, the desert fathers teach us that “love takes shape in Christian community.”

One of the things that astonished me when I first began to read the desert fathers and mothers is how downright communal they are. Before I took the deep dive into their witness, my impression was that they were a bunch of socially awkward borderline misanthropes who shunned society less for noble religious reasons and more because, well, they just couldn’t stand people—and if religion provides a ready-made excuse to serially dodge relationships, all the better.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. While a select few embraced the “hermitical” lifestyle, even those that did remained tethered to community.

Last, they teach us that “love must be willing to lose.”

Here is the lesson to be grasped, and it is a critical one: When the object of antagonism is surrendered, the way is paved then and there for the restoration of shalom. The desert fathers and mothers help us see how “things”—it really can be anything from bricks to church budgets—so quickly become an object of competition that pit people against each other, sundering the life of rich relationship that is at the heart of the divine intention for our lives. James, the half-brother of Jesus, made precisely the same point when he asked, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight” (James 4:1-2).

And what, therefore, is the solution? The abbas and ammas are united in their answer: Let it go. Lay it down. Give it up. Be willing, in other words, to lose—and see what happens.

Keep Your Mind on Things Above

I will be praying for you this week.

For what will it benefit someone if he gains the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will anyone give in exchange for his life?
— Matthew 16:26 (CSB)

Joel Fischer

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