Friday, December 2, 2011


Roots are important.  They help you know where you came from.  They give you a sense of identity, heritage, and history.  The people of Israel had a deep sense of history and they knew their roots.  They learned from their ancestors in ways that we have largely lost.  They saw themselves as part of something bigger and more important than themselves--something God was doing in history.  In our individualistic, narcissistic, ahistorical culture, roots are something we are lacking and we desperately need.  Narcissism breeds isolation, and for the most part we've become islands unto ourselves.  We've lost our sense of legacy.  I wish I knew more about my family's history--where we came from, how we navigated through hard times, how we celebrated good times, and how God worked through my family to do great things in history.  While my understanding of my roots might be small, I do know some things about my roots, and I'm working on learning more.  One person who inspires me is my grandfather, who is now with the Lord in glory, David King.  Below is a little bit about his story.  

My grandfather on my father's side was named David Albert King.  Before the United States entered World War II, when we were isolationists for the most-part, my grandfather had the foresight to see that Hitler was an evil man who needed to be stopped.  He decided therefore to enter the merchant marines.  The merchant marines were one of the few groups of Americans who helped the British in the war efforts in those early days before the U.S. officially entered the war.  They would send loads and loads of supplies across the Atlantic to keep the British supplied with medicine, ammunition, food, and whatever else was needed.

After joining the merchant marines, he was given the position of navigator.  Back then, that didn't include radar or GPS.  He would guide ships across the Atlantic simply by using the stars, a compass, some maps, and his knowledge of tides.  He continued doing this after the United States had entered the war post-Pearl Harbor.  On one occasion, England was in dire need of supplies, and my grandfather's vessel was at the head of a massive supply convoy.  The other ships were following his ship, so he was acting as the navigator for the entire convoy.  As the convoy approached the British coast, a thick fog set in.  This fog was so thick, my grandfather later recalled that he couldn't see his hand in front of his face, two feet away.  The convoy slowed down to a crawl to avoid crashing into the rocky coast.  The ships constantly sounded their fog horns to avoid hitting each other.   This thick fog persisted for days.

Finally, it was decided that Britain could wait no longer.  People were dying because they needed the supplies in those ships.  But many more could die if the ships ran aground or sank.  It's hard to appreciate the difficulty this situation presented.  When one is on the open sea, they are largely blind to their location and movement because there are no fixed points of reference--except the stars.  Take them away, add days of drift in a blinding fog, and an entire convoy of vessels, some of which are filled with sensitive munitions and gunpower and you have a sense of the magnitude of this task.  Nonetheless, like someone threading a needle with their eyes shut, my grandfather carefully and skillfully navigated the entire convoy safely into the harbor--even though he hadn't seen the stars in days.  He relied solely on the heading he had marked out days earlier and his compass.  This was a great and heroic feat--one so great that after he arrived, Winston Churchhill himself sent for my grandfather and personally gave him a medal.

When my grandfather returned to the United States, he entered New York harbor, and as his ship entered the harbor, he could hear the harbor patrol calling his name.  He wasn't sure what to make of this, but when he got to the harbor patrol, they loaded him into a black car, and drove him from New York to Washington D.C.  To his amazement, the driver pulled right up to the White House, and he was escorted out of the car and into the oval office.  By this time it was night.  Franklin D. Roosevelt was in his pajamas, and there, in the oval office, my grandfather met President Roosevelt in his pajamas.  To thank my grandfather for heroically navigating the convoy into the harbor, President Roosevelt gave my grandfather a license to navigate any ship of any tonnage on any ocean.  Later, my grandfather speculated that Roosevelt didn't want to be 1-uped by Churchhill--especially when it came to honoring a U.S. soldier.

Later in the war, my grandfather was navigating a vessel in the Pacific theater.  He had known for some time that God had called him to be a pastor, but he was resisting God in this.  One time during a horrible battle, there were ships sinking around him, and he looked up to see a Kamikaze headed straight towards his ship.  At that moment, he fell to his knees and told God "Yes!"  "Yes, I will serve you however you want me to."  "Yes, I will follow you despite my trepidation."  "Yes!"  He told God that if he got out of this mess, he'd spend the rest of his life devoted to preaching the gospel.  As he prayed this prayer, the crew was calling out "Kamikaze!" to one another, and the two machine gunners on either end of the ship started shooting in a panic as they searched for the rogue plane.  Their shots came no where near to the plane, but nonetheless the pilot seemed to be startled by the gunfire, and pulled up slightly on the stick, just enough to miss the ship and crash into the water.

After the war, my grandfather married my grandmother, Flora Mae King, and he faithfully served God as the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Bell for over 40 years.   He shepherded a small flock that was entrusted to his care with diligence and faithfulness.  He watched as the church grew, and eventually dwindled as his town transitioned from a predominantly Caucasian community to a predominantly Hispanic community.  As this transition took place, my grandfather had the foresight to begin mentoring a Mexican pastor, who eventually took over the church.  Today, his church is thriving, teaching God's Word, and spreading the gospel.  Through the ups and downs, my grandfather was faithful and he made the kingdom of God his priority.  He sought God's kingdom and righteousness above his own, and as a result, he lived a powerful life.

There's a few things I can learn about my heritage from my grandfather.  I can learn something about the character of King men.  King men are men who exercise great foresight, they are men who do what's necessary to stop evil and injustice, they are men who step up to the plate when there's a need, they are stubborn men--who sometimes resist to God's call on their lives, and they are men who eventually submit to God's call and serve Him with faithful endurance.  That's a little bit of my roots, and I'm better for knowing it.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

These Inward Trials

The life of John Newton reads like a fictional story.  You might not have heard his name before, but I'm willing to bet you know his hymn, the most-recorded song in history, "Amazing Grace."  In the year 1743 when he was young, Newton was on his way to visit some friends when he was captured and forced into naval service.  He lived as a loner with a disregard for authority.  When he attempted to desert the navy, he was captured and as punishment, he was stripped to the waist, tied to the grating, received a flogging of one dozen lashes, and was demoted to the lowest of ranks.  As a result of this, he contemplated suicide for a time.

Eventually, he was released from the military and joined the crew of an Africa-bound slave ship.  After a series of disagreements with the crew of the ship, he was left in Africa where he was enslaved to a slave-trader who brutally mistreated him.  Eventually, he was rescued by a sea captain who had been asked by Newton's father to search for him.  Later in life, he became the captain of a ship, and when the ship was about to sink in the midst of a great storm, he called out to God.  After calling out to God, it seems that the cargo of the ship plugged a hole in the hull, so the ship stopped filling up with water and drifted to safety.  As he sailed home to Britain over the next few months, he devoted his time to reading the Bible.  By the time he had reached home, he had given his allegiance and trust to Christ.

Newton later became an Anglican minister, and in addition to writing a number of hymns, he worked to abolish slavery, and he served as a mentor to William Wilberforce.  Newton died shortly after Wilberforce had succeeded in his campaign to abolish the slave-trade in England, which is an amazing story itself. 

To read more about John Newton, I'd recommend either Newton's own autobiography, entitled Out of the Depths, or Jonathan Aitken's new biography, John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace.  Also of interest to some may be William Wilberforce's biography by Eric Metaxas, Amazing Grace:  William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery or the movie chronicling this story, Amazing Grace.

One of my favorite of John Newton's lesser-known hymns is "I Asked the Lord, That I Might Grow." It is below.  Enjoy!
I asked the Lord, that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.
’Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.
I hoped that in some favoured hour
At once He'd answer my request,
And by His love's constraining power
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

"Lord, why is this?" I trembling cried,
"Wilt thou pursue Thy worm to death?"
"'Tis in this way," the Lord replied,
"I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may'st seek thy all in me."

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Enthralling the Mind with God

How do we help people to love what is lovely?  Very simply, we cause them, ask them, help them to place their minds on the lovely thing concerned.  We assist them to do this in every way possible. Saint Thomas Aquinas remarks that “love is born of an earnest consideration of the object loved.” And: “Love follows knowledge.”  Love is an emotional response aroused in the will by visions of the good.  Contrary to what is often said, love is never blind, though it may not see rightly.  It cannot exist without some vision of the beloved.
     As teachers we therefore bring the lovely thing—in this case, God—before the disciple as fully and as forcibly as possible, putting our best efforts into it.  But we never forget that in the last analysis, as we have already learned from Emily Dickinson, “the soul selects her own society, then shuts the door.”  Though we act, and as intelligently and responsibly as possible, we are always in the position of asking: asking them, asking God, and responding to their responses. 
     God has placed the only key to the innermost parts of the human soul in its own hands and will never take it back to himself or give it to another.  You may even be able to destroy the soul of another, but you will never unlock it against his or her will.  The soul, to continue the words of the poet just quoted, can “close the valves of her attention, like stone.”  She can even lose the key, and have to have help finding it.  She can even refuse the help she desperately needs.  But she will never cease to need to love, which is deeper than the need to be loved. 
     A popular saying is “Take time to smell the roses.”  What does this mean?  To enjoy the rose it is necessary to focus on it and bring the rose as fully before our senses and mind as possible.  To smell a rose you must get close, and you must linger. When we do so, we delight in it.  We love it.
     Taking time to smell the roses leaves enduring impressions of a dear glory that, if sufficiently reengaged , can change the quality of our entire life.  The rose in a very special way—and more generally the flower, even in its most humble forms—is a fragile but irrepressible witness on earth to a “larger” world where good is somehow safe. 
     This simple illustration contains profound truths.  If anyone is to love God and have his or her life filled with that love, God in his glorious reality must be brought before the mind and kept there in such a way that the mind takes root and stays fixed there.  Of course the individual must be willing for this to happen, but any genuine apprentice to Jesus will be willing.  This is the very lesson apprentices have enrolled in his school to learn.
     So the question for the first part of our curriculum is simply how to bring God adequately before the mind and spirit of the disciple.  This is to be done in such a way that love for and delight in God will be elicited and established as the pervasive orientation of the whole self.  It will fill the mind of the willing soul and progress toward an easy and delightful governance of the entire personality.      

—Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A World Without Jobs

Steve Jobs, the Thomas Edison of my day, has died.  I pray that Jobs reached out to the Savior before succumbing to death.  I hope to meet him one day.  However, I can't help but be reminded that the overarching theme of Jobs' life was one of elegant, sleek, empty, secular hope.  I am reminded of the insightful article that Andy Couch wrote in January of this year.  There are excerpts from it below.
As remarkable as Steve Jobs is in countless ways—as a designer, an innovator, a (ruthless and demanding) leader—his most singular quality has been his ability to articulate a perfectly secular form of hope. Nothing exemplifies that ability more than Apple’s early logo, which slapped a rainbow on the very archetype of human fallenness and failure—the bitten fruit—and made it a sign of promise and progress....

Steve Jobs was the evangelist of this particular kind of progress—and he was the perfect evangelist because he had no competing source of hope. In his celebrated Stanford commencement address (which is itself an elegant, excellent model of the genre), he spoke frankly about his initial cancer diagnosis in 2003. It’s worth pondering what Jobs did, and didn’t, say:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it’s quite true. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.
This is the gospel of a secular age. It has the great virtue of being based only on what we can all perceive—it requires neither revelation nor dogma. And it promises nothing it cannot deliver—since all that is promised is the opportunity to live your own unique life, a hope that is manifestly realizable since it is offered by one who has so spectacularly succeeded by following his own “inner voice, heart and intuition....”

But the genius of Steve Jobs has been to persuade us, at least for a little while, that cold comfort is enough. The world—at least the part of the world in our laptop bags and our pockets, the devices that display our unique lives to others and reflect them to ourselves—will get better. This is the sense in which the tired old cliché of “the Apple faithful” and the “cult of the Mac” is true. It is a religion of hope in a hopeless world, hope that your ordinary and mortal life can be elegant and meaningful, even if it will soon be dated, dusty, and discarded like a 2001 iPod.

A friend of mine says that human beings can live for forty days without food, four days without water, and four minutes without air. But we cannot live for four seconds without hope....

Steve Jobs’s gospel is, in the end, a set of beautifully polished empty promises. But I look on my secular neighbors, millions of them, like sheep without a shepherd, who no longer believe in anything they cannot see, and I cannot help feeling compassion for them, and something like fear. When, not if, Steve Jobs departs the stage, will there be anyone left who can convince them to hope?

Sunday, October 2, 2011


The movie below is a riveting documentary dealing with one of the most controversial issues of our time.  It'll take 30 minutes, but it's worth the watch. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Clarion Call to Watered Down Evangelicalism

Asbury Theological Seminary President, Timothy Tennent, gave the following address at their September Convocation at Asbury this month.  This is one of the most adept and scathing critiques of modern evangelical Christianity I've ever read.  Every Christian leader should read, ponder, and heed these words.

Our Mission to “theologically educate”
Timothy C. Tennent, Ph.D
Fall Convocation, 2011

In his 1937 landmark book, The Kingdom of God in America, Richard Niebuhr memorably described the message of Protestant liberalism as “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgement through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”1  In the ensuing years Niebuhr’s statement has become one of the more well known summaries of the failure of Protestant liberalism to properly reflect the apostolic message.  Tragically, Niebuhr’s devastating critique is on the brink of being equally applicable to contemporary, evangelical Christianity.  Who has lost sight more of the depth of human sin, the certainty of God’s judgment and the call to repentance and transformation at the feet of a crucified savior than today’s populistic, evangelical churches?  I knew something was amiss when I read the line from the well known pastor Walt Kallestad who wrote in his book, Entertainment Evangelism that “the church needs to be friendlier than Disneyland.”2  I knew that somehow we had lost our way when prayers of repentance and confession quietly disappeared from the order of services.  I knew we were charting some new path when I heard Jason Upton’s worship chorus, “Into the Sky.” Thankfully, there is a growing realization among many of us who call ourselves evangelical that we have inadvertently participated in an obscuring of the gospel which is not unlike what we have so vociferously decried in Protestant liberalism.  It seems that Satan can work at both ends of the shop.  Asbury Theological Seminary is perhaps better poised than many to observe these dynamics since we have so many feet in so many different Christian worlds.  We have one foot in the mainline church (we provide more ordained ministers for the United Methodist church than any seminary in America), one foot in the holiness movement (we were founded by a 19th C. holiness, revivalistic preacher) and one foot in contemporary evangelicalism (we serve over 90 different denominations, many of them part of the evangelical movement).   I guess this makes us a three footed toad!

It may be true that the house of liberal Protestantism has nearly burned to the ground and we’ve been standing there screaming with our water hose for almost a century, but, brothers and sisters, we must recognize that our own kitchen is on fire and within one generation, the whole evangelical house will soon be engulfed in flames.  If liberalism is guilty of demythologizing the miraculous, we have surely been guilty of trivializing it. If liberalism is guilty of turning all theological statements into anthropological ones, surely we must be found guilty of making Christianity just another face of the multi-headed Hydra of American, market-driven consumerism.  If liberalism can be charged with making the church a gentler, kindler version of the Kiwanis club, we must be willing to accept the charge that we have managed to reinvent the gospel, turning it into a privatized subset of one’s individual faith journey.  I realize that there are powerful, faithful churches in every tradition who are already modeling the very future this message envisions, but we must also allow our prophetic imagination to enable us to see what threatens to engulf us.

I’ve been among those who have pointed out the theological weakness captured by such phrases of Protestant liberalism, “Open hearts, open minds, open doors,” or “open, progressive and inclusive.” These type phrases are filled with considerable cultural codes which say many things about many things, but precious little about the Christian gospel.  But, perhaps we would do well to exegete some of our own signs and slogans.

A common evangelical sign which could be found across America might read something like this: “Traditional service, 8:30, contemporary 10:00, blended service, 11:30.”  Next line:  “Welcome  – come as you are, no need to dress up.”  Then, on the final line there will inevitably be some pithy gospel message.  Let me share a few signs actually displayed outside evangelical churches: Free Coffee, Everlasting Life – Yes, membership has its privileges.” Another sign reads, “Try Jesus – if you don’t like him, the Devil will take you back.” Also cited is this: Walmart is not the only saving place.” A church near a busy highway put this sign up: “Keep using my name in vain – I’ll make the rush hour longer – God” Of course, if it is Christmas time, you will inevitably see the classic one, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season!”

If you think I am being unfair by citing these examples of public messaging, I suggest that the inside message is often not much different.

Evangelicalism is awash with the constant drumbeat message of informality, the assumed wisdom of consumerism, reliance on technology, love of entertainment, pursuit of comfort, materialism and personal autonomy – all held together by easy-to-swallow, pithy gospel statements.  But, let’s push the pause button and do a little exegesis of ourselves, shall we?

(1) I don’t like that style of worship

The worship style choice lines reminds us how deeply we evangelicals have become commodified and “market driven.”  Market driven language pervades contemporary evangelicalism at every turn.  This democratizing spirit tacitly assumes that there are no higher points of reference for establishing the shape and practice of the church, ministry and worship than popular opinion and the will of the majority.  The premise of all marketing is that the consumer’s needs are king, and the customer is always right – and yet, as David Wells has argued in God in the Wasteland, these are very points which the gospel refuses to concede.3 There are surely many good reasons for starting a separate contemporary worship service, but what concerns me is the lack of theological reflection about what just might be lost in the process.

Separating generations over worship just might be cutting the very relational tie between elder and younger which is so crucial for discipleship.  Providing worship style options just might be reinforcing that worship is somehow “for us,” i.e. to meet our needs.  Endless discussions over the style of music just might obscure the deeper, often neglected, conversation about the content of our words of worship which is increasingly drawn from the world of Christian entertainment and performance, not from the church.  Furthermore, the “style choice” emphasis pushes the Psalms even further from the heart of Christian worship.

Evangelicals are, of course, masters at dodging any criticism that we ourselves could ever be co-opted by culture.  We disguise our lack of theological reflection by our constant commitment to “relevance” or saying that we are reaching people “where they are.”  Of course, who would deny that the church needs to have a profound understanding of “where people are.”   That is not the problem.  We are quite adept at measuring where people are culturally, but we are at best careless in any sustained theological reflection about where they should be culturally.  So, for example, if the wider culture has become apathetic about ritual, tradition, symbolism, poetic expressions, the value of history, or the necessity of intergenerational relationships, then, no problem, we say, it is the evangelical version of the prime directive to always adapt to culture.  But what if these very prejudices are actually part of the cultural malaise to which the church has been called to provide a stunning alternative?  How easily we seem to forget that the gospel doesn’t need our help in being made relevant.  The gospel is always relevant, and it is we who need to be made relevant to the gospel.  If we spent as much time really immersing ourselves into apostolic orthodoxy as we do trying to capture, if I can use Tom Oden’s phrase, “predictive sociological expertise” on the latest cultural wave coming,4 our churches would be far better off.  We have accepted almost without question certain definitions of success and what a successful church looks like.  However, we must not forget that, as I told this past year’s graduates, if the cross teaches us anything, it is that God sometimes does his greatest redemptive work under a cloak of failure. Only sustained theological reflection is able to penetrate and unmask the pragmatic, market driven assumptions which largely go unchecked in today’s evangelical churches.

(2) God is, like, my pal

Let us turn now to the “come as you are – no need to dress up” line.   Richard Weaver in 1948 (Ideas have Consequences) and the linguist John McWhorter in 2003 (Doing our own thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, like, Care), among others, have argued that the contemporary preference for informality and the movement away from formal language in reference to God or human authority structures is deeply tied to cultural suspicions about authority and distrust of hierarchy.  Post-modernity flattens all hierarchies: No high king, no high God.  There are deep theological moorings behind all of this informality which have not been understood by pastors in the evangelical landscape.

Somewhere in America at some church meeting a decision was reached to change the name of the place they worshipped from the word “sanctuary” to “worship center” or “celebration center.”  Furthermore, they decided to build a space which could be used as a gymnasium during the week and a place of worship on Sunday.  Having a dedicated space only for worship seemed liked a shocking waste of money.  Indeed, they had at least 5 good reasons for doing this.  What concerns me is that they probably never stopped to reflect theologically that there just might be 6 reasons to not do it.  Of course, maybe there were only four and the “celebration center” in the gym would have carried the day.  The point is, that reflection never even happened.

Somewhere in America on some Sunday morning the first man or woman walked into a worship service with a baseball cap on and a cup of coffee in their hand.  It is now quite common. The pastor would surely offer three or four impressive reasons why this was the “missional” way to go, but I can assure you that when the decision was made, serious theological concerns were not invited to participate.

These examples all seem so small and insignificant.  Yet, that’s how all drift happens.  You see, liberal Protestants never woke up one morning and said to themselves, “Hey, let’s adopt an Arian Christology, shall we?”  No one said “Wouldn’t it be just wonderful if we could devote the next 50 years to undermining the apostolic faith.”  No!  I’ve read their writings.  They were deeply concerned, as we are, to make the gospel relevant to modern people.  Evangelicals have not openly abandoned apostolic Christianity.  No one set out to cheapen the gospel, diminish God’s holiness or downplay the cost of discipleship.  It’s just happening.  A baseball cap here, omitting the word “wretch” from Amazing Grace there.  The pressure to bring in new members made it best to just drop the required confirmation class for membership.  Besides, people are just too busy to attend a new members class and it might hurt our annual membership goals.  The call to career missions slowly became short term missions which slowly became vacations with a purpose.  It all happened so seamlessly.  We brought in a new youth director.  He doesn’t have any biblical or theological training, but, oh, how the youth love him.  You should see the new worship leader we have! He doesn’t know any theology, but he’s just picking the choruses each week, and he can really play the guitar!  You see, it happens in ten thousand small skirmishes, rarely in any big, bloody battle.

(3) Bumper sticker Christianity

Jesus is the Reason for the Season.”  It is evangelicals who have cried out the most against the commercialization of Christmas, but then became co-opted by turning the phrase “Jesus is the reason for the season” into one of the most commercialized phrases of all time, blazoned across t-shirts, coffee mugs and yes, church signs. They can be purchased at any local Christian book store, 10% off if you pick up a precious memory angel along with it.

Free coffee, everlasting life – yes, membership has its privileges!” or “Walmart is not the only saving place.“  Do you hear what lies behind all of these messages?

Evangelicals have become experts in finding a thousand new ways to ask the same question, “What is the least one has to do to become a Christian.”  That’s our defining question.  We’ve become masters at theological and soteriological minimalism.  We are the ones who have boiled the entire glorious gospel down to a single phrase, a simple emotive transaction, or some silly slogan.  It is time for a new generation of Christians, committed to apostolic faith, to declare this minimalistic, reductionistic Christianity a failed project!  It is wrong to try to get as many people as possible, to acknowledge as superficially as allowable, a gospel which is theologically unsustainable.  We need to be reminded of the words of Søren Kierkegaard, in his Attack Upon Christendom, where he declared, “Christianity is the profoundest wound that can be inflicted upon us, calculated on the most dreadful scale to collide with everything.”5 We, on the other hand, have made entrance into the Christian faith painless and almost seamless.  In the process, we have managed to produce as many nominal Christians as Christendom ever did.  If the liberal project taught us that denying Apostolic Christianity renders the gospel inert and non-reproducible (note rapid decline of mainline churches), evangelical minimalistic Christianity has taught us that the gospel cannot be reduced to a bite sized piece for mass consumption.

The gospel is about the in-breaking kingdom and the New Creation claims the whole sphere.  Christians can’t simply choose to play in one small corner of the chessboard – you have to play the whole board, or you will lose.  The gospel must be embodied in a redeemed community and touch the whole of life. That is why the Wesley brothers set up class meetings, fed the poor, wrote books on physics, gave preachers a series of canonical sermons, catechized the young, preached at the brick yards, promoted prison reform, rode 250,000 miles on horseback, preached 40,000 sermons, superintended orphanages, were avid abolitionists, and wrote theologically laden hymns for the church, etc.  You see, they were capturing every sphere with the gospel.  The New Creation does not simply break into one little square on the chess-board – it crashes into the whole of life!  If Wesley teaches us anything, it is that salvation is not something which is merely announced to us, it is something which God works in us – the forceful intrusion of his holiness into our history.

Brothers and sisters, it is time for us to capture a fresh vision of the great meta-narrative of the Christian gospel for our times!   The bumper sticker ‘God is my co-pilot‘ will not get us there.  We have, in effect, been criss-crossing the world telling people to make God a player, even a major player in our drama.  But the gospel is about being swept up into His great drama. It is about our dying to self, taking up the cross, and being swept up into the great theo-drama of the universe!  Christ has come as the Second Adam to inaugurate the restoration of the whole of creation by redeeming a people who are saved in their full humanity and called together into a new redeemed community known as the church, the outpost of the New Creation in Adam’s world. Discipleship, worship of the Triune God, covenant faithfulness, suffering for the sake of the gospel, abiding loyalty to Christ’s holy church, theological depth, and a renewed mission to serve the poor and disenfranchised – these must become the great impulses of our lives.

There are serious flaws in the foundations of contemporary evangelicalism.  Our theological underpinnings are too weak, our knowledge of church history is too vague, our understanding of the text of Scripture too superficial, our being formed in the practice of ministry insufficiently reflective.  Thus, while some are declaring that the day of the seminary is over, that we are hopelessly irrelevant, out of touch with culture, and the churches can “take it from here,”  I want to declare today that there is perhaps no institution more vital for the proper recovery of biblical, apostolic Christianity than the seminary.  With every fiber of my being I believe in the mission of Asbury Theological Seminary.  Our faculty, under God’s care, will lead an entire generation of new Christian leaders back to the fountain of sustained theological work.  Oh, I know we are in the world of Google and Wikipedia and we now all dwell under the fountain of endless information.  Indeed, what theological term, or movement in church history, or Greek word cannot be illumined with a few clicks of a mouse.  But one cannot help but think of Dylan Thomas’ remembrance of his childhood Christmas presents, which included, “books that told me everything about the wasp, except why.”6 In the midst of the twitterization of all knowledge, we need profound, thoughtful, nuanced, men and women who are, to use the language of our mission statement, “theologically educated” and who will bring that to the service of Christ’s holy church.  We need sustained theological reflection, in contrast to Thomas Friedman’s description of our digital world as “continuous partial attention.”  Without this deep reflection, the gospel will simply be one more commodity on offer in the marketplace of autonomous choices at the smorgasbord of spirituality and personal fulfillment.

Theologically educate

Brothers and sisters, as your President, I call this community to serious, sustained theological reflection.  Our mission statement calls for us to “theologically educate.”   What does this mean?  Properly speaking to “theologically educate” forms heart, mind and action.  Beloved, it is not enough to declare that “your heart is in the right place.”  Your mind must also be in the right place.  Your feet and hands must also be in the right place.   Traditionally, theology has served four functions:  catechetical, apologetical, homiletical and pastoralCatechetical is to train children and new believers in the faith, thus assuring that the apostolic message and not some “other gospel” is being transmitted.  This happens in homes, in daily life and in confirmation classes.  Catechesis comes from the verb “to echo.”  We must assure that new and current believers under our charge fully understand and “echo” the apostolic faith.  Apologetical is the role of theology in helping to apply the biblical text to whatever challenges happen to beset the church in any given generation.  For us, this might mean everything from postmodern epistemologies, to philosophical relativism, to the new atheism, to the commoditization of culture, and so forth.  The homiletical function is our commitment to train men and women to properly and effectively proclaim God’s word, evangelistically to the world as well as faithful instruction to the church by applying the Word of God faithfully to our lives.  Finally, the pastoral function calls us to shepherd God’s flock, care for those in need, comfort the bereaved, and counsel the distressed.  Today, looking across the evangelical landscape, catechesis is in disarray, apologetics is weak; our preaching has ground down to bland moralizing, and our pastoral efforts have become captive to pragmatism.

Asbury stands ready, with this esteemed faculty, to theologically educate a new generation of church leaders.  Theology matters.  It was Thomas Oden who famously remarked that “when a pastor (theologian) fails to distinguish between orthodoxy and heterodoxy, it is roughly equivalent to a physician forgetting the difference between disease and health.”7 For if we don’t have theological stability, we cannot have ethical stability, and if we don’t have ethical stability, we won’t have stability of worship, and if we do not have stability of worship, then we are no longer related vitally and necessarily to the headship of Jesus Christ.  The Apostolic proclamation will be lost in a post-modern sea of autonomous self-definitions.

If today’s evangelical church is really marked by shallowness, thinness and cultural sameness, then, to use the phrase of Jack Davis, perhaps it is time we become “deep, thick and different.”  A deep church is one which takes the encounter with a holy God seriously and is shaped by spiritual disciplines, holiness and catechesis.  A deep church is the opposite of a shallow one.  We are to exhibit a deep understanding of the holiness and weightiness of God.  In Hebrew the word for honor and glory is kbd (kabod), meaning “heavy.”  God has become far too lightweight in contemporary evangelicalism.  The great sense of God’s transcendence and holiness must, once again, overtake post-modernity’s sense of over familiarity and casualness in God’s presence.  Indeed, we are profoundly in need of recapturing the sense of God’s presence.   Nietzsche’s madman who described churches as “the tombs and sepulchers of God” does, in fact, capture something of the movement from the real presence of Christ to the real absence of Christ in the experience of many church’s today.  A thick church contrasts with a thin one and is characterized by thick relationships and commitments and where worship is not a product we consume, but the great ontological orientation of our lives.  We are the people of the Risen Lord.  The consumeristic, therapeutic self of modernity is, through the gospel, the trinitarian, ecclesial self of the New Creation.  A different church is one not marked by cultural sameness, but, instead, is a manifestation of the in-breaking of the New Creation.  A visitor should feel somewhat out of place when they walk into our midst, as they encounter people with a radically distinctive orientation.  A different church is one which is profoundly distinct from the culture in its “ontology, theology, worship and moral behavior.”8 To be different is to be a community marked by metanoia.   Brothers and sisters, may the shallowness, thinness and cultural sameness of our churches become churches, under God and your leadership, which are deep, thick and different.

This church-focused, theologically informed new vision I am calling for today will not eagerly embrace “top down” political strategies as effective methods for cultural transformation.  This new vision sees the local church, not the para-church, as the central locus of evangelism and discipleship.  This new vision eschews niche-marketing strategies for drawing unbelievers to church.  It will abandon simplistic formulas and presentations of the gospel opting instead for invitations to living communities of men and women who have been transformed by the gospel.

We have much work to do, and likely this kind of church which I am envisioning will not come about without prayer and fasting.  But, we at Asbury Theological Seminary are poised to face these challenges and to produce a new generation of pastors, teachers, evangelists and church planters who are theologically educated. Don’t be discouraged by the enormity of this task. Instead, rise to the challenge.  I am optimistic because I believe in the men and women of this faculty and staff who are called to educate and invest themselves in your formation. I am optimistic because Jesus Christ is the Risen Lord.  I am optimistic because as the hymn declares, “though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong; though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong; yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown, standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.“  I am optimistic because Yahweh “has sworn and will not change his mind!”  I am optimistic because I recall the dying words of John Wesley when he said, “The best of all is, God is with us.”  I am optimistic because the church of Jesus Christ will weather every storm from Gnosticism, to Arianism, to Constantinianism, to Protestant liberalism, to Evangelical reductionism, to the new atheism.  Through it all, Christ renews his church, calls forth better readers of the Scriptures, and makes good on his sacred promise, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  Amen.

[1] Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America (NY: Harper Row, 1959 edition), 193.
[2] Walt Kallestad, Entertainment Evangelism (Nashville, Abingdon, 1996), 81.
[3] David Wells, God in the Wasteland (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, ) 82.
[4] Thomas C. Oden, Agenda for Theology:  After Modernity, What? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 191.
[5] Walter Lowrie, trans., Kierkeegard’s Attack Upon Christendom (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1944), 258.
[6] Dylan Thomas,  A Child’s Christmas in Wales (NY: New Directions, 1995),  29.
[7] Thomas C. Oden, 59.
[8] John Jefferson Davis, Worship and the Reality of God (Grand Rapids:  IVP Academic, 2010), 32.

Note:  This post originated at Ben Witherington's Blog.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Holy Sonnet 14

Batter my heart, three-personed God; for, you
As yet but knock, breath, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due, 
Labour to admit you, but oh, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto Your enemy;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to You, imprison me, for I
Except You enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
—John Donne, “Holy Sonnet 14”

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Biblical Case for Old Earth Creationism

An old earth creationist is not a theistic evolutionist.  Often these positions are equated; however, this paper is written from a non-evolutionist perspective.  It is the position of this paper that viewing the "days" of Genesis 1 as epochs/eras is a better interpretative option than viewing them as 24-hour-periods based on a grammatical-literal interpretation of God's Word.  The following is a cursory argument for this interpretation of Genesis 1-2.

First, it is important to affirm that the Bible teaches that creation is a valid source of truth (cf. Job 10:8-14, Ps 8, Ps. 98:2-3, Ps. 104, Hab. 3:3, Acts 7:24-31, Rom 1:18-25, Col 1:23).  Therefore, one cannot discount scientific evidence. It must be carefully considered; however, it ought not to be the determining factor in our exegetical conclusions. Having said that, I think that the biblical evidence alone provides an extremely compelling case for an old-earth scenario:

1.  Hebrew grammar and semantics
There are 3 literal meanings for the Hebrew word yom: (1) a literal day, (2) a 12-hour period from sunrise to sunset, and (3) an epoch, era, or longer period of time. The Hebrew word for day functions much like the English word “day”:  “day” can mean 24 hours, daytime, or an unspecified period of time (i.e. "back in the day").  So, how do we determine what sense the word is being used in Genesis 1-2?  The context provides us with some clues.  In the context of Genesis 1-2, we find that there is one definite usage of the word yom being used as an epoch, era, or longer period of time in 2:4: "This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven."  Here is one clear case of the word yom being used in the sense of an epoch/era within the context of Genesis 1-2 because it refers to the entire creation episode as one day! It seems unlikely that the author would suddenly change the way that he uses the word. Therefore, the rest of the occurrences in Genesis 1 seem to refer to an epoch.  (In agreement with this, the Hebrew words for “morning” and “evening” [ereb and boqer] can refer to the beginning and ending of a period of time respectively).

This is completely in line with Hebrew grammar—especially considering the awkward way that the Genesis account enumerates the days.  Literally, it states "and was evening and was morning day Xth."  If "day Xth" were intended as the noun complement for the one evening and morning together, the linking verb should appear just once, in plural form (as the King James Version renders it:  "And the evening and the morning were the Xth day").  We would expect the literal Hebrew to say, "and were evening and morning day Xth."  However, as was stated above, this is not how the literal Hebrew reads.  This syntactic ambiguity does not constitute a proof.  However, it does at least suggest an indefinite period for each phase of the creation.

Qualification:        It is often claimed that there is no place in the Bible where yom refers to an epoch/era when it is used with a numeric modifier, and so it does not refer to an epoch/era here.  However, the obvious response to this argument is that of course there’s no other place where yom is used with a numerical modifier to refer to an unspecified amount of time!  Indeed, there’s no other occasion in the Bible to enumerate numerous epochs of time successively.

2.  The events of the 6th day
Another reason to think that the "days" of Genesis are not 24-hour periods is that the events of the 6th day seem to span a much longer period of time. Genesis 2 zooms in on the 6th day and records a detailed account of the events that occurred therein. If we hold to a 24-hour period scenario, then we have to believe that in 24 hours, God made Adam, God planted a garden, Adam cared for the garden, Adam named the animals, Adam discovered that no animals were suitable helpers, and God created Eve. This seems highly unlikely.  Also, when God presents Eve to Adam in Genesis 2:23, Adam states happa'am—a phrase carrying the connotation of "at last!"  This indicates that Adam had been waiting at least some time for Eve.

3.  The gap theory
One interpretive option of the creation account hypothesizes that there is a gap of time between Genesis 1:1-2 and the rest of the creation episode.  On this view, Genesis 1:1 describes the original creation of the universe, and Genesis 1:2 describes a great, cataclysmic judgment of the earth in which “the earth became formless and void,” possibly due to the angelic fall (see Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28).  The account in Genesis 1:3 and following therefore is the account of the recreation of the heavens and the earth as God began to do a new work focused on man.  While it is beyond the scope of this paper to argue for this position, this remains a possible way to understand the timing of the angelic fall (and thus explain Satan’s presence in chapter 3).  Additionally, when the words translated "formeless and void" (tohu and bohu) are used in proximity, they seem to describe a situation resulting from judgment (cf. Isa 34:11; Jer 4:23).  If this view is correct, then it is possible that a great amount of time passed during the period between Genesis 1:1-2 and the rest of the creation account.

4.  God's existence is compared to the longevity of the mountains
Numerous passages including Psalm 90:2-6, Proverbs 8:22-31, Ecclesiastes 1:3-11, Micah 6:2, and Habakkuk 3:6 all indicate that the age of the universe is analogous to the age of God's Presence and plans (i.e. immeasurably ancient).  This suggests that the age of the universe is so ancient that it is beyond human comprehension.

5. The analogy with God's work week.
Exodus 20:10-11 states, "…for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth and rested on the seventh."  However, as Hebrew scholar Gleason Archer states, "By no means does this demonstrate that 24-hour intervals were involved in the first six 'days,' any more than the 8-day celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles proves that the wilderness wanderings under Moses occupied only eight days."[1]  This is similar to the Sabbath year, which also is analogous to the 7 days of creation (cf. Leviticus 25:4). Therefore, the emphasis in Exodus 20 is on the principle of one out of seven, not on the duration of the days of creation. 

6.  The poetic nature of Genesis 1:1-2:3
The literary genre of Genesis 1:1-2:3 has been described as prose narrative.  In other words, it is a narrative sequence that has strong poetic elements.  One example of a poetic element is that the days of creation appear to be organized such that days 1-3 describe locations, while days 4-6 describe the inhabitants of those locations: 
Location                                               Inhabitants                        
1.  light and dark                               4.  lights of day and night
2.  sea and sky                                   5.  animals of water and air
3.  fertile earth                                  6.  land animals and man    
                         7. rest and enjoyment
As C. John Collins notes, “we may simply conclude from this high level of patterning that the order of events and even lengths of time are not part of the author’s focus; this is the basis of what is often called the literary framework scheme of interpretation.  In this understanding, the six workdays are a literary device to display the creation week as a careful and artful effort.”[2]  However, while recognizing the poetic literary structure of Genesis 1:1-2:3 can be helpful in interpreting the passage, it would be a mistake to simply dismiss the truth-claims of this passage as being purely metaphorical and poetic.  This passage is not simply prose—it is prose narrative.  Therefore, it is wrong to dismiss the order of events and lengths of time as being altogether unimportant in interpreting this passage.  Rather, what we should expect from a prose narrative is that poetic forms are used to communicate real truth.  Thus we should expect to find words used in an idiomatic and poetic sense.  This perfectly accords with seeing the “days” in this passage as being epochs or eras.  

7.  The nature of the 7th day.
Finally the 7th day in Genesis is not closed out—we are still in it. All of the other days state, "and there was evening, and there was morning, the Xth day"—thus closing out the day. However, the 7th day is never closed out.  It is as though we are still in the 7th day.  This is confirmed by a clear understanding of the nature of God's rest on the 7th day.  As an omnipotent Being, God does not get tired or weary, and so the best way to understand His rest is that He ceased all activity of special creation. He obviously did not stop all activity for one day because everything would disintegrate without His sustaining hand upon creation.  Finally, another reason to believe that we are still in the 7th day is that Hebrews 4:4-10 and Ps. 95:7-11 indicate that God is still resting in the "7th day."  One day God will continue His creative activity, and he will create a new heavens and a new earth.  If we are still in the 7th day, then it follows that the 7th day is an epoch; and if the 7th day is an epoch, then so are the other “days” of creation. 

These are just a few biblical reasons to believe in an old earth. For more information, I would recommend the following books:
The following is a scientific description of the possible development of days of creation that is adapted from Ross’ The Genesis Question:
  1. Introductory remark:  Note that the vantage point from which creation is described is the surface of the earth (Gen. 1:2).
  2. Heavenly bodies created (Gen. 1:1) – The big bang theory states that space time and matter all came into existence from a “singularity.”  This remarkably resembles Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning (time), God created the heavens (space) and the earth (matter).  The earth was initially covered with a thick layer of gas and dust not allowing light to penetrate.  This is probably a standard condition of planets of the earth’s mass and temperature.  The initial conditions described in the Bible are accepted by science:  dark, formless, and void.
  3. “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3) – Atmosphere became translucent to allow some light to reach the surface of the water, a critical prerequisite for the introduction of life (photosynthesis).
  4. Development of the hydrologic cycle (Gen. 1:6) – The perfect conditions of temperature, pressure and distance from the sun would allow all forms of H2O (ice, liquid, and gas) – all necessary for life.
  5. Formation of land and sea (Gen. 1:9-10) – Seismic and volcanic activity occur in the precise proportion to allow 30 percent of the surface to become and remain land.  Scientists have determined that this is the ideal ration to promote the greatest complexity of life forms.
  6. Creation of vegetation (Gen. 1:11) – Light, water and large amounts of CO2 set the stage for vegetation.  God miraculously creates vegetation, and this was the first form of life.
  7. Atmospheric transparency (Gen. 1:14) – Plants gradually produced oxygen to a level of 21%.  This (and other factors) caused a transparent atmosphere to form and permitted “lights in the heavens” to become visible, thus marking day, night, and the seasons.[3]
  8. Creation of small sea animals and birds (Gen. 1:20) – Scientists agree that these were the first animal life forms of all classes discussed in the Bible.
  9. Creation of land animals (Gen 1:24) – The final life-forms prior to Man were created:  quadrupeds and rodents.
  10. Creation of Man (Gen 1:26) – Final creature appearing on earth. 
  11. No additional creation (Gen. 2:2) – No unique creation has occurred since.

[1] Archer, Gleason L. "A Response to The Trustworthiness of Scripture in Areas Relating to Natural Science," in Hermeneutics, Inerrancy, and the Bible. Edited by Earl D. Radmacher and Robert D. Preus. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Academic Books, 1986), pp.329.
[2] Collins, C. John.  Genesis 1-4.  (Phillipsburg, New Jersey:  P&R Publishing, 2006), pp. 73.
[3] A thorough understanding of Genesis 1 requires considering the original Hebrew text.  In verse 16, the 4th day is described and one might assume that the sun and the moon were created after the formation of plants.  However, the actual Hebrew verb and tense used in conjunction with the words in Genesis 1:1 correctly indicate that the sun and moon “became visible” on the surface of the earth on day 4.  (Note that the vantage point of creation is the surface of the earth [Gen. 1:2]).

Friday, June 3, 2011

Nouwen on Mutualism

Recently, I've been reading Henri J.M. Nouwen's book, In the Name of Jesus:  Reflections on Christian Leadership.  Before his conversion to evangelicalism in 1996, Nouwen and I would surely have some important theological and exegetical disagreements (in 1996 he went to be with the Lord).  :)  However, regardless of our disagreements, I find that he understands the human soul well and is insightful in his writing.  In this book, he discusses Jesus' three temptations in the wilderness and uses them as a paradigm for the temptations that Christian leaders experience.  In the first temptation of turning the stone into bread we find a lesson of moving from being relevant to prayer.  Our great need is to be connected to Christ--not just to have something culturally relevant to say about Him.  In the second temptation of casting himself down that God would save him, Nouwen finds a lesson about moving from being spectacular to being a shepherd who lives in a mutualistic relationship with his sheep.  I was struck by the poignancy of his discussion of what it means for a Christian leader to live in a mutualistic relationship with those he shepherds.  In this section, he attacks the rampant individualism that has found it's way into the church telling ministers that they must be self-made heroes and stars who should be able to do it all and do it successfully.

Jesus, speaking about his own shepherding ministry, says, "I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep" (John 10:14-15).  As Jesus ministers, so he wants us to minister.  He wants Peter to feed his sheep and care for them, not as "professionals" who know their clients' problems and take care of them, but as vulnerable brothers and sisters who know and are known, who care and are cared for, who forgive and are being forgiven, who love and are being loved.

Somehow we have come to believe that good leadership requires a safe distance from those we are called to lead.  Medicine, psychiatry, and social work all offer us models in which "service" takes place in a one-way direction.  Someone serves, someone else is being served, and be sure not to mix up the roles!  But how can we lay down our life for those with whom we are not even allowed to enter into a deep personal relationship?  Laying down your life means making your own faith and doubt, hope and despair, joy and sadness, courage and fear available to others as ways of getting in touch with the Lord of life.

We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life.  We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for.  The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.

Therefore, true ministry must be mutual.  When the members of a community of faith cannot truly know and love their shepherd, shepherding quickly becomes a subtle way of exercising power over others and begins to show authoritarian and dictatorial traits.  The world in which we live--a world of efficiency and control--has no models to offer those who want to be shepherds in the way Jesus was a shepherd.  Even the so-called "helping professions" have been so thoroughly secularized that mutuality can only be seen as a weakness and a dangerous form of role confusion.  The leadership about which Jesus speaks is of a radically different kind from the leadership offered by the world.  It is a servant leadership--to use Robert Greenleaf's term*--in which the leader is a vulnerable servant who needs the people as much as they need their leader.

From this it is clear that a whole new type of leadership is asked for in the church of tomorrow, a leadership that is not modeled on the power games of the world, but on the servant-leader Jesus, who came to give his life for the salvation of many.

*Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership:  A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness (New York:  Paulist Press, 1977).  See also Robert K Greenleaf, The Power of Servant Leadership (San Francisco:  Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1998).

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Only One Life

I very rarely write in my Bibles.  I've found that the things I write in my Bible are soon less relevant to my life than I originally thought.  My underlining and highlighting keeps my eyes focused only on certain verses, and then sometimes I miss the riches found in the surrounding verses, or I am distracted from a flow of thought by only focusing on the individual verses.  Very rarely does something make it into my Bible, but there are a couple of quotes that I've written in my Bibles that are near and dear to me.  These quotes declare truths that I need to be reminded of often.  One of these quotes is the following:  "Only one life, 'twill soon be past; Only what's done for Christ will last."  I recently discovered that this quote was originally written as part of a larger poem by C.T. Studd, a great missionary to China, India, and Africa.  The poem is below:

Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,
And stand before His Judgement seat;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, the still small voice,
Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave,
And to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, a few brief years,
Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Each with its clays I must fulfill,
living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

When this bright world would tempt me sore,
When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way,
Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Give me Father, a purpose deep,
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what e’er the strife,
Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Oh let my love with fervor burn,
And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone,
Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;
Only one life, “twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say, "Thy will be done";
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say "twas worth it all";
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

— extra stanza —

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
And when I am dying, how happy I’ll be,
If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee.

C.T. Studd