This is my Father’s World

Maltbie Babcock1. This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears

All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.

This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought

Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;

His hand the wonders wrought.

2. This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,

The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.

This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;

In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;

He speaks to me everywhere.

3. This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget

That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:

Jesus Who died shall be satisfied,

And earth and Heav’n be one.

– Maltbie D. Babcock (1858 – 1901)

Reason is not Neutral

There is a common belief that Reason is an independent and neutral source of knowledge. It has truths or information which it provides to an individual. Hence, we tell a person to ‘listen to the voice of Reason’ or to ‘be rational’. We also speak of ‘common sense’ ideas, which refers to ideas or notions that we believe are generated purely from reason, without reference to some other source like revelation or experience. Even in the Christian community, Reason has often been thought to be a joint source of authority along with Scripture and Tradition.Thinking

However, this view is mistaken. As the late missionary theologian Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998) points out in the passage below, human reason is never neutral. It always operates within a context:

“*Reason is a faculty with which we try to grasp the different elements in our experience in an orderly way, so that as we say ‘they make sense’. It is not a separate source of information about what is the case. It can only function within a continuous linguistic and cultural tradition. We learn to reason as we learn in childhood, to use words and concepts, those words and concepts which embody the way in which our society makes sense of the world. All rationality is socially and culturally embodied.

“…Reason operates within a specific tradition of rational discourse, which is carried by a specific human community. No supra-cultural ‘reason’ can stand in judgement over all particular human traditions of rationality. All reason operates within a total worldview which is embodied in the language, the concepts and the models which are the means by which those who share them can reason together. Christian doctrine is a form of rational discourse which has been developed in that community which finds the clue to the rationality of the cosmos as a whole in those events which form the substance of the biblical narrative and in the subsequent experience of those who have done the same.”

So how should we utilise reason? How can we properly apply this God-given tool for God’s glory?

  • First, we should recognise that reason is a gift from God. This capacity to think about things and concepts, to infer conclusions from premises, and make deductions from what we observe around us – it is one factor which distinguishes us from animals. And it is a result of God’s gracious and sovereign choice.
  • Secondly, since we were created to be entirely dependent on God, our reason will not function properly unless within the light of divine revelation. So we should immerse ourselves in God’s revelation, which we have in the scriptures. This is our primary means of understanding God’s mind. This has become crucial in view of our nature as fallen creatures.
  • Thirdly, depend daily on the help of the Holy Spirit to go through life wisely. In our attempt to be free of God, we often act foolishly. But God gives his spirit to all who look to him for grace, and the Holy Spirit serves as their guide.
  • Finally, Sharpen your rational capacity by using it. Like a knife or razor, reason can be dulled owing to disuse. When we allow ourselves to be fooled by captivating ads, seduced by exciting images, or charmed by lofty words, without critically engaging them, we are lulling our reason to sleep.

*Lesslie Newbigin, ‘Truth and Authority in Modernity’,  Faith and Modernity. Regnum Books. 1997. 352 pp.

The dangers of a ‘spiritualized’ Gospel

Quirky Case

In the last year, my church took up the subject of ‘Social Justice and the Gospel’. I nearly wept with joy: as the main preacher in the series pointed out, social justice has been on the backbench in many evangelical circles over the last half a century at least. I had been thinking about issues to do with social justice for a long while and, after a number of discussions with various Christian friends, thought I’d share my thoughts and encourage people to give me their thoughts on the matter.

My main line of thought is this: I think motivation for social justice can only be understood in terms of the Gospel, and not as separate from it, and that evangelicals have had a tendency to read our own hermeneutic into what ‘the Gospel’ means. Working to bring about God’s Kingdom must therefore include striving for social justice. Now I…

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A Meditation on Grace

amazing-grace

The grace of God is a stream, coursing through the ragged rocks and broken terrain of human existence, bringing life, healing and hope.

Grace is not cheap. It made God a witness to man’s doubts, fears, and lies. Grace literally nailed God to a tree and killed him. It is the harmony of God’s justice and his love.

Grace sustains our universe and keeps it going.

Grace began the day man turned against God and declared himself autonomous and free.

Grace was the leather garment which covered man’s sinful nakedness ages ago when our first parents sinned against God.

Grace is God’s passionate concern that humanity does not remain in the state of sin and misery forever.

Grace preserved a portion of humanity from destruction when their wickedness called forth God’s terrifying judgement.

Grace confirmed God’s everlasting goodness to us, such that, in spite of our sins,

Seedtime and Harvest, 

Cold and Heat, 

Summer and Winter, 

Day and Night, shall never cease.

Grace chose Abraham as the father of a new and holy community of faithfuls, who will live out the human calling of faithfulness to their Creator.

Grace is the commitment to bless all humanity through the future Seed of both the woman and of Abraham.

Grace is the outpouring of love and mercy to a rebellious but favoured nation over several generations.

Grace is the extension of mercy to a people who once were not a people, but are now the people of God; who once had not obtained mercy, but are now ransomed and forgiven.

Grace is a paradox. It is the dying of a holy God for a sinful humanity.

Grace is the renewal of our bodies and, in fact, the whole universe at the Resurrection.

Grace is the joyful reign of Jesus, and the Church with him, over the nations – a reign of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Grace is the corrective for a deformed universe, the cure for a broken humanity, the remedy for a wounded conscience, the reformation for a damaged life, the healing for a fractured community, and the hope for a lost world.

The Secret Christian

 

Nicodemus and Joseph

I find it interesting that the two men (Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus) who are on record as being so helpful with the burial of Jesus were ‘secret’ disciples (John 19:38-42). They followed Jesus and believed he was the messiah, albeit secretly because they feared the Jews. They didn’t want to be accused of blasphemy by following a man who claimed to be the Son of God. And so they followed him ‘secretly’. Most likely, they saw the burial as the highest act of devotion they could show to Him. They probably said: “Here hangs our ‘secret’ master on the cross; let us prepare Him for a decent burial.” So they brought the spices, and placed him in a new tomb which was owned by Joseph (Luke 23:53). For them, that was the end of a ministry. A great ministry, no doubt, but still it was the end. Their master was dead.

In God’s agenda, however, this was not the end. Something greater was in view – a Resurrection. Life overcomes Death; Resurrection supercedes the Burial. But where were the secret disciples? Devotees to a lost cause, they were no longer around. The task of proclamation was given to those who were willing to identify with Him publicly (though one of them was tempted to become a secret disciple shortly before He was crucified). These were the true followers; they who loved not their lives to the death. They had counted the cost and had decided to pay, by the help of the Holy Spirit. In obedience to Jesus’ command, they were willing to lose their lives for His sake.

And in doing so they became witnesses.

The church needs to ‘come out’. Not to a perverted sexuality nor to a confusion of gender roles, but to her true identity as the people of God and the followers of Jesus. Enough of living by double standards: we serve God in the church and our homes, while serve Man in our workplaces and in the larger society. We are the light of the world; we have a unique vision of human life under the sovereignty of God. We have the truth of the gospel for restoring God’s purpose in the society. God has given us his word , and it is relevant for every aspect of human life be it work, politics, family, or education. It is our responsibility to live by this truth and proclaim it to the world.

God does not need ‘secret disciples’; He wants witnesses.

The First Task of the Nigerian Church

The first task of the Church in Nigeria is not to advocate for human rights, cry out against corruption, or jostle for an audience in the media. Our principal task is to develop and articulate  a Christian worldview.

For the past several decades, we have done all the above and we are still doing them. For instance, my church still prays every week for the release of the Chibok girls who were abducted over a year ago in the Northern state of Borno. These are necessary. However, if we do not self-consciously craft a Christian outlook on life, we would be furthering Satan’s kingdom by living within a humanist worldview. Worldliness does not primarily mean listening to godless music or wearing skimpy dresses or enjoying sinful pleasures; it basically means thinking and living like the godless world.Nigerian-cathedral-800x500

In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in what the Bible teaches in a particular area, such as Business or the Family. Thus we have so many ‘Biblical Principles’ for this and for that. However, what we have largely done is to graft Biblical ideas and concepts unto a fundamentally secular  perspective or orientation about that area.  We seldom question the basic assumptions controlling that aspect of life or knowledge. So we end up grafting the stems of Scripture unto a Secular-Humanist tree. We need to go further. We need to plant a different tree.

A Worldview is a basic understanding of reality which guides how a person and community understands and lives in the world. It is basic in that it controls everything else. A secular worldview never glorifies God, for it looks at life as though God isn’t involved and His word doesn’t exist. Working within such a framework is itself rebellion against God (Genesis 1:1; Exodus 20: 1-3).

Therefore, as we commence the new year, the Church needs to get clear on what the story of the world (the worldview) is according to the Bible. And we would derive it by asking the following basic questions:

    1. What does the Bible teach about the origin of the universe?
    2. What does it teach about Man?
    3. What is really wrong with the world ( not what the UN, WHO, the American or Nigerian media claims)?
    4. And what is the true solution?

The answers to these questions would give us a coherent understanding of reality as provided by God himself. Then we would work within this framework to challenge the alternative story provided by our society, and proclaim the true answers to the true problem that our nation and our world face.