Saturday, March 28, 2015

17 Ways To Glorify God

Most good Presbyterians know the first question from the Westminster Shorter Catechism, "What is the Chief End of Man?" The answer, of course, is that man's chief end is to "glorify God and enjoy him forever." If you read John Piper you've already gone over this hundreds of times before.

Thomas Watson, in his book Body of Divinity, offers a commentary on this question and its answer. In doing so Watson offers 17 ways in which the Christian glorifies God. I will give the bullet-point list of ways that Watson lists along with one quote and one Scripture reference that he mentions in his larger discussion. I do so in the hopes that readers will be encouraged to glorify God in their own lives and also to read the whole of Watson's answer in the book for themselves.

Watson says that we glorify God...

1. By aiming purely at his glory. "It is one thing to advance God's glory, another thing to aim at it." (see John 8:50)

2. By an ingenuous (innocent - unsuspecting) confession of sin. "The prodigal charged himself with sin before his father charged him with it." (see Joshua 7:19)

3. By believing. "It is a great honor we do to a man when we trust him with all we have, when we put our lives and estates into his hand; it is a sign we have a good opinion of him. Faith knows there are no impossibilities with God, and will trust him where it cannot trace him." (see John 3:33)

4. By being tender to God's glory. "When we hear God reproached, it is as if we were reproached." (see Psalm 69:9)

5. By fruitfulness. "Though the lowest degree of grace may bring salvation to you, yet it will not bring much glory to God. It was not a spark of love Christ commended in Mary, but much love." (see John 15:8)

6. By being contented in that state in which Providence has placed us. "When grace is crowning, it is not so much to be content; but when grace is conflicting with inconveniences, then to be content is a glorious thing indeed." (see Phil. 4:13)

7. By working out our own salvation. "God has twisted together his glory and our good. We glorify him by promoting our own salvation." (see Phil. 2:12)

8. By living to God. "The Mammonist lives to his money, the Epicure lives to his belly; the design of a sinner's life is to gratify lust, but we glorify God when we live to God." (see 2 Cor. 5:15)

9. By walking cheerfully. "The people of God have ground for cheerfulness. They are justified and adopted, and this creates inward peace; it makes music within, whatever storms are without." (see 2 Cor. 1:4)

10. By standing up for his truths. "God has entrusted us with his truth, as a master entrusts his servant with his purse to keep." (see Jude 3)

11. By praising him. "Praise is the quit-rent we pay to God: while God renews our lease, we must renew our rent." (see Psalm 86:12)

12. By being zealous for his name. "Zeal is a mixed affection, a compound of love and anger; it carries forth our love to God, and our anger against sin in an intense degree." (see Rev. 2:2)

13. When we have an eye to God in our natural and in our civil actions. "We glorify God, when we have an eye to God in all our civil and natural actions, and do nothing that may reflect any blemish on religion." (see 1 Cor. 10:31)

14. By laboring to draw others to God. "We should be both diamonds and loadstones; diamonds for the lustre of grace, and loadstones for attractive virtue in drawing others to Christ." (see Gal. 4:19)

15. When we suffer for God and seal the gospel with our blood. "God's glory shines in the ashes of his martyrs." (see John 21:18-19)

16. When we give God the glory of all that we do. "As the silkworm, when she weaves her curious work, hides herself under the silk, and is not seen; so when we have done anything praiseworthy, we must hide ourselves under the veil of humility and transfer the glory of all we have done to God." (see 1 Cor. 15:10)

17. By a holy life. A bad life dishonors God. "Though the main work of religion lies in the heart, yet our light must so shine that others may behold it." (see Rom. 2:24)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Gyges' Ring is Real

Have you heard of Gyges' Ring? Plato spoke about it in his book The Republic. Here is how Plato relates the discovery of this ring:
According to the tradition, Gyges was a shepherd in the service of the king of Lydia; there was a great storm, and an earthquake made an opening in the earth at the place where he was feeding his flock. Amazed at the sight, he descended into the opening, where, among other marvels, he beheld a hollow brazen horse, having doors, at which he stooping and looking in saw a dead body of stature, as appeared to him, more than human, and having nothing on but a gold ring; this he took from the finger of the dead and reascended. Now the shepherds met together, according to custom, that they might send their monthly report about the flocks to the king; into their assembly he came having the ring on his finger, and as he was sitting among them he chanced to turn the collet of the ring inside his hand, when instantly he became invisible to the rest of the company and they began to speak of him as if he were no longer present. He was astonished at this, and again touching the ring he turned the collet outwards and reappeared; he made several trials of the ring, and always with the same result-when he turned the collet inwards he became invisible, when outwards he reappeared.
This isn't exactly the 'One Ring' from Lord of the Rings. It doesn't make you tired. There's no dark lord out to ruin you if you over-use it or anything like that. No horsemen are coming to get you if you have it. Nothing like that. It's a symbol of absolute freedom from responsibility for one's actions. Gyges' ring is Plato's own way of asking what a good person is like. Plato says that a just person is someone who would live their life the same whether they are wearing the ring or not. Such a person, says Socrates in Plato's dialogue, would be the kind of person who isn't a slave to their appetites.

Anyone who is reading this blog has probably been into the darkest, deepest, most horrifying depths of the internet. That place where the trolls come out to play and the monsters are real. That place where people actually behave like the disgusting monsters that they are on the inside. I'm speaking, of course, of the comments section on YouTube. Abandon hope all ye who read such a comments section - or nearly any comments section on any website, for that matter. It isn't just that people are irrational and mean, but they are frankly boorish, rude, uncaring, and cruel. It turns out that an anonymous citizenry really is as terrifyingly evil and irresponsible as we might fear.

A month ago, This American Life did a story about internet trolls, and one of the interesting things they talked about was a woman who was so tormented by trolls that someone actually found a picture of her father, started a Twitter feed in his name and with his picture and started tweeting cruel messages to her about what a failure and disappointment she was to him. Predictably she was totally aghast and heartbroken and brought to tears by this anonymous person's "joke." Anonymity allowed him to behave in a way that I trust he never would have behaved in the physical real world.

I am here to tell you (and you probably already know this) that Gyges' ring is real. And everyone with an internet connection has it. We now live in a society of where nearly everyone can behave as they want with virtual anonymity. Remarkably, the troll who tormented this woman I just spoke about on Twitter actually had a conscience and ended up apologizing over the phone to the woman with tears. He realized he had crossed a line and behaved like a ghoul. He took off the ring and realized that, at least in some sense, there is an obligation for all of us to treat one another with respect and kindness, whether we get caught or not.

How do you behave on the internet? How do you talk to other people online? How long do you pause before you push the "submit" button on a comment or before you push "return" after writing a Facebook comment? How big is the disconnect between the things you are willing to say to people face to face and the things you are willing to type to them? One definition of the word integrity points to the principle of undivided wholeness; I would suggest that having integrity with regard to the internet means that the person you behave as when you're wearing Gyges' ring ought to be the same person you are when you aren't wearing it.

Monday, March 2, 2015

"You Are Quite Wrong"

I used to celebrate that the emergent church has gone the way of the buffalo. With Rob Bell jumping the shark and Brian Mclaren's "marriage" of his son to another man it had outed itself as at best a reincarnation of old-school 20th century liberalism and at worst another vehicle for moving large numbers of people out of the church. But the reality is, the ethos and theologically unorthodox impulses haven't disappeared. Even more nefariously these impulses have been incorporated as a part of modern evangelicalism's already sickly emaciated theological assumptions. Perhaps the greatest lasting rhetorical aspect of the emergent methodology was its constant insistence that it was only asking innocent questions.

A few months ago one defender of emergent theological experimentation claimed that one of the godfathers of the emergent movement was publicly crucified. His sin?
  • "He deviated. He dared to ask questions. He challenged the status quo. He moved against the grain."
  • "He asked a ton of really natural questions about reconciling eternal punishment with a loving God."
  • "In the now infamous and pivotal volume that caused the Church to break-up with him, Bell didn’t give many answers. He only asked people, to ask the questions."
  • "He’s admitting the real questions that surface in the excavation of deep faith."
In all of these propositional assessments of how Bell was treated, of course, the author seems to assume that mere questions without propositions can be benign. Is it possible for mere "question" asking to be totally innocent? Certainly. You could be asking someone a genuine question and seeking an actual answer. But there is another kind of question-asking that is intended to expose absurdity and turn people away from a particular belief or series of beliefs. Jesus dealt with this exact method of questioning, and he saw right through it.

Near the end of the book of Mark during his confrontation with the leaders in Jerusalem Jesus is confronted by a series of adversaries, each with their own agenda. In the middle of this series of challenges, the Sadducees come to him and offer a challenge of their own (Mark 12:18). They want to argue that the resurrection is an absurdity, and they do it by means of narrative, telling the story of a woman who, for various reasons related to the levirate law (Deut. 25:5) has married a series of seven brothers, each of them dying and leaving her childless. The Sadducees ask Jesus whose husband she will be at this supposed resurrection that is coming. This is a hard question with a great deal of emotional and rhetorical force.

Notice the structure of the rhetoric employed by the Sadducees. They never once make a propositional statement (except when setting up the background of the story they're telling). Everything that they say is either story-telling or question-asking. They're just daring to ask "the real questions that surface in the excavation of deep faith," aren't they? They're only asking "a ton of really natural questions." And yet Jesus says to the Sadducees, "Is this not why you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?"

The Sadducees might just as well respond, "How can we be wrong? After all, we're just trying to start a conversation. We're just asking questions. How can a question be 'wrong'?"

It is also obvious to Jesus what the story is meant to accomplish. It's meant by these people who are "just looking for a conversation" to illustrate in vivid fashion just how silly or problematic the idea of someone being resurrected actually is. Of course, they have underlying assumptions (unstated) that Jesus has to deal with, and he does so first by reminding the Sadducees that heaven is not a place of marriage, and second by reminding them from the Scriptures that "He is not the God of the dead, but of the living" (12:27). Their problem, according to Jesus, is that their underlying, unstated theological assumptions are wrong and that they don't know their Bibles (v. 24). A truly deadly pair of problems that afflict far too many. Some even find it embarrassing that churches today still employ Jesus' methodology of quoting 2,000 year old Scriptures to settle theological and ethical disputes.

In spite of the supposed 'innocence' of such questions, Jesus responds to them that they are wrong. Contrary to the insistence of many, you can set forth a series of mere questions and stories and still be "quite wrong" (v. 27).