Monday, November 29, 2010

Idolatry 2: We do the same things

What’s confusing with idolatry is when our relationship to something good distorts into worship rather than an interest, a value, or a commitment. For example:

  • It’s good to have a career
  • It’s good to have a romantic relationship in your life
  • It’s good to have a hobby
  • It’s good to love your family and have a house
  • It’s good to be a part of a vibrant church; to have a respected and fruitful ministry
  • It’s good to value your spiritual tradition

But any of these become idolatrous. One criterion for evaluating if you are drifting into idolatry is to experience a deep loss or threat to any of these areas then see how it affects you. Does it sadden you but you are able to recover or does it devastate your sense of meaning, hope, significance, success, or security?

You may be thinking about now “Oh yeah, I see those worldly people and their idols.” But Christians do the same things (cf. Rom. 2:1)

  • We like to point to our possessions with pride and say “Look what God has blessed me with.”
  • Or point to our ministry giftings and say “Look what God has anointed me with.”
  • We have our celebrity pastors, leaders and authors. We love and follow their every conference, book, blog post, Facebook status update and Twitter message.
  • We become full greed, hate, envy, quarrelling, insults, and gossip whenever someone threatens our idols of doctrinal positions, worship styles, and other spiritual loyalties.
  • We sit and long for the day “If only my church was like that…if only we could experience a move of God like that…then I would know my life and ministry was significant, successful, and secure.”

There are so many ways to describe those kinds of attitudes, relationships, or longings but perhaps the best word is worship.

“We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”
(1 John 5:20-21)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The NIV 2011 version of the Holy Bible

My first Bible was a 1984 New International Version (NIV) translation. This version remains my favourite but not because of its particular wording.  Because of hours spent in Bible study almost all scripture I have memorized is from the NIV. As a result, whenever the Holy Spirit speaks to me through scripture, the NIV’s version of the phrase comes to mind. I feel I have forever linked the memory capacities of my mind with the spiritual capacities of my heart through the NIV.  There’s an investment there that has eternal value.

So it’s with keen interest that I pay attention to any updates to this translation.  I studied the quality of the TNIV in seminary I found it to a fine translation but I was aware that version was controversial to some and the processes involved in its production bothered others.

Here’s a chart that summarizes the changes in the NIV 2011  (courtesy of John Dyer):


You can read the newest version of the NIV here.  Below is an introduction by Dr. Douglas Moo, Chair of the Committee on Bible Translation, the body of scholars who look after the text of the NIV.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


In Romans 1-2, Paul describes the object of God’s wrath as twofold—“against all the godlessness and wickedness of mankind.”  Together these serve to represent the failure of humankind in terms of the requirements of God commandments.

Idolatry was the recurring problem in the OT and the NT.  Now, despite what Paul says was plainly evident about God’s qualities, people “… became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal human beings and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired.

In Romans 2:1-4. Paul writes as though he is in dialogue with a Jewish audience who has up to this point agreed with Paul’s evaluation – about the Gentiles. Then he drops this: “You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you [also] have no excuse! … for you who judge others do these very same things.

I can imagine their response to Paul: “OH YEAH, WHERE ARE MY IDOLS!?” Apparently, the Roman Jews had been taking idols from pagan temples to have their materials. By doing so, they showed their own idolatry, which was a love of wealth. So rather than avoiding what they claimed to detest, they secretly horded it.

It becomes apparent that idolatry moves beyond the material and the concrete into matters of the heart. Tim Keller in his book Counterfeit Gods differentiates these as “surface idols” and “deep idols.” He writes, “An idol is whatever you look at and say in your heart ‘If only I had that, then I’ll feel like my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant, and secure. There are so many ways to describe that kind of relationship…but perhaps the best word is worship” (2009, p. xviii).

Through Scripture we discover that idols are not just material; they are attitudes, longings, and even teachings.  The Bible uses three concepts to describe how people relate to their idols: they love them, they trust them, and they follow them. Others suggest that ultimately, to worship an idol is to worship ourselves. After all, every idol is of our own making! Somewhere, somehow, there’s something in there we can take credit for.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Stages of discipleship growth?

If you have studied developmental psychology, at some point you would likely have read about various stage theories. These are theories based on the assumption that personal growth/development is a process that involves distinct stages that can be characterized by qualitative changes in behaviour. As a result, various researchers have developed these theories into patterns that characterize areas such as moral, cognitive, psychosocial, and faith development.

Certain presumptions are involved when thinking about stages of development:

1. A ground plan: A pre-existent structure through which persons move.

2. Invariable sequence: One stage leading to the next; no stage can be skipped.

3. Integration of increasingly complex elements: Remains stable until challenged by something that doesn’t fit.

4. Interaction with the environment: Assumes that persons are engaged in the process.

5. A goal or end in mind: Moves toward a final level of integration.

As for strengths, stage theories offer an insightful approach to understanding the process of growth and its goals. Some weaknesses include suggesting that the stages are invariant or sequential.

Greg Ogden (2003) offers some stages for how Jesus prepared his disciples to take on the role of apostles.  It is an especially interesting way to visualize the journey and key questions people might wrestle with as they grow in greater levels of faith and ministry.

Ogden stages

Ogden, Greg. (2003). Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples A Few At A Time. Downers Grove, ILL: InterVarsity Press, 82.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Learning to repent…again

“From that time on, Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17)

Repentance involves a deep-seated transformation of attitudes, values, behaviours, etc.; a fundamental turnaround involving attitudes, values, and actions. Moreover, it is a recurring signpost on the Christian spiritual journey. Unfortunately, repentance can be communicated as tantamount to our initial confession of faith in Christ – as though repentance is a one-time event resulting in a sharp change of life direction. The figure below represents such an understanding:

Worldview 1

Perhaps though, repentance is better thought of as something we face repeatedly as we journey the path of maturing in Christ. As the Spirit continues to remind us of Jesus’ ways (cf. John 14:26) we continually find new areas of our heart (and perhaps old areas again!) that need a course correction. The following figure represents this:
worldview 2

Genuine repentance always involves a sense of grief, earnestness, and desire to clear oneself (cf. 2 Cor. 7:11) that leaves no sense of regret. Such is the way of following Christ, again and again.

At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mission 2: Old Testament observations

Last week I wrote about the mission of God and how the church finds its mission within that agenda. To form a mission apart from that agenda is to form a different mission. Moreover, any mission apart from God’s mission is likely to contain a different gospel (cf. Gal. 1:6).

Wright (2000) points out two reasons to learn about mission from the Old Testament: “First, it presents the mission and purpose of God with great power and clarity and with universal implication for all humanity. Second, the Old Testament shaped the very nature of the mission of the New Testament church, which indeed felt compelled to justify its mission practice from the Scripture we now call the Old Testament.”

The following table present the main Old Testament eras in which Israel’s history is depicted:

OT table

After being created in God’s image for fellowship, humankind is deceived by the serpent and they face judgment. In essence, this is where mission begins; it is the story of God pursuing humankind in order to redeem them. God’s call of Abraham and the promise made to him in Genesis 12:1-3, come as a major new chapter of God’s mission.

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob become known as the Patriarchs - the the physical and spiritual ancestors of Judaism. As we see, the nation of Israel was not physically sent out to the nations as missionaries. But, it can be said they were, beginning with Abraham, sent into the idolatry and polytheism of Canaan for the purpose of attracting others to the light of God’s presence among God’s people.

In some ways it seems the mission for regular OT saints was the simple witness of their way of life in the middle of an idolatrous culture surrounding them on every side. In the same way, perhaps clear quality of simple godliness you display in your life in the middle of a worldly culture is critical to the mission God has for you.

In many ways, mission in the Old Testament involves learning God’s ways that we may walk in his paths (Isa. 2:3).

“The path of the righteous is level; you, the Upright One, make the way of the righteous smooth. Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts” (Isa. 26:7-8 TNIV).


Wright, Christopher. (2000). “Old Testament Theology of Mission,” in Scott Moreau, ed. The Evangelical Dictionary of World Mission, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.