‘In Christ” – Outline for Summer Bible Study

Ever had one of those moments when you see something old like it is new; something familiar like it is the first time. As I was opening up the blog to type this post, I accidentally went to the homepage instead of to the log-in page. When I did, I read the by-line for this blog for the ‘first time.’ Sure I see the blog regularly and know that I must read the by-line most of the time, but just now when I read it I realized something – this study of ‘in Christ’ has been brewing in me for a long time. The by-line for this blog was a sub-conscious, as far as I can tell, joining of two phrases that each represent a different part of my life. Let me explain:

First, ‘in Christ’ was a regular part of my childhood church going. It was not necessarily from an academic perspective, although I must admit I don’t remember much more than what I am about to share. My pastor growing up had a favorite line that he repeated often. When I say often, I mean it was enough that even clueless teens, like my friends and I, knew it by heart. In fact, we would guess (“bet” for the non-baptists) every week how many times he might say it and at what point during the sermon he would first say it. The game became so serious we would take the time each week to look in the bulletin for the text he would be preaching from and then before the service read the text searching for the key words or something similar to help as we made our guesses. The phrase we were searching for – ‘in Christ’ because Brother Joe would inevitably say you know the most important word in the Bible is the little two letter word ‘in’ when it comes before ‘Christ.’ I don’t remember all the different ways he applied this slogan, but I now realize from about 7th grade through my graduation from high school I read the Bible paying special attention to this phrase. Even if it wasn’t with the best of intentions.

The second half of the by-line is ‘everything is undone.’ At Duke Divinity School, Douglas Campbell was an integral part of my academic development. One of the things he beat into my head was undoing or getting things undone. It was his way of reminding me that things had to be taken apart before they could be put together – usually he was critiquing one of my arguments, but that is for another day. But even more than that, it was his influence that led me to understand the apocalyptic nature of Paul. That in Christ all the wrong is being undone and through Christ God is acting to set the world right. That God’s apocalyptic act in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection changed everything. The old defeated. The new inaugurated. The present altered. Nothing will ever be the same again, or in other words ‘In Christ Everything is Undone.’

As I have studied this phrase the last couple of weeks, I have realized how much I believe this statement – ‘In Christ Everything is Undone.’ And not just that I believe it because in the big picture what does that really matter, but Paul believed it. His use of ‘In Christ,’ along with other key phrases such as, through Christ, into Christ, and with Christ, is about everything changing. In Christ the world is being undone not so it can be destroyed but so it can reconciled to God.

This summer I have the privilege of marrying my summer research project with the Bible study I teach at Houston’s First Baptist Church. And for the next seven weeks we are going to study how ‘In Christ Everything is Undone.’ The first class is tonight at 6:30 and this is the outline of the study.

To Live is Christ

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. -2 Cor 5:17

1. God’s Activity (2 Cor 5:19)

    • Death and Life – 2 Tim 1:8-10
    • Unity – 1 Cor 8:6

2. Christ as the Cause, Means (1 Cor 1:30)

    • Death and Life – Rom 3:21-26
    • Unity – Eph 2:11-22

3. Being Joined with Christ (Gal 3:27)

    • Death and Life – Rom 6:1-11
    • Unity – 1 Cor 10:16-17

4. Conclusion

    • To Live is Christ – Phi 2:19-30

Summer Blogging

Know what they say about good intentions…but I do have a plan for the blog this summer that has me excited.

1. This week and next finish the series on metaphor. There are two posts left – blending and mapping. I hoped to post these weeks ago, but good intentions…

2. In June and July, a series of post examining Paul’s “in Christ” language. Each week will consist of two posts (…good intentions…):

A. For my thesis (US dissertation), my summer research project is to come to terms with what I think about this language. If you are involved in Pauline studies you are probably aware how much of a wormhole this topic can become. Thus, I have decided to place firm parameters on the amount of time I will devote to specifically studying this phrase – June and July. One post each week will deal with this phrase from an academic perspective.

B. I also decided to use this phrase as the theme for the summer Bible study I teach at Houston’s First Baptist Church. For seven weeks in June and July, we will be discussing this phrase from a pastoral/devotional perspective. I am firm believer that all scholarship should be done for the church and in the church. I am blessed to teach a class that agrees – they are willing to struggle with the hard questions with me, to spend some weeks sinking with no promise of rescue, and to rejoice over insights born out of cooperation. One post each week will present material uncovered during this time together.

Finally, I take the month of August off from my studies. My annual review falls every July so August is the best month to unplug completely. It is likely the blog will fall silent during August also.

It is ok to be smart!

As a Southern Baptist, I deal with generalizations and mischaracterizations from many of my ‘academic’ friends. But one thing that too often is truer than not is that we are anti-intellectual. We have a distrust of scholars, no matter the field, and it leads us to shun learning. And this is wrong…

I firmly believe that one of the most common and most accommodated sins in Southern Baptist churches is anti-intellectualism.

Two mindsets I have encountered contribute to this depressing situation:

1. “I don’t need to study. All I need is a personal relationship with Jesus.” I have heard this said many different ways, and this is only thing I can hear, “It is ok to be stupid as long as I feel good.” To repeat, this is wrong…

As a matter of fact, Jesus confronted this mindset during his ministry among the pharisees. At least seven times, by my count*, Jesus confronts them with this question, “Have you not read?” And it is a question that comes to my mind when I think about my own teenage years. My dad loves to share the story of my first college visit. After meeting with the coaches and touring the campus, I was escorted to the Dean of Science’s office to discuss academics. His opening question, “What do you like to read?” And I proudly answered, “Sports Illustrated.” I thought I nailed the question. Now that I have sat on the other side of the desk I can only imagine how badly he wanted to laugh out loud.

But do not kid yourself, it is not just the problem of a naive teenage boy, listen to this quote from Dennis Prager:**

One thing I noticed about evangelicals is that they do not read. They do not read the Bible, they do not read the great Christian thinkers, they have never heard of Aquinas. If they are Presbyterian, they have never read the founders of Presbyterianism. I do not understand that. As a Jew, that’s confusing to me…When I walk into an Evangelical Christian’s home and see a total of 30 books, most of them best sellers, I do not understand. I have bookcases of Christian books, and I am Jew. Why do I have more Christian books than 98 percent of the Christians in America. That is so bizarre to me.

2. “I wouldn’t do it if I was you, but if you must don’t let them take your faith.” I heard this phrase from several people in several different churches after I decided to attend Duke Divinity School. There was a real fear that by choosing to study God rigorously, I would somehow lose my faith (the theological issue of ‘once-saved-always-saved’ is not for today!). Again, what they meant and what I heard may or may not be the same thing. Yet, this is what I heard, “God can’t handle being rigorously studied because if you look hard enough will realize it is all false.”

Are there dangers to studying and academics? Of course, read Colossians 2:6-8 or 1 Timothy 1:4-6. But losing your faith is not one of them. Proverbs 2 explains that God not only gives wisdom but he also guards those who seek wisdom. We cannot recklessly absorb all that is out there nor should we believe all that we think, but we can and should ask God to give us wisdom. And wonderful news is, he promises to say yes.

*My count of course means I searched the phrase in Accordance.

**Quoted in Thinking. Loving. Doing.

Calling: The Move from Praying For to Praying With

Tonight in our Bible study at Houston’s First we are going to turn our attention to calling. Calling is perhaps one of the most misunderstood parts of the Christian life. For many, calling is only something that pastors or missionaries get. For others, a calling is always something extra-ordinary…calling only happens when it is something earth shattering and crowd gathering. And for most, calling is something mysterious, hidden from us by God so that we have to hunt to find it.

Yet, while calling may be any of those things it is often none of them. A simple way to explain calling is the move from praying for to praying with. As Christians, we are commanded to be in prayer and most of us have a long list of things we are praying for. Our church asks us to pray for a new ministry opportunity. A mission organization asks us to pray for the people they are reaching. The news reports a tragedy and we pray for those involved. A neighbor, co-worker,or whoever expresses a struggle or need in their life. The list could go on but I hope we get the point…we should be in prayer for all these things. We should have a list somewhere, by the bed, in your journal, on your phone, or in your Bible where we write all these things down and we should consistently pray for them.

But there will come a moment when praying for will not be enough. The Holy Spirit will lead you to do something,

-to be involved with a new ministry opportunity,

-involved with reaching a certain people,

-involved with responding to a tragedy,

-involved with meeting a need.

These are moments of calling. Calling is basically when we are moved by God to get involved. And we fulfill our calling in those moments when we move from praying for to praying with…when we move from asking God to provide for them and allow ourselves to be used as God’s provision.

Purpose = Excuse (Part 2)

Yesterday the message was – do something. Far too many of us spend our life waiting to find God’s will “for our life” and in the mean time we do nothing. We like to talk about our desire to a part of God’s kingdom but we are never actually a part of furthering God’s kingdom on earth.

But there is also an equal but opposite reaction that is just as harmful – doing everything. While I am like an insurance company (my default answer is no, I have to be convinced to say yes), others are like credit cards (say yes to anything and worry about paying for it later). No matter who asks or what they are asking there are only two responses – say yes or say nothing and feel guilty for not saying yes.

While on the surface these two reactions seem vastly different, I believe they both arise from the same sin – pride.

  1. The first, I will do God’s will when he gets around to telling me it, is often formed from a mindset that God’s plan for me is so super-special, so over-the-top awesome that doing anything else is a waste of my time and talents. I have given it the name “Seminary Syndrome” because most seminary students I talk with envision being the next mega-pastor. In fact, I cannot recall one conversation with a seminary student who felt God calling them to be a “regular” pastor (sorry if I have forgotten you). My advice is never give-up on a dream God has placed in your heart, but while you wait for it to come true go serve in a church, even if it is not the church of your dreams.
  2. The second, I am here to save the day, is driven by a mindset that without me nothing would ever get done. Often called a “Messiah Complex”, it is the desire to solve all the worlds problems, even if you have to do by yourself. Most would say it is not that I want to do it by myself, it is just that no one else is doing anything about it, but the truth is – it is not that no one else is doing it, they just are not doing it the way you think it should be done! My advice is never lose the desire to make the world a better place, but focus on people not situations. Use all that energy to invest in someone rather than solving something.

My sermonizing is over and now it is time for me to work on taking my own advice. If you need more here are two blog posts worth reading:

Drew Hart – The Will of God

Kurt Willems – The “will of God” is an excuse to not follow Jesus?