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The tension between the already and the not yet
on July 30, 2010
As believers today, we are both citizens of the world and of heaven. This duality creates a tension in our lives as we celebrate what God has already done but expectantly hopes for what He has promised. He captures that dichotomy well on page 175: "In this very Abba-confession, the rock of the `already' meets the hard place of the `not yet,' for it is due to the present awareness of our sonship that we can call God `Father,' but it is because this adoption has yet to be consummated that this bold affirmation comes in the form of a fervent cry." This book isn't a quick read, as it is dense with biblical passages and theological discussions, but it's a worthwhile one. He quotes liberally from Scripture and from those who have gone before him in church history, and there are definitely sections I'll be revisiting for a second (and third and...) read before I can fully digest them.
In the first part, the author discusses how our worship should reflect an otherworldliness as we live as resident aliens in the new covenant church (chapters 2-3); how we live as underdogs because our victory is largely in the future (chapter 4); how we regard the Sabbath, particularly as American Christians (chapter 5); how our national citizenship now does (and doesn't) have redemptive significance (chapter 6); and how the church shapes her members (chapter 7). In the second, he discusses how we consider our lives through the macrocosm of God's divine drama (chapter 8); how our heavenly citizenship renders earth "unworthy of our ultimate affection" (chapter 9); how we are shaped by an innate longing for eternity (chapter 10); how we can enjoy earth's temporal blessings in their proper context (chapter 11); how the Holy Spirit draws the future into the present to help us today (chapter 12); how we grow by giving up our rights and entitlements (chapter 13); and how our dual citizenship "causes us to groan for glory, a groaning that is both soothed and intensified by the indwelling Spirit, who functions as an engagement ring assuring us of the future consummation of our union with our glorified Bridegroom (chapter 14)" (p. xv).
There was only one part that I wasn't nodding my head with or being sharply convicted by: I'm not so sure about the author's division between part one (Christian Worship for the Dual Citizen) and part two (Christian Life for the Dual Citizen). I recently spent a lot of time meditating on Romans 12:1-2 as part of a unit we taught the 9th graders at our church, and it clearly lays out that making ourselves living sacrifices is our spiritual act of worship; in other words, it doesn't separate life from worship. Spellman expects this critique and begins building his case for the distinction in the preface, but I'm still a skeptic. I think he was really trying to have a section for how to live in the world (part two, what he called "Christian life") while not be of this world (part one, what he called "Christian worship"). His separation of worship and life and his explanation for doing so seemed to muddy the waters unnecessarily.
That said, he solidly uses Scripture, tradition, and the writings of other godly folks to explain the importance of the church. His writing challenged my thinking about ministry and personal life (particularly, with respect to the personal, my lack of reverence for or even consideration of the fourth commandment, either in terms of a defined Sabbath day or just times of intentional rest). His writing speaks both to the community of believers as a whole and to the heart of a believer as an individual. For example, on page 18 he calls out the church for being more like "grits than salt--changing in response to her environment rather than having the boldness and courage to stand out and be different." His best one-liner by far comes as he critiques the consumerist approach to church that demands a program for every potential need: "And do you have anything for my green-eyed, left-handed pre-teen daughter who loves ferrets and plays the oboe?" (p. 5).
Meanwhile, on an individual level, he challenges readers with this on pages 121-122: "Let us answer the question with a question: who is more likely to quit smoking during pregnancy, the mother who plans for an abortion or the one who plans to give birth? The answer should be obvious. Roads that actually lead somewhere are usually better maintained than dead-end ones, and likewise, when we see our earthly sojourn as just that--a sojourn on the way to our heavenly home--it is reasonable to assume that we will take this pilgrimage with great seriousness and care."
I consider this a valuable work, and I intend to re-read it again in a few months because I feel like it needs a few readings before I can truly digest it. In lieu of reciting a laundry list of things that make this a book I respect and appreciate, I've made a list below of nuggets from the text. I have no reservations about saying that this is a meaningful book worth being in your library, but you can judge whether or not that's true as you read the author's words below:
* "Stepping back from the trees and beholding the forest, or looking at our own lives as parts of God's story (rather than the other way around), enables us to gain a perspective on our trials and triumphs that is truly theo- rather than egocentric, God-centered instead of me-centered." (p. xiii)
* "Donald Grey Barnhouse, former pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, once mused about what a city would look like if Satan took it over. His conclusion was much different than many might assume. He didn't envision rampant violence and deviant sexual perversion, with Christians being tortured or thrown into prison. Rather, Barnhouse surmised that if the Devil were in charge of a city, the bars and pool halls would close, the streets and neighborhoods would be cleaned up, children would say "Yes, sir" and "No, ma'am," and every Sunday men and women would flock to churches where Christ was not preached." (italics in the original text, p. 65)
* "The real distinction that the Beatitudes illustrate, then, is not between the internal and the external or the physical and the spiritual, but between this age and the age to come, the `already' and the `not yet.' To employ the biblical typology, the Beatitudes set earth against heaven and the old Babylon against the New Jerusalem." (p. 69)
* "But as long as we misdiagnose our Adamic disease as a mere case of the spiritual doldrums, we not only will misconstrue the gospel as therapy and Jesus as part Cheerleader and part Coach, we will never break the vicious cycle of looking within to solve the problem that looking within caused in the first place." (p. 77)
* "...we simply cannot have Jesus without His church, we cannot have the personal without the corporate, and we cannot sever the Head from the body. After all, if physical decapitation is lethal, then it would follow that its spiritual equivalent is infinitely more deadly." (p. 83-84)
* "Since the dawn of Puritanism (at least), we have heard that in order to prescribe a cure for man's spiritual ills, we must first diagnose his disease. `Rubbish,' says Catholic author G. K. Chesterton. In his little book What's Wrong with the World, Chesterton decries what he calls the `medical mistake': `The first great blunder of sociology . . . is stating the disease before we find the cure. But it is the whole definition and dignity of man that in social matters we must actually find the cure before we find the disease.' Chesterton's point is that man can be understood only from the vantage point of the future, after running on ahead, as it were, and then looking back." (p. 113-114)
* "To strike the proper balance between the already of the kingdom's coming and the not yet of its visible fulfillment is to live our lives exactly where God wants them to be." (p. 149)
* "It is not uncommon for pastors to hear from their people in the pews that they need more 'application' from the pulpit. 'Hearing about the cross and resurrection of Christ week in and week out is all well and good,' they say. 'But give us something we can use in the real world. Tell us how to live.' This request is often tantamount to a desire for law instead of gospel, a hunger to be told what we can do for God rather than resting in what He has done for us." (p. 160)
(In keeping with the FTC, I must disclose that I wrote this review in exchange for a free book. However, Reformation Trust (an imprint of Ligonier Ministries) did not request a positive review, only a "serious, substantive, and fair" one. While I like free books, my opinion can't be bought.)