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Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Theater Called Holy Week

by Tony Reinke | March 21, 2013


How did C. S. Lewis bungle The Chronicles of Narnia?

For some critics, a major flaw is the way he interrupts the flow of the story by butting into the story as the narrator. 
You may remember it is Lewis who tells us (twice!) that no sensible person ever shut oneself up in a wardrobe. It’s a simple line, but Lewis breaks into the story to speak a direct lesson for young readers.

Or you may remember the dizzying scene in The Silver Chair when Jill steps up to a cliff edge far above the clouds. She grows faint and wobbly, and readers wonder if Jill is about to plunge to her death. 
Here's how Lewis describes it: “She was too frightened and dizzy to know quite what she was doing, but two things she remembered as long as she lived (they often came back to her in dreams)…” Stop. With this simple parenthetical statement, Lewis breaks the tension of the story. 
Some say that’s bad storytelling, but he does this here to reassure his young readers that whatever happens at the edge of this cliff, Jill has a future life. The brief literary interruption ministers a bit of comfort to a possibly frightened child.

Splitting the Atmosphere

In the Gospels, God’s audible voice splits the atmosphere and breaks into the narrative flow at a few key points for us. 
Each time, the point is to ensure we don’t miss the supremacy of Christ. This happens at three key points in the life of Jesus:

This third and final mention of the voice of God is most timely for us. Here’s the passage (John 12:27–33):

[Jesus said,] “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 
The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine
Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

Here God breaks into the narrative to speak up for his own glory in the life of Christ’s incarnate life. 
Here we discover that all along — in Jesus’s teachings, in miracles or in exorcisms, in healings, in quiet obedience and in sea calmings — in every action his works magnified the glory of God.

And in Jesus’s final works, God will magnify himself again.

With John 12:28 firmly planted inside Holy Week, everything that unfolds in the story is a further revelation of God’s worth. 
Christ magnifies the worth of God in the tearing of bread and lifting of the cup of the New Covenant, in the pouring out of his bloody Gethsemane prayer, in his scourgings, and of course in his wrath-satisfying slaying at Golgotha.

Which means God’s voice has broken into the storyline to prepare us to survey the wondrous cross. 
Instead of shielding us from the tragedy of Christ’s death, the Narrator breaks into the story to prepare us and to set the bloody death of the Prince of Glory in its proper context.

Prepared for Holy Week

Holy Week begins Sunday, and the week is filled with harsh and cruel reminders. 
The Savior's broken body and spilling blood will be lifted up on the cross so our eyes can focus on the splendid theater of God’s glory in the awful beauty and holy majesty of Christ crucified.

But we watch the scene unfold in hope because we have been prepared for this moment by the very voice of God — “I have glorified my name, and I will glorify it again” — words meant to steady us for what we are to witness, words meant to echo in the godforsaken silence of Golgotha.

“The center of Christianity is the dishonorable, foolish, gruesome, and utterly glorious reality of the tortured God-Man, Jesus Christ,” writes John Piper
“The closer you get to what makes Christianity ghastly, the closer you get to what makes it glorious.”

Like a narrator’s voice breaking into a story, in John 12:28 God’s voice temporarily suspends the Holy Week narrative, not for Jesus’ sake, but for ours. 
His voice comforts us and reassures us that the darkness we are about to experience is part of God’s intentional plan to display his glory to the world in his Son on a tree. 
There he will defeat cosmic evil, he will draw us to Christ, and he will display his worth to the world. This is the theater of glory we call Holy Week.

Holy Week begins Sunday and we recently released the new eBook Love to the Uttermost: Devotional Readings for Holy Week from John Piper. Download it for free in multiple formats here.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Dude, Watch Your Jargon


Here we go again.
Have you ever thought that at the beginning of a story you’ve heard several times before? 
Once the person starts talking you know exactly where they’re going. You’ve heard it before. You get it. Here we go again.

It’s interesting how this sort of thing especially happens in marriage. 
Husbands and wives do a lot of talking and before long they know each other’s best stuff. What might be the first time we tell our story to friends could be (or feel like) the hundredth time our spouse has heard it. 
This was the theme of a recently re-aired show from This American Life. They call the show “Reruns” and though overall it’s not that great, this marriage part was really good. They interviewed three couples about the stories their spouses always tell.

We all have those stories, don’t we? Just ask your wife or husband. My “go-to” is from a missions trip in Mexico. It’s self-deprecating and serious, but ends funny. See, already I want to tell it. And if you were sitting in our living room, I would. . . even as my lovely wife would probably roll her eyes. For good reason she’d roll her eyes. It’s the same thing again and again. Same setting, same angle, same words.

It’s exactly what pastors and Christian leaders should not do when we preach, teach, and write gospel truth. It’s what any Christian should not do when we speak into the world around us. Our message is not set on mere rerun. It can’t be, not today.

Trending Now

There are two antithetical trends happening right now.

Trend One is that Western society is increasingly becoming post-Christian. 

Trend Two is that Christian media seems to be at an all-time high.

As our environment grows more contrarian to our message, Christians are saying more than ever. Whether the Internet or pop culture or publishing, Christian voices are beaming out all over the world. Our voices beam while we’re simultaneously marginalized, and this should affect how we talk.

How though? How should these two trends impact our speaking and writing and preaching? There are two ways, one negative and one positive.

Not Like This

The negative application is not to slip into the ditch of “same old, same old” in how we talk. It means we beware the poverty of theological vocabulary. Or, to say it straight, it means: dude, watch your jargon.

The easiest thing to do in a world where we get more air time but less ears is to nestle ourselves into a rut of discourse. We speak macro-jargon. We shrivel down into canned language for listeners who we expect already know the words we no longer define. 
We say something like the other guy did, and the guy before him, who said it like the guy before him. Let’s press each other here. Christian communicators are not hamsters stuck in their wheel. We should push ourselves to say things differently.

Extending Our Elbows

The positive side is simply that we strain to say it fresh. I don’t mean we replace (or contextualize) obscure words with words that are more culturally sensitive. That is well and good and necessary. But we need to do the hard work of incorporating new words and concepts in order to crisply articulate truths that fly under the radar of a noisy world. 
The truths don’t change. The content is unshakable. But our communication should be infused with life. Bright-eyed, soul-soaring life.

We should extend our elbows to gulp up whole systems of thought, spit out the bones, and swallow the good, for our speech. We should swallow whatever is true and honorable and just and pure (Philippians 4:8). 
We should tap into our senses and really feel what we say. We should say it fresh in hopes of seeing it fresh.

And even if someone were to say “here we go again,” we know the story we tell is more than a rerun. 
In fact, it’s good news. 

And good news isn’t jargon.