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Book Highlights, Quotations, Theology

Book Highlights: Disarming Scripture

December 9, 2015

Periodically I share some highlights from the books I’ve been reading.  Of late, I’ve been delving into the current literature that is attempting to rewrite how we interpret, understand, and apply scripture. Many of the questions and critiques of Christianity raised by the likes of Rob Bell, Rachel Held Evans, Brian McClaren, and others are important ones. They call out real problems, abuses, and weak spots within evangelicalism and Christianity at large.

My initial impulse was to outright reject the teachings of those who are rejecting the past few thousand years of Christian history. How are we to be so proud as to say that we know better than the tens of thousands who have gone before us? However, I felt like God was challenging me to dig in more deeply and actually hear what’s being said. I started with this book, Disarming Scripture by Derek Flood, because it had been referenced by several people I know and (handily enough) was free for Kindle a month or three ago.

At some point I may write an at-length review of the book, but for now it will suffice to say that even after full, open engagement with what Flood and others with similar viewpoints are saying, I strongly disagree and find – across the board – their reasoning and arguments to be woefully insufficient and based more on a desire to make the gospel ( the small g is intentional) more appealing to popular culture or to remove things that make them personally uncomfortable than on sound logic, evidence, and exegesis.

Below are several quotes that, in my opinion, communicate the key points that Flood makes in Disarming Scripture.

If we as progressives are going to reject violence and instead focus on mercy and social justice, then we need to have a developed hermeneutical rationale for our reading which can stand its ground against a conservative reading that seeks to legitimize violence in God’s name. What we need is an approach that can honestly face and confront violence in the Bible, and do so from the perspective of faith, and as the necessary outgrowth of a developed moral conscience.

The priority of Jesus was not on defending a text, it was on defending people—in particular defending the victims of religious violence and abuse.

In faithfully acting to restore people, the Gospel writers tell us, Jesus continually appeared in the eyes of the religious leaders around him to be breaking God’s laws. Jesus was not particularly concerned with this, and instead was infinitely more concerned with caring for the least, even if this meant his reputation became one of a “blasphemer” and “law breaker” in the eyes of the religious authorities.

The Pharisees’ understanding, as it is presented in the Gospels, is characterized by a rigid observance of laws and rituals. Jesus, in contrast, had a way of interpreting the Bible that put a priority on people over rules and rituals. The way of the Pharisees is focused on fear, and thus insists on strict adherence to all of the commands, even when these commands hurt and shut people out. The way of Jesus in contrast is instead focused on what love requires—even when doing so means breaking rules and commands.

Rather than finding a single narrative throughout the Old Testament, we instead repeatedly encounter these conflicting perspectives within the Hebrew canon: One narrative states that suffering and violence are just and deserved, the other protests and argues against that narrative, calling it unjust.

Paul’s conversion was one away from religious fanaticism. In other words, Paul did not see himself as rejecting his Jewish faith or Israel’s scriptures, but rather as rejecting his former violent interpretation of them.

Looking at the record of dispute found throughout the Old Testament, we can begin to trace the outlines of a people’s slow development away from the primitive view of violent tribal war gods so typical of the worldview of the ancient world. Part of this development involved Judaism moving from polytheism to monotheism.

The New Testament must be regarded as a first step along a trajectory in regards to changing oppressive societal structures which at the time as a persecuted minority group they had little power to change. Finding ourselves in a position to effect those changes in society today, our task is to work out how to apply the spirit of Jesus’ teaching to our time and circumstance.

the way that Jesus read Scripture was shaped by his own direct experience of God in his life. Jesus therefore understands his messianic mission to be radically different from what his fellow Jews were expecting. Jesus’ experience of the Spirit shaped his understanding of Scripture, and not the other way around.

Note that the measure of “right” interpretation here is not based primarily on evaluating whether the text has been properly understood (the question of proper exegesis), but on evaluating the results when it is applied in our lives—observing whether it results in bringing about life or death, flourishing or harm. As we have seen, Jesus saw the primary role and telos of Scripture as leading us to love. If we wish to read the Bible with that same aim, the question we need to ask is therefore not so much “Have I read this right?” but more importantly “Does this reading lead to life?”

In the end, what really matters is how we treat each other. For my part, I am perfectly content to trust God to judge rightly so long as we humans stop hurting each other in God’s name or in the name of justice. The bottom line here is that while we can find disagreement among New Testament authors as to God’s violence, the New Testament is unanimous in its radical rejection of human participation in violence.

Book Highlights, Christian Life, Culture, Discipleship, Quotations

Quotes: Mike Breen – Building a Discipling Culture

July 27, 2015
BDC_BookImage
Below are a several quotes from the book Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen. We just finished reading the book with Verge’s Leader Community here in central Minnesota, and had some great discussion about the process and practice of discipleship with a few of the ministry leaders from the area.
You can get the book on Amazon or 3DM’s site.

 

 

 

Disciples are the only thing that Jesus cares about, and it’s the only number that Jesus is counting. Not our attendance or budget or buildings. He wants to know if we are “making disciples.”

Jesus has not called you to build his church. In fact, in all of the Gospels he mentions the church only two times. One time he mentions it, it’s about conflict resolution. The other time? To say that he will build his church. Our job, our only job and the last instructions he gave us, was to make disciples.

Teaching is incredibly important. Theology is incredibly important. Doctrine is incredibly important. But Jesus wasn’t able to compartmentalize teaching, theology, and doctrine into ethereal, cognitive realities. Teaching and theology were ways of describing reality, and then he showed his disciples how to live in that reality.

Good leaders always define their own reality. No one else can build a discipling culture for you—it must begin in your own life and then overflow into the lives of those you lead.

We need to externalize the things that have been going on internally. Change doesn’t happen in private.

Prayer was as fundamental an element in the life of Jesus as breathing. He inhaled his Father’s presence so he could exhale his Father’s will.

Many Christian leaders fall into the trap of being so ministry-focused that they spend too little time enjoying God. Sermon preparation takes the place of delighting in his presence. Prayer is something done mainly for the benefit of others, and the familiarity of worship may not necessarily breed contempt but indifference.

A leader’s demand for our time and energy will always exceed our capacity, working harder and longer is not the answer. Jesus said “I only do the things I see my Father doing.” He didn’t get a three year download to his Outlook calendar at his baptism, rather, each morning he had to retreat and establish the priorities for that day.

Book Highlights, Culture, Quotations

Book Highlights: Lesslie Newbigin – The Gospel in a Pluralist Society

April 25, 2015

I love reading books, and I love sharing what I read. This post and others like it are a small section of highlights from some of the books I’ve been reading recently. These ones are from Lesslie Newbigin’s book The Gospel in a Pluralist Society.

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The minister’s leadership of the congregation in its mission to the world will be first and foremost in the area of his or her own discipleship, in that life of prayer and daily consecration which remains hidden from the world but which is the place where the essential battles are either won or lost.

However grievously the Church may have distorted and misused the concept of dogma in the course of history, and it has indeed done so grievously, the reality which this word designated is present from the beginning and is intrinsic to the gospel.

The presupposition of all valid and coherent Christian thinking is that God has acted to reveal and effect his purpose for the world in the manner made known in the Bible.

The gospel gives rise to a new plausibility structure, a radically different vision of things from those that shape all human cultures apart from the gospel. The Church, therefore, as the bearer of the gospel, inhabits a plausibility structure which is at variance with, and which calls in question, those that govern all human cultures without exception.

The relativism which is not willing to speak about truth but only about “what is true for me” is an evasion of the serious business of living. It is the mark of a tragic loss of nerve in our contemporary culture. It is a preliminary symptom of death.

It is obvious that the story of the empty tomb cannot be fitted into our contemporary worldview, or indeed into any worldview except one of which it is the starting point. That is, indeed, the whole point. What happened on that day is, according to the Christian tradition, only to be understood by analogy with what happened on the day the cosmos came into being. It is a boundary event, at the point where (as cosmologists tell us) the laws of physics cease to apply. It is the beginning of a new creation — as mysterious to human reason as the creation itself.

God’s saving revelation of himself does not come to us straight down from above — through the skylight, as we might say. In order to receive God’s saving revelation we have to open the door to the neighbor whom he sends as his appointed messenger, and — moreover — to receive that messenger not as a temporary teacher or guide whom we can dispense with when we ourselves have learned what is needed, but as one who will permanently share our home. There is no salvation except one in which we are saved together through the one whom God sends to be the bearer of his salvation.

The risen Jesus did not appear to everyone. He did not appear (as is often foolishly asserted) to the believers; there were no believers before he appeared to them.

A society which believes in a worthwhile future saves in the present so as to invest in the future. Contemporary Western society spends in the present and piles up debts for the future, ravages the environment, and leaves its grandchildren to cope with the results as best they can.

Mission begins with a kind of explosion of joy. The news that the rejected and crucified Jesus is alive is something that cannot possibly be suppressed.

The important thing in the use of the Bible is not to understand the text but to understand the world through the text.

The Church is not so much the agent of the mission as the locus of the mission. It is God who acts in the power of his Spirit, doing mighty works, creating signs of a new age, working secretly in the hearts of men and women to draw them to Christ.

Healings, even the most wonderful, do not call this present world radically into question; the gospel does, and this has to be made explicit. On the other hand, the preaching is meaningless without the healings. They are the true explanation of what is happening, but if nothing is happening no explanation is called for and the words are empty words. They do not answer any real question.

The very heart of the biblical vision for the unity of humankind is that its center is not an imperial power but the slain Lamb.

When God raised the crucified Jesus, this present age and its structures was exposed, illuminated, unmasked — but not destroyed. Cross and resurrection seen together mean both judgment and grace, both wrath and endless patience. God still upholds the structures; without them the world would collapse and human life would be unthinkable. But the structures lose their pretended absoluteness. Nothing now is absolute except God as he is known in Jesus Christ; everything else is relativized. That is the bottom line for Christian thinking and the starting point for Christian action in the affairs of the world.

Quotations, Spiritual Growth

Take Hold and Believe

December 11, 2013

The following is from one of the books that has, outside of the Bible, had more impact on me than any other. It’s rare for me to read a book more than once, and I’ve read this small paper back perhaps five times since first discovering it back in 2007. From The Complete Green Letters by Miles Stanford, p. 65-67;

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For most of us, it is time to stop asking God for help. He didn’t help us to be saved, and He doesn’t intend to help us live the Christian life.

Immaturity considers the Lord Jesus a Helper. Maturity knows Him to be Life itself. J. E. Conant wrote, “Christian living is not our living with Christ’s help, it is Christ living His life in us. Therefore that portion of our lives that is not His living is not Christian living; and that portion of our service that is not His doing is not Christian service; for all such life and service have but a human and natural source, and Christian life and service have a supernatural and spiritual source.” Paul insisted, “For to me to live is Christ”; and, “I can do all things through Christ” (Phil. 1:21; 4:13a).

William R. Newell said, “Satan’s great device is to drive earnest souls back to beseeching God for what God says has already been done.” Each of us had to go beyond the “help” stage for our new birth, and thank Him for what He has already done on our behalf. God could never answer a prayer for help in the matter of justification. The same principle holds true for the Christian life. Our Lord Jesus waits to be wanted, and to be all in us and do all through us. “For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him” (Col. 2:9, 10).

God is not trusted, not honored, in our continually asking Him for help. In the face of “my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19), how can we beg for help? Our responsibility is to see in the Word all that is ours in Christ, and then thank and trust Him for that which we need.

Sooner or later we must face up to what F. J. Huegel declares: “When a Christian’s prayer life springs from a right position (a thorough adjustment to Christ in His death and resurrection), a vast change in procedure follows. Much of the mere begging type (though of course asking is always in order for the Lord says. ‘Ask and ye shall receive’) gives way to a positive and unspeakably joyous appropriation. Much of our begging fails to register in heaven because it fails to spring from right relations with the Father in union with Christ in death and resurrection: in which position one simply appropriates what is already his. ‘All things.’ says the Apostle Paul, ‘are yours . . . and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s’ (1 Cor. 3:21, 23).”
Since “. . . without faith it is impossible to please him” (Heb. 11:6). we might consider several more strong but true statements to further clarify the attitude of faith that does please His heart.

“In our private prayers and in our public services,” A. W. Tozer writes, “we are forever asking God to do things that He either has already done or cannot do because of our unbelief. We plead for Him to speak when He has already spoken and is at that very moment speaking. We ask Him to come when He is already present and waiting for us to recognize Him. We beg the Holy Spirit to fill us while all the time we are preventing Him by our doubts.”
S. D. Gordon admonished: “When you are in the thick of the fight. when you are the object of attack, plead less and claim more, of the ground of the blood of the Lord Jesus. I do not mean, ask God to give you victory, but claim His victory. to overshadow you.”

Watchman Nee startles many by saying, “God’s way of deliverance is altogether different from man’s way. Man’s way is to try to suppress sin by seeking to overcome it; God’s way is to remove the sinner. Many Christians mourn over their weakness, thinking that if only they were stronger all would be well. The idea that, because failure to lead a holy life is due to our impotence, something more is therefore demanded of us, leads naturally to this false conception of the way of deliverance. If we are preoccupied with the power of sin and with our inability to meet it, then we naturally conclude that to gain the victory over sin we must have more power.

“’If only I were stronger,’ we say, ‘I could overcome my violent outbursts of temper,’ and so we plead with the Lord to strengthen us that we may exercise more self-control. But this is altogether wrong; this is not Christianity. God’s means of delivering us from sin is not by making us stronger and stronger, but by making us weaker and weaker. This is surely a peculiar way of victory, you say; but it is the divine way. God sets us free from the dominion of sin, not by strengthening our old man but by crucifying him; not by helping him to do anything but by removing him from the scene of action.”

The believer does not have to beg for help. He does have to thankfully appropriate that which is already his in Christ: for. “. . . the just shall live by faith . . .” (Heb. 10:38a). And dear old Andrew Murray encourages us with, “Even though it is slow, and with many a stumble, the faith that always thanks Him—not for experiences, but for the promises on which it can rely—goes on from strength to strength, still increasing in the blessed assurance that God himself will perfect His work in us (Phil. 1:6).”

 

 

Christian Life, Life, Quotations, Spiritual Growth

The Honorable Vessel

December 7, 2013

 

 

Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.

– 2 Timothy 2:20-25, ESV

 

 

Christian Life, Discipleship, Quotations

Spurgeon and the means of salvation

December 5, 2013

…to whom does God tell us to look for salvation? O, does it not lower the pride of man, when we hear the Lord say, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth?” It is not. “Look to your priest, and be ye saved:” if you did, there would be another god, and beside him there would be some one else. It is not “Look to yourself;” if so, then there would be a being who might arrogate some of the praise of salvation. But it is “Look unto me.”How frequently you who are coming to Christ look to yourselves. “O!” you say, “I do not repent enough.” That is looking to yourself. “I do not believe enough.” That is looking to yourself. “I am too unworthy.” That is looking to yourself. “I cannot discover,” says another, “that I have any righteousness.” It is quite right to say that you have not any righteousness; but it is quite wrong to look for any. It is, “Look unto me.” God will have you turn your eye off yourself and look unto him.

The hardest thing in the world is to turn a man’s eye off himself; as long as he lives, he always has a predilection to turn his eyes inside, and look at himself; whereas God says, “Look unto me.” From the cross of Calvary, where the bleeding hands of Jesus drop mercy; from the Garden of Gethsemane, where the bleeding pores of the Saviour sweat pardons, the cry comes, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” From Calvary’s summit, where Jesus cries, “It is finished,” I hear a shout, “Look, and be saved.” But there comes a vile cry from our soul, “Nay, look to yourself! look to yourself!” Ah, my hearer, look to yourself, and you will be damned. That certainly will come of it. As long as you look to yourself there is no hope for you. It is not a consideration of what you are, but a consideration of what God is, and what Christ is, that can save you. It is looking from yourself to Jesus.

From Spurgeon’s sermon titled Sovereignty and Salvation. Read the full text at Spurgeon.org

Quotations

God Moves in Mysterious Ways (Hymn)

November 19, 2013

Perhaps one of my favorite hymns, especially the third stanza.

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

– William Cowper, 1774

Life, Quotations

Stop Worrying!

October 17, 2013

Some Gospel truth that’s been working on my brain for the last day or so. Do we really take Jesus at his word when he says,

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life ? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

– Matthew 6:25-34 NIV

Book Highlights, Quotations

Quotes: Mike Breen – Leading Kingdom Movements

September 24, 2013

I recently finished reading Mike Breen‘s book Leading Kingdom Movements. I can’t recommend it highly enough for anyone who has a passion for seeing Jesus do amazing things in and through them. Check out the 3DM store to buy a copy of the book. You won’t regret it.

Below are some of my highlights from the book. May they inspire and help you in your kingdom work.

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“Follow Jesus. And then teach others how to follow Jesus. He’s the compass we can all follow.”

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“Kingdom movement is a community that functions as a portal to the new world that God wants for all his children. Put another way, a Kingdom movement is a community of disciples who passionately seek the expansion of God’s reign here on earth through the reproduction of disciples, seeking the transformation of the places they inhabit.”

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“The more time I spent listening to God, and the more time I spent asking him to show me where he was already at work, the more spiritual breakthrough I saw in my life and in the life of our community. The closer I was to God, the more breakthrough I saw. It was absolutely amazing. By simply paying more attention to where God’s Kingdom was already breaking in, and by resting in him, I spent far less energy and produced far more fruit.”

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“Things like Missional Communities are a fantastic vehicle for mission. They really are. But without the embracing of the Holy Spirit, it’s just another thing you’re doing on your own.”

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“The Father’s gift to you is Kingdom breakthrough. It’s not yours; it’s his.”

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“Living in faith and grace needs to be the warp and weft of your life. Leaders create culture. If you want a culture that looks for the grace in Battle and responds to Frustration with faith, you have to model that for them.”

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“Movement leaders won’t care if their salary is coming from a church or somewhere else. Why? Because of two words that I think define Kingdom movement leaders above and beyond leaders of Christian institutions: disciplined and entrepreneurial.”

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“The higher the challenge, and the more difficult your purpose on the missional frontier, the more you need time playing together. Movies. Dinners. Baseball games. Times to laugh, enjoy each other, and just be team apart from any higher purpose you have.”

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“What Jesus tells us over and over again is to follow the fruit. Ruthlessly find the places where there is fruit (and as we just covered, when Jesus refers to fruit, he means disciples) and put every ounce of yourself in going after it. Having a big tree doesn’t necessarily mean lots of disciples.”

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“We need to be disciples before we become a missionary. You simply can’t be a missionary if you’re not a disciple, first and foremost. It’s impossible. But the natural outgrowth for any disciple of Jesus is the life of a missionary.”

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“I believe the miraculous will happen if you depend on the miraculous power of God, embrace your weakness, and say, “The cracks of my life are the places where the power of God is able to seep through.”

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“Massive conferences with amazing, charismatic leaders aren’t sustainable or scalable.64 History has shown us this time and time again. On the other hand, having people who know how to invest their lives in others, people who disciple others to disciple others, and who create lightweight and low maintenance vehicles for discipleship and mission have always been the principal way the Holy Spirit has created movemental change.”

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“I cannot say it long enough or loud enough: You must lead from your own brokenness so that, as the Lord achieves breakthrough in your life and those you are close to, he will use the overflow of that in the wider community.”

 

Book Highlights, Quotations

Book Highlights: Chesterton – Orthodoxy

September 10, 2013
Man cannot think himself out of mental evil; for it is actually the organ of thought that has become diseased, ungovernable, and, as it were, independent. He can only be saved by will or faith.
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Curing a madman is not arguing with a philosopher; it is casting out a devil. And however quietly doctors and psychologists may go to work in the matter, their attitude is profoundly intolerant.
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Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is centrifugal: it breaks out. For the circle is perfect and infinite in its nature; but it is fixed for ever in its size; it can never be larger or smaller. But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox in its centre it can grow without changing. The circle returns upon itself and is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travellers.
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Only the supernatural has taken a sane view of Nature. The essence of all pantheism, evolutionism, and modern cosmic religion is really in this proposition: that Nature is our mother. Unfortunately, if you regard Nature as a mother, you discover that she is a step-mother. The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate. This gives to the typically Christian pleasure in this earth a strange touch of lightness that is almost frivolity.
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When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay, (the matter grows too difficult for human speech,) but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist
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The man who lives in contact with what he believes to be a living Church is a man always expecting to meet Plato and Shakespeare to-morrow at breakfast. He is always expecting to see some truth that he has never seen before.