5 Things Jonathan Edwards Teaches Us about the Christian Life
This is a guest post by Dane Ortlund. He is the author of Edwards On the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014. – originally posted @http://www.crossway.org/blog/2014/08/5-things-jonathan-edwards-teaches-us-about-the-christian-life/
Jonathan Edwards for the Rest of Us
For many of us, Jonathan Edwards is a skinny white guy who never smiled, except when talking about hell. If we know anything more, it’s:
that he wrote a lot of really dense books
that he talked a lot about the glory of God
that he was part of the Great Awakening
that John Piper likes him a lot
And that’s about it.
But there are riches to be mined in Jonathan Edwards far beyond what you may have been exposed to. Reading Jonathan Edwards is not for historians and professors mainly, but for the rest of us.
Here are five things Edwards teaches us about the Christian life—your Christian life:
1. If you’re a Christian, you don’t realize how radically different and freshly empowered you now are.
When sinners repent and believe for the first time, it often feels as if nothing much has happened, and it often looks as if nothing much has happened. Our wrinkles don’t go away. Our Myers-Briggs personality profile doesn’t change. Our IQ isn’t improved. Our driver’s license photo looks the same after conversion as before, just a few years older and grayer.
Similarly, a foreigner who has just attained citizenship in their country of residence will not feel or look much different, upon receiving formal declaration of citizenship. Yet they now belong to an entirely new nation. More than this, they now have all the rights and privileges that belong to citizens of that nation.
Edwards teaches us that the quiet, seemingly innocuous change that takes place in the new birth is of eternal—even cosmic—significance. A fallen sinner has just become an invincible heir of the universe. The Holy Spirit has just taken up permanent residence in the temple of this soul. In new birth, Edwards writes, the Christian “is a new creature, he is just as if he were not the same, but were born again, created over a second time.”
For a Christian to wallow in sin and misery is for a butterfly to crawl miserably along the branch as if it were still a caterpillar.
2. Even if you’re a Christian, you don’t realize how radically fallen and blindly dysfunctional you remain.
If we understate the positive change in new birth, we also tend to understate the fallenness that remains. But Edwards knew of the strange dysfunctions that remain among all of us, including true believers. He saw it in himself.
Edwards spoke frequently, for example, of the lurking dangers of pride: “It is a sin that has, as it were, many lives. If you kill it, it will live still. If you suppress it in one shape, it rises in another. If you think it is all gone, it is there still. Like the coats of an onion, if you pull one form of it off, there is another underneath.”
We often don’t feel the weight of our sin. Why? Because of our sin. The disease is itself what prevents us from detecting the disease.
How do we get out? One answer is: read Jonathan Edwards. His sermons will do wonders to re-sharpen your blunted conscience and re-sensitize your heart to its fallenness.
3. Authentic discipleship to Jesus Christ calms and gentle-izes (not radicalizes and excites) Christians.
Edwards is famous for his hellfire sermons, but it is striking to trace the evolution of his preaching over his three decades in the pulpit. Scholars point out that the hellfire sermons were more typical of the young Edwards and gradually decreased over his career, while other themes grew increasingly strong: the beauty of Christ, the loveliness of holiness, the calmness of a justified life, the gentleness of God.
A sermon that nicely sums up the core of Edwards’ ministry is “The Spirit of the True Saints Is a Spirit of Divine Love,” based on 1 John 4:16. There we read statements like:
“The very nature of God is love. If it should be enquired what God is, it might be answered that he is an infinite and incomprehensible fountain of love.”
“He who has divine love in him has a wellspring of true happiness that he carries about in his own breast, a fountain of sweetness, a spring of the water of life. There is a pleasant calmness and serenity and brightness in the soul that accompanies the exercises of this holy affection.”
“God in Christ allows such little, poor creatures as you are to come to him, to love communion with him, and to maintain a communication of love with him. You may go to God and tell him how you love him and open your heart and he will accept of it.”
That, more than anything else, is the pulsating core of Edwards’ ministry. Radical godliness is not obnoxious, showy, or boisterous. It is quiet, gentle, and serene.
4. Christianity is gain, and only gain.
Toward the end of his life, Edwards was kicked out of his church by a vote of ten to one—by professing Christians, upstanding church members. This, and other trials he encountered during his life, lead me to conclude that the lofty vision of Christian living that he has left to us is not naïve idealism. He felt the pain not only of rejection, but of rejection by close friends and family members who were part of his church. And yet, having his eyes opened to present pain did not close his eyes to future glory.
Why? Because we will have God, in heaven, unfiltered, forever. Consider the following breathtaking statement:
The glorious excellencies and beauty of God will be what will forever entertain the minds of the saints, and the love of God will be their everlasting feast. The redeemed will indeed enjoy other things; they will enjoy the angels, and will enjoy one another: but that which they shall enjoy in the angels, or in each other, or in any thing else whatsoever that will yield them delight and happiness, will be what shall be seen of God in them.
Christians leave nothing behind when they die. All is gain.
5. Revival is not what you think it is.
When evangelicals today hear the word “revival,” we generally picture tears, loudness, animated preaching, exuberance, humiliating confession of sin, and so on. Some of these things may be present in revival, perhaps, but Edwards came to long for revival because he saw that it is not a move from the ordinary to the extraordinary so much as a move from the sub-ordinary to the ordinary. We become human again. We breathe once more.
Edwards witnessed two revivals. One was local, contained to New England, in the mid-1730s. The other, six years later, was transatlantic and became known as the Great Awakening. Edwards made the fascinating observation that, in the first revival, God’s people tended “to talk with too much of an air of lightness, and something of laughter,” whereas in the second revival “they seem to have no disposition to it, but rejoice with a more solemn, reverential, humble joy.” The first revival’s joy was real but frothy. The second revival’s joy was deeper and more calm.
Simply put, revival isn’t weird. True revival is rehumanizing. It re-centralizes not the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit so much as the ordinary fruit of the Spirit.
Dane C. Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College) is Senior Vice President for Bible Publishing at Crossway. He is the author of several books, including Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God, and serves as an editor for the Knowing the Bible study series. He lives with his wife, Stacey, and their four kids in Wheaton.
A Comprehensive Biblical Look At Heaven
Book Review By David P. Craig
Having already read Suffering and Goodness of God (2008); The Glory of God (2010); The Deity of Christ (2011); The Kingdom of God (2012); and Fallen: A Theology of Sin (2013) I was anxiously anticipating this sixth installment of the Theology in Community Series. Heaven (as all the other books in this series) did not disappoint. Each book in this series features chapters written by different theologians; pastors; and scholars that demonstrate how the particular theme is taught in history, systematically, biblically, and its practical relevance and ramifications for the modern Church.
Robert Peterson (PhD, Drew University; is Professor of Systematic Theology at Covenant Theological Seminary) opens the book up with four ancient and modern stories of how false teaching on Heaven has resulted in some cases tragically. He then examines the Noetic effects of sin on our understanding of Heaven. In closing his chapter he asks and answers seven common questions people ask concerning Heaven: (1) Will everyone go to Heaven? (2) What happens when believers die? (3) What about purgatory? (4) Will we recognize others in Heaven? (5) Will we be married and enjoy sex in Heaven? (6) Will there be sorrow in Heaven over those in Hell? (7) What kind of bodies will we have in heaven?
Raymond C. Ortlund Jr. (PhD, University of Aberdeen; is Senior Pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, TN.) tackles six key texts on Heaven in the Old Testament: Genesis 28; Exodus 24; 1 Kings 22; Job 1-2; Isaiah 6; and Daniel 7. In each passage Ortlund mines exegetical, theological, and practical principles that we learn about Heaven as taught in the Old Testament. Earth and Heaven are currently very distinct, but the unfolding revelation of Heaven from the Bible as Ortlund makes clear is that Heaven and Earth will one day be transformed together into the dwelling place of God.
Jonathan T. Pennington (PhD, University of St. Andrews; is Associate Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) writes about the language of Heaven in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts. The word we typically translate as “heaven” in English from the Greek is used 161 times in the Synoptics and Acts. Pennington demonstrates in his chapter that the word for Heaven conveys various ideas. He brings out the crucial aspects of how the worldview of the biblical writers and of our own day are in conflict and how we need to return to a biblical worldview in order to make sense of Heaven as a real physical and non-abstract place.
Stephen J. Wellum (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; is Professor of Christian Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) approaches Paul’s teaching on Heaven in three distinct ways: (1) How Paul understands Heaven according to the Old Testament; (2) How Paul thinks about Heaven in a Systematic and meditative way; and (3) How Paul hones in on Heaven as the believer’s final, and future state prior to and as a result of Christ’s Second Coming.
Jon Laansma (PhD, University of Aberdeen; is Associate Professor of Ancient Languages and New Testament at Wheaton College) writes concerning how the 8 general canonical epistles (Hebrews, 1&2 Peter, James, Jude, 1-3 John) represent the distinctive perspectives on heaven by sketching out their primary concerns and contours with references to their pastoral intentions. He is very helpful in showing how the Christological elements of Heaven are tied to the practical concerns of Christians on Earth.
Andreas J. Kostenberger (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; is Professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) explores the distinctive contributions that John makes in his Gospel and the book of Revelation to helping us understand what Heaven is and what it is like.
Robert A. Peterson writes his second essay in this compilation on Pictures of Heaven that are portrayed throughout the Scriptures. Taking into consideration the story line of the Bible (creation–fall–redemption–consummation) Peterson demonstrates how the Bible is a picture book that sketches the gospel story of these four stages of the story line by using five pictures to illustrate the gospel: Heaven and Earth; Sabbath Rest; The Kingdom of God; The Presence of God; and The Glory of God. Peterson presents a masterful biblical theology of Heaven and ties it into the macro-storyline of the Gospel from Genesis to Revelation.
Gerald Bray (DLitt, University of Paris-Sorbonne; is Research Professor of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School) writes about two themes in his essay: (1) Heaven as Understood before the Coming of Christ; and (2) Heaven as Understood since the Coming of Christ.
Stephen F. Noll (PhD, University of Manchester; is Vice Chancellor Emeritus of Uganda Christian University) gives a biblical theology of angels (good and evil) and about their relationship to God and us in Heaven as revealed in the Scriptures.
Ajith Fernando (ThM, Fuller Theological Seminary; is Teaching Director of Youth For Christ in Sri Lanka) addresses how the reality of Heaven helps Christians who are being persecuted historically and in the present. He spends the bulk of his chapter showing how the “biblical foursome” of (1) Evangelism triggers (2) persecution. (3) The presence of Christ helps us bear the persecution and gives a foretaste of heaven. (4) The Heavenly vision helps us be faithful amidst persecution. Fernando reminds us the prospect of Heaven is a great motivation to be faithful in taking up our crosses and following Christ.
David B. Calhoun (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary; is Professor Emeritus of Covenant Theological Seminary) closes out the book by writing about his own struggle with cancer and how suffering and pictures of the hope of Heaven are crucial when going through the hard trials and tests of life.
All of the essays in this book were biblical; theologically thought-provoking; dealt with current practical scenarios; and were gospel centered and Christ exalting. I highly recommend this book for Christians who want to learn what the Bible has to say rather than much of the subjective drivel that is being churned over Heaven in many of the popular books of our day.
*I was furnished with a copy of this book for review by the publisher and was not required to write a favorable review.
All Christians throughout history have agreed, on the basis of Scripture, that baptism is important. Historically, baptism has not been understood to be an optional practice. It is commanded by God. But there has often been disagreement about whom baptism is for, how it should be done, and why it is significant. The dominant practice throughout church history has been to baptize infants by sprinkling or pouring water on them. In Catholic theology, this is done primarily to wash away original sin. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, however, baptism is understood primarily as the rite by which a baby or adult is joined to the church, the mystical body of Christ. Many forms of Protestantism also practice infant baptism, but they vary in their understanding as to what this practice accomplishes. For example, the theology of traditional Lutheran churches is similar to the Catholic understanding: Baptism washes away original sin. Presbyterian churches reject this understanding, however, believing instead that baptism is the means by which children are included in the covenant God made with his people, similar to what circumcision signified in the Old Testament.
Other forms of Protestantism believe baptism is reserved for people who have made a personal decision to believe in and follow Jesus. Some groups perform this ordinance by pouring water on a believer’s head, but most carry it out by immersing the person in water. Here, too, there is a variety of understandings. A few groups who practice adult baptism believe that baptism is God’s means of remitting sin in a believer’s life. Others hold to a more Presbyterian view, seeing it as the rite that publicly initiates a person into God’s covenant. The most prevalent understanding among those who practice adult baptism, however, is that it is an outward public testimony of God’s inward work. This is the most common view among Baptists. All of these issues are debated within evangelicalism, but the issue most debated is whether baptism should be performed on children of believing parents or only on people who have made their own decision to believe in and follow Jesus. Hence, this is the issue the two essays in this section address.
The Biblical Argument
Early on in church history, the church began to practice infant baptism. According to adherents of the believer’s baptism view, this was a mistake. Baptism is intended as the initiating rite into Christian discipleship and thus is intended only for people who are old enough to make a decision to believe in and obey Jesus Christ. Baptism is meaningless apart from a personal decision to follow Jesus. The New Testament supports this perspective. In contrast to the Old Testament, in which God entered into a covenant with an entire nation, in the New Testament, God’s covenant is with all believers. The class of those who are in covenant with God changed from a national class (the Jews) to a class of people who personally decide something (believers). Consequently, it made sense in the Old Testament to give the sign of the covenant (circumcision) to infants, since they were part of the nation with which God was covenanting. It makes no sense in regard to New Testament teaching, however, because God’s covenant is with believers, and infants cannot believe.
Throughout the New Testament, salvation is offered to and baptism is commanded of only people who can meet the conditions of repenting, believing, and obeying Jesus Christ. We see this even in the ministry of John the Baptist, who was preparing the way for Jesus Christ. Mark writes: “People from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him [John] and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:5, emphasis added). The ones who were baptized were the ones who confessed their sins. Infants, of course, cannot do this. Hence, there is no reason to suppose that infants were among those whom John baptized. The same may be said about the ministry of Jesus. Though Jesus did not personally baptize people (John 4:2), his message was essentially the same as John’s. “The kingdom of God has come near,” he taught, so people must “repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). What made a person a participant in the kingdom of God was his or her willingness to repent, believe, and obey the gospel. This is why Jesus’ disciples baptized only people who were old enough to be made disciples (John 4:1-2). The same point is reflected in Jesus’ Great Commission when he says, “Go … and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). Baptism was intended to be part of the process of making someone a disciple and makes sense only in the context of disciple-making. It was not intended for people too young to be taught and to decide whether they wanted to obey all that Jesus commanded.
The truth that baptism is a part of disciple-making becomes even more evident in the ministry of the earliest disciples. They obeyed Jesus’ command to make disciples and therefore to baptize and teach them. In the first sermon preached after the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost, Peter exclaimed: Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him. Acts 2:38-39 Whereas in the Old Testament it meant something to be born a Jew, as opposed to a Gentile, in the New Testament, the only thing that mattered was whether a person repented and submitted to Jesus Christ. This is why the sign of the covenant was different. In the Old Testament, the sign was given to any male born a Jew. In the New Testament, it was given only to those who were born again into Jesus Christ (John 3:5). Only if one repents of sin does baptism into Jesus Christ mean anything. It is true that in this passage Peter promises that the gift of the Holy Spirit is promised not only to adults but also to their children. Those who practice infant baptism argue on this basis that baptism must be administered to children of believing parents. This interpretation reads too much into the text, however. Peter goes on to say that the promise is “for all who are far away,” but no one believes Peter was suggesting that we should baptize all Gentiles. The promise is for them in the sense that God wants to pour out his Spirit on them (Acts 2:17). But they become recipients of the promise-and we should baptize them-only when they make a personal decision to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. This is why Peter immediately adds that the promise is for “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” It is not for everyone in general. It is for everyone who will repent and believe and thus for everyone whom God calls. The same holds true for Peter’s assertion that the promise is not only for adults but also for their children. God wants children to receive the Holy Spirit, but the promise is applied to them and we should baptize them only when they personally repent and believe. Baptism is an act of discipleship that can be entered into only by people old enough to be disciples. This is why every example of baptism in the New Testament involves a person old enough to decide to follow Christ. Never do we read about infants being baptized. For example, it was only after the Samaritans “believed Philip” as he preached the good news that “they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12). It was only after the Ethiopian eunuch embraced the good news about Jesus that he was baptized (Acts 8:35-38). The apostle Paul was baptized after he encountered Jesus and obeyed the heavenly vision (Acts 9:18). Peter commanded Cornelius and his household to be baptized only after he saw evidence of their faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 10:44-48). It was only after God opened Lydia’s heart and she believed that she and her household were baptized (Acts 16:14-15). And it was only after the disciples of John the Baptist accepted Paul’s teaching about Jesus that they were baptized “in the name of the Lord Jesus” and received the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:5-6). Without exception, baptism follows faith and constitutes the first act of discipleship made by a responsible person who has decided to follow Jesus. Defenders of infant baptism argue that the references in Acts to households being baptized suggest that infants were baptized along with adults (Acts 11:13-14; 16:15, 30-34; 18:8). There is no reason to assume this, however. While all servants were included in a “household” in the ancient Roman world, children generally were not. This seems to be Luke’s perspective, for in the same context in which he speaks about households being baptized, he speaks about households being taught, believing, and rejoicing (Acts 16:32, 34; 18:8). Finally, some of the meanings given to baptism in the New Testament imply that it is intended only for people old enough to be disciples. For example, Paul says that baptism shows that “our old self was crucified with [Christ]“ (Rom. 6:6) and that now we should “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Infants can hardly do so. Similarly, Peter says that baptism “now saves you” not as a literal washing “of dirt from the body” but “as an appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:2 1). But how can an infant have a good (or bad) conscience? Baptism should be administered only to those who are old enough to make a decision to die to sin, walk in a new life, and enjoy a good conscience before God.
The importance of discipleship. History testifies to the truth that infant baptism produces nominal, apathetic Christians. If someone is considered a Christian by virtue of being born to Christian parents (or in a Christian state), then the urgency of stepping out on one’s own and making the radical decision to follow Jesus is compromised. This is not to suggest that all Christians baptized as infants are passionless or that the practice of infant baptism causes one to be passionless. But this practice invariably tends in that direction, and for obvious reasons. By contrast, the practice of adult baptism forces each individual to make his or her own decision to follow Christ.
Responding to Objections
1. Scripture passages oppose this view. Paedobaptists point to several clusters of texts that they believe support their practice. For example, they often point to the New Testament practice of “household” baptism. But as already shown, these passages do not require or even suggest that infants were baptized. Some try to support infant baptism on the basis of Paul’s statement that children are “sanctified” by believing parents (1 Cor. 7:14). But this passage says nothing about baptism. Paul is simply claiming that children are “set apart” -namely, for a unique godly influence-when their parents believe. Finally, some try to support infant baptism on the basis of Jesus’ practice of accepting and blessing little children (e.g., Mark 10:14-16). But again, this passage says nothing about baptism. Of course Jesus loved and accepted children! But he never tried to make disciples out of them. Why should we suppose, therefore, that he would approve of baptizing them?
2. This view ignores the continuity of the old and new covenants. Some argue that believer’s baptism ignores the continuity between the old and new covenants in general and their signs-circumcision and baptism-in particular. Admittedly, the covenant concept does connect the Old and New Tetaments, and the Abrahamic covenant is fulfilled in the new covenant. However, those who baptize infants have failed to see the decisive shift in the new covenant as it relates to the fulfillment of Abraham’s promise. It is no longer a genetic connection that determines a child of Abraham but rather the conscious act of faith. Paul makes this unequivocally clear: Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed (Galatians 3:6-9). God’s elect people are no longer a nationality. They are a people who do something, namely, believe. Hence, while the sign of belonging to the covenantal community could be given to physical newborns under the old covenant, it should be reserved for spiritual newborns under the new covenant.
3. This view has been influenced by modern individualism. Some argue that the practice of believer’s baptism has been unduly influenced by Western individualism, which rejects the biblical view of familial corporateness within the saved community. In the Bible, it is argued, infants of covenant keepers were regarded as members of the covenant because people in biblical times, unlike people today, did not define individuals apart from their association with a community. In reply, it is not Western individualism that drives the believer’s baptism position. Rather, it is the New Testament’s concept of personal salvation. Each individual must be “born from above” just as each individual must be born from the womb (John 3:3-6). Believers are to belong to and be mutually defined by their involvement in the community of God’s covenantal people, but first they must individually decide to become disciples. According to New Testament teaching, the first act of obedience they perform as disciples is to be baptized.
4. This view runs counter to church tradition. Finally, the believer’s baptism position is often rejected on the grounds that it runs counter to the majority view throughout church history. Two things must be said in response. First, evangelicals cannot appeal to church tradition to settle an issue. The affirmation of sola scriptura means that Scripture is the sole authority on matters of faith and practice. Christians should not easily set aside traditional perspectives, but they can and must do so if traditional views disagree with Scripture. Second, while it is true that the infant baptism view has been the primary perspective throughout church history, it is also true that there is no explicit evidence of infant baptism until the second century and no evidence that it was dominant until much later. This is plenty of time for an aberration of Christian practice and theology to take place. Indeed, most evangelicals would agree that the dominant theology of baptism was becoming aberrant by the mid-second century, because Christians at this time were increasingly holding that baptism literally washed away sin and was necessary for salvation, a view almost all evangelicals reject.
*Article authored by Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy. Adapted from Chapter 14: “Baptism and Christian Discipleship (The Believer’s Baptism View) in the Book Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002.
Book Review: Greg Forster’s “Joy For The World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It
Renewing Your Vision for Cultural Change
Book Review By Dr. David P. Craig
As a Senior Pastor one of the most difficult challenges I’ve faced over the years is how to keep and shepherd a flock in holiness and influence the world without being contaminated by it at the same time. Tim Keller is a pastor who has been able to do both. Tim writes the forward to this book and his own churches vision statement is as follows: “We at Redeemer Church (Manhattan, New York) seek to build a great city for all people through a gospel movement that brings about personal conversion, community formation, social justice, and cultural renewal in New York City and the world.”
What Dr. Forster does in this book is show how this type of vision is desperately needed in the Western Church today. He shows historically how churches in Europe and America were once the primary influencers in culture and how that now they are more influenced by the culture than influencing culture. Forster’s knowledge of history and theology allows him to make penetrating insights into how Christianity has lost ground in influencing society, and yet offers hope in how to turn this paradigm around.
According to Forster the “exilic challenge of the Israelites in Babylon is the permanent state of the New Testament church. If so, we should consider the Lord’s instructions to His people during the Babylonian Exile: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). Forster uses this passage as a stepping stone to develop the idea of “whole-life” discipleship which encompasses the walls inside and outside of our churches. He forges practical ways and examples to penetrate our communities with the gospel in the context of our families, workplace, educationally, socially, and politically.
In the final analysis Forster has written a book that is especially helpful for Christians and Churches that have become “ingrown”, “inward-focused,” “isolated,” and “self-absorbed.” He gleans principles from the Bible and the Reformation that are particularly helpful in getting the Church back on track in the balancing act that is theologically deep and practically relevant. I highly recommend this book for pastors, lay-leaders, and Christians of all stripes that seek to become ambassadors for Christ who make a difference in our communities and in our world for our joy and God’s glory.
What Is True Wellness?
This is a guest post by Dr. John Dunlop. He is the author of Wellness to the Glory of God: Living Well after 40 with Joy and Contentment in All of Life. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014. Article adapted from: http://www.crossway.org/blog/2014/09/what-is-true-wellness/
Will I Be Well at Age 95?
Henry came to his appointment huffing and puffing using his walker to get down the hall. I, as his physician, shook his hand and asked, “How is it going my friend?” Smiling he gave me a strong handshake and said, “Praise the Lord, I’m well, thank you!”
As pleased as I was to hear his response, it caught me just a bit off guard. I was 65; he was 95! I found myself wanting to feel just as well in 30 years. All kinds of questions began to pop into my mind:
Can we truly be well at 95, even when short of breath and using our walkers?
Will I be able to say I’m well if I am still on earth at that age?
What can I do now to increase the chance of being well in thirty years?
The Concept of Shalom
The ancient Hebrews contribute to our understanding of wellness by their use of the word shalom. Whereas shalom is often loosely translated as “peace,” the true meaning is far more extensive. At root, shalom means “totality.” It is the sense of wholeness we have when every part of our lives is in a profound harmony and unity within ourselves, with those around us, and with God. Shalom leads to wellness.
Where do we find the integrating principle that brings all of our lives together? Once again the ancient Jews had the correct answer. The famous Shema of Israel says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:4-5). We are to be a people of one God. This must be more than something we recite for we need to have him as our single focus and see all other areas of life brought together in him. We are to love him with all of our hearts, souls, and might.
Our love for God is well illustrated in the Scriptures:
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise You. (Psalm 63:1-3)
We learn to love God with all of our beings and then find in him our fulfillment and greatest joy. In God we find what we need to be satisfied. We experience shalom through shema and that sets us on the way to true wellness.
All to the Glory of God
And yet while loving God and loving other people are wonderful—and may help us reach our ultimate purpose—they are not that ultimate purpose in themselves. To attain that ultimate goal we must go one level deeper.
Our overriding purpose in life should be to glorify God. We bring God glory in three distinct ways.
First, he is glorified in our own spirits as we find greater joy and fulfillment in him.
Second, others may give him glory as a result of something we do for them that reflects God’s love and goodness.
Third, God is glorified in his own being through our worship as we declare how much we treasure him. The apostle Paul speaks of Christians as being “the aroma of Christ to God” (2 Cor. 2:15). It is difficult to understand fully but in some way we remind God of the sacrifice of his beloved son, Jesus, and in that he is greatly pleased.
Living with a passion for God and his glory will have the following results:
(1) It will free us from worry and anxiety as we will be less focused on ourselves
(2) We will function out of a sense of fullness, not emptiness
(3) It will energize us and ignite us with passion
(4) We will fulfill our true purpose, find our niche, feel at home, and be content
(5) We will do things with eternal impact
(6) We will experience wellness in its truest sense
6 Areas of Wellness
In order to have this unified focus on God and his glory in our lives we must carefully review each area of our lives to see what changes are needed. These areas include:
(1) Physical: Are we being good stewards of the bodies he has entrusted to us? This includes eating well, controlling our weight, exercising, getting proper rest, and taking advantage of the good medical care available to us.
(2) Mental: As age approaches it is increasingly important to keep using and sharpening our minds. Dementia may intervene but even that offers opportunities for God to be glorified.
(3) Social: Relationships are more important as we get older and we need to ensure that we’re making the best of them. It’s critical that we choose a living situation where we will not be isolated but can continue to build close friendships while strengthening our family relationships.
(4) Financial: Are our finances worry-free? Rarely can we increase our resources but we can often limit our expenses. We must be good stewards of the resources God has given us, saving to meet our future needs, and leaving room to be generous.
(5) Spiritual: Our later years offer rich opportunities for spiritual growth and service. Some of the fruit of the Spirit like patience and gentleness may be late bloomers. All believers, no matter their age, are given spiritual gifts through which they can help others. Our abilities may change over the years but there will always be need for prayer and encouragement for others.
(6) Emotional: Are we learning to be content? That must exist in three tenses: we must be comfortable with the past, satisfied in the present, and confident of the future. As age advances depression is all too common and we must learn to effectively deal with that.
Once we get to Henry’s age it’s unreasonable to think that we will continue to be totally well in each of these areas. But, if we review each of them and carefully take stock of where we are now,we can make some corrections that will maximize the chance of true wellness as our lives progress.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
John Dunlop (MD, Johns Hopkins University) practices medicine in Zion, Illinois, and serves as an adjunct professor at Trinity International University. He is board certified in geriatrics, holds a master’s degree in bioethics, and is a fellow of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity. Dunlop is the author of Finishing Well to the Glory of God: Strategies from a Christian Physician and Wellness to the Glory of God: Living Well after 40 with Joy and Contentment in All of Life. Both published by Crossway Books.