Commendation by Chris Watkin for The Good Life in the Last Days

I asked Chris Watkin (author of Thinking Through Creation: Genesis 1 and 2 as Tools of Cultural Critique) to read  and consider writing a commendation for my first book The Good Life in the Last Days: Making Choices When the Time Is Short. I was pretty amazed and flattered when this is what he sent back:

If you are a Christian with a pulse in today’s world then you will almost certainly feel the pull of competing responsibilities. God, ministry, family, work and leisure all place claims upon us that can easily leave us with feelings of frustration and failure. There is no shortage of books addressing this near-universal condition of modern life, but few of them can match the combination of biblical wisdom, practical roadworthiness and suspicion of easy answers that we find in Mikey Lynch’s The Good Life in the Last Days: Making Choices When the Time is Short.

Lynch  provides a valuable service by showing us the inadequacy of many of our current models for coping with multiple demands. Surely the answer is to erect a hierarchy of obligation with God first, spouse second, work third, isn’t it? Not so, argues Lynch. Such a neat schema fails the test of real-life complexity. Let’s try another one. If we feel beset with competing duties, then perhaps we simply fail to realise that they are united in the one overarching obligation to love and obey God. To be sure, Lynch agrees, God’s demand on us not simply one among others, and in all our duties we are serving God. But that neat theological move does not solve all our Monday morning questions or tell us how to respond to the latest email. How about this one: If we really believed the gospel, surely we would spend all our lives evangelising, wouldn’t we? Lynch takes this idea and other like it—ideas that circulate widely in evangelical circles and that hold a prima facie common-sense plausibility—and holds them up to the light of the Bible, unfolding a response that begins with the disarmingly circumspect but insightful observation that “God’s Word does not quite put it that way”.

This book’s persistent suspicion of evangelical commonplaces is a helpful corrective for thinking Christians, but  The Good Life in the Last Days is not just about questioning received wisdom. In the final three chapters Lynch offers his own biblical, practical advice for ordering our lives, following the eminently memorisable schema of understanding who we are, when we are and where we are.

Lynch’s approach is not only biblical but also well-read. According a clear priority to the direct witness of Scripture he also draws deeply from the well of Christian tradition, always wearing his erudition with a welcome lightness. Readers will encounter a broad range of theologians and writers, from contemporaries such as Christopher Ash, Oliver O’Donovan, John Piper and Stanley Hauerwas, through Lewis and Chesterton to Augustine, Aquinas and John Calvin. The book is not short on popular cultural references either, drawing on films such as The Martian and La La Land. As he weaves in and out of these different references, Lynch brings his own distinctive note of reflective, biblical balance, careful to weigh alternative views before arriving at his own conclusion and mindful not to let any single biblical truth detach itself from the context of the whole of Scripture. This exemplary mode of argument situates Lynch in that great tradition of evangelical thinking epitomised in the writing of John Stott.

Lynch’s own experience as an AFES staff-worker ensures that his writing is never far from the coalface of day-to-day ministry,  and it is evident on every page that the author of this book is not a “desk theologian” but a “field theologian”. The Good Life in the Last Days is full of wisdom for ministers and lay Christians alike.

Dr Christopher Watkin, Senior Lecturer, Monash University.

Mirrors 30th March 2018

  1. A clever little video ‘Give Nothing to Racism’
  2. An article insightful and alarming… But also disappointingly one-sided and unsatisfying.
  3. Bill Hybels accused of sexual misconduct 🙁
  4. David Mitchell: what my son’s autism diagnosis has taught me.
  5. Powerful and important article by Andy Crouch: It’s time to reckon with celebrity power.
  6. Annoying clickbait title but awesome podcast episode from
  7. This interview with Peter Jensen about Billy Graham from The Pastor’s Heart is also priceless.
  8. We’ve started reading Paul Tripp’s A Dangerous Calling with our staff and it’s been kind of annoying me. These Reformation 21 and Themelios reviews captures my negative reactions well.
  9. Children’s ministry installs bin outside church building for kids craft 😛

 

Book Excerpt: Blessing in the Christian Life

An excerpt from The Good Life in the Last Days by Mikey Lynch

The psalmists appeal to the Lord in the midst of their suffering and confidently ask for blessing. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we see that this was a pattern of suffering-before-blessing, which foreshadows what the great suffering king Jesus would experience. So Jesus experiences the suffering of the psalms (for example John 13:18 and 19:24) and their hope of blessing is fulfilled in him too (for example Luke 23:46 and Acts 2:21-32).

What does that mean for us as Christians? Firstly, we are blessed because of Jesus’ death for us.Jesus’ suffering had greater meaning than that of the psalmists, because he suffered on behalf of his people, as a substitutionary sacrifice.1 Because our king has suffered for us and has now been blessed in his resurrection and ascension, we enjoy the great blessings that flow from this. In particular, the blessing of peace with God, the guarantee of eternal blessings and the ability to enjoy these blessings are all ours by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (see Romans 5:1-11). We have the best blessings of all in Christ!

Secondly, just as the pattern for Christ was suffering before glory, so also for Christians, we expect to suffer in this life, with the sure hope of eternal blessing in the age to come. This is our Father’s good purpose, so we can rejoice in the strange blessing it is to suffer for the sake of Christ and grow in our faith through suffering, as we explored in chapter 4. As Peter writes:

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Pet 2:21-23)

Because true blessing is a ‘full package’, Christians look for the blessing that comes from a right relationship with God. And since he has revealed to us that these are the last days, we want to enjoy blessings in line with being a part of his purposes: even though this brings with it struggling and hardship. The promises of physical blessing, like those given to Israel in the Sinai covenant, are not offered to Christians in this life, as if the normal Christian life will be one of physical health, economic prosperity and political triumph. Rather the pattern of the Christian life, like that of Christ’s, is spiritual blessing together with physical suffering in this life, followed by physical blessing at the final resurrection.

Thirdly, this doesn’t mean we won’t ever enjoy good things in this life, or that we shouldn’t. In a few places, Psalms is quoted to talk about the physical blessing that Christians can enjoy in this life. In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul quotes Psalm 112 and applies it to Christians:

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures for ever.”

Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. (2 Cor 9:8-11)

Christians can normally expect to receive good gifts from God—both physical and spiritual—that we can use in generous service of his kingdom and love of others. In the same way, the apostle Peter quotes the promise of blessing found in Psalm 34, reassuring his readers “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” (1 Pet 3:9-13). The blessing of the psalm still applies to Christians, according to Peter, and this remains true even though, as Peter and his readers know too well, Christians often suffer all kinds of trials. Straight after suggesting that no harm will come to them, Peter goes on to say, “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed” (3:14).

It is true that the new covenant doesn’t have the same promise of abundant physical blessing in this life that the Sinai covenant had. But even in the ‘last days’ we find ourselves in, the blessing we have in God is so good and the hope we have in him is so sure, that when we experience any blessing and joy from the Lord, we are experiencing things the way they should be—and one day will be. It is good and fitting to suffer now, but this is not because suffering itself is good, but because this is the right thing in the last days. It is good and fitting for us to use the things of this world lightly, not because the things of this world are bad, but because this world in its present form is passing away. When we suffer and do without, we are recognizing that this world is fallen, cursed and passing away. But when we enjoy good things, we are recognizing that this fallen, temporary world is still God’s creation and will one day be made new and enjoyed more wonderfully than Adam and Eve could ever have done.2

Footnotes

1. It’s curious on first reading how many psalms about the personal suffering of the king end not just with hope for personal blessing for the king, but expectation of blessings for God’s people and God’s land and even the whole world (e.g. Pss 22:25-3151:18-1969:34-36). This is because when God’s king is rescued and blessed he can bring blessing to those he rules over. Unlike Jesus, however, their suffering itself is not a mechanism that brings blessing to others.

2. “The great difference between Stoic and Christian renunciation is this: for the Stoic, what is renounced is, if rightly renounced… not part of the good. For the Christian, what is renounced is thereby affirmed as good—both in the sense that the renunciation would lose its meaning if the thing were indifferent and in the sense that the renunciation is in furtherance of God’s will, which precisely affirms the goodness of the kinds of things renounced: health, freedom, life. Paradoxically, Christian renunciation is an affirmation of the goodness of what is renounced. …In the Christian perspective… the loss is a breach in the integrity of the good. That is why Christianity requires an [end time] perspective of the restoral of that integrity” (Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1989, p. 219).

Mirrors 23rd March 2018

  1. Great blog post about the history of campus minsitry at the University of Arkansas. But check out those 1983 outfits and hairdos!
  2. At Citywide last Thursday, there was a question about answered prayer. In this sermon, that I delivered at Campus Bible Study in UNSW last year, I explore this question — from 26 minutes.

  3. My recent sermon on the introduction and epilogue to Proverbs

  4. There is a God, he is personal, he is inter-personal and he speaks to us (plus Q&A)

  5. Living in the Light of the End: 4 sermons on 1Corinthians by me from MYC 2017 in Tasmania

  6. "In Christian ministry our ‘Values’ are central to the goal of our Mission and Vision… In our preaching each week we get to establish our Values, so we don’t depend on catchy Values Statements". Andrew Heard on strategic documents.

Mirrors 16th March 2018

  1. @managertools community’s list of recommended business books
  2. Rory Shiner's little (and overdue) review for @TGC_Au of the @collinhansen edited book Our Secular Age: Ten Years of Reading and Applying Charles Taylor. 
  3. Great sermon on Christian marriage by my older brother
  4. @TonyJPayne interviews Kara Hartley on Domestic Violence on the @C4CL podcast
  5. Good public speaking tips, especially for those whose public speaking voice is unnatural.
  6. You can read a sample of my book online in a PDF viewer here
  7. Great idea from @citybibleforum ’s Wil Longbottom: do a Google-autocomplete event: Does Jesus…, Is the Bible… 

Mirrors 9th March 2018

  1. Free Cru eBook for fostering student leadership.
  2. Something very Christian in this admiring review of The National's latest album. Nikki and I were blessed to be able to go and see them play at the Sydney Opera House a few weeks ago. 'Consistency is not boring. Consistency is a miracle, a small act of defiance against entropy…. There’s a reason anniversary cards say things like “All these years later, I still love you.”’ It’s because the miracle isn’t in the “love,” it’s in the “still.” The National offer testimony to something we don’t often celebrate: Enduring is a superpower of its own.'
  3. My seminar on "pushing on when growth is slow" from @genevapush #multiply16
  4. Gospel Coalition Australia's review of Chris Watkin's Thinking Through Creation
  5. A great story from a good friend about experiencing mental illness and supporting those who struggle 
  6.  @kevindeyoung7 on writing Christians books and getting published
  7. What's your favourite nickname for the 'commercial at'?

Adulteress in Proverbs: agency, invitation & the eros of learning

I preached on Proverbs 1–9 at our Uni Fellowship of Christians Pre-Season Conference last week and it got me thinking about the recurring warnings against the adulteress. It’s a major theme in Proverbs and jars against my sensibilities. Why is the woman being blamed for sexual sin? Aren’t men to blame? Aren’t men more to blame?

A couple of thoughts:

Proverbs is a feminine book… so the adulteress fits this theme

Although the main speaker and listener is a father and son: the teaching of Proverbs frames its vision of wisdom around feminine character. Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly are women. The epilogue presents us with the Wife of Noble Character (who is possibly the image of a home and a life built with Lady Wisdom). In this sense, it fits well to cast other characters as women.

That’s not to say that all the characters are women: we meet the drunkard, the sluggard and the mocker and others who are male characters. But it is to say that there is a certain genre logic to a major female characters throughout.

Adultery becomes a vivid case study of all temptation

Within this frame, adultery is not focussed on as if it is the worst sin. Rather, the adulteress is a vivid case study of the nature of all tempation. Ryan O’Dowd writes:

I readily acknowledge that Proverbs is interested in issues of human sexuality. But I’m concerned is that many readers have never understood the larger role of the feminine motif and the way it imbues the whole book with what we might call the eros of human learning—becoming wise means orientating our deepest human desires to a particular way of loving and learning. The man’s sexual impulse serves as a metaphor for learning as a whole.

I think that’s really helpful, don’t you? It encourages me, as the preacher, to also apply much of the extended descriptions and warnings about adultery in Proverbs to other “lusts”:

  • of romance and intimacy – but with the wrong person
  • the temptation of drunkenness or drugs
  • or the delicious pleasure of gossip and meanness
  • or the lust for power in the in-group, the Dean’s List, the HD, the student union politics
  • greed for money, travel, food, clothes, freedom
  • the pride in knowledge, being sophisticated

All of these can be alluring, attractive secretive, seemingly free of consequence… and yet all of them draw us away from godly contentment and into ruin.

Men are responsibly for not accepting the invitation of the adulteress

It is also worth pointing out that the warnings in Proverbs are not written to rebuke would-be adulteresses and prostitutes. Proverbs is a book that often talks about women… but addressing men. Even the Wife of Noble Character is first of all presented to us as one that men should praise and trust in.

And so here, the warnings are for men to not sin by accepting the tempting invitations of the adulteress. Men are the responsible ones for their own desires and sins. They can’t blame their sin on her looks, clothes, scent or wily words. They are responsible. They should avoid her. They should focus their sexual passions in the right place.

And yet at the same time, Proverbs also demonstrates feminine sexual agency… include sinful agency:

Agency, invitation and victimhood

The adulteress has power. The power of sexual desirability and persuasive words. She has the power to harness male sexual desire to her own ends and to their ruin. In this sense is active, full of agency and responsible.

Her agency here is the agency of invitation. And where this invitation is accepted with her consent she is complicit in the sin. Even if there are also larger social structures at work, social structures rarely totally remove our agency and responsibility. They mitigate, but don’t erase our moral culpability. So this is not a case of ‘victim blaming’.

If a man is the initiator and the sexual advance is unwanted (or the extent of the sexual advance is unwanted) then he is to blame. He deserves not only the rebuke of the one who engages in adultery, but also the rebuke of the ‘violent man’. We could go further and recognise that where there is lack of clarity about who is to blame, we must not default to blaming the women — because of her sex, her clothing or anything else.

The risk of unintended invitation (..?!?)

A final issue that Proverbs indirectly rasies for us is a very muddy one… and should not be considered without regular return to the previous paragraph (beginning “If a man…”).

But Proverbs portrays the power of sexual invitation and the various things. Consider for example chapter 7:

6 At the window of my house
I looked down through the lattice.
7 I saw among the simple,
I noticed among the young men,
a youth who had no sense.
8 He was going down the street near her corner,
walking along in the direction of her house
9 at twilight, as the day was fading,
as the dark of night set in.

10 Then out came a woman to meet him,
dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent.
11 (She is unruly and defiant,
her feet never stay at home;
12 now in the street, now in the squares,
at every corner she lurks.)
13 She took hold of him and kissed him
and with a brazen face she said:

14 “Today I fulfilled my vows,
and I have food from my fellowship offering at home.
15 So I came out to meet you;
I looked for you and have found you!
16 I have covered my bed
with colored linens from Egypt.
17 I have perfumed my bed
with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon.
18 Come, let’s drink deeply of love till morning;
let’s enjoy ourselves with love!
19 My husband is not at home;
he has gone on a long journey.
20 He took his purse filled with money
and will not be home till full moon.”

21 With persuasive words she led him astray;
she seduced him with her smooth talk.
22 All at once he followed her
like an ox going to the slaughter,
like a deer[a] stepping into a noose
23     till an arrow pierces his liver,
like a bird darting into a snare,
little knowing it will cost him his life.

Words, clothes, perfume, food, timing… all of these things are powerful cultural and biological forces which can attract and tempt. They can be deliberately used to draw someone into sin. They can be deliberately used to draw someone in with the promise of sinful pleasure and then to manipulate them in other ways.

And they can be somewhat accidentally used. A woman might foolishly or naïvely send off cultural and biological signals that could be misinterpreted as an invitation. Because these ‘signals’ can have an meaning contrary to the intention of the woman. It is good for us all be aware of this for any number of reasons, including:

  • men must be wise and sensitive to the fact that these nonverbal signals can be misunderstood and so not make assumptions,
  • women can be more alert to accidentally sending nonverbal signals and so spare somethemlves some misunderstanding.

But of course it remains true that the path of adultery is wrong anyway: whether a man is right or wrong in reading the signals, he shouldn’t go down that path. If a woman is considering deliberately giving an invitation she should not. And of course, if a man wrongly interprets the signals and pursues a perceived invitation against the consent of the woman he is doubly guilt, both for adultery and for violence.

Tricky stuff : keen to hear your thoughts?

About Xian Reflections

Xian Reflections is written by Mikey Lynch.

Mikey graduated from the University of Tasmania with a Bachelor of Arts in 2002. In 2000 he became one of the founding leaders of Crossroads Presbyterian Church where he was the lead pastor for 7 years from 2003.

Mikey now works as the Campus Director of the University Fellowship of Christians, University of Tasmania, Hobart. Mikey is the chairman of The Vision 100 Network (Tasmania) and a founding director of Geneva Push (national) – both church planting networks. He is also a chaplain at Jane Franklin Hall and the chairman of New Front Door: the Church IT Guild.