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What Is True Wellness?

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This is a guest post by 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.


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:

  • It will free us from worry and anxiety as we will be less focused on ourselves
  • We will function out of a sense of fullness, not emptiness
  • It will energize us and ignite us with passion
  • We will fulfill our true purpose, find our niche, feel at home, and be content
  • We will do things with eternal impact
  • 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.

September 16, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Life / Doctrine,Sanctification,The Christian Life | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:15 am | 0 Comments »

Christ in All of Scripture – Proverbs 31

 

Proverbs 31:25-30

“Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
‘Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.’
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”


The book of Proverbs concludes with a family scene both impressive and heartwarming. At the center of this ideal family is a strong woman of wide-ranging capabilities, fully involved in the challenges of life. The glowingly positive message here is that “a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Prov. 31:30). The word “praise” occurs three times in verses 28–31, setting an overall tone of encouragement in this home. The children rise up in respect and speak well of their mother (Prov. 31:28). The husband, never a faultfinder, gently praises her for her outstanding qualities (Prov. 31:8). This remarkable woman gives herself diligently to her family and her community (Prov. 31:10–27), and her family communicates how they admire her (Prov. 31:28–31). This wise family sees through the false glories that inevitably disappoint: “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain” (Prov. 31:30). Their mother, who “has devoted herself to every good work” (1 Tim. 5:10), embodies the godly wisdom of her entire family.

Clearly, the life of wisdom is not just for Sunday, but for every aspect of life. It is not austere and grim, but attractive with a sincere enjoyment that flows from one human heart to another. Best of all, the life of wisdom will matter forever. When we are with the Lord in heaven above, we will find that our deeds will have followed us, transformed by his grace into eternal blessing (Rev. 14:13).

But “who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16). We are not. Even the “excellent wife” of Proverbs 31 is not sufficient in herself, but she “fears the Lord” (Prov. 31:30). Her ultimate regard is not for her beauty, goodness, or accomplishment, but for the One who provides for her every need and loved one (cf. Prov. 1:1–7). We are prepared by such an example to remember that God must make us sufficient for what we face and for what he requires. Ultimately, in Christ, he does so. What he commands, he also gives. Therefore, we may receive his counsels in the book of Proverbs with this wonderful assurance: “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5).


This series of posts pairs a brief passage of Scripture with associated study notes drawn from the Gospel Transformation Bible. For more information about the Gospel Transformation Bible, please visit GospelTransformationBible.org.

 

September 15, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Bible News,Gospel Transformation Bible,Life / Doctrine,The Christian Life | Author: Lizzy Jeffers @ 8:48 am | 0 Comments »

5 Lessons from Shakespeare’s Hamlet

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This is a guest post by Leland Ryken. He is the author of Crossway’s Christian Guides to the Classics series.


“The Most Interesting Play Ever Written”

When we speak of what we can learn from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, we immediately place the focus on the content of the play rather than its form. I do not feel this to be an unwelcome constraint at all, but it is important that we be aware that we have excluded half of what is important about one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays.

Shakespeare scholars have been lavish in their praise of Hamlet. One of them called Hamlet “the most interesting play ever written” (a verdict with which I concur). C. S. Lewis replied to the putdown by T. S. Eliot that Hamlet “is most certainly an artistic failure” with the retort that “if this is failure, then failure is better than success.”

While some of this praise relates to the formal aspects of the play, some of it also stems from the content of the play and lessons that we can learn from it.

1. The Mystery of Human Experience

Someone has said regarding Hamlet that “there has been a debate on every minute in the play.” One rainy afternoon as I sat in the caverns of the University of Oregon library, I came to the conclusion that a play with this many unanswered questions must be about the mystery of human experience. Imagine my delight when I found this view corroborated by none other than C. S. Lewis: Hamlet “is a mysterious play in the sense of being about mystery.”

What do we learn from Hamlet? One answer is that along with the certainties that we embrace as Christians, there is much about human experience in this life that remains elusive. As Deuteronomy 29:29 states, “The secret things belong of the Lord our God.” Hamlet reminds us that we are not God and do not know everything.

2. The Tragedy of Life in a Fallen World

The question of whether Shakespeare was a Christian writer is usually made to rest on whether or not his plays offer an optimistic view of life. I have never been satisfied with this, and my heart therefore leaped when I saw an essay entitled “Christian Pessimism in King Lear.” Christianity delivers a “bad news” message as well as a “good news” message.

Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s most pessimistic plays, and as such it delivers the Christian message that in a fallen world reality often fails to match the ideal. A partial list of human experiences held up for our contemplation in Hamlet is as follows: death, grief, loneliness, cruelty, despair, insanity, loss of meaning in life, breakdown of relationships, and the corruption of the basic institutions of life (including state and family). Hamlet confirms the pessimistic half of the Christian faith.

3. Human Depravity

Flannery O’Connor once wrote the following statement, which immediately registered itself permanently in my memory: “Drama usually bases itself on the bedrock of original sin.” O’Connor added that the Christian storyteller “is distinguished from his pagan colleagues by recognizing sin as sin.”

The imagery of disease permeates Hamlet, and this is one of many ways in which Shakespeare forces us to confront the reality of human fallenness. The worst villain of all is King Claudius, but not even Hamlet escapes the taint of sin as he becomes infected with the falsity and cruelty of the court.

What is the edification of viewing this spectacle of human depravity? The same that comes from reading the Bible: it spares us from false consolations and the illusion that humanity is good enough when left to its own resources.

4. Human Suffering

Early in my career studying and writing about the Bible as literature I ran across a brief list of what a secular scholar found to be the leading subjects in the literature of the Bible. One of the items was “the frequent note of suffering.” That statement, too, stuck with me. In the annals of English literature, perhaps no work has shone the spotlight more clearly on the experience of human suffering than Hamlet. Hamlet himself is the chief sufferer, but no one escapes suffering in the play.

Among the evocative formulas that critics have applied to Hamlet is one that speaks of how Shakespeare built the play on the template of “the agonies of baffled humanity.” What lesson does Hamlet teach? That “in the world you will have tribulation” (a statement by Jesus recorded in John 16:33).

5. The Consolation of Providence

All of the foregoing is decidedly negative (though no less Christian for being such). I will note in passing that (as C. S. Lewis correctly observed) no author is obliged to cover the whole territory in every work. Nonetheless, Shakespeare wrote a play that moves beyond tragedy, and he did so by springing a surprise ending on us in the play’s last act.

In act 5, Hamlet, who has made a general nuisance of himself to everyone at the Danish court, becomes transformed into a model of Christian fortitude. There are several dimensions to this, but the primary one is that Hamlet comes to see the terrible events of recent days through the lens of divine providence. After failing to “set [the world] right” (1.5.192), Hamlet resigns himself to God’s ability to direct human affairs.

There are two key speeches on this theme. In one of them, Hamlet tells his confidant Horatio, “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, / Rough-hew them how we will” (5.2.10-11). The metaphor in this statement is God as sculptor, refining what humans can only “rough-hew,” that is, make a feeble attempt at carving.

In the second speech Hamlet alludes to Jesus’s evocative statement in Matthew 10:28-31 that God’s providential control extends even to the fall of a sparrow to the ground. Hamlet expresses the sentiment that “there is special providence in the fall of a sparrow” (5.2.197-198). No doubt I will surprise some people by saying that I enjoy reading the last act of Hamlet as a good “devotional read” on the subject of providence.


Leland Ryken (PhD, University of Oregon) served as professor of English at Wheaton College for over 43 years. He has authored or edited over three dozen books, is a frequent speaker at the Evangelical Theological Society, and served as literary stylist for the English Standard Version. His Christian Guides to the Classics series includes Homer’s The OdysseyMilton’s Paradise LostShakespeare’s MacbethShakespeare’s Hamlet, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet LetterDickens’s Great ExpectationsBunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, and The Devotional Poetry of Donne, Herbert, and Milton.

September 12, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Culture,Life / Doctrine,The Arts,The Christian Life | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:15 am | 0 Comments »

Was Shakespeare a Christian Writer?

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This is a guest post by Leland Ryken. He is the author of Crossway’s Christian Guides to the Classics series.


The Myth of a Secular Shakespeare

The myth of the secular Shakespeare continues to cast a long shadow over many people’s perception of Shakespeare’s plays. For many years I assumed that, despite certain Christian patterns and occasional biblical allusions, Shakespeare’s plays were broadly humanistic in their intellectual allegiance.

I look back with regret at the missed opportunities represented by the years in which I downplayed the Christian elements that are present in Shakespeare’s plays. For me Shakespeare has become a treasured Christian writer.

Defining Terms

I make no claim to know Shakespeare’s state of soul in life and death. When I speak of Shakespeare as a Christian writer, I am looking at the plays that he wrote. Here the primary source of data is the intellectual and moral allegiance of his plays, supplemented by certain aspects of literary form such as biblical allusions and imitation of biblical genres.

The best terminology to use when we identify a Christian element in a literary work is to say that the work intersects with the Christian faith at one or more levels—ideas, moral vision, allusions, or simply the human experiences that are portrayed (such as prayer or church life).

Shakespeare in His Cultural Context

While the ultimate court of appeal for claiming a Christian allegiance in Shakespeare’s plays is the texts themselves, certain cultural considerations should predispose us to find Christian elements. The external facts regarding Shakespeare’s religious life are known. Shakespeare was baptized and raised in Holy Trinity Church, the Anglican church in Stratford-upon-Avon. The curriculum and daily routine at the local grammar school were saturated with Christian elements.

Church attendance during Shakespeare’s day was compulsory, and the people who attended Shakespeare’s plays were parishioners. Even scholars who deny that Shakespeare was a Christian writer acknowledge that there is absolutely no evidence that Shakespeare was fined for non-attendance at church. He is known to have attended several churches in London during his years as a playwright and actor. So we know where Shakespeare was on Sunday mornings—he was in church.

For several years Shakespeare rented a room in the home of a devout Huguenot family on Sliver Street in London. There he would have heard the Bible read daily. When Shakespeare retired to Stratford, he became a lay rector (also called lay reader) in the local Anglican church. On the strength of that, he was buried in the front of Holy Trinity Church near the altar at a time when most people were buried in the surrounding churchyard.

It is indisputable that Shakespeare lived in a society that was thoroughly Christian in its worldview and daily practices. The Bible was not only the best selling book of the day—it was also the most talked about book.

What Counts as Evidence?

If we ask what counts as evidence for claiming the Christian allegiance for Shakespeare’s plays, the answer is the same as with any other author. I propose that the following is a reliable grid for identifying points at which Shakespeare’s plays intersect with the Christian faith:

  1. explicit allusions to the Bible or Christian documents like the Book of Common Prayer
  2. congruence of ideas in a play with Christian doctrines
  3. correspondence of the view of reality embodied in the plays with the biblical view of reality
  4. portrayal of Christian experiences (e.g., forgiveness, repentance, guilt) in the plays
  5. the presence of Christian archetypes and symbols (such as the saint, the sinner, and the penitent)

All of this could easily sustain a book. I have space to elaborate on my grid only selectively and briefly.

The Bible in Shakespeare’s Plays

Shakespeare’s writing contains more references to the Bible than the plays of any other Elizabethan playwright—five times the range of Christopher Marlowe. A commonly accepted tally of the total number of biblical references is at least two thousand allusions. Scholars regularly claim that there are so many references to the first chapters of Genesis that Shakespeare must have known them by heart.

What English Bible did Shakespeare use? Before 1598, Shakespeare’s references were primarily to the Bishops’ Bible. However, starting in 1598, when Shakespeare became a renter in a Huguenot household, he used the Geneva Bible, known informally as the Puritan Bible.

The View of Reality in Shakespeare’s Plays

An extremely helpful formula for the Christian strand in Shakespeare’s plays comes from an unlikely source: the author of a visitors’ guide to Christian sites in London writes at one point that Shakespeare’s plays “assume the same kind of reality that the Bible assumes.” That is exactly right.

What are some of these aspects of reality that Shakespeare’s plays assume? God, Satan, heaven, hell, an eternal destiny for every person, good, and evil. Shakespeare regularly introduces these into his plays, and at no point does he suggest skepticism regarding them. With any other writer, we would take that to mean authorial endorsement. We should do the same for Shakespeare.

We can also compile a list of experiences that Shakespeare puts into his plays that have a particular relevance to Christianity. These include evil or sin, guilt, forgiveness, moral choice, love, marriage, and repentance. Not all of these are exclusive to Christianity, but that does not make them any less Christian. Every time Christians encounter these experiences in a Shakespearean play (as in Cordelia’s Christlike love in King Lear), they assimilate them as a Christian element in the play.

The Bottom Line

Some of the data in Shakespeare’s plays indisputably intersects with the Christian faith—biblical allusions, for example, or references to heaven and hell. By way of parallel, if a writer’s works are filled with classical allusions, we do not hesitate to think of the author as having a worldview that is at least partly classical. We should not shrink from making a similar claim for Christian allusions in Shakespeare’s plays.

At the level of ideas, I would simply ask what ideas in Shakespeare’s plays strike us as incongruent with Christianity. The answer is that very few of the ideas that we deduce from Shakespeare’s plays offer any resistance whatever to the ideas of Christianity.

We should call a moratorium on the entrenched bias of the secular academy in regard to Shakespeare’s plays. University scholars simply assume that Shakespeare was as secular as they are. Conversely, Christian readers who sense a kindred spirit at work in Shakespeare’s plays should have the courage of their convictions.


Leland Ryken (PhD, University of Oregon) served as professor of English at Wheaton College for over 43 years. He has authored or edited over three dozen books, is a frequent speaker at the Evangelical Theological Society, and served as literary stylist for the English Standard Version. His Christian Guides to the Classics series includes Homer’s The OdysseyMilton’s Paradise LostShakespeare’s MacbethShakespeare’s Hamlet, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet LetterDickens’s Great ExpectationsBunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, and The Devotional Poetry of Donne, Herbert, and Milton.

September 9, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Culture,Life / Doctrine,The Arts,The Christian Life | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:15 am | 1 Comment »

Christ in All of Scripture – Romans 5:1–5

 

Romans 5:1-5

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”


Previous chapters have majored on the gospel (Rom. 1:16–17), our abject need for it (Rom. 1:18–3:20), and Christ’s centrality in it (Rom. 3:21–26). Justification—God’s reckoning or accounting of Christ’s righteousness to sinners—is through faith alone (Rom. 3:27–31). The only thing we contribute is our need. This is true for us who look back on Jesus’ coming, as it was true for Old Testament figures (like Abraham and David; ch. 4) who looked ahead to God’s fulfillment of his promises through his Son.

Now Paul begins to unpack what knowing Christ means in terms of daily life. He takes up sanctification, the work of God’s grace to set us free from sin and make us joyful servants of God’s righteousness (see Rom. 6:17–18). Believers in Christ have peace with God (Rom. 5:1), a state of grace and rejoicing (Rom. 5:2), and a way of living that is both sobering and satisfying.

It is sobering that trusting in Christ brings sufferings (Rom. 5:3; see also Rom. 8:17). But it is satisfying that those sufferings produce endurance, which produces proven character, which produces a confident hope in God’s enduring and eternal care (Rom. 5:3–5). God’s Spirit gives God’s love in abundance. This is the normal yet glorious life of gospel faith.


This series of posts pairs a brief passage of Scripture with associated study notes drawn from the Gospel Transformation Bible. For more information about the Gospel Transformation Bible, please visit GospelTransformationBible.org.

 

September 8, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Bible News,Gospel Transformation Bible,The Christian Life | Author: Lizzy Jeffers @ 8:24 am | 0 Comments »