Monthly Archives: December 2008
Today, I continue my interview with Timothy Stoner, author of The God Who Smokes: Scandalous Meditation on Faith.
Trevin Wax: You write about worshipping a God who “lets you drop,” who lets you get hurt. How does this view of God counter the popular belief that “God is always there for me”?
Timothy Stoner: God is not safe; nor can He be manipulated. He is perfect in His wisdom and love and knows much better than we what we really need. And He is not averse to allowing/causing pain, struggle and disappointments that He knows are essential for our maturation, growth, refinement and strengthening.
He tells us that He is like a gardener who will not let sympathy for his plants dissuade Him from trimming or cutting off (sometimes ruthlessly) branches that are unproductive or that are preventing maximum fruit bearing.
Because of our inveterate selfishness and idolatry it is not unusual for God to orchestrate deep suffering that we might learn to draw our comfort from Him alone and to shape us into vessels filled with comfort for others.
God is always there for me only in the sense that He is working all things: pain, sorrow, loss, sickness, defeat, sins and successes, together for my maximum good and His ultimate glory.
Trevin Wax: It’s interesting that you justify your belief in the exclusivity of Jesus Christ by turning to the marriage relationship. How has your understanding of marriage and covenant helped you grapple with Jesus’ exclusive claims regarding salvation?
Timothy Stoner: One of the most beautiful metaphors …
Yesterday, I reviewed a new book by Timothy Stoner entitled The God Who Smokes: Scandalous Meditation on Faith. Today and tomorrow, I am following up that review with a 2-part interview with Tim.
Tim was raised in Chile, South America where his parents served as missionaries. He spent his teen years in Spain. Tim has been married to Patty Grace Stoner for 27 years. They have five children, the youngest of which was adopted from Mozambique, Africa. They all live in Grand Rapids. The God Who Smokes is his first non-fiction work.
Trevin Wax: What’s with the title? Why “The God Who Smokes”?
Timothy Stoner: “A God who Smokes” speaks to me of both aspects of the character of God the Consuming Fire: His holy, passionate love and His anger.
As the Psalmist says: Righteousness and justice are the foundations of your throne; love and mercy go before you.
The column of smoke was grace in the wilderness—shade and direction. The smoke on Mt. Sinai was a mercy that protected the Israelites from the blinding brilliance of God’s glory.
We are told that when God is angry, fire comes from His mouth and smoke rises from His nostrils (Ps. 18:8) while Isaiah tells us that “The Name of the Lord comes from afar with burning anger and dense clouds of smoke.” Smoke in the book thus represents God’s goodness and severity.
Trevin Wax: You write about being “Emergent” before it was cool, but now that Emergent is cool, you no longer consider yourself “Emergent.” …
Timothy J. Stoner acknowledges the validity of many of the concerns raised by those in the Emerging Church. But unlike some in the Emerging movement, Stoner is able to address these concerns without abandoning historic Christian convictions.
His book, The God Who Smokes: Scandalous Meditation on Faith (NavPress, 2008), is thoroughly enjoyable on a number of levels. First, it is very well-written. Secondly, it uses humor as a way to communicate serious truths. And best of all, Stoner uses personal stories to help him make his case.
Tim Stoner is a dad who has seen the Emerging Church up close. A Michigan native, he has witnessed the rise of Emerging preacher, Rob Bell (who might resist the label, but seems to fit the description nonetheless). But curiously, Stoner confesses:
“I was Emergent before it was cool. Now that it’s cool, I’m not.” (109)
Stoner’s negative view of Emergent does not lead him to bash those who advocate Emerging theology. In fact, he appreciates many aspects of the Emerging conversation.
But Stoner believes the Emerging movement ultimately delivers reductionistic picture of God. He worries that the Emerging Church downplays the wrath of God and leads to a lopsided vision of God that ignores essential aspects of his character.
“We are not only invited guests but the blushing Bride. And our Groom is a heroic King, a mighty warrior who is good and just and stunning in his beauty. He is so full of passion and blazing emotion that he burns – and yes, smokes in the ferocity of his infinite, holy love that compelled him to give it all away for his Bride. And he who gave it all for us is worth giving ourselves …
Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.
You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.
For we are brought to an end by your anger;
by your wrath we are dismayed.
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
For all our days pass away under your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Who considers the power of your anger,
and your wrath according to the fear of you?
So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious …
God wants to be seen and known in his Son.
Even though God is a Spirit and is therefore invisible, he has now revealed himself in an utterly unique way—by the incarnation of himself in his Son Jesus.
In Jesus we see God.
You don’t have to wonder today if there is a baby in the womb of a woman eight weeks pregnant. And you don’t have to wonder what it’s like. We have pictures and videos and models and detailed physiological descriptions.
And so it is with God.
You don’t need to be in the dark about God. He has gone beyond parchment and paper. He has gone beyond tapes and cassettes. He has gone beyond videos and even beyond live drama. He has actually come and pitched his tent in our backyard and beckoned us to watch him and get to know him in the person of his Son Jesus.
When you watch Jesus in action, you watch God in action.
When you hear Jesus teach, you hear God teach.
When you come to know what Jesus is like, you know what God is like.
- John Piper, “The Word Became Flesh”
Bad news for Narnia fans. Disney isn’t taking a voyage on The Dawn Treader.
Jared Wilson recaps his favorite posts from Gospel-Driven Church this year.
Taking love for your cell phone to a new level.
Z interviews one of my favorite recording artists, Fernando Ortega.
Going to Seminary blog readers will be learning from the letters of Samuel Rutherford in 2009. Banner of Truth is helping out with a good discount.
Next week at Kingdom People, I’ll be interviewing Timothy Stoner, author of a new book called The God Who Smokes: Scandalous Meditation on Faith.
Congratulations to Jordan Thomas of Memphis, TN. He is the winner of the Kingdom People Christmas Giveaway 2008. Jordan’s entry number (#269) was randomly selected this morning, so he will be receiving my ten favorite books of the year as well as an ESV Study Bible.
Thank you to all who participated in the Giveaway and Merry Christmas!
But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
- Luke 2:19-20
Have you ever wondered why a glorious host of heavenly angels put on their best celestial choir performance for a scraggly band of sheep-keepers? Why not for King Herod? Why not show up the rulers and astound Caesar in Rome? Why go to the lowest people on society’s scale of importance?
Like Mary, we should treasure the Christmas story and ponder these questions in our hearts.
The Christmas story shows us that God’s ways are not our ways. God does not save people on the basis of their earthly importance, physical appearance, wealthy status or position. God saves people on the basis of his mercy alone, and that means that even lowly, smelly shepherds are loved by God.
Once we ponder the Christmas story, we are immediately convicted of our tendency to “write people off” when it comes to salvation.
He’s too poor.
She just doesn’t have it together.
They are too addicted to drugs.
She would never come to church.
Aren’t you thankful that God didn’t write you off? That God reached in and touched you with his salvation?
Take some time today to ponder all that God has done for you. And then ask God to bring people into your life that you can spread the good news of salvation to.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for your coming at Christmas. …
Intervarsity Press is publishing a new series of books called ”Resources for Reconciliation” that pair leading theologians with on-the-ground practitioners. For example, put a missiologist and a missionary together and let them write a book. Or an academic expert on world hunger together with a person leading a hunger-fighting organization. It’s a terrific concept.
Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness is one of the first books in this series. It is written by Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier. Hauerwas is a well-known theologian, and Jean Vanier is the founder of L’Arche, a community that emphasizes the importance of the disabled.
L’Arche differs from other organizations by placing emphasis on communal life with the disabled, not merely work for them. Vanier’s organization is founded upon the belief that the weakest among us have something of spiritual and eternal value to offer us.
Living Gently in a Violent World intends to challenge our presuppositions. In the introduction, John Swinton writes:
“It is not the world of disability that is strange, but the world ‘outside,’ which we dare to call normal. It turns out that the world of disability is the place God chooses to inhabit.” (15)
I had hoped that this book would be a fresh look at how weakness challenges our world’s preoccupation with strength. After all, Christianity is the only religion that embraces the paradox of seeing strength in weakness, power in submission, gain in giving, etc.
Unfortunately, many of the distinctive Christian beliefs that undergird the pro-life witness of this book are swept to the side. Vanier embraces a bland ecumenism …
In We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry (IVP Academic, 2008), author G.K. Beale teases out the implications of a truth he first discovered during an extensive study of the commissioning of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 6). Beale believes that one of the central aspects of Isaiah 6 is that “what you revere you resemble, either for ruin or restoration.” His book is an attempt to show how this teaching is woven into the fabric of Scripture. We Become What We Worship illuminates this teaching by presenting a biblical theology of idolatry.
We Become What We Worship relies heavily on intertextuality – a method of Bible study that combines grammatical-historical exegesis with canonical-contextual exegesis. Beale uses this methodology in order to persuasively demonstrate that the concept of idolaters becoming like their idols is one that appears throughout the Bible.
The most helpful section of this book is the chapter on Isaiah 6. Pastors and teachers will find Beale’s exegetical insights to be of enormous value. Next time I preach or teach on Isaiah 6, I will definitely consult this book again! Beale masterfully showcases the biblical allusions in the text, nuances that shed light on the passage’s context and meaning.
Another important insight I gleaned from Beale’s work concerns the Golden Calf narrative in Exodus. Beale shows how this pivotal event in Israel’s history is alluded to in many Old and New Testament passages.
Many readers may not have the stamina to persevere through the rigorous exegesis that forms the heart of this book. We Become What We Worship is definitely geared to the academy and not the layperson. But I highly recommend that pastors consult this book whenever they are preparing to preach on one of the texts that Beale exposits. We Become What We …