I have been converting my file life from paper into e-format (for another post!). While scanning the documents, I came across a treasure trove of articles by Sam Crabtree–Executive Pastor at Bethlehem Baptist.
While at Bethlehem, I remember the short but poignant interactions I had with Sam. He is a man after God’s own heart. Upon requesting a coffee with him, I remember him telling me that his job was to work in the obscure things in order to free up Pastor John for what he is gifted at. I remember being astounded and confounded as a green pastoral candidate. Didn’t Sam want to be known and quoted and re-tweeted? His desire to serve marked me forever. I have been since struggling to aim at serving and not renown. May God grant me such a heart and service and willingness to live in the obscure places for the glory of God’s name and not my own.
All that to say I just subscribed to Sam’s blog and would highly encourage you to do the same. Short and pithy, just like Sam (metaphorically, not literally).
Kevin Belmonte is a visiting author at Gordon College and has written on William Wilberforce (being the lead historical consultant for the movie Amazing Grace), G.K. Chesterton, D.L. Moody, and John Bunyan.
In this work, Belmonte offers the church a service by way of the back door. By the title of the book I thought I was going to be reading an encyclopedia of miracles throughout history (after all, look at the subtitle!). You know someone receiving his sight in New Delhi, a limb regrown in Buenos Aires, a bumper crop of vegetables in rural Africa in the midst of a two-year drought. But he threw me for a loop when he started with the Bible. Imagine that. Of all places, he starts with the Bible. Not only this, but he begins by the fiat lux in the opening of Genesis. He pauses to make his reader consider the amazing miracle that Creation is. It is easy to breeze through the day and want something that is extra-ordinary and be blind to the fact that leaves are amazing. Belmonte starts with that wonder and lets it sink in. He moves on through the biblical narrative, highlighting the varied accounts of miracles in it: Noah & the Flood, Abraham & the friendship of God, Moses & the Exodus, Elisha’s stupendous feats, the Incarnation, Jesus’ Miracles, the Resurrection, Paul’s Conversion.
Okay, that was only cursory right? Unfortunately, we still have not let the miraculous amaze us. Instead of being blind to General Revelation in the world, we have been blind to Special Revelation in Scripture. Too often have these accounts been taken for granted. Belmonte does all of us a service by hitting the slow motion button and making us deal with the miracle of Scripture itself.
The next stage of Belmonte’s work takes us into the lives of men and women who experienced the miraculous. Yet what is astounding about these accounts is how ordinary they seem. He tells us of Perpetua who gave testimony to Christ in the midst of the bloodthirsty coliseum. Why not tell us about the hagiographies of Thecla or Polycarp or Ignatius? It seems that Belmonte wants us to be astounded by the sheer fact that it is a miracle that someone does not deny Christ in the face of certain death. This is reiterated in his account of Augustine. Sure, the Bishop of Hippo heard the children’s voices telling him to pick up the Bible and read, but Belmonte seems to highlight to utterly ordinary occurrences in Augustine’s life–namely, that his conversion came through a book and not from a great, penetrating light.
Martin Luther’s chapter brings the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper into the realm of the miraculous (p.146). Gilbert Burnet’s life highlights the immensity of God making his dwelling with us through the power of his Spirit. While Jonathan Edwards’ chapter speaks of the strange happenings in New England, it was Edwards’ parsing of the strange by the clarity of Scripture that helps us think rightly about the extraordinary. That is, people are constantly looking for verification of God’s involvement in the world–expecting cats to talk or dogs to drive a car or babies to feed themselves. Fact of the matter is that you and I are swimming in the miraculous. We just haven’t trained our eyes to see.
In light of that, Belmonte aptly has a chapter dedicated to Dr. Clyde Kilby. This chapter alone will make you have new eyes. Going through Kilby’s ten resolutions made my heart swell with joy and a desire to commune with God through the ordinarily miraculous world I live in.
I enjoyed and marked up my copy of Belmonte’s work. At times he can be a little tedious with details that don’t move the thesis along. However, these excursions are just as enjoyable as the main point of the book. They humanize and help give a holistic picture to the models he gives. The author’s sheer breadth of reading is admirable and encourages me to read widely and voraciously.
RECOMMENDATION: I would recommend this as an after dinner reading with the family. The chapters are easily digestible and give food for thought and discussion. I give the book a 4/5 stars due to the excursions that (although enjoyable at times) made the book a little laborious.
I remember reading in my Perspectives Class on world mission a phenomenon called “power encounters” whereby a missionary would directly confront the idols of the day in some bombastic way to show the futility of such idols. For example, tearing down a totem pole or cutting down a tree (if these were the items of worship) in an area. While the confrontationalist in me loves the idea, I wonder how much was missed in these opportunities to really get to the heart of idolatry–namely, through teaching that idols are nothing (1Cor 8.4). Yet for those who worship an idol, it is very much a real thing.
I am currently reading Roland Allen’s formative text on mission, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours, and have been immensely helped (in tandem with Lesslie Newbigin’s The Open Secret). Regarding the moral and social condition in which Paul preached, Allen makes this side comment:
Incidentally I should like to remark that in heathen lands it might still perhaps be the wiser course to preach constantly the supremacy of Christ over all things spiritual and material, than to deny or deride the very notion of these spirits. Some of our missionaries know, and it were well for others if they did know, that it is much easier to make a man hide from us his belief in devils than it is to eradicate the belief from his heart. By denying their existence or by scoffing at those who believe in them we do not help our converts to overcome them, but only to conceal their fears from us. By preaching the supremacy of Christ we give them a real antidote, we take them a real Saviour who helps them in their dark hours” (pp.28-29)
Allen brings balance. Too often preachers can assume they are preaching the supremacy of Christ, but they never pinpoint what exactly he is supreme over. Put another way, we preachers can preach rather generically. “Jesus is Lord over all!” We declare full throttle. Yet those listening have not been helped.
What is he supreme over?
He is supreme over your doubts of salvation. Your incessant anger. Your slavery to lust and pornography. Your boring and romantic-less marriage. Your bad parenting. Your disobedient children. Your greed. Your self-doubt. Your self-aggrandizement. Your obedient children. Your good parenting. Your healthy marriage. Your pure eyes. Your self-control.
He owns you. Therefore, the world doesn’t revolve around you anymore. Instead, he sets you free to think of others. Even more, he empowers you by his Spirit to think of other more highly than yourself. Your fears that you will be passed over for the job promotion. Your self-righteousness toward your unbelieving neighbor is set under his lordship in such a way that you no longer possess the answers, but are possessed by One who does. You cannot gloat that you understand the world en esse. Rather, you are saddened by the way the world actually is.
So, Christian, we need a modern-day power encounter. Not where we smash totems. But by understanding the world around us and helping others see our need for a Savior. We limp forward together. We bind up wounds together. We use the splint our arm is wrapped in to bind our neighbors’ arms. Thereby we see that instead of hiding the idol in shame, our neighbor is free to admit the idol and know that he will not be condemned but helped.