The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hourglass Theology: How the Gospel Filters Everything

            As a Christian, there have been a few concepts, a few biblical truths, from a sort of meta-story/meta-narrative perspective, that I live my life by. The first came to me over three years ago- the true gospel. The doctrines of grace/Calvinism (how God saves man), which is intimately connected with the gospel, I would distinguish as the second, though by finding the first you find the other. After this you get an impression of the absolute sovereignty of God and His predestining of all things- not just who will and will not be saved- but all things, every little detail. That would be the third- again they are all interconnected. Most reformed people have these on their lists, and an increasing number view life through John Piper’s formula of “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him,” which is explained by changing the conjunction in the Westminster Confession to “Man’s chief end is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” Thus, our duty is not to view obedience to God/living for His glory as a duty, but instead our duty is to find our greatest delight in glorifying God. Our duty is to find our greatest happiness and joy in living for Jesus, and the very seeking of our delight in God is the way in which God is glorified with our lives! In short, our duty is to seek our greatest joy in God- to be glad in God. And our very gladness in Him demonstrates His glory, because it shows that He alone can satisfy us and give us true, lasting delight and joy.

Hourglass theology is a name I have come up with to express a fifth element that I view all of life by. As I keep stressing, all these elements are connected to one another, and I believe flow naturally and logically from one another. I am not sure, however, if everyone who is reformed draws this fifth conclusion, “hourglass theology,” but hopefully I can persuade some to do so, and perhaps for others that already do, this will be a helpful name and expression of it so that it can be more easily remembered.

As you can see, I have four hourglasses pictured above. None of them are a perfect representation of what I will be trying to say, but they were the closest representations I could find on Google. The first shows sand at the top going through the narrow funnel and turning into gold, illustrating the belief that time is money. The second is actually a filter shaped like an hourglass, which makes tea. The third starts at the top with a baby being born, progressing through life, entering the height of vitality at the narrow funnel, then aging toward death at the bottom (as far as I can tell at least). I think I am too dense to fully grasp the meaning of the last one, but I threw it in there because I think it could be helpful for something that I am going to try to express. It kind of looks to me like it could mean at the end of time all our possessions and accomplishments are but sand and will fall away into nothingness, but that is beside the point.

Now what I want you to notice first is that, particularly with the first two hourglasses, something changes at the narrow neck of the hourglass. In the first, sand is transformed into money, and in the second, the unfiltered tea is filtered, the good stuff we drink coming out the other side. In hourglass theology, the gospel is the gateway, the portal, the narrow neck of the hourglass where everything changes, where everything must pass through.

Spiritual life is made from spiritual death, and our decaying, sin-tainted, physical bodies will become glorified bodies in heaven, free from corruption. The whole earth decays and groans, but will likewise be remade incorruptible. Now, it is clear that Adam and Eve were called to till the earth and subdue it, referred to as the cultural/dominion mandate. Adam was given a garden to tend, animals to name, and potentially the world to rule on God’s behalf. Eve was made to help him do that. When Adam and Eve sinned, the dominion mandate was not lost (although an angel now guarded the garden), but rather it says that Adam will have strife and will have to toil and sweat to cultivate the earth, and Eve will have pain in childbirth. Our job is now complicated and tainted with pain and our own sinfulness. Before the Fall, man’s delight was in cultivating the earth, we were most satisfied in doing this, and as Piper rightly argues, God was thusly most glorified in our taking satisfaction in what He created us to do. But now we have to deal with various manifestations of our sin, including slothfulness. The Bible says if you do not work, you shall not eat (2 Thess. 3:10). So then, we are still called to work, to cultivate the earth in order to eat, but many are too lazy to work, and thus should not be given food. Further, this cultivation over time has lead to progress, or what we will call “the outworkings of worshiping God by engaging in the joyful task of the cultural/dominion mandate.” Cultivation naturally leads to change. Tending and keeping and planting and growing makes for advancement, which is what God called Adam and Eve to do. This is a privilege- God doesn’t need us for anything. 
The ingredient I think we are missing in all that is this- we aren’t letting the gospel re-filter everything. The gospel sifts out the bad stuff that sin has brought in, because Christ’s death put an end to all the bad stuff of sin. It is gradually being eradicated in every sphere- spiritually, we are being sanctified by the Spirit; physically, though our bodies decay, we will receive a glorified body in heaven, but even now advancements in medicine slow the decay and can heal; culturally, our technological advancements have allowed us to create new avenues to worship God and to begin the process of reversing the curse of the earth. We can fight disease now, heal wounds more quickly, soothe pain, wash and dry our clothes automatically, pump in hot water to our houses, use indoor plumbing, beat the heat and stay out of the cold, etc., because of our cultural /dominion advancements, because of tilling the earth.
But we aren’t tilling all that we should be, because we aren't striving to filter everything through the gospel. As an example, let’s turn to J.C. Ryle. I have read much of his excellent work entitled Holiness, and many reformed people enjoy it. Written in 1879, Ryle says in Holiness that Christians should not be engaging in entertainment or sporting events (at least on Sundays), because they are worldly and unholy. Part of keeping the Sabbath holy, for Ryle, meant no entertainment, no sports, no attending plays, no “pleasure seeking.” This of course screams in the face of Piper, and I argue Scripture itself- after all, we were created by God to work, to till the earth, and Adam and Eve did that with God Himself present! Therefore, work, sports, and the like, cannot be deemed unholy. We watch television today on Sundays, especially football. Ryle would find us quite carnal for that. But I believe in watching sports we can, and should, find God there, and by watching sports take delight in God.

            That’s just one example, and you may think that that kind of old-fashioned thinking is eradicated today, but I think not. Ryle went off track by only seeing the taint of sin in enjoying sports or going to a play and the like. What he failed to do is to allow the gospel to filter out the sin and see these things as avenues of enjoying God and thus glorifying God that came about as men fulfilled the cultural/dominion mandate. And that is precisely what I mean when I say that we have not allowed the gospel to filter everything. We cut it short. We denigrate those who dare work as artists, or musicians, or professional athletes, or even engage in a regular 9-5 job, as if they were less holy because they were engaging in unholy things. No, they are the most holy things of all! Indeed, is it not unholy to not engage in the very activity which we were created for? Here is something that needs to be believed and taught to all Christians:

Rest in heaven isn’t a ceasing of all activity, but it is finding perfect satisfaction, perfect rest, in activity.   

            Adam and Eve weren’t exhausted from their work- exhaustion, being physically spent, isn’t a good thing, at least not post-fall. I don’t think in heaven we are going to be gasping for air and have the potential of suffering a heart attack from work (or any other means). I don’t think shoveling all day will lead to blisters and backaches. This is all a result of sin, of the curse of the dominion mandate. But in the New Jerusalem, the dominion mandate will once again be free from the curse of toil and pain, which is the curse of sin. Christ said in Matthew 11:

28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

            The rest here does not seem to be a rest from activity altogether. Christ says to take His yoke upon Him. So there is a yoke, there is a burden, but it is easy and light. What we do not find, however, is a cease from work. Jesus says this easy yoke and light burden is rest. Whatever this does mean exactly, it certainly does not mean that in heaven, or now, we should be avoiding all endeavors that has to do with this earth, what some would condescendingly call “worldly” or “secular” or even “carnal” things. It is worldly and carnal in a sense, but God has called us to engage this world and cultivate it! That is a physical, fleshy, and in that sense, carnal thing, but it is a good thing, and is connected to the spiritual. 

            What we are still doing today, however, is handicapping the gospel filter. Like the hourglass shaped tea-filter pictured above, we are putting things into the gospel filter, but in such a way that what comes out the other side is watered down. Or, we aren’t putting everything in it that we should. And everything, apart from sinful acts itself, can and should be put into it, because we are called to redeem everything. The Kingdom of Heaven is coming. We are working to what is called by some a global garden-city. Many agree with that, but few are in agreement to what that is going to look like.

            What really bugs me is that some are essentially arguing that a metropolitan lifestyle is like producing flat soda, or weak coffee, from the gospel-filter, and an agrarian or third world living or "only the necessities" type lifestyle is the correctly carbonated soda that God has called us to concoct. Or, just the converse, that agrarianism is a relic of a bygone age, and we have developed, culturally progressed, beyond that, and it should be left behind, deemed inferior. This plays out in many other, smaller issues, like what styles of music are acceptable in a worship service, the regulative principle of worship itself, whether or not women are allowed to ever play sports or work outside the home, etc.

            My grand argument is not that one style of music or a particular lifestyle is better than the other, but rather that such an argument itself is about as ingenious as saying that green is more holy than blue, and as such, we should be painting everything green, and never blue, because in the New Jerusalem everything will be green. Does not all the colors of the palette, which God created, reflect God’s glory, in its own particular way? Can the color green ever do what the color blue does for our visual senses? No, and vice versa. Imagine a world without the greens of the earth. Not so good. Now imagine the world without the beautiful blues of the sky and sea. Not so good either. Both are needed, both are necessary, both are a must. So it is with different styles of music, so it is with different callings in life that we have. Some are called to be artists, others sport stars, others garbage truck drivers, others lawyers, others computer programmers, others construction workers, others graphic arts designers, others dancers, others UPS truck drivers, and on and on it goes. One job is blue, the other green, the other red, the other pink, the other yellow. They all, in their own way, bring enjoyment to us, and glory to God, provided we are seeking to reform and refine, to filter, these callings in the right manner.
            God I am convinced has called each of us to a particular field of work, a primary one at least, in which He has especially attuned us to most enjoy. And because we find the most enjoyment in it, He gets the most glory out of it when we enjoy it to its fullest. So if that’s agrarianism for one, and metropolitan lifestyle for another, it is fine. That’s not postmodernism, that’s just biblical. What our job is, rather than bickering over whose got the “holier” job and whose doing something that is not going to make the cut into the new heaven and earth, is to allow the gospel and all of Scripture to rightly filter, rightly color, all that we are doing, so that we can get the most enjoyment out of it, and thus God can get the most glory out of it as we praise Him for it through the quality and pleasure we take in the very work itself. A Bach or a Rembrandt, believers at the top of their callings in all the world, brought much glory to God. But some would argue that what they did, though beautiful, though exquisite, though one’s field was the color blue and the other green, were not that important, or even a complete waste. I beg to differ. God’s earthly temple and tabernacle were elaborately decorated, and He gave the Holy Spirit in large measure to enable those who crafted/cultivated the temple to do it with exceptional skill and talent. Skilled musicians were brought in to play as well. These types of things will no doubt be happening in the New Jerusalem, in the new heavens and earth. I am convinced we will be doing much of the same stuff that we do now on earth in heaven, yet free from toil and ensnaring, besetting sins. And I also believe that Adam and Eve (with their descendants), if they had not fallen, would have reached such a standard of technological achievement so advanced that their world would seem alien, even magical, to us today. That is because they would be able to work unencumbered from the sundry affects of sin. But now sin not only inhibits us, but it has corrupted all of creation itself! 
So then, I think “hourglass theology” could be succinctly stated as this:

We worship God by using the gospel, and all Scripture, to filter, purify, and make holy everything that we do and work with in creation, each in our own specific, predestined callings.

            This, I believe, is the logical way in which we must fulfill the dominion/cultural mandate, post fall. Since we were all made to work, unbelievers too will engage in work, but they will pollute culture with sinful intentions and sinful inventions. Our job, as believers, is to combat that, not by running from these things, but redeeming them. Through the gospel, empowered by the Spirit, we can, and must, redeem these things. We must take them back from the unbelieving world; we must filter, purify, and make them increasingly holy once again. When Paul speaks of the Creation being redeemed, certainly it is in part meant in this sense. The universe is the playground of God’s glory, and we are to build more amusements, more rides, to reflect Him in all His splendor. And as rich Americans with our cultural advancements, we have the means to do it. We do not have to slave away over hand washing dishes or picking cotton and tobacco from a field in the sweltering heat 12 hours a day just to stay alive. That important, important work was done by those who came before us (and is still done by many in our own country and in third world countries- where else do you think we get our food and clothing from?) and has freed many of us Americans up to advance the "high end" of culture, if you will. The arts, larger buildings, better medicine, better movies, better everything. How can we neglect this? If we neglect this, we should be the ones with out backs bent over, plowing the earth under the sun's blaze. Some are not called to this, to be sure. But some are. And those that are, most see that this is a high and noble calling that has precedent in Scripture. 

            Hourglass theology shows us how to fulfill this particular calling- with the gospel filter. We will strain out the sinful things in culture, but we will not strain out the manifold expressions, the manifold colors of culture throughout the nations, and even subcultures within the nations, wrongfully calling them secular or sinful simply because sinners have made it cool or popular by pollution. We will continue to innovate and create new expressions to glorify God, new shades of blues and greens and yellows, and with each new particular hue we make, we will seek to perfect, bringing out its brightness, carving its niche more deeply as God’s unfolding glory story enrichens and diversifies.

“Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake; for ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness’.... But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks? Therefore, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:25-26, 30-31).

            We split hairs over things like reformed rap, saying they are unacceptable as worship in the Kingdom, strange fire. I argue that is because of the taint of sin that has pervaded rap and its culture, but not because of rap itself. It is not an unholy rhythm or sound, anymore than any other form of music. Hence the word, “reformed” rap, or if you like, “reforming rap,” taking it from the world, and showing how beautiful it can really be. And for the younger folk who swear their rock and rap is superior, they too are mistaken. There is a beauty in the classics, in folk music, in rock, and in rap. One is the color blue, the other red, the other yellow. Some prefer blue over yellow, some red over blue, but all bring glory to God in such a way that only that particular color can. Thus all are necessary and good, and thus all will make it into the New Jerusalem. Hourglass theology says, instead of trying to argue which musical style (and this would apply for movies, literature, dancing, drinking, practically everything) is good and which is bad, recognize that all are good but tainted, unfiltered, and our job as believers, this side of heaven, post fall, is to take out the impurities, to filter all colors, all expressions of culture, to make the brightest blues and the greenest greens, all for our enjoyment and God’s greatest glory. Sanctify the classics and rock and rap and bluegrass and opera and everything in between. Make it better. But don’t squeeze any out of the Kingdom.

            A brief word on the last two hourglass pictures. As we pass through time, we do age, and we will die. That last hourglass is broken, and whatever was inside, something magnificent it appears, is crumbling. The good news is, if we cultivate in the particular calling God has called us to (some will prefer the greens over the blues, others the blues over the greens, and we need to not fight the other color but recognize that each of us contributes something beautiful and unique to the glory of God, and we are both but a part of the Master’s masterpiece painting that would be incomplete without either of us), we are worshiping Him. To me, that’s the capstone of salvation, the capstone of the true gospel and Piper’s correlation with our joy and God’s glory. God has given each of us a particular preference and taste. For some that will be preaching and teaching, others reading and writing, or singing and acting, others politicians or baristas or doctors or lawyers, for others that may be working at a Mcdonald’s or doing manual labor, because that satisfies them. Believe me, I have seen people so thankful for a minimum wage paying job, who had to bust their humps for their meager earnings (meager by our standards at least), yet be fully satisfied, fully content in their work. We cannot denigrate each other! All callings matter, all are unique refractions of God’s glory! The world would be pretty trashy without the trash man collecting it. And I've no doubt some Christian garbage men take great delight in their work, and thus God receives great glory.

            Some prefer the country to the city, others the city to the country, but almost everyone needs at least a touch of the one we prefer less. The point being, most all of us can appreciate someone else's particular field of expertise, their particular gifting and calling, even if we ourselves have no desire to learn the craft. We were made from the earth- this is why walks in the woods still have a mystique of their own, this is why we still love to camp outside, “roughing” it in the raw elements. We love the city, we love modern day comforts, but we still want to be earthy too. It’s a beautiful harmony. The garden in heaven was beautiful, Adam and Eve loved it, and yet, there was cultivation to be done too. The spectrum, the continuum, continues to develop because we each develop God's creation in our own particular ways, and yet we do not lose the first things. The garden of Eden was made perfect, but it was to be cultivated. The garden and the city each have its own splendor, each refracting the light of God’s glory in a unique and beautiful way like the various colors of the rainbow. And so it will be in heaven, filtered perfectly, where the garden and the city will meet, where those who prefer the woods and the mountains will live in harmony with those who prefer suits and skyscrapers, and the full rainbow of God's glory will be on display with hues more bright, vivid, and pure than we can even fathom. 


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