Monday, February 28, 2011

Living in God's Two Kingdoms

More than a year ago I opened for myself a can of worms I'm still trying to close. When Lynn and I kicked off the Poiema ACG, we started with a semester long series on Christ (or better Christianity) and Culture. I thought it would be easy, and I had four books I used to guide the class: the classic Christ and Culture (Torchbooks) by Niebuhr, a more recent assessment of Niebuhr by DA Carson called Christ and Culture Revisited, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Randy Crouch, and a series of sermons by Boice turned into a book Two Cities, Two Loves: Christian Responsibility in a Crumbling Culture.

Those four books, honestly, weren't nearly enough. The challenges that were presented to my initial understanding were legion, and I set out to read more a settle this once and for all in my mind (To quote Wayne "tsshyeah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt").

The two approaches most represented in the evangelical world are often referred to as the 'transformationalist' (Niebuhr's 'Christ the transformer of culture') and the "two-kingdom approach" (roughly corresponding to Niebuhr's 'Christ and culture in paradox'). Certainly, the transformationalist approach is dominant and was my position early on. However, even when one avoids the extreme of theonomy, this position seems to be riddled with danger through and through. In which direction should we strive to transform culture? In a Christian one, of course? Who's version of a Christian society will we use as our template? Shane Claiborne's or Pat Robertson's? How about Jesus'? But, is Jesus' ethic meant to be applied in all situation, in every context? Should a judge simply forgive a criminal - and do it 70x7? Should a nation turn the other cheek when it's borders are violated and citizens terrorized? Too many questions! And they aren't just hypothetical. ECC is an awesome church, and a very diverse church. I've heard, since being here, "you can't be a real Christian and vote for a Democrat". I've also heard, "you can't be a real Christian and vote for a Republican". How do you navigate these issues?

By remembering the Christians live in two kingdoms, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. And here is where David VanDrunen's book is invaluable. His book, Living in God's Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture, is a great introduction to a two-kingdom theology. I certainly don't agree with ever jot and tittle (i.e. that the diaconal ministry of the church is limited to serving the Christian poor), I offer a hardy 'Amen!' to 98% of VanDrunen's book. That's awesome, since I only give a hardy 'Amen! to about 92% of what I actually say.

The book is divided into three parts. First, VanDrunen explores the relationship of the first Adam to the Last Adam and their covenatal roles. For those not overly familiar with Covenant Theology, these chapters are still accessible and well reasoned. VanDrunen argues that Christ did all the covenant keeping Adam failed to do, thereby entering and bringing his people into the Sabbath rest that would have been given to the original Adam had he kept the covenant. Christ perfectly did this, resiting temptation, offering perfect obedience. Since Christ is the 'last Adam', we are not 'new Adam's' who must fulfill the cultural mandate of the original Adam. Christ fulfilled all the obligations of the Covenant of Works. Does that mean Christians should be engaged in cultural endeavors?

In the second section of the book VanDrunen looks at the theme of sojourn in both the Old and New Testament. As Christians, we are sojourners, citizens of heaven yet living in exile in this present world. We are not, however, unique among God's people in this. There were several times in history past when God's people were resident aliens. In this section, VanDrunen mines the Bible for principles that guide us in this sojourn.

The third section is where the rubber meets the road. VanDrunen explore the implications of the two-kingdom approach for our understanding of the church and the Christians involvement in politics, education, and vocation. It's an immensely practical and well balanced treatment. He concludes the last chapter, "On the one hand, cultural activities and institutions exist by God's appointment and under his moral government, and Christians should participate in them. On the other hand, these cultural activities and institutions should not be confused with the redemptive kingdom of heaven, which finds its present expression in the church of Jesus Christ."

I highly recommend this book. Even if you disagree with him, his work will cause you to wrestle with some tough questions.

Song of the Week

There aren't too many Christian rock groups I like, bur Red is one of the few. This song is off the new album "Till We Have Faces".

Red, "Faceless"

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Tea Partier and the Christian Left

Matt showed me this video earlier today. Yeah, we were real busy. Anyway, it was funny, but even funnier the second time.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Catechism #75-79

Some how, I got behind in posting the questions we've been discussing. Honestly, these questions are a little over their heads. We are, however, plugging away and laying a good foundation for later discussions.

Question #75: How does the Lord's Supper remind you and assure you that you share in Christ's one sacrifice on the cross and in all his gifts?

Answer: In this way: Christ has commanded me and all believers to eat this broken bread and to drink this cup. With this command he gave this promise: First, as surely as I see with my eyes the bread of the Lord broken for me and the cup given to me, so surely his body was offered and broken for me and his blood poured out for me on the cross. Second, as surely as I receive from the hand of the one who serves, and taste with my mouth the bread and cup of the Lord, given me as sure signs of Christ's body and blood, so surely he nourishes and refreshes my soul for eternal life with his crucified body and poured-out blood (Matt. 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-25)

Question #76: What does it mean to eat the crucified body of Christ and to drink his poured-out blood?

Answer:It means to accept with a believing heart the entire suffering and death of Christ and by believing to receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life. But it means more. Through the Holy Spirit, who lives both in Christ and in us, we are united more and more to Christ's blessed body.
And so, although he is in heaven and we are on earth, we are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. And we forever live on and are governed by one Spirit, as members of our body are by one soul (John 6:35, 40, 50-54; John 6:55-56; 1 Cor. 12:13; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Cor. 11:26; Col. 3:1; 1 Cor. 6:15-17; Eph. 5:29-30; 1 John 4:13; John 6:56-58; 15:1-6; Eph. 4:15-16; 1 John 3:24)

Question #77: Where does Christ promise to nourish and refresh believers with his body and blood as surely as they eat this broken bread and drink this cup?

Answer: In the institution of the Lord's Supper: "The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed,
took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying,
'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death
until he comes." This promise is repeated by Paul in these words: "Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf." (1 Cor. 11:23-26; 1 Cor. 10:16-17).

Question #78: Are the bread and wine changed into the real body and blood of Christ?

Answer: No. Just as the water of baptism is not changed into Christ's blood and does not itself wash away sins but is simply God's sign and assurance, so too the bread of the Lord's Supper is not changed into the actual body of Christ even though it is called the body of Christ in keeping with the nature and language of sacraments (Eph. 5:26; Tit. 3:5; Matt. 26:26-29; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 11:26-28; Gen. 17:10-11; Ex. 12:11, 13; 1 Cor. 10:1-4)

Question #79: Why then does Christ call the bread his body and the cup his blood, or the new covenant in his blood? (Paul uses the words, a participation in Christ's body and blood.)

Answer: Christ has good reason for these words. He wants to teach us that as bread and wine nourish our temporal life, so too his crucified body and poured-out blood truly nourish our souls for eternal life. But more important, he wants to assure us, by this visible sign and pledge, that we, through the Holy Spirit's work, share in his true body and blood as surely as our mouths
receive these holy signs in his remembrance, and that all of his suffering and obedience are as definitely ours as if we personally had suffered and paid for our sins (John 6:51, 55; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 11:26; Rom. 6:5-11)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Trinity and Gender Roles

So far this year, I have been really challenged and blessed by some of the reading I have been doing. Two books stand out as particularly good, thought shaping books - I'll post on them separately.

First, as a part of the Trinity seminar back in early February, I read Millard Erickson's Who's Tampering with the Trinity?: An Assessment of the Subordination Debate. The book was encouraging because it led me to change my mind on a theological position I've held for more than ten years and (it's just good to know you can still change your mind and aren't just locked into ways of thinking!). The book is an exploration and evaluation of an ongoing debate related to the inner workings and inner relationships of the Trinity and how they relate to gender issues. While all in the debate agree that the persons of the Trinity are fully and equally God in their being (ontologically) and share the same essence (homoousios) there is disagreement on how the Trinity is 'structured' and how the persons within the Godhead relate to each other.

Specifically, Erickson outlines two views he terms 'gradational' and 'equivalent authority'. A gradational approach is often/usually favored by complimentarians. Gradationist's hold that within the Godhead there is a hierarchy of authority - the Father is supreme in authority, the Son submits to the authority of the Father, and the Spirit submits to the Father and the Son. Importantly, this is an eternal and necessary hierarchy - it was never any other way, nor could it have been. This has led gradationists to certain conclusions regarding gender and roles - while remaining fully equal, men and women have (should have) different roles. These roles are intrinsic to manhood/womanhood, just as the roles within the Trinity are inherent to the persons of the Trinity. In gender relationships, especially marriage, men are have authority and women are to submit. This, on the gradationist view, reflects the inner workings of the Trinity.

On the other side of this debate are those Erickson labels 'equivalent authority' proponents. While they acknowledge the Son does submit to the Father, they would emphasize that this submission is tied to the incarnation and the plan of redemption and is thus temporary and not eternal. When confronted with the oft asked question "why did the second person of the Trinity come to redeem and not the first or third?", equal authority proponents often point to a voluntary intra-Trinitarian covenant. This covenant is usually referred to as the Covenant of Redemption (others, who wouldn't associate themselves with the 'equivalent authority' position or egalitarianism also believe in Covenant of Redemption. Many covenant theologians have written regarding this covenant). The Son submits to the Father's authority in a temporary and voluntary way - there isn't a hierarchy apart from this agreement. 'Equivalent authority' proponents are very concerned that the 'gradationist' approach threatens trinitarian orthodoxy. Since Nicea, the church has held that the three persons of the Trinity share the same essence. Yet, how can this be if authority is part of what makes the Father the Father and submission is what makes the Son the Son. That would mean the Son doesn't share the same essence as the Father - he is without authority. And, the Father is without submission.

The arguments for both sides are rather complex, and Erickson does a good job helping the reader navigate them. Though Erickson's position is clear, he does adequately represents both positions. As I said, it forced me to reconsider my 'gradationist' views and, ultimately, to discard them in favor of an 'equivalent authority' position. As I now understand it (and this is a work in progress), a wife's submission to her husband (which I think is biblical) and a husbands authority/leadership of the wife (again, I think this is biblical) is not tied to creation order or to intrinsic qualities of men and women. Instead, it is utterly voluntary and tied to the covenant of marriage. As the Son voluntarily submits to the will of the Father in the Covenant of Redemption, so the wife voluntarily submits to the husband in the covenant of marriage - and of course the husband leads gently, kindly, humbly, lovingly, sacrificially, etc. Outside of marriage (with the possible exception of the church and ministerial relationships - still working through some of this - again), men do not have authority over women and women do not have the obligation to submission.

Again, I highly recommend the book, not only for the discussion of the Trinitarian debate, but as a tutorial in how to evaluate biblical/theological arguments. As for the second book, I'll post on that later in the week.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Song of the Week

Lynn's leaving in a couple hours for a week long conference in Vegas. Yep, just me and the boys -but it's all good. I've seen Vegas before in this U2 video and that's all I feel I need to see. Glad she gets to go and I don't have to.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Should Rahab Have Lied?

This Sunday morning I'm preaching from Joshua 2:1-21. It's the familiar story of the Israelite spies encounter with Rahab. One of the interesting pieces of the story that I won't be dealing with at all on Sunday is Rahab's lie. When the king of Jericho sends men to find the spies, she tells them the spies had just left and if they hurry, they can catch up with them. This is a bold face lie, as the text makes clear. She was hiding the spies, determined to help them because she was convinced that the LORD God of Israel was the one and true God. In the end, her and her family are spared from the destruction Israel brought upon Jericho. She winds up settling in with the people of God, is in the lineage of David and eventually the Messiah. She finds her way into the hall of faith of Hebrews 11 and James commends her faith - a faith that leads to action.

But, should Rahab have lied. It seems there are three main positions on this question (and others related to it). David Howard explains these three positions well in his commentary on Joshua (NAC). First, some hold what is termed a "conflicting absolutes" or "lesser of two evils" position. Basically, Christians holding this position argue that in our fallen world, sometimes two or more principles of moral behavior will conflict absolutely and there is no option in such situations but to sin. If that is the case, the Christian should weigh in the balance the two options, choose the lesser of the two evils, and then 'sin boldly', but repent later. So, Rahab should have lied to protect the spies, but she should confess it as sin.

The second position is sometimes labeled "hierarchicalism". Those in this camp hold that there is an ordered hierarchy of absolutes, "such that some values have priority over others." When these values conflict and it's impossible to follow both absolutes, one should act according to the higher norm. Sounds a lot like the first, except that those who hold to a hierarchical view don't see the violation of the lesser norm as sin, not when it is in conflict with a greater norm. So, Rahab should have lied but she should feel no guilt and shouldn't feel the need to confess it as sin.

The third position is one of "nonconflicting absolutes". Proponents of this view argue that even when absolutes seem to conflict, in reality there is always a 'third way' out of the situation that avoids sin. Not to opt for the third way is sin. Rahab, on this view, should have done something other than she did. Maybe she should have invited the king's men to search the home and pray that God would conceal them. Maybe she should have refused to answer the question. At least one option was open to her, on this view, that wasn't sinful.

Each position has it's strengths and weaknesses. The first is certainly counter intuitive - that God would hold someone as guilty of sin when they were constrained by the situation to commit a sinful act. The second position runs into the problem of a lack of biblical support. Nowhere do we encounter a hierarchy of sins or of norms, or any clear teaching that God will exempt us from the guilt of sinning if a higher good was in view (Rom. 3:7-8). Furthermore, that is certainly a slippery slope to Machiavellianism. The third position seems naive, but, as Howard points out, seems to line up with the biblical data best. He argues that to deny this third position, the "non-conflicting absolute" position, raises questions about God's ability to provide and about our faith in God's provision. Additionally, there is the biblical witness that God will provide a way of escape from sin/temptation (1 Cor. 10:13). Most importantly, there's the WWJD question. I know, but yes, I'm being serious. The first position ("conflicting absolutes) raises questions about Jesus' sinlessness. If Jesus was tempted like we are, and if some of our temptations put us in situations where sin is inevitable, how can we maintain Jesus was sinless. The second position avoid this by saying that even in situations like Rahab's, had Jesus chosen as Rahab did, he wouldn't have been sinning.But, as seen above, this seems to rest on dubious groups biblically.

Here's my answer, and it's a combination of position one and three. I believe God does provide a way of escape from sin/temptation. I believe there is a 'third way' and Jesus is pretty good proof of it. So I agree with those who hold to position three - the 'nonconflicting norms' view. However, in this fallen world, our intellects aren't as sharp as they should be. We aren't as wise as God would have us be. We don't stay in step with the Spirit as Jesus did. So, we are sometimes faced with decisions where there doesn't seem to be a 'sinless' way out of it - where norms conflict. What should we do? Here I think position one is correct - we pick the lesser of the two evils. We lie to save a life, or two in this case. (Though, as Howard points out, we can't absolutize this either - should we lie to save our own life? Maybe? Should we lie about our faith, deny we're Christians to save our life? Like Peter. No!) But ignorance isn't an excuse to sin - trust me, I've tried it with traffic cops before - "sir I didn't know the speed limit was 35 here" or "sir, I didn't see the stop sign". So, in such situations where we've chose sin to avoid a greater sin, we should still confess it as such and trust in the free provision of God's grace for sinners.

One last word: these cases don't come up often. Rahab. Hebrew Midwives. Any others you can remember? And exceptions to the rules don't make for good theology or ethics.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Catechism #72-74

This was a great discussion with the kids, and one in which I had to apologize for not having them baptized as infants.

Question #72: Does this outward washing with water itself wash away sins?

Answer: No, only Jesus Christ's blood and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sins ( Matt. 3:11; 1 Pet. 3:21; 1 John 1:7).

Question #73: Why then does the Holy Spirit call baptism the washing of rebirth and the washing away of sins?

Answer: God has good reason for these words. He wants to teach us that the blood and Spirit of Christ wash away our sins just as water washes away dirt from our bodies But more important,
he wants to assure us, by this divine pledge and sign, that the washing away of our sins spiritually is as real as physical washing with water (1 Cor. 6:11; Rev. 1:5; 7:14; Acts 2:38; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:27).

Question #74: Should infants, too, be baptized?

Answer: Yes. Infants as well as adults are in God's covenant and are his people. They, no less than adults, are promised the forgiveness of sin through Christ's blood and the Holy Spirit who produces faith. Therefore, by baptism, the mark of the covenant, infants should be received into the Christian church and should be distinguished from the children of unbelievers. This was done in the Old Testament by circumcision, which was replaced in the New Testament by baptism (Gen. 17:7; Matt. 19:14; Isa. 44:1-3; Acts 2:38-39; 16:31; Acts 10:47; 1 Cor. 7:14; Gen. 17:9-14; Col. 2:11-13).

Monday, February 14, 2011

Song of the Week

I watched the Grammy's last night just to see this. It wasn't disappointing!

Mumford and Sons, Bob Dylan, and Avett Brothers

Purgatory and Evangelicals

For the past two weeks we have discussed the doctrine of purgatory in the Poiema ACG (Adult Community Group) at ECC. We worked hard to understand the doctrine of purgatory as articulated by the Roman Catholic church before we entered into critique. It was a very valuable exercise, for me especially. In the end, I concluded that the doctrine of purgatory as taught by the RC church should be rejected as because 1) it lacks clear biblical witness, 2) is tied to the concept of venial and mortal sins, 3) is tied also to an understanding of the sacraments that is unsubstantiated (namely baptism as washing away original sin, confession as a sacrament, etc), 4) leads to a dangerous reliance on works for salvation.

However, the discussion of purgatory doesn't end there. Certainly, the Reformers soundly rejected purgatory as a dangerous invention of the pope (and few question the Catholic church had used the doctrine to promote all kinds of wild ideas and abuses). However, it is possible that the Reformers, in reacting so vociferously to the false version of purgatory, threw the baby out with the bathwater. In other words, it's possible that in rejecting the false notions of purgatory, they went to far and rejected something biblical and with a long history within the church. It is possible that some concept of purgatory is taught in Scripture. It is possible that other versions of this doctrine exist that don't fall prey to the above mentioned criticisms. In fact, several well know Protestants have been champions of a modified version of purgatory. CS Lewis is well known for belief in purgatory (though Lewis wasn't exactly evangelical).

More recently Jerry Walls, professor at Asbury Theological Seminary, has written in advocacy of a Protestant version of purgatory. His article, Purgatory for Everyone, appeared in FirstThings back in 2002. Walls builds a case for purgatory as a continuation of process of sanctification. Salvation, argues Walls, is forensic and certainly involves forensic truths like the imputation of our guilt to Christ and his punishment in our stead and the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us sinner and our justification as a result. However, he continues, salvation is more than that. It also involves a transformation of our very being - our wills, our affections, our behaviors, etc. This is a process begun in this life, but according to Walls, finished in the next.

Wall points out the the church in the West (Roman Catholic) and the church in the East (Orthodox) developed the doctrine of purgatory differently. As we saw when we examined the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory, it contains a penal element to it - individuals suffer the temporal punishment the forgiven sins deserve. In the Orthodox understanding, this penal element is missing and purgatory is viewed "as a process of growth and maturation for persons who have not completed the sanctification process."

After reading through his article and a subsequent interview in Modern Reformation, there are some things I appreciate and some further questions.

First, Walls admits that purgatory is not a doctrine that is explicitly taught in Scripture, but believes it is "a reasonable inference from important truths that are clearly found there." That is good. Don't go fishing with bizarre exegesis to make texts support your purgatory. Instead, argue that other truths imply it. There is nothing wrong with that way of arguing, after all, that is how the orthodox church has argued for the doctrine of the Trinity. It's not explicitly taught, but when you pull together the strands of clear biblical teaching regarding the oneness of God and the divinity of Son and the Spirit, you are left with the reasonable (necessary in this case) inference that God has eternally existed in a plurality but is still one.

Second, in building his case for purgatory avoids some of the errors of the Roman Catholic version. Namely, there doesn't seem to be a penal element to Walls' purgatory as there is in the RC understanding.

Third, Walls connection of purgatory to sanctification is viable. If, in this life, God uses means to sanctify us, why could he not use means in the next life to sanctify us. Of the means he uses here, we would of course include the Word, prayer, sacraments, the church, and also discipline and suffering (Rom. 5:3).

Fourth, I don't believe that Walls' version diminishes the value of Christ's sacrifice or the fact of justification by faith alone through grace alone. Nor does it diminish the importance and value of the imputed righteousness of Christ. Even those with the highest views of the atonement and who believe we are justified on the basis of Christ's imputed righteousness are quick to recognize that we are simultaneously sinners and saints and that God uses means to shape us into the saints we are. Horton writes, "The Reformers saw 'Christ for us' and 'Christ in us', the alien righteousness imputed and the sanctifying righteousness imparted, as not only compatible but necessarily and inextricably related" (The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, 648)

Fifth, Walls is correct in pointing out that the long held position among Protestants that the process of sanctification is completed at death is not clearly taught in Scripture. It may be, he contends, implied from texts, but it isn't fully explicated. Wayne Grudem is probably typical of evangelicals on this. He writes, "once we die and go to be with the Lord, then our sanctification is completed in one sense, for our souls are set free from indwelling sin and are made perfect" (Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 749). In support he cites Hebrews 12:22-24, "But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel." Honestly, from this text, it's far from clear that souls are perfected at death. It could be argued that those souls who have been made perfect are the souls of believers who have come through purgatory and been made fit for heaven.

Having said that, I remain unconvinced by Walls' argument. While it may fall into the category of possible, I don't think it belongs in the category of probable. The first and primary reason for this rejection is a lack of biblical evidence for it. Walls has argued that it is implied by certain truth of Scripture, but he does not do a good enough job to convince me. Which truths from Scripture imply a purging after death. He argues philosophically that "there is no way of rendering such an abrupt transition [from unsanctified sinner to perfected saint] in essentially temporal beings conceivable" (quoting David Brown). That's not a biblical argument, and I don't even think it's a cogent philosophical one (How long should it take? Ten years? How about 9 years and six months? How about 7 years? How about 7 minutes?). He argues from a position that "God takes our freedom seriously" (being a good Wesleyan-Arminian), writing, "considerable growth is required before such a stage [perfection] can be reached. And if this growth has not occurred in this life, purgatory seems necessary if God is to complete the job with our freedom intact." While these might be good philosophical/theological arguments, they are not biblical in the strictest sense, and they are certainly open for debate. Thus, his contention that purgatory is implied in Scripture is weak.

Second, it seems the implications of Scripture point in another direction - that saints are perfected at death and enter into the joy of heaven (though in the temporary, penultimate, disembodied state). Here's how I'd build that case:

1) Nothing impure can enter heaven. Of the New Jerusalem it is said that "nothing unclean will ever enter it" (Revelation 21:27) and the prophet Habakkuk says of God, " You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?"(Hab. 1:13).

2) Several people in the NT were said to have gone directly to heaven. Jesus promised the thief on the cross that he would be with Christ in paradise "today" (Luke 23:43). Moreover, Paul anticipates being with Christ when he dies (Phil. 1:21; 2 Cor. 5:6).

3) These believers who went to Christ upon death were not completely sanctified in this life. Certainly the thief hadn't had a lot of time to grow and mature and be perfected. Walls deals with this by arguing that there "is no reason why paradise could not invole further growth, purging and the like". That sounds reasonable, until you ask is an immature, unperfected believer sinful still? Yes. There doesn't seem to be room in the NT view of heaven for sinners, like the thief on the cross, who are still dealing with their sins. Paul says of himself in Philippians 3:12"Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own." This letter was written in the last stages of Paul's life and ministry - and in the same letter where he expresses his hope to be with Christ when he dies.

4) There is clear biblical evidence that God does completely perfect some "in the twinkling of an eye" (1 Cor. 15:50-53). Walls contends, and is right, that this has to do with bodily transformation - those still alive when Christ returns will receive their new bodies quickly. But he continues, "it says nothing of relational of moral perfection." This strikes me as bizarre. We have new perfected bodies, but we still struggle with sin? And where does this struggle take place? In purgatory? The context of 1 Cor. 15 is the final triumph and it would seem that believers with their new bodies would be in the new heavens and new earth. But does that square with Rev. 21:27?

On the whole, Walls argument deserves to be considered, but I find it wanting. I would love to chat with him for a few hours on it. Maybe together we can figure out how he would respond to my objections, or come up with more. Maybe...we could invite him to ECC to speak at a seminar?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Two Provocative Posts from DG Hart

I frequent DG Hart's blog because he really makes me think. Often my gut reactions and preconceived notions of the way things should be are dismantled or at least challenged.

Today, he posted about an impending suit brought by seven higher education groups. An Appeals Court has recently sided with Badger Catholics in their complaint against the University of Wisconsin. The University had denied funding to the Catholic student group from student fees, but this decision was overturned by the court. Those who filed the legal brief argued that the Appeal Courts decision. . . took away the right of Wisconsin, and potentially other public colleges and universities, to support some student activities but to deny funds to organizations for worship services, proselytizing, or other activities that explicitly involve the practice of religion, according to the brief. The groups that sued Wisconsin and that are satisfied with the lower court’s ruling argue that universities should not treat religious activities in any way differently from other student activities — and that the limits used by Wisconsin infringed on the First Amendment.

Hart goes on to raise several questions about this situation:

Is that what they really want to say, that religion is the same as politics, sexual orientation, debate, and chess, or whatever other cause or identity for which Wisconsin students organize? Of course, it might seem unfair for Christian groups not to receive funding that goes to other students, but is this really a hardship worthy of hiring lawyers and going all the way to the Supreme Court? I imagine that all the attorneys fees could have funded Badger Catholic for a decade at least and probably several masses for dead Badger Catholics along the way... Meanwhile, is it really too much to ask for Christians to support their own activities? If believers can readily acknowledge the unfairness of being taxed to support indecent art funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, can’t they also understand why Wisconsin students and administrators might object to Protestants receiving funds to conduct Bible studies?

We certainly are quick to cry foul in similar situations, aren't we.

In another piece from earlier in the week, Hart asks, "How much of the Bible do we want the President to apply in his ruling?
He offers the following thought experiment.

"[Imagine President Obama] comes to the conclusion that murder is absolutely wrong and that abortion in many cases seems to be at odds with God’s law. He calls for a meeting of his cabinet to address the matter, calls the Speaker of the House about drafting legislation, and may even decide to address the nation during prime time."

Ok, sound good right. But Hart continues the experiment. Now imagine President Obama continued reading and read the New Testament.

"So let’s say the President continues to read the Bible daily and comes to the conviction, after counsel from nearby pastor, Mark Dever, that infant baptism is sinful. He knows that many churches, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, practice infant baptism. But he still believes that God’s word teaches only people who have made a credible profession of faith are eligible for baptism. So he calls another round of meetings with cabinet officials, members of Congress, and church leaders to begin to draft legislation that would prohibit infant baptism. Let’s also suppose that he gave the churches a year to stop their practices and if they did not the government would shut down all congregations that still used a baptismal font.

This scenario is not so hard to imagine since Presbyterians in Scotland and Northern Ireland experienced from Oliver Cromwell the kind of repression that President Obama might visit on Reformed churches if he got evangelical religion."

He concludes,
"it does seem mightily selective to think that magistrates need to pay attention to sexual sins but need to mind their business when it comes to liturgical infidelity. "

I'm pretty sure Hart isn't saying we should stop lobby for life (at least as individuals). However, he raises good questions regarding how we should lobby and argue. Should we use Scripture when debating with people who do not regard Scripture as authoritative? Or, should we argue from grounds of common grace and general revelation. Do we really want the President to run the country from a Christian platform? If so, which one? The pacifist Anabaptist position? The radical right or the liberal left? Or, should we recognize that we live as dual citizens and keep the two kingdoms separate. Good questions to ponder.

Catechism #69-71

I haven't been posting much on the blog recently. That is in part due to being overly busy and in part due to a total lack of motivation. Ah, winter, please end soon. Anyway, I have enjoyed working on the Catechism with the boys.

I should say, probably should have said it a long time ago, that we aren't working on memorizing it (yet), only getting an understanding of it. Here's the questions we've been working with recently.

Question #69:
How does baptism remind you and assure you that Christ's one sacrifice on the cross is for you personally?

Answer: In this way: Christ instituted this outward washing and with it gave the promise that, as surely as water washes away the dirt from the body, so certainly his blood and his Spirit wash away my soul's impurity, in other words, all my sins (Acts 2:38, Matt. 3:11; Rom. 6:3-10; 1 Pet. 3:21)

Question #70: What does it mean to be washed with Christ's blood and Spirit?

Answer: To be washed with Christ's blood means that God, by grace, has forgiven my sins because of Christ's blood poured out for me in his sacrifice on the cross.

To be washed with Christ's Spirit means that the Holy Spirit has renewed me and set me apart to be a member of Christ so that more and more I become dead to sin and increasingly live a holy and blameless life. (Zech. 13:1; Eph. 1:7-8; Heb. 12:24; 1 Pet. 1:2; Rev. 1:5, Ezek. 36:25-27; John 3:5-8; Rom. 6:4; 1 Cor. 6:11; Col. 2:11-12).

Question #71: Where does Christ promise that we are washed with his blood and Spirit as surely as we are washed with the water of baptism?

Answer: In the institution of baptism where he says: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

"Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."

This promise is repeated when Scripture calls baptism the washing of rebirth and the washing away of sins (Matt. 28:19, Mark 16:16, Tit. 3:5, Acts 22:16).

*Earlier and better manuscripts of Mark 16 omit the words "Whoever believes and is baptized . . . condemned."

Monday, February 07, 2011

Song of the Week

I downloaded this album last week and really like this song. It has a quality that is very Psalm like to it in. So many songs are pleas for God's help amid the storms, wars, etc. of life, and Stanfill incorporates that into this song.

Kristian Stanfill, 'Always'