Monday, December 19, 2011

Song of the Week

A steady diet of Christmas music leaves me wanting, needing, some good hard rock. Some great stuff on the Offspring's Greatest Hits, available at Amazon for just $5!

Offspring, "Gotta Get Away"

Friday, December 16, 2011

Best Books of 2011

As I looked back and on my reading list for 2011, I realized it wasn't a very good one. I read a lot, about a book a week. Unfortunately, the demands of classes this year meant I read a lot of narrowly focused books on education, small groups, etc. While useful, they aren't inspiring reads, or the kind of life transforming books I like to recommend. But, there were a few really good reads alongside all the trudging:

1. Who's Tampering with the Trinity, by Millard Erickson. This was a required read for the seminar on the Trinity led by Steven Roy. I loved it and blogged a little about it. I'd recommend it as it will aid your understanding of the Trinity as well as give you insight into contemporary debates.

2. Living in God's Two Kingdoms, David VanDrunen. VanDrunen offers a great overview of Biblical/Redemptive history, tracing how the covenants connect (and where there is disconnect). The book examines how Christians are called to live in this world as citizens of another. Great insights into how we keep the church about the church and still engage as individuals in the work of being salt and light. Also posted on it here.

3. The Gospel for Real Life, by Jerry Bridges. I'm pretty sure this book has made previous lists. Remember, this isn't books that came out in 2011, but books I read, or reread, in the past 12 months. This is a great, very accessible book on the importance of 'preaching the gospel to ourselves'. I walked through it with my small group and really got a lot out of it again.

4. What the Best College Teachers Do, Ken Bain. This is one of those narrowly focused, skill building books I mentioned above, but, it was excellent. It's not a cookie-cutter approach to teaching, but offered great insight into the goals and best approaches of teaching. Also worthy of mention is Parker Palmer's The Courage to Teach.

5. The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ, Cornelius Venema. Venema's book helped me 1) understand the controversial New Perspective on Paul championed by Sanders, Dunn and NT Wright; and 2) helped me understand its deep deficiencies. It's pretty dense, but if you've read Wright on Paul, pick this up as a counter argument before deciding Wright is right (can never resist that).

6. Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, C. John Collins. This book will make a lot of people mad. On the fundamentalist side, Collins will infuriate people with his suggestions that the language of the Bible may be less than literal, but poetic, etc. Nor will the like how he entertains scientific theories about man's origins and deems them, many at least, compatible with what the Bible teaches. On the opposite extreme, others won't like his insistence that a literal Adam and Eve are necessary to story line of Scripture. Blogged about it more here and here.

7. Two Views of Women in Ministry. This book actually had four essays with responses from four different contributors. It was a very thoughtful and thought provoking book. I don't think I agreed with one essay in total. I certainly agreed with the most strident egalitarian in the mix, Linda Belleville, and the most strident complimentarian too, Tom Schreiner. In the middle, I found a lot to agree with from both the moderate complimentarian (Craig Blomberg) and moderate egalitarian (Craig Keener). Related blog post here.

8. From Garden to the City, John Dyer. Ok, truth time - I haven't finished it yet, but I hope to by Jan1! Unless Dyer gets real stupid in the last third of the book, I would highly recommend it to anyone who uses technology. Yet, that's you! He helps the reader consider how technology shapes us just by using it, whether for good or evil purposes. Moreover, he explores how God has utilized technology to further his redemptive purposes in the world. Blog post.

9. Union with Christ, Robert Letham. This profound theological truth has 'flown under the radar' in most evangelical theologies, including my own, until now. John Williamson Nevin woke me up to it and prompted me to explore it more. Letham's book is my first step in this exploration. Next up, a whole class on it in January! Letham does a masterful job of covering lots of material in church history and the Biblical text in a relatively short space. Some sections are tough - like that on the churches understanding of hypostasis and the incarnation. Some other sections will be too much for some readers - like sections on Calvin on the Supper where he argues that we truly partake of Christ's substance in the act of eating and drinking. Don't get me wrong, he's right, but it's a lot to take in if you come from a 'memorial' background.

10. Honor Bound, by WEB Griffin. To make it a perfect ten, I needed to include this awesome series of war novels. I started this series at the tail end of 2010, but read five of the six in 2011. It's a great fictional series on the founding of the CIA, called the OSS in its early days. It traces the work of one particular team in Argentina during the tail end of WW2 and into the Cold War. Fantastic!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

God, Pagan Kings, and His Purposes

The whole section of Isaiah running from chapters 40 to 55 is one of my favorites in all the prophets, and it happens that I'm reading them now in my own private study. Specifically, I was very encouraged by chapter 45 this week. Here's a few things that really stuck out:

1. God uses pagans. I've had numerous conversations with people in the past month who are worried or offended or both that Obama isn't calling his tree a Christmas tree. Ok, so what. We begin to act as if God's plans depend on having a Christian leader in the Whitehouse. Read verses 1-6:
Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed: 2 "I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, 3 I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. 4 For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me. 5 I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, 6 that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.

Who is Cyrus? A righteous Israelite king? No. A prophet? No. A pagan king in a pagan land. If Cyrus had a tree it would have been a holiday tree, not a Christmas tree. And, it would have been sitting next to a statue of a dozen or so other gods. Cyrus displayed, what for his time is stunning, tolerance for the cultures and religions of conquered peoples. He was a more humane and just ruler than those the region had known prior - better than the Assyrians and the Babylonians. But, there is no indication that he had become a follower of the one true God of Israel. In fact, God says,
"I call you by your name, though you do not know me. I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me" (Isaiah 45:4-5).
My point: Rulers are all appointed by God. You could even argue they have all been anointed by God (remember David's refusal to kill Saul, who, evil though he was, was still the Lord's anointed). Moreover, it is not necessary for rulers to embrace Christ (and certainly not Christmas trees) to rule justly. PLEASE, don't read this as an endorsement of President Obama or his policies. On the other hand, if we're going to be critical of President Obama, lets be critical on issues that matter. So he doesn't like calling his pine tree (or is it a spruce) a Christmas tree. Does that make him unChristain? No. But even if it did, can't a non-Christian still, by the light of God in nature, conscience and reason still rule effectively? Cyrus found a way!

2. Less politically, I'm in awe of how God hangs his unique status as the one true God on his ability to foretell what will happen. Take again the reign of Cyrus. Isaiah prophesied around a century before Cyrus' reign began. Yet, through the inspiration of the Spirit, he could tell the people of God that a) there was a king coming who would be called Cyrus (his parents didn't even know what he'd be called yet!), and b) Cyrus would "subdue nations before him" (Isaiah 45:1). God establishes his foreknowledge by showing himself to know the future events of Cyrus and declares it to be a unique characteristic of him, the living God.

"Ask me things to come" says the Lord in Isaiah 45:11. Through the next ten or so verses God tells the people what is going to happen: how they will set the exiles free (fulfilled in the next century when Cyrus issues his decree allowing the Jews to return to their land), how the nations will be drawn to Israel (fulfilled in Christ). After this, he calls out the idols of the foreign nations:
20 “Assemble yourselves and come;
draw near together,
you survivors of the nations!
They have no knowledge
who carry about their wooden idols,
and keep on praying to a god
that cannot save.
21 Declare and present your case;
let them take counsel together!
Who told this long ago?
Who declared it of old?
Was it not I, the LORD?
And there is no other god besides me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is none besides me.
The Lord's reasoning is pretty clear - I am the one who foretold all these things. I know them (because I'm sovereign and have ordained them). Thus, I'm the real God, besides me all the other gods are dumb pieces of wood. The surrounding chapters make this even more explicit. For example, look at Isaiah 46:8-13,
“Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
9 remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
10 declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
11 calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it.
3. Don't miss the link between God's knowledge of the future and his sovereignty over it. He can tell his people what will happen because he has purposed it and his counsel will stand. How detailed are his purposes? Well, they include Cyrus's parents naming him Cyrus and not Freddie! They include his rise to power, his conquering of nations, his more just and tolerant policies, etc. They include Cyrus decision to set the exiles free. In summary, they include every detail, whether 'fortuitous' or not:
"I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity. I am the Lord, who does all these things" (Isaiah 45:7).
Furthermore, God declares a woe to those who try (unsuccessfully) to kick against his sovereign purposes:
"Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earth pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, 'What are you making?' or 'Your work has no handles?'. Woe to him who says to a father, 'What are you begetting?' or to a woman, 'With what are you in labor?'" (Isaiah 45:9-10)
The main thrust of this chapter is that God has sovereignly ordained to good to his people. They should not fear, not abandon hope, not fret like worshippers of little wooden gods. God has every means at his disposal to ensure his will is accomplished - even pagan rulers.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Song of the Week

I love the Gungor album 'Beautiful Things'. We've sung two songs in church from this album recently - 'Beautiful Things' and 'The Earth is Yours'. I like those, but I love this one. I don't think it would be very singable, though to be honest, I sing it pretty loudly in the car!

Gungor, 'Dry Bones'

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Women are not supposed to submit to Men

I just read this post, "Women, Stop Submitting to Men" from Dr. Moore's blog (in case you aren't familiar with Dr. Moore, he's Dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY):
Those of us who hold to so-called “traditional gender roles” are often assumed to believe that women should submit to men. This isn’t true. Indeed, a primary problem in our culture and in our churches isn’t that women aren’t submissive enough to men, but instead that they are far too submissive.

First of all, it just isn’t so that women are called to submit while men are not. In Scripture, every creature is called to submit, often in different ways and at different times. Children are to submit to their parents, although this is certainly a different sort of submission than that envisioned for marriage. Church members are to submit to faithful pastors (Heb. 13:17). All of us are to submit to the governing authorities (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17). Of course, we are all to submit, as creatures, to our God (Jas. 4:7).

And, yes, wives are called to submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22; 1 Pet. 3:1-6). But that’s just the point. In the Bible, it is not that women, generally, are to submit to men, generally. Instead, “wives” are to submit “to your own husbands” (1 Pet. 3:1).
I couldn't agree more. The past month or two the staff has been engaged in reading together Two Views of Women in Miniatry (Zondervan, 2005). One of the things that peeved me was how those in the complementarian camp turned to Genesis 1-3 and used those chapters to support the idea that women (as women) are called to submit to men (simply as men). For example, Schreiner writes, "We have already seen that men and women equally are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27) and are thus of equal value and significance as God's creatures. But I would also contend that there are six indications in Genesis 1-3 of a role differentiation between men and women [emphasis mine]." Later Schreiner contends, "The doctrine of creation is of enormous significance for the debate on the roles of men and women."

My point isn't to pick apart his "six indications," but to remind us that Adam and Eve weren't simply man and woman, but husband and wife. In fact, I use Genesis 2:23-25 in every wedding I do. What is true of their relationship may be true of men and women in general, but not necessarily - you'd have to support that with some other texts. I do see principles for how men and women are to relate in the family (and it is possible, though debated, that Paul applies these principles to the family of God), but I reject the idea that these principles are to be applied to all male/female relationships.

John Piper goes, in my opinion, way beyond what Scripture demands (and I think everyone knows I love Piper). In "A Vision for Biblical Complimentarity" (in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womandhood) he asserts, "A mature woman who is married, for example, does not welcome the same kind of strength and leadership from other men that she welcomes from her husband. But she will affirm and receive and nurture the strength and leadership of men in some form in all her relationships with men" (50). He goes on to assert that when, in their vocations, women have men who are subordinate to them, they need to interact with these subordinates in ways "that signal to him and others her endorsement of his mature manhood in relationship to her as a women" (50). He goes so far as to suggest that if a women is asked by a man for directions, she needs to do so in a manner that ensures his manhood and leadership are not compromised (51). For these reasons, Piper thinks it is unbiblical for a woman to hold the office of President (she would be Commander in Chief and over the Armed Forces), showing how broadly he applies this principle of male leadership and female submission.

My opinion - that's nuts. Looking to these chapters and applying it beyond the husband wife relationship to men and women in general goes beyond what Scripture indicates. It may be true, but you need to argue it from other passages. More, I think teaching/preaching the notion that women are to submit to me is flat out dangerous. I have counseled more than one young women who thought she was supposed to submit to her boyfriend! Let me be real clear: a girlfriend is NOT called to submit to a boyfriend! What a recipe for disaster. Even if the man is a godly man, the dating couple begins to act and relate to each other in ways that to closely resemble the patterns of marriage. Dr. Moore articulates this well,"Sisters, there is no biblical category for 'boyfriend' or 'lover,' and you owe such designation no submission. In fact, to be submissive to your future husband you must stand back and evaluate, with rigid scrutiny, 'Is this the one who is to come, or is there another?' That requires an emotional and physical distance until there is a lifelong covenant made, until you stand before one who is your 'own husband.'"

Dr. Moore points out a few more dangers of this general call for women to submit to men. First,
"Too often in our culture, women and girls are pressured to submit to men, as a category. This is the reason so many women, even feminist women, are consumed with what men, in general, think of them. This is the reason a woman’s value in our society, too often, is defined in terms of sexual attractiveness and availability. Is it any wonder that so many of our girls and women are destroyed by a predatory patriarchy that demeans the dignity and glory of what it means to be a woman?"

In addition, "Additionally, too many predatory men have crept in among us, all too willing to exploit young women by pretending to be 'spiritual leaders' (2 Tim. 3:1-9; 2 Pet. 2). Do not be deceived: a man who will use spiritual categories for carnal purposes is a man who cannot be trusted with fidelity, with provision, with protection, with the fatherhood of children. The same is true for a man who will not guard the moral sanctity of a woman not, or not yet, his wife."

I do think you see elements of male leadership and female submission in the Genesis 1-3, but in the context of the covenant of marriage. These elements are subtle, and without Paul's words in Ephesians and other places, I wouldn't make much of them. But I think they are there, and they are still the pattern for husbands and wives. As such, the roles of leadership and submission in marriage are voluntary roles as we enter into the covenant of marriage voluntarily. Parallel to this is the Son's submission, voluntarily, to the Father in the Covenant of Redemption. It goes beyond Scripture to argue that the Son was eternally subordinate to the Father. Certainly he became subordinate in the incarnation, but that was a willing submission not borne out of inferiority or ontology. Instead, it was a humble submission chosen by the Son as part of the Covenant. Similarly, a wife's submission is not owed to her husband because he is male and she is female and thus ontologically inferior to him, but instead because she has agreed to take on that role as terms of the Covenant of Marriage, just as the husband has agreed to take on the role of leader.

My point isn't to elaborate extensively on what this kind of submission should look like in the husband-wife relationship, only to suggest that Genesis 1-3 speaks of this relationship and NOT of the male-female relationship broadly. I think we really need to get this right.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Song of the Week

I just learned of the Decemberists. Holy crap they're good. If you knew about them and didn't tell me, shame on you. You call me your friend?!

Decemberists, "E. Watson"

My Response: Ethics, Church & Undocumented Workers

I thought I would get to writing on this a week or so ago, but better late than never. If you want to read through the question posed by Dr. Moore go here. The question reminded me how fallen our world is and how complicated situations are. It's easy to sloganeer our way through issues like immigration and undocumented workers, but when you really enter the situation you see how convoluted and confusing it is.

In situations like Pablo's where he seems stuck between two conflicting norms - obey the law and provide for your family, there exists three main positions. 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, Pablo should continue to live and work in the States, providing for his family, he should confess it as sin (this assumes, of course, that the value of Pablo's family is deemed to be greater than the value of obeying a arguably unjust law that would make their survival impossible).

The second position is sometimes labeled "hierarchical-ism". 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, Pablo should continue to live and work in the States and feel no guilt, nor feel the need to confess it as sin (again, assuming that we put a higher premium on Pablo's family than national borders).

The third position is one of "non-conflicting 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. Pablo, on this view, should look for a third alternative which most certainly exists. Maybe he can get a better job than he thinks in his country of origin and continue to provide for his family. Maybe he could hire a lawyer and fight for legal status, etc.

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 seems to line up with the biblical data best. Some have argued 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 regarding the third position is the WWJD question. 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 Pablo's, had Jesus chosen as Pablo did, he wouldn't have been sinning.But, as seen above, this seems to rest on dubious groups Biblically.

My position is 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 'non-conflicting 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 violate a statute regarding citizenship to feed our families. In the case of Rahab, we lie to save lives. In the case of the Hebrew midwives, we again lie to save the lives of infant babies. We violate laws that prohibit the preaching of the gospel in closed countries. We smuggle Bibles into areas where it is forbidden. In those situations where we can't see a third way we act in a way that makes value judgements and choose honor those higher values. But ignorance isn't an excuse to sin. Trust me, I've tried it with police officers 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. (My position is hard for many reasons, chief among them is that it cannot be absolutized. If the life of five more valuable than the life of one. Conjuring Spock: the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Yes. Does that mean I should kill and rob one to feed five. No. Can we lie to save a life, like Rahab? Yes. Should we lie about our faith in Christ to keep from becoming a martyr? No.)

So, in Pablo's case, as his pastor, I would baptize him and admit him into full communion of the church. I would counsel him to confess his sin and pray earnestly that God would show him a way to support his family without violating the law.

Regarding the employer, I think much has to do with his motivations. Is he getting rich by exploiting his undocumented workers? Or, is he providing them with employment at a fair wage so that they can support their families? Again, if he's employing Pablo to prevent him and his family from starving, I would commend him for making a tough choice given bad options - a choice that is putting him and his business at risk.

Even here in Indiana, this issues isn't one that's far off or relegated to border states. Even if it were, there are other issues we face like it, though thankfully, not frequently. Usually, we can discern a third way (more so as we grow in wisdom and in reliance on the Spirit) - maybe not one that is comfortable or enjoyable, but I think it's rare that we face a situation in which there is no clear righteous solution.

Thoughts?