Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Book Thief

I just picked up a copy of The Book Thief. The lady behind the counter in the Barnes and Noble Starbucks gushed about it. I wouldn't have bought it, but I saw that its the book picked for One Book One Bloomington and Beyond 2009 and that there were five or six book discussion groups about it and a few movie discussion nights also.

From the promo: "Narrated by Death, this coming-of-age story set in World War II chronicles the life of a young girl in Germany who leaarns from the books she steals and the friends she collects along the way." I've only just started this book and find it weirdly interesting. I am hoping to make my way to one of the many book discussion groups on it - what a great topic to discuss and what a great bridge to talking about the gospel - Death is inevitable; Death is our enemy! I'd challenge those of you who live in Btown to pick up a copy and plan on going to a discussion group. Ask a friend to go with, maybe a friend you've been praying for and one you are hoping to share the gospel with.

Friday, January 30, 2009

"My Brother Esau Is a Hairy Man": Hair and Identity in Ancient Israel , by Susan Niditch

Book description from Oxford University Press:

"The story of Jacob and Esau is told in the book of Genesis. With his mother's help, Jacob impersonates his hairy older twin by dressing in Esau's clothes and covering his own hands and the nape of his neck with the hairy hide of goats. Fooled by this ruse, their blind father, Isaac, is tricked into giving the younger son the blessing of the firstborn. This is only one of many biblical stories in which hair plays a pivotal role.

In recent years, there has been an explosion of scholarly interest in the relationship between culture and the body. Hair plays an integral role in the way we represent and identify ourselves. The way we treat our hair has to do with aesthetics, social structure, religious identity, and a host of other aspects of culture. In societies modern and ancient, the hairdo is one key to a group's cultural code. In ancient Israel, hair signifies important features of identity with respect to gender, ethnicity, and holiness.

Susan Niditch seeks a deeper understanding of Israelite culture as expressed, shaped, and reinforced in images of hair. Among her examples is the tradition's most famous long-haired hero, Samson. The hair that assures Samson's strength is a common folktale motif, but is also important to his sacred status as a Nazirite. Niditch examines the meaning of the Nazirite identity null held by Samuel as well as Samson null arguing that long hair is involved in a complex set of cultural assumptions about men, warrior status, and divine election. In addition to biblical texts, Niditch looks at pictorial and other material evidence. She concludes by examining the troubling texts in which men impose hair cutting or loosening upon women, revealing much about attitudes to women and their place in Israelite culture. Much has been written on the presentation of the body in various literatures, including the Bible, but the role of hair in ancient Israel has been neglected. This book charts a new path for studies on the body, religion, and culture."

My question for Susan NIditch is, 'have we really run out of things to think and write about?' On top of being stupid, it's expensive - $45 for a 145pg book. I hope Susan has a large family who will by her book because it got published (not sure if I would).

New Blog by DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung, co-author of Why We're Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be, has launched a blog, DeYoung, Restless and Reformed. Check it out. Also, I see he has two other books that I will be checking out soonish, maybe: 1) Just Do Something: How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc., and 2) Freedom and Boundaries: A Pastoral Primer on the Role of Women in the Church. (Don't these titles seem obnoxiously long. Reminds me of some great Puritan titles).

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Questions About Scripture #5: My friend is Jewish and rejects the NT. How can I explain the legitmacy and relevance of the NT?

Another great question from Sunday night, "My roomate is Jewish and therefore disregards the New Testament entirely. How can I explain the legitimacy and relevance of the New Testament?"

I think there are at least two possible approaches. First, to show from the Old Testament that the Messiah must suffer and die and be raised again. That is what Jesus did with his disciples as we see in Luke 24. Matthew and Lukes gospel will be helpful in this regard.

From the OT you can establish that man was created by God and hence he is our Creator King and deserves our full obedience (Genesis 1:26). Also, Genesis 3 shows that man did not live up to this duty/calling and falls under God's righteous judgment. Man is now separated from God and does not live in shalom peace with God, God's world or his fellow man. Mankind has gone far afield and is desperately wicked (Psalm 14:2-3). The Old Testament also establishes that life does not end with death. Mankind will be judged: some will enter into everlasting life and some to everlasting contempt (Dan 12:2). The OT also establishes that God is not only a God of justice and wrath, but of mercy and compassion (Ex 33:19, Ex 34:5-7). The Old Testament also established the need for forgiveness and the importance of satisfying the righteous wrath of God - that was the meaning of the Day of Atonement and all the OT sacrifices (the book of Hebrews summarizes, "Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins", Heb 9:22).

The Old Testament also shows that a better sacrifice would be needed to permanently atone for the sins of God's people. Isaiah 53 explains that a Suffering Servant would be appointed by God as this atoning sacrifice. Here are a few key verses from Isaiah 53:

"But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all." (53:5-6)

"Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities." (53:10-11)

Finally, regarding the OT witness, Psalm 16:10 is picked in the NT as a Messianic prediction that the Messiah would experience a resurrection (Acts 2 and Acts 13). This explains why Jesus, who was a Jew, was regarded as the Messiah by his followers, who were also Jews. The had met the risen Jesus and this event begged for an explanation. Jesus opened their eyes to see what was already there in the OT.

From a different angle, you can approach the validity of the New Testament using historical evidence for the resurrection. It is a historical fact that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified under Pontius Pilate. This fact is attested to by nonbiblical sources such as Josephus and Tacitus. It is a historical fact that his disciples preached that he had been raised from the dead on the third day. It is a historical fact that most of those disciples, all except Judas and John, gave their lives for his cause, refusing to renounce Jesus or go back to Judaism. It is a fact that the early church exploded in a context which was unfriendly to new religions. The new upstarts were persecuted by Jews and Romans. Yet, the church did grow and spread. Why? How do we explain the passion of these early Christians, their perseverance apart from the resurrection of Jesus?! How do you explain how people across the globe have come to worship a crucified criminal if something dramatic didn't happen, something like a resurrection? How do we explain the success of their message apart from an empty tomb? How would have believed Jesus was resurrected from the dead if his enemies could have produced a rotting corpse? The resurrection of Jesus, as crazy as it sounds (and it sounds crazy not only to us in the 21st century, but also to those in the 1st century, see Acts 17:32), is the most likely explanation for the historical message of the apostles and the success of their mission to the world.

If Jesus was raised from the dead, then there was something truly exceptional about him. If he walked out of the tomb on the third day as he said he would, he is a man to be reckoned with. What do you do with such a man? My suggestion, believe him! He is who he said he is. If he is who he said he is, we should listen to him and those who tell us about him.

There is a truck load of resources on this question. I would recommend taking a look at Two Ways to Live: Old Testament Version. It's a simple track that could prove useful. I would also recommend a book, though I haven't read it yet, by Christopher Wright, Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament. As I said, I haven't read it yet, but I have appreciated everything I have ever read by Chris Wright.

Again, hope that helps.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Questions about Scripture #4: If the Bible is authoritative, how do we take those passages in the Pentetauch which permit slavery?

I am forced to paraphrase this question from memory because the piece of paper is on my desk at church and I'm snowed in at home. The question, 'if the Bible is authoritative how do we handle the passages in the OT that permit slavery', is one I wish I had a whole semester to think about before answering (I have this wonderful 500 pg. book on my shelf by Christopher Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God. Unfortunately I only got it a week or two ago and haven't read it yet. I am drawing heavily on several sections though). This will be a long post, but stick with it.

To begin, when thinking of slavery in ancient Israel we must put all images of modern slavery or of slavery in the US prior to the 1860's out of our mind. In fact, we must put all images of slavery in the ancient world out of our mind. Slavery in OT was utterly different, unique and stands in stark contrast. There were no slave markets, slave ships, neck irons, sugar plantations, etc. Slaves worked alongside owners and the owners children in the fields and home - they didn't instead of their owners but with them. Wright says that the experience of a slave was little different than the experience of a paid worker. Most slaves were debtors working off their debts as bonded servants. An owner could not sell his slaves. They were not kidnapped from another place and forced into slavery. Consider Deuteronomy 24:7, "If a man is found stealing one of his brothers of the people of Israel, and if he treats him as a slave or sells him, then that thief shall die. So you shall purge the evil from your midst."

This leads Wright to argue that slave isn't even a good word because of all that baggage we carry - 'bonded servant' is the phrase he prefers). Wright comments, "slaves enjoyed more legal rights and protection than in any contemporary society. Indeed, slaves enjoyed more explicit legal and economic security thatn the technically free, but landless, hired labourers and craftsmen". I'm not sure I'd use the word 'enjoyed' but the point is made nonetheless. Slavery as we see it in ancient Israel is categorically different that what we usually associate with the word slave.

Moreover, Wright points out "slaver in the Old Testament was not simply tolerated with a 'rubber stamp' of uncritical approval. Aspects of Old Testament thought and practice in this area virtually 'neutralized' slavery as an institution and sowed the seeds of its radical rejection in much later Christian thining." How so? Wright makes three points:

1) Israel had herself been delivered from slavery to Egypt by God. The command "You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you" (Deut. 15:15) shows up at least six times, variously worded, in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. Their slavery was harsh and long - 400 years. As a nation, they began as a rabble who had been freed from bondage. Thus, Israel's whole understanding of slavery was formed against the backdrop of her own suffering under her Egyptian masters.

2) As mentioned above, the laws regulating slavery in Israel were more favorable to slaves than the laws of any of the surrounding nations. For example, slaves were included in the religious life of Israel, including Sabbath rests. In addition, there are many laws for Israel that govern how a master could treat his slaves. Wright points out that in and of itself that is unique. In other nations there were laws regulating what you could do to someone elses slave but no laws restricting what you could do to your own slave. If a slave was permanently injured by his master, he was to be set free. According to Exodus 21:20, if a master beat his slave so that he died immediately, the slave was to be 'avenged'(meaning the master was liable to death at the hands of the dead slaves family). Full disclosure here, the next verse is harder. It says if the slave is beat and survives a day or two his death is not to be avenged (apparently, that he survived a couple of days was seen as evidence that the master did not mean to kill the slave). All this talk of beating is tough, but remember, children and wives were beat too! Ouch. I'll come back to this at the end.

Maybe most importantly, a slave was to be set free after six years of service. Since many didn't own land and would find survival difficult they would choose to remain as slaves. This is evidence that for many, slavery was less oppressive and more secure than abject poverty.

Deuteronomy 23:15-16 takes the prize as the best anitslavery law: "You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him." If a master was harsh, his slaves could flee without reprucussion. It was their prerogative. Some have argued that this must have applied to foregin slaves that fled to Israel for refuge. Even if that's true, and I don't see anything in the text that supports that interpretation, it would be a radical departure from other nations slave laws. This, in effect, undermines the whole institution of slavery.

3) The attitude towards slavery in the Israel is different in that it assumes the equality of all mankind. All are created in the image of God. All bear an inherit dignity (see Job 31:15). Slavey is not natural; slaves are not something less than owners. In Wright's words, "Slavery here is sen as something unnatural, fallen and accursed".

This brings me to my second to last point. The OT legal codes were designed to restrain evil. For example, the laws regulating divorce do not mean God approves of divorce. It is contrary to his design and purpose. God, however, understands fallen man and fallen societies. Jesus' comments regarding divorce are informative (see Mark 10:1-9). Moreover, what we are looking at here are laws. Ethics are different than laws. Simply obeying the laws does not make one ethical. Rightouesness goes beyond simple law keeping. Laws are designed to restrain evil, not necessarily establish righteousness. So, though slavery was legal (as was wife beating and child beating, within limits), it does not follow that Scripture teaches it was a righteous thing.

Now, finally, my last point. I don't want to leave anyone with the impression that I believe slavery is ethical. Not for a minute. I believe slavery is evil, even the kind tolerated under the Israel's law. However, one might look at how modern societies have dealt with the same underlying problem, namely poverty and debt, and wonder if our solutions are any less evil. Those who are down and out can declare bankruptcy (and the creditors get nothing, which certainly isnt' just) or sometimes the debtors are imprisoned (which helps no one). The gravely impoverished live sometimes without the necessities of life - food, clothing, shelter, etc. In a fallen world sin affects everything. It creates problems for which the best solutions are sometimes undesirable - like going to war to prevent atrocities. As shown above, many Israelites considered becoming a slave a better option than living in abject poverty, landless/homeless, etc. Wright comments, "considered simply as a legal penalty [for defaulting on debt], it is arguable that time limited slavery for debt on Israelite terms was more humane than imprisonment on ours. The slave still lived at home. he worked with human company in the 'normal world. he walked on God's earth under God's sky. Imprisonment denies these things, and it is interesting (to say the least) that imprisonment is never prescribed as a penalty anywhere in the Torah (though it was practiced in the later monarchy)." Am I advocating a return to indendured servitude to solve these problems today. No, of course not. But a sympathetic reader of the OT can't miss the compassion inherint in Israels slave laws. Hope that helps.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Questions about Scripture #3: Why didn't the Jews think the Messiah would be crucified?

Another great question (not necessarily regarding the reliability of Scripture) was submitted Sunday night: "Why didn't the Jews think the Messiah would be crucified. It was prophesied in the OT..."

A few points. I'm not sure you can look to the OT and find passages that foretell the Messiah would be crucified (I'm open to correction here). The OT does show that the Messiah would be a Suffering Servant. Read Isaiah 53:

"Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors."

That is a beautiful passage. Why did the Jews miss the connection between Isaiah's Suffering Servant and the Messiah? Well truthfully, not all did. Remember Simeon. He was a devout Jew full of the Spirit. When he saw the eight day old Jesus at the Temple this is what he said to Mary:
“Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts
from many hearts may be revealed.”
(Luke 2:34-35).

Simeon understood something - that though Jesus would bring salvation to the world, Jew and Gentile, he would be opposed and suffer. There weren't many Simeons around though. Most Jews did not associate Isaiah's Suffering Servant with the Christ (the Messiah). The Messiah would be a warrior king, like David, who would throw off the bonds of Roman tyranny. The Suffering Servant was a different figure, usually with the nation of Israel as a whole.

A couple other points need to be made. First, Jesus was not recognized as the Messiah because a veil remained over the OT. That's what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:14-15, "But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed." Remember, Jesus own disciples didn't get that the Messiah would have to suffer. Look at the story on Mark 8. Peter has just confessed that Jesus is the Christ. Kuddo's for Peter. But immediately Jesus begins to teach that he must be rejected, suffer, die and rise again. What's Peter do? He rebukes Jesus! He didn't get it. Even after the event the disciples didn't get it - it took Jesus opening their eyes for them to see it: "Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things" (Luke 24: 45-48).

Second, this was to fulfill God's purposes. The Jews didn't receive Jesus as the Messiah because it was a part of God's plan that they reject him. Remember from Isaiah, it was God's will that his Son be crushed for our sin. Had he been embraced as the Messiah that would not have happened. The rejection and crucifixion were a part of God's plan to redeem.

Lastly, it's for us that Jesus was rejected, meaning us Gentiles. In Romans 11 we read Paul teaching the Gentile Christians that the Jewish branch was 'broken off' so the Gentile branch could be grafted in. This ingrafting of the Gentiles branch will make the Jewish branch jealous and they will in turn come back to the LORD and be regrafted in ("even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again", Romans 11:23). Does that mean all Israel will be saved? That is another post for another day!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Song of the Week

I had pretty much forgotten about this album and this song, but I'm glad I didn't. I really like this song.

Yes And Amen - Matt Redman

Questions about Scripture #2: In Matthew 5:18 what does the word 'law' refer to?

Another question from last night, "In Matthew 5:18 does 'Law' mean Torah or the Law/Word that was to be written, the New Testament? Did Jesus want to do away with the Torah or change it all?

Great question, and one that is the source of some heated debate among Biblical scholars. The word 'Law' in Matthew 5 is a reference to the whole of the OT. Quoting Craig Blomberg's commentary on Matthew, "Both the Law and the Prophets together (v.17) and the Law by itself (v.18) were standard Jewish ways of referring to entire Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament)." That was the easy part.

The hard part of the question is how we relate to the Old Testament Law today. What does it mean that Jesus fulfilled it all? Is it still binding on us today? Here I'll offer you my understanding and will acknowledge up front that there are good and godly people who disagree with me.

Jesus fulfilled all of the Old Testament in the sense that it all pointed to Him. After his resurrection Jesus was walking with a couple of his disciples on the way to Emmaus. The disciples didn't recognize Jesus and began telling him about their hopes that the Messiah had come and how those hopes had been dashed by Jesus crucifixion. Luke 24:25-27 records Jesus' response, "And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." In other words, Jesus showed them how all the OT pointed to him. In this sense, the OT is completed/fulfilled, not abolished. If you're parents promise you a car when you graduate and then give it to you when you graduate, have they abolished the promise. No. They've fulfilled it. So Jesus doesn't abolish but fulfills the OT.

Jesus didn't do away with the Torah or change it all. There are some parts that had changed over time due to Israel's different situation. Many of the laws in the OT pertained to Israel as a self-governing nation. These laws were set aside when Israel no longer existed as a self-governing nation. Other laws pertained to the offering of sacrifices were fulfilled in Jesus, our ultimate sacrifice. The sacrifices of animals is no longer necessary, nor is the priesthood which offered them and cared for the temple.

There is, however, a third category of laws in the OT, laws we might call 'moral laws' (as opposed to civil and ceremonial laws). These were laws that applied to individuals for all time. The summary of these laws is the 10 Commandments, which can again be boiled down into the commandment to 'Love God and Love Your Neighbor". The full ten commandments, and other commands in the NT and OT explain what it looks like to love God and love others. Jesus didn't change these laws. It is still a sin to be an idolater, to steal, to commit adultery, etc. (the one possible exception to this is the change of the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus on Sunday).

Jesus did reveal the heart of these laws, showing that outward conformity is not enough. Obedience required inward conformity also. He didn't add this inward sense - it was there all along. These words come from the OT, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart." (Deuteronomy 6:4-6). The promise of the New Covenant, which Jesus initiates, isn't that we'll be free from the law but free to obey the law. In Jeremiah 31, God promises that when he establishes his new covenant with his people he will "put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts." (31:33, ESV).

Questions About Scripture #1: What about the different stories of Judas' death?

Last night one of the questions we didn't get to was "How do you explain the different stories of Judas' death?"

It's a good question and one that will open the door to speak about a larger principle. First, look at the two different accounts, one from the book of Matthew and the other from the book of Acts.

Matthew 27:3-10, "Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter's field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord directed me."

Acts 1:15-19, "In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)"

While there are differences in the account, don't miss the similarities. Both show Judas' was remorseful. Both reference the field that was acquired with the betrayal money, both mention that the field became known as the Field of Blood, and both record Judas' death. What of the differences? Are they contradictory?

Here's the bigger principle that this question opens up for us, namely that difference doesn't necessary mean contradiction. For example, if my wife and I went to a football game, and came back and gave you a report, the reports would be very different. I would tell you about the game, the big plays, the score, etc. Lynn would tell you about the fans, about what the people in front of us were doing or wearing. I like football, so that'd be my focus. Lynn likes people-watching, that'd be hers. Our different accounts wouldn't be contradictory but complimentary. They'd give you a fuller picture of the what happened at the game.

The same thing happens in the gospels (and other portions of Scripture). So how do you reconcile the two Judas stories? First issue is who bought the field. That's pretty easy. Both. The Pharisees bought it with Judas' money, the money he threw back at them. The ESV Study Bible sums up, "Judas brought the 30 pieces of silver back to the chief priests and elders. The chief priests then purchased the potter's field with Judas's money, with the same effect as if Judas had himself made the purchase."

The second issue is whether or not Judas hung himself or fell headlong into the field and burst open. Again, the answer is both. The Acts passage assumes Judas fell from some height, maybe off a cliff or from a tree - no one who trips and falls in a field burst open. Matthew's account explains this. Judas was hanging from a tree when he fell into the field. It is possible that he had been hanging there for some time in, exposed to the elements, and was in an advanced stage of decomposition when he fell (either the tree branch broke, the rope broke). The bloated, decomposed body burst open. Gross, but it's reality. Read this disgusting story of a dead bloated whale exploding in Taiwan!

So while the stories are different, they are not contradictory. Actually, the story in Acts doesn't make a lot of sense without the details given by Matthew. Remember, difference doesn't equal contradiction!

The 'Villages' is an Old Persons Sex Paradise

Ok, so I scanned my CNN and FoxNews headlines this morning when I got to the office. One stood out, 'Villages' Retirement Home is Widower's Sex Paradise. I've been to 'The Villages' before. Spring Break of 07 we drove to visit my inlaws who were considering retiring there. Here's the first few lines of the article:

"It's 11 p.m. at the Bourbon Street Bar, and Roselyn's gyrating her hips to the blues band, Sue's sipping a cocktail and flirting with her new boyfriend, and Alan is scanning the crowd for cute girls.

"See those two?" a buxom blonde asks, pointing to an elegant couple at the bar. "They were caught having sex in their golf cart a few weeks ago. It happens a lot!"

Welcome to ground zero for geriatrics who are seriously getting it on."

I played golf and rode in those golf carts. Eew. Happy Monday morning.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Newsflash: Green Ranger Finds his True Scottish Roots

The Green Ranger, long adrift in a sea of shallow theology, has returned to his Scottish roots, joined a Free Presbyterian Church in Scotland, and has chosen a tutor - the Right Reverend John Calvin. Ah, one more superhero in the fold!

(inside joke, sorry to those not in the know)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

All I need to know about Calvinism I learned from Power Ranger

I couldn't resist this. Today my kids were watching Power Rangers: Dino Thunder. Here's what I heard, "you can't make someone do something not in their nature. No, but you can change their nature!"

Amen. You can't make an unregenerate rebel believe - it's not in their nature. It takes a recreated nature, a new birth. This is the sovereign work of God. Just like in Power Rangers.

(I know I'm setting myself up for abuse, so I'll start the ball rollin': Doug, "Guess you had to learn Calvinism from somewhere cause I know you didn't learn it from the Bible". )

Friday, January 23, 2009

failure and how it gets used

It's weird how failures from a decade or more ago can still hang heavy around me. Ok, failures is not accurate. There is a one failure in my life that comes back on me over and over again. I'm not sure why, but it has had a profound impact on me.

I haven't had to many things in my life that were out and out failures. Lest you think me arrogant, let me also say I haven't had many things that would be deemed out and out successes, at least by worldly standards.

The glaring exception is my entrance and eventually dismissal from the United States Marine Corps Officer Candidate School (Quantico, VA). After making it through the first half of the first summer school I was NPQ'd (Not Physically Qualified). I had worn quarter size holes in my heels with boots that didn't fit, developed a nasty infection and achilles tendonitis. I left on crutches and would heal physically over the next six to eight weeks, but more than my legs had been wounded.

It might seem trivial to some, but I go through periods in my life when I really struggle with this failure. I struggle thinking that I wasn't man enough to make it and it causes me to wonder if I'm man enough to be a good husband, father, pastor, etc. It leads to a lot of self doubt and a reluctance to step out and take risks, to attempt bold ventures. A short while ago, summer of 2007 I think it was, I was so bothered by this that I actually considered going through the OCS program again just to put it behind me (and no, I'm not too old. The recruiter told me so). Lynn got mad, real mad, when I even mentioned it and Caleb cried. Oops.

This isn't the typical kind of posting from me, but I want to think aloud how this failure in my life has been used to shape me into the person I am now - for good and for ill - and think about how failures can be used by Satan to destroy but by God to sharpen. It'll be a much more existential than biblical, but hopefully helpful, at least to me but maybe to other as well. Stay tuned...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thank God for Salty Sea Captains of Faith

I have been reading, very slowly, the James Clavell book Shogun. It is set in the late 16th century as sailors were exploring the New World and looking for passes to Asia and the 'Japans'. Captain Blackthorne (loosely based on the historical figure William Adams)is an Englishman piloting the Erasmus, a Dutch ship tasked to plunder Spanish and Portuguese posts and find a way to Japan through the Magellan's Pass.

What I found interesting is how much these men relied on other pilot's who had gone before. A pilot's notes, called 'rutters' were valued possessions. The rutters were detailed accounts of the sea, the routes, the weather, etc. With a good rutter a sailor would be able to find his way home. Without it he would be lost. With a good rutter, he could return again to the new found land and establish trade with the locals. Rutters were bought and sold, stolen and protected like one's most prized possession. Without a stolen rutter, Blackthorne would never have made it through Magella's Pass or to the Japans (he barely made it as it was, loosing two of his three ships and arriving with only 11 men alive from an original crew of over 400).

Thinking about this brought to mind Hebrews 11 and 12, especially 12:1-2:
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (ESV).

We should take encouragement that others have gone before us and learn from their example, holding fast to the truths they held fast to and following their pattern of life. Jesus is the great pioneer. We follow his rutter. Others have gone after him, following as best they could his example: Peter, Paul, John, Stephen, Ignatius, Augustine, Calvin, Luther, John and Charles Wesley, Edwards, Whitefield, Spurgeon, Wilberforce, Hodge, Barth, Bonhoeffer, my grandfather, my dad (still living, thank God). None of these men were perfect, not in their theology and not in their life. But they were working to follow the rutter they had been given - the pattern Jesus' life and faith. May we do the same.

Weird British Superhero vs. Weird American Superhero

Today my Scottish friend Doug told me about a second verse to the Lord's Army Song (yeah know, "I may never march in the infantry, ride in the cavalry, shoot the artillery...but I'm in the Lord's army. Yes Sir!"). The second verse must be British:

"I may never fly like Superman,
Climb like Spiderman,
Bend like Banana man.
Indiana Jones is not the kind of guy I am,
For I'm in the Lord's army.
I'm in the Lord's Army, (yes, sir!)"

I had never heard of Bananman. Based on his bendiness I thought maybe he was like our Plastic Man. Jeremy, who was also with us, had never heard of Plastic Man. He's the DC version of Mr. Fantastic, but not cool. He's Mr. Fantastic spliced with Inspector Gadget. Well anyway, here's two videos, one of Bananman and one of Plastic Man. Which one would you rather have the kiddies watching?



Plastic Man:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Abortion since 1860

Correction: When first posted I referenced an interview with Susan Sarandon. Actually, the interview was with Dana Delany of Desperate Housewives. Obviously I'm up on my celebs. Thanks Lynn for correcting me.

I read this post several weeks ago and wanted to comment on but it got lost in the shuffle of a new semester. I found Marvin Olasky's column in World Magazine surprising, interesting and even encouraging (her book Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America is in my Amazon basket now).

"To save the lives of more unborn Americans we should see how our pro-life predecessors succeeded in the past—and by the past I don't mean only the past three decades but the past two centuries. It's conventional to think of the abortion horror as a product of the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, but research I've done at the Library of Congress shows that abortion on the eve of the Civil War was more frequent, in proportion to the U.S. population, than it is now.

You have not just read a misprint. Roughly 160,000 abortions occurred in 1860 in a population of 30 million. Probably about 1.2 million abortions (13 percent of them through RU-486) occurred last year in a population estimated at around 307 million. The horrific current number is obviously no cause for self-congratulation, but reputable forecasters at the time of Roe v. Wade were predicting a butcher's bill of more than 4 million abortions annually by now.

With everything we're doing wrong, are we doing something right to fall far short of that 4 million prediction, and to have witnessed a decline during the past decade from 1.6 million to 1.2 million? I believe we are, and not for the first time in American history: The number of abortions in America, in proportion to the population, declined by at least 50 percent during the 50 years from 1860 to 1910. How did that happen? And is the current decline likely to continue?"

In summary, here's how - they served the women who were most likely to seek abortions. Through the late 19th and early 20th century reformers and Christian organizations reached out to women, including prostitutes (one of the groups most likely to seek abortions), provide them with support and alternatives (adoption). The efforts were successful in lowering the rate of abortions per capita.

While we should note that most states had laws prohibiting abortions (except when the mothers life was in danger), these laws were largely ignored and few were ever prosecuted. Olasky writes, "by the 1870s, every state had such laws [prohibiting abortion], but they were largely ignored, as The New York Times noted in a biblically referenced editorial titled "The Least of These Little Ones." Editor Louis Jennings, a conservative Christian, complained in 1871 that the "perpetration of infant murder . . . is rank and smells to heaven. Why is there no hint of its punishment?"

Olasky notes that passing/enforcing laws against abortion was not the focus of the prolife movement (my guess is the pivot came in after Roe v. Wade). Olasky concludes the article with these wise words: "Even though convictions were rare, law was not entirely useless. Anti-abortion statutes did send a message of right and wrong. They forced abortionists to advertise in code, bribe policemen and politicians, and hire lawyers. Law could not end abortion but it could reduce the butcher's bill, just as laws against drunken driving today cannot end the practice but can save lives. Today, it's still worthwhile to pass laws restricting abortion, but time and money spent on providing and promoting compassionate alternatives saves more lives."

Last night I heard someone ask Dana Delany (not Susan Sarandon) what she hoped Obama would do first as President. She is hoping he will lift the 'gag rule' and make abortions available to women around the rule. I bring this up because it seems that, for a time, the legal efforts of the prolife movement will need to be set aside freeing the movement to serve women and their unborn children in other ways. Many prolifers supported Obama and it seems not without good reason. Time and money spent on serving mothers, providing healthcare, childcare, fair wages, etc holds promise in the continued battle to create a culture of life, not death.

Monday, January 19, 2009

luke laugh 0001

Last night at Connexion I mentioned Luke's sense of humor, which is the same as Jake's and mine. Here's him at dinner a couple of nights ago crakin up at his brother's farting sounds. His laugh is one of my favorite things in this world.

Faith and the Inauguration

Os Guinness has written a terrific oped piece in USAToday on Faith and the Inauguration.

I have been hard on President Obama's policies and decisions to this point, but if I'm totally honest, there is big part of me that is eager to see what he will do, hopeful that the optimism he demonstrated will be transferred to the rest of the nation. I am also thankful that Obama's race was not a barrier to him reaching the highest office in the land and hope that maybe the days of racism and inequality are drawing to an end (which would be real good for the Church of Christ as this is a blemish on its record!).

Song of the Week

Ok, so it feels like a hard rock morning. Here's one of my favorite groups, made up of the remnants of SoundGarden and Rage Against the Machine, though as of 2007 they are no longer a group. Oh well.

The Worm - Audioslave

YouTube on Australia's Deadly Animals

Following up on my post about the Best Job in the Word, Tom posted this link in the comments. For your Monday morning viewing pleasure, I pass it on:

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Piper: How Barack Obama Will Make Christ a Minister of Condemnation

I have not posted much on the Presidential transition of power or the inauguration of President Elect Obama not because I'm not interested, but not well enough informed. I don't know most of the people who have been appointed to cabinet posts but most seem pleased with what he has done. I do think he has done a good job of tempering expectations - something every president elect must do or else disappoint supporters grievously.

I was, however, dismayed to see who Obama had asked to deliver the invocation at the inauguration kick off (not the actual inauguration event - Rick Warren is doing that - which is a different type of disappointment). Here's Piper's thought on it, and just a warning, they are harsh.

"At Barack Obama’s request, tomorrow in the Lincoln Memorial, Gene Robinson, the first openly non-celibate homosexual bishop in the Episcopal Church, will deliver the invocation for the inauguration kick-off.

This is tragic not mainly because Obama is willing to hold up the legitimacy of homosexual intercourse, but because he is willing to get behind the church endorsement of sexual intercourse between men.

It is one thing to say: Two men may legally have sex. It is another to say: The Christian church acted acceptably in blessing Robinson’s sex with men.

The implications of this are serious.

It means that Barack Obama is willing, not just to tolerate, but to feature a person and a viewpoint that makes the church a minister of damnation. Again, the tragedy here is not that many people in public life hold views (like atheism) that lead to damnation, but that Obama is making the church the minister of damnation.

The apostle Paul says,

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves , nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

What is Paul saying about things like adultery, greed, stealing, and homosexual practice? As J. I. Packer puts it, “They are ways of sin that, if not repented of and forsaken, will keep people out of God’s kingdom of salvation.” (Christianity Today, January 2003, p. 48).

In other words, to bless people in these sins, instead of offering them forgiveness and deliverance from them, is to minister damnation to them, not salvation.

The gospel, with its forgiveness and deliverance from homosexual practice, offers salvation. Gene Robinson, with his blessing and approval of homosexual practice, offers damnation. And he does it in the name of Christ.

It is as though Obama sought out a church which blessed stealing and adultery, and then chose its most well-known thief and adulterer, and asked him to pray.

One more time: The issue here is not that presidents may need to tolerate things they don’t approve of. The issue is this: In linking the Christian ministry to the approval of homosexual activity, Christ is made a minister of condemnation."

Now my turn - I agree in substance with Piper, though I think he should be harder on the church and not as harsh on President Elect Obama. It's the church's job to lead and keep itself morally upright, not the secular state. Certainly Obama doesn't earn points in my book for selecting the gay bishop, but I have not come to expect much by way of moral leading or religious wisdom from the President. Obama is doing what successful Presidents do - trying to keep as many people who elected them happy as possible!

Friday, January 16, 2009

40 days and counting

The Indians have made some good off season moves, including the addition of Kerry Wood to the bullpen. That alone is enough to put us in playoff contention, considering all the games that were blown in the 8th/9th innings. Then they added infielder Mark DeRossa which should help them in batting average and RBI's. If we can keep Hafner and Martinez healthy and Grady Sizemore continues his stand out play, we'll be real good. Can't wait till spring training!

Reflections on Job #4

As a Calvinist I am often asked questions like, 'why pray? if God has made up his mind regarding how he will act (what he will ordain), why pray?'. Or, "why bother doing missions or evangelize? if God has already predestined people, why do we need to put forth the effort?' The best answer to these questions is that God, our Creator King, has commanded us to do so. He commands, we obey. A more full answer includes a discussion of God using means to accomplish his ordained purposes. He ordains the ends to be accomplished as a result of means (which he has also ordained). So God heals an ill saint or brings one of his children into the kingdom in response to the prayers of his people (and the witness of his people), which he has commanded and ordained.

You see a great example of this in Job 42:

"Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has"
(Job 42:8).

God has promised that he will accept Job's prayer for his friends and relent from sending judgment for their folly. He has commanded Job to pray from them, and has determined already how he will respond. Does this free Job from the responsibility of actually praying for them? Is he off the hook? Can he say, "God's said he's gonna forgive them, why does he need me to ask?" No. Job, we can assume, obeys God and his friends are forgiven. Ordained end in response to a commanded and ordained mean.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Australia's 'Best Job in the World'

"Desperate to snag what's being billed as the "Best Job in the World," thousands of people from across the globe have submitted video applications to the tourism department of Australia's Queensland state for their latest advertised vacancy — a $100,000 contract to relax on Hamilton Island in the Great Barrier Reef for six months while writing a blog to promote the island."

This sounds good, but do people realize how dangerous Australia is? Box Jellyfish, Sharks, Jack Jumper Ants, Funnel Web Spiders, Scorpion Fish, Salt Water Crocs, and the world's deadliest snakes. No thanks. I like having to only worry about the Brown Recluse or maybe a Copperhead snake. Plus, I already have the best job in the world, though it don't pay the same the other benefits are awesome.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Top 100 Theological Blogs

For those of you who don't have enough to read already, here a list of the Top 100 theological blogs broken down by area of interest.

Reflections on Job #3

In reading through the book of Job it is quite clear that everyone, at least through the first thirty or so chapters, has an overly simplistic view of God. Job's friends seem to have reduced God to the Just Judge, the Holy Other. True, but I doubt God can be reduced to justice or even holiness. Their words to Job reveal that their God isn't one of mercy, grace, or compassion.

Job's God seems equally lopsided, though he seems to emphasize his sovereign power over everything else. God can do whatever he wants in Job's mind, no one can resist his almighty will. I would agree, but without kindness, goodness and love that God is repulsive not attractive. This seems like a trap many Calvinists fall into - emphasizing God's power over his goodness, his sovereignty over his love.

Other attributes have sometimes been elevated as the essence of God's being. Some have asserted that God is essentially power, though in a different way than Job. For Plato the Ultimate, God, was the Unmoved Mover, the power that started everything. Yet, for Plato, God has no personhood and it was foolish to think a human could be in relationship with God. For others God's love is the all defining attribute. This too is problematic, for a God who is just love would never allow suffering, let alone eternal suffering.

The list could go on, but the point is that God refuses to allow us to reduce him to one attribute. He is simple and his attributes cannot be parsed up. All his attributes interpenetrate one another, are qualified by one another and together make God the being he is. Reading Job reminds me how important our understanding of God is.

We tend to see theological dialogue about God's attributes as irrelevant. Well, I don't think they're irrelevant to God. (He likes to be known, loved, and worshipped for the God he is, not the God we suppose him to be. Kind of like my wife likes to be known, and loved for the woman she is, and wouldn't appreciate it at all of I told her I preferred to think of her as a 6ft. tall blond). Nor do I think it's irrelevant to our lives. At times it may seem that way, but then a crisis hits (hopefully never as intense as the ones that his Job). Then your understanding of who God is and how he operates is incredibly relevant.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Song of the week

This is a great song off Charlie Hall's latest cd This Bright Sadness. "Hookers and Robbers" isn't exactly the type of song title I can ever see in ECC's bulletin, but the song reminds me of the old revival song "Just as I am". Here's my favorite section of the song:

Who could accept all your pounding and screaming
Your raging, your freaking, cussing, and beating
All while He holds you and always forgiving
This is the story of love and of living
Wipe off your tears and laugh just a little
Come break this bread, celebrate the Forgiver
Raise up a glass, a time to remember
Come break this bread, celebrate the Forgiver

Hookers And Robbers - Charlie Hall

Saturday, January 10, 2009

reflections on job #2

Scott McKnight has been discussing 'the third way' on his blog for a month or so now, using Adam Hamilton's book as his interlocutor (I like that word). On Dec 29th he posted The Third Way and Determinism in which he espouses the typical 'God doesn't send the lemons, he just turns them into lemonade for us' type theology. Hamilton writes, "God has a way of bringing about his redemptive purposes through the tragic things that happen on our planet, and the terrible things we sometimes do to one another...God's ordinary way is to clean up after us".

Also, "I don't believe everything happens for a reason if, by this, someone means that the evil happened according to the will of God. I consider it blasphemy of the worst kind to attribute such evil [he refers again to the rape of a young girl] to God" (emphasis added).

I'd like to get behind Hamilton's understanding of 'attribute' a little, but my guess is I won't be able too, even if I read the book - something I don't plan on doing any time soon. But, it certainly seems Hamilton is out of step with the Bible, particularly (but not exclusively) the book of Job.

After Job had been informed that great tragedy and evil had struck him - including the plundering of his fortune, the murder or his servants and the death of his children through a natural catastrophe - Job declares, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (1:21) Hamilton wants us to see this as blasphemy. God didn't do it, Satan did. The inspired author of Job disagrees. He comments, "In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong"(1:22).

Things get worse from Job in chapter two. His own flesh is struck with horrendous sores and he has a nagging wife to deal with. When she encourages him to curse God and die, he responds, "You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?"(2:10a-b). Blasphemy cries Hamilton. Not so says the Bible: "In all this Job did not sin with his lips"(2:10c).

In Job and throughout the Bible we are forced to come to grips with the fact that evil is a tool in God's hands that he stands behind in some way, but not in any way in which we can charge him with wrong. Take Isaiah 45:7 as another example,
"I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the Lord, who does all these things."

Or take Amos 3:6,
"Is a trumpet blown in a city,
and the people are not afraid?
Does disaster come to a city,
unless the Lord has done it?"

Obviously you can look to the cross to see this too. Peter speaks boldly in 2:23-24 when he says "this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men." Also in 4:27-28, "for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, a to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place."

I don't want to minimize for a second the awfulness of sin in our world. The example Hamilton uses of a young girls rape is emotionally charged (bordering on being manipulative). However, it pales in comparison to the evil done by those who crucified Jesus, and the disciples didn't blush to say that this was a part of God's will, his predestined plan.

More personally, I find no real hope in Hamilton's argument. If God can turn this evil for my good, why didn't he just stop it from coming. If he could stop it but didnt', then we must say it was a part of his will. If he couldn't stop it from coming, then how do I know he'll be wise enough and powerful enough to turn it to my good.

I think Spurgeon would object strongly to Hamilton's logic also. I read these word a few years ago preparing for a sermon on Job. I went back to look them up again so I could quote them exactly (but I barely needed too - they are so powerful they've really stuck with me):

"It would be a very sharp and trying experience to me to think that I have an affliction which God never sent me, that the bitter cup was never filled by his hand, that my trials were never measured out by him, nor sent to me by his arrangement of their weight and quantity"

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Reflections on Job

I started the 'reading the bible chronologically plan' on Jan1 and have have worked my way through the first 20 chapters of Job (you begin reading Job after Gen 11 according to the plan I'm using). I love this book and it has prompted me to ask a few questions, which of course I'll turn into some blogs.

Tuesday was Jacob's fifth birthday. It was so much fun to see how excited he was (Jake - "I can't believe I'm not four anymore. Five feels a lot different than four"). Anyway, I was relishing thoughts of my son as I drove to work in the morning and Job invaded my thoughts with a warning - don't allow the good gifts of God to eclipse your love and enjoyment of Him. It wasn't at all a rebuke, as if I was glorying in my son when I shouldn't have been. He is a great gift from God and I do right to enjoy him. But as I think about Job it seems clear to me that while he loved his children and all the other good gifts he had been given (and then lost), he did not allow them to eclipse his love for and desire to glorify God above them.

This is what we read of Job immediately after he received news of the loss of his fortune and the death of his children:

"Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:20-21. ESV).

I am amazed at this man. He is obviously filled with grief, yet he worships. I don't know if I'd be in that place at that moment. I think I'd be pissed, bitter, confused, more... But Job wasn't. He worshiped. It seems that, at this point at least, he understood that these things he enjoyed he enjoyed by the sheer grace of God. They were given by God undeservedly and God can take them back and still he remains worthy of love and worship.

Job has resisted a huge temptation - the temptation to elevate the gifts over the giver. The greater the gifts, the more tempting it is to put them ahead of God. I'm not the least bit tempted to put the gift of a beautiful sunset above God - though they are wonderful here in the Midwest. Nor am I tempted to put food above God - though I do really enjoy a good burger and shake. My kids though. My wife. The best things I have in life - that's a more difficult question. (Isn't it deeply ironic that the more gracious God is to us in the giving of good gifts the more prone we are to love the gifts more than the giver)

I have a quote by Piper taped on my desk just above my monitor screen. He says, "if you can't look at your kids at night and say, 'to never see you again would be gain' you can't preach". To be honest, I'm not always there. Sometimes my loves are not in the right priority - and by God's grace sometimes they are. But to be able to say with consistency that God is the best gift - that family, friends, children, etc. are great, but God is greater - that seems to be the key to unlocking Job's ability to worship despite the loss. Blessed be his name.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Onward Christian Soldiers?

I'm finding Well's book The Courage to be Protestant to be somewhat depressing and I feel myself getting more and more jaded and cynical as I read it (mind you, I think he's right about most of what he says). To balance Well's out a little, I just started Michael Green's Evangelism in the Early Church and I'm enjoying him very much so far.

In the introduction he asserts that the church in the West must re-emphasize the militaristic analogies that come to us in the Bible (warfare, being a good soldier, weapons, armor, fighting the good fight, etc.). He points to the early church and though many refused to enter into military service they used militaristic images as analogies for the mission of church profusely. In addition to the early church, the church in Africa, Asia and Latin America are also characterized by this mindset - victory at all costs against a strong spiritual enemy. These are images you don't hear in the Western churches very often. Instead, Green comments, we see our churches as hospitals rather than military outposts. I think there is something in the hospital imagery that is good and should be retained, but I don't think it is helpful as the dominant image of the church.

Now I agree that we probably should re-emphasize the militaristic images in our churches. We should bring back Onward Christian Soldiers and Lead on O King Eternal (though not "I'm in the Lord's Army"). My question is how? How in a world being torn apart by militant religious groups do we recapture what is healthy and biblical without being totally misunderstood and caste as radical fundamentalists?


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

More from The Courage to Be Protestant

I know I have become accustomed to and maybe even guilty of 'selling the gospel' at times. I remember complaining once about a summer sales job to a pastor(yes, I was telemarketer for a summer at MCI and yes you probably hung up on me). He told me it was good evangelistic training - the assumption being that we have to sell the gospel, convince people to buy into it. Well's points out several problems with this marketing/salesmanship approach.

First, when you sell a product, you sell some good or service the consumer will use. Not so with the gospel. We don't use it, we submit to it, or more accurately, the gospel calls us to submit to God through Jesus. The gospel is not for our use, instead it fits us for service to God. Wells, "There is a world of difference between the Lord of Glory, the incarnate second person of the Godhead, and a Lexus, a vacation home, or a trip to the Bahamas. The marketing analogy blurs this, reducing Christ to a product we buy to satisfy our needs."

Second, sales pitches allow the consumer to identify what they need. Oh the salesman may try to convince the consumer they need what he has, but ultimately the consumer decides. But God identifies our needs for us more accurately than we ever could/would ourselves. He tells us what we need and what we need is not something we would naturally seek for ourselves. He writes, "the product we will seek naturally will not be the gospel. It will be a therapy of some kind, a technique for life, perhaps a way of connecting more deeply with our spiritual selves on our own terms, terms that require no repentance and no redemption. It will not be the gospel. The gospel cannot be a product the church sells because there are no consumers for it. When we find consumers, we will find that they are interested in buying, on their own terms, is not the gospel."

Well's concludes, rightly from what I've seen in marketing type churches, that what is sold is not the gospel at all, not belief, but the benefits of belief without the content or 'bite' of belief. This certainly cannot be good for the health of the church, and the consequences of such a strategy can be seen even in polling data, though I doubt any of us need Barna to tell us what a sad state the evangelical church is in currently.

good post by Scott McKnight

I got on McKnight's case earlier this week, so I thought I'd give him kuddo's for this brilliant post.

10 Reasons Why Baseball is Better Than Hockey:

1. Green: baseball is played on a green field; hockey on white ice.
2. Wrigley, Fenway, Yankee Stadium: name one interesting hockey place.
3. Names: Babe Ruth, Pee Wee Reese, Ernie Banks vs. Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr.
4. Scoring: single, double, triple, homer vs. "It's a goal!"
5. Teeth: baseball players have them.
6. Season: summer vs. winter (and even when it's not winter they have to freeze the place to have a game).
7. Shrine: Cooperstown vs. ??? (is there such a place?)
8. Word: baseball players all wear a cup, hockey plays for one cup.
9. Instruments: bats and balls vs. sticks and pucks. Symmetry, baby, symmetry.
10. Pace: baseball plays until the boys say it's done; hockey is governed by a clock.

Monday, January 05, 2009

the shrinking of doctrine

I have just begun to read another book by David Wells (not the pitcher). His books are dense and I'm finding the tone of this one rather jaded, but the insights into the evangelical world strike me as very true.

Wells delineates three groups within the evangelical movement - the traditional evangelical (J.I. Packer, John Stott, Martyn Lloyd-Jones), the marketets (think Willow Creek), and the emergents (think Rob Bell). I'm not going to summarize the chapter or write a review, but do want to think about one of the weaknesses Well's points out in the evangelical movement.

Wells demonstrates that post-war evangelicalism found it's unity in the affirmation of two central doctrines: the authority of inspired Scripture and the centrality and necessity of Christ's substitutionary work on the cross. Beyond this, there was latitude and tolerance for diverse opinions regarding eschatology, ecclesiology, the sacraments, etc. However, Well's points out that "the toleration of diversity slowly became an indifference toward much of the fabric of belief that makes up the Christian faith"

Eventually, the capacity to think theologically began to shrink and pastors were expected to be CEO types and not theologian/shepherd types. Furthermore, Well's contends that the "weakening process did not stop at the periphery. It has entered the central core". I think anyone who has read much from the emerging folk would agree - the authority of Scripture is downplayed and the necessity of the substitutionary atonement (or of any atonement at all) is questioned.

I remember getting in a somewhat heated conversation with a staff member at another church about the need to teach doctrine. I had proposes doing a small group series on key tenants of the faith. The response from this staff member was shocking - 'why would small groups want to study things as irrelevant to their life as the Trinity'.

Churches have felt compelled to be non-theological and have treated doctrine as though it were a family secret to be hidden rather than glorious truths to be treasured. This has been done in the name or reaching the lost, thinking the lost weren't looking for doctrines at all. However, a study by Rainer points that 90% of formerly churched people who return to the church said that preaching was very important to them and 88% said they were looking for doctrine in the preaching.

Bottom line, the evangelical church drifted away, intentionally, from the truths that have defined them since the reformation to reach the lost. Even if it had worked, it would have been counterproductive for a Christianity emptied of content is no Christianity at all. But it hasn't even worked. Not really. Oh we have more people in the church, but fewer that are actually biblical Christians - and isn't that the point. The goal isn't filling the seats and coffers but 'teaching them to observe everything I have commanded.'

Well's also points to something remarkable. In many circles, if you continued to 'do church' the old fashioned way, you were criticized for not caring about the lost. You were made to feel guilty for not doing everything in your power to reach them, including altering the very fabric of the Christian message. Hence, the title of his book is very appropriate, The Courage to be Protestant. Since most of the nation would consider itself Protestant, one wouldn't think it would be that courageous a position, but to be true to the name and true to the Bible requires conviction and courage.

May God give us the cohones.

Song of the week

This is one of my favorite hymns and one I have told Lynn repeatedly I want to be sung at my funeral (nothing like planning ahead huh).

Oh the Deep, Deep Love - Sovereign Grace Music

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Only 52 days...

With the Dolphins loss today, all I can say is 52 days till the first Indians spring game!