Tuesday, March 31, 2009

more on romans 7, a more personal spin

As I look at Romans 7 and the struggle that Paul describes, a struggle I believe Paul is engaged in at the time of writing the letter as a mature believer, I see Paul not only describing his struggle, but my own (and I think every Christians). This is what I experience in my life:

1. I still sin. The apostle John says it in his first letter: "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (ESV). This isn’t a point I need to belabor – I know it from my study of the word and from my experience. In my ten years of ministry I’ve only met one person who denied they still sinned. I was honestly at a loss. We sin and we all know it.

2. This sin is incongruous with who I really am. As a redeemed person I have a new nature (2 Cor. 5:17, Eph. 4:22-24). I am a saint, as we all are (see 2 Cor. 1:1, Eph. 1:1, etc.). This is my true identity. Good works, faith, holiness, love, purity – these are the things that flow out of my true nature in Christ. This is already me, yet not yet fully me. In fact, Paul tells me I need to put this new nature on (Rom 13:14).

3. Sin comes from my flesh and its desires, my old self. It no longer defines me – it’s not the true me anymore, but it hasn’t disappeared yet either. There is a paradox with regards to this old self. In one place Paul can say that my old self was crucified with Christ (Rom 6:6, Gal 5:4), also that I died to sin (Rom 6:2). Yet, Paul also teaches me to put off this old self (Eph 4:22). In addition, I am commanded to put to death the deeds of the body (Rom 8:3, Col 3:5). This old self does not define me anymore, but it still clings to me and I must resist it.

4. I am in a struggle against this old sinful nature (Gal 5:16-17, Heb 12:4). It is a struggle to the death (Rom 8:12-13).

5. I often loose battles against the flesh and give in to my fleshly desires (see point 1). I should grieve when I sin. I want desperately to stop sinning, not simply because I fear the consequences, but because I what it does to my relationship with God. I want to stop sinning because I love God and love his glory and no I have offended him. I want to stop sinning to please my heavenly father. Certainly this is a godly attitude towards our sin – God grieves over sin (Gen 6:6), Jesus grieves over sin (Mark 3:5), the Holy Spirit can be grieved (Isa 63:10, Eph 4:30). Paul’s cry is mine – “who will deliver me from this body of death?”

6. As I said on Sunday night, nothing discourages me more than my own sin. What is odd is the more I grow in my relationship with Christ, the more I encounter his holiness, the more aware of my abiding sin I become. Yet, at the same time, I am all the more aware of his grace and mercy. Paul’s answer, like his cry, is mine too – “thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” I don’t wallow in misery as I struggle. Instead, I relish the hope of Christ. I celebrate, with humble gratitude, the small victories the Spirit gives me as I rely on him. And I learn. I learn more and more how to stay in step with the Spirit and keep that old man down. I win. Not all the time, but more and more as I progress in the Christian life. In all this, God is glorified as the one who does the rescuing.

I’ll continue to struggle and will keep encouraging other to struggle as well. It is one aspect of the Christian life, one that requires patience and perseverance. God is good and he is faithful, and that is what I need to know to keep struggling.

Monday, March 30, 2009

who is romans 7 about?

Last night I spoke on the question 'why do I still struggle with sin?', using Romans 7 as my main passage. My three main points were 1) I struggle with sin because I'm human, 2) I struggle with sin because I'm a Christian, 3) I struggle with sin because I'm a work in progress (my salvation still has a future aspect to it). These points come right from Romans 7 if you understand Romans 7 to be an autobiographical statement from Paul as a mature believer. As I mentioned last night though, this isn't the only interpretation of the passage.

Some have suggested that Paul here is referring to an unsaved person (i.e. himself before his conversion). Others believe Paul is talking about a 'carnal Christian - an immature, unsurrendered believer. At least one important commentator (Martyn Lloyd-Jones) rejects both those views as untenable and opts for a third - the man of Romans 7 is a man under conviction. He has been awakened to his desperate condition by the Holy Spirit, but not yet made a full 'participator in the new life of Jesus Christ'.

I could go through the various positions one by one and show the merits and faults in each one. I won't. Instead, I want to show why I think the option mentioned last night at Connexion (that the apostle Paul is writing of himself and his struggles against sin as a mature believer) is the best interpretive option. I do so, however, with this caveat (bring it Dave), this interpretation doesn't make sense of all the pieces of this puzzle, though I think it makes sense of more of them then the other interpretations. Moo comments, "the best interpretation will be the one that is able to do most justice to all the data of the text within the immediate and larger Pauline context."

First, there is a change in tense between 7:13 where Paul speaks in the past tense and 7:14 where Paul begins to speak in the present tense. Compare:

Verse 13: "Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.

v. 14-15: For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

The same present tense runs throughout v. 14-25. This leads me to believe it is Paul writing about his present experience as a mature believer, not his previous experience as a nonbeliever or immature Christian.

Second, what Paul says of himself in this passage does not line up with what Paul says about his preChristian life. Before his Damascus road experience he was self confident, self righteous, satisfied with his law keeping (see Phil. 3:3-6). Now, as a mature Christian he Paul is rightly distressed over his inability to keep the law, desperate for salvation from the presence of his sin, acknowledging his own inability to deal with sin effectively.

Third, and related, Paul represents himself as delighting in the law and hating sin. These two things are not characteristics of the unregenerate nonbelievers. Paul has stated earlier Romans 3:11-12 that "...no one does good,not even one." Obviously, delighting in God's law is something commended in Scripture (Psalm 1:1-2, 37:23, 40:8, 112:1, 119). Yet, no one apart from God's regenerating grace does good and so no one apart from God's regenerating grace delights in his law. This is in accord with what Paul writes in Romans 8:7-8, "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." Again, I assume that delighting in God's law pleases God, yet this is something we cannot do if we live in the flesh [solely]. Moreover, the 'mind' in ch. 7 is what Paul uses to serve God; however, in other places Paul represents the unregenerate mind as hopeless out of step with God (Rom 1:28, Eph 4:17, Tit 1:15). Boice sums up, "the 'man' of Romans 7 is one who has moved beyond the hostility to God's law exercised by the unregenerate person."

Fourth, the flow of Romans 6-8 suggest that Paul is talking of the Christian life. If Paul is speaking of a nonbeliever, it's a weird digression. He begins with justification in Romans 5&6, concludes with glorification in Romans 8. Chapter 7 fits into this context, describing the ongoing struggle against sin, the working out our salvation, the process of sanctification. If he had a nonbeliever in mind his comments would have fit better in Romans 2&3.

Fifth, Sam Storms is right on when he comments, "That Paul should qualify his statement in v. 18 that "nothing good dwells in me" with "that is, in my flesh," seems to indicate that there is more to Paul than "flesh," namely, Spirit. In the unregenerate there is only flesh." Before our rebirth there is nothing but flesh.

I really like what AW Pink wrote regarding this chapter, particularly the cry of Paul in v. 24,
"This moan, 'O wretched man that I am,' expresses the normal experience of the Christian, and any Christian who does not so moan is in an ab-normal and un-healthy state spiritually. The man who does not utter this cry daily is either so out of communion with Christ, or so ignorant of the teachings of Scripture, or so deceived about his actual condition, that he knows not the corruptions of his own heart and the abject failure of his own life. . . . Nor is it only the 'back-slidden' Christian, now convicted, who will mourn thus. The one who is truly in communion with Christ, will also emit this groan, and emit it daily and hourly. Yea, the closer he draws to Christ, the more will he discover the corruptions of his old nature, and the more earnestly will he long to be delivered from it."

While all this is true, and true of every believer, we cannot forget that we also live in Romans 6 and in light of the promise in Romans 6:14, "sin will have no dominion over you". What a great promise. We may get beat down on occasion, lose a few battles; yet, the war is already won. Sin is not our master for we are no longer defined solely by our flesh, as if that is all there were to us. No, we now live in the Spirit. We experience a progressive (and incomplete) victory over sin in this life but look forward with eagerness the final victory that comes when Christ returns! Maranatha.

Song of the Week

I heard this one while shaving this morning. I really like it.

My City of Ruins - Bruce Springsteen

Thursday, March 26, 2009

"Where the Wild Things Are" Trailer

Matt just showed me this. The book is awesome. The trailer looks awesome. Unfortunately, October is a long way off.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Should we wish for/Pray for the failure of some?

The article "Jindal defends those who want Obama to fail" on CNN's website got me to thinking. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) of Louisiana commented, "It's OK for Republicans to want President Obama to fail if they think he's jeopardizing the country...My answer to the question is very simple: 'Do you want the president to fail?' It depends on what he is trying to do."

This isn't a political post. Jindal's comments gave me pause and caused me to reflect on the church. Is it right to want some churches to fail, or some movements within the church to fail? I think the answer is yes. As Jindal said, if certain churches or movements are jeopardizing individual's soul's, radically compromises the integrity of the church universal, bring disrepute to Christ, then I think it incumbent upon me to wish for, even pray for, their failure.

To me, that makes sense. Yet, I don't feel like I like it. If you know me, head almost always wins over heart...and it does on this issue as well. (Lynn asked me a while ago if, as a pastor, it bothers me when people leave our church/ministry to go to another. My answer, not if it's a good church/ministry. It tears me up to see people go to places where Christ isn't proclaimed (sometimes even denied) and Scripture isn't upheld.)

The above needs to come with a whole bunch of caveats though (and I'm open to correction on this). First caveat is that I'm not at all thinking of churches or movements with which we might have minor doctrinal differences (issues like baptism, reformed theology, charismatic, etc.) or minor methodological/praxis differences (exclusive psalm singing, purpose driven, seeker sensitive, etc.). What I am thinking of is churches/movements that are totally unfaithful to Scripture, apostate, heretical, immoral, etc.

Second caveat, I don't always get it right. Some churches/movements might not be as bad as I think. Others may be worse. I need to be very careful here, and seek the guidance of Scripture and of the Spirit.

Third, no church or movement has it all together. Not ECC, not the PCA, and certainly not me as an individual. We are all a mixed bag of sin and grace produced holiness. We are saints and sinners. The visible church will always be, at least this side of Christ's return, a mixed bag of regenerate saints and and unregenerate sinners. Thus, the visible church is constantly in need or reforming (semper reformandum). This I think should be our initial prayer for every church/movement. First we ask God to do a work in the church, asking him to bring them back to himself and to the truth of the Word, that he would grant repentance.

That being said, I still think there is a time when we pray, humbly with fear and trembling, God, remove their lamp stand. This, to me, seems consistent with the spirit of Revelation 2-3 (a couple of chapters I hope to write extensively on in the next couple of years). God is concerned with people, so will not tolerate churches that misdirect people to the detriment of the souls. He is concerned with his glory and reputation, so he will not tolerate churches that tarnish it. It seems to me that those concerns should fill his people also.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Thank you to those who have shaped me

This two part series has been really good for me. It's opened up channels of thanksgiving and praise and reminded me of the potential I have to be influential in others lives. Here's the next group of people:

5. John Erickson. John was a preaching professor at TEDS and local pastor. For some reason, John befriended me during my first year of seminary and I desperately needed a friend. The first year of seminary was also the first year of marriage. I found seminary easy (I know how to study) but marriage hard. John helped me understand what was happening. He showed me sin and pride that I was blind to. We met and prayed, held each other accountable. We talked about everything under the sun, from theology to sex, from beer and cigars to the Bible. I have had the opportunity to keep in contact with John since leaving and he continues to be a blessing and an encouragement. I haven't been in touch in nearly a year, but realize I need to call - maybe tomorrow morning.

4. My kids. It sounds weird, but my kids, though they've only been around for eight years or less, have had a profound impact on my life. Because of them, I watch my life more closely. I never want to do anything that would make them ashamed, or leave them a poor example. They have also made me watch my doctrine closely. More accurately, they've pushed me to become so clear about things that I can express profound truths about God and his plans for us that I can explain them to children. I love them and think daily how I can better model for them godliness and biblical living.

3. My mom. I know, sounds like I'm a momma's boy. I guess I am. My mom has modeled for me a faith and trust that seems at times to border on naivete. It might, but I'm a cynic and a pessimist, so my mom's insistence that God will work things out if we trust him has been a good corrective in my life. She has always been a listening ear. She gives little advice, but listens so well. She is in her mid fifties and just finished up classes for her bachelor's degree this year. I am immensely proud of her.

2. My wife. Lynn is an amazing women. Honestly, I feel like I need to live up to her all the time. I was told she was out of my league when we were dating, and she still is. As she has gone back to work full time I have seen again how skilled she is at was she does. As a mom she is a wonderful balance of fun and structure, discipline and flexibility. As a wife she is an encourager and also someone who would never let me get away stuff. She drives me, not in a nagging way, but she has confidence in me and I want to make sure it isn't misplaced. She puts up with a lot from me (I know I'm not easy to live with) and she has forgiven me for a lot too. I was telling a couple of guys Sunday night and confessed that I don't treasure my wife as much as I should (honestly, I doubt any husband does). I wish I was better at showing her how much I do love her and respect her.

1. My dad. I am sure there will come a time when my kids and my wife will move up the list and my mom and dad will move down. But not yet. As I think about the man I am I give credit (and blame? ah, we'll stick to the positive) to my dad. I know my father isn't perfect, far from it. But for all the flaws he is a wonderful, loving, faithful husband - I never doubted he loved my mom and would be with her till he died. He was a stern but compassionate father who always seemed proud of his three kids. And I forgive him for subjecting to endless hours of sci fi movies and tv (as a kid he took me to see the movie Dune. Before hand, we had to go to the theater and get a glossary of the technical terminology. I had to learn it before he would take me). He was also a biblical, faithful, caring shepherd of the churches he served. I remember him going to a bar to drag a parishioner out. I also remember him breaking a pulpit at a business meeting - but that's a different story! I disagree with my dad on some fine points of theology, but I never considered that a small matter. I have never taken the fact that I disagree with my dad on some points of theology lightly. It's one thing to disagree with a theologian in a book. It's another to disagree with my dad. He's a good thinker who knows his bible, has read widely and has spent his life serving the gospel. I care what he thinks deeply. I've seen my dad be faithful in good times and in times when he was downright angry with God. I've seen him healthy and strong (he's a black belt - I remember seeing him break 10, maybe even twelve inches of concrete with a blow). I've also seen him sick. In all situations, my dad has displayed a love for Christ and a confidence in his ability and willingness to do us good. I've seen him sell everything he had and leave behind financial security to go and serve oversees. He has been a model of faith and faithfulness, service and passion for the truth. I understand how privileged I am to have been born into such a family - by God's sovereign design and for his glory (just a friendly shot across the bow). Thanks dad.

I have actually asked my dad to guest post occasionally on here. I hope to see one this week if my dad is feeling better. He's got a wealth of experience and I want to tap into for myself and to share it with other too.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Song of the Week

I really like Rusted Root, though I don't know how to classify their music. Here's on of my favorite songs:

Martyr - Rusted Root

Sunday, March 22, 2009

ECC Staff in Hawaii

Matt and Doug spent Spring Break in Hawaii together picking up a new hobby. Check it out!

Ok, seriously, John Mangrum, the senior associate pastor at ECC made this. Does that change how you see John or what?

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

thank you to those who have shaped me

I am certainly not a finished product. God is still shaping me and still using some incredible friends in the process. As I think about who I am I realize what a long list of people there has been who have had a hand in forming my character, my views of the world, my theology, my ministry and more. Here's some of the most influential (roughly in ascending order):

10. Some incredible authors: At the front of the list are contemporary authors like John Piper, JI Packer, Michael Horton, Christopher Wright, Francis Schaeffer, and Lesslie Newbigin. Some, like Piper and Packer have had a deep impact on my views of God and the Christian life. Others like Horton, Wright, Schaeffer and Newbigin have shaped the way I think and go about ministry. There is also a short list of old school authors who have been tremendously influential. Leading that list is Jonathan Edwards, followed by JC Ryle, John Bunyan and St. Augustine. These men have greatly influence my devotional/spiritual life as well as my theology.

9. A Couple of friends from Union Baptist Church in Endicott, NY. I'm thinking especially of Scott, Mike and Terry. These guys were still around after all the dust settled from a church split. They were there for a hurting 16/17 yr. old kid. They were there and so encouraging when I preached my first sermon ever (at 19-20). They were there to work on my Rabbit and the S-10, to share godly wisdom and knowledge, to show faithfulness. I don't know what would have happened to me at that time in my life it hadn't been for these guys (and their wives).

8. Dean Danner and Dean Lewis at Houghton College. These guys, along with a couple of great profs, helped me out at a time when I didn't know which end was up. After landing on disciplinary probation for nearly two years, I wasn't in the school's good graces, especially the associate dean of students. For some reason, Dean Danner felt he could call me out. He did, and it had an impact. The next year I was the Student Body Chaplain and I had the chance to work with Dean Lewis. It was a great confirmation that I was called to ministry.

7. D.A. Carson. Carson was my advisor at TEDS when I was there. I actually had no idea who he was until I got there and everyone was agog. In him I saw a man deeply passionate about Christ, a committed evangelist, a renowned scholar and a Calvinist. I honestly didn't think those things could be combined, but he did it so well. After leaving TEDS I have read Carson fairly extensively and am always encouraged and challenged by him. I love the fact that he'll follow where the text leads - yes he's a Calvinist, but he's also open to the Spirit and the charismatic gifts. In fact, this posting is somewhat inspired by his book about his father's ministry in French Canada (just a little foreshadowing).

6. My friends here at ECC, Bloomington. There are more than I could name, but I have seen in them a passion for truth and a winsomeness that is beautiful. I came to ECC after a discouraging experience in a seeker sensitive/purpose driven kind of church. I arrived here in danger of becoming a contentious, critical, uber reformed jerk. I thank God that in my friends here I have seen, both in those who agree with my reformed leanings and those who do not, a biblical balance. Yes truth, but also love, kindness and charity. Many of them have been trusted advisors during difficult times in ministry, all of them have carried personal burdens in prayer. My understanding of what ministry looks like has been heavily influenced by many and I pray it will continue to be.

Thank you all. The next five coming soon...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Revelation: Word or Deed?

How has God revealed himself to us - in word or deed? Is the Bible God's revelation to us or is it a record of his revelation to us?

This isn't just a semantic argument. It's incredibly important. Some have argued that God has revealed himself in mighty acts throughout history. God has revealed himself by baring his arm and showing himself to be the redeemer and deliverer of his people. What we have in the Bible is a record of God's revelation. The Bible is man's record and interpretation of these events. The words are not what's important - they merely point to the deeds.

On the flip side, others have emphasized that it's the words that are inspired revelation. It's the words that are important, not the mighty deeds of God to which they refer. In fact, many argue that whether or not the deeds actually happened is largely irrelevant. The exodus, whether it happened or not, is a wonderful story of God's determination to liberate and save people. The resurrection, whether it happened or not, is a story of newness of life that we can find in God.

I hope it's clear from what's above that we need a robust understanding of revelation that includes word and deed. What the Bible says God has done, he has actually done. The deeds of God recorded in Scripture are not simply metaphors (though they often serve as such, i.e. typology). They are also historical facts. Just because the exodus serves as a type (metaphor) of salvation does not mean we are to treat it as unhistorical or ahistorical. Moreover, when the writers recorded God's mighty deeds, they were not just offering their interpretation. They were carried along by the Holy Spirit to write what they wrote (not in a mechanical way, but in a way that respected their indiviuality, experiences and personality) . The words they wrote are inspired. They are part of the revelation, not just testimony to the revelation. Though John offers a perspective on Jesus' life and ministry that is different from Mark's, Matthew's and Luke's, it is a complimentary perspective inspired by the Spirit. It isn't just his interpetation.

If we surrender either of these poles of revelation we do so at great peril to ourselves and the church. The Chicago Statement of Biblical Innerancy protects both poles well:

Article III.

WE AFFIRM that the written Word in its entirety is revelation given by God.

WE DENY that the Bible is merely a witness to revelation, or only becomes revelation in encounter, or depends on the responses of men for its validity.

Article IV.

WE AFFIRM that God who made mankind in His image has used language as a means of revelation.

WE DENY that human language is so limited by our creatureliness that it is rendered inadequate as a vehicle for divine revelation. We further deny that the corruption of human culture and language through sin has thwarted God's work of inspiration.

Article VII.

WE AFFIRM that inspiration was the work in which God by His Spirit, through human writers, gave us His Word. The origin of Scripture is divine. The mode of divine inspiration remains largely a mystery to us.

WE DENY that inspiration can be reduced to human insight, or to heightened states of consciousness of any kind.

Article VIII.

WE AFFIRM that God in His work of inspiration utilized the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen and prepared.

WE DENY that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities.

Article XII.

WE AFFIRM that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.

WE DENY that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

your faith does not save you

I have been wading through No Other Name: A critical survey of Christian attitudes towards the World Religions by Paul Knitter. It's actually not all that bad except that Knitter seems to intentionally misrepresent Conservative Evangelical theology and misses some key distinctions. One of the most important misrepresentations comes in his discussion of the similarities between Christianity and Pure Land Schools of Amida Buddhism and Bhakti forms of Hinduism. (Caveat: I've read some on Pure Land Schools and have never heard of Bhakti forms of Hinduism.). Knitter contends, "Amida Buddhism seems to teach the same essence of St. Paul and the Reformers' insistence that we can find 'salvation only by by faith' and only 'by grace'. (Barth admits that the same could also be recognized in Bhakti forms of Hinduism)."

Here's the issue: Christians (at least orthodox Christians) don't teach that faith saves you. We believe works save. Not our works, but the works of Jesus Christ. His active righteousness and obedience fulfilled the Covenant of Works that Adam (and every subsequent man, woman and child) have broken (Rom 5:12-21). Moreover, his passive obedience on the cross atoned for the guilt our disobedience deserved (Col 2:13-14). Our covenant unfaithfulness and sin is imputed to him and it is paid in full. His covenant faithfulness and righteousness are imputed to us and we are declared righteous holy saints. His works save us.

What then is the role of faith? Our faith unites us to Christ. Our faith is brings us to be "in Christ"; by our faith we are incorporated into Christ and his blessings.

Philippians 3:8-11, "Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faiththat I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead."

Back to Knitter, two things come to mind. First, evangelical views are often intentionally twisted and misrepresented. In reading Knitter on evangelical views of world religions I found myself disagreeing with the 'evangelical view'. Why? Because it wasn't really the evangelical view! I find it absolutely bizarre (scandalously irresponsible) that Knitter fails to mention the historical nature of the atonement in his chapter on Conservative Evangelicals. He writes characterizing the evangelical attitude as, "My mind's made up. Don't confuse with me the facts...The Bible tells us that salvation through faith is possible only in Jesus Christ." Yet, he offers no real explanation of the evangelical understanding of the cross and atonement - of how faith in Christ saves! This is more than oversight in my opinion. He quotes Stott at length. If he's ever read Stott, he couldn't have missed his emphasis on the importance of the atonement.

If you listened to Knitter you'd think evangelicals believed it was their faith that saved them and he then concludes that we are inconsistent in failing to recognize that the Buddhist's genuine faith or the Hindu's genuine faith could save them. Only when he comes to discuss the Mainline Protestant view does he get to a discussion of the atonement as the 'ontological necessity of Christ'. He quotes Newbigin, "In Jesus the one thing needed to happen has happened in such a way that it need never happen again in the same way. The universe has been reconciled to God. Through the perfect obedience of one man a new and permanent relationship has been established between God and the whole human race. The bridge has been built."

Second, this was just a good reminder for me that we can never talk about faith saving, especially now in our pluralistic context. It's not our faith that saves, it's the object of our faith - the person and work of Christ. Everyone talks about faith nowadays. In fact, religions aren't religions anymore, their 'faith traditions'. In the muddy waters of today's pluralism and relativism the Christian church needs a new clarity in what we proclaim. We are saved by the amazing grace of God who sent his Son to live and die for sinful humanity, satisfying his justice and wrath and demonstrating his inexpressible love. This gift of God becomes our through faith. Our faith isn't a good work that saves. The sincerity of our faith isn't what saves - the object of our faith, namely Christ, saves.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

From Around the Web

For a while I was getting into a bad habit of just reposting other peoples posts. Rather than do that frequently, I'm just going to offer a web roundup once or twice a week. Here's some good, fun, interesting, bizarre things from around the web:

Free music is always good, especially when it's good free music. Check out this free download of re-arranged hymns.

Don't forget you're gun! Church Leadership guru John Maxwell got arrested at the airport when he forgot he had a handgun someone had given him in his carry-on. Oops. It's actually a funny story and he's laughing at himself, so we can laugh too.

This week I also discovered the ESV Chronological Reading Plan is a podcast on iTunes. You can subscribe and listen to the selected daily passages read for free.

If you like dinosaurs (I like them dead and from a distance), then this is a pretty cool find in Svalbard, a Norwegian Island near the North Pole (if you've read the Golden Compass you already knew that). Predator X was at least 50 ft. long and had a bit 10x more powerful than T-Rex!

Don't miss the thoughtful editorial piece in ChristianityToday magazine Reducing Abortion for Real. The piece speaks of the gap in President Obama's (and other lawmakers) ongoing rhetoric and recent actions. The piece calls for genuine effort on the part of lawmakers and pro-lifers to reduce the number of abortions while also continuing to work at eliminating abortion all together.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Song of the Week

Well, the only version of this song I could find was on youtube, but the video isn't too bad. This is an old song. I've been thinking about my dad a lot recently (expect some posts about him and from him soon). This is one of his favorites - one we listened to on long trips over and over again (we didn't mind - it was better than Bette Midler's "The Rose", which is another one of his favorites that we had to listen to over and over again).

This song is based on real events (read the whole story). Here are the names recorded in history of the 40 soldiers: The names of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste are Acacius, Aetius, Aglaius, Alexander, Angus, Athanasius, Candidus, Chudion, Claudius, Cyril, Cyrion, Dometian, Domnus, Ecdicus, Elias, Eunoicus, Eutyches, Eutychius, Flavius, Gaisus, Gorgonius, Helianus, Heraclius, Hesychius, John, Lysimachus, Meliton, Nicholas, Pholoctemon, Priscus, Sacerdon, Servian, Sisinus, Smaragdus, Theodulus, theophilus, Valens, Valerius, Vivanus, and Zanthias.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lake of Fire - a documentary on abortion

Last week a blog I frequent recommended this documentary on the abortion issue. It is an issue I have committed to be more informed about and active in year round, not just in Novembers. So I found Lake of Fire in the library and watched it in two sittings, the kids afternoon naps and tonight once I got them in bed. Honestly, I was glad to break it up like this because it is not an easy film to watch. Here are a few of the reasons why:

1. The constant connection drawn between religious fundamentalists and the prolife movement got annoying. I understand that almost all fundamentalists are prolife, but not all those of the prolife persuasion are fundamentalists. The film makers spent an inordinate amount of time talking to nutjobs, like the guys who believe all blasphemers should be executed (though in a humorous moment the man on camera who made this claim had to ask his pastor off camera what constituted blasphemy). The Christian Reconstructionist Roas Rushdoony and his Institutes of Biblical Law were discussed as though they were widely accepted in the Christian community (ok, for a small number of uberreformed people they might be).

2. The hate and lack of compassion on the anti-abortion protesters/activists was appalling. One of the things that comes to life in this film is the emotional turmoil the women seeking an abortion often go through before, during and after the procedure. It was heartbreaking. While we should be concerned for the unborn life, we must not forget the life of the women either. (And don't forget the men. There's a moving scene in the beginning of the film recounting the story of a young man who tried in vain to convince his girlfriend to keep the child. He experience loss and pain as well).

3. The lack of intellectual dialogue was disappointing. This isn't a film where you'll find the best articulation of prolife positions. While I felt the prochoice position was better represented (they had more big guns on camera) this side of the issue still had it's wacko's. There was one lady who argued that the prolifers she encountered fit the profile of pedophiles. Another woman, a psychologist I believe, argued that prolifers were so angry at the termination of the babies new life (certainly not her words) because they were 'projecting' (her word). They were projecting their own killing, their own taking of new life onto those abortion doctors and that's what enraged them. What did they kill? Creativity and new thought with their dogma! Yeah, that's it. That's why they are so mad. Stupid.

4. That no one followed the slippery slope of the prochoice arguments to their logical conclusions was frustrating. Alan Dershowitz, a man whose life and intellect I greatly respect, is particularly guilty of this. He describes seeing his daughter in a sonogram and thinking, "that's my daughter, I can't conceive of not letting her live. She's a baby" [my paraphrase]. Yet, that doesn't bring him to a prolife position. He goes on to say, "but that was because we had decided to keep her. If we had decided not to, would I have felt the same way? I don't know" [again, my paraphrase]. I want someone to ask him, "what if I don't want my two year old? What if I don't want my elderly parents when they get to be a nuisance?" Since when did being wanted become the defining characteristic of personhood, or more importantly, human life.

Another extreme example of this was the line of argument offered by Peter Singer. He asks, quite bluntly, "what makes killing wrong?" He argues that since they baby doesn't care what happens to it we shouldn't be overly concerned either. He argues that taking a innocent human life isn't always wrong. He states that a fetus can't feel pain or satisfaction until at least 18 weeks. A utilitarian calculation should weigh the woman's desire to have the abortion, the fetus' desire to live and not feel pain. So, he argues, since a fetus has no desire to live and cant' feel pain, the mothers desire overrides other concerns. Ok, but what about me when I'm asleep. I don't want anything. If you killed me quickly I wouldn't feel pain. His argument is slippery in the extreme!

5. The confusion of issues was nonsensical at times. It was asserted repeatedly, in passing, that prolifers were anti women, racists, etc. Ok, lets just grant for the sake of argument that prolifers are all racists. Does that negate the validity of their arguments? It's an awful example of an an ad hominem argument (don't wrestle with the idea, attack the person).

6. The reminder that I've been used by the Republican Party is infuriating. It was said (can't remember by whom), that most Republican politicians don't want abortion to go away - it's how they raise money and punch their ticket to Washington. I think the commentator is right.

7. It is very disturbing. At first I was disappointed the film was in black and white. After they showed in graphic details the first abortion procedure being done, I was grateful. Honestly, I almost threw up. There were two procedures shown in detail, not to mention very graphic pictures of babies (and of women who had tried to perform abortions on themselves before it was legal). There is also a very lude scene with an all female rock band - just a warning.

8. It was incredibly challenging.
- In a speech given to a prochoice group, Jocelyn Edwards, former Surgeon General, makes the comment that we care a lot about children when they are in someone else's uterus. As a nation, we are failing to care well for the massive numbers of children who live in poverty, without health care, hungry and helpless. She's right, and shame on us prolifers.
- Noam Chomsky makes a similar point when he reminds the viewer that some 15 million children die each year from preventable diseases and fixable situation (ie. no access to clean water). His point - if you're prolife, be consistent and others may be more willing to listen to you.
- According to one expert, botched abortions were the leading cause of death in women ages 15-45 during the 1950's. That should guard us against any Pollyannish notions that overturning Roe v. Wade would end the tragedy of abortion. We must deal with the root issues, including the loosening of the connection between sex and marriage, but also the cultural/societal structures that make carrying a baby to delivery so undesirable. In short, we must step up efforts to care for women as well as babies.

For me, one of the high points of the film was listening to Norma McCorvey ('Jane Roe'), tell of her conversion and subsequent shift in thinking on abortion. It really is a story of grace. The film is one I would strongly recommend to everyone but kids. Be prepared and be open to being challenged.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Newbigin and the Collapse of Evangelicalism

The article by Spencer ("The Coming Evangelical Collapse") has been on my mind a lot recently. I can't say I'm overly concerned by it, partly because I think he's exaggerating and partly because I think the cultural forms of evangelicalism have become a hindrance to the growth of the church. Ok, honestly, I am a little concerned about it...

This afternoon I finished Newbigin's Gospel in a Pluralistic Society. I loved the book, thought there was plenty I didn't agree with (later posts on this book are in the works). Here is the thought he leaves his readers with (keep in mind he's writing in 1989):

"In a pluralist society there is always a temptation to judge the importance of any statement of the truth by the number of people who believe it. Truth, for practical purposes, is what most people believe. Christians can fall into this trap. It may well be that for some decades, while churches grow rapidly in other parts of the world, Christians in Europe [maybe the U.S. too] may continue to be [or become] a small and even shrinking minority. If this should be so, it must be seen as an example of that pruning which is promised to the Church in order that it may bear more fruit (John 15:ff). When that happens it is painful. But Jesus assures us, "My Father is the gardener." He knows what he is doing, and we can trust him. Such experience is a summons to self-searching, to repentance, and to fresh commitment. It is not an occasion for anxiety. God is faithful, and he will complete what he has begun" (pg. 244).

Oh, a small fyi, if you haven't read anything by Newbigin before you should. There is a lot of free stuff at newbigin.net.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Note of Self Congratulation

I am not trendy nor the son of a trendy man (ok, except my cool glasses, and I got a lot of crap about them at first cause they're trendy and I'm not). I'm always five steps behind everyone in music (I was still listening to Kenny Rogers in the 8th grade), fashion (just ask Lynn), and about everything else - with one notable exception - my Calvinism.

Yep, according to Time the "New Calvinism" is one of 10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now. Here's the list:
  1. Jobs Are the New Assets
  2. Recycling the Suburbs
  3. The New Calvinism
  4. Reinstating the Interstate
  5. Amortality
  6. Africa, Business Destination
  7. The Rent-a-Country
  8. Biobanks
  9. Survival Stores
  10. Ecological Intelligence
My Calvinistic leanings took hold back in 1997, before it became trendy. There, that's my pat on the back. (Maybe next week I'll post on what brought me, and who brought me, to these convictions).

Responses to The Coming Evangelical Collapse

I have not yet had the time to reflect on or write on the article I posted yesterday from Michael Spencer in on The Coming Evangelical Collapse. No need, because three blogs I read often have already done a great job of dissecting it.

First up, Sean Lucas over at reformation21 He offers several insights:
  • the original doomsday article rests upon the premise that since evangelicals have hitched their wagon to the conservative political movement and since that movement is turning against evangelicals, evangelicalism as a movement will soon collapse. This has not proven true historically. The church has, at times in the past, connected itself to political movements. While the movements have passed away the church remains.
  • He goes on, however, adding, "That is not to say that the links between God and country which evangelical make are not frightening and are not harmful for Christianity long term... Transforming the Christian faith into a political position seems to raise questions about whether our focus is Jesus or America."
  • Lucas also points out that there is a large segment of the church that Spencer ignores, namely midsized, healthy evangelical churches. He focuses too much on the megachurch and the small and dying churches, neglecting the churches (and seminaries) that are doing a good job of training people in more than just techniques for church growth.
  • I'll just quote the last point, "I do believe that he [Spencer] is right that the challenge is going to come from Catholicism and Orthodoxy and it will center on questions of authority--in an uncertainty world with competing claims about the Bible and what it means, the "certainty" provided by a church that can claim a two thousand year lineage is hard to deny. Evangelicals must do a better job recognizing that apostolic succession is a real challenge and that the Bible offers its own type of apostolic succession (one of doctrine, not of ordination)."
Next up, Kevin DeYoung at DeYoung, Restless and Reformed:

Sorry, I can't bullet point him. DeYoung agrees with much in Spencer's original article, though isn't as pessimistic. He writes, "I doubt seriously that evangelicalism in the future will 'look more like the pragmatic, therapeutic, church-growth oriented megachurches that have defined success.' These churches certainly exist in large numbers, but I think they've reached their zenith. Pragmatic, therapeutic churches are not the wave of the future. Younger Christians--both on the emergent left and reformed right--think they're bogus."

He also comes armed with his own statistics. He cites a report from 2005 which states that the percentage in of people in evangelical churches remained fairly constant despite decline in other segments of Christianity, going from 9.2% in 1990 to 9.1% in 2005 (and since this is a percentage of a population that is growing, the total number of people in evangelical churches has risen by several million).

The best sentence of DeYoung reflection, "It's curious to me that while secularists have written best-selling books based on their fear of some sort of theocratic evangelical takeover, evangelicals themselves have never cried louder that the sky is falling. I suspect that both of these shrill voices are mistaken." He's probably right.

Finally, Mark Galli over at Christianity Today responds (I think his is the best, so read the whole thing). He does a very good job of differentiating between the cultural form of evangelicalism and the theological core of the movement. I'll just tease with some long quotes and hope you go read the whole thing.

For all our cultural influence and religious impact, evangelicals are "like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales … [they] are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness." This quotation, from Isaiah 40:15-17, refers to "the nations," but it applies just as well to the "evangelical nation." Movements of God — think the desert fathers, monasticism, the Great Awakening, and so forth — come and go.

What we know as evangelicalism is a temporary cultural expression of the Christian faith. It comes with idiosyncrasies, good and bad. It has produced the populist Religious Right activist Jim Dobson and the careful, moderate scholar Mark Noll. Out of its publishing houses come books like Left Behind and books like Knowing God. It has proven itself to be small-minded, judgmental, and legalistic, as well as generous, sacrificial, and heroic (I think especially of evangelical work with HIV/AIDS and sexual trafficking today). It has at times been totally out of touch with contemporary culture, and at other times on the cutting edge (for example, we have consistently been early adopters of new technology — radio, TV, the Internet).

Like any movement, religious or not, evangelicalism has become embedded in certain aspects of its culture. Because it exists in the contingencies of history, it can't help but tie itself to some cultural themes while fighting others...

...evangelicals on the ground, in our better moments at least, care less about our "movement" and more about "the evangel," the Good News of Jesus Christ. If the constellations of individuals and groups that have constituted the cultural shape of evangelicalism were to disappear, most of us would quickly move on. Because we know that would hardly signal the end of evangelicalism.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Evangelicalism: Losing Ground and Collapsing?

Yesterday, USA Today published the article Most Religious Groups in USA have Lost Ground, which reports the findings of a new survey on religion in America. It's fairly bleak looking as the only Christian groups to report any increase since 1990 are Protestant (Generic), up .5% and Charismatic/Pentecostal up .3%. Here's some key quotes:

"When it comes to religion, the USA is now land of the freelancers.

The percentage. of people who call themselves in some way Christian has dropped more than 11% in a generation. The faithful have scattered out of their traditional bases: The Bible Belt is less Baptist. The Rust Belt is less Catholic. And everywhere, more people are exploring spiritual frontiers — or falling off the faith map completely.

Among the key findings in the 2008 survey:

So many Americans claim no religion at all (15%, up from 8% in 1990), that this category now outranks every other major U.S. religious group except Catholics and Baptists. In a nation that has long been mostly Christian, "the challenge to Christianity … does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion," the report concludes.

Baptists, 15.8% of those surveyed, are down from 19.3% in 1990. Mainline Protestant denominations, once socially dominant, have seen sharp declines: The percentage of Methodists, for example, dropped from 8% to 5%.

Meanwhile, nearly 2.8 million people now identify with dozens of new religious movements, calling themselves Wiccan, pagan or "Spiritualist," which the survey does not define.

Wicca, a contemporary form of paganism that includes goddess worship and reverence for nature, has even made its way to Arlington National Cemetery, where the Pentagon now allows Wiccans' five-pointed-star symbol to be used on veterans' gravestones.

Mark Silk, director of the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College, sees in the numbers "an emergence of a soft evangelicalism — E-lite — that owes a lot to evangelical styles of worship and basic approach to church.

"But E-lite is more a matter of aesthetic and style and a considerable softening of the edges in doctrine, politics and social values," Silk says."

Continuing the bad news, Michael Spencer writes of The Coming Evangelical Collapse for the Christian Science Monitor (I'd encourage you read the whole thing).

"We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.

Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the "Protestant" 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.

This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.

Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I'm convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close."

It is not all doom and gloom from Spencer, however. This collapse of shallow evangelicalism will lead, he believes, to revitalized forms of evangelicalism and other positives. He continues:

"The loss of their political clout may impel many Evangelicals to reconsider the wisdom of trying to create a "godly society." That doesn't mean they'll focus solely on saving souls, but the increasing concern will be how to keep secularism out of church, not stop it altogether. The integrity of the church as a countercultural movement with a message of "empire subversion" will increasingly replace a message of cultural and political entitlement.

Despite all of these challenges, it is impossible not to be hopeful. As one commenter has already said, "Christianity loves a crumbling empire.""

Maybe tonight I'll have some time to reflect and write on these articles (taxes are done!). Till them, comments are open.

Monday, March 09, 2009

[U2] Song(s) of the Week

I really like the new U2 cd "No Line On the Horizon". It's not my favorite, but right up there with Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby (I go back and forth on which is my favorite). So here's a list of six of my favorite U2 songs (i couldn't get it down to five and the list could be three times as long and I'd still be leaving great songs off). Which ones would you include?

u2s best

Friday, March 06, 2009

Just Curious What you Think

Ok, so I know most of you don't have kids yet, but what would you think of your boy wrestling a girl in the state finals. Here is Piper's thoughts (just an excerpt. Read the whole post titled Over My Dead Body, Son.):

"Come on, dads, have some courage. Just say, “Over my dead body are you going to wrestle a girl.” Of course, they will call you prudish. But everything in you knows better.

Yes, I am talking to the boys’ fathers. If the girls’ fathers don’t care how boys manhandle their daughters, you will have to take the lead. Give your sons a bigger nobler vision of what it is to be a man. Men don’t fight against women. They fight for women...

Okay, dads, here’s what you tell your son. You say, “There will be no belittling comments about her being 'a girl.' There will be no sexual slurs. If you get matched with her, you simply say to the judges, ‘Sir, I won’t wrestle a girl. My parents have taught me not to touch a girl that way. I think it would dishonor her. I hope you will match me with a guy. If not, I am willing to be disqualified. It’s that important.’”

Be a leader, dad. Your sons need you. The peer pressure is huge. They need manly restraints. They know this is wrong. But then they look around, and the groundswell of conformity seems irresistible. It will take a real man, a real father, to say to his son. “Not on my watch, son. We don’t fight women. I have not raised you that way.”"

As a dad, I think I agree with Piper. What do you think?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

What is the meaning of 'homosexual' in the Bible?

There is a common argument that when the Bible speaks of homosexuality what it is actually referring to is 1) homosexual rape, 2) sex with boys (children), 3) homosexual prostitutes (cult prostitutes), 4) heterosexuals having 'unnatural' homosexual sex. Are these arguments valid? What is the Bible referring to specifically? I'll look at these other options briefly one at a time.

First, some have argued that what is condemned in the Bible is not homosexuality, but homosexual rape. I don't think this is an academic argument, but I've heard it from more than one student. They assert this, based on the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) and the Levite in the town of Gibeah (Judges 19). This is, in their view, what the Bible is speaking of every time it speaks of homosexuality. Problem is, there is nothing in Lev. 18:22 or Lev. 20:13 that would indicate rape. It's straightforward enough. Moreover, Jude 7 seems to indicate the great sin of Sodom was not rape but that they "indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire."

Second, some have argued that Paul was reflecting Greek culture and the he was not actually condeming homosexuality but pederasty. This view states that Paul, following Greek culture, was only condemning the sexual and emotional exploitation of young boys by men (pederasty). Paul would certainly condemn such practices; however, this argument assumes Paul was more a product of Greek culture than his Jewish culture. It neglects the fact that Paul's theology/ethics flow out of the Old Testmant and the foundational nature of the creation accounts of Genesis 1-2 for Paul's sexual ethics. New Testament Scholar Tom Schreiner writes, "The indispensable framework for interpreting the NT teaching on homosexuality is Genesis 1–2, the creation narrative...The two different genders signify that marriage and sexual relations are restricted to the opposite sex, and that same sex relations are contrary to the created order." These chapters of Genesis and the whole of the Old Testament form the foundation of Paul's ethics, and all agree in their condemnation of homosexual activity. Moreover, Schreiner points out, "that second temple Jewish literature consistently and unanimously speaks against homosexual practices."

The third common objection is that the Bible speaks against 'religious' or 'cultic' homosexuality (i.e. male temple prostitutes). The Bible certainly speaks against this (Deut. 23:17-18); however, temple prostitution does not appear in the near context of Leviticus 18. Patrick Ramsey comments, "The absurdity of this pro-homosexual interpretation is demonstrated by applying the same reasoning to other sexual prohibitions listed in Leviticus 18. For example, the very next verse condemns bestiality. Is non-religious bestiality morally acceptable? What about incest, which is denounced in verses 6-17? Are brothers free to sleep with their sisters as long as it is non-religious, consensual, monogamous, and occurs within a “loving” relationship?" Obviously not.

The fourth common objection is that what Paul condemns in Romans 1:26-27 is heterosexual individuals who have homosexual sex - that is what's unnatural, not homosexuality per se. Again, Schriener points out the flaw in this argument, "Such a view fails because it introduces a flawed concept of nature into the text. When he uses the term ‘nature’, Paul does not mean one’s individual and psychological predispositions. The word ‘nature’ refers to what God intended when he created men and women, and does not focus on the inherent character and disposition of human beings." So it is homosexuality itself that is unnatural as it is against God's original design. Moreover, such an argument ignores the entire OT and Paul's other statments in 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:10. In both passages Paul uses the term arsenokoitai - a combination of “male” (arsen) and “bed” (koite), so that its etymology means “to go to bed with a male."

As I said on Sunday night, you have to do some pretty fancy mental gymnastics to get around the Bible's clear and repeated proscriptions against homosexual activity. Sin does want to justify itself; however, in this case such attempts to justify the sin of homosexuality exegetically fail.

Predestination and Double Predestination

From a student (with permission), "I have a question. One of my friends, a Christian who I have always admired and looked up to, is questioning me about predetermination/John Calvin, and asking me why God would create people if he knows they won't be saved, and whether or not he creates people to *not* be saved. I don't believe this in my heart, but I don't know what to say to her... if you could help me out, I'd really appreciate it."

There are a lot of issues to deal with in that question (actually set of questions). Let me make a case for what I do believe regarding predestination (determinism or Calvinism).

First, I think it is clear from Scripture that God knows all things actual and possible, including things actual and possible in the future. In other words, he knows who will be saved. Clearly, at least biblically, not everyone will be saved, and God knows that. So God does create people whom he knows won't be saved. I don't know how to get around that unless you are willing to say God doesn't know the future, and I'm not willing to say that (and don't think anyone who takes the Bible seriously should either).

The next question, then, is 'why?'. Why would God create people whom he knows will not respond to his grace and be saved? Ultimately, the answer is "for his glory". Any question that begins with "why has/would/did God..." finds its final answer in the truth that all God does he does for his glory. Many associate that idea with Calvinism, but Wesley and other biblical Arminians believed in the "God centeredness of God" also. It's just biblical: God created for his glory (Isaiah 43:7), chose and delivered a people for his glory (Isaiah 49:3, Ezekiel 20:5-9, Psalm 106:6-8), sent the people into exile as discipline for his glory and brought them out of exile for his glory (Ezekiel 36:22-23, 32), sent Jesus to redeem his people for his glory (John 12:27-28, Romans 3:25), leads us in paths of righteousness for his glory (Psalm 23:3), prepares good works for us to do for his glory (Ephesians 2:10, Matthew 5:16), etc...

But how does creating certain people whom God knows will not be saved glorify him (notice we're still talking about creating people who God knows will not be saved and not yet about creating certain people not to be saved)? Put simply, how is God glorified in punishing sinners? Let me suggest a couple of ways. First, we see more brilliantly God's holiness and hatred of sin. Would any of us know how much God hates sin apart from hell and the hell Jesus suffered on the cross. It is in the punishment of sin we see God's holiness and wrath towards sin most clearly. Secondly, the vision of God's holiness and wrath make us understand and appreciate his grace all the more. We see what we deserve, what God's Son suffered for us (he suffered nothing less than God's wrath), and what we have been saved from. So, in summary, God's has created some people knowing they wouldn't be saved so to glorify himself as the holy, wrathful and also merciful and gracious God.

The second set of questions is tougher - does God create people not to be saved? This is sometimes referred to as reprobation or double predestination. I think this doctrine is often misunderstood. Let me explain how I see it (and there are many good and godly men who agree with me and disagree with me). God's choice of whom he will save requires his positive action. Humans are sinners; in fact, we are dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1-9) and slaves to sin (Titus 3:3). Saving us means coming and breathing spiritual life into us, freeing us from our bondage. This is a positive act on God's part. Not saving people does not require the same kind of positive activity on God's part. If he has decided not to save someone he doesn't have to do anything. He simply passes them by. To be reprobate is to be left in sin, not pushed or forced to sin. There is a parallel in the story of Lazarus. Jesus raised him from the dead. Did Jesus raise all the dead? Obviously not - he may have passed by several tombs on the way to Lazarus'. Jesus didn't kill the people in the tombs, but he left them dead. Similarly, God doesn't need to do anything to those whom he has created 'not to save' other than not save them.

This might not seem fair, but remember, God does not owe grace or mercy to anyone. Those whom he passes by get what their sin deserves. They cannot complain that God is unjust. They sin and they reap the consequences of that sin. Granted, God does give some better than they deserve - he gives some grace and mercy. This mercy/grace is owed to know one, so no one can demand it of God. It's a free gift, not something earned. We often make the mistake of thinking that if God's grace is given to some than it must be given to all.

For a few examples of biblical language regarding reprobation, look at Exodus 9:16 (also Exodus 14) and Romans 9; also 1 Peter 2:7-8.

This is one of those questions where we are forced to acknowledge the sovereignty and goodness of God and also the incomprehensibility of his ways. Whenever I think a lot about it I'm let thinking about these words from Romans 11:33-36:

"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen."

Postmodern Church Mouse

Ok, I'll stop ripping off other peoples content after this, but this was too funny. Actually, I'm not sure if I should take this personally - I've got the glasses, the funky facial hair (chin strap), and the tattoo. No earring though. Not now, not ever. Hey, I can laugh at myself - and I know that despite all efforts to be cool, I'm not (I've been reminded recently).

What if Paul's Letter to the Galatians was published in Christianity Today?

I stumbled upon this post on the Sacred Sandwich today. It's wonderful, and scary true. Here's a sample of letters to the editor:

Dear Christianity Today:

In response to Paul D. Apostle’s article about the Galatian church in your January issue, I have to say how appalled I am by the unchristian tone of this hit piece. Why the negativity? Has he been to the Galatian church recently? I happen to know some of the people at that church, and they are the most loving, caring people I’ve ever met.

Phyllis Snodgrass; Ann Arbor, MI

Read the whole thing!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

No Line on the Horizon

U2, my imeem "friends", send me this playlist from their new album released today. Mine is in the mail. I hope it comes tomorrow!

U2 - No Line On The Horizon

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Meaning of History

I was very challenged by something I read in Newbigin's Gospel in a Pluralist Society tonight. Newbigin served for years as a missionary in India and describes how Jesus was often incorporated into the Hindu worldview without changing the prevailing worldview in any way whatsoever. He writes, "the foreign missionary knows that this is not the conversion of India but the co-option of Jesus, the domestication of the gospel into the Hindu worldview." That wasn't all that profound - I've heard stories of radical syncretism before. However, Newbigin's next step is wonderful and should shake us. He goes on, "He [the missionary] only slowly begins to realized that the same thing has happened in the West. Jesus is understood in the light of the assumptions which control our culture...Jesus is being co-opted into the reigning plausibility structure. But the business of the missionary, and the business of the Christian Church in any situation, is to challenge the plausibility structure in the light of God's revelation of the real meaning of history" (pg. 96). How do we do so?

For Newbigin the key is 'indwelling the story' rendered to us in the Bible. Here was the key quote for me. Newbigin, summarizing a Latin American liberation theologian, writes, "the important thing is the use of the Bible is not to understand the text but to understand the world through the text" (pg. 98). Seeing the world through the lens of Scripture, indwelling the story, means that the Bible becomes our 'plausibility structure' - the definer of what is possible. More than that, the Bible interprets history for us. Not every detail (we are still left puzzled over many of the details), but we know the goal of history. The importance of this can not be overstated.

If one does not know the purpose, the meaning, the telos of something, it is not possible to make judgments about it's uses. If I didn't know a hammer was for pounding nails, I wouldn't know that using it for a paperweight was a poor/improper use for it. If we don't know what the meaning/goal of history we can't possible know what our meaning/purpose is and consequently we can not make any judgments about what is the proper 'use' of a human life. The purpose/design of history and humanity (as it's key players) are given to us in the pages of Bible - the designer has revealed them to us (which is the only way to know the purpose of something - it must be revealed).

Newbigin explain some of the implications of this understanding of history or the lack there of: "In the closing decades of this century it is difficult to find Europeans who have an belief in a significant future which is worth working for and investing in. A society which believes in a worthwhile future saves in the present so as to invest in the future. Contemporary Western society spends in the present and piles up debts for the future, ravages the environment, and leaves grandchildren to cope with the results as best they can...If the story is meaningless, any action of mine is meaningless. The loss of a vision for the future necessarily produces that typical phenomenon of our society which the sociologists call anomie, a state in which publicly accepted norms and values have disappeared" (pg. 90-91).

The Christian view of the future is different. On the horizon is the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ. "He is coming to meet us," writes Newbigin, "and whatever we do - whether it is our most private prayers or our most public political action - is simply offered to him for whatever place it may have in his blessed kingdom. Here is the clue for meaningful action in a meaningful history: it is the translation into action of the prayer, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, as in heaven so on earth" (102).


the heresy of homosexuality?

We throw the word heresy around too much I think - at least in certain circles. So I'm reluctant to put that label out there, yet I think it's important to do so. As many of you know there has been an ongoing controversy in the Episcopal/Anglican Church over the topic of homosexuality, specifically the recognition and blessing of gay marriage and the appointment of several gay bishops. These actions have lead to many churches pulling out of the denominational structure or realigning themselves under the jurisdiction of more conservative (biblical) bishops(usually in South America, sometimes Africa). JI Packer, esteemed author and theologian was actually suspended and threatened with defrocking because he stood against the church in it affirmation of the gay lifestyle. I am a long way removed from the Episcopal/Anglican communities, but more recently, a group of 'emergent' folk started a network they're calling 'Queermergent', designed to be "An Emergent Safehouse for the LGBTQ Community and All Interested People Seeking Understanding."

These actions deserve, I believe, the label heresy. Let me explain why.

First, look again at 1 Timothy 1:8-11:
"Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted." (ESV).

Paul puts all these sinful activities under the umbrella of things that are "contrary to sound doctrine" (the gospel). In other words, heresy. The link between right living and right believing is incredibly tight in this paragraph. Look also at Titus 2:11-14:

"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works." (ESV).

Notice that the grace with brings salvation is also designed to bring holiness. It is appropriate to say then that endorsing homosexuality, or any other sinful activity for that matter, is not just a denial of some ethical norm but a denial of the gospel and the grace of God.

JI Packer explains further. In an interview given some time ago Packer explains why he uses the label heretical to refer to those in the church that affirm homosexuality as an appropriate lifestyle. The interviewer summarizes, "[Packer] perceives the approval of homosexuality to be “heretical” because it denies a fundamental aspect of the gospel—namely repentance." Packer continues, "‘Heresy’ ought to be used when an aspect of the gospel is being denied." Futhermore, he added, that because God that those who practice homosexuality unrepentantly will be damned to hell (1 Corinthians 6:9-11), “Souls are put at risk every time homosexuality is tolerated.”

While I think is incredibly important to show love and compassion to the gay community outside the church, I think it equally important not to tolerate heresy and sexual immorality within the church. Our high church friends and queermergent friends need to be called to repentance. I am thankful for the voices like Packer's that come from within the high church tradition and courageously speak truth in love. I pray that God will raise up within the emergent church (whatever that really is) equally strong and loving voices.