Friday, July 31, 2009

from the web

I haven't passed on anything from the web recently, but these two items deserve a post. First, the new issue of Themelios is online. It's a great publication with articles from top scholars as well as many good book reviews.

Second, check out the video. Barack Obama = AntiChrist. Another example of what Kim Riddlebarger calls 'pin the tail on the AntiChrist'. It was only a matter of time. I just ordered his book Man of Sin, The: Uncovering the Truth about the Antichrist (I read his Case for Amillennialism, A: Understanding the End Times years ago and was totally convinced). I look forward to reading this - maybe next spring!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Newbigin's 'Logic of Election'

If you have read this blog for more than a couple of months, you know I'm a big fan of Lesslie Newbigin. My favorite works of his include Signs Amid the Rubble: The Purposes of God in Human History, A Walk through the Bible, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture, and The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Now just because I like him, doesn't mean I agree with everything he says. For example, he is not very strong on inerrancy- in fact he rejects it. Moreover, he is more open to the idea of 'anonymous Christians' and to people coming to a saving knowledge of God through other religions than I am comfortable with. Another area I have disagreement with Newbigin is on the doctrine of election (and I've been asked to comment on it). Honestly, I was a bit surprised by his understanding as I know him to be a Scottish Presbyterian minister and missionary. Let me outline his understanding and offer a response at the end.

Basically, Newbigin sees election as inclusion in God's mission of bringing salvation to others. He equates "God's electing grace" with "his choosing of some to be the bearers of salvation for all." His theology of election seems to have little to do, if anything, with salvation, except that the elect are chosen to carry the message of salvation to others. He writes, "They are chosen not for themselves, not to be the exclusive beneficiaries of God's saving work, but to be the bearers of the secret of his saving work for the sake of all. They are chose to go and bear fruit. To be chosen, to be elect, therefore does not mean that the elect are the saved and the rest are the lost." Newbigin goes right to the brink of universalism in this chapter before stepping back from that precipice. He asks, "Does the argument so far point to a universalism, that is to say, to the doctrine that as God wills all to be saved, all will in the end infallibly be saved?" He argues some passages, including Romans 9-11 and Romans 5:18 point that way, while at the same time admitting 1 Corinthians 9:27 points towards the possibility of even the apostle Paul being disqualified in the end. He suggests we hold these two poles in tension.

Honestly, I like a lot of what he says in the chapter. For example, he reminds us that "God retains his freedom. Election does not give us claim against God." Yes. Absolutely. That seems to have been a huge misunderstanding for God's people through all time. Also, he rejects the idea which has plagued the church (and Israel) that election is election to a privileged status, emphasizing that election means inclusion in God's purposes to spread the news of salvation to the nations. This can hardly be doubted as it's the pattern is seen repeatedly throughout the Bible starting with Abraham who was blessed to be a blessing (for an incredible, but huge, account of this see Christopher Wright's The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative).

Despite the many points of agreement, I do not buy into, fully, Newbigin's 'logic of election'. Here are some of the points that stick out as erroneous. First, Newbigin asks, "Without question the point of view of the Bible is that God chose Abel and not Cain, Isaac and not Ishmael, Jacob and not Esau, David and not his elder brothers...But can we believe that almighty God, creator of heaven and earth, does act in this seemingly arbitrary way?" This doesn't seem like a fair way to pose the question. Apparently Newbigin believes Calvinists are open to this charge, thereby making God seem capricious and/or irrational. This line of reasoning fails on a couple of points. First, no good Calvinist would say God chooses in an arbitrary way. From our perspective it may seem arbitrary (maybe Newbigin included the word 'seemingly' very thoughtfully). God has his reasons for electing some and not others, but he does not fully disclose these reasons. If I ask a room of kids a question and all of them raise their hands to offer an answer, I will chose one. I may not explain my choice, but rarely, even for me, would it be random or arbitrary. What God does disclose is that there is no reason in us that makes us worthy of his election, but it doesn't follow that there is no reason period. Secondly, I think his reasoning fails because his own explanation of the 'logic of election' breaks down at the same point. At no point does he explain how or why God chose Jacob not Esau. He offers the purpose for the choosing - to take salvation to others, but not the reason - why Jacob and not Esau.

Second, I don't think Newbigin's exegesis of Romans 9-11 is correct (great theologian of missions and religion, poor exegete). In fact, I would argue it's a case of eisegesis - reading into the text what you want. He writes, "Like the potter working with his clay, God has the freedom to dispose of his creation as he will. He could make some vessels for honor and some for destruction. Paul does not say he has done so, but only that, if he did, we would have no ground for complaint. This is where false conclusions have been drawn from Paul. The whole passage makes clear that God has not done what he might have done. He has not made some for honor and some for destruction. What he has done is consign all men to disobedience in order that he may have mercy on all (11:32)." I think Newbigin missed the flow of the argument in Romans 9. Paul begins asserting his sorrow that the vast majority of God's chosen nation have not accepted Christ. This prompts the question, have God's promises failed? Of course not. Paul asserts that not all of the chosen people are in fact elect children of Abraham. Again, Paul anticipating his readers objections asks, 'is God injustice in choosing Jacob and not Esau?" Paul's answer is a resounding 'No!' God isn't unjust - he has mercy on whom he wants (though mercy is by definition undeserved) and hardens whom he wants. He creates some, like Pharaoh, but be objects of destruction through whom his power and wrath will be displayed. Again, Paul anticipates the objection - how can poor old Pharaoh be blamed if it was God's will to harden him. What can someone do to resist God's will. The example of Pharaoh serves as an example of God's sovereign hardening - a hardening that Paul argues can also be seen in his kinsman. True, the hardening serves a purpose - it is so that the Gentiles might be grafted in. Yet it is not a purely hypothetical situation as Newbigin implies, but a reality of which Pharaoh serves as a prime example (see also Judas, Acts 1:16).

Third, I think Newbigin needs to nuance his use of 'elect' in important ways. For example, he writes, "In the end the chosen people, the elect, will have to receive salvation through the nonelect - the Gentiles." It is true that Israel is elect. Yet, not all in Israel are elect (Romans 11:7) - not all are true children of Abraham and heirs to the promise. It's also true that the Gentiles are non-elect. Yet it is also true that some Gentiles are elect (see for example, 1 Peter1:1, Romans 8:33) and thus incorporated with the the elect of Israel to constitute the people of God.

Go back to a part of the Newbigin's quote above: "To be chosen, to be elect, therefore does not mean that the elect are the saved and the rest are the lost." This seems to me a very unlikely understanding of election (I think you can reasonably debate the basis for election - i.e. middle knowledge, etc - but I don't know any of theologians who follow Newbigin in this. I'm open to correction on this). Look at Romans 8:31-34, "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us." It seems in this section that the 'us' whom God is for, the 'us all' for whom God gave up his Son, God's elect, and the 'us' whom Jesus is interceding for all refer to the same group. The elect are those who have been justified by God.

There are other issues in this chapter, but I think I've hit on the biggest ones. Still, I'm a huge fan of Newbigin.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Song of the Week

I'm reconnecting with my musical roots. Remember, I grew up musically in the late 80's/early 90's. Here's great song by Bush.

Machinehead - Bush

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Some Reflection from 'Shogun'

Today I finally finished Clavell's 'Shogun'. It took my 7 months! I really liked the book a lot and it reminded me of a two important theological points.

First, I reminded me of the pervasiveness of sin and how it comes cloaked in different cultural clothes. It's easy to get romanticized version of different culture from books and movies. Watching 'The Last Samurai' it's easy to believe the samurai were noble, simple, honorable people. That would be a naive assessment of samurai/feudal Japanese culture (as an assessment of Mohican Culture based on the 'Last of the Mohicans' would be naive). Sin isn't a western thing - its a global thing. Sin isn't just an individual issue, but a societal one. On the flip side of that, it's not just a societal issue, it's also a individual one (we should reject the 'noble savage' idea - that mankind is essentially good and it's society that corrupts him). Just as individuals struggle with different manifestations of sin, so cultures do also. Clavell's work is brilliant in portraying the clash of Western/English cultural sensibilities (through the pilot Blackthorne/Anji-san) with Eastern/Japanese customs and values. Each are appalled at the barbarism of the other. The Westerners are appalled at the sexual promiscuity of the culture with their multiply consorts and 'pillowing houses'. Their appalled at the violence and murderousness/lack of value for human life. On the flip side, the Japanese are aghast at the rudeness and lack of self control in the Westerners. They don't understand their love of money and unending quest for wealth. In the two very different cultures, sin manifested itself in some different ways (and in some of the same old ways as ever - jealousy, pride, etc.). The point, all cultures are fallen. No single culture or period can be rightly called righteous (not denying some are more righteous than others).

Second, the book reminds the reader, at least this reader, how much damage is done when we serve God as though he needed our help. Near the end of Clavell's book there is a discussion between a Portuguese priest and a convert. They are concerned that Blackthorne (a political and religious enemy, being English and Protestant) will use his repaired ship to attach the interests of the Catholic Church in Japan.
[priest]: "That ship is going to destroy us and there's nothing we can do."
[Japanese convert]: "God will help us."
[priest]: "Yes, but meanwhile we're Soldiers of God and we have to help Him."

A few years ago, at a Father's Day Church service (not ECC!) a group of men sang a Gaither Song. It stuck with me, and not for good reasons:

"What this dying world could use is a willing Man of God
Who dares to go against the grain and works without applause;
A man who'll raise the shield of Faith, protecting what is pure;
Whose love is tough and gentle; a man whose word is sure.

God doesn't need an Orator who knows what just to say;

He doesn't need authorities to reason Him away;

He doesn't need an army to guarantee a win;

He just needs a Few Good Men.

Men full of Compassion, who Laugh and Love and Cry-

Men who'll face Eternity and aren't afraid to die-
Men who'll fight for Freedom and Honor once again-

He just needs a Few Good Men."

Can I just say, Crap, Crap and Double Crap. Instead, hear Paul's words from Acts 17:24-25:
"The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything." (ESV).

It is so easy to fall into the trap of over estimating our importance to the Kingdom of God. It can take the shape of individual self-importance, generational arrogance ("we're the generation to take the gospel to the ends of the earth - to do what every other generation has failed to do!), denominational arrogance ("we're the only really faithful church - without us the gospel would be lost"), and a thousand other ways. And when we fall into the trap of thinking we're necessary or our work is essential to the building the kingdom, then we'll talk ourselves into using methods that are not God honoring. In the case of the Church in Japan (and elsewhere), there was interference in the political struggle for power, murder, intrigue and more. That's dramatic, but it happens at other levels also. To build the ministry, to win the friend we shade the truth, use manipulative tactics or rely on proven 'techniques'.

We need to be careful how we serve God. We must never serve God in a way that makes him look needy or pathetic - as if his kingdom will be lost without our diligent efforts or his plans thwarted without our activities. We must serve in a way that makes our reliance on Him evident and the joy of serving him must be evident to all.

Shogun was a long book -nearly 1200 pages. I'm up for some shorter reading now - Ann Rices' Christ the Lord looks promising!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

summer pics, so far

Ellettsville Fireworks!

Smores in the backyard.

First year of tball is in the books.

Swimming with great gramdma Hulick...
and with Grandma Waugh...and with Grandpa Waugh...

all the cousins together

Luke and his cousin Aaron.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

resources on prayer

I was asked to post the prayer resources I mentioned at Connexion on Sunday night. Here they are, with a few extras also:

- Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions

- Face to Face: Praying the Scriptures for Intimate Worship

- Praying Backwards: Transform Your Prayer Life by Beginning in Jesus' Name

- 1979 Book of Common Prayer, Economy Green Leather

- Praying: Finding Our Way Through Duty to Delight

- Celtic Prayers from Iona (careful with this one. I don't have it, but had one like it and it also contained prayer to the wood spirits and incantations, etc. Check it out before buying!)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Family Worship, Week 3/4

Well, life happened and between painting the boys room (which took a lot longer that we thought it would) and vacation, we've gotten ourselves really far behind in our plan. A few years ago, that would have discouraged me and I probably would have used it as a reason to abandon the exercise. I'm learning that irregular is better than not at all, not to be rigid and legalistic about it. Having said that, we'll be back on track with Abraham this week.

For the last few weeks we've been reading the Noah story from Genesis 6-9 with reference also to 1 Peter 3: 18-22. We focused on how bad things got after the Adam and Eve's sin and how God was just in punishing the world. We also talked quite a bit about why God saved Noah and his family. While he was righteous, we have to be clear that he was still a sinner and deserved judgment (as the episode after exiting the ark shows). God is merciful and God chose to save Noah out of mercy and so his purposes would not fail. God could have justly swept Noah away in the flood also, but he if he had than the promise made to Eve in Gen 3:15 would have failed. It was a great chance to talk about God's faithfulness to his promises. We also talked about how the flood was not the cure for sin, which we see after Noah exits the ark, plants a vineyard and gets drunk. Sin's still present in us and we need a cure. We talked quite a bit about the covenant God made with Noah and all creation that he wouldn't destroy the earth again with a flood.

On the creative side, the kids drew pictures of the ark scene and built an ark out of legos (it was pretty cool). I'm sure we would be more creative if I would communicate better with Lynn what I'd actually be talking about with the boys better and she could plan more. We'll try to do that more this week. Actually, I'm expecting Abraham's story to take two weeks - he is pretty important.

Song of the Week

The Rising - Bruce Springsteen

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

God and sexuality

I get lots of good questions that come my way. This one was a little different in that I couldn't turn to any books on my shelf for a ready answer - trust me, I tried. I scoured my theological text books, books on sexuality, and books on being created in the image of God. There were of little or no help whatsoever. So, I'm posting (with permission) the question and my thoughts. Feel free to pipe in!

The question: [Some friends and me] were talking about how Jesus had the capacity for sexual feelings and was, therefore, a sexual being. Jesus had sexuality and all humans are sexual individuals; however, I was wondering if Jesus had sexuality before he became a flesh and blood human or if the sexuality was a result of his being a creature on earth. And in turn, I'm wondering if our souls have any sort of capacity for sexual feeling, or if our sexuality is a result of our creatureliness. If Jesus had the capacity for sexual feelings before he came to earth then that would mean the sexuality exists in perfection in the Trinity...which seems strange to me - that would indicate that sexuality exists for some sort of purpose in the Trinity.

My thoughts: First, I think it's important to be precise when we discuss sexuality. You said 'all human beings are sexual creatures', and in a sense that is true. Everyone is either male or female [with the rare exception of hermaphrodites. still, in those case they either are XY or XX, I think, so technically still male of female. I would attribute this condition of the fall and the radical effects of sin on humanity]. I don't know if we can say 'all humans have sexual attractions'. I think there are plenty who do not. Certainly there are time of life when not all humans do - young children, older adults (before Viagra). That doesn't mean children or the elderly are less human, or even less male or less female.

Second, I think there is someway in which male and female as distinct genders reflects the image of God more adequately that just male or just female. I'm not willing to say, with Barth for example, that the image of God = male/female, though I do think the distinction is important to understanding the image of God. That being said, I would affirm that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit all equally share in the essence of deity that is reflected in the male/female distinction. In other words, one isn't more masculine and another more feminine. They equally share an essence and attributes that required maleness and femaleness to reflect. Though the overwhelming majority of images of God in the Bible are male, there are some that are female (like a 'mother hen', etc.).

Third, considering Jesus, I believe he shares the same essence as the Father and the Spirit before his incarnation (as he does during and after as well). This essence was not imaged in just maleness or just femaleness, but in both together. While it's certainly true that the pre-incarnate Son isn't strictly male in a biological sense (no Y chromosome), yet I believe it is very significant that the preponderance of imagery is male. I'm not at all suggesting we should adopt gender neutral language ('he/she', Mother/Father) when it comes to God or the Son. Still less am I suggesting we refer to God as 'it'.

I do not believe he was a sexual being (in the sense of sexual attraction or even sexual 'equipment') before the incarnation. I think that comes with the 'in the flesh' dynamic of the incarnation. I believe sexual attraction, intimacy and pleasure are pale reflections of the intimacy and mutual pleasure that exist between the persons of the Trinity from eternity. They are creaturely/physical manifestations of and paths to oneness and love.

Lastly, the issue of our souls having the capacity for sexual feeling is, in my opinion, off mark. We need to be careful of the ever present danger/heresy of gnosticism which speaks of body/physicality as bad and souls/spirituality as good. Gnostics portray salvation as escape from physicality and that language comes into evangelical vocabulary in phrases like 'saving souls'. As I understand Scripture, there is only a short period of time when our souls will exist apart from our bodies. Our souls will be separated from our bodies during the 'intermediate state' - after our deaths but before the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead. Once Christ returns and the dead are raised, we will exist eternally in resurrected bodies, our souls having been reunited with our their physical counterparts. There's little evidence here, but I assume we will still exist as either male or female - though a strong argument could convince me otherwise. So in that way we'll exist as sexual creatures even in eternity. Yet I don't think we'll have sexual attractions or impulses. Those are shadows of a higher intimacy and pleasure - the kind that existed within the Trinity for all eternity. I believe that these shadows will pass and higher forms of delight and enjoyment and intimacy will the the rule. Moreover, as Jesus is clear there is no giving or being given in marriage in the eternal kingdom, such needs could not be met and would only be sources of frustration.

One more thought: I think we need to be careful not to view everything about humanity in terms of sexuality. It seems there is a trend that way and I'm not sure it's helpful. We do some things not because we're sexual, but sometimes just because we're human. I'm leery of identifying humanity in terms of only, or even primarily, sexuality.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Song of the Week

One of the coolest guitar licks from a really cool band:

Like A Stone - Audioslave

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Profundity of David Hasselhoff

Last night I was subjected once again to the cruel and unusual punishment that is 'America's Got Talent'. What I've done to deserve this is beyond me, but I sit quitely and take my punishment (not really, I mock and sneer, and Lynn get's annoyed). At the very end of the hour, as I was getting excited about the power that would soon be mine to surf the channels and find something worth my time, like baseball, David Hasselhoff said something very profound. Before you laugh, remember even jack-asses can speak truly and insightfully - just read Numbers 22.

So Hasselhoff, moved by a contestants performance of Garth Brooks' 'If Tomorrow Never Comes' (who hasn't been moved by that lovely song) said (my paraphrase), "if you're going to sing, there's no point in moving your lips unless you're going to tell a song. That's what he did, and you could tell it was from the heart."

As he was saying that I was reading about worship in John Frame's The Doctrine of the Christian Life, which I'll likely post on later. I let me mind stray from Frame and considered Hasselhoff's words. In a lot of ways, he's right - though I don't want to absolutize the truth of those words. In our expressions of worship, the best songs 1) come from the heart, and 2) tell a story - the story of God's marvelous deeds. The first point we talk about often, the second gets missed. But look at a few verses:

Ps 105:1-6, "Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice! Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually! Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered, O offspring of Abraham, his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones!"

Ps 9:1-2, "To the choirmaster: according to Muth-labben. A Psalm of David. I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High."

When you look at the worship of Israel they were constantly recalling God's redemptive activity, especially the exodus event (see Ex 15:1-18, Ps. 78) . Move to the New Testament and look at the first known hymn of the church, Philippians 2. It's the same - a rehearsal of God's salvific activity in Christ Jesus:

Php 2:5-11, "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

I would argue that the best of our worship does the same thing. Take, for example, Amazing Grace. It recounts the story of a sinner lost and blind, redeemed and healed, then in glory. A Mighty Fortress tells the story of God's protection and ultimate victory over the ancient foe. These songs, and many more, stir our hearts with the drama ("the drama is the doctrine" - thank you Dorthy Sayers). The best songs are not empty sentimentality, but rooted in God's acts. Great thought Mr. Hasselhoff.

And now, for your listening pleasure: