Monday, June 28, 2010

Song of the Week

This isn't a song that is real popular, but I love it. It's called the Martyr's Song (Todd Agnew), however, the imagery of God's delight in welcoming his saints home is not only applicable to martyrs, but to all the saints: "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints" (Psalms 116:15, ESV). Ted Dekker makes this imagery incredible vivid in The Circle Trilogy (Black/Red/White). I haven't liked anything else Dekker has written, but loved the Circle Trilogy (great pictures of sin, grace, redemption and God's joy).

Friday, June 25, 2010

Two Great Hits from Jake

These hits came in two different games, but he's turned into quite a little hitter! He's six, playing in the 7-8 yr. old league and doing well. Hopefully, I'll be able to post some Caleb highlights soon.

McCormick's Creek

What an awesome day! The boys and I headed out to McCormick's Creek State Park at 9:30 this morning. We hiked, watched dragonflies, played in the creek, saw a whitetail deer, a few small fish and scores of minnows, had a picnic lunch, played on the playground and made it home in time for naps. That's my kind of day!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Beware of Over Interpreting

I'm not sure if it's a women thing or what, but I know Lynn has a propensity to over analyze everything I say - especially when we're in punchy moods. In those times, my words are parsed, my tone is analyzed, and what is don't say is almost as important as what I do say. Frustrating (and I know I'll get in trouble if Lynn reads this).

I wonder how the biblical authors would react if they had the chance to sit in on a Greek class in seminary, or read one of those voluminous commentaries that have hundreds of pages of footnotes about possible (read obscure) meanings. I finished reading Moises Silva's very refreshing book God, Language and Scripture. It was refreshing because one of his main concerns is the over-interpretation of Scripture. He provides endless, and often humorous examples of how texts can be over-interpreted.

One of the common mistakes is focusing on how words came to mean what the do (etymology, etc.) and reading that history of meaning into the text. For example, the word 'gossip' comes from the word 'godsip' and referred, originally, to the context of godparents and the family 'chatter' associated with christening events. Obviously, when we speak of gossip columns, celebrity gossip, etc., that original meaning isn't in mind at all. We don't import all that history into the choice and use of our words, nor did the biblical authors. One example of this is the commonly held notion that 'ecclesia' (or 'ekklesia') means 'called out ones'. It is formed from two root words - 'ek', which can mean 'out', and 'kaleo', which can mean 'to call'. Sounds straightforward - kinda like a German word, say Fahrvergn├╝gen, means 'driving enjoyment'. However, while Greek is a language that compounds words easily, it's a mistake to view all meanings as so transparent. After all, butterfly in English doesn't meant 'butter that flies'. The word ekklesia was a secular word that simply meant assembly (as is evident from secular Greek writings and from the Bible; see Acts 19:32, 39). Such over-interpretation is common in some circles, and we can all fall into that trap if we have a word study bible or a even just a dictionary! We don't need to be so cute with our interpretation of Scripture.

What's my point? I am deeply concerned about two trends in Biblical interpretation. One, that people can bend a text to mean whatever they want it to mean (argggh. The rise of 'specialty' study bibles is a plague! Does the Bible mean something different for men, for women, for addicts, for teens, for those from an African heritage, for women of color - all available at Barnes and Noble). My second concern is that biblical interpretation becomes the task of the 'professionals'. The reformation snatched the Bible out of the hands of the elites (churchmen) and put it in the hands of the lay people. The reformers articulated the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, of the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture, etc. Yet, it seems like we are increasingly in danger of putting the Bible back into the hands of the elites - now the Bible scholars.

What I loved about Silva's book was that he argued for a common sense, big picture approach to the interpretation of the Bible. While not completely discounting the importance of historical research into the development of language, the importance of precision, etc, he highlights the importance of context and for a 'common sense approach' to reading and interpreting the Bible, especially the original languages.

Monday, June 21, 2010

My Thoughts on Al Mohler on the Age of the Earth

One of the blogs I frequent is He is a fantastic book reviewer. Yesterday he posted his notes from a lecture by Al Mohler on 'Why Does the Universe Look So Old?'. The actually lecture isn't posted yet, as far as I know. When it is, I'll let you know. Here, I decided to interact with Mohler through Challies. Dangerous maybe, but I trust Challies to accurately represent Mohler. On this topic, I disagree with Mohler, though he raises some good questions. Challies summary of Mohler is in red, my running thoughts are in italicized black.

Mohler began by saying that there are really only two options for us to follow when we seek an answer: either the world is, indeed, old or the world looks old but is not as old as it appears. He began by reading Genesis 1 and, having done so, affirmed that a straightforward reading of the text tells us of 24-hour days, 6 real days of creation and one real day of rest. And, indeed, this was the overwhelming, untroubled consensus of the church until the 19th century.

(Frankly, it's not that simple. Just because a view won the day for a thousand years, doesn't mean it's the correct view. If that's the case, then Mohler's premillenialism should also be rejected and I could say that amillenialism was the 'untroubled consensus of the church' for a thousand years. Moreover, Augustine had alternative views on the book of Genesis and he certainly wasn't trying to accommodate Scripture to modern scientific findings. He was simply trying to be faithful to Scripture, understanding that taking a passage straightforwardly doesn't always mean literally.)

However, since then four great challenges have arisen:

  • The discovery of the geological record
  • The emergence of Darwin's theory of evolution
  • The discovery of ancient near-eastern parallels to the biblical account
  • The development of higher criticism and new approaches to the Bible

When we ask why the universe looks so old, we have to keep each of these challenges in mind. But first we need to ask just how old the universe appears to look. This span of time has grown exponentially since people first began to ask the question so that the age of the earth has gotten older and older. Currently the consensus (such that it is) for the age of the earth is that it is roughly 4.5 billion years old while the universe is 13.5 billion years old.

Mohler then asked this: what is the urgency of this question? The answer is that there is great urgency in adequately addressing this question. There are some recent developments that indicate why this is so. The controversy concerning Bruce Waltke is just one example—Waltke said recently that unless we embrace evolution, evangelicalism will be reduced to the status of a cult. Meanwhile, we are constantly faced with supposed facts that science presents a challenge that must be embraced by the church. The current mental environment in which we live is an environment shaped by the intellectual assumption that the world is very old. To speak in confrontation to that environment comes at a significant cost. Even greater urgency is pressed upon us by the new atheism.

Mohler presented four major options available to us when we think about the age of the earth and the interpretation of the first two chapters of Genesis.

The traditional 24-hour calendar day view. This is the most straightforward reading of the text and affirms that the Bible teaches a sequential pattern of 24-hour days.

The day-age view. In this view what is argued is that the Hebrew word for "day" need not always refer to a 24-hour calendar day but might refer to an indefinite and presumably long period of time. Such days are overlapping and not entirely distinct.

The framework theory. This theory leaps over the question of the length of the days saying that this is only a literary framework and that the early chapters of Genesis represent a literary way of discussing a scientific reality. We are not to trouble ourselves about the length of time or the order and sequence of the days, but rather are to see that this is God providentially ordering creation for his glory.

(This is my view, my Mohler's representation is a caricature at best. I would never say the sequence of days is unimportant - in fact, it's vitally important. The sequence represents God's creating and filling - three days of creating, three days of filling, all culminating in creation of his image bearers. The length of time is somewhat insignificant, but the sequence is important. Watch out for words like 'only' - as in 'this is only a literary framework'. It's dismissive. It seems to imply that those who hold this view don't see the first chapter of Genesis as inspired, inerrant Word. I do, and I see it is a God inspired literary framework for understanding the origins of the universe, and especially of man as God's 'final project'.)

The literary theory. Here we take the first eleven chapters of Genesis as literary, understanding that the Creation story is merely myth, a story as understood by ancient Hebrews.

We must note that only the first of these options necessitates a young earth. All of the others allow for, even if they do not require, a very old earth.

The literary theory has to be rejected out-of-hand since it otherwise contradicts inerrancy. We cannot hold to a robust theory of biblical inerrancy and interpret the chapters in this way. (I agree.)

The framework theory is held by some prominent evangelicals but it is one of the least defensible positions when we realize that it is based not just on a long period of time but that the sequence does not matter. It is simply not credible that God gave us a text with such rich detail and sequential development so we might only learn about his providential direction.

(Again, I think he need to reread those prominent evangelicals and be more honest here. First, sequence does matter. Second, it's not based on a long period of time. It's based on an understanding of how best to read these chapters. This interpretation does allow for a long period of time, but you could be a young earth creationist and approach Genesis one as a literary framework at the same time. In fact, from a framework perspective, you could argue that it was all done in seven hours.)

The day-age theory involves far fewer entanglements but still involves important issues related to theology and exegesis.

Mohler proceeded to argue for the theological necessity of understanding a young earth and 24-hour calendar days. He presented two great issues that arise when we allow for a day-age theory or any other old-earth understanding of creation.

The first issue concerns the integrity of Scripture. He conceded that many of those who hold to a day-age view are seeking to believe it without doing violence to the inerrancy of Scripture. And yet there are many issues that must be addressed. What is sorely lacking in the evangelical movement today is a consideration of the theological cost of such a view. This entire conversation is either missing or marginalized in the church today. The exegetical issues are real and the exegetical evidence based on a Reformation understanding of Scripture leads to a natural understanding of 24-hour days in creation. Mohler would allow that it might be possible that he is over-reading the text in this regard. For this reason we must hear the warnings of those who hold to an older view of the universe since it is possible that we may be creating an intellectual problem that is not necessary. And yet he simply finds that the exegetical cost and the theological cost is just too high.

(I'm not entirely sure what to make of this and it's probably because I'm getting a summary of Mohler and not hearing him directly. I don't understand what exegetical problems it creates if we treat Genesis 1 as historical poetry if that's what it was intended to be. Certainly, if it was intended to be a straightforward scientific explanation of creation and we treated it as something different, that would create some problems - big ones. However, Mohler seems to be begging the question. On the flip side, if Genesis one is a poetical description of God's creative act and we demand it be taken literally, we have also done exegetical violence. More discussion needs to be done on the nature of the text and how it ought to be interpreted. What elements of historical narrative are there? Of poetry? Etc.?)

An old-earth review raises at least two important issues. First, it raises the issue of the historicity of Adam. Paul bases his understanding of human sinfulness and Adam's headship over the human race on a historical Adam and a historical Fall. An old earth understanding has serious complications because the old earth is not merely understood to be old but also through its age telling a story. The story it is telling is of billions of years of creation before the arrival of Adam. How then can it account for a historical Adam? An old earth understanding requires an arbitrary intervention of God in suddenly creating Adam and depositing him in the world. This presents problems both in Genesis and Romans.

(Wow. This is a most uncharitable reading of old-earth interpretation. I have no questions/doubts about the historicity of Adam, nor do most of the evangelical old-earthers I've read. There's no necessary correlation. Why if God intervenes a billion years after creating the earth to create man is it 'arbitrary'? Why would that be more arbitrary than God creating a nation out of Israel or creating man on the sixth day? I fully affirm the historicity of Adam on the basis of my reading of Genesis 1, which I believe describes God's creation and preparation of the universe for Adam. Moreover, I believe in the historicity of Adam because Jesus did and Paul, under the inspiration of Adam did, and so I will too. But I still don't think I'm forced to believe in a literal seven days of creation and young earth.)

The second question it raises regards the Fall. We understand from Genesis 3 and the entire narrative of Scripture that what we know in the world today as catastrophe, as natural disaster, as pain, death, violence, destruction, predation—that all of these are results of the Fall. We end up with enormous problems if we try to interpret a historical fall in an old-earth rendering. This is most clear when it comes to Adam's sin. Was it true that, as Paul argues, when sin came, death came? Keep in mind that if the earth is old, and we determine it is old because of the scientific data, it also claims that long before the emergence of Adam there were all the effects of sin that are biblically attributed to the Fall. No Christian reading of the Scripture alone would ever come to this kind of conclusion. And once you come to such a conclusion it is very difficult to reconcile with the Bible. If the animosity between the lion and the lamb predates the Fall, what joy or purpose is there in saying that they will be reconciled in the consummation?

(This is a much better question – one I think old earthers need to take seriously and offer some detailed and rigorous explanation. I don't have a full answer, only some initial thoughts.

First, I don't think the Bible intends for us to believe that there was no death prior to Adam's sin, only that death as God's judgment came upon mankind as a result of sin. This is a controversial point I'll admit, but one that OT theologian Mereidth Kline makes persuasively. Let me make the case quickly and promise to offer more in a post later this week. To begin, we must admit that plants are living, though not sentient, things. So when Adam plucked an apple and ate it, it died. In addition, and maybe more importantly, when Genesis says that God gave them 'every green plant for food' (Gen. 1:30), we should take this as a positive proscription, but not a necessarily as a negative prohibition against eating meat. Moreover, it should be seen as preparatory for the prohibition against eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. You can eat from any plant…except that one.

Second, thought the eternal state is portrayed as an herbivore's paradise where the lion will lay down with a lamb and not dreaming of eating it, we shouldn't necessarily believe that was the case in the Garden of Eden. Eden and the Eschatological New Heavens and New Earth are different in some important ways. Eden contained conditions. If Adam and Eve obeyed, they would be confirmed in holiness and rewarded. If not, they would be cursed and die. Those conditions don't exist in the New Heavens and New Earth. In other words, the Bible portrays the New Heavens and the New Earth as being different/better than the Garden in many ways.

Finally, the Bible consistently portrays the giving of food, not just the green stuff, as a part of God's goodness and providential care of his creation – not as the result of evil entering the world. For example, Psalm 104:19-28 is a reflection on God's goodness as expressed in supplying food for his creatures – including food caught in the hunt by the lion, food grown by man in the fields, given to sea creatures and even Leviathan. The psalmist concludes, "These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things." In addition, 1 Timothy 4:1-5, speaks of those who prohibit the eating of meat. In this passage, food, including meat, is portrayed as a good gift of God to be enjoyed and to be thankful for, not the result of sin's intrusion into the world.

I need to interact with Mohler's statements on Romans 5 here, but first let me quote the text:

"Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come." (Romans 5:12-14 ESV)

Does this mean there was no death in the world at all before Adam? Obviously I'm not going to contradict myself, so no. The word 'world' is used in various ways by various authors. Here (as in 1 John) I doubt it means 'the entire cosmos'. Why? Because animals and plants don't sin. In v. 13 Paul says that before the law, sin was in the 'kosmos'. Obviously that doesn't mean that sin was in the non-human aspects of creation. How can an oak tree sin? Instead, Paul uses the word kosmos to mean 'all mankind' – as he indicates in v. 12 with the phrase 'all men'. This usage is in keeping with much of the NT. Again, look at 1 John where the phrase 'the world' appears 17 times (in five chapters!). 'The world' in 1 John stands for sinful humanity in opposition to God, as 1 John 2:16 makes clear: "For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world." Obviously John isn't saying that things in the physical world aren't from the Father – that would flatly contradict Genesis 1 and a huge body of texts that describe all things in the world as coming directly from God!

That's enough on this for now.)

The avoidance of this question about the age of the universe will come at the cost of our own credibility. But disaster ensues when the book of natural revelation is used to trump the book of special revelation. We would not be having this discussion today if these questions were not being posed to us by those who assume that general revelation is providing to us compelling evidence that forces us to reconstruct our understanding of the biblical text, that the assured results of science are forcing us to rethink what the Bible seems to say. Great caution is in order when we begin to cede to science. The assured results of science—what do they tell us about a virgin birth? About a resurrection? About sexual orientation? Are we going to submit special revelation to what science says in all of these areas? The end of this process is theological disaster.

(I agree. We cannot allow science to trump special revelation. Yet, that isn't [always] what's going on. Some who interpret Genesis 1 aren't doing so simply to accommodate the modern view of the age of the world. Some see good reasons in the text to interpret it in less than literal (istic) ways.

I agree, great caution is needed here, and for several reasons. Anytime we go against the grain of historical interpretation, we should be cautious. However, our interpretations of Scripture aren't infallible. We can and should be willing to ask, 'Is this what Scripture demands us to believe?' The cases listed above on the virgin birth, resurrection, etc., aren't in the same class.

At the same time, we must also be weary of how scientific data is often presented - a lesson I'm learning still. First, all the data isn't in. Second, the data that is in isn't always presented in a fair/unbiased manner.)

When it comes to the confrontation of evolutionary theory and the gospel we have a head-on collision. It is our responsibility to give an answer to this question of why the universe looks old, but the most natural understanding comes to this: the universe looks old because the Creator made it whole. When he made Adam, Adam was not a fetus but a man. By our understanding this would have required time. But for God it did not. He put Adam in the garden, which was not merely seeds, but a fertile, mature garden. God creates and makes things whole. And secondly, it looks old because it bears the effects of sin, the flood, catastrophe. Creation is groaning and in its groaning it looks old and worn, giving us empirical evidence of the reality of sin.

(I find Mohler's explanation wholly inadequate here. Why does the universe appear old isn't solved by saying God made it complete. He could have made a complete, tall, mature oak tree without rings that tell the story of aging. Mohler's second point here stands only if his interpretation of Romans 5 (and Romans 8) stands, and I don't think it does.

Mohler and I agree that about the confrontation of the gospel and [naturalistic] theories of evolution.)

In the end the conclusive answer to this question is known only to God. This is where we are left; and it is a safe place to be.

I'll let you know when the audio is posted. I'm interested to hear fuller argumentation for some of the points he makes.

Song of the Week

I got the new Stone Temple Pilots CD yesterday for Father's Day (along with a book to feed my new interest in birds: Compact Guide to Indiana Birds). I've only listened to it once so far, but this is a great track on a really good album.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Death of God and Knowledge

I haven't posted much from my current reading on hermeneutics - partly because it's incredibly dense, pretty boring, and I'm not quite sure I understand all of it. However, one of Vanhoozer's main points in the book Is There a Meaning in This Text?: The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Landmarks in Christian Scholarship) is worth some reflection. The first 200 pages of the book is given to explicating the work of Derrida and other deconstructionists who undo the author, the text, and the reader and the consequential loss of meaning. At the core of Vanhoozer's book is the conviction that this loss of meaning is the inevitable outcome of the death of God.

With the death of God we are left to explain all origins (not just human origins) from purely naturalistic, materialistic sources. So where has language come from? Why did we develop speech and writing? On a naturalistic explanation, all human functions have two purposes: survival and reproduction. Vanhoozer unpacks, briefly, the implications, "From the perspective of evolutionary psychology, the primary purpose of language, as of all other human capacities, are survival and reproduction. Language is useful for getting along with others, and getting along with others is useful in surviving (and in reproducing). Yet evolution need not underwrite language as anything more than a useful tool for coping with the world - a tool for manipulation, not communication, much less a medium of meaning and truth. Indeed, an evolutionary account is unable to provide an account of language as anything other than instrumental" (pg. 206). In other words, on a naturalistic explanation of language, language works properly when it helps you survive and reproduce, not necessarily is truthful, meaningful or communicative.

The philosopher, Alvin Plantiga takes this line of reasoning a step further. Vanhoozer unpacks Plantiga's point, "He observes that naturalistic evolution does not provide sufficient reason to believe that human cognitive faculties produce for the most part true beliefs. That is "Darwin's Doubt": Darwin doubted whether the operations of the human mind, developed from the mind of lower animals, is trustworthy" (206). Rationality, like language, developed to help us survive and reproduce, not necessarily to help us understand the world as it is. If all our thoughts are based on survival/procreative instincts, there is no assurance they are true, only useful.

In all our attempts to seek meaning - in life, in language, in texts, etc - we are brought back to the necessarily starting point of God. Without God, there is no possibility of meaning. Vanhoozer sees the irony - a system built on the foundations of God's death ends up proving that "God is the condition for the possibility of meaning and interpretation" (198).

Language is yet another good gift from God - a gift we are meant to trace back to its source in thanksgiving and worship.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Song of the Week

This is off of one of my favorite albums when I was in college. I don't exactly know what genre you'd put The Cowboy Junkies?

Cowboy Junkies, "This Street, That Man, This Life"

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Gospel and Social Transformation

I ran across these insightful thoughts by Mark Dever via Kevin DeYoung's blog (via Justin Taylor's blog). Dever offers "35 somewhat overlapping statements as a pastor to pastors concerning the topic of the congregation’s responsibility for its wider community." I'll not copy and paste all 35, but here's a few of the most important (in my view):

3. Suffering is an inevitable part of this fallen world. Poverty, war, famine, death, and other tragic effects of the Fall will not be ended except by the bodily, visible return of Christ,
(e.g., Mark 14:7; Jn. 12:8; Rev. 6:1-11). The Heavenly City comes down, it’s not built up, that is, it’s not constructed from the ground up (Heb. 11:10; Rev. 21). It is as one-sided as Creation, the Exodus and the Incarnation, the Cross & Resurrection, and Regeneration of the individual heart. It is a great salvation-act of God. If human culture can ever be said to be redeemed, it will be God that does it, not us.

. No Gospel that tells Scripture’s sweeping narrative that culminates in the coming of the kingdom but neglects to tell individuals how they can be included in that kingdom is any true Gospel.

6. Scripture gives us no hope that society will be broadly and permanently transformed by the preaching of the Gospel.
(See Matt. 24:21-22, 29).

10. We should have a desire to see non-Christians know the common blessings of God’s kindness in providence (e.g., food, water, family relations, jobs, good government, justice). Actions to this end are appropriate for Christians and for congregations.

13. Our priority to unbelievers is the verbal proclamation of the Gospel, which alone can address the greatest part of human suffering caused by the Fall, and which is the fulfillment of the Great Commission
(Matt. 28:18-20), which is, in turn the fulfillment of the Greatest Commandments (Mark 12:29-31; cf. Gal. 6:2) which, in turn, interprets the heart of any cultural mandate (Gen. 1:28). As Tim Keller says, “Evangelism is the most basic and radical ministry possible to a human being,” (“The Gospel and The Poor,” Themelios [33.3; Dec 2008], p. 17).

15. We, as a congregation, are not required to take responsibility for the physical needs in the unbelieving community around us. We do have a responsibility to care for the needs of those within our congregation
(Matt. 25:34-40; Acts 6:1-6; Gal. 6:2, 10; James 2:15-16; I John 3:17-19) though even within the church, there were further qualifications (e.g., II Thess. 3:10; I Tim. 5:3-16).

17. Many texts which seem to promote the idea of taking responsibility for our community’s physical well-being (e.g., Micah 6:8, Matt. 25, Gal. 6 & I John 3) are about our charity to members of the covenant community, believers, not non-Christian members of the community at large.

18. We are not forbidden from choosing to alleviate physical needs outside our congregation as a witness to the Gospel (e.g., providing computers to local schools, disaster relief, etc.). (contra a wrong idea of the spirituality of the church)

19. We have the freedom to choose particular actions for the welfare of our community as a witness to them directly, or more remotely by cooperating with other congregations and Christians in the formation of denominations, educational institutions, and a great variety of boards, charities and other organizations.

20. We should never mistake social action or mercy ministries (e.g., caring for the poor, soup kitchens, etc.) for evangelism (though it may be a means to it).

23. Our exposition of God’s Word should certainly equip our members by applying Biblical teaching to issues which are (or should be) of current concern, e.g., poverty, gender, racism, justice (cf. Isaiah 1:10-17). This teaching, however, should normally be given without seeming to commit the church to particular policy solutions to problems affecting the wider community. For example, Christian preachers could strenuously advocate the abolition of slavery without spending their sermons laying out how specifically it was to be done. We can speak to ought’s without untangling all the how’s.

24. We should warn our congregations about the dangers of accumulating wealth. Many Christians throughout history have read the Bible as being more suspicious of wealth than we modern American Christians seem to be. Everyone from Augustine to Wesley has written eloquently of the dangerous gravity of wealth, and the worldly pull it can have on our hearts. Such teaching need not cause us to reject careful financial planning, but it should cause us to be more vigilant, more wary and even suspicious of wealth than we tend to be

25. We must carefully prioritize the responsibilities unique to the church. Matters like a concern for education, politics, and mercy ministries for those beyond the church’s membership are proper concerns for Christians to have, but the church itself is not the structure for addressing such concerns. They are the proper concern of Christians in schools, governments, and other structures of society. In fact, if such concerns came to be the focus of the church, they could potentially distract the church from its main and unique responsibility, that of incarnating and proclaiming the gospel.

26. We must beware of dividing the church unnecessarily over non-essential issues in which we involve the congregation
(e.g., nuclear disarmament, constitutional amendments, particular art outreaches or ministries in the community).
29. We must be on guard against the preference many of our own members (perhaps especially younger ones, or ones with more theological doubts) may have for doing ministry which is valued by unbelievers.

31. We must beware the popular “share the Gospel, and if necessary use words” mindset. Similarly, the Gospel is, properly speaking, preached, not done (though our actions can certainly affirm it, e.g., John 13:34-35 [even here it is interesting to note that it is our love for one another that is said to point to the Gospel!]). Social ministry done by the church should be self-consciously engaged in with the hope, prayer and design of sharing the Gospel.

34. In our duties as under-shepherds, we want to protect our flock from the well-meaning writings and teachings of those who emphasize their role of making a difference in the culture. Those individuals may be uniquely gifted and called, but it is not a Biblical model for the local church.

There's audio to go with this, but I haven't had a chance to listen yet.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

My understanding of the End

Someone asked, so here is my 'timeline' regarding the kingdom and the end of history:

- Jesus' birth and life showed the kingdom was inaugurated (Mark 1:14-15). Jesus clearly taught that this kingdom was a spiritual kingdom (John 18:36). Entering his kingdom require a spiritual rebirth (John 3:3).

- His ministry, especially his death and resurrection bind Satan so his house can be plundered (Matthew 12:29, Mark 3:27, Revelation 20:1-3). Note specifically in the Revelation 20 passage, the binding of Satan means he is not free to deceive the nations any more, not that his activity has completely ceased. He is still free to harass the church, as much of Revelation depicts; however, people from every nation and tribe will be welcomed into the kingdom.

- The outpouring of the Holy Spirit signals that we are in the last days (Joel 2:28-32, Acts 2:14-21). The last days covers the whole span of history from Christ's first advent to his second coming. The last days are marked by the unique and climactic revelation of God in His Son (Heb. 1:2), by the unprecedented scope of the Spirit's work (Joel 2:28-32), scoffers (2 Peter 3:3), godlessness and difficulties (2 Timothy 3:1-5). John refers to this time period as 'the last hour' during which the church must be on guard against 'antichrists' (1 John 2:18).

- The last hour and last days will climax in 'the last day' (The Day of the Lord) in which Jesus promises to raise up all those who have been given to him (John 6:39-44; John 6:54). It will also be a day when those who reject Christ will be judged (John 12:48). As the Day of the Lord is still in the future, the church is active in preaching the gospel, urging rebels to accept the amnesty the King is offering (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

- The kingdom is a present reality. Saints are presently reigning with Christ who is presently on his throne. Here taking a close look at Revelation 20 is in order:

[20:1] Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. [2] And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, [3] and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
[4] Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. [5] The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. [6] Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
(Revelation 20:1-6 ESV)

It is my understanding that the number 1000 is symbolic - as are virtually all the numbers in the book of Revelation - representing a full period of time. Moreover, I don't think it is appropriate to read the book of Revelation as though it proceeded chronologically. Revelation 19 depicts the climatic battle between Satan and God. On my view, Revelation 20 happens prior to that battle. Much of Revelation is cyclical. As I understand it, Revelation 20:1-15 is the seventh cycle of the book, each one recording the same period of history, adding vivid imagery to give us a composite picture. The binding of Satan refers to the the limitation of Satan's power by Christ so that the church would be successful in fulfilling its Great Commission (see above). The battle of Revelation 20:7-10 is the same battle as Revelation 19:11-21.

I believe the saints are reigning above with Christ now, not in future kingdom on earth. What John sees are the disembodied souls of the saints in heaven (see also Rev. 6:9). I don't think the privilege of reigning is necessarily limited to the martyrs, but the martyrs (those beheaded) is a subset of all the faithful 'who had not worshiped the beast or its image.' Scripture makes it clear that Christ is already reigning on the throne (Eph 1:19-23).

What about the 'first resurrection', 'first death', 'second resurrection', and 'second death'? As I understand it, there is a neat symmetry here. The first resurrection and the second death are spiritual in nature. The first resurrection refers to the believers rebirth, from being brought back from the dead spiritually (Eph. 2:1-5, Col. 2:12-13). The second death is the unbelievers spiritual death - an eternal death (Matthew 10:28). The first death is a physical death that all will experience (except for those alive when Christ returns). The second resurrection is a physical resurrection all will experience (except those alive when Christ returns). Believers will experience this second resurrection, a reuniting of the bodies and souls for a blessed eternity; unbelievers will experience this resurrection for judgment.

1 Corinthians 15 is also helpful:
[20] But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. [21] For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. [22] For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. [23] But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. [24] Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.
[25] For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. [26] The last enemy to be destroyed is death. [27] For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. [28] When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
(1 Corinthians 15:20-28, ESV)

Paul says in verse 24 that the end will come after Christ has destroyed every rule and every authority and power. That process is begun and will conclude at the climatic battle on the Day of the Lord. Paul specifically says the last enemy to be destroyed will be death (v. 26). That, the resurrection of the dead and the casting of Death and Hades into hell, marks the absolute end.
After that we enter into the eternal state, the New Heavens and New Earth (Rev. 20:11-21:8). There is not intermediate 1000 kingdom on earth in my view.

A few more points:

- The church will be successful in winning people for Christ from every tribe and nation. However, that does not mean the world will be Christianized (see the Parable of the Weeds, Matthew 13:24ff).

- All the promises made to Abraham and David are fulfilled in Christ (the True Israel of God) and his Church (see second point in my post 'Should the US Support Israel'). Hence, there is no interpretive need for an earthly millennium.

- The kingdom will not be established by the work of the church. Christ alone will establish his kingdom when he returns in glory.

- Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus!

A few really good books on Revelation:

1.The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation, by Vern Poythress

2. Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation, by Dennis Johnson

3. Case for Amillennialism, A: Understanding the End Times, by Kim Riddlebarger

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

My Picnic Table

Here's some pictures of the picnic table I just finished. It took me about 4-5 hours of solid work. For someone who knew what they were doing, it would probably take 3 hrs. I followed some plans I found online. The plans were good except one thing. If you're going to countersink the bolts, you'll need a spade bit bigger than 3/4". Using a 3/4" bit didn't give my ratchet enough room to bite the nut and tighten it. It was the biggest frustration of the whole project (which could have easily been solved by going and buying a 1" spade bit. The whole project cost $110 dollars for wood, nails, bolts, etc. (that doesn't count the $150 saw I bought this spring, without which the job would have been much harder). It's a massive picnic table - 8ft long and approaching 250lbs. Its' a Sherman Tank of a table - but it's mine.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Song (s) of the Week

I mentioned listening to the Dropkick Murphys while I mowed the lawn. They are the best Irish punk rock band out there (is there another - if so, someone tell me!). Here's two great, very different songs.

Dropkick Murphy's, Warriors Code:

Dropkick Murphy's, Green Fields of France:

Friday, June 04, 2010

I want roots!

It has been a weird day internally. During Luke's nap I watched The Boondock Saints II and wished I was Irish. Mowing the lawn I listened to the Dropkick Murphy's - an Irish punk band, and really wished I was Irish (so I could say cool words like 'lassie' and not sound stupid). Honestly, being Irish is just one dream. In reality, I just want to be something. I've been told I'm part Dutch (my mom's maiden name is Dutch), part Scottish (Waugh is of Scottish origin), part Native American (from my paternal grandmother and maternal grandmother, but not of the same tribes), and I'm sure there's a few more things thrown in there for good measure. In other words, I'm so much I'm nothing. I don't have any roots or heritage I can claim.

I even find it hard to claim a hometown. I hate it when people ask where I'm from. Born in New York, lived for seven years in Florida, back to New York till I graduated from college. From there it was Missouri, Pennsylvania, Chicago, back to Pennsylvania and then, lastly (and hopefully for av very long time) Indiana. Am I a Yankee? A Hoosier? I lived in New York for 15 years total, more than anywhere else, but I hate the freakin Yankees.

Theologically, my muttness is also annoying. I wish I was still Baptist. I grew up a Baptist, was on staff at a Baptist Church in PA. But I'm a paedobaptist at heart, and in practice. So no Baptist church would hire me know (not that I'm looking). I went to a Wesleyan College. I'm not Wesleyan by any stretch of the imagination. I attended a CMA church while there, but wouldn't fit in that church context now. After that, went on to an Evangelical free church and an Evangelical Free Church Seminary (Trinity). I loved the church and the seminary, but again, I'd be denied ordination or employment in the denomination.

Over the years I've grown to consider myself Reformed (growing from an inconsistent Calvinist to a more consistent Calvinist to a full blown Reformed guy). I'm currently pursuing a ThM from a Reformed (PCA) seminary, but it's hard to consider myself a part of that denomination, or any other Reformed denomination. I have no history (and I doubt I have any future) in them. Besides being Reformed, I also have charismatic leanings. That's like mixing a German Shepherd and a Chihuahua.

Maybe that's why I love ECC. We're a mutt church. Not everyone is as mutt as me - certainly not ethnically and not theologically either. But at ECC we bring together Koreans, Kenyans, Colombians, Singaporeans, Malaysians, Brits, and people from all over the US. We blend people from Anglican/Episcopalian, Missionary Alliance, Baptist, Wesleyan, Catholic, Presbyterian, CRC, AOG, and more. The church, the one body, is mutt - and it's beautiful.

At the same time, ECC is a church of rootless people. Most in the church aren't Bloomingtonians. Even those who are haven't been here for generations (unlike the church we served in rural Western, PA). So I'm not alone in my rootlessness. We don't have roots, but we all need roots. What are we to do? Find deep roots in being a part of the ancient people of God. Certainly we trace our roots theologically back to the Reformation. That's pretty good - a 500 yr. heritage. We can and should learn and rely more on these roots. But it get's better. We stand in the stream of orthodox Christianity that stretches back to Anselm, Augustine, Irenaeus, Ignatius, Clement, Origin, Tertullian, Polycarp, John, Peter and Paul. Now that's a 2000 yr. heritage, and quite an impressive family tree. But, if we take our cues from Hebrews 11, we realize that as the people of God, our roots do deeper still - all the way to Abraham - even back to Seth, if not Adam and Eve.

Ok, I still want to be Irish, or something. I want some fest to celebrate! But that's a passing (odd) desire. The realization that I'm not rootless and not floating isn't necessarily new, but increasingly precious.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Beginnings Causing Trouble (& Costing Jobs)

Over the past year or two, the interpretation of first couple chapters of the Bible have created quite a stir among evangelical theologians, and derailed several careers. First, Peter Enns [formerly] of Westminster Theological Seminary was ousted after the publication of Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. In the short book, Enn's asserts that the Biblical accounts of beginnings are similar to other Ancient Near Eastern accounts and should be considered myth, not historical fact. Since his departure, he has gone on to question the historicity of Adam and Eve, arguing that they "could be viewed symbolically as a story of Israel’s beginnings, not as the story of humanity from ground zero." Of Enn's theology as outlined in the book, Bruce Waltke, OT Professor at Reformed Theological Seminary commented, "Each of us has his or her own walk with God; in that connection I do not call into question Enns’s integrity. I know he is a man of unflinching honesty. But as for me, his theology is unstable and the exegesis that supports it is flawed."

Ironically, within 12 months of Waltke's comments, he would be on the chopping block for a video posted by BioLogos, "Why Must the Church Accept Evolution", in which Waltke made the following comment: "if the data is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult…some odd group that is not really interacting with the world. And rightly so, because we are not using our gifts and trusting God’s Providence that brought us to this point of our awareness." (The video has since been removed at the request of Dr. Bruce Waltke). Doug Wilson has a pretty short and good critique of Walke's assumptions/logical errors.

While I disagree with Walke's conclusion, I greatly admire his charity through the whole process. His letter of resignation shows no ill will (he believes the administration of RTS did the right thing), shows grief over having brought controversy to the institution, and seeks to clarify his statements. I believe he will be taking up a teaching position at Knox Theological Seminary, but haven't heard definitely.

In addition, RTS disinvited Tremper Longman III from his regular spring teaching assignment due to his expressed doubts about the historicity of Adam.

So, should these men have been fired, suspended, disinvited, forced to resign, yaddayaddayadda?

Yes. I think so. I'm not a strict seven day creationist, and believe there are interpretation of Genesis 1-2 that make room for an old earth (see Sailhamer's view of Creation) and possibly even theistic evolution (only maybe). Yet, all three of these men seem to go beyond the scope of what Scripture legitimately allows. That is certainly up for debate; however, what isn't up for debate is that WTS and RTS are confessional schools, holding fast to the Westminster Confession of Faith. They are narrowly and militantly Reformed. These men, teaching at these schools, knew they would be held to that standard. Despite their attempts to show their teaching was in keeping with these standards, it was the decision of the institutions that the teaching/writing of these men did not uphold the standard.

Some will certainly argue that this impedes academic freedom. Yes it does. That goes with being a Christian seminary, and certainly with being a confessional seminary (whether Reformed or Lutheran, etc.). Being Christian means holding certainly beliefs. Seem intolerant. It is. But it's necessary. If a church/denomination isn't properly intolerant (of who will teach, pastor, serve as elders and be allowed as members), they will entirely loose their identity and distinctiveness. If the church allowed nonbelievers to serve as elders or even admit them as members, what then is the church. Just another social institution.

This was, in a nutshell, the debate Machen had with the liberals in his day. He argued that the liberals should feel free to believe what they wanted regarding the inerrancy of Scripture, the virgin birth, the reality of miracles, the exclusive nature of Christ's work, the historicity of the resurrection, etc. However, denying those things and you cease to be Christian. So don't call yourselves that and withdraw from historic Christian churches and institutions.

Similar issues of the confessional nature of the church and the seminaries/college that serve the church pop up frequently. Calvin College has gone through some rough waters of recent regarding it's policy that faculty not openly advocate homosexuality. Again, the tension is between academic freedom and confessional standards.

Does being confessional mean sticking your head in the sand and not engaging those with another point of view? No, certainly not. Doug Wilson gets at it, "there is a difference between 'staying in the discussion' with unbelievers [I would add, 'believers with a different point of view'] and sitting down and believing what you are told by unbelievers to believe. Paul was in a real dialogue with the philosophers on Mars Hill, and it did not consist of him getting into a high chair and having them cut his meat for him." So stay in the dialogue. However, if you are convinced to change your mind and your views are no longer in keeping with the standards of the institution/church you serve, have enough integrity to resign.

I remember my dad telling me, 'if you're going to break the rules, don't bitch about the consequences'. I broke lots of rules, don't think I ever complained about the consequences (but didn't usually get caught either).