Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tougher to be a Christian in a University This Week

In the past two weeks it has become more difficult to be a Christian on a secular campus (like it wasn't hard enough). I'm sure many of you have seen these news reports, but in case you haven't, they are worth taking a look at.

First, in MI, Julea Ward lost her law suit against EMU. She was expelled from the graduate program in counseling because of her views on homosexuality. From the Catholic News Agency article:
"Julea Ward enrolled in the university's counseling practicum course in January 2009, and was assigned to a client who sought assistance with a homosexual relationship. Ward considered herself unable to assist the client under the circumstances, due to her own moral and religious beliefs, and was advised by her supervisor to reassign the client. Eastern Michigan University, however, responded to the situation by initiating disciplinary procedures against Ward, involving a “remediation” program. According to ADF, the “remediation” amounted to an ultimatum: Ward would either “see the error of her ways” and change her beliefs about sexual morality in order to encourage her clients in same-sex relationships, or be dismissed from the counseling program."

You can also read about Julea's case and reaction to her suit being dismissed in this FoxNews article.

A very similar case is before the courts in GA. Jennifer Keeton was also dismissed from a graduate program in counseling for her views on homosexuality. She was told that she would need to undergo a remediation program and sensitivity training. Going through the programs, however, wouldn't be enough - she would have to write a paper on how her views have changed. You can read about Jennifer's case in the Chronicle of Higher Education and also in this FoxNews article.

In both the above cases, it's not just the school policy that is in conflict with the Christian views of sexuality and causing problems for these students, it's also the Code of Ethics for the American Counseling Association.

Another case involving a university, religion, homosexuality and academic freedom is unfolding in Illinois where a professor of Catholic studies was ousted for sharing the Catholic Church's view on homosexuality. Kenneth Howell, an adjunct associate professor (whose salary is paid for by the local Catholic diocese!) was fired after explaining in a class and in a subsequent email why the Catholic Church believes homosexuality is a sin. Howell taught two classes on the UI campus - Introduction to Catholicism and Modern Catholic Thought. I'm not sure in which class the discussion came up, but it was a class on Catholicism, and he was explaining the Catholic Church view (which is also, coincidentally, his own)! How's the classified add going to read for his vacant job: "Wanted: professor who knows what Catholic's believe but doesn't believe it himself." You can read about Howell's case in the Chicago Tribune and in the News Gazette.

Anyway, some important legal stuff to keep an eye on. The cases really make me appreciate 1) Christian universities, and 2) those faithful Christians who enter the secular university knowing the challenges.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Man as Worker and Keeper

I've just begun reading a book by Richard Phillips called The Masculine Mandate: God's Calling to Men. Trust me, it's not a Wild at Heart kind of thing. In fact, the kind of stereotypes and misinformation presented in Elderidge's book are stripped bare early on. Phillips takes his cue from Genesis 2:15 and begins his book by exploring the mandate given to Adam to 'work it [the Garden] and keep it'.

Phillips rightly points out that this is not just a rhetorical duplication of strictly synonymous terms. Instead, they point to mans dual role in the Garden - to work it and produce good fruit AND to protect it. The word translated 'keep' has the connotation of 'guard' and 'protect'. It is used of God himself as 'he who keeps you' (Psalm 121:3), 'he who keeps Israel' (Psalm 121:4), 'keep you from all evil...keep your life' (Psalm 121:7-8).

It's quite easy to see the implications of that for, say, being a husband. I am to cultivate and tend to my wife - helping her grow spiritually, emotionally, etc. I am also to guard and protect her physically, emotionally and spiritually. The same could be said of my role as father and even pastor. It's quite natural, and right, to see myself as someone who must protect those under me from evil. But in Adam's world, the pristine Garden pre-fall, what evil was Adam to be one guard against. What did 'keeping' it mean in a pre-lapsarian world?

Meredith Kline writes, "He [Adam] was to protect the Edenic sanctuary from profanation" (Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview, pg. 85). He points out that same word, shamar, is used of the angel who guards the Garden after Adam's rebellion - the task of 'keeping' was stripped of man and given to a faithful angel (Gen. 3:24). Kline writes, "The conclusion appears warranted, therefore, that Genesis 2:15 contains an explicit reference to the entrusting of man in his priestly office with the task of defending the Edenic sanctuary against the intrusion of anything that would be alien to the holiness of the God of the Garden or hostile to his name. From subsequent developments it is evident that Adam's priestly charge was meant to set him on guard, as at a military post, against the encroachment of the Satanic serpent" (pg. 86). In this, Adam failed even before he ate of the tree. Horton comments, "Instead of guarding and keeping the sanctuary from God's arch-enemy, Adam allowed the serpent safe haven in the temple and allowed him to deceive his wife."

Is it vain speculation or does this have any application to us. I think it does, and Kline mentions two. First, as the church is the sanctuary of God, we have the obligation to protect it (among many NT references, see Jude 3). Second, it has implications for us at the individual level also. Kline writes, "At the level of the individual's identity as a temple of God the priestly office involves this negative, protective kind of sanctification as well as a positive consecration. ...the priestly guardianship of the personal temple of God is brought out in redemptive revelation by the injunction that the armor of God be put on to defend against the hostile, defiling incursions of Satan" (pg. 87).

As the kingdom of priests, we still have the mandate to work and keep, cultivate and protect, the holy sanctuary. It happens to be us now, corporately in the church and individually as the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Kline's Kingdom Prologue is available for free here.

Song of the Week

I stumbled across this album at the library on Friday. Brian 'Head' Welch is former guitarist of the group Korn. I had heard his testimony a year or so ago.

Not sure what I think yet.

Brian Head Welch, "Save me from Myself"

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Adam and the Covenant of Works

I've mentioned the Covenant with Adam both in sermon and blog posts recently, but I know that raises questions for some. First, is it proper to use the word covenant to describe Adam's relationship with God when the Bible doesn't use that term till Genesis 6:18 in reference to Noah? Second, was the covenant a covenant of works or of grace?

On the first question, I am convinced there are good reasons to view Adam's relationship with God in covenantal terms, though the word is not specifically used. The absence of the word 'covenant' certainly shouldn't bother us to much - many of my friends believe in a 'rapture' though the word doesn't appear anywhere in the Bible, and many more of us (all I hope) believe in the Trinity, though the word doesn't appear. What is more important is whether or not the elements of a covenant appear in the descriptions of God's relationship to Adam (in other words, if it quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck, it's probably a duck).

Are the important elements of a biblical covenant present in Adam's relationship with God as described in the early chapters of Genesis? Berkhoff summarizes, "two parties are named, a condition is laid down, a promise of reward for obedience is clearly implied, and a penalty for transgression is threatened"(Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pg. 213). Wayne Grudem concurs, "the essential parts of the covenant are all there—a clear definition of the parties involved, a legally binding set of provisions that stipulates the conditions of their relationship, the promise of blessings for obedience, and the condition for obtaining those blessings"(Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, pg. 516)

In addition, we shouldn't neglect the words of Hosea 6:7 which refer to Adam breaking covenant with God.

Finally, on the first question still, it seems nearly impossible to read Romans 5:14 without concluding Adam was in a covenant relationship with God (serving as covenant head). That's the point of connection Paul is trying to make - that's how Adam is a 'pattern of the one to come'. Apart from that similarity all Paul would be drawing upon is the dissimilarities between Adam and Christ. If only dissimilarities existed between Adam and Christ, on what basis does Paul refer to Adam as a 'type of the one who was to come'?

On the second question, whether or not it was a covenant of grace or works, the answer will depend on definitions and degrees of precision. The covenant was gracious in that Adam didn't merit the relationship. God graciously condescended to enter into this binding relationship with Adam. Berkhof says it well, "When God created man, He by that very fact established a natural relationship between Himself and man. It was a relationship like that between the potter and the clay, between an absolute sovereign and a subject devoid of any claim...From the very beginning, however, God revealed himself, not only as an absolute Sovereign and Lawgiver, but also as a loving Father, seeking the welfare and happiness of His dependent creature. He condescended to come down to the level of man, to reveal Himself as a Friend, and to enable man to improve his condition in the way of obedience. In addition to the natural relationship He, by a positive enactment, graciously established a covenant relationship" (Berkhof, pg. 215). So the relationship isn't one that Adam earned, but was graciously given to him. Moreover, the terms are gracious. Berkhof again, "When entering into covenant relations with men, it is always God who lays down the terms, and they are very gracious terms, so that He has, also from that point of view, a perfect right to expect that man will assent to them" (Berkhof, pf. 213). Another way of looking at: "Adam's obedience was a necessary condition but not the sufficient condition for life in God's favor...The sufficient condition for the covenant was the fatherly and kingly favor of God" (Williams, Far as the Curse if Found, pg 72).

So, on one hand, the covenant is rooted in God's graciousness. However, on the other hand, the conditions of the covenant are works based, not grace based. There is an 'if...then' quality to the covenant - 'if you obey, you will enjoy the blessing of life'. The terms of the covenant were clearly works based/obedience based, not graced based. In addition, using the term 'grace' to refer to this covenant lacks doctrinal precision (in my humble opinion). Grace isn't just kindness (or graciousness). Nor is it simply love. The covenant was clearly loving (there is often a false dichotomy presented between 'law' and 'love'. That false dichotomy should be torn down! God's law is his loving provision for man.) The covenant with Adam was also gracious and kind. However, I don't think it's proper to say it was a covenant of grace. Why? Before Adam's sin, there was not demerit. Grace and mercy are terms the Bible seems to use solely in relation to demerit. We don't get the punishment we deserve because of hour sin - that's mercy. We get gifts from God despite our positive demerit, our sinfulness - that's grace. Adam had no demerit, thence, no need for grace or mercy (before the fall, obviously).

Moreover, in the initial covenant agreement between Adam and God there were no provisions for grace if Adam failed. There were no sacrifices to atone for the sin of Adam if he failed. When he did, it required God to initiate an different covenant - a covenant based on grace. In essence, this new grace covenant "is simply the execution of the original agreement by Christ as our Surety...He came to do what Adam failed to do, and did it in virtue of a covenant agreement" (Berkhof, pg. 214).

I agree with Horton's assessment, "This account provides the soil for a robust notion of the humanity of Christ...Our Savior had to be the second Adam...On the basis of his having fulfilled the covenant of creation [his term for the covenant with Adam] representatively, he can now dispense his reward to us within a covenant of grace" (Horton, God of Promise, pg. 94). I have only come into my 'Covenant Theology' in the past three or four years, and am growing in a deep appreciation for it's merits, it's simplicity (as opposed to, say, dispensationalism), and it's potential for fruit in my study of the Word.

If you are interested in pursuing more on Covenant Theology, I'd recommend two books (great, though they have slightly different spins):
1. God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology, by Michael Horton
2. Far As The Curse Is Found: The Covenant Story Of Redemption, Michael Williams

Also, Berkhof has a lot to say about covenants in his Systematic Theology.

Monday, July 19, 2010

What We Gain Is More Than What We Lost!

Yesterday I preached from Romans 5:12-21. There is so much in those few verses I wish I had a month to preach on it. The main point, however, is that what we gained is Christ's covenant keeping is far more than we lost in Adam's covenant breaking. It's better because Christ's covenant keeping is better and because the results are better.

Obviously Christ's covenant keeping is better than Adam's. Adam didn't keep covenant, he broke it. But even if Adam had kept covenant (hypotheticals don't make for great theology, I know), Christ's covenant keeping would have outshone his because the conditions were more demanding. John Murray writes, "Christ was called on to obey in radically different conditions, and required to fulfill radically different demands. Christ was a sin bearer and the climactic demand was to die. This was not true of Adam. Christ came to redeem, not so Adam. So Christ rendered the whole-souled totality of obedience in which Adam failed, but under totally different conditions and with incomparably greater demands.” Adam merely had to withstand the test of his fidelity - Don't Eat. He failed. As the second Adam, Christ's tests were far greater, and he met the challenge.

In addition, the results of Christ's covenant keeping are great. Christ's fulfillment of the law's demands and representative obedience doesn't just return us to the amissible innocence of Adam, but confirms us in an unforfeitable righteousness. Adam lived in a period of probation where is faithfulness was tested. Had he passed this period of probation he would have been confirmed in righteousness and earned eternal life. Commenting on this period of probation, Hermann Witsius writes, "man was not yet arrived at the utmost pitch of happiness, but [was] to expect a still greater good, after his course of obedience was over. This was hinted by the prohibition of the most delightful tree, whose fruit was, of any other, greatly to be desired; and this argued some degree of imperfection in that state, in which man was forbid the enjoyment of some good." John Owen writes, "the fountainhead of our race, if he had remained in his first state of sinlessness, would have, at length, obtained a reward for his fidelity, and that reward would have been undisturbed enjoyment of God as was revealed in the terms of the covenant."

Meredith Kline explains how Christ's obedience takes us beyond Adam, the Garden, and the period of probation: "The active obedience of Jesus is his fulfilling the demands of the covenant probation. By the passive obedience of his atoning sacrifice he secures for us the forgiveness of sins. But he does more than clear the slate and reinstate us in Adam's original condition, still facing probation and able to fail. Jesus, the Second Adam, accomplishes the probationary assignment of overcoming the Devil, and by performing this one decisive act of righteousness he earns for us God's promised reward. By this achievement of active obedience he merits for us a position beyond probation, secure forever in God's love and the prospect of God's eternal home" (Covenant Theology Under Attack).

In some ways, the new heaven and the new earth is depicted as a return to Eden, or at least to the Edenlike state of things. At least the presence of the Tree of Life seems to suggest this. However, notably absent is the presence of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It's gone - the period of probation is over. We have passed from an innocence that can be lost to a righteousness that is secure because of Christ's covenant keeping.

Moreover, the image of God initially bestowed upon man is deepened. Adam most certainly bore the image of God, but not as fully as we will in the eternal state. Why would I say that? Because sin was in the realm of possibility for Adam in the Garden, but never for God (nor for us in the eternal state). This really is just a rewording of Augustine. He argued that Adam was created posse peccare, posse non peccare (with the ability to sin, and with the ability not to sin). After the fall, mankind became non posse non peccare (not able not to sin). The regenerate man returns to the Adamic state of posse peccare, posse non peccare (with the ability to sin, and with the ability not to sin). However, we aren't left there but in our transition to glory become unable to sin (non posse peccare).

I'll let Michael Williams have the last word, "Christ's righteousness defeats Adam's sin. God's rightful condemnation over sin is replace by justification. And death gives way to life. Jesus did more than just win back a lost righteousness and a lost relationship to God. Paul ends his discussion of Adam and Christ by proclaiming the surpassing excellence of Christ's work...The result of Christ's disproportionately gracious in reference to Adam's disobedience. Through his victory over death, the one true man - who is also the one true Son of God - brings the heavenly life of the resurrection to earth, and we who are in Christ 'shall also bear the image of the man from heaven' (1 Cor. 15:49)" (Far As The Curse Is Found: The Covenant Story Of Redemption).

Song of the Week

Lifehouse is one of those bands that has stuck around for a long time now. Here's a song I like off their new album 'Smoke and Mirrors'.

Lifehouse, "All In"

Friday, July 16, 2010

Great Family Vacation

We got back last night from a great, though too short, vacation in Michigan. We stayed in Grand Rapids (because we like Homewood Suites!) and visited a different beach each day we were there - Holland, Grand Haven and Saugatuck. Each beach was about 45 minutes away, but there were all clean, fun, and each was a little different from the others. Each town had a great little downtown area (shopping for Lynn and ice cream for the boys). There was an awesome museum in Grand Haven that was free and Craig's Cruisers was a blast. I'd recommend the Michigan beaches to anyone looking to get away from Indiana for a quick vacation! I hope we get back there next year for a little longer vacation.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Song of the Week

I love the sound of Primus in the morning! This is off the new album, Brown.
Primus, Fisticuffs:

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Bible, History, and the Historian

In his book Art of Biblical History, The, V. Phillips Long approaches a question I get all the time from students - why do scholars disagree? The books I read in seminary on the OT are quite different from the critical books an IU student would read in an Intro the the OT. Why the difference in how the OT story is told, how it's historical claims are accepted, etc.?

I think Long hits the nail on the head - "the historian's basic intellectual and spiritual commitments ("how he or she sees the world") exercise an inevitable, even 'dominating,' influence over which historical reconstructions will appear plausible to that historian." Moreover, the historians "model of reality" will greatly affect the historian's preferred methods of doing historical investigation. He points out, "Most well informed scholars have access to essentially the same data. It is, rather, in the assessment of the data that differences arise."

The method most common in biblical research, and most problematic, is often referred to as the historical-critical method, a method "based on assumptions quite irreconcilable with traditional belief" (Michalson, cited in Long).

Long's next 12 pages are dedicated to examining the historical-critical method and answering the question, "who can use it?" He begins the section, "

"It is often asserted that those who study the Bible as a source of history must, if they wish to merit the title historian, acknowledge and adhere to the same canons of historical research as those espoused by their secular counterparts. In principle, this assertion is valid. In practice, however, difficulties are encountered ..."

Paul Achtemeier defines the historical-critical method in a way that makes it quite possible for a faithful Christian to use. He defines historical as "the continued necessity of recognizing that the Bible is the product of another time, and that this much be taken into account whenever we attempt to use it to solve contemporary problems." Critical, then, is defined as taking a critical attitude towards what we think a passage means. If that is all that is meant by historical-critical methods, there would be no problem.

Unfortunately, that's not all that is meant. The secular Biblical scholar who regards the Bible as a merely human composition will approach the text "assuming not only the possibility, but the probability (if not certainty) that the text has erred in places, since 'to err is human'." Moreover, according to Halpren (a secular biblical historian) the critical historian 1) "takes a critical stance toward his sources," 2) "is inclined to disregard the supernatural or miraculous in his treatment of past events," and 3) "he is very much aware of his own historicity and, accordingly, of the subjective and tentative character of his historical conclusions."

Obviously the second is a non starter for the Christian. While we might dismiss some accounts of the supernatural as unbelievable, we will not dismiss all. Let me explain that last sentence. If I read a piece of Ancient Near Easter literature that ascribes some catastrophe to Baal, or a piece of Greek history that ascribes a fire in a city to the anger of the gods, I'll dismiss it. Why? Because I do not believe Baal or the Greek gods exist. However, I do believe the God of the Bible is a personal God who acts in history, so I cannot (will not) dismiss an account of deliverance or judgment as historically attributable to God. Again, that's a nonstarter.

Beyond these three principles, there is "a fundamental principle of the historical-critical method that tends to bring its results into direct conflict with the biblical testimony...this principle of analogy assumes that '[citing Miller] all historical phenomena are subject to analogous explanation (explanation in terms of similar phenomena).'" As you can see, this approach seems to "assume in advance that the unique cannot occur, that miracles do not happen, and that God never intervenes in history, " for such events (the unique, miraculous and divine) cannot be explained in terms of similar phenomena.

Abraham points out one glaring flaw in this approach - historians must be willing to accept unique events in history - for example, that moon landing. Abraham illustrates by asking his reader to imaging explaining the moon landing to a tribe that had been totally isolated. They wouldn't believe it because it is unbelievable to them. The example highlights the truth that "conclusions drawn from the application of the principle of analogy are only as sound as the background beliefs held by those drawing the conclusions."

So where does that leave the Christian historian? Does every chapter end with 'Providence'? Not necessarily. Long quotes Bebbington, "the Christian historian is not obliged to tell the whole truth as he sees it in every piece of historical writing. He can write of providence or not according to his judgment of the composition of his audience. So long as his account accords with the Christian vision of the historical process, he will be fulfilling his vocation." Long elaborates, "Christian historians, if they are to be consistent, must take care that what they do say is compatible with their full set of background beliefs." To this end, Long offers to cautions. First, the Christian historian must resist the temptation to offer "exclusively natural explanations fore each and every occurrence in the past, even for those occurrences that the Bible presents as involving direct divine action." In other words, don't cave to the pressure to explain things like the exodus or the resurrection in purely naturalistic ways. Second, makes sure that the 'minimalistic' approach doesn't "infect your model of reality" - doesn't become your mode of viewing the world.

Long concludes this section wonderfully: "The historian may believe that God is the 'lord of history,' sovereignly at work behind the scenes and even intervening on occasion, and still remain a competent historian. Indeed, unless theists are badly mistaken in their theism, then surely it is the denial of any place for God in the historical process that is the mark of bad history." What's great about that quote is you could easily substitute the world 'science' for 'history' and it would be equally true.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Was The US Ever A Christian Nation?

Coming off the 4th of July weekend, I'm sure many heard sermons about returning our nation to it's Christian roots (though here at ECC, happily, no mention was even made of the fact that it was the 4th!). But was the US ever a Christian Nation? I thought I'd post this short video by Bryan Chapell, the president of Covenant Theological Seminary. He offers this very level headed answer to the question:

Monday, July 05, 2010

Song of the Week

This song by Helmet comes from the Crow soundtrack - a great hard rock/heavy metal soundtrack.

Helmet, Milquetoast:

Thursday, July 01, 2010

False Dichotomies and the Bible

False dichotomies are everywhere! Am I fat or ugly? Pick one (but keep it to yourself). More seriously, some want to argue that the church must be loving, not concerned with orthodoxy. Which would you pick if you had too - love or orthodoxy? Isn't there a middle ground that is more biblical?

When it comes to biblical interpretation false dichotomies also plague the discussion. Some argue that God has revealed himself in his mighty acts of history, not the specific words of the Bible (thus the word are undervalued and somewhat unimportant). Other argue God has revealed himself in the words of the Bible, not in the acts of history (thus the historicity of the events are undervalued and unimportant). Which would you choose - did God reveal himself in the words of the Bible or in the events?

Let me relieve the tension now - you don't have to choose! The Bible is not only a record of God's mighty acts, it is one of his mighty acts. It doesn't just tell us of his redemptive missions, it's a part of his redemptive mission. In fact, the Bible isn't just Word, as though it were inactive and powerless, it is action. When God speaks, he acts.

Here is how V. Phillips Long says it in his The Art of Biblical History:
"[quoting Morgan] 'it is quite consistent to claim that divine Providence both directed events in a certain way in Israel's history and controlled the traditions that grew up to interpret those events in such an unerring way that they were correctly interpreted: one can, that is, consistently locate revelation in both events and traditions' . . . This seems to me to be the most promising approach - divine revelation should be located in both historical events and the interpretive word with mediates these events to us . . . For some time now the hermeneutic pendulum in biblical studies has continued to swing back and forth between the two poles of event and word. . . What is needed, I would argue, is to bring the pendulum to a halt in the middle, where it does not lose touch with either historical event or interpretive word."

He then concludes:
"God, the 'lord of history'; the prophet, His 'qualified interpreter'; the result: authoritative testimony to event through word."

Every word of the Bible is an act of God!