Monday, December 19, 2011

Song of the Week

A steady diet of Christmas music leaves me wanting, needing, some good hard rock. Some great stuff on the Offspring's Greatest Hits, available at Amazon for just $5!

Offspring, "Gotta Get Away"

Friday, December 16, 2011

Best Books of 2011

As I looked back and on my reading list for 2011, I realized it wasn't a very good one. I read a lot, about a book a week. Unfortunately, the demands of classes this year meant I read a lot of narrowly focused books on education, small groups, etc. While useful, they aren't inspiring reads, or the kind of life transforming books I like to recommend. But, there were a few really good reads alongside all the trudging:

1. Who's Tampering with the Trinity, by Millard Erickson. This was a required read for the seminar on the Trinity led by Steven Roy. I loved it and blogged a little about it. I'd recommend it as it will aid your understanding of the Trinity as well as give you insight into contemporary debates.

2. Living in God's Two Kingdoms, David VanDrunen. VanDrunen offers a great overview of Biblical/Redemptive history, tracing how the covenants connect (and where there is disconnect). The book examines how Christians are called to live in this world as citizens of another. Great insights into how we keep the church about the church and still engage as individuals in the work of being salt and light. Also posted on it here.

3. The Gospel for Real Life, by Jerry Bridges. I'm pretty sure this book has made previous lists. Remember, this isn't books that came out in 2011, but books I read, or reread, in the past 12 months. This is a great, very accessible book on the importance of 'preaching the gospel to ourselves'. I walked through it with my small group and really got a lot out of it again.

4. What the Best College Teachers Do, Ken Bain. This is one of those narrowly focused, skill building books I mentioned above, but, it was excellent. It's not a cookie-cutter approach to teaching, but offered great insight into the goals and best approaches of teaching. Also worthy of mention is Parker Palmer's The Courage to Teach.

5. The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ, Cornelius Venema. Venema's book helped me 1) understand the controversial New Perspective on Paul championed by Sanders, Dunn and NT Wright; and 2) helped me understand its deep deficiencies. It's pretty dense, but if you've read Wright on Paul, pick this up as a counter argument before deciding Wright is right (can never resist that).

6. Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, C. John Collins. This book will make a lot of people mad. On the fundamentalist side, Collins will infuriate people with his suggestions that the language of the Bible may be less than literal, but poetic, etc. Nor will the like how he entertains scientific theories about man's origins and deems them, many at least, compatible with what the Bible teaches. On the opposite extreme, others won't like his insistence that a literal Adam and Eve are necessary to story line of Scripture. Blogged about it more here and here.

7. Two Views of Women in Ministry. This book actually had four essays with responses from four different contributors. It was a very thoughtful and thought provoking book. I don't think I agreed with one essay in total. I certainly agreed with the most strident egalitarian in the mix, Linda Belleville, and the most strident complimentarian too, Tom Schreiner. In the middle, I found a lot to agree with from both the moderate complimentarian (Craig Blomberg) and moderate egalitarian (Craig Keener). Related blog post here.

8. From Garden to the City, John Dyer. Ok, truth time - I haven't finished it yet, but I hope to by Jan1! Unless Dyer gets real stupid in the last third of the book, I would highly recommend it to anyone who uses technology. Yet, that's you! He helps the reader consider how technology shapes us just by using it, whether for good or evil purposes. Moreover, he explores how God has utilized technology to further his redemptive purposes in the world. Blog post.

9. Union with Christ, Robert Letham. This profound theological truth has 'flown under the radar' in most evangelical theologies, including my own, until now. John Williamson Nevin woke me up to it and prompted me to explore it more. Letham's book is my first step in this exploration. Next up, a whole class on it in January! Letham does a masterful job of covering lots of material in church history and the Biblical text in a relatively short space. Some sections are tough - like that on the churches understanding of hypostasis and the incarnation. Some other sections will be too much for some readers - like sections on Calvin on the Supper where he argues that we truly partake of Christ's substance in the act of eating and drinking. Don't get me wrong, he's right, but it's a lot to take in if you come from a 'memorial' background.

10. Honor Bound, by WEB Griffin. To make it a perfect ten, I needed to include this awesome series of war novels. I started this series at the tail end of 2010, but read five of the six in 2011. It's a great fictional series on the founding of the CIA, called the OSS in its early days. It traces the work of one particular team in Argentina during the tail end of WW2 and into the Cold War. Fantastic!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

God, Pagan Kings, and His Purposes

The whole section of Isaiah running from chapters 40 to 55 is one of my favorites in all the prophets, and it happens that I'm reading them now in my own private study. Specifically, I was very encouraged by chapter 45 this week. Here's a few things that really stuck out:

1. God uses pagans. I've had numerous conversations with people in the past month who are worried or offended or both that Obama isn't calling his tree a Christmas tree. Ok, so what. We begin to act as if God's plans depend on having a Christian leader in the Whitehouse. Read verses 1-6:
Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed: 2 "I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, 3 I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. 4 For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me. 5 I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, 6 that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.

Who is Cyrus? A righteous Israelite king? No. A prophet? No. A pagan king in a pagan land. If Cyrus had a tree it would have been a holiday tree, not a Christmas tree. And, it would have been sitting next to a statue of a dozen or so other gods. Cyrus displayed, what for his time is stunning, tolerance for the cultures and religions of conquered peoples. He was a more humane and just ruler than those the region had known prior - better than the Assyrians and the Babylonians. But, there is no indication that he had become a follower of the one true God of Israel. In fact, God says,
"I call you by your name, though you do not know me. I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me" (Isaiah 45:4-5).
My point: Rulers are all appointed by God. You could even argue they have all been anointed by God (remember David's refusal to kill Saul, who, evil though he was, was still the Lord's anointed). Moreover, it is not necessary for rulers to embrace Christ (and certainly not Christmas trees) to rule justly. PLEASE, don't read this as an endorsement of President Obama or his policies. On the other hand, if we're going to be critical of President Obama, lets be critical on issues that matter. So he doesn't like calling his pine tree (or is it a spruce) a Christmas tree. Does that make him unChristain? No. But even if it did, can't a non-Christian still, by the light of God in nature, conscience and reason still rule effectively? Cyrus found a way!

2. Less politically, I'm in awe of how God hangs his unique status as the one true God on his ability to foretell what will happen. Take again the reign of Cyrus. Isaiah prophesied around a century before Cyrus' reign began. Yet, through the inspiration of the Spirit, he could tell the people of God that a) there was a king coming who would be called Cyrus (his parents didn't even know what he'd be called yet!), and b) Cyrus would "subdue nations before him" (Isaiah 45:1). God establishes his foreknowledge by showing himself to know the future events of Cyrus and declares it to be a unique characteristic of him, the living God.

"Ask me things to come" says the Lord in Isaiah 45:11. Through the next ten or so verses God tells the people what is going to happen: how they will set the exiles free (fulfilled in the next century when Cyrus issues his decree allowing the Jews to return to their land), how the nations will be drawn to Israel (fulfilled in Christ). After this, he calls out the idols of the foreign nations:
20 “Assemble yourselves and come;
draw near together,
you survivors of the nations!
They have no knowledge
who carry about their wooden idols,
and keep on praying to a god
that cannot save.
21 Declare and present your case;
let them take counsel together!
Who told this long ago?
Who declared it of old?
Was it not I, the LORD?
And there is no other god besides me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is none besides me.
The Lord's reasoning is pretty clear - I am the one who foretold all these things. I know them (because I'm sovereign and have ordained them). Thus, I'm the real God, besides me all the other gods are dumb pieces of wood. The surrounding chapters make this even more explicit. For example, look at Isaiah 46:8-13,
“Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
9 remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
10 declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
11 calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it.
3. Don't miss the link between God's knowledge of the future and his sovereignty over it. He can tell his people what will happen because he has purposed it and his counsel will stand. How detailed are his purposes? Well, they include Cyrus's parents naming him Cyrus and not Freddie! They include his rise to power, his conquering of nations, his more just and tolerant policies, etc. They include Cyrus decision to set the exiles free. In summary, they include every detail, whether 'fortuitous' or not:
"I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity. I am the Lord, who does all these things" (Isaiah 45:7).
Furthermore, God declares a woe to those who try (unsuccessfully) to kick against his sovereign purposes:
"Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earth pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, 'What are you making?' or 'Your work has no handles?'. Woe to him who says to a father, 'What are you begetting?' or to a woman, 'With what are you in labor?'" (Isaiah 45:9-10)
The main thrust of this chapter is that God has sovereignly ordained to good to his people. They should not fear, not abandon hope, not fret like worshippers of little wooden gods. God has every means at his disposal to ensure his will is accomplished - even pagan rulers.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Song of the Week

I love the Gungor album 'Beautiful Things'. We've sung two songs in church from this album recently - 'Beautiful Things' and 'The Earth is Yours'. I like those, but I love this one. I don't think it would be very singable, though to be honest, I sing it pretty loudly in the car!

Gungor, 'Dry Bones'

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Women are not supposed to submit to Men

I just read this post, "Women, Stop Submitting to Men" from Dr. Moore's blog (in case you aren't familiar with Dr. Moore, he's Dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY):
Those of us who hold to so-called “traditional gender roles” are often assumed to believe that women should submit to men. This isn’t true. Indeed, a primary problem in our culture and in our churches isn’t that women aren’t submissive enough to men, but instead that they are far too submissive.

First of all, it just isn’t so that women are called to submit while men are not. In Scripture, every creature is called to submit, often in different ways and at different times. Children are to submit to their parents, although this is certainly a different sort of submission than that envisioned for marriage. Church members are to submit to faithful pastors (Heb. 13:17). All of us are to submit to the governing authorities (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17). Of course, we are all to submit, as creatures, to our God (Jas. 4:7).

And, yes, wives are called to submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22; 1 Pet. 3:1-6). But that’s just the point. In the Bible, it is not that women, generally, are to submit to men, generally. Instead, “wives” are to submit “to your own husbands” (1 Pet. 3:1).
I couldn't agree more. The past month or two the staff has been engaged in reading together Two Views of Women in Miniatry (Zondervan, 2005). One of the things that peeved me was how those in the complementarian camp turned to Genesis 1-3 and used those chapters to support the idea that women (as women) are called to submit to men (simply as men). For example, Schreiner writes, "We have already seen that men and women equally are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27) and are thus of equal value and significance as God's creatures. But I would also contend that there are six indications in Genesis 1-3 of a role differentiation between men and women [emphasis mine]." Later Schreiner contends, "The doctrine of creation is of enormous significance for the debate on the roles of men and women."

My point isn't to pick apart his "six indications," but to remind us that Adam and Eve weren't simply man and woman, but husband and wife. In fact, I use Genesis 2:23-25 in every wedding I do. What is true of their relationship may be true of men and women in general, but not necessarily - you'd have to support that with some other texts. I do see principles for how men and women are to relate in the family (and it is possible, though debated, that Paul applies these principles to the family of God), but I reject the idea that these principles are to be applied to all male/female relationships.

John Piper goes, in my opinion, way beyond what Scripture demands (and I think everyone knows I love Piper). In "A Vision for Biblical Complimentarity" (in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womandhood) he asserts, "A mature woman who is married, for example, does not welcome the same kind of strength and leadership from other men that she welcomes from her husband. But she will affirm and receive and nurture the strength and leadership of men in some form in all her relationships with men" (50). He goes on to assert that when, in their vocations, women have men who are subordinate to them, they need to interact with these subordinates in ways "that signal to him and others her endorsement of his mature manhood in relationship to her as a women" (50). He goes so far as to suggest that if a women is asked by a man for directions, she needs to do so in a manner that ensures his manhood and leadership are not compromised (51). For these reasons, Piper thinks it is unbiblical for a woman to hold the office of President (she would be Commander in Chief and over the Armed Forces), showing how broadly he applies this principle of male leadership and female submission.

My opinion - that's nuts. Looking to these chapters and applying it beyond the husband wife relationship to men and women in general goes beyond what Scripture indicates. It may be true, but you need to argue it from other passages. More, I think teaching/preaching the notion that women are to submit to me is flat out dangerous. I have counseled more than one young women who thought she was supposed to submit to her boyfriend! Let me be real clear: a girlfriend is NOT called to submit to a boyfriend! What a recipe for disaster. Even if the man is a godly man, the dating couple begins to act and relate to each other in ways that to closely resemble the patterns of marriage. Dr. Moore articulates this well,"Sisters, there is no biblical category for 'boyfriend' or 'lover,' and you owe such designation no submission. In fact, to be submissive to your future husband you must stand back and evaluate, with rigid scrutiny, 'Is this the one who is to come, or is there another?' That requires an emotional and physical distance until there is a lifelong covenant made, until you stand before one who is your 'own husband.'"

Dr. Moore points out a few more dangers of this general call for women to submit to men. First,
"Too often in our culture, women and girls are pressured to submit to men, as a category. This is the reason so many women, even feminist women, are consumed with what men, in general, think of them. This is the reason a woman’s value in our society, too often, is defined in terms of sexual attractiveness and availability. Is it any wonder that so many of our girls and women are destroyed by a predatory patriarchy that demeans the dignity and glory of what it means to be a woman?"

In addition, "Additionally, too many predatory men have crept in among us, all too willing to exploit young women by pretending to be 'spiritual leaders' (2 Tim. 3:1-9; 2 Pet. 2). Do not be deceived: a man who will use spiritual categories for carnal purposes is a man who cannot be trusted with fidelity, with provision, with protection, with the fatherhood of children. The same is true for a man who will not guard the moral sanctity of a woman not, or not yet, his wife."

I do think you see elements of male leadership and female submission in the Genesis 1-3, but in the context of the covenant of marriage. These elements are subtle, and without Paul's words in Ephesians and other places, I wouldn't make much of them. But I think they are there, and they are still the pattern for husbands and wives. As such, the roles of leadership and submission in marriage are voluntary roles as we enter into the covenant of marriage voluntarily. Parallel to this is the Son's submission, voluntarily, to the Father in the Covenant of Redemption. It goes beyond Scripture to argue that the Son was eternally subordinate to the Father. Certainly he became subordinate in the incarnation, but that was a willing submission not borne out of inferiority or ontology. Instead, it was a humble submission chosen by the Son as part of the Covenant. Similarly, a wife's submission is not owed to her husband because he is male and she is female and thus ontologically inferior to him, but instead because she has agreed to take on that role as terms of the Covenant of Marriage, just as the husband has agreed to take on the role of leader.

My point isn't to elaborate extensively on what this kind of submission should look like in the husband-wife relationship, only to suggest that Genesis 1-3 speaks of this relationship and NOT of the male-female relationship broadly. I think we really need to get this right.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Song of the Week

I just learned of the Decemberists. Holy crap they're good. If you knew about them and didn't tell me, shame on you. You call me your friend?!

Decemberists, "E. Watson"

My Response: Ethics, Church & Undocumented Workers

I thought I would get to writing on this a week or so ago, but better late than never. If you want to read through the question posed by Dr. Moore go here. The question reminded me how fallen our world is and how complicated situations are. It's easy to sloganeer our way through issues like immigration and undocumented workers, but when you really enter the situation you see how convoluted and confusing it is.

In situations like Pablo's where he seems stuck between two conflicting norms - obey the law and provide for your family, there exists three main positions. First, some hold what is termed a "conflicting absolutes" or "lesser of two evils" position. Basically, Christians holding this position argue that in our fallen world, sometimes two or more principles of moral behavior will conflict absolutely and there is no option in such situations but to sin. If that is the case, the Christian should weigh in the balance the two options, choose the lesser of the two evils, and then 'sin boldly', but repent later. So, Pablo should continue to live and work in the States, providing for his family, he should confess it as sin (this assumes, of course, that the value of Pablo's family is deemed to be greater than the value of obeying a arguably unjust law that would make their survival impossible).

The second position is sometimes labeled "hierarchical-ism". Those in this camp hold that there is an ordered hierarchy of absolutes, "such that some values have priority over others." When these values conflict and it's impossible to follow both absolutes, one should act according to the higher norm. Sounds a lot like the first, except that those who hold to a hierarchical view don't see the violation of the lesser norm as sin, not when it is in conflict with a greater norm. So, Pablo should continue to live and work in the States and feel no guilt, nor feel the need to confess it as sin (again, assuming that we put a higher premium on Pablo's family than national borders).

The third position is one of "non-conflicting absolutes". Proponents of this view argue that even when absolutes seem to conflict, in reality there is always a 'third way' out of the situation that avoids sin. Not to opt for the third way is sin. Pablo, on this view, should look for a third alternative which most certainly exists. Maybe he can get a better job than he thinks in his country of origin and continue to provide for his family. Maybe he could hire a lawyer and fight for legal status, etc.

Each position has it's strengths and weaknesses. The first is certainly counter intuitive - that God would hold someone as guilty of sin when they were constrained by the situation to commit a sinful act. The second position runs into the problem of a lack of biblical support. Nowhere do we encounter a hierarchy of sins or of norms, or any clear teaching that God will exempt us from the guilt of sinning if a higher good was in view (Rom. 3:7-8). Furthermore, that is certainly a slippery slope to Machiavellianism. The third position seems naive, but seems to line up with the biblical data best. Some have argued that to deny this third position, the "non-conflicting absolute" position, raises questions about God's ability to provide and about our faith in God's provision. Additionally, there is the biblical witness that God will provide a way of escape from sin/temptation (1 Cor. 10:13). Most importantly regarding the third position is the WWJD question. Yes, I'm being serious. The first position ("conflicting absolutes) raises questions about Jesus' sinlessness. If Jesus was tempted like we are, and if some of our temptations put us in situations where sin is inevitable, how can we maintain Jesus was sinless. The second position avoid this by saying that even in situations like Pablo's, had Jesus chosen as Pablo did, he wouldn't have been sinning.But, as seen above, this seems to rest on dubious groups Biblically.

My position is a combination of position one and three. I believe God does provide a way of escape from sin/temptation. I believe there is a 'third way' and Jesus is pretty good proof of it. So I agree with those who hold to position three - the 'non-conflicting norms' view. However, in this fallen world, our intellects aren't as sharp as they should be. We aren't as wise as God would have us be. We don't stay in step with the Spirit as Jesus did. So, we are sometimes faced with decisions where there doesn't seem to be a 'sinless' way out of it - where norms conflict. What should we do? Here I think position one is correct - we pick the lesser of the two evils. We violate a statute regarding citizenship to feed our families. In the case of Rahab, we lie to save lives. In the case of the Hebrew midwives, we again lie to save the lives of infant babies. We violate laws that prohibit the preaching of the gospel in closed countries. We smuggle Bibles into areas where it is forbidden. In those situations where we can't see a third way we act in a way that makes value judgements and choose honor those higher values. But ignorance isn't an excuse to sin. Trust me, I've tried it with police officers before - "sir I didn't know the speed limit was 35 here" or "sir, I didn't see the stop sign". So, in such situations where we've chose sin to avoid a greater sin, we should still confess it as such and trust in the free provision of God's grace for sinners. (My position is hard for many reasons, chief among them is that it cannot be absolutized. If the life of five more valuable than the life of one. Conjuring Spock: the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Yes. Does that mean I should kill and rob one to feed five. No. Can we lie to save a life, like Rahab? Yes. Should we lie about our faith in Christ to keep from becoming a martyr? No.)

So, in Pablo's case, as his pastor, I would baptize him and admit him into full communion of the church. I would counsel him to confess his sin and pray earnestly that God would show him a way to support his family without violating the law.

Regarding the employer, I think much has to do with his motivations. Is he getting rich by exploiting his undocumented workers? Or, is he providing them with employment at a fair wage so that they can support their families? Again, if he's employing Pablo to prevent him and his family from starving, I would commend him for making a tough choice given bad options - a choice that is putting him and his business at risk.

Even here in Indiana, this issues isn't one that's far off or relegated to border states. Even if it were, there are other issues we face like it, though thankfully, not frequently. Usually, we can discern a third way (more so as we grow in wisdom and in reliance on the Spirit) - maybe not one that is comfortable or enjoyable, but I think it's rare that we face a situation in which there is no clear righteous solution.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Song of the Week

I forgot about this band till mid last week. I love the southern rock sound!

Dirty Guv'nahs, "Song for my Beloved"

Monday, November 21, 2011

Song of the Week

I tried to find this song before Sunday. It would have gone well with the sermon on Galatians 2:15-21, but alas, I couldn't find it till today (actually, I had to reorder a lost copy of the cd and it finally arrived today).

Candi Pearson, "Galatians 2:20"

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ethics, Church & Undocumented Workers

I appreciate, though don't always agree, with Dr. Moore of SBTS. He posted this on his blog a couple of days ago - it's the final exam question for his ethics class. In light of the focus of this years Missions Conference at ECC, I thought it would be a good thing to consider some more. I'll offer my thoughts on this next week (as well as more thoughts on the implications of Natural Law like a promised). Offer your thoughts!

You find yourself far away from this ethics class, twenty years from now in your ministry, serving a church in south Florida. Pablo is a man you met, with his wife Hannah, after they attended a small-group Bible study in the home of a family in your church. Both of them, after hearing you explain the gospel, were convicted of sin and, after several weeks of conversation, both announced they were ready to confess Jesus as Lord and to follow him in baptism.

Before the baptism, though, Pablo approaches you to say that he’s not sure he meets the requirements for Christian baptism. He’s not sure he’s a repentant sinner. He sees himself as guilty, he is sorry for his sins against God and others, and he wants the forgiveness that comes through Jesus’ bloody cross, the new life that comes from Jesus’ empty tomb.

But there’s something that kindles fear in him.

Pablo tells you he is an undocumented worker, what some would call an “illegal immigrant.” Years ago he left conditions in El Salvador that, due to famine there, led him to near starvation. Moreover, he worked, like others in his village, for a multinational plantation where he was physically beaten and sexually abused. There were no other options for him, as the only employers in the country were made up of similarly exploitative companies. He slipped into this country undetected and has since lived with an artificial Social Security number he purchased on the black market, enabling him to work in this country.

Pablo’s employer knows his immigration status, but operates with a “don’t ask/don’t tell” policy when it comes to such questions about his workers. Indeed, several outside financial consultants say that, without such labor, this employer’s business would be financially unfeasible and would have to close, since there is not a sufficient employee base among native-born Americans willing to work in such a job.

The employer is Tyler Rogers, also a member of your church, one of your most Christlike people in the congregation, and he teaches the Bible in a large Tuesday night small group. It was at his family’s house that you met Pablo and Hannah, since he had been sharing the gospel with them for months and inviting them to hear more through your church.

The United States immigration policy is, if anything, more restrictive than it was when you were in ethics class at Southern Seminary. No longer can a green card be obtained by marrying a U.S. citizen, so Pablo’s marriage to Hannah is irrelevant to his immigration status. According to current law, if Pablo turns himself in, or is caught, he will face immediate deportation to El Salvador, along with a penalty making him ineligible to apply to entrance to the United States for no less than ten years.

Moreover, returning to El Salvador and applying for immigration is a process that takes, in the best of scenarios, ten years from start to finish. An admission of illegal status, plus a return to El Salvador, would mean crushing poverty, possible starvation, and almost certain bodily harm in dangerous working conditions. It would also mean being separated from Hannah for ten to twenty years.

Pablo and Hannah have three children: an eleven year-old girl, a six year-old boy, and a two year-old girl. Hannah is also pregnant with their fourth child, due next Spring.

Pablo has, since arriving in the United States, been sending a portion of his paycheck back to El Salvador, to his elderly mother who is caring for Pablo’s nieces and nephews since Pablo’s brother was killed due to the unsafe working conditions in the factory and his brother’s wife abandoned the children. Without this money, Pablo fears the children, two of whom are babies, and his mother would starve to death.

Pablo wants to do what Jesus would have him to do, to be a godly man. What do you advise him to do? If you advise him to turn himself in or to return to El Salvador, how do you square that with the biblical mandate that one who “does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8)? Can you really, from that point forward, consider yourself “pro-family” or “pro-orphan” or even “pro-life”?

If you advise him to stay with his family, how is he keeping the biblical mandate to “obey the governing authorities” (Rom. 13:1)? How also is he avoiding the sin of bearing false witness, about himself and his legal status? Can you baptize Pablo? After all, is he really showing repentance from sin?

What do you do or say, if anything, about Tyler and his employment practices? If nothing, then why not?

How do you equip the congregation to understand how to deal with this situation, and what implications does it have for how you respond to the mission field where God has placed you, with a large and growing community of undocumented Latin American workers, many of whom need to hear and believe the gospel, and are watching how you respond to this family.

Walk through each step of ethical reflection, showing why you reject some options and why you embrace others. Ground your answer in Scripture, the gospel, the Christian tradition, natural law, and common grace. Think through the implications of your answer in each situation for unintended consequences, and show how those can be ethically resolved.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Song of the Week

Saving Abel, "Miss America"

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Natural Law: Fact of Theologians Fiction?

A couple of weeks ago I casually mentioned in the Poiema ACG that the Ten Commandments are a basic summary of natural law - the moral law written in nature and on the human conscience. It certainly wasn't a big point of conversation, but I was surprised to when my Scottish interlocutor (I mean, my friend Doug) said he thought the idea of natural law was nonsense made up by theologians. What surprised me is that the only group I knew of that denies natural law is certain segments of the Reformed community, particularly those from the Dutch Calvinist tradition influenced by Bavinck and Kuyper.

We didn't take the time to hash out our difference of opinion that morning, but took up the discussion over lunch (Ancient Chinese Secret: bitter disagreements are easier to swallow at a Chinese Buffet). Interestingly, once we discussed it and defined terms carefully, there was little disagreement, though some still lingered on the use of natural law. This discussion reminded me that it isn't a given we use terms in the same way (I should have known this after reading/teaching on Wright in Galatians!). So, here I want to take a few minutes to clarify what I mean by natural law and why I think it's important.

First, by natural law I don't mean laws of nature, as in gravity, etc. Obviously I believe in those too - last time I checked gravity still worked. But by natural law I have in mind the moral laws bound up in nature, especially human nature.

Second, by natural law I don't mean laws that are bound up in nature apart from God. Not at all!!! By using the term natural law, I don't mean to identify the source of the law, only it's mode of communication. It's natural in that God reveals his moral law to through nature as opposed to special revelation (the Bible). It is still God's law and God is still the one who reveals it. Moreover, natural revelation is accessible to all universally whereas special revelation is not. All have been exposed to natural law, and all stand condemned by it. Not all have been exposed to God's special revelation.

Third, by saying that natural law exists, I don't mean to communicate we have perfect understanding or sense of it. Our intellects are fallen; our hearts are deceptive. Our sense of God's law written in nature and the human conscience is warped and twisted as the image of God in us is warped and twisted. Therefore, questions can certainly be raised about the value of natural law for guiding us in morality. On the other hand, while our sense of natural law may be sckeewed, that doesn't affect the objective presence of a natural law. If I'm not aware there's a law prohibiting public nudity, that doesn't mean there isn't one, or that I won't be arrested for breaking it (thank you lucky stars I know there are such laws and wouldn't dream of breaking them in a million bajillion years).

With those clarifications in mind, we can ask, "Is the idea of natural law biblical?" I think a strong case can be built for it, though I'll be the first to admit you'll look long and hard through your Strong's Exhaustive Concordance to find the phrase 'natural law'. The best place to begin building a case for natural law is probably in the book of Genesis. Why Genesis? Because Genesis is before Exodus, and it's not until Exodus that we get a detailed revelation of God's moral law in the Mosaic Code (this isn't the post to enter into discussions regarding the validity of parsing the law into civil, ceremonial and moral components; nor will I take up the question of the application of the Mosaic Law to culture today - the theonomic question). From the time of Adam to the time of Moses, mankind lived without an express moral command from God. But what we see in Genesis and early on in Exodus is that even apart from an express moral code, there is a law to which people are accountable.

For example, consider Cain. Cain's murder of his brother Abel was a shameful thing - hence he evaded God's questions regarding the whereabouts of his brother. In addition, it was a sinful thing - hence, God punishes Cain for crime. But what law did Can break if there was no law written in nature and on the human conscience?

Move ahead, in the days of Noah God sends judgment upon the earth for it's utter wickedness and evil. The specific charge is that men were corrupt and violent. Oh, and then there's the story of how Ham disrespected his father Noah and was cursed for it - and this prior to the command to Moses to 'honor your father and mother'.

And don't forget Sodom and Gomorrah, judged for their sexual immorality.

In these stories, God isn't holding people accountable to a standard they knew nothing about. No, through nature and conscience their actions are revealed as violations of their Creator's goodness and the laws he embedded within his creation. If they did not know these laws, it is a culpable ignorance (like choosing not to see the NO PARKING sign in front of your favorite coffee shop).

We could go pericope by pericope, but you get the idea. What is interesting, as Paul Helm has pointed out, is that even those outside the covenant community have some understanding of right and wrong. He writes,

"Some of these values [which exist without specific commands] were common between those who were members of the covenant, as Abraham, and - what is pf particular interest in this paper – some stretched across the covenant boundaries, such as those held in common between Abraham and Ahimelech, or (later) Noah [sic. Moses] and his father in law Jethro. We see that these laws have to do with property, with fair dealing, with sexuality, with parents, with life and death. And as we proceed to make the list of these norms, it suddenly dawns on us that they are the very norms that are expressed in the Second Table of the Moral Law as Moses received it"

Consider briefly the story of Abraham and Abimilech in Genesis 20. Abraham, fearing for his life, passes Sarah off as his sister. Abimelch takes her into his house. Before the king of Gerar approaches Sarah, God warns him. Here's the exchange:

But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” 4 Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? 5 Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” (Gen 20:3-5).

Notice Abimelech's defense isn't "what's wrong with taking another man's wife?" Instead, he pleads ignorance because he was unaware she was Abraham's wife, acknowledging that taking a man's wife is evil, but he's innocent. Moreover, when the king of Gerar confronts Abraham, he says, "You have done to me things that ought not to be done" (v. 9). By what standard was lying to Abimelech wrong? No specific, verbalized commands had come from God regarding lying yet.

Again, you could see this many times over in the Genesis and Exodus accounts prior to the giving of the law to Moses. The apostle Paul reflects on this period in human history in the book of Romans.

"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— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 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." (Ro 5:12–14)

As you can see, Paul treats the giving of the law as a kind of pivot point in human history. Adam broke the law by transgressing a specific command and through this lawbreaking/sin death entered the world because all sinned. Certainly it is true that all sinned in Adam's sin, for he served as our covenant representative. From the time of Adam to Moses, death continued to reign over men - "even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam". Again, Paul Helm comments on these verses:

"So – my first question is – what is sin that is not transgression-like, the sin that reigned before the law was given through Moses? What form does it have? And I think that it is not hard to answer that question. If it does not lie in a flouting of explicitly enunciated commands, then it must lie in the spurning or flouting of widely if not universally recognised norms, or values that do not have the form of explicit commands."

That makes sense of what Paul has been arguing throughout the opening chapters of Romans. In these early chapters, Paul is seeking to firmly establish that none are righteous and all stand condemned in the court of the Ultimate Judge. Both Jews who had the law but didn't observe it and Gentiles who didn't have the Mosaic law but still had the light of nature and conscience stand condemned as sinners. Consider Romans 1:18ff:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error...

Notice a couple of things. First, this passage has to do both with the first table and the second table of the Moral Law - with our vertical duties to God and our horizontal relationships with other people. Paul teaches that mankind should have known, based on nature, that there was one true God and offered thanks and worship to him (first table). That they don't do so is because they suppress such knowledge. Moreover, men and women should have known, based on nature and human conscience, that some sexual relations (second table) were right and others wrong. Second, notice Paul's use of 'natural relations' and 'unnatural relations' - the wickedness of unnatural relations isn't just that it violates a verbalized command of God, but that it violates the laws God embedded in nature and conscience. Third, mankind, even those who don't have the Mosaic Law, receive the due penalty for the errors.

Consider one more passage from Romans:
"For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus." (Romans 2:12-16)

The idea of natural law is one that I find compelling, biblical, and useful. Believing God has revealed something of his nature and his moral demands through nature and in human consciences has some pretty big implications. I won't take the time to develop them now, but in a later post. Let me just mention three implications:
1. A belief in Natural Law has implications for God's justice in judging unreached peoples.
2. A belief in Natural Law has implications for how we approach people from other religions.
3. A belief in Natural Law has implications for how we, as believers, engage in dialogue in the public sector.
4. A belief in Natural Law has implications for our understanding of justification by faith apart from works of the law (and hence our interpretation of passages in Galatians - which is how this whole discussion opened up to begin with)

I will try to unpack these implications later in the week. In the meantime, I welcome push-backs or requests for clarity. I am not a moral philosopher, nor the son of a moral philosopher.

For more on this, check out:
- Paul Helm, Natural Law and Biblical Law
- Paul Helm, Natural Law and Common Grace
- David VanDrunen, Living in God's Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture (short and nontechnical)
- David VanDrunen, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought (Emory University Studies in Law and Religion (long and technical)

Monday, November 07, 2011

Song of the Week

I forgot how much I like this song till I listened to it again on the drive to Brownsburg with Caleb.

Queen (with David Bowie), "Under Pressure"

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Whitfield, Wesley, Wilberforce...and Waugh?

The title of this post could be taken to mean that I put myself in their company. Certainly not! But I'm trying to think here about lessons I can learn from them. Last weekend (10/22 & 23) Dr. Honeycutt brought some dead men to life for us at ECC in the seminar on Evangelicalism (audio will be posted soon). The focus of the weekend was how evangelicals have united together through the centuries for the purpose of mission and ministry; proclamation of the gospel and living out the gospel in all its fullness for the good of their respective cultures. Here's a few things that I'm speaking with God about now as a result of the weekend (including Dr. Honeycutt's Sunday morning sermon).

1. I need tougher skin, and a more tender heart

All the men listed above, and Lord Shaftesbury (pictured left, also highlighted during the seminar, but his name didn't begin with 'W', so I left him out of the blog title) had thick, thick skin. They had too as they were each the objects of scorn. Wesley and Whitefield were criticized for breaking with Anglican tradition and becoming 'vile' by preaching out doors and sharing ministry with non-Anglicans, even Baptists! Here's that famous section from Wesley's Journal:

"May 5th: A.M.: Preached in St. Ann's; was asked not to come back. P.M: preached at St. John's; deacons said, 'Get out and stay out.'
May 12th A.M.: preached at St. Andrew's; elders called a special meeting and said not to return. P.M.: preached on the street and was run off.
May 26th A.M.: preached in a field; got chased by a bull that was set loose.
June 2nd A.M: preached at the edge of town; police moved me. P.M: preached in a pasture and 10,000 people came!"

Shaftesbury and Wilberforce were attacked, verbally and physically for proposing legislation that would benefit the oppressed (slaves and the urban poor). Yet, none of these men allowed the criticism to dissuade them, showing remarkable perseverance and tenacity.

I need to learn that. I invite criticism, especially from friends. I think I take that kind of criticism well. But the kind that comes unsolicited, the kind that has a mean-spirited edge to it - that kind of criticism sends me reeling. Or, it causes me to dig my heels in and spit meanness back. Either is unacceptable.

Coupled with this toughness was an inner tenderness towards those who were disenfranchised and overlooked by polite society. Wesley and Whitefield preached out of door because the poor weren't coming to the churches. They preached to slaves, they started orphanages, etc. Wilberforce and Shaftesbury were broken by what they saw in their nation and loved those they championed.

I'll admit it, I need to learn from that too. Their tenderness wasn't a sappy sentimentalism that did little but moisten dry eyes. No, it brought action too. Its easy to be overwhelmed by problems in our society, and allow that sense of being overwhelmed to prevent us from acting. The problems are big - they're global. But, there also local, in our neighborhoods. We may not fix the system (though maybe some should be trying), but we can put food on the table of some underprivileged people in our town.

2. I need to respect that not everyone in the body is gifted in the same way or wired with the same passions. God wired and place Shaftesbury and Wilberforce in different ways and in different places that Wesley and Whitefield. He does the same today, and I honestly forget that sometimes. I think we all do. There are some who are great evangelists - they have the heart and the ability and share the gospel with people in check out lines and gas stations. They ought to be commended for this. We need these bold ambassadors in the church. If you're one of them, keep on keepin on. However, there are dangers you need to be aware of. As Dr. Honeycutt made so clear, Jesus calls us to deeds of mercy and love as well as to preaching the good news of Jesus. First, don't look down upon those who may be more timid in their verbal witness but are lions when it comes to helping those in need. It's easy to forget that some will be Wilberforces and Shaftesburys. That's good too. Second, don't, in your passion to share the good news, forget to show the good news. Don't forget that its not just the church that is called to deeds of mercy and proclamation of the gospel, but individual Christians too.

The same principle applies to those who have a bent towards mercy ministry - respect those who have a bent towards evangelism. I hear a lot, especially from the younger generation, that the church has been all about 'saving souls' and neglected mercy. A few things. First, don't say 'saving souls' in a condescending way - it's and incredibly important part of the church's commission. In fact, it's the only part that Christians alone can do! Second, vague generalizations are rarely true. I've met few people who are passionate about evangelism that don't also care for the real physical needs of people. They may focus and talk more about souls, but most who are genuine in their love for people care about their bodies too. Even the Fundies started and ran inner city missions! Third, don't allow your passion for mercy ministry, which is incredibly important too, to totally eclipse your responsibility to share the good news of Jesus verbally with others. The call to share proclaim the good news of Jesus isn't just for the church, it's for you too.

Just a few thoughts, I've been kicking around.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Song of the Week

Pretty cool group I found through NoiseTrade

Daniel Ellsworth and the Great Lakes, "Bleeding Tongue"

Monday, October 24, 2011

Jason Stellman, "Dual Citizens"

Jason Stellman's book Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and the Not Yet made my Best of 2010 list. It's a great introduction to the concept of Christians dual citizenship - and its practical too! I disagree with him on a few things, but his overall premise and presentation are really good.

Just found these video introductions to the book. Check em out, and if you're interest is peaked (or ire raised), read the book.

We live simultaneously in this age and the age to come. The Holy Spirit is our engagement ring:

Worship is what we do when we gather as the church. It is holy. Life isn't holy, it's common. Both are done for the glory of God:

Song of the Week

I've been listening to Eric Turners Street Fighting Man all week. Good stuff.

Street Fighting Man, "Shadow"

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How Tech Serves God's Purposes

I've been reading a book by John Dyer, From the Garden to the City, about "the redeeming and corrupting power of technology". I'm less than half way through the book, but it's certainly made me think, especially about how my use of technology is shaping me, not just the world around me. For example, I know (and am convicted by) how easily distracted I am by my phone. Wrestling with Luke, talking with Lynn, on the ball field with the boys - it's hard to ignore the 'bing' of my phone telling me I've got an email or text. I'll think and write more on that later. This post is about God's use of technology to advance his story.

Dyer writes, "In one story, there is a God who is moving humanity along a timeline. He has a purpose and a plan, and there is an end point toward which he is moving all of history. Technology plays a role in this story (emphasis mine), but it is a subservient role, not an ultimate one. The only true salvation offered to humanity comes from God himself, through his Son Jesus Christ."

To be honest, my initial response was a pretty cynical snort - "God doesn't need our cell phones and ipods to advance his story." The more I thought about it though, that response reveals two false beliefs/assumptions: 1) a hyper-calvinistic belief that God will do whatever he will do without any concern for means. I'd want to distance myself from if it showed up in another form (i.e. "We don't need to preach and call people to repentance. If God is calling them, they'll come"). And 2) a very limited role of technology.

It is true that God doesn't need our technology, even when broadly defined, to advance his story. He could meet every person personally on the road in a blinding light like he did Saul. But, God has ordained to work through means, namely his church - his people, to advance the redemptive story, spreading the gospel to the nations. It is possible for God to call people directly through dreams, visions, etc. But, for the most part, he has chosen to call people through his ambassadors (that's us). And while God doesn't need technology, we can't do much without it.

God certainly is using tech to advance his redemptive story - a story that includes people coming to Christ from every tribe and nation. I know of some groups that are being reached with portable radios. The tribes aren't literate, so printed Bibles would be of limited use in the first stages of reaching them. The missions agency has provided radios tuned to one frequency - it broadcasts the Bible, and people are hearing the good news through this technological innovation. I know chat rooms are effective tools for reaching people, especially people who aren't comfortable going to church (like those in closed countries where it may be illegal or dangerous). Or, the Bible software that helps pastors read, research and preach the gospel weekly - all ways tech is serving to advance God's story.

But there's a bigger, more fundamental way God has used technology to advance his story. I remember sitting in class at Covenant Theological Seminary when it hit me, sadly for the first time, that the Bible isn't just about God's mission to the world, it's a integral part of it. God's story is being carried forward as His Word is brought to people (individuals) and peoples. It's not just the container of the drama, it's an actor in the drama. And, it's technology. Maybe from our perspective it's not very advanced technology, but the written word is "“the human activity of using tools to transform God’s creation for practical purposes” (Dyer's definition of technology). At some point, pen and parchment (or papyrus) was cutting edge. Dyer explains, "...the Greek philosopher Socrates expressed concern about the technology of writing. He believed that learning in dialogue was the key to helping people grow in wisdom, and he worried that writing would make people knowledgeable, but it would fail to make them wise." So even before the printing press, God was using technology to carry his story along. Actually, language itself is a form of technology - a human tool we use to shape the world.

I'm amazed at how quickly we (maybe it's must me) can turn preferences into principles. You see it in the worship wars. Someone likes the hymns and they act like those Ira Sankey songs were written and song by Peter himself. They baptize their preference for old style organ music and hymns with a principle (God likes orderly worship, we shouldn't be too much like the culture, etc.). We can easily treat technology in the same way. We prefer books to webpages, hardbacks to ebooks, hymnals to projectors, classroom to online learning, etc. As Dyer points out, no technology is entirely benign - it's all shaping us and we need to be aware of that. On the other hand, we can't function and we can't do ministry without technology - primitive or cutting edge. God isn't dependent on it, but we, as his ambassadors, very much are.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Song of the Week

This song got in my head thanks to post-season baseball. Not my typical cup of tea, but I like it a lot.

Tinie Tempah, "Written in the Stars"

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Luke is up to bat

Yep Luke, not Jake or Caleb. Jake's fall-ball coach asked if Luke wanted to try and play in the last game of the season. He was so excited! Thanks Jeff.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Critical Interaction with Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed

I am not one trained in education, pedagogy, philosophy of education or any related field. Freire's book was a required read for my first class in that field. I found it an interesting read and worth some dialogue. Those of you trained in the field, here's my thoughts - don't hesitate to push back!

Paulo Freire’s short book Pedagogy of the Oppressed has shaped the field of education, specifically educational philosophy, since its publication in 1970. As D. Schugurensky observes, “There is ‘before’ and ‘after’ Freire, both in the philosophical approach to adult education, as well as in its practice.” Paulo’s educational philosophy has vast implications not only in the secular realm, and not only for Christian educators, but also for the church as an institution; thus, it is a work which must be engaged critically. That is the goal of this short exchange, to engage critically with Freire, asking which aspects of his educational philosophy should be accepted, which parts should be rejected, which can be modified, and how his work can/should shape the educational ministries of the Christian church.

This short interaction with Freire is organized is organized into four sections, each presenting a theme from Freire’s work alongside a more robust biblical alternative.

The Goal of Education: Transformation vs. Glorification

Freire’s educational philosophy was born from his work with underprivileged, illiterate peasants in South America (which does make it challenging to translate his philosophy into a largely literate and privileged North American context) in which oppression was a tangible reality and Marxist ideas found fertile soul in which to grow. Freire understands that oppression leads to the dehumanization of both the oppressed and the oppressor. In many instances, oppressed people liberate themselves only to find that they have in turn become the new oppressors, and in most cases, the oppressed are also sub-oppressors. To escape this cycle and liberate both oppressor and the oppressed is to allow both to be more fully human, and requires that people develop a critical awareness of their reality so that “through transforming action they can create a new situation, one which makes possible the pursuit of a fuller humanity” (Freire, 47). This is the role of the educator – to work alongside the oppressed “to unveil the world of oppression and through the praxis commit themselves to its transformation”(Freire, 54) so that in time the liberation is a true and permanent setting free and all men are fully humanized.

What should the Christian make of this? Is liberation and humanization the end goal of education? Possibly, if we consider only the horizontal plane of the educational task. But the Christian educator must also me mindful of the vertical plane and our Godward responsibility. If liberation and humanization is the educator’s goal on the horizontal plane, doxology must be the goal on the vertical plane. Or, in other words, Freire’s philosophy accounts for the second table of the law in seeking to promote love for neighbor. But as Christian educators, we have a responsibility to the first table as well, to promote the love of God in the human heart. In this, Freire’s philosophy obviously comes up short. His philosophy begins with and ends with man and our responsibilities to man, not God. Thus, as a fully orbed philosophy of education, it must be rejected. However, as part of an educational philosophy that does not neglect our duties toward God, it has some promise. After all, it would be an equally critical error to neglect our duties on the horizontal plane, our duties to the second table of the law (cf. 1 John 4:20). Several key themes of Freire’s philosophy will be examined in this light.

The Method of Education: Banking vs. Problem-Posing Education

Central to Freire’s educational philosophy is the distinction between “banking” and “problem-posing” approaches to the educational task. By banking, Freire means an approach to education that sees students as “containers” or “receptacles” to be filled with the knowledge the teacher possesses. The more knowledge a teacher can impart, the better teacher they are; the more a student can retain the better student they are. Freire contends that this approach drives a wedge, an untrue and oppressive wedge, between the student who supposedly knows little or nothing and the teacher who knows everything. Such an approach, contends Freire, is a tool in the hands of the oppressor by which they domesticate the student, teaching them to adapt to the situation rather than to change it (Freire, 74).

This oppressive form of education must be broken down and students as well as teachers must, according for Freire, come to see themselves as col-earners. Freire writes, “Those truly committed to liberation must reject the banking concept in its entirety (emphasis added)...They must abandon the educational goal of deposit-making and replace it with the posing of the problems of human beings in their relation with the world” (Freire, 79). He continues, “Whereas banking education anesthetizes and inhibits creative power, problem-posing education involves a constant unveiling of reality… [so that students] will feel increasingly challenged and obliged to respond to that challenge” (Freire, 82). The result is that students begin to see that reality is transformable and take up the challenge not only to transform themselves but their entire social context.

Two critical observations should be made. First, one should question whether Freire’s problem-posing pedagogy is even possible apart from some prior banking of information which he rejects in toto. Stephen Prothero recalls, “So when I finished graduate school and became a professor myself, I told students that I didn’t care about facts. I cared about having challenging conversations, and I offered my quiz-free classrooms as places to do just that. I soon found, however, that the challenging conversations I coveted were not possible without some common knowledge – common knowledge my students plainly lacked” (Stephen Prothero, Religious Literacy. New York: Harper One, 2007, pg. 5). Can a teacher lead a productive dialogue on, for example, how the Exodus serves as a paradigm for God’s liberating mission if students have no prior knowledge of the events of the Exodus?

Second, even if it’s good pedagogy, believers should ask if it’s Biblical, especially when applying it to the church and her educational ministries. Though we may take issue with the direction of transformation Freire proposes, we can certainly agree that the goal of the church’s educational ministry is real transformation and not winning The Annual All Church Bible Trivia Challenge. However, the quickest of surveys will lead the student of God’s Word to see that some degree of banking is important; there are certain people who know things and are tasked with conveying these things to others who do not know them. Deuteronomy 6:1-7 gives us two examples: Moses has been commissioned by God to teach the Israelites the commandments who were in turn instructed to pass their knowledge on to their children. The Great commission is another example where some people, namely the disciples, with certain knowledge, namely what Jesus taught, are commissioned to go to other and tell them what they would not otherwise know. Catechetical education, which is largely depositing information in a receptacle, has a place in the church. Once the true information has been learned, we must help people see how this truth transforms their existence and can be brought to bear on the reality they find themselves in.

Spiritual vs. Political/Economic Oppression

This brings us to another critique of Freire’s educational philosophy. While Freire speaks of oppression on nearly every page of his work, he sees it solely in terms of socio-political or socio-economic oppression. Freire speaks eloquently on the task of unveiling reality, exposing the currents within our structures that carry people along, debunking the myths that are perpetuated, and enabling people to become part of the process of overcoming their “limit situations”. Yet on a biblical analysis, Freire’s understanding of oppression is shallow in that it leaves off the most sinister oppressor – the sinful human heart. Were all structures of authority and resource distribution to undergo a thorough renovation and all forms of injustice rectified, human beings would still be horribly oppressed. Of course that is ridiculously hypothetical and upon a Christian viewpoint impossible, for hearts tainted by sin will not only oppress their owners, but will inevitably lead to oppressive systems as well.

Borrowing a page from Schaeffer, we can say to Freire, “Your philosophy is good so far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough.” Freire is correct in pushing educators to unveil the systems of oppression and currents that carry people along unconsciously in cooperation with those systems. For the Christian educator that means exposing the sinful streams of greed, pride, lust, etc., that run through every human heart and carries them along individually and unconsciously as well as and prior to unveiling how those streams carry us along and oppress us at the societal level.

Given Freire’s limited understanding of oppression, his limited understanding of education as primarily a political endeavor is understandable. However, those who have a deeper understanding of oppression will necessarily take a different view of the educational task, one that first addresses the inner spiritual oppression of sin, which is the fount of all other types of oppression we encounter.

Objects vs. Subjects of Transformation

One final critique must be made. Freire emphasizes throughout his work that educators must allow students to be full participants in the transformation of society in a more fully humanized one. Freire writes, “It is absolutely essential that the oppressed participate in the revolutionary process with an increasingly critical awareness of their role as Subject of the transformation” (Freire, 127). At one level, that works in the church as well as we call people to the task evangelism, to spread the good news of the kingdom of God, and to live out the gospel in concern for social justice.

On another level, however, it is completely hostile to the gospel. Freire loathes the idea that oppressed might be treated as “welfare recipients” or as objects of liberation rather than subjects who bring about their own liberation. While it is true that believers can contribute to their liberation from external social, political, and economic oppression, it is patently untrue that they contribute in any way to their liberation from their true oppressor, namely sin and guilt. The preaching of the gospel reminds us every week that we truly are recipients of welfare, that before we’re ever subjects of societal transformation, we are objects of God’s liberating work.


Certainly other critiques are valid. For example, Freire’s understanding of truth as something constructed in dialogue rather than something the objectively exists has been rightly criticized. It would, however, be a mistake to dismiss Freire out of hand because of these shortcomings, massive though they are. When read through a biblical filter, there is still much that the church can learn from Freire. It is, after all, easy to turn people in our churches into passive receptacles of biblical information. Freire reminds us that in our teaching the retention of information is at best a penultimate goal. The truth we teach is a transformative truth, and we must treat it as such. Moreover, Freire rightly emphasizes that good teachers will lift the curtain on reality and reveal to people the forces that are working to subjugate them (John seems to be doing just that in the book of Revelation). Also, that this is often best done in dialogue where students and teachers come humbly ready to learn from each other can hardly be doubted. Other points of agreement could likely be found, but in the end Paulo Freire’s philosophy of education is too divergent from a truly Christian approach to education to be accepted on the whole.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Song of the Week

It feels like a punk rock morning.

Discharge, "Free Speech for the Dumb"

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Sin of Submission

I've been sitting on this post for quite a while, debating whether or not to post it.
Two things prompted me to finish it up and then post it. First is my ongoing study of Galatians for my ACG; and second, a growing concern over the abuse of spiritual authority in the church (no, not at ECC).

It would be easy to write a post about the abuse of spiritual authority by pastors and churches. There's plenty of examples to choose from, the Scripture's which condemn such abuse are easy to find (c.f. Mark 10:42; 1 Peter 5:3), and the stories are often heartbreaking. Certainly those who use authority in an abusive way are guilty of grievous sin. But, Scripture leads me to believe that those who submit to spiritual abuse are also guilty of sinning. I know, that sounds off, and maybe it is, so stick with me and test what I'm saying.

Obviously submission is commanded many times in Scripture. We're all commanded to submit to God and his law (James 4:7, negatively expressed in Ps. 81:11, Rom. 8:7, Rom 10:3), to the human authorities God has put in place (Rom. 13, Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:13). Children are to submit to parents ('obey', Eph. 6:1, 1 Tim. 3:4), slaves are commanded to be submissive to masters ('obey', Eph. 6:5, Titus 2:5, 1 Peter 2:18), wives to husbands (Eph 5:22-24, 1 Cor. 14:34-35, Col. 3:18, 1 Tim 2:11, 1 Peter 3:1-5). Peter also commands the younger (beleivers?) to be in submission to those who are elder (1 Peter 5:5). Indeed, we're all to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21) The church at Corinth was commended for the submission to Paul's appeal to gather money to care for the poor in Jerusalem. Later in the same letter Paul commands the Christians there to be subject to the saints committed to serving the church (1 Cor. 16:16). Hebrews 13:7 commands us to submit to those charge with providing spiritual leadership and 'guarding our souls'.

Now that's just a sampling, but it may lead you to ask, 'Can you really be overly submissive?' The answer is a resounding 'yes!'. In fact, you may be sinfully overly submissive. Consider Galatians 5:1, "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." Also Galatians 2:4-6,

"Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you."

Or Colossians 2:16-23,

"Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels...20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh."

Pastors are called to speak the whole counsel of God. Preach the law, Yes! Preach repentance. Preach against sin. But pastors and churches don't have authority to go beyond Scripture in binding the conscience of the people. This is a major implication of the Reformed doctrine of Sola Scriptura. I love this statement from Calvin, "Let the pastors boldly dare all things by the word of God. . . Let them constrain all the power, glory, and excellence of the world to give place to and to obey the divine majesty of this word. Let them enjoin everyone by it, from the highest to the lowest. Let them edify the body of Christ. Let them devastate Satan’s reign. Let them pasture the sheep, kill the wolves, instruct and exhort the rebellious. Let them bind and loose thunder and lightning, if necessary, but let them do all according to the word of God.” (John Calvin, Sermons on the Epistle to the Ephesians).

Pastors should not go beyond Scripture, and parishioners should not let them! For a pastor to do so is a sinful abuse of his power and position. For a parishioner to submit to it is sinful too. But aren't those who suffer under spiritual abuse victims? Yes. But they are victims that are allowing themselves to be victimized supposing that doing so will make them holy or more acceptable to God.

God commands that we ought to submit to authority. Failure to do so is sin. God also commands us that we ought not submit to slavery - to a unbiblical binding of our consciences, even if that slavery comes in the from a pastor or in the name of 'holiness'. To do so is to break God's commands and is thus sinful.

What does this mean practically? It means that if a pastor commands you not to drink a beer, you should have two to spite him (thanks Luther for that). If you're commanded not to date that girl (unless she's an unbeliever), plant a wet one on her lips and take a pic and send it to the pastor. If he commands you not to read a certain book, you invite the author to a book signing in your living room. Ok, maybe none of those are good responses, but neither is submitting to unbiblical infringements upon our Christian liberty. Don't submit, and don't stay in a church that expects you to.


I was looking for this song by Fernando Ortega (it fits with the message I'm preparing on Genesis 22). I love the song, but I just can't figure out what dolphins have to do with praising God in the midst of trials and doubts. It's just weird.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Song of the Week

Last week Rob turned me on to a group called NeadtoBreathe. So, as I was trimming and mounting posters for the womens event last week, I listened to three or four hours of NeedtoBreathe music. Yeah, I like it alot.

This song stood out, partly cause of the music. I love it. But, the first part of the song reminded me of my mom and dad. He's a preacher...he's got a wonderful wife...together they've shone the light of Jesus in the world...they've accused by people who just wanted to hear their own voice...but they're still ministering in the church, even after the voices of criticism have long since gone.

The song also, though maybe (probably) without knowing, conveys a high view of the sacrament of baptism as a 'sign-and-seal' on the believer.

Ok, enough already, just enjoy.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Goals for 2011

Now that we are three quarters of the way through 2011, I thought it would be good to reflect on some goals I had set. If I haven't met any of them, then there's time to get on it still.

1. Slow down: rushing has become a pattern even when unnecessary. Epic Fail. This year seems worse than any year in the past. Two kids involved in multiple sports, Lynn's work, my work, homework, etc. Feels like we're rushing all the time, even when we're laying in front of the tv.

2. Enjoy my pipe at least once a week. Nope. Can I make up for missed weeks by smoking every day till the end of the year?

3. Learn to enjoy the mundane. I do think I've gotten better at this. I even enjoyed mowing the lawn this year, or at least hated it less.

4. Reflect on my readings more (a post-it-note inside each book with one thought it stimulated). Did better at this, but as a lot of my reading came from the library, I should've written reflections in a place that would be permanently accessible. Still room for improvement.

5. Drink less beer. Nope - but I have tried some interesting new beers.

6. Drink more wine, and maybe some Scotch. Nope. Red wine still tastes like cough medicine to me. Like scotch though.

7. Read more dead theologians. Yes. I've been working through Calvin's Institutes and Luther's commentary on Galatians. I've also been reading early reformers, though not their work as much as peoples summaries of their work (not so good with French, etc.).

8. Don't feel guilty for reading fiction. I may have been too successful here. I've read a ton of fiction this year.

9. Stay in better contact with old friends. Some. I've made contact with good old friends that I had fallen out of contact with. Still need to do better. For my excuse, so #1.

10. Play more - not just watch more. Yeah. I've been pretty serious about playing with the boys - baseball, soccer, football, action figure and power rangers (with Luke).

11. Golf at least twice - which is two times more than last year. Nope - but I can make this up! Golf anyone?

12. Get better at woodworking. Maybe. I think I've got another desk project coming my way.

13. Finish the icemaker. NOPE. Six years it hasn't been finished. Do we really need it now?

14. Change my own oil - it's really not that hard! Nope. See #1.

15. Teach Caleb how to change the oil. Ok, I need an oil change. Maybe this week.

16. Go birdwatching more - I've got the books and the binoculars. No.

17. Be on the internet less - especially at home. Yes. Not having a home computer for 4 months made this goal an easy one to meet.

18. Read the Institutes (finally). About half way there.

19. Take more walks - in the neighborhood, in the woods, on campus, in the mall - who cares. Definitely no. Don't remember the last time I went for a walk, unless it was a rushed walk across campus to get to my car before I got a ticket.

20. Do less via email and more over the phone. No. Phone calls are so hard.

21. Do less over the phone and more face to face. Yes. I have had lots of wonderful meeting this year, meeting that I wouldv'e done vial email or phone a year ago.

Ok, so I have a lot of work to do. Better hurry up and get to it.